All intelligent people today have some understanding of the need for the spirit of unity in human affairs. It alone enables us to meet the great challenges raised by the first global culture in history, such as the exhaustion and pollution of the natural environment and the unjust inequalities between peoples of different races, creeds and countries.

To practice correctly in worldly matters, both 'theory' and knowing how to apply it are required. It is in questions of application that clashes arise between two fundamental approaches. The one starts from the worldly interests of the individual, be these economic, social or cultural interests. The other approach is supra-individual and regards all things in terms of the universal good; of what is true, necessary and best for mankind and the entire world. Putting unity into practice involves the meeting of these two approaches.

Every question, every matter about which we wish to know the truth, can thus be regarded from the individual viewpoint or the universal viewpoint. These always mark respectively the base and the apex of a pyramid of intermediate viewpoints.
These days people are brought up and educated to regard most matters mainly from a relatively individual viewpoint. Even when we are taught to identify with and protect the best interests of one party against another, be it our group, our society, our nation, our culture... the appeal often relies most heavily on the individual concerned perceiving this as in his 'own' partisan interest. The perceived self-interest, even of a very large grouping, is indeed not always compatible with the universal good. Such a clash of apparent interests - the individual against the common good - almost always lies somewhere at the root of human conflicts and also those between man and environment. All taken into account, however, the true, long-term interests of the individual cannot conflict with what is best for all.

Examples of policies said to be for the sake of 'unity' but conflicting with the overall interest of humanity still abound today. Trade protectionist policies as well as the levy of very high interest rates cripple poor borrowing countries. Further, their natural resources are over-exploited, more or less for the sake of the enormously wasteful consumer industries of rich, hi-tech countries. Thus are the poor discriminated by the regional power blocs of rich countries with their market-place mentality. The unity called for by the big powers mostly stops short of those outside the 'club'. Yet nothing but full inclusiveness can be the guiding light of true unity.


Fortunately unification does not mean that everyone must believe the same or do the same or strive to look and be as like one another as possible, for Sai Baba calls for unity in diversity. The plurality of society and of nations is itself a value carefully to be preserved, just as the proliferation of species of flora and fauna has its great value. Variety is still 'the spice of life' and standardisation of everything is no worthwhile end in itself. Diversity is in outward things, unity is of the heart.

In helping us realise our interdependence as brothers and sisters of a common origin in the same one spirit, Sathya Sai teaches how to put that spirit of unity into practice in our daily lives and worldly engagements. Instead of trying to influence and change others through publicity or media at a mass level, Baba himself demonstrates what he insists on; that we instead always work first and foremost to develop the spirit of unity at the level of our own personal behaviour. (One could hardly make a more inaccurate statement about Sai Baba as in the above - but at the time I wrote this I was not to know how deceitful he really is and how little his actions fulfil his words...) Unity cannot be produced at the national or international level unless the sum of individuals thinking and practicing it provides a sufficient basis for it.

Looking at personal behaviour from the viewpoint of unity may seem to conflict with the much-honoured belief of modern democratic societies in the freedom of the individual and certain rights that supposedly follow from this. This freedom is often confused with sheer license to say or do almost anything. The only sort of freedom that can reasonably be called 'democratic' must surely be that which allows for individuals to act righteously (in accordance with dharma), for the aim then accords with universal principles.

The results of looking at things exclusively, or even mainly, from the individual end of the spectrum is eventually to invite disharmony and disunity. Most human problems remain insoluble until the various contrary views are brought together under the universal standpoint so as to hammer out an overall solution. 'Holistic' understanding arises when all partisan interests are viewed as parts of a whole.


Understanding is definitely not just a matter of mastering some theory, getting the right solution to some mental riddle, or of becoming an expert in whatever field of endeavour. It is a faculty we all already possess, whatever the present degree of articulation, and are all necessarily using in all we do!
In practically all our doings we relate one thing to another with an eye to some result: we understand the hammer and nail by their use in erecting a wall, the wall as part of the building and that again according to its intended use. If it is a school, we know that it signifies further ends like the education of children, the basis of a good society and so forth. This quite simple model requires essentially the same elements as all other forms of understanding. If a very abstruse theory cannot be related meaningfully to practice, it contains no worthwhile understanding whatever.

Even an advanced scientific theory is virtually no more than a mental construction kit with many intricate parts. In lifting the hammer we understand much more than that we are knocking in a nail, for we know what it is all for. When the school is built, we again see this as an integral part of a whole system of education. All understanding aims likewise at some such unity of purpose, which leads on toward attaining peace and unity of a more universal nature.

Truly holistic understanding (which aims at a unitary 'whole') can be said to consist in an ongoing process of broadening the scope of comprehension of all aspects of life according to the principle of unity. It is not some abstruse method merely for scholars but an inclusive widening of consciousness so as to open to all manner of connections to outer and inner reality and not least the heart-to-heart connection that goes with true understanding. Such a method is however also valid for unifying theories in philosophy, the sciences and the humanities, such as in the interpretation of theories and of written texts.
For understanding to be whole it must be self-consistent. All the various facts or values involved must be accounted for so that they fit together in the way the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle make up one whole picture. Where perceptions on some question are at variance with each other, for example when there are opposing views on some moral issue, one strives to harmonise them. This may mean applying to a wider frame of reference for the solution, or sometimes simply the rejection of definitely erroneous views. Only the universal, non-exclusive viewpoint enables us to find the mediating factors between a collision of views and interests.

Any sort of conflict is soluble first 'in theory' when the common key is found: the appropriate moderating principle to the case. This in turn lays the ground for practical constructivity.

Due to the inexhaustible variety of life and the necessity of practicing in our own ways in order to learn properly, many types of experience and insight lie behind each personal holistic vision if it is at all comprehensive and general. Each of us needs to strive towards the universal vision by ourselves from the rich perspectives of our own lives. It would therefore probably be impossible to state logically in step-by-step fashion any single master method of understanding for everyone to follow. Yet there must surely be crucial differences in the progress of one's understanding - whatever its particular subject - depending upon which guiding principles one tries to realise both in theory and practice. Those of Sathya Sai, being clearly of the most universal and holistically-embracing principles taught in history, must therefore give the greatest advancement.
(Comment 2003) This last sentence I now regard as entirely false. After long and intensive study of what SSB says, informed by private information about him and that he employs fraud and lies, I have found that there are many contradictions and confusions in SSB's statements. His teaching is really a hodge-podge - though a clever one - of different and incompatible Indian 'philosophies' of the dualistic and monistic kind. In this way he provides something for everyone and only the discerning can discover that the entire mass of his teachings do not hang together at all. His principles everywhere avoid those known to us in the form of human rights and especially human justice. He favours soviet-type organisation with much secrecy, strict top-down chain of command and communication, with complete unaccountability to any but his selected officials. In short, by very clever deception, he has presented himself as representing univeral principles, while practicing otherwise in the private interests of his own mini-imperium. The following comment is also wholly invalid from my current viewpoint.

The call to unity, explained in Sai Baba's discourses and exemplified in his daily practice, is a principle of the very highest order of generality and thus surely cannot be understood fully or expounded at the highest level by any but he who is One. In the meantime, we can but try to develop the necessary inclusivity of understanding that is required to recognise and become aware of the Divine in everything and everyone.
(Robert Priddy, October 1989)10=89

For a much fuller view of human understanding etc. (without any reference to Sai Baba), see my on-line book 'Theory of Understanding - Understanding and faith'
The above material is the copyright of Robert Priddy, Oslo - 1999