Levels of Consciousness Explain the Levels of Manifested Existence

Sri Aurobindo has provided us here a key which can successfully explain the obvious differences both in material form and in consciousness that we see in the progressions discussed in the prior posts. “For if we look, not at the scientific or physical aspects, but at the psychological side of the question and inquire in what precisely the difference lies, we shall see that it consists in the rise of consciousness to another principle of being.”

The metal is clearly a manifestation of the inanimate principle of Matter, despite its responsiveness to stimuli that could represent the first stirrings of what we will call Life. We can agree that despite its increased responsiveness, however, it is still a manifestation of “inanimate Matter” rather than a full-fledged representation of Life.

Similarly, when we come to the plant, we recognize a qualitative difference from inanimate Matter and we therefore identify the Life principle at work in the plant kingdom. The entire plant kingdom manifests the consciousness of Life, built on the basis of Matter. Once again, there are in the Plant Kingdom various responses that could be seen as the initial stirrings of Mind, in the form of liking and disliking, attraction and repulsion, and a submental response to specific types of stimuli. But at no time do we see the characteristic “signature” of the Mind at work.

The Animal Kingdom also clearly represents the first action of what we may truly call Mind. Here again we see the earlier grades represented as the basis of the next level of psychological development. The sense-mind of the animal shows a qualitative difference to the action seen in Matter and the Plant Kingdom, while it still takes up and bases its action on Matter and Life.

The human being shares with the animal the basic rudimentary actions of Mind, but once again we can see the qualitative difference of the intellect at work, still based, as before, on the basis of Matter, Life and Sense-Mind, taking up the preceding evolutionary principles and building on them the next grade of complexity and power of action.

“In other words, in each of these forms of existence the universal being has fixed its action of consciousness in a different principle or, as between man and animal, in the modification of a lower by a higher though still not a highest-grade principle. It is this stride from one principle of being to another quite different principle of being that creates the transitions, the furrows, the sharp lines of distance, and makes, not all the difference, but still a radical characteristic difference between being and being in their nature.”

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