In the Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu is asked by his Guru to (spiritually) realize : “Matter is Conscious!”. The ancients believed that Matter was also a form of Consciousness and that this fact could be uncovered through Yoga. This consciousness within Matter discloses itself as the will in the atom, the symmetry of the crystals, the fatigue in metals, etc. There is an Intuition in Matter which holds the action of the material world from the electron to the sun and planets and their contents. To the modern rational mind, any such proposition seems preposterous and untenable. Modern science has found that Matter and Energy are interchangeable but it has not yet been able to resolve the mind-body dichotomy. On this topic, Sri Aurobindo said, “Only by an extension of the field of our consciousness or an unhoped-for increase in our instruments of knowledge can the ancient quarrel be decided.” The Life Divine – I: The Two Negations: The Refusal of the Ascetic In the absence of such an advance on either side, all one can do for now is examine and anticipate the possibilities…
We must fill the immense lacuna we have made,
Re-wed the closed finite’s lonely consonant
With the open vowels of Infinity,
A hyphen must connect Matter and Mind,
The narrow isthmus of the ascending soul:
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Secret Knowledge
Matter as a condensation of Consciousness
There are two possible views of the universe. The first view, espoused by Modern Science, is that Matter is the beginning of things and Spirit is non-existent. It assumes that all things have evolved out of Matter as if by a random play of Chance although Nature does operate according to some fixed laws, possibly the result of some unknown intelligence. In this view, the mind appears to be a play of neurons, no such thing as soul exists and the purpose of man’s life is illusory.
The second view is that all life is a double movement of involution and evolution of Consciousness or Nivritti and Pravritti according to ancient Indian philosophy. In this view, Mind and Life evolve out of Matter (e.g. plants, animals, man on Earth) because they are intrinsically present but latent in principle within Matter. All evolution is seen as a movement of Consciousness breaking itself out from obscurity to express itself in various forms. The Universe is said to consist of seven planes of Consciousness which are merely variations of the same essential substance. As Consciousness descends down the scale, it “becomes thin in pure substance of consciousness and reduced in power of consciousness, thin in light, thin and weak in capacity of delight; it has to resort to a grosser thickness of its diminished stuff and to a strenuous output of its obscurer force to arrive at anything, but this strenuousness of effort and labour is a sign not of strength but of weakness. As we ascend, on the contrary, a finer but far stronger and more truly and spiritually concrete substance emerges, a greater luminosity and potent stuff of consciousness, a subtler, sweeter, purer and more powerfully ecstatic energy of delight.” The Life Divine – II: The Ascent towards Supermind (See Also : Cosmology).
If we entertain the second view, then Matter suggests itself as a coagulation or condensation of consciousness. Matter, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the “result of a certain power and action of consciousness which presents forms of itself to sense perception and it is this quality of sense-perceivedness, so to speak, that gives them the appearance of Matter, i.e. of a certain kind of substantiality inherent in themselves – but in fact they are not self-existent substantial objects but forms of consciousness. The point is that there is no such thing as the self-existent Matter posited by nineteenth century Science.” Letters on Yoga – I: Reason, Science and Yoga – II
A spark of deity lost in Matter’s crypt
Its lustre vanishes in the inconscient planes,
That transitory glow of magic fire
So now dissolved in bright accustomed air.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Symbol Dawn
The latent consciousness in Matter is unlocked through spiritual efflorescence
Normally, our consciousness remains solely identified with the physical body but through Yoga, it can decentralize and widen itself to other beings and objects. In a certain state of consciousness, it is possible to identify oneself with Nature as a whole and discern that the latent Consciousness within Matter. In the words of the English poet William Wordsworth, one might even feel “rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees”. In this passage, the Mother Mirra Alfassa explicates on how one might recover this knowledge.
The starting-point is to seek in yourself that which is independent of the body and the circumstances of life, which is not born of the mental formation that you have been given, the language you speak, the habits and customs of the environment in which you live, the country where you are born or the age to which you belong. You must find, in the depths of your being, that which carries in it a sense of universality, limitless expansion, unbroken continuity. Then you decentralise, extend and widen yourself; you begin to live in all things and in all beings; the barriers separating individuals from each other break down. You think in their thoughts, vibrate in their sensations, feel in their feelings, live in the life of all. What seemed inert suddenly becomes full of life, stones quicken, plants feel and will and suffer, animals speak in a language more or less inarticulate, but clear and expressive; everything is animated by a marvellous consciousness without time or limit. And this is only one aspect of the psychic realisation; there are others, many others. All help you to go beyond the barriers of your egoism, the walls of your external personality, the impotence of your reactions and the incapacity of your will.
A passage for the Powers that move our days,
Occult behind this grosser Nature’s walls,
A gossamer marriage-hall of Mind with Form
Is hidden by a tapestry of dreams;
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Kingdom of Subtle Matter
The hidden planes of Matter
Behind the gross Matter that our senses experience in the physical world, there exist subtle planes of matter as illustrated in the figure above. It is the existence of these subtle planes which explains occult phenomenon such as materialization and dematerialization of objects.
Sri Aurobindo: Water, for instance, is not merely so much oxygen and hydrogen put together – the combination is simply a process or device for enabling the materialisation of a new thing called water; what that new thing really is, is quite another matter. In fact, there are different planes of substance, gross, subtle and more subtle going back to what is called causal (Karana) substance. What is more gross can be reduced to the subtle state and the subtle brought into the gross state; that accounts for dematerialisation and rematerialisation. These are occult processes and are vulgarly regarded as magic. Ordinarily the magician knows nothing of the why and wherefore of what he is doing, he has simply learned the formula or process or else controls elemental beings of the subtler states (planes or worlds) who do the thing for him. The Tibetans indulge widely in occult processes; if you see the books of Madame David Neel who has lived in Tibet you will get an idea of their expertness in these things. But also the Tibetan Lamas know something of the laws of occult (mental and vital) energy and how it can be made to act on physical things. That is something which goes beyond mere magic. The direct power of mind-force or life-force upon Matter can be extended to an almost illimitable degree. It must be remembered that Energy is fundamentally one in all the planes, only taking more and more dense forms, so there is nothing a priori impossible in mind-energy or life-energy acting directly on material energy and substance; if they do, they can make a material object do things or rather can do things with a material object which would be to that object in its ordinary poise or “law” unhabitual and therefore apparently impossible.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – I: Science and Yoga
The twentieth century Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky posited that the three-dimensional world is a projection from a subtler fourth-dimension which is suprasensual but real and that each solid form corresponds to a subtler form in the fourth dimension.  Affirming that perspective, Sri Aurobindo stated that “Agni is the basis of forms as the Sankhya pointed out long ago, i.e. the fiery principle in the three powers radiant, electric and gaseous (the Vedic trinity of Agni) is the agent in producing liquid and solid forms of what is called Matter.” Letters on Yoga – I: Science and Yoga
Attentive to an unseen Truth they seize
A sound as of invisible augur wings,
Voices of an unplumbed significance,
Mutterings that brood in the core of Matter’s sleep.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Secret Knowledge
The Hungry Stones
(The caption is a play on Rabindranath Tagore‘s haunting tale ‘The Hungry Stones‘ in which we find the lines : “That at one time countless unrequited passions and unsatisfied longings and lurid flames of wild blazing pleasure raged within that palace, and that the curse of all the heart-aches and blasted hopes had made its every stone thirsty and hungry, eager to swallow up like a famished ogress any living man who might chance to approach”)
The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Mirra Alfassa, once said that “crystals which are formed in matter already obey a movement of love; but this becomes quite perceptible in the vegetable kingdom, in the tree and plant. It is the need to grow to get more light.” Questions and Answers (1953): 26 August 1953 In the following conversation, she expounds on the latent consciousness within stones and their ability to hold vital forces. This is perhaps the reason why they were regarded as sacred in ancient lore.
Disciple: You say that perhaps stones also feel love?”
Mother: It is possible.
Disciple:Can it be known?
Mother: One can feel it. There is a certain state of consciousness in which one perceives this divine Love wherever it is found, and one does not feel so great a difference between creatures as it appears physically. There is much more aspiration than one would think in things we call inanimate. Much more. In stones also there is a kind of spontaneous sense of what is higher, more noble, more pure, and though they cannot express it in any way, they feel it, and this affects them differently.
Even in things, even in objects, even in stones, there is a strange receptivity which comes from this Presence. There are stones – if you know how to do it – that can accumulate forces. They can accumulate forces, keep them and transmit them. One can take stones (what are called precious stones) and concentrate forces into them and they keep them. And these forces irradiate slowly, very gradually. But if one knows how to do it one can accumulate such a quantity as would last, so to speak, indefinitely.
Disciple: Are these forces of any use when they come out from the stones?
Mother: Certainly, yes! The stone can preserve the force almost indefinitely. There are those stones which can serve as a link, there are stones which can serve as a battery. There are stones which can hold a force for protection. That indeed is remarkable, my child. One can accumulate in a stone (particularly in amethysts) a force for protection, and the force truly protects the one who wears the stone. It is very interesting, I have experienced it. I knew someone who had a stone of this kind, charged with the power of protection, and it was wonderful when he wore it There are stones which can be used to foretell events. Some people know how to read in these stones events which are going to happen. Stones can carry messages. Naturally, this requires an ability on both sides: on one side, a sufficiently strong power of concentration; on the other, a power to see and read directly, without using very precise words either. Consequently, because they can serve as batteries, it means that they carry within them the source of the force itself, otherwise they wouldn’t be receptive. It is a force of this kind that is at the origin of crystallisations, as in rock-crystals, for instance, which form such magnificent patterns, with such a complete harmony, and that comes from one thing alone, this Presence at the centre. Now, one doesn’t see because one has no inner sensibility, but once one has the direct perception of the forces of love behind things, one sees that they are the same everywhere. Even in constructed things: one can come to understand what they say.
The Mother, Questions and Answers (1953): 19 August 1953
Fatigue in Metals as a sign of life/vitality
Fatigue in metails can be taken as a sign of vital-force and life within. The following excerpt is from the Evening Talks by A.B. Purani .
Sri Aurobindo : Do you believe that there can be life in a watch ?
Disciple : Children believe that !
Sri Aurobindo : And I agree with children. The watches behave differently with different men. It is also certain they answer to man’s thought and will.
Disciple : So watches have life !
Sri Aurobindo : You are getting surprises one by one.
Disciple : Flowers have souls – watches have life ! It is baffling. I have heard that motor cars have also life.
Sri Aurobindo : Yes – engines and tools also.
Disciple ; What is called “fatigue in metals”, may it not be a sign of life ?
Sri Aurobindo : Fatigue is a sign of life. There is a consciousness also in metals, as well as mind. Life is everywhere.
Related work of interest
I came across an interesting book “Nature of Matter” edited by the noted astrophysicist Jayant Narlikar. It contains papers presented at a seminar held in Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, from August 24 to 27, 1992. Volume 4 presents an invigorating dialogue between modern science and ancient wisdom contained in the Vedas, Upanishads and other Sutras, focusing thematically on the nature of matter (both living and non-living). Read the book online at http://www.ignca.nic.in/ps_04.htm
- P.D. Ouspensky The Third Canon of Thought, a Key to the Enigmas of the World (New York: Knopf, 1922) http://www.sacred-texts.com/eso/to/to06.htm (accessed 25th Mar 2010)
- A.B. Purani. (1982) Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol 2, p 286.