The philosophy of Sri Aurobindo leads us to a future where the Consciousness of man will rise to usher in a new era for humanity.
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is rooted in Vedanta, but has a distinct tilt, a unique emphasis, and a significant extension. Vedanta is a spiritual philosophy, the three pillars of which are the Upanishads, the Gita, and the Brahm Sutras. A key feature of Vedanta is that the creation of the material universe was the result of a non-material Supreme Consciousness itself becoming the universe. In other words, the Creator did not create the creation; It became the creation. Thus, through the process of creation, the Creator became visible in a material form, or manifested itself. Hence all creation is the Creator (called God or the Divine) itself in a material form. As a corollary, it follows that the Divine is present in every bit of the creation.
Thus shall the earth open to divinity
And common natures feel the wide uplift,
Illumine common acts with the Spirit’s ray
And meet the deity in common things.
Nature shall live to manifest secret God,
The Spirit shall take up the human play,
This earthly life become the life divine.
SRI AUROBINDO (Savitri, Book 11, Canto 1, pp. 710-711)
For example, if a child takes a square piece of paper, folds it, and makes a boat out of it, we do not need any evidence to prove that the paper is present in every bit of the boat. Since the boat is nothing but the paper in another form, the paper has an all-pervasive presence throughout the boat. Similarly, the universe is nothing but the Divine in another form. Therefore, the Divine has an all-pervasive presence throughout the universe. The universal presence of the Divine is what is called the Spirit, and the presence of the Divine in an individual is what is called the Soul. With this basic background, let us examine three highlights of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.
A life-affirming tilt
The basic philosophy remaining the same, its implications for life can be diametrically opposite depending on the way we interpret it. One interpretation is that since the fundamental imperishable and constant Reality of all creation is the One Divine, the multiplicity, plurality and differentiation that characterize creation are an illusion. Although our ordinary life revolves around that illusion, the aim of life is to overcome that illusion. Therefore, we should treat this illusion with the contempt that it deserves, treat the illusion as an obstacle to the Realization of the One Reality that is truly real, and at best tolerate the illusion as a necessary evil till we shed the body and, hopefully, attain the bliss of liberation in heaven. This makes everlasting moksha (liberation) and escape from the cycle of birth and death the highest goal of life. This is a life-negating tilt, and its logical consequence is a dichotomy between worldly life and spiritual life. A select few go to the Himalayas or a cave and pursue the One that really matters; but the vast majority cannot afford such a luxury, and are therefore condemned to a worldly life full of suffering and injustice till death provides some respite.
Another interpretation of Vedanta is that the world is not an illusion but a manifestation of the Divine. If the Divine is Real, its manifestation cannot be unreal. We cannot accept the invisible form of the Divine as Real, and reject Its visible form as unreal. That would be rejecting one aspect of the very Reality that we consider to be Imperishable. Although the visible form of the Divine is perishable, it is only the form that is perishable; the essence is Imperishable. Although the visible form is temporary, it is eternal in its recurrence. To give an analogy, the deeper reality of pots is clay, but while the pots exist, the pots are not unreal. They may break, and the clay we get from them may be recycled to give us new pots of a different shape, but that does not mean that the pots are an illusion. Thus the world may be a temporary reality, not the Absolute Reality, but it is not unreal. Further, if the universe is real, and to take it as the entire reality is the result of ignorance, the aim of life should be to get rid of the ignorance so that we can see the world and worldly life as imperfect manifestations of the perfect Divine. That is possible only by engaging with the world with love and a feeling of oneness. As we overcome the ignorance, the world becomes a better place to live in. Thus the goal of life is to use worldly life as a vehicle for overcoming ignorance. Hence, the world and worldly life should not be rejected, but transformed to be worthy of the One that they manifest. This is an interpretation that affirms life, accepts life, and embraces life wholeheartedly. Through this interpretation, worldly life is enriched and moves towards its highest possibilities. It is this life-affirming tilt that Sri Aurobindo gave to Vedanta.
The emphasis on evolution
When the Supreme Consciousness chose to manifest as the material universe, it became matter, which seemed to know nothing and could apparently do nothing. What a great fall! The all-knowing, all-powerful assumed a form that was highly ignorant and powerless. Thus, creation was an act of gross self-limitation, which may be called involution. However, the Supreme Consciousness did not disappear by becoming matter; it only hid itself. Then began the process of expressing the Supreme Consciousness, bit by bit, through the process of evolution. First came life, which expressed the Consciousness of the Supreme a little better than matter. Then came the mind, which expressed it still better. Man is the latest product of the process of evolution. Man has, by far, the best developed mind. But even man expresses only a small fraction of the Supreme Consciousness. However, man is unique in being able to evolve in consciousness during life through its ‘own efforts’. Self-realized seers and mystics express the Supreme Consciousness almost completely, but what enables them to express It is not a better developed mind but an element that is qualitatively different from the mind. These seers and mystics give a glimpse of what the next stage in evolution will be like. The evolutionary perspective finds a very prominent place in Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual philosophy.
A futuristic extension
Sri Aurobindo has given the assurance that the next leap in evolution, which will introduce a principle higher than the mind (the supermind or the supramental) on a significant scale in the world, is round the corner. As a result, a consciousness significantly higher than the mental, which has been so far confined to a rare few will become the norm. Further, since man can evolve during its lifetime, if a sufficiently large number of human beings engage consciously in living a life that would lead to accelerated growth of consciousness, the average level of consciousness in the world would register a significant rise. Thus, man can collaborate with nature and thereby accelerate the process of evolution. A collective rise in consciousness of our planet is the goal of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. The practical implication of a rise in the average level of earth consciousness is that the affairs of the world would then be conducted from that higher plane of awareness. At that plane, the ego-driven ignorant consciousness that works on the basis of superficial differences and divisions is replaced by a knowledgeable consciousness that acts on the basis of the underlying oneness. That will be the ultimate solution to the problems of human existence such as evil, injustice and suffering. The highly optimistic futuristic extension of spiritual philosophy is Sri Aurobindo’s unique contribution to Vedanta.
Sri Aurobindo was a seer who was also a philosopher. Philosophy can be based on rational analysis. Truth based on rational analysis can be erroneous, and is always subject to doubts and questions. But a seer has experienced the Truth. Experience has a certainty that leaves no room for doubts and questions. Therefore, the one who has experienced the Truth is called a Realized Soul, which means that the Truth has become real to him. Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus on spiritual philosophy, The Life Divine, is based on his Realization, but for the sake of intellectuals, he has also analyzed and rationalized his experiences. Since he was not only a great seer but also an intellectual genius, The Life Divine is extremely thorough, thoroughly rational, and leaves no question untouched or unresolved. A more complete and poetic description of Sri Aurobindo’s experiences, and a summary of his spiritual philosophy, are also available in his epic, Savitri which is truly an Upanishad in the English language. Sri Aurobindo wrote about a hundred years ago but gave a roadmap that can serve mankind well for at least a few thousand years