The concept of evolution, as enunciated by Darwin and fleshed out thereafter, focuses primarily on the physical evolution of species. Sri Aurobindo takes the concept of evolution to an entirely different level when he describes the systematic increasing evolution of consciousness which is the secret sense behind the ascending series of species arising out of the inconscient material basis of the world. As we know from our exploration of species, everything that exists has a predecessor or precursor, so that we can identify a line of evolution in the world of Matter and Life. The tree grows from the seed, and the seed contains the DNA that provides instructions that build the future tree out of the necessary components when placed in a supportive environment. The evolution of consciousness, similarly, cannot develop unless it is already “involved” in Matter from which it evolves. With this understanding we can quickly appreciate Sri Aurobindo’s insights about the stage of evolution and the role of man in that evolution.
“Nature starts from Matter, develops out of it its hidden Life, releases out of involution in life all the crude material of Mind and, when she is ready, turns Mind upon itself and upon Life and Matter in a great mental effort to understand all three in their phenomena, their obvious action, their secret laws, their normal and abnormal possibilities and powers so that they may be turned to the richest account, used in the best and most harmonious way, elevated to their highest as well as extended to their widest potential aims by the action of that faculty which man alone of terrestrial creatures clearly possesses, the intelligent will. It is only in this fourth stage of her progress that she arrives at humanity. The atoms and the elements organise brute Matter, the plant develops the living being, the animal prepares and brings to a certain kind of mechanical organisation the crude material of Mind, but the last work of all, the knowledge and control of all these things and self-knowledge and self-control, — that has been reserved for Man, Nature’s mental being.”
“That he may better do the work she has given him, she compels him to repeat physically and to some extent mentally stages of her animal evolution and, even when he is in possession of his mental being, she induces him continually to dwell with an interest and even a kind of absorption upon Matter and Life and his own body and vital existence. This is necessary to the largeness of her purpose in him. His first natural absorption in the body and the life is narrow and unintelligent; as his intelligence and mental force increase, he disengages himself to some extent, is able to mount higher, but is still tied to his vital and material roots by need and desire and has to return upon them with a larger curiosity, a greater power of utilisation, a more and more highly mental and, in the end, a more and more spiritual aim in the return. For his cycles are circles of a growing, but still imperfect harmony and synthesis, and she brings him back violently to her original principles, sometimes even to something like her earlier conditions so taht he may start afresh on a larger curve of progress and self-fulfilment.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 9, Civilisation and Culture, pp. 82-83