Matter, Mind, Spirit & Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint of an integration between mind and matter, between matter and spirit is a reconciling force that shows the limitations of exclusive or one-sided concentration when it comes to understanding the aim and significance of life. “Our theory of the integral knowledge admits Mind as a creative principle, a power of the Being, and assigns it its place in the manifestation; it similarly accepts Life and Matter as powers of the Spirit and in them also is a creative Energy.”

This of course does not make Mind the complete or only creative principle. It remains a derivative power not a prime mover. And similarly Life and Matter cannot also be seen as prime movers. Sri Aurobindo points out that Matter itself is actually a form of Energy. And that “this Energy cannot be something self-existent and acting in the Void, but can turn out and, when deeply scrutinised, seems likely to turn out to be the action of a secret Consciousness and Being: when the spiritual knowledge and experience emerge, this becomes a certitude,–it is seen that the creative Energy in Matter is a movement of the power of the Spirit. Matter itself cannot be the original and ultimate reality. At the same time the view that divorces Matter and Spirit and puts them as opposites is unacceptable; Matter is a form of Spirit, a habitation of Spirit, and here in Matter itself there can be a realisation of Spirit.”

It is interesting to note that modern Western physicists, following the path of examining Matter and Energy, have also come to conclude that Consciousness creates and constitutes Energy, just as Energy creates and constitutes Matter. Quantum physics therefore is catching up to the insight provided by the spiritual scientists of the ages, and the formulation of these facts as provided by Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

The Significance of the Terrestrial Evolution

After having discussed the seven gradations of consciousness that systematically involve the powers of consciousness into the extreme density of a total Inconscience, Sri Aurobindo next takes up the systematic evolution out of this Inconscience into the full realisation of the Divine Existence, Consciousness and Bliss that is the ultimate destiny of the soul in manifestation.

“This inevitable evolution first develops, as it is bound to develop, Matter and a material universe; in Matter, Life appears and living physical beings; in Lifef, Mind manifests and embodied thinking and living beings; in Mind, ever increasing its powers and activities in forms of Matter, the Supermind or Truth-Consciousness must appear, inevitably, by the very force of what is contained in the Inconscience and the necessity in Nature to bring it into manifestation. Supermind appearing manifests the Spirit’s self-knowledge and whole-knowledge in a supramental living being and must bring about by the same law, by an inherent necessity and inevitability, the dynamic manifestation here of the divine Existence, Consciousness and Delight of existence. It is this that is the significance of the plan and order of the terrestrial evolution; it is this necessity that must determine all its steps and degrees, its principle and its process. Mind, Life and Matter are the realised powers of the evolution and well-known to us; Supermind and the triune aspects of Sachchidananda are the secret principles which are not yet put in front and have still to be realised in the forms of the manifestation, and we know them only by hints and a partial and fragmentary action still not disengaged from the lower movement and therefore not easily recognisable. But their evolution too is part of the destiny of the soul in the Becoming,–there must be a realisation and dynamisation in earth-life and in Matter not only of Mind but of all that is above it, all that has descended indeed but is still concealed in earth-life and Matter.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

Seven Gradations of Manifested Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo next describes the involution of consciousness from pure Spirit at the summit, to Matter as the last stage, which provides the foundation for the subsequent evolution of consciousness which we experience here.

“In the descent into involution there can be distinguished seven principles of manifested being, seven gradations of the manifesting Consciousness of which we can get a perception or a concrete realisation of their presence and immanence here or a reflected experience. The first three are the original and fundamental principles and they form universal states of consciousness to which we can rise; when we do so, we can become aware of supreme planes or levels of fundamental manifestation or self-formulation of the spiritual reality in which is put in front the unity of the Divine Existence, the power of the Divine Consciousness, the bliss of the Divine Delight of existence,–not concealed or disguised as here, for we can possess them in their full independent reality. A fourth principle of supramental Truth-Consciousness is associated with them; manifesting unity in infinite multiplicity, it is the characteristic power of self-determination of the Infinite. This quadruple power of the supreme existence, consciousness and delight constitutes an upper hemisphere of manifestation based on the Spirit’s eternal self-knowledge. If we enter into these principles or into any plane of being in which there is the pure presence of the Reality, we find in them a complete freedom and knowledge. The other three powers and planes of being, of which we are even at present aware, form a lower hemisphere of the manifestation, a hemisphere of Mind, Life and Matter. These are in themselves powers of the superior principles; but wherever they manifest in a separation from their spiritual sources, they undergo as a result a phenomenal lapse into a divided in place of the true undivided existence: this lapse, this separation creates a state of limited knowledge exclusively concentrated on its own limited world-order and oblivious of all that is behind it and of the underlying unity, a state therefore of cosmic and individual Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

To Become One With the Divine Being

Sri Aurobindo formulates the integral nature of Reality, and thus, the integral nature of our action in life, when he describes the relationship between the impersonal Divine Existence and the Personal Divine Being. These are, respectively, the transcendent and manifested forms of Sat-Chit-Ananda which together represent the Divine Reality. “It is a necessity for the soul in the universe,–and therefore the inner trend of the evolutionary Energy and its ultimate intention,–to know and to grow into this truth of itself, to become one with the Divine Being, to raise its nature to the Divine Nature, its existence into the Divine Existence, its consciousness into the Divine Consciousness, its delight of being into the divine Delight of Being, and to receive all this into its becoming, to make the becoming an expression of that highest Truth, to be possessed inwardly of the Divine Self and Master of its existence and to be at the same time wholly possessed by Him and moved by His Divine Energy and live and act in a complete self-giving and surrender.”

While some theistic or philosophical viewpoints incorporate elements of this, it is important to note that most of them fall short of recognizing the oneness of God and individual Soul, and the capacity to effect the “merger of the soul in the Divine Unity through love, through union of consciousness, through fusion of existence in existence.”

To try to eternally separate God and Soul it is necessary to embrace dualistic views of existence; while Sri Aurobindo’s analysis, which we have reviewed for the last 20 months or so as we systematically review The Life Divine, does not accept the duality as an ultimate truth. Eventually we have to conclude that if all this is ONE Being, ONE Existence, ONE universal power of manifestation, that the physical material world, and the evolutionary forces of life, and mind, are all expressions of that One Reality; and that therefore, the Soul manifesting in the world also partakes of that Oneness, with the eventual unification of Soul and God becoming an inevitable consequence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

The Triple Aspect of Reality

Sri Aurobindo clarifies the relationship between the Transcendent Existence, the Cosmic Manifestation and the existence of the individual forms and their striving. These 3 aspects each are necessary for any complete understanding of the meaning and aim of life. “All views of existence that stop short of the Transcendence and ignore it must be incomplete accounts of the truth of being.” “On the other side, every view that affirms the cosmos only and dismisses the individual as a by-product of the cosmic Energy, errs by laying too much emphasis on one apparent factual aspect of the world-action; it is true only of the natural individual and is not even the whole truth of that: for the natural individual, the nature-being, is indeed a product of the universal Energy, but is at the same time a nature-personality of the soul, an expressive formation of the inner being and person, and this soul is not a perishable cell or a dissoluble portion of the cosmic spirit, but has its original immortal reality in the Transcendence. It is a fact that the cosmic Being expresses itself through the individual being, but also it is a truth that the Transcendental Reality expresses itself through both the individual existence and the Cosmos; the soul is an eternal portion of the Supreme and not a fraction of Nature. But equally any view that sees the universe as existent only in the individual consciousness must very evidently be a fragmentary truth: it is justified by a perception of the universality of the spiritual individual and his power of embracing the whole universe in his consciousness; but neither the cosmos nor the individual consciousness is the fundamental truth of existence; for both depend upon and exist by the transcendental Divine Being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

The One is the All

The Upanishads give us several concise descriptions of the Reality which are at once startlingly clear and simple, and yet, have been interpreted in ways that are contradictory. “One without a Second” and “All This is the Brahman” both try to express the essential truth of existence that there is ONE consciousness, ONE being, and that all that we see in the manifested universe, all these changing, phenomenal forms, are THAT.

The statement “one without a second” has been interpreted to mean that only the Absolute, the Eternal is real, and nothing else exists; thus, the world is an illusion! Taken out of context of the second statement that “all this is the Brahman”, it has led to renunciation of the world and attempts to reach the Absolute through denying the reality of the manifested universe.

Sri Aurobindo rejects this kind of one-sided analysis in favor of an integrated view: “the fundamental reality of the Absolute is to our spiritual perception a Divine Existence, Consciousness and Delight of Being which is a supracosmic Reality, self-existent, but also the secret truth underlying the whole manifestation; for the fundamental truth of Being must necessarily be the fundamental truth of Becoming. All is a manifestation of That; for it dwells even in all that seem to be its opposites and its hidden compulsion on them to disclose it is the cause of evolution, on Inconscience to develop from itself its secret consciousness, on the apparent Non-Being to reveal in itself the occult spiritual existence, on the insensible neutrality of Matter to develop a various delight of being which must grow, setting itself free from its minor terms, its contrary dualities of pain and pleasure, into the essential delight of existence, the spiritual Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

Spiritual Significance of the Universe

Sri Aurobindo starts from the essential Being, the Absolute to affirm the truth of that Absolute beyond any specific formulation or limitation of any specific form of manifestation. This Absolute is the basis upon which the philosophies that believe the world is an illusion are founded. In their case, they simply deny the validity of the forms, but focus on the reality of the Existence beyond the forms. And in order to achieve the realisation of this Absolute, human seekers tend to have to separate themselves completely from the life of the world and focus solely on That. Nevertheless, Sri Aurobindo does not accept this as a complete resolution of the significance of life. “since the Becoming is real and is inevitable in the very self-power of the Infinite and Eternal, this too is not a complete philosophy of existence. It is possible for the soul in the Becoming to know itself as the Being and possess the Becoming, to know itself as the Infinite in essence but also as the Infinite self-expressed in the finite, the timeless Eternal regarding itself and its works in the founding status and the developing motion of Time-eternity. This realisation is the culmination of the Becoming; it is the fulfillment of the Being in its dynamic reality. This too then must be part of the total truth of things, for it alone gives a full spiritual significance to the universe and justifies the soul in manifestation; an explanation of things that deprives cosmic and individual existence of all significance cannot be the whole explanation or the solution it proposes the sole true issue.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

Being and Becoming and the Aim of Life

Sri Aurobindo discusses the fundamental manifestation of the Absolute: “The Absolute manifests itself in two terms, a Being and a Becoming. The Being is the fundamental reality; the Becoming is an effectual reality: it is a dynamic power and rseult, a creative energy and working out of the Being, a constantly persistent yet mutable form, process, outcome of its immutable formless essence. All theories that make the Becoming sufficient to itself are therefore half-truths, valid for some knowledge of the manifestation acquired by an exclusive concentration upon what they affirm and envisage, but otherwise valid only because the Being is not separate from the Becoming but present in it, constituted of it, inherent in its every infinitesimal atom and in its boundless expansion and extension. Becoming can only know itself wholly when it knows itself as Being; the soul in the Becoming arrives at self-knowledge and immortality when it knows the Supreme and Absolute and possesses the nature of the Infinite and Eternal. To do that is the supreme aim of our existence; for that is the truth of our being and must therefore be the inherent aim, the necessary outcome of our becoming: this truth of our being becomes in the soul a necessity of manifestation, in matter a secret energy, in life an urge and tendency, a desire and a seeking, in mind a will, aim, endeavor, purpose; to manifest what is from the first occult within it is the whole hidden trend of evolutionary Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

Towards an Understanding of the Aim of Life

As we move to the next chapter of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo takes up the question of the aim of life, which must be founded upon the truth of knowledge, and the Reality that underpins all of existence.

“the evolutionary process itself is the development of a Truth of existence concealed here in an original Inconscience and brought out from it by an emerging Consciousness which rises from gradation to gradation of its self-unfolding until it can manifest in itself the integral reality of things and a total self-knowledge. On the nature of that Truth from which it starts and which it has to manifest must depend the course of the evolutionary development,–the steps of its process and their significance.”

With this process in mind, Sri Aurobindo then takes up a review of the various affirmations about the aim of life that can be made. “First, we affirm an Absolute as the origin and support and secret Reality of all things. The Absolute Reality is indefinable and ineffable by mental thought and mental language; it is self-existent and self-evident to itself, as all absolutes are self-evident, but our mental affirmatives and negatives, whether taken separatively or together, cannot limit or define it. But at the same time there is a spiritual consciousness, a spiritual knowledge, a knowledge by identity which can seize the Reality in its fundamental aspects and its manifested powers and figures. All that is comes within this description and, if seen by this knowledge in its own truth or its occult meaning, can be regarded as an expression of the Reality and itself a reality. This manifested reality is self-existent in these fundamental aspects; for all the basic realities are a bringing out of something that is eternal and inherently true in the Absolute; but all that is not fundamental, all that is temporary is phenomenal, is form and power dependent on the reality it expresses and is real by that and by its own truth of significance, the truth of what it carries in it, because it is that and not something fortuitous, not baseless, illusory, a vain constructed figure.”

“The universe then is real by virtue of the Absolute of which it is a self-manifestation, and all that it contains is real by virtue of the universal to which it gives a form and figure.”

This topic is an extensive one, and will be explored further in the coming days as we examine this chapter.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 16, The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence

The Seven Forms of Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo concludes that once we have defined the seven forms of Ignorance, our aim and goal in our human lives must be to successively overcome the Ignorance through the development of the sevenfold forms of knowledge. Each aspect of the knowledge we develop addresses one of the already defined seven forms of the Ignorance.

“It will mean the knowledge of the Absolute as the origin of all things; the knowledge of the Self, the Spirit, the Being and of the cosmos as the Self’s becoming, the becoming of the Being, a manifestation of the Spirit; the knowledge of the world as one with us in the consciousness of our true self, thus cancelling our division from it by the separative idea and life of ego; the knowledge of our psychic entity and its immortal persistence in Time beyond death and earth-existence; the knowledge of our greater and inner existence behind the surface; the knowledge of our mind, life and body in its true relation to the self within and the superconscient spiritual and supramental being above them; the knowledge, finally, of the true harmony and true use of our thought, will and action and a change of all our nature into a conscious expression of the truth of the Spirit, the Self, the Divinity, the integral spiritual Reality.

Sri Aurobindo cautions us that this is not an intellectual knowledge…”it must be an experience, a becoming, a change of consciousness, a change of being. This brings in the evolutionary character of the Becoming and the fact that our mental ignorance is only a stage in our evolution. The integral knowledge, then, can only come by an evolution of our being and our nature, and that would seem to signify a slow process in Time such as has accompanied the other evolutionary transformations.”

“The integral knowledge, since it must result from a change of consciousness, can be gained by a process in which our will and endeavor have a part, in which they can discover and apply their own steps and method: its growth in us can proceed by a conscious self-transformation.”

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