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Aristocracy is the repository of culture. Culture is to guide one’s actions by one’s understanding, endorsed by the richest emotion. Emotions are sensations of the heart. The heart sails into action when the nerves – the vital – are pleasantly saturated with positive energy. The vital is the superstructure of the body, the physical substance in us.

One rule of the ascent from the physical to the mental is that the existing layer should be saturated with energy before one can rise to the next level. For one to rise from the physical to the vital – i.e., a physical worker to raise himself to a non-physical supervisor – he must work long enough for his physical work to be perfected. Work needs energy. Man starts as a mere body, a physical hulk. He expends his energy until he is exhausted. Over the years, his energy gets organised into physical skills. Acquiring various skills, their essence collects as capacity. Any one skill saturated with the attention of that capacity raises itself to talent. Capacity focussed on a skill becomes talents. A labourer, when he is physically talented, rises to become a supervisor. Still, his mind does not enter into the scheme of things. Mind organising the vital work further raises the supervisor to a position where he can organise his work. Such organised work is directed by spiritual values such as fairness, integrity, honesty, honour, etc. These values make the work valuable. Exhaustive expenditure of physical energy in work develops skills that mature into talents, gets organized by the mind and directed by values.

A community, which raises itself and its individual members to this level of valuable work, prospers if the community devises an organisation through which the work of the community gets done. Over the generations, individuals inherit this communal endowment as a personal faculty. At a certain point of its intensity, this faculty develops a dynamism, a self-existing virtue to perpetuate itself. It is called motivation. Motivated persons are dynamic individuals. Americans developed this personal dynamism in the first two hundred years of settlement. That nation prospers. Usually only a small portion of the population rises so. They become wealthy. In America, the entire population rose thus.

Wealth, over the generations, develops subconscious security. The body loses its capacity to doubt whether its needs will be met. Wealthy men usually fully dissipate and dominate until their wealth is lost. It takes centuries for families to come to enjoy the wealth without dissipation. That comes by education. Education, being a mental endowment, makes one proud and arrogant. Centuries of wealth accompanied by centuries of education settle down as a few drops of culture. Culture once developed is not easily lost. It is unable to die when guided by spiritual values. Spirit casts its die. Such a culture can be mental culture as found in the English gentleman, emotional culture as in the Russian aristocrat or spiritual culture seen in the Indian aristocracy.

So far we have described in brief the inner content of culture. As always happens, the external forms of this endowment come to be accepted as culture. Often the majority go in for the forms of culture while the minority seek the content. Vronsky is a character in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He is an aristocrat in every sense of the word and the society fully accords him that appellation. Obviously royalty excels aristocracy. A European Prince visits Russia seeking Russian pleasures. Degenerated aristocracy defines aristocratic pursuits in its own perverted sense. One of them is pursuing pleasure. Having given up physical work and working by the mind, the aristocracy becomes wealthy. The wealthy gentleman, when devoid of mental faculties, will not be able to convert his life experience into culture. He is under an obligation to occupy himself for all the waking hours of the day. Hence the pleasure seeking. Vronsky is put in charge of taking this visiting Prince around. The Prince is very self-confident, very healthy and very clearly man and nothing more. He is a gentleman. The Prince is equable and unservile with his superiors, free and simple with his equals, and contemptuously good-natured with his inferiors. It is considered a great virtue. This contemptuously good-natured attitude of the Prince towards him makes Vronsky indignant. Vronsky suddenly realises that this Prince is only a deluxe edition of himself. He sees himself in the mirror of the Prince and it is not flattering to his vanity.

“Stupid ox! Am I really like that?” he thinks. Later he explains to Anna, with whom he is in love, “It was as if I was seeing myself in a mirror and I did not like it…You can see he is educated only so that he can have the right to despise education, as they despise everything except animal pleasures…If I were to define him, he is a superbly nourished animal, the sort that gets the first prize in exhibitions, nothing more.”

This story occurs in the late 19th century when aristocracy was in its heydays. The passage in which Sri Aurobindo explains the spiritual aristocracy of India is one of the best portions of His writing. India is aping America along with the rest of the world. Aristocracy is dead in Europe and Asia. In America, aristocracy is not born. It is to their evolutionary credit that all their best efforts to imitate Europe ended in dismal failure. Should America succeed in developing an aristocracy, it will develop only an aristocracy of external forms, and she will quickly lose her pre-eminent position in the world. She leads the world because NO aristocracy has been born in America. India is plunging headlong into the imitation of America. And she is not imitating the higher side of America’s values. She is after the externals. Those exterior forms will organise cultural death in the imitator.


See Also Living Values

This article was originally published in | Consecration Magazine, Vol.2, Issue 5, Nov-Dec 2005, pg.9,



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