September 13, 2006

Schelling, Hegel, Sri Aurobindo, Habermas

Intellectually one of the greatest mystics of India after Shankara, and indeed of the world, Sri Aurobindo worked out a whole system of mysticism, which he called Integral Yoga and which had to serve as a kind of road map for students of mysticism. The road map consisted of describing the different levels or stages that a human being (potentially) evolved to in the course of his life. Every level was clearly delineated and marked out the emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth one was able to attain. The levels increase, as we come higher, in complexity, but also in value...
Evolutionary biologists warn us not to see evolution as a fixed blueprint of reality. They want to avoid seeing evolution as a Big Plan that was created on forehand by some omniscient Demiurg. The key word in contemporary evolutionary science is contingency: nature evolves by trial and error. That some species survive and evolve is a matter of chance. These species have the good luck that they are the best fitted to survive in a given environment. But it might as well have been some other species or some other individual.
Not the strong survive but the ones the best fitted, a matter of pure luck and a result of the superabundance of natural variety in the species. There is no natural law to be found that can predict how evolution will proceed. God does play dice. In fact it is his favorite game. He is just as curious how the dice will fall as we are. But each diced fragment of reality, when it occurs, falls into a certain pattern, a social environment, that has developed a sort of habit of behavior. This habit, that has worked well over the years, is not a fixed law. When something better comes up the habit is replaced or re-adapted. It is to this habit that the new dice adapts itself. So it gives the impression that it is evolving.
These are words of criticism that we have to keep in mind when reading Aurobindo. For the central word in his mysticism is evolution. He believed that all of life, not only the material and the biological, evolved. There are some convincing arguments to be found to back up this theory. Also in Europe some philosophers have argued that evolution is not confined to the material and the biological preclusively, but that we can see the workings of evolution also present at the more subtle levels of psychology, philosophy, spirituality and culture at large.
Especially Schelling and Hegel, and in more recent years Habermas, were strong advocates of cultural evolution. It was their main objective to show that cultures and societies evolve in the course of history to greater complexity and to greater value. Hegel believed, just like Aurobindo, that all of life eventually would coincide with Geist, which he saw as the beginning, the steering force and the telos of the world.
In the eyes of Aurobindo spirituality is nothing but a compliance with this steering force of evolution...The big debate concerning these questions is not between creationists and evolutionists, because that debate is a bit silly and childish. But the big issue is really between people who believe in evolution with design and the ones who believe in evolution without design. Aurobindo belonged to the former group. His faith in God´s plan with the world was unshakable. He believed that everything in the cosmos was heading towards ultimate unification in Godhead. For him it was the one crucial axiom that made trust and surrender possible. The great truth of this axiom was to be found in the deep stillness of meditation. It was revealed to Aurobindo in the depth of his ecstasy. Amsterdam, May 10 2006

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