Karmic Consequences of National Egoism Breed Warfare

On an individual level, the ego creates a sense of separation, of fragmentation of one from the other, and with this sense of division and separation comes self-aggrandisement at the expense of the other beings, as the ego revolves everything around itself.  The process at the level of the nation-unit is analogous.  The national ego creates a division between one group of people and another and finds rationale for achieving its own perceived aims at the expense of those “others”.  These can be concrete things like access to and control of resources of life, but they can just as likely be perceived affronts or humiliations, and an attempt to “save face” or create an aura of domination over others.  Every action, of course, is linked in a chain of “cause and effect” so that there are actions and reactions, and then counter-actions until eventually outright conflict ensues.   Some of these conflicts have their roots in events that took place thousands of years ago, and they still evoke emotion and energy today to justify acts of vengeance or reprisal.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “National egoism remaining, the means of strife remaining, its causes, opportunities, excuses will never be wanting.  The present war (n.b. World War I) came because all the leading nations had long been so acting as to make it inevitable; it came because there was a Balkan imbroglio and a Near-Eastern hope and commercial and colonial rivalries in Northern Africa over which the dominant nations had been battling in peace long before one or more of them grasped at the rifle and the shell.”

“From Morocco to Tripoli, from Tripoli to Thrace and Macedonia, from Macedonia to Herzegovina the electric chain ran with that inevitable logic of causes and results, actions and their fruits which we call Karma, creating minor detonations on its way till it found the inflammable point and created that vast explosion which has filled Europe with blood and ruins.”

After reviewing various issues underlying the pressures of the war, Sri Aurobindo notes further:  “Even if that difficulty is settled, new causes of strife must necessarily develop where the spirit of national egoism and cupidity seeks for satisfaction; and so long as it lives, satisfaction it must seek and repletion can never permanently satisfy it.  The tree must bear its own proper fruit, and Nature is always a diligent gardener.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 120-121


The Obstacles to Human Unity and World Peace

Sri Aurobindo analyzes the issues that stand in the way of development of a larger societal formation that would work to eliminate strife and bring humanity together for its collective benefit in a peaceful regime.  Without a radical change in the human psychology, all the outer methods and systems fall short of achieving a total solution.

“The mind of the race has not as yet the necessary experience; the intellect of its ruling classes has not acquired the needed minimum of wisdom and foresight; the temperament of the peoples has not developed the indispensable instincts and sentiments.  Whatever arrangement is made will proceed on the old basis of national egoisms, hungers, cupidities, self-assertions and will simply endeavour to regulate them just enough to prevent too disastrous collisions.  The first means tried will necessarily be insufficient because too much respect will be paid to those very egoisms which it is sought to control.  The causes of strife will remain; the temper that engenders it will live on, perhaps exhausted and subdued for a time in certain of its activities, but unexorcised; the means of strife may be controlled but will be allowed to remain.  Armaments may be restricted, but will not be abolished; national armies may be limited in numbers — an illusory limitation — but they will be maintained; science will still continue to minister ingeniously to the art of collective massacre.  War can only be abolished if national armies are abolished and even then with difficulty, by the development of some other machinery which humanity does not yet know how to form or, even if formed, will not for some time be able or willing perfectly to utilise.  And there is no chance of national armies being abolished; for each nation distrusts all the others too much, has too many ambitions and hungers, needs to remain armed, if for nothing else, to guard its markets and keep down its dominions, colonies, subject peoples.  Commercial ambitions and rivalries, political pride, dreams, longings, jealousies are not going to disappear as if by the touch of a magic wand merely because Europe has in an insane clash of long-ripening ambitions, jealousies and hatreds decimated its manhood and flung in three years the resources of decades into the melting-pot of war.  The awakening must go much deeper, lay hold upon much purer roots of action before the psychology of nations will be transmuted into that something ‘wondrous, rich and strange” which will eliminate war and international collisions from our distressed and stumbling human life.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 119-120

Necessary Elements of International Cooperation in the Development of Human Unity

Any attempt to bring about harmony and unity for all of humanity must find a way to address the conflicting needs and requirements of the various nation-states that hold sway in the world.  One method would involve dissolving the nation-states into a larger form of unity, such as the concept behind the development of the imperial model.  This however would have to find a way to develop not only the economic, political and military union, but also the requisite psychological unity that would minimize the differences of culture, religion, language, background, that are the foundations of the nation-states.  A second method would require that the nation-units, despite their foundational differences, would find ways to work together and collaborate on issues that affect them all.

As the world recoiled from the horror of the First World War, the opportunity to address the common issues of peace, security and economic balance was there, and the League of Nations became the first, insufficient attempt to create a framework for tackling these problems.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “There was to be expected, then, some attempt to provide a settled and effective means for the regulation and minimising of war, for the limitation of armaments, for the satisfactory disposal of dangerous disputes and especially, though this presents the greatest difficulty, for meeting that conflict of commercial aims and interests which is now the really effective, although by no means the only factor in the conditions that compel the recurrence of war.  If this new arrangement contained in itself the seed of international control, if it turned out to be a first step towards a loose international formation or perhaps contained its elements or initial lines or even a first scheme to which the life of humanity could turn for a mould of growth in its reaching out to a unified existence, then, however rudimentary or unsatisfactory this arrangement might be at first, the future would carry in it an assured promise.  Once begun, it would be impossible for mankind to draw back and, whatever difficulties, disappointments, struggles, reactions, checks or brutal interruptions might mark the course of this development, they would be bound to help int he end rather than hinder the final and inevitable result.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pg. 118

The Limited Evolutionary Result of the First World War

Any great cataclysm provides an opportunity for humanity to face its deeper concerns and needs, and thus, provides an opportunity for substantial progress if properly seized upon.  The times where such openings to a wider awareness under the pressure of circumstances are rare, and generally when humanity faces an existential crisis.  The First World War was such an opportunity, but the result was primarily governed, not by a progressive leap forward, but by incremental political maneuvering which inevitably led to the Second World War occurring only some 20 years after the conclusion of the first.  The failure to take up the larger challenges and address the global needs represents a lesson for the modern day, as we face the chances of global annihilation, massive economic disruption, mass migrations of humanity, species die off and the challenges of population growth, resource availability and allocation, pollution, and climate change.

Sri Aurobindo examines the issue:  “If, indeed, developments had occurred before the end of this world-wide struggle strong enough to change the general mind of Europe, to force the dwarfish thoughts  of its rulers into greater depths and generate a more wide-reaching sense of the necessity for radical change than has yet been developed, more might have been hoped for; but as the great conflict drew nearer to its close, no such probability emerged; the dynamic period during which in such a crisis the effective ideas and tendencies of men are formed, passed without the creation of any great and profound impulse.  There were only two points on which the general mind of the peoples was powerfully affected.  First, there was generated a sense of revolt against the possible repetition of this vast catastrophe; still more strongly felt was the necessity for finding means to prevent the unparalleled dislocation of the economic life of the race which was brought about by the convulsion.”

Sadly, the desires to avoid a repeat of the upheaval of world war and the desire to stabilize the economic activity of the world were both dealt with in a less than ideal manner and the resultant suppression of the German people through the reparations programme that was developed, with its catastrophic results of runaway inflation and hardships,  followed by the Great Depression, brought about the very conditions that could lead to the repeat of a world war.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 117-118

The Limitations of Political and Economic Programs for Human Unity

Prior to the end of World War I, Sri Aurobindo noted that the trauma of that war could awaken humanity to the need to find a more ideal solution; yet, the political and economic powers of the time, if they simply conducted themselves in the ordinary course, would not solve the problems that led to the “great war”, but would simply pave the way for an even greater conflict to follow.  In actual fact, an attempt was made, with the formation of the League of Nations, to move towards a higher principle of collaboration among nations, yet the treaties that developed after that war were in fact instrumental causes in the future rise of Hitler, the Third Reich and the inevitable Second World War that resulted.  The second war made it clear that a different approach was needed and the resultant formation of the United Nations, and the implementation of the Marshall Plan, with its focus on rebuilding the nations that lost the war, rather than exacting further retribution on them, were attempts to find a way towards a more harmonious future.

Sri Aurobindo observes, writing several years prior to the end of the first world war:  “If the politician mind is left entirely to itself, we could expect no better tangible result of the greatest international convulsion on record than a rearrangement of frontiers, a redistribution of power and possessions and a few desirable or undesirable developments of international, commercial and other relations.  That is one disastrous possibility leading to more disastrous convulsions — so long as the problem is not solved — against which the future of the world is by no means secure.”

“The passions and hatreds and selfish national hopes raised by the war must certainly be a great obstacle in the way and may easily render futile or of a momentary stability any such beginning.  But, if nothing else, the mere exhaustion and internal reaction produced after the relaxing of the tensity of the struggle, might give time for new ideas, feelings, forces, events to emerge which will counteract the pernicious influence.”

“…This happier possibility could not immediately materialise, but the growing insecurity, confusion and disorder have made the creation of some international system more and more imperative if modern civilisation is not to collapse in bloodshed and chaos.  The result of this necessity has been first the creation of the League of Nations and afterwards the U.N.O.; neither has proved very satisfactory from the political point of view, but henceforward the existence of some such arranged centre of order has become very evidently indispensable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 116-117

Idealism and Pragmatism in the Development of Human Unity

The detailed review of the historical development of larger human societal aggregates helps us gain an appreciation for the issues and the difficulties involved in created a structure that will unify all of humanity.   While idealism may help to inspire a new direction, real change tends to take place at a very practical or pragmatic level, addressing the perceived needs of the individuals and their societal organisation, starting with the material needs.  The ideal, in a purely intellectual sense, does not effectuate the changes, and any attempt to track the potential steps towards human unity must needs therefore take into account the underlying factual basis, the practical issues and the built in prejudices and preconceptions which create so much resistance to change in the human being.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “In the absence of a general idealistic outburst of creative human hope which would make such changes possible, the future will be shaped not by the ideas of the thinker but by the practical mind of the politician which represents the average reason and temperament of the time and effects usually something much nearer the minimum than the maximum of what is possible.  The average general mind of a great mass of men, while it is ready to listen to such ideas as it has been prepared to receive and is accustomed to seize on this or that notion with a partisan avidity, is yet ruled in its actions not so much by its thought as by its interests, passions and prejudices.  The politician and the statesman — and the world is now full of politicians but very empty of statesmen — act in accordance with this average general mind of the mass; the one is governed by it, the other has always to take it into chief account and cannot lead it where he will, unless he is one of those great geniuses and powerful personalities who unite a large mind and dynamic force of conception with an enormous power or influence over men.  Moreover, the political mind has limitations of its own beyond those of the general average mind of the mass; it is even more respectful of the status quo, more disinclined to great adventures in which the safe footing of the past has to be abandoned, more incapable of launching out into the uncertain and the new.  To do that it must either be forced by general opinion or a powerful interest or else itself fall under the spell of a great new enthusiasm diffused in the mental atmosphere of the times.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 115-116

The First Glimmerings of the Ideal of Human Unity as a Future Reality for Humanity

Following the general process of Nature identified by Sri Aurobindo, we can identify the first, somewhat vague and amorphous, stirrings of the ideal of human unity and even the first sense of this being a real need that should find a way to work itself out.  Certainly the current organisation of the world’s nations, the political and economic stresses and the inherent narrow view of national rather than global interest shows us that the full expression of this ideal has not yet found either a favorable soil, nor a proper time for its realisation.  Yet the experience of several world wars, the nuclear crisis that overshadowed the “cold war” and the increasing pressure of climate change, environmental degradation and population growth coupled with the past control mechanisms which created vastly unequal access to the world’s resources, has begun to create a dynamic that will inevitably bring about changes that move humanity in the direction of unity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “There cannot as yet be even a real external unity, far less a psychological oneness.  …  It came to be recognised that it contains in itself some force of eventual reality, and the voice of those who would cry it down as the pet notion of intellectual cranks and faddists had no longer the same volume and confidence, because it was no longer so solidly supported by the common sense of the average man, that short-sighted common sense of the material mind which consists in a strong feeling for immediate actualities and an entire blindness to the possibilities of the future.  But there has as yet been no long intellectual preparation of a more and more dominant thought cast out by the intellectuals of the age to remould the ideas of comman men, nor has there been any such gathering to a head of the growing revolt against present conditions as would make it possible for vast masses of men seized by the passion for an ideal and by the hope of a new happiness for mankind to break up the present basis of things and construct a new scheme of collective life. … No great effective outburst of a massed and dynamic idealism in this direction can be reasonably predicted.  The preparation may have begun, it may have been greatly facilitated and hastened by recent events, but it is still only in its first stages.”

It may be noted that humanity tends to respond to the pressure of events and needs.  We see in the world today an ever-increasing pressure of income inequality, resource limitations, and the changes taking place in the environment which are compounded by fast growing population, and an increasingly powerful technology welding all humanity into a global village of sorts.   The pressure of these forces brings about conflict over resources, mass migrations, and corresponding reactions.  As the pressure increases, the only real solution eventually can only be more and deeper cooperation and understanding.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 114-115