The Perfection of the Spiritual Life

The evolution of the self-aware mental consciousness in man has disturbed the balance and the functioning perfection of the material and vital life.  Plants and animals operate under the impulsion of what we call instinct, which is essentially a pattern of living and being that is encoded into them and which creates a fixed round of action and reaction based on that encoded response information.  When we observe the life of man, it is easy to recognise that a new power has developed and that this power disrupts the instinctive pattern and functioning of not only humanity, but of all life with which we interact.  The limitations of the mental consciousness make it certain that exclusive focus in one direction or another will lead to imbalances and this leads to further attempts at course corrections.  We then tend to swing from one extreme to another in our attempt to re-establish our balance.

The evolution of the spiritual consciousness brings with it the cure for the imbalances and disharmonies caused by the intervention of the mental consciousness in the automatic actions of the physical-vital level of existence.  Spiritual consciousness does not rely on artificial patterns or restrictions, but on conscious, self-aware responsive creativity to changing circumstances and complexity in life.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The higher perfection of the spiritual life will come by a spontaneous obedience of spiritualised man to the truth of his own realised being, when he has become himself, when he has found his own real nature.  For this spontaneity will not be instinctive and subconscient, it will be intuitive and fully, integrally conscious.  It will be a glad obedience to a spontaneous principle of spiritual light, to the force of a unified and integralised highest truth, largest beauty, good, power, joy, love, oneness.  The object of this force acting in life will and must be as in all life growth, possession, enjoyment, but a growth which is a divine manifestation, a possession and enjoyment spiritual and of the spirit in things, — an enjoyment that will use, but will not depend on the mental, vital and physical symbols of our living.  Therefore this will not be a limited perfection of arrested development dependent on the repetition of the same forms and the same round of actions, any departure from which becomes a peril and a disturbance.  It will be an illimitable perfect capable of endless variation in its forms, — for the ways of the Spirit are countless and endless, — but securely the same in all variations, one but multitudinously infinite.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pg. 243


Spiritual Development Is the Key to Man’s Perfection

A key distinction between man and animals is the higher expression of mind and the aspiration towards spiritual realisation, which makes it impossible for man to remain satisfied with the daily round of vital activities and satisfactions which occupy the denizens of the animal kingdom.  This is a progressive evolutionary development built on the foundation of the physical and vital life that had developed previously, but not entirely bound by it.  There is an increasing force of consciousness at work which expresses itself through higher centres of expression.  This is actually the basis of the concept of the chakras and their characteristic force.  The lower chakras mirror the physical and vital energies at work and represent the drives toward fulfillment of survival needs and desire for vital satisfactions.  As energy flows through the higher chakras, there is a new focus on emotional development and expression, and still higher chakras evidence the working of will and reasoning intelligence.  Yet higher chakras, as they begin to open and allow energy to flow, bring about the aspiration for spiritual realisation and the connection with the universal truth of Oneness.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This upward transference of our will to be and our power of life we have, then, to make the very principle of our perfection.  That will, that power must choose between the domination of the vital part in us and the domination of the spirit.  Nature can rest in the round of vital being, can produce there a sort of perfection, but that is the perfection of an arrested development satisfied with its own limits.  This she can manage in the plant and the animal, because the life and the body are there at once the instrument and the aim; they do not look beyond themselves.  She cannot do it in man because here she has shot up beyond her physical and vital basis; she has developed in him the mind which is an outflowering of the life towards the light of the Spirit, and the life and the body are now instrumental and no longer their own aim.  Therefore the perfection of man cannot consist in pursuing the unillumined round of the physical life.  Neither can it be found in the wider rounds of the mental being; for that also is instrumental and tends towards something else beyond it, something whose power indeed works in it, but whose larger truth is superconscient to its present intelligence, supramental.  The perfection of man lies in the unfolding of the ever-perfect Spirit.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 242-243

Spiritual Realism: Reconciling the Real and the Ideal

We can observe a seed, and call that “reality”.  We cannot see, at that moment, the development and growth of the future tree, which represents the “ideal”.  When we observe a caterpillar, we cannot see that in a short span of time, it will transform into a butterfly.  Reality, which we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell, represents the life of the world around us, and it is easy to acknowledge it as “real”.  The developments of the future, however, appear to our minds as insubstantial and as flights of imagination.  If we look back, however, through history, we can see innumerable examples of what were considered to be unreal, idealistic, imaginative speculations, that actually represented the future that eventuated.  It is therefore essential to recognise that in a similar way, today, those things which we call unrealistic, idealistic, may actually represent a next future development reflected in our deepest aspirations and strivings.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “And that must be why in thought, in art, in conduct, in life we are always divided between two tendencies, one idealistic, the other realistic.  The latter very easily seems to us more real, more solidly founded, more in touch with actualities because it relies upon a reality which is patent, sensible and already accomplished; the idealistic easily seems to us something unreal, fantastic, unsubstantial, nebulous, a thing more of thoughts and words than of live actualities, because it is trying to embody a reality not yet accomplished.  To a certain extent we are perhaps right; for the ideal, a stranger among the actualities of our physical existence, is in fact a thing unreal until it has either in some way reconciled itself to the imperfections of our outer life or else has found the greater and purer reality for which it is seeking and imposed it on our outer activities; till then it hangs between two worlds and has conquered neither the upper light nor the nether darkness. Submission to the actual by a compromise is easy; discovery of the spiritual truth and the transformation of our actual way of living is difficult: but it is precisely this difficult thing that has to be done, if man is to find and fulfil his true nature.  Our idealism is always the most rightly human thing in us, but as a mental idealism it is a thing ineffective.  To be effective it has to convert itself into a spiritual realism which shall lay its hands on the higher reality of the spirit and take up for it this lower reality of our sensational, vital and physical nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 241-242

The Secret Evolutionary Intention at Work in Humanity

Anthropologists have spent a lot of time analyzing how humans made the leap from the vital consciousness of the animal to the mental consciousness and its powers of thought, will and action.  Those who look at outward things describe the event of descending from the trees to walking upright on the earth as a seminal step that led to a different consciousness and the development of tool-making.  Others have speculated that the influence of alien beings from another planet or galaxy came and enlivened our consciousness!  Still others indicate that human beings were created out of dust and by eating of a certain fruit, the power of the mind was awakened.

Each of these approaches signifies, not a final determination of how this change occurred, nor even an inner insight into the processes of Nature that bring forth the results that are already encoded in the seed of each being, but they do indicate a recognition that some essential difference of consciousness arose that could be clearly distinguished from the vital animal consciousness.  Even recognising that this transition has not been perfect, nor completed, it is fair to ask the question about the next phase in expression or development of consciousness beyond the mental phase, as it is clear that the mind is not a final step but an intermediate one.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The secret of the transformation lies in the transference of our centre of living to a higher consciousness and in a change of our main power of living.  This will be a leap or an ascent even more momentous than that which Nature must at one time have made from the vital mind of the animal to the thinking mind still imperfect in our human intelligence.  The central will implicit in life must be no longer the vital will in the life and the body, but the spiritual will of which we have now only rare and dim intimations and glimpses.  For now it comes to us hardly disclosed, weakened, disguised in the mental Idea; but it is in its own nature supramental and it is its supramental power and truth that we have somehow to discover.  The main power of our living must be no longer the inferior vital urge of Nature which is already accomplished in us and can only whirl upon its rounds about the ego-centre, but that spiritual force of which we sometimes hear and speak but have not yet its inmost secret.  For that is still retired in our depths and waits for our transcendence of the ego and the discovery of the true individual in whose universality we shall be united with all others.  To transfer from the vital being, the instrumental reality in us, to the spirit, the central reality, to elevate to that height our will to be and our power of living is the secret which our nature is seeking to discover.  All that we have done hitherto is some half-successful effort to transfer this will and power to the mental plane; our highest endeavour and labour has been to become the mental being and to live in the strength of the idea.  But the mental idea in us is always intermediary and instrumental; always it depends on something other than it for its ground of action and therefore although it can follow for a time after its own separate satisfaction, it cannot rest for ever satisfied with that alone.  It must either gravitate downwards and outwards towards the vital and physical life or it must elevate itself inwards and upwards towards the spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pg. 241

The One Thing Needful

Humanity has recognised and addressed the spiritual aspect of life in the past, but always within the context of some form of compromise.  Either the outer life has been suppressed in order to achieve some kind of high spiritual realisation; or the outer life has been embellished with an influence of the spiritual life, while underlying both of these approaches to the Spirit, the basic actions of body, life and mind remain essentially unchanged.  What Sri Aurobindo has recognized and brought forward is the need to utterly transform life, at all levels, through a complete integration of the spiritual force into all aspects of our existence.

“As it is possible to superimpose the intellectual, ethical or aesthetic life or the sum of their motives upon the vital and physical nature, to be satisfied with a partial domination or a compromise, so it is possible to superimpose the spiritual life or some figure of strength or ascendency of spiritual ideas and motives on the mental, vital and physical nature and either to impoverish the latter, to impoverish the vital and physical existence and even to depress the mental as well in order to give the spiritual an easier domination, or else to make a compromise and leave the lower being to its pasture on condition of its doing frequent homage to the spiritual existence, admitting to a certain extent, greater or less, its influence and formally acknowledging it as the last state and the finality of the human being.  This is the most that human society has ever done in the past, and though necessarily that must be a stage of the journey, to rest there is to miss the heart of the matter, the one thing needful.  Not a humanity leading its ordinary life, what is now its normal round, touched by spiritual influences, but a humanity aspiring whole-hearedly to a law that is now abnormal to it until its whole life has been elevated into spirituality, is the steep way that lies before man towards his perfection and the transformation that it has to achieve.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 240-241

The Ideal of the Kingdom of God on Earth

The secret of human life lies in the realisation that man needs to seek his highest development and perfection, which is an integration of the spirit into all aspects of life.  The modern world is a testament to the near exclusive focus of the mental capacities on the understanding and exploitation of the physical and vital principles of life, yet we can easily observe the weaknesses and failures of this approach as we look around at the situation the world is facing.  The ancient cultures of the East came nearer to unlocking the secret but did so primarily in the context of disassociating the spirit from the aspects of matter, life and mind.  Thus, in the West we find an over-arching emphasis on material development and in the East, a culture that has understood some of the deeper issues of the spirit, but has sadly failed to integrate this into life.  We see here the normal human reactions of exclusive concentration that has failed at integrating and balancing diverse elements of human capacity.  The solution is to be found in just such an integrated and balanced approach that places the spirit as the lead, while upholding and upgrading the powers of body, mind and vital force to serve the highest aspirations of which humanity is capable.

Sri Aurobindo advises:  “We have then to return to the pursuit of an ancient secret which man, as a race, has seen only obscurely and followed after lamely … the ideal of the kingdom of God, the secret of the reign of the Spirit over mind and life and body.  It is because they have never quite lost hold of this secret, never disowned it in impatience for a lesser victory, that the older Asiatic nations have survived so persistently and can now, as if immortal, raise their faces towards a new dawn; for they have fallen asleep, but they have not perished.  It is true that they have for a time failed in life, where the European nations who trusted to the flesh and the intellect have succeeded; but that success, speciously complete but only for a time, has always turned into a catastrophe.  Still Asia has failed in life, she had fallen in the dust …  still the dust is not the proper place for man, nor is to lie prostrate in it his right human attitude.  Asia temporarily failed not because she followed after things spiritual … but because she did not follow after the spirit sufficiently, did not learn how entirely to make it the master of life.  Her mind either made a gulf and a division between life and the Spirit or else rested in a compromise between them and accepted as final socio-religious systems founded upon that compromise.  So to rest is perilous; for the call of the Spirit more than any other demands that we shall follow it always to the end, and the end is neither a divorce and departure nor a compromise, but a conquest of all by the spirit and that reign of the seekers after perfection which, in the Hindu religious symbol, the last Avatar comes to accomplish.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 239-240

Seeking for the Highest Levels of Human Fulfillment

The reaction to the materialistic age and its failures, its mind-numbing, soul-killing attempt to satiate vital desire and physical comfort at the expense of any higher values, are beginning to become clear, as we observe more people turning to spirituality, yoga, mystical religion, vision quests, etc.  There is an aspiration for something deeper, truer and higher which cannot be satisfied by more material goods or more vital entertainment.  Past attempts to achieve a higher realisation simply did not go far enough and thus, led to either one-sided attempts that denied the reality of the world as an important aspect of the fulfillment to be sought, or tried to compromise with the insistence of the vital being and thereby achieved less than the ultimate possible realisation.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The solution lies, we have said, in an awakening to our real, because our highest self and nature, — that hidden self which we are not yet, but have to become and which is not the strong and enlightened vital Will hymned by Nietzsche, but a spiritual self and spiritual nature that will use the mental being which we already are, but the mental being spiritualised, and transform by a spiritual ideality the aim and action of our vital and physical nature.  For this is the formula of man in his highest potentiality, and safety lies in tending towards our highest and not in resting content with an inferior potentiality.  To follow after the highest in us may seem to be to live dangerously, to use again one of Nietzsche’s inspired expressions, but by that danger comes victory and security.  To rest in or follow after an inferior potentiality may seem safe, rational, comfortable, easy, but it ends badly, in some futility or in a mere circling, down the abyss or in a stagnant morass.  Our right and natural road is towards the summits.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pp. 238-239