“Man is a transitional being” – Sri Aurobindo averred when he envisioned the coming of a new species he called “superman”. It is generally not necessary to practice Yoga after you attain Self-realization but both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother continued to do so in order to attain the next stage, which they called the “supramental transformation” (hence the epigram “Sri Aurobindo’s yoga begins where other Yogas end”). This aspect of their work is often misunderstood by pedantic scholars who have the irksome tendency of rashly equating superficially similar ideas espoused by various thinkers across the globe. These scholars tend to claim that Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the superman must have been influenced by Neitzche’s Ubermensch or by Darwin’s theory of evolution. In this article, I will endeavour to demonstrate the actual origin of the concept of the superman through numerous remarks made by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the subject. As much as possible, I shall present original quotations in order to avoid adding a layer of (mis)interpretation.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s views
Before she met Sri Aurobindo in 1914, the Mother had lived with occultists Max and Alma Theon in Algeria from 1906-1908. The three of them had conducted a detailed exploration of the occult worlds which exist “beyond” the physical world. During some of these sojourns, the Mother had seen a “prototype” in the border between the manifested worlds and the Formless regions above it. There are two conversations recorded in the 1960s where she relates these details to her disciple, Satprem. On 7th Nov, 1961, she said:
Well, one time I was there (Theon used to warn against going beyond this domain, because he said you wouldn’t come back), but there I was, wanting to pass over to the other side, when – in a quite unexpected and astounding way – I found myself in the presence of the ‘principle,’ a principle of the human form. It didn’t resemble man as we are used to seeing him, but it was an upright form, standing just on the border between the world of forms and the Formless, like a kind of standard. [[By ‘standard,’ Mother means a sort of model or archetype.]] At that time nobody had ever spoken to me about it and Madame Theon had never seen it – no one had ever seen or said anything. But I felt I was on the verge of discovering a secret.
Afterwards, when I met Sri Aurobindo and talked to him about it, he told me, ‘It is surely the prototype of the supramental form.’ I saw it several times again, later on, and this proved to be true.
The content of another conversation recorded on 12th Oct 1966 is quite similar:
12th Oct, 1966: When one went beyond and entered those regions, then there was … it was the Supreme outside the creation, beyond the creation. That’s where I saw the representative form of the new creation (and that was before I ever heard anything about Sri Aurobindo and the Supermind), that’s where I saw the form that must succeed the human form, like the symbolic representation of the new creation. That was two or three years before I heard of Sri Aurobindo and met him. So when he told me about the supramental creation, I said to him (laughing), “But of course, I know, I saw it up there!” .
There is no record of Sri Aurobindo having similarly glimpsed the “supramental prototype” but according to the diary he kept of his occult experiments (now called “The Record of Yoga”), it seems that in March of 1914, he was shown the vast evolutionary scale through which life evolves on Earth. According to the Hindu scriptures, the universe has been created and destroyed many times. Each such creation, which is called a Kalpa(Aeon), comprises of fourteen Manvantaras(age of Manu) and in each Manvantara, life evolves through the descent of plant, animal and human prototypes from the higher occult worlds into the material world. It is not just one human race, but multiple types of humanoid races which progressively manifest. In the Record of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo calls these prototypes as Pashu, Vanara, Pishacha, Pramatha, Rakshasa, Asura, Deva, Sadhyadeva, Siddhadeva and Satyadeva. You can see a slightly different classification on wikipedia under Manvantara.
In one vision, Sri Aurobindo was given a glimpse of life in the first two Manvantaras
A series of images and a number of intimations have been given yesterday in the chitra-drishti(visions) to illustrate the history of the first two Manwantaras & the vicissitudes through which the human idea has gone in the course of these unnumbered ages. It is not at all surprising that there should be no relics of those vicissitudes in the strata of the present earth; for the present earth is not the soil of the planet as it was in the earliest Manwantaras.
According to another diary entry, he was shown a humanoid race which had existed in an earlier age:
22nd March, 1914:
3. Also in the clouds. Certain scenes of a pursuit in the early Manwantaras of a race of divinised Pashus by Barbarians. Also, animals & arms of other ages. (The latter are common).
The whole of 3 (i.e.the vision above), which is recorded elsewhere, was an instance expressly given of the way in which the Theosophists arrive at their results & shows both their sincerity & the possibilities and pitfalls of their method.
Once, he was shown the animal prototypes which are formed in the higher worlds before the actual animals manifest on the Earth.
26 March, 1914: Fantastic images of animals, a lion with an impossibly slender body, a cock face on a fourfooted animal, belonging to the idea-world of the Manus where types are evolved & varied before they are fixed in the sthula (gross physical world) .
Based on such insights, Sri Aurobindo reached the following conclusion of how evolution proceeds on Earth:
Every race that thus overshoots its mark & goes a step farther than their immediate next race in evolution aids powerfully that evolution, but becomes unfit for survival & has to disappear. For this reason the Gandharva race of the Pashus disappeared & the Asura Rakshasa type reappeared, then took up something of the Gandharva & advanced one step towards the Asura-Pashu of the Asura type. By such overleapings & recoilings human evolution has always advanced .
I have provided a glimpse of the visions Sri Aurobindo had on the occult mechanism behind evolution. The entire text is too voluminous to reproduce here. If you are curious, you can read pages 1323-1335 of the Record of Yoga (CWSA vol 10-11) available online
There are worlds upon worlds “above” our gross physical world, and these worlds shape the forces and forms that eventually manifest in the physical world. Before a species appears on the planet, its prototype becomes visible in these occult worlds. As the Mother explains above, she had seen the “supramental prototype” and that is what convinced her that a new species would someday emerge on earth. In an essay written in the Karmayogin journal sometime in 1909-1910, Sri Aurobindo had explained the occult mechanism that brings about the evolution of a new species:
The whole burden of our human progress has been an attempt to escape from the bondage to the body and the vital impulses. According to the scientific theory, the human being began as the animal, developed through the savage and consummated in the modern civilised man. The Indian theory is different. God created the world by developing the many out of the One and the material out of the spiritual. From the beginning, the objects which compose the physical world were arranged by Him in their causes, developed under the law of their being in the subtle or psychical world and then manifested in the gross or material world. From karana(causal) to sukshma(subtle), from sukshma to sthula(gross physical), and back again, that is the formula. Once manifested in matter the world proceeds by laws which do not change, from age to age, by a regular succession, until it is all withdrawn back again into the source from which it came. The material goes back into the psychical and the psychical is involved in its cause or seed. It is again put out when the period of expansion recurs and runs its course on similar lines but with different details till the period of contraction is due .
(Note: Karana, sukshma, sthula above refer to the gradations of the worlds of consciousness)
Similarly, during a conversation with Ashram inmates, the Mother elucidated on this world of archetypes:
Question: What is “the heavenly archetype of the lotus”?
Mother: It means the primal idea of the lotus.
Each thing that is expressed physically was conceived somewhere before being realised materially.
There is an entire world which is the world of the fashioners, where all conceptions are made. And this world is very high, much higher than all the worlds of the mind; and from there these formations, these creations, these types which have been conceived by the fashioners come down and are expressed in physical realisations. And there is always a great distance between the perfection of the idea and what is materialised. Very often the materialised things are like caricatures in comparison with the primal idea. This is what he calls the archetype. This takes place in worlds… not always the same ones, it depends on the things; but for many things in the physical, the primal ideas, these archetypes, were in what Sri Aurobindo calls the Overmind.
But there is a still higher domain than this where the origins are still purer, and if one reaches this, attains this, one finds the absolutely pure types of what is manifested upon earth. And then it is very interesting to compare, to see to what an extent earthly creation is a frightful distortion. And moreover, it is only when one can reach these regions and see the reality of things in their essence that one can work with knowledge to transform them here; otherwise on what can we take our stand to conceive a better world, more perfect, more beautiful than the existing one? It can’t be on our imagination which is itself something very poor and very material. But if one can enter that consciousness, rise right up to these higher worlds of creation, then with this in one’s consciousness one can work at making material things take their real form .
Those who find this discussion evocative of Plato’s Theory of Forms should not be surprised because Plato’s remarks may have been based his occult perception. Western philosophy tends to appropriate the rational side of Greek thought and ignores its mystical dimension thereby creating a lop-sided view of Greek philosophers.
The preceding discussion raises the question: since the prototype of the next species exists out there, it is guaranteed that there will be a new species a few centuries from now. If that is so, what was the need for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to engage in the supramental transformation? This kind of work is usually driven by Divine guidance (called sankalpa in Sanskrit). They acted because their conscious participation would augment the process, as we can gather from the following passage in the Life Divine. This passage is part of a new chapter which was written by Sri Aurobindo in 1940:
It is conceivable indeed that, without the descent, by a secret pressure from above, by a long evolution, our terrestrial Nature might succeed in entering into a close contact with the higher now superconscient planes and a formation of subliminal Overmind might take place behind the veil; as a result a slow emergence of the consciousness proper to these higher planes might awake on our surface. It is conceivable that in this way there might appear a race of mental beings thinking and acting not by the intellect or reasoning and reflecting intelligence, or not mainly by it, but by an intuitive mentality which would be the first step of an ascending change; this might be followed by an overmentalisation which would carry us to the borders beyond which lies the Supermind or divine Gnosis. But this process would inevitably be a long and toilsome endeavour of Nature. There is a possibility too that what would be achieved might only be an imperfect superior mentalisation; the new higher elements might strongly dominate the consciousness, but they would be still subjected to a modification of their action by the principle of an inferior mentality: there would be a greater expanded and illuminating knowledge, a cognition of a higher order; but it would still undergo a mixture subjecting it to the law of the Ignorance, as Mind undergoes limitation by the law of Life and Matter. For a real transformation there must be a direct and unveiled intervention from above; there would be necessary too a total submission and surrender of the lower consciousness, a cessation of its insistence, a will in it for its separate law of action to be completely annulled by transformation and lose all rights over our being. If these two conditions can be achieved even now by a conscious call and will in the spirit and a participation of our whole manifested and inner being in its change and elevation, the evolution, the transformation can take place by a comparatively swift conscious change; the supramental Consciousness-Force from above and the evolving Consciousness-Force from behind the veil acting on the awakened awareness and will of the mental human being would accomplish by their united power the momentous transition. There would be no farther need of a slow evolution counting many millenniums for each step, the halting and difficult evolution operated by Nature in the past in the unconscious creatures of the Ignorance .
Other concurring views on the prototype
The fact that a “prototype” of every species exists has also been affirmed by other occultists. Madame H.P. Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, states in the Secret Doctrine that the astral prototype of man preceded his physical appearance. After the physical form appeared, it became subject to the processes of differentiation (i.e. Darwinian evolution.) The following text appears in a footnote in the Secret Doctrine:
This will be pooh-poohed, because it will not be understood by our modern men of science; but every Occultist and theosophist will easily realize the process. There can be no objective form on Earth (nor in the Universe either), without its astral prototype being first formed in Space. From Phidias down to the humblest workman in the ceramic art — a sculptor has had to create first of all a model in his mind, then sketch it in one and two dimensional lines, and then only can he reproduce it in a three dimensional or objective figure. And if human mind is a living demonstration of such successive stages in the process of evolution — how can it be otherwise when Nature’s Mind and creative powers are concerned? .
Carlos Castaneda seems to have had an occult vision of the human prototype, as per the text in his book “Fire from Within”. Castaneda refers to the prototype as the “mold of man”. His teacher Don Juan told him that mystics who see the prototype often mistake it for God !
As I gazed into the light with all the passion I was capable of, the light seemed to condense and I saw a man. A shiny man that exuded charisma, love, understanding, sincerity, truth. A man that was the sum total of all that is good. The fervor I felt on seeing that man was well beyond anything I had ever felt in my life. I did fall on my knees. I wanted to worship God personified, but don Juan intervened and whacked me on my left upper chest, close to my clavicle, and I lost sight of God….
He gave me a detailed explanation of what the mold of man was. He did not talk about it in terms of the Eagle’s emanations, but in terms of a pattern of energy that serves to stamp the qualities of humanness on an amorphous blob of biological matter. At least, I understood it that way, especially after he further described the mold of man using a mechanical analogy. He said that it was like a gigantic die that stamps out human beings endlessly as if they were coming to it on a mass production conveyor belt. He vividly mimed the process by bringing the palms of his hands together with great force, as if the die molded a human being each time its two halves were clapped. He also said that every species has a mold of its own, and every individual of every species molded by the process shows characteristics particular to its own kind….
He began then an extremely disturbing elucidation about the mold of man. He said that the old seers as well as the mystics of our world have one thing in common-they have been able to see the mold of man but not understand what it is. Mystics, throughout the centuries, have given us moving accounts of their experiences. But these accounts, however beautiful, are flawed by the gross and despairing mistake of believing the mold of man to be an omnipotent, omniscient creator; and so is the interpretation of the old seers, who called the mold of man a friendly spirit, a protector of man….
For the mold of man cannot under any circumstances help us by intervening in our behalf, or punish our wrongdoings, or reward us in any way. We are simply the product of its stamp; we are its impression. The mold of man is exactly what its name tells us it is, a pattern, a form, a cast that groups together a particular bunch of fiberlike elements, which we call man .
The wikipedia page on Hindu views on evolution claims that a 8th century C.E. scripture called the Tiruvacakam discusses evolution, but after taking a cursory glance at the online translation, I was unable to find a suitable reference.
Advances in biological understanding raise obvious questions as to how the occult prototype influences or interferes with the visible biological aspect. For example, what happens to the prototype when a species become extinct? I don’t know but it is possible that the prototype continues to exist until the dissolution of the universe. One could also wonder how the prototype is affected or changed when a new species is created, either in the laboratory or in the field due to reproductive isolation (the biological term is “speciation”). As it stands, there is disagreement between scientists over what constitutes speciation. In the absence of any original occult insight into these matters, its best to let this question float for now.
In the context of this discussion, it is worth noting that about a hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo had envisioned that one day man would be able to modify plants and animals. In a commentary on the Isha Upanishad written in during the 1913-1914 period, he wrote:
Modern man has not yet succeeded in discovering or using the laws of Life, but there is no reason to suppose that he will not one day make that discovery also. The day must inevitably come when he will be able even to originate no less than to modify freely both plant life and animal life in matter and govern them for his purposes as he now originates mechanisms of material force and modifies and governs its currents, combinations and separate workings so as to abridge distance, to invade the air, to economise the expenditure of his own life energies or to serve a hundred other purposes of human construction, destruction or development .
To conclude, Sri Aurobindo’s idea of the superman was derived neither from Darwin nor Nietzche, but from the occult visions that he and the Mother had experienced. They were aware of the existence of the prototype of a new species and thereafter undertook the work of supramental transformation to prepare for its coming. It would be too onerous to discuss the precise details of the supramental transformation in this article.
People who are exposed to the topic of supramental transformation inevitably ask the question: well, then when is this huge supramental change going to happen? Certainly not in our lifetimes, in which case it doesn’t really matter. There are a couple of occasions when I had to answer this question on this blog so I am going to reproduce the answers here.
In this comment, I said:
“Such high-level questions are best left unanswered because they serve as a litmus test to separate wheat from chaff. Those who are discouraged by such questions tend to be unfit for Yogic practice. On the other hand, those who have received the inner call to practice Yoga will continue to stake the path irrespective of any doubts regarding current status, because they have realized that there is no other choice, since the phenomenal world cannot offer the joys that Yoga brings.
So you have to find the answer on your own through your yogic practice. And if you don’t practice, then the question doesn’t need to be answered, because if I give you an answer, it becomes dogma.”
In another comment, I replied:
“I don’t spend any time speculating on such lofty questions regarding the supramental, mahapralaya, etc. Knowledge in the spiritual path is given on a need-to-know basis. When you are inwardly ready for something, the knowledge will be automatically disclosed to you in a vision.
Until then, one has to focus on bread-and-butter issues. One has to learn to live better by regulating food consumption and speech, sleeping well, extending the duration of mental silence, etc. When you reach a certain stable point in the spiritual path, your intuition awakens and automatically provides you with the answers to the questions as required.”
We end up with some verses from Savitri:
I saw the Omnipotent’s flaming pioneers
Over the heavenly verge which turns towards life
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude,
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,
The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal’s glory still,
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Bodies made beautiful by the spirit’s light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,
Approaching eyes of a diviner man,
Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,
Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.
High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Discoverers of beauty’s sunlit ways
And swimmers of Love’s laughing fiery floods
And dancers within rapture’s golden doors,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature’s face.
(Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Book III, Canto IV)
- Mother’s Agenda. 7th Nov, 1961.
- Mother’s Agenda, 12th Oct, 1966.
- Sri Aurobindo. Record of Yoga, CWSA vol. 10-11, p 1326.
- ibid., p 395.
- ibid., p 410.
- ibid.,p 1334.
- Sri Aurobindo. Essays in Philosophy and Yoga CWSA vol 13, p 18.
- The Mother. Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 7, p 122.
- Sri Aurobindo. The Life Divine, CWSA vol. 21-22, p 956.
- H.P. Blavatsky. The Secret Doctrine, 3rd edition, vol. 2 – Anthropogenesis, London : Theosophical Publishing Society, 1893, p 697. (google books) (online)
- Carlos Castaneda. Fire from Within, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984, pp 254-267 passim. (google books)
- Sri Aurobindo. Isha Upanishad CWSA vol 17, p 536.
- Supermind: descending vs latent
- Progress reports of Sri Aurobindo
- Early mystic experiences of Sri Aurobindo
- Man the microcosm, Universe the macrocosm
- Spacetime in occult worlds
- Twelve occult dimensions
- The latent Consciousness within Matter
- Does Nature revolt against machinery?
- On spirit possession and mental imbalances
- Difference between genius and mysticism
- Why the future is veiled from us
- Perception of Time changes with the concentration of consciousness