The First Principle of an Ideal Form of Human Unity

Sri Aurobindo makes the point that even though the actual process by which human unity develops may be less than ideal, it is useful to have a sense of the best solution and methodologies, so that at critical junctures, perhaps, guidance can be provided to minimize confusion and false turns.  He then goes on to compare the ideal formulation with the process we witness through world history:

“In principle, then, the ideal unification of mankind would be a system in which, as a first rule of common and harmonious life, the human peoples would be allowed to form their own groupings according to their natural divisions of locality, race, culture, economic convenience and not according to the more violent accidents of history or the egoistic will of powerful nations whose policy it must always be to compel the smaller or less timely organised to serve their interests as dependents or obey their commands as subjects.  The present arrangement of the world has been worked out by economic forces, by political diplomacies, treaties and purchases and by military violence without regard to any moral principle or any general rule of the good of mankind.”

These methods have their utility and Nature tends to find a way forward towards its goals even if they are not the most ideal methods that can be conceived by an enlightened intellect.  Despite the suffering that has been endured, humanity continues to move slowly towards unification.

Sri Aurobindo continues:  “But the great step of unification once taken, the artificial arrangements which have resulted would no longer have any reason for existence.  It would be so in the first place because the convenience and good of the world at large and not the satisfaction of the egoism, pride and greed of particular nations would be the object to be held in view, in the second because whatever legitimate claim any nation might have upon others, such as necessities of economic well-being and expansion, would be arranged for in a soundly organised world-union or world-state no longer on the principle of strife and competition, but on a principle of cooperation or mutual adjustment or at least of competition regulated by law and equity and just interchange.  Therefore no ground would remain for forced and artificial groupings except that of historical tradition or accomplished fact which would obviously have little weight in a great change of world conditions impossible to achieve unless the race is prepared to break hundreds of traditions and unsettle the great majority of accomplished facts.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 157-159


The Difficult and Convoluted Movement Towards Human Unity

Idealists like to fantasize about the eventual goal of human unity and how humanity, by adhering to the highest principles and values will adopt the ultimate ideal solution.  Legends from the past relate stories of how great minds developed basic rules for living which became the guiding lights under which entire societies were founded.  Unfortunately, these may be nothing more than legends, or at best, partial truths obscured in the difficulties they faced through the passage of time.  The reality is that humanity tends to evolve in what may be called the messy process of trial and error, progress and retrogression, action and reaction, and this tends to obscure, on the other side, the real positive movement being made through all this constant churning and confusion.

Sri Aurobindo observes, with regard to the process of human development towards unity:  “Attempted, as it will be, in very different fashion according to the desires, passions and interests of great masses of men and guided by no better light than the half-enlightened reason of the world’s intellectuals and the empirical opportunism of the world’s statesmen and politicians, it is likely to be done by a succession of confused experiments, recoils and returns, resistances and persistences; it will progress in spite of human unreason in the midst of a clamour of rival ideas and interests, stumble through a war of principles, advance by a clash of vehement parties ending in more or less clumsy compromises.  It may even, as we have said, be managed in the most unideal, though not the most inconvenient method of all, by a certain amount of violence, the domination of a few vast and powerful empires or even the emergence of a single predominant world-empire, a king-state that will be accepted or will impose itself as the arbiter, if not the ruler of mankind.  Not any intelligent principle, but necessity and convenience, not urgent light, but urgent power is likely to be the effective force in any political, administrative and economic unification of the race.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pg. 157

Resolving the Dynamic Tension Between Law and Liberty

The human mind’s tendency to create apparently mutually exclusive options sets up a barrier to resolving the dynamic tension between the concept of law and that of liberty.  Those who come down on the side of liberty assert the inalienable right of individuals to virtually absolute freedom without taking serious account of the impact on others or the society as a whole.  The only real limitation here would be the feedback that the environment provides to the individual exercising his liberty.  Those who come down on the side of law or regulation believe that society can only function effectively if there is order and a limitation on the exercise of individual freedom.  They cite the efficiency and organizational controls that make regulation essential, and they point out that the exercise of virtually unlimited individual freedom can create serious problems when an individual chooses to use his freedom to bully or attempt to control others, or to create circumstances that would lead to harm to others or the environment.

Sri Aurobindo observes that there is a solution to this apparently irreconcilable opposition:  “Nature does not manufacture, does not impose a pattern or a rule from outside; she impels life to grow from within and to assert its own natural law and development modified only by its commerce with its environment.  All liberty, individual, national, religious, social, ethical, takes its ground upon this fundamental principle of our existence.  By liberty we mean the freedom to obey the law of our being, to grow to our natural self-fulfilment, to find out naturally and freely our harmony with our environment.  The dangers and disadvantages of liberty, the disorder, strife, waste and confusion to which its wrong use leads are indeed obvious.  But they arise from the absence or defect of the sense of unity between individual and individual, between community and community, which pushes them to assert themselves at the expense of each other instead of growing by mutual help and interchange and to assert freedom for themselves in the very act of encroaching on the free development of their fellows.  If a real, a spiritual and psychological unity were effectuated, liberty would have no perils and disadvantages; for free individuals enamoured of unity would be compelled by themselves, by their own need, to accommodate perfectly their own growth with the growth of their fellows and would not feel themselves complete except in the free growth of others.  Because of our present imperfection and the ignorance of our mind and will, law and regimentation have to be called in to restrain and to compel from outside.  The facile advantages of a strong law and compulsion are obvious, but equally great are the disadvantages.  Such perfection as it succeeds in creating tends to be mechanical and even the order it imposes turns out to be artificial and liable to break down if the yoke is loosened or the restraining grasp withdrawn.  Carried too far, an imposed order discourages the principle of natural growth which is the true method of life and may even slay the capacity for real growth. … And all repressive or preventive law is only a makeshift, a substitute for the true law which must develop from within and be not a check on liberty, but its outward image and visible expression.  Human society progresses really and vitally in proportion as law becomes the child of freedom; it will reach its perfection when, man having learned to know and become spiritually one with his fellow-man, the spontaneous law of his society exists only as the outward mould of his self-governed inner liberty.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 155-156

The Secret of Life Lies in the Harmony Between Unity and Diversity

The mental consciousness is limited and works generally with a fixed framework for its action.  Nature appears to support almost limitless variety and differentiation, as we see in the insect, plant and animal kingdoms.  Even among human beings, we find a certain amount of variation around the general theme.  Tracing back through our biological roots, we can even see that human beings share a very considerable amount of common background with amphibians, fish, and animals.  Research done by the Indian scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose even showed that plants share a considerable aspect of life with animals, and are able to respond with signs of intelligence to vital stimuli.  Within humanity, experiments with “inbreeding” within communities has shown a weakening of the strain across multiple generations, leading to the banning of marriage between close relations, and conscious attempts to reach outside a small community, whether peacefully or through warfare, to broaden the genetic pool.  All of these things show us that Nature prefers and insists upon wide diversity, even within an overall unity of life.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the real aim of Nature is a true unity supporting a rich diversity.  Her secret is clear enough from the fact that though she moulds on one general plan, she insists always on an infinite variation.  The plan of the human form is one, yet no two human beings are precisely alike in their physical characteristics…. All life is one in its essential plan and principle; even the plant is a recognizable brother of the animal; but the unity of life admits and encourages an infinite variety of types.”

Similarly one can see that each human societal grouping, while following essential basic principles of aggregation in society, nevertheless has its own uniqueness.  “…each develops its own character, variant principle, natural law.  This variation and fundamental following of its own separate law is necessary to its life, but it is equally necessary to the healthy total life of mankind.  For the principle of variation does not prevent free interchange, does not oppose the enrichment of all from a common stock and of the common stock by all which we have seen to be the ideal principle of existence; on the contrary, without a secure variation such interchange and mutual assimilation would be out of the question.  There we see that in this harmony between our unity and our diversity lies the secret of life; Nature insists equally in all her works upon unity and upon variation.  We shall find that a real spiritual and psychological unity can allow a free diversity and dispense with all but the minimum of uniformity which is sufficient to embody the community of nature and of essential principle.  Until we can arrive at that perfection, the method of uniformity has to be applied, but we must not over-apply it on peril of discouraging life in the very sources of its power, richness and sane natural self-unfolding.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 154-155

The Essential Nature of Freedom and Diversity

There is a strong and unrelenting tendency in the human mind to attempt the achievement of unity through strict regulation and uniformity.  Certainly there are superficial benefits to uniformity to the extent that it can help create efficiency in the organization of society and thereby free the time and attention to address other needs or areas of development.  But in the end, uniformity is sterile and cannot solve the deeper issues of life.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But freedom is as necessary to life as law and regime; diversity is as necessary as unity to our true completeness.  Existence is one only in its essence and totality, in its play it is necessarily multiform.  Absolute uniformity would mean the cessation of life, while on the other hand the vigour of the pulse of life may be measured by the richness of the diversities which it creates.  At the same time, while diversity is essential for power and fruitfulness of life, unity is necessary for its order, arrangement and stability.  Unity we must create, but necessarily uniformity.  If man could realise a perfect spiritual unity, no sort of uniformity would be necessary; for the utmost play of diversity would be securely possible on that foundation.  If again he could realise a secure, clear, firmly-held unity in the principle, a rich, even an unlimited diversity in its application might be possible without any fear of disorder, confusion or strife.”

“While the life-power in man demands diversity, his reason favours uniformity.  It prefers it because uniformity gives him a strong and ready illusion of unity in place of the real oneness at which it is so much more difficult to arrive.  It prefers it, secondly, because uniformity makes easy for him the otherwise difficult business of law, order and regimentation.  It prefers it too because the impulse of the mind in man is to make every considerable diversity an excuse for strife and separation and therefore uniformity seems to him the one secure and easy way to unification.  Moreover, uniformity in any one direction or department of life helps him to economise his energies for development in other directions.”

“Even here, however, the complex unity of existence asserts its truth: in the end man’s total intellectual and cultural growth suffers by social immobility, — by any restriction or poverty of his economic life; the spiritual existence of the race, if it attains to remote heights, weakens at last in its richness and continued sources of vivacity when it depends on a too standardized and regimented society; the inertia from below rises and touches even the summits.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 153-154



Conflict or Cooperation: Two Models for Human Development

Those who view the evolutionary direction of Nature through human development identify an eventual model of cooperation between individuals, societal groupings and mankind as a whole.  This is not the present state of things, which is based on competition, conflict and mutual devouring to a great degree.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “There is a struggle, an opposition of ideas, impulses and interests, an attempt of each to profit by various kinds of war on the others, by a kind of intellectual, vital, physical robbery and theft or even by the suppression, devouring, digestion of its fellows rather than by a free and rich interchange.”

The present reality, however, does not limit or prevent another mode of inter-relations from developing in the future.  The three terms which Sri Aurobindo defines, individual, community and mankind as a whole can adopt new relations based on mutual support and cooperation to enhance the progress of all without suppressing or denying the essential truth of any of these terms:

“The united progress of mankind would thus be realized by a general principle of interchange and assimilation between individual and individual and again between individual and community, between community and community and again between the smaller commonalty and the totality of mankind, between the common life and consciousness of mankind and its freely developing communal and individual constituents.”

Humanity has not yet sorted out the methodology required to achieve this new status.  The human mentality, with its predilection for making one-sided and extreme conditions, tries to bring about unity through suppression of individual or community freedom, and thus, tries to impose uniformity as a solution to the divisions between individuals, communities and the greater needs of humanity.

“To remove freedom in order to get rid of disorder, strife and waste, to remove diversity in order to get rid of separatism and jarring complexities is the impulse of order and regimentation by which the arbitrary rigidity of the intellectual reason seeks to substitute its straight line for the difficult curves of the process of Nature.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 152-153

Diversity in Unity: An Essential Principle of Nature

Sri Aurobindo examines the processes of Nature to identify certain principles or natural laws by which Nature carries out its secret intentions.  “She starts from the visible manifestation of the one and the many, from the totality and its constituent units and creates intermediary unities between the two without which there can be no full development either of the totality or of the units.”

He identifies this principle in the creation of “…the three terms of genus, species and individual.”   The evolutionary stage of the animal creation does not go beyond this, but when Nature reaches the human stage of development, the pressure increases to find and develop the unity of all subgroups and individuals of humanity.  “Man’s communities are formed not so much by the instinctive herding together of a number of individuals of the same genus  or species as by local association, community of interests and community of ideas; and these limits tend always to be overcome in the widening of human thoughts and sympathies brought about by the closer intermingling of races, nations, interests, ideas, cultures.”

He observes, however, that the increasing force of unity at the level of the totality does not mean the obliteration of the separate sub-groupings of humanity and their role to create diversity and the resultant developmental process achieved through the inter-relationships of these separate sub-groups.  “Therefore it would seem that the ideal or ultimate aim of Nature must be to develop the individual and all individuals to their full capacity, to develop the community and all communities to the full expression of that many-sided existence and potentiality which their differences were created to express, and to evolve the united life of mankind to its full common capacity and satisfaction, not by suppression of the fullness of life of the individual or the smaller commonality, but by full advantage taken of the diversity which they develop.  This would seem the soundest way to increase the total riches of mankind and throw them into a fund of common possession and enjoyment.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 151-152