Integral psychology (Sri Aurobindo)

Integral psychology (Sri Aurobindo)

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother

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Integral psychology, in the adaptation of Sri Aurobindo's spiritual teachings, refers to an understanding of the various planes and parts of being, which is essential to the practice of integral yoga.


History of Integral psychology

Sri Aurobindo never used the term "Integral Psychology"; the term was coined in the 1940s by Indra Sen, a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who established the field of Integral Psychology, based on Sri Aurobindo's teachings, although his book of the same name only appeared in 1986.

A further interpretation of Integral psychology was developed, although not in detail, in the 1970s by Haridas Chaudhuri, a student of Sri Aurobindo, who postulated a triadic principle of uniqueness, relatedness and transcendence, corresponding to the personal, interpersonal and transpersonal domains of human existence.

According to Brant Cortright, of the California Institute of Integral Studies, Integral Psychology is born through the synthesis of Sri Aurobindo's teachings with the findings of depth psychology. He presents Integral Psychology as a synthesis of the two major streams of depth psychology – the humanistic-existential and contemporary psychoanalytic – within an integrating east-west framework.

Aspects of being according to integral psychology

Integral (spirituality)
Historical integral thinkers:
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Integral themes:
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Sri Aurobindo conceives of human psychology, indeed, of the entire cosmos, as having two major types of distinctions or dimensions. The faculties ascend in a "vertical" fashion, from the subconscient to the higher, transpersonal realms. At the same time, he distinguishes between the Outer being, the Inner being, and other, similarly "concentric" dimensions. The terms vertical and concentric are metaphors for the purpose of visualization and are not meant to be taken literally.

Faculties ("vertical" divisions)


On Aurobindo's psychology, the subconscient is part of our inner consciousness. We are not conscious of its workings. It is influenced by the matter of which our bodies are composed. It is the support of our fear, pessimism, fixed habits, illness, decay, and death.


The Physical faculty or part of the being, refers not just to the physical body, but the body's consciousness as well. The body is just as conscious as the vital and mental parts of the being, only it is a different type of consciousness. As with the other faculties or principles of the being, in Sri Aurobindo's psychology, the Physical can be subdivided into finer sub-grades, such as the mental physical, the vital physical, and so on. One does not find the distinction of non-conscious body and conscious mind that characterises Western thought.

In Sri Aurobindo's reading of the Taittiriya Upanishad, the physical being (or perhaps just the Physical Purusha) is the anna-maya-atma - the self made of food.

  • the Inner physical - the physical component of the inner being, which is wider and more plastic than the outer physical body. This is also called the subtle physical
  • the True physical being - is the Purusha of the physical level, which is like the Inner Physical larger than the surface body consciousness and in touch with the a larger spiritual consciousness.
  • the Mental Physical (similar to the Physical Mind - see "Mental")
  • the Vital Physical or Nervous Being (which seems to be equivalent to the Etheric body of western esotericism, and hence pertains to one of the subtle bodies)
  • the Physical Proper or pure body consciousness, which represents the consciousness of the external physical body itself.

Like the other principles of man, the Physical not only shades upwards to higher ontological levels, but also downwards into the Subconscient, which equates to the Subconscious or Lower Unconscious, although Sri Aurobindo asserts that the Subconscient includes much more than the unconscious of (Freudian) psychology.

And like all the faculties of the being, the Physical in all its aspects has to be transformed and spiritualised through the practice of Integral Yoga.

Subtle physical

The Subtle physical is Sri Aurobindo's term for a subtler aspect of the physical nature. This has many qualities not found in the gross physical nature. In The Agenda, The Mother often refers to it. It might be compared to the etheric body and plane, or even the astral body and plane. The term "subtle physical" to distinguish from gross (sthula) or outer material physical.

By the gross physical is meant the earthly and bodily physical - as experienced by the outward sense-mind and senses. But that is not the whole of Matter. There is a subtle physical also with a subtler consciousness in it which can, for instance, go to a distance from the body and yet feel and be aware of things in a not merely mental or vital way.

...the subtle physical has a freedom, plasticity, intensity, power, colour, wide and manifold play (there are thousands of things there that are not here) of which, as yet, we have no possibility on earth.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, part 1, section v


The Vital or Life faculty or part of the being, refers not simply to the life force as to the various passions, desires, feelings, emotions, affects, compulsions, and likes and dislikes that strongly determine human motivation and action through desire and enthusiasm.

Unlike Western psychology, in which mind, emotions, instincts, and consciousness are all lumped together, Sri Aurobindo strongly distinguishes between the "Vital" and the "Mental" faculties.

In addition to the individual Vital faculty, Sri Aurobindo refers to a Vital Plane or Vital world, which would seem to be partly equivalent to the Astral Plane of popular occultism and New Age thought.


The Mental faculty or part of the being, is the conceptual and cognitive mind. Unlike Western psychology, in which mind and consciousness are considered the same, Sri Aurobindo strongly distinguishes between the "Mental" and the "Vital" (emotional) faculties, as well as between Mind and pure Consciousness. Sri Aurobindo in part bases his concept of the Mental on his reading of the Taittiriya Upanishad, the mental being (or perhaps just the Mental Purusha) is the mano-maya-atma - the self made of mind (manas).

For Sri Aurobindo, Mind or the Mental being is not simple and uniform, but consists itself of various strata and subdivisions, the whole contributing to an elaborate integral theory of psychology. These various faculties are described or variously referred to, usually in obliquely or in passing, in some of his books, including Savitri, which has poetic references to many types of Mind (Jyoti and Prem Sobel 1984 pp. 152–62). In his letters answering questions from disciples, Sri Aurobindo summarises the characteristics of the various levels of Mind (see Letters on Yoga vol. I pp. 324–5).

These various Minds and Mental principles of being include:

  • Higher Mind - the first and lowest of the spiritual mental grades, lying above the normal mental level.
  • Spiritual Mind - either the spiritualised mind, or a general term for levels of mind above the normal mental level (the "Mind Proper").
  • Inner mind - the mental component of the Inner Being, which lies behind the surface mind or ordinary consciousness and can only be directly experienced by sadhana
  • True mental being - is the Purusha of the mental level freed from the error and ignorance of the lower Prakriti and open to the knowledge and guidance above.
  • Psychic Mind - a movement of the mind in which the Psychic Being predominates; the mind turned towards the Divine
  • Mind Proper - is free-fold, consisting of Thinking Mind, dynamic Mind, externalising Mind. It constitutes the sum of one's thoughts, opinions, ideas, and values, which guide conscious thinking, conceptualizing and decision-making processes, and is transformed, widened, and spiritualised through the practice of Integral Yoga.
  • Thinking Mind - the highest aspect of the mind proper, concerned with ideas and knowledge in their own right. It is equated with the Ajna Chakra
  • Dynamic Mind - that aspect of the ordinary mind that puts out of mental forces for realisation, acting by the idea and by reason. It is also equated with the Ajna or Brow center.
  • Externalising Mind - the most "external" part of the mind proper, concerned with the expression of ideas in speech, in life, or in any form it can give. It is equated with the Vishuddha or Throat Chakra
  • Vital Mind - a mediator between the vital emotions, desires, and so on the mental proper. It is limited by the vital view and feeling of things, and expresses the desires, feelings, ambitions,and other active tendencies of the vital in mental forms, such as daydreams and imaginations of greatness, happiness, and so on. As with the Externalising Mind, Sri Aurobindo associates it with the Vishuddha or Throat Chakra
  • Physical Mind - refers to either or both the Externalising Mind and the Mental in the Physical; it is limited to a physical or materialistic perspective, and cannot go beyond that, unless enlightened from above.
  • Mind in the physical or mental physical mentalises the experiences of outward life and things, sometimes very cleverly, but it does not go beyond that, unlike the externalising mind which deals with these things from the perspective of reason and its own higher intelligence.
  • The Mechanical Mind is a much lower action of the mental physical which when left to itself can only repeat the same ideas and record the reflexes of the physical consciousness in its contact with outward life and things.
  • Mind of Light - according to The Mother this is the Physical Mind receiving the supramental light and thus being able to act directly in the Physical (The Mother, 1980, pp. 63–64)

A small but popular book by Jyoti and Prem Sobel, The Hierarchy of Minds, comes closest to a systematic coverage of an Aurobindonian noetology by gathering all of Sri Aurobindo's references and quotes on the subject of "Mind" and arranging these according to the type of Mind.

Higher levels of Mind

Includes Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, and Intuitive Mind.


Overmind is the plane of Gods. Overmental plane is the highest consciousness one can achieve without transcending the mental system. Beyond overmind are the planes of Supermind or unity-consciousness.

A detailed description of the Overmind is provided in Book I ch.28, and Book II ch.26, of Sri Aurobindo's philosophical opus The Life Divine.


Supermind refers to the infinite unitary Truth Consciousness or Truth-Idea beyond the three lower planes of Matter, Life, and Mind. Supermind is the dynamic form of Sachchidananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss), and the necessary mediator or link between the transcendent Sacchidananda and the creation. (Life Divine Book I, ch.14-16)

Types of being ("concentric" divisions)

The Outer Being

The Outer Being refers to the superficial and limited surface existence which characterises our everyday consciousness and experience. It includes a physical, vital, and mental aspect, and is also the location of the desire soul.

In Integral Yoga it is necessary to go beyond the surface consciousness to the larger life of the Inner Being, which is more open to spiritual realisation. Outer, Inner, and Innermost Being form a "concentric" sequence or hierarchy, which is a counterpart to the "vertical" hierarchy of Physical, Vital, and Mental.

The Inner Being

The Inner Being is the wider and more plastic subliminal faculty of one's being, that lies behind the narrow surface consciousness.

As with many esotericists and Jungian and Transpersonal psychologists, Sri Aurobindo speaks of larger and deeper potentials of human nature which can be contacted through spiritual discipline and higher states of consciousness. This Inner Being includes the inner realms or aspects of the physical, vital, and mental being, which here have a larger, subtler, freer consciousness than in the small outer mental, vital, and physical nature of everyday consciousness and experience, and its realisation is essential for any higher spiritual realisation. The Inner Being is also transitional between the surface or Outer Being and the Psychic Being, which is also for this reason known as the "Innmost Being". Outer, Inner, and Innermost Being form a "concentric" sequence or hierarchy, which is a counterpart to the "vertical" hierarchy of Physical, Vital, and Mental.

There are always two different consciousnesses in the human being, one outward in which he ordinarily lives, the other inward and concealed of which he knows nothing. When one does sadhana, the inner consciousness begins to open and one is able to go inside and have all kinds of experiences there. As the sadhana progresses, one begins to live more and more in this inner being and the outer becomes more and more superficial. At first the inner consciousness seems to be the dream and the outer the waking reality. Afterwards the inner consciousness becomes the reality and the outer is felt by many as a dream or delusion, or else as something superficial and external. The inner consciousness begins to be a place of deep peace, light, happiness, love, closeness to the Divine or the presence of the Divine, the Mother. One is then aware of two consciousnesses, the inner one and the outer which has to be changed into its counterpart and instrument-that also must become full of peace, light, union with the Divine. At present you are moving between the two and in this period all the feelings you have are quite natural. You must not be at all anxious about that, but wait for the full development of the inner consciousness in which you will be able to live.

Sri Aurobindo, 'Letters on Yoga', 307

Psychic Being

The Psychic Being is Sri Aurobindo's term for the Personal Evolving Soul, the principle of Divine spirit in every individual.

The Psychic is the "Innermost Being" (Amal Kiran, quoted by Craig Hamilton The Miraculous Power of the Soul - A meeting with Amal Kiran, Pondicherry) is the permanent being in us that stands behind and supports the physical, vital and mental principles. It takes the essence of experience in the Ignorance to form a nucleus of growth in the nature; it "puts forth and uses mind, life and body as its instruments, undergoes the envelopment of their conditions, but it is other and greater than its members." (The Life Divine p. 891)

The term "Psychic" or Psychic Being in this context derives originally from the occult kabbalistic teachings of Max Théon, as conveyed by The Mother. Sri Aurobindo is careful to distinguish between the Psychic Being as defined in the Yoga and the ordinary meaning of "psychic" which refers more to the desire soul, or to psychological or paranormal phenomena which are connected with the inner mind, inner vital, or subtle physical subliminal nature rather than the true Soul (The Life Divine p. 227 note).

The Psychic begins its evolution completely veiled and hidden, but as it grows through successive lifetimes it gradually exerts a greater influence, organising the elements of the being, and taking on the role of spiritual Guide (The Life Divine pp. 891–4).

In Integral Yoga the goal is to move inward and discover the Psychic Being, which then can bring about a transformation of the outer nature. This transformation of the outer being or ego by the Psychic is called Psychicisation; it is one of the three necessary stages in the realisation of the Supramental consciousness. This Psychic transformation is the decisive movement that enables a never-ending progress in life through the power of connecting to one's inner spirit or Divine Essence.

Sri Aurobindo asserts that both Psychicisation and Spiritualisation are equally necessary, and complementary prerequistes in the drawing down of the Supermind.

...the psychic entity in us persists and is fundamentally the same always: it contains all essential possibilities of our manifestation but is not constituted by them; it is not limited by what it manifests, not contained by the incomplete forms of the manifestation, not tarnished by the imperfections and impurities, the defects and depravations of the surface being. It is an ever-pure flame of the divinity in things and nothing that comes to it, nothing that enters into our experience can pollute its purity or extinguish the flame.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, 891

Everything is dangerous in the sadhana or can be, except the psychic change.

Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, vol.3

Central being

Central Being is a technical term used by Sri Aurobindo to designate the transcendent and eternal spirit, as opposed to the incarnate and evolving Soul, which he calls the Psychic Being, although sometimes it refers to both of them together as the essential spiritual core of the being. These definitions are found in Letters on Yoga vol.I under "Planes and Parts of Being" (pp. 265ff in the 3rd ed.)

The Central Being "presides over the different births one after the other but is itself unborm" (ibid p. 269). This transcendent Central Being or Spirit is also designated the Jiva or Jivatman, although the meaning of these terms in Sri Aurobindo's philosophy differs greatly from that of much of conventional Vedanta (especially Advaita Vedanta)


  • Glossary to the Record of Yoga
  • Sri Aurobindo The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry, 1977 (10th edition)
  • ------ The Synthesis of Yoga
  • ------ Letters on Yoga Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
  • Sen, Indra (1986) Integral Psychology: The Psychological System of Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
  • The Mother (1980), Words of the Mother, Collected Works of the Mother, Centenary Edition vol.13, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry
  • Jyoti and Prem Sobel (1984) The Hierarchy of Minds, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry
  • Joseph Vrinte, The Concept of Personality in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga Psychology and A. Maslow’s Humanistic/Transpersonal Psychology, South Asia Books; 1994, 236pp ISBN 81-215-0647-6
  • ----- The Quest for the Inner Man: Transpersonal Psychology and Integral Sadhana, Sri Mira Trust, Pondicherry, India, also Motilal Banarsidass, 1996, 282pp, ISBN 81-208-1502-5
  • ----- The Perennial Quest for a Psychology with a Soul : An inquiry into the relevance of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysical yoga psychology in the context of Ken Wilber’s integral psychology, Joseph Vrinte, [Motilal Banarsidass?], 2002, 568pp, ISBN 81-208-1932-2

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