Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Sri Aurobindo, a prominent Indian writer of the early 20th century, wrote the following regarding the aim of a spiritual life: “The object is to realize the one divine life pervading all.”

From a naturalistic point of view, this statement is either nonsense or must be taken as a kind of poetic account that uses key words in a non-literal, or specialized way.  I will assume the second and try to interpret this “poetic account” in a way that might be acceptable to a naturalistic thinker.

As a human being, I am capable of a creative response to the conditions of my life.  This creative response is made possible by the interactions of my awareness, intuition, imagination, intelligence, intentionality, and the ability to act upon my intentions.  Through these abilities (to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer), I can transform things in my life that are within my power to change and I can transform my attitude and interpretation of those things that I do not have the power to change.

From the point of view of the Big Bang Theory, we live in a universe that started out in an intense thermodynamic event, an event that engendered a self-organizing process that has led to the formation of dynamic galaxies, planetary systems, and on at least one of those planetary systems ever increasing levels of complexity, intricacy and of organization.  Is not the creative response of my life, which I spoke of above, completely a part of that on-going, intensifying, creative process that began with the Big Bang? 

We know that for the Big Bang to have engendered this on-going and increasing complex organization required that there be a select set of fundamental parameters, and that the interactions between these parameters need to be quite delicately “tuned” to the specific quantities that they in fact are for there to be organization, rather than randomness.  The standard model of particle physics lists roughly twenty of these fundamental parameters (the strengths of the fundamental forces and masses of the fundamental particles).   It is estimated that across the entire range of values these fundamental parameters could take on, only about 1 x 10^120 of the sets of values would result in a universe with organization.  In put this in perspective, the odds that I will win the next ten national lotteries are better than the odds of a universe that can give rise to such things as stars and galaxies.

In reinterpreting Aurobindo's notion of “the divine life,” I am simply using the term to stand for this mysterious self-organizing, creative impetus of the universe – and my awareness of it.  From this perspective, Darwinian evolution is but a stage of this divine process, the stage that brings about the transformation of complex chemistry into complex organisms.  For us humans, beyond the Darwinian biological stage, there is also a stage of cultural evolution that brought about the transformation of the biological organism we call homo sapiens to the creative, spirituals being that are capable of exploring, gather facts, and speculating on the cosmos and our relationship to it.

If my ability to provide a creative response to the conditions of my life is an extension of the Universe’s original self-organization, than this itself is to realize that what I have been talking about as “my” life and “my” abilities are not really such at all – “I” and “my” abilities are part and parcel of the creative impetuous of the universe.  My sense of separateness may itself be a creative response, but the recognition of the ultimate illusion of this separateness reveals to me that what I most truly am is this creative process, which I am renaming “the divine life.”  And in this I have reached Aurobindo’s spiritual aim: “to realize the one divine life pervading all.”

Aurobindo was not interested in justifying the ancient spiritual teachings to Naturalism, yet I don’t think he would have rejected this interpretation.  I think he would have thought that the important thing is to experience and recognize the integral nature of Being -- what the Upanishads mean when they state “Thou Art That.”

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