If we look upon the evolving individual as the engine of change to influence society, we begin to recognise the magnitude of the difficulty involved in the evolution of society. The individual may grow inwardly, recognise the inappropriateness or weakness of a particular aspect of the social code of his society, and yet, continually run into the opposition of society when he tries to implement his new, enlarged view of things from his inner standpoint. This is similar to the issue of trying to change the reactions of the physical body because of some mental or emotional inner recognition of a higher truth of physical life. The body has its own fixed and stable methods, developed over many millenia, and it does not change easily or quickly. The same can be said of the social order, the body of civilized society.
Sri Aurobindo weighs in on the issue: “For, long after the individual has become partially free, a moral organism capable of conscious growth, aware of an inward life, eager for spiritual progress, society continues to be external in its methods, a material and economic organism, mechanical, more intent upon status and self-preservation than on growth and self-perfection.”
Sri Aurobindo outlines what he considers to be the greatest result to date of individual evolution of consciousness impacting the society: It is “…the power he has acquired by his thought-will to compel it to think also, to open itself to the idea of social justice and righteousness, communal sympathy and mutual compassion, to feel after the rule of reason rather than blind custom as the test of its institutions and to look on the mental and moral assent of its individuals as at least one essential element in the validity of its laws.” While clearly this principle has not been fully integrated into society, we see at least the strong aspiration within the social order to bring this about, and we see attempts to embody these principles into the organizing actions, constitutions or rule of law of various social systems. The social order takes this inspiration and converts it into fixed principle and rule.
Sri Aurobindo recognises that this is an intermediate step and that “The greatest future triumph of the thinker will come when he can persuade the individual integer and the collective whole to rest their life-relation and its union and stability upon a free and harmonious consent and self-adaptation, and shape and govern the external by the internal truth rather than to constrain the inner spirit by the tyranny of the external form and structure.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pg. 187