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The soul

Psychological perfection

James Anderson

“There is no greater victory than that of controlling oneself.” 1

Editor's note:

Can a vision and understanding of Integral Health ever be complete without the inclusion of our psychology and inmost soul? However much we may try to shy away from this little spark that lies embedded within that atomic mass that constitutes our material body, it is always the secret ‘chip’ that directs the drama of life. It is as if we are divinely ‘programmed’ to discover it. All our life is either a conscious or subconscious seeking for this luminous element within us, which the ancient seers knew as the immortal within mortals. To find this divine element in us is of paramount importance to all who are striving for integral health in the deepest sense. It alone can give us the wholeness we seek and the harmony that accompanies it. Here, the author explores this inner journey and shares with us the route he has taken, a way that is as interesting as it is exciting. This is the journey of a soul that strives towards a greater conquest of its bodily state and the psychological conditions that hold us tied to certain fixed and limited possibilities. These fixed grooves of Nature are the habits that keep us tied down to our present limitations. We find here some of the key processes of this great and wonderful journey through the personal experiences of a fellow-traveller, assisted constantly by the divine Grace whose luminous words and hands of Love carry us on the path towards true wholeness.

One doesn’t need to be in medical practice to know that ‘psychological perfection’ is a colossal aim. Man has searched for it throughout the centuries and, I suppose, only a few have come close to attaining it. A science has painstakingly evolved to locate the key to its secrets. Many of us though, if we’re honest, prefer to hide away in our ‘comfort zones’, “afraid of being lost in that light and freedom (1).”

But I do believe that the search is very necessary. I don’t think one can move even an inch forward on the path of yoga before some sort of internal harmony is installed. Even outside it, some sort of psychological equilibrium is certainly imperative. For me, it has become very clear that the inside must always be addressed first. If one aspires for wholeness one must indeed look at the whole: I feel that it is futile trying to address the surface first. The inner state clearly determines the frontal form. Indeed, in my case now, my body’s well-being seems to be entirely reliant on the condition inside.

Perhaps there is no great secret after all. I have found that this shift to inner health can only happen as soon as I stand in my truth. That is easier said than done and, to date, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to settle on that threshold. And what, after all, is it that induces this state? Experience has brought me precious glimpses and, at such moments, everything seems to fall magically into place.

As I enquire and probe a little more inside, I am able to see that I am comprised of many segments. It is a complex and fascinating world. There is quite a mixture but these parts, in the end, definitely comprise some sort of whole. But what is it that creates this whole? Looking from another angle, I then realise too that I am nothing but a speck amidst an immense backdrop of Oneness. But, at the same time, I also see that this speck can somehow spread itself over the entire universe! This sort of process is so alien to our usual nature. I don’t think our instruments are prepared or equipped to naturally embrace such truths. So something new has to take over. Something new has to help us expand and become vast.

To find it, I believe, points the way to wisdom and true fulfilment. Inside all of us, I believe, is a hidden yearning to discover this truth. For some of us, it may take centuries to unfold but something very persistent in all of us aspires to make this prodigious discovery.

The five psychological perfections

The Mother2 gave the champak3 flower the name of Psychological perfection. It is very beautiful and fragrant; the shrub is very common in these parts but seems to grow all over the world. The flower has five petals and the Mother, in giving its significance, also describes the five attributes that we need to move forward on this path. In concluding a talk, She summarised these perfections as follows:

“So here’s my proposal: we put surrender first, at the top of the list, that is, we accept what Sri Aurobindo has said — that to do the integral yoga one must first resolve to surrender entirely to the Divine, there is no other way, this is the way. But after that one must have the five psychological virtues, five psychological perfections, and we say that these perfections are:

Sincerity or Transparency
Faith or Trust (Trust in the Divine, naturally)
Devotion or Gratitude
Courage or Aspiration
Endurance or Perseverance.

One form of endurance is faithfulness, faithfulness to one’s resolution — being faithful. One has taken a resolution, one is faithful to one’s resolution. This is endurance (2).”

Armed with these perfections, She says, one can march confidently forward. Clearly, these kind of virtues will admirably equip man in whatever context he finds himself. We have the Mother to thank for removing the distinctions between yoga and life: there is only consciousness after all. These perfections were, moreover, never intended to be rigid. The Mother said that “every time I give it to someone, they are not always the same psychological perfections. That depends on people’s needs. Even to the same person I may give at different times different psychological perfections; so it’s not fixed (3).”

So I truly believe that the Mother gives each one of us the necessary materials to nourish our own individual growth. I feel that She provides us with the necessary attributes to create our own unique psychological perfection. This perfection is clearly much more than an amalgamation of individual virtues. For me, a psychological perfection will only come when I am able to live in my truth. For me, this perfection is our individual truth and it provides the key to our inner wholeness and health. When we live in our truth we simply become whole and being ‘whole’ obviously implies that nothing is missing.

As we begin to live in our truth, we take the stage in this wonderful play of divine multiplicity. Each individual truth is like a perfect crystal, unique in shape but identical in essence. Each one of us has our individual truth. I look upon it as a universal law. So to live in your truth means you are acting in consonance with the rhythm of the universe.


However lofty the aim, I believe that this perfection can be always more than a mere ideal. I’d like it to become my living reality. This is clearly a work of preparation: every detail of our inner nature has to be observed and yet, at the same time, a vision of the whole must be maintained. I’ve had to proceed from very rudimentary beginnings. Indeed, I find I am so often obliged to retreat and start all over again. Certain negative patterns have the habit of continually re-emerging and some-times appear to wipe out any work done beforehand. But in truth, as Sri Aurobindo says, no progress is entirely wasted and there is always a valuable lesson to emerge from our most glaring defeat. There even seems to be a purpose and a plan behind every lapse and fall. If we allow it and if we truly surrender, the work unfolds before us and I believe that a secret hand will give us the necessary experience to progress and grow. A new way has to be found to foster this growth and without growth, our inner psychology will simply wither and die.


The Mother’s choice of words often fascinates me. Initially, looking at it first almost made me freeze, but as I went deeper into the significance behind, something truly shifted inside. In common usage, the term implies an element of coercion and enforcement. That, I guess, is why the word is often used in reference to the mind. The ordinary mind seems to understand a lot about coercion and enforcement. In fact, that’s how it usually gets its bidding done. But here, authentic control, according to the Mother, implies mastery and this mastery is both free and spontaneous. That is clearly not the province of the ordinary mind: it is the domain of the soul.

To me, the transfer invariably comes in an atmosphere of peace. It often arrives unexpectedly and the change can be very subtle. I need to be attentive to be conscious of this transition. So often the changeover catches me unawares. It would be true to say that I find it generally coming in brief visits. When such a shift does come forward, I find it is helpful to make good use of it because it can disappear as quietly as it entered in the first place.

The nature of the soul is to harmonise. When it does step forward, everything seems to find its true function and place. The soul has the ability to cement all internal divisions. Without our secret master life would be chaos. We may not always appreciate this, but I believe it is true. Indeed, on several occasions, his quiet voice has pulled me back from the brink of collapse and ruin.

The soul helps us expand and grow; to live in it brings a vastness and to stay there can bring an eternal Delight. So I know of no better panacea for psychological health. That is why I believe that the future psychology lies not in the mind but in the soul. What is the sense in probing into something so obviously flawed when the source of all perfection is there, sitting inside us? This sort of knowledge can’t really be learnt from laboratories or books; it can only come from experience. We have to learn to dive down into our own laboratory to find the truth. That is the only way. We can’t be told who or what we are. We have to search our inner cave to find the key to Her Delight.

Looking at oneself

The Mother often says that to find the soul we must, above all, truly want it. It must become the overriding aim of our life, the reason for our existence. Every conceivable moment can be consecrated to this search. Sooner or later, that necessitates a complete shift in orientation. Gradually, I feel, as we withdraw from the surface we begin to access a much richer life inside. I feel that involves a change of poise and is a matter of practice.

“In order to find the soul you must go in this way (gesture of going deep within), like this, draw back from the surface, withdraw deep within and enter, enter, enter, go down, down, down into a very deep hole, silent immobile, and there. There’s a kind of… something warm, quiet, rich in substance and very still, and very full, like a sweetness — that is the soul.

“And if one is insistent and is conscious oneself, then there comes a kind of plenitude which gives the feeling of something complete that contains unfathomable depths in which, should one enter, one feels that many secrets would be revealed… like the reflection in very peaceful waters of something that is eternal. And one no longer feels limited by time.

“One has the feeling of having always been and of being for eternity.

“That is when one has touched the core of the soul (4).”

We all know that this search requires a very persistent will. By dedication and patience, we can unravel what Sri Aurobindo terms the ‘teguments of the soul’ so that the truth of our being can step forward. I guess that it is never an instantaneous process; it can take many years. But living and growing are made of many shades and as the psychic being slowly emerges, a greater light starts to radiate throughout the being. It is my impression that only this light can truly sustain us; only this light that can ultimately fulfil the secret yearning that hides away in each one of us. So at first it holds itself back and gradually, through persistent practice, it becomes more evident to our whole nature.

The psychic clearly provides the key to a new harmony inside. Gradually, I begin to find that those warring factions below start to reach some sort of reconciliation. I also start to appreciate that there is something new that induces this change. The discovery provides a totally novel perspective of my identity. I can now start to look at the mind, life and body as mere instruments but not ‘myself’ as my true essence comes to light. This brings a sense of liberation as my individuality becomes less enslaved to the lower nature.

“And if the contact has been conscious and complete enough, it liberates you from the bondage of outer form; you no longer feel that you live only because you have a body. That is usually the ordinary sensation of the being, to be so tied to this outer form that when one thinks of ‘myself’ one thinks of the body. That is the usual thing. The personal reality is the body’s reality. It is only when one has made an effort for inner development and tried to find something that is a little more stable in one’s being, that one can begin to feel that this ‘something’ which is permanently conscious throughout all ages and all change, this something must be ‘myself’. But that already requires a study that is rather deep. Otherwise if you think ‘I am going to do this’, ‘I need that’, it is always your body, a small kind of will which is a mixture of sensations, of more or less confused sentimental reactions, and still more confused thoughts which form a mixture and are animated by an impulse, an attraction, a desire, some sort of a will; and all that momentarily becomes ‘myself’ — but not directly, for one does not conceive this ‘myself’ as independent of the head, the trunk, the arms and legs and all that moves — it is very closely linked.

“It is only after having thought much, seen much, studied much, observed much that you begin to realise that the one is more or less independent of the other and that the will behind can make it either act or not act, and you begin not to be completely identified with the movement, the action, the realisation — that something is floating. But you have to observe much to see that.

“And then you must observe much more to see that this, the second thing that is there, this kind of active conscious will, is set in motion by ‘something else’ which watches, judges, decides and tries to found its decisions on knowledge — that happens even much later. And so, when you begin to see this ‘something else’, you begin to see that it has the power to set in motion the second thing, which is an active will; and not only that, but that it has a very direct and very important action on the reactions, the feelings, the sensations, and that finally it can have control over all the movements of the being — this part which watches, observes, judges and decides.

“That is the beginning of control.

“When one becomes conscious of that, one has seized the thread, and when one speaks of control, one can know, ‘Ah! yes, this is what has the power of control.’

“This is how one learns to look at oneself (5).”

The surface nature

It would be true to say that it has taken a while for these kinds of distinctions to consolidate in my understanding. Even now, when the surface consciousness wrests control, I can see it trying to reinstate itself as the only reality. It can still be a major cause of disruption. The realisation that we are, in essence, entirely intact and independent of the outer form is, I guess, a first move forward in inner health. To be a slave to the body is not a life. Indeed, to be a slave to the ordinary mind or vital is not a great deal better. This misplaced sense of identity, however, still occasionally intervenes and at such times I have to carefully recover my steps. In those instances, I simply have to re-align myself. Many patterns from outside reinforce this distorted thinking. This sort of surface thinking adheres to past grooves that obstinately refuse to be effaced. So I must be persistent.

That is why, I suggest, we need to be so awake and conscious. We have to see ourselves as we truly are. But perhaps seeing what we are not can be the first knowledge. It is a little like untying a huge knot. Sometimes this knot can get so entangled we have to call for help. But the Mother is never far away. If we look closely enough we can see that She has established residence in our soul. So to merely witness and observe, if it comes from this true base, is usually sufficient and the arising knowledge produces the necessary shift.

And if we dwell on the surface, we also become more prone to those impacts that continually come to us from outside: it is like a magnet. We lose our protection and shield. The more we live on the surface the more clutter we accumulate: one is liable to become a walking neurosis.

Yoga and change

Life for me got a great deal more intense as soon as I embarked on this yoga. I have found that yoga brings a much greater richness to living; at times every incident seems to be pregnant with significance and meaning. Every action creates a kind of ripple in my being.

Initially at least, I saw myself passing through massive extremes. Outside those precious moments of concentration, installing a state of peace into everyday living proved so problematic. Embracing the surface existence can present many obstacles, particularly when one has concluded that only the inner life has any true substance.

Initially, at least, it seemed there were two worlds. But the ordinary world will never go away! The only solution is for these two worlds to become one: that is, I guess, a fundamental challenge of this path. It would be true to say that the world we see and inhabit is our reflection and creation. We create our own world. Our world can even burst its boundaries through the entire cosmos if we are able to will it! In yoga, we learn to radiate our truth in whichever world we walk. Once this lesson is absorbed, it will just come down to scenery, admittedly a little pleasant or unpleasant, but not really of much consequence.

But getting there is full of trials and torments. If I had been unable to access some hidden reserves of strength, I probably would have been crushed to pulp. I have found that my sensitivity to shocks from outside has at times reached fever pitch. Added to this, my sense of dualities initially increased: those states of joy and sorrow somehow became so much more pronounced. One minute I might have found myself climbing a peak of joy, the next I might have been wallowing in a mire of self-pity and depreciation.

Our friend

All this may sound like a very potent recipe for mental imbalance but a friend has emerged. We call him the ‘witness’. To me, he is just another guise of the soul. This witness has held me back from a state of full immersion; without him, I would have simply drowned. During the passage of time, he has slowly stepped forward and now he has, in many ways, become my best friend and safeguard. In short, he has taught me to truly observe, not least myself. He points me towards a greater equality.

In yoga, we learn to follow a new master. Instead of being slaves to our nature, I feel that we need to learn to listen to the whispers of what Sri Aurobindo calls our ‘Inner Teacher’. One needs to be very attentive to follow his instructions; he rarely insists. The Inner Teacher teaches me the true way to live. It is a path of boundless delight and I hope and pray that this will be a contract for life.

Through the practice of yoga, I’ve noticed my consciousness gradually becoming more transparent: the many defects of my nature have become more visible. This is not pleasant, as anything not in its true place tends to severely jar and dislocate the being. At times, it can even produce an ugly sensation in the body. So it is always better to give yourself as much as possible to the Mother and stay on the path. And it is a path which has been minutely mapped out for us. We only need to take the trouble to find out.


Lastly, this yoga is one of surrender. It is simply the only way and this demands an offering of the very nature itself. The Mother says:

“The most important surrender is the surrender of your character, your way of being, so that it may change. If you do not surrender your very own nature, never will this nature change. It is this that is most important. You have certain ways of understanding, certain ways of reacting, certain ways of feeling, almost certain ways of progressing, and above all, a special way of looking at life and expecting from it certain things — well, it is this you must surrender. That is, if you truly want to receive the divine Light and transform yourself, it is your whole way of being you must offer — offer by opening it, making it as receptive as possible so that the divine Consciousness which sees how you ought to be, may act directly and change all these movements into movements more true, more in keeping with your real truth. This is infinitely more important than surrendering what one does. It is not what one does (what one does is very important, that’s evident) that is the most important thing but what one is. Whatever the activity, it is not quite the way of doing it but the state of consciousness in which it is done that is important (6).”


In yoga, I feel that we go through an accelerated process of purification. New hands are now on the tiller. Every twist and distortion is churned around by the swell of the sādhanā and gradually, given time, every single one comes to the surface. There is clearly a reason for this. At the surface, they become more visible to our awareness and when they appear, we are then given the opportunity to extinguish them. If we are watchful, by invoking the light of the Mother, I believe that they can vanish into thin air.

But the stress of the practice can sometimes present great difficulties. As I proceed along the path, deeper, more adhesive patterns come to light and I go down into the darker caverns of my nature. Painful buried memories start surfacing and below that still, a whole wasteland of obscurity lies before me. In The Inconscient Foundation (7), Sri Aurobindo, as usual, captures the essence:

“My soul regards its veiled subconscient base,
All the dead obstinate symbols of the past,
The hereditary moulds, the stamps of race
Are upheld to sight, the old imprints effaced.”

I don’t really invite it; it just happens. These are cryptic domains and the picture I see is not always very pleasant. Some detachment is essential, otherwise I might just get buried in that darkness.

When one is trying to grow, there are also forces outside that always seem to know which button to press to veer us off-course. They can invade even the slightest crack in our armour if we are not awake. One has to learn to stay aligned or there is a danger of going to pieces.

Maybe the stress of yoga creates a greater potential for psychological disruption. I wouldn’t like to say. If our fabric is not resilient enough to face the inevitable impacts, I would say so. Certainly too, any upheaval is likely to be more severe. One has to be ready for this path. Overall, the journey can be very bumpy at times. But the sādhanā is not really in my hands; I sometimes think I have to hang on tight because a deep abyss lies far below. But I return to the same point: there is a clear track and clear way. Gradually too, with surrender, a deeper trust intervenes. There is always the Grace of Her love and protection. The child is always safe if it rests inside its mother’s arms.

As the work unfolds, inevitably, new difficulties are traded for old, but I find it so bewildering that the same patterns keep on reappearing, albeit in a different guise. So it is my understanding that a positive poise is so important. Otherwise one might simply sink.

The sunlit path

There is a path that is full of trust and a joyful surrender and there is one of gloom and selfdenial. It may sound a little trite but taking the ‘sunlit path’ prevents a considerable amount of difficulty. This attitude has to be protected; it is really our salvation. I know that looking back is not generally recommended but there comes a time when, very much later, we can see that things have truly shifted inside. At that point, we might hardly recognise what we once used to be — that can surely be looked upon as meaningful progress.

So I believe that how we embrace change can make such a difference. Change is inevitable; we can’t avoid it. It is an ineluctable law of Nature. But I feel that her ways and twists have made it almost into an edict of decay. That, I guess, is why most people shy away from it. In fact, I’ve known people who were terrified of change per se. Perhaps there is something written in the stars that change must invariably follow the eternal course of gravity, I don’t know. But perhaps the law itself can be changed. This, for me, is truly the Mother’s work.

I do believe that it is possible for the mind itself to cultivate an opposite point of view. Our mental approach to change is clearly very important. I know that a positive mindset can be a real help. Some people even seem to be born with it. Our upbringing and conditioning can also have a very strong influence. So I also feel that it is something that can be nurtured. But the complete solution, I suggest, lies right inside us and that is to change our consciousness.

If we are able to align ourselves to the rhythm of the soul, we move to an entirely new realm. Depending on how we look at it, we can even move into a world of miracles. Even our circumstances can start to change but perhaps the greatest of all miracles is to change nature herself. Part of the overall picture is our own nature and our soul just knows that it can be changed. That is our field of action and place of work. Nature must change and I believe that true inner health lies in that certainty. I believe that this certitude will come when the mind is completely transformed by the candid trust of the soul.


There are so many ways we can lose balance. I guess that most disorders arise when something inside us loses its true place. The vital, for instance, may submerge into a state of depression and imbalance the rest of the nature. The surface mind may cramp the being and cast a shadow of depreciation and judgment. I’ve even sometimes noticed a little ‘critic’ who sometimes sneers on the sidelines and scoffs at my every move.

These, I believe, are clearly examples where elements are not in their correct place. Equilibrium is temporarily lost and, in such instances, for me at least, there is really only one solution. I have to realign myself once more around the centre of my being. I feel that it is a matter of bringing out the ‘search-light’ of the soul and simply observing, without judgment, what is there. The consciousness holds an enormous power. By invoking the Mother’s help and guidance, to begin with, invariably unties the knots created in our lower nature.

I notice that my slate can rarely be wiped clean overnight. Some patterns can often return as quickly as they had disappeared. They seem to travel through me along well-worn channels. If harmony is the aim, these pathways, built and reinforced by our nature, need to be effaced. Only true consciousness, I believe, can do that. So it is my understanding that if we want to always live in this truth, our awareness can never rest. However, I do find it not an impossible task. Once we make the effort to turn inside and truly give ourselves to Her, something new starts to take over: it’s like a new engine being installed. This, for me, is the key to the sādhanā so thankfully we don’t have to fight our battles single-handed.


We all know that a garden needs tending. If the work gets neglected, weeds start appearing and before we know it, in a couple of years, we are facing a veritable jungle. Not surprisingly, our inner world needs tending too. If this work is overlooked, disorder can become more chronic and more severe. I also feel that disruption can expand inside us through contagion. Perhaps it can even proliferate in the same way that cancer spreads throughout the body.

If we cling to disorder too, I fear that difficulty will inevitably increase. In certain instances, a part of our being simply does not want to let it go. One obvious example is desire. Most people in society try to reach some sort of compromise with this state. It is just a part of existence as life without it would be considered very dull indeed. At the same time, there is a sense of moderation and restraint that tries to achieve some sort of balance and so the urge generally gets bottled into manageable proportions. But when we decide on a path of growth, we discern that any desire always causes some degree of imbalance. Nevertheless, a part of us still stubbornly clings onto it. That can sometimes create an unbearable friction. The mind will try to sit on it but the lower vital might now and then break loose and create havoc. The mind and vital reach a state of loggerheads and any semblance of harmony is gone. The mind might retaliate by casting a blanket of censure and guilt. So the end-result is far worse.

Whenever I face an inner difficulty, I always try to remember the body. The body is my anchor; if I lose touch with that, all equilibrium will be lost. Now and then, when I rise in the morning, I can observe a cloud hover over my head. It is depression trying to enter. I then reconnect with my body and, in doing my morning exercise, the haze just drifts away. It is obviously not a definitive solution but I always find that an actual presence in the body helps me to align the nature to a significant extent. Indeed I find my moments of greatest joy invariably arise when I am present in the body. It is like a celebration of wholeness.

The spectrum of psychological disorder is so vast. There is falsehood and, indeed, at the one extreme, I understand that there is full-scale possession. Many of these states are quite outside my experience, so I find it better not to comment. However, I believe that the overriding feature of every disorder is invariably some sort of rupture with the soul. Sometimes indeed, the dislocation might deteriorate into a massive schism. The soul, after all, is our sanctuary where everything is entire and intact. If we turn our back on it, we have to meet the consequences. Not surprisingly too, the psychic represents our best means back to truth and wholeness.

I realise that physical symptoms can very often intervene. The correlation between material causation and the soul may perhaps offer some fertile ground for research. However it is my impression that the soul provides the single thread that can link such knowledge. It is an enormous realm and man seems to have scarcely touched the surface.

(To be continued)


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 14. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1980, p. 274.
2. Mirra Alfassa, born in Paris in 1878 and later known as the Mother, came to Pondicherry and developed the Integral Yoga with Sri Aurobindo (For me, She is indeed the Divine Mother).
3. Frangipani (Plumeria rubra).


1. The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p.432.
2. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 8. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p.42.
3. Ibid. p.36.
4. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, p. 310.
5. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 9. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1977, pp. 310-1.
6. Op. cit. Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 4. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1972, p. 373.
7. Sri Aurobindo.Collected Poems, SABCL, Volume 5. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1972, p. 153.

Mr. James Anderson, a sadhak, is following the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and working at SAIIIHR, Pondicherry.

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