The Life Divine—Chapters 1-7 (New Delhi, at Shubhra Ketu Foundation) - Session 4: 24 April 2008

The first two paragraphs of the second chapter give a statement of the theorem of The Life Divine. The second chapter, first two paragraphs. The first paragraph is a summary of the first chapter as a whole, that is to say, what we have arrived at the end of the first chapter. It is the affirmation of a divine life upon earth and an immortal sense, in mortal existence; this was the conclusion that was reached at the end of the first chapter. Now if you want to continue with this affirmation, Sri Aurobindo says this affirmation “can have no base unless we recognize not only eternal Spirit as the inhabitant of this bodily mansion, the weaver of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He, the Spirit weaves constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.” That is to say that we have to accept both eternal Spirit and Matter

As we see the Chapter no. II is entitled The Two Negations and the subtitle of this chapter is The Materialist Denial that is to say although we are required to affirm both Spirit and Matter, if divine life upon the earth is going to be realizable, we have an immediate negation and the first negation comes from the materialist. The materialist denies the existence of the Spirit. In the next chapter we shall have the denial of Matter and the fourth chapter is entitled The Omnipresent Reality, a reality which synthesizes both the Spirit and Matter. So in this chapter the emphasis is upon the consideration of the refusal or the denial of the materialist. How far the denial of the materialist is valid, whether it is sustainable, if not in what sense it is not. Are we going to reject the materialists totally, partly, partially, or to some extent, or not at all? These are the questions that this chapter concentrates upon. Now Sri Aurobindo goes farther and says: it is not enough merely to accept that Spirit is real and Matter is real. This is not enough. We have to go farther. What is that farther?

Nor is this, even, enough to guard us against a recoil from life in the body unless, with the Upanishads, perceiving behind their appearances the identity in essence of these two extreme terms of existence, we are able to say in the very language of those ancient writings, “Matter also is Brahman”, and to give its full value to the vigorous figure by which the physical universe is described as the external body of the Divine Being.

That is to say, we have to not only affirmed the reality of Spirit and reality of Matter but we have to even say that there is an essential identity between Spirit and Matter, a proposition that we find in the Upanishads and Sri Aurobindo also sites another sentence of the Isavasya Upanishad; the whole universe is the external body of the Divine being.

Ishavasyam-idagm sarvanm yat-kinca jagatyam jagat

The whole universe is the habitation of the Divine Being. We need to go farther because between Matter and Spirit there are many intermediate stages. And philosophy as we have said is an account of the totality—all the elements of the universe. You remember, we said that there is today a philosophical doctrine which maintains that we don’t need to explain anything. The very idea of explanation itself is beside the point. You simply have to see the world, describe the world as it is and whatever happens, happens. Do not ask the question why it should happen, what is the cause of it, how it has happened? All this is not required. You simply have to describe what is happening. We have considered this possibility and said that that is one way of looking at the world but if we have a better view of the world, we should consider the better view of the world. That is to say, chance may not be the explanation of the world and we have said if chance is the Reality, it is by chance that the theory is right. Not because of any other reason but by chance that theory happens to be right. Therefore we are trying to see another alternative. Can we explain the world at all? Either we don’t explain anything at all and leave the world as it is and just watch what is happening. Whatever happens, happens by chance there is nothing to consider, you just be the witness of the world as it is happening. If you want to participate in it, participate in the way in which you like, don’t participate if you don’t like. Ultimately there is nothing in the world, there is no significance in the world. The Chance theory has no significance.

As Sri Aurobindo points out, it may be that the world has no significance. It is quite possible that philosophically. It is one way of looking at the world but it is not the rational way ‒ that is the important point. The rational way is the way by which you find meaning, significance. But maybe the rational way itself may be the wrong way. Therefore we are considering the other alternative; it is quite possible that we can explain the whole world and this is the whole attempt of The Life Divine. The Life Divine is a rational assurance that Spirit will manifest in the human body fully. This is the theorem you might say. This is the basic proposition. The Spirit will manifest in the body fully, omnipotently. This is the whole thesis. The whole The Life Divine is a rational proof of it. It is for that reason that this labour is undertaken. It is for those who want to understand rationally, the rationale of the world, that is to say that, those who admit that philosophy as an explanation is a justifiable exercise. So having stated that if Spirit is going to manifest in Matter then we have to admit the Reality of Spirit, admit the Reality of Matter. We have to admit not only the Reality of Spirit and Matter, we have to go one step farther, and maintain that Spirit and Matter are essentially identical. Unless we do this our thesis will not be sustained. Sri Aurobindo says we have to go farther. The distance between Spirit and Matter in our experience is so great and between Matter and Spirit there are many other facts of existence that we have to show a real linking between Matter and Spirit. So this is what Sri Aurobindo says in the next sentence.

Nor,—so far divided apparently are these two extreme terms,—is that identification convincing to the rational intellect if we refuse to recognise a series of ascending terms (Life, Mind, Supermind and the grades that link Mind to Supermind) between Spirit and Matter.

We have to admit the linking between of these series.

Otherwise the two must appear as irreconcilable opponents bound together in an unhappy wedlock and their divorce the one reasonable solution. To identify them, to represent each in the terms of the other, becomes an artificial creation of Thought opposed to the logic of facts and possible only by an irrational mysticism.

This, you might say, is the theorem of the whole book, to recognize the essential identity of Matter and Spirit and secondly to show the linking between Matter and Spirit—link being the Supermind, Mind and Life. These are the links between Spirit and Matter and these links also have to be shown; in other words the entire universe is to be analysed properly and then only shall we be able to get at the affirmation, rational affirmation, of the manifestation of the Spirit in body. Now the next paragraph is an extremely difficult paragraph and it presupposes a great deal of the knowledge of history of philosophy. We shall still read it because after all it is not so difficult.

If we assert only pure Spirit and a mechanical unintelligent substance or energy, calling one God or Soul and the other Nature, the inevitable end will be that we shall either deny God or else turn from Nature.

This is a thesis and also an answer that is to say, if we affirm only pure Spirit. If we say that there are only two Realities, God and Nature, both real, this is what has happened in Jainism, this is also the case of Sankhya. In the history of philosophy these two philosophies are very powerful, the philosophy of Sankhya, according to which there are only two principles of existence, the Soul and Nature, Purusha and Prakriti. Jainism also accepts the multiplicity of Souls and Matter, jada, jadatatva. So Sri Aurobindo says if we assert only pure Spirit. We may call Spirit by the name of Spirit or God or whatever other name you give to the idea of Spirit. But if we affirm only Spirit on one side and mechanical energy ‒ Matter, on the other as the two ultimate realities, Sri Aurobindo states that in due course of time or in logical thinking ultimately we shall be led to affirm one or the other; either in metaphysics or in ultimate aim of life. If you assert only pure Spirit and a mechanical unintelligent substance or energy calling one God or Soul, and the other Nature, the inevitable end will be that we shall either deny God or else turn from Nature.

In Sankhya, having affirmed Purusha and Prakriti as the two Ultimate Realities, the conclusion that ultimately came was that we have to reject Prakriti and return to the Soul. In Jainism also, we have to reject Matter and turn to the Soul. In the matter of metaphysical thought, when the two positions are described this is real, this is real, both are real. Can we maintain this dualism right up to the end or we shall be obliged to bring them together into one unity. In practice we see that even though we regard in Jainism or in Sankhya the two Realities Purusha and Prakriti as the two Ultimate Realities, both these philosophies maintain, although both are real, you must reject Matter. You cannot throw out from existence Matter but you should be able to withdraw from Matter totally. Why, if both are real why should we not be able to embrace both? This is the question we should ask both Sankhya and Jainism. But the answer is that also Purusha and Prakriti or Jeeva and Jada are two Ultimate Realities. One is superior to the other, both are real but one is superior. Now how did you arrive at this sense of superiority? If both are real and both are Ultimate, both are self-existent how do we arrive at this concept of superiority? And why should one be superior to the other, if both are unrelated in any way, why do you make this relationship of superiority? So why do you make a choice? So Sri Aurobindo says that both these philosophies have turned to deny Nature in one way or the other; if not deny the truth of Nature, at least by saying it is inferior and in that sense it’s a rejection of Matter. For both Thought and Life, a choice then becomes imperative. Thought comes to deny the one as an illusion of the imagination or the other as an illusion of the senses; this is what is a basic argument in the Vedantic philosophy, which has been propounded by Shankracharya that is to say thought comes to deny the one as an illusion of the imagination, or the other as an illusion of the senses. If you read the Bhashya of Shankara on Brahmasutra, the conclusion has been drawn. Shankracharya considers the Sankhyan philosophy of Purusha and Prakriti as the two Ultimate Realities and he comes to the conclusion that Brahman, the Spirit is real and Matter is simply a hallucination of the senses. On the other hand, if you will read the philosophy of Materialism, it says that Matter is real and what you consider to be the Spirit is only a false illusion of imagination. You imagine the Spirit, actually Spirit does not exist. These are the two alternative conclusions which are drawn in the history of thought. Thought comes to deny the one as an illusion of the imagination or the other as an illusion of the senses.

Life comes to fix on the immaterial and flee from itself in a disgust or a self-forgetting ecstasy, or else to deny its own immortality and take its orientation away from God and towards the animal.

That is to say, as in the case of Jainism and Sankhya, although both are regarded as real as far as Life is concerned, Life is required to deny the material existence and flee from material existence. “Life comes to fix on the immaterial or on the Purusha or the Jeeva and flee from itself in a disgust or a self-forgetting ecstasy, or else to deny its own immortality and take its orientation away from God and towards the animal. That is what the materialist does.

Purusha and Prakriti, the passively luminous Soul of the Sankhyas and their mechanically active Energy, have nothing in common, not even their opposite modes of inertia; their antinomies can only be resolved by the cessation of the inertly driven Activity into the immutable Repose upon which it has been casting in vain the sterile procession of its images.

This is the basic reason why this choice becomes necessary because they have nothing in common. If there was something common, you would have been obliged to keep them together but since there is no commonality, the ultimate logical conclusion comes about in rejecting one or the other. They “..have nothing in common not even their opposite modes of inertia;…”

Purusha is inert and Prakriti is also inert. And although that is inertia, that inertia is not exactly identical. Inertia of Matter and inertia of Purusha are not identical, there is nothing common between the two.

Purusha and Prakriti, the passively luminous Soul of the Sankhyas and their mechanically active Energy, have nothing in common, not even their opposite modes of inertia; their antinomies can only be resolved by the cessation of the inertly driven Activity into the immutable Repose upon which it has been casting in vain the sterile procession of its images.

So the conclusion could be only to run away from the Prakriti or the Energy, and to seek repose in the Spirit.

Shankara’s wordless, inactive Self and his Maya of many names and forms are equally disparate and irreconcilable entities; their rigid antagonism can terminate only by the dissolution of the multitudinous illusion into the sole Truth of an eternal Silence.

Therefore whether we take the position of Sankhya, which states that Purusha and Prakriti are two Realities, even Shankara’s philosophy maintains that there is Spirit and there is Maya; although Maya has ultimately no Reality it has vyavaharika satta. Even that vyavaharika satta is ultimately to be eliminated. Ultimate conclusion would be we are forced to conclude that you have to choose between two because there is nothing common between them, so the choice becomes imperative. Now this is for those who happen to choose the Spirit. But the other way also is possible. If you say that Matter is much more attractive then you take a materialistic position. Even if you start by saying that both Spirit and Matter exist, ultimately a materialist will choose Matter as the Ultimate Reality. He would reject the other.

The materialist has an easier field; it is possible for him by denying Spirit to arrive at a more readily convincing simplicity of statement, a real Monism, the Monism of Matter or else of Force. But in this rigidity of statement it is impossible for him to persist permanently. He too ends by positing an unknowable as inert, as remote from the known universe as the passive Purusha or the silent Atman. It serves no purpose but to put off by a vague concession the inexorable demands of Thought or to stand as an excuse for refusing to extend the limits of inquiry.

This is a very important sentence. “The materialist has an easier field.” There is a very interesting dialogue in the history of philosophy between Berkley, Berkley was a philosopher and he is regarded as the philosopher of the Spirit who denies the existence of Matter and he wrote a dialogue between Hylas and Philonous, and one of them is a spiritualist and the other a materialist. And Berkley tried to prove that only Spirit exists. Then the opponent simply kicks a football and says what is this? He has an easier field. The Matter is very easy to show as real. You can kick a football and prove the existence of Matter. So you might say that the materialist has an easier field. For the one who believes in Spirit, he has to do a lot of reasoning to show that this Matter really does not exist and you have to make a very long chain of reasoning to point out what is hallucination, how the senses are deceptive and how the illusions arise and then spirit which is not visible at all; to make it real is a very, very difficult process. But for those who want to prove the existence of Matter, it is as easy as to kick a football and say here is Matter, so how can you deny it. So Sri Aurobindo says:

The materialist has an easier field; it is possible for him by denying Spirit to arrive at a more readily convincing simplicity of statement, a real Monism, the Monism of Matter or else of Force. But in this rigidity of statement it is impossible for him to persist permanently. He too ends by positing an unknowable as inert, as remote from the known universe as the passive Purusha or the silent Atman. It serves no purpose but to put off by a vague concession the inexorable demands of Thought or to stand as an excuse for refusing to extend the limits of inquiry.

Even though a materialist might say that he has won the game, when you ask the question: please tell me what is Matter? And he goes on explaining to you then ultimately what is the end of his argument? He is led to conclude

He too ends by positing an unknowable as inert, as remote from the known universe as the passive Purusha or the silent Atman.

Because if you ask a question, what is Matter? You will find that you are bound to posit something that is invisible—go on deeper and deeper to the atomic and molecules and deeper and deeper roots and you find something invisible and that invisible, to show that invisible has become visible in this form that seems to be a miracle. How that visible has become visible in this form, how has it happened that becomes impossible? So Sri Aurobindo says that even:

He too ends by positing an unknowable as inert, as remote from the known universe as the passive Purusha or the silent Atman. It serves no purpose but to put off by a vague concession the inexorable demands of Thought or to stand as an excuse for refusing to extend the limits of inquiry.

Both the spiritualist has to explain that if Matter is unreal and how has it come about? He can only refuse the enquiry. He can simply say that it has come about, it’s a hallucination, you don’t need to explain. So he refuses the enquiry. The materialist also, if you say how that invisible ultimate atomic and subatomic particle has become this visible Reality even this he can only say now do not ask me those questions I cannot enquire into it. So ultimately both of them come to the conclusion that we stop enquiry, this is what it is. In other words thought is to be exercised, rationality is to be exercised.

Therefore, in these barren contradictions the human mind cannot rest satisfied. It must seek always a complete affirmation; it can find it only by a luminous reconciliation. To reach that reconciliation it must traverse the degrees which our inner consciousness imposes on us and, whether by objective method of analysis applied to Life and Mind as to Matter or by subjective synthesis and illumination, arrive at the repose of the ultimate unity without denying the energy of the expressive multiplicity.

This is the conclusion you will be obliged to arrive at. You may arrive at it by proceeding on what is called the scientific method or you may arrive at it by the mystic method, subjective method. In the case of Yoga you start with the subjective method. You try to develop your consciousness and refine it more and more and arrive at the experiences of the Spirit and then try relate that Spirit with Matter. Or you start with Matter, analyse Matter, analyse Life, analyse Mind, and then try to arrive at something that is beyond Matter, Life and Mind. That method may be an objective, analytic method; this may be a synthetic or a subjective method. By both the methods ultimately you arrive at the same conclusion, same confirmation.

Only in such a complete and catholic affirmation can all the multiform and apparently contradictory data of existence be harmonised and the manifold conflicting forces which govern our thought and life discover the central Truth which they are here to symbolise and variously fulfil. Then only can our Thought, having attained a true centre, ceasing to wander in circles, work like the Brahman of the Upanishad, fixed and stable even in its play and its worldwide coursing, and our life, knowing its aim, serve it with a serene and settled joy and light as well as with a rhythmically discursive energy.

When our philosophical thought is able to reconcile Matter and Spirit then two consequences will follow. Thought becomes silent and life becomes systematically organized. Till that time, if you reject Matter and turn to Spirit, life is shriveled up. If you follow only Matter and reject the Spirit, life becomes wild, no system and you wander about in material life. There is no systematization of life; there is no rhythm in life. There is no fundamental experience of the multifarious possibilities of life movement. Similarly, if there is a rejection of Matter, then mind may be forced to be silent. It does not become stabilized, it is forced to be silent and life is excised, willy-nilly. This is the experience of all ascetic life. All the opportunities of Life are thrown out of the gear. In other words, if you really want thought to be steady and quiet and if you want life to be rhythmic and systematic this can happen only if we have that harmony of Spirit and Matter, which we have in the Upanishad. In the Upanishad the Reality which has been described is a synthetic Reality. The Ishopanishad describes the synthesis perfectly well. “It moves, it moves not.” That is the nature of ultimate Reality. “tadejati tannaijati”, “It moves, it moves not.”

And it is that Reality which is beyond any division and yet it is that which moves out into multifarious realties of the world. It is only when you can put these two together in a synthetic manner that thought becomes steady, not only silent but steady and life begins to have a dance which is systematic and full.

Uptil now we have seen that if you start with a statement that Matter is Real and Spirit is Real, both are Real but you are not able to reconcile together in a systematic manner then the choice becomes imperative, either you become a realist, materialist or become idealist or a spiritualist and in neither of these two you ultimately find reconciliation and ultimate satisfaction.

In the next paragraph, we have a psychological account of the history of human thought. What Sri Aurobindo says is that there was at the very beginning of the history of Thought a synthesis. Sri Aurobindo does not here refer to the Veda and the Upanishad by name but psychologically he refers to them that to begin with there was a harmony of Spirit and Matter both in the Veda and the Upanishad but that harmony of the Veda and Upanishad was disturbed. When the disturbance takes place then what is the method by which we can return to that synthesis which we have lost. The entire history of Thought, the entire history of Life in a sense you might say is a history of a disturbance. There was a harmony in the Thought and Life of the Veda and the Upanishads. That harmony got lost. There was something that happened, it was lost. When it is lost, psychologically how do you recover it? The method is a gradual return. And in the movement of a gradual return you are obliged to make a test. Is Matter the sole Reality, is Life the sole Reality, is Mind the sole Reality, is Spirit the sole Reality? This kind of a search becomes inevitable. If you start with a state of disturbance, you go to every important station and ask whether that is the terminal point. You have lost the terminal point which was the starting point was reconciliation of Spirit and Matter that is disturbed. Then you are obliged to ask each one of the elements as if it is a terminal point and ask is Matter terminal? Is Life terminal? Is Mind terminal? Is Spirit terminable? It is again when you see all of them and you linger on each station for quite some time that is the history of Thought. History of Thought therefore has taken different positions. At one time it was said that Matter is the only Reality, sometimes it is said Life is the only Reality, sometimes it is said Mind is the only Reality, sometimes it is said Spirit is the only Ultimate Reality. It is when all these four elements have been first put on the throne and each one has been found to be inadequate that you can then come back to the return of reconciling all of them together. This is the entire account of the history of Thought, Eastern and Western. We all have tried out knocking the door and tried to see the world in one form or the other. In this movement the two movements which have lingered most are the position of materialist which regards Matter as the only principle by which everything can be explained, or Spirit according to which Spirit is the only Reality by which everything can be explained. These two positions have remained longer. But even these positions have given way. Today we stand at a stage where both Spirit and Matter even, even though they have lingered for a long time, they both have come to a conclusion that they are inadequate. If we emphasise Spirit, and deny Matter then this is the conclusion. If we emphasise Matter and deny Spirit then this is the conclusion. And Sri Aurobindo said India has made a great experiment in affirming the Spirit and denying Matter, Europe has made a great experiment in affirming Matter and denying the Spirit and both have come to the conclusion that India has suffered and Europe has also suffered and both of them are now looking forward to a point as to how they can learn from each other and how they can reconcile the two positions together.

Now this next paragraph is a psychological analysis. It is quite a difficult paragraph but I will go through it because we are taking a study of The Life Divine so we must know what this book contains. So I am not passing over saying it is very difficult, we shall not go through it but let us read it.

But when that rhythm has once been disturbed, it is necessary and helpful that man should test separately, in their extreme assertion, each of the two great opposites. It is the mind’s natural way of returning more perfectly to the affirmation it has lost. On the road it may attempt to rest in the intervening degrees, reducing all things into the terms of an original Life-Energy or of sensation or of Ideas; but these exclusive solutions have always an air of unreality. They may satisfy for a time the logical reason which deals only with pure ideas, but they cannot satisfy the mind’s sense of actuality. For the mind knows that there is something behind itself which is not the Idea; it knows, on the other hand, that there is something within itself which is more than the vital Breath. Either Spirit or Matter can give it for a time some sense of ultimate reality; not so any of the principles that intervene. It must, therefore, go to the two extremes before it can return fruitfully upon the whole. For by its very nature, served by a sense that can perceive with distinctness only the parts of existence and by a speech that, also, can achieve distinctness only when it carefully divides and limits, the intellect is driven, having before it this multiplicity of elemental principles, to seek unity by reducing all ruthlessly to the terms of one. It attempts practically, in order to assert this one, to get rid of the others. To perceive the real source of their identity without this exclusive process, it must either have overleaped itself or must have completed the circuit only to find that all equally reduce themselves to That which escapes definition or description and is yet not only real but attainable. By whatever road we may travel, That is always the end at which we arrive and we can only escape it by refusing to complete the journey.

Now this whole becomes very vivid only if you have read both history of Western philosophy and Indian philosophy, or if you have traversed psychologically a trauma; you have certain psychological cases. You bring up a child, for example, under the influence of Veda and Upanishads in which the synthesis is prescribed to the child and the child grows up in the joy of Spirit and Matter and there is a great harmony in life, even in the life pattern that the child sees all around. There is a meditation, there is a pursuit of the Spirit, and there is cultivation of art and beauty and cultivation of multifarious activities of life, each one systematically organized and wonderfully arranged and matter also being given great respect and everything is in its right place and even the hurting of a vessel creates a kind of a scratch on the mind of the child. If this kind of care is taken and if you educate the child and he grows up to an age of 10-11-12, the mind is so balanced, so happy. Everywhere there is joy in life and then suddenly the child is taken out of this beautiful environment and thrown into a land which is foreign. He won’t understand what is all this life? There is a nightclub and there is shopping and there is cinema and there is a kind of a neglect of everything in the world and a pursuit only of pleasure all around. There is a great disturbance which takes place to this psychological condition. He does not yet know that he was in a great sense of harmony in his childhood and suddenly now he is in a world which is quite different. What happens to that child; how will he recover that synthesis which has been lost; he will have to go through a process; he will examine, is this what he says, is this really the final, ultimate; and he will try to see that yes that is the ultimate and will examine everything in that life to be the ultimate meaning. Until he is told no, no, no, matter is not the only thing, pleasure is not the only thing; there are noble ends, some idealism; then he says: if idealism to what extent idealism, full idealism, partial idealism? He goes though a kind of a terrain of various philosophies of idealism because even in idealism there are various alternatives, subjective idealism, objective idealism, absolute idealism and various kinds of idealisms. Then somebody says no, neither matter is real, nor ideal is real, Life bursts ‒ élan vital of Bergson, that is the real thing. Matter is also useless, mind is also useless—it is the life bursting which is real. And he examines everything in terms of that and he finds even that is not satisfying. Then he says: oh! You go into meditation, Transcendental Meditation—only that is real, all this is wrong, all this is false. And the child withdraws, within 7-8 years he grows up, something that happens to Siddhartha in the novel ‘Siddhartha’. And he says I can think, I can meditate and then he enters into the life of thinking and meditation and wants to go to Darjeeling, wants to go Tiger Hills, wants to go to the Himalayas and seek a great solution, solitude. He examines that also and then he says: if all this is real, what about all that which is left behind? What about those experiences of life force, of cinema, and pleasure and all that? How to reconcile this? It is when this movement becomes acute then one returns back again to that having reached where, everything becomes reconciled in the right place. Now this story of the child is actually the story of India and the world. This has what has happened. There has been this experimentation and we are all at present in a disturbed condition, consciously. In our consciousness there is not that reconciliation or that harmony, that synthesis, except for a little child. She is the only child amongst all of us here, who is leading a very balanced, very spiritual and material life of fullness in which there is joy here, and joy there and joy everywhere. But as far as we all are concerned, we have been divided and we are living in a great tension of division. We represent today the great experiment of India and the great experiment of Europe put together and yet unreconciled. This is what Sri Aurobindo now describes here.

It is therefore of good augury that after many experiments and verbal solutions we should now find ourselves standing today in the presence of the two that have alone borne for long the most rigorous tests of experience, the two extremes, and that at the end of the experience both should have come to a result which the universal instinct in mankind, that veiled judge, sentinel and representative of the universal Spirit of Truth, refuses to accept as right or as satisfying. In Europe and in India, respectively, the negation of the materialist and the refusal of the ascetic have sought to assert themselves as the sole truth and to dominate the conception of Life. In India, if the result has been a great heaping up of the treasures of the Spirit,—or of some of them,—it has also been a great bankruptcy of Life; in Europe, the fullness of riches and the triumphant mastery of this world’s powers and possessions have progressed towards an equal bankruptcy in the things of the Spirit. Nor has the intellect, which sought the solution of all problems in the one term of Matter, found satisfaction in the answer that it has received.

Therefore the time grows ripe and the tendency of the world moves towards a new and comprehensive affirmation in thought and in inner and outer experience and to its corollary, a new and rich self-fulfilment in an integral human existence for the individual and for the race.

It is against this background that the attempt to make a complete reconciliation is found to be inevitable and necessary. The whole world today is seeking a balance without even knowing, because the tension of both is great and the whole world is in a state of unrest and a kind of psychological pain, whether we understand that pain or not but that pain is present in the life of both the east and west. And therefore we have got to find a reconciliation. And it is towards that reconciliation that this book presents the right method of reconciliation—something that fulfills the Truth of Matter and the Truth of the Spirit. Now in this Truth of Matter and the Truth of Spirit the conclusion is that both are equally true. To say that Spirit is real and Matter is Real, when we use the word Real and if we merely state that both are equally real, then the problem is very difficult, irreconcilable. The reconciliation implies a harmonious relationship. There is a special relationship of Spirit to the Ultimate and of Matter to the Ultimate. Both Spirit and Matter are two terms and both are related to a Reality which is Paratpara, Upanishad does not merely speak of para, it speaks of Paratpara. Paratpara is that which transcends the Transcendental. Spirit transcends Matter, therefore Spirit is Para but Ultimate Reality is Paratpara—it transcends even Spirit, which transcends Matter. Therefore there is a relationship between the Spirit and the Paratpara and Matter with the Paratpara and that relationship is not the same as Paratpara has with the Spirit and the Paratpara has relationship with the Matter. They are not both of equal kind of relationship. There is a relationship but of a different kind. And that is subtlety Sri Aurobindo now speaks to us about.

As I said there is a difference between the relationship that Spirit has to the Paratpara, which Sri Aurobindo calls it here, the unknowable and the relationship that Matter has with the unknowable on account of that difference of relationship, the effectivity of affirmation of Spirit and affirmation of Matter has also difference. Similarly the negativity that Spiritual negation has towards Matter is more effective, more everlasting than the negation that Matter gives against the Spirit. As Sri Aurobindo says, Matter denying Spirit is immediately successful because affirmation of Matter is as easy as kicking a football. You can affirm Matter so easily but the negation it makes of the Spirit, although immediately you can negate it, but you can’t sustain the negativity so long. Therefore the period of the materialists denying the Spirit, although effective, is comparatively short-lived. The Spirit denying Matter is more difficult. But once it has done it, its effectivity is much greater. Therefore when we try to understand materialism we have to understand its force in relationship to the negation that Spirit makes of Matter. And this chapter is devoted to the consideration of the denial of the materialist, in a sense you might say, Sri Aurobindo says it is not so difficult to defeat the materialist negation and that is what Sri Aurobindo is doing in this chapter. It is easier to refute materialism than to refute spirituality. It is extremely difficult to deny the spiritualist. Ultimately neither can be denied but if there is an exclusivism of the Spirit or Matter then the refutation of spirituality is more difficult. The refutation of materialism is much easier. And this is the point that Sri Aurobindo is now making.

From the difference in the relations of Spirit and Matter to the Unknowable which they both represent, there arises also a difference of effectiveness in the material and the spiritual negations. The denial of the materialist although more insistent and immediately successful, more facile in its appeal to the generality of mankind, is yet less enduring, less effective finally than the absorbing and perilous refusal of the ascetic. For it carries within itself its own cure. Its most powerful element is the Agnosticism which, admitting the Unknowable behind all manifestation, extends the limits of the unknowable until it comprehends all that is merely unknown. Its premiss is that the physical senses are our sole means of Knowledge and that Reason, therefore, even in its most extended and vigorous flights, cannot escape beyond their domain; it must deal always and solely with the facts which they provide or suggest; and the suggestions themselves must always be kept tied to their origins; we cannot go beyond, we cannot use them as a bridge leading us into a domain where more powerful and less limited faculties come into play and another kind of inquiry has to be instituted.

In this paragraph, apart from saying that materialism is less difficult to refute, Sri Aurobindo gives us in a few lines a cogent and accurate enunciation of materialism. What is materialism? Normally when we speak of materialism in common parlance, we do not go into the metaphysical aspect of materialism but we speak of the influence materialism has on life. We normally say the pursuit of success, of money, pleasure is all materialistic. This is how in common parlance we understand the word materialism. But that is only the effect of materialism on life. The basic premise and basic conclusion of materialism is that Matter is the only Ultimate Reality. This is materialism; Matter is the only Ultimate Reality. This is the assertion of materialism, Matter is the only real. On what grounds can this theory stand? How do you prove that matter is ultimately real? It is in that context that Sri Aurobindo gives us a clear enunciation of materialism, materialism as a premise and a conclusion, the starting point of the argument and then the conclusion. What is the starting point of materialism? It says that our physical senses are the means of knowledge—all our knowledge is derived from our physical senses. Therefore, the only thing that we can see is matter, physical senses can only see matter, therefore what is demonstrable, provable to exist is matter. So the premise is that physical senses are the sole means of our knowledge, therefore the only thing that we can see is matter. Therefore, matter is the only thing that we can demonstrate, therefore Matter alone exists. This is the whole argument. Read again.

Its premiss is that the physical senses are our sole means of Knowledge and that Reason, therefore, even in its most extended and vigorous flights, cannot escape beyond their domain; it must deal always and solely with the facts which they provide or suggest; and the suggestions themselves must always be kept tied to their origins; we cannot go beyond, we cannot use them as a bridge leading us into a domain where more powerful and less limited faculties come into play and another kind of inquiry has to be instituted.

To fully understand this statement we have to visit many systems of philosophy which are called materialistic. Materialism has been in the world right from earliest times. Even in ancient Greece there was the materialistic philosophy of Sisyphus and Democritus. In India Charvaka is a very famous materialist philosopher and this philosophy at one time was not very popular. In Greece materialism was not very popular. There was a great deal of belief in Gods and Goddesses in the ancient Greek culture and therefore materialism did not have much role to play. In India too, although the Charvaka system did play a role, the major tendencies of philosophy were all spiritualistic. The six orthodox systems of philosophy Nyaya, Vaishishikhya, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa and Jainism and Buddhism these all were spiritualistic philosophies and they have played a very major role in Indian philosophy. In a sense you might say that in India there has never been a highly materialistic trend of thought. India has rather been more conservative in respect of the Spirit. But in the West after the Greek decline, although the Romans conquered Greece and there was a new civilization which came up, Greco-Roman civilization and although this civilization had a lot to do with Gods and Goddesses because even the Romans added their own Gods and Goddesses to the pantheon of the Greeks. The materialism was manifest in the licences of life that we found both in Greece and Rome. They were not materialistic philosophies but life was materialistic and then of course there came up a big wave of Christianity in the time of the Romans and Christianity played a great role in rejecting materialism for a long time. But this philosophy of materialism began to come into prominence in the Western philosophy with the growth of what is called empiricism. Empiricism was first formulated and articulated powerfully by Locke and it came to be culminated in the philosophy of Hume. These two philosophers gave a great impetus to the growth of modern materialism because they maintained that our means of knowledge have to be tested. What can we know, how do we know, should be asked as a central question of inquiry before we discuss God and the world and man and his duty, because knowledge of God—is it ever possible? Mind you Locke himself believed in God but he started this questioning and his starting point was that we must enquire into human understanding. What does a human being understand? What can he understand? What is the beginning of his understanding? What is the height of his understanding? That was his basic inquiry and right from the time, what we say epistemology, the science of inquiry into knowledge became prominent in the West and till today that trend of epistemology continues to be very strong.

In fact, epistemology began to grow more and more powerful and today epistemology is considered to be the most important domain of inquiry. Even till today, the starting point of Locke is still being referred to as the starting point of epistemology. The question was how do we know? What is knowledge? And two primary propositions which were made by him were that we are aware of ideas in our mind. When we speak of knowledge normally we speak in terms of ideas. So he asked the question: what are the ideas and how do ideas occur in the mind? All our understanding is the understanding through ideas and the question is how do ideas occur? Now he started by saying that all ideas are actually derived from sense experience. When you open our eyes and open our senses to the multifarious things which are happening in the world, we receive so many impacts upon what we think is mind. Now he assumed that the mind began with tabula rasa, which is a blank state, that was his assumption, right or wrong. And later on this assumption has been questioned. But he started by saying that the mind to begin with as a child is tabula rasa, is a blank slate. And the ideas grow into the mind depending upon the sensations that you throw upon the child’s senses and gradually, these impressions are received in the mind as images, first of all. Just as we close our eyes after seeing an image and the image still seems to continue and we still perceive the images. So he said all the sensations are received in our brain or mind as images. These images to begin with are vivid images, live images and gradually they fade out and they become faint images. Now these faint images become still fainter and fainter and still fainter, until they become ideas. So ideas are according to Locke only the faintest images of sense impressions and then we begin to combine and associate these ideas and as a result of this there is a big tree grown as it were in our mind which consists of a number of ideas and their connections and interconnections. Therefore, now when you speak of the word reason, the question was for Locke to say what is reason then? So reason is simply a coordinating agency. The ideas, the images are received in the brain. These images become ideas and then they begin to be coordinated. Now for coordinating images, reason is capable of creating what may be called labels of classification. So the function of reason is simply the function of classification. Actually speaking even this question needs to be asked but it was not asked. What is this classification? How did this idea of classification arose at all in the mind? But that question was kept separate, it is now that we can question more insistently. But it was felt that there is something like the power of classification. So Reason is simply a classifier of ideas. And as a result of the classificatory process there are connections made. Of course it seems that while doing so, you seem to be going far, far from images. Therefore ideas may seem to be quite different from the images that you have received. So you take something that is very, very far from images; ideas are sometimes so remote that you may not find any example in the world corresponding to that idea. Therefore, even if you go in the highest flights of reason, those flights may seem to be very far from the physical images that you have seen. Locke maintained, ultimately they are reducible back to those images and no idea and reason can ultimately be called to be so remote as to be not reducible to those images that we primarily received from the senses. That is what is called the Empirical theory, you drive from experience. Empiricism is a theory of knowledge derived from experience. So this empiricist thought which started with Locke became more and more powerful in the history of Western thought. And today empiricism is one of the most powerful theories of epistemology, even today. And since empiricism starts with sense knowledge and therefore sense experience and since senses only recognize matter, it argues the only thing that we can demonstrate, prove is the existence of matter. So the premise of materialism is that senses are the means of knowledge, the only means of knowledge and therefore the reason, even in its highest of flights, cannot go beyond the images received from the senses. And therefore the only reality we can affirm is Matter, therefore, Matter alone is real. This is the whole doctrine of materialism fundamentally.

Secondly that there is no way to bridge whatever is received by senses with anything that is supposed to be received by other means, that is to say that if anybody says that such and such idea came to me not from senses but from something else and whatever may be regarded as the source of it; in the western tradition it was said, that certain ideas came from revelation, not from sense experience but revelation. And the empiricist argued that those sources of revelations and these senses there is no bridge between the two. Therefore, you cannot even infer a connection between this source of knowledge and the other source of knowledge. The other source of knowledge is hardly available to anybody therefore, the question of inquiry into it also could not be raised. So materialism in this form became more and more dominant and even today it is a very powerful trend of thought. This is all that materialism has ultimately to say. There is a sense experience which you cannot deny; our knowledge is built on sense experience; sense experience can take cognizance only of matter therefore, the only thing that we can see is matter, anything that we can demonstrate to be existing truly only is matter. Therefore, Matter alone exists.

Now Sri Aurobindo says that the very premise with which you start is arbitrary. This is the criticism now. Sri Aurobindo says:

A premiss so arbitrary pronounces on itself its own sentence of insufficiency.

I would like to dwell upon this sentence because this is, you might say, a refutation of materialism. An arbitrary premise, when do you call a premise as arbitrary? An arbitrary statement is a statement which is taken up at random, without reason or rhyme. You take up a statement out of many statements which are available, then that statement is called arbitrary. Suppose you hear a conversation between two people and I ask you what is the conversation going on? Oh! They are speaking of shopping. Now that may be only one word used in the conversation, there may be something else which is being talked about but a statement is taken up, that is called arbitrary. And therefore to say that that gives a summary of the whole conversation, it would be quite wrong. Now, if you ask a question, how do we know? There is no doubt about the fact that senses are the means of knowledge; but did you ask the question, is it the sole means of knowledge? Did you inquire how many different sources of knowledge are available? That senses are the means of knowledge, granted. But unless you have considered different sources of knowledge and have rejected all others and stating this is the right way, unless you prove it, it is arbitrary.

Now empiricism does not merely say that senses are our means of knowledge but it says senses are our sole means of knowledge and that makes a lot of difference. If it were said senses are the means of knowledge, or one of the means of knowledge, it would not be arbitrary. But if you say senses are the only means of knowledge, it’s an arbitrary statement because you have not counted other sources of knowledge. There are other sources of knowledge or there can be claims of many other sources of knowledge. Since that has not been considered by empiricism, this statement of empiricism is an arbitrary statement. It is taken up at random. It is a statement which passes insufficiency; it is not complete falsity, but insufficiency. Because it is true that senses are a means of knowledge so it is not a false statement but it is insufficient. So Sri Aurobindo says that a premise so arbitrary pronounces on itself its own sentence of insufficiency. Now this particular statement is further enunciated and elucidated in the next chapter, so I will take you there, The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic.

Now there you see the third line on page 18:

The world of Matter is affirmed by the experience of the physical senses which, because they are themselves unable to perceive anything immaterial or not organised as gross Matter, would persuade us that the suprasensible is the unreal.

This is another form of Materialistic statement. The world of Matter is affirmed by the experience of the physical senses which, because they are themselves unable to perceive anything immaterial, senses can’t perceive anything immaterial therefore the senses would persuade us that the suprasensible is unreal. This is a jump in the conclusion. Because the physical senses cannot grasp anything that is supraphysical therefore, the empiricists' theory which says that the physical senses are the means of knowledge and since supraphysical realities cannot be grasped by the physical therefore, it says the supraphysical is unreal. Now Sri Aurobindo says: just as he spoke of an arbitrary premise, now Sri Aurobindo uses a much more vigorous term here.

This vulgar or rustic error of our corporeal organs does not gain in validity by being promoted into the domain of philosophical reasoning.

Sri Aurobindo says that this particular statement is very often tom-tom med as a great philosophical statement and Sri Aurobindo says that actually speaking it is a rustic error, an error which only a villager can make, not an instructed person, not an educated person. A rustic error and to put this rustic error into a high position as a philosophy, Sri Aurobindo says, we have to expose this philosophy and the error in it, it’s a rustic error. It is like a villager who is for the first time brought on a railway platform, where he sees an engine rushing with a train on the platform and what does he see? He sees that there is a piston which is going up and down and whenever the piston moves the steam comes out. He concludes that piston is the cause of the vapour of the steam and he says wherever the piston, there is the steam. If you are an instructed friend of that villager, you will tell him my dear friend the truth is quite the opposite. The piston itself will not be able to move if there was no steam power first. It is because of the steam power that the piston is moving up-down. And even then he will not accept you because actually outwardly he only sees the piston moving and the steam coming out, until you take him to the engine, show him how the water is heated up and how the heated water produces the steam and by the steam power the piston is moved. Until you show all this, he wouldn’t be persuaded. But none-the-less the statement he had made was a rustic error. Now that rustic error is being promoted into a philosophical reasoning and say this is a philosophic reasoning, Sri Aurobindo says that this vulgar mistake should not be elevated into a higher position of a philosophical reasoning. There we say it is an arbitrary statement and now Sri Aurobindo speaks of it as a rustic error. Materialism is a rustic error. Now Sri Aurobindo says:

Obviously, their pretension is unfounded. Even in the world of Matter there are existences of which the physical senses are incapable of taking cognisance. Yet the denial of the suprasensible as necessarily an illusion or a hallucination depends on this constant sensuous association of the real with the materially perceptible, which is itself a hallucination.

Just as the perception of steam coming out of the piston movement is a hallucination, is opposite of the reality, similarly all that we see in the world physically can be regarded as something hallucinatory from the point of view of spiritual consciousness, a dream consciousness. Now if, therefore, the two propositions are compared with each other then you find Materialist is assuming what he wants to prove. Therefore Sri Aurobindo makes a second proposition and says:

Assuming throughout what it seeks to establish, it has the vice of the argument in a circle and can have no validity for an impartial reasoning.

Now in Logic there is what is called ‒ circular reasoning and circular reasoning is regarded as a fallacy. You are in a true metaphysical philosophy and you are not permitted to have a circular reasoning. A circular reasoning is one in which the premise and the conclusion are the same. You may use other different words but if you examine the assumption and conclusion are the same. You start by saying that physical senses are the only means of Knowledge. If you ask the question, why is it so? Why is it that physical senses are the only means of Knowledge? The answer would be because Matter alone is real. Why is it that physical senses are the only means of knowledge? If it was to say that physical senses are the means of knowledge, there is no problem. But if you were to say that physical senses are the only means of knowledge and if you ask the question, why is it so? The only answer that the empiricist gives is that because physical is the only reality that there cannot be another thing. There can’t be other means of knowledge because Matter is the only real. And if you say, how do you prove that Matter alone is real? Because only physical senses are the only means of knowledge, so when you ask this question then that is the assumption and when you ask this assumption then that is the only answer. It is called an argument in a circle, you don’t come out of it. If it was said Matter is real, why because Matter is seen—no problem. But materialism doesn’t say that, it says Matter alone is real, why because Matter alone is seen and why Matter alone is seen, because Matter alone is real. This is the reasoning and therefore Sri Aurobindo says this is no philosophical reasoning and therefore it should be banished from philosophical reasoning. It is a place; this reasoning can be a place in a theory of Chance, where you do not have reasoning at all, in the theory of Chance anything can happen, you are only to observe whatever happens. But if you have philosophic reasoning, where the reasoning is allowed, reasoning must have a kind of a certain system, in which you can’t put effect as a cause and cause and effect. There is a relationship between the two and that relationship has to be observed. You can’t say it happened and therefore it is so. In philosophic reasoning the argument from the conclusion as a premise, and a derivation from a premise from a conclusion is a fallacious movement and therefore it has no philosophic grounding. So Sri Aurobindo says, actually speaking materialism is so easy to refute. It is arbitrary, it’s a vulgar mistake and has no basis for philosophic reasoning, it is so easy to argue, he says. Now Sri Aurobindo says continue in the same paragraph, new paragraph.

Not only are there physical realities which are suprasensible, but, if evidence and experience are at all a test of truth, there are also senses which are supraphysical and can not only take cognisance of the realities of the material world without the aid of the corporeal sense-organs, but can bring us into contact with other realities, supraphysical and belonging to another world—included, that is to say, in an organisation of conscious experiences that are dependent on some other principle than the gross Matter of which our suns and earths seem to be made.

So there are first of all, even in the physical world there are supraphysical realities. There are in the physical world which are suprasensible; take for example, we are now told in modern science that this physical world that we see is four dimensional. Our normal physical senses are only three dimensions, physically. We see the height, breadth and depth—which is our limitation of our physical perception. But now we are told that time also is a dimension of physical reality. And time cannot be physically seen but it is a physical reality. So how do we perceive time? We cannot physically see time, so even in the physical reality there are suprasensible realities. This is now very well seen, therefore the argument that only physical senses are the only means of knowledge that cannot anymore be sustained. Even at one time it was argued quite seriously but in the modern times when we have come to realize that even in the physical realities there are suprasensible realities. They are physical in nature but they are suprasensible, they cannot be perceived by physical senses at all. Then there are many other phenomena. Experiments were made by a man, who was blind-folded and was asked to write on a motorbike to go around the whole town and he could do it to prove that he had supraphysical senses. He could see accurately the physical world without what we consider to be the indispensable physical senses. Now it may not be a common experience, but even if in one experience it is possible, it can be seen that the physical world can be seen by supraphysical senses. There is supraphysical senses, there are senses which are supraphysical; you can see that is to say there are sensations of hearing, you can hear what is inaudible, you can see what is invisible, you can touch what is intangible. Now if these facts, in fact in modern times these facts are demonstrated, it is no more merely a few mystics here and there seeing all this. Even experiments have been carried out and these things have been shown. So it is easier for us now to say that this pretension of empiricism is no more sustainable. Of course there are still empiricists who are not convinced.

Sri Aurobindo goes farther:

Constantly asserted by human experience and belief since the origins of thought, this truth, now that the necessity of an exclusive preoccupation with the secrets of the material world no longer exists, begins to be justified by new-born forms of scientific research. The increasing evidences, of which only the most obvious and outward are established under the name of telepathy with its cognate phenomena, cannot long be resisted except by minds shut up in the brilliant shell of the past, by intellects limited in spite of their acuteness through the limitation of their field of experience and inquiry, or by those who confuse enlightenment and reason with the faithful repetition of the formulas left to us from a bygone century and the jealous conservation of dead or dying intellectual dogmas.

As I said, in spite of these evidences, there are still empiricists today who refuse to accept, as we saw yesterday from Bertrand Russell, that they refuse to believe that there are other faculties. So Sri Aurobindo gives a very drastic judgment on these people, who even when the research has been done, evidences have been brought up even then they say: Oh no! We can’t accept it. Sometimes it might have happened in one case, or two cases, or three cases but I have not seen it. Until I see it, I will not accept it; as though in every case everything that he comes to believe he has seen himself but when you argue with him, he says but I have not seen honestly, so how can I accept God’s existence, I have never seen Him myself; this mystic might have seen Him, that mystic might have seen, St Teresa might have seen, Mirabai must have seen here in India; so until I have seen, how can I accept it. He applies now a different criterion of Truth and Knowledge. Normally if scientists agree that they have seen, you agree that it must be so. I might not have seen, what is a planet beyond my galaxy but if a scientist says there exists then I begin to accept, why? Because of whatever prestige he occupies in the world. But when it comes to such beliefs as supraphysical facts and the experiences of supraphysical fact, and the experience of supraphysical facts these facts are being denied by hard, hard-hearted empiricists. And therefore Sri Aurobindo gives epithets for them that they are denied by those who confuse enlightenment and reason with the faithful repetition of the formulas left to us from the bygone century and the jealous conservation of dead or dying intellectual dogmas.

Empiricism is basically a dogma. It simply says that physical are the only means of knowledge without proving that the physical are the only means of knowledge. You can say this statement only when you have seen other means of knowledge and said that these means are not means of knowledge, then only can you say that the physical are the only means of knowledge, which you have not done. What you have done is that the physical means are the means of knowledge—fine, it is correct but the premise is that the physical means are the only means of knowledge. So Sri Aurobindo’s conclusion is that this is a very easy refutation of materialism.

Now we come back again to where we were,

A premiss so arbitrary pronounces on itself its own sentence of insufficiency. It can only be maintained by ignoring or explaining away all that vast field of evidence and experience which contradicts it, denying or disparaging noble and useful faculties, active consciously or obscurely or at worst latent in all human beings, and refusing to investigate supraphysical phenomena except as manifested in relation to matter and its movements and conceived as a subordinate activity of material forces.

A mass of phenomena are available when we discuss and investigate the experiences of the supraphysical. If you see Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, the longest book in Savitri is entitled The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds. And there is a store of all the evidences that we get of the supraphysical senses. There is a long travel of Aswapathy in the story, where Aswapathy rises from plane to plane, from matter to subtle matter, then to the life plane and several layers of the life plane, then to the plane of the mind and different planes of the mind, then still higher planes of supermind and right up to the transcendental. It’s a long chain of statements concerning supraphysical experiences. If anybody says: I want to have a storehouse of descriptions of all these supraphysical experiences, Sri Aurobindo has given profusion of these descriptions and accurate descriptions; the entire space and time which is not this space and time which is true of the physical world. Even ordinary human beings, all of us are constantly in the experiences of dreams and we rarely ask the question—what are dreams? In the dreams my eyes are closed, there is no doubt about it. And yet I see different colours in dreams and vivid colours—by what senses do I see them? If physical senses are the sole means of experience and knowledge, we should ask a simple question—by what senses do I see the colours? My physical hearing is closed because if somebody shouts, I cannot hear but I do dialogue and hear my dialogues in the dreams. So my physical awareness is closed but there is a dialogue going on in my supraphysical experience. I travel, even though I am lying in the bed, I am travelling all around. How do I travel, how do I experience, how do I exchange with people? If you simply analyse only dream experiences which are available to all of us, the premise of Materialist is immediately over-passed. The Materialist can never explain the dream experiences. Of course, he says they are all after images but even after images, the theory cannot take us long because you see in the dreams what you have not seen here in this world. You see different kinds of flowers which are never seen in this world. We have different kinds of perfumes which are not in the physical world. You see figures, which you do not see, the figures which you do not see in this world at all. How do I experience them, what is the origin of all this? So as soon as you begin to examine even dream experience, the materialist formula is broken but when you go into deeper and higher realms, when you can consciously travel, as Sri Aurobindo says Ashwapati traveled and gives a description of all his travels; it may be that only Ashwapati could do, you and I cannot do. But if one human being can do, scientifically, it has a great value and if ten people can do, if not all the people but ten people can do, it still has a greater evidence and if hundred people can do, a greater evidence. These experiences of the supraphysical worlds, if you combine there have been four important domains in the history of the world where supraphysical worlds have been traveled by a number of individuals, not only a few here and there. If you take the whole world history, all religions have produced human beings who have testified to have had experiences which are supraphysical ‒ whether it was in Egyptian religion, or in Vedic Religion, or Chaldean Religion, Babylonian religion, wherever, all religions have given evidences of human beings who have had supraphysical experiences. And their experiences can be compared; now we have a lot of data about it. In the Veda for example there are dialogues of Gods and man. We may think they are all imaginary fictions but that was not the view of Agastya himself who has written the dialogue. You must ask him, is it merely a fictitious dialogue? He doesn’t merely write it, as a fictitious dialogue, it was a real dialogue between him and Indra. He has met Indra and discussed with him and obtained knowledge from him. Similarly, there has been a great deal of occultism in the world, not religions, but occultism. There have been hundreds and thousands of occultists in the history of occultism and whose experiences are extraordinary experiences. Even today, for example, there are a large number of books written on occultism, although not sufficiently respected but that is a different matter. The fact is that the lots of books that have been written in theosophical literature, for example, all theosophists believe in occult experiences and there has been a great deal of literature collected even in the last century in the world, in the Theosophical movement. All philosophies, even materialists have been obliged to accept the data of the supraphysical realities even though the materialistic philosophy has been obliged to reject it but reject it after cognizance of it. They cannot say that we have not heard of occult realities at all. So even philosophy is a witness to a large number of supraphysical experiences and spiritual history of course, abounds with spiritual experiences which are all supraphysical. All great saints of the world have encountered spiritual reality and their descriptions are available. So Sri Aurobindo says, as soon as we examine the records of experiences of the mind and of the supermind the premise of materialism collapses, which says the physical means are the only means of knowledge.

Now having done this, the last sentence of that paragraph….

And the moment we recognise, as our enlarging experience compels us to recognise, that there are in the universe knowable realities beyond the range of the senses and in man powers and faculties which determine rather than are determined by the material organs through which they hold themselves in touch with the world of the senses,—that outer shell of our true and complete existence,—the premiss of materialistic Agnosticism disappears. We are ready for a large statement and an ever-developing inquiry.

Once we get rid of this basic premise that the material senses are the only means of knowledge then we enter into larger fields of inquiry. The modern man has not yet entered into it because his premise is still lingering, although that premise is not being advanced so vehemently as at one time it was being advanced. In fact the latest scientists have begun to admit something which they were very, very shy to admit. They do believe and they do recognize that this physical body which consists of cells and trillions of cells, that these cells are organized and that they are so organized that there is an automatic machinery in it of ensuring that the health of the body is maintained as far as possible. There are systems by which if anything goes wrong in the movement of cells there is a trigger, automatic by which repair is immediately attempted and ultimately affected. As it said even when a wound is inflicted anywhere, immediately the white cells in the blood rush up, as if there is a recognition in the very mechanism of the body itself, as if there is a recognition in the body which is supposed to be unconscious of something to be done and to be repaired. Now these phenomena are now perfectly admitted and there are brain scientists today, who although they believe that thought is simply a movement of the physical brain, they are no more so sure and they feel it is a kind of mystery and a miracle that something else is happening. It is almost like a villager who was under the impression that the piston was the cause of the steam. Now coming across the fact that actually the piston itself is moved by the steam, so now when he examines actually the movements of the brain, he finds that instead of the brain moving the thought, it is the thought which is moving the brain. This kind of suspicion is beginning to gain ground even in the physical sciences.

The latest physiologists or biologists particularly, we have a very great friend called Prof P N Tandon and he is in India the topmost brain scientist and he has collected a lot of data, which show that mere brain movement cannot explain itself and that there are evidently certain movements which are required to be explained only in terms which are not physiological. Recently certain other books also have come out like Penrose; he is one the very eminent scientists and he has made a long statement that we have got to recognize the presence of something which we have so far ignored, namely the presence of consciousness in the movements of Matter, in the movements of the Body and this can no more be denied. Of course there are scientists who do not agree with Penrose. But an increasing number of scientists are now beginning to realize that the phenomena of the supraphysical, the phenomena of consciousness are so powerfully determinant of the physiological happenings, physical happenings that you have got to take cognizance of it. In fact some scientists even go so far as to say that already it is established that consciousness is prior to matter. The primacy of consciousness against the primacy of matter is being underlined. Now there may be an exaggeration one way or the other but the fact is that today one cannot be dogmatic either way. And increasing evidence shows that the premise of materialism collapses.

Now having done this Sri Aurobindo here has given a brief statement that the moment we examine the operations of the mind and of the supermind the premise of materialism collapses. In this book he has not given the story of all the phenomena which are supraphysical and for that Savitri is to be seen because Savitri is a one document which is full of supraphysical phenomena and accurate descriptions of supraphysical phenomena. In fact, if there is in modern times the most accurate description of different domains of consciousness it is Savitri. There is no other book in the modern world giving detailed descriptions of all supraphysical realities, right from subtle matter up to supramental and the transcendental. All these domains are fully described; this description is a very difficult task. To describe a vital world in the same way in which you see this physical world, Sri Aurobindo has described all these worlds so accurately. So that science exists already before us and if anybody really wants to inquire, as Sri Aurobindo says, we are now ready for a new inquiry and according to Sri Aurobindo even in the modern world this inquiry will move very fast, as Sri Aurobindo says materialism carries a cure within itself. If materialism were a pure dogma, as sometimes it happens to be a dogma then of course the inquiry would be greatly disturbed because a dogma cannot be convinced. But materialism is not a pure dogma; it has also its own openings; and since those openings can be opened up more easily for scientists it will be a very fast movement, the moment the border will be crossed between matter and the immaterial, scientists will rush into the vital world and mental world and supramental world with a great speed, which you cannot imagine today because once they get a clue there is one great advantage of a scientific spirit in the world today—it is not bound by any dogma. It is not restricted by any statement which says do not, there is no forbidding. In science nobody can forbid any inquiry and that is a tremendous gain of the modern world and therefore Sri Aurobindo says that scientists will be the first group of people, who will enter into the pure inquiry of the Spirit. Their only present is only the shell of the past. That dogmatism which is the only one at present that is obstructing the path but once the path is crossed, and this cannot be resisted long. Therefore, we are now in a very, very interesting state of inquiry.

Now the rest of the chapter is given to the praise of materialism, that is to say, materialism has done a great service to the field of inquiry and that is to be acknowledged. Our search is for the Truth and our Truth-search must be impartial, even while we say that materialism is a rustic error and should not be allowed to be promoted to a status of philosophical reasoning, we must admit that materialism is first of all an inquiry and that this movement of inquiry has done a great service to mankind. What is that great service? That service is to act against superstition, obscurantism and it has given a tremendous break to many people who are apt to make exaggerated claims of the so-called supraphysical experiences. There are people even today, even the scientific world, who gain a slight supraphysical experience and they begin to make exaggerated claims. Somebody might hear a voice for the first time, a supraphysical voice, saying do this or don’t do this, and then he begins to claim I have heard the voice of God; he has heard a voice, that is true but he makes an exaggerated claim ‘I have heard the voice of God’. He might have heard a supraphysical voice. If you are not a good scientist of occultism, you might say that whatever supraphysical voices you hear are only voices of God. As though there are no other voices. Occultism tells us that there are vital voices, mental voices; there are some other beings of many other realms of consciousness and merely to say that the voice of that kind is a voice of God, as if your very first experiment you make in going beyond Matter, and the very first encounter gives you the voice of God. These kinds of experiences also need to be checked. So this is a great help that materialism has given. By rejecting all supraphysical claims, it says I will admit your claims only under very restricted standards of truth and verification. Prove your proposition repeatedly under different circumstances and different kinds of tests, methods of agreement, methods of disagreement, all kinds of methods of cause-effect, explanation of this kind, explanation of that kind. Materialism has created a great wall of tests. And if you pass through those tests, then only your truth can be admitted. Now it is true that the supraphysical realm is a vaster realm than the physical realm and those who are likely to enter into that realm not knowing the vastness, even the small vaster vastnesses will give him a feeling that now there is nothing greater can happen, so make big exaggerated claims of his experiences. So before the world enters into this greater and greater and greater vistas of experiences, it is good that at the very gate the materialist stands as guard and says—be sure and give me complete proof of what you are saying. The erection of all these tests is a very important precaution against exaggerations that can come about and these exaggerations, if they are not challenged, are dangerous. The world of physical reality itself is a dangerous world. There are mountains and valleys, there are pits, there are oceans and all kinds of accidents occur in this physical world itself. But if you enter into the vital world, which is a much larger world, and there the perils of that world are even much greater perils; all kinds of deceptions and falsehoods, all kinds of images, some of which have been described in the acts of Ravana in the Ramayana. What kinds of illusions are created by Ravana to delude Rama and Sita. These may be regarded as fictitious imaginations to our present mind. But there have been in the history people capable of creating these deceptions because of their context to the vital world. But in any case if you enter into the vital world, there are many, many kinds of experiences which are deceptive and you may remain snared for lives, not only one life but for lives and then there are mental worlds. There the littleness of the mind and the vastnesses of the mind both are available and you may not know where you are. So unless and until we are sufficiently trained, it is best not to enter into those fields. And materialism has done a great service to mankind by putting a big break at the very beginning and it is only now, little by little with so many tests being created and so many demands of proof being put before any spiritualist or occultist. So Sri Aurobindo wants to now praise the services rendered by materialism. How atheism has played a great service to theism and to God.

But, first, it is well that we should recognise the enormous, the indispensable utility of the very brief period of rationalistic Materialism through which humanity has been passing. For that vast field of evidence and experience which now begins to reopen its gates to us, can only be safely entered when the intellect has been severely trained to a clear austerity; seized on by unripe minds, it lends itself to the most perilous distortions and misleading imaginations and actually in the past encrusted a real nucleus of truth with such an accretion of perverting superstitions and irrationalising dogmas that all advance in true knowledge was rendered impossible. It became necessary for a time to make a clean sweep at once of the truth and its disguise in order that the road might be clear for a new departure and a surer advance. The rationalistic tendency of Materialism has done mankind this great service.

For the faculties that transcend the senses, by the very fact of their being immeshed in Matter, missioned to work in a physical body, put in harness to draw one car along with the emotional desires and nervous impulses, are exposed to a mixed functioning in which they are in danger of illuminating confusion rather than clarifying truth. Especially is this mixed functioning dangerous when men with unchastened minds and unpurified sensibilities attempt to rise into the higher domains of spiritual experience. In what regions of unsubstantial cloud and semi-brilliant fog or a murk visited by flashes which blind more than they enlighten, do they not lose themselves by that rash and premature adventure! An adventure necessary indeed in the way in which Nature chooses to effect her advance,—for she amuses herself as she works,—but still, for the Reason, rash and premature.

It is necessary, therefore, that advancing Knowledge should base herself on a clear, pure and disciplined intellect. It is necessary, too, that she should correct her errors sometimes by a return to the restraint of sensible fact, the concrete realities of the physical world. The touch of Earth is always reinvigorating to the son of Earth, even when he seeks a supraphysical Knowledge. It may even be said that the supraphysical can only be really mastered in its fullness—to its heights we can always reach—when we keep our feet firmly on the physical. “Earth is His footing,” says the Upanishad whenever it images the Self that manifests in the universe. And it is certainly the fact that the wider we extend and the surer we make our knowledge of the physical world, the wider and surer becomes our foundation for the higher knowledge, even for the highest, even for the Brahmavidya.

So Brahmavidya will still be a farther distant goal for the modern man. Before he enters into Brahmavidya he will be still confronting many other supraphysical realities. In fact, mobile and other devices which have been created are already the conquest of the supraphysical by the physical. So many supraphysical realities are now caught so easily on your television and your mobile phone and so on. Unimaginable distances are covered within a short time and even much vaster things are going to happen of which we cannot dream today. As Sri Aurobindo says, when the vital world will be examined, what realities will be manifested, what uses can be made of this vital world. Great perils are also awaiting from the point of view of the safety of mankind. And when we enter into mental world, greater mysteries will be revealed; and then will be Brahmavidya—the Supreme Knowledge of the Brahman itself. So we are in a great train, so before we enter into all these different worlds, it is best that materialism trains us rigorously into the science of testing, so that we do not fly into imagination, into obscurities and superstitions.

The Unknown is not the Unknowable; it need not remain the unknown for us, unless we choose ignorance or persist in our first limitations. For to all things that are not unknowable, all things in the universe, there correspond in that universe faculties which can take cognizance of them, and in man, the microcosm, these faculties are always existent and at a certain stage capable of development. We may choose not to develop them; where they are partially developed, we may discourage and impose on them a kind of atrophy. But, fundamentally, all possible knowledge is knowledge within the power of humanity. And since in man there is the inalienable impulse of Nature towards self-realisation, no struggle of the intellect to limit the action of our capacities within a determined area can forever prevail. When we have proved Matter and realized its secret capacities, the very knowledge which has found its convenience in that temporary limitation must cry to us, like the Vedic Restrainers, “Forth now and push forward also in other fields.”

What is that work and result, if not a self-involution of Consciousness in form and a self-evolution out of form so as to actualize some mighty possibility in the universe which it has created? And what is its will in Man if not a will to unending Life, to unbounded Knowledge, to unfettered Power? Science itself begins to dream of the physical conquest of death, expresses an insatiable thirst for knowledge, is working out something like a terrestrial omnipotence for humanity. Space and Time are contracting to the vanishing-point in its works, and it strives in a hundred ways to make man the master of circumstance and so lighten the fetters of causality. The idea of limit, of the impossible begins to grow a little shadowy and it appears instead that whatever man constantly wills, he must in the end be able to do; for the consciousness in the race eventually finds the means. It is not in the individual that this omnipotence expresses itself, but the collective Will of mankind that works out with the individual as a means. And yet when we look more deeply, it is not any conscious Will of the collectivity, but a superconscious Might that uses the individual as a centre and means, the collectivity as a condition and field. What is this but the God in man, the infinite Identity, the multitudinous Unity, the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, who having made man in His own image, with the ego as a centre of working, with the race, the collective Narayana, the vishwamanava as the mould and circumscription, seeks to express in them some image of the unity, omniscience, omnipotence which are the self-conception of the Divine? “That which is immortal in mortals is a God and established inwardly as an energy working out in our divine powers.” It is this vast cosmic impulse which the modern world, without quite knowing its own aim, yet serves in all its activities and labours subconsciously to fulfil.

Yet even if we had full knowledge and control of the worlds immediately above Matter, there would still be a limitation and still a beyond. The last knot of our bondage is at that point where the external draws into oneness with the internal, the machinery of ego itself becomes subtilised to the vanishing-point and the law of our action is at last unity embracing and possessing multiplicity and no longer, as now, multiplicity struggling towards some figure of unity. There is the central throne of cosmic Knowledge looking out on her widest dominion; there the empire of oneself with the empire of one’s world; there the life in the eternally consummate Being and the realisation of His divine nature in our human existence.

And later on this the mind of the child to begin with is a tabula rasa you throw upon the senses.