Distinguishing the Cosmic Self from Collective Humanity

There is quite a bit of confusion about the meaning behind the concept of dissolution of the ego-consciousness. This confusion is due to the impression that many have that the collectivity of humanity and service of that collectivity is an action of the cosmic self. Sri Aurobindo clarifies the issue by distinguishing between the society and the collective assembly of human individuals and the true spiritual significance of the cosmic Self as something which transcends them. “But this cosmic self is spiritual in essence and in experience; it must not be confused with the collective existence, with any group soul or the life and body of a human society or even of all mankind.”

Altruistic service to humanity, in some form or other, is frequently seen as a spiritual act. Similarly, various societies throughout history, including in today’s world, place a higher significance on the development and progress of humanity as a whole than on that of the individual, who is expected to subordinate himself to this collective endeavor. “The subordination of the ego to the progress and happiness of the human race is now a governing idea in the world’s thought and ethics; but this is a mental and moral and not a spiritual ideal.”

“The consciousness of collective humanity is only a larger comprehensive edition or a sum of individual egos. Made of the same substance, in the same mould of nature, it has not in it any greater light, any more eternal sense of itself, any purer source of peace, joy and deliverance.”

“The individual is in this respect greater than the mass and cannot be called on to subordinate his more luminous possibilities to this darker entity. If light, peace, deliverance, a better state of existence are to come, they must descend into the soul from something wider than the individual but also from something higher than the collective ego.”

Here again, Sri Aurobindo distinguishes service to humanity from the spiritual evolutionary action; while the individual may be moved to act to benefit humanity in his work, this is not the essential meaning of the action, nor is it necessarily the case for each spiritual seeker. “Altruism, philanthropy, the service of mankind are in themselves mental or moral ideals, not laws of the spiritual life. If in the spiritual aim there enters the impulse to deny the personal self or to serve humanity or the world at large, it comes not from the ego nor from the collective sense of the race, but from something more occult and profound transcendent of both these things; for it is founded on a sense of the Divine in all and it works not for the sake of the ego or the race but for the sake of the Divine and its purpose in the person or group or Man collective. It is this transcendent Source which we must seek and serve, this vaster being and consciousness to which the race and the individual are minor terms of its existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 9, The Release from the Ego, pg. 343