The Illusion of the Materialist View of Existence

When Bhrigu, Varuna’s son, as described in the Taittiriya Upanishad, began his practice of concentration of conscious-force (tapas) for the purpose of knowing the Eternal, the first realisation he came to was that Matter (food) was the Eternal. “For from food alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by food, and into food they depart and enter again.” When he imparted this revelation to his father, however, he was asked to continue his efforts, with the result that he eventually recognized that this was an imperfect understanding and that there were additional levels, and eventually an ultimate level of knowledge, which, while not denying the reality of Matter, did not consign to it the ultimate and permanent value that he first posited.

This is the position we have when we adopt the materialist understanding of the primacy of Matter and the development of life and consciousness as some kind of inexplicable combination of chemicals and material forces under certain conditions. Sri Aurobindo describes this as the illusion that the seeker of the integral yoga, as also the followers of the traditional yoga of knowledge, must eventually see through and overcome:

“A spiritual knowledge…must discover that the body is not our self, our foundation of existence; it is a sensible form of the Infinite. The experience of Matter as the world’ sole foundation and the physical brain and nerves and cells and molecules as the one truth of all things in us, the ponderous inadequate basis of materialism, is a delusion, a half-view taken for the whole, the dark bottom or shadow of things misconceived as the luminous substance, the effective figure of zero for the Integer. The materialist idea mistakes the creation for the creative Power, a means of expression for That which is expressed and expresses. Matter and our physical brain and nerves and body are the field and foundation for one action of a vital force that serves to connect the Self with the form of its works and maintains them by its direct dynamis. The material movements are an exterior notation by which the soul represents its perceptions of certain truths of the Infinite and makes them effective in the terms of Substance. These things are a language, a notation, a hieroglyphic, a system of symbols, not themselves the deepest truest sense of the things they intimate.”

No one would confuse the pottery created with the potter who creates it. But we continually confuse the forms that arise out of Matter with the creative Power itself. In the case of the potter and the pottery, it is quite clear, but in the case of Matter and the Creator it is even more difficult because we have an inner sense or intuition of the truth of Oneness, that in fact, the Creator, the creation and the process of creation are all one “omnipresent reality” and thus, Matter itself is of the substance of Spirit, not having a “separate” existence. Nevertheless, the limitations of human thought bring us to the development of a strict dichotomy that denies the Spirit in Matter and forces us into the illusion of separation and material primacy. By dispelling these illusions the seeker comes to see the wider Truth of existence, and this is the goal of the practitioner of the yoga of knowledge and a step along the way for the integral yoga that does not abandon the reality of Matter while dispelling the illusory nature of our understanding of Matter.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 1, The Object of Knowledge, pg. 280

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