India’s religion of humanity and universal unity – an Aurobindonian perception

Among the many ancient knowledge systems that guided humanity down the millennia, the manual for man India developed proved outstanding and singularly perfect. Out of the many, India developed the most coherent system  a harmony of values resulting in a perfectly balanced worldview. All-inclusive was its outlook, versatility its hallmark and concordance its culture. “India is an epitome of the world”  this comment by the world’s most noted philosopher-historian explains well India’s all-comprehending culture that took to the innermost recess of its heart all the noble aspects of the world’s cultures, living as well as dead.

British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee believed India is a living civilisation whose vitality would enlighten the future humanity, contribute to human unity and strike a balance between the extremities of all kinds. True, many centuries have elapsed, invaders carrying fire and sword pounded India one after the other. Torn to fragments geographically and psychically, India of the present even bleeds in terrorist violence whose profile has occupied volumes of literature. It is as if India’s glory has become almost irretrievably stooping with bandicoots of all types eating into the vitals of her national life. Denunciation of the motherland, derogatory writings and statements that blackmail its culture and declining it for mere kickbacks and pay-offs are commonplace. Indeed the problems confronting our nation are legion. Yet, in the turbulent ocean with its currents flowing against and furious tides lashing out, India sails safe, looking at its distant destination, reminding one of the lonely traveller left untouched by the surroundings, venting its way to a fixed goal.

What made India stand the vicissitudes of time and tension that had completely done away many coeval cultures? Definitely, it was India’s all comprehending nature, its readiness to imbibe the noble aspects and bring about coherence to give the final touch to the culture of humanity. Greece was an aesthetic culture with its tendency to glorify and enjoy everything beautiful notwithstanding whatever defect what it deemed beautiful had. Discipline, shape, size and what not, the Greeks would ignore. Only beauty they were particular about. Hence the aesthetic nature of the Greek culture opined Indian seer Sri Aurobindo.

Ancient Rome, Aurobindo says, ran in contrast. Beauty they discarded and zeroed in more on the ethical aspects of life than anything. Enjoyment of beauty gave way to ethics and disciplines of life. A strong and muzzled body was preferred to the beautiful. They never thought of any beauty attainable through the discipline like the Greeks who didn’t have any idea about the discipline leading to a higher beauty. Beauty and discipline thus had run parallel, never to make their rendezvous in a creative unity. But India harmonised both discipline and beauty, making the former a means to realise the latter. It, down the millennia, was disciplining life to realise the ultimate beauty which if to quote the poet “is a joy forever”. India’s eternal discipline leads it to the ultimate beauty or saundarya which is another synonym for god. It is both ethics and aesthetics perfectly mixed with a superb finish.

India’s religion  dharma – was thus motivated by the principle of making human life perfect. Man making was its mission and turning the life divine was its end. In fact, in all the faculties of thought, India developed, the man was of prime importance. On the incubator of its thought was always a religion or dharma of humanity. The entire nature was the ground for man’s sadhana or preparation for the higher life. India’s religion of man helped it attain the supra-rational beauty or the god within itself. The religion of humanity India developed down the millennia has it that man must be worshipped as God is. It aims at discovering and acknowledging the inherent divine potency and intrinsic superiority of man. Summing up India’s religion of man, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

Man must be sacred to man regardless of all distinction of race, creed, colour, nationality, and status, political or social advancement. The body of man is to be respected, made immune from the violence of outrage, and fortified by science against disease or preventable death. The life of man is to be held sacred also, given scope, protected from violations, from suppression, from mechanisation, from belittling influences. The mind of man is to be released from all bonds, allowed freedom and range and opportunity, given all its means of self-training and self-development and organised in the play, of its powers for the service of humanity. And all this too is not to be held as an abstract or pious sentiment but be given full and practical recognition in the presence of men and nations and mankind.
(Sri Aurobindo, ‘Religion of Humanity’, The Human Cycle – The Ideal of Human Unity – War and Self-Determination, Pondicherry, 1985, pp. 542-543)

This, speaking largely, is the idea and spirit of the intellectual religion of humanity. This is the reflection of a nation’s aspiration to elevate man into godhood and the whole earth to the kingdom of heaven or to quote Sri Aurobindo once again, “to raise the world to god in deathless light, to bring god to the world on earth we come, to change the earthly life into life divine”. (Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, Pondicherry, 1990, XI. 1, p. 692) This is the religion of India that stands above all fetters, limitations and confinements of creed, group or narrow-minded nationalism.

Individual liberty is thus the precondition to all national progress. (Bande Mataram, Calcutta, 29 April 1907). For if the individual is unduly hampered the richness of the national life suffers and is impoverished. Study of the history of nations or civilizations infers of the progress they achieved thanks to the individual or intellectual effort. The civilizations, as well as revolutions, were the works of great men. If Roman civilization was the work of Virgil, Greece also has such intellectuals as Plato or Aristotle. It was the aesthetic sense of the Greek thinkers which was more individual than communal that imparted energy to its thoughts and civilization. Thus light from the past tells, individual liberty and freedom of thought are pivotal to progress. If the individual is given free room to realize himself, to perfect, specialise and enrich his particular powers and attain the full height of his manhood variety and rapidity of national progress is immensely increased. If an individual is fettered and denied scope, the development of the nation is cramped and retarded.

Nationalism, Aurobindo believed should spring from the pure love. In an Open Letter to My Countrymen he wrote:

Our ideal of Swaraj involves no hatred of any other nation nor of the administration, which is now established by law in this country. We find a bureaucratic administration, we wish to make it democratic, we find an alien government, we wish to make it indigenous, we find a foreign control, we wish to render it Indian. We demand the realization of our corporate existence as a distinct race and nation because that is the only way in which the ultimate brotherhood of humanity can be achieved, not by blotting out individual peoples and effacing outward distinctions, but by removing internal obstacles to unity, the cause of hatred of those who mistakenly deny them”. (Karmayogin, Calcutta, 31 July 1909).

Each nation has a soul and tampering the nation’s soul would be of disastrous consequence to humanity at large. He, for example, cites how the German politics of the unification and post-unification days missed catching this point. A highly intuitive and spiritual sense would have done it, but for the madness of Bismarck tempered by military victory and the narrow national arrogance. Bismarck’s misunderstanding of Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power could well be construed as something that made him slapdash and drags Germany to many wars that followed. Had he been philosophically mature to understand what Nietzsche meant when he preferred the Will-to-Power to a mere Will-to-Live even as the latter well explained that an ascetic’s self-conquest and scientist’s intellectual conquest of the cosmos are its expressions. But an unthinking and arrogant Bismarck having taken the Nietzschean ideal of Will-to-Power for muscle power, precipitated the wars that followed.

The World Wars, Aurobindo says resulted from an undesirable rendezvous between the misunderstanding of a sublime national philosophy and a matured material science. It would be more interesting to look how the most noted philosopher-historian, Oswald Spengler scanned the Russian history to explain how the national soul of Russia struggled through the many phases of western imposition on it. Having had a strong conviction on the need of preserving the different nationalities, Spengler believed in the idea of ‘National Soul’ which he held was something spiritual. A ‘National Soul’ is the very expression of the ‘Universal Being’ which no external enforcement can stifle, he wrote. Russia proved to him the best example of a nation whose ‘National Soul’, rejecting all the external impositions, returned to its old moorings. Spengler says, on three occasions Russia has been victimised with the western influence thrust upon her by Peter the Great, by Tsar Alexander at the time of Holy Alliance, and by Lenin. Lenin, he says, could not understand the soul of Russia. Therefore “Marxism, based on a typically British man’s hatred of the rich, coupled with the Jewish memories of the Old Testament curse on manual labour, was adopted by Russia under an ardent misunderstanding”. (Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Abridged and Edited by Arthur Helps, New York, 1932, p. 386) This, Spengler believed, would not get the acceptance of the Russian national soul which is scruples combined with the sublimity of the Russian countryside piety symbolized by Dostoyevsky whom Spengler looked to as the ideal icon of Russian nationalism. But unfortunately, it was Tolstoy’s peppery Communism that took Russia’s madding crowd for a ride. Spengler had however definite reservations regarding how future Russia would react to this. He therefore prophesied that Russia would one day abandon the ideas of Tolstoy who was only a revolutionary who meant Marx when he spoke of Christ. “Dostoyevsky is the peasant” representing the Russian soul that lies in its countryside and village life while “Tolstoy was the man of western society”. Dostoyevsky had a heart that throbbed for the peasants, and a clear notion regarding a true Christianity. “His life of Christ, had he written it – as he always intended to do – would have been a genuine gospel like the gospel of primitive Christianity, which stand completely outside classical and Jewish literary forms”. He would have turned Christianity into the religion of the poor and perhaps read the ideals of Christ into the teachings of Marx – an ideal combination of the humanitarian and economic visions that would have been a desirable panacea for a humanity wearied of Sulphur-hot revolutionary slogans and a religious orthodoxy which has turned almost comic. Under Dostoyevsky’s influence, Spengler believed, Russia would produce a third phase of Christianity, priestless and founded on the gospel of St. John. He, therefore, prophesied, “to Dostoyevsky’s Christianity will the next thousand years belong”. (Spengler, p. 274.) He believed that Russia would evolve a philosophy of life suited to its national soul. The Spenglerian approbation for the ideals of Dostoyevsky reveals that he was against all superficialities and artificial lifestyles. Spengler’s prophecy resultant of his readings in Russian history proved right when Marxist edifice of the USSR fell like a pack of cards in 1989 following the Perestroika and Glasnost. More interesting was the comment of Russian Communist Party’s General Secretary Gennady Zyuganov when he saw USSR collapsing. “Jesus Christ was the first Marxist”, he said. The ideology a nation selects should be the one the soul of the nation accepts. Or at the end of the long drawn struggle, the national soul would assert itself against the ideology artificially thrust upon. Nothing should be allowed to supplant the ‘Nation-Soul’. What is needed is an enlightened mind capable of reading into the real soul of the nation.

Hence the desirability of a divine realization about the nation-soul and leading one’s own nation in line with the ethical and moral principles so that the universal unity shall be a beautiful co-existence of nations in a fraternity. Nation and world – two poles of the universal existence – serve the principle of ‘holding together of all’, Lokasamgraha. Therefore Sri Aurobindo’s exhortation in his Uttarapara Speech to see the Sanatana Dharma in identification with India’s nationalism:

This Hindu nation was born with Sanatana Dharma, with it, it moves and with it, it grows. When the Sanatana Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatana Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatana Dharma it would perish. The Sanatana Dharma, that is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you.

Because to him, a nation is the incarnation of this eternal dharma or the divine. It is “parasakti concealed in geographical entity”.

In the final analysis, humanity is one and hence the possibility of evolving a human unity through a common religion of humanity that cuts across all social divisions and communal segregations. Aurobindo envisions a religion of humanity which encompasses within itself all the people, and a world unity based on that, accommodating all the lesser aggregates like communities, nations and continents. Accepting the diversities man is to forge the unity because he is the divine of which all his fellow beings are the reflections. And this is the only law of development, though the present man, ignoring the realities tries to build castles in the air and solve riddles with artificial and superficial methods, though all these, as proved by history, proved failures. Hence the relevance of Aurobindo’s call to accept realities and make them the cornerstones of man’s future development.

Aurobindo’s vision of future is progressive and optimistic. He sees the possibility of a brighter future for the humanity and a unity of human race based on individual, freedom and a common religion of mankind. To him progress is the order of the world. The idea of human unity is more or less vaguely making its way to the front of our consciousness. (Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle – The Ideal of Human Unity – War and Self – Determination, p. 262.) He held that man believes in the constant progression of humanity, and that this progression is the working out of a thought in life. (Sri Aurobindo, Ideal and Progress, Pondicherry, 1989, p. 73).
This ideal sometimes “manifests itself on the surface and sometimes sinks below and works behind the mask of external forces and interests”. When this thought withdraws from manifestation humanity feels apparent retrogression or tardy evolution and long hours of darkness. During the time “when the thought returns to the surface humanity has its periods of light and of rapid efflorescence, its dawns and splendid springtides; and according to the depth, vitality; truth and self-effective energy of the form of thought that emerges is the importance of the stride forward that it makes during these Hours of gods in our terrestrial manifestation”. Even in the hours of thought unmanifesting on the surface, it works out behind the surface one of its phases. The ideal or the thought is always dynamic. It has an aim which even the man serving the working of a thought within him is ignorant of in his surface self. “Charlemagne hewing a chaotic Europe into shape with his sword was preparing the reign of the feudal and Catholic interpretation of human life with all that great though an obscure period of humanity has meant for the thought and spiritual development of mankind”.
(Sri Aurobindo, Ideal and Progress, p. 41).

The progress of humanity has thus been a constant revolution with its alternative darkness and light. The emergence of an idea in human thought is always the sign of an intention in nature. But this intention may not be accomplished in the near future and may even indicate an attempt predestined to temporary failure. Nature sometimes takes up an idea, half carries it out and then drops it unfinished. This, Aurobindo believes, is to resume the work in the future era in a better way. On every occasion, nature acts as a laboratory to test how far mankind is ready to take up the idea of a united humanity. According to Aurobindo “this idea of human unity is likely to figure largely among the determining forces of the future”. The developments the world hitherto gained also point to a future unity. The intellectual and material circumstances of the age have led to the scientific discoveries that have made our earth so small that its vastest kingdoms seem now no more than the provinces of a single country. Aurobindo, however, says that “it is not by social and political devices, or at any rate not by these, chiefly or only, that the unity of human race can be enduringly or fruitfully accomplished”. Only by accepting each other and by seeing oneself in everything mankind can realize this unity. The Upanishad says:

Where there is a duality, as it were,
there one sees another, there one smells another;
there one tastes another …
But where everything has become one’s own self,
then whereby and whom one should see?
Then whereby and whom one should smell?
Then whereby and whom one should taste?
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.15.).

Aurobindo’s concept of the unity is based more on his yogic experience than on the material aspects and the idea of this unity he could easily and clearly read in every worldly incident. Therefore, he says that material object becomes something different from what is seen externally. It is not a separate object on the background or in the environment of the rest of nature but an indivisible part and even in a subtle way an expression of the unity of all we see.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Pondicherry, 1984,
pp. 402-403).

The ideas of concord and the holding together of all have been stressed on by all enlightened systems of thought. The national philosophy of India cuts across the barriers of parochialism and envision a cosmopolitan existence. Even self-abnegations and self-surrender India would advocate if that would serve a universal cause. While fighting for India’s independence, Gandhiji held that freedom of India was not an end in itself, but a means towards a higher goal, a final objective. Only a free India, the Mahatma believed, can serve the humanity. He would be prepared to see India perish if that would serve the good of the world. As Coomaraswamy writes, “for the great idealists of younger India nationalism is not enough. Patriotism is parochial… there are finer parts great souls may play. India has always been tolerant and equally concerned with all others in the exploration of the thousand paths that have never yet been trodden”, says Coomaraswamy. “It is life, and not mere Indian life that claims our loyalty”. Therefore he exhorts India to throw in her lot with the world. (A.K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Siva, Delhi, 1982, p. 180.). What we need for the building up of a common civilization is the recognition of the common problems and to co-operate in their solution. It has thus been in the vision of India to see the world in oneself and to see oneself as the part of the universal whole. “When the understanding enables one to see an immutable oneness in all beings, and an undivided whole in all the manifold shapes, know that to be the true light”, says the Gita.

sarva-bhūteṣhu yenaikaṁ bhāvam avyayam īkṣhate
avibhaktaṁ vibhakteṣhu taj jñānaṁ viddhi sāttvikam.
(Gita, XVIII. 20.)

Human unity, Aurobindo says, is inevitable and must come even if it may take much time and endeavour. Aurobindo refers to some complications which nature herself introduces and which prevent the individual from standing in a pure direct relation with the totality of mankind. (Sri. Aurobindo, The Human Cycle – The Ideal of Human Unity – War and Self – Determination, p. 267.) They are the lesser aggregates which stand between the individual and the united humanity. They are partly aids as well as barriers but are the necessary steps towards the attainment of the final human unity. They are reflections of the early limitations and the later development of the human heart conceiving the idea of the small units and carries it to that of the one capable of envisioning much broader and finally an all-comprehending unity. The family, the commune, the clan or tribe, the class, the city-state or congeries of tribes, the nation, and the empire are so many stages in this progress and constant enlargement. Accept all these as realities and deem them as the building blocks of universal existence, says Aurobindo. Amalgamation and not elimination is the law of harmonious existence, opines this Indian Seer.

*Paper presented on 20 December 2017 at the Seminar on Integral Humanism organized by Bharatiya Vichara Kendram at Tivaruvanantapuram.

M. P. Ajith Kumar is Kerala State Vice-President, Unnata Vidyabhyasa Adhyapaka Sangham.


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