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The Evolution of Consciousness

Teilhard and Sri Aurobindo compared

Teilhard and Aurobindo both see evolution as a collective and teleological progression through particular levels: Matter, Life and Mind, or Inorganic Earth, Biosphere, and Noosphere.  These stages are almost exactly equivalent to the three evolutionary stages, or three codes, as described by scientific writers like Erich Jantsch and Rush W. Dozier.

Both Teilhard and Aurobindo agree that this evolution is not yet complete (and the other two mentioned authors would not disagree, even if they have not elucidated these future stages).  "Mankind is still embryonic," says Teilhard [The Future of Man, p.280].  And according to Aurobindo, "He cannot be the last term of this evolution.  He is too imperfect an expression of the Spirit [The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.1009].  Teilhard suggest that perhaps man is "the bud from which something more complicated and more centred than man himself should emerge" [The Vision of the Past, p.229].  While Aurobindo states more decisively that the line of evolution cannot stop where man is now, but must go "beyond its present term in him or else beyond him if he himself has not the force to go forwards." [The Life Divine (10th ed.), , pp.249-50]

Thus, like Aurobindo, Teilhard claims that a "privelaged axis" is discernable in evolution, in the development of greatre complexity, greater consciousness, and development of the nervous system and the brain. [Beatrice Bruteau, Evolution towards Divinity, p.154]

Previous spiritual paths, such as yoga and meditation, have always been individual efforts.  But now we have something different.  Both Teilhard and Aurobindo see this next spiritual-evolutionary step as not an indivvidual but a collective one.  Thus Teilhard conceives of - to quote from the summary of Beatrice Bruteau -

"something like a community of individual reflectios uniting themselve in "a single unanimous reflection" [The Phenomenon of Man, p.251].  Multiplicity will...be preserved in this final unity [Writings in time of War, p.113]; as each person "looses himself" in the great One, he will actually find in it all the perfections of his own individuality [Hymn of the Universe, p.26].  the ultimate state of the world must be a system whose unity coincides with a paroxysm of harmonised complexity." [The Phenomenon of Man, p.262]."
Beatrice Bruteau, Evolution toward Divinity - Teilhard de Chardin and the Hindu Traditions, p.35 (Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Ill, 1974)

In Teilhard's vision Humanity as a whole is the powerful reality in which all the thoughts of individuals are steeped, and by which they are guided to form from their linked multiplicity a single spirit of the earth" [Human Energy, p.118].  Likewise according to Sri Aurobindo: "It is our spiritual destiny to manifest and become this supernature, for it is the nature of our unevolved, whole being." [The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.1231]

According to Teilhard,

"The organisation of human energy, taken as a whole...pushes us towards the ultimate formation, over and above each personal element, of a common soul of humanity"
[Human Energy, p.137]

or in other words

"a harmonised collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness." [The Phenomenon of Man, p.251]

Likewise, according to Sri Aurobindo

"...The individual must be the instrument and first field of the transformation; but an isolated individual transformation is not enough...."
[The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.962]

Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard De Chardin agree that the change must be collective, not simply individual.  Yet this collectivity would not negate individual differences and uniqueness,

"for the law of the Supermind is unity fulfilled in diversity, and therefore there would be an infinite diversity in the manifstation of the gnostic (supramental) cnsciousness although that consciousness would still be one in its basis..." [The Life Divine (10th ed.), , p.971]

There are indeed a number of interesting parallels between Aurobindo's and Teilhard's teachings.  Not only are they quite similiar as far as their respective cosmologies go, but both men developed their philosophies at the same time.  M. Andrè Monostier observes that:

"during the First World War, while the corporal stretcher-bearer Teilhard de Chardin was composing inside the trenches of his regient the broad outlines of Le Phénomène humain and Le Milieu divin, 10,000 kilometres away the Indian revolutionary leader Sri Aurobindo was developing in the same way in the pages of the monthly review Arya the essential ideas of his magnum opus, The Life Divine (10th ed.), ."
["Teilhard de Chardin: His Spiritual-Scientific Thought and its Meeting-Point with Sri Aurobindo", Mother India, Monthly Review of Culture (Pondicherry), March 1966]

Yet there is still a very real difference of consciousness between the two men, although the Indian writer K.D. Sethna is perhaps being too harsh when he states:

"Sri Aurobindo had already attained the direct spiritual experience of the fundamental realities he was expounding intellectually in his journal....Teilhard, even in his maturity, was not putting into intellectual language the results of any comparable inner compassing of hidden truths.  All that he had to go upon was a number of vivid intuitions and intense feelings in boyhood and a vibrant spiritual sense in subsequent years.  Surely, these...are of great value.....But they are still worlds apart from the realisation of a master of the via mystica, a supreme Yogi."
 [K. D. Sethna, Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a Focus of Fundamentals, p.100, (Bharatiya Vidya Prakasan, Varanasi, 1973)]

Teilhard's writings show through and through a deep mystical awareness, as the following passage shows:

"Christ invests himself organically with the very majesty of his creation. And it is in no way metaphorical to say that man finds himself capable of experiencing and discovering his God in the whole length, breadth and depth of the world in movement. To be able to say literally to God that one loves him, not only with all one's body, all one's heart and all one's soul, but with every fibre of the unifying universe--that is a prayer than can only be made in space-time." (The Phenomenon of Man, 1955, p. 297)

If this is not a mystical utterance (albeit with a strong and pantheistic slant), I don't know what is.

The more significant point is that Teilhard, working within the framework of the dualistic Christian religion, had conceptual restrictions placed upon him that Aurobindo, who was coming from the much more ecumenical Indian spiritual culture, was blessedly free of.  This difference in religious mileu led to very real doctrinal differences in the teachings of these two great Visionaries, despite the obvious and striking similarities that are there.

An important difference, Sethna points out, between the Aurobindonian and the Teilhardian conceptions of the divine culmination of evolution is that unlike Aurobindo, Teilhard "...puts the realm of perfection still beyond the earth" in a transcendent Omega-Christ principle, and thus "stops short of what the evolution or unfoldment of the Divine hidden in matter should logically reach - a new ceation here which would correspond in all essential terms to the epiphany that already exists in the Divine beyond."  This would seem to be due to his religious conservatism, so that even in his magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard tried to make his vision compatable with Roman Catholicism, and in some other works this tendency is more pronunced.  "A somewhat elastic Roman Catholicism which would not exclude his mystico-scientific weltanschauung of evolution...would wholly satisfy him.  He wants to retain the old form as much as possible for his novel substance; otherwise he could not remain a devout Jesuit in spite of the Church's suspician of his philosophy." [K. D. Sethna, Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a Focus of Fundamentals, pp.36-7,

And certainly,

"Inasmuch as Teilhard conceives of this realisation in an evolutionary light he is an Aurobindonian and helps to a lay a new foundation for individual mystical effort; his philosophy, like Sri Aurobindo's, makes this effort an urge of universal nature itself, a possibility and even an inevitabiity of earth-history....But the cosmic Self - ...Christianly felt as the supreme conscious Centre towards...which the multiplicity of human personal centres converge in a rapture of collective love - ...no matter how evolutionised, does not imply the tremendous radical transformation of man...which the Supermind as understood by Sri Aurobindo must effect: this transformation includes a complete literal divinising of the most material being of man.  For the Aurobindonian Supermind is much more than a hyperpersonal world-unity: it holds in itself the original truth of all the terms worked out in evolutionary nature, including every body in which life and mind emerge and manifest..."
 [K. D. Sethna, Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a Focus of Fundamentals, pp.34-5, (Bharatiya Vidya Prakasan, Varanasi, 1973)]

It is not my intention here to claim one of these great visionaries is superior to the other.  Both contributed much of insight and understanding to how the universe and evolution works.  Sri Aurobindo as a master Yogi provides a greater emphasis and description of yogic and spiritual states of consciousness.  Teilhard as a scientist as well as mystic maps out the stages of the earth's collective evolution - through inorganic to biosphere to noosphere and then beyond.  Taking what each offers in conjunction gives us a magnificant vision of the development of consciousness and the mighty arrow of evolution.




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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 21 June 1998, last modified 6 July 2004