Sri Aurobindo introduces his theme of the evolution of consciousness as the centerpiece of his vision of man’s meaning and purpose on earth. This is the best introduction available to the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo.
Chapter (1): The Human Aspiration
Man’s highest aspiration – his seeking for perfection, his longing for freedom and mastery, his search after pure truth and unmixed delight – is in flagrant contradiction with his present existence and normal experience. Such contradiction is part of Nature’s general method; it is a sign that she is working towards a greater harmony. The reconciliation is achieved by an evolutionary progress.
Life evolves out of Matter, Mind out of Life, because they are already involved there: Matter is a form of veiled Life, Life a form of veiled Mind. May not Mind be a form and veil of a higher power, the Spirit, which would be supramental in its nature? Man’s highest aspiration would then only indicate the gradual unveiling of the Spirit within, the preparation of a higher life upon earth.
Chapter (2): The Place of Man in Evolution
An evolution of consciousness is the central motive of terrestrial existence. The evolutionary working of Nature has a double process: an evolution of forms, an evolution of the soul.
Man occupies the crest of the evolutionary wave. With him occurs the passage from an unconscious to a conscious evolution. At each step one receives an intimation of what the following step will be. The nature of the next step is indicated by the deep aspirations awakening in the human race.
A change of consciousness is the major fact of the next evolutionary transformation, and the consciousness itself, by its own mutation, will impose and effect any necessary mutation of the body. There is no reason to suppose that this transformation is impossible on earth. In fact, it would give the truest meaning to earthly existence.
Man’s urge towards spirituality is an undeniable indication of the inner drive of the Spirit within towards emergence, its insistence towards the next step of its manifestation.
Chapter (3): The Present Evolutionary Crisis
It is often claimed that reason is the highest faculty of man and that it has enabled him to master himself and to master Nature. Has reason really succeeded? When reason applies itself to life and action it becomes partial and passionate and the servant of other forces than the pure truth.
Why does man have faith in reason? Because reason has a legitimate function to fulfil, for which it is perfectly adpated; and this is to justify and illumine for man his various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding on to the enlarging of his consciousness.
But reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can neither get to the root of things nor embrace their totality. It deals with the finite, the separate and has no measure for the all and the infinite. The limitations of reason become very strikingly apparent when it is confronted with the religious life. What is religion really and essentially and why is it outside the realm of reason? Can religion then be the guide of human life? It is a fact that in ancient times society gave a pre-eminent place to religion.
But, on the other hand, humanity – and in particular that portion of humanity which was the standard-bearer of progress – has revolted against the predominance of religion. Very often the accredited religions have opposed progress and sided with the forces of obscurity and oppression. And it has needed a denial, a revolt of the oppressed human mind and heart to correct these errors and set religion right. This would not have been so if religion were the true and sufficient guide of the whole of human life.
If religion has failed, it is because it has confused the essential with the adventitious. True religion is spiritual religion, it is a seeking after God, the opening of the deepest life of the soul to the indwelling Godhead, the eternal Omnipresence. Dogmas, cults, moral codes are aids and props; they may be offered to man but not imposed on him.
Moreover, religion often considers spiritual life as made up of renunciation and mortification. Religion thus becomes a force that discourages life and it cannot, therefore, be a true law and guide for life. In spirituality then, restored to its true sense, we must seek for the directing light and the harmonizing law. On the other hand, modern man has not solved the problem of the relation of the individual to the society. What are their respective roles in the spiritual progress of mankind?
It is wrong to demand that the individual subordinate himself to the collectivity or merge in it, because it is by its most advanced individuals that the collectivity progresses and they can really advance only if they are free. But it is true that as the individual advances spiritually, he finds himself more and more united with the collectivity and the All.
The present evolutionary crisis comes from a disparity between the limited faculties of man – mental, ethical and spiritual – and the technical and economical means at his disposal. Without an inner change man can no longer cope with the gigantic development of the outer life. The exaltation of the collectivity, of the State, only substitutes the collective ego for the individual ego. If humanity is to survive, a radical transformation of human nature is indispensable.
Chapter (4): Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom
Since perfection is progressive, good and evil are shifting quantities and change from time to time their meaning and value. Four main principles successively govern human conduct. The first two are personal need and the good of the collectivity. A conflict is born of the opposition of the two instinctive tendencies which govern human action: the individualist and the gregarious. In order to settle this conflict, a new principle comes in, other and higher than the two conflicting instincts, and aiming both to override and to reconcile them. This third principle is the ethical ideal.
But conflicts do not subside; they seem rather to multiply. Moral laws are arbitrary and rigid; when applied to life, they are obliged to come to terms with it and end in compromises which deprive them of all power.
Behind the ethical law, which is a false image, a greater truth of a vast consciousness without fetters unveils itself, the supreme law of our divine nature. It determines perfectly our relations with each being and with the totality of the universe, and it also reveals the exact rhythm of the direct expression of the Divine in us. It is the fourth and supreme principle of action, which is at the same time imperative law and absolute freedom.
Chapter (5): The Development of the Spiritual Man
Spirituality is something else than intellectuality; its appearance is the sign that a Power greater than mind is striving to emerge in its turn. Spirituality is a progressive awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body. It is an inner aspiration to know, to enter into contact and union with the greater Reality beyond, which also pervades the universe and dwells in us, and, as a result of that aspiration, that contact and that union, a turning, a conversion, a birth into a new being.
In her attempt to open up the inner being, Nature has followed four main lines – religion, occultism, spiritual thought and an inner spiritual realization and experience. Only spiritual realization and experience can achieve the change of the mental being into a spiritual being.
Mysticism and spirituality have been criticized from two points of view. These criticisms should be examined before proceeding further:
o I…… The mystic turns away from life.
o II….. Mystical knowledge is purely subjective.
Chapter (6): The Triple Transformation
If the final goal of terrestrial evolution were only to awaken man to the supreme Reality and to release him from ignorance and bondage, so that the liberated soul could find elsewhere a higher state of being or merge into this supreme Reality, the task would be accomplished with the advent of the spiritual man. But there is also in us an aspiration for the mastery of Nature and her transformation, for a greater perfection in the earthly existence itself.
To be established permanently, this new order of existence demands a radical change of the entire human nature. In this transformation, there are three phases. The first phase of this transformation can be called psychic: the soul, or psychic being, has to come forward and take the lead of the whole being.
In the course of evolution, the soul, in order to emerge successfully and turn the being towards the supreme Reality, uses three dynamic images of this supreme Reality: Truth, Beauty and Good. Three ways thus open before the seeker.
o 1) The way of the intellect or of knowledge.
o 2) The way of the heart or of emotion.
o 3) The way of the will or of action.
These three ways, combined and followed concurrently, have a most powerful effect.
A shifting of the consciousness, a withdrawal within, become imperative at this stage, in order to reach the central being, the true Soul, and to allow it to become the guide and sovereign of the nature.
Two principal results follow this emergence: first an effective guidance and mastery which unmask and reject all that is false and obscure or all that opposes the divine realization; then, a spontaneous influx of spiritual experiences of all kinds.
The second phase of the transformation may be called spiritual; it is an opening to an Infinity above us, an eternal Presence, a boundless Self, an infinite Existence, an infinity of Consciousness, an infinity of Bliss, an All-Power.
The spiritual change culminates in a permanent ascension from the lower consciousness to the higher consciousness, followed by an effective permanent descent of the higher nature into the lower.
A new consciousness begins to form with new forces of thought and sight, and a power of direct spiritual realization which is more than thought or sight.
To make this new creation permanent and perfect, the very foundation of our nature of ignorance must be transfigured and a greater power, a supramental Force must intervene to accomplish that transfiguration. This is the third phase: the supramental transformation.
Chapter (7): The Ascent Towards Supermind
It is difficult to conceive intellectually what the Supermind is; and to describe it, another language would be needed than the poor abstract counters of the mind.
The transition from mind to Supermind is a passage from Nature into Supernature. For that every reason it cannot be achieved by a mere effort of our mind or our unaided aspiration. Overmind and Supermind are involved and hidden in the earth-nature; but, in order that they may emerge in us, there is needed a pressure of the same powers already formulated in their full natural force on their own superconscient planes. The powers of the Superconscience must descend into us and uplift us and transform our being.
What should be the preparation for the supramental transformation? First, an increasing control of the individual over his own nature and a more and more conscious participation in the action of the Supernature. A second condition consists in a conscious obedience, a surrender of our whole being, to the light, the truth and force from above.
A third condition is the unification of the whole being around the true self and the opening of the individual to the cosmic consciousness.
Four steps of ascent lead from the human intelligence to the Supermind; these are:
* 1) Higher Mind.
* 2) Illumined Mind.
* 3) Intuitive Mind.
* 4) Overmind.
Chapter (8): The Gnostic Being
The difficulty in understanding and describing the supramental nature comes from the fact that in its very essence, it is consciousness and power of the Infinite. One can, however, describe in a general way the passage from the Overmind to the Supermind and form an idea of the supramental existence in its initial step.
The supramental or gnostic being will be the perfect consummation of the spiritual man. The law of the Supermind is unity fulfilled in diversity; unity does not imply uniformity. The supramental being will realize the harmony of his individual self with the cosmic Self, of his individual will and action with the cosmic Will and Action.
The transcendence aspect of the spiritual life is indispensable for the freedom of the Spirit; but it will harmonize with the manifested existence and give it an unshakable foundation. For the gnostic being, to act in the world does not signify a lapse from unity.
The gnostic consciousness will proceed towards an integral knowledge. And that will not be a revelation or a delivery of light out of darkness, but of light out of light.
The joy of an intimate self-revealing diversity of the One, the multitudinous union and happy interaction within the One, will give a fully perfected sense to the gnostic life.
Matter will reveal itself as an instrument of the manifestation of Spirit; a new liberated and sovereign acceptance of material Nature will then be possible.
The body will become a faithful and capable instrument, perfectly responsive to the Spirit.
Health, strength, duration, bodily happiness and ease, liberation from suffering, are a part of the physical perfection which the gnostic evolution is called upon to realize.
A vast calm and a deep delight of the gnostic existence rise together in a growing intensity and culminate in an eternal ecstasy. In the universal phenomenon is revealed the eternal Bliss, Ananda.
Two questions remain to be examind, which are important for the human conception of life.
* I. What is the place of personality in the gnostic being? In the gnostic consciousness personality and imper- sonality are not opposing principles; they are insepar- able aspects of one and the same reality. What will be the nature of the gnostic person?
* II. If there is a gnostic personality and if it is in some way responsible for its acts, what is the place of the ethical element in the gnostic nature, what is its perfection and its fulfilment?
The gnostic life will reconcile freedom and order. There will be an entire accord between the free expression of the individual and his obedience to the inherent law of the supreme and universal Truth of things.
All mental standards would disappear because their necessity would cease; the authentic law of identity with the Divine Self would have replaced them.
Chapter (9): The Divine Life Upon Earth
To be wholly and integrally conscious of oneself and of all the truth of one’s being is what is implied by the perfect emergence of the indivudal conscoiusness, and it is that towards which evolution tends. All being is one, and to be fully conscious means to be integrated with the consciousness of all, with the universal self and force and action.
The plenitude of this consciousness can only be attained by realizing the identity of the individual self with the transcendent Self, the supreme Reality. This realization demands a turning of the consciousness inward. The ordinary human consciousness is turned outward and sees the surface of things only. It recoils from entering the inner depths which appear dark and where it is afraid of losing itself. Yet the entry into this obscurity, this void, this silence is only the passage to a greater existence.
Indeed, this inward-turning movement is not an imprisonment in the personal self; it is the first step towards a true universality. The law of the divine life is universality in action, organized by an all-seeing Will, with the sense of the true oneness of all.
New powers of consciousness and new faculties will develop in the gnostic being who will use them in a natural, normal and spontaneous way both for knowledge and for action. The life of gnostic beings might fitly be characterized as a superhuman or divine life. But it must not be confused with past and present ideas of supermanhood.
It would be a misconception to think that a life in the full light of Knowledge would lose its charm and become an insipid monotony. The gnostic manifestation of life would be more full and fruitful and its interest more vivid than the creative interest offered to us by the world of Ignorance.