A World Astir|Jan 4, 2007 6:08 AM| by:

Today’s Imperative

What are we to do today? The question arises because every day, almost every one of us thinks, on reading the papers, on hearing the news bulletins on the radio, what a pass the world has come to what a situation for our country! And we lament about the extraordinary state of corruption, irresponsibility and other unmentionable malaises that have crept into our public and individual life. We write articles, we deliver speeches regretting the fall in the standards of our life and so on. But how many of us ask ourselves: “What have I done to prevent this state of affairs? What could I have done to contribute to the betterment of the atmosphere?” Each one of us has a responsibility to maintain the health of the collectivity in which we live. There are problems, and there are bound to be problems in a developing life. Life is not static, it is a dynamic process of evolution, and problems are presented by Nature in order that we apply ourselves, work and take a step forward. In a memorable passage, Sri Aurobindo observes that pain is the hammer of Gods to break a dead resistance in the mortal’s heart. But for pain, but for suffering, we would not move, we would be content to live like automatons. That is why the more we are ready to progress, the more the problems presented to us. It is easy to isolate problems as political or economic, and try to find solutions, but in the larger context of life these piecemeal solutions will not work. We have been seeing how, in our country, so many solutions are proposed with all goodwill, but none have succeeded because they are all out of focus. For every problem there is an immediate solution and there is a long range solution. The shortcut wants to tide over the crisis, the long range one to prevent the repetition of such crisis. It puts the finger on the root cause of the troubles. We have to understand from that point of view why problems have arisen in every walk of life including religion and spirituality which are supposed to be areas of harmony and peace. In every country there is tension, in every society there is disequilibrium, in every home there is disharmony. That shows that it is a universal problem and ours is only a local segment of the cosmic problem.

The Synthetic Age

Long ago, about 70 years ago, in a study of the development of human society, Sri Aurobindo wrote a series of articles on the psychology of social development which he later entitled “The Human Cycle”. The main thesis of his study is this: In early primitive societies, all over the world the first man, the physical man, the primitive man is face to face with Nature. He is not organised, he feels the impact of the powers of Nature, his pre-intellectual mind senses some mystery about everything; behind the trees, behind the running brooks, over the hills, he senses a presence; behind the activities of rain, wind, the sun and the moon, he regards supraphysical powers and instinctively bows down to them. He calls them gods, deities, angels, and the intuitive mind of that society – because the rational intellect has not yet developed – creates means of communication with these supra-terrestrial powers. There is a companionship between men and gods. Whether in early Greece, Egypt, India, everywhere, the whole system is organised around an interchange, around the system of sacrifice, self-giving. Gods are invoked to descend into man, there is a partnership in the commonwealth of the earth. Everything is symbolic; the plateau, the hill represents existence with the several levels of consciousness. The flame, agni, represents the soaring aspiration in man, the sky and the ocean represent infinity. Indra is the god of mind who showers the luminosity of mind. Varuna comes next expanding the consciousness of man. When man becomes wide enough, there is Mitra the God of Love, because the ancients knew that when man is ego bound, limited, to love is dangerous. So they speak of Mitra coming only after Varuna has established his empire. This is called the symbolic age of mankind. Everything is governed by some deep perception; the leaders of society are not kings but seers, the rishis who see the truth, who hear the truth, satyasruta.

The Conventional and the Individual

Gradually the inspiring truths of life recede and the outer moulds fix themselves: conventions become the order of the day. To illustrate, earlier only he was a Brahmin who had acquired the right by virtue of study; by virtue of purity, to carry and communicate the knowledge of God, knowledge of the principle of life. Later in the succeeding age everybody who was born of a Brahmin became a Brahmin. Thus in the conventional age people started doing things in particular ways because their ancestors did so in the olden days. The truth had receded far behind and so tradition, superstition, dogma, rituals, multiplied creating a completely artificial mode of living. Naturally Nature, evolving Nature, would not allow man to stay there long, so there is revolt on the part of the individual. He begins to ask, “Why should I follow these conventions, why should I not do what I feel to be right? I must have that freedom.” So the conventional age is followed by the individualist age when the individual raises the standard of revolt; man insists on living his own life. The most remarkable example of this movement is, of course, the French Revolution. Thus arose the entrepreneur, the capitalist with his laissez faire and there is a great efflorescence, the intellect. The rational mind comes into its own. Philosophies spring up, doctrines multiply. Even then, after a few centuries of this age of freedom we find the individual has messed up things. New problems cropped up following the industrial revolution in England. Thinkers started applying their mind to find out the cause of these disharmonies.

Individuals were given freedom but they did not use their freedom rightly, they started treading upon the toes of their neighbours. So there commenced serious studies to find out the real truth of life, collective life. Karl Marx may be said to be the first serious modern thinker who probed into this question and he came out with his thesis of economic determinism of history. He said everything is determined by economic causes, those who can control the economic resources control the society. What he said was perhaps true in the society in which he functioned, in the industrial society of England with all its abuses. He said there is no God, no such thing as soul, religion is an opiate of the people used to keep them down. All these dicta struck a favourable cord in the downtrodden people. But even then the polish wore off; it was realised that everything is not economics, everything is not bread and butter, there is something more in man. Even if he is clothed well, fed well, he will not be happy; there must be something else. So slowly the solely materialist approach was given the go-by, serious thinkers and those like Bergson, the famous French philosopher, spoke of vital energy, elan vital, life-force, prana as the secret of life. Wherever there is abundance of life-energy there arise civilisations and when that dries up the civilisations come down. It had a few purchasers, but it could not satisfy a humanity which was slowly developing an intellectual mind. So there followed mental analysis, Bertrand Russell and the like who said that mind is the truth, the truth is in the idea, ideals, and they went on to erect their own systems and institutions which too did not work. The most disillusioned thinker who first accepted this mental truth of life was Arnold Toynbee who examined as many as 21 civilisations and spoke of challenge and response. Ultimately, he said the truth is not in the mind, it is in religion. Now even with religions as they have developed as a move for unity, to bring people together, to take man back to God, the moment it got organised, institutionalised it became a force for division. People have, by and large, lost faith in organised religion.

The Spiritual Age

What next? Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and other evolutionary thinkers have perceived that we are now entering into a stage higher than the mental, what we may call the spiritual stage. But before we enter into the spiritual, we see that we are bogged down in what is called the subjective age. We see the roots of life behind the surfaces; at the first approach everything appears chaotic, disorganised, because it goes beyond the mental organisation to which we are accustomed. If you see modern art, modern literature in countries like Russia, Eastern Europe, you will find a consistent effort to probe beneath the surfaces of life. They may call it the unconscious or the subconscious or the subliminal, but they are feelings out below the surface. They are all on the way to the central truth of life – the soul, the spirit. But before this spiritual age can come there are other factors which are pressing upon man today for fulfilment. The individual age has done its work and gone. Today the call is for the universal man to be born; all over the world, in every segment of life, there is a movement gathering in this direction.

Now I would like to narrate a significant happening that took place at the turn of the last century. Somewhere in the nineties a Canadian doctor, Dr. Bucke, was trying to discover new ways of treating his mental patients. Dr. Bucke was fond of literature. He was a colleague of Whitman, Emerson and others, and he used to spend evenings discussing mystic poetry. One evening after discussing the poetry of Wordsworth, Dr. Bucke set off for his country home in his cab. In the midst of a forest he saw a great conflagration, a fire. You know in America there are large forest fires. He thought the forest must be on fire, so he stopped the vehicle only to become conscious that the conflagration was not outside but inside his own self. In a flash he realised all life is one and the centre of life is love. A few seconds of that experience completely changed his life and he went on to write a book called the Cosmic Consciousness which came out in 1902. Five hundred copies were printed, but it took many years to sell them. Today, I believe the book is in the 30th edition. In his remarkable introduction to this book he makes what he calls three prophesies. Mind you, it was written before 1900. He says: In the coming century aerial navigation will bring the world so close together as it has never been in history; nothing can happen in one corner which will not be immediately known in others. Second, it will be a sin to be rich. Third, all the existing religions will disappear; there will be one universal religion in which there will be no intercessor between man and God. These were his three prophesies.

At the moment we are concerned with the first prospect, unification of the world. We are entering into a stage where the individual man has to make room for the universal man. A universal man, visvamanava, as Tagore called him, is not one who just speaks the language of universality; he is one who feels without effort a spontaneous oneness with everybody else, whose heart beats in union with the hearts of others; whose mind echoes the thoughts of others. He can plant his thoughts in other people’s minds. The universal man is struggling to be born. In economics, in politics, in social sciences, in religion, everywhere you see there is a cohesive force at work. The United Nations, despite all the bad name that we give to it, has done remarkable service in this direction. The path of wisdom is to make the best use of it and improve it. In literature, in art, everywhere, there is a growing sense of oneness.

Beyond the Ego

The higher mind of humanity has today accepted the inevitability of one world, one humanity. But it is taking time to get translated into practice. Man is not readily accepting the evolutionary challenge of nature to break out of his ego-bound walls of division. Everywhere he asks how it affects him. I may talk philosophy, I may talk religion, but when things affect me personally, my attitude is neither philosophical nor religious. Whether at the individual level or group level or the national level, this obduracy is holding up the progress of everyone. And Nature is trying to shock us into sanity by creating and throwing problems after problems, forcing us to think and act. Everyone has some perception, the truth is pressing upon us so much that everywhere – wherever I have travelled – I have seen that individually people have the right perception that the change has to begin with oneself. Everybody has to change from within. But there it stops. Do we practice? It is easy enough to be on good behaviour on the public platform but the touchstone of sincerity, of our readiness to throw off our egoism, self-assertiveness, is in our dealing with our daily neighbours. It is there that the problem lies. Today’s imperative is this: each one has to break out of his ego-walls, open his mind to the winds of thought and change, enlarge his heart, so that the waves of sympathy and love may go out of his being. They speak of open society; I speak of an open individual who is open to the movements and currents of progress. By experience, however, I have found, and people like me have also found, that individually there is a limit beyond which one cannot progress in this dimension. If one wants to reach God, yes, a solitary sannyasin, a recluse, can shoot up, but today a time has come when vertical spirituality, has to be combined with a horizontal spirituality. Sri Aurobindo says somewhere: your love for God is not complete unless you can love God in all. This compulsion to recognise that God is there in the neighbour, God is there in the sinner as in the virtuous, is universal. Our mind knows it somewhere on its top floor, but in our day to day life we fail. In polities, in social affairs, education, religion, economics, do we think of the neighbour? In the international affairs, up to a certain stage nationalism was a healthy force, but today, after two World Wars, nationalism has become a disease. National jingoisms, national chauvinisms are standing in the way of progress. So whether it is at the individual level or at the collective level, personal level or public level, our sincerity is at stake.

Do we really mean to solve this problem? If we do, we have to sort it ourselves. I must make this resolution today: I have to give up my ego. Ego was the helper, ego is the bar. Up to a certain stage in evolution ego was a point of centralisation. Today it is holding us back. To put it more graphically, in the language of an American author, it is a one-man revolution that is the need of the day. No political revolution can give us peace but if each individual is supported by another who carries on the same project, there will be a chain of changing individuals who will form a force for change. There is a subtle link that joins all life, so if I change myself in my corner in the east coast of India, one of you change herein the heart of India, somebody else does likewise in California, there are some points of change which have their consequence. They add harmony as against the precarious balance for suicide. We as individuals have a part to play; we have to change the pattern of our own ego-based life, elevate our consciousness and build conditions in which the individual man gives place to the universal man.

(M.P. Pandit came to the Ashram at a very young age. He is the author of a large number of books and articles on Integral Yoga and the Indian spiritual tradition. He was the Chairman of World Union International.)

(Speech given by Shri M.P. Pandit at India International Centre, Delhi, 1989)

  • http://Website Pratima Patel

    What a beautiful article… It is so appropriate for the whole world, especially now.