This conflict between subjectivity and objectivity was initiated as
a metaphysical quest but, as Sri Aurobindo describes ‘is yet of the
utmost practical import, for it determines the whole outlook of man
upon life, the goal that he shall assign for his efforts and the
field in which he shall circumscribe his energies’ (Ibid, pg.25).
How true! How much do the physical scientist, the pharmacologist and
the psychologist strive to tackle ‘observer bias’ so as to make
their experimental results universally acceptable? How much the
pharmacological researchers as well as the behavioral scientists
have to toil for ‘double –blind’ trials? (Incidentally, some of the
archaic philosophers who studied Sri Aurobindo wondered if His
Thought should be taken up by psychology – he belonged to
spirituality and hence to metaphysics beyond psychology! When Sri
Aurobindo Himself asserts that even a metaphysical quest has a
practical ramification, He, in a way, authenticates the study of the
psychological perspective of His Thought! Especially, the area of
subjectivity vis-à-vis objectivity ‘raises the question of the
reality of cosmic existence and, more important still, the question
of the value of human life’) (Ibid, pg.25).
Aurobindo examines this ‘subjectivity verses objectivity’ debate and
finds it cannot be solved logically as we neither have enough
physical data of the material universe nor have adequate
experiential knowledge of universal non-material systems. Therefore
the only possibility left is to progress ‘by an extension of the
field of our consciousness or an unhoped - for increase in our
instruments of knowledge’ (Ibid, pg. 26). In doing so, an inner
enlargement of the individual experience culminates in a universal,
cosmic experience - the individual consciousness extends into the
This extension also marks a change in the status of the ‘Subject’ or
Observer (the ‘Witness’ in the Indian metaphysical tradition). The
Subject is no longer the consciousness of the ordinary ,limited,
embodied human being (as we know ourselves individually) but a poise
of an universal or cosmic Consciousness ‘embracing the universe and
appearing as an immanent Intelligence in all its
What happens to the status of the ‘object’ then? But we have
already seen that Sri Aurobindo eulogizes the formula “All this is
the Brahman” implying that the Truth is represented equally and
impartially in the ‘Subject’ as well as the ‘object’. Therefore the
objective world is either considered to be:
(1) Just as eternal and as real as the cosmic witness consciousness (the Subject), In fact it is the ‘active existence’(Ibid,pg.26) of the cosmic witness’;
(2) If the objective world is considered to be transitory and phenomenal, it is not something ‘separate’ and ‘delinked’ from the cosmic ‘witness’ consciousness but has actually evolved out of it and can dissolve into it by an ‘act of knowledge or by an act of conscious power’(Ibid,pg.26).
What then is the real status of the
"Subject" - - the Witness? We have discussed that the Witness is not the ordinary individual mind but a certain poise of the cosmic consciousness. Does this cosmic consciousness denote something diffused, spread-out, amorphous or abstract? Or, just as the mental consciousness or mind-principle is inherently related to an actual individual being, is the Cosmic Consciousness related to an implicit Cosmic Being? The spiritual -experiential tradition affirms that Consciousness, in its
"existential mode" is represented at different poises:
In the individual as the True individual Being or Jivatman - - the impersonality-principle that supports and upholds the individual personality and simultaneously projects itself as a fourth-dimensional Beyond-Ego principle (the Psychic Being) within the personality of the embodied human being
In the Cosmos or Universe as the
'Cosmic' or 'Universal Being' or Cosmic principle that supports the cosmic consciousness, and
Beyond the ‘Universe’ as a ‘Transcendental’ principle or Being that supports & transcends the individual as well as the cosmos.
Aurobindo writes about the Witness(or the Observer or the Subject)
: “Not organized mind, but that which, calm and eternal, broods
equally in the living earth and the living human body and to which
mind and senses are dispensable instruments, is the Witness of
cosmic existence and its Lord”(Ibid, pg.26). He adds “….the worlds
are only frames for our experience, the senses only instruments of
experience and conveniences. Consciousness is the great underlying
fact, the universal witness for whom the world is a field, the
senses instruments” (Ibid, pg.24).
The Witness Spirit
I dwell in the spirit’s calm
nothing can move
And watch the actions of Thy vast world-force,
Its mighty wings that through infinity move
And the Time-gallopings of the deathless Horse.
This mute stupendous Energy that
The stars and nebulae in its long train,
Like a huge Serpent through my being curls
With its diamond hood of joy and fangs of pain.
It rises from the dim inconscient
Upcoiling through the minds and hearts of men,
Then touches on some height of luminous sleep
The bliss and splendour of the eternal plane.
All this I bear in me, untouched
Assenting to Thy all-wise inscrutable will.
(Sri Aurobindo Collected poems,