A Talk by Dr Alok Pandey from the “Tuesday Talks” series
Sometimes it is good to look back and try to see and understand how the Ashram life shaped itself in the beginning with the early disciples. Quite naturally the Mother was at their centre and their life revolved around Her. Like flowers opening to the sun, they gave themselves to Her Love and blossomed under Her care. Today we take a glimpse at life of Sahana di (17th May 1897 – 06th Apr 1990), who came to the Ashram in 1928. Having had some rare high experiences of yoga, she faced the trials and tribulations of the yogic life and the inevitable process when one comes to grip with one’s own nature ion this yoga. Yet through all this she was carried by the Mother’s Grace, something which became evident to all who came in contact with her towards the last few years of her life. We present few pages from her memoirs….Though her personal memoirs what comes across again and again is the Love and Grace of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and Their way of dealing with the sadhakas difficulties and unique challenges..
Sahana Di’s memoirs
The birth of ‘Conversations with the Mother 1929 – 1931’
Within a few days after my arrival as an aspirant to the Ashram, permission was granted to me to meet the Mother once a week. She even came to my room once in a while and sanctified it by her presence. It was on these occasions that I have been able to fill the pages of my “Book of Life” with her priceless instructions. It seemed as if she taught me to walk step by step, to see true by granting the inner vision, gave me the strength to know myself by sifting the rubbish heap of falsehoods to get at things that were true. She was moulding our entire life for a God-oriented existence, a birth into a new consciousness, an inner life. Before my coming here Nolini once wrote to me, “Very few things of the ordinary life would be of use here” — gradually this remark of his was becoming clear while living here. The Mother’s visits to the sadhaks were usually timed as she was going out for her regular evening drives. Our meetings, however, when we wanted to see her used to be in the mornings. She used to come to Dilip’s house on Sundays. An English lady named Miss Maitland once came here to stay for a period of six months. She too was asked to come to Dilip’s place on Sundays in case she wanted to ask Mother any questions. Besides Miss Maitland, several of us regulars were also present namely, Doraiswami Iyer (not yet a regular Ashramite but a very old disciple and a frequent week-end visitor from Madras) who was a very well-known lawyer of Madras; an American couple called Mr. and Mrs. Von (Mrs. Von was given the name ‘Shantimayi’ by Sri Aurobindo), Pavitra, Nolini, Dilip and myself. At the commencement the Mother used to meditate with us; at times she asked us to meditate on a special subject asking each one of us at the end about the result of meditation on that particular subject. She asked if anyone had any questions to ask, if there were any she answered them. These questions and answers were noted down by Shantimayi in shorthand. These questions and answers begun on the 7th April 1929 and continued for fifteen weeks and were published in 1931 in book form having fifteen chapters titled “Conversations with the Mother”. The book was meant for sadhaks to be distributed according to the Mother’s choice and was not for sale. Much later, however, it came to be put up for sale….
The Mother would sometimes take one of us by turn in her evening drives—of these we were the following: Doraiswami, Nolini and Chadwick (Chadwick, an Englishman, came to India as a lecturer in Philosophy at the Lucknow University, but later came away to the Ashram as a disciple of Sri Aurobindo who gave him the name ‘Arjava’), Dilip and myself. It was Pavitra who drove Mother’s car with Doraiswami at his side. We others followed in a small Fiat car. Our drives used to be quite long ones, at least so it seemed to us. I believe Pavitra was instructed before where to go and on arrival the Mother would get down from the car and we would follow. The Mother, it seemed, knew quite well the paths we traversed. These walks were at times fairly long. Sometimes she would choose a spot and sit down and we would gather around her enjoying the scenery in the open — how pleasant it was with the Mother! She carried with her some sweets and gave one to each. Here too Mother often answered if anyone asked her a question. At times there was meditation. On one occasion while we were thus seated with the Mother a local person approached with some fruits carefully wrapped in banana leaves and offered them to the Mother. On being asked by her if anyone wanted to eat them, I remember only Dilip and myself took one each. Another day I remember, we had seated ourselves comfortably when I saw an ugly looking insect creeping slowly towards me. Needless to say I began to feel rather uneasy and began to fidget, the whole of my attention was solely upon the insect and I was thinking of getting up if it became necessary. The Mother, however, quietly pushed it away without the slightest show of perturbation. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo never approved that anyone should be frightened at anything, as it is very harmful for sadhana. Sri Aurobindo once wrote to me, “All fear ought to be cast out.”…
Letter writing to the Divine and the divine response
Many were the questions put to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and they were of various kinds; they were asked to clearly understand if there were any doubts or difficulties and as long as they were not made clear the mind was not tranquil. Sri Aurobindo too not only answered them but did so in great detail and at length till there remained nothing obscure and he dwelt on each point with great care. As an example I am quoting here a letter of his in answer to mine. I asked: “If I saw some one attacking the Truth and exalting falsehood then what should be the attitude of the sadhaka? Would it be proper to remain indifferent maintaining a yogic equality or take up arms against the falsehood in support of the Truth?” This letter was the outcome of a letter I had read where the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were the target of attack. Needless to say I was very annoyed. A feeling of disgust had spread over my mind and I felt that I should have no truck with such people. The mind, however, felt: should one take such a drastic step? I had asked another sadhak who was very firm to indicate that we should never compromise in this regard.
Sri Aurobindo wrote in answer:
“No doubt hatred and cursing are not the proper attitude. It is true that to look upon all things, and all people with a calm and clear vision, to be uninvolved and impartial in one’s judgment is a quite proper yogic attitude. A condition of perfect samatā can be established in which one sees all as equal, friends and enemies included, and is not disturbed by what men do or by what happens. The question is whether this is all that is demanded from us. If so, then the general attitude will be one of a neutral indifference to everything. But the Gita which strongly insists on a perfect and absolute samatā goes on to say, ‘Fight, destroy the adversary, con-quer.’ If there is no kind of general action wanted, no loyalty to Truth as against Falsehood except for one’s personal sadhana, no will for the Truth to conquer, then the samatā of indifference will suffice. But here there is a work to be done, a Truth to be established against which immense forces are arrayed, invisible forces which can use visible things and persons and actions for their instruments. If one is among the disciples, the seeker of this Truth, one has to take sides for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either side, to refuse any action of hostility even to the assailants. Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samatā, strongly rebuked his attitude and insisted on his fighting the adversary, ‘Have samatā,’ he said, ‘and seeing clearly the Truth, fight.’ Therefore to take sides with the Truth and to refuse to con-cede anything to the falsehood that attacks, to be unflinchingly loyal and against the hostiles and the attackers, is not inconsistent with equality. It is the personal and egoistic feeling that has to be thrown away; hatred and vital ill-will have to be rejected. But loyalty and refusal to compromise with the assailant and the hostile or to dally with their idea and demands and say, ‘After all we can compromise with what they ask from us,’ or to accept them as companions and our -own people—these things have a great importance. If the attack were a physical menace to the Mother and the work and the Ashram, one would see this at once. But because the attack is of a subtler kind, can a passive attitude be right? It is a. spiritual battle inward and outward — by neutrality and Compromise or even passivity one may allow the enemy forces to pass and crush down the Truth and its children. If you look at this point “you will see that if the inner spiritual equality is right, the active loyalty and firm taking of sides which Y. insists on is as right; and the two cannot be incompatible.
“I have of course treated it as a general question apart from all particular cases or personal question. It is a principle of action that has to be seen in its right light and proportion.” (13-9-1936)
All communications were addressed to the Mother but were answered by Sri Aurobindo. My letters were written in Bengali and English as well according to the need, but Sri Aurobindo’s answers were all in English. I have, however, received a line or two from him in Bengali as well. What was amusing was that even if before beginning to write one had decided to keep back something, at the end it was seen that nothing was left untold in the letter — as if someone from behind was at work. I remember once I was very reluctant to write, not that I did not realise that one should not pamper this unwillingness, so I wrote to say, “I do not feel like writing today”, in answer the letter came back with three large notes of exclamation (!!!) on the left margin. On receiving it I had hardly any idea whether to laugh or to cry. One day arose a great desire in me to eat a few things and I was quite unable to resist it. The mind was busy trying to find some pretext or other. In the end I wrote “ Mother , I feel extremely greedy to-day. Do you know that I would like to eat? – eggs, lobsters and some kind of sardines. Either you remove this desire from me or permit me to eat them with your protection.” Sri Aurobindo wrote an answer next day! “Certainly not! You can eat up your desire – that is the only fish or flesh that can be given to you! It is an old samskara rising from subconscient – these things have never to be indulged, they rise in order to be dismissed.” (12-11-33) –a banter replete with laughter! But strange to relate, soon after sending the letter all that inclination to eat had completely gone—this filed me with an unalloyed joy and satisfaction…..
Two strange symbolic dreams
Let me now relate here two very strange dreams, so clear and tangible that I realized immediately that they were not just dreams. The significance of these dreams as was received by me, I wrote to the Mother. I am setting down here the two dreams with the answer from Sri Aurobindo:
First dream: From my room I observed that the sea -waves were rushing from afar towards my room and were swelling tremendously, as high as the mountains. I felt that if these terrible waves broke in then the entire town where I lived would be totally washed away. Yet in spite of being face to face with this deadly peril I was not the least afraid or perturbed. It seemed I was in safe protection. Even if there came a flood on the breaking of these waves they will flow over my room and there were no danger or harm that could touch me nor come anywhere near me — such a feeling of safety as an armour was within me. So quite unruffled I was observing that tide from behind the glass panes of my window.
Soon I saw that in fact the waves broke with water covering all around. There were several waves that broke and as soon as they were breaking the mass of water like an inundation was flowing past my room extending far behind it. I was observing it all without any excitement as if all this had nothing to do with me. I was a mere observer of that huge flood. When the flood waters had subsided and as I came out to look at all “that had happened, I saw all on a sudden that a portion of the house I was staying in was broken but through it I could see a part of a new construction coming up. Surprised I thought, “hallo, it is strange that I was not at all aware that under the old house one had begun to build a new one — once could only see that because a portion of the old house had fallen.” As if it only waited for the flood to demolish that part of the mansion to reveal the new building as it was being constructed! In a mood of appreciation I was wondering how it could happen, strange that the new building was not seen even after so much work had been done! For some reason or other I had entered the house but as I came out again the old house standing as a covering had totally crumbled and in its stead was standing a new house of a new design. Even the material of which the new house was made was quite other than that of the old one. The idea of the dream seemed as if the room in which I was feeling quite safe in the midst of danger was a Divine protection which did not allow the danger to enter there but had made it to pass over. I was quite untouched within. Perhaps the sense of it was that the flood of one’s desires and longings surging from the vital plane comes to drown one but if at that moment one could invoke the Divine protection in one’s true self then the flood passes over without touching one and one could detaching oneself observe the huge waves passing over. To me the significance of the first half of the dream was that. I am noting down also the significance of the second half of the dream, that is, as much as was clear to me: The old house where I resided was the external being with its old value, — from the depths of the old nature unperceived one goes on building the new nature; the new edifice is not visible as one is not conscious, thus when the veil of obscurity of the old nature is rent (that is what was meant by the crumbling of a portion of the old house) I become somewhat conscious how much the Divine unperceived has built up ftom within the covering of the old nature and still continues to build. And in the measure of the growth of con-sciousness the veil of darkness is gradually dropping away. In the end I saw in the true light of consciousness the aspect of the integral transformation of nature. The new building was the symbol of the integral transformation of the ordinary human nature.”
To all this Sri Aurobindo replied: “It was a good symbolic dream and your interpretation seems to me correct except for one detail. The sea cannot be the tide of distress; it must be the flood of the world forces.”
Second dream: A few of us were walking along the seashore. It was a different sort of sea, something frightening and terrible it was, jet black was the water packed tight with the beasts of the sea, so thick they were that one could see less of the water and they were ugly to a degree bringing uncomfortable feelings to the mind and body. Of these beasts a species of huge reptiles were preponderant, long, thick and black were they, really frightful to see. There were no waves. As far as one could see it looked like a black mountain of frightfulness lying stretched creating horrors. Far away one could discern an island, a beautiful one where the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were. I must go to them but could see no way to do so. On one hand the dark deep waters, on the other all kinds of terrible beasts filled it so thickly that it would be doubtful if one could find enough space to swim through them — one was sure to come in bodily contact with them. All on a sudden as soon as my companions had gone on a little ahead I found that plunging into the water I was swimming through those wriggling beasts. I was moving straight and fast pushing these beasts away from me with my hands, there were more of these beasts I was touching than the water but I hardly noticed them aiming only to reach the sland where were the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, nothing else came within my purview. As I came quite close to the island, my feet touched the ground and ceasing to swim I began to wade up towards the shore. All on a sudden I saw Sri Aurobindo lift me out of the water with outstretched hands and said, “so, you have come across”. It felt strange to have heard him. Even when I awoke from the dream this thought was constantly in my mind: I am sure to cross when it is Sri Aurobindo who has said so. The dream became clear to me signifying what the Mother and Sri Aurobindo mean by “taking the plunge”. I realised that if one did not look at any other side, did not wait to weigh the pros and cons, but plunged in only for the Divine then He himself took one up to the shore. For as long as one continued to debate with the mind to find a way one could never take the plunge. Once one has plunged in then all worrying thoughts of what one should or should not do, all obstacles, all dangers could find no foothold. In fact, the dream showed the way fraught with so much dangers but nothing could matter. At the moment of plunging in, one did so, nothing could impede or draw one back, one did go through all those dangers aiming only for that island where Sri Aurobindo himself drew one on to the bank. In spite of being a dream the experience received was indelibly impressed for ever. Next morning, my day for meeting the Mother, I related to her all in detail. She listened with great attention then placing her hand on my head for some time she looked straight into my eyes and said in a slow measured tone, “It is not just a dream”. She added much more but it is not possible to speak of it here…..
Personal care of the sadhakas
Sri Aurobindo: “Mother said you looked rather thin and pulled down. Is it only the absence of sleep or are you eating too little? You said you had hunger — if so you ought to eat well because underfeeding is not good for the nerves.”
Once this ailment of sleeplessness persisted very much and as a result Sri Aurobindo suggested that some medical treatment may be made use of. I, however, took this advice wrongly and was adamantly against any such imagining that he meant to keep me away from his influence. A perusal of the following letter of Sri Aurobindo will clearly show my wrong interpretation and reaction. His letter was so full of compassion.
“It was precisely out of solicitude for you, because the suffering of insomnia and the spasms had been excessive, that I proposed to you to take the help of treatment. This is a fact of my experience that when the resistance in the body is too strong and persistent, it can help to take some aid of physical means that as an instrumentation for the Force to work more directly on the body itself; for the body then feels itself supported against the resistance from both sides, by means both physical as well as supraphysical. The Mother’s force can work through both together. It is surprising that you should take my suggestion in this way as if it meant an abandonment and refusal to help you! But it is still more surprising that you should have taken Mother’s smile at pranam for sarcasm! The only thing she put in it was an insistence for the cloud that she saw covering the body consciousness and interfering with its receptivity to light. You must not allow this clouding attack to come between your mind and the Mother. Reject this distorting suggestion and keep its openness so that it may help to reopen up a full receptivity in the material body also. If you do not like to take any treatment, I will try to manage without that, if you keep me informed everyday without fail, even on those days you feel relieved till all trace of the attack is over”. (1.9.36)…..
The very atmosphere of the Ashram was charged. Many visitors had arrived from outside replete with eagerness to come to him. The countenances of the Ashramites were suffused with an inner light of ecstasy quietly yet expectantly waiting to receive the blessings from him to whom their lives were dedicated.
The Darshan was arranged in the room where the Mother gave interviews. It began at 7 a.m. There was a list of names of all those who had come for Darshan with the time given to each, hung at the foot of the stairs leading to the upper storey. In the Meditation Hall below were spread carpets where people were seated awaiting their turn. The entire building presented a sanctified air as the perfume of incense filled it — a solemn atmosphere. As his turn came, each one mounted the stairs to enter the holy precincts. The next one waiting on the last step. A profound silence reigned everywhere; even the slightest whisper was absent. As my turn came to wait on the last step, I saw Sri Aurobindo seated on a sofa leaning back, still and majestic like the Himalayas, a perfect image of a glorious sublimity. As I came before him I was enchanted by his amazing handsomeness. The Mother was seated on his right in a dazzling splendour. As I bowed down and touched her feet with my head, the Mother placing both her hands on my head, blessed me, then on raising my head she poured into me the nectar of her incomparable smile. Then my gaze came upon the fascinating feet of Sri Aurobindo. My head as it lowered itself on those feet was quite reluctant to leave them as the whole of my being was brimful of all that came into it and in particular a feeling of supreme reliance pervaded me. The touch of his hand was soft and reassuring. What I received from that touch cannot be described but it was certain never before had anything similar been received. As I looked into his eyes an unfathomable profundity was there — I could not take my gaze away till he himself shifted his. Slowly I came away to my room. I remembered not at all how the day was spent as my entire awareness was all the time surcharged with what I had seen.
Thus I had my first Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. Him I saw to whom all my life was dedicated even from before. Whenever I had thought of God it was his image that used to come before my mind’s eye.
Did I get him as my Guru? The soul answered — not only as the Guru. Then was it as the wisest of sages or a great Yogi? not even that. As the Seer of the Integral Yoga? No, not that either, but as Sri Aurobindo himself, the one and only Sri Aurobindo, the supreme Beloved……
The origin of Radha’s prayer
The Mother then gave us the idea of a dance on Radha. Dilip was entrusted to compose the song for the dance and I was to translate it into a dance. There were four movements — first, a vast emptiness had enveloped Radha, within as well as outside — she was groping in the dark; the second — longing without finding what she was seeking; the third—the revelation of Krishna; the last—the surrender of Radha. Dilip composed a marvellous song for the dance much praised by both the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. I can hardly check myself from mentioning here two humorous remarks of Sri Aurobindo. When the idea of showing the dance to the Mother was first mooted, we asked her to allot a particular room for practising, but in the room below resided a sadhak. Sri Aurobindo wrote in answer to our request: “He is too serious to be danced over”—while later when asked where could one practice the ‘Radha dance’, he indicated that very room. Much astonished I wrote mentioning about the sadhak: “You had written to say, ‘He is too serious to be danced over'”. He replied at once: “Perhaps before long he will cease to be too serious.”
The practising of the dance was on, when something happened. It was this: Dilip had composed another song entitled: “The Dawn-dance”. This one too I was preparing along with the Radha-dance but in my own room. This one, the Dawn-dance soon got ready and easily. From this dance I had a novel experience and I wrote about it to the Mother. I am quoting here portions of that letter: “It seems to me I have at once understood something new while preparing the dance. When I began the Radha-dance I started with the idea of expressing the inner mood of the song through the movements of my dancing; the mood expressed in the song I have tried first to feel and then tried to give it a form, but when I began the Dawn-dance then there did not arise in me any definite form of the mood of the dance. What has actually taken form is from a feeling that came before I could even realise the language of the mood the song had in it, as if the mood, the movement of vibration of the song were spontaneously expressing themselves through the movements of my dance; I was paying no attention to the words of the song rather, it seemed, I was following only the inner movement. Thus it appears to be a new experience of mine, and there is some truth in it. Perhaps these words of mine are too big, but what I am trying to say is this that the song for the Radha-dance from the point of view of the composition is much more easily understood than the Dawn-dance. Whereas the mood that the Dawn-dance has expressed, we are not very familiar with it. It is no doubt a new creation from the point of view of the inner expression, the form, expression all are unfamiliar to us and the composition too is quite intricate, at least it is so to me. This is just what I am trying to tell: I did not try to grasp a definite form at the outset, spontaneously the vibration of the inner movement came to me and the movements of the dance followed. That is why I wrote to tell you that the Dawn-dance is fairly easy, but I have not grasped why it is easy. As dance the inner vibration is becoming clear, as it were, I understand well an inner movement. I am writing to you to find out if there is any truth in it.”
Sri Aurobindo replied: “To feel the vibration and develop from it the rhythm of the dance is the right way to create something true; the other way, to understand with the mind and work it out with the mind only or mainly is the mental way; it is laborious and difficult and has not got the same spontaneous movement.”
In spite of my efforts with the Radha-dance the result was not up to my expectations, it seemed the real thing was eluding me. I realised that I was following the second way of which Sri Aurobindo told me, that is, my mind was more at work. Although I met the Mother often who watched my dance with a lot of care and affection and eagerness too, encouraging me a good deal, yet I seemed to be in the same dark alley and was not able to open myself in the manner I wanted to and consequently what I wanted remained unexpressed. In the end I veered off towards the Dawn-dance leaving the Radha-dance in abeyance.
All of us living here a life of slow awakening of consciousness, we begin to see why we are not able to do certain things and where we go astray in spite of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo helping with their force to crown every one of our resolutions with success, in spite of their sentinel-like vigilance watching over all our efforts. Be that as it may, when I was trying to shape the last movement of the Radha-dance I got a priceless letter from the Mother, written in her own hand. A letter like this one will show the manner of their help and explain how daily they are trying to raise us up, where and in what way. This episode on dancing will end with the quoting of the Mother’s letter. This is what she wrote:
To complete what I told you yesterday about Radha’s dance I have noted down as an indication of the thought and feeling Radha must have within her when she stands finally in front of Krishna: ‘Every thought of my mind, each emotion of my heart, every movement of my being, every feeling and sensation, each cell of my body, each drop of my blood, all, all is yours, yours without reserve. You can decide my life or my death, my happiness or my sorrow, my ‘pleasure or my pain, whatever you do with me, whatever comes to me from you will lead me to Divine Rapture.”….
12 January 1932
O Thou whom at first sight I knew for the Lord of my being and my God, receive my offering.
Thine are all my thoughts, all my emotions, all the sentiments of my heart, all my sensations, all the movements of my life, each cell of my body, each drop of my blood. I am absolutely and altogether Thine, Thine without reserve. What Thou wilt of me, that I shall be. Whether Thou choosest for me life or death, happiness or sorrow, pleasure or suffering, all that comes to me from Thee will be welcome. Each one of Thy gifts will be always for me a gift divine bringing with it the supreme Felicity.
13 January 1932
Here ends the memory-image of my life in the Ashram of the old days. But before that I would like to reproduce a rendering by Sri Aurobindo of one of my songs.
‘Since thou hast called me, see that I
Go not from thee, — surrounding me stand.
In thy own love’s diviner way
Make me too love thee without end.
My fathomless blackness hast thou cleft
With thy infinity of light,
Then waken in my mortal voice
Thy music of illumined sight.
Make me thy eternal journey’s mate
Tying my life around thy feet.
Let thy own hand my boat unmoor,
Sailing the world thyself to meet.
Fill full of thee my day and night,
Let all my being mingle with thine
And every tremor of my soul
Echo thy flute of flutes divine.
Come in thy chariot, Charioteer,
And drive me whither thou wouldst go.
All within me and all my acts
Make luminous with surrender’s glow.’
Translated by Sri Aurobindo (13.2.41)