The Question of the Role of the Individual in the Universal Creation

Sri Aurobindo raises a question of considerable interest and importance in the context of determining the causes of action. He sets the terms of the discussion as follows: “All action on the normal level is determined by the Gunas; the action which is to be done, kartavyam karma, takes the triple form of giving, askesis and sacrifice, and any or all of these three may assume the character of any of the Gunas. Therefore we have to proceed by the raising of these things to the highest sattwic height of which they are capable and go yet farther beyond to a largeness in which all works become a free self-giving, an energy of the divine Tapas, a perpetual sacrament of the spiritual existence.”

The general terms of action apply across the board to all, but we nevertheless see that there is an element of individuality, which still must be considered and put into its right place in the order of things.

“But this is a general law and all these considerations have been the enunciation of quite general principles and refer indiscriminately to all actions and to all men alike. All can eventually arrive by spiritual evolution to this strong discipline, this large perfection, this highest spiritual state. But while the general rule of mind and action is the same for all men, we see too that there is a constant law of variation and each individual acts not only according to the common laws of the human spirit, mind, will, life, but according to his own nature; each man fulfills different functions or follows a different bent according to the rule of his own circumstances, capacities, turn, character, powers.”

Throughout human history we have seen attempts to either raise up and glorify the individual or the collective development, generally to the exclusion of the other term. The Gita attempts to find the appropriate balance whereby the uniqueness of the individual is incorporated into the larger framework of the divine manifestation. Sri Aurobindo states the question for the seeker after liberation and perfection: “What place is to be assigned to this variation, this individual rule of nature in the spiritual discipline?”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 20, Swabhava and Swadharma, pg. 491


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