Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Does Sri Aurobindo’s Poetry Stand the Test of Critics and Time?

“I was a poet and a politician, not a philosopher!” Sri Aurobindo said. (Sri Aurobindo to Dilip. Ed. Sujata Nahar and Shankar Bandopadhyay. Pune and Mysore; SariKrishna Mandir Trust and Mira Aditi. V-2.p.100)
     Whereas the poet claims himself to be a poet contributing so much in poetry, above 50000 lines, experimenting in various metres including those of the other languages like Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, brought into English language, introducing mantra of the Vedic and Sanskrit into English, breathing a new life into it which prompted a critic like Ann Margaret Robinson (Shraddhavan) to hail him as “A supreme master of English poetic expression and the greatest innovator in this language since Shakespeare” (Shraddhavan (Ann Margaret Robinson). Sri Aurobindo and the Modern Poetic Milieu. Mother India. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo ashram. October 1990 issue)
     There are poets and critics who have denied his right to be called a poet: “I do not see Sri Aurobindo as a poet at all”, said Kathleen Raine. (Shraddhavan)
     Whereas Ronald Nixon (Krishna Prem) wrote about Savitri, “It is an omen of utmost significance and hope that in these years of darkness and despair such a poem as Savitri should have appeared. Let us salute the dawn.” (A. B.Purani. Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri- An Approach and a Study. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Society. Introduction) An American journalist wrote, “Sri Aurobindo is also engaged upon one of the longest and worst epic poems of all time called ‘Savitri’ ”. (Purani)
     Not only the Western critics took an adverse view of Sri Aurobindo’s poetic works, some Indian poets and critics like P. Lal and Nissim Ezekiel, following their trail, criticised and disapproved of his creations. One of Sri Aurobindo’s followers, poet and critic, K. D. Sethna, amply replied them. His dialogues with Kathleen Raine have been published as a book.
       The Dr. P Lal episode is pretty interesting and needs a mention. At the mature age he was confronted by Dr. Sisir Kumar Ghose, professor of Viswabharati University at Shantiniketan. Dr. Sisir Ghose, an essayist, critic and writer, did not challenge him but maintained a good relationship with Lal. Lal wrote a piece commending Sisir Ghose on 2 May 1991 as a memoir after his passing:
     “The trouble with Sisir-da was that he won you over with love. In 1965 I was the self-appointed enfant terrible, the very vocal critic of Sri Aurobindo’s poetry. He was a devotee of the Sage of Pondicherry. Instead of picking holes in my charge against his guru- and holes there were many; I was young and intemperate- . . . . I’m sure he knew I’d ultimately give in. And indeed, he had the last laugh. Ten years later I wrote an appreciation of Sri Aurobindo, confessing my sins and acknowledging him as a Titan of Indo-Anglia.” (6 P.Lal. Sisir-Da. Sandhitsa. Sri Aurobindo Bhavan, Kolkata. August 202 issue)
     This was P. Lal who understood and duly corrected his position vis-à-vis Sri Aurobindo. We can understand him better in contrast to another Indian poet, Keki N Daruwalla, who remarked, en passant, while writing a memoir on Professor P. Lal commending him, “He was a fine critic and I specially liked his trenchant criticism of Aurobindo’s terribly inflated verse (I will need a gunman to protect me if I ever enter Pondicherry again)” (Keki N Daruwalla. A Passion for Verse. The Hindu, Chennai; 5.12.2010)
     Humour apart, it is true that an intellectual jugglery to realize Sri Aurobindo’s mystic poetry would result in its inflated appearance.
     Ann Margaret Robinson in the same article wrote some plausible causes of such adverse criticism, “The scientific world view and the grim realities of the 20th century have led poets to seek for an austerer use of language, and for themes and images rooted firmly in the physical world- and that perhaps in its greyer and grimmer aspects. Sri Aurobindo’s vision and language tower so immensely beyond everything that has gained recognition as poetry in the present century- perhaps particularly in Britain . . . that for most of those who live and breathe in that tiny air, he is simply out of sight.”
     And “In India there is a tradition that the kavi sees- and not just a little behind the veil, but into the very heart of things; and by embodying what he sees in inspired, truth-revealing speech, he brings closer to material manifestation the hidden verities that lie potential and preparing there, the true creativity. Of course in England there is no such tradition, no such intuition even.” (Shraddhavan)
     Here we may compare what Sri Aurobindo said about Savitri which is relevant in respect of his many other poems, particularly those which are symbolic and mystic poems and find the truth of Ann Margaret’s statement: 
     “What I am trying to do everywhere in the poem is to express exactly something seen, something felt or experienced” and “You must not expect appreciation or understanding from the general public or even from many at the first touch; as I have pointed out, there must be a new extension of consciousness and aesthesis to appreciate a new kind of mystic poetry.” (Sri Aurobindo. On Himself. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. 1970. Vol-26. pp. 249)
     Another relevant observation by Ronald Nixon may be cited- “The English language has been given to the world and its usages and limits can now no longer be determined exclusively by the ears of the Islanders whose tongue it originally was.” (Purani)
James Cousin in his ‘New Ways in English Literature’ (pp.27-31) took up Sri Aurobindo’s Ahana and other Poems for discussion. Cousins’ criticism was mentioned in ‘On Himself’ by Sri Aurobindo and also referred to by Peter Heehs in his ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’. 
     Admitting the high thinking quality of his poetry, Cousins hinted at him as philosopher-poet rather than poet-philosopher though he admitted that “The poet’s eyes perpetually go behind the thing visible to the thing essential, so that symbol and significance are always in a state of interfusion”. Admitting the authenticity and beauty of his poetry, Cousins said that at its worst it was “Poor minted coin of the brain.”
     Sri Aurobindo took note of them. Regarding Cousins’ ignoring the poem, The Rishi, he opined that had Milton written his Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained in Cousins’ time instead of having an established reputation for centuries, Cousins would have commented, “This is not poetry, this is theology”. (Sri Aurobindo. V- 26. p.277)
     Sir Herbert Read graciously received Sri Aurobindo’s poetry from A. B. Purani and wrote to him on 1 March 1957, “‘Savitri’ is undoubtedly one of the world’s great poems and now that I possess it I look forward with great pleasure to making myself familiar with its message.” (Letters from Aldous Huxley and Herbert Read On Sri Aurobindo. Mother India. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram. August 1987)

     He wrote to him in another letter on 5 June 1958, “Poems like Savitri and Illion must wait for the return of an age of serenity, and meanwhile will only find a few readers who are capable of abstracting themselves from the confused anxieties of modern
civilization.” (Huxley. Mother India)
     Apart from these usual criticism of poetic works by a poet writing in English from India whose works were highly esteemed by many critics and scholars, specially from India, his life and works has recently been criticised not in a book of criticism but a biography that throws not light but darkness on his image, not by proper justification but by ill motive. Though it can hardly do so, its designs are open to verification. It has been opined by critics in the blurb of his book, (‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’. Peter Heehs.New York; Columbia University Press. USA. 2008) that all previous biographical works on Sri Aurobindo were hagiographies, sometimes tainted by piety and Hindutva apologetics, that this is the only authentic biography of Sri Aurobindo presented to the world. It is claimed that the writer was in a privileged position to have full access to all primary sources of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works. Really, many did not get the opportunity as he, though he was no direct disciple of the master. We have not heard that he was ever close to the Mother either. All references to this work are given in brackets with respective page numbers, hence no separate footnotes or reference items at the end are given.
     One striking note from the beginning that has drawn our attention is that though the title of the book mentions his name as Sri Aurobindo, written long after he left the earth, everywhere else in the book he is mentioned as Aurobindo whereas Mother (Mirra Alfassa), the spiritual collaborator of the master, wished that he should always be mentioned as Sri Aurobindo, Sri being an integral part of his name, as Sri Aurobindo wrote in the later part of his life.
     Only 10 pages (pp.298 to 307) of the book, containing 496 pages, besides the title and introductory pages, in the chapter titled ‘Poetry of the Past and Future’ comes here for discussion as it is on Sri Aurobindo’s poetry. In only 10 pages we get so many intriguing things that it casts a doubt as to how many such gems are scattered in almost all the other pages of the book to so greatly represent Sri Aurobindo before the enthusiastic public.
     Sri Aurobindo wrote some dramas in verse with characters, mythical and historical, belonging to different countries. The biographer writes, “In most of his earlier plays, the main characters are handsome princes and beautiful, resourceful princesses who have become enslaved. In Vasavadutta, the situation is reversed. . . . From a literary point of view, Aurobindo’s plays are the least interesting of his works. Biographically speaking, they may offer insights into movements in his imaginative life. If his earlier plays suggest that he was searching for his ideal life partner, Vasavadutta seems to hint that he had found the woman he was seeking and was waiting for the moment when she would join him.” (Lives. pp. 298-99)
     Situation was reversed in the sense that in Vasavadutta Vuthsa, the young king of Cowsambie, was captured to become a slave to Vasavadutta, the daughter of Chunda Mahasegn, the king of Avunthie. He fell in love with her and eventually the two were married and ruled the country. Sri Aurobindo married Mrinalini Bose, a handsome young lady of Calcutta but lived very few days with her. He never became a family man in the usual sense of the term. The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, first came with her husband, Paul Richard, and met Sri Aurobindo on 14 March 1914 and on 22 February the next year they had to leave Pondicherry due to immense political pressure by the British on the French Government, as they associated with Sri Aurobindo or the revolutionary Aurobindo Ghose of former time. Vasavadutta was written in October 1915. The Richards could come back to Pondicherry only in April 1920. The world knows about the spiritual relationship of the Mother, addressed as such by Sri Aurobindo himself first, with the Yogi. She was a Yogini, a spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. She was the first woman to have joined him and a few disciples of him who lived with him. Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion for 24 years from 1926 up to the last days of his life, living almost alone, seeking the Supramental and doing sadhana for that. After he fell down breaking his knee in 1939, some doctors and few others were allowed to visit him. Could an ordinary biographer delve so deep into the imaginative life of a yogi like Sri Aurobindo and that too through his dramas, to come to a conclusion that he was seeking a woman through them? For obvious reasons the insinuations in the above quoted lines seem to be indecent and sheer nonsense, if not worse. One may ask him to prove what he has written.
     About Savitri it is said that the poem in its earlier form was written as a narrative of 2000 lines in Victorian model as Love and Death. It is well known that Sri Aurobindo revised Savitri many times to suit the ever higher level of his consciousness as he worked with it for more than 50 years. “Savitri is a work by itself unlike all the others. I made some eight or ten recasts of it originally under the old insufficient inspiration. Afterwards I am altogether rewriting it, concentrating on the first book and working on it over and over again with the hope that every line may be of a perfect perfection- but I have hardly any time now for such work.” He wrote in a letter in1934. (Savitri. V-29. p.728)
     When we quote some lines of a poem to give some idea to the reader of its quality or even the absence of it, it is from the final approved portion of the poem for even an ordinary poet may change his poem many times till he lives. But the present biographer has preferred to quote four lines from the epic as it was in its draft stage at some time, as he was in possession of his papers. He writes the source-“First draft of Savitri, Sri Aurobindo Papers, NB G35, 113-114, in SAAA (Lives. p.450).” It is like this-
     “Because thou hast rejected my fair calm/ I hold thee without refuge from my will; / And lay upon thy neck my mighty yoke. / Now will I do by thee my glorious works . . . . / For ever love, O beautiful slave of God.” (Lives. P.300)
     It is said that the Yama, the Lord of Death, said this to Savitri towards the end of the poem. But after all transactions with the Yama had ended, we find two more books in the epic. Let us see what actually happened to yama in the finished form of the poem:
At last he knew defeat inevitable
And left crumbling the shape that he had worn,
Abandoning hope to make man’s soul his prey
And force to be mortal the immortal spirit. (Savitri. P.667)
     Let the readers judge which four lines represent the position better as a victory of Man over Death, as is the theme of the poem.
     The biographer writes, “In Baroda poetry was his religion, a cult in which he worshipped and tried to emulate the finest minds of the past.” The biographer has mentioned the short book of poems ‘Ahana and Other Poems’, written in Baroda,Calcutta and Pondicherry which was brought out in 1915. The biographer dismisses the poems in this volume with these words, “All of the pieces in the collection, even those written in Pondicherry, bear the stamp of late Victorian romanticism. The ideas in them may not have occurred to a Tennyson or Swinburne, but striking ideas in metrical form do not of themselves make poetry.” (Lives. pp.301-302).
     To prove his point that Sri Aurobindo was no worthy poet, he peeps into the other areas of his work. He says that Harindranath Chattopadhyay’s first volume of poetry was praised by Sri Aurobindo in his Arya. To show the insignificance of Chattopadhyay’s poem he cites four lines from his poem published in the first issue of ‘Shama’a’ , a magazine of repute of the time: “For He shall find our very eyes/ Turned into skies/ And know our human bodies hide/ Fine Gods inside.”
     Citing this the biographer hastened to add, “It is no surprise that the author of Ahana and Other Poems found something to enjoy in such verse. (Aurobindo was honest enough to acknowledge that ‘a poet likes only the poetry that appeals to his own temperament or taste, the rest he condemns or ignores.’) But Chattopadhyay never got beyond his rather insipid beginnings, and his work is now unknown even in India.” (Lives. pp.306-07)
     In this connection we write to inform that a new book has appeared late in 2009, written by Sarani Ghosal (Mondal), published by Subarnarekha, Kolkata, titled, ‘Various Voices: Indian Writing in English’, in which a chapter is titled- ‘Harindranath Chattopadhyaya: The Poetry of Yearning and Aspiration.’ Harindranath was awarded for his poetry in India during his life time.
     The reader can easily discern the derogatory tone of the scientific biography to belittle its subject. It is perhaps the anti-hagiographic posture of an objective biographer. For better understanding of the situation I quote the relevant portion of the letter written by Sri Aurobindo, as if by way of talking, putting forth his ideas in respect of his disciple’s enthusiasm about the prospect of his famous narrative poem, Love and Death, being sent to England. 
     “If you send your poems to five different poets, you are likely to get five absolutely disperate and discordant estimates of them. A poet likes only the poetry that appeals to his own temperament or taste, the rest he condemns or ignores. Contemporary poetry, besides, seldom gets its right judgement from contemporary critics . . . . I know the limitations of the poem and its qualities and I know that the part about the descent into Hell can stand comparison with some of the best English poetry; but I don’t expect any contemporaries to see it.” (Sri Aurobindo. On Himself. Pondicherry; SABCL. Vol-26. p.273)
     Besides the Harindranath episode, the biographer refers to another issue of a greater import as it appeared in the same issue of ‘Shama’a’: “Ironically, another item in the first issue of Shama’a was a manifesto of the poetry that would dominate the twentieth century, and Aurobindo ignored it completely. The piece was a lecture by the then little-known T.S.Eliot, in which he introduced many of the ideas that he would develop in later essays . . . . it offers a radically different view of the future of poetry than the one that Aurobindo was developing. Perhaps for that reason, he declined to engage with it.” (Lives. p.307)
     That Sri Aurobindo was not averse to Eliot’s poetry we know through the witness of Nirodbaran, who in his ‘Twelve years with Sri Aurobindo’ stated that the poet used to get modern books of poems from Madras and after hearing a poem by T. S. Eliot he appreciated it.
     Before coming to the radically different position of modern poetry and its dominance throughout the twentieth century, we may talk a little about the two poets. Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in 1888 and Sri Aurobindo in 1872. Eliot was surely carrying a different conviction about poetry than Sri Aurobindo. But both had deep rooted religious faith; Eliot’s in Christianity and Sri Aurobindo’s in the ancient religion of India which had undergone changes later as his aim through yoga became going beyond any religion, into the spiritual world: “On the white summits of eternity” of Shiva, where joins “The Mighty Mother’s dumb felicity” as to complete it, “The Spirit leaps into the Spirit’s embrace.” (“Shiva”, a sonnet by Sri Aurobindo)
     Both the poets used myth and religion to create their world of poetry. Both were extra ordinary poets. While T. S. Eliot, in spite of his achievements, knowledge and life’s spiritual urge was a poet only, Sri Aurobindo was a yogi and a great philosopher of ‘Life Divine’ with all hope for man’s spiritual fulfillment of life in future. Both of them were present during the first and the second world Wars and wrote. But the range of consciousness in which they lived was different. “Standing in the fragmented civilization of the West, Eliot could only produce a series of broken images. He could only reflect the reality around and not posit the ideal as a full-fledged image.”- Wrote Prema Nandakumar. (Prema Nandakumar. Sri Aurobindo and T. S. Eliot: Poetry as Prayerful Hope. Pondichery; Sri Aurobindo’s Action. June 1989)
     Eliot was furious in his thought and in spite of his beliefs the happenings during the war years made him hopeless sometimes and pessimistic too.
Ash on an old man’s sleeve
In all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The wall, the wainscot and the mouse.
The death, of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.
(Four Quartets-Little Gidding-2. The Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse. England. 1970. p.106)
     Let us see lines from two different parts of his famous ‘The Waste Land’ -
White bodies naked on the low damp ground
And bones cast in a little low dry garret,
Rattled by the rat’s foot only, year to year.
But at my back from time to time I hear
The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring
Sweeny to Mrs. Porter in the spring.
(The Fire Sermon. The Waste Land. Oxford University Press. Chennai. 1999. p.80))         
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
(Death by Water. The Waste Land. p.85)
     Living and writing at the same time as Eliot, Sri Aurobindo wrote about the dreadful march of Hitler, addressed him in his poems like “The Dwarf Napoleon” or “The Children of Wotan”, wrote satirical poems about the claim of science-“A Dream of Surreal Science” or about the idea of Self of a puny man in “Self”, but he wrote large numbers of sonnets out of spiritual experience and mystic poems too which are of greater importance. He wrote the spiritual epic, Savitri.
     In ‘Life-Unity’ he writes,
A deep spiritual calm no touch can sway
Upholds the mystery of this Passion-play.
Or in “Bliss of Identity” he writes-
The spirit’s infinite breath I feel in me;
My life is a throb of Thy eternity.
(Sri Aurobindo. Collected Poems. Vol-5. p.135)
The biographer’s last word about the poetry of Sri Aurobindo was like this-
     “As the Modernist movement progressed, Aurobindo became out of touch with contemporary developments in poetry. As a result his poetry and criticism must now be judged by the standards of the past, or else taken – so far with little support- as harbingers of a future yet to be glimpsed.” (Lives. p.307)
     Regarding Sri Aurobindo’s theory and theme of poetry, its past history and future shape, written under the title, ‘The Future Poetry’, a voluminous book of some 560 pages, the biographer passed his judgment in about six pages of his book. He said that Sri Aurobindo could not surpass Matthew Arnold’s formula when he defined poetry to his students at Baroda. He did not quote a passage from ‘The Future Poetry’ to prove his comment but from the poet’s ‘Early Cultural Writings’ as again, he was in possession of them all, to use to his purpose. Can what he taught to his students in the class be considered for a judgement on his poetic theory if he changed his position later and wrote such a great book as ‘The Future Poetry’, initiating Mantra as a life breath of pure poetry?
     And the biographer’s final judgment about ‘The Future Poetry’ is:
     “By 1920 the Modernists were changing the face of European and American literature, and many of the ideas on which ‘The Future Poetry’ was based had become antiquated curiosities before any important poet or critic could read the book. Aurobindo’s own poetry, rooted deeply in the soil of the nineteenth century, was out of date before it saw print.” (Lives. p.306)
      It is known that Sri Aurobindo was acquainted with the then moderns through their latest books of poems brought from Madras. About the proposal to publish his ‘Love and Death’ in England Sri Aurobindo said, inter alia, that “I fear it would be, if not altogether ignored which is most likely, regarded as a feeble and belated Indian imitation of an exploded literary model dead and buried long ago. I don’t regard it in that light myself, but it is not my opinion that counts for success, but that of the modern high-brows. . . . I know there are many people still in England . . .  who would read it with enthusiasm . . . .”  (Sri Aurobinod to Dilip. p.148)
     ‘Songs to Myrtilla’ was his first book of poems published for private circulation.
The biographer mentioned a few of his early books of poems like ‘Ahana and Other Poems’ and ‘Love and Death’ after Songs to Myrtilla, but none of the poet’s greater achievements, none of his mystic poems. And how Savitri is quoted is given above. From the above few examples the biographer’s intention to gain greater recognition for Sri Aurobindo in the world (why only in the West?) is amply clear. He seems not to be a poet or a renowned critic of poetry but a biographer only or may we categorise his work as bad-biography as they categorise others’ works as hagiographies?
     While Sri Aurobindo himself saw and acknowledged many others’ genuine criticisms in a proper light, like that James Cousins’, it is a pity that such a great work he is not there to see.
     Long before the article written by Shraddhavan (Robinson) referred earlier, Dr. Sisir Kumar Ghose wrote,
“As Sri Aurobindo has suggested, ancient India was created by the Vedas and Upanishads. Sri Aurobindo the poet belongs to that family. Among those that know he has been hailed as the maker of a new age, a civilization of consciousness, the promise of a new race.” (Dr. Sisir Kumar Ghose. Indian Literature. New Delhi. June 1972. Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Number. P.46)
     Sri Aurobindo was poet of a particular period, no doubt, but many of his poetic creations surpassed his time and may be considered as classic for all time to come, as the poems of some other great poets. And perhaps Savitri has to wait further for its full appreciation by future generations.
     Now let us take the opinion of one of the present age senior British poets, Bernard M Jackson, who in a recent article is all praise for small press publications which is also called Little Magazines, not only in England but in India too. Among other things he has written,
     “When we speak of English poetry, I suppose it would be only natural for those living abroad to summon up thoughts of William Wordsworth’s frequently quoted verse, or perhaps one might address one’s ideas to recall of some of William Shakespeare’s better known sonnets. Perhaps, too, the names and poetry of John Keats, Percy Byshe Shelley, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning may equally spring to mind. However, what can nowadays be seen to be abundantly clear is the curious fact that we in the U. K. no longer have poets of that same high stature as those aforementioned giants of yesteryears’ poetry world.” (Bernard M Jackson. ‘Within the Heartland of Contemporary British Poetry- the half hidden world of Small Press Publication’. Poetcrit. Maranda, H.P., India. July 2008)
     He has discussed different phases of poetry movement in Britain and opined that by the sixties of the twentieth century “Standard poetry was on a noticeable decline . . . .” (Jackson)
     So even after the “Modernist movement progressed” and “Modernists were changing the face of European and American literature”, as realised by our biographer-historian, we may say that the face has not actually changed much. Literary movements come and go but the real creations with their authors remain. Sri Aurobindo has remained and we believe that he will remain.
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2011

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Who is the Mother? What is her Work? What she really said?

Mother’s Work
While in her body, Mother entrusted certain works to certain persons according to the suitability of one’s inner conditions, according to the necessity of time and place, which she must have reconsidered had she been a witness to it till today. From a letter of Sri Aurobindo dated 28.9.1933 we find that this point was hinted at, “As for Mother, one will not find in her this blind adherence to an arrangement once made. . . . There is a plasticity needed in the movement of time and the habit of life cannot afford to be rigid in its movements, otherwise life would either be turned into a mere mechanism or break to pieces.” 1
     While any work done with proper perfection and consciousness of a karmayogi, selflessly offered to the divine, may become Mother’s work, it is puerile to think whatever we do, may be in an institution she founded, to be her work, though we know that we do them just as any other work in life, with turbid mental and vital conditions and the work is to just fulfil our own need.      
     Does every institution not drift to a different point in the ever flowing current of human lives from its source or origin? Old elements many times rot and the new ones are mostly not properly oriented for who would orient them? Can we assume the position that whatever is happening, whether we are a part of it as a doer or not, we have nothing to do about it, as if it is her fault if the situation does not change or its conditions worsens? Has not Sri Aurobindo said in his The Mother “Reject the false notion that the divine Power will do and is bound to do everything for you at your demand . . . .”?
     We can quote more potent lines from Sri Aurobindo from another correspondence dated 17.10.1936, “Apart from incomplete sincerity, there is the difficulty that the brain is clouded by egoism and desire and imagines it is doing the very thing when it is doing something else. That is why I spoke of the danger of the theory of all from the Mother. There are people who have taken it that all that comes from their ego or the vital comes from the Mother, is her inspiration or what she has given them. There are others who have taken it as an excuse for going on in the old rut independently, saying that when the Mother wants she will change things! There were even some who on this basis created a subjective Mother in themselves whose dictates, flattering to their ego and desire, are pitted against the contrary dictates of the Mother here, and come to think that this external Mother is after all new and the real thing is the inner one or that she was putting them through an ordeal by contradicting the inner dictates and seeing what they would do! The truth remains the truth, but this power of twisting by the mind and other parts of the nature has to be kept in sight also.” 2
     We cannot be inert and passive and call everything that we do as Mother’s works. We cannot advise others to dedicate all their energies toward doing the works in the institutions founded by her or anywhere, assuming that these only are the Mother’s works. Though it was her empire when she was on earth, we cannot limit the jurisdiction of the Universal Shakti, the Divine Mother to institutions, neither as they existed when she was present, nor as they stand now after her departure. All legitimate works done throughout the universe are her works, if done properly. We can not go for a new superstition, create a new slogan toward achieving our ends.
     Regarding the dispute, if the emanations of the Mother are herself, Sri Aurobindo replied very clearly, “The Emanation is not a deputy, but the Mother herself. She is not bound to her body, but can put herself out (emanate) in any way she likes . . . . Its presence with the Sadhak is not dependent on his consciousness of it. If everything were dependent on the surface consciousness of the Sadhak, there would be no possibility of the divine action anywhere; the human worm would remain the human worm and human ass the human ass, for ever and ever. For if the Divine could not be there behind the veil, how could either ever become conscious of anything but their wormhood and asshood even throughout the ages?’ 3   
     In the chapter titled ‘Sadhana through work for the Mother’ in his book The Mother,  compiled as excerpts from his letters, Sri Aurobindo said lots on the subject to make home his points to the disciples from time to time. If available in full, they would shed more light on the subject. Such things were mentioned elaborately in his The synthesis of Yoga. Works for the Mother done with the right concentration on her is as much a Sadhana as meditation and inner experiences. It is the same as doing yoga with Karma or Karmayoga. Based on them his ideas are given below-
     To go entirely inside in order to have experiences and to neglect the work as it is done with the external consciousness is to be unbalanced, one-sided in the Sadhana, for his  Yoga is integral; so also to throw oneself outward and live in the external being alone is to be unbalanced, one-sided in the Sadhana. One must have the same consciousness in inner experience and outward action and make both full with the consciousness of the Mother. To do both meditation and work and dedicate both to the Mother is the best thing.
     As for the work one does, there is no higher or lower work; all work is the same provided it is offered to the Mother and done for her and in her power. All ideas of ego, all association of egoistic feelings with the work must disappear. One begins to feel the Mother’s force doing the work; the psychic grows through a certain inner attitude behind the work and the adhara becomes open both to the psychic intuitions and influences from within and to the descent from above. Then the result of meditation can come through the work itself.
     When you can have constantly the feeling of a calm being within concentrated in the sense of the Divine Presence while the surface mind does the work, or when you can begin to feel always that it is the Mother’s force that is doing the work and you are only a channel or an instrument, then in place of memory there will have begun the automatic constant realization of Yoga, divine union in works.
     All work done in that spirit and with that consciousness becomes Karmayoga and can be regarded as part of his Sadhana. Sri Aurobindo wrote in The Mother, “Your only object in action shall be to serve, to receive, to fulfil, to become a manifesting instrument of the divine Shakti in her works.”
     The Mother said, “Whatever work it is- if you do it and while doing it are careful not to forget the Divine, to offer to Him what you do and try so to give yourself to Him that He may change all your actions . . . then in that way you will make progress.” 4
     The Mother always gives us hope, calls us to remain young and vigilant so that we can effectively collaborate with her.  How she calls us through a message given to the All India Radio on her ninetieth birthday,
     “It is not the number of years you have lived that makes you old. You become old when you stop progressing. As soon as you think you feel you have done what you had to do, as soon as you think you know what you ought to know, as soon as you want to sit and enjoy the results of your effort, with the feeling you have worked enough in life, then at once you become old and begin to decline. When, on the contrary, you are convinced that what you know is nothing compared to all that remains to be known, when you feel that what you have done is just the starting point of what remains to be done, when you see the future like an attractive sun shining with innumerable possibilities yet to be achieved, then you are young. . . . In peace and silence is the greatest strength.” 5
     She herself confirmed the truth about her two selves on 10 October 1958, “On the one hand, there is what Sri Aurobindo- who, as the Avatar, represented the supreme Consciousness and Will on earth- declared me to be, that is, the supreme universal Mother; and on the other hand, there is what I am realizing in my body through the integral sadhana.” 6
     Referring to the small book, The Mother, not the Volume 25 mentioned earlier which contains the book referred here, by Sri Aurobindo which is said to contain the quintessence of his philosophy and yoga, Sashi Bhusan Dasgupta in his article, Sri ‘Aurobinder Sakti Sadhana’(Sanibarer Chithi, Aswin 1366 Bengali era) described his yoga path as a Tantrik sadhana. According to Sri Aurobindo, Dasgupta wrote, the Mother, the eternal Shakti, in her earthly or lower self is ever preset on earth scene with an aspiration, an inclination to reach her higher nature. The earth nature has this emotion to reach the height as the Mother is involved here as an essential emotion, a light in darkness. For her everything is pushed toward the height. This is the hope of our evolution, of the transformation of the earth-nature, without which there would not remain any chance of change and progress.
     “There is one divine Force which acts in the universe and in the individual and is also beyond the individual and the universe. The Mother stands for all these, but she is working here in the body to bring down something not yet expressed in this material world so as to transform life here- it is so that you should regard her as the Divine Shakti working here for that purpose. She is that in the body, but in her whole consciousness she is also identified with all the other aspects of the Divine.” 7
     Mother in her two selves helps us to achieve the goal of reaching the divine. On our part we have to surrender entirely to her will so that she can push and pull us effectively, she can do the sadhana, living within us. This is our essential and real work, real service to the Mother.
     Nolini Kanti Gupta, a yogi and the oldest sadhak of the Ashram, a direct disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, was very close to her. He said on 21 November 1973, after the departure of the Mother,
     “Mother once told me- ‘If ever I leave my body my Consciousness will remain with you.’
     “Mother is present among us and Her work continues. Let us once more dedicate ourselves for Her work of transformation with utmost sincerity and faithfulness.” 8
     Knowing what she was according to her own riticizeo and according to Sri Aurobindo, knowing what her actual work was on earth; by the side of Sri Aurobindo and after his departure what remained to be done by her as a clear understanding between them, it should be clear what can be termed as Mother’s Work to be done by her followers; those are surely not all day-to-day paraphernalia done to fulfil self interest or done as a routine for the running of some riticizeon unless even those mundane works become really Works of the Mother in real terms so that they do not become undesirable or otiose.
Mother Said
“It was an occasion of a host of silly events that occur constantly and make people repeat, ‘Mother said, Mother felt, Mother did, Mother . …’ I wondered, ‘Can’t I make them understand?’ well, I have seen that It’s impossible, so I don’t bother about it anymore. I simply said to those who have goodwill, ‘Don’t listen to what people tell you; when they come and tell you, ‘Mother said, Mother wanted…’ don’t believe a word of it, that’s all; let them say what they like, it doesn’t matter.” Mother said during one of her talks on 22 July1964. 9 It seems that she was disgusted.
     It is true that she said different things to different people, often contradictory, as per their differing inner needs. Many were her advices to individuals as per the then, temporal needs, specific to their nature or situation. Some of her words were of universal nature carrying value for all, said on special occasions. Usually those are understood but they are on many instances misused. She explained it but gave up the idea of making people understand. It is fact that we often hear, “Mother said, Mother did, Mother wanted”, but rarely do we hear, “Sri Aurobindo said” or “Sri Aurobindo wanted.” There is difficulty in it and usually it is not as common as the Mother’s day-to-day advices to her disciples or others as she would look after all arrangements, everyday needs.
     Knowing Mother and her works are the first steps toward a movement to know her thoughts and ideas. Innumerable were the subjects she had spoken about. Concentration on a few controversial and important topics, about which she had repeated her statements, opinions and acted continuously to establish her ideas, may perhaps help us to clear the cloud. In this connection we have to remember that human actions stem from reactions whereas divine action is spontaneous, it speaks to each thing or being according to its dharma, by which Mother meant both law and truth. She confirmed that her actions were the result of neither mental nor vital nor emotional or physical reactions.
     Religion and Spirituality- Mother was against any hollow ritualistic practices. She was ardently in favour of spirituality. On 23 May 1956, about her sojourn to India for the first time in a Japanese boat she gave detailed report of how on a Sunday everyone crowded down into the lounge and the Presbyterian made a speech. Everybody listened very religiously and when it was over, they all came up again “with the satisfied air of someone who has done his duty. And, of course, five minutes later they were in the bar drinking and playing cards, and their religious ceremony was forgotten… there was nothing more to be said about it.”
     When repeatedly insisted to speak her mind why she did not take part in it, she said to the clergyman, “I don’t feel that you are sincere, neither you nor your flock. You all went there to fulfil a social duty and a social custom, but not at all because you really wanted to enter into communion with God.”
     Puzzled, the questioner uttered, “Enter into communion with God! But we can’t do that!” 10
     Someone asked her permission to visit a church on 25 December 1969 to see the midnight ceremony. Mother replied that while Sri Aurobindo spent his whole life to free men from the bondage of religions, does he want to contradict his work for the sake of a childish curiosity? But we must remember from such examples that such perfunctory religiosity is found with most human beings belonging to any religious denomination. Most of them are not awake to their devotional or routine rituals done because in the absence of it they would feel vacant, feel afraid inwardly or as in most cases they would feel isolated from their group of general practitioners.
     Let us see what Sri Aurobindo said about freedom from the bondage of religion, about the spirituality: “Spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things…. Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality- beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in  communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being … a growth or  waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.” 11
   A note from Mother dated 19 March 1973 was-
     “Here we have no religion.
     We replace religion with spiritual life, which is truer and both deeper and higher, that is to say, closer to the Divine. For the Divine is in all things, but we are not conscious of it.
     This is the immense progress that men must make.” 12
     Her oft repeated statement was again said on 5 April 1967, “What is most important, is to get rid of that division. And they all have it in their minds- each and everyone of them! The division between living a spiritual life or living the ordinary life, having a spiritual consciousness or having an ordinary consciousness- there is only One consciousness!
     “It’s still the old idea. Still the old idea of the sage, the yogi, the sannyasin, the . . . who represents spiritual life, while all others represent ordinary life- but it’s not true! It’s not true, not true at all,” she stressed in elaborating it. 13
     What she wanted to say is that it is not the denial of life by the sannyasin or the rigidity of rituals that should be our goal for our goal is much vaster; spiritual. As a conclusion she quoted Sri Aurobindo, from his Essays on the Gita, “We do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future.” 14
     But we see that she spoke of the two consciousnesses too and differentiated between them at certain other times. Whatever ceremonies and festivals she participated, in whatever position, were gestures of her goodwill and benediction towards her disciples and devotees not for the festival or the occasion.
     “The true spiritual life begins when one is in communion with the Divine in the psychic, when one is conscious of the divine Presence in the psychic and in constant communion with the psychic. Then the spiritual life begins, not before. . . .
     “Before that, one may be an aspirant to the spiritual life, but one doesn’t have a spiritual life.” She said. 15
     “All that opens to us the road to the supreme realities, pulls us out from the mud of the Ignorance in which we are stuck, opens the door to us, shows us the path, leads us to where we have to go- this is what man has called ‘Spirit’
     “In fact, the vast majority of men are like prisoners with all the doors and windows closed, so they suffocate, which is quite natural.” 16
     “There are people who live constantly in a higher consciousness, while others have to make an effort to enter there.” 17
     With an understanding of what is spiritual consciousness and what is not or what is ordinary consciousness we shall move to the most important tool to attend spiritual consciousness:
Meditation- Some have the idea that Mother was against doing meditation, almost a compulsory discipline in every yogic, spiritual system. How could Mother, who used to spontaneously meditate for hours in the jungle of Fontainbleu in Paris during her teens, how could she, who used to meditate in the early morning for decades and note her experiences in her notebooks, later published as Prayers and Meditations, how could she who often entered into trance, who led and gave meditations to her disciples for years, who showed the greatest example of surrender during her silent meditation with Sri Aurobindo on 29 March when she first met him in 1914, show disregard for it? Let us see.
     On 17 February 1951 she explained during the question hour that during the meditation session in the Ashram she used to try to kindle the flame of aspiration, to help it to rise up in her disciples and during Playground meditations she invited those who wanted the perfection of their physical body for the yoga. About the Ashram meditation she said, “I tried to unify the consciousness of all who were present and to lift it in an aspiration towards higher regions; it was a movement of ascent, of aspiration- whereas what we do here, in concentration, is a movement of descent. . . . .
     “Who really want the perfection of their physical body can come, not those wh want to escape from life, escape from themselves, escape from their body to enter into the heights.” 18
      “With a little practice one reaches a state which may be obtained at will in a few seconds, that is, one doesn’t waste any meditation time.” She said on 5 June 1957. About the result she said, “It may be an illumination, an understanding truer or closer to the truth, or a power of transformation which helps you to achieve a psychological progress or a widening of the consciousness or a greater control over your movements, over the activities of the being.” 19
     “Is not sitting down to meditation an indispensable discipline and does it not give a more intense and concentrated union with the Divine?” someone asked. Mother did not deny it. “That may be,” she said, “But a discipline in itself is not what we are seeking. What we are seeking is to be concentrated on the Divine in all that we do, at all times, in all our acts and in every movement.”
     During her Question and Answer session in 1929 she said, “The number of hours spent in meditation is no proof of spiritual progress. It is a proof if your progress when you no longer have to make an effort to meditate . . . .
     “There are some who have been asked to meditate; but also there are others who have not been asked to do any meditation at all . . . . To work, to act with devotion and an inner consecration is also a spiritual discipline. The final aim is to be in constant union with the divine, not only in meditation but in all circumstances and in all the active life.” 20
    She stopped taking meditation for sometime for an atmosphere of formidable mass of stupid prejudices which created an irreconcilable antagonism between material and spiritual life, as she explained. This she considered to be foolishness which is to be uprooted to pave the way toward Supramental manifestation.
     “What I most fear are those who believe themselves very exceptional because they sit down and meditate…. They become so vain and so full of self-satisfaction that they close up in this way all avenues of progress…. There is one thing that has always been said, but always misunderstood, it is the necessity of humility.” 21
     “The Ashram is meant for yoga, not for musical entertainment or other social activities.
    “Those that live in the Ashram are requested to live quietly and noiselessly and if they are not capable themselves of meditation they must, at least, leave the others to meditate,” she said on 25 April 1958. 22
     She hastened to add that she liked music very much as she was a practicing musician but said that it should be limited to a good atmosphere.
     Sri Aurobindo insisted on meditation as a process of doing yoga. Mother never denied it. She herself was a great practitioner of it, but she disliked any pretence and demanded absolute sincerity. She felt that one would meditate when the real time arrives for him, almost under compulsion. She wanted sadhaks to always meditate and offer, in all circumstances, amidst all actions, which are much more difficult that usual meditation, she admitted.
     In reply to some questions about sports and Mother’s attention toward it, about the playground meditation, Sri Aurobindo made it clear that playground meditation was an ordinary concentration for physical exercise while meditation for spiritual development was guided by the Mother in the Ashram. He said that sports was given its due place but that could not take the place of sadhana in the Ashram. All these references are to confirm that Mother was never against meditation in favour of any work done for any purpose.
     We may here verify Mother’s views and actions on certain important social institutions and ceremonies, on human activities in collective and individual life to clear our faith on her which are contrary to what some say as “Mother said”.
Marriage- It is important in every society. It is the second important stage of life, Garhasthya ashrama, according to Hindu social system. Mother usually blessed the newly married couple or those going to be married. But her opinions are given below which throw sufficient light on the subject.
     In a letter on 28 July 1937 she wrote, that she never advised anyone to marry; it is a terrible bondage. But she did not restrict anyone to marry. She gave them freedom saying that “you are free and that it is for you to make the decision; that’s all.”
     In a letter on 13 October 1940 she said, “Marriage is not a direct way to prepare oneself for sadhana. It can be an indirect one if the outward nature needs troubles and disappointments to get rid of worldly attachments….” 23
     During her talks on 19 October 1963 she mentioned- “I had the experience of a young couple who came to see me (It has become a custom nowadays that young people who are going to marry and whose families I know, or who live here, come to receive my blessings before marrying! That’s the new fashion.) …. To receive my blessings. Then they went. And they left behind in the room … a vital formation, very bubbly, absolutely ignorant, very bubbly with a joie de vivre, a joie de vivre so blissfully ignorant of all possible difficulties, all possible miseries, and not only for oneself but for everyone! …. (Note that these young people belong to the ‘top’ of society) …. I wondered if it isn’t even more widespread  in Western countries than here- I think it is.” 24
     During the same year Bharatidi, a French lady of 73, wrote to Mother, if she would have to marry to get an interview. Mother’s reply was both humorous and penetrating.
     “O Bharaitidi, our dear friend!
     “Don’t marry, it will be such a big loss for all- for you would have to leave the Ashram, at least during the honey-moon…. My programme is generally five minutes of meditation, sometimes less- and how I ask you to climb two storeys for that…. And your voice resounds at times to my inner hearing- and I always reply in the silence.”
     Generally it may be said that she advised someone or the other depending on their condition of life to marry or not to marry but it cannot be said that she viewed it as an ideal position for leading a life that she professed. 
Rules and Regulations- Mother did not prescribe too many rules for her governance, for they give scopes for revolt. She expected that with the growth of spirituality in her disciples lower-nature and propensities to immoral things would fall off from their nature. However, for those who intended to practice integral yoga, she prohibited three things- sexual relation, drinking alcohol and smoking. She also prohibited politics.
Politics- She was always for organizing the country beyond politics. Party is like a box, a limitation. Taking the clue from what Sri Aurobindo said, she thought that, “We represent no party! We represent India”.
     During talks she said, “I am not saying officially; because I have said and always repeat that politics is in complete Falsehood, based on Falsehood, and I am not dealing with it, meaning that I am not in politics, I don’t want to be- but that doesn’t stop me from seeing clearly!” 25                                                                                  
   “If there is a man who feels like going in for politics, that is different; but I think the others will be strong without being inside.” 26 She said on 25 May 1970.
     But she loved India, loved men. She would not leave any area of life unexplored, specially such an important area of country’s progress, but not through politics. She was very clear on the point and advised- “It is to riticiz the country beyond politics. And it is the only way. . . .
     “There is no hope in going backwards; it would make things last endlessly. We must go forward, absolutely, and go beyond, beyond party. And no body can explain that better than Sri Aurobindo, because he was so much, so much beyond party; he saw the advantages and disadvantages of all parties and he stated them exactly.” 27
     This journey of finding what Mother said and what she meant is very lengthy and repetitious, labyrinthine. I have tried to bring home some common areas where “Mother Said” is quite popular. A nice example will make the point acute; “Do not trouble yourselves with what others do, I cannot repeat it to you too often. Do not judge, do not riticize, do not compare. That is not your lookout.” (1957) 28
     If this were Mother’s dictum for all it would be a paradise for the looters and whimsical actors, a play ground for all wrong doers but fortunately the publisher of the volume 14, titled ‘Words of the Mother’(The Mother. Collected Works. Centenary Edition. 1978.) wrote in his Note, “The reader should note that most of these statements were written for individuals under particular circumstances and were not, at the time of writing, intended for general circulation.” Still this write up is often put up for general consumption.
     After many years of her departure Mother has become a myth and superstition; Mother’s words, her smile, her Prasad are much in demand for multiple uses around her last abode and perhaps beyond. This is an effort to bring out what Mother actually said, what she intended her children to do, to become, to the extent possible, for deviations are part of life. She was Mother of love. She never refused anybody. She always smiled. Even when she was utterly busy, she received people, corresponded with a large number of them. Large number of people regularly met her in spite of her failing health, simply for the satisfaction of receiving her blessings, for a work or ritual, perhaps very personal and not so important generally. She could not refuse when people around her pushed them. Many received her Divine smile, flowers and other things during their sole visit to the Ashram. Many, who happened to be there, near her, received her smile, touch, blessings for days, months and years together, as the chance occurred during the days of her ministry.
     Mother accommodated her children in many ways, giving relaxation to norms, showing special kindness to some out of benevolence. But perhaps she, only she, who knew the inner sides of everything and everyone, could do it. Let all those who received such bounty keep them as treasures in the special chambers of their hearts. But that might neither be due to any speciality of the recipients’ character nor their legitimate due but because they remained or occupied a physical nearness to her at that particular point of time. Wonderful was her world, from wonder she traveled to wonder.
Notes and References:
1 The Mother. Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry; SABCL, Sri Aurobindo Ashram. 1972. V-25. p.276
2 The Mother. pp. 278-79
3 The Mother. p.110
4 The Mother. V-5. p. 44
5 India The Mother. Paris and Mysore; Institut de Recherches Evolutives and Mira Aditi. 1998. p. 173    
6 Mother’s Agenda. Satprem. Paris; Institut de Recherches Evolutive. 1978. p. 209
7 The Mother. pp. 49-50        
8 As reproduced in The Mother: Past Present and Future. K. D. Sethna. Jaipur; Kamal Printers. 1977. p. 156
1 Mother’s Agenda. Satprem. Paris; Institut de Recherches Evolutive. 1988. V-5. p.133
2 The Mother. Collected Works. Centenary Edition. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
V-8. pp.149-150
3 The Life Divine. Sri Aurobindo. Pondicherry; SABCL, Sri Aurobindo Ashram.Vol-19. p. 857
4 Mother’s Agenda. V-13. p. 379
5 Mother’s Agenda. V-8. pp. 100 and 98
6 Mother’s Agenda. V-8. p. 103
7 The Mother. V-8. p. 136
8 The Mother. V-9. pp. 430-431
9 The Mother. V-4. p. 230
10 The Mother. V-4. pp. 122-123
11 The Mother. V-9. p.115
12 The Mother. V-3. p. 20
13 The Mother. V-5. p. 45
14 The Mother. V-13. p. 120
15 The Mother. V-14.p. 313
16 Mother’s Agenda. V-4. pp. 358-59
17 India The Mother. Paris and Mysore; Institut de Recherches Evolutives and Mira Aditi. 1998. p.146
18 The Mother. V-15. p.467
19 The Mother. V-15. pp.426-427
20 The Mother. V-14. p.293

© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2012