“The animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious cooperation she wills to work out the superman1.” Sri Aurobindo wrote these words almost a century ago in what is generally considered his magnum opus, The Life Divine. Today his name is not unknown, but the contents and significance of his vision and spiritual work undoubtedly are. His philosophic vision was and remains revolutionary. All past and present spiritual and religious efforts are directed towards a Hereafter — Heaven, Nirvana, Brahmaloka, etc. — but Sri Aurobindo stuck to the fundamental meaning of the : if all is That, then matter, the earth and our physical body also are That. “Brahman is the Alpha and the Omega. Brahman is the One besides whom there is nothing else existent2.”
Sri Aurobindo’s vision is also evolutionary. If Brahman (the Absolute) is All, and if there is nothing but Brahman, then everything that is, wherever or whenever, must be Brahman. This means that all the gradations of being are the Divine himself — although Brahman also exists beyond his emanations as the silent Brahman, “self-absorbed”. In the gradations of the manifestation, which are as many levels of worlds encompassing the Divine Being, Brahman incorporates Itself in various degrees of substance, from the highest planes of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss down to the lowest of Matter and the Inconscient. Evolution can only happen if there is something to evolve from. If evolution as we know it started with matter, then all that developed out of it must already have been involved in it. “Matter also is Brahman3.” “Present in every atom of Matter all this is necessarily present in everything which is formed by the aggregation of those atoms, and they are present in the atom because they are present in the Force which builds up and constitutes the atom4.”
The human being stands somewhere halfway on the evolutionary ladder, between the material, vegetable and animal kingdom, and the reaches above the human mind. “This Man is the Manu, the thinker, the Manomaya Purusha, mental person or soul in mind of the ancient sages. No mere superior animal is he, but a conceptive soul basing itself on the animal body in Matter5.” Far from seeking a means to escape the stringent conditions of the earth and the earthly body, Sri Aurobindo, together with his co-seeker known as the Mother, tackled the human condition head-on. This meant a revaluation of human life and its evolutionary environment. “The touch of Earth is always reinvigorating to the son of Earth, even when he seeks a supraphysical Knowledge. It may even be said that the supraphysical can only be really mastered in its fullness … when we keep our feet firmly on the physical. ’Earth is His footing’, says the Upanishad whenever it images the Self that manifests in the universe6.”
One problem with which philosophy and psychology have been wrestling since their beginning, and of which one finds traces on every page of the writings on these subjects, is the image of the human being. The testimony of a “divination” of something better, higher, deeper, more beautiful, truer, crops up everywhere. Yet the opinions about the means of the realisation of those supremely desirable things differ with each and every authority. For these means are inherent in the human being itself. And how shall it find its accomplishment if it has no clear idea of how it fits together and how it functions, physically, psychologically and spiritually? For instance, does the human have a triple soul, as we read in Plato, or is his nature a duality of a physical body and the “epiphenomenon” of a rational soul, as we find in Descartes? How can the human being know itself, master itself and work out its potentialities if it has no clear idea of its own constitution?
A second fundamental problem is the gap supposedly existing between the human being, child of the Earth, and God. It is dogmatically taught that God sits too high to be met by a lowly, earthly creature, and many mystics who experienced otherwise have paid dearly for their unorthodoxy. But the evolutionary ladder or “chain of being” is a reality according to which we live, whether we look down or up from our rung on that ladder. Sri Aurobindo was the first to describe accurately the levels above our rational mind, basing himself on hoary scripture and on his own thoroughly tested experience. It is from those levels that descend our inspirations and aspirations (from where else?), and so did the riches of the “golden ages” which ornate, on rather rare occasions, the history of mankind. And above that he discovered, glorious intermediary between us and the Divine, the Sun of the Supermind.
The Supermind is not an inflated mind, as readers of Friedrich Nietzsche might suppose. It is a supra-mind, the manifesting power of the Divine, the Real-Idea, the reality behind and in all, because its stuff is the Godhead itself. “We have to regard this all-containing, all-originating, all-consummating Supermind as the matter of the Divine Being, not indeed in its absolute self-existence, but as the Lord and Creator of its own worlds. This is the truth of that which we call God7.” The Supermind is the executive power of the divine manifestation as a whole and a unity; it is the essential reality of the galaxy and the grain of sand, neither of which could exist without it. Thus we are back at our first quotation, announcing the evolution of the superman, the incarnation of the Supermind on earth. For Sri Aurobindo and the Mother the superman as a race is the future of humanity, and his realisation the rationale of the world and its creation.
Yes, we are still far from the apparition of such a godlike being. Therefore Sri Aurobindo’s vision is one of the very few that does not predict or promise an immediate completion. But the signs that the Earth is “in travail”, as he writes, have become unmistakable. In 1947 he formulated what he called his ’five dreams’, key-notes which he had expounded in his writings during the First World War, at a time when their fulfilment looked improbable, not to say impossible. They were: the freedom of India, which has an important role to play in humanity’s future; the awakening of Asia; the formation of supranational conglomerates, like the European Union and ASEAN, which would lead to the unification of humankind; world-unity; and the spreading of the Indian spirituality and its techniques of self-realisation, necessary for the change in the human being without which a better future is not feasible.
None of these five dreams is fully realised, but all five have arrived at a substantial degree of elaboration, and this in an amazingly short time when compared to processes of a similar importance in the human past. No doubt, the world is growing one, and behind this decisive evolution there may well be what Sri Aurobindo foresaw in his writings a century ago, for instance in his essay The Ideal of Human Unity. The post-modern professional philosophers have come to doubt the workings of the mind and the visions or fantasies it has produced. But for the ancient Greeks philosophy was much more than a way of thinking, it was a way of being, and so it has always been for the true sages in East and West. Ultimately, what is of importance is not what humans think, but what they inwardly become. And the true evolution, the evolution of matter and spirit, will never cease pushing humanity towards its goal. This may well be the equation behind the universe: that in the end the happiness, or joy, or ecstasy, or bliss, should at least be equivalent to the suffering required to arrive there. The secret soul in the humans will give them no repose, says Sri Aurobindo, for it is the Godhead working out Its cycles.
All shall be done for which our pain was borne.
Even as of old man came behind the beast
This high divine successor surely shall come
Behind man’s inefficient mortal pace …
Inheritor of the toil of human time
He shall take on him the burden of the gods;
All heavenly light shall visit the earth’s thoughts,
The might of heaven shall fortify earthly hearts;
Earth’s deeds shall touch the superhuman’s heights,
Earth’s seeing widen into the infinite.8
1. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 4.
2. Id., p. 33.
3. Id., p. 6.
4. Id., p.184.
5. Id., p. 46.
6. Id., p. 11.
7. Id., p. 132.
8. Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, book three, canto four.