The nature of the soul and its function has been a subject of intense interest and debate for thousands of years around the world. Some claim there is no soul and that everything is simply a function of material forces randomly combining to create our existence and sense of intelligence. Others look at our lives as being created for one lifetime and thereafter we experience either a heaven or hell depending on the kind of life we have led. Still others claim there is no soul, but there is a stream of dependent origination that carries the momentum of energy forward forward into the future. Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine and in Rebirth and Karma explores the reality and nature of the soul and the play of karma and rebirth in the evolution of consciousness and the individual existence. There remains considerable confusion about the terminology used, which Sri Aurobindo endeavours to clear up in the following brief description of the soul, the psychic being and the action of the soul in living beings.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The psychic is not by definition, that part which is in direct touch with the supramental plane, — although, once the connection with the supramental is made, it gives to it the readiest response. The psychic part of us is something that comes direct from the Divine and is in touch with the Divine. In its origin it is the nucleus pregnant with divine possibilities that supports this lower triple manifestation of mind, life and body. There is this divine element in all living beings, but it stands hidden behind the ordinary consciousness, is not at first developed and, even when developed, is not always or often in the front; it expresses itself, so far as the imperfection of the instruments allows, by their means and under their limitations. It grows in the consciousness by Godward experience, gaining strength every time there is a higher movement in us, and, finally, by the accumulation of these deeper and higher movements, there is developed a psychic individuality, — that which we call usually the psychic being. It is always this psychic being that is the rael, though often the secret cause of man’s turning to the spiritual life and his greatest help in it. It is therefore that which we have to bring from behind to the front in the yoga.”

“The word ‘soul’, as also the word ‘psychic’, is used very vaguely and in many different senses in the English language. More often than not, in ordinary parlance, no clear distinction is made between mind and soul and often there is an even more serious confusion, for the vital being of desire — the false soul or desire-soul — is intended by the words ‘soul’ and ‘psychic’ and not the true soul, the psychic being. The psychic being is quite different from the mind or vital; it stands behind them where they meet in the heart. Its central place is there, but behind the heart rather than in the heart; for what men call usually the heart is the seat of emotion, and human emotions are mental-vital impulses, not ordinarily psychic in their nature. This mostly secret power behind, other than the mind and the life-force, is the true soul, the psychic being in us. The power of the psychic, however, can act upon the mind and vital and body, purifying thought and perception and emotion (which then becomes psychic feeling) and sensation and action and everything else in us and preparing them to be divine movements.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 56-61

Author's Bio: 

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