The Influence of the Past on the Development of the Future

Sri Aurobindo takes up the objection that the various forms that human unity could likely take are rooted in the past history of human societal development and do not, therefore, take into account totally new directions or possibilities.  He points out that humanity builds its present and future directions on habitual patterns developed in the past and it would take some unforeseeable new opening of consciousness and human receptivity to alter this long-standing and predictable pattern.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…mankind even in dealing with its new problems works upon past experience and therefore upon past motives and analogies.  Even when it seizes on new ideas, it goes to the past for the form it gives to them.  Behind the apparent changes of the most radical revolutions we see this unavoidable principle of continuity surviving in the heart of the new order.  Moreover, these alternatives seem the only way in which the two forces in presence can work out their conflict, either by the disappearance of the one, the separative national instinct, or by an accommodation between them.  On the other hand, it is quite possible that human thought and action may take so new a turn as to bring in a number of unforeseen possibilities and lead to a quite different ending.  And one might upon these lines set one’s imagination to work and produce perhaps a utopia of a better kind.  Such constructive efforts of the human imagination have their value and often a very great value; but any such speculations would evidently have been out of place in the study I have attempted.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 305

Possible Forms and Process for the Development of Human Unity

The way forward towards human unity is not absolutely fixed.  While the end result of unity may be inevitable, neither the form nor the process can be specified, as they depend on a lot of circumstantial factors, many of which are not yet even fully evident.  Sri Aurobindo outlines the forms that appear to be most likely, and describes the process of development needed to get us there.

“There is likely to be either a centralised World-State or a looser world-union which may be either a close federation or a simple confederacy of the peoples for the common ends of mankind.  The last form is the most desirable, because it gives sufficient scope for the principle of variation which is necessary for the free play of life and the healthy progress of the race.”

“The process by which the World-State may come starts with the creation of a central body which will at first have very limited functions, but, once created, must absorb by degrees all the different utilities of a centralised international control, as the State, first in the form of a monarchy and then of a parliament, has been absorbing by degrees the whole control of the life of the nation, so that we are now within measurable distance of a centralised socialistic State which will leave no part of the life of its individuals unregulated.  A similar process in the World-State will end in the taking up and the regulation of the whole life of the peoples into its hands; it may even end by abolishing national individuality and turning the divisions that it has created into mere departmental groupings, provinces and districts of the one common State.  Such an eventuality may seem now a fantastic dream or an unrealisable idea; but it is one which, under certain conditions that are by no means beyond the scope of ultimate possibility, may well become feasible and even, after a certain point is reached, inevitable.  A federal system and still more a confederacy would mean, on the other hand, the preservation of the national basis and a greater or less freedom of national life, but the subordination of the separate national to the larger common interests and of full separate freedom to the greater international necessities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 304-305

The Inevitable Unification of Humanity

For those of us rooted in the events of daily life, and living through times of tumult and conflict, it is difficult, if not impossible, to foresee the time when humanity will unite, live in peace, and tackle major issues of human survival and environmental integrity together in a spirit of unity.  Yet if we can once separate ourselves from the pressure of the “facts” presented to us daily in the news, and can look at historical trends of humanity, it becomes clear, as Sri Aurobindo has observed, that humanity is moving towards that result, whether through application of intelligence in a rational and reasonable way, or, more likely, through a series of cataclysmic events which force humanity to come to terms with the life and death nature of the issue.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…this trend must eventually realise itself, however great may be the difficulties; and they are really enormous, much greater than those which attended the national formation.  If the present unsatisfactory condition of international relations should lead to a series of cataclysms, either large and world-embracing like the present war or, though each more limited in scope, yet in their sum world-pervading and necessarily, by the growing interrelation of interests, affecting even those who do not fall directly under their touch, then mankind will finally be forced in self-defence to a new, closer and more stringently unified order of things.  Its choice will be between that and a lingering suicide.  If the human reason cannot find out the way, Nature herself is sure to shape these upheavals in such a way as to bring about her end.  Therefore, — whether soon or in the long run, whether brought about by its own growing sentiment of unity, stimulated by common interest and convenience, or by the evolutionary pressure of circumstances, — we may take it that an eventual unification or at least some formal organisation of human life on earth is, the incalculable being always allowed for, practically inevitable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 303-304

The Supportive Force of the Idea of the Religion of Humanity for the Realization of a World-State

In addition to the external forces that are pushing humanity closer together to solve global problems, and the uniting force that results from bringing people together through travel, technology and development of a common economic and cultural framework that overlays the different cultural traditions of different lands, there is another supportive force that is pushing towards the development of human unity, in some form or another.  This force is active first in the mind of a few visionaries or thinkers, and it is the idea of the common humanity of all people and the oneness that underlies all the variations, the idea of a religion of humanity.  While this idea began to make itself known and felt only to a relatively small number of individuals who could conceptualize it, over time, with the efforts these individuals have made to bring forth and explain this idea, and correlate it to the needs of humanity and provide solutions to the global crises that we are now beginning to recognize, one can see that the idea continues to expand its scope and take on an actual form.  The United Nations and various agencies, the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, the World Court, all are initial formations that begin to carry out the intent behind the religion of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…there is a sentiment helped and stimulated by these outward circumstances, a cosmopolitan, international sentiment, still rather nebulous and vaguely ideal, which may accelerate the growth of the formal union.”

“There is, however, at work a more powerful force, a sort of intellectual religion of humanity, clear in the minds of the few, vaguely felt in its effects and its disguises by the many, which has largely helped to bring about much of the trend of the modern mind and the drift of its developing institutions.  This is a psychological force which tends to break beyond the formula of the nation and aspires to replace the religion of country and even, in its more extreme forms, to destroy altogether the national sentiment and to abolish its divisions so as to create the single nation of mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 303

The Development of a Uniting Sentiment and Psychological Unity Helps Form Larger Societal Aggregates

Possibly as a response to outer crises faced and overcome together, smaller units of society have successfully formed and developed larger units, and even developed psychological unity.  This does not occur in every case, particularly where disparate peoples and cultures have been fused together by outward, mechanical means, and especially when those means have included warfare, domination and oppression to achieve their ends.  It was just such a process that led to the fusion of 13 colonies in the United States of America, despite some differences in economic system, religious denomination and issues such as slavery.  Banding together to overthrow the British rulers showed these people the benefits of working together for a common goal.  Tensions over the internal differences were suppressed until they broke out during the Civil War.  In the interim, the economic and political unity bonded into a nation-unit with a great deal of psychological unity, although present day stresses make it seem like the psychological unity has not yet stabilized.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But, secondly, there is the force of a common uniting sentiment.  This may work in two ways; it may come before as an originating or contributory cause or it may come afterwards as a cementing result.  In the first case, the sentiment of a larger unity springs up among units which were previously divided and leads them to seek after a form of union which may then be brought about principally by the force of the sentiment and its idea or by that secondarily as an aid to other and more outward events and causes.”

“The larger national aggregates have grown up by a simple act of federation or union, though this has sometimes had to be preceded by a common struggle for liberty or a union in war against a common enemy; so have grown into one the United States, Italy, Germany, and more peacefully the Australian and South African federations.  But in other cases, especially in the earlier national aggregations, the sentiment of unity has grown up largely or entirely as the result of the formal, outward or mechanical union.  But whether to form or to preserve the growth of the sentiment, the psychological factor is indispensable; without it there can be no secure and lasting union.  Its absence, the failure to create such a sentiment or to make it sufficiently living, natural, forcible has been the cause of the precariousness of such aggregates as Austro-Hungary and of the ephemeral character of the empires of the past, even as it is likely to bring about, unless circumstances change, the collapse or disintegration of the great present-day empires.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 302-303

The Pressure of Global Concerns Drives Humanity Toward Human Unity

Nature’s drive towards world unity can be identified through the speed and intensity with which mankind is being driven ever-closer together and the tight inter-relationship of actions that affect everyone around the world.  The  rise of an interdependent global economic system, the increasing pressure on the world’s resources to provide food and water to more than 7 billion people, the development of devastating weapons of mass destruction, the global climate crisis, the fear of global pandemics all represent just a few of the issues that transcend national boundaries and which eventually will force humanity to join together to find solutions, or perish.  It is the type of survival crisis that brings about the intensity needed to arrive at a solution.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This working of Nature depends for its means of fulfilment upon two forces which combine to make the larger aggregation inevitable.  First, there is the increasing closeness of common interests or at least the interlacing and interrelation of interests in a larger and yet larger circle which makes old divisions an obstacle and a cause of weakness, obstruction and friction, and the clash and collision that comes out of this friction a ruinous calamity to all, even to the victor who has to pay a too heavy price for his gains; and even these expected gains, as war becomes more complex and disastrous, are becoming more and more difficult to achieve and the success problematical.  An increasing perception of this community or interrelation of interests and a growing unwillingness to face the consequences of collision and ruinous struggle must push men to welcome any means for mitigating the divisions which should lead to such disasters.  If the trend to the mitigation of divisions is once given a definite form, that commences an impetus which drives towards closer and closer union.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 301-302

Human Unity Is the Trend of the Development of Human Social Groupings

We observe the systematic development of ever-larger groupings of humanity.  The imperial form has been tried on multiple occasions, but it was not stable and eventually dissolved.  The largest current stable grouping is the nation, and we see nations proliferating around the world.  The nation-unit is stable, not just because it speaks to physical and vital needs of particular people, but because it has the power of a psychological unity among the members of that nation.  Unstable nations are those that do not have this kind of psychological unity, and they have tended to break up, or reform with other nations, or carve out a new national unit in response to the centrifugal forces at work in the absence of psychological unity.  The recurring attempts to develop yet larger units, along with the rise of the idea of the religion of humanity, are signs that Nature has not completed its work of unifying humanity.  This process continues to evolve, developing new justifications, and confronting new concerns that can only be solved by a united effort of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…while it is possible to construct a precarious and quite mechanical unity by political and administrative means, the unity of the human race, even if achieved, can only be secured and can only be made real if the religion of humanity, which is at present the highest active ideal of mankind, spiritualises itself and becomes the general inner law of human life.”

“The outward unity may well achieve itself, — possibly, though by no means certainly, in a measurable time, — because that is the inevitable final trend of the working of Nature in human society which makes for larger and yet larger aggregations and cannot fail to arrive at a total aggregation of mankind in a closer international system.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 301

The Nature of the Soul and the Eternal Attributes of the Spirit

True human unity depends on the psychological unity of humanity.  The watchwords of liberty, equality and fraternity express basic truths of the relationship of all human beings with one another, and they alone can, in their fulfillment, provide the basis for human unity.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Yet is brotherhood the real key to the triple gospel of the idea of humanity.  The union of liberty and equality can only be achieved by the power of human brotherhood and it cannot be founded on anything else.  But brotherhood exists only in the soul and by the soul; it can exist by nothing else.  For this brotherhood is not a matter either of physical kinship or of vital association or of intellectual agreement.  When the soul claims freedom, it is the freedom of its self-development, the self-development of the divine in man in all his being.  When it claims equality, what it is claiming is that freedom equally for all and the recognition of the same soul, the same godhead in all human beings.  When it strives for brotherhood, it is founding that equal freedom of self-development on a common aim, a common life, a unity of mind and feeling founded upon the recognition of this inner spiritual unity.  These three things are in fact the nature of the soul; for freedom, equality, unity are the eternal attributes of the Spirit.  It is the practical recognition of this truth, it is the awakening of the soul in man and the attempt to get him to live from his soul and not from his ego which is the inner meaning of religion, and it is that to which the religion of humanity also must strive before it can fulfil itself in the life of the race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 300

The Need for a Change of the Inner Human Nature to Achieve the Ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

The first attempts by humanity, rooted in our mental being, to embody an idea or ideal, such as liberty, equality or fraternity, are based in our outer surface being, and tend to develop outer solutions such as the way we organise our societal institutions, the rules or laws we make to govern our lives, or the economic systems that we develop.  It is of course an important step forward for us to attempt to improve human life even at this outer level; however, it is insufficient to bring about the inner truth behind these ideals.  That can only come with an inner change that opens us to the spiritual truths behind these concepts.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But though these aims are of great importance in their own field, they are not the central thing; they can only be secure when founded upon a change of the inner human nature and inner way of living; they are themselves of importance only as a means for giving a greater scope and a better field for man’s development towards that change and, when it is once achieved, as an outward expression of the larger inward life.  Freedom, equality, brotherhood are three godheads of the soul; they cannot be really achieved through the external machinery of society or by man so long as he lives only in the individual and the communal ego.  When the ego claims liberty, it arrives at competitive individualism.  When it asserts equality, it arrives first at strife, then at an attempt to ignore the variations of Nature, and, as the sole way of doing that successfully, it constructs an artificial and machine-made society.  A society that pursues liberty as its ideal is unable to achieve equality; a society that aims at equality will be obliged to sacrifice liberty.  For the ego to speak of fraternity is for it to speak of something contrary to its nature.  All that it knows is association for the pursuit of common egoistic ends and the utmost that it can arrive at is a closer organisation for the equal distribution of labour, production, consumption and enjoyment.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 299

Limitations in the Implementation of the Idea of a Religion of Humanity

The question which Sri Aurobindo next takes up is whether and to what extent an intellectual and emotional idea, such as the religion of humanity, can so radically change human life as to bring about its actual realisation, rather than simply modifying the surface of life, while leaving the depths unchanged.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The weakness of the intellectual idea, even when it supports itself by an appeal to the sentiments and emotions, is that it does not get at the centre of man’s being.  The intellect and the feelings are only instruments of the being and they may be the instruments of either its lower and external form or of the inner and higher man, servants of the ego or channels of the soul.  The aim of the religion of humanity was formulated in the eighteenth century by a sort of primal intuition; that aim was and it is still to re-create human society in the image of three kindred ideas, liberty, equality and fraternity.  None of these has really been won in spite of all the progress that has been achieved.  The liberty that has been so loudly proclaimed as an essential of modern progress is an outward, mechanical and unreal liberty.  The equality that has been so much sought after and battled for is equally an outward and mechanical and will turn out to be an unreal equality.  Fraternity is not even claimed to be a practicable principle of the ordering of life and what is put forward as its substitute is the outward and mechanical principle of equal association or at the best a comradeship of labour.  This is because the idea of humanity has been obliged in an intellectual age to mask its true character of a religion and a thing of the soul and the spirit and to appeal to the vital and physical mind of man rather than his inner being.  It has limited his effort to the attempt to revolutionise political and social institutions and to bring about such a modification of the ideas and sentiments of the common mind of mankind as would make these institutions practicable; it has worked at the machinery of human life and on the outer mind much more than upon the soul of the race.  It has laboured to establish a political, social and legal liberty, equality and mutual help in an equal association.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 298-299