Evolution out of the Inconscience of Matter

The material inconscience opposes our aspirations and our spiritual intuition of intention by being “the culmination of the principle of Ignorance.” Everything appears to be a brute, mechanical force without intention, without purpose, without significance, some kind of vast machinery with no living soul. If there is a Spirit, self-aware and conscious, it is not apparently obvious to be seen in the mechanisms of the material world. Some have hypothesized that a creator god created the world, but then left it behind, inert, dead, soul-less. Some say therefore that “God is dead.” Everywhere we turn we see this opposition that seems to mock at and deny the reality of the consciousness of Oneness, the Knowledge-Will that creates and manifests the universal Being out of sheer delight.

Even when we recognize that somehow out of this inert, soulless matter, there has evolved Life and eventually Mind, we do not see either how that has happened or what the significance of that fact can be. We only see that those who awaken into Mind in many instances treat it as a curse, as a form of suffering under the weight of inconscience and the brutal limitations imposed on that Mind by Matter and Life.

A deeper view may still see that this is the hidden Consciousness beginning to emerge from the depths of the Inconscience, but the road from these first weak inklings of awareness, the first steps on the road toward a spiritual fulfillment is long, hard, and filled with disappointment and opposition.

“We can see that it is the Consciousness which had lost itself returning again to itself, emerging out of its giant self-forgetfulness, slowly, painfully, as a Life that is would-be sentient, half-sentient, dimly sentient, wholly sentient and finally struggles to be more than sentient, to be again divinely self-conscious, free, infinte, immortal.”

The conditions of this evolution of sentience out of inconscience are those imposed by the denseness of Matter and eventually we must solve this riddle within the framework of Matter and Life.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 25, The Knot of Matter


Unraveling the Knot Of Material Existence

Spiritual seekers from all over the world, from just about every background, have confronted the difficulties posed by material existence by trying to find a way to escape the difficulty and “cut through” the knot, rather than patiently work out by “untying” the knot. They have almost invariably chosen to take the “short cut” of abandoning life in the world in order to follow the spiritual path before them. Sri Aurobindo points out however that taking a “short cut” does not actually solve the issue presented by life manifesting in a world of material existence.

“Still, there, in Matter undoubtedly lies the crux; that raises the obstacle; for because of Matter Life is gross and limited and stricken with death and pain, because of Matter Mind is more than half blind, its wings clipped, its feed tied to a narrow perch and held back from the vastness and freedom above of which it is conscious.”

This is the rationale by which the spiritual seeker tries to justify the abandonment of matter and life to achieve spiritual realisation and spiritual salvation. Why be tied down by Matter and the needs of Life, when the goal is a pure blissful melding into the Oneness of the Infinite, a spiritual transfiguration into Existence beyond the material world?

Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint however is to try to understand the meaning of the manifestation and find a way to untangle the “knot” of Matter and solve the riddle, rather than impatiently or violently just chop through it by denying any ultimate meaning to the material existence.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 25, The Knot of Matter

Matter also is Brahman

In the Taittiriya Upanishad, the Upanishadic seer takes the seeker through a series of meditations on the nature of Existence. The first stage that the seeker examines and realizes is that Matter is the Brahman, the foundation, the basis, the Truth of Existence, and without which nothing else could exist. Of course, as the seeker is asked to go back and reflect further, the truths of life energy, mind, the knowledge-will, and the bliss of existence successively are revealed and we get a more complete picture of the manifestation than the initial formulation of “matter is Brahman”. But still, we do not lose the substance of this realisation. It is not that it is wrong, but that it was simply not broadly enough understood. For indeed, Matter IS the Brahman.

Sri Aurobindo explains this concept as follows: “Brahman is not only the cause and supporting power and indwelling principle of the universe, he is also its material and its sole material. Matter also is Brahman and it is nothing other than or different from Brahman. If indeed Matter were cut off from Spirit, this would not be so; but it is, as we ahve seen, only a final form and objective aspect of the divine Existence with all of God ever present in it and behind it.”

The tendency of the human mind to fragment, divide, separate and analyse does us a disservice here as it creates this artificial distinction that treats matter as other than and separate from spirit. The spiritual development of consciousness has as one of its consequences the development of an awareness of integral Oneness that can both see the distinctions that Matter, Life and Mind create, as well as the underlying and informing Unity that is based on the principle of Oneness for all Existence.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 25, The Knot of Matter

Spirit and Matter the Two Poles of Conscious Existence

“Spirit is the soul and reality of that which we sense as Matter; Matter is a form and body of that which we realise as Spirit.” In this one statement, Sri Aurobindo illustrates the principle of Unity and Oneness pervading the entire creation. Spirit and Matter form the two poles of the creation, and while inextricably linked as one, there are a series of steps in the manifestation between these two extremes. At the one end, the conception of pure spirit, there is a timeless and spaceless reality that exists and secretly upholds with its infinite consciousness the entire manifestation through time and space. At the other end, we have the ultimate fragmentation of Matter where every unit is apparently separate from every other unit, and there is a lack of conscious awareness, an unconsciousness, that loses touch with the unity. In between we have the levels of life energy, mind, supermind which each bring an ascending level of conscious awareness to and thereby modify the lower levels. At the level of material existence we recognize the concepts of “subject” and “object” and the process of distinguishing them. While at the level of spiritual existence, subject, object and the process of awareness are all inextricably linked in one embracing experience of existence, consciousness and bliss.

Each level has its own distinct purpose and energetic substance, and as we ascend the scale, the subtlety and force of the next succeeding level exceeds that of the level below. It is this complex interleaving of layers of consciousness and force that creates the manifested universe.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 25, The Knot of Matter

Rig Veda Explores the Process of Creation

Sri Aurobindo quotes from the Rig Veda (X.129. 1-5) at the start of the new chapter “The Knot of Matter”. The issues and statements in this passage make it suitable as the entire topic of our review today:

“Then existence was not nor non-existence, the mid-world was not nor the Ether nor what is beyond. What covered all? where was it? in whose refuge? what was that ocean dense and deep? Death was not nor immortality nor the knowledge of day and night. That One lived without breath by his self-law, there was nothing else nor aught beyond it. In the beginning Darkness was hidden by darkness, all this was an ocean of inconscience. When universal being was concealed by fragmentation, then by the greatness of its energy That One was born. That moved at first as desire within, which was the primal seed of mind. The seers of Truth discovered the building of being in non-being by will in the heart and by the thought; their ray was extended horizontally; but what was there below, what was there above? There were Casters of the seed, there were Greatnesses; there was self-law below, there was Will above.”

Having spent almost 40 years reflecting on this series of verses from the Rig Veda, I am continually drawn and brought back to it because of the clarity and intensity of its vision. Matter represents the ultimate principle of fragmentation. Life energy manifests as desire awakening out of Matter. Mind develops out of the Life Energy. Self-law below can be seen as atomic law, instinct, the fixed laws and principles of nature. Will above represents the Supramental level of consciousness, the “Caster of the Seed”, manifesting the One Being that encompasses all in the formulation Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, Sat-Chit-Ananda, which was there before anything of the manifestation and is the silent, unmoving consciousness of the Universal Presence.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 25, The Knot of Matter

Matter is caused by Dividing Principle of Mind in Cosmic Action

The operation of Mind is to try to aggregate or accumulate more and more units or points of reference to create a larger whole. In other words, it is founded in fragmentation and division. The cosmic Mind, as Sri Aurobindo describes it, then relates itself to each of these individual fragmented forms and infuses them with universal Life and in turn into Matter with the consciousness inherent in the atomic life energy of Matter. These atomic fragmented forms of Matter then begin to aggregate and join together to build ever larger formations. The energy of Life and the will in Mind are hidden but instinct within Matter at this point. “Thus not any eternal and original law of eternal and original Matter, but the nature of the action of cosmic Mind is the cause of atomic existence.” Matter is the “extreme fragmentation of the Infinite” and this is necessary to allow it to create the atomic level of extreme and infinitesimal material existence.

Behind this operation of the dividing principle of Mind, developing the energy of Life and the material atomic forms of Matter, lies the Supermind with its inherent conscious awareness of the Unity and Oneness, of course. Mind can gain an awareness of this Oneness. But generally this occurs in a static state, not an active dynamic state.

Matter is “Being manifest as substance, force of Being cast into form….Sachchidananda.” Matter holds within itself the Existence, Consciousness and Bliss of the unified and ultimate Consciousness.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 24, Matter

Consciousness Creating Matter

“Evidently, the individual embodied mind is not the creator of the phenomenon of Matter; earth-existence cannot be the result of the human mind which is itself the result of earth-existence.” Sri Aurobindo discusses here the issue of where the Consciousness that creates Matter resides. Since it does not reside in the individual mind, it must exist in a universal Mind, either subconscient or superconscient to the individual human mind. This is so because the world of matter exists independent of the life of any human individuals. It pre-dates human existence and will continue beyond the limits we can see for human life in the future.

We have previously reviewed the descent and involution of Sat-Chit-Ananda, through the action of Supermind, into Mind, Life and Matter and determined that it is the operation of Mind that creates the divisions and fragmentation that allows Life and Matter to exist as if it is separate and different from the universal Sat-Chit-Ananda, while in reality it is One Reality.

The question of “why” arises. Sri Aurobindo replies “It is because Mind has to carry the principle of multiplicity to its extreme potential which can only be done by separativeness and division. To do that it must, precipitating itself into Life to create forms for the Multiple, give to the universal principle of Being the appearance of a gross and material substance instead of a pure or subtle substance.”

The Manifestation of Unity through Multiplicity, the principle of the creative action of our world as implemented by Supermind, through Mind, Life and Matter, is the ultimate cause of Matter.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 24, Matter

What is Matter?

It is safe to say that virtually all humans accept as a firm reality of their existence, the reality of matter. In fact, matter is the one inescapable fact that bombards our senses, limits our actions and demands our attention. The entire existence of humanity is bound up in the needs of our material existence.

But the surface reality that so confronts our senses is not the true reality of matter. Just as humanity for the longest time based its standpoint of the relationship between the earth and the sun on the apparent indications of our senses, which supplied us with the knowledge that the sun rotates around the earth, rising in the east and setting in the west, humanity treats matter as real and solid. However, science eventually taught us that the reality of the earth and the sun was just the opposite of what our senses so plainly told us, and that in fact the earth rotates and also revolves around the sun, so that the rising and setting of the sun is caused by the earth’s movements not the sun’s.

Western science has discovered the reality that Matter is Energy. It has resolved all material forms into atomic energy and freely converts matter into energy. But science did not stop there. Recent innovations in scientific research have now concluded that Energy itself is not the ultimate reality, but that it is a form of Consciousness. Humanity as a whole has not yet grasped the enormous significance of the first of these revelations, not to speak of the second. What is clear is that Matter is not the solid, basic reality that we have perceived it to be, and that Energy and Consciousness are in fact more basic and more fundamental realities upon which Matter relies for its existence.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 24, Matter

Matter matters.

More often than not, spiritual seekers, religions and philosophies, have tried to solve the problem of matter, the physical body and its limitations, by denying any ultimate reality, meaning or purpose to matter. They essentially cut the knot of the problem posed by our being conscious beings in a physical body subject to death, desire and incapacities of various sorts by finding their salvation or ultimate goal in the denial of the body and material existence, treating it as an illusion or some kind of test that we have to go through, but eventually overcome. Salvation is found in heaven, in nirvana, in absolute stillness and the dropping of the physical frame, in samadhi.

This is in essence the “refusal of the ascetic” which we have discussed earlier. But can we simply disregard the material world within which we are born, out of which life, and eventually mind evolves, and which is the foundation and basis for our entire existence? The ultimate purpose of existence cannot be found if we unilaterally choose to disregard an essential and highly visible part of that manifestation. And one way or the other, at some point, in some way, we need to confront the issue of the body and the material world.

The ancient Vedic and Upanishadic seers actually did not deny the reality of matter but addressed it. The Taittiriya Upanishad in particular put great weight on the recognition that Matter is the Brahman. They recognized that the universal existence is ONE, and that Matter therefore is real and a manifestation of that underlying Unity and Oneness of Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence–Consciousness–Bliss.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 24, Matter

Overcoming the Ego-Centric Viewpoint

The apparent conflict between the true inner soul and the surface desire-soul can only be resolved through the harmonising influence of the supramental consciousness-force. It is at this next level of manifestation that the dividing principle of the mind is resolved into the comprehensive harmony principle of unity in multiplicity.

Nature uses the ego to provide an organising principle for action at the level of mind, life and matter. But this is an artificial formation that has no ultimate reality and is not anchored in the consciousness of Oneness. The ego is a substitute for the true inner psychic reality of the soul. It is useful to provide an organising framework for experience in the world. It also acts as a defense or shell protecting the personality from the vast and infinitely powerful forces in the world-manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo points out however “in our spiritual change we have to forego this defense; ego has to vanish, the person finds itself dissolved into a vast impersonality, and in this impersonality there is at first no key to an ordered dynamism of action.”

As this change occurs, there can be a result of a separation between the ego and the inner soul, whereby the inner realisation paralyzes the action of the outer ego-self, but this can be nothing more than an intermediate stage or realisation.

Another intermediate stage results when we create an artificial division between the two and we experience the inner realisation of the soul, but when we go into action, we still act from the standpoint of the ego-self. This result is obviously also an incomplete or intermediate realisation.

Both of these intermediate stages are still based on the dividing influence of the mind still covering or veiling the ultimate realisation. It takes the involvement of the supramental consciousness to finally break down these artificial divisions and create a perfect harmony between the inner spiritual realisation of the soul and the outer realisation of life and action based on that inner reality.

“In Supermind is the integrating Light, the consummating Force, the wide entry into the supreme Ananda: the psychic being uplifted by that Light and Force can unite itself with the original Delight of existence from which it came: overcoming the dualities of pain and pleasure, delivering from all fear and shrinking the mind, life and body, it can recast the contacts of existence in the world into terms of the Divine Ananda.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 23, The Double Soul In Man