The Rationale For an Integration of the Higher and the Lower Pursuits of Knowledge

We see throughout human history the separation of the human endeavor into two somewhat distinct spheres. There is the seeking of the ultimate Knowledge, the pursuit of the Infinite, the attempt to know the Unknowable. And then there is the knowledge which seeks to aid us in our life in the world, practical, inventive and insightful knowledge which works toward the perfection or enhancement of life.

Philosophy generally focused its attention on the former, with religion seeking the Highest from a basis starting in the world of life; while science and art have been generally the province of the latter.

Sri Aurobindo describes the role of these various forms of seeking: “Philosophy, sometimes spiritual or at least intuitive, sometimes abstract and intellectual, sometimes intellectualising spiritual experience or supporting with a logical apparatus the discoveries of the spirit, has claimed always to take the fixation of the ultimate Truth as its province.”

“Religion did not attempt, like Philosophy, to live alone on the heights; its aim was rather to take hold of man’s parts of life even more than his parts of mind and draw them Godwards; it professed to build a bridge between spiritual Truth and the vital and material existence; it strove to subordinate and reconcile the lower to the higher, make life serviceable to God, Earth obedient to Heaven.”

“On the other side, Science and Art and the knowledge of life, although at first they served or lived in the shadow of Religion, ended by emancipating themselves, became estranged or hostile, or have even recoiled with indifference, contempt or scepticism from what seem to them the cold, barren and distant or unsubstantial and illusory heights of unreality to which metaphysical Philosophy and Religion aspire.”

Each of these activities has shown, over time, its limitations and down-sides for the human development. And eventually the seeker can recognize that these two hemispheres are aspects of one unified existence, and that both of them have their place, their rationale and their significance in the fulfillment of the aim of human life. “Yet even in the earthward life a higher knowledge is indeed the one thing that is throughout needful, and without it the lower sciences and pursuits, however fruitful, however rich, free, miraculous in the abundance of their results, become easily a sacrifice offered without due order and to false gods; corrupting, hardening in the end the heart of man, limiting his mind’s horizons, they confine in a stony material imprisonment or lead to a final baffling incertitude and disillusionment. A sterile agnosticism awaits us above the brilliant phosphorescence of a half-knowledge that is still the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 5, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-1, The Works of Knowledge–The Psychic Being, pp. 130-132

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