Three Categories in the Search for Knowledge, Part 2

Having defined the 3 categories by which we focus our search for knowledge, Sri Aurobindo takes up the need we have to find a reconciliation between them; either through subordination or suppression of one or two of these terms, or through outright denial of one or more of them. In the prior post we reviewed the 3 terms. The third one we call “God” which is defined variously depending on the time and the circumstance: “by the word he means somewhat or someone who is the Supreme, the Divine, the Cause, the All, one of these things or all of them at once, the perfection or the totality of all that here is partial or imperfect, the absolute of all these myriad relativities, the Unknown by learning of whom the real secret of the known can become to him more and more intelligible.”

The apparent conflict between man, nature and God as ultimate objects of knowledge has from time to time been addressed by denial of one or more of these: “Man has tried to deny all these categories,–he has tried to deny his own real existence, he has tried to deny the real existence of the cosmos, he has tried to deny the real existence of God.” The real issue is his attempt to find some principle that allows everything to be known and to achieve a unity between the differing viewpoints that arise depending on which one gets our current focus. “None of these denials can wholly satisfy, none solves the entire problem or can be indisputable and definitive,–least of all the one to which his sense-governed intellect is most prone, but in which it can never persist for long; the denial of God is a denial of his true quest and his own supreme Ultimate. The ages of naturalistic atheism have always been short-lived because they can never satisfy the secret knowledge in man: that cannot be the final Veda because it does not correspond with the Veda within which all mental knowledge is labouring to bring out…” The denail of God “cannot be the last word of Knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”


Three Categories in the Search For Knowledge

In this chapter Sri Aurobindo is exploring the development of our seeking for knowledge and the evolution of our search. He points out that it is impossible for man to envision the full and complete Oneness or totality of knowledge because we are bound by the limitations of the ego self and the instruments of mind, life and body. We thus tend to focus our seeking on one or another of three basic categories of knowledge into which we divide our experience: man, or the individual soul; Nature, or the cosmic manifestation of which we are a part; and God, or that which is either the creative intelligence behind everything or the Absolute Existence of which man and Nature are constituted.

“The first is that of which alone he is directly aware in his normal ignorant being; he sees himself, the individual, separate apparently in its existence, yet always inseparable from the rest of being, striving to be sufficient, yet always insufficient to itself, since never has it been known to come into existence or to exist or to culminate in its existence apart from the rest, without their aid and independently of universal being and universal nature. Secondly, there is that which he knows only indirectly by his mind and bodily senses and its effects upon them, yet must strive always to know more and more completely: for he sees also this rest of being with which he is so closely identified and yet from which he is so separate,–the cosmos, world, Nature, other individual existences whom he perceives as always like himself and yet always unlike; for they are the same in nature even to the plant and the animal and yet different in nature. Each seems to go its own way, to be a separate being, and yet each is impelled by the same movement and follows in its own grade the same vast curve of evolution as himself. Finally, he sees or rather divines something else which he does not know at all except quite indirectly; for he knows it only through himself and that at which his being aims, through the world and that at which it seems to point and which it is either striving obscurely to reach and express by its imperfect figurse or, at least, founds them without knowing it on their secret relation to that invisible Reality and occult Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

Developing The Entire Range of Powers of Nature in Man

Sri Aurobindo describes the current state of human knowledge and powers of action as he points us toward the much broader scope of Nature’s systematic development of a wide, multifarious and complex web of powers that represent the ultimate scope of the evolutionary impetus in the universe.

“Intellectual knowledge and practical action are devices of Nature by which we are able to express so much of our being, consciousness, energy, power of enjoyment as we have been able to actualise in our apparent nature and by which we attempt to know more, express and actualise more, grow always more into the much that we have yet to actualise. But our intellect and mental knowledge and will of action are not our only means, not all the instruments of our consciousness and energy: our nature, the name which we give to the Force of being in us in its actual and potential play and power, is complex in its ordering of consciousness, complex in its instrumentation of force.”

It is necessary to take up each of those complex powers of knowledge and action and bring them into full play of their capability and provide the broadest framework possible for development. “That object is to become, to be conscious, to increase continually in our realised being and awareness of self and things, in our actualised force and joy of being, and to express that becoming dynamically in such an action on the world and ourselves that we and it shall grow more and always yet more towards the highest possible reach, largest possible breadth of universality and infinity. All man’s age-long effort, his action, society, art, ethics, science, religion, all the manifold activities by which he expresses and increases his mental, vital, physical, spiritual existence, are episodes in the vast drama of this endeavor of Nature and have behind their limited apparent aims no other true sense or foundation.”

“For the individual to arrive at the divine universality and supreme infinity, live in it, possess it, to be, know, feel and exprss that alone in all his being, consciousness, energy, delight of being is what the ancient seers of the Veda meant by the Knowledge; that was the Immortality which they set before man as his divine culmination.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

Becoming Our True Self by Exceeding Ego

Sri Aurobindo describes the difference between the consciousness of the ego-centered “I” and the consciousness of Sat-Chit-Ananda which represents the absolute Existence of which we are part and parcel, but evolving to manifest it more completely until we eventually reflect that consciousness by Identity.

“Our I is not that spiritual being which can look on the Divine Existence and say, “That am I”; our mentality is not that spiritual consciousness; our will is not that force of consciousness; our pain and pleasure, even our highest joys and ecstasies are not that delight of being. On the surface we are still an ego figuring self, an ignorance turning into knowledge, a will labouring towards true force, a desire seeking for the delight of existence.”

There is a riddle of the Inconscience that hides from us our true birth of consciousness; and there is another riddle of the Superconscience, which hides from us our future destiny. Within these two limitations we blindly seek for the meaning of our existence and strive to exceed our present limitations. As we gain leverage on this self-exceeding, we begin to experience glimpses of a higher Existence, a vast Consciousness-Will and an infinite Delight of existence, and these provide us insight into that higher Existence of which we are a part, and from which we are apart in our ego-limited state of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo sums up the need: “To exceed ego and be our true self, to be aware of our real being, to possess it, to possess a real delight of being, is therefore the ultimate meaning of our life here; it is the concealed sense of our individual and terrestrial existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

Intellectual Knowing Is Not the Solution

In Sri Aurobindo’s view, intellectual knowledge, right beliefs, even ethical and moral precepts of action, are simply not sufficient to effect the type of all-embracing transformation of human life into divine life that he envisions for humanity. Such types of knowing are actions of the surface being and consciousness and while they may, of course, have some value in terms of orienting us in the right direction, they simply don’t have the power to totally recreate our consciousness in the divine image, and thereby become “the conscious sons of Infinity.”

He explains: “Ancient Indian thought meant by knowledge a consciousness which possesses the highest Truth in a direct perception and in self-experience; to become, to be the Highest that we know is the sign that we really have the knowledge. For the same reason, to shape our practical life, our actions as far as may be in consonance with our intellectual notions of truth and right or with a successful pragmatic knowledge,–an ethical or a vital fulfilment,–is not and cannot be the ultimate aim of our life; our aim must be to grow into our true being, our being of Spirit, the being of the supreme and universal Existence, Consciousness, Delight, Sachchidananda.”

Thus when Sri Aurobindo speaks about knowledge, he implies such a direct and complete experience in consciousness that we become what we know, we do what we become, we are one with the Spirit and possess in its fulness the knowledge, power, existence and delight of that ultimate Consciousness which constitutes the All.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

The Children of Immortality

Sri Aurobindo acknowledges the drive that man has to “affirm himself in the universe” and he does not demean that drive. As he points out “that is his first business, but also to evolve and finally to exceed himself: he has to enlarge his partial being into a complete being, his partial consciousness into an integral consciousness; he has to achieve mastery of his environment but also world-union and world-harmony; he has to realise his individuality but also to enlarge it into a cosmic self and a universal and spiritual delight of existence.”

There is an ever-present drive to exceed himself, to grow, to learn, to expand horizons, to transform that is the sign of the underlying creative Energy that manifests through man. “But this can only be accomplished by his growing into a larger being and a larger consciousness: self-enlargement, self-fulfilment, self-evolution from what he partially and temporarily is in his actual and apparent nature to what he completely is in his secret self and spirit and therefore can become even in his manifest existence, is the object of his creation. This hope is the justification of his life upon earth amidst the phenomena of the cosmos.”

The goal here is nothing less than the transformation of the consciousness and then the life-action of man: “The outer apparent man, an ephemeral being subject to the constraints of his material embodiment and imprisoned in a limited mentality, has to become the inner real Man, master of himself and his environment and universal in his being. In a more vivid and less metaphysical language, the natural man ahs to evolve himself into the divine Man; the sons of Death have to know themselves as the children of Immortality. it is on this account that the human birth can be described as the turning-point in the evolution, the critical stage in earth-nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

Integral Emergence of Consciousness: The Goal of Evolving Nature

Sri Aurobindo cites the Bhagavad Gita at the beginning of this new chapter: “My supreme Nature has become the living being and this world is upheld by it…all beings have this for their source of birth.”

As we have seen in the prior chapter, there is an involution of the Supreme Consciousness into what is apparently Inconscient in the world of Matter. This is where evolution of consciousness then begins to successively, stage by stage, layer by layer, bring out an unfolding of the higher planes of consciousness to eventually allow for the manifestation of the supreme Existence, Consciousness and Delight of Existence in the manifested universe.

This process takes place successively and we can trace the steps in the internal “inconscient” but precisely organised working of Matter itself, to the development of Life out of Matter, and eventually to the development of the powers of Mind out of Life and Matter.

“Consciousness, involved and non-apparent in Matter, first emerges in the disguise of vital vibrations, animate but subconscient; then, in imperfect formulations of a conscient life, it strives towards self-finding through successive forms of that material substance, forms more and more adapted to its own completer expression. Consciousness in life, throwing off the primal insensibility of a material inanimation and nescience, labours to find itself more and more entirely in the Ignorance which is its first inevitable formulation; but it achieves at first only a primary mental perception and a vital awareness of self and things, a life-perception which in its first forms depends on an internal sensation responsive to the contacts of other life and of Matter.”

“In man the energising Consciousness appears as Mind more clearly aware of itself and things; this is still a partial and limited, not an integral power of itself, but a first conceptive potentiality and promise of integral emergence is visible. That integral emergence is the goal of evolving Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 17, The Progress to Knowledge–God, Man and Nature”

A Perfected and Divinised Life Is the Goal of the Manifested Universe

Having traced the steps of the manifestation and systematic evolution of consciousness from the Inconscience, to the successive revelations of Matter, Life and Mind, Sri Aurobindo points out that this provides sufficient data points to recognize the pattern and thereby the significance of this evolutionary progression. “An involution of spirit in the Inconscience is the beginning; an evolution in the Ignorance with its play of the possibilities of a partial developing knowledge is the middle, and the cause of the anomalies of our present nature,–our imperfection is the sign of a transitional state, a growth not yet completed, an effort that is finding its way; a consummation in a deployment of the spirit’s self-knowledge and the self-power of its divine being and consciousness is the culmination: these are the three stages of this cycle of the spirit’s progressive self-expression in life.”

“The two stages that have already their play seem at first sight to deny the possibility of the later consummating stage of the cycle, but logically they imply its emergence; for if the inconscience has evolved consciousness, the partial consciousness already reached must surely evolve into complete consciousness. It is a perfected and divinised life for which the earth-nature is seeking, and this seeking is a sign of the Divine Will in Nature.”

There are other possible seekings and realisations possible but they do not fulfill the complete and integrated goal signaled by the complex world of manifestation and consciousness which we see around us. They are rather exclusive concentrations on one aspect or another without the complete harmonisation of the multiple different goals and signs we see. Sri Aurobindo points out that these other seekings cannot be the ultimate intention “for then an evolutionary progression would not have been undertaken,–such a progression here can only have for its aim a self-fulfillment here: a progressive manifestation of this kind can only have for its soul of significance the revelation of Being in a perfect Becoming.”

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

Spiritual Evolution

Sri Aurobindo continues in his exposition of the meaning and purpose of terrestrial life within the larger framework of the universal creation and the supreme Being. While there are “worlds of a greater consciousness beyond the earth”, the powers that act there manifest and develop themselves here as well, albeit in sometimes limited forms, or in an evolving manner. In fact it is necessary for the individual to experience these higher planes and worlds of consciousness in order to properly understand and evaluate the meaning of earthly life within a more complete context. The underlying principle, however, comes back to the question of the intent of the manifestation. “An integration of this kind would not be possible if a spiritual evolution were not the sense of our birth and terrestrial existence; the evolution of mind, life and spirit in Matter is the sign that this integration, this completed manifestation of a secret self contained in it is its significance. A complete involution of all that the Spirit is and its evolutionary self-unfolding are the double term of our material existence.”

Other worlds of consciousness tend to be “typal” rather than “evolutionary” in that they manifest a specific principle of consciousness in its purity from its own native power of action. These typal worlds therefore are not subject to the kind of pressure of change that occurs in an evolutionary world where these principles have to not only find their own expression, but do so within the framework of expression of other principles. Thus, a world of pure mind would not have the limitations that are placed upon mind in our world where it is subject to the pressures of life and matter, and thus, dramatically and severely curtailed in its native power of action.

The process here is described thus by Sri Aurobindo: “But there is also a possibility of self-expression by self-finding, a deployment which takes the form and goes through the progression of a self-veiling and an adventure of self-recovery; that is the principle of becoming in this universe of which an involution of consciousness and concealment of the spirit in Matter is the first appearance.”

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

A Divine Plan In Terrestrial Existence

Sri Aurobindo is clear when he assigns a significance and meaning to the terrestrial creation, and refuses to accept it as some kind of mistake, illusion or lesser reality. He points out that while there are indeed various planes of existence, even various worlds of consciousness, and they all have a reality, they do not in and of themselves either invalidate the terrestrial life, nor provide a total solution to the riddle of existence.

“But worlds of a higher consciousness are not the only possible scene and habitation of the perfected soul; nor can we find in any unchanging typal world the final or total sense of the Spirit’s self-expression in the cosmos: the material world, this earth, this human life are a part of the Spirit’s self-expression and have their divine possibility; that possibility is evolutionary and it contains the possibilities of all the other worlds in it, unrealised but realisable. Earth-life is not a lapse into the mire of something undivine, vain and miserable, offered by some Power to itself as a spectacle or to the embodied soul as a thing to be suffered and then cast away from it: it is the scene of the evolutionary unfolding of the being which moves towards the revelation of a supreme spiritual light and power and joy and oneness, but includes in it also the manifold diversity of the self-achieving spirit. There is an all-seeing purpose in the terrestrial creation; a divine plan is working itself out through its contradictions and perplexities which are a sign of the many-sided achievement towards which are being led the soul’s growth and the endeavor of Nature.”

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