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CULTURE OF PEACE
Man in His Becoming
A Change of Perspective
Mira Aster Patel
As we stand poised at the end of this century, we are conscious of being on a significant threshold — a threshold which spells major changes: changes in the very process of man’s becoming, in the evolution of his consciousness. The problems emerging in the wake of the great achievements of this period are proving to be intractable. Something in the very nature of man and his quality of functioning and dealing with his environment — this is what comes in for serious questioning.
Man, in his being, does not seem to measure up to the structures of life and civilization that he has created. He has released potencies of a tremendous magnitude but does not have the wisdom to utilize them for the good of all. He has penetrated into the secrets of matter and discovered therein a core of ‘wholeness’; but in his own being he knows only fragmentation. He does not correspond, in quality or dimension, to the essential nature of the universe in which he lives. The imbalances are marked — and a grievous sense of disproportion lies heavy on our spirit.
In the early years of the century, Sri Aurobindo had foreseen that such a situation would come upon man, when he wrote:
As the curve of the century comes full circle, we sense that these changes are already beginning to take place. They appear as inevitable landmarks in Nature’s own process of evolution. New movements are afoot, new experiments attempted, to cross this threshold consciously and discover what lies beyond. The future beckons powerfully and sometimes reveals itself in flashes of experience which serve to give a new sense of direction. Another perspective altogether begins to emerge. In this brief paper we shall present this perspective as it unfolds itself, in stages, remaining as close to experience as is possible.
We habitually use the mind as our instrument of knowledge and make it serve as the tool for the organization of life. This primacy of status as mental beings has now to make way for another status — that of beings poised in the Spirit and living and acting from that dimension of consciousness. The transition must be made from the state of extreme fragmentation in which we live today to a future possibility of re-creating life on the basis of a concrete experience of wholeness.
From mind to Spirit is the threshold to cross in the immediacy of our consciousness. A shift of level, a change in status and poise. From the analytic, divisive, discursive, organizational approach to life to a more comprehensive one of wholeness, in which the ‘inwardness’ of the real has primacy of status. And the conscious being, thus poised, reaches out into the realms of life and matter in one single, swift movement of intuition, of an immediate and direct awareness of what they contain. Such a movement seizes the whole in its essential unity as also in the dynamism of the play of forces acting within it.
From ‘within’ to ‘without’ is the innate movement of the spiritual consciousness till, in its own unfolding, it reaches a point where the ‘without’ ceases to be, for all is contained in the One Whole.
The mind fixes itself on the ‘without’, on the outer surfaces of things, in the first place, and tries to organize the same at the linear level of its existence. Then it does attempt to look ‘within’, senses a presence, tries even to reach out to it, but is firmly held back by its own organizational obsession with all that is external. The mind seeks the ‘inner realm’ but cannot enter it, because it follows, by its own characteristic action, a reverse process — from the outer to the inner. It is unable to move from within outwards, in a direct and intuitive manner, as the Spirit does.
The sense of being on such a threshold of change is palpable in our consciousness. Not only as individuals perhaps, but as a species. Therefore is the difficulty of the present moment so great. We carry the weight of an evolutionary charge! It is the very nature of the universal process that is changing.
At the level of present experience, however, we find ourselves unable to detach the totality of our being from the mental consciousness which stands at its apex. This latter forms one piece with the external surfaces of life and matter. Though we are keenly aware of the confusion and conflict this externalized consciousness leads to, we are unable to draw back from it and plunge into the rich profundities of the inner consciousness — with its golden-hued warmth, its supple interwovenness, its innate intuitions and spontaneously right actions. We sense this realm, we feel it throbbing in our depths: but the separation, the detaching from that surface mental involvement is hard to achieve. We do not know how it will eventually come about.
The difficulty of present times lies in being able to ‘cross over’, to ‘go through’: to be able to dive into these inner domains of conscious living and arrive at a steadily maintained poise in that status of being. This latter is important. And, then, to look afresh at the ‘without’, at the structures of the world, at our pattern of civilization and culture and see how they can be created anew, in the light of this level of experience and by the energy thus released.
Shall we reaffirm, however, that the hold of the mind is not easy to shake off — but there is no other way. For, at the present stage of evolution, the characteristic action of the mind is proving to be a great limitation, one which needs to be surmounted so as to arrive at the greater and far richer possibilities that the Spirit holds for us. We are on the move, from the lesser to the infinitely greater, in which all other levels of existence are integrated and each finds its own rightful place, of both being and action. Nothing is left aside of the long evolutionary progression from matter to life to mind. The Spirit includes all and accords to each its fullest value and true sphere of action, leading to the realization of a complex harmonic existence. Only the limitation of each level is surmounted in this ascending order of evolution.
Let us draw the needed energy from Shri Aurobindo’s own experience:
In this evolutionary endeavour, the people of Asia would have a special role to play, with those from India taking a certain initiative, if they are able to seize upon the significance of this period of transition, marking a change from one level of consciousness and corresponding action to a greater possibility of consciousness ahead. The long history of these people is witness to the sustained explorations in the realms of the Spirit that have been made by them. Modern times have further enriched these cumulative gains of the past and added new dimensions to this existing storehouse of treasures. They are there for us to draw upon in our present effort. In this regard, our best help, we feel, can come from the experience and work of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda.
The West was the cradle of the Renaissance of the sixteenth century. The curve of knowledge that began at that time has brought us to the frontier where we stand today. Stupendous have been its achievements. Incredible its knowledge of the laws and processes of Nature. Formidable, in its impact, the utilization of matter and the resultant technology.
But, alas, this magnificent curve of knowledge has made man bereft of a name, of an identity. His own being has become denatured in the process. The obsession with matter has worn off on him!
Man has to become wider, vaster, richer and more complex in his consciousness to be able to effectively master this greatly increased field of knowledge and the potencies this knowledge gives access to. A corresponding growth in the quality, the extent, the power of consciousness that wields this knowledge needs to take place. The imbalance between the two, as of now, is too great and dangerous; and all the tension, the chaos of today is only an expression of this disequilibrium. Man as he is in his consciousness and the world of structures and forces he is called upon to guide and control are not commensurate.
The course of growth seems evident. Man must measure up in power, in consciousness, to this external reality he lives in and make changes in it where needed. This movement is not impossible, not unnatural. In fact, it is inevitable and, logically, must constitute the next step in the universal process.
In helping man to chart this course, we would need to look for, discern and gather together the concrete, psychological processes that can lead to a change in the quality and level of consciousness. Well-tried and practised methods would be needed to serve as a basis. This knowledge and experience form part of the ancient and continuing heritage of the Asian part of the world. The term ‘yoga’ broadly covers this domain.
It is important here to note that Sri Aurobindo offers a detailed delineation and elaboration of these processes, issuing from his own direct experience. And, in a special measure, he makes extensive explorations into other realms of the Spirit, not yet revealed to us. The most significant of these he terms the ‘Supramental’. It is a dimension of consciousness in which the mind exceeds itself and arrives at its own fullness in the Spirit. The Supramental is a consciousness of the Whole, the dynamic concrete Whole. Its power is that of a self-effectuating Force that acts on the Whole. This level of consciousness, he adds, is pressing upon man to manifest itself. Such growth seems to be the next logical step in the unfolding of the evolutionary process.
Sri Aurobindo, in his own experience — and that of the Mother, his collaborator in this endeavour — has worked out and clearly identified, in fine detail, the psychological processes that lead to the realization and manifestation of this level of consciousness. He terms this body of processes the ‘Integral Yoga’. Of special significance here are those processes which are in a kind of ‘proximity of experience’ to the Supramental level of consciousness and power. He presents them under the fascinating title ‘The Yoga of Self-Perfection’.
Here are some indications of the future — a future to be lived, but already permeating the air around us!
The play of man shifts to another scene — and to another goal. The being of man is in question. What are the qualitative and dimensional changes that can take place in his consciousness? And how can they be effected? The discovery of the method is important.
The method which served to unravel the processes of physical nature will not prove to be of help here. Another method more evocative than analytic, more supple than trenchant, more harmonizing than divisive would be called for. A method essentially psychological in nature and progression, for the subject to be addressed is that of consciousness, at the many levels at which it has its modes of formation and corresponding quality of action. The hierarchy of all these dimensions has to be explored — from matter to life to mind, and specially from mind to spirit. An exploration of these dimensions of consciousness as they exist in our own individual beings and as they are experienced in the unfolding process of the universe around us. The cumulative energy of India, in this regard, is ours to tap.
A new perspective stretches out, offering another curve of becoming and of action. We wish to reproduce a passage from Sri Aurobindo which gives a dynamic thrust to such a movement of growth.
He offers a clarification:
A far-sighted goal of perfection could be ours if we had the vision and the courage to pursue it.
Such a perspective of man’s becoming as is unfolding itself before us, can be daunting, to say the least. But are there other paths to travel? We do not think so. Everything has been tried — and nothing works. We try re-fitting the jigsaw bit but the picture doesn’t come together. It gets more and more awry. The signs are clear: there must be another way. And there is probably another picture. Let us then look for them. They may not be all that remote.
In fact, the feeling grows that a radical kind of breakthrough, or change, is imminent. Something just round the corner and pressing down on our consciousness. A little more, and the consciousness may go through to another dimension and recover the wholeness that is in its depth. The ‘wholeness’ within rushing out to meet the wholeness discovered in matter’s secret core!
New spirals of evolution are marked by audacity. The greater the audacity, the more promising the new spiral must be.
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi