The vital nature of man is a core existential element of our existence. In the past, those who took up serious spiritual practice frequently recognised both the power of the vital and the difficulty of bringing it under some kind of managed and focused control, and thus, they attempted to abandon it to whatever extent possible and focus on meditation to the exclusion of an outer life.

This limited approach helped individuals succeed in their attempt to achieve liberation from the illusory status of action in the world. It did nothing to bring about any kind of change or transformation in the outer existence, and it left a large and essential portion of human nature essentially untouched.

There are frequent apocryphal tales of yogis who spent long periods of time in meditation, but when they came out and had to interact with the circumstances of the outer life, were unprepared and who then reacted with anger, lust, jealousy, greed, envy, and other forms of desire. Clearly they had achieved some serious advancement in the mental realm and could achieve states of concentrated, one-pointed focus on the spiritual goal they set before themselves, but this was done at the expense of any transforming focus on the outer life.

Changing the vital nature is hard. Some liken it to trying to straighten out a dog’s tail, which will simply go back to its former state once the controlling pressure is removed. It is understandable why those who are deeply involved in meditation will generally resist taking up the outer nature and its endless difficulties and snares. Yet, eventually, the outer nature needs to be dealt with if humanity is to progress and if we are to finally solve the riddle of our existence.

The integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother specifically acknowledges this task and works to take up and transform the vital nature and its relationship to the wider divine manifestation and they recognise that not everyone can achieve spiritual fulfillment through meditation. Thus, they embrace not only the path of knowledge, but also that of devotion, bhakti yoga, and that of works, karma yoga.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “There are some people who are not cut out for meditation and it is only by work that they can prepare themselves; there are also those who are the opposite.”

“The including of the outer consciousness in the transformation is of supreme importance in this yoga — meditation cannot do it. Meditation can deal only with the inner being. So work is of primary importance — only it must be done with the right attitude and in the right consciousness, then it is as fruitful as any meditation can be.”

“… that is one great utility of work that it tests the nature and puts the sadhak in front of the defects of his outer being which might otherwise escape him.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pg.93

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at 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.