With our focus on the physical world we tend to give predominance and priority to Matter in our way of seeing and thinking. Science, as it delves into Matter, however, have realised that Matter is actually a form of Energy, and in recent years, this realisation has been advanced even further to determine that Energy is a form of Consciousness. We thus come, through our focus on Matter, to the recognition that the priority, the determination and the meaning of Matter can only be found when we shift our view to the level of consciousness. This brings us in alignment with the ancient Upanishadic tradition that places the causation and qualitative determination of the universe at the level of the Spirit, with the world of forms and material existence a subordinate or secondary result, not a first cause. The Taittiriya Upanishad has a chapter devoted to the seeking for the cause and purpose of existence, starting with Matter and successively moving through different realisations that the Life-Force is the inner sense of Matter; Mind the inner sense of Life-Force; Knowledge the inner sense of Mind and Ananda, the Bliss of the Eternal Sat-Chit-Ananda as the ultimate inner sense of Knowledge. This characterizes the recognition of the primary status of Spirit, or as the image has been presented elsewhere, of the Tree of the Universe with its roots above and its leaves and branches hanging down.
The question the Gita takes up at this point is how we then make a transition from the pure consciousness of the Spirit, the Eternal Brahman, to the world of forms and forces within which we live and act today, and what the connecting links may be. If, as the Gita holds, the Spirit is primary and the world of Matter secondary, there must be some process or mechanism by which Spirit creates the world of forms. The process is carried out by a transitional form of consciousness, called Mahat or Vijnana (translated above as “knowledge”) which retains the full awareness of the unified consciousness of Sat-Chit-Ananda, but which begins to differentiate and distinguish forms through the development of the three qualities, modes of Nature, called the three Gunas. Sri Aurobindo explains: “In any spiritual conception of the universe this must be so, because the connecting medium between spirit and matter must be psyche or soul-power and the primary action psychological and qualitative, not physical and quantitative; for quality is the immaterial, the more spiritual element in all the action of the universal Energy, her prior dynamics.” The entire Creation is subject to these qualities or gunas. “Only the Spirit, which by the power of its idea-being and its idea-force called mahat and vijnana fixes these conditions, is not so determined, not subject to any limitations either of quality or quantity because its immeasurable and indeterminable infinity is superior to the modes which it develops and uses for its creation.”
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 14, Above the Gunas, pp. 410-412