Soul Evolution and Physical Evolution, Heredity and Rebirth

Western scientists, starting from the physical world and material energy, eventually reach a point where they cannot go any further in terms of explaining the appearance, development and significance of life and consciousness. As they push against the boundaries of Matter, they are discovering worlds of ordered energy and consciousness.

the ancient Vedic seers and sages concluded long ago that Matter is a subordinate term and that it is the result, not the cause of what is manifesting and evolving. The idea of a soul evolution, utilizing the framework of the Material world and ordered processes of heredity, physical evolution and rebirth, arose from the insights of these sages, and it has the benefit of actually fitting the observable conditions better than the results obtained by the physical scientists of the modern world.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “Here too there is the evolutionary idea, but physical and life evolution, even the growth of mind, are held to be only incidental to a soul evolution of which Time is the course and the earth among many other worlds the theatre. In the old Indian version of this theory evolution, heredity and rebirth are three companion processes of the universal unfolding, evolution the processional aim, rebirth the main method, heredity one of the physical conditions. That is a theory which provides at least the framework for a harmonious explanation of all the complex elements of the problem. The scientific idea starts from the physical being and makes the psychical a result and circumstance of the body; this other evolutionary idea starts from soul and sees in the physical being an instrumentation for the awakening to itself of a spirit absorbed in the universe of Matter.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Is Mind Purely a Condition of Material Energy?

The scientists who try to explain life by physical energy also try to explain mind the same way. Somehow a combination of chemicals and electrical impulses created the sonnets of Shakespeare or the higher mathematics of Albert Einstein! Sri Aurobindo takes strong exception to this viewpoint:

“…but no amount of correspondence can show how a physical response can be converted into or amount to or by itself constitute in result a conscious operation, a perception, emotion, thought-concept, or prove that love is a chemical product or that Plato’s theory of ideas or Homer’s Iliad or the cosmic consciousness of the Yogin was only a combination of physiological reactions or a complex of the changes of grey brain matter or a flaming marvel of electrical discharges. It is not only that common sense and imagination boggle at these theories,–that objection may be disregarded,–not only that perception, reason and intuition have to be thrust aside in favour of a forced and too extended inference, but that there is a gulf of difference here between the thing to be explained and the thing by which it is sought to explain it which cannot be filled up, however much we may admit the nervous connections and psycho-physical bridges.”

From a purely logical standpoint, nothing can develop that is not already inherent or involved in the starting point. So, for life and mind to manifest out of physical matter, material energy, they must already be involved therein. When we look closely at Matter, we see that it in fact is made up of highly organized and extremely powerful Energy. Even modern scientists have begun to recognize that Energy is not the ultimate term, but that Energy consists of Consciousness. Since Matter itself is not the starting point, it cannot be the first cause of life and mind! Clearly we are moving toward an understanding that Consciousness is the cause and Matter is the effect, and thus, as Life and Mind begin to manifest out of Matter, they are expressions of Consciousness.

The real work, the real review, therefore must take place at the level of Consciousness, if we are to understand the real nature of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo,

Is Life Purely a Condition of Material Energy?

In the West there has been an ongoing debate between science and religion about the origin and development of life. This has led to a polarized viewpoint in which neither side has, for the most part, been able to see any common ground. The extremes of the scientific dogma in this regard holds that all phenomena of life and mind, all stirrings of consciousness, are purely a result of physical, material energy, and therefore, there is no “higher purpose” and given the right opportunity, life can be created through the provision of the proper elements and basic “requirements”.

Sri Aurobindo makes the point that this scientific viewpoint can never actually be proven. He acknowledges that the powers of consciousness that manifest Life and Mind (and further developments) may rely on the appropriate framework and organisation of elements of the material energy in order to manifest and act, but that does not mean that they are CAUSED by these material elements.

“Even with regard to life, which is by a great deal the lesser difficulty, the discovery of certain chemical or other physical and mechanical conditions under which life can be stimulated to appear, will prove no more than that these are the favourable or necessary conditions for the manifestation of life in body,–such conditions there must be in the nature of things,–but not that life is not another new and higher power of the force of universal being. The connectino of life responses with physical conditions and stimuli proves very clearly that life and matter are connected and that, as indeed they must do to coexist, the two kinds of energy act on each other,–a very ancient knowledge; but it does not get rid of the fact that the physical response is accompanied by an element which seems to be of the nature of a nervous excitement and an incipient or suppressed consciousness and is not the same thing as the companion physical reaction.”

Sri Aurobindo,

A Hidden Soul Process Behind the Physical Evolution

When we observe the processes of physical nature, we see that there is a clear transmission of basic traits of existence from one generation to the next with a coherent and repeatable result. The oak tree creates a seed which in turn creates a new oak tree. We see beings of one species giving birth to beings of the same species. There is also an obvious hereditary pattern at a finer level of detail, which is detailed by scientists in the science of genetics. Specific physical traits are clearly capable of being passed on from one generation to the next. It is not as simple as direct transmission as the process actually is built to create variation and diversity, through mingling of genetic characteristics of the parents in the offspring, and through the process of recessive traits being passed along through this mingling process.

While there is also a certain amount of mutation in the genetic process, this is still within the genus/species and does not create new beings from old forms.

What is not covered effectively by these facts are the higher mental and spiritual capabilities which clearly cannot be explained by a purely physical genetic process. If all these capacities were strictly limited to physical genetic transmission, we would see a strict class heredity of capabilities. We would however be unable to account for some of the dramatic “anomalies” that occur all too frequently, and which show a mental and spiritual capacity not in evidence in the parental stock.

Sri Aurobindo addresses these questions: “We are called upon to admit that the human seed for instance, which does not contain a developed human consciousness, yet carries with it the powers of such a consciousness so that they reproduce themselves automatically in the thinking and organised mentality of the offspring. This, even if we have to accept it, is an inexplicable paradox unless we suppose either that there is something more behind, a psychical power behind the veil of material process, or else that mind is only a process of life and life only a process of matter. Therefore finally we have to suppose the physical theory capable of explaining by purely material causes and a material constitution the mystery of the emergence of life in matter and the equal mystery of the emergence of mind in life. It is here that difficulties begin to crowd in which convict it, so far at least, of a hopeless inadequacy, and the nature of that inadequacy, its crux, its stumbling-point leave room for just that something behind, something psychical, a hidden soul process and for a more complex and less materialistic account of the truth of evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Oneness and Diversity in the Process of Creation

Western science presents us with the idea that the entire universe was created out of One original source in what is called the “big bang”. From that point forward, we see the systematic development of galaxies, solar systems, suns and planets. Drilling down to the earth, we find a systematic development from the raw elements of physical nature, to the development of life in a diverse and ever-expanding assortment of life-forms and combinations.

Sri Aurobindo correlates the Upanishadic vision to this issue: “One thing more seems now equally certain that not only the seed of all life was one,–again the great intuition of the Upanishads foreruns the conclusions of the physical enquiry, one seed which the universal self-existence by process of force has disposed in many ways, ekam bijam bahudha sakti-yogat,–but even the principle of development is one and the structural ground-plan too as it develops step by step, in spite of all departures to this side or that in the workings of the creative Force or the creative Idea.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that while starting from one uniform starting point, Nature’s process appears to be one that leads to virtually infinite variety as small modifications within a type create enormous diversity. “It almost looks as if in the process of her physical harmonies there was meant to be some formal effect or symbolic reproduction of the truth that all things are originally one being, but a one who insists on his own infinite diversity, and even a suggestion that there is in this eternal unity an eternal pluralism, the Infinite Being self-repeated in an infinite multiplicity of beings each unique and yet each the One.”

Sri Aurobindo,

An Evolutionary Creation

Scientists have spent the last 150 years observing, defining and refining the theory of evolution. As a result of their efforts, they have developed intensively the science of genetics including an understanding of the mechanism of heredity on the physical plane. While we can certainly expect that, as with all scientific advancement, there will certainly come about opportunities to discard portions of the theory, as well as modify and enhance other portions, we have seen the basic concept stand up to a tremendous amount of factual review and observation.

There remain those who, by simply denying the factual record of observation, who insist that evolution and heredity have no basis and that the entire universe was created in a matter of days by an external creator who dropped all beings “ready made” into place.

There are those who take this viewpoint to the literal extreme, and others who look at it symbolically. The symbolic viewpoint opens up a pathway for an evolutionary process to occur in the material world, bringing about the possibility of understanding between the “creationist” and the “evolutionist” views of the world.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue: “One thing at least seems now intellectually certain, we can no longer believe that these suns and systems were hurled full-shaped and eternally arranged into boundless space and all these numberless species of being planted on earth ready-made and nicely tailored in several days or any number of days in a sudden outburst of caprice or Dionysiac excitement or crowded activity of mechanical conception by the fiat of a timeless Creator. The successive development which was summarily proposed by the ancient Hindu thinkers, the lower forms of being first, man afterwards as the crown of the Spirit’s development of life on earth, has been confirmed by the patient and detailed scrutiny of physical science,–an aeonic development, though the farther Hindu conception of a constant repetition of the principle in cycles is necessarily incapable of physical evidence.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Science Investigates Evolution and Heredity

The surface mentality of man begins with the physical world in his investigations. The processes at work in the physical world have been opening up their secrets to the unrelenting review of the scientific mind. Over the past 150+ years, the concepts of evolution, first enunciated by Charles Darwin in a systematic way, and heredity, have been both put forth and developed. The science of genetics has taken this to a greater precision of detail and we can now see and trace much of the physical development that has taken place during the course of evolution.

What is missing from this analysis, however, is any understanding of processes that are outside the purely physical realm, or that may be causative of things we see in the physical world. Unfortunately, the open-minded scientific investigator had put on blinders that only have allowed, for the most part, this spirit of open inquiry to permeate research on the physical plane. Sri Aurobindo discusses this issue: Science…”is determined…to explain every supra-physical phenomenon by some physical fact; psychological process of mind must not exist except as result or rendering of physiological process of body. This set resolution, apparently rational and cautious of ascertainable and firmly tangible truth, but really heroic in its paradoxical temerity, shuts up her chance of rapid discovery, for the present at least, in a fairly narrow circle. It taints too her extensions of physical truth into the psychological field with a pursuing sense of inadequacy. And this inadequacy in extended application is very evident in her theories of heredity and evolution when she forces them beyond their safe ground of physical truth and labours to illumine by them the subtle, complex, elusive phenomena of our psychological being.”

As this research has, however, gone deeper into the issues of consciousness, particularly in the work of researchers such as Jung or the developments in the field of quantum mechanics and even more esoteric views of the universe, it has started to become clear that while evolution and heredity can do a more than adequate job of describing the processes at work in life and physical bodies in the physical world, they do not explain causes, or the consciousness that creates and develops through use of these processes. Some modern scientists have even gone so far as to recognize that matter consists of energy, and that energy consists of consciousness. We reach thereby a frontier where we need to leave physical processes behind and enter the realms of the supra-physical, the realms of consciousness, the realms of the Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo,