Chapter VII – The Ego and the Dualities

Study Notes

The soul seated on the same tree of Nature is absorbed and deluded and has sorrow because it is not the Lord, but when it sees and is in union with that other half and greatness of it which is the Lord, then sorrow passes away from it.
                                                                                                         Swetaswathara Upanishad. 4.7
     There are two selves in man. There is the self below which is involved in nature; there is the self above which stands above nature. The lower self is so much lost in nature that it is led to the false belief that it is a helpless slave of nature and suffering.
     The higher self is not involved in the movements of nature but is overseeing its activities. It is always the Lord of that Nature. As the lower self grows aware of its higher companion-self and stretches out to it the link is slowly restored. The lower one begins to share in the freedom and the mastery of the higher. It suffers no more.
     These, the self below and the self above, are the two Birds seated on the same Tree of Nature. The one eats the fruit of that Tree of Life and has pleasure and grief. The other watches from above and does not bite the fruit; hence its is free from the results of the eating. The Bird below is the soul in evolution, the Bird above is the oversoul beyond. The soul in evolution is the psychic being; the one above evolution is the central being. They are the antaratman and the jivatman. When the soul involved in nature begins to perceive the presence of the oversoul and seeks to link with it, it attains the freedom and mastery of the Lord-Soul. It is no more a slave of Nature.
     (Courtesy: The legends in Life Divine, P.24-25, M.P.Pandit)
     (Note: The same parable is found in Mandukya Upanishad-3.1.1. also)

     If all is in truth Sachchidananda, death, suffering, evil, limitation can only be the creations, positive in practical effect, negative in essence, of a distorting consciousness which has fallen from the total and unifying knowledge of itself into some error of division and partial experience. This is the fall of man typified in the poetic parable of the Hebrew Genesis. That fall is his deviation from the full and pure acceptance of God and himself, or rather of God in himself, into a dividing consciousness which brings with it all the train of the dualities, life and death, good and evil, joy and pain, completeness and want, the fruit of a divided being. This is the fruit which Adam and Eve, Purusha and Prakriti, the soul tempted by Nature, have eaten.
     We have seen in the earlier chapter that all is Sachchidananda. If that is the case why should there be death, suffering, evil and human limitation in the world? These opposites are real in our life situation (positive in effect) but in their essence it is not true as it appears to be (negative in essence). For example, pain is felt real in our body. But in its essence, it is Ananda in its distorted form.
     Sri Aurobindo clarifies that this is because of a distorting (changing of the original) consciousness of man. Sachchidananda in its descent assumes forms. Forms lead to limitation. Again, when there is a fall from the subtler worlds to gross material world there is a change of medium from subtle to gross. Distortion takes place (like a rod seems bent inside the water).
     There is fall in the consciousness, from total knowledge to partial knowledge & experience, from unity to division & error. One becomes Many. The root cause for this is the ego-consciousness of man which keeps him separate from the larger life around. This is described as fall of man in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scripture. The fall denotes the deviation of man from his full acceptance of God into a dividing consciousness with the growth of the ego. As a price for this fall man always suffers from dualities; life and death, good and evil, joy and pain. Adam & Eve, the first man and woman, had to be driven out from the Garden of Eden because they had eaten the forbidden fruit of this division. Sri Aurobindo relates this to Purusha & Prakriti or the soul tempted by Nature.

The redemption comes by the recovery of the universal in the individual and of the spiritual term in the physical consciousness. Then alone the soul in Nature can be allowed to partake of the fruit of the tree of life and be as the Divine and live forever. For then only can the purpose of its descent into material consciousness be accomplished, when the knowledge of good and evil, joy and suffering, life and death has been accomplished through the recovery by the human soul of a higher knowledge which reconciles and identifies these opposites in the universal and transforms their divisions into the image of the divine Unity.
     Then, how the human soul can be salvaged? It comes by the individual rising to Universal consciousness (many becoming one) and physical consciousness rising to spiritual consciousness. It is a recovery process from lower to the higher. Only then man can participate in the activities of life and yet can live in the consciousness of the Divine.
     We have seen in the earlier chapter the descent of Divine into the material nature. The purpose of this descent is accomplished only when the fallen soul in Nature recovers from division to unity. When the soul rises to unity it attains the higher knowledge. This higher knowledge reconciles the opposites of evil and good, joy and suffering, life and death in the Universal plane of consciousness. Also, this higher knowledge transforms their divisions (found at the lower level) into the Divine Unity (achieved at the higher level).
     In other words what we see as divisions at lower level becomes unified when we rise to higher realms of knowledge and consciousness.

     To Sachchidananda extended in all things in widest commonalty and impartial universality, death, suffering, evil and limitation can only be at the most reverse terms, shadow-forms of their luminous opposites. As these things are felt by us, they are notes of a discord. They formulate separation where there should be a unity, miscomprehension where there should be an understanding, an attempt to arrive at independent harmonies where there should be a self-adaptation to the orchestral whole.
     We have seen that all is Sachchidananda. Its presence is wide and common to all forms. It is universally present without any partiality. To such a state of Sachchidananda how are following opposite terms – death, suffering, evil and limitation are related? Sri Aurobindo says they are related as shadow is to light. It is like obverse and reverse of the same coin. Coin represents the totality while its sides represent different aspects of same totality. Similarly, Sachchidananda when perceived as a whole – life and death, suffering and joy, evil and good, represent different aspects of the same totality. We are affected by the negative aspects of these dualities. Hence, we perceive them as something not in accordance with our view. The error in our perception creates the following contraries: separation instead of unity, misunderstanding instead of understanding, partial harmony instead of wholistic harmony.

All totality, even if it be only in one scheme of the universal vibrations, even if it be only a totality of the physical consciousness without possession of all that is in movement beyond and behind, must be to that extent a reversion to harmony and a reconciliation of jarring opposites. On the other hand, to Sachchidananda transcendent of the forms of the universe the dual terms themselves, even so understood, can no longer be justly applicable. Transcendence transfigures; it does not reconcile, but rather transmutes opposites into something surpassing them that effaces their oppositions.
     Sri Aurobindo here insists on totality. Only totality will reverse the division to harmony and reconcile the opposing elements. For example, if we take the physical consciousness, viewed in totality, we can arrive at reconciliation and harmony of all opposing factors in that domain.
     Sachchidananda which is universally present in all forms is also present beyond the forms transcending the Universe (Transcendent). The duality we discussed above are not applicable to the Transcendent Sachchidananda. Transcendence (means going beyond) changes the very forms themselves (transfigures). It does not reconcile. Rather it changes the forms in such a way that they no longer present themselves as opposites (transmutation).

     At first, however, we must try to relate the individual again to the harmony of the totality. There it is necessary for us – otherwise there is no issue from the problem – to realise that the terms in which our present consciousness renders the values of the universe, though practically justified for the purposes of human experience and progress, are not the sole terms in which it is possible to render them and may not be the complete, the right, the ultimate formulas.
     As a first step the individual must harmonise himself with the totality. He must rise beyond his egoistic consciousness. This is necessary to get rid of the errors caused by duality. Man, in his ordinary consciousness assigns certain values to things and events happening around him in the universe. He categorises them in certain terms like good and evil, life and death, true and false etc. This may be useful in his practical life. But he should be aware that these terms are not the ultimate and correct ones. They may not be the complete formulas by which they are expressed.

Just as there may be sense-organs or formations of sense-capacity which see the physical world differently and it may well be better, because more completely, than our sense-organs and sense-capacity, so there may be other mental and supramental envisagings of the universe which surpass our own. States of consciousness there are in which Death is only a change in immortal Life, pain a violent backwash of the waters of universal delight, limitation a turning of the Infinite upon itself, evil a circling of the good around its own perfection; and this not in abstract conception only, but in actual vision and in constant and substantial experience. To arrive at such states of consciousness may, for the individual, be one of the most important and indispensable steps of his progress towards self-perfection.
     We perceive the physical world through our sense organs. We had discussed in an earlier Chapter that man possess subtle organs – Sukshma Indriyas and hidden sense faculties besides the regular sense organs. Our sense organs can function within a range only. Whereas the subtle organs & sense capacities have a far wider reach and higher range of perception. There are certain phenomena and objects of the physical world better perceived by the subtle senses which our normal sense organs fail to take cognisance.
     Similarly, the universe also can be perceived by a mental capacity higher than our own. There can be a supramental capacity far superior to our mind. Man can reach a level of consciousness in which he can feel death not as a cessation of Life, but as a process of continuation of Life (immortality). He can find pain as the other face of delight. The human limitation may not be perceived as a restriction but as self-imposed boundary of Infinite. Evil as a movement of good towards perfection.
     Sri Aurobindo says all the above possibilities are not abstract theories. One can realise it in his actual vision and experience. For that the individual has to rise towards a higher state of consciousness. It is a necessary step for man’s progress towards self-perfection.

     Certainly, the practical values given us by our senses and by the dualistic sense-mind must hold good in their field and be accepted as the standard for ordinary life-experience until a larger harmony is ready into which they can enter and transform themselves without losing hold of the realities which they represent. To enlarge the sense-faculties without the knowledge that would give the old sense-values their right interpretation from the new standpoint might lead to serious disorders and incapacities, might unfit for practical life and for the orderly and disciplined use of the reason.
     We have seen in the previous paragraph that man can reconcile the opposite terms of dualities and harmonise them as he reaches higher states of consciousness beyond his ordinary sense mind. But it is a practical fact that for a man to lead his day-to-day life his senses serve as valuable tools. Through them he gives values to things and events around him as good and bad, true and false etc. Sri Aurobindo makes it very clear here that man in his attempt to reach a higher level of consciousness should never side-step his sense mind. Its practical importance should be preserved until a larger harmony is established with the higher level of consciousness. In that case the lower sense mind will not cease to be functional but will be transformed by the higher state of consciousness. The lower will be included in the higher still retaining its practical reality.
     In a higher state of consciousness man may enlarge his sense-faculties. However, while attaining this new status, the old sense-values should be rightly interpreted. This knowledge should be a part of his improved sense faculties. If this knowledge is not there, his expanded sense-faculties will not be of any practical use. This will only lead to serious disorders and incapacities. Man will be unfit to lead his day-to-day life. He cannot be a man of reason with discipline and order. For example, man has invented many improved methods of his mobility like bi-cycle, motorised vehicles, aero- planes etc. Still his basic skill to walk cannot be done away with.

Equally, an enlargement of our mental consciousness out of the experience of the egoistic dualities into an unregulated unity with some form of total consciousness might easily bring about a confusion and incapacity for the active life of humanity in the established order of the world’s relativities. This, no doubt, is the root of the injunction imposed in the Gita on the man who has the knowledge not to disturb the life-basis and thought-basis of the ignorant; for, impelled by his example but unable to comprehend the principle of his action, they would lose their own system of values without arriving at a higher foundation.
     The enlargement of consciousness makes man to rise beyond his dualistic mind which is bound by his ego. He may unite himself with a total consciousness. But if this unity with the higher one is not properly regulated it may lead to confusion and incapacity. It will create a disturbance in the established order of his present worldly life.
     Here Sri Aurobindo makes a reference to the instruction given by the Gita to the men with higher knowledge. As compared to them there are people who live in ignorance. Wise man should not give his higher knowledge to ignorant without sufficiently preparing him. Otherwise it would shake the basis on which life and thought of the ignorant are founded. Those, who are still ignorant, when forced to follow the example of men with knowledge, will lose their own system of values. Because the action of men with knowledge is based on a higher foundation with some other principle which the ignorant may not know of. Here we can take the example of a trained swimmer forcing a man who does not know swimming to cross the river.
     (It is very relevant to know what the Mother has said about this: “ In order to set out on new and unexplored paths towards higher realities, without fear and without any danger one must have organised his being with the help of reason in such a way that it is inwardly in his control……. Only when he does what he wants, knows what he wants and is able to direct himself with certitude one can go forward on the supra-rational (beyond sense-mind) paths fearlessly” – CWM:7:177-80).
     (An example of this was the hippie movement in the west. The Mother had some praise for them. They were daring enough to bring down the old values. But they were not adventurous enough to discover the new values)
     (Also please refer chapter II – The Materialist Denial – “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 – to its heights we can always reach – when we keep our feet firmly on the physical”)

     Such a disorder and incapacity may be accepted personally and are accepted by many great souls as a temporary passage or as the price to be paid for the entry into a wider existence. But the right goal of human progress must be always an effective and synthetic reinterpretation by which the law of that wider existence may be represented in a new order of truths and in a more just and puissant working of the faculties on the life-material of the universe.
     Many great souls who had reached the higher states of consciousness had accepted this disorder and incapacity – their inability to deal with the life on the material plane – as a necessary price they had to pay for their progress. However, Sri Aurobindo says that the goal of man’s progress is to evolve a new order of truths which represent his widened consciousness. This new order must be based on an effective and synthetic (combining all) reinterpretation (statement of facts in newer light) of truths. They should strengthen the workings of the faculties of men on the day to day material plane of life.

For the senses the sun goes round the earth; that was for them the centre of existence and the motions of life are arranged on the basis of a misconception. The truth is the very opposite, but its discovery would have been of little use if there were not a science that makes the new conception the centre of a reasoned and ordered knowledge putting their right values on the perceptions of the senses.
     Sri Aurobindo gives the example of our senses’ wrong perception of sun going around the earth. We conceive everything around our centre of existence i.e. earth and arrange the activities of our life based on this misconception. But the truth is otherwise. This truth is made relevant to our lives by science. Science has given us a reasoned and ordered knowledge about this revelation to ignorant minds. This scientific knowledge has given us the right values to the understanding our senses.

So also for the mental consciousness God moves round the personal ego and all His works and ways are brought to the judgement of our egoistic sensations, emotions and conceptions and are there given values and interpretations which, though a perversion and inversion of the truth of things, are yet useful and practically sufficient in a certain development of human life and progress. They are a rough practical systematization of our experience of things valid so long as we dwell in a certain order of ideas and activities. But they do not represent the last and highest state of human life and knowledge. “Truth is the path and not the falsehood.” The truth is not that God moves round the ego as the centre of existence and can be judged by the ego and its view of the dualities, but that the Divine is itself the centre and that the experience of the individual only finds its own true truth when it is known in the terms of the universal and the transcendent.
     Going by the same example we relate God to ourselves keeping our ego at the centre. We judge the workings of the God by our egoistic sensations and emotions. We judge the God as kind when we are benefitted and when undergo suffering, we call him cruel. In this process we distort the truth turning it upside down by giving our own values and explanations. Yet they may be useful to some extent in development of our life and progress. Sri Aurobindo says they are our rough formulations of our experiences on our practical side. They may be valid as long as we live within a system of ideas and activities. But they are not the final limits of our knowledge. Nor do they represent the highest state of human life.
     Truth is the path on which we must travel and not the path of falsehood. The truth is that God does not move around our ego as centre of our existence. He cannot be judged by our dualistic ego-self. The fact is, the Divine is the centre of our existence. The individual will experience the truth of it only when he rises beyond himself to the universal and transcendent states.

Nevertheless, to substitute this conception for the egoistic without an adequate base of knowledge may lead to the substitution of new but still false and arbitrary ideas for the old and bring about a violent instead of a settled disorder of right values. Such a disorder often marks the inception of new philosophies and religions and initiates useful revolutions. But the true goal is only reached when we can group round the right central conception a reasoned and effective knowledge in which the egoistic life shall rediscover all its values transformed and corrected. Then we shall possess that new order of truths which will make it possible for us to substitute a more divine life for the existence which we now lead and to effectualise a more divine and puissant use of our faculties on the life-material of the universe.
     The ego-centric conception of God must be substituted by Divine centric existence. Sri Aurobindo says this substitution must be done with an adequate base of knowledge. Without this knowledge, we will only substitute old with false and random choice of ideas. This will only lead us to a violent disorder in an already settled disorder. We have seen in the history of mankind that such disorders paved way for new philosophies, religions and revolutions in the society. But the true goal is reached only when the values of the egoistic self are transformed and corrected. Sri Aurobindo says this can be done only by a reasoned and effective knowledge. Such knowledge must be formed round the right central conception. Then we shall possess the new order of truths. This new order will make it possible to substitute a Divine Life for our present existence. Not only that it will enable us to make a more divine and powerfull use of our faculties on the life-material of the world.

     That new life and power of the human integer must necessarily repose on a realisation of the great verities which translate into our mode of conceiving things the nature of the divine existence. It must proceed through a renunciation by the ego of its false standpoint and false certainties, through its entry into a right relation and harmony with the totalities of which it forms a part and with the transcendences from which it is a descent, and through its perfect self-opening to a truth and a law that exceed its own conventions, – a truth that shall be its fulfilment and a law that shall be its deliverance. Its goal must be the abolition of those values which are the creations of the egoistic view of things; its crown must be the transcendence of limitation, ignorance, death, suffering and evil.
     Sri Aurobindo ended the previous paragraph with a statement that the basis of the Divine Life should be founded on a new order of truths. The new life (which is our goal) and the humanity as a whole must be based on higher principles of truth. We talk of Divine Life. But we do not really know the basis of truths on which It is founded. The new order of truths will help the man to understand the reality behind the Higher Existence.
     What is the nature of our ego? It sees division where there is unity; it asserts something as right but in reality, it is not true. As a first step towards new life, the ego must be cured of its defects.
     What should be the character of new life we talk of? Sri Aurobindo says the individual life should have a right relation and be in harmony with the collective life (totality) because it is only a part of the totality. It will realise the Oneness at all levels. We have seen in the earlier chapter that the Divine manifests itself through successive descents through the Universe and the Individual. The new life should also be in harmony with this transcendent from which it came.
     The next step is, the new life should open itself to a truth and law that are superior to the existing standards. Such a truth will lead to its fulfilment (body, mind & life to realise the full potential); such a law – a Divine law – that frees life from all its limitations. The new life will completely get rid of egoistic values.
     Sri Aurobindo says the ultimate achievement of the new life would be: it will be no more be restrained by its limitations; life will be based on knowledge than on ignorance; death will no more be a necessity; suffering and evil will disappear.

     The transcendence, the abolition are not possible here on earth and in our human life if the terms of that life are necessarily bound to our present egoistic valuations. If life is in its nature individual phenomenon and not representation of a universal existence and the breathing of a mighty Life-Spirit, if the dualities which are the response of the individual to its contacts are not merely a response but the very essence and condition of all living, if limitation is the inalienable nature of the substance of which our mind and body are formed, disintegration of death the first and last condition of all life, its end and its beginning, pleasure and pain the inseparable dual stuff of all sensation, joy and grief the necessary light and shade of all emotion, truth and error the two poles between which all knowledge must eternally move, then transcendence is only attainable by the abandonment of human life in a Nirvana beyond all existence or by attainment to another world, a heaven quite otherwise constituted than this material universe.
     The goals we hope to realise in the new life – transcending (exceeding) our limitations, ignorance, death, suffering and evil – are not possible on earth as long as our life is based on values founded on ego.
     What are our perceptions about this worldly life? We think life is individual oriented. We do not feel we are a part of a collective Universal life. We do not feel our life is the outcome of a larger Life-Spirit (Chit-Shakti).
     We are under the impression that the dualities we come across, pleasure and pain, evil and good etc., are the very basic nature of our life. We do not realise that they as our mere responses to those contacts. We accept that limitation is the fundamental nature of our body and mind. We believe that everything death is the beginning and the end of our life. We think that, pleasure and pain are inseparable; joy and grief are two sides of our emotion; knowledge as something caught between truth and error.
     Based on the above conception of life we proceed to think that the solution cannot be found on earth. Perhaps it lies elsewhere, in a distant heaven. Human life has to be abandoned. If man has to go beyond the dualities of joy and suffering, he has to reach a state of Nirvana. If we take all the above limitations as irreversible conditions of life then the ascetic’s stand of rejection of life is justified.

     It is not very easy for the customary mind of man, always attached to its past and present associations, to conceive of an existence still human, yet radically changed in what are now our fixed circumstances. We are in respect to our possible higher evolution much in the position of the original Ape of the Darwinian theory. It would have been impossible for that Ape leading his instinctive arboreal life in primeval forests to conceive that there would be one day an animal on the earth who would use a new faculty called reason upon the materials of his inner and outer existence, who would dominate by that power his instincts and habits, change the circumstances of his physical life, build for himself houses of stone, manipulate Nature’s forces, sail the seas, ride the air, develop codes of conduct, evolve conscious methods for his mental and spiritual development. And if such a conception had been possible for the Ape-mind, it would still have been difficult for him to imagine that by any progress of Nature or long effort of Will, and tendency he himself could develop into that animal.
     We have seen in the previous paragraph that man, living in this world, is unable to conceive a higher life other than his present one of dualities. Sri Aurobindo says this is due to his incapacity. Man is conditioned by his past and present. He is unable to conceive anything other than the fixed circumstances he is accustomed to.
     We are aware of the Darwinian theory of evolution that Ape preceded Man. The life of Ape is based on animal instincts; not on reason like human beings. Its life is restricted to the trees in the forests since age-old times. Naturally the Ape could not have had the capacity to think that a superior creature like human being would appear on the earth. It could not have thought that Man would use reason as a tool to conquer the Nature around him and bring about all the modern inventions to facilitate his life; evolve conscious methods for his mental and spiritual development. Even assuming that the Ape could have had the capacity to foresee the appearance of Man, still it would not have imagined that it had the capacity to evolve into a human being.
     Sri Aurobindo says that Man in his present evolutionary status is much alike the Ape that preceded him.

Man, because he has acquired reason and still more because he has indulged his power of imagination and intuition, he is able to conceive an existence higher than his own and even to envisage his personal elevation beyond his present state into that existence. His idea of the supreme state is an absolute of all that is positive to his own concepts and desirable to his own instinctive aspiration, – Knowledge without its negative shadow of error, Bliss without its negation in experience of suffering, Power without its constant denial by incapacity, purity and plenitude of being without the opposing sense of defect and limitation. It is so that he conceives his gods; it is so that he constructs his heavens. But it is not so that his reason conceives of a possible earth and a possible humanity. His dream of God and Heaven is really a dream of his own perfection; but he finds the same difficulty in accepting its practical realisation here for his ultimate aim as would the ancestral Ape if called upon to believe in himself as the future Man. His imagination, his religious aspirations may hold that end before him; but when his reason asserts itself, rejecting imagination and transcendent intuition, he puts it by as a brilliant superstition contrary to the hard facts of the material universe. It becomes then only his inspiring vision of the impossible. All that is possible is a conditioned, limited and precarious knowledge, happiness, power and good.
     But Man, unlike the Ape, is gifted with reason. He has the capacity for imagination and intuition. With this, he is able to conceive of a higher life, foresee his elevation to a higher state of existence.
     What are his personal ideals he aspires for in the higher status? Whatever he conceives as positives in his life, he wants to reach their absolutes (meaning not dependent on anything else, existing on its own right not diminished by relativity). They are, Knowledge without error, Bliss without suffering, Power not limited by incapacity, purity without defect, abundance without limitation.
     In his aspiration to reach the above absolutes, he conceives of God & Heaven – a superior status to his present one. But his reason prevents him to think of such a practical possibility on earth for humanity. Sri Aurobindo says Man dreams of his own perfection. As a result, he dreams of God and Heaven. But Man has difficulty in accepting that he can realise the absolutes he aspires for, here on earth. It is similar to the Ape which could never foresee the possibility of itself evolving into a Man.
     Man can conceive of such a possibility of higher life by his imagination and religious aspirations. But he is pulled down by his reason. Reason always rejects intuition and imagination calling them as superstitions; it cannot see beyond the hard facts of material life.
     Whatever man sees in his inspired vision seems to be for his reason as something impossible. Hence, man has to put up with what appears to his reason possible; limited knowledge, happiness which cannot last long, power and good limited in their capacity.

     Yet in the principle of reason itself there is the assertion of a Transcendence. For reason is in its whole aim and essence the pursuit of Knowledge, the pursuit, that is to say, of Truth by the elimination of error. Its view, its aim is not that of a passage from a greater to a lesser error, but it supposes a positive, pre-existent Truth towards which through the dualities of right knowledge and wrong knowledge we can progressively move. If our reason has not the same instinctive certitude with regard to the other aspirations of humanity, it is because it lacks the same essential illumination inherent in its own positive activity. We can just conceive of a positive or absolute realisation of happiness, because the heart to which that instinct for happiness belongs has its own form of certitude, is capable of faith, and because our minds can envisage the elimination of unsatisfied want which is the apparent cause of suffering. But how shall we conceive of the elimination of pain from nervous sensation or of death from the life of the body? Yet the rejection of pain is a sovereign instinct of the sensations, the rejection of death a dominant claim inherent in the essence of our vitality. But these things present themselves to our reason as instinctive aspirations, not as realisable potentialities.

     In this paragraph Sri Aurobindo discusses why our reason is unable to perceive such transcendent positive states like absolute Bliss, Power etc., possible for man. Reason as we all know is always in pursuit of knowledge. In this process it proceeds from wrong knowledge to right knowledge. Its ultimate destination is to reach the Truth by elimination of errors. Sri Aurobindo says, there is a strong inclination towards transcendence (i.e. going beyond the established knowledge), in the basic character of reason. Reason in its pursuit of ever-expanding the knowledge always aims at improvement.
     We know that all scientific progress is based on knowledge founded on reason. Scientific reason believes that all its successive inventions must reach an ultimate perfection. Sri Aurobindo calls it a pre-existing Truth. For example, invention of telegraph did not stop with that in the field of communication. Successive improvements led to the invention of telephones, wireless, cell phones etc. This process will go on until the ultimate perfection in that technology is achieved. In other words, there is a process of transcendence (exceeding beyond) involved as a fundamental concept of reason. In the matter of pursuit of truth reason has certainty that it can reach the absolute devoid of errors.
     Why reason does not have this kind of natural certainty in respect of other human aspirations? Because the kind of enlightenment reason has in its own positive activity (pursuit of knowledge without error), is lacking in respect of other positive human aspirations like elimination of pain, immortality etc. For example, our mind can be convinced that if we eliminate wants, we can be absolutely happy. It is quite a natural state for our heart also which has inherent belief that such a state is attainable.
     But can we think of removing pain from our nervous system? Can we think of life without death? Yet we know that rejection of pain is the basic instinct of our senses. When something pricks us causing pain our first reaction is to remove that thing from our body. Similarly prolonging our life by shielding ourselves from death, is an inborn essence of our living. Improvement in the field of medicine has increased man’s longevity. Our reason admits them as our natural aspirations. Yet it treats them as something impossible.

     Yet the same law should hold throughout. The error of the practical reason is an excessive subjection to the apparent fact which it can immediately feel as real and an insufficient courage in carrying profounder facts of potentiality to their logical conclusion. What is, is the realisation of an anterior potentiality; present potentiality is a clue to future realisation. And here potentiality exists; for the mastery of phenomena depends upon a knowledge of their causes and processes and if we know the causes of error, sorrow, pain, death, we may labour with some hope towards their elimination. For knowledge is power and mastery.

     Sri Aurobindo says reason cannot apply two different laws: one in respect of realisation of absolute Knowledge as a possibility, the other in respect of absoluteness of other human aspirations as an impossibility. This is caused by the error of the reason. The reason is too much influenced by what appears as an apparent fact to it. It immediately feels it as real. There is also something much deeper than what is apparent to the reason. Sri Aurobindo says reason lacks the courage to bring out the potentialities contained in the deeper facts.
For example, when someone narrates an incident witnessed by him through his physical eyes, we readily believe it as true. If the same person describes a vision of a future event observed by his subtle senses, we become sceptical. Our reason lacks the courage to admit its possibility.
     Whatever we have realised now, was once thought of as a potential possibility. Whatever potentiality contained in the now has the key to future possibility. For example, long-time back, seeing the birds fly man thought he could also fly in future. It has become a reality now. Similarly, research is going on in the West in life extension, known as transhumanism. They believe that the limitations of the human body and mortality can be transcended by machines and technology. Research in Genetic engineering is underway to extend the longevity of man. This is going to be the future possibility.
     Therefore, Sri Aurobindo says potentiality always exists. To actualise the potentiality, we should acquire sufficient knowledge of their causes and processes. Here knowledge is the key.
     Going by the same logic we may ask, can we eliminate the negative phenomena we come across in our life such as error, sorrow, pain, death etc.? Sri Aurobindo assures that man can hope to eliminate them if he acquires the knowledge of their causes. He further says that knowledge is power; through knowledge on can gain mastery over the processes.

     In fact, we do pursue as an ideal, so far as we may, the elimination of all these negative or adverse phenomena. We seek constantly to minimise the causes of error, pain and suffering. Science, as its knowledge increases, dreams of regulating birth and of indefinitely prolonging life, if not of effecting the entire conquest of death. But because we envisage only external or secondary causes, we can only think of removing them to a distance and not of eliminating the actual roots of that against which we struggle. And we are thus limited because we strive towards secondary perceptions and not towards root-knowledge, because we know processes of things, but not their essence. We thus arrive at a more powerful manipulation of circumstances, but not at essential control. But if we could grasp the essential nature and the essential cause of error, suffering and death, we might hope to arrive at a mastery over them which should be not relative but entire. We might hope even to eliminate them altogether and justify the dominant instinct of our nature by the conquest of that absolute good, bliss, knowledge and immortality which our intuitions perceive as the true and ultimate condition of the human being.

     Man, as an ideal, always pursues the elimination of these negative phenomena in life. We try to minimise their causes. By scientific advancement we try to regulate birth and prolong life though we are unable to eliminate death completely. Sri Aurobindo says while doing so we look at only the external and secondary causes. Because of this approach we are able only to minimise them but not able to remove them completely. Our knowledge about them is only secondary. We know the process but not the root cause. For example, we know how suffering is affecting us. But we do not know why suffering occurs. We somehow manage to alleviate the suffering. But we lack complete control over its cause.
     Sri Aurobindo says the solution lies in our grasping the essential nature and the essential cause of suffering, death etc. Only then can we gain absolute mastery over them and eliminate them completely. The dominant instinct of our nature is achievement of absolute good, bliss, knowledge and immortality. Our intuition tells us that they are the true and ultimate states attainable by man.

     The ancient Vedanta presents us with such a solution in the conception and experience of Brahman as the one universal and essential fact and of the nature of Brahman as Sachchidananda.

     Is there any spiritual truth that confirms our dominant instinct of all the positive states we aspire to reach?
     We have seen in the earlier chapter (No V) that Brahman is the Alpha and the Omega. Brahman is the One besides whom there is nothing else existent. This is the Vedantic truth. It describes the nature of Brahman as Sachchidananda i.e. Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. We are also Brahman. Therefore, it is quite natural for our instinct to aspire for the absolute of all the positives we experience in our lives – Bliss, Immortality, Good, Knowledge etc.

     In this view the essence of all life is the movement of a universal and immortal existence, the essence of all sensation and emotion is the play of a universal and self-existent delight in being, the essence of all thought and perception is the radiation of a universal and all-pervading truth, the essence of all activity is the progression of a universal and self-effecting good.

     Now, let us extend the above Vedantic Truth. Going by the view that Brahman is the one universal and essential fact, the essence all life becomes the movement of a universal and immortal existence. The essence of all our sensations and emotions become play of universal and self-existent delight. The essence of our thought and perception is the radiation of a universal and all-pervading (spreading throughout) truth. The essence of all activity is the progression of a universal and self-effecting (causing on its own) good.
     We have seen in the earlier paragraph that we should eliminate the root cause of all negative phenomena instead of merely minimising them. The above Vedantic truth will form the basis for achieving the above objective.

     But the play and movement embodies itself in a multiplicity of forms, a variation of tendencies, an interplay of energies. Multiplicity permits of the interference of a determinative and temporarily deformative factor, the individual ego; and the nature of the ego is a self-limitation of consciousness by a willed ignorance of the rest of its play and its exclusive absorption in one form, one combination of tendencies, one field of the movement of energies. Ego is the factor which determines the reactions of error, sorrow, pain, evil, death; for it gives these values to movements which would otherwise be represented in their right relation to the one Existence, Bliss, Truth and Good. By recovering the right relation we may eliminate the ego-determined reactions, reducing them eventually to their true values; and this recovery can be effected by the right participation of the individual in the consciousness of the totality and in the consciousness of the transcendent which the totality represents.
     In the previous paragraph we have seen that the essence of all life, sensations and emotions and thoughts and activities are all universal play of Sachchidananda. The Universal play takes place through multiplicity of forms. There is also variation of tendencies and interplay of energies. What happens when there is multiplicity of forms? Multiplicity gives birth to individual egos. There is interference of ego in each play of event. Ego becomes the determinative (causing features) and deformative (that changes the original form) factor though temporarily.
     What is the nature of ego? Sri Aurobindo describes the characteristics of ego:

  • There is a self-limitation of consciousness. It takes place by willed ignorance of the rest. Consciousness by its nature is Universal. But ego limits it to its own self to the exclusion of others. For example, man by his nature is conscious of his own interests and priorities. His consciousness excludes all the others’.
  • Ego limits itself to one form. Also, it limits itself to one set of tendencies and one field of its action. ‘I’ means the person contained in this body only – i.e. one form. As a result, each person has a set of tendencies of his own. His activities are also limited to a particular field.
  • It is the Ego which causes the reactions of error, sorrow, pain, evil and death. In fact, we have seen earlier that these negatives as we perceive them are in essence nothing but Sachchidananda itself. We are unable to see their true relation to Sachchidananda because of wrong values assigned by the ego.

     What is the solution to this problem? All our actions, if observed closely, are prompted by our ego. The solution lies in elimination of ego-determined reactions. This restores the true values to the wrong movements caused by ego. For example, by elimination of ego one can convert the pain and suffering into Ananda. Sri Aurobindo says the recovery of right values can take place only by participation of individual ego in totality of consciousness (Cosmic). This totality also represents the consciousness of the transcendent. We have seen earlier that all problems are caused by lack of harmony. By harmonising the individual with the totality and the transcendent the wrong values assigned by our ego can be corrected.

     Into later Vedanta there crept and arrived at fixity the idea that the limited ego is not only the cause of the dualities, but the essential condition for the existence of the universe. By getting rid of the ignorance of the ego and its resultant limitation we do indeed eliminate the dualities, but we eliminate along with them our existence in the cosmic movement. Thus we return to the essentially evil and illusory nature of human existence and the vanity of all effort after perfection in the life of the world. A relative good linked always to its opposite is all that here we can seek. But if we adhere to the larger and profounder idea that the ego is only an intermediate representation of something beyond itself, we escape from this consequence and are able to apply Vedanta to fulfilment of life and not only to the escape from life. The essential cause and condition of universal existence is the Lord, Ishwara or Purusha, manifesting and occupying individual and universal forms. The limited ego is only an intermediate phenomenon of consciousness necessary for a certain line of development. Following this line the individual can arrive at that which is beyond himself, that which he represents, and can yet continue to represent it, no longer as an obscure and limited ego, but as a centre of the Divine and of the universal consciousness embracing, utilising and transforming into harmony with the Divine all individual determinations.
     The later Vedanta (8th century -Mayavada philosophy) held the following facts as its central idea:
     The limited ego is the cause of the dualities; it is an essential condition for the existence of the universe. In other words, because the ego exists the universe exists, if there is no ego there is no universe. There is no reality to the universe but for our ego. We perceive the world through our senses of our egoistic existence. We can eliminate the dualities by getting rid of the ego and its ignorance. In this process we also eliminate our existence in the universe. We escape from life. Then all our efforts to attain perfection in life becomes a useless exercise. Here all our progress can only be relative, each positive aspect is linked to its negative.
     Our object of life is its fulfilment and not the escape from it. Sri Aurobindo says the solution lies in our interpretation of ego. Instead of viewing ego in a narrower sense we ought to take a larger and deeper view. That, ego is only an intermediate representation. It represents something beyond itself. With this view we need not escape from life to eliminate dualities caused by ego. Rather we can apply the Vedantic idea for fulfilment of our life. An individual can be fully liberated from his ego. Yet he can actively participate in life.
     Who is the essential cause and condition of universal existence? It is the Lord, Ishwara or Purusha manifesting himself in the individual and the universe. Universe is not an illusory creation of ego. Sri Aurobindo says the limited ego is only an intermediary phenomenon of consciousness. Individual has to progress along this line. He has to reach a state which is beyond himself. In fact, he represents that which is beyond himself. Then, ego will no more be necessary.
     Once the individual reaches a state beyond himself (one with the universe and the transcendent) there is enlargement in the capacity of the individual. He is no longer clouded and limited by his ego. The individual becomes a centre of the Divine and Universal consciousness. He embraces all other individual centres of consciousness – multiplicity. There is transformation by way of harmony of all other individual centres with the Divine.

     We have then the manifestation of the divine Conscious Being in the totality of physical Nature as the foundation of human existence in the material universe. We have the emergence of that Conscious Being in an involved and inevitably evolving Life, Mind, and Supermind as the condition of our activities; for it is this evolution which has enabled man to appear in Matter and it is this evolution which will enable him progressively to manifest God in the body, – the universal Incarnation. We have in egoistic formation the intermediate and decisive factor which allows the One to emerge as the conscious Many out of that indeterminate totality general, obscure and formless which we call the subconscient, – hrdya samudra, the ocean heart in things of the Rig Veda. We have the dualities of life and death, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, truth and error, good and evil as the first formations of egoistic consciousness, the natural and inevitable outcome of its attempt to realise unity in an artificial construction of itself exclusive of the total truth, good, life and delight of being in the universe. We have the dissolution of this egoistic construction by the self-opening of the individual to the universe and to God as a means of that supreme fulfilment to which egoistic life is only a prelude even as animal life was only a prelude to the human. We have the realisation of the All in the individual by the transformation of the limited ego into a conscious centre of the divine unity and freedom as the term at which the fulfilment arrives. And we have the outflowing of the infinite and absolute Existence, Truth, Good and Delight of being on the Many in the world as the divine result towards which the cycles of our evolution move. This is the supreme birth which maternal Nature holds in herself; of this she strives to be delivered.
     What happens to the material universe in such a scenario? There is a manifestation of the divine Conscious Being in the totality of the physical nature. Matter is divinised. It forms the foundation of human existence in the material universe. We already have the Conscious Being involved in all our activities. It is evolving as Life, Mind and Supermind. This emergence of Conscious Being forms the condition of all our activities. Sri Aurobindo says this evolution only enabled man to appear in Matter. It will enable him to manifest Divine in body progressively. Sri Aurobindo calls it universal Incarnation.
     The egoistic individual is an intermediate being who has a decisive role to play. The totality in general is indeterminate (meaning- not well defined). It is lacking clarity and formless. We call this mass as subconscient. Sri Aurobindo refers to this as hrdya Samudra, the ocean heart of things of the rig Veda. The egoistic intermediary only allows the One to emerge as conscious Many from this subconscient.
     The dualities of life and death, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, truth and error, good and evil are the first formations of egoistic consciousness. They are the inevitable results of its attempt to realise unity in an artificial construction of itself. In this process it excludes itself from total truth, good, life and delight of the universe. Hence the unity is not real.
     The individual egoistic consciousness disappears only when the individual opens to the universal (cosmic consciousness) and transcendent. As animal life was the prelude to the human, the egoistic life serves as a prelude to the supreme fulfilment of individual’s self- opening to God. In this process the limited ego of the individual is transformed into conscious centre of divine unity. Thus, the Divine All is realised in the individual. Unlike the egoistic centre, this conscious centre is not limited. Its fulfilment comes with full freedom.
     As a result of this fulfilment there is an outflowing of the infinite and absolute Existence, Truth, Good and Delight of being – Sachchidananda on Many in the world. This is the divine result ultimately achieved by our cycle of revolution. This crowning result, Sri Aurobindo calls it as the supreme birth. This the maternal Nature holds in herself. This she strives to deliver out of herself.