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

Principles of the Evolutionary Process

In this next chapter, Sri Aurobindo takes up the actual process by which the evolution of consciousness takes place in the manifestation. In the chapter head he cites an interesting quotation from the Yajur Veda: “I have arisen from earth to the mid-world, I have arisen from the mid-world to heaven, from the level of the firmament of heaven I have gone to the Sun-world, the Light.”

Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo has described the symbolic language used by the Vedic Seers to describe psychological states and movements of consciousness. It is quite clear from the passage here noted that we are looking at a description of the evolution of consciousness from the level of Matter, to Life, to Mind and eventually to the Supramental Levels, previously outlined by Sri Aurobindo as the steps of the evolution of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo has outlined this very succinctly in this chapter: “At the outset, we can easily see that, since this is an evolution out of a material Inconscience into spiritual consciousness, an evolutionary self-building of Spirit on a base of Matter, there must be in the process a development of a triple character. An evolution of forms of Matter more and more subtly and intricately organised so as to admit the action of a growing, a more and more complex and subtle and capable organisation of consciousness is the indispensable physical foundation. An upward evolutionary progress of the consciousness itself from grade to higher grade, an ascent, is the evident spiral line or emerging curve that, on this foundation, the evolution must describe. A taking up of what has already been evolved into each higher grade as it is reached and a transformation more or less complete so as to admit of a total changed working of the whole being and nature, an integration, must be also part of the process, if the evolution is to be effective.”

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

A Divine Consciousness and a Divine Life

At this point, Sri Aurobindo brings together the various threads of human aspiration and seeking, the seeking for the Absolute, Transcendent God; the seeking for the highest manifestation of cosmic Nature, and the seeking for the perfection of the individual Soul in existence.

God is conceived of as the Absolute, the Lord and Creator, the timeless Self. At the same time, God also manifests as the embodied Spirit in Nature. The seeking after God, the Transcendent, leads us to the Absolute, beyond time, space and circumstance. The pursuit of the truth of Nature brings us to the realisation that all manifested energy in the cosmos is the self-effectuated energy of God. This is the point where the seekers after the Absolute, and the seekers after the truth of the manifestation can find their unity, in the recognition that both the Transcendent and the Manifest are the same Absolute. “this truth of the Absolute is the justification of the cycles of the world; it is not their denial. It is the Self-Being that has become all these becomings; the Self is the eternal unity of all these existences,–I am He. Cosmic energy is not other than the conscious force of that Self-existent: by that energy it takes through universal nature innumerable forms of itself; through its divine nature it can, embracing the universal but transcendent of it, arrive in them at the individual possession of its complete existence, when its presence and power are felt in one, in all and in the relations of one with all;–this is the truth of being to which man’s entire knowledge of himself in God and in Nature rises and widens. A triune knowledge, the complete knowledge of God, the complete knowledge of himself, the complete knowledge of Nature, gives him his high goal; it assigns a vast and full sense to the labour and effort of humanity. The conscious unity of the three, God, Soul and Nature, in his own consciousness is the sure foundation of his perfection and his realisation of all harmonies: this will be his highest and widest state, his status of a divine consciousness and a divine life and its initiation the starting-point for his entire evolution of his self-knowledge, world-knowledge, God-knowledge.”

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

All Religions & Philosophies Point to the Universal Truth of Oneness

Sri Aurobindo finds that regardless of the religion, creed, philosophy or standpoint that we start from, there is nevertheless a unity which supports and stands behind all their diverse views, methods & modes of understanding.

“A unity behind diversity and discord is the secret of the variety of human religions and philosophies; for they all get at some image or some side clue, touch some portion of the one Truth or envisage some one of its myriad aspects. Whether they see dimly the material world as the body of the Divine, or life as a great pulsation of the breath of Divine Existence, or all things as thoughts of the cosmic Mind, or realise that there is a Spirit which is greater than these things, their subtler and yet more wonderful source and creator,–whether they find God only in the Inconscient or as the one Conscious in inconscient things or as an ineffable superconscious Existence to reach whom we must leave behind our terrestrial being and annul the mind, life and body, or, overcoming division, see that He is all these at once and accept fearlessly the large consequences of that vision,–whether they worship Him with universality as the cosmic Being or limit Him and themselves, like the Positivist, in humanity only or, on the contrary, carried away by the vision of the timeless and spaceless Immutable, reject Him in Nature and Cosmos,–whether they adore Him in various strange or beautiful or magnified forms of the human ego or for His perfect possession of the qualities to which man aspires, his Divinity revealed to them as a supreme Power, Love, Beauty, Truth, Righteousness, Wisdom,–whether they perceive Him as the Lord of Nature, Father and Creator, or as Nature herself and the universal Mother, pursue Him as the Lover and attracter of souls or serve Him as the hidden Master of all works, bow down before the one God or the manifold Deity, the one divine Man or the one Divine in all men or, more largely, discover the One whose persence enables us to become unified in consciousness or in works or in life with all beings, unified with all things in Time and Space, unified with Nature and her influences and even her inanimate forces,–the truth behind must ever be the same because all is the one Divine Infinite whom all are seeking.”

“All religions are seen as approaches to a single Truth, all philosophies as divergent viewpoints looking at different sides of a single Reality, all Sciences meet together in a supreme Science. For that which all our mind-knowledge and sense-knowledge and suprasensuous vision is seeking, is found most integrally in the unity of God and man and Nature and all that is in Nature.”

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

The Greatest Quest: Seeking for God

Sri Aurobindo provides us with incredible insight to the history of the quest for God, starting from its earliest intimations and intuitions, where the mystery and wonder of Nature were understood to be the expression of God, and where man strove to contact God and influence the relationship with God; through the systematic seeking we call science, through religious and philosophical methods, and concluding in the all-embracing Unity that sees the individual Soul, Nature and God as One.

“The quest of man for God, which becomes in the end the most ardent and enthralling of all his quests, begins with his first vague questionings of Nature and a sense of something unseen both in himself and her. Eve if, as modern Science insists, religion started from animism, spirit-worship, demon-worship, and the deification of natural forces, these first forms only embody in primitive figures a veiled intuition in the subconscient, an obscure and ignorant feeling of hidden influences and incalculable forces, or a vague sense of being, will, intelligence in what seems to us inconscient, of the invisible behind the visible, of the secretly conscious spirit in things distributing itself in every working of energy. The obscurity and primitive inadequacy of the first perceptions do not detract from the value or the truth of this great quest of the human heart and mind, since all our seekings,–including Science itself,–must start from an obscure and ignorant perception of hidden realities and proceed to the more and more luminous vision of the Truth which at first comes to us masked, draped, veiled by the mists of the Ignorance.”

In the end, all the seekings for God, the most sophisticated and the most primitive alike, contain a recognition that “his being and the Being are one, that this is a partial reflection of That, and that to find his greater Self everywhere is to find God and to come near to the Reality in things, the Reality of all existence.”

It is in this unity of God, Nature and Man that we can find the solution and goal of our seeking, and at that moment we see God in Nature, God in the human Soul, and everything unified in one embracing all-Reality.

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