In Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice the vital reaction of jealousy is explored in considerable depth. The title character Othello is married to a young woman with whom he is passionately in love, in the normal sense of the word. Iago, who wants to bring down Othello, systematically poisons Othello’s mind with thoughts that his wife is cheating on him, and selectively shows Othello ‘proofs’ which convince Othello of the veracity of the case. He undergoes a fit of rage and kills his wife, only realizing afterwards that he has lost the one person for whom he had a deep and passionate affection., and that he has been manipulated with falsehood. He then commits suicide. Disregarding the motivations of Iago and all the subplots, the play itself provides a clear and accurate description of the way jealousy acts upon the mind and preys upon the vital being of man.

We can say that the case, as portrayed by Shakespeare, is extreme, but what we cannot say is that for people living an ordinary life filled with relationships of various sorts, that jealousy does not arise. We can also put aside the connection between sexual connection and jealousy as jealousy can, and does, arise in all kinds of relationships. In some cases, disciples living together in a spiritual community experience jealousy because of a perceived difference in the intensity of the smile bestowed on one person, rather than themselves, by the Guru.

Sri Aurobindo takes a close look at this force of jealousy and shows how it arises as a consequence of a possessive instinct in the vital nature. For a spiritual seeker, this type of vital reaction is subject to being reviewed and changed over time through the change in consciousness that reduces, and then eventually eliminates the reliance of the ego-personality and the desire-soul as the psychic being comes forward and the consciousness shifts to the spiritual standpoint.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “I do not see why you make such a big difference between the quarrels and jealousy over other women and quarrels and jealousy over other attractions not of a sexual character. They both spring from the same primary impulse, the possessive instinct which is at the base of ordinary vital love. In the latter case, as often sexual jealousy is not possible, the mind supports itself on other motives which seem to it quite reasonable and justifiable — it may not be conscious that it is being pushed by the vital, but the quarrels and the vivacity of the disagreement are there all the same. Whether you had or had not both forms of it, is not very material and does not make things better or worse. It is the getting rid of the instinct itself that matters, whether from the psychological point of view or from that of a spiritual change.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Disturbances of the Vital, Jealousy, pp. 68-69

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.