“He would guide the world, himself he cannot guide.”

– from Savitri, by Sri Aurobindo

The ‘they’ versus ‘us’ conflict

All the wars that we observe the world over seem distant or separate from us. They tend to be at best a subject, an issue, worthy of having an opinion on maybe, but not anything more. And this suffices partly because there is an apparent divide, a gulf between the people and events that we see engaged in war, and ourselves. ‘They’ are actively in it, and we, being on the sidelines, are by definition, passive – onlookers only. The pain and frustration of not being able to ‘do’ anything we ascribe to this passivity. But do we have a part to play on the world-stage? Or are we only meant to watch the play?

It depends on how we see ourselves relative to everyone else. Is there some truth to this ‘one Self in all’ of the ancients? [1]

If there is, it would have everything to do with this study of war. The reference to “the one Self in all” is to the following line from Sri Aurobindo’s work The Human Cycle :

“..there is a secret unity between our self and the self of others and therefore between our own lives and the lives of others”[1]Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, War and Self-Determination, pg 632. Link

In fact, there is an evocative line from His commentary on the Isha Upanishad that speaks to this:

“The sense that this is I and that is you…so long as the difference between I and you exists, hatred cannot cease… war cannot cease..”[2]Sri Aurobindo, The Isha Upanishad, p139, Link

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at the one ‘self’ we are most familiar with:


‘I’ insist, because what I say is obviously the whole truth on the matter and there can be nothing else simultaneously true – because only one thing can be true at a time (or so one thinks). In fact, by your very opposition to me, you must be wrong. And because I am separate and distinct from you, I must assert myself – it is is either you or me.

How much of what we see around us can be trace back to this very behavior, this way of conducting ourselves? (all too often, with great self righteous-ness)

We know war to be a shock on the nerves, an unpleasant disturbance to the otherwise stable rhythm of our rich egoistic lives. As seen in the aggregate, man has a warring tendency within that he owes to his egoistic aggressiveness, whether subtle or obvious. This tendency or characteristic is so fundamental, that it has defied all the restraints of committees, resolutions and movements. The inevitable road-block appears to be less this or that reason or circumstance, but more our own unchecked tendency towards self-assertion.

What we see at work in ourselves is but a microcosm of people and events ‘outside’ of us. We should perhaps be less surprised if states and nations behave the way we do. Their representatives evince behaviors and characteristics that aren’t particularly different from attributes that we ourselves exhibit – often.

So the question for us – finally, the subject of War isn’t so academic or abstract anymore – boils down to something very fundamental – for our part, the side of the human equation that is directly in our hands, if we truly wish to change anything – are we willing to do any inner work?

‘No’ is of course an option, a tried and tested almost default option that leaves us with a lifetime of arm-chair criticism of people, events and how things ‘should be’. The default option makes a strong case that we are exemplary humans, and Wars will resolve themselves naturally – or persist indefinitely.

Option B, on the other hand, is essentially what ancient wisdom has long known, and silently continues to offer as the way forward – if we give it the opportunity to be considered – an option that isn’t blessed as being ‘scientifically proven’ or given the ‘go’ by modern day yogis [2] – but has existed through the ages :

To divert our warring instincts towards self-conquest



[1] The actual line from the Isha goes thus :

“The Self in all existences, and all existences in the Self.” [Isha, 6]

There are at least two instances in the masterpiece Savitri where this is again suggested :

“Where all is in ourselves, ourselves in all.” [Savitri, Book II, Canto 2]

The mystic Self that is present in all but is hidden is alluded to here :

“… a larger self
That lives within us, by ourselves unseen;”
[Savitri, Book I, Canto 4]

[2] ‘Subject-matter experts’, think-tanks, scientists – those who typically grant themselves a license to stake a monopoly claim on truth.


1 Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, War and Self-Determination, pg 632. Link
2 Sri Aurobindo, The Isha Upanishad, p139, Link