Instinct and Perception in the Surface Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo continues to trace the evolution of involved consciousness in the surface consciousness that manifests with the vital and mental principles in the material forms. “The individual animal being in its first conscious self-affirmation has to rely on two sources of knowledge.” The first of these is a minimum amount of intuition sent to the surface by the hidden indwelling Consciousness-Force which acts in the form of instinct. “(it) takes the form of an automatic instinct which works whenever the occasion for it recurs; this instinct belongs to the race and is imparted at birth to its individual members. The intuition, when it occurs or recurs, is unerring; the instinct is automatically correct as a rule, but can err, for it fails or blunders when the surface consciousness or an ill-developed intelligence interferes or if the instinct continues to act mechanically when, owing to changed circumstances, the need or the necessary circumstances are no longer there.”

There is a second source of knowledge as well, based on interaction between the being and the outer world in the form of perception. “it is this contact which is the cause first of a conscious sensation and sense-perception and then of intelligence. If there were not an underlying consciousness, the contact would not create any perception or reaction; it is because the contact stimulates into a feeling and a surface response the subliminal of a being already vitalised by the subconscious life-principle and its first needs and seekings that a surface awareness begins to form and develop. Intrinsically the emergence of a surface consciousness by force of life contacts is due to the fact that in both subject and object of the contact consciousness-force is already existent in a subliminal latency: when the life principle is ready, sufficiently sensitive in the subject, the recipient of the contact, this subliminal consciousness emerges in a response to the stimulus which begins to constitute a vital or life mind, the mind of the animal, and then, in the course of the evolution, a thinking intelligence. The secret consciousness is rendered into surface sensation and perception, the secret force into surface impulse.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Consciousness Appearing Out of the Material Inconscience

Sri Aurobindo traces the manifestation of consciousness out of inconscience. Ordinarily we do not have any clear conception of this process or event, and simply accept it as a “given” fact. We may attribute it to some external Creator who has simply “made it so”. Or we try to explain it in purely materialistic terms of random chance of chemical reactions leading to eventual consciousness. Some try to attribute consciousness to a series of mechanical acts or steps that record and respond, in other words, just the working of an in-bred machinery, but as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, this does not then account for the extrapolations upon this recorded and organised material in the form of ideas, concepts, imagination, or flights of fancy.

Sri Aurobindo explores this in some depth and comes to his own conclusion: “In its first appearance consciousness has the semblance of a miracle, a power alien to Matter that manifests unaccountably in a world of inconscient Nature and grows slowly and with difficulty.”

“The evolution of consciousness and knowledge cannot be accounted for unless there is already a concealed consciousness in things with its inherent and native powers emerging little by little. Further, the facts of animal life and the operations of the emergent mind in life impose on us the conclusion that there is in this concealed consciousness an underlying Knowledge or power of knowledge which by the necessity of the life-contacts with the environment comes to the surface.”

The conclusion that the power of knowledge must be inherent, involved, in order for it to become manifest, evolved, is unavoidable; moreover, it is in line with what we see in the plant and animal world where the seed contains the knowledge that creates the eventual fully-grown entity. Socrates built his system of education on the basis that knowledge came from within the student, and is not simply pressed in from outside. Nothing can manifest a power that it does not have the internal capacity to express, and thus, there must be a force of consciousness which becomes involved as the basis for consciousness to evolve in the time and place and under the circumstances called for.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Two Basic Facts of Evolutionary Emergence of Surface Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo continues to pursue the origin and solution to the problem of evil, falsehood and suffering that arises from them. Where and how do they arise, on what basis do they continue to persist, and what is the remedy or escape. “Here there are two determining factors,–and it is these that are the efficient cause of the simultaneous emergence of falsehood and evil. First, there is an underlying, a still occult consciousness and power of inherent knowledge, and there is also an overlying layer of what might be called indeterminate or else ill-formed stuff of vital and physical consciousness; through this obscure difficult medium the emerging mentality has to force its way and has to impose itself on it by a constructed and no longer an inherent knowledge, because this stuff is still full of nescience, heavily burdened and enveloped with the inconscience of Matter. Next, the emergence takes place in a separated form of life which has to affirm itself against a principle of inanimate material inertia and a constant pull of that material inertia towards disintegration and a relapse into the original inanimate Inconscience….The result of an emergence of consciousness in these conditions is the growth of a self-affirming vital and physical individual, a construciton of Nature of life and matter with a concealed psychic or spiritual true individual behind it for which Nature is creating this outward means of expression. As mentality increases, this vital and material individual takes the more developed form of a constantly self-affirming mental, vital and physical ego. Our surface consciousness and type of existence, our natural being, has developed its present character under the compulsion of these two initial and basic facts of the evolutionary emergence.”

Thus, the condition of an awakened consciousness trying to manifest itself through the nescience and inconscience associated with the material world; combined with the need of the life-force to create separate individual ego forms that try to affirm and aggrandise themselves, are the two basic facts that underlie our present condition of a being struggling to grow, exist, and evolve in a world that seems to constantly pull it back into a state of dissolution, death and inconscience.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

The Soul’s Role in Recognizing Good and Evil

Sri Aurobindo moves beyond the normal formulations of mental or vital rules or guidelines for defining moral concepts such as good and evil, truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Codified rules are obviously easiest to understand and implement for a society, but they provide both serious limitations and a “moving” standard which changes from age to age, and from society to society. What is “right” in one part of the world, can be “wrong” in another under this framework. This obviously is easily turned to a cover for supporting the self-interest of whichever power is in charge in a particular part of the world; and becomes a weapon to be wielded against others who disagree or have a different value-set in their moral codes.

Sri Aurobindo, on the other hand, moves the standard to one that recognizes the inherent spiritual principle of the evolution of consciousness, and the role of the soul for both knowing and applying a standard not dependent on a particular time, place or circumstance for its value.

“It is the soul in us which turns always towards Truth, Good and Beauty, because it is by these things that it itself grows in stature; the rest, their opposites, are a necessary part of experience, but have to be outgrown in the spiritual increase of the being.”

“The soul’s perception of good and evil may not coincide with the mind’s artificial standards, but it has a deeper sense, a sure discrimination of what points to the higher Light and what points away from it. It is true that as the inferior light is below good and evil, so the superior spiritual light is beyond good and evil; but this is not in the sense of admitting all things with an impartial neutrality or of obeying equally the impulses of good and evil, but in the sense that a higher law of being intervenes in which there is no longer any place or utility for these values. There is a self-law of supreme Truth which is above all standards; there is a supreme and universal Good inherent, intrinsic, self-existent, self-aware, self-moved and determined, infinitely plastic with the pure plasticity of the luminous consciousness of the supreme Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

What is the Value of Moral Judgments of Good and Evil?

Sri Aurobindo does not rest content with identifying the origin of the moral sense of good and evil, which awakens with the life-mind and expands itself in the mental sphere with enhanced concepts such as karma, the law of causality of suffering, etc. Rather, he questions whether and for what purpose this moral sense occurs in the evolutionary process.

Before providing his own conclusion, he first examines various ideas such as it being a way to recognize the limitations and falsehoods inherent in the fragmented consciousness of the Matter and the Inconscience which is the basis of our life. It then would provide a basis by which the individual can consciously choose things which mitigate suffering and falsehood, and which support the development of that which is good and true. It may be a purificatory mechanism, or may be a method to allow the eventual loosening and dissolution of the hold of the ego to lead to ultimate liberation.

Sri Aurobindo points out additionally that “it may be that this awakening is a spiritual necessity of the evolution itself, a step towards the growth of the being out of the Ignorance into the truth of the divine unity and the evolution of a divine consciousness and a divine being. For much more than the mind or life which can turn either to good or to evil, it is the soul-personality, the psychic being, which insists on the distinction, though in a larger sense than the mere moral difference.”

We shall continue our exploration of this subject and in particular the role and action of the psychic being, in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

The Awakening Of the Moral Sense of Right and Wrong

Sri Aurobindo, having first determined that material events in and of themselves do not imply a moral content of “good” or “evil”, asks where this moral sense arises, and how it is constituted. It is the vital mind of life which first gives rise to the categorization of events and actions as being good or evil, right or wrong. This begins as an evaluation of the individual response to an event: if it appears to be beneficial or positive to me, then i treat it as “good” and if not, then it is “bad” or “wrong”. This may be based on material welfare, or a vital sense of welfare. It can expand to the level of the society and again lead to judgments of good or evil based on the values of the society, and whether it appears to lead to positive or negative results in terms of the needs of that society.

The thinking mind, as it develops, can create more subtle and powerful distinctions of right and wrong, good and evil, and thus, develops the entire viewpoint of the law of karma, or ethical/moral results from various actions or ideas. The thinking mind always attempts to discover some law or rule of order that can be followed to achieve positive results and avoid negative results. This may also take place in any field of endeavor, for instance, artistic or scientific, not just emotional or action oriented. Philosophy and religion attempt to codify laws into codes of conduct and rules of action to bring the entire life of the individual and society within this framework of action for “good” and to avoid ‘evil’.

Each of these standards or methods is limited and framed within a narrow set of parameters; but underlying them all is the deeper sense that Sri Aurobindo calls “a deeper spiritual sense, the soul’s discernment, an inborn light within our nature.” In the end, the moral sense has as its basis this spiritual truth of our existence, and it is to find and act from that standpoint that the moral sense arises and starts us on this journey of discovery.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Is Every Event in the Material World a Moral Event?

Many individuals try to interpret a moral judgment of God in any flood or earthquake. Others deny any moral value judgment whatsoever related to events in the material world.

The fact that it is a human value judgment that brings about a moral interpretation of the facts and actions of existence, does not, in Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint, necessarily imply either that this moral interpretation is purely arbitrary and thus valueless; nor does it overly emphasize this viewpoint in looking at the manifestation of the universe.

Surely the attempt to imply a moral significance to all the events and actions of the material world is bound to fall under its own weight; and it is valuable to us to appreciate this and recognise that certain forces are not acting with moral intentionality. As Sri Aurobindo describes it: “there is an infrarational truth of Life and Matter which is impartial and neutral and admits all things as facts of Nature and serviceable for the creation, preservation or destruction of life, there necessary movements of the universal Energy which are all connectedly indispensable and, each in its own place, of equal value.”

We may take on a philosophical, scientific or spiritual viewpoint that thereby looks at these facts of Nature as inevitable, as impossible of being judged by us…or as facts based on the current state of the evolution, but subject to alteration and change in the future as the development of consciousness occurs.

Sri Aurobindo however still wants us to recognize that the development of the mental capability, and along with it the development of a moral and ethical sense and judgment, is itself part of the evolutionary process of consciousness, and thus, must itself have a significance and value that needs to be understood and appreciated.

Sri Aurobindo advises that “this awakening, whatever may be the sanction or the validity of its particular judgments, is one of the indispensable steps in the process of evolutionary Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil