Sri Aurobindo's - 'The Life Divine' - The Human Aspiration - Chapter I

Track Running The Human Aspiration - Track 010

In ‘The Life Divine’ we can expect therefore, three things. The discussion whether the Ultimate Reality exists or not, whether there is anything like the Ultimate at all, is a very important discussion. Secondly, there is a statement of physical and psychological facts. You can look for these facts in ‘The Life Divine’, not only that but significance of all these facts, their relationship with the Ultimate, which Sri Aurobindo establishes after thorough discussion, whether there is such a Reality or not. The entire statement is intellectual, meaning thereby something that is siezeable in terms of ideas. This is the essentiality of intellect, not images but ideas, art, poetry, music, these are the vehicles in which symbols and images play a role.

Philosophy and science are the two fields where ideas play the role, not symbols and images. This is a speciality of intellectuality, when you say these intellectual statements, if you bring in images they will be secondary, not that they are completely eliminated but as an aid, as a subordinate element. Plato, for example wrote his philosophy and his dialogues, are regarded as poetic, the way in which he expresses his prose is poetic in its character because it abounds with images but still it is philosophical because its fundamental character is ideative not imaginative, images are brought in only as a subordinate strain. Whenever you take up a book of philosophy or you want to write philosophy, then you should be careful to state your statements in terms of ideas. That is the intellectual vigour of a philosophical statement and then you strive to bring out what is called significance.

This idea of significance is very important. Significance is a word which implies meaning. This is what is something which is not written anywhere in the world. I may see a huge mountain, nowhere it is written what is meant by huge, you see the hugeness but hugeness is not written that the mountain is huge. You see the facts as they are and what they mean is not given anywhere. Therefore, Science does not give you the significance of facts; science only describes colourlessly the facts as they are. Philosophy differs from science because it also asks the question, do these facts imply any meaning. From where does this question arise, it is not suggested by the facts themselves, if you just look round in the world, there is nowhere in the world it is written, ‘look! This is the meaning’. You don’t get from sense experience any idea of meaning and yet we do raise this question. Human beings have a faculty of Pure Reason. The Pure Reason has embedded in it, as it were, a search for meaning. The full exercise of the search for meaning constitutes the heart of philosophy. You may study anything, you may describe anything, but if you don’t raise the question as to what is the meaning, then there is no philosophy as yet. It is the attempt to know the meaning of this, is there any meaning at all, ultimately you come to the conclusion that there is no meaning, but after having examined whether there is meaning or not, after examining the meaning of meaning. Once you examine even the concept of meaning itself, you don’t assume the meaning of meanings, you examine the meaning of meanings and then come to a conclusion that if there is meaning and then state, what is the meaning of all the facts that you perceive. This is a very difficult task.

It is very significant that the ‘The Life Divine’, begins with the very 1st chapter is called ‘The Human Aspiration’. It is the most important or you might say the quintessential philosophical question. Human aspiration means the human search of meaning, human beings aspire. This aspiration springs from a search for meaning; there is no aspiration, if I do not search for meaning. What do I aspire for? I aspire to fulfill a sense of meaning. The very starting point of the great magnum opus goes straight to the most important question of philosophy. Sri Aurobindo raises the question of the search of meaning. Everything else falls in its proper place, if you first fix this. Is there a human aspiration, that is the basic fact that he is putting the question before us. Is there a human aspiration? Has there been a continuity of this aspiration? What are the facts and the facts are to be seen colourlessly. What are the psychological facts, what are the physical facts? Which word expresses to you the significance of this aspiration, the meaning of this aspiration? Ultimately you may come to the conclusion that there is no such aspiration at all, that human beings are haphazard, looking for this, looking for that, giving up this thing now, giving up that thing then, there is no system in it. It is simply a haphazard movement. That could be one of the ways by which you can look upon all the facts of the world. But you can put a question: ‘Is it so?’ Is that so, is that what your study of facts given to you show that the whole history of mankind is a haphazard movement. Is it a story of an idiot or is there meaning in it, is it rational or supra–rational meaningful search.

The entire edifice of philosophy depends upon this basic important point, if you say that, if you decide from this, that from the very beginning that there is no meaning at all: then you write the 1st chapter and close it and that is the end of it. That there has been no aspiration at all in mankind, there is no search for meaning at all, if this is your conclusion, then you don’t need to find significance of the physical facts, psychological facts and the their relationship with the Ultimate Reality, nothing at all is relevant, that is the conclusion. Even to make this statement you have to be very, very competent philosopher. You should really know, what meaning is, and what the meaning of the essence of the meaning is, and how you can establish that there is no meaning. It requires a great competence. The mark that this book is preeminently philosophical in character is the very starting point.

Very often when I read, ‘The Life Divine’, I feel as if I am in the presence of a huge orchestra, played by thousand musicians at the same time. And as you enter into this orchestra, you start with a huge ‘dong’, the first ‘dong’ in which everything is contained, as it were. This chapter ‘The Human Aspiration’ when I read, then starts the ‘dong’, it awakes you from your ordinary pursuits of thought or experience and awakens you to the search of meaning. A new level of consciousness arises as soon as you take up the book and the very starting point of the ‘The Human Aspiration’ you are already in the realm of philosophy.

Then the whole book may be regarded as an answer to this question. Is there a human aspiration? What does history tell us? That means what world history is to be examined at the very outset, all psychological facts of human history, unless you make a complete study of all the psychological facts of history you cannot arrive at a conclusion, since the psychological facts are very much connected with the whole geographical world, physical world or the universe. In fact human aspiration brings up the question of all psychological facts and physical facts, their inter–relationships, relationships with man.

The wealth of historical knowledge that is required for understanding this book is tremendous. In fact the very 1st paragraph is an account of the whole history of mankind. And stated so briefly with the highest competence of knowledge, highest skill of writing, and the skill of a vision; all combined together in a supreme manner is manifest in the very 1st paragraph. 

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