Seeking the Soul Behind the Surface Formations in the Individual and in the Society

Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between the outer, surface formations of our being, and the deeper inner self or soul. The ego personality may take many forms, and it permeates the different layers and sheaths of our being which are turned outwards towards the world.  The pressure of the subjective age pushes the individual to disentangle himself from all these outer forms of personality and to discover the secret, true inner Self which can then utilize the outer personality as an instrument of its action.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “A psychic self-knowledge tells us that there are in our being many formal, frontal, apparent or representative selves and only one that is entirely secret and real; to rest in the apparent and to mistake it for the real is the one general error, root of all others and cause of all our stumbling and suffering,  to which man is exposed by the nature of his mentality.  We may apply this truth to the attempt of man to live by the law of his subjective being whether as an individual or as a social unit one in its corporate mind and body.”

The process at the level of human society is similar.  The society gets caught up in the externalities of politics, economics, religion, social rank and class, and all manner of external formations that go into the makeup of the social organisation.  With the coming of a subjective age, not only the individual for himself, but also as a member of a societal organization, seeks to understand and bring forward the action of the soul.

“Everywhere we are beginning, though still sparsely and in a groping tentative fashion, to approach things from the subjective standpoint.  In education our object is to know the psychology of the child as he grows into man and to found our systems of teaching and training upon that basis.  The new aim is to help the child to develop his intellectual, aesthetic, emotional, moral, spiritual being and his communal life and impulses out of his own temperament and capacities, — a very different object from that of the old education which was simply to pack so much stereotyped knowledge into his resisting brain and impose a stereotyped rule of conduct on his struggling and dominated impulses.  In dealing with the criminal the most advanced societies are no longer altogether satisfied with regarding him as a law-breaker to be punished, imprisoned, terrified, hanged or else tortured physically and morally, whether as a revenge for his revolt or as an example to others; there is a growing attempt to understand him, to make allowance for his heredity, environment and inner deficiencies and to change him from within rather than crush him from without.  In the general view of society itself, we begin to regard the community, the nation or any other fixed grouping of men as a living organism with a subjective being of its own and a corresponding growth and natural development which it is its business to bring to perfection and fruition.  So far, good; the greater knowledge, the truer depth, the wiser humanity of this new view of things are obvious.  But so also are the limitations of our knowledge and experience on this new path and the possibility of serious errors and stumblings.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 5, True and False Subjectivism, pp. 44-45