The Revolt of Spirit Against Matter: a Two-Thousand-Year-Old Negation Rooted in Buddhism

This post was originally published (perhaps in 2006) is an excerpt is from Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine. The second section will take excerpts from Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet's The Gnostic Circle (1975) and The Vishaal Newsletter (1986) which further discuss the negation of Matter rooted in Buddhism, and the need of a correction in the course of the evolution of consciousness, so that man's journey to the highest heights of Reality can proceed towards its goal of full Realisation of the One Self in multiple form. Ms. Norelli-Bachelet notes that the 2,000 year old revolt against matter was equally a phenomenon of both Eastern and Western spirituality.

Part One 

Sri Aurobindo writes about the mistake of negating material existence and the impulse to transcend material reality in The Life Divine and in Letters on Yoga:

'... this conscious Being which is the truth of the infinite supermind, is more than the universe and lives independently in Its own inexpressible infinity as well as in the cosmic harmonies. World lives by That; That does not live by the world. And as we can enter into the cosmic consciousness and be one with all cosmic existence, so we can enter into the world-transcending consciousness and become superior to all cosmic existence. And then arises the question which first occurred to us, whether the transcendence is necessarily also a rejection. What relation has this universe to the Beyond? 
'For at the gates of the Transcendent stands that mere and perfect Spirit described in the Upanishads, luminous, pure, sustaining the world but inactive in it, without sinews of energy, without flaw of duality, without scar of division, unique, identical, free from all appearance of relation and multiplicity, - the pure Self of the Adwaitins [3], the inactive Brahman, the transcendent Silence. And the mind when it passes those gates suddenly, without intermediate transitions, receives a sense of the unreality of the world and the sole reality of the Silence which is one of the most powerful and convincing experiences of which the human mind is capable. Here, in the perception of this pure Self or of the Non-Being behind it, we have the starting point for a second negation, - parallel at the other pole to the materialistic, but more complete, more final, more perilous in its effects on the individuals or collectivities that hear its potent call to the wilderness, - the refusal of the ascetic.
'It is this revolt of Spirit against Matter that for two thousand years, since Buddhism disturbed the balance of the old Aryan world, has dominated increasingly the Indian mind. Not that the sense of the cosmic illusion is the whole of Indian thought; there are other philosophical statements, other religious aspirations. Nor has some attempt at an adjustment between the two terms been wanting even from the most extreme philosophies. But all have lived in the shadow of the great Refusal and the final end of life for all is the garb of the ascetic. The general conception of existence has been permeated with the Buddhistic theory of the chain of Karma and with the consequent antinomy of bondage and liberation, bondage by birth, liberation by cessation from birth. Therefore all voices are joined in one great consensus that not in this world of dualities can there be our kingdom of heaven, but beyond, whether in the joys of the eternal Vrindavan [4] or the high beatitude of Brahmaloka [5], beyond all manifestations in some ineffable Nirvana [6] or where all separate experience is lost in the featureless unity of the indefinable Existence. And through many centuries a great army of shining witnesses, saints and teachers, names sacred to Indian memory and dominant in Indian imagination, have borne always the same witness and swelled always the same lofty and distant appeal, - renunciation the sole path of knowledge, acceptation of physical life the act of the ignorant, cessation from birth the right use of human birth, the call of the Spirit, the recoil from Matter.
' ... We seek indeed a larger and completer affirmation. We perceive that in the Indian ascetic ideal the great Vedantic formula, "One without a second", has not been read sufficiently in the light of that other formula equally imperative, "All this is the Brahman". The passionate aspiration of man upward to the Divine has not been sufficiently related to the descending movement of the Divine leaning downward to embrace eternally Its manifestation. Its meaning in Matter has not been so well understood as Its truth in the Spirit. The Reality which the Sannyasin seeks has been grasped in its full height, but not, as by the ancient Vedantins, in its full extent and comprehensiveness. But in our completer affirmation we must not minimise the part of the pure spiritual impulse. As we have seen how greatly Materialism has served the ends of the Divine, so we must acknowledge the still greater service rendered by Asceticism to Life. We shall preserve the truths of material Science and its real utilities in the final harmony, even if many or even if all of its existing forms have to be broken or left aside. An even greater scruple of right preservation must guide us in our dealing with the legacy, however actually diminished or depreciated, of the Aryan past.' *
The Life Divine, Chapter III, 'The Two Negations: II - The Refusal of the Ascetic'  
*Notes taken from The Life Divine (as presented in the book):
[3] The Vedantic Monists.
[4] Goloka, the Vaishnava heaven of eternal Beauty and Bliss.
[5] The highest state of pure existence, consciousness and beatitude attainable by the soul without complete extinction in the Indefinable.
[6] Extinction, not necessarily of all being, but of being as we know it; extinction of ego, desire and egotistic action and mentality. 

An Excerpt from Sri Aurobindo's Letters on Yoga on the 'mistake' of Buddha:
'It [the overmind liberation] can't be supreme if there is something beyond it—but there is a liberation even in higher Mind. But in speaking of supreme liberation I was simply taking the Buddhist-Adwaita view for granted and correcting it by saying that this Nirvana view is too negative. Krishna opened the possibility of overmind with its two sides of realisation, static and dynamic. Buddha tried to shoot from mind to Nirvana in the Supreme, just as Shankara did in another way after him. Both agree in overleaping the other stages and trying to get at a nameless and featureless Absolute. Krishna on the other hand was leading by the normal course of evolution. The next normal step is not a featureless Absolute, but the supermind. I consider that in trying to overshoot, Buddha like Shankara made a mistake, calling away the dynamic side of the liberation. Therefore there has to be a correction by Kalki. I was of course dealing with the ten Avatars as a "parable of the evolution", and only explaining the interpretation we can put on it from that point of view. It was not my own view of the thing that I was giving.' [bold emphasis added] '... Krishna opens the possibility of overmind, Buddha tries to shoot beyond to the supreme liberation but that liberation is still negative, not returning upon earth to complete positively the evolution Kalki is to correct this by bringing the Kingdom of the Divine upon earth, destroying the opposing Asura forces.'  
'Krisha is considered the 8th Avatar of the Hindu Line of Ten, Buddha is typically believed to be the 9th of the same line. Part Two presents Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet’s writings on the error of this belief.'

Part Two

Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet discusses in her various books the significance of the negations of Eastern and Western spirituality as an important but surpassable stage in the evolution of consciousness.

In The Gnostic Circle, she writes that the 2160 year Age of Pisces (from 234 BCE to 1926 AD) saw a fossilization of all religions: 
‘... it was during the first 1440 years of the Age that the spiritual experience became dogmatised and subject to the rigid demands of ritual. We find this not only in the religions of the West but the East as well contributed its part to the mosaic.' - The Gnostic Circle, Chapter 8, 'The Age of Pisces'.
 In the The Vishaal Newletter, Volume 1, Issue 2 (p. 7) Norelli-Bachelet writes:
'There has been no spiritual movement of this century that has been sufficiently powerful (and I use the word purposefullly) to arrest the course that science and western materialism are imposing on the world. The reason for this is more than clear. All the spiritual movements have become bogged down in the past and are merely repeating the old formulas. And those formulas were, even in the past, incomplete. They catered to the religions and demands of the spirit, disregarding the life of the body. Indeed, the spirituality we know as 'eastern' is founded on the basic principle of escapism. This is the same as the foundation of western religion and mysticism: the Earth is a hell and birth thereupon is a scourge; salvation lies in heaven or nirvana, -- anywhere, but decidely out of this cosmic dimension and free from the strangling coils of a corruptible flesh.' 

Ms. Norelli-Bachelet discusses the error of considering Buddha as the 9th Evolutionary Avatar in the Hindu Line of Ten, in The Gnostic Circle (p.48-49):
'After Sri Krishna [the 8th Evolutionary Avatar] there seems to be some confusion in spiritual circles regarding the next Avatar and the subsequent stage of development for the Earth. One factor which contributes most to this reigning confusion is that is seems to have been forgotten that the Evolutionary Avatar, when appearing for that particular work, can only come during the Ages which pertain to Vishnu, the force of Preservation, the four faces of the Sphinx, or the four Fixed signs of the zodiac. But it seems that man is in a hurry to fill in the blanks before the time periods are completed, and before even entering the 9th Manifestation [a Time period including the Ages of Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn - 234 BCE to 6246] he has already proclaimed the next Avatar, before actually understanding in full what it is that the advent is to truly mean. Therefore to include the Buddha in the list of Avatars as the 9th, which in the deeper meaning would signify that he was the Avatar of the 9th Manifestation, is impossible. The Buddha's birth and the span of his life formed a part of the 8th Manifestation[a Time period including the Ages of Gemini, Taurus, and Aries 6714 BCE - 234 BCE], opening the way to the 9th, and his function was precisely to bring about a greater cleavage between the seekers after the 'Void' and those seeking fulfillment in the full manifestation of the Divine. It may appear odd to speak here in these terms of the Buddha and the student may consider that one is attempting to minimise his role, or in some way to place him in a negative light. In actual fact we seek to do the contrary. This great spiritual figure was an element that served to bring about a certain depletion in the spiritual effectiveness of India as a nation, and thus contributed to the full entrance of humanity into the age of darkness, a preparation for the coming light. This was a necessary step, though one which nonetheless requires a consequent corrective measure, the work of Kalki, as Sri Aurobindo and the Indian scriptures have pointed out. Kalki, the last Avatar of the Hindu tradition, has as his mission to bring the movement back to its rightful destiny, to join the two poles [Matter and Spirit] and then erase the separation that exists in the reservoir of spiritual energy on the planet. All paths, all realisations can give us the experience of God, but the plan of evolution is only one, though this is all-embracing and makes use of different means to arrive at the Goal. 
      'All forms of spiritual thought and practice that have served to heighten the rift between the two poles of spirit and matter must, at this time, give way to the new creation...'