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At the Feet of The Mother

“I bow to the Mother” – Nolini Kanta Gupta (transcript of a talk)

Those of you who came to the Ashram as children recognised the Mother and called her by that name practically from your birth, that is, from the moment you began to recognise things. We the grown-ups did not have that privilege. It has taken us a long long time to open our eyes and know. We have lost valuable time, almost wasted it. But, as you know, it is never too late to mend and it is possible to recover and even to make amends for lost time; there lies an interesting secret.

But as I was saying, you did not have to be told about the Mother, for you have almost been born and brought up in her lap. In our case somebody had to introduce us to the Mother, for we had been born and brought up in a step motherly lap, although that too was one of her own forms, her form of Maya.

The first time I heard about the Mother was shortly after our arrival here. It was Sri Aurobindo himself who told us about a French lady from Paris who was a great initiate. She was desirous of establishing personal contact with Sri Aurobindo. That the Great Soul whom she meant was no other than Sri Aurobindo would be evidenced by a sign: she would be sending him something that he might recognise. That something was Sri Aurobindo’s own symbol—in the form of a diagram, known as Solomon’s Seal. Needless to add, after this proof of identity, steps were taken to facilitate her coming. Monsieur Paul Richard was at that time much interested in spiritual thought and practice and he could find an opportunity for coming here: he wanted to find out if he could get elected as one of the Representatives of French India in the French Parliament and he stood as a candidate for election. In those days, there used to be two elected representatives of French India, one in the Upper Chamber, the Sénat, the other in the Lower House, the Chambre des Députés. I have already spoken to you about this business of elections; this was a real bloody affair with murders and mob-attacks that caused terror among the populace.

The first time he came here for canvassing, he was alone. The Mother accompanied him the next time. To all outward appearances they arrived here to canvass support for the elections, although M. Richard did not in the end get very many votes. But this provided the occasion for the Mother to meet Sri Aurobindo and gather a few trusted friends and devotees. In this connection the Mother had to pay a visit to Karikal once. This was her first direct experience of the actual India, that is, what it is in its crude outward aspect. She gave us an amusing description of the room where she was put up, an old dilapidated room as dark as it was dirty and a paradise for white ants. Thus it was that the Divine Mother, One who is fairer than the fairest and lovelier than infinite beauty had to come down and enter the darkness and evil of this human life; for how else could these poor mortals have a chance?
When it first came to be bruited about that a Great Lady like this was to come and live close to us, we were faced with a problem: how should we behave? Should there be a change in our manners? For we had been accustomed to a bohemian sort of life, we dressed and talked, slept and ate and moved about in a free unfettered style, in a manner that would not quite pass in civilised society. Nevertheless, it was finally agreed that we should stick as far as possible to our old ways even under the new circumstances, for why should we permit our freedom and ease to be compromised or lost? This indeed is the way in which the arrogance and ignorance of man assert the glory of his individuality!

The Mother arrived. She would meet Sri Aurobindo in company with the rest of us at our afternoon sessions. She spoke very little. We were out most of the time, but also dropped in occasionally. When it was proposed to bring out the Arya she took charge of the necessary arrangements. She wrote out in her own hand the list of subscribers, maintained the accounts herself: perhaps those papers might be still available. And afterwards, it was she herself who helped M. Richard in his translation of the writings of Sri Aurobindo into French for the French edition of the Arya. The ground floor of Dupleix House was used as the stack room and the office was on the ground floor of the Guest House. The Mother was the chief executive in sole charge. Once every week all of us used to call at her residence accompanied by Sri Aurobindo and had our dinner together. On those occasions the Mother used to cook one or two dishes with her own hands. Afterwards too, when she came back for good, the same arrangement continued at the Bayoud House; I have told you of that before. About this time, she had also formed a small group with a few young men; this too I have mentioned earlier. A third line of her work, connected with business and trade, also began at nearly the same time. Just as today we have among us men of business who are devotees of the Mother and who act under her protection and guidance, similarly in that period also there appeared as if in seed-state this particular line of activity. Our Sauren founded the Aryan Stores, the object being to bring in some money: we were very hard up in those days—not that we are particularly affluent now, but still…The Mother kept up correspondence with Sauren in connection with these business matters even after she left here for Japan.

At one stage, the Mother showed a special interest in cats. Not only has she been concerned with human beings, but the animal creation and the life of plants too have shared in her direct touch. The Veda speaks of the animal sacrifice, but the Mother has performed her consecration of animals in a very novel sense; she has helped them forward in their upward march with a touch of her Consciousness. She took a few cats as representatives of the animal world. She said, the king of the cats who ruled in the occult world—you might call him perhaps their Super-cat—had set up a sort of friendship with her. How this feline brood appeared first in our midst is somewhat interesting. One day all of a sudden a wild-looking cat made its appearance at the Guest House where we lived then; it just happened to come along and stayed on. It was wild enough when it came, but it soon turned it into a tame cat, very mild and polite. When it had its kittens, Sri Aurobindo gave to the first-born the name of Sundari, for she was very fair with a pure white fur. One of Sundari’s kittens was styled Bushy, for it had a bushy tail, and its ancestress had now to be given the name of Grandmother. It was about this Bushy that the story runs: she used to pick up with her teeth all her kittens one by one and drop them at the Mother’s feet as soon as they were old enough to use their eyes—as if she offered them to the Mother and craved her blessings. You can see now how much progress this cat had made in the path of Yoga. Two of these kittens of Bushy are well-known names and became great favourites with the Mother; one was Big Boy and the younger one was Kiki. It is said about one of them—I forget which, perhaps it was Kiki —that he used to join in the collective meditation and meditated like one of us; he perhaps had visions during meditation and his body would shake and tremble while the eyes remained closed. But in spite of this sadhana, he remained in his outward conduct like many of us rather crude in many respects. The two brothers, Big Boy and Kiki, could never see eye to eye and the two had always to be kept apart. Big Boy was a stalwart fellow and poor Kiki got the thrashings. Finally, both of them died of some disease and were buried in the courtyard. Their Grandmother disappeared one day as suddenly as she had come and nobody knew anything about her again.

The style in which these cats were treated was something extraordinary. The arrangements made for their food were quite a festive affair; it was for them alone that special cooking was done, with milk and fish and the appropriate dressings, as if they were children of some royal family,—all was according to schedule. They received an equally good training: they would never commit nuisance within doors for they had been taught to use the conveniences provided for them. They were nothing like the gipsy-Bedouin cats of our Ardhendu.

In the days before the Mother came, we used to have a pet dog. Its story was much the same. All of a sudden one day here appeared from nowhere in our earliest residence a common street dog—it was a bitch; she too came and just stayed on. Sri Aurobindo gave her the name of Yogini. He used to tell a story about her intelligence. It was already nightfall and we did not know that she had not yet come in. She came to the front door, pushed against it and did some barking, but we heard nothing as we were in the kitchen next to the back-yard. Suddenly she recalled that there was a door at the back through which she might perhaps gain entrance or at least draw our attention. She now ran around the three corners of the house and appeared at the back door. From there she could make herself heard and was admitted. She too bore some puppies and two of them became particular favorites with Sri Aurobindo. I cannot now recall how they were called.

You all know about the deep oneness and sympathy the Mother has with plants, so I leave out the subject today. As with the world of animals and men, so with the beings of the supraphysical worlds—from the little elves and fairies to the high and mighty gods, all have had their contacts with the Mother, all have shared in her Grace as you may have heard, but the Grace could mean at times thrashings too!

Today I leave aside the Mother’s role as our Guide on the path of sadhana or yogic discipline. Let me speak in a very general way of an aspect of her teaching that concerns the first principles of the art of living.

The core of this lies in elevating our life to a cleaner level, and the first and most important need is to put each thing in its place. The training that the Mother has throughout been giving us—I am not here referring to the side of spiritual practice but to the daily routine of our ordinary life—is precisely this business of putting our things in order. We do not always notice how very disorderly we are: our belongings and household effects are in a mess, our actions are haphazard, and in our inner life we are as disorderly as in our outer life, or even more. Indeed it is because we are so disordered within that there is such disorder in our outer life. Our thoughts come to us pell-mell and our brains are crowded with straying bits of random thought.

We cannot sit down quietly for a few minutes and pursue a particular line of thought with any kind of steadiness or order. Our heads are full of noise like a market-place without any peace or restraint or harmony. If the mind is in such a state, the vital being is still worse. You cannot keep count of the strange desires and impulses that play about there. If the brain is a marketplace, the heart is no better than a mad-house. Well, I shall not now enlarge further on the state of our inner being. One of the things the Mother has been trying to teach us both by her word and example is this, namely, that to keep our outer life and its materials in proper order and neat and tidy is a very necessary element in our life upon earth. I do not know to what extent we have yet been able to assimilate this teaching in our individual or collective living. How many of us have realised that beauty is at least half the sense of life and serves to double its value? And even if we do sometimes realise, how many are impelled to shape our lives accordingly? The Mother taught us to use our things with care, but there was more to it than this. She uses things not merely with care but with love and affection. For, to her, material things are not simply inanimate objects, not mere lifeless implements. They are endowed with a life of their own, even a consciousness of their own, and each thing has its own individuality and character. The Mother says about material things what the ancients have said about the life of plants, that they have in them a consciousness that responds to pleasure and pain, antah-samjñāh bhavanti ete sukha-duhkha-samanvitāh. We are all aware how carefully the Mother treasures old things and does not like them to be thrown away simply because they are old. The reason for this is not niggardliness or a conservative spirit; the reason is that old things are to her like old friends, living companions all.

Let me illustrate the point with something Sri Aurobindo once said. One of the inmates had written to him that as the gate of his house seemed to have got jammed and could not be opened, he had to make it open by giving it a strong kick. The door did open but it hurt the foot rather badly. So what he wanted now was some ointment along with Sri Aurobindo’s blessings. Do you know the answer he had from Sri Aurobindo? “If you kick at the door, the door will naturally kick back at you!”

As I told you in the beginning, the Mother did not appear to us, the older people, as the Mother at the outset; she came to us first in this garb of Beauty. We received her as a friend and companion, as one very close to ourselves, first, because Sri Aurobindo himself received her like that, and secondly because of her qualities. Now that we are on this subject of her qualities, although it is not necessary for a child to proclaim the virtues of his mother, I cannot here refrain from telling you about another point in her teaching. This concerns something deeper. The first time Sri Aurobindo happened to describe her qualities, he said he had never seen anywhere a self-surrender so absolute and unreserved. He had added a comment that perhaps it was only women who were capable of giving themselves so entirely and with such sovereign ease. This implies a complete obliteration of the past, erasing it with its virtues and faults. The Mother has referred to this in one of her Prayers and Meditations. When she came here, she gave herself up to the Lord, Sri Aurobindo, with the candid simplicity of a child, after erasing from herself all her past, all her spiritual attainments, all the riches of her consciousness. Like a new-born babe, she felt she possessed nothing, she was to learn everything right from the start, as if she had known or heard about nothing.

Now to come back to a personal experience. The first thing I heard and came to know about the Mother was that she was a great spiritual person. I did not know then that she might have other gifts; these were revealed to me gradually. First I came to know that she was a very fine painter; and afterwards that she was an equally gifted musician. But there were other surprises in store. For instance, she had an intellectual side no less richly endowed, that is to say, she had read and studied enormously, had been engaged in intellectual pursuits even as the learned do. I was still more surprised to find that while in France she had already studied and translated a good number of Indian texts, like the Gita, the Upanishads, the Yoga-sutras, the Bhakti-sutras of Narada. I mention all this merely to tell you that the Mother’s capacity of making her mind a complete blank was as extraordinary as her enormous mental acquisitions. This was something unique. In the early days, when she had just taken charge of our spiritual life, she told me one day in private, perhaps seeing that I might have a pride in being an intellectual, “At one time I used to take an interest in philosophy and other intellectual pursuits. All that is now gone below the surface, but I can bring it up again at will.” So, I need not have any fears on that score! It was as if the Mother was trying to apologize for her deficiencies in scholarship. This was how she taught me the meaning of humility, what we call Divine Humility.

As I was saying, this capacity for an entire rejection of the past has been one of the powers of her spiritual consciousness and realisation. It is not an easy thing for a human being to wash himself clean of all his past acquisitions, be it intellectual knowledge or the habits of the vital, not to speak of the body’s needs, and step forth in his nude purity. And yet this is the first and most important step in the spiritual discipline. The Mother has given us a living example of this. That is why she decided to shed all her past, forget all about it and begin anew the a-b-c of her training and initiation with Sri Aurobindo. And it was in fact at the hands of Sri Aurobindo that she received as a token and outward symbol her first lessons in Bengali and Sanskrit, beginning with the alphabet.

But all this is simply an attempt on the part of the small to comprehend something of the Vast; it is as if a particle of sand was trying to reflect a little of the sun’s rays, a dwarf trying to catch at the high tree-top with his uplifted arms, a child prattling of his mother’s beauty.

In the beginning, Sri Aurobindo would refer to the Mother quite distinctly as Mira. For some time afterwards (this may have extended over a period of years) we could notice that he stopped at the sound of M and uttered the full name Mira as if after a slight hesitation. To us it looked rather queer at the time, but later we came to know the reason. Sri Aurobindo’s lips were on the verge of saying “Mother”; but we had yet to get ready, so he ended with Mira instead of saying Mother. No one knows for certain on which particular date at what auspicious moment, the word “Mother” was uttered by the lips of Sri Aurobindo. But that was a divine moment in unrecorded time, a moment of destiny in the history of man and earth; for it was at this supreme moment that the Mother was established on this material earth, in the external consciousness of man.

Let me now end this story for today with a last word about myself.

I have said that so far the Mother had been to us a friend and companion, a comrade almost, at the most an object of reverence and respect. I was now about to start on my annual trip to Bengal—in those days I used to go there once every year, and that was perhaps my last trip. Before leaving, I felt a desire to see the Mother. The Mother had not yet come out of her seclusion and Sri Aurobindo had not yet retired behind the scenes. I said to him, “I would like to see Her before I go.”—Her with a capital H, in place of the Mother, for we had not yet started using that name. Sri Aurobindo informed the Mother. The room now used by Champaklal was the Mother’s room in those days. I entered and waited in the Prosperity room, for Sri Aurobindo used to meet people in the verandah in front. The Mother came in from her room and stood near the door. I approached her and said, “I am going,” and then lay prostrate at her feet. That was my first Pranam to the Mother. She said, “Come back soon.” This “come back soon” meant in the end, “come back for good.”

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