While the idea of the One Spirit as All is the basic concept of Sri Aurobindo, it is also his special and unique contribution in so far as he has tried to bring the two poles of manyness and Oneness together in a dynamic manner by his concept of divine evolution.
He takes for granted that modern science has proved the fact of evolution upto man, based on the large amount of convincing evidence about the general upward movement of life from its most primitive forms to the stage of man. The present century has continued the expansion of the theory of evolution propounded by Charles Darwin. Competent studies have emerged during the past one hundred years on several phases and areas of organic evolution. The transition from the inorganic to the organic is currently tried to be explained scientifically. Materialism has accepted the fact that life has come out of matter in its form of particles or waves or both.
The question is not, philosophically speaking, whether matter or life was the original stuff out of which all have been coming out, but what inherent forces have shaped matter to become life-laden and this in turn has been bringing into being the possibility of mind and its growth in the context of time. It is held by some thinkers namely idealists and absolutists and monists that evolution has not really occurred, it is something that cannot occur. A perfect Spirit has no inner necessity to change for change is a process involving imperfection. And if it did occur it must be due to other reasons than moving towards perfection. If evolution means that there is a goal to which all creation moves then it is not that kind of evolution that can take place in the Perfect or the Absolute1. It may be a delirium of the will that has no other purpose except to exhibit it -- a kind of play if you please to call it like that, but not a real inner necessity for the Absolute, it can have no such inner or outer necessity.
1 A.E. Taylor: Elements of Metaphysics, pp.277-8
Some thinkers deny evolution to which some religions appeal. Dean Inge considers that religion does not need evolution for its acceptance, for spirituality rejects the primacy of the temporal process.2
While facts of evolution are interpreted in terms of the development of higher and more complex forms of life and organized behaviour, theories of evolution usually posit the continuous process arising from a cause, or causes. The original cause whatever it is should contain all the forms and potentialities emerging out of it or shaped out of it. This may be matter and of course it requires another namely motion. It may be Spirit and this requires also activity or motion. The question arises as to how this motion or activity arises or could arise from matter or spirit or is it an original second. Perhaps one could conceive of this Motion to be primary and consider Spirit as pure motion or pure Action whereas matter is either reversed motion or motion that has slowed down so much as to be no motion at all. In between alone we perceive the two terms in wedlock in different degrees.
2 Bertrand Russell: Religion and Science, Home University Library, p.183. cf. Mysticism and Logic.
The birth of motion is said to be owing to a stir in the Spirit which being perfect is changeless or at best must have equilibrium or rest or peace. But the stir or elan is possible only if it has something to realise, there must be a purpose. The stir is a projection out of the original substance, it develops a direction of movement or flow of itself. It may be called 'thought' or 'idea' which obviously must be of two kinds firstly to reveal the potentialities of its own self-recollected nature, or secondly it must be some external purpose which it lacks. If Spirit moves towards matter in a spiral of deterioration or grossening, this seems to be its purpose in evolution which is downward. If matter ascends towards Spirit or moves from grossness towards subtle being, from quantity to quality then it is clear that its purpose is to exhibit what is its potentiality. Any theory which affirms either the one or the other as cause is bound to accept the consequences of potentiality of the one in the other. Monisms have to explain the purpose of this evolution downward or upward and this purpose must be something involving the inner necessity in matter or spirit to become the other. The evolutional theories would be called 'degradation' theory or ‘upgradation’ theory--it depends whether we consider Spirit as more valuable or Matter as more valuable.
But in both cases it is clear that evolution is bound to be a kind of determinism either of spirit or matter - where every step seems logically (causally) to follow from the previous -- a kind of pratitya samutpada -- dependent causation theory affirmed by Buddhistic logic.
But if we consider that the most significant fact about us is the persistency of life, its struggle against matter on the one hand and for spirit on the other, the evolution-story would be the story of life utilising all the resources of spirit on the one hand and utilising all the resources of matter on the other. This is what biological evolution has succeeded in showing. Instead of asking about the metaphysical prius or original stuff we might well discover what it is at the end of our discovery regarding the process of life itself.
It may now be seen that life is freedom to organize the interplay of matter and pure spirit from the humble units of matter to the most complex and indeed subtle organisms of spirit. It is also possible to conjecture that as life has progressed through aeons of evolutionary history it has revealed its manysided simultaneous activities which are marvels of sheer intelligence, unconscious in a sense, but something at which all consciousness marvels as results of ingenuity and intuition which may well be called super-conscious. Though we may discover that matter has brought into being life and life has brought out mind, consciousness, thinking capacity, it would also be clear that these latter are already in incipient stages available in the so called inconscient matter. Thus it is through life that mind releases itself from matter and when we take the further step we may find that it is mind that has released the spirit from matter and life. Incomprehensible though it appears it is well known that the organization of the smallest particle of matter corresponds or is repeated in the Cosmos, in the solar system itself. Similarly it has been discovered that the cell, the unit of living matter is organized in a correspondential manner with that of matter with its nuclei and tissues. There seems to be a similar geometry or structural oneness in all whether it is an atom or cell or psychic being (jiva) or the cosmos. Plato's mystical statement that if you wish to know about man please look at the state and work out the correspondence. To know the small look at the bigger representation of it or its original. Thus mystic intuition has been one of the major helps for the solution of the problem of evolution also. Man is seen to grow and increase and seek out goals beyond himself, beyond death and life too. This fact cannot be denied or dismissed as illusion or fantasy or imagination.
The human being is midway between the atom and the star so said Max Born, and is about the most easily understood by us. But it is precisely this fact that was denied by people who said that though the imperative is 'Know Thyself' yet to know the state is more easy than to know oneself and one can know oneself through the knowledge of the society. In India, however, it was seen that it is more impossible to know the complex texture of a real society which is almost an ideal one if not utopian, and it is more easy to know oneself by the psychological study of his life in Matter, in society, in Spirit. The psychological and biological approach yields more results in so far as the growth of life in matter is concerned. It is the psychological moral approach that leads to the apprehension of the growth of man or mind in life and matter. It is however in the psychological spiritual approach that one discerns universality of evolution beyond man.
Further as Sri Aurobindo who was fully conversant with the theories of Creative Evolution of Henri Bergson, of emergent evolution of Lloyd Morgan and of Samuel Alexander, and of course the Heackelian and Darwinian versions of Evolution, saw that neither the evolution of mind through life of matter nor the evolution of matter through life of spirit can explain the fundamental nature of Evolution itself. n the other hand we witness an integration of several levels of matter and life and mind in the unique organism called man himself. Truly Professor Sherrington in his Gifford Lectures on Man on his nature has revealed the scientific approach towards the integration problem presented in human psychology. The works of Alexis Carrell have shown that we are not in a position to show how all this works. The intelligence seems to baffle all human diagnosis and in fact would thwart its understanding itself. The Spirit of man cannot be identified with his mind, its functions and consciousness. It seems that man is but a preparation for a greater evolutional upsurge, for an integration with higher levels of being not at present open to him but which subtly, perhaps unconsciously push him up from within. This integrational possibility of a higher consciousness -- the Spirit in its purest form or at least more pure than what it has revealed in the human mind and for the human mind, has paved the way for conceiving a Divine Evolution. Professor Whitehead of course has intimated that this may be due to the ‘ingression' of higher ideas, conceived not merely as thoughts or mentational possibilities mathematically conceived but as forces capable of organizing the human tissues to respond to the new cosmic demands made on it by the rapidly changing environment - technology and atomic and nuclear potentialities for well or ill.
"The professed aim of a constructive philosophy of evolution is to work out a scheme which includes both the physical and the psychical”.
"I accept...as part of the constructive scheme of evolutionary philosophy, an ascending hierarchy of kinds of relatedness There is a kind of relatedness (a) of physical events in the atom: there is a supervenient kind of relatedness (b) of atoms in the molecules: there is a further kind of relatedness (c) of specialised molecules in the organic cell: there is the yet further kind of relatedness (d) of all the cellular tissues of the organism. These are only salient examples. We do not find (d) without (c) nor (c) without (b): or as I put it (d) involves (c) and (c) involves (b)
(Lloyd Morgan: Contemporary British Philosophy, Vol. I, p277)
Further Lloyd Morgan finds in evolution not merely relatedness which would be a static hierarchy, of the four kinds mentioned above but also Activity. About this Activity he makes interesting remarks :
"The teaching of one school is that Activity is inserted into nature at this, that or the other 'critical turning point’, of evolutionary advance -- say, at the level of life, or of mind, or (with Des Cartes) of the rational soul. The teaching of the other school, in which I serve, is that Causality (which I would distinguish from the naturalist causation adverted to above) is the universal operation of Spirit manifested everywhere and every when – not only at the level of life or of mind or of reflective consciousness. There is for us one immanent causality, of which the whole course of evolution affords diverse manifestations. On there terms the scientific concept of evolution, as epigenetic may be supplemented (not superseded) by the older philosophical concept of progressive unfolding sub specie temporis of revelations of that Activity which a universally enfolded sub specie eternitatis."
(Lloyd Morgan, ibid., p.304).
The Emergent evolutionist has in fact focussed the importance of having a composite theory of Causality that is continuous as well as discontinuous at points of 'critical turning points' in the evolutionary ascent but which are subordinate to the first type of causality. In other words there is an attempted reconciliation of both occasionalism and determinism. But both are subordinate to the third type of Causality which is that of Divine Plan through freedom—which contracts time or space or both when it transforms matter into higher and higher levels of Being. The denials of Finalism as well as of determinism bode no escape from the dynamic actuality of spiritual growth in man in his movements.
Sri Aurobindo has affirmed in the opening lines of the Life Divine that man yearns after four goals integral to one another and not opposed to each other.
"The divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure truth and unmixed bliss, the sense of immortality”.
Divination or that occult manner of knowing God which is not to be had by means of the senses, nor by thought that infers the unknown by means of the known, but by a direct revelation of the form and nature of God to the awakened intuition. The impulse towards perfection is also not within the competence of consciousness that man has which is intended for his action, vyavahara, in society, in the environment. It is seen that this impulse is directly different from the instincts which are life-preserving autograms so to speak. It is deeper than the need for saving life, for perfection is sought even at the perilous cost of life itself and all. It is a value which transcends life-values. The search after truth and unmixed bliss again is not something like a search for needs of food and clothing and shelter or mate. Truth is indeed different from pragmatic truths, opportunistic acceptances as truth of things which have no roots in reality. Philosophers usually strive after truth for the sake of truth, but mostly they end up in neat non-self-contradictory systems or coherent systems of half-known facts for there are things of which philosophy hardly knows or can become aware of. Profoundly true also is the fact that truth eludes even as happiness, unmixed bliss eludes him when man is confined to his own private being or individuated existence. There has been so far no philosophy that has given us truth, naked and pure; for every philosophy, even the so called eternal ones, is overthrown by a higher intuition and revelation than the previous. Nowadays Existence (existenz) seems to be a category which has superseded truth. But this absolute concept when absolute is meaningless, and when relative too unhelpful. Above all the sense of immortality is a sense of existence and this is a revelation of one's own intrinsic necessity to be which has been overlain by all the others mentioned before.
Sri Aurobindo has clearly and in a classic manner stated the wherefore of evolution; the descent into matter and the ascent into Spirit, are verily for the constant realisation of the sense of existence, of immortality, through the unconscious urges of the former three.
In the Ideal of Human Unity Sri Aurobindo writes:
"Nature starts from the visible manifestation of the one and the many, from the totality and its constituent units and creates intermediary unities between the two without which there can be no full development either of the totality of the units. But whilst in the animal life she is satisfied to separate rigidly and group summarily, in the human she strives on the contrary to override the divisions she has made and lead the whole kind to the sense of unity and realisation of unity.. The ideal or ultimate aim of Nature must be to develop the individual and all individuals to their final capacity, to develop the community and all communities to the full expression of that many-sided existence and potentiality which their differences were created to express, and to evolve the united life of mankind to its full common capacity and satisfaction not by suppressing that of the individual or smaller commonalty but by taking full advantage of the diversity which they develop and so to increase the total riches of mankind and throw them into a fund of common possession and enjoyment.”
(Ideal of Human Unity, ed. 1919, p. 191).
It can be seen that the aim of evolution is more than what has been stated above as the ideal of human unity which Sri Aurobindo has visualised in such clear and unequivocal terms. But it is not mankind that is the goal of man; it is also clear that the ideal above sketched which humanists perhaps are trying in their own dialectical method to realise, cannot be realised that way. It is this discovery of the necessity to go beyond man and his dialectical rationality or dialectical materiality (the two forms under which dialectical frenzies have been taking place in the major movements of our times, namely absolutism and communism) that has made Sri Aurobindo go beyond the mental fabrications of an albeit well-intentioned rationality or humanistic logic. This is the discovery of the emergence of the super-mind which is not merely a substitute for the human mind and the lower minds, but an organizing force of the lower minds to the tasks of the cosmic and global and universal existence. Life has to adapt itself not to the motivations of the instincts or materiality nor to the aspirations and neat coherency schemes or plans of a discursive and dialectical thought or reason but to a new spirit or the supermind. The envisagement of this potentiality in Nature or rather this formulation of Spirit for the evolution of Nature so that Nature may more and more find union and fulfillment in Spirit is one of the serious and creative contributions of Sri Aurobindo to the theory of Evolution.
Though a metaphysical thinker, which he is very properly, Sri Aurobindo tries to evolve his theory as the play of manyness and oneness; yet his diagram of evolution constantly reiterates the historical evolutionary role of the interplay of the one and the many in several grades of realization or levels of unified diversity and diversified unity.
Evolution creates the conditions under which the individuals themselves discover their multiplicity as even the manynesses discover their organized unity. Thus we find that the mystic formula as in the cosmos so in the individual—yatha ande tatha pinde applies with perhaps just a difference that the whole organisation can find itself reversed or inverted at different levels.
This conception of divine evolution provides for the acceptance of the view that all evolution is a creative delight of the play of oneness and manyness in the individual as in the collective. Perhaps we may also conceive of the entire hierarchy of planes of life as holistic (as each being a whole which is integral to wholes of the higher levels of evolution). Altogether the motive for this creative delight of evolutionary activity is an inexplicable secret of the Spirit that is said to take delight in the manyness of the one and the oneness of the many. This includes the idea of a dialectical activity without its trenchant abstractions which kill the many or the one.
The unique advance made by Sri Aurobindo is to explain the transcendence over the human mind in which the abstractive activity of the human mind is surpassed. The human mind creates contradictions, oppositions, real or unreal or fancied, and sets in opposition all types of distinctions and differences. Therefore the dialectic of opposition is the law of the human mind. No one has shown as clearly as Hegel this kind of evolution as a synthesis of opposites. But this was so overworked that Benedetto Croce had to draw attention to the presence of an equally valid synthesis of distincts producing more stable synthesis than the former. This is, he showed, also a kind of dialectic. He considered this to be more spiritual, for Spirit is not only the synthesis a priori, but also a synthesis always in activity which heals all oppositions and confers harmony as well as growth into fullness and perfection. Croce's significant appraisal, I shall not call it analysis, really marks a transcendence of the sense of unity and harmony over the oppositional, debating consciousness that always looks out for fissures and winning points in the opposition.
Sri Aurobindo clearly perceives the twofold process in Reality. In his Riddle of the World he writes:
"There are in fact two systems simultaneously active in the organization of being and its parts: one is concentric a series of rings or sheaths with the psyche at the centre: another is vertical, an ascension and descent, like a flight of steps, a series of superimposed planes with the supermind-overmind as the crucial nodus of the transition beyond the human into the divine." (p.7)
It is only when the consciousness of the vertical becomes dominant to the vision that one goes beyond the concentric or rises above the concentric. Obviously humanity as also every other plane has this double characteristic. But each system in turn is also infected with this dual-being of the oneness and the manyness.
The higher levels of mind to which some of the past seers had access have been shown to be the Overmind and supermind (vijnana). The Upanishads have intimated this. They have also intimated the fourth condition (turiya) and some have even affirmed the Turyatita beyond the fourth state. Some have affirmed the Void --Unground--Paramam Vyoman. Sri Aurobindo in bringing all these into a systematic exposition has shown how the evolution of all life to these states is possible to man, who is yearning for that which is ultimate and beyond himself.
In fact if we consider that all evolution is a process of interrelating or rather is a process of uniting the divided and in the words of Lloyd Morgan establishing dynamic relationships, then the same could be described as Yoga. Life is a creative process of uniting or unifying properly for growth and increase of consciousness the several units of existence. Organization for growth of the psychic centre makes this less conspicuously unconscious. In man this psychic centre has begun to come into function, and all urges and yearnings are of it. It is from that centre the vertical movement must take place and can.
The descriptions of the overmind reveals the greater and greater subordination of the concentric movement to the ascending movement and in fact it is even a force necessary for a take off from even the physical body. The overmind really begins to see that the two systems are incompatible and the acceptance of the one is the rejection of the other. This has been the general view of spiritual evolution. It involves the rejection of the physical evolution, in fact it is a necessity for spiritual growth (ujjivana). The world has witnessed in all the religions this basic opposition between this world and the yonder world, between the soul and the body, each having its own domain and exclusive of one another. Almost all religious literature or even the spiritual mystic literature reveals this tendency.
This negation is a basic negation (vairagya) and all thought is focussed to establish this negation (viveka). It is against this that Sri Aurobindo projects his vision of the supermind which is a supreme affirmation of the integral organisational possibility of the physical life with the life of the Spirit. This meeting place of the life at two planes is crucial to the spiritual evolution becoming the legitimate next step to the biological instinct-intellectual evolutions that Bergson has so graphically evaluated, in his Creative Evolution and also his Two Sources of Morality and Religion.3
3 S.K. Maitra: ‘The Philosophy of Bergson’ : Review of Philosophy and Religion, 1942, Allahabad; ‘Sri Aurobindo and Bergson’: Sri Aurobindo Pathamandir Annual, 1942.
Sri Aurobindo sees that the emergence of the Supermind is due to its descent into the organic mental body of man today and though it had several descents in individual cases as in the case of the avatars, yet for the first time in the evolutionary history the Supermind is to become the universal possibility of every one. It is clear that this is rendered possible by the sufficient growth of man to receive this ingression or new transforming force from the Absolute Spirit as a gift or grace so to speak so that the oppositional unification could be replaced by the organisation of an utterly spiritual kind. Mechanical ways of unity or even the enforced co-operational covenants hardly make for the change in the consciousness. Man is capable of becoming divine only when the divine consciousness takes up the entire work of physio-biological and psychic transformation. This requires a technique of a different kind and that is the supramental Yoga, a yoga which is carried on by the Supermind or one who is its advent or its full possessor. Individuals as well as collective organisations and institutions should offer themselves for this conversion or transformation of their very being in the light of this supermind. Supermind when it becomes the operational principle in man makes for his superman hood which is the next biological spiritual step. The physical change is no less an imperative of this supermind than the ordinary life of mind.
This is obviously the next step in spiritual evolution. It is not something that happens by the mere will to evolve as one very eminent stated – evolution happened in the animal, it has to be willed in the human, which is an unconscious limitation of the famous utterance of F. Nietzsche: Will to power. It is on the other hand a deep humility of the human to surrender and offer one's humanity at the altar of the Super-personality -- supermind. The recognition that at this level offering oneself to the Divine totally and in all one's parts is more powerful as an evolutionary force than the will to power, will to survive, or will to adapt is a dynamic resolution to the problem of the ego, that has been the bar to further progress or ascent and has only wheeled the individuals in the concentric circles of a horizontal movement.
May be it is not the final step for the vast oceans of the Infinite are yet to be traversed -- though not in sorrow or misery but in the growing awareness of that original principle -- the Brahman – the Vast, Saccidananda -- the three supernals of Vedantic thought. That these have to be traversed in growing delight or newer and sweeter delights unmixed with sorrow or pain or death is undoubtedly the goal Whether the supermentalisation of humanity even if it be in part will halt the other processes is a question of questions. Sri Aurobindo has basically stated the goal, the need, the way and the realisation of the supermind consciousness as the next step in spiritual evolution, the first after the biological human. A physical immortality may be a crowning achievement but the first appears to be the necessity for the physical to bear the force and weight of the descent and the capacity to yield to the stresses of the Spirit on it without breaking up. But these require the tender care of the Master of Wisdom of the Supramental activity and cannot be realised without it.
In spiritual evolution the necessity for the work of God or his deputy is very necessary to pull up the individual, to remove the 'golden lid that covers the face of truth' (Isa Up.) of the individual ego, as it is a barrier which the individual cannot push out from within. The immanence of the Divine is not sufficient to push out the lid or open it from within. The transcendence of God is necessary for this act. Therefore the typical mechanistic explanation of evolution or even the vitalistic (elan vitalistic) explanation of the impulse from within does not satisfy the higher need. On the other hand the eternal transcendence of the Deity in His ultimate status has been always at work at different levels of evolution--all of which are underway without intermission. No step of evolution has been totally annulled by the occurrence of the higher type or plane of being. At each level the evolutionary pulling up of the lower has been and is at work. At the human level we are aware of the need for the higher pull up, removing of the lid that bars man's higher evolution or the evolution of those who seek to go beyond man.
The Guru or Master is thus absolutely necessary for the Yoga of spiritual ascent and evolution. It is clear that God alone can be the adequate Guru or evolutor and that is the reason why almost all disciples hold the Guru to be God Himself incarnate. However it is only after the evolution into the highest or supermanic status happens that one really recognizes the godhood. The fact that through all this training the Guru had been keeping watch over the individual aspirant and in fact carried him in his womb so to speak, makes the Guru verily a Mother. Sri Aurobindonian view sees in this a rare possibility of the Mother who at every level and plane of the disciple had been protecting the disciple and training him or watching over his spiritual evolution from the human to the Divine. Leaving the mythological garb in which he has dressed this fourfold activity of the Mother-function of the Guru, or Advent, it can be seen that the jnana, vairagya, aisvarya and sakti are the necessary gifts for the transformation of the entire nature which is fourfold, physical, vital, mental, and supramental.
To bring them upto perfection is the work of the Higher Supramental Nature, advented as Mother or Guru.
Needless to emphasize that the many implications of the genius of Sri Aurobindo do require an experimental experience to verify the same. It is fervently to be hoped that this process which is underway under the guidance of the Mother in Sri Aurobindo Ashram will be realised in the not too distant future.
It would be clear from the above that Sri Aurobindo has revealed genuine advance in his concepts of (1) the relation between the One and the many (2) in the solution to the problem of hierarchical organic relationship that goes along with the problem of the Transcendent or the Absolute (3) by revealing the spiritual evolution as a continuous development with the physio-biological evolution of the scientists (4) by revealing that the only manner by which Spirit can be real to matter and matter can be real to spirit is to accept the spirituality of matter and the materiality of spirit both of which are expressed by the idealism of the one and the realism of the other. Fifthly it can be shown that the ascent is not a mere objectification or heterogenefication of the homogenous One, but an integral revivification of the two poles of reality so that both are fully exhibited to the perfect superman. The last is the most relevant to the human situation. However it is to be noted that whenever Sri Aurobindo tries to expound the mystic or occult reality he utilises the super-consciousness or his supramental consciousness, not the humanistic jargon so famous and current to the modern intellectuals both within and without the academies and universities. It is basically necessary to realize that Sri Aurobindo uses that kind of knowledge that discerns by identity the real in its integral and concrete status what the intellect would only understand by means its knowledge by difference. His epistemological preparation is about the most striking evidence of his being more true as a world philosopher than the encyclopaedic intellectuality of even the most brilliant of the philosophers who could best be described as brilliant mediocres (humanists).
Whether the knowing by identity is possible to all mankind is problematical. But that it has been one of the most concrete possessions of the Mystics and Indian Seers of the original Darshanas is undoubted. Much of our failures to grasp the intuitive axioms of the several Darshanas today lies in this lack of pramana, the capacity to know by identity -- that which the Isavasyopanisad has stated most luminously:
Sa paryagat sukram akayam avranam asnaviram suddham apapaviddham Kavirmanisi paribhuh svyambhur yathatathyato’rthan vyadadhat sasvatibhyah samabhyah ||8||
“It is he that has gone abroad-That which is bright bodiless, without scar of imperfection, without sinews pure, unpierced by evil. The Seer, the Thinker, the One who becomes everywhere, the Self-existent has ordered objects perfectly according to their nature from years sempiternal."