About sriaurobindostudies

studying the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since 1971, this blog is meant to systematically review the writings of Sri Aurobindo.

First Steps in a Turn Towards a Subjective Age of Humanity

The significance of a subjective turn to human development lies in the potential to break free of the fixation on outer, material life and turn the attention to deeper levels of existence.  This does not solve the issues of human life overnight, but starts humanity along the road to discovery of its hidden purpose and meaning.  The Taittiriya Upanishad shows a progression from fixation on the physical reality to successive deeper understanding as the seeker moves to the vital, then the mental and eventually the levels of knowledge and bliss.  A subjective turn does not guarantee a focus on spirituality, but it is a necessary initial step in turning the attention away from its material fixation.  Along the way, dangers can arise if humanity gets stuck in an intermediate formulation and thereby misinterprets its destiny or focuses on lesser results that do not bring it to a spiritual understanding of oneness of existence.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “After the material formula which governed the greater part of the nineteenth century had burdened man with the heaviest servitude to the machinery of the outer material life that he has ever yet been called upon to bear, the first attempt to break through, to get to the living reality in things and away from the mechanical idea of life and living and society, landed us in that surface vitalism which had already begun to govern thought before the two formulas inextricably locked together lit up and flung themselves on the lurid pyre of the world-war.  The vital elan has brought us no deliverance, but only used the machinery already created with a more feverish insistence, a vehement attempt to live more rapidly, more intensely, an inordinate will to act and to succeed, to enlarge the mere force of living or to pile up a gigantic efficiency of the collective life.  It could not have been otherwise even if this vitalism had been less superficial and external, more truly subjective.  To live, to act, to grow, to increase the vital force, to understand, utilise and fulfil the intuitive impulse of life are not things evil in themselves: rather they are excellent things, if rightly followed and rightly used, that is to say, if they are directed to something beyond the mere vitalistic impulse and are governed by that within which is higher than Life.  The Life-power is an instrument, not an aim; it is in the upward scale the first great subjective supraphysical instrument of the Spirit and the base of all action and endeavour.  But a Life-power that sees nothing beyond itself, nothing to be served except its own organised demands and impulses, will be very soon like the force of steam driving an engine without the driver or an engine in which the locomotive force has made the driver its servant and not its controller.  It can only add the uncontrollable impetus of a high-crested or broad-based Titanism, or it may be even a nether flaming demonism, to the Nature forces of the material world with the intellect as its servant, an impetus of measureless unresting creation, appropriation, expansion which will end in something violent, huge and ‘colossal’, foredoomed in its very nature to excess and ruin, because light is not in it nor the soul’s truth nor the sanction of the gods and their calm eternal will and knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 249-251

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Signs of the Potential Advent of a Subjective Age of Development of Humanity

As the evolutionary progression develops beyond the limits of the mental consciousness, the signs of this development will begin to appear, first in those regions of human activity that are closest and most receptive to the new energy, and only later in those fields of life and physical activity that are the oldest and least adaptable segments of the complex human existence.  This would imply that we would begin to see new ideas, and experiments taking place in the realm of the mind, breaking through the boundaries of the usual mental limits, with new emphasis and focus on things like intuition, development of new powers of insight and new ways of expression.  Philosophy, science, psychology and the humanities should begin to show the impact of the developing spiritual force and its pressure on the mental action.  We can trace the rising interest in and action upon these levels with leading scientists declaring first that matter is actually ordered energy, and later indicating that energy is in reality consciousness.  The boundaries between matter and spirit are being systematically explored and the closer humanity looks, the more the boundary lines begin to disappear.  The development of the field of quantum mechanics brings the subjective principle into full view.  The subjective idea is even trying to reach into the political field with the recent attempt by a spiritual proponent of the Course in Miracles actively attempting to run for President of the United States on a “consciousness-based” platform!  Once the limits imposed by physical matter, life and mind are removed, there are bound to be areas of progress, as well as substantial errors along the way, as humanity blindly gropes for what its next future needs to be.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “These ideas are likely first to declare their trend in philsoophy, in psychological thinking, in the arts, poetry, painting, sculpture, music, in the main idea of ethics, in the application of subjective principles by thinkers to social questions, even perhaps, though this is a perilous effort, to politics and economics, that hard refractory earthy matter which most resists all but a gross utilitarian treatment.  There will be new unexpected departures of science or at least of research….  Discoveries will be made that thin the walls between soul and matter; attempts there will be to extend exact knowledge into the psychological and psychic realms with a realisation of the truth that these have laws of their own which are other than the physical, but not the less laws because they escape the external senses and are infinitely plastic and subtle. … These are sure signs, if not of the thing to be, at least of a great possibility of it, of an effort that will surely be made, another endeavour perhaps with a larger sweep and a better equipped intelligence capable not only of feeling but of understanding the Truth that is demanding to be heard. … It is only when these groping beginnings have found that for which they are seeking, that it can be successfully applied to the remoulding of the life of man.  Till then nothing better is likely to be achieved than an inner preparation and, for the rest, radical or revolutionary experiments of a doubtful kind with the details of the vast and cumbrous machinery under which life now groans and labours.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 248-249

The Necessary Preparation of the Common Mind of Humanity for the Spiritual Transformation

We may look upon the inspirational leader bringing forth a new inspiration or teaching as a seed planter.  The success of the effort will depend to a great degree on the fertility of the soil, that is, the readiness of humanity, to receive the new teaching and bring it to life in a pure form.  The limiting factor, based on human experience, seems to always be that humanity is simply not yet ready to break its old vital, animal habits and take up the spiritual principles and life-ways that are seen and communicated by the teacher, guide, guru or spiritual leader.  We have endless examples of teachings of peace, compassion and oneness being turned to inquisitions, crusades, religious warfare and prejudice, or used as justifications for economic or military domination.  To the extent that a teaching has been adopted, it has been used primarily for worldly benefits and division into “believers” and “non-believers”.   What conditions then must pertain in order for a spiritual teaching to take hold and actually accomplish a transformation in human nature and action?

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “…it is the unpreparedness, the unfitness of the society or of the common mind of man which is always the chief stumbling-block.  It is the readiness of this common mind which is of the first importance; for even if the condition of society and the principle and rule that govern society are opposed to the spiritual change, even if these belong almost wholly to the vital, to the external, the economic, the mechanical order, as is certainly the way at present with human masses, yet if the common human mind has begun to admit the ideas proper to the higher order that is in the end to be, and the heart of man has begun to be stirred by aspirations born of these ideas, then there is a hope of some advance in the not distant future.  And here the first essential sign must be the growth of the subjective idea of life, — the idea of the soul, the inner being, its powers, its possibilities, its growth, its expression and the creation of a true, beautiful and helpful environment for it as the one thing of first and last importance.  The signals must be there that are precursors of a subjective age in humanity’s thought and social endeavour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pg. 248

Two Required Conditions for Effecting the Spiritual Transformation of Human Society

Individual spiritual development takes place constantly.  Individuals experience life-transforming revelations, undertake spiritual quests, take up yoga, meditation, vision quests, seek isolation in the desert, the forest, on the mountain-top or in the cloister or monastery, as they try to fulfill the aspiration or drive towards fulfilling their spiritual yearnings.  Occasionally some major new breakthrough occurs in human understanding as a result of the actions of individuals who are ready to grow, and we find that a new inspiring leader, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha or other spiritual personality comes forward to represent the new understanding.  The teachings they bring forward find humanity partially prepared to accept and implement them, partially resistant or bound to habitual ways of seeing and acting in life.  Sri Aurobindo observes that individual progress is necessary, but for the transformation of society, there must also be a readiness on the part of humanity to be able to adopt the new spiritual outlook and understanding.

“There must be the individual and the individuals who are able to see, to develop, to re-create themselves in the image of the Spirit and to communicate both their idea and its power to the mass.  And there must be at the same time a mass, a society, a communal mind or at the least the constituents of a group-body, the possibility of a group-soul which is capable of receiving and effectively assimilating, ready to follow and effectively arrive, not compelled by its own inherent deficiencies, its defect of preparation to stop on the way or fall back before the decisive change is made.  Such a simultaneity has never yet happened, although the appearance of it has sometimes been created by the ardour of a moment.  That the combination must happen some day is a certainty, but none can tell how many attempts will have to be made and how many sediments of spiritual experience will have to be accumulated in the subconscient mentality of the communal human being before the soil is ready.  For the chances of success are always less powerful in a difficult upward effort affecting the very roots of our nature than the numerous possibilities of failure.  The initiator himself may be imperfect, may not have waited to become entirely the thing that he has seen.  Even the few who have the apostolate in their charge may not have perfectly assimilated and shaped it in themselves and may hand on the power of the Spirit still farther diminished to the many who will come after them.  The society may be intellectually, vitally, ethically, temperamentally unready, with the result that the final acceptance of the spiritual idea by the society may be also the beginning of its debasement and distortion and of the consequent departure or diminution of the Spirit.  Any or all of these things may happen, and the result will be, as has so often happened in the past, that even though some progress is made and an important change effected, it will not be the decisive change which can alone re-create humanity in a diviner image.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 247-248

The Significance of the Individual in the Spiritual Development of Humanity

The ‘hundredth monkey’ phenomenon describes the development of a new capacity or talent in a world-wide population of monkeys when a sufficient ‘critical mass’ of individual monkeys have adopted or reproduced that behavior.  It illustrates several key concepts which we can apply in our understanding of human evolutionary development.  First, it becomes clear that the progress takes place first at the individual level.  Second, it is apparent that the new talent or behavior is something that is generally possible for the entire race, which is why it can be generally disseminated once a sufficient number of individuals have achieved the result.

Humanity has a variety of views about progressive development.  Some believe that certain developed new capacities are unique to specific extraordinary individuals and cannot be made part of the future of the race in a more general way.  Some deny the value of individual progress entirely and expect that somehow the society will make its own progress, all together, without individual uniqueness entering in at all.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Spirit in humanity discovers, develops, builds its formations first in the individual man: it is through the progressive and formative individual that it offers the discovery and the chance of a new self-creation to the mind of the race.  For the communal mind holds things subconsciently at first or, if consciously, then in a confused chaotic manner: it is only through the individual mind that the mass can arrive at a clear knowledge and creation of the thing it held in its subconscient self.  Thinkers, historians, sociologists who belittle the individual and would like to lose him in the mass or think of him chiefly as a cell, an atom, have got hold only of the obscurer side of the truth of Nature’s workings in humanity.  It is because man is not like the material formations of Nature or like the animal, because she intends in him a more and more conscious evolution, that individuality is so much developed in him and so absolutely important and indispensable.  No doubt what comes out in the individual and afterwards moves the mass, must have been there already in the universal Mind and the individual is only an instrument for its manifestation, discovery, development: but he is an indispensable instrument and an instrument not merely of subconscient Nature, not merely of an instinctive urge that moves the mass, but more directly of the Spirit of whom that Nature is itself the instrument and the matrix of his creations.  All great changes therefore find their first clear and effective power and their direct shaping force in the mind and spirit of an individual or of a limited number of individuals.  The mass follows, but unfortunately in a very imperfect and confused fashion which often or even usually ends in the failure or distortion of the thing created.  If it were not so, mankind could have advanced on its way with a victorious rapidity instead of with the lumbering hesitations and soon exhausted rushes that seem to be all of which it has yet been capable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 23, Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age, pp. 246-247

The Spiritual Destiny of Man

Are there signs or indications of any greater spiritual destiny for humanity than what we see around us in terms of physical, vital and mental development?  Where can we look for such signs?  How can we recognise them and their meaning?  Many people will deny any such destiny and will fixate their efforts on achieving success on the material, vital and mental planes.  Modern society is a testament to this view of existence in many ways.  Yet we can see also the imbalances and deficiencies inherent in the modern world and the disruptions caused by a view towards short-term gains on these levels with no further consideration for anything greater.  We find that every being has its own inner drive, instinct, will to live which sets its destiny before it, whether that destiny is purely on the physical and vital planes, or includes a self-awareness of a mental consciousness.  We can look to the deeper aspirations, therefore, of humanity through time as a means towards understanding the future direction and destiny of mankind.

In the opening chapter of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes ‘the human aspiration’:  “The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation, — for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment, — is also the highest which his thought can envisage.  It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. … today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings.  The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last, — God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”

We see here the inner drive that pushes humanity forward, and that drive represents the spiritual destiny of humanity.  Sri Aurobindo notes in The Human Cycle:  :  “…concealed in the mind and life, in all the action of the intellectual, the aesthetic, the ethical, the dynamic and practical, the emotional, sensational, vital and physical being, there is a power that sees by identity and intuition and gives to all these things such truth and such certainty and stability as they are able to compass.  Obscurely we are now beginning to see something of this behind all our science and philosophy and all our other activities. … Man’s road to spiritual supermanhood will be open when he declares boldly that all he has yet developed, including the intellect of which he is so rightly and yet so vainly proud, are now no longer sufficient for him, and that to uncase, discover, set free this greater Light within shall be henceforward his pervading preoccupation.  The will his philosophy, art, science, ethics, social existence, vital pursuits be no longer an exercise of mind and life, done for themselves, carried in a circle, but a means for the discovery of a greater Truth behind mind and life and for the bringing of its power into our human existence.  We shall be on the right road to become ourselves, to find our true law of perfection, to live our true satisfied existence in our real being and divine nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 244-245

The Mental Consciousness Restricts the Full Spiritual Manifestation

The limitations of the mental consciousness make it impossible for it to take up the full force of the spiritual consciousness and transform existence.  The mind acts as something of a “step-down transformer” which reduces the direct power and action of the higher force to a level that can be managed easily by the body, life and mind, but in doing so, it compromises the intensity, directness and power of the spiritual consciousness.  Primary limitations of the mind involve its incapacity to hold a comprehensive, global perspective and action, and its need to focus on one idea, aspect or direction at a time, to the exclusion of others.  This breeds the kind of fixation on specific creeds, rituals, forms of worship and beliefs that have characterised humanity’s efforts to incorporate spiritual energy into life in the past.  This narrowing and canalising effect is unduly restrictive of the freedom and larger harmonies of the spiritual consciousness, which thus cannot manifest in its native and manifold nature.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The idea in mind seizing upon the central will in Spirit and trying to give this higher force a conscious orientation and method in accordance with the idas of the intellect is too limited, too darkened, too poor a force to work this miracle.  Still less can it come if we chain the spirit to some fixed mental idea or system of religious cult, intellectual truth, aesthetic norm, ethical rule, practical action, way of vital and physical life, to a particular arrangement of forms and actions and declare all departure from that a peril and a disturbance or a deviation from spiritual living.  That was the mistake made in Asia and the cause of its arrested development and decline; for this is to subject the higher to the lower principle and to bind down the self-disclosing Spirit to a provisional and imperfect compromise with mind and the vital nature.  Man’s true freedom and perfection will come when the spirit within bursts through the forms of mind and life and, winging above to its own gnostic fiery height of ether, turns upon them from that light and flame to seize them and transform into its own image.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 243-244