EMERGING CONSCIOUSNESS FOR A NEW HUMANKIND
Paulos Mar Gregorios
If history is documented memory, then the history of the human consciousness is very short indeed. Fortunately, memory is more than history, and the human consciousness has a longer memory than its documented history. My desire in this paper is to trace the outlines of the development of human consciousness, in order that we may gain some understanding of where it is going in the near future. And in order to trace that development, I have often to step outside the limits of our documented history. Academic scholarship is part of that developed consciousness and its competence to judge such matters needs often to be questioned. Therefore, I must ask the academic scholarship to bear with me if all I say cannot be documented.
The human consciousness has a beginning, which remains elusive to our methods of investigation. Where was the first human consciousness: Was it only in one place, or did it emerge in a dozen different areas? And if the first human (African) couples had parents, as they no doubt must have had, who were these parents, and how and in what way were the children different from their parents? How could the children be human and the parents animal or sub-human? This problem of the difficulty of tracing the line of demarcation (between human and animal) will occur elsewhere, for example, between Vegetable and animal, or between inorganic and organic. From the beginning, we should be prepared to examine the thesis that consciousness has no boundaries, and is perhaps a single unit with many modes. That thesis, as old as consciousness in humanity, we shall not examine in detail in this paper. So it seems that the emergence of human consciousness as distinct from animal consciousness is historically and even conceptually untraceable. And the infancy of that human consciousness also remains untraceable. Scientists tell us today that humanity of our kind has been around on our planet for more than 600,000 years, but that is a rough estimate, a good guess based on available evidence, one that may have to be substantially revised later on, in the light of new evidence. Is it not surprising that most of the history of the human race is pre-historic in the sense that the fully documented history hardly goes back 6,000 years -- not even one percent of humanity's existence on earth? What is the significance of the fact that the human consciousness cannot document ninety-nine percent of its historical development? For me one thing is clear. We know so little, with our conscious minds, of the true nature of our consciousness. What Biology, Psychology and other modern disciplines can tell us about human mind and its evolution cannot even give us a clue to its real nature. For that clue we may have to trust the deeper reaches of our consciousness.
1. CONSCIOUSNESS IN HISTORY
As consciousness emerges into remembered and documented history about 6,000 years ago, it is a universal phenomenon with many common characteristics, but also with local peculiarities reflected in differences of language, culture, myth and ritual. But the common characteristics of this universal human consciousness as it emerges into historical view are striking. From Father Smith to Mircea Eleade, there have been many attempts to trace the main elements of this "Primal Vision" through the study of 'primitive' cultures. Our kind of rationality is certainly not one of these characteristics. Neither is the modern confidence that an individual mind can grasp reality through rational thinking. What was there was an unverbalised awareness that one's mind and body were part of a whole which included not only other living human persons, but also earth and sun, river and mountain, plants and animals, the tribal ancestors and many mythical beings. One lived this unity with the whole through dance and song, myth and ritual, rather than talk or write about it. Talking and writing may be important for us children of the European Enlightenment, with our pronounced individualism and exaggerated confidence about language and proposition. But we will never experience that fundamental unity through talking and writing. It has to be experienced, sensed, and lived even today and even for us, the children of the European Enlightenment.
The second aspect of this Primal Vision was the awareness that there was more than what met the eye and the ear. This little corner of the universe where we run about and play is only that -- a little corner which by no means openly reveals the nature of the whole. That nature has to be sought first through our sense-perception, through language and myth, worship and ritual, then beyond these through a disciplined search, to a realisation, which cannot be expressed in words. The Primal Vision was universal and is still universal. It is not only in the "primitive" tribes that it survives. It lives today in the suppressed layers of the consciousness of us, the children of the European Enlightenment. And my strong thesis today is that we must reactivate this layer of our consciousness if we need to recover wholeness and healing. Both aspects of the primal vision are important -- the unverbalized, ritually experienced awareness of wholeness, and the disciplined search for the hidden meaning of the whole.
2. THE EMERGENCE OF VERBALIZED CONSCIOUSNESS
This second stage (always speaking of the later one percent of time of conscious human existence) was also universal. Language became rich and diversified but was always supplemented by ritual music and dance to express the deeper dimensions of human experience and perception. With language, the self emerges as subject distinguished from object. The self as it emerges in prehistory is not totally alienated from the social, biological and inorganic environment. In fact, on the contrary, the higher quest in all East Asian religions is to experience and realise the unity and oneness of the personal self with the cosmic self. This is the witness of two of the oldest spiritual traditions -- the Indian and the Chinese. And culture arises in this context -- of relating the personal self to the social self and to the cosmic self. At this stage, the world is not an object for the subjective self to explore and manipulate. The world, like the body, is where you are -- the matrix and manifestation of the self. It is only after the European Enlightenment that people begin to think systematically of the person as subject and the world as object.
The development of language brings about new possibilities of cultural development. Language as it develops is largely spoken and very little written. Alas, this leaves us today in the dark, or at least very much in the dark, about what our pre-historic ancestors thought and said. Spoken language was one new symbolic expression of man's emerging consciousness. Written language is only a symbolic expression of what is itself a symbolic expression, namely, spoken language. As often language developed, along with greater elaboration in cult and ritual, the human consciousness rose to a new level. But this level was not without distortions. As verbal enrichment and conceptual clarity emerged, the possibilities of false perception also increased. The new perceptions were themselves the result of the added facility of clear conceptual language. There was more prose than poetry. Words in the previous language were evocative rather than descriptive, activity in the right hemisphere of the brain decreased often, as the left hemisphere developed; philosophy, mathematics and the rudiments of science developed, but also language which directed ritual and morality with greater precision and clarity. The Sutra for meditation gives place to the sloka for disquisition, description and prescription. As greater manipulation of the external world became possible through language (descriptive and prescriptive) the inner world becomes turbulent with impingements from that external world. Where there was experience of inner harmony with the external world from which humanity was emerging, there was now the new struggle -- that of adaptation to the external world, and the effort to manipulate that world to suit one's needs.
As agriculture and rudimentary technology developed and became more sophisticated, the new environmental transactions began demanding new adjustments in the body and in the brain functions. Evolution became more rapid -- not bodily adaptation so much as mental development. The drastic acceleration in evolution takes place in the form of culture, which included ritual and morality, but also new methods of cultivation, hunting and housing -- leading to what we call civilisation with the accent on the civitas or urban development. But this civilisation was far from secular in our sense of the term. It was deeply pervaded by religious perceptions mythically or ritually expressed. The dealing with the immediate environment through gathering knowledge about it, and manipulating it in accordance with that knowledge are material processes, but always within a matrix of spiritual and religious presupposition about oneself, other selves, the external world and the God or gods involved in every natural phenomenon and process. Language, written or spoken, becomes the major instrument of consciousness, but by no means its only instrument. Myth and ritual always under-gird and even shape language.
3. EVOLUTION: INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC
In order to understand the nature of the problems facing the human consciousness today and the possibilities before it, we need to study the dialectic between intrinsic evolution and extrinsic evolution in the human species. One way of grappling with this problem is to use the conceptual tools developed by Edward T. Hall in his books: The Silent Language (1959), The Hidden Dimension (1966), Beyond Culture (Doubleday Anchor 1976). His basic concept is ET -- not Extra-Terrestrial, but Extension Transference. Simply put, it goes like this: Human societies create externalisations of processes, for example, instead of cutting meat with your teeth, you do it with a knife; instead of speaking, you write; instead of walking, you roll in a two-wheeled or four-wheeled carriage with or without a mechanical motor. As these externalisations of internal body/mental processes develop, they can be separated from humanity and reified or 'thingified'. Among the examples cited, the knife, the pen and the motor car are things which can be made by others and bought by me. They are taken to the market, along with the products of agriculture. All things including food, drink, clothing and artifacts became commodities. Air and water alone are largely exempted because of abundant and uncontrolled supply. One of the greatest crises in the development of consciousness has come about in the period of universal affluence and consumption explosion. As affluence comes within reach, and the commodities become available without visible limit, there is a tremendous pull on consciousness towards the means and manifestations of affluence, reified and external to consciousness. This pull becomes universal and children brought up within such a culture are unable to resist it. As consciousness becomes forcibly attached to commodities and things, the other capacity of consciousness, to be at one with itself is turbulently ruffled. The mind is thus a battleground -- the extrinsic evolution affecting the intrinsic evolution of consciousness. As knowledge develops through extrinsic evolution of consciousness in its capacity to know things, to know how they work (science), and to know how to work on them (technology), there is a concomitant development of intrinsic ignorance. Extrinsic evolution is by separative knowledge, while there is a corresponding devolution in the intrinsic aspect of consciousness and its capacity for integrative knowledge of the whole and the self. As the objective and physical order becomes better known and so more real, the inner realm and spiritual realities became less perceptible, less held in awareness. Growth in knowledge of the external world thus becomes correlated to an increase in ignorance of the world of the whole and the self. Sri Aurobindo analyses this ignorance in terms of a sevenfold self-ignorance:
This is a summary of Sri Aurobindo's perception of Avidya (ignorance) of the human problem in general. It is against this multiple ignorance that the sage of Pondicherry would prescribe integral Yoga as the medicine. An integral Yoga includes as a vital and indispensable element in its total and ultimate aim the conversion of the whole being into a higher spiritual consciousness and a larger divine existence (The Synthesis of Yoga p. 265). Aurobindo suggests that not all may be able to plunge headlong into this 'larger divine existence', and may be better advised to master the Karmayoga first. But the ultimate aim is to reach the 'supra-mental consciousness' where the dominant reality is integration of will, emotion and consciousness, in 'union with the Divine' Reality of our being and all being (p. 266).
4. THE NATURE OF THE NEW CONSCIOUSNESS
The main point of this paper emerges here. It is Sri Aurobindo's point that overcoming the multifold ignorance through integral Yoga is the solution to the human problem. While agreeing with this solution as a partial answer, from my Christian perspective I need to go farther into dimensions beyond this solution. Aurobindo admits that supra-mental consciousness, experiencing the unity of one's own being and of all being with the Divine, is a 'difficult, distant, ultimate stages, the end of a far off vista' not an immediate objective, but one that comes after jumping over many obstacles. It is at this point of this ultimate objective that I wish to express my qualms. I submit that there are two qualifications to Sri Aurobindo's programme which are implied in it, but not adequately worked out. These two aspects are (a) community, and (b) the material world. Both are implied in Sri Aurobindo's perception that the ultimate aim is the realisation of the unity of one's own being and of all beings with the Divine. My contention is that, even in this side of attaining the supra-mental consciousness this unity must be worked out in a different way as a guide to social living in a world of science and technology, and further, that such a working out of community life and scientific technological mastery will alter the content of the experience of the supra-mental. There is no doubt that Sri Aurobindo and Sri Ramana had an experience of the over-mind. My submission, presumptuous as it may seem, is that we need a different quality of self-realisation through community living and scientific-technological mastery of the external world. And both in projecting the ultimate objective and in clearing the path to it. Community living and mastery of the external world through science and technology have an essential role. Sri Aurobindo is unlikely to agree with me at this point. For him science-technology and perhaps even community life, belong to the world of multi-fold ignorance, to the inferior mind and not to ultimate reality. I suspect that, again speaking very presumptuously, that is what has gone wrong in Pondicherry, both at the Pondicherry Ashram and at Auroville, as well as at the Ashram in Delhi. I am not suggesting that a harmonious community, knowing and producing through science-technology is the ultimate goal of humanity. But I am suggesting that the very quest must begin not from the ego's need for emancipation and realization, but from the perception that our unity in being with other human persons and with the material world has to find expression in an integral community Yoga which aims at the emancipation of the whole of reality and not just of one's own ego. According to Sri Aurobindo, the pursuit is one of knowledge 'a state of knowledge by which we can touch, enter or know by identity this Eternal, Infinite and Absolute, a consciousness other than our ordinary consciousness of ideas and forms and things, a knowledge that is not what we call knowledge but something self-existent, everlasting, infinite (op.cit. p. 273). My contention is that the shaping of our ordinary consciousness has something to do with the content of other consciousness into which we have to enter. This is a major point of disagreement, and I do not want in the name of agreement between Christians and Hindus to blur this difference of perception which is crucial. The Advaita Vedantin often takes the dogmatic position that change, which is related to time has nothing to do with Truth, which is unchanging and eternal. As a Christian I do not agree with this view. I more or less summarily reject the following view of Sri Aurobindo:
Without settling this question of the nature of the truth, we cannot begin to work towards delineating the cartoons of the "emerging consciousness for a new human kind". At this point, I must go into a certain amount of tedious Christian theologising, in order to give some content to the expression of my own belief as a Christian.
5. THE NATURE OF TRUTH AND OF REALITY
Truth and Reality are difficult terms to expound or clarify. Etymologically the English world Truth is troth, that which is reliable and trustworthy. In the Christian tradition, the Hebrew expressions emeth and emunah, both of which are translated 'truth', have the connotation of steadfastness and reliability. Steadfastness is different from unchangingness. For the Hebrew, the unchanging is static, but steadfastness is dynamic, active, and compassionate, not impersonal. In fact in many instances truth is compounded with mercy, love and justice. Just to cite a few examples,
Deuteronomy 32:4- 'a God of Truth (emunah), no evil' merciful and upright.
Genesis 24: 27- "Blessed be Yahweh the God of my master Abraham who never forsakes his steadfast love (hased) and his truth (emeth) to my Master.
Exodus 34: 6- "And Yahweh passed by in front of him (Moses) and Yahweh proclaimed: Yahweh, God merciful (rahim) and gracious, forbearing, great in his unfailing love (hased) and truth (emeth).
II. Samuel 2:6- "And may Yahweh do steadfast love (hased) and truth (emeth) with You. Psalm 25:10- "All the ways of Yahweh are unfailing (hased) and truth (emeth) to those who keep covenant with Him and his testimonies.
Psalm 98:3- "He (Yahweh) has remembered his unfailing love (hased) and his truth (emunah) to the house of Israel".
These are not accidental coincidences. They form a pattern in the Old Testament. The words emeth, emunah and hased have stood for truth, faithfulness, mercy, love and unfailing dependability. And this is the basic Christian understanding of Truth not as "unsublated by subsequent experience" but as reliability and dependability, in love, compassion and uprightness. This is not an impersonal understanding of truth. The idea of changelessness is there, but not in a static sense, but in the sense of an ever recurring but also surprising fidelity and reliability. It is my philosophical contention that that is the only kind of truth one can attain while we are in the body and possibly also without the body. Even when one experience the unity of one's being with the being of all selves and of the world, this is not a knowledge which has no further to go. I know that Vedantins believe that the Sakshatkara is the terminus beyond which there is neither road nor need to proceed. I cannot accept that belief, and I do hope that Sri Ramana and Sri Aurobindo are still proceeding along new paths. As a Christian, I want to experience my oneness with God and with his universe, but I believe that when I do experience that oneness I would only have started on a quest which goes on indefinitely, with ever new surprises and new stages of realization and growth into perfection. But I believe also that once I proceed on the quest after having realised my oneness with the all, I would be doubly concerned to carry the rest of humanity and its alienated consciousness with me. I would want all humanity to experience this oneness and to desist from the follies that arise from the separated consciousness. The important point is that, I do not experience truth as unchanging or static. Truth is power -- dynamic power, compassionate, wise, creative power, power in love and freedom. Truth is not the stopping point, but the starting point of true existence. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free"-- free to live and not just be. Truth is love, for God is love. Love is the all-binding element of consciousness and truth is experienced when my unity with all is experienced as love and not as a concept. It is the truth-love combination we have to experience in our consciousness that requires this integration of truth with love, reality with compassion, of fidelity with goodness, reliability with righteousness.
6. THE EMERGENCE OF THE NEW CONSCIOUSNESS
If emeth and hased, reliable truth and unfailing love, are thus integral to each other, and if our unity with all being is not merely a given, but also a task to be worked out through love, the spirituality for this new consciousness must break new ground, going beyond the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and beyond the simplistic advaita of many of its modern exponents. Integrated Yoga still demands a shedding of all interest in the passing world revealed to our seven-fold ignorance. The new Yoga asks that we turn to this world with a new love, a new redeeming compassion towards it, and a passionate interest in it not to make it serve my ends, but to make it serve its own best interests. I have no name for this new Yoga. To call it Integral Yoga would be to invite misunderstanding. It is a community Yoga which takes the Vyavaharika loka seriously, seeking to make it a manifestation of love, beauty and Goodness. It is at this point that we have to transcend all naive simplicisms. A heroically new spirituality is called for -- a spirituality in which people of all faiths, and the secular devotees of science/technology can all find a role to play, a participating role which completes and enriches the whole. It goes beyond Integral Yoga in the sense that it both acknowledges the evanescent and transitory character of this world, and still takes it seriously, just as we take food, air and water seriously, though we don't think they are the truth. But just as one cannot live without food, air and water, human beings cannot realize the truth without going through this world of historical reality, and the problems of living together in it. It takes this world sufficiently seriously to be pre-occupied with it as the arena where truth has to be made manifest -- loving, compassionate, life-giving, dependable truth. It takes community seriously enough not to be totally concerned about one's own personal sakshatkara or nirvana but to be passionately committed to the community's common quest for manifesting the compassionate, loving, dependable truth of God in the midst of all the struggle and strife, selfishness and discord. It can be called 'Integral Community Yoga' because it wants to integrate inner and outer reality in a holistic approach, because it seeks fulfillment of a community rather than that of individuals, and because it is a community discipline which demands the best in us.
I submit that the basis of this 'Integral Community Yoga' would be threefold:
The new consciousness wave that is abroad in the West has many possibilities, but many dangers also are inherent in that wave. The fascination of the spirit world can be a trap, and without proper guidance people can slip into greater unfreedoms. I would like to suggest some rules of thumb for guidance:
GOD BLESS YOU ALL.
(From: Emerging Consciousness For A New Humankind: Asian Inter religious Concern, Ed. Michael von Bruck, ATC, 1985, pp. 93-109)