Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

United States was a prototype for the Auroville experiment

Adams and Jefferson Revisited - Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother by Michael Miovic September, 2001. Today Adams is remembered only in passing as the second President of the United States, and vaguely as having gotten in a long argument about something or other with Jefferson. The more sentimental of patriots will also recall that in the end he and Jefferson renewed their friendship and both died in ripe old age on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They were the last of their generation to go, and even their contemporaries intuited a providential meaning to their simultaneous departure, a view with which an Aurobindonian historian would have to concur. […]

Adams was brutally frank and honest, with himself as with others, a quality that did not endear him to a young nation that was trying to build an optimistic and idealistic image of itself as an unspoiled utopia far removed from the corrupting influences of Europe.

So what then does
Adams have to do with an Aurobindonian analysis of history? Although Adams never managed to write a clear essay on his political philosophy, Ellis has done a remarkable job of distilling the essential elements of his approach from letters, diatribes published in newspapers, and notes he jotted for himself in the margins of the countless books in his library. What emerges from this chaotic mass of data is a probing grasp of the problems of social life founded on a prescient insight: Adams believed that the fundamental problems of human life were a product of human nature, not of social construction. Although he was against monarchy, he repeatedly argued—much to the dislike of Jefferson and other American thinkers—that no social system, however democratic and endowed with liberty, would erase the ills of human life, because it is in human nature to foment inequality.

Adams saw social movements and processes as a playing out of individual psychology in a collective sphere, and when he looked into himself and others, what he saw in addition to the higher motives and impulses, was the irreducible push of what Sri Aurobindo would call the vital ego—ambition, competition, power, most of all the desire to be esteemed by others. It was because of this that
Adams championed the notion of checks and balances in the construction of government, as a means of containing and mitigating the inevitable abuses of power toward which the human vital would strive. Indeed, Adams was the key thinker behind the system of checks and balances instituted in the U.S. Constitution. He also predicted, based on this understanding of human nature, that the French Revolution would end in a horrific blood bath, and that banning nobility and landed aristocracy in the United States would only lead to the rise of a new type of elite class based on the quest for wealth. His first prediction swiftly came true, and the latter one has been amply born out in the last century as we have witnessed the dramatic rise of the economic motive (capitalism and commercialism) as the driving force in American society.

There are evident and fascinating points of rapprochement between the socio-psychological thought of John Adams and that of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo begins the Ideal of Human Unity essentially rephrasing
Adams’s core insight in his own words, that is, that the only and final solution to the problems of collective existence is to change human nature. Sri Aurobindo then goes on to explain in detail how and why all of the ideologies – tribalism, monarchy, democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism, and all other isms -- have and are bound to fail in the end because they are not founded on the soul and spirit as the motive powers of social evolution. (Incidentally, according to Ellis it was Adams who coined the term ideology and used it liberally when attacking the covert political agendas imbedded in philosophical belief systems). Along the way, Sri Aurobindo applies repeatedly a key topos of Adamsian thinking, namely, interpreting social processes as collective manifestations of the same forces seen in individual psychology. For instance, when Sri Aurobindo describes the vital power flowing through all the economic and political processes of various societies past and present, one realizes with a flash of insight that he is referring to the same vital power he has written so much about with respect to the problems of individual sadhana. It is this bridging of the internal and external, the psychological and the social, which makes Sri Aurobindo’s analysis of collective life so synthetic.

Of course where Sri Aurobindo differs from
Adams is in his proposition that human nature can, in fact, be transformed into divine nature through individual and collective yoga. This is the radical solution that Sri Aurobindo proposes, and which he and the Mother began to work out in painstaking detail in the life of the Ashram and later Auroville. Indeed, it is intriguing to review the Adams-Jefferson dynamic in light of the current experiment in social evolution that is under way in Auroville. I have often had the impression that the formation of the United States was a prototype for the Auroville experiment, albeit initiated on a lower rung of the evolutionary ladder and developed with a more diffuse aim. Still, there are some remarkable points of similarity: America began with a group of Europeans leaving behind the accumulated social weight of the past to seek religious and political freedom in a new land. Upon arrival they were confronted with the cultural challenge of coexisting with Native Americans—people whom they called “Indians,” because Columbus initially thought he had landed in India—and subsequently they established a new form of government aimed at maximizing the potential of the individual to grow in a social context.

In Auroville today we see the same threads of evolution taken up again, but guided of course by a much higher spiritual force than presided over the birth of the
United States. Again a group of Westerners informed by a spiritual ideal have wound up cohabiting with an indigenous culture less technologically developed than their own. This time the locals are real Indians in India, and genocide and slavery have been avoided, though racial and cultural conflict have not. The Mother’s charter for Auroville is more explicit about the spiritual aim of humanity than the Declaration of Independence, and hardly concerned about the details of history, but She emphatically declares independence from the past. Also, instead of calling on the ideals of the higher mind to set a course for the future, she brings down the full supramental force and vision. Finally, although she did not write a formal Constitution to structure government, she did on several occasions enunciate some clear guidelines for containing the human vital and pursuing collective yoga. Thus, at the moment a very young multicultural, multiracial society is being born in Auroville, full of an even greater hope than that of realizing democracy—and equally full of all the problems of human nature calling out to be transformed.

It is in this light that the Adams-Jefferson debate is so interesting. Friends during the American Revolution, they went on to disagree profoundly during their political careers and eventually reached a fragile reconciliation in their later years. The essential substance of their split was over
Jefferson’s push to view the democratic will of “the people” as an inherently benign and corrective force that would naturally evolve a perfect society once liberated from the shackles of monarchy. Jefferson basically subscribed to the notion of the French philosophes that human nature is inherently just and good until and unless corrupted by society. Adams, of course, thought this was naïve idealization at the best, and more likely a dangerous ideology that could be used as a lethal emollient to mask the most corrupting and abusive quests for power.

In Ellis’s book,
Adams’ point of view is more persuasively presented, such that one comes away with a greater respect for Adams the cantankerous realist, than for Jefferson the naïve and hypocritical idealist. However, as Ellis hints at in the end—and this I think strikes closer to the yogic truth of the situation—Adams and Jefferson incarnated two opposing and yet complementary poles of knowledge, both of which were needed to work out the dynamic movements of shakti supporting the American experiment. 

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