Are We Trapped In a Subjective World Devoid of Objective Reality?

Sri Aurobindo addresses the question that arises from time to time, and which has provided the underpinning for the illusionist theories of existence; namely, that everything is actually a creation of subjective consciousness and that there is no real external objective reality. In this viewpoint, human consciousness creates the universe, and has created–and in some views, destroyed–God. “it is claimed even that God himself was created by man, was a myth of his consciousness, and has now been abolished by man! All these things then may be a sort of myth of the developing consciousness in which it is able to dwell, a captive in its own buildings, and by a kind of realising dynamisation maintain itself in its own imaginations. But pure imaginations they are not, they can only be so treated by us so long as the things they represent, however incorrectly, are not part of our own experience.”

“But if that were so, if a subjective consciousness can thus create worlds and beings, it might well be that the objective world also is a myth of Consciousness or even of our consciousness, or that Consciousness itself is a myth of the original Nescience. Thus, on this line of thinking, we swing back towards a view of the universe in which all things assume a certain hue of unreality except the all-productive Inconscience out of which they are created, the Ignorance whcih creates them and, it may be, a superconscient or inconscient impersonal Being into whose indifference all finally disappears or goes back and ceases there.”

The underlying fallacy of this “subjective reality” viewpoint of course is that it does not answer the question of where the human consciousness derives from and the basis upon which it comes to exist and thereafter “create” its seemingly objective world, nor provide any meaning or purpose to existence. Having previously explored these viewpoints at length in the review of the “refusal of the ascetic” we need only point out that it is always possible for the human mind to trap itself in a “loop” of thought that is apparently self-contained and self-perpetuating. This does not mean that such a viewpoint in fact reflects the ultimate Reality of the manifested Universe or the Consciousness that permeates, creates, sustains and encompasses it. We simply see here the limits of human thought when confronting the ultimate questions of creation, existence and meaning.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds


Understanding the Occult Influences That Interact With Humanity

Another order of communication, contact and inter-relation can take place with influences that while originating in this world basic on the phyiscal manifestation and evolution of life and mind upon that framework, are nevertheless now subtilised and reside and act elsewhere than purely in the physical world. “There may also be an awareness of influences, presences, beings that do not seem to belong to other worlds beyond us but are here as a hidden element behind the veil in terrestrial nature. As conatct with the supraphysical is possible, a contact can also take place subjective or objective,–or at least objectivised,–between our own consciousness and the consciousness of other once embodied beings who have passed into a supraphysical status in these other regions of existence. It is possible also to pass beyond a subjective contact or a subtle-sense perception and, in certain subliminal states of consciousness, to enter actually into other worlds and know something of their secrets.”

While this type of experience has taken place and been described in remarkably similar terms all around the world throughout human history, it is true that the physical mind has a tendency to try to turn this into some kind of formulation that fits within the limited framework possible for the physical mind; and thus, it takes on popularised but distorted imagery that tends to reduce credible acceptance by those who can see the distortions, but who do not yet have the capacity or willingness to sort through and find the kernals of truth hidden within these sometimes grotesque images.

It is easy therefore for the mind of science to try to dismiss this type of experience out of hand as something illusory or hallucinatory, or to categorise it as “superstition” and thereby dismiss it from thought. However, Sri Aurobindo points out that “It is not possible for anyone who has had these contacts with any intimacy and not only by scattered abnormal accidents, to put them aside as mere superstition or hallucination; for they are too insistent, real, effective, organic in their pressure, too constantly confirmed by their action and results to be so flung aside: an appreciation, an interpretation, a mental organisation of this side of our capacity of experience is indispensable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

Influence and Possession By Supraphysical Entities

Having acknowledged the existence of beings and forces in worlds that are organised separately and on a different basis than the physical world, and the possibility of these forces to interact with and influence life and actions on earth, it becomes clear that the question of possible positive and negative influence even up to the possibility of possession comes into view.

Sri Aurobindo discusses some of these possibilities: “It is possible to receive help or guidance or harm or misguidance from these beings; it is possible even to become subject to their influence, to be possessed by their invasion or dominatin, to be instrumentalised by them for their good or evil purpose. At times the progress of earthly life seems to be a vast field of battle between supraphysical Forces of either character, those that strive to uplift, encourage and illumine and those that strive to deflect, depress or prevent or even shatter our upward evolution or the soul’s self-expression in the material universe. Some of these Beings, Powers or Forces are such that we think of them as divine; they are luminous, benignant or powerfully helpful: there are others that are Titanic, gigantic or demoniac, inordinate Influences, instigators or creators often of vast and formidable inner upheavals or of actions that overpass the normal human measure.”

In the Iliad, Homer describes the war between the Greeks and the Trojans in terms of just such a cosmic battle, with various Gods lining up on either side, influencing decisions and actions and in some cases, actively participating in the battle, giving the advantage to the side on which the God was active at that moment. While the sceptical mind of today’s materialistic world dismisses these descriptions as mythology, and thereby denies any substantive reality to them, it becomes clear that at times when major cataclysmic changes take place in human development and society, sensitive individuals can and do perceive the action of influences and forces beyond the normal human action at work. Certainly the forces unleashed through Hitler appear to have been an instance of possession by some demoniac force.

As we become more attuned and sensitive to the play of forces around us, and less involved in our human egoistic self-centered view of the universe, it becomes possible to trace the action of these forces and to begin to actively accept or reject them when they provide their influence in our lives.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

Expanding our Understanding of Supraphysical Worlds

The subjective experiences Sri Aurobindo has been describing are not the only way we have of coming into contact with the supraphysical worlds of Life and Mind, and potentially other ranges of consciousness beyond Mind. “…there is also an opening of our mind and life parts to a great range of subjective-objective experiences in which these planes prsent themselves no longer as extensinos of subjective being and consciousness, but as worlds; for the experiences there are organised as they are in our own world, but on a different plan, with a different process and law of action and in a substance which belongs to a supraphysical Nature. This organisation includes, as on our earth, the existence of beings who hae or take forms, manifest themselves or are naturally manifested in an embodying substance, but a substance other than ours, a subtle substance tangible only to subtle sense, a supraphysical form-matter. These worlds and beings may have nothing to do with ourselves and our life, they may exercise no action upon us; but often also they enter into secret communicatino with earth-existence, obey or embody and are the intermediaries and instruments of the cosmic powers and influences of which we have a subjective experience, or themselves act by their own initiation upon the terrestrial world’s life and motives and happenings.”

It is interesting to note that all around the world, throughout human experience, we have stories or histories related of interaction between humans and other-worldly beings, whether they are called angels or demonic forces, or fairies, familiars, ghosts, gods or demi-gods, sprites, leprechauns, etc. While we may try to dismiss much of this as some kind of fantasy or unreality, the fact that such experiences have recurred and been reported from all around the world may indicate an underlying reality that is simply beyond the ability of the physical mind to appreciate or understand. This does not mean that we should willy-nilly accept any report of some kind of supernatural or supra-physical contact, but we certainly cannot dismiss all of them out of hand either.

There is much more to this subject and we shall continue the review in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

The Influence of Supraphysical Realms on Our Human Existence

A careful examination of our own inner experience and a comparison with that of others as reported throughout the history of humanity, makes it clear that there are larger, more powerful supraphysical forces, originating in domains of Life and Mind, which influence our life-movements and mental formations, and thereby impact life in the physical world.

Sri Aurobindo describes their action thus: “There are two main orders of experience in our contact with them; one is purely subjective, though in its subjectivity sufficiently vivid and palpable, the other is more objective. In the subjective order, we find that what shapes itself to us as a life-intention, life-impulse, life-formulation here, already exists in a larger, more subtle, more plastic range of possibilities, and these pre-existent forces and formations are pressing upon us to realise themselves in the physical world also; but only a part succeeds in getting through and even that emerges partially in a form and circumstance more proper to the system of terrestrial law and sequence. This precipitation takes place, normally, without our knowledge; we are not aware of the action of these powers, forces and influences upon us, but take them as formations of our own life and mind, even when our reason or will repudiates them and strives not to be mastered: but when we go inwards away from the restricted surface consciousness and develop a subtler sense and deeper awareness, we begin to get an intimation of the origin of these movements and are able to watch their action and process, to accept or reject or modify, to allow them passage and use of our mind and will and our life and members or refuse it. In the same way we become aware of larger domains of mind, a play, experience, formation of a greate plasticity, a teeming profusion of all possible mental formulations, and we feel their contacts with us and their powers and influences acting upon our parts of mind in the same occult manner as those others that act upon our parts of life. This kind of experience is, primarily, of a purely subjective character, a pressure of ideas, suggestins, emotional formations, impulsions to sensation, action, dynamic experience. However large a part of this pressure may be traced to our own subliminal self or to the siege of universal Mind-forces or Life-forces belong to our own world, there is an element which bears the stamp of another origin, an insistent supraterrestrial character.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

Overcoming Errors of Perception & Interpretation in Physical & Supraphysical Experience

One of the objections that the physical mind throws up regarding supraphysical experience is that the human mind is prone to accept things at face value without properly evaluating their reliability and thus, we tend toward the miraculous and the improbable and mix up thereby, the truth that actually underpins the supraphysical experience.

In response it must be pointed out that the physical senses and mind are every bit as subject to error in their own realm, and thus, a similarly rigorous review is required in either case. We perceive, for instance, that the sun revolves around the earth, and for much of the history of the West, it was in fact an heretical idea to suggest otherwise, and subjected proponents of that “heresy” to excommunication, torture and the holy inquisition. At other times and conditions we can see a huge lake of water as we are crossing a desert, only to find out when we get there that it is just sand and sun creating an error of perception for the physical mind.

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear therefore that it is not the fact that error can occur that prevents us from accepting subliminal or supraphysical experience. He does stress that each realm or domain, however, must be interpreted and viewed based on the principles and methods of that domain. It is inappropriate and misleading therefore to have the physical mind interpret what is taking place in the realm of higher mind or in life worlds, for instance.

“All truth supraphysical or physical must be founded not on mental belief alone, but on experience,–but in each case experience must be of the kind, physical, subliminal or spiritual, which is appropriate to the order of the truths into which we are empowered to enter; their validity and significance must be scrutinised, but according to their own law and by a consciousness which can enter into them and not according to the law of another domain or by a consciousness which is capable only of truths of another order; so alone can we be sure of our steps and enlarge firmly our sphere of knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

The Physical Mind Cannot Judge the Reality of Supraphysical Phenomena

Sri Aurobindo takes exception to the claim of the physical mind, which is based on and rooted in the world of Matter, to determine the “reality” or “unreality” of phenomena that have their source or action in another plane or world. “It should be evident that this demand for physical valid proof of a supraphysical fact is irrational and illogical; it is an irrelevant attitude of the physical mind which assumes that only the objective and physical is fundamentally real and puts aside all else as merely subjective. A supraphysical fact may impinge on the physical world and produce physical results; it may even produce an effect on our physical senses and become manifest to them, but that cannot be its invariable action and most normal character or process. Ordinarily, it must produce a direct effect or a tangible impression on our mind and our life-being, which are the parts of us that are of the same order as itself, and can only indirectly and through them, if at all, influence the physical world and physical life.”

Psychic phenomena may manifest in the material world, but more often the experiences brought about through the action of supraphysical forces and powers act on the planes of life and mind, appear in the form of dreams or visions or some kind of feeling. People frequently have such intimations and either unconsciously process them without knowing their source, or try to discount them when they do not provide some kind of physical proof to the physical mind. Putting aside some of the more extreme manifestations, we certainly can relate to things like the experience of a loved one dying in another part of the world and without any material facts, the related party knowing, at the exact time of occurrence, that the other person has died. There are numerous instances of such phenomena which clearly cannot be linked to the physical mind’s demand for physical proofs, but which nevertheless have to be understood and explained.

“There can, then, be various kinds of evidence of the existence of other planes of being and communication with them; objectivisation to the outer sense, subtle-sense contacts, mind contacts, life contacts, contacts through the subliminal in special states of consciousness exceeding our ordinary range. Our physical mind is not the whole of us nor, even though it dominates almost the whole of our surface consciousness, the best or greatest part of us; reality cannot be restricted to a sole field of this narrowness or to the dimensions known within its rigid circle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

The Question of the Existence of Other Worlds than the Material World

Sri Aurobindo begins his discussion of potential worlds existing outside the framework of the Material and the purely Spiritual, worlds of Mind, worlds of Life, that operate on the basic principles of those forces. He points out that modern rationalistic thought has essentially rejected these ideas out of hand as being age-old superstitions, despite the fact that the existence of these Worlds and the ability to interface with and communicate with them is something that has been accepted by humanity throughout history and all around the world, based on experience and insight. Sri Aurobindo challenges whether a review done by a rationalistic form of intelligence basing itself on visible facts in the material world could ever perceive or understand the existence of these other worlds.

There is a serious point to be understood here. If, for example, one judges the entire range of colors by what is visually perceptible by the unaided human eye, one would leave out colors above and below violet and red, including the entire UV and Infrared spectra. The limitation of the instrument does not mean that the other ranges do not exist! Similarly, the limitation of the rational intelligence based on material observation does not mean that other forces, worlds and beings do not exist. As in the case of colors, it is possible that means can be found to interact with and understand worlds and forces outside our normal range and limits.

“Three questions then arise, interrelated or interdependent: whether there is any evidence or any true intimation of the existence of such other worlds; whether, if they exist, they are of the nature we have indicated, arising or descending in the order and within the rationale of a hierarchical series between Matter and Spirit; if that is their scale of being, are they otherwise quite independent and unconnected, or is there a relation and interaction of the higher worlds on the world of Matter?”

We shall take up these questions in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

Spirit Is Not Limited by the Principle of Matter

The question arises whether Spirit and Matter are the sole principles of creation, or whether there are other intervening principles or planes of existence. In the prior post we established that Matter is not the sole, nor the primary, principle of creation. The question now is whether Mind and Life, which we see at work in the material world, can be created out of Matter, or whether they must originate elsewhere. Sri Aurobindo points out that: “…the difficulty here is that Mind and Life are too different from Matter to be products of Matter; Matter itself is a product of Energy, and mind and life must be regarded as superior products of the same Energy. If we admit the existence of a cosmic Spirit, the Energy must be spiritual; life and mind must be independent products of a spiritual energy and themselves powers of manifestation of the Spirit. It then becomes irrational to suppose that Spirit and Matter alone exist, that they are the two confronting realities and that Matter is the sole possible basis of the manifestation of Spirit; the idea of a sole material world becomes immediately untenable. Spirit must be capable of basing its manifestation on the Mind principle or on the Life principle and not only on the principle of Matter; there can then be and logically there should be worlds of Mind and worlds of Life; there may even be worlds founded on a subtler and more plastic, more conscious principle of Matter.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds

What If Matter Were the Original Creative Principle of Manifestation?

Sri Aurobindo takes up next the mechanism of the evolutionary principle of manifestation. “But a sole material universe and an evolution there out of inconscience into spiritual consciousness cannot be the one solitary and limited possibility of manifestation of the All-being. That could only be if Matter were the original power and form of manifested being and the spirit had no other choice, could not manifest except through Inconscience into Matter as a basis.” If such were the case, “everything has evolved here; life, mind, soul have arisen out of the One in the material universe by the force of its hidden being, and everything will fulfil itself here in the material universe. There is then no separate plane of the Superconscience, for the Superconscient is here only, not elsewhere; there are no supraphysical worlds; there is no action of supraphysical principles exterior to Matter, no pressure of an already existent Mind and Life upon the material plane.”

Obviously such a formulation leaves many facts unexplained and many questions unanswered. Modern science has already begun to recognize the limitations of the materialist exclusive viewpoint–and has determined that Matter is Energy, and Energy is Consciousness. In other words, there are higher and more powerful principles that take precedence over Matter.

In the Upanishad, the young seeker is asked to concentrate to find out what is the essential principle of existence, and he too starts with the world of Matter, but deeper reflection and concentration yields ever subtler and higher principles as having priority. In the same way, we must eventually move beyond the formulation that says that everything is created in, by and for the Material world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 21, The Order of the Worlds