A new insight which modern Yogis like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo bring to the science of Yoga is the evolutionary significance of Yoga. Since this is an important modern contribution to the philosophy of Yoga, in this article we are presenting Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary vision of Yoga.
Key Perspectives: from matter to spirit: evolution as the growth of consciousness; consciousness in matter; vital response of the plant; sense-awareness in the animal; self-awareness in man; towards the supramental future.
From Matter to Spirit: Evolution as the Growth of Consciousness:
In Sri Aurobindo’s vision, the terrestrial evolution is viewed as the Yoga of Nature. The supreme Spirit which is a pure, infinite, concentrated, dense, self-luminous and all-revealing Consciousness, chid-ghana, through a process of successive self-limitation, descend into and becomes the dense, dark, self-lost and involved consciousness of and in matter. The terrestrial evolution is nothing but a gradual self-manifestation of this involved consciousness in Matter, passing through Life and Mind, and finally recovering its original nature in the Spirit. In this article we will try to trace this evolutionary journey from Matter to Spirit.
Consciousness in Matter
When we look at the picture of the subatomic world painted by New Physics we perceive an unbroken, unified and interconnected whole of space-time-energy held together by a supra-physical reality, the nature of which seems to be some form “consciousness” or “information”. The Aspect-experiment in Physics, which shows that there is an instantaneous exchange of information between particles, indicates some form of a unified field of intelligence behind the material reality. And some physicists are bold enough to come to the most logical conclusion to which the new discoveries in their field lead to, that is, there is a consciousness in Matter. For example physicist E. H. Walker, speculating on the possibility that a photon may be conscious, writes:
“Consciousness may be associated with all quantum mechanical processes — since everything that occurs is the result of one or more quantum mechanical events, the universe is “inhabited” by an almost unlimited number of rather discrete, conscious, usually unthinking entities that are responsible for the detailed working of the universe.”
But modern physics does not know the essential nature of this “information” or intelligence or consciousness behind Matter. It cannot know, though it may speculate endlessly on the subject because the essence of Matter is consciousness and to perceive this consciousness requires a spiritual intuition or vision which the modern physicist doesn’t have. Here comes the importance of Sri Aurobindo’s vision.
According to Indian spiritual vision, the entire cosmic existence is a harmony of creative Ideas in the unified and universal consciousness of Nature. Sri Aurobindo calls this creative Idea of Nature as “Real-Idea” in order to distinguish it from the conceptual idea of the mind. This creative Idea, in its original spiritual source, is a pregnant vibration in the supramental consciousness of Nature; it is a spiritual vibration in which knowledge and will, conception, execution and realisation, idea, energy and action are a single unified whole.
The laws of Nature are the expression of this creative Idea of Nature; they are the repetitive and spontaneous patterns or process or working out of the thought, idea or intuition implanted by the creative intelligence of Nature on each electron, atom, molecules, organism, group of organism, species, force or phenomenon of Nature; it is this creative intuition of Nature in each organism expressing itself in the forms of a Law which guides the evolution of the organism in perfect harmony with other organisms and the whole of creation. But in each level of the cosmic energy of Nature, this creative intuition takes a form appropriate to that level.
In the material dimension, this creative Idea takes the form of an unthinking material intuition or the urge or “information” which guides the evolution of the physical universe from the pure undifferentiated energy of the big-bang and the photons, electrons and the molecules to the planets and galaxies. But we would like to make an important point here. When we say that evolution of the physical universe is guided by the creative Idea in physical Nature, it may give the dualistic impression that the Idea and the evolutionary process proceeding from it are two distinct things. But in the non-dualistic eastern perception, the evolutionary process is the expression of the Idea and the Idea is the expression of the consciousness-energy of Nature. They are not three distinct entities; in their essence they are the expression the One Consciousness-Energy of Nature. So in this spiritual perspective, an electron in its frontal form is a point of consciousness lost in the motion of its own whirl. For example when we are performing a very repetitive and mechanical act sometimes may lose the consciousness of our self and the world around in the repetitive act. We also become something like matter. But our consciousness is not exactly lost but pushed behind the act and which can be recovered. In the same way behind the whirling electron there is the entire creative consciousness and intelligence of Nature, which unerringly steers the evolutionary curve of the electron towards its more complex forms like the atom; determines its laws, process and function in the atom; and links its with the whole of material creation and its evolutionary process.
The Vital Response of the Plant:
As the evolution proceeds from physical to biological matter, the creative Intelligence manifest as the vital “Information” encoded in the DNA; steers the evolution of the biological and animal world from DNA to the rich biodiversity we find in Nature; linking and uniting the biological and animal world in an intricate ecology. Modern Science has revealed the delicate precision with which this ecological balance of the physical and biological world is maintained. Scientists have said that if carbon atom had one electron less in its orbit there would be no life in our planet. James Love Lock in his well-known book “Gita: A New Look at Life on Earth” gives many examples to show the delicate and fine balance maintained in the biological life of Nature. One example is the stabilization of the oxygen concentration at 21 percent. This is the optimum balance for the maintenance of life; a few percent less and the larger animals and flying insects could have found enough energy to survive; a few percent more and even dump vegetation would burn well. All these examples show that the physical universe is not the result of organized chance but the creation of an organizing Intelligence. In the world of inanimate “Matter” and the atomic world, the consciousness or “Information” is the least manifest or evolved at the surface and the most involved behind the surface. As we have discussed in some detail, the modern physicist is beginning to have some insight into the involved consciousness in Matter. But the spiritual vision of Yogis is able to perceive this consciousness with a much more direct perception. As Sri Aurobindo points out:
“As we progress and awaken to the soul in us and things, we shall realise that there is a consciousness also in the plant, in the mental, in the atom, in electricity in everything that belongs to physical nature; we shall even find that it is not in all respects lower or more limited mode than the mental, on the contrary it is in many ‘inanimate’ forms more rapid, poignant, though less evolved at the surface.”
This quantum leap of consciousness in the bio-matter manifests as the vital response to the environment. For plants display a much greater sensitivity and response to the outside world than the stone or the metal. This greater sensitivity comes from a dimensional leap in the content of consciousness. There are many research studies and experiment conducted by scientist as well as non-scientist which show conclusively that plants are very sensitive to human response. These studies have found that the thoughts and emotions of human being evoke an appropriate response from the plant; they respond positively to a caring and affectionate human consciousness and also to music; on the other hand negative human emotions have an adverse impact on the plants. There are also some extraordinary experiences of people who have the psychic or spiritual capacity to identity their consciousness with that of a plant or a flower. The experiences of these psychics and seers indicate that the consciousness within or involved in these plants especially in some flowers, is more sublime than in man. But all these studies, experiments and intuitions show that there is a consciousness in the plant. A plant may not be mentally self-conscious in the way we human beings are conscious. But there is something in the plant which is conscious in a non-mental way. The traditional and hard-core scientific mind which is sometimes as dogmatic as a religious fundamentalist had persistently refused to recognize these discoveries. But such a scientific fundamentalism cannot help the progress of science.
Sense-awareness in the Animal:
When we follow further the evolutionary march of Nature and come to the animal world, we find that the manifest content of consciousness has become so visible that no one dare say that an animal is “inanimate” or “unconscious”. And when we trace the evolution in the animal world and arrive at its most advanced members like the Dog, Chimpanzee or the Dolphin, it may appear that there is not much difference between the human consciousness and that of his most advanced evolutionary ancestors. Interestingly some of the scientist who have researched on Dolphins, say that these beautiful creatures of the sea are as intelligent as man.
In the animal world the creative intelligence makes a further leap in consciousness from subconscious vital sensitivity to the environment to conscious awareness of the environment through the senses.
Self-awareness in Man:
And finally when we come to man, there is a further leap in consciousness from sense-awareness to self-awareness, or in other worlds from the awareness of the environment through the senses to the awareness of self through a faculty of the mind by which we can turn upon our own self and know ourselves in the act of knowing or living. It is this faculty of the mind or human consciousness to turn upon itself and watch itself in the act of knowledge which holds the key to the future evolution of our species. It is by developing this faculty to its utmost limits, we as human being can raise beyond mind to a higher consciousness beyond mind. In this higher consciousness we (or Nature in us) make our next quantum leap in evolution from partial self-consciousness to total self-awareness of our whole being in the Spirit.
If we may define consciousness as awareness of the self and the awareness of the world (or environment), consciousness in physical matter is neither aware of itself or the world around; it is closed upon itself and lost in the whirl of its energy. Matter disintegrates because the consciousness in matter is closed upon its own act and not opens to the environment. For a closed system is subject to Entropy because it cannot receive order from the environment. As the evolution proceeds from material to the biological and animal kingdom, there is the first quantum leap in consciousness. This leap in consciousness manifests itself as a progressively greater awareness and response to the environment. Since bio-matter is open to the environment it can counteract the entropy by sucking order from the environment. And with the advent of Mind in man there is a further quantum leap in consciousness in the form of a beginning of self-awareness. But in our mental consciousness self-awareness is rudimentary because we are aware of only a small part of our total conscious being. And a complete recovery of this total self-awareness in our spiritual self is the next stage in evolution.
Towards the Supramental Future:
Our human mind, as we have indicated earlier has this capacity for self-awareness. But in most of us this capacity is not fully developed. We humans, as a species, have developed only Reason to its utmost limits and turned it mainly to the outer world and to satisfy the needs and desires of our body, heart and mind. But for our future evolution we have to develop the faculty of self-awareness to its utmost limits and turn it first inward, to become more consciousness of our inner being until we touch the very depth and source of our consciousness in the Spirit and become fully conscious of our whole being from its highest and deepest source in the Spirit to the lowest depth in the subconscious base of our body.
There are two ways of achieving this union with the higher consciousness and they can be practiced simultaneously. First is through progressive interiorisation of consciousness and the second is by becoming more and more receptive to the Supreme Consciousness within us and allowing it to progressively illumine our being from within. The first is the way of knowledge and the main methods here are vigilant self-observation, self-enquiry, inner silence and meditation. The second is the way of love and works and the main methods here are devotion, surrender and consecrated work. But in an integral Yoga all these methods can be combined and practiced together.
Thus when the human individual enters into this path of higher evolution he becomes more and more conscious of his inner being, all the hidden depth and height and vastness and powers of his oceanic self. Many higher faculties of knowledge, feeling and action, immensely greater in range and power than that of the present rational mentality and hitherto unmanifest in man, begin to manifest and express themselves in his thought, life and action. He also becomes conscious of the laws, processes and methods by which universal Nature works-out the evolution of humanity and the world. And in this way, when the individual harmonizes his inner being and outer life with the evolutionary laws of universal Nature, then the Yoga of the individual becomes consciously unified with the Yoga of universal Nature. Such an individual becomes a conscious participant in the evolutionary work of universal Nature and a conscious instrument of Nature in working-out, her cosmic or terrestrial purpose in the world. This is the evolutionary aim of Yoga which the ancient Yoga traditions of India were not aware or did not perceive clearly or kept it as a secret.
This evolutionary dimension of Yoga applies not only to the individual but also to a collectivity like a group, organization, or nation. A collectivity can also consciously harmonize its inner and outer life with the higher laws and principles of evolution and thereby become a conscious instrument of Nature and a leader of human evolution.