THE GROWTH OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS: ITS STAGES AND SIGNIFICANCE â€“ The Hindu Perspective
GOVINDH K. BHARATHAN
Science has established the fact of evolution. Physical science in its explanation of evolution attributed it all to accident. Biological science considering the growth and decay of species ultimately concluded that the answer was random selection. The world of the sciences is necessarily restricted by physical limitations beyond which its wings of imagination (if at all the element of imagination is involved) cannot soar.
But the philosopher and seer look at evolution from a totally different point of view. The fact of evolution does not explain or provide any answer to the rationale of evolution. To go beyond the bounds of the physical and even mental and intellectual planes is not always possible for the scientist. He often loses track of the infinitely wider horizons of intuition and personal experience in his clinical faithfulness to scientific observation and result. If evolution is an undeniable scientific fact the next logical question is why evolve and this is the field of first the philosopher and then the seer and man of realisation.
Indian thought from the Vedas onwards has accepted the concept that the world is a creation of the will power of the Divine. Many passages in the Vedas and the Upanishades and the Bhagawad Gita and the other scriptures state that the created world is a manifestation of the Divine will. Various schools developed various concepts about this manifestation, some maintaining that this manifestation is just an appearance and the others that it is real. Non dualistic Saivism considers the world as a real manifestation and discounts what is called â€œMayavadaâ€.
The depth and width of Hindu thought and Philosophy would rule out any through statement on evolution which can encompass it in its entirety and its essence. However, if one considers the most ancient concept of evolution which has been incorporated in the form of the puranic stories of the Dashavathara, and the most modern, the concept of Superman as envisaged by Aurobindo, one can more or less define the boundaries of the Hindu concept of the growth of Human consciousness and its stages.
According to Sri. Aurobindo, there is first the Absolute which is beyond human understanding. The eternal creating principle leaves some avenue for comprehension and this principle call it God orParabrahman, is spoken of in vedantha as Sat-Chit-Ananda. Absolute Consciousness is its very nature, absolute Existence is its Supreme attribute, and absolute Bliss is its Supreme expression. This can be considered as the subjective expression of the Supreme. There is also an objective aspect which is also in terms of a triology and this is Satyam Jnanam Anandam- Truth, Knowledge and Infinity.
As Sri. Aurobindo saw it the cosmos was manifested in the process of involution and evolution. Evolution for Sri.Aurobindo meant evolution of consciousness which would logically follow involution. The universal consciousness in the process of involution creates planes of existence characterized by varying degrees of consciousness. The superior planes are those of Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence, Consciousness-Bliss which are above the normal levels of human consciousness. Above this is the Supramental plane, the cradle of the Super Mind emerging from which it would transform mankind. The descending planes are mind, life and matter in that order of descending in conscience. But consciousness is involved even in what appears to be most inconscient. Each of these planes above it; making evolution not only possible but an absolute inevitability.
Evolution is a reverse of this process. From the depths of the inconscient plane of matter, propelled, guided and urged by the secret consciousness forces within it and drawn by the latent consciousness force of the superior force above it, matter evolves into life. It is this life which blossoms forth as plants and animals. Life thus evolving from matter then runs riot in glorious abandon, till it encompasses the earth in every conceivable form, till another development takes places, drawn as it is by the latent consciousness force in the plane above and the consciousness force evolved in that stage. This is the birth of the mind and the development of thought. With its development and perfection on the physical animal plane evolved the perfected thinking animal- MAN.
With the advent of man a totally new phenomenon had evolved something new and hitherto unknown in the very slow and often seemingly reluctant process of evolution. Hitherto, the growth of consciousness from the inconscient matter which was the lowest descent of the Universal Consciousness was made in small steps seemingly weighed down by the dull reluctance of that medium. But with the advent of Man a new step appeared to have been taken in the process of evolution.
Hitherto, evolution appears to have been effected more as an automatic operation of nature. But, the thinking animal MAN for the first time became aware of the existence of higher stages of consciousness; a phenomenon hitherto unknown to any of the lower planes. Along with this awareness came the conscious urge to probe into the mysteries of this higher stage and a persistent effort to strive to attain it. For the first time in the process of evolving consciousness, subconscious evolution yielded to the process of conscious evolution promising the emergence of a higher evolution of consciousness.
But even in Man there is this constant struggle between the growing consciousness and the dead weight of his matter origin. In man, there appears to be a constant upward striving towards a higher consciousness, and a constant pull, downwards towards his crass matter origins. The dynamism of Sri.Aurobindoâ€™s thinking could not conceive of evolution stopping at humanity since the human mind with its imperfections can hardly be the grand culmination of the evolving consciousness. To him, the further evolution of man is a decreed reality. evolving consciousness is bound to manifest itself in a higher state. Man the thinking animal is bound to consciously effort is bound to hasten the process of evolution.
Sri.Aurobindo concludes that the culmination of the conscious evolutionary process can only be in a Superman or a Supermind who will arrive here on this earth. This Supermind will be full Truth Consciousness and will know all, see all and unite all. It will know itself and the Divine Sat-Chit-Ananda and will be self determinative.
Aurobindo does not consider Krishna, the Budha or Jesus to have been a Superman nor could he Supramentalise himself. According to Goswami;
â€œA complete Superman is expected not only to live in the infinite consciousness inwardly but also to manifest the same in the most external aspects of his life. It is this point that makes a Superman radically different from spiritual men.â€
â€œSri. Aurobindoâ€™s Concept of The Supermanâ€ by Chittaranjan Goswami at page 143 SABDA, 1976 Edition, Pondicherry.
All spiritual effort hitherto has been towards an inner perfection in the face of an admitted outer imperfection. Realisation of Truth and liberation was hitherto considered an inner affair, to be experienced in the trance state of Samadhi or in Susupti (the oft repeated deep sleep concept of Bliss from the Upanishads). But Sri.Aurobindo sweeps away this division between the inner and the outer. According to him
â€œâ€¦..So long as an irreducible quantity of imperfection is acknowledged, a tremendous hiatus is caused between the Divine and earth- existenceâ€.
K.D.Sethna: â€œThe Vision and Work of Sri. Aurobindo ( Pondy : Mother India, 1968 Ed.P.66)
However, evolution has historically always been accompanied by more and more perfected forms of life. The shedding of protective hair and development of a resistant skin which withstood natures assaults, the development of finer limbs, straighter forms and greater agility prove that evolving consciousness expresses itself through consummate forms.
This in turn, again calls for a higher purification of mind. This gap can only be overcome by a process of transformation. He divided this transformation into 3 distinct stages as follows:
1. Psychicization : The soul is fundamentally the same as Brahman. This soul or self is not a creation nor a manifestation of the Universal Self but is itself its master- Sri.Aurobindo states:
â€œAs an eternal portion of the Divine this part is by the law of the infinite inseparable from its Divine whole, this part is indeed itself that whole except in its frontal appearance its frontal separative self experienceâ€.
S.A.B.C.L. Volume 18 p. 66.
The core of the embodied existence is the psychic. The psychic being guides life at different levels of existence and consciousness. Absolute harmonious integration necessitates that individual existence is dominated by this psychic being. This Aurobindo calls â€œpsychicizationâ€. Psychicization of life would result in self knowledge and creative self expression.
2. Spiritualization : Once the individual centre of consciousness is developed, this experience gradually results in spritualisation wherein this consciousness widens and expands. This can be more clearly understood by representing psychicization as the vertical reaching for the higher and spiritualization as a horizontal growth resulting from the light and power achieved by this turning to the Divine. Flowering from the individual centre, the aspirant identifying with the Universal Being experiences infinite bliss, boundless light, power and ecstacy. The ndividual receptacle (the body, life, mind and soul) undergoes subtle changes and transforms itself into a divine complex.
3. Supramentalization : The ultimate transformation can be effected only with the descent of the supramental consciousness into all layers of the individual receptacle of the body- life â€“ mind- soul which in its turn releases the same consciousness which was involved in nature. According to Sri.Aurobindo it is only this descent of the Supramental which can cope with the fantastic complexity of human nature with the various levels of its components. This is a concept which is totally different from mere inner realisation of the Spirit, Sri.Aurobindo conceives of the gnostic being as one who starts out from this stage. The complete Gnostic being is the Superman and would be in actuality the next step to a higher sage of evolution.
The Superman is fundamentally concerned with earth existence consciousness and life. The concept of Superman has to do with evolution of earthly life itself. To quote from Chittranjan Goswami:
â€œIt is intimately linked with the idea of an evolving life on earth, that is, it is intention of the Divine to carry the evolution forward and that the stage has been set it from the very beginning.
â€œSri. Aurobindoâ€™s concept of
The Supermanâ€ by Chittaranjan Goswami at page 149 SABDA, Pondicherry.
In Sri.Aurobindoâ€™s own words this descent it described as follows:
â€œThis is the third motion, the descent which is essential for bringing the permanent ascension, an increasing inflow from above, an experience of reception and retention of the descending spirit or its powers and elements of consciousness. this experience of descent can take place as a result of the other two movements or automatically before either has happened, through a sudden rift in the lid or a percolation, a downpour or an influx. A light descends and touches or envelops or penetrates the lower being, the mind, the life of the body: or a presence or a power or a stream of knowledge pours in waves or currents, or there is a flood of bliss or a sudden ecstasy; the contact with the Super-conscient has been established.
The Life Divine, Sri.Aurobindo International Centre of Education Collection
1960 Vol. 3 P. 1086
When the involved Supermind in nature evolving upwards joins and meets the descending Supernature, the individual is the first to be transformed. But the transformation of the individual is not an isolated phenomenon. Just as the mind developed through human evolution as a power in life and matter, thereby causing a phenomenal change in that stage of evolution, a change which was lasting, permanent and momentous, so should this transformed individual become a centre and operative force which will establish the Supramental consciousness force as an operative power of nature on earth.
Sri. Aurobindo Says
â€œA siuperamental principle and its cosmic operation once established permanently on its own basis, the intervening powers of Overmind and spiritual Mind could found themselves securely upon it and reach their own perfection; they would become in the earth-existence a hierarchy of states of consciousness rising out of Mind and physical life to the supreme spiritual levelâ€
On this basis the principle of a dive life in terrestrial Nature would be manifested; even the world of ignorance and inconscience might discover its own submerged secret and begin to realize in each lower degree its divine significance.
The Life Divine, Sri.Aurobindo International Centre of Educaiton Collection 1960 Volume 3,Page 1145
I would close this segment on Aurobindoâ€™s concept of Supermentalisation by briefly describing the sageâ€™s concept of the Superman, mostly in his own words:
â€œThe Gnostic individual would be in the world and of the world, but would also exceed it in his consciousness and live in his self of transcendence above it; he would be universal but free in the universe, individual but not limited by a separative individuality.
(ibid page 1157)
â€œ The supramental being in his cosmic consciousness seeing and feeling all as himself would act in that sense; he would act in a universal awareness and a harmony of his individual self with the total self, of his individual will with the total will, of his individual action with the total action
(ibid page 1158)
â€œOne in self with all, the supramental being will seek the delight of self manifestation of the Spirit in himself but equally the delight of the Divine in all he will have the cosmic joy and will be a power for bringing the bliss of the spirit, the joy of being to others; for their joy will be part of his own joy of existence. To be occupied with the good of all beings to make the joy and grief of others oneâ€™s own has been described as a sign of the liberated and fulfilled spiritual man. the supramental being will have no need, for that, of an altruistic self- effacement, since this occupation will be intimate to his self-fulfilment, the fulfilment of the one in all, and there will be no contradiction or strife between his own good and the good of others.â€
)ibid Page 1161)
The perennial freshness of Hindu thought is astonishing. The â€œNarayanaeeyamâ€ is a super devotional hymn by Meppathur Narayana Bhattathir, who was born is 1560 A.D in Kerala. In Canto 8 the poet describes the dawn of creation. After total dissolution (Pralaya) a new cycle of creation starts (the one now prevailing) and a new creative power begins the work of creation strictly in consonance with what prevailed in the previous Kalpa. The first entity to wake up at the end of the dissolution was Time, which is stated to have woken up by its power, the sleeping Vishnu. Vishnu is portrayed as of the nature of saturated Bliss Consciousness reclining on the Serpent bed of Adishesha. From the naval of Vishnu emerges a lotus bud of great brilliance and in that lotus arises the creator Brahma along with the self manifested Vedas. This traditional concept of Vishnu reclining on his Serpent bed has one additional aspect which is not always emphasized. With his right hand the reclining Vishnu is shown as performing Archana (offering a spring of bilwa leaves)on a Shiva Linga. I shall return to this symbol and its significance in the Hindu concept of evolution of consciousness later.
The story of the Dashavathara or the 10 incaranation of Vishnu is perhaps the elucidation of the Hindu concept of the evolution of consciousness and its stages. Beneath the raiment of the highly colourful and captivating stories of the Avatara lies the Hindu concept of evolution which in its essence has a startling resemblance to some of the latest therories of evolution that science has to offer. The stories are too elaborate to be detailed here and a detailed dissection of the mythology aspect would far exceed the scope of my paper. I thus limit myself to the bare essentials of the story of the Avatara and will delve into mythology only when the subject demands it.
The Malsyavathara describes the Lordâ€™s incarnation as a fish. The Lord appeared as a tiny fish in the palms of Royal sage to restore the Vedas stolen from the memory of Brahma. This little fish outgrows the sageâ€™s water jug and in quick succession, the well, the tank and the lake till the Rishi with his Yogic power deposits him into the sea. The fish continues to grow till the earth appears in the shape of a boat, which was pulled to safety on the horn of the Divine Fish. This mythological story could well represent the emergence of life from matter. The start of life in Hindu mythology has often been depicted as from water. The rescue of the earth then