Since the Renaissance, the Western world has put its faith in, and based its goals on the power of the human intellect and vital drive to uplift humanity and solve the problems we face. Tremendous changes have taken place and humanity has made progress in fields as diverse as atomic physics, biochemistry and quantum theory, as well as gaining insight into the need for hygiene and dietary sufficiency, and fields relating to energy, transport, communication, education, and other subject areas too numerous to mention. Hundreds of years have gone by and we can now fly to the moon, explore the universe, and make modifications to the genetic code of all life. One would expect, if this focus was indeed the way to solve humanity’s problems, that we would be seeing a real and substantial upliftment of human life and a reduction in the problems that we have faced since time immemorial. And indeed, we have seen, in certain directions, clear signs of improvement.
Yet if we look at the state of humanity and the world today, we can see also the downsides to this exclusive concentration and many unintended consequences of the progress we have made in this endeavour. Scientists tell us that we are in the midst of the sixth major species die-off that the planet has experienced, the prior one being the demise of the dinosaurs due to the external cause of an asteroid hitting the planet. The current die-off is clearly due to human activity. We see massive pollution, climate change on a global scale, increasing disease vectors, destruction of eco-systems throughout the world, loss of biodiversity, wars that are far more deadly than at any time in the past, weapons that can destroy the entire planet, mass migrations, fear and tension leading to genocidal action, and opposition of ideas so intense that it brings society to a state of gridlock and inability to act, despite the urgency of the need to act.
If our sole reliance on the power of the human intellect and vital action has been misplaced, it is time to seek for a different form of solution that can address the common thread that underlies all of these crises that we are facing. Sri Aurobindo indicates that the true solution to the current crisis is a change of consciousness. There is an evolutionary development of consciousness and it has become clear that we have reached the limits of what the physical-vital-mental evolution can successfully accomplish on its own. It is therefore time for the next phase of evolution to manifest, the supra-mental phase. What is required is a consciousness that is not based in the limited framework and processes of existing human knowledge and action, but which sees and acts from a new standpoint, a global, wholistic perspective. It is only from such a change that the disharmony of the current world situation can be resolved. Put simply, human consciousness and development has not kept pace with the external powers that we have put in play, and those powers now threaten to destroy all life unless we undertake the quest within and focus our attention on the need to receive and manifest a new conscious awareness based in oneness, not separation and fragmentation.
If we observe closely we can already recognise signs that this new consciousness is in the process of manifesting. We see an increasing awareness of the failures of human mind, vital energy and physical capability to address the problems we face. We see an increase in focus on spirituality and exploration of consciousness, and a recognition of the need for such a change. We see people striving to go beyond the fixed and limited ideas of the religious tradition to which they belong, the political system within which they operate or the economic system that controls their society. We see people reaching out to bring forth an understanding of unity and harmony on a global scale, as well as the development of an ecological sense that all life is one and unified and needs to be kept in balance. These and many other signs indicate that humanity is beginning to respond to a new power of consciousness that has the potential to overcome the limitations and the fragmentation that have taken us to the desperate and grave threats before which we stand.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “All this insistence upon action is absurd if one has not the light by which to act. ‘Yoga must include life and not exclude it’ does not mean that we are bound to accept life as it is with all its stumbling ignorance and misery and the obscure confusion of human will and reason and impulse and instinct which it expresses. The advocates of action think that by human intellect and energy making an always new rush, everything can be put right; the present state of the world after a development of the intellect and a stupendous output of energy for which there is no historical parallel is a signal proof of the emptiness of the illusion under which they labour. Yoga takes the stand that it is only by a change of consciousness that the true basis of life can be discovered; from within outward is indeed the rule. But within does not mean some quarter inch behind the surface. One must go deep and find the soul, the self, the Divine Reality within us and only then can life become a true expression of what we can be instead of a blind and always repeated confused blur of the inadequate and imperfect thing we were. The choice is between remaining in the old jumble and groping about in the hope of stumbling on some discovery or standing back and seeking the Light within till we discover and can build the Godhead within and without us.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145