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At the Feet of The Mother

Invitation to Savitri 29: Book 10 Canto 3

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

As I was trying to explain through the little story, it is this evolutionary perspective that is so essential, so basic to Sri Aurobindo’s vision. That’s why because man is such and such today, it doesn’t follow that he will not be able to transcend his present limitations and go on to achieve here perfection at all levels of life. The perfection of the soul seems to be achievable, many people have tried it, but that doesn’t solve the basic problem of the earth, of humanity. The body still remains a victim to all the imperfections of this earth, the mind still remains the instrument as much of darkness as of light, and man’s vital being is something tossed around on an ocean of desire, but the soul is free. Well, in one sense the soul is always free. Freedom is inherent to the soul, and God didn’t create this world to give the soul the experience of freedom because the soul is always free. Even before this enterprise began, the soul had freedom. The purpose of this enterprise is to make matter house the glory of the spirit and manifest the glory of the spirit.

Now for all this, Sri Aurobindo comes to the conclusion, as Aswapati does, that mind doesn’t have the requisite resources, mind doesn’t have the resources at all. As I have been saying, in the past, most saints went far above and far beyond the mind. Some of these regions to which these people ascended are described in Book 2. Sri Aurobindo himself describes these various levels of the mind. When you stand on the topmost peak of the mind, you see from that peak a glorious new world on the other side which is called the world of sachchidananda―the world of truth, world of immortality, world of bliss. And that glorious world is so real, so overwhelming in its vastness, in its power, that most people get so much enchanted with that world they begin to say the world from which they rose up is not real, it’s all a mithya; that world alone is true. It is true that world is true, but that doesn’t make this world false.

That apart, they are so much enamoured of that world, they want to get that world, but they find that from where they stand there is no direct access to that world, there is a big chasm. There is a big gap between where they are and that world of perfection. How do you go to that world? So people have been told you can subjectively experience it here, but there is no way of going to that world except after death. In the human body that world is totally inaccessible. This is what people have been saying in so many words in so many languages. There is a world of perfection, there is a world all there, but we can’t go there. The kingdom of heaven is always on the other side of death. Some kind of brahmaloka, some kind of goloka, some kind of vaikuntha, its always on the other side. Here you can plan for it, you can earn the passage money for it maybe, but you can’t go there, because there is the unbridgeable chasm, gap, between the highest levels of the mind and the beginning of that world.

Now, Sri Aurobindo spent many, many years wondering whether there really was an unbridgeable gap. And the greatest siddhi that he achieved was first, the discovery that there is a gap but it doesn’t have to remain unbridgeable; it can be bridged. Once he discovered that this gap can be bridged, he said, I must bridge it within myself. So, what he called the supramental consciousness is this bridge between the highest level of the mind that man has ever reached, and a world of perfection. People have always been telling us that there is this gap, this gap is unbridgeable, but Sri Aurobindo dared the impossible and found it possible for man to build this bridge. Once this bridge is built, that world can be brought rolling down to our earth. And the touch of that world would transform this world, as it were.

Now this potential of man to build this bridge, that is what he kept emphasizing. And then he relates it in terms of his theory of evolution, that evolution has unfolded so many rungs of consciousness. Why do you despair and say this is where the story of evolution ends? It doesn’t end here! There’s another level that has to be bridged, and bridging that level is the primary task of human beings; this is our main task. Once that bridge is built, you don’t need any propaganda, you don’t need anybody to go around trying to convince people. That world will come rolling down, and this world will be transformed, so there is no need.

Even now there is no need for all these people to say: there is a bridge, there is a bridge, there is a bridge. What is the point in saying there is a bridge? What we need, he said, is about 100 people who are giving all their hours and all they have to this enterprise of building this bridge in their consciousness, and once that is done my job is over. So Sri Aurobindo’s job is not finished, even after writing all the books that he wrote, after writing this wonderful poem, after setting up the Ashram, or giving the inspiration for Auroville, or having babblers like me going from place to place and talking about it. This is all preparatory, anticipatory. The real work can only be achieved when that bridge is built in a fair number of human beings so that we have potentially a new race here on earth. This looks impossible. That is why I tell the story of the united nations of monkeys.

Let us go back and see what Savitri is saying to the God of Death, on page 623:

“O Death, thou lookst on an unfinished world
Assailed by thee and of its road unsure,
Peopled by imperfect minds and ignorant lives,
And sayest God is not and all is vain.
How shall the child already be the man?
Because he is infant, shall he never grow?
Because he is ignorant, shall he never learn?
In a small fragile seed a great tree lurks,
In a tiny gene a thinking being is shut;
A little element in a little sperm,
It grows and is a conqueror and a sage.
Then wilt thou spew out, Death, God’s mystic truth,
Deny the occult spiritual miracle?
Still wilt thou say there is no spirit, no God?
A mute material Nature wakes and sees;
She has invented speech, unveiled a will.
Something there waits beyond towards which she strives,
Something surrounds her into which she grows:
To uncover the spirit, to change back into God,
To exceed herself is her transcendent task.
In god concealed the world began to be,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 623

The world began, the creation began, from the concealed god. God was concealed in the bosom of the inconscient, and that is why out of the inconscient came, through various stages, gradually, matter, life, mind―they all have blossomed.

In God concealed the world began to be,
Tardily it travels towards manifest God:
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 623

It slowly travels until one day God’s perfection will be manifested here in all its fullness.

Our imperfection towards perfection toils,
The body is the chrysalis of a soul:
The infinite holds the finite in its arms,
Time travels towards revealed eternity.
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 623

This is a fairly long speech of Savitri’s. I would like you to read it when you have more time. It’s wonderful. It’s a very long speech. We’ll read the last bit of it on page 632, about 8-9 lines from the bottom of that page. Once again, it’s a beautiful passage.

All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 632

It all starts from mud, ends in sky…

And Love…

It’s for everything. What is at a certain stage in the evolution aspiration for God, aspiration for immortality in a sage, in a saint, several millennia down the evolutionary history, it once manifested as desire: desire to live, desire to multiply oneself, desire to aggrandize oneself. At that stage it was that manifestation. Gradually, when things evolved, it becomes subtler and subtler. The same thing is true of love:

And Love that was once an animal’s desire,
Then a sweet madness in the rapturous heart,
An ardent comradeship in the happy mind,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 623

It rises, the sap of love as it rises from the body, to the life energies and then to the mind, it also has to have a spiritual manifestation.

Becomes a wide spiritual yearning’s space.
A lonely soul passions for the Alone,
The heart that loved man thrills to the love of God,
A body is his chamber and his shrine.
Then is our being rescued from separateness;
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 632

Love is the one thing that will rescue you from separateness, the curse of being separate, the curse of feeling that you are cut off from the source of this entire world, that you’re all alone, by yourself, that you are autonomous. This illusion that was once necessary, which was the beginning of the ego, if that has to be exorcised, if that has to disappear, there is no other way but to love. Love is the only hammer that can effectively shatter the prison-house called the ego in which we are bound. Therefore, he says:

The heart that loved man thrills to the love of God,
A body is his chamber and his shrine.
Then is our being rescued from separateness;
All is itself, all is new-felt in God:
A Lover leaning from his cloister’s door
Gathers the whole world into his single breast.
Bk 10, Canto 3, pp. 632-633

If you can love one person truly, then you will learn how to love the whole world.

Then shall the business fail of Night and Death:
When unity is won, when strife is lost
And all is known and all is clasped by Love
Who would turn back to ignorance and pain?
“O Death, I have triumphed over thee within;
I quiver no more with the assault of grief;
A mighty calmness seated deep within
Has occupied my body and my sense:
It takes the world’s grief and transmutes to strength,
It makes the world’s joy one with the joy of God.
My love eternal sits throned on God’s calm;
For Love must soar beyond the very heavens
And find its secret sense ineffable;
It must change its human ways to ways divine,
Yet keep its sovereignty of earthly bliss.
O Death, not for my heart’s sweet poignancy
Nor for my happy body’s bliss alone
I have claimed from thee the living Satyavan,
But for his work and mine, our sacred charge.
Our lives are God’s messengers beneath the stars;
To dwell under death’s shadow they have come
Tempting God’s light to earth for the ignorant race,
His love to fill the hollow in men’s hearts,
His bliss to heal the unhappiness of the world.
For I, the woman, am the force of God,
He the Eternal’s delegate soul in man.
My will is greater than thy law, O Death;
My love is stronger than the bonds of Fate:
Our love is the heavenly seal of the Supreme.
I guard that seal against thy rending hands.
Love must not cease to live upon the earth;
For Love is the bright link twixt earth and heaven,
Love is the far Transcendent’s angel here;
Love is man’s lien on the Absolute.”
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 633

Now, for all the things that the God of Death had to say against love, this was a long reply of Savitri’s, several pages long. The God of Death goes on, he’s not willing to give up so easily, so he carries on another set of arguments. On page 634, about 6 lines from the top:

Daub not the web of life with magic hues:
Make rather thy thought a plain and faithful glass
Reflecting Matter and mortality,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Savitri, he says, I have heard your impassioned speech. I give you full marks for your diction, for imagery, for poetry, but what you are basically doing, you are taking the dirty cloth of life and painting all over it rainbow colors to make it look wonderful. Don’t do that.

And know thy soul a product of the flesh,
A made-up self in a constructed world.
Thy words are large murmurs in a mystic dream.
For how in the soiled heart of man could dwell
The immaculate grandeur of thy dream-built God,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Of all the places, do you think God will ever love in a human heart? Such a soiled place?

For how in the soiled heart of man could dwell
The immaculate grandeur of thy dream-built God,
Or who can see a face and form divine
In the naked two-legged worm thou callest man?
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Man is no more than a two-legged worm. Who can see God, the coming God, or whatever God, in this world?

O human face, put off mind-painted masks:
The animal be, the worm that Nature meant;
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Nature meant you to be an animal. Well, an animal with a difference, an animal with a mind, but nevertheless a mental animal. That’s what you are, and what you’ll always remain. That’s the reason why you are so bent, or seem to be so bent, on destroying yourself. This is your lot. This is your fate.

Accept thy futile birth, thy narrow life.
For truth is bare like stone and hard like death;
Bare in the bareness, hard with truth’s hardness live.”
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Live in the reality. Truth may be hard but that is ultimately what reality is all about. Savitri replies:

“Yes, I am human. Yet shall man by me,
Since in humanity waits his hour the God,
Trample thee down to reach the immortal heights,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

Man will trample you down, trample death, and one day ascend to the seat of immortality.

Transcending grief and pain and fate and death.
Yes, my humanity is a mask of God:
He dwells in me, the mover of my acts,
Turning the great wheel of his cosmic work.
I am the living body of his light,
I am the thinking instrument of his power,
I incarnate Wisdom in an earthly breast,
I am his conquering and unslayable will.
The formless Spirit drew in me its shape;
In me are the Nameless and the secret Name.”
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 634

The God of Death is a very widely read person. He has not only read modern philosophers, he has also read ancient philosophies. So he has other arguments, he’s not finished. On page 635, he says, don’t you know you have a choice to make? You have to choose either the spirit or matter.  What you’re asking is, I want both: I want spirit, I want matter. How is it possible?

“O priestess in Imagination’s house,
Persuade first Nature’s fixed immutable laws
And make the impossible thy daily work.
How canst thou force to wed two eternal foes?
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

Don’t you know these are two eternal foes, matter and spirit? And you want to force a marriage of spirit with matter and matter with spirit?

How canst thou force to wed two eternal foes?
Irreconcilable in their embrace
They cancel the glory of their pure extremes:
An unhappy wedlock maims their stunted force.
How shall thy will make one the true and false?
Where Matter is all, there Spirit is a dream:
If all are the Spirit, Matter is a lie,
And who was the liar who forged the universe?
The Real with the unreal cannot mate.
He who would turn to God, must leave the world;
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

It’s simple: He who would turn to God, must leave the world. All wise men have said that: “janma dukkham jara dukkham bharya dukkham.” All kinds of dukkham, everything is dukkham in this world. “Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam.” All these beautiful poetries mesmerize. In India, any Sanskrit verse, if you quote in a meeting, mesmerizes people, because not many people anymore understand Sanskrit―that’s the reason! We have all great respect for Sanskrit, but we don’t understand it. So anybody who can recite a few Sanskrit slokas, this must be Shankaracharya himself come down. So we have all these stories. If God is real, the world must be an illusion. The world, as it’s always said, is like the crooked tail of a dog. Wise men don’t waste their time in straightening what is essentially, irremediably crooked: that is the dog’s tail. Many, many people, strong of intelligence, strong of character, strong of will have tried to do this and failed. And therefore, don’t worry about the world. It’s not worth worrying about. It’s a passing show. It’s a gymnasium God has created, ultimately, so that you will have disgust for life. He created this Maya bazaar, as they call it, a bazaar of fantasy. In the beginning it attracts you, but ultimately, disillusionment is the final result of your involvement with this world. Leave this world; go to God.

He who would turn to God, must leave the world;
He who would live in the Spirit, must give up life;
He who has met the Self, renounces self
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

He who has met the Self, the big Self, with the capital ‘S’, renounces the smaller self, the smaller self that is made up of our superficial personalities, made up of your body, mind and life energies. That has to be given up when you have found the larger Self.

The voyagers of the million routes of mind
Who have travelled through Existence to its end,
Sages exploring the world-ocean’s vasts,
Have found extinction the sole harbour safe.
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

Extinction, nirvana. Extinguish the personality. As the Buddhist metaphysics says, the human being is like an onion; so you peel off layer by layer, layer by layer, hoping to find something when all these layers are peeled off. What is left? Shunya. Nothing is left. That is the human person.  As long as all these layers of samskara, of desire, are there, they give you a personality. They have a karma for you, they have a destiny for you, and all this turmoil. And gradually you realize this and you tear it off one by one, one by one, until nothing is left. And that is why he says,

Two only are the doors of man’s escape,
Death of his body Matter’s gate to peace,
Death of his soul his last felicity.
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

Death of the body frees you from all the worldly happiness and unhappiness. An extinction of your personality, of your separate individuality, that also is extinguished. Then it’s all nirvana. Nothing need ever bother you.

In me all take refuge, for I, Death, am God.”
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

So ultimately, death of the outer being, death of the inner being, this extinction is the road to salvation; and the great saints who have explored life, all its avenues, they have come to this conclusion. Savitri, this is something you must take very seriously. Savitri ‘s reply:

“My heart is wiser than the Reason’s thoughts,
Bk 10, Canto 3, p. 635

You see, the problem is, the metaphysics that one can build of adwaita is almost unassailable. If you follow Shankara’s arguments, you cannot refute them. As far as reason goes, he has made this absolutely tight and shut, there is nothing you can do. Except Sri Aurobindo says there is something in us, something in man, that says this can’t be the destiny of us. Our intuition somehow says this is too limiting. You must go far beyond, for which, Sri Aurobindo develops another metaphysics, which some people may find follows not the logic of the finite, but the logic of the infinite. And for the finite, the logic of the infinite looks like magic. Therefore, they’re saying that we can’t find, we can’t prepare a syllogism of Sri Aurobindo’s metaphysics: it’s not all that neat. Why do you expect something that talks to you about the infinite to be neat in the terms of the finite? We are talking of the infinite in man, we are talking of the spiritual fulfillment of man. Of the infinite in man, to some extent the finite can understand it. But if the finite can fully comprehend the infinite, we do not need the infinite, the finite is good enough. When the finite mind looks at the infinite, it only sees its own reflection. As a result, there are many finite views on the infinite.

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo doesn’t dismiss any such perspective as false: dwaita has its own truth, adwaita has its own truth, vishishtha adwaita has its own truth, materialism has its own truth. All these are truths, but they only see a limited segment of the ultimate reality. To be able to see the ultimate reality, in its wholeness, in its completeness, you have to transcend the logical categories. That can only be done by what is called ‘knowledge through identity’. To know God, the prerequisite is to be God. Unless your consciousness has become cosmic, unless your consciousness has become as vast, as cosmic as God’s, you cannot understand God. Logic, however sharp an instrument it may be, is still an instrument of the finite. And if the finite cannot understand the infinite, the finite can’t say, what I can’t understand must be false. That’s what we’re saying. I cannot understand this, therefore this must be false. How can you say that? So she’s saying,

“My heart is wiser than the Reason’s thoughts,
My heart is stronger than thy bonds, O Death.
It sees and feels the one Heart beat in all,
It feels the high Transcendent’s sunlike hands,
It sees the cosmic Spirit at its work;
In the dim Night it lies alone with God.
My heart’s strength can carry the grief of the universe
And never falter from its luminous track,
Its white tremendous orbit through God’s peace.
It can drink up the sea of All-Delight
And never lose the white spiritual touch,
The calm that broods in the deep Infinite.”
Bk 10, Canto 3, pp. 635-636

Now, as I told you in the very beginning, it is virtually impossible to dwell on all the several peaks of either poetry or insight. So I thought the best thing would be to pause at various points and say something about this, rather than try to be exhaustive. Now, this is the nature of the debate of love and death. There are some more things to come.

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