A Psychological Approach to Sri Aurobindo's
The Life Divine
Chapter III - Part 4:
The Cosmic Consciousness
The moment one ceases to be self-centered and transcends one’s ego, one becomes capable of enlarging his repertoire of consciousness so as to enter a vast gestalt where universal thoughts and idea–forces, cosmic energies, archetypal images, universal rhythms of art and music, universal ideals, perennial wisdom, universal dynamisms, universal love, universal brotherhood and all that falls in the domain of ego–transcendence intermingle to weave the matrix of Cosmic Consciousness. In this cosmic scheme, the individual is a distinct point co–existing with countless such ‘points’, and knowingly or unknowingly, influenced by vast cosmic forces. If one is shut off in one’s own ego–centricity, then one thinks oneself to be the center of the universe. If one is successful in breaking the veils of ego–centricity, one is immediately aware that an individual exists only in relation with others and that one is not the ‘center’ of the universe but a center within the universe and through whom universal, archetypal ideas and forces act to produce effects that have universal ramifications. In this process of universalizing oneself, the individual ‘center’ does not become insignificant but becomes a ‘conscious ‘center’ in the cosmic whole, a better instrument to implement the cosmic agenda.
'The cosmic consciousness means that, instead of feeling that one is an altogether separate, isolated being, different from all others, one feels that he is only a part of an immense whole and in relation with the whole totality, receiving the movements and vibrations of all others and transmitting to all others its own vibrations, that the movements of consciousness, the psychological vibrations do not stop inside a small individual enclosed in himself, who is as in a shell, without any contact with the rest; the forces pass across, going from one to another, touching one here, another there, and these forces are so complex and multiple that we can no longer tell where one begins and another ends. One has exactly the impression of an immense whole moving within itself. It is something like that – the cosmic consciousness.'
(The Mother: Collected Works, Vol. 6, Pg. 419-420 Century Ed.)
In the cosmic consciousness we become aware of 'Matter as one existence and of bodies as its formations in which the one existence separates itself physically in the single body from itself in all others and again by physical means establishes communication between these multitudinous points of its being. Mind we experience similarly and Life also, as the same existence one in its multiplicity, separating and reuniting itself in each domain by means appropriate to that movement.'
(The Life Divine, Pg. 26-27)
Pursuit of Cosmic Consciousness
When the idealist proclaims – ‘Unity in Diversity’, or ‘All Religions are One’ or lectures on ‘Universal Brotherhood’ or when musicians sing ‘We are the world’, it does not necessarily mean that a poise in the cosmic consciousness has been achieved. No doubt, such concepts overwhelm the human mind because of the ‘presence’ and ‘pressure’ of the cosmic consciousness as a living reality. However the votaries of such ‘universal concepts’ have not necessarily started ‘living them’ unless they have undertaken the ardent pursuit of breaking the limits of the ego – a pursuit where the goal is ‘spiritual’ in essence but whose path is a psychological growth in consciousness.
‘So first of all, you must think of this; you must first become aware that you are a point in the universal immensity, and not isolated but altogether joined with it. And then you must study yourself, observe yourself. You will immediately have the opportunity of seeing the vibrations which come from outside and pass through you but are not generated in you, which you receive and express. So gradually, by studying, looking, observing, you become aware of that which is not limited. This is how you begin to acquire the universal or cosmic consciousness. Cosmic and universal mean the same thing.’
(The Mother: Collected Works, Vol. 6, Pg. 420 Century Ed.)
Sri Aurobindo adds that ‘The essence of the passage over to this goal is the exceeding of the limits imposed on us by the ego-sense and at least a partaking, at most an identification with the self-knowledge which broods secret in all life and in all that seems to us inanimate.’
(The Life Divine, Pg. 26)
The real difficulty is to exceed the limits of one’s individuality. The Mother explains that the individual is actually in love with one’s own limitations. ‘It is a natural love, since in the very formation of the individual being there is a tendency to concentrate on limits. Without that there would be no sense of separateness’ (The Mother: Collected Works, Vol.3, pg 169, Century Ed). It is a trend that maintains the exclusivity, the uniqueness of the individual. This sense of a separate individuality is maintained by sensory perception and external cognition. By techniques perfected through yoga psychology, one can develop functioning of subtle senses and inner cognition so that there can open in the individual ‘a consciousness which becomes one with that of the world ; he becomes directly aware of a universal Being, universal states, universal Force and Power, universal Mind, Life, Matter and lives in conscious relations with these things. He is then said to have cosmic consciousness.’(Sri Aurobindo, On Yoga II Tome Two1958, pg 179)
Perceiving the Cosmic Consciousness
The Mystic Perception:
The Cosmic Consciousness represents a vast, complex and multidimensional world and parts of it are experientially perceived by different aspirants. The mystic or yogi comes into contact with a vast Cosmic Spirit that inhabits and sustains all forms – animate or inanimate, and experiences it as a Cosmic Being or Self, one in all and beyond all, and exclaims:
‘Identified with silence and boundlessness
My spirit widens clasping the universe
Till all that seemed becomes the Real,
One in a mighty and single vastness.
Someone broods there nameless and bodiless,
Conscious and lonely, deathless and infinite,
And sole in a still eternal rapture,
Gathers all things to his heart for ever.’
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, Pg. 557)
(Just as an individual Spirit or Self supports and inhabits an individual embodied human being, likewise, a cosmic Spirit or Self is projected to support the cosmic play comprising multiple individuals.)
What happens to the individual ego when one starts living in the cosmic consciousness? Sri Aurobindo answers: ‘In it we live as we lived before in the ego-sense, active, more and more in contact, even unified more and more with other minds, other lives, other bodies than the organism we call ourselves, producing effects not only on our own moral and mental being and on the subjective being of others, but even on the physical world and its events by means nearer to the divine than those possible to our egoistic capacity.’
(The Life Divine, Pg. 27)
The Pragmatic perception:
Pragmatic aspirants perceive the cosmic consciousness by coming into experiential contact with cosmic ‘forces’ and ‘energies’. There are four broad approaches:
The Approach of Psychology
The Approach of Parapsychology
The Approach of Science
The Approach of the practical yogi
The Approach of Psychology:
Depth Psychology approached the field of cosmic consciousness with Jung’s unraveling of an aspect of it as ‘collective unconscious’ that holds the archetypes or ‘universal patterns’. These universal patterns shape psychological life and explain myths, symbols and motifs that recur in stories, legends, poems, dreams and fantasies. Of late, Transpersonal Psychology has expanded the scope of ‘cosmic consciousness’ beyond the Jungian paradigm by postulating the concept of the ‘Intermediate plane’ – the realm that holds not only the Jungian archetypes but also the subtle energies, subtle processes and beings, like the auras, subtle energy-fields, the Shamanic forces etc.
The Approach of Parapsychology:
Parapsychology deals with phenomena that are usually perceived to be ‘extrasensory’ in nature. It studies phenomena (known as ‘psi’) like Telepathy, Clairvoyance, etc. However, the existence of such phenomena cannot be explained unless one conceptualizes them to arise from the matrix of the cosmic consciousness. How is information actually conveyed in a phenomenon like telepathy? Scientists tried to study this by examining the ‘energy–expenditure’ of information processing in psi and found that even blocking of electromagnetic emission could not block extrasensory perceptions. In some form or other, some aspects of the working of the cosmic consciousness have to be explored to understand psi. Parapsychologists are already contemplating a sort of universal mind holding a memory bank (Akasic Records), which becomes accessible either in states of heightened sensitivity or in yogic trance-states. Such a collective mind (Lyall Watson called it ‘Sama’ in his book ‘Beyond Supernature’, 1986) may be a medium through which individuals make contact with one another, albeit, unconsciously. Yogis might develop the technique of acting through this universal mind ‘consciously’.
The Approach of Science:
Strangely, science itself is slowly acknowledging the existence of cosmic consciousness in its own way. Animal experiments have shown that there are non-biological and non-physical fields by which transmission of ‘learning’ and ‘adaptation’ can take place. Wasserman (mentioned by Sheldrake in ‘A New Science of Life’, 1981) had proposed the concept of Morphogenetic fields through which such transmission can occur. Sheldrake (‘A New Science of life, the Hypothesis of Formative Causation’, 1985), in his experiments with rats found that even rat behavior necessitated the acknowledgement of such types of fields through which ‘morphic resonance’ takes place. In fact if rats learn a trick at one place, other rats at other places pick up the trick even faster. Sheldrake opines that inanimate matter also is subject to morphic resonance.
The Approach of the practical yogi:
The practical yogi who wants to be in tune with the cosmic energies also uses different techniques to tap different dimensions of the cosmic consciousness. In doing so, he comes into experiential contact with universal energies that have great rejuvenating and healing powers. Once tapped, these energies can be used not only to work upon one’s own self but also to work upon others. He can also be in contact with the universal mind and thus have access to perennial wisdom (that is why a yogi can have a wisdom that exceeds all academic training). He can be in contact with universal positive forces as well as universal negative forces. The cosmic consciousness is a pot-pourie of forces--huge, negative forces and energies co-exist with positive forces; falsehood retains its territory as much as truth. If there are gods (positive forces) in the cosmic consciousness, there are also the demons, the Satanic energies, the titans (negative forces). That is why the Mother warned that the experiential contact with cosmic consciousness, so beloved of yogis, does not automatically signify a great spiritual breakthrough. ‘The Universal movement is after all a mixture of falsehood and truth, so that to stop there is to be imperfect…’ (The Mother, Collected Works, Vol. 3, Pg. 168). In fact, one has to pass beyond to something that still exceeds the cosmic consciousness: ‘The Transcendence’.
In conclusion, one is tempted to recall what Sri Aurobindo previsioned ‘THE POSSIBILITY OF A COSMIC CONSCIOUSNESS IS COMING SLOWLY TO BE ADMITTED IN MODERN PSYCHOLOGY…’ (Sri Aurobindo, Life Divine, Pg. 26). He of course also warns that the experience of cosmic-energies and forces (as pursued by the pragmatic researchers, psychologists, etc.) is NOT complete ‘till one has the sense of being commensurate with the universe or pervading, exceeding or containing it’ (Sri Aurobindo: Letters on Yoga, Collected Works, Vol. 22, Pg. 246-247)
I have wrapped the wide world in my wider self
And Time and Space my spirit’s seeing are.
I am the god and demon, ghost and elf,
I am the wind’s speed and the blazing star.
All nature is the nursling of my care,
I am the struggle and the eternal rest;
The world’s joy thrilling runs through me, I bear
The sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.
I have learned a close identity with all,
Yet am by nothing bound that I become;
Carrying in me the universe’s call
I mount to my imperishable home.
I pass beyond Time and life on measureless wings,
Yet still am one with born and unborn things.
(Sri Aurobindo, Collected Poems, Pg. 144 )
N.B. One should note that Sri Aurobindo uses the terms ‘cosmic’ and ‘universal’ for the same thing when using them in the context of ‘Consciousness’. He writes ‘There is no difference between the terms “universal” and “cosmic” except that “universal” can be used in a freer way than “cosmic”. Universal may mean “of the universe”, cosmic in that general sense. But it may also mean “common to all”, e.g., “This is a universal weakness” – but you cannot say “This is a cosmic Weakness”.’(Sri Aurobindo, On Yoga II, Tome Two, 1958, pg 179)
|Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu