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5. Process of Creation

From the criterion of practical utility, science excels in advancing technologies for medicine, computation, communication, military and countless other applications, but it has contributed relatively little of practical value to the fields of Life and Mind as defined here. Yet these are precisely the fields in which Sri Aurobindo’s hypothesis is likely to be most fruitful of knowledge and practical utility. His hypothesis leads to the identification of applicable laws capable of generating practical results in all three planes of human existence. Only that in mind and life, the forms, the forces and the field of action are subtle, not material, and the laws are laws of consciousness, but they are laws that apply with equal validity to all these planes, because as he insists the fundamental process of creation is the same in all planes of existence.

Materially, the process of creation involves the formation of material substance from material energy and the release of that energy from material forms, as in the synthesis of higher order organic molecules in the body by absorption of energy from energy-rich compounds or the release of energy by metabolism of organic compounds or the cracking of the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. Of course, we now know that the distinction we make between matter and energy is linguistic rather than actual, since all matter is only the capturing and repetitive orbiting of energy within a given field and pattern.

In Life, the process of creation involves the formation of social forms (e.g. acts, activities, systems, organizations, laws, customs, etc.) and psychological forms (e.g. habits, urges, desires, attitudes, sentiments, etc.) from vital energy and the release of that energy by modification or breaking of these forms. Social forms are build up over generations by an enormous investment of conscious effort, so that when they are broken the result can be a rapid evolution or violent revolution that revitalises or wrecks the entire social fabric, as it did respectively in England and France at the turn of the 18thCentury and is doing today in China and Russia. One has only to attempt changing a personal habit, established behaviour or fixed attitude to discover the enormous force that holds the energy in its repetitive pattern and the burst of freshness released by breaking that pattern.

In Mind, the process of creation involves the formation of mental forms (thoughts, concepts, ideas, ideals and values) from mental energy and the release of that energy by modification or breaking of these forms. We think of thoughts as vague, insubstantial forms of mental substance, but it is the force latent in great thoughts that has wrought the greatest social movements of all time. Thought was the Real-idea that ushered in the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the movement of democratization, and industrialization. A thought gave birth to the Internet. In thought as in matter, the form is apparent, the force concealed but nevertheless laden with power. Thus, the tremendous resistance to radically new thoughts, whether they be the inspirations of a Newton, an Einstein or a Sri Aurobindo. Every true scientist has experienced the mental exhilaration of embracing a new thought that breaks down the barriers between what have hitherto been perceived as unrelated concepts. Every thinker knows the enormous energy required to synthesize higher, more complex systems of thought that integrate more of reality within a unified framework. Thought too is manifestation of consciousness-force in mental substance-energy. The parallel with matter is complete.

Pure Existence

The scientific discoveries of evolution over the last two centuries provide us with critical insights into the fundamental process of creation described by Sri Aurobindo, but those discoveries overlook one essential key necessary for unravelling the mystery of that process. The missing key is involution, the involution of consciousness-force as mind, life and matter. A descent of consciousness into inconscience precedes and makes possible the ascent of inconscience back to consciousness. In order to understand how complex material forms, living and conscious beings can emerge from something so insubstantial and ethereal as Consciousness-force, we must first understand the process by which Consciousness-force has involved itself in matter, life and mind. Therefore, we must now ask where, how and in what form is that consciousness involved and by what process does it evolve and create forms, most particularly the material forms of the visible universe?

Science starts with the hypothesis that material energy-substance has somehow emerged from an inconscient Infinity. Material energy emerging or materializing from this inconscient infinity is somehow organized or organizes itself to define forms that manifest to our senses as material substance. Sri Aurobindo begins with the alternative hypothesis that an Infinite Conscious Existence is the source of all energy-substance. The Pure Existent, infinite and eternal, manifests its potentialities through an inherent capacity for self-organization termed Consciousness-Force, and that Consciousness-Force gives rise to all the forms of mental consciousness, life consciousness and material energy-substance in the universe. According to Sri Aurobindo, material energy-substance is nothing other than involved consciousness-force.

How, we wonder, is it possible for a purely immaterial existence-consciousness to give rise to the concrete tangible material forms that populate the universe? It is possible because that Pure Existence is itself substance, but not substance as we experience it materially. It is a subtle spiritual substance. In fact, all form in the universe, including all material substance, is nothing other than involved form of spiritual substance, just as all energy in the universe, including all material energy, is nothing other than involved force of consciousness. What we call matter is only a status of spiritual substance in which its inherent consciousness-force is involved and therefore unperceived. Sri Aurobindo agrees with science that the difference between mind and matter is only perceptual, not because mental form and force resolves into material form and force but because both the mental and material expressions resolve into the more fundamental (subtle) form and force of consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo maintains that the difference between spirit and matter is only a result of the limitation of our instruments for perception. We perceive spiritual substance as material substance through the action of our gross physical senses and sense mind, because these instruments are incapable of perceiving the true nature of that substance. In other words, spiritual substance viewed through the faculty of the sense mind appears as material substance, while the same spiritual substance experienced directly by a higher faculty of direct consciousness reveals as consciousness-force or pure existence. The ultimate, omnipresent reality, by whatever name it is known in the various traditions—be it the Absolute of Western Philosophy, the Judeo-Christian God, the Buddhist void, the Pure Existence of Hinduism, or the string theorist’s nothingness from which vibrating strings spontaneously appear—that reality is not something that exists at some specific location within or outside the universe, for what can exist outside the omnipresent reality or pure existent? That reality exists everywhere because it is everything. All traditions have perceived that ultimate reality in one form or another by one means or another. Sri Aurobindo makes intelligible the process of its manifestation, involution and evolution.

Pure Existence is spiritual substance to its own self-experience, but it appears as material substance to our limited mental consciousness contacting it through the senses. That Pure Existence is an Infinite power of consciousness, in the same manner as Matter can be said to possess within itself infinite power of material energy. That Consciousness-force is both a capacity for knowledge and a force capable of willing results, but, unlike in our own mental consciousness, these two capacities are united and always present together. Because the Consciousness is infinite, the knowledge and the will are infinite, infallible and all-powerful.

An understanding of infinity is critical to grasping the nature of this Pure Existent. Infinity is not merely a huge or indefinable finite or something that contains or gives rise to all finite things. According to this conception, Pure Existent is infinite in its capacity for creation. It can become whatever it wills to become. Not only that, since all that becomes is only form and force of itself, all these forms and forces must too be in their essential nature infinite and capable of infinite creation, for multiply anything, no matter how small, by infinity and the result is infinite. And the infinity Sri Aurobindo speak of is not merely an infinity of number. It is an infinity of quality, property and capacity as well. It is infinite consciousness and infinite force. That is why we find small acts leading to huge consequences, for behind or within every object, act and moment lies infinity.

Self-Conception of Real-Ideas

Earlier we examined two fundamental powers of consciousness by which it can involve itself and assume the form of material energy-substance, its capacity for self-limitation and its capacity for self-absorption. In addition to these, Sri Aurobindo identifies a third fundamental power of consciousness, the power of self-conception. Self-conception is the capacity of consciousness to formulate idea or intention. Idea implies knowledge, intention implies knowledge combined with will to realize or express that knowledge. Our minds have the capacity for self-conception, but often we lack either the will or the means to realize that which we conceive; whereas, the Consciousness-force possesses the full capacity for self-realization, which means to manifest its intentions out of its own spiritual substance.

In order to distinguish this conceptual faculty and the concepts it creates from those of our own limited mentality, Sri Aurobindo refers to this faculty of Consciousness-force as Supermind and the concepts generated by it as Real-ideas. The spiritual energy-substance which is the Pure Existent imparts to this supramental consciousness-force an infinite power for effectuality. The process of creation is the process by which the supermental consciousness-force formulates Real-ideas out of the energy-substance of the Pure Existent and manifests those Real-ideas as forms and forces in the planes of mind, life and matter. Every form and force in the universe is form and expression of Real-idea, partially expressing or fully concealing the secret intention is strives to manifest in nature.

Evolution of Consciousness

Sri Aurobindo goes further to explain the process by which the Real-idea immanent or involved in all energy-substance evolves from its concealed position to progressively manifest its concealed intention. Darwin has rightly observed that each species’ contact, interaction, competition and conflict with other species exerts influence over its future evolution. Sri Aurobindo universalizes the same principle and applies it to all material, life and mental phenomena. Stated philosophically, evolution results from a rhythm and process of the contact between forms of substance, which awakens and releases the latent consciousness-force inherent in each form so that it can more fully express on the surface.

Involution of consciousness-force in and as energy-substance is followed by evolution of conscious-force from the energy-substance. The consciousness-force inherent in the seed as real-idea gives rise by rhythm of contact of substance with substance to the growth of the form of the tree from that seed, differentiating itself into trunk, roots, leaves, fruits and flowers. By a similar process, the consciousness-force latent in the child gives rise by rhythm of contact with people, objects, ideas and life experiences to the growth of conscious awareness and development of the personality of the child, differentiating itself in the process into an individual with characteristics, capacities, propensities and inclinations unique to its own being. By the same process, the power of Real-idea in the call for freedom unleashed an American, French and Russian Revolution. Continuous contact and interaction of that idea with other ideas, institutions, attitudes and values leads to the progressive manifestation of the Real-idea of freedom in the field of human social existence.

In each case, a concealed seed idea with an inherent power for manifestation and self-effectuation brings about by a rhythm and process of contact, interaction and conflict the emergence of a latent potentiality previously unseen and often unimagined. In the material plane, this same process gives rise to an infinite variety of physical substances and biological life forms. Astrophysics has discerned many of the stages of the process leading to the formation of suns, solar systems, galaxies and star clusters. Only the originating consciousness-force that determines the direction and guides the workings under the appearance of chance and necessity remains concealed from its analysis.

Nuclear physics has discerned many of the stages leading to the formation of countless varieties of energy particles, apparently out of nothingness, which is actually an infinite unmanifest potential, but has yet to discover that the forces which hold the atom together are expressions of Real-idea involved in material form. In Sri Aurobindo’s words, “matter is subconscious will.” It is not material chance or necessity that have determined that the strength of the hydrogen bond and the excited energy state of the electron are precisely what is required for the physical stability of larger elements and the sustenance of life in the universe. It is the consciousness-force involved in all material energy-substance that manifests the properties required in these basic building blocks of the material universe.

Biology has discerned the physical mechanism and many of the stages leading to the evolution of complex life forms from primitive forms, but it has yet to discover the concealed force that compels the progressive emergence of higher life forms in forms of matter and higher expressions of consciousness in forms of life. It is not combined force of material chance and necessity that results in this evolutionary direction, but the consciousness-force involved in the lower forms exerting pressure for the emergence of higher order forms more capable of giving expression to that hidden consciousness. The force is anterior to the instrument. The latent consciousness force progressively manifests itself through evolution of higher order forms.

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