Chapter XXXIV Part I
The Religion of Humanity
From intellectual humanism to spiritual universalism
The ghost of the past and unborn spirits
As the world moves towards a global community, the significance of the human being surpasses the injunctions of race, creed, colour, nationality, status, political or social structures. Mankind is increasingly intolerant of wars, terrorism, class conflicts, oppression and exploitation of one group of people by others, cruelty, both moral and physical perpetrated by the individual, insurgent groups or the State.
The ghost of the past
Sri Aurobindo describes that in all such cases where mankind seems to be in the back foot, the ghost of the past haunts the scene:
"The ghosts of things dead are very troublesome actualities and they now abound, ghosts of dead religions, dead arts, dead moralities, dead political theories, which still claim either to keep their rotting bodies or to animate partly the existing body of things. Repeating obstinately their sacred formulas of the past, they hypnotise backward-looking minds and daunt even the progressive portion of humanity". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.564)
Sri Aurobindo’s description of the surviving ghosts reminds of a famous short piece Tagore wrote (in Bengali) on the ghost of that which rules our lives (Kartar Bhoot). The people were feeling insecure when their guardian was not there anymore so the latter, in compassion for his subjects and with the consent of the gods, began ruling as a ghost. It was a very clever arrangement for the ghost need not have any headache for the future (the ghost after all has no mind), he can only run the administration by possessing people’s psyche, loading it with the values of the past. People love nostalgia and so they were also happy, there was no need to anticipate about the future and they could happily go on ruminating the glory of the past.
A few persons who were afraid to speak their minds in daytime gathered at night and asked their guardian’s ghost if the time had not yet come to dispossess his subjects.
The ghost replied that that was not his headache. It was the people who had bound him, it is they who have to unbound him.
The subjects murmured that the very thought of abandoning him made them somewhat insecure.
Their guardian replied that that itself was the phenomenon of possession by the ghost. It was in fact indicating the logic of the ghost.
It is a fact that we see the shadow of the ghost everywhere. There are insurgents who want to resurrect the ghost of bygone caliphates though they never speculate how such things could stand the test of time. There are administrations who take tough decisions against migrant groups, drive them away, erect walls at borders of countries or declare them stateless based on bitter experiences of the past but they overlook that the history of Homo sapiens is itself a history of migration since they started spreading from East Africa about 70,000 years before. There are religious zealots who think that the ghost of the past can alone counter the modern saga of usurpation of values though they never conceive that in a new world, DNA sequences might indicate our individual uniqueness more than our religious, cultural or national identities until the psycho-spiritual soul-principle becomes a harbinger of uniqueness in a Gnostic collectivity.
Yet all is not lost. There are also free souls who look towards the unborn future. There are visionary ideas in the realm of subtle thought which need instruments to act. "But there are too these unborn spirits which are still unable to take a definite body, but are already mind-born and exist as influences of which the human mind is aware". (Ibid) In 1918, Sri Aurobindo wrote that the response to these futuristic influences was "desultory and confused" (Ibid) ; it still remains so in the 21st century.
There was of course a reaction to the ghost of the past, a reaction whose resultant effects have been spectacular at times though there has not yet been a viable consolidation that overrides the vicissitudes of time. It resulted in a sort of religion of humanity – a sort of intellectual humanism, a sentimental appeal, a type of dogma with intellectual, psychological and practical effects. Sri Aurobindo traces this trend to the 18th century:
"The religion of humanity was mind-born in the eighteenth century, the manasa putra* of the rationalist thinkers who brought it forward as a substitute for the formal spiritualism of ecclesiastical Christianity. It tried to give itself a body in Positivism, which was an attempt to formulate the dogmas of this religion, but on too heavily and severely rationalistic a basis for acceptance even by an Age of Reason. Humanitarianism has been its most prominent emotional result. Philanthropy, social service and other kindred activities have been its outward expression of good works. Democracy, socialism, pacificism are to a great extent its by-products or at least owe much of their vigour to its inner presence".
(*Mind-born child, an expression of the Indian tradition) (Ibid, pg.564-565)
Date of Update: 20-Jul-20
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu