A Precondition for the Coming of a Spiritual Age of Humanity

In the Kena Upanishad, the various “powers” of existence exhibit their pride of place and point out how essential and important they are.  The powers of Matter, Life and Mind each trumpeted their unique capabilities, but in the end, they could not achieve the final test.  There was something “beyond” each of them, the Eternal, the Spirit that provides them their power and is itself beyond the limits of each of them.  We have gone through several cycles whereby humanity has exhibited its pride of power, its pride of learning on the material, vital and now the mental planes of existence.  As long as we remain fixated on these limited powers, we cannot achieve the fulfillment of the spiritual age.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But still a subjective age of mankind must be an adventure full of perils and uncertainties as are all great adventures of the race.  It may wander long before it finds itself or may not find itself at all and may swing back to a new repetition of the cycle.  The true secret can only be discovered if in the third stage, in an age of mental subjectivism, the idea becomes strong of the mind itself as no more than a secondary power of the Spirit’s working and of the Spirit as the great Eternal, the original and, in spite of the many terms in which it is both expressed and hidden, the sole reality, ayam atma brahma.  Then only will the real, the decisive endeavour begin and life and the world be studied, known, dealt with in all directions as the self-finding and self-expression of the Spirit.  Then only will a spiritual age of mankind be possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 254


The Potential and Promise of the Current Line of Evolutionary Development

The Taittiriya Upanishad in the Bhriguvalli sets forth a sequence of steps of realisation for the seeker which start with the acceptance of Matter as the reality, and which systematically moves through Life, Mind, Supermind and Bliss consciousness as the seeker attains ever-higher insight to the process through repeated focus of energy in concentration.  Modern-day society appears to be taking a similar approach, which is a positive sign for the eventual realisation to be achieved.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “From this point of view it is an excellent thing, a sign of great promise, that the wheel of civilisation has been following its past and preset curve upward from a solid physical knowledge through a successive sounding of higher and higher powers that mediate between Matter and Spirit.  The human intellect in modern times has been first drawn to exhaust the possibilities of materialism by an immense dealing with life and the world upon the basis of Matter as the sole reality, Matter as the Eternal, Matter as the Brahman, annam brahma.  Afterwards it had begun to turn towards the conception of existence as the large pulsation of a great evolving Life, the creator of Matter, which would have enabled it to deal with our existence on the basis of Life as the original reality, Life as the great Eternal, prano brahma.  And already it has in germ, in preparation, a third conception, the discovery of a great self-expressing and self-finding inner Mind other than our surface mentality as a master-power of existence, and that should lead towards a rich attempt to deal with our possibilities and our ways of living on the basis of Mind as the original reality, the great Eternal, mano brahma.  It would also be a sign of promise if these conceptions succeeded each other with rapidity, with a large but swift evocation of the possibilities of each level; for that would show that there is a readiness in our subconscient Nature and that we need not linger in each stage for centuries.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 253-254


A Necessary Stage in Humanity’s Spiritual Development

One of the principal characteristics, and one could say, principle flaws, in human development is impatience.  We see something and we want to achieve it now, without recognising the need for a systematic, patient process of unfolding, of organic growth.  This characteristic leads us to attempt to implement changes for which humanity is not yet fully prepared, and eventually, such attempts break down and fail.  We observe, for example, religions rise on the basis of an inspired leader with a vision.  People are motivated and attempt to overlay the vision on the existing state of humanity.  Procedures are developed, rituals and patterns of action are put in place, but these are mechanical more than anything else,and eventually, the energy flags and people are left with a more or less empty shell of habit that has lost the soul and heart that enlivened the action in the first place.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “When it passes beyond the few, the forceful miracle of the spirit flags; unable to transform by inner force, the new religion — for that is what it becomes — tries to save by machinery, is entangled in the mechanical turning of its own instruments, loses the spirit and perishes quickly or decays slowly.  That is the fate which overtakes all attempts of the vitalistic, the intellectual and mental, the spiritual endeavour to deal with material man through his physical mind chiefly or alone; the endeavour is overpowered by the machinery it creates and becomes the slave and victim of the machine.  That is the revenge which our material Nature, herself mechanical, takes upon all such violent endeavours; she waits to master them by their concessions to her own law.  If mankind is to be spiritualised, it must first in the mass cease to be the material or the vital man and become the psychic and the true mental being.  It may be questioned whether such a mass progress or conversion is possible; but if it is not, then the spiritualisation of mankind as a whole is a chimera.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 253

New Directions for Human Development

It is very easy to get caught in the idea that human life and powers of action are fixed and we are locked into the existing mould of activity.  We tend in many cases to either deny the reality of newly developed powers of mind, life and body, or, if we accept them, we may treat them as witchcraft, subjective fantasy, or at least, something exceptional that can only be realised by a very few.  A new subjective age having as its basis the mind and the psychic sense however, can open up and usher in tremendous changes in the way we relate to our lives, to other people and to the direction and destined development of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “It would give it from the first a new tone and atmosphere, a loftier spirit, wider horizons, a greater aim.  It might easily develop a science which would bring the powers of the physical world into a real and not only a contingent and mechanical subjection and open perhaps the door of other worlds.  It might develop an achievement of Art and Beauty which would make the greatness of the past a comparatively little thing and would save the world from the astonishingly callous reign of utilitarian ugliness that even now afflicts it.  It would open up a closer and freer interchange between human minds and, it may well be hoped, a kindlier interchange between human hearts and lives.  Nor need its achievements stop here, but might proceed to greater things of which these would be only the beginnings.  This mental and psychic subjectivism would have its dangers, greater dangers even than those that attend a vitalistic subjectivism, because its powers of action also would be greater, but it would have what vitalistic subjectivism has not and cannot easily have, the chance of a detecting discernment, strong safeguards and a powerful liberating light.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 252-253

A Higher Ideal and Focus for Man, the Mental Being

Following along the path set forth in the Taittiriya Upanishad, after humanity has attempted achieving its fulfillment and progress through focus on the physical world, and then the activity of the vital forces, the idea of mental development as the key can then arise.  The first attempts here maintain their fixation on the physical and vital world and the mastery of them; but the idea of using the mental powers to simply enhance the outer life does not provide any ultimate solution.  Once it is recognised that hitching the mind to the vital fulfillment of desires or simply ameliorating the issues of physical life is not the answer, a new higher focus and purpose in the application of mental powers can move into the forefront.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…it is conceivable that this tendency may hereafter rise to the higher idea of man as a mental being, a soul in mind that must develop itself individually and collectively in the life and body through the play of an ever-expanding mental existence.  This greater idea would realise that the elevation of the human existence will come not through material efficiency alone or the complex play of his vital and dynamic powers, not solely by mastering through the aid of the intellect the energies of physical Nature for the satisfaction of the life-instincts, which can only be an intensification of his present mode of existence, but through the greatening of his mental and psychic being and a discovery, bringing forward and organisation of his subliminal nature and its forces, the utilisation of a larger mind and a larger life waiting for discovery within us.  It would see in life an opportunity for the joy and power of knowledge, for the joy and power of beauty, for the joy and power of the human will mastering not only physical Nature, but vital and mental Nature.  It might discover her secret yet undreamed-of mind-powers and life-powers and use them for a freer liberation of man from the limitations of his shackled bodily life.  It might arrive at new psychic relations, a more sovereign power of the idea to realise itself in the act, inner means of overcoming the obstacles of distance and division which would cast into insignificance even the last miraculous achievements of material Science.  A development of this kind is far enough away from the dreams of the mass of men, but there are certain pale hints and presages of such a possibility and ideas which lead to it are already held by a great number who are perhaps in this respect the yet unrecognised vanguard of humanity.  It is not impossible that behind the confused morning voices of the hour a light of this kind, still below the horizon, may be waiting to ascend with its splendours.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 251-252

First Steps in a Turn Towards a Subjective Age of Humanity

The significance of a subjective turn to human development lies in the potential to break free of the fixation on outer, material life and turn the attention to deeper levels of existence.  This does not solve the issues of human life overnight, but starts humanity along the road to discovery of its hidden purpose and meaning.  The Taittiriya Upanishad shows a progression from fixation on the physical reality to successive deeper understanding as the seeker moves to the vital, then the mental and eventually the levels of knowledge and bliss.  A subjective turn does not guarantee a focus on spirituality, but it is a necessary initial step in turning the attention away from its material fixation.  Along the way, dangers can arise if humanity gets stuck in an intermediate formulation and thereby misinterprets its destiny or focuses on lesser results that do not bring it to a spiritual understanding of oneness of existence.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “After the material formula which governed the greater part of the nineteenth century had burdened man with the heaviest servitude to the machinery of the outer material life that he has ever yet been called upon to bear, the first attempt to break through, to get to the living reality in things and away from the mechanical idea of life and living and society, landed us in that surface vitalism which had already begun to govern thought before the two formulas inextricably locked together lit up and flung themselves on the lurid pyre of the world-war.  The vital elan has brought us no deliverance, but only used the machinery already created with a more feverish insistence, a vehement attempt to live more rapidly, more intensely, an inordinate will to act and to succeed, to enlarge the mere force of living or to pile up a gigantic efficiency of the collective life.  It could not have been otherwise even if this vitalism had been less superficial and external, more truly subjective.  To live, to act, to grow, to increase the vital force, to understand, utilise and fulfil the intuitive impulse of life are not things evil in themselves: rather they are excellent things, if rightly followed and rightly used, that is to say, if they are directed to something beyond the mere vitalistic impulse and are governed by that within which is higher than Life.  The Life-power is an instrument, not an aim; it is in the upward scale the first great subjective supraphysical instrument of the Spirit and the base of all action and endeavour.  But a Life-power that sees nothing beyond itself, nothing to be served except its own organised demands and impulses, will be very soon like the force of steam driving an engine without the driver or an engine in which the locomotive force has made the driver its servant and not its controller.  It can only add the uncontrollable impetus of a high-crested or broad-based Titanism, or it may be even a nether flaming demonism, to the Nature forces of the material world with the intellect as its servant, an impetus of measureless unresting creation, appropriation, expansion which will end in something violent, huge and ‘colossal’, foredoomed in its very nature to excess and ruin, because light is not in it nor the soul’s truth nor the sanction of the gods and their calm eternal will and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 249-251

Signs of the Potential Advent of a Subjective Age of Development of Humanity

As the evolutionary progression develops beyond the limits of the mental consciousness, the signs of this development will begin to appear, first in those regions of human activity that are closest and most receptive to the new energy, and only later in those fields of life and physical activity that are the oldest and least adaptable segments of the complex human existence.  This would imply that we would begin to see new ideas, and experiments taking place in the realm of the mind, breaking through the boundaries of the usual mental limits, with new emphasis and focus on things like intuition, development of new powers of insight and new ways of expression.  Philosophy, science, psychology and the humanities should begin to show the impact of the developing spiritual force and its pressure on the mental action.  We can trace the rising interest in and action upon these levels with leading scientists declaring first that matter is actually ordered energy, and later indicating that energy is in reality consciousness.  The boundaries between matter and spirit are being systematically explored and the closer humanity looks, the more the boundary lines begin to disappear.  The development of the field of quantum mechanics brings the subjective principle into full view.  The subjective idea is even trying to reach into the political field with the recent attempt by a spiritual proponent of the Course in Miracles actively attempting to run for President of the United States on a “consciousness-based” platform!  Once the limits imposed by physical matter, life and mind are removed, there are bound to be areas of progress, as well as substantial errors along the way, as humanity blindly gropes for what its next future needs to be.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “These ideas are likely first to declare their trend in philsoophy, in psychological thinking, in the arts, poetry, painting, sculpture, music, in the main idea of ethics, in the application of subjective principles by thinkers to social questions, even perhaps, though this is a perilous effort, to politics and economics, that hard refractory earthy matter which most resists all but a gross utilitarian treatment.  There will be new unexpected departures of science or at least of research….  Discoveries will be made that thin the walls between soul and matter; attempts there will be to extend exact knowledge into the psychological and psychic realms with a realisation of the truth that these have laws of their own which are other than the physical, but not the less laws because they escape the external senses and are infinitely plastic and subtle. … These are sure signs, if not of the thing to be, at least of a great possibility of it, of an effort that will surely be made, another endeavour perhaps with a larger sweep and a better equipped intelligence capable not only of feeling but of understanding the Truth that is demanding to be heard. … It is only when these groping beginnings have found that for which they are seeking, that it can be successfully applied to the remoulding of the life of man.  Till then nothing better is likely to be achieved than an inner preparation and, for the rest, radical or revolutionary experiments of a doubtful kind with the details of the vast and cumbrous machinery under which life now groans and labours.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 248-249

The Necessary Preparation of the Common Mind of Humanity for the Spiritual Transformation

We may look upon the inspirational leader bringing forth a new inspiration or teaching as a seed planter.  The success of the effort will depend to a great degree on the fertility of the soil, that is, the readiness of humanity, to receive the new teaching and bring it to life in a pure form.  The limiting factor, based on human experience, seems to always be that humanity is simply not yet ready to break its old vital, animal habits and take up the spiritual principles and life-ways that are seen and communicated by the teacher, guide, guru or spiritual leader.  We have endless examples of teachings of peace, compassion and oneness being turned to inquisitions, crusades, religious warfare and prejudice, or used as justifications for economic or military domination.  To the extent that a teaching has been adopted, it has been used primarily for worldly benefits and division into “believers” and “non-believers”.   What conditions then must pertain in order for a spiritual teaching to take hold and actually accomplish a transformation in human nature and action?

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “…it is the unpreparedness, the unfitness of the society or of the common mind of man which is always the chief stumbling-block.  It is the readiness of this common mind which is of the first importance; for even if the condition of society and the principle and rule that govern society are opposed to the spiritual change, even if these belong almost wholly to the vital, to the external, the economic, the mechanical order, as is certainly the way at present with human masses, yet if the common human mind has begun to admit the ideas proper to the higher order that is in the end to be, and the heart of man has begun to be stirred by aspirations born of these ideas, then there is a hope of some advance in the not distant future.  And here the first essential sign must be the growth of the subjective idea of life, — the idea of the soul, the inner being, its powers, its possibilities, its growth, its expression and the creation of a true, beautiful and helpful environment for it as the one thing of first and last importance.  The signals must be there that are precursors of a subjective age in humanity’s thought and social endeavour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 248

Two Required Conditions for Effecting the Spiritual Transformation of Human Society

Individual spiritual development takes place constantly.  Individuals experience life-transforming revelations, undertake spiritual quests, take up yoga, meditation, vision quests, seek isolation in the desert, the forest, on the mountain-top or in the cloister or monastery, as they try to fulfill the aspiration or drive towards fulfilling their spiritual yearnings.  Occasionally some major new breakthrough occurs in human understanding as a result of the actions of individuals who are ready to grow, and we find that a new inspiring leader, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha or other spiritual personality comes forward to represent the new understanding.  The teachings they bring forward find humanity partially prepared to accept and implement them, partially resistant or bound to habitual ways of seeing and acting in life.  Sri Aurobindo observes that individual progress is necessary, but for the transformation of society, there must also be a readiness on the part of humanity to be able to adopt the new spiritual outlook and understanding.

“There must be the individual and the individuals who are able to see, to develop, to re-create themselves in the image of the Spirit and to communicate both their idea and its power to the mass.  And there must be at the same time a mass, a society, a communal mind or at the least the constituents of a group-body, the possibility of a group-soul which is capable of receiving and effectively assimilating, ready to follow and effectively arrive, not compelled by its own inherent deficiencies, its defect of preparation to stop on the way or fall back before the decisive change is made.  Such a simultaneity has never yet happened, although the appearance of it has sometimes been created by the ardour of a moment.  That the combination must happen some day is a certainty, but none can tell how many attempts will have to be made and how many sediments of spiritual experience will have to be accumulated in the subconscient mentality of the communal human being before the soil is ready.  For the chances of success are always less powerful in a difficult upward effort affecting the very roots of our nature than the numerous possibilities of failure.  The initiator himself may be imperfect, may not have waited to become entirely the thing that he has seen.  Even the few who have the apostolate in their charge may not have perfectly assimilated and shaped it in themselves and may hand on the power of the Spirit still farther diminished to the many who will come after them.  The society may be intellectually, vitally, ethically, temperamentally unready, with the result that the final acceptance of the spiritual idea by the society may be also the beginning of its debasement and distortion and of the consequent departure or diminution of the Spirit.  Any or all of these things may happen, and the result will be, as has so often happened in the past, that even though some progress is made and an important change effected, it will not be the decisive change which can alone re-create humanity in a diviner image.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 247-248

The Significance of the Individual in the Spiritual Development of Humanity

The ‘hundredth monkey’ phenomenon describes the development of a new capacity or talent in a world-wide population of monkeys when a sufficient ‘critical mass’ of individual monkeys have adopted or reproduced that behavior.  It illustrates several key concepts which we can apply in our understanding of human evolutionary development.  First, it becomes clear that the progress takes place first at the individual level.  Second, it is apparent that the new talent or behavior is something that is generally possible for the entire race, which is why it can be generally disseminated once a sufficient number of individuals have achieved the result.

Humanity has a variety of views about progressive development.  Some believe that certain developed new capacities are unique to specific extraordinary individuals and cannot be made part of the future of the race in a more general way.  Some deny the value of individual progress entirely and expect that somehow the society will make its own progress, all together, without individual uniqueness entering in at all.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Spirit in humanity discovers, develops, builds its formations first in the individual man: it is through the progressive and formative individual that it offers the discovery and the chance of a new self-creation to the mind of the race.  For the communal mind holds things subconsciently at first or, if consciously, then in a confused chaotic manner: it is only through the individual mind that the mass can arrive at a clear knowledge and creation of the thing it held in its subconscient self.  Thinkers, historians, sociologists who belittle the individual and would like to lose him in the mass or think of him chiefly as a cell, an atom, have got hold only of the obscurer side of the truth of Nature’s workings in humanity.  It is because man is not like the material formations of Nature or like the animal, because she intends in him a more and more conscious evolution, that individuality is so much developed in him and so absolutely important and indispensable.  No doubt what comes out in the individual and afterwards moves the mass, must have been there already in the universal Mind and the individual is only an instrument for its manifestation, discovery, development: but he is an indispensable instrument and an instrument not merely of subconscient Nature, not merely of an instinctive urge that moves the mass, but more directly of the Spirit of whom that Nature is itself the instrument and the matrix of his creations.  All great changes therefore find their first clear and effective power and their direct shaping force in the mind and spirit of an individual or of a limited number of individuals.  The mass follows, but unfortunately in a very imperfect and confused fashion which often or even usually ends in the failure or distortion of the thing created.  If it were not so, mankind could have advanced on its way with a victorious rapidity instead of with the lumbering hesitations and soon exhausted rushes that seem to be all of which it has yet been capable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 246-247