Self-Exceeding the Heritage of Physical, Vital and Mental Nature to Achieve True Self-Realisation

The human being carries within himself the legacy of the past stages of the evolution of consciousness in the world.  We have a physical body which ties us to the realm of Matter, the first term of the unfolding of life on this planet.  We have a vital nature which ties us to the life-force as it evolved and animated Matter.  We have a mental nature which still is very much tied down by the limitations of Matter and Life, but also of the first physical basis of the mind as well.  Each of these elements represents the conservative heritage of our existence, and each represents an instrumentation for our active life in the world.  Self-realisation needs go beyond these terms to the source which directs and determines the destiny.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The Self of man is a thing hidden and occult; it is not his body, it is not his life, it is not … his mind.  Therefore neither the fullness of his physical, nor of his vital, nor of his mental nature can be either the last term or the true standard of his self-realisation; they are means of manifestation, subordinate indications, foundations of his self-finding, values, practical currency of his self, what you will, but not the thing itself which he secretly is and is obscurely groping or trying overtly and self-consciously to become.  Man has not possessed as a race this truth about himself, does not now possess it except in the vision and self-experience of the few in whose footsteps the race is unable to follow, though it may adore them as Avatars, seers, saints or prophets.  For the Oversoul who is the master of our evolution, has his own large steps of Time, his own great eras, tracts of slow and courses of rapid expansion, which the strong, semi-divine individual may overleap, but not the still half-animal race.  The course of evolution proceeding from the vegetable to the animal, from the animal to the man, starts in the latter from the subhuman; he has to take up into him the animal and even the mineral and vegetable:  they constitute his physical nature, they dominate his vitality, they have their hold upon his mentality.  His proneness to many kinds of inertia, his readiness to vegetate, his attachment to the soil and clinging to his roots, to safe anchorages of all kinds, and on the other hand his nomadic and predatory impulses, his blind servility to custom and the rule of the pack, his mob-movements and openness to subconscious suggestions from the group-soul, his subjection to the yoke of rage and fear, his need of punishment and reliance on punishment, his inability to think and act for himself, his incapacity for true freedom, his distrust of novelty, his slowness to seize intelligently and assimilate, his downward propensity and earthward gaze, his vital and physical subjection to his heredity, all these and more are his heritage from the subhuman origins of his life and body and physical mind.  It is because of this heritage that he finds self-exceeding the most difficult of lessons and the most painful of endeavours.  Yet it is by exceeding of the lower self that Nature accomplishes the great strides of her evolutionary process.  To learn by what he has been, but also to know and increase to what he can be, is the task that is set for the mental being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pp. 73-74


Using the Individual’s Self-Development as a Basis for Understanding Self-Development of the Nation

A societal grouping, such as the nation or state, takes on the characteristics of the people who make up that nation to a great degree.  There is a somewhat modified dynamic involved because individuals may do in the “mass” what they would never choose to do as an individual; however, in terms of self-realisation, it is clear that the more awake, aware and self-conscious an individual is, the less likely he is to willingly take on the characteristics of an as yet subconscious or unconscious group.  It is true that even aware individuals may be threatened or coerced into what appears to be cooperation, even if they disagree, but this does not change the basic concept that the self-realisation and self-development begins with the individual and the nation necessarily lags behind until sufficient numbers of individuals, with sufficient conscious effort, are able to drive the change into the body of the societal grouping on a wider scale.

Sri Aurobindo examines the issue:  “Once we have determined that this rule of perfect individuality and perfect reciprocity is the ideal law for the individual, the community and the race and that a perfect union and even oneness in a free diversity is its goal, we have to try to see more clearly what we mean when we say that self-realisation is the sense, secret or overt, of individual and of social development.  As yet we have not to deal with the race, with mankind as a unity; the nation is still our largest compact and living unit.  And it is best to begin with the individual, both because of his nature we have a completer and nearer knowledge and experience than of the aggregate soul and life and because the society or nation is, even in its greater complexity, a larger, a composite individual, the collective Man.  What we find valid of the former is therefore likely to be valid in its general principle of the larger entity.  Moreover, the development of the free individual is, we have said, the first condition for the development of the perfect society.  From the individual, therefore, we have to start; he is our index and our foundation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pg. 73

The Natural Work and Conscious Hope of Man in a Subjective Age

Mankind is seeking, to a great degree blindly, for a way to make sense of life and find some purpose to our existence.  Due to the limitations of our conscious awareness, and the restrictions of the mental consciousness, as well as the impulsions of the vital nature, we exist in a ferment of conflicting ideas, motives, directions, and intentions.  It is difficult, in such a confused welter and chaos, to move directly toward any positive result, and thus, we swing back and forth between knowledge and ignorance, right and wrong, past and future, freedom and bondage, etc.  Yet as the subjective age takes hold, we seek for the truth of life, and for a way to move from today’s confusion and strife to a place of peace and harmony for humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Naturally, this is an ideal law which the imperfect human race has never yet really attained and it may be very long before it can attain to it.  Man, not possessing, but only seeking to find himself, not knowing consciously, obeying only in the rough subconsciously or half-consciously the urge of the law of his own nature with stumblings and hesitations and deviations and a series of violences done to himself and others, has had to advance by a tangle of truth and error, right and wrong, compulsion and revolt and clumsy adjustments, and he has as yet neither the wideness of knowledge nor the flexibility of mind nor the purity of temperament which would enable him to follow the law of liberty and harmony rather than the law of discord and regimentation, compulsion and adjustment and strife.  Still it is the very business of a subjective age when knowledge is increasing and diffusing itself with an unprecedented rapidity, when capacity is generalising itself, when men and nations are drawn close together and partially united though in an inextricable, confused entanglement of chaotic unity, when they are being compelled to know each other and impelled to know more profoundly themselves, mankind, God and the world and when the idea of self-realisation for men and nations is coming consciously to the surface, — it is the natural work and should be the conscious hope of man in such an age to know himself truly, to find the ideal law of his being and his development and, if he cannot even then follow it ideally owing to the difficulties of his egoistic nature, still to hold it before him and find out gradually the way by which it can become more and more the moulding principle of his individual and social existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 71-72

The Ideal Law of Individual and Community Life and Development

Free development combined with harmonious relations with others represents an ideal law of life for both the individual human being and for the society.  The extreme of egoistic self-indulgence which tries to attain individual success without concern for, or even by the suppression of, other individuals represents a phase in human development which harms the growth and development of everyone.  Western psychologists have identified this truth through the research they have done in what is known as “game theory”.  The best result comes about through collaborative effort rather than an attempt to gain the most for oneself alone at the expense of others.  The same principle also works at the level of the society.  Each nation or community should be encouraged to achieve its own unique self-expression, while concurrently supporting a similar freedom of development of each other nation or community.

Sri Aurobindo describes this in terms of the individual, the nation and for humanity as a whole:  “Thus the law for the individual is to perfect his individuality by free development from within, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development in others.  His law is to harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate and to pour himself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity.  The law for the community or nation is equally to perfect its corporate existence by a free development from within, aiding and taking full advantage of that of the individual, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development of other communities and nations.  Its law is to harmonise its life with that of the human aggregate and to pour itself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity.  The law for humanity is to pursue its upward evolution towards the finding and expression of the Divine in the type of mankind, taking full advantage of the free development and gains of all individuals and nations and groupings of men, to work towards the day when mankind may be really and not only ideally one divine family, but even then, when it has succeeded in unifying itself, to respect, aid and be aided by the free growth and activity of its individuals and constituent aggregates.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pg. 71

Self-Development of Individual or Community Does Not Imply Closing Off of Diversity

Humanity frequently takes a principle or concept to an extreme so that it becomes an exclusive “law” that denies the validity of other principles or concepts; however, this tendency does not align with the complexity and interdependence of all existence.  We find in actuality that apparently contradictory principles are varying aspects of a more complicated truth than our linear mental process usually tries to grasp or embrace.  Thus, the idea that the individual should be able to freely develop his capacities and his growth is often used as an excuse to suppress, deny or oppress others who have different views; whereas it needs in reality to be tempered by an appreciation of the contributions offered by those who have a different focus, value set, or viewpoint.  Similarly, the self-development of a community grouping, state or nation is not to be taken as a license to deny, oppress or suppress the free variation of other such groupings which collectively make up the complex picture of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Nor does this right to be oneself mean with the nation or community any more than with the individual that it should roll itself up like a hedgehog, shut itself up in its dogmas, prejudices, limitations, imperfections, in the form and mould of its past or its present achievement and refuse mental or physical commerce and interchange or spiritual or actual commingling with the rest of the world.  For so it cannot grow or perfect itself.  As the individual lives by the life of other individuals, so does the nation by the life of other nations, by accepting from them material for its own mental, economic, and physical life; but it has to assimilate this material, subject it to the law of its own nature, change it into stuff of itself, work upon it by its own free will and consciousness, if it would live securely and grow soundly.  To have the principle or rule of another nature imposed upon it by force or a de-individualising pressure is a menace to its existence, a wound to its being, a fetter upon its march.  As the free development of individuals from within is the best condition for the growth and perfection of the community, so the free development of the community or nation from within is the best condition for the growth and perfection of mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp. 70-71

The Right of the Community to Pursue its Self-Expression

There are three terms in human life which each must find their own fulfillment and at the same time, their harmony with one another and within their own term.  These are the individual human being, the community (of whatever size or form), and humanity as a whole.  Fixating on one of these, at the expense of the other two terms will lead to imbalances; similarly, aggrandising one individual, or one nation at the expense of the others is also destined to bring about disharmony and imbalances in the development and growth of humanity and its constituent elements.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The nation or community is an aggregate life that expresses the Self according to the general law of human nature and aids and partially fulfils the development and the destiny of mankind by its own development and the pursuit of its own destiny according to the law of its being and the nature of its corporate individuality.  It has like the individual the right to be itself, and its just claim, as against any attempt at domination by other nations or of attack upon its separate development by any excessive tendency of human uniformity and regimentation, is to defend its existence, to insist on being itself, to persist in developing according to the secret Idea within it or, as we say, according to the law of its own nature.  This right it must assert not only or even principally for its own sake, but in the interests of humanity.  For the only things that we can really call our rights are those conditions which are necessary to our free and sound development, and that again is our right because it is necessary to the development of the world and the fulfilment of the destiny of mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pg. 70

Finding the True Significance and Role of the Community

By community we mean any grouping of humanity to which an individual may belong or adhere.  This can be a geographical or political grouping, such as a town, state or nation, but equally it may be a religious grouping, a racial or cultural grouping, or a familial grouping, or some other collection of individuals with a common interest, background or cultural focus.

The importance of community lies in its ability to provide the individual with a way to expand his relationship beyond his own individuality.  Humanity as a whole is too large and amorphous a concept for that to easily occur.  At the same time, community can also act as an obstacle to the further development to larger groupings and eventually to humanity as a whole.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The individual has to live in humanity as well as humanity in the individual; but mankind is or has been too large an aggregate to make this mutuality a thing intimate and powerfully felt in the ordinary mind of the race, and even if humanity becomes a manageable unit of life, intermediate groups and aggregates must still exist for the purpose of mass-differentiation and the concentration and combination of varying tendencies in the total human aggregate.  Therefore the community has to stand for a time to the individual for humanity even at the cost of standing between him and it and limiting the reach of his universality and the wideness of his sympathies.  Still the absolute claim of the community, the society or the nation to make its growth, perfection, greatness the sole object of human life or to exist for itself alone as against the individual and the rest of humanity, to take arbitrary possession of the one and make the hostile assertion of itself against the other, whether defensive or offensive, the law of its action in the world — and not, as it unfortunately is, a temporary necessity, — this attitude of societies, races, religions, communities, nations, empires is evidently an aberration of the human reason, quite as much as the claim of the individual to live for himself egoistically is an aberration and the deformation of a truth.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp 69-70