Infra-Ethical, Ethical, and Supra-Ethical Planes of Understanding

An interesting verse from the Rig Veda explains the various levels of consciousness and their interaction.  The human being, with the operation of the mental reason, recognizes a “mid range”, but there are ranges below, and ranges above the human levels of awareness.  Sri Aurobindo calls the ones below “infra-rational” and those above “supra-rational” with our level of awareness described as “rational”.  As human beings begin to explore the boundaries of consciousness, they can gain a perception of these levels, as the Vedic seers proclaim:  “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.”  (Rig Veda, X.129, 1-5, translated by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine.  

There are traditions around the world that explain that the laws of conduct, the standards of living have been brought down from the Gods for humanity.  In the West, there are The Ten Commandments.  In India, the Laws of Manu.  Other traditions attribute divine origin to codified rules of ethics and morality.  While the specific applications are diluted by human limitations, by the action of desire and by physical circumstances, the attempt to live up to these laws represents the leading edge of human ethical development.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “If man’s conscience is a creation of his evolving nature, if his conceptions of ethical law are mutable and depend on his stage of evolution, yet at the root of them there is something constant in all their mutations which lies at the very root of his own nature and of world-nature.  And if Nature in man and the world is in its beginnings infra-ethical as well as infrarational, as it is at its summit supra-ethical as well as suprarational, yet in that infra-ethical there is something which becomes in the human plane of being the ethical, and that supra-ethical is itself a consummation of the ethical and cannot be reached by any who have not trod the long ethical road.  Below hides that secret of good in all things which the human being approaches and tries to deliver partially through ethical instinct and ethical idea; above is hidden the eternal Good which exceeds our partial and fragmentary ethical conceptions.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 15,  The Suprarational Good, pp. 151-152