The evolution of consciousness involves an increasing level of complexity as successive levels of consciousness are layered and then interact with each other, with each layer attempting to not only express its own native way of seeing and acting, but also needing to accommodate the demands and different considerations of the other levels. Thus, we may think of something with the mind, but when we try to express it in the body or the vital level of our being, we find that it does not translate exactly as conceived. Our vital being is able to infiltrate the mental process and bias the mind’s actions to justify its desires; and we also can see that when the vital interacts with the physical body it can lead to strain and injury if the body is unable to manage the intensity of the effort called for or the force deployed. Things become even more complex when we realise that the mind, the vital and the physical are not unified within themselves, but also have different drives, directions, habits, needs and predilections that make each evolutionary stage complex in and of itself.

For those who seek liberation from the external life, who seek spiritual realisation through one-pointed focus on the Absolute, these issues may (but not necessarily do) have very little relevance as they can simply withdraw, avoid the issues to a great degree and escape what they believe to be the illusory nature of the life in the world. It is of course not absolutely true, simply because achieving such a one-pointed focus, without dealing with the ‘distractions’ caused by the body, the life-energy and the mind, is not as simple a feat as some may assume. For those, however, who recognise the omnipresent reality of the universal manifestation, and who accept the need for unification with the wider purpose and implementation of the significance of that manifestation, it is clear that there is no way to simply “cut the knot” of the problem; rather, each element needs to be carefully untied and redirected. This leads to the enormous task of applied psychology that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have described.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The practice of Yoga brings us face to face with the extraordinary complexity of our own being, the stimulating but also embarrassing multiplicity of our personality, the rich endless confusion of Nature. To the ordinary man who lives upon his own waking surface, ignorant of the self’s depths and vastnesses behind the veil, his psychological existence is fairly simple. A small but clamorous company of desires, some imperative intellectual and aesthetic cravings, some tastes, a few ruling or prominent ideas amid a great current of unconnected or ill-connected and mostly trivial thoughts, a number of more or less imperative vital needs, alternations of physical health and disease, a scattered and inconsequent succession of joys and griefs, frequent minor disturbances and vicissitudes and rarer strong searchings and upheavals of mind or body, and through it all Nature, partly with the aid of his thought and will, partly without or in spite of it, arranging these things in some rough practical fashion, some tolerable disorderly order, — this is the material of his existence. The average human being even now is in his inward existence as crude and undeveloped as was the bygone primitive man in his outward life. But as soon as we go deep within ourselves, — and Yoga means a plunge into all the multiple profundities of the soul, — we find ourselves subjectively, as man in his growth has found himself objectively, surrounded by a whole complex world which we have to know and to conquer.”

“The most disconcerting discovery is to find that every part of us — intellect, will, sense-mind, nervous or desire self, the heart, the body — has each, as it were, its own complex individuality and natural formation independent of the rest; it neither agrees with itself nor with the others nor with the representative ego which is the shadow cast by some central and centralising self on our superficial ignorance. We find that we are composed not of one but many personalities and each has its own demands and differing nature. Our being is a roughly constituted chaos into which we have to introduce the principle of a divine order.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 1, Our Manifold Being, pp. 8-9

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.