The Range and Limits of Perception and Mental Action

If we look at the nature of the human mind, we can recognize that there is a designated range of perception, action, knowledge and experience within which it generally moves, and perceptions or mental functioning that falls outside this designated range are not cognised, and in most cases, not even granted any status of reality by most human beings.

The ability of science to penetrate into some of these ranges and bring back factual information that makes it clear that such sub- or super-conscient levels actually exist, makes it clear that the limitation is purely one of the mental being operative here in the field of life and matter, and not an ultimate unreality of those other gradations.

The principle can be clearly illustrated with a few well-known examples. We perceive a spectrum of colors ranging from red at one end to purple at the other. Science has now proven to us that there are however ranges of colors beyond each end of our limited spectrum, in the ranges of infrared and ultraviolet. Devices have been able to record these ranges and find ways to make them available to us. And research shows that various animals or insects, such as honeybees, have the capability of perceiving colors outside the range of the human color pallette. Similarly, the perception of sound is also limited in humans to a specific range. This range can be abbreviated through deterioration of the instruments of hearing, but even in the most perceptive humans, sound above a certain frequency or below that frequency cannot be heard, despite the fact that we know for a fact that certain animals have a keen sense of hearing in ranges outside the human octave; thus, the dog whistle.

Similar to these perception limits, there is the limit of the mental activity that makes certain actions of mind subconscient to the human awareness, and others superconscient to the human awareness. It is no more reasonable to deny the existence of these gradations above and below the human range than it is to nowadays try to deny the existence of colors or sounds in spectrum ranges outside those we can see or hear.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 28, Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya

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The Evolutionary Stage Between Mind and Supermind

In reviewing the gulf between the Supramental Consciousness and the Mind-Consciousness, Sri Aurobindo points out that there is simply too wide a gap, too much difference for them to represent the next succeeding step, in one direction, toward the involution of consciousness; and in the other direction, as part of the evolutionary outflowering of consciousness. There must be an intermediate stage or gradation between the two. The mind is a power of the Ignorance. It seeks for knowledge by speculation, by extrapolation, by inference and induction. It acquires its knowledge painfully and slowly through accretion of facts and logic. On the other hand, the Supramental Consciousness is a power of knowledge that grasps and contains the reality in its plenitude and oneness without having to undergo this tortuous process of seeking and struggle to acquire knowledge.

While we see gaps between the inconscient, unorganized Energy and the highly organised forms of Matter, and then from inanimate Matter to animate Life Force; and then from subconscious or sub-mental life to the evolution of Mind, these gaps “even when considerable, are to some extent prepared by slow gradations which make them conceivable and feasible.”

It becomes then both clear and inevitable as Sri Aurobindo points out, that “There must be somewhere in the descending and ascending scale of Being an intermediate power and plane of consciousness, perhaps something more than that, something with an original creative force, through which the involutionary transition from Mind in the Knowledge to Mind in the Ignorance was effected and through which again the evolutionary reverse transition becomes intelligible and possible.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 28, Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya

The Origin of the Ignorance

In this new chapter, Sri Aurobindo takes up the question of why and how it is that the Ignorance that self-divided the awareness of the universality and oneness actually comes about. He points out that there is no inherent reason why mind-life-and body need to act under that Ignorance.

“It has been shown indeed that division of consciousness is the basis of the Ignorance, a division of individual consciousness from the cosmic and the transcendent of which yet is an intimate part, in essence inseparable, a division of Mind from the supramental Truth of which it should be a subordinate action, of Life from the original Force of which it is one energism, of Matter from the original Existence of which it is one form of substance.”

Clearly the division is caused by an “exclusive concentration” on one aspect while ignoring or putting behind the other aspect, a process by which we focus on the apparent separation and individuality of the forms and the life while conveniently forgetting that we are One with the universal and transcendent existence.

The Isha Upanishad alludes to something of this sort in the following verse cited by Sri Aurobindo: “The face of Truth is hidden by a golden lid; that remove, O Fostering Sun, for the Law of the Truth, for sight. O Sun, O sole Seer, marshall thy rays, gather them together,–let me see of thee thy happiest form of all; that Conscious Being everywhere, He am I.” Isha Upanishad, 15, 16

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 28, Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya

The Secret Aspiration that Speaks to Our Future Possibilities

As we have seen with the other 6 principles, so with the principle of Matter, the actual working out of the material form is not necessarily bound to the specific way it has developed in our world. Forms of substance may be much more subtle and flexible, but nevertheless, must exist if there is going to be any manifestation or working out of the Real-Idea of the universe.

The seven principles all exist wherever we find any one of them. They can have different relations to one another, such as being involved and having to evolve as in our world, or in some worlds we may find that they simply have different relations of one to another where they are all manifested but simply in different proportions to one another.

The question for us still remains whether this world of matter, life and mind, which we call our earth, can actually be the basis for the manifestation of the higher principles, and whether the human being can become the instrument of this manifestation. Sri Aurobindo points out “The ancient seers believed in this possibliity for man and held it to be his divine destiny; the modern thinker does not even conceive of it, or, if he conceived, would deny or doubt.” Today’s thinker is very much bound within the walls of the mental, vital and physical forms within which we live and act and cannot easily recognize that other and greater opportunities still lie before us. It is only that secret aspiration, that inner drive to exceed that actually speaks to a truth beyond our current limits. “In the spiritual order of things, the higher we project our view and our aspiration, the greater the Truth that seeks to descend upon us, becasue it is already there within us and calls for its release from the covering that conceals it in manifested Nature.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 27, The Sevenfold Chord of Being

Life Energy: The Breath of the Universal Being

“Life is simply the determination of force and action, of relation and interaction of energy from many fixed centres of consciousness,–fixed, not necessarily in place or time, but in a persistent coexistence of beings or soul-forms of the Eternal supporting a cosmic harmony.” Sri Aurobindo notes here a dramatically different definition of “life” than we normally conceive it to be. He is attempting to capture thereby the eternal principle of the Life Energy and not simply restrict his view to the specific form of that energy we find in our world under present circumstances. Life Energy in fact can be conceived to take on totally different forms of action than we see here, and he prefers to widen the concept to the sense of the terms “vayu” and “prana” found in the ancient Vedic teachings. This encompasses a “will to grow” that permeates the entire cosmos in one form or another, the “breath of the universe” one might almost call it, that moves various forms into patterns of existence and inter-relation with one another both concurrently and through time.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 27, The Sevenfold Chord of Being

The Role of Mind in the Creation of the Cosmos

We can also see a necessity to Mind-Life-Matter when it comes to an actual manifestation of forms. Supermind organizes and determines the relations, but it is then necessary to have the forms able to act from their own standpoint so that there is interaction and development. Otherwise, we have something akin to a dream state with free-form association and change, but no systematic development. Sri Aurobindo describes Mind as “essentially that faculty of Supermind which measures and limits, which fixes a particular centre and views from that the cosmic movement and its interactions.” While it is feasible to conceive of different relationships of Mind to different cosmic arrangements, one way or the other, more or less flexible, more or less conscious, more or less aware of the Oneness that stands behind and contains the Multiplicity, the action of Mind to organise, limit and arrange is necessary if there is going to be any realistic manifestation of forms in some coherent and systematic way. Mind gives the ability to look at the universal creation from separate viewpoints or standpoints and to act from that direction upon the overall action of the cosmos.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 27, The Sevenfold Chord of Being

The Role and Power of the Supermind

Sat-Chit-Ananda represent infinite potentialities, unlimited in fact. Manifestation, in order to take place, needs to have definition created out of those infinite possibilities, and thereby specific finite choices brought to life. It is the role of the Supermind to effectuate this defining process.

The Supermind essentially turns potentiality into actual choices and thereby determines the forms, processes and actions of the manifestation. It turns the undifferentiated clay into a specific form of sculpture one could say. It turns random notes of music into a symphony. What we see in actual manifestation of forms is simply the specific details and choices that the Supermind has made at this time in this circumstance in this universe. It is not the only possible choice, simply because Sat-Chit-Ananda is unbounded and infinite and can thereby act as the foundation for any number of different forms of manifestation. Sri Aurobindo points out “The Infinite would not be the Infinite if it could not assume a manifold finiteness; the Absolute would not be the Absolute if it were denied in knowledge and power and will and manifestation of being a boundless capacity of self-determination.” The Supermind is the effective Knowledge-Will of the Infinite, which maintains its full awareness of the Infinite while choosing, defining and creating the world of finite forms.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Chapter 27, The Sevenfold Chord of Being