The Interaction of the Ideal With the Material-Vital Existence

At a certain point in our evolutionary development, the satisfaction of the material wants and vital desires can no longer captivate our entire attention. There is more to our existence than a purely material-vital will to live. In particular, the human experience shows us that we have a mentality, and that there are goals, aspirations, ideals erected by this mentality that try to reduce or eliminate the domination of the physical-vital life and make them in fact subservient to the needs of the intellect. We set up images of an ideal in each field of mental activity, whether it be aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, moral, philosophical, scientific or spiritual. And yet, because of the limitations and resistance of the material-vital frame, the ideal remains far beyond what can be actually achieved.

Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: “Matter and life, however, in spite of their insistence and great importance are not all that man is, nor can he wholly accept mind as nothing but a servant of the life and body admitted to certain pure enjoyments of its own as a sort of reward for its service or regard it as no more than an extension and flower of the vital urge, an ideal luxury contingent upon the satisfaction of the material life. The mind much more intimately than the body and the life is the man, and the mind as it develops insists more and more on making the body and the life an instrument–an indispensable instrument and yet a considerable obstacle, otherwise there would be no problem–for its own characteristic satisfactions and self-realisation.”

The attempt to achieve the various standards, dharmas, rules and ideals that the mental intelligence sets up to try and implement its own goals within the limits of the material life leads to an uneasy compromise between the two differing principles. “The absolute shining ideals stand far above and beyond our capacity and rare individuals approximate to them as best they can: the mass follow or profess to follow some less magnificent norm, some established possible and relative standard. Human life as a whole undergoes the attraction and yet rejects the ideal. Life resists in the strength of some obscure infinite of its own and wears down or breaks down any established mental and moral order. And this must be because the two are quite different and disparate though meeting and interacting principles or because mind has not the clue to the whole reality of life. The clue must be sought in something greater, an unknown something above the mentality and morality of the human creature.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 23, The Core of the Gita’s Meaning, pp. 546-547

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