The Higher and the Lower Hemisphere of Consciousness

The Isha Upanishad declares: “The face of Truth is covered with a brilliant golden lid; that do thou remove, O Fosterer, for the law of the Truth, for sight.” (Isha Upanishad, v. 15 translated by Sri Aurobindo).

In this verse the ancient sage enunciates the separation of the consciousness from the lower hemisphere occupied by our normal human awareness in Body-Life-Mind and the higher hemisphere of Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence-Consciousness-Bliss and opens up the possibility of transcending the limitations of the lower and thereby gaining Knowledge and Vision.

Sri Aurobindo describes the higher hemisphere: “The higher hemisphere is the perfect and eternal reign of the Spirit; for there it manifests without cessation or diminution its infinities, deploys the unconcealed glories of its illimitable existence, its illimitable consciousness and knowledge, its illimitable force and power, its illimitable beatitude.”

He contrasts this with the lower: “The lower hemisphere belongs equally to the Spirit; but here it is veiled, closely, thickly, by its inferior self-expression of limiting mind, confined life and dividing body. The Self in the lower hemisphere is shrouded in name and form; its consciousness is broken up by the division between the internal and external, the individual and universal; its vision and sense are turned outward; its force, limited by division of its consciousness, works in fetters; its knowledge, will, power, delight, divided by this division, limited by this limitation, are open to the experience of their contrary or perverse forms, to ignorance, weakness and suffering.”

Sri Aurobindo affirms the possibility of becoming aware of and sharing the experience of the higher planes. “We can indeed become aware of the true Self or Spirit in ourselves by turning our sense and vision inward; we can discover too the same Self or Spirit in the external world and its phenomena by plunging them there also inward through the veil of names and forms to that which dwells in these or else stands behind them. Our normal consciousness through this inward look may become by reflection aware of the infinite being, consciousness and delight of the Self and share in its passive or static infinity of these things.”

There are limits to this reflective sharing of the consciousness of the higher hemisphere, which can only be truly overcome by complete transcendence of the lower and taking on the consciousness of the higher completely. In addition, the effort required, even to accomplish the first step, remains difficult to achieve. “To understand the possibility of transcending it at all, we must restate in a practical formula the relations of the worlds which constitute the two hemispheres.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 21, The Ladder of Self-Transcendence, pp. 446-447

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