oul of the Nation is the concept for my doctrinal thesis Completing Camelot: A Post Modern Narrative on the Soul of Britain. It is based in the thought of Sri Aurobindo, and the ideal of Auroville, of which I am a member. I am sure that most of you are well acquainted with Sri Aurobindo and Auroville, but for those who are not, a brief explanation is now necessary. Sri Aurobindo was one of India’s foremost spiritual teachers as well as a philosopher and poet, and was a leader in India’s struggle for freedom. Auroville was created by his spiritual partner (a French lady, to whom Sri Aurobindo gave the name ‘The Mother’) to manifest the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. In its Charter, the Mother states the purpose of Auroville is to realize Human Unity.
Sri Aurobindo wrote a copious body of work, which has now been translated into most languages of the world and is studied worldwide. The main body of his philosophical work is set out in three volumes; they are not separate works but are complementary and should be read as such. These books are The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga and The Human Cycle.
In his The Life Divine Sri Aurobindo sets out his theory on spiritual evolution. The purpose of life, he states, is evolution and its goal is spiritual. Through evolution the universe evolves from matter to mind, and from there to the higher, illumined, intuitive minds, to the oneness of the Satchidananda. To achieve this, the human being has first to discover his soul, which Aurobindo describes as a spark or reflection of the Divine. It is the true self of every living being and is present in all life forms and in matter. We speak rather loosely of the ‘soul’ but Sri Aurobindo has clearly defined it:
“What is meant in the terminology of the yoga by the psychic or the soul element in nature, the pure psychic or divine nucleus which stands behind mind, life and body (it is not the ego) but of which we are only dimly aware. It is a portion of the Divine and permanent from life to life, taking the experience of life through its outer instruments. As this experience grows, it manifests a developing psychic personality, which insists always on the good, true and beautiful, and finally becomes ready and strong enough to turn towards the Divine.”
The soul is not just confined to the individual – the collective body too has a soul. In the early stages of human development the collective would be the family, group, tribe, and clan. As human beings progressed there began the growth towards national unity and the nation state was born. According to Sri Aurobindo “The nation or society, like the individual, has a body, an organic life, a moral and aesthetic temperament, a developing mind and soul behind all these signs and powers for the sake of which they exist.”
In The Human Cycle, Sri Aurobindo makes it clear that the soul of the community or nation, like the soul of the individual is a living entity. We could justly question now what Sri Aurobindo meant by the nation having a body, mind and life, and we may reasonably conclude that in the body of a community or nation he implies the land of the community or nation. Here Sri Aurobindo gives us his answer:
When we realize that the land is only the shell of the body, though a very living shell indeed, and potent in its influences on the nation, when we begin to feel that its more real body is the men and women who compose the nation-unit, a body ever-changing, yet always the same like that of the individual man, we are on the way to a truly subjective communal consciousness. For then we have some chance of realizing that even the physical being of the society is a subjective power, not a mere objective existence. Much more is it in its inner self a great corporate soul with all the possibilities and dangers of the soul-life.
The Human Cycle has a psychological and subjective explanation of social development, but Sri Aurobindo’s does not use the term ‘subjective’ in its limited sense, but in its fundamental sense of relating to self or consciousness. His conception of social development is that of an evolutionary progress – a progress that is not in a straight line but in upward moving cycles. In The Human Cycle Sri Aurobindo initially traces the evolution of human society through a sequence of five stages, but in later chapters he reduces these stages to three, which he named successively infrarational, rational, and suprarational or spiritual.
In Sri Aurobindo’s view the nature of the human society is very closely linked to the nature of the individual human being. Both have a soul which is their real self, and an external organic self of body, life and mind. Both trace a parallel curve of evolution on earth and are destined to arrive ultimately at an identical goal.
The area of my work in Auroville has been the International Zone. This part of Auroville was specifically designated by the Mother for concentration on the soul of nations. She wanted nations to build National Pavilions in this zone, which would be representations of their nation. The Pavilions would carry out research into their nations’ soul and hold exhibitions and conduct activities that would convey the spirit of their nation. The aim of the national pavilions is to enlarge peoples understanding of other cultures and of their common humanity.
The Mother recognized the importance of the souls of nations to achieving human unity. She described the soul of the nation:
Just as each individual has a psychic being which is his true self and governs his destiny more or less overtly, so too each nation has a psychic being which is its true being and moulds its destiny from behind the veil: it is the soul of the country, the national genius, the spirit of the people, the centre of national aspiration, the fountain head of all that is beautiful, noble, great and generous in the life of the country.
It is in the subjective and spiritual dimensions of the soul that lie the future direction of the world. These are the unexplored regions beyond mind that cannot be substantiated by the mental because they belong to the realms of faith, and it is here we will find solutions for the destructive forces of global consumerism and the hollowness of our lives. A great many people now acknowledge this as the only real way forward for our world.
The idea of the soul of the nation that is being developed in Auroville’s International Zone could be the remedy for the crisis of identity and faith of an ever-increasing number of people world-wide. We live in times of accelerated change, movement and increasingly fragmented societies which make people feel ever more rootless and alienated. And what’s more, the values that held people together in the past – of religion, family and nation – have been derided.
The Sanskrit term Dharma implies that each soul has an inherent law of its being which seeks to be manifested. When we become aware of the dharma of our soul and of the soul of our nation we become conscious that we have something unique to cultivate and offer life and that also goes for our nation. From this perspective our lives attain more meaning and a new sense of identity and values are inculcated. We will appreciate that other nations too have their uniqueness; that we are in truth not competitors but complementary. That life is the unfolding human progress towards inevitable union, and the only real unity is Oneness in Diversity.