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The Higher Self in Sri Aurobindo's Teaching

The Higher Dimensions of one's being

Not only does Sri Aurobindo describe the various planes of consciousness, but also the Divine Soul that incarnates in and through them, as well as the Transcendent Self beyond incarnation.

"The being of man is composed of these elements - the psychic being supporting all, the inner mental, vital and physical, and the outer, quite external nature of mind, life and body which is their instrument of expression.  Above all is the central being (Jivatma) which uses them all for its manifestation; it is a portion of the Divine Self." [Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, vol 1, p.301 (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Ponndicherry, 1971)].

See the Jivatman, Soul-spark, an dPsychic Being

So we have:


           True Mental
                --> Inner Mental ----> Outer Mental
           True Vital
                --> Inner Vital  ----> Outer Vital

           True Physical
                --> Inner Physical --> Outer Physical

The Central Being (Jivatma)

"When the One Divine manifests its ever inherent multiplicity, the essential Self or Atman becomes for that manifestation the central being (Jivatman) who presides from above over the evolution of its personalities and terrestrial lives here, but is itself an eternal portion of the Divine prior to the terrestrial manifestation"
[Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Vol I, p.278].

The Jivatman or "Central Being" (the latter term can also refer to the Psychic Being) is similar to the a`yan thabita of Ibn Arabi; the Divine as many Essences rather than One, with each Essence presiding over its corresponding phenomenal reality.  Each Essence is the archetypal truth, the Higher Self, the "Divine  Name", the Logos, behind that reality.

But Sri Aurobindo's conception of the Higher Self is more dynamic than Ibn Arabi's.  For he envisages the Divine Self in a threefold mode; the first being the transcendent Jivatman just referred to.  When this "eternal portion of the Divine" appears in the lower manifestation, it is as the second element of the Higher Self, the Psychic Being

The Psychic Being

"the soul, a spark of the Divine Fire, supporting the mental, vital, and physical being.  The Psychic Being (element number three) is the spark growing into a Fire, evolving with the growth of consciousness.  The Psychic Being is therefore evolutionary, not like the Jivatman (the essential Self) prior to the evolution."
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Vol I, p.278].

According to Sri Aurobindo, "the Jivatma, spark-soul, and psychic being are three different forms of the same reality" that should not be confused.  The "Jivatma or spirit" is above the manifested being;

   "it is superior to birth and death, always the same, the individual Self or Atman; the eternal true being of the individual.

   The soul is a spark of the Divine that "enters into the manifestation of the self, consents to be a part of its  natural phenomenal becoming...It carries with it at first an undifferentiated power of the divine consciousness containing all possibilities which have not yet taken form but to which it is the function of evolution to give form....

    The Psychic Being is a spiritual personality put forward by the soul in its evolution; its growth marks the stage which the spiritual evolution of the individual has reached and its immediate possibilities for the future.  It stands behind the mental, the vital, the physical nature, grows by their experiences, carries the consciousness from life to life.  It is the psychic Person, caitya purusha  (literally "Pure Consciousness Person")..."
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Vol I, p.280-281

Illustration from Integral Psychology home page

The Psychic Being, as the individual indwelling Divine Presence, is equivalent in some ways to the Guide or "Heavenly Twin" of Gnostic, Manichaean, and Ishraqi cosmology (although this can also refer to the Central Being too).  Indeed, it even has a particular form, as Mirra explains

"...(T)he psychic being is an individual, personal being with its own experience, its own development, its own growth, its own organisation....(W)hen it is fully formed, the psychic being has a distinct form which corresponds to our physical form.  It is not altogether similiar, but it has a definite form.  Every psychic being is different from another...each has an individuality, a personality."
The Mother, Collected Works vol 4, p.141

The Psychic Being - more

  the psychic being

The Inner Being

Sri Aurobindo is careful to distinguish the Inner Mind from the higher, divine levels of consciousness:

"the inner mind is not the higher mind; it is more in touch with the universal forces and more open to the higher consciousness and capable of an immensely deeper and larger range of action than the outer or surface mind - but it is of the same essential nature.  The higher consciousness is above the ordinary mind and different from it in its workings; it ranges from higher mind through illumined mind, intuition and overmind up to the border line of the supermind."
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, vol 1, p.308

 This constitutes the more Universal aspect of the lower (Mental, Vital, and Physical) Planes, whilst the "outer being" is the Individual Dimension.  The "psychic being" or evolving Higher Self, is the "inmost being" of the inner mind, vital, and physical [Ibid p.1971].

The True Being

In addition to the Inner there is also the "true" dimension, which is more in touch with the Divine and can be seen as an aspect of the Psychic Being.  Thus, in the case of the Vital:

"The surface vital is narrow, ignorant, limited, full of obscure desires, passions, cravings, revolts, pleasures and pains, trans-cient joys and griefs, exultations and deppressions.  The true vital being, on the contrary, is wide, vast, calm, strong, without limitations, firm and immovable, capable of all power, all knowledge, all Ananda..."
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, vol 1, p.309

 This constitutes the more Divine aspect of the lower (Mental, Vital, and Physical) Planes.  The Psychic Being is a sort of coordinating purusha, but also all the purushas are aspects of the same divibe essence; all the True aspects constitute another Dimension of the Universal being; an immanent Divine.

The True Being - more

Spiritual Transformation

It is also the activity and consciousness of the Psychic Being that constitutes the necessary first step in the evolutionary journey to Supramentalisation.  To bridge the gulf between Mind and Supermind, a "triple transformation" is required.

"(T)here must first be the psychic change, the conversion of our whole prsent nature into a soul-instrumentation; ...along with that there must be a spiritual change, the descent of a higher Light, Knowledge, Power, Force, Bliss, Purity into the whole being, even into the lowest recesses of the life and bdy, even into the darkness of the subconscience; last, there must supervene the supramental transformation, ...the ascent into the Supermind and the transforming descent of the supramental Consciousness into our entire being and nature."
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.891].

Thus, as with Steiner's teachings on "Supersensible Perception", there are a number of distinct stages of greater and greater spiritualisation of consciousness, beyond the present human rational waking consciousness.

The following table correlates these "higher self" hypostases in Sri Aurobindo's psycho-philosophy with comparable terms and concepts in other esoteric teachings.

Table 2. The various levels of self in different esoteric systems
Sri Aurobindo
(Integral Yoga)
Egyptian equivalent Neoplatonic equivalent Kashmir Shaivism Sufi equivalent Kabbalistic equivalent Blavatsky
(Original Theosophy)
Later Theosophical equivalent
(Adyar School & others influenced by)
as aspect in Supermind
? The One Paramashiva Hahut En Sof Parabrahman
higher Kosmic Planes
Jivatma Ptah Nous Mantra-maheshwara
`ayn thabita Yehida (Unity)
Hayya (Life)
Atma Monad
Psychic Being
(Chaitya Purusha)
"Memphite Theology" (Old Kingdom) - Ka;
New Kingdom - Khu (in part)
Noetic Soul Purusha
Ruh (Spirit)
Qalb (Heart)
Neshamah (Soul) Immortal Ego Soul / Higher Triad (Atma-Buddhi- Manas)
True Being and Inner Being Khu (in part) Noetic Soul Ruah (Spirit) Permannet Atoms?

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page uploaded 21 June 1998, last modified 1 May 2005