Involution and Evolution of Consciousness

The Sankhya system begins with consciousness and shows how it systematically fragments and becomes more dense until it is fully involved in Matter. Sri Aurobindo reminds us that there is an intense, concentrated involved intelligence which we can see even in the atom. The mathematical precision and obvious interface between forces of attraction and repulsion, organized energy and the ability to develop from the atom to any number of complex structures, eventually leading to the development of life and mental action, shows that this consciousness is there, if hidden, in an involved state. Modern science in fact is now confirming that where they originally thought Matter was the origin, they then moved on to state that “matter is energy” and more recently “energy is consciousness”. We see therefore close agreement between the leading edge of modern scientific thought and the ancient teachings of the Sankhya.

“In the evolution of the soul back from Prakriti towards Purusha, the reverse order has to be taken to the original Nature-evolution, and that is how the Upanishads and the Gita following and almost quoting the Upanishads state the ascending order of our subjective powers.”

” ‘Supreme,’ they say, ‘beyond their objects are the senses, supreme over the senses the mind, supreme over the mind the intelligent will: that which is supreme over the intelligent will, is he,’–is the conscious self, the Purusha. Therefore, says the Gita, it is this Purusha, this supreme cause of our subjective life which we have to understand and become aware of by the intelligence; in that we have to fix our will. So holding our lower subjective self in Nature firmly poised and stilled by means of the greater rally conscient self, we can destroy the restless ever-active enemy of our peace and self-mastery, the mind’s desire.”

The evolution of consciousness we see expounded here tracks, in reverse order, the involution that brought consciousness into Matter. The process of the yoga the Gita prescribes is to turn the focus and attention on that highest consciousness and see and experience it as the ultimate and first cause of all we experience.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 10, The Yoga of the Intelligent Will, pp. 90-91,


The Instruments of Our Subjective Experience

In the Sankhya analysis, which the Gita by and large adopts, our interaction with the objective world is carried out by the instruments of subjective experience, which themselves are elements of Nature, Prakriti. Because the subtler, higher and finer consciousness precedes the gross outer material world, these elements develop starting with the Buddhi, the discriminating intelligence and will. The ego-sense is an outgrowth of the development of the Buddhi. From there, the sense-mind, Manas is developed, which develops the senses of perception and action to interact with the material world and its objective reality based on the 5 elements.

Sri Aurobindo carries this analysis further by relating it to the role of the Purusha: “Reflected in the pure consciousness of Purusha these degrees and powers of Nature-force become the material of our impure subjectivity, impure because its action is dependent on the perceptions of the objective world and on their subjective reactions.”

“Buddhi…takes for us the form of intelligence and will. Manas, the inconscient force which seizes Nature’s discriminations by objective action and reaction and grasps at them by attraction, becomes sense-perception and desire, the two crude terms or degradations of intelligence and will, becomes the sense-mind sensational, emotive, volitional in the lower sense of wish, hope, longing, passion, vital impulsion, all the deformations…of will. The senses become the instruments of sense-mind, the perceptive five of our sense-knowledge, the active five of our impulsions and vital habits, mediators between the subjective and objective; the rest are the objects of our consciousness…”

We see here, then a mechanism whereby the 24 principles of Sankhya have undergone systematic transformations in order to create the conscious experience that we all have and take for granted. The forms of intelligence and will have undergone a step-down effect in order to interact with the elements, and the intervening steps of sense-reaction and desire, and the grasping after the objects of senses are the operative aspects of our subjective experience in the lower nature.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 10, The Yoga of the Intelligent Will, pp. 89-90,