Chapter XVII Part I
Nature’s Law in Our Progress
It is significant that the human being has an exceptional capacity that all other species in nature lacks – the capacity to govern Nature as well as the capacity to deviate from the course dictated by Nature. In other words the human mind can manipulate Nature for diverse gains ranging from overcoming the resistance of gravity, conquering space, performing organ transplants, utilizing nuclear energy as well as for designing killing fields and polluting life and environment for selfish reasons, insatiable greed and short-term benefits. Sri Aurobindo argues that when we talk about the capacity of human mentality to govern or deviate from Nature, we actually employ a ‘deformative trick of language’ for ‘man’s mentality is also a part of Nature; his mentality is even the most important, if not the largest part of his nature’ (The Ideal of Human Unity) pg 418). In fact, Sri Aurobindo views Nature’s processes and phenomena along an evolutionary perspective of consciousness that surpasses the biological evolution of forms. In this world-view, the human mentality is not the accomplished finale of evolution but a transitory middle term that has to be transcended by higher powers of consciousness. As such the capacity to harness the forces of Nature needs to be objectively viewed in progressive terms notwithstanding the often negative effects of deviating from her: ‘It is, we may say, Nature becoming partly conscious of her own laws and forces, conscious of her struggle of progression and inspired with the conscious will to impose a higher and higher law on her own processes of life and being’(Ibid).
Once we acknowledge that the human mentality is a middle term along the trajectory of a progressively evolving consciousness, we confront two aspects of the laws of life:
(a) The law of our actualities, the rule of what is , and
(b) The law of our potentialities, the rule of what may or ought to be (Ibid, pg 419).
‘Our actualities are the form and value or power of expression to which our nature and life have attained; their norm or law is the fixed arrangement and process proper to that stage of evolution. Our potentialities point us to a new form, value, power of expression with their new and appropriate arrangement and process which is their proper law and norm. Standing thus between the actual and the possible, our intellect tends to mistake present law and form for the eternal law of our nature and existence and regard any change as a deviation and fall or else, on the contrary, to mistake some future and potential law and form for our ideal rule of life and all actual deviation from that as an error or sin of our nature. In reality, only that is eternal which is constant through all changes and our ideal can be no more than a progressive expression of it’(Ibid).
Thus, Nature is always progressively striving for the completest self-expression of its potentialities of which the human being can be capable not only now but in the future. The human mentality is a ‘conscious’ part of that progressive movement of self-realization and self-fulfilment. However it is an intermediate and transitory term in the scale of evolution and imperfect in its workings and ramifications. The knowledge and will implicit in human mentality cannot align with ‘the totality of the secret Knowledge and Will’ which Nature is trying to bring to the surface (Ibid, pg 420). Sri Aurobindo explains that this discord between the law of actualities and the law of potentialities is the genesis of mental conflicts.
The phenomenon of mental conflict is a unique attribute of the human mind, it is absent in subhuman life where ‘there is a vital and physical struggle, but no mental conflict’ (Ibid, pg 418). However the presence of mental conflict ensures that humanity is not satisfied with its own mental functioning and is thus compelled to evolve further. ‘Actually, because our mentality is imperfect, we catch only a glimpse of her (Nature’s) tendencies and objects and each glimpse we get we erect into an absolute principle or ideal theory of our life and conduct; we see only one side of her process and put that forward as the whole and perfect system which must govern our ordering of our life. Working through the imperfect individual and still more imperfect collective mind, she raises up the facts and powers of our existence as opposing principles and forces to which we attach ourselves through our intellect and emotions, and favouring and depressing now this and now another she leads them in the mind of man through struggle and conflict towards a mutual knowledge and the sense of their mutual necessity and towards a progressively right relation and synthesis of their potentialities which is represented in an increasing harmony and combination of realized powers in the elastic potentiality of human life’ (Ibid, pg 420).
The phenomenon of mental conflict has been analyzed in psychological and psycho-social terms but Sri Aurobindo views it in evolutionary terms and thus presents a new outlook. His emphasis is on ‘the elastic potentiality’ of humanity which is limited neither by the repressed elements in the Unconscious (both individual and the collective) nor by the injunctions of formal religions. He views Nature in a consciousness perspective to have knowledge of ‘the true nature of being and its constant self-effectuation in the values of life’ (Ibid, pg 417). It is in this world-view that he constructs the synthesis of unity and diversity, of law and liberty.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu