August 19, 2006

Those two birds on the tree of existence

Survival of Bodily Death: An Esalen Invitational Conference May 22 to 27, 2005: Sri Aurobindo and the Survival Hypothesis Michael Murphy
Hinduism in an Evolutionary Context
Murphy turned next to some of the core features of Aubobindo’s mystical-cosmological vision. Murphy said that Aurobindo’s genius involved bringing together two great lineages of Hindu mystical practice, Vedanta and Tantra, and placing them within a larger evolutionary context. Aurobindo was one of the first deeply realized mystics (if not the first) to take the discovery of evolution quite seriously and incorporate it into his own cosmological vision. Murphy said that this is crucial, because once the centrality of evolution is acknowledged, it encourages us to re-conceptualize the significance of our own spiritual experiences. In particular, experiences that might otherwise be denigrated, such as the spontaneous emergence of siddhis, can be reconceived as budding forms of humanity’s evolutionary advance. Contemporary scholars often classify Aurobindo in the Purna Advaita Vedanta school, but Murphy noted that these scholars often translate "purna" as "integral" where it may in fact be closer in meaning to "fullness."
The Nature of Supermind and the Soul in Evolution
Murphy said that Aurobindo considered all souls as an expression of the Supermind, which is the first emanation from Sachitananda. The Supermind acts to reconcile the unity of Sachitananda with the plurality of mind, life, and matter. It also facilitates the transformation of the manifest world into an ever more prefect manifestation of Sachitananda. In this manner, our own higher souls act upon us to embody our Divine self in the world. Murphy pointed out that far from having a static and dogmatic system of metaphysics, Aurobindo was constantly deconstructing and revising his own cosmology and vision of the Divine. According to Aurobindo’s mature teaching, the human soul has a double aspect or bi-partite structure:
  • First: The Jiva Atman, which is an eternal and ultimate subjectivity.
  • Second: The Chaitya Purusha, which is the individuating aspect involved in the cosmic adventure of Lila. This aspect of the soul can develop a progressive mastery of the cosmic game itself.

When distinguishing these first two aspects, Aurobindo would cite a well-known Vedic hymn: There are two birds on the tree of existence, one eats the sweet fruit and the other regards him and eats not. The bird that enters the evolutionary game is the one that has eaten the sweet fruit of existence, while the one that regards him is the Jiva Atman, the eternal and unchangeable aspect of the soul. According to this view of the soul, reincarnation is the means by which to accelerate the soul’s learning and evolution. In the course of time, all souls co-evolve with the evolving cosmos itself. In fact, when addressing the conundrum of rebirth and survival, Aurobindo suggested that an understanding of cosmic evolution was essential.

The Five Bodies (Koshas) The comic adventure of souls in reincarnation does not merely build the cosmos, it also builds the soul’s subtle bodies, or koshas. Murphy noted that Aurobindo was strongly influenced by the Taittiriya Upanishad, in which these bodies are described in detail. Murphy mentioned five of them:
1. Anamaya kosha – the physical body
2. Pranamaya kosha – the body of ki or chi
3. Manamaya kosha – the mental body
4. Vijnanamaya kosha – the supramental body
5. Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body
This list of multiple bodies is important for contemporary theorizing about the nature of survival and the after life, because when we die physically, Aurobindo said we die step-by-step from each kosha, shedding one at a time. Thus, the evidence for survival that comes from records of mediumistic communication may very well be coming from souls who have not yet shed their lower (more earth-like) bodies. Yet once they have, it may no longer be possible to engage in mediumistic communications with those still alive on the physical plane. Murphy added that a fully liberated and illumined soul can traverse and enter into the various realms that correspond to the outer koshas. As an expression of the Divine Lila, an illumined soul can assume any form it likes and eat any food it desires, all the while chanting "oh wonderful, oh wonderful, oh wonderful."
Preparing for the Afterlife in Other Dimensions
One of Murphy’s main messages was that we can "take charge" of our next life now. We can start preparing our various subtle bodies while still in this life via transformative practice. The more conscious one is in preparation for the process of dying and crossing over, the more one will have already built an "annex" in the next world. But other dimensions of existence are available in addition to our own physical earth. These dimensions are not just dreamy realms but places in which embodied life is possible.
In conclusion, Murphy’s presentation of Aurobindo emphasized that any discussion of human personality, soul, and survival will be incomplete if it does not incorporate an evolutionary cosmology. Without it, we will miss central insights into the deeper purpose and nature of who we are as participants in the evolutionary unfolding. As Aurobindo himself writes on the mystery of rebirth and the survival of bodily death, "the solution depends upon the nature, source and object of the cosmic movement, and as we determine these, so we shall have to conclude about birth, life, death, the before and the hereafter" (p. 743, The Life Divine).

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