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

Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: 13 June 2023

section 6
bringing it all together

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

Before all the elements that have been discussed thus far can be brought together, we should keep in mind that the divisions made as part of the concentric system, apply equally to each of the three lowest layers of the vertical system. So there is an outer, inner, and true mental; an outer, inner, and true vital; and even an outer, inner, and true physical. Or to list them the other way around, one can distinguish between mental, vital, and physical aspects in the outer nature, in the inner nature, and even in one’s true Self. One reason why this is important is that people can have quite different characteristics and levels of development in the various areas that constitute their personality.

Within the outer nature, for example, a person can be strong in body but weak in mind; flexible in his ideas but unforgiving in his feelings; possessive about his ideas, but generous in physical things; and, of course, the opposites are equally possible. Sri Aurobindo stresses that within the inner realm people tend to be in direct contact with each other, but the capacity to bring that inner knowledge to the surface nature differs from person to person (LD, pp. 549–567). Thus, someone may be very open to other people's thoughts and know what people think even at a distance when there is no outer contact, but the same person may be quite insensitive to their feelings. And again, the opposite may also exist: someone may sense directly, without any outer clue or contact what someone else feels, but may not have any idea about what the other thinks. In the inner physical, some people can feel concretely, as if in their own body, the physical sensations of other people, and yet they may not be particularly sensitive to their feelings or thoughts. In short, virtually all combinations are possible.

The situation is slightly different regarding the Selves on the different planes. The Self differs considerably from one plane to the other but tends to be similar in its basic characteristics from one person to the next. The mental Self, the manomaya puruṣa, is for example, most typically the witness, the sākṣī (SY, pp. 238, 345, 347). It watches with perfect equanimity what happens in oneself and in one’s surroundings. There are no comments, no judgments. In the vital Self, the prāṇamaya puruṣa, there is also equanimity, but here, it is an equanimity of feeling, energy and action: “tranquil, strong, luminous, many-energied, obedient to the Divine Will, egoless, yet or rather therefore capable of all action, achievement, highest or largest enterprise” (p. 178). There is a steady, self-existing joy and energy that streams freely, unencumbered. The physical Self, annamaya puruṣa, has most typically a strong, unperturbed peace and calm. All three tend to be impersonal, vast, blissful, and universal, but each has these qualities in a manner that depends on the plane of conscious existence they preside over.