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

Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: 13 June 2023

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 she herself has just presented to the group.

    • If the academic lives at that moment predominantly in her surface mind, she will be happy, since the idea from the colleague will enable her to construct a better model of reality than the one she had managed on her own.
    • If, on the other hand, she receives the news while residing in her surface vital, she 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 she may fear that her colleague’s prowess may endanger her own position in the power hierarchy of her office.
    • If she has access to what is called the Higher Mind, she 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, her egoïc need for self-assertion will be tempered by kindness or sympathy, and she may be happy for her colleague, especially if the latter needs a little boost in life.

If she lives deep within her true being, she will not have any automatic reactivity:

    • In the mental Self, she will just continue watching events unfold on the physical, vital, and mental planes.
    • In the vital Self, she will remain energetically, enthusiastically present in the midst of the play of forces.
    • In the true physical Self, she 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, she will be aware mainly of higher emotional feelings like sympathy and love at play during the discussion.
    • In the maṇipūra, she will be aware primarily of the power play between the ambitions of the protagonists in the debate.
    • In the svādhiṣṭhāna, she will be aware of the smaller, individual life-sensations, needs, and desires.

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

  • If her center of identity is divided between the two outer, lower vital levels, she may not have much interest in the content of the debate, but she might try to use sex-appeal 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 her to use the new ideas to implement some much-needed positive change, whether inside the office or in the world outside.