The Self and the structure of the personality
An overview of Sri Aurobindo's terminology

Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: 27 February 2024

section 5
a typical example

This is the fifth in a series of eight sections.
If you haven't read the previous sections, you may like to read them first

A major reason for making these various distinctions is that it is so important where one places the center of one's consciousness. A typical example may make this clear.

Imagine a meeting in which an academic hears that a colleague has a better idea than the one he himself has just presented to the group.

  • If the academic lives at that moment predominantly in his surface mind, he will be happy, since the idea from the colleague will enable him to construct a better model of reality than the one he had managed on his own.
  • If, on the other hand, he receives the news while residing in his surface vital, he may feel threatened, because the human vital is not at all bothered about truth: it is a life-force and as such its primary concern is the need to assert itself, and so he may fear that his colleague’s prowess may endanger his own position in the power hierarchy of his office.
  • If he has access to what is called the Higher Mind, he may immediately see how the new idea hangs together with a whole range of other ideas.
  • If there is a psychic influence on the vital, his egoïc need for self-assertion will be tempered by kindness or sympathy, and he may be happy for his colleague, especially if the latter needs a little boost in life.

If he lives deep within his true being, he will not have any automatic reactivity:

  • In the mental Self, he will just continue watching events unfold on the physical, vital, and mental planes.
  • In the vital Self, he will remain energetically, enthusiastically present in the midst of the play of forces.
  • In the true physical Self, he will again be nonreactive, but peacefully, eternally, and impersonally present amidst the physical circumstances.

If one looks in more detail, one might realize, as has been seen in the earlier discussion of the cakras, that there are actually three clearly distinct vital selves.

  • In the anāhata, he will be aware mainly of higher emotional feelings like sympathy and love at play during the discussion.
  • In the maṇipūra, he will be aware primarily of the power play between the ambitions of the protagonists in the debate.
  • In the svādhiṣṭhāna, he will be aware of the smaller, individual life-sensations, needs, and desires.

And finally, there are notorious as well as beneficial combinations:

  • If his center of identity is divided between the two outer, lower vital levels, he may not have much interest in the content of the debate, but he might try to gain the upper hand in the department’s power-struggle, or, reversely, use a position of power to solicit sexual or social favors.
  • On the positive side, a combination of well-tuned vital and mental powers might enable him to use the new ideas to implement some much-needed positive change, whether inside the office or in the world outside.