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

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