The Greater Purpose and True Object of Human Action

We can follow the evolution of consciousness as a central thread that informs the development of life on earth, through and including human life.  Matter has an involved consciousness, highly structured with no real freedom to vary from the “laws of Nature” in the way it responds to stimuli and events.  Out of Matter evolved life.  The rudimentary forms of life were very much rooted in the strict rules of Matter but added new powers of awareness and responsiveness, including powers of growth, reproduction and active response to stimuli on a scale far more visible than Matter.  As animal life developed, new powers of mind and motion arose, on a scale significantly higher in awareness and responsiveness than Matter or the earlier forms of Life.  With the advent of the human being, the further evolution of Mind becomes evident, and in this, all humanity, regardless of racial characteristics or environmental limitations, obviously shares.  The question then arises, if we can observe this evolution of consciousness, what purpose it is intended to serve and what is the next stage of the evolution.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Mankind upon earth is one foremost self-expression of the universal Being in His cosmic self-unfolding; he expresses, under the conditions of the terrestrial world he inhabits, the mental power of the universal existence.  All mankind is one in its nature, physical, vital, emotional, mental and ever has been in spite of all differences of intellectual development… and the whole race has, as the human totality, one destiny which it seeks and increasingly approaches in the cycles of progression and retrogression it describes through the countless millenniums of its hisotry.  Nothing which any individual race or nation can triumphantly realise, no victory of their self-aggrandisement, illumination, intellectual achievement or mastery over the environment, has any permanent meaning or value except in so far as it adds something or recovers something or preserves something for this human march.  The purpose which the ancient Indian scripture offers to us as the true object of all human action, lokasangraha, the holding together of the race in its cyclic evolution, is the constant sense, whether we know it or know it not, of the sum of our activities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 66-67


The Object and Functions of Society in the Evolutionary Progression of Humanity

There are many ideas about the need for society and its role in human life.  There are also many ideas about the role of the individual and whether there is an individual destiny, or whether the individual exists to advance society or support its requirements.  Is there some meaning to the life of the individual or is the individual simply a cog in some overall societal development which thereby carries the destiny of the race?  These issues need to be reviewed and resolved to determine the true object and function of society, and the true role and destiny of the individual.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The object of all society should be, therefore, and must become, as man grows conscious of his real being, nature and destiny and not as now only a part of it, first to provide the conditions of life and growth by which individual Man, — not isolated men or a class or a privileged race, but all individual men according to their capacity, — and the race through the growth of its individuals may travel towards this divine perfection.  It must be, secondly, as mankind generally more and more grows near to some figure of the Divine in life and more and more men arrive at it, …, to express in the general life of mankind, the light, the power, the beauty, the harmony, the joy of the Self that has been attained and that pours itself out in a freer and nobler humanity.  Freedom and harmony express the two necessary principles of variation and oneness, — freedom of the individual, the group, the race, coordinated harmony of the individual’s forces and of the efforts of all individuals in the group, of all groups in the race, of all races in the kind, — and these are the two conditions of healthy progression and successful arrival.  To realise them and to combine them has been the obscure or half-enlightened effort of mankind throughout its history, — a task difficult indeed and too imperfectly seen and too clumsily and mechanically pursued by the reason and desires to be satisfactorily achieved until man grows by self-knowledge and self-mastery to the possession of a spiritual and psychical unity with his fellow-men.  as we realise more and more the right conditions, we shall travel more luminously and spontaneously towards our goal and, as we draw nearer to a clear sight of our goal, we shall realise better and better the right conditions.  The Self in man enlarging light and knowledge and harmonising will with light and knowledge so as to fulfil in life what he has seen in his increasing vision and idea of the Self, this is man’s source and law of progress and the secret of his impulse towards perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 65-66

The Role of the Individual in the Development of the Divine Destiny in Existence

With the advent of the human being and the mental consciousness, a certain amount of understanding and flexibility in action appears, as a new capability not found in the physical world of Matter or plants or animals.  All of these earlier forms are very much limited by the habits and instincts that are built into them.  Animals of course can, as they exhibit higher forms of mental activity, already begin to act with a certain amount of planning and coordination, yet the full power of what we tend to call “free will” and “reason”, only come to fruition in the full development of the mental consciousness.  This very capacity for insight, freedom and flexibility, exhibited through specific individuals of the race, guides us to the understanding of the importance of the role of the individual.  The individual of course is subject to the Divine Will in the manifestation, the environment within which he is called upon to act, and the process of interaction with others; nevertheless, there is a capacity of growth and development here that ensures that we take account of the individual and not treat him simply as a member of the group consciousness of society.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “for this end man has become an individual soul, that the One may find and manifest Himself in each human being.  That end is not indeed achieved by the individual human being in his unaided mental force.  He needs the help of the secret Divine above his mentality in his superconscient self; he needs the help also of the secret Divine around him in Nature and in his fellow-men.  Everything in Nature is an occasion for him to develop his divine potentiality, an occasion which he has a certain relative freedom to use or misuse, although in the end both his use and misuse of his materials are overruled in their results by the universal Will so as to assist eventually the development of his law of being and his destiny.  All life around him is a help towards the divine purpose in him; every human being is his fellow-worker and assists him whether by association and union or by strife and opposition.  Nor does he achieve his destiny as the individual Man for the sake of the individual soul alone, — a lonely salvation is not his complete ideal, — but for the world also or rather for God in the world, for God in all as well as above all and not for God solely and separately in one.  And he achieves it by the stress, not really of his separate individual Will, but of the universal Will in its movement towards the goal of its cycles.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pg. 65

The Mental Being and the Destiny of Man and the Object of His Individual and Social Existence

With the appearance of man, the mental being, new, enhanced powers of mentality are deployed by Nature.  These powers include the new forms of awareness that allow the developed mental being to explore deeper and gain a greater understanding of his own life and powers, and his role in the universal creation, as well as new powers of action that allow him to implement the secret universal Will with more freedom, flexibility and immediate responsiveness than the habitual and much more limited powers available to the rudimentary mental power when it first appears in animals.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Man, the mental being in Nature, is especially distinguished from her less developed creatures by a greater power of individuality, by the liberation of the mental consciousness which enables him finally to understand more and more himself and his law of being and his development, by the liberation of the mental will which enables him under the secret control of the universal Will to manage more and more the materials and lines of his development and by the capacity in the end to go beyond himself, beyond his mentality and open his consciousness into that from which mind, life and body proceed.  He can even, however imperfectly at present, get at his highest to some consciousness of the Reality which is his true being and possess consciously also, as nothing else in terrestrial Nature can possess, the Self, the Idea, the Will which have constituted him and can become by that the master of his own nature and increasingly, not as now he is, a wrestler with dominant circumstance but the master of Nature.  To do this, to arrive through mind and beyond mind at the Self, the Spirit which expresses itself in all Nature and, becoming one with it in his being, his force, his consciousness, his will, his knowledge, to possess at once humanly and divinely — according to the law and nature of human existence, but of human existence fulfilled in God and fulfilling God in the world — both himself and the world is the destiny of man and the object of his individual and social existence. (It may be said that since man is a mental being limited by the mind, life and body, this development and organisation of a power beyond mind, a supramental power, would be the creation of a new superhuman race and that the use of the words human and humanly would no longer be in place.  This is no doubt true, but the possibility for the race still remains, if not for all in the same degree or at the same time, yet in an eventual fulfillment.)”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 64-65

The Principles of Oneness and Variation in Material and Vital Existence

In the evolutionary progression, each stage of development, while maintaining the Oneness of the entire creation, permits various forms of variation in the expression of the different elements or beings within the creation.  At the material level, everything is very much fixed and follows basic laws with very little variation, within the framework of the various types of material substance that have been created.  At the vital stage, we see variation within the type so that different plants and animals, while following the law of its type, may still express variations in shape, color, size, resiliency, and individual reaction, etc.  At the human stage, with the advent of the mental principle in evolution, we see yet further ability to diverge from a fixed expression, even while the underlying principle of Oneness and the overarching laws of the created universe remain in place.  In further stages of development we may see a more free-flowing unity with diversity at work.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “It (existence) begins, at least in our field of existence, with a material figure of itself, a mould of firm substance into which and upon which it can build, — worlds, the earth, the body.  Here it stamps firmly and fixes the essential law of its movement.  That law is that all things are one in their being and origin, one in their general law of existence, one in their interdependence and the universal pattern of their relations; but each realises this unity of purpose and being on its own lines and has its own law of variation by which it enriches the universal existence.  In Matter variation is limited; there is variation of type, but, on the whole, uniformity of the individuals of the type.  These individuals have a separate movement, but yet the same movement; subject to some minute differences, they adhere to one particular pattern and have the same assemblage of properties.  Variety within the type, apart from minor unicities of detail, is gained by variation of group sub-types belonging to one general kind, species and sub-species of the same genus.  In the development of Life, before mind has become self-conscious, the same law predominates; but, in proportion as life grows and still more when mind emerges, the individual also arrives at a greater and more vital power of variation.  He acquires the freedom to develop according, no doubt, to the general law of Nature and the general law of his type, but also according to the individual law of his being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 63-64

A Subjective Age Helps Humanity Discover its Future Role and Destiny

As long as we live on the surfaces of life, focused on our physical and vital needs and desires, our mental habits and formulations, and our social role within the framework of the community of mankind, with our gaze set outwards, we can develop new powers of action, we can develop new ways of understanding the physical world, we can invent marvelous new ways of living in the world, but we come no closer to an understanding of the “why” of our existence.  Why do we exist?  Is there some deeper purpose to our lives?  Is there some goal that Nature is pursuing through us?  These and similar questions require a different kind of review and understanding, one that comes from an inward turn, the development of a subjective, rather than a purely objective, viewpoint about our lives.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The true law of our development and the entire object of our social existence can only become clear to us when we have discovered not only, like modern Science, what man has been in his past physical and vital evolution, but his future mental and spiritual destiny and his place in the cycles of Nature.  This is the reason why the subjective periods of human development must always be immeasurably the most fruitful and creative.  In the others he either seizes on some face, image, type of the inner reality Nature in him is labouring to manifest or else he follows a mechanical impulse or shapes himself in the mould of her external influences; but here in his subjective return inward he gets back to himself, back to the root of his living and infinite possibilities, and the potentiality of a new and perfect self-creation begins to widen before him.  He discovers his real place in Nature and opens his eyes to the greatness of his destiny.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pg. 63

The Ideal of Human Existence

Those who are fixated on the outer life look at the ideal of human existence as being the development of the body, life and mind and the enjoyment of life using these instruments as the means.   Some of course believe that the purpose of life is elsewhere and is achieved after death through actions taken in life.   Even those who search for a deeper significance and who take a subjective viewpoint, may focus primarily on the development and highest expression of the body, life and mind as a key component of their fulfillment.  Sri Aurobindo takes the view that these are instruments of expression of the Self, but can only find their true and ideal value when they carry out the spiritual evolutionary purpose of the self of the individual and the society.  One of Sri Aurobindo’s unique contributions to the science of Yoga was the development of the Yoga of self-perfection, so that one would not abandon life in order to achieve spiritual realisation, but rather, would identify with the deeper Self of the Spirit, and then carry out the evolutionary work of the Spirit in the world, through perfected instruments of body, life and mind, attuned to the Oneness and spiritual purpose of the Spirit.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But here also it is possible for subjectivism to go beyond and to discover the true Self as something greater even than mind.  Mind, life and body then become merely an instrumentation for the increasing expression of this Self in the world, — instruments not equal in their hierarchy, but equal in their necessity to the whole, so that their complete perfection and harmony and unity as elements of our self-expression become essential to the true aim of our living.  And yet that aim would not be to perfect life, body and mind in themselves, but to develop them so as to make a fit basis and fit instruments for the revelation in our inner and outer life of the luminous Self, the secret Godhead who is one and yet various in all of us, in every being and existence, thing and creature.  The ideal of human existence personal and social would be its progressive transformation into a conscious outflowering of the joy, power, love, light, beauty of the transcendent and universal Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pg. 62

Stages in the Subjective Search for the Self

The objective forms of self-realisation center around outer success in the world, whether material success, fame and fortune, worldly power, or the achievement of some great plans or goals in the outer life, without necessarily having any conscious sense of being driven to these actions by a deeper inner soul or self of being.  Subjective forms of self-realisation focus more on understanding and expressing the inner drive of the being.  This may take on various forms of physical, vital or mental expression, with the focus on tapping into the deeper springs of life and creating the direction of the life from those deeper roots.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the subjective search for the self may, like the objective, lean preponderantly to identification with the conscious physical life, because the body is or seems to be the frame and determinant here of the mental and vital movements and capacities.  Or it may identify itself with the vital being, the life-soul in us and its emotions, desires, impulses, seekings for power and growth and egoistic fulfilment.  Or it may rise to a conception of man as a mental and moral being, exact to the first place his inner growth, power and perfection, individual and collective, and set it before us as the true aim of our existence.  A sort of subjective materialism, pragmatic and outward-going, is a possible standpoint; but in this the subjective tendency cannot long linger.  For its natural impulse is to go always inward and it only begins to feel itself and have satisfaction of itself when it gets to the full conscious life within and feels all its power, joy and forceful potentiality pressing for fulfilment.  Man at this stage regards himself as a profound, vital Will-to-be which uses body as its instrument and to which the powers of mind are servants and ministers.”

“Beyond it we get to a subjective idealism now beginning to emerge and become prominent, which seeks the fulfilment of man in the satisfaction of his inmost religious, aesthetic, intuitive, his highest intellectual and ethical, his deepest sympathetic and emotional nature and, regarding this as the fullness of our being and the whole object of our being, tries to subject to it the physical and vital existence.  These come to be considered rather as a possible symbol and instrument of the subjective life flowing out into forms than as having any value in themselves.  A certain tendency to mysticism, occultism and the search for a self independent of the life and the body accompanies this new movement — new to modern life after the reign of individualism and objective intellectualism — and emphasises its real trend and character.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 61-62

Self-Realisation of the Universal Being

When we abstract our view from our own individual life and existence, we may sometimes see the inter-connectedness of our existence with the universal existence.  We do not exist in a vacuum as an independent being.  Without the sun, there would be no plants.  Without plants to create oxygen and provide food, there would be no animal life, or human existence.  Without animals and humans, exhaling carbon dioxide, plants could not survive.  Without various insects, plants could not propagate.  Everything in the world is so interconnected as to have existence become inconceivable without this complex web of apparently separate beings all acting and responding as one complex organism.

Science has found that indiividual trees may be part of a single being, interconnected in a forest of trees.  Science has also found that individual mushrooms may be part of a vast being of mushroom.  The line between individual and collectivity fades, the more we learn about the interconnectedness of all existence.  There is a truth of individuality, but not as a separately existing and functioning being without the context of the universal existence of which it forms a part and of which it partakes.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But also we may enlarge the idea of the self and, as objective Science sees a universal force of Nature which is the one reality and of which everything is the process, we may come subjectively to the realisation of a universal Being or Existence which fulfils itself in the world and the individual and the group with an impartial regard for all as equal powers of its self-manifestation.  This is obviously the self-knowledge which is most likely to be right, since it most comprehensively embraces and accounts for the various aspects of the world-process and the eternal tendencies of humanity.  In this view neither the separate growth of the individual nor the all-absorbing growth of the group can be the ideal, but an equal, simultaneous and, as far as may be, parallel development of both, in which each helps to fulfil the other.  Each being has his own truth of independent self-realisation and his truth of self-realisation in the life of others and should feel, desire, help, participate more and more, as he grows in largeness and power, in the harmonious and natural growth of all the individual selves and all the collective selves of the one universal Being.  These two, when properly viewed, would not be separate, opposite or really conflicting lines of tendency, but the same impulse of the one common existence, companion movements separating only to return upon each other in a richer and larger unity and mutual consequence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 60-61

Exploring the Subjective Sense of Self for the Individual and the Collective Life of Humanity

Those who adhere to the subjective viewpoint, as well as those who support the objective viewpoint of life and living, still are faced with the issue as to whether the truth of the self is individual fulfillment or collective fulfillment, or some other result that encompasses both in a balanced manner.  Those who accept the view that it is the individual that should be looked at as supreme, hold that the collectivity should not have the right to suppress or control the growth of the individual; whereas those who accept the view that it is the collectivity that should be accepted as supreme, reduce the importance of the individual and fixate on the progress of humanity in the form of the collectivity of mankind, in whatever form or forms that collectivity may take.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “We may concentrate on the individual life and consciousness as the self and regard its power, freedom, increasing light and satisfaction and joy as the object of living and thus arrive at a subjective individualism.  We may, on the other hand, lay stress on the group consciousness, the collective self; we may see man only as an expression of this group-self necessarily incomplete in his individual or separate being, complete only by that larger entity, and we may wish to subordinate the life of the individual man to the growing power, efficiency, knowledge, happiness, self-fulfilment of the race or even sacrifice it and consider it as nothing except in so far as it lends itself to the life and growth of the community or the kind.  We may claim to exercise a righteous oppression on the individual and teach him intellectually and practically that he has no claim to exist, no right to fulfil himself except in his relations to the collectivity.  These alone then are to determine his thought, action and existence and the claim of the individual to have a law of his own being, a law of his own nature which he has a right to fulfil and his demand for freedom of thought involving necessarily the freedom to err and for freedom of action involving necessarily the freedom to stumble and sin may be regarded as an insolence and a chimera.  The collective self-consciousness will then have the right to invade at every point the life of the individual, to refuse to it all privacy and apartness, all self-concentration and isolation, all independence and self-guidance and determine everything for it by what it conceives to be the best thought and highest will and rightly dominant feeling, tendency, sense of need, desire for self-satisfaction of the collectivity.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 59-60