In The Life Divine Sri Aurobindo quotes the triple statement of the Upanishads: “Brahman is in all things, all things are in Brahman, all things are Brahman”.1 The Upanishads, the foundation of Vedanta, have been a living source of spiritual inspiration since they were formulated some three thousand years ago; yet the full scope of their significance was not put into practice until Sri Aurobindo dedicated himself to the implementation of their unadulterated message. In the meantime there had been Mahavir and the Buddha, Shankara and Christ, and a multitude of great saints and realized souls; but no religion or spiritual path teaches that Brahman, the Omnipresent Reality, is “this old man and boy and girl, this bird, this insect”2 – and this shopping housewife, this jetliner, this cancer tumour and this self-immolating fanatic … All spiritual paths and all churches point toward a hereafter, moksha, nirvana, and teach how to get out of this life or cycle of lives by what they suppose to be the shortest way possible. Matter is the anti-Divine, the body is a burden, a prison, a tomb. Individual escape out of this bad or illusionary sub-lunar world is the direct goal, after which all will be happiness and ecstasy in eternity. Yet to Sri Aurobindo, from the very beginning of his sadhana, “a solitary salvation leaving the world to its fate was felt as almost distasteful”.3 And he wrote about his Yoga: “Even the Tantra and Vaishnavism end in the release from life; here the object is the divine fulfillment of life”.4
In the course of his sadhana he gradually became aware of the dimensions of the spiritual innovation to be brought about by him. Firstly, matter and the Earth were no longer seen as something despicable in which the soul had descended by some accident or other. The statement of the Upanishad “Matter also is Brahman” was to be taken literally, and the physical universe was seen as “the external body of the Divine Being”.5 He wrote: “Earth-life is not a lapse into the mire of something undivine, vain and miserable, offered by some Power to itself as a spectacle or to the embodied soul as a thing to be suffered and then cast away from it: [on the contrary] it is the scene of the evolutionary unfolding of the being which moves towards the revelation of a supreme spiritual light and power and joy and oneness, but includes in it also the manifold diversity of the self-achieving spirit. There is an all-seeing purpose in the terrestrial creation; a divine plan is working itself out through its contradictions and perplexities …”6
Secondly, the “evolutionary unfolding of the being” became more than a naturalist scientific theory, it became a spiritual fact directly significant for the effort of the Yoga. Much of our bodies, life forces and mental capacities is shaped by evolution. We carry the development of life on the Earth not only in our visible body but deep in ourselves, where the past continues to be present and must be overcome if we want to advance into the future. The chakras represent the earthly and therefore cosmic evolution in us and are hierarchically ordered from below upwards, toward the levels which are worlds of consciousness above our present human rationality, to be integrated in the bodies of the future. True, in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga one has first to realize the psychic and overmental, spiritual realizations, but then, strengthened with these realizations, one has to descend into the nether regions of the subconscious, where are the dark roots of humanity.
Thirdly, Sri Aurobindo had the revelation of the Supermind, the divine Truth-Consciousness. This is the consciousness in which all is one and is experienced as one, in the timeless immensities as well as in the time-bound sub-atomic materializations; it is the consciousness which eternally contains all in itself, manifests all out of itself and then takes all again into its bosom. This is the true “mind of God” behind the mysteries of the infinite and the infinitesimal, confounding present-day science because it is incapable of widening its vision beyond the physical realm. And Sri Aurobindo saw that this Truth-Consciousness, however high or far or deep beyond or present mind, was the only basis to realize the next step in evolution for which the time had come. “This knowledge first he had of time-born men.”7
Lastly, to work out his vision and his personal realizations of it, he had to establish a method which could be followed by others, a spiritual path which he called the “Integral Yoga”. For it had to contain the essence of humanity’s spiritual achievements in the past in order to integrate them into a vision of the future. In this spiritual undertaking, in the working out of this “new spirituality”, he and the Mother stood alone. Time and again they have compared their pioneering effort to hewing a path in the jungle, advancing through constant danger into the unknown. For the mighty Powers-that-be, hostile to any new spiritual acquisition or change, become merciless when their reign is threatened and their dominant position on the Earth might come to an end. “My gaping wounds are a thousand and one / And the Titan kings assail …” wrote Sri Aurobindo in his marvelous autobiographical poem “A God’s Labour”.8
All this together was — and is — the Aurobindian revolution. “Revolution” is often nothing more than an overblown word. But if initiating a new step in the terrestrial evolution, based on the materialization of a consciousness beyond our present mind and even imagination, and to be incorporated into a material being on the Earth – if this is not a revolution, then what is?
It is but seldom realized that at the time of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s early lives the coming of the “superman” was felt by many to be necessary and even imminent. The name of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose thinking Sri Aurobindo was very familiar with, will come to mind. But there was also Marx’ newhomo economicus, there was the new atheistic and humanitarian man of August Comte, the Freudian and Jungian new man, and several more. Those were indeed the decades of an intense reaction of discontent against the dry rationality of the Enlightenment. This reaction would lead to fascism, with its own ideal of the new man, the man of the deed, and ultimately to Hitler’s ruthless superman, the “blonde beast”.
Still the historical perspective should be extended much farther backwards in time. For if this was, and is, the moment of a new evolutionary creation which is the fulfillment of the evolutionary past and makes a quantum leap beyond it, it must mean that Nature had worked out all the preliminary stages on the Earth to their utmost possibilities. As the Mother said, there are long periods of preparation, but then there is the moment in which the evolutionary saltus happens. Today’s humanity in upheaval is certainly significative of such a critical moment in its evolution.
The “procession” of avatars is well-known in Hinduism and, as Sri Aurobindo remarked, pictures the successive evolutionary stages perfectly9. Sri Krishna declared in the Bhagawad Gita that the avatar comes at times when humanity is in crisis.10 The materialization of a new step in the evolution, like every birth, is a time of intensest crisis, qua importance exceeding by far the “axis-times” as defined by Karl Jaspers. The beings of an established level of evolution are themselves incapable of piercing the ceiling of their species, of going beyond the highest stratum of their materialization. Such a breakthrough can be effected only by a direct intervention from “above”, materially incarnated in a being which in India is known as avatar. Sri Aurobindo argues in one of his letters that between the hominids and homo sapiensthere had to be an avatar, in that case Lord Rama. If so, there had to be an avatar to initiate the still greater leap between homo sapiens and the supramental being – and we know the name of that avatar: Sri Aurobindo-Mother,
A single being in two bodies clasped,
A diarchy of two united souls.11
For the first time in the history of humanity a complete, double-poled avatar incarnated representing He and She, the male and female principle on all levels of existence and manifestation.
The Divine takes on a material body in what could be called metaphorically an “avataric field”. This consists of a preparatory period leading up to his appearance. Then there is his presence on earth when he lays the foundations of the change he has come down to bring about, always against impossible odds because he has come to do the impossible. While the decisive change is taking place only a few humans are aware of his presence, and fewer still are aware of the implications of his work. When the avatar has left his earthly body a transitory period follows, often of great confusion. And finally comes the time of the accomplishment of the evolutionary or spiritual change, perceptible to all and having a permanent impact on the destiny of humanity as a whole.
We are in the transitory period between the presence of the avatar and the concrete realization of his purpose. Our strength is in our faith, unreasonable or maybe grotesque in the eyes of those who do not have the call to participate consciously in the Great Change. One of the keywords of the Integral Yoga is “surrender” because, having dedicated our lives to the Work, we accept that the ultimate realization – the transformation of the body — will not be ours in this life. But to support our faith there is the presence of Sri Aurobindo and of the Mother – for the task of the avatar is not limited by his and her physical incarnation; and we can inwardly open to the supramental force, manifested in the Earth-atmosphere in 1956, and its deputy, the force descended in 1969 to enable the realization of the overmental, transitional or intermediary being. Trying to become intermediary beings (“overwomen” and “overmen” —surhommes) is, according to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the task given to us12.
In the physical sciences it is a rule that a theory should prove its validity by making predictions that can be tested. Is Sri Aurobindo’s theory of the supermind only a grandiose illusion, or will humanity die out before anything like the apparition of the supramental being can happen on our planet? Sri Aurobindo has made predictions. In his writings in the Arya, later published in book form, one can read that:
1. India had to become free;
2. Asia had to awake;
3. humanity had to become one;
4. the Indian spiritualty had to spread in the whole world;
5. the humans species would be succeeded by a new species of supramental beings.
It should be borne in mind that these predictions were made during the First World War and its immediate aftermath, when reasonable people could only consider them as chimaeras. In 1947, in a text to be broadcast on the occasion of India’s freedom, Sri Aurobindo summarized these predictions himself and called them his “five dreams”.
When one considers what has become of these “dreams” at present, one cannot but agree that all five have been realised to a considerable degree. Thus they may be held to be a rational justification of Sri Aurobindo’s previsions of the future. He wrote that a next evolutionary step is inevitable, a statement which, considering the evolutionary process, can only be doubted for fear that our Earth might not survive its present predicament. But the fundamental cause of this predicament is precisely theUmwertung aller Werte, the revaluation of all values required to create the new, as yet unknown ones. In this so-called post-modern period of a humanity caught in the vortex of its unification, Sri Aurobindo’s vision provides us with the interpretation of the apparent chaos.
Mentally conditioned by the physical sciences, few people still believe in miracles, but I know of two which are historically proven. The first is Joan of Arc, the young French village girl who, at the head of rowdy medieval armies, defeated the English, put her king on his throne, and told her judges frankly: Je suis venue de par Dieu – I have come from God. The other miracle is Auroville, the utopia of all utopias, which after forty years in quasi impossible circumstances and despite all ordeals, is still there – and growing.
(This text was read on 17 February 2008, at the Sri Aurobindo Centre of Human Unity, on the occasion of the symposium held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Aurovlle.)
1. The Life Divine, p. 139.
2. Id., p. 324.
3. On Himself, p. 12.
4. Letters on Yoga I, p. 100.
5. The Life Divine, p. 6.
6. Id., p. 680.
7. Savitri, p.74.
8. Collected Poems, p. 100.
9. Letters on Yoga, p. 402.
10.See Essays on the Gita, p. 168.
11.Savitri, p. 295.
12.See The MothMother: Questions and Answers 1957-58, pp. 190-91.