Spiritual Evolution or Mental Development

Sri Aurobindo takes up the question for review as to whether the development of spiritual consciousness represents a new manifestation of consciousness, or simply a refinement of the mental consciousness. “It would at first sight seem evident that as each gradation emerges not only out of its precedent grade but in it, as Life emerges in Matter and is largely limited and determined in its self-expression by its material conditions, as Mind emerges in Life-in-Matter and is similarly limited and determined in its self-exprssion by life-conditions and material conditions, so Spirit too must emerge in a Mind embodied in Life-in-Matter and must be largely limited and determined by the mental conditions in which it has its roots as well as the life-conditions, the material conditions of its existence here. It might even be maintained that, if there has been any evolution of the spiritual in us, it is only as a part of the mental evolution, a special operation of man’s mentality; the spiritual element is not a distinct or separate entity and cannot have an independent emergence or a supramental future.”

It is then necessary, to address this objection, to clearly bring forth the defining characteristics that make the spiritual emergence a new power of consciousness rather than simply a sublimation of the mental consciousness; as Sri Aurobindo describes the issue “the clear distinction between the spiritual and the mental, the nature of this evolution and the factors which make it possible and inevitable that there should be this emergence of the Spirit in its true distinct character, not remaining, as it now for the most part is in its process or seems to be in its way of appearance, a subordinate or a dominating feature of our mentality, but defining itself as a new power which will finally overtop the mental part and replace it as the leader of the life and nature.”

We shall take up these questions in the succeeding posts.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”

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The Astonishment of the Witness of Creation

Our witness to the creation of the universe, having first noted the play of energy and matter to create the physical foundation of existence, next saw the development of Life when he next returned after aeons of time. While this was obviously puzzling enough, let’s fast forward additional millenia and bring the witness to the fore once again. Such a witness would be amazed to see the stirring of animal life, the development of Mind and the eventual appearance of human beings with a far more developed intellectual capacity and the ability to use tools, create art and music, speculate about the meaning of life, and engineer structures out of Matter. Sri Aurobindo captures the reaction of this witness on his return to the scene of this event: ” “Impossible!” he might say, all that has happened is nothing much, a little bubbling of sensitive grey stuff of brain, a queer freak in a bit of inanimate Matter moving about on a small dot in the Universe.” ”

Sri Aurobindo points out that this reaction would be a natural one if the witness had seen the initial inanimate phases of Matter and Energy and could not along the way see any sign of what could come afterwards.
He contrasts this with a “new” witness who would be able to look at the event without the prejudice of the past observations, but had just had the history related to him: ” “Ah, then, this was the intended miracle, the last of many,–the Spirit that was submerged in the Inconscience has broken out from it and now inhabits, unveiled, the form of things whic, veiled, it had created as its dwelling-place and the scene of its emergence.” ”

Sri Aurobindo points out that “a more conscious Witness might have discovered the clue at an early period of the unfolding, even in each step of its process; for at each stage Nature’s mute secrecy, though still there, diminishes; a hint is given of the next step, a more overly significant preparation is visible. Already, in what seems to be inconscient in Life, the signs of sensation coming towards the surface are visible; in moving and breathing Life the emergence of sensitive Mind is apparent and the preparation of thinking Mind is not entirely hidden, while in thinking Mind, when it develops, there appear at an early stage the rudimentary strivings and afterwards the more developed seekings of a spiritual consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”