It has been famously stated that we cannot understand the system within which we are acting until we can shift our view to a standpoint outside that frame. As long as we are immersed within any particular system or standpoint, we are locked into the viewpoint and understanding embedded within that frame, and our ability to perceive and fully appreciate the forces acting upon us is both severely limited and extremely biased. To become the observer of the external nature, therefore, is a prerequisite for attaining both self-knowledge and self-mastery.

Sankhya philosophy understood these limitations and therefore set forth a method of understanding that separated the witness consciousness (Purusha) from the active nature, (Prakriti). As we learn how to shift the standpoint to that of the witness, free and separate from the actions of the nature, we can begin to see the gears turning, and the forces moving and acting, and interacting, to create what we know of as our external being. At a certain point we begin to gain the ability to actually untangle the convoluted and intertwined threads of impulsion and action within us, and at that point, we can see and eventually leverage this knowledge to act upon, the parts and aspects of the outer nature.

Dr. Dalal notes: “Real self-knowledge begins when a separation takes place between Purusha and Prakriti, between the Self and its outer Nature. We then perceive ‘the extraordinary complexity of our own being, the stimulating but also embarrassing multiplicity of our personality, the rich endless confusion of Nature.’ [Sri Aurobindo] “

“We also perceive that the numerous personalities, which are mixed up on the surface, are separate and distinct when viewed from within. Each personality represents a part of the being which has its own complex individuality and different nature, its own demands, agreeing neither with itself nor with the others. Speaking of the ‘perfectly normal divisibility of the different parts of the being’, Sri Aurobindo states: ‘In the outer surface nature, mind, psychic, vital, physical are all jumbled together and it needs a strong power of introspection, self-analysis, close observation and disentanglement of the threads of thought, feeling and impulse to find out the composition of our nature and the relation and interaction of these parts upon each other. But when one goes inside… we find the sources of all this surface action and there the parts of our being are quite separate and clearly distinct from each other. We feel them indeed as different beings in us, and just as two people in a joint action can do, they too are seen to observe, criticise, help or oppose and restrain each other; it is as if we were a group-being, each member of the group with its separate place and function, and all directed by a central being who is sometimes in front above the others, sometimes behind the scenes.’ “

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Introduction, Sri Aurobindo on Our Many Selves, Planes and Parts of the Being, pp. xviii-xix

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.