The Origin of Duality

Having determined that the duality that leads to falsehood and evil is not inherent in the inconscient mechanical energy and formations of Matter, Sri Aurobindo proceeds to identify the origin of this duality: “The duality begins with conscious life and emerges fully with the development of mind in life; the vital mind, the mind of desire and sensation, is the creator of the sense of evil and of the fact of evil. Moreover, in animal life, the fact of evil is there, the evil of suffering and the sense of suffering, the evil of violence and cruelty and strife and deception, but the sense of moral evil is absent; in animal life there is no duality of sin or virtue, all action is neutral and permissible for the preservation of life and its maintenance and for the satisfaction of the life-instincts. The sensational values of good and evil are inherent in the form of pain and pleasure, vital satisfaction and vital frustration, but the mental idea, the moral response of the mind to these values are a creation of the human being.”

Having determined the origination of the duality, it remains to interpret its significance and meaning, as well as to find a standpoint that supports the evolutionary process which it supports. This shall be the subject of the next post in this series.

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

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Duality of Good and Evil Does Not Arise in World of Matter

Sri Aurobindo continues his exploration of the origin and significance of falsehood and evil by looking at the various planes of existence to determine whether we can find the action of the dualities that give rise to them at each plane. Starting with the material plane, Sri Aurobindo points out that there does not appear to be any conscious intentionality in the actions of the material world, per se, that would give rise to the conclusion that “good” and “evil” are inherent in the material plane.

He explains: “It is only by contact with conscious beings that material objects exercise powers or influences which can be called good or evil: but that good or evil is determined by the contacted being’s sense of help or harm, of benefit or injury from them; these values do not belong to the material object but to some Force that uses it or they are created by the consciousness that contacts it. Fire warms a man or burns him, but that is as involuntarily he meets it or voluntarily uses it; a medicinal herb cures or a poison kills, but the value of good or evil is brought into action by the user: it is to be observed too that a poison can cure as well as kill, a medicine kill or harm as well as cure or benefit. The world of pure Matter is neutral, irresponsible; these values insisted on by the human being do not exist in material Nature: as a superior Nature transcends the duality of good and evil, so this inferior Nature falls below it.”

While occult knowledge may find that specific material objects can have conscious influences of good or evil attached to them, “it might still be held that this does not affect the neutrality of the object which does not act by an individualised consciousness but only as it is utilised for good or for evil or for both together: the duality of good and evil is not native to the material principle, it is absent from the world of Matter.”

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

Evil and Falsehood Arise in the Worlds of Life

Sri Aurobindo addresses the question as to whether the existence of forces of evil and falsehood at other levels of existence, the supraphysical or pre-physical validates the idea of their actually being cosmic principles. His review of this issue leads him to conclude that these forces do not exist at the highest planes of existence, but seem to be relegated to the realms of life, or of mind acting in life, and thus they do not rise to the level of ultimate principles, but intermediary creations.

“…it is to be noted that their appearance does not extend higher than the lower supraphysical life planes; they are “powers of the Prince of Air”,–air being in the ancient symbolism the principle of life and therefore of the mid-worlds where the vital principle is predominant and essential. The adverse opposites are not, then primal powers of the cosmos, but creations of Life or of Mind in life.”

An explanation of the arising of evil and falsehood in these other realms can be that there exist separate worlds representing each principle of the manifestation, worlds of matter, life, mind, that represent each of these principles in their native sense during the stages of both involution of consciousness into the Inconscience, and then the evolution of consciousness out of the Inconscience.

As a practical matter, Sri Aurobindo points out “it is as an outcome of the Inconscience that we can best watch and understand the origin of falsehood, error, wrong and evil, for it is in the return of Inconscience towards Consciousness that they can be seen taking their formation and it is there that they seem to be normal and even inevitable.”

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

Can Absolute Evil Exist?

Sri Aurobindo addresses the issue of “absolute evil” to respond to the obviously extreme manifestations of falsehood and evil that are evidenced in monstrous cases, which we can identify in historical events such as the manifestation of someone like Adolf Hitler. “It may then be questioned whether it is not a mistake to deny absoluteness to evil; for as there is a drive, an aspiration, a yearning in man towards an absolute truth, good, beauty, so these movements,–as also the transcending intensities attainable by pain and suffering,–seem to indicate the attempt at self-realisation of an absolute evil.”

Sri Aurobindo goes on to point out, however, that evil has no ultimate self-existence as an absolute principle, and that even if we are unable to plumb the depths with a fixed limit or measurement, this does not imply that it is or can be unlimited in nature.

“To this absoluteness pain and evil cannot attain, they are bound to limitation and they are derivative. If pain becomes immeasurable, it ends itself or ends that in which it manifests, or collapses into insensibility or, in rare circumstances, it may turn into an ecstasy of Ananda. If evil became sole and immeasurable, it would destroy the world or destroy that which bore and supported it; it would bring things and itself back by disintegration into non-existence. No doubt the Powers that support darkness and evil attempt by the magnitude of their self-aggrandisement to reach an appearance of infinity, but immensity is all they can achieve and not infinity…”

He concludes by pointing out: “Self-existence, in essence or by an eternal inherence in the Self-existent, is the condition of absoluteness: error, falsehood, evil are cosmic powers, but relative in their nature, not absolute, since they depend for existence on the perversion or contradiction of their opposites and are not like truth and good self-existent absolutes, inherent aspects of the supreme Self-existent.”

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

Possession & Influence By Forces of Good & Evil

Sri Aurobindo notes that the forces we have now identified as originating on the planes of Life and Mind which can act upon and influence the physical material world, are also capable of an action that we may call “possession” whether partially or completely of a human individual who becomes open to their action. He describes the action of these forces: “…these Forces in their action seem often to surpass the measures of human relativity; they are in their larger action superhuman, divine, titanic or demoniac, but they may create their formations in him in large or in little, in his greatness or his smallness, they may seize and drive him at moments or for periods, they may influence his impulses or his acts or possess his whole nature. If that possession happens, he may himself be pushed to an excess of the normal humanity of good or evil; especially the evil takes forms which shock the sense of human measure, exceed the bounds of human personality, approach the gigantic, the inordinate, the immeasurable.”

It is important to note that when Sri Aurobindo wrote the above, during the period of the first world war, we had not yet seen the rise of perhaps one of the most vivid examples of this principle in Adolph Hitler. Clearly the description here was amply fulfilled in the demonic, almost hypnotic influence that manifested itself in and through him and drove the world into extremes of suffering and depravity that remains a traumatic example of the kinds of things that may result from such possession.

It is also important to note that people in some cases try to excuse weaknesses or purely human levels of action by suggesting the influence of this type of force acting upon or possessing the individual and thus tend to “demonize” that action. While Sri Aurobindo notes the possibility of this phenomenon, he clearly does not attribute to it the motive spring of daily actions or results within the normal framework of human life and capability. A certain amount of balance and insight is needed to distinguish the human action from the forces of the Life-plane or Mind-plane acting for their fulfillment through human individuals or societies.

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

Moved By Forces Beyond Our Control

Sri Aurobindo examines the issue of whether the individual human, embodying a specific character and framework of mind, life and body, actually originates his own thoughts, ideas, impulsions and directions; or rather, whether larger cosmic forces, whether considered to be bodiless, or embodied in a conscious form too subtle for our senses, but nevertheless real, move and impel us.

“This is certain that when we go back into ourselves very deep away from the surface appearance, we find that the mind, heart and sensational being of man are moved by forces not under his own control and that he can become an instrument in the hands of Energies of a cosmic character without knowing the origin of his actions.”

Through a process of stepping back and observing, the human individual “grows aware of interventions which seek to lead him in one direction or another, of suggestions and impulsions which had disguised themselves as original movements of his own mind and against which he had to battle. He can realise that he is not a conscious creature inexplicably produced in an unconscious world out of a seed of inconscient Matter and moving about in an obscure self-ignorance, but an embodied soul through whose action cosmic Nature is seeking to fulfil itself, the living ground of a vast debate between a darkness of Ignorance out of which it emerges here and a light of Knowledge which is growing upwards towards an unforeseen termination. The Forces which seek to move him, and among them the Forces of good and evil, present themselves as powers of universal Nature; but they seem to belong not only to the physical universe, but to planes of Life and Mind beyond it.”

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

Unseen Vital Forces Can Act Upon the Material World

Sri Aurobindo describes the universal forces that act to fulfil the sense and impetus of everything created in the universe. “Whatever is formulated in the universe has a Force or Forces that support it, seek to fulfil it or further it, find their foundation in its functioning, their account of success in its success and growth and domination, their self-fulfilment or their prolongation of being in its victory or survival.”

Some of these forces support and impel the powers of Light, while others support and impel the powers of Darkness. From this principle of the cosmic creation, we therefore see the basis for the concept which weaves its way through religious, spiritual and philosophical traditions around the world as the battle between forces of Light and forces of Darkness, forces of Good and forces of Evil. This can take the form of God and the Angels combatting against Satan and the fallen angels; or between Indra and the Vedic Gods combatting the sons of Darkness and Division, and leads to tenets such as the “Zoroastrian Double Principle”.

In each case, these traditions imply or directly state that there are invisible supraphysical forces that have their origin on another unseen plane and which impact and act upon life on the material plane. We see in these traditions a world moved and influenced, or controlled, by these unseen forces, in many cases having their own form of embodiment and consciousness as formed “personalities”, who seek their fulfilment here through controlling the material world and its actions. Sri Aurobindo points out that “Modern thought is aware of no invisible forces other than those revealed or constructed by Science; it does not believe that Nature is capable of creating any other beings than those around us in the physical world, men, beasts, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, germs and animalculae. But if there are invisible cosmic forces physical in their nature that act upon the body of inanimate objects, there is no valid reason why there should not be invisible cosmic forces mental and vital in their nature that act upon his mind and his life-force.”

We see here the basis for the occult traditions of the world which has been verified throughout the ages through inner experience,–namely, that there exist forces, not only at the physical level, but at the vital and mental level, which act upon our world even if unseen or unrecognized by us.

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