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The Soul of a Nation

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(Sri Aurobindo has said,

“India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples.”

But India is certainly not safe from the inevitability of a state of decline, especially since she is rushing into an age of materialism with gusto that has left many speechless. To understand the full import of Sri Aurobindo’s statement, one has to be clear what one is referring to when we speak of “India”, for it is certainly not just a geographical entity that is being referred to.

We present below an article by Nolini Kanta Gupta, who gives us a deeper insight into the meaning of a nation. Only when we begin to think on these lines, will we actually realize the steps that each one of us has to take towards a resurgence of India.)

A nation is a living personality; it has a soul, even like a human individual.  The soul of a nation is also a psychic being, that is to say, a conscious being, a formation out of the Divine Consciousness and in direct contact with it, a power and aspect of Mahashakti.  A nation is not merely the sum total of the individuals that compose it, but a collective personality of which the individuals are as it were cells, like the cells of a living and conscious organism.  The psychic being or soul of a nation is indeed conscious; it knows its raison d’être, its life purpose, its destiny, the role it has to play in the divine scheme as the divine instrument.  And its will—for it has a will, the expression of its consciousness, the Divine’s impulse in and through it—is inevitable, sooner or later it will fulfil itself.  Even like the soul of a man, the nation’s soul is behind all the movements that form its external life, supporting, building, guiding its political, economic, social or cultural make-up.  The individual can know of and come in contact with the nation’s soul in and through his own soul.  When one becomes conscious of his psychic being then only one is in a condition to be conscious of the psychic being of the collective person of his nation or the nation with which he has inner affinity.

There are periods in the life cycle of a nation, critical moments, when it is in deadly peril, when its very existence is threatened, attacked by enemy forces either from within or from without.  Such was the case when, for example, Britain was invaded by the Spanish Armada or when France was being subjugated by England.  Those were very anxious times, but in each instance the soul of the nation came forward and inspired the nation to react and go through the ordeal and survive.  Jeanne d’ Arc may be considered the embodiment of France’s national soul, as on a still earlier occasion that same soul embodied itself in St. Geneviève.  But a nation may fall on much more evil days, namely, when it loses contact with its very soul, goes astray, its life movement taking a wrong curve.  A nation can deny its soul, even as an individual may and the result is disaster….

India is offering a spectacle of another tragedy.  What is happening here is the attack of a disease that is convulsing the body politic: it seems to be a cancerous disease, the limbs seeking to grow independently at the expense of each other.  The patient is passing through a very critical period and it is indeed a question of life and death.  But we hope—we are sure—that the soul of this ancient nation will assert itself and through whatever vicissitudes re-establish health and harmony: for that soul’s mission is yet to be done.

Like the individual a nation too dies.  Ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt and Babylon and Chaldea are no more.  What has happened to their souls, it may be asked.  Well, what happens to the soul of the individual when the body falls away?  The soul returns to the soul-world.  Like the individual Psyche the collective Psyche too goes and retires into the womb of peace and light with all its treasures, its beauty and glory gathered in, like a bird that goes to sleep within its folded wings.  What the Greek culture and civilisation was, still continues to exist in its quintessential reality in a world to which one has access if one has the requisite kinship of consciousness and psychic opening.  That soul lives in its own domain, with all the glory of its achievement and realisation at their purest; and from there it sheds its lustre, exerts its influence, acts as living leaven in the world’s cultural heritage and spiritual growth.

When however the soul withdraws, when a nation in a particular cycle of its soul manifestation has fulfilled its role and mission, the body of the nation falls gradually into decadence.  The elements that composed the organic reality, the living consistency of national life disintegrate, lose their energy and cohesive capacity; they die out and are dispersed or persist for a time as a confused mixture of disconnected and mechanically moving cells.  But it may happen too that in an apparently dying or dead nation, the soul that retired comes back again, not in its old form and mode of life—for that cannot be—Egypt, if it lives again today cannot repeat the ages of the Pharaohs and the Pyramids—but in a new personality, with a fresh life purpose.  In such a case what happens is truly a national resurrection—a Lazarus coming back to life at the touch of the Divine.

We do not believe that India was ever completely dead or hopelessly moribund: her soul, although not always in front, was ever present as a living force, presiding over and guiding her destiny.  That is why there is a perennial capacity for renewal in her and the capacity to go through dire ordeals.  And to live up to her genius, she too must know how to march with the time, that is to say, not to cling to old and past forms—to be faithful to the ancient soul does not mean eternising the external frames and formulas that expressed that soul one time or another.  Indeed the soul becomes alive and vigorous when it finds a new disposition of the life plan which can embody and translate a fresh creative activity, a new fulfilment emanating from the depths of the soul.

Nolini Kanta Gupta

(Nolini Kanta Gupta was a revolutionary, linguist, scholar, critic, poet, philosopher and a man of deep spiritual realisation. Author of nearly 60 books he was a Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.)