The Gnostic Individual: the Consummation of the Spiritual Man

The development of a gnostic individual represents the integration of the standpoint of the transcendent, the universal and the individual, with the individual acting as a nexus for the universal manifestation, yet observing and understanding the manifestation from a viewpoint that is not tied to either the individual or the universal term, but sits above and unbound.  The contradictions which we struggle with in our identification with the ego-personality bound within a specific body-life-mind complex are resolved from this new frame of reference.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “The gnosis is the effective principle of the Spirit, a highest dynamis of the spiritual existence.  The gnostic individual would be the consummation of the spiritual man; his whole way of being, thinking, living, acting would be governed by the power of a vast universal spirituality.  All the trinities of the Spirit would be real to his self-awareness and realised in his inner life.  All his existence would be fused into oneness with the transcendent and universal Self and Spirit; all his action would originate from and obey the supreme Self and Spirit’s divine governance of Nature.  All life would hve to him the sense of the Conscious Being, the Purusha within, finding its self-expression in Nature; his life and all its thoughts, feelings, acts would be filled for him with that significance and built upon that foundation of its reality.  He would feel the presence of the Divine in every centre of his consciousness, in every vibration of his life-force, in every cell of his body.  In all the workings of his force of Nature he would be aware of the workings of the supreme World-Mother, the Supernature; he would see his natural being as the becoming and manifestation of the power of the World-Mother.  In this consciousness he would live and act in an entire transcendent freedom, a complete joy of the spirit, an entire identity with the cosmic Self and a spontaneous sympathy with all in the universe.  All beings would be to him his own selves, all ways and powers of consciousness would be felt as the ways and powers of his own universality.  But in that inclusive universality there would be no bondage to inferior forces, no deflection from his own highest truth: for this truth would envelop all truth of things and keep each in its own place, in a relation of diversified harmony, — it would not admit any confusion, clash, infringing of boundaries, any distortion of the different harmonies that constitute the total harmony.  His own life and the world life would be to him like a perfect work of art; it would be as if the creation of a cosmic and spontaneous genius infallible in its working out of a multitudinous order.  The gnostic individual would be in the world and of the world, but would also exceed it in his consciousness and live in his Self of transcendence above it; he would be universal but free in the universe, individual but not limited by a separative individuality.  The True Person is not an isolated entity, his individuality is universal; for he individualises the universe:  it is at the same time divinely emergent in a spiritual air of transcendental infinity, like a high cloud-surpassing summit; for he individualises the divine Transcendence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Eight, The Gnostic Being, pp. 98-99

The Evolution from the Spiritual Man to the Gnostic Being

For many people, the goal of life is to become a spiritual person, to discover one’s soul and live a life of conscious goodwill and compassion.  For Sri Aurobindo, this is not the end goal, but a starting point for the evolutionary potential we hold within us to evolve the next stage of the growth of consciousness in the world, the development of the gnostic, supramental consciousness.  This consciousness manifests both the universal Knowledge of the divine in the creation as well as the power of effectuation of that knowledge within the framework of the body, life and mind and the larger body of the world environment and the interactions between all the apparently separated beings who in reality are aspects of a divine Oneness.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The spiritual man is one who has discovered his soul: he has found his self and lives in that, is conscious of it, has the joy of it; he needs nothing external for his completeness of existence.  The gnostic being starting from this new basis takes up our ignorant becoming and turns it into a luminous becoming of knowledge and a realised power of being.  All therefore that is our attempt to be in the Ignorance, he will fulfil in the Knowledge.  All knowledge he will turn into a manifestation of the self-knowledge of being, all power and action into a power and action of the self-force of being, all delight into a universal delight of self-existence.  Attachment and bondage will fall away, because at each step and in each thing there will be the full satisfaction of self-existence, the light of the consciousness fulfilling itself, the ecstasy of delight of existence finding itself.  Each stage of the evolution in the knowledge will be an unfolding of this power and will of being and this joy to be, a free becoming supported by the sense of the Infinite, the bliss of the Brahman, the luminous sanction of the Transcendence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Eight, The Gnostic Being, pp. 97-98

Aims and Goals of Life Based in the Development of Body, Life and Mind

The limitations and incapacities of our body, life and mind create a barrier to knowledge, power and delight of existence.  Sri Aurobindo terms the framework of existence based on body, life and mind as the “Ignorance” as it ignores the greater reality that causes, conditions, contains, and manifests not only our limited lives, but the entire creation and its wider significance and purposes that we cannot grasp so long as we remain bound in the scope set by body, life and mind.  Our lives therefore are always concerned with overcome the limitations, the limitations of our bodies and their fragility in the face of the powers that act in the world, the limitations of our life energy that prevent us from exercising the power to overcome the limitations we face, and the limitations of our mental capacity that sees everything as fragmented and separate, and tries to piece together knowledge and the will to grow within a world of apparent fragmentation and opposition, while there remains the greater truth of existence which we ignore.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “In the Ignorance one is there primarily to grow, to know and to do, or, more exactly to grow into something, to arrive by knowledge at something, to get something done.  Imperfect, we have no satisfaction of our being, we must perforce strive with labour and difficulty to grow into something we are not; ignorant and burdened with a consciousness of our ignorance, we have to arrive at something by which we can feel that we know; bounded with incapacity, we have to hunt after strength and power; afflicted with a consciousness of suffering, we have to try to get something done by which we catch at some pleasure or lay hold on some satisfying reality of life.  To maintain existence is, indeed, our first occupation and necessity, but it is only a starting-point: for the mere maintenance of an imperfect existence chequered with suffering cannot be sufficient as an aim of our being; the instinctive will of existence, the pleasure of existence, which is all that the Ignorance can make out of the secret underlying Power and Ananda, has to be supplemented by the need to do and become.  But what to do and what to become is not clearly known to us; we get what knowledge we can, what power, strength, purity, peace we can, what delight we can, become what we can.  But our aims and our effort towards their achievement and the little we can hold as our gains turns into meshes by which we are bound; it is these things that become for us the object of life: to know our souls and to be our selves, which must be the foundation of our true way of being, is a secret that escapes us in our preoccupation with an external learning, an external construction of knowledge, the achievement of an external action, an external delight and pleasure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Eight, The Gnostic Being, pg. 97

Understanding the Transitional Phase Ushering in the Supermind as the Next Level of Manifestation of Consciousness

While it is not possible for the mental consciousness to fully appreciate the scope, methods of knowing or powers of action and implementation of the supramental consciousness, it is possible to extrapolate some characteristics that are implied in a consciousness that is based in oneness and knowledge, rather than in fragmentation, division and multiplicity.

It is also possible to look at the evolutionary process that has proceeded thus far to understand the methodology used by the Divine to implement a next evolutionary phase and integrate it with those that preceded it.

Since nothing can evolve that has not been previously involved, the supramental consciousness must already be involved and the pressure for it to manifest coming from below, aided by a responding pressure to manifest from above, provides signs of change along the way.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “This passage is the stage at which the supermind gnosis can take over the lead of the evolution from the overmind and build the first foundations of its own characteristic manifestation and unveiled activities; it must be marked therefore by a decisive but long-prepared transition from an evolution in the Ignorance to an always progressive evolution in the Knowledge.  It will not be a sudden revelation and effectuation of the absolute Supermind and the supramental being as they are in their own plane, the swift apocalypse of a truth-conscious existence ever self-fulfilled and complete in self-knowledge; it will be the phenomenon of the supramental being descending into a world of evolutionary becoming and forming itself there, unfolding the powers of the gnosis within the terrestrial nature.”

“[This revelation] can assume the formula of a truth-conscious existence founded in an inherent self-knowledge but at the same time taking up into itself mental nature and the nature of life and material body.  For the supermind as the truth consciousness of the Infinite has in its dynamic principle the infinite power of free self-determination.  It can hold all knowledge in itself and yet put forward in formulation only what is needed at each stage of an evolution; it formulates whatever is in accordance with the Divine Will in manifestation and the truth of the thing to be manifested.  It is by this power that it is able to hold back its knowledge, hide its own character and law of action and manifest Overmind and under Overmind a world of ignorance in which the being wills on its surface not to know and even puts itself under the control of a pervading Nescience.  But in this new stage the veil thus put on will be lifted….”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Eight, The Gnostic Being, pp. 96-97

The Difficulty of Gaining a Mental Conception of the Nature of the Supramental Consciousness

The Taittiriya Upanishad declares that “words turn away without attaining and the mind also returneth baffled” in relation to the delight of the Eternal.  This description epitomizes the difficulty that we incur in attempting to describe the experience of the supramental consciousness from our mind-based perspective and frame, and the limitations of language couched in the conceptual sense of the mind to convey a consciousness so wholly other than what we are used to.

Try to explain how a cell phone works to someone who has never seen nor experienced it and has no scientific background.  Try to describe rocket ships flying to the moon to someone living deep inside an aboriginal community in the Amazon jungle.  Many things which we actually accomplish in today’s world were not only unthinkable 150-200 years ago, but anyone who even considered many of these things in the most general way possible was considered to be mad and unrealistic.

It is not hard, therefore, to understand that the logical, reasoning intellect, for all its powers, cannot possibly understand or describe the next evolutionary phase of consciousness which is based on unity rather than fragmentation and division.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “As we reach in our thought the line at which the evolution of Mind into Overmind passes over into an evolution of Overmind into Supermind, we are faced with a difficulty which amounts almost to an impossibility.  For we are moved to seek for some precise idea, some clear mental description of the supramental or gnostic existence of which evolutionary Nature in the Ignorance is in travail; but by crossing this extreme line of sublimated Mind the consciousness passes out of the sphere, exceeds the characteristic action and escapes from the grasp, of mental perception and knowledge…. Our normal perception or imagination or formulation of things spiritual and things mundane is mental, but in the gnostic change the evolution crosses a line beyond which there is a supreme and radical reversal of consciousness and the standards and forms of mental cognition are no longer sufficient: it is difficult for mental thought to understand or describe supramental nature.”

“Mental nature and mental thought are based on a consciousness of the finite; supramental nature is in its very grain a consciousness and power of the Infinite.  Supramental Nature sees everything from the stand-point of oneness and regards all things, even the greatest multiplicity and diversity, even what are to the mind the strongest contradictions, in the light of that oneness; its will, ideas, feelings, sense are made of the stuff of oneness, its actions proceed upon that basis.  Mental nature, on the contrary, thinks, sees, wills, feels, senses with division as a starting-point and has only a constructed understanding of unity; even when it experiences oneness, it has to act from the oneness on a basis of limitation and difference.  But the supramental, the divine life is a life of essential, spontaneous and inherent unity.  It is impossible for the mind to forecast in detail what the supramental change must be in its parts of life action and outward behaviour or lay down for it what forms it shall create for the individual or the collective existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Eight, The Gnostic Being, pp. 95-96

The Necessity of the Supermind for the Transformation of Human Nature

Most people have come to the conclusion that human nature cannot be changed.  They use the image of trying to straighten out a dog’s tail that will continually revert to its normal curved status.  In other words, there are certain rules, laws and habits built into nature that make it impervious to any kind of serious change.  They will point out that one cannot have light without dark, cannot have happiness without sadness, and make that a basic inevitable fact of existence.

It is this resistance of material and vital nature, and the fixed limitations of the mental powers that make progress so difficult.  Sri Aurobindo recognises these issues and points out that as long as we remain rooted in Matter, Life and Mind, there is no true solution or transformation of human nature possible.  It is only through the evolution of a new power of consciousness and its manifestation that real change becomes possible.  A power of consciousness rooted, not in Matter, but in pure Existence, Consciousness and Bliss, with the Power of the infinite consciousness available to modify the conditions of existence in the material world, is the direction from which change can come.

The mantric proverb, “From darkness to light, from light to greater light” epitomizes the paradigm needed.  The world and existence are currently rooted in darkness striving towards light.  Once the standpoint shifts to a consciousness based in Light and moving toward greater Light, change becomes not only possible but inevitable.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “A transformation of human nature can only be achieved when the substance of the being is so steeped in the spiritual principle that all its movements are a spontaneous dynamism and a harmonised process of the Spirit.  But even when the higher powers and their intensities enter into the substance of the Inconscience, they are met by this blind opposing Necessity and are subjected to this circumscribing and diminishing law of the nescient substance.  It opposes them with its strong titles of an established and inexorable Law, meets always the claim of life with the law of death, the demand of Light with the need of a relief of shadow and a background of darkness, the sovereignty and freedom and dynamism of the Spirit with its own force of adjustment by limitation, demarcation by incapacity, foundation of energy on the repose of an original Inertia.  There is an occult truth behind its negations which only the Supermind with its reconciliation of contraries in the original Reality can take up and so discover the pragmatic solution of the enigma.  Only the supramental Force can entirely overcome this difficulty of the fundamental Nescience; for with it enters an opposite and luminous imperative Necessity which underlies all things and is the original and final self-determining truth-force of the self-existent Infinite.  This greater luminous spiritual Necessity and its sovereign imperative alone can displace or entirely penetrate, transform into itself and so replace the blind Ananke of the Inconscience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pp. 93-94

The Boundaries of Overmind and the Need for the Supramental Transformation in the Evolution of Consciousness

While the action of Overmind is clearly far more powerful than our current limited use of Mind, it does not represent the ultimate evolutionary leap, but an important intermediate stage.  The original basis of Matter, Life and Mind, with all of their limitations in place, remains, and this provides an obstacle to the full and free power of effectuation of Overmind.  This stage is therefore somewhat unstable and subject to the downward and fragmenting pull of the principles of the material world.

Supermind, on the other hand, represents both the complete cosmic knowledge and the ultimate power of effectuation that can transform even Matter.

It would be a great leap for humanity if the transition to Overmind could occur as it would change our view and outlook on virtually everything we do, and the way we organize our lives, our societies and our interaction with the environment within which we live.  Since it would still have its own limitations, the upward movement towards the supramental manifestation must still continue.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “In the terrestrial evolution itself the overmind descent would not be able to transform wholly the Inconscience; all that it would do would be to transform in each man it touched the whole conscious beings, inner and outer, personal and universally impersonal, into its own stuff and impose that upon the Ignorance illumining it into cosmic truth and knowledge.  But a basis of Nescience would remain; it would be as if a sun and its system were to shine out in an original darkness of Space and illumine everything as far as its rays could reach so that all that dwelt in the light would feel as if no darkness were there at all in their experience of existence.  But outside that sphere or expanse of experience the original darkness would still be there and, since all things are possible in an overmind structure, could reinvade the island of light created within its empire…. Also by this much evolution there could be no security against the downward pull of gravitation of the Inconscience which dissolves all the formations that life and mind build in it, swallows all things that arise out of it or are imposed upon it and disintegrates them into their original matter.  The liberation from this pull of the Inconscience and a secured basis for a continuous divine or gnostic evolution would only be achieved by a descent of the Supermind into the terrestrial formula, bringing into it the supreme law and light and dynamis of the Spirit and penetrating with it and transforming the inconscience of the material basis.  A last transition from Overmind to Supermind and a descent of Supermind must therefore intervene at this stage of evolutionary Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pg. 93

Ascending the Ladder of Consciousness Beyond the Mind: Overmind, Part 3: the Extent and the Limits of the Overmental Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo describes the Overmind as based in the wide, universal cosmic consciousness but acting through and by the methods of the necessarily fragmented and limited actions of body, life and mind.  It brings a new standpoint to the awareness of the individual, but still needs to focus and coordinate its actions in a field of multiplicity and separation.  It therefore acts, not from a complete view of the comprehensive results but through the application of mind, life and body and their various possibilities.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  The overmind change is the final consummating movement of the dynamic spiritual transformation; it is the highest possible status-dynamis of the Spirit in the spiritual-mind plane.  It takes up all that is in the three steps below it and raises their characteristic workings to their highest and largest power, adding to them a universal wideness of consciousness and force, a harmonious concert of knowledge, a more manifold delight of being.  But there are certain reasons arising from its own characteristic status and power that prevent it from being the final possibility of the spiritual evolution.  It is a power, though the highest power, of the lower hemisphere, although its basis is a cosmic unity, its action is an action of division and interaction, an action taking its stand on the play of the multiplicity.  Its play is, like that of all Mind, a play of possibilities; although it acts not in the Ignorance but with the knowledge of the truth of these possibilities, yet it works them out through their own independent evolution of their powers.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pg. 92

Ascending the Ladder of Consciousness Beyond the Mind: Overmind, Part 2, Transcending the Ego-Standpoint

For those of us who live constantly in an awareness of our individual being, an egoistic personality, it is next to impossible to conceive of a status of consciousness that recognises an individual as a nexus, but does not support the ego-awareness.  Our human awareness also tends to be extreme and does not understand “nuance” so we feel like we either exist as an ego and act from that standpoint, or we no longer exist and the ego dissolves with the death of the individual.  Sri Aurobindo explores states of awareness that do not get entangled in either extreme, but which both recognises nexus of action in the individual while at the same time, not identifying this with a specific ego-personality.  The overmind consciousness can manifest in this way.  The individual feels and experiences himself as an element of the cosmic, universal awareness, but also that the energy and viewpoint can channel and express itself through the individual point for the completeness and harmony of the whole that is being manifested.

We see in the annals of psychology various states of awareness that in fact lose the ego-consciousness.  This is frequently, when it occurs, associated by professionals with a disorder of some sort.  But what if it simply represents the attempt by the universal creation to begin to manifest a higher form of consciousness that is not ego-bound but universal.

Certain traditions, for instance the Buddhist tradition, approach this same question from another angle, but clearly show that a non-attached position of awareness, wide and universal in nature, is both possible and not, as the Western psychologists have held, a sign of derangement of some sort.

What is the nature of existence when an individual loses the self-consciousness of the ego, but continues to live and act as an individual in the larger creation, as an expression of that larger creation?

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “But there can be many formulations of overmind consciousness and experience; for the Overmind has a great plasticity and is a field of multiple possibilities.  In place of an uncentered and unplaced diffusion there may be the sense of the universe in oneself or as oneself: but there too this self is not the ego; it is an extension of a free and pure essential self-consciousness or it is an identification with the All, — the extension or the identification constituting a cosmic being, a universal individual…. In the transition towards the Supermind this centralising action tends towards the discovery of a true individual replacing the dead ego, a being who is in his essence one with the supreme Self, one with the universe in extension and yet a cosmic centre and circumference of the specialised action of the Infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pg. 92

Ascending the Ladder of Consciousness Beyond the Mind: Overmind, Part 1 The Nature of the Overmental Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo has mapped the ranges of consciousness above the mind and identified various stages or levels of consciousness between the mental and the supramental ranges.  Beyond Higher Mind, and beyond Intuitive Mind, he identifies Overmind.  This level is no longer rooted in the ego-awareness of the individual, but partakes of the cosmic consciousness and has predominant characteristics of wideness and expansive vision.

Sri Aurobindo writes in The Life Divine:  “But we have seen that the Overmind, even when it is selective and not total in its action, is still a power of cosmic consciousness, a principle of global knowledge which carries in it a delegated light from the supramental Gnosis.  It is, therefore, only by an opening into the cosmic consciousness that the overmind ascent and descent can be made wholly possible:  a high and intense individual opening upwards is not sufficient, — to that vertical ascent towards summit Light there must be added a vast horizontal expansion of the consciousness into some totality of the Spirit…. When the overmind descends, the predominance of the centralising ego-sense is entirely subordinated, lost in largeness of being and finally abolished; a wide cosmic perception and feeling of a boundless universal self and movement replaces it: many motions that were formally ego-centric may still continue, but they occur as currents or ripples in the cosmic wideness.  Thought, for the most part, no longer seems to originate individually in the body or the person but manifests from above or comes in upon the cosmic mind-waves: all inner individual sight or intelligence of things is now a revelation or illumination of what is seen or comprehended, but the source of the revelation is not in one’s separate self but in the universal knowledge; the feelings, emotions, sensations are similarly felt as waves from the same cosmic immensity breaking upon the subtle and the gross body and responded to in kind by the individual centre of the universality; for the body is only a small support or even less, a point of relation, for the action of a vast cosmic instrumentation.  In this boundless largeness, not only the separate ego but all sense of individuality, even of a subordinated or instrumental instrumentality, may entirely disappear; the cosmic existence, the cosmic consciousness, the cosmic delight, the play of cosmic forces are alone left: if the delight or the centre of Force is felt in what as the personal mind, life or body, it is not with a sense of personality but as a field of manifestation, and this sense of the delight or of the action of Force is not confined to the person or the body but can be felt at all points in an unlimited consciousness of unity which pervades everywhere.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Seven, The Ascent Towards Supermind, pp. 90-91