Lion tamers, horse whisperers, dog trainers, all learn certain things about how to bring the vital nature into a compliant and participatory mood, to carry out the wishes of the trainer. They quickly learn that they cannot simply allow these vital beings the absolute license to do whatever they feel like doing; rather, they need to follow the direction and guidance of their trainer. They also learn that harsh discipline tends not to work and that a system of calculated rewards combined with a positive attitude and relationship, and the ability to induce a willingness to please the trainer, turns out to be the most effective approach.

If we reflect on these things, we begin to see a way to both understand and gain mastery over the vital nature. We also recognise that without the force of the vital fully engaged, the practice of any yogic sadhana is basically impossible. The vital believes it is the preeminent power, yet as the Kena Upanishad so clearly pointed out, the pride of the vital is humbled before the Supreme. Vayu’s power, the vital force, was capable of moving anything in the physical world. Yet, confronted by the Supreme Divine, it became powerless, and thus had to subordinate itself to that higher power.

The Mother observes: “It is difficult to regulate it. Yet naturally, when you have succeeded in taming it, you have something powerful in hand for realisation. It is that which can carry by storm the biggest obstacles. It is that which is capable of turning an idiot into an intelligent person — it alone can do so; for if one yearns passionately for progress, if the vital takes it into its head that one must progress, even the greatest idiot can become intelligent! I have seen this, I am not speaking from hearsay; I have seen it, I have seen people who were dull, stupid, incapable of understanding, who understood nothing — you could go on explaining something to them for months, it would not enter, as though one were speaking to a block of wood — and then all of a sudden their vital was caught in a passion: they wanted simply to please someone or get something, and for that one had to understand, one had to know, it was necessary. Well, they set everything moving, they shook up the sleeping mind, they poured energy into all the corners where there was none; and they understood, they became intelligent. I knew someone who knew nothing practically, understood nothing, and who, when the mind started moving and the passion for progress took possession of him, began to write wonderful things. I have them with me. And when the movement withdrew, when the vital went on strike (for sometimes it went on strike, and withdrew), the person became once again absolutely dull.”

“Naturally it is very difficult to establish a constant contact between the most external physical consciousness and the psychic consciousness, and oh! the physical consciousness has plenty of goodwill; it is very regular, it tries a great deal, but it is slow and heavy, it takes long, it is difficult to move it. It does not get tired, but it makes no effort; it goes its way, quietly. It can take centuries to put the external consciousness in contact with the psychic. But for some reason or other the vital takes a hand in it. A passion seizes it. It wants this contact (for some reason or other, which is not always a spiritual reason), but it wants this contact. It wants it with all its energy, all its strength, all its passion, all its fervour: in three months the thing is done.”

“So then, take great care of it. Treat it with great consideration but never submit to it. For it will drag you into all kinds of troublesome and untoward experiments; and if you succeed in convincing it in some way or other, then you will advance with giant strides on the path.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Transforming the Vital, pp. 69-85

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 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.