Human Development: Instinct, Reason and the Supermind

Instinctive behavior takes place, as it does in the plant and animal development, in the human being as well. There are numerous built-in patterns of reaction that help to define how the human individual will respond to various circumstances or situations. At the same time, we see in the human being the development of the power of the mind, and with the advent of self-reflective operations of intelligence and reason we see the conscious effort to modify or suppress the action of instinct and supplant it with a decision made through the mental process. This action of the reasoning intelligence disrupts the pure reaction of instinct. There are both positive and negative aspects of this disruption. The human being acts as a transitional being with the capacity and drive toward a greater fulfillment and a greater action of self-awareness and self-exceeding towards a higher range of consciousness. To the extent that instinct hinders or gets in the way of this process, it must be addressed. At the same time, the mind tends to try to dominate the physical and vital segments of the human composition, and due to its limitations, it may suppress or try to eliminate powers that are necessary for the completeness of the expression, rather than adjust and reorient them.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The being of man also is full of physical, vital, emotional, psychical and dynamic instincts and intuitions, but he does not rely on them as the animal does,–though they are capable in him of a far larger scope and greater action than in the animal and lower creation by reason of his greater actual evolutionary development and his yet greater potentiality of development of the being. he has suppressed them, discontinued their full and overt action by atrophy,–not that these capacities are destroyed but rather held back or cast back into the subliminal consciousness,–and consequently this lower part of his being is much less sure of itself, much less confident of the directions of his nature, much more groping, errant and fallible in its larger scope than that of the animal in his lesser limits. This happens because man’s real Dharma and law of being is to seek for a greater self-aware existence, a self-manifestation no longer obscure and governed by an ununderstood necessity, but illumined, conscious of that which is expressing itself and able to give it a fuller and more perfect expression. And finally his culmination must be to identify himself with his greatest and real self and act or rather let it act (his natural existence being an instrumental form of the expression of the spirit) in its spontaneous perfect will and knowledge.”

To do this, the use of the reasoning intelligence is the first and foremost tool to begin with. But due to the limitations of the reasoning intelligence and the circumscribed capacities it has, this is not sufficient nor the ultimate tool for development beyond the human limitations. “The godhead of the reason, the intellectual Logos, is only a partial representative and substitute for the greater supramental Logos, and its function is to impose a preliminary partial knowledge and order upon the life of the creature, but the rael, final and integral order can only be founded by the spiritual supermind in its emergence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 766-767

The Secret Force of Knowledge and Will Operating in Material and Vital Nature

The action of the supramental knowledge and force is embedded in the structure and functioning of Matter, not as a self-aware consciousness, but as an intricately detailed operation of what we call “material energy”. The atomic structure of Matter evidences the operation of a powerful and coordinated intelligence at work in the systematic and mechanical operations. The supermind does not bring its entire power of self-awareness to the material or vital planes but transforms its effective action into what may be seen as a secret intelligence. In the case of the vital plane, we observe the functioning of what we call “instinct”. The plant or animal “knows” what to do without self-reflection or consideration, because this knowledge is built into the very nature of their being. Sri Aurobindo describes this as a type of “intuition” in Matter and Life.

“There is what we are sometimes moved to call an intelligence and will operating in the material force and the atom…-let us say, a covert intuition of self-existence at work,–but the atom and force are not aware of it and are only the obscure body of matter and of power crated by its first effort of self-manifestation. The presence of such an intuition becomes more evident to us in all the action of life because that is nearer to our own scale. And as life develops overt sense and mind, as in the animal creation, we can speak more confidently of a vital intuition which is behind its operations and which emerges in the animal mind in the clear form of instinct,–instinct, an automatic knowledge implanted in the animal, sure, direct, self-existent, self-guided, which implies somewhere in its being an accurate knowing of purpose, relation and the thing or object. It acts in the life force and mind, but yet the surface life and mind do not possess it and cannot give an account of what it does or control or extend the power at its will and pleasure. Here we observe two things, first, that the overt intuition acts only for a limited necessity and purpose, and that in the rest of the operations of the nature there is a double action, one uncertain and ignorant of the surface consciousness and the other subliminal, implying a secret subconscient direction. The surface consciousness is full of a groping and seeking which increases rather than diminishes as life rises in its scale and widens in the scope of its conscious powers; but the secret self within assures in spite of the groping of the vital mind, the action of the nature and the result needed for the necessity, the purpose and the destiny of the being. This continues on a higher and higher scale up to the human reason and intelligence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 765-766

Supramental Action Is the Hidden Secret of Nature

Whether we look into the macrocosm or the microcosm, we find that the mystery of the universal creation exceeds any capacity of the mental consciousness to understand or comprehend it in its breadth or depth. With the advent of new tools of investigation such as the electron microscope, we can observe the organization of the building blocks of Matter, the atomic structure of all forms. We can also look deep into space and observe enormous numbers of galaxies, stars, planets through an immensity of space that is beyond our comprehension, and nevertheless with a system and process that shows the non-random nature of the universe. Looking even at the forms of life around us and the eco-sphere and bio-sphere of life on this planet, we see an incredible diversity of forms which somehow seem to fit together, to support and require one another for existence and which, despite their diversity, apparently make up one coordinated whole. Thus we see that human beings need to breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide; and plants create oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Thus, human beings are symbiotic beings with the world of plants. While the atomic structure of Matter appears to be inconscient and automatic, it exhibits such a high degree of intelligent organization that it clearly is the product of consciousness.

This is how we can identify the supramental action even in the inconscience of Matter. Sri Aurobindo elaborates: “There is even a quite visible intimate action of the consciousness, persistent in life, matter and mind, which is clearly a supramental action subdued to the character and need of the lower medium and to which we now give the name of intuition from its most evident characteristics of direct vision and self-acting knowledge, really a vision born of some secret identity with the object of the knowledge. What we call the intuition is however only a partial indication of the presence of the supermind, and if we take this presence and power in its widest character, we shall see that it is a concealed supramental force with a self-conscient knowledge in it which informs the whole action of material energy. It is that which determines what we call law of nature, maintains the action of each thing according to its own nature and harmonises and evolves the whole, which would otherwise be a fortuitous creation apt at any moment to collapse into chaos. All the law of nature is a thing precise in its necessities of process, but is yet in the cause of that necessity and of its constancy of rule, measure, combination, adaptation, result a thing inexplicable, meeting us at every step with a mystery and a miracle, and this must be either because it is irrational and accidental even in its regularities or because it is supra-rational, because the truth of it belongs to a principle greater than that of our intelligence. That principle is the supramental; that is to say, the hidden secret of Nature is the organisation of something out of the infinite potentialities of the self-existent truth of the spirit the nature of which is wholly evident only to an original knowledge born of and proceeding by a fundamental identity, the spirit’s constant self-perception.”

“All these processes are actually spiritual and supramental in their secret government, but mental, vital and physical in their overt process.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 764-765

The Levels of the Mental Consciousness

We may look upon consciousness as a continuum, starting from the all-conscious, Sat-Chit-Ananda which is the divine knowledge and will in its highest form of existence. In order to create a manifested universe with various planes of consciousness and existence, this ultimate status undergoes a process of “involution” whereby the broader knowledge and power are veiled and reduced in their immediate capacity and action, analogous to a “step-down transformer” taking raw electrical power generation and converting it into a form that can be transmitted through wires into homes to operate the electrical devices. The supramental consciousness is the lynch-pin that carries out this “step-down” transformation of consciousness. It remains fully aware and connected to the higher status of conscious awareness, while at the same time, it is able to develop differentiation of forms and functions consistent with the needs of the manifestation of the Divine through Time, Space and Circumstance. Once fully involved in the apparent inconscience of Matter, the consciousness works in an “automatic” fashion of incredible complexity and interactivity, but without obvious self-awareness. From this status of involution, it begins to evolve out and manifest the vital intelligence, the animal mind, the higher mind and then succeeding levels of intuitive mind and eventually rejoining the awareness of the supramental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo describes the levels of mental consciousness that intervene between the supramental and the material planes: “The mind, when we trace the descent of the self towards matter, we see as a derivation which travels away from the fullness of self, the fullness of its light and being and which lives in a division and diversion, not in the body of the sun, but first in its nearer and then in its far-off rays. There is a highest intuitive mind which receives more nearly the supramental truth, but even this is a formation which conceals the direct and greater real knowledge. There is an intellectual mind which is a luminous half-opaque lid which intercepts and reflects in a radiantly distorting and suppressively modifying atmosphere the truth known to the supermind. There is a still lower mind built on the foundation of the senses between which and the sun of knowledge there is a thick cloud, an emotional and a sensational mist and vapour with here and there lightnings and illuminations. There is a vital mind which is shut away even from the light of intellectual truth, and lower still in submental life and matter the spirit involves itself entirely as if in a sleep and a night, a sleep plunged in a dim and yet poignant nervous dream, the night of a mechanical somnambulist energy. It is a re-evolution of the spirit out of this lowest state in which we find ourselves at a height above the lower creation, having taken it up all in us and reaching so far in our ascent only the light of the well-developed mental reason. The full powers of self-knowledge and the illumined will of the spirit are still beyond us above the mind and reason in supramental Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 763-764

The Spontaneous Self-Fulfilling Truth of the Spirit

The limitations of the mentality are not just due to fragmentation of knowledge within the world of its perception of Circumstance. These limitations extend to an incapacity to grasp the enormity of Space as well as the sequence of Time. There is an ancient philosophical riddle propounded by a Greek thinker that indicated that an arrow could never reach its target, because at each moment, it would traverse half the distance to its goal, so it could not reach its goal. This is an illustration of the limitation of the mental consciousness because it assumed that each moment in time was a segmented and fragmented unit rather than a continuous flow from past to present and from present to future. The supramental knowledge, on the contrary, is able to view Time, Space and Circumstance as one whole, as a continuity and as a self-unfolding of the Will of the divine Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The mind knows only the present and lives in an isolated movement of it though it tries to remember and retain the past and forecast and compel the future. The supermind has the vision of the three times, trikaladrsti; it sees them as an indivisible movement and sees too each containing the others. It is aware of all tendencies, energies and forces as the diverse play of unity and knows their relation to each other in the single movement of the one spirit. The supramental will and action are therefore a will and action of the spontaneous self-fulfilling truth of the spirit, the right and at the highest the infallible movement of a direct and total knowledge.”

“The supramental nature on the contrary is just, harmonious and one, will and knowledge there only light of the spirit and power of the spirit, the power effecting the light, the light illumining the power. In the highest supramentality they are intimately fused together and do not even wait upon each other but are one movement, will illumining itself, knowledge fulfilling itself, both together a single jet of the being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 762-763

The Will of the Supermind and the Will of the Mental and Vital Consciousness

In the fragmented human mental and vital consciousness, the acquisition of knowledge is separated from the implementation of the active will. Will suffers from similar defects of limitation, deformation and incompleteness. The vital will takes the form of desire, the attempt to obtain something “outside” and “other” in order to meet some perceived internal need of the being. The mental will suffers from incapacity and misdirection of its efforts as it also references its actions to the perceived needs of the individual.

The supramental will has a different character. For the supramental consciousness, knowledge and will are unified so that knowledge is effectuated in the manifestation and unfolding of the action of the universal creation. There is no limitation either for knowledge, or will nor any bifurcation between the two, as Sri Aurobindo describes:

“The supermind is again, because it acts and creates as well as knows, not only a direct truth-consciousness, but an illumined, direct and spontaneous truth-will. There is not and cannot be in the will of the self-knowing spirit any contradiction, division or difference between its will and its knowledge. The spiritual will is the Tapas or enlightened force of the conscious being of the spirit effecting infallibly what is there within it, and it is this infallible operation of things acting according to their own nature, of energy producing result and event according to the force within it, of action bearing the fruit and event involved in its own character and intention which we call variously in its different aspects law of Nature, Karma, Necessity and Fate.”

The Rig Veda takes up the question as well in Mandala X, Sukta 129: “The seers of Truth discovered the building of being in non-being by will in the heart and by the thought; their ray was extended horizontally; but what was there below, what was there above? There were Casters of the seed, there were Greatnesses; there was self-law below, there was Will above.” (cited by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine, page 240)

The horizontal extension represents the mental consciousness of man. Involved in Matter there is what we may call “self-law”, an automatic pattern built into the very basis of the material universe to carry out the divine intention in creation. Above the mind there is a level of consciousness that creates and “casts the seed” into the manifestation. The human level, sandwiched between these two is always circumscribed, limited by its roots in the material world, and blocked from the higher light while it remains fixated on the mental process.

“The will of the mind and life is a stumbling about in search of right force, right Tapas which can wholly be attained in its true and complete light and direction only by oneness with the spiritual and supramental being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pp. 761-762

The Supermind as an Instrument of Knowledge

The mental consciousness functions within a range that is bounded on the lower end by the darkness of the material consciousness and on the upper end by the apparent darkness of the higher levels of awareness. This is analogous to the range of perception of the senses within the much larger electro-magnetic vibratory spectrum. Science has established that there are, for instance, ranges of sound vibration or light vibration that occur below our range of hearing or sight, and similarly, there are vibrations that occur above our range. In some cases, other beings experience a different segment of the range and thus, may hear or see things that are unheard or unseen by the human being. In a very similar way, there are forms and levels of conscious awareness that fall below the mind’s perception, and there will be forms and levels above the mind’s perception.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Man lives in a mental consciousness between a vast subconscient which is to his seeing a dark inconscience and a vaster superconscient which he is apt to take for another but a luminous inconscience, because his idea of consciousness is confined to his own middle term of mental sensation and intelligence. it is in that luminous superconscience that there lie the ranges of the supermind and the spirit.”

The Supermind acts from a different basis than the mental consciousness. It does not aggregate and infer; rather it sees and knows from an intimate oneness and unity. “The supermind sees directly the spirit and essence, the face and body, the result and action, the principles and dependences of the truth as one indivisible whole and therefore can work out the circumstantial results in the power of the essential knowledge, the variations of the spirit in the light of its identities, its apparent divisions in the truth of its oneness. The supermind is a knower and creator of its own truth, the mind of man only a knower and creator in the half light and half darkness of a mingled truth and error, and creator too of a thing which it derives altered, translated, lessened from something greater than and beyond it.”

The action of the supermind is inferred in the Isha Upanishad: “It is He that has gone abroad–That which is bright, bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews, pure, unpierced by evil. The Seer, the Thinker, the One who becomes everywhere, the Self-existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal.” (Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, v. 8, pg. 21)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 19, The Nature of the Supermind, pg. 761