“Invitation to Savitri” Pt 09: Book 1, Canto 4 continued

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

We have so far devoted two sessions to Aswapati’s yoga, particularly the first part of Aswapati’s yoga. In the first talk I tried to trace, but for lack of time didn’t make much progress, the various phases of Aswapati’s progress. One can do that through Cantos 3 and 5, these two cantos describe various stages through which Aswapati progresses. Then, during the final hour, I referred to certain other kinds of passages, which give us what I would regard as the quintessential spiritual attitude. Why is it the attitude of surrender is so important? Why is it that one must always have an inner reference point in life, how if you look merely on the surface of life and try to make sense of events that take place on the surface, there is hardly any coherence? We get baffled and then we realise that the outer happenings, outer events have their own logic, but this is a logic in terms of the development of our inner being. So we are primarily here in this life not to grab what happiness we can or what unhappiness we have to go through, but primarily for the evolution of our inner being; if that is the primary thing, then you can see, everything in life falls into place.

Today I would like to turn our attention to something else, and that is some wonderful passages of which one must make note, some of them which directly refer to yogic practices. But before that, I would like you to look at the titles of Cantos 3, 4 and 5. Notice Canto 3 is called the “Yoga of the King,” Canto 5 is also called the “Yoga of the King,” but Canto 4 is called “The Secret Knowledge.” In other words, if the actual yoga of Aswapati is described in Cantos 3 and 5, what then is Canto 4? Canto 4, as the title suggests, is the secret knowledge Aswapati acquires as a result of his yogic progress. So what is the knowledge that he gets because of his advancement in yoga? This is a wonderful chapter in many ways: it’s a very brief summary of The Life Divine, and if you are asked to show a modern Upanishad, you can probably cite passages from this canto.

The first passage I would like us to look at is on page 47. This is a very well-known passage which describes the process of meditation—what exactly is meditation, how does meditation take place:

In moments when the inner lamps are lit
And the life’s cherished guests are left outside,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 47

These two beautiful lines sum up the inner posture needed for meditation. Most of the time our inner lamps are switched off. We don’t even know there are inner lamps, and human consciousness has a tendency to run outward. We find various excuses to occupy our outgoing consciousness. If nothing else, we read the newspaper. It is also the reason that the person we know the best is our neighbour, and the person we know the least is ourselves. There is no natural inclination to turn within. Why do we have to turn within? Because when the din of the surface consciousness is silenced, then the inner being’s voice is heard; you realise there is someone there. He is all the time trying to talk to us, but there is this marketplace our mind has created, and that din is so boisterous, so noisy, that this voice is hardly heard. So meditations are sessions when one turns one’s consciousness within and tries to feel the presence of this inner being. What happens when the mind goes in, how do you slowly discover the inner being, and the inner being itself is described on page 49:

A treasure of honey in the combs of God,
A Splendour burning in a tenebrous cloak,
It is our glory of the flame of God,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 49

The Mundaka Upanishad describes it as Jyothisham jyothi, it’s the light of lights―Hiranmaye pare koshe virajam brahma nishkalam; Tachchhubhram jyotishaam jyotistadyadaatmavido viduh―that’s how it’s described. One who knows the atman knows this flame; and this is the flame that is described here―the flame, the light, the presence that is inside us:

Our golden fountain of the world’s delight,
An immortality cowled in the cape of death,
The shape of our unborn divinity.
It guards for us our fate in depths within
Where sleeps the eternal seed of transient things.
Always we bear in us a magic key
Concealed in life’s hermetic envelope.
A burning Witness in the sanctuary
Regards through Time and the blind walls of Form;
A timeless Light is in his hidden eyes;
He sees the secret things no words can speak
And knows the goal of the unconscious world
And the heart of the mystery of the journeying years.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 49

If you want to find out why you are here, what it is that you have to do in this life, it’s not enough to consult your mind, career guidance books, etc. That may also be necessary, but your primary purpose of being here is to ask that guide, that witness, that burning flame, bring it to the front and make that the leader of your pilgrimage in this life. That is the purpose of going within. Sri Aurobindo says:

A goalless voyage seems our dubious course
Some Chance has settled or hazarded some Will,
Or a Necessity without aim or cause
Unwillingly compelled to emerge and be.
In this dense field where nothing is plain or sure,
Our very being seems to us questionable,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 49

People say there is a soul, there is a being—where is it? No doctor has ever discovered it! They have cut the heart, they have cut the brain, they have cut the intestines, but they haven’t found it. Where is it? So very often we are told:

Our very being seems to us questionable,
Our life a vague experiment, the soul
A flickering light in a strange ignorant world,
The earth a brute mechanic accident,
A net of death in which by chance we live.
Bk 1, Canto 4, pp. 49-50

There is another beautiful passage I would like to draw your attention to on page 50:

Along a path of aeons serpentine
In the coiled blackness of her nescient course
The Earth-Goddess toils across the sands of Time.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 50

The Earth Goddess is going round and round across the sands of time. The evolutionary movement is described here and you and I are a part of this Earth Goddess’s movement.

Alarmed by the sorrow dragging at her feet
And conscious of the high things not yet won,
Ever she nurses in her sleepless breast
An inward urge that takes from her rest and peace.
Bk 1, Canto 4, pp. 50-51

There is no rest and peace; the evolutionary impetus keeps moving. Already it has come thus far. Where is it headed? In which direction is it going?

Outstretching arms to the unconscious Void,
Passionate she prays to invisible forms of Gods
Soliciting from dumb Fate and toiling Time
What most she needs, what most exceeds her scope,
A mind unvisited by illusion’s gleams,
A Will expressive of souls’ deity,
A Strength not forced to stumble by its speed,
A Joy that drags not sorrow as its shade.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 51-52

This is what evolutionary earth is hoping to acquire.

For these she yearns and feels them destined hers:
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

There is some conviction that these can be acquired, and that is why with this hope it is pushing on and on.

Heaven’s privilege she claims as her own right.
Just is her claim the all-witnessing Gods approve.
Clear in a greater light than reason owns:
Our intuitions are its title-deeds;
Our souls accept what our blind thoughts refuse.
Earth’s winged chimaeras are Truth’s steeds in Heaven,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

It says the most fanciful ideas―that man will one day be immortal, that man will one day be able to get rid of all pain and suffering―are Truth’s steeds in Heaven. They are, in fact, the horses that Truth rides in heaven; they are not fanciful ideas. That is what people keep saying, Sri Aurobindo wants to make man ready such there will be no death, no sorrow; is it ever possible? What a great dreamer! That is why he says:

Earth’s winged chimaeras are Truth’s steeds in Heaven,
The impossible God’s sign of things to be.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 52

Anything that man hopes for, the human collectivity has hoped for, has behind it some truth, and it will materialise, it is only question of time.

As I said earlier, Sri Aurobindo always talks about a sudden divine advent. The divine intervention is very sudden, it doesn’t give notice, there is no fanfare, nothing at all. So here he describes how the reality that is now transcendent will come down and establish its kingdom here on earth:

Thus will the masked Transcendent mount his throne.
When darkness deepens strangling the earth’s breast
And man’s corporeal mind is the only lamp,
As a thief’s in the night shall be the covert tread
Of one who steps unseen into his house.
A Voice ill-heard shall speak, the soul obey,
A Power into mind’s inner chamber steal,
A charm and sweetness open life’s closed doors
And beauty conquer the resisting world,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 55

When God comes here, you can’t resist Him; His beauty will conquer you.

The Truth-Light capture Nature by surprise,
A stealth of God compel the heart to bliss
And earth grow unexpectedly divine.
In Matter shall be lit the spirit’s glow,
In body and body kindled the sacred birth;
Night shall awake to the anthem of the stars,
The days become a happy pilgrim march,
Our will a force of the Eternal’s power,
And thought the rays of a spiritual sun.
A few shall see what none yet understands;
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 55

This is a beautiful, wonderful passage! There are so many of these.

Another one of my favourites is in fact a description of the notion of purusha and prakriti, which comes in Sankhya, subsequently in Vedanta; this whole notion is taken up. Sri Aurobindo takes it up and adds further refinement to it. So here for several pages he describes this creation as the play, lila, between purusha and prakriti. Except that there is this difference. Lila is after all a game. So very often people say, if life is a game, does it matter how we play it? Why all this seriousness and all this attempt? Mind is not adequate, we must have a supermind? Why is it? After all, this a game, you just play and forget all about it! True, but take the game of football. Twenty-two chaps chasing one ball! Somebody will say it is a very pathetic sight, 22 fellows chasing one ball. Why don’t you give them half a dozen balls? Let them chase six balls! Suppose if you make football like this: six balls being kicked about. If these two teams play, do you think you will able to sell even one single ticket? I don’t think so. Football is a game all right, but there are rules by which this game must be played, only then it is a game. Similarly cricket is a game. What makes these games so tantalizing, so exciting? Well, the rules have to be very strictly adhered to. Runs have to be scored, wickets have to be taken and the game has to be played according to certain rules; only then the game becomes interesting.

Similarly, this is a game of becoming, this entire creation is the Lord’s becoming. It is not enough if the becoming is somehow becoming, this becoming has to be according to certain rules and there are certain objectives to be achieved. What is the objective? Well, in the becoming, the Lord decided that he will become the very opposite of spiritual glory, which is inconscient matter. Out of inconscient matter, slowly, gradually, the One becomes Many, and we all play gods, we are all gods in the making. So these gods have to make further progress. We have come up to the mind, but we have seen what a mess we have made of life with the mind. Mind of course is a wonderful instrument: we have built civilisation, we have created poetry, we have created science, we have gone to the Moon! But we have also created a mess of this life! That is what mind is.

If you look at man you can see that God’s becoming is not yet complete. And so, what Sri Aurobindo is saying, to bring this becoming to completion, to bring this becoming to perfection, we need another level of consciousness. And this becoming of God is not as if it has no aim, just as a game also has an aim. If it is football you have to score goals. If it is cricket you have to take runs, wickets. Similarly, this creation is a being and it’s a becoming. This becoming, therefore, is going towards, proceeding towards this goal of perfection. So although it’s a play, a lila in which purusha and prakriti chase each other, it is a progressively manifesting game, a progressively unfolding miracle. That is the idea that Sri Aurobindo adds. It’s not just purusha and prakriti playing around, but purusha and prakrti are also interested in this perfection that is to come about, that is to happen to the becoming. And that idea is all over this particular canto, as you can see on page 60:

All here where each thing seems its lonely self
Are figures of the sole transcendent One: 
Only by him they are, his breath is their life;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 60

Everything here in this world is made of that One Supreme Reality. Even this body, this so-called matter, is made of that Supreme. There is nothing here except that One Absolute Reality. But when it comes to creation:

An unseen Presence moulds the oblivious clay.
A playmate in the mighty Mother’s game,
One came upon the dubious whirling globe
To hide from her pursuit in force and form.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 60

The divine Reality splits into two aspects—the purusha aspect which is the consciousness, and prakriti which is force, Nature. And so there is this hide and seek between the purusha and the prakriti, they chase each other in several forms; and this whole canto from page 60 is a description of the play between the two.

Take, for example, these lines:

This is the knot that ties together the stars:
The Two who are one are the secret of all power,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 63

The two, purusha and prakriti, are not eternally two; they are basically one, but for the play, for the manifestation, they look like two:

The Two who are one are the might and right in things.
His soul, silent, supports the world and her,
His acts are her commandment’s registers.
Happy, inert, he lies beneath her feet:
His breast he offers for her cosmic dance
Of which our lives are the quivering theatre,
And none could bear but for his strength within, 
Yet none would leave because of his delight.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 63

Why is it that some lives are happy, some lives are miserable? And yet how is it that nobody wants to leave and go away? Because there is a delight in this dance. Again, on page 66:

All she can do is marvellous in his sight:
He revels in her, a swimmer in her sea,
A tireless amateur of her world-delight,
He rejoices in her every thought and act
And gives consent to all that she can wish;
Whatever she desires he wills to be:
The Spirit, the innumerable One,
He has left behind his lone eternity,
He is an endless birth in endless Time,
Her finite’s multitude in an infinite Space.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 66

Then comes a very beautiful section which I would regard almost as a new Upanishad in its poetry and charmed expression, and in its revelation:

The master of existence lurks in us
And plays at hide-and-seek with his own Force;
In Nature’s instrument loiters secret God.
The Immanent lives in man as in his house;
He has made the universe his pastime’s field,
A vast gymnasium of his works of might.
All-knowing he accepts our darkened state,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 66

God, all-knowing, has accepted our ignorant state:

Divine, wears shapes of animal or man;
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 66

One who is the Divine can become the crocodile, the monkey, the horse, anything at all; everything here is the Divine. When Charles Darwin pointed out to the Western world that man didn’t descend directly from God, but from the monkey, the ape, everybody felt shocked. Bibles were thrown away, churches were closed down. You come to India and tell people that man has come down from the monkey, nobody will even look surprised. They say, Hanuman we have always worshipped as God, we have worshipped the matsya avatar, kurma avatar. If God can create all these things, can’t He become them?

Eternal, he assents to Fate and Time,
Immortal, dallies with mortality.
The All-Conscious ventured into Ignorance,
The All-Blissful bore to be insensible.
Bk 1, Canto 4, pp. 66-67

That is how this world began; this is the holocaust of the Supreme. The Divine took a plunge, as it were, into the very heart of the inconscient and became its exact opposite.

Incarnate in a world of strife and pain,
He puts on joy and sorrow like a robe
And drinks experience like a strengthening wine.
He whose transcendence rules the pregnant Vasts,
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 67

The Divine is transcendent, the Divine is universal, and yet, the Divine is individual. The same Divine who fills the entire universe, who transcends the universe, goes beyond the universe, He is also found in His entirety in each one of us. That’s the logic of the Infinite. You might ask, if the whole Divine is found in each one of us, are there then as many Divines as there are people? No, there is only one Divine, for in the Divine’s case, one plus one is one, one minus one is still one. That is the logic here: the Divine who is transcendental, the Divine who is universal, the whole of that Divine in its entirety is also present in the individual. That’s what Sri Aurobindo says:

He whose transcendence rules the pregnant Vasts,
Prescient now dwells in our subliminal depths,
A luminous individual Power, alone.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has called out of the Silence his mute Force
Where she lay in the featureless and formless hush
Guarding from Time by her immobile sleep
The ineffable puissance of his solitude.
The Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone
Has entered with his silence into space:
He has fashioned these countless persons of one self;
He has built a million figures of his power;
He lives in all, who lived in his Vast alone;
Space is himself and Time is only he.
Bk 1, Canto 4, p. 67

Space and Time are also aspects of the Divine.