Mental formations: powers and perils

The power of imagination gives man the power to create what Sri Aurobindo & The Mother refer to as “formations”. These formations have their own powers and perils as explained here.

The Mother speaks on mental formations

Man has an extraordinary power of creation. He has created a whole set of godheads in his own image, having the same faults as himself, doing on a bigger scale, with greater power whatever he does. These beings have a relative existence, but still it is an independent existence, just like your thought. When you have a thought, a well-made mental formation which goes out of you, it becomes an independent entity and continues on its way and it does that for which it was made. It continues to act independently of you. That is why you must be on your guard. If you have made such a formation and it has gone out, it has gone out to do its work; and after a time you find out that it was perhaps not a very happy thing to have a thought like that, that this formation was not very beneficial; now that it has gone out, it is very difficult for you to get hold of it again. You must have considerable occult knowledge. It has gone out and is moving on its way Supposing in a moment of great anger (I do not say that you do so, but still when you were in quite a rage against someone, you said: “Ah! couldn’t some misfortune befall him?” Your formation has gone on its way. It has gone out and you have no longer any control over it; and it goes and organises some misfortune or other: it is going to do its work. And after sometime the misfortune arrives. Happily, you do not usually have sufficient knowledge to tell yourself: “Oh! It is I who am responsible”, but that is the truth.

Note that this power of formation has a great advantage, if one knows how to use it. You can make good formations and if you make them properly, they will act in the same way as the others. You can do a lot of good to people just by sitting quietly in your room, perhaps even more good than by undergoing a lot of trouble externally. If you know how to think correctly, with force and intelligence and kindness, if you love someone and wish him well very sincerely, deeply, with all your heart, that does him much good, much more certainly than you think. I have said this often; for example, to those who are here, who learn that someone in their family is very ill and feel that childish impulse of wanting to rush immediately to the spot to attend to the sick person. I tell you, unless it is an exceptional case and there is nobody to attend on the sick person (and at times even in such a case), if you know how to keep the right attitude and concentrate with affection and good will upon the sick person, if you know how to pray for him and make helpful formations, you will do him much more good than if you go to nurse him, feed him, help him wash himself, indeed all that everybody can do. Anybody can nurse a person. But not everybody can make good formations and send out forces that act for healing.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1953): 1 July 1953

Sri Aurobindo in letters to various disciples

In each plane there is an objective as well as a subjective side. It is not the physical plane and life alone that are objective.

When you have the power of formation of which I spoke, whatever is suggested to the mind, the mind constructs and establishes a form of it in itself. But this power can cut two ways; it may tempt the mind to construct mere images of the reality and mistake them for the reality itself. It is one of the many dangers of a too active mind.

You make a formation in your mind or on the vital plane in yourself – it is a kind of creation, but subjective only; it affects only your own mental or vital being. You can create by ideas, thought-forms, images, a whole world in yourself or for yourself; but it stops there.

Some have the power of making consciously formations that go out and affect the mind, actions, vital movements, external lives of others. These formations may be destructive as well as creative.

Finally, there is the power to make formations that become effective realities in the earth-consciousness here, in its mind, life, physical existence. That is what we usually mean by creation.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – II

10 thoughts on “Mental formations: powers and perils

  1. Pingback: On collective prayer and meditation | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  2. ipi

    An incident from the Aurobindo Ashram…

    Mother, X has broken a porcelain bowl.

    Yesterday you were surprised that she had never broken any-thing,—naturally today she has broken something; this is how mental formations work. That is why one must state only what one wishes to see realised.

    You must abstain from thinking about a person when you cannot think anything good about him.

    The Mother, Some Answers from the Mother: Letters to a Young Sadhak – VI

  3. Sandeep Post author

    Mother Mirra Alfassa: Now, in occultism there is the “rebound”. You send out a bad thought, it returns to you as an attack. That is exactly one of the reasons why you must have a complete control over your feelings, sensations, thoughts, for if you become angry with someone or think badly of him, or if, still worse, you wish him ill, well, in your very dream you see this person coming with an extreme violence to attack you. Then, if you do not know these things, you say, “Why, I was right in having bad thoughts against him!” But in fact, it is not at all that. It is your own thought that comes back to you. And the person may be absolutely unaware of all that has happened, for—and this is one of the commonest laws in occultism—if you make a formation, for instance a mental formation that an accident or something unpleasant should happen to a certain person and you send out this formation, if it so happens that this person is in a very high state of consciousness, does not at all wish anything bad, is quite indifferent and disinterested in the affair, the formation will come up against his atmosphere and instead of entering will rebound upon the one who has made it. In this way serious accidents have taken place. There were certain people who practised that low deformation of occultism which is called magic and they had made formations through magic against someone. But this person happened to be far above this and could not be touched by those formations. So they returned upon those people, fatally. If they had made a formation of death, it would have been they who died.

    The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 3 March 1954

    Question: What happens to this formation once it has worked ill? Does it continue?

    Mother: No. When a formation of this kind acts, it goes with a definite purpose. It has been made with a definite purpose. It acts and once its action is over, it disappears, it has no longer any raison d’ˆetre. It was a formation for a particular action. When the action is accomplished, the formation dissolves. There are many other kinds of formations with more or less durable lives. I tell you it is a science—you cannot learn chemistry in an hour! But still, in a case like that, when the formation returns and strikes the one who has made it, it is finished. Its action is accomplished and comes to an end.

    The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 3 March 1954

  4. amsha

    People make these evil formations constantly quite unaware of occult laws behind them but the world is secretly Brahman – complete equlibrium, you can’t bend Brahman without recoil.

  5. Mike-3

    I am quite confused. At first it is said that mental formations go out and do their job, that they effect the individual about who you had the thought. But then Sri Aurobindo sais that most peoples mental or vital formations only excist within themselve and only a few have the power to effect their environment. That seems contradicting.

    Also the concept of lower occultims, this magic. that is pretty much like casting a spell on someone right? Like Voodoo or something?

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: That seems contradicting.

      It depends on the power you put in the formation – the weaker formations only create a wall of imagination in which you dwell while the stronger formations go out and affect others as well. As Sri Aurobindo says above, “In each plane there is an objective as well as a subjective side.”

      Also the concept of lower occultism, this magic. that is pretty much like casting a spell on someone right? Like Voodoo or something?

      I wouldn’t know. I don’t study those aspects; staying centered in life is hard enough 🙂

  6. Pingback: Why do we feel afraid and how to overcome it | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  7. Sandeep Post author

    The Buddhist term for “mental formation” is Tulpa


    In mysticism, a tulpa is the concept of a being or object which is created through sheer discipline alone. It is a materialized thought that has taken physical form and is usually regarded as synonymous to a thoughtform.[6]

    The term comes from the works of Alexandra David-Néel, who claimed to have created a tulpa in the image of a jolly Friar Tuck-like monk which later developed a life of its own and had to be destroyed.

  8. Pingback: On luck, superstitions, folk tales and miracles | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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