Beyond Individualism

The Psychology of Transformation

by Dane Rudhyar


6. The Ideal of Social Plenitude

After a long historical period of differentiation needed for the development of the several basic types of human beings—and many more secondary types, each of them proficient in the performance of characteristic functions—one may hope for an age of synthesis. In that age, the incessant conflicts of temperament and interests which have marked the successive ascendancies of each of the main human types should be pacified and transcended; peace and harmony should reign among assuaged individuals at last aware of the interrelatedness and interdependence of all the individualized forms and modes of activity mankind has been able to develop.

We assuredly cannot be certain that this potential and expectable phase of synthesis in the evolution of human societies will be experienced in a world deeply disturbed, but also dynamized, by the global impact of our Western civilization; the coming generations may witness a catastrophic miscarriage, or even accept the necessity of an abortion, should a monstrous future be expectable. Moreover, we cannot say what form a peaceful and all-inclusive global society would take, if it is relatively smoothly born; yet many visionary minds have tried to formulate, at least along broad lines, what form it should take, according to their own ideal of human fulfillment. The name given to these ideal forms of society is Utopia.

Utopias have a profound meaning and value as catalytic agents. To the alert and aware mind they show what direction the evolution of humanity might take if certain principles of organization were successful in polarizing and unifying the hopes and the wills of the most dynamic individuals now living or about to be born. Because the utopia-builders do not completely agree on what these principles should be, the Utopias present us with alternatives. They help us realize what our particular philosophies of existence and our approaches to individual problems imply, once they are brought into concrete form and generalized as collective ways of life. And if our minds are concerned with the practical, social, political, cultural, and religious realities now existing all over the globe, these Utopian ideals force us to consider the manner in which they could become actualities.

What is possible tomorrow depends upon what the many yesterdays have brought to the present world-situation. Our endeavor to actualize the possible future is also inevitably conditioned by the kind of interpretation we have given to the tumultuous events and the often tragic conflicts of past centuries. This in turn depends on the way our minds conceive the whole process of human evolution on our planet—its initial phases giving a clue to its probable conclusion, if we believe in an ordered and significant world-process.

a. Materialistic and Spirit-Oriented Utopias

If we think of the development of mankind in purely materialistic terms and we see it taking place in an exclusively physical universe in which force acts against force and rigid laws prevail in a manner essentially definable by our rational intellect, then the utopia we imagine may well be one of the Marxist-type implying a kind of leveling down of mankind into a classless society dominated by problems of productivity and material organization. It may also be the type of technocratic utopia imagined by a scientific mentality glorifying the empiricism and intellectualism of our Western society and, deliberately or not, leading to the totalitarian rule of a class of managers, engineers, biologists, psychologists and medical men attempting to build a 'perfect' type of human beings and an environment befitting their concept of flawless functioning and total health, happiness and prosperity. Whether such a concept could become actualized in a viable society living in a healthful biosphere is, of course, a question that no one can answer; no more than one can deduce from what has happened in Soviet Russia and China whether the pure Communist ideal would ever be possible, considering the manner in which egocentrically individualized human beings act today. [Written in 1978, before the breakup of the Soviet Union and the end of the Maoist regime.]

At the other end of the philosophical spectrum, we have what could be called the 'spiritual' Utopias based on the idea that man is essentially a spiritual being operating in and through a physical organism, but not necessarily bound by or even consciously attached to it. While the materialistic Utopias tend to stress the collective factor in human development—or at least the concept of objectivity—the spiritual philosopher and mystically inclined person emphasize the individual and his subjective experiences that reveal the possibility of the endless superphysical development of a spiritual 'essence', a permanent 'I'-consciousness. There are several basic kinds of spiritual philosophies, some attempting to present a 'monistic' approach usually leading to an explicit, or at least implicit, kind of theistic religion; others giving a 'pluralistic' and either 'personalistic' or 'monadic' type of spiritual foundation to the universe. Each of these philosophical or metaphysical approaches could lead to a Utopian ideal of society; and I can only mention here the kind of Utopia which the great Indian seer-philosopher, poet, and yogi—Sri Aurobindo—envisioned at the close of his most impressive work, The Life Divine.(1)

In the last chapters of the book, "The Gnostic Individual" and "The Gnostic Life", Aurobindo evoked the emergence of "gnostic" individuals totally consecrated to, and manifesting in their transformed personalities the "supermental Truth" and radiance of Ishvara—the unitary Source of our universe. He foresaw the emergence of "gnostic communities" formed by such individuals. After his death, his companion and associate in the 'great work' of human transformation, Mother Mira, actually started what is meant to become such a community in Auroville, near Pondicherry, India—and the work is slowly proceeding since her passing away.

Aurobindo's vision of a "supermental or gnostic race of beings" is most inspiring. "The gnostic individual would be the consummation of the spiritual man; his whole way of being, thinking, living, acting would be governed by the power of a vast universal spirituality. . . . All his existence would be fused into oneness with the transcendent and universal Self and Spirit; all his action would originate from and obey the Supreme Self and Spirit's divine governance of Nature. . . . All beings would be to him his own selves, all ways and powers of consciousness would be felt as the ways and powers of his own universality." Yet Aurobindo also adds that "a supramental or gnostic race of beings would not be a race made according to a single type, molded by a single fixed pattern, for the law of the supermind is unity fulfilled in diversity. Therefore there would be an infinite diversity in the manifestation of the gnostic consciousness, although this consciousness would still be one in its basis, in its constitution, in its all-revealing and all-uniting order."(2)

Sri Aurobindo briefly indicates that in the process of actualizing such an ideal of "divine living", there would be people still unable to reach such a gnostic state, clinging to what he calls "the Ignorance", the dark realm of egos, conflicts and frustrations, but so far as I know he did not present a clear picture of what would be the relationship between the different levels of beings, nor did he outline what might be the transitional structure of a society that, in time, would lead to such a world-wide gnostic humanity. This is the problem that Indian metaphysicians and seers have been unready or unwilling to tackle, so strong has been, for millennia, their one-pointed concentration on the spiritual development of the individual.

Today, however, and from the point of view I have taken in this book, it is important to interpret this characteristically Indian approach in terms of the relationship between socio-cultural and individual factors—that is, between the collective and the individual polarities in human existence. In proclaiming the supremacy of the 'liberated' individual spirit and its identity with the universal Self, the seers of the Upanishad period sought a psychological way to compensate for, and in a sense neutralize the collectivistic pressure of a society that, since the Brahmin caste had come to control it (after the famous and more or less mythical War, the end of which traditionally marked the beginning of Kali Yuga), had become rigidly planned and ritualized in the extreme. Whenever and wherever the collective factor overpowerfully dominates an existential situation, sooner or later the individual factor has to assert itself, and it asserts itself in a manner which befits the character of the people involved.

Because, in pre-Buddhist India, the rationalistic, analytical, and objective mind (the functions of the third order) had not yet developed to any real degree of effectiveness—except in special and isolated cases—the psychological compensation for the crystallizing and binding collectivism of the Indian society had to take the form of withdrawal into a subjective and mystical state of consciousness. Also, because the power of biological urges was very strong in tropical India, it had to be controlled by physical disciplines; these disciplines, broadly covered by the term 'yoga', were devised for the use of individuals and related to the development of subjective experiences. Yoga represents an essentially, and in many instances totally, individualized mode of existence utterly consecrated to the one supreme Individual, Ishvara; and, as I have previously mentioned, Ishvara (or Ish) is the unity aspect of the cosmos, its original condition or Source.

When, in the Europe of the early Renaissance, a profound movement of revolt against the oppressive dogmatism of the Medieval Catholic order spread, it could use as leverage the ancient background of the Greek rationalism and objectivism.

Greek culture had stressed the value of the concrete, objective experience of the Beautiful; it had worshipped reason and a sense of proportion (thus of formal relationship) and to some extent developed the analytical power of the human intellect. For this reason, and also because the Church powerfully claimed complete control over whatever referred to a transcendental religious concept of spirituality, the individualistic revolt against Medieval collectivism turned into a glorification of the rational and analytical intellect, of scientific empiricism and materialistic technology.

A rationalistic individualism seeks to prove its validity by objective reasons and experimental facts which the collective mentality has to accept because it can use them to increase its material well-being. On the other hand, a mystical kind of individualism gains strength and finds its apotheosis in subjective experiences in which the human individual identifies himself in consciousness with the cosmic Individual, the supreme Self. It is evident that such experiences of identification generate a power and charisma that fascinates the collective mind; and now our scientists and psychologists are busy quantitatively measuring and trying to find an intellectual explanation for what takes place in the body and the psyche when such mystical experiences occur. The experiences occur when the centralizing individual factor in the consciousness of human beings almost completely overpowers the socio-cultural and organic-biological collective factor in human nature, allowing the consciousness to be fully attuned to that of the universal Self, center of the universal Whole. If the 'overpowering' were total, what we interpret as 'reaching Nirvana' would occur.

A purely 'gnostic' humanity would represent humanity at the threshold of Nirvana, or what Teilhard de Chardin envisioned as the omega state of total union with Christ, the divine Individual. This may be the final consummation of humanity, the "Seventh Race . . . a Race of Buddhas and Christs" of which H. P. Blavatsky speaks in The Secret Doctrine. But it seems quite impossible to conceive of such a consummation except in the most distant future, and I would add, most likely on a transphysicalized Earth.

Sri Aurobindo's gnostic ideal should therefore be thought of as being a goal applicable in any foreseeable future only to 'gnostic communities'. These, if they succeed in maintaining their existence at a level at least approximating the vision of the great Indian seer, could influence the surrounding masses of mankind and act as a new kind of 'apostolic Brotherhood'; but the rigor of the commitment implied in Aurobindo's, integral (purna) yoga (which can be translated as plenary identification through total self-surrender to the Divine) may throw some doubt on the successful exteriorization of such a spiritual ideal on a wide scale unless some unprecedented (but most likely) cataclysmic process of planet-wide transformation occurs.

1. The contents of this work appeared in their original form in a long series of essays published in the magazine Arya, begun in 1914. A revised edition appeared in New York in 1950, and it is now included in the monumental series of some thirty volumes constituting the complete works of Sri Aurobindo (Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India).   Return

2. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (original edition) pp. 862-863, Chp. 27, "The Gnostic Being".   Return

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