(a project of Mirravision Trust, Financed by Auroshakti Foundation)

Chapter I
Chapter II - Part 1
Chapter II - Part 2
Chapter II - Part 3
Chapter II - Part 4
Chapter III - Part 1
Chapter III - Part 2
Chapter III - Part 3
Chapter III - Part 4
Chapter III - Part 5
Chapter III - Part 6
Chapter IV - Part 1
Chapter IV - Part 2
Chapter IV - Part 3
Chapter IV - Part 4
Chapter V-Part 1
Chapter V - Part 2
Chapter V - Part 3
Chapter V - Part 4
Chapter V - Part 5
Chapter VI - Part 1
Chapter VI - Part 2
Chapter VI - Part 3
Chapter VI - Part 4
Chapter VI - Part 5
Chapter VII - Part 1
Chapter VII - Part 2
Chapter VII - Part 3
Chapter VII - Part 4
Chapter VII - Part 5
Chapter VIII - Part 1
Chapter VIII - Part 2
Chapter VIII - Part 3
Chapter VIII - Part 4
Chapter IX - Part 1
Chapter IX - Part 2
Chapter X - Part 1
Chapter X - Part 2
Chapter X - Part 3
Chapter X - Part 4
Chapter X - Part 5
Chapter X - Part 6
Chapter XI - Part 1
Chapter XI - Part 2
Chapter XI - Part 3
Chapter XI - Part 4
Chapter XII - Part 1
Chapter XII - Part 2
Chapter XII - Part 3
Chapter XII - Part 4
Chapter XII - Part 5
Chapter XIII - Part 1
Chapter XIII - Part 2
Chapter XIV - Part 1
Chapter XIV - Part 2
Chapter XIV - Part 3
Chapter XIV - Part 4
Chapter XIV - Part 5
Chapter XV - Part 1
Chapter XV - Part 2
Chapter XV - Part 3
Chapter XV - Part 4
Chapter XV - Part 5
Chapter XV - Part 6
Chapter XV - Part 7
Chapter XV - Part 8
Chapter XV - Part 9
Chapter XVI - Part 1
Chapter XVI - Part 2
Chapter XVI - Part 3
Chapter XVI - Part 4
Chapter XVI - Part 5
Chapter XVI - Part 6
Chapter XVI - Part 7
Chapter XVI - Part 8
Chapter XVI - Part 9
Chapter XVI - Part 10
Chapter XVI - Part 11
Chapter XVI - Part 12
Chapter XVI - Part 13
Chapter XVII - Part 1
Chapter XVII - Part 2
Chapter XVII - Part 3
Chapter XVII - Part 4
Chapter XVIII - Part 1
Chapter XVIII - Part 2
Chapter XVIII - Part 3
Chapter XVIII - Part 4
Chapter XVIII - Part 5
Chapter XVIII - Part 6
Chapter XVIII - Part 7
Chapter XVIII - Part 8
Chapter XVIII - Part 9
Chapter XVIII - Part 10
Chapter XIX - Part 1
Chapter XIX - Part 2

A Psychological Approach to Sri Aurobindo’s

The Life Divine

Chapter II - Part 1:

In the first Chapter of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo places ‘The Human Aspiration’ to grow, expand and strive to the highest ideals that can be dreamt of or conceived in imagination within the matrix of an evolutionary movement that spirals through the cycles of creation. Each breakthrough in the evolutionary scheme is visualized in the symbol of a dawn of God-Light which is again placed in an eternal succession of dawns immortalized in the Rig Veda verse which Sri Aurobindo quotes at the beginning of first chapter.

Sri Aurobindo is naturally not speaking of a mere biological evolution. He is concerned with an evolution in Consciousness and of Consciousness and what Science studies as a biological evolution is only a resultant of the deeper evolution of Consciousness.

The evolution of Consciousness that builds the universes with order and precision cannot be haphazard and disorganized. It must be the expression of a pre-programmed Creative Knowledge implicit with a pre-programmed executive Dynamism. In other words the drama of creation is an unfolding progressive evolution of a complex of a “pre-programmed Creative Knowledge and Dynamic Force” that is involved in Matter and laboring to manifest itself in the inertia of terrestrial substance.

This complex of ‘Knowledge-Will’ is considered to be representing the attribute of the Spirit in metaphysical parlance. It is described in the 2nd Rig Veda stanza quoted by Sri Aurobindo at the beginning of 1st chapter: “That which is immortal in mortals and possessed of the truth, is a god and established inwardly as an energy working out in our divine powers”.

This Rig Veda stanza also gives two important seed ideas:

A) It describes that the creative Knowledge-Will which manifests the evolutionary movement works through various forms which appear to be graded but nevertheless each grade contains the truth of the whole evolutionary movement as a luminous potentiality. Thus the grades of Matter, Life and Mind in the apparent terrestrial imperfection carry the potentialities of the superlatives conceived and experienced by seers and rishis ( we will discuss afterwards how the lower evolutionary planes of Matter, Life and Mind contain the essence of the higher experiential worlds of Existence-Consciousness-Bliss or Sat-Chit-Ananda)

b) The potentialities of the highest movements of the indwelling Spirit can be invoked so as to manifest in the earthly life of imperfection and perversity. This is the raison-de-atre of The Human Aspiration.

The 2nd and 3rd chapters of The Life Divine have a common heading-- The Two Negations. Chapter II describes the materialist perspective while chapter III deals with the ascetic position.

Chapter II begins with a quotation from Taittiriya Upanishad. It is a stanza that acknowledges the Reality of Matter and yet points out the Reality of the non-material forms of creation. If Matter reflected the Supreme Reality, other forms of the Spirit were equally Real: if ‘Matter’ was Reality, ‘Energy’ was also Reality. The term ‘Energy’ in this Upanishadic sloka does not only denote the mechanical energy sustaining the material universe but also the subtle energies supporting the non-material forms in creation.

The Materialist Denial

An evolution in Consciousness (what Sri Aurobindo envisages) can only be meaningful if spirituality blossoms in material life, if there is an unhindered manifestation of the Spirit (the ‘Omega’) in the bosom of ‘inert’ Matter (the ‘Alpha’).

The human intellect finds it difficult to reconcile ‘Matter’ and ‘Spirit’. It either eulogizes ‘Matter’ by denying the existence of the ‘Spirit’, dismissing it as an illusion of imagination (a reason why Sri Aurobindo has named this chapter as ‘The Materialist Denial’) or else it upholds ‘Spirit’ by refusing to acknowledge ‘Matter’, condescendingly dismissing it as an illusion of the senses (Sri Aurobindo has named the next chapter as ‘The Refusal of the Ascetic’). This ‘exclusive’ preoccupation of the human intellect has led to momentous social consequences: ‘In India, if the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit, - or of some of them, - it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and the triumphant mastery of this world’s powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit. Nor has the intellect, which sought the solution of all problems in the one term of Matter, found satisfaction in the answer that it has received.’ (The Life Divine, Pg. 13)

The Time–Spirit therefore presses for a new integration that will have a fulfilling effect both in the individual and the race.

In the subsequent chapters of the Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo will present the integration of ‘Spirit’ and ‘Matter’ that will proceed through complex and graded pathways. But before that, he wants us to examine ‘Matter’ and ‘Spirit’ in an objective way and to acknowledge the place of ‘materialism’ in the human quest.

One great problem of ‘materialism’ is its reliance on ‘sensory perception’ and ‘reason’ not necessarily because of their limitations (which are present and bona fide and will be discussed later) but because the human being has also faculties that transcend ‘senses’ and also can be infra-rational or supra-rational. In fact ‘Extra Sensory Perception’, ‘Near Death Experiences’ and ‘Out of Body Experiences’ are phenomena that contemporary consciousness researchers find difficult to ignore. Likewise, the logical, rational man can also be subject to taboos, superstitions, prejudices or be prey to personality attributes like anger, jealousy, lust, and greed! Or else, a pragmatic scientist can also suddenly be swayed by a piece of ethereal music. A strain of Beethoven’s composition can suddenly uplift a person who was otherwise engaged in share market speculations and lead him to wonder which of the two was a more fulfilling experience! The end result of all these phenomena is that even a ‘materialistic’ person trained to think logically, can get influenced by non-materialistic factors, albeit unwillingly. Such a ‘mixed functioning’ of the intellect can cause confusion rather than clarification to a person who is pursuing knowledge, either in the domain of science or spirituality.

Nevertheless, materialism has done a great service to humanity. Sri Aurobindo opines that if the ‘Materialistic’ base of humanity was not developed to its fullest potential, it could not lead to newer levels of knowledge. In fact, a ‘higher than materialistic knowledge’ can only be safely entered when ‘the intellect has been severely trained to a clear austerity; seized on by the unripe minds, it lends itself to the most perilous distortions and misleading imaginations and actually in the past encrusted a real nucleus of truth with such an accretion of perverting superstitions and irrationalising dogmas that all advance in true knowledge was rendered impossible.’ (The Life Divine, Pg. 15) This is how death rituals became a lip-service instead of a living experience. This is also why an original Vedic seed-idea with a different connotation degenerated into the perverted caste-system of India as it is today. (Ref: ‘The Caste System of India – An Aurobindonian Perspective’: Get it from our Downloads Section). Sri Aurobindo adds ‘It became necessary for a time to make a clean sweep at once of the truth and its disguise in order that the road might be clear for a new departure and a surer advance. The rationalistic tendency of Materialism has done mankind this great service.’(The Life Divine, Pg. 15). Sri Aurobindo also cautions that when the intellect has entered a higher domain of knowledge, it should not lose the materialistic base and a constant correction of errors needs a periodic return ‘to the restraint of sensible fact, the concrete realities of the physical world. The touch of Earth is always reinvigorating to the son of Earth, even when he seeks a supraphysical Knowledge’. (vide supra)

The Greatest Asset of Materialism

Sri Aurobindo points out that the greatest asset of materialism is that it is permeated by the spirit of Agnosticism – the premise that we know nothing of Reality beyond material phenomena! Why? Because as man proceeds to expand his repertoire of knowledge, he finds that his known materialistic formulas become insufficient after a certain point. That is why the scientist has to constantly deconstruct old hypotheses and continuously reconstruct new ones to understand the same phenomena! ‘A premise so arbitrary pronounces on itself its own sentence of insufficiency’ (The Life Divine, Pg. 14) Sri Aurobindo points out that as expanding experience compels us to acknowledge knowable realities beyond rigid mechanical ranges, the premise of Agnosticism begins to give away. Nevertheless, he cautions that we should not condemn the tools of materialism. ‘Rather we shall observe with respect and wonder the work that atheism has done for the Divine and admire the services that Agnosticism has rendered in preparing the illimitable increase of knowledge. In our world error is continually the hand-maid and pathfinder of Truth; for error is really a half-truth that stumbles because of its limitations; often it is truth that wears a disguise in order to arrive unobserved near to its goal.’ (The Life Divine, Pg. 16) 

(T.H.Huxley coined the term ‘agnostic’ as opposed to Gnostic in 1869 to designate one who repudiated traditional Judeo-Christian Theism but was not a doctrinaire Atheist. Agnosticism lives open the question whether there is a God whereas atheism is a positive denial of God. In current parlance agnosticism favours suspension of judgment on ultimate questions due to insufficient evidence. Sri Aurobindo does not see any wrong in this attitude because usually we proceed to understand Reality through arbitrary premises, partial truths and idiosyncratic preferences. In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo will construct an Integral view of Reality where the term ‘Gnostic’ will find a special place. )

An Universal Agnosticism

In fact, Sri Aurobindo also comments that ‘A certain kind of Agnosticism is the final truth of all knowledge’ (vide supra). Whatever path we follow, the path of science or the path of spirituality – the universe appears as a symbol or an appearance of an unknowable Reality that translates into different sets of value to different mindsets. To the material scientist, it presents as physical values; to the psychologist it presents as vital and sensational values; to the philosopher as intellectual values and to the mystic as spiritual values. Even here, there can be a problem because the scientist can exaggerate physical values out of proportion and the mystic can exaggerate spiritual values out of proportion. Sri Aurobindo prefers a differential yet experiential and integral approach where each thing is put in its proper place and whatever is not knowable by thought can be attained by a supreme effort of consciousness. Throughout the Life Divine, He will be developing this consciousness approach as a theory, a construct and a Yoga.

Breaking Barriers 

Sri Aurobindo also makes an interesting observation that certain conclusions of materialistic science have a similarity with certain conclusions of metaphysical pursuits. The Vedas and Upanishads in India have an important tradition of Monism – a doctrine that there exists only a Single Reality. The diversity we see in creation is only a manifestation of a Single Reality – a variegated manifestation necessary for the play of the cosmic drama which otherwise would be lackluster, boring and monotonous.

Surprisingly, Mechanistic Science also arrives at some sort of monism – a monism of matter. Everything is reduced into the same basic terms of nuclear particles or chromosomal structures. The diversity in creation is just a play of varying combinations of nuclear particles or chromosomes:


The electron on which forms and worlds are built,
Leaped into being, a particle of God.
A spark from the eternal Energy split,
It is the Infinite’s blind minute abode.
In that small flaming chariot Shiva rides.
The One devised innumerably to be;
His oneness in invisible forms he rides,
Time’s tiny temples to  eternity.
Atom and molecule in their unseen plan
Buttress an edifice of strange oneness,
Crystal and plant, insect and beast and man, –
Man on whom the World-Unity shall seize,
Widening his soul-spark to an epiphany
Of the timeless vastness of Infinity. 

* Collected Poems, Sri Aurobindo: Pg. 141

Science has already changed its conception of matter – to it, Matter and Energy are interconvertible. The Vedic Seers also considered matter to be a conceptual form of substance – so much so that a point can be reached where only an arbitrary distinction in thought divides form of substance from form of energy. In fact, to the spiritual tradition of India, ‘Mind’, ‘Life’ and ‘Matter’ are just different formulations of the same Energy. If so, then this ‘Energy’ is not a brute mechanical force that works through accident or chance but a Cosmic WILL  in action – a consciousness applying itself to a work and a result.

‘What is that work and result, if not a self-involution of consciousness in form and a self-evolution out of form so as to actualise some mighty possibility in the universe which it has created? And what is its will in Man if not a will to unending Life, to unbounded knowledge, to unfettered Power?’ (The Life Divine, Pg. 19)

In fact, as time advances, Materialistic Science itself moves towards subtler insights, a journey that got consolidated with Einstein. Sri Aurobindo in 1914 wrote how the highest achievements of practical science were those which tended to simplify and reduce to the vanishing-point the machinery by which the greatest efforts are produced. He gave the example of wireless telegraphy where the sensible physical means of transmission were only preserved at points of impulsion and reception. No doubt, today’s Mobile phone is a subtler extension of the same phenomenon. But Sri Aurobindo progresses further – he visualizes a technology of consciousness that can enable the mind to directly seize physical energy and speed it accurately upon its errand. For this to happen, the spiritual and mechanistic paradigms have to be really linked. This is what an evolution of consciousness can lead to:

This is our deepest need to join once more
What now is parted, opposite and twain,
Remote in sovereign spheres that never meet
Or fronting like far poles of Night and Day.
We must feel the immense lacuna we have made,
Re-wed the closed finite’s lonely consonant
With the open vowels of Infinity,
A hyphen must connect Matter and Mind,
The narrow isthmus of the ascending soul:
We must renew the secret bond in things,
Our hearts recall the lost divine Idea,
Reconstitute the perfect word, unite
The Alpha and the Omega in one sound:
Then shall the Spirit and Nature be at one.
Two are the ends of the mysterious plan.

(Savitri, Sri Aurobindo: Pg. 56-57)

  Date of Update: 18-Nov-11 

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu

© 2017 IIYP  |  Contact