The Successes, the Limitations and the Failures of the Human Power of Reason

The power of reasoning is an essential element of the mind’s action in the human individual.  As a result of this power, and the associated skills that support it, such as observation, categorization, analysis and extrapolation, virtually all of our modern day successes in terms of harnessing the powers implicit in Matter can be attributed.  At the same time, the power of reason functions in a linear fashion and limits its focus to a line of development, exclusive of many other lines of development.  We thus see not only great progress in certain directions, but also a vast array of unintended consequences or countervailing forces that eventually bring about a state of gridlock and inability to solve the complex issues that face us.  That is the state of the world today, as we have apparently reached the limits of reason and thus are facing system failures of a magnitude that overwhelms our capacities.

In The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Here there has been the work of a reason that seeks always after knowledge and strives patiently to find out truth for itself, without bias, without the interference of distorting interests, to study everything, to analyse everything, to know the principle and process of everything.  Philosophy, Science, learning, the reasoned arts, all the agelong labour of the critical reason in man have been the result of this effort.  In the modern era under the impulsion of Science this effort assumed enormous proportions and claimed for a time to examine successfully and lay down finally the true principle and the sufficient rule of process not only for all the activities of Nature, but for all the activities of man.  It has done great things, but it has not been in the end a success.  The human mind is beginning to perceive that it has left the heart of almost every problem untouched and illumined only outsides and a certain range of processes.  There has been a great and ordered classification and mechanisation, a great discovery and practical result of increasing knowledge, but only on the physical surface of things.  Vast abysses of Truth lie below in which are concealed the real springs, the mysterious powers and secretly decisive influences of existence.  It is a question whether the intellectual reason will ever be able to give us an adequate account of these deeper and greater things or subject them to the intelligent will as it has succeeded in explaining and canalising, though still imperfectly, yet with much show of triumphant result, the forces of physical Nature.  But these other powers are much larger, subtler, deeper down, more hidden, elusive and variable than those of physical Nature.”

“The whole difficulty of the reason in trying to govern our existence is that because of its own inherent limitations it is unable to deal with life in its complexity or in its integral movements; it is compelled to break it up into parts, to make more or less artificial classifications, to build systems with limited data which are contradicted, upset or have to be continually modified by other data, to work out a selection of regulated potentialities which is broken down by the bursting of a new wave of yet unregulated potentialities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Three, The Present Evolutionary Crisis, pp. 14-15


Man’s Current State of Consciousness Is Not the Final Term in the Evolution of Consciousness

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo states:  “If a spiritual unfolding on earth is the hidden truth of our birth into Matter, if it is fundamentally an evolution of consciousness that has been taking place in Nature, then man as he is cannot be the last term of that evolution: he is too imperfect an expression of the spirit, Mind itself, a too limited form and instrumentation; Mind is only a middle term of consciousness, the mental being can only be a transitional being.  If, then, man is incapable of exceeding mentality, he must be surpassed and supermind and superman must manifest and take the lead of the creation.  But if his mind is capable of opening to what exceeds it, then there is no reason why man himself should not arrive at supermind and supermanhood or at least lend his mentality, life and body to an evolution of that greater term of the Spirit manifesting in Nature.”

There is a lot of confusion about the use of the terms “supermind” and “superman” in our society,  In particular, Nietzsche used the term “superman” in a way that seemed to aggrandise the human vital personality and ego and his concept was then mis-applied to lead to the Nazi ideas of the “master race”.

Sri Aurobindo has been very clear that his use of the term is to identify a level of consciousness that would be the next stage in the evolution of consciousness from Matter, to Life, to Mind and then … beyond to the supramental level.  The powers of understanding, perception, integration and action that come with that next level of consciousness are commensurate, in their own way, to the type of massive adjustments that took place with the appearance of Life in Matter, or the appearance of Mind in Life and Matter.

Some elements of this consciousness are already able to be identified, such as a basis in the Oneness of the entire creation, and an understanding of the details of each element of the manifestation and how it fits into the whole.  There is no implication here of any kind of vast expansion of the ego or the attempt to oppress or rule over, or even disregard the basic organisation of society and human relations that seemed to permeate Nietzsche’s writings.  The supramental awareness naturally would recognise the essential nature of Matter, Life and Mind, the role each plays in the manifestation thus far, and work to bring harmony and integration to our methods of dealing with them.

On another level, popular culture has embraced the idea of “superheroes” with specific new powers of perception and action, that represent powers not present, or only present in much lower forms,  in the current configuration of human consciousness.   Popular culture embraces this conceptualisation as a way of trying to cope with the problems that the society faces and which cannot be solved with our ordinary mental and vital powers of action.  We may almost see this as a distorted characterization of the aspiration in humanity for a new manifestation of consciousness to organize, understand and solve the problems of disharmony created by our mental and vital approach to life in the world.  This may be some way for the higher consciousness to foreshadow its own emergence, even if the specifics as imagined are not the eventual end-result.

In either case, it is best to take Sri Aurobindo’s vision of the supramental manifestation on its own terms and not confuse it with the terms as subsequently used, or possibly misused, by others for entirely different purposes or directions.  Sri Aurobindo has written at length in various books about the development of the supramental consciousness in our earthly existence and it is in these writings that we may find a solid basis for understanding what he is actually envisioning.

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

The Supramental Transformation Is Possible on Earth

There are many who believe that life in the world is only some kind of passage or test and that fulfillment lies in some other world or heaven beyond, or else, that there is no real fulfillment and the only choice is to escape the illusion and merge in the Absolute awareness.  For these people, the worldly life is either a means to some other end elsewhere or else, simply to be discarded when we see through the illusory nature of our existence.  Neither approach believes that there is any real hope for perfecting life on earth, and it is something simply to be “got over”.

Sri Aurobindo takes a different view in stating that the earthly evolution is the manifestation of the will of the Eternal Spirit and that this evolution is intended to uplift and perfect life here itself.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo notes:  “There is no conclusive validity in the reasoning that because this is a world of Ignorance, such a transformation can only be achieved by a passage to a heaven beyond or cannot be achieved at all and the demand of the psychic entity is itself ignorant and must be replaced by a merger of the soul in the Absolute.  This conclusion could only be solely valid if Ignorance were the whole meaning, substance and power of the world-manifestation or if there were no element in World-Nature itself through which there could be an exceeding of the ignorant mentality that still burdens our present status of being.  But the Ignorance is only a portion of this World-Nature; it is not the whole of it, not the original power or creator: it is in its higher origin a self-limiting Knowledge and even in its lower origin, its emergence out of the sheer material Inconscience, it is a suppressed Consciousness labouring to find, to recover itself, to manifest knowledge, which is its true character, as the foundation of existence.  In universal Mind itself there are ranges above our mentality which are instruments of the cosmic truth-cognition, and into these the mental being can surely rise; for already it rises towards them in supernormal conditions or receives from them without yet knowing or possessing them intuitions, spiritual intimations, large influxes of illumination or spiritual capacity.  All these ranges are conscious of what is beyond them, and the highest of them is directly open to the Supermind, aware of the Truth-consciousness which exceeds it.  Moreover, in the evolving being itself, those greater powers of consciousness are here, supporting mind-truth, underlying its action which screens them; this Supermind and those Truth-powers uphold Nature by their secret presence: even, truth of mind is their result, a diminished operation, a representation in partial figures.  It is, therefore, not only natural but seems inevitable that these higher powers of Existence should manifest here in Mind as Mind itself has manifested in Life and Matter.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

The Emergence of the Soul and the Evolution of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “But there is the other, the invisible factor; there is rebirth, the progress of the soul by ascent from grade to grade of the evolving existence, and in the grades to higher and higher types of bodily and mental instrumentation.  In this progression the psychic entity is still veiled, even in man the conscious mental being, by its instruments, by mind and life and body; it is unable to manifest fully, held back from coming to the front where it can stand out as the master of its nature, obliged to submit to a certain determination by the instruments, to a domination of Purusha by Prakriti.  But in man the psychic part of the personality is able to develop with a much greater rapidity than in the inferior creation, and a time can arrive when the soul entity is close to the point at which it will emerge from behind the veil into the open and become the master of its instrumentation in Nature.  But this will mean that the secret indwelling spirit, the Daemon, the Godhead within is on the point of emergence; and, when it emerges, it can hardly be doubted that its demand will be, as indeed it already is in the mind itself when it undergoes the inner psychic influence, for a diviner, a more spiritual existence.  In the nature of the earth life where the mind is an instrument of the Ignorance, this can only be effected by a change of consciousness, a transition from the mental to a supramental consciousness, a supramental instrumentation of Nature.”

The term “psychic” has been used differently in the West than its use by Sri Aurobindo.  The psychic being, or psychic entity is the soul-being in man, and it is the part that responds directly to the Divine in the creation, and focuses the energies of mind, life and body on the higher evolutionary purpose.  It is the true soul, not the “desire soul”.  The desire soul is the superficial being that we generally identify ourselves with, our ego-personality trying to fulfill the desires that arise from the urges of body, life and mind.  The true soul has its focus and aspiration towards the higher development and the goal of acting from the standpoint of Oneness.  When it comes forward and takes charge of the actions of the being, it can bring about substantive changes in viewpoint and focus.  The mind, life and body then become instruments of its action.

The first stage, during which it has not yet fully come forward, is to exert an influence on the mind and emotions of the being.  This influence leads the individual to begin to adjust his value-set, his actions and reactions to correspond with the soul’s guidance.  At a certain stage, when the instruments are sufficiently prepared, the soul can actually take direct charge and the individual will undergo what may appear to be a total “reversal of consciousness” with a new focus, direction, significance and aspiration taking over the being.  This process is not necessarily limited to those who espouse a religious conviction.  There is the famous story of the great sage Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, who was a dacoit (thief, criminal) before undergoing a conversion in his standpoint.

For an individual undergoing the psychic influence or emergence, one will note a falling away of desire for wealth, status, fame or any worldly success of any sort, for their own sake, and a corresponding rise in aspiration for the Divine, for Light, for Oneness, for spiritual freedom.  Eventually the life focus is entirely changed as also the standpoint as the individual moves from the egoistic to the divine standpoint in seeing and reacting to the events, actions, and beings he encounters in life.

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

Man’s Conscious Participation in the Next Stage of the Evolution of Consciousness

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “In the previous stages of the evolution Nature’s first care and effort had to be directed towards a change in the physical organisation, for only so could there be a change of consciousness; this was a necessity imposed by the insufficiency of the force of consciousness already in formation to effect a change in the body.  But in man a reversal is possible, indeed inevitable; for it is through his consciousness, through its transmutation and no longer through a new bodily organism as a first instrumentation that the evolution can and must be effected.  In the inner reality of things a change of consciousness was always the major fact, the evolution has always had a spiritual significance and the physical change was only instrumental; but this relation was concealed by the first abnormal balance of the two factors, the body of the external Inconscience outweighing and obscuring in importance the spiritual element, the conscious being.  But once the balance has been righted, it is no longer the change of body that must precede the change of consciousness; the consciousness itself by its mutation will necessitate and operate whatever mutation is needed for the body.  It has to be noted that the human mind has already shown a capacity to aid Nature in the evolution of new types of plant and animal; it has created new forms of its environment, developed by knowledge and discipline considerable changes in its own mentality.  It is not an impossibility that man should aid Nature consciously also in his own spiritual and physical evolution and transformation.  The urge to do it is already there and partly effective, though still incompletely understood and accepted by the surface mentality; but one day it may understand, go deeper within itself and discover the means, the secret energy, the intended operation of the Consciousness-Force within which is the hidden reality of what we call Nature.”

The application of mind to the fields of life and matter has clearly led to enormous adjustments, both positive and negative.  It could not be otherwise, as the mind as an instrument with inherent limitations acts on fragmented details rather than from a consciousness of the entirety and the place of each detail within the whole.  Thus, every advance we make using the mind is coupled with unintended consequences.  The current state of the world, with climate change, global pandemic events, the mass extinction event that is killing off large numbers of species, the changes wrought to human health and wellness through chemical pollution and the stress of modern living, the changes to our diet which leads to the rise of various disease conditions and weakens the body and its organic functioning, and the development of societal and economic structures that create enormous imbalances and overuse of the resources of the planet, while creating waste products for which there is no current solution, speaks to both the power and the limitations of the mental consciousness in its reshaping of life and matter.

As the next phase of evolution begins to manifest more clearly, it must bring a new balance and integrated vision to modify and harmonize the changes that the mental consciousness continues to insert into the earthly life.  This will require bringing forward powers of perception and action that are available to humanity, although currently rare and generally poorly developed and implemented.  Powers of intuition, inspiration, and new ways of seeing and framing the directions to be taken in further development, a perspective based on wholistic understanding that incorporates the inherent Oneness of the entire creation, with a view of the numerous individual manifestations and their tight interaction and relation to one another.  Such a development will rely, not so much on mental formations that lead to genetic engineering or “designer babies” but on inner growth and practices which awaken the native, although generally sleeping, capacities of the higher powers in man.

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

Development of the Supramental Consciousness and Its Relationship to Matter, Life and Mind

Just as the advent of the Life-Energy transformed the response of Matter, and the advent of the mental energy transformed the response of both Matter and Life, so we can expect that the next stage in the evolutionary process will act to completely transform the relations of Matter, Life and Mind both in their own responsiveness and in their interaction with one another.  The question arises whether this results in a complete transformation for all of humanity, or whether some elements of humanity undergo this transformation of consciousness, while the basic essentials of human consciousness remain in place for the vast majority.  We observe in the developments of plants, and animals, and human beings, that the radical transformation does not directly occur for every being in the preceding stage; rather, the basis and beings that populate each stage remain in place and only a segment develops the new consciousness and physical forms to support it.  We also see that the new active power of consciousness nevertheless affects and begins to transform the action at the prior levels.  If we witness the impact of the mental consciousness on animal life, plant life and the material basis of the world, it is easy to appreciate both its tremendous power and its extreme limitations.  The next stage of the evolution of consciousness must work to bring about a new relationship between matter, life, and mind from the perspective of what Sri Aurobindo terms the supramental plane of consciousness.

The stages, and the beings, including the gradations of the mental consciousness that manifest through humanity today, will remain intact as both a basis for that plane of consciousness to continue to work, and as a transitional phase for those who are prepared to filter up to the next level.  If rebirth is part of an evolutionary growth of the individual, such transitional stages are essential to the process.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “It must be conceded at once that there is not the least probability or possibility of the whole human race rising in a block to the supramental level; what is suggested is nothing so revolutionary and astonishing, but only the capacity in the human mentality, when it has reached a certain level or a certain point of stress of the evolutionary impetus, to press towards a higher plane of consciousness and its embodiment in the being.  The being will necessarily undergo by this embodiment a change from the normal constitution of its nature, a change certainly of its mental and emotional and sensational constitution and also to a great extent of the body-consciousness and the physical conditioning of our life and energies; but the change of consciousness will be the chief factor, the initial movement, the physical modification will be a subordinate factor, a consequence.  This transmutation of the consciousness will always remain possible to the human being when the flame of the soul, the psychic kindling, becomes potent in heart and mind and the nature is ready.  The spiritual aspiration is innate in man; for he is, unlike the animal, aware of imperfection and limitation and feels that there is something to be attained beyond what he now is: this urge towards self-exceeding is not likely ever to die out totally in the race.  The human mental status will be always there, but it will be there not only as a degree in the scale of rebirth, but as an open step towards the spiritual and supramental status.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

Spiritual Aspiration Is the Sign of the Development of the Spiritual Being as the Next Stage in the Evolution of Consciousness

Close observation can identify the next evolutionary phase that is preparing to manifest.  If we observe Matter closely, we find that more refined forms of material substance, such as metals, begin to exhibit behaviors that foreshadow those we would expect from living beings.  These responses go beyond those we see in material substance generally.  Similarly, we find in various living beings, an increasing stress towards mental development that begins to approach the advent of the full mental capabilities of man.  Things like strategic planning, advanced communication skills, and tool usage appear in higher animal forms, and there is even evidence of cooperation, emotional bonding beyond immediate family, and grieving that have been observed in animals, and which formerly were considered to be more or less entirely human potentials.

We can identify, within the context of humanity, that various individuals manifest capacities that are either not generally utilized by the mass of humanity at this time, or represent cutting edge capacities that are not part of the mental being’s primary repertoire, but signal a next step that must take place to resolve limitations of the mental consciousness, just as the development of mind worked to free the material and vital manifestations from limitations they experience in the expression of consciousness.

The broadly defined mental capacities include self-awareness, logical thought, and the ability to differentiate, classify, categorize and organize.  There are also powers of speculation, imagination and extrapolation.  These powers actually get developed to a greater or lesser extent throughout humanity.  Much less frequent are powers of spiritual aspiration and a seeking for meaning and spiritual growth and transformation.  This is not the same as a religious belief, which after all imposes itself on the existing mental and vital powers as a belief system and a series of tenets, but an entirely different order of activity.

Spiritual activity tends to look at things in a more comprehensive or global manner, not fixated on the individual or the step-by-step mental process; rather it works through intuition, inspiration and vision to take the individual out of the normal logical intellect and emotional reactions.  This activity represents the kind of transformational change in standpoint that is a corollary to the advent of life in matter, or the advent of mind in life.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine: “If it be supposed that her (n.b. Nature’s) next step is the spiritual and supramental being, the stress of spirituality in the race may be taken as a sign that that is Nature’s intention, the sign too of the capacity of man to operate in himself or aid her to operate the transition.  If the appearance in animal being of a type similar in some respects to the ape-kind but already from the beginning endowed with the elements of humanity was the method of the human evolution, the appearance in the human being of a spiritual type resembling the mental-animal humanity but already with the stamp of the spiritual aspiration on it would be the obvious method of Nature for the evolutionary production of the spiritual and supramental being.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

The Preceding Stage of Evolution Includes Indications of the Subsequent Stages to Be Manifested

While we may observe qualitative and quantitative differences between material substances, plants, animals and man in terms of their manifestations of conscious awareness and responsiveness, it must be noted that close examination has shown that the elements of the next stage of the evolution of consciousness are present, albeit in a reduced form of overt expression, in the preceding stage.  Thus, scientific experimentation has shown that metals respond similar to human muscles when put under stress, exhibiting fatigue and recovery; and that plants show traits of perception and responsiveness that mimic later overt developments seen in the animal kingdom.

The groundbreaking work of Jagdish Chandra Bose of India included many hundreds of experiments which he documented in his published works Plant Response as a Means of Physiological Investigation and his Comparative Electro-Physiology and his later works The Physiology of Photosynthesis, Plant Autographs and Their Revelations, Motor Mechanisms of Plants,  and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants.. While initially rejected by the scientists of his day due to the unprecedented results he catalogued, he was vindicated when eventual further research proved out his conclusions and his work was shown to be well ahead of his time.    He concluded “In my investigations on the action of forces on matter, I was amazed to find boundary lines vanishing and to discover points of contact emerging between the Living and the non-Living. … Is there any possible relation between our own life and that of the plant world?  The question is not one of speculation but of actual demonstration by some method that is unimpeachable.”

An enormous amount of material, including a recap of Bose’ findings, showing the existence of nervous reactions of plants, and what appear to be the expression of rudimentary emotions in plants, has been collected by Tompkins and Bird in their book The Secret Life of Plants.

If, as Sri Aurobindo notes, consciousness is involved in Matter and from there evolves out, developing appropriate physical forms to house the higher ranges of consciousness, we would expect to see just such results as Bose and others have demonstrated.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “Already, in what seems to be inconscient in Life, the signs of sensation coming towards the surface are visible; in moving and breathing Life the emergence of sensitive Mind is apparent and the preparation of thinking Mind is not entirely hidden, while in thinking Mind, when it develops, there appear at an early stage the rudimentary strivings and afterwards the more developed seekings of a spiritual consciousness.  As plant life contains in itself the obscure possibility of the conscious animal, as the animal mind is astir with the movements of feeling and perception and the rudiments of conception that are the first ground for man the thinker, so man the mental being is sublimated by the endeavour of the evolutionary Energy to develop out of him the spiritual man, the fully conscious being, man exceeding his first material self and discoverer of his true self and highest nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13

Self-Aware Participation in the Evolutionary Process Becomes Possible with the Advent of Man

The evolutionary process of Nature is for the most part due to an encoded pattern that, over time, gets “mixed” through various reproductive techniques such as sexual reproduction involving the mixing of genes from two diverse individuals, which then plays out in the “survival of the fittest” patterns identified by Darwin.  Another method of evolutionary change comes about through the mutation process which becomes part of the overall pattern over time.  Those mutations found beneficial will tend to survive and reproduce, while those that are weak or failed mutations tend over time to fail in carrying themselves forward.

With the advent of humanity, we have a new level of participation in the evolutionary process, as the self-awareness of the human being allows both a conscious striving and focus on various forms of development, as well as the opportunity for humans to actively intervene in the physical process, whether through environmental changes that effect genetic changes (including the impacts of climate change and the corresponding changes in things like disease vectors or immune system responses to changes in oxygen, carbon dioxide, pollution, chemicals, etc.) or through specific interference of genetic engineering or testing that results in skewed results such as favoring one type of “natural selection” over another.

Our focus here is on the development of consciousness, so the question of physical patterns and interference, while interesting and important, is not our primary concern at this moment.  What we see in this regard is that humanity has the ability to reflect on the significance and purpose of our existence, and to consciously take steps to participate in the growth and development of consciousness and the powers of being.  Witness the practices of yoga and meditation, vision quests, as well as explorations in the fields of science, philosophy, religion, psychology, art, or use of entheogenic plants,  which indicate a depth of seeking and aspiration for something better, greater and more perfected to come about through human efforts.  While all these things differ in their specific focus and their methodology, they all speak to the human aspiration of which Sri Aurobindo writes, and represent the encoded urge in our genetic makeup, as an expression of Nature’s will-to-be, to consciously participate in the ongoing evolutionary focus of Nature through Matter, Life and Mind.  This aspiration itself is a sign that evolution is not finished and that man represents a transitional phase in that development.

Sri Aurobindo observes, in The Life Divine:  “It must be observed that the appearance of human mind and body on the earth marks a crucial step, a decisive change in the course and process of the evolution; it is not merely a continuation of the old lines.  Up till this advent of a developed thinking mind in Matter evolution had been effected, not by the self-aware aspiration, intention, will or seeking of the living being, but subconsciously or subliminally by the automatic operation of Nature.  This was so because the evolution began from the Inconscience and the secret Consciousness had not emerged sufficiently from it to operate through the self-aware participating individual will of its living creature.  But in man the necessary change has been made, — the being has become awake and aware of himself; there has been made manifest in Mind its will to develop, to grow in knowledge, to deepen the inner and widen the outer existence, to increase the capacities of the nature.  Man has seen that there can be a higher status of consciousness than his own; the evolutionary oestrus is there in his parts of mind and life, the aspiration to exceed himself is delivered and articulate within him: he has become conscious of a soul, discovered the self and spirit.  In him, then, the substitution of a conscious for a subconscious evolution has become conceivable and practicable, and it may well be concluded that the aspiration, the urge, the persistent endeavour in him is a sure sign of Nature’s will for a higher way to fulfillment, the emergence of a greater status.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Two, The Place of Man in Evolution, pp. 5-13