The principle of Ignorance
One of the fundamental reasons why Matter seems to be totally cut off from Spirit is that in Matter, the principle of Ignorance reigns supreme. This means that Consciousness forgets its origin and real nature in the matrix of Matter just “as a man might forget in extreme absorption not only who he is but that he is at all and become momentarily only the work that is being done and the force that is doing it”. (Ibid)
Matter evolves from the Inconscience. The Inconscience itself is produced by the Superconscious in a phenomenon of Descent that precedes the evolutionary movement. During this Descent which Sri Aurobindo called “involution”, the Superconscious systematically condensed itself till it became the Inconscience which then held in itself the opposites of all the Superconscient principles. That is how Truth became Falsehood, Knowledge became Ignorance, Love became hatred, Beauty became vulgarity and Life became death.
Yet, the Superconscious is not actually absent from the Inconscience but remains there in a dormant state, as a potentiality absorbed in a “giant self-forgetfulness”. (Ibid, pg.259) It gradually reveals itself through a graded process of evolution, “slowly, painfully, as a Life that is would-be sentient, half-sentient, dimly sentient, wholly sentient and finally struggles to be more than sentient, to be again divinely self-conscious, free, infinite, immortal.” (Ibid) In other words, we find “Consciousness which had lost itself returning to itself”. (Ibid)
This means that there was a hidden Mind and Will that produced the Inconscience and its attribute the Ignorance so that the stage would be set for the initiation of evolution. The Inconscience is therefore phenomenal and not fundamental. The hidden Mind and Will seemed successful to establish the “effective lie” (Ibid, pg.258-259) that there was no consciousness in the matrix from where Matter emerged and therefore no consciousness in Matter. That is why the scientist is puzzled to explain how Consciousness can evolve from Inconscience, how qualia can manifest from non-qualia, how minds emerge from “no-Mind”, and how a heartless Inconscience can produce hearts that can not only love with passion but can also be cruel, brutal, ferocious and horrible. (Ibid, pg.259)
Yet, despite the opposition of Matter and its imposition of ignorance and limitation at every step, the evolution has to proceed for that too is a divine decree.
The principle of Inertia
Inertia is a hall mark of Matter. That does not mean that Matter per se is inert for electrons are in constant motion and the atom traps an inconceivable force with unlimited potentialities. What Sri Aurobindo means by Inertia of Matter is that Matter has to meticulously obey a mechanical Law and does not have a creative freedom by itself. “But while Spirit is free, master of itself and its works, not bound by them, creator of law and not its subject, this giant Matter is rigidly chained by a fixed and mechanical Law which is imposed on it, which it does not understand nor has ever conceived but works out inconsciently as a machine works and knows not who created it, by what process or to what end”. (Ibid)
As a result, Matter limits the functioning of Life and Mind after an optimal point is crossed. True, Matter permits Life to impinge on it and create a variegated array of forms and supports Life in its great explorative forays so that the mountaineer can climb Mount Everest and the athlete win an Olympic medal. “Life strives to enlarge and prolong itself and succeeds; but when it seeks utter wideness and immortality, it meets the iron obstruction of Matter and finds itself bound to narrowness and death”. (Ibid, pg.260)
Likewise, Mind seeks to expand its cognitive repertoire but finally succumbs to the great Inertia. “Mind seeks to aid life and fulfil its own impulse to embrace all knowledge, to become all light, to possess truth and be truth, to enforce live and joy and be love and joy; but always there is the deviation and error and grossness of the material life-instincts and the denial and obstruction of the material sense and the physical instruments”. (Ibid) That is why Knowledge cannot shrug off error, darkness is the companion of light, truth loses its relevance when grasped and joy cannot justify itself for it is soon overtaken by anger, hatred, indifference, grief and pain.
“The inertia with which Matter responds to the demands of the Mind and Life, prevents the conquest of the Ignorance and of the brute Force that is the power of the Ignorance”. (Ibid)
The principle of Divisibility
Matter had to be divided so as to produce an infinite variety of forms otherwise we would not have a diversified manifestation. Yet for the necessity of new creation, the forms which were divided had to unite and re-unite endlessly. Ironically, this endless chain of division and union also necessitated death. It is interesting that sexual reproduction facilitated a progressive shift in evolution but brought in the phenomenon of death while asexual reproduction as in the amoeba implied endless replication without progress.
“Indivisible indeed in reality, divisibility is its whole basis of action from which it seems forbidden ever to depart; for its only two methods of union are either the aggregation of units or an assimilation which involves the destruction of one unit by another; and both of these methods of union are confession of eternal division, since even the first associates rather than unifies and by its very principle admits the constant possibility and therefore the ultimate necessity of dissociation, of dissolution. Both methods repose on death, one as a means, the other as a condition of life. And both presuppose as the condition of world-existence a constant struggle of the divided units with each other, each striving to maintain itself, to maintain its associations, to compel or destroy what resists it, to gather in and devour others as its food, but itself moved to revolt against and flee from compulsion, destruction and assimilation by devouring.” (Ibid, pg.260-261)
Thus the vital principle can impose its dynamic effects on Matter to devour, possess and dominate but at the end has to accept the law of death, desire and limitation. The Mind can try to manipulate Matter and produce robots and cyborgs. But robots also have to submit to programmed circuits and we have already started to be cyborgs with implanted lens after cataract surgery and installed pacemakers in the heart but that does not prove that our capacities cannot be limited. That is why knowledge never seems to be final or free from doubt and error and we always seem to move “in a rhythm of action and reaction and of making and unmaking, in cycles of creation and brief preservation and long destruction with no certain and assured progress” (Ibid,pg.261); so that the poet can exclaim:
“Pain with its lash, joy with its silver bribe
Guard the Wheel’s circling immobility”. (Savitri, pg.18)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu