Ritam "Evolution towards Human Unity: Some passages from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with comments on their application to Auroville"
In April and May of 2009, some of the Savitri Bhavan team-members were feeling an urgent need for reorganisation there, to keep up with a big expansion in our premises and activities. By an interesting synchronicity, around that time we were studying, under the leadership of Professor Kittu Reddy of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the last section of The Renaissance in India – a collection of Sri Aurobindo’s writings on Indian culture. The last section is entitled ‘Indian Polity’ and deals with social organisation. We found there some passages that seemed to cast a lot of light on the situation we were facing – and we saw that this situation was not restricted just to our own project: what Sri Aurobindo was saying seemed relevant not only to our own concerns, but to the collective organisation of Auroville, of India and the whole world. Here is an extract:
- “Human society has in its growth to pass through three stages of evolution before it can arrive at the completeness of its possibilities. The first is a condition in which the forms and activities of the communal existence are those of the spontaneous play of the powers and principles of its life. All its growth, all its formations, customs, institutions are then a natural organic development, — the motive and constructive power coming mostly from the subconscient principle of the life within it, — expressing, but without deliberate intention, the communal psychology, temperament, vital and physical need, and persisting or altering partly under the pressure of an internal impulse, partly under that of the environment acting on the communal mind and temper. In this stage the people is not yet intelligently self-conscious in the way of the reason, is not yet a thinking collective being, and it does not try to govern its whole communal existence by the reasoning will, but lives according to its vital intuitions or their first mental renderings.”
We could clearly see that as Savitri Bhavan has developed over the previous ten years, this was what we had been doing: we had a vision, and for its realisation we had been ‘playing it by ear’, doing what seemed right at the time, improvising, and being ready to change according to the need of the moment. That had worked very well so far – but now we seemed to have reached a threshold where something ‘more organised’, ‘more structured’, felt like an urgent need. And we were applying our minds to find a solution. And this need we were feeling seemed to reflect a trend in Auroville as a whole, where over the past years there has been a lot of reflection about our internal organisation.
- “A second stage of the society is that in which the communal mind becomes more and more intellectually self-conscious, first in its more cultured minds, then more generally, first broadly, then more and more minutely and in all the parts of its life. It learns to review and deal with its own life, communal ideas, needs, institutions in the light of the developed intelligence and finally by the power of the critical and constructive reason. This is a stage which is full of great possibilities but attended too by serious characteristic dangers. Its first advantages are those which go always with the increase of a clear and understanding and finally an exact and scientific knowledge and the culminating stage is the strict and armoured efficiency which the critical and constructive, the scientific reason used to the fullest degree offers as its reward and consequence. Another and greater outcome of this stage of social evolution is the emergence of high and luminous ideals which promise to raise man beyond the limits of the vital being, beyond his first social, economic and political needs and desires and out of their customary moulds and inspire an impulse of bold experiment with the communal life which opens a field of possibility for the realisation of a more and more ideal society. This application of the scientific mind to life with the strict, well-finished, armoured efficiency which is its normal highest result, this pursuit of great consciously proposed social and political ideals and the progress which is the index of the ground covered in the endeavour, have been, with whatever limits and drawbacks, the distinguishing advantages of the political and social effort of Europe.”
In Auroville there is a great reluctance to come to the point of applying the scientific mind to life, because many of us have experienced the down-side of that effort; many Aurovilians have come here very specifically to get away from the limitations and drawbacks of that kind of system. So we resonate strongly with what Sri Aurobindo says next:
- “On the other hand the tendency of the reason when it pretends to deal with the materials of life as its absolute governor, is to look too far away from the reality of the society as a living growth and to treat it as a mechanism which can be manipulated at will and constructed like so much dead wood or iron according to the arbitrary dictates of the intelligence. The sophisticating, labouring, constructing, efficient, mechanising reason loses hold of the simple principles of a people’s vitality; it cuts it away from the secret roots of its life. The result is an exaggerated dependence on system and institution, on legislation and administration and the deadly tendency to develop, in place of a living people, a mechanical State. An instrument of the communal life tries to take the place of the life itself and there is created a powerful but mechanical and artificial organisation; but, as the price of this exterior gain, there is lost the truth of life of an organically self-developing communal soul in the body of a free and living people. It is this error of the scientific reason stifling the work of the vital and the spiritual intuition under the dead weight of its mechanical method which is the weakness of Europe and has deceived her aspiration and prevented her from arriving at the true realisation of her own higher ideals.”
In Auroville today, this is a real and living question: how can our city continue to grow in size, in complexity, in effectiveness and credibility, and yet avoid this deadening institutionalisation which would cut us away from the secret roots of our life, and above all the roots of Auroville’s very specific mission? Sri Aurobindo gives us the following answer:
- “It is only by reaching a third stage of the evolution of the collective social as of the individual human being that the ideals first seized and cherished by the thought of man can discover their own real source and character and their true means and conditions of effectuation or the perfect society be anything more than a vision on a shining cloud constantly run after in a circle and constantly deceiving the hope and escaping the embrace. That will be when man in the collectivity begins to live more deeply and to govern his collective life neither primarily by the needs, instincts, intuitions welling up out of the vital self, nor secondarily by the constructions of the reasoning mind, but first, foremost and always by the power of unity, sympathy, spontaneous liberty, supple and living order of his discovered greater self and spirit in which the individual and the communal existence have their law of freedom, perfection and oneness.”
This is what Mother was always telling us, and is still telling us through her messages and talks to Aurovilians: Auroville will only become what it is meant to be, when there are enough ‘true Aurovilians’ — and she has carefully defined for us what she means by that:
- “The first necessity is the inner discovery — in order to know what one truly is behind the social, moral, cultural, racial and hereditary appearances. At our centre there is a being free, vast and knowing, who awaits our discovery and who ought to become the active centre of our being and our life in Auroville.”
In the early years of Auroville it was, I feel, more widely understood that the real work to be done here was a change of consciousness — that the city could never be built, or at least could never become what it is really intended to be, without a change of consciousness which would bring us into a truly effective harmony with a higher Will that knows better than we with our limited minds can ever do what needs to be done at each moment.
In the chapter we were reading, Sri Aurobindo went on to write (in about 1918):
- “That is a rule that has not yet anywhere found its right conditions for even beginning its effort, for it can only come when man’s attempt to reach and abide by the law of the spiritual existence is no longer an exceptional aim for individuals or else degraded in its more general aspiration to the form of a popular religion, but is recognised and followed out as the imperative need of his being and its true and right attainment the necessity of the next step in the evolution of the race.”
Our teacher, Kittu Reddy, has grown up in the Ashram from the age of five, and was asked by the Mother to start teaching when he was only in his teens. She guided him in the study of Sri Aurobindo’s books on social psychology: The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity, and the essays which used to be published as “The Foundations of Indian Culture” and which are now collected in the volume The Renaissance in India. When we came to this point in our reading, he insistently reminded us that the Ashram had been created to begin this effort, and that the founding of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education was a continuation of that effort, and that Auroville has been specifically created by the Mother as a place where this effort can be pursued on a larger and wider collective scale.
In a letter of 1964, referring to the organisation of the Ashram, the Mother wrote:
- “Sri Aurobindo has told us, and we are convinced by experience, that above the mind there is a consciousness much wiser than the mental wisdom, and in the depths of things there is a will much more powerful than the human will.
- All our endeavour is to make this consciousness and this will govern our lives and action and organize all our activities. It is the way in which the Ashram has been created. Since 1926 when Sri Aurobindo retired and gave me full charge of it (at that time there were only two rented houses and a handful of disciples) all has grown up and developed like the growth of a forest, and each service was created not by any artificial planning but by a living and dynamic need. This is the secret of constant growth and endless progress. The present difficulties come chiefly from psychological resistances in the disciples, and the yielding to the intrusion of mental methods which have corrupted the initial working.
- A growth and purification of the consciousness is the only remedy.”
In these words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother we found a powerful inspiration for the restructuring we were attempting at Savitri Bhavan, and we like to share them here, in the hope that they might give some inspiring guidance to our on-going effort to realise a truly effective collective organisation for Auroville. For forty years we have been trying “to govern [our] collective life … primarily by the needs, instincts, intuitions welling up out of the vital self”. Now we experience a pressing need to make these life-intuitions more aware and more organised: we want to rationalise and generalise in order to give more structure to our collective organisation, and to enable us to realise more effectively the high ideals which are inspiring us. But at the same time we want to avoid the deadening effect of a too rational approach which loses touch with deeper underlying realities. So the challenge is to find a way of opening up not only our individual lives and consciousness but our collective living and above all our collective decision-making to a higher will and wisdom.
The Mother has given us Matrimandir as the Soul of Auroville, a powerful radiating centre for transformation. But for the intuitions and inspirations that we receive from this centre to become powerfully effective in our individual and collective lives, they need to be expressed in our minds, lives and bodies, in all our thoughts, feelings and activities. Essentially this is an individual work, but the intention is that these individual efforts and realisations should find expression in the whole life of our city. For this, deep concentration in the soul is the starting point; the words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother then show us the way to clarify our thought and our will; and then we have to live them out – in our work-places, our homes, on the roads and in the schools, in our play, and in our interactions with everyone we come into contact with: colleagues, visitors, business contacts, government officials, anyone we may have to deal with. This is the way that what pours down onto the Crystal in the Chamber will become a powerful force for change in the physical collectivity. It will only happen when, to use Sri Aurobindo’s words:
- “The attempt to reach and abide by the law of the spiritual existence is no longer an exceptional aim for individuals … but is recognised and followed out as the imperative need of [our collective] being.”
In his book The Ideal of Human Unity Sri Aurobindo examines how this persistent ideal has been working itself out in the past development of humanity, and how it could be realized in the future. He gives as the ultimate solution a change in the general consciousness which would lead to:
- “The clear recognition by man in all his thought and life of a single soul in humanity of which each man and each people is an incarnation and soul-form; an ascension of man beyond the principle of ego which lives by separativeness, — and yet there must be no destruction of individuality, for without that man would stagnate; a principle and arrangement of the common life which would give free play to individual variation, interchange in diversity and the need of adventure and conquest by which the soul of man lives and grows great, and sufficient means of expressing all the resultant complex life and growth in a flexible and progressive form of human society.”
How could this change come about? Recognising the rise of a sort of philosophical ‘religion of humanity’ called ‘Humanism’ which today is inspiring all the growing movements for human rights, civil rights, women’s and children’s rights, concern for the environment and greater sustainability and so on, Sri Aurobindo says that this Humanism needs to become spiritualised for it to gain the psychological strength to bring about real changes in our human behaviour. Mere idealism is not enough to change us fundamentally. For that a real experiential change is needed.
- “A spiritual religion of humanity is the hope of the future. By this is not meant what is ordinarily called a universal religion, a system, a thing of creed and intellectual belief and dogma and outward rite. Mankind has tried unity by that means; it has failed and deserved to fail, because there can be no universal religious system, one in mental creed and vital form. The inner spirit is indeed one, but more than any other the spiritual life insists on freedom and variation in its self-expression and means of development. A religion of humanity means the growing realisation that there is a secret Spirit, a divine Reality, in which we are all one, that humanity is its highest present vehicle on earth, that the human race and the human being are the means by which it will progressively reveal itself here. It implies a growing attempt to live out this knowledge and bring about a kingdom of this divine Spirit upon earth. By its growth within us oneness with our fellow-men will become the leading principle of all our life, not merely a principle of cooperation but a deeper brotherhood, a real and an inner sense of unity and equality and a common life. There must be the realisation by the individual that only in the life of his fellow-men is his own life complete. There must be the realisation by the race that only on the free and full life of the individual can its own perfection and permanent happiness be founded. There must be too a discipline and a way of salvation in accordance with this religion, that is to say, a means by which it can be developed by each man within himself, so that it may be developed in the life of the race. To go into all that this implies would be too large a subject to be entered upon here; it is enough to point out that in this direction lies the eventual road. No doubt, if this is only an idea like the rest, it will go the way of all ideas. But if it is at all a truth of our being, then it must be the truth to which all is moving and in it must be found the means of a fundamental, an inner, a complete, a real human unity which would be the one secure base of a unification of human life. A spiritual oneness which would create a psychological oneness not dependent upon any intellectual or outward uniformity and compel a oneness of life not bound up with its mechanical means of unification, but ready always to enrich its secure unity by a free inner variation and a freely varied outer self-expression, this would be the basis for a higher type of human existence.
- Could such a realisation develop rapidly in mankind, we might then solve the problem of unification in a deeper and truer way from the inner truth to the outer forms. Until then, the attempt to bring it about by mechanical means must proceed. But the higher hope of humanity lies in the growing number of men who will realise this truth and seek to develop it in themselves, so that when the mind of man is ready to escape from its mechanical bent, — perhaps when it finds that its mechanical solutions are all temporary and disappointing, — the truth of the Spirit may step in and lead humanity to the path of its highest possible happiness and perfection.”
In The Human Cycle, he has written:
- “This is a solution to which it may be objected that it puts off the consummation of a better human society to a far-off date in the future evolution of the race. For it means that no machinery invented by the reason can perfect either the individual or the collective man; an inner change is needed in human nature, a change too difficult to be ever effected except by the few. This is not certain; but in any case, if this is not the solution, then there is no solution, if this is not the way, then there is no way for the human kind. Then the terrestrial evolution must pass beyond man as it has passed beyond the animal and a greater race must come that will be capable of the spiritual change, a form of life must be born that is nearer to the divine. After all there is no logical necessity for the conclusion that the change cannot begin at all because its perfection is not immediately possible. A decisive turn of mankind to the spiritual ideal, the beginning of a constant ascent and guidance towards the heights may not be altogether impossible, even if the summits are attainable at first only by the pioneer few and far-off to the tread of the race. And that beginning may mean the descent of an influence that will alter at once the whole life of mankind in its orientation and enlarge for ever, as did the development of his reason and more than any development of the reason, its potentialities and all its structure.”
- A sudden turn can come, a road appear.
- A greater Mind may see a greater Truth,
- Or we may find when all the rest has failed
- Hid in ourselves the key of perfect change.