Character of Life - Consciousness Approach to Shakespeare: Introduction


Modern civilisation has developed as a result and expression of man's evolution as a mental being. In the process, the physical and rational mind of humanity has become a powerful instrument for the observation and comprehension of material phenomena codified as the various branches of physical and biological science. But this unprecedented advancement in the material realm has not been accompanied by a corresponding growth in knowledge of human psychology and the more general field of life events. In fact it seems that with the growth of these mental faculties, man has for a time lost an earlier capacity to see and know life directly through his own vital being. Most scientists approach psychology as a branch of biological science which in effect delegates man to the same treatment as his non-mental ancestors in the animal kingdom. Where psychologists venture beyond these physical limits, they are always on precarious ground and most often end in constructing mental theories with little relevance to living realities. When it comes to a science of life itself, as opposed to a science of matter and material forms of life, science has simply refused to address the topic and has attempted to dismiss it by the premise that life movements are a combination of natural physical determinisms and chance events with no underlying principle of order or harmony.

But when we turn away from the sphere of modern science, we discover that knowledge of man and knowledge of life have been perceived and comprehended in great depth and clarity by mystics and yogis of different countries and historical periods. In Vedic India these truths were codified as scripture and institutionalised as the social customs of the community. As man gradually evolved his mental faculties to the fine pitch which they have now attained, this subtler perception of life and adherence to its laws has been lost in the same manner as he has lost many of the physical instincts of the animal. But this loss is merely a temporary one allowing the mind full freedom to develop its own mode of knowledge. What has been lost can and must be rediscovered through man's further evolution, no longer as mere vital instinct or subtle vital perception, but as a refinement of the mental faculties to their highest reach where the pure intellect shades off into illumined and intuitive vision.

The entire foundation and body of this knowledge is available in the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. They have revealed the basic principles of Consciousness applicable to all planes of existence and shown how these principles express themselves at each level of the evolutionary consciousness. Basing ourselves on these principles we shall attempt to shed some further light on the character of life in its manifold movements and expressions.

To aid in this endeavour we may have recourse to another source of knowledge concerning the character of life which if not as pure, systematic, comprehensive and profound as the knowledge of the ancients, is yet more easily intelligible and acceptable to our modern minds. That source is the entire written literature of the human race and for our present purposes the modern literature of the English language. The greatest writers have always been recognised for their capacity to reveal truths of life as well as truths of spirit through the style, thought and imagery of their works. Sheer beauty of word, rhythm or imagination has never been sufficient to make literature great. Always these are combined with some deeper revealing vision of realities hidden from the outer sense and intellectual thought.

Of course, for the present purposes we cannot accept all literature as equally useful. Prose works appeal primarily to the intellect and aesthetic taste, not the deeper life sense or soul sense, as their judge. But among prose works there is an infinite gradation within this limited sphere. We may exclude from consideration those works which portray life according to a fixed moral or philosophical system of beliefs or ideas, for these mental constructions interfere with a true portrayal of its character. So also works that are chiefly subjective and imaginative, no matter how beautiful the expression or true the portrayal to some other plane of existence. In prose literature we will select authors and works that portray life in its objective reality, not the mere surface reality of external beings and movements, but the deeper truths of human behaviour and human nature and the character of life events in which man participates and by which he is affected. In this category there is a large group of modern English novelists such as Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, etc. as well as translations of other Europeans like Hugo and Balzac who possess profound insights into man and life without penetrating the deeper realities of the spirit, which are beyond the scope of our present study.

While prose addresses primarily the intellect, poetry goes beyond the thought-mind and employs its images and rhythm to evoke sheer vision. Its aim is to make the thing presented living to the imaginative vision and spiritual sense. Poetry expresses the hidden and infinite meanings beyond the finite intellectual meaning carried by the word. For revelation of life's deepest secrets and for all expression of spiritual truths, poetry is the supreme artistic medium. As with prose, there is an infinite gradation of types and quality among the world's poets. Here we will be concerned neither with the poets of imagination and subjective emotional experience nor the mystic poets of the Spirit. Our interest is in the great revealing poets of life among whom Shakespeare is the supreme example. To quote A.C. Bradley, world-renowned Shakespearean scholar, "...Shakespeare almost alone among poets seems to create in somewhat the same manner as Nature." 1His portrayal of the minutest details of human character and life is true to life "and it is just because he is truthful in these smaller things that in greater things we trust him absolutely never to pervert the truth for the sake of some doctrine or purpose of his own."2 Sri Aurobindo more than confirms this view: " itself takes hold of him in order to recreate itself in his image, and he sits within himself at its heart and pours out from its impulse a throng of beings, as real in the world he creates as men are in this other world... It is this sheer creative Ananda of the life-spirit which is Shakespeare... He is not primarily an artist, a poetical thinker or anything else of the kind, but a great vital creator and intensely, though within marked limits, a seer of life."3

These quotations reveal clearly not only the content but also the method of Shakespeare's revelation of life, and though we cannot expect other writers to compare with his genius, we can yet understand that which is true to life in their work as a momentary adherence to the same principles. The great artist of life does not see life through the mind and mentally translate his vision into understanding and understanding into literature. Rather he identifies with the force of life and lets it express itself through him. Mind comes in only to supply the outer form for this revelation, not the substance.

The task confronting us differs from that of the artist who sees and expresses. Our aim is to make life intelligible to the intellect and reason, to seek for the underlying order and purpose and harmony of life which has eluded modern science. For this purpose all life experience is proper raw material. Mankind possesses extensive records of life in its written literature and historical records, both of which are suitable for a comprehensive consideration. Literature focuses attention on the narrower field of the individual man in society and thereby portrays best the movements of life in their subtlety and detail. History focuses on the broader field of national and international activity and sees life's movements from an evolutionary perspective. Nevertheless, it is always life that is active regardless of the scale and we must expect the principles applicable on one level to be relevant to the other as well.

We will begin with a study of life in literature, drawing our material from the works of Shakespeare. In doing so our task will compare with that of the literary critics. In the words of I.A. Richard, "Criticism is the endeavour to discriminate between experiences and evaluate them."4Only in this case we shall not be considering the substance of literary work as artistic creation but as real life events. Our discrimination will be an attempt to identify and distinguish the various movements of life and our evaluation will be an effort to discover the underlying principles which describe and explain these movements.

Before turning to life experiences for validation, we must lay out the broad theoretical outlines of the science of life based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Life is a manifest form of spirit existing as a plane of vital consciousness in the gradation of universal existence. On its own plane the substance of life is force. This force of life expresses itself on the physical plane on earth as the animating principle of matter which gives life and movement to inert substance.

Out of this living matter plants and animals have evolved, culminating in the appearance of mental man. In man there is a meeting of the three planes of earthly life--material, vital and mental. Human life is a complex interaction of physical forces, vital forces, higher vital or emotional forces and mental forces as well as spiritual forces. The field in which mental and emotional forces grapple with life is the field of human consciousness, which is the concern of the present study.

Life, as we have said, is a vibration or group of vibrations more rarefied than matter, which expresses itself as seeking for enjoyment, possession and expansion, and this force of life is constantly evolving into higher more complex and more powerful forms. To understand the character of life in the field of human consciousness, we must discover the basic principles or laws which describe the way the life force expresses itself and the nature of its interaction with the other planes.

An analogy can be made between the laws of life and the laws of physical science. By the laws of physics (statics and dynamics) man can explain and predict the movement of ocean tides with very great precision. But 1000 years ago no one would have believed this was possible nor would they have accepted the existence of these immutable laws. Today the same precision is not possible for the psychologist because he does not know the laws governing human behaviour and would deny their very existence as his great ancestors would have denied the laws of physics. The forces of life are more subtle and rarefied than physical forces and seemingly incapable of codification. But in actuality the laws of the physical plane are manifestations of laws on the subtle planes.

To carry the analogy further: as a number of factors determine physical movements such as material force, gravitation and friction, so also for life movements the corresponding factors are force, strength and intensity. What we call force of character or moral force can be reduced to its component vectors of strength and direction.

Certain physical phenomena are best explained by the laws of chemical reactions involving changes in substances and energy levels. These changes are decided by the nature of the substances, the temperature, pressure and conditions of interaction. The field of life is parallel to this; only the significant determinants are more numerous and less easily measured.

The principles describing the character or psychology of life fall within the category of natural or universal laws. Yet it is essential to bear in mind that by the term law we do not mean a fixed invariable rule without conditions or exceptions. Rather the term is used to indicate a general propensity of nature, a certain habit of behaviour which repeats itself over and over in the greater and lesser movements of life, subject to a large number of variables and innumerable exceptions in the form of higher laws of the cosmos and interventions from other planes. Our attempt is to uncover the chain of causality concealed beneath the surface of chance, accident, fate and fortune in life without touching on the more profound depths and wider vistas of cosmic existence. These principles "belong to a middle region between the inmost or supreme Truth of things and the impartiality of material Nature."5With this qualification we may proceed to formulate some of the basic principles of the psychology of life.

The Basic Principles

The principles basic to the psychology of life may be stated:

I.The Principle of Evolution:

"Evolution is the one eternal dynamic law and hidden process of the earth-nature."

"An evolution of the instruments of the spirit in a medium of Matter is the whole fundamental significance of the values of the earth-existence.All its other laws are its values of operation and process"; this spiritual evolution is its own pervading secret sense.

"The history of the earth is first an evolution oforganised formsby the working of material forces."

"There follows on this initial stage an evolution of life in theform and organisation of a hierarchy of living formsby the working of the liberated life-forces. The next step is an evolution of mind in living bodies and an organisation of more and more conscious livesby the process of developing mind-forces."6

From this quotation we understand that the primary law of all earthly life is evolution--evolution of physical form, evolution of living organisms and groups, evolution of mind and mental forms. This means that all movements of life have this motive as their underlying direction and it should be possible to discover the evolutionary nature of life's movements.

Secondly, we see that all the principles or laws which may be formulated to describe the psychology of life are simply "values of operation and process" of this basic law. In identifying life's characteristic movements this fact of evolution must always be kept in mind. This being the very broadest principle of life, we may expect it to be most easily identified in a historical perspective.

II.The Physical Life:

Though man is mental he still shares in the traits of his animal ancestors and his life bears the stamp of that heritage. "The characteristic energy of bodily Life is not so much in progress as in persistence, not so much in individual self-enlargement as in self-repetition....Self-preservation, self-repetition, self-multiplication are necessarily, then, the predominant instincts of all material existence."7These three movements of preservation, repetition and multiplication apply not only to the animal but can be seen to play a fundamental role in the life of man and society. Extracted from their physical base we can see that each of these movements represents a fundamental law of life forces.

III.Interaction of Life and Mind:

The quotation on evolution cited above reveals another basic fact of life. The growth of life into higher, more organised and complex forms is made possible by the development of mind and mind's interaction with life. "The characteristic energy of pure mind is change and the more it acquires elevation and organisation, the more this law of Mind assumes the aspect of a continual enlargement, improvement and better arrangement of its gains and so of a continual passage from a smaller and simpler to a larger and more complex perfection."8As mind develops, we may expect life to express this tendency towards increasing size, organisation, complexity and perfection.

This principle is quite obvious when applied to the evolution of mental man from the vital animal and equally so when referred to the evolution of man's social existence toward more complex and civilised forms. But we must extend it a step further to apply it to the general character of life movements. In other words, as mind evolves on earth in man, not only do animal forms, individual behaviour and collective life change, but the very quality and character of life movements and events changes as well. We shall return to this point further on.

IV.The Expression of Life in Man:

In the field of human consciousness, the most important channel through which life forces express is the behaviour of the individual man. "All life is the play of universal forces. The individual gives a personal form to these universal forces. But he can choose whether he shall respond or not to the action of a particular force. Only most people do not really choose.They indulge the play of the forces....It is only when one can make oneself free of them that one can be the true person...."9That is, life forces flow through the channels of man's physical, vital, emotional and mental character and express as human behaviour. But the resultant expression depends not only on the nature of the force but also on the nature of the person through which it passes. In other words, the expression of life forces is a function of human personality.

For example, the force of anger or rage in the animal is very short-lived and directed toward whatever is in proximity. Whereas in man the force of anger can flow through the channel of jealousy which is a perverse mental attitude applied to life. In doing so, the force gains longer life, the capacity for fine discrimination and initiation of complex actions. Or it can meet up against a strong idealist will which refuses to give it scope for expression at all.

Human personality is composed of innumerable elements of which physical habit and vital traits are the lower forms, feelings and sentiments, beliefs and understanding the higher. In normal everyday existence the physical and vital are the customary channels through which life expresses. The greater proportion of mankind lives almost exclusively in this realm and gives no higher direction to these forces than that of habitual living. Where heart in man is developed, the emotions and feelings provide a higher direction through which life forces are channelled into relationships of personal affection and group loyalty. Where mind is developed they find a still higher direction and expression. The mental thought, understanding and idealism gives direction to these forces. The mental will, which is the highest point in human evolution, commands them into action and is influenced by the understanding. It is only when these emotional and mental components are mature and active that we can rightly speak of individual character. In their absence it is only the social custom or behaviour that expresses. When individual character is refined, unselfish, idealistic, etc., we have a cultured individual. " more organised forms of life appear, this grows into a life-mind and vital intelligence largely mechanical and automatic in the beginning and concerned only with practical needs, desires and impulses....But slowly mind starts its task of disengaging itself; it still works for the life-instinct, life-need and life-desire, but its own special characters emerge, observation, invention, device, intention, execution of purpose, while sensation and impulse add to themselves emotion and bring a subtler and finer affective urge and value into the crude vital reaction....When human intelligence adds itself to the animal basis, this basis still remains present and active, but it is largely changed, subtilised and uplifted by conscious will and intention...."10

Even in a mature character, it is normally the lower channels that are active though the higher may lend color or refinement to their activity. The higher elements of character usually come into play only in times of stress or crisis where man's will is fully active to meet the demands of life. In these situations even the half-developed character of the lesser man will reveal itself. When the demands of life, the forces to be dealt with, are beyond the strength and capacities of man's character, we see a disintegration of personality or inability to act and find man the passive object of forces greater than himself. Here it is not the man's character that is determinative but the general conditions in which he is placed. The process of channelling the life forces into higher and more complex patterns of behaviour is the process by which personality and character develop in the individual.

To take the process one step further, we can briefly consider the evolution of man beyond the mental level. When the mental will becomes fully developed and consents to spiritual growth, it can do so only by surrendering itself to the Divine Will. By this act it reverses the process of concentration and expression of life forces through its character channels onto life. Instead it concentrates the life forces on the Divine and gives up the prerogative of choice in their expression. By contact with the Divine behind the heart or above the mind these forces are transformed. In their place a higher spiritual force descends and expresses through man's personality in life.

V.The Nature of Life Forces:

Before proceeding further with the expression of life forces through man we must consider some of the characteristics which govern their behaviour. The essential quality of these forces is summed up in the statement, "Life is Force and Force is Power and Power is Will."11The life forces are powers of effectuation with an intention. "The struggle of limited forces increasing their capacity by that struggle under the driving impetus of instinctive or conscious desire is therefore the first law of life."12These forces interact through struggle and conflict. The stronger grows by domination over the weaker. "It is, moreover, the nature and claim of any Force in the manifestation to be, to survive, to effectuate itself wherever possible and as long as possible, and it is therefore that in a world of Ignorance all is achieved not only through a complexus but through a collision and struggle and intermixture of Forces."13The basic qualities of the bodily life--preservation, repetition and multiplication--are merely the physical expressions of these tendencies of the life force.

VI.The Nature of Action:

Human action is the expression of life forces and it has their character. Each action is in the nature of a struggle or intermixture of forces. Each act creates and generates a force which is strengthened by repetition. Each act tends to repeat itself, to multiply and increase in intensity by repetition. We can imagine life as a virgin forest. Each original action is like a pioneer forging a new path. Once he has cleared the way, others can easily follow and make the path more clear and well established as they do so.

The life of the individual and the society can be similarly viewed. Each act by the individual generates a force for that act to repeat in himself or in others. If the force behind the act is strong he continues to repeat it and others follow. If it is weak the act may be succesfully opposed by other forces and negatively fall back on him. The unspoken word, the unexpressed will or emotion can also go out as forces and produce their effects.

VII.The Results of Action:

The result of an act is determined by the type, quality and intensity of the forces expressed. "...all energies in Nature must have their natural consequence."14  "As is the nature of the energies so must be the nature of the results."15By this statement we do not refer to a moral system of reward and punishment, an evaluation of each act in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, etc. Each act has a quality of its own and brings a corresponding result in its own plane. Ethical and moral results pertain only to acts in their own sphere.

"Action is a resultant of the energy of the being, but this energy is not of one sole kind...there are inner activities of mind, activities of life, of desire, passion, impulse, character, activities of the senses and the body, a pursuit of truth and knowledge, a pursuit of beauty, a pursuit of ethical good or evil, a pursuit of power, love, joy, happiness, fortune, success, pleasure, life-satisfaction of all kinds, life-enlargement, a pursuit of individual or collective objects, a pursuit of the health, strength, capacity, satisfaction of the body...all these differences in the nature of the energy have to be taken into account and each must have its appropriate consequence."16

The life forces passing through the channel of human character result in action and the strength of the action determines the strength of the result. If a man acts in relation to an inanimate object the strength of his action depends on the strength of his body, the enthusiasm and energy of his vital available for the action, the interest and determination of his will to implement and the knowledge of his mind to guide. For instance, a man digging a pit in the ground may dig faster and deeper if he is hunting for treasure than if he is a slave labourer. When man acts in relation to other living beings or other men the factors influencing the intensity of his action become more complex. In the social life of man there are, in addition to character traits, some other major determinants of the strength for his action such as health, wealth, position and education.

VIII.The Actor and the Results:

"Each being reaps the harvest of his works and deeds, the returns of the action put forth by the energies of his nature, and those which are not apparent in his present birth must be held over for a subsequent existence. It is true that the result of the energies and actions of the individual may accrue not to himself but to others when he is gone; for that we see constantly happenings.It happens indeed even during a man's lifetime that the fruits of his energies are reaped by others; but this is because there is a solidarity and a continuity of life in Nature...."17

This principle states that not only are the results of an action determined by the nature of its energy but that these results accrue to the human instrument through which these energies express and also to those related to him either through physical heredity and proximity, vital association, emotional attachment or mental idealism. For present purposes, we leave aside the influence of actions from past lives.

IX.Correspondence of the Inner and Outer Life:

"Man's being, nature, circumstances of life are the result of his own inner and outer activities, not something fortuitous and inexplicable."18This principle is an essential key to the mystery of life's character. The relation of outer action and inner condition is obvious. But in addition to this there is a direct relationship between man's inner condition and the movement of life events around him. "Circumstances are, without exception, the objective projection of what is inside yourself."19In the context of normal social man, it means that the outer conditions and events surrounding and impinging on his existence are a direct expression of his personality and character traits and the movements which issue out of them. The principle of correspondence dismisses the influence of chance and fate by revealing what we see as chance in life to be an outgrowth of what we are inside. It must be understood that this system of correspondence is highly complex as it is based on the complex activity of man's physical, vital and mental beings with all their interrelationships.

The mechanism by which this principle acts is the "invisible Forces in Life-Nature that belong to the same plane of Consciousness-Force as this part of our being, Forces that move according to the same plan or the same power-motive as our lower vital nature."20These forces are attracted by corresponding forces or traits within man and their action on him and his environment reflects the status and dynamics of his own nature. From this we can understand that there is a deeper truth in the phrase "Character is destiny" than that propounded by the psychologists. Character is the channel for life forces flowing through the individual which directs and alters them according to its own nature. It is also the determinant of how life forces outside the individual express themselves in what we normally consider the circumstantial, fortuitous, accidental movements of life.

X.Moral Retribution:

In discussing the principle determining the results of an action (VII), we stated that this concept does not imply an ethical, moral or religious conception of karma whereby good is rewarded by prosperity and long life, or evil punished by their opposites. From the evolutionary view, the appearance of an ethical or religious conscience in man marks the rudimentary beginnings of man the mental being with its dual sides of will and knowledge. In animal nature, justice plays no part. The law is survival of the fittest. But man is moved not only by instinct or impulse. He possesses the capacity to choose, will and act. He perceives a relationship between the act and what comes back to him. At the level of consciousness this principle is invariably true. It is the law of Karma. But with the birth of religion, law and ethics, man sought to simplify the equation and set it to his immediate needs. Out of this emerges the principle that moral right is rewarded and moral wrong is punished though in many cases the reverse proved to be the case in the context of earthly life.

Nevertheless, there are occasions when life results do appear to follow a law of moral retribution, where "there intervenes a strand of connection or rather interaction between vital-physical good and ill and ethical good and ill."21This is possible because man's energies, desires and movements are mixed together in their working. "...Our vital part does demand substantial and external rewards for virtue, for knowledge, for every intellectual, aesthetic, moral or physical effort; it believes firmly in punishment for sin and even for ignorance."22The demand or belief acts as a channel through which life forces flow fulfilling man's expectation. "Nature takes us as we are and to some extent suits her movements to our need or our demands on her."23 It is often seen that an individual's sense of guilt or sin is quickly followed by his downfall or punishment. The result is determined not by an ethical law of nature but by the individual's own insistance, whether conscious or subconscious, that such a law be operative.

There are other occasions when the results of action seem to obey a moral law. "It can be often observed that when a self-assertive vital egoism goes on trampling its way without restraint or scruple all that opposes its will or desire, it raises a mass of reactions against itself, reactions of hatred, antagonism, unease in men which may have their result now or hereafter, and still more formidable adverse reactions in universal Nature...the very forces that the ego of the strong vital man seized and bent to its purpose rebel and turn against him, those he had trampled on rise up and receive power for his downfall."24When human will misuses the limited forces at its disposal, the greater forces of life eventually react against it and man "receives the adverse return in the guise of defeat and suffering and failure."25

XI.The Expression of Life in Society:

As we have considered the means by which life forces express through the behaviour of the individual man (IV) we must now examine its counterpart in the human collectivity. As in the individual this expression is a function of individual personality, so in the collectivity it is a function of the social character of the group. In its lower forms this character is the social custom and habit of the people. In its higher forms it is their civilisation and culture. This social character represents the channels through which life forces can express themselves in the collective life of the people. Earlier we have stated that in an unformed man of predominantly physical and vital nature, life forces are able to flow virtually free from distortion or direction by the human will and express as general human behaviour. But where mind or heart is well developed, the life forces flowing through the individual are given direction by the human will and their expression bears the stamp of individual character. The same principle applies to the collectivity. For example, in a primitive society the position of leader goes to the most powerful physical-vital man. If a stronger man kills the leader, the people will naturally accept the new man without hesitation. The force of life will have its free play without interference from higher planes. But when a society has developed a civilised moral order, the annointed king is invested with sovereign respect and his murder will be met with moral indignation and social outrage. Rather than quickly returning to equilibrium, the forces of life may enter into prolonged conflict and strife until the outrage has become subdued or the act been avenged.

XII.The Expression of Social Character in Life:

Not only does life express itself through man (IV) but the movements of life in the environment are determined by the character of the individual (IX). Then we may ask to what extent the movements of life in society are determined by the character of the society. Let us examine this principle from an evolutionary perspective.

The movement of physical elements such as water is fully determined by physical laws. Water flows according to the principles of gravitation, friction, etc. When we turn to the animal which is vital, we see a similar determination at the vital-physical level,e.g., reproduction, respiration, digestion, etc. But at its own level of vital life, there is little coordination among the animals, or organisation of the life around them. In other words, the vital animal is fully organised at the next lower level but only partially so on its own level.

Coming to man, there is the gradual emergence of mind. The power of mind expresses itself by organising the next lower plane,i.e., the social life of the group. As mind develops and society matures, becomes civilised, the life or the society becomes more organised (III). The activities of its members are subject to social and legal restraints in the form of custom and law. Behaviour is limited to well-defined grooves expressive of the social character. The instrumentation for this organised expression is chiefly the social members themselves. Frequently it is conscious and intentional,e.g., the policeman apprehending a criminal or the father preaching ethical behaviour to his son. But in many cases it is subconsciously transmitted through the habits, traditions, sentiments and values of the social group,e.g., the reverence of the people for the monarch is an effective bar against rebellion as is the moral condemnation of adultery.

XIII.The Law of Correspondence in Social Life:

There is a correspondence between the inner character of man and the movements of life which touch on his personal sphere (IX). The same principle holds true for the society except that in this case the "inner being" which is reflected in outer life is a composite of the ideals, thoughts, sentiments, emotions, desires and activities--what we have called the social character--of the group members in their common social existence. This character expresses itself through the seemingly ‘chance' interactions of its members and the ‘accidents' of physical nature within the society and around it. It is often in these cases that the true social character of life most clearly reveals itself.

XIV.Moral Retribution in Society:

The concept of moral retribution has been considered earlier (X). Here we need only refer to one aspect in its larger social context. As an individual's moral, ethical or religious beliefs may tend to be self-fulfilling, so also the collective beliefs of the society. Where a particular fear, emotion, attitude or idea is shared in common by the social group, it becomes an effective channel through which life forces can flow. For example, we may take the idea of auspicious hours. In some parts of Indian society there is a very strong belief in the significance of auspicious and inauspicious times of day. A foreigner may ignore their indications as a mere superstition and never notice any difficulty. But if a man with this social upbringing suddenly decides to stop referring his acts to the prescribed time of day, he may find everything going wrong for him. The channel for this result may be the remnants of belief in the practise in his subconscious or the social expectation of those around him disapproving of his action. Even when others are unaware of his activity it may be a response from the deeper layers of character in the society which have cherished the tradition for thousands of years.

XV.The Social Atmosphere:

There remains one other major conception to be mentioned--what is sometimes referred to as the "atmosphere" surrounding or pervading a society from time to time, for example the atmosphere of evil portrayed in the opening scenes ofMacbeth. As with individual behaviour and life events, the sources of atmosphere are not singular. Normally the social atmosphere is an expression of the social consciousness of the collectivity. But at critical times in the life of a society there may be abnormal stirrings of deeper tendencies in the subconscious or subtle-vital consciousness of the community which erupt on the surface as foreign war, horrible acts of inhumanity or natural calamities.

The principles outlined above are rough formulations in mental terms of some of the major characteristics of life events. But it must be kept in mind that "the many-sided dynamic truths of all action and life"26cannot be "perfectly classified, accounted for, tied up in bundles by the precisions of our logical intelligence in its inveterate search for clear-cut dogmas."27The art of seeing and knowing life in all its subtlety and complexity requires more than simply a few principles. But what can only be suggested by a principle can become living and even familiar when applied to the facts of life itself. We will now endeavour to do this in reference to life as portrayed by Shakespeare.


1. A.C. Bradley,Shakespearean Tragedy, 2nd Edition, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1905, p. 168.

2.Ibid., p. 195.

3. Sri Aurobindo,The Future Poetry, Centenary Edition, p. 71.

4. I.A. Richards,Principles of Criticism, Preface.

5. Sri Aurobindo,The Life Divine, p. 814.

6. Sri Aurobindo,The Hour of God, p. 14.

7. Sri Aurobindo,The Synthesis of Yoga, p. 16.


9. Sri Aurobindo,Letters on Yoga, p. 318.

10. Sri Aurobindo,The Life Divine, p. 614.

11.Ibid., p. 191.

12.Ibid., p. 197.

13.Ibid., p. 9421.

14.Ibid., p. 806.

15.Ibid., p. 807.

16.Ibid., p. 810.

17.Ibid., p. 806.


19. The Mother.

20. Sri Aurobindo,The Life Divine, p. 813.




24.Ibid., p. 813-4.

25.Ibid., p. 814.

26. Sri Aurobindo,The Hour of God, p. 34.

27.Ibid., p. 36.