The first systematic attempt of psychology to look beyond the surface phenomena of life to a hidden stratum of consciousness was made by psychoanalysis, founded by Freud. Freud described the unconscious as that part of mind that lay below the surface of the conscious mind and thereby inaccessible to introspection while yet being the most powerful determinant of behaviour. Sri Aurobindo hailed the discovery as ‘the beginning of self-knowledge and which all must make who deeply study the facts of consciousness, that our waking and surface existence is only a small part of our being and does not yield to us the root and secret of our character, our mentality or our actions. The sources lie deeper. To discover them, to know the nature and the processes of the inconscient or subconscient self and, so far as is possible, to possess and utilize them as physical science possesses and utilizes the secret of the forces of Nature, ought to be the aim of a scientific psychology’.(Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental manifestation and other writings,1972 ed,pp258-59)
Behaviourism opted for strict objectivity, rejected all hypothetical constructs such as mind and consciousness and focused on observable, measurable behaviour. It looked upon mental processes as epiphenomena accompanying physiological processes. The net result was that consciousness was rejected. Watson, in 1913, reiterated this position: ‘The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to consciousness… This suggested elimination of states of consciousness as proper objects of investigation in themselves will remove the barrier from psychology which exists between it and the other sciences”(Watson,J: The Psychological Review,XX,) That legacy lasted so long that even the 1984 edition of the ‘Encyclopedia of Psychology’ published by Wiley and Sons from New York contained no entries for ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’ or introspection’.
There is a waste of energy, a waste of resources, a waste of the intellect, a waste of life, a waste of time and finally a waste of the Divine Grace!
There is a ‘waste’ at every level of creation, at every plane of consciousness, in terrestrial as well as in individual life.
Consider the terrestrial existence. At the physical plane, we have the great natural calamities—the earthquakes, volcanoes, famines, tornados and tsunamis. We also have man-made disasters, accidents and mishaps that grow in proportion with our gadgets and inventions. At the vital plane, we have the great wars, the internecine conflicts, the ethnic clashes, and the mismatch of civilizations. Besides there is the subculture of crime and the parallel kingdom of the mafia. At the mental plane, we have the great conflict of ideologies, the imposition of the whims and fancies of one set of people over another. What a colossal waste of resources! That is how the self-styled representatives of humanity could sentence Jesus to be crucified!
The phenomenon of waste is also explicit in individual life beset with diseases, old age, desires, passions, egoistic yearnings, dogmatic and stereotyped thinking.
Behind everything is the huge waste of time. Imagine how many millions of years nature had to waste to perfect the intricacies of physical beauty –the design on a butterfly’s wings, the delicacy of the rose petals, the colour of the flamingo! How many millions of years had to be spent to make our earth a fit habitation for supporting life! How many millions of years were needed to evolve the human being!
Time itself is a great devourer—it squanders institutions, civilizations, empires like pebbles and marbles: ‘Time, sitting in his banqueting hall of the Ages, where prophets and kings are the spice of his banquet, drinking the red wine of life and death, while on the marble floor at his feet are strewn like flowers the images of the same stars that shone on the pride of Nahusha, the tapasya of Dhruv and the splendours of Yayati, that saw Tiglath-Pileser, Sennacherib and the Egyptian Pharaohs, Pompey”s head hewn off on the sands of Egypt and Caesar bleeding at Pompey’s sculptured feet, Napoleon’s mighty legions thundering victorious at the bidding of that god of war on the field of Austerlitz and Napoleon’s panic legions fleeing disordered with pursuit and butchery behind them from that last field of Waterloo, - Time, the Kala Purusha, drunk with the fumes of death and the tears and laughter of mortals, sits and plays there with his marbles.’ (Ibid.pg. 397)
Finally, there is the colossal waste of the immense bounty of Divine Grace that is bestowed on the earth despite the insincerity, the ingratitude, the revolt and the treachery of human beings.
What is the significance of all this waste in Existence?
Sri Aurobindo explains ‘surface appearances are not the reality of things, they may be a part of the truth but they are not the whole reality. One must look beyond the external appearances of things before one can know things in themselves: especially first appearances are apt to be deceptive. It is not by regarding a flash of lightning as a chance ebullition of fiery temper in a cloud that one can know the truth of electricity. We must go far and dig deep before we can get at the truth about the Force that manifested the lightning’. (Ibid, pg. 337)
In fact, Sri Aurobindo clarifies that an objection based on the limitations of the human intellect cannot be generalized for the universal operations of the World- Force (The Life Divine, pg. 98).
A Hypothetical Construct on Waste
From the Aurobindonian perspective, the phenomenon of waste can be viewed from several directions:
a) At the onset, the very initiation of manifestation automatically implied that ALL POSSIBILITIES should have an equal chance of manifesting. After all, what we label as ‘waste’ or ‘productive’ depends upon ‘values’ we impose. ‘Values’ emerged only when mind flowered in creation .A significant portion of values emerged after the mind had a ‘recoil’ from certain things, almost instinctively- (for e.g. the ‘recoil’ from the phenomenon of ‘death’-- a hard fact of life that is so difficult to accept)
The fact that all possibilities have an equal chance of manifesting gives equal weightage to the ‘waste’ and ‘productive’ elements of existence. If a person is trained to be an excellent cashier, he can also develop into an excellent thief! The wife of the person who ‘invented’ the hypodermic syringe (that saves lives) was the first recorded subject to die from an injected overdose of morphine! Thus the productive and the ‘wasteful’ ramifications of the hypodermic syringe were implicit at the very moment of its invention!
However, instinct and intuition shifts our focus to what are considered as the ‘positive’ elements of existence. If we can accept anything in life, we should also accept our ‘natural’ instincts and ‘spontaneous’ intuitions. Spiritual experiences consolidate our intuitive perspective for a growth in consciousness. All elements that are considered to be opposite to the growth of consciousness have a RIGHT TO RECUR till an optimal point for their transcendence is reached.
The ‘right to recur’ and the ‘need for transcendence’ are equally important. A 18- months old infant goes on repeatedly asking the same question because his sensory perception of different things need to be consolidated. (Otherwise he would confuse an apple with a tomato). At a certain point, he has to transcend that level for a higher-level consolidation of his growing cognitive grasp. If for any reason his mental growth is hampered, he will remain stuck up at that level and will be labeled as ‘mentally challenged’. Suppose his mental growth has not been organically or structurally hampered; his IQ is normal, but he has not outgrown the habit of indulging in recurrent thoughts of the same kind. This then can become the genesis of what in later life can be labeled as ‘obsessive’ thinking which also needs to be transcended. Imagine the amount of ‘waste’ of the quality of life that happens to an otherwise intelligent subject who has been labeled as to be suffering from obsessive-compulsive neurosis.
b) There are many elements that constitute ‘waste’ to our usual perception but in the cosmic design, they can serve a purpose and meaning. Thus it was a colossal waste of ‘intelligence’ and ‘judgment’ to crucify Jesus. But the consequences of that act humanized Europe, uplifted ‘love’ to glorious heights and made ‘forgiveness’ a virtue.
Sri Aurobindo explains ‘We see only part of nature’s purpose and all that does not subserve that part we call waste. Yet our own human action is full of an apparent waste, so appearing from the individual point of view, which yet, we may be sure, subserves well enough the large and universal purpose of things. That part of her intention, which we can detect, Nature gets done surely enough in spite of, perhaps really by virtue of her apparent waste. We may well trust to her in the rest which we do not yet detect’, (Ibid, pg98-99)
c) A significant portion of the occurrences we label as ‘waste’ is also a result of the resistance offered by the most obscure, gross, inert and inconscient aspect of existence to the higher forces of transformation and transmutation. In individual life, this ‘conflict’ can result in ill health and disease. In terrestrial existence, this clash also results in natural catastrophes. When a number of people were electrocuted to death in a ceremony in France (it was a time when electricity had started to be popular), the funeral service hinted collective sin as a cause. Musing on this incident after a long time, The Mother hinted that instead of oversimplifying the problem in terms of sin, it was more judicious to view it as a clash of forces. Interestingly, in a casual conversation recorded by A.B.Purani in the Evening Talks (Pg 524, Recorded on 15th August, 1925), Sri Aurobindo had commented that the heralding of the new age would be marked by an increase in psychiatric problems and an increase in natural calamities like earthquakes (This is exactly what is happening now). One must however be extremely judicious to draw conclusions in haste. Sri Aurobindo is not hinting that earthquakes occur due to human follies but speaks of clashes between cosmic forces. The Scientist would analyze this clash in terms of matter-energy. The mystic analyses this clash between forces that arise at different planes of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo explains in a letter written on April 10th.1934:
Earthquakes are a perturbation in Nature due to some pressure of forces; frequency of earthquakes may coincide with a violence of upheavals in human life but the upheavals of earth and human life are both results of a general clash or pressure of forces, one is not the cause of the other.
The clash between the lower and higher forces has been symbolized in all religions and traditions in the conflict between the Satanic and Divine forces. Sri Aurobindo gives a new twist to the clash. He is not interested in a mere victory of the higher forces. His interest lies in the transformation of the lower, disruptive, disharmonious forces in the image of the higher, synthetic and harmonious forces. His Integral Yoga is an attempt to activate the forces of transmutation and transformation. It is only then what we label as ‘waste’ can find its rightful place in the cosmic scheme.
The Divine’s struggle with ‘waste’
The prophet, the Avatar suffers, as He has to work through the ‘waste’ of creation and the poignant strain echoes:
I have been digging deep and long
Mid a horror of filth and mire
A bed for the golden river’s song,
A home for the deathless fire...
All that was found must again be sought,
Each enemy slain revives,
Each battle for ever is fought and refought
Through vistas of fruitless lives.
My gaping wounds are a thousand and one
And the Titan kings assail.
But I cannot rest till my task is done
And wrought the eternal will...
Above me the dragon murmurs moan
And the goblin voices flit;
I have pierced the Void where Thought was born,
I have walked in the bottomless pit….
He who I am was with me still;
All veils are breaking now.
I have heard His voice and borne His will
On my vast untroubled brow.
The gulf twixt the depths and the heights is bridged
And the golden waters pour
Down the sapphire mountain rainbow-ridged
And glimmer from shore to shore...
A little more and the new life’s doors
Shall be carved in silver light
With its aureate roof and mosaic floors
In a great world bare and bright.
(Sri Aurobindo: A God’s Labour; Collected Poems, pg 99-102)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu