The Life Divine by Sri Aurbindo Ghose (Lotus Press) Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine is unquestionably a masterpiece of philosophical spiritual inquiry. The Ubiquitous truth beccomes the universe. It indwells in the objects of the universe and exceeds it. Humanity, who is that omnipresent Reality in essence as well as in our external phenomenal expression, seeks to realise it inwardly and outwardly. The inner realisation is awakening and the outer expression of it is a divine life in an animal body. The Life Divine starts with humanity’s awakening and proceeds through the process of creation and ends with the inner spirit gaining total mastery over the outer matter.
The infinite omnipresent Reality which is the Unknowable to humanity, exercising its prerogative of infinite self-conception chooses to enjoy one more form of delight. Delight being the result of self-discovery, the Reality has chosen the greatest possible delight of finding itself, having lost itself. This end is achieved by self-absorption – absorbing the light into darkness, knowledge into Ignorance, Being into Non-Being, etc. – in which the Reality forgets its original intention.
Thus the Reality has created a cosmos of a Self-Conscious Being at one end and the Inconscient at the opposite end, providing Itself a field of Play, Lila, which is intrinsically Himself. The Unknowable, being the original Eternal and Infinite whose character of being infinite is never lost, turns into not only the Play but remains the Player and the Playground.
By its capacity of self-limitation, the Reality creates all the actors of that Play. The very first role is that of a Self-Conscious Being. For this Being to hide itself in the Inconscient, it has to travel through the stages of consciousness: Truth-consciousness, Mind, Life and Matter which is Inconscient. If this part can be called involution, the other half can be called evolution. The process of involution is the process of cosmic creation.
The Being thus created as Existence exists by virtue of its having come into existence. It has no imperative need of being conscious or sensing its existence or comprehending itself. But, that being the process of involution—the process of creation—the Being chooses to be conscious of itself and becomes consciousness. Its desire to sense itself makes it Ananda, Bliss. Its further desire to comprehend itself makes it into Supermind. So far, the process proceeds in the unitarian consciousness which we call Satchidananda. From here onwards, division is needed for further involution where a reversal takes place as the original being is to disappear into non-being. That is where the One becomes the Many, the process of which is left unexplained so far.
The Self-Conscious Being comprehending itself becomes Truth-Consciousness and is still in the region of eternity and infinity. For the creation of a cosmos of objects and events, the planes of Time and Space are needed. Hence the comprehending Supermind of eternal Truth-Consciousness has the need to change into Time and Space. This it does by the apprehending Supermind. In the process of the division effected to create the apprehending Supermind, Mind appears between them with a partial vision of either side. Mind being the knowledge part of consciousness, it has already separated itself from the Force of it. The interaction of Mind with Force creates a plane of Energy which is Life where Mind gets partially lost. Matter emerges when Mind fully loses itself in life and becomes subconscient.
Sri Aurobindo calls Matter subconscient will.
Existence--Consciousness--Bliss is a subjective description of the original Self-Conscious Being. Its objective status is Truth, Knowledge and Infinity. Each subsequent state of a status is considered as its nature. Thus consciousness is the nature of existence, Supermind is the nature of Satchidananda, Prakriti is the nature of Purusha and so on. Existence puts out its nature of consciousness, objectivises itself as Truth.
Substance is created by the object presenting itself to its subject. The substance created by the Truth presenting itself to Existence is called Spirit or spiritual substance. Spiritual substance is intangible to material senses unless it acquires a form or design and can be quantified and counted.
By the process of self-absorption the four statuses of Existence, Consciousness, Bliss and Supermind convert themselves into Non-Existence, Inconscient, Insensibility and the partial mind. The Veda had conceived of seven planes but also said there could be twelve. Sri Aurobindo makes it eight and arrives at the configuration of
· Existence becoming Matter
· Consciousness becoming Life
· Ananda becoming Psychic
· Supermind becoming Mind.
Evolution of Matter back to Existence is possible, he argues, because the substance of all these planes is the same with a different intensity or density.
The original intention being self-discovery, evolution is not only possible but imperative. In 28 chapters in Book I, Sri Aurobindo covers the process of creation. In each of these 28 chapters he keeps in the forefront the theme of Omnipresent Reality, its infinite nature, its prerogative of being Absolute even when it appears relative, Timelessness in Time, Infinity in space.
The Upanishadic theme of Sarvam Brahman, All is Brahman, as it was conceived by Mind could not reach the logical culmination of the above theme, and ended up in seeking God above through Moksha by abandoning the world. Hence Sri Aurobindo underlines this theme in all of the book’s 56 chapters, coming to it time and again from several angles. That is the kernel of the book.
The theme of Evil and suffering dominates human consciousness which needs to be answered, if the reader is to be inspired by All is Brahman. He describes Evil as existing only to the partial vision of the Mind, and as non-existent for the complete vision of Supermind. Even to the mind, evil is not an imperative necessity, but is, in truth, a challenge and adventure* that is immensely enjoyable.
In the process of a very long explanation of his thesis, Sri Aurobindo raises several issues that are new to the tradition and several others where the vision is warped and answers them rationally. Nowhere does he demand of the reader an implicit acceptance, but always offers logical, rational explanations that are built up in a graded series.
These are some of the themes. But his central theme is the Absolute has not ceased to be the Absolute for a moment, the Infinite has not ceased to be the Infinite for even a short while even when they take on the appearance of the relative and finite. By grasping this theme, Humanity becomes conscious of the process of emergence and becomes the spearhead of evolution. To powerfully introduce the reader to this theme is the purpose of this introduction. To list out the ways in which he keeps it on the surface in each chapter will help the reader.
The Indian believes that the world is created by Brahma, an overmental god. Sri Aurobindo maintains it is Supermind that created the world and not overmind where there is still Ignorance and no unity. Part I of Book II explains the process by which knowledge emerges out of Ignorance. His definition of Ignorance as Knowledge self-limited enables him to rationally explain the process of evolution. Here we see the limitation of the Vedas and Upanishads and how he overcomes it.
In Part II, he deals with Humanity becoming a conscious individual through rebirth, and aspiring to supramentalise himself through triple transformation. The book ends on a note of Divine Life. It is noteworthy that it is Divine Life, not Divine Body or Divine Mind. Life is the nodus for humanity where the Transcendent, Universal and Individual meet.
Life becomes Divine by becoming integral, conscious, universal, inner, and full. Thus the spirit rises to mastery over matter which he says will be the most momentous discovery humanity will make in future. He ends on the very last page saying that the taste of Ignorance for the soul is now over and it can continue its onward journey in knowledge.
The reading of the book will be well served if the reader at the end feels that life is not warped, the spirit is near at hand, matter is not detestable, tapas is not the route for Joy but self-discovery. The aim of the book is the reading should give the reader the sensation of joy emerging out of Ignorance.
The demands Sri Aurobindo makes on the reader are higher reason and infinite logic. Should the reader be interested further in the results of his reading, he further demands the belief in the mind that it is Shakti who does the work of the world and not he, an energy that is endless in the vital, a capacity to shed habits in the physical and an attitude of equality in the spirit.
To the person traditional aspiration is God in heaven, Sri Aurobindo shows in this chapter that heaven awaits him in a richer measure when the mind and Supermind are reconciled. He seeks support to his argument in Vedanta’s thought of evolution and humanity’s own experiment in science which is the result of reconciling the vital and mind.
The materialist denies the existence of God and pins his or her hope on studying matter. Sri Aurobindo gives the materialist an answer the world has not yet given. The god whom the materialist is unable to discover with his or her intellect will reveal ourself, says Sri Aurobindo, when the materialist goes back to consciousness from thought. Thus, God is here on earth in the materialist.
The ascetic deserts life, reaches the Self, and is lost to the world. Sri Aurobindo says the Self the sannyasin reached is only a part, not the whole. God is there in the life he deserted. Here he points out the insufficiencies of the Upanishadic tradition. Reconciling the One with the Many, trying to understand the ascent as we did the descent, trying to study matter as thoroughly as the spirit is known and keeping the old Aryan balance, Sri Aurobindo says, will enable the ascetic to see the omnipresent Reality in Life as he has seen it in Spirit.
Ch. IV Reality Omnipresent
Spiritual realisations have, so far, been the realisation of Being or Non-Being, not both. Also they were realisations in trance, making it unconscious. He pleads for a conscious realisation of both Being and Non-Being which will raise humanity in our waking condition to the Absolute i.e. the Absolute in the relative -- life.
His or her destiny is not liberation leaving the subconscient universe to itself. But it is to discover the Superconscient in the subconscient uniting them in himself. Thus humanity seeks the liberation from partial mind to the integral Supermind.
Ch. VI Humanity in the Universe
Humanity seeking Moksha goes straight to the Transcendent bypassing the universal. The Individual, the Universal and the Transcendent are essential for integration. In this chapter Sri Aurobindo explains how the individual fulfils himself in the universal and the universal fulfils itself in the individual.
Ch. VII The Ego and The Dualities
Humanity accepts the ego and suffers. Ego need not be accepted and can be outgrown. Outgrowing ego, humanity outgrows the suffering too. He outgrows the ego, not to discard the individuality as one who seeks liberation, but as one who seeks liberation from the separativeness of the ego. Thus humanity discovers in our new individuality our universality and transcendence.
This does not bear his own argument except to show how Vedanta arrived at intuition.
Here he draws attention to the reality of Being and Becoming and points out the error of choosing one or the other. Both, he says, must be accepted and their relation understood which is wisdom. By choosing either one remains helplessly in life or retires into the Superconscient. By accepting both, humanity reaches the superconscient in the subconscient, thus making for the whole.
Ch. X Conscious Force
To consider Force as inert is not only the attitude of the materialist but also that of the spiritual seeker who abandons Prakriti. Knowing the Force to be conscious corrects the error of being partial. It further takes him to the point of seeing that it is a Force of a conscious Being.
Ch. XI, XII Delight of Existence: The Problem, The Solution
Humanity has accepted suffering and pain and sought escape from them in various ways. Sri Aurobindo again points out that creation has no suffering. Suffering is there only for the ego when it insists on its separate existence. Creation is for delight and it is of delight at all levels. What stand in the way are ego and mind. When humanity emerges out of the ego, and pulls himself out of the surface mind, he finds only delight, not suffering.
Tradition, or at least a major part of it holds maya as illusion. Sri Aurobindo goes back to the Vedic definition of maya as wisdom. It is the mind’s inability to see the other side that created the theory of illusion as it missed the link between the lower and higher maya. Once this distortion is removed, Maya emerges as the greatest creative force in cosmic existence. The illusion disappears.
The traditional belief that Brahma – mind – has created the world, is at the bottom of all our partial strangulating beliefs. Sri Aurobindo, in an attempt to wipe away all such beliefs, pronounces that the creator is the Supermind. This is revolutionary in the spiritual heritage of the world.
This chapter explains the formula of Supermind, the creation of Time and Space as well as the point in creation when Mind was born. There is no occasion in this chapter for bringing out the integral view, but it provides enough material for similar arguments in the subsequent chapters.
Ch. XVI Triple Status of Supermind
Our dictum is God and Humanity are divorced and Humanity by our tapasya should reach God. Sri Aurobindo removes the very basis of this argument by showing that God, Jiva and Ego are three poises of the same Supermind. This lays the foundation for an integral argument given later in the Chapter, ‘Eternal and the Individual.’
Contrary to the worldwide belief that God cannot be mentally understood, Sri Aurobindo gives a precise definition of Divinity in the preceding chapters. Our aim is divine life. It requires a divine soul. Obviously the ego is not the divine soul. The Isha Upanishad that defined the divine soul and its principles could not go further to precise definitions. This lack of intellectual clarity in the Upanishad prevented them from taking their final vision of God and the formula of Supermind to its logical culmination in life. He does it in this chapter. In that sense, here he breaks new ground. He calls it understanding God in the ascent.
Chapter XVIII Mind & Supermind
Though Supermind was known to the Vedas, it was known as the primitive apprehended electricity in lightning. Many have reached Supermind individually. The many Indians who rose to the Viceroy’s Executive Council before 1947, rose very high indeed. But they could serve only the British masters, not the Indian masses. The ordinary Congress volunteer was far superior an instrument for freedom than Sir C.P. Ramasamy on the Executive Council. This was so because no one reached Supermind as a representative of humankind. Only then one could see the origin of mind in Supermind. This chapter describes the origin of mind, its relation with Supermind and explains how the relation can now be restored.
Ch. XIX, XX, XXI, XXII Life; Death Desire and Incapacity; The Ascent of Life; The Problem of Life
Life is known to be devilish and rejected. Sri Aurobindo explains the process of creation of life. When mind acts on Force, he says, Life is created. Also Life is the end point where consciousness by self-absorption reverses itself. Life creates sensation by acting on matter and takes that sensation to mind to convert it into thought so that thought can control matter. This is the indispensable role of Life. It is not something to be avoided but is something in which its origin must be discovered.
As long as humanity knew Jivatma as our soul, he could only seek its release from the cycle of births. Sri Aurobindo underlined the deeper perception of the Hindu that soul underlies matter. He called it the evolving soul, the deputy of Jivatma and named it Psychic being. Recognition of the psychic corrects the imbalance, leads the sadhaka to the omnipresent Reality in life.
Ch. XXIV , XXV Matter, The Knot of Matter
The spiritual seeker avoided Matter while the scientist adores it. Neither sees the Truth. To Sri Aurobindo, Matter is Satchidananda, is infinite Force, organised in the most wonderfully inconceivable manner. Also, as Matter is subconscient will, matter is mind submerged. What moves matter, then, is Mind. The present view of Matter that it is inert lends credence to the inanimate nature of Matter. Hence Matter remains inert. As Mind determines Matter, humanity has the capacity to conceive of Matter’s true position. Once Mind changes its view, Matter can transform itself into Satchidananda, a view revolutionary to the yogi as well as the scientist. We cannot even say it is revolutionary as revolutions break the existing system. Here the present will be transformed into a glorious future once dreamt of by the forefathers.
One hurdle to the theory of evolution can be the composition of substance at the seven levels of tradition. He removes the obstacle explaining that the substance at all levels is the same with varying intensities.
He takes this theme of the tradition, makes the seven into eight to include the psychic and complete the metaphysical basis for evolution.
Ch. XXVIII Supermind, Mind and the Overmind Maya
Sri Aurobindo, having had the experiences of Nirvana and Silent Brahman saw that something was incomplete. It was Vivekananda who showed him that the Truth lies in Supermind. He searched for the clue for ten long years, a clue on how to reach there. He calls it the occult link with the Supermind. That clue was the psychic being in the subliminal mind. The clue gains in significance as it takes the sadhaka to the universal plane first since there can be no integration if one bypasses the universal.
Chapter I Indeterminates, Cosmic Determinations and the Indeterminable
The scientists are looking for the determinant. Others have concluded that mind is the determinant. This false conclusion generates all the conflicting arguments about creation. Sri Aurobindo has shown the determinant is the Supermind and set all arguments at rest.
Ch. II Brahman, Purusha, Ishwara – Maya, Prakriti, Shakti
What is self-evident to us is the finite object. Form, the finite, the prakriti, Time, etc. are the expressions of partial life. It is all evident to our senses. The Omnipresent Reality is self-evident to the spiritual entity inside us. The cleavage remains. The outer prakriti is in Time, the inner Reality is in Timelessness. Humanity can only be at either end. But Sri Aurobindo has come out with a third dimension. It is the simultaneous integrality of Time and Timelessness. Neither the senses, nor the spirit can move into that plane. Only the psychic can. Once you are there all the difficulties and arguments are of no avail.
Ch. III The Eternal and the Individual
Conceiving the Individual as separate and temporal led to the goal of moksha. Hence the partial philosophies. Only in the Gita it was first pronounced that there are three Purushas. Sri Aurobindo draws our attention to the fact of their being one. The Individual includes the universal and The Transcendent thereby leaving no room for partial theories and isolated goals.
The world believes in the undivine parts around us. In our attempt to integrate life with yoga, he says there is nothing known as undivine. The evolution of the separate being needs evil and pain but there is none such in creation. Now that ‘evil’ is thus abolished his theory of eternal Lila is easier to follow.
He dismisses Illusion as Ignorance.
Ch. VII The Knowledge and The Ignorance
The Vedic Rishis experienced the Brahman in their physical while the Upanishadic Rishis perceived the same with their minds. The physical in its own way is an integrated whole which powerfully includes the vital, the mental, and spiritual within it, whereas the mind does not have the same integrality. The Vedic rishis did have a balance by virtue of their being physical which the Upanishad Rishis did not have in the same measure. Both tried to explain the universe in terms of knowledge. Their definitions themselves led them astray and proved to be a block. The secret is, mind is incapable of giving a definition that includes the whole. Sri Aurobindo’s definition of Ignorance as a limitation of knowledge gets over their difficulty.
Ch. VIII, IX Memory, Self-Consciousness and the Ignorance; Memory, Ego and
Memory and Ego belong to the surface consciousness. Mind, Ego, surface, finite, Time are five versions of manifestation. Only by getting over all these is one fit to discuss knowledge and its types. Past, Present, and Future are tricks of the mind. The divine consciousness is neither shut up in Light nor in darkness but holds Light and Darkness inside it. He takes us away from the partial views by explaining the true nature of the surface.
Ch. X Knowledge by Identity and Separative Knowledge
In this chapter the different parts of our being – surface, subliminal, inner, Self – are presented to us so that the traditional confusions may be removed.
Having defined Ignorance in seven ways – Practical Ignorance, Constitutional Ignorance, Psychological Ignorance, Temporal Ignorance, Egoistic Ignorance, Cosmic Ignorance and Original Ignorance – he says even at the outset that practical Ignorance will go only when the original Ignorance dissolves, thus making for an integration at the widest possible level.
There is an ambiguity about the origin of Ignorance. Upanishads feel its origin is the very origin. Obviously this error flows from their definition. Sri Aurobindo has no difficulty in accepting their view if their definition could be changed. Basing himself on his process, he says that the origin is the point of self-absorption of Conscious-Force in action. Hence the idea of self-absorption assumes significance in his cosmology.
Ch. XIII Exclusive Concentration of Consciousness-Force and The Ignorance
This is a grand chapter, in which contrary to our common sense, philosophic schools, or yogic goals he boldly declares that Ignorance is the greatest power of consciousness and hails it as a hooded gnosis. For that purpose he describes the process by which Ignorance came into its own.
Ch. XIV Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil
No philosopher can reach his goal bypassing evil. So far evil has been accepted in one form or the other. Again this is a view of the mind. His pronouncements on evil must startle anyone. If the world is not shaken by his explanation of evil, it only means that his philosophy is not yet understood. He endorses the view that evil is in existence but he says it is inevitable for the evolution of the divided being. He traces the stages of evil coming into its present status. His verdict is the simple contrary by a perverse joy turns into complex perversion.
BOOK II, Part II
Ch. XV Reality and The Integral Knowledge
For ages humanity tried to reach the One as the yogic ultimate, not knowing the Many are equally the One. To Him neither the One, nor the Many is the Reality but THAT – Absolute – which includes both. Here he breaks new ground in thought as well as spiritual experience.
Ch. XVI The Integral Knowledge and the Aim of Life; Four Theories of Existence
The supracosmic, cosmic, and terrestrial views of things lead to the traditional difficulties. His view is synthetic where life is based on the Reality. Vedanta that accepts Becoming as Brahman is unable to get over those difficulties, -- e.g. evil in life – because Vedanta does not concede the Individual an eternal status. He reconciles Spirit and Life by making humanity the centre in the process of spiritual evolution.
Conscious unity of God, Humanity and Nature in our own consciousness is a sure foundation for the Knowledge that is our goal.
In this part of the book – knowledge and spiritual evolution – he does not need to counteract the old views, as none stepped into these regions. So his job here is to explain himself only. Here he gives out a secret of this new evolution – a double opening. The inner mind opens to the spiritual mind and the occult spirit within. The one strategy he follows hereafter is that of shifting from outside inwards.
Ch. XIX Out of the Sevenfold Ignorance Towards the Sevenfold Knowledge
Starting from a startling statement that Constitutional Ignorance – separation of parts of being – is the crux, he pleads for the abolition of practical Ignorance by knowing one’s Origin.
Ch. XX, XXI, XXII The Philosophy of Rebirth;
The Order of the Worlds;
Rebirth and Other Worlds; Karma, The Soul and Immortality
Rebirth is known to all ancient cultures. But no one explained why. Sri Aurobindo’s theory of spiritual evolution necessitates rebirth of the soul as, evidently, the evolution of the soul cannot be completed in one birth.
Ch. XXIII Humanity and The Evolution
Change of body through rebirth to house higher consciousness in humanity reverses itself as change of consciousness to alter the body that houses it, making evolution inevitable.
To discover the spiritual being in himself and to help others to achieve it is his real service.
The three transformations are a perfect expression of the integrality of Being he attempts.
In saying that the blind imperative Necessity of Inconscience is met by the luminous necessity of Supermind, he underlines the unity, oneness and integrality he is aiming at.
Ch. XXVII The Gnostic Being
So far evolution was in Ignorance, i.e. from ignorance to knowledge. Further evolution will be in harmony and knowledge.
The divine life will be full. To be fully is to be wholly conscious, to hold the whole force, to have full delight and to be universal.
The Book gives a picture of the WHOLE whose central essence and phenomenal expression is the Omnipresent Reality. In giving his own arguments and answering the arguments of others, the one strategy he resorts to is to move away from mind to Supermind, from the part to the whole, from one to both. To know how that strategy emerges in each chapter and in each argument makes comprehension possible and reading easy. Whenever difficulties arise in following an argument, it is better to check on this point. Understanding The Life Divine gives that live strategy for successful life. A successful life is one, for our purposes, where every act initiated is fulfilled. One who learns that strategy in life for whatever reason will be able to follow the book.
Authors like Toffler who have examined every occurrence in life through their own perspective are mentally equipped with a valuable experience. Should they read The Life Divine they would get the perspective of the whole too.
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