Saturday, August 16, 2008

Man must aspire to go beyond his intellect


"What is the scope of your study ?" an Indian who had travelled to Athens asked Socrates, according to Aristoxenus, a disciple of Aristotle.
"We are trying to know man", replied Socrates. The Indian laughed. "How can you know man without first knowing God ?" was the Indian’s rejoinder.
The Indian psyche believed that man is only one of the numerous manifestations of a Primary Cause. He may be of great significance, but we cannot fully understand him if we view him as an independent phenomenon. He as well as everything else can be understood only when we understand THAT from which everything emerges.
This Upanishadic truth, considered for long as a mystic jargon by many, is fast tending to become a universal realisation. Everything in the phenomenal universe is related to one another because everything owes its origin to one thing—call it a Power, a Force, a Reality or Brahman or X. Also, because that essential X, in an evident or hidden form, is present in everything, that things are related to one another. This fact of inter-relationship of a grand unifying truth in Nature is tersely described by Paul Davies :
"Without electro-magnetism there would be no atoms, no chemistry or biology, and no heat or light from the sun. If there were no strong nuclear force then nuclei could not exist, and so again there would be no atoms or molecules, no chemistry or biology, nor would the sun and stars be able to generate heat and light from nuclear energy. Even the weak force plays a crucial role in shaping the universe. If it did not exist, the nuclear reactions in the sun and stars could not proceed, and supernovae would probably not occur, and the vital life-giving heavy elements would therefore be unable to permeate the universe. Life might well be impossible. When we remember that these four very different types of forces, each one vital for generating the complex structures that make our universe so active and interesting, all derive from a single, simple superforce, the ingenuity of it all literally boggles the mind."1
To know in its entirety any single phenomenon from its surface is well-nigh impossible. But if one could know the essential X, knowing itself assumes a new meaning, a new dimension.
To enable man to reach that point is to liberate him, and that was deemed to be the purpose of education. Sa vidya ya vimuktaye (Education liberates) says the Vishnu Purana.2
In a sense, the process of evolution itself is a process of liberation. The manifestation of the earliest forms of life as plants out of the apparently lifeless matter was a step towards liberation of the imprisoned consciousness. A far greater degree of freedom of consciousness—and an exercise of that freedom in infinitely variant ways—was possible with the emergence of the primeval creatures, from worms and insects to the whales and the dinosaur, from the birds to the beasts of incalculable varieties.3
That urge for freedom inherent in Nature, for releasing its possibilities and potentialities, received a new turn with the emergence of man, "at the bottom an animal, midway a citizen, and at the top a divine"as Henry Ward Beecher put it. And he added, "But the climate of this world is such that few ripen at the top."3
The process of education was set into motion to create the necessary climate for a proper ‘ripening’ of man—and long has been the history of this process, experience and intuition, necessity and curiosity, demands of environment and quest for the meaning of life, all contributing to it.
Man, needless to say, is the only creature who has never stopped growing. With relentless zeal he has not only adapted himself to the changing environment, but also has obliged the environment to adapt to his conveniences. Emerging from the world of primeval Nature he has created for himself new worlds—of art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy and spirituality. His activities and achievements in all these spheres have again meant nothing but the gradual realisation of his own potentialities, a joy in the freedom of expression, experience and adventure.
If the process of evolution itself is a movement of consciousness realising its own freedom from its bondage to material and other limitations, the 20th century, the era we are leaving behind, has witnessed the most momentous events and ideas ensuring greater freedom for man in several fronts. Imperialism, colonialism, monarchy and feudalism collapsed—all ensuring man’s social, political and economic freedom. Several revolutions and reformations, emancipation of women from social taboos and discrimination, end of apartheid—all point in the same direction. Science and technology have played their role in according a greater dignity to the individual.
But these facts of external freedom do not mean much unless they culminate in a freedom from ignorance. Sri Aurobindo believes that the realisation of such a freedom is not only a possibility, but also a certainty inherent in the very nature of evolutionary developments. The true role of education is in preparing and helping man to arrive there—at a new phase of evolution.
Man is neither an accident nor a freak of Nature. He is an evolving being, awaiting his fulfilment. Not doubt, he has come a long way from his primitive existence via a stage dominated by vital impulses, he has been a mental creature for long and has achieved marvels with his intelligence and intellect. Proud of intellect we may be, but as Einstein warns, "We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality."4
Man must aspire to go beyond his intellect.
But first the spirit’s ascent we must achieve
Out of the chasm from which our nature rose.
The soul must soar sovereign above the form
Our hearts we must inform with heavenly strength.
Surprise the animal with the occult god.
Then kindling the gold tongue of sacrifice,
Calling the powers of a bright hemisphere,
We shall shed the discredit of our mortal state,
Make the abysm a road for Heaven’s descent,
Acquaint our depths with the supernal Ray
And cleave the darkness with the mystic Fire.5
— Sri Aurobindo, Savitri
To view man from this angle presented by Sri Aurobindo and to visualise a system of education in keeping with such a destiny of man is a call for a grand adventure. It is time we respond to it. Aurobindo On Education by Manoj Das


  1. Hello,

    Could you please list the source of the quote attributed to Aristoxenus?

  2. But how does one go beyond the intellect?

    The usual intellect IS fear. And fearful of its dis-solution.Its entire strategy is to prevent that necessary dissolution.

    It is also incapable of going through the "dark night of the soul" which is the necessary pre-condition for going beyond, or more correctly transcending the intellect.