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At the Feet of The Mother

Correspondence 1932, August (I)

August 1, 1932

I so much enjoyed Anatole France’s joke about God in the mouth of the arch-scoffer Brotteaux in his book Les Dieux ont soif [The Gods Are Thirsty] that I must ask you to read it.

He addresses Father Longuemarre thus: “Ou Dieu veut empêcher le mal et ne le peut, ou il le peut et ne le veut, ou il ne le peut ni ne le veut, ou il le veut et le peut. S’il le veut et ne le peut, il est impuissant; s’il le peut et ne le veut, il est pervers; s’il ne le peut ni ne le veut, il est impuissant et pervers; s’il le peut et le veut, que ne le fait-il mon Père?” “Either God would prevent evil, but could not, or he could but would not, or he neither could nor would, or he both could and would. If he would but could not, he is impotent; if he could but would not, he is perverse; if he neither could nor would, he is impotent and perverse; if he both could and would, why on earth doesn’t he do it Father?”[1]

I wonder what God might answer to it supposing he should have ever felt inclined to?

Anatole France is always amusing whether he is ironising about God and Christianity or about that rational animal Humanity (with a big H) and the follies of his reason and his conduct. But I presume you never heard of God’s explanation of his non-interference to Anatole France when they met in some Heaven of Irony, I suppose, — it can’t have been in the heaven of Karl Marx, in spite of France’s conversion before his death. God is reported to have strolled up to him and said: “I say, Anatole, you know that was a good joke of yours; but there was a good cause too for my non-interference. Reason came along and told me: ‘Look here, why do you pretend to exist? You know you don’t exist and never existed or, if you do, you have made such a mess of your creation that we can’t tolerate you any longer. Once we have got you out of the way, all will be right upon earth, tip-top, A-1: my daughter Science and I have arranged that between us. Man will raise his noble brow, the head of creation, dignified, free, equal, fraternal, democratic, depending upon nothing but himself, with nothing greater than himself anywhere in existence. There will be no God, no gods, no churches, no priestcraft, no religion, no kings, no oppression, no poverty, no war or discord anywhere. Industry will fill the earth with abundance, Commerce will spread her golden reconciling wings everywhere. Universal education will stamp out ignorance and leave no room for folly or unreason in any human brain; man will become cultured, disciplined, rational, scientific, well-informed, arriving always at the right conclusion upon full and sufficient data. The voice of the scientist and the expert will be loud in the land and guide mankind to the earthly paradise. A perfected society; health universalised by a developed medical science and a sound hygiene; everything rationalised; science evolved, infallible, omnipotent, omniscient; the riddle of existence solved; the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the world; evolution, of which man, magnificent man, is the last term, completed in the noble white race, a humanitarian kindness and uplifting for our backward brown, yellow and black brothers; peace, peace, peace, reason, order, unity everywhere.’ There was a lot more like that, Anatole, and I was so much impressed by the beauty of the picture and its convenience, for I would have nothing to do or to supervise, that I at once retired from business, — for, you know that I was always of a retiring disposition and inclined to keep myself behind the veil or in the background at the best of times. But what is this I hear? — it does not seem to me from reports that Reason even with the help of Science has kept her promise. And if not, why not? Is it because she would not or because she could not? or is it because she both would not and could not, or because she would and could, but somehow did not? And I say, Anatole, these children of theirs, the State, Industrialism, Capitalism, Communism and the rest have a queer look — they seem very much like Titanic monsters. Armed, too, with all the powers of Intellect and all the weapons and organisation of Science. And it does look as if mankind were no freer under them than under the Kings and the Churches! What has happened — or is it possible that Reason is not supreme and infallible, even that she has made a greater mess of it than I could have done myself?” Here the report of the conversation ends; I give it for what it is worth, for I am not acquainted with this God and have to take him on trust from Anatole France.

I have looked through the translation of “The Rishi”[2]; it seems to be a fine performance, but I shall keep it and read more carefully.

I shall evolve the Divine and Power very soon, but before I can work it out I have to comment on some points in your letters — famous Yogis with their “prophetic” powers and childish minds, advanced sadhaks and their convulsions, the comparative powerlessness of Buddha and Christ etc. These things are not central to the subject, but they cumber the way and it will be easier to proceed when they are put in their proper place.

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August 1932

[…] As for the rest of your letter, I shall try to write something tomorrow; today I have been really too much besieged even to have time to attempt an answer to so long a letter. I do not think desultory remarks about doubt would be of any use. To say something about the nature, origin, function and limits of Doubt might be of use but it must be said in a coherent way and as a whole which I will do in later letters. I may say, however, at once one or two things by the way. First, I have already said that I do not ask “undiscriminating faith” from anyone, all I ask is fundamental faith safeguarded by a patient and quiet discrimination — because it is these that are proper to the consciousness of a spiritual seeker and it is these that I have myself used and found that they removed all necessity for the quite fortuitous dilemma of “either you must doubt everything supraphysical or be entirely credulous” which is the stock-in-trade of the materialist argument. Your Doubt, I see, constantly returns to the charge with a repetition of this formula in spite of my denial — which supports my assertion that Doubt cannot be convinced because it cannot in its very nature want to be; it keeps repeating the old grounds always.

Next about Russell — I have never disputed his abilities or his character; I am concerned only with his opinions and there too only with those opinions which touch upon my own province — that of spiritual Truth. In all religions, the most narrow and stupid even, and in all non-religions also there are great minds, great men, fine characters. I know little about Russell, but I never dreamed of disputing the greatness of Lenin, for instance, merely because he was an atheist — nobody would, unless he were an imbecile. But the greatness of Lenin does not debar me from refusing assent to the credal dogmas of Bolshevism, and the beauty of character of an atheist does not prove that spirituality is a lie of the imagination and that there is no Divine. I might add that if you can find the utterances of famous Yogis childish when they talk about marriage or on other mental matters, I cannot be blamed for finding the ideas of Russell about spiritual experience, of which he knows nothing, very much wanting in light and substance. You have not named the Yogis in question, and till you do, I am afraid I shall cherish a suspicion about either the height or the breadth of their spiritual experience. But of that, hereafter, when I get a chance of an hour or two to write on it.

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August 2, 1932

Yes, if you wish, you can include the letter on Doubt and the repartee in your book — but I am afraid it will make it very miscellaneous!

The invisible Force producing tangible results both inward and outward is the whole meaning of the yogic consciousness. Your question about Yoga bringing merely a feeling of Power without any result was really very strange. Who would be satisfied with such a meaningless hallucination and call it Power? If we had not had thousands of experiences showing that the Power within could alter the mind, develop its powers, add new ones, bring in new ranges of knowledge, master the vital movements, change the character, influence men and things, control the conditions and functionings of the body, work as a concrete dynamic Force on other forces, modify events, etc., etc., we would not speak of it as we do. Moreover, it is not only in its results but in its movements that the Force is tangible and concrete. When I speak of feeling Force or Power, I do not mean simply having a vague sense of it, but feeling it concretely and consequently being able to direct it, manipulate it, watch its movement, be conscious of its mass and intensity and in the same way of that of other perhaps opposing forces; — all these things are possible and usual by the development of Yoga.

It is not, unless it is supramental Force, a Power that acts without conditions and limits. The conditions and limits under which Yoga or sadhana has to be worked out are not arbitrary or capricious; they arise from the nature of things. These — including the will, receptivity, assent, self-opening and surrender of the sadhak have to be respected by the Yoga-force — unless it receives a sanction from the Supreme to override everything and get something done — but that sanction is sparingly given. It is only if the supramental Power came fully down, not merely sent its influences through the Overmind, that things could be very radically altered in this respect — and that is why my main effort is directed towards that object — for then the sanction would not be rare! For the Law of the Truth would be at work, not constantly balanced by the law of the Ignorance.

Still the Yoga-force is always tangible and concrete in the way I have described and has tangible results. But it is invisible — not like a blow given or the rush of a motor car knocking somebody down which the physical senses can at once perceive. How is the mere physical mind to know that it is there and working? By its results? But how can it know that the results was that of the yogic force and not of something else? One of two things it must be. Either it must allow the consciousness to go inside, to become aware of inner things, to believe in the experience of the invisible and the supraphysical, and then by experience, by the opening of new capacities, it becomes conscious of these forces and can see, follow and use their workings, just as the Scientist uses the unseen forces of Nature. Or one must have faith and watch and open oneself and then it will begin to see how things happen, it will notice that when the Force was called in, there began after a time to be a result, then repetitions, more repetitions, more clear and tangible results, increasing frequency, increasing consistency of results, a feeling and awareness of the Force at work — until the experience becomes daily, regular, normal, complete. These are the two main methods, one internal, working from in outward, the other external, working from outside and calling the inner force out till it penetrates and is visible in the exterior consciousness. But neither can be done if one insists always on the extrovert attitude, the external concrete only and refuses to join to it the internal concrete — or if the physical mind at every step raises a dance of doubts which refuses to allow the nascent experience to develop. Even the Scientist carrying on a new experiment would never succeed if he allowed his mind to behave in that way.

When the Mother said that it was just a trick of reversing the consciousness, she meant that: that instead of allowing always the external mind to interfere and assert its own ordinary customary point of view, it should turn itself round, admit that things may work from in outwards, and keep itself sufficiently quiet to see that developing and being done. For then an inner mind shows itself which is capable of following and being the instrument of the invisible Forces.

It is not that you are incapable of it, for it was several times on the point of being done. But your external mind has interfered, always, questioning, doubting, asking for something more external, not waiting for the movement to continue, for the inward to externalise itself and make itself concrete. That is why I object to this worship of Doubt. It is not that I used not to have doubts myself more formidable than any you have ever thought of — but I did not allow them to interfere with the development of my experience. I let it continue until it had sufficient body for me to know what it was and what it could bring me.

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[1] This translation of Anatole France is Sri Aurobindo’s, made a few days later on Dilip’s request.

[2] A poem by Sri Aurobindo.

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