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The Higher Mind and Transformation

Illumined Mind
Higher Mind
Mental Mind
Vital Mind
Physical Mind

The Higher Mind is in Sri Aurobindo's system the first of the supra-rational levels or grades of being, the first level of "Spiritual Mind". It is both an evolutionary stage beyond the rational mind, and an ascent to (and descent from) a plane above the level of pure thinking mind.

About this level of realisation, the first of the "supra-liberation" levels - he says this in his opus The Life Divine (I have added headings and broken up the long paragraphs to make it more readable. Also I've added some commentary; feel; free to ignore and just read the block quotes for Sri Aurobindo):

The Higher Mind and its origin in Overmind and Supermind

Our first decisive step out of our human Intelligence, our normal mentality, is an ascent into a higher Mind, a mind no longer of mingled light and obscurity or half-light, but a large clarity of the Spirit. Its basic substance is a unitarian sense of being with a powerful multiple dynamisation capable of the formation of a multitude of aspects of knowledge, ways of action, forms and significances of becoming, of all of which there is a spontaneous inherent knowledge. It is therefore a power that has proceeded from the overmind, -- but with the supermind as its ulterior origin, -- as all these greater powers have proceeded: but its special character, its activity of consciousness are dominated by Thought; it is a luminous thought-mind, a mind of Spirit-born conceptual knowledge.

An all-awareness emerging from the original identity, carrying the truths the identity held in itself, conceiving swiftly, victoriously, multitudinously, formulating and by self-power of the Idea effectually realising its conceptions, is the character of this greater mind of knowledge.

This kind of cognition is the last that emerges from the original spiritual identity before the initiation of a separative knowledge, base of the Ignorance; it is therefore the first that meets us when we rise from conceptive and ratiocinative mind, our best-organised knowledge-power of the Ignorance, into the realms of the Spirit: it is, indeed, the spiritual parent of our conceptive mental ideation, and it is natural that this leading power of our mentality should, when it goes beyond itself, pass Into its immediate source.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , pp.939-940

An important point: this is the first grade of being beyond "ignorance", the first hypostasis of higher gnosis. It can be identified with the Nous of the Neoplatonists, as the lowerst sub-level of Nous (or perhaps as the "noetic soul" of Plotinus).

Contrast between Higher Mind and Thinking Mind and Ordinary Intuition

But here in this greater Thought there is no need of a seeking and self-critical ratiocination, no logical motion step by step towards a conclusion, no mechanism of express or implied deductions and inferences, no building or deliberate concatenation of idea with idea. In order to arrive at an ordered sum or outcome of knowledge: for this limping action of our reason is a movement of Ignorance searching for knowledge, obliged to safeguard Its steps against error, to erect a selective mental structure for its temporary shelter and to base it on foundations already laid and carefully laid but never firm, because it is not supported on a soil of native awareness but imposed on an original soil of nescience.

There is not here, either, that other way of our mind at its keenest and swiftest, a rapid hazardous divination and insight, a play of the searchlight of intelligence probing into the little known or the unknown.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.940

So a trilogy of Reason-Intuition-Higher Gnosis. The Higher Mind is equally beyond the two conventional ways of arriving at Truth - ratiocintation (slow and limping) and intuition (quick but sporadic)

The Higher Mind in its aspect of Cognition

This higher consciousness is a Knowledge formulating itself on a basis of self-existent all-awareness and manifesting some part of its integrality, a harmony of its significances put Into thought-form. It can freely express itself in single ideas, but its most characteristic movement is a mass ideation, a system or totality of truth-seeing at a single view; the relations of idea with idea, of truth with truth are not established by logic but pre-exist and emerge already self-seen in the integral whole. There is an initiation into forms of an ever-present but till now inactive knowledge, not a system of conclusions from premisses or data; this thought is a self-revelation of eternal Wisdom, not an acquired knowledge. Large aspects of truth come into view in which the ascending Mind, if it chooses, can dwell with satisfaction and, after its former manner, live in them as in a structure; but if progress is to be made, these structures can constantly expand into a larger structure or several of them combine themselves into a provisional greater whole on the way to a yet unachieved integrality. In the end there is a great totality of truth known and experienced but still a totality capable of infinite enlargement because there is no end to the aspects of knowledge, nastyanto vistarasya me.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , pp.940-1

The Higher Mind in its aspect Will

This [the previous paragraph] is the Higher Mind in its aspect of cognition; but there is also the aspect of will, of dynamic effectuation of the Truth: here we find that this greater more brilliant Mind works always on the rest of the being, the mental will, the heart and its feelings, the life, the body, through the power of thought, through the idea-force. It seeks to purify through knowledge, to deliver through knowledge, to create by the innate power of knowledge. The idea is put into the heart or the life as a force to be accepted and worked out; the heart and life become conscious of the idea and respond to its dynamisms and their substance begins to modify itself in that sense, so that the feelings and actions become the vibrations of this higher wisdom, are informed with it, filled with the emotion and the sense of it: the will and the life impulses are similarly charged with its power and its urge of self-effectuation; even in the body the idea works so that, for example, the potent thought and will of health replaces its faith in illness and its consent to illness, or the idea of strength calls in the substance, power, motion, vibration of strength; the idea generates the force and form proper to the idea and imposes it on our substance of Mind, Life or Matter. It is in this way that the first working proceeds; it charges the whole being with a new and superior consciousness, lays a foundation of change, prepares it for a superior truth of existence.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.941

In his description of Supermind also, there is distinction of Will and Idea. This polarity seems to be important to Sri Aurobindo, e.g. Chit and Tapas (Consciousness and Force), and may be traced back to Tantric conception of passive Shiva (the "Knower") and dynamic Shakti (the Creative power)

These higher forces are limited in the realm of Ignorance

It has here to be emphasised, in order to obviate a natural misconception which can easily arise when the superior power of the higher forces is first perceived or experienced,
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.941

Because they can appear dizzying and give a vast sense of possibilities. But in the lower world the situation is not the same as in their own realm (hence the idea of a Spiritual Dualism - common in Gnosticism and other philosophies). Sri Aurobindo explains

that these higher forces are not in their descent immediately all-powerful as they would naturally be in their own plane of action and In their own medium. In the evolution in Matter they have to enter Into a foreign and inferior medium and work upon it; they encounter there the incapacities of our mind and life and body, meet with the unreceptiveness or blind refusal of the Ignorance, experience the negation and obstruction of the Inconscience. On their own level they work upon a basts of luminous consciousness and luminous substance of being and are automatically effective; but here they have to encounter an already and strongly formed foundation of Nescience, -- not only the complete nescience [Inconscience] of Matter, but the modified nescience of mind and heart and life.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.941-2

Because on all these levels there is ignorance; as explained, right upto the higher levels of rational mind.

The Cognitive Mind resists the Illumninbation of the Higher Mind

Thus the higher Idea descending into the developed mental intelligence has even there to overcome the barrage of a mass or system of formed ideas which belong to the Knowledge-Ignorance and the will to persistence and self-realisation of these ideas; for all ideas are forces and have a formative or self-effective faculty greater or less according to the conditions, - even reducible to nil in practice when they have to deal with inconscient Matter, but still potential. There is thus ready-formed a power of resistance which opposes or minimises the effects of the descending Light, a resistance which may amount to a refusal, a rejection of the Light, or take the shape of an attempt to impair, subdue, ingeniously modify or adapt or perversely deform the light in order to suit it to the preconceived ideas of the Ignorance.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.942

Unless one is very open and receptive to higher truths, one's preconceived worldview will come in and ruin everything. Not just any sort of literalist belief, but even philosophical and intellectual conceptions taht may be fine on their own level, or where there is no alternative, but are here rendered obsolete by the Higher light.

Resitance by Lower Levels of the Being

If the preconceived or already formed ideas are dismissed and deprived of their right to persistence, they have still the right of recurrence, from outside, from their prevalence in universal Mind, or they may retire downwards into the vital, physical or subconscient parts and from thence resurge at the least opportunity to repossess their lost domain: for evolutionary Nature has to give this right of persistence to things once established by her in order to bring a sufficient steadiness and solidity to her steps.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.942

This "right of persistence" pertains to the necessity of manifestating in the world of "collision and struggle and intermixture of Forces".

Resistance by the Vital and the Subconscious

In the lower levels of the being, in the heart and life and body, the same phenomenon recurs and on a more intense scale; for here it is not ideas that have to be met but emotions, desires, impulses, sensations, vital needs and habits of the lower Nature; these, since they are less conscious than ideas, are blinder in their response and are more obstinately self-assertive: all have the same or a greater power of resistance and recurrence, or take refuge in the circum-conscient universal Nature or in our own lower levels or in a seed-state in the subconscient and from there have the power of new invasion or resurgence. This power of persistence, recurrence, resistance of established things in Nature is always the great obstacle which the evolutionary Force has to meet, which it has indeed itself created in order to prevent a too rapid transmutation even when that transmutation is its own eventual intention in things.
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.943

For most spiritual teachings the task of overcoming the obstructions posed by the stubborn resistance of the old nature and old habits in matter and the psyche are so great that they prefer the Wikipedia link ascetic acosmic path of renbunciation and world-denial; total transcendence without any transformation. This is the option taken by traditional Hinduism and Buddhism (although in the former one finds Tantra, and in the latter some compensation in the Bodhisattva Ideal), by Gnosticism and Christianity in which the body, sexuality, and the world is renounced as sinful or evil (but re Christianity there is some progress in countering this attitude of denial of the world and of nature, for example in forms of Christianity, Process theology, the Creation Spirituality of Matthew Fox), and in fact in most forms of mysticism in general. But a far greater and more noble task is the transformation of matter and transmutation of the lower nature, rather than its denial.

Which brings us to the next section:

Overcoming the resistance to the transformation

This obstacle will be there, -- even though it may progressively diminish, -- at each stage of this greater ascent. In order to allow at all to the higher Light an adequate entry and force of working, it is necessary to acquire a power for quietude of the nature, to compose, tranquillise, impress a controlled passivity or even an entire silence on mind and heart, life and body: but even so a continued opposition, overt and felt in the Force of the universal Ignorance or subliminal and obscure in the substance-energy of the individual's make of mind, his form of Life, his body of Matter, an occult resistance or a revolt or reaffirmation of the controlled or suppressed energies of the ignorant nature, is always possible and, if anything in the being consents to them, they can resume dominance.

A previously established psychic control is very desirable as that creates a general responsiveness and inhibits the revolt of the lower parts against the Light or their consent to the claims of the Ignorance. A preliminary spiritual transformation will also reduce the hold of the Ignorance; but neither of these influences altogether eliminates its obstruction and limitation: for these preliminary changes do not bring the integral consciousness and knowledge; the original basis of Nescience proper to the Inconscient will still be there needing at every turn to be changed, enlightened, diminished in its extent and In its force of reaction. The power of the spiritual Higher Mind and its idea-force, modified and diminished as it must be by its entrance into our mentality, is not sufficient to sweep out all these obstacles and create the gnostic being, but it can make a first change, a modification that will capacitate a higher ascent and a more powerful descent and further prepare an Integration of the being in a greater Force of consciousness and knowledge.

This greater Force is that of the Illumined Mind...
The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.943-4

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
Text by Sri Aurobindo © Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 1977
page uploaded 30 November 1998, last modified 5 March 2005