“Invitation to Savitri” Pt 08: Book 1 Canto 4

Talks by Prof. Mangesh V. Nadkarni in Pondicherry in 1995. All posts can be found HERE. A ZIP archive for off-line listening and reading is HERE


This talk is not a direct continuation from where we left off previously. It is a slightly different subject, a different theme. In these three cantos that we are looking at there is such great wealth, such great spiritual treasure, that I would like to present to you an unorthodox approach to spirituality. Spirituality is not simply doing things—it consists of being what you are primarily. Now it’s possible to get hints from these lines of poetry here about the right kind of attitude one takes in living one’s life. Thus, in Sri Aurobindo’s parlance, there is nobody who is not a yogi. We are all yogis. Some people are aware of the fact, some are not, that’s all. The yogi is one who is aware of the fact that he is participating in this Nature’s yoga. Yoga is Nature’s evolution. So as long as you are a part of Nature you are doing yoga, whether you are conscious of it or not.

So if you look at yoga in this wider perspective then there is a certain attitude which becomes very important in living one’s life. Now one of the things I found very illuminating here is the insistence that again and again we are told: don’t try to find a logic, a complete coherent logic in terms of the external events of your life. So many things happen to us―triumphs, defeats, sorrows, great joy―and we try to piece them all together and try to see a pattern in life. When I am going through a particular kind of suffering in life, I ask: what did I do to deserve this? When you try to put together surface facts of life, and try to find a logic in them, very often you’ll find there is no logic. Because the surface happenings in life are in all cases determined by the need of your inner being. Whatever happens to us on the surface of life needed to happen, had to happen, because of an inner need. And if you can, then try to understand your life in terms of this inner being and its growth, including how long you will live, when you will die; all is determined by the inner need of your being.

Our mind is in love with the ignorance and therefore would like to perpetuate whatever condition it finds itself in forever and ever. But there is the inner being and its needs our mind cannot recognise, normally doesn’t recognize, because we have not even admitted to ourselves that there is an inner being. Once you turn your attention to the inner being, there is no accident in life. Everything falls in place and you find there is logic for everything that happens. There is nothing like a chance happening; everything is determined, but according to the needs of the inner life. So the real secret of life is to be found when you relate yourself to the inner life and its needs. Outward happenings have their reason within. This is what the poet says here on page 52:

All that transpires on earth and all beyond
Are parts of an illimitable plan 
The One keeps in his heart and knows alone. 
Our outward happenings have their seed within,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

Anything that happens to you—success, happiness, joy, fortune, misfortune, whatever—the reason for it is always within:

Our outward happenings have their seed within,
And even this random Fate that imitates Chance,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

Fate looks random, it doesn’t seem to have any plan, any scheme. It’s random, it’s all a matter of chance, by that we mean there is no logic.

This mass of unintelligible results,
Are the dumb graph of truths that work unseen:
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

There are great truths of the inner life which we haven’t learnt to read and therefore we are baffled by life’s outward circumstances.

The laws of the Unknown create the known.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

The laws of the inner life which we don’t know create the known.

The events that shape the appearance of our lives
Are a cipher of subliminal quiverings
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

They are all below the threshold of your consciousness, subliminal.

Which rarely we surprise or vaguely feel, 
Are an outcome of suppressed realities
That hardly rise into material day:
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

The real life that we live is the life of the inner being, but since we have no way of understanding this, no way of seeing what that life is, we concentrate our attention on the outward facts of life and try to find in it a logic, a system, a coherence which we normally do not find and are thus baffled.

They are born from the spirit’s sun of hidden powers
Digging a tunnel through emergency.
But who shall pierce into the cryptic gulf
And learn what deep necessity of the soul
Determined casual deed and consequence?
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

What you regard as a casual happening, for example, you don’t know how this happened to that man—he was just going on his motorcycle this way when a truck came along, and now he’s lying with bandaged hand and foot in the hospital. There is no reason why it should have happened to him.

The poet says:

But who shall pierce into the cryptic gulf
And learn what deep necessity of the soul
Determined casual deed and consequence?
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

What you think is casual—oh, it just happened; I don’t know how it happened. Someone may say, I was going in a train when suddenly it got uncomfortably warm, I opened the window, I forgot my purse was also there—ten minutes later I woke up and my purse was gone and along with it my ticket too. If you really look within, it is some inner thing that has determined this outer act.

Absorbed in a routine of daily acts,
Our eyes are fixed on an external scene;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

Naturally, we only see the external things of life, the surface phenomenon of life, and in terms of this we try to understand everything.

We hear the crash of the wheels of Circumstance 
And wonder at the hidden cause of things.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

What could have caused this? Why this misfortune, or this good fortune?

Yet a foreseeing Knowledge might be ours,
If we could take our spirit’s stand within,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

Yet, you’ll be able to understand this, be able to foresee this need, if only you could take your spirit’s stand within. 

If we could hear the muffled daemon voice.
Too seldom is the shadow of what must come
Cast in an instant on the secret sense
Which feels the shock of the invisible,
Bk 1, Canto 4, pp. 52-53

What about people like you and me? Even Sri Aurobindo says that before he was arrested by the British and sent to jail for one year in the Alipore bomb case, he says that two or three months before that I had an inner feeling that I must give up whatever I was doing; a time had come in my life when I must spend all the time I have looking within—pursuing whatever he had taken up, his inner life, his spiritual life. He says, I felt somehow that the work I was doing—after all I was doing the work for the country, for the nation—it is very important work so how can that be an obstacle to the spiritual work that I’m supposed to do. But lo and behold, I just dismissed this because I love this work too much. Fate intervened in the form of the British police. I was arrested, put behind bars for one year. This turned out to be my cave of tapasya, I needed it. So if you turn within and are sensitive to the inner needs, then you very often find that all that is happening to you on the outer level itself has no meaning except in terms of its value for your inner growth.

Too seldom is the shadow of what must come
Cast in an instant on the secret sense
Which feels the shock of the invisible,
And seldom in the few who answer give
The mighty process of the cosmic Will
Communicates its image to our sight,
Identifying the world’s mind with ours.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 53

I would like to move on to another wonderful passage on page 59. This is one of my favourites because one of the great things Savitri does is that it keeps beaming, radiating as it were, waves of hope, of optimism, of courage, of love. That’s why in my very first talk I said the writing of Savitri itself is a very significant event. By writing Savitri Sri Aurobindo inundated, as it were, the earth atmosphere with this vibration of hope. When all around 20th century man was despairing about man’s future, seemed to be almost in love with death, at that time Sri Aurobindo was writing Savitri day after day, bringing out better and several versions of it. In doing this what he has done is inundate the earth atmosphere with this vibration of hope. And this is one such passage which holds out this tremendous message of hope, and says partly: don’t fear. And it is life lived with this kind of attitude that is really the spiritual life, living your external life all the time with an eye turned within and telling yourself the real life is the inner life, external life is simply a surface manifestation determined by the needs of the inner life and its growth.

You don’t really need to know the context of this passage, it is in itself very self-sufficient. It begins very casually.

Alive in a dead rotating universe
We whirl not here upon a casual globe 
Abandoned to a task beyond our force;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

It’s a series of negations. It says, don’t think that we are here alive on a dead rotating universe. Oh, this is a dead universe, helplessly going round and round the sun, and will keep going round the sun until someday the sun itself loses all its heat and power, and the entire universe crashes. We are not living in that kind of universe, we don’t have to be that pessimistic. This is not a casual globe. Understand the word casual? Many people would like to say this entire universe came out as a series of blind accidents, one accident led to another accident, until finally one day suddenly from the chimpanzee jumped this man, already made with his mind, all these are accidents. So some people tell us, it’s a casual globe, there is no purpose to it, no truth, there is nothing to find out, human life has no significance, how you live your life doesn’t at all matter, whether you live or die is immaterial. Some people are telling us it is that kind of world and the poet is saying ‘no’:

Alive in a dead rotating universe
We whirl not here upon a casual globe
Abandoned to a task beyond our force
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

And don’t think the task given to you here is beyond your force. When God gives you work, he also gives you the capacities and the power needed to do that work. And what is the task given to us? The task given to us is to manifest the divine perfection in a material form. How do you find the capacity? By engaging yourself. You get the power, the capacity as you apply yourself, as you struggle towards that. It’s not given to you in advance like a bank deposit. You get the power, the capacities as you bend yourself, as you strain yourself.

This is the ideal, manifest the divine perfection in a material body, that’s the task. It’s not as if we are abandoned to this task and God has forgotten all about it.

Then the poet goes on to say:

Even through the tangled anarchy called Fate
And through the bitterness of death and fall
An outstretched Hand is felt upon our lives.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

We are all such tiny helpless creatures in the jaws of fate, in the jaws of circumstance. What can you do? The poet says, let’s assume there is something called fate. Let us also assume that this fate is anarchic. Understand anarchic? There is no rule of law … like in some states of India right now! Let us say fate is like that. What kind of anarchy is it? Not just anarchy, but a tangled anarchy. You decide which state best qualifies for this tangled anarchy! So “even through the tangled anarchy called Fate / And through the bitterness of death and fall” I would like to assure you that

An outstretched Hand is felt upon our lives.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

There is always the outstretched, guiding hand that is behind you, pushing you, prodding you, supporting you.

Now the question is, if the hand is doing all these things, how come I am in this miserable shape and form? How is it that at every other step I stumble and fall? Why does this happen? What does this hand do? Let us listen to the poet:

It is near us in unnumbered bodies and births;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

He says, don’t think this extended hand is a result of the eighth five-year plan; it has been with us “in unnumbered bodies and births,” ever since you decided to take birth on this earth, since then it has been always there behind you. We agree that it may have been there, but the question again is what has it been doing? Let us listen to the poet again:

In its unslackening grasp it keeps for us safe
The one inevitable supreme result
No will can take away and no doom change,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

Nothing on earth can frustrate the plan of this outstretched hand. It keeps for you very safe, but what? What is this supreme inevitable result it is holding in its hands? The poet says:

The crown of conscious Immortality,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

The realisation that we are all amritasya putra, children of immortality. We are not beggars begging for happiness. You are yourself happiness personified, you are yourself sachchidananda. You don’t have to go begging for happiness, you don’t have to go shopping for happiness. “The crown of conscious Immortality” this hand is holding for you. You just have to offer your head, and it will be on your head.

What is the problem? The problem is that we don’t want this crown of conscious immortality. I have my own agenda, and God must take note of this agenda. What is it? You know, the usual agenda: I have my plans for my sons, for my daughters, for my retirement, for income tax, what shares I must buy. God must, in fact, if there is at all a guiding hand, it must guide me to the right share broker. What can I do with the crown of immortality? That’s the problem. We want finite things and God wants to give us the infinite. When you want finite things, what happens? Two things can happen. Either you don’t get it and you keep pining for it, like most Indians―getting a house before you retire, buying a second car before retire―that is the end of life. You have to wait for it right from age of 22 until you retire, which is 58 or 60: One day it will come. When it comes what happens? You find that the car doesn’t run. The house that you bought, the housing board has cheated you. During the monsoon season it leaks. In summer it’s like an oven. This kind of thing can happen. Or it can happen, as it happens in some Western countries, all your material dreams are fulfilled at the age of 20. Now where do you go from here? An Indian can wait until he is 58 to feel completely disillusioned, but where there is material affluence, at the age of 20 the entire story is finished. You have your house, you have your car, you have gone to Switzerland, there are no more holiday resorts left. So either our agenda never gets fulfilled and we keep waiting for it, or the worst thing that can happen is if your agenda is immediately fulfilled and still you find this is not what you wanted. Why does this happen? Because the only thing that can ever satisfy the human hunger, the human aspiration, is this infinity, this crown of conscious immortality, that this extended hand is guiding you towards. It is saying please go in this direction, but you are saying no, I want to go in this direction. So Sri Aurobindo says:

The crown of conscious Immortality,
The godhead promised to our struggling souls
When first man’s heart dared death and suffered life.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

There is an interesting idea here. Before you and I came here, we all were up there, and one day, God opens the door of the heavens and says, would you like to go there? Where? Down there on earth. No, I’ve heard terrible stories about this earth, I won’t go there, it is a terrible place. Then God is very persuasive, if you go there I’ll take the responsibility of bringing you back. How do I trust you? I’ll give it to you in writing. You go there, and it is my responsibility to bring you back.

We have come here, we have forgotten where we came from. We like it so much here, we don’t want to go back. He is bound to His contract, so he is worried: This chap has gone there and forgotten me and where he goes from. So what do I do? The Hound of Heaven chases you wherever you go. Whether you are hidden in Buckingham Palace or you hide yourself in the slums of Calcutta, you cannot find relief from the Hound of Heaven. That is why he says,

The godhead promised to our struggling souls
When first man’s heart dared death and suffered life.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

He is always there looking for us. There is a story you all must have read. Somebody is talking to God. He says, God, I have reviewed my life, and on the sands of life, I find four footprints, two of mine, and two of yours. Thank you very much for walking with me. But God, I have looked very carefully at this track record, and I found that on certain occasions there were only two footprints, not four. And I have consulted my diary, and I found that these tracks belong to a time when I was passing through great ordeals and suffering. Why is it that when there were great ordeals and suffering your footprints are missing? Where do you disappear? God says, true, you find only two footprints, but they were not yours, they were mine. You were in my arms. This is something we have to realise, that this Hound of Heaven, this extended hand always guides us, always tries to persuade us, cajole us, push us, in the direction in which we find the crown of conscious immortality waiting for us.

Why is it taking time? Why are there all these inevitable years of suffering? We seem not to want the crown of conscious immortality strongly enough. Oh, I want several other things, and also the crown of conscious immortality. That won’t do. So Sri Aurobindo says:

One who has shaped this world is ever its lord:
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

He says, never ever doubt whether God takes a holiday and goes on a European jaunt when the business here becomes very difficult. Nor does he take an afternoon siesta. God is always awake, anything that happens in this world—you may not like it, that is a different matter, it may not be to your taste, it may not be to your comfort or convenience—but if it happens in this world he must have allowed it because he is always the lord of this universe.

What about the mistakes I make, my sins, my acts of omission and commission, what about them? The poet says:

Our errors are his steps upon the way;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

He has foreseen every stumble and every fall that you are going to make, and he knows how to make use of these falls so that you rise to a greater height. Every time you fall he makes that a kind of springboard so that you will come up higher. When you look back on your life, very often you find what you regarded as great successes at that moment, are not really the successes. What you regard as great misfortunes, 20 years later, 30 years later you look upon that event and you find because that thing happened I was able to do such and such a thing, my life got a certain turn. So these so-called errors are God’s way, there are no errors. There may be detours, you may take a little detour here and there, but there are no ultimate errors.

He works through the fierce vicissitudes of our lives,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

How does God work? Does he work in a meditation room, puja room, in temples? No, He works through the fierce vicissitudes of our lives. Whenever you are facing any fierce situation in life, there God is working through those situations.

He works through the hard breath of battle and toil,
He works through our sins and sorrows and our tears,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

When all alone at night you shed your tears on your lonely pillow, never forget he is there behind you. He works through all these, he knows right now it is a very unpleasant, unhappy, miserable time you are having. He knows this, but he also knows why you have to undergo this suffering. He is behind each step, every happening in life.

His knowledge overrules our nescience;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

God doesn’t grant all our prayers, he grants only those prayers which he thinks are good for us. He doesn’t grant those which are harmful for us. Prayers not granted are very often a greater Grace than the prayers granted, because we don’t even know what to ask for. Therefore, the highest prayer can only be, “let thy will be done.” Therefore Sri Aurobindo says:

His knowledge overrules our nescience;
Whatever the appearance we must bear,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

After all this, there are still some people in the audience who are not convinced. They say, oh, you have said all these things, but you don’t know how miserable my life has been; you have not taken that into consideration. The poet says, please, I know some lives are particularly blighted, I know this. Therefore he says,

Whatever the appearance we must bear,
Whatever our strong ills and present fate,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

However difficult present fate may be…

When nothing we can see but drift and bale,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

…remember

A mighty Guidance leads us still through all.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

There is always a mighty Guidance that is overseeing this and leading you through all these things.

After we have served this great divided world
God’s bliss and oneness are our inborn right.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

This world was created out of great joy by the Lord and that joy is our birthright. That joy and oneness, he says, are our inborn right. Your rebirth into this sublime life is assured. You will look into the mirror and find yourself not this miserable creature, always in the form of a beggar or seeker of happiness but radiating happiness, radiating immortality, realising your real nature. That is the birth sublime and the date for it, he says,

A date is fixed in the calendar of the Unknown,
An anniversary of the Birth sublime: 
Our soul shall justify its chequered walk,
All will come near that now is naught or far.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 59

This is a passage I generally read to people, as it is a kind of abhaya mantram; nothing need frighten you in life, all you have to do is to be conscious of the divine Guidance in all situations, in all circumstances. The secret of this is, the ultimate secret of all success is: “let Thy will be done.”

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