Evolving Beyond Borders

The United Nations from the Perspective of Sri Aurobindo's Philosophy

— Kosha Shah and Dr S. Jacoby


Price: Rs 495

Pages: 212
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-93-5018-358-8
Soft Cover
Publisher: Readworthy Publications, New Delhi

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About Evolving Beyond Borders

Sri Aurobindo has written on the League of Nations and on the United Nations in its early stages in the light of man's progress towards a greater human unity, not as prescriptions for an efficient world organisation. Basing their research on this same view, the authors look at Sri Aurobindo's social and political vision for humanity on the one hand and on the other examine the evolution of the United Nations and some of its special agencies, its role in war and peace, its stance on the question of self-determination, and the challenge represented by the power of economic interests. A special reference is made to the European Union and its struggle to rise above national ideals and interests.


Beginning with the closing decades of the nineteenth century, the world has seen unprecedented changes that have continued to occur at an ever-increasing pace. In particular, science and technology have provided the means for rapid transportation and communication not thought possible earlier. Even by the beginning of the twentieth century, continents and countries had been brought closer to the point where it became realistically possible to visualise human unity in the face of dramatic conflicts between empires and nation-States. But important issues needed to be addressed to make such unification worthwhile and meaningful.

From 1915 to 1920, Sri Aurobindo wrote a series of essays and articles, which, with a few exceptions, were afterwards compiled in book form as The Human Cycle, The Ideal of Human Unity and War and Self-Determination. Combining breadth of scholarship with deep psychological insight and far-sighted vision, these works constitute resource material of the greatest value in understanding recent history and in following present-day global trends and events, as the world becomes more closely knit and momentum towards human unity gathers force. Sri Aurobindo revised the first two works in the late 1930s and again in 1949, adding footnotes here and there to take note of the evolving global scene. The Human Cycle was published in 1949. Shortly before the republication of The Ideal of Human Unity in 1950, he wrote a Postscript Chapter, which assessed the state of the United Nations and the world order post-World War II. Over half a century later, this chapter, along with much of his other writing on the subject, remains abundantly relevant to the world situation today.

In his Independence Day Message of 1947, Sri Aurobindo speaks of five dreams which articulate his hopes for India and the world. The third of these dreams is of a world-union which would provide the outer framework for a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind. But he further affirmed that "an outward basis [for unification] is not enough; there must grow up an international spirit and outlook, international forms and institutions must appear, perhaps such developments as dual or multilateral citizenship, willed interchange or voluntary fusion of cultures. Nationalism will have fulfilled itself and lost its militancy and would no longer find these things incompatible with self-preservation and the integrality of its outlook. A new spirit of oneness will take hold of the human race."

Evolving Beyond Borders is a work of commendable scholarship and contemporary relevance in dealing with issues that are of the greatest significance to humanity, and indeed the future of the world, by exploring Sri Aurobindo's insights and vision on these and related topics, while examining the history and development of structures and organisations such as the League of Nations and its successor the United Nations. It notes that the UN and some of its specialised agencies, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are subject to the hegemony of the big powers and discusses how they need to be changed to make way for greater fair play and equity in the international arena. Further, the book looks at the European Union as a role model for possible emulation by other regions as steps towards the unity of all nations. Describing the evolution of the idea of a united Europe, it underlines the significant contributions of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman in establishing the foundations of the EU.

In the Prologue, the authors define the overall theme of Evolving Beyond Borders:

It has been clear to us from the beginning that this study of the UN would basically involve a selection of some issues which we feel need to be closely examined in the light of Sri Aurobindo because they seem fundamental to the future of the UN if it is to stay relevant to the future of humanity. Times have changed radically since the founding of the League of Nations and the United Nations in its present avatar. This has been widely recognized. What we would like to add is that perhaps there is a need to take a critical look at even the purpose of the UN. Much else will fall into place once we become clear about the future of humanity and the function of international organizations like the UN and those associated with it.

Throughout the book, the authors quote relevant passages from Sri Aurobindo as they take the reader through the development of ideas and the unfolding of events pertaining to their theme. Some of the most important aspects of these ideas are dwelt on in the following passages from War and Self-Determination:

The destiny of the race in this age of crisis and revolution will depend much more on the spirit which we are than on the machinery we shall use….

The whole difficulty of the present situation turns upon the peculiar and critical character of the age in which we are living. It is a period of immense and rapid changes so swift that few of us who live among them can hope to seize their whole burden or their inmost meaning or to form any safe estimate of their probable outcome. Great hopes are abroad, high and large ideals fill the view, enormous forces are in the field. It is one of those vast critical moments in the life of the race when all is pressing towards change and reconstitution. The ideals of the future, especially the ideals of freedom, equality, commonalty, unity, are demanding to be brought out from their limited field in the spiritual life or the idealism of the few and to be given some beginning of a true soul of action and bodily shape in the life of the race. But banded against any such fulfilment there are powerful obstacles, and the greatest of them come not from outside but from within. For they are the old continued impulsions and obstinate recalcitrance of mankind's past nature, the almost total subjection of its normal mind to egoistic, vital and material interests and ambitions which make not for union but for strife and discord, the plausibilities of the practical reason which looks at the possibilities of the day and the morrow and shuts its eyes to the consequences of the day after, the habits of pretence and fiction which impel men and nations to pursue and forward their own interest under the camouflage of a specious idealism, a habit made up only partly of the diplomatic hypocrisy of politicians, but much more of a general half-voluntary self-deception, and, finally, the inrush of blinder unsatisfied forces and crude imperfect idealisms…to take advantage of the unrest and dissatisfaction prevalent in such times and lay hold for a while on the life of mankind. It is these things which we see dominant around us and not in the least degree any effort to be of the right spirit and evolve from it the right method….It [the destiny of mankind] is a subtler thing than that which is now putting its momentous problem before us, and if the spirit of the things we profess is absent or falsified, no method or machinery can turn them out for us or deliver the promised goods. That is the one truth which the scientific and industrialised modern mind forgets always, because it looks at process and commodity and production and ignores the spirit in man and the deeper inner law of his being.

Evolving Beyond Borders explores a number of pertinent issues, political, economic, social, military and legal, relevant to their theme, in the light of Sri Aurobindo. Perhaps the most important of these is the form that human unity needs to take, whether it should be a World-State or a free world-union. Sri Aurobindo considers a World-State may be inevitable given the present human conditions, but the ideal to be attained would be a free world-union. He expresses the view that, for all its gains and advantages, a World-State would eventually lead to a loss of vitality, and to stagnation and even decay. In The Ideal of Human Unity he states that "the only means that readily suggests itself by which a necessary group-freedom can be preserved and yet the unification of the human race achieved, is to strive not towards a closely organised World-State, but towards a free, elastic and progressive world-union." And in a later chapter he says that

in a free world-union, though originally starting from the national basis, the national idea might be expected to undergo a radical transformation; it might even disappear into a new and less strenuously compact form and idea of group-aggregation which would not be separative in spirit, yet would preserve the necessary element of independence and variation needed by both individual and grouping for their full satisfaction and their healthy existence. Moreover, by emphasising the psychological quite as much as the political and mechanical idea and basis, it would give a freer and less artificial form and opportunity for the secure development of the necessary intellectual and psychological change; for such an inner change could alone give some chance of durability to the unification. That change would be the growth of the living idea or religion of humanity; for only so could there come the psychological modification of life and feeling and outlook which would accustom both individual and group to live in their common humanity first and most, subduing their individual and group egoism, yet losing nothing of their individual or group power to develop and express in its own way the divinity in man which, once the race was assured of its material existence, would emerge as the true object of human existence.

Evolving Beyond Borders has a useful bibliography and is written in a very readable style. It is recommended to lay persons, students and scholars alike for its relevance to present global circumstances and as a guide to a better future for the world.

— Prakash Patel

Prakash-bhai joined the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education as a teacher over four decades ago, after completing the Higher Course there. He has been associated with the SAICE's Free Progress section and for more than thirty years has also been part of the team in charge of Project Ecolake, involved with environmental education and eco-restoration.

June 2014