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The parting of the ways

Nolini Kanta Gupta


Nature is at a parting of the ways. She has done with her experiment of self-conscious man. Everything follows the evolution of consciousness. A choice has to be made: to be divine or remain human. It is time for man to become super-conscious and unveil his concealed divinity.

To be divine or to remain human — this is the one choice that is now before Nature in her upward march of evolution. What is the exact significance of this choice?

To remain human means to continue the fundamental nature of man. In what consists the humanity of man? We can ascertain it by distinguishing what forms the animality of the animal, since that will give us the differentia that nature has evolved to raise man over the animal. The animal, again, has a characteristic differentiating it from the vegetable world, which latter, in its turn, has something to mark it off from the inorganic world. The inorganic, the vegetable, the animal and finally man — these are the four great steps of Nature’s evolutionary course.

The differentia, in each case, lies in the degree and nature of consciousness, since it is consciousness that forms the substance and determines the mode of being. Now, the inorganic is characterised by un-consciousness, the vegetable by sub-consciousness, the animal by consciousness and man by self-consciousness. Man knows that he knows, an animal only knows; a plant does not even know, it merely feels or senses; matter cannot do that even, it simply acts or rather is acted upon. We are not concerned here, however, with the last two forms of being; we will speak of the first two only.

We say, then, that man is distinguished from the animal by his having consciousness as it has, but added to it the consciousness of self. Man acts and feels and knows as much as the animal does; but also he knows that he acts, he knows that he feels, he knows that he knows — and this is a thing the animal cannot do. It is the awakening of the sense of self in every mode of being that characterises man, and it is owing to this consciousness of an ego behind, of a permanent unit of reference, which has modified even the functions of knowing and feeling and acting, has refashioned them in a mould which is not quite that of the animal, in spite of a general similarity.

So the humanity of man consists in his consciousness of the self or ego. Is there no other higher mode of consciousness? Or is self-consciousness the acme, the utmost limit to which consciousness can raise itself? If it is so, then we are bound to conclude that humanity will remain eternally human in its fundamental nature; the only progress, if progress at all we choose to call it, will consist perhaps in accentuating this consciousness of the self and in expressing it through a greater variety of stresses, through a richer combination of its colour and light and shade and rhythm. But also, this may not be so —there may be the possibility of a further step, a transcending of the consciousness of the self. It seems unnatural and improbable that having risen from unconsciousness to self-consciousness through a series of continuous marches, Nature should suddenly stop and consider what she had achieved to be her final end. Has Nature become bankrupt of her creative genius, exhausted of her upward drive? Has she to remain content with only a clever manipulation, a mere shuffling and re-arranging of the materials already produced?

As a matter of fact it is not so. The glimpses of a higher form of consciousness we can see even now present in self-consciousness. We have spoken of the different stages of evolution as if they were separate and distinct and incommensurate entities. They may be described as such for the purpose of a logical understanding, but in reality they form a single progressive continuum in which one level gradually fuses into another. And as the higher level takes up the law of the lower and evolves out of it a characteristic function, even so the law of the higher level with its characteristic function is already involved and envisaged in the law of the lower level and its characteristic function. It cannot be asserted positively that because man’s special virtue is self-consciousness, animals cannot have that quality on any account. We do see, if we care to observe closely and dispassionately, that animals of the higher order, as they approach the level of humanity, show more and more evident signs of something which is very much akin to, if not identical with the human characteristic of self-consciousness.

So, in man also, especially of that order which forms the crown of humanity — in poets and artists and seers and great men of action — can be observed a certain characteristic form of consciousness, which is something other than, greater than the consciousness of the mere self. It is difficult as yet to characterise definitely what that thing is. It is the awakening of the self to something which is beyond itself-it is the cosmic self, the oversoul, the universal being; it is God, it is Turiya, it is Satchidananda — in so many ways the thing has been sought to be envisaged and expressed. The consciousness of that level has also a great variety of names given to it — Intuition, Revelation, cosmic consciousness, God-consciousness. It is to be noted here, however, that the thing we are referring to, is not the Absolute, the Infinite, the One without a second. It is not, that is to say, the supreme Reality — the Brahman — in its static being, in its undivided and indivisible unity; it is the dynamic Brahman, that status of the supreme Reality where creation, the diversity of Becoming takes rise, it is the Truth-world — Ritam — the domain of typal realities. The distinction is necessary, as there does seem to be such a level of consciousness intermediary, again, between man and the Absolute, between self-consciousness and the supreme consciousness. The simplest thing would be to give that intermediate level of consciousness a negative name —since being as yet human we cannot foresee exactly its composition and function — the super-consciousness.

The inflatus of something vast and transcendent, something which escapes all our familiar schemes of cognisance and yet is insistent with a translucent reality of its own, we do feel sometimes within us invading and enveloping our individuality, lifting up our sense of self and transmuting our personality into a reality which can hardly be called merely human. All this life of ego-bound rationality then melts away and opens out the passage for a life of vision and power. Thus it is the poet has felt when he says, “there is this incalculable element in human life influencing us from the mystery which envelops our being, and when reason is satisfied, there is something deeper than Reason which makes us still uncertain of truth. Above the human reason there is a transcendental sphere to which the spirit of men sometimes rises, and the will may be forged there at a lordly smithy and made the unbreakable pivot.” — (A.E.)

This passage from the self-conscient to the super-conscient does not imply merely a shifting of the focus of consciousness. The transmutation of consciousness involves a purer illumination, a surer power and a wider compass; it involves also a fundamental change in the very mode of being and living. It gives quite a different life-intuition and a different life-power. The change in the motif brings about a new form altogether, a re-casting and re-shaping and re-energising of the external materials as well. As the lift from mere consciousness to self-consciousness meant all the difference between an animal and a man, so the lift again from self-consciousness to super-consciousness will mean the difference of a whole world between man and the divine creature that is to be.

Indeed it is a divine creature that should be envisaged on the next level of evolution. The mental and the moral, the psychical and the physical transfigurations which must follow the change in the basic substratum do imply such a mutation, the birth of a new species, as it were, fashioned in the nature of the gods. The vision of angels and Siddhas, which man is having ceaselessly since his birth, may be but a prophecy of the future actuality.

This then, it seems to us, is the immediate problem that Nature has set before herself. She is now at the parting of the ways. She has done with man as an essentially human being, she has brought out the fundamental possibilities of humanity and perfected it, so far as perfection may be attained within the cadre by which she chose to limit herself; she is now looking forward to another kind of experiment — the evolving of another life, another being out of her entrails, that will be greater than the humanity we know today, that will be superior even to the supreme that has yet been actualised.

Nature has marched from the unconscious to the subconscious, from the subconscious to the conscious and from the conscious to the self-conscious; she has to rise yet again from the self-conscious to the super-conscious. The mineral gave place to the plant, the plant gave place to the animal and the animal gave place to man; let man give place to and bring out the divine.

Source: The Collected Works of Nolini Kanta Gupta, Volume 1. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education; 1970, pp. 42-45.

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