The Inter-Relations Between Individual, Community and the Totality of Mankind

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The social evolution of the human race is necessarily a development of the relations between three constant factors, individuals, communities of various sorts and mankind.  Each seeks its own fulfilment and satisfaction, but each is compelled to develop them not independently but in relation to the others.”

Most people focus on one or another of these three terms and by so doing, they tend to overlook the importance of the others.  Thus, those who seek individual fulfillment do not at the same time generally work for the benefit of their community or for the entirety of the human race; while those who see the community as supreme will tend to suppress the liberty of the individuals and treat them as more or less cogs in a machine.  Similarly, those who seek a solution for mankind may underestimate the essential nature of the individual and of the natural groupings which bind people together.

“The first natural aim of the individual must be his own inner growth and fullness and its expression in his outer life; but this he can only accomplish through his relations with other individuals, to the various kinds of community religious, social, cultural and political to which he belongs and to the idea and need of humanity at large.  The community must seek its own fulfilment, but, whatever its strength of mass consciousness and collective organization, can accomplish its growth only through its individuals under the stress of the circumstances set for it by its environment and subject to the conditions imposed by its relations to other communities and individuals and to humanity at large.  Mankind as a whole has at present no consciously organized common life; it has only an inchoate organization determined much more by circumstances than by human intelligence and will.  And yet the idea and the fact of our common human existence, nature, destiny has always exercised its strong influence on human thought and action.”

Since the time that Sri Aurobindo wrote this, the development of world-concerns that must necessarily involve all humanity, such as pollution, climate change, weapons of mass destruction and inequality in access to resources which breeds unrest throughout the world, combined with the development of instantaneous news media and communications, has begun to form a greater sense of humanity as one larger being, and the birth and development of the United Nations and the various world bodies and agencies to tackle global issues has begun to make this larger humanity something more real and concrete.

“The pressure of the large movements and fluctuations of the race has always affected the destinies of its separate communities, and there has been a constant return-pressure of separate communities social, cultural, political, religious to expand and include, if it might be, the totality of the race.  And if or when the whole of humanity arrives at an organized common life and seeks a common fulfilment and satisfaction, it can only do it by means of the relation of this whole to its parts and by the aid of the expanding life of individual human beings and of the communities whose progress constitutes the larger terms of the life of the race.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pg. 151