Collective Progress: The Integral View—M.S. Srinivasan

One of the great ideals of the modern age is Progress, especially the concept of collective progress or “Development”.  This is an important contribution of the modern mind to the evolutionary progress of humanity.  However modern thought on “development” still remains predominantly external with more or less exclusive emphasis on the development of the outer life of the community.  This article is an attempt to rectify this imbalance with a more integral approach to collective progress with an emphasis on the inner progress of the collectivity.

Key Perspectives: Towards a More Holistic Approach; Inner Fraternity; Psychological Evolution: Individual and Collective; Modern Predicament

Towards a More Holistic Approach

The advent of Industrial revolution and the concept of evolution conceived by Darwin gave birth to the modern ideal of rapid economic progress through the application of Science and Technology.  For a long-time, this remained the dominant paradigm of development.  Later with the growing influence of humanistic philosophies came the concept of “human development” and with the advent of the environmental movement “eco-development”.

The present consensus among development thinkers is that development means not only economic development but “Human Development” which means economic, social, cultural and ecological development measured in terms of parameters like health-care, education, environmental preservation, equity, empowerment of women.  This new thinking on development is in the right direction and when put into creative practice it will lead to a better quality of the communal life.  However even this new thought on development is predominantly objective, in the sense it is still more or less exclusively oriented towards the development of the outer life of the community.  Though the development of the outer life is important there is an inner dimension to development, which has not been given sufficient attention.

For when people come together to form a community, not only their bodies and their needs and activities join to form the outer life but also their minds, hearts, vital energies and souls meet and mingle together to form the inner being of the community.  In fact the outer life of the community is nothing but the external expression of the inner being of the community made of the thoughts, feelings, aspirations, ideals, values of the people.  The quality of the outer life depends very much on the nature, quality and values of the inner being of people.

So, an integral approach to development must include not only the development of the outer life of the community but also the development of its inner being, which means psychological and spiritual development of the community.  This inner development includes the development of the mind, heart, will, vital energies, the ethical and aesthetic being, and the awakening of the spiritual element in man.  In our integral approach the primary emphasis will be on the development of the individual.  For, individual is the prime mover of collective progress.  Collectivity is an obscure subconscious entity which cannot progress by itself.  Only the individual can progress consciously and make the collectivity progress by imparting his own progress into it.  So our main thrust has to be on the harmonious and integral development of the individual in all the levels of his being-physical, vital, mental and spiritual.  Development of the collectivity has to be achieved by ensuring that whatever development which the individual realizes within him is channelised into the outer life, and in every activity of life, so that there is a parallel development of the individual and the collectivity.

The Inner Fraternity

But how to do this?  What will be the cementing factor which can harmonise and harness the fruits of development to the common good of the whole?

Shared values and ideals and a common goal especially, a mental, moral or spiritual ideal transcending the mundane interests of the group can be a potent factor in unifying the collective energies of a group.  When these common ideals are consciously organized and systematically cultivated in the collective life it creates a social whole, which is more than the sum of its parts.  This can enhance and multiply the power of the individual.  However, unity created by shared goals or ideals held at the surface levels of the mind are till not entirely secure or stable.  For a more enduring unity, we have to create or rather awaken an inner fraternity felt in the deeper levels of the mind, heart or soul.

This inner fraternity already exists fully and perfectly in the spiritual levels of our consciousness, where we can feel all others and the whole creation as part of our own Self in the depth of our heart.  But most of us individually and collectively are still far away from this highest realization of spiritual unity, though this inner Oneness is part of the evolutionary destiny of humanity.  A nearer and a less difficult realization is a psychological fraternity forged in the deeper level of our mind or heart through an inner harmony founded on mutual goodwill.  As Mother points out “Goodwill for all and Goodwill from all is the basis of peace and harmony”.  Shared values or ideals and a common purpose can be a first step towards this deeper fraternity.  But if this inner fraternity, psychological or spiritual, can be firmly established in the deeper levels of consciousness then it will remain even without any common ideals.

This inner fraternity can be realized only though a path of psychological and spiritual development of the individual members of the group brought about either by a process of natural evolution or by an inner and outer discipline based on the principles of Yoga.  We will not enter here into the details of this inner discipline, which are beyond the scope of this article.  However, a brief description of the principles of the discipline may be given.  There are three aspects to it, which have to be put into practice in the individual as well as the collective life.  First is a sincere and sustained aspiration for and conscious cultivation of all that leads to inner harmony like kindness, caring, generosity, sharing, empathy, honesty, transparency, fairness, mutual understanding and trust.  Second, rejection of all that is contrary to it or which lead to discard like hate, jealousy, hypocrisy, favoritism, injustice, pride, arrogance and greed.  Third, practice of some form of Yogic discipline of interiorisation by which we can shift the centre of our consciousness from the surface level to the deeper subliminal or spiritual realms.  For, the inner fraternity can be felt concretely only in these deeper levels of our consciousness.

So, in our perspective, collective progress means both inner and outer progress.  The inner progress has to be realized by a system of education which leads to the integral and harmonious flowering of the psychological and spiritual being in man and all its powers and faculties like the thought, feeling, will, vital energy, dynamic faculties of action and execution, ethical and aesthetic being and the powers of the deeper subliminal and spiritual consciousness which will lead to the awakening of new and higher faculties of knowledge, feeling and action, like for example intuition, which are at present unmanifest in the human mass.  In the outer life, a supportive social, political and cultural environment has to be created which felicitates and promotes this higher and inner evolution and its self-expression in every activity of the human life.  Both these tasks require a clear understanding of the natural process of psychological evolution in man.

The Psychological Evolution: Individual and Collective

A human organism, individual or the collective begins his evolutionary journey as a physical man, or in the Indian terminology which we have discussed earlier, the Worker, who is tied to the soil, toils hard with his body to fulfill his basic needs for survival and procreation, driven by the subconscious herd instinct, blindly and mechanically following the customs handed down to him by family and tradition.

As he progresses further and becomes aware of the life forces around him he becomes the kinetic vital man.  They are two types or stages in the evolution of the vital man.  First is the Merchant, who lives predominantly in his emotional and pragmatic mind, with its urge, instinct and the skill for harmonious relationship, practical adaptation, lavish enjoyment and an efficient or productive utilisation of life.  The Merchant is the human type who has an instinctive understanding of the rhythms and commerce of the vital energies of life.  The outer type of vital man is the Marshal, who lives mainly in his will and vital force with its urge for power, strength, mastery, expansion and conquest.  Simultaneously or subsequently to this vital development begins the growth of the thinking mind and the ethical and aesthetic faculties with their aspiration for knowledge, ideals and values like truth, beauty, goodness, harmony or unity.  This creates the fourth human type, the Mentor.  As the Mentor grows in his mind and reaches the peaks of his development, he opens his mind to the spiritual consciousness.  Here begins the spiritual development of the human being culminating in the seer and the sage, the accomplished Spiritual man.  This is the general pattern of the natural process of psychological evolution in Man, from the physical, vital and mental to the spiritual consciousness.

When this inner psychological evolution expresses itself in the outer life, it leads a more or less similar pattern of progress in the collective life.  The social organism begins its evolution as a primitive tribal society of the worker, imprisoned within the needs of the body and the customary routine, toiling long and hard in the field for the fulfillment of its basic needs.  As it progresses further it may develop a prosperous, efficient and productive Economy of the Merchant, offering a variety of products, services and amusements to the people or a strong, powerful and expansive Polity of the Marshal, extending its power and influence over the world through political, military or economic might.  Simultaneously or subsequently it may develop a rich Culture of the Mentor, like the religious and spiritual culture of ancient India or the philosophic and aesthetic type like that Greece or China or the rational, scientific and secular type of the modern civilisation.

But this inner and outer evolution of humanity in the past is a chequered growth full of imbalances.  This is because we human beings, as a race, are still labouring under ignorance in an unfinished world.  Our human and planetary evolution is not yet complete.  Both Man and the World are still incomplete creation.  We have not yet arrived at the goal or destiny of our evolution and most of us are not aware what is this ideal towards which universal Nature is driving our race.  So there is bound to be errors, mistakes, conflicts, imbalances and half-finished creations.  A few great spiritual personalities might have known and realized the higher goals of human evolution in their personal lives.  A few spiritual traditions like the Vedas might have had a glimpse of the evolutionary destiny of the race, but couched their knowledge in archaic symbols.  But the consciousness of the race in general has not yet fully understood the higher destiny or plan of terrestrial evolution.  What are these higher ideals, we will come to it a little later, at the last part of our enquiry.  Let us now try to understand the present condition of humanity in the light of our earlier discussions on the psychological evolution of humanity.

The Modern Predicament

When the collective consciousness of humanity progresses from the vital to mental level it may lead to a great progress in the efficiency, productivity, expansion, complexity, organisation, speed and enjoyment in the outer economic, social or political life.  But if a parallel effort is not made towards the moral, psychological and spiritual development of the individual and the collectivity then it may lead to a serious imbalance and crisis in the life of man, because of lack of inner resources to manage the outer growth.  In our modern age we have achieved remarkable progress in the organisation of material and economic life in terms of efficiency and productivity.  We have also made commendable progress in the development of rational, scientific, technological and pragmatic mind.  These modern developments in science and technology like the IT and communication technologies have welded the outer life of the race into a “global village” and awakened the consciousness of the race to the interdependence of the physical and vital life of humanity.

These gains of the modern age are not to be condemned or despised as some of the ecological, religious or spiritual fanatics do.  They are part of the integral development of human consciousness and life and have to be preserved for the future evolution of humanity.  But when this economic and material gain are pursued exclusively as if they are the highest aims of human development, then it will be a reversion to the state of the savage in a civilized form, replacing the Club with the more potent instruments and weapons of technology.  As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“—This conscious stress on the material and economic life was in fact a civilised reversion to the first state of man, his early barbaric state and its preoccupation with life and matter, a spiritual retrogression with the resources of the mind of a developed humanity and a fully evolved Science at its disposal.  As an element in the total complexity of human life this stress on a perfected economic and material existence has its place in the whole; but as a sole or predominant stress it is for humanity itself, for the evolution itself full of danger”.(LD, 1052)

There is at present an increasing recognition among the progressive and thinking sections of humanity, of the crisis facing humanity today.  This recognition or awakening is the result of two factors.  First is the growing and subtle influence of eastern spiritual teachings and the enlightened thoughts of modern spiritual thinkers like Sri Aurobindo and J. Krishnamoorthy.  Second is the advent of the science of ecology and the increasingly vocal and influential environmental activism.  The other positive element among the emerging trends is that more and more people from every sections of the society, especially in the corporate world, are dissatisfied with the economic and material motives and aims and seeking for some form of inner fulfillment in the moral, aesthetic, psychological and spiritual realms.  The future hope of the race lies in these promising trends to create a new vision and the path for the future evolution of humanity.

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