"I will tell you in half a verse what has been told in hundreds and thousands of scriptures: This world is unreal, Consciousness alone is real and the individual consciousness is identical with the Supreme Consciousness." - Sri Shankaracharya












PRABUDDHA BHARATATowards Enlightened Citizenship | Swami Satyamayananda  






       Towards Enlightened Citizenship


        Swami Satyamayananda


     An individual is the basic social unit. Actually, we cannot think of an individual bereft of social baggage. The mind of each individual has two aspects: objective and subjective. The objective aspect is called society and the subjective is the real person. Truly speaking, the streams of individual and social consciousness blend finely and almost indistinguishably. This blending is present not just in man but in every living being.

     Individual and Social Forces

     There are many active forces in the individual that go into shaping society. Likewise there are many social forces incessantly working on the individual and also transforming him. It can equally be urged that when magnified, distorted and coloured, the individual forces become social forces. And when focused, the social forces make an individual. All this makes the individual constantly shift and assume different aspects according to changing social scenarios. Hence the so-called individuality keeps growing all the time. The same can be said of society. The question then arises: what is the goal of all these changes and growth?

     Interrelationship among Individuals

     The instinct to form societies and live in a group is ingrained in the individual psyche or rather in individual biology. But this very instinct or genetic factor throws us against each other to compete for everything. Each individual has a bundle of characteristics that combine to bring out his uniqueness. Even so a society has numerous elements that give it a distinct individuality.

     An individual is related to his family, clan, class or caste, economy, education, profession, race, language, religion, culture, politics, hobbies, nationality, humanity and so on. It is not necessarily in this order or all of these, but it must also be remembered that vices and virtues also lump people together. A person is thus a part of a group, which is a part of a larger group, and so on. The moment a person is born he is born into a group or a subgroup. As the individual grows, the number of groups clustering around him also increases. Thus an individual has growing circles of subgroups and groups around him that act as a protective shell around him, simultaneously hemming him in. It is like a stone thrown in a placid pool. The concentric ripples move away, one giving rise to another. They spread out far and they return after reaching the outer limits (banks). Each concentric circle is a group in which that individual lives and with which he identifies himself.

     Suppose this pool does not have just one stone thrown in (an individual) but many. All these concentric ripples now clash with one another as they emerge to spread, and again clash when they return from the outer limits (of society). All this makes the water choppy and unstable. Then the relative sizes of stones (individuals) vary, making their respective ripples varied. Some ripples get strengthened, some impelled, others contained and many destroyed.

     Active and Silent Influences

     There are times in the lives of individuals when a kind of frenzy tightens its stranglehold on them and threatens their sanity and existence. Every nation and society also undergoes this kind of upheaval in its history. Some nations, like some individuals, endure it longer, others briefly, yet others frequently and still others disastrously. The various forces that are involved are beyond our control and comprehension. This description fits when the forces are manifest and their effects can be perceived, but mostly these pressing circumstances are silently working on the individual and society, making for constant low-intensity struggle and despair. From one standpoint these struggles are necessary to make the society strong. Again, paradoxically, this saps our strength and with it our happiness and peace.

     Group Clashes

     Society being a conglomeration of different groups and subgroups, ideally all these should work in unison, but they don't. Just as there are different groups there are different forces operating within groups, moulding and then scattering them broadcast. This causes the inevitable palpable and impalpable clashes with other groups. No society is free from such clash of forces. Sometimes the clash of various forces in different intensities raises some groups, lets down others and crushes some others. But these forces do not absolutely destroy. They fragment a group and cast it away. From these remnants rises yet again another group that combines with the pre-existing ones or asserts its old identity. The disruptive forces thus become cohesive forces. These group wars, manifest and non-manifest, are a necessary component in every society, safeguarding and diffusing group strength all over it. Thus, an individual is a mere straw in the immensity of these movements that constantly traverse social realms.

     No Man is an Island

     We have got into a maze. Rather, we are already in it. What do we mean when we talk of enlightened citizenship, if we keep the above description of society in mind? The answer is obvious: no man is an island. Being an island might be poetry but bad poetry. The words monasticism and monk come from mono, 'one'. But monks also form monastic communities and go out for begging their daily bread. A person who is really alone is an insane person. He has gone beyond sanity and also society. Yet this very sane society is seen to make some of its members insane. Where is the ground we stand on? It is all the time shifting. Is this concept of being alone true or false? This concept itself would not have arisen in our minds if it were totally baseless. Here is the other argument: being all the time in a crowd has given rise to an opposite notion of being alone. Generally, people can endure even third-degree torture but not solitary confinement.

     Who Is a Leader?

     If an individual asserts too much he is disliked and most likely destroyed. If one accommodates oneself to others' wills and whims, one ends up not being oneself. Yet we find individuals who are assertive and still accommodative. They accommodate a group's hopes, aspirations and struggles and then assert themselves. This kind of individual has grown out of limited individuality and has reached the higher social consciousness of the group or groups. Such individuals embody in themselves both aspects of assertion and accommodation in a large measure. They are natural leaders.

     It can also be urged that the play of social forces themselves give rise to such individuals. These individuals are the result of those very forces they typify and embody. It is seen that as the particular goal of the group is attained, this leader's purpose is served and he is no longer needed. As a new problem crops up, those very forces that struggle against that problem will throw up a new leader. Are such persons enlightened citizens? The answer is, not necessarily; for it is seen in many cases that 'leaders' are selfish, egotistical, tyrannical and paranoid about power. Is an individual, then, tucked away in some obscure corner living a small life as an enlightened citizen? The answer again is in the negative. Yet, being an enlightened citizen does not depend upon wealth, brains, power, culture, education, sectarian beliefs or any other factor.

     Maintaining Poise by Living for an Ideal

     If anyone observed closely how ballet dancers or gymnasts manage to keep their balance and not feel giddy while whirling rapidly, he would realize that their eyes are riveted on a distant spot on the wall or the ceiling. This eliminates the disorientation and keeps them balanced.1 Similarly when an individual keeps his sight on the ideal, far above society's turbulence, he is not toppled by the natural and sordid social forces that try to disturb his equanimity and poise. This ideal has to be spiritual, for only the spiritual is above the material forces and is not subject to them. As the individual keeps his vision on the ideal, the orientation towards it commences and then inexorably impels him towards it. For it is ordinarily seen that our eyes lock into an object and impel the body to follow.

     Those who are not inclined towards a spiritual ideal can anchor themselves to a lesser yet noble ideal: looking upon people generalized as humanity. Humanity is naturally above particular societies. As people strive for their rights and duties and a decent life, they will inevitably learn that in order to rise higher, humanity must at one point be able to transcend human bonds. The Atman, which is the divine core of human personality and 'the Truth of truth' (satyasa satyam),2 then becomes our ideal. Its high expression is in humanity and the highest is in all creation.

     It is this ideal, the Atman, that is faintly reflected and perceived in our subjective and objective consciousness of individuality and society. This Atman is actually the motive power, the real force above all the other forces that toss us about in order to guide us to Its portals.

     True Individuality in the Atman

     It is not that we shall go about staring up at the skies, as that would erroneously mean we are directing our vision above society. It will be actually having our mental vision directed inside, for the Spirit, our Soul, is inside. It is on this permanence that we shall stand and view the shifting ground and the play of forces in society. This will be a first step towards seeing the reality within us and then as residing in all beings. We shall then see individuals and society, in fact all of creation, in the wonderful unchanging light of the Atman. Only then will we be perfectly enlightened individuals and perfectly enlightened citizens. Everything will then be harmonious, whole, healthy and meaningful. The smallest to the largest action, individuals, groups and subgroups will be found to be unconsciously pursuing the spiritual ideal. We shall then work harder, not only for humanity but also for the whole world. Others will then emulate us. The goal of true individuality, the Atman, having been reached, we shall identify with all the centrifugal and centripetal social ripples, and grow and help others to grow in the light of the Atman. ~

     Notes and References


1. Disorientation of any kind is due to the kinesthetic and vestibular systems. The former is due to nerves spread all over the body and the latter, which works with the former, also detects the position of the head and is essential for maintaining balance. The brain monitors these movements along with those from the eyes to control balance and coordinate movements. The eyes and other senses can compensate to a certain degree for balance. See ABC's of the Human Mind, ed. Alma Guinness (New York: Reader's Digest, 1990), 134.

2. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 2.1.20.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015







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