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At the Feet of The Mother

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as I saw Them – by V. Chidanandam (I)

About the year 1920 a good-humoured joke of Sri Aurobindo — one of his many, — used to be current in his circle. A certain person wanted to publish a magazine and sought Sri Aurobindo’s advice. Sri Aurobindo was reported to have said to him, “What is it you want to publish? your ignorance?” This I remembered when I was debating within myself whether to write this article or not. Finally, I have decided to write this knowing full well that I am publishing my ignorance. Two reasons weighed with me in coming to the decision.

First, I thought I must publish the authentic words of the Master, whom I consider to be Knowledge incarnate; I must share them with all, though they were from my private interviews with the Master. For they highlight his gracious personality as Guru, as Father, as Mother…, his unbounded compassion even for an unworthy person like myself, his sympathetic understanding, his uncanny insight and power to guide the disciples, his superhuman patience, and his manner of encouraging them. His love for his disciples was more than a mother’s love. I can find a parallel only in Ramakrishna’s love of his disciples. Sri Aurobindo was so informal, so affable, so genial, so lovable, so adorable, so willing to listen to us and answer any question, so intimate, we were never conscious of any reserve of manner in him, or any barrier between us. I never heard one hard word from him. I have preserved the notes of my conversations with the Master, some extracts from which I append below in Section II. Any comment would be superfluous for they reveal very clearly the aforesaid aspects of his personality.

Secondly, I felt I must repay my debt of gratitude to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, if that were at all possible, in this manner.

 

I

By the Grace of Sri Aurobindo I had my first Darshan of him in 1920 when I was a college student. I heard that he was a great patriot, quite out of the ordinary, one who renounced his all for our country, who saw our country actually as Bharat Mata, a Goddess, and who elevated patriotism to the height of Religion and Spirituality, and kindled the fire of spirit in the nation by his courage, and by his eloquent speeches and writings. I heard also that he was a poet, a scholar and a Maha Yogi. I was very eager to have Darshan of the great personality, and so I went to Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo kindly granted me an interview.

Before seeing me he stood for a few minutes facing the sea and gazing into the beyond. He stood erect, motionless like a statue. Then he came near and sat in a chair. I made my pranam and sat opposite to him.

My first impression of Sri Aurobindo was that he was a true Rishi. His God-like face radiated profound peace, and serenity. His intent and faraway look indicated to me that he was not of the earth. He was lean, but he was a picture of health and immense, dynamic calm strength. His complexion was dark, but his personality was radiant.

Sri Aurobindo made kind inquiries regarding my studies and interests. Politics inevitably came up for discussion. It was a very informal talk, but extremely stimulating and useful to me.

I had Darshan of Sri Aurobindo every evening for a week afterwards. We used to talk mainly about literature, fine arts, philosophy and politics. In English literature he advised me to begin with Thackeray’s Pendennis and other novels. He remarked: “Thackeray is more subtle and psychological than any novelist of his time or before him.” Other authors recommended by him were George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte Sisters, Stevenson…. Among poets he asked me to start with Tennyson, Matthew Arnold (especially his essay on translating Homer), Wordsworth, Shelly, Keats, and then take up the earlier poets.

Those meetings and many others afterwards were etched in my memory. While taking leave of him I requested his permission to come to see him again, and he kindly granted my request. After leaving Pondicherry I began to read the works of Sri Aurobindo with avidity. In them I found solutions of important problems concerning the nature of man, of the world and of God. The mental pleasure and spiritual satisfaction that I got from reading his works, I had never got from any other thinker or writer. It was not only admiration for the constant incandescence of his intellect; his philosophy of life and living appealed to something deeper, some inmost chord in my being, and moved me to my depths.

So in the beginning of 1926 I decided, “Sri Aurobindo is my Guru”. But I asked myself, “Will he accept me as his disciple?” With trepidation I proceeded to Pondicherry and sought an interview with the Master, which he readily granted. I wondered at the great change in his physical appearance since I had seen him last. His complexion was fair, and his body had filled out. Spiritual fire shone through his eyes. I remembered the epithet in the Mahabharata describing the eyes of the Tapaswins as ‘durniriksya’, unseeable. (Later I saw it was not always so. Usually it was a soft and gentle light like the stars.) I told him the purpose of my visit. When he consented to accept me as his disciple, I felt myself blessed.

My brother V. Chandrasekharam and I lived in the house next door to 9 Rue de la Marine, the Master’s residence. There were about a dozen disciples then living in a few houses close by. It was like Gurukul. There used to be informal sittings in the evenings when we used to talk on all kinds of subjects. It was often like table-talk. Sometimes serious subjects also were discussed. At other times the talk was in a lighter vein on men and matters, on politics at home and abroad, etc., but it was all off the cuff.

Sri Aurobindo’s voice was soft and gentle, almost feminine. His words flowed like the cool waters of a perennial spring. Thoughts came to him incessantly. It appeared as if he was in communication with higher levels of inspiration and direct knowledge. His experience in the sphere of Sadhana as well as in other spheres was vast and profound. But he made us feel quite at ease in his august presence. I never saw him solemn or serious. The Master would talk in a relaxed and jovial mood. He had a fine and subtle sense of humour. Even light-hearted jokes and jests used to be there in plenty. His repartee was good humoured and enjoyable. On occasions he would chuckle happily.

We therefore looked forward to the evening sittings with great pleasure. As days passed, it appeared to us, towards November 1926 that Sri Aurobindo was getting more and more indrawn. Evidently he had reached a crucial stage in his Sadhana and was on the verge of achieving a great objective. Finally towards the last week of November the evening sittings came to an end. The evening talks were an intellectual feast. I found them as scintillating and stimulating, as illuminating and edifying as the talks of Socrates and Plato, and in modern times of Goethe and Whitehead. All his original thoughts were precious to me and I used to record most of them faithfully the next day. On many days I could reproduce more than a hundred lines. This I believed then, and looking back now I believe still more, that it was all due to the Grace of Sri Aurobindo. My notes of these talks are currently being published in Mother India. There is no continuity in the notes, for the talks were on all kinds of subjects, and they cover different periods of time, but looming above it all in the background is Sri Aurobindo’s personality and the pervading presence of his unique vision.

to be continued

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