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The Subtle physical

The Subtle physical is Sri Aurobindo's term for a subtler aspect of the physical nature. This has many qualities not found in the gross physical nature. In The Agenda, The Mother often refers to it. It might be compared to the etheric body and plane, or even the astral body and plane. The term "subtle physical" to distinguish from gross (sthula) or outer material physical.


By the gross physical is meant the earthly and bodily physical - as experienced by the outward sense-mind and senses. But that is not the whole of Matter. There is a subtle physical also with a subtler consciousness in it which can, for instance, go to a distance from the body and yet feel and be aware of things in a not merely mental or vital way.

...the subtle physical has a freedom, plasticity, intensity, power, colour, wide and manifold play (there are thousands of things there that are not here) of which, as yet, we have no possibility on earth.
– Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, part 1, section v

From the Agenda:

Undated 1958

For me, the subtle physical is far more real than this distorted world, but to see it you have to be conscious there, whereas people want to get effects which give them the impression of the marvelous and the miraculous and they want the subtle physical to become visible in the material world IN SPITE OF the falsehood. What makes the great difference for the ordinary physical consciousness is this: it wants to come into contact with that in spite of the falsehood, whereas the universal law is, get out of the falsehood and that will become true for you. For me, this subtle world is far more real than the material world – much truer, much more tangible, concrete, real – but for others in this material world to believe in the subtle worlds, either they must have some beginning of experience, or else they must agree to have confidence and say, 'All right, they say it's like that, therefore it must be like that.' Otherwise, to be convinced they want the truth to manifest in a world of falsehood in spite of the falsehood. Their attitude is like this: 'We are willing to admit that it is possible, that it is real, but as long as it has not manifested here, we do not quite believe in it.'

Are you referring to the supramental world?

It applies to everything: every true thing in the world, including all the fairy tale miracles. Things that appear miraculous to the physical consciousness happen in an altogether different way, but to it they are indeed miraculous since they don't depend on any physical processes. As I have said [re the Experience of the 'Supramental Ship.') ,' to travel from one place to another there is no need for any means of transport, to feed ourselves it is not necessary to put external things into the body, to dress ourselves we have no need to put on clothes, etc ... . The play of forces is the spontaneous expression of Truth and of the true Will, the true vision.

Agenda vol. 1 p.146

There's a practical question I'd like to ask you regarding the subtle physical. I understand the mind centers, which correspond to a particular world, the vital centers, which receive all sorts of influences, but which center corresponds to the subtle physical, and what are the influences coming from the subtle physical? Is there a center that corresponds to the subtle physical?

Where do you situate the center for the vital?

For the vital it's the navel. The region from the heart to the sex organs, isn't it?

Well, for the subtle physical it goes from the navel down to the last center, that whole region.

And what are the influences that come from the subtle physical?

Generally they are of a far higher quality than material influences. I have noticed (I don't know whether it's a personal or a general thing) that the subtle physical I see is always of a somewhat higher quality than the physical proper. I mean somewhat more harmonious: things are smoother. All that comes from the vital is more often than not aggressive, quarrelsome and so on – and difficult. But this realm is generally calm – calm, orderly, where things are more harmonious – GENERALLY (I can't say whether it's the case with everybody, but in my own case it's like that).

As I told you, Sri Aurobindo lives there permanently, as though in a house of his own: you can see him, you can stay with him, he is busy. It is very much like the physical, but a physical that would be less grating, you understand, where things are more harmonious and satisfying, less excited. There is less of that feeling of haste and uncertainty. In that house where Sri Aurobindo lives, life unfolds very, very harmoniously: people come and go, there are meals even.... But all that obeys more general laws, and a sense of security and certainty not to be found in physical life. And the symbolism is more exact (I don't know how to express it ...), the symbolic transcription of things is less distorted, more exact.

This is the subtle physical as I know it, I can't say if it is the same for everyone. Sri Aurobindo said, "There is a true physical," well, I have a feeling that this is what he calls the "true physical" – a subtler physical, the true physical which is behind.

But does it influence the whole earth?

Oh, yes! In general, these things are terrestrial. But probably it's still quite subjective, in the sense that each one has an impression of it according to what he is and his stage of development.

But does it exert a DIRECT action on the earth, just as the vital has an action on the earth?

I think that as the Supramental descends, the subtle physical will have a greater and greater action on earth, because it is the world where the new creation will be formed before it "descends," before it becomes absolutely visible and concrete.

I often have a sense that it would take only a very tiny thing – which is hard to define – a very tiny movement of materialization to make this new creation concrete to us as we are. And it is probably – it will probably be formed completely in that subtle world before it materializes.

I think few people are able to make the distinction. They have rather an impression that it's their "dream way" of seeing things; I mean they say, "Oh, it's just a dream." In most cases it's like that. The subtle physical has the character of a realm where things are more fluid and harmonious than physical things, but with the same concrete quality; its nature is not like that of vital things, which have vibrations of power but again not that very concrete and objective quality characteristic of material things. In the subtle physical, things are very concrete. For instance, if someone stands in your way, you have to push him aside: he doesn't just vanish, you can't walk through him. If you see an object that's not in its place, you have to move it. Voilà.

Agenda vol. 4 pp.35-37

When Sri Aurobindo left, I was standing near his bed (later on, when he was alone, when there was no one left), and all the supramental force he had concentrated in his body (what was left in his body), he passed on to me. I stood near his bed; he had been declared "dead," but all that supramental consciousness which was there came out of his body, slowly, and directly entered mine. It was so material that I felt the friction of the force everywhere, all over. But it was slightly luminous. That was something different than with Pavitra. As for Sri Aurobindo, he ... (how can I put it?), he stayed mainly ... I found him everywhere: I found him all the way up, absolutely one with the Supreme Consciousness; I found him spread about in many places to see many people and do a lot of work; and I found him (but then, in a precise form, though NOT FIXED - A precise, rather supple form that looked like him, like what we knew of him, with more suppleness, without the fixity of the physical, but quite precise, a form in his likeness, quite in his likeness), I found him in the subtle physical.

There he has a dwelling, he is settled and stays permanently (which doesn't prevent him from being at many other places and ...), but there is a Sri Aurobindo there whom I see almost every night, who looks after the whole work, sees people, and who is almost constantly with me. In the subtle physical, it's a specific place, and very large - huge, you know, he is there, seeing people, doing all kinds of things ...

May 17, 1969

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
Quoted text by Sri Aurobindo © Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust and The Mother, © Institute of Evolutionary research
page uploaded 23 October 2007