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At the Feet of The Mother

“A Review of Sri Aurobindo’s Life” – Nolini Kanta Gupta


I PROPOSE to speak to you on a very interesting subject – about Sri Aurobindo. You know it is his centenary, that is to say, this August [1972] he completes a hundred years of earthly existence: I say earthly advisedly because although he has left his body he has not left earth’s atmosphere. The Mother assures us he will be there to see the work begun be completed. I will speak on a very peculiar aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s life. Many must have noticed it but I wish to draw your particular attention to it. Sri Aurobindo’s life is an extraordinary phenomenon. It is not that of an ordinary human being. The life of an ordinary man follows a well-marked line of development, almost a routine good for everybody. The pattern is familiar, you can even foresee and foretell the future – and the destiny of a person. You start as a student, join a school, go up to the college, after passing out you choose a profession, become an engineer or doctor or businessman or something well-recognised like that, then you continue to stick to the job you have chosen: you become a rich man or if you are unfortunate a poor man, anyhow go through the experiences of the life allotted to you, you become old, have children, grandchildren and then pass away; that is the ordinary course of life. In Sri Aurobindo life has a different line, movement and procedure. Strangely it consists of breaks, sudden unforeseen turns almost cutting away the past altogether. And then what is to be noted is that these breaks or turns are not imposed upon him but they are normally his own conscious decisions out of his own deliberate will, except one or two, I shall point out as I go on. These turns, however may not be always a right-about-turn but anyhow, I may say, a right turn, a turn to the right, always to the right – until the final ultimate Right is reached.

First of all – let us begin from the very beginning. The very first step or turn he took in his early childhood was in fact a complete about turn – the antipodes of what he was and where he was. For, he was almost uprooted from his normal surroundings and removed across far seas to a distant land. From out of an Indian Bengali family he was thrown into the midst of a British Christian family. He was made to forget his native language, his country’s traditions, his people’s customs and manners, he had to adopt an altogether different mode of life and thinking, a thoroughly Europeanised style and manner. Naturally being a baby this was an occasion, the earliest when he had not his choice, his own deliberate decision but had to follow the choice of his father – the choice perhaps of his secret soul and destiny. His father meant well, for he wanted his children to be not only good but great according to his conception of goodness and greatness. Now, in that epoch when the British were the masters of India and we their slaves, in those days the ideal for a person of intelligence and promise, the ideal of success was to become a high government official, a district magistrate or a district judge; that was the highest ambition of an Indian of that time and naturally Sri Aurobindo’s parents and well-wishers thought of Sri Aurobindo in that line, he would become a very famous district magistrate or a Commissioner even, the highest position that an Indian could achieve. So he had to appear at an examination for that purpose, it was called – those glittering letters to Indian eyes: I.C.S. (Indian Civil Service). Now here was the very first deliberate choice of his own, the first radical turn he took – to cut himself away from the normally developing past. He turned away from that line of growth and his life moved on to a different scale. His parents and friends were mortified such a brilliant boy come to nought but he had pushed away the past as another vision allured him and he stuck to his decision.

Next as you all know, he came to Baroda, entered the State service – as Secretary to the Maharaja and professor of the College. That life was also externally a very normal and ordinary life – an obscure life, so to say, but he preferred obscurity for the sake of his inner development and growth. Still he continued in that obscure position that was practically what we call the life of a clerk. He continued it for sometime, although sometime meant twelve years, the same length as his previous stage. Then a moment came when he changed all that. Another volte-face. If he continued he might have advanced, progressed in his career, that is to say, become Principal of the College, even the Dewan of Baroda, a very lofty position, a very lofty position indeed for an Indian, become another R. C. Dutt. But he threw all that overboard, wiped off the twelve years of his youthful life and came to Bengal as a national leader, a leader of the new movement that wanted freedom for India, freedom from the domination of Britain. He jumped into this dangerous life – the uncertain life of a servant of the country, practically without a home, without resources of his own. He ran the risk of being caught by the British, put into prison or shot or hanged even but he chose that life. That was a great decision he took, a turn about entirely changing the whole mode of his life. Eventually as a natural and inevitable result of his political .activities he was arrested by the British and put into prison. He had to pass a whole year in the prison. And this led to another break from the past, ushering in quite another way of life. The course of his life turned inward and moved from depth to depth.

In the prison one incident happened which is not known to many but extremely important and of great consequence. I have mentioned it in my Reminiscences. When we were in prison we thought – we were the first batch of political prisoners accused of conspiracy and practically of rebellion against the established government – so we thought this was the end of our life’s journey. One day we will be taken out and shot: court trial and justice was a make-believe and sham. Or if we were lucky enough we would be exiled to the Andamans – the notorious kalapani. So a few of our leaders in the prison who were elders to us thought of escape from the prison-make a dash, break out, scale the walls, out in the open. There were plannings with outside helpers. When the plan was a little matured, our elders thought of consulting Sri Aurobindo. Without his Consent naturally nothing could be done. For he was the one leader and guide. So when Sri Aurobindo was informed of the plan he said bluntly: I am not going to do anything of the kind. I stand the trial. As a natural consequence the project fell through and very fortunately for us. It is true he already knew the result of the case, that is that he would be freed and nothing would happen to him. Still at that time there was a suspense and we all were in doubt. This decision of Sri Aurobindo was another, I may say, great turn of his life. If he had accepted the prospect his life and destiny would have been different, we all would have been massacred. In other words he saved his life for his spiritual work.

On coming out he engaged himself again in the national work, the British were truly perturbed and worried because they knew here was the man, the source of all mischief. They did not know how to control and get at him. So they thought of arresting him again and deport him, send him out of bounds – outside India, to Burma or some such far off place. In the meanwhile he continued to do his work as usual, editing two papers, seeing and advising people, going out on lecturing tours etc. But it was time for the next break or turn. One day-one night, that is to say – all of a sudden he said, he would go to an unknown destination and literally he did so, dropped and left things as they were and disappeared. People knew later on that he had gone to Pondicherry. This time it was almost literally wiping out the past. He started an altogether new life, inner and outer. Here started directly his climb to the Supramental. Here too after a few years came an occasion when he had to take another radical decision. One more turn to the right – to the more, yet more right.

The British could not tolerate his existence, his safe existence in India, even though in (the then) French India. They felt themselves unsafe, for they felt this man could do anything. As France was an ally to the British, there was an entente cordiale, so they both came to an understanding and made a proposal to Sri Aurobindo: France would gladly receive Sri Aurobindo in their midst, give him safe shelter and quiet circumstances to pursue his spiritual life. France was ready to offer Sri Aurobindo a house, a home in Algeria. Here too Sri Aurobindo answered with a clear and definite No. He said he would stick to the place he had chosen. Sri Aurobindo had some friends and companions who also took shelter in the French territory. They would have liked to accept the proposal to escape from the constant British persecution. But Sri Aurobindo’s decision came as a disappointment to them, but they had to acquiesce. Now, at this distance of time we can see all the import of his formidable decision half a century ago.

There was yet one more crisis, a great crisis – the fate of humanity and also his own destiny, the fate of his work depended upon it. The world was nearing the world-shaking war – the Second World War. It was the invasion of the asuric forces upon earth to destroy humanity and human civilisation and prevent the advent of that truth which Sri Aurobindo was preparing to bring down. Sri Aurobindo opposed that mighty onrush with his will and divine strength. He broke the hostile downward-speeding force by taking it into himself, even like god Shiva who swallowed poison and harboured it in his throat to release immortality for the Gods. The subtle attack left in him a bruised body and to man a saved world. He followed up his action by a whole-hearted support to the Allies in that war against those who were the instruments of the Hostiles.

We come finally now to the last act, the last decision that he took of an almost complete turn, a full cycle. It was his considerate deliberate decision to move out of the physical material scene and take his station just in the background from where he could move and direct things more effectively.

I have spoken of Sri Aurobindo’s life as a series of radical turns that changed the movement, the mode of life, almost radically every time the turn came. The turn meant a break with the past and a moving into the future. We have a word for this phenomenon of radical and unforeseen change. You know the word, it is intervention. Intervention means, as the Mother has explained to us more than once, the entry of a higher, a greater force from another world into the already existent world. Into the familiar established mode of existence that runs on the routine of some definite rules and regulations, the Law of the present, there drops all on a sudden another mode of being and consciousness and force, a Higher Law which obliterates or changes out of recognition the familiar mode of living; it is thus that one rises from level to level, moves out into wider ranges of being, otherwise one stands still, remains for ever what he is, stagnant, like an unchanging clod or at the most a repetitive animal. The higher the destiny, the higher also the source of intervention, that is to say, more radical – more destructive yet more creative – destructive of the past, creative of the future.

I have spoken of the passing away of Sri Aurobindo as a phenomenon of intervention, a great decisive event in view of the work to be done. Even so we may say that his birth too was an act of intervention, a deliberate divine intervention. The world needed it, the time was ripe and the intervention happened and that was his birth as an embodied human being – to which we offer our salutation and obeisance today.

The century salutes a divine birth and a death divine, ushering in a century of diviner moment.

[Recorded in 1972]

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