In the manifestation, the ego-centered individuality has
lost all memory of the unity-principle of Sachchidananda from which it has been metapsychologically derived in terms of consciousness. This is expected as otherwise, its uniqueness could not develop itself into its fullest potential as a
separative entity. If it recovers the true unity-principle, it can immediately lose its separative identity.
Sri Aurobindo is concerned with reconstructing the unity-principle in the world of dualities, in the matrix of multiplicity. But He wants to do it in such a way that the multiplicity is not dissolved in the ocean of oneness. He wants to maintain the uniqueness of individual forms while yet establishing the unity-principle that transcends all forms.
It is a challenging option that is worked out in The Life Divine
PERCEPTION OF REALITY – THE SENSORY EXPERIENCE
In Chapter VII of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes how the ego-centered individuality perceives reality.
In ordinary earthly life, the world of dualities is perceived at two basic experiential levels:
(a) The level of Sensory Perception
(b) The level of Reason.
Of course, these perceptions become experiential on being modulated through our ego-centered individuality. As the ego-based experiences do not reflect the non-dual, unitary nature of Reality, they have their inherent limitations. We shall first try to understand the individual sensory experience
Our first contact with the world is through our senses. The moment a newborn emerges from the maternal womb, its sensory system is bombarded from all sides-- light, sound, touch, taste and odours. The onslaught is too much and unless the newborn sleeps for long hours, these experiences cannot be assimilated and integrated in his sensory schemata. The baby enjoys the world through the senses. He enjoys the sweetness and warmth of his mother’s milk through his senses, he enjoys being rocked and cradled through his senses, and he enjoys being put to sleep by a lullaby through his senses. He learns bowel and bladder control through a series of sensory games. The first game we play with an infant -- peep-boo is an intense sensory training--- he discovers and rediscovers his mother hid behind the curtain -- this instills in him the idea that his mother is permanent. This gives a sense of security and sows the seeds of faith. It also imparts the joy of love. It builds up the sense of adventure.
It is therefore very natural that the perception through the senses establishes a basic and deep impression in the child’s psyche. This is so fundamental that even when the child becomes an adult, whatever is conveyed by the senses is usually taken as reliable and full proof.
Limitations of the senses
Spiritual seekers had realized that ‘sensory perception’ was just one level of experience. There were ‘other’ levels too. Even Science conforms to this view. The primal perception that the sun moves around the earth is a phenomenon that is pragmatically ‘true’ while being scientifically ‘false’. Even the terms ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ are technically untrue. But they are phenomenally true. We schedule our daylong activities around these two terms and we cannot deny their practical significance.
How do we deal with a phenomenon that is scientifically or rationally false but phenomenally true? WE HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THERE ARE MANY LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE AND THE TRUTH-SEEKER HAS TO SIMULTANEOUSLY ACT AT DIFFERENT LEVELS, FOR EACH LEVEL HAS ITS CONTRIBUTION TO THE WHOLE.
Take the example of sensory experience vis-à-vis sensual enjoyment. An ordinary person may be so satisfied with sensual enjoyment that fulfills his lust and passion that he may consider the satiation of the senses as the highest pleasure worth pursuing! This is how hedonism prospered. This is also why an entire industry pursuing sensual pleasure dominates the market of consumerism.
A spiritual seeker has a different experience. To him, the senses are not merely meant to fulfill ‘lust’. They provide a field and matrix to manifest the ‘Divine Bliss’. Or else, unable to tackle the lure of the senses, he may indulge in an ascetic discipline that ignores and deprives the senses.
For an integral seeker of Truth, neither the hedonistic enjoyment of the senses, nor an ascetic impoverishment of the senses can reflect ‘Reality’. Rather, he would acknowledge the different levels of experience and venture to experiment whether the Higher Reality that reflects Absolute Bliss can be experienced in a world of dualities. For that, a technology of consciousness has to be worked out.
Surpassing the senses
Indian metaphysical psychology had discovered long back the limitations of the senses. In Sanskrit, the Vedic God ‘Indra’ and the term ‘Indriyas’ used to depict the senses, have the same root of origin. Indra is a great Vedic God and one of his functions is to see that Truth is not distorted by the senses (Indriyas). In His commentary on the Rig Veda Verses 1.4, Sri Aurobindo explains:
“The principle which Indra represents is Mind-Power released from the limits and obscuration of the nervous consciousness. It is this enlightened Intelligence which fashions right or perfect forms of thought or of action not deformed by the nervous impulse, not hampered by the falsehoods of sense”. (Sri Aurobindo: The Secret of the Veda, pg.250 ). (The ‘nervous’ consciousness mentioned here is the sensory schemata embedded in the nervous system of the body and not clinical anxiety.)
There are different ways of surpassing the senses:
(a) Harnessing the suprasensorial levels of experience.
The first of the suprasensorial levels is REASON, which has already been stabilized in the repertoire of human experience.
There are yet other levels of supra-rational levels of experience that surpass Reason and which have been available to mystics, yogis and exceptional individuals. Sri Aurobindo envisages that with a progressive evolution in consciousness, these faculties will be stabilized in a broader way in the human psyche.
(b) We not only have our usual sensory organs but we also have dormant ‘inner’ senses in an ‘inner’ or ‘subliminal’ personality stationed behind our surface being (the surface being is what is studied as personality in psychology ). Under exceptional circumstances, we have inklings of these ‘inner’ senses. Thus during meditation, these inner senses are activated leading to phenomena like ‘visions’, ‘hearing’ church-bells etc. In phenomena like hypnosis, telepathy and clairvoyance, it is the ‘inner’ senses that are activated. In Sri Aurobindo’s scheme of personal growth, the inner being has to be developed and fused with the surface being.
(c) Our bodily senses can themselves undergo a transformation. Sri Aurobindo describes that the transformed sense will reflect a purer action that cannot be distorted easily; will sub serve a fourth dimensional perspective and will actually be a power of the Spirit. He has developed this concept in meticulous detail and interested readers can refer to the chapter ‘The Supramental Sense’ in His book-‘The Synthesis of Yoga’.
Sri Aurobindo Himself is very pragmatic and cautions that a premature surpassing of the senses can lead to a disharmony:
“To enlarge the sense-faculties without the knowledge that would give the old sense-values their right interpretation from the new standpoint might lead to serious disorders and incapacities, might unfit for practical life and for the orderly and disciplined use of the reason.” (The Life Divine, pg 60 )
THE SENSUOUS MORTAL
The ordinary human being lives in the meshes of sensual pleasure and sensual suffering. But the mystic and seer aspire that the senses should provide a field for the manifestation of the DIVINE, SACHCHIDANANDA BLISS. In answer to that aspiration, the World Mother consents to give a boon so that the divine ecstasy can manifest in the sensory schemeta:
Voice of the sensuous mortal, heart of eternal longing,
Thou who hast lived as in walls, thy soul with thy senses wronging!
But I descend at last. Fickle and terrible, sweet and deceiving,
Poison and nectar one has dispensed to thee, luring thee, leaving.
We two together shall capture the flute and the player relentless.
Son of man, thou hast crowned thy life with the flowers that are scentless,
Chased the delights that wound. But I come and midnight shall sunder.
Lo, I come, and behind me Knowledge descends and with thunder
Filling the spaces Strength, the Angel, bears on his bosom
Joy to thy arms. Thou shalt look on her face like a child’s or a blossom,
Innocent, free as in Eden of old, not afraid of her playing,
When thy desires I have seized and devoured like a lioness preying.
Thou shalt not suffer always nor cry to me lured and forsaken:
I have a snare for his footsteps, I have a chain for him taken.
Come then to Brindavan, soul of the joyous; faster and faster
Follow the dance I shall teach thee with Shyama for slave and for master.
Follow the notes of the flute with a soul aware and exulting;
Trample Delight that submits and crouch to a sweetness insulting.
Then shalt thou know what the dance meant, fathom the song and the singer,
Hear behind thunder its rhymes, touched by lightning thrill to his finger,
Brindavan’s rustle shall understand and Yamuna’s laughter,
Take thy place in the Ras* and thy share of the ecstasy after.
*The dance-round of Krishna with the cowherdesses in the moonlit groves of Brindavan, type of the dance of Divine Delight with the souls of men liberated in the world of Bliss secret within us.
Collected Poems, pg 535-6 )
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu