We are generally so embedded in the external surface consciousness and the ego-personality that we naturally believe that represents ‘who we are’. This focus on the external being, however, is subject to being driven by impulsions, desires, impressions and various forces that are at work to push or pull us in various directions. We are generally not even aware that these forces are acting upon us, and thus, believe that we are self-determining beings who are in control of our lives, our thoughts, our actions and reactions.

Sri Aurobindo contrasts this state with that of the separate witness-consciousness, which is not involved in the actions and reactions of the surface being, but which rather can observe them dispassionately, and can focus on the deeper spiritual truths of existence that are the true guides for the role we each play in the universal manifestation.

The witness consciousness is not a mental construct however. The shift from the surface consciousness of the body-life-mind complex to that of the separate witness observing the action of the nature, is something experienced and is recognised as real by those who undergo this shift. It is not the same as what we call an ‘introspective’ personality where there is a constant, self-critical internal dialogue of inner isolation. The witness-consciousness presents itself as an undenaible state of awareness that may feel like the state of watching a motion picture, although in this case, the ‘motion picture’ is the external nature of the individual.

The less attached one is to the surface actions and reactions, the more one can lose the identification with the desires, thoughts and feelings that arise in the external being, the easier it can be to change or remove those elements that need to be changed, as there is more of a sense of it not being actually part of one’s core existence, and thus, it can be left behind.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “When one lives in the true consciousness one feels the desires outside oneself, entering from outside, from the universal lower Prakriti, into the mind and the vital parts. In the ordinary human condition this is not felt; men become aware of the desire only when it is there, when it has come inside and found a lodging or a habitual harbourage and so they think it is their own and a part of themselves. The first condition for getting rid of desire is, therefore, to become conscious with the true consciousness; for then it becomes much easier to dismiss it than when one has to struggle with it as if it were a constituent part of oneself to be thrown out from the being. It is easier to cast off an accretion than to excise what is felt as a parcel of our substance.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 4, Becoming Conscious, pp. 126-127

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky 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.