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At the Feet of The Mother

Savitri’s Message to Us

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A Talk at Savitri Bhavan on October 25, 2008 (Invocation 30: 20-45)

When Shraddhavan gave me this topic ‘The Message of Savitri’, I wondered what could one speak of as the message of Savitri. I realised that just as there is a problem of poverty, this was a problem of plenty, because there are so many messages of Savitri! There are even one-line messages which are so powerful that they could change our life if we really were to dwell upon them. They are like a life-time sadhana; for example, ‘All can be done if the god-touch is there’ [3]. I know people who have just picked up one line from Savitri that has changed their life. There are so many messages! But what we could do, what I would like to share, is to take up some of the central issues, some broad general messages which are there in Savitri, which come as a theme. And then we can have some kind of interaction following the talk.


Earth – a living goddess

The very first thing which comes in Savitri, which I think is one of the keys, one of the core issues, is the significance of the Earth. The geographical or astronomical way of looking at Earth is that in this universe it is like a little dot, not even a dot. This little dot seems so inconsequential, so insignificant, and the struggling, striving human beings upon this Earth even more inconsequential. But when we look at Savitri, the first thing we get to know about this Earth is that she is a sleeping goddess. She is truly a mother, and she is sleeping, to be woken up by the touch of the Supreme. These are very powerful lines which come in Savitri:

Earth is the chosen place of mightiest souls;
Earth is the heroic spirit’s battlefield,
The forge where the Archmason shapes his works.
Thy servitudes on earth are greater, King,
Than all the glorious liberties of heaven. [686]

This is something so striking!


The hope of Light behind darkness

Sri Aurobindo starts Savitri as if by paradox, and it therefore becomes contemporary to all of us, for we truly live in paradoxical times. A hundred years ago Sri Aurobindo wrote in one of his letters: ‘One needs to have a calm heart, a settled will, entire self-abnegation and the eyes constantly fixed on the beyond to live undiscouraged in times like these which are truly a period of universal decomposition’ [CWSA 36: 285]. It is so very true, as much today as when he wrote it. In a way these are times of universal decomposition. Everything is in a ferment. There is a general confusion everywhere. It is like the thick of night. And Savitri starts from that thick of night. It is very interesting that towards the end of what can be called his physical existence in this life embodiment Sri Aurobindo was so very keen to complete Savitri. And within Savitri we have two very interesting short passages – one of just four lines, and the other a few lines – which give us the importance and the significance of the poem. First, about its composition: Sri Aurobindo writes in canto ‘The Vision and the Boon’ these lines with which we are all familiar:

A seed shall be sown in Death’s tremendous hour,
A branch of heaven transplant to human soil;
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will. [346]

Savitri is that seed, sown in the Earth’s atmosphere, in death’s tremendous hour. Truly it must have been a tremendous hour, when on the one side the poisonous fumes of the Second World War were still corrupting the Earth-atmosphere, defiling the human mind. Everything was as if in a state of utter depravity; and on the other side, India’s partition with such bloodshed. In that thick of night we have the seed of Savitri sown in death’s tremendous hour.

Very interestingly, in Savitri itself there is a description of Savitri – at least I look at it as a description of Savitri. It comes, very strangely, in Book 2, Canto 8, after Aswapati has gone through the thick of darkness, descended into Night, encountered the sons of Darkness, seen through the mask of Falsehood, torn through the tablets of the Ignorance. And when he has gone through all that, at the end there emerges something which, I think, describes Savitri very beautifully and very well. We could start by reading those lines, because it strikes one as the very core message of Savitri. With its birth in the thick of Night, this is the hope that we need to carry in our hearts in times like this, that even in the densest darkness there waits the Dawn.

I think that if we can remember this one thing, that even when everything appears gloomy, everything appears as if we don’t know our own self, we don’t know what’s happening around us, there is Savitri to give us hope and to light the way. The passage comes in Book 2, Canto 8 towards the end, when Aswapati has seen through the world of Falsehood entirely, and at the end of it there is something he touches which changes everything.

Falsehood gave back to Truth her tortured shape.
Annulled were the tables of the law of Pain,
And in their place grew luminous characters. [232]

Now comes the description which personally I take to be a description of Savitri:

The skilful Penman’s unseen finger wrote
His swift intuitive calligraphy;
Earth’s forms were made his divine documents,
The wisdom embodied mind could not reveal,
Inconscience chased from the world’s voiceless breast;
Transfigured were the fixed schemes of reasoning Thought.
Arousing consciousness in things inert,
He imposed upon dark atom and dumb mass
The diamond script of the Imperishable,
Inscribed on the dim heart of fallen things
A paean-song of the free Infinite
And the Name, foundation of eternity,
And traced on the awake exultant cells
In the ideographs of the Ineffable
The lyric of the love that waits through Time
And the mystic volume of the Book of Bliss
And the message of the superconscient Fire. [232]

Savitri’s message is the message of the superconscient Fire. It is the message of the Love that waits through time. It is the story of the Bliss which is at the root of all creation. Even behind what we see as pain and darkness and the blinding storm there is the Light waiting for its hour. It is drawing nearer each moment even through the thick of darkness.

I think that is one of the most powerful things that comes out of Savitri, especially in relation to the Earth. Earth itself is a symbol, and we see that every day we have the darkness and we have the light – and light is nearest when the darkness is densest. This great truth – that there is dawn waiting behind the darkness, and this Earth itself is a field of a divine experiment, that it is a chosen place, not something that is happening by chance, by accident – gives a meaning and significance to our lives.


The outer mask and the inner human journey

What is that meaning and significance? I suppose this is the second thing which emerges through the pages of Savitri – the meaning of the human journey. What is this human journey? Where do we come from?

If you look at the outer view that is given to us by the so-called sciences as we understand it today, we might well conclude that we are born from darkness and go back to darkness. It is a way of looking at things. One can look at every day and say: well, the sun emerges out of darkness and goes back to darkness. But there is another way of looking at things: that the sun never emerges out of darkness and it doesn’t go back to darkness – it is we who turn our back to the sun and we who once again turn our face to the sun. This is the human journey: we come from light and we go to light.

This human journey is very beautifully traced out in various passages in very many places. For example, there is this line:

A truth occult has made this mighty world [600]

This world is not built by falsehood, it is not an accident – it is neither a chemical accident, nor a spiritual accident. There is a way of looking at this world where it is seen as a chemical accident: gases came, and electrons, and everything has happened by chance. Even spiritually there has been a misconception that somehow it came into being through a Maya that covered the face of Brahman. Sri Aurobindo would tell us:

But Maya is a veil of the Absolute;
A Truth occult has made this mighty world:
The Eternal’s wisdom and self-knowledge act
In ignorant Mind and in the body’s steps.
The Inconscient is the Superconscient’s sleep. [600]

We also read that ‘Earth’s forms were made his divine documents’,

Spiritual thought is crammed in Matter’s forms, [600]

Everywhere, when we look around, in trees, in flowers, in animals, in human beings, there is something like a spiritual consciousness which off and on we can have a glimpse of – in the sun, in the river, in mud, in the stars, everywhere. If we can learn to read it, we can read every day ‘the language of the Infinite.’

Its earthly dialect to God-language change,
In living symbols study Reality
And learn the logic of the Infinite. [76]

All here is a mystery of contraries:
Darkness a magic of self-hidden Light, [600]

There is nothing like an original darkness. There is nothing like the colour black. The colour black is simply white turned within itself. Darkness is nothing but light self-absorbed within itself.

Suffering some secret rapture’s tragic mask
And death an instrument of perpetual life. [600]

This is the beauty of Savitri. It gives us hope where we can see none. Death is nothing but an instrument; it’s a passage. Suffering is nothing but a mask that the rapturous secret Beloved has worn so that the bliss we experience can be even more intense, even more powerful, even more wide, even more lasting. That is why we have to go through suffering and pain. Otherwise, we would be very satisfied with some small and limited happiness, some small and limited perfection. Every time suffering comes, we can remember this one thing: that this is a preparation for a greater Ananda to come. Every time we are confronted with darkness and the dance of death, we can remember that this death and darkness are only a preparation for a greater dawn. Every time we face the pang of pain, we can remember that the divine Artisan is preparing us to bear the strokes of his delight, because his embrace is too intense for this human form to bear. We experience it as pain in our early status of schooling, but as we grow wider, the same embrace is no longer pain, but changes into figures of delight.

Suffering some secret rapture’s tragic mask
And death an instrument of perpetual life.
Although Death walks beside us on Life‘s road, [600]

Scientists would tell us that death starts the moment we are born, or even before birth, even when the baby is in the womb, because cells are dying. And they would tell us that at the end of the day death has its way. Ultimately, the body dissolves and goes back to death. But here is another vision of things:

Although Death walks beside us on Life’s road,
A dim bystander at the body‘s start
And a last judgment on man‘s futile works,
Other is the riddle of its ambiguous face: [600]

It conceals a riddle. It is a riddle we are given to solve. All the opposites that we experience in life, which are contrary to our native innate seekings, the opposite of suffering, the opposite of death, all the opposites, are essentially like a riddle. They are like a puzzle we are here to solve. That makes life really fascinating.

Death is a stair, a door, a stumbling stride
The soul must take to cross from birth to birth,
A grey defeat pregnant with victory, [600]

Death is only a passage between birth and birth. We are told that life is an incident between death and death. But here is a view that death is a passage between life and another life.

A whip to lash us towards our deathless state.
The inconscient world is the spirit‘s self-made room,
Eternal Night shadow of eternal Day. [601]

It is a complete reversal of view. Night is a shadow of the day. Evil is a shadow of truth, of light.

Night is not our beginning nor our end;
She is the dark Mother in whose womb we have hid [601]

In the ancient tradition there is a talk of two mothers: the dark mother and the bright mother, the mother of division and the mother of union and light. The dark mother is the first one: she gives birth to children and she has to look after them, and after a time when they have grown under her care, then they must emerge – they are ready for the light. We have in our everyday experience this emergence, as when a seed which is preparing itself to blossom into a big tree has to be buried inside the earth and for a long time the seed must pass through the darkness, it must be fed with earth’s waste and after a time it is ready, when its crust has become thin and it has released itself, then the inner core is ready to emerge into light. Our journey is also in two phases. The first is the state of darkness and ignorance. And in that stage we have to be fed by all the waste of the world: pain, suffering. But a time comes – even this is a preparatory phase – when we are ready and we emerge and can directly expose ourselves to the light and the sun. For

Night is not our beginning, nor our end;
She is the dark Mother in whose womb we have hid
Safe from too swift a waking to world-pain. [601]

If suddenly we throw the seed into the light of the sun, what happens? We need light for the seed to grow, but if it is thrown directly to the sun, it will just burn up. For a long time the seed has to be put inside the womb of darkness, where by the heat, by the darkness it melts and is ready for the light. It has grown roots and now it will grow upwards.

We came to her from a supernal Light,
By Light we live and to the Light we go. [601]

This is the third very beautiful thing: that we come from the light and we go to the light. This is the human journey.


The cosmic paradox and the goal of creation

Now, this journey is not only the human journey – it is the journey of the whole creation; but in human beings this becomes a very conscious journey. In this journey we are not alone. In this journey there are immense cosmic forces which help and hinder, but the beauty is that though they seem to help and hinder, eventually they all conspire towards a common end. That is the fourth thing we discover in Savitri – it is an apparent paradox. There are cosmic powers which in different traditions are called the gods and the titans. They must play their role – the powers of light and the powers of darkness. It is an evolutionary journey; at each stage there are forces which pull us backward and downward, and forces that pull us towards the light and help us, because it is a whole slow process of marching forward. Therefore, this brings in for us humans an element of choice. There is something we can do even while we are in ignorance – we need to choose. At different stages the choice comes to us and at different stages the choice changes. What is valid today becomes invalid tomorrow. This choice, to leave behind the darkness and move towards the light, this is the human journey. The beauty is that eventually our choices make a difference only in terms of the time and the struggle experienced. They cannot eventually deny, they cannot eventually stifle, they cannot eventually say ‘no’ to destiny – that is impossible. Through all things, through this conspiracy, through this working of the titans and the gods, through this conspiracy of fate, through all the cosmic powers which restrain us from too swift an opening to the light, we eventually move towards the intended perfection.

This human journey which moves through this kind of a struggle and battle is very beautifully described in Canto 2 in several places, but we’ll just pick up some portions. What is behind this human journey?

In this enigma of the dusk of God, [18]

We all are living in the dusk of God. On one side we have an animal consciousness within us which holds us back. On the other side we have the gods inspiring our hearts and our minds, but we don’t know which way to go. We feel the call and the urge, but we are still attracted and drawn towards all that we are trying to leave behind. It is a stage where we are half-way through, and therefore it is a dusk of God. In this dusk, we cannot tell whether it is light or whether it is darkness.

This slow and strange uneasy compromise
Of limiting Nature with a limitless Soul, [18]

This is the problem, the real problem of all of us: that we are a limitless soul. That is why within us there is an urge for the infinite. That is why we by instinct seek boundlessness. That is why we are forever discontent with the little, with the small, with the narrow, with the petty. We are seeking for that Infinity. Yet our nature is limited – it cannot grasp the infinite, it disfigures it and puts its own stamp and terms upon the soul’s dreams.

Where all must move between an ordered Chance
And an uncaring blind Necessity,
Too high the fire spiritual dare not blaze. [18]

This is the problem – we want all these beautiful things, but we know that if we aspire with too much intensity, our mortal frames are not able to bear it – we break down. In Savitri this comes in several places. For example, when Aswapati asks for the boon for Earth, he is told:

My fire and sweetness are the cause of life.
But too immense my danger and my joy.

Man is too weak to bear the Infinite‘s weight.
Truth born too soon might break the imperfect earth. [335]

Later on, when Savitri asks for the boon, even after Death has been annihilated, again she hears the same message. She is told:

How shall earth-nature and man‘s nature rise
To the celestial levels, yet earth abide? [688]

O too compassionate and eager Dawn,
Leave to the circling aeons’ tardy pace
And to the working of the inconscient Will,
Leave to its imperfect light the earthly race:
All shall be done by the long act of Time. [690-91]

Also, in this same section, she is told by the godhead:

Heaven’s call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds; [689]

We are still too amorous of this darkness, and if Truth descends too soon it might shatter all the norms, all the limits within which human beings must move:

Too high the fire spiritual dare not blaze.
If once it met the intense original Flame,
An answering touch might shatter all measures made
And earth sink down with the weight of the Infinite. [18]

That is why we have restraints upon us. On different levels the gods restrain us, the titans restrain us.

A gaol is this immense material world: [18]

We are in a prison, but we don’t realise it. To begin with, our journey starts in a jail. The jail is this immense material world. The soul is in prison and it is seeking to escape from all sides, through every door. Through the senses it seeks to escape into some original delight. Through the heart it seeks to find universal Love. Through the mind, or parts of the mind, it wants to have a glimpse of infinite Truth. Even through the very pores of our body it wants to have contact with some original Bliss that will deliver it. But:

A gaol is this immense material world:
Across each road stands armed a stone-eyed Law,
At every gate the huge dim sentinels pace. [18]

We want to go through the mind? We want to seek infinite Truth? The sentinel Doubt will come in. It says, ‘Well, do you have the key?’ And you get into discussing: ‘I want the key, I want to experience infinite Truth.’ And it will keep on throwing doubts inside the head. After a time you feel: ‘No, no, it is better that I remain in the safe limits of the mind. This is too dangerous. I must be objective. I must not lose the balance of my rational analytical thinking. It is too dangerous!’ ‘At every gate the huge dim sentinels pace’ – they push us back. This is how this jail is created, the jail of consciousness. You want to expand the heart into the wideness of universality? Again, the ego-sense, desires, personal interests, all these things will come and push us back: ‘No, no, no, this is very dangerous, don’t try this. Live in the safety of the measures made.’

At every gate the huge dim sentinels pace.
A grey tribunal of the Ignorance,
An Inquisition of the priests of Night
In judgment sit on the adventurer soul,
And the dual tables and the Karmic norm
Restrain the Titan in us and the God: [18]

What happens when the measures are broken? This is the problem. We may either grow godward in a swift uprising, or suddenly we may open to the immense darkness that was held back in the subconscient chambers. When these measures are broken, then life becomes the arena of a terrible wrestle between the powers of Light and the powers of Darkness.

Pain with its lash, joy with its silver bribe
Guard the Wheel’s circling immobility. [18]

You want to seek the Divine? All right: ego is the price. Oh, that’s very painful! Desire is the price. My God, no way! Initially it sounds okay, fine. But as the price is extracted, little by little, it becomes very difficult. This does not come without a price. Sri Aurobindo writes in one of his letters that humanity would want all that the supramental can bring to it, but it is not willing to pay the price. The price is too heavy. We can more easily pay the price of things which are outside us. Here the price is yourself, what is very dear to us. That is why he says, ‘Surrender is the way, surrender is the goal.’ It is a very difficult price. There is a famous mystic who says: ‘What is the price you must pay to sit in the house of Love, the Lord’s Love?’ If you want to enter there, there is a price, just like when we go on some highways they ask for a toll-tax; everywhere you go there is a price. The mystic says, ‘If you want to sit in the chambers of the Lord’s Love and be face to face with the divine Beloved and experience his Delight, then the price is that you have to cut off your head and leave it outside.’ It is the symbol of the ego and all its pride – cut off your head, leave it outside, and then you are admitted. Otherwise, stay outside and keep guessing what is inside the secret chambers.

Pain with its lash, joy with its silver bribe
Guard the Wheel’s circling immobility.
A bond is put on the high-climbing mind,
A seal on the too large wide-open heart;
Death stays the journeying discoverer, Life. [18]

This is a slow journey. This is the fourth thing: yes, this human journey is moving towards the Light, but please, don’t be impatient. Sri Aurobindo has given us a thousand-year program. It is not a program of 10-15 years, it is not a ‘yoga-made-easy’, it is not a 14-day course in Nirvana, it is not a virtual reality, where we simply enter, pay a little money, go put on some goggles and start experiencing some higher mental world of our own making! Fortunately, it is not that. It is like… well, a good symbol is the construction of the Matrimandir, or of Savitri Bhavan, or of Auroville: God’s creation. When somebody asked Mother: ‘Who is building Auroville? Who is behind Auroville?’ she said, ‘The Supreme Lord.’ Imagine, what a joy! The Supreme Lord! Then everything should be easy. You get here and everything should just work out, because the Supreme Lord himself is there! If somebody were to build a place like Savitri Bhavan or the Matrimandir outside, you would expect that, at the most, within 10-15 years you would see the whole thing come up. But look at this: 40 years, and still there are some little things remaining – it is because the human consciousness has to be ready. It is not just the outer structure – it is the symbol of something inside. The building of Matrimandir should coincide with the building of the inner shrine within us. Then it has a meaning. Otherwise, it is just a beautiful building with nothing inside. That is why it is a long journey. The human consciousness has to be made ready, through pain, through joy, through both of these together.

In another passage in Savitri Sri Aurobindo says:

O mortal who complainst of death and fate, [454]

You must know this passage. And then he says that

A little bliss is lent thee from above, [451]

You must move through both these things and you must be ready that only a little bliss will be given.

Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage,
For through small joys and griefs thou mov’st towards God. [451]

When we look at it from one side, it looks as if it is restraining us. From the other side we are ready for only this much. We experience a little joy, a little pain – we are ready for it. Then when we have gone through it, it is not that pain and joy cease: we experience on one side a greater delight, we experience on the other side a greater pain. When we become wide and one with the universe, we have the universal love and delight on the one side, on the other side we experience the entire darkness and shadow of God. That’s what we see in Sri Aurobindo’s life: on one side experiencing the delight that could save the world, bringing down the supramental truth; on the other side taking into himself the fumes and poisons of the entire darkness that you could ever imagine on Earth and beyond. That is what happens. Slowly we move through little touches of joy and pain, then a little more. Who would understand the agony of a god?

We hear in Savitri that when Savitri comes on Earth, Sri Aurobindo describes her like this:

In her there was the anguish of the gods [6]

Gods are not just very peaceful, peace-loving, content creatures. This is our human notion: gods are only peaceful. Yes, they are peaceful. But they can have anguish – an anguish for perfection, for Light, for Truth, an impatience with which they are born. This journey is a slow one; it takes the form of small steps until we are ready for the full emergence.


The goal

And what is the goal of the journey? This goal is very beautifully expressed: the goal is to become in terms of matter what we originally are in our essential Self. In ‘The Secret Knowledge’ we read about this journey from life to other life:

He sails through life and death and other life,
He travels on through waking and through sleep. [72]

This journey is always going on, because something within us never sleeps.

‘There is one who is awake within our sleep, immortal in mortals is his name.’

A power is on him from her occult force
That ties him to his own creation’s fate,
And never can the mighty Traveller rest [72]

If we read this we will feel that rest is a curse and restlessness is a boon – of course, provided that this is a divine discontent and a divine restlessness. But even in the most human restlessness, in the writhing of the worm, there is the emergence, the far-off emergence of the butterfly. That is the beauty, that this restlessness that we experience is given to us as a boon and a curse. If we read some of the legends, it is very interesting that every curse which the rishis gave – you know, in mythology you have some of the rishis giving curses and you wonder, why is this man suddenly giving a curse – has he lost his head? But in every curse a boon is concealed. It actually shortens the way. One very interesting story is the story of one of the kings, after Krishna departs and the dark age, the age of Kali, has just started. The grandson of Arjuna – one of the main protagonists of the great war – Parikshit, inherits the kingdom. The age of Kali has come and darkness is everywhere and dharma is fading away – it stands only on one foot – faith is spent, devotion has gone, man does not think about surrender: Truth is the only foot on which it stands, and even that is being chased away. And this king, who is so righteous, who comes from such a righteous lineage, suddenly in one of his moments he goes to a sage in a forest and he is feeling thirsty, so he asks for water. The sage is lost in his meditation. The king wants water – he gets really very annoyed. He says: ‘What kind of a man are you? You have closed eyes. Who knows what is going on inside your head? You are so insensible!’ He picks up a dead snake and puts it around his neck. And the sage’s son – he is also a sage to be – when he sees that, he gives a curse: ‘After seven days you will die of a bite of this same snake.’ Now, the beauty is that this curse turns into a great boon, because this man is confronted with a great existential crisis: ‘I will die within seven days. What should I do? Which doctor should I summon? Which person can treat this snake bite?’ He knows which snake, he knows the date, he knows the moment. After seven days, by this snake, at this moment he would die. What he does he do? He turns this curse into a boon. He says: ‘One day I will have to die. How does it matter whether it is after seven days or seven years, or seventy? Let me find the secret by which I can enjoy immortality despite going through the gates of death.’ Eventually, when you look at it, everything turns to good, conspires towards one great end. This is the journey; it goes on and on.

And never can the mystic voyage cease
Till the nescient dusk is lifted from man’s soul
And the morns of God have overtaken his night. [72]

There is a truth to know, a work to do;
Her play is real; a Mystery he fulfils:
There is a plan in the Mother’s deep world-whim,
A purpose in her vast and random game.
This ever she meant since the first dawn of life,
This constant will she covered with her sport,
To evoke a Person in the impersonal Void,
With the Truth-Light strike earth’s massive roots of trance,
Wake a dumb self in the inconscient depths
And raise a lost Power from its python sleep
That the eyes of the Timeless might look out from Time
And the world manifest the unveiled Divine. [72-73]

This is the journey and this is the goal of the journey. Towards this goal we move through everything – through the seeming good and the seeming bad. This does not mean that we should not make choices. It does not mean that we should choose the bad instead of the good – man is given that discrimination because it makes the journey shorter. But we must know that whatever the appearances, through both of these we are moving towards that which is our goal.


We are not alone

This is so because we have within this Earth the presence of the One. This is another message which we get from Savitri, a very beautiful one: Man is not alone on this journey. There is a divine intervention. It comes from time to time, from age to age. In special moments of crisis, personal or collective, God is nearest to us. This is another beautiful thing, that whenever in our individual life or collective life we are going through an intense crisis, it means that hidden by the strong blinding storm He is there at the heart of it, and therefore there is hope. Not only is He hidden in this matter, He intervenes in the ways and paths of this Earth and guides the chariot of life through strange ways, inexplicable ways, and keeps it on the track. However far we may go, however much we may deviate, eventually, He is the divine Charioteer and He will set the course right. We have these beautiful lines:

Yet a spiritual secret aid is there;
While a tardy Evolution’s coils wind on
And Nature hews her way through adamant
A divine intervention thrones above.
Alive in a dead rotating universe
We whirl not here upon a casual globe
Abandoned to a task beyond our force; [58-59]

Sri Aurobindo has already told us that this is not a casual globe, that there is a purpose, there is a journey. And we are all here for a work. But we are not alone. We are not abandoned children. None of us is alone.

Even through the tangled anarchy called Fate
And through the bitterness of death and fall
An outstretched Hand is felt upon our lives. [59]

As we grow, it comes nearer and nearer to us. How beautifully we find it expressed in Sri Aurobindo’s poem ‘Krishna’

Nearer and nearer now the music draws,
Life shudders with a strange felicity;
All Nature is a wide enamoured pause
Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.
For this one moment lived the ages past;
The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.
[CWSA 2: 608]

If we can remember just this one thing, that through all this journey, through the thick of it, through the storm, through sin, through sorrow, through tears, through suffering, even when our hands are stained with blood, He is there. That is such a great hope. We have these lines:

It is near us in unnumbered bodies and births;
In its unslackening grasp it keeps for us safe
The one inevitable supreme result
No will can take away and no doom change,
The crown of conscious Immortality, [59]

In the famous story ‘Alice in Wonderland’ people are running around and at the end of the race Dodo is asked: ‘Who has won? Who has come first? Who has won the prize?’ He thinks for a while and then he says, ‘All win the prize and all have come first.’ We are not competing with anybody here. All of us win the prize because that prize is the crown of conscious immortality, and He keeps that safe for us. Whatever be the doom, that is something which nobody can take away.

One who has shaped this world is ever its lord: [59]

However anarchic it may appear, he is the Lord. It has come out of him. He is in it, he holds the world within himself, he has become it.

One who has shaped this world is ever its lord:
Our errors are his steps upon the way; [59]

There is a beautiful prayer of the Mother where she says, ‘errors have become stepping stones’ [CWM 1: 308].

Our errors are his steps upon the way;
He works through the fierce vicissitudes of our lives,
He works through the hard breath of battle and toil,
He works through our sins and sorrows and our tears, [59]

What a wonderful hope this is. It is not only in meditation that we find him, it is not only in our puja room we find him. Even when we are left alone, confronting the darkest shadows within ourselves, He is there. He works through all this. His knowledge overrules our nescience. We are ignorant – no problem, He knows it. We do stupid things? No problem. He will turn it with His hands into steps towards wisdom. We are fools? No problem. His divine wisdom, his divine knowledge will turn this falling into the best step we could take to come closer to the Light.

He works through our sins and sorrows and our tears,
His knowledge overrules our nescience;
Whatever the appearance we must bear, [59]

What is the command being given to us? The appearance will be dark, sometimes blinding, we must bear it.

Whatever our strong ills and present fate,
When nothing we can see but drift and bale,
A mighty Guidance leads us still through all. [59]

A little leaf caught up in the storm or in the floods knows not where it’s being taken. It is being carried somewhere. The guide knows where it is being taken. There is a guidance in life. In one of Sri Aurobindo’s very beautiful letters, which is available in the form of a book, The Riddle of this World, one of the fundamental things he says which is so important to remember, is that there is a guidance in life, there is a guidance in this world, there is a wisdom which governs this universe. However random, however chaotic, however full of chance it may appear, this wisdom is leading us through all things towards that predestined goal. This is the message. On the journey the Divine himself is with us.


The role of humanity

At the end of this journey we may ask: What are we to do on this journey? Is there a role that we have to play? Savitri gives the message which tells us the vast plan and the whole journey so that we can have hope and know what is to be done, so that we know the goal and we keep faith. What specifically can we do to assist this process; how can we help on this evolutionary path? This is the message which I take as the message for us. Basically, it is part of Savitri’s yoga, but as we know Savitri’s yoga is a yoga done for men. She is told, ‘For man thou seekest, not for thyself alone’ [488]. What she has done is that she has opened the path for men. The way she has walked, we must walk that way. The Mother has opened the path for human beings to follow. What she has done is what we should do. She has taught us surrender, she has taught us to aspire. She has taught us to have faith, she has taught us how to go within. What Sri Aurobindo has done, only he can do. It is as simple as that. It is difficult for human beings to even envisage how they can take even a single step of that giant stride. But what Mother has done is the yoga given to men. In the yoga of Savitri we have the message for men, on how we can best assist this journey. Of course, one thing Sri Aurobindo has told us is to have faith. Even when you are drifting, there is something which is carrying you – through small joys and griefs you are moving towards God. But we can directly help in this process. It is almost like an eight-step program for all of us, and every year we can say at least one step we will take. The first thing is:

Remember why thou cam’st. [476]

We should never forget why we are here. If we forget that, everything goes berserk. Why are we here? The whole problem of life comes because we keep forgetting why we are here. This is the first step:

Remember why thou cam’st. [476]


Find out thy soul, recover thy hid self, [476]

Step two, it is so simple: Find out thy soul, recover thy hid self. We are not what we believe ourselves to be. When we think ‘I am’, that is not what we are. We are an eternal portion of the Eternal, we are an immortal portion of the Immortal. We are in the deepest sense the Mother’s child, this Jivatman, this inner self, which is a projection of Her put forward for the play.

But since she knows the toil of mind and life
As a mother feels and shares her children’s lives,
She puts forth a small portion of herself,
A being no bigger than the thumb of man
Into a hidden region of the heart
To face the pang and to forget the bliss, [526]
How beautiful! This is what we are. We must remember:
Find out thy soul, recover thy hid self,
In silence seek God’s meaning in thy depths, [476]

What is it that He wants me to do? What is His purpose within me?

Then mortal nature change to the divine.
Open God’s door, enter into his trance. [476]

We have turned our backs to God and that is our problem. We have turned our backs to Light, and therefore we have to do everything by conjecture. Who is behind us? Maybe there is God, maybe not – we don’t know. We must ‘Open God’s door’ with the key of faith, with the master-key of sincerity, with the key of aspiration, with the key of surrender – so many keys She has given us! Any or all of these keys we can use to open his door. And when we open his door we enter into his trance of bliss.

Cast Thought from thee, that nimble ape of Light: [476]

We cannot know Truth by any amount of intellectual analysis. We’ll move in futile circles. We’ll end up at the same point from where we began, because thought is an inferior power. It imitates something or someone of which it is a shadow. It cannot know. If it goes there, it vanishes, like when a shadow enters light – it just vanishes. That is why thought is so scared of entering sometimes, because it would vanish. But in its place something else emerges.

Cast Thought from thee, that nimble ape of Light:
In his tremendous hush stilling thy brain
His vast Truth wake within and know and see. [476]

This is the knowledge towards which we can climb, which is not an intellectual knowledge, but the knowledge which can inform the intellect, which is not a knowledge that comes through thought, but a knowledge which can illumine our thoughts. That is the difference.

Cast from thee sense that veils thy spirit’s sight: [476]

First is thought. As long as we are still relying on intellectual analysis, on the habitual thought to know, we will not know. We have to leave it aside and enter into God’s kingdom of knowledge and direct vision. Similarly, what veils from us God, who is everywhere, hid in every form? Sense – this weaves our reality. That is a very interesting way of looking at this world. We don’t see reality – we see what the senses weave and present to us and we believe this is reality. The senses weave reality and we have to penetrate deeper. By the power of aspiration we can go deeper into matter – within us, outside us, around us.

Cast from thee sense that veils thy spirit’s sight: [476]

That is why it is said that the more we are allured and enmeshed by sense-objects, the more difficult it becomes to experience the spiritual reality. This is the fundamental basis behind it, because when the senses present objects to the mind, and the mind gets caught up in that and dwells upon them, the stronger becomes the chain and the more difficult it is to go deeper and experience the Spirit. Many spiritual practices enjoin detachment from sense objects so as not to become enmeshed with them so that one can see the deeper reality. Then, when the mind is free from sense-objects:

In the enormous emptiness of thy mind
Thou shalt see the Eternal’s body in the world,
Know him in every voice heard by thy soul,
In the world’s contacts meet his single touch;
All things shall fold thee into his embrace. [476]

The first programme is find your soul. The next is to universalise it and discover the same self everywhere in its play.

Remember why thou cam’st:
Find out thy soul, recover thy hid self,
In silence seek God’s meaning in thy depths,
Then mortal nature change to the divine.
Open God’s door, enter into his trance.
. . .
All things shall fold thee into his embrace.
Conquer thy heart’s throbs, let thy heart beat in God: [476]

This is the third thing: the mind, the senses, and the emotional being – the vital-emotional being – conquer them, don’t let them beat or dance to the tune of the ego – ‘let thy heart beat in God.’ If with each beat we could remember the Divine, how beautiful it would be! ‘Let thy heart beat in God.’ I think it would be a cure for any of us. I have a suspicion that it should work. But if you suggest it to the cardiologists, they will send you to the psychiatrists. ‘Let thy heart beat in God.’ Actually it is true that the more we dwell upon God, the calmer and quieter everything becomes. And the more we dwell upon the objects of the senses and the desires, the more the heart flutters: hopes, fears, expects – they really quicken the heart-beat. It may really be true physiologically. It is a very practical advice, a one-line cure for all arrythmias:

Conquer thy heart’s throbs, let thy heart beat in God.
… so that even if it stops, it stops in Him.
Thy nature shall be the engine of his works, [476]

This is the next programme. Our nature is right now the slave of the ego and desire. It is a puppet, a swinging puppet, dancing to the hours – it should become an engine for God’s work.

Man is a dynamo for the cosmic work;
Nature does most in him, God the high rest:
Only his soul’s acceptance is his own. [542]

This is what Sri Aurobindo writes. We think so much about ourselves. If our nature can become an engine for his works …

Thy voice shall house the mightiness of his Word: [476]

The creative word, the power of the word to create, can send forth vibrations of the higher consciousness through the agency of speech. Now our speech is not at all used for that. The Word has a power; it can shatter the subconscient. As they say, the rishis of old broke open the caves by the power of the Word and the darkness which was hidden inside came into the front and was annihilated by the Light. If a word can carry that power it can break open the defences and bring out the Truth concealed.

Thy voice shall house the mightiness of his Word:
Then shalt thou harbour my force and conquer Death. [476]


Questions and answers

Question from the audience: You mentioned that Sri Aurobindo has given a 1000-year programme. Does that mean that if I live 85 years and I work all my life to be a very spiritual person, it would take me 12 incarnations to understand his message? What does it mean?

Yes, I understand. Let me go step by step. When we say 1000 it is a figurative way of speaking. It is not a prophesy or a prediction. Of course, when Mother was asked, she did say ‘Wait for a thousand years.’ In one of her talks she did say that. But she was speaking about the supramentalisation of the body, the supramental body, as I have understood it. But otherwise in another place she mentioned that Sri Aurobindo said it would take about 300 years for the consciousness to change into that consciousness. What I meant to say by that figurative term ‘1000-year programme’ was that we should not be impatient. The point that I was trying to convey is that when we are impatient we are actually delaying the work. It is a long journey. Now this is one part.

Second, there are two ways to look at it. One is that many of us want to achieve everything in one life. It is okay, it is a good thing to have that aspiration. But when this aspiration is under the stress of the vital nature – because that is what we are accustomed to – then we hope violently and we despair violently. There are many people who enter into something like a Sri Aurobindo movement, or any spiritual path, and they enter with a lot of initial enthusiasm because suddenly the whole thing is open. You see, unlike previous ages when the initiate was tested whether he was ready for walking the special path or not, now we can read about it in a book. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo have spoken about this. We read about it and say, ‘Oh, supramentalisation, this is wonderful!’ A lot of us may enter it finding something very marvellous. Yes, it is marvellous, but there is a long journey before we are ready. The whole purpose of mentioning this 1000 years is that we should not lose heart. Instead, we should be prepared and armed with all that is necessary for a long journey. It is to inculcate those attitudes.

It is like we want to climb Mount Everest. Somebody comes back from there and says ‘Look at the photo.’ ‘Oh, wow! How beautiful, breath-taking summits, it is wonderful, lovely!’ And then the person says, ‘It is a great journey, just carry some camping stuff and …’ and he starts a movement. We set off and are very happy when we reach some of those little slopes of the Himalayas; we say, ‘Really it is wonderful!’ But when we start going beyond, the moment we have blinding storms and precipices and all those kinds of things, life and death situations, that is the point when we turn back.

The idea here is that you must be ready to move slowly, steadily, surely, with the right attitude, the right approach. Whether it will take ten incarnations or three, individually how much time – that really is not what is meant here. What would take in the time frame of the gods merely the twinkling of an eye, for the human consciousness, to arrive at that point globally, collectively, may take a thousand years. It may be. Let’s hope that it is less, much less. We can probably hasten the process if we follow the programme. But we should not be impatient, that’s what is meant.

We don’t know how many incarnations. Today we live for 85 years – I’m taking that question very literally – but maybe after two hundred years the human life-span may suddenly increase by two or three hundred years. Once I asked a child in Pondicherry when he was five, ‘What do you want?’ He said something very strange: – he was a five-year old child – ‘I want to live for seven hundred thirty-five years’. He gave a figure, like 732 or 735 years. It was strange, it struck me as something very unusual. Why is he suddenly speaking of that? We don’t know: a thousand years may be just three incarnations. Maybe when we come next time humanity may have advanced further and the life-span may have increased by means which are inner as well as outer. We may even find ways and means of increasing the life-span by inner means. Let’s hope so. It may become a little boring, but nevertheless…

Question from the audience: It won’t be boring if we are following the path.

Yes, absolutely. It won’t be boring at all if you are following the path and progressing. Then it becomes as Sri Aurobindo says in one of the lines in Savitri: ‘Each day was a spiritual romance’ [30]. Wonderful! Do we have another question?

Question from the audience: In an earlier part of Savitri it is mentioned that:

A prayer, a master act, a king idea
Can link man’s strength to a transcendent Force.
Then miracle is made the common rule, [p. 20]

Question from the audience: Does this apply only to Savitri, or is it applicable to us too?

These lines come in Canto Two, where Savitri is confronted with this impossible possibility of confronting Death and changing Fate. How can she do it? There Sri Aurobindo says that it is by emergence within our own soul, if we touch that magic key. It is only after that, then suddenly the magic leverage is caught. Now once we catch this magic leverage – the magic leverage of the psychic being, then the next line follows:

A prayer, a master act, a king idea
Can link man’s strength to a transcendent Force. [20]

It is in terms of that, because otherwise, of course, we may pray every day and it is not as one wishes, it is not as simple as that without this magic leverage. These are very beautiful lines so we can just read them:

To stay the wheels of Doom this greatness rose. [19]

How to change fate? This is the question that she is facing. What fate? ‘The wheels of Doom’. It seems we can change everything, but how do we change death? It says:

To stay the wheels of Doom this greatness rose.
At the Unseen’s knock upon her hidden gates
Her strength made greater by the lightning’s touch
Awoke from slumber in her heart’s recess.
It bore the stroke of That which kills and saves. [19-20]

This is the background. Something woke up within her heart. She is awake physically, but something wakes up in her heart, because she has to bear the stroke of death.

Across the awful march no eye can see,
Barring its dreadful route no will can change,
She faced the engines of the universe;
A heart stood in the way of the driving wheels:
Its giant workings paused in front of a mind,
Its stark conventions met the flame of a soul. [20]

These wheels can really stop, the moment they reach the flame of the soul. Then these lines follow:

A magic leverage suddenly is caught
That moves the veiled Ineffable’s timeless will:
A prayer, a master act, a king idea
Can link man’s strength to a transcendent Force.
Then miracle is made the common rule,
One mighty deed can change the course of things;
A lonely thought becomes omnipotent. [20]

It is this contact with the soul, the inmost soul, which turns a prayer, our actions, even thought, into a luminous key to open the doors of the highest and deepest possibilities. But this must be found first. Of course, every time we read Savitri – I not only believe it, I am sure it is everybody’s experience – its very atmosphere is uplifting, so definitely we move ahead, there is no doubt about it. That we lapse back into the place from where we started is of course our problem. But by reading we make it a little easier.