The evolving soul, a key concept in Sri Aurobindo’s work: Its ramifications for further development of human potential and Indian psychology

Neeltje Huppes

The main title of this presentation is ‘the evolving soul, a key concept in Sri Aurobindo’s work’. This may cause reactions like, “Isn’t the soul eternal, how can it be evolving?” In the endeavour to elucidate this concept of an evolving soul, this paper starts with a short exploration into the concept of evolution.

We all have heard about the Big Bang. Pure materialistic science has been able to explain this physical fact, but not what preceded this phenomenon. We all know about the Darwinian evolution, which registers the development of more and more complicated and increasingly organized living bodies. Chance and survival of the fittest are seen as the main causes in this process. Darwin presents us a physicalistic worldview. Psychologists talk about living beings in terms of matter and consciousness, though they are still quarreling about the fundamental nature of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo gives us a very coherent vision about what preceded the Big Bang, and a scientific explanation that goes beyond the cleavage between consciousness and matter. He refers to another evolutionary process that is at the basis of all manifestation: the ongoing evolution of consciousness. It seems that in this evolution of consciousness our earth has a special place. Till now scientific research hasn’t found in the universe any other planet where human life exists; till now the human being is the highest developed being in the earthly manifestation. It seems human beings, indeed, have been given an important role in furthering this ongoing evolution of consciousness. Later it will be discussed how the evolving soul has an important role in this process.

According to Sri Aurobindo, in conformity with the oldest Indian scriptures, matter was created by the ultimate or supreme consciousness seeking manifestation. In order to manifest, supreme or absolute consciousness, starting from the full fluidity of the spirit, created graded planes of being, till it reached the state of manifesting the solid density of matter. Sri Aurobindo calls this the process of Involution. The involution of consciousness is the process in which the Supreme or Absolute conceals itself more and more by creating planes of consciousness of increased density, in order to create the density needed for physical manifestation. In each of the planes that were created during the involution, (called typal planes or graded worlds) the absolute or divine consciousness veiled itself increasingly till it was able to produce and manifest the various forms of solid matter. In the solid matter of the stone the ultimate consciousness is completely veiled in what Sri Aurobindo calls ‘an exclusive concentration’, in which this absolute consciousness is present in the atom in the movements of a specific number of protons and electrons through which it keeps up that specific form of matter. He continues to explain that in matter the ultimate consciousness is concealed, but the Will of the ultimate consciousness behind this evolutionary process is a gradual unveiling till it reaches a full manifestation of divine life in matter. In other words the evolution or unveiling of consciousness started from the time solid matter manifested.

Perceived from this point of view, Evolution is the process in which the divine consciousness reveals itself more and more: here on earth it evolved from the stone to the plant, from the plant to the animal, from animal to man. Seen from the perspective of the ongoing evolution of consciousness each of these stages carries a higher level of consciousness, because in each stage the divine has unveiled or revealed itself further, or to say it in another way: is proportionally more present. It is important to realize that the evolution is not the reverse of the involution. The evolution of consciousness takes place in matter and in the process matter changes. This change of matter is not difficult to perceive if we look at the matter of stone (the purely physical plane) and the matter of our body (made up of a combination of the physical, the vital or life plane, and the mental plane).

Sri Aurobindo looks at the earth as a place where a divine life will manifest as the result of this evolution of consciousness in matter. It needs to be emphasized that this way of looking at evolution is different from the Darwinian way. Darwin studied how nature worked to bring forth a more and more organized living body. He observed a part of the physical evolution and explained the progression taking place in living organisms from a materialistic point of view. Sri Aurobindo studied the evolutionary process from a spiritual point of view, starting from before the creation of matter. His vision is that the divine consciousness, in order to manifest itself, created a series of typal planes in which it involved itself increasingly, till it could create the density of matter. This creation of matter, subsequently evolving into living matter, allows for the manifestation of a divine life on earth through the gradual unveiling of consciousness.1 Therefore evolution or a gradual self-unfolding is the essential movement of the universe and the inherent impulse of all life is towards increased unveiling and self-fulfilment. Thus in Sri Aurobindo’s words, “Consciousness is a reality inherent in existence.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1991, p.234), because the absolute consciousness created all that exists and is present in all that exists. Since the creation started with the Absolute seeking full manifestation, this unveiling of consciousness takes place through an innate aspiration present in each form of matter, sometimes referred to as “the secret Will in nature.

These two short quotes echo the ancient Indian seers. In India, the science of consciousness, or psychology, started from the inmost experience of the human being. The ancient thinkers of India studied the inner world of consciousness in a scientific manner. Their findings are the result of centuries of experiment, discovery and testing by experience, continuously refining the tests, outcome and experience, as is done in any scientific endeavour. The Veda and Upanishads have greatly influenced the Indian culture and are often seen as the bedrock of Indian civilization. If we talk about Indian psychology, we have to study carefully what these scriptures say. Given the fact that so many centuries have passed since this wisdom was recorded in writing, we also have to ask the question if Sri Aurobindo only rephrased this wisdom in terms closer to the mental understanding prevailing now, or, if he added a new dimension to it.

It may be relevant to mention that I am well aware of the existence of various translations and many different, sometimes contradictory commentaries of these ancient texts. It is but natural to base myself on the writings in which I found the deepest resonance and understanding.

The Veda and the Upanishads

The oldest text available to us is the Veda. This text consists of the later recorded illuminations of Truth seen or heard by the ancient rishis. One of the core concepts of the Veda is the seeking for Truth, a spiritual or inner Truth. Ritam is one of the key words of the Veda, “…a truth of ourselves, a truth of things, a truth of the world and of the gods, a truth behind all we are and all that things are.” (Sri Aurobindo, 1985, p.9) The psychological process here described is the inner effort that will lead a human being from darkness to light, from a divided being to an integrated being; a process based on the knowledge that there is a (veiled) truth behind the outer appearance of things. In psychological terms, this means that through an inner effort the veils can be lifted and a real self-knowledge and a profounder world-knowledge can be obtained. In the Veda the largest number of hymns is addressed to Agni, the mystic fire. Various functions are ascribed to Agni: it is not just the physical fire, it is also the psychological principle of Will-Force, which is also described as the will in the heart. The whole universe is vibrant with a secret Will-Force (compare Sri Aurobindo’s ‘innate aspiration’). Agni is also the force of evolution that pushes always forward and is able to break open darker layers of consciousness with the aim to reveal and recover, restore and manifest the light on earth. The process of self-perfection is not just the destruction of darkness but a recovery and manifestation of the (concealed) Light. The dynamics of the process are an ascent: the human being invokes a higher perfection, the Supreme, and the answer follows in the form of a descent. If the human being is receptive, the higher power brings about a transference leading to a greater perfection. To achieve this upward transference, one need not leave the world behind; it is known that the rishis themselves lived a complete life.

The core concepts of the Upanishads are closely related to the core concepts of the Veda: All is Brahman, and Soham, He am I; the One and the Many; He is within all and He is outside all. (Isha Upanishad) The content of the Upanishads reflects the development of the mind. In many of the treatises, the question of what is knowledge is taken up, but it is not treated as an abstract intellectual discourse. The Upanishads make a distinction, based on an inner experience of the writer, between just intellectual knowledge and a knowledge that is grasped with the innermost being. More precisely, the Upanishads originate from an integral knowledge—the knowledge that is grasped with the Self, and expressed through the intellect.

During the time the Upanishads were written, mental development was an important part of the human experience, and thus the Upanishads also struggle with the concepts of objective and subjective knowledge. They disclose that though our empirical knowledge is finite, this does not mean that Brahman, the Infinite, is unknowable. The purpose of the Upanishads is to make Brahman truly knowable, and demonstrate at the same time that this knowledge is of a higher type than empirical knowledge. Since the mind, compared to Vedic times, had undergone a significant development, the Upanishads express the spiritual truths less in symbols and images, and more from a philosophical point of view. For this reason the language is nearer to our modern mind than that of the Veda. Yet the Upanishads are not abstract philosophy, but philosophy that is based on a living experience and an inner knowledge that is to be applied in life, that is to be linked with action.

The significance of the post-Vedic period of the Upanishads is that it combined intellect with spirituality, which is a process that arose from the development of the mental man. According to Sri Aurobindo the Upanishads started from the high spiritual data of the Veda and their philosophy and logic were in service of explaining the Truth. In India, spiritual experience has always been felt as more true, as a higher authority than the reasoning intelligence; the spiritual truth suffused thought and action (and not the other way around). Here we cannot go in more detail how this dichotomy between spirituality and the reasoning intelligence has come about, especially in the Western world. But the essence is that Indian philosophy has the solution: there need not be a conflict if we take the wide view that the manifestation is made up of graded worlds that are graded levels of consciousness, with each level having its own truth and path to follow, with each manifesting its own level of becoming.2

Since Vedic and Upanishadic wisdom is the fruit of centuries of experiment, discovery, and testing by experience, its depth and strength still comes to us when we read it. It is a field of consciousness (kshetra) that is still present and can still be contacted. It brings us deeply in contact with the essence of Indian psychology.

Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to the ongoing evolution of consciousness

Sri Aurobindo made what he called a Synthesis of Yoga. He started from the deep wisdom of the Veda that states that all existence is shot through with Divine consciousness, that consciousness is involved in matter, and so present in the human being. He calls the Upanishads the supreme work of the Indian mind in which the revelation of Truth is not just intellectual but a spiritual seizing by a kind of identification with the object of knowledge. (Sri Aurobindo, 1992, p.1-3) His major contribution is that he had the vision that the time was ripe for the next stage in the evolution: the possibility of a divine life here on earth.

The fact that a human being is a mental being makes him/her a creature able to observe him/herself. Humans have been granted the gift of self-awareness: in essence this means that they can make choices and, if they want, by conscious effort become one with the Self, the Divine consciousness. There is a great variety in the paths that lead to the Divine, and each path of yoga takes up the endeavour to union in a specific way. Sri Aurobindo’s own contribution is to give the scientific background for this urge for oneness. He shows us in unmistakable terms how this supreme consciousness became present in matter—the process of involution—and how, since then, the unveiling or progressive manifestation of the Divine is taking place here on our globe—the process of evolution. Sri Aurobindo has not only given us a scientific explanation of what happened till date, he also articulated a marvelous vision of the future and did an intense sadhana for concretizing the possibility of a more harmonious and fulfilled life on earth. He worked for a new development in the ongoing evolution of consciousness, because he saw that a higher force than the mental had to come down here on earth, in order to make the full manifestation of a divine life possible. He invoked this higher consciousness in the earth atmosphere and said that this was a step for which the whole of evolution has been a preparation…(Sri Aurobindo, 1988, p.1059). He saw that over millions of years the earth and the human instrument had been made ready for receiving this force, and he gave the assurance that the time had come for the first stage of a manifestation here on earth of a divine harmony in a divine perfection. He called this new consciousness ‘supra-mental’, because it is a force from a typal plane above the mental plane. He explained that for a divine life on earth we need to live from a higher knowledge than the mind is capable of, for the intellect is only noticing a part of the whole; it reasons and divides. In this next stage of the evolution the human mind will not become superfluous, but when plastic enough, our mind will be an instrument for giving expression to this higher knowledge. He refers to this new force also as ‘truth consciousness’ because its quality is not distorted by the density needed for creating the mental consciousness or the extreme thickness of matter.

In his major works The Synthesis of Yoga and The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo explained how, through an inner discipline of self-development and self-perfection, human beings can divinise all the aspects of human nature. This will take place through a process of transformation. He saw the evolving soul or psychic being as the intermediary and first instrument in the first stage of this transformation. A divine life on earth leads us to the possibility, rather the necessity, of integrating spirituality in every detail in our daily life. This development can be summarized with two of his famous phrases: “All Life is Yoga.” and “Yoga is nothing but practical psychology.”

It means that nothing is excluded and that the time has come to integrate spirituality in all our thoughts, feelings, movements, and actions. We could call this developmental psychology par excellence.

The refusal of life of the ascetics who concentrated on the transcendent divine beyond form; the revolt against gross matter, as the later, medieval, scholars would call it, which dominated Indian spirituality for quite some time—but was not emphasized in the ancient texts—has its place in the evolution of consciousness. Due to this, the psychology of heightening oneself has been worked out in great detail in the Indian tradition. Yet it is important to acknowledge that this is a realization at the summit of the consciousness while the outer nature remains untouched. Or, to say it in the terminology of Indian psychology, in order to realize the Purusha, Prakriti is left behind and uncared for. It is now time for a reconciliation of matter and spirit. Soham, He am I; as the ancient texts told us, can become a living reality and a total experience while living fully in the world.3 We could say that now the time has come to add to the well-developed vertical yoga, a horizontal yoga from the outer nature to the innermost nature of a human being; from the surface consciousness to ever deeper layers of consciousness. (See also endnote vi).

Sri Aurobindo worked continuously to concretize his vision. By calling down in the earthly environment the consciousness of a higher plane than the mental plane, he brought about the first important step for the realization of this divine life. With the supramental consciousness anchored in the earth atmosphere and man being sufficiently developed, we have entered a new stage in the evolution where this higher consciousness will suffuse daily life. According to Sri Aurobindo, evolution is not primarily concentrating anymore on developing new living forms; the prime activity of the evolutionary force is now to develop new powers of consciousness. (Sri Aurobindo, 1997, Vol.12, p.166).4

Further development of the human being

If developing new powers of consciousness is the mandate given to human beings living in the third millennium, how is this to be done? What is the psychological process for this? It can be described as widening, deepening and heightening through self-observation; self-observation will lead to self-awareness, with the possibility to allow the higher powers (atman) and the deeper powers (soul and psychic being) to lead the human being to divine or Self-perfection, and allow it to penetrate the society.

…there has been made manifest in Mind its will to develop, to grow in knowledge, to deepen the inner and widen the outer existence, to increase the capacities of the nature. Man has seen that there can be a higher status of consciousness than his own…

Sri Aurobindo, 1988, p.843

…what evolutionary Nature presses for, is an awakening to the knowledge of self, the discovery of self, the manifestation of the self and spirit within us and the release of its self-knowledge, its self-power, its native self-instrumentation. It is, besides, a step for which the whole of evolution has been a preparation…

Sri Aurobindo, 1988, p.1059

The psychic entity

If new processes are to be developed for acquiring ‘new powers of consciousness’, what is the instrumentation for this? The Mother, who was the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, has elucidated the role of the psychic being, not only in relation to man, but in relation to all earthly existence.

It is only upon earth that the psychic life begins, and it is just the process by which the Divine has awakened material life to the necessity of rejoining its divine origin. Without the psychic, Matter would never have awakened from its inconscience, it would never have aspired for the life of its origin, the spiritual life.

The Mother, 1972, Vol.4, p.165

The psychic entity is the instrument put forward by the Absolute to awaken and guide us to the necessity of coming a full circle, and become divine, even be the Divine. The Mother says that without a psychic being, the earth, all matter on earth, including human matter, would not have aspired, would not have urged for a higher life. Sri Aurobindo talks about an “innate aspiration”. One of the beautiful lines of the Mundaka Upanishad, where the aspiration is intrinsicly transmitted, says, “He, verily, who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes himself Brahman.”

A closer look at the psychic being

If the psychic being is so important what then is its role in the process of divinizing earthly life? It was already stated that the psychic being is the intermediary instrument between the Divine consciousness and the outer consciousness. It should be evident why, until now, this concept has not been in the foreground in the Indian psychology. When we look at the Indian tradition, we find that for centuries its dominant trend was defined by the ascetics, who saw this earth as maya, which was felt as a hindrance in reaching oneness with the Transcendent. Through this the balance of spirit and matter as expounded in the Veda was disturbed, and the idea of a progression to a divine perfection here on earth was cast aside. Those wanting to reach perfection concentrated on the Atman, on leaving the earthly plane behind, while preparing themselves for a total identification outside the manifested creation. We could call this the ‘up and out’ attitude. It is a process that is related to the Jivatman or spirit, which is self-existent above the manifestation. The Atman is the instrument for the ascent, it is a vertical process, whereas psychisation of the surface nature of a human being is related to the soul and is a horizontal process. This implies that ‘spiritual’ and ‘psychic’ are not just the same. The soul (the individual spark of the absolute consciousness within each human being) is hidden deep within a manifested body as a power of the divine consciousness, and psychisation takes place from within starting from the psychic entity. The psychic being gradually develops from a small entity to a full being around the soul, while its action works through the outer nature of mind, life and body. Every time a small part of the surface nature has become fully under the influence this psychic presence, this small entity increases. While spiritualisation comes directly ‘from above’ through a descent of the divine consciousness or force, psychisation comes ‘from deep within’ through the sychic action which is directed by the soul.5

The psychic being is related to the soul, but it is not the soul. The soul is our individual elf, each soul is unique yet eternal. The psychic being is the evolving soul, which grows around the soul. In other words, the psychic is evolutionary, it goes through a development, it grows. This development starts from a psychic presence or a small entity. This presence is granted to all human beings, it is there in each of us. This entity can develop into an individualised psychic being by its action on our surface nature; changing it from ordinary nature to divine nature. Through self-observation and an aspiration for a life, first influenced, later guided by divine consciousness, a human being can enhance this process. Though the psychic is evolutionary, it is eternal in the sense that its action comes directly from the soul. The psychic entity, which develops around the soul, stays with the soul after the death of the body and takes birth again together with the soul. In this way the psychic develops from birth to birth from an entity to a full being.

The soul and the psychic being are not exactly the same thing, although in essence they are the same. The soul is the divine spark that dwells at the centre of each being; it is identical with its Divine Origin; it is the divine in man. The psychic being is formed progressively around this divine centre, the soul, in the course of innumerable lives in the terrestrial evolution, until the time comes when the psychic being fully formed and wholly awakened, becomes the conscious sheath of the soul around which it is formed. And thus identified with the Divine, it becomes His perfect instrument in the world.

The Mother, 1972, Vol.16, p.247

How psychic development takes place

We heard that the psychic being is the intermediary between the divine consciousness and the outer consciousness. One could say the psychic is the representative of the soul, which, in order to make its presence manifest, has to work through the imperfection of the outer nature. It is the builder of a new inner life. Its work is to slowly make our mind, our heart and our body listen to it, and manifest it in our thoughts, feelings, movements and actions. When, for example, a little part of our affective domain is fully open and acting in full oneness with our soul or individualized Self, it means that that part has recovered its (divine) essence. Each time a part of the outer nature is psychisised, the psychic has grown a little. It is the aspiration of the psychic presence that makes us yearn for a divine presence in the heart; for true wisdom or true knowledge in the mind, for a conscious body, etc. When the psychic has developed into an individual being it can freely use our human instruments, (mind, heart and body). This process of psychisation goes very slowly if it is left to itself and only dependent on the innate aspiration present in matter, but we human beings have the possibility to co-operate actively, and accelerate this process. Because we have been given a mind we can witness what we are doing, we can observe ourselves consciously and obtain knowledge about who we are. Self-observation is a journey, starting from the outer nature, into the inner and innermost worlds. Self-observation can lead to constant self-awareness. This gives us the power of distinction for a conscious choice for a greater self-perfection in our outer nature, by calling in the soul force.6

The psychic being builds the inner life that can manifest the Divine consciousness in the outer nature. Sri Aurobindo gives us beautiful descriptions of what the inner life will look like when our outer instrument is fully psychicised. For instance, at present the emotional mind is subjected to be a hurtling field of joy and grief, love and hatred, wrath, fear, struggle, aspiration, disgust, likes, dislikes,… but the real function of the emotional mind is to mirror the pure love and joy of the soul, and a luminous reaching out to unity with our fellow-creatures. The real function of the thought-mind is to observe, understand, judge with dispassionate delight in knowledge and open itself to [higher] messages and illuminations playing upon all that it observes and upon all that is yet hidden from it but must progressively be revealed… (Sri Aurobindo, 1973, p. 336)

Why is the psychic still so latent? We have already pointed out that when one is only interested in union with the transcendent divine, there is no direct need for psychic development which is a horizontal movement concerned with an upward transference of our daily life. There are two other reasons why the psychic is so latent and why it asks effort from us to come into contact with it and help it grow. The first reason is that the psychic itself is evolutionary. We have heard two terms: psychic entity and psychic being. All of us have the psychic presence in us, but because the psychic action is to slowly transmute the outer nature, it starts as a presence and is in the beginning hardly noticed, and so it needs our active consent and conscious effort to discover the psychic element in us, call it in and make the psychic presence grow. The second reason has its base in atavism related to our outer nature. Due to the evolutionary process, the dominating qualities of the (outer) instrument we use for interacting with the world are at present tamas, rajas, and sattva. Each of the parts of our outer being is still under the influence of the law of the various planes from which our body, our vital being, and our mind originate (see the process of gradual veiling of the supreme consciousness by creating typal planes, called involution of consciousness). It will take time and sustained endeavour if we want our instrument fully at the service of the divine consciousness, and, through the action of the psychic being, allow the divine consciousness to play fully through these parts. According to Sri Aurobindo, psychisation is formost human beings a process that comes about over many lives. Yet, a psychic influence can harmonise and enlighten our life long before the completely evolved psychic being has manifested deep within us.

When you have established contact with your psychic being, it is, in effect, definitive. But before this contact is established, you can, in certain circumstances, consciously receive the psychic influence which always produces an illumination in the being and has more or less lasting effects.

The Mother, 1972, Vol.16, p.248

How do we recognize the psychic? Sri Aurobindo mentions that the kernel of the psychic nature is sweetness and light. This sweetness and light goes together with a quiet strength. It carries a strength that is able to break down all oppositions. Indeed, a developed psychic being generates an unfaltering strength full of sweetness! An indication of an active psychic entity on the mental level is that contact with it points the way to truth, and automatically distinguishes what is true from what is false. The psychic also demands truth in the vital nature and distinguishes the qualitative difference between joy and pleasure. It creates true generosity, which means generosity that does not expect any returns. This is the same for psychic love; this is love that is fully giving, without any expectations; in Sri Aurobindo’s words, the psychic insists on love winged upwards and not tied to the stake of egoistic craving… (Sri Aurobindo, 1973, p.146). The psychic gives a steadfast inner confidence that is able to bear the shocks of life without being swept off one’s feet.

There are many beautiful descriptions of the psychic presence in Sri Aurobindo’s writings, but unfortunately, within the limited space available we cannot linger on this any longer. Neither is it possible to mention some of the techniques that stimulate and support psychic development. (see endnote nr.vii)

Ramifications for further development of human potential and Indian psychology

At present, we live in a materialistic society and psychological ill health may quite often have as one of its causes the neglect of soul related experiences. Western psychology, which still dominates psychology in India, has mainly dealt with processes concerning only the surface nature. Be it mild or strong signs of disintegration, if psychologists offer only treatment in the outer layers of the human nature, they deprive a client of the best possible solution. A psychology that does not offer the possibility to touch upon the deepest and highest layers of the human being misses the opportunity to bring about true stability and true wellbeing, for it does not answer the inmost need of man, whereas many clients, during some stage in their treatment, would find fulfillment in discovering answers for their problems when helped to contact a greater depth. It is the greatness of Indian psychology that it includes the whole range of the human being: the deep individual Self or inmost being, the true being, the inner nature and the outer nature, and it includes also a psychology based on concrete experiences related to the Atman. From the beginning Indian psychology integrated matter and spirit, for it understood that all that exists in this universe is in essence a manifestation of the Supreme. It understood the relation of the One and the Many, of being and becoming, and realized that there are so many paths and so many ways of becoming; so many different stages and grades of development. Though Western psychology has also developed techniques for psychological wellbeing, there is no doubt that Indian psychology offers a much wider range of reliable methods of enquiry and practical techniques, since it includes the deeper soul/psychic and higher spiritual realities.

Education at present is suffering under a strict uniformity, and on top of this engages itself mainly with the development of a part of the human mind, whereas the Indian culture from the beginning had a many sided and graded provision for self-finding and self-development of the inner and the outer instrument of a human being. It understood that humans are marvelously complex and that the process for self-finding and self-development has a variety of paths. This inbuilt variety and tolerance based on profound psychological insight helped in creating the opulence and vibrancy of which so many foreign travelers to India have spoken. What a difference it would make for the individual as well as for the nation when concepts of Indian psychology would be implemented in the educational process. This is not a plea for going back to the gurukul, the concepts can be implemented in an educational setting that is in harmony with the developments of our time. As educational psychologists it may be good to ask such questions as how much we can help students to live their lives with meaning. On the basis of this truth we have to look for new content and new teaching-learning procedures that foster outer and inner and innermost development of students. We have to offer pluriformity in schools and classrooms, so that students can choose in how broad a range, how great a depth or height they want to develop. One of the factors explaining the lack of motivation in students, of which teachers so often complain, may be that in our present educational system students can construe a self-image only with reference to their success in the material world. Education has to a large extent been turned into a race for the highest marks leading to the highest salary in the job market. Yet, many children know from within that they have other qualities that matter, but know that questions related to the inner worlds are neglected, and push the feeling of hollowness to the background by excessive consumerism, encouraged so bluntly by the media.

Sri Aurobindo’s psychology adds to the Indian tradition the theory that the earth is a place where a divine life will manifest. Human beings are still evolving and man can exceed himself and participate actively in the new phase that has started in this ongoing evolution, leading to a divine life on earth. He explains that the evolving soul or psychic being has an important function in this new development. He foresees new possibilities of the human instrument, and he developed techniques for the further development of human potential. In the previous pages we have shown some of the deepest and highest horizons of mankind. Sri Aurobindo’s vision will have relevance for years to come. May psychologists recognize it and give it its rightful place, and so doing, be instrumental in furthering the so much needed development of humankind.


1 Nature laboured for innumerable millions of years to create a material universe of flaming suns and systems; for a lesser but still interminable series of millions she stooped to make this earth a habitable planet. For all that incalculable time she was or seemed busy only with the evolution of Matter; life and mind were kept secret in an apparent non-existence. But the time came when life could manifest, a vibration in the metal, a growing and seeking, a drawing in and a feeling outward in the plant, an instinctive force and sense, a nexus of joy and pain and hunger and emotion and fear and struggle in the animal, — a first organised consciousness, the beginning of the long-planned miracle. Thenceforward she was busy no more exclusively with matter for its own sake, but most with palpitant plasmic matter useful for the expression of life; the evolution of life was now her one intent purpose. And slowly too mind manifested in life, an intensely feeling, a crude thinking and planning vital mind in the animal, but in man the full organisation and apparatus, the developing if yet imperfect mental being, the Manu, the thinking, devising, aspiring, already self-conscient creature. And from that time onward the growth of mind rather than any radical change of life became her shining preoccupation, her wonderful wager. Body appeared to evolve no more; life itself evolved little or only so much in its cycles as would serve to express Mind heightening and widening itself in the living body; an unseen internal evolution was now Nature's great passion and purpose. —Sri Aurobindo, 1997, Vol. 12, p. 175

2 The gradations of consciousness are universal states not dependent on the outlook of the subjective personality; rather the outlook of the subjective personality is determined by the grade of consciousness in which it is organised according to its typal nature or its evolutionary stage. —Sri Aurobindo, 1991, p.235

3 Sri Aurobindo knew that a full realization needs all three: the transcendent, the cosmic and the individual realization of the Divine; (realization meaning a complete oneness).

4 In Essays Divine and Human Sri Aurobindo gives a few beautiful descriptions of the process of the evolution of consciousness. (see endnote 1) In the same book he states with certitude that New living forms may no longer be appearing freely, but this is because it is not, or at least it is not primarily, new living forms that the Force of evolution is now busied with evolving, but new powers of consciousness. —Sri Aurobindo, 1997, Vol.12, p.166
In his major work The Life Divine he writes
In the previous stages of the evolution Nature's first care and effort had to be directed towards a change in the physical organisation, for only so could there be a change of consciousness; this was a necessity imposed by the insufficiency of the force of consciousness already in formation to effect a change in the body. But in man a reversal is possible, indeed inevitable; for it is through his consciousness, through its transmutation and no longer through a new bodily organism as a first instrumentation that the evolution can and must be effected. —Sri Aurobindo, 1988, p.843-4

5 We all are familiar with the image of the lotus coming out of the mud. But if this mud is meant to become divine, it is not only that the mud cannot be forgotten but that the mud has to start shining! The time has come for the full realisation of “All is Brahman” and “Soham, He amIproclaimed by the ancient seers. This is our ultimate destiny, and the psychic being has an important role in the process that will lead to this fulfilment. Concentration on a full horizontal realization does not imply that now the vertical process can be forgotten. In the end, the horizontal as well as the vertical process is needed for a full realization.
We humans have the stages of the evolution in us. The parts and planes of our being are manifestations of these stages, for instance, our body belongs to the plane of matter; our mind belongs to the mental plane. We saw how during the process of involution the different planes of consciousness were created. Sri Aurobindo talks about these planes as the graded worlds, each of them having its own level of consciousness with its own laws. After the involution, the evolution progresses through the manifestation from plane to plane, and in this process the level of embodied consciousness becomes higher because more of the divine consciousness is unveiled. In this way we can talk about a vertical map of the being, a (vertical) ladder of consciousness which links the inconscient, which is fully unconscious, to the Atman, fully Divine.
Here is a horizontal map of our being, which can be visualized as a sphere with concentric layers from the outer surface to the inmost core.

Horizontal map of our being

Outer being Inner being True being Inmost being or central being
  • Physical
  • Vital
  • Mental
  • Inner physical
  • Inner vital
  • Inner mental
  • Physical purusha
  • Vital purusha
  • Mental purusha
  • Soul/psychic being; atman

    Within one life instrument
    interacting with world
    without atavism
    Influence from true
    being and outer being
    Directly open to
    knowledge from above
  • Psychic being goes through birth/death;
  • Evolves from entity to full Being;
  • Atman is eternal, presides without getting involved
  • Each human being is endowed with these different levels and forms of consciousness. During the day we shift our centre of identification very often, for example from our surface nature to our inner nature and back. Many people leave parts of this map unexplored and do not live their full potential.

    6 In the limited space available it is not possible to give an overview of the details of some of the techniques of this process of active co-operation. See for an overview Part 1 in Huppes, N. (2001). Psychic Education, a Workbook. New Delhi: SAES


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    —— (1946/1985). Hymns to the Mystic Fire. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram

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    —— (1940/1988). The Life Divine. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram

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