As the seeker proceeds in the path of yoga, it is important that he not misinterpret or misunderstand what he experiences or what the source of the experience may be. Most people confuse the terms Self, Spirit, and soul so that they really cannot appreciate the difference aspects or significances. The traditional paths of yoga frequently set as the goal a liberation from the external nature through realization of the Self or Spirit, above, free, independent, unattached to the world and what it has to offer. The soul is understood to be something personal that both inhabits the life and represents some truer essence of an individual’s being. We speak of ‘soul-mates’ as being kindred souls that have a long-standing relationship with the soul from birth to birth.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates on what he calls the ‘psychic being’ which is the development of the soul through its experience and growth from life to life, which matures and brings forth deeper elements and aspects of existence as it develops. For most human beings, the psychic being remains hidden deep within, not recognized or accepted as the guiding principle of the life. Life takes place on the surface, in the external being, carrying out the needs and desires of the body, life and mind, without reference to any deeper significance to the life and the experience. When the psychic being reaches a certain stage of development, it can, and does, come forward and take on the guidance of the mind-life-body complex. At that point, it becomes possible to transform the external life into something that reflects and embodies the spiritual purpose of the universal manifesatation.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Jivatman, spark-soul and psychic being are three different forms of the same reality and they must not be mixed up together, as that confuses the clearness of the inner experience.”

“The Jivatman or spirit, as it is usually called in English, is self-existent above the manifested or instrumental being — it is superior to birth and death, always the same, the individual Self or Atman. It is the eternal true being of the individual.”

“The soul is a spark of the Divine which is not seated above the manifested being, but comes down into the manifestation to support its evolution in the material world. it is at first an undifferentiated power of the Divine Consciousness containing all possibilities which have not yet taken form, but to which it is the function of evolution to give form. This spark is there in all living beings from the lowest to the highest.”

“The psychic being is formed by the soul in its evolution. It supports the mind, vital, body, grows by their experiences, carries the nature from life to life. It is the psychic or chaitya purusha. At first it is veiled by mind, vital and body, but as it grows, it becomes capable of coming forward and dominating the mind, life and body; in the ordinary man it depends on them for expression and is not able to take them up and freely use them. The life of the being is animal or human and not divine. When the psychic being can by sadhana become dominant and freely use its instruments, then the impulse towards the Divine becomes complete and the transformation of mind, vital and body, not merely their liberation, becomes possible.”

“The Self or Atman being free and superior to birth and death, the experience of the Jivatman and its unity with the supreme or universal Self brings the sense of liberation, it is this which is necessary for the supreme spiritual deliverance: but for the transformation of the life and nature the awakening of the psychic being and its rule over the nature are indispensable.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 2, Planes and Parts of the Being, pp. 83-84

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.