Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
This need to discover new powers and means within oneself opens the path to knowing oneself. The well-known management thinker, Steven Covey stressed the importance of this knowledge when he speaks of the second of his famous seven habits[i] of highly effective people.
“Habit 2 [Begin with the End in Mind] is based on imagination — the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint…It’s about connecting again with your own uniqueness and then defining the personal, moral, and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself.”[ii]
This can serve as an excellent and important guideline for self-management. The question, however, is how to begin the discovery of one’s “own uniqueness.” And is this discovery a mental process or something else? A corresponding question can also be asked of a collective entity, say an organisation. How can an organisation discover its uniqueness?
In the bestselling book[iii] Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, we come across a concept called the “Hedgehog Concept.” The author speaks of it as a simple, crystalline concept that serves as the guideline for all the actions of the organisation. It emerges from an organisation’s deep self-understanding resulting from the process of seeking answers to a few basic questions about itself.
1. What is it in which it can be the best in the world?
2. What drives its economic engine?
3. What is it deeply passionate about?
These fundamental questions are very important for an organisation to discover its essential purpose of existence. Just as in the case of an individual, such seeking is an inner subjective process, requiring new faculties and powers within. This may be referred to as a paradigm shift by some when the seeking for knowledge is done through turning inward. It is like the proverbial ‘falling of apple’ which brings with it a more direct approach to knowledge.
“He finds that he can only know himself entirely by becoming actively self-conscious and not merely self-critical, by more and more living in his soul and acting out of it rather than floundering on surfaces, by putting himself into conscious harmony with that which lies behind his superficial mentality and psychology and by enlightening his reason and making dynamic his action through this deeper light and power to which he thus opens. In this process the rationalistic ideal begins to subject itself to the ideal of intuitional knowledge and a deeper self- awareness; the utilitarian standard gives way to the aspiration towards self-consciousness and self-realisation…”[iv]
This “aspiration towards self-consciousness and self-realisation” is the starting point for a subjective in-search, both for the individual as well as a collective. A sincere inward turning initially helps us recognise that “[w]e are conscious of only an insignificant portion of our being; for the most part we are unconscious. It is this unconsciousness that keeps us down to our unregenerate nature and prevents change and transformation in it.”[v]
One of the first discoveries made by an individual in this path of becoming self-aware and self-conscious is that an individual is not one single, unified being. It is slowly revealed that we all are indeed a composite of many parts – physical, vital, mental, each with its own dharma, a law of being – held together by a central, true inmost being, the psychic being within. The body, vital and mind can be seen as instruments of the soul, the true being.
“The distinct character of man is that he is a mental being.”[vi] Therefore, in one’s journey of becoming self-aware it is natural that one starts by acquiring a mental understanding of oneself. This could help one intellectually differentiate several different and complex parts of one’s being. This by itself requires “a very long training and long discipline of study and observation.”[vii] But as the Mother advises, it is never too early to begin, never too late to continue.
Summarising Sri Aurobindo’s description of the main parts of our being, Dalal[viii] speaks of the outer being, inner being and innermost being. The outer being has three parts — the mind (the mental), the life-nature (the vital) and the body (the physical). Each of these parts has its own distinct type of consciousness, “though in our ordinary awareness we are unable to distinguish among the mental, vital and physical constituents of our consciousness and tend to regard all these diverse elements simply as our “mind.” But in yoga psychology, “mind” refers specifically to the part of the being which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movements and formations…”[ix]
The vital being or life-nature is made up of desires, feelings, instincts and impulses. The life-energy which animates the body (Prana) is an aspect of the vital. The body too has its own distinct consciousness, which operates in the involuntary functionings of the various bodily organs and physiological systems. Body-consciousness is only part of the physical consciousness. The latter includes also the physical mind and the physical vital (see more about these in the footnote).
To describe briefly the inner being, we may say that it is the subliminal consciousness, working behind all the three layers of the outer being. There is an inner mind, an inner vital and an inner physical which are in direct contact with the environmental consciousness, the universal forces which exist around us and through those act upon the corresponding outer layers. It is the inmost being, which is a spark of the Universal Spirit, the Divine present in all things and creatures — the “psychic being” in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga terminology — which is the evolving soul, though immortal, passes through cycles of birth and death, growing from life to life.
A collective organisation, when it goes through a process of in-search, must also discover these different parts of its being. The body or the outer physical of an organisation is its physical space, buildings, corporate registration, etc. Its people, employees, management and staff constitute its vital, its life-force. And an organisation’s mind is the collective thought, intellect and reason of its people.
Just as in the case of an individual, behind this outer being of the organisation is a subliminal inner being that influences the working of its outer parts. And then there is an inmost being of an organisation, a collective soul, a group soul which evolves through each cycle of the organisation’s renewal process. One may say that Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept as described earlier is an approximation of identifying this inmost being of the organisation. It is this inmost part that makes an organisation unique, which gives it its individualized stamp.
 The author and his team started with over 1,400 companies. They examined their performance over a forty year period and selected eleven companies which had out performed in their segment. The team tried to seek answer to the questions: “Are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? And if so, what are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?”
 “Though separate and distinct, the three main divisions of the outer being… are interconnected and interact on one another, giving rise to distinguishable subdivisions in the main parts of the being. Thus besides the thinking mind (the mind proper), there is a vital mind, which is the part of the mind that is intermixed with the vital. The vital mind, unlike the thinking mind, is not governed by reason but is dominated by impulses and desires of the vital, and seeks to justify and rationalise actions, which are based on impulses and desires of the vital.
“Another subdivision is the physical mind, which is the part of the mind that is intermixed with the physical, and partakes of the characteristics of the physical consciousness such as inertia, obscurity and mechanical repetitiveness which manifest in the physical mind as mental torpor and conservatism, doubt, and obsessive thoughts. The part of the mind which is closest to the physical is called the mechanical mind; its characteristic is that of a machine that goes on turning round and round whenever thoughts occur in it.
“Another subdivision which is important for self-understanding is the physical vital; it is the part of the vital which is turned entirely upon physical things, and is full of desires and seekings for pleasure on the physical plane. Closely connected with it is the vital physical, the part of the vital force which constitutes the nervous being; it is the vehicle of the nervous responses and is related to the reactions, desires and sensations of the body.” (A. S. Dalal, 2001)
[i] Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_People
[ii] Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 2: begin with the end in mind. https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit2.php
[iii] Jim Collins. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. Harper Business.
[iv] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 29
[v] The Mother. CWM, Vol. 3, p. 2
[vi] Sri Aurobindo. CWSA, Vol. 23-24, p. 79.
[vii] The Mother, CWM, Vol. 9, p 308.
[viii] A. S. Dalal. 2001. Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department. Pondicherry, pp. xx- xxv.
[ix] A. S. Dalal. 2001. p. xxii