A second talk on flowers, delivered at Savitri Bhavan in January 2007. A full (46 minute long) audio file is posted below. Also, a 22 minute video fragment of the talk is being offered, but its sound quality is not so high.
The Mother’s Work with Flowers by Richard Pearson
(this article originally appeared in “Collaboration” Vol 34, Summer 2009)
To see her was a summons to adore.
—Sri Aurobindo, Savitri
When I first came to the Ashram what used to strike me most when we went “up” and entered one by one—whether department head or us children—was the array of flowers of all kinds arranged in trays or in vases on a shelf at the entrance of the Salon. The Mother would receive us just inside the open door at the top of the staircase that led from the Meditation Hall. This door is just opposite the door that sadhaks and visitors use nowadays for Darshan or to go to Sri Aurobindo’s Room.
And we could hear, while still standing on the steps waiting our turn to meet Her, “Lakshmi, give me ‘Victory!’ Lakshmi give me that flower!”
When we were in Her Presence, She would often choose a flower from a tray held for Her by Lakshmi, the “Queen of Roses” as the Mother called her—often not even looking at the tray but picking the flower while smiling and looking intently into our eyes . . . deep, so very deep!
Sri Aurobindo has reportedly written that “There are three ways of blessing of the Mother: by sight, by touch and through flowers. And it is through flowers that Her blessings are most effective.”
I don’t know what my friends would do with the flower She gave, but I would take it straight home and put it in a small bottle. Vases were less common in those days and if we did get a beautiful one from someone we would prefer to offer it to Her on our birthday with a flower of our choice.
It was a game I played with these flowers to kee them fresh as long as possible. It’s a past-time I still enjoy as it is both rewarding and often deeply instructive, rather indicative of my own aspiration or lack of loving understanding.
This was my first introduction to flowers; we received, besides ‘Victory’ (Allamanda), ‘Divine Solicitude’ (Malvaviscus drummondii) and even quite often ‘The Divine Presence’ (Rhoeo: Moses in the Cradle).
However, the most usual flower She gave at the morning blessings was the Champak: ‘Psychological Perfection.’ I believe also during ‘Children’s Darshan’ at around noon (nothing was really fixed, it depended on the Mother’s work), she would give either this flower or a little tomato or a toffee. She would give or throw to each of us children and the few teachers crowding in the Darshan Room. The inner Darshan door and both doors to Sri Aurobindo’s would be corridor closed, of course. During special Puja days She would quite often give the flower ‘Victory.’
For those familiar with the endless variety of Frangipani’s, I must specify that in those days the commonest flower was the small white one with the yellow center. We did receive too the white one with long separate or rounded petals on occasion (Plumeria obtusa), respectively ‘Integral Psychological Perfection’ and ‘Perfect Psychological Perfection.’
Since this flower is so important ‘psychologically,’ I will return at this point to a moment in time when I was not physically present. In 1929-30, She played flower games with a few sadhaks, who—like Nolini, Sethna, Amrita, Pavitra, and Champaklal, of course—were often upstairs working with Her. She would gather a few flowers in Her hand and ask each disciple to make a meaningful sentence using the significances She had given (in English in those days). The 100 odd such sentences recorded by Champaklal, that ever faithful and meticulously careful disciple who respected every little thing used by the Mother or Sri Aurobindo and even preserved the Lord’s loose hair and nail clippings. Those flowers, listed not as names but as aids, guide-posts, indications of the paths, promises of the goal, show that the Mother’s work with flowers was already a “fait accompli,” an accomplished fact, soon after She took charge of the Ashram after 24 November 1926.
Here are two such flower messages: “Divine Solicitude is supporting you in the Disinterested Work through which you will attain Transformation. 23.9.1929,” and “Love the Victor will manifest when there will be established through the five-fold Psychological Perfection [this flower has five petals] the Love of the Physical Being for the Divine—and when through Loving Consecration [the earlier name for what She later called “Radha’s Consciousness”] there will be a complete Faithfulness to the Divine.” [There is noted below this message: “Five-fold psychological perfection: Sincerity, faith, devotion, aspiration, surrender.]
Much later, in fact, 30 years or more, when talking to the children (in French) about this flower, She described at length how sincerity (She put that first) was really a form of transparency, faith a manifestation of trust in the Divine, gratitude a true expression of devotion, aspiration the ardent symbol of courage, and perseverance the material form of endurance. And as you notice endurance and perseverance have come into the psychological perfection, what about Surrender? Well, when summing up in that talk, She says “Sri Aurobindo has said that surrender is the first and absolute condition of doing the yoga. So . . . this is not just one of the necessary qualities, it is the first condition . . . To do the Integral Yoga one must first resolve to surrender entirely to the Divine; there is no other way, this is the way. But after that one must have the five psychological virtues, five psychological perfections.”
Where did the first 100 flowers named by Mother come from in those early days?
According to what I heard from my friend Jyotin-da, Mother was so fond of flowers that the old maxim of “beg, borrow or steal” was the method used to procure flowers for Mother to distribute! So with hurricane lantern, a stick and basket in hand, and a pair of nimble legs to climb over walls and run away when espied, our would-be gardeners went out by night or very early morning. Perhaps in those days of rigorous sadhana when you could not go for a walk or visit another sadhak without the Mother’s express permission the end justified the means. But when during one such “sortie” a sadhak who was not quick enough to jump the fence was caught and even put behind bars for the offence, the Mother decided that the time had come to develop gardens and gardening. One of the first gardens—Maret Garden—was called “Atul’s Garden” by the sadhaks for Atul, the very same person who went to prison, and who was put in charge! Those were the days when houses or gardens could be haunted by spirits up to some mischief. So dear Atul-da himself had to deal with some not-so-pleasant intruders! Incidentally, part of this garden had been used earlier by the washer people who had built several large tanks and an elaborate water drainage system. When filled with soil they have truly proved till this day to be very effective for growing annuals and even water plants.
After a few years, the town-people too really came to know of the Mother’s magical ways . . . of forcing “matter to express the spirit.” Once She had decided that flowers would be grown in our gardens, She encouraged gardeners to try out all sorts of new varieties of flowers and vegetables to the extent that when a flower and vegetable show was arranged at the Botanical Garden, the flowers and plants displayed by the Ashram created an overwhelming presence of beauty and joyous peace: the beauty and bliss and peace of the Divine Mother’s Grace!
Let us trace briefly at this point the Mother’s visible identification with Nature and with flowers. Even as a child She had experiences of the physical restoration of energy by the contact with Nature, which She described as occurring when lying flat on the grass in the woods. In Japan, after the intense years of inner growth and searching for unification and one-pointed surrender—as Her Prayers and Meditations amply and beautifully describe—we find from the beginning of 1917 how in that land of beauty and austere simplicity (she has said “there is a great beauty in simplicity”), the seeds of the New World were already sown. She wrote how the cherry tree revealed its “current of azure force” and She became one with the tree that is one with all. She experienced the cherry blossoms radiating their divine presence and self-giving. The Mother’s heart burst forth in exaltation as she wrote:
March 31, 1917*
EACH time that a heart leaps at the touch of Thy divine breath, a little more beauty seems to be born upon the Earth, the air is embalmed with a sweet perfume, all becomes more friendly.
How great is Thy power, O Lord of all existences, that an atom of Thy joy is sufficient to efface so much darkness, so many sorrows and a single ray of Thy glory can light up thus the dullest pebble, illumine the blackest consciousness!
Thou hast heaped Thy favours upon me, Thou hast unveiled to me many secrets, Thou hast made me taste many unexpected and unhoped for joys, but no grace of Thine can be equal to this Thou grantest to me when a heart leaps at the touch of Thy divine breath. At these blessed hours all earth sings a hymn of gladness, the grasses shudder with pleasure, the air is vibrant with light, the trees lift towards heaven their most ardent prayer, the chant of the birds becomes a canticle, the waves of the sea billow with love, the smile of children tells of the infinite and the souls of men appear in their eyes.
Tell me, wilt Thou grant me the marvellous power to give birth to this dawn in expectant hearts, to awaken the consciousness of men to Thy sublime presence, and in this bare and sorrowful world awaken a little of Thy true Paradise? What happiness, what riches, what terrestrial powers can equal this wonderful gift!
O Lord, never have I implored Thee in vain, for that which speaks to Thee is Thyself in me.
Drop by drop Thou allowest to fall in a fertilising rain the living and redeeming flame of Thy almighty love. When these drops of eternal light descend softly on our world of obscure ignorance, one would say a rain upon earth of golden stars one by one from a sombre firmament.
All kneels in mute devotion before this ever-renewed miracle.
(Prayers and Meditations, 31 March 1917)
This is the feeling one felt when the Mother gave flowers on our birthday, the most special day—individually speaking—in the year! We saw Her several times that day, and each time we would receive a special bouquet or a flower or a garland and Her smile and Her Presence.
Most memorable perhaps—for how can one compare Beauty to Beauty,—was the simple meeting at night upstairs after the Blessings in the Meditation Hall. Her whiteness equaled by—rather matching—the Jasmine garland She held in Her hand! One was quite overwhelmed with fragrance and perfume, with sweetness, with Grace!
Flowers bring with them the smile of the Divine.
– The Mother
I grew up with Baudet, the donkey, Beauty the dog, and with Jalad-da, a simple, reserved yet lovable and dynamic dairyman. He took me out with him on his bullock cart (the trotting kind of bullock loathe to start yet really fast when returning home!). I wandered in the mornings in gardens or spent time with the gardeners: Jyotin-da, whose day began at three in the morning and who still used to write a line or two of poetry when he awoke at night!; with Parichand-da who never refused me anything I asked and who spent his free time reading Savitri or The Life Divine aloud to himself (This at a time when perhaps only a handful realised the infinity and the sublimity of this epic). There there was Jibon-da, Jyotin-da’s own student in the early days, who carried on his work at the Flower Room and who told me most of the flower names.
Yes, the Flower Room! It was once upon a time in the little store-room now used by the School near the Soup Table. It was here that my flower schooling began. I would just stand around as the flowers—in baskets covered with leaves and maybe a damp cloth and tied in neat bundles collected from the previous evening or early that day—would be taken out and arranged. Bouquets would be made for birthdays; special flowers would be carefully laid out in large brass trays to take to the Mother for Her to distribute. All this would be done on the floor. Jyotin-da, moving around and back and forth to the Ashram, Jibon-da squatting on a very low stool with his wooden sandals high enough to keep his feet dry. It was cool and refreshing and fragrant too. So I would ask, “What is this flower? What is that?” And so on, picking up slowly the name She gave.
Many were the stories Jyotin-da would tell. Let me tell this one since it was one that baffled him as he tried to fathom the Mother’s ways with her children.
He told me of a flower I had not seen though I knew the tree. It was in fact ‘Jerusalem Thorn’ (Parkinsonia aculeata) though I saw the formidable thorns only later. He had taken it several times to the Mother when he saw it bloom, near the Lake, I believe, but she had not given it any significance. It seems others had tried asking her too, but in vain. Now, it was during the very early days of Auroville even before the inaugural ceremony, I think, and there was young girl in her teens who had come to the Mother on her birthday and had brought these flowers and feathery leaves to her.
I was told that the Mother smiled as she took the flowers and exclaimed: “Oh, This is Lightness!” This girl, with lovely blond hair flowing over her shoulders, was studying to be a ballet dancer!
This reminds me of what Pavitra once asked me when I was enthusiastically trying to persuade him to ask the Mother about a particular significance: “Do you think the Mother gives the name for the flower, or for us?” At that moment I truly believed she gave names to flowers. But over the years and by the effect of experiences and such stories as I have just recounted, I really feel that it is both terrestrial and an individual gift of the Mother Divine!
The other two gardeners whom I came into contact with was first Nirmal-da, who grew both vegetables and flowers—vegetables for the Mother’s kitchen, flower plants for different houses as well as for the Library. When I was young, I could never understand one of his quaint habits: he would go at night to look at his plants and just stand by the flower or vegetable beds. Much later I fully sensed the contact he was experiencing, more tangible at night than by day!
Now I must tell something of Lakshmi. As in some fairy-tales we are told of a beautiful garden surrounded by a wall, such was the impression of Lakshmi’s garden. The door was always well shut, whether she was in or at the Ashram attending on the Mother when She gave flowers. But the flowering trees and shrubs grew a foot and a half apart and spread over the wall giving the most wonderful sight and fragrance—Queen of Roses she was indeed—for in that small garden, roses—all in pots, packed to the rim and with only as much place on the pathways for Lakshmi or her servant to pass between. Nobody visited her, she went nowhere except to the Ashram for the Mother, besides she had a little black Terrier, a dog who barked fiercely if you even came near the door!
Of course, I wanted to see inside but the first few times I asked her she closed the door in my face! Besides, I would never ask her on the road since she was either in a hurry to go to the Mother or in a hurry to go back to see her plants.
Little by little I won her confidence, but she would even after letting me in say: “What is there to see? All roses are gone!” (she meant upstairs to the Mother).
With the children who arrived with their parents after 1939, little by little a new energy was present in the Ashram. One of the first things the Mother did was to use the French name for flowers when talking with the few children who had now settled. By 1943 when the Ashram School officially opened, French became the language of instruction, as Mother would speak in French.
The greetings of Bonjour! and Bonne Fete! have defied time and space and even now from that a beautiful bond unites us with Her. Incidentally, Bon Anniversaire or Joyeux Anniversaire is the usual French expression, but She preferred the short and sweet form.
It must be mentioned that the Mother encouraged all forms of art and handiwork—embroidery, painting, carpentry, leather work—all means of expressing beauty by consecrated service and work; consciousness obliging matter to obey the spirit! It may also be noted that there were only a handful of ashram artists in the beginning: Anil-Kumar, Jayantilal, Krishnalal, and Sanjivan; but young and old alike would take things for her to offer on their birthdays.
In 1952, I wrote my last letter in English to the Mother and she replied (in English) to my question of whether I could go for further studies in Botany to England. Her reply indicated that whereas I would find England satisfying intellectually, I would not find the kind of spiritual atmosphere present in the Ashram, and that to move out of this atmosphere would be a great risk for me of losing what I had gained.
In 1953, Le Role des Fleurs was published, written by Lizelle Raymond, in which she collected 656 flowers and wrote the most beautiful introduction! This and the card indexes in four beautiful wooden boxes were my “treasure” with which in 1956 I began a small section of Natural History downstairs in the “Laboratoire” (of Physics and Chemistry). This is where I looked after wounded birds, baby squirrels, and took charge of a few boys who liked to come round and make things for the Mother on their birthdays!
When I saw the book I found some mistakes in the botanical names and in the significances. I wrote to the Mother asking if I could work on a flower book that would contain all the names Mother had given. Mother said “Yes, this could be done.” This development began the new classification for the book Flowers and Their Messages, but was not completed until 1973. During this work, Pavitra sent messages to the Mother for me. He was another of my mentors. When I went to his room, as soon as I entered, I would feel that I was in the Mother’s room, so strong was her Force. In his presence I would feel the Presence of the Mother.
In 1964 began my life with Kailas and soon after began the daily offering of a plate of flowers to the Mother and her blessing of flowers to us: a larger plate for Kailas and a smaller saucer for me. We would send flowers covered with a beautiful cloth. In the Indian tradition, when flowers are given to the guru, they should not be seen, touched nor smelled by anyone else. I used to press all the flowers she sent to us. The last flowers the Mother sent to me were a garland of ‘Devotion.’
“When I give them [flowers] I give you states of consciouness.”
– The Mother