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The Doctrine of Minds (Esoteric Psychology)

in Sri Aurobindo's Teachings

Psychic Being
(Chaitya Purusha)

Sri Aurobindo developed an elaborate "strata psychology", in which the various levels of mind or consciousness are not only described in some detail, but are also equated with the chakras of Tantrism.  Among his letters to disciples (which were later collected and published in the three volumes on "Letters on Yoga"), Sri Aurobindo explains the different levels of this hierarchical psychology.

The source of all Mind is the Overmind, a sort of Divine or Cosmic Mind, perhaps in part equivalent to the Nous of Plotinus, the Atzilut of Kabbalah etc (although these can also refer to distinct hypostases).  From this emanate various grades of spiritual mind.  These are shown in the following diagram.


Grades of Being - the the various levels of mind

Illumined Mind
Higher Mind
Mental Mind
Vital Mind
Physical Mind

Aspects of Mind

Sri Aurobindo sumamrises the characteristics of the various levels of Mind in a couple of letters answering questions from disciples. These were reprinted in Letters on Yoga vol. I pp.324-5). page numbers [thus]

[p.325] Higher Mind is one of the planes of the spiritual mind, the first and lowest of them; it is above the normal mental level. Inner mind is that which lies behind the surface mind (our ordinary mentality) and can only be directly experienced (apart from its vrttis in the surface mind such as philosophy, poetry, idealism, etc.) by sadhana, by breaking down the habit of being on the surface and by going deeper within. Larger mind is a general term to cover the realms of mind which become our field whether by going within or widening into the cosmic consci ousness. The true mental being is not the same as the inner mental - true mental, true vital, true physical being means the Purusha of that level freed from the error and ignorant thought and will of the lower Prakriti and directly open to the knowledge and guidance above.

[p.326] The mind proper is divided into three parts - thinking Mind, dynamic Mind, externalising Mind - the former concerned with ideas and knowledge in their own right, the second with the putting out of mental forces for realisation of the idea, the third with the expression of them in life (not only by speech, but by any form it can give). The word "physical mind" is rather ambiguous, because it can mean this externalising Mind and the mental in the physical taken together. Vital Mind proper is a sort of a mediator between vital emotion, desire, impulsion, etc, and the mental proper. It expresses the desires, feelings, emotions, passions, ambitions, possessive and active tendencies of the vital and throws them into mental forms (the pure imaginations or dreams of greatness, happiness, etc, in which men indulge are one peculiar form of the vital-mind activity). There is still a lower stage of the mental in the vital which merely expresses the vital stuff without subjecting it to any play of intel ligence. It is through this mental vital that the vital passions, impulses, de sires rise up and get into the Buddhi and either cloud or distort it. As the vital Mind is limited by the vital view and feeling of things (while the dynamic Intelligence is not, for it acts by the idea and reason), so the mind in the physical or mental physical is limited by the physical view and experience of things, it mentalises the experi ences brought by the contacts of outward life and things, and does not go beyond that (though it can do that much very cleverly), unlike the externalising mind which deals with them more from the reason and its higher intelligence. But in practice these two usually get mixed together. The mechanical mind is a much lower action of the mental physical which, left to itself, would only repeat customary ideas and record the natural reflexes of the physical consciousness to the contacts of outward life and things.

Sri Aurobindo Letters on Yoga vol. I pp.325, 326

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
Quotations by Sri Aurobindo © Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 1971
page uploaded 9 November 1998, last modified 7 July 2004