History and the Future – IV

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One of the major defects which pursues the study of history is the lack of a proper perspective. The subject is presented as a flow of dates, events and personalities of the past without any meaning or significance for the present or the future. No wonder most of the young and bright minds of our modern age find history not only dull and uninteresting but also irrelevant to the present or the future life.             

But when viewed in the right perspective as the story of the inner and outer evolution of human consciousness and life moving towards a glorious future perfection, history becomes one of the most enriching and illuminating field of education and knowledge; It can widen the horizons of the human mind, inspire hope and faith in human destiny and create a fertile soil for the flowering of the prophet and the visionary. This view of history is not altogether an unscientific proposition. Some of the best scientific minds of our modern age held a more or less similar view of terrestrial evolution. For example, eminent scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi who won the Nobel Prize for isolating Vitamin C says “My feeling is that living matter carries in itself a hitherto undefined principle, a tendency for perfecting itself. It may be that life owes its origin to this self-perfecting principle”.            

In this series we are presenting some perspectives on history, with an emphasis on the future, which can enrich the study of history and lead to a new way of looking at the past.

                                                                             History as Human Development  

History is the story of Man, his civilisation and his progress – “His-story” the story of Man’s evolution and development. Not many historians viewed history in this evolutionary or developmental perspective. Even those historians who saw in history the progressive march of humanity, focused only on the outer progress and ignored the inner dimensions of history. In this article, we are presenting the basic principles of a psychological and developmental vision or approach to history based on Indian insights and Sri Aurobindo’s vision. This requires an organic vision of the individual and the collectivity as an evolving and developing organism.

    Individual and collective development

Our human society and history is the result of the interaction between the individual and the collectivity. And human development in the mass is the result of the complex mutual interaction and interdependence between the development of the individual and the collectivity. Thus, a psychological and developmental approach to history requires a clear understanding of the psychological structure of the individual and the collectivity.

The individual human organism has a physical dimension made up of his body; a vital dimension made of sensations, emotions, desires, vital-energy and will; a mental dimension made of an intellectual, aesthetic and ethical being and thoughts, perceptions, intuitions, ideas and ideals; and beyond all these a spiritual or soul dimension which is a spark of the supramental consciousness of the universal and transcendent Spirit. But there is one more important factor which is ignored in most of the psychological classifications – it is the Ego-factor. For, in most of the human mass, except a few exceptional spiritual personalities, the physical, vital and mental being is organized not around the spiritual self, but around the ego. Until we realise our spiritual self, it is the ego which centralizes all the experiences and activities of our body, vital and mind and gives us the sense of personal identity as someone distinct and separate from others. The Ego is the source of that obstinate self-interest in man which is one of the most dominant psychological factors that had driven human history in the past and the present. We will come back to this Ego-factor little latter. Let us now move on with the inner and outer structure of the collectivity.

Similarly, a collectivity or group has a body made of its geography and ecology; a vital dimension made of the collective emotions, desires, life-energy and will of its people, expressing itself in the economic, social and political life of the community; a mental dimension made of the intellectual, ethical and aesthetic temperament and energy of its people expressing itself in the cultural life of the community; a spiritual dimension which contains the essential purpose and genius of its soul and its mission or contribution to the fulfilment of the human density. This spiritual dimension of the individual and the collectivity is also the source of all higher values and aspiration of humanity for truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, unity and perfection. And, as in the individual, we have to add here the collective ego, which serves more or less the same function as the individual ego.

But we must note hear that the consciousness of the collectivity is not merely the sum of the consciousness of the individuals belonging to the collectivity at a given period of time. The collective consciousness taken as a whole contains not only its present consciousness; it also contains in its subconscious memory, the impressions of all the thoughts, experiences and realizations of its past history and in its super conscious or spiritual self, in a sort of future memory, the intuition of its future destiny. The other important aspect of this psychological and spiritual heritage of a collectivity is its unique and inherent temperament and genius. Each major group or civilization or culture, in its course of historical evolution, develops a certain distinct inclination for and competence in a particular field of human activity or knowledge like, for example, the religious and spiritual temperament and genius of India, the aesthetic and philosophic genius of the ancient Greek mind, the robust and strong practicality and organizing genius of the Romans, the finely balanced ethical and intellectual temperament of the ancient Chinese, the austere ethical temperament of the Hebrews. For nothing which happens in the psychological realm is lost or disappears. Every experience, realization, achievement or the capacities developed, leaves a subconscious impression, recorded or retained in our subconscious memory. This applies to the individual as well as the collective psychology. This subliminal part of the collective psyche has a subtle and invisible influence on its outer life and history. It tends to repel alien influences from other cultures which are contrary to its inborn temperament or harmful to its natural growth and assimilate helpful influences to its own natural temperament and genius.

  The Perfect Individual in a Perfect Society

We are now in a better position to understand the ideal of individual and collective human development through history. If the integral development of the body, life, mind and soul suggests itself as the most logical and highest ideal of human development in the individual then the integral development of the body, life, mind and soul of the collectivity suggests itself as the most logical and highest ideal of human development for the collectivity. When we look at human history in a deeper psychological perspective, we will find three distinct features. First, is a progressive seeking for the fulfilment of the body, life, mind and soul; second, in this process a progressive development of the powers, faculties and potentialities of the four-fold being of man; third, a progressive attempt at some form of harmony, integration and mastery of the various parts and powers of the inner and outer being and life of man. In brief, growth of human consciousness and life towards a harmonious and integral development of all its potentialities, in other words towards integral perfection.  This is probably the plan and purpose of Nature in human history. The march of history may be viewed as a progressive education of the human race towards a gradual awakening to and realization of the ideal.

The ideal of integral development for the individual involves:
i.            full development of all the powers, potentialities and faculties of the physical, vital and mental being

ii.            realization of the spiritual self which means to become conscious of the spiritual self and unite with it.

iii.            Organize the physical, vital and mental being around the spiritual self and make them into harmonious and integrated instruments for self expression of the Spirit.

Similarly, the ideal of integral development of the collectivity involves:

i.            full development of the ecological, economic, social and cultural potentialities of the group.

ii.            Becoming conscious and living in the consciousness of the group-soul which is an integral part of the global supramental consciousness of the Spirit.

iii.            Organise the ecological, economic, social, political and cultural life and energies of the group around the consciousness of the group-soul and make them into a conscious, harmonious and integrated expression of the group-soul.

The ideal for humanity as a whole is to inwardly realize the global supramental consciousness of the Spirit and make the entire external life a harmonious and integrated expression of the global consciousness of the Soul and Spirit of Humanity. The ideal may be expressed in many different words or formulas like, for example, integrated individual in an integrated or unified society or as Sri Aurobindo puts it “Perfected Individual in a Perfected Society” or a global Civilisation on the foundation of a global Consciousness. The entire history of human civilization is perhaps a more or less unconscious or half-conscious groping attempt of the human mind and life toward this ideal, impelled inwardly by the spiritual and psychological forces of our own self and universal Nature, and outwardly by the pressure of external circumstances and environment.

And if we take a still broader perspective of terrestrial evolution as a whole, we may even perceive that this urge or instinct for perfection is implanted into our planetary evolution from the very beginning, even before the advent of man, animal, and the plant, within the electron, the atom, molecule and the DNA. This is the intuitive vision of spiritual thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest. According to Sri Aurobindo, our planetary evolution is not the work of chance but the result of a divine idea implanted in the nether inconscient matrix(1) of creation, working itself out through the emergence of matter, life, mind and moving towards a supramental perfection. Interestingly, a Nobel laureate scientist, Albert Szent Gyorgyi, had come to a more or less similar conclusion when he said, “What frightens me is the enormous complexity and precision of the system which had been thrown into relief for the first time by quantum mechanics. I find it difficult to belief that such an enormously complex system could have been built by blind, random mutation. My feeling is that living matter carries in itself a hitherto undefined principle…. Since living systems have arisen from inanimate ones, this self- perfecting principle may have been present already in the hydrogen atom…. It may be that life owes its very origin to this self-perfecting principle.” (2)

But in the pre-human stage of evolution, the self-perfecting divine idea worked behind the scene through its unconscious or subconscious instruments in the material, biological or animal creation. With the advent of man, nature endows her evolutionary creation with sufficient consciousness to become conscious of the idea steering the terrestrial evolution and progress consciously towards the divine ideal. But this is a higher potential in man which he has to actualize fully through a long process of inner and outer development. Until then even human evolution cannot be considered a fully conscious process; it is a more or less half-conscious stumbling attempt of the mind and life of man to discover the truth and law and destiny of his own self and the world. But through this attempt the human mind is progressively awakened to its spiritual potential and destiny.

This is perhaps the significance of the past history of humanity. And a stage comes or has to come, when the human mind becomes fully conscious of its spiritual source and the governing idea behind terrestrial evolution and moves consciously with a perfect knowledge to its divine goal.

This is probably the significance of the future history of humanity. In the past a few spiritual personalities have either partially or fully realized the divine ideal in their personal or individual consciousness and life. Similarly, a few religions civilizations and cultures of the past, in their highest intuitions, values and ideas, have perceived some aspect or fragment of the evolutionary ideal. But in the future, the consciousness of the human race as a whole will perceive the ideal with an increasing clarity, comprehensiveness and integrality and progressively realize the integral spiritual ideal in the outer life.

The Group-soul and the Nation-unit  

Each major nation or civilization has to contribute or has contributed something to the realization of this ideal or a part of the ideal. And each major nation or civilization is endowed by Nature with a unique genius or capacity which corresponds to its mission or contribution to the fulfilment of the human destiny.

Eastern civilizations like that of India, China, Egypt, Arabia, the Hebrews, and Hellenic Greece in the West, have contributed immensely to the spiritual, religious, intellectual, ethical and aesthetic progress of humanity. These civilizations have developed and established in the human consciousness certain higher faculties and values which are essential for the inner and cultural development of humanity. Similarly the Roman civilization and modern western nations and civilizations have developed certain faculties and values, pragmatic and idealistic, which are essential for the outer material, economics, social and political development of humanity. As explained earlier, all these past achievements are not lost, but exist in the subconscious and subliminal parts of human consciousness, especially in the collective consciousness of the respective civilizations. In the future, all these past gains of humanity have to be again recovered, synthesized and reapplied for the integral spiritual development of humanity. To do this first of all modern nations or, at least, those nations of the East and West mentioned earlier, have to recover their spiritual and cultural heritage by going back to the original genius of their parent civilisation. For in our approach a Nation or civilization is in its essence a psychological and spiritual entity and only secondarily a geographic or a political organism. Each major Nation unit or civilisation  is an expression of some inner spiritual, mental, ethical, aesthetic and pragmatic qualities, tendencies, potentialities or faculties of the global consciousness of the human species.

An ideal nation-unit is a group of people sharing a common spiritual heritage but with a unique stamp of their own, distinct from other units, expressing this inner heritage which is also its inner and higher self, harmoniously through a single political entity in its outer material, economic, social and political life, and located in a well-defined geographical space or boundary. Looking from this psychological perspective very few modern nations are ideal nation-units. For, in our modern age, nations are formed not according to psychological or spiritual principles but on political consideration. So the soul or inner self of a nation-unit may be scattered or spread over many geographical or political entities. This means a complete reorganisation of the nation units based on their inner spiritual and psychological realities is probably an important part of the integral ideal of human development through history.

Notes and references

In Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, the term or concept of “Inconscient” refers to the nether source of terrestrial evolution. Inconscient is a state of consciousness even below that of Matter. Mater is the first, more conscious evolute from the Inconscient matrix. As Mother points out: “If one of you went down into inconscient, what is called pure inconscient, you would realize what it is. A stone will seem to you a marvellously conscious object in comparison.”

Albert Szent- Gyorgyi, “New light on living matter” Survey and Forecast, Ed. by Samuel L. Bellman,   P. 146.