The idea of a trinity of aspects or statuses of the Divine has arisen throughout the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world. It is relatively easy to conceptualise this by looking at how we experience the world. We start with an individual perspective, and reference life from that standpoint. Our interaction with the world provides a second aspect, that of the universal creation of which we are a part and within which we participate. The third aspect is the one that the Upanishads reference when they try to avoid the limited definitions available to our mental framework. When they say it is “not this, not that” they are indicating that we cannot fully define the Divine with any specific categorization because there is always something that exceeds that definition and escapes our ability to describe it. This is the Transcendent aspect. The Universal aspect they define as “All this is the Brahman”. The individual is described as “I am That.” Taken separately they fail to provide a complete understanding of the Divine, but taken together, and unified, they bring us closer to the mental awareness needed. At the same time, no thought, concept or idea is the same as the actual experience and that is why the spiritual traditions speak of the need for attaining the spiritual Oneness and the experience of unity or transcendence.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The distinction between the Transcendental, the Cosmic, the Individual Divine is not my invention, nor is it native to India or to Asia — it is, on the contrary, a recognised European teaching current in the esoteric tradition of the Catholic Church where it is the authorised explanation of the Trinity, — Father, Son and Holy Ghost, — and it is very well-known to European mystic experience. In essence it exists in all spiritual disciplines that recognise the omnipresence of the Divine — in Indian Vedantic experience and in Mahomedan yoga (not only the Sufi, but other schools also) — the Mahomedans even speak of not two or three but many levels of the Divine until one reaches the Supreme. As for the idea in itself, surely there is a difference between the individual, the cosmos in space and time, and something that exceeds this cosmic formula or any cosmic formula. There is a cosmic consciousness experienced by many which is quite different in scope and action from the individual consciousness, and if there is a consciousness beyond the cosmic, infinite and essentially eternal, not merely extended in Time, that also must be different from these two. And if the Divine is or manifests Himself in these three, is it not conceivable that in aspect, in His working, He may differential Himself so much that we are driven, if we are not to confound all truth of experience, if we are not to limit ourselves to a mere static experience of something indefinable, to speak of a triple aspect of the Divine?”

“In the practice of yoga there is a great dynamic difference in one’s way of dealing with these three possible realisations. If I realise only the Divine as that, not my personal self, which yet moves secretly in all my personal being and which I can bring forward out of the veil, or if I build up the image of that Godhead in my members, it is a realisation but a limited one. If it is the Cosmic Godhead that I realise, losing in it all personal self, that is a very wide realisation, but I become a mere channel of the universal Power and there is no personal or divinely individual consummation for me. If I shoot up to the transcendental realisation only, I lose both myself and the world in the transcendental Absolute. If, on the other hand, my aim is none of these things by itself, but to realise and also to manifest the Divine in the world, bringing down for the purpose a yet unmanifested Power, — such as the supermind, — a harmonisation of all three becomes imperative. I have to bring it down, and from where shall I bring it down, — since it is not yet manifested in the cosmic formula — if not from the unmanifest Transcendence, which I must reach and realise? I have to bring it into the cosmic formula and, if so, I must realise the cosmic Divine and become conscious of the cosmic self and the cosmic forces. But I have to embody it here, — otherwise it is left as an influence only and not a thing fixed in the physical world, and it is through the Divine in the individual alone that this can be done.”

“These are elements in the dynamics of spiritual experience and I am obliged to admit them if a divine work has to be done.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 4 The Divine, the Gods and the Divine Force, The Divine pp. 77-82

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author of 16 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.