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At the Feet of The Mother

The Challenge of Death and the Conquest of Immortality

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A talk at Savitri Bhavan on November 11, 2007 (Invocation 28:24-46)

As human beings we have one faculty which we are meant to use, but most often misuse: the power of speech. The power of speech is supposed to communicate something of the Word that lies in the higher spheres, but too often we end up making it an instrument for all that is low and ugly, all that is full of doubt, despair, denial. Death speaks through us at such times, and that is the sad part.

But there is another power human beings have that is expressed in one of the lines in Savitri. After Death has been transformed into a radiant god, she asks the god for the first of several boons for ‘the magnificent soul of man on earth’ [696].

It is so touching. We are used to believing in ourselves as ephemeral creatures, as waves on Time’s inconscient sea; we are used to believing that we are powerless, helpless, weak. And yet, the beauty of it all is that there is something in us which always wants to wrestle and is always full of hope, in spite of the darkest night. There is something in us – as a race, a species, not individually – which strives towards something more than what we are. That is ‘the magnificent soul of man’. And sometimes one wonders whether it would have been really magnificent if all was too easy. If immortality were served to us on a platter and we were told, ‘Take it’, would we really deserve it? In one of his writings – it is a deeply moving writing, it shakes us to the very core, it is called ‘The Way’ – Sri Aurobindo speaks about the supramental yoga, and its many difficulties. He says:

Hell will vomit its hordes to oppose and enring and wound and menace; Heaven will meet thee with its pitiless tests and its cold luminous denials. … But thou sayst God’s hand will be with me and the Divine Mother near with her gracious smile of succour? And thou knowest not then that God’s Grace is more difficult to have or to keep than the nectar of the Immortals or Kuvera’s priceless treasures?

Kuvera is the Lord of Wealth, who holds all the wealth in the world. More difficult than to hold those treasures is to hold Grace. Then, after all this, he sums it up very beautifully:

Nay, then, is immortality a plaything, to be given lightly to a child, or the divine life a prize without effort or the crown for a weakling? [CWSA 12:156]

It is really the worthy prize of a worthy soul. That is the whole truth about the human struggle. In fact, if we look at human life we can always see this paradox. It is as if we always live a double existence. On one hand, our body is a fragile vase in which we hope to plant the flowers whose fragrance never fades, flowers that bloom in heaven; we want to plant them in the fragile vase of this human body. We hope to find a love which would never, ever die. And yet we are constantly surrounded by love turning into hatred, malice, and all its very opposite. Our thoughts want to reach out to the Infinite, and yet how brief-lived are our hopes, almost like illusory gleams. We soon turn back to doubt. And yet our thoughts want to grasp the unknowable. Our passion wants to grasp at a bliss that it will never again have to forfeit to pain, and yet how short-lived, how brief, how passing our happiness is. This is the paradox of human life. Sri Aurobindo very beautifully sums it up in Savitri when he says:

A link between the demigod and the beast,

A strange antinomy is his nature’s rule.

Freedom he asks but needs to live in bonds, [337]

If today you ask anyone ‘What do you want: freedom or bondage?’ Instinctively everyone will reply ‘Freedom!’ But then if you tell them, ‘OK. From today you are free: no bonds, no trappings’, most people will say, ‘That is all right, but freedom can wait’.

Freedom he asks but needs to live in bonds,
He has need of darkness to perceive some light
And need of grief to feel a little bliss;
He has need of death to find a greater life. [337]

Nowhere else do we see this paradox more acutely than in the fact that we know that death walks by our side all the while: as a shadow it chases us; before noon the shadow is behind, and as the noon passes we see the shadow falling in front of us; and yet something in us always believes, instinctively, it is an instinct: ‘This can’t happen to me.’

Except for some people who get into a pathological state, most of us live as if instinct with immortality. It is very strange. We know the well-known story, when Yudhisthira is asked all kinds of questions and gives his replies. Then he is asked the master-question: ‘What is the greatest wonder, the most surprising thing?’ He says ‘Every day we see men die, yet we believe we are immortal.’ The story is often interpreted in a superficial way, as reminding us that everybody has to die: we know it, yet we are foolish enough to believe that we are immortal. But if we go a little deeper, the story touches this paradox: we believe that we are immortal because something in us is immortal. There is something in us which just refuses to believe in death – and something in us which even uses death as a goad to discover our own immortality!

If we look at many of the most beautiful things that have happened in life, we wonder whether, if death were not there as a goad, if there was no death and man had a lot of time at his disposal, would they have had the same value? Now I am nearing 48 and the other day I was just thinking, how much more time before one can be fully rooted in the Divine all the time? And then I was wondering, if I was told ‘You have 500 years to live’ would I still feel the same way, or would I say, ‘Oh, I have a lot of time, I can wait. Maybe after a hundred years I’ll think about it.’? It is something very strange, that death serves as a goad, a spur.

A dim bystander at the body’s start

Death starts from our very birth. Cells start dying from the moment we are born. Age catches up, time begins to fly:

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]

What is that other mystery?

Death is a stair, a door, a stumbling stride
The soul must take to cross from birth to birth, [600]

Death is a passage to immortality. In fact, the Upanishad speaks of it cryptically: ‘By death they discover immortality.’ It is a very interesting question: why there is death and how it appears to us at different levels, posing, as we say, a kind of challenge. But if we go behind the appearances we see that beyond this dark and hideous mask still there is only one thing, the smile of the eternal Beloved – because there is nothing else in this universe, so what else can death be but a mask?

In another place Sri Aurobindo writes that if at all there was an eternal Hell, God would make it out of love, because he knows only to love; there can be no other logic behind it. Yet we meet the stark paradox: we want immortality, we want eternal love, we want bliss, we want unchanging truth – and all the time we are met by a force that breaks and shatters everything as if it has one single goal, one single agenda, just to break our dreams. Sometimes it can act with such ruthlessness that we wonder whether it isn’t, to use a phrase from Savitri, a cruel and blind god that is Destiny’s architect. You are having a good time and have things you cherish, and something is snatched away from you which you cherished so much. Actually, if we go behind the mask, we see it is a reminder. Probably we have been clinging to our imperfections, we won’t let go, to use a modern phrase. Death comes to remind us that what we are clinging to is truly something imperfect, at least it is not yet perfect. Even our ideals, our philosophies are ephemeral. Death takes Savitri through the symbol realms where it shows her, ‘Look here, all these philosophies, all these intellectual debates, all that you have been seeing, they are nothing but words! Many people have come and said beautiful things, but look at what has happened to this lineage of prophets. There they are in my symbol realm and I reign over them; I Death am Lord.’

What is the thing which Death is really trying to tell Savitri or ask from her? He is saying ‘They mere words.’ But are they? The other day I was sharing with Shraddhavan that I always feel a little reluctant about speaking. The reason is that these are high truths that need to be experienced and lived. We have to become them, and sometimes when we speak about them, and more so when speaking becomes a way of life, we are apt to forget that it is one thing to speak about them, it is quite another to experience and live them. It is easy to say, we hear it in the traditions and we learn, that there is a psychic being, and we can give a beautiful lecture on the psychic being, we can speak on it and talk about it, but that is not what impresses Death. It knows how to test us. It is standing there and one day it says, ‘Oh, you have been giving talks all your life on the psychic being. Show me, show me: where is it?’ Can we say at that time, as Savitri says to Death, ‘Conscious of immortality I walk’ [588]?

It is very interesting, very powerful, this one line. Death gives Savitri all kinds of logical arguments: ‘This is matter, you are built of this matter and what are you talking about – bringing God into matter? Are you talking about love, high things? What is it? It is mud: a ‘frail mud-engine’ [25] for temporary use. Savitri doesn’t reply to this logic by another logic. She could have given a whole theory of physics and replied, ‘No, no, you are calling it mud, but actually it is energy and if you see, it is a dance of energy, and energy doesn’t disintegrate and therefore it is immortal’. She doesn’t say a word about all that. She could have said that. She simply says one line: ‘Conscious of immortality I walk.’ Finished: ‘I don’t need all your logic about whether it is mud or not – I know what is mud, but I know what is soul.’ Who can say that?

If you look at the whole Debate of Love and Death, when does it start? Often of course we want to reach that point very fast. But it starts after Savitri has already undergone the basic yoga. She has realised her soul, all her centres have opened in full bloom, she has realised Nirvana and the all-negating Absolute, she has known Being and Non-being, and, as Death acknowledges later on, she has risen above both the contempt of form and the snare of form.

In the spiritual traditions we find that there are two snares which we must rise beyond if we really want to establish immortality here upon earth. One is the snare of forms. The snare of forms we know very well – we just see the form and are identified with it. And form is not only physical. There are forms of philosophy, intellectual ideas, opinions, feelings, passions, desires, impulses – everything is a form. The snare of forms means that we are too much attached to the form and we don’t know what is behind it. This snare holds us with a very tight knot around us. In the Upanishadic language it is called avidya. We are caught up in the trap of avidya, the multiplicity.

But there is another snare. When we begin to detach ourselves from the snare of forms there is another snare that attracts us – the snare of the contempt of forms. We have had spiritual traditions, great in their own right, but which all talk about the beyond. There is a contempt for forms: ‘This transient unhappy earth’. That is how even the Overmind looks upon this earth. A scripture as great as the Gita speaks about this world as ‘anityam asukham lokam – this transient unhappy world’. This is the look one has even standing on the borders of the Overmind. When we look at this world we see it as transient. A being as great as the Buddha, as heroic and mighty in spirit as the Buddha, looks upon this world and he speaks about it as a sorrowful world, an ignorant world, moved by desire, created out of the womb of desire. That is the other snare, the snare of the contempt of forms. And Death tests both. In Savitri we see that Death first tests Savitri to see whether she is attached to the form and mistaking it for something true. Because words can easily deceive: we are always used to using very beautiful words, and we think ‘No, in my case it is different.’ Mother says it very beautifully when she speaks about how people can easily get deceived. She says ‘People get deceived, this power of deception is so powerful in the human mind and they know all this, but when it comes to them they say ‘No, no, no – my case is different. My love is true love. I know there is a vital love, a mental love, there is a physical love, but my love is true love.’ It is so easy to get deceived, so difficult to be sincere. That is why if there is one word that strikes repeatedly throughout in Mother’s writings, prominent from beginning to end, it is ‘sincerity’: the capacity to look at things just as they are and not to be deceived by appearances. Yet we can be deceived by appearances, and Death comes to see, if we are using a word, what is its meaning. So Savitri says, ‘I want my other self, Satyavan. Give him back to me.’ And Death responds, ‘Oh, you are talking of love! I know what love is – there has been a scientific study done at Harvard University and they have just discovered what love is. It is a secretion in the glands, and lately some psychiatrists are talking about neuro-transmitters – that’s all. Don’t talk about love! And I also know that some poets write very beautiful poetry on it, nice words, ethereal. Yes, yes, it gives a little happiness sometimes, but I know what happens to love: it dies within the lover’s breast.’ And he says, ‘You should thank me that I am taking Satyavan. If he would have lived, love would have died within your heart – that has been the history.’ What is he really doing through all this whispering? He is testing Savitri. He is the great tester. It is the most difficult task. That is why Mother says that it is very good to remember that you are being tested, but we should never ever assume the role of a tester in anybody’s life – because it means that we are identified with the great Adversary. It is his task. God has given him this dreaded task, to test, and every time we criticise, pass harsh judgments on others, we are basically assuming the role of Death. But that is not our role. Our role is to be on the side of the Divine. And when we are asked, can we say, like Savitri, ‘My love is not a hunger of the heart, / My love is not a craving of the flesh’ [612]?

One may not have a craving of the flesh, there may be a heart’s need that wants to clutch at the joy. Can we say that love has undergone its full evolution within us? What is that evolutionary journey? When Death challenges her and says, ‘You talk about love, but I know what love is and I have seen the stories of Romeo and Juliet that have come down through the ages, and I know what happens to them – they ultimately come to my lap and sleep’, Savitri has something very beautiful to say. She says, ‘Then you know not how love blossoms and grows and evolves.’

And Love that was once an animal’s desire,
Then a sweet madness in the rapturous heart,
An ardent comradeship in the happy mind,
Becomes a wide spiritual yearning’s space.
A lonely soul passions for the Alone, [632]

The whole evolutionary journey of love she has mapped: ‘My love comes from God and returns to him.’ The day we realise this truth, that everything is a mask of the One Beloved, then we can confront Death and say, ‘Who are you? You too are a mask, and I can see behind your mask, and see that same unchanging smile.’ That is the whole evolutionary journey.

Death comes to test us. We use words, we use philosophies, we use very nice language – and Death says, ‘OK, tell me – what is the sense you put into those words?’ What is the sense of ‘matter’? Savitri speaks about it. She says, ‘I see that matter is crammed with spiritual signs, everywhere: this world is written in the script of matter.’ What do we find here? This world is crammed with spiritual signs. One has to really look around and one will see. The very structure of the atom is nothing but a reflection of the One around whom the stars move. It is so interesting: that gets reflected right into the atom. Sri Aurobindo sees even in the electron Shiva’s fiery chariot. That is the vision that has to be developed: when we look at matter actually as a robe of the spirit, and a robe that must become worthy of the wearer. It doesn’t mean ‘matter is a robe of the spirit, so I shall disrobe the spirit and go back.’ The robe has to become worthy of the wearer, and that is how Spirit works upon matter. When we start to have that view, then things begin to become different. It is not because of any attachment to the form, it is because one knows that It is here, in this place.

The next challenge is the contempt of forms. We can get detached from the snare of forms with a little bit of yoga and a whole lot of experience of life – because there is a subconscious yoga in life: what yoga doesn’t do for us, sometimes the experience of life does for us, and we begin to become free of the snare of forms, if we look at life a little perceptively. But then there is the possibility of a swing to the other side: contempt of forms, contempt of this world. And Death gives a very interesting reasoning: it says, ‘OK, fine, you speak about God. But what is God?’ And he defines God. He says, ‘Your God is nothing but a cold impersonal Void, and you call it God. But I know that God. Matter is standing on that Void, and that God can’t help you. Why do you talk about love and other things? OK, you have your God – choose him! Go into That and merge. Where is the question of divinising earth, where is the question of changing life, where is the question of immortality? I know what God is – a cold impersonality into which everything returns, out of which everything is born. Maybe he is beyond me, although I believe that I am that God.’ Death makes it categorical.

We may use the word God. Again Death tests Savitri. ‘What do you mean by the term? Do you have the experience?’ Then Savitri describes who is this God. She says, ‘My God is love and sweetly suffers all’ [591]. What a touching line! It is not God as an impersonality. Sri Aurobindo says what is the goal of his yoga. He says that the goal of his yoga is that beyond the Personal and the Impersonal there is the supreme infinite Personality of the Divine, and we want to manifest that personality into the human. There is also that side of the Divine – the Divine as Being. Death would concede the Non-being, the Impersonality, but it would not accept that there is a Being. There is this other kind of lure and temptation: ‘OK, merge into the Impersonal.’ But Savitri speaks about the God she has experienced, and she says ‘I have seen him smile through many a mask, I have seen him triumph in the flower, I have seen him speak through the birds in the morning, heard him call from every bough, I know who this is. He is the one from whom I have come upon earth.’

Then Death says, ‘Fine – your God is very great, maybe he is some kind of transcendent being; then go to him. Why do you want to do something here? He is too great for this earth.’ And Savitri answers something very very beautiful. She says, ‘That is why I am here: because this is the difficult task. It is very easy to go up there, but much more difficult to build immortality with mortal things, perishable stuff, with gross things. We want to build something beautiful here.’

When we look at this approach, the whole attitude, the whole inner life of Savitri is being tested thoroughly by Death – because he is not to be deceived by appearances. That is why he is also called, in Indian mythology, Dharmaraja. He is the Guardian of the Law. And what is the Law? Everything has been put into certain limits, and it must live within those limits, it cannot exceed those limits, because if it exceeds those limits everything will collapse. Creation runs by that whole machinery. If an animal begins to live for many more years than its average life-span it would upset the balance, even if in one species this happens, the balance is so delicate. He is the Guardian of the Law. But in man there is an incorrigible impulse to break the law. You make a law – it’s the surest way to make sure that somebody will find a way to break it. This is a human impulse – we unnecessarily blame poor animals, because really they are very nice. If you put a little fence around a lion or a tiger, it is amazing! You really wonder – you see a lion sitting there, not just one but seven or eight of them, and that small little man with his whip … and those animals, if they wanted they could just get out of the frame. But so many times it has happened. Even if, once in a while, you really leave the door open and something disastrous happens, they would not break from the law. Generally animals are like that, they will not break the law of their species. Whatever law is fixed for them they will live within that. When they are hungry they will eat, but they will not eat just like that. But humans try to break the law. This is something incurably right or wrong in us. This impulse is there. It is very interesting that this breaking of the law is actually to expand the boundaries and limits, to test the boundaries: ‘How far can I go?’ At every level man tests the boundaries.

Here we see the ancient Upanishadic sense of Death. Death is in a sense the natural consequence of being finite. Immortality, in its widest sense, is infinity of being. Finiteness of being leads to death, because by its very nature, whatever is finite will have a beginning, it will have an end. But if it is infinite it has neither a beginning nor an end. One possibility is to jump from finiteness into infinity, the other possibility is – it sounds almost an impossible task, but that is the work one is here to do – to fill the finite with the infinite. These are lines used to describe this in Savitri:

A Power that lives upon the heights must act,
Bring into life’s closed room the Immortal’s air
And fill the finite with the Infinite. [315-316]

That is the sense of Death and Immortality. Death is about living in boundaries; so we test the boundaries. Every time man tries to exceed the boundaries, he becomes a claimant to immortality. It is very interesting: what is the path to immortality? By gradually expanding the limits and the boundaries. If we look at it from that point of view, we see that throughout the history of evolution – though we may say that Death is the last victor, ultimately that is not true – life is the victor. When the first living beings appear, the boundaries of matter are pushed a little further, and rigid matter begins to become pliable matter, breathing matter. There is a pushing of the boundaries. Again, when man comes, the boundaries are pushed back further. Savitri gives this logic to Death, saying ‘Look how every time boundaries are being pushed back – again now with human beings.’

There is a natural urge to push at the limits of things, and especially now in our own age we see this coming up in a very big way, whether at the level of Science or of Art and Music. Everywhere we want to break the norms and push beyond them. Every effort to push back the boundaries, every effort to exceed the limits, every effort to go beyond the law – not just to break the law, but to go beyond the law and exceed it – is essentially a step that humanity takes towards immortality. That is the great labour in which the Ancient Mother is engaged.

When Savitri speaks about all this – that is the context for which we are speaking – Death asks her, ‘What is the purpose of all this?’ Then she gives the whole story of creation, of how you, Death, have been born: it is the Divine who has plunged into this darkness and is rescuing consciousness out of this darkness. The first sign of this rescue is that matter is born. The second sign is the rescue of life, then comes the rescue of mind. And now, following that inevitable process of logic, Sri Aurobindo comes to rescue the eighth sun of Aditi, the supramental, which is also plunged into this darkness, hidden in its dark cave. He is rescuing it. That is the whole labour.

In every life, the moment a psychic being is born into matter, some consciousness, however little it be, is increased upon earth. That is the little victory that each one wins. Mother speaks about this. She says, ‘Well, your little victories may not lead to the universal victory right away, but that is what is given to us, and we must do that. And if we do that, we add to the sum of the victory of the universe.’

It is very beautiful to live with that divine humility. It is really not so necessary for our individual body to become immortal. It is amazing that, even Mother, at the level she had reached, the level from which She came, even at the very highest, could say, ‘It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it is this body or some other’. She could have that humility, to say, ‘It doesn’t matter’. She, armed with all the knowledge and the power, armed with such a wonderful preparation, could say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it is going to be this body or some other body’.

Of course, the ego has a penchant for taking every statement that the Divine gives and twisting it. Ego can reflect and say, ‘Some other body – maybe mine is the one’. We should be very careful about these whispers, how death deceives us. ‘Some other body’ she says, with that humility.

But everything that is achieved, every little victory, is a victory for the earth. It is that sense of the collective in which one has to live – that whatever little is stamped upon matter, whatever little truth one can bring down, whatever little light, contributes to the forward movement of the whole.

One is reminded of a beautiful little story, when all this talk is going on about Ramasetu. In the Ramayana, when the bridge is being built between India and Lanka, the story goes that great monkeys come and take the name of the Lord and write it over huge stones and throw them into the sea and the stones float. There is a little squirrel, it rolls itself in the mud and goes into the sea, takes a dip and comes back. Rama asks her, ‘What are you doing? You may get crushed! Don’t you see all these great monkeys and bears? What are you up to?’ She says, ‘I don’t know. I know they are building a bridge for you, so I too want to help. But I can’t lift big rocks like these fellows. What I can do is to bring a few grains of sand. I can roll myself around on the sand, and put them into the sea. Maybe the sea will be a little more accessible for you.’ Rama, full of compassion, runs his fingers over the back of the squirrel, and as the Indian legend goes, that is why we see three stripes on the squirrel’s back. It is a very touching story. We need not all be the great monkeys who lift up big rocks and throw them in, but we can always be little squirrels, roll into a little sand, this earth, and this little earth, this mud of which we are made, offer it to the Divine and say, ‘Take it, this is yours. Do with it what you will’ and leave it to him. If we can do that, we have done our bit in the conquest of immortality.

Immortality is not just waking up one day and seeing ‘I am never going to die.’ In fact, Death says that such an immortality will be a pain. Perhaps I have already recounted the story of the professor who became immortal overnight. He received a card from Death:

‘Professor So and So, it has been decided by consensus in the land of Death that thou shalt not die.’ The Professor is very happy, and all the media gather around him: CNN, IBN, BBC … everybody. ‘You have become immortal?’ ‘Yes sir, yes sir, I have got this card as proof.’

‘Oh, very good!’ There are a lot of interviews and parties, and he overeats and gets indigestion. One night he is troubled because of this indigestion. First he wakes up his wife, his wife says, ‘Stop, don’t disturb me at night, I know nothing is going to happen to you. Quietly go off to sleep, don’t disturb my sleep. You are immortal, but I am a mortal being.’ He calls his doctor and the doctor says, ‘Oh, you are the same man? OK, don’t bother – anyway nothing is going to happen to you, even if an ulcer bursts you are not going to die.’ That kind of immortality is a curse. In the Mahabharata we have Ashwatthama, who is accursed because of his immortality – he cannot die, although he has a wound over his head, a reminder of his deeds.

The first immortality that we have to gain is to become conscious of the One; that is the immortality of the soul. There is a beautiful line in Sri Aurobindo’s poem ‘The Divine Worker’:

I face earth’s happenings with an equal soul;
In all are heard Thy steps; Thy unseen feet
Tread Destiny’s pathway in my front. Life’s whole
Tremendous theorem is Thou complete.

He goes on describing that. He says,

Thy Force in me labours at its grandiose plan,

Then the punch line comes:

No power can slay my soul; it lives in Thee.
Thy presence is my immortality.
[CWSA 2: 612; ‘The Divine Worker’]

That is the first immortality, the immortality of the immortal being in us. When we think about immortality, we straightaway think about immortality of this personality. But Sri Aurobindo says, it will be very boring! Who would like to be the same outer personality forever? It is going to be sickening – even for one life it is so difficult to be the same, same, same! Sometimes you wish you had a change. Now the fellow comes with a ticket, saying ‘OK – I am going to give you a change.’ What does Death do normally? It comes with a ticket: ‘I have brought you a free ticket, with a gift hamper, and in the next life you will be going there, and to boot it all, you will forget about all this.’ When we go on holiday we don’t want to remember all the business meetings and the problems and the issues at home, we want to forget everything. So normally Death tells us, ‘I am going to give you a change.’ Very nice – where do I go? ‘Well, pick and choose. Do you want to go to such and such a place, have a nice time? OK.’ But what about phone calls and all? He says, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll switch off your phone for good, change your numbers – even your identity I am going to change. Don’t bother – just be there, enjoy, relax and when you feel like it, call me again. Maybe from time to time I’ll visit, I’ll come and ask you, ‘Do you want a change?’ If you say, ‘Yes, I want a change’ – OK, fine, come over.’ That’s the normal plan of death – to give us a chance and an opportunity for a change.

Sri Aurobindo says that this is one of the reasons why death exists. There are several reasons and we must counteract each of these reasons, because unless we take care of those issues, immortality cannot be given just like that. One reason why death is there is because we live by the separative sense of the ego and even if something within us is free from that, matter and the physical form lives by the ego. There is a physical ego, there is a vital ego, and there is a mental ego. Of course, there is also a spiritual ego, but we need not talk about it. We live with all these egos as masks and caps. Not only do we live by them, we are really happy about these masks and caps. We think ‘That’s me’, and if one cap is taken off we feel very hurt. ‘I am Mr. So and So – how could he speak to me so casually, so rudely? How could he ask a gate-pass from me? Doesn’t he know who I am? Right from my childhood I have been here and done so much work, and this fellow has the cheek to ask a pass!’ We go and give way to our Ignorance at the first test and death smiles and says, ‘I am coming.’

We may say, it is an opportunity to be immortal. We are still identified with this frail stuff, and yet think that we are a claimant to immortality. These are the identities we wear around us, and the first thing is to discover our true identity – so much so that all the time we can feel and be conscious: ‘No power can slay my soul; it lives in Thee. / Thy presence is my immortality’ [CWSA 2: 612] It is a twin meditation: one, Thy presence within me; second, I live in Thee. This double meditation: Thy presence, everywhere, ‘In all are heard thy steps’; and second, ‘I live in Thee’ [ibid.] If we can practice these two meditations, it is a very practical way of doing it – and then to live with that sense, that in everything there is the divine Presence, even in these terrible masks. Sri Aurobindo has actually practiced it; it is not just theory. If we take it at the level of theory, it doesn’t work. We may know all the theories in the world, but no theory can save us, no philosophy can rescue us; it is only by being, living, doing. And the second step is that we live constantly in her Presence, whatever happens, however difficult the circumstances, we live by the sense that we live in Her, we live by Her, we live for Her.

The second thing is that the life-force in us seeks infinite experiences because it comes from the infinite. So Death says, ‘OK, I am going to provide this to you.’ And as long as we have this kind of an aircraft or vehicle, we will need to change vehicles. But supposing we have a vehicle which is so plastic that it obeys the inner will – and I suppose that is the beauty of the Pushpak Vimana, only it is in the wrong hands. In the story, the Pushpak Vimana is in Ravana’s hands. It should be in the right hands. It is the yaan, the vehicle, this body is described as the vehicle. This vehicle does not obey the spiritual will. How often does it not happen that we take beautiful resolutions in the morning, especially of course on December 31st or January 1st, and it takes just a few hours before we are breaking them. Just a few days ago we had a whole lot of tests done in our Nursing Home and some people were found to be diabetic. Some of them took the resolution, ‘I will not eat sweets any more.’ Hardly a week has passed and somehow they are already at it again.

Matter does not carry you forward, it pulls you back, because it is born from the womb of inconscience: it consists in habits and laws, habits most of all. In fact, what are laws? They are simply habits, Mother says, and death is one of the worst habits. It is not a law: because matter is born, it has a tendency to collapse back into the inconscience. Again and again it comes, because it is pulled. One can almost have a visual picture of it: that the psychic being, a being of light, an immortal being plunges into the darkness and pulls something out. That something is resisting, wanting to go back. But the psychic being pulls and pulls, and by the Grace of the Divine pulls it more and more, and after a while, the rest of it is not able to follow pace. It breaks and collapses. But still, something has been extracted and that develops around the soul as the psychic personality, some experience of contact with the earth.

We have all lived here a million times and of course Death claims us. Why does it lay that claim? It says, ‘I am the one from which matter is born, you are just a newcomer.’ And as long as we believe that we are just a newcomer and live in that consciousness, it can’t work out. For Death says, ‘I am created long before you, I have created all this.’ And it is true of the mind of man, it is true of the embodied being. But what of the soul? It existed before there was Time, before there was birth, before there was non-birth, it was there. It is that we must find. That is the first step. Its very substance is immortal. By a constant infusion of that substance percolating into all the layers of our being, and its constant aspiration waking up in every part of our being to unite with the Divine, one day humanity will – there is not a shadow of doubt about it – or rather, God in the mask of humanity, will reclaim this earth for himself.

That is what is called ‘the redemption of matter’ or what is called in a lot of traditions ‘the second coming’. There are many traditions about the second coming, in Buddhism, in Christianity, and there are various ways of looking at it. What really is the second coming? It is very interesting. Why, having come, does God have to depart again? We come directly to the subject of Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s departure. This is the month in which apparently, outwardly, they left the physical body.

What really is this talk of the second coming? What is the first coming? It is God taking birth in matter. The question is, since he is omnipotent, omniscient, all-powerful, why does he have to leave? Why can’t he stay forever upon earth as an embodied being? How beautiful and simple it would be!

The other day somebody was telling me that it used to be so easy, that even for putting a child in a particular hostel, one simply wrote to the Mother. One didn’t have to use this head to decide. You know now one talks about this hostel being better, or that one. One wrote to the Mother, Mother said, ‘Put him in this hostel’ and the matter was over. Now you have to go inside, get a feel, you have to think, you have to use all these machineries. The first coming: the Divine comes in matter and for some reason, various reasons, we won’t go into that, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have spoken about it, it leaves again. One reason is, as he says:

Hard is it to persuade earth-nature’s change;
Mortality bears ill the eternal’s touch:
It fears the pure divine intolerance
Of that assault of ether and of fire;
It murmurs at its sorrowless happiness,
Almost with hate repels the light it brings; [7]

But how do we respond when God is here? We throw heaps of doubt and anguish and all that. We do not even spare him the stones! On one side we think that God is slow; from the side of God, he thinks that man is slow! That’s how it is. The second coming, in all the traditions that we have, is that when the Divine comes he doesn’t have to leave again. When we speak about the second coming, it is a coming forever. It is as if this coming will establish the Divine’s reign upon earth – even that is said.

What does it mean, the Divine’s reign upon earth? It is not about the victory of a particular religion, or a universal religion spreading over all other religions. It is very simple: it is the victory of the Divine upon earth, the victory of godhead in matter, matter divinising itself, and discovering its own spiritual substance. It is then and then alone that the embodied Divine need not leave the earth. That is the second coming. That is, as the Mother says, the true resurrection. It is matter being lifted up to its true status. That is the coming for which we wait, and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have made it very, very clear, they have not left any iota of doubt that this is the work we have to do, and it doesn’t matter whether it takes 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years or a million years. Have we not been engaged in it already for a million years? In a very beautiful poem of Sri Aurobindo, Meditations of Mandavya, he says:

I will not faint, O God. There is the thirst,
And thirst supposes water somewhere. Yes,
But in this life we may not ever find;
Old nature sits a phantom by the way,
Old passions may forbid, old doubts return.
Then are there other lives here or beyond
To satisfy us? I will persist, O Lord.
[CWSA 2: 512]

This is the perseverance required for the seeker of immortality; what does it matter how long it takes? We have left behind a hundred thousand lives, even if we have to go through a hundred thousand lives more, we’ll have the joy of the labour. If there is something to be done, this is it. This is the fire that the Mother, I suppose, has awakened in earth. How beautifully she says, this should be the fire with which we should approach. What is that fire? She says, ‘When you feel that this is the thing you are meant to do, and you don’t want to do anything else, this alone attracts you, no longer for your own sake.’ Not that this little personality will become immortal, this personality that everybody knows as Mr. X or Mr Y. – that would be an absurdity, for in all the masks of various personalities is it not the One alone playing with Himself! Immortality will be the triumph of the Divine in matter, the redemption of matter by the touch divine. That is the task, a task worthy of man. And what does it matter how many times we have been born, how many times we have died, how many times death has claimed our bodies, our lives, our minds? How many times this has happened, and yet there is something it cannot claim – and that is what we truly are. That something, and the Grace divine, will rescue matter one day out of its inertia and somnolence, and upon this earth will bloom the heavenly Rose, the deathless Rose. Then will the seed of immortality bloom upon earth and then will the divine family be born!

To summarise we may say that there is a double immortality to which man can aspire. The first is to discover his immortal self, the individual soul, and through its doors the eternal Self. The second is to discover the possibility of divinising nature and the stuff of which our mortal sheaths are made. The first has been achieved by rare seers and sages of Truth in different ages of mankind. It is now even more easily accessible because of the coming of the New Force that is awakening matter and helping man in his godward aspiration. But the second is yet to be realised and it is only through a progressive change of the earth consciousness and as its spearhead, of human nature, that this too will become possible one day: for man to enjoy the immortality of the gods. Of course, if we consider it on the universal scale, then there is no death, whether at the material, vital or other levels, there is only a change of status and condition of organisation in individual beings. But the individual sheaths do dissolve since like their universal counterparts they partake of the nature of Ignorance. When this Ignorance disappears that divides these sheaths from the One who is their secret origin and Master, then they would not have any reason to disintegrate. Then mind would discover its own supramental infinities and Light and Truth, then life would recover its home of Bliss and Conscious Power from where it has strayed into the dark depths of Inconscience to create and to endure, then matter itself would wake up from the Inconscient’s spell and remember that it is, like everything else, in its origin divine, a fall from the one and only true Existence. Then shall the spell of Death be broken and we may say not only of our soul but also of our nature that all is indeed divine and shares his infinity and eternity.


Questions and Answers

Question from the Audience: Should we aspire to become supramental, or is that egoistic?

Sri Aurobindo always made it clear that there is nothing like an individual endeavour to become an individual supramental being. He himself never tried it. In fact, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have said that at one point of time there was a choice – whether to go ahead and become supramental themselves, or to carry everything together. And then he says, the choice was instantaneous, spontaneous and obvious: to carry everything together. What it means is that as long as we seek for an individual victory in the yoga it is in some way or another the ego asserting itself. It is hiding under the guise of yoga, under the guise of spirituality, and at some point, Death is sure to knock it down. You see, it is very interesting, the last victory is won not by knowledge but by the authentic power. He says to Savitri,

‘Knowledge is with thee, Truth speaks through thy words – but who art thou?’ At that time we see the individual being of Savitri melting into the World-Mother’s. She immediately brings that out: ‘You think that I am just a little woman who is living for this man. Here you see who I am.’ When she is one with the being of the World-Mother, Death not only concedes but is licked up by that Light. That authentic power resides in the World-Mother.

A divine incarnate Being is at the centre and everybody is weaving his life around that Being. We should live with that sense of the collective, and not just a human collective, which can be a collective ego, but where we work together for the Divine and centre our lives around the Divine, and each individual unit is conscious that in the background that they are but a child of the Supreme!

There is a nice story, a true event, about someone whose wife was very ill in bed and she started seeing beings of death, and she was very afraid. Her husband told her, ‘Tell them when they come near to you that you are the Mother’s child and they have no right over you.’ She did say that and those beings went away, and she went on to live for a few more years. Of course, she did eventually depart. The point is that we don’t go to death: we come from Light and go to Light, and we should live constantly by that awareness. It is my conviction, based on certain experiences and things I have heard from others, from those who know very clearly and are identified with the Divine in some way or the other in their heart, in their aspirations, that we don’t go to the land of death – we go to Her, and we come back from Her. That is what Sri Aurobindo speaks about in the Durga Stotra:

‘We come from you, age after age to do thy work and return to you.’ When we live in that consciousness then anyway the sting of death is lost. All that we do is, we move from her bosom to her garden; and when we go to the garden we may hold a little blade of grass, a little work, or we may plant a little seed, or maybe we are just sitting against a tree and just enjoying, but the whole thing makes a garden. When we are drawn back, we go back to the breast of the One in whom all Her children are safe. From the garden we move on to her heart, and back to this workplace.

Question from the Audience: How can we face death without fear?

When we live identified with the surface being, then Death just comes like a wave and washes us away. It is like the tsunami. But if you have held yourself anchored in some depth, then yes, you know that it is there, it’s a brooding shadow you can feel and sense, you can confront it, and if you want, have a dialogue with it, but not a very pleasant dialogue. But it is that, basically one should be anchored within. But that is the whole journey: if we live conscious of our souls, conscious of our immortality, conscious of the divine Presence, then we can see it and there are yogis who know when they have to depart, for whatever reasons, and they talk about it. But for that, this awareness has to come in this very life.

Question from the Audience: How is Sri Aurobindo’s view of death different from the view of the ancient Indian mythology?

The way Death is conceived in Indian mythology is in a certain limited sense. Sri Aurobindo has given it a much wider sense. In the way that Sri Aurobindo has looked at the being of Death, it evolves. In Savitri, as Death is standing in the Eternal Night, it simply assumes a dreadful form and says to Savitri ‘This is fragile matter, who are you to challenge me?’ In Book Ten, as they move into the twilight zone it changes, its language changes. It begins to mix truth with falsehood. It begins to pervert. At first it is dark denial, then it is distortion, perversion of truth. In fact, Savitri says, ‘You speak the truth, but truth that slays’. And it goes still further: as they move into the higher realms of mind, Death assumes a different voice again. Initially it says, ‘There is no god.’ Next it says, ‘I am god.’ Then it says, ‘There may be an impersonal god.’ Last, it says, ‘There may be a transcendent god, but nothing can happen here, you go back to Him.’ I think that in Indian mythology we will not find anything like this. It is very wide there, but still it is limited when we compare it with Sri Aurobindo’s vision. In Savitri he has put so much into the figure of Death, so many things. But if I look at it from the little Sanskrit that I understand, I would feel that the word Yama carries a lot of meaning. It gives me the feeling almost of the Sun concealing itself, and I think that is the story of how Yama comes into being. It is the sun which goes and hides in the darkness, and Yama becomes the guardian of this world, and Surya the guardian of the higher worlds. But Sri Aurobindo brings all this out with so much force of light and truth. This is my feeling.

Question from the Audience: Sometimes death seem to be a tragedy; how can one find the positive in what appears to be something tragic?

Every time one is born, as Mother says, one takes a plunge into the inconscient and it is true that even a very great being has to struggle before he can recapture something of the state he had reached in the previous life. To that extent there is a certain amount of loss, of waste of energies, and in one place Death is described as the one who eats the cold remnants of the sun. There are two ways of facing this. One is of course the way of knowledge, which always has its pluses and minuses. For example, we know of a young lady who had died and Dilip Kumar Roy was asked ‘Why did such a fine flower have to fade away so soon?’ That reply is there in Sri Aurobindo’s letters. I think it was Uma Devi, known as ‘The Nightingale of Bengal’, who died of throat cancer at the age of 21. She was a very fine lady with all the noble qualities. Sri Aurobindo said something very interesting. He said that she had arrived at the highest she could develop in this life, as a singer, at a sattwic stage of development, and to take her journey further was not possible in this body. One can understand, she was quite famous and she would probably have got caught into the cycle of fame and name, and something in her being wanted to take a leap, so she chose the door of death. The problem is, I have seen that this kind of knowledge is also not enough. Because as long as we only know intellectually, it doesn’t work. In our life we must try to go beyond this intellectual knowledge and strive to translate it, to the best of our ability, into actual living experience, because then to a large extent we become conscious. Intellectual knowledge does not suffice. But still further, there is the aspect of the power, which is so important.

Having seen so many people who have gone through this kind of pain I have pondered on this question: what would be the ultimate way that humanity will come out of this difficulty? At our present stage you cannot do much beyond offering what is probably cold comfort, a solace, saying ‘Time’s grace heals it.’ But ultimately, it is only when human beings reach a point of development where they can see the soul just as we see the body. There can be no other way than a complete rending of the veil of ignorance. Right now, we cannot see, we are so badly identified, that is the collective consciousness of the race. Those individuals who are free have always been free of the sting. Some young person in the Ashram drowned. The Mother was asked about it and she said ‘He came to me, and he wanted to leave.’ As simple as that: So and so came and said ‘I am going’. Another person who died in an accident – Mother described it in such a way, it is amazing: Some people would say it is a very traumatic death, a young death. But Mother said, ‘Oh, the moment he was free from the body he came running to me and said “I am free, I am free, I am free!” He was happy.’ Now if we were to see with that vision, where would the sting be? That is why I feel that the real triumph is to grow in experience – there is no other way. We should press hard for that individually. It is hard, it is a long road, a difficult journey, but then we remember: ‘Is the cup of immortality for the weak?’ So maybe it will take a few lifetimes – it doesn’t matter.

We should not be satisfied with intellectual knowledge. I think one of the big problems, especially with those of us who have this upper storey active, is that we read something and we understand something, we don’t know whether what we read and what we understand is the same thing or not, but the trap is that we believe that because we have intellectually understood – and worse still we can make others understand – we have no further work to do. This is very dangerous. One has to constantly work towards experiencing and realising (not to seek experiences: that Sri Aurobindo says very clearly) but on the path one should move forward, beyond the mind into something which is beyond. This is the whole path of Yoga. Till we can reach that point where we see the soul as we see the body – and the Mother has said that day will come – human beings have to follow that road. As Narad says, ‘O mortal, bear this great world’s law of pain, … Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage, / For through small joys and griefs thou mov’st towards God’ [451]. Perhaps if one goes through grief it becomes a kind of subconscious tapas. It is a sad thing, but that is the reality, and in a way serves to press us. If we look from the other standpoint, if the pain was not there, ‘If the heart were not forced to want and weep / [the] soul would have lain down content, at ease’ [443]. This is the problem with us: if we are not shaken in our circumstances, if we are too happy, we very easily forget the One. You remember that line in Savitri:

All that denies must be torn out and slain
And crushed the many longings for whose sake
We lose the One for whom our lives were made. [316]

We forget all the time. Unfortunately, at one point the shake-up really becomes necessary. Perhaps it is a shortcut to heaven’s gate.