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At the Feet of The Mother

Prof. Mangesh Nadkarni: Invitation to Savitri | 22. Book 6 Canto 2 (Part 2)

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

Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break
A dead resistance in the mortal’s heart,
His slow inertia as of living stone.
If the heart were not forced to want and weep,
His soul would have lain down content, at ease,
And never thought to exceed the human start
And never learned to climb towards the Sun.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 443]

Sri Aurobindo does not present this as a complete answer to the question of pain. This is the temporary role that pain plays in our life. As I said, as long as we are in the realm of ignorance, in life as we see, there are very intelligent people who can think of all kinds of schemes, all kinds of ways by which we will be able to escape pain, but we rarely come across people who have been able to do it. So it follows, therefore, that keeping us happy, as we understand the notion of happiness, doesn’t seem to be the purpose of this creation. This may be unfortunate, but this is a fact. The purpose of this creation seems to prod us on to evolve, to grow from within. Now it is not necessary that growth must always come as a result of pain. There are other ways also of growing, but they are more difficult and you need a greater inner development before you can follow what we call the sunlit path.

There is also a sunlit path of the unfolding of the soul, that path is always there, but it’s a difficult path. All simple things are difficult. As they say, the most difficult asana (physical posture) is the shavasana. When you go to the asana class you are very anxious: “Shall I have to stand on my head?” “No, not needed.” “Shall I lift my feet 90 degrees?” He says, “No, not unnecessary.” “What am I supposed to do?” “Nothing, you just lie down and relax completely”—the most difficult thing. There is an equivalent of this for spiritual progress, which is simply to resolve and tell oneself, “Let Thy will be done. I have no private agenda in life; let Your agenda be my agenda.” Once you can do that, there is no pain, it’s the sunlit path.

As you all know, before Narendranath Dutt became Swami Vivekananda, a time came in the life of Narendranath Dutt when his father died suddenly. His father was a large-hearted person, so whatever money he earned he gave away and there was nothing left for the family, for the children. Narendranath had just come under the influence of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa but had not yet become a full-time follower; he was still on the edge, as it were, wondering whether there is anything in spiritual life or this is all a big tamasha [show]. He was not decided but he was spellbound by the personality of Ramakrishna, so he kept going to Dakshineswar and so on. When his father died the economic condition at home was so bad that he had to roam the streets of Calcutta looking for a job. Now God also has interesting, funny ways. Any fool who goes to Calcutta or Bombay can land some job. That is why every day 500 families go and settle in Bombay. They may not get a house but they get a job, provided they are willing to do the work that comes their way. Swami Vivekananda who later on went on to Chicago and shook the whole western world found it difficult to get the job of a babu [an office worker] in Calcutta. So he was going round and round. When he went home at night and his mother would say, “Come and have your meal,” he knew that if sat for the meal, his mother might have to go hungry. So he would tell his mother, “I just had a feast, I went to such and such a person’s house for breakfast, my stomach is bursting, I can’t eat any more. Please, you go ahead.” This is what he had to do.

When Ramakrishna Paramahamsa learnt the precarious condition of his family, one evening when he had gone to see him, he called Narendranath and said, “Look, this is the Kali temple; I have spent a whole lifetime offering worship here. I assure you, you go and stand before the Mother and ask Her whatever you want and you will get it.” So Naren thought, “I have asked so many people, gone to so many offices and asked for a job, why not ask the Mother?” So he goes. He finds himself in the sanctum sanctorum, looks at the Divine Mother, and asks, “Oh Mother, increase my vairagyam [knowledge], give me more bhakti.” Things of that kind, totally irrelevant things. When he comes back, Ramakrishna says, “Did you ask for a job?” “No, I forgot.” “What did you ask for?” “I asked for dispassion, I asked for vairagyam, I asked for knowledge, I asked for devotion.” “What a fool are you, go and ask for what you want.” So he went back and tried again, but the second time he asked exactly the same thing again.

Now if you are standing before God and God says, “Ask for one thing and I’ll give it to you,” what will you ask for? Because our physical wants are so many. God is not saying, “Give me a shopping list,” he is saying, “Ask me for one thing.” The best thing you can ever ask is: “Make me desireless.” In other words, make sure I have no shopping lists left. It is when you come to this position, which is not easy, it requires long sadhana, this is what sadhana is all about. Sadhana is all about ultimately realising that making God’s agenda your agenda is the best way of living this life. But until then, until you come to that point, pain seems to be a necessity, unfortunately, in most human lives.

Now Sri Aurobindo is not saying he is happy with this situation. In fact, the whole aim of his Yoga is to alter this harsh condition. Earlier on, if you remember, when reading Canto 2, I drew your attention to a line, altered must be nature’s harsh economy. This is nature’s harsh economy, this has to change. But this nobody has been able to change. If you have undergone all this suffering and come to a point, then people can teach you how to go to the divine fulfilment. But until then that is the most difficult path and can that path be made redundant? That was the quest of Sri Aurobindo, and therefore, although this seems to be a place of pain, he is not happy with it. If you read The Life Divine or any of Sri Aurobindo’s books, you will understand why things are what they are. You know why there is ignorance, why there is pain, why there is suffering, but at the same time it does not make you complacent. Ignorance is there, let there be ignorance, but it also makes you feel, I know why it is there. Then you also realise that it is incumbent on you to do something to eliminate all these inadequacies; it’s a double kind of thing.

It explains why the world is what it is and so you do not find fault with God. Why did you do this? You know why he did this, why ignorance was created, but at the same time you also feel that because ignorance was created it is no reason why we have to put up with ignorance forever. You have to do something to eliminate ignorance. That is the whole thrust of Sri Aurobindo’s thinking and writing. He explains God’s world, but also makes you a participant in God’s becoming. This is the world that God has become. To say that God has become this world is not therefore to say this world is already perfect. It is a miracle gradually blossoming towards perfection, and in this blossoming towards perfection you and I have a stake and a role to play. So it is therefore not a complete answer to say that there is ignorance now and therefore pain is necessary. Something has to be done to eliminate pain.

Secondly, Sri Aurobindo also explains later how pain came. It is an incidental circumstance in the process of the full manifestation of the divine Reality which is already implicit in matter. That part will come later in Narad’s statement, but before that, there is something else very important he draws your attention to. That is, you can escape pain as an individual, but this escaping of pain as an individual doesn’t at all help mankind. Man’s lot doesn’t change, only you have escaped pain. Many Avatars have come here. The Avatar is committed; his mission is to see that the lot of humanity is improved. In the next passage that we are now going to read, he shows pain is there not only for you and me, but pain is there even for the son of God who comes down to earth. Last line, page 444:

He who would save himself lives bare and calm;
He who would save the race must share its pain:
This he shall know who obeys that grandiose urge.
The Great who came to save this suffering world
And rescue out of Time’s shadow and the Law,
Must pass beneath the yoke of grief and pain;
They are caught by the Wheel that they had hoped to break,
On their shoulders they must bear man’s load of fate.
Heaven’s riches they bring, their sufferings count the price
Or they pay the gift of knowledge with their lives.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 444-445]

He gives the example of Jesus:

The Son of God born as the Son of man
Has drunk the bitter cup, owned Godhead’s debt,
The debt the Eternal owes to the fallen kind
His will has bound to death and struggling life
That yearns in vain for rest and endless peace.
Now is the debt paid, wiped off the original score.
The Eternal suffers in a human form,
He has signed salvation’s testament with his blood:
He has opened the doors of his undying peace.
The Deity compensates the creature’s claim,
The Creator bears the law of pain and death;
A retribution smites the incarnate God.
His love has paved the mortal’s road to Heaven:
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 445]

The Avatar with his love prepares this golden bridge which you and I can then use to cross from this world of imperfection and ignorance. It’s a beautiful passage about Christ.

Now just imagine this following scenario. The Roman general Pilate’s soldiers are pushing Christ who is carrying the cross, going up the hill, along with a bunch of thieves, cheats, murderers, and so on. And suppose Christ were to do the following trick: the cross is left there and Christ is missing. Everybody says, “Send a search party. Where is Christ? Seal off all the posts.” Christ has simply disappeared. Then when you are absolutely desperate, you see someone on the peak of a nearby hill, and there Christ is saying “bye-bye.” Christ has escaped. Would that make him a god? That would make him a magician. It only requires a god not to disappear, carry the cross, be nailed to the cross, and when he is profusely bleeding, say to the Lord, “Please forgive them because they know not what they are doing.”

This love, only an Avatar can give. Disappearing like magic, showing great powers: this is not God’s work. B.C. Sarkar Junior probably can do this, or the great Houdini. We salute their prowess in the art that they are pursuing but we don’t call them Avatars and gods. Christ is an Avatar simply because he comes down, wears all our limitations, lives like us, suffers and yet rises above suffering. And even when he was on the cross, there is forgiveness in his heart, a prayer in his heart, love for all the people who did this to him, even at that moment when he was bleeding to death. This is what the poet says. God comes to pave the way to heaven with his love. And he has to pay the price for our weaknesses, our inadequacies; this is what an Avatar does. So this is a beautiful passage which shows how pain doesn’t leave even an Avatar.

There are a number of reasons why there is this pain and suffering. One is that although we don’t see them, there are hostiles, asuric forces, the kinds of forces that were let loose during the second world war, which made Hitler a warlord and guided him at every step. So there are these hostile forces from other worlds which come here and shake humanity, and Sri Aurobindo is referring to that on page 447:

A dark concealed hostility is lodged
In the human depths, in the hidden heart of Time
That claims the right to change and mar God’s work.
A secret enmity ambushes the world’s march;
It leaves a mark on thought and speech and act:
It stamps stain and defect on all things done;
Till it is slain peace is forbidden on earth.
There is no visible foe, but the unseen
Is round us, forces intangible besiege,
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 447]

Two, three lines down:

An adversary Force was born of old:
Invader of the life of mortal man,
It hides from him the straight immortal path.

Later on page 448, there is a beautiful passage about what a world redeemer has to do:

“Hard is the world-redeemer’s heavy task;
The world itself becomes his adversary,
Those he would save are his antagonists:
This world is in love with its own ignorance,
Its darkness turns away from the saviour light,
It gives the cross in payment for the crown.
His work is a trickle of splendour in a long night;
He sees the long march of Time, the little won;
A few are saved, the rest strive on and fail:
A Sun has passed, on earth Night’s shadow falls.
Yes, there are happy ways near to God’s sun;
But few are they who tread the sunlit path;
Only the pure in soul can walk in light.
An exit is shown, a road of hard escape
From the sorrow and the darkness and the chain;
But how shall a few escaped release the world?
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 448]

A great sage comes down, some people are influenced by his presence, his example, his teaching. Just as he has escaped this network of suffering and ignorance, he also enables a few other people to follow this path. How many people? Five hundred, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 people escape ignorance. Let us say 100,000 people have been saved because somebody like Ramakrishna came and lived in this world. Against the world’s population, what is 100,000? How many more Ramakrishnas have to come before mankind as a whole will be saved? This has been the sorry state of affairs of this world.

An exit is shown, a road of hard escape
From the sorrow and the darkness and the chain;
But how shall a few escaped release the world?
The human mass lingers beneath the yoke.
Escape, however high, redeems not life,
Life that is left behind on a fallen earth.
Escape cannot uplift the abandoned race
Or bring to it victory and the reign of God.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 448]

I give the example of IIT.

“It’s very easy,” somebody said. “Succeeding in life is very easy.”

Similarly, finding God is very easy. It takes only 15 years in the Himalayas under a competent Guru. If you are particularly gifted, it will only take 10 years. If you are super-gifted, it will take only five years.

“Succeeding in life is very easy. Why are you worried?  Get your son to join the IIT and get a degree in electronics, or any IIT degree. All the markets of the world will open for him: the job markets in Singapore; Yale University will call him; Oxford University will call him; everywhere he will be welcome.”
But the problem is: “How to get into IIT?”
“That’s very easy, you just have to pass the entrance test.”
“Is that so? How many students take the entrance test per year?”
“About 5 to 10 lakhs [hundred thousand].”
“How many seats are there?”
“Maybe 500 or 600.”

So before you can get your moksha, you have first of all to reach a stage where you can benefit from this Guru’s advice and training. As Shankara says, without vaiyagram [exclusive devotion; complete absorption], you can read any book or take any Guru, but you will have no escape. These things have to come out of that calm. Just like the IIT test. The Gita says, out of thousands and thousands of people, occasionally somebody has a desire for these things. So if it is occasionally people have a desire for these things, when will the earth be redeemed? When will humanity be redeemed? What is the fate of mankind? That is why Sri Aurobindo is always saying,

Escape cannot uplift the abandoned race
Or bring to it victory and the reign of God.
A greater power must come, a larger light.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 448]

For this to happen a greater power must come, a larger light. That’s why, after getting the highest siddhis, he spent 40 long years here in the ashram. People kept writing to him, “Why don’t you come out and lead the Congress party which has no leaders now.” Munje wrote to him, “Nagpur is going to have a special session of the Congress party. We want you to come out of retirement and be the president of that.” Sri Aurobindo said, “My work is not yet completed.” What is that work? The work is bringing this greater power. “A greater power must come, a larger light.” Unless that is done, a few people may be saved, but humanity as a whole has no hope. Page 449, second line:

One yet may come armoured, invincible;
His will immobile meets the mobile hour;
The world’s blows cannot bend that victor head;
Calm and sure are his steps in the growing Night;
The goal recedes, he hurries not his pace,
He turns not to high voices in the night;
He asks no aid from the inferior gods;
His eyes are fixed on his immutable aim.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 449]

That is: “One yet may come armoured, invincible,” who is not looking at smaller goals or smaller siddhis, who is looking at the ultimate. You must have read it in the life of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. There was a time when Mother came and reported to Sri Aurobindo: “I am in possession of a great power. I can bring forth a new world, a much better world than the world you see now.”  Sri Aurobindo paused for a while and said, “I don’t want a new edition of the old fiasco. The world that is now getting ready to come is not that world which will solve this problem. What you will able to do if you allow this new world to emerge is that you will able to establish a new religion, so powerful that the world has never seen such a religion before. And you will be the founder of this new religion.” Mother listened to him, went back to her room and dissolved this entire new world. So that is what you need.

One yet may come armoured, invincible;

Not for smaller gains, but the highest power has to come. Only that can annihilate the need for ignorance, the hostility that is lodged here. That is why he says:

He asks no aid from the inferior gods;
His eyes are fixed on his immutable aim.

Someday this is going to happen, that is what Narad is saying. The entire passage is about that.

On page 451, when this new light is brought down:

Then shall be ended here the Law of Pain.
Earth shall be made a home of Heaven’s light,
A seer heaven-born shall lodge in human breasts;
The superconscient beam shall touch men’s eyes
And the truth-conscious world come down to earth
Invading Matter with the Spirit’s ray,
Awaking its silence to immortal thoughts,
Awaking the dumb heart to the living Word.
This mortal life shall house Eternity’s bliss,
The body’s self taste immortality.
Then shall the world-redeemer’s task be done.

Only when that power has been brought down, and the entire stables here have been cleansed, so that pain will be an alien to this world. Then, he says, shall the world-redeemer’s task be done.

“Till then must life carry its seed of death
And sorrow’s plaint be heard in the slow Night.
O mortal, bear this great world’s law of pain,
In thy hard passage through a suffering world
Lean for thy soul’s support on Heaven’s strength,
Turn towards high Truth, aspire to love and peace.
A little bliss is lent thee from above,
A touch divine upon thy human days.
Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage,
For through small joys and griefs thou mov’st towards God.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 451]

Until the world redeemer comes down and completes his work, there is no other way for us but to move, as he says, through small joys and griefs of our everyday life, slowly through this experience, move closer and closer to God.

Later on he says, as long as there is pain, it simply means God within you wants to break out and establish Himself, like life coming out of an egg: it has to crack and come out. We have imprisoned the Divine in our heart, in our being. He is impatient, He wants to come out. We are forgetful of His existence. So how does He remind us of His presence there? He pinches you once in a while. You feel hurt, you feel pain; it is all a signal given by him. That is why Sri Aurobindo says:

The soul suffering is not eternity’s key,
Or ransom by sorrow heaven’s demand on life.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 453]

A few lines down:

Pain is the signature of the Ignorance

So where there is pain, immediately you can conclude this is the signature of ignorance. Doing what?

Attesting the secret god denied by life:

I certify that there is an unfulfilled god in you who wants to come out.

Until life finds him pain can never end.

Until life finds God, pain can never end. Later on there is a description of how pain arose, the origin of pain:

“O mortal who complainst of death and fate,
Accuse none of the harms thyself hast called;
This troubled world thou hast chosen for thy home,
Thou art thyself the author of thy pain.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 454]

How did pain come? Sri Aurobindo explains:

Once in the immortal boundlessness of Self,
In a vast of Truth and Consciousness and Light
The soul looked out from its felicity.
It felt the Spirit’s interminable bliss,
It knew itself deathless, timeless, spaceless, one,
It saw the Eternal, lived in the Infinite.
Then, curious of a shadow thrown by Truth,
It strained towards some otherness of self,
It was drawn to an unknown Face peering through night.
It sensed a negative infinity,
A void supernal whose immense excess
Imitating God and everlasting Time
Offered a ground for Nature’s adverse birth
And Matter’s rigid hard unconsciousness
Harbouring the brilliance of a transient soul
That lights up birth and death and ignorant life.
[Bk 6, Canto 2, p. 454]

This is an idea which occurs very frequently in Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s writings—the origin of this world, the origin of pain. If we want to understand all the secrets of this universe, of this creation, you should be able to make your consciousness as vast as the consciousness of the Creator himself. With your little human consciousness and its reason you cannot understand God’s purpose in life. Sri Aurobindo says in one of his letters that trying to understand with human reason why God created this world is a brave enterprise alright, but don’t forget, no matter how hard you try, your so-called intellect is still a finite instrument of a finite being. It cannot comprehend the logic of the Infinite.

This world began with a big bang 15 billion years ago. Do you know how much 15 billion years is? And during this 15 billion years, if you look at the entire evolution, man appeared on this earth, if you compress all these 15 billion years within 24 hours, man arrived on this earth only five seconds before midnight. We have been here for such a brief period of time. And we would like to judge God’s purpose in this vast world. It’s like a little ant trying to judge a human being. And that is why the highest wisdom always says, at the level of your intellect, the highest truth is to say: “I can’t know the Truth.” Agnosticism: “I know there is a Truth but I can’t know it because the mind is too limited to know the Truth.” One who says this is saying something sensible, but he is not saying the whole thing. Because human reason cannot know the Truth, he therefore concludes truth cannot be known. That’s not true. Truth can be known because human beings have other faculties. Yoga is the process by which you hone your consciousness, you purify your consciousness, you widen your consciousness. And only a purified consciousness can understand the Divine by identifying itself with the Divine. The Divine can only be known by being the Divine. This is what Sri Aurobindo calls knowledge by identity.

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