The phenomenon of double consciousness

It is a seminal phase in the spiritual path when, after years of arduous practice, the surface personality becomes subdued and the inner being(subtle body) begins to awake.  It is then that one has the palpable feeling that there are two different beings within – a stable inner part and an insecure outer part.  One begins to live in the vast calm of the sturdy inner being even as one observes the action of the restless outer personality as it reacts to phenomenal events based on pre-conceived mental and emotional constructs.  In this condition, we gain living proof of the observation noted in various scriptures that “there are two birds sitting on the tree of life; one eats the fruit while the other eats not.” (Rig Veda 1.164.20,  Mundaka Upanishad 3.1, Shwetashwatara Upanishad 4.6).

Two beings he was, one wide and free above,
One struggling, bound, intense, its portion here.
A tie between them still could bridge two worlds;

Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The House of the Spirit and the New Creation

Sri Aurobindo discussed the phenomenon of double consciousness in various letters to disciples:

There is a state of being experienced in Yoga in which we become a double consciousness, one on the surface, small, active, ignorant, swayed by thoughts and feelings, grief and joy and all kinds of reactions, the other within calm, vast, equal, observing the surface being with an immovable detachment or indulgence or, it may be, acting upon its agitation to quiet, enlarge, transform it.  (1)

The experience you have of a division in the being with the inner void and indifferent, udāsīna(neutral), – not sorrowful, but neutral and indifferent, is an experience which many pass through and is highly valued by the Sannyasins(ascetics). For us it is a passage only to something larger and more positive. In it the old small human feelings fall away and a sort of calm neutral void is made for a higher nature to manifest. It must be fulfilled and replaced by a sense of large silence and freedom into which the Mother’s consciousness can flow from above. (2)

The division of the being into two parts – one a large consciousness behind, the other a smaller consciousness in front, is also a familiar feature of sadhana(spiritual path). In itself it is a necessary movement; it should naturally result in the growth of a larger yogic consciousness prevailing over the small external consciousness and becoming a means for transformation under the pressure of the Divine Shakti. But here too it is possible for error to take place – especially an outside Force may come in and replace the larger consciousness behind by a larger vital ego which pretends to be that. One must be on one’s guard against any such intrusion; for many sadhaks(aspirants) suffer long and severely owing to such an intrusion which spoils the course of the sadhana. (3)

Photo: Escher’s hand with reflecting sphere (flick via creative commons. Click image for source)

Carlos Castaneda provides a concrete description of his experience of this dualism in his book The Power of Silence. In Castaneda’s books, a shift into higher awareness is denoted by a movement of the “assemblage point“.   The (spiritual) warrior passes through four phases of growth denoted by the terms : the place of concern, the place of reason, the place of no pity, and the place of silent knowledge.  The “place of no pity” seems to be  equivalent to the state of neutrality (udasina) in the Indian system of Yoga.  One has to go through this phase of “no pity” before one can reach the place of silent knowledge.  In the following excerpt, he describes the manner in which he became aware of the two parts of his being.

I abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. And right there I had, for the first time in my life, a clear knowledge of a dualism in me. Two obviously separate parts were within my being. One was extremely old, at ease, indifferent. It was heavy, dark, and connected to everything else. It was the part of me that did not care, because it was equal to anything. It enjoyed things with no expectation. The other part was light, new, fluffy, agitated. It was nervous, fast. It cared about itself because it was insecure and did not enjoy anything, simply because it lacked the capacity to connect itself to anything. It was alone, on the surface, vulnerable. That was the part with which I looked at the world.

I deliberately looked around with that part. Everywhere I looked I saw extensive farmlands. And that insecure, fluffy, and caring part of me got caught between being proud of the industriousness of man and being sad at the sight of the magnificent old Sonoran desert turned into an orderly scene of furrows and domesticated plants.  The old, dark, heavy part of me did not care. And the two parts entered into a debate. The fluffy part wanted the heavy part to care, and the heavy part wanted the other one to stop fretting, and to enjoy.

“Why did you stop?” don Juan asked.

His voice produced a reaction, but it would be inaccurate to say that it was I who reacted. The sound of his voice seemed to solidify the fluffy part, and suddenly I was recognizably myself.

I described to don Juan the realization I had just had about my dualism. As he began to explain it in terms of the position of the assemblage point I lost my solidity. The fluffy part became as fluffy as it had been when I first noticed my dualism, and once again I knew what don Juan was explaining.

He said that when the assemblage point moves and reaches the place of no pity, the position of rationality and common sense becomes weak. The sensation I was having of an older, dark, silent side was a view of the antecedents of reason.

“I have mentioned this to you already,” he said. “What you are experiencing and call dualism is a view from another position of your assemblage point. From that position, you can feel the older side of man. And what the older side of man knows is called silent knowledge. It’s a knowledge that you cannot yet voice.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because in order to voice it, it is necessary for you to have and use an inordinate amount of energy,” he replied. “You don’t at this time have that kind of energy to spare.”

“Silent knowledge is something that all of us have,” he went on. “Something that has complete mastery, complete. knowledge of everything. But it cannot think, therefore, it cannot speak of what it knows.  (4)

Related posts

  1. Stages in the spiritual journey (as per Anandamayi Ma)
  2. The subtle sounds which indicate progress in Yoga
  3. The inversion of day and night (Gita 2:69) which occurs in Brahmic consciousness
  4. Four stages of human love
  5. States of self-realization defined in the Gita
  6. Various ways in which the Kundalini rises
  7. How does the Mind change with Yoga?
  8. The Divine child suckled by the Vedic day and night
  9. The Triple Cord which has to be sundered
  10. The Golden Lid or Hiranmaya Patra which has to be ruptured


  1.  Sri Aurobindo.  CWSA vol 21, The Life Divine, Pondicherry; SABDA, 1997, p 360
  2. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 23, Letters on Yoga, Pondicherry; SABDA, 1997, p 1003.
  3. Sri Aurobindo.  SABCL vol 23, Letters on Yoga, Pondicherry; SABDA, 1997, p 1055.
  4. Carlos Castaneda.  The Power of Silence, New York; Simon and Schuster,  1987, pp 165-167.

11 thoughts on “The phenomenon of double consciousness

  1. V. Arvind

    Nice post! I noticed a small typo:

    In “which spoils the course of he sadhana” I think “he” should be “the”..

    Also, I was wondering if “inner being” can be really identified with “subtle body” in the sense of Sri Aurobindo…

  2. kalpana

    I came across this text from Sri Aurobindo, in which he refers to ‘shifting of the centre’ and ‘living at once in two complementary worlds of our being’, phrases that resonated some of the issues discussed in your post, so I took the liberty of adding them here:
    ”Even, the physical may come to seem to itself unreal and hallucinatory– but this is an exaggeration and new misleading exclusiveness due to a shifting of the centre and a change of action of the mind and sense–or else may seem at any rate less powerfully real. When, however, the psychical and physical experiences are well combined in their true balance, we live at once in two complementary worlds of our being each with its own reality, but the psychical revealing all that is behind the physical, the soul view and experience taking precedence and enlightening and explaining the physical view and experience.”

  3. Sandeep Post author

    “there are two birds sitting on the tree of life; one eats the fruit while the other eats not.”
    (Rig Veda 1.164.20, Mundaka Upanishad 3.1, Shwetashwatara Upanishad 4.6).

    It seems, (if I am not mistaken), Sri Aurobindo experienced the truth behind this symbolism during his spiritual practice, because there is a revealing entry in his diary The Record of Yoga dated Sept 6, 1914, which records the following vision that he had:

    Symbolic Rupa
    Blackbird displaces shadowy crow on slender twig (before, a brighter bird on a faery bough). The brighter bird is the pranamaya (vital) dream that seeks to realise itself. The blackbird, displacing the crow, is the first step of the realisation. That will be replaced by better forms & finally by the Bird first seen.
    The twig (represents) Earth.
    The Bird (represents) Humanity (vih, suparna). [In Sanskrit, Vih = bird and Suparna = golden]

    The bird is a frequent motif in visions which signifies the human soul.

  4. Sandeep Post author

    The Dual Being – a poem by Sri Aurobindo

    There are two beings in my single self.
    A Godhead watches Nature from behind
    At play in front with a brilliant surface elf,
    A time-born creature with a human mind.

    Tranquil and boundless like a sea or sky,
    The Godhead knows himself Eternity’s son.
    Radiant his mind and vast, his heart as free;
    His will is a sceptre of dominion.

    The smaller self by Nature’s passions driven,
    Thoughtful and erring learns his human task;
    All must be known and to that Greatness given
    His mind and life, the mirror and the mask.

    As with the figure of a symbol dance
    The screened Omniscient plays at Ignorance.

    Sri Aurobindo. Collected Poems, p.152

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  7. mwb6119

    “But here too it is possible for error to take place – especially an outside Force may come in and replace the larger consciousness behind by a larger vital ego which pretends to be that.”

    An example, or a description, would be nice about this “possible error.” Thx!

  8. mike

    “But here too it is possible for error to take place – especially an outside Force may come in and replace the larger consciousness behind by a larger vital ego which pretends to be that.”

    Mark, l get the impression SA is referring to the ‘lntermediate Zone’ in that passage. D’you remember that big letter He wrote about many yogi’s getting stuck there. Even at the beginning of the letter His description is very similar to what is said above:

    “All these experiences are of the same nature and what applies to one applies to another. Apart from some experiences of a personal character, the rest are either idea-truths, such as pour down into the consciousness from above when one gets into touch with certain planes of being, or strong formations from the larger mental and vital worlds which, when one is directly open to these worlds, rush in and want to use the sadhak for their fulfilment. These things, when they pour down or come in, present themselves with a great force, a vivid sense of inspiration or illumination, much sensation of light and joy, an impression of widening and power. The sadhak feels himself freed from the normal limits, projected into a wonderful new world of experience, filled and enlarged and exalted; what comes associates itself, besides, with his aspirations, ambitions, notions of spiritual fulfilment and yogic siddhi; it is represented even as itself that realisation and fulfilment. Very easily he is carried away by the splendour and the rush, and thinks that he has realised more than he has truly done, something final or at least something sovereignly true”.


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