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Philosophy of Mind

From "Mind" to "Supermind":
A Statement of Aurobindonian Approach

Kamaladevi R. Kunkolienker
PES College of Arts of Sciences

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ABSTRACT: In contrast to Western theories of mind, Aurobindo’s theory is comprehensive and holistic. This theory derives from his ontology. With respect to mind, Aurobindo contends that evolution will not stop with homo sapien. Rather, he posits higher levels of consciousness: Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind, and Supermind. Higher Mind is an intermediary between the Truth-light above and the human mind. Illumined Mind is Spiritual light. Intuitive Mind possesses swift revelatory vision and luminous insight. Overmind acts as an intermediary between Supermind and Intuitive Mind. Supermind contains the self-determining truths of Divine Consciousness; it is the Real-Idea inherent in all cosmic force and existence.

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The various concepts and theories of mind prevalent today have had their origin and development in the West. They can be classified as : Psycho-analytical (cf., Sigmund Freud, Karl Jung, A. Adler), Behavioural (cf., Gilbert Ryle), Gestalt (cf., Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Kohler), Physiological (cf., J. J. C. Smart, U. T. Place, Feigl), Psycho-physical (cf., Karl Popper), Evolutionary (cf., Henry Bergson, Samuel Alexander, Whitehead), Functional (cf., R. Rorty, Peter Smith, O. R. Jones), and Mental or Homo Sapiens-oriented (cf., Roger Penrose). The outcome of all such discussions is that "mind" is mysterious and beyond all scientific explanation. According to the main contemporary view, in particular, `there is something essential in human understanding that is not possible to simulate by any computational means’. This indicates that the nature of mind continues to remain a source of acute discomfort to the Western thinkers. Even their new empirical findings regarding the highly complex mental acitivity is dubious. The object of this paper is to submit that in this context of the West’s indecisiveness and perplexity, Aurobindo’s approach to mind comes as a breath of fresh air.

Aurobindo’s theory of mind is as much "inclusive" of the essence of the Western schools of thinkers cited above, as it is "contrastive". The pioneers in this area from William James and McDougall through Freud, Jung and Adler etc, established the paradigm of the "iceberg" with reference to the nature of mind. This can be designated as the "infra-structural" theory of the entity. The views of the "evolutionists" (Darwin, Laplace, Bergson, S. Alexander, Whitehead, for instance,) are "different" but not "enriching". All of them fail to recognise that any infra-structure can, and must have, logically speaking, a "supra-structure" as well, in order to be complete and holistic.

That Aurobindo is "inclusive" of all the Western theories of mind does not need much elucidation. But the fact that he is contrastive does. His concept and interpretation of what is "mind" for the West proves a complete contrast because, alone among the scholars exercising their minds over the concept of mind, he makes it an organic part of his mystico-metaphysical theory of the origin, nature and destiny of creation. Thus Aurobindonian theory of mind is ontological. It is an intrinsic part Of his hierarchical view of the universe in terms of his own teaching. In his own words, `Aurobindo’s teaching states that behind the appearences of the universe there is a Reality of Being and Consciousness’, the Sachchidanada. `This One Being and Consciousness is involved in Matter’. This clearly indicates the very source of Aurobindonian ontological argument viz., the "Involution-Evolution" theory of the Absolute. That is why he adds, `Evolution is the method by which the One Being and Consciousness liberates itself; consciousness appears in what seems to be inconscient, and... 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 consiciousness which is spiritual and supramental. The next step of the evolution must be towards the development of the Supermind and Spirit as the dominant power in the conscious being’ [Homo Sapiens]. For only then will the involved Divinity in things release itself entirely and it become possible for life to manifest perfection’.

Aurobindo’s ‘hierarchical view of consciousness or Spirit’ has, at its summit, Sachchidananda ("existence, thought joy") or the Absolute. Immediately below that figures, the Supermind. It mediates Sachchidananda to the "many", the multiplicity of the world. Below the Supermind comes Overmind. It is the delegate of the Supermind. Down the hierarchal view successively appear, Intuitive Mind, Ilumined Mind, Higher Mind, Mind, Life, Matter, the Subconsient, the Inconscient and the Nescient. Inconscient and Nescient are, grossly speaking, in-distinguishable except for those who have the requisite "occult-mystical" or "apocalyptic" faculty of perception.

This ‘hierarchical view’ is, however, one-sided. It covers Aurobindo’s elucidation of, "devolution" or "fall" or "descent" of the Absolute in its process of involution. But involution alone initiates the further process of evolution. Hence the other side of Aurobindonian ontology the other pole of his bi-polar theory of the origin and pupose of creation. Accordingly, after the Absolute’s involution in the Nescience is complete, its `adventure’ in the form of "ascent" commences in the form of evolution. This evolution-oriented return of the Absolute back to its transcendental plenitude retraces the steps of the "descent": its course is from Inconscient to Subconscient, to Matter, to Life, to Mind, to Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuitive Mind, Overmind and Supermind. This ontological view of Aurobindo is thus Involution-Evolution oriented. And the entity "mind" assumes the stature of an organic part and parcel of the transcendental Divine, the Absolute.

Undoubtedly, this ontological explanation of Aurobindo’s concept of mind is rather jarring to most of us since we are, and have been trained to be materialistic or "realistic", in any discussion of empirical entities. We are Seldom Spiritualistic. So let us now assume an acceptable empirical approach to Aurobindo’s ideas. Whatever his attitude to it, he posits and recognises mind as an entity. He is, therefore in line with the other scholars expressing themselves on mind. Like them he gives a conceptual framework of the entity in his own way. `The "Mind" in the ordinary use of the world’, he says `covers indescriminately the whole consciousness’. And, "Consciousness" for Aurobindo is a "loaded" term. It carries the quintessence of the triune qualities of the Absolute, — "existence, thought, joy". Hence his explanation, with reference to his "Integral Yoga"). The words "mind" and "mental" are used to connote especially that part of (man) which has to do with congnition and intelligence, with ideas, with mental or thought perception, the reactions of thought to things, with the truly mental movement and formations, mental vision and will etc., that are part of his intelligence.’`Mind is an instrument of analysis and synthesis’. Its function is to cut out something vaguely from the unknown, Thing in itself and call this measurement or de-limitation of it the whole, and again to analyse the whole into its parts which it regards as separate mental objects.’ Yet, mind `is in its origin a principle of light, an instrument put forth from the supermind’, `a sub-ordinate power of supermind which takes its stand in the stand point of division actually forgetful here of the oneness behind, though able to return to it by reillumination from the supramental.’ `Everything in the mind derives from and is a limited inferior groping, partial or perverse to translation into mentality of something in the supermind. `Since Mind, too, is created out of [Supermind], mind must be a development by limitation out of this primal faculty and with mediatory act of the supreme consciousness and must therefore be capable of resolving itself back into it through a reverse development by expansion’. Hence the next hierarchical conversion of "Mind" into "Higher Mind".

Aurobindo says that the Higher Mind is a first plane of spiritual consciousness where one becomes constantly and closely aware of the one everywhere and knows and sees things habituaally with that awareness. He adds, however, that ‘it is still very much on the Mind level although highly spiritual in its essential substance... its instrumentation is through an elevated thought power and comprehensive mental sight’. It is ‘not illumined by any of the intenser upper lights’. ‘It acts as an intermediate state between the Truth-light above and the human mind’. It communicates the higher knowledge in a form that the mind after it is intensified, broadened, made spiritually supple, can receive’. It is, according to Aurobindo, ‘a mind no longer of mingled light and obscurity or half-light, but a large clarity of the spirit. Its basic substance is a unitarian sense of being with a powerful multiple dynamisation capable of the formation of a multitude of aspects of knowledge, ways of action, forms and significances of becoming’. ‘It is therefore a power that has proceeded from the overmind, — but with the supermind as its ulterior origin,... but its special character, its activity of consciousness are dominated by Thought; it is a luminous Thought-mind, a mind or spirit-born conceptual knowledge’.

Illumined Mind is a greater Force (than the Higher Mind). It is a mind no longer of higher thought, but of spiritual light. It is ‘a play of lightenings of spiritual truth and power’. It ‘breaks from above into the consciousness and adds to the calm and wide enlightenment and vast descent of peace which characterise or accompany the action of the large conceptual spiritual principle, a fiery ordour of realisation and a rapturous ecstasy of knowledge’. In Illumined Mind ‘there is also ... the arrival of a greater dynamic, a golden drive, a luminous "enthousiasmos" of inner force and power which replaces the comparatively slow and deliberate process of the Higher Mind by a swift, sometimes a vehement, almost a violent impetus of rapid transformation’.

Intuitive Mind, Aurobindo says, is a higher form of the reason or intellect. Therefore the intuitive mind is also intuitive reason. ‘By its Intuitions, its Inspirations, its swift reveletory vision, its luminious insight and descrimination’ the Intuitive mind can do the work of the Reason with a higher power, a swifter action, a greater and spontaneous certitude. It acts in a self-light of the truth which does not depend upon the torch-flares of the Sense-Mind and its limited uncertain percepts; it proceeds not by intelligent but by visional concepts: it is a kind of truth-vision, truth-hearing, truth-memory, direct truth discernment. This true and authentic intuition must be distinguished from a power of the ordinary mental reason. The Intuitive mind ... stretches from the Intuition proper down to the intuitivised Inner Mind — it is therefore at once an overhead power and a mental intelligence Power’. ‘The Intuition is the first plane in which there is a real opening to the full possibility of realisation; it is through it that one goes futher — first to the over mind and then to the supermind’.

The over mind is the highest of the planes below the supramental. It is a sort of a delegation from the supermind. ‘If Supermind were to start here from the beginning as the direct creative Power, a world of the kind we see now would be impossible’. ‘There would be no evolution in the inconscience of matter, consequently no gradual striving evolution of consciousness in matter. A line is therefore drawn between the higher half of the universe of consciousness,... and the lower half’. The higher half is constituted of Sat, Chit, Ananda, Mahas (the supramental) — the lower half of Mind, Life, Matter. This line is the intermediary overmind which, though luminous self, keeps from us the full indivisible supramental light’. The overmind ‘receives the super light and divides, distributes and breaks it up into separated aspects, powers and multiplicities of all kinds’. ‘It sees everything ‘calmly, steadily’ and in great masses and large extensions of space and time and relation, globaly; it creates and acts in the same way — it is the world of the great gods, the Divine Creators’. ‘We recognise... in the overmind the original cosmic ... power which has made the Ignorance possible, even inevitable’.

Beyond mind, psychological experience finds ‘another power of energy another note in the scale of Being’. Aurobindo says, ‘this we will call supermind. This supermind’, he elucidates, ‘lives and acts natively in a domain of experience of which the mind becomes aware by reflective experience and calls vaguely Spirit or Spiritual Being’. According to him, ‘Supermind is between the sachchidananda and the lower creation. It alone contains the self-determining Truths of the Divine Consciousness and is necessary for a truth-creation’. ‘This supermind then is the Truth or Real-Idea inherent in all cosmic force and existence, which is necessary, itself remaining infinite, to determine and combine and uphold relation and order and the great lines of the manifestation. ‘... beyond the supramental plane of consiciousness which is an intermediate step from overmind and mind to the complete experience of Sachchidananda, are the great heights of the Manifested Spirit: here surely existence would not at all be based on the determination of the one in multiplicity, it would manifest solely and simply a pure identity in oneness. But the supremanetal Truth-consciousness would not be absent from these planes, for it is an inherent power of Sachchidananda.

Significantly, Aurobindo admits that the word Supermind ‘is ambiguous since it may be taken in the sense of mind itself supereminent and lifted above ordinary mentality but not radically changed,... it may bear the sense of all that is beyond mind’. Therefore, he maintains, ‘a subsidiary description’ viz., ‘"Truth-consciousness" is required to delimit the connotation of the more elastic phrase, Supermind’.

By the term "truth-consciousness" Aurobindo means `a consciousness always free from the Ignorance which is the foundation of our present natural or evolutionary existence and from which nature in us is trying to arrive at self-knowledge and world-knowledge and the right consciousness and the right use of our existence in the universe’. Hence Aurobindo’s statement that `because it is a truth-conciousness,’ the supermind `has this knowledge inherent in it and this Power of true existence’ . `This is because its very nature is knowledge : it has not to acquire knowledge but possesses it in its own right; its steps are not from nescience or ignorance into some imperfect light, but from truth to greater truth, from right perception to deeper perception, from intuition to intuition, from illumination to utter and boundless luminousness, from growing widenesses to the utter vasts and to very infinitude. On its summits it possesses the divine Omniscience and omnipotence, but even in an evolutionary movement of its own graded self-manifestation by which it would eventually reveal its own highest heights it must be in its very nature essentially free from ignorance and error : it starts from truth and light and moves always in truth and light. As its knowledge is always true, so too its will is always true, it does not fumble in its handling of things or stumble in its paces. In the supermind feelings and emotion do not depart from their truth, make no slips or mistakes, do not swerve from the right and the real, cannot misuse beauty and delight or twist away from a divine rectitude. In the supermind sense cannot mislead or deviate into the grossnesses which are here its natural imperfectious and the cause of reproach, distrust and misuse by our ignorance. Even an incomplete statement made by the supermind is a truth leading to a further truth, its incomplete action a step towards completeness.’ As ‘the truth-consciousness, it is a principle superior to mentality’. Besides it ‘exists, acts and proceeds in the fundamental truth and unity of things’. It is ‘at its source dynamic consciousness’ and is ‘in its nature at once and inseparably infinite WISDOM and infinite World of the Divine Knower-and Creator’. This is why Aurobindo equates the supermind at its highest reach with ‘the Divine gnosis, the wisdom — the Power — the light — the Bliss of god by which the Divine knows and upholds and governs and enjoys the universe’. As such it ‘is the support of the creation and is leading all towards itself’. All ‘our direct truth-perception ... comes from that supermind,’ since it is ‘a will that Knows and Acknowledges that effects’ and ‘creates Universal order our of infinity.’ The Divine Reality, says Aurobindo, is fully manifested in the supermind. Therefore it no longer works with the instrumentation of the ignorance.

Aurobindo is again aware of the difficulty in distinguishing the two highest levels of consciousness, Overmind and Supermind. Therefore he clarifies by saying, ‘the supermind is the total truth-consciousness : the overmind draws down the truths separately and gives them the separate activity’. ‘Between the supermind and the human mind are the number of ranges, Planes or layers of consciousness ... The Overmind is the highest of these ranges : it is full of lights and powers : but form the point of view of what is above it, it is the line of the soul’s turning away from the complete and indivisible knowledge and its descent towards the Ignorance’. Therefore, in the overmind ‘there is no longer the essential, total, perfectly harmonising and unifying knowledge, or rather knowledge forever harmonious’. Of course, in the overmind ‘there is not yet the actual fall into Ignorance, but the first step is taken which will make the fall inevitable’. Overmind is a plane of consciousness beyond even Universal Mind in ignorance; it carries in itself a first,direct, masterful cognition of cosmic truth’. ‘It is a creator of truth, not of illusions or falsehood. It is a principle of cosmic truth ... a vast and endless catholicity is its very spirit. It takes each aspect of power and gives to it an independent action’.

The overmind is the Protective Double, a delegate of the supermind consciousness. However, it does not possess the ‘integrality of the supramental truth’ though ‘it is well aware of the essential truth of things’.

All this ontology-based perception of the various grades of mind which (Aurobindo calls "planes") is based not on mere theory, reflection or mere intuition. It stems from the concrete personal experiences (mostly occult and mystical) Aurobindo underwent for nearly half a century from about 1902 to 1950. Just as the world’s initial reaction to the various psychoanalytical observations made by the members of the ‘infra-structural’ school of mind-analysts, was unfavourable, Aurobindonian theory of mind to supermind is also valnerable, at its present infant stage of dissemination, to the same kind of treatment. Just as Freud had a kind of laboratory-oriented explanation for his psycho-analytical theory, Aurobindo too has gone on record saying that his experiments regarding the various Planes of Being (of which "Mind" is one) were undertaken at the Pondicherry Ashram, rightly defined by him as "a veritable laboratory". That issue, however, is outside the scope of this paper which seeks to make only a statement of Aurobindonian approach to mind.

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