In Chapter VI of The Live Divine, Sri Aurobindo mentions that the aspiration of man reaches its ‘fulfilled perfection’ if it is in consonance with the highest step of the ‘world –pervading Vishnu’. We shall try to understand why He brings in the symbolism of Vishnu.
When Sri Aurobindo mentions Vishnu, He is referring to the All -pervading Vedic Godhead that goes by that name and not to the dwarf god Vishnu of post-Vedic mythology. Now Vishnu as the SUSTAINER OF EXISTENCE is one poise of the Indian trinity. The two other poises of this triad represent the CREATIVE FORCE OF EXISTENCE (Brahma) and the FORCE OF DISSOLUTION OF EXISTENCE (Shiva).
‘SUSTENANCE’ itself is a difficult concept. The term has becomes fashionable now to the professional mind-set once man has been threatened with environmental hazards. One hears frequently terms like ‘sustainable environment’, ‘sustainable habitat’. Environmental
Science, which talks about ‘sustenance’ has only become a credible discipline long after giants like ‘physics’ and ‘chemistry’ established themselves. ‘Sustenance’ cannot work only on hypotheses and formulas; it has to be made ‘effectual’ by force, dynamism, and will of both the individual and the collectivity. If it depends only on ‘natural
sciences’ for theories, it also depends on ‘social sciences’ for
execution. Thus ‘Environmental Sciences’ is more ‘pervading’ as a
discipline then either ‘natural sciences’ or ‘social sciences.’ If
this is true at the material level, how much more true to the mystic
must be the concept of the ‘ALL PERVADING’ nature of Vishnu – the
sustainer of all existence at the cosmic level. In fact, in the
concept of Vishnu the phenomenon of sustenance has been given a
The creation as a phenomenon has been manifesting and dissolving in a scheme of eternal recurrence. Each time the creation dissolves, the memory-traces are left behind in the cosmic inconscience, in that timeless poise where Vishnu as ‘a power of fallen boundless self’ (a phrase used by Sri Aurobindo in page 1 of Savitri) is in ‘anantasajjya’ or ‘creative slumber’ of the Infinite Being. These memory traces act as templates for future creations. Thus even during the phases of dissolution where the manifestation gives place to a fathomless nothingness, Vishnu, in the poise of the cosmic Self, sustains the essence for future manifestations and hence preserves the thread of continuity. onance with the highest step of the ‘world –pervading Vishnu’. We shall try to understand why He brings in the symbolism of Vishnu.
Dissolution vis-a-vis Evolution
In India, a great lineage of mystics and seers gave more weightage to the poise of dissolution (Pralaya) of existence rather than to the poise of sustenance. If everything ends up in dissolution, then the whole of existence is ‘impermanent’. The corollary that follows is that the ‘practical’ world is an illusion’, a ‘falsehood’, a ‘maya’ and the only worthwhile pursuit was to get rid ‘of’ it and ‘from’ it. Indeed, this path was so valued that Indian metaphysicians did not concern themselves adequately with the concept of ‘evolution’. True, ‘evolution’ as a seed –idea was present all along but one had to ‘discover’ it through symbols and images (Sri Aurobindo describes in details how the ‘Hindu’ procession of Ten Avatars is a actually a parable of Evolution.)
On the other hand, Western metaphysicians gave much importance to ‘evolution’ as a concept and this tradition extended from pre-Socratic philosophers (Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras) to post- Socratic thinkers (Aristotle) and further influenced nineteenth Century movements (Darwin – Spencer, Hegel, Bergson, S. Alexander etc). Of course, Western theories of evolution were non-spiritual, religion–neutral or insufficiently spiritual. The Life Divine reveals how Sri Aurobindo synthesizes the Western and Eastern view-points with inputs from His own creative repertoire. (Ref: Maitra, S.K: The Meeting of the East and the West in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1956)
The Indian perspective
In India, the triune Godhead symbolized the cyclical movement of ‘creation – sustenance – dissolution’. In such a cyclical movement, ‘evolution’ is a passing phase. In this scheme of things, the individual, ‘if he obtains the right knowledge or performs the right kind of work or obtains Divine Grace, according to different schools of thought, obtains complete and permanent release from this world – dance …’ (Ibid).
The Mother describes:
‘It has been said that in the process of creation, there is the movement of creation followed by a movement of preservation and ending in a movement of disintegration or destruction; and even it has been repeated very often: “All that begins must end” etc, etc.
In fact in the history of our universe there have been … periods which began by a creation, were prolonged by a force of preservation and ended by disintegration, destruction, a return to the Origin, which is called Pralaya……
(The Mother, Collected works, Vol7, pg. 208.)
Is Dissolution of Existence the only outcome of Existence?
The Mother assures that there is also a possibility of a PROGRESSIVE CREATION - ‘that is, after the starting- point of the creation, instead of its being simply followed by a preservation, it would be followed by a progressive manifestation which would express the Divine more and more completely, so that no disintegration and return to the Origin would be necessary. And ……. the period we are in …… would not end by a Pralaya, a return to the Origin, a destruction, a disappearance, but that it would be replaced by a constant progress, because it would be a more and more perfect unfolding of the divine Origin in its creation. And this is what Sri Aurobindo says. He speaks of a constant unfolding, that is, the Divine manifests more and more completely; more and more perfectly, in a progressive creation’ (Ibid).
This means that Vishnu is no longer the Godhead responsible for ‘sustenance’ or ‘preservation’ but ALSO OF UPWARD PROGRESS, OF CONSTANT UNFOLDMENT. Mere ‘sustenance’ has a limited value unless it does not lead to progress.
That is precisely why Vishnu is characterised by his famous ‘STRIDES’ - strides that are evolutionary steps – steps that lead to constant progress. We shall try to understand Vishnu’s strides in the next post-script write-up.
(We have said that mere sustenance is of no value unless there is also a ‘progress’. This spiritual truth is also reflected in our earthy ‘environmentalist’ terms – a mere sustainable environment has limited value unless it proves a base to man to exceed himself!)
‘Life now became a sure approach to God,
Existence a divine experiment
And cosmos the soul’s opportunity.’
(Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pg.43)
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu