The deeper modern science goes in exploring Matter, the closer it comes to an understanding that there is a spiritual self-conscious being that manifests itself in the universe, and that Matter is a form of Spirit. First, the scientists recognized that Matter is Energy. Then further research yielded the understanding that Energy is Consciousness. When we look at modern physics, quantum theory, string theory and other cutting-edge theories, we find scientists now recognizing more and more clearly the intentionality and the consciousness implicit in the world of Matter. Matter is not dead, inanimate and simply dense “stuff”. It is actually alive with energy; in fact, so much energy that releasing it can create enormous power as we see in atom bombs and nuclear power plants!
What is missing when we see Matter as “inanimate” is simply that we do not have the ability to see and understand the packed intensity and density of Matter. Just as we now recognize an electro-magnetic spectrum that includes waves that are both above and below our threshold of perception, there are expressions of energy and consciousness both above and below our ability to perceive them.
Sri Aurobindo described the relationship of Matter to Life, Mind and Spirit as follows: “Material energy would be then Life packed into the density of Matter and feeling out in it for its own intenser recognisable power which it finds within itself in the material concealment and liberates into action. Life itself would be an energy of a secret mind, a mind imprisoned in its own forms and quivering out in the nervous seekings of life for its intenser recognisable power of consciousness which it discovers within the vital and material suppression and liberates into sensibility….Mind too might only be an inferior scale and formulation derived from a much greater and supramental consciousness, and that consciousness too with its greater light and will a characteristic originating power of spiritual being, the power which secret in all things, in mind, in life, in matter, in the plant and the metal and the atom assures constantly by its inevitable action the idea and harmony of the universe.”
“Therefore all things here are expression, form, energy, action of the Spirit; matter itself is but form of spirit, life but power of being of the spirit, mind but working of consciousness of the spirit. All Nature is a display and a play of God, power and action and self-creation of the one spiritual Being.”
Sri Aurobindo describes an interesting corollary between the involution and evolution of Consciousness in the universe, and the process that one undergoes internally in the development of consciousness as described by Kundalini Yoga. Essentially this internal process mirrors the universal process.
“There is a parallel in the Yogic experience of the Kundalini, eternal Force coiled up in the bottom root vessel or chamber, muladhara, pedestal, earth-centre of the physical nervous system. There she slumbers coiled up there like a Python and filled full of all that she holds gathered in her being, but when she is struck by the freely coursing breath, by the current of Life which enters in to search for her, she awakes and rises flaming up the ladder of the spinal chord and forces open centre after centre of the involved dynamic secrets of consciousness till at the summit she finds, joins and becomes one with the spirit.”
The powers of consciousness are “involved” in Matter, represented by the root chakra, and as they begin to evolve, they open up ever higher centres of energy, known as “chakras”. Each chakra represents another rung on the ladder of consciousness, the “life-energy” centers, the higher “life-energy” centers (such as emotions), the basic mental powers, the higher mental powers, the spiritual capacities which unfold as the crown chakra is reached and the energy involved therein is manifested.
“At the highest summit she rises into the self-knowledge of the spirit which informed her action, but because of its involution or concealment in the forms of its workings could not be known in the greatness of its reality. Spirit and Nature discovering the secret of her energies become one at the top of the spiritual evolution by a soul in Nature which awakens to the significance of its own being in the liberation of the highest truth: it comes to know that its births were the births, the assumptions of form of an eternal Spirit, to know itself as that and not a creature of Nature and rises to the possession of the revealed, full and highest power of its own real and spiritual nature. That liberation, because liberation is self-possession, comes to us as the crown of a spiritual evolution.”
Sri Aurobindo describes a concept developed in the Upanishads: “The Upanishad in a telling figure applies the image of the spider which brings its web out of itself and creates the structure in which it takes its station. That is applied in the ancient Scripture not to the evolution of things out of Matter, but to an original bringing of temporal becoming out of the eternal infinity; Matter itself and this material universe are only such a web or indeed no more than a part of it brought out from the spiritual being of the Infinite.”
The idea here is that the manifestation is something that takes place out of the substance of the original Consciousness. All of the forms that eventually manifest are contained inherent within the universal Being and Consciousness. Sri Aurobindo explains in more detail: “A Force inherent in the Infinite brings out of it eternally the structure of its action in a universe of which the last descending scale is based upon an involution of all the powers of the spirit into an inconscient absorption in her self-oblivious passion of form and structural working.” This is analogous to the tree packing and involving into the seed all the Force and capacity to later create a new formation of that tree.
As with the seed, with all the latent power of the tree contained within it, Matter holds latent within it the involved Force of all the levels of the manifestation, to systematically develop and evolve as the conditions for that development are presented through the process of Time. Sri Aurobindo explains it: “Thence comes an ascent and progressive liberation of power after power till the spirit self-disclosed and set free by knowledge and mastery of its works repossesses the eternal fullness of its being which envelops then and carries in its grasp the manifold and unified splendours of its nature.”
Through this process, first of involution of consciousness, and later of evolution of those powers of consciousness through Time, we see the life-process of the universal Being. “Our world-action figures an evolution, an outrolling of a manifold Power gathered and coiled up in the crude intricacy of Matter. The upward progress of the successive births of things is a rise into waking and larger and larger light of a consciousness shut into the first hermetic cell of sleep of the eternal Energy.”
The progressive evolution of physical forms provides a foundation for the higher powers of consciousness to manifest. These powers, as they manifest, then begin to modify and adjust the lower basis to more effectively, finely and precisely respond to the needs of that higher force of consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo takes us through a review of the stages that we can thus far see and identify: “Life takes hold of matter and breathes into it the numberless figures of its abundant creative force, its subtle and variable patterns, its enthusiasm of birth and death and growth and act and response, its will of more and more complex organisation of experience, its quivering search and feeling out after a self-consciousness of its own pleasure and pain and understanding gust of action; mind seizes on life to make it an instrument for the wonders of will and intelligence; soul possesses and lifts mind through the attraction of beauty and good and wisdom and greatness towards the joy of some half-seen ideal highest existence; and in all this miraculous movement and these climbing greatnesses each step sets its foot on a higher rung and opens to a clearer, larger and fuller scope and view of the always secret and always self-manifesting spirit in things.”
We see in the increasingly complex and responsive physical evolution an outward sign and indicator of the increasing action of the higher levels of consciousness, but do not yet see the inner meaning of this development until we ourselves move sufficiently up the ladder of consciousness to get an overview. “…the evolution of life opening to mind, the evolution of mind opening to the soul of its own light and action, the evolution of soul out of the limited powers of mind to a resplendent blaze of the infinities of spiritual being are the more significant things, give us greater and subtler reaches of the self-disclosing Secrecy. The physical evolution is only an outward sign, the more and more complex and subtle development of a supporting structure, the growing exterior metre mould of form which is devised to sustain in matter the rising intonations of the spiritual harmony.”
“Life itself is only a coloured vehicle, physical birth a convenience for the greater and greater births of the Spirit.”
If we once recognize the oneness of the entire manifested universe and see that there is a systematic evolution of consciousness that takes place through a concurrent ever-evolving series of forms, then it is easily concluded that what has evolved must have been involved in the first place. The spiritual principle, then, is involved in Matter, similar to the example cited previously of the acorn holding the essential nature of the oak tree within it, allow it to manifest when placed into appropriately supportive circumstance.
Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue as follows: “We are bound then to suppose that all that evolves already existed involved, passive or otherwise active, but in either case concealed from us in the shell of material Nature. The Spirit which manifests itself here in a body, must be involved from the beginning in the whole of matter and in every knot, formation and particle of matter; life, mind and whatever is above mind must be latent inactive or concealed active powers in all the operations of material energy.”
“We have to come back to the idea of a spirit present in the universe and, if the process of its works of power and its appearance is in the steps of an evolution, there imposes itself the necessity of a previous involution.”
Without some deeper significance, the development of life out of matter, and mind out of life is certainly inexplicable. How does inanimate Matter develop Life? How does Mind develop out of Life? What about the expression of the Soul? We are left with nothing to answer this without resorting to a “miraculous creation” by an external all-knowing, all-powerful Creator (which itself brings up any number of inexplicable issues), or we are left with the action of random chance combining together elements and chemicals and haphazardly thereby yielding up ever-increasing forms of Consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo’s provides a solution by his understanding that each form and level of consciousness that evolves out must have been “involved” to begin with. Behind each of these newly expressed levels of consciousness, there is an involved energy that manifests itself when the conditions become appropriate. One can see that when one plants an acorn in the ground, an oak tree will result, if the proper conditions of soil, climate, temperature, moisture are available to allow the development. Scientists studying the process of seed formation and germination eventually have shown that the seed encodes the specific powers and forms of that specific being, whether plant or animal. This is the physical correspondence to the involution of consciousness that Sri Aurobindo is describing.
Sri Aurobindo concludes that “…Nature [is] only the force of self-expression, self-formation, self-creation of a secret spirit, and man however hedged in his present capacity, [is] the first being in Nature in whom that power begins to be consciently self-creative in the front of the action, in this outer chamber of the physical being, there set to work and bring out by an increasingly self-conscious evolution what he can of all its human significance or its divine possibility…” This is the result of concluding that “…the reality of this whole mounting creation [is] a spiritual evolution.”
There has been a long-standing divergence between “religion” and “science”, in particular surrounding the questions of “creation” versus “evolution”. On the one side, there is the sense that there is some superior or external Power (God, the Creator, etc.) which has created this entire universe and all its forms out of “nothing” or out of its own “substance”, and the specific details of the creation are subordinated to the miraculous nature of it. On the other side, there is a strong focus on the process of it, and the details of the multi-billion year systematic development of the universe and its forms from the time of the “big bang” to today, with the development of innumerable specific forms arising out of the energy and matter of the universe going through systematic combinations are what command the entire attention.
The evolutionists have no answer to the question of “how” or “why” or “in what manner” the initial start of this process occurred, and it is at this point that a potential resolution of this long-standing conflict may actually be found.
Sri Aurobindo describes the remaining question that must be the subject of our human inquiry: “The way in which man sees and experiences the universe, imposes on his reason the necessity of a one original eternal substance of which all things are the forms and a one eternal original energy of which all movement of action and consequence is the variation. But the whole question is what is the reality of this substance and what is the essential nature of this energy?”
Until we address this question, we cannot find a resolution of the debate between “evolution” and “creation” as theories of existence.
The first thing we think about when the topic of evolution comes up is the modern scientific approach and viewpoint. Evolution in the scientific world is a process which describes a mechanism that brings about ever new and systematically developing forms of life. In and of itself, the Western viewpoint does not assign any particular ultimate meaning or significance to evolution and is content to describe the process and uncover facts that are essentially details of that process.
There is however another, a more ancient view of evolution, propounded by the ancient seers and sages of India. This view focuses more on the inner spiritual significance of the process rather than just the external details. The Sankhya thinker “…saw in it too not only the covering active evident Force, but the concealed sustaining spiritual entity….” Sri Aurobindo points out that the Sankhya thinker “…had no eye for the detail of the physical labour of Nature.” Additionally, he set up a gulf between Spirit and the Force of physical evolution.
On the other hand, Sri Aurobindo describes the modern view of evolution: “The modern scientist strives to make a complete scheme and institution of the physical method which he has detected in its minute workings, but is blind to the miracle each step involves or content to lose the sense of it in the satisfied observation of a vast ordered phenomenon.” The scientist misses the miracle, the “inexplicable wonder of all existence…”
Sri Aurobindo points out that each of these starting points provides us a relevant insight, but neither of them has the complete picture. “We know that an evolution there is, but not what evolution is; that remains still one of the initial mysteries of Nature.”
Sri Aurobindo summarizes the discussion of this chapter to provide a straightforward and logical presentation of the development of consciousness through ever-ascending forms, providing a rationale and basis for the theory of rebirth. In this summary he has addressed the major facts of our existence and the primary issues that arise as to the significance of life and the reasons why rebirth is an essential element of this development.
“This is a way of seeing things, harmonious at least in its complexity, supple and capable of a certain all-embracing scope, which we can take as a basis for our ideas of rebirth,–an ascending unity, a spirit involved in material existence which scales wonderfully up many gradations through life to organised mind and beyond mind to the evolution of its own complete self-conscience, the individual following that gradation and the power for its self-crowning.”
There are various possibilities for this development which may include any of the major theories of existence that have come to the fore during mankind’s search for meaning. “If human mind is the last word of its possibility on earth, then rebirth must end in man and proceed by some abrupt ceasing either to an existence on other planes or to an annulment of its spiritual circle. But if there are higher powers of the spirit which are attainable by birth, then the ascent is not finished, greater assumptions may lie before the soul which has now reached and is lifted to a perfecting of the high scale of humanity.”
What higher opportunities or heights may reach beyond our human stage of manifestation, remains to be seen and discovered. There is always the “Eternal’s infinite potentiality.”
Just as the fragmentation of creation through the ego consciousness is artificial and unreal in the overarching unity of existence, so too the other extreme position of unity with no separateness of forms and purposes is artificial and denies a truth of the creation. Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint is one that embraces unity and diversity without them being in contradiction to one another; rather, they are both aspects and important elements of the creation. The unity provides the foundation and the harmony of the larger whole, while the diversification of forms allows a unique creation to manifest and develop into innumerable relations.
Without this dynamic relationship of the One with the Many, we would be hard-pressed to find a rationale for the individual and the systematic evolutionary development of the individual and thus, the process of rebirth and the role of karma.
Sri Aurobindo expounds on this point: “Individuality is as important a thing to the ways of the Spirit of existence as universality. The individual is that potent secret of its being upon which the universal stresses and leans and makes the knot of power of all its workings: as the individual grows in consciousness and sight and knowledge and all divine power and quality, increasingly he becomes aware of the universal in himself, but aware of himself too in the universality, of his own past not begun and ended in the single transient body, but opening to future consummations. If the aim of the universal in our birth is to become self-conscient and possess and enjoy its being, still it is done through the individual’s flowering and perfection; if to escape from its own workings be the last end, still it is the individual that escapes while the universal seems content to continue its multitudinous births to all eternity. Therefore the individual would appear to be a real power of the Spirit and not a simple illusion or device, except in so far as the universal too may be, as some would have it, an immense illusion or a grand imposed device. On this line of thinking we arrive at the idea of some great spiritual existence of which universal and individual are two companion powers, pole and pole of its manifestation, indefinite circumference and multiple centre of the activised realities of its being.”