Savitri’s Debate with Death:
Book Ten, Cantos 1 – 3
Talk by Dr. Nadkarni at Savitri Bhavan on August 26th 2000
I am sure we are all very happy to be here once again, all of us children of the Mother – from the Ashram, from Sri Aurobindo Society, from the various settlements of Auroville, from different centres all over the country, and friends coming from distant places where there are no centres. We have all gathered here, conscious of the fact that we are doing something in gathering here – trying to get as close as we physically can to the Mother’s own consciousness. And for making this opportunity available to all of us, on behalf of all of us, I would like to say thank you very much to all the workers of the Sri Aurobindo Society and of Savitri Bhavan, as also to Prabhaben who has worked very hard to make this gathering possible in collaboration with the Savitri Bhavan team.
This time we had as usual a ten-day Savitri Study Camp. We met every day from 9 to 11.30 am in the Beach Office of the Sri Aurobindo Society, and this time we took up the first three Cantos of Book Ten. Last time we took up Books Eight and Nine and tried to understand, among other things, in what respects Sri Aurobindo’s notion of Death, or of the god of death, is different from the notion normally associated with him in our scriptures, in our Puranas. We found that Sri Aurobindo had added a new dimension not generally found in the Puranic literature. The god of death is normally addressed as Yama, but this is a term which Sri Aurobindo does not use anywhere in Savitri. He uses different words, different phrases. He calls him ‘Death’, he calls him ‘the dire god’, he calls him ‘the contemptuous nihil’, he calls him ‘the vague god’, ‘the dark power’, ‘the dreadful lord’, ‘the shade’ and ‘the shadow’.
The reason for this is that in Sri Aurobindo’s view Death does not stand merely for the physical disintegration of any human or other life form; Death is a shadow which casts its veil on human consciousness in many forms, in many ways, and its primary function is to veil the face of Reality. True Reality is always the integral reality, and the negative force which Death represents tries to rivet our attention on the surface reality. Over the last two hundred years, Reason has been the primary instrument of Death. It has tried to convince us that there is nothing except what we see on the surface. And the same thing is happening here in Savitri: the god of Death tries to persuade Savitri to the belief that only that which we see on the surface is real.
He is very skilled in argument, and he presents various kinds of philosophical arguments, trying to persuade Savitri that she should not peep beyond the veil, the surface veil. That is the drama we are going to see in Book Ten, of which this time we have studied only three cantos. And since the time at our disposal is fairly limited, I would like now to review very briefly some of the main things in these three cantos.
The first thing I would like to mention is that when the god of death presents an argument, when the god of death presents facts, he is never dealing in falsehood. The god of death always presents a truth, but it is always an incomplete truth. Savitri confronts him, but she does not cancel the truth which the god of death presents, she completes it with the higher and wider truth which she presents. Generally, Savitri really does not bother to answer the barbed irony of the god of death; instead she takes a much larger perspective. So every time we find that Savitri is as it were enabling the god of death to discover himself and to discover his limitations. For Savitri, the god of death is not her enemy. This appearance is only a play. Ultimately we shall find, when Savitri shows who she really is – the Supreme Divine Mother come down as Grace to help mankind to grow beyond the present level of mental consciousness – at that time we shall see that Death has been an effective evolutionary agent. He is not an adversary in that sense. Death has always been an instrument of evolution, so from that perspective there is no underlying hostility between these beings. In participating in this debate Savitri’s intention is to make Death understand that he is limited, that the time is going to come very soon when he may no longer be needed as an evolutionary agent. So it is an education of Death that Savitri attempts here. The first canto of Book Ten is called The Dream Twilight of the Ideal. Here Savitri is being taken through a world of darkness. Death, Savitri and Satyavan are moving in a kind of procession, with Satyavan in the front. He is not fully living, his body is dead, it is his soul that is going in front; then comes the god of death, and the god of death feels that he is controlling and guiding Satyavan; but behind them both is Savitri, and at the end everybody will realise that the god of death is not guiding anybody. Finally we will see that it is Savitri who is guiding the god of death as well, and teaching him how to guide the soul of Satyavan. So this is only the surface appearance. We may feel now that Death is controlling everything. But the final say is not with Death, the final say is with the Divine Grace, and the Divine Grace is behind even the god of death.
This is how these three are moving. As I said, they pass through many areas of darkness, and one of the things that the god of death wants to do is to impress Savitri with his great might, which casts terror on the entire living world. We are all afraid of Death. One of the great secrets that Death has, is its capacity of casting its terror over us. We are all afraid of death and that is what he does. The poet says that Savitri is being made to atone, to pay the price. What is the price that Savitri has to pay, what is the sin she has committed? He says:
This most she must absolve with endless pangs,
Her deep original sin, the will to be
And sin last, greatest, the spiritual pride,
That, made of dust, equalled itself with heaven,
Its scorn of the worm writhing in the mud,
Condemned ephemeral, born from Nature’s dream,
Refusal of the transient creature’s role,
The claim to be a living fire of God,
The will to be immortal and divine.
What the god of death does not tolerate is this attempt of consciousness to rise constantly to a higher and a higher level. To begin with, the god of death thinks it is a joke, that this creation will last only for a short while. But it doesn’t, it grows, it grows gradually from Matter to Life and then it acquires a mind as well. Not only does it acquire a mind, it even starts having dreams, dreams of becoming the divine: ‘The will to be immortal and divine’. It is for harbouring this will, for encouraging this effort, that Savitri is being punished. That is what the god of death feels: that she must be punished, because Savitri in fact is a leader, the leader of a rebellion, a rebellion against the Inconscient. In fact Death looks upon this entire creation as a rebellion against the Inconscient. The Inconscient is the final reality and the world must lapse back into the Inconscient. Savitri represents this rebellion, basically she is the leader of this revolt. That is why she is being taken through this darkness, this is the punishment given to her. But Savitri, being Savitri, is not terrorised. She can see through the veil of death, and she sees that:
The Inconscient is the Superconscient’s sleep.
The Inconscient is nothing but another form, another manifestation of the Superconscient. It is not really the origin of anything: it is a form of the Superconscient. This whole world is baffling because it is a paradox:
All here is a mystery of contraries:
Darkness a magic of self-hidden Light,
Suffering some secret rapture’s tragic mask
And death an instrument of perpetual life.
In this creation, in this world in which man lives, it is death that constantly prods him on, constantly challenges him. He says, “Can you understand me, can you meet my challenge?” So it is because of death that we are obliged to ask “What does life mean? Where are we going, why have we come here?” If it were not for death I think we would remain wallowing in our present consciousness like a pig that wallows in the mud. It is death that prompts us. So Sri Aurobindo tells us that in the real sense, Death is no enemy:
Although Death walks beside us on Life’s road,
A dim bystander at the body’s start
And a last judgment on man’s futile works,
Other is the riddle of its ambiguous face:
Death is a stair, a door, a stumbling stride …
‘Death’ he says, ‘is … a stumbling stride’: death is also a pace, death is also a step forward, but it is not an ordinary stride, it is a stumbling stride, you feel that you have stumbled. But when you rise, you have risen into another life, into another adventure of consciousness. So that is Death.
Death is a stair, a door a stumbling stride
The soul must take to cross from birth to birth,
A great defeat pregnant with victory, …
Now this is basically the first part of this canto, Canto One of Book Ten. In the second part of the canto the darkness gradually lifts and these three, Satyavan’s soul, the God of Death, and Savitri, enter into a land of twilight. Now what exactly this land of twilight is about we are told later, and why the god of death takes Savitri to this land of twilight is also explained a little later, but this land is described like this:
Vague fields were there, vague pastures gleamed, vague trees, Vague scenes dim-hearted in a drifting haze;
Vague cattle white roamed glimmering through the mist;
Vague spirits wandered with a bodiless cry,
Vague melodies touched the soul and fled pursued
Into harmonious distances unseized; …
Everything there was vague and hazy. There were beautiful shapes, but if you stared at them, you found their outline was all hazy. Things look very close as if within your very grasp, you extend your hand, you want to seize them, and you can’t catch them. This is a vague kind of world and it is through this world that the god of death takes them. At the end of Canto One there is a long description of this world, but we don’t have time for all this just now.
Now we come to Canto Two, The Gospel of Death and Vanity of the Ideal where we have three basic things. We saw at the end of Canto Two of Book Nine that the god of death tries to size-up Savitri. He fires a rapid volley of questions at her, short questions, just to see whether Savitri can stand that sort of pressure, and Savitri proves more than his match. So he doesn’t want to do that now, he changes his strategy. He has tried to terrorise her, and has not succeeded in that either. Now he tries another strategy, he becomes a sophisticated professor, from I don’t know where, you have your own pet-places, Stamford, Harvard, Benares or JNU, you just pick and choose whatever you want, a professor of philosophy from anywhere. First he says, “Savitri, you are a pursuing an ideal. Ideals are all insubstantial things. You are not the first idealist, the world has always pursued ideals and always failed to achieve them. Ideals are nothing but vague imaginations, prompted by some physical reasons, some physical causes.” And he tells her:
This is the stuff from which the ideal is formed …
“You see, we have just come through this vague unsubstantial world … why did I bring you through this? Because I wanted to show you that all ideals come from this insubstantial world, and by their very nature they will never be realised. Human beings merely waste their time pursuing ideals.”
This is the stuff from which the ideal is formed:
Its builder is thought, its base the hearts’ desire, …
“You have some desires, some worldly desires, you are the same as the animal. The animal doesn’t have any imagination, the animal doesn’t have the kind of mind you have, so you take the animal desires, do embroidery around them, paint them in beautiful colours and that becomes an ideal. And you say you want to realise this ideal, but you know ideals are all false” he says. The god of death is absolutely superb when it comes to finding the right words, phrases and images – because he is using Sri Aurobindo’s language. He has no lack of effective language. This is what he says:
Thy vision’s error builds the azure skies,
Look at the sky: everybody says the sky is blue. What makes the sky blue? Not any inherent blueness of the sky, but the error of your vision. The sky does not have any colour – we see the blue because of an error in our sight.
Thy visions’s error drew the rainbow’s arch;
I have read in the Encyclopedia Britannica that there is no arch in the rainbow: it is the vision’s error in our perception that erects this arch. We see this arch because of our vision’s error.
Thy mortal longing made for thee a soul.
Soul is also like that, soul also is like a rainbow, it is a mortal longing that makes the soul.
And then he says,
The ideal never yet was real made.
Nobody has yet realised this, why should you?
The Avatars have lived and died in vain,
Vain was the sage’s thought, the prophet’s voice;
In vain is seen the shining upward Way.
(p. 609 -10)
All the saints come, they bring the highest light from the divine, they make it available for mankind – but who wants the light? People build a temple for the saint, they erect his statues in prominent sites, put a garland on him once a year and having done this, they just forget about him. What about you Savitri, how can anybody take you seriously when even all the Avatars have come and gone in vain? They have all failed, because they were all idealists: they wanted to bring down to earth some modicum of peace, some modicum of harmony, some modicum of love. Where is love? In the land where Christ was born, at the present day hand grenades are being thrown from one neighbourhood to the next. This is not Christ’s fault, this is human nature. Everywhere it is the same: look at this country India, we all talked about everybody being “bhai-bhai” but there is no bhaichara left, anybody can be anybody’s enemy. These are all stupid things. There is nobody for anybody here, everyone lives just for themselves like animals, there are no ideals worth pursuing. And you, Savitri, you should know better. You have been pursuing me, you have come so far, where nobody else has come – but for what? You want love. Do you know what love is? Love is also an ideal.
What is this love thy thought has deified,
This sacred legend and immortal myth?
It is a conscious yearning of thy flesh,
It is a glorious burning of thy nerves,
A rose of dream-splendour petalling thy mind,
A great red rapture and torture of thy heart.
And how fragile, how precarious is this thing called love, how quickly it dies, even a strong breeze can sever the connection of love, and love can just disappear. This happens again and again, it is the nature of love to last for a short while, love always disappears.
Death is such a sophist. He says to Savitri, “By taking away Satyavan I have done you a great kindness.” How?
If Satyavan had lived, love would have died;
But Satyavan is dead and love shall live …
Now that I have taken away Satyavan, your love will be able to live.
English is a beautiful language, and Sri Aurobindo is a master of the English language; and if you read with proper pausing, you don’t need any comment on Savitri. Just the lines themselves are sufficient. See these lines for example:
If Satyavan had lived, love would have died,
But Satyavan is dead and love shall live …
Wait, it is not the end of the sentence …
A little while in thy sad breast, until
His face and body fade on memory’s wall
Where other bodies, other faces come.
This is the story of love. If the one you love lives long enough, then the love you feel for him will die. If he dies, the screen of your imagination will then reflect another face, another set of lips, another nose. So Satyavan is just one symbol, one passing thing, it doesn’t last forever. Love, you know this, is an ideal which has a precarious existence and sooner or later it always disappears.
Now is the god of death telling a lie? Is this not the nature of human love we see around us? How many of us can really say, “Oh no, love is eternal, I have experienced it.” The god of death is not exaggerating, he is not telling a lie. He is telling the truth. But later on, when Savitri begins to speak, we shall see that he is only telling an incomplete truth. Sri Aurobindo himself has said this in another context. In a beautiful letter he says:
It is the ordinary nature of vital love not to last, or if it tries to last, not to satisfy, because it is a passion which Nature has thrown in in order to serve a temporary purpose; it is good enough therefore for a temporary purpose and its normal tendency is to wane when it has sufficiently served Nature’s purpose. …
Nature wants human beings to come together to perpetuate the species, so Nature catches you in its trap – and when you have served its purpose, Nature couldn’t care less, and the love disappears. So you do not love, love does not belong to you: you just come into that charmed belt as it were, it comes from Nature. He continues:
In mankind, as man is a more complex being, she calls in the aid of imagination and idealism to help her push, gives a sense of ardour, of beauty and fire and glory, but all that wanes after a time. It cannot last, because it is all a borrowed light and power, borrowed in the sense of being a reflection caught from something beyond and not native to the reflecting vital medium which imagination uses for the purpose. Moreover, nothing lasts in the mind and the vital, all is a flux there. …
But Sri Aurobindo does not deny the possibility of real and everlasting love. If he did, he would not have written Savitri at all. In this letter he goes on to say:
The one thing that endures is the soul, the spirit. Therefore love can last and satisfy only if it bases itself on the soul and spirit, if it has its roots there. But that means living no longer in the vital, but in the soul and spirit.
This is the truth that the God of Death does not understand, and therefore he pooh-poohs the whole idea. Love, he says, is an evanescent thing, a transient thing, it is a kind of a fever that comes and goes. He continues in this vein and gives a small picture, the cameo of a novel, where two youngsters meet and fall in love and write each other wonderful love poems and so on, and then they get married and slowly the marriage becomes a habit, becomes a convenience, so they gradually grow apart until one day, he says, the marriage becomes:
Two egos straining in a single leash.
Have you ever tried tying two dogs to a single leash? Very often marriages end up in such a situation, two human beings tied to a single leash, each trying to pull in his own direction: he is trying to pull this way, she is trying to pull that way.
The reason I am presenting all this, is to show how almost Shakespearean Sri Aurobindo’s imagination is. Even when it comes to depicting anything about the vital world, Sri Aurobindo is very very powerful. And one of the great things about Shakespeare is his power to reflect the vital and present it powerfully. But Sri Aurobindo’s excellence is not limited to the vital. There are other spheres beyond the reach of Shakespeare, which Sri Aurobindo can handle with equal efficiency, as we shall see later on.
What is Savitri’s reply? She says exactly what Sri Aurobindo says in the last line of his letter: Love originates from the Divine. It is a mighty vibration coming straight from the Divine. And it is in itself a manifestation of the divine light and power. Because where there is love, there is hope for mankind. No matter how evil mankind may look today, no matter how evil the whole surroundings may look, love is the only power that has the capacity to save mankind. That is how Savitri replies to the god of death. She says:
My love is not a hunger of the heart,
My love is not a craving of the flesh;
It came to me from God, to God returns.
She says, you have not seen this love, you have not experienced this love, so what do you know of love?
And then there is an intense lyrical celebration of love. Sri Aurobindo can write wonderful lyrics, great words that lift your entire spirit. Savitri says, “It is not the first time that Satyavan and I have met. It is not just a chance meeting, it is not one of those ‘love at first sight and hate the next’ affairs. It is not the first time we have met, we have met several times, and not on this earth alone, we have met in several stars before.” In a great outburst of poetry, she says:
For we were man and woman from the first,
The twin souls born from one undying fire.
Did he not dawn on me in other stars?
How has he through the thickets of the world
Pursued me like a lion in the night
And come upon me suddenly in the ways,
And seized me with his glorious golden leap!
I wonder if there is any equivalent to this, in any poetry in the world, this ecstatic celebration of Love in its reality. “He comes upon me like a lion, leaping on me from the thickets, seizing me in his golden grasp and carrying me away. My love is like that.”
Unsatisfied, he yearned for me through time,
Sometimes with wrath and sometimes with sweet peace
Desiring me since first the world began.
He rose like a wild wave out of the floods
And dragged me helpless into seas of bliss.
This is Savitri’s understanding of Satyavan, this is the Satyavan she is pursuing. And finally she says:
I cherish God the Fire, not God the Dream.”
The love I cherish, she says, is this Fire – of aspiration, of renunciation, of tapasya. My love is not the love of a phantom, it is not just a dream.
Now this is one argument. I have presented it in some detail to give substance to my claim that the god of death also expresses a truth, but it is always an incomplete truth; while Savitri counters it by giving an integral truth, the whole truth. And when you have the whole truth, the partial truth looks like falsehood. To that extent the god of death deals in falsehood, not otherwise. He too is presenting a truth, but his truths are limited.
Then he presents another set of arguments. This time he argues on the basis of the fundamental reality of Matter. He becomes a Materialist and says, “The only reality about this world is matter. And that is best seen if you look at the beginning of this creation: before anything was created in this world, there was matter; and when everything, all the civilisation and all the cultures, have come to an end, everything will finally one day relapse into matter. So in the beginning you have matter, in the middle you have matter, in the end you have matter, matter is the only reality.” And he presents everything else from this standpoint. Life, he says, is nothing but “a lapsing wave in Matter’s sea.” You know, on the sea you see so many waves coming and breaking, then merging again with the sea. Life is like that, life is like a temporary wave that rises on the breast of this ocean that is Matter, and then it disintegrates back into the ocean. So life is not permanent, mind is not permanent, only Matter is permanent.
The God of Death presents this gospel of Matter to Savitri, saying:
All thy high dreams were made by Matter’s mind
To solace its dull work in Matter’s jail,
Its only house where it alone seems true.
It is the first-born of created things, …
It stands the last when mind and life are slain,
And if it ended, all would cease to be.
All else is only its outcome or its phase.
This is a typical materialistic argument: life is nothing but complex matter, mind is nothing but complex life, so everything is matter. This position is called Reductionism, and it was a great favourite of scientists and rationalists until the middle of the century. Now fortunately a wider wisdom has dawned on these people and they find that you can’t explain life just as a function of matter. There is something else, there is a mystery about life which nobody knows much about, there is a mystery about mind which nobody knows much about, so there is a mystery in this creation – nowadays they accept this much. But this is the basic argument of the Materialists, this is the gospel of Matter:
All upon Matter stands as on a rock.
The god of death has many intuitive perceptions, he is a very wise person. Look at this statement: he says,
Immortality thou claimest for thy spirit,
But immortality for imperfect man,
A god who hurts himself at every step,
Would be a cycle of eternal pain.
This is really very well said. We all want immortality, but immortality would be a curse to us, if we do not realise our soul or our spirit. Material immortality is not anybody’s goal. If man were to be given immortality now, the poet says, it would be a punishment.
Later on, at the end of Canto Four, there is long passage where Savitri says to the god of death, “Move aside, let me take back Satyavan. After I have done that, you can go back to your original position; you are still needed for some time more, your work is still necessary. Man has not yet reached the stage where you have become redundant. That time will come, but it has not yet come.” There Savitri asks the god of death to resume his work for a while. Here the god of death perceives this truth and says, “For imperfect man, immortality would be a curse”.
Then we have a reply from Savitri to this materialistic philosophy. In the third Canto, The Debate of Love and Death, Savitri gives the god of death a systematic lesson in integral philosophy. She says, “Look, you say that everything has arisen from the Inconscient, and that since everything has arisen from the Inconscient, the Inconscient is the primary reality of this world. The first thing I would like to tell you is that you are slightly off the mark. This world is an adventure of consciousness; but before the adventure of consciousness could begin there had to be an adventure of ignorance. That has also taken place.” God has taken a plunge into the Inconscient and Sri Aurobindo has written about this gloriously in many parts of Savitri, telling us that the One Supreme, the Sachchidananda, the deathless Immortal whose very nature is Bliss, decided to take a plunge and become the exact opposite of his real nature. When he decided to become many, he decided to become many in terms of his exact opposite, to begin with. And in many of his letters Sri Aurobindo says, “I know you can’t understand why God had to do it, but these matters you will be able to understand only if your consciousness comes at least somewhere near the infinite consciousness who created this world. Your consciousness is finite, and from this finite consciousness, you keep asking why, why? Why did God do this?” In one of his letters to Nirod-da, Sri Aurobindo says. “Look, before God created the world, he was looking for wise people like you to help him, but you were not around, so he had to use whatever best he could and create the world.”
So, these are all questions you can understand the answers to only when your consciousness has become something like the consciousness of the infinite – then only will you be able to understand why and how. But the story is that the Supreme Divine took a plunge into the Inconscient, and from there slowly the adventure of consciousness began. This is the lesson we have from The Life Divine.
And here in Canto Three of Book Ten Savitri says, “There have been many retardations, many horrible things, there have been Hitlers, Genghis Khans, there have been terrible things that men have done to other men. Man has his ugly moments. But do not exaggerate and concentrate your attention only on these things; look at the whole creation and then see whether there has been any progress at all.” Of course the progress is tardy, the progress is slow. God is not like a guru who wants to save all his disciples in one life. It has to go slowly, tardily. So she says:
“O Death, thou lookst on an unfinished world
Assailed by thee and of its road unsure,
Peopled by imperfect minds and ignorant lives,
And sayest God is not and all is vain.
You are only looking at a small part of this world-creation, and just because you don’t see any sign of intelligence coming through all this, you come to the conclusion that there is no God, there is no intelligence behind it.
How shall the child already be the man?
Because he is infant, shall he never grow?
Because he is ignorant, shall he never learn?
In a small fragile seed a great tree lurks,
In a tiny gene a thinking being is shut,
A little element in a little sperm, …
If the doctor were asked, “Here is this sperm, what is the sperm going to be when it becomes an infant and grows up into a young man?” the scientist would have no idea.
It grows and is a conqueror and a sage.
He could be an Alexander or he could be a Yagnavalkya, who knows? But what is their origin? Their origin is the most insignificant thing like a sperm. From there it grows.
Then wilt thou spew out, Death, God’s mystic truth,
Deny the occult spiritual miracle?
Still wilt thou say there is no spirit, no God?
A mute material Nature wakes and sees;
She has invented speech, unveiled a will.
Can’t you see what has already manifested? In a handful of dust, Nature has fabricated man, and this man has a mind, this mind has invented all this science and technology. And one of the most wonderful things is language. No chimpanzee can ever learn a language, only human beings can learn languages because a language is a function of a new facet of consciousness which has blossomed in man. This consciousness has already come. No chimpanzee has ever done any induction, any deduction, created any technology. So notice all that has happened so far – would you still say that Nature’s inventiveness has come to an end and will stop here?
A mute material nature wakes and sees;
She has invented speech, unveiled a will.
Something there waits beyond towards which she strives,
Something surrounds her into which she grows:
To uncover the spirit, to change back into God,
To exceed herself is her transcendent task.
And then she says,
In God concealed the world began to be, …
God was totally hidden, in Matter. In Matter, God has gone as if into a coma. And gradually and slowly, lo and behold, when you have given up all hope, God slowly begins to stir in the heart of the atom. And then Life comes up.
In God concealed the world began to be,
Tardily it travels towards manifest God:
More and more of consciousness comes out: a plant or a tree is more like a god than mere matter. An animal is more godlike than a tree. Human beings are much more godlike than animals. This consciousness will grow, will acquire further glories, and the freedom from dependence on circumstances, freedom of consciousness from all contingencies, freedom of spirit will grow, will continue to grow.
Our imperfection towards perfection toils,
The body is the chrysalis of a soul:
The infinite holds the finite in its arms,
Time travels towards revealed eternity.
And then she says further on,
This world is God fulfilled in outwardness.
We have to see God not only in his Being; this world is the becoming of God, and God grows in such a way that at every moment he challenges our reason.
His ways challenge our reason and our sense;
By blind brute movements of an ignorant Force,
By means we slight as small, obscure, or base
A greatness founded upon little things,
He has built a world in the unknowing Void.
She is saying, “I don’t deny that from time to time human minds get crippled, human vision gets blurred, and it looks as if man is probably going back into nature”:
If mind is crippled, life untaught and crude,
If brutal masks are there and evil acts,
They are incidents of his vast and varied plot, …
His great and dangerous drama’s needed steps;
But look at the whole, and you will find that god is certainly growing, although slowly and with great effort, tardily. Don’t look merely at the Veerappans (the dreaded forest brigand). There is a reality even behind these Veerappans. This is a deceptive world, so don’t be shaken by what you see: God is growing up. All these happenings are the needed steps of his great and dangerous drama.
I have always felt that the experiment of Communism was very much needed, and now that we have gone through this experiment, humanity is chastened, humanity is ready for the next thing. Indeed Communism has done some very wonderful things. For one thing, from the old former Communist countries the whole load of religiosity has just simply been removed, and these people are now hungry for spiritual truth. I have seen people from Kazakhstan, people with names like Hyderali and Razia etc., reading books of Sri Aurobindo and being thrilled by them. They have come to Sri Aurobindo centres in Hyderabad and elsewhere, and sat there meditating and very greatly moved. But where Communism has not come, it would be hard to find any Razias or Hyderalis who are moved by these things. One great service that Communism has done, is that by banishing formal religion, it has completely washed off all religiosity, so that all these people are now ready for a new spiritual leap. Is that not a wonderful spiritual service, on the road to God?
Or look at the Hippie movement in America. When the Hippie movement was at its height I was a student, watching, wondering, wondering at everything. And now I am told that the Hippie movement has failed, people have come back to three-piece suits and so on. But the Hippie movement changed the soul of America for ever. The America you see now is a different America, inside the three-piece suit you have an altered American.
So there are exaggerations, there are things that look like flaws, but God is working through what you and I very often mistake for flaws. We have short sight, we don’t have understanding. Through all these people, God works; and this is something we have to see, that:
They are incidents of his vast and varied plot,
His great and dangerous drama’s needed steps,
He makes with these and all his passion-play,
A play and yet no play but the deep scheme
Of a transcendent Wisdom finding ways
To meet her Lord in the shadow and the Night: …
So this is a small lesson that Savitri gives to the god of Death in what I call integral truth. The truth is integral. Here matter, life, mind and other levels of consciousness are manifested, and all of them are manifestations of the same supreme reality.
And then she points out that at a certain stage, death became necessary, pain became necessary, suffering became necessary, and therefore they have been allowed to operate. And the day they prove unnecessary, the day human consciousness has been chastened and refined enough, when human consciousness rises beyond this necessity, these limitations will automatically fall off. So therefore Death need not pride himself on being a permanent feature of this world. She tells him, “You are not a permanent feature of this creation.”
And then she says, “No matter what you or anyone says about life, this whole world came out of God’s ecstasy of bliss, and in this world, every contact is supposed to give bliss.” Unfortunately, since we do not know how to react to the world, this bliss gets transformed into pleasure, pain and indifference. That is all we can experience, because we only pursue the finite, we do not pursue the infinite. When we begin to pursue the infinite, when we begin to see a beautiful thing as a manifestation of God’s consciousness, and no longer egoistically try to possess it – this is how we spoil the whole charm of this world, we want to possess everything, we want to pocket everything, we want the ego to take hold of things – when that has gone, if we know how to respond to the world with the right consciousness, then everything, every touch in this world, will be the touch of the Lover. God is the Lover, and he gives us these various touches of the world. So here Sri Aurobindo gives a wonderful description, of how a mute Delight, a hidden Bliss, is inherent in the root of things and manifests everywhere.
Savitri summarises by saying:
All our earth starts from mud and ends in sky, …
So don’t keep looking at the mud – try to see where it is going.
Love has many forms, many masks, many formations. It can be physical love, it can be emotional love, it can be mental love, but love does not originate anywhere here, love originates at the level of the soul. It is an attempt to find the oneness we have lost. And it is in that attempt that we try to grab things for our own. We want to make them our own, we want to aggrandise ourselves, we want to take the whole world into ourselves. That is the wrong way. When you go about it the right way, you will find love is this great thing. Of course, this great thing is reflected imperfectly by the mind, by the emotions, the vital, and by the body, and that is why the loves we experience are imperfect. They are imperfect manifestations of something which in itself is pure and perfect. Therefore Savitri says:
And Love that was once an animals’ desire,
Then a sweet madness in the rapturous heart,
An ardent comradeship in the happy mind,
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, …
At least try to love one human being to perfection – just one. If you can do that, if you pass that acid test of loving one human being entirely, completely, you are a candidate for the love of the divine.
A lonely soul passions for the Alone,
The heart that loved man thrills to the love of God,
A body is a chamber and his shrine.
Then is our being rescued from separateness;
All is itself, all is new-felt in God:
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:
When unity is won, when strife is lost
And all is known and all is clasped by Love
Who would turn back to ignorance and pain?
(p. 632 – 633)
There are many, many other things, even in this section, but just now I am summarising briefly.
After this, the debate becomes quite rapid. The god of death feels that he has now done enough of western philosophy, why not give Savitri a dose of eastern philosophy. So he begins to be a Vedantin. He says “Wait, Savitri! Where are you going? You are saying that you want Satyavan, that you want to be Savitri, but you want things between you and Satyavan to be eternal. How is that possible? Don’t you know that you can choose either Matter or Spirit? Matter is one thing, Spirit is another. If one is true, the other has to be false. I am not deciding for you which is false and which is true, but you cannot have both. Either choose Satyavan, choose material life, then forget about eternity. Or choose eternity, choose Spirit. If you choose the Spirit, in the Alone there is no two, there is no love, there is no Satyavan.”
The eternal is the truth, it is Brahman, it is Satya. If That is true, jagat must be mithya. Haven’t you read all the Upanishads and the Vedas and the Puranas? The whole of this country India has been reverberating for many centuries now with this message. Haven’t you heard any of these things?
Where Matter is all, there Spirit is a dream:
If all are the Spirit, Matter is a lie,
And who was the liar who forged the universe?
The Real with the unreal cannot mate.
He who would turn to God, must leave the world;
He would live in the Spirit, must give up life;
He who has met the Self, renounces self.
“You are trying to do the impossible,” the god of death says. “There are two kinds of nirvana. One is the nirvana of the body, the other is the nirvana of your individuality. You merge with the eternal. I am the President of the Nirvana Society. I free you from all bondage. I can give you either the nirvana of the soul or the nirvana of the body.” So, he says:
In me all take refuge, for I, Death, am God.”
So this is a little lesson in Advaita, that Savitri has to learn from him. There is a great deal of truth here. He says, “If you are interested in the spirit, naturally the world will lose all attraction for you. Spiritual people are supposed to be totally uninterested in this world. Or if you are interested in the world, you have to lose Spirit.”
Savitri replies, “My spirituality is not the spirituality of the tired and the defeated. I want god because I find the world attractive, enticing and challenging. I want my God to perfect the world. I am not running away from the world. I want to bring God to make the world more perfect. I am enticed by the world, I am enchanted by the world, I am in love with this world. But to make this world perfect, I need the Spirit. So don’t think that I am a tired exhausted person looking for religious pieties in the evening of my life. I am not one of those. God has to come to perfect the world, not as an escape from the world. This is my spirituality, O god of death. You have not heard about this until now. This is a new spirituality that I am representing. There is no longer a choice between this world and the next. There is only one choice, and that is to make this world perfect with the power of the spirit. I represent that spirituality.”
The god of death does not give up. He goes on arguing. What his other arguments are, we shall see in February 2001.