Within a particular lifetime we experience a sense of continuity of being, which we normally attribute to the ego-personality. The sense of ego helps us identify with the body, life and mind we currently inhabit and utilize. This ego-sense is held together by the force of memory and by an identification with the body, despite any changes through which it has gone. We do not remember all of the feelings, thoughts, events, activities and experiences that have occurred throughout or lives. Who actually can remember, for instance, the experience of being a baby, a toddler, a youth, etc. as the process of aging takes place? What we identify with is the sense of continuity within the life-form and we can observe and reason that the life-form of the 60 year old person is actually the same life-form that previously inhabited a body of a 1 year old baby. Without specific recall of the experience, we tie these two together, even recognizing that the one year old had not yet developed a full sense of the ego-personality!

If we extrapolate this further, we can see that the limiting factors of birth and death also provide barriers beyond which we generally do not have any specific memory. This does not mean there is no continuity, just as the lack of memory of our childhood does not imply lack of continuity.

We understand through experience of life that the physical body is impermanent and at some point, it disintegrates and goes back into its constituent elements and no longer holds the sense of continuity of the being. Those who have carefully studied and had certain experiences also remind us that the vital sheath, while it may actually persist for some time independent of and even after the death of the body, eventually also follows the path of disintegration into the general vital energy. The mental energy also eventually disintegrates, being absorbed into the totality of the mental energy in the creation.

The question then arises, if the body, the vital and the mind all eventually disintegrate into their constituent elements, what remains and what provides a sense of continuity from life to life? This is what Sri Aurobindo calls the soul, the psychic being which harvests the essence of experience of each lifetime, and while abandoning the specific mind, life and body of one lifetime, is able to provide a sense of continuance beyond the boundaries of life and death.

A disciple asks: “Mother, here Sri Aurobindo speaks of ‘the psychic behind supporting all’. What does this mean?”

The Mother responds: “Well, yes, the psychic is behind the whole organisation, this triple organisation of human life and consciousness, the psychic is behind and supports it by its consciousness which is an immortal one. It is because of the psychic that we have so clear a sense of continuity. Otherwise if you compare what you now are with what you were when you were three, obviously you couldn’t recognise yourself in any way, either physically or vitally or mentally. There is no resemblance of any kind. But behind there is the psychic which supports the development, the growth of the being and gives this continuity of consciousness, makes one feel that he is the same being even while being absolutely different, absolutely different. If later one observes himself sufficiently, he can see that the things he understood and could do at that time are things which seem to him absolutely inconceivable now, and that he could never do a similar thing because he is no longer that person at all. And yet, because within there was the psychic consciousness which is immortal, one has the feeling that it is always the same being which was there and continues to be there and will continue to be there with more or less progressive and more or less conscious changes.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 2, Planes and Parts of the Being, pp. 88-89

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.