11 Mar 2016

Sri Aurobindo’s Concept of the Nation-Soul (2) – Kishor Gandhi

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Admitting that the society or group, like the individual has, besides its soul, also a mind, life and body, the important question immediately arises: What exactly is the nature of the group-mind, group-life, group-body? We have a fairly clear idea of the mind, life and body of the individual man by direct experience aided by scientific knowledge, but our notions of these parts of the group-being, even when we admit their real existence, are altogether vague and un­certain. Taking first the most external part, the physical body, what really is meant by the body of a society or a group? The physical body of the individual man is evident to us; we know that it is a living organism composed of innumerable cells forming themselves into tissues, organs, systems, etc. of his body. But what is the physical body of a group? Is it the geographical territory within which its members reside, as it is often understood? But then it is a very different thing from the human body because the former is only a piece of land while the latter is a living organism. If, however, the body of a group is also a living organism, then what are its constituent units and how do they differ from the cells of the individual's body? Sri Aurobindo answers these questions by stating:

"There is only this difference that the group-soul is much more complex because it has a great number of partly self-conscious mental individuals for the constitu­ents of its physical being instead of an association of merely vital subconscious cells. At first, for this very reason, it seems more crude, primitive and artificial in the forms it takes; for it has a more difficult task before it, it needs a longer time to find itself; it is more fluid and less easily organic. When it does succeed in getting out of the stage of vaguely conscious self-formation, its first definite self-consciousness is objective much more than subjective. And as far as it is subjective, it is apt to be superficial or loose and vague. This objectiveness comes out very strongly in the ordinary emotional conception of the nation which centres round its geographical, its most outward and material aspect, the passion for the land in which we dwell, the land of our fathers, the land of our birth, country, patria, vaterland, }anmabhumi. When we realise that the land is only the shell of the body, though a very living shell indeed and potent in its influences on the nation, when we begin to feel that its more real body is the men and women who compose the nation-unit, a body ever changing, yet always the same like that of the indi­vidual man, we are on the way to a truly subjective communal consciousness. For then we have some chance of realising that even the physical being of the society is a subjective power, not a mere objective existence. Much more is it in its inner self a great corporate soul with all the possibilities and dangers of the soul-life."[1]

Thus, according to Sri Aurobindo, the real body or the physical being of the society is composed not of the geographical territory on which it is located but of its individual members. These are, so to say, the cells of its bodily organism. This obviously implies that the society or the group has no separate body of its own independent of its individual members; it is only in and through them that it has to organise and develop its physical embodiment on earth. This has been very explicitly stated by Sri Aurobindo while explaining the process of the organisation of the individual and collective beings in the course of evolution:

"The initiation of the evolutionary emergence from the Inconscient works out by two forces, a secret cosmic consciousness and an individual consciousness manifest on the surface. The secret cosmic consciousness remains secret and subliminal to the surface individual; it organises itself on the surface by the creation of separate objects and beings. But while it organises the separate object and the body and mind of the individual being, it creates also collective powers of consciousness which are large subjec­tive formations of cosmic Nature; but it does not provide for them an organised mind and body, it bases them on the group of individuals, develops for them a group-mind, a changing yet continuous group-body. It follows that as the individuals become more and more conscious can the group-being also become more and more conscious; the growth of the individual is the indispensable means for the inner growth as distinguished from the outer force and expansion of the collective being."[2]

This statement of Sri Aurobindo also makes it clear that as the external body of the group-soul is not separately formed in the evolution but is composed of its individual members, so too its external life-parts and mind are not separately formed but are based upon and developed through the life-parts and the minds of its individual members.[3]

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The soul of a nation or of any other communal group is its true self and reality, but in the process of terrestrial evolution it does not overtly express itself from the beginning of group-life. As in the case of the individual human being, though his soul or the psychic being is his true self, yet in the earlier course of his evolution on earth it remains concealed and secret in his inmost being and is represented in his surface nature by his ego-self, so too in the earlier stages of its evolution the group-soul remains secret from the external group-consciousness in which it is represented by the group-ego.

Though the ego is a false representation of the true soul of the individual human being, yet it dominates his evolving frontal consciousness so entirely that he identifies himself with it as his own self and lives altogether under its control. It is for this reason that man in his evolution on earth is first the physical man identifying himself with his outer physical ego and controlled by its instincts, needs and cravings; then he becomes the vital man identifying himself with his vital ego and driven by its desires, passions and impulses; then he begins to evolve into the mental man and when he fully succeeds in doing so, he becomes the true man identifying himself with his mental ego and governed by its intelligence and will. In all these stages, through which he progresses in innumerable cycles of birth, he has hardly any direct aware­ness of his true soul which yet secretly governs all his evolutionary development; it is as an ego and for the ego that he lives till he evolves eventually into the spiritual being by finding his true divine self and lives in and for it in his inner and outer existence. This is because evolutionary Nature in the initial stages of her development on earth makes her predominant preoccupation the development of the outer instrumental ego-self of body, life and mind, and it is only when after a very long labour she has brought them to some degree of perfection that she takes up definitively the evolution of the inner consciousness and spirit. The necessity for this egoistic development and its justification as a stage in man's evolution is explained by Sri Aurobindo thus:

"But this spiritual truth and true aim of his being is not allowed to appear till late in his journey: for the early preparatory business of man in the evolutionary steps of Nature is to affirm, to make distinct and rich, to possess firmly, powerfully and completely his own individuality. As a consequence, he has in the beginning principally to occupy himself with his own ego. In this egoistic phase of his evolution the world and others are less important to him than himself, are indeed only important as aids and occasions for his self-affirmation.... This primary egoistic development with all its sins and violences and crudities is by no means to be regarded, in its proper place, as an evil or an error of Nature; it is necessary for man's first work, the finding of his own individuality and its perfect disengagement from the lower subconscient in which the individual is overpowered by the mass-consciousness of the world and entirely subject to the mechanical workings of Nature. Man the individual has to affirm, to distinguish his personality against Nature, to be powerfully himself, to evolve all his human capacities of force and knowledge and enjoyment so that he may turn them upon her and upon the world with more and more mastery and force; his self-discriminating egoism is given him as a means for this primary purpose. Until he has thus developed his indivi­duality, his personality, his separate capacity, he cannot be fit for the greater work before him or successfully turn his faculties to higher, larger and more divine ends. He has to affirm himself in the Ignorance before he can perfect himself in the Knowledge."[4]

"For this reason Nature invented the ego that the individual might disengage himself from the inconscience and subconscience of the mass and become an indepen­dent living mind, life-power, soul, spirit, co-ordinating himself with the world around him but not drowned in it and separately inexistent and ineffective. For the indivi­dual is indeed part of the cosmic being, but he is also something more, he is a soul that has descended from the Transcendence. This he cannot manifest at once, because he is too near to the cosmic Inconscience, not near enough to the original Superconscience; he has to find himself as the mental and vital ego before he can find himself as the soul or spirit."[5]

There is the same primary necessity and justification for the group-being in its evolution to find and affirm itself first as an ego-self before it can find and perfect itself as the soul or spirit. It has first to emerge as a distinct entity from the primal Inconscience of the lower universal Nature, in which all is utter chaos and formless flux, by forming for itself a separate self and affirming and firmly securing its indepen­dent existence in the midst of that incoherent flux. Its natural preoccupation in this initial stage of evolution is therefore an egoistic self-assertion, for without it, it would not be possible for it to disengage itself as a distinct entity from the overwhelming welter of the inconscient Nature. It is only when its outer ego-self is sufficiently secured and developed that it can attempt the higher evolution of its soul and spirit and realise its ultimate goal.[6]



[1] Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, (CWSA, Vol. 25), pp 35-36

[2] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (CWSA, Vols. 21-22), p 720

[3] "The society has no discoverable common reason and will belonging alike to all its members; for the group-soul rather works out its tendencies by a diversity of opinions, a diversity of wills, a diversity of life, and the vitality of the group-life depends largely upon the working of this diversity, its conti­nuity, its richness." Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, (CWSA, Vol. 25), p 210.

[4] Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (CWSA, Vols. 21-22), p 719

[5] Ibid., p. 722

[6] It is very necessary to keep in view this distinction between the outer ego-self of the society or community and its true soul or self because an indiscriminate identification of the two is bound to lead to the same gross errors and dangerous consequences as those which arise from the mistaken identification of the ego-self of the individual with his true soul. The communal ego, like the individual's, is a formation of the ignorant Nature and, in its progressive evolution, it is subject to the same limitations, perversions and falsehoods of that Nature as the individual is. In extreme cases it may even, like the individual, be possessed by dark Asuric forces, bringing ruin and disaster not only upon itself but upon other communities as well. Instances of such possessions are not wanting in the history of humanity, and in recent times there have been such glaring examples of them that Sri Aurobindo has repeatedly warned against the misleading and dangerous tendency to confuse the communal ego, especially as represented by the collectivist State, with the true soul of the community. To quote one such warning: "The communal ego is idealised as the soul of the nation, the race, the community; but this is a colossal and may turn out to be a fatal error. A forced and imposed unanimity of mind, life, action raised to their highest tension under the drive of something which is thought to be greater, the collective soul, the collective life, is the formula found. But this obscure collective being is not the soul or self of the community; it is a life-force that rises from the subconscient and, if denied the light of guidance by the reason, can be driven only by dark massive forces which are powerful but dangerous for the race because they are alien to the conscious evolution of which man is the trustee and bearer. It is not in this direction that evolutionary Nature has pointed mankind; this is a reversion towards something that she had left behind her." Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (CWSA, Vols. 21-22), pp. 1093-94

Some exponents of what is known as the Idealistic or the Metaphysical Theory of the State in Western political philosophy, notably Hegel and his followers, put forth a view of the nation-state which is a clear example of the false representation of the collective ego of the nation as its true soul or self. The State, which is nothing else but the organised collective ego of the nation, is idealised and glorified by them as a super-individual omnipotent divine entity with absolute authority to command unquestioning worship and obedience of the individual. This conception of the State has exerted an enormous influence in the recent political history of Europe and has powerfully encouraged the growth of the various types of the totalitarian States which have been largely responsible for plunging the world into the two great wars. Sri Aurobindo has thoroughly exposed the fallacy of this idea of the State in his writings at a number of places. For concise statements of his criticism of the State Idea, see Chap IV, "The Inadequacy of the State Idea", The Ideal of Human Unity and Chap. V, "True and False Subjectivism", The Human Cycle.

[Title provided by Compiler and references updated. From Kishor Gandhi’s “Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and The New Age”, pp 36-42 (First Edition in 1965)]

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