Integral Education: Vital Education

Integral Education is the philosophy of education based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, emphasizing the integral development of a child in all their parts and faculties, physical, vital, emotional & mental. Each child is seen as an evolving soul, or psychic being, which has come to Earth for a particular purpose or line of development, and the ideal education is one which helps the child to develop all of its capacities, become conscious of itself, and attain to mastery over all its parts, while at the same time cultivating an awareness of and intimacy with its soul and its deepest purpose and aspiration.

In this series of introductory articles on Integral Education, we are going one by one into each aspect comprising an integral education and highlighting its importance and unique features & modalities. Having started with Physical Education in our previous article, we will now go into Vital & Emotional Education.

The Vital Being

In the Integral Psychology of Sri Aurobindo, the faculties and energies of the human being are organized in a vertical hierarchy. Starting with the Physical Being as a base and a support, human nature continues up through the Vital Being, Emotional (or Higher Vital) Being, Mental Being, and finally to the regions of the Spirit.

Situated between the Physical Being (the body and the physical nature) and the Mental Being (seat of the thoughts and ideas), the Vital Being is that part of us which largely determines our character and temperament, and where all the vital movements like emotions, desires, feelings, ambitions, sensations, attractions and repulsions, etc. play.

The Vital Being itself is composed of different levels; where the lower vital contains the vital movements more akin to the physical nature like sensations and desires directed at physical things like food or sex, the central vital contains the larger vital movements like ambitions, drives and passions of all kinds, and the higher vital contains the higher and more refined vital movements of emotion and sentiment including love, joy, sorrow etc.

The vital being in us is the seat of impulses and desires, of enthusiasm and violence, of dynamic energy and desperate depressions, of passions and revolts. It can set everything in motion, build and realise; but it can also destroy and mar everything. Thus it may be the most difficult part to discipline in the human being. It is a long and exacting labour requiring great patience and perfect sincerity, for without sincerity you will deceive yourself from the very outset, and all endeavour for progress will be in vain. With the collaboration of the vital no realisation seems impossible, no transformation impracticable.

The Mother

Vital Education

As the Vital Being makes up a large part of our nature and character and as all impulse and energy and enthusiasm for progress also come from there, its education is absolutely essential in the integral development of the human being. While not given too much attention in modern education, which places most of its emphasis on the development of certain mental faculties, vital education is the indispensable basis for a fulfilling and fruitful life, whatever the deeper aim and motive of the soul.

As the discipline and mastery of the vital nature require endless patience and perseverance, it is recommended that its education begins as early as possible. And while there are many details and nuances to the education of the vital, its main lines are:

  1. Development and refinement of the senses: This includes the cultivation and development of the senses themselves (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell and even other subtler senses) as well as their refinement, i.e. on one hand to develop an equality which is not disturbed or repulsed by certain sensations or attracted and attached only to others, and on the other hand an aesthetic development of the senses which cultivates an appreciation of all that is beautiful, harmonious, simple, healthy and pure and which rejects of all that is base and vulgar. Education through fine arts of all kinds and at all levels offers an excellent field for this aspect of vital education.
  1. Purifying and building the character: This aspect of vital education includes all that is conventionally called “character-building”. It consists on one side of a growing awareness of all the vital movements, and on the other side their control and purification and finally transformation. According to the Mother, children should be taught to observe and note all their reactions and impulses and feelings as well as their desires and motives for action. At the same time, they should be taught to cultivate an enduring will and aspiration for progress and perfection and mastery, which should begin very early in the child’s education. And through methods appropriate to each child’s individual nature (with positive example and influence being the best method of all) gradually build up a character full of positive traits such as patience, endurance, selflessness, generosity, nobility, humility, self-confidence, courage, equanimity, etc.

    One pitfall to be avoided here are ascetic methods which control, repress or weaken the vital being without transforming it. These methods should not be followed in an integral education which requires the power, energy and enthusiasm that a transformed vital nature brings.
  1. Refinement and harmonization of the emotions: And lastly there comes the question of the higher emotions which include the appreciation and seeking for beauty and delight, devotion and pursuit of noble ideals, and love of all kinds and shades. In the same way as the other vital movements, these are not to be repressed and weakened but purified and harmonized so as to become truly selfless and noble and disinterested, where one loves and seeks for beauty or pursue noble ideals not for any kind of base and selfish motive or for the sake of personal possession or enjoyment but for the sake of the person or ideal for their own sake. In this case also, the personal example of the teacher is most effective, and children should be guided according to their individual natures.             

At first one loves only when one is loved.
Next, one loves spontaneously, but one wants to be loved in return.
Then one loves even if one is not loved, but one still wants one’s love to be accepted.
And finally one loves purely and simply, without any other need or joy than that of loving.

The Mother

Further Reading

As this introduction is necessarily cursory, we offer the following suggestions for further reading. Our next installment will introduce the aspect of Mental Education.