Brief Overview of the Evolution of Consciousness

To appreciate Sri Aurobindo’s view that realization of the Supreme is the starting point, not the ending point of the practice of yoga, it is necessary to appreciate several concepts. The first is that, as the Upanishads hold, there is “one without a second”. This implies a unified consciousness that is not divided into separate beings as we tend to see things from our mental viewpoint. There is no “other”; rather, all that exists is that One Being. The second is “All this is the Brahman.” Rather than treat the world as purely a dream or an illusion to be escaped, this Upanishad dictum makes it clear that Brahman, the Supreme Divine, is not something to be discovered or experienced elsewhere, but rather, right here in life.

Sri Aurobindo then raises the question about the apparent disconnect between the human mental experience of fragmentation and separation and the consciousness of the divine unity. If all this is the One, why do we experience our existence as ostensibly separate beings in a seemingly hostile world?

By examining the process of evolution, Sri Aurobindo identified a series of stages or phases of development of Life out of Matter and Mind out of Life. Each one represented an extension of consciousness in its active manifestation in the world. In order for this to occur, the one consciousness must be present and involved in Matter. The sequential rolling out can be likened to the sequence in time of a motion picture revealing successive stages in a film as one observes. The entire film was there all the time, but is revealed in stages. Without pushing this analogy too far, one can at least get a glimpse of the concept of successive evolutionary stages revealing higher planes of consciousness over Time. Clearly the current mental level, with all its limitations and imperfections, cannot be the final stage of this process, and therefore, Sri Aurobindo points to a next phase which he calls the supramental manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Sri Aurobindo’s teaching states that this One Being and Consciousness is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be inconscient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards a greater and greater perfection. Life is the first step of this release of consciousness; mind is the second; but the evolution does not finish with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to manifest perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Introduction, pg. 3

The Foundation of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching

The long legacy of the Yogic tradition is founded on the recognition that there is a greater Reality that exists, that the human individual is a participant, in fact a part of that reality, and that it is possible through the practices of yoga, including various psychological and psycho-physical forms of discipline, to refocus the attention away from the day to day activities of the world and toward the greater reality. In essence, any yogic path has this as a primary aim, even if, as in Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, there are further realisations and actions that arise once such a shift in standpoint has been accomplished.

Albert Einstein stated: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” It is a basic premise of yoga that the seeker must move beyond the limitations of the physical, vital and mental personality and processes in order to achieve realisation. Every path and method of yoga latches onto one or another of the basic levers of human existence to concentrate and uplift the consciousness, eventually to transcend the human limitations. For Sri Aurobindo, this is not the end, but the beginning of a much more difficult and slow process of bringing the new standpoint into realisation in the active being and thereby transforming our relationship to each other, to society, and to our world-environment.

The Transcendent aspect, therefore, is a first foundation and pre-condition of anything further that will be accomplished in the evolutionary development of consciousness on earth.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The teaching of Sri Aurobindo starts from that of the ancient sages of India that behind the appearances of the universe there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal. All beings are united in that One Self and Spirit but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, a ignorance of their true Self and Reality in the mind, life and body. It is possible by a certain psychological discipline to remove this veil of separative consciousness and become aware of the true Self, the Divinity within us and all.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Introduction, pg. 3

The Spiritual Revolution

Humanity is facing a crisis of existential proportions. Climate change, pollution, income inequality, access to fresh water and food, and the consequences that lead to mass migration, war, and increased risk of pandemic disease vectors all are forcing us to confront our entire way of looking at and thinking about life. We look for solutions through science and technology, through research into the material forces of the universe, through a moral revolution, through religious conversion, or through intellectual plans and ideas, ideologies and creeds for living. Yet we are locked in a nexus of increasingly difficult problems amid unprecedented gridlock as our opposing ideas clash and no one is prepared to give in or find a common ground direction.

A central issue becomes evident through all of this travail; namely, that we look at our lives and the world we live in from the standpoint of our individual egoistic desires and without a true sense of the oneness and interdependence that actually ties all of us together. From this standpoint we try to solve our problems through exercise of power and various attempts to control others to live according to our own preconceived ideas or direction. We treat the world as something external to us, to be seized and exploited for our own comfort or enjoyment, without concern for the needs and balance of Nature and the other beings who share the planet with us, beyond the very specific benefits we share with those who are considered family, friends, immediate community or who share an ideology or faith with us. We actively separate ourselves from others on the basis of various characteristics, skin color, gender identification, racial or ethnic backgrounds, economic systems or religious beliefs, etc. All of this is the function of our mental, vital and physical experience and background thus far in the evolution of consciousness on the planet.

We are surrounded today by crises of an ever-increasing magnitude and they are now overlapping one another as our limitations and standpoint create more disharmony and dislocations. The solution is not to be found in a new ideology, a new philosophy, a new religion, a new economic system, or a new technology. We have had our industrial revolution and our technology revolution and yet the imbalances have only become greater, as these are essentially attempts at solution by the mind acting from our normal vital standpoint. What is required is a radical change in our standpoint based on a new and different experience of our lives. Instead of focusing on the differences and the separation from one another, we need to see and experience our lives as elements of an essential oneness and interdependence. Such a transformation comes about through what Sri Aurobindo calls a spiritual revolution.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The changes we see in the world today are intellectual, moral, physical in their ideal and intention: the spiritual revolution waits for its hour and throws up meanwhile its waves here and there. Until it comes the sense of the others cannot be understood and till then all interpretations of present happenings and forecast of man’s future are vain things. For its nature, power, event are that which will determine the next cycle of our humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Inspirational Quote, pg. 1

The Mind of Light: Summary and Conclusions

Is it our destiny to create a divine life on earth? When we look around at the world today, we see innumerable problems, crises and contradictions that provoke many to feel utterly hopeless. Everywhere people have experienced the pain, the challenges, the aggressive opposition of ideas, ideologies, religions, creeds, movements and expressions. Some have given up and determined to simply live for today, “eat, drink and be merry” they say, as they abandon the thought that there is any purpose to their existence or to the universal existence itself. Others believe that this world is simply a world of trial and that our true destiny lies in some heaven, or hell, after we die. We have competing political systems, competing economic systems, competing religious beliefs, and within all of this, there lies the promptings of desire and the conflict over resources, their allocation and use, and the consequences of their use, or misuse in relation to the environment and the planet. Scientists now tell us we are in the midst of the sixth species extinction event, an event on such a scale as it dwarfs those that came before it. Meanwhile we are actively polluting the environment and changing the climate with consequences that we are beginning to see, but have not yet fully comprehended or begun to act seriously upon. Our physical, vital and mental standpoint does not give us any realistic way out of this crisis and we see therefore only recriminations, gridlock and the inevitable consequences of suffering, war, pestilence, mass migrations and related consequences.

Sri Aurobindo, however, sees a deeper significance, a thread of meaning that weaves through all these issues and events and provides a meaning to existence, a significance to our lives and a context for the disruptions we see all around us. This significance is an evolution of consciousness that, over a vast scale of Time, has brought forth Life from what appeared to be dead, inconscient Matter, and eventually brought forth Mind from what appeared to be the pure reactions of desire and fear that govern the lower animal existence. He sees that this evolution of consciousness is not yet completed and that the limitations and weaknesses of Matter, Life and Mind lead to the type of confusion and chaos that reigns in our world today. He recognises that in fact it is a basic principle of Nature that evolutionary transitions are fraught with crises as a new principle is born to help resolve the crisis existing at the prior level.

All of these evolutionary changes take time. What is different today is that through our application of the limited vision and understanding of the Mind, we are not only becoming more self-aware, but we are also manipulating Matter and Life in ways that are disastrous and wholly destructive. We do not appear to have the time needed for the full emergence of the supramental consciousness that marks the transition to the next full phase of the evolutionary cycle. This is where the advent of transitional gradations, such as the mind of Light come into play. Even a relatively small modicum of the Light and Knowledge and Power of the supramental consciousness can help us achieve sufficient balance in our existence and with our environment to overcome the worst dangers of the current planetary existential crisis. The mind of Light occupies a position that is achievable for humanity in the relative near term to provide us a new standpoint which will ameliorate the most serious of the existential concerns, and thus provide the time for the evolution of the next full evolutionary stage of the Supermind.

Humanity tends to only make substantive changes under the pressure of crisis and extremity. We thus can both seek, and find, that there is a powerful movement toward spiritual growth, widening of consciousness, awakening of a sense of our oneness and interdependence with the rest of the beings that share the environment with us. We also see an increasing awareness of the galaxies and universes beyond us, and we see an awakening to the universal creation and its apparent significance. Thus, we stand on the brink of an emergence of a new phase in our conscious existence, this time aided by our self-awareness and our deep inner aspiration to achieve meaning in our lives.

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Summary and Conclusions

Transition to a Mind of Light and Its Implications for Human Existence

The shift from the mental standpoint to the supramental standpoint, from a limited, fragmented and error-prone seeking for knowledge, to a consciousness that lives in the full illumination of Knowledge is not something that takes place instantaneously and completely like flipping on a light switch. There is in the evolutionary process on earth, a long series of stages of development, and the transition from mind to supermind also includes a series of stages that Sri Aurobindo has identified and defined. Even a relatively small shift, however, yields dramatic results in terms of benefit to the life of humanity and the balance of the world-environment. The shift to a “mind of Light” brings with it a new way of seeing that takes into account the wholistic balance between the individual and the world, sees the unity of all creation, and recognises the need to achieve harmony in relations between people, and the natural environment of which we are a part and on which we depend. While the mind of Light does not yet represent the complete knowledge and power of the supermind unveiled and active, it provides illumination sufficient for humanity to begin to solve many of the imminent crises that threaten our existence at this time.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Still there is an increasing self-limitation which begins even with Overmind: Overmind is separated by only a luminous border on the full light and power of the supramental Truth and it still commands direct access to all that Supermind can give it. There is a further limitation or change of characteristic action at each step downwards from Overmind to Intuition, from Intuition to Illumined Mind, from Illumined Mind to what I have called the Higher Mind: the Mind of Light is a transitional passage by which we can pass from supermind and superhumanity to an illumined humanity. For the new humanity will be capable of at least a partly divinised way of seeing and living because it will live in the light and in knowledge and not in the obscuration of the Ignorance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Supermind and Mind of Light, pp. 94-95

The Essential Characteristics of the Mind of Light

The mind of Light represents a fundamental shift in the status and standpoint of consciousness in the individual. Mind operates in a fragmented, isolated manner and is locked into its limited framework. It is thus a power based in Ignorance. The mind of Light is a power of knowledge, based in the supramental consciousness and being, and thus, is not bound by the limitations that plague the mental function.

Sri Aurobindo makes several additional points worth noting here. First is that the consciousness is not a machinery of some inanimate Nature, but the active manifesting role of the divine Being. Second, the supermind does not need to display all its knowledge at every point at all times, but can modulate and withhold behind the scenes the knowledge that underlies the current action. One can consider this to be something akin to a “step down transformer” that takes the high voltage intensity of power being transmitted and siphons off part of it to distribute it where needed and in the amounts required, so that it can become useful for a specific purpose or need. The intervening gradations between Supermind and Mind represent stages of this “step-down” process to apply just the right amounts of knowledge and power to the specific need of the specific being, circumstance and event that is at play at that moment.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Truth-Consciousness is not only a power of knowledge; it is a being of consciousness and knowledge, a luminous many-sided dynamis and play of the omniscient Spirit; in it there can be a spiritual feeling, a spiritual sensation, a spiritual essentiality of substance that knows and reveals, that acts and manifests in an omniscience which is one with omnipotence. In Mind this Truth-Consciousness and these workings of the Truth-Consciousness can be there and even though it limits itself in Mind and has a subordinate or an indirect working, its action can be essentially the same. There can even be a hidden immediacy which hints at the presence of something absolute and is evidence of the same omnipotence and omniscience. In the Mind of Light when it becomes full-orbed this character of the Truth reveals itself though in a garb that is transparent even when it seems to cover: for this too is a truth-consciousness and a self-power of knowledge. This too proceeds from the Supermind and depends upon it even though it is limited and subordinate. What we have called specifically the Mind of Light is indeed the last of a series of descending planes of consciousness in which the Supermind veils itself by a self-chosen limitation or modification of its self-manifesting activities, but its essential character remains the same: there is in it an action of light, of truth, of knowledge in which inconscience, ignorance and error claim no place. It proceeds from knowledge to knowledge; we have not yet crossed over the borders of the truth-conscious into ignorance. The methods also are those of a self-luminous knowing and seeing and feeling and a self-fulfilling action within its own borders; there is no need to seek for something missing, no fumbling, no hesitation: all is still a gnostic action of a gnostic power and principle. There has been a descent from full Supermind into Mind, but this Mind though a self-limited is not yet an agnostic consciousness unsure of itself or unsure of its workings; there is still a comprehending or an apprehending consciousness which goes straight to its object and does not miss its mark or have to hunt for it in the dark or in insufficient light: it sees, knows, puts its hand immediately on things of self and things of Nature. We have passed into Mind but Mind has still not broken its inherent connection with the supramental principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Supermind and Mind of Light, pp. 93-94

The Involution and Evolution of the Supramental Consciousness

As we delve deeper into the world of matter and life, it becomes obvious that there is an involved consciousness at work that creates forms and beings and activities far beyond what our best application of mental power can provide. Scientists and engineers now look closely at the forms of nature to design technology and products that can solve human needs or concerns. The involved consciousness is apparently far more capable than the mind as can be seen from examples of science studying and mimicking solutions already found by nature. Some examples include the development of adhesives that work in damp environments, courtesy of the adherence capability of mussels which can withstand pressure from ocean tides, or development of wing and rotor designs that take advantage of the aerodynamic qualities of birds, such as owls. Velcro was invented by someone studying the ability of burs of certain plants to adhere to clothing.

This involved consciousness is capable of holding back self-awareness and self-aware control of these forms at the material and vital levels, while slowly bringing forth more and more powers of consciousness as the mind develops. At some point as we become aware of the involved consciousness, and as we push the limits of our mental capabilities, we become receptive to the supramental truth-consciousness which creates all these forms in a symbiotic, and inter-dependent harmony while maintaining its awareness of the inherent oneness of the entire creation.

The intervening gradation between mind and supermind, which Sri Aurobindo terms the “mind of Light”, and which itself has various stages of evolutionary development, begins to shift the consciousness from one of ignorance seeking for and struggling to attain knowledge, to one that exists in a consciousness of truth and does not have to struggle for the understanding of the larger picture or the place of each element in the creation. Or as the ancient scripture holds “from darkness to light, from light to greater light.”

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The essential character of Supermind is a Truth-Consciousness which knows by its own inherent right of nature, by its own light; it has not to arrive at knowledge but possess it. It may indeed, especially in its evolutionary action, keep knowledge behind its apparent consciousness and bring it forward as if from behind the veil; but even then this veil is only an appearance and does not really exist: the knowledge was alwys there, the consciousness its possessor and present revealer. This too is only in the evolutionary play and on the supramental plane itself the consciousness lives always in an immediacy of knowledge and acts by a direct immediacy of knowledge. In Mind as we see it here the action is very different; it starts from an apparent absence of knowledge, a seeming ignorance or nescience, even, in material Nature, from an inconscience in which any kind of knowing does not seem at all to exist. It reaches knowledge or the action of knowledge by steps which are not at all immediate but rather knowledge at first seems utterly impossible and foreign to the very substance of this Matter. Yet, in the blindness of Matter itself there are signs of a concealed consciousness which in its hidden fundamental being sees and has the power to act according to its vision and even by an infallible immediacy which is inherent in its nature. This is the same Truth that is apparent in Supermind but is here involved and seems not to be. The Mind of Light is a subordinate action of Supermind, dependent upon it even when not apparently springing direct from it, in which the secret of this connection becomes evident and palpable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Supermind and Mind of Light, pg. 93

The First Signs of the Advent of a Mind of Light

Are we witnessing the first signs of the development of a mind of Light in the world today? If we look back at human civilisation over the last several thousand years, we can see several bright spots where individuals or relatively small groups of people broke out of the fixation on material acquisition and personal satisfaction of desire to try to achieve a new standpoint that would take into account the needs of a larger collectivity and a focus on achieving peaceful relations between people. These may be taken as first signs of an aspiration to something greater than what humanity had been able to achieve with its mental development focused on satisfaction of desire and working with physical matter.

More recently, in the latter half of the 20th century, we see a number of incidents and developments which speak to a much larger and broader perspective starting to manifest, with the concern for the environment, the focus on understanding and overcoming the colonial and genocidal history of the past, and the rise of concern for all human beings living together and sharing the resources of the earth’s bounty. Then we see humanity reaching out beyond the planet with a drive to explore outer space and visit the moon, and eventually other planets in the solar system; and the search for extra terrestrial beings through the SETI project. We see scientists systematically delving into the origins of Matter and finding energy, and now finding that energy embodies consciousness. Quantum entanglement and the origins of the universe are leading scientists beyond the limits of the mental framework that has held us in thrall for most of our presence on earth. We remain ignorant and continue to make errors along the way, but the direction of the striving for knowledge is clearly visible.

We see concurrently the breaking down of traditional models of belief and religion, with more people opting to forego formal adherence to a particular set of religious precepts in favor of an inner seeking for spiritual enlightenment, now no longer reserved for a small group of renunciates, monks or anchorites. This drive is a defining change in humanity’s relationship to seeking divine guidance and significance of their lives.

We see as a result of these multiple streams, people working to overcome the limits of human perception and the strict logic of the mental framework. We see people working on developing intuition, inspiration, creativity, global rather than linear thought process, wholistic rather than fragmentary viewpoints, and a drive to develop senses of clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, and other ostensibly “occult” powers. There is an enormous focus on spiritual practice on a scale not seen before, and people are reporting opening of various chakra energies, pouring of a force from above into them, out of body experiences of various types, silence of the mind, and experiences that fall into the realm of spiritual development.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In the birth of the mind of Light and its ascension into its own recognisable self and its true status and right province there must be, in the very nature of things as they are and very nature of the evolutionary process as it is at present, two stages. In the first, we can see the mind of Light gathering itself out of the Ignorance, assembling its constituent elements, building up its shapes and types, however imperfect at first, and pushing them towards perfection till it can cross the border of the Ignorance and appear in the Light, in its own Light. In the second stage we can see it developing itself in that greater natural light, taking its higher shapes and forms till it joins the supermind and lives as its subordinate portion or its delegate. In each of these stages it will define its own grades and manifest the order of its beings who will embody it and give to it a realised life.”

“Thus there will be built up, first, even in the Ignorance itself, the possibility of a human ascent towards a divine living; then there will be, by the illumination of this mind of Light in the greater realisation of what may be called a gnostic mentality, in a transformation of the human being, even before the supermind is reached, even in the earth-consciousness and in a humanity transformed, an illumined divine life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Mind of Light, pg. 91

The Role of the Mind of Light As a Gradation in the Evolutionary Development

Observation of the development of the capacities of mind through its first rudimentary expressions in various animal species, to the current ability in humanity for self-reflection, exercise of logical reasoning powers, as well as powers of differentiation, abstraction, imagination, extrapolation, and inference, among others, shows that the power of mind is not a fixed and immutable power, but one that evolves and grows over time.

It is therefore to be expected that as the evolutionary progression continues, new, as yet unknown or rarely seen powers of the mind must eventuate. These powers, as they develop more broadly, will represent a next stage or gradation in the development of mind. At some point, there will be a transition from the weak, ignorant seeking of our current error-prone mentality to a mind based in oneness and knowledge. That will be a sign of the supramental emergence in a much more complete sense in the evolutionary cycle.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “Mind founded in life developed intellect, developed its types of knowledge and ignorance, truth and error till it reached the spiritual perception and illumination and now can see as in a glass dimly the possibility of supermind and a truth-conscious existence. In this inevitable ascent the mind of Light is a gradation, an inevitable stage. As an evolving principle it will mark a stage in the human ascent and evolve a new type of human being; this development must carry in it an ascending gradation of its own powers and types of an ascending humanity which will embody more and more the turn towards spirituality, capacity for Light, a climb towards a divinised manhood and the divine life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Mind of Light, pp. 90-91

The Secret Significance and Process of Evolution

Western science has attempted to understand existence by analysis, first and foremost of the outer forms and forces we experience in the world around us. The mind’s analytical and organisational capabilities have been brought intensively to bear upon the forms of existence, the material basis, the vital life-forms and the developments of mental capacity. Charles Darwin conducted extensive research which he recounted in his seminal work in the field titled The Origin of Species. He worked to trace the evolutionary development of forms and organised the material in a way that we could see the successive development of increasingly complex forms capable of more and more intelligent action. He posited that the evolution took place through a process of “survival of the fittest” such that those individuals of a species who were best adapted tended to pass on their genes and thus, successively develop more adaptive individuals in future generations. Those beings who were better adapted to the world tended to survive while others died out.

What he was unable to do was to determine what actually determined and caused and acted as the significant rationale behind this outer process of evolution. Sri Aurobindo noted that the evolution of the outer forms was part of a deeper development of ever-increasing manifestation of consciousness. This consciousness, involved and embedded in Matter, successively begins to manifest overtly as forms are prepared that can utilise and hold this new power and action of consciousness. This represents the hidden significance of evolution and with this key, we can see the trend and understand even the future lines of development that must follow.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “For throughout the story of evolution there are two complementary aspects which constitute its action and are necessary to its totality; there is hidden in the involution of Nature the secret power and principle of being which lies concealed under the veil cast on it by material Nature and there is carried in that Nature itself the inevitable force of the principle compelling the process of emergence of its inherent powers and characters, the essential features which constitute its reality. As the evolutionary principle emerges, there are also two constant features of the process of the emergence: there are the gradations by which it climbs out of the involution and manifests more and more of its power, its possibilities, the force of the Godhead within it, and there is a constant manifestation of all types and forms of its being which are the visible, indicative and efficient embodiments of its essential nature. There appear in the evolutionary process organised forms and activities of Matter, the types of life and the living beings, the types of mind and the thinking beings, the luminosities and greatnesses of the spiritual principle and the spiritual beings whose nature, character, personality, mark the stages of the ascent towards the highest heights of the evolution and the ultimate largest manifestation of what is in itself and must become by the force of time and the all-revealing Spirit. This is the real sense and drive of what we see as evolution: the multiplication and variation of forms is only the means of its process. Each gradation contains the possibility and the certainty of the grades beyond it: the emergence of more and more developed forms and greater powers beyond them, and each emergence of consciousness and the conscious beings proper to it enables the rise to a greater consciousness beyond and the greater order of beings up to the ultimate godheads of which Nature is striving and is destined to show herself capable. Matter developed its organised forms until it became capable of embodying living organisms; then life rose from the subconscience of the plant into conscious animal formations and through them to the thinking life of man.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Mind of Light, Mind of Light, pg. 90