Brief Overview of the Evolution of Consciousness

To appreciate Sri Aurobindo’s view that realization of the Supreme is the starting point, not the ending point of the practice of yoga, it is necessary to appreciate several concepts. The first is that, as the Upanishads hold, there is “one without a second”. This implies a unified consciousness that is not divided into separate beings as we tend to see things from our mental viewpoint. There is no “other”; rather, all that exists is that One Being. The second is “All this is the Brahman.” Rather than treat the world as purely a dream or an illusion to be escaped, this Upanishad dictum makes it clear that Brahman, the Supreme Divine, is not something to be discovered or experienced elsewhere, but rather, right here in life.

Sri Aurobindo then raises the question about the apparent disconnect between the human mental experience of fragmentation and separation and the consciousness of the divine unity. If all this is the One, why do we experience our existence as ostensibly separate beings in a seemingly hostile world?

By examining the process of evolution, Sri Aurobindo identified a series of stages or phases of development of Life out of Matter and Mind out of Life. Each one represented an extension of consciousness in its active manifestation in the world. In order for this to occur, the one consciousness must be present and involved in Matter. The sequential rolling out can be likened to the sequence in time of a motion picture revealing successive stages in a film as one observes. The entire film was there all the time, but is revealed in stages. Without pushing this analogy too far, one can at least get a glimpse of the concept of successive evolutionary stages revealing higher planes of consciousness over Time. Clearly the current mental level, with all its limitations and imperfections, cannot be the final stage of this process, and therefore, Sri Aurobindo points to a next phase which he calls the supramental manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Sri Aurobindo’s teaching states that this One Being and Consciousness is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be inconscient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards a greater and greater perfection. Life is the first step of this release of consciousness; mind is the second; but the evolution does not finish with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to manifest perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Introduction, pg. 3

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