We observe everywhere that Nature has a development cycle, with focus of attention on what needs to take place at each stage of that cycle, rather than simply jumping ahead to an 'end result' of the development. Thus, we see that plants undergo a stage of sprouting from seed, and the first focus is on putting out a root system and leaves, then stems and trunks, more leaves, and eventually they come to a stage of flowering and bearing of fruit, which then leads to a new seed generation and repeat of the cycle.

In human beings we can can observe that after the child is born, Nature puts the initial primary attention on the growth of the physical body; as the child grows, there comes about development of the vital powers of the being, and eventually a stage is reached where a primary attention is placed on the mental development. Some educators indeed have posited that there are specific time frames in the development cycle within which each of these levels obtains the primary focus. Rudolf Steiner and Maria Montessori created plans of education around these stages. Ancient Indian teachings held that there were specific time frames within the scope of human life within which the being should focus on various aspects of development. These stages, known as ashramas, counseled the individual to attend to the major aspects of human development within an orderly sequence.

We can consider that a caterpillar focuses its attention almost entirely on eating leaves of plants. At a certain stage it spins a cocoon and embeds itself therein. Eventually it emerges as a butterfly. Just as the caterpillar cannot focus its attention on flying as a butterfly, so the child, the young adult, the individual in the prime of life, cannot be expected to focus on or even conceive of, in most cases, a further stage that involves new spiritual understanding and expression of powers and modes of being that represent the development of the flower of human existence, the emergence of the soul. When the time comes, the mature individual naturally turns his attention to the soul and the significance of his life. This is a natural cycle of development. Until that time, the existence of the soul is considered to be a mystery, and its influence is primarily a pressure of ongoing development of the physical, vital, emotional, and mental aspects of the life, to prepare for the ultimate emergence of the soul in a fully awake, prepared and competent human existence.

Sri Aurobindo observes: "If the psychic entity had been from the beginning unveiled and known to its ministers, not a secluded King in a screened chamber, the human evolution would have been a rapid soul-outflowering, not the difficult, chequered and disfigured development it now is; but the veil is thick and we know not the secret Light within us, the light in the hidden crypt of the heart's innermost sanctuary. Intimations rise to our surface from the psyche, but our mind does not detect their source; it takes them for its own activities because, before even they come to the surface, they are clothed in mental substance: thus ignorant of their authority, it follows or does not follow them according to its bent or turn at the moment. If the mind obeys the urge of the vital ego, then there is little chance of the psyche at all controlling the nature or manifesting in it something of its secret spiritual stuff and native movement; or, if the mind is over-confident to act in its own smaller light, attached to its own judgment, will and action of knowledge, then also the soul will remain veiled and quiescent and wait for the mind's farther evolution. For the psychic part within is there to support the natural evolution, and the first natural evolution must be the development of body, life and mind, successively, and these must act each in its own kind or together in their ill-assorted partnership in order to grow and have experience and evolve. The soul gathers the essence of all our mental, vital and bodily experience and assimilates it for the farther evolution of our existence in Nature; but this action is occult and not obtruded on the surface. In the early material and vital stages of the evolution of being there is indeed no consciousness of soul; there are psychic activities, but the instrumentation, the form of these activities are vital and physical, -- or mental when the mind is active. For even the mind, so long as it is primitive or is developed but still too external, does not recognise their deeper character. It is easy to regard ourselves as physical beings or beings of life or mental beings using life and body and to ignore the existence of the soul altogether: for the only definite idea that we have of the soul is of something that survives death of our bodies; but what this is we do not know because even if we are conscious sometimes of its presence, we are not normally conscious of its distinct reality nor do we feel clearly its direct action in our nature."

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 2 Hidden Forces Within, pp. 44-46

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 20 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.
YouTube Channel www.youtube.com/@santoshkrinsky871
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at http://www.aurobindo.net
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at http://www.lotuspress.com