In the Light of ...|Jan 1, 2006 3:33 AM| by:

The Relevance of Sri Aurobindo for Global Education

 Sri Aurobindo has come to announce to the world the beauty of the future that will be realized.  He has come to bring not a hope but the certainty of the splendor towards which the world is moving.  The world is not an unfortunate accident: it is a miracle moving towards its expression.

– The Mother

Current global terrorism and ensuing wars may forever change the way humankind thinks about each other and conceive social reality.  These acts of horror will certainly have a far-reaching effect on humankind’s collective consciousness.  With the current rhetoric of imprudent hatred, we have become acutely aware that we live in a new world that is currently deeply divided.  The emergence of this new world is especially challenging for educators who are committed to educating humankind for the future.  Education toward a future reality where global cooperation is the rule of social behavior and planetary citizenship is held in the same high esteem as nationalism.  Thus perhaps it is more important than ever that what we teach and how we teach it will be the defining act of 21st Century civilization and the legacy of our educational epoch.

The 20th Century saw the birth of a new social phenomenon termed globalization.  The idea is that the world is evolving into an interconnected social system producing a corresponding higher level of collective consciousness on a planetary scale. Therefore humankind now has a communal responsibility to facilitate an evolutionary movement toward global social integration, the construction of a new social reality and to cultivate a planetary collective consciousness. Due to the severity of present day international problems, the once grand idea of globalization now holds minimal concern for the majority of educators.

Educator Scott Forbes believes that social transformation will not occur without a sense of vital purpose behind the change shift. Humankind cannot construct a psychological drive for social transformation without a vital “Idea of Ultimacy.”  Educationally, ideas of Ultimacy will empower learners to create a meaningful mental vision that can be manifested as constructive social action.

Forbes argues that education can advance a common human aspiration relevant to greater society while also being subjectively meaningful to the individual.  He believes that a concern for and engagement in a cause for social progress is one of the most noble actions an educator can aspire for.  However without an idea of Ultimacy it is impossible to educate learners toward constructing a meaningful understanding of globalization.  The suggestion here is that Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of human evolution has deep relevance to address such educational concerns.

Sri Aurobindo Ghosh strived to philosophically reconcile Western scientific rationalism with Eastern transcendent metaphysics into a holistic narrative of reality.  His academic interest was interdisciplinary in scope: political science, education, sociology, psychology and philosophy.  He was deeply influenced by Western thought, most significantly, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory and French intellectual Henri Bergson’s philosophy of cognitive evolution.  The ideas of impending human evolution and global futurism became the foundation of his spiritual philosophy, sociological theories, political ideology and educational thought.

After graduation from Cambridge, Sri Aurobindo returned to India and became a remarkable political statesman and active revolutionary in the people’s struggle for liberation.  The British government identified him as the most dangerous political revolutionary in India, at the time. Eventually he was imprisoned in solitary confinement for his subversive political activities and civil disobedience.

During his prison term, he experienced a profound spiritual transformation.  He claimed to have genuinely felt the presence of Divinity “as all beings and all that is.” This experience changed his view of the world.  He now visualized all of reality as being “One.” After this event, Sri Aurobindo indulged himself in the study of Indian philosophy.  Hinduism’s metaphysical notion of a monism, a non-dualistic Absolute Reality that exists behind the empirical world of physical appearance, was infused throughout his thought.

Sri Aurobindo was convinced that his political work for India was over and his future responsibility that of the greater work of social service and the conscious transformation of all humankind.  He began reflecting upon political action, social behavior and the future human evolution as being interconnected as a manifestation of the ultimate reality.  That is, our empirical life-world and the so-called metaphysical world are not separate realities but are different manifestations of the unified Absolute Reality.

He realized himself as a spiritual revolutionary advocating the new politics of consciousness. His goal is to see through the empirical world and realize the ultimate unification of being behind this outward appearance.  He stated that it is easier to experience the finite being of the real world but more difficult to see the infinite unification of being. From this realization, Sri Aurobindo began writing volumes of scholarly works on social ills and philosophical positions on political policies while developing a metaphysical idealism of Ultimacy.

Sri Aurobindo began experimenting with various traditional and conventional yoga practices. He became convinced that meditative yoga practices would augment political activity as reflective social action.  Political activism, social work, and the quest for self-realization through unique yogic practice can become interrelated activities. His approach to yoga is an integration of the physical social behavior at the metaphysical level as a holistic system of inner-self meditation and outer-social action: (1) knowing (seeking objective rational knowledge), (2) behavior (cultivating subjective positive social and humanistic mental models), and contemplation (nourishing reflective capitulation to the evolutionary energy of the absolute). His method of Integral Yoga is not a specific physical or psychological procedure of physical postures but it is to consciously surrender to evolutionary energy.  This energy causes increasing levels of personal evolution, spiritual awareness, which is necessary for future social evolution.

In 1947, after the emancipation of India, Sri Aurobindo devoted himself entirely, along with his soul mate and social comrade, Mirra Alfassa (“the Mother”), to liberate the whole of humanity socially and spiritually by advancing Integral Yoga and planetary social activism toward human unity and global evolution.

Sri Aurobindo’s vision of evolution was that of a long slow process of dialectical energy of evolution being the intercourse between spiritual descent into the world and evolutionary ascent of consciousness.  The Aurobindonian idea is that involution is the incarnation of the Divine on earth through descent into the earth nature and thus into the collective embodiment of humankind.  Within this framework, Sri Aurobindo asserts that planetary evolution has resulted in distinctive spheres of existence. He identifies four distinct yet unified earthly realms with a corresponding reality: (I) material realm (physical reality), (II) life realm (biological reality), and (III) intellectual realm (psyche-social reality), and (IV) metaphysical realm (higher consciousness-spiritual reality).

He describes how matter evolved into life resulting ultimately in the emergence of the human species with a novel elevated level of consciousness. With the advent of the human species a more complex process of evolution was set in motion. Because evolution is always in perpetual motion, it follows that the human species cannot be the end point of previous evolutionary movement but is a unique transitional stage.

Likewise, he visualized that seven distinct states of mind or consciousness have evolved with each being more complex than the previous level: (I) Physical mind is the most basic state of the brain producing elemental consciousness.  (II) Vital mind is the state of life mind with a level of consciousness associated with meta-cognition and affective modes of thinking. (III) Mind proper refers to the purely intellectual level. (IV) Higher mind (a transitional state) is the state of mind resulting in the first level of elevated consciousness.  It is a transitional state between base biological mind and that of reflective knowing (higher consciousness).  (V) Illumined mind is a more complex level of consciousness that has characteristics of intuitive knowing and producing hyper-visionary thinking.  (VI) Intuitive mind represents a distinct state of mind and level of consciousness empowered by an astute awareness of Absolute Reality.  This degree of consciousness is found manifested in extraordinary persons endowed with innovative insights and a novel sense of relevance regarding the future human evolution. (VII) Overmind (a transitional state) is a state of mind characterized by a transcendental level of consciousness.  It is the cognitive ability for integrative thinking, unitary knowing and mystical insight. Accordingly, in our age a few individuals have emerged revealing this level of evolution.  They are the pathfinders for future human evolution and eventual world-unity. (VIII) Supermind is a future state of mind, the highest state of psyche, and is a total transformation of the human species into a new breed of life and mind.  While all the previous levels of mind are supported solely by physical, vital, mental-proper and psychic realms of realities,  Supermind is grounded upon Absolute Reality, the Life Divine.  Supermind is the Life Divine fully manifested on Earth.

Sri Aurobindo defines the Supramental as the human consciousness bathed in divine energy.  This energy totally transforms consciousness and in doing so empowers individuals to reconstruct human relations into a social solidarity constructing a collective new world order.

Aurobindonian Idea of Psyche-Social Evolution leading to World Unity/Human Solidarity (Globalisation)

                                                                                      Absolute Reality – Supermind
                                                                                 (Collective Planetary Consciousness)

                                                                                     Over-Mind (transitional state)

    Metaphysical Realm

    (Higher consciousness/spiritual)                                Intuitive Mind
    (Psyche-social )                                                                  Illumined Mind

                                                                                                                     Higher Mind (transitional state)

    Intellectual Realm                                                               Mind Proper
    Life Realm
    (Biological)                                                                             Vital Mind
    Material Realm
    (Physical)                                                                                Physical Mind

Evolutionary Movement of Humankind

Sri Aurobindo argues that Life Divine is not a theory of other worldly reality, strictly an esoteric idealism.  Life Divine is a tangible energy infusing ever-higher expressions of consciousness bringing about greater evolutionary unfolding of human unity into the world.  Supermind results in individuals becoming fully aware of their uniqueness as well as their psychic and social unification with others without perceived contradictions between the two. The process of involution of Life Divine on planet Earth is resulting in the birth of a new species, a “Gnostic being” or a being of knowledge, endowed with the capacity to steer social evolution toward a future state of world-unity.

The involution of divine spirit into individuals´ consciousness is driving societies toward increasingly complex and advanced levels of collective consciousness.  Global societies will continue to evolve toward greater interaction and convergence constructing ever higher degrees of collective consciousness and social globalization.

The convergence of humanity into an intensified world-unity will not result in an impersonal society of estranged individuals but will actually truly individualise its members.  The transformation of consciousness will result in persons becoming free of self-interested ego driven individualism and become reflectively aware of their own psychic development within the context of others. He visualized that humankind has entered a new age of accelerated individual involution and social evolution on a global scale forming associations for collaboration as a unified world society and humanity.  The consequence is that a harmonized collectivity of consciousness, the Supermind and a New Man, is emerging.

He resolutely believed that human progress and global convergence is occurring despite persistent international socioeconomic strife and political conflict.  These setbacks are only evolutionary birth pangs of a coming new age of global cooperation and planetary consciousness.

He believes that the ultimate goal of human evolution is not merely an individual affair but a collective one.  The future is a matter of concern for the global community as a whole.  The community exists by the individual, not vice versa and a perfected community can exist only if the members are perfected.  The community exists to serve the individual but it is the duty of the individual to sacrifice himself for the sake of the community.  Consequently he visualizes a spiritual communism evolving which will embrace both differentiated individualism and a new collective social order of world-unity.

Aurobindonian thought provides a set of significant core values that can serve as the foundation for global education: (1) humankind as species is still in evolutionary movement and that our current state of existence is only a transitory one, (2) current evolutionary movement is progressing on a global scale toward a point of human unity, (3) consciousness is the apex of past evolutionary phenomenon and focal point of future evolutionary expansion, (4) the expansion of consciousness, on both the individual and collective level, has now empowered humankind to direct evolutionary movement, (5) for the next social evolutionary apex to be fully realized demands cooperative action and global solidarity on the part of humankind.  What must precede this is the cooperation of individuals who are consciously reconstructing society into a new global reality, and (6) that the far distant future is visualized as holding positive possibilities (i.e., the Supermind/Life Divine)  that will ultimately transform humankind and reality into a new species of higher integral  essence.

Perhaps the most significant educational value of Aurobindonian thought is the idea that humankind must become educated of the actual possibility of genuine global cooperation.  Sri Aurobindo argued that current political ideologies are insufficient to create a real sense of Ultimacy.  Nationalism is an archaic idea exhausted of relevance to promote human solidarity and world-unity.  If humankind is to survive current international conflict then a radical transformation of human consciousness must first occur to reconstruct society. Thus his globalist and humanistic ideas of evolution positions globalization within an intellectual framework of future Ultimacy.

For the first time in the history of the Earth, a species has emerged that can consciously participate in its own evolution and consciously direct its own journey into the future.  This phenomenon presents an unprecedented opportunity for global educators. Globalization can be advanced through meditative actions and reflective thoughts opening up inestimable untapped human energies.  Political, social and economic problems, which we perceive ourselves as being powerless to solve, can be understood as providing us with unique opportunities to advance human progress.

Aurobindonian adherents allude to what is sociologically being defined as globalization as tangible evidence of his vision of human evolution coming to pass.  Social and political interaction between the West and East, environmental awareness, advancements in science and technology and developments in global education are objective proofs of evolutionary movement toward world-unity and a shift in our collective consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo challenges global educators to participate in social evolution by nurturing the human energy necessary for future progress.  He believed that educational institutions are “laboratories of evolution” and teachers are “evolution agents,” stewards of the movement.  Educational curricular activities must be a synthesis of Western positivism with Eastern metaphysics, as well as other global cultural values. The 21st Century is inevitably going to be a historical epoch of immense change on a global scale that will affect education.  For positive social change to occur, humankind must first be educated for the possibility of such change. Aurobindonian thought is an educational motif of globalization that promotes a sense of Ultimacy giving rise to the civil future of world unity.

Dr. Stephen White

(Dr. Stephen R. White is a professor of educational leadership and theory at Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina.  He has been formally honored for his teaching and scholarship.  Dr White publishes in the areas of adult education, interdisciplinary theory, global education, educational organization, academic program development, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s global philosophy and teaching as [email protected] )