A World in Turmoil
A World in Turmoil
by Mira A. Patel
With clarity and perception of the present human state, the thoughts of Sri Aurobindo
resounding with voices of a silent Indian contribution to the human future.
This arrow has a long trajectory but, at least, it indicates a direction that can be pursued. A direction that is positive, is a concrete action and commends itself to our understanding and persuasion.
We are not at a moment, in the affairs of men, when we can afford the luxury of indulging in mere “reflections” on the present situation – whether political, economic, social and psychological or spiritual. We are in a deeply disquieting and “existential” kind of “inner space”, in which we are compelled to search for a clarity of perception regarding the root causes of the turmoil and upheaval around us. This turmoil is not “outside” of us; it is somewhere “within” us, as existential beings. We are totally responsible for the kind of world that we have created. No one else has done it for us! Somehow, the state of the world must necessarily be an expression of what we are: what we are in our being, in our very nature, in the patterns and structures of our ways of knowing, feeling and acting.
In order to arrive at a clarity regarding the root causes of the problems facing us, we must look at ourselves, as we are today, at the present moment of man’s evolution on earth. We need to discover a concrete line of action, that can lead to a qualitative change in our existential state of being. For only such a change will make it possible for us to bring about a change in the outer structures of life. Reorganisation arrived at by external means of compromise and accommodation has been tried but does not work any longer. Its reach is at best limited and precarious. A fresh impetus of action is called for. Perhaps it is a process of an inner assimilation of contraries realised in man’s own consciousness that is now needed.
Let us try to arrive at a clarity of perception regarding man’s present situation in the status and quality of his being. The twentieth century, witnessed a tremendous acceleration and spread of the human mental faculty. Which faculties, like an arrow, pushed ahead from achievement to achievement at a dazzling pace. Each successful discovery or invention was succeeded by another. This vertical thrust has been equally matched by a horizontal extension of its action, The achieved through the wider reach of education to large numbers of people; through a proliferation of democratic institutions; through ideologies touching the lives of many; rapid means of communication and effective information systems. The list is endless.
Man’s incisive and razor sharp mind has cut through seeming impossibilities in its search for the laws of nature and to its effective use for his own convenience. Technology has enabled man to analyse, delimit, break up into parts and re-assemble them into aggregates. In the search for unifying elements it has not been able to create the concrete experience of unity that is an integral part of life as such. While it seeks unity, it cannot attain it. Its action breaks up more than it binds, it divides what is one, it fragments and alienates.
At the dizzy end of this spiral of success, the mind of man has plunged individuals and societies – almost as a race, one is tempted to say – into a collective state, where problems loom large, multiple and intractable. Problems are interlinked in a multi-dimensional, web-like structure in which our feet are firmly glued and no escape seems possible. Man’s mind seems to have reached its zenith, its acme of achievement, but also suffers from a corresponding sum of limitations.
Sri Aurobindo succinctly sums up this predicament:
‘Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites. For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it… Reason and science can only help by standardising, by fixing everything into an artificially arranged and mechanised unity of material life. A greater whole-being, whole-knowledge, whole-power is needed to weld all into a greater unity of whole-life.’ (Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1970, Vol 19, pp. 1053-5)
Difficulties encountered at the end of the curve of growth only indicate the lines of progress to be pursued in the next, till a greater completeness is achieved in the many realms of man’s total being. These lines of growth for the future are already discernible in our lives and lead us to the clarity of thinking we are looking for. These possibilities have come into prominence through the results of scientific research in, what is known as, the frontier areas of knowledge. In pursuing investigation into the laws of nature, man has followed the analytic and reductionist method of science of the sixteenth century Renaissance in Europe. This method, as we know, seeks to break up into “parts” that which is to be studied, to isolate the parts for a more careful scrutiny and then re-assemble these parts to arrive at a knowledge of the sum of the parts. But at a certain point of the investigation, while delving into the core of matter, the scientist found himself dealing no longer with “parts” that could be put together to form an assemblage. He was in the presence of “wholes”, organic and dynamic… “wholes” of conscious energy. These “wholes” are present in the “parts” and give to them the form and shape and content that is needed. Reality is given in a “whole”, and not in a sum of “parts”. The notion of “parts” and their “constitutiveness” is exceeded in a greater and vaster truth of the universe.
This discovery by science of the “wholeness” of matter, the core of “consciousness content” in matter, the change in the functioning of the universe what this leads to are some of the most significant facts of our times. The scientist has undergone a total reversal in his view of the nature of the universe and in his understanding of how the universe functions. Thus man, the most conscious being in the universe, is compelled to look at himself anew, at his own being and at the pattern of an active relationship with such reality. The imbalance between what we know to be true and what we are has become untenable. We have to measure up to the greater reaches of the Real.
These truths have been arrived at by pursuing investigation by a reductionist method! The contradictions are nearly perfect in conception and result! However, at this point of its long and very successful application, this method itself comes into question. It has reached the point of affirming the presence of “wholes” in the universe as existential realities. But it cannot seize a “whole”, cannot embrace it in its many-sided totality. It stands at the threshold! It cannot help us to become identified with this “whole”, so as to make it part of our embodied being and our established modes of perceiving and acting in harmony with the nature of the universe.
On this point, the scientists are in silent agreement. It is a hard fact to face but they do acknowledge that this method can proceed no further, except to continue with cycles of technology on the basis of knowledge already gained. Another method, other ways of knowing are now needed – more inward, more direct, more supple and all-embracing that can experience – this “conscious whole” of existence in all its richness of being and dynamic possibilities of action.
The question arises: Have these other methods been known to man in other moments of history? Scientists in the West point out that this perception of matter and of the nature of the Real formed the core of the body of knowledge possessed by ancient India. Through her age-old past, this truth has been firmly held and has maintained a line of continuity through renewed experience from time to time. But how was this knowledge arrived at, at another moment of time? And what was the method pursued?
From what we know, this ancient methodology as practised in India, centred on the action and power of “consciousness”, and of fresh experience constantly made, offering corroboration; the process followed was that of a deep introspection into the various realms of conscious existence, by an act of willed and conscious identity – from the heights of the Spirit to the core of Matter. The nature of this process is doubtlessly “intuitive”, meaning thereby that knowledge results from a process of “direct contact” between the act of self-conscious seeking and the contents in the “whole” of Consciousness. Consciousness and Energy inherent in Consciousness, is the underlying, all-pervasive fact of Existence. Knowledge springs from the fact of conscious identity with the “Whole”.
Two such different methodologies, one analytic and reductionist, the other wholistic and intuitive, distanced by large tracts of both time and space – yet arrive at a similar understanding of the Real. There is wide divergence of method but a convergence of result! Does this indicate that we are at a curve that marks the possibility of an “integration of knowledge”? By whichever road we travel, if we go far enough, we seem to arrive at a completeness of knowledge, which stands strengthened by our myriad approaches. These are the questions of our times to which we must address ourselves.
We are in need of a wide, comprehensive and many-sided process of knowing that can seize that Whole and yet perceive, at the same time, the fine details of interlinking structures existing within the Whole. Seeking such a new “methodology” is rather urgent. In fact, it has to contain the possibility of another “process” too. One that can effect corresponding changes in our very status as existential beings, so that our consciousness can measure up to the vastness of the universe and action flow from that source. Knowledge, being and action, need to be of the nature of the Real.
It is interesting to note that at the time when these discoveries reversing all previous positions of science are being made, new movements are emerging in our lives, new kinds of disciplines of knowledge are corning into being. The science of ecology in the West is one such attempt trying to link again what has been cast asunder – man’s connection with the environment and nature. Whether in the fields of medicine or psychology, education and culture, architecture and ways of living – the list is long and covers most areas of life; the attempt is to move towards wholistic possibilities. The need to bring together what has been taken apart and to see all existence as one is strong, over-powering and clearly visible. The fact of “globalisation”, which marks our times, is an external manifestation of this essentially inner urge.
At the same time, let us hasten to add, the cracks and fissures on the outer crust of the civilisation of modern man, and in the many distinctive cultures that are part of it, are only too apparent and becoming more and more pronounced. Perhaps they are in direct and exact proportion to the imbalances that are present in our own existential status. For, we are still beings with an active mind, bound to circle in its innate round of piecemeal perception and action. Yet the mind is receptive, on the other hand, to higher ranges of its own functioning: it sees other possibilities, can receive intimations from them but cannot reach out to them fully. And, hidden deep in the recesses of our inner consciousness, are the spiritual parts of our being that are of the nature of self-existence “wholes”. For them the “wholes” are a fact of experience. When we are in contact with these domains, our perception of man and the world undergoes a change and action takes on another hue and dimension.
We also observe that there is a growing number of people around the world, young and not so young, who give clear evidence through their perceptions, though not yet through their actions – of being in contact with such deeper or higher levels of being. Their mind, does not seem to function solely in an analytic and linear manner. It has a rare “inwardness” in its character, which is open to the “intuitive perception” of things and feels at ease in the presence of “totalities” of structure and relation.
Is “mind” itself changing? under the influence of other levels of conscious being? Does this indicate the next curve of our growth in our long spiral movement of evolution?
A statement of Sri Aurobindo is relevant here:
Man is a transitional being; he is not final. For in man and high beyond him ascend the radiant degrees that climb to a divine supermanhood. There lies our destiny and the liberating key to our aspiring but troubled and limited mundane existence.
The step from man to superman is the next approaching achievement in the earth’s evolution. It is inevitable because it is at once the intention of the inner Spirit and the logic of Nature’s process.
… Supermanhood is not man climbed to his own natural zenith… Supermind is something beyond mental man and his limits; it is a greater consciousness than the highest consciousness proper to human nature. (Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God, Ibid. 1972, Vol. 17, p. 7)
As we observe these indications of a change taking place in the world, we are inclined to see them as part of Nature’s own evolutionary process.
Sri Aurobindo sees this movement of change as ‘a vast Yoga of Nature attempting to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality.’ He further affirms: ‘In man, her thinker, she for the first time upon this Earth devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained.’ So that “the subconscious Yoga in Nature” can become “the conscious Yoga in man” (Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Ibid, 1971,Vol. 20, pp. 2-4)
By Yoga, Sri Aurobindo means “a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the potentialities latent in the being.” Thus enabling man to compress his own evolution within a span of tune other than Nature’s. But it follows the same methods and processes of growth that Nature does. While her movement is leisurely and allows for large spirals of an upward labour, Yoga represents a concentrated and directed effort. “… what Nature aims at for the mass in a slow evolution, Yoga effects for the individual by a rapid revolution.”. (Sri Aurobindo, Ibid., Vol 20, pp.2-24)
All life is essentially a process of Yoga. Through the workings of Nature, life seeks this fulfilment by the perfection of the instruments already at her disposal or the emergence of those which are latent in her. Whereas Nature’s processes are partly submerged and have a measured tread, Yoga can be made a self-conscious process, pursued by man in full knowledge of the elements and forces that make up the process, so as to arrive at swift and more puissant results.
It is a self-conscious process that leads man to the discovery of his spiritual foundation of being and a growing perfection of his instrumentation of mind, life and body. This true and total selfhood, once discovered and integrated into a harmonious whole of being, can lead the way for a union with the greater Reality, both universal and transcendent, that pervades all existence and creates eternally new forms and figures of itself. Man can thus work on his own evolution, so as to arrive at qualitatively greater powers of consciousness through the total range of his being.
Yoga has been practised since time immemorial in India. Its many disciplines, each a specialised form of endeavour like the entire system of natural sciences, has delved with precision, with intrepidity and rigourous introspection, into the inner reaches of human consciousness. It has traversed the many levels of consciousness, beginning with the individual’s own to the vastness that upholds the universe and rises beyond. It has further attempted to experiment with and to see how the various groupings of psychological elements at each such level, and the inter-actions between the levels thus forming a structural whole, can be combined and re-combined and mutually harmonised. The science of Yoga perceived that such a handling of the psychological elements and their harmonisation at various levels of consciousness could not be successfully achieved and consolidated until an “upward” movement – to open up the being to the higher ranges of consciousness – had taken place. It was found that only the power of the higher levels could effectively integrate the lesser levels.
In our own times, the pursuit Yoga – as a conscious handling of man’s being based on a knowledge of the psychological elements that constitute it – is becoming progressively part of the great modern endeavour. Sri Aurobindo, in the early years of the twentieth century, with the collaboration of The Mother, set out to discover and to put into practice such a process, which he later called the “Integral Yoga”. This process rests on the total sum of experience made in the past but, in a uniquely and powerfully creative spirit, disengages from the specificity of the ancient disciplines the secret lever of change which operates in their processes. With the dynamic elements at the centre, a new synthesis, both in process and goal is arrived at. At the same time, the relationships that exist between these ancient disciplines and the workings of universal nature in its great evolutionary movement, are clearly seen and made explicit. Thus, the modern thrust for knowledge is able to find itself in a valid kinship with the experience of the past.
“Integral Yoga” seeks to offer not only a process of qualitative change of consciousness for man in his evolution forward, but takes into scope of possible action, the changes that societies and entire civilisations can consciously pursue and put forth as their focused goals. Man can only move thus far if he moves alone. At some point of his own growth, the human collectivity, of which he is an inseparable part, but for which he is also the path-finder and leader, must follow a similar course. Yoga for the individual and for the collectivity, for the human race as a whole this is the reach of “Integral Yoga”.
From Mind to the Spirit is the transition we are in the midst of as we set foot in the new millennium. The shift from one level of conscious being to another, the higher one, is the reason of a major “upheaval” in the existing order of the world, we witness today. But there is really no cause for alarm. Only the need for a deep and clear-sighted perception that sees the direction in which the changes are taking place and to attempt a conscious collaboration with that movement of change. Man can operate his own evolution by conscious means! He has successfully created a world of technology and the surfaces of the world are no larger recognisable. Can he not also work out a wondrous change in the very stuff of his being? All the possibilities he sees in himself, all he has dreamt of as his great ideals, his lofty aspirations to the Highest – can he not realise them in life and action?
Here is the challenge of the new millennium that has just begun. This is not a time for despondency and helplessness but a time to harness our will to move ahead propelled by the evolutionary spirit of the times. This step taken consciously by means of a process of Yoga, pursued in full awareness of the goal, is the gift of Eternal India to the future of mankind. Eternity harbours all time in her bosom and releases the moments in their necessary succession.
‘If mankind could but see though in a glimpse of fleeting experience what infinite enjoyments, what perfect forces, what luminous reaches of spontaneous knowledge, what wide calms of our being lie waiting for us in the tracts which our animal evolution has not yet conquered, they would leave all and never rest till they had gained these treasures.’ (Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God. Ibid., 1972, Vol. 17, p.79 )
Each step taken is so much gained even though the distance seems long to cover. And time itself seems to be on our side! The very notion of “acceleration” has undergone a change. There is a “simultaneity of speeds or movements” in a multidimensional “space-time” continuum, which cannot be compared to anything we have known before. Truly, a time of the “unexpected” when everything has taken on a new and richer dimension of complexity and of total experience. The future is with us, shaping our present moments.
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