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