The Upanishads describe an aspect of reality that is generally blocked from the external awareness of the body-life-mind complex. The Isha Upanishad states: “The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, O Fosterer, for the law of the Truth, for sight.” (Isha Upanishad, verse 15, translation by Sri Aurobindo in The Upanishads). The Taittiriya Upanishad describes a series of successively more subtle sheaths of consciousness, starting with the outermost material sheath, then moving to the vital sheath, the mental sheath, the supramental or knowledge sheath and the bliss sheath. Our normal awareness, focused on the external being and the world within which it moves, does not normally have full and direct conscious awareness of the hidden depths and breadths of reality.

Yogic practitioners, seeking to understand these depths of existence, find that they must transcend the outer consciousness in order to enter into these other realms or levels of awareness. There is, however, a gap that must be bridged and the characteristics of those other levels of reality are so different from normal experience, that our outer individuality has a difficult time either transcribing the experience, or describing it. This leads to various results. First, the entry into these alternative states of consciousness may only come about, at least initially, in a state of yogic trance, Samadhi. When the seeker returns to the outer surface being he is unable to fully comprehend or describe what occurred or what was experienced, and thus, there is a disconnect between the outer reality and the inner reality. This is one of the reasons that the sages have held that the day of the person living primarily in the surface being is the night for the yogi, and vice versa.

Another issue arises as the seeker enters into the realms of the inner consciousness. At a certain point, the ego-personality fears its extinction and transcribes this as impending death. The fear of death can then pull the seeker out of the inner awareness and back into the surface being. The mode of existence, knowledge and action also is different in the inner and more subtle realms and the being, coming from a habitual understanding based on the surface, outer existence, may find things disorienting. All of these things lead to somewhat confused or garbled attempts to understand, integrate and describe the experience of the subtle existence of the inner planes of consciousness. The individual may either not actively remember what occurred, or may conclude it was some kind of dream, or transcribe it in some inaccurate manner using the language and imagery that is familiar.

Eventually, with repeated experience, a linkage can be built so that there is a free and open communication and interchange between the surface and the inner being. At this point, the influence of the inner consciousness can begin to make itself felt overtly and take over the guidance of the outer being.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Last comes crossing of the border. It is not a falling asleep or a loss of consciousness, for the consciousness is there all the time; only it shifts from the outer and physical, becomes closed to external things and recedes into the inner psychic and vital part of the being. There it passes through many experiences and of these some can and should be felt in the waking state also; for both movements are necessary, the coming out of the inner being to the front as well as the going in of the consciousness to become aware of the inner self and nature. But for many purposes the ingoing movement is indispensable. Its effect is to break or at least to open and pass the barrier between this outer instrumental consciousness and that inner being which it very partially strives to express, and to make possible in future a conscious awareness of all the endless riches of possibility and experience and new being and new life that lie untapped behind the veil of this small and very blind and limited material personality which men erroneously think to be the whole of themselves. it is the beginning and constant enlarging of this deeper and fuller and richer awareness that is accomplished between the inward plunge and the return from this inner world to the waking state.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, The Inward Movement, pp. 174-179

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 editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.