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

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