The self and the structure of the personality — part 7
Bringing it all together
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: March 20, 2017

Before all the elements that have been discussed thus far can be brought together, it should be noted that the divisions made as part of the concentric system, apply equally to each of the three lowest layers of the vertical system. So there is an outer, inner, and true mental; an outer, inner, and true vital; and even an outer, inner, and true physical. Or to list them the other way around, one can distinguish between mental, vital, and physical aspects in the outer nature, the inner nature, and even in one’s true Self. One reason why this is important is that people can have quite different characteristics and levels of development in the various areas that constitute their personality.

Within the outer nature, for example, a person can be strong in body but weak in mind; flexible in his ideas but unforgiving in his feelings; possessive about his ideas, but generous in physical things; and, of course, the opposites are equally possible. Sri Aurobindo stresses that within the inner realm people tend to be in direct contact with each other, but the capacity to bring that inner knowledge to the surface nature differs from person to person (LD, pp. 549–567). Thus, someone may be very open to other people's thoughts and know what people think even at a distance when there is no outer contact, but the same person may be quite insensitive to their feelings. And again, the opposite may also exist: someone may sense directly, without any outer clue or contact what someone else feels, but may not have any idea about what the other thinks. In the inner physical, some people can feel concretely, as if in their own body, the physical sensations of other people, and yet they may not be particularly sensitive to their feelings or thoughts. In short, virtually all combinations are possible.

The situation is slightly different regarding the Selves on the different planes. The Self differs considerably from one plane to the other but tends to be similar in its basic characteristics from one person to the next. The mental Self, the manomaya puruṣa, is for example, most typically the witness, the sākṣī (SY, p. 238). It watches with perfect equanimity what happens in oneself and one’s surroundings. There are no comments, no judgments. In the vital Self, the prāṇamaya puruṣa, there is also equanimity, but here, it is an equanimity of feeling, energy and action: “tranquil, strong, luminous, many-energied, obedient to the Divine Will, egoless, yet or rather therefore capable of all action, achievement, highest or largest enterprise” (p. 178). There is a steady, self-existing joy and energy that streams freely, unencumbered. The physical Self, annamaya puruṣa, has most typically a strong, unperturbed peace and calm. All three tend to be impersonal, vast, blissful, and universal, but each has these qualities in a manner that depends on the plane of conscious existence they preside over.

Where One Places the Center of One's Consciousness

A major reason for making these various distinctions is, that it is so important where one places the center of consciousness. A typical example may make this clear.

Imagine a meeting in which an academic hears that a colleague has a better idea than the one she herself has just presented to the group.

    • If the academic lives at that moment predominantly in her surface mind, she will be happy, since the idea from the colleague will enable her to construct a better model of reality than the one she had managed on her own.
    • If, on the other hand, she receives the news while residing in her surface vital, she may feel threatened, because the human vital is not at all bothered about truth: it is a life-force and as such its primary concern is the need to assert itself, and so she may fear that her colleague’s prowess may endanger her own position in the power hierarchy of her office.
    • If she has access to what is called the Higher Mind, she may immediately see how the new idea hangs together with a whole range of other ideas.
    • If there is a psychic influence on the vital, her egoic need for self-assertion will be tempered by kindness or sympathy, and she may be happy for her colleague, especially if the latter needs a little boost in life.

If she lives deep within her true being, she will not have any automatic reactivity:

    • In the mental Self, she will just continue watching events unfold on the physical, vital, and mental planes.
    • In the vital Self, she will remain energetically, enthusiastically present in the midst of the play of forces.
    • In the true physical Self, she will again be nonreactive, but peacefully, eternally, and impersonally present amidst the physical circumstances.

If one looks in more detail, one might realize, as has been seen in the earlier discussion of the cakras, that there are actually three clearly distinct vital selves.

    • In the anāhata, she will be aware mainly of higher emotional feelings like sympathy and love at play during the discussion.
    • In the maṇipūra, she will be aware primarily of the power play between the ambitions of the protagonists in the debate.
    • In the svādhiṣṭhāna, she will be aware of the smaller, individual life-sensations.

And finally, there are notorious as well as beneficial combinations:

    • If her center of identity is divided between the two outer, lower vital levels, she may not have much interest in the content of the debate, but she might try to use sex-appeal to gain the upper hand in the department’s power-struggle, or, reversely, use a position of power to solicit sexual or social favors.
    • On the positive side, a combination of well-tuned vital and mental powers might enable her to use the new ideas to implement some much-needed positive change, whether inside the office or in the world outside.

Some Diagrams

To make it easier to visualise the relationships between the various concepts discussed so far, I will now put some of them together into three diagrams. The reader may keep in mind that reality is always much more complex than the models that can be made of it, and these diagrams are intended only to depict in graphic form how the different parts of the personality conceptually relate to each other. They are not intended to depict reality in any other way.

Figure 10.3. The three lowest levels in the concentric system

Figure 10.3 indicates how the concentric system (depicted in Figure 2) intersects with the three planes of the lower hemisphere: the physical, vital, and mental. The grey sheet labeled “Section” on the right side of Figure 3 serves as the backdrop for the conceptual relationships indicated in Figure 4 and Figure 5.

Figure 10.4. Simplified overview of the structure of the personality 

Figure 4 indicates the most prominent elements of human nature together in a simple, two-dimensional diagram. The ego and the outer nature are on the right. It may be noted that in the outer nature, the distinction between mental, vital, and physical is not as clear as the separate circles indicate. In the inner nature, they are clearly distinct, but in the outer nature, they are always mixed up together. An important issue that is visible, even in this highly simplified diagram, is that the inner nature, which in mainstream psychology would be counted under the self, is in Indian systems like Vedānta and Sāṁkhya unambiguously part of prakṛti, the non-self.

Figure 10.5. Slightly More Detailed Depiction of the Same

Figure 5 shows a somewhat more detailed rendering of the same model. Along the vertical axis, there are listed the various planes belonging to the Sevenfold Chord of Being. The subsequent discussion has added the cakras and the corresponding parts of the inner nature; below the diagram, a few additional terms have been added to indicate the concentric system. In Figure 4 and 5, on the left of line A is the Self, the puruṣa, the carrier of our individual consciousness. On the right of line B is the outer nature, which is all of which most people are aware. In between the two vertical lines are the inner worlds. The arrow-head lines under “inner being” indicate that the center of the inner being can be in the inner realm itself, in the corresponding cakra, or in the plane-specific Self. The lines under “psychic being” indicate that the psychic being evolves over time: It gradually brings first the true being, then the inner being, and, ultimately even the outer being under its control.

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