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At the Feet of The Mother

A Look Behind – by Mrityunjoy (II)

A year later circumstances led me to volunteer work in another department with the Mother’s approval. There was a paid workman also to help along with a small boy. The man was a technician, but an indifferent fellow, and I a novice just learning the work. Once it happened that the small boy, who carried the ladder from place to place, did not turn up for several days and the paid man would not touch the ladder. He was too proud of his dignity for such a petty job! So I prayed to the Mother to appoint another boy to carry the ladder. The Mother exclaimed with surprise, “What! two people cannot carry a ladder? I do not understand!” I felt shocked at first that She wanted me to do a coolie’s job for this paid man who refused to touch the ladder! But I realised that in any case I had to obey Her and pass through the ordeal. First my own superiority complex had to be thrown aside if I wanted to work for the Divine. So I did the job the next day. Seeing me lifting the ladder the workman grumbled and after a while very unwillingly lent his hand. Later the Mother obliged me to do all such work myself, and pointed out to me that it was the only way to be a successful leader of co-workers, otherwise they would have no true feeling and respect for me and would find every opportunity to cheat me and sink into a demoralised condition.

I had been in the Ashram about two years when an elderly friend of mine came for a visit. I was indebted to him very much because in my earlier days he had helped make it possible for me to come here. So naturally it was a great pleasure for me to meet him again. But during the two months he remained here, I could not visit him as often as both of us would have liked, because by then I was fully engrossed in quite a number of different works; and the greatest attraction of it was that I had more opportunities than many others to see the Mother and talk to Her and get Her instructions.

One day he remarked, “Why do you busy yourself all the time with so much work? Did the Mother give you so many jobs or do you do them of your own accord?” I explained to him, “The Mother does not impose work on anybody; I feel pleasure in working so I ask Her and She approves of my doing all these jobs.” He said, “You had literary talent in you and there is a good library here, why not take advantage of that and try to be a literary man, doing a half day’s work and a half day’s study?” His advice appealed to me, it sounded reasonable; yet I was not quite convinced inwardly. So I talked about it to Pavitra. The next day he surprised me by saying that he had spoken to the Mother about my conversation with my friend, and very spontaneously She had said, “Yes, yes, otherwise how to become useless?” The next day, on our first meeting, the Mother said jokingly, “So, you are going to be a literary genius?” I felt very much ashamed and said, “No, Mother.” It was indeed funny that I should have forgotten the warning given to me on my first day by my friend!

What the Mother said does not mean that She discourages literary activity. Here was a purely individual case in a certain set of circumstances where the spiritual development depended on following a certain line of discipline.

I used to meet some reputed sadhaks on the sly and indulge in taking tea with them, joining in their gossips which included reading fresh letters from Sri Aurobindo and finding faults with other sadhaks. I did not inform the Mother about it, as I knew She would not approve. However, the mental justification to stop the prick of conscience was never lacking: “After all, what’s wrong in it? Where else would I have the opportunity to read such wonderful letters of Sri Aurobindo?” Gradually I sensed a certain reserve in the Mother’s dealing with me. Unable to bear the tension, I asked Her a few days after, what was wrong expressing my sorrow for displeasing Her and bringing about Her indifference to me. Very kindly but jokingly the Mother asked me why I hid things from Her. Thus things got settled down in a way, but for a short time only. The vital attraction to gossip was too strong to be thrown off at once. I had no difficulty in walking away from my family to enter the Ashram, but these apparently innocent movements would not leave me. I continued my old ways but justified them with similar arguments: “Now that the Mother knows about it, there is nothing so very serious in it, and didn’t She tell me, ‘Do whatever you like, but do not hide it from me’? Moreover, when I told Her that I would never go anywhere again, She told me it would be good if I could do so, but She did not think I could. Didn’t it mean that She did not believe me?” After full three years of struggle, the topic came up again in one of my interviews with the Mother. She said, “You are playing about in this matter (visiting people at tea parties, etc.). But if you do not throw it away completely now that it has taken a more complex turn, this greed in what appears to you a very minor form will later be a major obstacle in your sadhana.” I asked Her quite impertinently why She did not remove this desire from me, if it was something so serious. The Mother replied with all her tenderness, “But you are not allowing me to do it. You are not opening this part at all to my influence. Each time that I put a strong pressure on you to help you out of this disease, you very cleverly avoid it. If you had very simply come to me and frankly told me about your difficulty, your desire for this or that thing, I would have seen what really was needed, and how much to allow and for how long. By now you would have been completely out of it and gone a step further. But instead of that you go on hiding it from me, and satisfy your greed by frequenting other people’s places. Naturally you miss the direct help.”

It was the first time in my life that I had heard such a thing, and that from the Mother! Is it believable that such silly bits could be put before Her, asking for their satisfaction? All I had learned from childhood had taught me the contrary, not to ask anything from the Divine. Sri Ramakrishna had sent Vivekananda to Mother Kali to ask her redress of his family difficulties so that he could devote himself entirely to his guru; but Vivekananda tried three times and yet could not ask. Instead, he prayed for desirelessness and renunciation. In one of Rabindranath Tagore’s lines we read, “He who could give you a crown for the head, you just ask for a shoelace from him!”

It took me years to recognise my false logic in it. If not to bother the Mother for insignificant things of human desire is to be my abiding virtue, I must be capable of removing desires completely from myself. But with many like me, this is not easy. It is only the highly developed souls that can do it all at one stroke. Sri Aurobindo did it; from the moment he decided not to allow the mind to think but to remain vacant and act according to the inner voice, from then on his whole life was guided by that principle. But for a common man who has taken up the line of spiritual development the guidance of the guru is necessary. Opening oneself to the Mother, not only for things higher and nobler, but for things small and ordinary, and to wait for Her decision and guidance — this not only helps one to progress without stumbling, but is essential for the development of the inner consciousness which eventually leads to the discovery of the Mother inside who guides unmistakably. I wish I had understood this before; then I would not have wasted so much of the Mother’s outer grace and compassion. I should have understood that even when the Mother made some concessions for my desire to have its own way, it was just to help cure it and not go on exploiting it. When She did not sanction, in certain cases, strict discipline should have been maintained at any cost, and as I had experienced in some cases where I succeeded, the feeling of the Grace helping to cure the malady was physically palpable, and the difficulty was over earlier than imagined. But the question was of holding on.

When my parents came to know that I had settled in the Ashram permanently, my mother began to write frantic letters asking me to return. I stopped replying to her after some time, being tired and disgusted. Months later, while I was feeling at spiritual ease without being disturbed by my people at home, and for that matter was pondering whether I should not express my gratitude to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother for this little piece of miracle, Nolinida brought to me a postcard from Sri Aurobindo, with the marginal comments written in his own hand, the first communication from him in my life! Overjoyed I began to read, then with a sudden shock from what I had read, I went back to the beginning and started reading again: “What is the meaning of all this I do not understand. I hope you have not given her any understanding that it is I who have kept you here. Your temporary stay was changed into a permanent one by your prayer. And once you have decided, you should have the courage to make your people understand that clearly. Otherwise, one is free to remain here or to go as he chooses.”

It was not difficult to guess the contents of the postcard. It was a letter addressed directly to Sri Aurobindo by my mother, throwing blame on him. I felt very sorry; but I felt quite uneasy as I had never given any such impression to my mother; and how was it that Sri Aurobindo did not understand that? I at once wrote a strong letter to my mother, and sent it up to Sri Aurobindo for approval, with an inner feeling of satisfaction that he would be convinced that I had enough courage to deal with my parents! Next day I got the letter back through Nolinida, the same spiritual postman; I opened the fresh envelope with my name written on it by Sri Aurobindo, and found his comments on the body of my letter to my mother: “This letter won’t do. There is no use threatening your mother with all that will happen to her which has no meaning. After Darshan I shall give you the hints of what to write. For the present you can simply write to her that you are in good health and she need not worry.” Another surprise indeed, but one of unthinkable joy to me. This time I really expressed my gratitude to Them!

In those days the departments of service were few. There was the Building Service under the devoted engineer Chandulal, the Garden Service and Pavitra’s Atelier (Workshop) for mechanical and technical activities. Of course there were the domestic service to deal with the servants, the Prosperity for the requirements of the Ashramites, the Bakery and the Dining Room, the same as today but now increased many times over. Every detail of all the services was presented to the Mother for Her scrutiny and approval, especially Pavitra’s department. The heads of the other departments were responsible to the Mother, of course, but to some extent they had the freedom to deal with the workmen and organise the works as they felt justified. But in Pavitra’s case it was the Mother who was the One and the All. She conducted everything, Pavitra only carried out Her orders. At the same time all technical details or engineering matters were worked out by him, but even for the most insignificant item it was She who would say “Yes or No” and only then did he carry it out.

In the workshop repairs to the Mother’s car and its maintenance were the main job; but along with that all other electrical works, including house installations and repair jobs, water works, in the form of water canalisations from the municipal supply and repairs to taps etc. on one side, and all the domestic service requirements like repairs to metal pots and tinning of cooking-vessels, as well as smithy jobs etc., on the other were all being done. In each of these Pavitra, engineer of the École Polytechnique, gave a helping hand, and all the details were presented to the Mother. It was She who decided what to do and in which order. The relation between paid workmen and the one sadhak worker, who was also Pavitra’s assistant was very sweet and friendly due to Pavitra’s being the intermediary between them. Even if there was some confusion at times with the workmen and his assistant Pavitra would never give his opinion or order, but refer to the Mother and later communicate to them what had been decided by Her. In any workshop or factory outside, this at times would appear to lower his dignity, at least from the standpoint of a high-class engineer and his fellow assistant or workmen. But for him all that was of no importance. Only what the Mother wanted was all.

Once it happened that a paid workman was permitted by the Mother to come to her for Pranam every morning, not along with the sadhaks but after She had finished with them. She would come out by Pavitra’s door upstairs and stand there, and the man would go up and offer his Pranam. He was perhaps the first workman to whom She gave this grace. Amrita said the man had originally been a mason, working in the Building Service with Chandulal. But he was a devotee and a poet. He had written some poems in Tamil on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, which Amrita had translated into English and shown to Her. The Mother was evidently pleased and instructed Chandulal to send the man from his building department to Pavitra’s department, where he would work as a mechanical helper. Thus he got the promotion from mason to mechanic; but unfortunately within a short time he proved himself hopelessly unfit for the work, a lazy fellow. Pavitra realised this from the facts of daily work, but he did not react in the way I did, because he knew the Mother was kind to the man and was giving him an opportunity and he accepted him for that. When the fellow came late for work, and gradually turned it into a regular habit, the Mother would say, “His house is very far, so one should be a little kind.” I said he was good for nothing, but She would defend him by saying, “You people are really lacking in sympathy!” In this way every possible concession was being given to him, which was unthinkable for any other paid workman in any other department in the Ashram. At first he brought a few flowers; but gradually the more his inefficiency in the departmental work was being overlooked by the Mother, he began to bring quite a few packets of flowers for Her, and untied them one by one and offered them at the Mother’s feet, thus taking a lot of time. This delayed his joining the work still more, and also it was late for the Mother. So once, when it was later than usual and he was even slower to open the packets, I felt impatient and told him to finish his Pranam first, as the Mother was standing, and the rest of the packets would be untied for him by me. The man did so, and the Mother went in comparatively early. I felt flattered at having done a good service to Her.

Later in the evening Pavitra told me that the Mother had been very displeased because of my interrupting the man. She said that when the man was before Her and making Pranam, he was not a workman at that time, and moreover She came at that hour for him only, so I did not need to come with him again: did I not already have my Pranam earlier? A good lesson for me! Naturally I did not accompany the man after that to the Mother.

Another small incident gave me an unforgettable lesson from the Mother. One day I reported to Her about a workman, a very good and honest mechanic, who was always concentrated in his work, but on that day somehow he did not follow my words and got irritated. I tried several times to explain to him but he would not listen and became insolent in front of a dozen workmen. So I shouted at him, with the result that he at once wanted to leave the job and go away. The Mother was quite distressed with my behaviour. In part what She told me was: “What are you here for? You are here for Yoga, aren’t you? And what is that man here for, to earn his livelihood, isn’t he? You say the man is honest and an expert mechanic and very gentle by nature, and that it was the first time he behaved with you like that. So if you had used a little ordinary common sense, I don’t speak of the yogic sense here, you would have understood that something unusually upsetting must have happened to him either in his family or out somewhere, which made him lose his balance of mind. Thus he did not understand you properly.

“Now, you who are doing yoga should not have gone down in consciousness, and at last you even went below the person with whom you lost your temper. It will help in no way to argue and explain and counter-argue, always posing yourself to be right and the other wrong, and moreover you said that the man speaks very little English, and the most deplorable of all things was that your vanity of being the superior boss took the lead.”

When I told Her that I had not actually lost myself in anger, but the man’s insolent behaviour in front of so many workmen had set a bad example and so…, She stopped me in the middle of my sentence and said, “All that justification belongs to a lower level of consciousness; so long as you remain there, there is no hope. If you want to serve the Divine you must always be at the top of your consciousness.”

“What should I have done in that embarrassing situation?” I asked. The Mother said, “Instead of making the drama of a superior person dealing with a paid workman, you should have behaved like a loving friend and comrade, you should have done this” — here the Mother patted my shoulder — “and laughed and told him with a kind and affectionate gesture, ‘What has happened to you today? You must not be well; go and take some rest. Surely you are very tired today.’ You would have seen that it would have eased the situation and brought back harmony. Whatever be the situation and whosoever the person, lack of harmony means lack of consciousness, and the one who is stronger yields. I do not mean stronger physically, but stronger in consciousness. And by one’s affection and love, not by the dictionary meaning of the word, one yields to get back peace and harmony. Instead of that, you went down below the person and rubbed the animal in him in the wrong way. You are doing yoga, so this much he can expect from you?”

“Now, what shall I do, shall I go back and do as you said?” I asked. The Mother laughed and said, “No, it is too late now, it would be a rehearsed artificial drama and won’t serve the purpose. It must be spontaneous, and that means from a different consciousness. Now the only thing that you can do is to concentrate on the best part of the man and pray for him, that he may get peace and balance, and when you meet him tomorrow behave as if nothing had happened. Be as natural and affectionate as can be expected of a really strong man.”

I did not have to wait for the next morning. Towards the end of the day he came himself to me, and with eyes full of tears asked pardon of me. I was struck dumb. I felt that I had lost the game and he had won it. The same night when I told this to the Mother, she said in a tone of good humour “So you see, he is more receptive than you. Remember and offer.”

One of my stumbling-blocks was that I reacted violently when people blamed me without proper grounds. At times I would even ask the Mother why she paid heed to such and such false rumours, why I should be the victim of such charges, even though I had done nothing of the kind! Her answer to me was that it did not matter whether I did or did not do some such things in that particular instance; what mattered was that previously I had proved myself capable of them, and there were reports about that. My past conduct and the present complaints were enough to show that I was still living in the same old consciousness of reactions and repeated lower movements. It was not enough to have stopped indulging in some of the movements. So long as I had not raised myself to a higher level of consciousness and lived there constantly, such occasions would continue to be there. Only by a complete change of consciousness, and thus living above ordinary human reactions, could the atmosphere around me vibrate differently, and people would then be convinced and not try to find fault with me. And that is a task of long, long years of arduous tapasya. Until then people would be justified to complain and my business was not to react but to be indifferent outwardly, while trying to find inwardly how certain apparently refined movements in me were really out of tune with my changed consciousness. And thus people’s complaints would be more a help than a hindrance.

However, one who makes a complaint has to be very careful about what he says. Thus I may quote a comparatively recent message of the Mother to me when impulsively I hurled a strong criticism at somebody, whose conduct, according to me, had caused an irreparable loss to us:

“When, in ignorance, one speaks ill of others, he debases his consciousness and degrades his soul.

“A respectful and modest Silence is the only attitude befitting a disciple. Blessings.”

Another point about which the Mother was particular in my case was unnecessary contact with women. It was something the Mother would never tolerate. In fact there was not to be any contact with men either, which was not precisely in connection with some work for the Mother. And it was one of my diseases to be friendly with all, inwardly justifying myself that it was the sign of purity and strength. There were innumerable cases when the Mother was severe with me. At times I asked her whether she believed I would enter into some immoral contact. Her reply was revealing, though I was too arrogant in the beginning to be convinced. The gist of what she told me on a number of occasions was like this: “Your idea of morality and immorality is ridiculous. You are here for yoga, to be in union with the Divine, to be all the time above all human so-called natural contacts, however high and refined you may imagine them to be. Any contact with women in your case, will bring you down to subtle vital exchanges to which you are always open. Your consciousness will begin to get dulled, forces of the vital world will take advantage, and quite unawares you will be carried far into wrong tracks, even when you are quite sure of your morality remaining sound!” At times she told me, “Don’t be boastful of your strength. None has been able to keep his promise to me as yet!”

There are many who lament remembering the past days of the Ashram life, that were so calm and intense with the spirit of sadhana. When I look back on my past days, I realise how very unprepared I was, and how little of the Mother’s expectations I fulfilled. Certainly there were more opportunities, but in another form they are not lacking now. Sincere prayer to Her and constant aspiration for Her help to change the consciousness is miraculously responded to, as quickly as it was before. Only, I must be unceasingly vigilant that my acts do not take the form of some show or self-satisfaction even in doing service to the Divine.

My first day’s advice from the friend, when I reached the Ashram, ‘that it is only through work that you shall realise what the Mother really is,’ remains ever true for me. Although the Ashram has expanded a hundredfold, and all works are being done for the Mother, yet Her true workers, sincere and reliable, are not many. Without trying to appear humble I may record that I am only one of the many.

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It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.