Sri Aurobindo and the Ideal of Physical Immortality

 

What is immortality

The first question is about immortality itself. We ordinarily or rather habitually / experientially conceive of the physical body as myself and hence immortality for us means straightaway the immortality of the body just as it stands today.  That indeed would be a most dangerous thing to happen. If by some scientific or occult means we could develop the ability even to prolong life leave aside having an immortal body or as some Scientists conceive, creating an immortal non-human body into which one can transfer ‘human information’ but without changing our

consciousness we would only end up destroying the earth and possibly other forms of life elsewhere as well. Such was the kind of immortality that the Asuras of old such as Hiranyakashipu, Ravana, Jarasandha and others tried and thankfully eventually failed. It was an immortality by simply manipulating the physical constituents of the body. Things such as Kaya Siddhi and Hatha Yogic processes to prolong life also would fall into a similar category though through means occult utilizing the subtle energies that move the body rather than the gross physical processes. Such an immortality would be more of a curse than a blessing. Perhaps this is what the story of Aswatthama seems to symbolically suggest.

Then there is another kind of immortality. It does not concern the gross physical body but the inner being clothed in either the vital or the subtle physical envelope. It is perhaps the kind of immortality achieved by the legendary Avatara Parasurama, Hanuman, Sugriva, Narad and others. They exist on some subtle plane near the earth and remain in close contact with it. Perhaps some lamas or Mahatmas may have arrived at this state and as has been believed continue to help mankind or else are engaged in deeper sadhana for their own further evolution. This immortality may be helpful for the individual but it cannot change the law of Death that still governs the gross physical body.

There is also the consciousness of Immortality which the Vedic rishis aspired for and possibly a few may have attained it. This can be achieved in two possible ways. First is to bring out the immortal psychic being within and live in it. Then one is conscious of one’s immortality and there is no loss of memory or awareness after death. It is one continuous journey. What is however lost or dropped off are the vital associations and mental opinions that surrounded the sadhakas outer life and constituted his outer personality. This is however not what the Vedic seers were speaking of. They had discovered that by a progressive widening and heightening of consciousness one can arrive at higher states of consciousness which can immortalize the mental-vital and even in some instances the physical consciousness of man. This is great result but still an individual achievement.

 

Changing the very law of Death

All this Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had already achieved way before the Ashram itself was formed. On the 24th November 1926, with the Overmind descent, the consciousness of Immortality had already touched Sri Aurobindo’s body. Had he and the Mother gone along this path further they would have created great miracles with an unparalleled display of power as never before. It would have formed not only the greatest of religions but commanded the obeisance of the whole of humanity. It is this that would have convinced ordinary people that there is something called as ‘God’ who is powerful beyond conception yet this would have changed their life a little. The seed of falsehood in matter would have remained not only raising its head but eventually turning the whole thing into an old fiasco. This was not what Sri Aurobindo wanted to form a religion around them or to merely convince people that God exists by the show of power. Besides the law of Death would still be unconquered and in time, may be after a long time, death would have crept in through the doors of ageing. In fact the Mother alludes to something very new and unprecedented during the course of her work of physical transformation. She refers to as having discovered another way of dying! Death is perhaps no more the same as it used to be when mankind was largely unconscious. But what this new way is we have yet to discover in ourselves.

Here we need to remember that there have been such instances in the history of our spiritual evolution wherein the possibility of prolonging life and even leaving the body at will has been realized. Swami Brahmananda with whom Sri Aurobindo had met while in Baroda was supposed to be nearly two hundred years plus at that time. Closer to us and seemingly along the lines of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Swami Ramalingam (known popularly as Vallalar) was experiencing what he termed as ‘physical transformation’ by the Grace of the Divine Mother. He called it the Grace-Light. There is a conversation about him with the Mother thus:

July 11, 1970

[Disciple]: Someone sent me a letter on the body’s transformation, if you are interested.

[The Mother]: Let’s see….

It seems that a Tamil yogi [Swami Ramalingam] of this region, who lived around 1850, had experiences, which he described in a poem and appear rather connected…. Experiences of the transformation of the skeleton, bones, etc. It’s a Tamilian who sent me this letter, asking me to put the question to you.

All right.

“The Mother may throw light on the nature and extent of the transformation the Swami had in the last part of his life. The Swami often declared affirming the transformation and deathlessness of his body by the power of what he calls ‘Arut Perum Joti,’ the infinite or vast Grace-Light of the Divine. He also made the forecast and promise around the year 1870, that the supreme Divine would come soon to the earth for establishing his direct rule of Grace-Light (which the Swami also called as the Truth-Light) when a new race of people would arise defying disease, ageing and death….”

(This translation of the original Tamil text into English (with minor editing here) probably gives only a rough idea of the experience. “The Swami dematerialized his body in January or February 1874, leaving a promise that he would return at the time of the God of the vast Grace-Light.”)

It’s interesting.

Then here is the text of this sage, translated from the Tamil: 

Extract from “Joti Agaval” (Swami Ramalingam’s poem, verses 725-740)
“O my unique Love which sprang from my heart and filled it so much that it made my life blossom. O my Lord of unique Love who has given himself to me wholly and by the Grace-Light has transmuted me. My Love that has entered and unified with me in my heart, so as to transform my body into a golden body. The skin has become supple, the influx of the nervous current all over the body is vibrating, with pauses in between; the bones have become pliable and plastic in their nature; the soft muscles have become truly loosened; the blood has become condensed within; the semen has become concentrated into a single drop and confined in the chest; the petals of the brain have blossomed or expanded; amrita [nectar of immortality] is welling up into springs all over the body and filling it up; the luminous forehead perspires; the luminous face brightens up; the breath full of peace becomes cool and refreshing; the inner smile beams up; the hair stands on end; tears of joy flow down towards the feet; the mouth vibrates into the passionate calling [of the Divine]; the ear tubes ring with the sense of musically humming sound; the body has become cool; the soft chest moves; the hands join [as in prayer]; the legs revolve or spin round; the mind melts sweetly, the intelligence becomes full of light; the will becomes full of joy and harmony; the individuality has enlarged itself everywhere; the heart has blossomed into the universality of feeling so as to be felt by the world outwardly; the whole knowledge-body has become blissful; even the spiritual egoism of the senses has gone away; the senses (tattva) have been replaced wholly by the truth (sattva), the truth-principle or truth-substance which alone prevails now uniquely; attachment to objects of the senses and to things of the world has dissolved away, and only the aspiration and will towards the illimitable Grace grows and intensifies.”

 And how long did he live like this?

It seems it happened the him towards the end of his life, and I think it must have lasted for a few years. …He said he would “return.”

 1870?

 Yes, he was born in 1823 and died in 1874.

He died two years after Sri Aurobindo’s birth.
(long silence)
What did he say about the legs? I didn’t understand.

 He says that the bones have become supple…. “The body has become cool; the soft chest moves; the hands join as in prayer; the legs revolve or spin round….” Which means, I suppose, that the legs can move in every direction, since the bones have become “pliable.”

(long silence)

How many experiences of this kind people had without anyone to note them….

But you often wondered about the skeleton, in fact, you asked how it could change.

In my case too.

Here, he says it becomes plastic, supple.

But then, how can he keep standing?

Through this “condensation” …Is it because of this condensation of the blood he mentions?

What could that be?

I don’t know what that condensation of the blood is…. But there is one thing I haven’t heard you mention and which Sri Aurobindo often refers to (in The Supramental Manifestation, for instance), that’s the transformation of organs through the chakras, through the energy of the centers of consciousness. You very rarely mention the chakras or the role of the chakras…. Couldn’t one conceive that these centers of energy may provide the body with a framework strong enough for it to stand?

(after a long silence)
This “rising of the kundalini,” I had it in … I was still in Paris. It was before I came to India. I had read Vivekananda’s books about it…. And when the Force rose, it emerged from the head through here (gesture at the top of the head); the [classic] experience was never described in that way. The Force came out and the consciousness settled here (gesture about eight inches above the head). So when I came here, I told Sri Aurobindo about it; he told me it had been the same thing with him, and that according to the teaching of [ancient] texts, you “cannot” live when that takes place: you die! So … (laughing) he told me, “Here are two who haven’t died!”
The consciousness has remained there (gesture above), it didn’t come down again; it’s there, its always there….
But I felt centers BELOW the feet.
I felt a center below the feet…. There was one below the feet, one at the knees, one here (gesture at the base of the spine), and all of it (Mother gestures, drawing the energies upward), like this, drawn up, and it came here (gesture to the heart).
Does Sri Aurobindo speak of that transformation of the subconscient and its becoming conscious?

Yes, Mother, he speaks of it.

That’s what took place when the energies were drawn here: it was the result.
(long silence)
The moment I came here, I no longer concerned myself with the body: I concerned myself with the Work; but before coming here, especially between my departure from here and my return, it was … (how much time?… I came back in 1920; I came here in 1914 and left from here in 1915, I think – from ‘16 to ‘20 I was in Japan, but I came in ‘14 and I think I left in 1915), from that time on, there were all those experiences [kundalini, etc.], in France and in Japan.
(Mother goes into a contemplation)

But, Mother, what I’d like to understand, it’s that since you withdrew to this room [in 1962] for the body’s transformation, you’ve never mentioned the role of the chakras, while in The Supramental Manifestation, Sri Aurobindo seems to attach to them a decisive importance in the body’s transformation. He frequently refers to them, as if they were a key element.

(after a silence)
What I am conscious of is the Consciousness there (gesture above); that’s something unchanging. This (gesture to the forehead): blank. If it starts stirring, its very uncomfortable, but generally it doesn’t stir at all – one day it stirred for a few minutes, and it was extremely unpleasant. It’s like this (gesture like a motionless bar), blank: a blank feeling, like blank paper…. This (gesture from the throat to the mouth) is the connection with people, and that’s EXTREMELY unpleasant, really extremely unpleasant (I can’t say), and materially it results in the deterioration of teeth and … Very unpleasant. Here (gesture to the heart) … I told you, all energies, from below the feet (Mother gestures as if pulling it all upward), all that was brought up to here. Here (gesture to the heart), it’s like a sun, always. It’s like a radiant sun: that’s where I work; that’s where I work from…. But with the centers there (gesture to the base of the spine), all the energies have been as if brought up to the heart.
And that’s so natural…. This and this (gesture to the heart and above the head), it’s so natural that I don’t even observe it anymore: it’s my way of being.
But the consciousness isn’t centered in the body, and the body is felt … almost like a transmitting pipe!

Mother, one last thing, a question asked by the person who wrote the letter: he. asks whether the “vast Grace-Light” or “Truth-Light” the Swami mentions is the supramental light?

Which light?

The vast “Grace-Light.”

Grace-Light…. Oh, I liked that very much in his letter. Grace-Light, that’s what is working, you know: the work being done through this [Mothers body] is exactly like that, it’s exactly like a Grace-Light. I liked that a lot. It’s exactly that.
You see, it’s a light with several degrees, and in the most material it’s slightly … it must be the supramental force, because it’s slightly golden, slightly pinkish (you know that light), but very, very pale. One of them (gesture pointing to another, higher layer) is white like milk, opaque – it’s very strong. And there’s another (gesture very high) which is white like … it’s transparent light. With that one, it’s strange: one drop of it on the hostile forces, and they’re dissolved. They melt like this (gesture before one’s very eyes). I said all that to Sri Aurobindo, he completely confirmed it. That’s essentially the Grace in its … (gesture very high) supreme state. It’s a Light … it has no color, you know, it’s transparent, and that Light (I have experienced that, I mention it because I know it), if you put it on a hostile being … it melts like that. It’s extraordinary…. And then, in its “benevolent” form, as we might call it (that is to say, the Grace helping and assisting and healing), it’s white like milk. And if I want a wholly material action (but this is quite recent – it’s since this new Consciousness came), then in its physical action, on the physical, it’s become slightly colored: it’s luminous, golden with some pink in it, but it’s not pink … (Mother takes a hibiscus next to her). It’s like this.

Like Auroville’s flower?

Like Auroville’s flower. But I DELIBERATELY chose it as Auroville’s flower, for that reason. And my impression is that this is the supra-mental color: when I see beings from the supramental, they have … not quite this color…. It’s not like a flower, it’s like flesh. But it’s like this (Mother points to the flower’s color).
(silence)
Yes, he was in contact with that, this man, certainly. I felt it instantly when you read me the letter.

Yes, one feels … It’s likely that, over the ages, there must have been individual experiences.

Yes, oh yes, certainly. Certainly. And there must still be right now, which we aren’t aware of.

But the difference now is that it’s a collective thing.

Yes.

That’s the difference.

 

A new phase of earthly evolution

These previous attempts can be seen more like a promise that in their own way prepared matter in some way, at least kept alive in the human race about the possibility and prospect of physical immortality in some distant future. What they wanted instead is a collective transformation that would eventually lead humanity not only out of the fundamental ignorance that gravitates us towards decay and disorder and death but at some point the possibility of prolongation of life at will, the possibility withdrawing from the body at will, the possibility of keeping away the forces of disease and decay and as the crowning process, the possibility of physical immortality. It needs to be noted that Sri Aurobindo or the Mother did not promise it here and now but as a distant result of the supramental manifestation upon earth. Their task was over the moment the New Consciousness, the Supramental Truth Consciousness was established upon earth as the next evolutionary principle. The rest was assured through a passage of time, longer or shorter, depending upon human receptivity and resistances. In this way this evolution demanded a conscious participation from man unlike the previous stages. That is but obvious since man is supposed to have a greater degree of consciousness and a self-awareness that strives towards the heights, to go beyond the limits of our humanity. A number of letters of Sri Aurobindo confirm this:

It is not immortality of the body, but the consciousness of immortality in the body that can come with the descent of Overmind into Matter or even into the physical mind or with the touch of the modified Supramental Light on the physical mind consciousness. These are preliminary openings, but they are not the supramental fulfilment in Matter.
*
The change of the consciousness is the necessary thing and without it there can be no physical siddhi. But the fullness of the supramental change is not possible if the body remains as it is, a slave of death, disease, decay, pain, unconsciousness and all the other results of the ignorance. If these are to remain the descent of the supramental is hardly necessary—for a change of consciousness which would bring mental-spiritual union with the Divine, the Overmind is sufficient, even the Higher Mind is sufficient. The supramental descent is necessary for a dynamic action of the Truth in mind, vital and body. This would imply as a final result the disappearance of the unconsciousness of the body; it would no longer be subject to decay and disease. That would mean that it would not be subject to the ordinary processes by which death comes. If a change of body had to be made, it would have to be by the will of the inhabitant. This (not an obligation to live 3000 years, for that too would be a bondage) would be the essence of physical immortality. Still, if one wanted to live 1000 years or more, then supposing one had the complete siddhi, it should not be impossible.
*
As for the conquest of death, it is only one of the sequelae of supramentalisation—and I am not aware that I have forsworn my views about the supramental descent. But I never said or thought that the supramental descent would automatically make everybody immortal. The supramental descent can only make the best conditions for anybody who can open to it then or thereafter attaining to the supramental consciousness and its consequences. But it would not dispense with the necessity of sadhana. If it did, the logical consequence would be that the whole earth, men, dogs and worms, would suddenly wake up to find themselves supramental. There would be no need of an Asram or of Yoga.

What is vital is the supramental change of consciousness— conquest of death is something minor and, as I have always said, the last physical result of it, not the first result of all or the most important—a thing to be added to complete the whole, not the one thing needed and essential. To put it first is to reverse all spiritual values—it would mean that the seeker was actuated not by any high spiritual aim but by a vital clinging to life or a selfish and timid seeking for the security of the body—such a spirit could not bring the supramental change.
[
CWSA 28: 309 – 315]
*
In this connection I could tell you something: long ago there were people who came here because they thought that joining the Ashram was sufficient to make one immortal. And they aspired much for immortality. Naturally, they were old people who did not see a very long road before them and desired to extend it indefinitely— for that is what men understand by “immortality”, an indefinite prolongation of what they are. So, to the first person who made this remark, I replied, “I do not know if everyone can become immortal—probably not—but even among those who have the capacity of becoming immortal, how many are ready to pay the price for it?” Because the number of things which have to be left behind is so considerable that perhaps half-way they would say, “Ah, no, the price is too much.” I remember a painter with whom I had a talk about the possibility of immortality and who asked me what a new world would be like. I told him things would be, for instance, luminous in themselves and there would no longer be this kind of reflected light which comes here upon earth from the sun. And as I was speaking I saw his face becoming longer, more and more grave; finally he said, “But then how can one do painting without the shadow which brings out the light of things?…” I told him, “You have given exactly the key to the problem.”

There were many people, a very large number, who asked me what the new life would be like and to whom I said, “There will be an interchange of forces, a circulating energy; the structure of the body will be quite different, all these ungainly organs will disappear and be replaced by psychological functions; and the necessity of eating, always eating, will disappear.” Once again I saw faces getting longer and longer! People said, “Oh! And all the good things we eat, all that will go?”

These are small instances, there are many others, things more important. The most important, the most difficult thing is to renounce one’s ego, for to somebody who is not ready, to renounce his ego is like dying and dying much more than a physical death, for to him the death of the ego is like a dissolution of the being—this is not correct but it begins by giving this sort of impression. To be immortal one must renounce all limitations and the ego is the greatest of limitations; hence if “I” am not immortal, what is the good of that?
[
CWM 4]

The Avatara and a collective transformation

In other words what they are aiming at is a collective transformation which means changing the very laws of functioning of the human body. This cannot happen unless a certain number of individuals serve as an intermediary link species through which the supramental consciousness can operate with an increasing force and eventually prepare a body subtle enough to be thus transmuted into a divine body. It is for this reason that they had to carry along with them a representative humanity by tying themselves to it. Had they gone ahead to transform themselves and their physical bodies we would have been left too far behind to catch up ever. Yes we would have regarded it as something marvelous and stupendous but it would have been yet another individual achievement, may ne of a still greater degree but not the supramental manifestation. The Mother noted this in one of Her messages soon after Sri Aurobindo’s withdrawl from the physical body:

We stand in the Presence of Him who has sacrificed his physical life in order to help more fully his work of transformation. He is always with us, aware of what we are doing, of all our thoughts, of all our feelings and all our actions. […]
Sri Aurobindo has given up his body in an act of supreme unselfishness, renouncing the realisation in his own body to hasten the hour of the collective realisation. Surely if the earth were more responsive, this would not have been necessary.
[CWM 13]

This after all is the work for which the Avatara descends. He does not come to perform some arbitrary miracle or convince humanity about the existence of God. It hardly matters for Him whether people believe in Him or not. What matters is that humanity grows Godwards, becomes divine, not only in its inner being but also in the outer nature, not only in his mind and life but also in the very body which has been the most obscure of all elements that resists the establishment of a divine life upon earth to the very last cell and atom where darkness hides.

This then is the path opened before man, this the new possibility, the possibility of living in the Divine Truth and Ananda with its far-reaching result of the physical transformation. It does not matter when and who and how this will happen. These are questions of academic importance. For us who have the call for the yoga or have an intuitive faith in the work and vision of Sri Aurobindo, what is needed is to give ourselves as fully and as sincerely as we can to this new possibility. What else is there to give our life and worth striving for, – nirvana, personal salvation, yogic siddhis and powers? But none of these will change life upon earth. It is only Sri Aurobindo who gives us not only the promise but the assurance of a divine future for earth and humanity. He has also shown us the path towards that. What is needed is sufficient faith and courage to take the plunge and move along the streams of the New Consciousness rather than the old one. What may happen to us individually hardly matters.

It is the earth that must be saved, it is humanity that must outgrow itself into something beautiful and divine. So shall it be is the great promise. Keeping that promise and assurance ringing in our heart we must fearlessly cross the perilous bridge and leap towards the future, the time taken notwithstanding.

Closing with two more passages from the Mother:

This is the condition of the earth, and it is not very bright. But for us one possibility remains—I have spoken about it to you several times already—even if, outside, things are deteriorating completely and the catastrophe cannot possibly be avoided, there remains for us, I mean those for whom the supramental life is not a vain dream, those who have faith in its reality and the aspiration to realise it—I don’t necessarily mean those who have gathered here in Pondicherry, in the Ashram, but those who have as a link between them the knowledge Sri Aurobindo has given and the will to live according to that knowledge—there remains for them the possibility of intensifying their aspiration, their will, their effort, to gather their energies together and shorten the time for the realisation. There remains for them the possibility of working this miracle—individually and to a small extent collectively—of conquering space, duration, the time needed for this realisation; of replacing time by intensity of effort and going fast enough and far enough in the realization to liberate themselves from the consequences of the present condition of the world; of making such a concentration of force, strength, light, truth, that by this very realisation they can be above these consequences and secure against them, enjoy the protection bestowed by the Light and Truth, by Purity—the divine Purity through the inner transformation—and that the storm may pass over the world without being able to destroy this great hope of the near future; that the tempest may not sweep away this beginning of realisation.
Instead of falling asleep in an easy quietude and letting things happen according to their own rhythm, if one strains to the utmost one’s will, ardour, aspiration and springs up into the light, then one can hold one’s head higher; one can have, in a higher region of consciousness, enough room to live, to breathe, to grow and develop above the passing cyclone.
This is possible. In a very small way, this was already done during the last war, when Sri Aurobindo was here. It can be done again. But one must want it and each one must do his own work as sincerely and completely as he can.
[CWM 9]

The task, no doubt, is a formidable one, but we received the command to accomplish it and we are upon earth for that purpose alone.

We shall continue up to the end with an unfailing trust in the Will and the Help of the Supreme.

The door is open and will always remain open to all those who decide to give their life for that purpose.
[CWM 13]

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