Sri Aurobindo’s main metaphysical and philosophical exposition, a vision of spiritual evolution culminating in the transformation of man from a mental into a supramental being and the advent of a divine life upon earth.
“In my explanation of the universe I have put forward this cardinal fact of spiritual evolution as the meaning of our existence here”, Sri Aurobindo wrote to a disciple. “Behind the appearances of the universe”, he explained, “there is the Reality of a Being and Consciousness, a Self of all things, one and eternal… This One Being and Consciousness is involved here in Matter. Evolution is the method by which it liberates itself.”
Evolution is possible, Sri Aurobindo argued, only because the Divine Reality has “involved” or “hidden himself” in the material universe. Involved in the world, the Divine, through His creative energy, gradually emerges in ever more conscious forms. Of this evolutionary process, Sri Aurobindo writes: “Consciousness appears in what seems to be the inconscient, and once having appeared is self-impelled to grow higher and higher and at the same time to enlarge and develop towards a greater and greater perfection. Life is the first step of this release of consciousness; mind is the second, but the evolution does not finish with mind, it awaits a release into something greater, a consciousness which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to manifest perfection.”
Man, the highest conscious form of life upon earth, is a key to this perfection; a “transitional being” he is destined to exceed his limitations as a mental being and become a supramental being. This change can be brought about through a methodised effort towards self-perfection in which the individual seeks to enter into contact and union (yoga) with the Divine through aspiration and self-surrender, opens himself to the Divine Consciousness and Force which descend into him and gradually transform his mind, life and body. This integral transformation, said Sri Aurobindo, will lead to such a perfection of terrestrial existence that it might well be called a divine life on earth.
Book One: Omnipresent Reality and the Universe;
Book Two: The Knowledge and the Ignorance
– The Spiritual Evolution:
Part 1 The Infinite Consciousness and the Ignorance
Part 2 The Knowledge and the Spiritual Evolution
Subjects: Philosophy, Metaphysics
“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation, – for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment, – is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawns of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last, – God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.” – Sri Aurobindo (The Life Divine, pp.1-2)
“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. In that case, the unconquerable impulse of man towards God, Light, Bliss, Freedom, Immortality presents itself in its right place in the chain as simply the imperative impulse by which Nature is seeking to evolve beyond Mind, and appears to be as natural, true and just as the impulse towards Life which she has planted in certain forms of Matter or the impulse towards Mind which she has planted in certain forms of Life. As there, so here, the impulse exists more or less obscurely in her different vessels with an ever-ascending series in the power of its will-to-be; as there, so here, it is gradually evolving and bound fully to evolve the necessary organs and faculties. As the impulse towards Mind ranges from the more sensitive reactions of Life in the metal and the plant up to its full organisation in man, so in man himself there is the same ascending series, the preparation, if nothing more, of a higher and divine life. The animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious co-operation she wills to work out the superman, the god. Or shall we not say, rather, to manifest God? For if evolution is the progressive manifestation by Nature of that which slept or worked in her, involved, it is also the overt realisation of that which she secretly is. We cannot, then, bid her pause at a given stage of her evolution, nor have we the right to condemn with the religionist as perverse and presumptuous or with the rationalist as a disease or hallucination any intention she may evince or effort she may make to go beyond. If it be true that Spirit is involved in Matter and apparent Nature is secret God, then the manifestation of the divine in himself and the realisation of God within and without are the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man upon earth.” – Sri Aurobindo (The Life Divine, pp.5-6)
“If a spiritual unfolding on earth is the hidden truth of our birth into Matter, if it is fundamentally an evolution of consciousness that has been taking place in Nature, then man as he is cannot be the last term of that evolution: he is too imperfect an expression of the Spirit, Mind itself a too limited form and instrumentation; Mind is only a middle term of consciousness, the mental being can only be a transitional being. If, then, man is incapable of exceeding mentality, he must be surpassed and Supermind and superman must manifest and take the lead of the creation. But if his mind is capable of openig to what exceeds it, then there is no reason why man himself should not arrive at Supermind and supermanhood or at least lend his mentality, life and body to an evolution of that greater term of the Spirit manifesting in Nature.” – Sri Aurobindo (The Life Divine, p. 879)
The Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, by Sri Aurobindo, Calcutta: Arya Publishing House, A Review by Sir Francis Younghusband,
Times Literary Supplement, 17 January 1942
Mr. Aurobindo has been known in India for many years. In Europe and America only a few have heard of him. Now, however, in three volumes of closely reasoned exposition in a fine English prose, he has been pouring forth in India in articles, booklets, poems. They may do for India in the combination of religion and philosophy something of what Tagore has done in saturating poetry with religion, and what Mr. Gandhi has done in combining politics and religion.
Mr. Aurobindo has special qualifications for interpreting the East to the West and the West to the East, for he was educated in England and won a classical scholarship at King”s College, Cambridge, in 1890: and besides learning English and French, Latin and Greek, he then also studied Italian in order to appreciate Dante, and German to understand Goethe. He is more of the type of St. Thomas Aquinas than St. Francis, and while remaining Indian to the core and rooting his philosophy deep in the Sanskrit classics, he has so clearly expounded the fundamental truths of every religion that followers of each may draw enlightenment from him and become all the more ardent worshippers of God in their particular way. On Hindu philosophy he has grafted much of the best of European thought, and to Hindu religion he has imparted much of the Christian spirit. Christ he looks upon as an Incarnation of God – as an Avatar like Krishna and Buddha. And the European philosopher with whom he has closest affinity is Bergson. With his combination of Eastern and Western thought and religion he is able to show the vast possibilities of a spiritualized, divinized human life on this earth.
He will have nothing to do with the philosophy which would make physical science the final arbiter. Nor will he accept the precisely opposite view that ultimately all is spirit. Rather does he accept both matter and spirit as real. The body and mind are not the creators of the spirit: the spirit is the creator of mind and body. There is no body without soul, and no body without soul, and no body that is not itself a form of soul. Mind and life are too different from Matter to be products of it. Matter itself is a product of energy, and mind and life must be regarded as superior products of the same energy. In Mr. Aurobindo’s view, then, whatever may be outward material form is only the external result and physically sensible aspect. Behind our gross physical being are other and subtler grades of substance with a finer law and a greater power, which support the dense body. And it is one of his cardinal principles that we can substitute their higher, purer, intenser conditions of being for the grossness and limitations of our present physical life. And if that be so then, in his view, the evolution of a nobler physical existence ceases to be a dream, and becomes a possibility founded upon a rational and philosophic truth. He, in fact, foresees “a physical life fit for a divine inhabitant,” and the eventual conquest of death – an earthly immortality.
The Supreme Self
At the summit of being Mr. Aurobindo sees the Absolute, the Supreme Self, of whom cosmic Joy and Beauty and Love are the most intimate revelations. And this God is both Impersonal and Personal. We can say that God is Love, God is wisdom, God is Truth or Righteousness. But if God is Love He is also a Lover. He is not an impersonal state. He is at once absolute and universal and individual. The Impersonal and the Person live in each other and are obverse and reverse of the same Reality. This Creator and Ruler of the universe Mr. Aurobindo looks upon as a World Mother, and this Divine Being we ourselves, he holds, are not merely the children, we are parts. “The soul is an eternal portion of the Supreme and not a fraction of Nature: it is not a perishable cell or a dissoluble portion of the Cosmic Spirit but has its original immortal reality in the Transcendence.” This soul, subsisting in a subtle body, or case, or sheath, which is the subtle physical support of the inner being, survives death, and carries forward mind and life with it on its journey to other planes of existence. And it is in this subtle body that the soul passes out of its material lodging. But if it survives death it has pre-existed: it has had a long succession of re-births in lower forms of life upon this earth. And after a period of existence in other planes it will return to earth, not indeed again to animal form, as some Hindus have supposed, but in new human forms. The soul has not finished what it has to do by merely developing into humanity: it has still to develop that humanity into higher possibilities.
What then are these higher possibilities? What will the higher being into which man may evolve be like? If after strict spiritual discipline in great stillness of soul he will open himself out to the descent of God into him, he will find his whole way of being, thinking, living, acting, governed by a vast universal spirituality. He will feel the Divine Presence in every centre of his consciousness, in every vibration of his life-form, in every cell of his body. And the power and expression of the Spirit will be seen in the joy of a satisfied being, the happiness of a fulfilled nature, in the beauty and plentitude, the hidden sweetness and laughter in things, and in the sunshine and gladness of life. But even the exaltation and ecstasy of the first mystical experience will not be the highest state. It will only be a step upward. In the highest ascent there will be a beatific tranquility of eternal peace. Peace and ecstasy will cease to be different and become one. There will be a calm and deep delight of all existence. Then “the calm and peace will rise together, as one state, into an increasing intensity and culminate in the eternal ecstasy, the bliss that is the Infinite.”
A Transformed Humanity
This is the culmination to which we may aspire and reach. But having reached it and made it our own, Mr. Aurobindo does not bid us remain apart in solitude uninterested in our fellows. On the contrary, he urges that he who has attained to this perfection should, with the light and power and bliss of the Spirit which are now his, enter into life and transform it. The calm should give to a fiery ardour, to a golden drive, a greater dynamic, a vehement impetus of rapid transformation. The illumined one should bring into being the possibilities of the Divine that are already in the world. He should bring to pass that perfection which has been dreamed of by all that is highest in humanity. Thus Mr. Aurobindo does not look upon life on this earth as a preparation for life in some distant heaven above the clouds. He would make heaven of earth. He would raise men to the Divine level. Again and again would those who have once lived here be reincarnated in some new body and work to raise human life to the Divine. And besides this rising of man into the God-head there would be the descent of God into humanity – the Incarnation of God in human form – to show man what he is capable of becoming, and thus give a proof which all can see that man can become God without even leaving the body. By ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect, is an injunction which evidently Mr. Aurobindo would have us take quite literally.
Space does not allow of any references to the author's views on intuition, on the Subliminal Self, on Other Worlds. It can only be said that the touch of a powerful and subtle mind is evident everywhere in the exposition of his philosophy. He absorbs and digests the past. He gleans new ideas from many sides. But he retains his own individuality and in freedom from all ties expresses his own distinct self with sharpness, precision and courage.
The reading of his book leaves us with a doubt and a regret. The doubt (leaving on one side the difficulty inherent in the author's conception of the “subtle body”) is whether evolution is a one-way process up and down – whether it may not rather be a rhythmic process, devolution alternating with evolution, waxing and waning in everlasting undulation, now on this planet of this sun, now on the planets of other suns throughout the universe. The regret is that the author of this work should remain in such strict seclusion. Though all who see his photograph are struck by his Christ-like appearance, he has not been seen in public for thirty years. He is personally only known to the little group of disciples who have collected round him, and the influence of his personality is thereby lost to the world. In any case, however, there does issue from him and his group an inspiration which should greatly serve the New World Order. The kingdom of God without will have to be built upon the kingdom of God that is within us. And in the awakening that spirit the philosophy of Aurobindo may play a striking part.
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The Life Divine study guide by David Hutchinson, a point by point summary of Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine. After each chapter title there is a one-paragraph summary of the entire chapter.
Overview of The Life Divine at Kheper, outlining its structure, development, basic themes, and contents
Integral Yoga blog page for The Life Divine, with quotes from Sri Aurobindo about the book and additional resources
A Psychological Approach to Sri Aurobindo’s The Life Divine, by Dr. Soumitra Basu at the Institute for Integral Yoga Psychology
A Discussion on the Aspects of The Life Divine from the Mother’s Service Society
SABDA catalog listing for The Life Divine
Goodreads.com listing for The Life Divine
Link to the Mother’s Commentaries on the Life Divine
Recorded talks by Debashish Banerjee from The Life Divine group study sessions. Contact Debashish for information about joining the online study group.
Video talks of Kireet Joshi on the first 7 chapters of The Life Divine
Listen to a reading of the first chapter of The Life Divine