Integral Musings | Towards a Holistic Vision

An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.

Identification and Development of Faculties–M.S. Srinivasan

Key Perspectives:  Hierarchy of Faculties; Power of Concentration; Observation, Attention and Witness-Consciousness;  Multiple Intelligences;  Faculty of Imagination;  Development of Will-Power; Intuition and Introversion

Knowledge, skill and values are some of the major aims of education.  However, most of the modern systems of education lay a predominant emphasis on the outer aspects of these aims like for example acquisition of externalised information, outer conduct or skill.  But for a more effective realisation of these aims which leads to excellence in the classroom or workplace, the main stress has to be on developing the corresponding inner faculties of consciousness.  This article presents a broad framework for identifying and development of faculties in the light of an integral psychology.  The article is not exhaustive but indicative, providing a bird’s eye-view of the landscape of faculty-development.  The main emphasis is on principles and not on methods.  For methods cannot be generalised; they have to be adopted to the unique needs of the people and the situation.  And finally, this article is based on a vision of human development which doesn’t confine education within the classroom but includes the whole of life as a field of education.

 Hierarchy of Faculties

The faculties of our consciousness form a complex hierarchy.  Let us make a simple classification without getting into esoteric jargons.  The first and the most external are the organs of action and sensation like hand and legs, and the five sense organs.  Next come the faculties of feeling and emotions.  Third are the faculties of mind which may be broadly classified into three categories.  First is the rational intelligence which thinks, reasons, generates concepts and ideas, discriminates and judges.  Closely related to reason is the Will, which chooses and persists in the choice.  In ancient Indian psychology this faculty of intelligence and will are joined together and given a single name Budhi, which denotes the intelligent will.  Second group of mental faculties are that of the pragmatic mind with the ability to apply, execute or organise ideas for practical realisation.  In between the thinking and pragmatic mind are the faculties of imagination with the ability to visualise things or the future possibilities and to think in terms of concrete images.

The third group of faculties of the mind is that of the ethical, aesthetic or ideal intelligence with sensitivity to higher values like truth, beauty and goodness, which develops at the higher stages of human development.  Animating and energising all these faculties of the body and mind, heart and will are the vital force, called as Prana in Indian thought, which is essential for all dynamic and effective realisation of our ideas, ideals or emotions in life.  There are three more faculties, which are essential for the higher and more accelerated development of our consciousness.  They are the faculties of observation, concentration and witness-consciousness.  All these faculties exist in us at varying degrees of development and also at differing range of power at various layers and levels of our consciousness.

Our consciousness has three layers.  The surface layer which is mostly confined within and tethered to the consciousness of our body and its needs and sensations and whatever intellectual or emotional activities or reactions which arise out of it.  In this surface self, the faculties of consciousness are severely constrained by the limitations of our bodily consciousness and heavily externalised towards the outer world.  Deeper behind the surface self is the consciousness of our subliminal self, which we experience in dream and muse and in our higher creative or peak moments.  The subliminal self is not confined to or limited by our bodily consciousness and therefore more universal and intuitive with a much deeper, higher and wider range of knowledge, feeling and action than the surface consciousness.  It can perceive, see, feel or know things which the surface self cannot.  This subliminal self is the source of human greatness and genius.  Most of the great leaders of thought and action and geniuses in art, science literature or business live more habitually or frequently in some form of direct contact with their subliminal self.

Beyond the subliminal is the various levels of spiritual consciousness which is the source of the saint, sage, seer and the yogi.  If the subliminal is the source of human greatness and genius, spiritual is the source of divine greatness and genius.  In the higher layers of spiritual consciousness all our faculties of knowledge, feeling and action attain their highest potential and harmonious integration.  The spiritual consciousness is also the source of supranational faculties like intuition, inspiration and revelation.  But the intuitive faculty does not belong exclusively to the spiritual.  There is an element of intuition, behind every part of our being―body, mind, emotion, vitality.  It becomes more and more conscious and active in the deeper subliminal and spiritual self.  This is more or less a rough map of our inner faculties of consciousness.

 The Power of Concentration

If there is one faculty which can lead to accelerated growth in the educational progress of the student and prepare him to become an efficient, productive and successful achiever in whatever field he enters in, it is concentration.  As Swami Vivekananda pointed out:

“There is only one method to attain knowledge, that which is called concentration—all success in any line of work is the result of this.  High achievement in arts, music etc is the result of concentration—-To me the very essence of education is concentration of mind and not the collection of facts.  If I had to do my education once again, I would not study facts at all.  I would develop the power of concentration—”(Swami Vivekananda, 1996).

Concentration means the ability to focus all the attention and energy of the mind on a particular point and hold on to it as long as it is needed.  We must note here that concentration does not mean we must always be tensely focused on something but to acquire and possess the ability to focus our energies at will and whenever it is needed.

Our so-called “normal” conditions of mind is a state of dispersion, diffusion and wastage of the light and power of our consciousness in a multitude of thoughts, feelings and object, scattered helplessly in an uncontrolled medley of confusion and disorder.  Such a mind is the most inefficient and unproductive For Mind is also a form of energy like Matter.  When this mental energy is scattered and diffused in uncontrolled and useless chattering it is at the lowest and at the most inefficient level of functioning.  On the other hand when this mental energy is under control, free from useless, wasteful and disturbing thoughts, focused and concentrated at a point, it functions at its highest potential.  Energy, physical or mental, when focused, enhances its penetrative power.  An apt analogy from modern technology is the Laser beam.  Laser is the electromagnetic energy of sunlight, which falls on earth in a diffused and scattered form, focused into a coherent and concentrated beam, which can penetrate even steel.  This applies equally to mental energy.  The act of focusing the mind increases and multiplies the cognitive as well the penetrative power of its energy; it grows in light, clarity, insight, understanding and also in power, intensity, strength and force of effectuation.

In fact some form of concentration is there in all creative and productive activities.  All great leaders of thought and action and all those who have attained higher levels of success or excellence in whatever field, business or politics, art, literature or religion, possess this capacity of concentration in an exceptional or above average measure.  But the Indian Science of Yoga believes that even an average man can develop and enhance his power of concentration by constant, systematic and methodical practice.  This is the principle or rationale of concentration and every student has to be awakened to this faculty which is within every human being.

Let us now examine briefly what are the principles involved in developing the power of concentration.  First is the factor of Interest.  Absorbing interest in a subject or activity induces spontaneous concentration.  So creating interest in studies and guiding the student gently into those subjects or activities, which is in harmony with his or her natural interests, aptitudes and inclination helps in developing concentration.  However, for further progress, concentration should not be tied to or dependent on interest.  The ideal of concentration is to acquire the capacity to concentrate at will, with or without interest.

There is no shortcuts or quick-fix methods for concentration.  We have to work against the natural urge of the mind towards dispersion and impress upon it the opposite tendency of concentrated focus, through a patient, persistent and undespondent will.  The ordinary unfocussed human mind is described in the ancient Indian Yogic literature in the image of a monkey who is at once blind, drunk and strung by a scorpion.  This image gives some idea of the difficulty involved in dealing with our own mind.

Initially it could be extremely tiring to impose concentration on the mind, which is not habituated to it.  The mind may revolt violently and react with thoughts and feelings like “O it is hopeless”, “no use trying”, and “not worth the labour”.  But these suggestions have to be firmly rejected by the will and the process of concentration has to be repeated again and again, patiently, without yielding to despondency.  The steps of the process are simple in paper but difficult to put into practice.  The first step is to establish a minimum amount of calm in the mind.  Next step is to gather and bring back the vagabonding mind to the focal point of concentration which may be an object, thought, or an activity.  Third step is to hold on to it as long as possible, keeping the distracting thoughts away with a vigilant mind and a firm will.

Observation, Attention and Witness-Consciousness

Observation is the first step or stage in the classical Scientific Method.  Observation is also the discipline for developing the senses.  We never observe the world around us with the full power of our sense.  A careful, detailed, alert, scientific and objective observation and reception of the world we perceive through our senses is a very effective discipline for developing the range and power of our senses.  Someone who has a well-developed power of observation can see or feel things which others who have not developed this power can not see.  So, a close and alert eye on all that is or happening around us and a conscious effort towards a full, complete, detailed and minute awareness of our surrounding in our workplace or home or wherever we are, extends the frontiers of concentration from a focus on a single point to larger vistas of life.  We can stretch further our observation to include not only what we see with our eyes but also what we perceive through other senses like the sound and smell.  We may extend our observation still further and inwards to include not only what we perceive through our senses but also our inner reactions in our thoughts and feelings to the outer facts.  We are now moving beyond observation to meditative attention.

 As the attention of our consciousness shifts from the outer objects to the inner world if awakens one of the important faculties which is unique to human mind and which the animal mind do not possess.  It is the ability of t he mind to observe itself, to watch itself in the act of living, thinking, feeling or acting as a detached witness, the witness-consciousness.

 This brings us to another form of concentration, which J. Krishnamoorthy called as “Attention” or “Choiceless Awareness” (J. Krishnamoorthy, 1996).  Exclusive focusing of the attention on a single object is only one form of concentration.  The other form of concentration is an unfocussed, all-inclusive awareness which observes and registers with a fine, subtle and sharp sensitivity and without judgement, suppression, or condemnation, whatever that is perceived around us and whatever that happens or raise without and within us like objects of Nature, events, people, ideas, thoughts, feelings, sensations.  The exclusive type of concentration brings knowledge, power and efficiency to the mind.  And the inclusive attentions bring a refined aesthetic and ethical sensitivity to the intelligence and also insight into the wholeness of life.

We must note here that concentration and attention are not mutually exclusive.  We can learn both and possess the capacity for both types of meditative practice and use them at appropriate situations.  Exclusive concentration is of immense help when there is great pressure of studies or work and we are hard-pressed for time.  And it can be learnt during study or work-hours.  Inclusive concentration made of observation and attention can be used while relating with people or when we are more relaxed or during unoccupied moments or leisure like for example commuting to the work-place or holidaying in unknown lands.

 Multiple Intelligences

It is now recognised that conceptual intelligence is not the only form of intelligence.  There are also other forms of intelligences like for example, “emotional intelligence” which is now becoming increasingly popular among scholars and thinkers in education, psychology and management.

We may briefly classify the faculty of intelligence into three categories.  First is the conceptual intelligence of the pure theorist, philosopher, thinker scientists and scholar; second is the pragmatic intelligence of the technocrat, professional, entrepreneur, organiser and the leader.  Third is the value intelligence of the saint, sage or the true artist, which is sensitive to higher values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, unity.  All these forms of intelligences and their corresponding human types are essential for the integral development of the human individual and the society.  So an integral approach to education must strive to develop all these intelligences.

The conceptual mind develops through the spirit of enquiry, asking how and why, penetrating into the deeper or ultimate cause of thing and tracing the underlying laws and patterns behind outer forms, process and appearances.  For example, in science education, great emphasis has to be laid on understanding and applying the essential method and process of the scientific enquiry and developing the attitudes and qualities of a true scientific mind rather than on stuffing the student’s brain with a huge garbage of information on scientific laws and equations.

The pragmatic intelligence develops by wrestling with problems, difficulties, conflicts, dilemmas and challenges of life, work and action; applying ideas and concepts to practical problem-solving, innovation and for the enrichment of life; and by executing goal-oriented projects.  For example case studies are an important innovation in management education.  Solving case studies of live business situations activates the pragmatic mind of the management student who is most of the time exposed only to theories and concepts.  In the corporate world, on-the-job training under the guidance of an experienced mentor is considered as the most effective method for developing the professional skill of a novice.  A more recent innovation in management training is computer-simulated management games, which in terms of effectiveness comes somewhere in between case studies and on-the-job training.

The value-intelligence is that part of our consciousness, which is sensitive to higher, values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony and unity not only in thought but also in feelings, sensations and actions.  In this classification, emotional intelligence is a part of value-intelligence.  This higher intelligence develops as we grow in our emotional, ethical and aesthetic consciousness.  This higher growth can be accelerated by inner discipline.  The main principle of the discipline is to consciously cultivate those thoughts, feelings or virtues which purifies, elevates, enlightens and widens our mind and heart and conversely, reject the opposite, which darkens, narrows and pollutes our consciousness.  Here much stress has to be laid on the purification of emotions.  For emotional intelligences and the sensitivity to higher values flowers and become effective in action and behaviour as the emotions are purified and refined.

There are three paths by which this inner discipline for building value-intelligence can be pursued.  First is the ethical path, which is to provide a set of positive feelings or virtues to be cultivated, like for example, peace, non-violence, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and another set of negativities to be rejected like anger, violence, jealousy, lust, and greed.  The second is the psychological path, which is through self-observation, to observe carefully, with a scientific, objective and choiceless awareness, all our thoughts, feelings, reactions, inner movement and their positive and negative consequences.  The objective of the psychological method is to arrive at a concrete supra-intellectual and psychological understanding or insight which leads to a spontaneous rejection or dropping of all negativities in our thought, feelings and behaviour and an equally spontaneous flowering of the positive virtues like peace, harmony, light and love.  The third path is the aesthetic way, which involves conscious cultivation of beauty and harmony in our thought, feelings, action, behaviour, gestures and in the arrangement of the outer life through art, music, literature and a beautiful and harmonious equipment and organisation of the physical and vital life.  The aesthetic consciousness, when it is sincere and integral, has a positive impact on the moral character.  It brings about what is called by ancient Greek thinkers as Katharsis, which means a spontaneous rejection of all that is ugly, debased and vulgar and simultaneously flowering of the noble, beautiful and the harmonious.

 Faculty of Imagination

Imagination is the faculty by which we can visualise the unmanifest, invisible and the unknown realities or possibilities.  Imagination calls or evokes the potentialities which are yet to be realised in the present (The Mother, 1975).  For example to visualise the positive, hopeful and promising scenarios or possibilities of the future in each subject of study like history, science or politics is a good exercise in imagination.

The other function of imagination is to make the abstract idea concrete to the mind through symbols and images.  For example in Indian mythology, the concept of a supreme timeless Infinite immeasurably exceeding the universe is imaged in the figure of a transcendent Goddess holding all the universes within Her thumbnail.

 Development of Will-Power

The Will is that faculty in us in which Thought is converted into Power for action.  The power of will develops, like the muscles of the body, by constant exercise, first in easy tasks or closable resolutions and then progressing slowly by applying it to more and more difficult tasks or resolutions.  Getting the emotional support to will through imagination, by visualising the positive benefits of the accomplishment in the future, lubricates the exercise of will.

Concentration, perseverance, endurance, patience and self-control are other factors and qualities which can strengthen the power of will.  We must note here that for success in life or for building strength of character on the foundation of higher values we must have the maturity to exercise our will with or without joy.  So as the Austrian educationist, Rudolf Steiner pointed out, we must not insist too much on “joy of learning” (Rudolf Steiner, 1982).  We must remember that life is not always a bed of roses.  Every great accomplishment in life requires facing difficulties, challenges and passing through dry and joyless terrains.  So the main thrust in education has to be not on “joy of learning” but on a persistent and sincere quest for truth and knowledge and the will to accomplish goals conquering all difficulties and undaunted by failures and disappointments.

Intuition and Introversion

We may define intuition as a direct and holistic in-sight into the truth of things, people, events, situations or a problem and its solution without the need for rational analysis or thinking.  The highest form of intuition is knowledge-by-Identity by which we can know the object of knowledge by identifying with it or in other words becoming one with it in consciousness.

Intuition is one of the inherent faculties of the deeper subliminal and spiritual consciousness behind or beyond the surface mentality.  So to receive intuition we must learn to still the activity of the surface intellectual mind and turn our mind inwards to the deeper layers of our consciousness.  At a certain stage in the educational growth, the young students have to be awakened to these deeper sources of intuitive knowledge and taught how to receive this higher knowledge in a silent mind.

However, staying in the surface mind and receiving intuitions from the deeper and higher layers of consciousness is only a stage in this inner growth.  The next stage is to learn the art of meditative introversion by which we can shift the centre of consciousness from the surface level to the subliminal and spiritual levels of consciousness.


J. Krishnamurthy (1992), On Education, J. Krishnamoorthy Foundation, Chennai.

 Rudolf, Steiner, (1970) Education as Art, Rudolf Steiner, Publications, New York.

 Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (1975), On Education, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry.

 Swami Vivekananda, (1996) Man-making Education, A new Approach to Education, Integral Education Series, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry.

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This entry was posted on April 5, 2012 by in Education & Learning.