Heightening the Force of Consciousness is the Trend of Evolution

“All evolution is in essence a heightening of the force of consciousness in the manifest being so that it may be raised into the greater intensity of what is still unmanifest, from matter into life, from life into mind, from the mind into the spirit. It is this that must be the method of our growth from a mental into a spiritual and supramental manifestation, out of a still half-animal humanity into a divine being and a divine living. There must be achieved a new spiritual height, wideness, depth, subtlety, intensity of our consciousness, of its substance, its force, its sensibility, an elevation, expansion, plasticity, integral capacity of our being, and an assumption of mind and all that is below mind into that larger existence.”

Thus Sri Aurobindo succinctly defines the consistent thread that runs through the increasing complexity and intensity of evolved beings in the manifested world. This evolutionary process takes place secretly and silently throughout all of Nature, and seems to provide the meaning and purpose of the natural evolution. Nature not only seeks to achieve perfection within the scope of each plane of existence, but to continually exceed itself and develop the next intensity beyond.

“To heighten the force of consciousness until it passes from a mental, vital and physical instrumentation into the essence and power of the spirit is the indispensable thing, but that is not the sole object or all the thing to be done.” The first focus of Nature is to achieve the next capacity of consciousness, but then it is necessary to integrate it with the preceding stages and embed it as a fixed capacity within the framework of the preceding evolution.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 19, “Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance towards the Sevenfold Knowledge.”

Vedic Seers Describe the Sevenfold Ignorance and the Sevenfold Knowledge

As we take up the next chapter in the Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo cites, in the headnotes, some revealing passages from the Rig Veda and the Upanishads to indicate the 7 types of Ignorance that needs to be overcome, and to point out the 7 forms of Knowledge required to achieve realisation. Before we begin the actual review of the chapter, therefore, it is useful to look at what the seers and sages of the Vedic scriptures had to say on this subject.

“Seven steps has the ground of the Ignorance, seven steps has the ground of the Knowledge.” (Mahopanishad, V.1.). Earlier in the Life Divine Sri Aurobindo described the seven forms of Ignorance. It is clear that the insightful, intuitive Vedantic sages had already discovered and codified this information in their cryptic utterances.

“The Master of Wisdom in his first coming to brith in the supreme ether of the great Light,–many his births, seven his mouths of the Word, seven his Rays,–scatters the darkness with his cry.” (Rig Veda, IV. 50. 4) In the Rig Veda, which utilized symbolic language to describe psychological states and the inner workings of Consciousness, we see a clear reference to the seven forms of Knowledge required to bring Light to the being.

We can see in the next passage an even clearer symbolic description of the levels of consciousness and the evolutionary path as described by Sri Aurobindo: “He found the vast Thought with seven heads that is born of the Truth; he created some fourth world and became universal….The Sons of Heaven, the Heroes of the Omnipotent, thinking the straight thought, giving voice to the Truth, founded the plane of illumination and conceived the first abode of the Sacrifice….The Master of Wisdom cast down the stone defences and called to the Herds of Light,…the Herds that stand in the secrecy on the bridge over the Falsehood between two worlds below and one above; desiring Light in the darkness, he brought upward the Ray-Herds and uncovered from the veil the three worlds; he shattered the city that lies hidden in ambush, and cut the three out of the Ocean, and discovered the Dawn and the Sun ahd the Light and the World of Light.”

Sri Aurobindo unravels the symbolic meanings of these statements in The Secret of the Veda, as well as step by step in the new chapter….

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 19, “Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance towards the Sevenfold Knowledge.”

Transforming the Foundation of Consciousness from Matter to Spirit

Sri Aurobindo has systematically followed the evolution of consciousness from the foundation in Matter, through the development of Life, and eventually the manifestation of Mind. The further development of consciousness involves the action of the Spiritual levels beyond mind. Sri Aurobindo points out that this further evolution does not only represent a progression upon the original foundation, but actually represents a reversal or turning-point whereby the foundation of the evolutionary action moves to the spiritual level and impacts the lower levels from there. This reminds us of the image from the Upanishads of the universal Ashwattha Tree with its roots above and branches and leaves down below. It seems that once we move beyond the action of Body-Life-Mind as the controlling forces of the evolutionary movement, the entire process is transformed and thenceforward directed from the spiritual planes. “The principle of the process of evolution is a foundation, from that foundation an ascent, in that ascent a reversal of consciousness and, from the greater height and wideness gained, an action of change and new integration of the whole nature. The first foundation is Matter; the ascent is that of Nature; the integration is an at first unconscious or half-conscious automatic change of Nature by Nature. But as soon as a more completely conscious participation of the being has begun in these workings of Nature, a change in the functioning of the process is inevitable.”

“The whole concentration of the being will be shifted from below upwards and from without inwards; our higher and inner being now unknown to us will become ourselves, and the outer or surface being which we now take for ourselves will be only an open front or an annexe through which the true being meets the universe. The outer world itself will become inward to the spiritual awareness, a part of itself, intimately embraced in a knowledge and feeling of unity and identity, penetrated by an intuitive regard of the mind, responded to by the direct contact of consciousness with consciousness, taken into an achieved integrality. The old inconscient foundation itself will be made conscious in us by the inflow of light and awareness from above and its depths annexed to the heights of the spirit. An integral consciousness will become the basis of an entire harmonisation of life through the total transformation, unification, integration of the being and the nature.”

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

Spiritual Progress Requires Overcoming the Inertia of the Physical World

Developing the new spiritual standpoint for humanity which Sri Aurobindo has been describing is made somewhat more difficult and slower because of the physical platform which continues to influence and hold back the flight of the Spirit. “But the human race is still weighted by a certain gravitation towards the physical, it obeys still the pull of our yet unconquered earth-matter; it is dominated by the brain-mind, the physical intelligence: thus held back by many ties, it hesitates before the indication or falls back before the too tense demand of the spiritual effort.” This not only results in indolence, and hesitation, but also scepticism and unwillingness to change even in the face of evidence. This results in the few progressing forward while the majority hold back and cling to their material basis. “But that is not enough if the step forward is to be for humanity; for it is only if the race advances that, for it, the victories of the Spirit can be secure.” Slowly however, as new capacities and insights take hold within the broader mass of humanity, they become inherent capabilities that, even if suppressed in some retrograde cycle, remain active in the subconscient Mind of Humanity, and are ready to provide the foundation for the next effort when the cycle turns once again toward progress. “It is not indeed necessary or possible that the whole race should transform itself from mental into spiritual beings, but a general admission of the ideal, a widespread endeavor, a conscious concentration are needed to carry the stream of tendency to its definitive achievement. Otherwise what will be ultimate accomplished is an achievement by the few initiating a new order of beings, while humanity will have passed sentence of unfitness on itself and may fall back into an evolutionary decline or a stationary immobility; for it is the constant upward effort that has kept humanity alive and maintained for it its place in the front of creation.”

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

Progress of the Occult Self-Unfolding Spirit

Sri Aurobindo, having identified the limitations for growth and development of the Mental Being in a physical body, explores next what can be done to achieve transformational evolutionary growth beyond those limitations. “it is evident that if we can live thus deeper within and put out steadily the inner forces into the outer instrumentation or raise ourselves to dwell on higher and wider levels and bring their powers to bear on physical existence, not merely receive influences descending from them, which is all we can now do, there could begin a heightening of our force of conscious being so as to create a new principle of consciousness, a new range of activities, new values for all things, a widening of our consciousness and life, a taking up and transformation of the lower grades of our existence,–in brief, the whole evolutionary process by which the Spirit in Nature creates a higher type of being.”

This presents us with a process for self-exceeding of the Mental Being and the development of the Spiritual Being in life: “Each step could mean a pace, however distant from the goal, or a close approach leading to a larger and more divine being, a larger and more divine force and consciousness, knowledge and will, sense of existence and delight in existence; there could be an initial unfolding towards the divine life. All religion, all occult knowledge, all supernormal )as opposed to abnormal) psychological experience, all Yoga, all psychic experience and discipline are signposts and directions pointing us upon that road of progress of the occult self-unfolding spirit.”

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

The Spiritual Change of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes the next evolutionary phase from the preceding ones by pointing out that while the evolution of Mind and Life out of Matter, and even the development of the higher planes of Mind within humanity, took place within the framework of our surface being and its capabilities, the spiritual evolution, the next stage of development, if you will, must now move beyond an expansion of the capabilities of the mental being, and move toward a unification of our surface being with our inner being, and our inner being with the higher spiritual planes of consciousness. “but this evolution differs from the past process of the evolutionary Energy in two respects: it is conducted by a conscious effort of the human mind, and it is not confined to a conscious progression of the surface nature, but is accompanied by an attempt to break the walls of the Ignorance and extend ourselves inward into the secret principle of our present being and outward into cosmic being as well as upward towards a higher principle. Up till now what Nature had achieved was an enlarging of the bounds of our surface Knowledge-Ignorance; what it attempted in the spiritual endeavor is to abolish the Ignorance, to go inwards and discover the soul and to become united in consciousness with God and with all existence. This is the final aim of the mental stage of evolutionary Nature in man; it is the initial step towards a radical transmutation of the Ignorance into the Knowledge. The spiritual change begins by an influence of the inner being and the higher spiritual mind, an action felt and accepted on the surface; but this by itself can lead only to an illumined mental idealism or to the growth of a religious mind, a religious temperament and some devotion in the heart and piety in the conduct; it is a first approach of mind to spirit, but it cannot make a radical change: more has to be done, we have to live deeper within, we have to exceed our present consciousness and surpass our present status of Nature.”

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

Transformation of Life Through the Spiritual Change of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo indicates that the expansion, development and extension of the 3 current foundational principles of manifestation, Matter, Life and Mind, have their limits; and it is within these limits that the evolutionary development we have been reviewing needs to take place. To go beyond this, to a basis that exceeds the peak of mental man’s capabilities, another principle of manifestation must come forth as the earlier ones came forth on the preceding basis. Sri Aurobindo describes this as the spiritual transformation. “…for so long as we live in the surface being or found ourselves wholly on Matter, it is impossible to go higher and vain to expect that there can be any new transition of a radical character in our evolutionary being. The vital man, the mental man have had an immense effect upon the earth-life, they have carried humanity forward from the mere human animal to what it is now. But it is only within the bounds of the already established evolutionary formula of the human being that they can act; they can enlarge the human circle but not change or transform the principle of consciousness or its characteristic operation. Any attempt to heighen inordinately the mental or exaggerate inordinately the vital man,–a Nietzschean supermanhood, for example,–can only colossalise the human creature, it cannot transform or divinise him. A different possibility opens if we can live within in the inner being and make it the direct ruler of life or station ourselves on the spiritual and intuitive planes of being and from there and by their power transmute our nature.”

More on this subject in the next post!
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

The Evolution of the Spiritual Man

The current established basis of the evolutionary action in humanity takes us to the development of the highly developed mentality as discussed in the prior post. Sri Aurobindo points out that in order to go beyond this stage we need to see the development of the next evolutionary principle and its emergence. “For the mental man has not been Nature’s last effort or highest reach,–though he has been, in general, more fully evolved in his own nature than those who have achieved themselves below or aspired above him; she has pointed man to a yet higher and more difficult level, inspired him with the ideal of a spiritual living, begun the evolution in him of a spiritual being. The spiritual man is her supreme supernormal effort of human creation; for, having evolved the mental creator, thinker, sage, prophet of an ideal, the self-controlled, self-disciplined, harmonised mental being, she has tried to go higher and deeper within and call out into the front the soul and inner mind and heart, call down from above the forces of the spiritual mind and higher mind and overmind and create under their light and by their influence the spiritual sage, seer, prophet, God-lover, Yogin, gnostic, Sufi, mystic.”

This is possible because “In ourselves, behind our surface natural being, there is a soul, an inner mind, an inner life-part which can open to these heights as well as to the occult spirit within us, and this double opening is the secret of a new evolution; by that breaking of lids and walls and boundaries the consciousness rises to a greater ascent and a larger integration which, as the evolution of mind has mentalised, so will by this new evolution spiritualise all the powers of our nature.”

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

The Thinking Mind of Pure Intelligence

The development of the powers of the mental plane can continue within humanity, and Sri Aurobindo next clarifies the type of the pure thinking man, “the mental man, the man of a self-dominating and self-formative mind and will conscious of an ideal and turned towards its realisation, the high intellect, the thinker, the sage, less kinetic and immediately effective than the vital man, who is the man of action and outer swift life-fulfilment, but as powerful and eventually even more powerful to open new vistas to the race, is the normal summit of Nature’s evolutionary formation on the human plane.”

The pure mentality has access to an inner or subliminal mind “which senses directly all the things of the mind-plane, is open to the action of a world of mental forces, and can feel the ideative and other imponderable influences which act upon the material world and the life-plane but which at present we can only infer and cannot directly experience: these intangibles and imponderables are to the mental man real and patent and he regards them as truths demanding to be realised in our or the earth’s nature.”

The developed mental man, then can actually live in a world of ideation and mental forces. “to live in mind and the things of the mind, to be an intelligence rather than a life and a body, is our highest position, short of spirituality, in the degrees of Nature.”

It is interesting to note that while many who do not have this kind of mental development fully at work will try to discount the “reality” of this world of ideas and forces of will, there is a direct corrollary in the “invisible” action of mind and the “invisible” action of electricity on the material plane, or the transmission of emotions and feelings on the vital plane, both of which have now been documented and proven beyond doubt, and put into action in the world. Quantum physics is now recognizing the role of consciousness as the formative power of energy and matter, and the ability of consciousness to control and influence events and material substance. We thus see an approach from the side of science, to the type of recognition that Sri Aurobindo here explains.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration

Evolution of Mental Capacities Beyond the Vital-Mind

Sri Aurobindo next describes the development of what we might consider to be the true mind of thought, the “signature” state of the evolution of the Mind-Plane in Life and Matter. We move to a more rarified sphere where the primary focus of the Mind is on its own native activities, not fixated, as we have seen with the physical mind and the vital mind, on the world of Matter and Life.

“Above this level of vital mentality and yet more inly extended, is a mind-plane of pure thought and intelligence to which the things of the mental world are the most important realities; those who are under its influence, the philosopher, thinker, scientist, intellectual creator, the man of the idea, the man of the written or spoken word, the idealist and dreamer are the present mental being at his highest attained summit. This mental man has his life-part, his life of passions and desires and ambitions and life-hopes of all kinds and his lower sensational and physical existence, and this lower part can often equibalance or weigh down his nobler mental element so that, although it is the highest portion of him, it does not become dominant and formative in his whole nature: but this is not typical of him in his greatest development, for there the vital and physical are controlled and subjected by the thinking will and intelligence. The mental man cannot transform his nature, but he can control and harmonise it and lay on it the law of a mental ideal, impose a balance or a sublimating and refining influence, and give a high consistency to the multipersonal confusion and conflict or the summary patchwork of our divided and half-constructed being. He can be the observer and governor of his own mind and life, can consciously develop them and become to that extent a self-creator.”

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