As each phase of the evolution of consciousness manifests, it arises from the prior stage and continues to interact with that stage. At the point of meeting, the stages take on characteristics that resemble in many ways both together. Thus, the higher forms of Matter begin to exhibit characteristics of response, such as increased conductivity, responsiveness to stimuli, such as heat and cold, pressure and stress that presage the responses we observe in life. The earliest manifestations of Life advance these responses to a new level but remain very much tied to these simple forms of interaction with their environment.

It is thus possible to further distinguish the Life-Energy in material beings by viewing those aspects which are really extensions of the material body from those which are clearly more expressions of life in its own native forms not hindered entirely by the physicality of the material substance.

At its higher levels, Life-Energy becomes more subtle and interacts with, on the one side, the mental manifestation, and on another side, with the psychic or soul presence. The connection to the psychic occurs primarily through the heart centre, where the surface manifestation of emotions masks the deeper spiritual presence until the vital nature comes under the influence of the soul. At this point, the vital nature can depart from its purely material and animal basis and begin to express a true sense of purpose other than simply carrying out the functions of survival and grasping for power or mastery over circumstances.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The nervous part of the being is a portion of the vital — it is the vital-physical, the life-force closely enmeshed in the reactions, desires, needs, sensations of the body. The vital proper is the life-force acting in its own nature, impulses, emotions, feelings, desires, ambitions, etc., having as their highest centre what we may call the outer heart of emotion, while there is an inner heart where are the higher or psychic feelings and sensibilities, the emotions or intuitive yearnings and impulses of the soul. The vital part of us is, of course, necessary to our completeness, but it is a true instrument only when its feelings and tendencies have been purified by the psychic touch and taken up and governed by the spiritual light and power.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 51-56

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and is author of a daily blog post on the subject at He is author of 16 books focused on Sri Aurobindo's work and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. Santosh is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.