Is There Independent Existence Outside of Our Minds?

Sri Aurobindo takes up the line of thought that has surfaced in both the East and West from time to time, based on the analysis of the mental consciousness. Various philosophers have demonstrated that everything we perceive is indirect through various sense experiences, and as they step back, they begin to conclude that the entire world has no independent reality other than as a “construct” in our minds. In the West, proponents such as Rene Descarte who famously held “I think therefore I am”, were able to systematically deny any mechanism to validate anything beyond mind, and therefore they were reduced to the idea that everything is purely a mental formation with no external reality.

While Sri Aurobindo does not adopt this viewpoint, he raises it in order to examine its underpinnings and thereby ensure that all sides of the question of consciousness and reality are being viewed.

Those who adopt this viewpoint in some cases determine that liberation represents a cessation of all mental activity (and the corresponding cessation of the external world). Sri Aurobindo describes this viewpoint: “There would be a double and complete self-extinction, the disappearance of Purusha, the cessation or extinction of Prakriti; for the conscious Soul and Nature are the two terms of our being and comprehend all that we mean by existence, and the negation of both is the absolute Nirvana. What is real, then, must be either an Inconscience, in which this flux and these structures appear, or a Superconscience beyond all idea of self or existence.”

Sri Aurobindo points out the limitations of this viewpoint however: “But this view of the universe is only true of the appearance of things when we regard our surface mind as the whole of consciousness; as a description of the working of that Mind it is valid: there, undoubtedly, all looks like a flux and a construction by an impermanent Consciousness. But this cannot prevail as a whole account of existence if there is a greater and deeper self-knowledge and world-knowledge, a knowledge by identity, a consciousness to which that knowledge is normal and a Being of which that consciousness is the eternal self-awareness; for then the subjective and the objective can be real and intimate to that consciousness and being, both can be something of itself, sides of its identity, authentic to its existence.”

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