Let Us All Work For the Greatness Of India

V. Where it may lead us – The Working of the Commercial and Utilitarian Spirit and its Possible Culmination


Things are much worse today than when the Mother said, “The latest scientific discoveries, applied to life, have put within the reach of everyone all kinds of things which formerly were reserved only for the intellectual and artistic elite; and to justify their effort and profit by their work, they have made things which can sell most, that is, the lowest, most ordinary, most vulgar things, the easiest to understand because they require no effort and no education. And the whole world is drowned under these things, to such an extent that when there’s someone who has written a good book or a fine play, there is no longer any place for him anywhere, because the whole place has been taken up by these things.

Naturally there are sensible people who try to react; but it is very difficult. First of all the commercial mentality should be driven out from the world. This will take some time.… there is yet the golden calf, there, reigning over the world; before it is pulled down some time will yet go by, I am afraid. This has so perverted men’s mind, that it is for them the criterion. You see, in America when someone is spoken about, it is said: “He, oh, he is worth a million dollars!” This indeed is the greatest compliment one can pay. And it is this: someone asks, “Do you know this person? What is he worth?” —“He is worth a hundred thousand dollars”, “He is worth five hundred dollars.” So this means that he has a position which brings him this. “Is he intelligent, is he stupid? Is he…” This is not at all important. “Is he a good man or a bad one?” That makes no difference at all! “Is he a rich man or a poor one?” If he is rich, ah, ah! “I would like to know him very much! If he is poor, I have nothing to do with him.” There! Naturally America is a young country, so its ways are those of a child, but of a fairly ill-bred child. But the older countries have become too old and can no longer react, they shake their heads and wonder if after all this youth is not right. Everything is like that. The world is very ill.” (CWM 7: 311-12)

A. The Hidden Spring

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have repeatedly told us that in our surface human nature we are usually the unconscious slaves of many undivine and anti-divine powers of the vital and mental worlds whose very purpose is to block the descent of Divine Love, Light and Force so that they can continue to keep this evolving earth-nature subject to their yoke of falsehood, suffering and death. A person or a society which blindly pursues – as we have been doing ever since we have been in a position of doing so – a surface vital-mental objective comes increasingly under the influence of these powers with predictable consequences. This has always been well understood and recognized in India, but under the influence of Western materialistic and utilitarian spirit we have nationally forgotten it and as a result have gotten ourselves into the present precarious and dangerous situation. The hostile powers not only invade and try to bring under their sway the life of the individuals but also the psychological infrastructure of the collectivity which under such an influence progressively loses its capacity to distinguish between right and wrong or true and false. A successful possession of the collective infrastructure makes them virtually irresistible for individuals – even for such individuals who have a developed inner being and who, in a normal collective atmosphere, would have been successful in countering the evil influence of these beings to a large extent. Fear and Desire are the two powerful levers that the hostile powers use to take increasing possession of individuals in a utilitarian society.

B. Some Salient Features of the Process of Progression of the Utilitarian Spirit and its Culmination

“System, organisation, machinery have attained their perfection. Bondage has been carried to its highest expression, and from a passion for organising external liberty Europe is slaying her spiritual freedom. When the inner freedom is gone, the external liberty will follow it, and a social tyranny more terrible, inquisitorial and relentless than any that caste ever organised in India, will take its place. The process has already begun. The shell of external liberty remains, the core is already being eaten away. Because he is still free to gratify his senses and enjoy himself, the European thinks himself free. He does not know what teeth are gnawing into the heart of his liberty.” (CWSA 1: 547)

The Nature of the hostile vital powers is such that they are never satisfied – theirs is an insatiable thirst, it is the distorted reflection of the hunger of the Infinite. This is the reason why the human vital afflictions like greed and lust resulting from the action of these powers have a similar character. The utilitarian or the commercial spirit (a narrower form limited to the field of finance and money) which is a powerful and willing instrument in the hands of the hostile powers is never at rest. If left to itself – and it is a very big “if” because there are divine powers in the depths of our being who counter it and keep humanity from going to perdition – it will ever progress towards an increasing possession – approaching ever deeper and wider levels – of the being of whatever comes under its evil influence. In appearance the action of the utilitarian spirit is like that of a canker which leaves the outside appearance of a fruit practically unscathed even while eating the core. In reality the action of this spirit is much more like the rust which not only spreads or expands laterally but also digs into ever deeper and deeper layers of the metal and stops only when it has turned it to dust. All this becomes very clear when we take practical examples of its twofold action in individuals and collectivities.

(a). At present the famous dictum “a bad coin drives the good coin out of circulation” is becoming true in practically all walks of life due to the relentless action of the utilitarian spirit. More and more individuals are increasingly finding that the situation in their life and the field of work has become such that they must consent to the use of more and more unethical and degrading means to succeed or even to survive. For example, let us assume that A and B are two competitors in a business and A resorts to the practice of avoiding paying of government taxes (whenever he can get away with it) and starts selling his articles a little cheaper. Even if B is a man of scruples, when he finds it increasingly difficult to stay in business he copies A. Now, to do better A decides to undercut his competitor by taking out of the product, in quality and substance, all that could be taken out ‘safely’ – without affecting the appearance, i.e. without the risk of the consumer finding out. This lowers the costs and enables A to further reduce his price. Now B must do something similar or if through his experience of so called ‘realities of life’, he gets exceedingly groomed in the commercial spirit he may even do better and discover novel ways of cheating customers and undercutting his competitors. Thus the disease percolates to deeper and deeper levels. Even people who begin with good intentions in any business or profession are either thrown out or begin sinking to ever lower levels in ethics and morality. At present things have reached such disgustingly low levels that one hears of big drug companies producing and having ready large stock of necessary medicine for containing an epidemic before they secretly disperse the microbes that would spread it. Aren’t we truly getting ready to destroy each other?

(b).The utilitarian spirit not only digs deeper, it also expands laterally and quickly spreads and has not remained confined to the area of business and finance. It has already made deep inroads in the area of services that practically must remain – as they traditionally have been – free from the commercial spirit if they are at all going to be able to perform their sacred task. Education, health and medicine, justice and not even philanthropy and religion are any longer immune from the corrosive action of this rust of the human soul. Politics and Government has become so thoroughly contaminated with this spirit that modern politician and leaders have only a one point program – to somehow or anyhow acquire power and to keep it at any cost. People have become so cynical that they cannot believe that a person in politics could be really honest even though what they call honest is far from the way honesty has traditionally been understood. So low have become the standards of honesty in public life that a politician manipulates his office (or status) and uses it exclusively for the sole object of staying in power, but, if he refrains from indulging in glaring financial irregularities for pecuniary gain, he will easily pass the test of public ethics and will be considered honest. In all the areas where the utilitarian octopus spreads its tentacles, it starts digging deeper and deeper and consequently more and more ingenious discoveries are made in ways to cheat others for one’s personal gain. Close family ties and intimate personal relations have so far remained largely free from the grosser forms of this commercialism because India has strong family ties and a spiritual tradition. However, a turn towards it has already been made – particularly in the urban areas – and it may not be too long before it spreads and India begins to catch up with the Western gospel of each man for himself.

(c). All this is frightening enough but actually things are still more serious and dangerous. Given the deep permeation of the hostile powers in the collective psychology, it is not surprising that, even in the presence of such imminent danger, most people are so oblivious that no large scale collective action to tackle the problem has yet been organized anywhere. The surface reason or reasoning that may be coming in the way of any organized action may perhaps be based on some popular but false notions about the true nature, power and future role of science and its potent discoveries and their real value for the race.

In the face of an unrepentant and triumphant march of western Science and its dazzling success in almost every field during the last two centuries, the whole of the human race has become so enamoured of the power of Science and its machinery to solve all its pressing problems – even those pertaining to the perfection of man and his society – that not only is it lax in addressing serious outer ecological and environmental problems looming large, but is even neglecting the serious inner psychological and moral problems which are assuming such alarming proportions – global terrorism is only an outer symptom of these – as to pose a serious threat to its very existence. Our eyes are turned outside while the root of all the problems lies in our own inner constitution.

Humanity at large has to understand and realize keenly that what Science can do for it is very limited and even that does not come without a very heavy price to be paid in terms of the diminution of our inner peace and happiness. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, “The utmost widening of a physical objective knowledge, even if it embrace the most distant solar systems and the deepest layers of the earth and sea and the most subtle powers of material substance and energy, is not the essential gain for us, not the one thing which it is most needful for us to acquire. That is why the gospel of materialism, in spite of the dazzling triumphs of physical Science, proves itself always in the end a vain and helpless creed, and that too is why physical Science itself with all its achievements, though it may accomplish comfort, can never achieve happiness and fullness of being for the human race. Our true happiness lies in the true growth of our whole being, in a victory throughout the total range of our existence, in mastery of the inner as well as and more than the outer, the hidden as well as the overt nature; our true completeness comes not by describing wider circles on the plane where we began, but by transcendence.”(CWSA 22: 757-58)

Even in the traditional perception – which does not go anywhere near this deeper perception – Science has been known to be a double edged sword which may be used both to help and hurt. In the light of this, perhaps the most dangerous thing that is happening is that the rapid advances in Science and Technology are progressively putting ever more and more potent and dangerous new instruments in the hands of individuals and collectivities infested with the spirit of utilitarianism. The future is full of very grave dangers. Even as it is, these advancements have become an instrument in the hands of uncontrolled human greed which has led to a progressive and ruthless exploitation of physical elements, flora and fauna and all forms of life on earth. There is another possibility that has recently arisen on the horizon – the possibility of manipulation of mighty cosmic level forces to man’s advantage. And this is not the end; many more such things may in future confront the human midget who may end up causing irreparable damage to himself and to other life forms on the planet. We hope that by the intervention of the divine Grace humanity will soon begin charting a different route without having to go through the experience of another round of devastating physical afflictions, because if things keep on moving as they are, human beings face the sure prospect of a devastation both at the physical and the psychological levels of their existence.

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