The following article is based on a presentation made during the
Second International Conference on Integral Psychology,
held at Pondicherry (India), 4-7 January 2001.
The text has been published in:
Cornelissen, Matthijs (Ed.) (2001) Consciousness and Its Transformation. Pondicherry: SAICE.
The transformation of consciousness
Chote Narayan Sharma
In a certain passage in the Mahabharat, the well-known Sanskrit epic, a yaksha puts the question to Yudhisthir, the eldest Pandava, “Kah Pantha ? ” “What is the way?” Ordinarily this question can only be answered after the questioner explains where he intends to go. But the mysterious question has a universal context and Yudisthir is wise enough to anticipate that. Sri Aurobindo has most beautifully articulated that as:
The ascent to the divine life is the human journey, the Work of works, the acceptable Sacrifice; this alone is man's real business in the world and the justification of his existence, without which he would be only an insect crawling among other ephemeral insects on a speck of surface mud and water which has managed to form itself amid the appalling immensities of the physical universe. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 42
Sri Aurobindo thus hints at the evolutionary progression in earthly life. In human life it registers itself as a conscious and willed seeking for a more satisfying form of life or a condition of existence that will give him an all-around perfection. Man cannot be satisfied by outward acquisitions. His hunger for more wealth or power is like the fire that burns. The more that is fed into it the more it increases— na witten tarpnivo manusvah . The path is laid out within. An outward improvement can make him an improved man. But what he needs is a change. This can only be affected by an inward ascension, by the transformation of consciousness, by climbing the heights beyond the mental ranges into the supermind.
Here the journey acquires a twofold aspect. Man bound by the limitations of his nature can only move in the limits set around him. And for breaking out into another dimension he has to prepare himself through the ages realising the maximum possibility of development in his present status. He feels suffocated. He tries to break the bounds. And it is in such an hour of helplessness felt in the pioneering spirit of the evolutionary process that a response comes from the unmanifest. This is the Hour of God. The world moves through this hour towards a new manifestation. We are exactly in such an hour of earthly life. It is an hour of a “Big Change”. We are passing through a period of dreadful upheavals. But it is also a decisive moment for the greatest glory to manifest. Human consciousness is breaking the bounds in various directions. Within the last century we have discovered many more mysteries of physical nature than in the entire course of human history. It can very well be seen that the miracle has very well been possible by the pressure of a new force in action. This is exactly the Hour of God that is helping man to emerge out of his present human consciousness into the omnipotence and omniscience of the divine consciousness which Sri Aurobindo calls the “Supramental Consciousness”. The hour is here and now.
It was a similar hour at the time of the advent of Krishna when people were suffering under the iron rule of Kansa, the tyrannical and wicked king who had imprisoned his own father and so sat on the throne of Mathura. It was at such a moment that the sage Durvasa appeared on Goverdhan hill. People having learned of his appearance flocked to him—all having one concern uppermost in mind and that was, “Durvasaji, when will the rule of Kansa end? When shall we be able to live in peace, free from the tyranny of Kansa?''
Now it so happens that Sri Krishna the Deliverer was already born and Durvasa knew of it. He knew that Sri Krishna was the Divine Incarnation and that it was he who would give a new turn to the tendency of life of abject suffering under the tyrant Kansa.
It also happens that Yashoda, the mother of Sri Krishna, was seated in front of Durvasa with baby Krishna in her lap, chuckling as he threw his hands and feet in the air. Durvasa, looking into Krishna's eye, asked him whether he should announce his avatarhood and explode the mystery right then. Sri Krishna also looked into his eye and said, “You may announce with whatever clarity your speech may command or carry, but I have my hold over their understanding. They will not understand more than they deserve.''
Durvasa was a great sage but was also highly irritable, almost explosive. He took Sri Krishna's words as a challenge and he addressed the people in a harsh tone and told them something which was nothing short of an enigma. He announced that in the assembly there was present at that moment a naughty child who, when he lifts up the Goverdhan hill on his little finger, will indicate the time when Kansa's rule will end and people will be free from all tyranny.
Announcing this he thundered, “Now all of you go.'' Everybody, afraid of him lest he be irritated and curse them, left the place. One of them, bewildered by the announcement, asked his companion what Durvasa meant by his announcement. The companion, with a total confidence in his understanding of Durvasa's words, told him that it was very simple. What he meant by his utterance is as plain as a pike-staff. Durvasa meant that even the heavyweight champions do not find it possible to lift beyond a hundred or two of kilograms. How can it be possible for a child to lift a hillock on his little finger? This is just impossible. Moreover, Kansa is the king of Mathura and he acts just like a king. He keeps all those happy who obey him and keep him in good humour. Look at his wrestlers. How happy and healthy they are. So the fault lies with those who do not obey him and seek always to defy him.
All the materialistic philosophies are nothing but variations upon this theme. They weave their arguments around this central concept.
But there are others moving with the crowd. One overhearing the argument joins the issue. He says Durvasa's words carry a totally different meaning. As is well known to the world Durvasa is a great rishi and his movements are not restricted to this world only. He is equally known in both heaven and hell. He has equal access to the worlds of the gods and titans. And the words he uttered were nothing short of an exhortation for a religious life. He said that life on earth is like that; no one can get beyond suffering here. But by following a religious life one goes to heaven where he enjoys bliss and realises all the fulfilments of his dreams in earthly life. Here little, hereafter bliss—is the motto of religious life, that all the religions on earth promise.
But there were children also in the assembly. One such child was sleeping late the following morning and on being asked by his mother to leave his bed and prepare for going to the school, shows his unwillingness and retorts, “Did you not hear what Durvasa said last evening?'' His mother asked him, “What did he say? From tomorrow all schools will remain closed?'' The child replied, “Durvasa said that there is a naughty child in the assembly, and that that boy will one day lift up the Goverdhana on his little finger and that will be the day when the rule of Kansa will end.'' He continued, “You call me naughty at least a dozen times every day, so my one condition is already fulfilled. Now the only condition I have to fulfil is that I should be strong enough to lift up the hillock on my fingertip. So I will from now on drink all your cream and milk and go to the wrestling pit, do exercises, become strong and one day lift up the hill and kill Kansa.''
Now this attitude of the child is because of the fact that he is the eternal playmate of Krishna.
There is an eternal seed principle of Sri Krishna in each one of us. It is this principle which is never tired of aspiring for God, Light, Freedom and Immortality. Hundreds of times of death have not been able to dampen or defeat this aspiration and it is this urge that that has kept this basic dream of humanity not only intact but ever-increasing. This is the immortal flame burning in man's heart called the Psychic Being—the immortal among the mortal—this is the marthyamritam, as it is called by the Upanishads .
To realise this and express this realisation in life, manifest its glory in a divinised life upon earth is the journey towards which Sri Aurobindo points when he says that the ascent towards divine life is the human journey. This indeed is one thing that fulfils the manhood in man and makes him grow towards the divine life.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as the pioneering figures of this movement have taken human aspiration to the doors of divine fulfilment. They are one divine consciousness in two bodies and as divine incarnations they represent the sanction of the Supreme for this change in the manifestation. But we too have our share of responsibility in the total work. We should be conscious and not deny the Light when it comes. It is a fact that all cannot be awakened at the same time. But the section that is awakened and perceives and yet keeps the eyes closed and neglects the opportunity can do it only at its own cost which is nothing short of a great destruction.
But, as we know, humanity is not of one piece. Each individual differs from the others in his or her degree of development. Also the lines of interest are different. And the new advent acts as the sunshine which awakens the world but leaves the individual to fulfil himself independently of the others.
At the present Hour of God man's attention is generally towards understanding the mysteries of physical nature and knowing through verifiable means the how and why of creation. But the mind or intellect is not the authority on which an absolute reliance can be reposed. There are other instruments waiting to be developed to their full measure and are already offering signs, even in their undeveloped state, to carry humanity with surer steps to their objectives in its various fields of enquiry. The world outside is not so much away and beyond us and it is beginning to show itself as an extension of our own inner being. Time and Space have contracted and our hidebound figure is more like an antenna sensing the distant distances increasing with each passing day. That man is not mortal, man is not limited, is slowly settling with increasing firmness in the values of his being. Physics is now becoming metaphysics.
It was in the year 1956 that the Mother announced, “A new light breaks upon the earth. A new world is born.” And since then we find that man has broken beyond the earthly atmosphere into outer space and his capacity to communicate has increased manyfold. The new force in action has awakened, as it were, the very material substance of the physical creation. Until now we were mostly depending upon the mental and vital powers. We had known only one fire fed by fuel easily available to us picked from materials surrounding us. It is in recent years that we have crossed over to the use of solar energy and the use of electricity. In the old formula of wisdom the three fires are the reduced images of that one Supreme Fire, tamevabhantam anubhat sarvey —it is because of that that all are illuminated. So physically, too, we have reached the doors of the Supreme and the power that is not just omniscient but also omnipotent is helping our evolution into another dimension. “There are in the history of the earth” says the Mother,
...moments of transition when things that have existed for thousands of years must give way to those that are about to manifest.... We are at precisely such a turning point in the world's history. Just as Nature has already created upon earth a mental being, man, so too there is now a concentrated activity in this mentality to bring forth a supramental consciousness and individuality. — The Mother, On Education, p. 72
And now in this province of concentrated activity in mental man falls precisely the responsibility he has to bear and manage. He has already received the Divine sanction. But the world is a mixed field. There are forces that are settled and do not want to be dislodged and these forces offer resistance. Human life is this vast field of battle. It is here that we are to make a choice at every moment. It is at once a war and a civil strife. Every moment we are required to be vigilant against the forces who are fighting in their home, as it were, supported and helped by the elements that largely constitute our present being. The way is dangerous and difficult. But the victory belongs to those who stick to the divine guidance.
We already know that the majority of the human mass is not conscious of the vast significance of this transition. But the work is universal and they too are caught in it. The new power in action is like the air that pervades us and, knowingly or unknowingly, all are caught in its whirl. Also the forces governing earthly life are increasingly registering its action. Just as the divine consciousness incarnated in the Mother and Sri Aurobindo represent the sanction from the Supreme, the growing awareness of the pioneers in humanity registers its increasing effect in earthly life. They are applying their awareness in their various fields of research. It is in this area that human psychology occupies an important, almost a decisive position. The expanding human psychology is at present hardly satisfied with keeping itself limited to the individual. It expands and including other's states of being acts upon them. A whole science of psychotherapy is establishing itself on this basis.
Thus we see that the present movement of transition, while aiming far beyond, is taking us rapidly towards the truth embodied in the old formula of wisdom sarvabhutasthmatmanan —our one spirit in all. To discover this spirit is a major decisive step towards integral transformation. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have endeavoured to bring down through their united effort the supramental consciousness on earth. This has made the transformation of earthly life possible. We have seen how our consciousness is increasing and its increased application to our life has changed it so much. We have augmented our sense perceptions and increased our speed but there is hardly any change in our form and features or even in our subjective nature. Man wears his increased capacities as an instrument in the hands of his animal nature and utilises them for his egoistic self-fulfilment.
But the transformation to increased power or capacities, as long as it remains bound to the old form or body, can hardly be called integral, for it cannot manifest the divine glory of the new manifestation. The body of man is hard and rigid, constituted of the five material principles namely: earth, fire, water, air and ether. These are principles emerging out of the inconscient. So the very foundation and form of our present status is dark and insensitive. We are a spark of light lodged in a material form. And to transform the form into a luminous foothold of the glory and consciousness of the spirit requires a tapasya that is beyond the power of man. It is because of this that the Divine has to incarnate. This also explains the tremendous suffering of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo while they bore earthly nature on the path of transformation. They have carried it to its conclusive stage. But human nature, as we have already stated, is a field of battle and according to our tendencies we lean towards one side or the other. We are not conscious in a large part of our being. And working there is extremely difficult and blind.
Working in the body is like working in the submerged part of our being. We see neither our effort nor its results. Our meditations and contemplation of peace can fill our inner being with a repose but leave our body as it is with its inertia and ill-health and diseases. The Mother has found japa to be an effective instrument for work in the body. We can understand it in this way. While we keep uttering the mantra, the vibrations of its sound sink into the body vibrating the subtlest physical principle, the ether. And with this it permeates the various layers of the body. How the mantra works for our integral transformation has been most graphically illustrated by Sri Aurobindo in Savitri :
As when the mantra sinks in Yoga's ear,
Its message enters stirring the blind brain
And keeps in the dim ignorant cells its sound;
The hearer understands a form of words
And, musing on the index thought it holds,
He strives to read it with the labouring mind
But finds bright hints, not the embodied truth:
Then, falling silent in himself to know
He meets the deeper listening of his soul:
The word repeats itself in rhythmic strains:
Thought, vision, feeling, sense, the body's self
Are seized unalterably and he endures
An ecstasy and an immortal change;
He feels a Wideness and becomes a Power,
All knowledge rushes on him like a sea:
Transmuted by the white spiritual ray
He walks in naked heavens of joy and calm,
Sees the God-face and hears transcendent speech....
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri , p. 375
Such is the transmutation brought about by japa as explained by Sri Aurobindo. It affects the most material foundation of our being, transforms its inert parts into the luminous vehicle of the spirit. Transformation then becomes integral and verifiably so. The passage moves forward with a cinematographic representation of advancing transformation which makes itself real and living.