More Than the Sum of the Parts

Sri Aurobindo cites the Gita to provide a general sense of how all existences are contained within the Self-existent Being: “It is as the great, the all-pervading aerial principle dwells in the etheric that all existences dwell in Me, that is how you have to conceive of it…”

He goes on to explain this: “The universal existence is all-pervading and infinite and the Self-existent too is all pervading and infinite; but the self-existent infinity is stable, static, immutable, the universal is an all-pervading movement…. The Self is one, not many; but the universal expresses itself as all existence and is, as it seems, the sum of all existences. One is Being; the other is Power of Being which moves and creates and acts in the existence of the fundamental, supporting, immutable Spirit. The Self does not dwell in all these existences or in any of them; that is to say, he is not contained by any,–just as the ether here is not contained in any form, though all forms are derived ultimately from the ether. Nor is he contained in or constituted by all existences together–any more than the either is contained in the mobile extension of the aerial principle or is constituted by the sum of its forms or its forces.”

The principle here is that the Divine is not limited by the forms and is not simply a “sum of the parts”, as it were. The pervasion is spiritual and contains all forms while not being bound or contained by those forms. A clay pot is made of earth, but it does not limit earth beyond its own form. Before the clay pot exists, the earth exists. After the clay pot as a form goes out of existence, the earth continues to exist. The earth principle is larger than the clay pot, and is not limited by the form of clay pot for its existence. The principle of earth pervades the clay pot at all times, and no matter how many clay pots one forms, the earth principle still exceeds it.

Just as the earth principle permeates the clay pot, the universal Being permeates, but is not limited by any of the forms it takes on, or the movement it supports. There is “a truth of being in its all-containing immutability, self-existent….” and there is a “truth of Power of the same being manifest in the government and information of its own self-veiling and self-revealing movements.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pp. 304-305

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The Gita Resolves the Different Poises of Consciousness

The Gita makes a number of statements that create apparent opposition when viewed from our normal mental standpoint. For instance, Sri Aurobindo provides the following examples: “Thus the Gita begins by affirming that the Supreme contains all things in himself, but is not in any,…, ‘all are situated in Me, not I in them,’ and yet it proceeds immediately to say, ‘and yet all existences are not situated in Me, My self is the bearer of all existences and it is not situated in existences.’ And yet again it insists with an apparent self-contradiction that the Divine has lodged himself, has taken up his abode in the human body,…, and that the recognition of this truth is necessary for the soul’s release by the integral way of works and love and knowledge.”

The apparent contradictions contained here are resolved when on recognizes that each one is a statement from one of the four primary aspects of the Divine Reality, as transcribed into the mental consciousness. Each one conveys a truth reflecting a different standpoint, all of which are part of the complete Reality of the Divine Presence. For example, Sri Aurobindo states: “It is as the supracosmic Godhead that he is not in existences, nor even they in him; for the distinction we make between Being and becoming applies only to the manifestation in the phenomenal universe. In the supracosmic existence all is eternal Being and all, if there too there is any multiplicity, are eternal beings, nor can the spatial idea of indwelling come in, since a supracosmic absolute being is not affected by the concepts of time and space which are created here by the Lord’s Yogamaya.”

In the manifestation we find extension in space and time and in this sense we see different stances as the Lord who supports and controls, the containing existence, the manifesting Being, etc. “He seems to pervade and to contain mind, life and body, to support them by his presence: but this pervasion is itself an act of consciousness, not material; the body itself is only a constant act of consciousness of the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pp. 303-304

Reconciling the Different Poises and States of Consciousness of the Divine Reality

The transcription of spiritual experience into mental consciousness and the limitations of the terms and format of such a transcription force us to consider carefully to avoid the error of ascribing qualities or functions to one aspect that belong to another aspect. While they are “one”, they nevertheless manifest according to the specific conditions or terms of the aspect being reviewed. Sri Aurobindo describes this issue: “The supreme Godhead, the Self immutable behind the cosmic consciousness, the individual Divinity in the human being and the Divine secretly conscious or partially manifested in cosmic Nature and all her works and creatures, are then one reality, one Godhead. But the truths that we can put forward the most confidently of one, are reversed or they alter their sense when we try to apply them to the other poises of the one Being.”

For a sense of the difficulty, it is like a driver attempting to apply the rules of the road for driving in countries that drive on the left side of the road for those countries that drive on the right side of the road. While there is an essential basic understanding of “how to drive”, the signals and reactions are opposite. Similarly, if we try to apply the “rules” of the supreme Lord of creation to the experience of the individual soul in its fragmented individual consciousness state, we will quickly find that this does not work.

The various manifested forms and forces each act under their own rules within their own sphere. So Matter, with the qualities of (apparent) immobility and solidity, responds differently than the Life-Force, or the Mental-Consciousness, with each level exhibiting characteristics that define that poise and that are apparently opposite or at least radically different than the preceding level.

It is possible, and one of the goals of spiritual development, for us to reach a state of Identity with any of the multiple poises or aspects of the Divine Reality, and from that status, we share the experience and understanding that goes along with it. The complexity of the Divine Creation, however, requires us to clearly distinguish between the action in one poise, and the action in another. “This is a thing we have to see clearly in the Gita; we have to allow for this variation of the sense of the same truth according to the nodus of relation from which its application comes into force. Otherwise we shall see mere contradiction and inconsistency where none exists or be baffled like Arjuna by what seems to us a riddling utterance.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pp. 302-303

Four Aspects of the Divine

The Gita systematically takes up four major aspects of the Divine in order to provide a framework for the understanding it wants to provide to Arjuna. Each of these four aspects is based in a spiritual experience, not a philosophical system. They describe the sense, as Sri Aurobindo sets it forth, that “the Godhead is all that is universe and all that is in the universe and all that is more than the universe.”

The first aspect that the Gita emphasizes is the “supracosmic existence” of the Divine. This takes precedence in order to ensure that the seeker does not get fixated solely on the manifestation and thereby lose the sense of transcendence that frees one from the bondage to the life in the world.

The second aspect is “…his universal existence in which all moves and acts. For that is the justification of the cosmic effort and that is the vast spiritual self-awareness in which the Godhead self-seen as the Time-Spirit does his universal works.”

The third aspect relates to “…the acceptance of the Godhead as the divine inhabitant in the human body. For he is the Immanent in all existences, and if the indwelling divinity is not recognized, not only will the divine meaning of individual existence be missed, the urge to our supreme spiritual possibilities deprived of its greatest force, but the relations of soul with soul in humanity will be left petty, limited and egoistic.”

The fourth aspect is “…the divine manifestation in all things in the universe and affirms the derivation of all that is from the nature, power and light of the one Godhead. For that seeing too is essential to the God-knowledge; on it is founded the integral turn of the whole being and the whole nature Godwards, the acceptance by man of the works of the divine Power in the world and the possibility of remoulding his mentality and will into the type of the God-action, transcendent in initiation, cosmic in motive, transmitted through the individual, the Jiva.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pp. 301-302

Spiritual Experiences of the Unity of the Self and the Divine Self

A number of spiritual experiences can occur which provide the seeker with somewhat varying ideas about the nature of the relationship between the individual self as the starting point for the experience, and the larger Self of the universal consciousness. To those who experience these things, there is a significance and reality to them which makes the experience incontrovertible. When the seeker tries to transcribe the experience into normal mental terms using our limited language capabilities, there is the possibility of apparent contradiction or opposition between one experience and the next. Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that there is in fact no inherent contradiction and that they are all partial insights to the larger Reality, that when taken together can be seen to provide a more comprehensive understanding.

Sri Aurobindo has described several of these experiences: “We have the experience of the Spirit, the Divine Being immutable and ever containing in his vision the mutabilities of the universe; we have too the separate, the simultaneous or the coincident experience of the Divine immanent in ourselves and in all creatures.”

“But, on the other hand, we get another revealing spiritual experience in which we are forced to see as the very Divine all things, not only that Spirit which dwells immutable in the universe and in its countless creatures, but all this inward and outward becoming. All is then to us a divine Reality manifesting himself in us and in the cosmos.”

This experience however can itself be transcended with an even more encompassing one: “This extended universe is not all that the Spirit is, there is an Eternal greater than it by which alone its existence is possible. Cosmos is not the Divine in his utter reality, but a single self-expression, a true but minor motion of his being.”

The unity of all these experiences comes about through the recognition that “…the divine Reality is something greater than the universal existence, but yet that all universal and particular things are that Divine and nothing else,–significative of him, we might say, and not entirely That in any part or sum of their appearance, but still they could not be significative of him if they were something else and not term and stuff of the divine existence. That is the Real; but they are its expressive realities.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pp. 300-301

The Spiritual Experience of Oneness for the Individual, the Cosmic and the Transcendent

The mental viewpoint that dominates our ordinary lives makes us believe that we are individual beings, separate and fragmented from the rest of creation, and certainly separate and different than the Divine. As long as we are locked into that viewpoint, we cannot know or understand the deeper spiritual truths of existence. With the development of spiritual experience, however, we can enter into a state of awareness that overcomes the experience of separation and we then can know the Divine existence through knowledge by identity.

Sri Aurobindo describes some aspects of this deepening spiritual awareness: “We perceive a one self of all and of that we have the consciousness and the vision: we can no longer say or think that we are entirely different from him, but that there is self and there is phenomenon of the self-existent; all is one in self, but all is variation in the phenomenon.”

At one stage of this new experience we treat the phenomenon as something illusory and unreal, and we rest in the unity of the spiritual consciousness. This is the basis of some of the illusionist, (Mayavada), positions that have held strong sway from time to time in the spiritual traditions of the world.

At another stage, with increased understanding, we can move beyond this apparent duality to recognize that even the phenomenon we see and interact with outside ourselves is part and parcel of the one self, and that it is one with our own consciousness as well. “The universe, and our existence in the universe, becomes to us a constant and real form of the self-aware existence of the Divine.”

There is a reality to the external forms: “For it is ever itself and figures of itself and not things quite other than itself that the Spirit sees everywhere.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pg. 300

Understanding the Supracosmic Aspect of the Divine Nature

Inasmuch as the reality of the universal Being, the Supreme is outside the scope of our mental conceptual nature, it is essential for us to recognize that any true knowledge of that reality must occur through other capabilities or modes of experience. The statements we make about the nature of the Divine are therefore at best transcriptions or approximations of an experience that takes place. The symbolic terms used are not the experience themselves, and cannot capture the complete experience; they point to it and indicate its presence at best. Depending on the experience granted to each individual, the description may take various forms. It is something like the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant based on touch. Each one felt a different part of the elephant and thus, the descriptions were widely varied and apparently inconsistent with one another, although they each described a part of the same being.

Sri Aurobindo describes the interaction between spiritual experience and mental transcription: “When we attempt to put ourselves into conscious relations with whatever supreme or universal Being there exists concealed or manifest in the world, we arrive at a very various experience and one or other variant term of this experience is turned by different intellectual conceptions into their fundamental idea of existence.”

The experience is “…first of a Divine who is something quite different from and greater than ourselves, quite different from and greater than the universe in which we live; and so it is and no more so long as we live only in our phenomenal selves and see around us only the phenomenal face of the world. For the highest truth of the Supreme is supracosmic and all that is phenomenal seems a thing other than the infinity of the self-conscious spirit, seems an image of a lesser truth if not an illusion. When we dwell in this difference only, we regard the Divine as if extracosmic. That he is only in this sense that he is not, being supracosmic, contained in the cosmos and its creations, but not in the sense that they are outside his being: for there is nothing outside the one Eternal and Real. We realize this first truth of the Godhead spiritually when we get the experience that we live and move and have our being in him alone, that, however different from him we may be, we depend on him for our existence and the universe itself is only a phenomenon and movement in the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part I, Chapter 5, The Divine Truth and Way, pg. 299