There are two contradictory movements we see in today’s world. First, we see pressure for the individual to adapt and fit in to the demands of the society, to become a consumer, a worker, or a cog in the military machine to fight and die for the society. In this movement, the value of the individual is measured by his usefulness to the society, and if he is old or infirm, or simply taking a direction that the society does not support or value highly, he can be easily disregarded or disposed of.
On the other side, we see a demand for individual freedom of fulfillment, regardless of the consequences to the society. In the most extreme cases, individuals believe their own rights exceed the rights of others.
Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint shows a value and reality to both the individual and the collective life of humanity. Each needs to be respected, but he recognises that all progress takes place within the individuals, and that the society needs to encourage individual growth and development in order for it to progress. When it is the vital ego that asserts its right to freedom, it acts in a way that disregards the needs of others or the society as a whole, but as the individual grows into spiritual freedom, he recognises his oneness with all and works to support the needs and growth of all in an harmonious manner.
In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo observes: “The individual is indeed the key of the evolutionary movement; for it is the individual who finds himself, who becomes conscious of the Reality. The movement of the collectivity is a largely subconscious mass movement; it has to formulate and express itself through individuals to become conscious: its general mass consciousness is always less evolved than the consciousness of its most developed individuals, and it progresses in so far as it accepts their impress or develops what they develop.”
“… the extent to which the power of the individual life or the spiritual Reality within it becomes operative, depends on his own development: so long as he is undeveloped, he has to subordinate in many ways his undeveloped self to whatever is greater than it. As he develops, he moves towards a spiritual freedom, but this freedom is not something entirely separate from all-existence; it has a solidarity with it because that too is the self, the same spirit. As he moves towards spiritual freedom, he moves also towards spiritual oneness. The spiritually realised, the liberated man is preoccupied, says the Gita, with the good of all beings; Buddha discovering the way of Nirvana must turn back to open that way to those who are still under the delusion of their constructive instead of their real being, — or non-being; Vivekananda drawn by the Absolute, feels also the call of the disguised Godhead in humanity and most the call of the fallen and the suffering, the call of the self to the self in the obscure body of the universe.”
“For the awakened individual the realisation of his truth of being and his inner liberation and perfection must be his primary seeking, — first because that is the call of the Spirit within him, but also because it is only by liberation and perfection and realisation of the truth of being that man can arrive at truth of living. A perfected community also can exist only by the perfection of its individuals, and perfection can come only by the discovery and affirmation in life by each of his own spiritual being and the discovery by all of their spiritual unity and a resultant life unity.”