Read Part 1 in this series
How many Hindus, Buddhists or those of other religious orientation actually know that idol worship in India did not begin with the Hindus but rather with the Jains and Buddhists? It’s strange how Hindus today try to ‘ scientifically’ justify or explain idol worship on a lot of right-wing Hindutva sites and pages (although that description is not apt for such worship because the process of consecration of idols and temples in India cannot be equated to European or Semitic paganism which was far more primitive in approach). The problem with the retrogressive, ultra-conventional and ultra-conservative Hindus is that they hold on to rotten remnants of outward Hindu practices of the Puranic revival which came to prominence during the revivalist phase in India that followed its golden age of materialism and science.
Greeks condemned idol-worship as well, calling it ‘chattering to a stone wall’. This was inherited by Protestantism which developed a violent intolerance for it. Greeks themselves prior to Heraclitus, and especially the mystic schools, did not shy away from the use of imagery and elaborate ritual. So the condemnation of Heraclitus cannot really be equated to Islam’s opposition of the idolatrous polytheism of the Arabs or the Protestants going against the saint worship of the Catholic Church.5
In fact, Heraclitus being a rationalist, could not stand the grossness of the physical image. Rather, he believed in gods as psychological presences and cosmic forces. He felt that the physical image often disfigured these deeper, subtler meanings. In this he is kin to our own Vedic seers but without the mystic element. In India it was the reverse. Vedic religion itself, it would appear, did not use any physical images or idols in its worship. It was the protestant movements of Jainism and Buddhism which introduced that practice.5
Limitations of modern science
Fundamental differences in viewpoint between the ancient Greeks and Indians occur when we move deeper into science. India’s ancient scientific philosophy of Sankhya had an idea of evolution of successive conditions of energy which was two centuries ahead of modern science and more complete. Modern science began at the wrong premise because it followed the ancient Greeks. In Sankhya, there is a root energy (mula prakriti) which, as the prime substance, evolves by development into five successive principles: Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, in that order. The Greeks did not give much importance to ether, giving primacy instead to air and fire. However, modern science has rediscovered otherwise, agreeing with Sankhya.5
But as the Greeks failed to go forward from this point, as they failed to dig deeper and achieve discrimination between Prakriti (Nature) and her cosmic principles, so has science failed to go behind matter into consciousness. This job was completed by sage Kapila of India, who went on to conclude that there are 24 tattvas forming the subjective and objective aspects of Nature, and between Prakriti and Purusha, Conscious-Soul and Nature-Energy. The five principles are only principles of the objective evolution.
The focus on nature’s energy to the point of neglect of understanding of the Soul has persisted in modern scientific theory, which believes in energy and not Being. It continues to attempt to identify some primary force or energy as the cause of creation. Just like the Greeks who believed this force to be fire, modern science keeps revising its theory every day as it digs deeper into the sub-atomic realm. Here again we have a materialistic version of Buddhism which believes only in consciousness and no Being and by stilling all consciousness arrives at a Nirvana of non-Being.5
It is perhaps this narrow understanding of cosmic existence that led to the strange views of a single birth and a single lifetime with no possibility of returning to Earth and the only destination post-Earth being an eternal heaven or an eternal hell. This concept of only one life arose from the Judaic religion and has been accentuated further by the purely physical-material focus of science with its conclusions resoundingly denying a soul or a consciousness and attributing everything to chance (even their recent admissions of consciousness are still imperfectly formulated). There is an inability to understand the true concept of rebirth and Karma as expounded in ancient Vedanta and elucidated in detail by Sri Aurobindo and there are deep and lasting impressions left by the last two centuries of pure materialism, positivism, capitalism and commercialism. Sadly this view is expounded by the ever expanding bourgeois around the world including in India.
Putting intellectual-materialism in the context of spiritual evolution
Of course this phase of dry intellectual-materialism had its use, literally bringing us down to earth. Vedanta turned our mind towards the divine, Vaishnavism, towards the emotional nature and Tantra, the lower vital. With Hathayoga, we came down to the physico-vital levels. However, we had to gain an understanding of pure matter in itself and organise material consciousness on Earth as had never been done before. This has been an interesting phase where externalised intellect attempted to conquer material nature and use it for the purposes of breaking the inertia (Tamas) that had accumulated during the dullness of the medieval age. But the problem that emerged is that intentions soon changed from the impartial pursuit of knowledge to purely material ends.
Knowledge began to be pursued with a rajasic spirit of desire, passion, greed and hunger for power. The mental basis of this movement began with the denial of spirituality because of the rapidly growing opposition between science and religion in Europe. Atheism and a denial of anything supra-physical was at the helm of this materialistic revolution. This has in some ways brought back the animal and brute in man and overall disintegration and chaos. It will be a challenge for the newly resurgent spiritual forces to deal with these complexities and make right use of the energies being churned out.
The materialistic phase has been referred to by some occultists as the descent of the Asuric (titanic) forces from the darker regions of the vital worlds, which is normally the result of some form of Divine descent. This makes for a circumstance of battle before victory can be achieved. Even though the Spirit’s way is light and harmony, it must take up battle precisely to extinguish these forces that seek to destroy or pervert the spiritual light.1
Pop-culture portrayal of the next stage for man
This means that our evolution into the next stage must be in the right direction. The portrayal of evolution, whether consciously or subconsciously, in popular culture, especially film, is always an evolution into some hideous monstrosity with freakish strength and an immense potential for destruction. Or, it is some sort of morphing into chimerical forms as if any evolution into the next stage of power or ability has to be accompanied by something brutish or animalistic.
The idea of beauty of form is completely lost in today’s world of utilitarianism and crass commercialism. An increase in brute strength or fancy telekinetic powers (normal to any average yogi) is not a sign of evolution. Beauty and perfection of physical form are extremely important aspects of an evolving being on Earth. The Mother has even said that the Earth was made in order to evolve into a world of divine beauty and she has stressed on the beauty of form defined by inner consciousness and higher consciousness.
Feeble attempts to show control over elements or the thoughts of others and reading them as if reading from a book are childish imaginations of the real dynamics of the mind and its powers. The world has been envisioned as comprising of beings with increased vital force, brute strength and mental powers that are either unbridled and immoral, self-controlled and amoral or have a feeble sense of ‘human’ morality and moral standards, a frail and all too human conscience that is unsure of itself and therefore indecisive and varying in results. All this again begs the question whether they at all consider emotional purification and aesthetic refinement as a part of the overall evolution of mankind.
Has the Darwinistic survival of the fittest, Nietzschean will-to-power, modern Mammon commercialism and Judaic worship of Moloch and Jehovah tainted all the modern ideas of the West so much that brutal, outward display of sheer force and strength is all that comes to mind when they hear the word ‘evolution’? It would appear so, going by the superhero movies of today from X-Men to the Hulk to Superman and many others. It would appear that despite evolving to a much higher degree and sharpness of mental ability and powers, the ‘evolved being’ has somehow remained a savage at heart (not that different from our very own world leaders, emotionally and vitally unregenerate Machiavellians with world-destroying weapons at their disposal) or is morally too frail, like our own Gandhian ahimsa-vadis or Green Peace activists.
The reason for an increase in the pitch and degree of mental, vital or physical abilities is always ‘alien technology’ or some sort of disastrous nuclear accident that happens to harmlessly bestow powers upon humans instead of killing them or a chance exposure to harmful gamma rays or genetic mutation. Whether it is an external alien force, technology or an extra-cosmic god, it seems the idea of something ‘external’ stimulating or assisting ‘evolution’ persists. Even ground-breaking films like the 2011: Space Odyssey reiterates this fact.
The idea is always limited to the material realm, a physical location in space. Even the admittance of something supra-physical is coloured with human, earthly tendencies and gods are remade in the image of man and given human qualities instead of man giving up his lower nature and trying to comprehend and become god-like. The settings are usually a subtler, etherealised version of typical human or terrestrial settings. And, the advent of modern physical science has crystallised this view that what is seen and heard by the senses is the only true reality, all the while admitting the infrared and the ultraviolet that require specialised instruments to be seen as they are invisible to the naked eye! Truly, to ‘see’ God and other intervening worlds also one must develop specialised instruments via the methods of yoga.
One does not need to be a genius to see the contradiction and implied hypocrisy in modern beliefs and methods. There is a belief in a heaven where we sing with angels while retaining our exact same personality with all its flaws, belief in new age views of what Karma is (some sort of Divine justice and retribution that repays in full any wrongs to your personal ego and sensitivities) and so on. As if the entire universe existed only for the propitiation of one person’s petty ego. What a thought indeed! [It must be noted at this juncture that the Buddhist view of Karma itself starkly differs from the original Hindu Vedantic view. To them it is the mass of forces and Samskaras (formations of one’s nature) set into motion by the force of desire. The ignorant new-age, hippie, western view is neither as profound as the Vedantic nor the Buddhistic. It is a misguided, superficial view held by a race of people who are unwilling or impatient to delve deeper into the intricacies and complexities of the Karmic scheme and are satisfied with a shallow, surface understanding of an oceanic concept.]
When Western pop culture is not deriving its ideals from science, science fiction or Christianity, its highest idea of an ideal society, a ‘spiritual life’ is built around a highly romanticised version of early Native American shamanism, animism with earth spirits and crystals and ancestor trees.
Sri Aurobindo’s description of a Gnostic being
It seems the West is still searching for the way back to a biblical Eden instead of looking ahead to, at least, a Vaishnavic Brindavan if not a community of Gnostic individuals or beings who would be the consummation of the spiritual man and whose entire way of being and living will be governed by a vast universality. Here’s Sri Aurobindo describing a Gnostic being in his Magnum Opus The Life Divine.
“All his existence would be fused into oneness with the transcendent and universal Self and Spirit; all his action would originate from and obey the supreme Self and Spirit’s divine governance of Nature. All life would have to him the sense of the Conscious Being, the Purusha within, finding its self-expression in Nature; his life and all its thoughts, feelings, acts would be filled for him with that significance and built upon that foundation of its reality. He would feel the presence of the Divine in every centre of his consciousness, in every vibration of his life-force, in every cell of his body. In all the workings of his force of Nature he would be aware of the workings of the supreme World-Mother, the Supernature; he would see his natural being as the becoming and manifestation of the power of the World-Mother.
In this consciousness he would live and act in an entire transcendent freedom, a complete joy of the spirit, an entire identity with the cosmic self and a spontaneous sympathy with all in the universe. All beings would be to him his own selves, all ways and powers of consciousness would be felt as the ways and powers of his own universality. But in that inclusive universality there would be no bondage to inferior forces, no deflection from his own highest truth: for this truth would envelop all truth of things and keep each in its own place, in a relation of diversified harmony,—it would not admit any confusion, clash, infringing of boundaries, any distortion of the different harmonies that constitute the total harmony. His own life and the world life would be to him like a perfect work of art; it would be as if the creation of a cosmic and spontaneous genius infallible in its working out of a multitudinous order. The gnostic individual would be in the world and of the world, but would also exceed it in his consciousness and live in his self of transcendence above it; he would be universal but free in the universe, individual but not limited by a separative individuality. The true Person is not an isolated entity, his individuality is universal; for he individualises the universe: it is at the same time divinely emergent in a spiritual air of transcendental infinity, like a high cloud-surpassing summit; for he individualises the divine Transcendence.“
Read Part-3 in this four-part series
 Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Volume I, Vol 28, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
 Sri Aurobindo, Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, Vol. 13, The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. www.livingwiseproject.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
You may also like: The Need for India’s Spiritual Light: Invoking Sri Aurobindo’s Visionby Shruti Bakshi
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