Video recording of the 3rd M V Nadkarni Memorial Lecture.
The third Dr M. V. Nadkarni Memorial Lecture given by Dr Alok Pandey at Savitri Bhavan on August 23 2012
It is a joy and a privilege to speak on any aspect of Savitri. And today the joy and the privilege are in a way doubled, because it is Dr Nadkarni’s Memorial Lecture. I remember when, quite a number of years ago, during one of the Nainital Camps, before I took premature retirement, I was debating with myself whether I should continue speaking at these camps or not. Dr Nadkarni was also speaking there in the same camp. This debate had been going on in me for some time during those years because I wanted a very clear answer from the Mother about whether I should be doing this. I always feel that this is a very risky territory: this speaking business is not always a good business. So before retiring from the Indian Air Force I thought ‘Let me take retirement from this speaking part’. I shared this feeling with him. I was actually just thinking aloud, because I knew this answer had to come from inside — it could not come from anyone outside. But as if foreshadowing the answer that was to come, he said, ‘It would be a great loss for the work.’ That was all he said. I was still not sure, frankly I was not too convinced about it, because I really believe that the Mother’s Work carries on in so many ways. Often silence is more powerful than speech. Nevertheless it has so happened that over the years a closeness developed between me and Dr Nadkarni. He came to stay in my house when he came to Bangalore and it was really such a joy: what simplicity despite such a great intellect! I was very touched by some precious moments that I spent with him. Then the year that he left us for the lap of the Divine Mother, a few months before, he asked me ‘Could you take the November Camp?’ I was really nonplussed. I answered him, ‘Nadkarni-ji, surely you will be taking it.’ He said ‘No, no — I am not feeling too well.’ I have shared this with some people personally, but I have never before shared it publicly; but since this is Dr Nadkarni’s Memorial Lecture a few words may be appropriate. So I responded ‘Well Nadkarni-ji, you will be fine by November. People will come wanting to listen to you.’ He said, ‘Let us see.’ Finally after much hesitation I said, ‘All right, they can put my name in the announcement in All India Magazine, but I do hope that you will be fine and that you will take the Camp.’ He said, ‘All right’. Then I felt that to take camps on both Essays on the Gita and Savitri would be too much for me because of the medical work, so I said ‘I will take up Savitri.’ He said ‘All right’. I don’t remember the exact date when this conversation took place — maybe a month or at most two months before he left.
This is a difficult moment for me, but I am sure that everyone will bear with it. That morning I had a call from Meera-di that the end had come. I happened to be the first doctor that reached there. Dr Nadkarni had already left his body. Right behind me Dilip-da came, and all of us then came together. It was such a swift and sudden event that at one level it seems a Grace that he left the body so painlessly, so swiftly — no suffering, no fuss …. It was something remarkable. I have seen so many deaths in my practice but this is one of the exceptional departures that I have seen. If any sign is needed that he was indeed an exceptional being, this is one. So here we are on this day remembering him, and what better remembrance than to read Savitri — something which he loved, and he loved to sing about it.
So coming to the theme: ‘The Journey of Love’ … When I think about Savitri, about what Savitri is, I am reminded of some lines from the poem itself — for Savitri contains everything within it, including what Savitri is. These lines come at the end of Book Two, Canto Eight, when after the Descent into the Night, King Aswapati has torn through the veil of darkness: Night has been cleaved and cut asunder. And these lines emerge:
The lyric of the love that waits through Time
And the mystic volume of the Book of Bliss
And the message of the superconscient Fire.
This is what Savitri is, expressed in a single phrase — the lyric of love. But the amazing thing is that when Sri Aurobindo writes about Savitri in his ‘Author’s Note’ he uses an interesting adjective, which I have often felt has not received enough attention. He mentions ‘conjugal love conquering Death’. Now I believe that the great ones in the past who wrote these beautiful stories — which did really happen — they were not just writing symbolically. There was a realism in all that they wrote. It was not just an ethereal possibility but a very material possibility. That often hits me hard. I cannot say that I have fully understood, grasped the full import of what it means — except that it is possible in a human body, in flesh and blood, that love which is hidden in the heart of Creation and works silently can manifest in a human body and in human relationships; it is possible.
This is the Age of Truth and we all know that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother through their tapasya, their great sacrifice, have brought down to earth the supramental Truth-Consciousness. Unfortunately, like all terms, the word ‘Truth’ also evokes a certain sense and meaning in us. We are so accustomed to truth in terms of Science. Science explores Truth. What about the heart? ‘Oh, that is mere sentimental emotionalism.’ I feel that if there is one civilisational disease which has become chronic, with which human beings have been and continue to be suffering is the lack of love. Both as a practitioner of the path of Yoga and as a psychiatrist and a doctor, if I look around, having gone around the world, I see that people suffer because of lack of love. All education caters to knowledge: knowledge, more and more knowledge — knowledge for power, power, power — for mastery; the heart is ignored in the process, it is stifled, and the response of the heart to Truth is lost. We do not even hear its language. It is crushed, kept aside. It is not even spoken of, it is considered bad to speak about it. As people grow up, you are not supposed to cry — it is like that: mentioning love is almost an anathema to a modern civilised person.
This is understandable because love is also the first power that has plunged into the Creation. Therefore — this may be a very funny way of looking at it, but — it would be the last to emerge: a lot has to be made ready to enable this power to emerge.
I am reminded of an analogy. I am in the habit of reaching airports early, and I feel comfortable that I don’t have to wait for a long time to check in. I always thought this is very logical — why would I want to rush at the last minute? But once somebody told me ‘No, there is a reason why it is better to go towards the end: if you give your baggage in the beginning, it will come out last.’ I started observing it and I saw that it is really true. But old habits die hard, and I still prefer to get there early and receive my baggage last rather than to miss the flight.
So something like that has happened in this creation. We know the great story of when Being plunged into this darkness. The Being plunged. Sri Aurobindo speaks about it, it is very interesting, the Being — not some bare Truth. For Sri Aurobindo brings Truth, but it is not the truth of the material scientist: bare, cold, impersonal, heartless, something which can be resolved into a whirling dance of protons and electrons and atomic particles. That is not the Truth that Sri Aurobindo means. That is a truth, one amongst many, not The Truth. Similarly it is not the truth of the mystic, sitting aloof, detached from all, indifferent to the pain and pangs of this world, sitting on the peaks of some inmost recess, or in some cave, inaccessible to the world, waiting in some trance of the Infinite, to merge and be dissolved in it. It is not the truth of either of these two extremes. Sri Aurobindo brings a Truth that is one with Love.
A truth that is not one with love will be harsh. It is not that kind of truth that Sri Aurobindo wants to establish upon earth. The Mother took particular care to remind us that the Superman … what powers he will have, that is left to the imagination of each of us, but what he will not have has been very very clearly stated… he will not be a cruel being. He will embody in himself the Truth of Love:
A Bliss, a Light, a Power, a flame-white Love
Caught all into a sole immense embrace;
Existence found its truth on Oneness’ breast
And each became the self and space of all.
This is the Truth that has plunged into Creation.
But to come back to the story — when darkness was there engulfed within darkness, the Gods had to go in, to rescue all the energies that had deviated from their true purpose, gone out and plunged into the Darkness and assumed that shape and colour, were hidden from the Light of Truth: where are they, where are they? None of the gods is willing to leap into it. It is too dark, it is such an immense task. Then Agni, the representative of the Divine Consciousness and Will, says ‘I will go, but I have one condition.’ The condition is that, looking at the Divine Mother, Aditi, Agni says ‘I see in your heart a most beautiful resplendent Light, shadowless, pure, intense. If you give us that, l will go.’ And if Agni goes, all the other gods will follow. So the Divine Mother poured that Light, a drop of that Light from her fathomless heart of Love and Bliss. That light, that pure shadowless light from her heart has plunged into the Creation, and since then it has been engaged in the labour of Love. It is that Love which crystallised itself as the psychic essence. That is what we are told. It is that drop — and following it the Gods: Agni, Mitra, Varuna, Bhaga, Indra, Soma, the Ashwins, the Ribhus — the artisans of Immortality. All these plunged into the darkness because there went as the spear-point the flame-white Love from the heart of the Divine Mother. This is the origin of that Love. Beings plunge into this darkness, to rescue it.
It is very interesting that when we speak of the Divine, He is not just an impersonal universality. Nowadays there is a tendency to say that every path leads to That Reality. This word ‘reality’ is a very interesting one and even though there is but One ultimate Reality, it can conjure a host of meanings. There is scientific reality, there is material reality, there is psychological reality — Reality with a capital ‘R’. There is a reality of the Adwaitin, there is a reality of the Buddhist, there are all kinds of reality. But the Reality which Sri Aurobindo speaks of is not just an impersonal universality. It is a Being, a transcendent Being; and that Being has plunged himself into this darkness. This is beautifully brought out in Savitri, (everything is beautifully brought out in Savitri, so it is understood) on page 141, in ‘The Kingdoms of the Little Life’:
In the enigma of the darkened Vasts,
In the passion and self-loss of the Infinite
When all was plunged in the negating Void,
Non-Being’s night could never have been saved
If Being had not plunged into the dark
Carrying with it its triple mystic cross.
So when we are told to renounce, to sacrifice, these words have no meaning at a human level. Because what do we really renounce and sacrifice? We leave dirt, mud, mire, and what does the Divine Mother give us in exchange? Pure diamond! So how can we say ‘We have left this, we have left that’? Whatever we have left was worth nothing; it was only a useless entanglement — weeds, thorns, all these things. But if there is an unparalleled example of renunciation, it is the renunciation which the Divine makes, to assume a human body. When the Mother speaks of the relevance of Savitri, one of the things she mentions is ‘The experiences of the Divine Mother in her effort to adapt herself to the body she has taken and the ignorance and the falsity of the earth upon which she has incarnated’ [MCW 13:24]. We cannot imagine what it means to renounce That and to enter into this mortal body, to live that, to endure that. Just for a being of a higher world, leave aside the Supreme, to be in a human body is a great suffering, because it is like being in a cage, such a small little space, a tiny hole. For a being of a higher consciousness when he takes such a body it is a great suffering because he brings with him memories of lost felicities, of a power, of a godly estate, and to assume a body is really to enter into a misery, even in the best of surroundings. Such people are very uncomfortable with their surroundings, they feel like a stranger. About this descent of the Divine, Sri Aurobindo very beautifully says in the second canto of Savitri, ‘Repeating the marvel of the first descent’ [Savitri p.14]. And every time the Divine renounces his infinity and enters into this creation the Mother says that it is with only one objective: to transform Matter. So he loses himself completely, identifies with Matter. This is the Origin of all subsequent descents. In the Origin, this is the first descent. The Mother speaks about meeting this Being who has plunged into the Darkness, and she calls him ‘the first Avatar’.
If Being had not plunged into the dark
Carrying with it its triple mystic cross.
Invoking in world-time the timeless truth,
Bliss changed to sorrow, knowledge made ignorant,
God’s force turned into a child’s helplessness
Can bring down heaven by their sacrifice.
This is the first sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Divine himself. He shows the way to us, the path. The return is also through sacrifice. As evolution takes place, at each level, Nature performs the sacrifice normally. It is not we who do the sacrifice; until the human level Nature does the sacrifice. This is the whole story of evolution: Matter must sacrifice its peaceful stability and inertia, in order to begin to crawl and run and jump — otherwise it will not. Matter is at ease, at peace, and stable. It must sacrifice that. When Life comes everything becomes unstable, at every moment there is a change taking place, death comes with it, suffering comes with it. Matter does not experience these things. That state of the peace of inertia, immobility, must be sacrificed for Life to emerge. Again in living forms we see progressive sacrifice: the fish must sacrifice its gills, its lovely home in the wonderful ocean to come onto the land; the creatures of the land must sacrifice their vitality, the snake must sacrifice its ability to crawl in order to be able to fly; the bird must sacrifice its wings to be able to run on the plains; and the animal with its sinews and muscles and strength and vitality and force and speed, it must sacrifice all that to be able to think in Man. This is the law of sacrifice: all evolution is sacrifice: the sacrifice of that which was, for that which yet can be. And here we stand at the human stage, with a mighty intellect: if we are willing to really ascend to the intuitive stage, we must be willing to sacrifice this, the rational mind that comes in the way. It is like a hard lid, which will not break open unless by some Divine Grace we are hammered. We meet the contradictions of life and they compel us to widen, to look afresh at things.
So this is the great sacrifice:
Being became the Void and Conscious-Force
Nescience and walk of a blind Energy
And Ecstasy took the figure of world-pain.
In a mysterious dispensation’s law
A Wisdom that prepares its far-off ends
Planned so to start her slow aeonic game.
This is the first act of Love. And always throughout life, if one sees what love really is, to put it one word — love is sacrifice. There is no other word that is better suited to express love. Mother says in one of her short messages:
They always speak of the rights of love but love’s only right is the right of self-giving
The moment there is expectation, wanting to receive, to get, it is no longer love, it is something else, it is a cry of the Titan.
I am just flipping through the poem, which is what I love to do. On page 506 we find the voice of the Titan. See what love has become here, while the original love is sacrifice: the sacrifice of the very highest — it is one thing to sacrifice the lower for the higher, but the Divine has sacrificed the highest to enter into this darkened state. How many can do it? To sacrifice all the gains, the inner experiences, the richness of the life of an ascetic, the wish to be an ascetic in some forest. It is a big temptation: when the hostile forces cannot work in any other way then they try a very nice trick, that trick is there in Savitri. Death tells Savitri, ‘Fine, I agree that there may be some God, some ultimate Divine Self above, but you won’t find him in the world. Leave this world, go into some forest and there you meditate and find that Self.’ This is one of the tricks. They do this, and it is very very convincing, especially because the Indian mind is so much stamped with asceticism that these thoughts come: ‘Nothing else works out, so better go to the forest, to some far place and remain aloof. Why be in the world with all these hassles and problems?’
The original sacrifice is the other way round, and Sri Aurobindo speaks about it in several places in Savitri. In one place he says, ‘A god come down and greater by the fall.’ [Savitri p.343]. He becomes greater. The Divine assumes this body and enters into this darkness because the end result is something greater than what originally existed. He has come down for the sake of that glory.
But meanwhile, what is our stage? For from there we begin — on page 506 — with the voice of the Titan hidden within us. How does he speak, what does he whisper from behind?
I have loved, but none has loved me since my birth;
These are the thoughts which the Titan whispers.
My fruit of works is given to other hands.
How sad! And then you know there are people who will talk about karma — ‘your karma’ — so, in fact there are other lines, above that.
My teachers lesson 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.
All that is left me is my evil thoughts,
My sordid quarrel against God and man,
Envy of the riches that I cannot share,
Hate of a happiness that is not mine.
And then it gives the secret: why love has become this disfigured Titan’s whisper in our hearts:
I know my fate will ever be the same,
It is my nature’s work that cannot change:
I have loved for mine, not for the beloved’s sake,
I have lived for myself and not for others’ lives.
This is the problem. As the Divine enters into the arena of this earth all the forces want to capture and claim it as their own. In one of her prayers the Mother laments that all the great asuras who have accepted to play the role of helping the work want to keep some of the Force for themselves [Prayers and Meditations August 16, 1914]. Nobody wants to give back everything to the Divine. It comes from the Divine — everything belongs to the Divine — we want to appropriate it: ‘my love’, ‘my life’, ‘my knowledge’, ‘my power’, ‘my strength’. The moment the ‘my’ comes, it is deformed, it is disfigured: love becomes a cause of suffering, pain and misery. The beauty is, that in spite of all this we can still feel this power. There have been ages of Knowledge, there have been ages of Power, but there has not yet been a convincing age of Love. There have been myths created, for example around a brief time in Brindavan when all was rapture and felicity and everybody danced around God — for a short while; but Brindavan could not last and on earth it was a creation of the mystics, who saw the possibility of such a love. There have been such stories. Christ came to embody that love, but it had to end with a supreme sacrifice; we may add the word ‘strategic’ — a strategic sacrifice that helped to humanise humanity. There have been moments of love but not something that has endured. There have been ages when there was Knowledge, Wisdom; there have been ages when there was Power — when we read about Atlantis, the Mayan civilisation, the Mahabharata — what tremendous power and knowledge they wielded! But look at what happened to that knowledge and power: we have seen that movie ‘The Planet of the Apes’ — man blew himself up, because what was missing was love. And yet the beauty is that if we look around life and creation, if there is one thing that we are sure to find every day as we walk through life, it is love: the smile of love. We can see it everywhere. And that is what Sri Aurobindo reminds us through Savitri again, on page 139:
Always a heaven-truth broods in life’s deeps,
It is always there, and from time to time it blossoms out.
In her obscurest members burns that fire.
A touch of God’s rapture in creation’s acts,
A lost remembrance of felicity
Lurks still in the dumb roots of death and birth,
The world’s senseless beauty mirrors God’s delight.
That rapture’s smile is secret everywhere;
Even if we handle Matter a little carefully it is amazing how it responds to love. I have had this experience a number of times. With material objects it is amazing that they may respond to knowledge and of course they may respond to power too, when we manipulate the machinery, but they can respond to love. Cars, scooters, objects that are used every day, they can respond to love. If we really treat them with love and care they respond to it. Plants can smile at us, flowers — they can take away our depression, just absorb it in themselves. How beautiful! ‘That rapture’s smile is secret everywhere;’ As the Mother says, in the evening, love in the plant aspires to go up to heaven.
It flows in the wind’s breath, in the tree’s sap,
Its hued magnificence blooms in leaves and flowers.
One comes out of the house feeling not too good, and as one walks there is a lovely breeze — it caresses us, and then within minutes we feel so good — it is almost like the Divine Mother’s touch.
In beast and in winged bird and thinking man
It made of the heart’s rhythm its music’s beat;
Bliss, love and beauty are one: they assume three aspects, so love is the flower, bliss is the fruit — that’s how one can put it.
It forced the unconscious tissues to awake
And ask for happiness and earn the pang
And thrill with pleasure and laughter of brief delight,
And quiver with pain and crave for ecstasy.
When nothing else works in life, love does work, but it has to be persistent. Somebody asked the Mother, ‘When you have faith in someone and he lets you down, you are deceived, cheated — what should you do, and what does it mean?’ Some of the Mother’s answers widen us to limitless horizons! She said ‘Your faith was not sufficient.’
Love has a power to change. I remember an incident someone shared with me. His son studied here and had to be taken out of the school. He went into drugs and it was a miserable journey. Towards the end of his brief life — for he developed malignancy and was in a rehab home etc. — he was asked by his father, ‘You have seen nothing but misery in life, what have you learned from all this?’ He wanted that at least his son could say some words that would give the old father’s heart some solace, that after all his life was not a complete waste — when you are witnessing your child dying at a young age, in his forties. The boy recounted an incident: “When I was going out I went to the Mother, and she told me, ‘My child, remember two things: first — never hide anything from me; second — the Mother always loves you.’ I don’t know about the first, but the second one has sustained me throughout.” And the father was so relieved. When he was sharing this with me I could sense what a relief it would be to a father to know that with all his brief life, with all the difficulties and problems, a life that can be called a miserable life, still this boy managed to remember one thing: “The Mother loves me.” I think that if somebody can remember it, even for a few years, it is a great sadhana and yoga. It is a great sadhana to remember just this much: “The Mother loves me.” We cannot love her; but the same love which has entered into this creation, the Divine Love, as it evolves it turns into love for the Divine. The Mother says ‘There is only one love — there are no two loves’. In this creation, all lower forms of love turn eventually into love for the Divine.
We have these magnificent lines speaking of the evolution of love, on page 632. This smile, this rapture which we feel in plants, is not the end of the journey. We read on page 632:
A mystic slow transfiguration works.
Where does it work? It works in the depths of Nature because love is behind everything and it works from within.
All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky
Every day we see hope everywhere, for everything starts from earth and ends in sky.
And Love that was once an animal’s desire,
Then a sweet madness in the rapturous heart,
An ardent comradeship in the happy mind,
Becomes a wide spiritual yearning’s space.
So it is the same Love which evolves, layer by layer: madness in the heart, rapturous madness, comradeship in the mind, that becomes a wide spiritual yearning’s space:
A lonely soul passions for the Alone,
The heart that loved man thrills to the love of God,
These are two steps and stages. Sri Aurobindo tells us that the psychic being, in the beginning, loves man; it leans towards human beings, even those who are God-lovers, God-seekers. But its highest form is when it begins to love the Divine for the sake of the Divine. That is the highest kind of ecstasy possible to it.
A body is his chamber and his shrine.
Then is our being rescued from separateness;
All is itself, all is new-felt in God:
This love transfigures us.
A Lover leaning from his cloister’s door
Gathers the whole world into his single breast.
Then shall the business fail of Night and Death:
This will be the Victory of Love — the Mother says this categorically. Only Love has the supreme power of transformation. Nothing else can fully transform. But to embody that Love, a great sacrifice is needed, the kind of sacrifice that I can think of no other example in the history of the earth, except in Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo’s love, when we look into his eyes! Everybody speaks of him as a thinker, a philosopher — what an absurdity to reduce him so many notches down! Even to speak of him as a poet and a mystic comes a bit closer to truth; but to know him as the one who truly loved — and loved in what a way! ‘His love has paved the mortal’s road to Heaven’ — this is how the Mother expresses his sacrifice. Even though the crowd jeers and mocks, people say ‘Oh, it’s a failure, it’s a failure!’ yet he was willing to make that sacrifice, and the Mother too. The Mother reminds us always: ‘Two things you must never forget — Sri Aurobindo’s Compassion, and the Mother’s Love.’
It is really very interesting that the only way to really understand Sri Aurobindo, is, as she says in one of her messages: ‘Who can understand Sri Aurobindo? He is vaster than the universe and his teaching is infinite.’ There is no end to what he has revealed. ‘The only way to understand him, to come a little closer to him, is through love, and to give oneself unreservedly to his work of earth-transformation.’ This is the only way that we can come to understand him a little. Again Nolini-da reminds us, when he speaks about Sri Aurobindo’s words, he says it is difficult, but the way you can understand is by loving them. We do the reverse: ‘Oh my god, I have to read The Life Divine!’ To start with, the mind begins to play. ‘It is going to be so tough, so difficult! Sri Aurobindo’s English is so difficult!’ The devil has already started his work before the Divine has a chance.
What is the way to read Sri Aurobindo through love? There is a very simple analogy to it. In the Bhagavat, Udhav tells Krishna [Krishna is the Lord of Ananda, Love and Bhakti], ‘You are a great trickster, that is well known. These gopis love you madly, and you are enjoying this love, right? You don’t tell them that this is not the real thing, that the real thing is Brahman and Brahman can only be reached by jnana, and jnana can only be had through deep meditation. You don’t tell all this. You let them cry and weep, jump and dance … It is not good! You know Brahman, but you are not telling them. It is not right!’ Then Krishna answers, ‘You know I am very busy with many things, it must have slipped my mind. Udhav, you are a Jnani — why don’t you go and tell them about Brahman and disabuse their minds about love for a mere mortal like me? It will do good to you and good to them also.’ Udhav replies, ‘All right. But they will not listen to me. They are madly in love with you — you send me as your representative.’ So Krishna signs a letter saying ‘Please listen to him. I am sending him to give a lecture — please arrange for a suitable audience at a certain time in a nice place, and don’t trouble him, arrange some nice refreshments …’ Krishna has sent a long letter and signed it. So Udhav goes, all solemn and grim, meditating all along the way: ‘I am going to give some great knowledge ….’ In his mind he is turning over all the shastras, the Vedas, the Upanishads, what slokas he will quote, and so on. As he is on his way, some of the gopas and gopis recognise him and call out, ‘Oh, Udhav-ji, you are coming from Krishna! Have you met him?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Has he sent something for us?’ ‘Yes, he has given this letter …’ But before he can read out the letter, they all jump, each of them wants to see it, to read it — but they cannot read. The letter is torn in pieces. Udhav says, ‘You are fools! You have no patience! You can’t even wait for me to read out what is written in the letter.’ ‘We don’t need all that. You just keep quiet. All we want is a touch of Krishna — and now we all have that.’ What can he say but ‘You people are truly mad fellows, but I have come to give you jnana. Sit in line.’ They all sit down quietly, because Krishna has said something. Udhav doesn’t say what Krishna had said. He starts teaching them abstract Vedanta. So they become restless. They say ‘Tell us what Krishna has said.’ ‘No no no — I shall teach you Pranayama.’ So the gopis ask him ‘What is Pranayama?’ He says, ‘You have to master your breath and do these movements.’ So the gopis say, ‘You know, we have only one problem …’ Udhav says, “What is your problem — you can’t hold your breath?’ Then they answer, ‘No — we have one breath, one life, and we have dedicated all this to Krishna. Now if you are telling us to practice all this, we shall have to take it back from him!’ So the end of the story is, to cut it short, Udhav gets chastened and realises what great heights of realisation one can have just through bhakti. Sri Aurobindo says it is the crown of all experiences. And inSavitri he says it is ‘the key to the flaming doors of ecstasy.’ It is the key. With Knowledge, God admits us into his study room; his servant he allows a little more inside; but to his lover he says, ‘Come with me into my bed and I will reveal to you my dreams for the future.’ This is the special privilege of the God-lover. So Udhav comes back to Krishna and says, ‘You are truly a trickster!’ ‘Again you are telling me this?’ ‘You told me that I am going to give them some teaching, but I have come back after learning something.’ So Krishna says,
‘Those are my ways. These are my works and my cunning.’ So that secret smile is everywhere. It is that which is working, that which is evolving, it is that which is leading us on the great journey. When he ‘Gathers the whole world into his single breast / Then shall the business fail of Night and Death.’ [Savitri: p. 633]
When will Death end, when will Darkness end? How beautiful! Not just with Light, but with Love — why? Because Love alone can join that which is now parted or twain.
Sri Aurobindo says in Book One, Canto Four, ‘The Secret Knowledge’, ‘We must fill the vast lacuna we have made.’ What is the lacuna? The gap between Spirit and Matter. What power can bridge them, reunite them? That is why it is very interesting that in Savitri it is Love versus Death, not Life versus Death. Life and death are two sides of one coin. What is Death? Death is the power that divides. And the final division that Death creates is between the Divine and the Creation. This is the final division. So in Savitri until the last he does not give up. He says ‘No — you can have Satyavan if you want, but only up above.’ But Love is the power that unites. It has gone out to reunite Creation with the Creator, and therefore it carries that capacity in it. And because the psychic is nothing else but the Mother’s love crystallised in Creation, it is the very nature of the psychic to love. It cannot be otherwise. Wherever the psychic blossoms, it loves rightly, beautifully — even in human love. When the Mother was asked ‘If love comes our way, what should we do? We are supposed to love only God’ she laughed and said, ‘Ah, go through it.’ Then she says something very interesting. She says that there are people who reject this. What happens? They become harsh and over a period of time they lose the capacity to love, and sometimes it takes centuries to recover this capacity. So instead, learn to love unselfishly, without expectations. If you go through it deeply enough, at the end you will discover behind the appearances the core of love, which is the same everywhere. Love in whatever form can become a sadhana, if one learns to go behind appearances. What are the appearances? ‘Oh, so and so gets angry, so and so has deceived me, so and so doesn’t take care of me, so and so doesn’t love me ….’ This is the voice of the Titan. But the voice of the sadhak of the integral yoga tells us that behind all these appearances there is the Mother’s Love. It has come to us in this form and through this everything can become a path, to one who is alert and awake. This is what is meant by being alert and awake: that everything becomes a path. This is the great journey. And ‘Then shall the business fail of Night and Death.’ In the same page, towards the end:
Our lives are God’s messengers beneath the stars.
To dwell under death’s shadow they have come,
Tempting God’s light to earth for the ignorant race,
His love to fill the hollow in men’s hearts, …
If there is one thing which runs throughout the Mother’s Prayers and Meditations, it is love, love: ‘Teach me to be the instrument of Thy love’.
People speak about Narad’s bhakti sutras — I have read them, and you know they pale into insignificance once you have read the Prayers and Meditations. If there is one book that is all about bhakti in its highest, purest form, with all the signs in it, it is Prayers and Meditations. What a unique gift!
His love to fill the hollow in men’s hearts,
His bliss to heal the unhappiness of the world.
Everybody has his own image of the Mother — she is this, she is that — but if one were really to make a survey amongst the very few people who are left now (and I am so happy that in this audience we have some of those who have been blessed to have seen the Mother with these mortal eyes and been blessed by her) and asked, if one has to speak of the Mother as the embodiment of one single quality, what is it? And what one has experienced and felt is that most of all she was the Mother of Love, an embodiment of Love and Grace. And she has said, ‘My child, do not treat me like a guru! I come many notches down if you treat me like a guru. I don’t want to be the guru of anyone. It is much more natural to me to be the universal Mother for all.’ The Mother’s love — ‘The calm indulgence and maternal breasts …’ — that is how Sri Aurobindo puts it. When he speaks of the Mother’s love in another place, in Book One, Canto Five, he says:
Even were caught as through a cunning veil
The smile of love that sanctions the long game,
The calm indulgence and maternal breasts…
That is how he could sense that love, which is indulgent. Sri Aurobindo says that the Divine Mother wants the soul to turn to her in all its difficulties, so that she can pour out her heart of love on her creatures. This is her love. We are here to embody that love in a miniature way, and the door to that love is the psychic:
His bliss to heal the unhappiness of the world.
And then in these marvellous lines Savitri tells Death how important love is, even love disfigured in human life:
Love must not cease to live upon the earth;
For Love is the bright link twixt earth and heaven,
Love is the far Transcendent’s angel here;
Love is man’s lien on the Absolute.
The same thing is revealed to us again in Book Five, ‘The Book of Love’:
To live, to love are signs of infinite things,
Love is a glory from eternity’s spheres.
Abased, disfigured, mocked by baser mights
That steal his name and shape and ecstasy,
He is still the godhead by which all can change.
Even when it is disfigured, even when it is most suffering, still with love there is a possibility of change, even at the human level. What happens when love enters our heart? Sweet sixteen, and suddenly everything changes. And the beauty of love is that love and anger work in two opposite ways: when anger is there, we see everything in the other person as bad, even the most beautiful things are bad, horrible. We are only critical and it makes us more and more bitter inside. As the Mother says, it makes the consciousness taste bitter to the Divine. And when we complain and grumble, all sorts of adverse forces enter into us. But when we love someone, even the horrible things appear good. Try telling someone ‘You are loving a wrong person, there is nothing good and worthwhile in him’. If the person is in love he will never accept what you say. Why? Because love first transforms our consciousness. It is not that the person is wrong in saying that. But the intensity of the love pierces through the veil, cuts through all the surface appearances and for a moment a door opens and we glimpse something of the Presence within the other person. If we can sustain our vision of that Presence and the faith, the sraddha, the person will begin to change, because if all the time we keep believing and saying and repeating, ‘You are a wonderful person, a wonderful being’, why won’t the person change? But instead we start by saying ‘You are a beautiful being’; on the second or third day we want to have the compliment returned to us. When it doesn’t happen, after some time we change our tune: we say instead ‘You are a horrible person.’ Then we have lost the whole beautiful journey.
But even on a human level, even when love is disfigured, ‘He is still the godhead by which all can change’.
A mystery wakes in our inconscient stuff,
A bliss is born that can remake our life.
Love dwells in us like an unopened flower
Awaiting a rapid moment of the soul,
So what is that moment of the soul? It is when one suddenly feels ‘here is the person ….’
The child-god is at play, he seeks himself
In many hearts and minds and living forms:
He lingers for a sign that he can know
And, when it comes, wakes blindly to a voice,
A look, a touch, the meaning of a face. …
He seizes on some sign of outward charm …
It is the god who is at play — how interesting! We think that it is the other person who has the charm. No. He fills everything, he paints everything, colours everything. Suddenly we begin to feel a glow and see beauty in everything. But who is at play? The child-god.
Reads heavenly truths into earth’s semblances,
Desires the image for the godhead’s sake, …
Love’s adoration like a mystic seer
Through vision looks at the invisible
This is the capacity of love, and this is what is embodied in so many Indian stories. For want of time I am just shutting that part out of my brain because otherwise another story will flow about that power; how even the gods were changed — for example by Anasuya’s love: so powerful is her love that she could turn gods into little helpless babes, just by the power of love. Then Mandodari’s love for Ravana is regarded as one of the great loves. She is one of the five great ones. She loved a demon, a titan who opposed the Divine, and yet her love is regarded as one of the highest kinds of love. Why? Because that love had a power for good. She always advised him to stay on the path of the right and the light. And yet, despite everything that he did or did not do, she remained faithful. That love itself has a power. Look at this:
Love’s adoration like a mystic seer
Through vision looks at the invisible,
All strives to enforce the unity all is.
Too far from the Divine, Love seeks his truth
And Life is blind and the instruments deceive
And Powers are there that labour to debase.
Still can the vision come, the joy arrive.
Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine,
As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;
The path of love is a path of fire. One is reminded of a famous Urdu couplet which says ‘It is a stream of fire’ — and you are not allowed to swim or fly over it: you have to drown in it, burn yourself completely, every bit of ego has to be reduced to ashes, because ego and love cannot stay together. If this applies to human love, how much more to our love for the Divine? Kabir says so beautifully: ‘This is the home of Love — not your grand-aunt’s place. So if you want to enter, there is a price.’ What is the price? ‘Cut off your head, keep it at the door, then enter.’ If you are carrying too much, it does not go. Love is blind, obedient, full of trust; one that surrenders unquestioningly. Love gives itself without asking anything in return. This is the highest culmination of human love. Sri Aurobindo says that there are various kinds of bhakti: there is vital bhakti which calculates and bargains — ‘I love you God, but what am I going to get in return?’ Mental bhakti keeps always reservations, it doubts and doubts and doubts: ‘If you are God, you should not fall sick!’ Amitabh Bacchan’s father had come here to Pondicherry, he came along with Sumitranandan Pant, the poet who was a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and has written beautiful poems, and he could not have darshan of the Mother because he was told that the Mother had a toothache. In his diary he wrote caustically, ironically: ‘Perfect, flawless — and yet has toothache!’ Then, not aware of what he was writing, he continues, ‘Anyway, strangely, that day I too had toothache. So I thought that if not in the light, at least in the difficulties I am one with her.’ Not realising that in the difficulties the Divine had become one with him.
Still can the vision come, the joy arrive.
Rare is the cup fit for love’s nectar wine,
As rare the vessel that can hold God’s birth;
As soul made ready through a thousand years
Is the living mould of a supreme descent.
I don’t feel like stopping, but we must end, so we will end with the Mother’s own personality, her human personality. What was her human persona that could embody such a love? Sri Aurobindo describes who she is, even about her humanness. She is divine we know, but even to look at her as a human personality, how could she embody that love? What do we have to do to embody that love. In a way it is God’s example for all of us. That is what Sri Aurobindo says in the The Essays on the Gita, that Sri Krishna insists on God’s own example. He elaborates: God’s life is an example for us to follow — otherwise it has no meaning or purpose. It is an inspiration and an example for us.
Even her humanity was half divine:
Her spirit opened to the Spirit in all,
Her nature felt all Nature as its own.
Apart, living within, all lives she bore;
Aloof, she carried in herself the world:
So hastily we say, ‘I am doing my own sadhana — don’t disturb me!’ here is the Divine: even when he is shut away in a room, he is carrying within him the pain, the stab, the gunshot wounds of those who are on the borders, fighting the Second World War. That is his example:
I carry the sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.
About Savitri he writes:
The universal Mother’s love was hers.
All in her pointed to a nobler kind.
Near to earth’s wideness, intimate with heaven,
Exalted and swift her young large-visioned spirit
Voyaging through worlds of splendour and of calm
Overflew the ways of Thought to unborn things.
Her kindly care was a sweet temperate sun …
A wide self-giving was her native act;
A magnanimity as of sea or sky
Enveloped with its greatness all that came …
And gave a sense as of a greatened world:
People went to her and they felt suddenly relieved, released into a wide freedom. The Mother tells in the Agenda, about when Nehru came: people asked her ‘What did he say, what happened?’ She says, laughingly, ‘I gave him a bath of the Lord. This is all that I do when people come to me, I give them a bath of the Lord.’ Devan Nair tells in his reminiscences how when he came, he was getting restless: ‘I have to meet the Mother — what will I tell her? I am the President of Singapore. What will I tell her?’ Then he looked around. He thought ‘I will tell her ‘Great Lady, you are doing a good job in the Ashram!’ All this was in his mind, but he was also slightly nervous. So he says ‘With all these thoughts in my head I went there. But when I saw her I forgot everything. I just knelt down and put my head on her lap.’
Her kindly care was a sweet temperate sun,
Her high passion a blue heaven’s equipoise.
And then there is a beautiful description of how we can relate to her:
As might a soul fly like a hunted bird,
Escaping with tired wings from a world of storms,
And a quiet reach like a remembered breast,
In a haven of safety and splendid soft repose
One could drink life back in streams of honey-fire,
Recover the lost habit of happiness,
Feel her bright nature’s glorious ambience,
And preen joy in her warmth and colour’s rule.
The essence of sadhana. A group of young people had come. They asked an elderly lady in the Ashram — she is no more — ‘How do you do sadhana here?’ She said ‘I don’t know anything about that. Every morning we go to the Samadhi and tell all that is going on inside us to Mother. And whatever happens, if we are unwell, if we are depressed, we again go and tell her. When we are happy we go and tell her. And the surprising thing is, within a few moments after we have told her, we feel completely free and released.’
Mona-da says in one of his talks, as revealed to him by the Mother; speaking about the Samadhi, She says: ‘One cannot pass near that circle without being bathed in that supramental Light.’ It is so charged with those vibrations. They sacrificed their physical bodies, but brought down to earth the supramental consciousness; and the Samadhi, the Ashram, vibrates with those vibrations. Even now, even if there were a hundred thousand battles fought on its body, that is the Light of Truth and the Love of the Unnameable, the Unutterable, the Only One.
I close with just four lines from the end. Of course Savitri embodied that Love in the human body and this is the far destiny of mankind, one day we shall all embody that love. And that love does not cancel out earthly love. It is not just about the human soul turning to the Divine. It is about embodying that love in all relations. Our human relations are basically a distorted reflection of the divine relationships, and it is possible to embody them here. We can embody that other sense of the sloka
Acharya devo bhava, pitra devo bhava, mata deva bhava
One sense is that the acharya is like a god, our father is like a god, treat him like a god. This is what the acharyas say. But children don’t agree, they say there is another meaning: ‘Acharya — be like a god! Father, be like a god! — with infinite patience. Mother — be like a god: infinite love ….’ This is what one day will come about when all of us will be centred around her, harmoniously and beautifully.
Heaven’s touch fulfils but cancels not our earth:
Our love has grown greater by that mighty touch.
The Divine does not cancel out human love, the Divine purifies it, transforms it. Otherwise there would be no creation. He uses human love as a material to transfigure it, to pour wisdom into it. He uses the struggling and stumbling human will, when we offer it, to transmute it into the omnipotent’s force. So also he uses the human heart, its failings, its strivings, its stumblings and errors, to pour out the pure love and delight and the beatitude that can change our life and remake our world. This is Savitri and this is the sadhana of Savitri and this is what we have to live, the hope for the future and this is what will be one day.
To close, let us go to page 724, at the end. When Savitri is asked, ‘What have you done? Conquered Death, brought back Satyavan? What did you do?’ Savitri does not speak big things. She is not into drama — ‘Oh, you don’t know what I did, I sat in meditation and saw death, I dialogued and debated with it, and finally I burnt it, roasted it alive.’ She does not say any of those things. They just notice the transfiguration in her: ‘What sadhana have you done Savitri? We notice a marvellous change in your face. It is glowing as with the light of a thousand suns, and we see Satyavan — and today all these auspicious things have happened: Dyumatsena’s eye-sight has returned, and all the rapid marvels of the day.’ They ask Satyavan ‘What gleaming marvel of the earth and sky stands by thy side?’ He has only this to say: ‘She is the cause of all — lay all on her.’ So they turn to her: ‘You tell us. Who are you? What have you done?’ And she replies, telling what this sadhana is in four lines. With that we will close.
“Awakened to the meaning of my heart
That to feel love and oneness is to live
And this the magic of our golden change,
Is all the truth I know or seek, O sage.”
Transcript originally was published in “Invocation” in 2014