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

The Subjective Viewpoint on Life and Living

Whereas the objective viewpoint looks upon existence as some kind of machinery subject to various laws that we can understand and apply to succeed at life, the subjective viewpoint looks at existence as an organic, growing, self-actualizing reality to be known and grasped, not by the analytical powers of the intellect, but by an inner connection to the totality of our existence.  The reason, as a power of the being, certainly can play a role in the increasing awareness and realisation process, but it is a subsidiary power that has its uses in a practical external sense but is unable to fully contain or grasp the completeness of the being or of our existence.

Sri Aurobindo describes the subjective viewpoint:  “Subjectivism proceeds from within and regards everything from the point of view of a containing and developing self-consciousness.  The law here is within ourselves; life is a self-creating process, a growth and development at first subconscious, then half-conscious and at last more and more fully conscious of that which we are potentially and hold within ourselves; the principle of its progress is an increasing self-recognition, self-realisation and a resultant self-shaping.  Reason and will are only effective movements of the self, reason a process in self-recognition, will a force for self-affirmation and self-shaping.  Moreover, reason and intellectual will are only a part of the means by which we recognise and realise ourselves.  Subjectivism tends to take a large and complex view of our nature and being and to recognise many powers of knowledge, many forces of effectuation.  Even, we see it in its first movement away from the external and objective method discount and belittle the importance of the work of the reason and assert the supremacy of the life-impulse or the essential Will-to-be in opposition to the claims of the intellect or else affirm some deeper power of knowledge, called nowadays the intuition, which sees things in the whole, in their truth, in their profundities and harmonies while intellectual reason breaks up, falsifies, affirms superficial appearances and harmonises only by a mechanical adjustment..  But substantially we can see that what is meant by this intuition is the self-consciousness feeling, perceiving, grasping in its substance and aspects rather than analysing in its mechanism its own truth and nature and powers.  The whole impulse of subjectivism is to get at the self, to live in the self, to see by the self, to live out the truth of the self internally and externally, but always from an internal initiation and centre.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 58-59

The Objective Viewpoint on Life and Living

The age of individualism, the development of Science,  and the industrial revolution have created a way of looking at life and the functioning of the world and man’s role within society that works to externalize that life and the reactions that arise from the individual.  The world is looked at as an object to be seen, analyzed, manipulated and controlled.  One can study the laws of action in the outer world, apply them and achieve success.

Sri Aurobindo describes the objective viewpoint:  “But objectivism proceeding by the analytical reason takes an external and mechanical view of the whole problem.  It looks at the world as a thing, an object, a process to be studied by an observing reason which places itself abstractly outside the elements and the sum of what it has to consider and observes it thus from outside as one would an intricate mechanism.  The laws of this process are considered as so many mechanical rules or settled forces acting upon the individual or the group which, when they have been observed and distinguished by the reason, have by one’s will or by some will to be organised and applied fully much as Science applies the laws it discovers.  These laws or rules have to be imposed on the individual by his own abstract reason and will isolated as a ruling authority from his other parts or by the reason and will of other individuals or of the group, and they have to be imposed on the group itself either by its own collective reason and will embodied in some machinery of control which the mind considers as something apart from the life of the group or by the reason and will of some other group external to it or of which it is in some way a part.  So the State is viewed in modern political thought as an entity in itself, as if it were something apart from the community and its individuals, something which has the right to impose itself on them and control them in the fulfilment of some idea of right, good or interest  which is inflicted on them by a restraining and fashioning power rather than developed in them and by them as a thing towards which their self and nature are impelled to grow.  Life is to be managed, harmonised, perfected by an adjustment, a manipulation, a machinery through which it is passed and by which it is shaped.  A law outside oneself, — outside even when it is discovered or determined by the individual reason and accepted or enforced by the individual will, —  this is the governing idea of objectivism; a mechanical process of management, ordering, perfection , this is its conception of practice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 57-58

A New Ideal of Human Universalism

The process of change does not occur overnight, and it generally occurs with a certain amount of back and forth straining as it works to overcome past habits and tendencies, while setting forth a new direction.  In many cases the process results from a perceived limitation or weakness in the existing status quo, and in others, it comes about when there are several conflicting principles trying to achieve domination or at least a working balance or harmony within the society.  We can trace the process through the changes from a social order that left the vast mass of humanity under the domination and control of a small and powerful elite, whether in a feudal society or some kind of autocratic rule, or some other mechanism of control.  Over time the status of the individual began to take on a more important role and there arose the concept of individual liberty which obviously conflicted with the status quo ante.  Later it became clear that an untrammeled individual freedom was unworkable, and a movement to integrate and partially subordinate the individual within the collectivity arose.  A similar dynamic occurred on the national and international level as nations wanted to exercise their independence while in many cases at the same time attempting to dominate other nations.  As the world became more complex, particularly with the rise of concern for resource allocation and use, pollution, climate change and the relation between disruption of a country’s internal integrity through war, slavery, exploitation, etc. and impacts on the global community, such as streams of refugees, warfare, terrorism, etc., a new paradigm became necessary.  The tension between liberty and cooperation gives rise to new ways of developing the relationship of the individual to the nation, and of the nation to the rest of the human family.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But behind this conflict between the idea of a nationalistic and imperialistic egoism and the old individualistic doctrine of individual and national liberty and separateness, there is striving to arise a new idea of human universalism or collectivism for the race which, if it succeeds in becoming a power, is likely to overcome the ideal of national separatism and liberty as it has overcome within the society itself the ideal of individual freedom and separate self-fulfilment.  This new idea demands of the nation that it shall subordinate, if not merge and sacrifice, its free separateness to the life of a larger collectivity, whether that of an imperialistic group or a continental or cultural unity, as in the idea of a united Europe, or the total united life of the human race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pg. 57

Scientific Truth Underlies Modern Collectivism

Darwin’s findings about the survival of the fittest, falsely adapted to human society in an extreme form of social darwinism, was not the only scientific finding that has impacted modern ideas about society.  An important aspect of Nature reveals the subordinate importance of the individual in relation to the survival and success of the group, which seems to have a higher level of importance in the natural world than any individual of a species.  Once again, taking one aspect of life to its extreme without the balance of other equally importance aspects, leads to inaccurate interpretation and extreme conclusions which have, in some cases, horrific implications.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “On the other hand, Science investigating life has equally discovered that not only is the individual life best secured and made efficient by association with others and subjection to a law of communal self-development rather than by aggressive self-affirmation, but that actually what Nature seeks to preserve is not the individual but the type and that in her scale of values the pack, herd, hive or swarm takes precedence over the individual animal or insect and the human group over the individual human being.  Therefore in the true law and nature of things the individual should live for all and constantly subordinate and sacrifice himself to the growth, efficiency and progress of the race rather than live for his own self-fulfilment and subordinate the race-life to his own needs.  Modern collectivism derives its victorious strength from the impression made upon human thought by this opposite aspect of modern knowledge.  We have seen how the German mind took up both these ideas and combined them on the basis of the present facts of human life; it affirmed the entire subordination of the individual to the community, nation or State; it affirmed, on the other hand, with equal force the egoistic self-assertion of the individual nation as against others or against any group or all the groups of nations which constitute the totality of the human race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 6, The Objective and Subjective Views of Life, pp. 56-57