A talk at Savitri Bhavan on 25th April 2009 by Prof. Arabinda Basu (1918 – 2012), who had first darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on 15th August, 1941. Several important letters on the Mother were written to him by Sri Aurobindo.
Children of the Mother, I feel very hesitant to say what I will say this afternoon because Shraddhavan has asked me to speak of my impressions and experiences. I have always been told that one should not speak of one’s experiences. Impressions I can, to some extent, but not my experiences. On the other hand, one will have to touch upon one’s experiences a little to explain what Sri Aurobindo has to say and to comment on those. I am doing this because Shraddhavan has been a very good friend for a number of years and I like to believe that she has a soft corner in her heart for me because of my special relationship with Nirodbaran. Every time I come to Savitri Bhavan I remember Nirodbaran – every time – because he was the spirit behind it and Savitri Bhavan is what it is because of his efforts and Shraddhavan’s labour. So, I will say what Shraddhavan asked me to speak about, including a few experiences.
I will first start with my name, Aravindam – not because it is very important as my name, but because I was named after Sri Aurobindo. I was named by my eldest maternal uncle who was a judge in the Nagpur High Court in Central Provinces and he was a great devotee of Sri Aurobindo and a very voracious reader of all his writings. I remember when I was only twelve or thirteen, he asked me to bring out Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita from the third shelf of his almirah. He said, “Go and read.” I opened the page and started reading, stumbling with the English. He said, “No, it’s not like that.” And he went on reciting about three pages one after the other without stopping. He was a great devotee of Sri Aurobindo and a great reader. Once I asked him – I mention this particularly because I got a very good hint about the sadhana from him – I asked him, “Uncle, you are such a great devotee of Sri Aurobindo, such a voracious reader of his writings … why don’t you go to Pondicherry once?” He kept mum for a moment and then said, “You know I very much want to. But if I do, I have to give myself to him. If I go to Sri Aurobindo, I shall have to give myself to him. I am not ready for it yet.” He never came. He gave me my name Aravinda. This is rather unique because in my generation there are 13 cousins, all of them named A.K. Basu. I am the only one without K. I am only Arabinda Basu.
About my inner contact… I remember once in school, some friends were saying that in the olden days there used to be yogis in India who could defy gravitation and float in the air and they regretted that today there are none. I said, “Why? There is Sri Aurobindo.” It came spontaneously. I was not thinking of Him; suddenly I found myself saying, “There is Sri Aurobindo.” So, there must have been some contact somewhere, from where I don’t know.
When I first joined college in 1934 there was a Professor of Philosophy called Dr. Mahendranath Sarkar. He used to come here very often. Once I asked him, “Will you please write to the Ashram, seeking permission for me to go for Darshan? But will you also say that I know my father will be very worried about it.” He wrote, and they wrote back to say, “Yes, he has permission to come but Sri Aurobindo doesn’t like that his father will be worried. Let him wait.” This is 1934.
The first Darshan I had of Sri Aurobindo physically was on August 15, 1941. I was behind Dilip Kumar Roy. Sri Aurobindo was told that I would be behind Dilip and I could see that He had a very good look at me.
He was there, large as life, but also He was not there. He was so expansive I could feel Him everywhere. So it is very difficult to pin Him down! He was there, sitting – and He was not there. He looked at me very intensely and I could feel that He had seen all my life since I came to the earth and when I would go out of it. I am absolutely sure about it. He knows every detail of my life. This is not effusion, I mean it literally.
There is an institution in Calcutta called Sri Aurobindo Pathmandir; this was the first institution dedicated to Sri Aurobindo that was founded outside Pondicherry. I was connected with it since its inception. Once there was a meeting and I was about to go there; and as I was very hot, I took a shower. It was very nice and comfortable, I started singing. In the song, the word ‘Mira’ came over and over again. Suddenly a ton of peace came down on me. I can still feel it. It was very comfortable. It was cool as ice but not uncomfortable at all, very peaceful. I wondered why this peace had come – I am not a yogi! I went to the meeting. On the way I suddenly remembered that Mira was the name of the Mother! I wrote to Sri Aurobindo that I had this experience and asked, “Does the name of the Mother have this power?” He said, “He has got it, why does he ask? ” Very affectionately He scolded me. “He has got it, why does he ask? ” It was very nice.
When I came first in 1941 He asked Dilip, “What does he want to do?” He wanted to see what I was going to be in my career. He was very interested. In 1942 I couldn’t come: there was the 1942 Quit India Movement, the whole of India was at an absolute standstill. After that I used to come every year. In 1946 I came and stayed for a long time: over six weeks. This has to do with the Mother also, because I am going to read a letter I received from Sri Aurobindo which has a bearing on this. I went to the Mother and said, “I am going to stay for a long time. Could I have any work, to serve the Ashram?” She said, “Well, you stay here for a long time and don’t worry, I will tell you. ” Next day I went to Her and asked, ‘ Have you thought about it?” “No, not yet. What is the hurry ? “ The third time I went, She told me, “Aravindam, you are not very used to physical work are you? ” It was very true – I was very tamasic about physical work. Mother had caught it immediately. So, I laughed and She laughed and we had a joint laughter. It was very sweet.
This letter has to do with the same thing. I had a very great experience – which I am not going to tell you about because it has been said by yogis that to tell one’s experiences lessens the power of having the experience. If it has become realisation – then, yes. What is realisation? Sri Aurobindo has defined it very simply and very directly: realisation is to realise what is Real – as real as yourself. Realisation is to make real to you what is Reality itself. Experiences come and go. They don’t become part of our consciousness and being, so they are not realisations. They are there somewhere at the back of the head. They can always come back, you can recall them, but they are not a part of your being and consciousness. Until they have become that you can’t call them realisations. And unless it has become part of your being and consciousness one should not talk about it.
But this has to do with what the Mother said about physical work. I had a great experience. I shall not explain what it was, but it has to do with the work. That is what I am going to read out:
“The realisation of the silent inactive Brahman is no bar to the dynamic side of the yoga. Often it is the first step. One must not associate it with the attachment to inertia. The silent Brahman is attached to nothing. Your mind is associated with inertia and attached to it, tamasic. “
And He gives His own example – He is so compassionate, so anxious to help any seeker, even a beginner – He says,
“Work itself is no solution. The spirit behind the work is important. The real remedy is to open oneself to the Force. When one gets free through the silent Brahman one does not go back to the old way of work. By the liberation one becomes free from the ego. One becomes an instrument of the Divine Force by receiving the Force and feels it working. Then inertia goes away. Till that happens, one has to work in the ordinary way. “
Don’t give up work, go on working: even if I have desire or if I am tamasic, fight this inertia. Get up and walk instead of sitting down, so to speak. Do something. He says:
“By this liberation one becomes free from the ego, one becomes an instrument of the Divine Force by receiving the Force and feels it working, then inertia goes away. “
That is the way to get rid of inertia says Sri Aurobindo – to invoke the Force.
“… until that can be done, one has to work in the ordinary way.”
But don’t stop working. By becoming an instrument of the Divine is the proper way. This is the height of Karma Yoga. In the last paragraph he gives His own example. It is most remarkable:
“I had realisation of supreme [sublime?] Nirvana first and it left the mind completely silent. There was complete cittavriddhinirodha – all the movements of the mind were completely stunned. There was no function of the mind at all. Entire silence. Then came the experience of action, not my own but from above.”
It is important what He says:
“Then came the experience of action – not my own but from above.”
One has to grow into it, unless it comes easily. This is very important, not only for me but for everybody who is seeking spiritual life. This is dated 26 June 1946. This is not signed by Sri Aurobindo because by then He was not autographing His books or signing letters. So it is not to be found in the three volumes of Letters on Yoga. If you try to find it you will not find it. But it is there in a book called Sri Aurobindo on Himself and the Mother which Kishore Gandhi edited. It may be in the Archives, I do not know. Now this was very important because it gave me a new direction to my seeking and my sadhana. Whether I am doing any sadhana or not is another question – but I got the guidance, very much.
In this connection, since I am talking about sadhana, I’ll give you another story. Dilip Kumar Roy came back from abroad. He came, but he didn’t go to meet the Mother. Mother sent Nolini Kanta Gupta: “Ask Dilip to come and see me. ” Nolini went and said, “Mother wants to see you.” Dilip said, “I’m not going.” He was like a child in certain respects. Nolini could be very harsh. He said, “If you don’t go, it will be discourteous.” Dilip said, “All right. I’ll go.” When he went to the Mother, Mother said, “How are you? ” Dilip said, “I want to stay here only if I am loved as Sri Aurobindo loved me – if you love me as Sri Aurobindo loved me, and everybody else loves me too.” Mother said, “Do you think it is possible not to love you, whom Sri Aurobindo loved so much? Do you think it is possible? ” Then she asked him straight away, ” Why do you think we are here? ” Dilip was fumbling: yoga, liberation, mukti…, so on and so forth. Mother said in three words the one single thing: “To please Sri Aurobindo.”
That is our sadhana. “To please Sri Aurobindo.” Dilip came back – I was staying with him – with tears in his eyes. “Do you know what Mother said?” ‘To please Sri Aurobindo.’ This is something connected with Sri Aurobindo. That is why I am relating it today. It gives a clue to the sadhana: “To please Sri Aurobindo.” That is all – but the most difficult thing is to please Sri Aurobindo. Every fibre of your being has to be surrendered – completely, no reserve, nothing held back. Give, give, give. Sri Aurobindo Himself gave His own example by saying, “My way – surrender. ” So, if one is to take guidance of Sri Aurobindo one has to accept the way of surrender, as Sri Aurobindo Himself did.
I remember one letter that Huta wrote to the Mother. I think it was in 1966. She asked, “Can you guarantee that the work will be done?” Mother wrote back to say, “The Lord has not decided it yet. But I am doing it because I have been asked to do it. If it were somebody else I would not ask anybody to do it. It is so painful and so difficult. But I am going on doing it. Why? Because the Lord has asked me to. ” This is the height of Karma Yoga. Mother was not young any more in Her body – this was in 1966 -but She said She would go on doing it until the last moment. Incidentally, I will mention something that Sri Aurobindo has said in this connection later.
Once in Calcutta I heard certain people discussing the Mother. They had certain doubts about why the Mother was there at all -She is not Indian, nothing was known about Her sadhana, etc. Why is She here? There was a certain amount of scepticism about it. So, I wrote to Sri Aurobindo. “I have heard this about the Mother, observations and enquiries. What do you have to say?” He gave me this message:
“The Mother is not a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. “
In fact, I have read it somewhere printed that the Mother was the first disciple of Sri Aurobindo. It is not true. The Mother never had a Master. Abdul Baha, who was the grandson of Baha ‘Ullah was very much impressed by the Mother and asked Her to address a meeting of his followers – of which Mother was not one. She said, “I don’t know anything about it – your teaching, your sadhana. I know you, I respect you and admire you.” He said, “Go and speak on my behalf.” Which the Mother did, but She never had a Master, never had a guru. So this is the very first sentence:
“The Mother is not a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. ” And the last:
“She has had the same realisation and experience as myself. The Mother s sadhana started when she was very young. When she was twelve or thirteen every night many teachers came to her and taught her various spiritual disciplines. Among them was a dark Asiatic figure. When we first met she immediately recognised me as that dark Asiatic figure whom she used to see a long time ago. “
So, there was an occult connection, though She was in Paris and He was in India.
“That she should come here and work with me for a common goal was, as it were, a divine dispensation. “
It was not an accident, not a chance happening – a divine dispensation. Then He goes on to say:
“Mother was an adept of the Buddhist yoga and the yoga of the Bhagavad Gita before she came to India. Her yoga was moving towards a grand synthesis. After this, it was natural that she should come here. She has helped and is helping to give a concrete form to my yoga.
This he has said also in a letter to Barin: “My yoga was all theoretical” – this is not speculative, but practically put – “but when the Mother came she gave concrete shape and form to the yoga.”
“She has helped and is helping to give a concrete form to my yoga. This would not have been possible without her cooperation. One of the two great steps in the yoga is to take refuge in the Mother. “
This is Sri Aurobindo’s message. This was dictated to Nirodbaran. Nirodbaran read it back to Sri Aurobindo, and He said, “Send it to Arindam.” So, this is it.
There is a little more which I have not made public. Once I was asked to take a class on Essays on the Gita – for adults. My method was that each student had to read one paragraph, and if she didn’t understand anything she should stop and ask me. Once, it was Kumud who was reading – she was part of the class. She suddenly stopped and asked “Arindam-da, what is the meaning of this word?” I looked at it. I had never seen it, never heard of it. Immediately, lo and behold, I heard a male voice, right here [indicating behind his ear]: “That which cannot be made smaller. ” He thought, ‘This one is in the professor’s chair and he doesn’t know the meaning; I have to tell him.’ So He knew that I was taking a class; He knew that I had never seen the word; He came and helped me. The word was ‘imminuable’. It doesn’t occur in the English language. It was coined by Sri Aurobindo Himself. I came back home, looked in the Oxford Dictionary – it was not there. I went to the Library, looked in the Dictionary – it was not there. Somehow it struck me, ‘min’ as in minimum -maybe from there. So, that which cannot be made smaller -imminuable. He has made many words like that. Another is ineffugable’ ‘Fugere’ in Latin means ‘to fly away, escape from’: so, ‘That from which one cannot escape.’ Once in an article He wrote ‘Churchianity’. “Christianity has now become very dry; it has all become Churchianity. ” Somebody at the Press corrected it to Christianity – Sri Aurobindo said, “Who has corrected my English?” [laughter]
Once I had an experience which I will tell you about. I don’t mind telling you about this. We lived in a large house because we had a large family. I used to go up on the terrace every evening, something drew me there compulsively. I used to see a figure about twelve feet tall – twelve feet or even more – with a trident in his hand. It looked like Shiva. Every evening it drew me and I went there day after day, evening after evening. I was very struck by it. So, I wrote to Sri Aurobindo that I was seeing this thing every evening. ‘What is it?’ He answered, “It is one of the attendants of Shiva. He has come to do something special in you which you don’t know anything about but will come to know when it is finished. “Then I stopped seeing the figure. Sri Aurobindo said, “Now the work has been done.” I have told you about this personal experience because you may have some visions like this and you don’t know what it is all about. There is a certain occult reason why these figures come, what they do in you and why. But if you seek the answer you will get it.
Now, these are examples of how Sri Aurobindo has helped me in little ways and in very big ways:
Once I was lecturing at a meeting in England, not an academic audience, a mixed audience. Suddenly about half way through the lecture an old lady stood up and said, “I see a figure behind you!” I said, “Please wait. Let me finish and we’ll talk alone about it later.” They saw very distinctly a Tibetan figure behind me. They said, “A Tibetan figure, about your height, a little more maybe.” Sri Aurobindo was there to help me to lecture. This I am telling you openly and frankly because you can also believe that He is always helping you, whether you know it or not. Why should He come and tell me the meaning of the word ‘imminuable’?
There have been cases when I have been stuck with a problem in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy. I have gone to sleep with the problem, and in the early morning I have the solution, without trying to find the solution or the book, clear as crystal. I wrote to Sri Aurobindo about it. ‘You have got the right note’ was his response. He was always encouraging, always giving help, so that you can proceed, you can carry on. He never discouraged. He never said ‘No, this is not right.’ If it was not right, He would say so in a very, very quiet way so that you were not discouraged. Over and over again this has happened to me. The moment you turn to Him, the help is there. The difficulty is that we don’t always turn to Him, unfortunately. That is the ego: ‘I can do it myself.’ You can’t do anything yourself. You are a puppet in the hands of Prakriti. But there is a psychic being in you which has a direct connection to the Divine through Sri Aurobindo. So, I have both the egoistic and the psychic beings and I choose the greater victory. I say “I”, but most of us are like that. So, make a choice.
Mother says over and over again, “Be conscious of yourself, of each movement, each thought, each feeling, each action. Why are you doing it? ” This means detachment from what you are feeling, thinking, doing. Go inwards. In a letter Sri Aurobindo says all this stress on action has come from the West. We have to go within – and within is not six inches only. Go deep down, find the self, wait till the Grace of the Self will tell you what to do – then do it. Till then you go on working in the ordinary way. Some of you at least may know that the Bhagavad Gita says that those who work with desire, let them go on doing it; don’t stop them from doing their work. Your right is to the work, not to the fruit. But those who work with the desire for some secular fruit let them go on doing it. Don’t disturb them. Because if you do, they will become tamasic, utterly inert, which is a reverse movement. These are very subtle points in sadhana, but they are very clearly stated, there is no confusion possible.
So, my impression of Sri Aurobindo is this: that He is nowhere and everywhere.
I will end with one experience which is rather unique – this I want to tell you even though I really shouldn’t. Once I went to a subtle physical plane where Sri Aurobindo stood wearing a headdress that was unique, beautiful, and it seemed to me that He could take the whole universe in two hands and crush it – or re-make it. So much Power! Every power was concentrated there in His two hands. The floor was very uncertain, nothing fixed. I came and told the Mother. She said:
“Yes, you have been there. The experience of the floor means that nothing is fixed there – it is subtle physical. The soil is changing. The only thing fixed there is Sri Aurobindo. “
So, I know He is there.
I told somebody about a year ago that He said, “I am giving great moral protection to India. ” Because all the trouble… India is going through great trouble of all kinds. But He is holding it together. But then there are other people also in the spiritual life who are doing the same. Sri Aurobindo said it – perhaps many of you do not know it – that all the great spiritual figures of India are working for the same goal.
I will end by saying one thing about which there is grave doubt in people’s minds and this has to be cleared. One gentleman has written a book on Sri Aurobindo saying that Sri Aurobindo is a failure – He was ill; He died; He was a failure. I took it up. I researched. I found that He never stated that He was going to transform Himself down to the physical – never. He said, “If I did that I would call myself supramental”. And when He said “I”, He referred to His external nature. He meant that if He transformed His external nature He would call himself supramental. What is within the physical is all there, intact, but the yoga is to bring what is within out. And that has not happened yet. But you will remember the Mother’s message inscribed on the Samadhi. It is not addressed to Sri Aurobindo, but to the material envelope of Sri Aurobindo, His body. She says, ‘You who have tried all, achieved all, accomplished all’ – the body. So what He was trying to do according to His own admission was to bring down the Supermind into contact with Matter. And His body was material. He said, “If I don’t succeed nobody will. ” The aim was not full transformation but only bringing of the Supermind and putting it in contact with Matter that is all. In a letter He says very openly:
“I need neither liberation nor supramentalisation. ” He doesn’t need anything.
“Why am I doing it? Perhaps because I have been sent for it; perhaps to make it more possible. “
He was very careful with His words. He never made any exact claim; but: “at least make it more possible.”
Not only did He make it more possible, it was actualised. The moment He left His body the supramental had come down and charged His body for 111 hours – this is the literal truth. A lot of people saw that golden light emanating from His chest area filling the whole room. How did it happen? A lifeless body vibrant with supramental energy. No sign of death anywhere. The Mother asked the authorities to send for the French doctor. Under the law they have to come and certify. They came and said, “There is no sign of death here. You can do what you like.” Why?
So, one has to understand that Sri Aurobindo has fulfilled His yoga – more than 100%. And that is the one sign that the yoga is going to be successful. Don’t have any doubt about it. If you are not fully convinced at least don’t have doubt.
Sri Aurobindo started a new chapter in world history – the chapter is on the supramental world: a world of harmony, love, patience, amity, concord. This has started already. There has been so much trouble in the world but also you find the community of nations coming together. A lot of people are going and protesting against G-Summit meetings in favour of people who are poor. Ordinary people, common people are fighting the great powers which are concentrating their great power and wealth, possession and privilege – and the ordinary people don’t want it. Why this change? This change has been brought about by the supramental power working in Matter. There is so much trouble we are suffering from but one perhaps does not know this. Sri Aurobindo said:
“The first work of the Supramental will be to break down all the mental moulds – morality, education, culture, everything is to be shattered, because the new cannot come unless the old is completely struck. “
And the old is mental, and the new is supramental – vijnana in the Upanishadic language.
Sri Aurobindo has got a line in Savitri: A god come down and greater by the fall. And He says in an essay on the vijananamaya purusha that the supramental being is a god on earth. Who is the supramental being? You may know evolution is going on, if even within one person. Mother, once on a birthday of Nolini Kanta Gupta wrote, “Towards the Supermind.” He was in the Overmind, and not only Nolini. There is a Parsi mystic Meher-baba – She said, “He is in the Overmind”. So, evolution is going on, not only amongst disciples of Sri Aurobindo but outside also. It is a universal phenomenon. The supermind is nobody’s personal property. You can’t claim it for yourself.
There was a group in Benares where one woman, said to be the world’s greatest Sanskrit scholar, said, “My gurudev has revealed something to me. I would like you to come and listen to it.” I was staying with this scholar myself. He said, “When she told me what it was, I found it was consistent with my own guru’s teaching, so I went and the whole thing started, the whole movement.” He said that it is very similar to Sri Aurobindo’s. Once a woman came to this scholar’s house where we were staying and said, “Why don’t you come to me once?” I had no business to go. I was not their disciple, J did not belong to the group, so I didn’t go. But she came and said, “Why don’t you come once to my place?” I thought perhaps I should, so I went. This developed into very great things. She told me that once they had a theory about ‘bija‘ – some seed falling into a human being. I asked her humourously, “What kind of seed – gram beans?” She said “No – something else.” I said, “You are telling of this bija, and Mother is a foreigner; Her body has not been Indian.” She admonished me, “Don’t speak like that – these are golden beans. The Mother is Herself the Supreme Shakti, the original Shakti, come down here for a particular transformative work.” This is a Brahmin woman talking about the Mother.
Then she wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo and asked me to post it. Afterwards I wrote a letter to Sri Aurobindo and asked about what was happening there, saying it seemed very similar to His idea but the technical terms were different. He said that I should make inquiries. So, I went and probed and became very close to this woman. She was a great yogini both in knowledge and in power but absolutely egoless. She came here twice – she couldn’t see Sri Aurobindo, of course – because she was interested in the movement. She sent inquiries through me. So, this evolution is going on and also other movements similar to Sri Aurobindo’s.
But I will add this: these people have got somewhere some kind of intuition. One gentleman, a great scholar, thought he was going to be transformed. The woman who was guiding this group told me it was not to be. She said he would not get it, their guru would not get it, they themselves would not get it. It would be achieved by someone outside their circle. She told me this in so many words.
I was surprised at their procedures. For example, she had asked this great scholar not to take any bath, – in the Benares heat! – and not to eat salt. A great tapasya! but he went on doing it until the last of his days.
I asked her, “What are you doing? why are you putting restrictions on him? He is a very old man.” She replied, “Our work is only the cleaning of the path. We are doing only the preliminary work. The real work is with Sri Aurobindo; He is the only one who knows anything about it.” She told me that at the end of the day He would have achieved what He wanted to achieve. She said ‘Don’t have the slightest doubt.’ That was her foresight: that Sri Aurobindo would achieve what He had set out to achieve even if He leaves the body.
But I should add that His aim was not personal transformation on the physical level. His pursuit was only to bring the supermind and bring it into contact with matter, that is all. And therefore, I remind you once again of Mother’s message to His material envelope: “You who have tried all; achieved all…” It is a miracle that it should happen at the very last moment when He left his body. That is the divine dispensation. Nobody knows why it should have happened then and not a moment before. That is the divine in itself; no one else knows about it.
Sri Aurobindo said there is a divine calendar with a fixed day when this will happen. So we are waiting for it. Meanwhile we are to give ourselves as much as possible with humility, with surrender, with the conviction that it will happen. Why? Because it is inevitable. The last word of Sri Aurobindo about the yoga is: “It is Inevitable.” We must go on patiently, with humility, conviction and aspiration. That is all we can do, because the sadhana is: “To please Sri Aurobindo.”
(A talk at Savitri Bhavan on 25th April 2009)