Again the unexpected! All of a sudden the curtain dropped on the divine drama that had been unrolled for twelve years. Who could have foreseen it? The Supreme Actor who had apparently been quite well and given darshan to the bhaktas on his birthday, August 15, as well as on November 24, most unexpectedly left the stage! When the news was announced on the radio, it came as a heart-rending to the devotees all over the world and just at a time when his name spelt a word of hope to aspiring humanity, as a Yogi, Rishi, poet, philosopher, lover of mankind and bringer of new Light. It was hard to believe and many rushed to Pondicherry by whatever means available to have the last darshan of the Sage.
It is now twenty-two years since he left us; His Birth Centenary in which the Government of India is taking a significant part as a modest recognition of Sri Aurobindo’s greatness, is going to be observed all over India and in many parts of the world. Meanwhile the Supramental Manifestation has taken place and the Ashram in consequence has come to be regarded by the world as a spiritual institution from which a new Light is radiating upon earth. Politically, India is gaining a world-status and a serious obstacle to her greatness has been partially removed fulfilling his prophecy. We see then the purpose for which Sri Aurobindo took birth and the dreams he cherished and worked for are on their way to realisation. He did not come for a few individuals only, or for a single nation or race; he came for the transformation of earth-nature which had been abandoned to herself by God and man. God-men came to give some relief to the suffering humanity or to show it a door of escape from suffering, but none before Sri Aurobindo, the Supramental Avatar, accepting Matter as essentially Brahman, came to divinise it. When the work was going apace the curtain dropped, all of a sudden.
The question surges up like an old suppressed ache, “Why did he leave his body? What imperious necessity compelled his withdrawal, self-chosen though it was? Had the accident which had changed his rhythm of life any connection with it, however subtle or remote? What would have been the course of events had there been no accident?” The Mother told a sadhak in 1935 that in ten years’ time she would look as young as a girl of 16. To me also she narrated at length a similar vision of hers, the gist of which is that she and Sri Aurobindo had become young and exquisite so much so that none of the sadhaks could recognise them. From Sri Aurobindo’s letters too we had the intuition that the Supramental descent in the physical was imminent. In one of the sonnets written in 1940 we find him speaking of abolishing death and of his physical transformation:
… Under the mask grows clear
The mould of an imperishable face.
Well, notwithstanding all these bright prospects, what turned the wheel backwards? What inevitable fiat cancelled and ruled supreme over the glorious promise? Vain, otiose are such speculations and questions, for answers also would be speculative unless he or the Mother herself unravelled the mystery.
Along with his mysterious self-immolation another question which is also somewhat mysterious puzzles us: Why did he choose the “natural way” to leave his body when he could have easily left it in the yogic way, as Yogis usually do? The answer that I have found is that Sri Aurobindo’s life has respected the rules and laws of Nature, what he has called the conditions of the game. But even these conditions are adapted to a new direction of which Nature, though not pursuing it, is secretly capable. Thus Nature is put to a supernatural use. Whenever any directly miraculous or special intervention has been made either in his own case or in the case of others, then too it is not by utter flouting of those rules and laws, a freakish and ultimately inconsequential movement. A process is still followed. Sri Aurobindo sums up the several sides of the Divine’s action thus: “The Divine also acts according to the conditions of the game. He may change them, but he has to change them first, not proceed, while maintaining the conditions, to act by a series of miracles.” In following this course of Nature, he probably wanted to have the concrete experience of Death which would help him in the conquest of the Power of Death for the world from across the barrier. Also this natural way created conditions of crisis which would bring about an urgent and extraordinary response from the spiritual Force so that side by side with the progression towards death there would be the precipitation of the Supramental Light. A sign of what was being done may be seen from the Mother’s statement: “As soon as Sri Aurobindo with- drew from his body, what he had called the Mind of Light got realised in me.” We can understand also how after death and as a result of it, the Supramental Light suffused his body for several days.
The shock and desolation, however, that we felt can be more imagined than described. Though we could see the Master only four times a year, his Presence was vibrant in the very air we breathed, in our sleep, in every moment of our life; particularly after the accident, even physically he seemed to have come nearer. So the sudden absence was felt like a yawning abyss ready to engulf our very existence. I wonder what would have happened to the vast life qf the Ashram, if the Mother was not there to envelop all of us, the whole earth, in the embrace of her infinite love and compassion. Yet, have we any measure of knowing what she must have felt, though she is the Divine? Just as he “worked, struggled, suffered”, so did she suffer and bear. We witnessed it in the early period of the accident; but the command was upon her from the Lord to carry on his work. And the immense vacuum that was created could be filled by her alone. From these verses in Savitri in a different context we get such an indication:
The dubious godhead with his torch of pain
Lit up the chasm of the unfinished world
And called her to fill with her vast self the abyss.
That it was a voluntary withdrawal has been rendered sufficiently clear from the foregoing account.
In answer to a query Sri Aurobindo wrote to me in 1935, “…Or perhaps what I said was that I have the power to overcome illness, but accident and poison and the I.M. [Ichcha Mrityu – self-willed death] still remain as possible means of death. Of course, the Mother and myself have hundreds of times thrown back the forces of illness and death by a slight concentration of force or even a use of will merely.”
Even the date seems to have been envisaged by him, for we have seen that the symptoms took a suddenly grave turn as soon as the School Anniversary functions were over. Evidently he was waiting for the passing of that date and then relaxed all control. The end came swiftly. We- know also from the Mother’s revealing account that a year earlier he had taken the decision to leave the body. The Mother had said to Dr. Sanyal, “People do not know what a tremendous sacrifice he has made for the world. About a year ago, while I was discussing things, I remarked that I felt like leaving this body of mine. He spoke out in a very firm tone, ‘No, this can never be. If necessary for this transformation, I might go, you will have to fulfil our Yoga of supramental descent and transformation.’ ” He told us he would not explain why he was not Curing himself as we would not understand it. He called it “the dread mysterious sacrifice, offered by God’s martyred body”. These significant words which were the last touches to be given to Savitri suggest a clue that might disclose the meaning of the event.
There is a message received by the Mother to the same effect. When on December 8, the Mother inwardly asked him to resuscitate himself, he clearly answered, “I have left this body purposely. I will not take it back. I shall manifest again in the first supramental body built in the supramental way.” We need not probe further into the mystery, since it is of another dimension. Instead, it would be much more soul-satisfying to know that though physically he has withdrawn, his Presence is always with us. We get that illumination from the Mother’s statement on December 7, 1950 during Sri Aurobindo’s lying in state. It runs, “Lord, this morning Thou hast given me the assurance that Thou wouldst stay with us until Thy work is achieved, not only as a consciousness which guides and illumines but also as a dynamic Presence in action. In unmistakable terms Thou hast promised that ‘all of Thyself would remain here and not leave the earth atmosphere until earth is transformed. Grant that we may be worthy of this marvellous Presence and that henceforth everything in us be concentrated on the one will to be more and more perfectly consecrated to the fulfilment of Thy sublime Work!”
Those of us who grieved over the tremendous loss received a sharp reprimand from the Mother, “To grieve is an insult to Sri Aurobindo who is here with us, conscious and alive.” And “The lack of receptivity of the earth and men is mostly responsible for the decision Sri Aurobindo has taken regarding his body. But one thing is certain: what has happened on the physical plane affects in no way the truth of his teaching. All that he has said is perfectly true and remains so. Time and the course of events will prove it abundantly.” And how much he worked for us, for the world, can be gauged by the inscription in English and French on the Samadhi as an offering of the Mother’s gratitude:
“To Thee who hast been the material envelope of our Master, to Thee our infinite gratitude. Before Thee who hast done so much for us, who hast worked, struggled, suffered, hoped, endured so much, before Thee who hast willed all, attempted all, prepared, achieved all for us, before Thee we bow down and implore that we may never forget, even for a moment, all we owe to Thee.”
Let us see now what have been the effects, direct and indirect, of that withdrawal. First of all, by virtue of this tremendous sacrifice the Supramental Light which had been descending into the most outward physical since 1938 but could not be fixed there, was at last fixed in the earth-consciousness. This massive descent into his own body and extending through it into all Matter was a crowning achievement of his Yoga at the expense of his body’s sacrifice and an act of unparalleled self- effacement for the sake of the earth-transformation. The next step that was to follow was the great Manifestation which took place in 1956. The Mother is reported to have said after it, “Now my work is done.” This means that essentially what she and Sri Aurobindo had been wanting to do was achieved, but the details had to be consciously worked out and a concentrated yoga is required to hasten the evolution. There is no doubt that the Manifestation, so soon in the wake of his departure, was the direct result of Sri Aurobindo’s sacrifice. One might argue that it should have been possible without his leaving the body. Quite true, but it was getting delayed, as Sri Aurobindo complained more than once in his letters. Various internal and external circumstances were always hindering it. We have noted in the chapter on Savitri Sri Aurobindo’s complaint about his real work being hampered by these factors and yet he could not ignore them. They did not leave him sufficient time for concentration which, he said, was his real work. A drastic measure to deal with all obstruction at its very root seemed called for. This measure would also create the right conditions by which the subtle sheath, free from its physical counterparts, gets its full scope and can work more dynamically from above and behind. Sri Aurobindo could now make the path clear for the Manifestation in 1956. The Mother has said in the Bulletin of Physical Education that we have no idea of the tremendous work Sri Aurobindo has done in the occult worlds as a result of which all the crucial changes are taking place in her body. It will be, therefore, not an error of perception to call his passing away a strategic retreat, nor an emotional hyperbole to call it a sacrifice, a martyrdom. The phenomenon itself that we witnessed was something stupendous, beyond all canons of Science. Whoever has heard of a dead body changing its colour overnight, becoming charged with a gold-crimson radiance and remaining intact for five days?
The second effect whose purport will not be evident to those who are unfamiliar with Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga was, to quote the Mother, “As soon as Sri Aurobindo withdrew from his body, what he had called the Mind of Light got realised here. The Supermind had descended long ago – very long ago – in the mind and even in the vital: it was working in the physical also, but indirectly through those intermediaries. The question now was about the direct action of the Supermind in the physical. Sri Aurobindo said it could be possible only if the physical mind received the supramental light: the physical mind was the instrument for direct action upon the most material. This physical mind receiving the supramental light Sri Aurobindo called the Mind of Light.”¹ It is because the Mother as his supreme collaborator was there to receive the Light and continue his work that Sri Aurobindo could make that holocaust of himself. The holocaust has also had one effect which cannot but be regarded as being eminently in accord with Sri Aurobindo’s own vision. It is clear that the Ashram “instead of dwindling after the Master’s self- withdrawal has leaped gloriously forward under the Mother’s leadership”. Earlier Sri Aurobindo’s towering personality, though in seclusion, dominated the scene. Now the picture, as I said, is entirely different. We can see that all the world is coming to the Mother and accepting her as the Divine Mother, the Shakti who rules, guides and saves. This is what Sri Aurobindo had wanted and laid down since the Mother took charge of the Ashram, as the prime desideratum of his Supramental Yoga. It has been rendered possible and quickly effective by his unprecedented sacrifice. It is also in keeping with his nature. He had admitted that temperamentally he was always prone to act from behind the veil, – the way of the Supreme to move men and forces without their knowledge. His political life, except for a short period, and life in Pondicherry, bear testimony to its truth. So the final retirement was consistent with that disposition and is its highest culmination. This culmination has carried the Mother even more to the forefront. There she stands now and plays the role of Shakti and, as she has said, is doing Sri Aurobindo’s work and giving his final dream, of which he has spoken in his Independence Day message, a concrete shape on this earth. Sri Aurobindo constantly helps her from behind. The Mother has said in the Bulletin, as I have stated before, what a vast amount of work Sri Aurobindo has done in the occult field in consequence of which the work of transformation of the physical has become easier. Similarly, can we have any idea- of his world-action, particularly in the political field, for example his occult contribution to the liberation of Bangladesh? Let us remember Sri Aurobindo’s prophetic voice, “Division must go.” His Force has not ceased to act in that direction. On the contrary it is moving powerfully towards the realisation of this prophecy. These are his works on a cosmic scale that we are aware of. In our individual cases too his Presence and his dynamic action have been testified to by devotees and disciples all over India and in the West We hear his voice, get his touch, protection, active intervention. The Mother told me more than once that she always saw Sri Aurobindo working on me. I had a personal proof of his surprisingly direct intervention, saving me from a critical situation that could have otherwise put my sadhana in peril. I have mentioned another occult phenomenon in the preface of my Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Vol. I to illustrate his subtle help. A third small instance will suffice: when the Ashram was passing through a financial difficulty, the Mother reported the matter to Sri Aurobindo. He replied, “Ask Prodyot.” And it is well known that Prodyot brings a lot of money for the Ashram.
Still, it cannot be denied that we do miss his physical Presence, especially those of us whom he had drawn near by his personal intimacy and those who had the exceptional privilege of living with him and serving him. “Nirod is no doctor to me; he has come to serve me,” is one of his few utterances I cannot forget, though I know too well how poorly I served him. Sometimes when we think of the old days that will never come back, when I go over his unparalleled correspondence with me, a void, a sore loss fills my heart. A few days after Sri Aurobindo’s departure, the Mother asked a group of sadhaks what was the greatest loss caused by his absence. Different answers were given, but the Mother replied, “No, not these; the biggest loss is that I can no longer approach him for his advice. For instance, if he were there, I could have gone and asked him to stop the rain.” (It was raining heavily at that moment.) To this, someone said, “But, Mother, you can look into yourself.” She kept quiet. Here I may speculate on this incident. To deal with any serious problem needs a degree of concentration. The Mother has always been a very busy person; She often fell back on Sri Aurobindo to do the concentration needed. The more important point, however, seems to be that certain problems are , better dealt with by an embodied spiritual force than a disembodied one, problems concerned perhaps with the most outward material aspect of existence. We see how our difficulties and problems get quickly solved by the Mother’s direct intervention. Apropos of the above incident, I may further ask: Did not the Mother hint at something more poignant ?’The difference between a physical presence and a subtle one? Whenever there was an intricate situation to face, some crucial stage to be crossed, she quietly came and laid the burden at his feet with an utter trust, that he would see it through. The ineffable physical Presence of an Avatar of Sri Aurobindo’s stature, one whose work ultimately was transformation and divinisation of the very body, was a heavenly boon to our corporeal earthly life. The incarnation itself would have otherwise lost much of its significance.
Both the external and the internal development towards physical divinisation is going on apace in the Mother so that in a not distant future it will be seen that the sacrifice, the martyrdom has not gone in vain, but has resulted in the emergence of a glorified body – the consummation of the Supramental victory over Matter.
One can then conclude by saying that in his departure as well as in life the aim of Sri Aurobindo’s entire Sadhana was served – namely to make the Mother manifest, without which the divinisation of Matter would be impossible. We hear this truth very beautifully expressed in his poem A God’s Labour:
I have gathered my dreams in a silver air
Between the gold and the blue
And wrapped them softly and left them there,
My jewelled dreams of you.
And the poem finishes with:
I shall leave my dreams in their argent air,
For in a raiment of gold and blue
There shall move on the earth embodied and fair
The living truth of you.
¹ K. D. Sethna: The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo.
[ The above text is a concluding chapter of the book “Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo” by Nirodbaran ]