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At the Feet of The Mother

Japan (1916-20)

Even though the Richards had specially returned to France because Paul had been drafted as a reservist, they only stayed there for a year. Paul was freed from military service and moved to Marsillargues with the Mother, where Andre, the Mother’s son, visited them during the summer vacations and heard for the first time about Sri Aurobindo. In October it was his turn to join the Army, and from then he always felt the protection of his exceptional Mother, piloting him through those difficult times. Meanwhile, Paul Richard got some work in Japan and thus we find the Richards in London on 13 March 1916, embarking on the long journey to the Far East. They reached Japan in June 1916 and stayed for four years in the land of the rising sun, the first year mostly in Tokyo, the last three years in Kyoto. In between they also visited other places, especially places of pilgrimage. They briefly touched China too.

For the Mother this change certainly came as a great relief. Here was a country which could offer, if not India’s deep spirituality, yet high traditions and exquisite beauty. “For four years, from an artistic point of view, I lived from wonder to wonder,”[1] she said later in a talk. She has given elaborate descriptions of the beauty of Japanese landscapes and the perfect arrangement of houses which merge into a harmonious whole with their surroundings, being one with Nature, as it were. She also points out that even simple people had a highly developed aesthetic sense and would rather spend their spare time outside in Nature in order to admire a beautiful landscape, than seek other distractions. And yet she has some reservations and adds that all this was no more than “a marvellously organised mental-physical domain”[2] and that there was an entire dearth of spirituality.

Once there was a characteristic and amusing incident in connection with a Japanese friend of hers, which she told her students in the Ashram. She had brought the young man into contact with his soul and as a result he had extraordinary experiences. But the next morning he suddenly disappeared. Later, the Mother met him in the city and asked him why he had run away. “Oh! you understand, I discovered my soul and saw that my soul was more powerful than my faith in the country and the Mikado; I would have had to obey my soul and I would no longer have been a faithful subject of my emperor. I had to go away.”[3]

On the other hand, the Mother was appreciating the enormous vitality and energy of the people. There seems to be prophetic foresight when she writes in 1917 that Japan “possesses the vitality and concentrated energies of a nation which has not yet reached its zenith. That energy is one of the most striking features of Japan. It is visible everywhere, in everyone; the old and the young, the workmen, the women, the children, the students, all… display in their daily life the most wonderful storage of concentrated energy.”[4] We know today the potential of a Japan that has climbed to its zenith…

Another characteristic feature of the nation, “the secret of her power”, has been explained by the Mother in connection with the ancient tradition of Samurai: “They know how to remain silent; and though they are possessed of the most acute sensitiveness, they are, among the people I have met, those who express it least. A friend here can give his life with the greatest simplicity to save yours, though he never told you before that he loved you in such a profound and unselfish way.”[5]

The Richards stayed in Tokyo with Dr. Okhawa, a university professor. A long friendship formed between the two families. The Mother soon adopted the Japanese style of living and wore the kimono with natural grace. She also learnt the highly developed Japanese art of flower arrangements. She grew her own vegetables in a garden and reports, in this context, an astonishing experience which illustrates her close communication with Nature: when she went into the garden to collect vegetables for the meals, some said to her, “No, no,” whilst others called, “Take us, take us”. “So it was very simple, I looked for those which wanted to be taken and never did I touch those which did not. I used to think it was something exceptional.”[6]

In July 1917 the Richards went to Akakura Spa, a hill-station 800 m above sea level. The Mother felt deep peace in the beautiful landscape of this remote resort. Next they travelled to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, and made contacts with Dr. Okhata, the founder of the still-sitting movement, which had some affinities with Indian Yoga and therapeutical values. They also met Dr. Kobayashi and his wife, two close collaborators of Dr. Okhata. An intimate friendship was formed between the Mother and Mrs. Kobayashi, and they often meditated together.

In January 1919 a frightful epidemic swept over Japan. In Tokyo alone hundreds of new cases of infection were registered every day, and the victims died, as a rule, after three days. If they could survive the third day, they were cured after seven days. The Mother shielded herself from infection with the help of her occult knowledge and avoided every thought of the disease. But this inner discipline was made difficult by someone who stayed with her and kept asking her what was behind this epidemic. One day the Mother had to drive to the other end of the town and in the tram she saw all those people with protective masks before their faces. The whole atmosphere was filled with unbearable fear. Finally, the Mother herself started asking herself involuntarily, “Truly, what is this illness? What is there behind this illness?” When she returned home, she had caught it. The symptoms used to appear at once, immediately after the infection. The Mother lay down with a high fever. A doctor was called (without her knowledge), but she dismissed him and refused to take medicine. She wanted to fight it out all from within. She kept asking herself what was behind the illness. Then, “at the end of the second day as I was lying all alone, I saw clearly a being, with a part of the head cut off, in a military uniform (or the remains of a military uniform) approaching me and suddenly flinging himself upon my chest, with that half a head to suck my force. I took a good look, then realised that I was about to die. He was drawing all my life out… I was completely nailed to the bed, without movement, in a deep trance. I could no longer stir and he was pulling. I thought: now it is the end. Then I called on my occult power, I gave a big fight and I succeeded in turning him back so that he could not stay there any longer. And I woke up.”[7]

A little later a Japanese friend came to see her and he understood at once what had happened. He told the Mother that the disease was suddenly under control and there were hardly any more death cases. The Mother disclosed to him her experience and her friend talked about it to others. Some newspapers even published articles about the incident.

The Mother explained the occult background of the epidemic as follows: during the First World War many young healthy soldiers were suddenly thrown out of their bodies, without knowing that they had died, physically. They were now desperately trying to regain their lost lives in other bodies and thus became vampires. Whosoever got into the atmosphere of these forces fell ill and was cured only if he was not personally attacked by one such being. All others died invariably. “I know how much knowledge and force were necessary for me to resist,” said the Mother. “It was irresistible.”[8]

“Consciousness, to be sure, is more effective than packets of medicine,” was the Mother’s final comment on this incident. She always avoided medicine, as far as possible. Once she told an Ashram sadhak that she used to cure all the illnesses herself of her son André in his young days, without calling a doctor. Of course, not everybody can imitate her methods and we also find in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram a number of doctors of all medical systems who help to take care of the health and well-being of children and sadhaks.

During her stay in Japan the Mother met Tolstoy’s son who was touring the world and preaching to everybody that all people should speak the same language, take the same food and wear the same clothes, then there would be peace on earth and everybody would be happy. The Mother seems to have talked to him, but he stuck to his naive ideas.

In 1919 she met Rabindranath Tagore and they stayed in the same hotel for some time. He requested her to take charge of Shantiniketan, his educational institute, but the Mother did not accept his request since she knew that her destiny was elsewhere.

In April 1920 she could at last and for good return to Pondicherry. She was accompanied by an English lady, Miss Dorothy Hodgeson, whom she had already known in France. When their boat was approaching Pondicherry, the Mother had a remarkable experience: “I was on the boat, at sea, not expecting anything (I was of course busy with the inner life, but I was living physically on the boat), when all of a sudden, abruptly, about two nautical miles from Pondicherry, the quality, I may even say physical quality, of the atmosphere of the air, changed so much that I knew we were entering the aura of Sri Aurobindo. It was a physical experience…”[9]

[1] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:181
[2] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:182
[3] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:183
[4] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:184
[5] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:184
[6] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:186
[7] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:202
[8] Nilima – Glimpses of the Mother’s Life 1:202
[9] K. R. S. Iyengar’s On the Mother 1:201

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Some say that the number of child prodigies is increasing considerably, and some — even among Americans — say it is the influence and work of Sri Aurobindo, and others say it is a result of atom bombs!