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At the Feet of The Mother

Prof. Mangesh Nadkarni: Invitation to Savitri | 25. Book 7 Cantos 2-3

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

So the instructions given to Savitri have two main parts to them. The first part is to find your soul. This is a very widely accepted goal of all spiritual quest―finding one’s soul. But the second one is equally important in Savitri’s case: can mortal nature change to the divine? The freedom of the soul from ignorance is not enough, you also have to change and have, get freedom for, the instruments of the soul―the instruments of the soul being the body, the mind and life energies.

Now, as I have been saying, these instruments are needed and a spiritual aspirant very often makes use of these as a ladder and goes up and when he has found his soul, he probably feels that he doesn’t need them anymore and discards them or lets them be. Body is there alright, but I’m not interested in my body anymore because I have found I am the supreme Reality which is bodiless, which was never born, which was never in death. I have realized my nature is bliss. I have no relationships: all these worldly relationships―father, mother, property, this that and the other―they are no more than a passing show. I have no interest in any one of these things. So you are more and more getting withdrawn, and your attitude to life is, by and large, this is an unnecessary encumbrance. As long as it is there, as long as I have to live my life, I’ll make a good job of a messy situation; this is all there is to it.

So most people would then say, take care of your body as long as necessary, just take care. There’s no question to bring the body to a perfection, bring mind to a perfection, bring your life energies to a perfection. There is no injunction to that effect. And so this is all supposed to be the highest goal of one’s spiritual quest. But in Savitri’s case, it is very clearly stated: “Then mortal nature change to the divine.” The body must find its perfection, the mind must find its perfection, the life energies must also find their perfection.

Many people use that ladder―mind, body, life energies’ ladder―they don’t discard it, but use it as a kind of instrument to demonstrate to other people how to go up the ladder, how to use the ladder. That’s all the purpose of the ladder is. The ladder is still used, not because perfecting these instruments of the being, these instruments of the soul, is an objective. The ladder is kept in some cases so that you can demonstrate to other people how to use this ladder: how to use mind, how to use life energies, how to use the body to go beyond all of these. There is no program as such. It’s not a part of the agenda to perfect the instruments of the being and that is why here Savitri has been specifically instructed:

Then mortal nature change to the divine.
Open God’s door, enter into his trance.
Cast Thought from thee, that nimble ape of Light:
In his tremendous hush stilling thy brain
His vast Truth wake within and know and see.
Cast from thee sense that veils thy spirit’s sight:
In the enormous emptiness of thy mind
Thou shalt see the Eternal’s body in the world,
Know him in every voice heard by thy soul,
In the world’s contacts meet his single touch;
All things shall fold thee into his embrace.
Conquer thy heart’s throbs, let thy heart beat in God:
Thy nature shall be the engine of his works,
Thy voice shall house the mightiness of his Word:
Then shalt thou harbour my force and conquer Death.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 476

So this is a kind of a complete program that has been given to Savitri by this voice.

Then Savitri by her doomed husband sat,
Still rigid in her golden motionless pose,
A statue of the fire of the inner sun.
In the black night the wrath of storm swept by,
The thunder crashed above her, the rain hissed,
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 477

We have already seen it was the monsoon season.

Its million footsteps pattered on the roof.
Impassive mid the movement and the cry,
Witness of the thoughts of mind, the moods of life,
She looked into herself and sought for her soul.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 477

Because the first step in her yoga is to “find out thy soul, recover thy hid self.” So now she turns to this task, to this quest of finding her soul. So from this point, you have a description of how Savitri goes above the mind. And this particular Canto is a very beautiful summary of statements about how we tend to get lost in the surface of the mind. Then on page 478, where you have a new section beginning, 2-3 lines from the beginning of that section, Sri Aurobindo describes mind and its restless surface:

An indifferent Master signing Nature’s acts
Leaves the vicegerent mind a seeming king.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 478

The vicegerent mind is a seeming king. The mind doesn’t have its own power, it only is supposed to represent somebody, just as the viceroy represents the queen’s authority. So the mind can perform its function properly only if it’s a good representative of the being behind the mind.

In his floating house upon the sea of Time
The regent sits at work and never rests:
He is a puppet of the dance of Time;
He is driven by the hours, the moment’s call
Compels him with the thronging of life’s need
And the babel of the voices of the world.
This mind no silence knows nor dreamless sleep,
In the incessant circling of its steps
Thoughts tread for ever through the listening brain;
It toils like a machine and cannot stop.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 478

There is no silence, there is no peace, there is no quiet. It knows no silence either when it is awake or when it is supposed to be asleep. It toils like a machine. Very often we wonder, we hope, we wish that the mind could stop for three minutes. It doesn’t. It goes on flitting from one thing to another, churning out ideas, thoughts, associations, memories and we seem to be totally helpless in its presence.

Into the body’s many-storeyed rooms
Endless crowd down the dream-god’s messages.
All is a hundred-toned murmur and babble and stir,
There is a tireless running to and fro,
A haste of movement and a ceaseless cry.
The hurried servant senses answer apace
To every knock upon the outer doors,
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 478

So helpless! You ‘re like somebody who wants some peace, some rest, but every two minutes somebody is knocking at the door or pressing the bell. By the time you have answered one caller, shut the door and gone back and just be seated, suddenly there is another bell, another call. So the contacts of the external world keep knocking at our various sense doors, and our senses are always anxious and keen to answer every call. And therefore the being is tired, the mind is tired, but totally helpless; it can’t do anything about it. That’s beautifully described here:

The hurried servant senses answer apace
To every knock upon the outer doors,
Bring in time’s visitors, report each call,
Admit the thousand queries and the calls
And the messages of communicating minds
And the heavy business of unnumbered lives
And all the thousandfold commerce of the world.
Even in the tracts of sleep is scant repose;
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, pp. 478-9

Even when you are supposed to be asleep the mind hardly has any real rest.

He mocks life’s steps in strange subconscient dreams,
He strays in a subtle realm of symbol scenes,
His night with thin-air visions and dim forms
He packs or peoples with slight drifting shapes
And only a moment spends in silent Self.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 479

The real rest that you get is when the mind rests very briefly in the silent self, otherwise most of the time it is in this disturbing land of dreams, flitting as it is doing when it is awake. Various kinds of guests come knocking at its doors, the doors are open, and you have, you entertain various kinds of guests. You are in a dream: you are in Bombay now, and the next minute you go to Delhi. All kinds of dreams. And this is what makes even sleep a restless kind of repose.

Adventuring into infinite mind-space
He unfolds his wings of thought in inner air,
Or travelling in imagination’s car
Crosses the globe, journeys beneath the stars,
To subtle worlds takes his ethereal course,
Visits the Gods on Life’s miraculous peaks,
Communicates with Heaven, tampers with Hell.
This is the little surface of man’s life.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 479

It doesn’t end there, the description goes on. Then you also have a description of the subconscious, the elements coming from the subconscient to the surface mind. On page 480, we just have time enough to look at it very briefly:

Man’s house of life holds not the gods alone:
There are occult Shadows, there are tenebrous Powers,
Inhabitants of life’s ominous nether rooms,
A shadowy world’s stupendous denizens.
A careless guardian of his nature’s powers,
Man harbours dangerous forces in his house.
The Titan and the Fury and the Djinn
Lie bound in the subconscient’s cavern pit
And the Beast grovels in his antre den:
Dire mutterings rise and murmur in their drowse.
Insurgent sometimes raises its huge head
A monstrous mystery lurking in life’s deeps,
The mystery of dark and fallen worlds,
The dread visages of the adversary Kings.
The dreadful powers held down within his depths
Become his masters or his ministers;
Enormous they invade his bodily house,
Can act in his acts, infest his thought and life.
Inferno surges into the human air
And touches all with a perverting breath.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 480

In the next section on page 482, you see a picture of the integrated personality of man: its superconscient levels, its conscient levels and its subconscient levels. We don’t have much time, but there is a passage or two which I must draw your attention to―they are beautiful in their own right. On page 486, even after looking at the integrated personality of man, the poet talks about a potential that man has, and if this potential is realized, he says on page 486, the last four lines:

Earth must transform herself and equal Heaven
Or Heaven descend into earth’s mortal state.
But for such vast spiritual change to be,
Out of the mystic cavern in man’s heart
The heavenly Psyche must put off her veil
And step into common nature’s crowded rooms
And stand uncovered in that nature’s front
And rule its thoughts and fill the body and life.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, pp. 486-487

For this miracle to happen, for this fulfillment to be achieved, the psychic being has to put off its veil, come to the front and take the leadership of your life. The psychic being has to be the leader of your life. Until that happens, you are lost in all the various regions and there is nothing that coordinates your life, gives it a point and justifies what he has described as the potential that is waiting for us.

Obedient to a high command she sat:
Time, life and death were passing incidents
Obstructing with their transient view her sight,
Her sight that must break through and liberate the god
Imprisoned in the visionless mortal man.
The inferior nature born into ignorance
Still took too large a place, it veiled her self
And must be pushed aside to find her soul.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 2, p. 487

Savitri has now realized that this personality which has occupied the front, or most of the front, must be pushed aside so that the inner being, the psychic being, can be brought to the front. As I said, this is a very, very beautiful canto. We have hardly looked at a few passages. It describes man’s mind, its limitations, its complications and the possibility of going beyond this limited range which we call mental consciousness.

Then you have Canto 3 where Savitri’s journey through the inner countries is described. As in Aswapati’s yoga, we also have here Savitri visiting the subtle physical, the vital, the mental, all these realms. But as I said, we don’t have much time for any one of these, so I will just point out to you one or two passages. Just at the beginning of her inner journey, Savitri is reminded by a voice, on page 488:

Then a voice spoke that dwelt on secret heights:
For man thou seekst, not for thyself alone.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 488

Savitri is reminded that she is an Avatar, and whatever she is doing, she is not doing it for herself, but she is doing it for man.

Only if God assumes the human mind
And puts on mortal ignorance for his cloak
And makes himself the Dwarf with triple stride,
Can he help man to grow into the God.
As man disguised the cosmic Greatness works
And finds the mystic inaccessible gate
And opens the Immortal’s golden door.
Man, human, follows in God’s human steps.
Accepting his darkness thou must bring to him light,
Accepting his sorrow thou must bring to him bliss.
In Matter’s body find thy heaven-born soul.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 488

The Avatar accepts man’s darkness, man’s ignorance, man’s mortality and tries to bring light into this darkness.
Well, as Savitri is trying to go into her inner being, she hears a formidable voice crying from within:

“Back, creature of earth, lest tortured and torn thou die.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 489

She hears a voice forbidding her to go into her inner countries. Savitri just ignores that voice and continues the journey. And first, of course, she goes into her subtle physical:

Into a dense of subtle Matter packed,
A cavity filled with a blind mass of power,
An opposition of misleading gleams,
A heavy barrier of unseeing sight,
She forced her way through body to the soul.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 489

Then on page 491 is described her journey through the vital life. Aswapati’s journey was of a different kind, if you remember. The vital worlds that we have there, about four cantos have been devoted to the description of these vital worlds: some of them to the heavens in the vital world, then we had two cantos which describe the dark worlds of the Mother of Darkness and Ignorance. Here Sri Aurobindo doesn’t do it in that great detail, but nevertheless there is a description of Savitri’s exploration of the vital life on page 491. And then you have the exploration of the mental life, reason, its limitations. All that comes on page 495. Since we have seen something of that, I won’t go into these. I just indicate to you which pages contain these descriptions.

There is something interesting because Sri Aurobindo’s was writing all that he did at the time when mind was in its most arrogant point. There is a very interesting description of this on page 498. At this point, something from Savitri’s mind says there is no soul, where are you going? If there is a soul, I am the soul. There is nothing called the soul, the mind itself is the soul, there is no higher reality. It says:

Traveller or pilgrim of the inner world,
Fortunate art thou to reach our brilliant air
Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 498

How lucky you are that you have reached the rarified atmosphere of the mind:

Flaming with thought’s supreme finality,
O aspirant to the perfect way of life,
here find it…
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 498

It is all here; the fulfillment of life is here in the mind. There is nothing beyond it.

…rest from search and live at peace.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 498

You have come to your destination. Here you’ll find what is called the soul. Mind is the soul, mind is the highest reality, mind is the innermost reality of man.

Ours is the home of cosmic certainty,
Here is the truth, God’s harmony is here.
Register thy name in the book of the elite
Admitted by the sanction of the few,
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 498

By becoming a member of this club, you become a member of the rational society or something. Not many people here are taken as members, only the elite. The select are taken, so we have no problem admitting you. So register yourself, pay your entrance fees and so on.

Adopt thy station of knowledge, thy post in mind,
Thy ticket of order draw in Life’s bureau
And praise thy fate that made thee one of ours.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 498

So you have now become a card holder of this select membership, this club. All here is docketed and tied; here there is no uncertainty and everything is properly arranged.

All here, docketed and tied, the mind can know,
All schemed by law that God permits to life.
This is the end and there is no beyond.
Here is the safety of the ultimate wall,
Here is the clarity of the sword of Light,
Here is the victory of a single Truth,
Here burns the diamond of flawless bliss.
A favourite of Heaven and Nature live.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, pp. 498-499

So if you live here, you’ll be a favourite of nature and also a favourite of heaven. The poet describes Savitri’s reaction to this:

But to the too satisfied and confident sage
Savitri replied casting into his world
Sight’s deep release, the heart’s questioning inner voice:
For here the heart spoke not, only clear daylight
Of intellect reigned here, limiting, cold, precise.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 499

She says, I envy people who can live contented and happy within the narrow confines of your realm, but I don’t belong here.

“Happy are they who in this chaos of things,
This coming and going of the feet of Time,
Can find the single Truth, the eternal Law:
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 499

Those who can find the eternal law in the confines of the mind, they are quite happy.

Untouched they live by hope and doubt and fear.
Happy are men anchored on fixed belief
In this uncertain and ambiguous world,
Or who have planted in the heart’s rich soil
One small grain of spiritual certitude.
Happiest who stand on faith as on a rock.
But I must pass leaving the ended search,
Truth’s rounded outcome firm, immutable
And this harmonic building of world-fact,
This ordered knowledge of apparent things.
Here I can stay not, for I seek my soul.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 499

Mind gives you knowledge of apparent things, mind doesn’t give you real knowledge. Then Sri Aurobindo adds something equally interesting. As she is about to say goodbye to the mind and look elsewhere for the soul, some voices say, “what kind of a funny person is this who believes there is something called a soul? Isn’t it too old-fashioned to look for a soul?” In the 20th century does anybody look for a soul, it’s a very old-fashioned idea. In the medieval days, of course, people looked for souls and gods. Now there are no souls and no gods: doesn’t she know? Towards the end of that page, about 4 or 5 lines from the bottom:

“Who then is this who knows not that the soul
Is a least gland or a secretion’s fault
Disquieting the sane government of the mind,
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 499

If there is an imbalance in the various juices secreted by your organs in the stomach, you have various kinds of aches and problems. Similarly in the mind, if some gland misbehaves and secretes more than what is necessary, then you get an illusion that there is something called a soul. When you have this kind of a problem, take two aspirins, drink a glass of water and just have a nap. When you get back, this desire for a soul would just disappear. Mind, human reason has this sanity, and to go beyond, look for truth beyond this sanity, is sheer madness.

Disordering the function of the brain,
Or a yearning lodged in Nature’s mortal house
Or dream whispered in man’s cave of hollow thought
Who would prolong his brief unhappy term
Or cling to living in a sea of death?”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, pp. 499-500

This looking for a soul is sheer madness. Savitri, why don’t you give it up? There are other voices also:

… “Nay, it is her spirit she seeks.
A splendid shadow of the name of God,
A formless lustre from the Ideal’s realm,
The Spirit is the Holy Ghost of Mind;
But none has touched its limbs or seen its face.
Each soul is the great Father’s crucified Son,
Mind is that soul’s one parent, its conscious cause,
The ground on which trembles a brief passing light,
Mind, sole creator of the apparent world.
All that is here is part of our own self;
Our minds have made the world in which we live.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 500

There are other creatures also in the mind, there are various voices discussing Savitri’s enterprise. Another, but this one with mystic and unsatisfied eyes who loved his slain belief and mourned its death, he wonders, are there still people who are looking for their souls?

“Is there one left who seeks for a Beyond,
can still the path be found, opened the gate?”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 500

Is it possible to find the pathway to one’s soul? Is it possible to open the gate to the soul? So these are all very interesting comments, and Sri Aurobindo brings them at this point when Savitri has explored the mind, explored the vital being, explored the physical, subtle physical and so on, and wants to go beyond these. There are all these various voices: one set of voices saying mind is the soul, there is nothing beyond it; the second saying this is a kind of a malady, a kind of illness, a kind of imbalance in the mind that makes you look for a soul; and there is a third character who says, I’m quite surprised that in this advanced age of journeys to the moon and so on, we still have people who are looking for a soul. I can understand there are people looking for how to go to Mars. Is there a place available in a spaceship: I can understand that; but soul, going to the soul, that’s incredible. Well, there are more interesting things. The more you look into Sri Aurobindo, there are more interesting things.

As she is about to go beyond, she finds a crowd of people. This is an interesting crowd, each one wanting to help the world. See, the world is in such a bad shape simply because far too many people want to help the world, and Savitri’s ears are dimmed by the noise raised by this crowd, each one of them wanting to help the world.

And Savitri mingling in that glorious crowd,
Yearning to the spiritual light they bore,
Longed once to hasten like them to save God’s world;
But she reined back the high passion in her heart;
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

It’s very beautiful. It says, when she found herself as a part of this crowd, she was also carried on the crest of an enthusiasm: I must also do something to save the world: I must at least plant a tree, or I must at least sell rice for 2 rupees a kg, or raise a flag. Then suddenly Savitri realizes: she knew that first she must discover her soul. One who has not discovered the soul, one’s soul, one who has not saved himself, cannot save the world. But the enthusiasm for saving the world is infectious. That’s why so many people join political parties: it’s very infectious. We all want to save the world, to help mankind. And so many people have been helping mankind, and yet people have to live in such abject poverty that people don’t have enough to eat; no house, no health care, and we have been at it for the last thousands of years―economic planning, social planning, this construction, that construction. Without realizing that just because finding food for everybody is an elementary problem, to regard that as a simple problem because it’s a basic problem is a mistake. Because it’s basic, food is basic, giving food to everybody is not a simple problem. If it were a simple problem, by now we would have solved it. Because, as we see, the limits of happiness that man can find, the limits are in fact inner limits. It is an inner limit that does not allow us to make food available to everybody, although there is plenty of food. This people don’t realize. And therefore he says, Savitri suddenly realizes, she knew that first she must discover her soul:

Only who save themselves can others save.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

Only those who have saved themselves can save other people.

In contrary sense she faced life’s riddling truth:
They carrying the light to suffering men
Hurried with eager feet to the outer world;
Her eyes were turned towards the eternal source.
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

As a result, when all the other members of this crowd were thinking of the world and how to solve the problems of the world, Savitri’s attention turned within.

Outstretching her hands to stay the throng she cried:
“O happy company of luminous gods,
Reveal, who know, the road that I must tread,—
For surely that bright quarter is your home,—
To find the birthplace of the occult Fire
And the deep mansion of my secret soul.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

So she asked these people: Does anybody know the way to the deep mansion of my secret soul? Only one voice responds, the others didn’t even know what she was talking about.

“O Savitri, from thy hidden soul we come.
We are the messengers, the occult gods
Who help men’s drab and heavy ignorant lives
To wake to beauty and the wonder of things
Touching them with glory and divinity;
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

A few lines down that page:

Follow the world’s winding highway to its source.
There in the silence few have ever reached,
Thou shalt see the Fire burning on the bare stone
And the deep cavern of thy secret soul.”
                                                     Bk 7, Canto 3, p. 501

Savitri then follows this guidance and plunges deeper into her own soul. And the next canto is a beautiful canto once again: “The triple soul forces.” What the triple soul forces are, and what they have to say, we’ll come back to and take a look at briefly.


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To be spontaneous means not to think, organise, decide and make an effort to realise with the personal will.