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
and Social Forces
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
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.
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.
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.
and Silent Influences
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
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.
Man is an Island
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.
Is a Leader?
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.
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.
Poise by Living for an Ideal
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
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.
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.
Individuality in the Atman
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. ~
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.