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At the Feet of The Mother

Prof. Mangesh Nadkarni: Invitation to Savitri | 31. Conclusion

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

We have seen that Savitri has to make a choice: either to rise to felicity by abandoning mankind, with its frustrated dreams and hopes of perfection, or live here, continue to live here on earth while Satyavan is somewhere in heaven. All that the God of Death assures is that the love between them will be immortal, and they won’t miss each other because they will feel the undying love in their hearts. Neither of these, in fact, is acceptable to Savitri. Particularly the solution that she should abandon the world and rise to felicity so that she and Satyavan can live together in the same world forever immersed in everlasting happiness. This is what Savitri has to say in reply, on page 685, the last three lines:

I climb not to thy everlasting Day,
Even as I have shunned thy eternal Night.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 685

I don’t want to climb to your everlasting Day and this paradise that you are going to offer me, just as I have shunned, I have rejected your everlasting Night.

To me who turn not from thy terrestrial Way,
Give back the other self my nature asks.
Thy spaces need him not to help their joy;
Earth needs his beautiful spirit made by thee
To fling delight down like a net of gold.
Earth is the chosen place of mightiest souls;
Earth is the heroic spirit’s battlefield,
The forge where the Archmason shapes his works.
Thy servitudes on earth are greater, King,
Than all the glorious liberties of heaven.
Book 11, Canto 1, pp. 685-686

Those who have always been saying that spirituality is an escape from earth should realize that the spirituality Sri Aurobindo talks about is not this tired spirituality. This is a new kind of spirituality that refuses to renounce its claim either on earth or on heaven. She is not willing to abandon either. She says ‘I reject the proposition either/or; for me it is not either/or’. And therefore she says,

Earth needs his beautiful spirit made by thee
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

Then she says,

Thy servitudes on earth are greater, King,
Than all the glorious liberties of heaven.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

Why should I come to heaven? Why should Satyavan go to heaven? Because that’s the place where we came from? I know it’s a paradise, where there is no imperfection, where there is no death, where one doesn’t have to pay taxes, where there is no power cut in summer, where there is no garbage to be thrown around, everything is perfect. But what is new for me there? I have come from that place, you are simply showing my own house, that’s where we all came from, so giving back my own house, you are pretending as if you are giving a great turn. You are obliging me.  She says I know what it is.

The heavens were once to me my natural home,
I too have wandered in star-jewelled groves,
Paced sun-gold pastures and moon-silver swards
And heard the harping laughter of their streams
And lingered under branches dropping myrrh;
I too have revelled in the fields of light
Touched by the ethereal raiment of the winds,
Thy wonder-rounds of music I have trod,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

I have seen your Disneyland, I’ve seen your Fifth Avenue, I have seen your Florida Beaches, I have seen all these. What is all this? As if you are giving me something that I don’t know yet.

Lived in the rhyme of bright unlabouring thoughts,
I have beat swift harmonies of rapture vast,
Danced in spontaneous measures of the soul
The great and easy dances of the gods.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

The dances that gods dance are easy: The great and easy dances of the gods.

O fragrant are the lanes thy children walk
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

I know the lanes in which your children walk are fragrant.

And lovely is the memory of their feet
Amid the wonder-flowers of Paradise:
A heavier tread is mine, a mightier touch.
There where the gods and demons battle in night
Or wrestle on the borders of the Sun,
Taught by the sweetness and the pain of life
To bear the uneven strenuous beat that throbs
Against the edge of some divinest hope,
To dare the impossible with these pangs of search,
In me the spirit of immortal love
Stretches its arms out to embrace mankind.
Too far thy heavens for me from suffering men.
Imperfect is the joy not shared by all.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

I don’t want thy heavens. Why? Because they are too far from suffering men.

Imperfect is the joy not shared by all.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

There cannot be a more basic misunderstanding of Sri Aurobindo’s agenda. This is not a place or a programme of escape from the world. All those people who wanted to build an ideal society, all those people who want to make sure that every human being here on earth gets two meals, has a shelter over his head, has his basic health care taken care of, wants to make sure that his children have elementary education, they’ve tried and tried and failed because they went about it the wrong way. Sri Aurobindo wants to achieve those objectives, but the way is different. As I said the other day, you need to build the superstructure of matter, material perfection, on a spiritual foundation. What is the point in building a spiritual superstructure on a spiritual foundation? That is ignoring the demands of matter, ignoring the very conditions in which God chose to manifest himself. So he too wants to build a material world here, a material world of perfection, but on a spiritual foundation. The West has tried very, very hard to build a world of material perfection on a material foundation, that also is not possible. So here, therefore, is a new agenda for man. And those, therefore, who didn’t understand what Sri Aurobindo was doing for 40 years and complained “O when Mahatma Gandhi started the non-cooperation movement we expected Sri Aurobindo would come and enlist as a swayam sevak”, they were all disappointed that he didn’t come. What do they know of his vision, his programme, his great work?

I, very often, talk about the failed experiment called communism in Russia. What about the enterprise we call freedom for this country? What have we done with the freedom? We have raised here a raj of gundas and corruption. Sri Aurobindo feared just that. He said this is what’s going to happen to India in the first stage. So freedom by itself doesn’t open any gates to heaven. Freedom is one enterprise, communism is another enterprise, democracy is a third enterprise. All these enterprises have failed. The degree of failure may be different, but they all failed and all human enterprises are going to fail until man choses to build this house of perfection on a spiritual foundation.

How to build it on spiritual foundation? The secret for it, the world didn’t have until now. The clue that makes the worldly, material world stick to a spiritual foundation, that was not available until now. Our Vedic forefathers talked about a possibility, but they themselves were not aware of what, how exactly to do it. Sri Aurobindo discovered it. It is possible to build this. And therefore, whoever says that spirituality is escapism, spirituality is not caring enough for this world, you can immediately conclude he is somebody who has not understood Sri Aurobindo. And let me assure you, this is not a minority, this is a vast majority of our own countrymen. You’ll find them in the parliament, you’ll find them in the universities, you’ll find them in corporations, you will find them in all positions of power. When that changes, this country’s destiny is also going to be changed. Until then, you can go on having as many five year plans, as many panchayat raj as you can, the old fiasco will keep continually be repeated. That has to change. This is Savitri’s firm conviction. That she will not compromise. And therefore she says,

Too far thy heavens for me from suffering men.
Imperfect is the joy not shared by all.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

Ignore the message, concentrate on the poetry. It’s fabulous poetry here. On page 687:

O king-smith, clang on still thy toil begun,
Weld us to one in thy strong smithy of life.
Thy fine-curved jewelled hilt call Savitri,
Thy blade’s exultant smile name Satyavan.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 687

Satyavan and Savitri together is this triumphant sword: one sword handle and the blade. And how can you separate the handle from the blade and still hope to be able to use the sword?

Fashion to beauty, point us through the world.
Break not the lyre before the song is found;
Are there not still unnumbered chants to weave?
O subtle-souled musician of the years,
Play out what thou hast fluted on my stops;
Arise from the strain their first wild plaint divined
And that discover which is yet unsung.
I know that I can lift man’s soul to God,
I know that he can bring the Immortal down.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 687

Satyavan can bring the immortal down. I can lift man’s soul to God.

Our will labours permitted by thy will
And without thee an empty roar of storm,
A senseless whirlwind is the Titan’s force
And without thee a snare the strength of gods.
Let not the inconscient gulf swallow man’s race
That through earth’s ignorance struggles towards thy Light.
O Thunderer with the lightnings of the soul,
Give not to darkness and to death thy sun,
Achieve thy wisdom’s hidden firm decree
And the mandate of thy secret world-wide love.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 686

The God of Death now transformed into God of Love still is unwilling to give up. You must give him full marks, he is like a very, very tough examiner which God has appointed: one spelling mistake, fail the candidate. These days he says 30% is pass mark. If 30% of your articles are correct and 70% are wrong, what kind of English are you writing?  If 30% of tense constructions are correct and 70% are wrong, what kind of English are you writing? If 30% of your spellings are right and 70% are wrong, what kind of English are you writing?

This God of Death wants to make absolutely sure there is no mistake left, and so he still goes on. And on page 689 he asks the last question, the most difficult question, and a real question. All of us want to help the world, we want to change the world. Several saints, avatars, babas, mahatmas, bhagwans all have been at this enterprise. How come the world is not saved?  Because, have you really asked the world this basic question? What is the question? Do you want to be saved? The world says, “no thank you.”

This is what I have been saying: heaven’s light has come in several ways. Several people brought it with great, huge hurricane lamps, torches. How many people wanted to benefit from it?

In 1972, for Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary, we were all getting excited: Sri Aurobindo’s birth centenary, a great event!  I expected some commotion at least in Madras station, somewhere: “O Sri Aurobindo, we’re coming to Pondicherry where Sri Aurobindo lived for so long, did this wonderful work, the world is going to be transformed!” Nobody knew anything about Pondicherry or Sri Aurobindo in Madras. Getting closer and closer to Pondicherry, we expected some bunting, some declaration, some excitement in the air. Nobody knew anything about it until we came to the ashram gate. Do you think the world takes note of people like Sri Aurobindo? He knew this, so his work was not establishing the ashram, his work was not writing The Life Divine, his work was not writing Savitri. His work was actually building this bridge of what he called the supramental consciousness. Building it in himself, making sure earth has access to this new path and then only he left. And once that power comes, man will not be able to reject the Divine’s grace. Even the capacity to accept, to recognize grace as grace is wanting in man. Something is profoundly wrong here in the earth consciousness. That is why the descent of avatars has been of very little consequence. This has to change. Something has to be done to the existential condition of man. Something basic has to be changed in man. And that’s why the God of Death asks the last question, on page 689:

A few can climb to an unperishing sun,
Or live on the edges of the mystic moon
And channel to earth-mind the wizard ray.
The heroes and the demigods are few
To whom the close immortal voices speak
And to their acts the heavenly clan are near.
Few are the silences in which Truth is heard,
Unveiling the timeless utterance in her deeps;
Few are the splendid moments of the seers.
Heaven’s call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds;
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 689

Heaven’s call is rare, even rarer is the heart that heeds, that responds to this heaven’s call.

The doors of light are sealed to common mind
And earth’s needs nail to earth the human mass,
Only in an uplifting hour of stress
Men answer to the touch of greater things:
Or, raised by some strong hand to breathe heaven-air,
They slide back to the mud from which they climbed;
In the mud of which they are made, whose law they know
They joy in safe return to a friendly base,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 689

We are all made of mud. We like to wallow in mud forever, and that’s what we have chosen. Ignorance is the base and we would like to wallow in ignorance. When times come, when suddenly there is a great uplifting kind of movement, like the freedom struggle in this country, the country threw up great heroes, people were willing to give their lives for their country, careers for their country. That time disappeared. Where are the hero warriors left in this country of ours? All are pygmies, all little politicians. This is the normal level of man. What we found during the freedom struggle, that was an exceptional moment, there was an upsurge.

The God of Death is saying, don’t be misled by these upsurges; they vanish, and the human being again sinks back to the level of the mud, and is quite happy in mud. So why do you want to waste your time, energy, effort trying to save mankind?

They slide back to the mud from which they climbed;
In the mud of which they are made, whose law they know
They joy in safe return to a friendly base,
And, though something in them weeps for glory lost
And greatness murdered, they accept their fall.
To be the common man they think the best,
To live as others live is their delight.
For most are built on Nature’s early plan
And owe small debt to a superior plane;
The human average is their level pitch,
A thinking animal’s material range.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 689

This is what great thinkers like Arthur Koestler concluded that man is a flawed creature and he predicted man is bound to destroy himself. Why? Because the reasons he gave: man’s brain has, as it were, three compartments to it. The topmost compartment is the neocortex where Einstein functions. All abstract mathematics, computers, relativity theory, quantum physics, all these things belong to that world, the great world of science. And then there is a second level of the human mind which has remained unrefined, which has remained the same as the brain of a horse. And then there is still another level, the bottom level, the old brain where man has the same propensities as a crocodile. So man harbors in himself a crocodile, a horse and an Einstein. Give him the toughest problem in mathematics and he’ll solve it like Einstein, and when he goes home and the wife complains that she had a tiff with the neighbor’s wife, it is the horse that takes over or the crocodile in man. This is what has happened. That is why science hasn’t helped man, philosophy hasn’t helped man. Man continues as he is, and since this is a flaw in the evolutionary development of the brain, you cannot undo what evolution has done. So what is the solution? Scientists have said, maybe something like aspirin can be discovered, so that the balance can be adjusted a little bit. Sometimes, when you have the crocodile attack, or the horse attack, pop up a tablet and balance will be equated.

Sri Aurobindo also recognizes this in other terms, in other ways. Therefore, he says, inadequacies of the mind, and the inadequacies of the vital being, they have to be transformed. And the transforming power is not with the mind. A higher power, a greater power can alone do it. What’s that power? A power which he recognized as the power of the supramental consciousness. Only when that comes, there won’t be any lacunaes, any blemishes that you can blame on evolution. Evolution hasn’t blundered, we have stopped before our destination. That’s the problem.

And so, the God of Death is explaining: Men are happy with their own limited range. What is the solution? Well, once again the God of Death has one refrain. Since all this enterprise is useless, he says to Savitri on page 692:

Grow one with the still passion of the depths.
Then shalt thou know the Lover and the Loved,
Leaving the limits dividing him and thee.
Receive him into boundless Savitri,
Lose thyself into infinite Satyavan.
O miracle, where thou beganst, there cease!”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

Go where you began―you began as a spirit and you end as a spirit―where there is Satyavan, there is Savitri, everything spiritual, all will be present there. Do not try to change the world, this earth: that’s impossible. And Savitri briefly says, on page 692:

In vain thou temptst with solitary bliss
Two spirits saved out of a suffering world;
My soul and his indissolubly linked
In the one task for which our lives were born,
To raise the world to God in deathless Light,
To bring God down to the world on earth we came,
To change the earthly life to life divine.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

That’s why we have come here!

I keep my will to save the world and man;
Even the charm of thy alluring voice,
O blissful Godhead, cannot seize and snare.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

And he declares, as seen in the old days in the Mahabharata, they say when Bhishma made that big pratignya, the gods took note: flowers were raised, flowers fell down. There is an occult meaning behind it. The spaces are not inconscient, so any great movement like this is absolved by the spaces, the spaces are strengthened by that. When Sri Aurobindo wrote these lines, I’m sure the spaces absorbed this spirit of hope and strength and man’s future was changed. Man’s future was guaranteed when he says,

I sacrifice not earth to happier worlds.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

I’m not willing to sacrifice earth or any happy world.

Because there dwelt the Eternal’s vast Idea
And his dynamic will in men and things,
So only could the enormous scene begin.
Whence came this profitless wilderness of stars,
This mighty barren wheeling of the suns?
Who made the soul of futile life in Time,
Planted a purpose and a hope in the heart,
Set Nature to a huge and meaningless task
Or planned her million-aeoned effort’s waste?
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

It goes on. Then on page 693, the second line:

Since God has made earth, earth must make in her God;
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 693

Since God has made the earth it is incumbent on man to manifest the God in him.

What hides within her breast she must reveal.
I claim thee for the world that thou hast made.
If man lives bound by his humanity,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 693

If ultimately man decides to remain within the confines of his humanity, nature will push aside man and will bring here another species which will carry forward this unfinished plan.

If man lives bound by his humanity,
If he is tied for ever to his pain,
Let a greater being then arise from man,
The superhuman with the Eternal mate
And the Immortal shine through earthly forms.
Else were creation vain and this great world
A nothing that in Time’s moments seems to be.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 693

If this fulfillment were not to come, this entire enterprise, this entire creation would have to be declared something of a vanity, something absolutely vain.

But I have seen through the insentient mask;
I have felt a secret spirit stir in things
Carrying the body of the growing God:
It looks through veiling forms at veilless truth;
It pushes back the curtain of the gods;
It climbs towards its own eternity.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

Well, at the end of all this, the God of Death, or now he has become the new God, is unable to dissuade Savitri, and he disappears. All that is now left is a voice, and this voice too asks Savitri to choose four times, each time with a little bait in it. And all the four times, Savitri chooses. On page 696, the first time when the spirit, the voice asks her to choose, what does she choose?

“Thy peace, O Lord, a boon within to keep
Amid the roar and ruin of wild Time
For the magnificent soul of man on earth.
Thy calm, O Lord, that bears thy hands of joy.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

I want the peace of the timeless. For whom? For the magnificent soul of man on earth. A second time again, the voice says ‘choose’. What does Savitri choose? On page 697:

“Thy oneness, Lord, in many approaching hearts,
My sweet infinity of thy numberless souls.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

Once again, he says, “choose.” And what does Savitri choose?

“Thy energy, Lord, to seize on woman and man,
To take all things and creatures in their grief
And gather them into a mother’s arms.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

Finally, she wants God’s peace, she wants God’s oneness, she wants God’s energy, and finally she wants God’s love. For whom?

“Thy embrace which rends the living knot of pain,
Thy joy, O Lord, in which all creatures breathe,
Thy magic flowing waters of deep love,
Thy sweetness give to me for earth and men.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

One thing she always asks: thy peace, thy oneness, thy energy, thy love for the earth and for man. Once this is done, Savitri’s job is more or less finished. And then, like a satisfied examiner, the Lord says “Savitri, I’m quite happy you have come through this test very brilliantly!” And so on page 698:

O beautiful body of the incarnate Word,
Thy thoughts are mine, I have spoken with thy voice.
My will is thine, what thou hast chosen I choose:
All thou hast asked I give to earth and men.
All shall be written out in destiny’s book
By my trustee of thought and plan and act,
The executor of my will, eternal Time.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 692

A few lines down,

Because thou hast chosen to share earth’s struggle and fate
And leaned in pity over earth-bound men
And turned aside to help and yearned to save,
I bind by thy heart’s passion thy heart to mine
And lay my splendid yoke upon thy soul.
Now will I do in thee my marvellous works.
I will fasten thy nature with my cords of strength,
Subdue to my delight thy spirit’s limbs
And make thee a vivid knot of all my bliss
And build in thee my proud and crystal home.
Thy days shall be my shafts of power and light,
Thy nights my starry mysteries of joy
And all my clouds lie tangled in thy hair
And all my springtides marry in thy mouth.
O Sun-Word, thou shalt raise the earth-soul to Light
And bring down God into the lives of men;
Earth shall be my work-chamber and my house,
My garden of life to plant a seed divine.
When all thy work in human time is done
The mind of earth shall be a home of light,
The life of earth a tree growing towards heaven,
The body of earth a tabernacle of God.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 698-699

Then on page 701, it’s a part of the same:

I will pour delight from thee as from a jar,
I will whirl thee as my chariot through the ways,
I will use thee as my sword and as my lyre,
I will play on thee my minstrelsies of thought.
And when thou art vibrant with all ecstasy,
And when thou liv’st one spirit with all things,
Then will I spare thee not my living fires,
But make thee a channel for my timeless force.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 701

And then on page 702:

“Descend to life with him thy heart desires.
O Satyavan, O luminous Savitri,
I sent you forth of old beneath the stars,
A dual power of God in an ignorant world,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 702

Next is a passage we read the second day, the end of page 702: Who is Satyavan?

He is my soul that climbs from nescient Night
Through life and mind and supernature’s Vast
To the supernal light of Timelessness
And my eternity hid in moving Time
And my boundlessness cut by the curve of Space.
Book 11, Canto 1, pp. 702-703

And who is Savitri?

O Savitri, thou art my spirit’s Power,
The revealing voice of my immortal Word,
The face of Truth upon the roads of Time
Pointing to the souls of men the routes to God.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 703

This is a part of what I would like to call mangalacharan. At the end of our 11 days, if you get lines like this worth reading, I can go on for another four days if the conclusion is all that sweet. On page 706, the last few lines:

All then shall change, a magic order come
Overtopping this mechanical universe.
A mightier race shall inhabit the mortal’s world.
On Nature’s luminous tops, on the Spirit’s ground,
The superman shall reign as king of life,
Make earth almost the mate and peer of heaven,
And lead towards God and truth man’s ignorant heart
And lift towards godhead his mortality.
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 706

A few lines later, he says:

All shall be drawn into a single plan,
A divine harmony shall be earth’s law,
Beauty and joy remould her way to live:
Even the body shall remember God,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 707

A few lines later:

All earth shall be the Spirit’s manifest home,
Hidden no more by the body and the life,
Hidden no more by the mind’s ignorance;
An unerring Hand shall shape event and act.
The Spirit’s eyes shall look through Nature’s eyes,
The Spirit’s force shall occupy Nature’s force.
This world shall be God’s visible garden-house,
The earth shall be a field and camp of God,
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 707

Then on page 710:

A divine force shall flow through tissue and cell
And take the charge of breath and speech and act
And all the thoughts shall be a glow of suns
And every feeling a celestial thrill.
Often a lustrous inner dawn shall come
Lighting the chambers of the slumbering mind;
A sudden bliss shall run through every limb
And Nature with a mightier Presence fill.
Thus shall the earth open to divinity
And common natures feel the wide uplift,
Illumine common acts with the Spirit’s ray
And meet the deity in common things.
Nature shall live to manifest secret God,
The Spirit shall take up the human play,
This earthly life become the life divine.”
Book 11, Canto 1, p. 710

When the amrit kalash was given to the gods, they were not more than drunk than you and I reading these lines, except there wasn’t enough time to read them to ourselves. There are many, many more such lines and I have run at a tremendous speed. The idea, of course, is to give you some plan behind this great book, so that you read, as it should be read, day after day, year after year, life after life, and continue. Nobody has a monopoly on Savitri: it is the soul’s book.

Very often, I tell my friends, I‘m like somebody who has gone to see the Madurai temple and am so enchanted by the architectural beauty of the sculpture on the walls, that I am standing there describing it to whoever comes to look at this statue, that statue and the other. The chances are I may never get an opportunity to go into the temple myself and stand before the sanctum sanctorum, but my delight is to describe this, draw people’s attention to this.

Ultimately, you have to get into the sanctum sanctorum and stand before the Divine. This is the invitation, so this entire series of talks may be called ‘An Invitation to Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri’.


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