A series of talks by Prof. Mangesh V. Nadkarni on Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri in Pondicherry in 1995.
We have looked only at the first three cantos of Book 7 so far and there are four more cantos, each one of which is very rich, with so much material in it. I guess I’ll have to be like a tourist guide pointing to you from a distance different things. We won’t have time to pause at any one of these, but I guess one has to try and see what one can do.
Canto 4 talks about the triple soul forces. The events are simple enough. As Savitri begins to go deeper within herself she is confronted by three Madonnas―three mother figures, as it were―each one of which in turn tells Savitri that she is Savitri’s soul. There is the Madonna of Compassion and Love, there is the Madonna of Power and there is the Madonna of Light and Wisdom―three mother figures and each one of them proclaiming that she is Savitri’s soul.
Now what is very interesting about this is after a Madonna has had her say, immediately after that, Savitri also hears a protest from a perversion of that Madonna, an asuric formation of that Madonna, and this voice protests against the injustice done to her. This voice is masculine whereas the Madonna is feminine.
Many people have wondered what these forces are. Madonnas you can understand, they are different divine powers that have come down and have been helping mankind―love, compassion, power, wisdom―but what are these asuric forces, what are these perversions? It seems, the way I look at it, that one of the themes recurring in Savitri in many places is the refusal of the divine Grace by man. There seems to be something very perverting about our consciousness that even when God’s light comes down here, it is not left in its original pure form. It is very often gobbled up, swallowed up by hostile forces, and they draw more power and strength from it than those working for the Divine. And that’s because there is something corrupting about earth consciousness, and this theme comes up again and again.
In the beginning, when Sri Aurobindo is describing the dawn―remember the opening scene―the dawn comes with all the gifts she wants to bestow on man, but finds man unready and goes back. So all the time either man is unready and the gifts have to be withdrawn, or whatever has been given to man, man immediately turns it into a weapon of self-destruction.
That is what he has done with his science; that is what he has done with his religion. Science is a great power by which man can eliminate hunger, poverty, disease from the face of this earth, but that has not been the primary or the predominant contribution of science. Science has done that to some extent, but science has also been used to terrorize nations. The Second World War demonstrated how devastating science can be in the service of the warlords. As a result, very often the question is raised whether science is a blessing or a curse. It is quite strange that something as powerful as science can be converted into a curse.
The same question can be raised regarding religion. Religion is that civilizing power which has changed us from tribal beasts into civilized human beings, and yet very often we find religion instead of uniting people, divides people. We seem to have enough religion to hate one another and to kill one another, but not enough to love one another. So even something like religion, such a glorious thing, man has misused and it has been perverted.
So this seems to be a typical thing man is capable of doing, and this is not just with science and religion. Take communism: if you really take a look at it, look at its ideology, it is the most spiritual ideology you can ever think of compared to capitalism. Capitalism is a kind of tribalism. Communism, where you recognize the basic equality of man and then you say whatever is produced must go to all people equally, irrespective of their capacities, but according to their needs. But who implemented it? The human consciousness implemented it. What happened? Instead of what the original thinkers, planners had dreamed of―creating a paradise for the proletariat―they managed to create the nightmare of Siberia, the nightmare where there is not enough to eat for the common man. Eighty years of communism had all this to show.
It is once again not the fault of communism. I don’t think that’s what we should conclude. It is in fact the inadequacy in the human consciousness. In fact, that’s what we’ve done with democracy. Where is democracy functioning? Look at American democracy, the shining example of American democracy. Who is controlling American democracy? Those people who have industries which produce aeroplanes, bombs―they are the ones who decide who will be the president of the United States. They are the ones who play mischief with world politics. It is not as if something is wrong with the American people―people don’t get this message―it is not as if something is wrong with America, or something is wrong with Russia.
Look at India. We had such great spiritual treasures, what did we do with them? Thousands of years of exploitation, of depressed classes, of women, all in the name of religion. We married off women at the age of 9 or 10, they became widows at the age of 11, and we said that’s all their prarabdha, there is nothing we can do about it. This is what they earned in their last life; what can we do about it? All the math adhipatis, all the religious leaders, everybody protected this kind of a social system.
Sri Aurobindo is not blaming any one country, he’s not blaming any one people―this is something we don’t understand―he is saying this is the inadequacy of the human condition, and something has to be done to change this human condition. There is no point in thinking of a better theory, a better social system, a better agenda, a better United Nations. As long as the human mind is what it is, it is fully capable of twisting and perverting even the highest truth when it comes. And that is why his one aim was to go beyond the mind such that this perverting path of the mind can be completely abolished.
So he comes to back to this theme again and again in Savitri in various ways, various forms. We could have said more about it, but since, as I said in the beginning, we are very short of time, I will just indicate a few things as we go along. But this seems to me a very important theme that Sri Aurobindo is talking about here in Savitri. Even later on towards the end, when the God of Death and Savitri have almost finished their dialog, and the God of Death concedes whatever Savitri wants, he takes a parting shot, as it were, at Savitri: “Savitri, I understand your great concern for man, you want to save man, you want to help man, but are you sure man wants to be helped, are you sure man wants to be saved?” This is the question. Man doesn’t even consent to be saved. Man doesn’t want even help to reach him, the right kind of help. How do we change this situation?
Sri Aurobindo was not just a dreamer who thought of impossible things; he knew this was difficult. He knew the supermind was difficult, he knew this consciousness is difficult, but he also knew that was the only way by which things can change permanently. Otherwise you can only have new editions of old fiascos. The fiasco of communism is a new edition like the fiasco of capitalism. The fiasco of capitalism was nothing but a new edition of the fiasco of feudalism. The result is the same.
Some student of human affairs prepared a study of what capitalism has given to America and what communism has given to Russia in terms of human values, in terms of human happiness. I haven’t brought that passage here, but he concludes in both places it has given the same: inner bankruptcy and externally also a lot of turmoil. It looks as if America is pursuing one set of values, Russia is pursuing another set of values, but what does it matter as long as the equipment you have, the consciousness with which you are doing it, is equally flawed? The result is going to be the same no matter which way you pursue, no matter which way you go. Now this is a very major permanent field that comes up again and again in Savitri, so I thought I should spend some time talking about it.
Now let us look at these three Madonnas, what they say and then also very briefly listen to what their perversions have to say. On page 503, towards the second half of that page, Sri Aurobindo describes the Madonna of Compassion and Love:
“O Savitri, I am thy secret soul.
To share the suffering of the world I came,
I draw my children’s pangs into my breast.
I am the nurse of the dolour beneath the stars;
I am the soul of all who wailing writhe
Under the ruthless harrow of the Gods.
I am woman, nurse and slave and beaten beast;
I tend the hands that gave me cruel blows.
The hearts that spurned my love and zeal I serve;
I am the courted queen, the pampered doll,
I am the giver of the bowl of rice,
I am the worshipped Angel of the House.
I am in all that suffers and that cries,
Mine is the prayer that climbs in vain from earth,
I am traversed by my creatures’ agonies,
I am the spirit in a world of pain.
The scream of tortured flesh and tortured hearts
Fall’n back on heart and flesh unheard by Heaven
Has rent with helpless grief and wrath my soul,
I have seen the peasant birthing in his hut,
I have seen the slashed corpse of the slaughtered child,
Heard woman’s cry ravished and stripped and haled
Amid the bayings of the hell-hound mob,
I have looked on, I had no power to save.
Bk 7, Canto 4, pp. 503-504
She says, I am pity, I am compassion, but I have no power to save:
God gave me love, He gave me not his force.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 504
So where there is love and compassion, you find there is no force, there is no power behind it. Well, since we said we don’t have much time, this is enough. Along these lines she has much more to say. You’ll see it ends on page 505, where it says,
She ceased, and like an echo from below
Answering her pathos of divine complaint
A voice of wrath took up the dire refrain,
A growl of thunder or roar of angry beast,
The beast that crouching growls within man’s depths,–
Voice of a tortured frightened Titan once a God.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 505
This was a Titan now. He says:
“I am the Man of Sorrows, I am he
Who is nailed on the wide cross of the universe;
To enjoy my agony God built the earth,
My passion he has made his drama’s theme.
He has sent me naked into his bitter world
And beaten me with his rods of grief and pain.
That I might cry and grovel at his feet
And offer him worship with my blood and tears.
I am Prometheus under the vulture’s beak,
Man the discoverer of the undying fire,
In the flame he kindled burning like a moth;
I am the seeker who can never find,
I am the fighter who can never win,
I am the runner who never touched his goal:
Hell tortures me with the edges of my thought,
Heaven tortures me with the splendour of my dreams.
What profit have I of my animal birth;
What profit have I of my human soul?
I toil like the animal, like the animal die.
I am man the rebel, man the helpless serf;
Fate and my fellows cheat me of my wage.
I loosen with my blood my servitude’s seal
And shake from my aching neck the oppressor’s knees
Only to seat new tyrants on my back:
My teachers lessen me in slavery,
I am shown God’s stamp and my own signature
Upon the sorry contract of my fate.
I have loved, but none has loved me since my birth;
My fruit of works is given to other hands.
Bk 7, Canto 4, pp. 505-506
Compassionate love, as we have seen in many societies, have had a very cruel kind of manifestation. It develops very soon into hatred, hatred against a class. Eliminate the entire class―all the landlords or people of this caste or that community―because they were the ones who perpetuated this exploitation; so finish them off! So people who start on the platform of love and compassion, before they know what they are doing, they become perpetrators of hatred, of violence―this is what you find all over the world. At the beginning is compassion, then this compassion becomes very soon rajasic, then it becomes tamasic, then it becomes asuric. This is the twist it gets and everything is lost. The same thing happens in other places and it goes on the same. It says, on the next page 507, at the middle of the page:
I am the victim of titanic ills,
I am the doer of demoniac deeds;
I was made for evil, evil is my lot;
Evil I must be and by evil live;
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 507
It says, I will swear by evil. Why? I am forced by society to cling to evil. I have tried the path of righteousness, I was rebuffed, so I am the rebel who espouses the cause of evil.
Evil I must be and by evil live;
Nought other can I do but be myself;
What Nature made me, that I must remain.
I suffer and toil and weep; I moan and hate.”
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 507
So what was compassion ultimately becomes converted into hatred. Savitri listens to both these voices and says:
“Madonna of suffering, Mother of grief divine,
Thou art a portion of my soul put forth
To bear the unbearable sorrow of the world.
Because thou art, men yield not to their doom,
But ask for their happiness and strive with fate;
Because thou art, the wretched still can hope.
But thine is the power to solace, not to save.
One day I will return, a bringer of strength,
And make thee drink from the Eternal’s cup;
His streams of force shall triumph in thy limbs
And Wisdom’s calm control thy passionate heart.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 507
This is only one Madonna we have just seen and only one perversion of this Madonna. You have then the Madonna of Might, of Power. It is also possible to see these Madonnas as representing the three levels of man’s being: the physical level, the vital level and the mental level. God’s self has descended on all these levels―at the physical level, the vital level and the mental level―but on all these levels there has also taken place this perversion. We are now talking about the vital level, the descent of the Divine in the vital as power, and that is on page 509, three lines from the top:
“O Savitri, I am thy secret soul.
I have come down into the human world
And the movement watched by an unsleeping Eye
And the dark contrariety of earth’s fate
And the battle of the bright and sombre Powers.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 509
You can read it, we don’t have time unfortunately. The same Madonna says:
I am Durga, goddess of the proud and strong,
And Lakshmi, queen of the fair and fortunate;
I wear the face of Kali when I kill,
I trample the corpses of the demon hordes.
I am charged by God to do his mighty work,
Uncaring I serve his will who set me forth,
Reckless of peril and earthly consequence.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 509
Then you have also an asuric version of this Madonna, on page 511, who says, about 10-12 lines from the bottom of the page:
“I am the heir of the forces of the earth,
Slowly I make good my right to my estate;
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 511
And he has very interesting things to say. He is the ego of the scientist, as it were, who is vying with God, who wants to make world perfect. He says God has fumbled and made an imperfect world, now it is my job to make this world perfect. He says this on page 512:
The sun and moon are lights upon my path;
Air was invented for my lungs to breathe,
Conditioned as a wide and wall-less space
For my winged chariot’s wheels to cleave a road,
The sea was made for me to swim and sail
And bear my golden commerce on its back:
It laughs cloven by my pleasure’s gliding keel,
I laugh at its black stare of fate and death. The earth is my floor, the sky my living’s roof.
All was prepared through many a silent age,
God made experiments with animal shapes,
Then only when all was ready I was born.
I was born weak and small and ignorant,
A helpless creature in a difficult world
Travelling through my brief years with death and at my side;
I have grown greater than Nature, wiser than God.
I have made real what she never dreamed,
I have seized her powers and harness for my work,
I have shaped her metals and new metals made;
I will make glass and raiment out of milk,
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 512
Take milk and make out of it various raiment, clothes, and glass. What is the raw material? Milk. So I will make glass and raiment out of milk.
Make iron velvet, water unbreakable stone,
Like God in his astuce of artist skill,
Mould from one primal plasm protean forms,
In single Nature multitudinous lives,
All that imagination can conceive
In mind intangible, remould anew
In Matter’s plastic solid and concrete.
No magic can surpass my magic’s skill.
There is no miracle I shall not achieve.
What God imperfect left, I will complete,
Out of a tangled mind and half-made soul
His sin and error I will eliminate;
What he invented not, I shall invent:
He was the first creator, I am the last.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 512
Here too we have not come to the end of this boastful declaration of this vital asura, but since time is limited, we go on to what Savitri says to both of these. She says:
“Madonna of might, Mother of works and force,
Thou art a portion of my soul put forth
To help mankind and help the travail of Time.
Because thou art in him, man hopes and dares;
Because thou art, men’s souls can climb the heavens
And walk like gods in the presence of the Supreme.
But without wisdom power is like a wind,
It can breathe upon the heights and kiss the sky,
It cannot build the extreme eternal things.
Bk 7, Canto 4, pp. 513-514
Then there is another Madonna beginning on page 515, and then similarly there is also the perversion of this Madonna, which we have on page 518. Here it is the supreme mental ego who claims. I’ll read just a few lines:
I have mapped the heavens and analysed the stars,
Described their orbits through their grooves of Space,
Measured the miles that separate the suns,
Computed their longevity in Time.
I have delved into earth’s bowels and torn out
The ridges guarded by her dull brown soil.
I have classed the changes of their stony crust
And of her biography discovered the dates,
Rescued the pages of all Nature’s plan.
The tree of evolution I have sketched,
Each branch and twig and leaf in its own place,
In the embryo tracked the history of forms,
And the genealogy framed of all that lives.
I have detected plasm and cell and gene,
The protozoa traced, man’s ancestors,
The humble originals from whom he rose;
I know how he was born and how he dies:
Only what end he serves I know not yet
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 518
I know how man was born, how long it took nature to produce something like man. I know how man dies. I know how he’s born, I know how he dies, but why he lives I don’t know. What is the purpose of this existence? I don’t know. Many thinkers, many psychologists are very proud of the fact that they don’t have answers to this question, “why do we live?” This question doesn’t arise, it’s not a question you should ask anybody, because there is no scientific answer to this question. I’m sure you have seen television programmes where psychologists very glibly say, “you take your pick, decide what you want to do with life and just do it.” Be yourself, that’s about all, there is no purpose to life. Now we have seen all this, and to this Madonna also Savitri says exactly the same thing:
“Madonna of light, Mother of joy and peace,
Thou art a portion of my self put forth
To raise the spirit to its forgotten heights
And wake the soul by touches of the heavens.
Because thou art, the soul draws near to God;
Because thou art, love grows in spite of hate
And knowledge walks unslain in the pit of Night.
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 520
And she concludes (skip a few lines), and says:
One day I will return, His hand in mine,
And thou shalt see the face of the Absolute.
Then shall the holy marriage be achieved,
Then shall the divine family be born.
There shall be light and peace in all the worlds.”
Bk 7, Canto 4, p. 521
Well, there are three more chapters, and each one of them is so beautiful. The fifth one is called, The Finding of the Soul. In that is described what Sri Aurobindo has described elsewhere as the psychic being of Savitri merging with the spirit that is behind the psychic being. That is described, and once that happens, there is the descent of power into Savitri and the opening of all the chakras, the rising of the kundalini and the opening, the blossoming of all the chakras, the descent of the power. All this is described in this Canto and it is a very rich canto.
First of all, she goes through the experience of utter blank, because as you approach any decisive experience of any capital importance you seem to be going through a stage of utter blank, utter negation, before this experience comes. Savitri also goes through this experience, what he calls “the night of God,” the experience of the night of God, and she emerges out of that experience.
And then you have an actual description of the psychic being of Savitri and the spirit behind the psychic being which is a spark from the divine itself. The psychic being is a projection of this divine spark. The divine spark itself does not participate in the evolutionary journey, a projection of this participates in the evolutionary journey, and it gradually grows and blossoms. All that is described very beautifully on pages 526 and 527: how it merges with the spirit behind where they rushed into each other and grew one.
In Canto 6, it is very interesting, you have “Nirvana and the Discovery of the All-Negating Absolute.” See, for all that, people keep saying that Sri Aurobindo wants a realization which is beyond nirvana. But make sure that you have the nirvana, because Aswapati had it and Savitri also goes through that experience. It is an essential experience before you can have the experience of the highest. And so Savitri is now approaching this experience of nirvana. That is described in Canto 6. There is the description of the all-negating Adwaitic nirvana and also some flavor of the Buddhist nirvana, both are talked about very briefly. And then many, many interesting things happen. There is still a need for Savitri to go even beyond this experience, and Savitri is pushed into that, and finally when Savitri emerges from that, she discovers the cosmic consciousness, and that is described on page 556. Since we have time for just one passage, this is all l think we can read before we disperse today. On page 556, Savitri is going beyond nirvana, going beyond this experience of negation. This is the experience of the “lovers’ everlasting yes” that Sri Aurobindo describes in connection with Aswapati’s yoga. This is what it is:
Her spirit saw the world as living God;
It saw the One and knew that all was He.
She knew him as the Absolute’s self-space,
One with her self and ground of all things here
In which the world wanders seeking for the Truth
Guarded behind his space of ignorance:
She followed him through the march of endless Time.
All Nature’s happenings were events in her,
The heart-beats of the cosmos were her own,
All beings thought and felt and moved in her;
She inhabited the vastness of the world,
Its distances were her nature’s boundaries,
It’s closenesses her own life’s intimacies.
Her mind became familiar with its mind,
Its body was her body’s larger frame
In which she lived and knew herself in it
One, multitudinous in its multitudes.
She was a single being, yet all things;
The world was her spirit’s wide circumference,
The thoughts of others were her intimacies
Their feelings close to her universal heart,
Their bodies her many bodies kin to her;
She was no more herself but all the world.
Out of the infinitudes all came to her,
Into the infinitudes sentient she spread,
Infinity was her own natural home.
Nowhere she dwelt, her spirit was everywhere,
The distant constellations wheeled round her;
Earth saw her born, all worlds were her colonies,
The greater worlds of life and minds were hers;
All Nature reproduced her in its lines,
Its movements were large copies of her own.
She was the single self of all these selves,
She was in them and they were all in her.
This first was an immense identity
In which her own identity was lost:
What seemed herself was an image of the Whole.
She was a subconscient life of tree and flower,
The outbreak of the honied buds of spring;
She burned in the passion and splendour of the rose,
She was the red heart of the passion-flower,
The dream-white of the lotus in its pool.
Out of subconscient life she climbed to mind,
She was thought and the passion of the world’s heart,
She was the godhead hid in the heart of man,
She was the climbing of his soul to God.
The cosmos flowered in her, she was its bed.
She was Time in the dreams of God in Time;
She was Space and the wideness of his days.
From this she rose where Time and Space were not;
The superconscient was her native air,
Infinity was her movement’s natural space;
Eternity looked out from her on Time.
Bk 7, Canto 7, pp. 556-557