Beyond Spiritual Liberation: a Transformation of Life on Earth

Does our human life have a purpose or significance?  Some hold that it is simply to enjoy, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”.  Others believe it is a testing ground for us to learn and grow, develop principles of ethics and morality, to either earn a heavenly reward when we die, or be cast down into eternal suffering.  Still others believe that it is more or less of an illusion, to be overcome through the process of inner development, at which time, the soul unifies with the Eternal and is forever at peace.  Still others believe that it may be a way-station along the way toward other, higher worlds and realms of experience.  Some believe it is a field of action and we should just follow our natural inclinations, take what we desire, and strive to win “the battle of life”.  There are many other theories that take on the flavor of one or another of these approaches, with their own unique modifications.

Sri Aurobindo has shown that there is a clear evolution of consciousness, and that the mental development we currently treat as our highest capacity is an intermediate level which will inevitably lead to further evolutionary steps.  At the same time, he holds that the entire universal creation is One and a manifestation of the Eternal.  Liberation, considered the goal by many seekers, is the starting point for the transformation of life on earth with the advent of the next phases of the evolutionary sequence.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “If it is the sole intention of Nature in the evolution of the spiritual man to awaken him to the supreme Reality and release him from herself, or from the Ignorance in which she as the Power of the Eternal has masked herself, by a departure into a higher status of being elsewhere, if this step in the evolution is a close and an exit, then in the essence her work has been already accomplished and there is nothing more to be done.  The ways of have been built, the capacity to follow them has been developed, the goal or last height of the creation is manifest; all that is left is for each soul to reach individually the right stage and turn of its development, enter into the spiritual ways and pass by its own chosen path out of this inferior existence.  But we have supposed that there is a farther intention, — not only a revelation of the Spirit, but a radical and integral transformation of Nature.  There is a will in her to effectuate a true manifestation of the embodied life of the Spirit, to complete what she has begun by a passage from the Ignorance to the Knowledge, to throw off her mask and to reveal herself as the luminous Consciousness-Force carrying in her the eternal Existence and its universal Delight of being.  It then becomes obvious that there is something not yet accomplished, there becomes clear to view the much that has still to be done, … there is a height still to be reached, a wideness still to be covered by the eye of vision, the wing of the will, the self-affirmation of the Spirit in the material universe.  What the evolutionary Power has done is to make a few individuals aware of their souls, conscious of their selves, aware of the eternal being that they are, to put them into communion with the Divinity or the reality which is concealed by her appearances: a certain change of nature prepares, accompanies or follows upon this illumination, but it is not the complete and radical change which establishes a secure and settled new principle, a new creation, a permanent new order of being in the field of terrestrial Nature.  The spiritual man has evolved, but not the supramental being who shall thenceforward be the leader of that Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Six, The Triple Transformation, pp. 62-63

The Liberated Individual…and Beyond

The Bhagavad Gita sets forth a standard that goes beyond following a specific religious practice, a specific set of rules of conduct, or a specific form of action in the world.  This standard is that of the “liberated individual” who, through union with the Divine, has gone beyond actions based on the physical, vital, emotional, or mental needs or desires, and which is not limited by the ego-consciousness of the individual.  The word of the Supreme to Arjuna was “Become my-minded, my lover and adorer, a sacrificer to Me, bow thyself to Me, to Me thou shalt come, this is my pledge and promise to thee, for dear art thou to Me.  Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone.  I will deliver thee from all sin and evil, do not grieve.”  (Sri Aurobindo, Bhagavad Gita and Its Message, ch. 18, v.65-66, pg. 286)

Transcending the ego-consciousness, the individual thinks, acts, feels and responds from the Oneness with the Divine Spirit that constitutes the entire Reality and the universal manifestation.  The conflicts inherent in the mental and vital ways of seeing and acting are resolved in this higher standard.  This is not an excuse for the type of arrogant superiority we find in the Nietzschean philosophy “beyond good and evil”, which relies on an expanded egoism.  Rather, it is a subordination of the ego to its true role of providing an individual locus of action in the world, but an action based in and relying on the Oneness of the creation.  The standpoint is the divine standpoint and the action takes on a wholly different motive force from that which stems from the ego-desire-soul.

Sri Aurobindo points out, however, that the liberation of the individual, frequently claimed to be the ultimate goal of the seeker, is not the end of the evolutionary potential.  There is still the shift from the human to the supramental level of awareness and action, and there remains still the Transcendent, and consciousness can still evolve beyond even this human fulfillment.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “The last or highest emergence is the liberated man who has realised the Self and Spirit within him, entered into the cosmic consciousness, passed into union with the Eternal and, so far as he still accepts life and action, acts by the light and energy of the Power within him working through his human instruments of Nature.  The largest formulation of this spiritual change and achievement is a total liberation of soul, mind, heart and action, a casting of them all into the sense of the cosmic Self and the Divine Reality.  The spiritual evolution of the individual has then found its way and thrown up its range of Himalayan eminences and its peaks of highest nature.  Beyond this height and largeness there opens only the supramental ascent or the incommunicable Transcendence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pg. 57

The Evolution of a Spiritual Being

We may look upon occultism, religion and spiritual philosophy as preparatory stages, as the human being grows and evolves, becomes more self-aware, and seeks for the significance and purpose of his life.  Yet, they cannot effectuate the type of changes that represent the emergence of a new level and mode of consciousness, as the vital represented for the physical, or as the mental represented for the vital.  This preparation is essential as it helps to break the bonds of the physical-vital-mental complex which we identify through our ego-sense as our being in the ordinary human life experience.

The spiritual consciousness may provide glimpses of its existence in various hints or experiences along the way, while we remain primarily rooted in the normal human mode of understanding and action.  We may recognise that another wider, higher, more profound awareness, a consciousness of oneness and unity with the entire creation, can and does exist, and that it interacts with our lives through influence and pressure, but we have not yet shifted the standpoint to the new spiritual consciousness.  There may be experiences of a vast silence or an ineffable peace or bliss, or an overpowering sense or intuition of a conscious power that directs and guides the entire creation, or simply an experience of traveling outside one’s physical body and interacting with beings, powers and forces on other planes of existence.  There are many accounts of revelations experienced by an individual, under various forms of pressure, such as a vision quest, fasting, or deep meditation practices or pranayama and hatha yogic practices.

As Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “But none of these three lines of approach can by themselves entirely fulfil the greater and ulterior intention of Nature; they cannot create in mental man the spiritual being, unless and until they open the door to spiritual experience.  It is only by an inner realisation of what these approaches are seeking after, by an overwhelming experience or by many experiences building up an inner change, by a transmutation of the consciousness, by a liberation of the spirit from its present veil of mind, life and body that there can emerge the spiritual being.  That is the final line of the soul’s progress towards which the others are pointing and, when it is ready to disengage itself from the preliminary approaches, then the real work has begun and the turning point of the change is no longer distant.  Till then all that the human mental being has reached is a familiarity with the idea of things beyond him, with the possibility of an other-worldly movement, with the ideal of some ethical perfection; he may have made too some contact with greater Powers or Realities which help his mind or heart or life.  A change there may be, but not the transmutation of the mental into the spiritual being.  Religion and its thought and ethics and occult mysticism in ancient times produced the priest and the mage, the man of piety, the just man, the man of wisdom, many high points of mental manhood; but it is only after spiritual experience through the heart and mind began that we see arise the saint, the prophet, the Rishi, the Yogi, the seer, the spiritual sage and the mystic, and it is the religions in which these types of spiritual manhood came into being that have endured, covered the globe and given mankind all its spiritual aspiration and culture.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 56-57

The Role of Spiritual Philosophy and Spiritual Experience and Realisation in the Fulfillment of the Human Role in Evolutionary Development

We pit science versus religion, and occultism against both, and insist that one particular path toward realisation of meaning in our lives is better or more authentic than others.  In reality, however, each of these paths has its own rationale and basis, and each speaks to specific aspects of human nature that neither can nor should be denied fulfillment.  Spiritual philosophy, the logic of the higher reason, or the intuitive knowledge obtained through the mind, is an essential part of the development process of humanity.  Eventually, the teachings of religion, or the insights of occultism, must not blatantly contradict what we observe and know of the world upon close examination.  Similarly, intellectual knowledge cannot substitute for actual spiritual experience, which, in the end, provides a higher and more convincing certitude of the truth and the reality than any logical structure can ever provide.

Similarly, many people believe that reading books and imbibing the concepts are  sufficient for their spiritual development, and thus, they shy away from taking an active part of the world at large.  There may be certain individuals who need this kind of focus, at least temporarily as they establish the knowledge-base.  However, the knowledge in such cases is attended by the risk that it will remain dry and theoretical.  Much more challenging, yet potentially with greater benefit, is the attempt to put the spiritual philosophy into practice and live in the world, with all its contradictions and oppositions, with the demands of the physical body, the desires of the vital nature, the emotional surges and mental ideas that constitute human life, individually and as part of a society.  This is attended by the risk that the focus and purity of the spiritual purpose can be watered down, yet remains an essential stage for any complete spiritual transformation at some point in the evolutionary curve for the individual and the mass of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine, “But this knowledge must be something more than a creed or a mystic revelation; his thinking mind must be able to accept it, to correlate it with the principle of things and the observed truth of the universe: this is the work of philosophy, and in the field of the truth of the spirit it can only be done by a spiritual philosophy, whether intellectual in its method or intuitive.  But all knowledge and endeavour can reach its fruition only if it is turned into experience and has become part of the consciousness and its established operations; in the spiritual field all this religious, occult or philosophical knowledge and endeavour must, to bear fruition, end in an opening up of the spiritual consciousness, in experiences that found and continually heighten, expand and enrich that consciousness and in the building of a life and action that is in conformity with the truth of the spirit: this is the work of spiritual realisation and experience.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pg. 56

Religion in the Search for the Meaning and Significance of Our Lives

Religion in today’s world has taken on a number of tasks, and diverse meanings for people, which confuses the primary and essential role of religion in human development.  Religion today has become first and foremost an enormous business model, a massing of human energy for doing battle, and a soporific for those who are oppressed and disenfranchised.  The poet-philosopher Novalis, in 1798, stated:  “Their so-called religion works simply as an opiate—stimulating; numbing; quelling pain by means of weakness.”  Such sentiments were repeated many times in the years following this statement.  In the modern world, organised religion has seen something of a decline as the weaknesses of the formalized structures and dogmas became evident to more people.

There is however an important role and function that religion has historically played, and which remains the core rationale for religion as a developmental aid for humanity.  Religion in its essence is the search for meaning.  Why do we exist?  How do we exist?  Is there a purpose or significance to life?  Is there some greater being, a Creator, who has brought the universe into manifestation and who imparts focus and meaning to our own existence and actions?

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “He must know also the hidden Power or Powers that control the world: if there is a Cosmic Self or Spirit or a Creator, he must be able to enter into relation with It or Him and be able to remain in whatever contact or communion is possible, get into some kind of tune with the master Beings of the universe or with the universal Being and its universal will or a supreme Being and His supreme will, follow the law It gives him and the assigned or revealed aim of his life and conduct, raise himself towards the highest height that It demands of him in his life now or in his existence hereafter; if there is no such universal or supreme Spirit or Being, he must know what there is and how to lift himself to it out of his present imperfection and impotence.”

“This approach is the aim of religion: its purpose is to link the human with the Divine and in so doing sublimate the thought and life and flesh so that they may admit the rule of the soul and spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 55-56

Understanding the Field of Occultism in the Search for the Meaning and Significance of Our Lives

The practice of “occultism” has taken on a number of meanings, in some cases, confused meanings.  In its essence, occultism means to look beyond the surface appearances of things to the underlying motive powers and forces and to observe the intelligence active in creating the surface appearances upon which we tend to fixate with our physical senses.  The field of Science began as a search for the deeper meanings and connections in life, and eventually, as we explore the atomic world, quantum phenomena, the electro-magnetic spectrum, and the movements of the sun, the stars and the galaxy, we begin to realize that the understanding we gain from a purely surface view is far from accurate.  We speak of the sun rising and setting, but in reality, this surface view is the rotation of the earth around its axis and the arc of the planet around the sun.

At a detailed level we can see the incredible interconnections between all elements of existence to bring about the field of life and its balance.  The study of the powers hidden from our surface awareness is occultism in its truest sense.  There are many different methods humanity has employed to try to go beyond the surface appearances.  In essence they involve tapping into the deeper sources of our awareness and finding ways to understand what pure sense perceptions, and our extrapolations from those sense perceptions,  do not tell us.  The practices of Raja Yoga, for example,  are based on the idea of stilling the surface mind and the senses so that we can truly experience the deeper reality that creates, sustains and guides what we experience in the daily life we lead, including the source of thoughts, emotions and perceptions that act upon us and which we ordinarily believe are under our own control.  The notion of our freedom of thought and free will takes on a totally different significance when we leave our surface reactions and find larger, universal forces at work moving us, shaping us and guiding us forward in our lives.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “There are four necessities of man’s self-expansion if he is not to remain this being of the surface ignorance seeking obscurely after the truth of things and collecting and systematising fragments and sections of knowledge, the small limited and half-competent creature of the cosmic Force which he now is in his phenomenal nature.  He must know himself and discover and utilise all his potentialities: but to know himself and the world completely he must go behind his own and its exterior, he must dive deep below his own mental surface and the physical surface of Nature.  This he can only do by knowing his inner mental, vital, physical and psychic being and its powers and movements and the universal laws and processes of the occult Mind and Life which stand behind the material front of the universe: that is the field of occultism, if we take the word in its widest significance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pg. 55

Steps of Progression Along the Path Toward Realisation of the Spiritual Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo, in the first chapter of The Life Divine, describes “the human aspiration”.  This inner drive is a sign of the evolutionary force of Nature working through the human being and pushing humanity beyond its current formulation of a mental being in a living body.  The next stage is the development of a spiritual consciousness, which aligns with the identified goals of the human aspiration, “God, light, freedom, immortality”.  In order to achieve this development, humanity has tried a number of directions, all of which attempt to move beyond the limits of the logical reasoning intellect in one form or another, and to understand and associate the being with the wider, higher, deeper reality which is manifesting through, and beyond, the body, life and mind.  These approaches include the practices of religion in all its various forms, occultism with its varied practices including things like asceticism, vision quests, psychic readings, hypnotism and past life regression therapy, and “mind-expanding” substances such as peyote, psilocybin, ayahuasca, marijuana and similar plants in the repertoire of the shaman or the yogi-renunciate (in some schools) which break down the walls of the logical intellect.  There are also the developments of what might be called Jnana Yoga, the attempt to take the mind through and beyond its limits to gain a deeper understanding.  In the West, this might take the form of philosophy or scientific development.  In the East, the practices of Jnana Yoga developed extremely fine schools of thought, but also there were separate approaches such as Raja Yoga, which  concentrated on developing a silent, receptive mind-stuff that could observe, as well as put aside, the actions of the life, body and the sense organs.  The development of the yogic trance, and the practices of pranayama evolved out of this focus and direction.

Each of these lines of practice succeed in taking the human individual beyond the rigid framework of the body/life/mind in some form or another, yet may not quite achieve the ultimate goal.  The evolution of the spiritual consciousness is a process that is ongoing and uses these methods, and others such as devotion, selfless work for the benefit of the world, etc. to prepare the way and guide the seeker along the path toward the ultimate realisation.

Elsewhere in The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo writes:  “There are four main lines which Nature has followed in her attempt to open up the inner being, — religion, occultism, spiritual thought and an inner spiritual realisation and experience: the three first are approaches, the last is the decisive avenue of entry.  All these four powers have worked by a simultaneous action, more or less connected, sometimes in a variable collaboration, sometimes in dispute with each other, sometimes in a separate independence.  Religion has admitted an occult element in its ritual, ceremony, sacraments; it has leaned upon spiritual thinking, deriving from it sometimes a creed or theology, sometimes its supporting spiritual philosophy, — the former, ordinarily, is the occidental method, the latter the oriental: but spiritual experience is the final aim and achievement of religion, its sky and summit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 54-55

The Nature of Spiritual Consciousness

With our experience using the mental consciousness, we can easily determine that the mind is not just an exceptionally active quality of the life-energy, but a conscious awareness of its own type, with its own characteristics and its own essential nature.  We can even bring the action of the life energy down to a bare minimum, through various practices of pranayama and meditation, trance-samadhi, and experience an awareness at the mental level that surpasses the normal functioning.

It is therefore possible to extrapolate that the spiritual consciousness, when it manifests, is not simply an extension of the mental consciousness, but, again, a level of consciousness that has its own unique characteristics and principles of action.

We frequently confuse spirituality with religiosity or with a fervent desire to achieve a religious experience of some sort.  We see ascetics, monks and anchorites abandoning life, in some cases putting themselves under extreme conditions and practicing painful austerities with an eye towards achieve spiritual realisation.  We see others who believe that practicing a particular creed or moral code represents their spiritual nature.  And yet others who believe that adhering to specific sets of ideas or forms of worship will mean they are “being spiritual”.  Sri Aurobindo clarifies however that spirituality is not specifically related to any of these things, although they may prepare the ground for the advent of the spiritual consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine:  “…it must therefore be emphasised that spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience.  These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution, — the beginning of a spiritual realisation, experience, change is not yet there.  Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pg. 54

The Status and Action of the Spiritual Consciousness as it Emerges

We identify various forces operative in the world by their effects.  We cannot see electricity, but we can see the light bulb glow when we flip the switch.  We cannot see cell phone signals, but we can wirelessly send a message anywhere in the world and communicate with others.   We cannot see gravity, but we can observe things falling to the ground.  When we look, therefore for the action of the spiritual consciousness, we are not necessarily going to find it through physical observation, but through its operative effects.

We can observe the effects of the life force on matter when we view the changes to the material substance that occur as a result of the life-force in operation.  We can observe the effects of the mental consciousness on life and matter simply by looking around at the changes in the world brought about by the advent of man on the planet.  We can observe the workings of the higher processes of mind when we read books of philosophy, religion or science, or undertake any process of creation, whether mechanical invention, or a work of art or literature, to name a few.

The spiritual consciousness, when it emerges, also leaves its imprint behind in terms of the way the individual responds to situations, and the way the individual interacts with those around him in the society.  When the awareness of oneness arises, one can find the impulses of self-dealing, greed and desire diminishing in favor of a balanced interaction with the world.   There are also impacts on the ways of perception and understanding that are based, not on the mental, logical structures of the reasoning mind, but on an intuition, a vision, or other subtle modes of grasping the truth of one’s existence.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “…at first this consciousness may confine itself to a status of being separate from the action of our ignorant surface nature, observing it, limiting itself to knowledge, to a seeing of things with a spiritual sense and vision of existence.  For action it may still depend upon the mental, vital, bodily instruments, or it may allow them to act according to their own nature and itself remain satisfied with self-experience and self-knowledge, with an inner liberation, an eventual freedom: but it may also and usually does exercise a certain authority, governance, influence or thought, life movement, physical action, a purifying uplifting control compelling them to move in a higher and purer truth of themselves, to obey or be an instrumentation of an influx of some diviner Power or a luminous direction which is not mental but spiritual and can be recognised as having a certain divine character, — the inspiration of a greater Self or the command of the Ruler of all being, the Ishwara.  Or the nature may obey the psychic entity’s intimations, move in an inner light, follow an inner guidance.  This is already a considerable evolution and amounts to a beginning at least of a psychic and spiritual transformation.  But it is possible to go farther; for the spiritual being, once inwardly liberated, can develop in mind the higher states of being that are its own natural atmosphere and bring down a supramental energy and action which are proper to the Truth-consciousness; the ordinary mental instrumentation, life-instrumentation, physical instrumentation even, could then be entirely transformed and become parts no longer of an ignorance however much illumined, but of a supramental creation which would be the true action of a spiritual truth-consciousness and knowledge.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 53-54

Finding the Soul, Spiritual Element in Man, Part 1

Western scientists, in an attempt to locate the soul, did experiments by weighing an individual in the moment before death and the moment after death.  With their viewpoint based in matter, they hoped to discover that upon death something with material mass departed from the body and it could be measured.

Spiritual seekers with experience of the spiritual element in their lives, recognise that the Spirit permeates all existence and that all Matter itself is a manifestation of Spirit.

The swan is said to be able to separate milk from water.  The spiritual man, through introspection, is able to separate the Spirit from Matter, Life and Mind through identification of its characteristic influence on existence.

Sri Aurobindo, in The Life Divine, discusses the soul element in man:  “In the animal mind is not quite distinct from its own life-matrix and life-matter; its movements are so involved in the life-movements that it cannot detach itself from them, cannot stand separate and observe them; but in man mind has become separate, he can become aware of his mental operations as distinct from his life-operations, his thought and will can disengage themselves from his sensations and impulses, desires and emotional reactions, can become detached from them, observe and control them, sanction or cancel their functioning: he does not as yet know the secrets of his being well enough to be aware of himself decisively and with certitude as a mental being in a life and body, but he has that impression and can take inwardly that position.  So too at first soul in man does not appear as something quite distinct from mind and from mentalised life; its movements are involved in the mind-movements, its operations seem to be mental and emotional activities; the mental human being is not aware of a soul in him standing back from the mind and life and body, detaching itself, seeing and controlling and moulding their action and formation but, as the inner evolution proceeds, this is precisely what can, must and does happen, — it is the long-delayed but inevitable next step in our evolutionary destiny.  There can be a decisive emergence in which the being separates itself from thought and sees itself in an inner silence as the spirit in mind, or separates itself from the life movements, desires, sensations, kinetic impulses and is aware of itself as the spirit supporting life, or separates itself from the body sense and knows itself as a spirit ensouling Matter: this is the discovery of ourselves as the Purusha, a mental being or a life-soul or a subtle self supporting the body.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 51-52