Transitions in the Evolution of Consciousness Through Forms, Part 2

As outer forms develop, the inner consciousness also develops systematically. It could be said that the other form’s evolution is precisely tailored to accomodate the greater intensity of consciousness that is required for the next stage to manifest. Thus, as Sri Aurobindo points out, plant life and animal life share a large number of qualities based on the action of life-energy, but we see a divide due to the obvious presence and action of Mind-Energy in the animal, whether in a very rudimentary way, or, as we see in the higher animals, the action of a developed sense mind, some language skills, memory and some reasoning ability.

“Between the highest animal and the lowest man there is a still deeper though narrower gulf to be crossed, the gulf between sense-mind and the intellect: for however we may insist on the primitive nature of the savage, we cannto alter the fact that the most primitive human being has above and beyond the sense-mind, emotional vitality and primary practical intelligence which we share with the animals, a human intellect and is capable,–in whatever limits,–of reflection, ideas, conscious invention, religious and ethical thought and feeling, everything fundamental of which man as a race is capable; he has the same kind of intelligence, it differs only in its past instruction and formative training and the degree of its developed capacity, intensity and activity.”

The record is clear that various development has in fact occurred over time and that each form was not simply created by some external demiurge or God and planted here “ready made.” “It has become evident that a secretly conscious or an inconscient Energy of creation has effected the transition by swift or slow degrees, by whatever means, devices, biological, physical or psychological machinery…” We still have gaps in the evolutionary process that we cannot yet fill in; but Sri Aurobindo points out that potentially the solution to these gaps will come when we review the inner, rather than the outer, forms of development. If the real evolutionary necessity was to provide an increasingly complex form capable of manifesting the next stage of consciousness, we would not necessarily have to see a systematic step-by-step progression of outer forms; rather we could see some “leaps” in the outer form that would be consistent with the next manifested level of consciousness and its needs.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration


Transitions in the Evolution of Consciousness Through Forms, Part 1

As Sri Aurobindo continues his review of the stages of evolution, he comes across similar types of “gaps” in the manifestation of consciousness as scientists have found in the evolution of forms. He points out that the gaps are “deeper, but less wide” the further one rises in the scale of consciousness. We consider rock to be inconscient, inanimate matter (although review at the molecular level of science is now showing the extremely organised, complex structure of consciousness that goes into “inanimate” Matter. But within the scope of Matter we also have metals, which clearly are another stage in material development beyond bare rock. Metals begin to exhibit characteristics that could be considered “rudiments of life-reaction”, such as responsiveness to various types of stimuli, as well as the phenomena of metal fatigue. Sri Aurobindo indicates that at the higher levels of pure material evolution we begin to see signs of the development of the framework for the appearance of the true life-reactions. The “gap” of which he speaks is clearly evident when we view the difference between metals at the upper levels of Matter, and even the lowest levels of plant life. “what might be called the vital-physical difference is so considerable that one seems to us inanimate, the other, though not apparently conscious, might be called a living creature.”

Similarly, we can trace an increasing sophistication and organisation of consciousness through the plant kingdom, “Between the highest plant life and lowest animal the gulf is visibly deeper, for it is the difference between mind and the entire absence of any apparent or even rudimentary movement of mind: in the one this stuff of mental consciousness is unawakened though there is a life of vital reactions, a suppressed or subconscious or perhaps only sub-mental sense-vibration which seems to be intensely active; in the other, though the life is at first less automatic and secure in the subconscious way of living and in its own new way of overt consciousness imperfectly determined, still mind is awakened,–there is a conscious life, a profound transition has been made.”

Studies by Jagdish Chandra Bose, and further research reported in The Secret Life of Plants confirms the sometimes remarkable ability of plants to experience and respond. What is missing is the clear evidence of the action of the mental consciousness.

We shall continue this review in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

Tracing the Evolution of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo discusses the scientific study of evolution, which up until now has been focused on the evolution of material forms and the beings that inhabit them. He points out that very little scrutiny has been given to the inner evolution, the evolution of consciousness, which is the secret thread that winds its way through the development of more and more complex and integrated material forms to sustain an ever-more-complex level of consciousness in action. “In the evolution, as it has been observed so far, although a continuity is there,–for Life takes up Matter and Mind takes up submental Life, the Mind of intelligence takes up the mind of life and sensation,–the leap from one grade of consciousness in the series to another grade seems to our eyes immense, the crossing of the gulf whether by bridge or by leap impossible; we fail to discover any concrete and satisfactory evidence of its accomplishment in the past or of the manner in which it was accomplished. Even in the outward evolution, even in the development of physical forms where the data are clearly in evidence, there are missing links that remain always missing; but in the evolution of consciousness the passage is still more difficult to account for, for it seems more like a transformation than a passage.”

Analagous to what science has concluded about physical evolution, from close examination of the physical facts, to determine that there is a continuity in the evolutionary sequences, Sri Aurobindo determines that there is just such a continuity that could be observed in the evolution of consciousness if we were able to observe in minute detail the subconscious and to understand the submental grades precisely enough to recognize the finely differentiated grades of consciousness as they develop. “if we could observe similarly the inner evolution, we could, no doubt, discover the possibility and the mode of these formidable transitions. But still there is a real, a radical difference between grade and grade, so much so that the passage from one to another seems a new creation, a miracle of metamorphosis rather than a natural predictable development or quiet passing form one state to another with its well-marked steps arranged in an easy sequence.”

Detailed study and observation of the evolution of consciousness could then lead to a clear view of the systematic steps taken to bring forth the wider, higher, deeper, more subtle, more capable levels of consciousness that we see in the broad brush strokes of development in the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

The Evolutionary Process of the Emergence of Consciousness, Part 2

Sri Aurobindo continues to explore the evolutionary process. The first foundation is the material base. Out of this has evolved Life and then out of Life/Matter has evolved Mind. “Thus, having first laid down a basis of material being, material forms, forces, existences in which it seems to be lying inconscient, though in reality, as we know now, always subconsciously at work, it is able to manifest life and living beings, to manifest mind and mental beings in a material world, and must therefore be able to manifest there Supermind also and supramental beings.”

It is interesting that without reflection human beings simply accept the idea that they are the “ultimate” creation, when it is clear that the manfestation is a continuous process and there is absolutely no sign, nor any reason to believe, that we have in fact reached the end of the evolutionary schema. It is analogous to the color spectrum. We can see only a limited range of colors, essentially from red at one end to violet at the other. We cannot see infrared or lower vibration colors, nor can we see ultraviolet or higher vibration colors beyond it. We are able, through use of various scientific instruments to “see” additional colors on both ends of the spectrum and to prove that some animals can see colors that we cannot. The spectrum of consciousness is similar in that we move within a certain range with levels “below” and levels “above” our current range, and thus, in a continuous progression we would expect that the next stage of evolution would result in higher levels of manifested consciousness.

“Thus has come about the present status of the evolution of which man is the now apparent culmination but not the real ultimate summit; for he is himself a transitional being and stands at the turning-point of the whole movement. Evolution, being thus continuous, must have at any given moment a past with its fundamental results still in evidence, a present in which the results it is labouring over are in process of becoming, a future in which still unevolved powers and forms of being must appear till there is the full and perfect manifestation.”

Given the past unconscious evolution out of Matter and through the manifestation of Life and eventually Mind, and the present struggle of Mankind to incorporate and develop fully the powers of Mind in Life, it is clear that we see “an evolution slowly becoming conscious of itself; the future must be a more and more conscious evolution of the spiritual being until it is fully delivered into a self-aware action by the emergent gnostic principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

The Evolutionary Process of the Emergence of Consciousness, Part 1

While scientists and philosophers try to find some rationale or central theme in the evolution of species, Sri Aurobindo appears to have located the missing connecting point that explains the evolution as we see it occurring on the planet. This lynch-pin is the evolution of consciousness, and the impact that the ever-increasing intensity of consciousness makes on the preceding levels below it. In this way, he is able to trace the appearance of material forms, apparently inconscient, but secretly holding within it the involved consciousness that can be seen when we examine the incredibly complex, organised structure of Matter itself. Out of material forms, we see the emergence at some point of Life-Forms, which take up and utilize the material basis, but change it sufficiently allow the energies of Life to manifest. This brings about the appearance of plants, and later animals.

“To each grade in this series achieved by the evolving Consciousness belongs its appropriate class of existences,–one by one there appear material forms and forces, vegetable life, animals and half-animal man, developed human beings, imperfectly evolved or more evolved spiritual beings: but because of the continuity of the evolutionary process there is no rigid separation between them; each new advance or formation takes up what was before. The animal takes up into himself living and inanimate Matter; man takes up both along with the animal existence. There are furrows left by the transitional process or separating demarcations settled by the fixed habit of Nature: but these distinguish one series from another, serve perhaps to prevent a fall back of what has been evolved, they do not cancel or cut the continuity of the evolution. The evolving Consciousness passes from one grade to another or from one series of steps to another either by an imperceptible process or by some bound or crisis or, perhaps, by an intervention from above,–some descent or ensouling or influence from higher planes of Nature. But, by whatever means, the Consciousness secretly indwelling in Matter, the occult Inhabitant, is able thus to make its way upward from the lower to the higher gradations, taking up what it was into what it is and preparing to take up both into what it will be.”

We shall continue this discussion in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

Action of the Force of Evolution Within the Limitations of Matter

Sri Aurobindo helps us to understand the reasons for the slow, difficult and sometimes retrograde-seeming action of the evolving force of consciousness in its attempt to manifest in the material universe. “For it proceeds by an awakening of the involved consciousness and force and its ascent from principle to principle, from grade to grade, from power to power of the secret Spirit, but this is not a free transference to a higher status. The law of action, the force of action of each grade or power in its emergence is determined, not by its own free, full and pure law of nature or vim of energy, but partly by the material organisation provided for it and partly by its own status, achieved degree, accomplished fact of consciousness which it has been able to impose upon Matter. Its effectivity is in some sort made up of a balance between the actual extent of this evolutionary emergence and the countervailing extent to which the emergent power is still enveloped, penetrated, diminished by the domination and continuing grip of the Inconscience. Mind as we see it is not mind pure and free, but mind clouded and diminished by an enveloping nescience, mind labouring and struggling to deliver knowledge out of that nescience. All depends upon the more or less involved or more or less evolved condition of consciousness,– quite involved in inconscient matter, hesitating on the verge between involution and conscious evolution in the first or non-animal forms of life in matter, consciously evolving but greatly limited and hampered in mind housed in a living body, destined to be fully evolved by the awakening of the Supermind in the embodied mental being and nature.”

The limitations imposed by Matter, and then by the Life-Energy in Matter, determine for a long time the speed and intensity of the manifestation of Mind and the powers beyond Mind in their effort to uplift, transform and illumine the material world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

The Consciousness and Energy More Essential Than Material Energy

While we have a basis in the material substance as a starting point for the evolution, Sri Aurobindo points out that a material Inconscience cannot, based on its inherent nature, evolve consciousness; therefore, there must be an energy and consciousness that is primary and which precedes the development of material Nature. That energy and consciousness must involve itself in the substance of Matter; otherwise it could not evolve out of something totally “other” than itself.

“There must be, therefore, since Mind and Life also are not taht, a secret Consciousness greater than Life-Consciousness or Mind-Consciousness, an Energy more essential than the material Energy. Since it is greater than Mind, it must be a supramental Consciousness-Force; since it is a power of essential substance other than Matter, it must be the power of that which is the supreme essence and substance of all things, a power of the Spirit.”

While the powers of Mind and Life have their own action on Matter, and act to modify and transform it, these powers are limited and incomplete in their action. “If there is to be an entire transformation, it can only be by the full emergence of the law of the Spirit; its power of Supermind or gnosis must have entered into Matter and it must evolve in Matter. It must change the mental into the supramental being, make the inconscient in us conscious, spiritualise our material substance, erect its law of gnostic consciousness in our whole evolutionary being and nature. This must be the culminating emergence or, at least, that stage in the emergence which first decisively changes the nature of the evolution by transforming its action of Ignorance and its basis of Inconscience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

Limitations Imposed by Material Nature on the Evolutionary Action

Sri Aurobindo is seeking the leverage that will allow the transformation of earthly life into a divine life. He starts by analyzing the principles of the evolutionary forces we see at work and their ability to carry out this transformative action. Since life on earth begins in the apparent Inconscience of Matter, he starts his review by looking at Matter as the foundation and how it impacts the manifestation of Life and Mind as the succeeding principles to evolve.

“Here the evolution takes place in a material universe; the foundation, the original substance, the first established all-conditioning status of things is Matter. Mind and Life are evolved in Matter, but they are limited and modified in their action by the obligation to use its substance for their instrumentation and by their subjection to the law of material Nature even while they modify what they undergo and use. For they do transform its substance, first into living substance and then into conscious substance; they succeed in changing its inertia, immobility and inconscience into a movement of consciousness, feeling and life. But they do not succeed in transforming it altogether; they cannot make it altogether alive or altogether conscious: life-nature evolving is bound to death; mind evolving is materialised as well as vitalised; it finds itself rooted in inconscience, limited by ignorance; it is moved by uncontrolled life-forces which drive and use it, it is mechanised by the physical forces on which it has to depend for its own self-expression. This is a sign that neither Mind nor Life is the original creative Power; they, like Matter, are intermediaries, successive and seried instruments of the evolutionary process. If a material energy is not that original Power, then we must seek for it in something above Mind or Life; there must be a deeper occult Reality which has yet to disclose itself in Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

The Evolutionary Process

Sri Aurobindo describes the evolutionary process from two possible lines of development. Nothing can evolve out of a substance of being that is either not already involved within that substance; or else, is something external that nevertheless is admitted into the substance that is evolving. In the first instance, the involved power systematically begins to manifest itself and to the extent that it embodies a different set of powers or principles of action, it begins to modify the underlying substrate to accomodate its action. In the second instance, the substrate must be capable of accepting a new principle or form of action and in so doing, it must be modified from its original standpoint to be able to incorporate this action and give it a foundation for development. A third option of course is that the power is involved within the substance to begin with, and as it begins to evolve and develop, the native power of that principle which resides externally aids the action and together the involved force and the external force work together to transform the substance to accomodate the new principle more quickly and effectively.

At the same time, the new principle of action, unless it is a direct manifestation of the supreme principle of existence, will be limited and modified to work within the framework of the substance within which it is finding its new basis of action.

“It is not likely that it will be able to bring about an entire transformation if it is not itself the original Principle of Existence, if it is only derivative, an instrumental power and not the first puissance.”

We see then an interaction of various principles and powers of manifestation that impinge upon and affect one another to the extent that when they manifest together none of them can actually manifest in its purest, most powerful form; there is, rather, a mixed working that limits and shapes the actual result.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

Stages in the Evolutionary Progression from Ignorance to Knowledge

Sri Aurobindo describes the stages of this evolutionary development: “The end of this triple process must be a radical change of the action of the Ignorance into an action of Knowledge, of our basis of inconscience into a basis of complete consciousness, — a completeness which exists at present only in what is to us the superconscience.” As a reminder, the three stages were described in the prior post, namely an evolution of ever more complex and subtle forms of Matter, an upward evolutionary ascent of consciousness, and an integration of what has previously been evolved into the new higher level of manifestation.

“Each ascent will bring with it a partial change and modification of the old nature taken up and subjected to a new fundamental principle; the inconscience will be turned into a partial consciousness, an ignorance seeking for more and more knowledge and mastery: but at some point there must be an ascent which substitutes the principle of knowledge, of a fundamental true consciousness, the consciousness of the Spirit, for the inconscience and ignorance.”

The increasing complexity & power of the evolving consciousness, starting from the basis of the Inconscience of Matter, has a long way to go during which the result is imperfect, ignorant, seeking and limited. At some point however, the consciousness widens and ascends sufficiently to be grounded in knowledge rather than ignorance, and from that point forward the ascent goes “from light to greater light” as the Upanishads describe.

“A first involutionary foundation in which originates all that has to evolve, an emergence and action of the involved powers in or upon that foundation in an ascending series, and a culminating emergence of the highest power of all as the agent of a supreme manifestation are the necessary stages of the journey of evolutionary Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration