The Pressure of Global Concerns Drives Humanity Toward Human Unity

Nature’s drive towards world unity can be identified through the speed and intensity with which mankind is being driven ever-closer together and the tight inter-relationship of actions that affect everyone around the world.  The  rise of an interdependent global economic system, the increasing pressure on the world’s resources to provide food and water to more than 7 billion people, the development of devastating weapons of mass destruction, the global climate crisis, the fear of global pandemics all represent just a few of the issues that transcend national boundaries and which eventually will force humanity to join together to find solutions, or perish.  It is the type of survival crisis that brings about the intensity needed to arrive at a solution.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This working of Nature depends for its means of fulfilment upon two forces which combine to make the larger aggregation inevitable.  First, there is the increasing closeness of common interests or at least the interlacing and interrelation of interests in a larger and yet larger circle which makes old divisions an obstacle and a cause of weakness, obstruction and friction, and the clash and collision that comes out of this friction a ruinous calamity to all, even to the victor who has to pay a too heavy price for his gains; and even these expected gains, as war becomes more complex and disastrous, are becoming more and more difficult to achieve and the success problematical.  An increasing perception of this community or interrelation of interests and a growing unwillingness to face the consequences of collision and ruinous struggle must push men to welcome any means for mitigating the divisions which should lead to such disasters.  If the trend to the mitigation of divisions is once given a definite form, that commences an impetus which drives towards closer and closer union.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 301-302

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Human Unity Is the Trend of the Development of Human Social Groupings

We observe the systematic development of ever-larger groupings of humanity.  The imperial form has been tried on multiple occasions, but it was not stable and eventually dissolved.  The largest current stable grouping is the nation, and we see nations proliferating around the world.  The nation-unit is stable, not just because it speaks to physical and vital needs of particular people, but because it has the power of a psychological unity among the members of that nation.  Unstable nations are those that do not have this kind of psychological unity, and they have tended to break up, or reform with other nations, or carve out a new national unit in response to the centrifugal forces at work in the absence of psychological unity.  The recurring attempts to develop yet larger units, along with the rise of the idea of the religion of humanity, are signs that Nature has not completed its work of unifying humanity.  This process continues to evolve, developing new justifications, and confronting new concerns that can only be solved by a united effort of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…while it is possible to construct a precarious and quite mechanical unity by political and administrative means, the unity of the human race, even if achieved, can only be secured and can only be made real if the religion of humanity, which is at present the highest active ideal of mankind, spiritualises itself and becomes the general inner law of human life.”

“The outward unity may well achieve itself, — possibly, though by no means certainly, in a measurable time, — because that is the inevitable final trend of the working of Nature in human society which makes for larger and yet larger aggregations and cannot fail to arrive at a total aggregation of mankind in a closer international system.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 301

The Need for a Change of the Inner Human Nature to Achieve the Ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity

The first attempts by humanity, rooted in our mental being, to embody an idea or ideal, such as liberty, equality or fraternity, are based in our outer surface being, and tend to develop outer solutions such as the way we organise our societal institutions, the rules or laws we make to govern our lives, or the economic systems that we develop.  It is of course an important step forward for us to attempt to improve human life even at this outer level; however, it is insufficient to bring about the inner truth behind these ideals.  That can only come with an inner change that opens us to the spiritual truths behind these concepts.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But though these aims are of great importance in their own field, they are not the central thing; they can only be secure when founded upon a change of the inner human nature and inner way of living; they are themselves of importance only as a means for giving a greater scope and a better field for man’s development towards that change and, when it is once achieved, as an outward expression of the larger inward life.  Freedom, equality, brotherhood are three godheads of the soul; they cannot be really achieved through the external machinery of society or by man so long as he lives only in the individual and the communal ego.  When the ego claims liberty, it arrives at competitive individualism.  When it asserts equality, it arrives first at strife, then at an attempt to ignore the variations of Nature, and, as the sole way of doing that successfully, it constructs an artificial and machine-made society.  A society that pursues liberty as its ideal is unable to achieve equality; a society that aims at equality will be obliged to sacrifice liberty.  For the ego to speak of fraternity is for it to speak of something contrary to its nature.  All that it knows is association for the pursuit of common egoistic ends and the utmost that it can arrive at is a closer organisation for the equal distribution of labour, production, consumption and enjoyment.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 299

Limitations in the Implementation of the Idea of a Religion of Humanity

The question which Sri Aurobindo next takes up is whether and to what extent an intellectual and emotional idea, such as the religion of humanity, can so radically change human life as to bring about its actual realisation, rather than simply modifying the surface of life, while leaving the depths unchanged.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The weakness of the intellectual idea, even when it supports itself by an appeal to the sentiments and emotions, is that it does not get at the centre of man’s being.  The intellect and the feelings are only instruments of the being and they may be the instruments of either its lower and external form or of the inner and higher man, servants of the ego or channels of the soul.  The aim of the religion of humanity was formulated in the eighteenth century by a sort of primal intuition; that aim was and it is still to re-create human society in the image of three kindred ideas, liberty, equality and fraternity.  None of these has really been won in spite of all the progress that has been achieved.  The liberty that has been so loudly proclaimed as an essential of modern progress is an outward, mechanical and unreal liberty.  The equality that has been so much sought after and battled for is equally an outward and mechanical and will turn out to be an unreal equality.  Fraternity is not even claimed to be a practicable principle of the ordering of life and what is put forward as its substitute is the outward and mechanical principle of equal association or at the best a comradeship of labour.  This is because the idea of humanity has been obliged in an intellectual age to mask its true character of a religion and a thing of the soul and the spirit and to appeal to the vital and physical mind of man rather than his inner being.  It has limited his effort to the attempt to revolutionise political and social institutions and to bring about such a modification of the ideas and sentiments of the common mind of mankind as would make these institutions practicable; it has worked at the machinery of human life and on the outer mind much more than upon the soul of the race.  It has laboured to establish a political, social and legal liberty, equality and mutual help in an equal association.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 298-299

The Ultimate Aim of the Religion of Humanity

If human unity is to become a reality, the underlying psychological unity must develop, and it is the ultimate aim of the religion of humanity to bring about the conditions upon which such a psychological unity must be founded.  At each successive development of human groupings, we see the expansion of the circle of inclusion and the corresponding loosening of the egoistic bonds of the prior stage.  The individual must give up some of his egoistic fulfilment in order to bond into a family.  Similarly, the family into the clan, the clan into the tribe, the tribe into the community, the community into the state, the state into the nation.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process as well as the focus of the religion of humanity: “But still in order to accomplish all its future this idea and religion of humanity has to make itself more explicit, insistent and categorically imperative.  For otherwise it can only work with clarity in the minds of the few and with the mass it will be only a modifying influence, but will not be the rule of human life.  And so long as that is so, it cannot entirely prevail over its own principal enemy.  That enemy, the enemy of all real religion, is human egoism, the egoism of the individual, the egoism of class and nation.  These it could for a time soften, modify, force to curb their more arrogant, open and brutal expressions, oblige to adopt better institutions, but not to give place to the love of mankind, not to recognise a real unity between man and man.  For that essentially must be the aim of the religion of humanity, as it must be the earthly aim of all human religion, love, mutual recognition of human brotherhood, a living sense of human oneness and practice of human oneness in thought, feeling and life, the ideal which was expressed first some thousands of years ago in the ancient Vedic hymn and must always remain the highest injunction of the Spirit within us to human life on earth.  Till that is brought about, the religion of humanity remains unaccomplished.  With that done, the one necessary psychological change will have been effected without which no formal and mechanical, no political and administrative unity can be real and secure.  If it is done, that outward unification may not even be indispensable or, if indispensable, it will come about naturally, not, as now it seems likely to be, by catastrophic means, but by the demand of the human mind, and will be held secure by an essential need of our perfected and developed human nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 297-298

Progress in Human Society as a Result of the Pressure of the Religion of Humanity

During dark times when the world seems to be in flames, when dictators rule the globe, when mass killings, mass migrations, mass social, economic and political disruption seem to displace everything else in our vision, it is hard to see and appreciate progress that has been made in terms of the values of humanity.  Progress is not a straight line.  In fact, it tends to raise up the entrenched opposing forces who want to slow or stop that progress.  In many cases, the depth of the darkness can help us appreciate the forward motion.  The last century has witnessed unspeakable crimes against humanity, the holocaust, two World Wars, millions killed or displaced around the world, nuclear weapons used to the horror of all, and increasing stranglehold on the earth’s resources held by a small elite who are willing to allow, even create, immense suffering to maintain their control of those resources.  And yet, progress there has been, as notated by Sri Aurobindo:

“One has only to compare human life and thought and feeling a century or two ago with human life, thought and feeling in the pre-war period (n.b. prior to World War I) to see how great an influence this religion of humanity has exercised and how fruitful a work it has done.  It accomplished rapidly many things which orthodox religion failed to do effectively, largely because it acted as a constant intellectual and critical solvent, an unsparing assailant of the thing that is and an unflinching champion of the thing to be, faithful always to the future, while orthodox religion allied itself with the powers of the present, even of the past, bound itself by its pact with them and could act only at best as a moderating but not as a reforming force.”

“It to some degree humanised society, humanised law and punishment, humanised the outlook of man on man, abolished legalised torture and the cruder forms of slavery, raised those who were depressed and fallen, gave large hopes to humanity, stimulated philanthropy and charity and the service of mankind, encouraged everywhere the desire of freedom, put a curb on oppression and greatly minimised its more brutal expressions. … It made it possible for man to conceive of a world free from war as imaginable even without waiting for the Christian millennium. … It gave new conceptions of the dignity of the human being and opened new ideas and new vistas of his education, self-development and potentiality.  It spread enlightenment; it made man feel more his responsibility for the progress and happiness of the race; it raised the average self-respect and capacity of mankind; it gave hope to the serf, self-assertion to the downtrodden and made the labourer in his manhood the potential equal of the rich and powerful.”

“True, if we compare what is with what should be, the actual achievement with the ideal, all this will seem only a scanty work of preparation.  but it was a remarkable record for a century and a half or a little more and for an unembodied spirit which had to work through what instruments it could find and had as yet no form, habitation or visible engine of its own concentrated workings.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 296-297

The Idea and Spirit of the Intellectual Religion of Humanity

If a new vision and spirit is to bring about the psychological unity of humanity, and identify this as the “religion of humanity”, it will be useful to understand the principles, motives and tenets of such a religion of humanity and how this step differs from, even exceeds, the basis of the current life of the world.

Sri Aurobindo explains:  “The fundamental idea is that mankind is the godhead to be worshipped and served by man and that the respect, the service, the progress of the human being and human life are the chief duty and the chief aim of the human spirit.  No other idol, neither the nation, the State, the family nor anything else ought to take its place; they are only worthy of respect so far as they are images of the human spirit and enshrine its presence and aid its self-manifestation.  But where the cult of these idols seeks to usurp the place of the spirit and makes demands inconsistent with its service, they should be put aside.  No injunctions of old creeds, religious, political, social or cultural, are valid when they go against its claims.”

“War, capital punishment, the taking of human life, cruelty of all kinds whether committed by the individual, the State or society, not only physical cruelty, but moral cruelty, the degradation of any human being or any class of human beings under whatever specious plea or in whatever interest, the oppression and exploitation of man by man, of class by class, of nation by nation and all those habits of life and institutions of society of a similar kind which religion and ethics formerly tolerated or even favoured in practice, whatever they might do in their ideal rule or creed, are crimes against the religion of humanity, abominable to the ethical mind, forbidden by its primary tenets, to be fought against always, in no degree to be tolerated.  Man must be sacred to man regardless of all distinctions of race, creed, colour, nationality, status, political or social advancement.  The body of man is to be respected, made immune from violence and outrage, fortified by science against disease and preventable death.  The life of man is to be held sacred, preserved, strengthened, ennobled, uplifted.  The heart of man is to be held sacred also, given scope, protected from violation, from suppression, from mechanisation, freed from belittling influences.  The mind of man is to be released from all bonds, allowed freedom and range and opportunity, given all its means of self-training and self-development and organised in the play of its powers for the service of humanity.  And all this too is not to be held as an abstract or pious sentiment, but given full and practical recognition in the persons of men and nations and mankind.  This, speaking largely, is the idea and spirit of the intellectual religion of humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 34, The Religion of Humanity, pg. 295-296