Philosophy of Evolution
According to Sri Aurobindo, evolution is a word which merely states the phenomenon of the graduated development of Life in Matter and of Mind in Matter, but does not explain this surprising phenomenon. He contends that there seems to be no reason why Life should evolve out of material elements or Mind out of living form, unless we accept the Vedantic solution that Life is already involved in Matter and Mind in Life because in essence Matter is a form of veiled Life, Life a form of veiled Consciousness, and then there seems to be little objection to a farther step in the series and the admission that mental consciousness may itself be only a form and a veil of higher states which are beyond Mind.
According to Sri Aurobindo, the terrestrial working of the Nature from Matter to Mind and beyond it has a double process: there is an outward visible process of physical evolution
with birth as its machinery, — for each evolved form of body housing its own evolved power of consciousness is maintained and kept in continuity by heredity; there is, at the same time, an invisible process of soul evolution
with rebirth into ascending grades of form and consciousness as its machinery. Each grade of cosmic manifestation, each type of form that can house the indwelling Spirit is turned by rebirth into a means for the individual soul, the psychic entity, to manifest more and more of its concealed consciousness; each life becomes a step in a victory over Matter by a greater progression of consciousness in it which shall make eventually Matter itself a means for the full manifestation of the Spirit.
A distinguishing feature of this theory of evolution is that it considers evolution as a process of a gradual development of consciousness. It is the evolving consciousness that presses the development of forms from one grade to another or from one series of steps to another either by imperceptible process or by some bound or crisis, or perhaps, by an intervention from above, _ some descent or ensouling or influence from higher planes of Nature. But, by whatever means, it is the
indwelling consciousness that makes its way upward from the lower to the higher gradations, taking up what it was into what it is and preparing to take up both into what it will be. Evolution is thus not primarily and essentially the evolution of forms, but forms themselves are generated by the indwelling consciousness in its push towards gradual emergence through more and more capable forms. Evolution of forms is merely an outward process of evolution; the evolution of consciousness is a process of the inner evolution. All evolution is in essence a heightening of the force of consciousness in the manifest being so that it may be raised into the greater intensity of what is still unmanifest, from matter into life, from life to the mind, and from mind to the supermind. To heighten the force of consciousness until it passes from a mental instrumentation into the supra-mental instrumentation of the Spirit is an indispensable evolutionary step. But that is not all that has to be done. What is to be achieved is to make the supramental consciousness descend into lower states of mental, vital and physical consciousness and to bring about an integral supramental transformation of the entire being.
For ths reason, the process of Nature is not confined to the process of heightening; it takes up all that which is lower into the higher values; but the farther object that is sought after in the evolutionary process is the manifestation of the divine life, which would assume into itself the mental, vital, physical life transformed and spiritualised. In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
“Our mental, physical, vital existence need not be destroyed by our self-exceeding, nor are they lessened and impaired by being spiritualised; they can and do become much richer, greater, more powerful and more perfect: in their divine change, they break into possibilities which in their unspiritualised conditions could not be practicable or imaginable.” 1
This is the main substance of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual theory of evolution.
Many questions arise, and they deserve to be examined.
It may be contended that the only statement of which we are certain is that there are events, but there is no warrant to admit that events have any internal or causal connections among
themselves or any plan or design behind them. There is, in other words, no teleology. It is, therefore, argued that every event is a ‘chance event’, and that the quest of man to seek any meaning or purpose or any teleological or evolutionary goal may have some emotional significance but none in terms of objective truth. But if we examine this view, we find that it leaves us with some dissatisfying paradoxes. If everything were a chance, we may ask, how did the sense of meaning and design arise at all? It may, of course, be answered that that also was a matter of chance. But that precisely is the paradox, namely, chance generating the sense of meaning and design. Again, if chance rules the world, then it is only a chance, and not a certainty, that the chance theory may be valid. In other words, the chance theory has no obligatory force. On the other hand, if there is a secret consciousness in or behind the apparently inconscient Energy in Matter, then the chance theory cannot hold its ground. In the same way, the materialistic position, too, cannot maintain its validity.
At the other extreme, it may be contended that if there is an ultimate Reality, which is infinite, perfect and absolute, then such a
Reality cannot have any purpose in manifestation. It may, however, be conceded, as in the Indian theory of Lila, that the only purpose that the Absolute can have in manifestation would be the delight of manifestation itself. But it may be asked if the delight of manifestation or the delight of a game would not carry within itself an object to be accomplished in a part movement of the universal totality. Indeed, it may be conceded that a drama without denouement may be an artistic possibility, existing only for the pleasure of watching the characters and the pleasure in problems posed without a solution or with a forever suspended, dubious balance of solution; the drama of the earth’s evolution might conceivably be of that character, but an intended or inherently predetermined denouement is also and more convincingly possible. In that case, it may be said that Delight or Ananda is the secret principle of all being and support of all activity of being; but Ananda does not exclude a delight in the working out of a Truth inherent in being, immanent in the Force of Will of being, upheld in the hidden self-awareness of its consciousness- Force. There can then be no objection to the admission of a teleological factor, if the purpose
is not a purpose in the human sense, % the sense of the need to acquire what one does not possess, – but in the sense of the intention to manifest fully all the possibilities inherent in the total movement.
It may be admitted that science affirms today an evolutionary terrestrial existence and that there are in recent trends of thinking bold and plausible speculations on evolution and the evolutionary future of man, particularly among philosophers. But it may be argued that the scientific theory of evolution can be challenged on the ground that it is insufficiently founded and that it is superfluous as an explanation of the process of terrestrial Nature. If the facts with which science deals are reliable, the generalisations it hazards are shortlived; it holds them for some decades or some centuries, then passes to another generalisation, another theory of things. No firm metaphysical building, it may be concluded, can be erected upon these shifting quicksand.
But, Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the theory of spiritual evolution is not identical with the scientific theory of form-evolution and physical life-evolution. According to the theory
of spiritual evolution, there are three stages in the process of becoming. An involution of the spirit in the inconscience is the beginning. An evolution in the ignorance with its play of possibilities of a partial developing knowledge is the middle. A consummation in a deployment of the spirit’s self-knowledge and self-power of its divine being and consciousness is the culmination. It is admitted that the two stages that have already occurred seem at first sight to deny the possibility of the later consummating stage of the cycle, but it is stressed that logically they imply its emergence. For, it is argued, if the inconscience has evolved consciousness, the partial
consciousness already reached must surely evolve into complete consciousness. It is contended that it is a supramentalised, perfected and divinised life for which the earthnature is secretly seeking, and that a progressive manifestation of this kind can only have for its secret of significance the revelation of Being in a perfection of Becoming.
Let us elucidate this view in fuller terms in the light of Sri Aurobindo. An involution of the spiritual reality in the apparent inconscience of matter is the starting-point of evolution.
Existence appears out form the Inconscient in a first evolutionary form as substance of Matter created by an inconscient energy. Consciousness, involved and non-apparent in Matter, first emerges in the disguise of vital vibrations, animate but subconscient; then in imperfect formulations of a conscient life, it strives towards self-finding through successive forms of that material substance, forms more and more adapted to its own complete expression. Consciousness in life, throwing off the primal insensibility of a material inanimation and nescience, labours to find itself more and more entirely in the Ignorance (a middle term between inconscience and plenary consciousness), which is its first inevitable formulation. But it achieves at first only a primary mental perception and a vital awareness of self and things, a life- perception which in its first forms depends on an internal sensation responsive to the contacts of the outer life and of Matter. Consciousness labours to manifest, as best it can, through the inadequacy of sensation, its own inherent delight of being; but it can only formulate a partial pain and pleasure. But when we come to Man, we find that the energising consciousness appears as
Mind more clearly aware of itself and things. This is still a partial and limited, not an integral power of itself; but a first conceptive potentiality and promise of integral emergence is visible. That integral emergence is the goal of
The appearance of Man in the evolutionary movement is, according to Sri Aurobindo, highly significant. It is true that Man’s first and primary business is to affirm himself in the universe. But his chief business is to evolve and finally to exceed himself. He has to enlarge his partial being into a complete being, his partial consciousness into an integral consciousness. He has to achieve mastery of his environment, but also world union and world harmony. He has to realise his individuality, but also to enlarge into a cosmic self and develop and fulfil a process of a transformation, a chastening and correction of all that is obscure, erroneous and ignorant in his mentality, an ultimate arrival at a free and wide harmony and luminousness of knowledge and will and feeling and action and character. This can only be accomplished by his growing into a larger being and a larger consciousness: self-evolution from what he partially and temporarily is in his actual and
apparent nature to what he completely is in his secret self and spirit. This is the justification of his work and struggle upon the earth amidst the phenomena of the cosmos.
It has been affirmed by Sri Aurobindo that, in fact, life, mind and supermind are present in the atom, are at work there, but invisible, occult and latent in a subconscious or apparent unconscious action of energy. The electron and the atom are in this view eternal somnambulists. In the plant the outer form consciousness is still in a state of sleep, always on the point of waking, but never waking. Animal being is mentally aware of existence, its own and others, it has even a practical intelligence, founded on memory, association, stimulating need, observation, a power of device. The animal prepares human intelligence. But when we come to man, we see the whole thing becoming conscious. Man not only turns his gaze downward and around him, but also upward towards what is about him and inward towards what is occult within him. To climb to higher altitudes, to get a greater scope, to transform his lower nature, this is always a natural impulse of man as soon as he has made his place for himself in the physical and vital
world of the earth and has a little leisure to consider his further possibilities. He is capable, unlike other terrestrial creatures, of becoming aware of what is deeper than mind, of the soul within him, and of what is above the mind, of supermind, of spirit, capable of opening to it, admitting it, rising towards it, taking hold of it. It is in his human nature, in all human nature, to exceed itself by conscious evolution, to climb beyond what he is. And where is the limit of effectuation in the evolutionary being’s selfbecoming by self-exceeding?
A spiritual evolution, it is affirmed, is an evolution of consciousness in Matter, in a constant developing self-formulation till the form, even the physical body, can reveal the higher supramental knowledge and power and harmony. This, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the keynote, the central significant motive of terrestrial existence.
The theory of spiritual evolution may, according to Sri Aurobindo, accept the scientific account of physical evolution as a support or an element, but the support is not indispensable. What is common between the theory of spiritual evolution and scientific
theory is the account of certain outward aspects of evolution, namely, that there is in the scale of terrestrial existence a development of forms, of bodies, a progressively complex and competent organisation of Matter, of Life in Matter, of consciousness in living Matter; in this scale the better organised the form, the move it is capable of housing a better organised, a more complex and capable, a more developed or evolved Life and consciousness. In regard to these common aspects, there does not seem to be a basis for dispute, once the evolutionary hypothesis is put forward and the facts supporting it are marshalled. The dispute arises in regard to those aspects which are not indispensable for the theory of spiritual evolution, namely, the precise machinery by which the evolutionary process is effected or the exact genealogy or chronological succession of types of being, the evolved form, natural selection, the struggle for life and the survival of acquired characteristics. These may or may not be accepted. What is of primary consequence is the fact of a successive creation with a developing plan in it. Another conclusion is that there is a graduated necessary succession in the evolution; first the evolution of Matter, next the
evolution of Life in Matter, then the evolution of Mind in living Matter, and in this last stage an animal evolution followed by a human evolution. In particular, the essential point in the theory of spiritual evolution is the fact of
the evolution of consciousness, a progression of spiritual manifestation in material existence.
But even if all this is accepted, it may still be doubted that Man would evolve so unimaginably as to develop into a superman or supramental species. It may be argued that Man is a type among many types so constructed, and like others, so he, too, has his own native law, limits, special kind of existence, within whose limits he can extend and develop, but which he cannot transcend. To exceed himself, to grow into the superman, to put on the nature and capacities proper to the supermind, would be, it may be concluded, a contradiction of his self-law, impracticable and impossible.
In reply, Sri Aurobindo concedes that each type or pattern of consciousness and being in the body, once established, has to be faithful to the law of being of that type, to its design and rule of nature. But he points out that it may very
well be a part of the law of the human type to work for self-exceeding, and in its impulse towards self-exceeding, the means for a conscious transition has been provided along with the spiritual powers of man, and the possession of such a capacity may be a part of the plan on which the creative Energy has built him.
In the process of self-exceeding, it has further been pointed out that there has been a tremendous human progress since man’s appearance or even in his recent ascertainable history. It may, however, be argued that this process has not carried the human race beyond itself, into a self-exceeding. In reply, Sri Aurobindo points out that that was not to be expected until a critical stage was reached and that it is only now that stage is being reached. The action of evolutionary nature in a type of being and consciousness is first to develop the type to its utmost capacity by subtilisation and increasing complexity till it is ready for her bursting the shell, the ripened decisive emergence, reversal turning over of consciousness on itself.
Sri Aurobindo further points out that in the
evolutionary process, at each stage of higher ascent from a lower stage, the higher does not abandon the lower, but its first occupation is to take up and assimilate the lower by intenser cultivation, sharpening, subtilising and sublimination. As man ascends from the animal, he looks downward from his plane of will and intelligence and enlarges, subtilises and elevates his use of those elements which are central to the animal-sensation, enseemotion, vital desire and pleasure. He does not abandon the animal reactions and enjoyments, but more lucidly, finely and sensitively mentalises them. But as he develops further, he puts his lower being to a severer test, begins to demand from it on pain of rejection something like a transformation that is the mind’s way of preparing for spiritual life still beyond it. As there are several lower and higher elements in man, the process of assimilation and sublimation becomes long and complex, and there appears to be not a straight line of progression, but development in a cycle. In reality, when the process is examined more closely, it turns out to be a process of spiral progression, in which a cycle of development ends at a higher point than the point which was
earlier reached before entering into a period of a downward curve. Looked at from this point of view, it may be conceded that what man has until now principally done is to act within the circle of nature, on a spiral of naturemovement, sometimes descending, sometimes ascending. But what he has achieved % and this is important from the point of view a preparation for a future secure ascent % is that he has sharpened, subtlised and made an increasingly complex and plastic use of his capacities. In that sense, it can be said that however great the ancients, however supreme some of their achievements and creations, however impressive their powers of spirituality, of intellect or of character, there has been in later developments an increasing subtlety, complexity and manifold development of knowledge and possibility in man’s achievements, in his politics, society, life, science, metaphysics, knowledge of all kinds, art and literature. Even in his spiritual endeavour, it has been urged, there has been this increasing subtlety, plasticity, sounding of depths and extension of seeking, even though the heights reached were less surprisingly lofty and less massive in power than those reached
by the ancients. It is not surprising that there have been falls from a high type of culture, a sharp temporary descent into a certain obscurantism, cessations of the spiritual urge, plunges into a barbaric natural materialism. Considering the total spiral of progress, Sri Aurobindo views them as temporary phenomena, at worst a downward curve, preparing for higher curve. It is thus true that this progress has not carried the race beyond itself, into a self-exceeding or a transformation of the mental being; but this was not to be expected. All that has developed so far can be regarded, it has been concluded, as a process of developing the human type to its utmost capacity, and it is only now that we are ready to feel that it has ripened to a point of a decisive emergence or mutation. And the present crisis of mankind is an indicator of the coming movement of that mutation.
It has been observed that the appearance of human mind and body on the earth marks a crucial step, a decisive change in the course and process of evolution. Up to the advent of man, evolution had been effected, not by the selfaware aspiration, intention, will or seeking of the living being, but subconsciously or
subliminally or by the automatic operation of Nature. But in man the necessary change has been made. In him, the self-aware participating individual will has emerged, and the being has become awake and aware of himself. Man has seen that there can be a higher status of consciousness than his own; the aspiration to exceed himself is delivered and articulate within him. He becomes conscious of a soul, he comes to discover the self and spirit. Until his emergence, evolution was subconscious; with him a conscious evolution becomes conceivable and practicable.
It has been further pointed out by Sri Aurobindo that if we observe closely the operations of Nature, we find that in the previous stages of the evolution, nature’s first care and effort had to be directed towards a change in the physical organisation. That change was a prerequisite of a change of consciousness. But in man a reversal is possible, indeed inevitable. It is through his consciousness, through its transmutation, and no longer through a new bodily organism as a first instrumentation, that the evolution can be effected. It may even be surmised that in the inner reality of things, a change of conscious-
ness was always the major fact, that evolution has always had a spiritual significance and the physical change was only instrumental. This relation was concealed by the first abnormal balance of the two factors, the body of the external inconscience outweighing and obscuring in importance the spiritual element, the conscious being. But once the balance has been righted, it is no longer the change of body that must precede the change of consciousness; the consciousness itself by its mutation will necessitate and operate whatever mutation is needed for the body.
It may, however, be still argued that if an evolutionary culmination in the production of the spiritual and supramental being is intended and man is to be its medium, it will only be a few especially evolved human beings who will form the new type and move towards the new life; that once done the rest of humanity will sink back and remain quiescent in its normal status. In reply to this argument, Sri Aurobindo concedes that there is not the least probability or possibility of the whole human race rising en masse to the supramental level. What is suggested, it has been admitted, is nothing so revolutionary and astonishing, but only the
capacity in the human mentality, when it has reached a certain level or a certain point of stress of the evolutionary impetus, to press towards a higher plane of consciousness and its embodiment in the being. It has further been explained that the being will necessarily undergo by this embodiment a change of the normal constitution of its nature, a change certainly of its mental and emotional and sensational constitution and also to a great extent of the body consciousness and the physical conditioning of our life and energies; but the change of consciousness will be the chief factor, the initial movement; the physical modification will be a subordinate factor, a consequence. As to whether humanity will sink back after the mutation of the human species, Sri Aurobindo suggests that the urge of man towards self-exceeding is not likely ever to die out totally in the race, and that the human, mental status will always be there, not only as a degree in the scale, but also as an open step towards the spiritual and supramental status.
Man as he is, it has been affirmed, cannot be the last term of an evolution, if a spiritual unfolding on the earth is the hidden truth of the emergence of consciousness that has been
taking place in Nature. He is, it is stressed, too imperfect an expression of the Spirit, Mind itself a too limited form and instrumentation. Man, the mental being, can only be a transitional being. If man is incapable of exceeding his mentality, it has been suggested, he must be surpassed, and Supermind and superman must manifest and take the lead of the creation. But if his mind is capable of opening to what exceeds it, then there is no reason why man himself should not arrive at Supermind and supermanhood or at least lend his mentality, life and body to an evolution of that greater term of the Spirit manifesting in Nature.
In the light of the foregoing, Sri Aurobindo regards man as a laboratory of evolution on which Nature is experimenting to bring about his mutation. But man is a conscious being with a conscious will and instrumentation of deliberate action. The evolutionary force of Nature and man’s will can therefore act and react upon each other, and the entire human drama can be seen as an enactment of this action and reaction. If the consciousness of man can be widened, intensified and heightened, it can learn the laws and processes of evolution
and master the art of engineering the evolutionary movement, and it can, by voluntary cooperation with the evolutionary will, accelerate and effectuate the highest possible transmutation of himself. Man can, in other words, universalise himself, exceed himself, and fashion from his stuff and spirit a new being, a superman.
But there are several past and present concepts of the superman. Supermanhood in the ordinary idea consists of a surpassing of the normal human level, not in kind but in degree of the same kind, by an enlarged personality, a magnified and exaggerated ego, an increased power of mind, an increased power of vital force, a refined or tense and massive exaggeration of the forces of the human ignorance. There is also implied in it the idea of a forceful domination over humanity by the superman. This is the concept of supermanhood that we find in Nietzsche. Sri Aurobindo points out that the Nietzschean type of superman really signifies what is contained in the Indian concepts of the Rakshasa or Asura. The Rakshasa and the Asura symbolise a tense effort of humanity to surpass and transcend itself, but in the wrong direction. In India, a
specific distinction is made between the Rakshasa and the Asura. The Rakshasa is centred in the violence and turbulence of the exaggerated vital ego satisfying itself with the supreme tyrannical or anarchic strength of selffulfilment; he is the giant, the ogre or devourer of the world. In the Asura, we find a mighty exhibition of an overpowering force, a selfpossessed, self-held, even, it may be, an ascetically self-restrained mind-capacity and life-power; he is strong, calm or cold or formidable in collected vehemence, subtle, dominating; he achieves even a sublimation at once of the mental and vital ego. If we examine the history of the world in the light of Sri Aurobindo, we shall find that the earth has had enough of this kind of supermanhood in her past, and a larger emergence of that type would be a retrograde evolution. What is, however, conceived as the supermanhood that results from the decisive spiritual evolution is at once much more difficult and much more simple. Sri Aurobindo conceives in the divine superman a self-realised being, a building of the spiritual self, an intensity and urge of the soul and the deliverance and sovereignty of its light and power and beauty. It is not egoistic superman-
hood seizing on a mental and vital domination over humanity, but the sovereignty of the Spirit over its own instruments, its possession of itself and its possession of life in the power of the Spirit. The divine superman, Sri Aurobindo affirms, will represent a new consciousness in which humanity itself shall find its own selfexceeding and self-fulfilment by the revelation of the divinity that is striving for birth within it. This is the concept of the superman that we find in Sri Aurobindo. As Sri Aurobindo explains, the divine superman combines and synthesises the highest powers of love, power and wisdom. In him, the full heart of love is tranquillised by knowledge into a clam ecstasy and vibrates with strength; the strong hands of Power labour through him for the world in a radiant fullness of joy and light; his luminous brain of knowledge accepts and transforms the heart’s obscure inspiration and lends itself to the workings of the high-seated will. All these powers are founded together, not in ego, but in being that transcends ego, in a soul of sacrifice that lives in unity with all the world and accepts all things to transmute them in their divine stuff and forms.
In the vision of Sri Aurobindo, the advent
of the divine superman would mean a reversal of the present law of human consciousness and life. The divine superman does not reject Matter and physical life, although he transforms it. One realises that the soul has descended into the Inconscient and assumed the disguise of Matter for the adventure and the joy of creation and discovery. Life is seen as an adventure of the Spirit; it is not an error of the soul, but a deliberate enterprise that seeks a full transformation of material life on the earth. And when that transformation is achieved, the superman may not withdraw from life and Matter, but would continue to lead the evolution in Knowledge, a continuous selfunfolding of the infinite Spirit. It is envisaged that the evolution in Knowledge would be a more beautiful and glorious manifestation with more vistas ever unfolding themselves and more intensive in all ways than any evolution could be in the Ignorance. The supramental manifestation of life would be more full and fruitful; it would mean a greater and happier life for the entire earth.
It is, indeed, realised that the task involved in the transmutation of man into the divine supermanhood or into a supramental being is
the most difficult task that can be conceived. It has been pointed out that this would mean getting nearer to our inner self and discovering the force of the soul that presides over the powers of our nature. There has to be, according to Sri Aurobindo, constant stress on self-perfection that gives to the soul-force its largest scope. The soul-power of Knowledge must rise to the highest degree of which the individual nature can be the supporting basis. There must develop a free mind of light, and there must develop a bottomless steadiness and illimitable clam, upholding all the illumination, movement, and action as on some rock of ages, equal, unperturbed, unmoved. Similarly, the soul-power of Will and strength must rise to like largeness and altitude. One has to develop an absolute, calm fearlessness of the free spirit, an infinite dynamic courage which no peril, limitation of possibility or wall of opposing force can deter from pursuing the work, a high nobility of soul and will untouched by any littleness or baseness and moving with a certain greatness of step to spiritual victory through whatever temporary defeat or obstacle. There must be a spirit never depressed or cast down form faith and confidence. There should also
come to fulfilment of a soul-power of mutuality, a free self-spending and spending of gift and possession in the work to be done, a great taking into oneself from all beings and a free giving out of oneself to all, which can be described as a divine commerce. And, finally, there must come about the perfection of the soul-power of service, the universal love that lavishes itself without demand of return, the embrace that takes to itself the body of God in man and works for help and service, the abnegation that is ready to bear the yoke of the ideal and make life a free servitude to the truth, the right and the vast. This would also mean a complete extinction of egoism and the sense of the ego, a complete self-surrender of the whole being to the spiritual Reality of our being and to its work in the world. All these things are to be united, and in the process, they would all assist and enter into each other and become one.
It is clear that the task is colossal. It is at once individual and collective. According to Sri Aurobindo, no individual by himself can accomplish this task. The great but little known experiments have shown that there has to be a minimum collectivity, representative of the whole humanity, which must support the
individual revolutionary effort and evolutionary general progression. Not speculations but direct involvement in material transmutation would be needed. Indeed, a century or two or even more may be needed before the task can be accomplished; but to accomplish it even then, we are called upon to begin now.
1 Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Centenary Edition, Vol.19, p. 728