Supreme Life of Our Life, Part 6: True Existence and Immortality

When we reflect on human life, the focus is almost entirely on the period between birth and death of an individual and the wants, needs and actions undertaken in that intervening period.  Our mortality turns into a major concern and driving issue in our beliefs and actions.  This limited focus is both a distortion and a cause of untold suffering.  From the divine standpoint, life is not limited to one individual existence as if it is separated from the rest of creation.  There is an interconnection and interdependence of these fragmented forms.  Life does not end with the death of the individual.  Life does not begin with the birth of the individual.  The individual does not exist in a vacuum separated from the rest of existence.  It is from this standpoint that we can begin to appreciate what the greater “Life of our life” is and what the meaning of immortality actually turns out to be.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “What then is this Life of our life?  It is the supreme Energy which is nothing but the infinite force in action of the supreme conscious Being in His own illlumined self.  The Self-existent is luminously aware of Himself and full of His own delight; and that self-awareness is a timeless self-possession which in action reveals itself as a force of infinite consciousness omnipotent as well as omniscient; for it exists between two poles, one of eternal stillness and pure identity, the other of eternal energy and identity of All with itself, the stillness eternally supporting the energy.  That is the true existence, the Life from which our life proceeds; that is the immortality, while what we cling to as life is ‘hunger that is death’.  Therefore the object of the wise must be to pass in their illumined consciousness beyond the false and phenomenal terms of life and death to this immortality.”

“Yet is this Life-force, however inferior in its workings, instinct with the being, will, light of that which it represents, of that which transcends it; by That it is ‘led forward’ on its paths to a goal which its own existence implies by the very imperfection of its movements and renderings.  This death called life is not only a dark figure of that light, but it is a passage by which we pass through transmutation of our being from the death-sleep of Matter into the spirit’s infinite immortality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

Supreme Life of Our Life, Part 5: Comparing Human and Supreme Life-Force Characteristics

Life-force in the human individual is characterized by the limitations under which it operates.  This turns into an action based on desire, thirst, hunger, greed, lust, seeking after fame, essentially all the terms we have developed for the life-force seeking its own sustenance, aggrandisement and success in a world of limitations and competition.  It is obvious that a universal force of life, a supreme “Life of our life” cannot possibly be subject to these limitations and thus, must operate on a totally different basis.  From the divine standpoint, all the human actions and interactions are merely a particular play of its universal force of creation based on the manifestation of Life in Matter in this particular time, place and circumstance.  The life-force so manifested is a minuscule portion of the divine energy of creation which has no need, therefore, to try to overcome the obstacles or acquire what is “missing”.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The characteristics of the Life-force as it manifests itself in us are desire, hunger, an enjoyment which devours the object enjoyed and a sensational movement and activity of response which gropes after possession and seeks to pervade, embrace, take into itself the object of its desire.  It is not in this breath of desire and mortal enjoyment that the true life can consist or the highest, divine energy act, any more than the supreme knowledge can think in the terms of ignorant, groping, limited and divided mind.  As the movements of mind are merely representations in the terms of the duality and the ignorance, reflections of a supreme consciousness and knowledge, so the movements of this life-force can only be similar representations of a supreme energy expressing a higher and truer existence possessed of that consciousness and knowledge and therefore free from desire, hunger, transient enjoyment and hampered activity.  What is desire here must there be self-existent Will or Love; what is enjoyment must there be self-existent delight; what is here a groping action and response, must be there self-possessing and all-possessing energy, — such must be the Life of our life by which this inferior action is sustained and led to its goal.  Brahman does not breathe with the breath, does not live by this Life-force and its dual terms of birth and death.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

Supreme Life of our Life, Part 4: Prana, the Universal Energy

We associate the term “Prana” with breath.  We understand it as the life-force within us.  It is this, and much more.  While the life-breath is the closest and easiest manifestation of Prana for us to relate to, Prana is not limited to the life-breath.  It is a universal force, active in all movement of energy in the universe.  The force that moves the galaxies, the force that is active in the atomic realm, are manifestations of the universal Prana.  Even our human life-breath is not an independent action, as we are co-dependent with the plant life of the planet.  Plants breathe in what humans breathe out.  Humans breathe in what plants breathe out.  This is one respiration process that is taking place.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Thus the Prana is vital or nervous force which bears the operations of mind and body, is yoked by them as it were like a horse to a chariot and driven by the mind along the paths on which it wishes to travel to the goal of its desire.  … It is in fact that which does all the action of the world in obedience to conscious or subconscious mind and in the conditions of material force and material form.  While the mind is that movement of Nature in us which represents in the mould of our material and phenomenal existence and within the triple term of the Ignorance the knowledge aspect of the Brahman, the consciousness of the knower, and body is that which similarly represents the being of the existent in the mask of phenomenally divisible substance, so Prana or life-energy represents in the flux of phenomenal things the force, the active dynamis of the Lord who controls and enjoys the manifestation of His own being. (The three are the reverse aspects of Chit, Sat and Chit-Tapas.)  It is a universal energy present in every atom and particle of the universe, and active in every stirring and current of the constant flux and interchange which constitutes the world.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

Supreme Life of Our Life, Part 3: Prana Provides Energy for the Operations of Mind

Prana is not simply a physical energy in the body.  It is also the energy that operates in the mind.  Swami Vivekananda described this subtler form of Prana as psychic Prana and indicated that it is the clue that provides the practitioner of Yoga the ability to gain control over the mind.  By gaining mastery over the Prana, the mind comes automatically under control.  The breath, acting as the most visible and manageable form of Pranic action, is the key.  Thus arose the science of Pranayama as a stage in the systematic practices known as Patanjali’s Yoga or Raja Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “…by control of the Pranic energy it is not only possible to control our physical and vital functionings and to transcend their ordinary operation, but to control also the workings of the mind and to transcend its ordinary operations.  The human mind in fact depends always on the Pranic force which links it with the body through which it manifests itself, and it is able to deploy its own force only in proportion as it can make that energy available for its own uses and subservient to its own purposes.  In proportion, therefore, as the Yogin gets back to the control of the Prana, and by the direction of its batteries opens up those nervous centres (cakras) in which it is now sluggish or only partially operative, he is able to manifest powers of mind, sense and consciousness which transcend our ordinary experience.  The so-called occult powers of Yoga are such faculties which thus open up of themselves as the Yogin advances in the control of the Pranic force and, purifying the channels of its movement, establishes an increasing communication between the consciousness of his subtle subliminal being and the consciousness of his gross physical and superficial existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

Supreme Life of Our Life, Part 2: Becoming Aware of the Existence of Prana

Is there a method of knowledge that allows us to separate what appears to us objective from our subjective experience?  To what extent can we rely on subjective experience?  Is it possible to achieve a state of awareness that allows us to separate truth from fantasy in the subjective realm?

In his famous lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda describes at length the methods of Yoga enunciated by Patanjali to obtain certainty about one’s inner experience.  The steps outlined bring the seeker to a state of consciousness where the seeds of each thought, motivation and action can be observed and recognised.  The process leads to the experience of Prana in its various forms and states.  The first levels of awareness naturally are of the working of Prana in the physical body, but later, one becomes aware of what Swami Vivekananda calls the “psychic Prana”, which opens up the operation of subtle energies, vital, mental and beyond to our understanding.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “How then do we become aware of its existence?  By that purification of our mind and body and that subtilisation of our means of sensation and knowledge which become possible through Yoga.  We become capable of analysis other than the resolution of forms into their gross physical elements and are able to distinguish the operations of the pure mental principle from those of the material and both of these from the vital or dynamic which forms a link between them and supports them both.  We are then able to distinguish the movements of the Pranic currents not only in the physical body which is all that we are normally aware of, but in that subtle frame of our being which Yoga detects underlying and sustaining the physical.  This is ordinarily done by Pranayama, the government and control of the respiration.  By Pranayama the Hathayogin is able to control, suspend and transcend the ordinary fixed operation of the Pranic energy which is all that Nature needs for the normal functioning of the body and of the physical life and mind, and he becomes aware of the channels in which that energy distributes itself in all its workings and is therefore able to do things with his body which seem miraculous to the ignorant, just as the physical scientist by his knowledge of the workings of material forces is able to do things with them which would seem to us magic if their law and process were not divulged.  For all the workings of life in the physical form are governed by the Prana and not only those which are normal and constant and those which, being always potential, can be easily brought forward and set in action, but those which are of a more remote potentiality and seem to our average experience difficult or impossible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

Supreme Life of Our Life, Part 1: an Introduction to the Concept of Prana

When we begin to reflect on life and existence, we first observe that we are born of Matter and that at some point, life is infused into the physical form, and at some point, it departs and the form disintegrates.  Is this the entirety of what is taking place?  The Kena Upanishad implies that there is something greater and deeper that is the actual life that creates, permeates and controls the life we experience.

Verse 8:  “That which breathes not with the breath, that by which the life-breath is led forward in its paths, know That to be the Brahman and not this which men follow after here.”

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “But the Brahman-consciousness is not only Mind of our mind, Speech of our speech, Sense of our sense; it is also Life of our life.  In other words, it is a supreme and universal energy of which our own material life and its sustaining energy are only an inferior result, a physical symbol, an external and limited functioning.  That which governs our existence and its functionings, does not live and act by them, but is their superior cause and the supra-vital principle out of which they are formed and by which they are controlled.”

“The English word life does duty for many very different shades of meaning; but the word Prana familiar in the Upanishad and in the language of Yoga is restricted to the life-force whether viewed in itself or in its functionings.  The popular significance of Prana was indeed the breath drawn into and thrown out from the lungs and so, in its most material and common sense, the life or the life-breath; but this is not the philosophic significance of the word as it is used in the Upanishads.  The Prana of the Upanishads is the life-energy itself which was supposed to occupy and act in the body with a fivefold movement, each with its characteristic name and each quite as necessary to the functioning of the life of the body as the act of respiration.  Respiration in fact is only action of the chief movement of the life-energy, the first of the five, — the action which is most normally necessary and vital to the maintenance and distribution of the energy in the physical frame, but which can yet be suspended without the life being necessarily destroyed.”

“The existence of a vital force or life-energy has been doubted by western Science, because that Science concerns itself only with the most external operations of Nature and has as yet no true knowledge of anything except the physical and outward.  This Prana, this life-force is not physical in itself; it is not material energy, but rather a different principle supporting Matter and involved in it.  It supports and occupies all forms and without it no physical form could have come into being or could remain in being.  It acts in all material forces such as electricity and is nearest to self-manifestation in those that are nearest to pure force; material forces could not exist or act without it, for from it they derive their energy and movement and they are its vehicles.  But all material aspects are only field and form of the Prana which is in itself a pure energy, their cause and not their result.  It cannot therefore be detected by any physical analysis; physical analysis can only resolve for us the combinations of those material happenings which are its results and the external signs and symbols of its presence and operation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 156-160

A Supreme Sense Behind the Senses, Part 4: The Divine Standpoint

When we adjust our view from the fragmented individuality which is our normal human standpoint, to the universal and transcendent view of the divine standpoint, the solution to the question of a supreme Sense behind the senses becomes obvious and straightforward.  The human standpoint starts from Matter and does not understand nor recognize the priority or infinite reality of the universal creation.  It therefore limits what it is willing to accept as “real” to what the human senses can perceive.  In this view, the sun revolves around the earth and rises and sets every day as it does so.  As humanity has extended the power of the senses through the use of technology, it has learned that many of its “self-evident” notions are in fact not the truth or reality of the situation.  Human sense perceptions have been extended, but have not succeeded in removing barriers or limitations which implies existence beyond what we can ourselves currently perceive.

From the divine standpoint, the entire material world within which we live and act is created by a universal consciousness, out of its own substance, and existing throughout its infinite reach through Space and Time.  From this standpoint, it is obvious that this divine standpoint encompasses ways of experiencing and knowing itself and its manifestation far beyond the limited human senses, and this can be understood as the Sense behind the senses.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Brahman-consciousness of which the Upanishad speaks is not the Absolute withdrawn into itself, but that Absolute in its outlook on the relative; it is the Lord, the Master-Soul, the governing Transcendent and All, He who constitutes and controls the action of the gods on the different planes of our being.  Since it constitutes them, all our workings can be no more than psychical and physical results and representations of something essential proper to its supreme creative outlook, our sense a shadow of the divine Sense, our sight of the divine Sight, our hearing of the divine Hearing.  Nor is that divine Sight and Hearing limited to things physical, but extend themselves to all forms and operations of conscious being.”

“The supreme Consciousness does not depend on what we call sight and hearing for its own essential seeing and audition.  It operates by a supreme Sense, creative and comprehensive, of which our physical and psychical sight and hearing are external results and partial operations.  Neither is it ignorant of these, nor excludes them; for since it constitutes and controls, it must be aware of them but from a supreme plane, … which includes all in its view….  all sense only assumes its true value and attains to its absolute, its immortal reality when we cease to pursue the satisfactions of the mere external and physical senses and go beyond even the psychical being to this spiritual or essential which is the source and fountain, the knower, constituent and true valuer of all the rest.”

“This spiritual sense of things, secret and superconscient in us, alone gives their being, worth and reality to the psychical and physical sense; in themselves they have none.  When we attain to it, these inferior operations are as it were taken up into it and the whole world and everything in it changes to us and takes on a different and a non-material value.  That Master-consciousness in us senses our sensations of objects, sees our seeings, hears our hearings no longer for the benefit of the senses and their desires, but with the embrace of the self-existent Bliss which has no cause, beginning or end, eternal in its own immortality.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155

A Supreme Sense Behind the Senses, Part 3

Our experience of the forms and forces in the world is not limited to what we can capture through the physical senses.  This data is taken into account, but much more lies behind in the mind’s capabilities and the even deeper Sense that knows without necessarily relying on the physical data, what the Upanishad calls the “Sense behind the sense”.  There is also an intermixing of the data of the senses,  Sound can also be experienced as a form of touch through the physical pressure on the nervous envelope.  It can also be perceived as color.  Western psychology began to recognise these interactions during the systematic experimentation with mind-altering drugs such as Psilocybin or LSD when participants in the studies began to report the colors or solidity of sound, once the filter that fragments the sense experience was removed and they could report the complexity of the interactions occurring.  Sensitive individuals, without the aid of such drugs also report the shade or feeling associated with certain sounds, and certainly the connection between scent and experience is well known with its ability to call forth memories that include sight, hearing, taste and smell, showing that they are all linked together in the stored memory.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Even if we examine the physical senses, say, the sense of hearing, if we observe how the underlying mind receives their action, we shall see that in their essence all the senses are in each other.  That mind is not only aware of the vibration which we call sound; it is aware also of the contact and interchange between the force in the sound and the nervous force in us with which that intermixes; it is aware of the definition or form of the sound and of the complex contacts or relations which make up the form; it is aware o the essence or outwelling conscious force which constitutes and maintains the sound and prolongs its vibrations in our nervous being; it is aware of our own nervous inhalation of the vibratory discharge proceeding from the compression of force which makes, so to speak, the solidity of the sound.  All these sensations enter into the sensitive reception and joy of music which is the highest physical form of this operation of force, — they constitute our physical sensitiveness to it and the joy of our nervous being in it; diminish one of them and the joy and the sensitiveness are to that extent dulled.  Much more most there be this complex unity in a higher than the physical consciousness and most of all must there be unity in the highest.  But the essential sense must be capable also of seizing the secret essence of all conscious being in action, in itself and not only through the results of the operation; its appreciation of these results can be nothing more than itself an outcome of this deeper sense which it has of the essence of the Thing behind its appearances.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155

A Supreme Sense Behind the Senses, Part 2: Vibration and the Fivefold Operation of Conscious-Force in Manifestation

To be able to understand the relation between the supramental consciousness, with its inherent knowledge and power of effectuation, it is important to recognize that the entire universal creation is one continuum of energy from the most subtle to the most gross forms of Matter.  Modern science has recognized that Matter is in reality a dense form of energy.  Now scientists are discovering that energy is actually a form of consciousness, and that just as energy is considered infinite and unable to be created or destroyed, so consciousness pervades and permeates the entire creation.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Everything begins with vibration or movement, the original ksobha or disturbance.  If there is no movement of the conscious being, it can only know its own pure static existence.  Without vibration or movement of being in consciousness there can be no act of knowledge and therefore no sense; without vibration or movement of being in force there can be no object of sense.  Movement of conscious being as knowledge becoming sensible of itself as movement of force, in other words the knowledge separating itself from its own working to watch that and take it into itself again by feeling, — this is the basis of universal Sanjnana. … I can known nothing except what I myself am; if I know others, it is because they also are myself, because my self has assumed these apparently alien presentations as well as that which is nearest to my own mental centre.  All sensation, all action of sense is thus the same in essence whether external or internal, physical or psychical.”

“But this vibration of conscious being is presented to itself by various forms of sense which answer to the successive operations of movement in its assumption of form.  For first we have intensity of vibration creating regular rhythm which is the basis or constituent of all creative formation; secondly, contact or intermiscence of the movements of conscious being which constitute the rhythm; thirdly, definition of the grouping of movements which are in contact, their shape; fourthly, the constant welling up of the essential force to support in its continuity the movement that has been thus defined; fifthly, the actual enforcement and compression of the force in its own movement which maintains the form that has been assumed.  In Matter these five constituent operations are said by the Sankhyas to represent themselves as five elemental conditions of substance, the etheric, atmospheric, igneous, liquid and solid; and the rhythm of vibration is seen by them as sabda, sound, the basis of hearing, the intermiscence as contact, the basis of touch, the definition as shape, the basis of sight, the upflow of force as rasa, sap, the basis of taste and the discharge of the atomic compression as gandha, odour, the basis of smell.  It is true that this is only predicated of pure or subtle Matter; the physical matter of our world being a mixed operation of force, these five elemental states are not found there separately except in a very modified form.  But all these are only the physical workings or symbols.  Essentially all formation, to the most subtle and most beyond our senses such as form of mind, form of character, form of soul, amount when scrutinised to this fivefold operation of conscious-force in movement.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155

A Supreme Sense Behind the Senses, Part 1

The human mind utilizes the senses to acquire information about the external world.  It then tries to comprehend the data it has acquired into meaningful patterns on which it can act.  It builds from fragments to try to understand the whole.  It does not have, as a native capacity, the knowledge of the whole, the oneness, the unity; this capacity, called Vijnana in the Upanishads, is reserved in its fullness for the supramental consciousness which starts from oneness and uses the data of the senses, but only within the context of its wider knowledge.  The questions then arise as to whether the mind can gain data without use of the physical senses, and then, whether the supermind has capacities of knowledge of the specific manifested details and power to control them without necessarily relying on the senses (Ajnana).

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “If we suppose a supreme consciousness, master of the world, which really conducts behind the veil all the operations the mental gods attribute to themselves, it will be obvious that that consciousness will be the entire Knower and Lord.  The basis of its action or government of the world will be the perfect, original and all-possessing Vijnana and Ajnana.  It will comprehend all things in its energy of conscious knowledge, control all things in its energy of conscious power.  These energies will be the spontaneous inherent action of its conscious being creative and possessive of the forms of the universe.”

“The Upanishads declare that the Mind in us is infinite; it knows not only what has been seen but what has not been seen, not only what has been heard but what has not been heard, not only what has been discriminated by the thought but what has not been discriminated by the thought.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads, Kena Upanishad and analysis, pg. 102, 142-155