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At the Feet of The Mother

Beauty as an Aspect of the Supreme (HH 111)

Today is a special day for Auroville, and since the Ashram and Auroville are a symbol of the world existence, we may well say it is an important day for the world, at one level at least. At 5PM IST, a table of Peace is being consecrated in the Hall of Peace in Unity Pavillion of Auroville. As such it would indicate man’s symbolic quest for Peace, nothing more, nothing less. But this Table has a certain history.

It all started with George Nakashima, an American – Japanese craftsman whose life underwent a radical transformation after coming in contact with Sri Aurobindo. He was summoned by the Mother in mid 1930s along with Antonin Raymond, a well-known architect for the construction of Golconde, an Ashram dormitory for the disciples.  We all know the amazing history of this unique building which is regarded by experts as the precursor to modern architecture in India. Its another uniqueness is that it has been built primarily with the help of inmates rather than paid workers. But most of all, its specialty lies in the fact that that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo did not look upon it as merely a building but the Mother’s Yoga in the material world.

Now, George Nakashima who was invited for the project soon became one with the ashram life. Drawn to Sri Aurobindo’s teachings and soon feeling that he was receiving more than he was able to give – “the answer to all my searches, finally conferring meaning on my life” – he became a member of the Ashram. Sri Aurobindo named him Sundarananda, meaning “one who delights in beauty.”

In his own words: “We woodworkers have the audacity to shape timber from these noble trees. In a sense it is our Karma Yoga, the path of action we must take to lead to our union with the Divine.”

Though he went away after the work of Golconde was over but touched by the Divine Grace this beautiful instrument of the Divine surely became a pioneer in expressing the Divine through his woodwork. This became for him as his unique path towards the Divine. Architect and woodworker, a master craftsman, whose work received international recognition, including the award of the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Emperor of Japan in 1983, he wrote a classic work titled ‘The Soul of a Tree’.

Seeing a Walnut tree he felt inspired to make some six Peace Tables and consecrate them in each continent. Of these four have been placed in New York (USA), Moscow (Russia), Cape Town (South Africa) and the fourth today in Auroville, (Asia).

Writing about the philosophy of a Tree, he observes:

‘….Trees spring from tiny seedling only two hands tall. From such small beginnings, great trees can develop. Consider the Yaku sugi which may attain a diameter of forty feet and an age of five thousand years. The pith may still be there, although oft it has rotted away. Should the center still remain, it still has the same diameter and height that it had in the beginning of its life. It experiences an existence unknown in the animal world.

The seedling of this ancient tree germinated many millennia ago during the age of the Vedic spiritual poets. This seemingly then started the process of life and growth which continues to this day. It is hard to perceive the destiny of the genes in this small bit of life. There must have been some relationship with a greater spirit.

…..We are left in awe by the nobility of a tree, its eternal patience, its suffering caused by man and sometimes nature, its witness to thousands of years of earth’s history, its creations of fabulous beauty. It does nothing but good, with its prodigious ability to serve, it gives off its bounty of oxygen while absorbing gases harmful to other living things. The tree and its pith live on. Its fruits feed us. Its branches shade and protect us. And, finally, when time and weather bring it down, its body offers timber for our houses and boards for our furniture. The tree lives on.

     When the trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man’s use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth. 

….There is drama in the opening of a log: to uncover for the first time the beauty in the bole of a tree hidden for centuries, waiting to be given this second life. Cutting logs entails a great responsibility, for we are dealing with a fallen majesty. There are no formulas, no guidelines, but only experience, instinct and a contact with the divine.

      Our approach is based on direct experience – a way of life and development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree – with one addition, the aspiration of man to produce the wonder and beauty of his potentialities

…..In a world where manual skills are shunned we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product, but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming. We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered

    It might even be a question of regaining one’s own soul when desire and megalomania are rampant – the beauty of simple things.

…..All the tortured and elaborate educational development might be legitimate if the results were good. In proportion to the flood of consumer goods, we are probably at one of the lowest ebbs of design excellence that the world has seen. It requires a genuine fight to produce one well designed object of relatively permanent value. One of the difficulties is the lack of integration between the designer and the producer – the evolvement of material and method into a well-conceived idea. Big city architecture has reached such a profound state of boredom that man might unwittingly destroy it in one last tragic gesture – without humor. Sentimentally again, we can look back to the thirteenth century, when almost every hinge was a museum piece. Where there was a touch of greatness in the majority of acts and conceptions.’

Ancient India as also Japan, Greece, Italy had a wonderful sense of Beauty. It is only in later periods, in India during the general decline following Mayavada, in Japan following the influx of the western Commercialism and Utilitarianism that this sense of Beauty began to fade away. The Mother observes:

‘It is one of the greatest weapons of the Asura at work when you are taught to shun beauty. It has been the ruin of India. The Divine manifests in the psychic as love, in the mind as knowledge, in the vital as power and in the physical as beauty. If you discard beauty it means that you are depriving the Divine of this manifestation in the material and you hand over that part to the Asura’.


We share some revelations of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo on Beauty

Words of the Mother


IN the world of forms a violation of Beauty is as great a fault as a violation of Truth in the world of ideas. For Beauty is the worship Nature offers to the supreme Master of the universe; Beauty is the divine language in forms. And a consciousness of the Divine which is not translated externally by an understanding and expression of Beauty would be an incomplete consciousness.

But true Beauty is as difficult to discover, to understand and above all to live as any other expression of the Divine; this discovery and expression exacts as much impersonality and renunciation of egoism as that of Truth or Bliss. Pure Beauty is universal and one must be universal to see and recognise it.

O Lord of Beauty, how many faults I have committed against Thee, how many do I still commit. . . . Give me the perfect understanding of Thy Law so that I may not again fail to keep it. Love would be incomplete without Thee, Thou art one of its most perfect ornaments, Thou art one of its most harmonious smiles. At times I have misunderstood Thy role, but in the depths of my heart I have always loved Thee; and the most arbitrary and radical doctrines could not extinguish the fire of worship which, from my childhood, I had vowed to Thee.

Thou art not at all what a vain people think Thee to be, Thou art not at all attached exclusively to this or that form of life: it is possible to awaken Thee and make Thee shine secret. . . .

O Lord of Beauty, give me the perfect understanding of Thy Law, so that I may no longer fail to keep it, so that Thou mayst become in me the harmonious consummation of the Lord of Love.

Prayer of January 29, 1917


* * *


To do this Yoga, one must have at least some sense of beauty. Without it, one lacks one of the most important aspects of the physical world.

There is a beauty of the soul, a dignity of the soul – it is a thing to which I am very sensitive, a thing that moves me and arouses great respect in me, always.

Yes, it shows through in the face; this kind of dignity, beauty, harmony of an integral realization. When the soul shows through in the physical, it imparts this dignity, this beauty, this majesty, the majesty that comes from being the Tabernacle. Thus, even things that have no particular beauty assume a sense of eternal beauty, of THE eternal beauty.

In this way, I have seen faces change from one extreme to the other in a flash. Someone who had this kind of beauty, harmony, this sense of divine dignity in the body, and suddenly the perception of the obstacle or the difficulty comes, then the sense of wrong, of unworthiness – there is a sudden distortion in the appearance, a kind of decomposition of the features! And yet it is the same face. It takes place in a flash, it’s frightful. This kind of hideousness of torment, of degradation (it is exactly what has been expressed in religions as the ‘torment of sin’), it changes your face unrecognizably! Even features that are beautiful in themselves become frightful – and they are the same features, the same person.

Thus I saw how horrible is the sense of sin, how much it belongs to the world of falsehood.


* * *


Words of Sri Aurobindo


What is it that creates physical beauty?

….there is a certain vital glow which is really not beauty – when it is overpowering and full of personal magnetism it is dangerous. …Too much of vital glow and charm may be due even to the hostile forces and it may be dangerous.

Is not beauty psychic in origin?

The psychic elements gives only a certain charm to the form, not what people ordinarily call beauty. There is a certain vital and physical element in beauty and even in these there is an inner beauty, a certain charm, a flame in the object.

…True beauty is a creation from the Ananda plane.

…There is a stage in which everything has its beauty.

What is the utility of aesthetic refinement in spiritual development?

The aesthetic sense is easily purified and it can then open the path of approach to the Supreme through beauty. It is very difficult to purify a rough and gross being.

‘Beauty is a power of the Supreme’.

….(lines, proportions etc)..it is not the essence of beauty. (they) are there only its supports, especially in the beauty of forms, not so much in other kinds of beauty. There is, for instance, beauty of emotions, of thought, of force, of Ananda, etc. By observing the rules about line, proportion, rhythm, harmony, etc, a man does not become an artist….

…A Work of art is not great unless the artist is able to express the infinite through the limitations…..There must be beauty of line and form but that is only the primary basis, – the earth on which you stand, – but it must go beyond and express something from within…..

….Beauty is the Divine Himself in his Ananda power seeking to express himself in perfect form.

…..One can say that spirituality is the basis of art. Art expresses, or tries to express, the soul of things. The true soul of things is the divine element in them. Then spirituality, which is the discipline to come into contact with the Divine, has a place and a big place, in art.

In a sense spirituality is the highest art, the art of life, for it aims at creating a life of beauty, pure in life, faultless in rhythm, replete with strength, illumined with light, and vibrant with delight.


Jan 23, 2015

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