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At the Feet of The Mother

Paris and Tlemsen (1905-1912)

The Mother’s high inner realization and spiritual radiance soon attracted towards her many seekers. In 1906 a small group was formed under her guidance, which was named Idea. They met regularly on Wednesday evenings at her house, first in rue Lemercier, later in rue des Lévis and after 1910 in rue Val de Grâce. Apart from spiritual topics they also discussed occult experiences. The Mother herself had many occult experiences, but she never made them an end in themselves: they were strictly subordinated to her main object, spiritual realization and manifestation. The following quotation clarifies her attitude towards the occult: “Occult knowledge without spiritual discipline is a dangerous instrument, for the one who uses it as for others, if it falls into impure hands. Spiritual knowledge without occult science lacks precision and certainty in its objective results; it is all-powerful only in the subjective world. The two, when combined in inner or outer action, are irresistible and are fit instruments for the manifestation of the supramental power.”[1]

The Mother once had an experience in Paris which illustrates how powerful the inner protective wall can be if spiritual discipline is combined with occult knowledge. Once when she was walking in the Luxembourg Gardens and crossing a dangerous intersection, while being absorbed in deep inner concentration, she suddenly received a kind of blow and jumped back instinctively. The next moment a tram passed by – “it was the tram that I had felt at a little more than arm’s length. It had touched the aura, the aura of protection – it was very strong at that time, I was deeply immersed in occultism and I knew how to keep it – the aura of protection had been hit and that had literally thrown me backwards, as if I had received a physical shock.”[2]

The Mother’s natural disposition for occult experiences was at a later stage perfected by systematic training. Some time between 1905 and 1906 she met in Paris Max Théon, a Polish Jew who was highly advanced in occultism. He had a house in Tlemcen in South Algeria, at the border of the Sahara. His wife Alma too was a highly gifted occultist. She was from the Isle of Wight. The Mother spent one or two years in Tlemcen and had a great number of experiences of which only a small fraction have been recorded. Some of them seem rather incredible, and yet they become authentic by the very fact that the Mother herself relates them, because her attitude towards ‘miracles’ was very conservative and she had no interest in the sensational. Nevertheless, she told her students some amazing incidents in her own life as well as experiences of Madame Théon, perhaps in order to illustrate that there are indeed more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Thus we are told (the Mother herself was personally present in the following incident) that once an Arab merchant was repeatedly bothering Madame Théon with inquisitive questions. Then on one occasion she filled the table at which he was sitting with occult force. The table started moving, attacked the merchant and drove him away… Another time Madame Théon demonstrated to the Mother how she was recharging herself with energy: she lay down on her bed and held a large juicy grapefruit on her solar plexus. She asked the Mother to return after an hour. “An hour later I returned… and the grapefruit was as flat as a pancake. That meant that she had such a power to absorb vitality that she had absorbed all the life from the fruit and it had become soft and completely flat. And I saw that myself.”[3]

Madame Théon also told the Mother an amusing incident which had happened a few years earlier and seems as if taken directly from a book of fairy-tales. The administrator of Tlemcen had ordered pine trees to be planted on the surrounding hills to prevent the river from drying up. But due to some inexplicable mistake fir trees were ordered instead of pine trees and they were planted on the hills. As is well known, fir trees belong to the Nordic countries and hardly fit into the landscape of the Sahara. Then one night Madame Théon had a strange experience. A little gnome appeared in her room, with a pointed cap, dark green shoes and a long white beard. He was all covered with snow. With the snow melting and forming a small lake on the floor, Madame Théon looked at the guest from the book of fairy-tales and asked him: “But what are you doing here?” The gnome answered: “But we were called by the fir trees! Fir trees call the snow. They are trees of the snow countries. I am the Lord of the snow, so I came to announce to you that… we are coming. We have been called, we are coming.”[4] Madame Théon finally sent him away to avoid further damage to the floor. The next morning, when the sun was rising, she saw the mountains covered with snow. That had never before happened in this country.

The Mother devoted herself intensively to her occult studies and had no difficulty to bear the enormous heat at the border of the Sahara. Once when around noon she was meditating under an olive tree, she suddenly felt uneasy and opened her eyes. Just a few cubits in front of her a hissing cobra was standing with expanded hood. It was a naga whose poison kills instantly. The Mother realized that she was probably blocking the cobra’s retreat in the tree. She concentrated with all her will-power and looked at the snake, without moving. Then she slowly drew away her legs, even while keeping her look fixed on the naga. At last the snake yielded, turned round and jumped into a pond. Later in her life the Mother had many such encounters with snakes and she always urged them through mere will-power to leave.

When the Mother left Tlemcen after the completion of her training, Max Théon accompanied her on the journey, since he wanted to travel through Europe. On the Mediterranean their ship got into a heavy storm and there was the apprehension of a catastrophe. Then Théon asked the Mother to go and stop it. She withdrew into her cabin, concentrated for a while and went out of her body. On the open sea she found some small vital entities which had caused the havoc. She talked to them for half an hour and finally managed to persuade them to stop their mischief and leave the scene. When she returned on deck, she saw that the storm had subsided.

One of the members of the Mother’s study group in Paris was a well-known Tibetologist, Madame Alexandra David-Neel. She once spoke in an interview about those early days with the Mother:

“We spent marvellous evenings together with friends, believing in a great future… I remember her elegance, her accomplishments, her intellect endowed with mystical tendencies.

“In spite of her great love and sweetness, in spite even of her inherent ease of making herself forgotten after achieving some noble deed, she couldn’t manage to hide very well the tremendous force she bore within herself.”[5]

In 1912 the Mother was conducting a study group with twelve members, which was named ‘Cosmique’. She distributed among them translations of Indian scriptures such as the Gita, Upanishads or Yoga-Sutras, and she introduced her European friends to Eastern spirituality. One of her stories which were read out in the group was the following instructive parable: The Virtues, who are usually dispersed throughout the worlds, meet in the Hall of Intelligence within the precincts of the palace of Truth. There is Sincerity with a “cube of the purest crystal through which things could be seen as they were”, and many other guests who have already gathered, among them Humility, Courage, Prudence, Charity, Justice, Kindness and Patience. Last comes a guest who seems to be a stranger to the assembled Virtues: “She was, indeed, very young and frail, dressed in a white robe, very simple, almost poor. She came forward a few steps with a timid, embarassed air. Then, obviously at a loss on finding herself in the midst of such a crowded and brilliant company, she stopped, not knowing towards whom to go.” At last Prudence turns towards the shy guest and asks her for her credentials. The unrecognized Virtue answers with a sigh: “Alas! I am not astonished that I seem a foreigner in this palace. I am so seldom invited anywhere. My name is Gratitude.”[6]

The subject for the first meeting of the members of ‘Cosmique’ had been: “What is the aim to be achieved, the work to be done, the means of achievement?” And the Mother had answered in a short paper: “The general aim to be achieved is the advent of a progressive universal harmony.” She further refers to “states of being which have so far never been conscious in man” and mentions in connection with the earth, “several sources of universal force which are yet sealed to it.”[7] These are her first pointers to the new Truth-Consciousness which Sri Aurobindo called ‘Supermind’. And she says, at the end of her paper, that it was the aim “collectively, to found the ideal society in a place suited to the flowering of the new race, that of the ‘Sons of God’.”[8]

Two years before her first meeting with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, the Mother had already summarized in this paper the program of her subsequent collaboration with him.

[1] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:57-58
[2] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:64
[3] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:71
[4] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:75
[5] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:50-51
[6] K. R. S. Iyengar’s On the Mother 1:36
[7] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:111
[8] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:112

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