The Importance of the Individual For the Evolutionary Development

While the development of the social order was an important step toward reining in the unrestrained impulses of the self-seeking individual, and at the same time helped the individual to overcome the narcissistic impulse of self-gratification above all other motives, it also remains true that an excessive control by the society over the individual has its dangers as well, which Sri Aurobindo has pointed out:

“There is here a serious danger to the integral development of a greater truth upon earth and a greater life. For the desires and free seekings of the individual, however egoistic, however false or perverted they may be in their immediate form, contain in their obscure cells the seed of a development necessary to the whole; his searchings and stumblings have behind them a force that has to be kept and transmuted into the image of the divine idea. That force needs to be enlightened and trained but must not be suppressed or harnessed exclusively to society’s heavy cart-wheels.”

The mental predilection toward “either/or” solutions tends to avoid the more complex, and more complete solutions that integrate both extremes without necessarily adopting either one entirely. Thus humanity tends to create black and white distinctions between individualism and communal life, and posit an irreconcilable opposition between the two, and then attempt to have us accept one or the other extreme as the truth. Sri Aurobindo, however, recognises that both of these positions represent a real truth of the manifestation and that we need to find a way to integrate them into an harmonious whole: “Individualism is as necessary to the final perfection as the power behind the group-spirit; the stifling of the individual may well be the stifling of the god in man. And in the present balance of humanity there is seldom any real danger of exaggerated individualism breaking up the social integer. There is continually a danger that the exaggerated pressure of the social mass by its heavy unenlightened mechanical weight may suppress or unduly discourage the free development of the individual spirit. For man in the individual can be more easily enlightened, conscious, open to clear influences; man in the mass is still obscure, half-conscious, ruled by universal forces that escape its mastery and its knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pg. 185


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