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

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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

The Relationship of the One Soul with the Many

Continuing along the lines suggested in the prior post, Sri Aurobindo clarifies the relationship of the Many Souls that we see in existence in the world, and the One Existent. “But since the One is the premier fact of existence, since the Many depend upon the One, are souls of the One, beings of the Being, this truth must determine also the fundamental principle of the cosmic existence. There we see that the universal precedes the individual, gives it its field, is that in which it exists cosmically even though its origin is in the Transcendence. The individual soul lives here by the All-Soul and depends upon it; the All-Soul very evidently does not exist by the individual or depend upon it: it is not a sum of individual beings, a pluralistic totality created by the conscious life of individuals; if an All-Soul exists, it must be the one Cosmic Spirit supporting the one cosmic Force in its works, and it repeats here, modified in the terms of cosmic existence, the primary relation of the dependence of the Many on the One. It is inconceivable that the Many should have independently or by a departure from the One Will desired cosmic existence and forced by their desire the supreme Sachchidananda to descend unwillingly or tolerantly into the Nescience; that would be to reverse altogether the true dependence of things. If the world was directly originated by the will or the spiritual impetus of the Many, which is possible and even probable in a certain sense, there must still have been first a Will in Sachchidananda to that end; otherwise the impeetus,–translating here the All-Will into desire, for what becomes desire in the ego is Will in the Spirit,–could not have arisen anywhere. The One, the All-Soul, by whom alone the consciousness of the Individual is determined, must first accept the veil of inconscient Nature before the Individual too can put on the veil of the Ignorance in the material universe.”

At all times we must bear in mind the precedence and priority of the Transcendent and the Universal as pre-conditions for the manifestation of any individual soul and its experience.

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

The Individual Soul Does Not Create the Universal Manifestation

The issue of the existence of other “worlds” or “planes” than the material world within which we exist is more or less dependent on the reality of how the individual soul comes into being. Clearly we must accept the existence of an ultimate spiritual plane or world that acts as the origin and creator of the universal manifestation, the Absolute realm of Consciousness; and at the same time we see the world of the Inconscience of Matter out of which arises Life and Mind. At the very least therefore, we see two worlds. The question the arises as to what causes the arising of Life and Mind. Those who hold that there is some divine creative fiat that manifests life and mind out of matter need not accept the existence of additional worlds or planes. But as we have concluded in earlier chapters, there is a systematic development or evolution of consciousness out of the inconscience, and there are intervening stages or levels of consciousness which represent gradations of consciousness that have their own different formulation and principles of action than the purely material plane. This supports the concept that there are planes of Life and planes of Mind where these principles can manifest and work themselves out in a pure, unalloyed fashion not hindered by the limitations of material Nescience.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the individual soul cannot create or cause the universal manifestation, and that while its desire for existence and growth of consciousness may fuel a process within that universal action, there must be an explanation that does not rely solely on the individual soul for its rationale and underlying cause. “but the world cannot be a craetion of the individual mind or a theatre erected by it for its own play of consciousness; nor can it have been created solely for the play and the satisfaction or frustration of the ego. As we awake to a sense of the premier importance of the universal and the dependence of the individual upon it, a theory of this kind becomes an impossibility to our intelligence. The world is too vast in its movement for such an account of its working to be credible; only a cosmic Power or a cosmic Being can be the creator and the upholder of the cosmos and it must have too a cosmic and not only an individual reality, significance or purpose.”

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

Importance of Understanding the Planes or Worlds of Existence

Once we accept the fact that powers of the Absolute have involved themselves into Matter and from there, evolve out to create the manifested Becoming, it becomes self-evident that there are planes or worlds which embody these principles in their pure state. As described in the immediately preceding post, these represent essentially seven principles which can be called planes, worlds or levels of consciousness, starting at the highest level of Sat, Chit and Ananda (Existence, Consciousness and Bliss), transformed into principles that can work in the material world through the Gnosis or Supermind, and finally, manifesting here as the reflected powers of Matter, Life and Mind.

Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “If a spiritual evolution of consciousness in the material world and a constant or repeated rebirth of the individual into an earthly body are admitted, the next question that arises is whether this evolutionary movement is something separate and complete in itself or part of a larger universal totality of which the material world is only one province. This question has already its answer implied in the gradations of the involution which precede the evolution and make it possible; for, if that precedence is a fact, there must be worlds or at least planes of higher being and they must have some connection with the evolution which has been made possible by their existence. It may be that all they do for us is by their effective presence or pressure on the earth-consciousness to liberate the involved principles of life and mind and spirit and enable them to manifest and assert their reign in material Nature. But it would be in the highest degree improbable that the connection and intervention should cease there; there is likely to be a sustained, if veiled, commerce between material life and the life of the other planes of existence. It is necessary now to look more closely into this problem, regard it in itself and determine the nature and limits of this connection and intercommunication, in so far as it affects the theory of evolution and rebirth in material Nature.”

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

Introduction to the Order of the Worlds

As we begin a new chapter, Sri Aurobindo sets forth some interesting citations from the Upanishads and the Rig Veda which are thought provoking. The ancient seers had a clear insight into the various planes of consciousness and manifested “worlds”. Their psychological knowledge is just now starting to be reintegrated into our understanding. Before we dive into the subject proper, it would be useful to review the citations that Sri Aurobindo has placed before us:

“Seven are these worlds in which move the life-forces that are hidden within the secret heart as their dwelling-place seven by seven.” (Manduka Upanishad, II.1.8)

It is interesting to note that the 7 “worlds” correspond to the planes of consciousness we have been reviewing, Sat, Chit, Ananda, Supermind, Mind, Life and Body, essentially an upper hemisphere of 3 planes (Sat-Chit-Ananda), a lower hemisphere of 3 corresponding planes (Body-Life-Mind) and the Supramental plane which acts as the connector, lynch-pin and causal plane for the effectuation of the involution and evolution of consciousness from the higher to the lower hemisphere and back.

“May the Peoples of the five Births accept my sacrifice, those who are born of the Light and worthy of worship; may Earth protect us from earthly evil and the Mid-Region from calamity from the gods. Follow the shining thread spun out across the mid-world, protect the luminous paths built by the thought; weave an inviolate work, become the human being, create the divine race….Seers of truth are you, sharpen the shining spears with which you cut the way to that which is Immortal; knowers of the secret planes, form them, the steps by which the gods attained to immortality.” (Rig Veda, X.53.5,6,10)

We see in this ancient vedic passage more or less a prescription for the work of the seeker to become aware of and systematically build the links to the various planes or levels of consciousness as part of the evolutionary process that awakens consciousness in matter, develops the human consciousness and provides a platform for growth into a divine being. The passage makes it clear that we need to gain knowledge of the “order of the worlds” which is the subject of the new chapter.

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