Absolute Knowledge Beyond Mind and Speech

In order to address, and ultimately integrate, the viewpoint that basically holds that both Knowledge and Ignorance are phenomena of the manifestation, but both lose their meaning when the consciousness goes beyond into the Absolute, Sri Aurobindo directly takes up this viewpoint: “It is quite possible…to affirm the existence of the ineffable Absolute, to emphasise its sole Reality and to negate and abolish for our self, to expunge from our idea and sense of reality, the individual being and the cosmic creation. The reality of the individual is Brahman the Absolute; the reality of the cosmos is Brahman the Absolute: the individual is a phenomenon, a temporal appearance in the cosmos; the cosmos itself is a phenomenon, a larger and more complex temporal appearance. The two terms, Knowledge and Ignorance, belong only to this appearance; in order to reach an absolute superconsciousness both have to be transcended: ego-consciousness and cosmic consciousness are extinguished in that supreme transcendence and there remains only the Absolute. For the absolute Brahman exists only in its own identity and is beyond all other-knowledge; there the very idea of the knower and the known and therefore of the knowledge in which they meet and become one, disappears, is transcended and loses its validity, so that to mind and speech the absolute Brahman must remain always unattainable. In opposition to the view we have put forward or in completion of it,–the view of the Ignorance itself as only either a limited or an involved action of the divine Knowledge, limited in the partly conscient, involved in the inconscient,–we might say from this other end of the scale of things that Knowledge itself is only a higher Ignorance, since it stops short of the absolute Reality which is self-evident to Itself but to mind unknowable. This absolutism corresponds to a truth of thought and to a truth of supreme experience in the spiritual consciousness; but by itself it is not the whole of spiritual thought complete and comprehensive and it does not exhaust the possibilities of the supreme spiritual experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 15, Reality and the Integral Knowledge

An Integral Spiritual Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo has described in a very short space the nature and role of an integral spiritual consciousness, and we can do no better than to review his description: “An integral spiritual consciousness carries in it a knowledge of all the terms of being; it links the highest to the lowest through all the mediating terms and achieves an indivisible whole. At the highest summit of things it opens to the erality, ineffable because superconscient to all but its own self-awareness, of the Absolute. At the lowest end of our being it perceives the Inconscience from which our evolution begins; but at the same time it is aware of the One and the All self-involved in those depths, it unveils the secret Consciousness in the Inconscience. Interpretative, revelatory, moving between these two extremes, its vision discovers the manifestation of the One in the Many, the identity of the Infinite in the disparity of things finite, the presence of the timeless Eternal in eternal Time; it is this seeing that illumines for it the meaning of the universe. This consciousness does not abolish the unverse; it takes it up and transforms it by giving to it its hidden significance. It does not abolish the individual existence; it transforms the individual being and nature by revealing to them their true significance and enabling them to overcome their separateness from the Divine Reality and the Divine Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 15, Reality and the Integral Knowledge

From the Darkness to the Light

Sri Aurobindo succintly describes the boundaries of the Ignorance and the process of moving into the Knowledge: “Its [the Ignorance] origin is a limitation of knowledge, its distinctive character a separation of the being from its own integrality and entire reality; its boundaries are determined by this separative development of the consciousness, for it shuts us to our true self and to the true self and whole nature of things and obliges us to live in an apparent surface existence. A return or a progrss to integrality, a disappearance of the limitation, a braeking down of separativeness, an overpassing of boundaries, a recovery of our essential and whole reality must be the sign and opposite character of the inner turn towards Knowledge. There must be a replacement of a limited and separative by an essential and integral consciousness identified with the original truth and the whole truth of self and existence. The integral Knowledge is something that is already there in the integral Reality: it is not a new or still non-existent thing that has to be created, acquired, learned, invented or built up by the mind; it must rather be discovered or uncovered, it is a Truth that is self-revealed to a spirititual endeavor: for it is there veiled in our deeper and greater self; it is the very stuff of our own spiritual consciousness, and it is by awaking to it even in our surface self that we have to possess it. There is an integral self-knowledge that we have to recover and, because the world-self also is our self, an integral world-knowledge.”

This is not a form of mental knowledge; not a construction of logic, thought, idea, philosophy, religious precept or creed. While these have their own value and may constitute steps on the way from the darkness of Nescience to the light of Knowledge, eventually we have to pass beyond this mental form of knowing.

Sri Aurobindo once explained “When we have passed beyond all knowings, then we shall have Knowledge. The intellect is the helper, the intellect is the bar.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 15, Reality and the Integral Knowledge

Nature and Supernature

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that even the 3 steps he has outlined are not the ultimate transformation required. “But the last division to be removed is the scission between this Nature and the Supernature which is the Self-Power of the Divine Existence. Even before the dynamic Knowledge-Ignorance is removed, while it still remains as an inadequate instrumentation of the spirit, the supreme Shakti or Supernature can work through us and we can be aware of her workings; but it is then by a modification of her light and power so that it can be received and assimilated by the inferior nature of the mind, life and body. But this is not enough; there is needed an entire remoulding of what we are into a way and power of the divine Supernature. The integration of our being cannot be complete unless there is this transformation of the dynamic action; there must be an uplifting and change of the whole mode of Nature itself and not only some illumination and transmutation of the inner ways of the being. An eternal Truth-Consciousness must possess us and sublimate all our natural modes into its own modes of being, knowledge and action; a spontaneous truth-awareness, truth-will, truth-feeling, truth-movement, truth-action can then become the integral law of our nature.”

What Sri Aurobindo proposes is nothing less than a complete transformation of our current basis of being, knowing and acting as human beings. Past attempts to instill higher values, to achieve greater knowledge, to purify, to uplift, and to transform society all have their value, their real benefit and should not be undervalued. At the same time, they all suffer from similar limitations inherent in their foundation in the Ignorance and their grounding in the mind-life-body complex developed out of the Ignorance. A true evolution beyond this foundation implies a transfer to a basis of knowledge and action that is founded, not in the Ignorance of the lower 3 planes of mind-life-body, but in the Knowledge of the highest 3 planes of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda).

The present chapter is probably the longest single chapter in The Life Divine as it has taken up an enormous range of concerns to come to this conclusion. This completes our review of Book 2, Part 1 of the Life Divine and as of the next post we move to Book 2, Part 2, titled The Knowledge and the Spiritual Evolution.

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

Three Steps of Spiritual Knowledge of Self: Steps Two and Three

Once the soul has been recognized and occupies its central place in the being, the next steps are to connect the individual soul with the eternal being, thereby joining the individual with the universal, and both with the transcendent Existence. Sri Aurobindo describes this process: “The next step is to become aware of the eternal self in us unborn and one with the self of all beings. This self-realisation liberates and universalises; even if our action still proceeds in the dyanmics of the Ignorance, it no longer binds or misleads because our inner being is seated in the light of self-knowledge. The third step is to know the Divine Being who is at once our supreme transcendent Self, the Cosmic Being, foundation of our universality, and the Divinity within of which our psychic being, the true evolving individual in our nature, is a portion, a spark, a flame growing into the eternal Fire from which it was lit and of which it is the witness ever living within us and the conscious instrument of its light and power and joy and beauty.”

These steps of knowledge have their corresponding effect on our action. “Aware of the Divine as the Master of our being and action, we can learn to become channels of his Shakti, the Divine Puissance, and act according to her dictates or her rule of light and power within us. Our action will not then be mastered by our vital impulse or governed by a mental standard, for she acts according to the permanent yet plastic truth of things,–not that which the mind constructs, but the higher, deeper and subtler truth of each movement and circumstance as it is known to the supreme knowledge and demanded by the supreme will in the universe.”

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

Three Steps of Spiritual Knowledge of Self: First Step–Finding of the Soul

Sri Aurobindo takes up the steps toward achievement of the spiritual self-knowledge which is required to overcome the divided consciousness. “The first is the discovery of the soul, not the outer soul of thought and emotion and desire, but the secret psychic entity, the divine element within us. When that becomes dominant over the nature, when we are consciously the soul and when mind, life and body take their true place as its instruments, we are aware of a guide within that knows the truth, the good, the true delight and beauty of existence, controls heart and intellect by its luminous law and leads our life and being towards spiritual completeness. Even within the obscure workings of the Ignorance we have then a witness who discerns, a living light that illumines, a will that refuses to be misled and separates the mind’s truth from its error, the heart’s intimate response from its vibrations to a wrong call and wrong demand upon it, the life’s true ardour and plenitude of movement from vital passion and the turbid falsehoods of our vital nature and its dark self-seekings. This is the first step of self-realisation, to enthrone the soul, the divine psychic individual in the place of the ego.”

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

Resolving the Divided Consciousness: The True Solution

Sri Aurobindo directly sets forth the necessary changes of consciousness to effect a resolution of the effects of division and fragmentation: “The true solution can intervene only when by our spiritual growth we can become one self with all beings, know them as part of our self, deal with them as if they were our other selves; for then the division is healed, the law of separate self-affirmation leading by itself to affirmation against or at the expense of others is enlarged and liberated by adding to it the law of our self-affirmation for others and our self-finding in their self-finding and self-realisation.”

It is important to grasp the significance of this change, as it is something so radically different from all of the past attempts of humanity to achieve harmony through ethical or moral mechanisms as taught in the various religious traditions of the world, that very few can actually appreciate that what is asked for here is not such a moral emotional or mental standpoint, but an actual experience in consciousness that lives and breathes in Oneness.

Scientists in the West have over the last few years been amazed to discover that Aspen groves actually are ONE tree connected with an underground root system. The biosphere of the earth is one complex interactive organism in fact, with the in breath of one being made up of the expelled breath of another. Oxygen, exhaled by plants, is inhaled by animals. Certain animals or insects are connected intimately to specific plants or other animals and they live and act symbiotically. At a certain point, we need to switch from seeing things in division to seeing things in Unity,–to live, breathe, see, respond from the true Oneness within which all the beings we currently see as separate and fragmented actually constitute one complete Existence or entity.

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