Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the World (1938-50)

The ancient Indian Scriptures abound with reports on the struggle between the asuric (undivine, hostile) and divine forces. This subject is already dealt with in the Veda, but some Western scholars have imagined that it refers to a conflict between invading Aryans and native Dravidians, even though there is no evidence at all in the ancient literature for such an invasion. Sri Aurobindo has given an elaborate commentary on this curious misunderstanding which had even political consequences in the form of an unnatural antagonism between the speakers of the so-called Dravidian languages who live in South India and those who speak the so-called Aryan tongues living in the North. He has also provided the key to the true meaning of the symbolical language of the Veda in his work The Secret of the Veda.

The Mahabharata and the Puranas too give an account of the struggle between the Gods and the Asuras. The Mahabharata is in itself the story of a conflict between two parties which respectively represent dharma (righteousness) and adharma (lawlessness). Sri Krishna, the avatar of that time, who is to be seen in close connection with Sri Aurobindo (Sri Aurobindo once stated that there was oneness in consciousness between himself and Sri Krishna), enters the battle by becoming the charioteer of the main hero of the progressive forces in the war. The Bhagavadgita tells us how he gives powerful psychological support to Arjuna and pulls him out of a deep inner crisis just on the eve of the battle. Even though in these ancient scriptures the divine side is always victorious at the end, the Asuras sometimes achieve terrible triumphs over the divine forces and bring them to the verge of crushing defeat, which gives them temporary victory and domination.

A similar drama has been enacted now in the world of the 20th century. Whilst Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were trying to lay the foundation for a new golden Age, mighty demons like Hitler and Stalin were turning the time backwards, frightening the world with their atrocities. Among these two, Hitler was the immediate danger since he had an insatiable thirst for world domination and was systematically expanding his empire. Sri Aurobindo was well-informed about all important developments in the world in spite of his withdrawal from public life and he was using his Force here and there to give a positive direction to various critical situations. In contrast to other Indian systems, his Yoga was not independent of developments in the world; the descent of supermind was linked with the necessity of a certain progress, a certain receptivity of earth-nature as such, and an atavistic power like Hitler formed a major obstacle for his work. Sri Aurobindo was therefore getting ready for the battle, but at first he suffered a heavy blow by way of an accident in the night of 23 to 24 November when he stumbled over a tiger skin and suffered a fracture of his right thigh. The complicated fracture required long treatment over a period of several months. A team of five doctors and helpers was formed who constantly attended to Sri Aurobindo. The Mother too was concentrating with all her power on his recovery, and pranams to her and her meetings with sadhaks were therefore restricted. Paradoxically, this accident also meant the end of his seclusion, since he was depending on the help of his attendants with whom he allowed himself to be drawn into long talks. The disciples also had an opportunity now to watch Sri Aurobindo and the Mother together and they got a glimpse of their close relationship. “The Mother and I are one and equal,” wrote Sri Aurobindo; “Without him I exist not; without me he is unmanifest,”[1] declared the Mother, and this unique spiritual relationship between two avatars was the foundation for the work of supramental manifestation.

After Sri Aurobindo’s accident the Mother had given darshan alone to the shocked sadhaks and visitors. When it became known in April next year that Sri Aurobindo had largely recovered from the consequences of the accident, the sadhaks asked for a special darshan, since August 15 seemed too distant. Sri Aurobindo consented and since then April 24, the day of the Mother’s final arrival in Pondicherry, has been the fourth darshan day.

The years to come were entirely dominated by the events of the Second World War. Sri Aurobindo put all his Force behind the Allies and especially Churchill. One particular event in which he had a hand was the successful evacuation from Dunkirk. As some history-books note, the German forces refrained ‘for inexplicable reasons’ from a quick advance which would have been fatal for the Allies. Another significant date was 15 August 1940, Sri Aurobindo’s birthday. Hitler had hoped to broadcast from Buckingham Palace in a defeated England on this day. But his Luftwaffe could not subdue it and actually on that day the German Forces suffered a loss of 75 planes in the air battle over England. The invasion project was finally abandoned after the British Air Force had inflicted further heavy losses on the Luftwaffe on 15 September.

Due to her occult faculties the Mother was able to look deep into Hitler’s being and she saw that he was in contact with an asura who is at the origin of wars and makes every possible effort to prevent the advent of world unity.

“Hitler… was in contact with a being whom he considered to be the Supreme: this being came and gave him advice, told him all he had to do. Hitler used to retire into solitude and remain there as long as it was necessary to come into contact with his ‘guide’ and receive from him inspirations which he carried out later very faithfully. This being which Hitler took for the Supreme was plainly an Asura, one who is called ‘the Lord of Falsehood’ in occultism, but who proclaimed himself ‘the Lord of the Nations’…. Generally he used to appear to Hitler wearing a silver cuirass and helmet; a kind of flame came out of his head and there was an atmosphere of dazzling light around him, so dazzling that Hitler could hardly look at him. He used to tell Hitler everything that had to be done – he played with him as with a monkey or a mouse. He had decided clearly to make Hitler commit all possible extravagances till the day he would break his neck.”[2]

When Hitler was going from success to success in Europe and when his advance seemed irresistible, the Mother used her occult power to check the ‘Lord of Falsehood’ and worked so that Hitler might take the decision to attack his erstwhile ally Stalin. Whilst the two titans got locked in battle, the Allies got some reprieve.

Meanwhile, another problem was coming up in the Ashram itself. Like most of their countrymen, many Indian sadhaks were wishing not for Hitler’s defeat, but rather for the quick destruction of the British Empire, which would bring the long expected liberation from foreign rule. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had to work against this idea of the sadhaks through many letters and statements, asking them not to help Hitler’s cause by their wrong thoughts, for his victory would mean a powerful setback in evolution and entail the subjection not only of all Europe, but ultimately of Asia itself, whilst a victory of the Allies would keep all possibilities open for further evolution. Sri Aurobindo wrote in a letter: “Even if I knew that the Allies would misuse their victory or bungle the peace… I would still put my force behind them. At any rate things could not be one-hundredth part as bad as they would be under Hitler. The ways of the Lord would still be open – to keep them open is what matters.”[3]

There were further difficulties coming up in the wake of the Second World War. The food supply became rather critical and this at a time when many sadhaks from the North-East of India, which was now in the danger zone because of the advance of Hitler’s oriental ally, the Japanese army, brought their children and families to Pondicherry. Because of these special circumstances the Mother for the first time admitted children to the Ashram life and opened a school on 2 December 1943. It was started with 20 children, but the number grew steadily. The Mother herself held classes too. When she was later asked why children had not been admitted before the war, she said:

“…my children, it is very simple. Because where there are children, you have to be busy most of the time with them only! Children are very absorbing creatures. Everything must be organised for them, everything must be arranged in view of their welfare, and the whole aspect of life changes. Children are most important personages. When they are there, everything turns around them. And the entire organisation of the Ashram has completely changed.” The Mother further explained that to grown-up people one could give a strict discipline which was to be followed if they wanted to stay in the Ashram, but this could not be done in the case of children who had not yet attained maturity and were unable to make a conscious choice. “One cannot tell them: ‘You have chosen, therefore you have to take it or leave it, either you do this or you go away.’ They have been brought here, hence it is one’s duty to give them what they need; and the needs of children are not at all the same as those of big people. It is much more complicated.”[4]

Whilst the Mother was trying to shield the Ashram life from the impact of the war and to sow the seed for a brighter future by educating the children, the great holocaust continued in the war theatres of Europe and Asia. It was now in the interest of Britain to grant Independence to India, and therefore Sir Stafford Cripps was sent to India as a special envoy to offer India a status as a dominion in the British Empire, which would not yet be complete independence, but a decisive step towards the long-expected freedom. Sri Aurobindo supported this proposal and sent a message to the political leaders of the country that they should accept it. However, they were not prepared to listen to him and rejected the offer of the British Government and thereby the divine Grace, which – according to the Mother – stood behind Cripps’ mission. The consequences of this rejection have been aptly described in the Oxford History of India: “So the golden moment passed and with it the last real chance of establishing a united independent India. The rejection of the offer was the prelude to the partition.”[5]

The final victory of the Allies in the Second World War was also Sri Aurobindo’s victory, a victory for the Ashram which could now continue its spiritual work without immediate menace. Another great event came on 15 August 1947 when India was granted Independence on Sri Aurobindo’s birthday. But it was for him a gift with a bitter aftertaste, because the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan was in his vision a grave human error and not divinely intended. In the occult vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother the true India includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Burma. A sketch of this complete India in bas relief has been prominently displayed on a huge wall facing the Ashram Playground, and it also appears on the front page of the monthly journal Mother India to contrast, as it were, the present ‘reality’ with the spiritual Truth. As has been said, it is not the question here of historical or political rights, but of occult vision.

Apart from the Ashram School, another new development in these years was the Department of Physical Education. Sports and gymnastics were practised under the guidance of ‘captains’, and all this formed part of the Yoga or was a preparation for it. The Mother herself spent much of her time watching and directing these activities, and she played table tennis and later tennis, which is in her vision the king of sports. She introduced some novelties which seemed revolutionary for the India of that time, e.g. shorts as sports dress for the girls, which shocked many elderly sadhaks and devotees. Some parents even planned now to send their daughters to another school. But only a few followers had such a narrow-minded reaction and the Mother’s practical changes were soon accepted. Nirodbaran, a sadhak from the close circle of Sri Aurobindo, reports in his book Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, how he admired, on one hand, the Mother’s revolutionary step, but how, on the other hand, he was a little worried about the risks of such new ventures. He makes then an interesting observation: “At the same time I knew that the Mother’s very nature is to face danger. And whenever we had tried to argue with her that we were doing new things which were not done outside, she replied sharply, ‘Why should we follow the others? They have no ideas, we have ideas. I have come to break down old conventions and superstitions.’ ”[6]

The Mother was spending so much time on the Playground now that Sri Aurobindo had to reassure some disciples and tell them that this was only a temporary stage and that “a complete withdrawal from spiritual life and an apotheosis of the Deity of Sport”[7] was not to be apprehended. Furthermore, he clarified that no one should fear to lose her favour because of non-participation in sports activities and that a number of her closest and most valued workers had never set foot on the Playground. However, we may note that the Mother was encouraging everyone, young and old, who had some inclination or capacity for physical education programs, to participate in them.

Even today these programs take an important place in the Ashram life and are compulsory for all students. Athletics, swimming, gymnastics and games form part of this program as well as (optionally) table tennis, tennis, Judo, Karate, etc. A group of senior sadhaks performs Swedish drill exercises for half an hour every evening, certainly not a small feat for disciples who are fifty, sixty or even eighty years old, considering the hot sultry climate of Pondicherry. It is but natural that the emphasis here is less on records – even though these are also registered – than on regularity, endurance, sportsmanship and overcoming of resistances in the body which is thus made a better vessel for the divine Force.

In this way the whole day was filled with purposeful activities which could be used as means for sadhana. Furthermore, there were occasional meetings with the Mother on the Playground, at work, on Darshan days or on birthdays. The latter were a very special occasion in the life of every sadhak. The Mother once explained the deeper meaning of birthdays in a talk with Mona Sarkar, a captain of the Department of Physical Education. In the following text he quotes the Mother from memory:

“Yes, it is truly a special day in one’s life. It is one of those days in the year when the Supreme descends into us – or when we are face to face with the Eternal – one of those days when our soul comes into contact with the Eternal and, if we remain a little conscious, we can feel His Presence within us. If we make a little effort on this day, we accomplish the work of many lives as in a lightning flash. That is why I give so much importance to the birthday – because what one gains in one day is truly something incomparable.”[8]

On their birthdays, the sadhaks went to the Mother with a flower offering and spent some time with her. She gave them her blessings, and a small gift or a helpful word for their sadhana, and some were also given a new name on this occasion. At the end she gave a bunch of flowers to the sadhak, which were arranged in such a way that the symbolical meaning of the flowers formed a significant sentence or guide-line for the disciple.


[1] Mother India, June 1983, p. 333
[2] CWM 4:185-86
[3] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 2:162
[4] CWM 5:287-88
[5] The Oxford History of India, p. 828
[6] Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, pp. 117-18
[7] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 2:182
[8] Sweet Mother – Harmonies of Light, pp. 16-17

Print Friendly, PDF & Email