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The Vital-emotional Sheath and the Vital-emotional Ego

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The Vital-emotional Sheath and the Vital-emotional Ego by Atman Nityananda

In the Vital-emotional sheath lies our suffering and the difficulties in spiritual development

Although it is very common to read or hear that the main cause of our suffering is our thoughts or our thinking this is not the core of our problems. The impure vital is the core factor of our problems and what creates delusion and suffering. The vital is the unconsious, mechanical, compulsive part of ourselves which cause unbalances, disharmony, dysfunction and suffering.

The mind and intellect are victims of the impure and undeveloped vital which uses them as its instruments to achieve its goals; due to the dense and negative vibrations of the vital energy which flow in the mind and intellect the mind and intellect lose their clarity, sharpness, luminosity, concentration, serenity, tranquility and the higher capacities of pure reason, understanding, discernment, intuition are obscured highly.

The mechanical compulsive thinking, (the noise in the head), the negative thinking, abusing, complaining, justifications, the daydreaming and imaginations are all the mental expressions of the vital impulses, emotions, desires,  etc.. The mental vital* (according Sri Auronindo the vital has 4 parts) is the part of the vital that ‘translates’ all vital formations into mental forms, (thoughts, imaginations, concepts).Of course desire is the central expression of the vital (the core desire is the sexual) and all other vital expressions are related to it (desire).

It is important always to remember that all different levels and parts of our existence are interconnected and the dysfunction of one affect the proper funcioning of others.   The body, the vital force (physical and psychic prana***), the senses, the manas (external mind) and the buddhi (intellect-intelligence)  are interconnected. We must use all wisely, with moderation and common sense  maintaining the balance at all levels in order to enjoy good physical and psychological health and grow up spiritually.

Most of us are dominated by the vital body and its deep-seated urges that are necessary for us to remain alive. It is also the home of the vital or subconscious ego which holds the various fears, desires and attachments which afflict us. We most of us spend our time in life seeking enjoyment through the vital in the form of sensory enjoyment and acquisition of material objects.
~ David Frawley

 It is well known to all of us what happens when anger is activated and expressed in us. The vibrations of anger reduce or cancel totally our capacity of reason, discernment, memory and understanding. We think, we say and we do things for which later we regret. The same happens when our mind is under the influence of sexual passion, gluttony, greed for money, power, fame and position, pride, jealousy, hatred, fear, etc.. These vital-emotional formations determine our way of thinking and also impregnate the thoughts with their dense or negative vibrations. Thus when for example we are under the dominion of gluttony we imagine delicious plates, we make plans to get them and we already in the vital-emotional plane we experience the pleasure we expect to derive from them. The same happens when our mind is dominated by sexual lust which is the strongest one; researches have shown that  during the day in  the mind of people arise many times sexual thoughts (of which they may be unconscious in many cases).

It is quite difficult especially in the beginning of our spiritual journey to be conscious of the vital formation that is in play by direct observation of it. Keep in mind that the vital ego doesn´t like to be revealed and be known by our conscious mind because this will be the beginning of its end. But we can be aware of it by being aware of the kind of thoughts that we entertain in our mind. That is to say that if we think about food probably our mind is dominated by gluttony. Certainly it is not always the gluttony behind the thoughts about food but in most cases is.  It is relative easy to realize the vital impulse in relation with sex and food but it becomes more difficult when behind our thoughts is the jealousy, the pride, the inferiority, the law self-esteem, the vanity, the arrogance, the greed etc. That´s why we must every day to investigate, analyze and scrutinise our thoughts and emotions in order to find out the deeper motives of our thoughts, words and actions and little by little by proper means and technics, steady determination and will to disolve them from our psyche.

When the vital ego is active, dominates the mind we become victims of its appetites. The vital formations cloud our intelligence and use the thinking mind and the intellect for its own sake.
Unfortunately the majority of earthlings are dominated by the unconscious vital impulses, desires, ambitions and emotions; thus they live an unbalanced, miserable, unhappy life with trifling moments of pleasure, satisfaction, exhilaration and happiness and have created a chaotic external reality full of exploitation, violence, wars, environment pollution, diseases, poverty and slavery.

(The majority of spiritual teachers refer to it as the desire-mind and as the emotive or emotional mind. Dr. Freud mentioned to this as the unconscious part of our psyche  and named it Id**). Sri  Aurobindo call it the vital being and spoke with details  about the  nature of the vital* and the necessity to purify it).

It is the impure vital the main factor that causes mental dysfunctional and any kind of disturbances, unbalances, diseases and failures, not the thinking mind or the intellect by themselves. It is the impure vital that hypnotizes and dominates the mind and intellect and uses them for its own illogical and in most cases destructive appetites and desires. The pure vital is a good servant but the impure is a disastrous master.

The vital under the influence of excessive rajas and tamas gunas in our astral body and mind becomes brutal, uncontrollable, dominates the mind and obscures the optimal function of reason and discernment, clouds our understanding and comprehension, weakens our will-power and thus uses us as puppets. The tamas guna creates a veil which hides of our conscious mind all these games of impure vital and the rajas guna distracts and extroverts the mind and makes it seek always in the external world ways to satisfy the thirst of the impure vital for power games, sensual gratification and pleasure. 

Thus one very important part of our sadhana in order to purify the vital and of course the mind is to increase the sattva guna and decrease the tamas and rajas gunas. The main way to achieve this is to avoid tamasic actions, habits and impressions at the maximum degree, to avoid as much as possible rajasic actions, habits and impressions and increase the sattva-rajas and sattvic actions, habits and impressions.

The mechanical, compulsive uncontrollable thinking, the illogical thinking, the illusory full of imagination thinking are caused by the vital impulses and demanding. All exaggerations, disharmonious actions, conflicts, abuses, the brutal, violent, inhuman actions, wars etc.are also prompted by the impure vital. 

The impure vital makes the intellect dysfunctional and a servant of its desires and passions. The confusion and misunderstandings that have most of seekers about spiritual matters happens mostly due to the impure vital which does not permit the intellect to function with clarity, sharpness and preciseness as well as obscures the pure reason and discernment, 

It is not possible to control the thinking mind (manas) and free the intellect from vital disturbances and have progress in meditation if we do not purify the vital  of which the energy, the contribution and  cooperation is necessary in order to advance in spirituality. We need a lot of energy to do sadhana and a pure vital that cooperates with us is of a great importance. This purification of the vital is a great and difficult task but there is no other way. Otherwise the vital will always undermine and cancel our efforts to control the mind and grow in meditation and to achieve self-realization. But not only our sadhana suffers from the impure vital but we also suffer failures, problems, and conflicts of any kind in our daily life due to its imaginations, illusions, desires and ambitions.

Daniel Goleman mentions in his  conference (emotional intelligence) an experiment with young children. The results of this experiment have shown with clarity that the children which had a greater self-control over their vital-desirous part they had in the long run a much greater sucess than the weak ones.

When the vital is impure one part of ours goes towards God and the vital part drive us in the opposite direction. We may have a good understanding about what is beneficial for us, about the spiritual path and the necessity of spiritual practice and yet the vital can insist in its own ways which are in the opposite direction and impede our spiritual progress.
 The vital resists and reacts in many ways in order to undermine all our efforts we make to succeed in meditation and self-enquiry and its final goal is to make us abandon the practice. No real progress in meditation is possible if we are not capable to subdue and purify the vital ego which as a ‘monster’ wants always to govern our mind, body and senses in order to satisfy its lower appetite for pleasures and feed itself with negative emotional vibrations.

Due to this impure vital most of the seekers after truth abandon the spiritual sadhana after sometime, or they may continue to follow a path or a teacher but without to make any real effort to eliminate the egoic self and realize the truth and in some cases they become very strict with others.


Vital*: According Aurobindo the vital is the life-force acting in its own nature, impulses, emotions, desires, ambitions, etc., having as their highest centre what we may call the outer heart of emotion, while there is an inner heart where are the higher or psychic feelings and sensinilities, the intuitive yearnings and impulses of the soul.

The vital proper has four parts: 

The mental vital which gives a mental expression by thought, speech or otherwise to the emotions, desires, passions, sensations and other movements of the vital .
The emotional vital which is the seat of various feelings such as, love, joy, sorrow hatred and the rest.
The central vital which is the seat of the stronger vital longings, and reactions e.g. ambition, pride, fear, love of fame, attractions repulsions, desitres, passions of various kinds and the field of many vital energies.
The lower vital which is occupied with desires and emotions such as make the greater party of the daily life e.g. food desire, sexual desire, small likings and dislikings, vanity, quarells, anger at blame, little wishes of all kind and a numberless host of other things.

Their respective seats are:
Mental vital the region from the throat to the heart.
Emotional vital its seat is the outer heart and the inner heart behind it it is related with the soul.
The central vital has as its seat the region from the heart to navel.
The lower vital below the navel.

We must not confuse the mind with the vital although the vital has a mind element transfused in it. Mind and vital are mixed up on the surface of the consciousness, but they are quite separate forces in themselves.

The mental vital is a sort of mediator between vital emotion, desitre, impulsion, etc and the mind. It expresses the desires, emotions, feelings, passions, ambitions, possessive and active tendencies of the vital and throws them into mental .- the pure imaginations or dreams of greatness, happiness, etc. in which men indulge are one peculiar form of the mental vital. It is through the mental vital that the vital passions, emotions, impulses, desires, rise up and get into the buddhi and either cloud it or distort it.

Id**. According Freud the id is the impulsive and unconscious part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to the instincts including the sex (life) instinct.

It operates on the pleasure principle, which is the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences.

The id demands immediate satisfaction and when this happens we experience pleasure, when it is denied we experience ‘unpleasure’ or pain.

The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented.

Physical and  Psychic Prana*** (functions)

Physical Prana

Physical Prana is life-energy acting in support of the physical body in various functions such as digestion, assimilation, etc.

Prana: concerned with inspiration and expiration of the universal Breath, with the chest as its normal base of operation. It brings in the fuel.
Apana: engaged in the expulsion of what is not assimilated or not necessary in the system. It functions below the chest. 

Samana: is concerned with digestion of what is taken in and has its seat in the stomach. It converts fuel into energy. Prana and Apana meet together near the navel and create samana. It regulates the interchange of these two forces at their meeting-place, equalizes them and is the most important agent in maintaining the equilibrium of the vital forces and their functions.
Vyana: regulates both the Prana and the Apana and keeps them in harmony, the breath which sustains when prana is held in abeyance as in actions requiring effort. It is all-pervasive, distributes the vital energies throughout the body.
Udana: It governs the positive energy created and determines the work that the machine is able to do.

Breathing is the main form of Pranic activity in the body. Prana governs inhalation. Samana governs absorption of oxygen that occurs mainly during retention of the breath. Vyana governs its circulation. Apana governs exhalation and the release of carbon dioxide. Udana governs exhalation and the release of positive energy through the breath, including speech that occurs via the outgoing breath.

Psychic Prana

The prana in its subtler aspect supports the psychological functions at the emotional, mental and intellectual level. 

Prana: governs the intake of sensory impressions. It governs our receptivity to positive sources of nourishment, feeling and knowledge through the mind and senses. When deranged it causes wrong desire and insatiable craving. We become misguided, misdirected and generally out of balance.
Apana: governs the elimination of toxic ideas and negative emotions. On a psychological level governs our ability to eliminate negative thoughts and emotions. When deranged it causes depression and we get clogged up with undigested experience that weighs us down in life, making us fearful, suppressed and weak.
Samana: governs mental digestion. It gives us nourishment, contentment and balance in the mind. When deranged it brings about attachment and greed. We cling to things and become possessive in our behavior.
Vyana: governs mental circulation. It gives us free movement and independence in the mind. When deranged it causes isolation, hatred, and alienation. We are unable to unite with others or remain connected in what we do.
Udana: governs positive mental energy, strength and enthusiasm. It gives us joy and enthusiasm and helps awaken our higher spiritual and creative potentials. When deranged it causes pride and arrogance. We become ungrounded, trying to go to high and lose track of our roots.

Read more about Pranas: The Secrets of the Five Pranas

Read also: Vital Sheath, emotions and compulsive thinking