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,

The Evolution of the Spirit in Human Existence

When we look at the involution of Spirit into Matter, and the subseequent evolution of Consciousness in successive stages out of Matter to realize the spiritual consciousness in material forms, we find that the role of the soul in this activity can be more clearly understood and defined. The soul is an individual formation of the One Universal Being and as such it acts as the lynch-pin or bridge between the evolution of material forms and the spiritual consciousness. The soul is able to increase its awareness and self-expression as it moves through the various levels of creation that represent the increasing power of consciousness evolving out of Matter.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the role of the soul within the framework of our human birth: “Our humanity is the conscious meeting place of the finite and the infinite and to grow more and more towards that Infinite even in this physical birth is our privilege. This Infinite, this Spirit who is housed within us but not bound or shut in by mind or body, is our own self and to find and be our self was, as the ancient sages knew, always the object of our human striving, for it is the object of the whole immense working of Nature.”

For the most part humans are immersed in the subconscient or subliminal parts of the being until we grow beyond the limits of the mind, life and body and enter realms of superconscient awareness. “When he becomes conscient in the superconscience, the heights and depths of his being will be illumined by another light of knowledge than the flickering lamp of the reason can now cast into a few corners; for then the master of the field will enlighten this whole wonderful field of his being, as the sun illumines the whole system it has created out of its glories. Then only he can know the reality even of his own mind and life and body.”

This change of consciousness brings about a transformation of the human existence: “Mind will be changed into a greater consciousness, his life will be a direct power and action of the Divinity, his very body no longer this first gross lump of breathing clay, but a very image and body of spiritual being. That transfiguration on the summit of the mountain, divine birth, divya janma, is that to which all these births are a long series of laborious steps. An involution of spirit in matter is the beginning, but a spiritual assumption of divine birth is the fullness of the evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Matter Is a Form of Spirit

The deeper modern science goes in exploring Matter, the closer it comes to an understanding that there is a spiritual self-conscious being that manifests itself in the universe, and that Matter is a form of Spirit. First, the scientists recognized that Matter is Energy. Then further research yielded the understanding that Energy is Consciousness. When we look at modern physics, quantum theory, string theory and other cutting-edge theories, we find scientists now recognizing more and more clearly the intentionality and the consciousness implicit in the world of Matter. Matter is not dead, inanimate and simply dense “stuff”. It is actually alive with energy; in fact, so much energy that releasing it can create enormous power as we see in atom bombs and nuclear power plants!

What is missing when we see Matter as “inanimate” is simply that we do not have the ability to see and understand the packed intensity and density of Matter. Just as we now recognize an electro-magnetic spectrum that includes waves that are both above and below our threshold of perception, there are expressions of energy and consciousness both above and below our ability to perceive them.

Sri Aurobindo described the relationship of Matter to Life, Mind and Spirit as follows: “Material energy would be then Life packed into the density of Matter and feeling out in it for its own intenser recognisable power which it finds within itself in the material concealment and liberates into action. Life itself would be an energy of a secret mind, a mind imprisoned in its own forms and quivering out in the nervous seekings of life for its intenser recognisable power of consciousness which it discovers within the vital and material suppression and liberates into sensibility….Mind too might only be an inferior scale and formulation derived from a much greater and supramental consciousness, and that consciousness too with its greater light and will a characteristic originating power of spiritual being, the power which secret in all things, in mind, in life, in matter, in the plant and the metal and the atom assures constantly by its inevitable action the idea and harmony of the universe.”

“Therefore all things here are expression, form, energy, action of the Spirit; matter itself is but form of spirit, life but power of being of the spirit, mind but working of consciousness of the spirit. All Nature is a display and a play of God, power and action and self-creation of the one spiritual Being.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Ascending the Ladder of Consciousness From Matter To Spirit

Sri Aurobindo describes an interesting corollary between the involution and evolution of Consciousness in the universe, and the process that one undergoes internally in the development of consciousness as described by Kundalini Yoga. Essentially this internal process mirrors the universal process.

“There is a parallel in the Yogic experience of the Kundalini, eternal Force coiled up in the bottom root vessel or chamber, muladhara, pedestal, earth-centre of the physical nervous system. There she slumbers coiled up there like a Python and filled full of all that she holds gathered in her being, but when she is struck by the freely coursing breath, by the current of Life which enters in to search for her, she awakes and rises flaming up the ladder of the spinal chord and forces open centre after centre of the involved dynamic secrets of consciousness till at the summit she finds, joins and becomes one with the spirit.”

The powers of consciousness are “involved” in Matter, represented by the root chakra, and as they begin to evolve, they open up ever higher centres of energy, known as “chakras”. Each chakra represents another rung on the ladder of consciousness, the “life-energy” centers, the higher “life-energy” centers (such as emotions), the basic mental powers, the higher mental powers, the spiritual capacities which unfold as the crown chakra is reached and the energy involved therein is manifested.

“At the highest summit she rises into the self-knowledge of the spirit which informed her action, but because of its involution or concealment in the forms of its workings could not be known in the greatness of its reality. Spirit and Nature discovering the secret of her energies become one at the top of the spiritual evolution by a soul in Nature which awakens to the significance of its own being in the liberation of the highest truth: it comes to know that its births were the births, the assumptions of form of an eternal Spirit, to know itself as that and not a creature of Nature and rises to the possession of the revealed, full and highest power of its own real and spiritual nature. That liberation, because liberation is self-possession, comes to us as the crown of a spiritual evolution.”

Sri Aurobindo,

Involution and Evolution Provide the Key to the Manifestation of Consciousness in the Universe

Sri Aurobindo describes a concept developed in the Upanishads: “The Upanishad in a telling figure applies the image of the spider which brings its web out of itself and creates the structure in which it takes its station. That is applied in the ancient Scripture not to the evolution of things out of Matter, but to an original bringing of temporal becoming out of the eternal infinity; Matter itself and this material universe are only such a web or indeed no more than a part of it brought out from the spiritual being of the Infinite.”

The idea here is that the manifestation is something that takes place out of the substance of the original Consciousness. All of the forms that eventually manifest are contained inherent within the universal Being and Consciousness. Sri Aurobindo explains in more detail: “A Force inherent in the Infinite brings out of it eternally the structure of its action in a universe of which the last descending scale is based upon an involution of all the powers of the spirit into an inconscient absorption in her self-oblivious passion of form and structural working.” This is analogous to the tree packing and involving into the seed all the Force and capacity to later create a new formation of that tree.

As with the seed, with all the latent power of the tree contained within it, Matter holds latent within it the involved Force of all the levels of the manifestation, to systematically develop and evolve as the conditions for that development are presented through the process of Time. Sri Aurobindo explains it: “Thence comes an ascent and progressive liberation of power after power till the spirit self-disclosed and set free by knowledge and mastery of its works repossesses the eternal fullness of its being which envelops then and carries in its grasp the manifold and unified splendours of its nature.”

Through this process, first of involution of consciousness, and later of evolution of those powers of consciousness through Time, we see the life-process of the universal Being. “Our world-action figures an evolution, an outrolling of a manifold Power gathered and coiled up in the crude intricacy of Matter. The upward progress of the successive births of things is a rise into waking and larger and larger light of a consciousness shut into the first hermetic cell of sleep of the eternal Energy.”

Sri Aurobindo,