||Sri Aurobindo's Ideograph
What is an Ideograph?
Sri Aurobindo uses the term 'revelatory ideograph' in page 982 of The Life Divine to describe the functioning of a very high consciousness which seizes the body and essence of Truth, reveals and illumines without the necessity of verbal representation. This ‘Illumined Mind’ is the mind of the seer and mystic ‘in whom the soul lives in vision and in a direct sense and experience....'(Ibid, pg 983)
LIBERTY AND FOUR LIES
The belief that a subject nation can acquiesce in subjection and yet make true and vital progress, growing to strength in chains, is a lie.
The idea that mitigations of subjection constitute freedom or prepare a race for freedom or that anything but the exercise of liberty fits man for liberty, is another lie.
The teaching that peace and security are more important and vital to man than liberty is a third lie....
The doctrine that social and commercial progress must precede or will of themselves bring about political strength and liberty, is a fourth and very dangerous lie; for a nation is no aggregate of separable functions, but a harmony of functions, of which government and political arrangement is the oldest, most central and most vital and determines the others.
The Bourgeois and the Samurai (1906-1908)
One is astonished at the position of the orthodox. They labour to deify everything that exists. Hindu society has certain arrangements and habits which are mere customary. There is no proof that they existed in ancient times nor any reason why they should last into the future…Neither antiquity nor modernity can be the test of truth or the test of usefulness…..To recreate Manu entire in modern society is to ask Ganges to flow back to the Himalayas. Manu is no doubt national, but so is the animal sacrifice and the burnt offe ring. Because a thing is national of the past, it need not follow that it must be national of the future. It is stupid not to recognize altered conditions….To all things there is a date and a limit. All long-continued customs have been sovereignly useful in their time, even totemism and polyandry. We must not ignore the usefulness of the past, but we seek in preference a present and future utility.
Sri Aurobindo 1910-12
Published in Archives and Research, December 1980
India recognized authority of spiritual experience and knowledge, but she recognized still more the need of variety of spiritual experience and knowledge….Indian civilization did not develop to a last logical conclusion its earlier political and social liberties, -- that greatness of freedom and boldness of experiment belongs to the West; but liberty of religious practice and a complete freedom of thought in religion as in every other matter have always counted among its constant traditions. The atheist and the agnostic were free from persecution in India. Buddhism and Jainism might be disparaged as unorthodox religions, but they were allowed to live freely side by side with the orthodox creeds and philosophies; in her eager thirst of truth she gave them their full chance , tested all their values, and as much of their truth as was assimilable ….That ageless continuity was carefully conserved, but it admitted light from all quarters. In latter times the saints who reached some fusion of the Hindu and the Islamic teaching were freely and immediately recognized as leaders of Hindu religion, -- even, in some cases, when they started with a Mussulman birth and from the Mussulman standpoint. The Yogin who developed a new path of Yoga, the religious teacher who founded a new order, the thinker who built up a noble statement of the many-sided truth of spiritual existence, found no serious obstacle to their practice or their propaganda. At most they had to meet the opposition of the priest and pundit instinctively adverse to any change...
Sri Aurobindo: Excerpted from ‘A Defence of Indian Culture’, Arya,1918-1921
Union, concord, work for the country are all moving and sacred words and must command respect – when they are not misused. But what is it that these politicians ask us to do in the name of union, concord and work for the country? They ask us to sacrifice or stifle our convictions and silence the promptings of conscience in order to follow leaders whom we believe to have lost touch with the spirit of the times and "work together unitedly" in a line of action which we believe to be ruinous to the country. The demand has been made quite nakedly....that we should all follow the leaders blindly even when we disapprove of what they think, say and do. A more presumptuous demand or one more destructive of all political morality and honesty could not be made. There is such a thing as a political conscience, even if its existence is not recognized...
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 3, 1907
The Modern Politician
..the modern politician...does not represent the soul of a people or its aspirations. What he does usually represent is all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception that is about him and these he represents well enough as well as a great deal of mental incompetence and moral conventionality, timidity and pretence. Great issues often come to him for decision, but he does not deal with them greatly; high words and noble ideas are on his lips, but they become rapidly the claptrap of a party. The disease and falsehood of modern political life is patent in every country of the world and only the hypnotised acquiescence of all, even of the intellectual classes, in the great organised sham, cloaks and prolongs the malady....As a matter of fact, it is in no way the largest good of all that is thus secured, but a great deal of organised blundering and evil with a certain amount of good which makes for real progress, because Nature moves forward always in the midst of all stumbling and secures her aim in the end more often in spite of man’s imperfect mentality than by its means.
The Ideal of Human Unity, Pg 296-297
Written for Arya in 1916
The Law for Humanity
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.
The Ideal of Human Unity,
To Be Ourselves
The conception to which Ireland and India have been the first to give a definite formula, “to be ourselves”, -- so different from the impulse and ambition of dependent or unfortunate nations in the past which was rather to become like others, -- is now more and more a generally accepted motive of national life. It opens the way to great dangers and errors, but it is the essential condition for that which has now become the demand of the Time-Spirit on the human race, that it shall find subjectively, not only in the individual, but in the nation and in the unity of the human race itself, its deeper being, its inner law, its real-self and live according to that and no longer by artificial standards..
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 39
Knowledge: Expansive and Aggressive
Civilization can never be safe so long as, confined the cultured mentality to a small minority, it nourishes in its bosom a tremendous mass of ignorance, a multitude, a proletariat. Either knowledge must enlarge itself from above or be always in danger of submergence by the ignorant night from below. Still more must it be unsafe, if it allows enormous numbers of men to exist outside its pale uninformed by its light, full of the natural vigour of the barbarian, who may at any moment seize upon the physical weapons of the civilized without undergoing an intellectual transformation by their culture.... Knowledge must be aggressive, if it wishes to survive and perpetuate itself; to leave an extensive ignorance either below or around it, is to expose humanity to the perpetual danger of a barbaric relapse.
Written in March, 1917 at the time of the 1st phase of Russian Revolution
The Human Cycle, pg 76-77
Religions and Beyond
Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of divine love and charity; Buddhism has shown him a noble way to be wiser, gentler, purer; Judaism and Islam how to be religiously faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities. A great thing would be done if all these God-visions could embrace and cast themselves into each other; but intellectual dogma and cult-egoism stand in the way.
All religions have saved a number of souls, but none yet has been able to spiritualise mankind. For that there is needed not cult and creed, but a sustained and all-comprehending effort at spiritual self-evolution.
Sri Aurobindo, Thoughts and Glimpses,1917
The Universal Being as the Individual and the Group
...As objective science sees a universal force of nature which is the one reality and of which everything is the process, we may come subjectively to the realisation of a universal Being or Existence which fulfils itself in the world and the individual and the group with an impartial regard for all as equal powers of its self-manifestation. This is obviously the self-knowledge which is most likely to be right, since it most comprehensively embraces and accounts for the various aspects of the world-process and the eternal tendencies of humanity.. In this view nether the separate growth of the individual nor the all-absorbing growth of the group can be the ideal, but an equal, simultaneous and, as far as may be, parallel development , in which case each helps to fulfil the other. Each being has its own truth of independent self-realisation and his truth of self-realisation in the life of others and should feel, desire, help, participate more and more, as he grows in largeness and power, in the harmonious and natural growth of all the individual selves and all the collective selves of the one universal Being. These two, when properly viewed, would not be separate, opposite or really conflicting lines of tendency, but the same impulse of the one common existence , companion movements separating only to return upon each other in a richer and larger unity and mutual consequence.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 60-61
Spiritual Force for the Future
The spiritual force within not only creates the future but creates the materials for the future. It is not limited to the existing materials either in their nature or in their quantity. It can transform bad material into good material, insufficient means into abundant means. It was a deep consciousness of this great truth that gave Mazzini the strength to create modern Italy...
It is our hope that... not only the political circumstances of India be changed but her deeper disease be cured and by a full evocation of her immense stores of moral and spiritual strength that be accomplished for India which Mazzini could not accomplish for Italy, to place her in the head and forefront of the new-world whose birth-throes are now beginning to convulse the Earth.
Sri Aurobindo, August 21, 1909
When we first received a European education, we allowed ourselves to be misled by the light of science. Science is a light within a limited room, not the sun which illumines the world. The apara vidya is the sum of science but there is a higher vidya, a mightier knowledge. When we are under the influence of the lower knowledge, we imagine that we are doing everything and try to reason out the situation we find ourselves in, as if our intellect were sovereign and omnipotent. But this is an attitude of delusion and maya. Whoever has once felt the glory of God within him can never again believe that the intellect is supreme. There is a higher voice, there is a more unfailing oracle. It is in the heart where God resides. He works through the brain, but the brain is only one of his instruments. Whatever the brain may plan, the heart knows first and whoever can go beyond the brain to the heart, will hear the voice of the Eternal.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, March 5th, 1908
The future belongs to the young. It is a new and young world which is now under process of development and it is the young who must create it. But it is also a world of truth, courage, justice, lofty aspiration and straightforward fulfilment which we seek to create. For the coward, for the self-seeker; for the talker who goes forward at the beginning and afterwards leaves his fellows in the lurch there is no place in the future of the movement. A brave, frank, clean-hearted, courageous and aspiring youth is the only foundation on which the future nation can be built...
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogi, August 7th, 1909
The Relativity of Non-Violence
There is a truth in Ahimsa [non-violence], there is a truth in destruction also. I do not teach that you should go on killing everybody everyday as a spiritual dharma. I say that destruction can be done when it is part of the divine work commanded by the Divine. Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing. I consider dharma as relative; unity with the Divine and action from the Divine Will, the highest way. Buddha did not aim at action in the world but at cessation from world-existence. For that he found the Eightfold Path a necessary preparatory discipline and so proclaimed it.
It [Ahimsa] had nothing to do with the yoga, but with the path towards liberation found by Buddha. There are many paths and all need not be one and the same in their teaching.
SABCL, Vol.22, pg 491
The Individual and the Collectivity
Every time the society crushes or effaces the individual, it is inflicting a wound on itself and depriving its own life of priceless sources of stimulation and growth. The individual too cannot flourish by himself; for the universal, the unity and collectivity of his fellow-beings, is his present source and stock; it is the thing whose possibilities he individually expresses, even when he transcends its immediate level, and of which in his phenomenal being he is one result. Its depression strikes eventually at his own sources of life, by its increasing he also increases. This is what a true subjectivism teaches us, -- first, that we are a higher self than our ego or our members, secondly, that we are in our life and being not only ourselves but all others; for there is a secret solidarity which our egoism may kick at and strive against, but from which we cannot escape.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 47
Inrush of Historical Forces
When you follow the course of history you may find that there is a certain destiny which represents the sum of physical forces; that is one destiny. And you find that when that tends to go round and round in an infinite circuit then there is a tendency which seems inevitable in movement.
But the question is : Are physical forces the only determinants of destiny? Or, is there anything else? Is there something more than the physical that can intervene and influence the course of the movement?
We find that there have been such inrushes in history and the action of such an inrush has been to change the destiny indicated by the physical forces; it has even changed the course of human history. As an example, take the rise of the Arabs; a small uncivilized race, living in an arid desert, suddenly rises up and in fifty years spreads from Spain to Asia and completely changes the course of history. That is an inrush of forces.
Evening Talks recorded by A.B.Purani, January 13th,1939
Hitler would not have been where he is if he had a soft heart. It is curious how some of the most sentimental people are most cruel. Hitler, for instance, is quite sentimental. He weeps over his mother’s tomb and paints sentimental pictures.
Men like Hitler can’t change, they have to be bumped out of existence. There is no chance of their changing in this life. He can’t get rid of his cruelty – it is in his blood.
Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo
Recorded by A.B.Purani on January 8th, 1939
I believe Gandhi does not know what actually happens to the man’s nature when he takes to non-violence. He thinks that men get purified by it. But when men suffer, or subject themselves to voluntary suffering, what happens is that their vital being gets strengthened. These movements affect the vital being only and not any other part. Now, when you cannot oppose the force that oppresses, you say that you will suffer. That suffering is vital and it gives strength. When the man who has thus suffered gets power he becomes a worse oppressor. That is what I have written in the Essays on the Gita that when a nation gets freedom by the suffering of its leaders and other men, it oppresses other nations in its turn. It is almost always the case with those who suppress their vital being. It allows the pressure on itself, gets strong and then finds vent in some other direction. The same thing happened to the Puritans in England. Cromwell and his men came to power and became the worst oppressors. In Christianity the principle of non-violence is there but it is meant to be practiced for religious and spiritual development. It may be partial but it can certainly develop certain types of spiritual temperaments. What one can do is to transform the spirit of violence....Purification can come by the transformation of the impulse of violence....
Sri Aurobindo, Recorded by A.B.Purani in Evening Talks, July 23rd, 1923
Back to the Land
It is an ascertained principle of national existence that only by keeping possession of the soil can a nation persist; the mastery of the reigns of government or the control of the trade and wealth of a country, does not give permanence to the people in control. They reign for a while and then the virtue departs out of them and they wither or pass away and another takes their place; but the tillers of the soil, ground down, oppressed, rack-rented, miserable, remain, and have always the chance of one day overthrowing their oppressors and coming by their own.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, March 6, 1908
When the State is Doomed
There are two kinds of strain...the strain of a burden of taxation which the people no longer find bearable and the strain of a series of perversions of justice which destroy all faith in the motives of the governing authorities. Justice and protection between man and man, between community and community, between rulers and ruled is the main object for which States exist, for which men submit to the restrictions of the law and to an equitable assessment of the expenses of the machinery which provides for protection and justice. But if the assessment of the expenses is grossly unjust, if the expenses themselves are exorbitantly high, if the revenue is spent on ways of which the taxpayers do not approve, then protection and justice are bought at a price which is not worth paying .And if in addition the protection is denied and the justice withheld, then the very object of the existence of a State ceases to be satisfied and from that moment the governing power, unless it can retrace its steps, is doomed by the inevitable operation of nature.
The bureaucrats... have totally forgotten these simple truths.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, June, 1907
The present-day national spirit and the centralised mechanical organization of the State are logical conclusions or consequences of ‘nations’ – of ‘armed nations’; you feel more and more justified in centralizing everything once you have begun.
But there is no reason to suppose that the present-day ideal of nationhood which is only aggressive and defensive would last forever. If this state of affairs is to last forever then you can give up all hope for humanity. Only a cataclysm, in that case, can save humanity.
Sri Aurobindo, conversation on June 29th,1926
Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Recorded by A.B.Purani
Beyond political diplomacy
The days of timid dabblers in politics are over and men who have no faith in enthusiasm and who cannot believe in anything beyond the cold calculations of diplomacy by which they have been a thousand times bought and sold and who cannot believe in the possibility of uniting the people in a single aim and purpose have no more business to loiter in the political field. They have no right to assume the direction of an enterprise they are incapable of grasping or conceiving in its entirety. Those hugely credulous worthies who have .....never understood the true way to salvation, and dismayed by the greatness of the undertaking, have contented themselves by scoffing at an enthusiasm they extinguished by their timidity and hesitation.
But every error they have committed has served as a stepping-stone to truth. The effect of their accumulated errors has been to dispel the illusion, and new circumstances today have called forth new men, men untrammeled by old habits and systems, men in whom the great Idea is incarnate, who have realised that the true secret of power is faith, who know that true virtue is sacrifice and that the true policy is to prove one’s self strong.
The uplifting of a nation cannot be accomplished by a few diplomatic politicians. The spirit to serve, the spirit to work, the spirit to suffer must be roused. Men in their ordinary utilitarian course of life do not feel called upon to serve anyone except themselves.
The daily duties are engrossing enough for the average man. His own individual prospects in life generally become his sole concern. He is propelled by the inertia of his own individual needs, and if any other sort of work is expected of him a different and more intense force must be continuously applied to him to produce the necessary energy. Or, in other words, we must continuously appeal to his better nature, we must evoke the spiritual in him, we must call forth his moral enthusiasm.
These may not be human nature’s daily food, they may not be necessary for our daily life, they may not have their use in the ordinary selfish pursuits, but they are essential for working a change in our social or political life. Buddha only preached and lived a holy life, Christ only preached and lived a holy life, Sankar only preached and lived a holy life, and they have each worked a mighty revolution in the history of the world. Inspiration is real work. Let the truly inspiring word be uttered and it will breathe life into dry bones. Let the inspiring life be lived and it will produce workers by thousands.
Bande Mataram, February 20th, 1908
Apropos Intolerance (in India)
Men everywhere have common human failings, and intolerance and narrowness especially in the matter of observances there has been and is in India …But these things have never taken the proportions which they assumed in Europe. Intolerance (in India) has been confined for the most part to the minor forms of polemical attack or to social obstruction or ostracism; very seldom have they transgressed across the line to the major forms of barbaric persecution which draw a long , red and hideous stain across the religious history of Europe. There has played ever in India the saving perception of a higher and purer spiritual intelligence, which has had its effect on the mass mentality. Indian religion has always felt that since the minds, the temperaments, the intellectual affinities of men are unlimited in their variety, a perfect liberty of thought and of worship must be allowed to the individual in his approach to the Infinite.
Sri Aurobindo, 1919
CWSA 20, pg 187
Civilisation can never be safe so long as, confining the cultured mentality to a small minority, it nourishes in its bosom a tremendous mass of ignorance, a multitude, a proletariate. Either knowledge must enlarge itself from above or be always in danger of submergence by the ignorant night from below. Still more must it be unsafe, if it allows enormous numbers of men to exist outside its pale uniformed by its light , full of the natural vigour of the barbarian, who may at any moment seize upon the physical weapons of the civilised without undergoing an intellectual transformation by their culture....Knowledge must be aggressive, if it wishes to survive and perpetuate itself; to leave an extensive ignorance either below or around it, is to expose humanity to the perpetual danger of a barbaric relapse.
Sri Aurobindo, March 1917
Of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Mahomedan unity cannot be effected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down, in the heart and in the mind, for where the causes of disunion are, there the remedies must be sought. We shall do well in trying to solve the problem to remember that misunderstanding is the most fruitful cause of our differences, that love compels love and that strength conciliates the strong. We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Mussulman brother, remembering always that in him to Narayana* dwells and to him too our Mother** has given a permanent place in her bosom; but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter out of a selfish weakness and cowardice. We believe this to be the only practical way of dealing with the difficulty. As a political question the Hindu-Mahomedan problem does not interest us at all, as a national problem it is of supreme importance.
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, June 19, 1909
**The Nation is represented as Mother India
Back to the Land
The life of a nation is always rooted in its villages but that of India is so deeply and persistently rooted there that no change or revolution can ever substitute for this source of sap and life the Western system which makes the city the centre and the village a mere feeder of the city. Immense changes have taken place, great empires have risen and fallen, but India is still a nation of villagers, not of townsmen. This has been perhaps an obstacle to national unity but it has also been an assurance of national persistence. It is an ascertained principle of national existence that only by keeping possession of the soil can a nation persist; the mastery of the reigns of government or the control of the trade and wealth of a country, does not give permanence to the people in control. They reign for a while and then the virtue departs out of them and they wither or pass away and another takes their place; but the tillers of the soil, ground down, oppressed, rack-rented, miserable, remain, and have always the chance of one day overthrowing their oppressors and coming by their own.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, March 6, 1908
What is called Socialism in Europe is the old Asiatic attempt to effect a permanent solution of the economic problem of society which will give man leisure and peace to develop undisturbed his higher self. Without Socialism democracy would remain a tendency that never reached its fulfilment, a rule of the masses by a small aristocratic or monied class with the consent and votes of the masses, or a tyranny of the artisan classes over the rest. Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalised and harmonised distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development. The fulfilment of the highest tendencies of human civilization..will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, September 22, 1907
Justifying violence in politics
Justice and righteousness are the atmosphere of political morality, but the justice and righteousness of a fighter, not of the priest. Aggression is unjust only when unprovoked; violence, unrighteous when used wantonly or for unrighteous ends. It is a barren philosophy which applies a mechanical rule to all actions, or takes a word and tries to fit all human life into it.
The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfilment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling, and the weak from being oppressed, is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. “Therefore,” says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata; “God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger”.
Sri Aurobindo, undated, seized by British Police and made an exhibit in the Alipore Conspiracy Case (1908-1909)
The Hypocrisy of the Phrase
Man has been defined sometimes as a political animal and sometimes as a reasoning animal, but he has become still more pre-eminently a literary animal. He is a political animal who has always made a triumphant mess of politics, a reasoning animal whose continual occupation it is to make a system out of his blunders, a literary animal who is always the slave of a phrase and not the least so when the phrase means nothing. The power of the phrase on humanity has never been considered. The phrase is in the nostrils of the vast unruly mass of mankind like the ring in the nose of a camel. It can be led by the phrase-maker wherever he wishes to lead it. And the only distinction between the sage and the sophist is that the phrases of the sage mean something while the phrases of the sophist seem to mean something.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, November 18th,1907
Reason as a Social Renovator
If we may judge from the modern movement, the progress of the reason as a social renovator and creator, if not interrupted in its course, would be destined to pass through three successive stages which are the very logic of its growth,
the first individualistic and increasingly democratic with liberty for its principle,
the second socialistic, in the end perhaps a governmental communism with equality and the State for its principle,
if that ever gets beyond the stage of theory
anarchistic in the higher sense of that much-abused word, either a loose voluntary cooperation or a free communalism with brotherhood or comradeship and not government for its principle.
It is in the transition to its third and consummating stage, if or whenever that comes, that the power and sufficiency of the reason will be tested; it will then be seen whether the reason can really be the master of our nature, solve the problems of our interrelated and conflicting egoisms and bring about within itself a perfect principle of society or must give way to a higher guide. For till this third stage has its trial, it is Force that in the last resort really governs. Reason only gives to Force the plan of its action and a system to administer.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 193-194
The Crudity of the State
The State is bound to act crudely and in the mass; it is incapable of that free, harmonious and intelligently or instinctively varied action which is proper to organic growth. For the State is not an organism; it is a machinery, and it works like a machine, without tact, taste, delicacy or intuition. It tries to manufacture, but what humanity is here to do is to grow and create. We see this flaw in State-governed education. It is right and necessary that education should be provided for all and in providing for it the State is eminently useful; but when it controls the education, it turns it into a routine, a mechanical system in which individual initiative, individual growth and true development as opposed to a routine instruction becomes impossible. The State tends always to uniformity, because uniformity is easy to it and natural variation is impossible to its essentially mechanical nature; but uniformity is death, not life. A national culture, a national religion, a national education may still be useful things provided they do not interfere with the growth human solidarity on the one side and individual freedom of thought and conscience and development on the other; for they give form to the communal soul and help it to add its quota to the sum of human advancement; but a State education, a State religion, a State culture are unnatural violences. And the same rule holds good in different ways and to a different extent in other directions of our communal life and its activities.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 301
The Significance of Strife
It is a constant method of Nature, when she has two elements of a harmony to reconcile, to proceed at first by a long continued balancing in which she sometimes seems to lean entirely on one side, sometimes entirely to the other, at others to correct both excesses by a more or less successful temporary adjustment and moderating compromise. The two elements appear then as opponents necessary to each other who therefore labour to arrive at some conclusion of their strife. But as each has its egoism and that innate tendency of all things which drives them not only towards self-preservation but self-assertion in proportion to their available force, they seek each to arrive at a conclusion in which itself shall have the maximum part and dominate utterly if possible or even swallow up entirely the egoism of the other in its own egoism. Thus the progress towards harmony accomplishes itself by a strife of forces and seems often to be no effort towards concord or mutual adjustment at all, but rather towards a mutual devouring. In effect, the swallowing up, not of one by the other, but of each by the other, so that both shall live entirely in the other and as the other, is our highest ideal of oneness. It is the last ideal of love at which strife tries ignorantly to arrive; for by strife one can only arrive at an adjustment of the two opposite demands, not at a stable harmony, a compromise between two conflicting egoisms and not the fusing of them into each other. Still, strife does lead to an increasing mutual comprehension which eventually makes the attempt at real oneness possible. (In the relations between the individual and the group, this constant tendency of Nature appears as the strife between two equally deep-rooted human tendencies, individualism and collectivism).
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 290
The Rise of the Dominant Class
The perfection of the individual in a perfected society or eventually in a perfected humanity – understanding perfection always in a relative and progressive sense -- is the inevitable aim of Nature. But the progress of all the individuals in a society does not proceed pari passu , with an equal and equable march. Some advance, others remain stationary—absolutely or relatively, -- others fall back. Consequently the emergence of a dominant class is inevitable within the aggregate itself, just as in the constant clash between the aggregates the emergence of dominant nations is inevitable. That class will predominate which develops most perfectly the type Nature needs at the time for her progress or, it may be, for her retrogression. If she demands power and strength of character, a dominant aristocracy emerges; if knowledge and science, a dominant literary or savant class; if practical ability, ingenuity, economy and efficient organization, a dominant bourgeoisie or Vaishya class, usually with the lawyer at the head; if diffusion rather than concentration of general well-being and a close organization of toil, then even the domination of an artisan class is not impossible.
But this phenomenon, whether of dominant classes or dominant nations, can never be more than a temporary necessity; for the final aim of Nature in human life cannot be the exploitation of the many by the few or even of the few by the many, can never be the perfection of some at the cost of the abject submergence and ignorant subjection of the bulk of humanity; these can only be transient devices. Therefore we see that such dominations bear always in them the seed of their own destruction. They must pass either by the ejection or destruction of the exploiting element or else by a fusion and equalization.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 287
True Religion and Religionism
There are two aspects of religion, true religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect, beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some fixed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system. Not that these things are altogether negligible or that they must be unworthy or unnecessary or that a spiritual religion need disdain the aid of forms, ceremonies, creeds or systems. On the contrary, they are needed by man because the lower members have to be exalted and raised before they can be fully spiritualized, before they can directly feel the spirit and obey its law. An intellectual formula is often needed by the thinking and reasoning mind , a form or ceremony by the aesthetic temperament or other parts of the infrarational being , a set moral code by man’s vital nature in their turn towards the inner life. But these things are aids and supports, not the essence; precisely because they belong to the rational and infrarational parts, they can be nothing more and, if too blindly insisted on, may even hamper the suprarational light. Such as they are, they have to be offered to man and used by him, but not to be imposed on him as his sole law by a forced and inflexible domination. In the use of them toleration and free permission of variation is the first rule which should be observed. The spiritual essence of religion is alone the one thing supremely needful, the thing to which we have always to hold and subordinate to it every other element or motive.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 178
The...individual has to grasp…that he is not only himself, but is in solidarity with all of his kind, -- let us leave aside for the moment that which seems to be not of his kind. That which we are has expressed itself through the individual, but also through the universality, and though each has to fulfil itself in its own way, neither can succeed independently of the other. The society has no right to crush or efface the individual for its own better development or self-satisfaction; the individual, so long at least as he chooses to live in the world, has no right to disregard for the sake of his own solitary satisfaction and development his fellow-beings and to live at war with them or seek a selfishly isolated good. And when we say, no right, it is from no social, moral or religious standpoint, but from the most positive and simply with a view to the law of existence itself. For neither the society nor the individual can so develop to their fulfilment. Every time the society crushes or effaces the individual, it is inflicting a wound on itself and depriving its own life of priceless sources of stimulation and growth. The individual too cannot flourish by himself; for the universal, the unity and collectivity of his fellow-beings, is his present source and stock; it is the thing whose possibilities he individually expresses, even when he transcends its immediate level, and of which in his phenomenal being he is one result. Its depression strikes eventually at his own sources of life, by its increasing, he also increases. This is what a true subjectivism teaches us, --first, that we are a higher self than our ego or our members, secondly, that we are in our life and being not only ourselves but all others; for there is a secret solidarity which our egoism may kick at and strive against, but from which we cannot escape. It is the old Indian discovery that our real “I” is a Supreme Being which is our true self and which it is our business to discover and consciously become and, secondly, that that Being is one in all, expressed in the individual and in the collectivity, and only by admitting and realizing our unity with others can we entirely fulfil our true self-being.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 47-48
A FUNDAMENTAL EQUALITY
..the final aim of Nature in human life cannot be exploitation of the many by the few or even of the few by the many, can never be the perfection of some at the cost of the abject submergence and ignorant subjection of the bulk of humanity; these can only be transient devices. Therefore we see that such dominations bear always in them the seed of their own destruction. They must pass either by the ejection or destruction of the exploiting element or else by a fusion and equalization. We see in Europe and America that the dominant Brahmin and dominant Kshatriya have been either abolished or are on the point of subsidence into equality with the general mass. Two rigidly separate classes alone remain, the dominant propertied class and the labourer, and all the most significant movements of the day have for their purpose the abolition of this last superiority. In this persistent tendency, Europe has obeyed one great law of Nature’s progressive march, her trend towards a final equality. Absolute equality is surely neither intended nor possible, just as absolute uniformity is both impossible and utterly undesirable; but a fundamental equality which will render the play of true superiority and difference inoffensive, is essential to any conceivable perfectibility of the human race.
Written in 1916
(Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Pg 287-288)
The True Preoccupations of the Human being
Scotland’s referendum on 19th September,2014 not to be independent from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has far reaching consequences for the very ideal of international unity. It is not only because a severance of ties from United Kingdom would be immediately seized upon by secessionists throughout the world and specially in South Asia, creating enormous turmoil. It is significant because as Sri Aurobindo explained, way back in 1916 ( in his treatise, The Ideal of Human Unity) that the races inhabiting the British Isles were made by history to be the matrix of ‘a great field of experiment’ for the creation of the composite or heterogeneous nation – the first and most formidable of its kind. It seemed that it had ‘throughout been intended and prepared by Nature in her workings..for the creation of this new type in the history of human aggregates’.
However Sri Aurobindo had also warned in that write-up that in Wales and Scotland, ‘a minor particularist sentiment remains that that may yet feel hereafter the repercussion of the Irish settlement and awake to the satisfaction and convenience of a similar recognition for the provincial separateness of these two countries. And this sentiment is bound to receive fresh strength and encouragement by the practical working out of the federative principle in the reorganization..’ It is interesting that the 19th September Scottish referendum in 2014 also is expected to be followed up with the accelerated demand for ‘maximum devolution of powers (devo-max)’ to Scotland.
Nevertheless, the existence of the composite or heterogeneous nation is significant for the spirit of international unity for which voluntary sacrifices by human aggregates (like the Scottish populace) and voluntary fusion of cultures are necessary on the way.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 83-84)
Lessons from the Roman Empire
The Roman Empire is the historic example of an organization of unity which transcended the limits of the nation, and its advantages and disadvantages are there perfectly typified. The advantages are admirable organization, peace, widespread security, order and material well-being; the disadvantage is that the individual, the city, the region sacrifice their independent life and become mechanical parts of a machine; life loses its colour, richness, variety, freedom and victorious impulse towards creation. The organization is great and admirable, but the individual dwindles and is overpowered and overshadowed; and eventually by the smallness and feebleness of the individual the huge organism inevitably and slowly loses even its great conservative vitality and dies of an increasing stagnation. Even while outwardly whole and untouched the structure has become rotten and begins to crack and dissolve at the first shock from outside. Such organizations, such periods are immensely useful for conservation, even as the Roman Empire served to consolidate the gains of the rich centuries that preceded it. But they arrest life and growth.
We see, then, what is likely to happen if there were a social, administrative and political unification of mankind, such as some have begun to dream of nowadays. A tremendous organization would be needed under which both individual and regional life would be crushed, dwarfed, deprived of their necessary freedom like a plant without rain and wind and sunlight, and this would mean for humanity, after perhaps one first outburst of satisfied and joyous activity, a long period of mere conservation, increasing stagnancy and ultimately decay. Yet the unity of mankind is evidently a part of Nature’s eventual scheme and must come out. Only it must be under other conditions and with safeguards which will keep the race intact in the roots f its vitality, richly diverse in its oneness.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 283)
Dominance and Equality
The perfection of the individual in a perfected society or eventually in a perfected humanity – understanding perfection always in a relative and progressive sense – is the inevitable aim of Nature. But the progress of all the individuals in a society does not proceed pari passu, with an equal and equable march. Some advance, others remain stationary – absolutely or relatively, -- others fall back. Consequently the emergence of a dominant class is inevitable within the aggregate itself, just as in the constant clash between the aggregates the emergence of dominant nations is inevitable. That class will predominate which develops most perfectly the type Nature needs at the time for her progress or, it may be, for her retrogression. If she demands power and strength of character, a dominant aristocracy emerges; if knowledge and science, a dominant literary or savant class; if practical ability, ingenuity, economy and efficient organization, a dominant bourgeoisie or Vaishya class, usually with the lawyer at the head; if diffusion rather than concentration of general well-being and a close organization of toil, then even the domination of an artisan class is not impossible.
But this phenomenon, whether of dominant classes or dominant nations, can never be more than a temporary necessity; for the final aim of Nature in human life cannot be the exploitation of the many by the few or even of the few by the many, can never be the perfection of some at the cost of the abject submergence and ignorant subjection of the bulk of humanity; these can only be transient devices. Therefore we see that such dominations bear always in them the seed of their own destruction. They must pass either by the ejection or destruction of the exploiting element or else by a fusion and equalization. We see in Europe and America that the dominant Brahmin and the dominant Kshatriya have been either abolished or are on the point of subsidence into equality with the general mass. Two rigidly separate classes alone remain, the dominant propertied class and the labourer, and all the most significant movements of the day have for their purpose the abolition of this last superiority. In this persistent tendency, Europe has obeyed one great law of Nature’s progressive march, her trend towards a final equality. Absolute equality is surely nether intended nor possible, just as absolute uniformity is both impossible and utterly undesirable; but a fundamental equality which will render the play of true superiority and difference inoffensive, is essential to any conceivable perfectibility of the human race.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 287-288; Written in 1915)
The Benefits of European Individualism
But, most important for all, the individualistic age of Europe has in its discovery of the individual fixed among the idea-forces of the future two of a master potency which cannot be entirely eliminated by any temporary reaction.
(a) The first of these, now universally accepted, is the democratic conception of the right of all individuals as members of the society to the full life and the full development of which they are individually capable. It is no longer possible that we should accept as an ideal any arrangement by which certain classes of society should arrogate development and full social fruition to themselves while assigning a bare and barren function of service alone to others. It is now fixed that social development and well-being mean the development and well-being of all the individuals in the society and not merely a flourishing of the community in the mass which resolves itself really into the splendour and power of one or two classes. This conception has been accepted in full by all progressive nations and is the basis of the present socialistic tendency of the world.
(b) But in addition there is this deeper truth which individualism has discovered, that the individual is not merely a social unit; his existence, his right and claim to live and grow are not founded solely on his social work and function. He is not merely a member of a human pack, hive or ant-hill; he is something in himself, a soul, a being, who has to
fulfill his own individual truth and law as well as his natural or his assigned part in the truth and law of the collective existence. He demands freedom, space, initiative for his soul, for his nature, for that puissant and tremendous thing which society so much distrusts and has laboured in the past either to suppress altogether or to relegate to the purely spiritual field, an individual thought, will and conscience. If he is to merge this eventually, it cannot be into the dominating thought, will and conscience of others, but into something beyond into which he and all must be both allowed and helped freely to grow. That is an idea, a truth which, intellectually recognized and given its full exterior and superficial significance by Europe, agrees at its root with the profoundest and highest spiritual conceptions of Asia and has a large part to play in the moulding of the future.
THE INDIVIDUALISTIC DEMOCRATIC IDEAL – ITS PITFALLS
The individualistic democratic ideal brings us at first in actual practice to the more and more precarious rule of a dominant class in the name of democracy over the ignorant, numerous and less fortunate mass. Secondly, since the ideal of freedom and equality is abroad and cannot any longer be stifled, it must lead to the increasing effort of the exploited masses to assert their down-trodden right and to turn, if they can, this pseudo-democratic falsehood into the real democratic truth; therefore, to a war of classes. Thirdly, it develops inevitably as part of its process a perpetual strife of parties, at first few and simple in composition, but afterwards as at the present time an impotent and sterilizing chaos of names, labels, programmes, war-cries. All lift the banner of conflicting ideas or ideals, but all are really fighting out under that flag a battle of conflicting interests. Finally, individualistic democratic freedom results fatally in an increasing stress of competition which replaces the ordered tyrannies of the infrarational periods of humanity by a sort of ordered conflict. And this conflict ends in the survival not of the spiritually, rationally or physically fittest, but of the most fortunate and vitally successful. It is evident enough that, whatever else it may be, this is not a rational order of society; it is not at all the perfection which the individualistic reason of man had contemplated as its ideal or set out to accomplish.
Civilization can never be safe so long as, confining the cultured mentality to a small minority, it nourishes in its bosom a tremendous mass of ignorance, a multitude, a proletariate. Either knowledge must enlarge itself from above or be always in danger of submergence by the ignorant night from below. Still more must it be unsafe, if it allows enormous numbers of men to exist outside its pale uniformed by its light, full of the natural vigour of the barbarian, who may at any moment seize upon the physical weapons of the civilized without undergoing an intellectual transformation by their culture. The Greeco-Roman culture perished from within and from without, from without by the floods of Teutonic barbarism, from within by the loss of its vitality. It gave the proletariate some measure of comfort and amusement, but did not raise it into the light. When light came to the masses, it was from outside in the form of the Christian religion which arrived as an enemy of the old culture. Appealing to the poor, the oppressed and the ignorant, it sought to capture the soul and the ethical being, but cared little or not at all for the thinking mind, content that that should remain in darkness if the heart could be brought to feel religious truth. When the barbarians captured the Western world, it was in the same way content to Christianise them, but made it no part of its function to intellectualise. Distrustful even of the free play of intelligence, Christian ecclesiasticism and monasticism became anti-intellectual and it was left to the Arabs to reintroduce the beginnings of scientific and philosophical knowledge into a semi-barbarous Christendom and to the half-pagan spirit of the Renaissance and a long struggle between religion and science to complete the return of a free intellectual culture in the re-emerging mind of Europe. Knowledge must be aggressive, if it wishes to survive and perpetuate itself; to leave an extensive ignorance either below or around it, is to expose humanity to the perpetual danger of a barbaric relapse.
The emerging Ideal of Human Unity
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; sometime 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 vastest kingdoms seem now no more than the provinces of a single country.
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 mechanized 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 this chiefly or only, that the unity of the human race can be enduringly or fruitfully accomplished.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 280
Written in September, 1915, towards the end of World War I.
The two master-ideas of the individualistic age
But, most important of all, the individualistic age of Europe has in its discovery of the individual fixed among the idea-forces of the future two of a master potency which cannot be entirely eliminated by any temporary reaction. The first of these, now universally accepted, is the democratic conception of the right of all individuals as members of the society to the full life and the full development of which they are individually capable….This conception has been accepted in full by all progressive nations and is the basis of the present socialistic tendency of the world. But in addition there is this deeper truth which individualism has discovered, that the individual is not merely a social unit; his existence, his right and claim to live and grow are not founded solely on his social work and function. He is not merely a member of a human pack, hive or ant-hill; he is something in himself, a soul, a being, who has to fulfil his own individual truth and law as well as his natural or his assigned part in the truth and law of the collective existence. He demands freedom, space, initiative for his soul, for his nature, for that puissant and tremendous thing which society so much distrusts and has labored in the past either to suppress altogether or to relegate to the purely spiritual field, an individual thought, will and conscience. If he is to merge these eventually, it cannot be into the dominating thought, will and conscience of others, but into something beyond into which he and all must be both allowed and helped freely to grow. That is an idea, a truth which, intellectually recognized and given its full exterior and superficial significance by Europe, agrees at its root with the profoundest and highest spiritual conceptions of Asia and has a large part to play in the moulding of the future.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 24-25
The Individual and the Society
The …psychic truth the individual has to grasp is this, that he is not only himself, but is in solidarity with all of his kind… That which we are has expressed itself through the individual, but also through the universality, and though each has to fulfil itself in its own way, neither can succeed independently of the other. The society has no right to crush or efface the individual for its own better development or self-satisfaction; the individual, so long at least as he chooses to live in the world, has no right to disregard for the sake of his own solitary satisfaction and development his fellow-beings and to live at war with them or seek a selfishly isolated good. And when we say, no right, it is from no social, moral or religious standpoint, but from the most positive and simply with a view to the law of existence itself. For neither the society nor the individual can so develop to their fulfilment. Every time the society crushes or effaces the individual, it is inflicting a wound on itself and depriving its own life of priceless sources of stimulation and growth. The individual too cannot flourish by himself; for the universal, the unity and collectivity of his fellow-beings, is his present source and stock; it is the thing whose possibilities he individually expresses, even when he transcends its immediate level, and of which in his phenomenal being he is one result. Its depression strikes eventually at his own sources of life, by its increasing he also increases. This is what a true subjectivism teaches us, --first, that we are a higher self than our ego or our members, secondly, that we are in our life and being not only ourselves but all others; for there is a secret solidarity which our egoism may kick at and strive against, but from which we cannot escape. It is an old Indian discovery that our real “I” is a supreme Being which is our true self and which it is our business to discover and consciously become and, secondly, that that Being is one in all, expressed in the individual and in the collectivity, and only by admitting and realizing our unity with others can we entirely fulfil our true self-being.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 47-48
Science, Individualism and Collectivism
The growth of modern Science has meanwhile created new ideas and tendencies, on one side an exaggerated individualism or rather vitalistic egoism, on the other the quite opposite ideal of collectivism. Science investigating life discovered that the root nature of all living is a struggle to take the best advantage of the environment for self-preservation, self-fulfilment, self-aggrandizement. Human thought seizing in its usual arbitrary and trenchant fashion upon this aspect of modern knowledge has founded on it theories of a novel kind which erect into a gospel the right for each to live his own life not merely by utilizing others, but even at the expense of others. The first object of life in this view is for the individual to survive as long as he may, to become strong, efficient, powerful, to dominate his environment and his fellows and to raise himself on this strenuous and egoistic line to his full stature of capacity and reap his full measure of enjoyment...
On the other hand, Science investigating life has equally discovered that not only is the individual life best secured and made efficient by association with others and subjection to a law of communal self-development rather than by aggressive self-affirmation , but that actually what Nature seeks to preserve is not the individual but the type and that in her scale of values the pack, herd, hive or swarm takes precedence over the individual animal or insect and the human group over the individual human being. Therefore in the true law and nature of things the individual should live for all and constantly subordinate and sacrifice himself to the growth, efficiency and progress of the race rather than live for his own self-fulfilment and subordinate the race-life to his own needs. Modern collectivism derives its victorious strength from the impression made upon human thought by this opposite aspect of modern knowledge...
But behind this conflict...there is striving to arise a new idea of human universalism or collectivism for the race which, if it succeeds in becoming a power, is likely to overcome the ideal of national separatism and liberty as it has overcome within the society itself the ideal of individual freedom and separate self-fulfilment. This new idea demands of the nation that it shall subordinate, if not merge and sacrifice, its free separateness to the life of a larger collectivity...a continental or cultural unity, as in the idea of a united Europe, or the total united life of the human race.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 56-57, 1916-1917
The Law for Humanity
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, pg 71
THE NEW BARBARISM
But if Science has thus prepared us for an age of wider and deeper culture and if in spite of and even partly by its materialism it has rendered impossible the return of the true materialism, that of the barbarian mentality, it has encouraged more or less indirectly both by its attitude to life and its discoveries another kind of barbarism, -- for it can be called by no other name,-- that of the industrial, the commercial, the economic age which is now progressing to its culmination and its close. This economic barbarism is essentially that of the vital man who mistakes the vital being for the self and accepts its satisfaction as the first aim of life. The characteristic of Life is desire and the instinct of possession. Just as the physical barbarian makes the excellence of the body and the development of physical force, health and prowess his standard and aim, so the vitalistic or economic barbarian makes the satisfaction of wants and desires and the accumulation of possessions his standard and aim. His ideal man is not the cultured or noble or thoughtful or moral or religious, but the successful man. To arrive, to succeed, to produce, to accumulate, to possess is his existence. The accumulation of wealth and more wealth, the adding of possessions to possessions, opulence, show, pleasure, a cumbrous inartistic luxury, a plethora of conveniences, life devoid of beauty and nobility, religion vulgarised or coldly formalised, politics and government turned into a trade and profession, enjoyment itself made a business, this is commercialism...
THE FUTURE OF ECONOMIC BARBARISM
The vital part of the being is an element in the integral human existence as much as the physical part; it has its place but must not exceed its place. A full and well-appointed life is desirable for man living in society, but on condition that it is also a true and beautiful life. Neither the life nor the body exist for their own sake, but as vehicle and instrument of a good higher than their own. They must be subordinated to the superior needs of the mental being, chastened and purified by a greater law of truth, good and beauty before they can take their proper place in the integrality of human perfection. Therefore in a commercial age with its ideal, vulgar and barbarous, of success, vitalistic satisfaction, productiveness and possession the soul of man may linger a while for certain gains and experiences, but cannot permanently rest. Life would become clogged and perish of its own plethora or burst in its straining to a gross expansion. Like the too massive Titan it will collapse by its own mass, mole ruet sua.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, Pg 79-81, Circa 1916
Spirituality and Religionism
There are two aspects of religion, true religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect, beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some fixed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system. Not that these things are altogether negligible or that they must be unworthy or unnecessary or that a spiritual religion need disdain the aid of forms, ceremonies, creeds or systems. On the contrary, they are needed by man because the lower members have to be exalted and raised before they can be fully spiritualised, before they can directly feel the spirit and obey its law. An intellectual formula is often needed by the thinking and reasoning mind, a form or ceremony by the aesthetic temperament or other parts of the infrarational being, a set moral code by man’s vital nature in their turn towards the inner life. But these things are aids and supports, not the essence; precisely because they belong to the rational and infrarational parts, they can be nothing more and, if too blindly insisted on, may even hamper the suprarational light. Such as they are, they have to be offered to man and used by him, but not to be imposed on him as his sole law by a forced and inflexible domination. In the use of them toleration and free permission of variation is the first rule which should be observed. The spiritual essence of religion is alone the one thing supremely needful, the thing to which we have always to hold and subordinate to it every other element or motive.
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 177-178 (3rd edition), originally written in 1917
The significance of Boycott in political assertiveness
Those who say that no nation was ever made by boycott, do not know what they are talking about, do not understand what boycott is, do not know the teachings of history. Boycott is much more than a mere economical device, it is a rediscovery of national self-respect, a declaration on national separateness; it is the first practical assertion of independence and has therefore in most of the national uprisings of modern times been the forerunner of the struggle for independence. The American struggle with England began in an enthusiastic and determined boycott of British goods enforced by much the same methods as the Indian boycott but with a much more stringent and effective organisation. The Italian uprising of 1848 was heralded by the boycott of Austrian cigarettes and the tobacco riots of Milan. The boycott was the indispensable weapon of the Parnell movement in Ireland, and boycott and Swadeshi are the leading cries of Sinn Fein. The first practical effect of the resurgence of China was the Boycott of American goods as an assertion of China’s long down-trodden self-respect against the brutal and insolent dealings of the Americans towards Chinese immigrants. In India also Boycott began as an assertion of national self-respect, and continued as a declared and practical enforcement of national separateness, liberty, independence and self-dependence. “We will no longer tamely bear injury and insult, we will no longer traffic and huckster with others for broken fragments of rights and privileges; we are free, we are separate, we are sufficient to ourselves for our own salvation,” that was what boycott meant and what its enemies have understood it to mean: its economical aspect is only an aspect.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, August 14, 1907)
So with India rests the future of the world. Whenever she is aroused from her sleep, she gives forth some wonderful shining ray of light to the world which is enough to illuminate the nations. Others live for centuries on what is to her the thought of a moment. God gave to her the book of Ancient Wisdom and bade her keep it sealed in her heart, until the time should come for it to be opened. Sometimes a page or a chapter is revealed, sometimes only a single sentence. Such sentences have been the inspiration of ages and fed humanity for many hundreds of years. So too when India sleeps, materialism grows apace and the light is covered up in darkness. But when materialism thinks herself about to triumph, lo and behold! A light rushes out from the East and where is Materialism? Returned to her native night.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, February, 21, 1908)
Society lives by the proper harmony of its parts and bases that harmony on the centre of power in which the whole community is summed up, the State. If the State is diseased, the community cannot be healthy. If the State is foreign and inorganic, the community cannot live an organic life. If the State be hostile, the community is doomed. The first want of a subject people is the possession of the State, without which it can neither be socially sound nor intellectually great. It was for this reason that Mazzini, whose natural tendencies were literary and poetic, turned away from literature and denied his abilities their natural expression with the memorable words,
"The art of Italy will flourish on our graves." No great work can be done by a community which is diseased at the centre or deprived of a centre. The hope of social reform divorced from political freedom, unless by social reform we mean the aping of European habits of life and social ideas, is an illogical hope which ignores the nature of social life and the conditions of its well-being. All expectation of moral regeneration which leaves freedom out of the count is a dream. First freedom, then regeneration. This is a truism which we have been obliged to dwell on because there are still remnants of the first delusive teachings which have done so much harm to India by trying to realise social reform without providing the element in which alone any reform is possible.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 25, 1908)
The Drawback of Indian Nationalism
But Nationalism also has been defective; it has been Indian in sentiment and aspiration, European in practise and actuality. It has helped itself with the intellect, rejoicing in its own lightness, clearness, accuracy, shrewd insight, but it has not been sufficiently supported by inspired wisdom. It has attached itself to imaginations and idealisms, but has not learned to discern the deeper Truth and study the will of God. It has been driven by ardent and vehement emotions, but was defective in clear will-power and the pure energy that is greater and more impetuous than any passionate feeling. Either Nationalism will purify itself, learn a more sacred truth and command a diviner impulse, or it will have to abandon utterly its old body and get itself a new. The pressure of events seems to be pointing in the latter direction.
(Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, March 26, 1910)
The Mahomedan Awakening
(Standing on the threshold of Bengali New Year 1420,
corresponding to 2013, it would be interesting to read excerpts
of the yearly assessment of Asian Politics in Bengali New Year
1313 corresponding to1907 especially in the background of
contemporary events rocking the Islamic heartland from Egypt to
the most remarkable feature of the past year is the awakening of
the Mahomedan world. In Afghanistan it has seen the inception of
a great scheme of National Education which may lay the basis of
a State, strong in itself, organised on modern lines and
equipped with scientific knowledge and training. Amir Abdur
Rahman consolidated Afghanistan; it is evidently the mission of
Habibullah, who seems not inferior in statesmanship to his great
father, to modernise it. In Persia the year has brought about a
peaceful revolution,--the granting of Parliamentary Government
by an Asiatic king to his subjects under the mildest passive
pressure and the return of national life to Iran. In Egypt it
has confronted the usurping role of England with a nationalist
movement, not only stronger and more instructed than that of
Arabi Pasha but led by the rightful sovereign of the country.
The exhibition of cold-blooded British ferocity at Denshawi has
defeated its object, and, instead of appalling the Egyptians
into submission, made them more determined and united. It is now
only a question of time for this awakening to affect the rest of
Islam and check the European as effectually in Western Asia as
he has been checked in the East.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 16, 1907)
Representaion of commoners in ancient Indian polity
..the Commons in the Mahabharata are not represented by any
assembly, because the times are evidently a period of war and
revolution in which the military caste had gained an abnormal
preponderance. The opinion of the people expresses itself in public
demonstrations of spontaneous character, but does not seem to have
weighed with the proud and self-confident nobles who ruled them.
This feature of the Mahabharata is obviously peculiar to the times ,
for we find that the Buddhist records preserve to us the true form
of ancient Indian polity. The nations among whom Buddha lived were
free communities in which the people assembled as in Greek and
Italian States to decide their own affairs. A still more striking
instance of the political existence of the Commons is to be found in
the Ramayana. We are told that on the occasion of the association of
Rama as Yuvaraj in the government, Dasaratha summoned a sort of
States General of the Realm to which delegates of the different
provinces and various orders, religous, military and popular were
summoned in order to give their sanction to the act of the King. A
speech from the throne is delivered in which the King states the
reasons for his act, solicits the approval of his people and in case
of their refusal of sanction, asks them to meet the situation by a
counter proposal of their own. The assembly then meets “separately
and together”, in other words, the various Orders of the Realm
consult first among themselves and then together and decide to give
their sanction to the King’s proposal.
The growth of large States in India was fatal to the continuance of
the democratic element in the constitution. The idea of
representation had not yet been developed, and without the principle
of reresentation democracy is impossible in a large State. The
Greeks were obliged to part with their cherished liberty as soon as
large States began to enter into the Hellenic world; the Romans were
obliged to change their august and cherished institutions for the
most absolute form of monarchy as soon as they had become a great
Empire; and democracy disappeared from the world until the slow
development of the principle of representation enabled the spirit of
democracy to find a new body in which it could be reborn.
Bande Mataram, March 20, 1908).
The place of the village in the nation
Whenever a nation has been formed, in the modern sense, it has been at the expense of smaller units. The whole history of national growth is the record of a long struggle to establish a central unity by suduing the tendency of smaller units to live to themselves....Ancient India could not build itself into a single united nation, not because of caste or social differences as the European writers assert,--caste and class have existed in nations which achieved a faultless national unity,--but becausethe old polity of the Hindus allowed the village to live to itself, the clan to live to itself, the province or smaller race-unit to live to itself. The village, sufficient to itself, took no interest in the great wars and revolutions which affected only the ruling clans of the kingdom including it in its territorial jurisdiction. The Kshatriya clans fought and married and made peace among themselves, and were the only political units out of which a nation might have been built. But the clan too was so attached to its separate existence that it was not till the clans were destroyed on the battlefield of Kurukshetra that larger national units could be built out of their ruins. Small kingdoms took their place based on provincial or racial divisions and until the inrush of foreign peoples an attempt was in progress to build them into one nation by the superimposition of a single imperial authority....One cause perhaps more than any other contributed to the failure of the centripetal tendency to attain self-fulfilment , and that was the persistence of the village community which prevented the people, the real nation, from taking any part in the great struggles out of which a nation should have emerged. In other countries the people had to take part in the triumphs, disasters and failures of their rulers either as citizens or at least as soldiers , but in India they were left to their little isolated republics with no farther interest than the payment of a settled tax in return for protection by the supreme power. This was the true cause of the failure of India to achieve distinct organised and self-conscious Nationality. It is worthy of notice that the Indian race n which the national idea attained its most conscious expression and most nearly attained realisation , was the Maratha people who drew their strength from the village democracies and brought them to interest themselves in the struggle for national independence.... The organisationof our villages is an indispensable work to which we must immediately set our hands , but we must be careful so to organise them as to make them feel that they are imperfect parts of a single national unity, and dependent at everyturn on the co-operation first of the district, secondly of the province, and finally of the nation. The day of the independent village or group of villages has gone and must not be revived; the nation demands its hour of fulfilment and seeks to gather the village life of its rural population into a mighty, single and compact democratic nationality. We must make the nation what the village community was of old, self-sufficient, self-centered, autonomous and exclusive...
Back to the Land
The life of a nation is always rooted in its villages but that of India is so deeply and persistently rooted there that no change or revolution can ever substitute for this source of sap and life the Western system which makes the city the centre and the village a mere feeder of the city….It is an ascertained principle of national existence that only by keeping possession of the soil can a nation persist; the mastery of the reigns of government or the control of the trade and wealth of a country, does not give permanence to the people in control. They reign for a while and then the virtue departs from them and they wither or pass away and another takes their place; but the tillers of the soil , ground down, oppressed, rack-rented, miserable, remain, and have always the chance of one day overthrowing their oppressors and coming by their own.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, March 6, 1908)
Work and Ideal
We are being advised by many nowadays not to quarrel over ideals but to attend to the work lying nearest to our hands….But the work is nothing without the ideal, and will be fruitless if divorced from its inspiring force. ….
The spirit to serve, the spirit to work, the spirit to suffer must be aroused. Men in their ordinary utilitarian course of life do no feel called upon to serve anyone except themselves.
The daily duties are engrossing enough for the average man…and if any other sort of work is expected of him a different and more intense force must be continuously applied to him to produce the necessary energy. Or, in other words, we must continuously appeal to his better nature, we must evoke the spiritual in him, we must call forth his moral enthusiasm. These may not be human nature’s daily food, they may not be necessary for our daily life, they may not have their use in the ordinary selfish pursuits, but they are essential for working a change in our social and political life.
Buddha only preached and lived a holy life, Christ only preached and lived a holy life, Sankar only preached and lived a holy life, and they have each worked a mighty revolution in the history of the world. Inspiration is real work. Let the truly inspiring word be uttered and it will breathe life into dry bones. Let the inspiring life be lived and it will produce workers by thousands. England draws her inspiration from the names of Shakespeare and Milton, Mill and Bacon, Nelson and Wellington. They did not visit the sickroom, they did not do philanthropic work in the parishes, they did not work spinning jennies in Manchester, they did not produce cutlery in Sheffield, but theirs are the names which have made nationhood possible in England, which have supplied work and enterprise with its motive and sustaining force. England is commercially great because Adam Smith gave her the secret of free-trade. England is politically great because her national ideals have been bold and high, not because of her parish work and municipalities. He was no fool or Utopian who wished to be the maker of songs for his country rather than its law-giver. Wolfe had Gray’s Elegy recited to him on his death-bed, and said he would rather be the author of these lines than the captor of Quebec. These are the utterances of great workers and heroes, they have given the greatest credit to the givers of ideas and ideals, because they have felt in their own life where the inspiration for work comes from. Work without ideals is false gospel.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, February 20, 1908)
Truth and Falsehood
When we are on the subject, let us be frank. Truth is the rock on which the world is built. Satyena tisthate jagat. Falsehood can never be the true source of strength. When falsehood is at the root of a movement, that movement is doomed to failure. Diplomacy can only help a movement if the movement proceeds upon truth. To make diplomacy the root-principle is to contravene the laws of existence.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, February 20, 1908
The events that sway the world are often the results of trivial circumstances. When immense changes and irresistible movements are in progress, it is astonishing how a single event, often a chance event, will lead to a train of circumstances that alter the face of a country or the world. At such times a slight turn this way or that produces results out of all proportion to the cause. It is on such occasions that we feel most vividly the reality of a Power which disposes of events and defeats the calculations of men. The end of many things is brought about by the sudden act of a single individual. A world vanishes, another is created almost at a touch...
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, Feb 26, 1910
Arts and Education
The system of education which, instead of keeping artistic training apart as a privilege for a few specialists frankly introduces it as a part of culture no less necessary than literature or science, will have taken a great step forward in the perfection of national education and the general diffusion of a broad-based human culture. It is not necessary that every man should be an artist. It is necessary that every man should have his artistic faculty developed, his taste trained, his sense of beauty and insight into form and colour and that which is expressed in form and colour, made habitually active, correct and sensitive. It is necessary that those who create, whether in great things or small, whether in the unusual masterpieces of art and genius or in the small common things of use that surround a man’s daily life, should be habituated to produce and the nation habituated to expect the beautiful in preference to the ugly , the noble in preference to the vulgar, the fine in preference to the crude, the harmonious in preference to the gaudy. A nation surrounded daily by the beautiful, noble, fine and harmonious becomes that which it is habituated to contemplate and realises the fullness of the expanding Spirit in itself….
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, 25 December, 1909
Any power or privilege in order to deserve the title “free” must be based on the authority of an independent people possessing the supreme and ultimate power of control over its own government. It is this fundamental fact of self-government that must be their origin and sanction, and it is only in this sense that terms like “freedom of conscience” or “freedom of speech” are understood in the countries that actually enjoy them. Their ‘freedoms’ are the concrete expression, the sacred symbols, of the popular will that has realised its sovereignty and constitute the inviolable limitations under which the executive must work. They stand inaccessibly superior to the needs or wishes of those who actually carry on the government of the country; whose tenure of power primarily rests on their unquestioned submission to the sovereign will and freedom of the people as whose servants they administer….
But when the right of spontaneous articulation comes as a gift from a foreign despotism with no limits on the power of its Executive, instead of proceeding from the consent and conviction of the people governed, it becomes then a mere licence strictly similar in kind to any other of the species, for example, a licence issued by the Excise Department. It is held during pleasure, the giving and taking of it having not the least reference to the people’s wishes. In fact the word “right” has no meaning in a subject country. A right can only be where the people are “free”, and signifies some inalienable incident of citizenship the recognition of which is an absolute obligation on the Government.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, June 28, 1907
Of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Mahomedan unity cannot be effected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down, in the heart and in the mind, for where the causes of disunion are, there the remedies must be sought. We shall do well in trying to solve the problem to remember that misunderstanding is the most fruitful cause of our differences, that love compels love and that strength conciliates the strong. We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Mussulman brother, remembering always that in him too Narayana dwells and to him too our Mother has given a permanent place in her bosom; but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter out of a selfish weakness and cowardice. We believe this to be the only practical way of dealing with the difficulty. As a political question the Hindu-Mahomedan problem does not interest us at all, as a national problem it is of supreme importance.
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, June 19,1909
Muslim Conquest in India
This conquest took place at a time when the vitality of ancient Indian life and culture after two thousand years of activity and creation was already exhausted for a time or very near exhaustion and needed a breathing space to rejuvenate itself by transference from the Sanskrit to the popular tongues and the newly forming regional peoples. The conquest was effected rapidly enough in the north, although not entirely complete there for several centuries, but the south long preserved its freedom as of old against the earlier indigenous empire and there was not so long a distance of time between the extinction of the kingdom of Vijayanagara and the rise of the Mahrattas. The Rajputs maintained their independence until the time of Akbar and his successors and it was in the end partly with the aid of Rajput princes acting as their generals and ministers that the Moguls completed their sway over the east and the south. And this was again possible because –a fact too often forgotten –the Mussulman domination ceased very rapidly to be a foreign rule. The vast mass of the Mussulmans in the country were and are Indians by race, only a very small admixture of Pathan, Turkish and Mogul blood took place, and even the foreign kings and nobles became almost immediately wholly Indian in mind, life and interest. If the race had really like certain European countries remained for many centuries passive, acquiescent and impotent under an alien sway, that would indeed have been a proof of a great inherent weakness; but the British is the first really continuous foreign rule that has dominated India. The ancient civilization underwent indeed an eclipse and decline under the weight of a Central Asiatic religion and culture with which it failed to coalesce , but it survived its pressure, put its impact on it in many directions and remained to our own day alive even in decadence and capable of recovery, thus giving a proof of strength and soundness rare in the history of human cultures.
(Sri Aurobindo in ‘A Defence of Indian Culture, Indian Polity originally drafted in 1920, published in The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture,1997, pg 441).
The Taj is not merely a sensuous reminiscence of an imperial amour or a fairy enchantment hewn from the moon’s lucent quarries, but the eternal dream of a love that survives death. The great mosques embody often a religious aspiration lifted to a noble austerity which supports and is not lessened by the subordinated ornament and grace. The tombs reach beyond death to the beauty and joy of Paradise. The buildings of Fatehpur-Sikri are not monuments of an effeminate luxurious decadence, -- an absurd description for the mind of the time of Akbar, -- but give form to a nobility, power and beauty which lay hold upon but do not wallow on the earth. There is not here indeed the vast spiritual content of the earlier Indian mind, but it is still an Indian mind which in these delicate creations absorbs the West Asian influence, and lays stress on the sensuous as before in the poetry of Kalidasa, but uplifts it to a certain immaterial charm, rises often from the earth without quite leaving it into the magical beauty of the middle world and in the religious mood touches with a devout hand the skirts of the Divine. The all-pervading spiritual obsession is not there, but other elements of life not ignored by Indian culture and gaining on it since the classical times are here brought out under a new influence and are still penetrated with some radiant glow of a superior lustre.
Sri Aurobindo, in ‘A Defence of Indian Culture’, written in 1920 (now in ‘The Renaissance in India and Other Essays on Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo Ashram,1997,pg 284)
Nationalism and Change
Nationalism has been hitherto largely a revolt against the tendency to shape ourselves into the mould of Europe; but it must also be on its guard against any tendency to cling to every detail that has been Indian. That has not been the spirit of Hinduism in the past, there is no reason why it should be so in the future. In all life there are three elements, the fixed and permanent spirit, the developing yet constant soul and the brittle changeable body. The spirit we cannot change, we can only obscure or lose; the soul must not be rashly meddled with, must neither be tortured into a shape alien to it, nor obstructed in its free expansion; and the body must be used as a means , not over-cherished as a thing valuable for its own sake. We will sacrifice no ancient form to an unreasoning love of change, we will keep none which the national spirit desires to replace by one that is a still better and truer expression of the undying soul of the nation.Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, May 30, 1907
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, June 26, 1909
Law and Protest
...Our whole programme with unimportant exceptions has fallen well within the law. We have worked against bureaucratic government, we have not worked against the law nor exceeded its restrictions to any of our methods. So careful have we been in this respect that the bureaucracy have been at a loss…This desire to keep within the law was not, as some of our disappointed adversaries suggested, born of fear…To be able to keep within the law gives an immense advantage to a young movement opposed by a strong adversary in possession of all the machinery of legal repression and oppression; for it allows to grow into adult strength before giving the enemy a sufficient grasp to strangle it while it is yet immature. Moreover, a nation which can show a respect for law even in the first throes of a revolution has a better chance of enjoying a stable and successful Government of its own when its chance comes. Nevertheless, legality can never be the first consideration in a struggle of the kind we have entered upon, and if new laws are passed which offend against political ethics, which make our service and duty to our country impossible and to obey which would therefore be an unpatriotic act, they cannot possibly command obedience…
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, May 30, 1907
A note on the extract
This passage has several connotations:
1. The masses are being inspired to protest against the imposition of any unjust and oppressive law but at the same breath they are being told to suffer the consequences of breaking the law. Subsequently, in the famous Alipore Bomb Trial case, Barrister Chittaranjan Das, while defending Sri Aurobindo for ‘waging war’ against the Crown, used this statement to enforce that that the accused could not be legally framed as he had extolled dissenters to suffer the consequences of breaking the law.
2. Only protest cannot prepare a budding nation to rise up to the occasion when free from foreign domination, it has to chalk its own destiny. Hence any protest must also keep the greater interest of the future in making. Protesters can become administrators one day and the mind-set must be prepared well in advance.
The Gita and Terrorism
doctrine of the Gita the Terrorist can pervert to his use, is
the dictum that the Kshatriya must slay as a part of his duty
and he can do it without sin if he puts egoism away and acts
selflessly , without attachment, in and for God, as a sacrifice,
as an offering of action to the Lord of action. If this teaching
is in itself false, there is no moral basis for the hero, the
soldier, the judge, the king, the legislature which recognizes
capital punishment. They must all be condemned as criminals and
offenders against humanity. It is undoubtedly true that since
the revival of religious thought in India the Gita has ceased to
be …a transcendental philosophy, and has been made a rule of
life. It is undoubtedly true that selflessness, courage, a free
and noble activity have been preached as the kernel of the
ethics of the Gita. That teaching has in no country been
condemned as ignoble, criminal or subversive of morality, nor is
a philosophy of any value to any sensible being if it is only
transcendental and cannot be lived. We strongly protest against
the brand of suspicion that has been sought to be placed in many
quarters on the teaching and possession of the Gita, -- our
chief national heritage, our hope for the future, our great
force for the purification of the moral weaknesses that stain
and hamper our people.
Sri Aurobindo, Karmyogin, Feb 12, 1910, Vol-1, No.32
Oppression and Nationalism
For, that an absolute rule will one day begin to coerce and trample on the subject population is an inevitable law of nature which none can escape. The master with full power of life and death over his servant can only be gracious so long as he is either afraid of his slave or else sure that the slave will continue willing, obedient and humble in his servitude and not transgress the limits of the freedom allowed him by his master. But if the serf begins to assert himself, to insist on the indulgence conceded to him as on a right, to rebel against occasional harshnesses, to wag his tongue with too insolent a licence and disobey imperative orders, then it is not in human nature for the master to refrain from calling for the scourge and the fetters. And if the slave resists the application of the scourge and the imposition of the fetters, it becomes a matter of life and death for the master to enforce his orders and put down the mutiny. Oppression was therefore inevitable, and oppression was necessary that the people as a whole might be disposed to accept Nationalism, but Nationalism was not born of oppression. The oppressions and slaughters committed by Kamsa upon the Yadavas did not give birth to Krishna but they were needed that the people of Mathura might look for the deliverer and accept him when he came…
It (Nationalism) was born like Krishna in the prison-house, in the hearts of men to whom India under the good and beneficent government (Pax Britannica) of absolutism seemed an intolerable dungeon….And Nationalism grew as Krishna grew who ripened to strength and knowledge, not in the courts of princes and the schools of the Brahmins but in the obscure and despised homes of the poor and ignorant.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, November 16, 1907
THE NATIONAL EGO
The national ego may easily mean nothing more than collective selfishness. I may be ready to sacrifice money and ease for the country in order to secure my wealth, fame or position and property which depend upon her security and greatness. I may be ready to sacrifice these and more for her because of the safety of the home and the hearth which her safety ensures. I may be ready to sacrifice much for her because her greatness, wealth, ease mean the greatness, wealth, ease of my community or my class. Or I may be ready to sacrifice everything to secure her greatness because of my pride in her and my desire to see my nation dominant and imperial. All these are forms of selfishness pursuing man into the wider life which is meant to assist in liberating him from selfishness. The curse of Capitalism, the curse of Imperialism which afflict modern nations are due to this insistence. It is the source of that pride, insolence and injustice which affect a nation in its prosperity and by that fatal progression which the Greeks with their acute sense for these things so clearly demarcated, it leads from prosperity to insolence and outrage and from insolence and outrage to that
"ate", that blind infatuation, which is God’s instrument for the destruction of men and nations. There is only one remedy for this pursuing evil and it is to regard the nation as a necessary unit but no more in a common humanity.
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, July 24, 1909
Socialism is not an European idea, it is essentially Asiatic and especially Indian. What is called Socialism in Europe is the old Asiatic attempt to effect a permanent solution of the economic problem of society which will give man leisure and peace to develop undisturbed his higher self. Without Socialism democracy would remain a tendency that never reached its fulfilment, a rule of the masses by a small aristocratic or monied class with the consent and votes of the masses, or a tyranny of the artisan classes over the rest. Socialistic democracy is the only true democracy, for without it we cannot get the equalized and harmonized distribution of functions, each part of the community existing for the good of all and not struggling for its own separate interests, which will give humanity as a whole the necessary conditions in which it can turn its best energies to its higher development…
The fulfilment …. .of the highest tendencies of human civilization..must include in its sweep the most vital impulses of modern life. It will include democracy and Socialism also, purifying them, raising them above the excessive stress on the economic adjustments which are the means, and teaching them to fix their eyes more constantly and clearly on the moral, intellectual and spiritual perfection of mankind which is the end.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, September 22, 1907
A note on the extract
This extract has four interesting points. Firstly, it advocates socialistic democracy in consonance with the time-spirit. Secondly, there is an assertion that the economic factor is the basic foundation of society but not the ultimate value of life. Thirdly, man’s social institutions serve to provide a milieu for pursuit of yet higher, transpersonal values. Fourthly, the fulfillment of the highest aspirations including the spiritual does not necessarily proceed through an abandonment of the ‘mundane’ institutions of life (like our socio-political institutions) but through their transvaluation.
THE STRENGTH OF THE IDEA
The mistake which despots, benevolent or malevolent, have been making ever since organized states came into existence and which, it seems, they will go on making… is that they overestimate their coercive power, which is physical and material and therefore palpable, and underestimate the power and validity of ideas and sentiments. A feeling or a thought, Nationalism, Democracy, the aspiration towards liberty, cannot be estimated in the terms of concrete power, in so many fighting men, so many armed police, so many guns, so many prisons, such and such laws, ukases, and executive powers. But such feelings and thought are more powerful than fighting men and guns, and prisons and laws and ukases. Their beginnings are feeble, their end is mighty. But of despotic repression the beginnings are mighty, the end is feeble. Thought is always greater than armies, more lasting than the most powerful and best-organized despotisms. It was a thought that overthrew the despotism of centuries in France and revolutionized Europe. It was a mere sentiment against which the irresistible might of the Spanish armies and the organized cruelty of Spanish repression were shattered in the Netherlands, which brought to nought the administrative genius, the military power, the stubborn will of Aurangzabe, which loosened the iron grip of Austria on Italy… The idea or sentiment is at first confined to a few… But it spreads and gathers adherents… The idea creates its martyrs. And in martyrdom there is an incalculable spiritual magnetism which works miracles… a whole world catches the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart of all its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable resolution in the minds of all beside which all other hopes and interests fade into insignificance… It is at this moment that the idea begins to create its heroes and fighters, whose numbers and courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant has become the idea triumphant.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, June 8, 1907
INDUSTRY IN INDIA
The vast majority of our educated countrymen are absorbed in Government al or quasi-Governmental services where the growth of the liberty ideal is naturally inhibited and where at best it acquires but a stunted development, being condemned from birth to deafness and dumbness…. One can easily realize how unspeakably demoralizing the influences of such a service must be, and yet the overwhelming proportions of our educated countrymen are constantly subject to them. The only way to remove this gross anomaly is to create rival sources of employment which will provide Indians an independent living. The existing professions are too few for this purpose, and are further, filled already to choking. The only adequate means to this end is therefore the industrial development of the country which will open to our present and coming generations a much more attractive and promising avenue of employment than the services, the strictly subordinate services, let us not forget, of the alien Bureaucracy. The uprise of a numerous industrial class will thus spell a great and invaluable accession of strength to the political interest of the country. It is this that lends to the question of India’s industrial development its main fascination and interest, and serves to remind us forcibly of the vital interaction that exists between the different branches of human activity…. And besides, the successful working of the handful of trades union in Bengal mostly composed as yet of illiterate men, certainly give us a most promising insight into the latent possibilities that lie in the direction of a general policy of passive resistance that may be adopted by the country.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, November 2, 1907.
A note on the extract
The Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia notes that the Industrial Revolution spread to China and India around the mid-20th century. Sri Aurobindo envisages in 1907 how industrial development would strengthen the political strength of the nation through a widespread mass employment that could not be solely guaranteed through governmental infrastructure. He also assessed the potential of the nascent trade union movement and the form of resistance it could learn to generate.
AESTHETICS AND INDUSTRY
A nation need not be luxuriously wealthy in order to be profoundly artistic, but it must have a certain amount of well-being, a national culture and, above all, hope and ardour, if it is to maintain a national art based on a widespread development of artistic perception and faculty. Moreover, aesthetic arts and crafts cannot live against the onrush of cheap and vulgar manufactures under the conditions of the modern social structure. Industry can only become again beautiful if poverty and the struggle for life are eliminated from society and the co-operative State and commune organized as the fruit of a great moral and spiritual uplifting of humanity.
Sri Aurobindo, Karmayogin, September 25, 1909.
A note on the extract
Aesthetics cannot be divorced from the economic perspective. Firstly, a general sense of collective well-being and an optimal living standard are needed to facilitate the pursuit of arts. Secondly, the flowering of arts and crafts cannot be expected if the market is flooded by substandard merchandise. Thirdly, industrial creativity is facilitated in the background of community development that spans from health and well-being to the cultivation of knowledge and aesthetics. Fourthly and finally, salvation of a nation needs an adding of a religious and moral preoccupation. Like arts and aesthetics, politics and commerce need to acknowledge spirituality.
Diversity facilitates Unity
There is …the utterly erroneous impression that nations have never been able to liberate themselves and do great deeds unless they were entirely and flawlessly united within. History supplies no justification or this specious theory. On the contrary when a nation is living at high pressure and feelings are at white heat, opinions and actions are bound to diverge far more strongly than at other times. In the strenuous times before the American War of Independence, the colony was divided into a powerful minority who were wholly for England, a great hesitating majority who were eager for internal autonomy but unwilling to use extreme methods , and a small but vigorous minority of extremists with men like John Adams at their head who pushed the country into revolt and created a nation. The history of the Italian revolution tells the same story. We are fond of quoting the instance of Japan, pointing to its magnificent unity and crying shame on ourselves for falling below that glorious standard…Nowhere was there a more keen, determined and murderous struggle between parties than in Japan in the days of its preparation, and the struggle was not over the ultimate ideal or object – the freedom and greatness of Japan, on which all parties were agreed, but on questions of method and internal organization.. Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, October 23, 1907
A note on the extract
The clash and strife of ideas, attitudes and actions cannot inhibit the vision of unity. If contradictions, conflicts and diversities were not there, there would have been no motivation to construct a unity- principle. Hence it is through the matrix of opposition and resistance that the movement towards unity grows and gathers momentum. Diversity brings a many-sided approach, counters dogmatism and partisan attitudes and the resultant unity becomes more rich and meaningful.
Great consequences of small events, Small consequences of great preparations
The events that sway the world are often the results of trivial circumstances. When immense changes and irresistible movements are in progress, it is astonishing how a single event, often a chance event, will lead to a train of circumstances that alter the face of a country or the world. At such times a slight turn this way or that produces results out of all proportion to the cause. It is on such occasions that we feel most vividly the reality of a Power which disposes of events and defeats the calculations of men. The end of many things is brought about by the sudden act of a single individual. A world vanishes, another is created almost at a touch. Certainty disappears and we begin to realize what the pralaya of the Hindus, the passage from one age to another, really means and how true is the idea that it is by rapid transitions long-prepared changes are induced…
Conversely, at such times great preparations, at least in the initial stages of the change, lead to nothing or very little. Pompous associations, largely attended conferences, earnest and careful deliberations all end in smoke; they vanish, leaving no trace behind. This is largely because these great preparations either take their stand on the chimaera that the past can be restored, or they anchor themselves on the permanency of present conditions. But in these periods things move so rapidly that yesterday’s conditions entirely disappear today and today’s have no surety of being in existence tomorrow….For, when we attempt to gaze into the immediate future, the one comment that suggests itself is in the Homeric phrase,
“These things lie on the knees of the Gods.”
Faith in politics
Faith is the first condition of success in every great undertaking. It is no exaggeration to say that faith removes mountains. It is faith that makes the men of will and thought persevere in spite of apparently insurmountable difficulties…The vision of faith penetrates into the remote future and turns the impossible into the possible. In the region of politics faith is the result of imagination working in the light of history; it takes its stand on reason and experience and aspires into the future from the firm ground of the past…We need faith above all things, faith in ourselves, faith in the nation…. A dozen men rendered invincible by a strong faith in their future, have … spread the contagion of nationalism to the remotest corner of vast countries. Unbelief is blind – it does not see far ahead, neither stimulates strength nor inspires action.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 25, 1907
A note on the extract
At the level of the body, faith is a natural and spontaneous instinct. This simple faith is explicit in children. A child has utter trust when after falling down and getting hurt is told by his mother that he will certainly be alright soon. As the child grows up, his mind develops and together with the capacities of reason and imagination, his mind is also invested with doubts, skepticism, and negative attitudes – the perversion of thought. It is true that there is a positive role of doubt as it removes dogmas, superstitions and checks what would have been disastrous impulsive acts. It is equally true that one cannot progress unless one has faith in one’s own convictions, ideals and goals. It is difficult to cultivate this positive faith at the level of the mind where its power will be curtailed by conflicting ideas. A strong faith has to be cultivated at a deeper level of the being. Then only we can appreciate what Sri Aurobindo means when he describes faith as ‘..the reflex in the lower consciousness of a Truth or real Idea yet unrealized in the manifestation’ (The Synthesis of Yoga, pg 39).
Faith is needed by different people in different contexts. The student has to have faith in one’s subject that has to be studied from various perspectives. The patient has to have faith that the therapeutic intervention will work. The air-passenger has to have faith that the plane will arrive at its destination. A seer or prophet has to have faith in one’s intuitive vision. But a politician has to have a unique faith. He is not expected to prophesize
like a seer, forewarn like an astrologer or speculate like a
share-trader. Yet his ideas, plans, policies and actions have
to be decisive for the present as well as relevant for the
future. Naturally his foundation must be based on the
socio-political gestalt that evolves in history; it must be
grounded in an unbiased rationality but must have space for
intuitive insights that carries the light of social progress
Liberty, Western and Eastern paradigms
We move from a state of bondage to an original liberty….We are bound in the beginning by a lapse from pre-existent freedom, we strive to shake off the bonds, we move forward and forward until we have achieved the ultimate emancipation, that utter freedom of the soul, of the body or the whole man, that utter freedom from all bondage towards which humanity is always aspiring. We in India have found a mighty freedom within ourselves; our brother-men in Europe have worked towards freedom without. We have been moving on parallel lines towards the same end. They have found out the way to external freedom. We have found out the way to internal freedom. We meet and give to each other what we have gained. We have learned from them to aspire after external as they will learn from us to aspire after internal freedom.
Sri Aurobindo: The Right of Association, Speech delivered on 27th June, 1909 at Howrah Town Hall.
A note on the extract
Sri Aurobindo held the slogan of ‘Liberty-Equality-Fraternity’ in the highest esteem : ‘These words cast forth into being from the great stir and movement of the eighteenth century continue to act on men because they point to the ultimate goal towards which human evolution ever moves’(Ibid). In the West, the concept of liberty was enshrined in political freedom at various levels. Firstly, a nation or country had to be free from political domination by foreign powers. Secondly, the individual had to be free from the despotism of an exploitative ruling coterie or dictator. Thirdly, the individual had to be free from unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions imposed by the society or the State (Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram,April,29,1907). These Western ideals of liberty were effectively propagated by Sri Aurobindo to implant in the psyche of the people the seeds of nationalism and political independence.
However, in the pristine tradition of the East, liberty denoted the freedom of the soul, the freedom from the banality of life, the falsehood of human transactions, and the bondage of the world. Carried to its extreme, this paradigm of liberty envisages a freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Such an extremist and ascetic view robs life of its very essence to survive. Sri Aurobindo corrects this imbalance by acknowledging the parallel Western paradigm of external liberty. External liberty alone cannot suffice, it would make life mechanized and impoverished. When both external freedom and internal freedom complement each other, a new integralist paradigm of liberty emerges heralding a futuristic world-order.
Speech by politicians
Speech in itself is
an instrument for good and not a mere waste of energy. But what
we need is that the speeches shall be by men who can think, see
and feel and not by mouthers of political commonplaces and
unrealities. Patriotic propagandists who understand the
situation themselves and have formed a tolerably good idea as to
how work should begin can always make converts who will help
them in promoting the cause. But mere declaimers who have no
light to give, but rather give out mere darkness and confuse
practical issues, have brought and will continue to bring the
gift of speech into discredit and alienate public sympathy from
propagandist work….we want men whose ideas are clear and who can
act as an inspiring force by pouring into their speech the
strength of a convicted intellect and a powerfully moved heart
and will. They must radiate the light from a highly reflective
Bande Mataram,12 July,1907)
Note on the
An ideal political
speech must have three basic components:
1. It must be based on a sound
intellect that has the clarity and vision of the future course
of events that are on the verge of unfolding. It cannot be an
academic discourse delivered for the satisfaction of the
intellect. It cannot be a sermon delivered from the pulpit to an
unquestioning audience. It has to be sensitive to the
aspirations and sentiments of the masses. It has to convey a
message for the benefit of the masses, a benefit that may take
time to be worked out; hence, it must follow logic and be
simultaneously visionary. It should also aim to educate and
elevate the consciousness of the masses; it must act like a
2. It must stir the emotions
of the audience, sway their hearts, and hold them captive.
Political power is legitimized by the will and consent of the
masses but to achieve that, the hearts of the masses have to be
mobilized and won over. The proletariat may appear ignorant,
inert or immobile but is nevertheless a very great potential
force and whoever can succeed in understanding and eliciting
that strength, wins the battle to be master of the future.
3. It must carry
an inbuilt force, energy or power that galvanizes and
consolidates the effects of the speech and makes it memorable.
This is not easy as the audience is not a set of affirmative
believers but a volatile conglomerate whose public memory is
very short and who can be swayed easily to opposite extremes.
The force in the speech must carry the conviction of the idea;
it must not be an empty rhetoric. After all, it is the idea that
builds and destroys. It destroys governments, administrations,
and nations. It can destroy the dictatorship of a fanatic
zealot; it can also destroy the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It builds up resistance, works through conflicts, and constructs
If certain classes are dominant and others depressed, the result is that the potential strength of the depressed classes is so much valuable force lost to the sum of national strength. The dominant classes may undoubtedly show a splendid development and may make the nation great and famous in history; but when all is said the strength of the nation is then only the sum of the strength of a few privileged classes. The great weakness of India in the past has been the political depression and nullity of the mass of the population. It was not from the people of India that India was won by Moghul or Briton, but from a small privileged class. On the other hand, the strength and success of the Marathas and Sikhs in the 18th century was due to the policy of Shivaji and Guru Govinda which called the whole nation into the fighting line. They failed only because the Marathas could not preserve the cohesion which Shivaji gave to their national strength or the Sikhs the discipline which Guru Govinda gave to the Khalsa. ..
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 29, 1907
Nationalism depends for its success on the awakening and organizing of the whole strength of the nation; it is therefore vitally important for Nationalism that the politically backward classes should be awakened and brought into the current of political life; the great mass of orthodox Hinduism.., the great slumbering mass of Islam.., the shop-keepers, the artisan class, the immense body of illiterate and ignorant peasantry, the submerged classes, even the.. tribes and races still outside the pale of..civilization, Nationalism can afford to neglect and omit none.
Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, December 17,1907
When Sri Aurobindo arrived in India in 1893, his first realization was that the vast proletariat (he was the first person in India to use this term) was sunk in poverty, ignorance and inertia while the miniscule nobility was decrepit and non-functional. In this background, the British education was producing a middle-class with a bourgeois and philistine mindset. Sri Aurobindo was aghast at the idea that the avant-garde politicians and intellectuals emerging from this middle-class with neither experience of administration nor experience of resistance to administration could take up the mantle of the saviour of the proletariat. The awakening and upliftment of the masses had to be sui generis; it could not be devised and dictated by the middle-class intelligentsia. He reiterated that the development of the privileged classes could be no substitute for the awakening of the political sense of the masses. ‘There may have been a time in history when it was enough that a few classes, the ruling classes, the learned classes, at most the trading classes should be awake. But the organization of the modern nation depends on the awakening of the political sense in the mass. This is the age of the people, the million, the democracy. If any nation wishes to survive in the modern struggle,…it must awaken the people and bring them into the conscious life of the nation, so that every man may feel that in the nation he lives, with the prosperity of the nation he prospers, in the freedom of the nation he is free’ (Public Speech, April 20, 1908)
Sri Aurobindo’s concern for the upliftment of the masses was reflected in the views of a section of the Indian communists when India became free from British rule. They opined that a genuine decolonization must be reflected in a change of the entire social structure, a cleavage of the comprador-feudal combine and an end to imperialism. The importance of these apprehensions is still relevant if we consider the present scenario in India in the 21st century. Most of the places in India which are affected by insurgency are typically inhabited by our tribal population. It is usually tribal areas which are treasure houses of our minerals and natural resources, yet our indigenous population has not been adequately catered in the primary areas of economy, education and health. Despite our constitutional provisions and safeguards, the bourgeois mindset of the politician-bureaucrat nexus lacked the ‘vision’ and ‘will’ to elevate the tribal masses. To add insult to injury, a few of India’s privileged industrialists are among the richest in the world at a time when archaic laws are invoked to convert prime agricultural land for industry-building without adequately compensating or rehabilitating our hapless peasant-landowners and tribals. Today, India’s national strength is being depleted because the revenue needed to counter home-grown insurgency and discontent has come at a cost of genuine development of the under-privileged.
Sri Aurobindo says that the depression and nullity of the Indian masses led to exploitation by foreign forces. This phenomenon still holds good. In a changing world-order, a country may not be directly invaded and occupied by a foreign power. But if the masses are not uplifted, if the under-privileged are not elevated, exploitation by foreign powers will come in new garbs through trade imbalances, debt-traps, corporate invasions and forced impositions of defense treaties, immigrant policies and intellectual copyrights. It is in the interest of the whole nation, including the privileged classes that the proletariat needs to be elevated for a new world-order.
The Fulfillment of a Nation
The nation or group is not like the individual who can specialize his development and throw all his energies into one line. The nation must develop military and political greatness and activity, intellectual and aesthetic greatness and activity, commercial greatness and activity, moral sanity and vigour; it cannot sacrifice any of these functions of the organism without making itself unfit for the struggle for life and finally succumbing and perishing under the pressure of more highly organized nations. The purely commercial State like Carthage is broken in the shock with a nation which has developed the military and political as well as the commercial energies. A purely military state like Sparta cannot stand against rivals which to equal military efficiency unite a greater science, intellectual energy and political ability. A purely aesthetic and intellectual state like the Greek colonies in Italy or a purely moral and spiritual community like the empire of Peru are blotted out of existence in the clash with ruder but more vigorous and many-sided organisms. No government, therefore, can really be good for a nation or serve the purposes of national life and development which does not give full scope for the development of all the national activities, capacities and energies.
(Sri Aurobindo, Bande Mataram, April 29, 1907)
Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between the development of an individual which is a concern for psychology and the development of a nation which falls under the purview of disciplines like sociology and social anthropology. The individual with a life-span limited within the constraints of space and time can usually excel in an exclusive specialization. There are exceptional individuals who can excel in multiple disciplines but even then there is one discipline in which one excels more in comparison to others. In contrast, the nation that represents a group of individuals must develop in all possible directions. It is a fact that each nation has a unique attribute, a unique specialization. Brazil specializes in football, France excels in the cultivation of arts, India identifies with its spiritual essence. Yet the excellence of a nation along one dimension cannot suffice for an all-round development. Sri Aurobindo draws lessons from history to illustrate that even if a nation has an unique attribute, it can still be a failed State if it cannot have a robust development along multiple dimensions, viz political, military, commercial, aesthetic, scientific, intellectual, spiritual, sports.
The question is how can a nation pursue vigorously a many sided growth. Sri Aurobindo answers that this necessitates that the State must ensure individual liberty so that human potentials can have maximum actualization. Each individual has a unique potentiality which needs to be manifested through an adequate exposure to appropriate educational and developmental processes. It is only then that groups of developed individuals can represent a flowering of multiple potentialities. Sri Aurobindo emphasizes, “...if the individual is unduly hampered, the richness of national life suffers and is impoverished. If the individual is given free room to realize himself, to perfect, specialize and enrich his particular powers and attain the full height of his manhood, the variety and rapidity of national progress is immensely increased. In so far as he is fettered and denied scope, the development of the nation is cramped and retarded”. (Ibid)
SPIRITUAL FREEDOM, SOCIAL FREEDOM, POLITICAL FREEDOM
Spiritual freedom the ancient Rishis had already declared to us;
Social freedom was part of the message of Buddha, Chaitanya, Nanak and Kabir and the saints of Maharashtra;
Political freedom is the last word of the triune gospel. Without political freedom the soul of man is crippled.
Social Freedom: Social freedom is not a result of social machinery but of the freedom of the human intellect and the nobility of the human soul. A man who follows petty ends cannot feel his brotherhood with his fellows, for he is always striving to raise himself above them and assert petty superiorities
Political freedom: If political freedom is absent, the community has no great ends to follow and the individual is confined within a narrow circuit in which the superiority of caste, wealth or class is the only ambition which he can cherish. If political freedom opens to him a wider horizon, he forgets the lesser ambitions.
Spiritual freedom: If the mass of men around us is miserable, fallen, degraded how can the seeker after God be indifferent to the condition of his brothers? ...He is forgetting that God is not only in himself but in all these millions. And for those who have not the strength, spiritual freedom in political servitude is a sheer impossibility…By our political freedom we shall once more recover our spiritual freedom.
(Sri Aurobindo, BANDE MATARAM, Feb 18,1908)
The doctrine that social and commercial progress must precede or will of themselves bring about political strength and liberty , is a ….very dangerous lie; for a nation is no aggregate of separable functions , but a harmony of functions, of which government and political arrangement is the oldest, most central and most vital and determines the others( Sri Aurobindo,1907)
A note on the extracts
These passages from Sri Aurobindo’s writings have important insights:
1. The spiritual seers or rishis of ancient India were exceptional individuals. Steeped in the consciousness of the Vedas and the Upanishads, they followed the arduous discipline of cultivating the soul-poise so as to get liberated from all worldly attachments. However, only exceptional seekers had the motivation to approach them for light and guidance. These rishis were not usually accessible to ordinary masses of people.
2. Spiritual freedom was initially accessible to a select group of aspirants who could grasp the spiritual significance of the rishis. It was not available to the masses—the proletariat. To bridge this gap, great spiritual personalities themselves took the onus and came forward to spread the Light and Truth to the society at large. Their appeal was generalized, formulated in the language and idioms of the masses, devoid of metaphysical jugglery, free from intellectual monopoly, simple and straightforward, appealing directly to the heart. So powerful was the appeal that till today, if anyone in India intends to propagate social liberty, he has to take the name of Buddha and indeed politicians working with the downtrodden have to still build his statues to strengthen their vote-banks. Kabir’s name is still invoked for communal harmony. Nanak broke the distinctions of caste and Chaitanya’s love flowed like a river that till today nourishes whosoever on its banks. It is to these spiritual giants like Sri Ramkrishna and Shirdi Sai Baba that ordinary masses came and still come to invoke them from all walks of the society to get solace and to feel rejuvenated. Raja Rammohun Roy and Iswarchandra Vidyasagar were great champions of social freedom who shaped India and though were not of the spiritual stature of Buddha or Chaitanya, nevertheless sported great intellectual visions supported by the heritage of our spiritual past. Thus social liberty was initiated by remarkable individuals who were marked by the wideness of intellectuality and nobility of the soul. Even Mohammed was able to initiate the mighty current of Islam due to the liberal nature of his teachings that broke social barriers and dispensed off the priest. That is why Sri Aurobindo makes the bold statement that social freedom is not tailor-made through social machineries but manifests through the freedom of the intellect from all preferential notions and the aristocracy of the soul that universalizes its nobility to break all social barriers to accept the whole world in its embrace.
3. The political arrangement is the pivotal centre of a nation. If political liberty is not given, both the individual and the nation cannot progress. There was a time when even in ancient Europe, individual liberty was not pursued in the present sense of the term, ‘but there was absolute communal liberty. Every community was completely free to develop …the law of its being.(Evening talks with Sri Aurobindo, pg 27).Today, the Time-Spirit demands political freedom for both the community and the individual. The community must have its right for self-determination. The individual must have the right to develop one’s potentialities to the fullest extent.
4. Sri Aurobindo emphasizes that political freedom is basic and cannot be compromised for the sake of social and economic progress. During his trial for championing liberty from British rule, it was argued that it did not matter at all if the ruling government was good and was attempting social progress and economic upliftment. What mattered was that the government was by aliens and did not indigenously spring up from the soil. Liberty has not only to be judged on social parameters but viewed from several perspectives. Social and economic developments have to be complemented with cultural uniqueness and spiritual liberty.
5. Sri Aurobindo makes a bold statement that political freedom is necessary for spiritual freedom. This is not a mere statement but an index of his greater vision for global unity. Political freedom can ensure that a progressive upliftment of the masses – the proletariat and not only of privileged classes can continue to occur along with the progressive refinement of political consciousness, forms of government, and styles of governance. This phenomenon will raise the mass consciousness to an optimal point where masses of human beings and not merely exceptional individuals will be accessible for a growth in consciousness. Only then can manifest higher order collectivities which Sri Aurobindo named as Gnostic societies. In the Gnostic society, the individual and the group are appropriately harmonized – a phenomenon that has not been successfully universalized till date. Sri Aurobindo bases his Utopian dreams on the most pragmatic foundations.
LOVE IN POLITICS
‘Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love .The love which drives out hate, is a divine quality of which only one man in a thousand is capable .A saint full of love for all mankind possesses it, a philanthropist consumed with the desire to heal the miseries of the race possesses it, but the mass of mankind do not and cannot rise to that height. Politics is concerned with masses of mankind and not individuals. To ask masses of mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love and practice it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors is to ignore human nature. It is to set a premium on injustice and violence by paralyzing the hand of the deliverer when raised to strike…
‘Love has a place in politics, but it is the love for one’s country, for one’s countrymen, for the glory, greatness and happiness of the race, the divine ananda of self-immolation for one’s fellows, the ecstasy of relieving their suffering, the joy of seeing one’s blood flow for country and freedom, the bliss of union in death with fathers of the race…
‘Other love than this is foreign to the motives of political action. Between nation and nation there is justice, partiality, chivalry, duty but not love. All love is either individual, or for the self in the race or for the self in mankind. It may exist between individuals of different races, but the love of one race for another is a thing foreign to nature....’
Sri Aurobindo, unpublished manuscript titled ‘The Morality of Boycott; presumably written not long before his arrest on 2ndMay, 1908; seized by colonial British police at time of his arrest.
A note on the extract
Love is perhaps the most disfigured term in human diction. Love reaches its zenith as well as dives to its nadir in interpersonal relations. In ordinary life, love is a vital interchange between two individuals. The vital is that part of our being which is our emotional repertoire and admits opposite emotions, conflicting moods, clashing interests. It is a risky zone and the intensity of passion can turn into the turbidity of the vulgar. A certain purity in love comes in exceptional situations like maternal love for an infant. True love begins to manifest if one can exceed one’s ego and take a soul-poise.
It is impractical to theorize that such an ego-surpassing love can sprout in masses or can exist between two nations or conglomerates. On the contrary, in exceptional situations, an impractical harping on love can thwart the Saviour Grace that might justify aggression as a temporal instrument.
If we want to establish human unity in the globe, it would be chimerical to canvass love between nations. Instead, a two-pronged strategy would be favourable:
1. At the level of consciousness, the individual self can surpass one’s egoistic standpoint to identify with the self of humanity. When many such individuals scattered in space and time start traversing this path, the possibility of Gnostic societies can emerge leading to a deeper level of human unity.
2. At the practical level, it would be more judicious to build the foundations of unity based on common interests, common motives, and common minimum programs. Sri Aurobindo suggested this line of action for regional unity (in South Asia) in his Independence Day message in 1947. When an optimal pragmatic unity has been established, a facilitation of a deeper move from the consciousness perspective can be better initiated.
Issues in Unity: Love and Force
“The Cross is in Yoga the symbol of the soul and nature in their strong and perfect union, but because of our fall into the impurities of ignorance it has become the symbol of suffering and purification.
‘Christ came into the world to purify, not to fulfil. He himself foreknew the failure of his mission and the necessary of his return with the sword of God into a world that had rejected him.
‘Mahomed’s mission was necessary, else we might have ended by thinking, in the exaggeration of our efforts at self-purification, that earth was meant only for the monk and the city created as a vestibule for the desert.
‘When all is said, Love and Force together can save the world eventually, but not Love only or Force only. Therefore Christ had to look forward to a second advent and Mahomed’s religion, where it is not stagnant, looks forward through the Imam to a Mahdi.”
Sri Aurobindo: Thoughts and Aphorisms, pg 31-32.
A note on the aphorisms
It is difficult to conceptualize the nature of Reality. Different spiritual giants have experientially perceived different aspects of the same Reality in distinct poises. Some perceived Reality as Existence, some as Force, some as Love, some as Consciousness, some as a denial of all descriptive attributes. Sri Aurobindo explains that these are not additive terms but different poises of the same Reality. When we say Reality is ONE, we do not mean a statistical construct but an oneness in essence. However, in manifestation, each aspect of Reality had to assert itself, develop itself to the fullest potential, and proclaim its uniqueness. As long as there is no manifestation, there is no creation and all the different aspects of Reality are one in quiescence and have no rhyme or reason to exert themselves. Once the manifestation is operative, each aspect of Reality has to wriggle out of the inconscient unity to develop to the maximum extent. Once all the aspects have been developed, a new type of superconscient unity can be constructed. Such a vibrant unity will have a fulfillment, integralism and wholeness that is missing in the blank, featureless unity of the unmanifest. That is the spirituality of the future.
The different aspects of Reality manifest through individuals as well as collectivities. Religions, nations, governments are collectivities that express different aspects of Reality that need to be asserted fully so that they can be progressively integrated and synthesized in the grand orchestra of unity. Thus Love had to be expressed as a gospel and the Cross actually humanized Europe. That was Movement Number One.
Love alone could not suffice as there was an overemphasis on suffering and an exaggeration of the sin-guilt-confession syndrome. Death lost its glory as it drowned in the sea of suffering. Love survived without the passion of power and the bliss of creation. It had to be balanced by the fire and zeal and joy of Force that goes on with the fiat to establish and expand the rule of the Infinite, of Allah. As Allah was infinite, the quest to expand and consolidate God’s kingdom was also invested with an insatiable thirst for conquest, an illimitable zeal for domination. To die for Allah was a joy, a passion, a glory, a fulfillment. That was Movement Number Two.
Without the element of Love, Force becomes somewhat dry .Without being integrated with Knowledge; the flow of Energy loses its dynamism. Without motiveless Bliss, Love cannot be ecstatic.
A Third Movement awaits its hour of consummation. Love an d Force have to be coeval with a Supreme, all-pervasive and all-embracing Consciousness .That Consciousness integrates the mind-surpassing Knowledge that invests the worlds with meaning, the dynamic Force or Energy that builds the worlds with purpose, the expansive Love that links the worlds in unity, the motiveless and spontaneous Bliss that sustains the worlds only for the sake and joy of the game called creation. To reassert, that is the spirituality of the future.
The New Spirit of Oneness
The unification of mankind is under way, though only in an imperfect initiative, organized but struggling against tremendous difficulties. But the momentum is there and, if the experience of history can be taken as a guide, it must inevitably increase until it conquers. Here too India has begun to play a prominent part and, if she can develop that larger statesmanship which is not limited by the present facts and immediate possibilities but looks into the future and brings it nearer, her presence may make all the difference between a slow and timid and a bold and swift development. A catastrophe may intervene and interrupt or destroy what is being done, but even then the final result is sure. For in any case the unification is a necessity in the course of Nature, an inevitable movement and its achievement can be safely foretold. Its necessity for the nations also is clear, for without it the freedom of the small peoples can never be safe hereafter and even large and powerful nations cannot really be secure. India, if she remains divided, will not herself be sure of her safety. It is therefore to the interest of all that union should take place. Only human imbecility and stupid selfishness could prevent it. Against that, it has been said, even the gods strive in vain; but it cannot stand for ever against the necessity of Nature and the Divine Will. Nationalism will then have fulfilled itself; an international spirit and outlook must grow up and international forms and institutions; even it may be such developments as dual or multilateral citizenship and a voluntary fusion of cultures may appear in the process of the change and the spirit of nationalism losing its militancy may find these things perfectly compatible with the integrity of its own outlook. A new spirit of oneness will take hold of the human race.
A Note on The Extract
The urge for unity, innate in humanity, travels through a hierarchy of groupings to culminate in the nation-idea but is not arrested there. It has to proceed further to universalize into the spirit of internationalism.
In its endeavor to establish itself, the nationalistic fervor can become aggressive, militant and fundamentalist. This can only be checked effectively if two movements occur simultaneously: (a) a spirit of internationalism prevails, assimilating and surpassing the nation-idea; and (b) the international spirit and outlook gives credence to the right of self-determination of national and regional groupings.
3. The concept of multiple citizenship favoured by Sri Aurobindo, is slowly gaining credibility. The essence of multiple citizenship is most beautifully represented by the declaration of The Mother on 15th August, 1964 after Pondicherry became an Indian territory ‘I am French by birth and early education, I am Indian by choice and predilection. In my consciousness there is no antagonism between the two, on the contrary, they combine very well and complete one another. I know also that I can be of service to both equally, for my only aim in life is to give a concrete form to Sri Aurobindo’s great teaching and in his teaching he reveals, that all nations are essentially one and meant to express the Divine Unity upon earth through an organized ad harmonious diversity.’
The concept of voluntary fusion of cultures is to be taken seriously if we opt for a true spirit of internationalism. It is a phenomenon that always takes place, albeit surreptitiously. If the same phenomenon can be accelerated consciously, then a powerful trajectory can emerge. When youngsters all over the world were dancing to the tune of the Beatles irrespective of political and racial differences, they were invoking a spirit of cultural internationalism that could culminate in the world anthem ‘we are the world’! If various combinations of the deeper elements of Islam and Vedanta could give rise to Sufism and Sikhism, then an evolutionary growth in consciousness that progressively integrates, fuses, synthesizes and surpasses in its spiral trajectory all the seed-ideas incorporated in the great religious traditions, a true and powerful spirit of spiritual universalism can manifest fulfilling our dream and aspiration of international human unity.
(Context: This passage is extracted from Sri Aurobindo’s message on the eve of Friday, 15th August, 1947 which marked India’s independence from British rule as well as Sri Aurobindo’s 75th birthday. Sri Aurobindo Himself took this coincidence not as a reward for His being the first voice in India to claim for a free and united nation but rather as the sine qua non of His futuristic vision for human unity, evolution of a new Supramental race and an integralist Gnostic community being transformed into reality. He liked to dwell, using His own words, not in the past dawns but on the noons of the future.
It was also another coincidence that on that very day Sri Aurobindo’s ashram was attacked and an inmate killed by fundamentalist Dravidsthan elements who considered the Ashram to be an impediment to Pondicherry’s
freedom from French domination. On the very auspicious occasion
of India’s independence, the ominous threat of divisive elements
reared its ugly head to show that it could manifest not only
through Hindu-Muslim discord which made the partition inevitable
but also through multifarious regional conflicts that would
weaken the fabric of the nation making it vulnerable to
disruptive forces. Today these divisive forces are active in the
whole of South Asia)
Date of Update: 18-Nov-11