The Spiritual Evolution of Society


By Sri Aurobindo


The Human Cycle:

The Psychology of Social Development

Paperback, 280 pages

Lotus Press, 1999

ISBN-10: 0914955446

ISBN-13: 978-0914955443


Book excerpt


A greater Mind may see a greater Truth,

Or we may find when all the rest has failed

Hid in ourselves the key of perfect change.

— Sri Aurobindo


1 Reason and religion


The action of the intelligence is not only turned downward and outward upon our

subjective and external life to understand it and determine the law and order of its

present movement and its future potentialities. It has also an upward and inward eye

and a more luminous functioning by which it accepts divinations from the hidden

eternities. It is opened in this power of vision to a Truth above it from which it derives,

however imperfectly and as from behind a veil, an indirect knowledge of the universal

principles of our existence and its possibilities; it receives and turns what it can seize of

them into intellectual forms and these provide us with large governing ideas by which

our efforts can be shaped and around which they can be concentrated or massed; it

defines the ideals which we seek to accomplish. It provides us with the great ideas that

are forces (idées forces), ideas which in their own strength impose themselves upon our

life and compel it into their moulds. Only the forms we give these ideas are intellectual;

they themselves descend from a plane of truth of being where knowledge and force are

one, the idea and the power of self-fulfilment in the idea are inseparable.


Unfortunately, when translated into the forms of our intelligence which acts only by a

separating and combining analysis and synthesis and into the effort of our life which

advances by a sort of experimental and empirical seeking, these powers become disparate

and conflicting ideals which we have all the difficulty in the world to bring into

any kind of satisfactory harmony. Such are the primary principles of liberty and order,

good, beauty and truth, the ideal of power and the ideal of love, individualism and collectivism,

self-denial and self-fulfilment and a hundred others. In each sphere of human

life, in each part of our being and our action the intellect presents us with the

opposition of a number of such master ideas and such conflicting principles. It finds

each to be a truth to which something essential in our being responds,— in our higher

nature a law, in our lower nature an instinct. It seeks to fulfil each in turn, builds a system

of action round it and goes from one to the other and back again to what it has left.

Or it tries to combine them but is contented with none of the combinations it has made

because none brings about their perfect reconciliation or their satisfied oneness. That

indeed belongs to a larger and higher consciousness, not yet attained by mankind,

where these opposites are ever harmonised and even unified because in their origin

they are eternally one.


This truth is hidden from the rationalist because he is supported by two constant articles

of faith, first that his own reason is right and the reason of others who differ from

him is wrong, and secondly that whatever may be the present deficiencies of the human

intellect, the collective human reason will eventually arrive at purity and be able

to found human thought and life securely on a clear rational basis entirely satisfying to

the intelligence. His first article of faith is no doubt the common expression of our ego-ism

and arrogant fallibility, but it is also something more; it expresses this truth that it

is the legitimate function of the reason to justify to man his action and his hope and

the faith that is in him and to give him that idea and knowledge, however restricted,

and that dynamic conviction, however narrow and intolerant, which he needs in order

that he may live, act and grow in the highest light available to him.


The reason cannot grasp all truth in its embrace because truth is too infinite for it; but

still it does grasp the something of it which we immediately need, and its insufficiency

does not detract from the value of its work, but is rather the measure of its value. For

man is not intended to grasp the whole truth of his being at once, but to move towards

it through a succession of experiences and a constant, though not by any means a perfectly

continuous self-enlargement. The first business of reason then is to justify and

enlighten to him his various experiences and to give him faith and conviction in holding

on to his self-enlargings. It justifies to him now this, now that, the experience of the

moment, the receding light of the past, the half-seen vision of the future. Its inconstancy,

its divisibility against itself, its power of sustaining opposite views are the whole

secret of its value. It would not do indeed for it to support too conflicting views in the

same individual, except at moments of awakening and transition, but in the collective

body of men and in the successions of Time that is its whole business. For so man

moves towards the infinity of the Truth by the experience of its variety; so his reason

helps him to build, change, destroy what he has built and prepare a new construction,

in a word, to progress, grow, enlarge himself in his self-knowledge and world-knowledge

and their works.


The second article of faith of the believer in reason is also an error and yet contains a

truth. The reason cannot arrive at any final truth because it can neither get to the root

of things nor embrace the totality of their secrets; it deals with the finite, the separate,

the limited aggregate, and has no measure for the all and the infinite. Nor can reason

found a perfect life for man or a perfect society. A purely rational human life would be

a life baulked and deprived of its most powerful dynamic sources; it would be a substitution

of the minister for the sovereign. A purely rational society could not come into

being and, if it could be born, either could not live or would sterilise and petrify human

existence. The root powers of human life, its intimate causes are below, irrational, and

they are above, suprarational. But this is true that by constant enlargement, purification,

openness the reason of man is bound to arrive at an intelligent sense even of that

which is hidden from it, a power of passive, yet sympathetic reflection of the Light that

surpasses it. Its limit is reached, its function is finished when it can say to man, “There

is a Soul, a Self, a God in the world and in man who works concealed and all is his self-concealing

and gradual self-unfolding. His minister I have been, slowly to unseal your

eyes, remove the thick integuments of your vision until there is only my own luminous

veil between you and him. Remove that and make the soul of man one in fact and nature

with this Divine; then you will know yourself, discover the highest and widest law

of your being, become the possessors or at least the receivers and instruments of a

higher will and knowledge than mine and lay hold at last on the true secret and the

whole sense of a human and yet divine living.”


The limitations of the reason become very strikingly, very characteristically, very nakedly

apparent when it is confronted with that great order of psychological truths and

experiences which we have hitherto kept in the background — the religious being of

man and his religious life. Here is a realm at which the intellectual reason gazes with

the bewildered mind of a foreigner who hears a language of which the words and the

spirit are unintelligible to him and sees everywhere forms of life and principles of

thought and action which are absolutely strange to his experience. He may try to learn

this speech and understand this strange and alien life; but it is with pain and difficulty,

and he cannot succeed unless he has, so to speak, unlearned himself and become one in

spirit and nature with the natives of this celestial empire. Till then his efforts to under-stand

and interpret them in his own language and according to his own notions end at

the worst in a gross misunderstanding and deformation. The attempts of the positive

critical reason to dissect the phenomena of the religious life sound to men of spiritual

experience like the prattle of a child who is trying to shape into the mould of his own

habitual notions the life of adults or the blunders of an ignorant mind which thinks fit

to criticise patronisingly or adversely the labours of a profound thinker or a great

scientist. At the best even this futile labour can extract, can account for only the externals

of the things it attempts to explain; the spirit is missed, the inner matter is left

out, and as a result of that capital omission even the account of the externals is left

without real truth and has only an apparent correctness.


The unaided intellectual reason faced with the phenomena of the religious life is naturally

apt to adopt one of two attitudes, both of them shallow in the extreme, hastily

presumptuous and erroneous. Either it views the whole thing as a mass of superstition,

a mystical nonsense, a farrago of ignorant barbaric survivals,— that was the extreme

spirit of the rationalist now happily, though not dead, yet much weakened and almost

moribund,— or it patronises religion, tries to explain its origins, to get rid of it by the

process of explaining it away; or it labours gently or forcefully to reject or correct its

superstitions, crudities, absurdities, to purify it into an abstract nothingness or persuade

it to purify itself in the light of the reasoning intelligence; or it allows it a role,

leaves it perhaps for the edification of the ignorant, admits its value as a moralising

influence or its utility to the State for keeping the lower classes in order, even perhaps

tries to invent that strange chimera, a rational religion.


The former attitude has on its positive side played a powerful part in the history of

human thought, has even been of a considerable utility in its own way ... to human

progress and in the end even to religion; but its intolerant negations are an arrogant

falsity, as the human mind has now sufficiently begun to perceive. Its mistake is like

that of a foreigner who thinks everything in an alien country absurd and inferior be-cause

these things are not his own ways of acting and thinking and cannot be cut out

by his own measures or suited to his own standards. So the thoroughgoing rationalist

asks the religious spirit, if it is to stand, to satisfy the material reason and even to give

physical proof of its truths, while the very essence of religion is the discovery of the

immaterial Spirit and the play of a supraphysical consciousness. So too he tries to judge

religion by his idea of its externalities, just as an ignorant and obstreperous foreigner

might try to judge a civilisation by the dress, outward colour of life and some of the

most external peculiarities in the social manners of the inhabitants. That in this he errs

in company with certain of the so-called religious themselves, may be his excuse, but

cannot be the justification of his ignorance....


The deepest heart, the inmost essence of religion, apart from its outward machinery of

creed, cult, ceremony and symbol, is the search for God and the finding of God. Its aspiration

is to discover the Infinite, the Absolute, the One, the Divine, who is all these

things and yet no abstraction but a Being. Its work is a sincere living out of the true and

intimate relations between man and God, relations of unity, relations of difference, relations

of an illuminated knowledge, an ecstatic love and delight, an absolute surrender

and service, a casting of every part of our existence out of its normal status into an

uprush of man towards the Divine and a descent of the Divine into man. All this has

nothing to do with the realm of reason or its normal activities; its aim, its sphere, its

process is suprarational. The knowledge of God is not to be gained by weighing the

feeble arguments of reason for or against his existence: it is to be gained only by a self-transcending

and absolute consecration, aspiration and experience.


Nor does that experience proceed by anything like rational scientific experiment or

rational philosophic thinking. Even in those parts of religious discipline which seem

most to resemble scientific experiment, the method is a verification of things which

exceed the reason and its timid scope. Even in those parts of religious knowledge which

seem most to resemble intellectual operations, the illuminating faculties are not imagination,

logic and rational judgment, but revelations, inspirations, intuitions, intuitive

discernments that leap down to us from a plane of suprarational light. The love of

God is an infinite and absolute feeling which does not admit of any rational limitation

and does not use a language of rational worship and adoration; the delight in God is

that peace and bliss which passes all understanding. The surrender to God is the surrender

of the whole being to a suprarational light, will, power and love and his service

takes no account of the compromises with life which the practical reason of man uses

as the best part of its method in the ordinary conduct of mundane existence. Wherever

religion really finds itself, wherever it opens itself to its own spirit,— there is plenty of

that sort of religious practice which is halting, imperfect, half-sincere, only half-sure of

itself and in which reason can get in a word,— its way is absolute and its fruits are ineffable.

Reason has indeed a part to play in relation to this highest field of our religious being

and experience, but that part is quite secondary and subordinate. It cannot lay down

the law for the religious life, it cannot determine in its own right the system of divine

knowledge; it cannot school and lesson the divine love and delight; it cannot set

bounds to spiritual experience or lay its yoke upon the action of the spiritual man. Its

sole legitimate sphere is to explain as best it can, in its own language and to the ration-al

and intellectual parts of man, the truths, the experiences, the laws of our suprarational

and spiritual existence. That has been the work of spiritual philosophy in the

East and — much more crudely and imperfectly done — of theology in the West, a work

of great importance at moments like the present when the intellect of mankind after a

long wandering is again turning towards the search for the Divine. Here there must

inevitably enter a part of those operations proper to the intellect, logical reasoning,

inferences from the data given by rational experience, analogies drawn from our know-ledge

of the apparent facts of existence, appeals even to the physical truths of science,

all the apparatus of the intelligent mind in its ordinary workings. But this is the weakest

part of spiritual philosophy. It convinces the rational mind only where the intellect

is already predisposed to belief, and even if it convinces, it cannot give the true knowledge.


Reason is safest when it is content to take the profound truths and experiences

of the spiritual being and the spiritual life, just as they are given to it, and throw them

into such form, order and language as will make them the most intelligible or the least

unintelligible to the reasoning mind. Even then it is not quite safe, for it is apt to harden

the order into an intellectual system and to present the form as if it were the essence.

And, at best, it has to use a language which is not the very tongue of the suprarational

truth but its inadequate translation and, since it is not the ordinary tongue either

of the rational intelligence, it is open to non-understanding or misunderstanding

by the ordinary reason of mankind. It is well-known to the experience of the spiritual

seeker that even the highest philosophising cannot give a true inner knowledge, is not

the spiritual light, does not open the gates of experience. All it can do is to address the

consciousness of man through his intellect and, when it has done, to say, “I have tried

to give you the truth in a form and system which will make it intelligible and possible

to you; if you are intellectually convinced or attracted, you can now seek the real

knowledge, but you must seek it by other means which are beyond my province.”


But there is another level of the religious life in which reason might seem justified in

interfering more independently and entitled to assume a superior role. For as there is

the suprarational life in which religious aspiration finds entirely what it seeks, so too

there is also the infrarational life of the instincts, impulses, sensations, crude emotions,

vital activities from which all human aspiration takes its beginning. These too feel the

touch of the religious sense in man, share its needs and experience, desire its satisfactions.

Religion includes this satisfaction also in its scope, and in what is usually called

religion it seems even to be the greater part, sometimes to an external view almost the

whole; for the supreme purity of spiritual experience does not appear or is glimpsed

only through this mixed and turbid current. Much impurity, ignorance, superstition,

many doubtful elements must form as the result of this contact and union of our highest

tendencies with our lower ignorant nature. Here it would seem that reason has its

legitimate part; here surely it can intervene to enlighten, purify, rationalise the play of

the instincts and impulses. It would seem that a religious reformation, a movement to

substitute a “pure” and rational religion for one that is largely infrarational and impure,

would be a distinct advance in the religious development of humanity. To a certain

extent this may be, but, owing to the peculiar nature of the religious being, its

entire urge towards the suprarational, not without serious qualifications, nor can the

rational mind do anything here that is of a high positive value.


Religious forms and systems become effete and corrupt and have to be destroyed, or

they lose much of their inner sense and become clouded in knowledge and injurious in

practice, and in destroying what is effete or in negating aberrations reason has played

an important part in religious history. But in its endeavour to get rid of the superstition

and ignorance which have attached themselves to religious forms and symbols,

intellectual reason unenlightened by spiritual knowledge tends to deny and, so far as it

can, to destroy the truth and the experience which was contained in them.... The life

of the instincts and impulses on its religious side cannot be satisfyingly purified by reason,

but rather by being sublimated, by being lifted up into the illuminations of the spirit.

The natural line of religious development proceeds always by illumination; and

religious reformation acts best when either it re-illuminates rather than destroys old

forms or, where destruction is necessary, replaces them by richer and not by poorer

forms, and in any case when it purifies by suprarational illumination, not by rational



2 The long ethical road


Religion is the seeking after the spiritual, the suprarational and therefore in this sphere

the intellectual reason may well be an insufficient help and find itself, not only at the

end but from the beginning, out of its province and condemned to tread either diffidently

or else with a stumbling presumptuousness in the realm of a power and a light

higher than its own. But in the other spheres of human consciousness and human activity

it may be thought that it has the right to the sovereign place, since these move

on the lower plane of the rational and the finite or belong to that border-land where

the rational and the infrarational meet and the impulses and the instincts of man stand

in need above all of the light and the control of the reason. In its own sphere of finite

knowledge, science, philosophy, the useful arts, its right, one would think, must be indisputable.

But this does not turn out in the end to be true. Its province may be larger,

its powers more ample, its action more justly self-confident, but in the end everywhere

it finds itself standing between the two other powers of our being and fulfilling in

greater or less degree the same function of an intermediary. On one side it is an enlightener

— not always the chief enlightener — and the corrector of our life-impulses and

first mental seekings, on the other it is only one minister of the veiled Spirit and a preparer

of the paths for the coming of its rule.


All active being is a seeking for God, a seeking for some highest self and deepest Reality

secret within, behind and above ourselves and things, a seeking for the hidden Divinity:

the truth which we glimpse through religion, lies concealed behind all life; it is

the great secret of life, that which it is in labour to discover and to make real to its self-knowledge.

The seeking for God is also, subjectively, the seeking for our highest, truest, fullest,

largest self. It is the seeking for a Reality which the appearances of life conceal because

they only partially express it or because they express it from behind veils and figures,

by oppositions and contraries, often by what seem to be perversions and opposites of

the Real. It is the seeking for something whose completeness comes only by a concrete

and all-occupying sense of the Infinite and Absolute; it can be established in its integrality

only by finding a value of the infinite in all finite things and by the attempt —

necessary, inevitable, however impossible or paradoxical it may seem to the normal

reason — to raise all relativities to their absolutes and to reconcile their differences,

oppositions and contraries by elevation and sublimation to some highest term in which

all these are unified.


Some perfect highest term there is by which all our imperfect lower terms can be justified

and their discords harmonised if once we can induce them to be its conscious expressions,

to exist not for themselves but for That, as contributory values of that highest Truth,

fractional measures of that highest and largest common measure. A One there is in

which all the entangled discords of this multiplicity of separated, conflicting,

intertwining, colliding ideas, forces, tendencies, instincts, impulses, aspects, appearances

which we call life, can find the unity of their diversity, the harmony of their divergences,

the justification of their claims, the correction of their perversions and aberrations,

the solution of their problems and disputes. Knowledge seeks for that in order that Life

may know its own true meaning and transform itself into the highest and most harmonious

possible expression of a divine Reality.


All seeks for that, each power feels out for it in its own way: the infrarational gropes for it

blindly along the line of its instincts, needs, impulses; the rational lays for it its trap of logic and order,

follows out and gathers together its diversities, analyses them in order to synthetise;

the suprarational gets behind and above things and into their inmost parts, there to

touch and lay hands on the Reality itself in its core and essence and enlighten all its

infinite detail from that secret centre.


This truth comes most easily home to us in Religion and in Art, in the cult of the spiritual

and in the cult of the beautiful, because there we get away most thoroughly from

the unrestful pressure of the outward appearances of life, the urgent siege of its necessities,

the deafening clamour of its utilities.... But in other spheres of life, in the

spheres of what by an irony of our ignorance we call especially practical life,— al-though,

if the Divine be our true object of search and realisation, our normal conduct

in them and our current idea of them is the very opposite of practical,— we are less

ready to recognise the universal truth. We take a long time to admit it even partially in

theory, we are seldom ready at all to follow it in practice. And we find this difficulty

because there especially, in all our practical life, we are content to be the slaves of an

outward Necessity and think ourselves always excused when we admit as the law of our

thought, will and action the yoke of immediate and temporary utilities. Yet even there

we must arrive eventually at the highest truth. We shall find out in the end that our

daily life and our social existence are not things apart, are not another field of existence

with another law than the inner and ideal. On the contrary, we shall never find

out their true meaning or resolve their harsh and often agonising problems until we

learn to see in them a means towards the discovery and the individual and collective

expression of our highest and, because our highest, therefore our truest and fullest self,

our largest most imperative principle and power of existence. All life is only a lavish

and manifold opportunity given us to discover, realise, express the Divine.


It is in our ethical being that this truest truth of practical life, its real and highest practicality

becomes most readily apparent. It is true that the rational man has tried to reduce

the ethical life like all the rest to a matter of reason, to determine its nature, its law,

its practical action by some principle of reason, by some law of reason. He has never

really succeeded and he never can really succeed; his appearances of success are

mere pretences of the intellect building elegant and empty constructions with words

and ideas, mere conventions of logic and vamped-up syntheses, in sum, pretentious

failures which break down at the first strenuous touch of reality....


The ethical being ... is a law to itself and finds its principle in its own eternal nature

which is not in its essential character a growth of evolving mind, even though it may

seem to be that in its earthly history, but a light from the ideal, a reflection in man of

the Divine....


There is only one safe rule for the ethical man, to stick to his principle of good, his instinct

for good, his vision of good, his intuition of good and to govern by that his conduct.

He may err, but he will be on his right road in spite of all stumblings, because he will be

faithful to the law of his nature. The saying of the Gita is always true; better is

the law of one’s own nature though ill-performed, dangerous is an alien law however

speciously superior it may seem to our reason. But the law of nature of the ethical being

is the pursuit of good; it can never be the pursuit of utility. Neither is its law the

pursuit of pleasure high or base, nor self-satisfaction of any kind, however subtle or

even spiritual.


In the outward history of our ascent this does not at first appear clearly, does not appear

perhaps at all: there the evolution of man in society may seem to be the determining

cause of his ethical evolution. For ethics only begins by the demand upon him of

something other than his personal preference, vital pleasure or material self-interest;

and this demand seems at first to work on him through the necessity of his relations

with others, by the exigencies of his social existence. But that this is not the core of the

matter, is shown by the fact that the ethical demand does not always square with the

social demand, nor the ethical standard always coincide with the social standard. On

the contrary, the ethical man is often called upon to reject and do battle with the social

demand, to break, to move away from, to reverse the social standard. His relations with

others and his relations with himself are both of them the occasions of his ethical

growth; but that which determines his ethical being is his relations with God, the urge

of the Divine upon him whether concealed in his nature or conscious in his higher self

or inner genius. He obeys an inner ideal, not an outer standard; he answers to a divine

law in his being, not to a social claim or a collective necessity. The ethical imperative

comes not from around, but from within him and above him.


It has been felt and said from of old that the laws of right, the laws of perfect conduct

are the laws of the gods, eternal beyond, laws that man is conscious of and summoned

to obey. The age of reason has scouted this summary account of the matter as a superstition

or a poetical imagination which the nature and history of the world contradict.

But still there is a truth in this ancient superstition or imagination which the rational

denial of it misses and the rational confirmations of it, whether Kant’s categorical imperative

or another, do not altogether restore. If man’s conscience is a creation of his

evolving nature, if his conceptions of ethical law are mutable and depend on his stage

of evolution, yet at the root of them there is something constant in all their mutations

which lies at the very roots of his own nature and of world-nature. And if Nature in

man and the world is in its beginnings infraethical as well as infrarational, as it is at its

summit supraethical as well as suprarational, yet in that infraethical there is something

which becomes in the human plane of being the ethical, and that supraethical is itself a

consummation of the ethical and cannot be reached by any who have not trod the long

ethical road....


Our ethical impulses and activities begin like all the rest in the infrarational and take

their rise from the subconscient. They arise as an instinct of right, an instinct of obedience

to an ununderstood law, an instinct of self-giving in labour, an instinct of sacrifice

and self-sacrifice, an instinct of love, of self-subordination and of solidarity with

others. Man obeys the law at first without any inquiry into the why and the wherefore;

he does not seek for it a sanction in the reason. His first thought is that it is a law

created by higher powers than himself and his race.... What the instincts and impulses

seek after, the reason labours to make us understand, so that the will may come to use

the ethical impulses intelligently and turn the instincts into ethical ideas. It corrects

man’s crude and often erring misprisions of the ethical instinct, separates and purifies

his confused associations, shows as best it can the relations of his often clashing moral

ideals, tries to arbitrate and compromise between their conflicting claims, arranges a

system and many-sided rule of ethical action. And all this is well, a necessary stage of

our advance; but in the end these ethical ideas and this intelligent ethical will which it

has tried to train to its control, escape from its hold and soar up beyond its province.

Always, even when enduring its rein and curb, they have that inborn tendency.


For the ethical being like the rest is a growth and a seeking towards the absolute, the

divine, which can only be attained securely in the suprarational.... The reason is chiefly

concerned with what it best understands, the apparent process, the machinery, the

outward act, its result and effect, its circumstance, occasion and motive; by these it

judges the morality of the action and the morality of the doer. But the developed ethical

being knows instinctively that it is an inner something which it seeks and the out-ward

act is only a means of bringing out and manifesting within ourselves by its

psychological effects that inner absolute and eternal entity. The value of our actions

lies not so much in their apparent nature and outward result as in their help towards

the growth of the Divine within us. It is difficult, even impossible to justify upon out-ward

grounds the absolute justice, absolute right, absolute purity, love or selflessness

of an action or course of action; for action is always relative, it is mixed and uncertain

in its results, perplexed in its occasions. But it is possible to relate the inner being to

the eternal and absolute good, to make our sense and will full of it so as to act out of its

impulsion or its intuitions and inspirations. That is what the ethical being labours to-wards

and the higher ethical man increasingly attains to in his inner efforts. (151–154)


3 The truth behind life


Life has begun from an involution of the spiritual truth of things in what seems to be

its opposite. Spiritual experience tells us that there is a Reality which supports and

pervades all things as the Cosmic Self and Spirit, can be discovered by the individual

even here in the terrestrial embodiment as his own self and spirit, and is, at its summits

and in its essence, an infinite and eternal self-existent Being, Consciousness and Bliss of

existence. But what we seem to see as the source and beginning of the material universe

is just the contrary — it wears to us the aspect of a Void, an infinite of Non-Existence,

an indeterminate Inconscient, an insensitive blissless Zero out of which everything

has yet to come. When it begins to move, evolve, create, it puts on the appearance

of an inconscient Energy which delivers existence out of the Void in the form of

an infinitesimal fragmentation,— and out of this fragmentation builds up a formed and

concrete universe in the void of its Infinite.


Yet we see that this unconscious Energy does at every step the works of a vast and

minute Intelligence fixing and combining every possible device to prepare, manage and

work out the paradox and miracle of Matter and the awakening of a life and a spirit in

Matter; existence grows out of the Void, consciousness emerges and increases out of

the Inconscient, an ascending urge towards pleasure, happiness, delight, divine bliss

and ecstasy is inexplicably born out of an insensitive Nihil. These phenomena already

betray the truth, which we discover when we grow aware in our depths, that the Inconscient

is only a mask and within it is the Upanishad’s “Conscient in unconscious

things”. In the beginning, says the Veda, was the ocean of inconscience and out of it

That One arose into birth by his greatness,— by the might of his self-manifesting Energy.

But the Inconscient, if a mask, is an effective mask of the Spirit; it imposes on the

evolving life and soul the law of a difficult emergence. Life and consciousness, no less

than Matter, obey in their first appearance the law of fragmentation. Life organises

itself physically round the plasm, the cell, psychologically round the small separative

fragmentary ego. Consciousness itself has to concentrate its small beginnings in a poor

surface formation and hide behind the veil of this limited surface existence the depths

and infinities of its own being. It has to grow slowly in an external formulation till it is

ready to break the crust between this petty outer figure of ourselves, which we think to

be the whole, and the concealed self within us. Even the spiritual being seems to obey

this law of fragmentation and manifest as a unit in the whole a spark of itself that

evolves into an individual psyche. It is this little ego, this fragmented consciousness,

this concealed soul-spark on which is imposed the task of meeting and striving with

the forces of the universe, entering into contact with all that seems to it not itself, in-creasing

under the pressure of inner and outer Nature till it can become one with all

existence. It has to grow into self-knowledge and world-knowledge, to get within itself

and discover that it is a spiritual being, to get outside of itself and discover its larger

truth as the cosmic Individual, to get beyond itself and know and live in some supreme

Being, Consciousness and Bliss of existence.


For this immense task it is equipped only with the instruments of its original Ignor-ance.

Its limited being is the cause of all the difficulty, discord, struggle, division that

mars life. The limitation of its consciousness, unable to dominate or assimilate the contacts

of the universal Energy, is the cause of all its suffering, pain and sorrow. Its limited

power of consciousness formulated in an ignorant will unable to grasp or follow

the right law of its life and action is the cause of all its error, wrongdoing and evil.

There is no other true cause; for all apparent causes are themselves circumstance and

result of this original sin of the being. Only when it rises and widens out of this limited

separative consciousness into the oneness of the liberated Spirit, can it escape from

these results of its growth out of the Inconscience.


If we see this as the truth behind Life, we can understand at once why it has had to follow

its present curve of ignorant self-formulation. But also we see what through it all it

is obscurely seeking, trying to grasp and form, feeling out for in its own higher impulses

and deepest motives, and why these are in it — useless, perturbing and chimerical

if it were only an animal product of inconscient Nature,— these urgings towards

self-discovery, mastery, unity, freedom from its lower self, spiritual release

out of its first involved condition in Matter and in plant life, effecting a first imperfect

organised consciousness in the animal it arrives in man, the mental being, at the possibility

of a new, a conscious evolution which will bring it to its goal and at a certain

stage of his development it wakes in him the overmastering impulse to pass on from

mental to spiritual being.


Life cannot arrive at its secret ultimates by following its first infrarational motive

forces of instinct and desire; for all here is a groping and seeking without finding, a

field of brief satisfactions stamped with the Inconscient’s seal of insufficiency and impermanence.

But neither can human reason give it what it searches after; for reason

can only establish half-lights and a provisional order. Therefore with man as he is the

upward urge in life cannot rest satisfied always; its evolutionary impulse cannot stop

short at this transitional term, this half-achievement. It has to aim at a higher scale of

consciousness, deliver out of life and mind something that is still latent and inchoate.

The ultimates of life are spiritual and only in the full light of the liberated self and spirit

can it achieve them. That full light is not intellect or reason, but a knowledge by inner

unity and identity which is the native self-light of the fully developed spiritual

consciousness and, preparing that, on the way to it, a knowledge by intimate inner con-tact

with the truth of things and beings which is intuitive and born of a secret oneness.

Life seeks for self-knowledge; it is only by the light of the spirit that it can find it. It

seeks for a luminous guidance and mastery of its own movements; it is only when it

finds within itself this inner self and spirit and by it or in obedience to it governs its

own steps that it can have the illumined will it needs and the unerring leadership. For

it is so only that the blind certitudes of the instincts and the speculative hypotheses

and theories and the experimental and inferential certitudes of reason can be replaced

by the seeing spiritual certitudes. Life seeks the fulfilment of its instincts of love and

sympathy, its yearnings after accord and union; but these are crossed by opposing instincts

and it is only the spiritual consciousness with its realised abiding oneness that

can abolish these oppositions. Life seeks for full growth of being, but it can attain to it

only when the limited being has found in itself its own inmost soul of existence and

around it its own widest self of cosmic consciousness by which it can feel the world and

all being in itself and as itself. Life seeks for power; it is only the power of the spirit and

the power of this conscious oneness that can give it mastery of its self and its world. It

seeks for pleasure, happiness, bliss; but the infrarational forms of these things are

stricken with imperfection, fragmentariness, impermanence and the impact of their



Only the spirit has the secret of an unmixed and abiding happiness or ecstasy, is capable

of a firm tenseness of vibrant response to it, can achieve and justify a spiritual plea-sure

or joy of life as one form of the infinite and universal delight of being. Life seeks a

harmonious fulfilment of all its powers, now divided and in conflict, all its possibilities,

parts, members; it is only in the consciousness of the one self and spirit that that is

found, for there they arrive at their full truth and their perfect agreement in the light

of the integral Self-existence.


4 The good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of religion


To make all life religion and to govern all activities by the religious idea would seem to

be the right way to the development of the ideal individual and ideal society and the

lifting of the whole life of man into the Divine....


On the other hand, we must recognise the fact that in a time of great activity, of high

aspiration, of deep sowing, of rich fruit-bearing, such as the modern age with all its

faults and errors has been, a time especially when humanity got rid of much that was

cruel, evil, ignorant, dark, odious, not by the power of religion, but by the power of the

awakened intelligence and of human idealism and sympathy, this predominance of religion

has been violently attacked and rejected by that portion of humanity which was

for that time the standard-bearer of thought and progress, Europe after the Renascence,

modern Europe.


This revolt in its extreme form tried to destroy religion altogether, boasted indeed of

having killed the religious instinct in man,— a vain and ignorant boast, as we now see,

for the religious instinct in man is most of all the one instinct in him that cannot be

killed, it only changes its form. In its more moderate movements the revolt put religion

aside into a corner of the soul by itself and banished its intermiscence in the intellectual,

aesthetic, practical life and even in the ethical; and it did this on the ground that

the intermiscence of religion in science, thought, politics, society, life in general had

been and must be a force for retardation, superstition, oppressive ignorance....

We need not follow the rationalistic or atheistic mind through all its aggressive indictment

of religion. We need not for instance lay a too excessive stress on the superstitions,

aberrations, violences, crimes even, which Churches and cults and creeds have

favoured, admitted, sanctioned, supported or exploited for their own benefit.... As well

might one cite the crimes and errors which have been committed in the name of liberty

or of order as a sufficient condemnation of the ideal of liberty or the ideal of social

order. But we have to note the fact that such a thing was possible and to find its explanation.


We cannot ignore for instance the bloodstained and fiery track which formal

external Christianity has left furrowed across the mediaeval history of Europe almost

from the days of Constantine, its first hour of secular triumph, down to very recent

times, or the sanguinary comment which such an institution as the Inquisition affords

on the claim of religion to be the directing light and regulating power in ethics and society.


We must observe the root of this evil, which is not in true religion itself, but in its

infrarational parts, not in spiritual faith and aspiration, but in our ignorant human

confusion of religion with a particular creed, sect, cult, religious society or Church....

Churches and creeds have, for example, stood violently in the way of philosophy and

science, burned a Giordano Bruno, imprisoned a Galileo, and so generally misconducted

themselves in this matter that philosophy and science had in self-defence to turn upon

Religion and rend her to pieces in order to get a free field for their legitimate development;

and this because men in the passion and darkness of their vital nature had chosen

to think that religion was bound up with certain fixed intellectual conceptions

about God and the world which could not stand scrutiny, and therefore scrutiny had to

be put down by fire and sword; scientific and philosophical truth had to be denied in

order that religious error might survive.


We see too that a narrow religious spirit often oppresses and impoverishes the joy and

beauty of life, either from an intolerant asceticism or, as the Puritans attempted it, because

they could not see that religious austerity is not the whole of religion, though it

may be an important side of it, is not the sole ethico-religious approach to God, since

love, charity, gentleness, tolerance, kindliness are also and even more divine, and they

forgot or never knew that God is love and beauty as well as purity.


In politics religion has often thrown itself on the side of power and resisted the coming

of larger political ideals, because it was itself, in the form of a Church, supported by

power and because it confused religion with the Church, or because it stood for a false

theocracy, forgetting that true theocracy is the kingdom of God in man and not the

kingdom of a Pope, a priesthood or a sacerdotal class. So too it has often supported a

rigid and outworn social system, because it thought its own life bound up with social

forms with which it happened to have been associated during a long portion of its own

history and erroneously concluded that even a necessary change there would be a violation

of religion and a danger to its existence. As if so mighty and inward a power as

the religious spirit in man could be destroyed by anything so small as the change of a

social form or so outward as a social readjustment!


There are two aspects of religion, true religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual

religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect,

beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern

these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on

the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members

or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some

fixed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system. Not that

these things are altogether negligible or that they must be unworthy or unnecessary or

that a spiritual religion need disdain the aid of forms, ceremonies, creeds or systems.


On the contrary, they are needed by man because the lower members have to be exalted

and raised before they can be fully spiritualised, before they can directly feel the

spirit and obey its law. An intellectual formula is often needed by the thinking and reasoning

mind, a form or ceremony by the aesthetic temperament or other parts of the

infrarational being, a set moral code by man’s vital nature in their turn towards the

inner life. But these things are aids and supports, not the essence; precisely because

they belong to the rational and infrarational parts, they can be nothing more and, if too

blindly insisted on, may even hamper the suprarational light. Such as they are, they

have to be offered to man and used by him, but not to be imposed on him as his sole

law by a forced and inflexible domination. In the use of them toleration and free per-mission

of variation is the first rule which should be observed. The spiritual essence of

religion is alone the one thing supremely needful, the thing to which we have always to

hold and subordinate to it every other element or motive.


If we look at the old religions in their social as apart from their individual aspect, we

see that the use society made of them was only of their most unspiritual or at any rate

of their less spiritual parts. It made use of them to give an august, awful and would-be

eternal sanction to its mass of customs and institutions; it made of them a veil of mystery

against human questioning and a shield of darkness against the innovator. So far

as it saw in religion a means of human salvation and perfection, it laid hands upon it at

once to mechanise it, to catch the human soul and bind it on the wheels of a socio-religious

machinery, to impose on it in the place of spiritual freedom an imperious yoke and an iron prison.

It saddled upon the religious life of man a Church, a priesthood and a mass of ceremonies

and set over it a pack of watchdogs under the name of creeds and dogmas, dogmas

which one had to accept and obey under pain of condemnation to eternal hell by an

eternal judge beyond, just as one had to accept and to obey the laws of society on pain

of condemnation to temporal imprisonment or death by a mortal judge below. This false

socialisation of religion has been always the chief cause of its failure to regenerate mankind.


For nothing can be more fatal to religion than for its spiritual element to be crushed or

formalised out of existence by its outward aids and forms and machinery. The false-hood

of the old social use of religion is shown by its effects. History has exhibited more

than once the coincidence of the greatest religious fervour and piety with darkest ignorance,

with an obscure squalor and long vegetative stagnancy of the mass of human

life, with the unquestioned reign of cruelty, injustice and oppression, or with an organisation

of the most ordinary, unaspiring and unraised existence hardly relieved by

some touches of intellectual or half spiritual light on the surface,— the end of all this a

widespread revolt that turned first of all against the established religion as the key-stone

of a regnant falsehood, evil and ignorance.


A religious movement brings usually a wave of spiritual excitement and aspiration that

communicates itself to a large number of individuals and there is as a result a temporary

uplifting and an effective formation, partly spiritual, partly ethical, partly dogmatic

in its nature. But the wave after a generation or two or at most a few generations

begins to subside; the formation remains. If there has been a very powerful movement

with a great spiritual personality as its source, it may leave behind a central influence

and an inner discipline which may well be the starting point of fresh waves; but these

will be constantly less powerful and enduring in proportion as the movement gets

farther and farther away from its source. For meanwhile in order to bind together the

faithful and at the same time to mark them off from the unregenerated outer world,

there will have grown up a religious order, a Church, a hierarchy, a fixed and unprogressive

type of ethical living, a set of crystallised dogmas, ostentatious ceremonials,

sanctified superstitions, an elaborate machinery for the salvation of mankind. As a result

spirituality is increasingly subordinated to intellectual belief, to outward forms of

conduct and to external ritual, the higher to the lower motives, the one thing essential

to aids and instruments and accidents. The first spontaneous and potent attempt to

convert the whole life into spiritual living yields up its place to a set system of belief

and ethics touched by spiritual emotion; but finally even that saving element is dominated

by the outward machinery, the sheltering structure becomes a tomb. The Church

takes the place of the spirit and a formal subscription to its creed, rituals and order is

the thing universally demanded; spiritual living is only practised by the few within the

limits prescribed by their fixed creed and order. The majority neglect even that narrow

effort and are contented to replace by a careful or negligent piety the call to a deeper

life. In the end it is found that the spirit in the religion has become a thin stream

choked by sands; at the most brief occasional floodings of its dry bed of conventions

still prevent it from becoming a memory in the dead chapters of Time.


5. A radical defect in the process of human civilization


In the end ... experience shows that society tends to die by its own development, a sure

sign that there is some radical defect in its system, a certain proof that its idea of man

and its method of development do not correspond to all the reality of the human being

and to the aim of life which that reality imposes. There is then a radical defect some-where

in the process of human civilisation; but where is its seat and by what issue shall

we come out of the perpetual cycle of failure? Our civilised development of life ends in

an exhaustion of vitality and a refusal of Nature to lend her support any further to a

continued advance upon these lines; our civilised mentality, after disturbing the balance

of the human system to its own greater profit, finally discovers that it has exhausted

and destroyed that which fed it and loses its power of healthy action and

productiveness. It is found that civilisation has created many more problems than it

can solve, has multiplied excessive needs and desires the satisfaction of which it has

not sufficient vital force to sustain, has developed a jungle of claims and artificial instincts

in the midst of which life loses its way and has no longer any sight of its aim....

[A] cure is aimed at by carrying artificial remedies to their acme, by more and more

Science, more and more mechanical devices, a more scientific organisation of life,

which means that the engine shall replace life, the arbitrary logical reason substitute

itself for complex Nature and man be saved by machinery. As well say that to carry a

disease to its height is the best way to its cure.


It may be suggested on the contrary and with some chance of knocking at the right

door that the radical defect of all our systems is their deficient development of just that

which society has most neglected, the spiritual element, the soul in man which is his

true being. Even to have a healthy body, a strong vitality and an active and clarified

mind and a field for their action and enjoyment, carries man no more than a certain

distance; afterwards he flags and tires for want of a real self-finding, a satisfying aim

for his action and progress. These three things do not make the sum of a complete

manhood; they are means to an ulterior end and cannot be made for ever an aim in

themselves. Add a rich emotional life governed by a well-ordered ethical standard, and

still there is the savour of something left out, some supreme good which these things

mean, but do not in themselves arrive at, do not discover till they go beyond them-selves.

Add a religious system and a widespread spirit of belief and piety, and still you

have not found the means of social salvation. All these things human society has developed,

but none of them has saved it from disillusionment, weariness and decay.


Ancient intellectual cultures of Europe ended in disruptive doubt and skeptical impotence,

the pieties of Asia in stagnation and decline. Modern society has discovered a

new principle of survival, progress, but the aim of that progress it has never discovered,—

unless the aim is always more knowledge, more equipment, convenience and

comfort, more enjoyment, a greater and still greater complexity of the social economy,

a more and more cumbrously opulent life. But these things must lead in the end where

the old led, for they are only the same thing on a larger scale; they lead in a circle, that

is to say, nowhere: they do not escape from the cycle of birth, growth, decay and death,

they do not really find the secret of self-prolongation by constant self-renewal which is

the principle of immortality, but only seem for a moment to find it by the illusion of a

series of experiments each of which ends in disappointment.


6. Freedom and the spiritual aim of society


It is a spiritual, an inner freedom that can alone create a perfect human order. It is a

spiritual, a greater than the rational enlightenment that can alone illumine the vital

nature of man and impose harmony on its self-seekings, antagonisms and discords. A

deeper brotherhood, a yet unfound law of love is the only sure foundation possible for

a perfect social evolution, no other can replace it. But this brotherhood and love will

not proceed by the vital instincts or the reason where they can be met, baffled or deflected

by opposite reasonings and other discordant instincts. Nor will it found itself in

the natural heart of man where there are plenty of other passions to combat it. It is in

the soul that it must find its roots; the love which is founded upon a deeper truth of our

being, the brotherhood or, let us say,— for this is another feeling than any vital or mental

sense of brotherhood, a calmer more durable motive-force,— the spiritual comrade-ship

which is the expression of an inner realisation of oneness. For so only can egoism

disappear and the true individualism of the unique godhead in each man found itself

on the true communism of the equal godhead in the race; for the Spirit, the inmost self,

the universal Godhead in every being is that whose very nature of diverse oneness it is

to realise the perfection of its individual life and nature in the existence of all, in the

universal life and nature.


This is a solution to which it may be objected that it puts off the consummation of a

better human society to a far-off date in the future evolution of the race. For it means

that no machinery invented by the reason can perfect either the individual or the collective

man; an inner change is needed in human nature, a change too difficult to be

ever effected except by the few. This is not certain; but in any case, if this is not the

solution, then there is no solution, if this is not the way, then there is no way for the

human kind. Then the terrestrial evolution must pass beyond man as it has passed

beyond the animal and a greater race must come that will be capable of the spiritual

change, a form of life must be born that is nearer to the divine. After all there is no logical

necessity for the conclusion that the change cannot begin at all because its perfection

is not immediately possible. A decisive turn of mankind to the spiritual ideal, the

beginning of a constant ascent and guidance towards the heights may not be altogether

impossible, even if the summits are attainable at first only by the pioneer few and far-off

to the tread of the race. And that beginning may mean the descent of an influence

that will alter at once the whole life of mankind in its orientation and enlarge forever,

as did the development of his reason and more than any development of the reason, its

potentialities and all its structure.


The true and full spiritual aim in society will regard man not as a mind, a life and a

body, but as a soul incarnated for a divine fulfilment upon earth, not only in heavens

beyond, which after all it need not have left if it had no divine business here in the

world of physical, vital and mental nature. It will therefore regard the life, mind and

body neither as ends in themselves, sufficient for their own satisfaction, nor as mortal

members full of disease which have only to be dropped off for the rescued spirit to flee

away into its own pure regions, but as first instruments of the soul, the yet imperfect

instruments of an unseized diviner purpose. It will believe in their destiny and help

them to believe in themselves, but for that very reason in their highest and not only in

their lowest or lower possibilities. Their destiny will be, in its view, to spiritualise

themselves so as to grow into visible members of the spirit, lucid means of its manifestation,

themselves spiritual, illumined, more and more conscious and perfect. For, accepting

the truth of man’s soul as a thing entirely divine in its essence, it will accept

also the possibility of his whole being becoming divine in spite of Nature’s first patent

contradictions of this possibility, her darkened denials of this ultimate certitude, and

even with these as a necessary earthly starting-point. And as it will regard man the individual,

it will regard too man the collectivity as a soul-form of the Infinite, a collective

soul myriadly embodied upon earth for a divine fulfilment in its manifold relations

and its multitudinous activities. Therefore it will hold sacred all the different parts of

man’s life which correspond to the parts of his being, all his physical, vital, dynamic,

emotional, aesthetic, ethical, intellectual, psychic evolution, and see in them instruments

for a growth towards a diviner living. It will regard every human society, nation,

people or other organic aggregate from the same standpoint, sub-souls, as it were,

means of a complex manifestation and self-fulfilment of the Spirit, the divine Reality,

the conscious Infinite in man upon earth....


But it will not seek to enforce even this one uplifting dogma by any external compulsion

upon the lower members of man’s natural being; for that is nigraha, a repressive

contraction of the nature which may lead to an apparent suppression of the evil, but

not to a real and healthy growth of the good; it will rather hold up this creed and ideal

as a light and inspiration to all his members to grow into the godhead from within

themselves, to become freely divine. Neither in the individual nor in the society will it

seek to imprison, wall in, repress, impoverish, but to let in the widest air and the highest

light. A large liberty will be the law of a spiritual society and the increase of freedom

a sign of the growth of human society towards the possibility of true spiritualisation.


To spiritualise in this sense a society of slaves, slaves of power, slaves

of authority, slaves of custom, slaves of dogma, slaves of all sorts of imposed laws

which they live under rather than live by them, slaves internally of their own weakness,

ignorance and passions from whose worst effect they seek or need to be protected

by another and external slavery, can never be a successful endeavour. They must shake

off their fetters first in order to be fit for a higher freedom. Not that man has not to

wear many a yoke in his progress upward; but only the yoke which he accepts because

it represents, the more perfectly the better, the highest inner law of his nature and its

aspiration, will be entirely helpful to him. The rest buy their good results at a heavy

cost and may retard as much as or even more than they accelerate his progress.

The spiritual aim will recognise that man as he grows in his being must have as much

free space as possible for all its members to grow in their own strength, to find out

themselves and their potentialities. In their freedom they will err, because experience

comes through many errors, but each has in itself a divine principle and they will find

it out, disengage its presence, significance and law as their experience of themselves

deepens and increases. Thus true spirituality will not lay a yoke upon science and philosophy

or compel them to square their conclusions with any statement of dogmatic

religious or even of assured spiritual truth, as some of the old religions attempted,

vainly, ignorantly, with an unspiritual obstinacy and arrogance. Each part of man’s being

has its own dharma which it must follow and will follow in the end, put on it what

fetters you please. The dharma of science, thought and philosophy is to seek for truth

by the intellect dispassionately, without prepossession and prejudgment, with no other

first propositions than the law of thought and observation itself imposes. Science and

philosophy are not bound to square their observations and conclusions with any cur-rent

ideas of religious dogma or ethical rule or aesthetic prejudice. In the end, if left

free in their action, they will find the unity of Truth with Good and Beauty and God and

give these a greater meaning than any dogmatic religion or any formal ethics or any

narrower aesthetic idea can give us. But meanwhile they must be left free even to deny

God and good and beauty if they will, if their sincere observation of things so points

them. For all these rejections must come round in the end of their circling and return

to a larger truth of the things they refuse. Often we find atheism both in individual and

society a necessary passage to deeper religious and spiritual truth: one has sometimes

to deny God in order to find him; the finding is inevitable at the end of all earnest skepticism

and denial....


Thus spirituality will respect the freedom of the lower members, but it will not leave

them to themselves; it will present to them the truth of the spirit in themselves, translated

into their own fields of action, presented in a light which illumines all their activities

and shows them the highest law of their own freedom. It will ... for instance,—

pursue the sceptical mind into its own affirmations and denials and show it there the

Divine. If it cannot do that, it is proved that it is itself unenlightened or deficient, be-cause

one-sided, in its light. It will not try to slay the vitality in man by denying life,

but will rather reveal to life the divine in itself as the principle of its own transformation.

If it cannot do that, it is because it has itself not yet wholly fathomed the meaning

of the creation and the secret of the Avatar.


7. Living dangerously


Man is an abnormal who has not found his own normality,— he may imagine he has, he

may appear to be normal in his own kind, but that normality is only a sort of provisional

order; therefore, though man is infinitely greater than the plant or the animal,

he is not perfect in his own nature like the plant and the animal. This imperfection is

not a thing to be at all deplored, but rather a privilege and a promise, for it opens out to

us an immense vista of self-development and self-exceeding. Man at his highest is a

half-god who has risen up out of the animal Nature and is splendidly abnormal in it,

but the thing which he has started out to be, the whole god, is something so much

greater than what he is that it seems to him as abnormal to himself as he is to the animal.

This means a great and arduous labour of growth before him, but also a splendid

crown of his race and his victory. A kingdom is offered to him beside which his present

triumphs in the realms of mind or over external Nature will appear only as a rough

hint and a poor beginning.


To follow after the highest in us may seem to be to live dangerously, to use again one of

Nietzsche’s inspired expressions, but by that danger comes victory and security. To

rest in or follow after an inferior potentiality may seem safe, rational, comfortable,

easy, but it ends badly, in some futility or in a mere circling, down the abyss or in a

stagnant morass. Our right and natural road is towards the summits. We have then to

return to the pursuit of an ancient secret which man, as a race, has seen only obscurely

and followed after lamely, has indeed understood only with his surface mind and not in

its heart of meaning,— and yet in following it lies his social no less than his individual

salvation,— the ideal of the kingdom of God, the secret of the reign of the Spirit over

mind and life and body.


Mistakes made on the path are often even more instructive than the mistakes made

by a turning aside from the path. As it is possible to superimpose the intellectual, ethical

or aesthetic life or the sum of their motives upon the vital and physical nature, to

be satisfied with a partial domination or a compromise, so it is possible to superimpose

the spiritual life or some figure of strength or ascendency of spiritual ideas and motives

on the mental, vital and physical nature and either to impoverish the latter, to impoverish

the vital and physical existence and even to depress the mental as well in order to

give the spiritual an easier domination, or else to make a compromise and leave the

lower being to its pasture on condition of its doing frequent homage to the spiritual

existence, admitting to a certain extent, greater or less, its influence and formally acknowledging

it as the last state and the finality of the human being.


This is the most that human society has ever done in the past, and though necessarily

that must be a stage of the journey, to rest there is to miss the heart of the matter, the

one thing needful. Not a humanity leading its ordinary life, what is now its normal

round, touched by spiritual influences, but a humanity aspiring whole-heartedly to a

law that is now abnormal to it until its whole life has been elevated into spirituality, is

the steep way that lies before man towards his perfection and the transformation that

it has to achieve. The secret of the transformation lies in the transference of our centre

of living to a higher consciousness and in a change of our main power of living. This

will be a leap or an ascent even more momentous than that which Nature must at one

time have made from the vital mind of the animal to the thinking mind still imperfect

in our human intelligence. The central will implicit in life must be no longer the vital

will in the life and the body, but the spiritual will of which we have now only rare and

dim intimations and glimpses. For now it comes to us hardly disclosed, weakened, disguised

in the mental Idea; but it is in its own nature supramental and it is its supramental

power and truth that we have somehow to discover. The main power of our living

must be no longer the inferior vital urge of Nature which is already accomplished in us

and can only whirl upon its rounds about the ego-centre, but that spiritual force of

which we sometimes hear and speak but have not yet its inmost secret. For that is still

retired in our depths and waits for our transcendence of the ego and the discovery of

the true individual in whose universality we shall be united with all others. To transfer

from the vital being, the instrumental reality in us, to the spirit, the central reality, to

elevate to that height our will to be and our power of living is the secret which our nature

is seeking to discover.


All that we have done hitherto is some half-successful effort to transfer this will and

power to the mental plane; our highest endeavour and labour has been to become the

mental being and to live in the strength of the idea. But the mental idea in us is always

intermediary and instrumental; always it depends on something other than it for its

ground of action and therefore although it can follow for a time after its own separate

satisfaction, it cannot rest for ever satisfied with that alone. It must either gravitate

downwards and outwards towards the vital and physical life or it must elevate itself

inwards and upwards towards the spirit.


A subjective age of mankind must be an adventure full of perils and uncertainties as

are all great adventures of the race. It may wander long before it finds itself or may not

find itself at all and may swing back to a new repetition of the cycle. The true secret

can only be discovered if in the third stage, in an age of mental subjectivism, the idea

becomes strong of the mind itself as no more than a secondary power of the Spirit’s

working and of the Spirit as the great Eternal, the original and, in spite of the many

terms in which it is both expressed and hidden, the sole reality.... Then only will the

real, the decisive endeavour begin and life and the world be studied, known, dealt with

in all directions as the self-finding and self-expression of the Spirit. Then only will a

spiritual age of mankind be possible.


To attempt any adequate discussion of what that would mean, and in an inadequate

discussion there is no fruit, is beyond our present scope; for we should have to examine

a knowledge which is rare and nowhere more than initial. It is enough to say that a spiritual

human society would start from and try to realise three essential truths of existence

which all Nature seems to be an attempt to hide by their opposites and which

therefore are as yet for the mass of mankind only words and dreams, God, freedom,

unity. Three things which are one, for you cannot realise freedom and unity unless you

realise God, you cannot possess freedom and unity unless you possess God, possess at

once your highest Self and the Self of all creatures. The freedom and unity which otherwise

go by that name, are simply attempts of our subjection and our division to get

away from themselves by shutting their eyes while they turn somersaults around their

own centre. When man is able to see God and to possess him, then he will know real

freedom and arrive at real unity, never otherwise. And God is only waiting to be

known, while man seeks for him everywhere and creates images of the Divine, but all

the while truly finds, effectively erects and worships images only of his own mind-ego

and life-ego. When this ego pivot is abandoned and this ego-hunt ceases, then man gets

his first real chance of achieving spirituality in his inner and outer life. It will not be

enough, but it will be a commencement, a true gate and not a blind entrance. A spiritualised

society would live like its spiritual individuals, not in the ego, but in the spirit,

not as the collective ego, but as the collective soul. This freedom from the egoistic

standpoint would be its first and most prominent characteristic.


8. Conditions of spiritual change


If the spiritual change of which we have been speaking is to be effected, it must unite

two conditions which have to be simultaneously satisfied but are most difficult to bring

together. There must be the individual and the individuals who are able to see, to develop,

to re-create themselves in the image of the Spirit and to communicate both their

idea and its power to the mass. And there must be at the same time a mass, a society, a

communal mind or at the least the constituents of a group-body, the possibility of a

group-soul which is capable of receiving and effectively assimilating, ready to follow

and effectively arrive, not compelled by its own inherent deficiencies, its defect of

preparation to stop on the way or fall back before the decisive change is made. Such a

simultaneity has never yet happened, although the appearance of it has sometimes

been created by the ardour of a moment. That the combination must happen some day

is a certainty, but none can tell how many attempts will have to be made and how

many sediments of spiritual experience will have to be accumulated in the subconscient

mentality of the communal human being before the soil is ready.


What then will be that state of society, what that readiness of the common mind of

man which will be most favourable to this change, so that even if it cannot at once effectuate

itself, it may at least make for its ways a more decisive preparation than has

been hitherto possible? For that seems the most important element, since it is that, it is

the unpreparedness, the unfitness of the society or of the common mind of man which

is always the chief stumbling-block. It is the readiness of this common mind which is of

the first importance; for even if the condition of society and the principle and rule that

govern society are opposed to the spiritual change, even if these belong almost wholly

to the vital, to the external, the economic, the mechanical order, as is certainly the way

at present with human masses, yet if the common human mind has begun to admit the

ideas proper to the higher order that is in the end to be, and the heart of man has be-gun

to be stirred by aspirations born of these ideas, then there is a hope of some advance

in the not distant future.


And here the first essential sign must be the growth of the subjective idea of life,— the

idea of the soul, the inner being, its powers, its possibilities, its growth, its expression

and the creation of a true, beautiful and helpful environment for it as the one thing of

first and last importance. The signals must be there that are precursors of a subjective

age in humanity’s thought and social endeavour....


There will be new unexpected departures of science or at least of research,— since

to such a turn in its most Fruitful seekings the orthodox still deny the name of science.

Discoveries will be made that thin the walls between soul and matter; attempts there

will be to extend exact knowledge into the psychological and psychic realms with a

realisation of the truth that these have laws of their own which are other than the physical,

but not the less laws because they escape the external senses and are infinitely

plastic and subtle.


9. The aims of a spiritualized society


A society which was even initially spiritualised would make the revealing and finding

of the divine Self in man the supreme, even the guiding aim of all its activities, its education,

its knowledge, its science, its ethics, its art, its economical and political structure.

... It would embrace all knowledge in its scope, but would make the whole trend

and aim and the permeating spirit not mere worldly efficiency, though that efficiency

would not be neglected, but this self-developing and self-finding and all else as its powers.

It would pursue the physical and psychic sciences not in order merely to know the

world and Nature in her processes and to use them for material human ends, but still

more to know through and in and under and over all things the Divine in the world and

the ways of the Spirit in its masks and behind them. It would make it the aim of ethics

not to establish a rule of action whether supplementary to the social law or partially

corrective of it, the social law that is after all only the rule, often clumsy and ignorant,

of the biped pack, the human herd, but to develop the divine nature in the human being.

It would make it the aim of Art not merely to present images of the subjective and

objective world, but to see them with the significant and creative vision that goes be-hind

their appearances and to reveal the Truth and Beauty of which things visible to us

and invisible are the forms, the masks or the symbols and significant figures.


A spiritualised society would treat in its sociology the individual, from the saint to the

criminal, not as units of a social problem to be passed through some skillfully devised

machinery and either flattened into the social mould or crushed out of it, but as souls

suffering and entangled in a net and to be rescued, souls growing and to be encouraged

to grow, souls grown and from whom help and power can be drawn by the lesser spirits

who are not yet adult.


The aim of its economics would be not to create a huge engine of production, whether

of the competitive or the cooperative kind, but to give to men — not only to some but

to all men each in his highest possible measure — the joy of work according to their

own nature and free leisure to grow inwardly, as well as a simply rich and beautiful life

for all.... It would regard the peoples as group-souls, the Divinity concealed and to be

self-discovered in its human collectivities, group-souls meant like the individual to

grow according to their own nature and by that growth to help each other, to help the

whole race in the one common work of humanity. And that work would be to find the

divine Self in the individual and the collectivity and to realise spiritually, mentally, vi-tally,

materially its greatest, largest, richest and deepest possibilities in the inner life of

all and their outer action and nature.


For it is into the Divine within them that men and mankind have to grow; it is not an

external idea or rule that has to be imposed on them from without. Therefore the law

of a growing inner freedom is that which will be most honoured in the spiritual age of

mankind. True it is that so long as man has not come within measurable distance of

self-knowledge and has not set his face towards it, he cannot escape from the law of

external compulsion and all his efforts to do so must be vain. He is and always must be,

so long as that lasts, the slave of others, the slave of his family, his caste, his clan, his

Church, his society, his nation; and he cannot but be that and they too cannot help

throwing their crude and mechanical compulsion on him, because he and they are the

slaves of their own ego, of their own lower nature. We must feel and obey the compulsion

of the Spirit if we would establish our inner right to escape other compulsion: we

must make our lower nature the willing slave, the conscious and illumined instrument

or the ennobled but still self-subjected portion, consort or partner of the divine Being

within us, for it is that subjection which is the condition of our freedom, since spiritual

freedom is not the egoistic assertion of our separate mind and life but obedience to the

Divine Truth in ourself and our members and in all around us.


But we have, even so, to remark that God respects the freedom of the natural members

of our being and that he gives them room to grow in their own nature so that by natural

growth and not by self-extinction they may find the Divine in themselves. The subjection

which they finally accept, complete and absolute, must be a willing subjection

of recognition and aspiration to their own source of light and power and their highest

being. Therefore even in the unregenerated state we find that the healthiest, the truest,

the most living growth and action is that which arises in the largest possible freedom

and that all excess of compulsion is either the law of a gradual atrophy or a

tyranny varied or cured by outbreaks of rabid disorder.


10. The coming of a spiritual age


The coming of a spiritual age must be preceded by the appearance of an increasing

number of individuals who are no longer satisfied with the normal intellectual, vital

and physical existence of man, but perceive that a greater evolution is the real goal of

humanity and attempt to effect it in themselves, to lead others to it and to make it the

recognised goal of the race. In proportion as they succeed and to the degree to which

they carry this evolution, the yet unrealised potentiality which they represent will be-come

an actual possibility of the future.


A great access of spirituality in the past has ordinarily had for its result the coming of a

new religion of a special type and its endeavour to impose itself upon mankind as a

new universal order. This, however, was always not only a premature but a wrong crystallization

which prevented rather than helped any deep and serious achievement. The

aim of a spiritual age of mankind must indeed be one with the essential aim of subjective

religions, a new birth, a new consciousness, an upward evolution of the human

being, a descent of the spirit into our members, a spiritual reorganisation of our life;

but if it limits itself by the old familiar apparatus and the imperfect means of a religious

movement, it is likely to register another failure.....


The ambition of a particular religious belief and form to universalise and impose itself

is contrary to the variety of human nature and to at least one essential character of the

Spirit. For the nature of the Spirit is a spacious inner freedom and a large unity into

which each man must be allowed to grow according to his own nature.... Therefore

while many new spiritual waves with their strong special motives and disciplines must

necessarily be the forerunners of a spiritual age, yet their claims must be subordinated

in the general mind of the race and of its spiritual leaders to the recognition that all

motives and disciplines are valid and yet none entirely valid since they are means and

not the one thing to be done. The one thing essential must take precedence, the con-version

of the whole life of the human being to the lead of the spirit. The ascent of man

into heaven is not the key, but rather his ascent here into the spirit and the descent

also of the spirit into his normal humanity and the transformation of this earthly nature.


Therefore the individuals who will most help the future of humanity in the new age

will be those who will recognise a spiritual evolution as the destiny and therefore the

great need of the human being. Even as the animal man has been largely converted in-to

a mentalised and at the top a highly mentalised humanity, so too now or in the future

an evolution or conversion — it does not greatly matter which figure we use or

what theory we adopt to support it — of the present type of humanity into a spiritualised

humanity is the need of the race and surely the intention of Nature; that evolution

or conversion will be their ideal and endeavour. They will be comparatively

indifferent to particular belief and form and leave men to resort to the beliefs and

forms to which they are naturally drawn. They will only hold as essential the faith in

this spiritual conversion, the attempt to live it out and whatever knowledge — the form

of opinion into which it is thrown does not so much matter — can be converted into

this living. They will especially not make the mistake of thinking that this change can

be effected by machinery and outward institutions; they will know and never forget

that it has to be lived out by each man inwardly or it can never be made a reality for

the kind....


Failures must be originally numerous in everything great and difficult, but the time

comes when the experience of past failures can be profitably used and the gate that so

long resisted opens. In this as in all great human aspirations and endeavours, an a priori

declaration of impossibility is a sign of ignorance and weakness, and the motto of

the aspirant’s endeavour must be the solvitur ambulando of the discoverer. For by the

doing the difficulty will be solved. A true beginning has to be made; the rest is a work

for Time in its sudden achievements or its long patient labour.


The thing to be done is as large as human life, and therefore the individuals who lead

the way will take all human life for their province. These pioneers will consider nothing

as alien to them, nothing as outside their scope. For every part of human life has to

be taken up by the spiritual,— not only the intellectual, the aesthetic, the ethical, but

the dynamic, the vital, the physical.... In each power of our nature they will seek for its

own proper means of conversion; knowing that the Divine is concealed in all, they will

hold that all can be made the spirit’s means of self-finding and all can be converted into

its instruments of divine living. And they will see that the great necessity is the conversion

of the normal into the spiritual mind and the opening of that mind again into its

own higher reaches and more and more integral movement. For before the decisive

change can be made, the stumbling intellectual reason has to be converted into the

precise and luminous intuitive, until that again can rise into higher ranges to overmind

and supermind or gnosis. The uncertain and stumbling mental will has to rise towards

the sure intuitive and into a higher divine and gnostic will, the psychic sweetness, fire

and light of the soul behind the heart,... has to alchemise our crude emotions and the

hard egoisms and clamant desires of our vital nature. All our other members have to

pass through a similar conversion under the compelling force and light from above....


This endeavour will be a supreme and difficult labour even for the individual, but much

more for the race. It may well be that, once started, it may not advance rapidly even to

its first decisive stage; it may be that it will take long centuries of effort to come into

some kind of permanent birth. But that is not altogether inevitable, for the principle of

such changes in Nature seems to be a long obscure preparation followed by a swift gathering

up and precipitation of the elements into the new birth, a rapid conversion, a

transformation that in its luminous moment figures like a miracle. Even when the first

decisive change is reached, it is certain that all humanity will not be able to rise to that

level. There cannot fail to be a division into those who are able to live on the spiritual

level and those who are only able to live in the light that descends from it into the

mental level. And below these too there might still be a great mass influenced from

above but not yet ready for the light. But even that would be a transformation and a

beginning far beyond anything yet attained. This hierarchy would not mean as in our

present vital living an egoistic domination of the undeveloped by the more developed,

but a guidance of the younger by the elder brothers of the race and a constant working

to lift them up to a greater spiritual level and wider horizons. And for the leaders too

this ascent to the first spiritual levels would not be the end of the divine march, a culmination

that left nothing more to be achieved on earth. For there would be still yet

higher levels within the supramental realm, as the old Vedic poets knew when they

spoke of the spiritual life as a constant ascent....


But once the foundation has been secured, the rest develops by a progressive self-unfolding

and the soul is sure of its way.... This at least is the highest hope, the possible

destiny that opens out before the human view, and it is a possibility which the

progress of the human mind seems on the way to redevelop. If the light that is being

born increases, if the number of individuals who seek to realise the possibility in them-selves

and in the world grows large and they get nearer the right way, then the Spirit

who is here in man, now a concealed divinity, a developing light and power, will descend

more fully as the Avatar of a yet unseen and unguessed Godhead from above into

the soul of mankind and into the great individualities in whom the light and power are

the strongest. There will then be fulfilled the change that will prepare the transition of

human life from its present limits into those larger and purer horizons; the earthly

evolution will have taken its grand impetus upward and accomplished the revealing

step in a divine progression of which the birth of thinking and aspiring man from the

animal nature was only an obscure preparation and a far-off promise.


Originally published in the monthly review Arya between August 1916 and July 1918 under

the title The Psychology of Social Development. Readers should note that the text, which was revised

during the late 1930s and again, more lightly, in 1949, was written before gender inclusive

language became de rigeur.

© Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust 1997.