National Individuality

Swami Vivekananda proposes the notion of “national individuality”. 

What does this term mean? Does it mean that each nation has its own manners, culture, customs, language, traditions, etc.? Or does it mean something deeper?  

Swami Vivekananda himself gives the answer – by national individuality he refers to a deeper vitality, a deeper collective consciousness, working towards a shared collective purpose – which in turn is unique within the many purposes that different nations fulfill.  

Thus, the idea of ‘national individuality’ rests upon the notion of a ‘collective consciousness’ – with a collective purpose or destiny.  

A collective consciousness is not a collection of individuals with a similar consciousness. Rather, it is a shared space of consciousness of which all members of a race or nation partake of. It is the shared space with common ideals, common aspirations, and common vision of existence. Such a space exists at a level deeper than individual consciousness and seems to reveal its presence only when the collective as a whole is awakened or provoked.  

This awakening of the collective consciousness reveals the national individuality in its full glory. It may be witnessed in a fleeting way in a sports event or in a deeper way when a nation is outraged or elated by an event, or when the nation seems unified in its collective will or resolve on some subject or topic.  

When day to day, humdrum work goes on, this collective consciousness seems to be dormant and the same collective seems to be nothing but a mass of individuals locked up in their personal individuality.  

On the other hand, when the national consciousness is awakened – when the collective consciousness is awakened – it is, as if, the individual lives suddenly become less important than the shared collective life.  

Swami Vivekananda says that this collective consciousness of a nation has certain distinctive characteristics. Firstly, it is imbued with a shared purpose, a shared destiny that plays itself inexorably in and through the lives of all the individual members of the collective consciousness. It is this that reveals itself in the rise & fall of nations & civilizations during various phases of human history – a dominant collective consciousness awakening to its power, manifesting it, and then subsiding once more, to reveal again only thousands of individual lives living a humdrum life. 

It is this collective consciousness that binds a nation together at the deepest level. It is this collective consciousness that offers the possibility of collective national meaning & shared purpose.  

It is this collective consciousness that offers each of us an opportunity to transcend our narrow personal individuality and identify ourselves into something much larger and greater – expanding thereby our vision of ourselves and our personal destinies.