Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
Read Part 1
Backdrop: Same garden. Time: Early Evening.
After initial greetings as the group settles down, their mentor, Mridula Di reminds everyone to sit in silent concentration for a few minutes.
After a few minutes….
M: Well, as I recall we had quite an interesting session last time.
Avi: Yes, we did!
M: Shall we continue with where we left off?
(A few voices respond in affirmative.)
M: Let’s see we were just about to start a discussion on the meaning of nation.
Colin: Yes, that’s what I remember too.
M: Yes, that’s a great place to start. Anyone wants to begin? What is a nation?
(Silence. A few learners are shifting, re-adjusting their postures, a few are mildly talking among themselves.)
M: Well, any guesses?
Eesh: It is a collective entity.
M: True. But so is a city, a village, or even a small community. What is different about nation?
Eesh: It is a much larger entity than a city or a village. One that encompasses or includes many cities, states or villages.
M: True. So it is a larger entity than cities, villages etc. But we need to go deeper than that. We need to go to the word ‘collective’ you used earlier.
Gul: Can we say that a nation is a large collective of people of different communities, regional identities, ethnicities, languages, religions etc?
Falguni: Hey, but many nations are not like that. They don’t have that many languages or religions, or even if they have that is a recent phenomenon because of immigration etc.
Colin: Yes, that is a good point!
M: Indeed, a good observation there. But for whatever reason, we are beginning to see more nations slowly becoming more diverse than they were in the past.
Colin: Except that we also have some nations that are trying to get rid of diversity by ethnic, religious or linguistic discrimination.
Falguni: Yeah, some neighbouring nations too are doing that!
M: Well, we need to take a step back here. You are now going slightly ahead, and I am afraid we might be missing on some more fundamental ideas if we go further down this line of discussion. All the points that you bring up are valid and good observations. But you are also bringing an additional point – whether a nation can have diversity like some of you mentioned before, or must a nation have more homogeneous character. Before we worry about that we have to ask if there is something inherent in the nation that makes it a real entity.
Colin: What is it that makes nation a real entity then?
M: Well, that’s what we need to find out. For example, so far some of you have brought up this idea of diversity within a nation. Right?
Gul: But still there is something that ties all of these diversities together, otherwise it will not be one nation.
M: Yes, indeed. Some type of unity that brings all these diversities together. Good, very good.
Hari: Can we say that this unity which brings all these diversities together is the feeling that makes us say – we are one nation.
M: Great point there! We are certainly going deeper in our understanding. There is something, something invisible, which ties us together despite all our differences, and that’s the national feeling, the idea of being one nation. But can we try and be more specific about what that “something” is? Can we name it somehow? Or if not name it, can we somehow describe it?
(A curious silence for a few moments.)
M: Well, let me read some passages from Sri Aurobindo now. We will then discuss them and see if these words can guide us get closer to understanding what that ‘something’ is. I will read a few sentences at a time, slowly and we will then discuss it and move along that way. Does that sound reasonable?
A few collective voices – Yes.
M: The first thing that we have to understand is that the deeper Indian view of nation is different from what we may typically understand as Western view of nation. Now when we use the western, we basically imply a rationalistic-materialistic view which has more or less become the modern, widely accepted view all over. Why that has happened is a whole other discussion. For present, we will not get into that.
But for whatever reasons this materialistic-rationalistic view (which looks at pretty much everything from a more outward perspective, that which can be rationally explained, which can be perceived by the senses) of most concepts including nation has become the mainstream accepted view. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any other way to understand these things. And that’s where Sri Aurobindo really helps us.
He says that the Western notion of a nation is more physical – how much land, how many people speaking one particular language, living under one political unity or government etc. Right? So far are we following this alright?
Avi: Yeah. That’s how we generally speak of a nation. No?
Colin: Yes, indeed!
(A few nods in affirmative).
M: Good. So let me read from this passage here. He writes[i]:
“When the European wishes to feel a living emotion for his country, he personifies the land he lives in, tries to feel that a heart beats in the brute earth and worships a vague abstraction of his own intellect.”
So there he is saying that a Western notion of love for the country or nation may be a more mentalized emotion, sort of like an intellectual love for what his country means to him. Sounds noble, sounds good. Right?
But then he goes on to explain the Indian view of nation. I’ll read this next part slowly, so you can follow easily point by point. He says:
“The Indian idea of nationality ought to be truer and deeper.
The philosophy of our forefathers looked through the gross body of things and discovered a subtle body within,…
…looked through that and found yet another more deeply hidden,….
…and within the third body discovered the Source of life and form, seated for ever, unchanging and imperishable.
….What is true of the individual object, is true also of the general and universal. What is true of the man, is true also of the nation.”
M: Let me take a pause here and see how much of it is getting absorbed. What do you say, friends? Is this getting through?
Colin: Well, I would need some explanation of what you just read. How many bodies within the body that he speaks of there? Four?
Eesh: Yes, that’s what I also understood. Subtle bodies within the gross body. But I am not sure I really follow. So yes, explanation is definitely needed.
(Some nods and laughter affirming this opinion).
Avi: Yes, it will be helpful. But I must say, I found this last idea quite fascinating. What is true of the man, is true also of the nation.
Eesh: Yeah, that’s cool! But Di, please say a bit more about this.
M: Sure. And yes, we will definitely go slow and take pauses and spend time discussing the important points as we go along. So, let’s see what he says here.
I’ll begin with the last sentence of that passage. There he tells us that there is a strong parallel, actually more of an identity between an individual and a collective. Right? That’s what this last sentence that I just read out means – what is true of the man, is true also of the nation. Or the one before that – What is true of the individual, is also true of the general and universal.
(Some nods in affirmative.)
M: He also tells us about the Indian view of what a man is. Now allow me a little digression here, but I think it is an important one, because it may bring up something of interest and value, especially for you young minds.
[i] CWSA, Volume 7, pp. 1115-1116 (emphasis added)