The Paradox of Ignorance Arising out of the All-Knowing Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo, having explored the various forms of ignorance that constitute the boundaries and limits of our knowledge and awareness, next takes up the question of how it is that the Ignorance can exist, starting from the premise that all Existence is One, and it is All-Knowing and All-Powerful. Clearly there is a paradox here that needs to be explored–how can Ignorance arise from All-Knowledge?

Sri Aurobindo describes the issues: “The Being, integrally one, cannot be ignorant of itself; and since all things are itself, conscious modifications, determinations of its being, it cannot either be ignorant of things, of their true nature, of their true action. But though we say that we are That, that the Jivatman or individual self is no other than the paramatman, no other than the Absolute, yet we are certainly ignorant both of ourselves and things, from which this contradiction results that what must be in its very grain incapable of ignorance is yet capable of it, and has plunged itself into it by some will of its being or some necessity or possibility of its nature.”

While some erect as a possible response that Brahman is the Absolute, and Maya is the divided consciousness, Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that this does not solve the riddle for us, inasmuch as Maya must be a power of Brahman. “This is an escape which is not open to us if we admit an integral Oneness: for then it is evident that, in making so radical a distinction and at the same time cancelling it by terming it illusory, we are using the magic or Maya of thought and word in order to conceal from ourselves the fact that we are dividing and denying the unity of the Brahman…”

In conclusion, Sri Aurobindo determines “Ignorance must be part of the movement of the One, a development of its consciousness knowingly adopted, to which it is not forcibly subjected but which it uses for its cosmic purpose.”

Which of course will be the subject of subsequent posts about this chapter…

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 12, The Origin of the Ignorance

Ignorance of Space and the Extension of Our Being

Sri Aurobindo widens the definition of our Ignorance by bringing in the aspect of our limitation of space: “As we are ignorant of our existence in Time except the small hour which we remember, so we are ignorant of ourselves in Space except the small span of which we are mentally and sensationally conscious, the single body that moves there and the mind and life which are identified with it, and we regard the environment as not-self we have to deal with and use: it is this identification and this conception that form the life of the ego.” Sri Aurobindo takes us far beyond the mental concepts that underpin our “environmental movement” by pointing out that we ARE the environment; it is not something external and different that we manipulate, use and abuse, but it is our own wider self, of which we can become conscious as we expand our conscious awareness.

He continues with the implications of this recognition: “Yet we cannot really know our own mentality without knowing the one Mind, our own vitality without knowing the one Life, our own body without knowing the one Matter; for not only is their nature determined by the nature of that, but by that their activities are at every moment being influenced and determined. But, with all this sea of being flowing in on us, we do not participate in this consciousness, but know if it only so much as can be brought into the surface of our minds and co-ordinated there. The world lives in us, thinks in us, forms itself in us; but we imagine that it is we who live, think, become separately by ourselves and for ourselves. As we are ignorant of our timeless, of our superconscient, of our subliminal and subconscient selves, so are we ignorant of our universal self.”

This represents yet another layer of ignorance that must be overcome and addressed in order to achieve true and complete self-knowledge, and “an integral consciousness and an integral Knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 11, The Boundaries of the Ignorance