Editor’s note: This article was first published in the 1951 annual issue Sri Aurobindo Circle. Renaissance editors have made a few formatting changes for the purpose of this digital presentation.
The inner history of human culture is an unwritten record of the widening rupture between Light and Life.
In remote, prehistoric antiquity, there was, it is believed, in some forms of highly evolved culture, a natural play of Light in life. An intuitive knowledge regulated and directed the movements of the nature of man and giving them an upward turn. Life was then much simpler and its scope less ample than now. As a result the rhythms of Light could be reproduced more or less easily and successfully in it.
But as the reasoning mind of man began to develop and assert itself, life became complex, expansive and more manifold in its self-expression. And its lucid spontaneity was lost in the increasing intricacies of its seekings and strivings. Light receded as reason came to dominate and constitute itself the leader of life. For some time, however, the glow of the setting light lingered on over the reasoning mind, and then faded away, leaving the latter in its native twilight.
This declining curve of the cultural evolution of humanity has not been a movement of unqualified fall.
The loss of the summits was to a certain extent compensated for by the conquest and consolidation of the lower elevations and the plains. The higher reason and the lower, the vital-emotional and the aesthetic, the hedonistic, economic, utilitarian and material parts of the human being have each had their specific and distinctive development. Thus when the curve of evolution would come full circle, there might be the utmost richness of an organic, integrated perfection.
Even the present materialistic age, which marks a total alienation of life from Light, an uncontested sovereignty of unbridled desire as the sole guide of human nature and a passionate hugging of the dust as if it were gold, is not an epoch of unmixed degeneracy.
It is shot through with unprecedented possibilities of material conquest and a better ordering of the bases of human existence. Shorn of its extravagant Matter-worship, modern Science is an heroic and abiding affirmation of the truth of life in the material world and a determined preparation of the pedestal upon which the evolving Spirit will one day stand in its inevitable apocalypse in human form.
But life, as rationalistic materialism has made it, is a steady drift away from its source and essential truth.
Not that material pursuit in itself is an evil; on the contrary, it is a legitimate and indispensable medium of the self-expression of the Spirit in Matter. But what cannot but be regarded as evil is the self-imprisonment of the human being in its material pursuits, its utter self-complacency in sheer physical well-being and an exclusive employment of all its faculties, including even the intellect, to further and fortify its material advancement.
It is this overmastering obsession with Matter, this falsifying identification, and the complete reliance on the reason and the senses as the means of knowledge that have veiled from man his infinite spiritual heritage, atrophied his higher and subtler faculties and shrouded the light which is inalienable to his inner being. His philosophy, his arts, his science, even his religion have become a cult and ritual of Matter-worship, drilled to its demands and faultlessly loyal to its inveterate limitations.
it is true that man’s consciousness, immured and engrossed in Matter, has gained a concrete definiteness, precision and sureness in its dealing with material things. But it has also lost its wideness, subtlety, intuitive perception and higher aspiration. It has become a little too materialised, gross and dense, of the earth, earthy. Its creations in the material field have become too unwieldy for its grasp and too overpowering in their action and influence upon it. It is, indeed, they that are leading it from struggle to struggle, from discord to discord, from infatuation to a wilder infatuation — to what end?
The age-old division between Light and Life has to be healed, if Life is to rise from the dust and scale the golden heights of its possibilities.
Its interest in Matter must remain, for, Matter is the final mould and manifesting channel of the Spirit in terrestrial existence. But its blinding obsession must go for ever. Life must look within to discover the infinite treasures which lie in its depths, and bring them out to enrich and ennoble its self-expression on earth.
But where is the teacher who will lead humanity to the luminous depths of its life and reveal to its wondering gaze the treasures it possesses? Who will reconcile Life to its secret source and support, Light?
Among the contemporary thinkers many, if not most, are satisfied advocates of Matter. Their teachings, at their very best, prepare humanity for a socio-economic progress, slightly tinctured with an ethical idealism.
A reformed and efficient education, turning out capable citizens who can successfully grapple with the manifold problems of the material life and evolve, by means of their developed intellect, ideas and theories for the intellectual, economic and general cultural progress of the society, for a better working of democratic socialism, which seems to be the dominant ideology of the modern mind, and for securing and safeguarding the maximum physical well-being of mankind, is the highest flight of the thought and imagination of the teachers and thinkers of the present.
At lower levels they are but unconscious temporisers who support the passing tendencies of society and measure their success by utilitarian standards. There may be some thinkers — I hope there are — who have transcended the material formula and can move freely in the realm of higher thoughts. But they often tend to be too abstract, too remote, too ethereal to be able to inspire and influence life and its forces.
Besides, the knowledge, not speculative and conjectural, not empirical and hypothetical, but spiritual, direct, revealing and comprehensive, the knowledge that lights up the hidden recesses of life and explains God and Nature and man, and their eternal interrelations, is lacking in the leaders of modern thought.
But humanity, even in its darkest periods of decline, — and the present is the very darkest it has ever had to pass through — has never been widowed of all light-givers.
Away from the fanfare and flourish of the intellectuals, unaffected by the apathy or antipathy of mankind to the very thing which brings it health and happiness, they live to inspire faith and hope when doubt and despair darken the mind. But, more often than not, the light they shed illumines the path of retreat and not the path of forward advance. The hope they instil is the hope of a flight from the impending catastrophe, and not of a victory in the very field of battle.
It is true that they possess a knowledge which is not of the intellect and a force which is not of the mental will. They have seen the truth of the Spirit and felt the touch of eternity. But it is the static truth that they have seen and the still eternity to whose joy they have thrilled. They possess no mastering knowledge of the timeless march of Time, no key to the secret of life’s perennial dynamism. Therefore their teaching draws us away from life and leaves the world to its fate. Either a renunciation of life or an ethicised compromise with life in its unredeemed state is all that we can expect from these spiritual teachers of humanity.
But what we sorely need today is a teacher who will not inspire the impulse to flight, but the iron will to fight, and, delivering us from all corrupting compromises, lead us to the epiphany of Light in the transfigured limbs and lineaments of life itself.
What we need today is a teacher who will not widen the gulf between Light and Life, but bring them closer together till they unite and become one. A seer of Light, not in its transcendence alone, but in the very heart of universal and individual life, a knower of the essential truth of life and its purpose in the material world, and a master of the spiritual force that can conquer and convert life into the light-filled, ecstatic dance of Shiva, is the Saviour whom humanity awaits in the hour of its gravest crisis.
It is in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo that we find the reconciliation between Light and Life, which is the secret of the regeneration of the modern man and the inauguration of a new culture in human society.
He is as much against world-shunning asceticism as against the clumsy, degrading compromise with the life of ignorance, which goes by the name of worldly wisdom and catholic adaptability. He bridges the gulf between Light and Life and fuses them into the inalienable unity of the Spirit.
In this article we propose to follow him in his illuminating exposition of the origin of life and the aim and steps of its evolutionary progression. We shall see, as we proceed, that the divorce between Light and Life is but a temporary phenomenon, which is bound to disappear in the final union. Life is destined to be a rich and manifold expression of Light.
When we study this Life as it manifests itself upon earth with Matter as its basis, we observe that essentially it is a form of the one cosmic Energy, a dynamic movement or current of it positive and negative, a constant act or play of the Force which builds up forms, energises them by a continual stream of stimulation and maintains them by an unceasing process of disintegration and renewal of their substance.
This would tend to show that the natural opposition we make between death and life is an error of our mentality, one of those false oppositions—false to inner truth though valid in surface practical experience—which, deceived by appearances, it is constantly bringing into the universal unity. Death has no reality except as a process of life. Disintegration of substance and renewal of substance, maintenance of form and change of form are the constant process of life; death is merely a rapid disintegration subservient to life’s necessity of change and variation of formal experience.~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 21, p. 188
But what is this cosmic Energy that creates, maintains and destroys in order to new-create millions and millions of forms in the universe? Is it a blind material energy or is it conscious and works in the light of its own creative truth? Is there a governing principle and a self-fulfilling, purposive Will behind the multifarious, incalculable movements of life?
Continued in Part 2
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