Mastering the Powers of Life and Matter

As long as we remain rooted in the primarily vital and material action of Nature, we feel that we are unable to control the larger forces at work in our lives. We feel in many instances helpless and swept away by those forces. Even as we develop the powers of the Mind, we still very much experience the subjection to the vital and physical world and its actions.

Sri Aurobindo points out however that this is not an unalterable condition of our evolving being and consciousness: “A certain fundamental subjection of Mind to Life and Matter and an acceptance of this subjection, an inability to make the law of Mind directly dominant and modify by its powers the blinder law and operations of these inferior forces of being, remains even in the midst of our greatest mental mastery over self and things; but this limitation is not insuperable.”

Sri Aurobindo points out: “The greatest, most momentous natural discovery that man can make is this that Mind, and still more the force of the Spirit, can in many tried and yet untried ways and in all directions,–by its own nature and direct power and not only be devices and contrivances such as the superior material instrumentation discovered by physical Science,–overcome and control Life and Matter.”

The gnostic being, with the greater force of consciousness that he would possess, has also necessarily powers of action and mastery far beyond those at the disposal of the purely mental being. The gnostic being would have “a clear and complete knowledge of self, a direct knowledge of others, a direct knowledge of hidden forces, a direct knowledge of the occult mechanism of Mind and Life and Matter, which are beyond our present attainment. This new knowledge and action of knowledge would be based on an immediate intuitive consciousness of things and an immediate intuitive control of things; an operative insight, now supernormal to us, would be the normal functioning of this consciousness, and an integral assured effectivity both in the mass of action and in its detail would be the outcome of the change.”

“Acting in the light and power of the supramental knowledge, the evolving gnostic being would be more and more master of himself, master of the forces of consciousness, master of the energies of Nature, master of his instrumentation of Life and Matter.”

As we ascend toward the gnostic consciousness, this new knowledge and force would become ever more active and effective.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Increasing Power of Consciousness With Each Evolutionary Stage

We tend to believe that Mind is insignificant in relation to the vast, overwhelming material and vital forces that embody the universal existence. We therefore also tend to underestimate the power of the evolutionary forces of consciousness as they begin to manifest because they seem so small and weak.

Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that by adjusting our viewpoint on this matter, we can see the ever increasing manifested power that accompanies ever increasing knowledge, in this case, the development of the gnostic consciousness, based in the Knowledge, and its power of effectuation in relation to the material, vital and mental world which is based in the Inconscient or the Ignorance.

“The Inconscient there is the original, potent and automatically effective Force, the conscious mind is only a small labouring agent; but that is because the conscious mind in us has a limited individual action and the Inconscient is an immense action of a universal concealed Consciousness: the cosmic Force, masked as a material Energy, hides from our view by its insistent materiality of process the occult fact that the workingof the Inconscient is really the expression of a vast universal Life, a veiled universal Mind, a hooded Gnosis, and without these origins of itself it could have no power of action, no organising coherence. Life-Force also in the material world seems to be more dynamic and effective than Mind; our Mind is free and fully powerful in idea and cognition only: its force of action, its power of effectuation outside this mental field is obliged to work with Life and Matter as instruments and, under the conditions imposed on it by Life and Matter, our Mind is hampered and half-effective. But even so we see that Nature-force in the mental being is much more powerful to deal with himself and with Life and Matter than Nature-force in the animal; it is the greater force of consciousness and knowledge, the greater emerged force of being and will that constitute this superiority.”

We see that while even in the human sphere, the vital man of action seems to have more dynamic power of effective action, but over time, it is the fact that this action is tied to the action of Mind, that provides the true superiority of man over the animal creation in terms of force of consciousness and power of action. Similarly, one can see that the true power of Mind eventually can transform the vital life of the world and the material circumstances of life much more dramatically than the purely “action-oriented” vital being could ever hope to do.

“An immensely greater power over existence and over Nature must come when a still greater consciousness emerges and replaces the hampered operations of the mental Energy in our too individualised and restricted force of existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

The Character of the Gnostic Consciousness

The mental consciousness suffers from limitations of knowledge, limitations of power and disharmony between knowledge and effective action. As a result of the underlying foundation of Ignorance and the process that the mental consciousness needs to use to “build up” what it knows from fragments and pieces, the mental consciousness has no ability to discover or hold any kind of absolute truth, much less implement what it “knows” in a comprehensive and effective manner.

The gnostic consciousness does not suffer from these limitations as Sri Aurobindo describes: “An innate character of the gnostic consciousness and the instrumentation of Supernature is a wholeness of sight and action, a unity of knowledge with knowledge, a reconciliation of identify of Knowledge and Will acting as a single power in perfect unison with the truth of things; this inbord character of Supernature is the foundation of the perfect unity, mutuality, harmoniy of its action.”

The developmental process of moving from the basis of a mental to a gnostic or supramental consciousness, has its impact on our ability to know and act: “…as the mind grows into the gnosis, our mental seeing and action lifted into the gnostic light or visited and ruled by it would begin to partake of this character and, even if still restricted and within limits, must become much more perfect and within these limits effective: the causes of our incapacity and frustration would begin to diminish and disappear. But also the larger existence will invade the mind with the potencies of a greater consciousness and a greater force, a bringing out of new powers of the being. Knowledge is power and act of consciousness, Will is conscious power and conscious act of force of being; both in the gnostic being will reach greater magnitudes than any we now know, a higher degree of themselves, a richer instrumentation: for wherever there is an increase of consciousness, there is an increase of the potential force and the actual power of the existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Our Spiritual Destiny

There are various views about the meaning and purpose of our lives. For those who believe that we are trapped in our imperfect nature and that we cannot develop beyond the limitations of the body, life and mind into something that has the character of Knowledge rather than Ignorance, there is no use or hope in striving to achieve the kind of spiritual, supramental evolutionary development that Sri Aurobindo envisions. Similarly there are those who believe that other results beyond the current limitations we experience are possible, but not here and now, in this life; rather, only in some “beyond” whether it is another world, or a heaven after death.

Sri Aurobindo takes issue with both of these views. He sees life and its striving as expression of an evolutionary development, and our current limitations as a stage through which we must pass, but to which we are not, in the end, eternally bound.

He discusses the issue as follows: “If our nature is fixed in what it is, what it has already become, then no perfection, no real and enduring happiness is possible in earthly life….But if in us there is a spiritual being which is emerging and our present state is only an imperfection or half-emergence, if the Inconscient is a starting-point containing in itself the potency of a Superconscience and Supernature which has to evolve, a veil of apparent Nature in which that greater consciousness is concealed and from which it has to unfold itself, if an evolution of being is the law, then what we are seeking for is not only possible but part of the eventual necessity of things. It is our spiritual destiny to manifest and become that Supernature,–for it is the nature of our true self, our still occult, because unevolved, whole being. A nature of unity will then bring inevitably its life-result of unity, mutuality, harmony. An inner life awakened to a full consciousness and to a full power of consciousness will bear its inevitable fruit in all who have it, self-knowledge, a perfected existence, the joy of a satisfied being, the happiness of a fulfilled nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Insufficiency of Human Attempts at Societal Unity

There is a clear impulse or urge toward the creation of societal unity. This urge drives us towards the development of families, groups, tribes, countries, societies and other formations of human groupings. While we remain rooted in the mental, vital and physical nature we are subject to the limitations of that nature, and our attempts to create larger societal groupings are framed by those limitations.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issues that arise as a result: “Our nature, our consciousness is that of beings ignorant of each other, separated from each other, rooted in a divided ego, who must strive to establish some kind of relation between their embodied ignorances; for the urge to union and forces making for union are there in Nature.”

“…in the mass the relations formed are constantly marred by imperfect sympathy, imperfect understanding, gross misunderstandings, strife, discord, unhappiness. It cannot be otherwise so long as there is no true union of consciousness founded upon a nature of self-knowledge, inner mutual knowledge, inner realisation of unity, concord of our inner forces of being and inner forces of life.”

“…what we build is a constructed unity, an association of interests and egos enforced by law and custom and imposing an artificial constructed order in which the interests of some prevail over the interests of others and only a half accepted half enforced, half natural half artificial accommodation keeps the social whole in being.”

These limitations face not only the attempts of individuals to unite in a community, but also affect the relationship of one community with others. “Between community and community there is a still worse accommodation with a constant recurrence of the strife of collective ego with collective ego.”

It is not possible to found a perfect and harmonious societal framework as long as it remains based in the divided and fragmented consciousness of the Ignorance as expressed in our physical, vital and mental nature. Only when we are able to create our social relationships based on the Oneness and Knowledge of the true spiritual consciousness will we be able to develop the kind of unity that we are seeking.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

Insufficiency of Mental Nature to Achieve Spiritual Perfection

In the discussion of “supermind” and “supernature” we adopt a convention to distinguish the changes that need to occur to move from the imperfect, limited, fragmented and ignorant basis of evolution of matter, life and mind to a new basis founded in Knowledge and Oneness. It must be remembered however that none of this implies a miraculous transformation from one thing to something totally other and different. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that: “Whatever happens in Nature must be the result of Nature, the effecutation of what is implied or inherent in it, its inevitable fruit and consequence.” To the extent that we remain rooted in the Inconscience, we cannot achieve “supernature”. The essential spiritual change that shifts our basis to the Knowledge from the Ignorance is required. “We seek to construct systems of knowledge and systems of life by which we can arrive at some perfection of our existence, some order of right relations, right use of mind, right use and happiness and beauty of life, right use of the body. But what we achieve is a constructed half-rightness mixed with much that is wrong and unlovely and unhappy; our successive constructions, because of the vice in them and because mind and life cannot rest permanently anywhere in their seeking, are exposed to destruction, decadence, disruption of their order, and we pass from them to others which are not more finally successful or enduring, even if on one side or another they may be richer and fuller or more rationally plausible.”

Otherwise, “we can construct nothing which goes beyond our nature; imperfect, we cannot construct perfection, however wonderful may seem to us the machinery our mental ingenuity invents, however externally effective. Ignorant, we cannot construct a system of entirely true and fruitful self-knowledge or world-knowledge: our science itself is a construction, a mass, of formulas and devices; masterful in knowledge of processes and in the creation of apt machinery, but ignorant of the foundations of our being and of world-being, it cannot perfect our nature and therefore cannot perfect our life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”

The Gnostic Individual Living in the Gnostic Society

The mental/vital/physical manifestation is characterised by a clash of opposing forces and egos. There is a fight for pre-eminence, control and domination. One idea or belief system is set against another idea and belief system. The ego believes it is “right” and the other belief is “wrong” and feels it must compete to achieve control and dominance for its ideas or desires.

The gnostic individual, on the contrary, knows the Truth of his role in the manifestation and feels no desire nor need to clash against others in order to affirm that Truth. Sri Aurobindo describes it thus: “The gnostic being woudl feel a single consonant Force of Supernature acting in all: he would accept its formation in himself and obey or use the knowledge and power it gave him for the divine work, but he would be under no urge or compulsion to set the power and knowledge in him against the power and knowledge of others or affirm himself as an ego striving against other egos. For the spiritual self has its own inalienable joy and plenitude inviolable in all conditions, its own infinity of truth of being: that it feels always in fullness whatever may be the outward formulation. The truth of the Spirit within would not depend on a particular formation; it would have no need, therefore, to struggle for any particular outward formulation and self-affirmation: forms would arise of themselves plastically, in suitable relation to other formulations and each in its own place in the whole formulation. Truth of gnostic consciousness and being establishing itself can find its harmony with all other truth of being around it.”

The gnostic individual also has no driving need to be in charge or express his independence; rather he can take up his role within a spiritual hierarchy in the gnostic community and nevertheless feel his inner freedom while acting under the direction of that hierarchy. “An inner spiritual freedom can accept its place in the truth of an inner spiritual hierarchy as well as in the truth, not incompatible with it, of a fundamental spiritual equality.” “…for the Spirit’s freedom, because it is eternal, self-existent and inalienable, can be felt as much in service and willing subordination and adjustment with other selves as in power and rule.”

“Unity is the basis of the gnostic consciousness, mutuality the natural result of its direct awareness of oneness in diversity, harmony the inevitable power of the working of its force. Unity, mutuality, and harmony must therefore be the inescapable law of a common or collective gnostic life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 28, “The Divine Life”