Characteristics and Levels of the Supramental Knowledge

The Taittiriya Upanishad speaks of the “self of knowledge”, vijnanamaya, which exists beyond the mental level of consciousness.  This self of knowledge is the native plane of the supramental action and its essential characteristic is a knowledge by identity which Sri Aurobindo describes:  “Its movement is a total seeing and seizing; it is a comprehension and possession in the self of knowledge; and it holds the object of consciousness as part of the self or one with it, the unity being spontaneously and directly realised in the act of knowledge.”

The supermind, however is capable of other modes of action as well.  While keeping its inherent oneness and knowledge of the infinite and the cosmic unity, it has the power of objectifying and externalising objects, so that it can appreciate and work with the infinite variation of forms and thus, be the creative power behind the manifestation of the divine Spirit’s intention in the universal creation.  “Another supramental activity puts the knowledge by identity more into the background and stresses more the objectivity of the thing known.  Its characteristic movement, descending into the mind, becomes the source of the peculiar nature of our mental knowledge, intelligence…. In the mind the action of intelligence involves, at the outset, separation and otherness between the knower, knowledge and the known; but in the supermind its movement still takes place in the infinite identity or at least in the cosmic oneness.  Only, the self of knowledge indulges the delight of putting the object of consciousness away from the more immediate nearness of the original and eternal unity, but always in itself, and of knowing it again in another way so as to establish with it a variety of relations of interaction which are so many minor chords in the harmony of the play of the consciousness.”

“The supramental intelligence is of the nature of knowledge by truth-hearing and truth-remembering and, though capable of being sufficient to itself in a certain way, still feels itself more richly fulfilled by the thought and word that give it a body of expression.”

“Finally, a fourth action of the supramental consciousness completes the various possibilities of the supramental knowledge.  This still farther accentuates the objectivity of the thing known, puts it away from the station of experiencing consciousness and again brings it to nearness by a uniting contact effected either in a direct nearness, touch, union or less closely across the bridge or through the connecting stream of consciousness of which there has already been mention.  It is a contacting of existence, presences, things, forms, forces, activities, but a contacting of them in the stuff of the supramental being and energy, not in the divisions of matter and through the physical instruments, that creates the supramental sense….”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 24, The Supramental Sense , pp. 831-833

Knowledge by Identity Underpins the Supramental Sense Awareness

The mental consciousness relies heavily on the data provided by the senses in order to interact with the forms, forces, beings and events in the manifested universe.  The supramental consciousness does not do away with the sense awareness of the outer world.  At the same time, it is not dependent on the physical senses and their impressions in order to be in contact with the objects of those senses.  There is a direct connection between the consciousness and the “external” object based on the implicit oneness of subject and object at the supramental level of awareness.

Sri Aurobindo describes the action of the supramental sense awareness:  “All the instruments, all the activities of the mind have their corresponding powers in the action of the supramental energy and are there exalted and transfigured, but have there a reverse order of priority and necessary importance.”

“Sense is fundamentally not the action of certain physical organs, but the contact of consciousness with its objects….”

“…on the supramental plane, its primary awareness still remains of a kind native to and entirely characteristic of the self-awareness of the spirit, the self-knowledge of the one and infinite; it is a knowledge that knows all its objects, forms, and activities comprehensively by being aware of them in its own infinite self, intimately by being aware in them as their self, absolutely by being aware of them as one in self with its own being.  All its other ways of knowledge are projected from this knowledge by identity, are parts or movements of it, or at the lowest depend on it for their truth and light, are touched and supported by it even in their own separate way of action and refer back to it overtly or implicitly as their authority and origin.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 24, The Supramental Sense , pg. 831

The Powerful and Integral Action of the Supramental Knowing

It must be remembered that the evolutionary development or unfolding of consciousness takes place through the modality of Time.  The vital consciousness developed out of the physical; the mental consciousness is an advancement upon the vital.  For those seekers who are consciously working on the evolutionary developments beyond the mental level, there is a progressive, and somewhat messy process of advance and retreat, of glimpses of a higher working of consciousness, followed by a reversion to the primary mode of working on the mental level.  Thus, as the supramental power begins to manifest, it may first start by creating an influence or sharp bursts of illumination in the mind.  A continued focus and effort may lead to the development of a more or less stable intuitive awareness that illumines the mental as well as begins the transition towards a more permanent higher form of knowing.  Similarly, as the supramental takes up the consciousness, it will at first be diluted by the mental framework, exert more influence at the level of the intuitive mind, and only begin to gain its full power and scope as the mental level is exceeded.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The ranges of knowledge above the supramental reason, taking it up and exceeding it, cannot well be described, nor is it necessary here to make the endeavour.  It is sufficient to say that the process here is more sufficient, intense and large in light, imperative, instantaneous, the scope of the active knowledge larger, the way nearer to the knowledge by identity, the thought more packed with the luminous substance of self-awareness and all-vision and more evidently independent of any other inferior support or assistance.”

“These characteristics, it must be remembered, do not fully apply even to the strongest action of the intuitive mentality, but are there seen only in their first glimpses.  Nor can they be entirely or unmixedly evident so long as supramentality is only forming with an undercurrent, a mixture or an environment of mental action.  It is only when mentality is overpassed and drops away into a passive silence that there can be the full disclosure and the sovereign and integral action of the supramental gnosis.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pg. 830

The Suprarational Nature of the Supramental Judgment

If we reflect on the judgment-process in the mind, we see that it gathers facts, consults memory, organizes and then uses various logical tools such as deduction or inference to achieve what it believes to be the truth of anything to which it has turned its attention.  This process has a number of potential obstacles implicit within it, either through inaccurate or incomplete recording of facts and details, faulty memory, inadequate or incomplete organization, and faulty use of logic, as well as potential mental or emotional bias which predisposes the mind towards a certain result.  Thus the mind’s method of judgment is always subject to scrutiny and must be acknowledged for its limited capability and at best mixed results.  This is all a result of the fragmented, divided and limited nature of the mental consciousness and its tie to the ego-personality and the limitations of the background, training and predispositions of the individual within his social framework.

The supermind, on the other hand, finds its basis in a level of consciousness that incorporates the knowledge and oneness of the divine being, recognises the inherent links between all forms, forces and beings in the manifestation of the divine, and therefore, sees and knows from the standpoint of knowledge, not ignorance, with a holistic inclusiveness of past, present and future.  Thus, an entirely different process and result can be expected.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The supramental judgment acts inseparably from the supramental observation or memory, inherent in it as a direct seeing or cognition of values, significances, antecedents, consequences, relations, etc.; or it supervenes on the observation as a luminous disclosing idea or suggestion; or it may go before, independent of any observation, and then the object called up and observed confirms visibly the truth  of the idea.  But in each case it is sufficient in itself for its own purpose, is its own evidence and does not really depend for its truth on any aid or confirmation.  There is a logic of the supramental reason, but its function is not to test or scrutinise, to support and prove or to detect and eliminate error.  Its function is simply to link knowledge with knowledge, to discover and utilise harmonies and arrangement and relations, to organise the movement of the supramental knowledge.  This it does not by any formal rule or construction of inferences but by a direct, living and immediate seeing and placing of connection and relation.  All thought in the supermind is in the natur eof intuition, inspiration or revelation and all deficiency of knowledge is to be supplied by a farther action of these powers; error is prevented by the action of a spontaneous and luminous discrimination; the movement is always from knowledge to knowledge.  It is not rational in our sense but suprarational,–it does sovereignly what is sought to be done stumblingly and imperfectly by the mental reason.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pp. 829-830

The Power of Memory in the Supramental Consciousness

In the Greek philosopher Plato’s dialogue called “Meno”, Socrates makes the argument that all learning is actually remembrance.  The soul, having been born and reincarnated numerous times, has an enormous store of latent memory which can be called up through a process of review or inquiry.  The individual is not taught so much as prodded to remember.

Most people, however, without the kind of reflection provided by Socrates in the dialogue, treat memory as encapsulated experience of a particular lifetime and thus limited by the frame of that life’s specific experiences.  It is therefore ego-based and circumscribed by the ego-personality.

With the basis of the supermind in the oneness of the Infinite, the question of memory, its source and function, must take on a different character, and it is one that is more akin to Socrates’ insights, in a certain sense,  than to that of most people.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The supramental memory is different from the mental, not a storing up of past knowledge and experience, but an abiding presence of knowledge that can be brought forward or, more characteristically, offers itself, when it is needed: it is not dependent on attention or on conscious reception, for the things of the past not known actually or not observed can be called up from latency by an action which is yet essentially a remembrance.  Especially on a certain level all knowledge presents itself as a remembering, because all is latent or inherent in the self of supermind.  The future like the past presents itself to knowledge in the supermind as a memory of the preknown.”

In the supermind, there is an inherent knowledge of the intention and the steps of the unfolding of the evolutionary movement in the external world.  Even the action of imagination takes on a substance as a form of knowledge of an actual possibility or future formation when seen from this level.  Past, present and future are one and indivisible to the vision of the Spirit.  This implies that the supramental knower can take cognizance of and recognize events, persons, forces and objects across the span of time equally.  This replaces the limited form of memory available to the mental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pp. 828-829

The Supramental Power of Observation

The first principal power utilized by the mental consciousness is the power of observation.  The objects of the senses are presented as data upon which the mind then sets to work in its process of analysis, correlation, reflection, memory and synthesis to achieve an understanding of what is being observed.  Mental observation however is two-dimensional and basically only sees what is presented without necessarily getting a deeper understanding of what lies behind, or the completeness of the observed phenomena, whether a form, a force, or another being.  A good example of the incompleteness of mental observation is that of the sunrise and sunset, with the obvious conclusion that the sun rotates around the earth.  A deeper understanding (which in the case of the relationship between sun and earth came much later in mankind’s evolutionary process than the acceptance of the raw data of the senses) of course tells us that the earth rotates and simultaneously rotates around the sun.

The supramental process of observation, however, is not limited to this two-dimensional view; rather it comprehends the essential nature, significance and inner reality of the object observed.  Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It sees the form, action, properties, but it is aware at the same time of the qualities or energies, guna, sakti, of which the form is a translation and it sees them not as an inference or deduction from the form or action, but feels and sees them directly in the being of the object and quite as vividly… with a subtle concreteness and fine substantiality,— as the form or sensible action.  it is aware too of the consciousness that manifests itself in quality, energy, form.  It can feel, know, observe, see forces, tendencies, impulsions, things abstract to us quite as directly and vividly as the things we now call visible and sensible.  It observes in just the same way persons and beings.  It can take as its starting-point or first indication the speech, action, outward signs, but it is not limited by or dependent on them.  It can know and feel and observe the very self and consciousness of another, can either proceed to that directly through the sign or can in its more powerful action begin with it and at once instead of seeking to know the inner being through the evidence of the outer expression, understand rather all the outer expression in the light of the inner being.  Even so, completely, the supramental being knows his own inner being and nature.  The supermind can too act with equal power and observe with direct experience what is hidden behind the physical order; it can move in other planes than the material universe.  It knows the self and reality of things by identity, by experience of oneness or contact of oneness and a vision, a seeing and realising ideation and knowledge dependent on or derived from these things, and its thought presentation of the truths of the spirit is an expression of this kind of sight and experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pg. 828

The Observation Process and Logic of the Supermind

With our experience of the mental consciousness, it is essentially impossible to fully comprehend the operation of the supermind.  The best we can do, absent the actual experience, is to correlate the qualitative differences reported to us by those who have either a glimpse or the actual experience of the supermind.  The mind fragments and divides, using a process of exclusive concentration, that fixates the attention on one aspect, and at the same time forgets or excludes the other aspects.  Thus, the materialist will focus on the objects, forms, beings and forces of the external world, and deny the reality of the Spirit.  Similarly, for those who turn toward the Spirit, there is a tendency to deny the importance or even the reality of the outer world–witness the rise of the other-worldly religions and the Mayavada tradition in India.

Sri Aurobindo observes that the supermind has the essential characteristics of unity and oneness, and the ability to hold both the oneness and the multiplicity in awareness, and in harmony with one another in its view, simultaneously.  The supermind bases itself in the spiritual reality and is able to comprehend this reality, in its unmanifest and its manifest expressions concurrently.  At the same time, the supermind does not build up its picture of reality by correlating facts and data and then subjecting these fragments to some kind of analytical or logical process of aggregation.

“The supermind distinguishes by a direct seeing and without any mental process of taking to pieces the particularities of the thing, form, energy, action, quality, mind, soul that it has in view, and it sees to with an equal directness and without any process of construction the significant totality of which these particularities are the incidents.  it sees also the essentiality, the Swabhava, of the thing in itself of which the total and the particularities are the manifestation.  And again it sees, whether apart from or through the essentiality or Swabhava, the one self, the one existence, consciousness, power, force of which it is the basic expression.”

The logic of the supermind is different from that of the mind: it sees always the self as what is, the essentiality of the ting as a fundamental expression of the being and power of the self, and the whole and particulars as a consequent manifestation of this power and its active expression.  In the fullness of the supramental consciousness and cognition this is the constant order.  All perception of unity, similarity, difference, kind, uniqueness arrived at by the supramental reason is consonant with and depends on this order.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 23, The Supramental Instruments — Thought-process , pp. 827-828