Readings, in contemporary parlance, chapter by chapter, of
THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY
Readings in Chapter I
‘The Turn towards Unity : Its Necessity and Dangers’
The title of the first chapter itself makes interesting reading .He is focusing here not on ‘unity’ per se but on the movement in nature towards unity .Any movement in nature has its utility and dangers. The movement of clouds coalescing with each other is necessary for a bountiful harvest but can also be dangerous if it causes a flood or a deluge. Likewise, the movement towards unity of a collectivity can bring a universalized prosperity that a single individual cannot achieve. But a regimented, uniform unity can crush an individual’s dream for growth and progress.
It is a fact that Nature always strives for unity. It is also a fact that this unity comes with a price .It is the urge for unity that led to gender-based reproduction that in turn led to the emergence of more and more complex forms in evolution. But this also led to the phenomenon of death. The unicellular organism does not die but gets replicated ad infintum!
The term ‘unity’ appears to be a chimera in human life. The mind might prefer a particular idea but the heart might not consent to have it effectuated .Even if the mind and heart are in consonance, the body might rebel and upset all moves! It is so difficult to harmonize and unify the discordant parts of an individual personality .Naturally it is far more difficult to unify and harmonize a collectivity comprising of myriad individuals. Sri Aurobindo concedes, ‘Nothing is more obscure to humanity or less seized by its understanding, whether in the power that moves it or the sense of the aim towards which it moves, than its own communal and collective life.’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 261)
Nature gives us another interesting example. Many elements in nature unite in different permutations and combinations to form more and more complex organisms. If a microalga is formed by the unity of a certain number of natural principles, a big tree is formed by a much greater unity of natural principles. A cyclone cannot destroy a microalga. A big tree can either be usurped in a storm or fall under the pressure of its own weight if it has started to decay or wear out. And if a mass of trees in a forest catch fire or get uprooted, what havoc is created!
The collapse of huge aggregates
The same story is repeated in great human collectivities .Many countries, nations and kingdoms unite to form huge aggregates which can collapse under their own weight if they start decaying from within. This is what happened to the Roman Empire .Sri Aurobindo wrote, ‘ 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, wide-spread 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.’(Ibid, pg 265).One can draw parallels with the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Republic.
Huge vis-a- vis smaller aggregates
Sri Aurobindo makes a very important psychological observation: huge aggregates or collectivities, even if ‘closely united’ or ‘strictly organised’ do not necessarily support a rich and puissant and fulfilling human life. Rather, it seems that ‘collective life is more at ease with itself, more genial, varied, fruitful when it can concentrate itself in small spaces and simpler organisms.’ He draws instances from the past, both in Europe and in India to illustrate that
collective life was most powerful and vibrant when organised in little independent centres acting intimately upon each other but not fused into a single unity ,viz. (Ibid, pg 263-264):