Is Humanity Ready for Human Unity

While the material circumstances may create a need and pressure for human unity, this external impetus may not find a willing receptivity in the heart and mind of mankind, or it may not lead to a true, long-term solution.  The physical demands of climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and the impact of communication and transportation technology to make the entire world accessible and an immediate presence for people everywhere, certainly provide the necessary impetus in a way that has not been seen in the historical past.  Yet we find that humanity is, to a great degree, acting from older instincts and habits of competition and aggression, rather than overcoming superficial differences to achieve the unified effort needed to effectuate true human unity and thereby address the crises of the present time.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “But this very commodity of the material circumstances may bring about the failure of the ideal; for when material circumstances favour a great change, but the heart and mind of the race are not really ready–especially the heart–failure may be predicted, unless indeed men are wise in time and accept the inner change along with the external readjustment.  But at present the human intellect has been so much mechanised by physical Science that it is likely to attempt the revolution it is beginning to envisage principally or solely through mechanical means, through social and political adjustments.  Now it is not by social and political devices, or at any rate not by thee chiefly or only, that the unity of the human race can be enduringly or fruitfully accomplished.”

This is not to say that the aspiration and the attempt should be written off in advance: it is the process of Nature to create circumstances to further an advance, to gauge how far it can succeed and what limits there are to the success at that time, and then to circle back again later when circumstances arise again, and use the past failure as the stepping-stone to a future successful result.  Even our failures teach us something along the way, and make a more comprehensive result possible at the right time in the future.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pg. 11

The Sprouting of an Ideal and Its Growth and Development

If we reflect on how humanity develops various ideals, and how these ideals go about getting to be attempted, and then view the results, it becomes possible to recognize a process which Nature, the executive power of the Divine in manifestation, uses to evolve new goals and focus for humanity.  In one of his thoughts and aphorisms, Sri Aurobindo implies that a Yogi dwelling in a cave in the Himalayas dreamed of liberty and subsequently the French Revolution eventually occurred.  This is not so much to imply direct causality, but to point more toward the impulsion of Nature, picked up by the subtle awareness of the Yogi, and eventually making itself known and felt in the wider field of human experience.

In the general operations of Nature, a seed is sown, and if the environment is appropriate, the seed can sprout, take root and grow.  Similarly with ideals within humanity, the seed of an idea is sown, and if humanity is ready to receive it, even to some degree, it begins to take root and grow and reach out to expand its influence.  It is met by resistance in most cases for the established status quo, or by those who have neither the mind nor the inclination to do something different than they have done in the past,  Some of these eventually gain enough stability to become rooted in the community of mankind, and others flower for a time and fade.

With this general background, it is possible to look at the ideal of human unity and its status and opportunities, as described by Sri Aurobindo:  “Today, the ideal of human unity is more or less vaguely making its way to the front of our consciousness.  The emergence of an ideal in human thought is always the sign of an intention in Nature, but not always of an intention to accomplish; sometimes it indicates only an attempt which is predestined to temporary failure.  For nature is slow and patient in her methods.  She takes up ideas and half carries them out, then drops them by the wayside to resume them in some future era with a better combination.  She tempts humanity, her thinking instrument, and tests how far it is ready for the harmony she has imagined; she allows and incites man to attempt and fail, so that he may learn and succeed better another time.  Still the ideal, having once made its way to the front of thought, must certainly be attempted, and this ideal of human unity is likely to figure largely among the determining forces of the future; for the intellectual and material circumstances of the age have prepared and almost impose it, especially the scientific discoveries which have made our earth so small that its vasted kingdoms seem now no more than the provinces of a single country.”

One method Nature uses is to put before humanity a threat to survival that forces new thoughts and directions upon us.  Global climate change, overuse of resources, the accumulation of waste materials that are overwhelming the land, air and oceans, and the increasing threats of utter destruction from the weaponry that has been developed in the last 100 years, all represent an impetus towards development of human unity as a way to ensure survival of the human race.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pg. 10

The Necessity of a Deeper Knowledge of the Development of Human Society

We try to understand the organization and meaning of human social interactions, institutions and systems of governance or economics through an analysis of the salient facts of the past or present that appear to our surface vision.  We pick out leaders, heroes, warriors, religious founders, great scientists or philosophers and attempt to judge their impact on the development of our society and its values, actions and limitations.  We categorize movements of thought and action within the framework of a series of organized religions or a philosophy of economy or governance, which appear under the various “ism’s” such as capitalism, communism, socialism, imperialism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, etc.  We focus on events such as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the American Revolution, and on the actions of individuals such as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Caesar, etc.

We amass a dizzying amount of detail, and use our ability to memorize these facts and the stories that accompany them, as evidence of our “understanding” of human history and the development of our civilisation.

We become attached to any of these systems, ideas or philosophical or religious directions and use them to divide us, one from another, and create barriers.  Eventually we begin to learn that each of these directions has its positive aspects and its negative aspects, and the solution does not seem to lie solely within the framework of any of these.  Further, we learn that human life and development does not fit neatly into the patterns espoused in the ideal forms of these various structures.

Sri Aurobindo therefore concludes that all of these lines of understanding essentially are based on the surfaces of life and do not reach down into the depths or up to the heights where the powers that throw up all these variations actually reside and guide the development of human understanding:  “…all this happens because our whole thought and action with regard to our collective life is shallow and empirical; it does not seek for, it does not base itself on a firm, profound and complete knowledge.  The moral is not the vanity of human life, of its ardours and enthusiasms and of the ideals it pursues, but the necessity of a wiser, larger, more patient search after its true law and aim.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pp. 9-10

The Need to View and Understand the Deeper Currents of Development at Work in the Individual and the Society

Observation of the wave-action on the surface of an ocean does not show us the true nature of ocean in its depths.  We cannot see the pressures of the deep, the innumerable life-forms, the “food chain” nor the world-straddling currents that take place through the interaction of warmer and cooler ocean areas.  We also cannot see, from that superficial view, the impact of warming or cooling of the ocean has on the climate in the air, nor the effect on the land.

Similarly, if we observe the day to day flurry of activity on the surfaces of our human existence, the daily issues, concerns, and conflicts in society which occupy so much of our attention, we are unable to plumb the depths of the longer term currents and significance of the development of human civilisation and of the individuals living within that civilisation.

And yet, it is these deeper movements which actually determine the true direction, scope, intensity and speed of human development, just as it is the depths of the ocean that present the true nature of the ocean and its importance for global action in the material world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the knowledge of life’s profundities, its potent secrets, its great, hidden, all-determining laws is exceedingly difficult to us.  We have found no plummet that can fathom these depths; they seem to us a vague, indeterminate movement, a profound obscurity from which the mind recoils willingly to play with the fret and foam and facile radiances of the surface.  Yet it is these depths and their unseen forces that we ought to know if we would understand existence; on the surface we get only Nature’s secondary rules and practice bye-laws which help us to tide over the difficulties of the moment and to organise empirically without understanding them her continual transitions.”

In the West, the students of sociology attempt to find out trends and directions through statistical analysis of factual data.  This is the mind’s methodology and while it points towards the need of the deeper understanding that Sri Aurobindo discusses, it is still limited by the framework of the mental consciousness and its restricted view.  Sociology therefore falls short, as it focuses its view primarily on the surface factual data and simply organises and filters that data to come up with an understanding of the developments taking place in any society.  What is missing here is an understanding of the deeper currents that throw up to the surface these various directions and trends, and the deeper import of what is systematically trying to manifest through human individuals and their societies.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pg. 9

Prefatory Remarks Regarding the Treatise on The Ideal of Human Unity

The period during which the main text of The Ideal of Human Unity was written, spanning the period of the First World War, from 1915 through 1918, was a time of great and momentous change in the socio-political landscape of the world.  As a result, there is discussion, particularly in the earlier chapters, which refers to institutions and events which were superceded along the way and no longer were relevant.  It is important therefore to separate the transitory and impermanent details from the deeper principles at work in order to understand the significance of the issues and their probable lines of development and resolution.

There are overarching themes in the movement towards the political and economic unity of humanity, and these themes, identified and described by Sri Aurobindo, remain active even today.  The founding of the League of Nations, precursor to today’s United nations, was one of the events that took place in the latter period covered by this text.  The potential for collapse of the League of Nations and the reasons for it, were described by Sri Aurobindo as follows:  “The two great difficulties which attend the incipience of this first stage of loose world-union will still be, first, the difficulty of bringing into one system the few great Empires remaining, few but immensely increased in power, influence and the extent of their responsibilities, and the greatly increased swarm of free nations which the force of events or the Power guiding them rather than the will of nations and Governments has brought into being, and the approaching struggle between Labour and Capitalism.  The former is only a difficulty and embarrassment, though it may become serious if it turns into a conflict between the imperialistic and nationalistic ideas or reproduces in the international scheme the strife of the old oligarchic and democratic tendencies in a new form, a question between control of the world-system by the will and influence of a few powerful imperial States and the free and equal control by all, small nations and great, European and American and Asiatic peoples.  The second is a danger which may even lead to disintegration of this first attempt at unification, especially if, as seems to be the tendency, the League undertakes the policing of the world against the forces of extreme revolutionary socialism.  On the other hand, the conflict may accelerate, whatever its result, the necessity and actuality of a more close and rigorous system, the incipience at least of the second stage of unification.”

Sri Aurobindo identifies the major underlying themes he expounds, on the advance of humanity to a wider world-union:  “…the inevitability of the unification of the life of humanity as a result of those imperative natural forces which lead always to the creation of larger and larger human aggregates, the choice of the principles which may be followed in the process, the need for preserving and bringing to fullness the principle of individual and group freedom within the human unity, and the insufficiency of formal unity without a growth of the religion of humanity which can alone make it a great psychological advance in the spiritual evolution of the race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Preface, pp. 3-4


Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Truth of philosophy is of a merely theoretical value unless it can be lived, and we have therefore tried in The Synthesis of Yoga to arrive at a synthetical view of the principles and methods of the various lines of spiritual self-discipline and the way in which they can lead to an integral divine life in the human existence.”

When most people take up a book about Yoga, they expect to have a specific line of practice outlined for them to follow.  Sri Aurobindo has, however, taken a radically different approach.  He appreciates that each form or practice of Yoga has its basis in some aspect of the being, and speaks to some part of the Nature.  Thus, while an individual may find a particular path to be useful for progress, it may turn out that at some point, another aspect of the nature needs to be taken up:  this may require a different approach.  Therefore, Sri Aurobindo prefers to set down the principles and major lines of action while providing an overview of the major paths of Yoga, their primary modes of action and the results that can be expected along each of those lines.

Sri Aurobindo also sets forth a different objective than the specific lines of Yoga would propose.   The goal of the Integral Yoga is not simply the liberation of the individual from the round of birth and death, nor the liberation from suffering, nor even the attainment of Oneness with the Absolute in an inactive, silent, formless existence.  He recognizes that all existence is the manifestation of the Divine, and therefore, there is nowhere to escape from and nowhere to escape to!  It is incumbent upon the seeker of the integral Yoga, therefore, to attain liberation from the bondage of the limitations of mind, life and body in order to effectuate the intention of the Divine in the world through the transformation of Nature with the evolutionary development of the supramental consciousness.

Sri Aurobindo recognizes that all life is a secret Yoga of Nature, evolving higher forms of conscious awareness from the inconscience of material existence, through the vital manifestation, the development of the mental awareness, and eventually the manifestation of the supermind in life.  This Yoga of Nature takes long aeons.  It is one of the objectives of the integral Yoga to bring about these transformations much more quickly through the conscious and focused participation of the individuals who awaken to this potentiality.

The effort required is all-embracing and must eventually grapple with all parts of the being, all habitual patterns developed over long millenia in the earth-nature, and all resistance caused by mental formations that have been accepted without question as they have taken shape over time.  This leads to the exposition of his own unique contribution to the science of Yoga in the “yoga of self-perfection”.

The Synthesis of Yoga is Sri Aurobindo’s major exposition of the practice of yoga.  With its wide perspective and all-embracing vision, it can aid the practice of any seeker of spiritual realisation.

“Intellectual, volitional, ethical, emotional, aesthetic and physical training and improvement are all so much to the good, but they are only in the end a constant movement in a circle without any last delivering and illumining aim, unless they arrive at a point when they can open themselves to the power and presence of the Spirit and admit its direct workings. This direct working effects a conversion of the whole being which is the indispensable condition of our real perfection. To grow into the truth and power of the Spirit and by the direct action of that power to be made a fit channel of its self-expression, — a living of man in the Divine and a divine living of the Spirit in humanity, — will therefore be the principle and the whole object of an integral Yoga of self-perfection.”  (pg. 592)

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga


The Ultimate Knowledge of the Three Times Comes With the Supramental Realisation

The development of the intuitive mind, with all its light and power, and its ability to see past, present and future to a far greater degree than the normal human mentality, is still only a transitional phase in the ultimate evolutionary objective towards development of the supramental consciousness in all its fullness.  It remains subject to strict limitations that can only be lifted by the shift in standpoint that accompanies the supramental transformation.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the transitional phase and steps involved, as the supramental action takes on a larger role in the human mentality:  “There is then a double action of the intuitive mind aware of, open to and referring its knowledge constantly to the light above it for support and confirmation and of that light itself creating a highest mind of knowledge, — really the supramental action itself in a more and more transformed stuff of mind and a less and less insistent subjection to mental conditions.  There is thus formed a lesser supramental action, a mind of knowledge tending always to change into the true supermind of knowledge.  The mind of ignorance is more and more definitely excluded, its place taken by the mind of self-forgetful knowledge, illumined by the intuition, and the intuition itself more perfectly organised becomes capable of answering to a larger and larger call upon it.  The increasing mind of knowledge acts as an intermediary power and, as it forms itself, it works upon the other, transforms or replaces it and compels the farther change which effects the transition from mind to supermind.  It is here that a change begins to take place in the time-consciousness and time-knowledge which finds its base and complete reality and significance only on the supramental levels.  It is therefore in relation to the truth of supermind that its workings can be more effectively elucidated: for the mind of knowledge is only a projection and a last step in the ascent towards the supramental nature.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Four: The Yoga of Self-Perfection, Chapter 25, Towards the Supramental Time Vision , pp. 871-872