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At the Feet of The Mother

Forty Years Ago – by Sahana Devi (III)

For many years the Mother could be seen on the north balcony adjoining Pavitra’s room. She used to look towards the East before sunrise ere the morning was bright. One or two of the Ashramites found this out and used to await her arrival on the balcony. Gradually instead of the few who saw her there, the entire Ashram came to get a glimpse of her and assembled on the street below. This came to be known as the “Balcony Darshan”. Later even outsiders, visitors from abroad and also a number of people of Pondicherry too gathered there. At this “Darshan” the Mother, after concentrating for a few minutes, used to sweep her eyes of benevolence over all who had come. This Darshan came to end on the 16th March 1962 when the Mother was somewhat seriously ill. In those days she used to bless us all also in the evening downstairs at the foot of the staircase in the meditation hall after a short meditation of about half an hour. As we approached her in a line she would occasionally, while blessing us, go into a trance, which lasted on rare occasions for even an hour and the sadhak or sadhika just in front had to wait motionlessly till she came out of her trance — once or perhaps on several occasions the hand of the recipient was in her grasp when the trance began and he or she could not withdraw the hand for fear of breaking upon her self-gathered condition. It was on account of her trance that the blessing hour used to stretch even up to midnight before it was over. Incidentally I may mention here that before all this that I have narrated just above, the Mother used to come down to the meditation hall the evening before the Darshan day to bless us all and also at 5 a.m. on the Darshan day. I do not recollect the exact period during which the two blessing hours used to take place. Needless to say both the occasions were as always most delectable for us.

My elder sister Amiya came here on a visit in September 1930 with her two sons Bula and Kunal. They were lodged in a house on the sea front specially hired for them for three months. I remember the Mother walked all the way from Dilip’s house along the strand by the sea to have a look at the house, we came with her too. This was before their arrival. The Mother came twice to this house on being specially requested by my sister — meanwhile Nolina, the sister next to Amiya, had come to the same house with her son. The house was rented from September to November as the sisters with their sons were to leave at the end of the period. When the Mother heard of their impending departure, she came to see them a few days before. That day as she was looking at the sea from a window, she suddenly said “It is better not to be on the sea now.” Amiya too was undecided as to what to do when the Mother herself suggested that they leave on the 1st January next year. On being told that the house had to be vacated on the tenure of lease being over, she made all arrangements for them to be lodged in one of the Ashram houses. Amiya thus came to stay with me at the Savary House (it is renamed Huta House now), in the south room of the first floor. Bula and Kunal were lodged in the Guest House also on a first floor room. This house is now a boarding for children called Dortoir. I well remember the day on which Amiya and her sons were to set sail for Burma originally; there came a tremendous cyclone. It was a catastrophic storm uprooting many trees and razing houses to the ground, roofs of many houses were blown away. We could hardly keep our doors and windows shut, the bolts being useless, such was the fury of the storm — it was quite a battle that we waged against the storm to keep the doors and windows closed but with partial success and as a result our rooms were flooded with incoming rain. I have never before witnessed such a terrible storm. After the storm had abated Nolini and Amrita all wrapped in blankets came to Amiya’s house sent by the Mother to find out how she and her sons were faring — they were even then in the rented house on the sea front. When the storm broke I was at Dilip’s. As I tried to return hurriedly to my house I could hardly walk on the street, the force of the wind was pushing me towards the sea, that was the direction in which the wind was blowing to. With a lot of difficulty on arriving I felt a great danger had swept over me. Later I came to learn that during the storm Sri Aurobindo was in his room with all the doors and windows wide open but he was merged deep in his work heedless of what was happening all around.

Amiya with her sons left as arranged on the 1st of January after receiving the New Year’s Blessings. They returned in January 1932, Nolina too came with them. On that occasion too they were lodged in Budi House on the sea front.

My elder sister Aruna arrived here in April with her two infant sons. They were lodged in the same house then but were shifted to another house close to the Ashram main building. This too was a hired house, and in those days was named ‘Vigie House’, now it has been renamed Jhun Jhun Boarding. One remembers that in those days Nolini and Amrita used to come to this house in the evenings at the request of my sisters. From them we used to hear of the happenings of the early days of their life with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Those evenings became memorable as they related many incidents connected with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, very enjoyable too were these talks. It was from Nolini we heard how Sri Aurobindo, avoiding detection, came by boat all the way from Calcutta to Pondicherry. Another very amusing incident we heard was how Amrita’s tuft of hair, emblem of his brahminhood, was done away with by plying deftly a pair of scissors. Then we heard also the incident of how pieces of brickbats used to be showered in the room although the doors and windows were closed all the time, materialising from thin air as it were — a fascinating tale that we heard with rapt attention. From Nolini we heard of their fiery revolutionary days centering round the garden house at Muraripukoor; the day of the police raid and the search. Then the story of their famous trial — also how a revolver was passed to them secretly and used to kill Noren Goswami who had treacherously turned an approver. We heard as well their association with Sri Aurobindo in jail, the manner of their spending their days in prison. In this way we came to know of the true happenings of those days that had often come to us garbled in fantastic dressings.

All that we did in those days was done after informing the Mother. The root idea of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga is to consecrate all of oneself to the Mother. It is she who would do in one whatever she decided in her own way. Thus we too could hardly dream of doing anything or meeting anyone or going out anywhere without informing her. To behave in this way, to order our day to day life, gave us an inner joy, the taste of which was quite of another sort. As an illustration I may cite here a letter of Sri Aurobindo in the matter of the visit of a relative of mine — evidently I had asked for his directions. This is what he wrote:

“As for your inner attitude it must remain the same. Not to be excited or drawn outwards by these ‘incidents’ of life by the coming in of new elements is the rule; they must come in like waves into an untroubled sea and mix in it and become themselves untroubled and serene…. You must remain vigilant always. For when the condition is good, the lower movements have a habit of subsiding and become quiescent, hiding as it were, — or they go out of the nature and remain at a distance. But if they see that the sadhak is losing vigilance, then they slowly begin to rise or draw near, most often unseen, and when he is quite off his guard, surge up suddenly or make a sudden irruption. This continues until the whole nature, mental, vital, physical down to the very subconscient is enlightened, conscious, full of the Divine. Till that happens, one must always remain watchful in a sleepless vigilance.” (26.5.1932)

The Mother and Sri Aurobindo had explained to us in minute detail without sparing themselves the time needed to do so that nothing is negligible or trash. With what insistence did they teach us to realise that nothing whatsoever happens without an inner meaning and cause, time after time by removing the covering veil of our outer consciousness. Once I wrote to Sri Aurobindo thus:

Lord Sri Aurobindo,

You have written to point out to me that my physical consciousness has the habit of responding to illnesses. How am I to become conscious of that which I am not even aware? I can only understand that I do not want them, or, often I have remarked how much harm they do to me. That is why I would like to know how I could become conscious in this regard. How to understand it all? If you will please let me know I could try to follow the method.

He replied:

“To get rid of that one must awaken a will and consciousness in the body itself that refuses to allow these things to impose themselves upon it. But to get that, still more to get it completely is difficult. One step towards it is to get the inner consciousness separate from the body — to feel that it is not you who are ill but it is only something taking place in the body — and affecting your consciousness. It is then possible to see this separate body consciousness, what it feels, what are its reactions to things, how it works. One can then act on it to change its consciousness and reaction.”

Many were the questions put to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and they were of various kinds; they were asked to clearly understand if there were any doubts or difficulties and as long as they were not made clear the mind was not tranquil. Sri Aurobindo too not only answered them but did so in great detail and at length till there remained nothing obscure and he dwelt on each point with great care. As an example I am quoting here a letter of his in answer to mine. I asked:

“If I saw someone attacking the Truth and exalting falsehood then what should be the attitude of the sadhaka? Would it be proper to remain indifferent maintaining a yogic equality or take up arms against the falsehood in support of the Truth?”

This letter was the outcome of a letter I had read where the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were the target of attack. Needless to say I was very annoyed. A feeling of disgust had spread over my mind and I felt that I should have no truck with such people. The mind, however, felt: should one take such a drastic step? I had asked another sadhak who was very firm to indicate that we should never compromise in this regard. Sri Aurobindo wrote in answer:

“No doubt hatred and cursing are not the proper attitude. It is true that to look upon all things and all people with a calm and clear vision, to be uninvolved and impartial in one’s own judgment is a quite proper yogic attitude. A condition of perfect samata can be established in which one sees all as equal, friends and enemies included, and is not disturbed by what men do or by what happens. The question is whether this is all that is demanded from us. If so, then the general attitude will be one of a neutral indifference to everything. But the Gita which strongly insists on a perfect and absolute samata goes on to say, ‘Fight, destroy the adversary, conquer.’ If there is no kind of general action wanted, no loyalty to Truth as against Falsehood except for one’s personal sadhana, no will for the Truth to conquer, then the samata of indifference will suffice. But here there is a work to be done, a Truth to be established against which immense forces are arrayed, invisible forces which can use visible things and persons and actions for their instruments. If one is among the disciples, the seeker of this Truth, one has to take sides for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either side, to refuse any action of hostility even to the assailants. Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samata, strongly rebuked his attitude and insisted on his fighting the adversary. ‘Have samata,’ he said, ‘and seeing clearly the Truth, fight.’ Therefore to take sides with the Truth and to refuse to concede anything to the falsehood that attacks, to be unflinchingly loyal and against the hostiles and the attackers, is not inconsistent with equality. It is the personal and egoistic feeling that has to be thrown away; hatred and vital ill-will have to be rejected. But loyalty and refusal to compromise with the assailants and the hostile, or to dally with their ideas and demands and say, ‘After all, we can compromise with what they ask from us,’ or to accept them as companions and our own people — these things have a great importance. If the attack were a physical menace to the Mother and the work and the Ashram, one would see this at once. But because the attack is of a subtler kind, can a passive attitude be right? It is a spiritual battle inward and outward — by neutrality and compromise or even passivity one may allow the enemy forces to pass and crash down the Truth and its children. If you look at this point you will see that if the inner spiritual equality is right, the active loyalty and firm taking of sides which Y insists on is as right, and the two cannot be incompatible.

“I have of course treated it as a general question apart from all particular cases or personal question. It is a principle of action that has to be seen in its right light and proportion.” (13.9.1936)

One day all of a sudden I was plunged into a heated discussion. The matter for contention was the ‘mind’. The others were of the opinion that the ‘mind’ has the capacity to discriminate between truth and falsehood, big and small, valuable and worthless etc. It is the ‘mind’ that is able to differentiate between belief and blind faith, truth and untruth. I could not quite accept this and was thinking of what the Mother and Sri Aurobindo have said that it is the psychic being that alone is able to see correctly. On this I wrote to Sri Aurobindo and asked his opinion. I reproduce here a portion of my letter to him:

“I don’t believe that it is our mind that helps us to know the truth from the falsehood and so on, but our true being, our psychic, that helps us to know things, it is when the mind is influenced by the psychic consciously or unconsciously that the true discrimination can come, otherwise if the physical mind is left alone, however great it is, it always confuses things, and prevents them being seen in the true way.” (The italics was done by Sri Aurobindo.)

He wrote:

“To see the Truth does not depend on a big intellect or a small intellect. It depends on being in contact with the Truth, and the mind silent and quiet to receive it. The biggest intellects can make errors of worst kind and confuse Truth and Falsehood if they have not the contact with the Truth or the direct experience.”

From these letters of questions and answers some indications of our way of life may be had, as perhaps some angles are discernible, although that our outward life is different from the inner root may not be quite easily grasped. It, however, matters little if it is not seen. The wish to write about the Mother and Sri Aurobindo is a joyful thing. The very first thing that strikes one wanting to write of all that we have received from them, if it is at all truly possible, is can one really weigh all that, or can it be possibly compared with anything else acquired in life? Or have we the necessary command of language to give it a real shape or even the capacity to do so? This only I know that to recount these sacred happenings the heart overflows with gratitude to feel their presence and their boundless compassion for us. The opportunity to write of them brings this satisfaction.

There was a time when I was ailing a great deal from insomnia. Night after night, even day after day of effort was of no avail to close the eyelids in sleep. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo too were thinking much about it, doing all they could by pouring an endless affection in their letters. I can never forget the day when I had gone to meet the Mother. The soft soothing look she gave me, how deeply compassionate was that wonderful gaze! After a while in the softest of voices looking into my eyes, she said very sweetly, “You want to sleep?” With these words my eyes became filled with tears blurring my vision. This was not all, as the next day I got the following letter from Sri Aurobindo:

“Mother said you looked rather thin and pulled down. Is it only the absence of sleep or are you eating too little? You said you had hunger — if so you ought to eat well because underfeeding is not good for the nerves.”

Once this ailment of sleeplessness persisted very much and as a result Sri Aurobindo suggested that some medical treatment may be made use of. I, however, took this advice wrongly and was adamantly against any such imagining that he meant to keep me away from his influence. A perusal of the following letter of Sri Aurobindo will clearly show my wrong interpretation and reaction. His letter was so full of compassion.

“It was precisely out of solicitude for you, because the suffering of insomnia and the spasms had been excessive, that I proposed to you to take the help of treatment. It is a fact of my experience that when the resistance in the body is too strong and persistent, it can help to take some aid of physical means as an instrumentation for the Force to work more directly on the body itself; for the body then feels itself supported against the resistance from both sides, by means both physical as well as supraphysical. The Mother’s Force can work through both together. It is surprising that you should take my suggestion in this way as if it meant an abandonment and refusal to help you! But it is still more surprising that you should have taken Mother’s smile at Pranam for sarcasm! The only thing she put in it was an insistence for the cloud that she saw covering the body consciousness and interfering with its receptivity to light. You must not allow this clouding attack to come between your mind and the Mother. Reject these distorting suggestions and keep its openness so that it may help to reopen up a full receptivity in the material body also. If you do not like to take any treatment, I shall try to manage without that, if you keep me informed everyday without fail, even on those days you feel relieved till all trace of the attack is over.” (1.9.36)

I have seen many images of such variegated cloudiness of the mind — they will be apparent from Sri Aurobindo’s letters. One such was as follows:

“There is nothing to be discouraged about. The fact is that after being so long in the mental and vital plane you have become aware of the physical consciousness; and the physical consciousness in everybody is like this. It is inert, conservative, does not want to move, to change, it clings to its habits (what people call their character) or its habits (habitual movements) cling to it and repeat themselves (like a clock working on a persistent mechanical way). When you have cleared your vital somewhat, things go down and stick there, you see, if you have become self-conscious, you put pressure perhaps, but the physical responds very slowly, hardly at first seems to move at all. The remedy? Aspiration steady and unchanging, patient work, coalescing the psychic in the physical. Calling down the light and force into these obscure parts. The light brings the consciousness of what is there; the force has to follow and work on them till they change or disappear.”

And another.

“I see that you have not sent your book, nor any letter and I am told that you did not come to Pranam. Are you then determined to reject us and our help and shut yourself up in your despondency?

“But what is the reason for so violent a change? The Mother and myself at least have not changed towards you and the causes you alleged for feeling otherwise are so small and trifling that they could not support any such idea once you looked at them straight.

“There remains the difficulty of your sadhana. But you have had much more violent difficulties and downfalls and recovered from them and found your way clearer. Why should now a recrudescence of certain movements which you yourself say was slight or the sense of the difficulty of overcoming egoism (which everybody feels and not only yourself) lead to such persistence in despair and a turning away from help and light?

“I hope you will gather yourself together, make an effort and get out of this groove quickly into the joy and love of the Divine which you had before. On our side nothing is changed — the love and the help are there as before and I hope you will feel them behind these few lines.” (9.11.33)

On reading this letter everything disappeared, washed away by my tears.

Often a remark such as this is heard: all those who are in the Ashram are they all fit for this yoga?

I brought this to Sri Aurobindo’s notice and said what I thought about it. Sri Aurobindo replied:

“What you say about whom we receive that if one part of them sincerely desires the Divine, we give them their chance, is quite true. If we demanded more at the beginning, exceedingly few would be able to commence the journey towards the Divine.” (2.4.35)

Usually while writing to the Mother or Sri Aurobindo it was in English. At times that what was meant could not be properly expressed in English and I used to write in Bengali, within brackets I used to ask what it would be in English, Sri Aurobindo used to translate the exact words and place them above each Bengali word.

Here I quote a few of such remarkable translations: I wrote:

Let me grow into the true consciousness and the veil of darkness that still keeps you separate from me drop down, and with your light let my temple become “ ‘agleam with light and radiant and may the downpour of the rays of the Light remove all veil of division in me and may I find you within me in your complete self-revelation.’ ”

One more:

“ ‘I feel now the inexpressible sweetness of that which is beyond description forming between you and me. It is such a satisfying experience.’ ”

(The words in quotes are Sri Aurobindo’s translations.)

to be continued…

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If the mind and the vital can feel and accept the soul’s sheer love for the Divine for His own sake, then the sadhana gets its full power and many difficulties disappear.