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At the Feet of The Mother

Gratitude (6/18) A Symbol and a Sign

His was a spirit that stooped from larger spheres
Into our province of ephemeral sight,
A colonist from immortality.
A pointing beam on earth’s uncertain roads,
His birth held up a symbol and a sign;
His human self like a translucent cloak
Covered the All-Wise who leads the unseeing world.
Affiliated to cosmic Space and Time
And paying here God’s debt to earth and man
A greater sonship was his divine right.
Although consenting to mortal ignorance,
His knowledge shared the Light ineffable.
A strength of the original Permanence
Entangled in the moment and its flow,
He kept the vision of the Vasts behind:
A power was in him from the Unknowable.
An archivist of the symbols of the Beyond,
A treasurer of superhuman dreams,
He bore the stamp of mighty memories
And shed their grandiose ray on human life. [Savitri: 22]

Meanwhile behind the life of the brilliant student at Cambridge, behind the person who led a householder’s life untouched by duplicity and hypocrisy, behind the teacher from whose lips words of wisdom broke forth bringing the light of greater truths than our eyes and ears behold, behind the journalist who saw the truths hidden from the surface vision of man and expressed them fearlessly with courage and clarity, behind the thinker, the poet and author, behind the leader of the Indian freedom movement there was another person who was watching over the works of the man whom the world knew then as Aurobindo Ghosh. From time to time this other person, the true person behind the persona would emerge and either save him from imminent danger or give radical and unprecedented turns to his life as if it was really he who was holding the reins of his destiny and life from behind. This real person would manifest himself from time to time amidst the tumult and the cry of the revolutionary days, sometimes as Kali, the stark Mother and sometimes as Krishna.

The Light that was born in the womb of darkness to redeem the earth had grown into a flame giving warmth and illumination to all around him during the Baroda days. With the plunge into the Indian independence movement it grew into an intense fire and shot into the sky of Indian mind and heart igniting it with the meteor shower of his words. India, then fallen into tamas, partly due to the spell of an alien Asuric Maya, though largely due to want of Shakti consequent to the stress of an other-worldly spiritual thought and illusionism had woken up. A new India had begun to rise out of the ruins of the past, never to fall again. The glorious son of Mother India had returned from the timeless immemorial planes to free her children from the bondage of ignorance. But now a greater work, a wider field awaited him. The son of God born as the son of man was getting ready for redeeming the earth and mankind.

But there was one major hurdle before Sri Aurobindo could follow fully the lead of these experiences that indicated his inner mission and work. It was the question of India’s freedom, not only from the subjugation to the British Empire but from the dense swoon of ‘tamas’ and inertia in which India lay, as if under a spell. This spell had to be broken by the magic word. The spell was indeed broken with the cry of ‘Bande Mataram’, a word familiar to the Indian mind that was introduced by the great writer Bankim Chandra in his famous work Anand Math. Sri Aurobindo rejuvenated this word, charged it with a mantric power and plunged into the heart of he Indian freedom struggle in 1905. A brief period of hectic activities followed which included threat and danger to his life, the awakening of a sleeping nation through his luminous and powerful writings that stirred the very soul-depths, the bringing together of the scattered pockets of resistance and organising them into a large national movement, laying down the broad lines along which India should move towards complete self-rule and also, as if in a prophetic mood, look at India’s larger role and destiny in the world context and the emerging future and what one should do to fulfil it. Many of his writings during that period are still valid and are like powerful lamps of light amidst the general darkness that still prevails in the arena of world politics. Perhaps this is where the bedrock of resistance and falsehood lies.

The Empire grew afraid of the Light that kindled the flame of hope and drew men towards the sacrificial fire he had lit in the heart of the nation. Afraid of one man, ‘the most dangerous man’ they sought to isolate and then eventually incarcerate him under false charges. Sri Aurobindo was sent to the Alipore Jail for one year as an under trial prisoner in May 1908. But the Divine Immanent in all things came and turned the prison into a trysting ground for God and man. Nara and Narayana, God and Man had become one and the prophesy of a New Age of Truth when this happens came close towards its fulfilment. The prison could not keep him for long, nor even the world and its ways. He shot beyond bars to the ultimate Sun crossing the barriers of the thought, stilling his mind in the silence of Nirvana, widening his consciousness to the cosmic dimension, transcending the limits of the creation by the touch of Krishna and Kali. To his far-seeing vision India’s freedom was a settled fact. Now he longed to settle the destiny of earth and humanity. He could no more be confined in the petty circle of the ordinary average human life. Heeding the call of the greater vaster fields, following the command of Krishna and the impulsion of Kali he reached the shores of the southern seas to launch upon an infinite adventure to emancipate man and transform the earthly life into the Life Divine. The deathless sun had chosen the cave of a mortal body and the ghost-like cemetery that the city of Pondicherry then seemed as the seat of his tapasya.

No wonder that Sri Aurobindo was implicated in false charges of sedition and bomb conspiracy and put as an under-trial prisoner in Alipore jail for a year. But as Sri Aurobindo was to mention later; ‘God came and turned the prison into an Ashram’.

He not only felt but also saw Vasudeva, the immanent Divine everywhere; in the bars, in the blanket, in the food vessels, the fellow-prisoners, the jailer, the pleaders and the judge. He had already experienced the Silence of nirvana within three days following some simple instructions given by a Maharastrian yogi, Bhaskar Lele. These two cardinal experiences, — of Nirvana in 1907 and the Vision of the Divine everywhere, — were to lay the foundation of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral yoga. These two major realisations are beautifully described in Sri Aurobindo’s own words thus:


All is abolished but the mute Alone.
The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
Flow, a cinema’s vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.

Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
Replaces all, — what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.
[CWSA 2:561]


O immense Light and thou, O spirit-wide boundless Space,
Whom have you clasped and hid, deathless limbs, gloried face?
Vainly lie Space and Time, “Void are we, there is none.”
Vainly strive Self and World crying “I, I alone.”
One is there, Self of self, Soul of Space, Fount of Time,
Heart of hearts, Mind of minds, He alone sits, sublime.
Oh no void Absolute self-absorbed, splendid, mute,
Hands that clasp hold and red lips that kiss blow His flute.
All He loves, all He moves, all are His, all are He;
Many limbs sate His whims, bear His sweet ecstasy.
Two in One, Two who know difference rich in sense,
Two to clasp, One to be, this His strange mystery.
[CWSA 2:637]

The yogi was born out of the womb of the revolutionary. He came to revolutionise the world in a way as had never even been imagined before. A new and unprecedented labour had begun with this great transition. Out of the old tablets of life and new dawn, a new wisdom, even a new law of earthly life was to begin.  A new hope was born.

This inner liberation is described beautifully in Savitri.

His centre was no more in earthly mind;
A power of seeing silence filled his limbs:
Caught by a voiceless white epiphany
Into a vision that surpasses forms,
Into a living that surpasses life,
He neared the still consciousness sustaining all.
The voice that only by speech can move the mind
Became a silent knowledge in the soul;
The strength that only in action feels its truth
Was lodged now in a mute omnipotent peace.
A leisure in the labour of the worlds,
A pause in the joy and anguish of the search
Restored the stress of Nature to God’s calm.
A vast unanimity ended life’s debate.
The war of thoughts that fathers the universe,
The clash of forces struggling to prevail
In the tremendous shock that lights a star
As in the building of a grain of dust,
The grooves that turn their dumb ellipse in space
Ploughed by the seeking of the world’s desire,
The long regurgitations of Time’s flood,
The torment edging the dire force of lust
That wakes kinetic in earth’s dullard slime
And carves a personality out of mud,
The sorrow by which Nature’s hunger is fed,
The oestrus which creates with fire of pain,
The fate that punishes virtue with defeat,
The tragedy that destroys long happiness,
The weeping of Love, the quarrel of the Gods,
Ceased in a truth which lives in its own light.
His soul stood free, a witness and a king.
[Savitri: 32-33]

Though Sri Aurobindo had started had experiences of higher states of Reality even as early as his days in England as well as since he landed in India. Yet a methodical conscious effort at yoga began somewhere in 1904 with rigorous practice of Pranayama. Experiences began to grow such as the Godhead surging out of his body assuming control of the carriage averting a serious accident, the experience of the World Mother in an image of Kali, the experience of the vacant Infinite in Kashmir described revealingly in the poem Adwaita. Yet his heart was not seeking spirituality for its own sake or for experiences as much as to gain power so as to free Mother India. It is here that he encountered Yogi Bhaskar Lele with whom he sat and meditated as per the instructions and rapidly passed into thought-free state of the mind and the utter stillness of Nirvana in just about three days. The experience was something unexpected and unprecedented. But it turned his entire life in a different direction. Someone else had taken charge of his life to fulfil the real purpose. It is later he realised that this ‘Someone’ who had begun to guide him from within was none else than his own deepest Self, in fact the deepest Self of all creatures, the eternal lover of mankind Sri Krishna. In a divine irony Sri Krishna chose the prison house for revealing himself to Sri Aurobindo just as he had chosen the battleground to reveal himself to Arjuna.

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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.