The mind is a powerful tool, and it has the capability to turn its focus and attention to areas of development within its own natural scope, such as philosophic, religious, aesthetic and ethical issues, or it can turn its attention to higher levels of existence and work to exceed its natural plane of action, or it can focus primarily on the physical and vital basis that preceded its advent, with the goal of gaining leverage in the world of life and matter. The vital nature works to capture the attention of the mind to fulfill its own desires, goals and ambitions in life, and if it succeeds in doing so, it can harness this power for economic benefit, for satisfaction of life needs, for fulfillment of ambitions and for gaining power over matter and life. We have recently witnessed a period, spanning several hundred years, during which the focus of the mind has been heavily weighted towards these vital and material ends, and the result has been a tremendous progress in certain directions, while at the same time, enormous imbalances have resulted, which threaten the collapse of the entire infrastructure of existence. Short-term thinking, self-aggrandisement, and the fulfillment of desire without concern for the consequences are the result of such enslavement of the mind to the vital nature.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “Such a period was the recent materialistic age, when the intellect of man seemed decided to study thoroughly Life and Matter, to admit only that, to recognise mind only as an instrument of Life and Matter, and to devote all its knowledge to a tremendous expansion of the vital and physical life, its practicality, its efficiency, its comfort and the splendid ordering of its instincts of production, possession and enjoyment. That was the character of the materialistic, commercial, economic age of mankind, a period in which the ethical mind persisted painfully, but with decreasing self-confidence, an increasing self-questioning and a tendency to yield up the fortress of the moral law to the life-instinct, the aesthetic instinct an intelligence flourished as a rather glaring exotic ornament, a sort of rare orchid in the button-hole of the vital man, and reason became the magnificent servant of Life and Matter. The titanic development of the vital Life which followed, is ending as the Titans always end; it lit its own funeral pyre in the conflagration of a world-war, its natural upshot, a struggle between the most “efficient” and “civilised” nations for the possession and enjoyment of the world, of its wealth, its markets, its available spaces, an inflated and plethoric commercial expansion, largeness of imperial size and rule.”
Within this over-arching direction, under pressure of extinction and massive suffering, new ideas begin to arise, focused on the need for a larger vision, a nobler purpose and a more harmonious relationship between man and man, and man and his environment. This represents a sign that the hold of the vital nature must eventually give way, as we come to the determination of whether we suffer extinction as a civilisation and culture, or whether we find a way to free the mind from its enslavement to the vital impulses and thereby encourage it to focus on the higher tendencies of which it is capable.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pg. 238