[Published in Next Future, June 2006.]
Return to the Source: Age of the Spirit
According to Indian thought, there are two major and distinct phases in human evolution: first is the movement away from the spiritual source and centre of our being and second is the return towards the source and centre. First is the externalized, “secular” or the “worldly” movement or effort for power, mastery and enjoyment of the outer world. Second is the inner psychological and spiritual movement towards the source of our being, return to the Origin, rediscovery of our true Self the true meaning of Religion. The history of the past was predominantly a movement away from the source and the history of the future will be predominantly a movement towards the source. As we have discussed earlier, this return movement will begin or initiated in the subjective age. And if the race pursues this subjective urge to its roots, without stopping in between, it should logically culminate in the Spirit, which is the deepest source of our subjective being.
This doesn’t mean there was no effort towards the source in the past. In fact, most of the ancient civilization had this religious ideal as the goal of individual and collective life. But the deeper spiritual significance of the ideal and the path to realize it was never fully understood and implemented in a collective scale, except perhaps, to a certain extent, partially, with a very limited success in ancient India. Only a few exceptional spiritual individuals or thinkers had the deep and clear insight into the ideal and tried to realize or give form to it in their consciousness and life or in thought, feeling and action. But in the collective life, the large majority of the masses received the ideal in a diluted and externalized form through organized religion. Even among the few who understood or realized the deeper spiritual significance of the ideal, most of them viewed the path towards the ideal as the renunciation of or escape from the world and a flight to a transcendent Beyond. So the return to the source was accompanied or followed by abandonment of the world and this spiritual effort itself was confined to a small elite group of seekers.
In the future, we will be witnessing a much more widespread return-to-the source movement, with a more integral spiritual ideal. The future spiritual ideal may not be merely a lonely return of the individual to the Source, flight of the “alone into the Alone”; it will be the return not only of the individual but also the collective life to the Source. More importantly, return or descent of the Source or more precisely the light and power of the Source into every activity of the individual and collective life of humanity, will lead to a spiritual transformation of the whole of human life.
This will herald the spiritual age of the future. The age of the Spirit will be characterized by a widespread quest for the ultimate source of our being, the deepest highest and the total truth of life. This quest will not be confined to religion and spirituality but will be manifest in every activity of human life. This will eliminate the distinction we make at present between the “spiritual” and “secular” or “worldly” life. This distinction comes from the traditional conception of religion which equates spirituality with belief in God, prayer, meditation, asceticism, ashram, and monkhood. But a spiritual quest may or may not have all these marks. An intuition into a supreme Reality beyond Mind as the sources of our being and life and a seeking for it; quest for the deepest and highest truth, law and principles of life; sincerity and persistence in the quest until the highest is fully realised in the inner consciousness as well as in the outer life –these are the signs of a true spiritual quest. In the age of the Spirit this spiritual quest will be manifest in every activity of the human life – in education, science, philosophy, art, literature, economics, politics, business, commerce, government.
The other important characteristic of the spiritual age is Freedom, inner and outer freedom, inner freedom from ego and desire and outer freedom from externally imposed rules and regulations and authorities. Each individual and collectivity will have the freedom to grow in harmony with the unique truth and law of its inner and outer nature, Dharma, as it is called in Indian thought, realize its highest potentialities and contribute to the progress of the whole. This freedom will not infringe on the freedom of others. For there is a great harmony and rhythm in universal Nature. When we live in harmony with the truth of our own nature, which is a part of universal Nature, we are consciously or unconsciously in tune with the harmony of universal Nature, and therefore in harmony with the nature of all others and that of the environment.
Not only every individual and the collectivity, but also every human activity like philosophy and science or economics and politics, will have the freedom to grow in harmony with its own dharma and realize its highest ideals. There will be a free, lively and vigorous interaction between various activities and sciences, but none of the activities, including spirituality, will try to impose its ideals on other activities. In the spiritual age there will be a general acceptance of the spiritual ideals in all sections of the human society. But this acceptance would have come about not by the imposition of the ideal of a spiritual authority, but a free growth from within each part of the human society. Leaders with spiritual consciousness will emerge from every section of the society and in every activity of human life and give a spiritual direction to that part of human life by their thought, action or living example or just by their sheer silent presence. Thus, in this way, the entire human life will move consciously and with a free and joyous élan towards its spiritual destiny. We will discuss these transitional stages from the present condition of humanity to the spiritual age in our subsequent articles. Here we will briefly touch upon some of the possibilities and dangers that lie ahead in this transitional period from the subjective to the spiritual age.
There is an interesting parable in the Upanishad which may provide some prophetic clues to the stages or transition from the present to the future spiritual age. In this parable, a disciple comes to the Master seeking for the knowledge of the supreme Reality, Brahman. The Master first instructs the disciple to meditate on Matter as the Brahman; Matter as the Origin and End of all things. The disciple comes back with the realization “From Matter alone are these creatures born and being born they live by Matter and into Matter they depart and enter again”. Interestingly this is the realization of modern scientific materialism. The advent of new physics and its brief flirting with eastern philosophy might have softened much the hard-core materialism of modern science. But the basic philosophical standpoint of established orthodox science is very much materialistic; it still believes that some form of physical energy, electromagnetic, nuclear, gravitational or biological as the source of man and the universe and the psychological realities like mind or soul as an “epiphenomenon” emerging from the physical reality and ending in it. This is more or less the first realization of the seeker in the Upanishadic parable. But the seeker in the Upanishad was not satisfied with his first realization. He probably knew intuitively Matter was not the highest reality and “Matter is Brahman” was not the highest realization. He again asks the Master “Teach me the Eternal”. The Master again instructs his pupil to meditate and realize successively “Life-force is Brahman”, “Mind is Brahman” and finally the eternal Delight of the Spirit as Brahman. This Upanishadic parable throws some luminous hints on the future progress of humanity towards its spiritual destiny.
In the subjective age, as the higher ranges of consciousness which we have discussed earlier begins to manifest more and more, humanity as a whole will be rapidly awakened to a deeper and inner reality beyond Matter. There will be a vivid and concrete subliminal or spiritual intuition of an inner universal Force, a universal vital Energy or a universal Mind or a universal Spirit as the source and origin of things. This will abolish all forms of naïve and crude materialism from the human consciousness. However, if the evolving human race opens more widely to the subliminal rather than the spiritual ranges of consciousness, it may lead to a vital or mental subjectivism which mistakes the vital energy or the mind as the supreme Reality. We must note here that there are regions in the subliminal which can very effectively imitate the higher spiritual states of consciousness. Someone who doesn’t have the experience of the higher spiritual realm, may mistake some luminous regions of the subliminal vital or mind as the highest spiritual reality and rest content there.
In our modern age, some of the western philosophies like that of Bergson, Nietzhe, Schopenhauer, or Emerson are the result of a subjective vital or mental intuition of a universal vital energy or mind, and formulated differently according to the nature, temperament and conditioning of the mind of the thinker. But in a predominantly materialistic mentality of the modern West, they remained only as intuitions of a few great thinkers and abstract intellectual ideals in the upper storeys of the mind, without sufficient force to catch hold of the entire mind and life of the race. But in the subjective age, when the human consciousness awakens to the subliminal, these ideas will lose their abstractness; they will acquire a concrete experiential reality and sufficient living force to possess and govern the whole consciousness and life of the race, in the same way the idea of scientific materialism took hold of the race for nearly a century. We have already discussed briefly the dangers and possibilities which lie ahead when the human race passes through this stage of subliminal subjectivism of the vital or mental kind. On the positive side, it will release and manifest the higher faculties of the subliminal mind and vital in humanity, leading to a richer life, greater mastery of the mind and vital over the material life, and a deeper knowledge and awakening to the inner dimensions of life. The danger is that since the subliminal is not free from ego, it may lead to a larger edition of the present fiasco, the ego misusing the greater power of the subliminal for a more grandiose and sublimated satisfaction of the lower motives of the vital and mental for power and enjoyment. And if this happens again there is no guarantee our present human civilization will reach its evolutionary destiny or even survive. It may end up like the legendary civilization of Atlantics.
On the other hand, if our present civilization is destined to realise its spiritual destiny, it will be as sincere and persistent as the seeker in the Upanishadic parable we have recounted earlier, not satisfied with any intermediate realizations in the vital or mental plane, seeking persistently for the deeper and higher reality and pushing on until the highest is realized. To this sincere and persistent quest, Nature will respond by sending spiritual leaders and teachers like the Master in the parable, who will guide the race safely and wisely to its highest destiny.
And finally comes the most important and central characteristic of the Age of the Spirit — freedom from Ego or the transcendence of Ego and as a result, Consciousness of Oneness, and the realization of the Unity of all existence. We have already discussed this theme in some detail in an earlier section on “Global Consciousness”. We will discuss the process of transition from the ego-centric to the egoless and the Global consciousness in our consequent articles.
However we would like to indicate here that elimination of the Ego is a crucial factor in realizing the highest human potential. For in our spiritual perspective Ego is the source of all limitation and bondage. It is Ego which limits and constricts the infinite essence and potentialities of man; it limits the infinite being, consciousness force and delight of the essence of our self and reduces us to a state of ignorant, struggling, suffering, and striving, creature, confined within the narrow bounds of a small ego. With the elimination of Ego, Humanity recovers its infinite essence and the human life becomes a free, conscious, delightful and progressive unrolling of the Infinite in the finite.
Transformation of the Body
We have come almost to the end of our quest into the future of humanity. With the return of humanity to the Source, elimination of Ego, unfolding of the higher ranges of consciousness in the consciousness and life of man, we as a race reached the highest potential of transformation.
The spirit or the soul of man is delivered from ego and ignorance and redeemed to its original purity and perfection. The life of man and all its activities are now governed not by the ignorant mind but by the intuitive truth-conscious wisdom of the Spirit. But what happens to Matter and our human body made of Matter in the age of the Spirit? As we have explained repeatedly, the spirituality of the future will not be satisfied with the past spiritual formula of returning to the Source and abandonment of the Creation. In the future Age of the Spirit, return to the Spirit will be accompanied or followed by a return of the Spirit on the World of Mind, Life and Matter, transforming them into its perfect instruments.
So spiritual transformation of Matter, matter within our own body and also the terrestrial matter, will be the final consummation of the future age of the Spirit. This is an ideal which has not even been conceived in the past spiritual traditions. But it is an integral part of Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s spiritual vision of the future. This profoundly original insight of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother has important implications for the future of the human potential. For it throws light on the destiny and the hidden potentialities of our human body. So, considering the importance of the subject we will discuss it in some detail in our next series called Future of Matter.