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At the Feet of The Mother

Some Mysteries of the Psychic Being (HH 251)

This talk is based on certain experiences of Her own life and the growing soul in man. It helps us understand the natural course of human development, in this life and as it happens through many lives. This development culminates in a point whence the human soul is ready to meet the Divine.

Words of the Mother


Sri Aurobindo wants to make the distinction between the progressive soul (the soul which has experiences and progresses from life to life), what can be called the ‘lower soul,’ and the higher soul, that is, the eternal, immutable and divine soul – essentially divine. He wrote this when he was in contact with certain Theosophical writings, before I introduced Theon’s vocabulary to him. For Theon, there is the ‘divine center’ which is the eternal soul, and the ‘psychic being’; similarly, to avoid using the same word in both cases, Sri Aurobindo speaks in later writings of the ‘psychic being’ and of the divine center or ‘central being’ – the essential soul.


* * *


In fact, if I look at the order my own yoga took…. When I was five years old (I must have begun earlier, but the memory is a bit vague and imprecise)… but from five onwards, in my consciousness (not a mental memory but – how can I put it? – it’s noted, a notation in my consciousness)… well, I began with consciousness. Of course I had no idea what it was. But my first experience was of the consciousness here (gesture above the head), which I felt like a Light and a Force; and I felt it there (same gesture) at the age of five. It was a very pleasant sensation. I would sit in a little armchair made especially for me, all alone in my room, and I… (I didn’t know what it was, you see, not a thing, nothing – mentally zero) and I had a VERY PLEASANT feeling of something very strong, very luminous, and it was here (above the head). Consciousness. And I felt, “That’s what I have to live, what I have to be.”

Not with all those words, naturally, but… (Mother makes a gesture of aspiration Upward). Then I would pull it down, for it was… it was truly my raison d’être.

That is my first memory – at five years old. Its impact was more on the ethical side than the intellectual; and yet it took an intellectual form too, since…. You see, apparently I was a child like any other, except that I was hard to handle. Hard in the sense that I had no interest in food, no interest in ordinary games, no liking for going to my friends’ houses for snacks, because eating cake wasn’t the least bit interesting! And it was impossible to punish me because I really couldn’t have cared less: being deprived of dessert was rather a relief for me! And then I flatly refused to learn reading, I refused to learn. And even bathing me was very hard, because I was put in the care of an English governess, and that meant cold baths – my brother took it in stride, but I just howled! Later it was found to be bad for me (the doctor said so), but that was much later. So you get the picture.

But whenever there was unpleasantness with my relatives, with playmates or friends, I would feel all the nastiness or bad will – all sorts of pretty ugly things that came (I was rather sensitive, for I instinctively nurtured an ideal of beauty and harmony, which all the circumstances of life kept denying)… so whenever I felt sad, I was most careful not to say anything to my mother or father, because my father didn’t give a hoot and my mother would scold me – that was always the first thing she did. And so I would go to my room and sit down in my little armchair, and there I could concentrate and try to understand… in my own way. And I remember that after quite a few probably fruitless attempts I wound up telling myself (I always used to talk to myself; I don’t know why or how, but I would talk to myself just as I talked to others): “Look here, you feel sad because so-and-so said something really disgusting to you – but why does that make you cry? Why are you so sad? He’s the one who was bad, so he should be crying. You didn’t do anything bad to him…. Did you tell him nasty things? Did you fight with her, or with him? No, you didn’t do anything, did you; well then, you needn’t feel sad. You should only be sad if you’ve done something bad, but….” So that settled it: I would never cry. With just a slight inward movement, or “something” that said, “You’ve done no wrong,” there was no sadness.

But there was another side to this “someone”: it was watching me more and more, and as soon as I said one word or made one gesture too many, had one little bad thought, teased my brother or whatever, the smallest thing, it would say (Mother takes on a severe tone), “Look out, be careful!” At first I used to moan about it, but by and by it taught me: “Don’t lament – put right, mend.” And when things could be mended – as they almost always could – I would do so. All that on a five to seven-year old child’s scale of intelligence.

So it was consciousness.

Next came the period of learning and developing, but on an ordinary mental level – school years. Curiosity made me want to learn to read. Did I tell you how it happened? When I was around seven, just under seven, my brother, who was eighteen months older, used to bring big pictures home from school with him (you know, pictures for children with captions at the bottom; they’re still used nowadays) and he gave me one of them. “What’s written there?” I asked. “Read it!” he said. “Don’t know how,” I replied. “Then learn!” “All right,” I told him, “show me the letters.” He brought me an A-B-C book. I knew it within two days and on the third day I started reading. That’s how I learned. “Ohoh,” they used to say, “this child is backward! Seven years old and she still can’t read – disgraceful!” The whole family fretted about it. And then lo and behold, in about a week I knew what should have taken me years to learn – it made them think twice!

Then, school years. I was a very bright student, always for the same reason: I wanted to understand. I wasn’t interested in learning things by heart like the others did – I wanted to understand them. And what a memory I had, a fantastic memory for sounds and images! I had only to read a poem aloud at night, and the next morning I knew it. And after I had studied or read a book and someone mentioned a passage to me, I would say, “Ah, yes – that’s on page so and so.” I would find the page. Nothing had faded, it was all still fresh. But this is the ordinary period of development.

Then at a very young age (about eight or ten), along with my studies I began to paint. At twelve I was already doing portraits. All aspects of art and beauty, but particularly music and painting, fascinated me. I went through a very intense vital development during that period, with, just like in my early years, the presence of a kind of inner Guide; and all centered on studies: the study of sensations, observations, the study of technique, comparative studies, even a whole spectrum of observations dealing with taste, smell and hearing – a kind of classification of experiences. And this extended to all facets of life, all the experiences life can bring, all of them – miseries, joys, difficulties, sufferings, everything – oh, a whole field of studies! And always this presence within, judging, deciding, Mother clarified: “Actually, a growth of consciousness was going on throughout those years of study; I didn’t learn things by rote, I needed to understand them; and as soon as I understood something, I knew it. In other words, because the learning period was not yet intellectual, it can be considered part of the period of consciousness development.” classifying, organizing and systematizing everything.

Then conscious yoga made a sudden entry into the picture when I met Théon; I must have been about twenty-one. Life’s orientation changed, a whole series of experiences took place, with the development of the vital giving interesting occult results.

Then, a period of intensive mental development, mental development of the most complete type: a study of all the philosophies, all the conceptual juggling, in minute detail – delving into systems, getting a grasp on them. Ten years of intensive mental studies leading me to… Sri Aurobindo.

So I had all this preparation. And I am giving you these details simply to tell you it all began with consciousness (I knew very well what consciousness was, even before I had any word or idea to explain it), consciousness and its force – its force of action, its force of execution. Next, a detailed study and thorough development of the vital. After that, mental development taken to its uppermost limit, where you can juggle with all ideas; a developmental stage where it’s already understood that all ideas are true and that there’s a synthesis to be made, and that beyond the synthesis lies something luminous and true. And behind it all, a continual consciousness. Such was my state when I came here:

I’d had a world of experiences and had already attained conscious union with the Divine above and within – all of it consciously realized, carefully noted and so forth – when I came to Sri Aurobindo.

From the standpoint of shakti, this is the normal course: consciousness, vital, mental and spiritual.

Is it different for men? I don’t know. Sri Aurobindo’s case was quite special, and apart from him I don’t see any convincing example. But generally speaking, what is most developed in a man, along with the mind, is the physical consciousness; the vital is very impulsive, practically ungoverned. That’s my experience of the hundreds and hundreds of men I have met. There’s normally a physical strength built up through games and exercises, and side by side a more or less advanced, but primarily mental development, very mental. The vital is terribly impulsive and barely organized, except in artists, and even there…. I lived among artists for ten years and found this ground to be mostly fallow. I mingled with all the great artists of the time, I was like a kid sister to them (it was at the turn of the century, with the Universal Exposition in 1900; and these were the leading artists of the epoch); so I was by far the youngest, much younger than any of them – they were all thirty, thirty-five, forty years old, while I was nineteen or twenty. Well I was much more advanced in their own field – not in what I was producing (I was a perfectly ordinary artist), but from the viewpoint of consciousness: observations, experiences, studies.

I am not sure, but it seems to me that the problem of consciousness ought to come first.

What happened to me in life is extremely logical, very, very logical (it wasn’t me, I didn’t decide anything – you don’t make decisions at the age of five). Each stage was prepared by the preceding one.

But then what is this consciousness we feel like a force inside us? For instance, sometimes in meditation it rises, then descends; it’s not fixed anywhere. What is this consciousness?

The Shakti!

Some receive it from above; for others, it rises from below (gesture to the base of the spine). As I once told you, the old system always proceeds from below upwards, while Sri Aurobindo pulls from above downwards. This becomes very clear in meditation (well, in yoga, in yogic experience): for those who follow the old system, it’s invariably the kundalini at the base [of the spine] rising from center to center, center to center, until the lotus (in an ironic tone) bursts open here gesture at the crown of the head). With Sri Aurobindo, it comes like this (gesture of descending Force) and then settles here (above the head); it enters, and from there it comes down, down, down, everywhere, to the very bottom, and even below the feet – the subconscient – and lower still, the inconscient.

It’s the Shakti. He said, you know (I am still translating it), that the shakti drawn up from below (this is what happens in the individual process) is already what could be called a “veiled” shakti (it has power, but it is veiled). While the Shakti drawn down from above is a PURE Shakti; and if it can be brought down carefully and slowly enough so that it isn’t (how shall I put it?) polluted or, in any case, obscured as it enters matter, then the result is immediately much better. As he has explained, if you start out with this feeling of a great power in yourself (because it’s always a great power no matter where it awakens), there’s inevitably a danger of the ego meddling in. But if it comes pure and you are very careful to keep it pure, not to rush the movement but let it purify as it descends, then half the work is done.

It’s a problem. When you contact the Supraconscient and the Shakti emerges at the crown of the head, it’s something rising from below, isn’t it? Is it then another movement, an ascending movement…? 

That is the consciousness of the jiva [soul], the personal, individual consciousness.

It’s something that grows….

It is the individual consciousness. Aspiration is almost always an expression of the psychic being – the part of us that’s organized around the divine center, the small divine flame deep within human beings.

You see, this divine flame exists inside each human being, and little by little, through all the incarnations and karma and so on, a being takes shape around it, which Théon called the “psychic being.” And when the psychic being reaches its full development, it becomes a kind of bodily or at any rate individual raiment of the soul. The soul is a portion of the Supreme – the jiva is the Supreme in individual form. And since there is only one Supreme, there is only one jiva, but with millions of individual forms. This jiva begins as a divine spark – immutable, eternal and infinite too (infinite in possibility rather than dimension). And through all the incarnations, whatever has received and responded to the divine Influence progressively crystallizes around the jiva, which becomes more and more conscious as well as more and more organized. Ultimately it becomes a completely conscious individual being, master of itself and moved exclusively by the divine Will. That is to say, an individual expression of the Supreme. This is what we call the “psychic being.”

Generally speaking, those who practice yoga have either a fully developed, independent psychic being which has taken birth again to do the Divine’s work, or else a psychic being in its last incarnation wanting to complete its development and realize itself.

This is what aspires, this is what has the contact.

So, when you’re told “become conscious of your psychic being,” it’s for the being formed by external Nature to contact the divine Presence through the psychic being. Then the psychic takes charge of the whole being; in fact, it is the inner Guide…. Well, when I was a little child, this “person” (which wasn’t a person, but an expression of a certain consciousness and will) was actually the psychic presence; there was something else behind, but that’s a rather special case. And what happened to me happens to everyone whose psychic being has deliberately incarnated: the psychic being guides your life, and if you let it act freely, it arranges ALL circumstances – it’s truly wonderful!… I have seen – not only for myself but for so many people who also had conscious psychic beings – that everything is arranged with a view to… not at all your personal egoistic satisfaction, but your ultimate progress and realization. And all circumstances of life, even those you call “disastrous,” are there to lead you where you have to go as swiftly as possible.

Yours is more than a psychic being. As I have told you, your psychic being is accompanied by something which has come for a special purpose, with a particular intellectual power – a luminous, conscious power – which has come from regions higher than the mind, regions Sri Aurobindo calls the Overmind, to do a special work. It is here (gesture enveloping the chest and head) and, along with the psychic, it’s trying to organize everything. This, in your psychic, is what you are feeling. It must have great power…. Don’t you feel a kind of luminous force?

Oh, yes, I feel it! 

Well, that’s what it is.

That must be why I can’t distinguish between the Force coming from above and the Force coming from within. 

A time comes when you don’t make this distinction any more.

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