Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XVII Part III

Nature’s Law in Our Progress

Unity and Uniformity

The united progress of mankind needs the establishment of the principle of free and harmonious mutuality simultaneously at several levels:

(a) between individuals,

(b) between the individual and the collectivity,

(c) between the smaller collectivity and the totality of mankind and

(d) between the common life and consciousness of mankind and its freely developing communal and individual constituents (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 422).

The pathway to such an ideal of interchange and assimilation has not been consolidated in the collective psyche of the race. ‘There is a struggle, an opposition of ideas, impulses and interests, an attempt of each to profit by various kinds of war on the others, by a kind of intellectual, vital, physical robbery and theft or even by the suppression, devouring, digestion of its fellows rather than by a free and rich regimentation’ (Ibid, pg 423). An ideal solution to this problem has not been worked out in the universal arena of human life. Unable to deal with unbridled freedom that gives rise to disorder, strife and waste and unable to deal with a variegated diversity that gives rise to separatism and jarring complexities, the intellectual reason has preferred uniformity and regimentation to construct an edifice of human unity.   

Sri Aurobindo explains that the oneness we want to achieve through unification of mankind is a qualitative value: ‘Existence is one only in its essence and totality, in its play it is necessarily multiform’ (Ibid). It is variety and diversity that colours our life ,expands our horizons, rings in our tunes, blossoms in our arts and actually brings us closer to each other in a diversified, multiple unity. ’Absolute uniformity would mean the cessation of life, while on the other hand the vigour of the pulse of life may be measured by the richness of the diversities which it creates’ (Ibid). As such, ‘freedom is as necessary to life as law and regime; diversity is as necessary as unity to our true completeness’ (Ibid).

However ideals are very often utopian and the much eulogized principle of human unity gets replaced by a well-orchestrated construct of uniformity. Sri Aurobindo lists several reasons for this fiasco:

1. Firstly, uniformity imparts ‘a strong and ready illusion of unity in place of the real oneness at which it is so much more difficult to arrive (Ibid, pg 424)’.

2. Secondly, uniformity makes it easy to enact, enforce and execute ‘the otherwise difficult business of law, order and regimentation’ (Ibid) .

3. Thirdly, uniformity is preferred as ‘a secure and easy way to unification’ as the human impulse ‘is to make every considerable diversity an excuse for strife and separation’ (Ibid).

4. Fourthly, uniformity has a significant psycho-social advantage as uniformity in one particular arena of life helps to ‘economise’ human energies ‘for development in other directions’. Thus it may be presumed that if there is economic uniformity, there can be more leisure and room for ‘intellectual and cultural growth’. Or else, if the whole social existence is uniformly standardized, there can be more scope for ‘peace and a free mind to attend more energetically’ to one’s ‘spiritual development’. ( In reality this does not happen as the unity of existence is too complex an issue and the end-result of oversimplification is that ‘man’s total intellectual and cultural growth suffers by social immobility,--by any restriction or poverty of his economic life; the spiritual existence of the race, if it attains to remote heights, weakens at last in its richness and continued sources of vivacity when it depends on a too standardized and regimented society; the inertia from below rises and touches even the summits.’) (Ibid)

5. Fifthly, uniformity, despite its limitations, has a pragmatic and utilitarian value till the human collectivity is ready for a real unity that achieves oneness in terms of consciousness. At least uniformity checks disruption to some extent before real unity is achieved .A modicum of minimum uniformity may still be needed in a eulogized structure of real unity that surpasses the limitations of uniformity.  ‘Owing to the defects of our mentality uniformity has to a certain extent to be admitted and sought after; still the real aim of Nature is a true unity supporting a rich diversity. (Ibid)’


Sri Aurobindo explains that an infinite variation of an unitary essence is the very law of Nature and its acknowledgement is necessary to ‘the healthy total life of mankind’ (Ibid, pg 425) .He elaborates: ‘For the principle of variation does not prevent free interchange, does not oppose the enrichment of all from a common stock and of the common stock  by all which we have seen to be the ideal principle of existence; on the contrary, without a secure variation such interchange and mutual assimilation would be out of the question. Therefore we see that in this harmony between our unity and our diversity lies the secret of life; Nature insists equally in all our works upon unity and upon variation’ (Ibid).

Sri Aurobindo further explains that a perfect spiritual unity can support an utmost play of diversity with no place for uniformity. Yet he writes in the same vein: ‘We shall find that a real spiritual and psychological unity can allow a free diversity and dispense with all but the minimum of uniformity which is sufficient to embody the community of nature and of essential principle. Until we can arrive at that perfection, the method of uniformity has to be applied, but we must not over-apply it on peril of discouraging life in the very sources of its power, richness and sane natural self-unfolding’ (Ibid). Thus while stressing the spiritual poise of a diversified unity that surpasses uniformity and at the same time accommodating an optimal, minimal uniformity in a structure of unity, Sri Aurobindo shows that experiential realizations have to be pragmatically applied in the complex arena of human life.

Date of Update: 27-Mar-14

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu