We generally try to understand things from our own individual perspective, yet this perspective is severely limited and cannot fully comprehend or appreciate the larger forces at work or the complete significance of the creation. If we make the shift to the divine standpoint, however, we can begin to appreciate the organisation of the universal creation and the specific position and role of the individual beings and forms that make up that creation.
From the divine standpoint, consciousness is universal and consistent, transcending the actual manifestations we experience in the creation within which we exist. It takes on different forms, and carries out a variety of different actions, as part of its larger play of creation.
We can see that there are gradations of the manifested consciousness in forms that are, in and of themselves, “typal”; that is, they represent a very specific stage in the expression of consciousness and are themselves not subject to change and development. They exist, carry out their function and make up a matrix of existence without themselves growing beyond the limits self-imposed upon their type. There are also evolutionary beings, those that can exceed and grow beyond the initial limits placed upon them, and who thereby act as change actions in the expression of the universal creation. Human beings generally fall into the category of evolutionary beings and our characteristics of self-awareness and aspiration beyond our initial station represent the signs of this evolutionary urge.
When we start our review from the individual perspective, we fail to appreciate the subtle and significant variations in the expression of consciousness brought about by the different environments and conditions within which it is being put forth. The result of this is that we overlook the action of consciousness in other planes of existence if it does not meet our limited definition. Consciousness is not limited to the action of the mind. There is consciousness involved deeply in the material world, which can be seen when we observe the atomic structure, or the functioning of the suns, planets and other celestial bodies following principles of existence rooted in mathematical precision. There is consciousness involved in the vital plane of life, as can be noted through the symbiotic relationships that make all life part of a mutually-dependent web. We can look upon Matter, Life and Mind as planes of existence, each with its own characteristic framework and laws of action, as well as expression of consciousness conditioned by the characteristic operations of each plane. Further planes of consciousness, such as the Supramental, would similarly have their own method and ways of expression.
While Western science has held that life and consciousness derived somehow from inanimate Matter, it is clear that it is consciousness itself that is primary and that it creates the various planes, their conditions, the exact mode and form of the expression of consciousness required by that plane, and their interactions, rather than the other way round.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The gradations of consciousness are universal states not dependent on the outlook of the subjective personality; rather the outlook of the subjective personality is determined by the grade of consciousness in which it is organised according to its typal nature or its evolutionary stage.”
“It will be evident that by consciousness is meant something which is essentially the same throughout but variable in status, condition and operation, in which in some grades or conditions the activities we call consciousness can exist either in a suppressed or an unorganised or a different organised state; while in other states some other activities may manifest which in us are suppressed, unorganised or latent or else are less perfectly manifested, less intensive, extended and powerful than in those higher grades above our highest mental limit.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 46-48