Symbols and Reality

Sri Aurobindo describes the concept that all mental grasping of the world is in the form of symbols, as the mental consciousness does not experience the Reality directly but only as representations on the mental screen. He also describes the limitations of this model of awareness: “But this way of seeing things belongs to the action of the mind interpreting the relation between the Being and the external Becoming; it is valid as a dynamic mental representation corresponding to a certain truth of the manifestation, but subject to the proviso that these symbolic values of things do not make the things themselves mere significant counters, abstract symbols like mathematical formulae or other signs used by the mind for knowledge: for forms and happenings in the universe are realities significant of Reality; they are self-expressions of That, movements and powers of the Being. Each form is there because it is an expression of some power of That which inhabits it; each happening is a movement in the working out of some Truth of the Being in its dynamic process of manifestation.”

The actual Reality which is thus symbolised when it is taken up by the mental consciousness is what provides significance, meaning and purpose to the symbolic representations created in the mental sphere. “Mind, then, is not the original constructor of the universe: it is an intermediate power valid for certain actualities of being; an agent, an intermediary, it actualises possibilities and has its share in the creation, but the real creatrix is a Consciousness, an energy inherent in the transcendent and cosmic Spirit.”

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

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