Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo - Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of  Sri Aurobindo

August 2003


Acceleration of wheels of change – not necessarily of true progress – has been a striking feature of the century that has just closed.  That century was an unquiet age of gigantic ferment, chaos of ideas and inventions, clash of enormous forces, creation, catastrophe and dissolution amid the formidable agony and tension of the body and soul of human kind.  During this period, the age of reason reached its highest pinnacles and widest amplitudes.  Rationalistic and experimental science, armed with efficient technology, registered phenomenal developments.  The result was, however, a mixture of good and evil for humanity.  For, while new heights of excellence were experienced by it, it also got dwarfed as never before.  A series of rivalries among nations dominated the scene; two stupendous world devastating wars swept over the globe and they were accompanied or followed by revolutions with far-reaching consequences.  A League of Nations was formed, but broke down after some time; the United Nations Organisation came to be built, but its deficiencies and weaknesses are forcing leaders to think of radical changes in its Constitution and working; even its replacement by World-State, which may be a boon or a curse, depending upon how it is constituted, has also come to be conceived and may become inevitable under certain possible circumstances.  Asymmetrical relations among nations created tensions between the North and the South, and they tend to be aggravated.  Armaments were piled up in huge quantities and although they have recently been reduced or restrained, military expenditures are being ruthlessly planned at the cost of many important priorities.  And science still continues to minister ingeniously to the art of collective massacre.  Environment came to be vastly disturbed and, in spite of warnings and wise talks, it continues to be alarmingly ruined.  Expensive life styles have been fashioned and advocated, and men, women and children are being increasingly led to isolated and divided lives.  Multiplying complexities of the inner and outer life have been turning into complications and unresolved dilemmas; and chaos of views of life, each with only relative validity, has been shaking, for good or evil, foundations erected by ethical systems and religions.  Individualism, the child of Reason and Revolt, which at one stage encouraged discovery of the inner realms of ends, has been overtaken by egoism and selfish indulgence of impulses and passions.


Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

This and much more has led humanity to a state of crisis of serious or even unprecedented proportions.  We can, however, discern two major imperatives which seem to be pressing themselves for their fulfilment.  The first is visible in a continuous pressure of events towards the unity of the entire humanity.  With the unprecedented shrinking of Space and Time, there is an irresistible drive towards economic, administrative, legislative and social centralisation and there is an emerging need of unification of regions, continents, and even of establishment of a single World-State.  It is being increasingly felt that the world can become safe and prosperous only if human unity can come to be built up.  The second imperative that seems to have asserted itself is to impress upon human kind that unity, peace and lasting welfare can come about only if human nature can be radically changed.  What exactly this would mean or entail is a matter of research and experimentation, but there is a growing feeling that, at the minimum level, human way of feeling, thinking and acting should be based upon a new foundation of universal wideness, voluntary optimism and unfailing goodwill.  In a significant statement made in 1967, U.Thant, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation, expressed quite clearly these two imperatives.  He had stated:

“That a fraction of the amounts that are going to be spent in 1967 on arms could finance economic, social, national and world programmes to an extent so far unimaginable is a notion within the grasp of the man in the street.  Men, if they unite, are now capable of foreseeing and, to a certain point, determining the future of human development.  This, however, is possible if we stop fearing and harassing one another and if together we accept, welcome and prepare the changes that must inevitably take place.  If this means a change in human nature, well, it is high time we worked for it; what must surely change is certain political attitudes and habits man has”.[1]

As a matter of fact, almost from the beginning of our present century, themes of the ideal of human unity as also that of the necessity of change of human nature, had seized the movements of the resurgence of Asia and intellectual idealism of Europe.  Asiatic peoples had begun to make bold and clear claims to equality and independence and they had behind them centuries of inner culture and discovery of spiritual knowledge, which if applied to life, could serve as effective means of the change of human nature.  In Europe, the contest between Capital and Labour had entered into a crucial phase, and the Great First World War became memorable for the Russian Revolution that burst out even when that war was centred on the goal of the downfall of Germany.  This Revolution was a sign that a phase of civilisation had begun to pass and the Time-Spirit was preparing a new phase, a new order.  There was, at that time, a possibility of the realisation of the larger human hope as a result of the evolution of the socialistic society and the resurgence of Asia.  Unfortunately, the turn of events belied the bright hopes.

[1] La Suisse, Geneva, April, 1967

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Socialism soon turned into state socialism, and while it brought in greater equality and a closer association into human life, it remained confined only to a material change.  It missed many other needed things and even aggravated the mechanical burden of humanity and crushed more heavily towards the earth its spirit.  The resurgence of Asia, in spite of its glorious moments of achievements, meant eventually only a redressing or shifting of international balance.  It became quite dormant, and in spite of great inner preparations, it has still not been able to provide the required condition of the step forward which is the one thing needful.  It is also noteworthy that the international policy of labour had carried a promise of an international comity of free nations.  But over a period of its development, the spirit of internationalism came to be overcome by the power of national egoism.  It became clear that mere idealism of internationalism is not enough; what is truly important is the spiritual change that would make internationalism a vital need of the lives of nations and of the entire humanity.

Much hope, however, lies in the fact that despite numerous setbacks, the need for unity of human kind continues to persist.  The idea of internationalism has grown in humanity and it is at work on our minds and influences from above our actions.  It is also pressing itself to be turned into something more than an idea so that it may become a central motive and a fixed part of human nature as also of human organisation.  It is remarkable that the First Great War gave birth to a League of Nations.  It is true that the conception of this League was not happy or well-inspired, and it was destined to collapse.  But that such an organised endeavour should be launched and proceed on its way for some time without an early breakdown was in itself an event of capital importance.  The defects of the League arose directly from the conditions of the world at that time.  Its composition proved that it was an oligarchy of big powers, each drawing behind it a retinue of small States.  The absence of America and the position of Russia had helped to make the final ill-success of this venture a natural consequence.  However, the significance of the League was that even when it failed, it could not be allowed to remain without a sequel.  Accordingly, the League of Nations disappeared but the force of idea remained active behind the succeeding years, including the terrible years of the Second World War.  That War stirred the deeper depths of humanity and its leaders, and the United Nations Organisation came into existence.  Today, this Organisation stands in the forefront of the world and struggles towards some kind of secure permanence and success.  It is also significant that many defects of the League of Nations have been avoided in the Constitution of the UNO.  And yet, one major defect remains because of the preponderant place that has been assigned to the five great Powers in the Security Council; and this defect has been clinched by the power of veto given to these Powers.  That in recent years there is a serious demand from some quarters to get this defect removed is a significant development.  For, to leave this defect unmodified prolongs a malaise and absence of harmony and smooth working.  In critical situations, this defect generates wide-spread feeling of futility.

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

But apart from this defect, the real danger to the ideal of human unity lay in the division of peoples in two camps which tended to be natural opponents.  Survival of these two camps for more than 40 years, and that too, in the condition of a continuous cold war, prevented any major progress towards the growth of the inner spirit of internationalism.  At the same time, the fact that this cold war did not generate into a hot war must be noted as truly remarkable.  It is also a matter that gives comfort to the anxious mind and heart of humanity.

It was, of course, envisaged as a possibility that if the design of using ideological struggle as a means for world domination could come to be weakened or eliminated, then co-existence of two ideologies in the world could not be at all out of question.  And, as a matter of fact, the world moved towards a greater development of the principle of State control over the life of the community and created a considerable force of balance of power through the movement of non-alignment. On the other hand, capitalism itself got modified by virtue of the welfare policies adopted by the powers of the free world.  Nevertheless, tensions remained, overwhelming frictions continued to occur and it is only now when USSR collapsed and Eastern European countries asserted their independence, adopting market economy that the world has ceased to be bipolar and we find ourselves today in a new situation.

Has the climate for the human unity become more favourable under the new situation?  When we ask this question, however, it must be remembered that a greater social or political unity is not necessarily a boon in itself; it is only worth pursuing in so far as it provides a means and framework for a better, richer, more happy and puissant individual and collective life.  Looking at the past examples of large aggregates such as we find under the Roman Empire and others, we are likely to conclude that if there were to come about today a social, administrative and political unification of humanity, the organisation would be so massive and tremendous that both individual and regional life would become crushed and dwarfed.  And this would mean for humanity, after perhaps one first outburst of satisfied and joyous activity, a long period of mere conservation, increasing stagnancy and ultimate decay.  Therefore, the unity which is to be pursued as an imperative of the present state of humanity, must be under other conditions and with safeguards which will keep the human race intact in its roots of vitality and its oneness will be kept richly diverse.

The great beneficial consequence of the recent collapse of USSR is that the world has ceased to be bipolar, and consequently, the danger of the outbreak of world conflict has greatly disappeared.  Another salutary consequence which has arisen is the collapse of oppressive system of state socialism.  This has reduced greatly the peril of the coming into being that form of the World-State under which State machinery could suppress freedom of speech and thought.  Had this form not disappeared, and if an all-regulating socialistic World-State were to be established, freedom of thought under such a regime would necessarily have meant criticism not only of the details, but of the very principles of the existing state of things.  The World-State could not have afforded to tolerate for long this criticism or even its possibility. 

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Ultimately, the State would have imposed strict regulation of the mental life and extended it to the totality of life.  The necessary consequence would have been a static order of society, since without the freedom of individual, a society cannot remain progressive. We may note that a salutary form of world government must respect and encourage the freedom of the individual, and this form has now gained a new force.  This is the third important consequence.  For, with the break-up of the Soviet Union, several of its constituents have emerged as new independent and sovereign states.  This event reaffirms the psychological and moral principle of self-determination, which was originally announced by Russia itself during the early phase of the Revolution when its idealism was fresh and sincere.  Under the pressure of the need to resort to the principle of government by force, a contradictory element was brought in.  This endangered the progress of nationalism, and the principle of free choice for each nation to choose its own line of development and association.  It is true that the component States of Sovietic Russia were allowed a certain cultural, linguistic, and some other kind of autonomy, but in other matters they had come to be, in fact, governed by the force of a highly centralised autocracy of the Labourite despotism. That freedom which was put aside or crushed earlier, has now emerged, and this is bound to provide added force and strength to the movement towards the free world union in which the principle of free self-determination must be a preliminary movement.

The modern world, has, however, grown increasingly commercial in character.  A powerful impulsion of our times is towards the industrialising of the human race and the perfection of the life of society as an economic and productive organism.  The European idealism which was manifest to some extent, in Communism could not be sustained in the Socialist Soviet Union.  Marxian principle itself proceeded on the premise that the reign of socialism has to be preceded by an age of bourgeois capitalism and should seize upon its work and organisation in order to turn it to its own uses and modify it by its own principles and methods.  It intended, indeed, to substitute Labour as the Master instead of Capital.  But this meant merely a change from one side of the economism to the other.  The story of eight decades of the development of USSR did not impel change from domination  of economism to the domination of some other and higher motive of human life.  And now, when the socialistic economy has fallen and is being rapidly replaced by market economy, basic economism will remain unaltered, except that the capitalistic competition will become unbridled than ever before. 

This competition and the goals it seeks to satisfy constitute the upper most subjects all over the world.  The futuristic studies of today are concentrated on issues of economic activity, latest technologies of communication and processing of information, developing markets and commercial competitions among USA, Japan, EEC, China, and newly industrialising countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.  If science were not developed as it has today, if modern warfare did not require the high level of scientific and technological efficiency as today, the present situation could have witnessed a fresh invasion from the primitive peoples so as to subvert and destroy our weary and crisis-ridden civilisation.  But while that peril stands eliminated, the real peril that we are faced today is the resurgence of the barbarian in ourselves, in civilised people, and this is what we see all around us.

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

We are not grateful that the third World War has not broken out and that prospects of peace have become brighter; we are, however, engrossed with understanding the new equations between economic change and military preparedness.  We are not worried about building the defences of peace in the minds of men, and secure true foundations of human unity; - is it not the task given away to UNESCO so that we can indulge in the freedom to do something else?  And what is that something else if not questions of economic concerns and financial gains?  We are not grappling issues of knowledge and wisdom, but we are getting absorbed in the problems of power shift which are caused by “softnomics”, the technologies which are related to software that produces and processes information and knowledge with ever-increasing speed.  In other words, we are interested in knowledge to the extent to which it gets related to money-making.  What is our centre of gravity?  It is the economic social ultimate – an ideal material organisation of civilisation and comfort, the use of reason and science and education for the channelisation of a utilitarian rationality which will create mechanisms and systems for vital and material satisfaction surrounded by luxuries of intellectual and aesthetic pastime.

The contemporary crisis of humanity arises from this centre of gravity; humanity is slipping more and more into the mire of this pit.  While its inner soul feels mutely the agony of this plunge and wants to be uplifted and liberated, it is unable to be uplifted and liberated, it is unable to assist itself and to break its chains.  There is a deeper reason for this, and we may try to understand it.


Since the last five hundred years, humanity has been living in the age of Reason.  In previous cycles of human history, there have been periods where intellect dominated, but they never reached the sweep, pitch and intensity as our modern Age in cultivating, subtilising and fathoming the depths and applications of our rational faculties.  The Age of Reason is, therefore, of special significance, particularly when we realise that the human being is distinguishable from other species by virtue of its Reason.  We can expect from the Age those results which the human beings can obtain at their maximum level of development.  And, indeed, during this period, rationalism flourished uninhibitedly and produced results of highest excellence.  But it also showed quite decisively what it can accomplish and what it cannot.  Two articles of faith, underlying the march of Reason, came to be fully tested and disproved.  The first article was the faith that Reason can arrive at Truth and can arrive at it with certainty.  At the end of its march, it has come to declare that the concept of Truth has rather limited and relative meaning in terms of rationality, and that what can be known by Reason will always be circumscribed within the limits of varying degrees of probability.   The second article was that Reason can, with its capacity to observe, know and govern impartially, apply itself to human life and arrive at the right relationship between the individual and collectivity.  Reason also erected in this connection three great ideals of progress, - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, - and dreamt of their harmonious fulfilment in a rational order of society. 

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

At the end of its march in our own century, Reason has now demonstrated, particularly with the collapse of the socialist experiment in USSR, that Reason can neither harmonise the individual and the collectivity nor can it synthesise freedom, equality and brotherhood.  It is seen that Reason can succeed only in establishing a limited rule of Law over uneasy springs of freedom and a narrow rule of efficient organisation by imposing on all concerned a heavy hand of compulsion and uniformity.  It has proved that Reason as a governor of society can secure freedom only by overriding the demands of equality, and if it attempts to secure equality, it is obliged to strangulate freedom.  As for fraternity, the highest that Reason could achieve was temporary comradeship and pragmatic or utilitarian cooperation.

Having reached this end of the road; Reason now stands bereft of any agenda: its fundamental search seems to have ended; its basic experimentation seems to have come to a close; it can only turn now in expanding or contracting circles of probabilities in the field of knowledge and those of compromises in the field of practical life.  It can, of course, take another course it can choose to become sufficiently revolutionary and institute an inquiry into those ulterior sources from which its articles of faith regarding Truth and certainty and the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity sprang into its ken and sustained its long journey, which, even when declared to be unrealisable, keep on knocking and calling us insistently for their fulfilment.

But this is more a question of choice, of will, of a deliberate effort.  It is easy to refuse, and to find reasons for the refusal.  For it may be argued that all articles of faith, even of Reason, invite a return to the domain of religion or of the supra-rational against which Reason had declared an open revolt at the very commencement of its march into the modern age.  Or else, it may be argued that the deliverances of the supra-rational create for the mental thought antinomies which are insoluble and therefore unacceptable.  We, therefore, hear the cacophony of declarations that the supra rational is non-existent or unreal and that the best counsel for reason is to limit its activities to the practical and immediate problems of their material existence in the universe.

What is the consequence?  Reason by itself cannot long maintain the race in its progress; it is the inner spiritual necessity, the push from what is there yet unrealised that maintains the progressive or evolutionary stress, the spiritual nisus.  But if that is refused or renounced, there is bound to occur a crisis.  The contemporary crisis of humanity is a crisis of this kind.  It is not a sociological, political or economic crisis; it is what Sri Aurobindo calls an evolutionary crisis.

An evolutionary crisis can occur only at an extremely crucial moment of the life of a species.  It is when a certain level of consciousness has effected an ascent to the next level of consciousness, integrated the powers and activities of the lower consciousness into those of the higher level of consciousness, when the integrated powers have achieved acute subtilisation and refinement, then the moment arrives for taking a leap into the still higher level of consciousness.  It at that moment there is obstruction or failure to secure the necessary push, a crisis sets in which continues to concentrate on the issue of the next ascent until the necessary conditions are created which would facilitate the ascent or mutation of the species.  Or else, if there is repeated failure, the concerned species gives place to a new species and gets itself either extinct or relapses into a certain type of fixed movement, bereft of a nisus for a higher ascent or mutation.  With humanity today such a point of crisis has been reached; this is evidenced by the fact that its highest faculty of Reason has accomplished the tasks of maximum possible integration, subtilisation and amplitude of multisided development; having reached this stage of accomplishment; its limitations have been made bare and acknowledged; it is very clear that the deeper powers laying behind reason are in need of a surge, and they are being blocked by the achieved circuit of grooves set up by Reasons.  It is only if Reason consents to allow deeper powers to rise to a new stage of the ascent of consciousness, further progress of humanity could be possible.

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

That is why Sri Aurobindo states:

“At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny.”[1]

Elucidating the nature and basic cause of this crisis, Sri Aurobindo writes:

“… a stage has been reached in which the human mind has reached in certain directions enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way.  A structure of the external life has been raised up by man’s ever-active mind and life-will, a structure of an unmanageable hugeness and complexity, for the service of his mental, vital, physical claims and urges, a complex political, social, administrative, economic, cultural machinery, an organised collective means for his intellectual, sensational, aesthetic and material satisfaction.  Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites.  For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it.  … Man has harmonised life in the past by organised ideation and limitation; he has created societies based on fixed ideas or fixed customs, a fixed cultural system or an organic life-system, each with its own order; the throwing of all these into the melting-pot of a more and more intermingling life and a pouring in of ever new ideas and motives and facts and possibilities call for a new, a greater consciousness to meet and master the increasing potentialities of existence and harmonise them.  Reasons and science can only help by standardising, by fixing everything into an artificially arranged and mechanised unity of material life.  A greater whole-being, whole-knowledge, whole-power is needed to weld all into a greater unity of whole-life.”[2]

Unity of life, unity of humanity -- a world-union has become a necessity; but this unity must not be uniformity; it must not be mechanical; it must be fully diverse and harmonious.  Reason cannot realise this goal; it has laboured intensely for five centuries and acknowledged its inability.  Corresponding to the unity of life, there must be unity of consciousness, unity of knowledge.  There must, therefore, be a push towards the next stage of evolution, where new powers of consciousness can manifest.  This is the central issue.  Shall we hope that this issue can be resolved?  Let us turn to Sri Aurobindo, who has made a detailed study on this issue.  Within a brief space, we can only refer to two or three passages, even though a much more detailed statement is truly required.

In his postscript chapter, that he wrote in 1949, and which is his last political testament, he wrote:

[1] Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Centenary Edition, Vol.19. p.1053

[2] Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Centenary Edition, Vol.19. pp.1053-1055


Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

“There are dangers and difficulties, there can be an apprehension of conflicts, even of colossal conflicts that might jeopardise the future, but total failure need not be envisaged unless we are disposed to predict the failure of the race. …

The ultimate result must be the formation of a World-State and the most desirable form of it would be a federation of free nationalities in which all subjection or forced inequality and subordination of one to another would have disappeared, all would have an equal status. … The ideal of human unity would be no longer an unfulfilled ideal but an accomplished fact and its preservation given into the charge of the united human peoples.”[1]

At the same time Sri Aurobindo has given the following warning:

“It is the men of our day and, at the most, of tomorrow to give the answer.  For, too long a postponement or too continued a failure will open the way to a series of increasing catastrophes which might create a too prolonged and disastrous confusion and chaos and render a solution too difficult or impossible; it might even end in something like an irremediable crash not only of the present world civilisation but of all civilisation.  A new, a difficult and uncertain beginning might have to be made in the midst of the chaos and ruin after perhaps an extermination on a large scale, and a more successful creation could be predicted only if a way was found to develop a better humanity or perhaps a greater, a superhuman race.”[2]

Elsewhere too he has given a similar warning:

“… There is another danger, - for a cessation of evolutionary urge, a crystallisation into a stable comfortable mechanised social living without ideal or outlook is another possible outlook. …”[3]

Referring to the transition from where we stand today to the new ideal of state of divine life on the earth.  Sri Aurobindo speaks of the need to fulfil two conditions simultaneously.  He states:

[1] Sri Aurobindo: Social And Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Vol.15,


[2] Ibid. Vol.15. p.563

[3] Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Centenary Edition, Vol.19. p.1053

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

“Therefore if the spiritual change of which we have been speaking is to be effected, it must unite two conditions which have to be simultaneously satisfied but are most difficult to bring together.  There must be the individual and the individuals who are able to see, to develop, to recreate themselves in the image of the spirit and to communicate both their idea and its power to the mass.  And there must be at the same time a mass, a society, a communal mind or at the least the constituents of a group-body, the possibility of a group-soul which is capable of receiving and effectively assimilating, ready to follow and effectively arrive, not compelled by its own inherent deficiencies, its defect or preparation to stop on the way or fall back before the decisive change is made.  Such a simultaneity has never yet happened, although the appearance of it has sometimes been created by the ardour of a moment.  That the combination must happen some day is a certainty, but none can tell how many attempts will have to be made and how many sediments of spiritual experience will have to be accumulated in the subconscient mentality of the communal human being before the soil is ready.  For the chances of success are always less powerful in a difficult upward effort affecting the very roots of our nature than the numerous possibilities of failure.”[1]

However, Sri Aurobindo adds:

“… Even if the condition of society and the principle and rule that govern society are opposed to the spiritual change, even if these belong almost wholly to the vital, to the external, the economic, the mechanical order, as is certainly the way at present with human masses, yet if the common human mind has begun to admit the ideas proper to the higher order that is in the end to be, and the heart of man has begun to be stirred by aspirations born of these ideas, then there is a hope of some advance in the not distant future.”[2]

 There are, indeed, number of important questions which need to be raised and answered; but they require a much more elaborate treatment that what can be undertaken here.

[1] Sri Aurobindo: Social And Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Vol.15, p.232

[2] Sri Aurobindo: Social And Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Vol.15, p.233

Contemporary Crisis of Humanity in The Light of Sri Aurobindo

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