The vital nature has an innate drive towards fulfillment and satisfaction of desire. Since most individuals are oriented towards the outer life, the fulfillment comes through attaining desirable objects of the vital focus. This can be accumulation of wealth, it can be family, fame or achievement of certain goals one sets for oneself. For some people this can shift into the arena of charitable work, volunteer efforts to help create a better environment or improve other people’s lives. The motivation behind this, however, remains for the most part the satisfaction of the vital nature’s push for fulfillment in some arena or another. The standpoint is that of the ego-personality and the ambition is fueled by the quality of rajas for the most part, even if, as is usually the case, there is an intermixture of sattwa or tamas to change the nature of the desire or the action into a lighter, or darker, mode.

For those who are called to the spiritual path, the element of fulfillment of desire remains so long as the standpoint is based in the ego-personality and one references “i, mine, me” as the actor and recipient of the fruits of the action.

As we see in the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita the issue is not the outer form of work done, but the inner motivation and focus. What the Gita teaches is that the entire standpoint should shift away from the ego-personality and its wants, and its fulfillment, to that of the spiritual standpoint where the individual is a nexus of certain forces and actions, but the work is actually directed, inspired, guided and carried out by the Divine. The issue then becomes how effectively the individual can carry out that higher guidance, without reference to individual benefit, fame or glory, wealth or success. An interim phase, as long as one is still tied to the ego-personality, is to carry out the action with a dedicated mind and heart, and not be concerned about the fruits or results of the action, which is left up to the Divine and dedicated to the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Men usually work and carry on their affairs from the ordinary motives of the vital being, need, desire of wealth or success or position or power or fame or the push to activity and the pleasure of manifesting their capacities, and they succeed or fail according to their capability, power of work and the good or bad fortune which is the result of their nature and their Karma. When one takes up the yoga and wishes to consecrate one’s life to the Divine, these ordinary motives of the vital being have no longer their full and free play; they have to be replaced by another, a mainly psychic and spiritual motive, which will enable the sadhak to work with the same force as before, no longer for himself, but for the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pg. 96

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.