Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


Diversity in Oneness

Unity in diversity is a common theme that is eulogized all over the world. It indicates that we must construct an ideal of unity to harmonize the great diversity that characterizes our universe. This unity can be constructed in every sphere of life but meets the greatest difficulty when the issue comes to unify mankind marked by a veritable diversity of races, religions, cultures, nations and what not! Obviously the human being has to expand one’s values of fraternity, equality, social justice, moral responsibility and transcultural assets to construct an unity which nevertheless remains fragile and shaky, always vulnerable to be usurped by centrifugal forces triggered off by exaggerated individual and group identities.

Sri Aurobindo uses a different approach based on the traditional Indian concept of the primal Oneness from which the multiplicity has evolved and into which the multiplicity can get consummated. This Oneness is the Great Void teeming with infinite possibilities. It is the Oneness that is represented by a basic Unity-substrate of Consciousness behind all the variegated multiplicity. The Unity permits the diversity. The Diversity is thus rooted in the Unity-principle, in the underlying primal consciousness. As the Diversity is poised in the Oneness, the phrase ‘Diversity in Oneness’ represents the truth better than the term ‘Unity in Diversity’. This is the rationale of the heading of this chapter.

Instead of constructing a fragile façade of unity amidst the diversity, it is more spontaneous to consider a central unity that permits the diversity. If one can identify with the central unity in terms of consciousness, one can explore the diversity in the spirit of Oneness. Sri Aurobindo advocates approaching the problem of diversity from this poise of Oneness.

If the Oneness permits diversity, then the Unity-principle fostered by the Oneness cannot be a ‘uniformity’ but a diversified unity (In The Life Divine [chapter II], Sri Aurobindo uses the term ‘multitudinous unity’). Uniformity indicates some sort of over-centralisation and Sri Aurobindo opines that it is not ‘the healthy method of life’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.513) as it fosters a mechanical order that disregards liberty, inhibits freedom. Indeed, the very fact of a basic Unity permitting an endless Diversity incorporates the component of unqualified freedom, unrestricted liberty.

It could be argued that a stable uniformity would give a better organized life. But such an arrangement could come at the cost of liberty. It is also a chimera to consider that liberty is synonymous with disharmony. A liberty that arises from the unity-substrate of consciousness would give rise to a more spontaneous order that would be more durable than a mechanically constructed uniformity.

‘Order is indeed the law of life, but not an artificial regulation. The sound order is that which comes from within as a result of a nature that has discovered itself and found its own law and the law of its relations with others. Therefore the truest order is that which is founded on the greatest possible liberty; for liberty is at once the condition of vigorous variation and the condition of self-finding’.

Thus the enshrinement of liberty in our conscious repertoire serves two purposes:

(a) It facilitates the spontaneous functioning of diversified groups, fostering a natural harmony in the matrix of Oneness;

(b) It allows the individual to find one’s own source of harmony as a part of self-finding. To harmonise the Diversity in the world, one needs to first harmonise one’s own discordant parts around a central Unity-principle.

Unity in Human Race- Early human groupings

Unity in human race is a contentious issue. Though the modern mind has tried to conceive of unity through some sort of uniformity based on national, administrative or political narratives, the initial human groupings were spontaneously formed on the basis of liberty. The earliest natural groupings of mankind took individual variations into consideration, resulting in natural associations of free individuals. As Sri Aurobindo points out, ‘Nature secures variation by division into groups and insists on liberty by the force of individuality in the members of the group. Therefore the unity of the human race to be entirely sound and in consonance with the deepest laws of life must be founded on free groupings, and the groupings again must be the natural association of free individuals’. (Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo’s statement on free individuals forming early groups leads to a pertinent query: Were primitive groups so mature to consider individual differences? Perhaps such a doubt arises as we often tend to stereotype the “primitives”. Anthropological exploration has actually showed that even in the early food-gathering societies, individual psychological characteristics existed to the same degree as in civilized societies and were given credence within groups though probably the differences were considered according to temperament and ability.(Cameron, Kenneth Neil, Humanity and Society. A World History, Aakar, India, Indian Edition,2009,pg.26)

Unity in Human Race -- The modern dilemma

In our zeal for uniformity expected to aid administrative work, consolidation of the military, economic growth and political interests, an artificial life mimicking unity has been fostered in the modern world. The question is whether we could re-organize human unity on the central principle of Oneness and its flagship, liberty. Sri Aurobindo admits that it would be difficult in contemporary conditions to replicate the initial leverage given to liberty in consolidating human groupings, yet ‘it is an ideal which ought to be kept in view, for the more we can approximate to it, the more can we be sure of being on the right road’.

The reinstatement of liberty in human groupings is really difficult as Sri Aurobindo anticipated. Each human being itself has a plurality of social identities. As Amartya Sen writes, ‘A Hutu labourer from Kigali may be pressurized to see himself only as a Hutu and incited to kill Tutsis, and yet he is not only a Hutu, but also a Kigalian, a Rwandian, an African, a labourer, and a human being’ (Sen, Amartya: Identity and Violence. The Illusion of Destiny, Penguin Books, USA, 2006,pg 4). Sen points out that despite the plurality of identities and their different implications, it is difficult to critically evaluate the role of ‘choice’ in determining the cogency and relevance of particular identities.

Regrettably, mankind today has lost the instinctive ‘choice’ of role-identities that characterized the groupings of free individuals. The civilized man has become artificial, the marginalized tribes have been exploited to an extent where they have lost their natural instinctual harmony.

We exist no more in the matrix of free life that marked primitive societies. We have progressed in our thinking, culture and wisdom, and we have to reinstate the poise of liberty in a new denouement of unity. It is a more uphill task now to search for a consciousness perspective of Oneness that facilitates a flowering of liberty in the depths of the being that in turn can facilitate a conscious and intuitive ‘choice’ of a role-identity that fosters human unity. Short of a spiritual solution, it is difficult to conceive of a true unity of mankind.


Date of Update: 19-June-18

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu