Sri Aurobindo’s View of Existence

Bob Macfarlane

Dec. 18, 2001

In the current human condition, man finds himself in a unique evolutionary position. As the first partially self-conscious animal, man is capable of detaching himself to a greater or lesser degree from his animal past and rising into spheres of mind to observe, consider and interpret the nature and purpose of existence. For a significant period of human history, consciousness was limited to an experience of reality that lacked significant conscious thought or reflection. Gradually over time, a greater degree of conscious awareness grew out of the repeated impact of different forces on the senses. Today, the self-conscious center in the human animal has grown to an organized sense mind, a physical mind and on occasions a thinking mind, which is less dependent on the senses than other parts of mind. But despite the progress, human awareness is still highly dependent and subject to physical and vital sensations that produce at best a clouded picture of reality.

Despite the gradual evolution of mental consciousness, the nature and character of human consciousness is such that it does not have the capacity or instrumentality required to answer the fundamental questions about the meaning of existence. Mind, which has grown out of man’s sense nature and animal past, is an instrument that knows only through separation and division. Its consciousness and subsequent awareness is made up of indirect sensations which are received and processed by the mind resulting in a constructed knowledge rather than a direct knowledge of reality. Humanity, which has been and continues to seek for answers to the essential questions of the meaning and purpose of life through mind, has found only a paradoxical and an unexplainable reality where the fundamental determinants and reasons for existence remain a mystery.

In the past three to four hundred years, humanity has become preoccupied with an attraction to science and its sense of superiority related to physical knowledge of forces and forms that make up the outer expression of reality. Science has provided man with many explanations of the outer workings of Nature along with some insights into the operation of the universe that have satisfied the yearning and questions of the average person about the action and some of the meaning of life. But this advancement in scientific knowledge has not been able to answer the essential questions that man has raised repeatedly throughout history about the meaning and purpose of life. In many circumstances, man can answer how something happens but not why? For some this progress has been satisfying, while for others it has only made the original questions more and more important.

Sri Aurobindo presents a theory of creation and offers a path for a seeker to delve into these fundamental mysteries and to find answers through a different form or state of consciousness that knows things directly rather than through the constructed consciousness of the sense mind. In his theory, he argues that one must use an appropriate instrument that is capable of the knowledge we are trying to discover. He argues that for humanity to answer these fundamental questions, it must give up the reliance on mind and its self-constructed knowledge and seek a new poise of consciousness that can know the nature of the reality directly. Based on this premise, he explains how man must move away from his surface consciousness and break through to the inner being that is closer to his true Nature. But this is not the final poise of consciousness needed to answer these questions fully. From this point of consciousness, one must continue to reach further back until he finds the psychic being and its connections with higher states of consciousness, which are the direct extension of the original consciousness that created the material universe.

Once man has separated himself form the surface mind and found the deepest psychic connection, he will begin to see and know more of the true nature of reality. Rather than knowing this reality through secondary impressions caused by sensation, man will know it by a greater and greater sense of identity. As one continues to move beyond the psychic center, they will reach the primary consciousness that is responsible for the creation of the cosmos. At this point, one will know the answers to all of the fundamental questions that mankind has been seeking answers for not through reason and argumentation but through direct knowledge. Sri Aurobindo describes this consciousness as the Supermind-a unitary consciousness that is the nature of Sat Chit Ananda.

Sri Aurobindo describes the mysteries of the universe in mental and rational terms from this supramental poise of consciousness in the rest of his theory and invites a new breed of explorer to an adventure of consciousness that will lead to the establishment of a new species that will consciously create the kingdom of heaven on earth.

According to Sri Aurobindo, the origin or source of all that exists in the cosmos and outside of the cosmos is a Self-Existent Reality. This Self-Existent Reality is beyond the cosmos and yet is all that is the cosmos. This Self-Existent Reality is without feature, form or quality. It is beyond all that we know. It is a state of Reality that we can not describe by thoughts, words, space or time. It is all of these and at the same time it is none of these things. It is the original essence of everything. It has always existed and it is all that has, does and will exist. There is only That.

This Self-Existent Reality is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present in its original state of Transcendent Existence. All exists in this poise of consciousness-Status-as potential. Everything exists there in potential but it is not unreal or non-existent. It is not less or diminished by the fact that it exists in Status. Everything is One in this poise of consciousness and nothing is separate from that Oneness. It is something like the writer of a story who dreams up his characters and plot before writing the book. All the characters exist in the status of his consciousness. They are all part of the author and the story. They exist in a state where the beginning, the middle and the end of the story all exist at one time in the consciousness of the author. One can see each character and their motives and all of the others as part of the story and even separate from the story. In this plane of Status none of the characters are less or more because they live as an idea form rather than a material form. So too in this original Status of the Self-Existent Reality, All Exists and are One.

The Self-Existent Reality is capable of assuming other poises of consciousness outside of Status without changing its fundamental nature and all that exists within It. It is possible for the Self-Existent Reality to assume a poise of consciousness in which all that exists in Status expresses in an outer form or Reality. By changing its poise of consciousness the Self-Existent Reality has not altered itself, it has simply shifted from the poise of Being to the poise of Becoming. In the shift from one poise of consciousness to another, the unexpressed conscious force of the original Self-Existent Reality extends itself into an expression of conscious force and form-manifestation. This change in consciousness does not create or manufacture the Cosmos, rather it brings forth all that existed in Itself in the original poise of Status and expresses it through an extension in time and space and matter. Thus, all that we know in the Cosmos as force and form is an extension of the original consciousness of the One in Status. The Original consciousness was a single Self-Existent Reality. In its extension into force and form, it still remains One and undivided.

In this process of bringing forth Itself in extension, the Self-Existent Reality has organized its consciousness and energies in a gradient from the spiritual to the material. The first point of extension of the Self-Existent Reality was to a new consciousness in the cosmos. This center of consciousness can be known from the inner being of the human form. It has been experienced and known by the great explorers of consciousness in the past as SAT-CHIT-ANANDA. This primary extension knows itself to be and in knowing itself, knows itself to be without limits-therefore it knows itself to be blissful. The nature of this unitary state of manifest consciousness is Supermind. It is from within this unitary consciousness that all forms of existence, which originated as the Real Ideas of the Self-Existent Reality, begin the process of expression as consciousness moves from Status to Becoming.

Within SAT-CHIT-ANANDA and its Supramental nature there are gradients of consciousness as the extension continues towards material manifestation. Comprehending Supermind is the highest state of consciousness in which all is seen and known as One. Everything is seen from an overarching view of a single consciousness expressing itself in each and every consciousness formation. The next state of consciousness is Apprehending Supermind. In this poise of consciousness, the center of focus moves to the viewpoint and standpoint of the individual form. Each form can be seen from a single point of view or from any other point of view. This view lacks the overarching view and comprehensiveness, but even in the apparently narrower perspective each form and all forms see and know themselves to be the Self-Existent Reality. At both stages of this rarefied consciousness, the unitary consciousness persists and true awareness and understanding is possible through direct knowledge of the Oneness of Existence.

As the extension continues away from the Supermind towards full material extension, a break in the unitary consciousness arises. Within the Apprehending Supermind, consciousness loses itself and its identity with the One. For the first time, consciousness is lost in the form and becomes identified with the outer nature, the surface expression, and characteristics of that form. At this point Supermind extends itself into mind and creates the first stage of ignorance. Consciousness loses its sense of oneness and becomes aware of separation, isolation, demarcation and loss of its true identify as the One. It is in this stage of the extension that Mind is created and the roots of mental ego are forged.

As the descent continues still closer to material manifestation, universal mind extends itself further to the formation of Life. In the continuing descent the further division and separation isolates life forces that create and sustain all material forms of existence. This further descent coupled with the initial division in mind further solidifies the sense of separation and isolation that characterizes the divided consciousness of material existence.

In the final step of the descent towards material manifestation, universal mind creates the material forms of matter though an involution of itself that creates repeating forms of energy that are lost in self-absorption. Thus the extension is completed through a series of stages of involution and self-absorption of the consciousness of the One. The final expression in the new state of extension is external forms--matter, which are symbols of the Real Ideas of the Self-Existent Reality in the original consciousness of Status.

Throughout the descent and formation of the cosmos the One has not changed. It still remains One. It never splits. Rather it takes on temporary demarcations that allow Itself to appear as forms put forth from the original force of its consciousness in Status. The true seekers will know that all forces and forms are One from the poise of the supramental consciousness. They will see and know by identify that each and every form and every part of a form is a temporary demarcation of the One that allows the Real Ideas to take on expression in the poise of Extension.

What then is the meaning of life within this vision? The cosmos and all that exists is the One. The One is a Self-Existent Reality that can assume more than one poise of consciousness simultaneously. Thus the cosmos is made up of two poises of consciousness that exist simultaneously in the Self-Existent Reality--One of Status-Being, in which all exists in the unexpressed potential of consciousness, and the other of Extension-Becoming, in which through a movement of consciousness the One extends itself outwardly to manifest in space, time and matter all that existed in Itself in Potential.

The outer cosmos then is not some state of Hell or damnation, but rather it is the outer extension of the One --That which Is and knows Itself as Infinite Bliss. In this context, the emergence of a self-conscious animal is just one step in the evolution of a Self-Conscious form that is capable of expressing the infinite powers of the original consciousness of the One.

Sri Aurobindo provides the seeker with a road map to discover the truth of his theory and their true Nature. Once that discovery has been made, he invites them to transform the world into the kingdom of heaven on earth. The broad principles of the search he advocates are clear.

  1. Man must begin by detaching from his surface personality, time, space, ego and selfishness.
  2. Man must disengage from the constructive consciousness of the mind and its divided awareness.
  3. Man must discover his psychic center which is the secret entrance to the ascending grades of higher consciousness.
  4. Man must climb back to and station himself in the Supramental consciousness where he will rediscover the Oneness of Existence.
  5. Man must act from a poise of consciousness that permits him to live in Status and Extension simultaneously.
  6. Man must act from that center as a point of self-conscious manifestation to transform life on earth to that of heaven on earth -- God in manifestation.