We start this series of talks with a look behind and a look ahead. But to look behind, it is not enough to see only a year or even a decade behind. To discover the truth of things or the root of it all, we should go back to the roots from where it all starts. This is especially so with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who have included in Their Work, all the possible difficulties and problems of creation, including the problem of creation at the very origin. So also to look ahead, it is not enough to see a few years ahead but the very future of creation, the Will that has gone into it and how we can help towards its manifestation.
Closer to us is the Ashram life as it has evolved and continues to evolve under the pressure of change that is increasing over all the Earth since the Advent of the New Consciousness, the Supramental Consciousness. Who better person to take us through this mystic voyage than Nolini Kanta Gupta, one of the foundations of the Ashram life who was with Sri Aurobindo right from the revolutionary days and saw the Ashram grow and change from its very inception. A visionary and philosopher, poet and educationist, above all a yogi, his writings cover a wide range of subjects as seen from the yogic heights. The breadth and scope of his vision is astounding even as he is ranked amongst the foremost disciples of Sri Aurobindo. Today is his birthday and we start with one of his writings on the Ashram life as it changed since its inception. Written over 30 years back, it reads so contemporary even now!
We also take up the Mother’s vision of the way things shaped over the years and, most importantly, the road map ahead for all of us. She has not only foreseen all the difficulties of the way but also worked them out for us, in essence. But there is one difficulty that we alone must work to get rid of, with Her Help and Grace above all, or shall we say with the Power of Her Love, since it is Her Love alone that can conquer this difficulty and annihilate it. It is the central difficulty, the source of all our misery and conflict, the real enemy that stands between us and the Divine. Its masks are many but it has one name and that is EGO. The Ego must go for the Divine to act freely within and through us. This is the demand and the challenge for all of us for the times to come.
A Review of Our Ashram Life: Nolini Kanta Gupta
IN its early days, quite at the beginning, we may now say, long long ago, for it is now almost half a century ago, the Ashram from its very start and quite spontaneously and inevitably grew into a community life. That is to say, the individuals ceased to have any personal possessions. Whatever they had belonged not to themselves but to the group, rather to the Master of the group, the Guru, to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Whatever they had, they considered as having received from the Mother for use only. They are not proprietors or possessors of anything: whatever they needed or they thought they needed, they had to ask for it and the Mother decided what they should have or not. It was a joyous surrender of possessions and a grateful acceptance of gifts. One may yet remember the beautiful movement that impelled each one of those who were fortunate to be there at that time. There was a scuffle and scramble A great hurry as to who would be the first to throw away his life. Well, it was a picture worth contemplating. Here is one carrying his trunk or valise or wallet, and placing it before the Mother, displaying all his possessions and receiving them back from her as her gift. She did not take away anything as superfluous or not necessary! It was for us to judge and decide what was really necessary and what was luxury. We had to be sincere. She was generosity itself.
The life of each one was directly linked with the Mother. The relation between individuals was founded on the relation each one had with the Mother. It did not depend on one’s liking (or disliking), one’s attraction (or repulsion): but it was as necessitated by the need of the common life as arranged by the Mother.
Such a life was possible because of two reasons: (i) a physical reason and (ii) a psychological reason. The physical reason was, the number of people forming the Ashram was very small: instead of the two thousand and odd that we are today, there were at that time (the time I am speaking of) barely fifty. And there were no children.¹ And of men, only those who were allowed, who had a real call for the spiritual life, those alone who were chosen by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and permitted to live here. And here is the natural psychological reason: it was a select group who had already had an inner life and spiritual aspiration. And so they were ready for a life of surrender and self-giving, obedience and allegiance to the guru. They did not come ignorant and innocent of the rudimentary elements of spiritual life.
The work that Mother could do then and was doing, she has herself described and explained to us. It was the creation of a world – a region at least – of the higher consciousness in which everyone who participated had his own place, everyone with his soul-being sufficiently in front; and this being she could connect or link up with a being of the higher sphere – a counterpart, an over-soul as it were for each soul. It was a kind of descent – a subtle incarnation of Gods which the Mother’s Grace occasioned or brought about into the elevated and sublimated human level.
The ground had already been prepared, we may note, by the descent of the 24th November 1926 – the descent of the Overmind or Krishna-consciousness into Sri Aurobindo’s body-consciousness and thence generally into the earth-atmosphere and becoming its natural and permanent possession.
But arrived at one point, Sri Aurobindo happened to make an observation which meant halt! The Mother narrates to us the story in an amusing way. One day Sri Aurobindo was telling the Mother: “What you are doing is very fine and very grand. It will bring you name and fame, you will become a world-figure and your work a marvel. It will be a “grand succès.” Well, that was sufficient. The whole thing dropped from Mother’s hands. The new creation vanished in a moment, as it were: there was a pralaya. The Gods withdrew, we came down with a thud upon earth – down to earth, earth to earth. We are still there, crawling, forward I hope, as best as we can.
This creation of a luminous world in a higher sphere of the mind which Mother attempted could not be fully achieved; for the foundations were not properly laid, the basic ground was not prepared. Any higher structure of the mind and overmind must be built upon man’s vital being and physical life. The new creation left out of account these realities of basement, so one had to come down, forgetting for the moment the higher realisation, into these darker regions and make a thorough cleaning of them. The regions of the vital consciousness and physical consciousness are, as we all know, full of human failings and dangerous complications. One had to leave the heavens and come down to these lower levels and tackle the problems that beset them, the crucial problems whose solution alone could lay a strong foundation for the final consummation, the supreme transformation. One had to face the stark realities there and master them before one could think of a heavenly ascent. So we all became once more ordinary human beings with human weaknesses and a modicum of aspiration perhaps. This was then the task given to all to battle through and conquer here below. The scene changed completely. A mid-summer night’s dream turned almost into a sombre Hamlet-tragedy.
The first sign of this Return, this resumption of life as it is, was the re-assertion of the individual, the feedom of the personal unit. Because of the increased number of people and because of the incursion of children, the earlier frame could no longer hold good. The willing surrender of individuality is a lesson that has to be acquired and achieved: it is not just God’s gift, for the many. The many have to grow, grow by degrees, through toil and trouble, and slowly led into the mysteries of the higher realisation of surrender and self-giving. And towards that consummation independence, freedom, is the first step. But once the climb down begins, it does not admit of an arrest, it becomes slidedown, a continuous descent until you reach the very rock-bottom of the vale of tears. The Roman poet spoke of the easy descent down the cliffs to the river.
The realisation aimed at demands a wholesale change, an integral transformation; it does not rest content with a partial success, an attainment on one level, on one portion of the being. There is therefore a global shake-up, nothing is allowed to remain in its old status unnoticed, all must come out and declare themselves to the Light. Hence the darkness of it all. All the impurities, imperfections and vilenesses show themselves – the grass-roots as they say, that have to be extirpated and the ground ploughed and furrowed – prepared for the new seed. It is a difficult time, the heroic soul must bear and stand, know what it is and move bravely on.
I spoke of the community-ideal that obtained among us at the outset of our life here, that broke to pieces. Individualism reared its gruesome head with all its inevitable consequence: egoism had uncontrolled sway, instead of submission and surrender and obedience, freedom attained complete freedom, liberty pushed to licence.
Like individuals collective bodies also (in the matter of work and enterprises) were allowed freedom to grow – or perhaps not to grow – independently. Each group or section, each undertaking sought to depend upon itself, secured its own personal equipment and resources: its gains were its own; and naturally losses were bound to be more than the gains, the real gain was perhaps the experience. The experience is meant to develop the consciousness and it is hoped that the consciousness did make a gain.
The freedom, the devolution or departure from the centre control went so far as to bring about, as I say, almost a real separation between the two: the same tendency, by the way, as we may notice in the play of world politics today.
The limbs declared their independence and sought and fought for this independence but that could only be at the cost of the Heart. The calvary of the Divine lay precisely here: it is due to this sense of separation, an individual exclusive self-existence prevailing in his children, issues of his own body. The units in the cosmic body of the Divine in the Ignorance are indeed ignorant; and the force that compels them to be together apparently is the forced bond of ignorance, they seem outwardly to press towards inevitable disintegration and chaos.
In reality however, this movement of dispersion out of bounds, a flight away from the centre, harbours a reverse movement in it, a self-conscious advance towards a re-awakening to the one central consciousness that is in all, that is all.
This is an intermediate stage when the faults, the imperfections in the creation, the wrong forces that issued from and were inherent in the original Ignorance and first separation had to be tracked and met, could not be allowed to lie dormant eternally; therefore they rose and declared themselves so that the Light can deal with it and swallow it.
One remembers the legend of the Vedic Rishi Agastya and his consort who once attempted a new and renovated creation. They were engaged in a tremendous and superhuman labour to discover the roots of evil upon earth: they dug up, opened out its very bowels: they went deeper and deeper, layers after layers of obstructive darkness till they arrived at the very source of the Night. They brought in there with them a light that could produce a reversal of consciousness changing darkness into radiance.
The lower sphere of the vital and the physical is a mass of ignorant nature (prakriti) – all moving together helplessly, mechanically, bound together indissolubly to one inexorable fate, and it stands on the rock of utter unconsciousness – the Inconscient – which is the very basis and stuff of that sphere. Consciousness, the conscient Being has to come down or emerge and penetrate there, break the hard block of inert matter, striking and scattering and throwing up as it were, its myriad disparate bits, turning them into particles of Light and Consciousness. These free sparks, the first-born of consciousness at the outset become erratic, errant conscious units, free but fighting against each other, each exclusive in its unitary consciousness: but that was the way towards a purer, higher, wider, integrating consciousness. As the consciousness works and moves forward, the dross, the grit is blown away and it works towards a clearer light and a harmonic weaving of all component units.
We are thus in a transition period, it is an interregnum, it is beset with great difficulties but they are also great opportunities. The Calvary is not merely a passage of pain and suffering, it is a purgatory, that is to say a period or a zone, a process where the being and consciousness is cleaning itself, throwing off its own scales, shuffling its old skin and in course of time it will come out in a rejuvenated body and in a harmonious setting. The Paradise lost will one day be thus regained. Paradise Lost thus will have one day inevitably as its sequel and consummation Paradise Regained.
CWNKG Vol 5: p. 75
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Words of the Mother
Mother, previously things were very strict in the Ashram, but not now. Why?
Yes, I have always said that it changed when we had to take the very little children. How can you envision an ascetic life with little sprouts no bigger than that? It’s impossible! But that’s the little surprise package the war left on our doorstep. When it was found that Pondicherry was the safest place on earth, naturally people came wheeling in here with all their baby carriages filled and asked us if we could shelter them, so we couldn’t very well turn them away, could we?! That’s how it happened, and in no other way … But, in the beginning, the first condition for coming here was that you would have nothing more to do with your family! If a man was married, then he had to completely overlook the fact that he had a wife and children – completely sever all ties, have nothing further to do with them. And if ever a wife asked to come just because her husband happened to be here, we told her, ‘You have no business coming here!’
In the beginning, it was very, very strict – for a long time.
The first condition was: ‘Nothing more to do with your family …’ Well, we are a long way from that! But I repeat that it only happened because of the war and not because we stopped seeing the need to cut all family ties; on the contrary, this is an indispensable condition because as long as you hang on to all these cords which bind you to ordinary life, which make you a slave to the ordinary life, how can you possibly belong to the Divine alone? What childishness! It is simply not possible. If you have ever taken the trouble to read over the early ashram rules, you would find that even friendships were considered dangerous and undesirable … We made every effort to create an atmosphere in which only ONE thing counted: the Life Divine.
But as I said, bit by bit … things changed. However, this had one advantage: we were too much outside of life. So there were a number of problems which had never arisen but which would have suddenly surged up the moment we wanted a complete manifestation. We took on all these problems a little prematurely, but it gave us the opportunity to solve them. In this way we learned many things and surmounted many difficulties, only it complicated things considerably. And in the present situation, given such a large number of elements who haven’t even the slightest idea why they’re here (! ) … well, it demands a far greater effort on the disciples’ part than before.
Before, when there were … we started with 35 or 36 people – but even when it got up to 150, even with 150 – it was as if … they were all nestled in a cocoon in my consciousness: they were so near to me that I could constantly guide ALL their inner or outer movements. Day and night, at each moment, everything was totally under my control. And naturally, I think they made a great deal of progress at that time: it is a fact that I was CONSTANTLY doing the sadhana’ for them. But then, with this baby boom … The sadhana can’t be done for little sprouts who are 3 or 4 or 5 years old! It’s out of the question. The only thing I can do is wrap them in the Consciousness and try to see that they grow up in the best of all possible conditions. However, the one advantage to all this is that instead of there being such a COMPLETE and PASSIVE dependence on the disciples’ part, each one has to make his own little effort. Truly, that’s excellent. I don’t know to whom I was mentioning this today. It was to someone who told me he was 18 years old. I said that between the ages of 18 and 20, I had attained a constant and conscious union with the Divine Presence and that I had done this ALL ALONE, without ANYONE’S help, not even books. When a little later I chanced upon Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga, it really seemed so wonderful to me that someone could explain something to me! And it helped me realize in only a few months what would have otherwise taken years.
I met a man (I was perhaps 20 or 21 at the time), an Indian who had come to Europe and who told me of the Gita. There was a French translation of it (a rather poor one, I must say) which he advised me to read, and then he gave me the key (HIS key, it was his key). He said, ‘Read the Gita …’ (this translation of the Gita which really wasn’t worth much but it was the only one available at the time – in those days I wouldn’t have understood anything in other languages; and besides, the English translations were just as bad and … well, Sri Aurobindo hadn’t done his yet!). He said, ‘Read the Gita knowing that Krishna is the symbol of the immanent God, the God within.’ That was all. ‘Read it with THAT knowledge – with the knowledge that Krishna represents the immanent God, the God within you.’ Well, within a month, the whole thing was done!
So some of you people have been here since the time you were toddlers – everything has been explained to you, the whole thing has been served to you on a silver platter (not only with words, but through psychic aid and in every possible way), you have been put on the path of this inner discovery … and then you just go on drifting along: ‘When it comes, it will come.’ – If you even spare it that much thought!
So that’s how it is.
But I’m not at all discouraged, I just find it rather laughable. Only there are other far more serious things; for example, when you try to deceive yourselves – that is not so pretty. One should not mix up cats and kings. You should call a cat a cat and a king a king – and human instinct, human instinct – and not speak about things divine when they are utterly human, nor pretend to have supramental experiences when you are living in a blatantly ordinary consciousness.
If you look at yourselves straight in the face and you see what you are, then if by chance you should resolve to … But what really astounds me is that you don’t even seem to feel an intense NEED to do this! ‘But how can we know?’ Because you DO know, you have been told over and over again, it has been drummed into your heads. You KNOW that you have a divine consciousness within you. And yet you can go on sleeping night after night, playing day after day, doing your lessons ad infinitum and still not be … not have a BURNING desire and will to come into contact with yourselves! – With yourselves, yes, the you just there, inside (motion towards the center of the chest) … Really, it’s beyond me! As soon as I found out – and no one told me, I found out through an experience – as soon as I found out that there was a discovery to be made within myself, well, it became THE MOST IMPORTANT thing in the world. It took precedence over everything else!
And when, as I told you, I chanced upon a book or an individual that could give me just a little clue and tell me, ‘Here. If you do such and such, you will find your path’ – well I charged into it like a cyclone … and nothing could have stopped me.
And how many years have you all been here, half-asleep? Naturally, you’re happy to think about it now and then – especially when I speak to you about it or sometimes when you read. But THAT – that fire, that will which plows through all barriers, that concentration which can triumph over EVERYTHING …
Conversations with disciple: August 25, 1954
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In human life the cause of all difficulties, all discords, all moral sufferings, is the presence in everyone of the ego with its desires, its likes and dislikes. Even in a disinterested work which consists in helping others, until one has learned to overcome the ego and its demands, until one can force it to keep calm and quiet in one corner, the ego reacts to everything that displeases it, starts an inner storm that rises to the surface and spoils all the work.
This work of overcoming the ego is long, slow and difficult; it demands constant alertness and sustained effort. This effort is easier for some and more difficult for others.
We are here in the Ashram to do this work together with the help of Sri Aurobindo’s knowledge and force, in an attempt to realise a community that is more harmonious, more united, and consequently much more effective in life.
As long as I was physically present among you all, my presence was helping you to achieve this mastery over the ego and so it was not necessary for me to speak to you about it individually very often.
But now this effort must become the basis of each individual’s existence, more especially for those of you who have a responsible position and have to take care of others. The leaders must always set the example, the leaders must always practice the virtues they demand from those who are in their care; they must be understanding, patient, enduring, full of sympathy and warm and friendly goodwill, not out of egoism to win friends for themselves, but out of generosity to be able to understand and help others.
To forget oneself, one’s own likings and preferences, is indispensable in order to be a true leader. That is what I am asking of you now, so that you can face your responsibilities as you should. And then you will find that where you used to feel disorder and disunity, they have vanished, and harmony, peace and joy have taken their place.
You know that I love you and that I am always with you to sustain you, help you and show you the way.
CWM Vol 12: pp. 355 – 356: August 26, 1969
Mar 1, 2015