The Potential Central Role of Religion in the Development of Mankind

Modern society places a premium on either the intelligent will, the reasoning capability, or else, on the vital power as holding a central position in human development.  We can understand why this is so, when we see the almost miraculous development of life in the modern age, with the technological progress we have witnessed, and the widened understanding that reason and science have made possible.  Yet we have also seen the limitations of reason and vital force in terms of any ultimate resolution of the issues we face, either as individuals or as a developing society.  The question then arises whether there is any possible solution, and if so, what it may be.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Since the infinite, the absolute and transcendent, the universal, the One is the secret summit of existence and to reach the spiritual consciousness and the Divine the ultimate goal and aim of our being and therefore of the whole development of the individual and the collectivity in all its parts and all its activities, reason cannot be the last and highest guide; culture, as it is understood ordinarily, cannot be the directing light or find out the regulating and harmonising principle of all our life and action.  For reason stops short of the Divine and only compromises with the problems of life, and culture in order to attain the Transcendent and Infinite must become spiritual culture, something much more than an intellectual, aesthetic, ethical and practical training.  Where then are we to find the directing light and the regulating and harmonising principle?  The first answer which will suggest itself, the answer constantly given by the Asiatic mind, is that we shall find it directly and immediately in religion.  And this seems a reasonable and at first sight a satisfying solution; for religion is that instinct, idea, activity, discipline in man which aims directly at the Divine, while all the rest seem to aim at it only indirectly and reach it with difficulty after much wandering and stumbling in the pursuit of the outward and imperfect appearances of things.  To make all life religion and to govern all activities by the religious idea would seem to be the right way to the development of the ideal individual and ideal society and the lifting of the whole life of man into the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 17,  Religion as the Law of Life, pg. 173

A Spiritual Consciousness Holds the Suprarational Meaning of Struggling Life

As we grow and develop in our lives, we seek for fulfillment, first in the material field, later in the attempt to satisfy life’s desires and drives, then in various forms of emotional, aesthetic or mental fulfillment.  In each instance, we eventually recognize that we have not achieved any ultimate fulfillment.  The “gold” we were seeking turns out to be tarnished metal, not the real thing.  Eventually we begin to recognize that there is a spiritual consciousness that provides us certitude, truth and the fulfillment of all our striving, so that we experience the ultimate of peace, love and knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The ultimates of life are spiritual and only in the full light of the liberated self and spirit can it achieve them.  That full light is not intellect or reason, but a knowledge by inner unity and identity which is the native self-light of the fully developed spiritual consciousness and, preparing that, on the way to it, a knowledge by intimate inner contact with the truth of things and beings which is intuitive and born of a secret oneness.  Life seeks for self-knowledge; it is only by the light of the spirit that it can find it.    …  Life seeks the fulfilment of its instincts of love and sympathy, its yearnings after accord and union; but these are crossed by opposing instincts and it is only the spiritual consciousness with its realised abiding oneness that can abolish these oppositions.  Life seeks for full growth of being, but it can attain to it only when the limited being has found in itself its own inmost soul of existence and around it its own widest self of cosmic consciousness by which it can feel the world and all being in itself and as itself.  Life seeks for power; it is only the power of the spirit and the power of this conscious oneness that can give it mastery of its self and its world.  It seeks for pleasure, happiness, bliss; but the infrarational forms of these things are stricken with imperfection, fragmentariness, impermanence and the impact of their opposites.  Moreover infrarational life still bears some stamp of the Inconscient in an underlying insensitiveness, a dullness of fibre, a weakness of vibratory response, — it cannot attain to true happiness or bliss and what it can obtain of pleasure it cannot support for long or bear or keep any extreme intensity of these things.  Only the spirit has the secret of an unmixed and abiding happiness or ecstasy, is capable of a firm tenseness of vibrant response to it, can achieve and justify a spiritual pleasure or joy of life as one form of the infinite and universal delight of being.  Life seeks harmonious fulfilment of all its powers, now divided and in conflict, all its possibilities, parts, members; it is only in the consciousness of the one self and spirit that that is found, for there they arrive at their full truth and their perfect agreement in the light of the integral Self-existence.”

“There is then a suprational ultimate of Life no less than a suprarational Truth, Good and Beauty.  The endeavour to reach it is the spiritual meaning of this seeking and striving Life-nature.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 171-172

The Wellsprings of Human Aspiration for Growth, Expansion and Consciousness

When a tree grows from a seed, it is not a random action of matter, but a coordinated, highly detailed event of information involved and stored in the physical seed.  Without that encoded specification, the seed could not produce a specific type of tree with specific characteristics.  Similarly, when we look at the development of human life, we see specific characteristics manifest themselves that could not be the result of random chance, but were clearly encoded within the nature of the human being.  This involution of consciousness, which evolves, step by step in the progressions of Nature, is the key to understanding the meaning of our lives and the aspirations that drive us towards ever-greater awareness.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…we see what through it all it is obscurely seeking, trying to grasp and form, feeling out for in its own higher impulses and deepest motives, and why these are in it — useless, perturbing and chimerical if it were only an animal product of inconscient Nature, — these urgings towards self-discovery, mastery, unity, freedom from its lower self, spiritual release.  Evolving out of its first involved condition in Matter and in plant life, effecting a first imperfect organised consciousness in the animal it arrives in man, the mental being, at the possibility of a new, a conscious evolution which will bring it to its goal and at a certain stage of his development it wakes in him the overmastering impulse to pass on from mental to spiritual being.  Life cannot arrive at its secret ultimates by following its first infrarational motive forces of instinct and desire; for all here is a groping and seeking without finding, a field of brief satisfactions stamped with the Inconscient’s seal of insufficiency and impermanence.  But neither can human reason give it what it searches after; for reason can only establish half-lights and a provisional order.  There with man as he is the upward urge in life cannot rest satisfied always; its evolutionary impulse cannot stop short at this transitional term, this half-achievement.  It has to aim at a higher scale of consciousness, deliver out of life and mind something that is still latent and inchoate.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 170-171

The Original Sin of the Being

We may observe in nature the paradigm of our growth of consciousness out of the Inconscience.  The largest trees grow from tiny seeds.  The entire existence and conscious-force that becomes the tree is embedded in Matter, invisible,  unknown until, with the right circumstances, it springs forth, releases its energy out of the seed-form and begins to struggle for existence in the environment within which it is asked to grow.  This is the ultimate fragmentation which the Vedic seers referred to when they exclaimed “When universal being was concealed by fragmentation…”  The consciousness embedded within the seed has to overcome all the obstacles of the , discmaterial world in order to exist, grow and thrive.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Life and consciousness, no less than Matter, obey in their first appearance the law of fragmentation.  Life organises itself physically around the plasm, the cell, psychologically round the small separative fragmentary ego.  Consciousness itself has to hide behind the veil of this limited surface existence the depths and infinities of its own being.  It has to grow slowly in an external formulation till it is ready to break the crust between this petty outer figure of ourselves, which we think to be the whole, and the concealed self within us.  Even the spiritual being seems to obey this law of fragmentation and manifest as a unit in the whole a spark of itself that evolves into an individual psyche.  It is this little ego, this fragmented consciousness, this concealed soul-spark on which is imposed the task of meeting and striving with the forces of the universe, entering into contact with all that seems to it not itself, increasing under the pressure of inner an outer Nature till it can become one with all existence.  It has to grow into self-knowledge and world-knowledge, to get within itself and discover that it is a spiritual being, to get outside of itself and discover its larger truth as the cosmic Individual, to get beyond itself and know and live in some supreme Being, Consciousness and Bliss of existence.  For this immense task it is equipped only with the instruments of its original Ignorance.  Its limited being is the cause of all the difficulty, discord, struggle, division that mars life.  The limitation of its consciousness, unable to dominate or assimilate the contacts of the universal Energy, is the cause of all its suffering, pain and sorrow.  Its limited power of consciousness formulated in an ignorant will unable to grasp or follow the right law of its life and action is the cause of all its error, wrongdoing and evil.  There is no other true cause; for all apparent causes are themselves circumstance and result of this original sin of the being.  Only when it rises and widens out of this limited separative consciousness into the oneness of the liberated Spirit, can it escape from these results of its growth out of the Inconscience.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 169-170

The Building of Being in Non-Being

In today’s modern world, the predominant idea is that there has been a progression from the time of the “big bang” to the formation of universes, galaxies and solar systems as various material bodies began to move together and interact with one another.  As we zero in on the earth, there was a time of creation of material forms, and the interaction of the basic elements of fire, earth, water and air which eventually created the earth as we generally experience it.  Somehow a chemical soup arose and brought out the first stirrings of life, and then life evolved until eventually we find that thinking, feeling beings, with the ability to aspire, to imagine, to communicate and to invent developed and took over management of the planet.

This theory is opposed by those who believe in a religious belief that some humaniform God created Adam and Eve out of clay, instilled life in them, and set them loose in a world of His creation ready made.

In the first model, there is no “first mover” or “creator”; rather, there is some kind of random chance creating “being” out of “non-being”.  What we observe, however, as we delve ever-deeper into the secrets of the universe, is the intricate and highly structured manner in which Matter and Life are formed and interact.  Scientists have discovered intricate yet reproducible mathematical formulae that are found throughout Nature.  The atomic structure, as well as interactions in the plant and animal kingdom all speak to us of some manner of Intelligence behind all the creations of the universe.  At the same time, there is no evidence for a biblical God as pictured in most minds in the West to stand forth as a personally involved Creator.

The ancient Vedic Rishis explored the issue of creation:  “Then existence was not nor non-existence, the mid-world was not nor the Ether nor what is beyond.  What covered all?  where was it?  in whose refuge?  what was that ocean dense and deep?  Death was not nor immortality nor the knowledge of day and night.  That One lived without breath by his self-law, there was nothing else nor aught beyond it.  In the beginning Darkness was hidden by darkness, all this was an ocean of inconscience.  When universal being was concealed by fragmentation, then by the greatness of its energy That One was born. ”  (Rig Veda, X.129 cited by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine, The Knot of Matter)

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Spiritual experience tells us that there is a Reality which supports and pervades all things as the Cosmic Self and Spirit, can be discovered by the individual even here in the terrestrial embodiment as his own self and spirit, and is, at its summits and in its essence, an infinite and eternal self-existent Being, Consciousness and Bliss of existence.”

The inconscient Energy of existence “…does at every step the works of a vast and minute Intelligence fixing and combining every possible device to prepare, manage and work out the paradox and miracle of Matter and the awakening of a life and a spirit in Matter.”

“These phenomena already betray the truth, which we discover when we grow aware in our depths, that the Inconscient is only a mask and within it is the Upanishad’s ‘Conscient in unconscious things’.  In the beginning, says the Veda, was the ocean of inconscience and out of it That One arose into birth by his greatness, — by the might of his self-manifesting Energy.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 168-169

The Pressure of the Divine for the Uplifting and Perfection of the Being of Man

Human individuals identify themselves with their ego, and act as if they have an independent existence and power of determination over their future.  They respond to situations, they formulate plans and they attempt to satisfy their egoistic urges and desires.   Humanity, however, does not have an independent existence from the rest of the universal creation, and there are obvious pressures and forces at work that challenge the egoistic instincts of the individual and compel adaptation, change and evolutionary growth, including both a drive toward self-exceeding and self-aggrandisement, and a drive toward increasing cooperation and harmony with other beings.  Both of these drives can be seen in their incipient form in the instinctive reactions of human beings, and they can be observed growing and taking on new wider  forms over time.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…life organises itself at first round the ego-motive and the instinct of ego-expansion is the earliest means by which men have come into contact with each other; the struggle for possession has been the first crude means towards union, the aggressive assertion of the smaller self the first step towards a growth into the larger self.  All has been therefore a half-ordered confusion of the struggle for life corrected by the need and instinct of association, a struggle of individuals, clans, tribes, parties, nations, ideas, civilisations, cultures, ideals, religions, each affirming itself, each compelled into contact, association, strife with the others.  For while Nature imposes the ego as a veil behind which she labours out the individual manifestation of the spirit, she also puts a compulsion on it to grow in being until it can at last expand or merge into a larger self in which it meets, harmonises with itself, comprehends in its own consciousness, becomes one with the rest of existence.  To assist in this growth Life-Nature throws up in itself ego-enlarging, ego-exceeding, even ego-destroying instincts and movements which combat and correct the smaller self-affirming instincts and movements, — she enforces on her human instrument impulses of love, sympathy, self-denial, self-effacement, self-sacrifice, altruism, the drive towards universality in mind and heart and life, glimmerings of an obscure unanimism that has not yet found thoroughly its own true light and motive power.”

“The ideal and practical reason of man labours to find amidst all this the right law of life and action; it strives by a rule of moderation and accommodation, by selection and rejection or by the dominance of some chosen ideas or powers to reduce things to harmony, to do consciously what Nature through natural selection and instinct has achieved in her animal kinds, an automatically ordered and settled form and norm of their existence.  But the order, the structure arrived at by the reason is always partial, precarious and temporary.  It is disturbed by a pull from below and a pull from above.  For these powers that life throws up to help towards the growth into a larger self, a wider being, are already reflections of something that is beyond reason, seeds of the spiritual, the absolute.  There is the pressure on human life of an Infinite which will not allow it to rest too long in any formulation, — not at least until it has delivered out of itself that which shall be its own self-exceeding and self-fulfilment.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 167-168

The Field of Life Can Manifest Divine Qualities

The tension between the higher aspirations of man and the vital nature that seems to be so opposed to those higher developments, mired in desire, greed, seeking or power, wealth and sex, and creature comforts, is one which has led seekers and evolved souls to attempt to disassociate themselves from the vital movements, through suppression or avoidance.  Yet the vital force is an essential aspect of life, and thus, holds within itself some divine impulses.  We can see that not all is bleak in the vital nature.  Courage, love, self-sacrifice, honor, nobility of purpose, all are outgrowths of the vital nature and show us that it is capable of higher movement.  The question then is how to develop the vital nature such that it can manifest its secret divine nature.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “These ideals of which the poets have sung so persistently, are not a mere glamour and illusion, however the egoisms and discords of our instinctive, infrarational way of living may seem to contradict them.  Always crossed by imperfection or opposite vital movements, they are still divine possibilities and can be made a first means of our growth into a spiritual unity of being with being.  Certain religious disciplines have understood this truth, have taken up these relations boldly and applied them to our soul’s communion with God; and by a converse process they can, lifted out of their present social and physical formulas, become for us, not the poor earthly things they are now, but deep and beautiful and wonderful movements of God in man fulfilling himself in life.”

“All this great vital, political, economic life of man with its two powers of competition and cooperation is stumbling blindly forward towards some realisation of power and unity, — in two divine directions, therefore.  For the Divine in life is Power possessed of self-mastery, but also of mastery of His world, and man and mankind too move towards conquest of their world, their environment.  And again the Divine in fulfilment here is nd must be oneness, and the ideal of human unity however dim and far off is coming slowly into sight.  The competitive nation-units are feeling, at times, however feebly as yet, the call to cast themselves into a greater unified cooperative life of the human race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 16,  The Suprarational Ultimate of Life, pp. 165-167