Appreciating the Role of Reason and Religion in a Vital Infrarational Stage of Human Development

If we look on the stages of human development as “infrarational”, “rational” and “suprarational” and recognize that they all are active, to some degree, in all people and social structures, regardless of how “primitive” or how “advanced” we like to term a particular society or culture, we may then understand the process, not as an “all or nothing” phenomenon, but as one of predominant action influencing and influenced by the subordinate action of the other terms.  In the phase we may term “infrarational”, there remains an action of the rational intellect and an action of the spiritual suprarational, yet these are limited in their scope by the predominance of the infrarational, vital consciousness that controls that stage of development.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…an infrarational period of human and social development need not be without its elements, its strong elements of reason and of spirituality.  Even the savage, whether he be primitive or degenerate man, has some coherent idea of this world and the beyond, a theory of life and a religion.  To us with our more advanced rationality his theory of life may seem incoherent, because we have lost its point of view and its principle of mental associations.  But it is still an act of reason, and within its limits he is capable of a sufficient play of thought both ideative and practical, as well as a clear ethical idea and motive, some aesthetic notions and an understood order of society poor and barbarous to our view, but well enough contrived and put together to serve the simplicity of its objects.  Or again we may not realise the element of reason in a primitive theory of life or of spirituality in a barbaric religion, because it appears to us to be made up of symbols and forms to which a superstitious value is attached by these undeveloped minds.  But this is because the reason at this stage has an imperfect and limited action and the element of spirituality is crude or undeveloped and not yet self-conscious; in order to hold firmly their workings and make them real and concrete to his mind and spirit primitive man has to give them shape in symbols and forms to which he clings with a barbaric awe and reverence, because they alone can embody for him his method of self-guidance in life.  For the dominant thing in him is his infrarational life of instinct, vital intuition and impulse, mechanical custom and tradition, and it is that to which the rest of him has to give some kind of primary order and first glimmerings of light.  The unrefined reason and unenlightened spirit in him cannot work for their own ends; they are bond-slaves of his infrarational nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 18, The Infrarational Age of the Cycle, pp. 185-186

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