Four movements of consciousness

When we practice Yoga, our consciousness which is normally identified with the physical body begins to expand into subtle zones.   This is a description of the various movements given by Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

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The Mother’s description

In yoga all is centred round one’s consciousness. It is the consciousness that is to be oriented and changed. There are different ways in which it is taken hold of, gathered from its normal state of dispersion and channelled in a direction that is most conducive to its development.

(Ascent above to the Sahasrara Chakra/Superconscient) One is the movement of ascent. All the threads of the consciousness are taken up one by one, brought into one focus, and then directed upward, above the mind. There is a willed concentration of attention and the whole consciousness is sought to be lifted up on the wings of a steady aspiration. The object is not only to break through the limitation of the mental bounds of our being, but to lead the consciousness to an altitude where it opens into the realms of the Spirirual, the Higher Consciousness which gradually takes up the lower in itself.

(Expansion into the cosmic planes) The second is to expand the consciousness around. Basing oneself upon the Knowledge that all life is One, that there is One Divine everywhere, one sets out to feel and experience this truth in one’s consciousness. For this purpose the consciousness is spread out beyond the confines of the body and mind and made to embrace larger and larger expanses of Existence. The individual consciousness is enlarged and extended to identify itself with the universal Consciousness. And when this union is complete one lives in the cosmic Consciousness.

(Inner being) There is a third way and that is to go down into the depths of one’s being. By steady effort and close attention one withdraws from the surface preoccupations and deliberately plunges inside. There is a feeling of descending into a well; each breath seems to take you one step deeper. The thread of consciousness goes deeper and deeper till a point is reached when nothing else seems to exist. You have arrived at the root of your being, the fount of your consciousness, the Divine substratum.

(Psychic being) Still another way is to go within the being, within the reaches of the heart. Here the picture is one of entering a Hall or a series of halls inside a building. As you concentrate and proceed in your consciousness step by step, you pass through corridors after corridors of your being till you arrive at the sanctum sanctorum, the seat of the Psychic being, the divine delegate seated within you.

The Mother observes that the imagery of the Well, the Hall etc. are not simply figures of speech. They answer to mystic experience universally and can be of definite help in sadhana. They provide a support and also the direction to the effort that is put in. The image of Doors for instance, has a concrete reality in deeper spiritual experience. Even the ancient Veda speaks of the Divine Doors (devih dwarah), swinging open to admit man to the companionship of the Gods. And of course we remember the Mother’s thrilling description of the Doors She had to hammer open on the Lord’s Day to usher in the Age of the Supramental. To conceive the barrier in the form of a closed door and concentrate upon it in one’s consciousness with a strong will and aspiration, does lead to its breaking open one day or the other, releasing a flood of change in the consciousness.

We have spoken of the four ways in which the consciousness is to be trained to pass from its human into the spiritual, divine nature. One chooses the way that is found most natural to him. But it is not that that will be his way always. As the consciousness develops and new needs arise, it may be necessary to switch on to other ways depending upon the demands of the Path. Usually the progress lies through a combination of these several ways.

(M.P. Pandit. The Mother of Love, Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1965, vol. 1, p 69)

Sri Aurobindo on the various movements of consciousness

All these are different actions of the Force on the ādhāra (physical) with the one intention of opening it up from above and below and horizontally also.

  • The action from above opens it to the descent of forces from above the Mind and the ascent of consciousness above the lid of the ordinary human mind.
  • The horizontal action opens it to the cosmic consciousness on all its levels.
  • The action from below helps to connect the superconscient with the subconscient.

Finally the consciousness instead of being limited in the body becomes infinite, rises infinitely above, plunges infinitely below, widens infinitely on every side.  There is besides the opening of all the centres to the Light and Power and Ananda that has to descend from above.

 (Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 24, p 1173)

Sri Aurobindo on the veil between the inner and the outer

The piercing of the veil between the outer consciousness and the inner being is one of the crucial movements in yoga. For yoga means union with the Divine, but it also means awaking first to your inner self and then to your higher self, – a movement inward and a movement upward. It is, in fact, only through the awakening and coming to the front of the inner being that you can get into union with the Divine. The outer physical man is only an instrumental personality and by himself he cannot arrive at this union, – he can only get occasional touches, religious feelings, imperfect intimations. And even these come not from the outer consciousness but from what is within us.

There are two mutually complementary movements

  1. in one, the inner being comes to the front and impresses its own normal motions on the outer consciousness to which they are unusual and abnormal.
  2. the other is to draw back from the outer consciousness, to go inside into the inner planes, enter the world of your inner self and wake in the hidden parts of your being. When that plunge has once been taken, you are marked for the yogic, the spiritual life and nothing can efface the seal that has been put upon you.

(Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 24, p 991)

Sri Aurobindo on the ascent-descent movement

There are two movements necessary for this connection (with the Divine center above the head) to be established.

  1. One is upward; the vital rises to join with the higher consciousness and steeps itself in the light and in the impulsion of a higher force.
  2. The other is downward; the vital remains silent, tranquillised, pure, empty of the ordinary movements, waiting, till the dynamic power from above descends into it, changes it to its true self and informs its movements with knowledge as well as power.

That is why the sadhak (aspirant) feels sometimes that he is rising up into a happier and nobler consciousness, entering into a brighter domain and purer experience, but sometimes, on the contrary, feels the necessity of going back into the vital, doing sadhana there and bringing down into it the true consciousness. There is no real contradiction between these two movements; they are complementary and necessary to each other, the ascension enabling the divine descent, the descent fulfilling that for which the ascension aspires and which it makes inevitable

(Sri Aurobindo. Letters on Yoga, SABCL vol. 24, p 1290)

 See also

  1. Ascent experience
  2. Descent experience
  3. Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
  4. Difference between Vision, Experience and Realization
  5. Triple transformation
  6. Psychic transformation
  7. Identifying the signs of spiritual progress
  8. The phenomenon of double consciousness
  9. How does the Mind change with Yoga?
  10. Four epistemic methods of consciousness
  11. The Triple Cord which has to be sundered
  12. The Golden Lid or Hiranmaya Patra which has to be ruptured

10 thoughts on “Four movements of consciousness

  1. ipi

    Centralising Stress of Consciousness

    If you can grasp that, then it ought not to be difficult to see further that it [consciousness] can subjectively formulate itself as a physical, a vital, a mental, a psychic consciousness -all these are present in man, but as they are all mixed up together in the external consciousness with their real status behind in the inner being, one can only become fully aware of them by releasing the original limiting stress of the consciousness which makes us live in our external being and become awake and centered within in the inner being. As the consciousness in us, by its external concentration or stress, has to put all these things behind -behind a wall or veil, it has to break down the wall or veil and get back in its stress into these inner parts of existence -that is what we call living within; then our external being seems to us something small and superficial, we are or can become aware of the large and rich and inexhaustible kingdom within. So also consciousness in us has drawn a lid or covering or whatever one likes to call it between the lower planes of mind, life, body supported by the psychic and the higher planes which contain the spiritual kingdoms where the self is always free and limitless, and it can break or open the lid or covering and ascend there and become the Self free and wide and luminous or else bring down the influence, reflection, finally even the presence and power of the higher consciousness into the lower nature.

    Now that is what consciousness is -it is not composed of parts, it is fundamental to being and itself formulates any parts it chooses to manifest -developing them from above downward by a progressive coming down from spiritual levels towards involution in Matter or formulating them in an upward working in the front by what we call evolution. If it chooses to work in you through the sense of ego, you think that it is the clear-cut individual “I” that does everything -if it begins to release itself from that limited working, you begin to expand your sense of “I” till it bursts into infinity and no longer exists or you shed it and flower into spiritual wideness.

    SABCL Vol 22 page 237-38

    It all depends upon where the consciousness places itself and concentrates itself. If the consciousness places or concentrates itself within the ego, you are identified with the ego -if in the mind, it is identified with the mind and its activities and so on. If the consciousness puts its stress outside, it is said to live in the external being and becomes oblivious of its inner mind and vital and inmost psychic; if it goes inside, puts its centralising stress there, then it knows itself as the inner being or, still deeper, as the psychic being; if it ascends out of the body to the planes where self is naturally conscious of its wideness and freedom it knows itself as the Self and not the mind, life or body. It is this stress of consciousness that makes all the difference. That is why one has to concentrate the consciousness in heart or mind in order to go within or go above. It is the disposition of the consciousness that determines everything, makes one predominantly mental, vital, physical or psychic, bound or free, separate in the Purusha or involved in the Prakriti.

    SABCL Vol 22 page 235-36

  2. ipi

    You deal too much in paradoxes and contradictory statements, for my little brain to understand. You say, “within there is a soul and above there is Grace.” Is it not contrary to the foregoing one?

    I don’t see how it is contrary. Naturally the soul and the Grace are the two ends, but that does not mean that there is to be nothing between. You seem to have interpreted the sentence “There is a dawdling soul within and a sleeping Grace above. When the Grace awakes, the soul will no more dawdle, because it will be abducted.” Of course, it can happen like that, but, as I put it, there is no reason why it should. Generally the soul wakes up, rubs its eyes and says “Hallo, where’s that Grace?” and begins fumbling around for it and pulling at things in the hope that Grace is at the other end of the said things. Finally it pulls at something by accident and the Grace comes toppling down full tilt from God knows where. That’s the usual style — but there are others.

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  5. Pete

    Just finished reading the two most excellent chapters in “The Life Divine”
    Book II Part I Chapters
    XIII Concentration of Consciousness-Force and the Ignorance
    XIV The Origen and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

    The best I have ever read on dealing with evil.

    But he says the first step of the remedy is “the discovery of the soul”.

    He has w4itten a lot and I get the basic idea of his method – live the unity until it is realized.

    But I would like to hear some other thoughts on discovering the soul. I suppose all the spiritual practices work toward that discovery. I am also thinking one can discover the soul without explicitly realizing it.

    1. mikran

      Hi Pete
      Its been my experience (16 years as part of the on line community) that there is a strong tendency towards the practice of intellectual brahminism in IY. I am not much interested in that tendency but I do believe that Sri Aurobindo wrote it all down for our guidance so an immersion in His and the Mothers Works is essential.

      As you have asked for personal experience, I have a little mantra when I find myself wandering and it goes like this “all you need to do the integral yoga, is to bring down the silent mind, and bring the psychic being to the front”
      Sri Aurobindo prefers the term psychic being to the soul. He describes it as
      “The soul or psychic being is a spark of the Divine that grows and evolves through successive lives and leads the rest towards the Divine.” Letters on Yoga p105
      As I am attached to a judging mind, bringing down the calm silent mind is difficult but ultimately rewarding
      In Their Light

      1. Pete

        Thank you Diane. Yes, it seems to me that inner silence(or silent mind) is the work on our part that creates the space for the soul or psychic being to come forth. A crucial 1st step:

        “In the spiritual knowledge of self there are three steps of
        its self-achievement which are at the same time three parts of
        the one knowledge. The first is the discovery of the soul, not the
        outer soul of thought and emotion and desire, but the secret
        psychic entity, the divine element within us. When that becomes
        dominant over the nature, when we are consciously the soul and
        when mind, life and body take their true place as its instruments,
        we are aware of a guide within that knows the truth, the
        good, the true delight and beauty of existence, controls heart
        and intellect by its luminous law and leads our life and being
        towards spiritual completeness. Even within the obscure workings
        of the Ignorance we have then a witness who discerns, a living light
        that illumines, a will that refuses to be misled and separates the mind’s
        truth from its error, the heart’s intimate response from its vibrations
        to a wrong call and wrong demand upon it, the life’s true ardour and
        plenitude of movement from vital passion and the turbid falsehoods
        of our vital nature and its dark self-seekings. This is the first step of
        self-realisation, to enthrone the soul, the divine psychic individual
        in the place of the ego. The Life Divine p 630-631

        But how else does one discover the soul besides silent mind? By living the unity as though it were already realized? Integrating the silent mind int daily life.

        “The true solution can intervene only when by our spiritual
        growth we can become one self with all beings, know them as
        part of our self, deal with them as if they were our other selves;
        for then the division is healed, the law of separate self-affirmation
        leading by itself to affirmation against or at the expense of
        others is enlarged and liberated by adding to it the law of our selfaffirmation
        for others and our self-finding in their self-finding
        and self-realisation.” p 629

        Click to access the_life_divine_19_e.pdf

      2. Pete

        So, the experience of the Soul or Psychic being, would start with the experience of one’s self without the inner monologue?

        ” There is no distinction between the Self and the spirit. The psychic
        is the soul that develops in the evolution — the spirit is the
        Self that is not affected by the evolution, it is above it — only it
        is covered or concealed by the activity of mind, vital and body.
        The removal of this covering is the release of the spirit — and it
        is removed when there is a full and wide spiritual silence.”

    2. Sandeep Post author


      I am not sure what you mean “one can discover the soul without explicitly realizing it”.
      Do you mean one can have fleeting glimpses of the its existence ?

      Do check out these pages which are relevant to the question


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