When we look around and see the challenges facing us on the planet, our first impulse is generally to try to find some kind of “fix” to the situation. This generally takes the form of suggesting that our current economic or political system or model is defective, deficient or broken, and thus, we need to either update it or switch to a different one. In some cases, those who have adopted a particular religious conviction believe that by making everyone else believe as they do will cure things. Thus, there may enter a missionary element to ‘convert’ others. Some believe that there are simply bad actors out in the world and they need to be controlled or eliminated. Thus we have a retributive penal system or the use of heavy-handed policing, or, on the international level, the use of warfare to advance one’s prescription for change needed in the world. Some believe that education, or ‘re-education’ will solve the problem. At the end of the day, we eventually see that none of these solutions has actually succeeded. Then we look at whether we can escape the planet and begin interplantary colonization, with the idea that we can solve our problems by simply leaving them behind.

What is not recognised, generally, is that the problems we identify outside ourselves are reflections of our own basic human nature and that all the outer changes of form, whether of political institutions, economic models or religious preferences, will accomplish nothing without an inner change that recognises and changes the basics of what we call ‘human nature’, which is a bundle of habits, conventions and preconceived ideas that we believe are fixed and immutable.

When we turn our attention from ‘outer space’ to ‘inner space’ we begin to recognise that we carry all the problems of humanity within ourselves. The capacity for greed, the feelings of desire or lust, the drive toward anger, rage and hatred — these all remain latent within each individual, waiting only for an opportunity to break forth and manifest.

Despite the refrain that human nature cannot be changed, there is evidence to the contrary. Techniques have been developed to break addictions or habits. There are innumerable examples of individuals who have made extraordinary changes in their ways of seeing and acting and the actions they undertake in their lives. We describe the ‘butterfly effect’ that shows that even small changes can have repercussions and effects far beyond the ostensible initial action, and we have documented what is called the ‘hundredth monkey’ phenomenon that shows that a new capacity, skill or power becomes available to a wider population when a specific threshold of knowing individuals has been reached.

If we begin to apply this information synergistically, we find that the exploration of inner space, the development of the standpoint of the witness of one’s own nature, and then the subsequent implementation of systematic changes not only can change our own nature, but has its natural consequences in the world. And in the development of new forms and powers of human nature, who is to say which individual is the “hundredth monkey” in humanity’s transformation?

The Mother notes: “And this is something — an experience that one can have daily, or almost… when one has those movements of great enthusiasm, great aspiration, when one suddenly becomes conscious of the divine goal, the urge towards the Divine, the desire to take part in the divine work, when one comes out of oneself in a great joy and great force… and then, a few hours later, one is miserable for a tiny little thing; one indulges in so petty, so narrow, so commonplace a self-interestedness, has such a dull desire… and all the rest has evaporated as if it did not exist. One is quite accustomed to contradictions; one doesn’t pay attention to this and that is why all these things live comfortably together as neighbors. One must first discover them and prevent them from intermingling in one’s consciousness: decide between them, separate the shadow from the light. Later one can get rid of the shadow.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.