The Mathematics of the Infinite

Sri Aurobindo clarifies that “This incoercible unity in all divisions and diversities is the mathematics of the Infinite, indicated in a verse of the Upanishads,–“This is the complete and That is the complete; subtract the complete from the complete, the complete is the remainder.” ” All the myriad forms we see, are One, and the more we add forms together, the more they sum to ONE. We can divide the universe down to the very atoms or elements of creation, but we still have ONE. We can replicate and multiply forms, but they still come out to ONE. “The Infinite is not a sum of things, it is That whish is all things and more.” All these names, forms, beings, creations are not separate from one another; rather they are all part of one integrated whole.

The end of human logic and reason is at the point where we have pushed the creation to the brink and we can go no further. We see that it ever moves beyond the limits of reason, yet it has reason and organised sense to it. We eventually come to the formulas pronounced by the sages of the Upanishads when they declared “One without a Second”, “This too is that” “All this is the Brahman.” “Thou Art That”. . There is no creation beyond the consciousness of the One Existent; and everything partakes of the character of that Oneness. The Many are the One. The One is the Many. The Forms are apparently separated but in essence and underlying reality, they are One. As the Isha Upanishad puts it “All This is for Habitation by the Lord.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pg. 339


The Finite and the Infinite Are One

We live in the world as if we are distinct and separate from everyone and everything else. We oppose ourselves to those others and either experience fear or desire in relation to them for the most part. We treat everything as being different and “other” than us.

Sri Aurobindo points out that each finite being, each “individual existence” is actually part of an indivisible One Reality. We are in fact not separate nor distinct from others. When we begin to seriously contemplate this fact of reality, it can radically change the way we see and respond to the world. As some environmentalists have pointed out “there is no “there” there”, in other words, there is nowhere else that the pollution or the refuse goes other than into our unified field of existence. And thus, any destructive forces we put into motion, whether they be environmental toxins or poisons, or simply a creation of imbalances in the harmony of Nature, affect us, even if we naively believe that we can wall ourselves off and protect ourselves from it.

Sri Aurobindo explains “The finite is looked upon as a division of the Indivisible, but there is no such thing: for this division is only apparent; there is a demarcation, but no real separation is possible. When we see with the inner vision and sense and not with the physical eye a tree or other object, what we become aware of is an infinite one Reality constituting the tree or object, pervading its every atom and molecule, forming them out of itself, building the whole nature, process of becoming, operation of indwelling energy; all of these are itself, are this infinite, this Reality: we see it extending indivisibly and uniting all objects so that none is really separate from it or quite separate from other objects. ‘It stands,’ says the Gita, ‘undivided in beings and yet as if divided.’ ”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pg. 338

Form and Formlessness

Another apparent contradiction for the human reason is Form versus Formlessness. The Infinite in our conception is vast, empty and essentially without form. We see this as somehow being in opposition to the myriad of forms that go into the manifestation of the universe.

Sri Aurobindo once again broadens our conception of the essence of Formlessness: “the Formless is not a negation of the power of formation, but the condition for the Infinite’s free formation: for otherwise there would be a single Form or only a fixity or sum of possible forms in a finite universe. The formlessness is the character of the spiritual essence, the spirit-substance of Reality; all finite realities are powers, forms, self-shapings of that substance: the Divine is formless and nameless, but by that very reason capable of manifesting all possible names and shapes of being.”

The Forms in their turn are real manifestations of an “unseen reality made visible”. And thus, they can convey revelations to our awareness of the occult, hidden sense, the “Name” that carries the power of the manifestation of the form. “The Infinite is nameless, but in that namelessness all possible names, Numens of the gods, the names and forms of all realities, are already envisaged and prefigured, because they are there latent and inherent in the All-Existence.”

Thus, at every turn we see that the contradictions we cherish, struggle with and fight over, are actually complementary relations, 2 sides of one coin, if you will, that are the negative and positive poles of the Existence, with the negative providing freedom and infinite potential, and the positive providing actual worked out possibilities as they manifest and become real.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 337-338

The Silence and the Sounds of Manifestation

Just as we can reconcile the One and the Many, it is also necessary to take up and reconcile the other “contradictions” that human logic places in the way of the “logic of the Infinite”. One of the premier experiences of the spiritual path is the overwhelming impact of the immutable, immobile “silence of the Spirit.” In fact, this experience is so overwhelming that those who have it frequently find it impossible to reconcile it with the movement, the noise and the dynamic energies of the manifested world. It is no wonder that the spiritual ascetic, the desert-dweller, the hermit have determined to abandon the life of commotion in the world and dedicate themselves to this pure silent status of Being.

Sri Aurobindo shows us however the fallacy in our logic when he indicates “A solely silent and static Infinite, an Infinite without an infinite power and dynamis and energy is inadmissible except as the perception of an aspect; a powerless Absolute, an impotent Spirit is unthinkable: an infinite energy must be the dynamis of the Infinite, an all-power must be the potency of the Absolute, an illimitable force must be the force of the Spirit.”

The silence is the foundation upon which the dynamic action takes place. Rather than being opposites that are irreconcilable, the silence and the dynamism are complementary energies that exist together and belong to each other, the one supporting the other. The silence is not disturbed by the manifestation; and the manifestation does not contradict the silence. The logic of the Infinite once again overcomes our human logic.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 336-337

The Essential and Infinite Oneness

The crux of the many opposing religions, philosophies and creeds and their invariable opposition can be found in the difficulty of the human mind to understand the logic of the Infinite rather than the logic of the finite. We also set up one truth against another truth; one way of being against another.

We can conceptualize the idea, as Sri Aurobindo describes it, that “the Absolute, the Self, the Divine, the Spirit, the Being is One; the Transcendental is one, the Cosmic is one”.

We see however, “that beings are many and each has a self, a spirit, a like yet different nature.”

We are forced to admit here that the “many must be that One”. This implies somehow that the One has become the many. Our human logic stops us here as we reflect that each human being and each animal and each material object is that One, the Divine Being. If we were dealing with just human logic, we would be faced with an insuperable contradiction. But in the logic of the Infinite, the One transcends, contains and manifests everything that is, and “it is the essential and infinite Oneness which can contain the hundred and the thousand and the million and billion and trillion.” In fact, Sri Aurobindo points out that “It can be said of it that it would not be the infinite Oneness if it were not capable of an infinite multiplicity.” He points out this does not imply pluralism or that the One is simply the “sum of the parts”.

There is “one Soul that dwells as the individual in these many souls and they are ternal in the One and by the one Eternal.”

There is in fact no real opposition, just another limitation of our language and conceptual skills to both ensure that we understand the Infinite transcendence of the One as well as the infinite specific forms that it can and does take in its manifestation of Itself.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 335-336

The Freedom of the Infinite

The “negative” affirmations about the nature of the Infinite are not intended as limitations but as statements of “freedom”. The mind gets caught up in the play of language and imputes more rigidity into these conceptual expressions than is really intended. The “freedom” of the Infinite means that it cannot be nailed down and fully described or defined by any particular formulation, expression or factual statement. The Infinite is “free” to take innumerable forms and express itself in limitless ways.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “But the contradiction disappears when we understand that the indeterminability is not in its true sense negative, not an imposition of incapacity on the Infinite, but positive, a freedom within itself from limitation by its own determinations and necessarily a freedom from all external determination by anything not itself, since there is no real possibility of such a not-self coming into existence. The Infinite is illimitably free, free to determine itself infinitely, free from all restraining effect of its own creations.”

The indeterminable nature of the Infinite is simply an affirmation of that freedom. This is not a negative limitation but a positive attribute of the Infinite. The apparent contradiction between the Essence sought after by the ascetic, and the Dynamic aspect of creation, sought after by the materialist is actually itself not a real contradiction. “One statement is complementary to the other, there is no mutual cancellation, no incompatibility; it is only the dual statement of a single inescapable fact by human reason in human language.”

As we struggle to try to express our understanding, it is important to remind ourselves that human reason and language cannot entirely capture the essence of the Infinite. All expressions in human thought are doomed to coming up short, expressing only part of the Reality, and distorting it to the extent that it does not make room for its apparent opposite formulation.

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 333-334

Integral Consciousness

If we focus on any one aspect of consciousness, we tend to overlook the equally valid principles outside that aspect. Thus, those who focus on the impersonal silence of the Self, tend to overlook or deny the reality of the dynamic manifestation of the Lord of Creation, the Ishwara. Or if we concentrate on the dynamic side, we overlook the static. We concentrate on the opposites, but miss their unity. Sri Aurobindo illustrates with another famous story: “In considering the action of the Infinite we have to avoid the error of the disciple who thought of himself as the Brahman, refused to obey the warning of the elephant-driver to budge from the narrow path and was taken up by the elephant’s trunk and removed out of the way; “You are no doubt the Brahman,” said the master to his bewildered disciple, “but why did you not obey the driver Brahman and get out of the path of the elephant Brahman?”

In Savitri, the crucified savior cries out “I, I am God” and the reply is “yes, all is God”. The Truth of the Brahman, the Truth that “I am That”, the Truth that “All is That”, all of these Truths are true at the same time and must be accepted at the same time, balancing one another if we are to have any hope of comprehending the ultimate Truth of Existence.

“In our own principle of conduct, if we sought to act in this greater Truth, it would be equally an error to insist on our self alone or to insist on other selves alone; it is the Self of all on which we have to found a unity of action and a total, infinitely plastic yet harmonious diversity of action; for that is the nature of the working of the Infinite.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 332-333

The Whole is Not Just the Sum of the Parts

As we pursue our spiritual evolution of Consciousness, we must strive to exceed the limitations of the human reason and its finite focus and abilities. Sri Aurobindo reminds us of the futility of trying to judge the whole from an imperfect understanding of the parts with his recap of the famous story of the blind men and the elephant. “each of the blind inquirers touched a different part and concluded that the whole animal was some object resembling the part of which he had had the touch.” He generalises this to our predicament: “An experience of some one aspect of the Infinite is valid in itself; but we cannot generalise from it that the Infinite is that alone, nor would it be safe to view the rest of the Infinite in the terms of that aspect and exclude all other viewpoints of spiritual experience.”

“To see the parts alone and the totality not at all or only as a sum of the parts is a knowledge, but also at the same time an ignorance; to see the totality alone and ignore the parts is also a knowledge and at the same time an ignorance, for a part may be greater than the whole because it belongs to the transcendence; to see the essence alone because it takes us back straight towards the transcendence and negate the totality and the parts is a penultimate knowledge, but here too there is a capital ignorance. A whole knowledge must be there and the reason must become plastic enough to look at all sides, all aspects and seek through them for that in which they are one.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 330-331

The Suprarational Spiritual Reason

Just because our mental reasoning process cannot comprehend the Infinite, it does not mean that there is no “reason” in the operations of the Infinite. Similar to the range of perception that brackets what we can see or hear, but does not deny the reality of sight or hearing above or below our limited range, so also there is a reason-process below our mental level, which we may call instinct or law of Nature; and there is a reason-process above our mental level, “a spiritual and supramental reason”. “Intuition and inner experience alone are the guide”, basically the only instruments in the normal human experience which can begin to discern the larger framework, albeit incompletely. Eventually the Knowledge comes with “the suprarational Truth-Consciousness, from a supramental vision and knowledge.”

We can illustrate the issue this way. Sri Aurobindo points out “If we observe a happening, we judge and explain it from the result and from a glimpse of its most external constituents, circumstances or causes; but each happening is the outcome of a complex nexus of forces which we do not and cannot observe, because all forces are to us invisible,–but they are not invisible to the spiritual vision of the Infinite: some of them are actualities working to produce or occasion a new actuality, some are possibles that are naer to the pre-existent actuals and in a way included in their aggregate; but there can intervene always new possibilities that suddenly become dynamic potentials and add themselves to the nexus, and behind all are the imperatives or an imperative which these possibilities are labouring to actualise. Moreover out of the same nexus of forces different results are possible; what will come out of them is determined by a sanction which was no doubt waiting and ready all the time but seems to come in rapidly to intervene and alter everything, a decisive divine imperative.”

We can see that there is a level of complexity here several orders of magnitude beyond what the human reason can grasp. “But what is not evident to our reason and senses, is self-evident to the Infinite Consciousness, and, if there is a Will of the Infinite, it must be a Will that acts in this full knowledge and is the perfect spontaneous result of a total self-evidence.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pp. 329-330

The Mind Tries to Define The Universe

In the self-sufficiency of our mental development, we study the workings and laws of Nature, we examine the origin of the universe through our astronomical prowess, we dissect living things down to their genes and chromosomes, we take apart atoms to find out the basis of material existence. And at the end of all this analysis we pronounce certain things as “laws” of nature, and dismiss anything that does not fit into our now neatly defined view of the universe and the way it functions, as being unreal, impossible or illusory.

The question we must face, however, is whether the limited and finite capabilities of the human mind can actually effectively understand or grasp the infinite universe. Sri Aurobindo describes the issue this way: “The Self-existent is the Infinite and its way of being and of action must be the way of the Infinite, but our consciousness is limited, our reason built upon things finite: it is irrational to suppose that a finite consciousness and reason can be a measure of the Infinite; this smallness cannot judge that Immensity; this poverty bound to a limited use of its scanty means cannot conceive the opulent management of those riches; an ignorant half-knowledge cannot follow the motions of an All-Knowledge.”

It is in fact reckless to try to judge of the Infinite with laws based upon our limited capabilities. Everything we understand is clearly bounded by borders beyond which our knowledge becomes useless, or misleading. Until we recognize the limitations of our knowledge, we shall never be able to discover ways of Knowing that give us a real understanding of the Universal Being and Existence. As Sri Aurobindo stated in another context: “When we have gone beyond all knowings, then we shall have Knowledge. The intellect is the helper, the intellect is the bar.”

reference: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 2, Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara–Maya, Prakriti, Shakti, pg. 327 and Sri Aurobindo, Thoughts and Glimpses