Towards Universal Fraternity
If there is one central theme in human history, it is that of universal solidarity. None is alone in the world, except that psychologically one may feel lonely in the darkness of night, even when stars twinkle and invite for company. The whole world is our friend and our helper, only we know not that there is an underlying unity in the whole universe, and this unity never leaves us even if we, in our egoism, try to separate ourselves in a vain attempt to feel self-existence and independence from our relationships, whether with the world or with the transcendental, which are always present. The entire history of humanity can be regarded as a struggle between human egoism which builds up divisions against the overpowering forces of unity.
The individual and the universe have an intimate and mutual relationship, and this
relationship is inalienable, even when the individual combats with the universe by building up the walls of division, of ego and of separateness. It is by means of the universe that the individual is impelled to realise himself. But this universalisation does not mean the annulment of the individual; for the, universal also individualises itself for manifesting itself in its totality. That is why the individual universalises and the universal individualises and both have some kind of mutuality, which can be realised only when the limiting egoism is abolished. It is this large truth that is translated in the human endeavour to arrive at universal solidarity, which yet retains the individuality of the constituent groups, nations and individuals. And this is governed by a law of simultaneous unity and diversity, ─ diversity manifesting unity and unity manifesting diversity.
There is, however, a limiting factor ─ the factor of the operation of ignorance, which creates the law of conflict and the law of struggle. According to this law, every individual finds himself or herself in a long march through the night, surrounded by foes,
tortured by weariness and pain, towards the goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. In modern times, Darwin has formulated in Biology the law of evolution, and its formula is that of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. Bertrand Russell, describing the law of struggle in another context, points out:
“One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided… Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race is raised the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way…”1
Bertrand Russell represents the materialist or neutralist view of the law of struggle. But even the opposite view, the spiritual view of the universe, cannot be blind to the law of struggle which operates in the world under the compulsion of cosmic ignorance. Therefore, the old Upanishads described this law in the formula which is uncompromising and
1 Bertrand Russell: Freeeman’s Worship and Other Essays, Unwin Paper Back, 1976, p.19
thoroughgoing, namely, “the eater eating is eaten”.
And Sri Aurobindo describes it in the following words: “War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspect, but also of our mental and moral existence. It is self-evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live and between all that stand behind either.”2
The materialist, even when he aims at the realisation of ideals, falls ultimately into an abyss of the darkness of Matter. On the other hand, the spiritual seeker, even when he attains peace, unity and oneness, cannot abrogate the law of struggle which is so pervasive and so compelling. In other words, none, the materialist nor the spiritualist, can wish away the fact of struggle, of division, of conflict and even of destruction. The only way by which this law can be overcome is to conquer the fact of ignorance and ultimately to eliminate it from the life of the individual
2 Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, Centenary Edition, Volume 13, pp.40 -- 41
and ultimately from the life of the collectivity. And there is no other way than that of spiritual contemplation; and even spiritual contemplation has to be matured in spiritual realisation. And considering that even when a few individuals live in spiritual realisation, the world continues to live in struggle and destruction, in strife and pain, we are obliged to conclude that even the individual spiritual realisation is not enough. We have to contemplate collective self-realisation. In any case, if unity is to be realised, if unity is to be actualised, it seems that it can only be done by the abolition of the root cause of division and conflict. This means that abolition of ignorance; and the abolition of ignorance is fundamentally a spiritual issue.
We are living today at once in the best of times and in the worst of times. Ours is the best time because at no time in the world history, men and women have aspired for human unity as ardently and as comprehensively as today. The fact that the combined will of the people of the world has produced
the agency of United Nations to prevent war, to maintain peace and to subserve the goal of universal solidarity, is a concrete proof of the fact that we are living at a very propitious moment. And yet, we find humanity gravitating downward, in spite of tremendous scientific advances, ─ or else because of these very advances, which have provided ready means to gratify and multiply material pleasures, ─ into a state of arrestation from where higher aspiration can easily be exiled. We are threatened by the possibility of nuclear bombardment at the hand of some capricious will and of collapse of the environmental protection; we are threatened by the spread of diseases, which destroy the principle of life itself; we are threatened by the possibility of misuse of biological engineering, which can create monsters or anti-human species, perhaps much worse than dinosaurs; we are threatened by the acute accumulation of inertia, on the one hand, and uncontrolled passions of competition and search for the gratification of undying hunger, on the other. This is the proof that we are living today in the worst of times. This battle between the best and the worst can be triumphantly settled in favour of the best if
three wise counsels prevail:
It is fortunate that in the advanced thought of the world, these three things are being advocated, but the voice of this advocacy is rather shrill and it is hardly heard by those who matter. The real difficulty is that these three things demand a radical change in human nature, and humanity does not seem to be prepared to respond to the demands of this change.
In 1967, U Thant the then Secretary-General of the United Nations Organisation
had stated the need for this change. He had declared:
“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.”
It will be evident that the issue is spiritual; the issue is that of spiritual contemplation; the issue is of spiritual action.
Let us dwell on this point in a different context. The aim of universal solidarity has come up in the forefront of human idealism
today; but we are not able to understand the real significance of this turn; we have not yet grasped the necessity of this solidarity, on the one hand, and its dangers, on the other. Its necessity is still being conceived in terms of the drive towards economic centralisation, legislative and social uniformity and towards mechanisation even in matters of human management and control of human affairs. It is still not being recognised that the social and political unity of humankind is not necessarily propitious, and its necessity lies in the fact that humanity can fulfil its higher dreams for freedom and brotherhood only if the sense of oneness, the sense of mutuality and harmony can prevail.
As Sri Aurobindo has warned us:
“It must be remembered that 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 a framework for a better, richer, more happy and puissant individual and collective life.”3
Let us take the example of the Roman Empire; for it provides a historical illustration of an organisation of unity which transcended
3 Sri Aruobindo: The Ideal of Human Unity, Centenary Edition, Vol. 15, p.263
the limits of the nation, and its advantages and disadvantages are there perfectly typified. The advantages of unity that mere forged by that great Empire were its admirable organisation, peace, wide-spread security, order and material well being. But the disadvantages arose from its tendency to centralise, to impose uniformity, and, as a result, the individual, the city, the region had to sacrifice their independent life and they became mechanical parts of a machine. The organisation was great and admirable, but the individual dwindled and life lost its colour, richness, variety, freedom and victorious impulse towards creation. Eventually, therefore, the Roman Empire declined and failed; the huge mechanism of centralisation and uniformity brought about the smallness and feebleness of the individual; mechanisation prevailed, and the Empire lost even its great conservative vitality and died of an increasing stagnation.
From this example, we can conclude as to what is likely to happen if the push towards unity which has become prominent comes to be sustained only on the basis of uniformity, centralisation and mechanisation. We can foresee that after some first outburst of satisfied
and joyous activities there would follow a long period of conservation; there would then come about an increasing stagnancy and ultimately decay. We must, therefore, underline that unity, which must come about, must be created under other conditions and with safeguards, which will keep the race intact in the roots of its vitality, richly diverse in its oneness. We must have unity, but we must also have decentralisation, diversity and richness of interchange. But this can happen only if humanity and not only leading powers but all the nations join together to create a World Union of free nations.
We have to realise the peril of the World State as opposed to World Union; for if it comes about, the nation as we know it might disappear and strict unification would come to be imposed; a vast uniformity would come to rule; and a united humanity would result in a regulated socialisation. This must be avoided; we must ensure a vigorous life of free and united nations; we must ensure liberty, mobile variations that act upon each other, and united but differentiated life.
But the central difficulty of synthesising
unity with freedom lies in the tendency that is created in favour of centrifugal forces, ─ forces that tend to assert so much of independence that it would become inimical to unity. And this, in turn, results in a reaction that favours a heavy hand of uniformity and mechanisation. What then, is the solution?
In clear terms, the solution lies in creating a new psychology that is able to sustain interrelationship between nations which does not allow freedom to lapse into egoism, sense of rivalry, sense of division. Freedom must be wedded to the sense of mutuality and interdependent sharing of the contributions that each nation would bring into the common pool of richness of culture. This necessarily implies an inner change. We come here to the issue of unlocking the spiritual light and force, which lies latent in all of us, and which alone can bring about the needed inner change.
In recent times, two ideas have become prominent, and if they are rightly fostered by humanity, we can arrive at universal solidarity
that is based upon freedom and mutuality. The first idea is that of internationalism and the second idea is that of the religion of humanity. But both these ideas will require to be more chiselled and much more forged than what they attempt to convey to us today. Mere internationalism may provide a sense of wideness and globality. But unless internationalism comes to acknowledge and practise not only the political ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity, but also their psychological, ethical and spiritual implications, internationalism may run the risk of falling into the peril of the idea of the World State. The cause of the world union of free nations would then come to be injured. Therefore, we have to integrate internationalism with the religion of humanity. But, again, religion of humanity must not be construed in the image of a dogmatic, ritualistic and institutional framework of any particular creed. Religion of humanity should be conceived in terms of spirituality that transcends the boundaries of institutional religion. Spirituality demands, not adherence to any credal belief, but a living sense of fraternity. It is only when fraternity generates mutual goodwill among human beings and
among nations that we can avoid the downward gravitation of unity into uniformity. It is only on the basis of the real brotherhood that the ideals of liberty and equality can become united.
As Sri Aurobindo points out:
“Yet is brotherhood the real key to the triple gospel of the idea of humanity. The union of liberty and equality can only be achieved by the power of human brotherhood and it cannot be founded on anything else. But brotherhood exists only in the soul and by the soul; it can exist by nothing else. For this brotherhood is not a matter either of physical kinship or of vital association or intellectual agreement. When the soul claims freedom, it is the freedom of its self-development, the self-development of the divine in man in all his being. When it claims equality, what it is claiming is that freedom equally for all and the recognition of the same soul, the same godhead in all human beings. When it strives for brother-hood, it is founding that equal freedom of self-development on a common aim, a common life, a unity of mind and feeling founded upon the recognition of this inner spiritual unity. These
three things are in fact the nature of the soul; for freedom, equality, unity are the eternal attributes of the Spirit. It is the practical recognition of this truth, it is the awakening of the soul in man and the attempt to get him to live from his soul and not from his ego which is the inner meaning of religion, and it is that to which the religion of humanity also must arrive before it can fulfil itself in the life of the race.”4
We have spoken of the spiritual issue and of the spiritual solution, but the question is as to what we should mean by the term “spirituality”. We have already distinguished spirituality from religion and pointed out that spirituality is not something institutional, ritualistic, mechanical or ceremonial; it is not related to dogma or creed. In positive terms, spirituality is a matter of knowledge and light and of spontaneous action that proceeds from intimate sympathy and oneness. But often spirituality is conceived as something ascetic and something which has no relationship with the world and its activities. Spirituality is thus conceived as something negative and even
4 Sri Aurobindo: Social and Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Vol. 15, pp.546.47
abstract as far as the mundane life is concerned.
But this view is partial and even misleading. It has arisen from an exclusive concentration only on one phase of experience in human history, during which the world came to be seen as meaningless or purposeless. If we examine the history of Indian spirituality, we shall find that the ascetic tendency of spirituality was only an experiment in sounding the extreme consequences of one of the aspects of spirituality. But in order to understand the all-comprehensive meaning of spirituality, we have to note that in India, spirituality has not been content merely to conquer the peaks of the spiritual self-existent Reality but also gained firm footing on the physical earth. This is the reason why India was at least for three thousand years vibrant with stupendous vitality, inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, and almost unimaginable prolific creativeness. This spirituality was also the force of strong intellectuality. It can even be said that this intellectuality was so robust that there is no historical parallel to such an intellectual labour and activity before the invention of printing and the facilities of modern science.
Indian history shows that it is a great error to suppose that spirituality flourishes best in an impoverished soil with the life half-killed and the intellect discouraged and intimidated. The Indian spiritual tendency did not shoot upward only to the abstract, the hidden and intangible; it cast its rays downward and outward to embrace the multiplicity of thought and richness of life. This would show that it would be a mistake to consider spirituality as something irrelevant to the problems of the world. In fact, if there is any power that can cure the ills of life and of the world truly and satisfactorily, it is only the power of the spirit; for Spirit, as conceived in the Veda and Upanishads, is the source of the world, it is the soul of the world, it is the inner breath of the world. This is the reason why when we are considering the question of the solution of the problem of the universal solidarity or of human unity, we have suggested that if unity must not degenerate into uniformity, the only way is to emphasise the need for a spiritual change, a change which does not run away from the world, but a change that transforms the world with the power of knowledge of the inmost self.
It is remarkable that the spirituality of the Indian renaissance has proclaimed the message of dynamic spirituality. Whether it is Maharshi Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, or Swami Ramtirtha, they have laid stress on applying spiritual knowledge to the problems of the world; they have advocated the view that spirituality is not an escape but it is an affirmation of power and sovereignty, that spirituality is not a matter of running away to the Himalayas but of transforming human life even in the densest fields of complex activities. Sri Aurobindo has spoken of acceptance of life in order to transform it by the power of the spirit; he has even looked upon all life as Yoga.
In this context, what vision shall we put before ourselves in regard to the activities of life and their organisation if we are to prepare ourselves to make our own contribution to the aim of actualisation of human unity which, as we have argued here, can be truly salutary for the human race, only if dynamic spirituality is applied? As Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, even in the early stages of spiritualisation, the pioneering individuals and the society would make the revealing and finding of the divine
Self for the human being the first aim of all activities, of education, of science, of ethics, of art, of economic and political structure. There would be an emphasis on embracing of the entire range of knowledge but the whole trend and aim would be to concentrate on the spirit as the object of discoveries, of self-development and self-finding, even while not neglecting efficiency and chiselled perfection. Physical and psychical sciences would be pursued not merely to gain the knowledge of the world and nature and to use them for material human ends but also to know the spirit in the world and the ways of the spirit in its masks and behind them. Ethics would be pursued not to establish a rule of action, supplementary to the social law but to develop the divine nature in the human being. Art would be pursued to reveal the Truth and Beauty of things visible and invisible in the forms or symbols and significant figures.
The new society would look upon every individual as a living soul, and each one would be given the help and the power so as to grow into self-perfection. This society would give to every individual not only the joy of work but
also free leisure to grow inwardly, and lead a simple and beautiful life. Spirituality applied to social organisation would aim at realising the ideal law of social development. This ideal law would seek the harmony of the individual and the society. There is no better formulation of the ideal law of social development than that of Sri Aurobindo:
“Thus the law for the individual is to perfect his individuality by free development from within, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development in others. His law is to harmonise his life with the life of the social aggregate and to pour himself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for the community or nation is equally to perfect its corporate existence by a free development from within, aiding and taking full advantage of that of the individual, but to respect and to aid and be aided by the same free development of other communities and nations. Its law is to harmonise its life with that of the human aggregate and to pour itself out as a force for growth and perfection on humanity. The law for humanity is to pursue its upward evolution towards the finding and
expression of the Divine in the type of mankind, taking full advantage of the free development and gains of all individuals and nations and groupings of men, to work towards the day when mankind may be really and not only ideally one divine family, but even then, when it has succeeded in unifying itself, to respect, aid and be aided by the free growth and activity of its individuals and constituent aggregates.”5
The path that lies before us is a difficult path; many might even consider it to be impracticable; many, even if they concede that it is practicable, might not pursue it, since it might seem to be a path that would take extremely long to arrive at success. But we have to consider the fact that humanity has irreversibly become global and the advantages of its globality can be rightly promoted and its disadvantages can be rightly avoided only if we can apply the truth of spiritual knowledge to the difficult issues of unity and freedom.
If this path is to be declared impracticable, we shall still need to make experiments on this
5 Sri Aurobindo: Social and Political Thought, Centenary Edition, Vol. 15, pp.63-64
path before we can scientifically declare it to be impracticable; similarly, to those who may refuse to walk on this path simply because success on that path would be so far off as not to be achievable in their own life time, we have to make an appeal by reminding ourselves that we do not live for ourselves, that we can only sow in our life true seeds of trees which can give fruits only to the coming generation.
At the same time, who can say that success would not come now? History teaches that unexpected events take place suddenly because of the past accumulation of the forces. We know of revolutions that have swept off the obstacles of the past within a relatively short period. We may also find, by means of detailed scrutiny of the revolutions of the past that behind them a spiritual revolution was already taking secret shape. It would not, therefore, seem unreasonable to predict that, considering the critical stage through which we are passing today where no solution that seems to be practicable will ultimately work, there would grow up an increasing number of individuals and even groups with a new urge and resolution to break a new path and to arrive at
some fulfilling result rapidly rather than slowly. In any case, for those who see that spiritual solution is the only solution, the only course of action is to pursue that solution resolutely, irrespective whether we shall attain success in our own life time or whether the effort we make today will bear fruit later and benefit the posterity.
Let us then conclude that we have no reason to fear to aspire; we have no reason to feel discouraged in determining the spiritual course of action; we have no reason merely to stand and watch, ─ we have every reason to take the staff in our hand and set out for the journey.