In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo describes several standpoints that highlight the relationship between human beings and the material world. The “refusal of the ascetic” simply rejects the material world and does not put any focus or interest in it. The “materialist denial” accepts the physical world as real and focuses on accumulation, development and use of material things in order to achieve some kind of satisfaction, happiness or enjoyment in life. In the case of the materialist, we see a strong emphasis on caring for material objects, not because of their inherent involved consciousness, but as objects for use to enhance the human experience. This bifurcates into those who approach the material objects with detailed care and concern for proper handling, and those who treat material objects as “disposable” and thus, not subject to need for care.

Sri Aurobindo finds a solution to the dilemma posed by the underlying concepts from these two extremes with his statement of an “omnipresent reality”. Consciousness is one and unified, but it becomes involved in Matter and eventually evolves out as successive states of conscious expression develop with Life and Mind. Thus, there is an inherent consciousness in Matter. As we view the atomic structure of Matter we see a highly organised and systematic formation of Energy as the basis of material forms. Scientists nowadays also are beginning to realise that while Matter is made up of Energy, Energy is actually a form of Consciousness.

It is thus possible to relate to the consciousness in Matter and through harmonious organisation, expression of beauty in material forms, and care and proper handling, we actually can enhance our relationship to Matter and influence its responsiveness. At the same time, it is important to not yield to either the extreme of the ascetic or the materialist standpoint, each of which is limited in its understanding of and relationship to the material world within which we exist.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “It is very true that physical things have a consciousness within them which feels and responds to care and is sensitive to careless touch and rough handling. To know or feel that and learn to be careful of them is a great progress of consciousness. … The rough handling and careless breaking or waste and misuse of physical things is a denial of the yogic consciousness and a great hindrance to the bringing down of the Divine Truth to the material plane. … Material things are not to be despised — without them there can be no manifestation in the material world.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Work, Meditation and Love and Devotion, Work pp. 129-145

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at 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.