By Ashok Vohra
Aurobindo's philosophy is called practical philosophy because its goal is both material prosperity and spiritual perfection of an individual. Integral Yoga is the name given to his technique for achieving perfection. It is called Integral Yoga because it does not aim at self-perfection alone at the cost of complete neglect of others. It is based on the principle that true individuality is not exclusive but inclusive.
Aurobindo recognises that an individual cannot either advance materially or evolve spiritually in complete isolation. According to him society is needed at least "as a field of relations which afford to the individual his occasion for growing towards a greater perfection". Society, though imperfectly, provides the conditions for human evolution from the present imperfect state to the distant perfect state, from mind to super-mind.
Aurobindo in The Human Cycle states that there are three echelons of human existence. These are: the individual, community, and humankind in general. He argues that the 'ideal law of social development' should aim at harmonious growth of each of these. They have their own definite destinies, distinctive modes of self-consciousness, truths, their own laws of existence, needs, and laws of growth.
Though all the three are autonomous, they are also interdependent. Like Plato, Aurobindo held that there is a parallelism between individual and community as one cannot be without the other. Moreover, the individual for Aurobindo is not merely an aggregate of 'body, mind, ethical ideals and aesthetic emotions' but more than all these put together. He is essentially spiritual Self. The individual and humankind are interrelated. The individual 'is not himself, but in solidarity with all of his kind'. He has 'to live in humanity' and humanity is manifested 'in the individual'. So, individual, community, and humanity are really one integral organic whole.
However, Aurobindo argues that even in the most evolved state, the conceptual distinction between the three must be retained 'for the purpose of mass-differentiation and the concentration and combinations of varying tendencies in the total human aggregate'. What is common to them is continuous evolution. Each evolves towards perfection according to its own true nature and dharma.
Aurobindo argues that the evolution from within is far superior to external development. He says, "As free development of individuals from within is the best condition for growth and perfection of community, so free development of community or nation from within is the best condition for growth and perfection of mankind".
Aurobindo's focus is on the eternal hope that human existence is full of possibilities. It is the conviction that 'man is what he can be' and that man has an unavoidable inherent tendency towards 'self exceeding', or 'self surpassing' the goals set by him in the past.
Since the evolutionary process advocated by Aurobindo aims at a comprehensive change and not at the emergence of something new, it is laboriously slow. It is able to bring about a comprehensive change because of an element of 'involution'. This process of evolution-involution operates at three levels. Only after the lower stratum becomes sufficiently complex, the higher form emerges. Even after its emergence the higher form does not reject the lower but transforms it radically. The newer and the higher form, in turn, expands itself and is ready to evolve into a still higher emergent form. The process goes on till consciousness becomes self-consciousness and mind becomes super-mind. The super-mind, thus, integrates in itself all lower forms of consciousness.
The writer teaches philosophy at Delhi University.
Courtesy: Speaking Tree - The Times of India