Saturday, August 09, 2008

Subservience of thinking to intuition and experience, both in the ground of theorizing and in the goal of validation

Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Humanity by Debashish on Fri 08 Aug 2008 07:36 PM PDT Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Permanent Link
SRI AUROBINDO AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANITY This article attempts to sketch out Sri Aurobindo's contribution to the future of humanity as carried in his major texts. In doing so, it also tries to underline the cross-cultural nature of these texts and the disciplinary redefinitions implicit in them.
Debashish Banerji

What is central to Sri Aurobindo’s vision of the future is the identity of the human being. Effecting a decisive revisioning of the Enlightenment’s definition of man as a rational being, he sets the agenda for the future: “Man is a transitional being." Man is not stable, a species definable by his existing faculties or empirically representable. The human is defined by his orientation towards the future and his power of self-creation. In saying this, Sri Aurobindo becomes aligned with the philosophy of existentialism and one can hear in him the echo of Nietzsche’s call for the self-exceeding of man into the superman. But Sri Aurobindo’s superman is not grounded in the hubris of human will. Though one may say that in Nietzsche too, the human will is only an aspect of the will-to-become intrinsic to reality, no ground of infinite plenitude or self-existent perfection supports, invites or responds to this will in Nietzsche’s case. In Sri Aurobindo, the power of human self-exceeding is an aspiration, individually co-creative with a spiritual power of Becoming, active everywhere in the universe and transcending it, that is responsible for the great hours of evolutionary change. This power of becoming carries the self-existent ranges of conscious Being, the living images of perfection proper to each rung of consciousness, which may manifest at every stage of earthly evolution, and which seeks for a fully conscious manifestation here. A double process of involution and evolution, and correspondingly, of pressure from above and expression from below, or of aspiration from below and descent from above propels the universal manifestation of consciousness on earth. At the level of the human this process becomes individually conscious and seeks an embodied fulfillment of its origin, the individualized ascent to the consciousness of the Idea which has become all this manifestation and the descent of this consciousness bringing its own perfect unity, freedom and creativity into the laws of the manifestation.

Here, one may say Sri Aurobindo seems to rub shoulders with Hegel and other philosophers of evolution who see Consciousness involved in earth and evolving through history. But this resemblance again is partial. Whereas the Hegelian Idea works out its inexorable syntheses using nature and humanity deterministically as instruments, with no occult process of the aspiration of Ignorance from below and the response of a self-existent Knowledge above or of the resistance of a conscious denial in the Ignorance, what one may call Falsehood, rendering the emergence of consciousness precarious, Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of evolution uncovers the arduous agency of becoming in the Ignorance and particularly in the human individual. Moreover, the Hegelian Idea remains rational, a post-Enlightenment notion of consciousness reaching its full expression and its identity of being in collective human “understanding” and therein reaching the “end of history”; while for Sri Aurobindo, the Idea involved in the processes of history is what he terms the “Real-Idea” of Supermind, a faculty and operation of consciousness from which Mind is derived and whose properties of infinite freedom and wholeness mind aspires to but can never experientially comprehend, except through its self-transcendence.

It is in this positing of Supermind as the ontological foundation of superman, that Sri Aurobindo travels furthest from the western tradition of philosophy as speculative metaphysics, and brings to its disciplinary formulations a revisionary power rooted in the history of Indian thought – the subservience of thinking to intuition and experience, both in the ground of theorizing and in the goal of validation. Here we realize that even in his method of philosophizing, Sri Aurobindo sketches out a direction for the future of humanity – a trans-cultural thinking, which couples our boldest intuitions and their consequences to a power of realization through a discipline of experience. As mentioned above, this future-gazing redefinition of the scope of human identity as a dynamic self-creation, and redefinition of the role of thinking as wedded to such a notion of identity had already made its appearance in the western tradition through Nietzsche and following him, through a number of new fields of philosophy, such as phenomenology, the philosophy of experience, and ontology, the philosophy of being. But the fledgeling attempts to create new disciplinary boundaries by these fields and in a radical way, establish philosophy as an alternate or subjective science, had long been anticipated in the Indian tradition, where thought formulation of the being and becoming of man and the universe and their mutual relationship with a transcendental ground of consciousness (darshana) had always been an inseparable younger sibling of an applied psychology of experience (yoga), leading to ontological change.

If Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy can be contextualized within the history of western philosophy and shown to break new ground both conceptually and methodologically there, it is equally a native of the tradition of Indian darshana and makes an equally ground-breaking contribution there, which pertains principally to the future of humanity...

If Philosophy and Psychology can be thought of as the principal moulds in which Sri Aurobindo has presented his formulation of human identity and its scope and possibilities of self-transcendence, his vision of the future extends from this basis to the social forms and expressions required to give collective body to this process of self-exceeding. This vein of Sri Aurobindo’s thinking certainly needs further study, since in his works on social and political theory – viz. The Human Cycle and The Ideal of Human Unity - he proceeds to explore both the micro dimension of city states and autonomous communities and the macro dimensions of political governance, whether of nations or of continental and world unities of the future. Sri Aurobindo makes the distinction between constructed and administered unities such as empires and nation-states and the psychological unity of a people with a shared history and culture, which may develop an autonomous collective soul-personality, such as what he calls nation-soul. These organic unities are evolving trajectories of the world-soul in its movement towards a transcendental integrality. Today, such an idea as that of the “nation-soul” is likely to be viewed with suspicion due to the deep traumas of chauvinistic nationalism, racial or cultural imperialism, ethnic cleansing and the like which have continued to mark the modern era ever since the alarming advent of Nazi Germany. Sri Aurobindo anticipates such abuse of the idea in a masterful chapter titled “True and False Subjectivism” in The Human Cycle, pointing to the essential identity of all souls, whether individual or collective, the need to make a distinction between the group soul and the group ego and the principle of unity in diversity which he sees as the basis of the world evolution. Thus fraternal relationship, creative cultural dialog and syntheses and voluntary confederation are the desirable processes he sees between all levels of such unities leading to an organized world unity.

In today’s world, many of the ideas introduced in Sri Aurobindo’s early 20th c. social texts are in the making, highlighting the futurism of his vision. The economic interdependence of the world has spawned the vector of continental unity, the first example of which we see in the EEC. In his Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo has a chapter titled ‘The United States of Europe’ which is prescient of just such a development. Moreover, the need for global intervention in peacekeeping, facilitated settlement of inter-national disputes and the protection of basic human, cultural and ecological properties and rights is stronger than ever, pointing to the imperative need for a stronger impartial world organ with true international representation, such as the United Nations.

Additionally, individual lives, metropolitan cities and intentional communities worldwide have been impacted by globalization and telecommunication to an extent where national belongings and boundaries have been rendered porous, and trans-national interactions and identities are in the making. Here, too, the danger of commercial co-optation and human conditioning in the name of globalization are pressing dangers against which Sri Aurobindo warns; and experiments in evolving collective consciousness, based on a strengthening and development of the inner life and its expressions, focus on sustainability, production primarily for satisfying community needs and a selective interface with the world market, open to innovations and idea currents facilitating inner needs, as with the ashram founded by Sri Aurobindo or the planetary city, Auroville, founded by Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator, the Mother are indicators of future possibilities for fostering the social conditions preparing the life divine.

Another area of human activity and expression where Sri Aurobindo has left his tracks towards the future is that of Poetry. In an age of technological dominance, when poetry is mostly thought of as an irrelevant and eccentric pastime or a “useless” luxury of the idle rich or at best an interesting curiosity practiced by the swiftly disappearing tribe of counter-cultural bohemians, Sri Aurobindo’s choice of poetry as a human activity to lavish his serious attention on may raise some eyebrows or worse, be indulgently ignored. But to do so is to ignore also the revaluation of culture implied in this choice. In Sri Aurobindo’s vision, no multiplication of external technological means, however powerful, and whether seen as the paradigm behind material products and devices or behind various forms of optimistic (or dangerous) human tinkering – genetic, economic, social, political or environmental engineering – can take the place of the growth and transformation of human consciousness as the fundamental lever of individual and social change towards the manifestation of an ideal future. If the applied psychology of yoga is the primary means for such change, the most basic self-representation of this evolving consciousness, whether as personal awareness or as social currency, is language. In the words of the modern German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (who follows in the wake of Nietzsche in redefining human identity and the role and mode of thinking), “Language is the house of Being.” By this he means that the language of a people affords access to the ground of their existence in a certain form. Even seen only as a social convention, language discloses and conceals Being. Infinite being appears only to the measure and in the shape given to it by language. But beyond social convention, language has mysterious powers, words and constructions may have connotational density, allusive turns, primordial sound values and rhythms relating them to universal movements of consciousness, suggestive metaphorical and archetypal imagery and revelatory intuitive messages. In ancient cultures, the magicians of language, the vates of Europe, the rishi of India, the shaman of Central Asia, mobilized these resources of language to bring to appearance and to subjective experience, states of being outside the pale of normal human experience. This is the archaic basis of poetry. Sri Aurobindo sees the development of a power of language adequate to one’s growth of consciousness as an instrumental necessity in the transformation of individual and social consciousness. All his writing is of this order and puts into practice powers of communication keyed to the awakening of the universal and transcendental identity that sleeps as the forgotten memory of the original Involution within all beings. Nolini Kanta Gupta, one of the earliest disciples of Sri Aurobindo, refers to his word as a “consciousness photon”, a unit of divine light which grants inner understanding. In the field of writing, Sri Aurobindo considers poetry to be a hyper-conscious use of language approximating the native power of spirit to communicate its own self-manifestation whether of things that exist or that are yet to be born. This is the mantra. Restricted to hieratic use by initiates in past traditions, Sri Aurobindo opens up the elements of this possibility as a general ideal of language use for the future. Sri Aurobindo theorizes this possibility in another cross-cultural text, The Future Poetry, which assimilates the history of English poetry through the selective filter of the elements of mantric utterance. Such an utterance is related, as mentioned, to a growth of consciousness into the higher ranges of universal mind, reaching up to the global spiritual consciousness of what Sri Aurobindo calls the Overmind. Sri Aurobindo, in his own poetry puts to practice this writing of the future poetry. Particularly, in his cosmic epic, Savitri, he attempts to materialize an Overmental power of mantric expression communicating experiences of an unthinkable height and potency through devices which go well beyond the present power of human analysis. To orient ourselves to these kinds of utterance, open to the inner experiences carried by them, learn to be sensitive to their differences in quality of consciousness, use them as means for contacting higher realms and develop our own instruments of speech and writing to embody them are the invitation Sri Aurobindo makes to us towards the development of an adequate individual and social medium of communication and experience for the future.

From all of the above, we see how Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to the future of humanity is all-encompassing, profound and horizon-extending. Sri Aurobindo redefines the human being as a future-oriented transitional being; he sets the goal of humanity as the highest achievement it is presently capable of setting for its future, the evolution into a new species of divine beings collectively manifesting a divine life on earth; he revises the scope of human disciplines of knowledge-seeking and expression to reflect such a future-orientation and aid in its realization; and he presents a wide and flexible blueprint for the achievement of such a future. Finally, Sri Aurobindo is himself the example in being, life and works of one who has “hew(n) the ways of Immortality” for such a future for humanity, and the continuing influence, help and power in the journey of humanity towards this superhuman future.

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