3.2 The Microcosm Called Man

A Consciousness-Based Understanding

Once we admit the possibility of Consciousness, a new frontier opens before us. This new psychology based on the science of consciousness would be new in the following ways:

  1. Since the fabric which weaves all form and phenomena is the stuff of Consciousness, therefore all form, phenomena and processes can be understood in essence by an understanding of the laws and properties of consciousness at appropriate levels.
  2. It would also mean discovering the ability to manipulate our psychological and eventually even physical existence (since all is a play of consciousness) more radically and effectively with a minimum resort to material means.

As a result of these two, it is possible to arrive at a point where we are directly able to effect a change in the cellular and atomic constitution of material life by the pressure of consciousness alone.

This does not mean that there is no truth in biological pathways and neural circuitry. They too are formulations of that consciousness. But to manipulate them by external means alone, as we do now, leaves the balance precarious, the control only partial and temporary. We control one disease, and another new one springs a surprise upon us. Old diseases rebound and return. The primitive, savage and brute continues to live in us. He wears a raiment of silk instead of grass and animal skins. He has even learnt the use of computers and doesn’t need stones to fight anymore. He has perfected weapons of mass destruction. An outer change alone, that is not commensurate with an inner change, is therefore merely an illusion and sometimes a fatal one since it makes us complacent about ourselves. A consciousness-based understanding is a more complete one since it includes the inner and the outer as understood from a common matrix rather than understanding the inner in terms of the outer, the mind in terms of the body, as we do now. We shall therefore try to understand the psychological apparatus in terms of Consciousness and its evolutionary history.

Consciousness is a fundamental reality and is therefore essentially one. However, in the course of its’ involutionary and evolutionary history it differentiates itself into many levels and planes and sub-planes with properties unique to each one. Our perception, experience, understanding and even reactions to life derive themselves largely from the plane of consciousness to which we fundamentally belong. Even the outer circumstances of life are in their last analysis related to the station of our consciousness and its need for a certain kind of evolutionary experience. These planes of consciousness are like a ladder which we climb in our evolutionary journey from life to life. A very important key to the understanding of all problems therefore lies in our ability to grasp and understand the different planes and levels of consciousness and their effects upon us.


The Subconscious

In a certain sense, the human apparatus (both physical and otherwise) is nothing else but layers of consciousness that have developed in the course of evolution. All these layers exist in one form or another in the collective memory of the race. They also exist as a hitherto forgotten subconscious memory, as seeds we have sown in our individual and collective evolutionary journey. No evolutionary psychology can be complete which does not take into account this vast unconscious repository where all our past lies buried as a confused, inchoate and disorganised mass of memory traces and fragments. True development is not possible unless we learn to handle and master it. The seeds of energies we have let into motion are not all helpful in our upward growth. There are weeds and bushes holding the tree of life back from its skyward climb. There are also husks and thorns hiding and perhaps protecting the golden grain of our future to be released into fruition at the right moment. The good seed, the bad seed, the sweet spring and the poison sting all lie there waiting for their hour. If allowed, some of these can topple man’s neat and ordered world, crumbling to dust in a moment what centuries of effort built. Therefore no authentic and lasting change is possible without tackling this mixed, incoherent mass; mixed because it contains every possibility; incoherent because it is all something jumbled up, whose origin is lost in the crypts of our past lives. Yet though this mass needs to be dealt for any thorough work upon our self, it is a mistake to take it up as a first door of entry for our self-discovery. The subconscious is like an ancient hieroglyph whose key we have lost and therefore even when we see it and confront it as in dreams and through psychoanalysis, we can barely make sense of it. But the only authentic record keeper of our past is the secret soul in us and unless we have contacted the soul we can make little sense of this ancient script. If anything we may only add to the confusion. Yet we can talk about it first since it represents our mummified past as a background to much that we habitually think and do.

As if this is not enough, we are constantly filling this store of passive memory with fresh records, albeit in a casual, random, heedless and largely unconscious way. Nothing is lost here and can even be retrieved under special conditions of hypnotic regression or even free association as well as in dreams. Even in our waking life, this passive storehouse throws up many sudden surprises. It is for this reason that the best human beings can suddenly be overtaken by the worst impulses, if the barrier between this subconscious and waking life is broken. So too man may drown under a flood of subconscient forces, may lose his balance and become a helpless toy in the hands of powerful infra-rational forces. Drawn into the mire of subconscient life, he may lose all contact with outer reality and a deeper inner reality and live like a zombie in a black hole. Not only this, the subconscient is also responsible for the recurrences of many old afflictions of body and mind. Even when the active symptoms have been removed from the surface, the seeds of illness remain in the subconscious. Even when we have thrown out the thought of an illness, still its memory lingers in the shadowy regions of our subconscient nature.

This is the true significance of the subconscious in us. With regard to illness, it is the main reason for their recurrences. With regard to habits, it is the main seat of resistance in the breaking up of past habits and the formation of new ones. Its role, especially in certain psychological illnesses of throwing our whole system out of gear and catching us off guard, is already known. It is a faithful record keeper and no experience is forgotten and can erupt any time on finding support in our waking life. This support can come through active remembrance, fear and anxiety about the illness and its recurrence, suggestions of illness, sometimes even trivial associations like observing someone who has a similar problem, etc. In collusion with certain other parts of our nature, these subconscient recurrences can get strengthened and lead to the formation of habit. Most habits persist and return perniciously because of strong subconscious support.

In addition, the subconscious also receives all the collective suggestions that are prevalent at a certain time in the world. These suggestions may be thrown upon the unsuspecting mind through the TV and media and also from the medical persona. Once received passively, they can create havoc (rarely also do good similarly if the suggestion is a positive one). There are instances of patients who suddenly worsened soon after their diagnosis even though they were harbouring the illness safely without much discomfort for years. The very name and the idea associated with the illness worked like a disintegrating force. It is very important that especially health professionals carefully weigh their words when they talk to their patients, a fact that most medical practitioners do not understand. What adds to the complexity is that these suggestions can enter even as vibrations of thought and need not be overtly spoken. It is enough that people in the environment believe and think in a certain way and the individual is receptive or simply passive to them and the door of entry is found and the damage done. The role of this part in health and illness is therefore immense.

It is not easy or simple to deal with this part. The method of free association as in psychoanalysis only uncovers it more. It may make matters worse by stimulating a force we do not have the strength to handle. The other method of hypnotic regression is perhaps only a shade better. For in a state of hypnosis, a strong counter-suggestion can be placed in the subconscient or a strong formation left there to serve as barrier. The strength of this barricade, however, depends upon the power and level of consciousness from where the suggestion originated. If weak, it may add to the confusion that human life has become. Human will is mental and while it can be powerful over our outer life, it is less active upon our inner life. The reason for this is that our will is at best a mental will, often divided within us wherein one part cries for one thing and the other for another. Still by practice we can make this will strong and help in getting rid of some of the subconscient baggage. One of the ways to deal with the subconscient therefore is to give auto-suggestions or positive affirmations, especially when we are in a half-asleep state. The subconscious is more readily accessible then and the suggestions sink better. The final victory however needs, in addition to our mental will, the will and powers of our soul to aid us, the help of the superconscient parts to come in and conquer the subconscient fiefdom that holds our future a prisoner at the mercy and at ransom to our past.


The Superconscient

It is only a power greater than the mind that can truly handle the subconscient mass in man and annihilate its difficulties. That power is usually still not active in most human beings. Yet it is a latent potential in all. All true self-culture is an effort, however small, to activate this latent power, or at least prepare us for its greater action in us. Its intuitions are less common than the subconscient, since this part has not yet developed nor organised itself in the material life of man. We visit these golden beaches sometimes in our dreams, which leave a vivid and beautiful trace of impression upon our careworn lives. The mystic frequents this lost Eden more often in the form of visions. The truly religious is occasionally touched by a breath of fresh air from these mountain summits stirring his heart with feelings sublime. The man of dynamism is empowered from these realms, when like Joan of Arc, he participates in a truly great action oblivious of his small ego self. The superconscient is our future, the larger and higher self of ours just as the subconscient is our fallen and lower self.

Accordingly this part is usually accessible only under special states of meditative trance, when the subconscient and the waking conscious life are quietened. Yet if there has to be a new organisation of life in man, this suppressed superconscious must emerge in our normal waking life. We do indeed see it in those rare and exceptional moments of self-transcendence when we exceed ourselves. The hero charged by an ideal, the man inspired by a higher intuition, the devotee offering himself at the unseen altar of God, the person sacrificing himself for a mission: these are some examples of a higher influx. The result is a martyr, a hero, a genius, a saint, a prophet, and a sage. But closer to us, are the sudden, miraculous cures, the release from old habits, the recovery/discovery of new faculties etc. It is the real doer of miracles. For what is miraculous and supernatural to us is perfectly natural to the superconscient.

The methods traditionally used for an entry into the superconscient parts are truly selfless action, the various forms of Yoga, spiritual means like prayers, concentration upon God and His Name, etc. The superconscient is not just a single layer but a series of climbs that reach like so many steps beyond our present highest mental state of reason and analysis. If the subconscient eludes rational analysis because it is infra rational, the superconscient is even less analysable being supra rational and thereby transcending reason. The method of rational enquiry cannot therefore apply to an exploration of the superconscient. The superconscient has its own reason but not the way our mind is accustomed to value and see things. Its premises are other, its values and vision different and closer to the truth of our being and nature. We can understand the mind and all that is below it through the superconscient and not vice versa. The only valid way to truly study and understand the superconscient is by an entry into it, through direct experience, by fulfilling the conditions required for the same.

The superconscient evolution is indeed the future of humanity. The pressure of the superconscient is beginning to reshape our material life. The superconscient force has entered into the subconscient life, throwing up its mud and mire as a necessary and inevitable cleansing process. The result may be an initial confusion, a loss of old systems. This is the reason for many of the social and other upheavals taking place since the last few decades. The breaking of the past, the youth unrest, the women empowerment movement, globalization, the cry for individuality and freedom, breaking of fixed norms, an exploration of new frontiers in science and technology, an experimentation into the boundaries of human relationships, the rediscovery of the lost and bygone past for utilizing its materials or working it out, etc. are some of the effects of the pressure of the emerging superconscient in us. Even the sudden upsurge of new diseases is partly due to the increasing pressure of the superconscious and the resistance of physical nature to its emergence. No doubt this massive influx as an invasion from another world is leading to a lot of confusion, an unsettling of all our fixed ideas and norms. But once the storm settles, a happier and higher life will emerge, a clearer and luminous horizon bridging our earth and the sky.

There is an interesting and important side-application to all this. The rational barrier dividing the super- and subconscient parts (or supra- and infra-rational) is not fully developed in a child. It is possible, therefore, to approach it easily during early life since it is more readily accessible. It is easier in childhood to implant helpful suggestions, strengthen desirable tendencies and associations, work upon stubborn subconscient impulses, open doors to superconscient influx and influences through stories, myths and legends. As the child develops, the constant impressions of our outer necessities, demands and logic of outer life begin to take over. There is an increasing recession of both, the subconscient and the superconscient and what we have is a so called normal, crystallised adult, shocked by the subconscient in himself and the world, and deprived of the superconscient gleam in his life and humanity. The result is a half blind, erring humanity, unable to bridge the gulf between what we are and what we aspire to be. The result is a half-animal, half-human creature ‘stumbling through fog in search of paradise’. Having said this, we may now turn to study the layers that lie between the repressed subconscient and the dormant and suppressed superconscient in us.


The Intermediate Layers of Consciousness

As we have seen, the story of human psychology is not confined to man alone. A whole past lingers, a whole future is waiting to emerge. The different layers of consciousness have accumulated in the course of our evolutionary past just as there are those that are asleep and awaiting to emerge. What is below us are the ranges of a half-conscious, subconscious and inconscient existence. So too there are ranges above the mind that climb to the highest levels of existence. Compressed and sandwiched in between are the triple levels of mind, life and body that largely constitute our waking consciousness. These levels climb up and down like a double ladder. The nature of our life-experience, capacities, personality, understanding and responses depend largely upon the level at which we are awake at the moment. What we experience is not a true and total picture but a reflected image due to the peculiar angle of our vision from which we view reality. This unique peculiar mode of viewing, this partial seeing is the false ego-identity. It is false because we consider the partial seeing as the whole. Therefore, we understand neither others nor ourselves. As we climb, we gather experience, grow and expand, become increasingly whole and integrated. It is this growth of consciousness from which the necessity and machinery of rebirth and karma arises. What is however not stated, but is of great importance, is that our present constitution is moving towards the future. Thus, the sum of past energies and the attraction to the future, determine what we are today. The truth behind karma and rebirth is a growth to a higher level of consciousness that is freer, subtler, lighter, and vaster with greater capacities for knowledge, harmony, beauty, power, joy and action. The sole punishment is to linger at the same level for a long time or rarely, to regress for a while to complete some remaining attraction of experience. Thus karma is in effect a machinery and law of evolution rather than a means of reward and punishment or of bondage. The forgetting of our past at the level of our outer awareness is also meant to hasten the evolution so that we are not looking backwards. The unfinished lines of our past experience, however, linger in the dim tracts of our subconscious existence waiting to be consumed or consummated.

But just as we can visualize the planes of consciousness as vertical ascending and descending ladders so too we can look at it as a building in the horizontal plane with one door leading to another within. The outermost of this many roomed mansion leads to our most outward and superficial waking consciousness composed mainly of outer contacts and their corresponding sensations. Behind that lie our routine and mechanical thoughts, feelings, impulses — a veritable pell-mell mixture of many things. This outer consciousness is more like a wave thrown as a result of many outer and inner forces whose origin are not readily traceable though their net effect is seen. Deeper than this is a vast room of a subliminal consciousness with greater range of faculties and powers of mind, life and body. The inner being is less cabined than the outer and mingles freely with the universal consciousness around it. This greater consciousness is usually hidden though can be developed and brought out through a methodical self-culture.

Thus, the inner mind can be trained to receive impressions and information from sources beyond the reach of the senses as in the phenomenon of telepathy, clairaudience, clairvoyance, etc. There is a tendency in some quarters of science to deny its existence because of the rarity of the phenomenon and its’ lack of 100% accuracy. The rarity, however, is because absorbed in our routine and mechanical outer life, we scarcely develop this part or notice its presence and influence. The absence of 100% accuracy is because though endowed with greater powers and faculties it is still a domain of ignorance, of a larger and cosmic ignorance if we like to call it. Systems like Reiki use the powers of this inner life force effectively in the healing process just as the powers of the inner mind and its thought-force can be used for distant healing, etc. So too the secret inner physical consciousness, if awakened in us through physical culture, can directly heal many maladies from within without the conscious intervention of mind and other forces. This part can be developed by training our consciousness to go within, withdrawing and freeing it from the clutches of outer life. It can also wake up spontaneously in some or be aided through hypnosis and trance states.

Deeper still lies the secret chamber and inner chapel of our soul waiting for the hour of our readiness for its self-discovery. We shall have occasion to turn to it later. These levels are accessible to all who sincerely attempt to know them and their truths are verifiable. There are however conditions for doing this research. As certain physical conditions are needed to experiment and research physical truths, so too here one is required to fulfil certain psychological conditions. The laboratory of the psychologist in the science of consciousness is not outside but within and his field of experience is the whole life. We shall have to turn to these levels of consciousness later and hence it is necessary to grasp them.


Food for Thought

“…There are three occult sources of our actions — the superconscient, subliminal, and subconscient, but of none of them are we in control, or even aware. What we are aware of is the surface being which is only an instrumental arrangement…universal Nature individualises itself in each person; for this general Nature deposits certain habits of movement, personality, character, faculties, dispositions, tendencies in us, and that, whether formed now or before our birth, is what we usually call ourselves.

…Our nature is a constant activity of forces supplied to us out of which (or rather out of a small amount of it) we make what we will or can. What we make seems fixed and formed for good, but in reality it is all a play of forces, a flux, nothing fixed or stable; the appearance of stability is given by constant repetition and recurrence of the same vibrations and formations. That is why our nature can be changed… but it is a difficult job because the master mode of Nature is this obstinate repetition and recurrence. [1]

“…The spiritual consciousness is that in which we enter into the awareness of Self, the Spirit, the Divine and are able to see in all things their essential reality and the play of forces and phenomena as proceeding from that essential Reality.

…The cosmic consciousness is that in which the limits of ego, personal mind and body disappear and one becomes aware of a cosmic vastness…It is not that the ego, the body, and the personal mind disappear, but one feels them only a small part of oneself. One begins to feel others too as part of oneself or varied repetitions of oneself… One begins to know things by a different kind of experience, more direct, not depending on the external mind and the senses.

…The ordinary consciousness is that in which one knows things only or mainly by the intellect, the external mind and the senses and knows forces etc. only by their outward manifestations and results, and the rest by inferences from these data.[2]

…The supreme supra-cosmic Sachchidananda is above all. Supermind may be described as its power of self-awareness and world-awareness… The Supermind is an entirely different consciousness not only from the spiritualised Mind, but from the planes above the spiritualised Mind which intervene between it and the supramental plane. Its fundamental character is knowledge by identity… Mind is an instrument of the Ignorance trying to know — Supermind is the Knower possessing knowledge because it is one with it and the known… It is a dynamic and not only a static Power, not only Knowledge, but a Will according to Knowledge….. [3]

“…A line is … drawn between the higher half of the universe of consciousness… and the lower half….. The higher half is constituted of Sat, Chit, Ananda, Mahas (the supramental) — the lower half of mind, life, Matter. This line is the intermediary Overmind….. [4]

“…Intuition sees the truth of things by direct inner contact, not like the ordinary mental intelligence by seeking and reaching out for indirect contacts through the senses etc. But the limitation of Intuition as compared with the Supermind is that it sees things by flashes, point by point, not as a whole…. Mental intuitive knowledge catches directly some aspect of the truth but without any completeness or certitude, and the intuition is easily mixed with ordinary mental stuff that may be erroneous; in application it may easily be a half truth or be so misinterpreted and misapplied as to become an error.” [5]

“…The ‘Mind’ in the ordinary use of the word covers indiscriminately the whole consciousness, for man is a mental being and mentalises everything; but in the language of this Yoga, the words mind and mental are used to connote specially the part of nature which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movements and formations, mental vision and will etc. that are part of his intelligence. The vital has to be carefully distinguished from mind, even though it has a mind element transfused into it; the vital is the Life nature made up of desires, sensations, feelings, passions, energies of action, will of desire, reactions of the desire-soul in man and of all that play of possessive and other related instincts like anger, fear, greed, lust etc., that belong to this field of nature…. The body also has a consciousness of its own and, though it is a submental instrument or servant consciousness, it can disobey or fail to obey as well. In many things, in matters of health and illness for instance, in all automatic functionings, the body acts on its own and is not a servant of the mind. If it is fatigued, it can offer a passive resistance to the mind’s will. …When you first ask the hand to draw a straight line or to play music, it can’t do it and won’t do it. It has to be schooled, trained, taught and afterwards it does automatically what is required of it. All this proves that there is a body consciousness …. which can do things on the mind’s order but it has to be awakened, trained, and made a good and conscious instrument. It can even be so trained that a mental will or suggestion can cure the illness of the body.” [6]

“…[T]he mind in the physical or mental physical is limited by the physical view and experience of things, …and does not go beyond that…The mechanical mind is a much lower action of the mental physical which, left to itself, would only repeat customary ideas and record the natural reflexes of the physical consciousness to the contact of outward life and things…

The vital physical on the other hand is the vehicle of the nervous responses of our physical nature; it is the field and instrument of the smaller sensations, desires, and reactions of all kinds to the impact of the outer physical and gross material life… As to the gross material part it is not necessary to specify its place, for that is obvious but it must be remembered that this too has a consciousness of its own, the obscure consciousness proper to the limbs, cells, tissues, glands, and organs…

In the subconscient there is an obscure mind full of obstinate sanskaras, impressions, associations, fixed notions, habitual reactions formed by our past, an obscure vital full of the seeds of habitual desires, sensations and nervous reactions, a most obscure material which governs much that has to do with the condition of the body. It is largely responsible for our illnesses; chronic or repeated illnesses are indeed mainly due to the subconscient and its obstinate memory and habit of repetition of whatever has impressed itself upon the body consciousness. But this subconscient must be clearly distinguished from the subliminal parts of our being such as the inner or subtle physical consciousness, the inner vital or inner mental; for these are not at all obscure or incoherent or ill-organised, but only veiled from our surface consciousness. …

The subconscient is a concealed and unexpressed inarticulate consciousness which works below all our conscious physical activities. Just as we call the superconscient a higher consciousness above which things descend into being, so the subconscient is below the body-consciousness and things come up into the physical, the vital and the mind-nature from there.” [7]

“…If we regard the gradation of worlds or planes as a whole, we see them as a great connected complex movement; the higher precipitate their influences on the lower, the lower react to the higher and develop or manifest in themselves within their own formula something that corresponds to the superior power and its action … But all this must not be taken in too rigid and mechanical a sense. It is an immense plastic movement full of the play of possibilities and must be seized by a flexible and subtle tact or sense in the seeing consciousness. It cannot be reduced to a too rigorous logical or mathematical formula.” [8]

What we see, therefore, is first the One Supreme consciousness lapsing itself to vanishing points through stages and grades, creating the many levels of consciousness. Next, is the slow progressive emergence of the same consciousness but this time creating, as it were, the material existence evolving and embodying higher and higher levels, thus creating evolutionary forms, each increasingly more complex, more capable of true power and knowledge and love, more capable of freedom and joy and perfection. Man stands somewhere in the middle of this double ladder, his feet of clay glued to earth, his head held up aspiring to the sky. It is against this backdrop that we can proceed to study and understand the hierarchy of consciousness.

[1] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 218-219

[2] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 316

[3] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 134, 137

[4] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 138

[5] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 159, 163

[6] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 168, 176

[7] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 178, 202-3, 216, 220.

[8] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Part 1, p. 129-130.