The Seeking for Knowledge and Mastery in Life

The impulsion of Consciousness in man is to “know himself” in order to gain mastery over life. We research matter to try to understand the material world. We explore the vital force of life awakened out of matter to try to understand the forces that create and move us. We study the mind to understand this new power of reason and intelligence that begins to liberate us from the binding limitations of life manifesting in matter.

We see here the Divine Will in this consistent and never ending search for knowledge and mastery over life. As we develop more and more the power of the intellect, of reason, of mental overview and separation from the impulsions of life and matter, we begin to recognize that the mind is clearly not capable of breaking free entirely nor of comprehending entirely. We see the Universe around us with its vastness far beyond anything that the mind can embrace and comprehend. As we delve into matter we see organization at the atomic level and enormous power far beyond anything the mind can grasp or truly control. We view the vital world and see complexity of forces clashing, changing, growing and dying far beyond what the mind can control. We recognize these things, and our own limitations in the face of them, and begin to recognize that there are other and higher powers of Consciousness at work in the manifestation of the Universe that create that power, that organisation, that complexity and that overview that we can only grasp for and glimpse as from a distance. As humans we continually strive therefore to exceed these limitations and achieve that next level of conscious awareness, and that is the uniquely human striving that characterizes our existence.

If we were able to deal with the complexity, the vastness, the power of consciousness, we would have mastery and overcome the human limitations. This would be the resolution of the problem of life and the meaning of our existence. The ultimate issue resides in the question of whether mankind can exceed its own limitations and embody these higher forms of Consciousness, or whether a new species founded in that Unity and that Consciousness-Force as its basis has to arise and embody that result.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 22, The Problem of Life


The Problem Of Life

In chapter 22 of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo poses the raw problem that we face in life. While the Consciousness-Force is infinite, universal and omnipotent, it seems in the aspect of life in the world to be divided, limited, hindered and weak, subject to oppression and defeat, suffering and death. This apparent opposition to the reality of the Universal Force of Creation comes about through the dividing and exclusive concentration of the action of Mind carrying out the idea of the One to create Oneness through Multiplicity.

“Hence the world takes on the appearance of a clash of opposing truths each seeking to fulfil itself, each having the right to fulfilment, and therefore of a mass of problems and mysteries which have to be solved because behind all this confusion there is the hidden Truth and unity pressing for the solution and by the solution for its own unveiled manifestation in the world.”

While the mind searches for the solution, it becomes quickly evident that it is not the province of the mind to provide the ultimate solution. The solution must manifest in Life, not just in Mind. And it must therefore call upon the higher levels of consciousness that still are based in the Unity, while carrying through this awareness into action of life in the world of matter.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 22, The Problem of Life

The Law of Love

It requires the increased influence of the Mind within matter and vital life to begin to incorporate the action of Love. The laws of the mental world do not require the devouring and dissolution that are the principles at the level of matter and life. In fact, it is able to grow both through receiving and giving, by expanding the scope and action of its natural principle. “Physical life exhausts itself by too much giving and ruins itself by too much devouring.” Mind, “in its upward ascent grows towards the rule of conscious unity in differentiation which is the divine law of the manifest Sacchidananda.”

In order to grow into the action of the principle of love, the law of desire must be transformed. “Love is in its nature the desire to give oneself to others and to receive others in exchange; it is a commerce between being and being.” This is an advancement upon the physical world which seeks to devour and receive but not give of itself. Physical manifestation is compelled to give, through the shock of forces and pressure, rather than through a voluntary self-giving through mutual interchange. “In its life-origin, the law of love is the impulse to realise and fulfil oneself in others and by others, to be enriched by enriching, to possess and be possessed because without being possessed one does not possess oneself utterly.”

As the third status, brought about by the entrance of mind into the equation, begins to enforce itself, “there comes about through association and through love a recognition of the not-self as a greater self and therefore a consciously accepted submission to its law and need which fulfils the increasing impuse of aggregate life to absorb the individual; and there is a possession again by the individual of the life of others as his own and of all that is has to give him as his own which fulfils the opposite impulse of individual possession.” We see here a successive transformation and widening of the energy which starts out unconsciously in the physical world, becomes driven by hunger and conscious desire in the vital principle, and which widens and transforms itself into the truer form of mutuality in the mental manifestation.

There is established a balance between individual aggrandisement and collective aggregate fulfillment. Concepts such as harmony, equilibrium, mutuality, equality begin to gain importance in the evolutionary urge toward a higher and truer existence. It is true that even this third principle is insufficient to fully resolve and harmonise the opposing principles and imbalances, as mind itself is a subordinate term which does not in and of itself have the complete realisation. The true manifestation of the law of Love only can come about through the integration of a fourth stage, beyond the mind, that holds the unity and the multiplicity in perfect harmony and balance at all times, “in the unity and freedom of the Spirit.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 21, The Ascent of Life

Love governs the Third Status of Life

“Association with love as its secret principle and its emergent summit is the type, the power of this new relation and therefore the governing principle of the development into the third status of life.”

In this third status, the oppositions found in the first two stages are resolved and we find that “the conscious preservation of individuality along with the consciously accepted necessity and desire of interchange, self-giving and fusion with other individuals, is necessary for the working of the principle of love; for if either is abolished, the working of love ceases, whatever may take its place.”

The principle in action here brings us beyond the idea of “mutual devouring”, and thus, is the next evolutionary phase beyond a pure Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” We see an increasing emphasis in this phase on mutuality, and “self-perfectioning by mutual adaptation, interchange and fusion.” We begin to recognize that we do not live alone, that we are not independent of one another or our environment, and that in order for one to thrive, all must thrive. We see the development of what is called nowadays the “win / win scenario” where instead of one form winning out at the expense of others, there is a conscious development of understanding and action that leads to a mutual benefit and therefore a higher result.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 21, The Ascent of Life

Emergence of Mind Brings Persistence Beyond Death

The development of the third status or stage of life brings about the development of the capacity to fuse the two formerly apparently contradictory stages, that of the ultimate fragmentation in the form of the atom and material form, and the persistence of that individual expression, and the give and take and dissolution for the purpose of interchange and breakdown of the forms to create new opportunities and forms.

This third status works to bring about both the persistence of the individual form and the interchange that characterise the prior two steps. This cannot come about until the mental stage emerges. It is clear that the individual separate formation cannot possibly have or be granted the eternal persistence that atomic existence in matter possesses. Such a result would yield an unchanging world without evolutionary potential. The emergence of the mental being allows a consciousness that links the past with the future with continuity, and the development of the psychic being or soul allows this continuity to extend beyond the borders of life, and death and new life with a conscious development and continuity spanning across different forms. There is both in this an individual continuity and the continuity of the aggregate, the society, the world, the eco-sphere and bio-sphere within which the individual being lives and thrives. The individual has both its own value as well as its inherent role in the wider manifestation, and these provide a sense of persistence both of the individual and the world.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 21, The Ascent of Life

The Initial Two Terms of Life Manifestation

The first stage or term of Life Energy in manifestation takes place in the purely physical world. The principle at work here is to establish the ultimate individualisation and stabilize the forms in their separate identities as the foundation for the other and later play of interchange. “Life starts with the extreme divisions and rigid forms of Matter, and of this rigid division the atom, which is the basis of all material form, is the very type.” Atoms are stable and resist dissolution in their separateness, and they tend to join together by aggregating into larger groups of atoms, while maintaining their fragmentation. This is the basic law then of the material plane.

The next phase of the evolution brings about the expression of the vital principle of living forms. In this term, the focus is on interchange and the dissolution of the form as the basis for developing and feeding other forms, the vital give and take. “We can see broadly that not only the elements of our physical body, but those of our subtler vital being, our life-energy, our desire-energy, our powers, strivings, passions enter both during our life and after our death into the life-existence of others.”

“We have then two principles in Life, the necessity or the will of the separate ego to survive in its distinctness and guard its identity and the compulsion imposed upon it by Nature to fuse itself with others.”

Clearly the two opposite principles cannot in and of themselves signify the final term of the solution, as these two principles eventually have to be harmonised. The terms of this harmonisation must include some form of persistence of the individual within the framework of the interchange and building of large forms and aggregates.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 21, The Ascent of Life

Life evolves beyond Survival of the Fittest as a Principle

The evolutionary direction for Life is to overcome the limitations, weaknesses and incapacities that mark the experience of the life-energy in its early manifestation. This life force is a reflex of the superconscient Force “whose highest terms are immortality, satisfied delight and omnipotence.” Each of the limitations is a sign of the eventual Supreme Fulfillment of the Life-Energy. The unenlightened seeking of Life, apparently separate and separated from the Oneness, is one of struggling “to increase, to expand to conquer and to possess.” Death is the veil thrown over the seeking for Immortality that resides within Life.

The whole concept of “survival of the fittest” enunciated by Charles Darwin, was based on the raw play of the life energies, individualized and separated from one another in awareness, meeting each other and striving to overcome, to dominate, to possess, to aggrandise the self, at the expense of the others.

This Darwinian response however is not the complete or final term of the evolutionary force and it relies too heavily on the individualised forms as being separate and in opposition to one another. At some point in the evolutionary process, the next power or principle, that of Mind, begins to emerge and for Mind, the idea of simply “kill or be killed” and the idea of one being gaining ascendency at the expense of others and without concern for the Whole, is simply incomplete and unsatisfying.

At some point “Mind can begin to open to the truth that there is something beyond itself; from that moment his evolution, however obscure and slow, towards that superior something, towards Spirit, towards Supermind, towards Supermanhood is inevitably predetermined.”

We see thus the first awakening of the principle of love to challenge the principle of death as the ruling principle of the manifestation.
reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 21, The Ascent of Life

Limitation Aids In the Manifestation of Infinite Power

“Desire is the impulse of the Force of Being individualised in Life to affirm progressively in the terms of succession in Time and of self-extension in Space, in the framework of the finite, its infinite Bliss, the Ananda of Sachchidananda.” Desire represents the limited individual consciousness striving to achieve ultimate and infinite existence, knowledge, power and bliss. As we have seen in earlier chapters, the manifestation of the world of finite forms is the play of the infinite creating the world out of its Oneness for the purpose of self-finding and joy of the play. The forms, because they have been separated in conscious awareness from the Oneness, act and respond as if they are separate from one another and they strive to achieve their own fulfillment at the expense of the other forms and even the intention of the Oneness behind the scenes. Because these forms are basically then acting in opposition to one another, as well as potentially in opposition to the larger and broader intentions of the Consciousness-Force of the Infinite, which effectuates its larger goals through the action and oppositions of the individual limited forms, and because they are limited in their power of effectivity by this “as if” separation from the infinite power and knowledge of the Oneness, they experience defeat, death, and the aspiration for achievement which we call desire. It is in fact this necessary limitation of the individual forms that leads to the experience of weakness, failure and incapacity that dogs the limited being. Were these forms to be unlimited in power, they would wreak havoc on the larger manifestation and its larger, broader goals.

The strife, the weakness, the thwarting of Desire are all part of the necessary interaction that forms the larger patterns of evolutionary progress of the Sat-Chit-Ananda manifesting through forms. “Death, Desire and Strife are the trinity of divided living, the triple mask of the divine Life-principle in its first essay of cosmic self-affirmation.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 20, Death, Desire and Incapacity

Self-Giving Replaces Desire as the Law of Existence

The first seeking of the life energy for its fulfillment takes the form of Desire. This desire as we have seen is hunger and is the law of Death. As the evolutionary process continues, however, there comes a point where the devouring can be transformed to a mutual self-giving. “Meanwhile it has to progress from the type of a mutually devouring hunger to the type of a mutual giving, of an increasingly joyous sacrifice of interchange;–the individual gives himself to other individuals and receives them back in exchange; the lower gives itself to the higher and the higher to the lower so that they may be fulfilled in each other; the human gives itself to the Divine and the Divine to the human; the All in the individual gives itself to the All in the universe and receives its realised universality as a divine recompense.” This brings about the development of the Law of Love to counter and perfect the Law of Death.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 20, Death, Desire and Incapacity

Hunger, Desire and Death

What troubles us about the process of death, perhaps more than anything else, is the vital sense of the process of dissolution, the pain, the suffering, the devouring of life by other life, the identiification of the sense of destruction of the body that we feel. We could imagine a process of transition that would be voluntary, smooth and harmonious, such as changing clothes, where perhaps the “sting” of death would not be as real to us. Of course, one of the issues we face is that a voluntary change might perpetuate stagnant or retrograde movements and hold back the required evolutionary results.

The process of challenge and growth that leads to development and progress is set up to pit one form against another in a struggle of existence, and this process feeds into the processes of Death. This ties in the force of Desire as the motivator of action, change and development, even though it is this Desire that eventually carries the seeds of death with it as we push the forms to their limits, oppose them one to another, and suffer the shocks that lead to dissolution and death. The Upanishads refer to “Hunger which is Death” and clearly identify the relationship between the force of Desire and the force of Death. In the Katha Upanishad, Nachiketas obtains the teaching of immortality and understands that by overcoming Desire he can attain the teaching and the result of immortality. The Buddha spoke about the breaking of the bond of Desire in order to break the chain of karma and be released from the suffering of Death.

The Upanishads always tie in the process of eating with the process of being eaten. All life functions under the one law and when we adopt the vital impulse of desire, we are also adopting not just our own aggrandisement and growth, but also our own time of being devoured and death. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that “Desire is the lever by which the divine Life-principle effects its end of self-affirmation in the universe.”

We see however that this is only a necessary principle under the current framework of the evolutionary manifestation and we can foresee other ways to transform this law of Hunger and Desire into a higher principle of Love and mutuality.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 20, Death, Desire and Incapacity