The ego-personality, particularly the vital ego, feeds upon feelings of being special, having new and exciting experiences that are not part of the ordinary external consciousness. Spiritual seekers are allured by tales of meeting spiritual beings on subtle planes, traveling without the physical body through astral planes, obtaining guidance from masters who speak to one in one’s own head, or being shown visions that make the seeker believe he is specially chosen for particular lines of action or leadership. Thus, spiritual seekers will frequently focus on the “experiences” rather than the slower, arduous and less exciting process of transformation of human nature.

The shift from the mental to the spiritual standpoint does not happen in a strictly orderly, step-by-step progression. The complexity of the human nature, combined with the soul’s preparation in past lives, the challenges and difficulties of the current lifetime, and the pressures of the divine manifestation as it evolves the next stage of the evolution of consciousness, all together create a very flexible and unforeseeable set of circumstances for each individual.

In some cases, openings to what are called ‘spiritual experiences’ take place for individuals who are not actively seeking the spiritual life. Some of these so-called ‘spiritual experiences are actually openings to various vital planes, subtle physical realms or even mental planes of existence that have their own laws of action unbounded by the laws of nature we see in our external lives in this mixed world. Thus, we find the textbooks on psychology filled with case studies of things such as multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia, hearing of voices, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, guidance or pressure to carry out certain actions, etc. Many of these cases are actually those of individuals who have had a breakthrough to one of these other planes (frequently vital planes of existence) without the necessary background, training, insight or preparation to deal with these things.

Those who take up the spiritual life are not immune to such things either. by virtue of the fact that they are shifting their awareness away from the external world and its activities and towards an inward view, they may be more susceptible to such experiences along the way, and thus, they require the needed understanding. When they first experience the conscious moving inwards and leaving the external consciousness behind, they may experience fear of dying. Or they may have an out of body experience or a near death experience that disorients them. While not strictly spiritual experiences, they occur along the way for many people. True spiritual experiences, which break down the walls of separation between the seeker and the world, or which take one into deep states of meditation and liberate the seeker from the external nature, are potentially equally disorienting for the unprepared individual.

If people are not prepared, they tend to react from the vital ego and either experience fear or uncertainty, or else, get a sense of self aggrandisement. How many people have had a taste of a new level of insight or conscious awareness and believed they are the next great world-teacher or leader, the reincarnation of Jesus, or empowered to take charge of the lives of others and at the same time, satisfy their deepest desires? This is the reason that serious spiritual disciplines have called for an initial process of purification, taking one form or another, to ensure that when the experiences come, they do not create psychological imbalances for the seeker, or if they do, they are quickly able to be understood and remedied.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Even before the tranquillising purification of the outer nature has been effected or before it is sufficient, one can still break down the wall screening our inner being from our outer awareness by a strong force of call and aspiration, a vehement will or violent effort or an effective discipline or process; but this may be a premature movement and is not without its serious dangers. In entering within one may find oneself amidst a chaos of unfamiliar and supernormal experiences to which one has not the key or a press of subliminal or cosmic forces, subconscient, mental, vital, subtle-physical, which may unduly sway or chaotically drive the being, encircle it in a cave of darkness, or keep it wandering in a wilderness of glamour, allurement, deception, or push it into an obscure battlefield full of secret and treacherous and misleading or open and violent oppositions; beings and voices and influences may appear to the inner sense and vision and hearing claiming to be the Divine Being or His messengers or Powers and Godheads of the Light or guides of the path to realisation, while in truth they are of a very different character. If there is too much egoism in the nature of the seeker or a strong passion or an excessive ambition, vanity or other dominating weakness, or an obscurity of the mind or a vacillating will or a weakness of the life-force or an unsteadiness in it or want of balance, he is likely to be seized on through these deficiencies and to be frustrated or to deviate, misled from the true way of the inner life and seeking into false paths, or to be left wandering about in an intermediate chaos of experiences and fail to find his way out into the true realisation. These perils were well-known to a past spiritual experience and have been met by imposing the necessity of initiation, of discipline, of methods of purification and testing by ordeal, of an entire submission to the directions of the path-finder or path-leader, one who has realised the Truth and himself possess and is able to communicate the light, the experience, a guide who is strong to take by the hand and carry over difficult passages as well as to instruct and point out the way. But even so the dangers will be there and can only be surmounted if there is or there grows up a complete sincerity, a will for purity, a readiness for obedience to the Truth, for surrender to the Highest, a readiness to lose or to subject to a divine yoke the limiting and self-affirming ego. These things are the sign that the true will for realisation, for conversion of the consciousness, for transformation is there, the necessary stage of the evolution has been reached; in that condition the defects of nature which belong to the human being cannot be a permanent obstacle to the change from the mental to the spiritual status; the process may never be entirely easy, but the way will have been made open and practicable.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter VI Growth of Consciousness, Difficulties and Pitfalls, pp. 122-124

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.