The True Vital
From Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness -- by Satprem
“The vital is an indispensable instrument – nor creation or strong action is possible without it. It is simply a question of mastering it and of converting it into the true vital which is at once strong and calm and capable of great intensity and free from ego. It is through a change in the vital that the deliverance from the blind vital energy must come – by the emergence of the true vital which is strong, wide, at peace, a willing instrument of the Divine and of the Divine alone.”
– Sri Aurobindo, The Integral Yoga
[The Vital: The Life-nature made up of desires, sensations, feelings, passions, energies of action, will of desire, reactions of all the play of possessive and other related instinct, such as anger, fear, greed, lust, etc. . The vital part of man is a true instrument only when its feelings and tendencies have been purified by the psychic (soul) touch and governed by the spiritual light and power.]
There is a kind of threshold to be crossed if we want to find the true life force behind the troubled life of the frontal (wo)man. According to traditional spiritual teachings, this crossing involves mortifications and renunciations of all sorts (which, by the way, serve mainly to enhance the ascetic’s high opinion of himself), but we are after something quite different. We do not seek to leave life but to widen it; we do not want to give up oxygen for hydrogen, or vice versa, but to study the chemical composition of consciousness and to see under what conditions it will yield a clearer water and a more efficient operation. Yoga is a “greater art of life” , proclaimed Sri Aurobindo. “The attitude of the ascetic who says “I seek nothing” and that of the worldly man who says “I want this thing” are the same”, remarks Mother. “The one may be as attached to his renunciation as the other is to his possession”. Actually, as long as we need to renounce anything at all, we are not ready; we are still submerged in dualities.
Yet, without any special training, anyone can make the following observations. First, all we have to do is tell the vital, “You have to renounce this or to abandon that,” for it to be seized with the opposite desire; or if it does agree to renounce something, we can be certain it will expect to be paid back a hundredfold, and it would just as soon deal with a big renunciation as a small one, since in either case it is at the center of the show, negatively or positively: both sides are equally nourishing it. If we unmask this simple truth, we will have understood the whole functioning of the vital, from top to bottom, namely, its utter indifference to our human sentimentalism; pain appeals to it as much as joy, deprivation as much as abundance, hatred as much as love, torture as much as ecstasy. It thrives in every case.
This is because it is a Force, the same Force in pain as in pleasure, We are thus bluntly confronted with the absolute ambivalence of all the feelings that make up the niceties of our frontal personality. Every one of our feelings is the reverse of another; at any moment it may change into its “opposite”: the disillusioned philanthropist (or, rather, the disillusioned vital in the philanthropist) becomes a pessimist, the zealous apostle retires to the desert, the staunch unbeliever becomes a sectarian, and the virtuous man is scandalized by all the things he does not dare to do.
Here we uncover another feature of the surface vital: it is an incorrigible charlatan, a shameless impersonator. Each time we cry in disapproval or in pain (any crying at all), there is a monkey snickering in us. We all know this, yet we remain as sentimental as ever, To top it all, the vital excels in befogging everything. It is fog incarnate; it mistakes the force of its feelings for the force of truth, and substitutes for the heights a smoky volcano summit in the abyss.
Another observation, which follows from the first, becomes plainly apparent: that of the utter powerlessness of the vital to help others, or even simply to communicate with others, except when there is a meeting of egos. There is not a single vital vibration emanating from us, or relayed by us, that cannot immediately change into its opposite in the other person. We need only wish someone well for the corresponding ill feeling or resistance or opposite reaction to awaken automatically, as if it were being received at the same time as the other; the process seems as spontaneous and inevitable as a chemical reaction. Indeed, the vital does not seek to help, it always seeks to take, in every possible manner.
All our feelings are tainted with grabbing. Our feeling of sadness—any sadness—at a friend’s betrayal, for example, is the sure sign of our ego’s involvement, for if we truly loved people for themselves, and not for ourselves, we would love them, in any circumstances, even as adversaries; we would feel the joy of their existence in all cases. Our sorrows and sufferings are actually always the sign of a mixture, and therefore always deceitful. Joy alone is true. Because only the [real] ”I” within us that embraces all existences and all possible opposites of existence is true. We suffer because we put things outside ourselves. When all is inside, all is joy, because there is no longer any gap anywhere. “But what about the ‘Heart’?” we may protest. Well, isn’t the heart in fact the most ambivalent place of all? It tires easily, too.
And this is our third observation: Our capacity for joy is small, as is our capacity for suffering; we soon grow indifferent to the worst calamities. What waters of oblivion have not flowed over our greatest sorrows? We can contain very little of the great Force of Life—“we cannot withstand the charge”, as Mother says; a mere breath beyond the limit, and we cry out with joy or pain, we weep, dance, or faint. It is always the same ambiguous Force that flows, and before long overflows. The Force of Life does not suffer; it is not troubled or exalted, evil or good—it just is, flowing serenely, all-encompassing. All the contrary signs it assumes in us are the vestiges of our past evolution, when we were small and separate, when we needed to protect ourselves from this living enormity too intense for our size, and had to distinguish between “useful” and “harmful” vibrations, the ones getting a positive coefficient of pleasure or sympathy or good, the others a negative coefficient of suffering or repulsion or evil.
But suffering is only a too great intensity of the same Force, and too intense a pleasure changes into its painful” opposite”: “They are conventions of our senses”, says Sri Aurobindo. “It only takes a slight shift of the needle of consciousness”, says the Mother. “To cosmic consciousness in its state of complete knowledge and complete experience all touches come as joy, Ananda.” It is the narrowness and deficiency of consciousness that cause all our troubles, moral and even physical, as well as our impotence and the perpetual tragicomedy of our existence. But the remedy is not to starve the vital, as the moralists would have us do; it is to widen it; not to renounce, but to accept more, always more, and to extend one’s consciousness. For such is the very sense of evolution. Basically, the only thing we must renounce is our ignorance and narrowness. When we frantically cling to our small frontal personality, to its put-ons and sticky sentimentality and saintly sorrows, we are not really “human”; we are the laggards of the Stone Age; we defend our right to sorrow and suffering.
The seeker will no longer be fooled by the dubious game going on in his surface vital, but for a long time he will keep the habit of responding to the thousands of small biological and emotional vibrations circling around him. The transition takes time, much as the transition from the world-mongering mind to mental silence did, and it is often accompanied by spells of intense fatigue, because our organism loses the habit of renewing its energy at the common superficial source (which soon appears crude and heavy once we have tasted the other type of energy), yet it still lacks the capacity to remain constantly connected to the true source, hence some “gaps.”
But here again the seeker is helped by the descending Force, which powerfully contributes to establish a new rhythm in him. He even notices, with ever-renewed astonishment, that if he takes but one small step forward, the Help from above will take ten toward him—as if he were expected. It would be quite wrong to believe that the work is only negative, however; naturally the vital likes to think that it is making huge efforts to struggle against itself, which is its skillful way of protecting itself on all fronts, but in practice the seeker does not follow an austere or negative rule; he follows a positive need within his being, because he is truly growing out of yesterday’s norms and yesterday’s pleasures, which now feel to him like a baby’s diet. He is no longer content with all that; he has better things to do, better things to live.
This is why it is so difficult to explain the path to one who has never tried it, for he will see only his own current perspective or, rather, the loss of his perspective. Yet if we only knew how each loss of perspective is a step forward, how greatly life changes when we pass from the stage of closed truths to that of open truths — a truth like life itself, too great to be confined within limited perspectives, because it embraces them all and sees the usefulness of each thing at each stage of an infinite development; a truth great enough to deny itself and move endlessly to a higher truth.
Behind this childish, restless, easily exhausted vital, we will find a quiet and powerful vital—what Sri Aurobindo calls the true vital—that contains the very essence of the Life Force devoid of its sentimental and painful byproducts. We enter a state of peaceful, spontaneous concentration, like the sea beneath the movement of the waves. This underlying stillness is not a dulling of the nerves, any more than mental silence is a numbing of the brain; it is a basis for action. It is a concentrated power capable of initiating any action, of withstanding any shock, even the most violent and prolonged, without losing its poise. Depending on the degree of our development, all kinds of new capacities can emerge from this vital immobility, but first of all we feel an inexhaustible energy; any fatigue is a sign that we have fallen back into the superficial turmoil. The capacity for work or even physical effort increases tenfold. Food and sleep are no longer the single and all-absorbing source of energy renewal. (The nature of sleep changes, as we will see, and food can be reduced to an hygienic minimum.)
Other powers often considered ” miraculous,” may also manifest, but they are miracles with a method; we will not attempt to discuss them here, as it is better to experience them directly. Let us simply say that one who has become capable of controlling a certain vital vibration in himself is automatically capable of controlling the same vibration anywhere he meets it in the world. Further, in this stillness, another sign will appear permanently: the absence of suffering and a kind of inalterable joy. When an ordinary person receives a blow, whether physical or moral, his immediate reaction is to double up in pain; he contracts and begins to seethe inside, increasing the pain tenfold. On the contrary, the seeker who has established some immobility within himself will find that this immobility dissolves all shocks, because it is wide; because the seeker is no longer a small constricted person, but a consciousness overflowing the limits of its body. Like the silent mind, the quieted vital universalizes itself spontaneously:
“In yoga experience the consciousness widens in every direction, around, below, above, in each direction stretching to infinity. When the consciousness of the yogi becomes liberated, it is not in the body but in this infinite height, depth and wideness that he lives always. Peace, Freedom, Power, Light, Knowledge, Ananda.”
– Sri Aurobindo
The least pain, of any kind, is the immediate sign of a contraction in the being and of a loss of consciousness. A very important corollary follows upon this widening of the being, which will make us appreciate the absolute necessity of vital immobility [zero-point non-reactive consciousness], not only for the sake of clarity of communications, efficiency in action, and joy in life, but simply for our own safety.
As long as we live in the small frontal person, the vibrations are small, the blows are small, the joys are small; we are protected by our very smallness. But when we emerge into the universal Vital, we find the same vibrations, or forces, on a gigantic, universal scale, for these are the very forces that move the world as they move us; and if we have not acquired a perfect equanimity or inner immobility, we are blown away. This is true not only of the universal Vital but of all the planes of consciousness.
Indeed, one can, one must (at least the integral seeker) realize the cosmic consciousness on all levels: in the Superconscient, the mind, the vital, and even in the body. When he rises into the Superconscient, the seeker will find out that the intensities of the Spirit also can be overpowering (it is actually always the same divine Force, the same Consciousness-Force above or below, in Matter or in Life, in the Mind or higher up, but the farther it descends, the darker, more distorted and broken up it becomes by the medium it has to pass through), and if the seeker, just emerging from his heavy density tries to rise too rapidly, to skip some stages without having first established clear and firm foundation, he may well burst like a boiler.
Vital clarity, therefore, is not a matter of morality, but a technical or even organic requirement; one could say. In practice, the great Solicitude is always there to keep us from premature experiences; perhaps we are narrow and small only as long as weneed to be narrow and small. Finally, when we have mastered vital immobility, we find that we can begin to help others with some effectiveness. For helping others has nothing to do with sentimentality or charity; it is a matter of power, of vision, of joy. In this; tranquillity, we possess not only a contagious joy but a vision that dispels the shadows. We spontaneously perceive all vibrations; and distinguishing what they are enables us to manipulate them, quiet them, avert or even alter them. “Tranquillity”, says Mother, “is a very positive state; there is a positive peace which is not the opposite of strife — an active and contagious and powerful peace, which subdues and calms, straightens and puts things in their place.”
We will give an example of this “contagious peace,” although it belongs to a somewhat later stage in Sri Aurobindo’s life. It was in Pondicherry, many years ago, in the season when tropical rains and sometimes cyclones sweep down suddenly and bring devastation. Doors and windows have to be barricaded with thick bamboo laths. That night, a cyclone erupted with torrents of rain, and Mother hurried to Sri Aurobindo’s room to help him shut his windows. He was seated at his table, writing (for years Sri Aurobindo spent twelve hours a day writing, from six in the evening till six in the morning, then eight hours walking up and down ” for the yoga”). The windows were wide open, but not a drop of rain had come inside his room. The peace that reigned there, recalls Mother, was so solid, so compact, that the cyclone could not enter.