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At the Feet of The Mother

Birth and Girlhood (1878-1896)

The Mother was born in Paris on 21 February 1878 at 10.15 a.m. The house of her parents was at the boulevard Haussmann near the Opera. Her father, Maurice Alfassa, was a Turkish banker from Adrianople, whilst her mother, Mathilde Ismaloun, came from Cairo. The Mother was thus of Turkish-Egyptian descent, a fact which is significant in so far as these two countries are on the threshold between Orient and Occident. It became evident later that the Mother, like no one else, knew how to bring together these two worlds in a happy synthesis.

She was given the name Mirra and grew up in Paris where she was to spend the first part of her life. Her parents had moved to France a year before her birth and settled down there.

Even in her early years Mirra became conscious of her special purpose of life, her mission on earth: “I started contemplating or doing my Yoga from the age of 4. There was a small chair for me on which I used to sit still, engrossed in my meditation. A very brilliant light would then descend over my head and produce some turmoil inside my brain. Of course I understood nothing, it was not the age for understanding. But gradually I began to feel, ‘I shall have to do some tremendously great work that nobody yet knows.’”[1]* From the age of five she was conscious that she did not belong to this world and did not have a human consciousness. At this age she began her spiritual discipline, her sadhana. But her mother, who was a rationalist, knew little of what was going on in Mirra’s mind. Once she asked her, when she was meditating in her small chair, “Why do you sit thus with a set face, as if the whole world were pressing upon you?” And prompt came the answer, “Yes, indeed, I do feel the weight of the world’s miseries pressing upon me!”*

Mirra soon developed her own interests. Once she told some students in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram how she was trying to find out even at a young age what forces were working on her and moving her, and how she made an effort to achieve inner clarity and freedom. “It is a rather unpleasant sensation to feel yourself pulled by the strings and made to do things whether you want to or not – that is quite irrelevant but to be compelled to act because something pulls you by the strings, something which you do not even see – that is exasperating… I knew nobody who could help me and I did not have the chance that you have, someone who can tell you: ‘This is what you have to do!’ There was nobody to tell me that. I had to find it out all by myself. And I found it. I started at five.”[2]

Whilst Mirra was thus developing her inner experiences, she had to fulfill, externally, the demands of society. She learnt to read and write, went to school and wondered at many strange things in the life of grown-up people. Once when she was carefully dressed up in order to pose for a photo, she looked with astonishment at the older people around her and told herself, “But how childish all this is!”[3]*

At the age of eight she started practising a sport which was to play a daily role at a later stage in her life, that is, tennis. In order to make quick progress she used a special method: instead of playing with her comrades of the same age, she chose older players who were more experienced. It disturbed her little that with this method she always lost: “I never won, but I learnt much.”[4]*

At the age of about 12 we find her on lonely walks in the forests of Fontainebleau near Paris. “It was a very old forest, where there were trees that were even 2000 years old. I would sit quietly under a tree going deep into meditation. At that time I often felt a close intimacy with those trees that gave me great joy. My consciousness came into communion with those trees, and even the birds and squirrels from them would come down, very close to me and fearlessly run across my body in a playful mood… Once there was talk of cutting down an old tree, and when I went under this tree, I distinctly felt that the tree had become aware of its danger and was soliciting me to somehow stop this cruelty.”[5]

Another time it happened that while climbing up a steep slope she slipped and fell. While falling, it was as if someone was supporting her and bringing her down slowly. Her comrades were happily surprised to see her safely arriving on the street which was covered with sharp black flint stones.

At the same age Mirra also started developing interest in occultism. Her inner experiences assumed new dimensions now: “Between the ages of 11 and 13 a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God, but man’s possibility of uniting with Him, of realising Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine. This, along with a practical discipline for its fulfilment, was given to me during my body’s sleep by several teachers, some of whom I met afterwards on the physical plane. Later on, as the interior and exterior development proceeded the spiritual and psychic relation with one of these Beings became more and more clear and frequent.”[6] Although Mirra knew little of Indian philosophy and religion at that time, she called the special Being ‘Krishna’ and was firmly convinced that one day she would meet him on earth.

Another revealing experience has been recorded by her in her Prayers and Meditations. “When I was a child of about thirteen, for nearly a year every night as soon as I had gone to bed it seemed to me that I went out of my body and rose straight up above the house, then above the city, very high above. Then I used to see myself clad in a magnificent golden robe, much longer than myself; and as I rose higher, the robe would stretch, spreading out in a circle around me to form a kind of immense roof over the city. Then I would see men, women, children, old men, the sick, the unfortunate coming out from every side; they would gather under the outspread robe, begging for help, telling of their miseries, their suffering, their hardships. In reply, the robe, supple and alive, would extend towards each one of them individually, and as soon as they had touched it, they were comforted or healed, and went back into their bodies happier and stronger than they had come out of them.”[7]

But life for Mirra was not one-sidedly an inner life only. She could be firm and resolute if it was the question of fighting for the Truth or protecting comrades. Here are two incidents to illustrate the point.

Once at the age of seven she had to face a thirteen-year old bully who used to insult and molest girls. One day she asked him, ‘Will you shut up now?’ When he continued with his insults, she suddenly caught hold of him, lifted him up and threw him to the ground. A supernatural force had descended into her. The Mother later explained that it was Mahakali, the divine warrior force.

At the age of fifteen she joined a big studio to learn drawing and painting. She calmly concentrated on her work and the others called her the Sphinx. It often happened that fellow students came to her to take her advice or make her settle some quarrel. Once Mirra took up the case of a monitress who had got into the bad books of the old lady who was the Head of the Studio and who wanted to send her away. Mirra knew that this would mean for the poor girl the end of her career. So she approached the Head of the Studio and pleaded for the monitress. When her rational arguments fell on deaf ears, Mirra caught the hand of the old lady and held it in such a firm grip that she quickly changed her mind. The monitress was allowed to stay on.

A school essay which Mirra wrote at the age of fifteen has been luckily preserved. It is entitled ‘The Path of Later on’. A young, student gets disenchanted with his homework and decides to postpone it until the next day. He goes to sleep and has a dream in which he finds himself standing at a crossroads. Enticed by sweet fragrances and the warm sun which is shining there he chooses the easy path in spite of warning voices. Then at the end he lands in a kind of ghost-kingdom and faces a deep abyss. When he is just about to succumb, he wakes up and his nightmare is finished. He makes a resolve never to follow again the ‘Path of Later on’ and not to leave until tomorrow what he can do today.

[1] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:14
* Utterances of the Mother on herself which have been remembered and recorded by her disciples are marked with an asterisk.
[2] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:14-15
[3] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:17
[4] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:19
[5] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:22
[6] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:24
[7] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:24

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To be spontaneous means not to think, organise, decide and make an effort to realise with the personal will.