Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 5 Identification With the External Nature Versus Poise of Detachment

We generally experience ourselves as our body, life and mind. When we injure our body, we say that we have hurt ourselves. When there are hunger pangs, we say that we are hungry. When we experience an emotion, we say that we have become angry, or are in love, or are feeling lonely or depressed. Rene Descartes famously stated “I think, therefore I am”, showing his sense that he was identified with his mental consciousness. When the body dies, we believe that we die.

The Taittiriya Upanishad goes through an exercise to show us that we are not solely the body, the life-force or the mind, but that these are stages in our self-awareness that lead us eventually, with concentration, to the true causative levels of knowledge and bliss. The Kena Upanishad makes it clear that the powers of body, life and mind, represented by Agni, Vayu and Indra, are not supreme and that their powers are nullified when faced with the Supreme. Yoga texts speak about the separation of Purusha and Prakriti, the witness consciousness and the active nature. Other Upanishads speak of two birds on a common tree, one observing while the other eats of the fruit.

All of these observations are confirmed in the actual experience when an individual slips into the status of the witness himself, and experiences that he can view his body, his life and his mind as something separate and external to him, as if watching a motion picture. The power of detachment from total immersion in the outer, external being represents a stage of the development of consciousness as it prepares to break out of the limits imposed by the ego-consciousness tied to the body-life-mind complex.

Dr. Dalal observes: “(e) In the normal state, consciousness is involved and identified with its instruments — the body, the vital nature and the mind; one feels oneself to be the body, thoughts and feelings. As consciousness evolves, it experiences itself more and more as detached and separate from the outer physical, vital and mental nature. Instead of being identified with the movements of the outer nature, it observes them as a detached witness — Sakshi, to use a term of the Gita.”

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It [consciousness] can be detached, it can be involved. In the human consciousness it is as a rule always involved, but it has developed the power of detaching itself — a thing which the lower creation seems unable to do. As the consciousness develops, this power of detachment also develops.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pg. viii

Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 4 Agitation Versus Peace in the Being

If we observe ourselves carefully, we find that as a natural consequence of the distractions and the dispersion of the consciousness, we have little if any calm and peace in the being. We experience not only the more overt forms of anxiety and concern, but the more subtle forms of nervous disquiet and mental lack of ease. Emotions and reactions are strung tight and we thus easily respond to even moderately imperfect circumstances with an excess of response, leading to the maladies of the day which include hypertension, and all manner of physiological, emotional and mental impacts of anger, rage, dissatisfaction, and irritation.

Contrast this with the kind of peace that permeates the being as one learns to disassociate oneself from these external reactions, and which Sri Aurobindo describes as an increasing quietude and silence in the being.

This status can be operative even in the midst of intense action in external circumstances. Sri Krishna gave his teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield after all, symbolic of the need to attain peace and maintain it in the midst of all circumstances of life.

People who have not had this experience tend to believe it is not possible. Yet there is considerable evidence, both historical and through the experiences of many individuals that a profound state of peace in the being is absolutely attainable and can become the foundation for action. In fact, the real test of the peace is its ability to withstand the pressures of outer circumstances without breaking down.

Dr. Dalal notes: “(d) The normal state of consciousness is a state of continual disquiet and agitation due to its constant distractibility and dispersion. As the consciousness grows, one becomes more and more aware of a deeper consciousness which is felt as a substratum of quiet and peace.”

Sri Aurobindo writes: “…Even when it [the inner consciousness] is active, there is felt behind the action or containing it a complete quietude or silence. The more one concentrates, the more this quietude and silence increases. That is why there seems to be all quiet within even though all sorts of things may be taking place within.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. vii-viii

Comparing Current General State of Human Consciousness With More Evolved States, Part 3 Dispersed Versus Gathered Consciousness

Distraction is actually a symptom of another characteristic, that of “dispersion” of the consciousness. If we take the time to observe our own sense of awareness we find that it seems to be primarily on the surface of our being, receiving sense perceptions, reacting to people, things, events and circumstances and otherwise busying itself with all the details of the external life. From time to time we may experience a centred, indrawn state of awareness where we feel ourselves to be ‘self-contained’, so to speak, and thus, at peace. We may also meet people, from time to time, who seem to have a powerful presence without, however, any overt action on their part. We feel the concentrated nature of their being. This is different from those who actively assert their power in situations and who try to control or overwhelm others through active intervention in the relationship. On the contrary, those who are simply ‘present’ with a powerful sense of a consciousness that is alert, gathered, and ‘grounded’ exert a subtle influence on their surroundings without trying.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Associated with distraction is another characteristic of the normal state of consciousness, alluded to in the passage just quoted above, namely dispersion. In the normal state, consciousness is scattered, so to speak, in the superficial parts and movements of the being — physical, vital and mental. As the Mother observes: “One throws oneself out all the time; all the time one lives, as it were, outside oneself, in such a superficial sensation that it is almost as though one were outside oneself. As soon as one wants even to observe oneself a little, control oneself a little, simply know what is happening, one is always obliged to draw back or pull towards oneself, to pull inwards something which is constantly like that, on the surface. And it is this surface thing which meets all external contacts, puts you in touch with similar vibrations coming from others. That happens almost outside you. That is the constant dispersal of the ordinary consciousness.”

Dr. Dalal concludes: “The dispersed nature of the normally pervading consciousness stands in sharp contrast to the in-gathered and collected nature of the deeper consciousness.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. vi-vii

Distinguishing Between Personal Growth and Inner Growth

While humanity embodies the development of the mental consciousness, in principle, it must be noted that this generalisation does not apply specifically to each and every human individual. Just as the field of statistics does not predict any single event, and the observational experiments of quantum mechanics do not predict the movement of a specific photon through an aperture, yet in both cases, statistical or ‘real world’ distributions are able to be predicted, so also the mental development does not imply that every person is in the same place in evolutionary terms, while we can conclude that the evolution of Mind occurs in human beings.

This leads to some amount of confusion in terms of individual growth and development. Due to the wide range of human development, there are programs and practices that are supportive of the development of the core competencies of Mind, Life and Body and the development and strengthening of the ego-personality; as well as programs and practices focused on the transcendence of the ego and the development of the spiritual consciousness, with a variety of focus areas determined by individual development, personality and aspirations. The first group is identified by Dr. Dalal as focused on personal growth. The second on inner growth.

In today’s society, these two directions are often lumped together under some kind of personal growth rubric. It is thus easy to become disoriented when trying to figure out how to move forward in one’s own life. “One size fits all” definitely does not work, so each individual needs to understand the source and direction of his own aspiration and the initial starting point from which the growth needs to occur. Those who need to develop the basic skills of body, life and mind and the interaction with society will likely find it best to focus on the personal growth side of things. Those who have already developed a strong personality and who feel that the fulfillment offered by the world is simply not enough to satisfy their deeper seeking, will likely turn to inner growth practices.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Most of what is today called ‘personal growth’, aimed at by various psychotherapeutic approaches (such as Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, Rational-Emotive Therapy, etc.) and by the various techniques associated with the Human-Potential Movement (such as Encounter Group, Sensitivity Training, Assertiveness Training, etc.) pertains to what has just been described above as the development of the ego and individuality. On the other hand, inner growth, aimed at by Eastern and Western spiritual approaches (such as Yoga, Zen, Sufism, Christian Mysticism, etc.), consists of ‘transpersonal’ development beyond the ego-state, and represents a total reversal of the normal, ego-bound state of consciousness. It is therefore imperative to distinguish between personal growth and inner growth.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pg. v

The Role of the Ego in the Evolution of Consciousness

In one of his aphorisms, Sri Aurobindo observes: “…the ego was the helper, the ego is the bar.” For most spiritual seekers, the attachment to the ego-personality is the great hindrance which they must find a way to overcome. Some try extreme methods to minimize the role and power of the ego. But we must ask the question: Why does the ego exist in the first place in the Divine creation, if it has no purpose and must be done away with?

A close examination of plant life and that of many of the less complex animals shows that they seem to live a life without individual reflection or ego-awareness. In many cases there is a “hive” or congregation of some sort of which each member is a part and to which each member relates its entire awareness. Ants and bees, for instance, seem to have a ‘group’ existence rather than an individual life. As animal life developed greater mental power, we begin to see a growing awareness of the individual as a somewhat separate entity, and we thus see, not only the ‘pack’ or the ‘hive’ awareness, but something of an individual consciousness which we may term a rudimentary form of ego.

With the development of the higher primates and eventually the human species, we see the development of a clear and distinct ego-consciousness. The ego-consciousness is not, however, an unmixed blessing. It has its drawbacks and this leads to results like selfishness, greed, self-aggrandisement, and other forms of ego-centeredness and attachment. Along with the ego-consciousness comes, at a certain point in development the capacity for self-reflection, for a quest for meaning and significance and eventually, the aspiration for progress in various fields, including the development of the spiritual aspiration. At this point, the ego has reached its peak of development and significance and it is then time for a new phase that transcends and supersedes the ego-awareness. This does not imply a return to the “hive” but a new formation that can recognise both the value of the individual and the integration of the individual into the collective entirety of the universal manifestation.

Dr. Dalal notes: “Even after the emergence of Mind, the growth of consciousness in the human being continues to be a more or less unconscious process, because the roots of Matter, Life and Mind lie in the Inconscient out of which they have evolved. The first step for emerging out of the primeval unconsciousness is to develop a conscious ego — a separate and independent individuality. So long as an individuality has not been formed, the human being remains an amorphous entity, more or less fused with the unconscious totality of existence. It is by the development of a conscious ego — ‘… individualisation of being in becoming’ — that a person becomes an individual. Ego is the identification of our being with the superficial, outer self made up of the body, the vital nature and the mind. Due to the ego, a certain formation of physical, vital and mental experience is distinguished from the rest of the being and is regarded as the “self”. Thus the ego serves to bring about the emergence from unconsciousness through a progressive consciousness (awareness) of the physical, vital and mental aspects of the being.”

“Once the separative ego has been adequately developed, evolution of consciousness can be accelerated through growth in a different dimension — that which lies in the transcendence of the ego, liberation from the ignorant identification with one’s superficial nature, and the discovery of the true Self. Inner growth, thus, represents a new dimension of evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. iv-v

Overcoming Hopelessness and Depression by Tuning the Consciousness Towards the Light

Many people, including those who are treading a spiritual path, feel depressed and hopeless when they see all the negativity, violence, and destruction taking place in the world around us. The mass media focuses on, and emphasizes, all this negativity, with the saying ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. They know they can capture the attention of more people for violent, dramatic events than with positive and harmonious issues. It is no wonder that we tend to fixate tremendous attention on this type of thing, and consequently we feel like there is no way out and we are heading to inevitable loss and destruction.

There are forces, and beings who embody these forces in many cases, which purposely work to create hostility, chaos and fear, who feed off of our negative emotions, and who will do practically anything to be the center of attention. They understand that we will turn our focus towards them and thereby come, subtly or overtly, under their control. They develop what is called ‘charisma’ to enchant and hypnotize us, even to the most desperately negative things they may choose to say or do. These forces make us accept and believe in their drama and can lead us to hopelessness and despair.

And yet, when we recognise the way consciousness actually works and the way the universal manifestation evolves, it becomes clear, as Sri Aurobindo puts it in Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol: ‘A hope stole in that hardly dared to be….’ The beings and forces that are working to move the evolutionary progression forward, the forces of light and harmony, the forces of compassion and good will, are generally quiet, unassuming, working without fanfare, and avoiding the limelight, but working nevertheless.

Human consciousness acts in many ways like a frequency tuning device. We receive and act upon those frequencies to which we tune ourselves. If we accept the input that comes from the mass media, without understanding that this is a very narrow slice of the frequency spectrum, we become depressed by the difficulty, or even apparent impossibility of progress, survival and positive development. If however, we recognise that we can consciously turn our attention to the powers and forces and beings of light and good will, call them into our lives, and accept their supportive and buoying energy, then we find that, on the contrary, real progress is being made.

Because of the lack of fanfare, tuning to these positive forces and beings may happen through our inner receptivity and aspiration gaining a sudden sense of conviction, or we experience some telepathic guidance, or we interface with these beings in a dream-state, or we receive what the Tibetan Buddhists call the psychic ‘gift waves’ that inspire, guide and uplift our spirits.

There are other realms than the purely physical that interact with and impact our world and its development. Just as some of the hostile forces and beings reside in the vital world and influence us from there, so also some of the uplifting forces and beings reside in the subtle physical, the vital or other worlds of higher energies.

Sri Aurobindo declares in Savitri: “When darkness deepens strangling the earth’s breast And man’s corporeal mind is the only lamp, As a thief’s in the night shall be the covert tread Of one who steps unseen into his house. A Voice ill-heard shall speak, the soul obey, A power into mind’s inner chamber steal, A charm and sweetness open life’s closed doors And beauty conquer the resisting world, The truth-light capture Nature by surprise, A stealth of God compel the heart to bliss And earth grow unexpectedly divine.”

Sri Aurobindo observes: “If there are always forces around which are concerned to depress and discourage, there are always force above and around us which we can draw upon, — draw into ourselves to restore, to fill up again with strength and faith and joy and the power that perseveres and conquers. It is really a habit that one has to get of opening to these helpful forces and either passively receiving them or actively drawing upon them — for one can do either. It is easier if you have the conception of them above and around you and the faith and the will to receive them — for that brings the experience and concrete sense of them and the capacity to receive at need or at will. It is a question of habituating your consciousness to get into touch and keep in touch with these helpful forces — and for that you must accustom yourself to reject the impressions forced on you by the others, depression, self-distrust, repining and all similar disturbances.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Drawing Upon Helpful Sources, pp. 156-157

Evolution of Consciousness

In order to evolve, a power or principle must be first involved. When we say that life evolved out of inanimate Matter, we have to reflect, “how is this possible?” When we examine Matter at the sub-atomic level, we see an incredible power of consciousness at work with very precise and mathematical relationships, balances of positive and negative charges, and cycles of rotation and interaction. Similarly, when we examine the development of Life, we find that every life-form has genetic coding of DNA that builds the precise form and activity of life that has been previously encoded. We see that consciousness has been involved in Matter and Life and thus, can evolve systematically from these planes to manifest in the universal creation. With the advent of Mind, we see yet a further extension of consciousness evolving and developing. Mind, however, while it is clearly a powerful action of consciousness compared to what we see in the responsiveness and reactions of Matter and Life, also is obviously limited and hampered by the frame within which it works, the limits of methodology of its action and its reliance on the physical and vital instruments for perception and action. It is clear therefore that Mind is a transitional phase and that further evolutionary development to address these limitations, must be eventually forthcoming.

We notice that the universal creation continues to develop and produce new powers of knowledge and action. It is thus expected that as the next phase of the evolution occurs, it will not simply involve the abandonment of life and the world of manifestation, but will also include an integration of these new powers into the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The process of evolution has been the development from and in inconscient Matter of a subconscient and then a conscious Life, of conscious mind first in animal life and then fully in conscious and thinking man, the highest present achievement of evolutionary Nature. The achievement of mental being is at present her highest and tends to be regarded as her final work; but it is possible to conceive a still further step of the evolution: Nature may have in view beyond the imperfect mind of man a consciousness that passes out of the mind’s ignorance and possess truth as its inherent right and nature. There is a Truth-Consciousness as it is called in the Veda, a Supermind, as I have termed it, possessing Knowledge, not having to seek after it and constantly miss it. In one of the Upanishads a being of knowledge is stated to be the next step above the mental being; into that the soul has to rise and through it to attain the perfect bliss of spiritual existence. If that could be achieved as the next evolutionary step of Nature here, then she would be fulfilled and we could conceive of the perfection of life even here, its attainment of a full spiritual living even in this body or it may be in a perfected body. We could even speak of a divine life on earth; our human dream of perfectibility would be accomplished and at the same time the aspiration to a heaven on earth common to several religions and spiritual seers and thinkers.”

“The ascent of the human soul to the supreme Spirit is that soul’s highest aim and necessity, for that is the supreme reality; but there can be too the descent of the Spirit and its powers into the world and that would justify the existence of the material world also, give a meaning, a divine purpose to the creation and solve its riddle. East and West could be reconciled in the pursuit of the highest and largest ideal, Spirit embrace Matter and Matter find its own true reality and the hidden Reality in all things in the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Planes of Consciousness and Parts of the Being, pp. 43-46

Evolution and the Meaning of Life

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the discussion about involution and evolution with the following: “Therefore all this evolution is a growing of the Self in material nature to the conscious possession of its own spi9ritual being.”

The material forms that we see around us are not dead or inanimate, but are rather densely packed forms of energy, organized in such a way as to hold tremendous power and consciousness within the apparent immobility. The consciousness that creates the universe is thus involved in these material forms, and they become the basis for the evolution, the systematic unfolding of the powers of existence and consciousness held tightly within the forms of matter.

At the end of the evolutionary process we find: “the spirit holding Nature conscious in himself, complete by his completeness, liberated by his liberation, perfected in his perfection, crowns the evolution.”

This makes the process of birth and death part of a larger cycle of systematic unfolding of this consciousness of the spirit taking birth as a conscious form in Matter. “To grow in knowledge, in power, in delight, love and oneness, towards the infinite light, capacity and bliss of spiritual existence, to universalise ourselves till we are one with all being, and to exceed constantly our present limited self till it opens fully to the transcendence in which the universal lives and to base upon it all our becoming, that is the full evolution of what now lies darkly wrapped or works half evolved in Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo,

The Unity of Soul and Nature

It is the nature of the mental consciousness to tend to divide and fragment, and it does this through “exclusive concentration” on one aspect at the expense of the others that make up the unified whole that is our existence. Thus, the mind treats soul as something opposed to nature, just as it treats spirit as something opposed to matter. Sri Aurobindo does not accept these artificial oppositions however: “”But Soul and Nature, Purusha and Prakriti, are two eternal lovers who possess their perpetual unity and enjoy their constant difference, and in the unity abound in the passion of the multitudinous play of their difference, and in every step of the difference abound in the secret sense or the overt consciousness of unity.”

The soul is involved in Nature, apparently asleep, but nevertheless there. This is the process in the subconscient realms of Matter and Life. There is a corresponding process at the superconscient levels of conscious awareness, where Nature is involved in the “trance of oneness with the absorbed self-possession of the spirit.”

The resolution of the apparent contradiction comes about: “The soul fulfils itself in Nature when it possesses in her the consciousness of that eternity and its power and joy and transfigures the natural becoming with the fullness of the spiritual being. The constant self-creation which we call birth finds there the perfect evolution of all that it held in its own nature and reveals its own utmost significance. The complete soul possesses all its self and all Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo,

East Meets West

It is a common observation that the focus of the West and the focus of the East diverge and are opposed to one another. The West has developed a society based on incredible concentration on the organization and enhancement of the vital force of life in the material sphere. The East meanwhile is noted for its attention on the life of the Spirit, with its signature achievement being the abandonment of the things of this world for the spiritual realization.

Each of these two directions, however, gains support and significance through the perfection of both sides of the equation. They are complementary directions rather than opposites.

The Truth of the spiritual principle encompasses both the transcendent Beyond, and the manifest universe, which is the carrying out into form of the Spirit. Matter, Life and Mind are all principles of spiritual action and when properly understood, must obtain their sustenance from the Spirit. At the same time a concentration solely on the material sphere, without recognition of the spiritual principles that are the source and meaning of the manifestation, is doomed to transitory results and ends in vain material aggrandisement.

Sri Aurobindo brings the two together as complementary and, indeed, aspects of the same Truth: “The truths of universal existence are of two kinds, truths of the spirit which are themselves eternal and immutable, and these are the great things that cast themselves out into becoming and there constantly realise their powers and significances, and the play of the consciousness with them, the discords, the musical variations, soundings of possibility, progressive notations, reversions, perversions, mounting conversions into a greater figure of harmony; and of all these things the spirit has made, makes always his universe. But it is himself that he makes in it, himself that is the creator and the energy of creation and the cause and the method and the result of the working, the mechanist and the machine, the music and the musician, the poet and the poem, supermind, mind and life and matter, the soul and Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo,