Signs of spiritual aptitude

When the third eye is awakened in a Yogi, he/she is able to visualize the subtle face of a person which offers precise indications on the character of that particular individual. It is the soul that builds the face. To the awakened Master, certain physical features can be singular indicators of our past incarnations. The examples here illustrate how  Sri Aurobindo, the Mother Mirra Alfassa and Ramakrishna Paramahansa could determine the physiognomy of individuals.

A word of caution while reading these passages: The unenlightened man should not use these physical descriptions as a code to evaluate other human beings because in the absence of subtle vision, one cannot categorically determine which particular feature takes priority for a specific individual. External beauty need not correspond to the maturity of the inner soul.

Interpreting the universe by soul signs
He read from within the text of the without:
The riddle grew plain and lost its catch obscure.
A larger lustre lit the mighty page.

(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother evaluating photographs

Purani (a disciple) speaks: A photo was taken and shown to Sri Aurobindo. It made a favourable impression and he found that the psy­chic being could open-though he found (on reading the photograph) that there was hardly any development of the mental being and the physical being was too weak for this Yoga. He saw him seven days later and told him that he could not give this Yoga. to him : “This is a very difficult Yoga and it makes no less demands on the Sadhaka (practitioner) than the old methods. Everything is to be given up to the Power that is above the Mind. This Yoga accepts life but that does not mean that it accepts the ignorance of life”. (1)

Mother Mirra Alfassa: My means of knowing people now is also like that. But for a long time now, when I see a photograph, for instance, it hasn’t been going through thought at all; there are neither deductions nor intuitions: the photograph causes a vibration somewhere. And funny things happen, too; the other day, they gave me the photograph of a person, so I have a very clear perception: from the place that is touched, from the vibration that responds, I know that this man is used to handling ideas and that he has the self-assurance of someone who teaches. I ask (just to see), “What does this man do?” They tell me, “He is a businessman.” I said, “Well, he isn’t made to be a businessman, he doesn’t know the first thing about business!” And three minutes after, they tell me, “Oh, excuse me, I am sorry, I made a mistake, he is a teacher”! (Mother laughs) That’s how it is. (2)

Ramakrishna Paramahansa

(These are various selections from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna where Sri Ramakrishna comments on the signs he observed with his subtle vision.)

Sri Ramakrishna: It depends on physical traits. A dwarfish stature and dents here and there on the body are bad signs. Such a person takes a long time to attain jnana (enlightenment)  (3)

Sri Ramakrishna: “Maybe so. But he doesn’t have a high spiritual ideal. His physical signs aren’t so good. He has a puggish face. These other youngsters are of a different class.

When this state of divine intoxication came to me the first time in Dakshineswar, a brahmin lady belonging to a respectable family came. She had very good signs. As soon as a garland was put around her neck and incense burnt before her, she went into samadhi.

At first Narendra called them [Ramakrishna’s visions] hallucinations of the mind. Now, he accepts everything. (4)

Sri Ramakrishna: When I was leaving my bed, I saw a certain person’s face and thought that Rakhal was coming! (All laugh.) Oh, yes! You must notice all these physical signs.(5)

A certain Mallick went to Jadu’s house. I could see from his eyes how clever and deceitful he was. Looking him straight in the eye, I said to him, “It’s not good to be too clever. The crow is a very clever bird, but it eats excreta of others and dies.” I also saw that he was wretched and not well off. Speechless with wonder, Jadu’s mother asked me, “Baba (father), how did you know all this, that he had nothing?” “I knew it by looking at his face.” (6)

His egotism is getting crushed. After a while, Thakur Sri Ramakrishna looks at him kindly and speaks affectionately, ”See, you have some good signs. I can know it by looking at one’s eyes and forehead.” (7)

He felt sad when he came to know that M. was married and had children. But he also told him that there were very good (yogi like) signs on his forehead and eyes (8)

Sri Ramakrishna strokes Narendra‘s face and hands and says, “All these are the signs of a devotee. The features of a man of knowledge are different: his face and body are dry.” (9)

Sri Ramakrishna (to Mahimacharan and others)—I once went with Sejo Babu to meet Devendra Tagore (father of Rabindranath Tagore).  I said to Sejo Babu, “I have heard that Devendra Tagore meditates on God. I wish to see him.” […]

To see Devendra’s trait I said to him, “Well, let me examine your body.” Devendra took off his shirt. He was fair and his body (roughed) as if sprinkled with vermilion.

“Initially I noticed that there was some pride in him. And why not? He had so much wealth, so much learning, name and fame. Seeing his pride I said to Sejo Babu, “Well, does pride come from jnana(knowledge) or ajnana(ignorance)? Does a person who has attained the knowledge of Brahman has the pride of learning, of jnana or wealth?”

“Suddenly I went into that very state while talking to Devendra. When I am in that particular state, I can see what kind of person one is. A peculiar laughter, ‘Hee-hee’ arose within me on seeing him. When I am in such a state, I feel that the learned are just like pieces of straw—when I see that there is no discrimination and dispassion in a pundit, he appears to me just as dry pieces of grass and straw (unworthy person). I then see as though a vulture is flying high but its eyes are on charnel pits.

I saw that he had both yoga and bhoga(passion). He had many small children; the doctor had arrived. It is for this reason that though a man of knowledge, he had to lead the life of a householder. I said, “You are the ‘King Janaka‘ of Kaliyuga. Janak was loyal to both Matter and Spirit and at the same time drank his cup of milk. You are living with your family keeping your mind on God. I heard about it, so I have come to see you. Please talk to me about God.”

Then he narrated some portions from the Vedas. He said, “This world is like a chandelier and every being is a lamp in it.” When I was meditating here in Panchavati I had seen exactly the same. Seeing that it resembles with Devendra’s words, I thought he was really a great man. I asked him to explain further what he had said. Then he said, “Who knew this world? God made men to proclaim His glory. If there is no light in the chandelier, it is all dark around. You cannot even see the chandelier.” (10)

Related Posts

  1. The spiritual aptitude (adhikara) needed for Yoga
  2. Developing one’s own spiritual atmosphere (Gita 3:17)
  3. The rationale behind vegetarianism
  4. Spirituality : between morality and immorality
  5. Why are artists irregular in their conduct?
  6. Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
  7. The spiritual aptitude (adhikara) needed for Yoga
  8. Distinguishing between stilling the mind and dynamizing meditation
  9. Developing discernment on which actions are spiritual
  10. Equanimity as the foundation of Integral Yoga.


  1. A. B. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, first series, p 68
  2. Mother’s Agenda, March 24, 1965
  3. Gospel, Vol 2, Sec XXIV, Chapter 1
  4. Gospel, Vol 4 Section XXIII, Chapter 4
  5. Gospel, Vol 3, Section III, Chapter 1
  6. Gospel, Vol 2, Section 19, Chapter 2
  7. Gospel, Vol 1, Section 1, Chapter 1
  8. Gospel, Preface
  9. Gospel, Vol 4, Section XXXII, Chapter 4
  10. Gospel, Vol 1, Sec 12, Chapter 1

26 thoughts on “Signs of spiritual aptitude

  1. Srikanth

    If I remember correctly, Sri Aurobindo said that Brahmananda had a higher spiritual realization than Vivekananda. I wonder if it is only the difference in their choice of external works that made Brahmananda practically “unknown” compared to Vivekananda…

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I searched but I can’t find where Sri Aurobindo has said so. Rakhal(Brahmananda) was known as the spiritual son but Vivekananda was undoubtedly the anointed successor. In the Gospel, we read how Sri Ramakrishna transferred his powers to Vivekananda before death. This is from the chapter “Last days at Cossipore

      Some days later, Narendra being alone with the Master, Sri Ramakrishna looked at him and went into samadhi. Narendra felt the penetration of a subtle force and lost all outer consciousness. Regaining presently the normal mood, he found the Master weeping.

      Sri Ramakrishna said to him: “Today I have given you my all and I am now only a poor fakir, possessing nothing. By this power you will do immense good in the world, and not until it is accomplished will you return.” Henceforth the Master lived in the disciple.

    2. Supriyo

      Yes, actually Swami Vivekananda himself noted in one place that Swami Brahmananda (Rakhal) was a more spiritual personality. Sri Ramakrishna once said to Rakhal that he (meaning Rakhal) was one of the Gopis of Sri Krishna.

      Teachings of Swami Brahmananda can be found in the book “The eternal companion” published by Ramakrishna Math.

      This doesn’t make Swami Vivekananda’s realizations any lesser. It is said in one place that Sri Ramakrishna said that the key of his (Swamiji’s) realizations would be locked (something to this effect) till the his work was complete. Swami Vivekananda’s letters towards the end of his life speak of something like that. He says he was reaching the “peace that passeth all understanding” …

      I am astounded how easy it is to pass remarks on such great souls without having the necessary qualification to do so.

      1. Sandeep Post author

        > I am astounded how easy it is to pass remarks on such great souls
        > without having the necessary qualification to do so.

        perhaps a feature of the materialistic age (21st century) we are living in … 🙂

      2. Srikanth

        “I am astounded how easy it is to pass remarks on such great souls without having the necessary qualification to do so”

        When we have the qualification, we may not have the need to ask such questions anymore. I dont see why genuine, respectful, questions or observations (asked/made with some basic sensitivity) should be discouraged solely by invoking differences in greatness or knowledge. It’s one of the big taboos in India (that demands instant faith and encourages superstition and fear) which I think needs to be shattered.

  2. Srikanth

    Sandeep, unfortunately, I dont have any of my books with me. So it might take me some time to find it. I think the remark about Brahmananda might have been either in Nirodbaran’s Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo or Talks with Sri Aurobindo.

    But thanks for the information about Vivekananda being Ramakrishna’s anointed successor. It also makes me question the correctness of my use of the word “choice”.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I looked in those books. They seem to refer to a different Brahmananda – the one from Chandod. Too many Brahmanandas! 🙂

  3. kalpana

    ”…the doctor had arrived (note: “doctor has arrived” is Ramakrishna’s way of saying that a person has found inner wisdom)”

    Wonderful expression! A real good answer to the question of asked ‘is there a doctor in the house’,in times of medical emegencies [and spiritual ones!]

    Is it possible to have that expression in the original Bengali? Thanks.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I forgot to reply to this comment… I have no idea. Ask some Bengalis in the Aurobindo Ashram.

  4. V. Arvind

    I too remembered reading this statement by Sri Aurobindo and I
    found this excerpt in evening talks (Purani’s) from the website. It is clear that Swami Brahmananda here is “Rakhal Maharaj:

    Disciple: So far as I remember Ramakrishna did not say anything like that. In fact, there was a great difference among Ramakrishna’s disciples about what Vivekananda was bringing in. But some of them submitted saying: “Vivekananda must know better.” The phrase “Daridra Narayana” was Vivekanand’s.

    Disciple: But some disciples, even though they did not object, did not take any part in the work. Brahmananda was one such. He had a greater realization than Vivekananda.

    Sri Aurobindo: I think so; he was spiritually higher. I once met Brahmanand when I went to see Belur Math. He asked me about some letters received from “G”. I don’t remember what it was about. He asked me whether he should do anything or keep quiet. I asked him to keep silent and not give any reply.

    1. Srikanth

      Yes, this is definitely the passage that I was referring to. So, it is in Purani’s “Evening Talks”. Thanks.

      Both Brahmanandas were spiritually more realized than Vivekananda, perhaps. It begs the question: Why then did Vivekananda become Ramakrishna’s heir?
      Could it be that Vivekananda unlike “Rakhal maharaj” was less concentrated on personal realization than on the collective’s? Or that Vivekananda’s work in the public sphere and his abilties for doing it were the need of the hour?

      Just speculating..

      1. Sandeep Post author

        Swami Vivekananda was born free. As a kid, he used to see a light before his eyes before falling asleep. Debendranath Tagore, the father of Rabindranath Tagore, had told him that he had the eyes of a Yogi. Sri Ramakrishna had said that Vivekananda was already an adept before birth who had come down to do his (Ramakrishna’s) work.

        Read page 16 of Nikhilananda’s biography on Swami Vivekananda
        where Sri Ramakrishna asks one of the seven sages, “‘I am going down to earth. Won’t you come with me?'”

  5. V. Arvind

    We can probably never answer such questions… but it is interesting to

    Sri Aurobindo has said that Swamiji (Vivekananda) came to him in the
    Alipore jail…

    I’m cutting and pasting below from Bernard’s site who quotes Purani’s book

    Sri Aurobindo: [.] Then there is the incident of the personality of Vivekananda visiting me in jail. He explained to me in detail the work of the Supramental – not exactly of the Supramental, but of the intuitivised mind, the mind as it is organised by the Supramental. He did not use the word “Supermind”, I gave this name afterwards. That experience lasted for about two weeks.

    Perhaps it means Swamiji’s inner being was extraordinarily high (which Sri Sri Ramakrishna saw).

    Swamiji’s sharp intellect and (powerful, even combative) vital being
    may have been just right for the work he came.

    Perhaps, it goes back to the question of comparing an avatar, or a
    “vibhuti”, with a self-realized person.

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  8. Sandeep Post author

    Here is an instance where Sri Aurobindo evaluates the spiritual signs of Vinoba Bhave, an Indian advocate of non-violence and human rights, based on his photograph:

    Purani: Have you seen Vinoba’s picture in the Hindu?

    Sri Aurobindo: Yes. The only notable feature is his forehead – it is like that of a scholar. He has close-cropped hair ready for jail.

    Satyendra: From his appearance one can make out an ascetic type.

    Sri Aurobindo: Yes, ascetic and puritan, but a mental puritan. Not vital, because his lips indicate otherwise. Only his chin has not the necessary strength for vital indulgence.

    Purani: In spite of all his rigorous practical and routine life, his health is not strong.

    Sri Aurobindo: No, he is badly born, as we call it.

    (Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, 18 Oct 1940, vol 2, p 933)

  9. Sandeep Post author

    Another example of Ramakrishna Paramahansa assessing an individual.

    Ramakrishna (to Hari): “Let me see the palm of your hand. This mark is a good sign. Relax your hand.”
    He took Hari’s hand into his as if to feel its weight.
    Ramakrishna : “He is still childlike. As yet there is no blemish in him. (To the devotees) From the hand I can tell whether a person is deceitful or guileless.

    Source: (Gospel of Ramakrishna, chap 30, The Master in various moods)

  10. Sandeep Post author

    Ramakrishna Paramahansa commenting on a person’s signs:

    Sri Ramakrishna: Outwardly Purna would not show signs of ecstasy. He is an unusual ‘receptacle’. All his signs are good. What do you say?

    M: He has beautiful, bright and prominent eyes.

    Sri Ramakrishna: It is not enough that his eyes are bright. Spiritual eyes are different. Well, did you ask him what happened to him after meeting me?

    M: Yes, we did talk about that. For the last four or five days he has been saying that whenever he thinks about God and repeats His name, tears flow from his eyes and the hair on his body stands on end.

    Sri Ramakrishna: What more is needed?

    (Gospel of Ramakrishna, Section XIII, Chap 1, Sri Ramakrishna at a Devotee’s House in Calcutta)

  11. Sandeep Post author

    Ramakrishna Paramahansa evaluating the physiognomy of individuals:

    “…when somebody came to him seeking his help in leading a spiritual life, he first examined his bodily characteristics minutely. When, for example, Baburam came to him one evening (see above) he took up one of his arms in his hands and asked him to hold it in a relaxed condition. He was satisfied to find that it was comparatively light. About Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) he said that he had every good feature except that he breathed heavily when sleeping, and such persons, he said, were generally shortlived.”

    (S.N.Dhar, Comprehensive biography of Vivekananda, VIvekananda Prakashan Kendra 1975, vol.1, p 142)

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  13. Gordana

    Some excerpts from ‘Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master’ by Swami Saradananda:
    Chapter VII The Mater’s Methods Of Testing

    8. The Master said that like the formation of the limbs etc., sleep, calls of nature and other ordinary physical actions of persons possessed of different past impressions, differed widely. Therefore, experienced people, he used to say, found clues in these acts also for ascertaining the character of men. For example, he said, during sleep all did not breath in the same way. A worldly man breathed in one way and an all-renouncing one did it in different way. At the time of answering calls of nature the former would his stream of urine deflecting to the left, while the latter would have it to the right; that the faeces of a Yogi were not touched by hogs and so on. “

    “….it was with great astonishment that we listened to him, as he narrated how the formation of each limb and sense-organ of the body of men and women resembled a particular object of our daily experience, and what good and bad qualities were indicated by such resemblance. “Take, for example, the eyes of a person,” he would say: “In the case of some, they are like the petals of a lotus; in the case of others, like the eyes of a bull; and in the case of still others, like those of Yogis. A person having his eyes like the petals of a lotus has good thoughts in him; one whose eyes are like those of a bull has lust predominate in him; the Yogi’s eyes have an upward look and are reddish; and the eyes like those of gods are not very large but long, reaching near the ears. Those who are in the habit of looking through the corners of their eyes now and then at the time of conversation, are more intelligent than ordinary people.” Or he would start the topic of the nature of the general formation of people’s bodies and say, “ A person of devotion has a soft body by nature and the joints of his arms and legs are not thick-set (that is, ca be easily turned round); even if his body is thin, the bones, muscles etc., in it are placed in such a way that the joints do not seem very angular.” In order to ascertain whether a person’s intelligence tends towards good or evil, the Master would hold that person’s forearm (from the elbow to the fingers) in his own hand and asked him to hold it relaxed. He would then feel its weight. If it was felt lighter than that of the ordinary people in general, he regarded him as a person of a pure mind. The Master, we mentioned before, thus caught hold of the forearm of Swami Premananda (alias Baburam) and felt its weight on the day of his first visit in Dakshineswar…”

    “10. The Master said many things about the formation of the limbs of women’s bodies as well of those of men. Observing these, he specified some women as Vidya Saktis, in other words as those helping men in their Godward progress, and others as Avidya Saktis, that is those who drag men towards worldliness…………………The Master sometimes said that the external form of that particular sense-organ, with the help of which women acquire the prerogative of motherhood, indicates their inward attachment to sensual enjoyment. He also said that its form varied. Some of its forms indicated the absence of strong animal instinct. Again, he said that those whose buttocks bulge out like the hind parts of black ants, have that instinct to an inordinate degree.”


    other source ( )
    “Bony people, the hollow-eyed, the cross-eyed – people with physical traits like those cannot easily acquire faith.”

  14. ipi

    A sincere heart is worth all the extraordinary powers in the world.
    -Sri Aurobindo
    (Letters On Yoga,Page: 1642)

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