All illness is essentially an outer reflection of an inner disequilibrium. This disequilibrium may be between different parts (psychological and physiological) of the individual himself or between the inner constitution of the individual and the psycho-physical environment in which he has come to dwell. The contact with the outer world can be the catalytic agent inducing an inner disequilibrium. In this sense, we can say that society and human relationships can be a source of stress as well as support and succour. These ‘social pathologies’ may not always throw themselves up as physical illnesses but may inflict an injury even worse than bodily disorder. They may slowly or rapidly corrode the silent spaces of the soul and lead the entire society to the brink of disaster and destruction.
Man and Environment
Unlike the animal mind with its narrow range of needs and desires, man’s mind has become complex and lives in many dimensions at the same time. This complexity is the root of the difficulty in the right relation between the individual and his psychological environment comprising of other individuals. The difficulty becomes even deeper, if we realize that just as each individual has an individual soul and an individual dharma (right law of self-development and self-fulfilment), so too, each group has its own group soul and group dharma. Thus, each nation also has its own evolutionary line of growth, progress, decline and rebirth. This is sometimes vaguely reflected in the history of a nation and its people. If the individual’s dharma and group dharma are at variance or cross purposes or, if the soul of a nation and that of an individual are at different evolutionary stages, there is likely to be great stress. The same is, however, and perhaps even more true (from an immediate practical standpoint) in smaller group units like the family, clan and tribe. The difficulty assumes an even greater proportion in groups which are not stable but temporary like institutions that are built for certain practical, social, economic, administrative and religious purposes. Many of these groups and institutions thrive by rigidly forcing the individual to conform and submit to their rule, norm and law. Those who refuse to conform are regarded as abnormal, deviant or sick. In sociological terms, they become the outcast or the criminal. The only way society has so far learnt to deal with them is through fear and punishment. Punishment is sometimes deceptively subtle, a withdrawal of reward, for example the fear of hell and wrath of God. These are primitive means and reflect our lack of wideness and vastness in understanding man as a totality. Fear, in whatever form, always degrades the consciousness. Any society that need use fear as a means of adherence is still far from the ideal of social health, even if all its members are still lawful and obedient.
The Individual and the Group
We find in fact two separate but simultaneous tendencies in every human being. One is towards isolating himself as an individual with unique thoughts, beliefs, feelings and urges. This can develop to such an extent that he becomes uncomfortable confronted by any encroachment upon his self-formation and self-view. In an extreme case, the individual may completely isolate and shut himself into a private, personal world for better or worse. He becomes extremely sensitive to the smallest contact with the outside world that ‘hurts’ his self-formation. So much so, that he may shut himself in his own castle of thoughts and opinions, encase himself in the glass prison of his ego, and become useless or a nuisance to the world. The other equally strong tendency is that of association and formation into groups. Here again, the individual may try to realize in group life, an extension and projection of himself. This is seen in a need to associate with ‘like-minded’ people with whom he shares common bonds of birth, physical environment, language, custom, culture and religion. At one extreme, the individual may so completely identify with the group that he is willing to immolate himself at the altar of the collective ego by perfect submission and obedience. At another, he becomes intolerant of all groups, ready to destroy and be destroyed to preserve his separate group identity.
Both have their own justification in Nature’s process of self-unfolding and world-unfolding. They are temporary devices, useful in the early stages of human development. In truth, however, these tendencies hide a deeper reality and must be given up if mankind has to take the next higher step in individual and group life. The recoil of the individual from the collectivity, as well as his association with it, is based on formations of thoughts, belief, emotions and impulses. He swings from one side to another. The result is perpetual division, at best an accommodation and adjustment, at worst hatred, intolerance, conflict and strife, or even appeasement.
This dichotomy is permitted as man is still a mental being. However, mind is not his highest truth, so the right relation of individual and world cannot be discovered here. Mind is an instrument of division and its natural tendency is to compare and contrast. At its highest, it can attempt to synthesise two apparent contradictions by going deeper to discover a secret bond of commonalty that gives birth to the divergence. But it cannot apply this principle effectively in life. Hence, it is unable to truly harmonize. For harmony, a higher power, a deeper truth is needed which is found in the depths of the soul or in the heights of the Self above the mind. In both instances, one passes beyond the limitations of the ego self.
The Principle of Harmony: A New Sociology
The real formula of unity and harmony lies within. It is only when we have lifted the veil of the omnipresent deity within us that we shall be able to discover the same deity in all beings. The basis of union lies in the revelation that God dwells in all bodies. It is not that some are more favoured than others. It is not that He chooses to make a saintly being His abode and discards the sinner.
These are human notions, born of the superiority of the virtuous and the privileged. There is only One Reality and all glory belongs to That alone. To dwell in that ‘Reality’ is to dwell in oneness. To live for ‘That’ in oneself is to live for ‘That’ in the world and all beings. To meet ‘That’ in every contact, to seek and find Him in everybody, to realize ‘It’ in each event is the basis of true harmony. In the world, however, we see a diversity and hierarchy. This is not due to differences of nationality, language, religion, caste, creed or cult alone. They are born of our superficial and limited seeing that cannot penetrate beyond the surface. The result is misjudgement, misunderstanding, wrong expectations, disappointments, quarrels and ruptures. Our understanding of each other is based upon our ignorant and narrow view of man. We often see in others the mistake that is glaring in ourselves. A cunning man looks at everyone with suspicion. A man lusting after power fears everyone in the mistaken belief that others are lusting after power too. A person in love sees the face of his beloved everywhere. Our opinion of others is constantly biased by many prejudices. We form a few sets of beliefs or rules for ourselves: moral, religious, ethical, etc., and we judge others from this self-created pedestal. Such rules may be practicable for one person, on his unique road to self-discovery but cannot be regarded as a rule for all mankind. The more are the rules, the greater the scope for misjudgements. A rule that is perfectly valid and useful for one may be absolutely useless for another. Since no two individuals can claim to have shared an identical evolutionary history, no two paths and no two methods of dealing with human nature can be the same. There may be broad lines of agreement, even broad highways where sub-paths meet, yet each arrives there from a different point through a different route.
It is here that the tendency towards individualization finds its true meaning and significance. Each one manifests, or is destined to manifest, a particular mode of the Infinite and it is his purpose to find it. His full potential cannot be revealed so long as he remains like an animal, a creature of the pack and herd. He has, at one point, to break free from all conventions, rules, laws and norms of conduct to discover his own. He has, at one point, to close his eyes on all outer formulae and formulations of truth so that his eyes may open to the eternal knowledge within his own heart, in freedom and unity: two sides of the same coin.
The Impulse to Freedom
It is here that we also find the justification of the impulse of freedom in man — even a freedom to err. Often this freedom is confused with indulgence in the caprice of fancy and desire.
Such an indulgence in the lowest parts of nature is only a form of slavery. Yet, Nature uses these very base materials to hasten her work of perfection. She uses ugliness to carve beauty and weakness to gather strength. In her vast economy, even error and failure is used as a springboard to leap to a greater height. We are afraid of error. But error is only the first step taken by the infant soul in its ascent towards Truth. Through its stumbles, it learns to walk, run and climb. To fear error is to be stunted and bound in a narrow formula of static perfection. A child afraid of falling never learns to walk.
This is not to say that error and failure are the best way to learn. There are safer ways. Yet, there is a utility of these elements also at a certain stage of growth. The errant units must be led their own way and taught a deeper harmony. To forcibly suppress and mutilate them through fear and coercion is to maim and abort a great possibility even before it is born. The ‘erring element’ has to be understood in the light of the truth that supports it and hence justifies its existence. To use ‘fear’ and ‘force’ does not really change anything. It only covers the seething interior with a false garb that appears well behaved and mannered. But behind this facade dwells the naked ape, unchanged and even worse, for it is now hidden. Yet most of our education, training programmes and behaviour modification techniques teach only this art of self-deception and world-deception. And so arises the need for rebellion and revolt against a system that has fossilized into ritualistic code and conduct.
A social order that has lost the inner spirit that gave birth to it tends to fragment sooner or later. This fragmentation is, however, only an instrument giving birth to a higher order. Conformity leads to stability, non-conformity to change.
“The Mosaic law of religious, ethical and social righteousness is convicted of narrowness and imperfection and is now besides a convention; the law of Christ comes to replace it and claims at once to abrogate and to fulfil, to abrogate the imperfect form and fulfil in a deeper and broader light and power the spirit of the thing which it aimed at, the divine rule of living. And the human search does not stop there, but leaves these formulations too, goes back to some past truth it had rejected or breaks forward to some new truth and power, but is always in search of the same thing, the law of its perfection, its rule of right living, its complete, highest and essential self and nature.
This movement begins with the individual, who is no longer satisfied with the law because he finds that it no longer corresponds to his idea and largest or most intensest experience of himself and existence and therefore he can no longer bring to it the will to believe and practise. It does not correspond to his inner way of being, it is not to him sat, the thing that truly is, the right, the highest or best or real good; it is not the truth and law of his or of all being. The Shastra is something impersonal to the individual, and that gives it its authority over the narrow personal law of his members; but at the same time it is personal to the collectivity and is the outcome of its experience, its culture or its nature. It is not in all its form and spirit the ideal rule of fulfilment of the Self or the eternal law of the Master of our nature, although it may contain in itself in small or larger measure indications, preparations, illuminating glimpses of that far greater thing. And the individual may have gone beyond the collectivity and be ready for a greater truth, a wider walk, a deeper intention of the Life-Spirit. The leading in him that departs from the Shastra may not indeed be always a higher movement; it may take the form of a revolt of the egoistic or rajasic nature seeking freedom from the yoke of something which it feels to be cramping to its liberty of self-fulfilment and self-finding. But even then it is often justified by some narrowness or imperfection of the Shastra or by the degradation of the current rule of living into a merely restricting or lifeless convention. And so far it is legitimate, it appeals to a truth, it has a good and just reason for existence: for though it misses the right path, yet the free action of the rajasic ego, because it has more in it of liberty and life, is better than the dead and hidebound tamasic following of a convention.” 
The Urge for Unity
But what then would be the guiding principle for the individual in his relation to himself and the world? The first necessity, we have seen, is that the individual must be true to the deepest truth of his being or at least the highest part of Nature active in him, with a will of course to always exceed this. An urge for growth and thirst for progress is the seed that grows into divine perfection one day through all the apparent anomalies and aberrations of human nature. An individual or society that is willing to progress, not merely outwardly, but inwardly in its thoughts and beliefs, is already on the road to perfection. A society that rests content with its achievements, gloating over its advances is on the road to decadence. To seek and search is the first condition to self-finding.
But to seek and search is best done when we are faithful to the leading shraddha (faith) in our nature. To discover this faith, we need to decondition ourselves from the thousand influences that clamour and whisper suggestions to us and learn to listen to the ‘still small voice’ that gently guides us from the silent depths of our heart. It is through this deeper truth (rather than the ego) that we have to learn to relate our self with the world. Above all, in this respect, where we deal with a diversity too complex for our limited physical mind, we must keep this faith or vision that the Truth unfolding itself in us is the same Truth that unfolds Itself in others in a different way. So long as the limited, divided and dividing ego-sense is active in us, our relation with the world (even those whom we call our own) is tainted by the frosted glass of ego and its child ‘desire’. We see and relate to the world through the grid of our ego which falsifies our vision by always adding its own hue and colour to it. This must be abdicated and replaced by finding the Self that is one and in all beings and yet infinite in its scope of Self-manifestation. What changes is not so much our outer relation as our inner attitude. And this inner change begins to create a new meaning and a new purpose in our relationships. The old bases fall away and are replaced by a more secure Truth. Thus, rigid consistency and an inflexible rule gives way to the plasticity of Truth which shows us what is best at a given instance. What matters then is the progressive birth of Truth and Light and Beauty and Harmony and Love in the world. Sometimes this birth is through peaceful means, at other times, through violence when something obstinately resists the pressure of Harmony, Peace and Love. There is a place for everything. And the Divine wisdom indeed uses everything; even the battle of Troy and Mahabharata served the grand purpose for which the world and earth were born. The healthy relations of world and man, in a spiritual sense, are not determined by the ordinary notions of virtue and vice or moral right or wrong. They are governed by the truth of being and world-being. Thus says Sri Aurobindo:
“A spiritualised society would treat in its sociology the individual, from the saint to the criminal, not as units of a social problem to be passed through some skilfully devised machinery and either flattened into the social mould or crushed out of it, but as souls suffering and entangled in a net and to be rescued, souls growing and to be encouraged to grow, souls grown and from whom help and power can be drawn by the lesser spirits who are not yet adult. The aim of its economics would be not to create a huge engine of production, whether of the competitive or the cooperative kind, but to give to men — not only to some but to all men each in his highest possible measure — the joy of work according to their own nature and free leisure to grow inwardly, as well as a simply rich and beautiful life for all. In its politics it would not regard the nations within the scope of their own internal life as enormous State machines regulated and armoured with man living for the sake of the machine and worshipping it as his God and his larger self, content at the first call to kill others upon its altar and to bleed there himself so that the machine may remain intact and powerful and be made ever larger, more complex, more cumbrous, more mechanically efficient and entire. Neither would it be content to maintain these nations or States in their mutual relations as noxious engines meant to discharge poisonous gas upon each other in peace and to rush in times of clash upon each other’s armed hosts and unarmed millions, full of belching shot and men missioned to murder like war-planes or hostile tanks in a modern battlefield. It would regard the peoples as group-souls, the Divinity concealed and to be self-discovered in its human collectivities, group-souls meant like the individual to grow according to their own nature and by that growth to help each other, to help the whole race in the one common work of humanity. And that work would be to find the divine Self in the individual and the collectivity and to realise spiritually, mentally, vitally, materially its greatest, largest, richest and deepest possibilities in the inner life of all and their outer action and nature.”
Our relationships therefore have to change more and more from a mental-vital basis to a deeper psycho-spiritual basis. It is this fundamental change in the very character of our self and world regard that is the need of the hour. It is by changing ourselves from within that we begin changing the world around us.
 Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 19, Essays on the Gita, ‘The Gunas, Faith and Works’, pp. 478-480
 Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 25, The Human Cycle, ‘Conditions for the Coming of a Spiritual Age’, p. 257