An important step in the practice of yoga is to attain true detachment from the surface nature through the shifting of the standpoint from the surface to the ‘witness consciousness’, the Purusha. The separation of Purusha from Prakriti, the active nature, is needed in order to effectuate change in the external nature, as otherwise, we remain involved in that nature and are limited within the frame that it sets for us.

Many people wonder about the awareness that occurs with this separation. Until the actual experience occurs, we can only surmise based on the hints that Sri Aurobindo provides. We may, however, use the example of viewing a motion picture as a means of deepening our insight.

When people observe a motion picture, they sometimes get so involved with the story or the setting that they react with tears, or laughter, emotional reactions, or in some cases, mental analysis of what they are seeing. They are fully engaged and involved in the events taking place on the screen, and experience the sensations, emotions and thoughts that are being portrayed. When the motion picture is presented as a 3D screen, sometimes the experience intensifies and people react suddenly with, for instance, a fear reaction when they see a wild animal racing towards them in their immediate space! The separation of the ‘witness consciousness’ only would occur if the observer is able to watch the motion picture, and the surface reactions of his nature with complete dispassion, not getting involved in the activity no matter how uplifting, depressing, fear-inducing, or emotional it might be. This is not a recipe for uncaring dullness of senses; on the contrary, the witness should be able to observe carefully and precisely, even to the point of watching the nature react to the event, without closing off the observation, turning away or simply closing one’s eyes to it all.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “As to the change of nature, the first step is to become conscious and separate from the old surface nature. For, this rajasic vital nature is a surface creation of Prakriti, it is not the true being; however persistent it seems, it is only a temporary combination of vital movements. Behind is the true mental and vital being supported by the psychic.”

“The true being is calm, wide, peaceful. By drawing back and becoming separate one creates the possibility of living in the peace of this inner Purusha and no longer identified with the surface Prakriti. Afterwards it will be much easier to change by the force of the psychic perception and the Peace and Power and Light from above the surface being.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Detachment and Rejection, pp. 22-27

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 16 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.