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At the Feet of The Mother

Invitation to Savitri 13: Book 3 Cantos 2-3

A series of talks by Prof. Mangesh V. Nadkarni on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in Pondicherry in 1995.

We just looked at the grand invocation of the Divine Mother, which is an experience of Aswapati’s that is being described. Immediately after that, on p. 315, we read:All he had done was to prepare a field;

His small beginnings asked for a mighty end:
For all that he had been must now new-shape
In him her joy to embody, to enshrine
Her beauty and greatness in his house of life.
But now his being was too wide for self;
His heart’s demand had grown immeasurable:
His single freedom could not satisfy,
Her light, her bliss he asked for earth and men.
[Bk 3, Canto 2, p. 315]

Now, Aswapati has been given this overwhelming experience, the most fulfilling experience you can ever imagine, but he was there not for himself, but primarily as a representative of mankind. So he says:Her beauty and greatness in his house of life.

But now his being was too wide for self;

It was not just Aswapati, the individual,

His heart’s demand had grown immeasurable:
His single freedom could not satisfy,

He was free, he had experienced this bliss, he had experienced this wonderful fulfilment, but that did not satisfy him anymore.

Her light, her bliss he asked for earth and men.
But vain are human power and human love
To break earth’s seal of ignorance and death;
His nature’s might seemed now an infant’s grasp;
Heaven is too high for outstretched hands to seize.
[Bk 3, Canto 2, p. 315]

Aswapati now realises more than ever before, how insignificant the human strength is to be able to grasp, to be able to reach this transcendental fulfilment. Unless man has help, unless the divine Grace descends here on earth and helps mankind, man himself has really no chance.

This Light comes not by struggle or by thought;
In the mind’s silence the Transcendent acts
And the hushed heart hears the unuttered Word.
A vast surrender was his only strength.
[Bk 3, Canto 2, p. 315]

The only strength that Aswapati himself felt that he needed to experience this was to surrender his mind, surrender his entire being, to negate it, to rise above it, which he was able to do.

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.
[Bk 3, Canto 2, p. 315-316]

The power from above must descend and fill this finite world of man with the power, the benediction of the infinite.

All that denies must be torn out and slain

Whatever goes contrary to this, whatever proves to be an impediment to the descent of this Grace must be mercilessly weeded out, must be thrown out.

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.
Now other claims had hushed in him their cry:
Only he longed to draw her presence and power
Into his heart and mind and breathing frame;
Only he yearned to call for ever down
Her healing touch of love and truth and joy
Into the darkness of the suffering world.
[Bk 3, Canto 2, p. 316]

It is this for which he had undertaken this yoga, it is for this he had been ploughing, as it were, a lonely furrow, going beyond all the traditional siddhis and still pushing ahead until he came here. Now that he has come here, he feels very strongly for man, for man’s ignorance, inadequacies. Now the one concern uppermost in his mind is how does he take this down, this Bhageerathi, this sacred water, this bliss, this joy, this power. How does he channelise it, how does he make it flow down so that man is capable of receiving it?

Now we leave Canto 2 with this thought and go to Canto 3—“The House of the Spirit and the New Creation.” I was talking to a friend during the interval and it seems to me that Canto 3 generally has not received much attention in these discussions on Savitri. There are many glorious things in Savitri which are still awaiting to be discovered and in Canto 3 you have a description a vision of a whole new creation that Aswapati realises in his inner being. And this new creation has to come down, realise itself, manifest itself here, but before that, before this creation could manifest within himself, Aswapati has to pay a final price. Aswapati has still a great act of sacrifice to perform. As you see here:

A mightier task remained than all he had done.
To That he turned from which all being comes,
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

A few lines down:

In the unapproachable stillness of his soul,
Intense, one-pointed, monumental, lone,
Patient he sat like an incarnate hope
Motionless on a pedestal of prayer.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

He was still sitting there on a pedestal of prayer after he had realised the Supreme Divine Mother.

A strength he sought that was not yet on earth,

This is what he was seeking: a strength he sought, not for himself, but for earth and for man.

Help from a Power too great for mortal will,
The light of a Truth now only seen afar,
A sanction from his high omnipotent Source.
But from the appalling heights there stooped no voice;
The timeless lids were closed; no opening came.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

This has always happened. Saint after saint, maharishi after maharishi had their highest realisations, they had the benediction, they had the blessings, they had the siddhis, but when they come down, they find once again the doors of heaven are shut against man; man has nothing yet. Whatever the person has gained, it is for himself. This has been a long unending story. Individuals have gone beyond, individuals have reached the siddhis, individuals have attained this glimpse of perfection, but what have they been able to bring back? Very little which mankind can directly benefit from. And so he is saying,

A neutral helpless void oppressed the years.
In the texture of our bound humanity
He felt the stark resistance huge and dumb
Of our inconscient and unseeing base,
The stubborn mute rejection in life’s depths,
The ignorant No in the origin of things.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

Any great individual, any great saint, finds an ultimate siddhi, but what has mankind to gain from it? That is why you find great souls like Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharishi, who have the highest light with them, but man is unable to benefit from it. Still the earth lot remains unchanged. It is very difficult to believe that the world is what it is in spite of all the great people who have come here, in spite of the great siddhas, in spite of all the great yogis.

Aswapati did not want to be one more such yogi who has done this, but mankind has nothing to show for it. Is it possible for me to bring something here which will permanently change the plight of man, the human destiny, something that will leave a permanent mark on man—this was his quest.

People were wondering what Sri Aurobindo was doing here in Pondicherry for 40 years. If he was doing anything for himself, I don’t think he needed 40 years; he could have done that in a much shorter period of time. But what he was doing was trying to make sure that something from what he has gained can be brought down to earth, that the door can be opened and something can come down on earth and benefit man in spite of his ignorance, in spite of his stupidities. Is it possible to bring down that light here? It is for that he performed his yoga, it is for that he lived his life, it is for that he gave his life, to make sure that mankind benefits. The door is opened, the new consciousness comes down, becomes accessible to earth, accessible to man. This was Sri Aurobindo’s quest and this was also reflected in Aswapati ’s quest. He is looking for

The stubborn mute rejection in life’s depths,
The ignorant No in the origin of things.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

A saint comes like a light, illumining the darkness, but when the saint disappears, once again the darkness occupies the original place and the world looks even darker than it was before. So, is there a permanent way? Is there a way of rectifying this? This is the question. Aswapati wonders why is that I have seen this and why is that I’m not able to receive it here? Why is it that it has not come down with me? Then he asks himself, is there still something in me which has proved an impediment, a blockage to the descent of the higher light? So he is asking himself:

A veiled collaboration with the Night
Even in himself survived and hid from his view:
Still something in his earthly being kept
Its kinship with the Inconscient whence it came.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

Is there something within me that is still in league with inconscience because of which this light cannot come down?

A shadowy unity with a vanished past
Treasured in an old-world frame was lurking there,
Secret, unnoted by the illumined mind,
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

I have carried out a thorough search of myself and whatever impurities, whatever belonged to the old world, I have discarded it, and yet there seems to be something within me which is making this descent difficult.

Secret, unnoted by the illumined mind,
And in subconscious whispers and in dream
Still murmured at the mind’s and spirit’s choice.
Its treacherous elements spread like slippery grains
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317]

He says there are these elements hidden in myself which are like slippery grains. A beautiful metaphor, as you can see.

Its treacherous elements spread like slippery grains
Hoping the incoming Truth might stumble and fall,
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 317-318]

So what do these slippery grains do? These slippery grains make sure that even if the truth wants to come it might stumble and fall. So these are all elements within ourselves.

Hoping the incoming truth might stumble and fall.
And old ideal voices wandering moaned
And pleaded for a heavenly leniency
To the gracious imperfections of our earth
And the sweet weaknesses of our mortal state.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318]

There seems to be unending pleading: ‘let us please remain mortal.’ There is this fascination with mortality, fascination for ignorance. And Aswapati is asking, is something of that still remaining in me, and he finds:

This now he willed to discover and exile,
The element in him betraying God.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318]

Is there some element in me which is betraying God?

All Nature’s recondite spaces were stripped bare,
All her dim crypts and corners searched with fire

This is what I have done, I have already gone into every nook and corner of my being and weeded out all impurities, all attachments, all falsehood, but still there seems to be something within me.

All her dim crypts and corners searched with fire
Where refugee instincts and unshaped revolts
Could shelter find in darkness’ sanctuary
Against the white purity of heaven’s cleansing flame.
All seemed to have perished that was undivine:
Yet some minutest dissident might escape
And still a centre lurk of the blind force.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318]

Although I have done my best, is it possible that there is some element still left which is acting as the centre of resistance? Because,

For the Inconscient too is infinite;

You have to deal with the inconscient, and the inconscient is no tiny power; that too is infinite.

The more its abysses we insist to sound,
The more it stretches, stretches endlessly.
Then lest a human cry should spoil the Truth
He tore desire up from its bleeding roots
And offered to the gods the vacant place.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318]

He tore desire from its roots: no desire, not even desire as a representative of mankind―I want to bring this down―even that desire has to go. So,

He tore desire up from its bleeding roots
And offered to the gods the vacant place.

Now, once he did this:

Thus could he bear the touch immaculate.
A last and mightiest transformation came.

The minute he was able to do this, an entire new world descended into Aswapati’s being.

His soul was all in front like a great sea
Flooding the mind and body with its waves;
His being, spread to embrace the universe,

Suddenly Aswapati felt that his being had become universal, completely cosmic universal.

United the within and the without
To make of life a cosmic harmony,
An empire of the immanent Divine.
In this tremendous universality
Not only his soul-nature and mind-sense
Included every soul and mind in his,
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318]

So he experiences this tremendous, immediate identification with every being here on earth.

Included every soul and mind in his,
But even the life of flesh and nerve was changed
And grew one flesh and nerve with all that lives;

This is a tremendous experience. Not only was he able to feel this universality at the level of the mind and feelings, but even at the physical level he felt himself absolutely universalised. That was the kind of experience.

He felt the joy of others as his joy,
He bore the grief of others as his grief;
His universal sympathy upbore,
Immense like ocean, the creation’s load
As earth upbears all beings’ sacrifice,
Thrilled with the hidden Transcendent’s joy and peace.
There was no more division’s endless scroll;
One grew the Spirit’s secret unity,
All Nature felt again the single bliss.
There was no cleavage between soul and soul,
There was no barrier between world and God.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 318-319]

Now this is an experience which is beyond the experience of nirvana, this oneness with the whole universe, oneness not only in thought, in conception, but in concrete experience, not just mentally, but even physically. In this total identification, the separate self he felt is now being abolished:

Abolished in its last thin fainting trace
The circle of the little self was gone;
The separate being could no more be felt;
It disappeared and knew itself no more,
Lost in the spirit’s wide identity.
His nature grew a movement of the All,
Exploring itself to find that all was He,
His soul was a delegation of the All
That turned from itself to join the one Supreme.
Transcended was the human formula;
Man’s heart that had obscured the Inviolable
Assumed the mighty beating of a god’s;
His seeking mind ceased in the Truth that knows;
His life was a flow of the universal life.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 319]

The entire canto is a wonderful description of this new experience of this new creation and the title of the canto is “The House of the Spirit and the New Creation.” This new creation was still a subjective thing, it was in Aswapati. But on page 320 you have further description of the same experience:

On sorrowless heights no winging cry disturbs,
Pure and untouched above this mortal play
Is spread the spirit’s hushed immobile air.
There no beginning is and there no end;
There is the stable force of all that moves;
There the aeonic labourer is at rest.
There turns no keyed creation in the void,
No giant mechanism watched by a soul;
There creaks no fate-turned huge machinery;
The marriage of evil with good within one breast,
The clash of strife in the very clasp of love,
The dangerous pain of life’s experiment
In the values of Inconsequence and Chance,
The peril of mind’s gamble, throwing our lives
As stake in a wager of indifferent gods
And the shifting lights and shadows of the idea
Falling upon the surface consciousness,
And in the dream of a mute witness soul
Creating the error of a half-seen world
Where knowledge is a seeking ignorance,
Life’s steps a stumbling series without suit,
Its aspect of fortuitous design,
Its equal measure of the true and false
In that immobile and immutable realm
Find no access, no cause, no right to live:
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 320-321]

On the next page, 322, there are various phases of the same experience:

Apart, at peace above creation’s stir,
Immersed in the eternal altitudes,
He abode defended in his shoreless self,
Companioned only by the all-seeing One.
A Mind too mighty to be bound by Thought,
A Life too boundless for the play in Space,
A Soul without borders unconvinced of Time,
He felt the extinction of the world’s long pain,
He became the unborn Self that never dies,
He joined the sessions of Infinity.
On the cosmic murmur primal loneliness fell,
Annulled was the contact formed with time-born things,
Empty grew Nature’s wide community.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 322]

From the last line of that page:

A Bliss, a Light, a Power, a flame-white Love
Caught all into a sole immense embrace;
Existence found its truth on Oneness’ breast
And each became the self and space of all.
The great world-rhythms were heart-beats of one Soul,
To feel was a flame-discovery of God,
All mind was a single harp of many strings,
All life a song of many meeting lives;
For worlds were many, but the Self was one.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 322-323]

This is our problem in our world, isn’t it? There are many thoughts, many people, and therefore always discord. But in this world there are many, each one is unique, and yet he says,

All life a song of many meeting lives;
For worlds were many, but the Self was one.

Later on he says

A new and marvellous creation rose.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 323]

This was the new and marvellous creation.

There were no contraries, no sundered parts,
All by spiritual links were joined to all
And bound indissolubly to the One:
Each was unique, but took all lives as his own,
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 323]

This is the experience Aswapati now has. There are many facets, many sides to it. As I said, this is one of glorious cantos in this book. People normally when they talk about Book 3 refer to Cantos 2 and 4. In Canto 4 there is Aswapati’s prayer to the Divine Mother. But before that, why did Aswapati want the Divine Mother to come down? The Divine Mother has to come down to make this experience, which Aswapati now felt in his being, accessible to mankind. Only her coming down will be able to do that. If she doesn’t come down, if this transcendental power doesn’t come down on earth and doesn’t help mankind, this experience will ultimately remain a subjective experience of Aswapati. And he was not interested in that kind of a glory, which will be a glory just for himself. His yoga, his struggle was all for mankind, all for the earth consciousness, and therefore he, as you can see, describes his experience. And this experience will be accessible to man, this world will descend here only if the Supreme Divine Mother comes down and provides the passage, the bridge as it were, where this will be possible and man will be able to realise this.

Many people find it difficult to understand what Sri Aurobindo was in fact trying to do here. After all, for moksha, nirvana, life’s fulfillment, there are many schools, many yogis; there is no dearth of it. What was he trying to do? I have tried to look at it from different points of view, tried to explain to different audiences in different ways. Let me try to explain this once again in a slightly different way.

As you can see, language, the ability to speak, is very natural to man. In the case of a human child, it is impossible to prevent that child from learning its mother tongue, unless the child is retarded… But notice, there is an animal exactly like man, the chimpanzee. And scientists and psychologists have tried very hard to teach chimpanzees human language. Language has this rule governed creativity about it. Language is not just any communication system; it is a communication system with certain intrinsic properties. And it has so far been found that although certain animals have their own communication system, they don’t have a communication system like human language.

So, several psychologists tried very hard to teach chimpanzees to learn human language. They have devised various laborious methods; there are various approaches to these things. And they have found that chimpanzees can be taught to speak a human language, if you are willing to employ two psychologists to work with each chimpanzee for about six or seven years. A chimpanzee after eight years will have the linguistic ability of a three year old child. But notice, in the case of human beings, there is no problem. Human beings automatically speak the human language.

Now [as an analogy], what Sri Aurobindo was trying to do, was trying to give the chimpanzee that faculty called the human mind. If that faculty comes, then learning a language is no problem at all; you automatically learn the language. What others are trying to do, is to keep him a chimpanzee, and they are only trying to refine various methods of teaching language to a chimpanzee…

In the same way, after a great deal of struggle, human beings are able to rise above ignorance, and find the Divine. This is a great struggle, and all the various spiritual disciplines, all the various schools, are about which is the best method, which is the shortest method. But they basically amount to is which is the best method by which a chimpanzee can be taught to speak a language. But what Sri Aurobindo is trying to do is different. A human being, although he is in every respect like a chimpanzee, is different from a chimpanzee because he has this consciousness called the mental consciousness fully, explicitly manifested in him. And because language is a function of this consciousness, if this consciousness comes then language becomes easy… Instead of asking, how to teach a chimpanzee human language, the question to ask is, how to make a chimpanzee acquire a human consciousness. Once you do it, your job is very easy. This to my mind, is the basic, essential difference.

Of course, you can teach some language to a chimpanzee in seven or eight years. You can’t convert a chimpanzee to a human being in eight years. It is a much longer project. It is true; we have to wait. If your project is basically saving a few souls from the mess that human life is, and showing them moksha or nirvana or whatever, that is an entirely different enterprise.

The enterprise that Sri Aurobindo had undertaken, as I was emphasizing earlier, is “here to fulfill himself was God’s desire.” How to make man fulfilled here is God’s desire, God’s dream. And for that… a new consciousness has to come down, and man has to acquire that consciousness. It is hard work. It will take time. There is no guarantee that after seven or eight years we will have some chimpanzees speaking human language. It will take time, but this is an entirely different kind of enterprise.

This is an enterprise which will make human beings welcome divine Grace and not reject it. One of the themes in Savitri that constantly comes up is man’s tendency to reject divine Grace. The fundamental defect, the fundamental inadequacy that perverts everything here, every blessing that comes here is converted by something in man’s consciousness and becomes a curse. That inadequacy has to be taken away permanently and that can only be done by the coming down of a new consciousness. That is Aswapati’s great aim, and that’s why you see Aswapati exploring all these levels of consciousness. He finds each level of consciousness very interesting, some were very fascinating, but they did not have this creative principle that he was looking for, which will enable man to fulfil God in his life here on earth. This is a wonderful description we have and ultimately there are many other things one could have taken up, many new ideas, many revelations.

Some of the things Sri Aurobindo says in The Life Divine are stated here with absolute poetic power. This is a wonderful canto one could spend any amount of time with great benefit, but ultimately Aswapati realises, on page 333,

It waited for the fiat of the Word
That comes through the still self from the Supreme.
[Bk 3, Canto 3, p. 333]

Now this experience Aswapati has is almost an experience of the supermind, the supramental experience that Aswapati has now interiorised. How does that become possible, how does that come here? That only comes when the supreme word, that creative word comes down here in this world of ignorance, and is born here, works here and helps mankind to achieve this. With this we conclude this canto and go on to Canto 4, which is a fairly well-known canto. It’s a very dramatic one too, which is called “The Vision and the Boon.

Then suddenly there rose a sacred stir.
Amid the lifeless silence of the Void
In a solitude and an immensity
A sound came quivering like a loved footfall
Heard in the listening spaces of the soul;
A touch perturbed his fibres with delight.
An Influence had approached the mortal range,
A boundless Heart was near his longing heart,
A mystic Form enveloped his earthly shape.
All at her contact broke from silence’ seal;
Spirit and body thrilled identified,
Linked in the grasp of an unspoken joy;
Mind, members, life were merged in ecstasy.
Intoxicated as with nectarous rain
His nature’s passioning stretches flowed to her,
Flashing with lightnings, mad with luminous wine.
All was a limitless sea that heaved to the moon.
[Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 334]

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