The Inter-Relations Between Individual, Community and the Totality of Mankind

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The social evolution of the human race is necessarily a development of the relations between three constant factors, individuals, communities of various sorts and mankind.  Each seeks its own fulfilment and satisfaction, but each is compelled to develop them not independently but in relation to the others.”

Most people focus on one or another of these three terms and by so doing, they tend to overlook the importance of the others.  Thus, those who seek individual fulfillment do not at the same time generally work for the benefit of their community or for the entirety of the human race; while those who see the community as supreme will tend to suppress the liberty of the individuals and treat them as more or less cogs in a machine.  Similarly, those who seek a solution for mankind may underestimate the essential nature of the individual and of the natural groupings which bind people together.

“The first natural aim of the individual must be his own inner growth and fullness and its expression in his outer life; but this he can only accomplish through his relations with other individuals, to the various kinds of community religious, social, cultural and political to which he belongs and to the idea and need of humanity at large.  The community must seek its own fulfilment, but, whatever its strength of mass consciousness and collective organization, can accomplish its growth only through its individuals under the stress of the circumstances set for it by its environment and subject to the conditions imposed by its relations to other communities and individuals and to humanity at large.  Mankind as a whole has at present no consciously organized common life; it has only an inchoate organization determined much more by circumstances than by human intelligence and will.  And yet the idea and the fact of our common human existence, nature, destiny has always exercised its strong influence on human thought and action.”

Since the time that Sri Aurobindo wrote this, the development of world-concerns that must necessarily involve all humanity, such as pollution, climate change, weapons of mass destruction and inequality in access to resources which breeds unrest throughout the world, combined with the development of instantaneous news media and communications, has begun to form a greater sense of humanity as one larger being, and the birth and development of the United Nations and the various world bodies and agencies to tackle global issues has begun to make this larger humanity something more real and concrete.

“The pressure of the large movements and fluctuations of the race has always affected the destinies of its separate communities, and there has been a constant return-pressure of separate communities social, cultural, political, religious to expand and include, if it might be, the totality of the race.  And if or when the whole of humanity arrives at an organized common life and seeks a common fulfilment and satisfaction, it can only do it by means of the relation of this whole to its parts and by the aid of the expanding life of individual human beings and of the communities whose progress constitutes the larger terms of the life of the race.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pg. 151


The Working of Nature Through the Instrumentality of Human Mentality

The human mentality represents a transitional stage of awareness.  As we become self-aware, we attempt to understand life, Nature and the meaning of our lives through the use of the mental consciousness.  Yet this consciousness is limited in its powers and in its scope, and thus, tends to focus on one principle or idea or factor at a time in a fragmented fashion.  This leads to the type of mental conflict we see between varying ideas or concepts which appear to be opposed to one another.  We erect philosophies, religions, laws, regulations, and guidelines based on this imperfect and incomplete understanding of Nature, and then we set about to defend our view and fight with those who have seized upon some other aspect of life or Nature as their guiding principle.  The physical and vital levels of existence, without this active mentality, simply carry out Nature’s dictates, and there are those who thus blame the very fact of mentality as being a diversion or falling off from our harmony with Nature.  Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the mind is also an expression of Nature and the phase of development that is limited and imperfect is nevertheless still carrying out Nature’s intention.

“Our mentality represents the conscious part of the movement of Nature in this progressive self-realization and self-fulfilment of the values and potentialities of her human way of living.  If that mentality were perfect, it would be one in its knowledge and will with the totality of the secret Knowledge and Will which she is trying to bring to the surface and there would be no mental conflict.”

“A superhuman life would reach consciously this perfection, make the secret Knowledge and Will in things its own and fulfil itself through Nature by her free, spontaneous and harmonious movement unhasting, unresting, towards that full development which is her inherent and therefore her predestined aim.  Actually, because our mentality is imperfect, we catch only a glimpse of her tendencies and objects and each glimpse we get we erect into an absolute principle or ideal theory of our life and conduct; we see only one side of her process and put that forward as the whole and perfect system which must govern our ordering of our life.  Working through the imperfect individual and still more imperfect collective mind, she raises up the facts and powers of our existence as opposing principles and forces to which we attach ourselves through our intellect and emotions, and favouring and depressing now this and now another she leads them in the mind of man through struggle and conflict towards a mutual knowledge and the sense of their mutual necessity and towards a progressively right relation and synthesis of their potentialities which is represented in an increasing harmony and combination of realized powers in the elastic potentiality of human life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 149-150

Implications of an Evolutionary View of Nature and Life

A static view of life leads us to conclude that what we see as the reality of our lives defines who and what we are.  In such a view we need to adhere to the role that Nature has granted to us within our scope of life.  If we fall away or fail to achieve the possibilities offered us by Nature, we convict ourselves of failure.  Adherence to the guidelines we have extracted from our life experience and reflection will allow us to achieve success in life or hereafter.  Those who believe that life is here as a field of growth and experience tend to look at some ideal construct as the aim of life and they tend to measure themselves and others on the yardstick of that ideal.  In either case, there are limitations to the viewpoint which put people into two opposing camps, conservatives who do not recognize the need or benefits associated with change or progress, and progressives who are dissatisfied with the present status and who want to push for change.

Sri Aurobindo applies an integral logic to these two opposites by introducing an evolutionary perspective.  In this perspective, the present represents the current state of human evolution but not its end point; and the future potential represents a further stage in the evolutionary progression.  In neither case, does the idea of sin or failure adhere.  They are steps along the way, each one having its own rationale and rightness in its proper place, but not an end unto themselves.

“Both what is and what may be are expressions of the same constant facts of existence and forces or powers of our Nature from which we cannot and are not meant to escape, since all life is Nature fulfilling itself and not Nature destroying or denying itself; but we may raise and we are intended to raise, change and widen the forms, arrangements and values of these constant facts and forces of our nature and existence, and in the course of our progress the change and perfectioning may amount to what seems a radical transformation, although nothing essential is altered.  Our actualities are the form and value or power of expression to which our nature and life have attained, their norm or law is the fixed arrangement and process proper to that stage of evolution.  Our potentialities point us to a new form, value, power of expression with their new and appropriate arrangement and process which is their proper law and norm.  Standing thus between the actual and the possible, our intellect tends to mistake present law and form for the eternal law of our nature and existence and regard any change as a deviation and fall or else, on the contrary, to mistake some future and potential law and form for our ideal rule of life and all actual deviation from that as an error or sin of our nature.  In reality, only that is eternal which is constant through all changes and our ideal can be no more than a progressive expression of it.  Only the utmost limit of height, wideness and fullness of self-expression possible to man, if any such limit there be, could be regarded, did we know of it, — and as yet we do not know our utmost possibilities, — as the eternal ideal.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pg. 149

The Process of the Action of the Mental Consciousness in Life

Sri Aurobindo describes two basic processes that the mental consciousness in humanity applies to life.  The first of these is essentially a process of picking and choosing, weeding and feeding of various life energies and tendencies, through a selective action that attempts to advance the desires or goals of the individual and discourage those things which act as obstacles to those desires or goals.  The second one attempts to extract laws of Nature, or basic principles by which the mentality can systematically manage and guide the life.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “In their primary aspect human ideas of life are simply a mental translation of the forces and tendencies of life itself as they emerge in the form of needs, desires and interests.  The human mind has a practical intelligence more or less clear and exact which takes these things into account and gives to one and another a greater or less value according to its own experience, preference and judgment.  Some the man accepts and helps in their growth by his will and intelligence, others he rejects, discourages and even succeeds in eliminating.”

“But from this elementary process there emerges a second and more advanced character of man’s ideas about life; he passes beyond the mere mental translation and ready dynamic handling to a regulated valuation of the forces and tendencies that have emerged or are emerging in him and his environment.  He studies them as fixed processes and rules of Nature and endeavours to understand their law and norm.  He tries to determine the laws of his mind and life and body, the law and rule of the facts and forces about him that constitute his environment and determine the field and the mould of his action.  Since we are imperfect and evolutionary beings, this study of the laws of life is bound to envisage two aspects as it perceives the rule of what is and the rule of what may or ought to be, the law of our actualities and the law of our potentialities.  The latter takes for the human intellect which tends always to an arbitrary and emphatic statement of things, the form of a fixed ideal standard or set of principles from which our actual life is a fall and deviation or towards which it is a progress and aspiration.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 148-149

The Transformative and Evolutionary Power of Human Mentality

If we observe plant and animal life, we may see that it conforms to certain natural processes in what are instinctive and well-defined ways.  The animal acts as it does because it follows the programming built into its very being.    There is no confusion or mental conflict at work in the animal as it carries out its assigned tasks.  On the other hand, human beings are capable of being aware of the drives that motivate them, through the capacity of mental insight and self-reflection.  That is not to say that all human actions are governed by this capacity; to a great degree, the human individual still is governed by instinct and pre-determined drives that mirror those at work in the animal consciousness.  Yet this is a distinctly human characteristic and it leads to both a drive toward realization of new and higher forms of action, and a sense of intense dissatisfaction for those who are awake to this need yet find that the animal-consciousness still governs much of their response to life.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The subhuman life of animal and plant is not subjected to this necessity of knowledge nor of that which is the necessary accompaniment of knowledge, a conscious will impelled always to execute what knowledge perceives.  By this exemption it is saved from an immense amount of error, deformation and disease, for it lives spontaneously according to Nature, its knowledge and will are hers and incapable, whether conscient or subconscient, of variation from her laws and dictates”

There are those who preach that the entire problem of man is the very fact of the development and reliance on the power of mentality, as thereby man has left his natural being and imposed many artificial constraints and directions on his nature, thus creating the dissatisfaction and imbalances that would disappear if he would just “return to nature”.  Yet this approach fails to recognize that the mentality is itself a development of Nature and a further expression of the will of Nature in the evolution of consciousness.  .

“It is, we may say, Nature become partly conscious of her own laws and forces, conscious of her struggle of progression and inspired with the conscious will to impose a higher and higher law on her own processes of life and being.  In subhuman life there is a vital and physical struggle, but no mental conflict.  Man is subjected to this mental conflict and is therefore at war not only with others but with himself; and because he is capable of this war with himself, he is also capable of that which is denied to the animal, of an inner evolution, a progression from higher to higher type, a constant self-transcending.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 147-148

The Need to Know the True Values of Life and the Law of Nature

One of the essential characteristics that distinguishes man from the other beings on the planet is the self-reflective awareness and the consequent dissatisfaction with simply living the animal life.  Man tries to understand the meaning of life, why he exists, what his purpose is, and the laws of Nature as it provides a framework for life.  Many believe that the rise of the mental awareness represents a falling off from “natural being” and that this is why so many suffer from deep dissatisfaction.  There are those who therefore describe a fall from grace, the suffering that arises as a result of “eating of the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil”, and who recommend therefore that in order to find harmony again, man must release the mental awareness and return to a state of “nature”.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this issue and clarifies that Nature is not a “static” reality, but a “dynamic” and evolving, growing reality, and thus, the solution is not found by trying to obliterate the evolutionary growth of consciousness, but in understanding the essential purpose of Nature through this evolutionary process:

“For man alone of terrestrial creatures to live rightly involves the necessity of knowing rightly, whether, as rationalism pretends, by the sole or dominant instrumentation of his reason or, more largely and complexly, by the sum of his faculties; and what he has to know is the true nature of being and its constant self-effectuation in the values of life, in less abstract language the law of Nature and especially of his own nature, the forces within him and around him and their right utilization for his own greater perfection and happiness or for that and the greater perfection and happiness of his fellow-creatures.  In the old phrase his business is to learn to live according to Nature.  But Nature can no longer be imaged, as once it was, as an eternal right rule from which man has wandered, since it is rather a thing itself changing, progressing, evolving, ascending from height to more elevated height, widening from limit to broader limit of its own possibilities.  Yet in all this changing there are certain eternal principles or truths of being which remain the same and upon them as bedrock, with them as a primary material and within them as a framework our progress and perfection are compelled to take place.  Otherwise there would be an infinite chaos and not a world ordered even in the clash of its forces.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pg. 147

The Challenges of Regimentation and Control in Human Society

As humanity moves towards a more unified structure of society, whether to carry out the impulsions of certain ideas of equality and fraternity that have yet to find their footing, or to meet the challenges of a world that is straining under the weight of human growth and development, there is the ever-present tendency to try to create order through forms of regimentation and centralized control.  The challenges posed by individual freedom and choice simply create a level of complexity in solving the larger problems facing the societal leadership that is difficult to resolve.  Modern-day mass society, with its ability to manipulate huge numbers of people through mass communication and media, and through mass education, and through pervasive marketing and propaganda, has made the task of creating a uniform set of ideas, principles and lines of action more achievable than perhaps at any time in the past.  We may therefore witness, not just the extremes of fascist, socialist or communist models that have arisen during the last 120 years, but most recently, the use of media and manipulation to provide an illusion of freedom in the capitalistic model while nevertheless moving swiftly towards an ever-more-regimented society.

Sri Aurobindo comments:  “It may be a rigid regimentation under a central authority such as certain socialistic schemes envision for the nation, a regime suppressing all individual and regional liberty in the interests of a close and uniform organization of human training, economic life, social habits, morals, knowledge, religion even, every department of human activity.  Such a development may seem impossible, as it would be indeed impracticable in the near future, because of the immense masses it would have to embrace, the difficulties it would have to surmount, the many problems that would have to be solved before it could become possible.  But this idea of impossibility leaves out of consideration two important factors, the growth of Science with its increasingly easy manipulation of huge masses — witness the present war — and of large-scale problems and the rapid march of Socialism.  Supposing the triumph of the socialistic idea — or of its practice, in whatever disguise — in all continents, it might naturally lead to an international socialization which would be rendered possible by the growth of science and scientific organization and by the annihilation of space difficulties and numerical difficulties.”

“… it is possible that after a cycle of violent struggle between the ideal of regimentation and the ideal of liberty the socialistic period of mankind might prove comparatively of brief duration like that of monarchical absolutism in Europe and might be followed by another more inspired by the principles of philosophic Anarchism, that is to say, of unity based upon the completest individual freedom and freedom also of natural unforced grouping.  A compromise might also be reached, a dominant regimentation with a subordinate freedom more or less vital, but even if less vital, yet a starting-point for the dissolution of the regime when humanity begins to feel that regimentation is not its ultimate destiny and that a fresh cycle of search and experiment has become again indispensable to its future.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 143-144