Friday, July 18, 2008


Now is the time, perhaps, to identify and provide some simple explanations for the labels Guru used for the various constituents of the human psyche.

They are five: the body, the vital, the mind, the heart, and the soul.

These are somewhat simplified versions of the labels Guru learned in the spiritual community in which he was raised: the Sri Auruobindo Ashram. (Here is a Wikipedia description of the psychology of Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga.)

In later posts, I'll address the significant influence that Sri Aurobindo's writings eventually had on me, but for now let me just say that the following explanations of the five parts of the human psyche as categorized by Guru are my own. That is to say, they are my understandings of those terms and how I thought of them and their workings according to my own experience. And to be clear, my explanations are not necessarily Center orthodoxy.

The body. Self-explanatory really. The body is the physical organism. For those readers familiar with the idea of chakras, the occult center of the body is in the root chakra at the base of the spine.

The vital. This term encompasses all the life forces from nervous physical energy through the higher emotions of empathy and sympathy and everything in between. Unfortunately, however, the term "vital" all too often is used as a synonym for sex, and in the Center, sex is "bad" or dirty in the Victorian sense. For that reason, I prefer to refer to the vital as the life force. The occult centers for the vital life forces are located in the sacral chakra, the navel chakra, and the heart chakra.

The mind. This term, like the body, is self-explanatory. As used in the Center, it refers to virtually all mental activity without distinguishing between the various types of mental activity (as identified by Sri Aurobindo). In the Center, the general goal was to extinguish such mental activity. Though at the time I was in the Center, I too shared this understanding of the term "mind," it is now almost a term without any utility to me. I've instead embraced Sri Aurobindo's more nuanced and useful (for my purposes anyway) distinctions. In any event, the occult centers of mental activity are at the throat, forehead, and brain chakras.

The heart. The heart is the heart chakra and it is understood to be the seat of the soul. In Center philosophy, the heart -- though acknowledged to be the seat of pure emotions or life force capable of identifying with others -- is not included in the term "vital," though I think it properly belongs there. Guru refers to his path as the "path of the heart." At its metaphysical root, the method of the Center was to calm the body (by keeping it healthy through exercise mainly) and lessen the influence of the vital and mind, thereby allowing the influence of the heart to reign. That was the idea.

The soul. Hate this term. Too much Christian baggage for me and I never knew what it meant. Though it has its own new age baggage, I much prefer the term coined by Sri Aurobindo (long before the "new age"): the psychic being. It's a more concrete term, I guess -- not so amorphous, to me anyway. The psychic being is located deep within the heart chakra.

For all my life, I had been a jock and thus had a natural and close connection to my body. As you can read in my early posts, I also had a pretty full stock of life energy animating my physical body, but I had a lot of emotional dysfunction. Not damage, really, just immaturity. My emotional development seemed to go into a state of suspended animation as I took up the spiritual life in earnest.

Honestly, I never had much intellectual mental development. I had an adequate mental instrument, but in my development it seemed I went from being an emotionally needy and dysfunctional teenager straight to the spiritual life, kind of bypassing significant intellectual training. I hated high school before becoming a disciple and hated it after -- just for different reasons.

Looking back, this was all fine as the influence of my psychic being blossomed and then annexed the rest of my psyche, but once it receded, the life force came out of suspended animation with a vengeance, leaving me feeling lost and defeated.

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