Remembering What You Learn
The true way so that [what you learn] remains is to understand, it is not to learn by heart. You learn something by heart, it is mechanical, you see; but after some time it will be effaced, unless you make use of it constantly. For example, you are made to learn by heart the multiplication tables; if you constantly use them, you will remember them, but if by chance for years you remain without using them, you will forget them completely. But if you understand the principle, you will be able to remember them. You see, the principle of multiplication, if you understand it with a mathematical sense, you will no longer need to learn it by heart, the operation will be done quite naturally in your brain; and for everything it is the same.
If you understand the thing, if you have the sense of the principle which is behind, you can remember it indefinitely, for hundreds of years if you live for hundreds of years; whereas something you have learnt by heart… after some time the brain cells multiply, are replaced, and some things are wiped out…. In one’s life there are things which remain like landmarks, there are others which are totally effaced to the extent that one doesn’t remember them at all, they are gone. But there are things like that, truly like milestones, like landmarks in life. Well, these things were conscious experiences, that is, they were understood; so the experience remains indefinitely, and with just a tiny movement of the consciousness you can bring it forward. But something that is learnt mechanically — unless, I tell you, you make use of it daily, it is effaced.
Knowledge Is within You
There is one thing certain about the mind and its workings; it is that you can understand only what you already know in your own inner self. What strikes you in a book is what you have already experienced deep within you. Men find a book or a teaching very wonderful and often you hear them say, “That is exactly what I myself feel and know, but I could not bring it out or express it as well as it is expressed here.” When men come across a book of true knowledge, each finds himself there, and at every new reading he discovers things that he did not see in it at first; it opens to him each time a new field of knowledge that had till then escaped him in it. But that is because it reaches layers of knowledge that were waiting for expression in the subconscious in him; the expression has now been given by somebody else and much better than he could himself have done it. But, once expressed, he immediately recognises it and feels that it is the truth. The knowledge that seems to come to you from outside is only an occasion for bringing out the knowledge that is within you.
Reading which Awakens
For those who are seeking, who grope, who are not absolutely sure, who are pulled this way and that, have many interests in life, are not steady, stabilised in their will for realisation, it is very good to read, because it puts them in touch with the subject, it gives them some interest in the thing.
… There is a kind of reading which awakens in you an interest in the thing and can help you in the first seekings. Usually, even if one has had experiences one needs a contact of thought or idea with the thing so that the effort may be crystallised more consciously. But the more one knows, the more one must be absolutely sincere in his experience, that is, he must not use the formative power of his mind to imagine and so create the experience in himself. From the point of view of orientation it can be useful; but from the point of view of the experience, it takes away from it its dynamic value, it has not the intensity of an experience which comes because the moral and spiritual conditions necessary for it to occur have been fulfilled. There is the whole mental conditioning which is added and which takes away something of the spontaneity. All this is a matter of proportion. Each one must find the exact amount he needs, how much of reading, how much meditation, how much concentration, how much… It is different for each one.
Reading Sri Aurobindo’s Writings
In a general and almost absolute way, if you truly wish to profit from these readings, as from all of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, the best method is this: having gathered your consciousness and focussed your attention on what you are reading, you must establish a minimum of mental tranquillity — the best thing would be to obtain perfect silence — and achieve a state of immobility of the mind, immobility of the brain, I might say, so that the attention becomes as still and immobile as a mirror, like the surface of absolutely still water. Then what one has read passes through the surface and penetrates deep into the being where it is received with a minimum of distortion. Afterwards — sometimes long afterwards — it wells up again from the depths and manifests in the brain with its full power of comprehension, not as knowledge acquired from outside, but as a light one carried within.
In this way the faculty of understanding is at its highest, whereas if, while you read, the mind remains agitated and tries to understand at once what it is reading, you lose more than three-quarters of the force, the knowledge and the truth contained in the words. And if you are able to refrain from asking questions until this process of absorption and inner awakening is completed, well, then you will find that you have far fewer questions to ask because you will have a better understanding of what you have read.
Listening to Music
Mother, when one hears music, how should one truly hear it?
For this — if one can be completely silent, you see, silent and attentive, simply as though one were an instrument which has to record it — one does not move, and is only something that is listening — if one can be absolutely silent, absolutely still and like that, then the thing enters. And it is only later, some time later, that you can become aware of the effect, either of what it meant or the impression it had on you.
But the best way of listening is this. It is to be like a still mirror and very concentrated, very silent. In fact, we see people who truly love music… I have seen musicians listening to music, musicians, composers or players who truly love music, I have seen them listening to music — they sit completely still, you know, they are like that, they do not move at all. Everything, everything is like that. And if one can stop thinking, then it is very good, then one profits fully…. It is one of the methods of inner opening and one of the most powerful.
The Sense of Beauty
To do this yoga, one must have, at least a little, the sense of beauty. If one does not, one misses one of the most important aspects of the physical world.
There is this beauty, this dignity of soul — a thing about which I am very sensitive. It is a thing that moves me and evokes in me a great respect always.
Yes, this beauty of soul that is visible in the face, this kind of dignity, this harmony of integral realisation. When the soul becomes visible in the physical, it gives this dignity, this beauty, this majesty, the majesty that comes from one’s being the Tabernacle. Then, even things that have no particular beauty put on a sense of eternal beauty, of the eternal beauty.
I have seen in this way faces that pass from one extreme to the other in a flash. Someone has this kind of beauty and harmony, this sense of divine dignity in the body; then suddenly there comes the perception of an obstacle, a difficulty, and the sense of fault, of indignity — and then, a sudden deformation in the appearance, a kind of decomposition of the features! And yet it is the same face. It was like a flash of lightning, and it was frightful. That kind of hideousness of torment and degradation — what has been translated in religions as “the torment of sin” — that gives you a face indeed! Even features that are beautiful in themselves become horrible. And it was the same features, the same person.
Then I saw how horrible the sense of sin is, how much it belongs to the world of falsehood.