About sriaurobindostudies

studying the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since 1971, this blog is meant to systematically review the writings of Sri Aurobindo.

Natural Groupings and the Diversity of Languages

Sri Aurobindo notes that Nature encourages and requires diverse groupings of beings, whether it be plants, animals or human beings.  These groupings develop their own identity which allows them to differentiate from the larger species and thus, provide fields for experimentation and innovation.  Oftentimes among animal species, specific groups will have their own unique language or at least identifying sounds to distinguish the group from others of the same species.  This is true among pods of dolphins and whales, but is clearly more noticeable among humanity.  Humanity is distinguished by a vast array of languages and they clearly serve Nature’s purposes.  Language of course is a unifying factor among the group that speaks the same language, while it can create barriers between groups that speak different languages.  In the modern world, the unique language cultures help to preserve diversity, while the development of “languages of international commerce” help to bridge gaps and thus, both aspects appear to be supported as we move forward on our evolutionary development.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The legend of the Tower of Babel speaks of the diversity of tongues as a curse laid on the race; but whatever its disadvantages, and they tend more and more to be minimised by the growth of civilisation and increasing intercourse, it has been rather a blessing than a curse, a gift to mankind rather than a disability laid upon it.”

“In former times diversity of language helped to create a barrier to knowledge and sympathy, was often made the pretext even of an actual antipathy and tended to a too rigid division.  The lack of sufficient interpenetration kept up both a passive want of understanding and a fruitful crop of active misunderstandings.  But this was an inevitable evil of a particular stage of growth, an exaggeration of the necessity that then existed for the vigorous development of strongly individualised group-souls in the human race.  These disadvantages have not yet been abolished, but with closer intercourse and the growing desire of men and nations for the knowledge of each other’s thought and spirit and personality, they have diminished and tend to diminish more and more and there is no reason why in the end they should not become inoperative.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 244-245

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Unity With Diversity: the Way of Nature

It is a salient characteristic of the mental consciousness that it tries to create unity through regimentation and the development of uniformity.  Differences of ideas, culture, religion, language, race, all create potential for mental disagreement and dispute.  The idea is then to eliminate all these differences in order to achieve order and peace.    If everyone thinks the same things, dresses the same way, and acts according to the same ideas, then, the theory goes, we shall achieve unity.

When we observe Nature, however, we see a complexity that defies such mental structures.  We see symbiotic relations between human beings and plants, between plants and insects, etc.   A countless number of different plants, insects, animals and human beings occupy the planet and co-exist; in fact, they do not just coexist, but they actually depend on one another for their own survival and growth.  Nature finds its harmony without enforcing strict uniformity; rather, it seems to thrive best with a diversity that is beyond our conception.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “But uniformity is not the law of life.  Life exists by diversity; it insists that every group, every being shall be, even while one with all the rest in its universality, yet by some principle or ordered detail of variation unique.  The over-centralisation which is the condition of a working uniformity, is not the healthy method of life.  Order is indeed the law of life, but not an artificial regulation.  The sound order is that which comes from within as the result of a nature that has discovered itself and found its own law and the law of its relations with others.  Therefore the truest order is that which is founded on the greatest possible liberty; for liberty is at once the condition of vigorous variation and the condition of self-finding.  Nature secures variation by division into groups and insists on liberty by the force of individuality in the members of the group.  Therefore the unity of the human race to be entirely sound and in consonance with the deepest laws of life must be founded on free groupings, and the groupings again must be the natural association of free individuals.  This is an ideal which it is certainly impossible to realise under present conditions or perhaps in any near future of the human race; but it is an ideal which ought to be kept in view, for the more we can approximate to it, the more we can be sure of being on the right road.  The artificiality of much in human life is the cause of its most deep-seated maladies; it is not faithful to itself or sincere with Nature and therefore it stumbles and suffers.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 243-244

Unity: The Basis of Life

It is the nature of the human mind to observe, categorize and analyze, classifying observable differences and then building systems to organize them.  This characteristic leads to the creation of complex systems based on fragmentation and separation rather than on any underlying or inherent unity.  Such processes can be extremely powerful, but tend to break down when the actual unity of creation is overlooked.

When we live in the mental space we tend to forget that all life is one unified whole, and that the parts cannot thrive in the absence of the balance of nature.  We then set up systems which create imbalance and disharmony and eventual system collapse.  Such issues are actually confronting humanity today as we see the massive climate changes taking place as a result of the industrial revolution and our massive reliance on using fossil fuels which then release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which then raise the temperature of the planet, lead to melting of the ice caps, ocean rise, the slowing of the climate-controlling currents of the ocean and, if left unchecked, can cause severe harm to the planetary environment we depend on for life.   We tend to forget that we exist in a symbiotic relationship with all the plants of the world, as we rely on their exhalation of oxygen to breathe, while they depend on our exhalation of carbon dioxide to breathe.

Similarly, we create divisions and differences between the peoples, cultures and nations of the world and thereby fixate our action on superficial variation while overlooking the inherent oneness of all humanity.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It is essential to keep constantly in view the fundamental powers and realities of life if we are not to be betrayed by the arbitrary rule of the logical reason and its attachment to the rigorous and limiting idea into experiments which, however convenient in practice and however captivating to a unitarian and symmetrical thought, may well destroy the vigour and impoverish the roots of life.  For that which is perfect and satisfying to the system of the logical reason, may yet ignore the truth of life and the living needs of the race.  Unity is an idea which is not at all arbitrary or unreal; for unity is the very basis of existence.  The oneness that is secretly at the foundation of all things, the evolving spirit in Nature is moved to realise consciously at the top; the evolution moves through diversity from a simple to a complex oneness.  Unity the race moves towards and must one day realise.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pg. 243

A World-State Winds Up As a Static, Non-Evolving Mechanism

Sri Aurobindo has posited that the development of a World-State through political, economic and organisational means eventually takes on the management of all the affairs of life, including the issue of individual free development of thought and action.  Failure to do so leaves it open to forces that could eventually undermine its authority.  Such a line of action, however well-meaning in intent initially, has long-term consequences about which Sri Aurobindo has warned:

“What would the World-State do with this kind of free thought?  It might tolerate it so long as it did not translate itself into individual and associated action; but the moment it spread or turned towards a practical self-affirmation in life, the whole principle of the State and its existence would be attacked and its very base would be sapped and undermined and in imminent danger.  To stop the destruction at its root or else consent to its own subversion would be the only alternatives before the established Power.  But even before any such necessity arises, the principle of regulation of all things by the State would have extended itself to the regulation of the mental as well as the physical life of man by the communal mind, which was the ideal of former civilisations.  A static order of society would be the necessary consequence, since without the freedom of the individual a society cannot remain progressive.  It must settle into the rut or the groove of a regulated perfection or of something to which it gives that name because of the rationality of the system and symmetrical idea of order which it embodies.  The communal mass is always conservative and static in its consciousness and only moves slowly in the tardy process of subconscient Nature.  The free individual is the conscious progressive: it is only when he is able to impart his own creative and mobile consciousness to the mass that a progressive society becomes possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pp. 241-242

Challenges to a World-State That Permitted Freedom of Thought

A World-State, taking under its management not only the political and economic lives of the citizens of the world, but also the educational and other aspects of life, would face a challenge if it permitted freedom of thought, speech, association and religion.  In that case, the uniformity and efficiency of the system would be placed under siege by those who refused to accept the idea that the World-State should exercise control or rights over the actions of individuals.  There is today a strong libertarian sentiment in a number of places, particularly in the United States, which espouses the sovereign right of the individual to make his own decisions about his life, actions and speech, and any interference by government is looked upon, by this element, as an overreach and as unacceptable.  In a World-State, such a viewpoint would come into direct conflict with the rationale behind the World-State, and thus, could not be actually permitted to occur.

Sri Aurobindo describes the issue:  Supposing an all-regulating socialistic World-State to be established, freedom of thought under such a regime would necessarily mean a criticism not only of the details, but of the very principles of the existing state of things.  This criticism, if it is to look not to the dead past but to the future, could only take one direction, the direction of anarchism, whether of the spiritual Tolstoyan kind or else the intellectual anarchism which is now the creed of a small minority but still a growing force in many European countries.  It would declare the free development of the individual as its gospel and denounce government as an evil and no longer at all a necessary evil.  It would affirm the full and free religious, ethical, intellectual and temperamental growth of the individual from within as the true ideal of human life and all else as things not worth having at the price of the renunciation of this ideal, a renunciation which it would describe as the loss of his soul.  It would preach as the ideal of society a free association or brotherhood of individuals without government or any kind of compulsion.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pg. 241

Freedom of Thought, Speech and Religion Are Not Guaranteed in the Future

Certain principles of individual freedom have been enshrined in Western democratic lands over the last few hundred years, and in particular, the freedom of thought, the freedom of speech, the freedom of association and the freedom of religion.  These principles are enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States, but they are universally acknowledged as a cornerstone of Western civilization, and have gained adherence in many parts of the world as societies embraced democratic ideals.  Nevertheless, these freedoms are at great risk, both from the rise of a World-State attempting to achieve uniformity throughout all nations, and from the rise of technology which can be used to propagandise and to subvert free thought through active manipulation of information and the pressure of media impinging on the thoughts of the populace.  If we add to this the risk that a State-run education adds in a very real risk of controlling the information and thought process of young people at an impressionable age, we can see that there are no guarantees for the future freedoms treasured by individuals.  In his book 1984, George Orwell envisioned a State that controlled the news, the media and the thought of its individual members.  In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley posited thoughts implanted through sleep indoctrination.  Neither of these two works can be dismissed as we look around at today’s world.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Freedom of thought would be the last human liberty directly attacked by the all-regulating State, which will first seek to regulate the whole life of the individual in the type approved by the communal mind or by its rulers.  But when it sees how all-important is the thought in shaping the life, it will be led to take hold of that too by forming the thought of the individual through State education and by training him to the acceptance of the approved communal, ethical, social, cultural, religious ideas, as was done in many ancient forms of education.  Only if it finds this weapon ineffective, is it likely to limit freedom of thought directly on the plea of danger to the State and to civilization.  Already we see the right of the State to interfere with individual thought announced here and there in a most ominous manner.  One would have imagined religious liberty at least was assured to mankind, but recently we have seen an exponent of “new thought” advancing positively the doctrine that the State is under no obligation to recognize the religious liberty of the individual and that even if it grants freedom of religious thought, it can only be conceded as a matter or expediency, not of right.  There is no obligation, it is contended, to allow freedom of cult; and indeed this seems logical; for if the State has the right to regulate the whole life of the individual, it must surely have the right to regulate his religion, which is so important a part of his life, and his thought, which has so powerful an effect upon his life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pp. 240-241

 

 

Subverting the Principles of Freedom and Independence Through the Transformation of Democracy

We assume for the most part that democracy as a system of political organization of a society is the best system to ensure the freedom and rights on the individual and the community, and it must be acknowledged that the roots of democracy started from a movement to validate the rights of the citizens of society as against the monarchical or aristocratic domination which had controlled their lives previously.  Prior to the advent of mass societies and the industrial and digital revolutions, there was a strong measure of protection for these rights as part of the democratic evolution of society.  Over time, however, as the individual became more distanced from the levers of power, and representatives were elected who could wield power and make decisions without concern for the specific needs or wishes of their constituency, and yet could get re-elected due to the power of money, mass media and manipulation of the emotions and ideas of the electorate, it became clear that the original principles of democracy were being subverted.  For a time, one could sense the will of the “mass” moving the direction of society.  Yet at a later stage, the power elite began to find ways to direct and control the flow of information, the emotional texture of the electorate, and the vital power represented by the mass of society to support more and more the directions they wanted, whether or not with a deeper intention behind pushing them to move in certain ways.  Such an evolution can bring about the use of democratic forms or processes to achieve anti-democratic results.  Whether this is then the tyranny of the whole or a majority being carried out through the will of the mass, or a directed energy managed by a new aristocratic elite wielding the power of mass persuasion, we have clearly moved far away from the Greek ideal of democracy as a form of governance.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Greeks associated democracy with two main ideas, first, an effective and personal share by each citizen in the actual government, legislation, administration of the community, secondly, a great freedom of individual temperament and action.  But neither of these characteristics can flourish in the modern type of democracy, although in the United States of America there was at one time a tendency to a certain extent in this direction.  In large States, the personal share of each citizen in the government cannot be effective; he can only have an equal share — illusory for the individual although effective in the mass — in the periodical choice of his legislators and administrators.  Even if these have not practically to be elected from a class which is not the whole or even the majority of the community, at present almost everywhere the middle class, still these legislators and administrators do not really represent their electors.  The Power they represent is another, a formless and bodiless entity, which has taken the place of monarch and aristocracy, that impersonal group-being which assumes some sort of outward form and body and conscious action in the huge mechanism of the modern State.  Against this power the individual is much more helpless than he was against old oppressions.  When he feels its pressure grinding him into its uniform moulds, he has no resource except either an impotent anarchism or else a retreat, still to some extent possible, into the freedom of his soul or the freedom of his intellectual being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pg. 239