At various places in the writings, the circumconscient is also referred to as the
- environmental consciousness
- nervous envelope
By environmental consciousness I mean something that each man carries around him, outside his body, even when he is not aware of it, – by which he is in touch with others and with the universal forces. It is through this that the thoughts, feelings etc. of others pass to enter into one – it is through this also that waves of the universal force – desire, sex, etc. come in and take possession of the mind, vital or body.
(Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Subconscient)
All this means that the physical body is not man’s sole means of action in the physical world. The physical extends and expands into more and more subtle modes of activity and all the more, not less, effective for that very reason. Behind the physical lies the subtle physical, behind which again is the vital physical and then the various grades of the vital. Indeed the vital or life energy as a whole is the real dynamism of all our physical activities and if it usually acts through its bodily instruments, it can act independently of them too; normally, too, it often acts in this way, only we are not conscious or observant enough to notice. A conscious concentration of the vital energy directed upon a material object can handle it with the effectivity of material energy.
(Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works, Vol 3, Expanding Body Consciousness)
Circumconscient’s role in illness
‘The first thing one sees when one has broken the barrier is the vital-physical body. It is around the physical body and with the physical it forms as it were the “nervous envelope.” The force of a disease has to break through it to reach the body – except for the attacks on the most material parts. You can then feel the disease coming and also feel in the nervous envelope the part of the body which it is going to, or intending to, attack because what is in the nervous envelope has a material counterpart in the body. Thus it is the vital-physical which is first attacked and then the force takes the form of a disease in the system. I had myself the experience of fever all around the body.’
(A.B. Purani, Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Volume 1, p. 232)
This knowledge is also useful in curing diseases. For instance, it is perfectly easy to prevent diseases and to cure them if you have the knowledge of these planes. There is what is called “the nervous envelope“, which is an intermediary between the subtle and the gross body. It is that which acts as a sheath protecting you against all attacks of diseases. If the nervous envelope is intact no disease can come to you. In most people, with aging, this envelope wears out and then gradually the forces are able to penetrate and pierce it. That is one of the causes of death.
(A.B.Purani, Evening Talks 3rd January, 1939)
Circumconscient’s role in accidents
Question: What are the causes of accidents? Are they due to a disequilibrium ?
If one answers deeply… Outwardly there are many causes, but there is a deeper cause which is always there. I said the other day that if the nervous envelope is intact, accidents can be avoided, and even if there is an accident it won’t have any consequences. As soon as there is a scratch or a defect in the nervous envelope of the being and according to the nature of this scratch, if one may say so, its place, its character, there will be an accident which will correspond to the diminution of resistance in the envelope. I believe almost everybody is psychologically aware of one thing: that accidents occur when one has a sort of uncomfortable feeling, when one is not fully conscious and self-possessed, when one feels uneasy. In any case, generally, people have a feeling that they are not fully themselves, not fully aware of what they are doing. If one were fully conscious, the consciousness wide awake, accidents would not occur; one would make just the right gesture, the necessary movement to avoid the accident. Hence, in an almost absolute way, it is a flagging of consciousness. Or quite possibly it may be that the consciousness is fixed in a higher domain; for example, not to speak of spiritual things, a man who is busy solving a mental problem and is very concentrated upon his mental problem, becomes inattentive to physical things, and if he happens to be in a street or in a crowd, his attention fixed upon his problem, he will not make the movement necessary to avoid the accident, and the accident will occur. It is the same for sports, for games; you can observe this easily, there is always a flagging of the consciousness when accidents occur, or a lack of attention, a little absent-mindedness; suddenly one thinks of something else, the attention is drawn elsewhere – one is not fully conscious of what one is doing and the accident happens.
As I was telling you at the beginning, if for some reason or other – for example, lack of sleep, lack of rest or an absorbing preoccupation or all sorts of things which tire you, that is to say, when you are not above them – if the vital envelope is a little damaged, it does not function perfectly and any current of force whatever which passes through is enough to produce an accident. In the final analysis, the accident comes always from that, it is what one may call inattentiveness or a slackening of consciousness. There are days when one feels quite… not exactly uneasy, but as though one were trying to catch something which escapes, one can’t hold together, one is as though half-diluted; these are the days of accidents. You must be attentive. Naturally, this is not to tell you to shut yourself up in your room and not to stir out when you feel like that ! This is not what I mean. Rather I mean that you must watch all the more attentively, be all the more on your guard, not allow, precisely, this inattentiveness, this slackening of consciousness to come in.
(Collected Works of the Mother, Vol 4, Questions and Answers, 2 April 1951)
Question: Does the vital body also need rest?
Yes. The vital body surrounds the physical body with a kind of envelope which has almost the same density as the vibrations of heat observable when the day is very hot. And it is this which is the intermediary between the subtle body and the most material vital body. It is this which protects the body from all contagion, fatigue, exhaustion and even from accidents. Therefore if this envelope is wholly intact, it protects you from everything, but a little too strong an emotion, a little fatigue, some dissatisfaction or any shock whatsoever is sufficient to scratch it as it were and the slightest scratch allows any kind of intrusion. Medical science also now recognises that if you are in perfect vital equilibrium, you do not catch illness or in any case you have a kind of immunity from contagion. If you have this equilibrium, this inner harmony which keeps the envelope intact, it protects you from everything. There are people who lead quite an ordinary life, who know how to sleep as one should, eat as one should, and their nervous envelope is so intact that they pass through all dangers as though unconcerned. It is a capacity one can cultivate in oneself. If one becomes aware of the weak spot in one’s envelope, a few minutes’ concentration, a call to the force, an inner peace is sufficient for it to be all right, get cured, and for the untoward thing to vanish.
(Collected Works of the Mother, Vol 4, Question and Answers, 27 Jan 1951)
Widening and rupture of the circumconscient after attainment of cosmic consciousness
The subliminal has besides a formation of consciousness which projects itself beyond all these sheaths and forms a circumconscient, an environing part of itself, through which it receives the contacts of the world and can become aware of them and deal with them before they enter. The subliminal is able to widen indefinitely this circumconscient envelope and more and more enlarge its self-projection into the cosmic existence around it. A point comes where it can break through the separation altogether, unite, identify itself with cosmic being, feel itself universal, one with all existence. In this freedom of entry into cosmic self and cosmic nature there is a great liberation of the individual being; it puts on a cosmic consciousness, becomes the universal individual.
Its first result, when it is complete, is the realisation of the cosmic spirit, the one self inhabiting the universe, and this union may even bring about a disappearance of the sense of individuality, a merger of the ego into the world-being.
Another common result is an entire openness to the universal Energy so that it is felt acting through the mind and life and body and the sense of individual action ceases.
But more usually there are results of less amplitude; there is a direct awareness of universal being and nature, there is a greater openness of the mind to the cosmic Mind and its energies, to the cosmic Life and its energies, to cosmic Matter and its energies.
A certain sense of unity of the individual with the cosmic, a perception of the world held within one’s consciousness as well as of one’s own intimate inclusion in the world consciousness can become frequent or constant in this opening; a greater feeling of unity with other beings is its natural consequence. It is then that the existence of the cosmic Being becomes a certitude and a reality and is no longer an ideative perception.
(Sri Aurobindo, Life Divine, Knowledge by Identity)