Chapter I – The Human Aspiration

Study Notes

                                       Book One – Omnipresent Reality and the Universe

                                                                    CHAPTER I
                                                       THE HUMAN ASPIRATION

                                                        USHA, THE DIVINE DAWN

She follows to the goal of those that are passing on beyond, she is the first in the eternal succession of the dawns that are coming,—Usha widens bringing out that which lives, awakening someone who was dead. . . .

                                                                                                                                 (Rig Veda 1.113.8)


     In the ancient thought of the Veda, Dawn stands for the break of divine illumination on the being of man. Man is full of ignorance and darknesses of mind. In his struggle to emerge out of this state of obscurity, he is helped by repeated dawnings of the Light of divine Consciousness. Dawn appears again and again and dissolves the strong-holds of darkness. …..Each Dawn breaks the bounds imposed by the prevailing darkness of the Night and extends the field of wakeful consciousness. Dawn also awakens consciousness from its long spell of swoon in the grip of Inconscience…..

What is her scope when she harmonises with the dawns that shone out before and those that now must shine? She desires the ancient mornings and fulfils their light; projecting forwards her illumination she enters into communion with the rest that are to come.
                                                                                                                Kutsa Angirasa—Rig Veda.1


     The Seer asks, how far does the Dawn of today go in harmonising the yield of the previous beginnings with the promises of those of the future? There is a continuity in this movement of the Eternal in Time. The Divine Consciousness in its initiative movements links the past with the future through a meaningul present; the past is assimilated so as to prepare for the future. It does not leave out the heritage of the past….In her thrust forwards, Dawn carries in herself a memory of the future: she is instinct with the knowledge of what more is to be realised and holds that awareness alive, active.

                                                                  AGNI, THE SEER-WILL

Threefold are those supreme births of this divine force that is in the world, they are true, they are desirable; he moves there wide-overt within the Infinite and shines pure, luminous and fulfilling. . . .

That which is immortal in mortals and possessed of the truth, is a god and established inwardly as an energy working out in our divine powers.

. . . Become high-uplifted, O Strength, pierce all veils, manifest in us the things of the Godhead.
                                                                                                                         Vamadeva—Rig Veda.2

     There is a flaming Force in this world which is of divine origin. It is the Will of the creative Godhead carrying in itself all the Knowledge that pertains to this manifestation in progress. This Power of Knowledge-Will is Agni ….is the constant link between this world and those above. His native land is the Infinite, the Sat-chit-ananda…But he is here in the three worlds of Matter, Life and Mind. It is his presence that stirs these worlds into movement, driving the evolutinary world upward. He turns these lower worlds into living projections of the upper worlds of Sat-chit-ananda. Agni is the Force of Aspiration that leads humanity to its fulfilment……

     And Agni is not a Power of the Universe alone… He is established in each form individually….. In man who is subject to the law of death, Agni is the element that is deathless, immortal. It is he who makes it possible for mortality to aspire for and reach immortality, for he alsways carries the truth of the Eternal in himself. He is the God most accessible to the inhabitants of the Earth and therefore he is the most important…..

     This Power of Agni may be covered with the smoke of ignorance, limitation and impurity. But it is possible for man to evoke the Power in its innate strength and dynamise it in himself so that it may break through all barriers, dissolve all veils that cover the divinity at his core and set into operation the characterisitc movements of the indwelling Godhead e.g. purity, love, bliss. ……

(Source: Shri M.P.Pandit: ‘Legends in The Life Divine’, Dipti Publications, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, p. 3-9)


     The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation, – for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment, – is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawns of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last, – God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.


     Ever since there was an awakening in the thinking process of man, he aspired only for the highest. This aspiration continued to preoccupy him. His aspiration never diminished despite contrary doubts and scepticism he had to face. There were frequent attempts in the history of mankind to drive away his aspiration by opposing elements. Still his aspiration has survived.
     What are his aspirations? Sri Aurobindo says Man has always aspired for God-realisation and attaining perfection of himself. He is always in search of pure Truth. Forever he seeks Bliss which is beyond pain and pleasure. In a world frequented by death he seeks immortality.
     There is a wealth of knowledge left to us from our ancient seers. They point to the fact that there had been no slackening in Man’s aspiration towards higher ideals. Today we find that man has progressed to a great extent in conquering the external Nature. His material needs are fulfilled. Yet he is not satisfied. He longs for something which he has always sought since his earliest times i.e.- God, Light, Freedom and Immortality.

(Satiated = satisfying one’s need to the full; Primeval=earliest time in history)


     These persistent ideals of the race are at once the contradiction of its normal experience and the affirmation of higher and deeper experiences which are abnormal to humanity and only to be attained, in their organised entirety, by a revolutionary individual effort or an evolutionary general progression.


     The ideals of human aspiration i.e. God- realisation, Truth, Bliss, Immortality etc., are in sharp contrast to our normal experience. We experience the opposites i.e. falsehood, suffering, death in our daily life. These contradictions make us resign to the fact that such high ideals are beyond our reach.
     To the normal human mind which is soaked in material intellect these higher experiences seem to be abnormal. The present day man takes his mental consciousness as the limit of his utmost possibility.
     Sri Aurobindo says such deeper experiences can be affirmed in their fullness by a revolutionary individual effort – meaning an intense yogic sadhana by an individual (like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo). Or collectively this can be accomplished by the slow process of evolution.

To know, possess and be the divine being in an animal and egoistic consciousness, to convert our twilight or obscure physical mentality into the plenary supramental illumination, to build peace and a self-existent bliss where there is only a stress of transitory satisfactions besieged by physical pain and emotional suffering, to establish an infinite freedom in a world which presents itself as a group of mechanical necessities, to discover and realise the immortal life in a body subjected to death and constant mutation, – this is offered to us as the manifestation of God in Matter and the goal of Nature in her terrestrial evolution.


     Sri Aurobindo repeatedly asserts that the world is not an accident. There is an ultimate purpose behind this terrestrial evolution. That is manifestation of Divine in matter. What are the goals behind this terrestrial manifestation?
   – We know that our origin is animal and most of our lives are centred around our ego. Our egoistic human consciousness should be replaced by Divine Consciousness.
  – The characteristic of human mind is that it lacks clarity. Our mind should be enlightened by supramental knowledge. The limitations of our mind are to be replaced by vastness of Supermind.
   – Our satisfactions are temporary. They are always subject to physical pain and emotional suffering. Instead we must have a settled peace in us. We must enjoy the Bliss which is inborn with us.
   – Human life is always caught in mechanical activities which we call our necessities. We are bound by them. Rarely does one get freedom from these self-imposed barriers. Instead one must enjoy infinite freedom.
   – Our body is subject to wear and tear and death. Instead we must aim at immortality in this body.

To the ordinary material intellect which takes its present organisation of consciousness for the limit of its possibilities, the direct contradiction of the unrealised ideals with the realised fact is a final argument against their validity. But if we take a more deliberate view of the world’s workings, that direct opposition appears rather as part of Nature’s profoundest method and the seal of her completest sanction.


     As against these ideals where does the normal materialist’s intellect stand? It takes its present mental & intellectual achievement as its pinnacle. The present-day realities are in direct contradiction to those unrealised ideals. This very contradiction makes one question the validity of those ideals.
     The workings of the world have a hidden goal in them. They are not mere chance happenings. Sri Aurobindo says, a deeper view of the workings will reveal that the very opposition between the reality (what is) and the ideal (what should be) is the Nature’s profoundest method. By the very same opposition the Nature gives her seal of approval. This is like positive and negative terminals generating electricity or like a kite flying higher and higher against the force of wind.
     In the following paragraph Sri Aurobindo states that however sharp the contradiction presents itself, the Nature eventually forges harmony between the opposing elements.


     For all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity. To rest content with an unsolved discord is possible for the practical and more animal part of man, but impossible for his fully awakened mind, and usually even his practical parts only escape from the general necessity either by shutting out the problem or by accepting a rough, utilitarian and unillumined compromise. For essentially, all Nature seeks a harmony, life and matter in their own sphere as much as mind in the arrangement of its perceptions.

     What do we mean when we say we have life-problems? Sri Aurobindo says all problems of life are essentially problems caused by disharmony. They arise on account of two reasons:
   (1) There exists a discord and we perceive that it remains unresolved.
   (2) Our failure to discover the agreement or unity. Sri Aurobindo mentions that this feeling of disagreement or lack of unity is instinctive in man. It means that there is always an agreement possible in every discord. But man’s ego refuses to discover it.

     Man has two selves in him; one is a part more related to his animal nature; this animal nature in him drives him to engage in pursuits which represent his practical side of life, e.g. searching for food, economic well-being & procreation etc. This part chiefly corresponds to his egoistic self.
     The other is his more conscious self with an awakened mind. For a fully awakened man he cannot go on with an unresolved dispute. He has to resolve the discord and arrive at a harmony. Even for a man who is not yet fully awakened and more utilitarian in his approach, he can only temporarily brush aside this discord or find out a rough, utilitarian compromise. The unity envisaged by a spiritually enlightened person is different from what can be thought of by an ordinary man with utilitarian purpose.
     For example, the egalitarian society formulated in communist countries are more of utilitarian in nature without any deeper connectivity amongst the individuals. Whereas real unity means unity of souls.
     Sri Aurobindo says all Nature seeks harmony. Life and matter seek harmony in their own spheres. For example, there is perfect harmony in our stellar system. Had there been a little mal-alignment there would be clash of planets. Any mal-alignment leading to disharmony among the material forces leads to natural disasters like earth quakes, floods etc.
     Similarly, life represents various forms from amoeba to well-developed animals. If we closely observe there is underlying harmony across various life forms. Again, mind seeks harmony in its perceptions. We arrange our thoughts in such a way that there is some logical order. Without any logical coherence we cannot express our thoughts.

The greater the apparent disorder of the materials offered or the apparent disparateness, even to irreconcilable opposition, of the elements that have to be utilised, the stronger is the spur, and it drives towards a more subtle and puissant order than can normally be the result of a less difficult endeavour. The accordance of active Life with a material of form in which the condition of activity itself seems to be inertia, is one problem of opposites that Nature has solved and seeks always to solve better with greater complexities; for its perfect solution would be the material immortality of a fully organised mind-supporting animal body.


     Sri Aurobindo mentions a paradox here; the greater the apparent discord among the elements which cause disharmony even to the extent of its irreconcilability, the stronger is the tendency for a more subtle and forceful order. Had the discord been less severe the tendency for harmonisation also would be less effective. For example, in real life situation, whenever we face crisis something in us rises up and gives us the strength which in normal times would not have been possible.
     Sri Aurobindo narrates some of the opposites that the Nature has reconciled over the course of time:
     All living beings have material forms or envelopes. For example, if we take human body the form consists of matter which is animated by life within. The Matter per se is inert i.e. inactive. It is activated by the life force within. There is always an opposition of matter over the life force that is behind it. This opposition has been reconciled to some extent by Nature. This process of reconciliation is an ongoing process involving more and more complexities.
     For example, advancement in medical science have increased the life span. Matter (the body) is made to support more and more the life force. The final solution, Sri Aurobindo says, will come when an organised mind-supporting animal body attains material immortality. This means conquest of death by man. This can come only when there is perfect harmony between body (matter) and the life-force that animates it.

The accordance of conscious mind and conscious will with a form and a life in themselves not overtly self-conscious and capable at best of a mechanical or subconscious will is another problem of opposites in which she has produced astonishing results and aims always at higher marvels; for there her ultimate miracle would be an animal consciousness no longer seeking but possessed of Truth and Light, with the practical omnipotence which would result from the possession of a direct and perfected knowledge. Not only, then, is the upward impulse of man towards the accordance of yet higher opposites rational in itself, but it is the only logical completion of a rule and an effort that seem to be a fundamental method of Nature and the very sense of her universal strivings.


     Secondly the discord between the conscious mind versus body and life. The mind of man is more conscious and has a will of its own than the life and body that support it. For example, our body on its own is not as conscious as the mind. At the most its actions are prompted by a subconscious will or a mechanical impulsion.
     This discord has also been reconciled by Nature. By various yogic practices and excercises on can train the physical body to be more conscious, plastic & subtle.
     However, the ultimate victory would be, this body becoming capable of possessing Truth and Light by supramental transformation and thereby attaining practical omnipotence (not subject to death and decay). Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were engaged in transformation of their body till the end. In that case the body on its own would possess the direct and perfected knowledge without needing the support of the mind.
     Sri Aurobindo says man in his impulse towards upward journey is always in the process of reconciliating still higher opposites. This is but rational and logical. This effort of reconciliation of opposites is the fundamental method of Nature. This constitutes the very sense of her universal struggle – life struggling to emerge out of matter, mind struggling to emerge out of life and finally supermind struggling to emerge out of mind.


     We speak of the evolution of Life in Matter, the evolution of Mind in Matter; but evolution is a word which merely states the phenomenon without explaining it. For there seems to be no reason why Life should evolve out of material elements or Mind out of living form, unless we accept the Vedantic solution that Life is already involved in Matter and Mind in Life because in essence Matter is a form of veiled Life, Life a form of veiled Consciousness.


     Evolution is a phenomenon by which life evolves out of matter and mind evolves out of life. But it does not explain why it should be so.
     We should understand first what matter and life are. Matter, even though it appears inanimate, life is already involved in it. Similarly, Mind is involved in life. Plants and animals do display certain cognition skills. This is because, Sri Aurobindo says, in essence, Matter is a form of veiled life and Life is a form of veiled consciousness. This is the Vedantic truth.

And then there seems to be little objection to a farther step in the series and the admission that mental consciousness may itself be only a form and a veil of higher states which are beyond Mind. In that case, the unconquerable impulse of man towards God, Light, Bliss, Freedom, Immortality presents itself in its right place in the chain as simply the imperative impulse by which Nature is seeking to evolve beyond Mind, and appears to be as natural, true and just as the impulse towards Life which she has planted in certain forms of Matter or the impulse towards Mind which she has planted in certain forms of Life.


     Once we accept this Vedantic truth then there will not be any objection in our part to the fact that evolution progressively brings out the life from matter and mind from life. Now if we extend this logic further, we may conclude that behind the veil of our present mental consciousness there exist higher states of consciousness.
     Going by the same logic, it is but natural that the impulse of man towards God, Light, Bliss, Freedom and Immortality finds itself rightly in the higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder.
     We find that the Nature has planted the impulse towards life in certain forms of matter. In certain forms of Life we find there is an impulse towards Mind. In the same way we find that the Nature is seeking to evolve beyond Mind which is perfectly justified.

As there, so here, the impulse exists more or less obscurely in her different vessels with an ever-ascending series in the power of its will-to-be; as there, so here, it is gradually evolving and bound fully to evolve the necessary organs and faculties. As the impulse towards Mind ranges from the more sensitive reactions of Life in the metal and the plant up to its full organisation in man, so in man himself there is the same ascending series, the preparation, if nothing more, of a higher and divine life.


     However, the impulse exists more or less obscurely in the various life forms in an ascending scale; it exists in the power of its will-to-be. At higher levels in its ascension, the nature tends to develop the necessary organs and faculties in her forms.
     For example, we observe certain sensitive reactions of Life in certain metals and rudimentary level of consciousness in certain plant forms. In man, who is at a higher stage of evolution, however, such faculties are fully developed. In Man himself, the evolution is on an ascending scale. He has in him all the preparations to lead a higher, divine life.

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 co-operation she wills to work out the superman, the god. Or shall we not say, rather, to manifest God? For if evolution is the progressive manifestation by Nature of that which slept or worked in her, involved, it is also the overt realisation of that which she secretly is.


     Sri Aurobindo says the animal is nothing but a living laboratory in which Nature works out a Man; similarly, Man himself may well be a living as well as a thinking laboratory in which superman or god is worked out. Yet this is done only with the conscious co-operation of man. Rather man is here to manifest God.
     Sri Aurobindo says evolution serves two purposes:
     – One, it is a progressive manifestation by Nature of what is sleeping or involved in her; life involved in matter, mind involved in life.
     – The other, overt (open) realisation of that she really is. There is Divine Consciousness secretely involved in all forms of Nature. Evolution brings out the hidden Divine Consciousness.

We cannot, then, bid her pause at a given stage of her evolution, nor have we the right to condemn with the religionist as perverse and presumptuous or with the rationalist as a disease or hallucination any intention she may evince or effort she may make to go beyond. If it be true that Spirit is involved in Matter and apparent Nature is secret God, then the manifestation of the divine in himself and the realisation of God within and without are the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man upon earth.


     From the foregoing paragraphs we may well conclude that we are placed at a particular stage of evolution which is on an ever-ascending scale. We cannot draw a finishing line at this stage.
     The religious approach views the Man’s evolutionary possibility of going beyond the present mental consciousness and attaining Divinity as something perverse and an out-of-bound thinking. On the other hand, rationalists condemn such thinking as a hallucination of a diseased mind. We cannot take sides with either of them.
     It is true that the Spirit is involved in Matter. What appears as Nature to us is secret God. That being so, for the man, to manifest divine in himself, to realise God both within him and in all things outside him is the most legitimate aim possible upon earth, says Sri Aurobindo.


     Thus the eternal paradox and eternal truth of a divine life in an animal body, an immortal aspiration or reality inhabiting a mortal tenement, a single and universal consciousness representing itself in limited minds and divided egos, a transcendent, indefinable, timeless and spaceless Being who alone renders time and space and cosmos possible, and in all these the higher truth realisable by the lower term, justify themselves to the deliberate reason as well as to the persistent instinct or intuition of mankind.


     There are eternal paradoxes mentioned by Sri Aurobindo:

     – That there can be a divine life in an animal body
     – That Immortal aspiration is ever present in a mortal body.
     – That the Consciousness is single and universal and yet represented by limited minds and individual egos.
     – A transcendent, indefinable, timeless and spaceless Being who alone renders time and space and cosmos possible.
     These are eternal truths as much they are eternal paradoxes. However, the fact is that, in all these, there is higher truth realisable by the lower term. They justify themselves to the deliberate reason of the mankind as well as to the persistent instinct or intuition of mankind.

Attempts are sometimes made to have done finally with questionings which have so often been declared insoluble by logical thought and to persuade men to limit their mental activities to the practical and immediate problems of their material existence in the universe; but such evasions are never permanent in their effect. Mankind returns from them with a more vehement impulse of inquiry or a more violent hunger for an immediate solution.


     Now, all these paradoxes cannot be solved by logical mind. As an easy solution, attempts have been made always to dissuade men from realising these higher truths and to concentrate more on the practical and immediate problems of their worldly life. But such evasive attempts were never successful. Always mankind returns from them with violent hunger for an immediate resolution.

By that hunger mysticism profits and new religions arise to replace the old that have been destroyed or stripped of significance by a scepticism which itself could not satisfy because, although its business was inquiry, it was unwilling sufficiently to inquire. The attempt to deny or stifle a truth because it is yet obscure in its outward workings and too often represented by obscurantist superstition or a crude faith, is itself a kind of obscurantism.


     In mankind there is always hunger towards realisation of these higher truths. This hunger gave rise to mysticism; old religions were destroyed or stripped of their siginifcance by sceptism; in their place new religions arose. However, Sri Aurobindo says even such scepticism could not satisfy itself because though their main object was to inquire yet they failed to inquire sufficiently.
     Sri Aurobindo says there is always a tendency to deny a new truth because it is not yet visible and clear in its outward workings. It so happens that it is often represented by crude faith and superstitions. But to deny the truth on that grounds is itself a kind of obscurantism (meaning deliberate prevention of facts to be known).

The will to escape from a cosmic necessity because it is arduous, difficult to justify by immediate tangible results, slow in regulating its operations, must turn out eventually to have been no acceptance of the truth of Nature but a revolt against the secret, mightier will of the great Mother. It is better and more rational to accept what she will not allow us as a race to reject and lift it from the sphere of blind instinct, obscure intuition and random aspiration into the light of reason and an instructed and consciously self-guiding will.


     Sri Aurobindo describes the human nature with regard to acceptance of new truths. When something is a cosmic necessity, we turn away from it because it is difficult; we find it difficult to prove its immediate results; we have poor control over its operations. In the end we deny a truth altogether. All these will not amount to denying the truth offered by Nature. Rather, it amounts to our revolt against the mighty and secret will of the great Mother or rather a revolt against the Divine Will.
     What should be our right attitude? We should be rational to accept what is offered by Her (the Divine) to the human race. The great Mother impels the human race to lift itself from the sphere of blind instinct, obscure intuition and random aspiration. She is trying to lead us towards the light of reason and a consciously self-guiding will.

And if there is any higher light of illumined intuition or self-revealing truth which is now in man either obstructed and inoperative or works with intermittent glancings as if from behind a veil or with occasional displays as of the northern lights in our material skies, then there also we need not fear to aspire. For it is likely that such is the next higher state of consciousness of which Mind is only a form and veil, and through the splendours of that light may lie the path of our progressive self-enlargement into whatever highest state is humanity’s ultimate resting-place.


     Man is also gifted with higher light of illumined intuition or self-revealing truth. Such higher faculties are either obstructed or inoperative in their works in man. Man does get a glimpse of them intermittently. Such faculties often work behind the veil. Like occasional display of lights found in the skies of Northern Pole they show up themselves in man occasionally. Yet we need not fear to aspire.
     There is a higher state of consciousness of which our Mind is only a form and veil. There lies a path of progressive self-enlargement before mankind seen though the splendours of that light. The path will lead the humanity to whatever its ultimate resting-place.