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At the Feet of The Mother

Invitation to Savitri 14: Book 3 Canto 4

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

We have just now seen how anxious Aswapati has been for the Divine Mother to come down so that the experience that was vouchsafed to him becomes a common property of mankind as a whole. Now notice, human beings have very funny systems of evaluation. Suppose there is an epidemic that breaks out in a town, people fall ill so you need doctors, first aid, relief work. And a number of people get busy with it: philanthropists are needed, volunteers, doctors, and some people work very hard. But the problem is this epidemic comes every year. The next time it strikes once again you need the same team, but very few people ask why the epidemic comes. Why is it that it strikes at the time that it does?

In other words, for all of the human agenda, the human plans for transforming society, for bringing fulfilment here, including very elementary things like making food available to everybody, making housing and healthcare available to everybody, even this we have not been able to achieve. In spite of our grandiose schemes, in spite of people who have great idealism, people who are willing to give everything for other people, all these great enterprises, the communist and democratic enterprises, have been blighted. Why does this happen?

This is the epidemic that has been striking us, that anything you take up is vulgarised, is perverted. Marx and Lenin wanted a paradise for the proletariat. Eventually, it may not be for any fault of theirs, what they got was a nightmare in Russia. Now why does this happen? You can always find some reason or other. This went wrong in Russia, or that went wrong in France, or in India. The UN has enough money for any project, so some scholars will be sent, they will do the research. And reports will come, we will read and be very impressed. But the question to ask is, “how come this kind of thing happens again and again?”

When an epidemic strikes, people carry first aid and you give the people aid. This doctor will be given this award and that award. This goes on and on, but people are not asking this question: “Why is it that this epidemic comes? Why is it that the human spirit is always blighted by this?” But one person was asking this question. He was not interested in finding first aid because he knew a number of people were already in that enterprise, in that business. Why is it that this epidemic comes, what is the source of this epidemic? That was Sri Aurobindo.

And so a man, a person who finds the reason—suppose the reason has been found, that the water source, the drinking water for that township comes from a particular water reservoir and for some reason, once in three years, the water gets polluted and because of that all this poison flows through the water and people get affected. Whatever the reason is, once you know this, you can take effective measures for it, there is no epidemic, there is no need for first aid. We are all the time waiting for the problem to appear and then we are using our great intellect, our great enterprise, on how do we make sure the first aid goes there. The question to ask is: “Why do these problems arise?” Any enterprise you take will fail; there will be some reason. So we wait for the next enterprise. That will also fail for another reason.

According to Sri Aurobindo’s analysis, there was nothing wrong with Marx, with the thinkers behind democracy. Democracy is a great ideal, socialism is a wonderful ideal. What was wrong was that the human spirit which implements these ideals makes a mockery of these things, because there is this basic inadequacy in the human consciousness. Even if God were to come down and write a constitution for mankind, there is enough in our consciousness which will foul up everything.

So the remedy, therefore, is not to write a foolproof constitution. We have not yet been able to do that. The remedy for this is to make sure that that which is a part of the human constitution, human consciousness now, which constantly throws out this poison and spoils our noble dreams and ideals, this has to be detected and eliminated from the system. Is there a way out? This was the question that Sri Aurobindo was occupied with, and for him this was the primary question that we need to be answering.

He said, now we are facing this evolutionary crisis. Man has reached the end of his growth at the mental level, a new breakthrough has to come and unless this breakthrough comes we will not be able to solve our problems. We will go round and round and round. There will be another kind of revolution—moral revolution, financial revolution, trade revolution—you name it, and you can be absolutely sure that that will also be frustrated. And so this frustrating element is right here. The limits for man’s growth, the limits for human happiness are inner limits. As long as the inner limits are so narrow you can’t have a perfect society, you can’t have a perfect life. And this is to what Sri Aurobindo turned our attention, and he said that in 1914, in The Life Divine. He announced that a critical time has come in human evolution and we must find a way out, and he suggested this is the way.

To just say this is the way is not good enough. The way in fact has to be opened and Sri Aurobindo didn’t leave it to other people to do that work. He himself took it up, continued his sadhana. Sri Aurobindo was in intense sadhana for 32 years after he finished writing The Life Divine. Why was he doing it, what was he doing? He was making sure that what he had projected as a possibility becomes a reality. So this is what Aswapati also is trying to do. Aswapati has seen this, he has seen this perfection possible for man, but he wants to make sure the perfection comes down on earth. That is why he is now face to face, standing before the Divine Mother. And the Divine Mother tells him:

“O Son of Strength who climbst creation’s peaks,
No soul is thy companion in the light;
Alone thou standest at the eternal doors.
What thou hast won is thine, but ask no more.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 335

The Divine Mother tells him, “Whatever you have now found is yours; take this bounty and go back. Don’t ask for anything more.” Because the Divine Mother knows what he is going to ask, and therefore she says, “Don’t ask anymore.”

O Spirit aspiring in an ignorant frame,
O voice arisen from the Inconscient’s world,
How shalt thou speak for men whose hearts are dumb,
Make purblind earth the soul’s seer-vision’s home
Or lighten the burden of the senseless globe?
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 335

“How shalt thou speak for men whose hearts are dumb?” They don’t know what they are looking for, they don’t even know what they want.

I am the Mystery beyond reach of mind,
I am the goal of the travail of the suns;
My fire and sweetness are the cause of life.
But too immense my danger and my joy.
Awake not the immeasurable descent,
Speak not my secret name to hostile Time;
Man is too weak to bear the Infinite’s weight.

Don’t ask me to come down, don’t ask me to descend. “Man is too weak to bear the Infinite’s weight.”

Truth born too soon might break the imperfect earth.
Leave the all-seeing Power to hew its way:
In thy single vast achievement reign apart
Helping the world with thy great lonely days.

Like all the saints of the past, you go back to this earth. Whatever you have realised as your subjective experience, siddhi, that will be yours. You go back, live in this realisation, but don’t ask for anything more. Be a light to other people, help them, guide them, give them occasional lectures like this, that’s all you can do, there’s nothing more you can do.

I ask thee not to merge thy heart of flame
In the Immobile’s wide uncaring bliss,
Turned from the fruitless motion of the years,
Deserting the fierce labour of the worlds,
Aloof from beings, lost in the Alone.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 335

In brief, go back the way you came. What you have achieved is your personal gain. Don’t ask that I give the same thing to everyone on earth. Man doesn’t deserve this, man has not yet felt the need for it. He is too much in love with his own ignorance. There is this evolutionary impetus that is going on. Right from the clod of earth, plants came, birds came, animals came, finally man has come. Without anybody’s guidance, without any project, director, financing, this project has gone on. Similarly, maybe after five million years, 10 million years, someday man will also realise and grow beyond his present limitations. Until then what you do, you build up little ashrams everywhere so whoever is tired of life and wants something else will come here, sit for meditation, attain bliss, nirvana, whatever. The world will go like this for another 10 million years until man himself as a race reaches this point of evolutionary change. In the meanwhile, you go back, live in the midst of men, be a beacon of light for them, be a guide, and enjoy all the wealth, all the glory that you have seen. That’s about all. Don’t ask for anything more. Then the Divine Mother tries to convince him why he should not ask for anything more.

What is man like?

Assailed on earth and unassured of heaven,
Descended here unhappy and sublime,
A link between the demigod and the beast,
He knows not his own greatness nor his aim;
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 336-337

A long time ago a Greek philosopher described man as a being who is poised between the beast and the god. We are not at the level of the beast, nor are we gods; we are poised between the beasts and the god. Since we don’t have the innocence of the beasts, we don’t have the spontaneous natural happiness of beasts. Since we don’t have the wisdom and perfection of god, we don’t have god’s peace, god’s bliss. Man is the most tragic creature you’ll ever find in the universe.

From time to time our scientist friends dazzle us by pointing out that we are very close to the beasts, implying that we should be grateful for this. But not enough people are trying to remind us that not only is there a past, but there is also a future. It is true that we are very close to the beasts, but it is also true that we have this future, this great potential. We are poised between the beasts and the gods. That’s where we have to go. Not enough people are talking about this. If you talk about this, you’ll be dismissed as talking sentimental nonsense, bombast, and so on. What is realism? Realism is to say you are a beast. We like to listen to these university professors who tell you this: “naked ape.” An ape at least has hair which covers its body. Man does not, so it doesn’t even have the protection that apes have of hair all over their body. This is what we are constantly being told.

A link between the demigod and the beast,
He knows not his own greatness nor his aim;
He has forgotten why he has come and whence.
His spirit and his members are at war;
His heights break off too low to reach the skies,
His mass is buried in the animal mire.
A strange antinomy is his nature’s rule.
A riddle of opposites is made his field:
Freedom he asks but needs to live in bonds,
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 337

We ask for freedom. Freedom for what? Freedom to be bound.

He has need of darkness to perceive some light 

When all around him there is darkness, he can see a little light. So darkness is a precondition before he can see any light.

And need of grief to feel a little bliss;
He has need of death to find a greater life.
All sides he sees and turns to every call;
He has no certain light by which to walk;
His life is a blind-man’s-buff, a hide-and-seek;
He seeks himself and from himself he runs;
Meeting himself, he thinks it other than he.
Always he builds, but finds no constant ground,
Always he journeys, but nowhere arrives;
He would guide the world, himself he cannot guide;
He would save his soul, his life he cannot save.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 337

You can save your soul on condition that you sacrifice your life. ”No, no I don’t want to sacrifice my life. Is it possible to save my life and my soul?” No, that is not possible. You have to choose one of these. Either choose your soul or your life. So the Divine Mother is saying, Your enterprise of saving souls is necessarily relegating life to the waste paper basket of Nature. You drop life there, be your naked Self, and run as fast as you can to Kailash or Vaikuntha or whatever you want to run. Life is all lost in this process. This is what man is. Do you think he really needs, he really benefits from, all the glory that you have seen?

The Divine Mother tells him:

Assent to thy high self, create, endure.
Cease not from knowledge, let thy toil be vast.
No more can earthly limits pen thy force;
Equal thy work with long unending Time’s.
Traveller upon the bare eternal heights,
Tread still the difficult and dateless path
Joining the cycles with its austere curve
Measured for man by the initiate Gods.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 340-341

And concluding, the Divine Mother says at the end of that section:

All things shall change in God’s transfiguring hour.”
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 341

Wait! Its time is not yet. You cannot ask instant change in the human condition.

To its omnipotence leave thy work’s result.
All things shall change in God’s transfiguring hour.

But Aswapati will not take no for an answer. Otherwise Sri Aurobindo could have finished his enterprise long back in 1920 itself. It continued until 1950. This makes sense. In 1931, 1934 he said, “I have no time for Savitri, I have other important work to do.” What is that important work, we wonder. This was that important work. We regard The Life Divine and Savitri as Sri Aurobindo’s most important work. It was secondary, it was a by-product. His main work was this. His primary work was this: to persuade the transcendent power to come down. So, Aswapati’s reply to the Divine Mother is:

How shall I rest content with mortal days
And the dull measure of terrestrial things,
I who have seen behind the cosmic mask
The glory and the beauty of thy face?
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 341

“I have had this wonderful experience of the fulfilment of life, seen your face. How can I go back and ask man to remain contented with the dull measure of terrestrial things?”

Hard is the doom to which thou bindst thy sons!
How long shall our spirits battle with the Night
And bear defeat and the brute yoke of Death,
We who are vessels of a deathless Force
And builders of the godhead of the race?
Or if it is thy work I do below
Amid the error and waste of human life
In the vague light of man’s half-conscious mind,
Why breaks not in some distant gleam of thee?
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 341

His very voice sounds tired, because it is the very tired voice of humanity.

Ever the centuries and millenniums pass.
Where in the greyness is thy coming’s ray?
Where is the thunder of thy victory’s wings?
Only we hear the feet of passing gods.

“Keep the door open, light the incense: God is coming, God is coming!” Then we suddenly hear, “God has passed by.” So Aswapati says,

Only we hear the feet of passing gods.

And on page 342:

All we have done is ever still to do.

One more project, one more manifesto, one more revolution, one more scheme; a war to banish all wars; similarly, one more scheme to banish all schemes: we go on and on doing this.

All we have done is ever still to do.
All breaks and all renews and is the same.

The exploitation which was a part of feudal India is still a part of the consciousness of independent India. The tendency to exploit which was so rampant in tsarist Russia continued unabated, unchecked in communist Russia. Everything remains the same.

The new-born ages perish like the old,
As if the sad Enigma kept its right
Till all is done for which this scene was made.
Too little the strength that now with us is born,
Too faint the light that steals through Nature’s lids,
Too scant the joy with which she buys our pain.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 342

End of that page:

All life is fixed in an ascending scale
And adamantine is the evolving Law;
In the beginning is prepared the close
This strange irrational product of the mire,
This compromise between the beast and god,
Is not the crown of thy miraculous world.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 342-343

“This compromise between the beast and god.” See, we are all very happy as we are, that is supposed to be humanism—to regard man as the highest value: there is nothing more beyond man. Who is deciding this? Man himself. If you ask a pig, “Which is the most perfect creature, O pig?” The pig will say, “Naturally, the pig.” So many of the arguments that we always hear, that “people like Sri Aurobindo want to go beyond man; that is travesty. Man is the highest being; he is a measure of perfection, what can be more perfect that man?” Who says this? Man says this. Because for him there is nothing better than man. “Keep us men as we are now in our limited consciousness and make us happy,” that is what we are after. God is saying, “Happiness is not in my agenda. In my agenda is fulfillment and perfection. Happiness as you think of it is not a part of my agenda. If happiness were a part of my agenda, there would have been no evolutionary growth. Earth was as happy as it always has been. If you ask a clod or a rock, “are you happy or unhappy?” If it can respond, it will always be blissfully happy: “Don’t disturb me.” If you ask a tree or an animal, they all are happy. Ask a man, “Oh I’m all right as a man, but I want some minor adjustments.” That is all we want.

Aswapati is saying, this curious mixture of god and beast, that’s what man is. He says, “I know this cannot be the crown of the evolutionary labour, because I’ve already seen a new race waiting in the occult world getting ready to precipitate itself on this earth.”

I saw the Omnipotent’s flaming pioneers
Over the heavenly verge which turns towards life
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude,
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvellous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm,
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestlers with destiny in her lists of will,
The labourers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 343-344

“This is the new generation waiting there in the wings all ready to come down. I know this, I have this confidence, I have seen this,” Aswapati says. He goes on; he has made his point but the description is so wonderful I think I’ll read this further:

Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal’s glory still,
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Bodies made beautiful by the spirit’s light,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,
Approaching eyes of a diviner man,
Lips chanting an unknown anthem of the soul,
Feet echoing in the corridors of Time.
High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Discoverers of beauty’s sunlit ways
And swimmers of Love’s laughing fiery floods
And dancers within rapture’s golden doors,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature’s face.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 344

“I’m confident that this race will one day descend on earth and change everything here.” And he pleads with the Divine Mother, and says,

Even as of old man came behind the beast
This high divine successor surely shall come
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 344

Something as imperfect as man cannot be the glory and crown of this evolutionary journey. Just as the animal came after the plant life, and just as man came after the animal, the successor to man will come.

Behind man’s inefficient mortal pace,
Behind his vain labour, sweat and blood and tears:
He shall know what mortal mind barely durst think,
He shall do what the heart of the mortal could not dare.
Inheritor of the toil of human time,
He shall take on him the burden of the gods;
All heavenly light shall visit the earth’s thoughts,
The might of heaven shall fortify earthly hearts;
Earth’s deeds shall touch the superhuman’s height,
Earth’s seeing widen into the infinite.
Heavy unchanged weighs still the imperfect world;
The splendid youth of Time has passed and failed;
Heavy and long are the years our labour counts
And still the seals are firm upon man’s soul
And weary is the ancient Mother’s heart.
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 344-345

“Please do something about it. I’m absolutely sure. Logic, reason, man’s helplessness, man’s aspirations, everything together, hold out this promise, that this new race I have seen, the new species I have seen, the new man I have seen, will come down here on earth. Therefore, this is my prayer, O Mother:

O radiant fountain of the world’s delight
World-free and unattainable above,
O Bliss who ever dwellst deep-hid within
While men seek thee outside and never find,
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 345

And a few lines down:

Omnipotence, girdle with the power of God
Movements and moments of a mortal will,
Pack with the eternal might one human hour
And with one gesture change all future time.
Let a great word be spoken from the heights
And one great act unlock the doors of Fate.

What does the Mother say?

“O strong forerunner, I have heard thy cry.
One shall descend and break the iron Law,
Change Nature’s doom by the lone spirit’s power.
A limitless Mind that can contain the world,
A sweet and violent heart of ardent calms
Moved by the passions of the gods shall come.
All mights and greatnesses shall join in her;
Beauty shall walk celestial on the earth,
Delight shall sleep in the cloud-net of her hair,
And in her body as on his homing tree
Immortal Love shall beat his glorious wings.
A music of griefless things shall weave her charm;
The harps of the Perfect shall attune her voice,
The streams of Heaven shall murmur in her laugh,
Her lips shall be the honeycombs of God,
Her limbs his golden jars of ecstasy,
Her breasts the rapture-flowers of Paradise.
She shall bear Wisdom in her voiceless bosom,
Strength shall be with her like a conqueror’s sword
And from her eyes the Eternal’s bliss shall gaze.
A seed shall be sown in Death’s tremendous hour,
A branch of heaven transplant to human soil;
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will.”
Bk 3, Canto 4, p. 346

In other words, the Supreme Mother says in reply to Aswapati’s prayer, “tathaastu: whatever you’ve prayed for, I grant.” And this is the description of the new avatar that is going to descend and that will of course be Savitri, as you will see. With this assurance, Aswapati comes back in consciousness to earth.


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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.