Editor’s note: This piece by Kireet Joshi was first included in the author’s book titled ‘Education at Crossroads‘ published in 2000, pp. 97-102. We have made a few minor formatting changes for the purposes of this digital presentation.
Peace is often interpreted to mean absence of war. This is not entirely illegitimate; but on a close scrutiny we find it to be inadequate. Absence of war does not rule out prevalence of tensions and even of cold wars. And where tensions exist, hot war can at any time become a concrete actuality. We must, therefore, go to the root of the matter and define peace in positive terms.
Fundamentally, peace is a collective phenomenon, and it connotes a collective state of harmony, which can provide a stable base for activities of growth, development, friendliness, comradeship and brotherhood.
It is true that there is a view that tensions and wars are necessary for development and progress. We are familiar with the declaration of Heraclitus that war is the father of all things. And it is not difficult to show how in the past wars have contributed to multi-faceted progress of mankind.
The question, however, is normative, and we must ask whether mankind would not have progressed much faster and in a much better way if wars could have been absent. In this mixed world of contraries, we often find good coming out of evil and evil coming out of good. But that does not give us a clue to the inevitable connections that need to be discovered by reflecting on the ideal laws of harmony.
The primitive conditions in which man finds himself in his relation with his fellow beings and the world is that of struggle for existence. This struggle is often portrayed as a battle between the creature and Nature.
But we observe that as man becomes increasingly self-conscious, there grows in him an irresistible tendency to learn the law of harmony of himself with the universe. This tendency has become actuated in recent times because of the increasing perception that world tensions, if allowed to persist, human survival itself may become endangered. This has led to the realisation of an imperative need of directing our efforts to generate and strengthen the forces of understanding, harmony and peace.
This realisation constitutes the core of the intention to establish United Nations and its varied agencies. And when UNESCO declared that defences of peace should be built in the minds of men, there was a clear recognition of the necessity to develop the positive concept of peace and to deal with the problems of peace at a psychological level rather than at the level of politics and diplomacy.
Peace as a state of consciousness
Peace is essentially a state of consciousness, a state “that passeth understanding”, a state that we experience when we witness Buddha’s ocean of calm or Christ’s prayer to liberate mankind from ignorance or in the Rishi’s realisation of Perfect Consciousness which is immobile even in the midst of intense mobility and action. It is a state where contraries meet and reconcile themselves by a sort of dialectical movement which conciliates thesis and anti-thesis into a synthesis.
At one time, it was thought that the positive state of peace can be attained only by a few exceptional individuals and that the large masses of people are condemned to live for ever in a state of turmoil, tensions and battles. Fortunately, this view, which can be termed the capitalistic view of peace, is being replaced at an increasing pace by a saner view that the ideals are not a prerogative of a few but they are boons for all.
The leaders, who will stand at the forefront of human progress, will be those individuals who will inspire all to climb the heights, however difficult they may be, so that the highest ideals are held in common and are shared in common. We look forward not to the goal of individual salvation, but to the goal of salvation that is collective and which is even physical.
It is in pursuit of that goal that we seek peace as a positive, collective and global ideal, and perceive, at the same time, that the means of achieving this goal are to be sought in progressive and increasing perfection of development of faculties which constitutes the essence of human culture.
Don’t miss: Sri Aurobindo on the Passing of War
Peace through culture
Peace through culture is the only practicable and sensible proposition, if we are serious and sincere about what we ought to be doing in the world today.
Just as peace is not mere absence of war, neither is it a mere state of civil state of law and order. There are several levels of civilisation where law and order can prevail for shorter or longer temporary periods. But history has shown how such civilisations have declined and fallen, and how deeper aspirations have manifested to go beyond civilisation in search of higher and higher levels of culture.
For it is necessary to underline that although man looks primarily for economic stability and civil stability, that is not his chief seeking, and given the complexity of human life, it is difficult to seek primary things first and chief and principal things later. Indeed, for shorter durations, this separation is possible, but as soon as we come to the point of seeking lasting solutions, this separation proves to be a blockade.
Take, for instance, the problem of poverty — economic poverty.
There is no doubt that elimination of poverty should be the primary aim, and it is easy to argue that elimination of poverty should take priority over all other aims and goals. But we see that if we are truly serious about the elimination of poverty, we cannot realise it without, at the same time, realising the ideal of common effort, cooperation, mutuality, harmony, integration and unity.
How many nations today, which are poor, are sinking into greater poverty simply because they are torn by inner dissensions and disintegrating factors! The cure of their poverty does not lie in mere economic activities but lies in the pursuit of greater and higher ideals of creating bonds of unity, which are constituents of chief or principal aims of human life.
On a higher level, if we take the problem of poverty at the global level, do we not see that this problem becomes more easily soluble if there grows in the world a greater and greater sense and action towards human unity?
It requires no acrobatics of mental thought to see that if the amount of money that is being spent today in building up the piles of ornament are spent on production and creative activities, and if this effort is done at a global level, transcending all narrow local, national or regional interests, poverty can be abolished within a comparatively short period. And this can be done if the forces of Peace press themselves irresistibly and triumphantly.
The problems of poverty become insoluble and dangerously insoluble because we refuse to go to the root of the problem, because we refuse to shake ourselves from the narrow bounds of our present situation, and because we refuse to change ourselves.
Real problems of today are the problems of culture
The real problems of today are not economic problems; they are problems of psychology, they are problems of culture.
Mankind has reached a stage where it is blocked, not for want of money, but for want of will to progress. We are blocked by refusals and denials. We are blocked by prejudices and preconceptions. We want to turn round and round, at the most we want to walk horizontally, but we refuse to fly vertically. In sober terms, we are not yet inclined to see that the solution of our problems lie not at lower levels of negativity and compromises but at higher and refined levels of culture.
Culture can be defined in various ways. But for our present purposes, we may define or describe culture as a sum total of the effort to cultivate rational, aesthetic, ethical and spiritual faculties, to educate our physical, instinctive and vital drives by infusing in them increasingly and progressively the light and power and wisdom derived from the cultivation of higher faculties and to create individual and collective life, in its inner and outer aspects in such a way that the law of the individual development and of collective development harmonise with each other.
The purely physical life, devoid of mental interests and pursuits is the opposite of culture; it is barbarism. The unintellectualised vital, the crude economic or the grossly domestic life which looks only to money-getting, the procreation of a family and its maintenance are also opposites of culture. In a certain sense, they are even uglier barbarism.
Even the life which is purely practical and dynamic, a life of conventional conduct, average feelings, customary ideas, opinions and prejudices, a life of senses and sensations, controlled by certain conventions, but neither purified nor enlightened nor chastened by any law of beauty, — this too is contrary to the idea of culture which may not be barbarism, it is yet Philistinism.
A society, in order to reach the elementary stage of culture, must break the prisons of barbarism and Philistinism.
It must develop activities of knowledge and reason and a wide intellectual curiosity, activities of enlightened will which make for character and high ethical ideals and a large human action, governed by truth and beauty and self-ruling will. This is the ideal of a true culture and the beginning of an accomplished humanity.
Education for the creation of cultural life
This strategy by which this ideal can be channelised in humanity is not easy to find.
Education is often supposed to be the best strategy for the creation of cultural life; and if culture is to be the means of peace, then education has to play a most dominant role.
Obviously, education that aims at providing information, education that limits the human mind to books and to the goal of passing examinations, cannot be adequate to meet the requirements of the goals of culture and of peace. We must propose new ideals, new contents and new methods of education.
Education should aim at the development of rationality which attempts to enlighten and reconcile the conflict between the ethical and the aesthetic. It must aim at providing to each individual deeper depths and higher heights of self-knowledge. True education must recognise and realise that:
- there are higher spiritual dimensions of personality, which alone can harmonise the triangular disposition of the rational, the ethical and aesthetic aspects of our personality;
- that it is the spiritual dimensions that can change and transform our blind impulses, drives and desires;
- and that the spiritual is not the negation of the material but rather the power of material transformation.
Therefore, education must provide ways and means by which the inner spirit can be awakened, developed and chiselled, leading all powers and functions of our being under the dominant guidance of spiritual illumination.
Integral education for integral personality — this should be the principal aim of education.
It should be stressed that the true self-knowledge liberates us from egoism and opens us up to the gates of universality. The conflict between self and the universe is resolved when the self is seen not as a bounded prison of finitude, but as a centre whose circumference is as wide as the universe.
True education should evolve universal man who is spontaneously and effortlessly the citizen of the world.
We speak today of education for international understanding but the means that we employ consist chiefly of exchange of information, exchange of experts and meetings of experts in seminars and conferences. These means are superficial and they can hardly meet the real demands of the object in view.
In the first place, we need to make it clear that international understanding is basically rooted in the idea of the Family of Man.
Secondly the real means of establishment of the Family of Man is the cultivation of the sense of brotherhood, which would transcend all narrow loyalties that conflict with the goal of universality.
And thirdly, the sense of brotherhood can grow and develop only by means of education that fosters mutuality, team spirit and self-discipline.
We speak today of education for human rights and people’s rights. Unfortunately, we do not speak of human duties and people’s duties.
It is only when we match rights with duties, and create a new mode of consciousness among learners in which the individual develops collective consciousness and the collectivity develops profound care of the individual that rights and duties come to be fulfilled in a meaningful manner.
Role of Spirituality in Law, Justice and Higher Education: Through Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching
Ours is a world beset with tensions, injustices and discriminations. Threat of war accentuates these tensions, injustices and discriminations. And threat of war can be eliminated, as we have seen above, by building defences of peace in all its aspects.
Our contention is that peace can be built securely by means of culture, and our deliberations lead us to the conclusion that culture for peace implies a new orientation of human consciousness; it implies eventually transformation of human consciousness.
Fostering among people the necessity of this new orientation, this change, this transformation is our immediate and imperative task, to which we are impelled by virtue of circumstances and also by virtue of what we can conceive at the highest and deepest level of our consciousness.
Only when man has developed not merely a fellow-feeling with all men, but a dominant sense of unity and commonalty, only when he is aware of them not merely as brothers,—that is a fragile bond,—but as parts of himself, only when he has learned to live not in his separate personal and communal ego-sense, but in a larger universal consciousness can the phenomenon of war, with whatever weapons, pass out of his life without the possibility of return.~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 25, p. 611
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