Readings in Chapter XVII
Nature's Law in Our Progress -Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty
Actualities, Potentialities and genesis of mental conflicts
It is significant that the human being has an exceptional capacity that all other species in nature lacks - the capacity to govern Nature as well as the capacity to deviate from the course dictated by Nature. In other words the human mind can manipulate Nature for diverse gains ranging from overcoming the resistance of gravity, conquering space, performing organ transplants, utilizing nuclear energy as well as for designing killing fields and polluting life and environment for selfish reasons, insatiable greed and short-term benefits. Sri Aurobindo argues that when we talk about the capacity of human mentality to govern or deviate from Nature, we actually employ a "deformative trick of language" for "man's mentality is also a part of Nature; his mentality is even the most important, if not the largest part of his nature". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 418) In fact, Sri Aurobindo views Nature's processes and phenomena along an evolutionary perspective of consciousness that surpasses the biological evolution of forms. In this world-view, the human mentality is not the accomplished finale of evolution but a transitory middle term that has to be transcended by higher powers of consciousness. As such the capacity to harness the forces of Nature needs to be objectively viewed in progressive terms notwithstanding the often negative effects of deviating from her: "It is, we may say, Nature becoming partly conscious of her own laws and forces, conscious of her struggle of progression and inspired with the conscious will to impose a higher and higher law on her own processes of life and being".(Ibid)
Once we acknowledge that the human mentality is a middle term along the trajectory of a progressively evolving consciousness, we confront two aspects of the laws of life:
(a) The law of our actualities, the rule of what is , and
(b) The law of our potentialities, the rule of what may or ought to be. (Ibid, pg. 419)
"Our actualities are the form and value or power of expression to which our nature and life have attained; their norm or law is the fixed arrangement and process proper to that stage of evolution. Our potentialities point us to a new form, value, power of expression with their new and appropriate arrangement and process which is their proper law and norm. Standing thus between the actual and the possible, our intellect tends to mistake present law and form for the eternal law of our nature and existence and regard any change as a deviation and fall or else, on the contrary, to mistake some future and potential law and form for our ideal rule of life and all actual deviation from that as an error or sin of our nature. In reality, only that is eternal which is constant through all changes and our ideal can be no more than a progressive expression of it". (Ibid)
Thus, Nature is always progressively striving for the completest self-expression of its potentialities of which the human being can be capable not only now but in the future. The human mentality is a conscious part of that progressive movement of self-realization and self-fulfilment. However it is an intermediate and transitory term in the scale of evolution and imperfect in its workings and ramifications. The knowledge and will implicit in human mentality cannot align with "the totality of the secret Knowledge and Will" which Nature is trying to bring to the surface. (Ibid, pg 420) Sri Aurobindo explains that this discord between the law of actualities and the law of potentialities is the genesis of mental conflicts.
The phenomenon of mental conflict is a unique attribute of the human mind, it is absent in subhuman life where "there is a vital and physical struggle, but no mental conflict". (Ibid, pg. 418) However the presence of mental conflict ensures that humanity is not satisfied with its own mental functioning and is thus compelled to evolve further. "Actually, because our mentality is imperfect, we catch only a glimpse of her (Nature's) tendencies and objects and each glimpse we get we erect into an absolute principle or ideal theory of our life and conduct; we see only one side of her process and put that forward as the whole and perfect system which must govern our ordering of our life. Working through the imperfect individual and still more imperfect collective mind, she raises up the facts and powers of our existence as opposing principles and forces to which we attach ourselves through our intellect and emotions, and favouring and depressing now this and now another she leads them in the mind of man through struggle and conflict towards a mutual knowledge and the sense of their mutual necessity and towards a progressively right relation and synthesis of their potentialities which is represented in an increasing harmony and combination of realized powers in the elastic potentiality of human life". (Ibid, pg 420)
The phenomenon of mental conflict has been analyzed in psychological and psycho-social terms but Sri Aurobindo views it in evolutionary terms and thus presents a new outlook. His emphasis is on "the elastic potentiality" of humanity which is limited neither by the repressed elements in the Unconscious (both individual and the collective) nor by the injunctions of formal religions. He views Nature in a consciousness perspective to have knowledge of "the true nature of being and its constant self-effectuation in the values of life". (Ibid, pg. 417) It is in this world-view that he constructs the synthesis of unity and diversity, of law and liberty.
Diversity in Unity
The evolution of the human race not only follows a biological curve but also a social curve. The biological evolution creates in the life-type the "three terms of genus, species and individuals" (Ibid, pg. 422) but in sub-human life, Nature draws rigid distinctions and forms groups summarily so that a pack of wolves will always be different from a herd of deer. In human life, Nature follows non-biological curves to overcome differences of race, culture, clan, tribe, region to move towards a global unification of mankind. "Man's communities are formed not so much by the instinctive herding together of a number of individuals of the same genus or species as by local association, community of interests and community of ideas; and these limits tend always to be overcome in the widening of human thoughts and sympathies brought about by the close intermingling of races, nations, interests, ideas, cultures". (Ibid) That is why a study of social evolution is a necessary correlate of the study of biological evolution.
The phenomenon of social evolution studies how Consciousness, the underlying fact of existence, gets manifest in different paradigms through the individuals, communities and mankind. Psychology studies how Consciousness manifests in the individual. Sociology and anthropology study how Consciousness expresses itself through groupings of various sorts. Philosophy, humanism and spirituality attempt to universalize Consciousness for the unification of mankind. Social evolution is a development of the relations between these three paradigms each of which progresses in relation to others. "Each seeks its own fulfilment and satisfaction, but each is compelled to develop them not independently but in relation to others. The first natural aim of the individual must be his own inner growth and fullness and its expression in his outer life; but this he can only accomplish through his relations with other individuals, to the various kinds of community religious, social, cultural and political to which he belongs and to the idea and need of humanity at large. The community must seek its own fulfilment, but, whatever its strength of mass consciousness and collective organization, can accomplish its growth only through its individuals under the stress of the circumstances set for it by its environment and subject to the conditions imposed by its relations to other communities and individuals and to humanity at large. Mankind as a whole has at present no consciously organized common life; it has only an inchoate organization determined much more by circumstances than by human intelligence and will. And yet the idea and the fact of our common human existence, nature, destiny has always exercised its strong influence on human thought and action". (Ibid, pg. 421)
Sri Aurobindo asserts that despite the turbulences of separatism there is "a constant return-pressure" (Ibid) of the separative units (social, cultural, political or religious) to universalize into the totality of the race.
A high idealism actually drives us to a global unification of the human race. It would be the logical culmination of human grouping whose expanding trajectory started from the family, clan, tribe, kingdom, nation, empire and is now moving towards internationalism. However, in the zeal of unification, we can lose the unique separatism that is the basis of a rich and variegated diversity which is the hallmark of creation. An overzealous steamrolling of cultural diversity for the sake of unification might lead to a resurgence of separatism, even with a fundamentalist flair. Sri Aurobindo explains the metapsychology of this phenomenon: separatism can be compromised but not abolished because it reposes "on an essential principle of Nature, -- diversity in unity". (ibid, pg 422) It is a basic unity that permits the diversity to be manifested. It is oneness that holds in its bosom the potential of multiplicity. If this is true, then our efforts to foist a unity in diversity through idealistic, humanistic, economic or eclectic models would always be incomplete unless we acknowledge and come into an experiential contact with the Unitary Consciousness that manifests and supports the diversity. "Therefore it would seem that the ideal or ultimate aim of Nature must be to develop the individual and all individuals to their full capacity, to develop the community and all communities to the full expression of that many-sided existence and potentiality which their differences were created to express , and to evolve the united life of mankind to its full common capacity and satisfaction, not by suppression of the fullness of life of the individual or the smaller commonalty, but by full advantage taken of the diversity which they develop. This would seem the soundest way to increase the total riches of mankind and throw them into a fund of common possession and enjoyment". (Ibid)
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. (Ibid, 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 economize 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.
Law and Liberty
The relation of law and liberty is complex and their conflict has not yet been fully resolved in the collective psyche of the human race. Both the paradigms have emerged from the innate urge in human nature to "LIVE RIGHTLY". (Ibid, pg 417) One may argue that such an urge is common to all terrestrial creatures. However, except the human being, all other terrestrial creatures do live rightly in accordance to their instinctive dictates. Sri Aurobindo explains that of all terrestrial creatures, it is only in the case of the human being, "to live rightly involves the necessity of knowing rightly'"(Ibid) ; and
(a) The real objective of knowledge is to understand "the true nature of being and its constant self-effectuation in the values of life" (Ibid) , in other words, the law of Nature, not only for one's own greater perfection and happiness but also for the greater perfection and happiness of fellow-creatures;
(b) The pursuit of knowledge is not merely effectuated by the sole or dominant instrumentation of reason "as rationalism pretends" but "more largely and complexly" (Ibid) by the sum of all faculties, including all faculties that surpass reason.
Thus, to live rightly is to live according to Nature. "But Nature can no longer be imaged, as once it was, as an eternal right rule from which man has wandered, since it is rather a thing itself changing, progressing, evolving, ascending from height to more elevated height, widening from limit to broader limit of its own possibilities. Yet in all this changing there are certain eternal principles or truths of being which remain the same and upon them as bedrock, with them as a primary material and within them as a framework our progress and perfection are compelled to take place. Otherwise there would be an infinite chaos and not a world ordered even in the clash of its forces' (Ibid). One such eternal principle is that though Existence is one only in its essence and totality, in its manifestation it is multiple, diverse and variegated. (Ibid, pg 423) The corollary runs: "The diversity, the variation must be a free variation". (Ibid, pg. 425)
Thus if the essence of Existence in the poise of unity is based upon freedom, the essence of Existence in the poise of a variegated diversity is equally based upon freedom. Freedom is implicit in the unity of Existence and explicit in the diversity of Nature. Freedom is the right of a diversified manifestation and a valid Law of Nature seeking for infinite variation. Freedom is also the right of the diversity to reconstruct the unitary essence of Existence as an equally valid Law of Nature. Viewed in this perspective, both law and liberty are derivative principles that serve the natural law of our being in their unique ways. The conflict arises because we cannot reconcile them unless we rise to the poise of a higher consciousness. To rise to a poise of higher consciousness, enlightened individuals need to integrate the disparate and conflicting strands of one's own personality around the unitary essence of one's being. Such free individuals are then ready to enjoy true liberty by which we mean "the freedom to obey the law of our being, to grow to our natural self-fulfilment, to find out naturally and freely our harmony with our environment"; .... "All liberty, individual, national, religious, social, ethical, takes its ground upon this fundamental principle of our existence". (Ibid) Till the human being is capable of a true psychological unity effectuated at a higher poise of consciousness, the transaction between law and liberty, in both individual and social spheres, moves through makeshift compromises that are often biased towards symmetrical regimentation or unwarranted freedom. Both are imperfect for an over-controlled regimentation may lead to "a devitalized individuality" (Ibid, pg 426), a drying up of the sap of life while an unbridled license to usurp all interdependent norms can be equally devastating.
Though both law and liberty are equally necessary for life, Sri Aurobindo, in the final analysis, is the champion of freedom. He boldly announces: "Better anarchy than the long continuance of a law which is not our own or which our real nature cannot assimilate". (Ibid) There are several assumptions behind this outright statement:
(a) The concept of law is represented in the ordinary psyche as a mechanism for prevention and repression but the true law is that "which must develop from within and be not a check on liberty, but its outward image and visible expression". (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo further adds, "Human society progresses really and vitally in proportion as law becomes the child of freedom; it will reach its perfection when, man having learned to know and become spiritually one with his fellow-man, the spontaneous law of his society exists only as the outward mould of his self-governed inner liberty". (Ibid)
(b) If law has to arise from within the depths of consciousness, it must spring from a spontaneous intuitive basis. Human collectivities started with a free instinctive animal spontaneity that had to be progressively tamed by ethics, refined by aesthetics, and upgraded through the reasoning mind but still requires the mechanism of law, repression, "forced government of man by man" (Ibid, pg 292) to maintain a semblance of human unity .However "the high dream of philosophic Anarchism, associated by the inner law of love and light and right being, right thinking, right action'"(Ibid) still persists as a potentiality in the cycles of human progress. "It is even possible that that our original state was an instinctive animal spontaneity of free and fluid association and that our final ideal state will be an enlightened, intuitive spontaneity of free and fluid association". (Ibid)
(c) The freedom provided by a high spiritual consciousness provides a matrix where the spontaneous law of Nature facilitates a vigilant liberty that spontaneously moves towards Truth. "Spirituality respects the freedom of the human soul , because it is itself fulfilled by freedom; and the deepest meaning of freedom is the power to expand and grow towards perfection by the law of one's own nature... This liberty it will give to all the fundamental parts of our being. It will give that freedom to philosophy and science .....freedom even to deny the spirit , if they will....It will give the same freedom to man's seeking for political and social perfection and to all his other powers and aspirations. Only it will be vigilant to illuminate them so that they may grow into the light and law of the spirit, not by suppression and restriction, but by a self-searching, self-controlled expansion and a many-sided finding of their greatest, highest and deepest potentialities". (Ibid, pg 181)
Date of Update: 21-Oct-22
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu