When we look at the working of Nature, we see ample evidence of inbred habits of action and reaction, which we call ‘instinct’ in the world of animals, and which we call the laws of physics in the material world. Consider how it is possible, for instance, that Monarch butterflies carry out a multi-thousand mile migration across four generations of butterflies. There are no schools for butterflies to learn what they need to do in the next generation, so we cannot call thus “nurture” — it is inbred into their genetic instructions. Salmon return to the place where they were born to spawn and breed a new generation. The ability of plants to draw solar energy and convert it into organic life is another one of those embedded activities over which there is no overt conscious control being exercised. What causes this repetition of a fixed cycle?

If we are to consider how to change one of these fixed routines, we are frankly at somewhat of a loss. The embedded habits at the base of the natural world seem to be fixed and unable to be modified. We can do things to prevent the success of a species from carrying out its genetic instructions (such as destroying their habitat or bringing about their extinction), but we cannot, using our mental, vital and physical powers, actually bring about real change at this level.

Similarly, in human life, we find deeply embedded habits that go back to the dawn of human existence, and before, which also, seemingly cannot be changed. This includes things like the “fight or flight” reflex, the infant suckling instinct, sexual attraction and reproduction, and the very way our bodies process and convert food for energy, respond to issues such as lack of sufficient sleep, ‘pecking order’ instinct which leads to Alpha Male responses, bullying, and ranking of people by their wealth or socio-economic status. While some of this can either be accentuated or partially mitigated through societal education or expectations, or through mental or vital disciplines, the core underlying response remains there to arise at unexpected times under a variety of circumstances. Sri Aurobindo recognised these embedded routines as part of Inconscient Nature, and recognised further that they could only be changed by a higher evolutionary force than we at present recognise, the advent and manifestation of a supramental force, in fact.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There is another cause of the general inability to change which at present afflicts the sadhak. It is because the sadhana, as a general fact, has now and for a long time past come down to the Inconscient; the pressure, the call is to change in that part of the nature which depends directly on the Inconscient, the fixed habits, the automatic movements, the mechanical repetitions of the nature, the involuntary reactions to life, all that seems to belong to the fixed character of a man. This has to be done if there is to be any chance of a total spiritual change. The Force (generally and not individually) is working to make that possible, its pressure is for that, — for, on the other levels, the change has already been made possible (not, mind you, assured to everybody). But to open the Inconscient to light is a herculean task; change on the other levels is much easier. As yet this work has only begun and it is not surprising that there seems to be no change in things or people. It will come in time, but not in a hurry.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, The Inconscient, pp. 268-269

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.