Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

3.8. Well Being. Integrating Eastern Knowledge in Western Culture and Western Knowledge in Eastern Culture
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Maurits G.T. Kwee (Buenos Aires/Tokorozawa)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Spiritual well-being: an empirical study with yogic perspectives

Yogesh Mohan (Jipmer Hospital, Pondicherry, India), K. Krishna Mohan (Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda),
Gautam Roy (Jipmer Hospital, Pondicherry, India) &Soumitra Basu (Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, India)



The past decades are witness to resurgence in the interest in the religion/spirituality in the fields of human endeavor, especially physical and mental health. This is evident for instance from the special section and reviews on "Spirituality, Religion, and Health" in the January 2003 issue of the American Psychologist. Earlier, the 37th World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that recommends a spiritual dimension to be added to the scope of health. There is a vast body of evidence that alludes to the salutary influence of spirituality on health. However research studies are characterized by a varied understanding of the terms spirituality and spiritual well-being, which results in lack of clarity as to what is being studied and its implications.

Two areas of research are explored by the authors: spiritual well-being as understood by a broad section of Indian population belonging to varied religious and spiritual backgrounds, and spiritual well-being from the yogic insights of Sri Aurobindo. The study was carried out in two parts. In-depth interviews were conducted with thirty-four respondents. Qualitative analysis revealed that spiritual well-being is considered to be an important aspect of health and well-being. Spiritual well-being in relation to health and well-being vary widely, reflecting the vast spectrum of consciousness we are not normally aware of but which nonetheless exist and influence every one. The characteristic feature of spiritual well-being was the 'deeper' or the 'higher' source of the well-being. Though spiritual well-being was described in terms of various experiences and states of consciousness, there was always a subtle difference that differentiated spiritual well-being from 'ordinary' well-being. Spiritual well-being was experienced to an extent independent of the outer conditions, and circumstances. Though the understanding of spiritual well-being differed amongst the various religious and spiritual groups, yet the deeper experiences were characterized by a closer harmony and similarity. Spiritual well-being was understood as distinct from ritualistic behavior, religiousness and morals.

An understanding of the different dimensions of well-being, especially the spiritual well-being would be incomplete without a deeper understanding of the psychological make up of the human being. The second part of the paper deals with the yogic insights of Sri Aurobindo who has given a unique description of the different parts of the human being, the various realms of consciousness and their characteristic features. The construct of spiritual well-being is viewed in the light of the yogic understanding of a human being.



The last few decades are witness to resurgence in the interest in spirituality in almost all the fields of human endeavor (Levin, 1994; Amy, 2000). An impressive body of research has shown convincing evidence that spirituality/religion is positively related to health (Dossey, 1999; Ellison & Levin, 1998; Khan, & Steeves, 1993; Koenig, et al., 2000; Levin, 1994; and for reviews see: Miller & Thoresen (2003); Powell, Shahabi & Thoresen (2003); Seeman, Dubin, & Seeman (2003). In fact studies looking into this relationship had found spirituality/religion substantially linked to mental health (George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000; Koenig, 1998; Larson & Milano, 1997). Studies on spirituality/religion have also shown a positive and consistent relation with hope and optimism, purpose and meaning, depression (Levin, & Vanderpool 1987; Levin, Wickramasekera, & Hirschberg, 1998), anxiety, psychotic symptoms and disorders, substance abuse, (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Gorsuch, 1995) and other social behavior such as extramarital sexual activity, delinquency and crime (Koenig, in press). Research has also shown that spirituality/religion has also bearing on well-being (Mohan, 2001). With regard to physical health variables systematic reviews and meta-analysis have quantitatively shown that spirituality/religion is an epidemiologically protective factor (Koenig, in press). Research studies have examined the relationship of health outcomes to various religious and spiritual practices (Astin, Harkness, & Ernst, 2000; Kamienski, Brown, Mitchell, Perrin, & Dindial, 2000) which includes prayer, mediation, yoga, and repetition of holy words (Kabat-Zinn, Massion, Kirsteller, Peterson, Fletcher, Pbert et al., 1992).

Religion and spirituality are closely related and mostly used interchangeably by many researchers. Spirituality is multidimensional and defies simple clear-cut boundaries. Various authors have stressed the need to differentiate between religion and spirituality though they are very closely connected (Daaleman, & Vandecreek, 2000; Lukoff, Provenzano, Lu, & Turner, 1999; Mackenzie, Rajagopal, Meibohm, & Lavizzo-Mourrey, 2000; Seifert, 2002). According to the recent report of WHO consultation on WHOQOLSRPB spirituality addresses questions such as meaning of life and purpose in life and is not necessarily limited to any specific beliefs or practices (WHO, 1998).

Various authors have expressed their concerns over the definition and understanding of spirituality. Bolletino (2001) stresses this need especially in the wake of the movement of 'new spirituality' in the West. Basu (1999) expressed the need for discrimination especially in the field of psychotherapy. Pandey (2002) stressed the need to differentiate spirituality from religion, philosophy, occultism, ethics, and morality with which it is generally confused and mixed. Sri Aurobindo (1970) explained that though in the initial stages man's understanding of spirituality would be necessarily incomplete and tentative, but the error so created would come in the way of a true understanding, and therefore it must be emphasized that 'spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervor, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formulae are not spiritual achievement and experience'.


Spiritual well-being

In recent years there has been a growing interest among health professionals in understanding spirituality and its positive benefits to health. This has led to the emergence of the concept of spiritual well-being in health and health care. There have been concerns over differentiating the concept of spiritual well-being from psychological well-being and subjective well-being, despite their overlap (Amy, 2000). Psychological well-being is concerned with measures such as self-esteem, life satisfaction, psychological adjustment, and healthy affect. On the other hand spiritual well-being encompass ones outlook as well as attitudes concerning some fundamental questions about the finite nature of human life and the relationship of a person to the infinite or the transcendent nature of the universe or God. Subjective well-being, as a concept in quality of life research focuses on happiness and deals with psychological factors such as stress, adaptations, goals, and coping strategies. Further, various components involve life satisfaction, pleasant affect, and moral comfort. The main focus of spiritual well-being is that aspect of well-being related to a more profound motive, such as one's search for ultimate meaning and purpose in life, that transcends negative impacts of distress, physical handicaps, and human suffering (Amy, 2000).

Though in the last few decades there have been attempts to explore spiritual well-being, but have failed to reach a consensus as to its definition, or the main domains or dimensions that it embraces (Amy, 2000; Khan, & Steeves, 1993). Also, various researchers have used different parameters to study the construct of spiritual well-being (Amy, 2000; Daaleman, Cobb, & Frey, 2001; Khan, and Steeves, 1993). The measurement scales to assess spiritual well-being are largely focused on Judeo-Christian perspective (Daaleman, Cobb, & Frey, 2001; Khan, & Steeves, 1993). Hardly any attempts were made to test these scales on other cultures. Indian religion and spirituality is unique in nature (Amy, 2000; Dossey, 1999; Mohan, 2001; Sri Aurobindo, 1971). Keeping this in view there is a need to develop a scale to measure spiritual well-being which is rooted in Indian ethos.


Spiritual Well-Being and Health

Ancient Indian wisdom distinguished between "swasth" (to be rooted in ones self), a state of positive well-being, and "arogya", a state of absence of illness (Rao, 1985; Bisht, 1985). In recent years the concept of health itself has emerged as something more than just disease-free biological functioning. In modern times a new dimension was added to the understanding of health, when India's representative to the World Health Organization (WHO), inspired by the vision of Sri Aurobindo, proposed that the definition of health be enlarged to cover spiritual well-being in addition to physical, mental and social well-being (Bisht, 1985; Basu, 1995). The 37th Word Health Assembly adopted the historic resolution that the spiritual dimension should be added to the scope of health (WHO, 1984).

These developments have led researchers and health care providers to consider the non-material or spiritual dimension of health, which has been discussed and debated extensively in various fora (WHO, 1998). A resolution at the 101st session of the Executive Board of WHO in 1998 requested the Director General of WHO to consider an amendment to the Constitution defining health as "a dynamic state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" (WHO, 1998). The concept and understanding of health has thus evolved from a narrow illness-centered model to a broader multi-dimensional model that includes spiritual well-being in its scope (WHO, 1998).

The developments in the understanding of health have also paved the way to broaden the focus of measurement of health beyond traditional health indicators such as mortality and morbidity (Szabo, 1996; WHO, 1995). This has led to the development of quality of life assessment in health care (Kuyken, 1995; Orley, Saxena, & Herrman, 1998). In 1995, WHO defined quality of life as "Individual's perceptions of their position in life in the context of culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns" (Szabo, 1996; WHO, 1995). The quality of life instrument formulated by WHO, World Health Organization Quality of Life (WHOQOL), is organized into six broad domains: physical, psychological, level of independence, social relationships, environment, and a sixth domain of the spirituality, religiousness and personal beliefs (SRPB) (WHO, 1998).

Spirituality has been the foundation of Indian culture (Sri Aurobindo, 1971) and the spiritual dimension has always been an integral and vital component in indigenous health systems (Bisht, 1985). Yet, for some reasons, spirituality has not yet been taken seriously in health research in India. There is a need to explore the construct of spiritual well-being from an Indian perspective and its relation to health. A study was conducted to explore the concept of spiritual well-being from an Indian context and an attempt is made to discuss spiritual well-being from a yogic perspective based on Sri Aurobindo's philosophy.




For the present study purposive sampling was done. The purpose was to include respondents from the mainstream religions, major spiritual groups and those with varying degree of interest in spirituality. This strategy ensured that there was a broad and comprehensive perspective of spiritual well-being from various outlooks. The common religious/spiritual groups relevant for the study purpose were identified. The members and in some cases the heads of that group were contacted, the purpose of the research explained to them. After discussions with the members and/or the heads of the group the respondents were identified whom they believed would be most suitable and also available for the interviews. Some respondents were identified based on the information given by the other respondents.

Interview schedule was prepared based on the objectives of the study. The interview schedule consisted of the core areas to be covered during the interviews. The exact framing of the questions and the sequence of the questions varied from interview to interview. After each interview the transcripts were analyzed and clarifications if any were sought in the subsequent interviews. In-depths interviews were conducted with the respondents in multiple sessions at the respondents' residence, and by the first author. In the first session, the respondents were generally more guarded in their responses. Initially they talked of general things, of the ideals mentioned in the scriptures, in a more scholastic and impersonal manner. This was felt especially more so with the priests and those who occupied some 'spiritual position' in the society. With a few it appeared almost like a sermon. Some respondents were reluctant to reveal any personal spiritual experiences, one reason could be as one of the respondents explained: 'one must not speak of these things lightly, nor are these to be boasted of nor revealed to any body... for that neutralizes the experience.'


A total of thirty-four respondents were interviewed. Respondents were of different ages, ranging from 24 years to 91 years. Twenty-three respondents were men and eleven were women. With regard to religious background, twenty-seven respondents were Hindus, seven Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists), two Muslims, and one Buddhist. Three respondents did not adhere to any particular religion - one was an atheist, and two others called themselves agnostics. Ten of the respondents were disciples of different spiritual gurus and philosophy (Sri Aurobindo, Swami Chinmayananda, ISKCON, Ramana Maharishi, Osho Rajneesh). The rest of the respondents did not have any particular guru or did not adhere to any particular spiritual tradition. Among the respondents there were new aspirants in the spiritual path, as well as those with a lifetime of experience in spirituality behind them. With regard to marital status fifteen respondents were married and lived a family life, fourteen chose to remain single in their pursuit of spiritual goals, four respondents had not married and were less than 30 years, and one respondent had taken vanaprastha (the third stage in Hindu dharma, where in one takes to the jungles after one has completed the householders life. This is done as a preparation for the fourth and final stage of Sannyasa, the renunciation), two were missionaries, seven had joined a monastic life in the ashrams, two were priests, two were swamis (spiritual teacher) in their spiritual organizations. With regard to professional background, there were people from the health professionals such as doctors (junior and senior doctors), nurses, teachers, housewives, students, engineers, businessmen, and an astrologer. Most of the people were healthy; except one respondent who was on a de-addiction program, and another one who was recovering from a serious accident.


The interview transcripts were coded to identify the underlying themes that had been described, e.g. the passages that denote a state of love or the passages that describe a state of inner peace. Content analysis of the interviews was done manually and with the help of the qualitative statistical software DT Search.



Description of Spiritual Well-Being

Respondents described in different ways what they perceived to be a state of spiritual well-being. Though most of them found it difficult to give a precise definition of spiritual well being, they preferred to describe it in terms of its various characteristics. Some defined in terms of perfection of moral values, others defined spiritual well-being in terms of relation with the spirit, or as a state of experience. Some examples:

'A state of constant joy, peace, and harmony.'
'A total well-being where in each part is in harmony with each other and with the 'environment.'
'It is to live in the spirit, a state wherein one allows ones soul to guide and 'influence.'
'It is only when the outer nature too accepts the spiritual element and allows itself to be guided and influenced by it, that a real sense of spiritual well being may be felt.'
'Spirituality is an inner fact, an inner state of being... spiritual well-being may be seen as an outer manifestation of this inner spiritual state.'

Interestingly some gave a clear and vivid description of a state where in they experienced a 'higher state of well-being', which was different in nature from an ordinary state of health and normal experience of daily life. Further, some expressed it as a 'heightened state' of well-being. Moreover, some respondents stressed that spiritual well-being is different from an ordinary state of well-being. 'Spiritual well-being is one where the spirit or the soul is the harbinger of well-being'. They said spiritual well-being is 'dependent upon the spiritual element within'. Well-being is 'not necessarily spiritual... A person living in harmony with nature will enjoy good health and be in a state of well-being, but this well-being must be differentiated from spiritual well-being'. Further, respondents expressed that 'it is not possible to judge from outside anybody's spirituality or his state of spiritual well-being'. Even to judge ones own-self, 'one needs an insight, an experience, an inner awakening to understand'.

The in-depth interviews yielded a wealth of information, as regards the respondents understanding and experience of spiritual well-being. A brief summary is presented for four of the important dimensions out of twenty five dimensions which emerged in the study. The remaining twenty one are not discussed at length due to the limited scope of the paper.

Connectedness to a higher reality

For the majority the connectedness was expressed in terms of relation with the God or divine; others experienced connectedness with their souls, their inner self, with their spiritual gurus; some preferred not to give it any name and expressed as the presence of 'some higher power' Respondents described in various ways their experience of connectedness, some examples:

'...felt the presence of some higher power which has been guiding and helping'.
'I feel that I am not alone, God is with me, helping me'.
'God is there and that he cares for me'.
'...have a living relation with God'.

Few respondents felt that spiritual well-being is a state where in:

'You just allow your soul to guide you'.

Few respondents expressed that the Divine has been guiding them through all,

'If I look back over my past, over all the major things that happened in my life, I can clearly see that it was He who was guiding me all through'.
'All that has happened was the best and the most perfect that could have happened, He has guided me inspite of myself, inspite of my stupid desires', echoed another respondent.

One sadhak (a spiritual aspirant) describes vividly:

'You cross the boundary of you little mind, your small ego, and you realize how miserable is the life of ego we normally lead... You enter deeper and higher states of reality, there are different worlds of consciousness.'

A few recounted their past experiences where in they clearly felt that it was God who helped them, guided them and brought them out of the difficulty. Some expressed that the connection was felt more especially in times of deep crisis, for some it was a physical crisis, for others a social and personal crisis.

'...I had broken down, there was no hope left, ... I did not wish to live any more'.
'...It was really then that I felt that He was with me'

Being connected made them feel cared and loved for, instilled a sense of security, '...never felt lonely even when alone'.

Wholeness and integration

Wholeness and integration was perceived as the harmony of the different parts of ones being, to become aware of these different parts and to integrate them around one's inner or higher self. Resistance and doubts from ones own mind and from the people outside were experienced by a few respondents and they considered them to be a normal part of the process of inner growth. Even when one is not conscious of the soul, one still integrates ones life around that, which is considered 'the highest and noblest within'. A few examples:

'...(to become) one single whole person responding to one higher impulse in unison'.
'...the mind, the body, the soul ...all in harmony'
'...state of harmony within and without',
'...a harmony of one-self with the nature'.
'... practice what one preaches, to practice what one feels to be the highest'.


Many respondents, especially (but not exclusively) those who were actively involved in some spiritual discipline, spoke of the 'inner urge for higher things', an aspiration for a higher life.

A few expressed aspiration in terms of knowing and relating to God. Another few expressed it as a desire to know Reality, or to know and discover one-self. Some typical examples:

'...a burning desire to know God, to be one with Him'
'...a cry of your soul to God.'
'...a need of you heart, you soul, you cannot escape it, it overpowers and overwhelms'
'...aspiration for higher things, a desire to grow forward'.
'...a flame that burns within, in the core of the heart'

A few respondents expressed aspiration as an overwhelming emotion. Some examples;

'You feel an all engrossing emotion, you want nothing but that; you feel that this alone is the one and only purpose of life'.
'It is something that takes hold of you, and you give yourself without any calculations, without any thoughts...'

A few respondents stressed the difference between desire and aspiration.

'Aspiration springs from the core of the soul...desire comes from superficial ...'
'...desire causes a strain in the being, an uneasiness...aspiration brings a sense of peace, harmony.'

Meaningfulness of life

A spiritual perspective gave the respondents a greater sense of meaning to their present lives. The feeling that they have come from God or that God is within them, instilled in the respondents a sense of purpose, a perception that they have an important role to play in the larger scheme of life. However the perception of God varied according to the religious background. For the Muslims and the Christian respondents, God was perceived as a Greater Being outside oneself, while those with a Hindu background expressed that God is within them as well, that they too are a part of the God. Some typical examples, which reflects their feelings and attitudes:

'God has created us and the entire creation... we are made in His own image.'
'We are children of God'
'God is here within us... He is everything, created or uncreated, manifest or unmanifest'.
'We are all Gods in making...potentially we are all God'.

Few examples of the different ways in which the respondents spiritual beliefs/perspectives influenced their sense of meaning and purpose in life:

'This is the most important thing, the only reason worth living for, the only meaning for life'.
'...we are here to do God's will'
'...the real purpose of life is inner growth, the development of your soul'.

One respondent describes vividly how his perception of life changed,

' I realize what I am here on earth for...earlier I was just living, eating, drinking, sleeping, just like animals do, but there was no purpose, no direction. Maximum aim limited to money, power and sex... I had no vision, no understanding that there could be something more than all this. And everybody else too was living such superficial lives, chasing mirages of happiness in these sensual things. And then one day I suddenly felt "what is all this for"? "What is the purpose of this life"? "Is this all that we are here to do"? There was no answer...slowly I realized that this is not all to life... then I realized that if there were to be any aim worth living for, it is find the truth, to live the truth.'

The respondents felt a greater meaning in their lives through their spiritual beliefs, practices and their experiences. At times of crisis especially, a spiritual perspective offered one a support and strength to emerge out of the crisis. Spirituality offered one a broader worldview of life, a higher aim to pursue / follow than the material aims

Out of these twenty five dimensions of spiritual well-being, "Connectedness to a higher reality", "Wholeness and integration", "Love and Oneness", "Inner Peace", "Faith" are similar to the facets of spirituality as identified by the WHOQOLSRPB module (WHO, 2000). Certain facets enlisted by the WHO such as 'Death and dying', 'Awe', 'Kindness to others', 'Hope and optimism', 'Control over your life', 'Freedom to practice beliefs and rituals' and 'Code to live by', were however not identified in the study. Some other facets identified by WHO such as 'Acceptance' and 'Forgiveness' were identified by only a few of the respondents. Several new facets of spiritual well-being emerged which include 'Aspiration', 'Morals and ethics', 'Higher states of consciousness', 'Spiritual experiences', 'Transcendence of ego', 'Awareness', 'Growth in sensitivity', 'Inner freedom'', 'Equanimity and equality', 'Mastery and control', 'Balance and moderation', 'Surrender', 'Devotion', 'Joy', 'Harmony', 'Selfless work', and 'Detachment'.


Yogic Perspective

An understanding of the different dimensions of well-being, especially the spiritual well-being would be incomplete without a deeper understanding of the psychological make up of the human being. An effort is made here to elucidate the concept of spiritual well-being from the yogic insights of Sri Aurobindo

The beginning of a spiritual quest for many begins with the fundamental question, "who am I?" For something within one begins to sense that what we normally consider as "I" is perhaps not the only or the real "I", a feeling that there is something much more to "I", than one normally perceives or accept. As one becomes more aware of ones psychological make up, one begins to realize that "I" is not just one single person, rather a complex of many different personalities. Also one begins to differentiate between the outer I"" which is involved in life, and an inner "I" which surpasses the ego. Sri Aurobindo (1970), the seer poet describing this process of self awareness says that

the ordinary mind knows itself only as an ego with all the movements of the nature in a jumble and, identifying itself with these movements, thinks 'I am doing this, feeling that, thinking, in joy or in sorrow etc.' The first beginning of real self-knowledge is when you feel yourself separate from the nature in you and its movements and then you see that there are many parts of your being, many personalities each acting on its own behalf and in its own way.

Sri Aurobindo (1970) expanding on the yogic insights into the human being, distinguishes two systems simultaneously active in the organization of the being and its parts. One is a concentric system, and the other a vertical system. The concentric system may be likened to a series of concentric rings or sheaths. It consists of the outer or surface being, the inner being, and supporting both of these the inmost or the psychic being. The outer and the inner being have three corresponding parts, the mental, vital and physical. The vertical system consists of the various levels of consciousness above and below the mental range - the Inconscient, the Subconscient, and the Superconscious ranges. In fact Sri Aurobindo considers mind to be a transitional stage in the evolution. This is in contrast to the conventional view, which holds mind to be the summit of evolution. If there are levels of consciousness below the Mental plane, there are levels of consciousness that surpass the Mental plane. At every moment of life, the human being is influenced not only by subconscious ('unconscious' in Freudian parlance) forces, but also by superconscious forces. The human being can not only suffer from repression of the subconscious, but also by the suppression of the superconscious.

Outer being

The outer being consists of the mind (mental), the life-self (vital) and the body (physical). Each of these parts has a consciousness of their own, "separate though interconnected and interacting: but to our outer mind and sense, in our waking experience, they are all confused together." Sri Aurobindo (1970) distinguishes the vital from the mind, mind refers to that part of the being

which has to do with cognition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perceptions, the reaction of thought to things, with the truly mental thoughts and movements... the vital is the Life nature made up of desires, sensations, feelings, passions, energies of action, will of desire, reactions of the desire-soul in man and of all that play of possessive and other related instincts, anger, fear, greed, lust, etc., that belong to the field of nature.

The outer being revolves around the 'ego', which precariously balances the Mind, Vital and the Body. It is this ego which is normally studied in psychology as Self and which ordinarily gives the sense of "I".

Inner being (Subliminal being)

Behind the outer being is the inner being made up of inner mental, inner vital and inner physical. Yogic psychology says that what we are normally aware of is only a small part of our outer being, and the larger part of ourselves is behind the surface. Whereas the outer being "receives consciously only the outer touches and knows things indirectly through the outer mind and senses", the inner being is "directly aware of the universal consciousness and the universal forces that play through us and around us." (Sri Aurobindo, 1970) Much of the phenomenon of premonitions, intuitions, inspirations, extra sensory perceptions, clairvoyance etc., may be ascribed to opening of the surface being to the ranges of inner mind, inner vital and inner physical. The inner being has much larger capacities, is in much more direct touch with the universal forces, and has a greater contact with the psychic being. The inner being cannot revolve around the ego; it needs as its support a deeper fourth dimensional principle which is represented by the Inmost being.

Inmost being - Psychic being

The Inmost Being is the deeper ego-surpassing fourth dimensional soul-principle and is actually a projection of the unevolving soul into the formation that constitutes the human personality. Sri Aurobindo also calls it the Psychic Being and describes it as the soul that is developing in evolution. Actually a spark of Divine is present in all the life and matter in all forms -- in the course of evolution this begins to evolve and develops into psychic individuality or a 'Psychic Being'. "The psychic being is at its origin a spark of the Divine consciousness and it is through successive lives that it builds up a conscious individuality...For a long time in most humans it is a being in the making" (Mother, 1973). The psychic being is progressive; it grows from life to life using body, life and mind as its instruments. The psychic being is the true psychological centre of our being. But in ordinary life, it is mostly overshadowed by the instruments of the outer being, and the psychic being remains behind the outer consciousness as a "secret witness", "a secluded king in a screened chamber". The psychic being acts for most humans as an unconscious influence than as a conscious presence

Influence of the psychic being

Though most humans are unaware of the psychic being, yet its influence may be perceived even in ordinary life.

A certain sensitive feeling for all that is true as good and beautiful, fine and pure and noble, a response to it, a demand for it, a pressure on mind and life to accept and formulate it in our thoughts, feelings, conduct, character is the most usually recognized, the most general and characteristic, though not the sole sign of this influence of the psyche. (Sri Aurobindo, 1970).

Another sign of the influence of the psychic being is aspiration for progress, "every gleam of aspiration is always the expression of a psychic influence. Without the presence of the psychic, without the psychic influence, there would be never any sense of progress or any will for progress." (Mother, 1970) This aspiration which springs from the psychic being is full of joy, differentiating it from aspiration arising from other parts which are mixed with anguish. Infact a realization of the psychic being brings intense joy, faith, self-giving, surrender, turning all movements Godward, discrimination and choice of all that belongs to the Divine -- Truth, Good, Beauty, rejection of all that is false, evil, discordant, union through love and sympathy with all existence, openness to the truth of the Self and the Divine. This realization is different from the realization one has of the experience of the unevolving soul above the manifestation (of which the psychic being is a projection), which brings silence, freedom, wideness, purity, mastery, a sense of universality in individuality (Sri Aurobindo, 1970)

Faith too comes from the psychic, it is an innate knowledge of that the soul within knows but the mind as yet is not aware of. Other qualities such as goodwill, generosity, love, gratitude which takes one out of ones egoistic self, spring from the psychic. It is difficult to distinguish the psychic movement when it manifests in outer being, because when it comes to the surface it gets mixed up with varied influences, which distort and diminish its self expression,

a formation of consciousness is accordingly made which is a mixture of the psychic influence and its intimations jumbled with mental ideas and opinions, vital desires and urges, habitual physical tendencies. (Sri Aurobindo, 1970)

The mind does not generally recognize the deeper source of the influence; "it takes them for its own activities, for they come to the surface clothed in a mental substance". (Though the psychic exerts an influence on the outer being, its influence is mostly covert (Sri Aurobindo, 1970). The psychic plays an important role in organizing ones outer life, though for most it is an unconscious influence. Usually the psychic influences only the main lines of ones life, because for intervening in the finer details a much more conscious union is required between the outer and the inner being. If one has a sufficiently awake psychic being, then the psychic arranges the outer circumstances in such a way, that all outer events help one to advance on the way. This observation was corroborated by a few of the older spiritual aspirants during the interviews. The psychic being can forward and replace the ego as the centre of personality. It is free from psychological disturbances, subconscient complexes, ego-centric disturbances, and is immune from attack by adverse forces. Thus it is the real harbinger of spiritual well-being. The Mother (1973) describes the metapsychology of well-being when the psychic being comes forward surpassing the ego: 'So long as the openness is there, the peace, the fullness and the joy remain with their immediate results of progress, health and fitness in the physical, quietness and goodwill in the vital, clear understanding and broadness in the mental and a general feeling of security and satisfaction.' (Mother, 1973)

Contact with the psychic

Contact with the psychic like the psychic influence is mostly unconscious in the beginning. It is only with spiritual sadhana that the contact becomes more conscious. At first it is just a rare fleeting contact, later with the growth of consciousness the contacts become more frequent and last longer though one may still lapse into ordinary consciousness. However at times, it is not the psychic with which the people come in contact but it is some part of the mind or the vital that is under the influence of the psychic, and it "gives them great illuminations, great joy, revelations, and they feel they have found their soul." (Mother,1973). A time comes later when one may be able to obtain the contact at will, "as soon as one concentrates, one gets a contact". In the advanced stages of ones spiritual sadhana, one may obtain a total and complete identification with ones psychic which one never loses. "Then many things disappear. For instance, depression is one of these things, discontentment, revolt, fatigue, depression, all these difficulties.

How can one know if one is contact with the psychic?

...when the psychic is there one feels better within oneself, when one is full of light, hope, goodwill, generosity, compassion for the world, and sees life a field of action, progress, realization. Doesn't it feel different from the days when one is bored, grumbling, when everything seems ugly, unpleasant, wicked, when one loves nobody, wants to break everything, gets angry, feels ill at ease, without strength, without energy, without any joy?" (Mother, 1973)

When one has a definitive contact with the psychic being, one has the "feeling of immortality, of having always been and being always, eternally". (Mother, 1973) The psychic is the Divine in the human being, when one is in constant contact with the psychic one feels "in contact with the divine Presence all the time, in all things." (Mother, 1973)

Emergence of the psychic

The mind, the vital and the body, which normally govern the being, need to come directly under the influence of the psychic or soul principle. For this purpose psychic awakening is necessary. This means that one becomes conscious of ones soul, knows the soul to be ones self, and do not identify oneself with mind, life or body. When the psychic awakens, it "comes from behind the veil, its presence is felt already in the waking daily consciousness, its influence fills, dominates, transforms the mind and vital and their movements and even the physical." (Sri Aurobindo, 1970). The psychic when awakened gives true Bhakti for God or Guru, which is different from mental or vital bhakti. "Psychic bhakti does not make any demand, makes no reservation." (Sri Aurobindo, 1970)


Sri Aurobindo gives a new meaning to the earthly existence. The aim of spirituality hitherto has been the liberation from the bondage and suffering imposed by the mind, life and body, this achieved by either discovering ones soul and thereby achieving union with the Divine, or by stilling the mind and spiritualizing it in some kind of static liberation or Nirvana. In either case, one lets the instruments of the mind, vital and body continue working according to their own ignorant nature. But the inevitable evolutionary destiny of the human being, says Sri Aurobindo, is to go beyond liberation and achieve a transformation of the outer nature by bringing down the divine consciousness into the lower ignorant nature (Dalal, 2002)



The dimensions of spiritual well-being which emerged from the interviews can now be viewed in a new light of discrimination. Each dimension does have many stages and many different interpretations, but it is not the dimension as such but the inner source of that state which determines if it be spiritual or not. For example love can exist on all the planes, physical, vital, mental, as well there is a psychic love, the nature of which is very different from that of other types. It is important to distinguish between the moral and mental realizations, and the psychic or spiritual experiences. It is evident that the nature of psychic experiences is very different from that of mental or vital experiences, and this discrimination is indispensable for those following a spiritual path.

Spiritual well-being may thus be perceived as a state of inner awakening, wherein the psychic being or the soul principle is the master of ones being and not ones mind or the vital. It is a state wherein the different parts of ones self are centered not around the ego but around the fourth dimensional principle, the psychic being. One may experience fleeting states of consciousness when one comes under the influence of the psychic, and the nature of these experiences shall depend on that part of ones being which is open to the soul principle. "Spiritual well-being" can thus not be limited by its outer states of manifestation, for it is not a single homogeneous state, there are many gradations and stages within it, depending on the part of being under the psychic influence and the degree of psychic influence or contact. A constant state of deep peace, and ananda is possible only with the transforming touch of the psychic on the present ego-centric individuality.

This understanding even if mental in the beginning is valuable, for it helps one to develop "sufficient discrimination to be able to keep your balance and eliminate falsehood, half truths and mixtures." This also helps one to differentiate between all that goes under the banner of spirituality and spiritual well-being. It is the deeper change and the spiritual opening that are the origins of spiritual well-being. Any effort trying to create a state of spiritual well-being merely by mental or social means can at best be evanescent and destined to fail by its inherent limitations. The direction of search and research in the domain of spiritual well-being needs to be as much within as it is outside.

© Yogesh Mohan (Jipmer Hospital, Pondicherry, India), K. Krishna Mohan (Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda),
Gautam Roy (Jipmer Hospital, Pondicherry, India) &Soumitra Basu (Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, India)


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3.8. Well Being. Integrating Eastern Knowledge in Western Culture and Western Knowledge in Eastern Culture

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