Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the type of approaches humankind has taken historically, with altruistic efforts, sympathy, good-will, compassion, harmony as guiding principles is a reasonable first step toward development and expression of a sattwic mode of life. Sattwa, the principle of light and harmony, can aid us in eventually developing into a true spiritual consciousness, but on its own, it too is limited and binds the consciousness. In fact, the sattwic ego that can arise from doing “good works” can be very difficult to see and overcome when the time comes to take on this aspect of the work.
Sri Aurobindo discusses these issues further as follows: “The modicum of imperfect sympathy, knowledge and good-will that the law, need and habit of association engender, is a poor quantum of what is required for a true action. A larger mind, a larger heart, a more ample and generous life-force can do something to help us or help others and avoid the worst offences, but this too is insufficient and will not prevent a mass of troubles and harms and collissions of our preferred good with the good of others. By the very nature of our ego and ignorance we affirm ourselves egoistically even when we most pride ourselves on selflessness and ignorantly even when we most pride ourselves on understanding and knowledge. Altruism taken as a rule of life does not deliver us; it is a potent instrument for self-enlargement and for correction of the narrower ego, but it does not abolish it nor transform it into the true self one with all; the ego of the altruist is as powerful and absorbing as the ego of the selfish and it is often more powerful and insistent because it is a self-righteous and magnified ego.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil, pp. 628-629