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It is hard to deny that on "our waking surface" this is “more or less” what it amounts to, and if we want ‘to go beyond’, considerable effort is needed. But before we can even start on that adventure, there is an additional complication that needs to be taken into account—Sri Aurobindo stresses that each part of our nature has its own character and that these different parts are not always in harmony with each other:
- Terms that belong to a concentric system:
- outer nature
- inner nature,
- and true nature.
- Terms that belong to a vertical system based on the Vedic “sevenfold chord of being”:
- upper hemisphere
- lower hemisphere
- Terms related to our centre of identification:
These three sets are like perspectives that look at the same psychological reality from three different directions. What makes this possible is Sri Aurobindo's vision of an ongoing evolution of consciousness(1), which shows us a certain inevitability of movement, something that says, "Yes, this must be where we came from, this is where we are struggling at present, and this must be the stunningly beautiful future towards which we are heading".
The following outline makes use of two other contributions Sri Aurobindo made to our understanding of human nature: the way he worked out the idea of an evolving soul or "psychic being", and the way he differentiated the higher layers of the mind, both from each other and from the vijñānamayakośa(2).
Figure 1. The concentric system
vital and mind are essentially different from matter
The "vertical system" is built around an ancient Vedic division in seven layers which Sri Aurobindo calls the sevenfold chord of being(3).
A simple table
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We can now put the most important terms used for the vertical system together as in Table 1.
|hemisphere||sevenfold chord of being||cakra||consciousness||knowledge/
|upper hemisphere||Existence (sat)||
|link plane||Supermind (mahas or vijñāna)|
|first beginnings of separation,
though not yet of real Ignorance
|Ordinary mind||Thinking mind||ājñā||Ordinary Waking Consciousness||Ignorance|
Overview of terms used for the vertical system in one table
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Aurobindo, Sri (1997), Savitri, volume 33 and 34 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department.
——— (1998), Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, volume 13 of The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department.
NB. The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo can be accessed online at: http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php.
Cornelissen, Matthijs (2008), “The Ongoing Evolution of Consciousness in Sri Aurobindo’s Cosmo-Psychology” in Helmut Wautischer (ed.), Ontology of Consciousness: Percipient Action. Boston: The MIT Press, 2008. This text can be accessed online at: http://ipi.org.in/texts/matthijs/mc-consciousness-mit.php.
——— (2013), “What is knowledge? A reflection based on the work of Sri Aurobindo” in Matthijs Cornelissen, Girishwar Misra and Suneet Varma (eds.). Foundations and Applications of Indian Psychology. New Delhi: Pearson-Longman. This text can be accessed online at: http://ipi.org.in/texts/matthijs/mc-knowledge-sa.php.
Taylor, Eugene, (1999), Shadow Culture, Psychology and Spirituality in America, Washington, DC: Counterpoint.
(1) See Cornelissen (2008)
(2) The vijñānamayakośa is the plane of conscious existence that according to Vedanta links the lower, manifest hemisphere of matter, life and mind, to the upper, divine hemisphere of saccidānanda. In modern Hindi, vijñāna means no more than a somewhat enlightened intellect and one finds the vijñānamayakośa sometimes described in similar terms. In the older texts from which Sri Aurobindo derives his terminology, the vijñānamayakośa is, however, the same as the Vedic mahas, a plane far above the mind, which is at the same time perfectly divine and differentiated, the one and the many. Sri Aurobindo explored this region with meticulous care and methodological rigour in his own experience and confirmed this much more elevated sense.
(3) See Eugene Taylor (1999).