SRI AUROBINDOS VISION OF HUMAN DESTINY
There are several angles to look at man and to conclude that he is indeed different from all his fellow-species on this earth far more different than the birds are from the beasts or, among the beasts themselves, the elephant is from the rodent. But the difference that strikes us immediate is the fact that he is capable of marvelling at himself, he knows that he is a riddle unto himself. "Apart from man, no being wonders at its own existence", said Schopenhaur.
Sri Aurobindo says in The Life Divine : "The animal is satisfied with a modicum of necessity; the gods are content with their splendours. But man cannot rest permanently until he reaches some highest good. He is the greatest of living beings because he is the most discontented, because he feels most the pressure of limitations. He alone, perhaps, is capable of being seized by the divine frenzy for a remote ideal."
Mankind, thus different from all the other species, is again marked by difference within itself depending on factors such as culture, religion, nationality, wealth, education, temperament, refinement and much more. But the most remarkable difference between man and man, it may be said, is determined by the degree of the aforesaid "divine frenzy for a remote ideal."
Indeed, while all the other creatures live in the present, man alone
lives in three modes of time simultaneously, be he conscious of it or unconscious of it.
He has to drag along his past as memory, he has to struggle through the present; and the
futurebe it near or be it faris always a factor to mould his thoughts and
actions. In most people this position may not mean anything more than experience (past) in
the process of use (present) for a better future, better in the sense of a happier living,
but this leads at least a few to raise several basic questions: Why is man what he is ?
Why was he created at all ? To live, to enjoy, to suffer, to occasionally reflect, but
ultimately to dieare they all we have to life ? Aristotle defining man
as a political animal or Spinoza seeing him as
a social animal are well-pronounced statements of fact,
each carrying a certain truth, but they do not satisfy the fundamental queries. At the same time, man cannot leave these stubborn far behind him.
Aurobindo says in The Life Divine : "We speak of the evolution of Life in Matter, the evolution of Mind in Matter; but evolution is a word which merely states the phenomenon without explaining it. For 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."
This observation of Sri Aurobindo precisely links the past with the present and the present with the future, for, despite all the progress made by mankind, it cannot rest content until this basic quest has been satisfied.
It seems that there was a time when this basic quest of man, which can be termed as his inner quest, because response to this could come only from an exploration of his consciousness, went hand in hand with his external explorations of the environment, Nature, in search of better living conditions. In the Indian tradition we come across that remarkable phenomenon, the Rishi, who was at once an explorer of these inner mysteries of life and an architect of life in its social context, capable of leading a seeker along the spiritual path and guiding a king through his pragmatic political crisis; he could author an esoteric hymn and also be a poet of the splendours of life. For him life was a field of experience embracing both the Physical World and the Spirit, but with a goaland that was the conquest of the former by the latter.
This knowledge, at a certain phase of human development, resulted in the formation of two different paths: the path of the Spirit and the path of the Mundane World. The first meant a total preoccupation with the spirit, ignoring the worldly affairs and the second meant a total absorption in the worldly affairs at the cost of the Spiritalbeit giving some concessions to the latter in the way of taking interest in religion or leading a so-called God-fearing life.
But what the Rishis intended in their aspirations for the conquest of the mundane world by the spirit was not ignoring the mundane nor by its relegation to a position of unreality. Their concept of the conquest was a kind of elevation of the mundane by the spiritan enlightenment of those elements of our being which are most active in the mundane affairs (namely, our physical existence, our passions and emotions, our thoughts and knowledge) by the alchemy of our soul.
In fact, the Rishis had hit upon the truth that until one had discovered this inner-most aspect of ones being, the Soul, one will never know oneself, nor will one be oneself.
The knowledge and realisation of the soul not only put life on a new pedestal, but also changed its definition. Life could no longer be seen as a mere prisoner in the body, its duration measured by birth and death. In its true nature, it was immortal.
While we find this knowledge of the soul, its immortality in the lores of great antiquity in India (in the Upanishadic story of Nachiketa for example), it was wrapped up in an allegorical myth in another ancient civilisation, as a mere story for the people in general but as a revelation for the initiate.
After wrecking havoc in Thebes, a strange, winged creature with face of
a woman, the body of a dog, the tail of serpent and the paws of a lion stationed itself
atop a hillock along a desert road. It would throw this riddle at any unsuspecting
traveller. "Who is the being to walk on four legs at morn, on two as the day grows
and on three in the evening?" The traveller is given time till the sundown. Should he
be able to answer, he could pass. If not, the creature pounced upon him and killed him. No
traveller escaped death until the day Oedipus happened to reach the spot. "I am the
answer", he said when confronted by the terrible creature, and explained, "Man
the infant crawls on all fours at the dawn of his life; then he walks normally on two
legs; in the evening of his life he takes recourse to a walking stick,
his third leg." No sooner had the hero answered the riddle than the enigmatic examiner, the Sphinx, jumped to its own death.
Unmistakable is the wisdom sealed in this famous Grecian-Roman myth, a version of the Upanishadic doctrine: Man dies because he does not know himself. The day he has known himself, it is death that would die! (The bizare composition of Sphinx, according to one symbolism, indicated its own unreality).
Since it is the Spirit which is at the root of creation and the soul in man is that mode of the Spirit which remains pure and self-conscious whereas the other faculties constituting him, namely his body, life and mind, though essentially modes of the same Spirit, are diluted and self-oblivious, it is through discovering his soul alone that man can discover the truth of himself and, consequently, find answers to all the basic riddles of life.
If was necessary, in the process of evolution, for the mind to get the full opportunity for its thorough exercise, for a demonstration of its marvellous possibilities. Without this exercise of minds power of exploration, observation and its capacity for progress by utilisation of its experience and knowledge, we will have neither science nor philosophy, neither technology nor diplomacy.
The irony is, all these achievements of mind have not yielded to man what he had been seeking since the dawn of his consciousness. What is more, those who are capable of reviewing the situation, in regard to man vis-a-vis his fundamental quest, nurture no illusion that the efficacy of mind can ever do justice to that quest. On the other hand, there looms large a fear that the mind, ungoverned by something more enlightened, can be unpredictable in the direction it will take, can wreck havoc on the totality (the being) of which it is only a part.
As Sri Aurobindo diagnoses the situation; at present mankind is going through an evolutionary crisis. It is only through a decisive transcendence of the mind and an emergence into a higher stage of consciousness that man can come face to face with the realisation of all that has remained his dream and his aspiration through the ages.
The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother was directed towards paving the way for such a transcendencethrough the transforming intervention of a power of the Divine Consciousness they termed the Supramental. The riddle of Sphinx is the Riddle of our life, but the future awaits not only the man who knows himself, but also the man who is capable of applying that knowledge to fulfil his destinyby welcoming the advent of a greater Self :
"And when that greater Self comes sea-like down
To fill this image of our transience,
All shall be captured by delight, transformed :
In waves of undreamed ecstasy shall roll
Our mind and life and sense and laugh in a light
Other than this hard limited human day,
The bodys tissues thrill apotheosised,
Its cells sustain bright metamorphosis........"
Never in history has there been an age of paradox like ours. Today man builds magnificent cities, and also makes bombs capable of destroying them totally, man has produced great wealth, yet the deadly sting of poverty keep many limbs of humanity paralysed. Those who are in a position to enjoy the fruits of technological progress are haunted by an overwhelming sense of insecurity. Man has developed the greatest ever awareness of human rights and dignity, yet his egoindividual and collectiveturns tyrant to others at the earliest opportunity.
Can such broadening gulfs on so many fronts be bridged? Not until man has climbed to a new state of consciousness, a higher one than hitherto realised, where mentally irreconcilable situations can be reconciled. According to Sri Aurobindos diagnosis of the situation, it can be said that we are passing through the greatest-ever transition. This does not mean that a sweeping social, educational, political or cultural change is called for. Changes in these spheres will of course comebut not through any kind of constitutional reform. They will be the outcome of a mighty upliftment in human consciousness.
The promise of such a stride in consciousness, Sri Aurobindo says, is inherent in the natural scheme of things and is evident in mans perennial urge to exceed himself, in his age-old quest for perfection.
Is the progress visualised by Sri Aurobindo spiritual in nature? Indeed, it is, but in the highest sense of the term true spirituality does not admit any dichotomy between the material world and the spirit. In his Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo shows how mans earliest formula of wisdom also promises to be his last his quest after God, Light, Freedom, Bliss and Immortality. All his endeavours in the way of improving his life and his environment and giving expression to his diverse inner urgesscientific, artistic, et alcan fall into one of these categories. Even the destructive instincts and emotions are not independent realities by themselves, but are either the pulls of an inconscient state from which the process of our emancipation is continuing, or are the distortions and perversions of some of our positive qualities. Truths relation to falsehood can be compared with lights relation to shadow. "A shadow depends on light for its existence, but light does not depend for its existence on the shadow."
For long man has tried to get rid of the evil in life through the means of rejection or destruction. He has not succeeded. Rejection only keeps the evil in waiting; destruction is just not possiblefor in a sense nothing can be truly destroyed. Besides, good and evil are intricately interwoven. Even mans noblest inspirations such as love and religion can be corroded with lust and violence ingrained in him. Sri Aurobindo envisages the transformation of the evil. The transforming power, the Supermind, is in fact involved in the evolutionary process. Time has come for man to aspire for its emergence. We are passing through an evolutionary crisis and nothing short of this can really take us out of it.
No simpler summary of Sri Aurobindos vision and Yoga can be made than the one by the Mother :
"There is an ascending evolution in Nature which goes from the stone to the plant, from the plant to the animal, from the animal to man. Because man is, for the moment, the last rung at the summit of the ascending evolution, he considers himself as the final stage in this ascension and believes there can be nothing on earth superior to him. In that he is mistaken. In his physical nature he is yet almost wholly an animal, a thinking and speaking animal, but still an animal in his material habits and instincts. Undoubtedly, nature cannot be satisfied with such an imperfect result; she endeavours to bring out a being who will be to man what man is to the animal, a being who will remain a man in its external form, and yet whose consciousness will rise far above the mental and its slavery to ignorance.
"Sri Aurobindo came upon earth to teach this truth to men. He told them that man is only a transitional being living in a mental consciousness, but with the possibility of acquiring a new consciousness, the Truth-consciousness, and capable of living a life perfectly harmonious, good and beautiful, happy and fully conscious. During the whole of his life upon earth, Sri Aurobindo gave all his time to establish in himself this consciousness he called supramental, and to help those gathered around him to realise it."
The educational doctrine of Sri Aurobindo, needless to say, has to be closely linked with this futuristic vision of human destiny. Sri Aurobindo startles us by saying that the first thing a teacher must know is that nothing can be taught. The paradox is not meant to be an enigma. He emphasises the need for a natural and spontaneous growth of the childeach being uniqueaccording to its own inherent capacity, its Swadharama. The real wisdom lies imbedded in the child. No teacher need tell a child that the flower is beautiful.
Apart from the well-known principles of taking care to see that the education was integral, all the parts of the being, physical, vital or life-element, mind and the spirit within got equal chance to develop simultaneously, Sri Aurobindos vision of man will oblige us to treat every child as a unique being, a special joy of the creative power in its manifestation of variety. This element of joy is of vital importance and the process of education must be a process of inspiring joy in the child.
Once we accept that man is an evolving being, we have to allow many of our stock ideas to changeideas which have been formulated taking man as he is for granted. Take, for example, the case of the very discipline which deals with human consciousnesspsychology. Once we remember that there is something in man that is in the process of a transformation or an evolution, we will lose our enthusiasm to apply a principle to it which was formulated on the basis of a more or less static proposition.
We have taken the idea for granted that it is the past which determines the present and that the past and present will determine the future. But, in the light of Sri Aurobindo we may very well revise the idea and wonder if it is not the future which has made the past and the present. That is to say, there is a destiny which is in the process of realising itself and all that has happened and all that is happening are a part of that process. Our interpretation of events will then be quite different. Unlike the American biologist Euston who proposes a solution of human problems by reducing the future generations to pocket-size men and women so that, among other things, food problems will be solved, our attention will go over to a radical change inevitable in human consciousness, for basically all problems concern consciousness.
Let us recall a one-page story by Oscar Wilde. As we know, among the several miracles Jesus had performed, one was to restore sight to a man grown blind, another was to cure a leper and yet another was to resurrect a dead man. Once Jesus comes down from the heavens and enters a locality. It is night. From inside a house comes the sound of music. He enters it and sees a man holding a cup of wine in his hand, enjoying a lusty dance. Jesus touches him on his shoulder. The man gives a start and looks. "I know who you are. Once I was blind. You restored to me my sight. What am I to do with my sight if not enjoy this?"
Jesus sighed and went out into the street. He saw another man chasing a coy damsel. He stood between them. The man stopped, stared at him and said, "I know who you are. Once I had a rotten body. You restored it to its health. How am I going to use it if not in this way?" Jesus sighed and moved away. On the outskirts of the locality, beside a lake, there sat a man shedding tears. Jesus patted him on the back. He looked back and said, "I know who you are. Once I was dead and you revived me. What am I to do with my life if not to weep it away!" Jesus sighed and returned to his abode.
The story leaves in our mind a formidable question. What if all our desires were fulfilled? With the quality of our consciousness remaining what it is, is mere fulfilment of desires going to give us a greater satisfaction in living, a greater sense of fulfilment? Doesnt affluence and a sense of futility often go together? Even the expectations which the intelligentsia in the 18th and 19th century hadthat science and socialism will usher in a new and happy civilisationwere belied in the 20th century. Nevertheless if Huxley thought of applying a principle of positive eugenics to check the quality of the future population and Russell wondered if Providence made such an elaborate backdrop for a puny and transitory result like man, Sri Aurobindo brings a certain assurance about the future of man and in his light we find a solid ground for developing a new optimism for the future, despite some deplorable signs to the contrary and if this faith in the future can be infused into the process of education and the message of a new consciousness can replace the stock notions of human nature, we can then hope for a qualitative turn in our philosophy of education.
Education would then embrace, to quote from The Human Cycle by Sri Aurobindo, "all knowledge in its scope, but would make the whole trend and aim and the permeating spirit not mere worldly efficiency, but this self-developing and self-finding. It would pursue physical and psychical science not in order merely to know the world and Nature in her processes and to use them for material human ends, but to know through and in and under and over all things the Divine in the world and the ways of the Spirit in its masks and behind them. It would make it the aim of ethics not to establish a rule of action whether supplementary to the social law or partially corrective of it, the social law that is after all only the rule, often clumsy and ignorant, of the biped pack, the human herd, but to develop the divine nature in the human being. It would make it the aim of Art not merely to present images of the subjective and objective worlds, but to see them with the significant and creative vision that goes behind their appearances and to reveal the Truth and Beauty of which things visible to us and invisible are the forms, the masks or the symbols and significant figures."
The greatest help we can give to the future is to arm the young with an unshakable faith in the future.