“Invitation to Savitri” Pt 30: Book 10 Canto 4 and Book 11

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 not quite come to the end of the debate between the God of Death and Savitri, but we have just enough time to glance very briefly at a few things before we move on to one of the most dramatic stages of this confrontation between the God of Death and Savitri. Just as the God of Death had an opportunity of teaching Savitri human history, Savitri takes her turn and shows to the God of Death another angle on human history. The facts are the same, but the way you look at these things can change. The God of Death, as you saw, shows how man has built civilizations, cultures, philosophies, how revolutions have come and gone, how science has equipped man with so much power and so much wisdom, but nothing has been of any consequence so far as man’s essential inadequacy is concerned.  The problems of death, incapacity, ignorance: these seem to be perennial. Therefore, the God of Death has been telling Savitri that this is what history shows, this is man’s record. How can you ever change this situation?

Savitri of course looks at some of the same facts, but she takes the evolutionary perspective as we just saw. Just because there was at one time nothing but a whirl of dancing energy, chaotic energy, that didn’t mean this was going to continue forever. Out of that chaos came creation. Out of this energy, this mad dance of energy, came this creation, came this earth. The earth got solidified. At one time it looked like earth had nothing, no life, no consciousness, but lo and behold, after the passing of a couple of billion years maybe, the first forms of life appeared on this earth: the green grass, the creepers, the plants, the trees, the flowers. Somehow earth released a form of consciousness which was freer than the consciousness of earth itself. And then from there it looked as if this was it, this was the end, but lo and behold, very soon came various forms of higher life―birds, animals, insects which could move about, run around, had greater freedom than a tree has, than a forest has, but that was not the end. Then came man with a higher degree of freedom, and already in many ways man is so close to God, he almost looks like a god, with the power that he commands. So if you look at these facts, what is the meaning of all this development, all this progress?

That is why Savitri has been saying: what is the logic that says that here it shall stop, that it’ll stop with man, that we have come to the end of the creativity, of nature? How can it stop here? So this is what Savitri has been trying to impress on the God of Death―that this is not a meaningless enterprise. This is not an enterprise necessarily destined to remain frozen at this incomplete stage, this half completed stage which man represents. It has further revelations, it has further development possible. And then she explains to him, therefore, the baffling mystery of this creation and how man tends to misread the signals. It is, as she said earlier, a real language, but often mispronounced and misspelt. The language is there, it is written there, it can be pronounced correctly, it can be read correctly, but right now with the inadequate light of the human mind, the intellect that we have, we tend to mispronounce it and misspell it. We misread it, but it can be read in the proper light, and if you can’t do that you will find this a baffling mystery. On page 657, about ten lines from the top:

His being is a mystery beyond mind,
His ways bewilder mortal ignorance;
The finite in its little sections parked,
Amazed, credits not God’s audacity
Who dares to be the unimagined All
And see and act as might one Infinite.
Against human reason this is his offence,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

What is it the human reason finds it difficult to accept, difficult to see, and almost regards as if God made this offence against human reason. What is it?

Being known to be for ever unknowable,
To be all and yet transcend the mystic whole,
Absolute, to lodge in a relative world of Time,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

The reality is absolute and yet it has consented to lodge in time and be the relative, to manifest itself as the relative, and not the absolute.

Eternal and all-knowing, to suffer birth,
Omnipotent, to sport with Chance and Fate,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

If the reality is omnipotent, it acts very often as if it is helpless here. It looks as if it is baffled by fate, that it has no real power to overcome what looks like fate.

Spirit, yet to be Matter and the Void,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

It is spirit and yet it can be as gross as matter.

Illimitable, beyond form or name,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

The absolute is illimitable, it is beyond all forms and names, and yet

To dwell within a body, one and supreme
To be animal and human and divine:
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

One absolute supreme, yet it manifests itself as animal, it manifests itself as human.

A still deep sea, he laughs in rolling waves;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

The reality is like the stability, the calm of the depths of the sea. But on the surface what do you find? Endless waves rolling one after the other. How can the same thing which is so peaceful, so static, also be constantly dynamic? That is the bafflement of human reason. How is it that the same thing can be both these?

Universal, he is all,—transcendent, none.
To man’s righteousness this is his cosmic crime,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

Man’s sense of moral good, moral evil―even that very often feels baffled if you look at the world outside. Why?

Almighty beyond good and evil to dwell
Leaving the good to their fate in a wicked world
And evil to reign in this enormous scene.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

The human reason would expect God to intervene every time there is injustice in this world, that it immediately intervenes and stops that act of injustice. How does God allow injustice to flourish in this world? How is it that the unjust, the wicked flourish in this world? Why does God not put a stop to it the very first instance that you have a manifestation of injustice? This is something man’s human mind cannot understand. I can understand this [should be stopped]. If there is a God, how is it that he can’t understand this? This is the bafflement. To man’s righteousness, this is His cosmic crime. It looks as if there is no overall command, there is no ishwara here, there is no lord here. Everything is accidental, everything looks like a brute mechanic accident. That’s what creation looks like.

All opposition seems and strife and chance,
An aimless labour with but scanty sense,
To eyes that see a part and miss the whole;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

The problem is that with the eyes that we have, with the capacity, the consciousness that the mind has, it can only see a part, and it sees that part so well that it misses the all.

The surface men scan, the depths refuse their search:
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 657

You have great experts, but experts of the superficial aspects of life, the surface of life. The depths refuse their search.

A hybrid mystery challenges the view,
Or a discouraging sordid miracle.
Yet in the exact Inconscient’s stark conceit,
In the casual error of the world’s ignorance
A plan, a hidden Intelligence is glimpsed.
Bk 10, Canto 4, pp. 657-658

So, if you look carefully at what looks like the Inconscient’s stark conceit, what looks like casual errors, casual without any plan, it’s not a planned error, it’s just error, that’s what it looks like. As you look at human history, so many casual errors are committed, as if there is nobody in control. Savitri says,

There is a purpose in each stumble and fall;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

In each stumble and fall that you find, when civilizations rise and also when civilizations fall, for each rise and each stumble, behind it there is a plan.

Nature’s most careless lolling is a pose
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

When nature looks lethargic, most careless and goes about things as if it couldn’t care, even that is a pose, it’s not real.

Preparing some forward step, some deep result.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

When you look at the world from hindsight, you’ll find that what looked like a kind of lull, a kind of lazy ambling movement of the world, the world was really getting ready for a forward step, for a greater leap. So this is:

Ingenious notes plugged into a motived score,
These million discords dot the harmonious theme
Of the evolution’s huge orchestral dance.
A Truth supreme has forced the world to be;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

It’s a Truth supreme that has become the world, that has consented to be the world. It has wrapped itself in matter as in a shroud. The Truth supreme has wrapped itself in matter.

A shroud of Death, a shroud of Ignorance.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

This shroud with which it has covered itself looks like the shroud of Ignorance, the shroud of Death.

It compelled the suns to burn through silent Space,
Flame-signs of its uncomprehended Thought
In a wide brooding ether’s formless muse:
It made of Knowledge a veiled and struggling light,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

It made knowledge into stumbling ignorance.

Of Being a substance nescient, dense and dumb,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

From sat came this world of the Inconscient:

Of Bliss the beauty of an insentient world.
In finite things the conscious Infinite dwells:
Involved it sleeps in Matter’s helpless trance,
It rules the world from its sleeping senseless Void;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

Even in matter there is the Divine. What looks like matter’s helpless trance is only one pose of the consciousness of the Supreme.

It rules the world from its sleeping senseless Void;
Dreaming it throws out mind and heart and soul
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

Like a somnambulist, it unerringly rises at the appropriate time, throws out life, throws out mind, and so evolution looks as if there is some plan behind it. But actually when it was happening, it all looked so purposeless, it all looked so haphazard.

To labour crippled, bound, on the hard earth;
A broken whole it works through scattered points;
Its gleaming shards are Wisdom’s diamond thoughts,
Its shadowy reflex our ignorance.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 658

Further, we don’t have the time to read the entire lesson. On page 659, three lines from the top:

A demigod animal, came thinking man;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

Then at a certain stage evolved here this demi-god, half-god, half-beast. This man:

He wallows in mud, yet heavenward soars in thought;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

Half the time he wallows in mud, but at some level he is already thinking of heaven.

He plays and ponders, laughs and weeps and dreams,
Satisfies his little longings like the beast;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

When it comes to satisfying its little needs, desires, he is very much like an animal.

He pores upon life’s book with student eyes.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

He is inquisitive, he tries to understand what life is all about.

Out of this tangle of intellect and sense,
Out of the narrow scope of finite thought
At last he wakes into spiritual mind;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

Man is capable of turning inwards. He tries to understand this, and gradually he rises to a spiritual mind:

A high liberty begins and luminous room:
He glimpses eternity, touches the infinite,
He meets the gods in great and sudden hours,
He feels the universe as his larger self,
Makes Space and Time his opportunity
To join the heights and depths of being in light,
In the heart’s cave speaks secretly with God.
But these are touches and high moments lived;
Fragments of Truth supreme have lit his soul,
Reflections of the sun in waters still.
A few have dared the last supreme ascent
And break through borders of blinding light above,
And feel a breath around of mightier air,
Receive a vaster being’s messages
And bathe in its immense intuitive Ray.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 659

Then Savitri describes the higher planes of the mind: first she talks about the cosmic thought, the human mind, intuition, overmind, supermind. She says, what have you seen of man? This is still the terrestrial consciousness. He is yet to conquer, yet to acquire these higher planes, and when that happens, this’ll be a different world, this’ll be a different human being. This is yet to take place. This is what Savitri is trying to explain to the God of Death. Well, I think the God of Death has learnt his lesson.

Finally, he says on page 664: By philosophy, by vision, nothing ever changes. To change things here you need power. So he says to Savitri, well, you are very persuasive, you are very eloquent, you have persuaded me to accept your view of life―life’s past and life’s future. But, he says on page 664, second line:

Hast thou God’s force to build heaven’s values here?
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

Do you have the power? Philosophizing doesn’t help anybody. But have you brought this power that is needed to transcend the limitations of the mind, to transcend ignorance, death?

For truth and knowledge are an idle gleam
If Knowledge brings not power to change the world
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

If knowledge is not accompanied with power that is needed to change the world, what is the point of just having knowledge?

If Might comes not to give to Truth her right.
A blind Force, not Truth has made this ignorant world,
A blind Force, not Truth orders the lives of men:
By Power, not Light, the great Gods rule the world;
Power is the arm of God, the seal of Fate.
O human claimant to immortality,
Reveal thy power, lay bare thy spirit’s force,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

Show me what power you have brought to claim all that you have been claiming for yourself and for mankind.

Then will I give back to thee Satyavan.
Or if the Mighty Mother is with thee,
Show me her face that I may worship her;
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

If you have brought with you the mighty Mother’s sanction, her force, reveal to me her face so that I too might worship her. If this supreme Mother looks into my eyes, that will be the great day for me.

Let deathless eyes look into the eyes of Death,
An imperishable Force touching brute things
Transform earth’s death into immortal life.
Then can thy dead return to thee and live.
The prostrate earth perhaps shall lift her gaze
And feel near her the secret body of God
And love and joy overtake fleeing Time.”
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

This is the crunch, this is the great moment. We are all convinced―books on philosophy have been written, commentaries have been written―but what is needed is the tremendous force, the actual force that will make this dream a reality. So this is the challenge that is thrown at Savitri now, and Savitri’s reply this time is not in words.

And Savitri looked on Death and answered not.
Almost it seemed as if in his symbol shape
The world’s darkness had consented to Heaven-light
And God needed no more the Inconscient’s screen.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

It looked as if Death had decided that he probably is not needed anymore, there is no more any point in hiding the god’s face with this veil of Death and the veil of the Inconscient. So Death himself was more than willing to surrender.

A mighty transformation came on her.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

As Death was looking at Savitri, a great transformation came on her.

A halo of the indwelling Deity,
The Immortal’s lustre that had lit her face
And tented its radiance in her body’s house,
Overflowing made the air a luminous sea.
In a flaming moment of apocalypse
The Incarnation thrust aside its veil.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 664

The Avatar removed the veil which it had put on. Then, when the veil was lifted,

A little figure in infinity
Yet stood and seemed the Eternal’s very house,
As if the world’s centre was her very soul
And all wide space was but its outer robe.
A curve of the calm hauteur of far heaven
Descending into earth’s humility,
Her forehead’s span vaulted the Omniscient’s gaze,
Her eyes were two stars that watched the universe
Bk 10, Canto 4, pp. 657-658

Then Sri Aurobindo describes how this great power descends step by step from the sahasrara until the muladhara. All these various chakras are invaded, flooded by this new force that Savitri now shows to the God of Death.

The Power that from her being’s summit reigned,
The Presence chambered in lotus secrecy,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 665

The lotus secrecy is the sahasrara. From there it goes to the agneya, visshuddha, anahata and so on. All this is described here until you come to the last chakra:

Joined Matter’s dumbness to the Spirit’s hush
And filled earth’s acts with the Spirit’s silent power.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 665

And Savitri says, on page 666―Savitri is now standing before the God of Death in her supreme form―

“I hail thee, almighty and victorious Death,
Thou grandiose Darkness of the Infinite.
O Void that makest room for all to be,
Hunger that gnawest at the universe
Consuming the cold remnants of the suns
And eatst the whole world with thy jaws of fire,
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 666

This is the visva-rupa that he sees. It is this Mother standing there.

Waster of the energy that has made the stars,
Inconscience, carrier of the seeds of thought,
Nescience in which All-Knowledge sleeps entombed
And slowly emerges in its hollow breast
Wearing the mind’s mask of bright Ignorance.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 666

Savitri says to Death which is in this form, this form of destruction―gnawing at worlds, eating worlds, eating lives―she says:

Thou art my shadow and my instrument.
I have given thee thy awful shape of dread
And thy sharp sword of terror and grief and pain
To force the soul of man to struggle for light
On the brevity of his half-conscious days.
Thou art his spur to greatness in his works,
The whip to his yearning for eternal bliss,
His poignant need of immortality.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 666

If death were not around to constantly remind man of the great fate he has missed, man would never aspire for immortality. In the world of the finite, death is the only passage to immortality. As long as you remain finite, death is a passage to immortality. It keeps reminding you of the fate you have missed, and therefore Savitri says to the God of Death,

Live, Death, awhile, be still my instrument.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 666

You are still needed for some more time. You have to continue to be here as my instrument.

One day man too shall know thy fathomless heart
Of silence and the brooding peace of Night
And grave obedience to eternal Law
And the calm inflexible pity in thy gaze.
But now, O timeless Mightiness, stand aside
And leave the path of my incarnate Force.
Relieve the radiant God from thy black mask:
Release the soul of the world called Satyavan
Freed from thy clutch of pain and ignorance
That he may stand master of life and fate,
Man’s representative in the house of God,
The mate of Wisdom and the spouse of Light,
The eternal bridegroom of the eternal bride.”
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 666

The God of Death is vanquished, but the God of Death is not killed. In the Indian way of looking at things, the asuras have to be transformed, the asuras are not to be killed. What happens? If you kill one form, he will appear in another form. They have to be transformed, because all the hostiles, all the asuras that you have here are doing the Lord’s bidding. They are necessary for a certain purpose in this evolutionary journey. Now only in the case of Satyavan, she said, stand aside, release Satyavan. But even releasing Satyavan―you can’t make an exception, see once you make an exception there’ll be other Satyavans tomorrow. So in releasing Satyavan, the God of Death has to symbolically admit that his reign is ended. And so he is still reluctant, hesitant. On page 667:

The Two opposed each other face to face.
His being like a huge fort of darkness towered;
Around it her light grew, an ocean’s siege.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 667

However vast is Death’s being, the God of Death’s being may be, the light that was flowing through Savitri’s body pervaded the whole of this God of Death. And Sri Aurobindo says:

Light like a burning tongue licked up his thoughts,
Light was a luminous torture in his heart,
Light coursed, a splendid agony, through his nerves;
His darkness muttered perishing in her blaze.
Her mastering Word commanded every limb
And left no room for his enormous will
That seemed pushed out into some helpless space
And could no more re-enter but left him void.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 667

Later on Sri Aurobindo says,

His body was eaten by light, his spirit devoured.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 667

And on the next page:

In the dream twilight of that symbol world
The dire universal Shadow disappeared
Vanishing into the Void from which it came.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 668

Death disappeared from where he was standing. Before that, Sri Aurobindo describes beautifully how he calls on ignorance, he calls on Night: please help me, help me―because ignorance and night are his great supporters―but even his great supporters failed him at this crucial time.

And Satyavan and Savitri were alone.
But neither stirred: between those figures rose
A mute invisible and translucent wall.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 668

The God of Death is gone, and yet they found, although Satyavan and Savitri were alone there, there was a translucent wall that still separated them.

In the long blank moment’s pause nothing could move:
All waited on the unknown inscrutable Will.
Bk 10, Canto 4, p. 668

That is the end of the canto.
Well, soon after this―since we don’t have much time, I would like to go on―Savitri finds herself in the light of the eternal day. And Sri Aurobindo describes this eternal day at the very beginning of the next canto:

A marvellous sun looked down from ecstasy’s skies
On worlds of deathless bliss, perfection’s home,
Magical unfoldings of the Eternal’s smile
Capturing his secret heart-beats of delight.
God’s everlasting day surrounded her,
Domains appeared of sempiternal light
Invading all Nature with the Absolute’s joy.
Her body quivered with eternity’s touch,
Her soul stood close to the founts of the infinite.
Infinity’s finite fronts she lived in, new
For ever to an everliving sight.
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 671

It’s a beautiful description here of this eternal day. And later on, there is no more the God of Death, however, there is another god now in the place of this God of Death, and he is described now on page 678, on the last three lines on that page:

One whom her soul had faced as Death and Night
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 678

Now a different incarnation of this same force. How does he look?
When he looked like the God of Death, he struck terror into people’s hearts. Now he is entirely, completely transformed. Now what does he look like?

One whom her soul had faced as Death and Night
A sum of all sweetness gathered into his limbs
And blinded her heart to the beauty of the suns.
Transfigured was the formidable shape.
His darkness and his sad destroying might
Abolishing for ever and disclosing
The mystery of his high and violent deeds,
A secret splendour rose revealed to sight
Where once the vast embodied Void had stood.
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 678-679

This is a totally different being, a transformed god standing there. Sri Aurobindo has like almost every canto here packed so many different things. There is a description of the four-fold being, the virat, the hiranyagarbha, the ishwara and all these four, but we simply we don’t have time to talk about them. And that four-fold being is described from page 680 to almost the middle of page 682. We will simply continue with the story on page 683 about five lines from the top:

As from the harp of some ecstatic god
There springs a harmony of lyric bliss
Striving to leave no heavenly joy unsung,
Such was the life in that embodied Light.
He seemed the wideness of a boundless sky,
He seemed the passion of a sorrowless earth,
He seemed the burning of a world-wide sun.
Two looked upon each other, Soul saw Soul.
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 683

And now Savitri and this new transformed God meet at another level, and there is still another test that Savitri has to face before she gets what she has been after. Now something interesting happens here at this point. This new god says to Savitri, you have a choice now. On page 684, it’s better that I let that god speak:

I am the inviolable Ecstasy;
They who have looked on me, shall grieve no more.
The eyes that live in night shall see my form.
On the pale shores of foaming steely straits
That flow beneath a grey tormented sky,
Two powers from one original ecstasy born
Pace near but parted in the life of man;
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 684

There are two powers which are very close, but in the life of man they have parted:

One leans to earth, the other yearns to the skies:
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 684

As a result,

Heaven in its rapture dreams of perfect earth,
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 684

The heaven keeps dreaming of perfect earth. What about earth?

Earth in its sorrow dreams of perfect heaven.
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 684

But they don’t meet. Earth keeps dreaming of perfect heaven and heaven keeps dreaming of perfect earth. But since these powers are separated, heaven and earth can’t live together. The aim of my yoga is to make heaven and earth equal and one. That’s what Sri Aurobindo wrote to the Mother. The God of Death is saying they are two separate things, heaven and earth. Heaven can dream of perfect earth, earth can dream of perfect heaven. And Satyavan can live in heaven, you will live on earth―there’ll be a very close spiritual bond between you. You will feel Satyavan close to you, but not here but on earth, in heaven. Satyavan will also feel he is very close to you, but you won’t be in heaven, you will be on earth. That is the duality, that is what the world is. That’s why he says:

Heaven in its rapture dreams of perfect earth,
Earth in its sorrow dreams of perfect heaven.
The two longing to join, yet walk apart,
Idly divided by their vain conceits;
They are kept from their oneness by enchanted fears;
Sundered mysteriously by miles of thought,
They gaze across the silent gulfs of sleep.
Or side by side reclined upon my vasts
Like bride and bridegroom magically divorced
They wake to yearn, but never can they clasp
While thinly flickering hesitates uncrossed
Between the lovers on their nuptial couch
The shadowy eidolon of a sword.
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 684

If you don’t want this separateness, then there is another choice. What is it? On page 685:

Yet if thou wouldst abandon the vexed world,
Careless of the dark moan of things below,
Tread down the isthmus, overleap the flood,
Cancel thy contract with the labouring Force;
Renounce the tie that joins thee to earth-kind,
Cast off thy sympathy with mortal hearts.
Arise, vindicate thy spirit’s conquered right:
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 685

There’s another possibility, provided you can forget all about earth, you can forget all about man’s destiny. Then you can join Satyavan here and live like gods, arm in arm, forever in this paradise that I have created for you. Either leave Satyavan in heaven, you be on earth, but the bond between you will never be loosened. There will be this duality: you will be in one place, he in another place. Or you can come here and live for ever and ever on heaven.

Ascend, O soul, into thy blissful home.
Here in the playground of the eternal Child
Or in domains the wise Immortals tread
Roam with thy comrade splendour under skies
Spiritual lit by an unsetting sun,
As godheads live who care not for the world
And share not in the toil of Nature’s powers:
Absorbed in their self-ecstasy they dwell.
Cast off the ambiguous myth of earth’s desire,
O immortal, to felicity arise.”
Bk 11, Canto 1, p. 685

This is a bait. Which one do you want? We will see what Savitri has to say next time

Print Friendly, PDF & Email