Evolution of Consciousness and Evolution of Forms

“A theory of spiritual evolution is not identical with a scientific theory of form-evolution and physical life-evolution; it must stand on its own inherent justification: it may accept the scientific account of physical evolution as a support or an element, but the support is not indispensable. The scientific theory is concerned only with the outward and visible machinery and process, with the detail of Nature’s execution, with the physical development of things in Matter and the law of development of Life and Mind in Matter; its account of the process may have to be considerably changed or may be dropped altogether in the light of new discovery, but that will not affect the self-evident fact of a spiritual evolution, an evolution of Consciousness, a progression of the soul’s manifestation in material existence.”

Sri Aurobindo distinguishes between the physical machinery of outward evolution and the evolution of Consciousness and bifurcates the two, such that regardless of any change in the scientific viewpoint about what evolution of forms is all about, or how it functions, the FACT of an increasing complexity of forms to support an increasing complexity and power of Consciousness remains constant and indisputable.

“Another self-evident conclusion is that there is a graduated necessary succession in the evolution, first the evolution of Matter, next the evolution of Life in Matter, then the evolution of Mind in living Matter, and in this last stage an animal evolution followed by a human evolution. The first three terms of the succession are too evident to be disputable.” Sri Aurobindo points out that there are some who hold that humans appeared early (or even first) in the animal sequence, but whether human consciousness evolved subsequently, or side-by-side with animal development, the essential concept still holds. In terms of the working of spiritual evolution, however, it is clear that “the superior is not prior but posterior in appearance, the less developed precedes the more developed and prepares it.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 23, “Man and the Evolution”


The Metaphysical Argument Against a Spiritual Evolution

The metaphysical argument made against the concept of a spiritual evolution revolves around two major statements. First, that the Absolute is “complete” in itself and cannot have a purpose in carrying out a spiritual evolution of any sort; and second, that since it is already “all-bliss” there is no “benefit” to having a spiritual evolution.

Sri Aurobindo addresses these arguments as follows: Just because the One Absolute contains everything within itself, it does not mean that it cannot, for the joy of the development, undertake to develop gradations and systematically evolve powers and manifest new forms. “…here the mateerial world is not an integral totality, it is part of a whole, a grade in a gradation; it may admit in it, therefore, not only the presence of undeveloped immaterial principles of powers belonging to the whole that are involved within its Matter, but also a descent into it of the same powers from the higher gradations of the system to deliver their kindred movements here from the strictness of a material limitation. A manifestation of the greater powers of Existence till the whole being itself is manifest in the material world in the terms of a higher, a spiritual creation, may be considered as the teleology of the evolution. This teleology does not bring in any factor that does not belong to the totality; it proposes only the realisation of the totality in the part. There can be no objection to the admission of a teleological factor in a part movement of the universal totality, if the purpose,–not a purpose in the human sense, but the urge of an intrinsic Truth-necessity conscious in the will of the indwelling Spirit,–is the perfect manifestation there of all the possibilities inherent in the total movement.”

“Ananda is the secret principle of all being and the support of all activity of being: but Ananda does not exclude a delight in the working out of a Truth inherent in being, immanent in the Force or Will of being, upheld in the hidden self-awareness of its Consciousness-Force which is the dynamic and executive agent of all its activities and the knower of their significance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 23, “Man and the Evolution”