Aster Patel is a beautiful, sophisticated woman who can always be seen dressed in the most immaculately exquisite saris. One cannot help but notice just how perfectly coiffed is her trademark silvery hair. Her speech is soft and gentle, her movements feminine and graceful, but inwardly she is a warrior soul in her pursuit of the practice of the Integral Yoga. The redolent aura of her beauty carries with it a sense of the beauty and presence of the Mother. Aster had told us that as a young girl in the Ashram, she watched the Mother with fascination — how she carried herself, how she moved and how she displayed beauty in all she touched.
And she was irresistibly drawn to the splendor of that beauty.
Aster was born in New Delhi on March 17, 1932 and was given the name Mira by her renowned father, the eminent Indian psychologist and philosopher. Dr. lndra Sen. Later on her name was changed to Aster by the Mother. It is remarkable to note here that Dr. Sen named his daughter Mira (the same name as the Mother) before ever having met the Mother or knowing anything about her. After years of seeking the company of spiritual personalities and searching for the right Master, Dr. Sen was led to Sri Aurobindo, along with his good friend, Surendra Nath Jauhar. He turned to Sri Aurobindo in 1938 and in 1945 left his post as professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Delhi to come and live permanently in the Ashram. His wife and two children had gone there two years prior in 1943.
My interview with Aster, unlike all the others which were conducted in India, took place in my home in Los Angeles following the annual national conference of all the devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in America called the AUM Conference (All USA Meeting). The East-West Cultural Center — The Sri Aurobindo Center of Los Angeles had been the host for the AUM 2003 that took place at Loyola Marymount University from May 22-26th. Aster was one of the guest speakers from India and stayed with me for three days afterward so that I could interview her. However, her understanding was that I was to question her about her knowledge of Ashram elders, not that she was to be a subject of the interview book herself! Being the quiet, private, unassuming person that she is she froze! She literally could not speak. Without knowing this, but sensing something, my friend Stuart inexplicably and suddenly appeared in the room and began telling Aster of the importance and need to relate her personal experiences and how vital it was to share her life’s experiences of the Ashram, with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and in Auroville and how it would be a source of inspiration for other seekers of the Integral Yoga for many years to come. This helped her to open up and over a two day period I transcribed eight hours of a flow of words that spun out like threads of pure silk until at the end of the eight hours it ceased, suddenly, in the same miraculous manner in which it had been initiated. It was an intense experience for both of us. Herewith is her experience, in her own words:
The atmosphere of my early childhood in New Delhi was that of an intense concentration which marked my father’s being. We were surrounded by many books and by other men of learning and his favourite students who never left him. He was professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Delhi and a man of total dedication. Even as a child one could feel that he was on a deep quest. My mother carried the atmosphere of utter femininity. She was an Indian woman in the truest sense. She had a sweetness and a loving and caring way and, at the same time, was unobtrusive in her firmness and clarity — and with a strong basis of a sort of “substance” and “focus” that, at that age, I could not understand. She was also highly educated. She was the first woman graduate of Delhi University and won a gold medal in general studies. She was good at math and child psychology and became the principal of a large girls’ school in New Delhi. She was a writer of short stories in Hindi and took part in radio programs and was interested in fine arts — dance, music, classical films, etc. She also had a great love for Bengali literature. The larger setting of our family was one of great reverence for spiritual personalities in general, who were always guests at our house. I was very conscious of this atmosphere. From an early age I had the feeling that I did not belong to the world as it was. The social aspect of household life did not appeal to me. It had no reality for me.
When did your family arrive in the Ashram?
My father had the fullness of satisfaction on an intellectual level with regard to his work. But he said, “I don’t want to spend my whole life talking about God, I want to know Him.” He wanted a spiritual realization — in experience — of the truths that psychology and philosophy try to reach conceptually. He travelled to different parts of the country in search of the Master who could lead him to that goal. In December of 1938, in the company of his close friend, Surendra Nath Jauhar, my father went to Pondicherry. That trip marked the end of his quest. The next year he went with my mother and us children (my younger brother, Vinay Verma and myself). The visits became more frequent and longer each time.
My parents had come for a visit to the Ashram for Mother’s birthday darshan of February 21, 1943. Upon leaving, the Mother said something to my mother and on the return journey by train, my father asked, “What did she say?” She replied that the Mother had said, “Wind up everything in New Delhi and be here with the children by April darshan.” My father said, “What will you do?” She said, “I must do what the Mother says.” Since that first meeting she felt that here was an old connection and she had to be with her. The Mother said that my father should remain some time more in New Delhi. On April 11th my mother, a young woman, walked out on all the structures of family life as she had known them and with two children took the long train journey to Pondicherry. The Mother sent someone to receive us at the railway station. She was very happy to see my mother reach there in time for the April darshan. She took the three of us into her world of love and care, body and soul and mind, and there we have nestled ever since. I mean this in a very concrete sense of embracing all our lives and being into her own. My mother once said to the Mother, “Mother, I don’t want anything of the world, I only want that my children should be well educated.” The Mother said, “Do you have faith in me?” She replied “Yes.” The Mother said, “Then leave it to me.” Later, when Mother organized the school, she was sometimes asked by outside people, “No exams? No degrees?” She would reply, “I am forming personalities, so that wherever my children go in the world, they will do well.”
The Mother had set aside two houses very close to the main Ashram building and asked my mother to see which one she would find more convenient. My mother moved into one just round the corner from the Ashram. It had an open courtyard where we children could play — and our lives were created afresh by her. Our father used to come for each darshan and for vacations from the University until he, too, resigned from his post there and came permanently in 1945.
We were very young children in the Ashram in which there were about three hundred adult senior disciples. There were very few children. It was a very special world in the Ashram, a very intense atmosphere. It was solid in its density. We were aware of the great majestic presence of Sri Aurobindo there in his room and the Mother, whom we met a few times every day. The very spaces of the main Ashram building were full of the presence of great beings, the senior disciples who lived in the many rooms there. We were very conscious of these beings who were all one-pointed in their concentration and their endeavor to follow Mother and Sri Aurobindo in their work of realizing the spiritual goal before them. These presences were powerfully felt in our daily lives. We felt them even in silence, as we moved about the Ashram — it was as though they were pouring their very being into us like empty jars. This receiving from them is something that one is still conscious of today. I spoke to Nirod-da, one day, about this and he nodded and said very simply, “This was Mother’s work.” As though it was part of their work for the Mother to thus give of themselves to us. Such was the world we lived in and grew up in as children. This was our “home” — of concentration, with the aspirations, the effort, the goals, the one-pointedness. Once we were there as children, the Mother took our presence very seriously. She set about organizing life for us in the way it was possible at the time. She put my brother and me in the charge of Sisir Kumar Mitra, a historian from Rabindranath Tagore’s university called Shantiniketan. The mornings were spent in his rooms. It was not very specific teaching, but he loved us very much — and we spent mornings on a bench on the terrace under the spreading branches of the Champa tree whose flowers bore the significance “Psychological Perfection”. The fragrance of that flower is still so strong for me and carries all the memories of those years.
Each evening my parents used to spend some time with Sri A.B. Purani in his rooms in the Ashram learning about yoga. They took us children along and we played on the floor of the room at the feet of Puraniji while the elders conversed. Dilip Kumar Roy, the great bhakta [a yogi devoted to the Divine in the heart] and great musician and singer, lived there at the time. Once a week in the late evening hours, he would share hours of his music with a close circle of friends in his house. My parents were invited and of course we went along with them. Those were unforgettable times. It was a big hall in a spacious house and seated against the wall was the figure of Dilip-da in his flowing orange robes, with the ecstasy of a world of love and devotion visible on his face and in all the movements of his body. A harmonium was placed in front of him and a small group of disciples gathered around him and all were wrapped in the atmosphere that permeated the hall. As children we somehow crept very close to Dilip-da. We sat on the floor and as the evening grew late we put our heads down on the floor and drifted off to sleep. The love and devotion that he shared on those evenings still lives in my being in a very tangible way.
At that time Nishtha, the daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, lived in the Ashram and as a friend of my father’s she offered, very simply, and with great love, to have my brother and me share long afternoons with her in her apartment so that she could tell us stories from American history. This was to improve our spoken English. Hers was a presence of great serenity with all of her being gathered up and flowing in one direction — the spiritual. In the early afternoons we used to go to her large apartment and we would find her in one of the central rooms reclining on a chaise longue. We would sit around and she would tell us stories. She told wonderful stories of the pioneering days of American life. She was very easy in the time we spent together. She would get up and walk about if she had something to do, speaking to us all the while. It was an easy and natural flow and the impression of that serene being is still strong with me.
When was a school actually formed?
Within months, more children came to the Ashram in twos and threes. All were about the same age. By the end of the year Mother said, “We will now start a school.” We were about twelve children, three teachers and one classroom and had barely any books. This was December 2, 1943. Our joy knew no bounds because it was a new adventure. She organized work for us with teachers who were disciples in the Ashram — Sisir-da, my mother and one other person. She guided the teachers as to how to teach — not the usual process of teaching. She organized the subjects and followed our work in minute detail and the teachers sent a report of the work and the children’s progress daily. She said at the time, “A teacher has to be in perfect control of himself if he is to guide the children.”
More children came and more teachers too, who joined the Ashram as disciples, and new subjects of study were added. She followed very closely the progress and growth of students and teachers, the inner as well as the outer. At this time every month or two when we went to her she would say the following words like a direct communication and these words were, “Find your psychic being. Be conscious.” These words were like a concrete action from her. She acted on us little children with her power of consciousness, recreating our very beings. Around this time Mother started to visit the homes of some of the disciples. She came to our house on my 17th birthday. I remember her sitting in my mother’s room and at some point I was alone with her. She spoke about all the possibilities that life offers, adding that my path was the one that would lead to spiritual realizations. She always said, in so many words, what was to be done in the future. She always spoke about the future. It was about that time that one or two really powerful experiences, which I took to Mother, gave a clear form to my inner aspiration. It seems too much to put into words and I might say I understood nothing of it at that moment and I do not know if I do now. But this aspiration took the form of wanting the Absolute — or whatever was the spiritual reality — in life and not by rejecting life, by leaving it aside. This was very clear.
The four days in the year when we had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, seated side by side, were of such power and presence that I would like to share how a growing young person experienced those moments. For days before each darshan the presence of Sri Aurobindo, of which we were conscious in our everyday lives, moved into a wider space and with greater intensity. It was felt all over the Ashram compound and the main Ashram building and flowed into the spaces of the streets around the Ashram. Our house was on a corner of one of those streets and one walked into this kind of presence that was solid and there was the feeling of entering something in a very concrete manner. This grew to its fullness on the day of the darshan itself. Sri Aurobindo was seated on a couch in the first room where he lived and the Mother was to his right; to one side was Nirod-da. In front of them was a large wooden box into which, as disciples approached them, they laid their offerings of flowers and garlands of Tulsi leaves (“Devotion”). We went up in a file standing only for a moment in front of the Divine Presence on earth and then moved on. As children we went with our parents. Soon I wanted to stand alone before Sri Aurobindo, so I started going on my own. I was about thirteen years old at that time. Sri Aurobindo sat with the majesty of the Divine, immobile and absolute. We looked into his eyes, into that vast, impersonal look. His eyes penetrated so deeply that one seemed to dwell only in the Immense. Even as a young person without understanding, without having the proper words to use, it came in very simple words that this was it. Whatever the “it” meant one did not know and who can say that it is known even now or will ever be known. But the feeling remained that there was nothing beyond… that this was the Absolute. On one occasion I just happened to be in the line behind Dilip Kumar Roy. There he was… his being and his very body swaying in his love, devotion and bhakti for Sri Aurobindo, Lost to the world and only conscious of him. Peeking from behind the flowing robes I saw the vast, impersonal look on Sri Aurobindo’s face. Also, focussed in a look of recognition, the impersonal changed to the personal and became a point of Light. That golden face, where never a muscle moved during darshans, creased into a smile. This is what something in me was looking for. I wanted to experience this more often. I would wait in the courtyard for Dilip-da to enter the Ashram gate on darshan days, swaying in the ecstasy of the meeting to be, and as he took his place in the file I used to slip in behind him. This way I had a few more moments to see Sri Aurobindo. I peeped to the right of Dilip-da in the front, to the left — no one else noticed, no one else was stepping out of the file. I could see Sri Aurobindo so many more times and then Dilip-da stood in front of them and I peeped to the right and could see Sri Aurobindo with that look and that smile and feel something of that moment between them. Untouched by time, those moments still hold their power and sweetness for me. Sometime in 1948 the Mother called me and another girl, a friend, and said to us that Sri Aurobindo has written something and we will try to dramatize it. This was the dialogue between Love and Death from Savitri, his epic poem, which had not as yet been published. She gave us typed sheets and gave me the role of Death and of Love to Amita Sen. I asked her, “Why have you given me this role? Death seems so big a thing.” She said, “Death is nothing to be afraid of. It is a great power that has to be conquered.” She called us to the long room in front of the “seat” for darshan days. She stood at one end and we were at the other. She would read out the lines and teach and show us how to do the same with power and emphasis on the words. She trained us for some time, for a few weeks, and then announced to our great and unexpected joy that Sri Aurobindo would hear us. We were absolutely thrilled and thought “we will have a fifth darshan this year”! The Mother set about doing the make-up for us. She also took out some clothes that were with her. For me, as Death, she found a black chantilly lace gown that had belonged to her Egyptian grandmother. I wore this over a grey slip. Amita was dressed in white. The make-up was Guerlain and applied by the Mother. When the great day arrived, a chair was put in the central room of the three adjoining rooms and the Lord heard us seated in that room with a wall between us, so we did not see him. It seemed somehow that they wanted to know what a dramatization of lines from Savitri could convey. The following year there was a presentation in the Ashram playground and over the years the dramatization of Savitri has become a very special regular activity of the Ashram.
This was also the time when, with the arrival of Pranab, the work of physical education was started in the school. In the early days, the Mother took a walk around the main playground and asked a few of the women present to join her in the walk and she thus formed what came to be known as “The Mother’s Group” or the “Ashta sakhis” [eight companions] of Mother. Over the years they used to accompany Mother whenever she left the main Ashram building to go to the playground. She started to play croquet with them — an old French game, set up “tug-of-war” teams and she put these women, who were in their early thirties and only accustomed to wearing saris, in white shorts and shirts and a headgear called “kitty caps” for their playground activities. The younger boys and girls were organized into various groups under the overall care of Pranab with his team of group captains. A detailed and varied pattern of physical education gradually came into being as an essential element of the expanding activities of the school. The body needed to be made a conscious base for the descent of the spiritual force.
When did the Mother give you the name Aster?
It was around this time that the Mother gave me a new name. I was about eleven at the time. The name given me by my father was Mira. Mother said to me, “I have a new name for you. It is Aster, a French word.” She made me pronounce it after her several times so that I got it right. She added, “Don’t let anyone pronounce it in the English way!” She gave me the flower — a daisy-like flower — and told me that the spiritual significance is “Transparency”. She also gave me a little bottle of perfume by that name made by Houbigant, the French perfumer. I still have the bottle. So, Aster is the name I have always used but the name Mira is very dear and very special to me as well.
Describe the atmosphere in the Ashram when Sri Aurobindo left his body in 1950.
Early one December morning in 1950, we awoke to the feeling that our entire world had drawn to a close when our father told us that Sri Aurobindo had left the body. We understood nothing but felt very deeply the gravity of the moment. He had left his body on December 5th. The day of Samadhi was fixed for 9th December and during those days we were allowed to go up to his room once each day. The older disciples were seated in specific spots in those rooms, as indicated by the Mother, and we would stand in his room by the bed, stricken and silent. But the body was grandiose. There was a fullness of substance and light, solid with a Presence which one felt as something of profound magnificence. The day of Samadhi, the Mother asked us all to put a handful of earth as the Divine Body was laid among flowers. Something came down in our being like a heavy lid and we looked up to the window on the first floor where the Mother stood. I have never been able to forget the way she looked at the time, alone in a strange and inexplicable way, stricken but without losing strength, pale but like a column of light. The twelve days that followed were intensely difficult. All the activities of the Ashram came to a full stop. All was subdued and heavy under cover of a hush. Then came the New Year and the Mother, like Durga, and with renewed energy, took up afresh life and its activities. It was in those early months of 1951 that she held a convention to which she invited educators and other leaders of the country to announce the formation of a Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
She said that Sri Aurobindo was in our midst and with all the power of his creative genius was initiating this further growth of what had so far been the Ashram school. A whole program of Higher Courses was started, of a five-year duration, in subjects such as philosophy, integral psychology, math, literature. Highly qualified professors in these subjects were already there as disciples. Students just completing school years moved into these areas of higher learning with great enthusiasm. This movement of growth and expansion of reaching out to the country, which began at this time, gained in momentum right through the fifties. In 1954, Pondicherry, which had so far been part of the French regime in India, was reunited with the country at large, with the French leaving. At this time Mother addressed the President of India expressing her long cherished wish to become an Indian citizen since this was the land of her soul and of her conscious choice. She said she would like to keep her French citizenship because in her spirit the two harmonized perfectly well and that she could be of service to both equally — and universally. Leaders of all walks of life in the country visited the Ashram and sought her advice for the work they were doing. This included Pandit Nehru and Mrs. Indira Gandhi.
Would you speak of some of the work that the Mother gave you?
Well, the very first work that the Mother gave me, as a child, was to arrange flowers in large trays that were then taken up to Sri Aurobindo’s room and to hers. The flower room was in the main Ashram building with three senior disciples looking after it. Mother asked me to join them and to collect flowers that were growing in the Ashram compound. Some of these flowers had a special significance given by the Mother and each flower was to be counted, even the buds. These were flowers of “Service”, “Sri Aurobindo’s Compassion”, “Transformation”, “Realization” etc. On a piece of paper, in each tray, one wrote the number of flowers and buds that were arranged there. Then they were taken up to their rooms, some to Sri Aurobindo’s and others to the Mother’s. This work gave a joy that still remains. When all the trays were ready, laden with flowers, one looked at them with reverence as they were being taken upstairs.
[The next phase of Aster’s life in the Ashram was that of work with her father given to her by the Mother. As mentioned earlier, Dr. Indra Sen was a well-known Professor of Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Delhi.]
My father met Dr. Carl G. Jung in his university days. Dr. Jung was in India on a personal research project and he encouraged my father to go to Germany for doctoral studies. He did so and studied Hegel and Jung, lived near the birthplace of Kant and taught Sanskrit and Indian philosophy at the University of Koenigsburg. After receiving his doctoral degree he returned to India to continue teaching and lecturing. He presented many famous papers on psychology in academic circles, one of which was titled “The Urge for Wholeness”. For him the study of psychology was not enough without a corresponding spiritual realization. He wanted a realization in consciousness of the spiritual truths of existence. After reading the works of Sri Aurobindo he found the basis for this “wholeness” approach which would make the experience a fact of personal corroboration. The only term that could be rightly used for this was “Integral Psychology”. He referred this term to Sri Aurobindo, who accepted it as the proper term for presenting his psychological work.
Would you share something of the work that you did for your father?
The Mother said to me one day with great emphasis, “I want you to work with your father, to be with him in whatever he does. Your studies will come after.” I was, at that time, following the five-year courses in Philosophy and Integral Psychology — the latter was given by my father in the Ashram Centre of Education. His other work at that time included receiving, at the Ashram, a number of dignitaries, leaders and other guests from outside, and attending national scientific conferences to present Sri Aurobindo’s work. I shared in all this work and travelled with him. I took up all his secretarial work, typing out his writings and handling large amounts of correspondence.
Dr. Indra Sen, Aster’s father, at his home in Pondicherry
Earlier, when I was about sixteen, one day Mother said, “I want you to teach. It is nice to be with little children.” I said, “But I am studying.” Her reply was, “You can do both.” I said, “I don’t know how to teach.” She said, “I will tell you.” She asked me to bring the children to her — about twelve of them — each morning after classes. They were five years old. Each day I sent up a notebook with an account of what we had done. She wrote back with her comments about the children. She told me something I have never forgotten. “Give the children freedom. One is never too young to be given freedom, but the right atmosphere must be created.” The meaning of these words has been like a pathway of discovery all through the years. This pattern of study and teaching always carried on for me. My students grew in age — along with me.
Somewhere in early 1955 a very rich inner period began. The presence of Sri Aurobindo was very living in the atmosphere. There was such a palpable impression in terms of consciousness, almost visual, that he was very busy doing “something”. Very, very busy. One did not know what that “something” was but the feeling of his image, and of his being busy, was real. It was so strong that I spoke to the Mother about it. This seemed to always happen in the evenings when she was in the playground. When I asked her about this the first time she gave a smile of utter sweetness when I said, “Sri Aurobindo seems to be busy, what is he so busy doing?” She replied with the same sweet smile, “You will find out.”
Every few months during that year I would go up to her, always in the playground, when she was there in the evenings, and I would say, “Sri Aurobindo seems to be very busy. What is it, Mother?” She would again say with the same smile, “You will know.” I came to recognize this specific sweetness in Mother’s smile when she spoke of Sri Aurobindo. Months passed and we had the meditation in the playground on the evening of February 29, 1956. [The day that the Mother brought down the Supramental Light into the earth’s atmosphere.] The next morning, March lst, when I went to see the Mother she asked, “Were you present at the meditation last evening? Did you feel anything?” My poor response to Mother was that I was there but had a rather heavy head! She said, “What Sri Aurobindo was busy with has happened.” As the year advanced, there was a great richness of inner growth — steady growth.
After a few years another movement of the being began to take shape. The Higher Course was completed, I was teaching and the work with my father continued but something else was taking shape. I had read Sri Aurobindo’s works in the Ashram but something in me felt the need to read him in the setting of the thought and culture of Europe, as though there was something for me to learn from that perspective. I spoke to the Mother about this and she asked, “Where would you like to go?” From deep within me came the response, “Paris, to the Sorbonne.”
I knew nothing about the Sorbonne but the inner move was direct. Mother was happy that this was the choice and said, “It will be good for your growth to concentrate on this work.”
1962 to 1970 were the years of a sojourn in Europe with Paris as base. A year after reaching there the Mother wrote me a message for my birthday that led me on another path of discovery. She wrote, “This has been a year of inner and outer progress. May the next year continue in the same way.” The phrase “inner and outer progress” was a new one for me coming from the Mother and made me look at this whole process of growth in a growing perspective of wholeness. My question was: What is outer progress in the light of the Mother? Is it a shaping of the outer personality in harmony with the inner being? Is this what she meant? Years followed with intellectual enrichment and varied cultural inputs, new ideas, new forces rushing in with always an inner base to receive them. A re-reading of Sri Aurobindo’s works in that context was another experience. Then there began to take place a reversal of the traditional European “rationalistic” values. There was an urge among the youth of the time to see life as lived, as given in experience and not only in conceptual terms. A larger perspective began to emerge with a great deal of initial confusion. There was a major student uprising at the University of Paris in 1968. I kept writing about it to the Mother who was most interested in what was taking place.
The doctoral thesis I was working on was nearing completion. It was the first time that a work on Sri Aurobindo had been accepted by the Sorbonne. [Aster received a Ph.D. from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) in Comparative Philosophy. Her doctoral thesis was “A Comparative Study of the Philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and Henri Bergson”.]
On a visit home to Pondicherry during that period, I asked the Mother, “This work is nearing completion, what should I do next?” She said, “You will know about it soon.” It was also about this time that I felt in a very concrete and unambiguous manner that a new curve of culture, a cycle of growth for man was beginning to discern itself on the horizon and that horizon spanned the work of Sri Aurobindo. It appeared that this work was to take place from where he was physically centered — around Pondicherry in India.
After submitting my thesis, which was very well received with a lot of interest in Sri Aurobindo’s “Supermind”, I received a letter from the Mother. She said that the United Nations in New York was holding a World Youth Assembly to commemorate its 25”’ anniversary. This was to take place in August of 1970. A youth delegation from each country would be present, without the participation of adult representatives, at the United Nations. They would discuss contemporary issues of life with regard to education, culture, economics, politics, etc. She wanted me to be present as part of the official Indian delegation to represent the Ashram and Auroville. The Ashram I knew but I was not there at the founding of Auroville, but I was aware of Sri Aurobindo’s work and such a presentation could cover both. The Assembly consisted of two thousand people drawn from all countries of the world. An eighteen-member Steering Committee was elected. The way events followed during the three weeks of the Assembly was an incredible experience of how the Mother’s Force worked to shape world situations. It was so concrete in its action in all details. The consensus of the Assembly was that it was the whole personality that should be developed in the course of education and the world’s interactions should take place in a spirit of unity and understanding. What a “whole” personality is was not made clear but the sense of the “whole” was there, as also a very strong sense of unity among the participants.
I was back home in Pondicherry by the end of 1970 and after the long years away the entire being came to rest in the courtyard of the Ashram. There was a long interview with the Mother early in 1971 on my birthday — when she gave all the indications needed for the further lap of the years in this life, or in others, who knows? She said that she had already given me an indication of the work to be done. She spoke about India and said, “India is open to the deeper consciousness and the new Forces that wish to manifest. India represents the Life Divine on earth. It is this that one must manifest — in action, in life, in the manner of being.” She said she had already given the direction. She added that this was the direction to follow and the goal was assured.
I resumed teaching at “Knowledge” in the Higher Course at the Ashram Centre of Education. With Sri Aurobindo’s Centenary in 1972 there was a round of conferences in the country dedicated to an understanding of his work. A “Sri Aurobindo Chair of Philosophy” was set up at Benares Hindu University and there was an invitation to hold the Chair and do some work. A year’s sojourn gave a powerful experience of the living force and might emanating from the Ganges River as it flowed through Varanasi.
Came 1973, and Mother withdrew from the body. The Divine Action is full of the unforeseen. All the external came to rest within. The pressure of the inner became more powerful and one could say more concrete. The forms changed but the work became swifter and more sweeping in the change it sought. A new kind of work in the physical, in the body began. A work so far unknown and unforeseen, the contours of which were only revealed step by step. But it seemed that the entire physical consciousness, including the consciousness of the body itself, maybe even something of its substance, was beginning to be remoulded into something quite different.
What Mother called the Auroville consciousness reached out in its living dynamism and made itself known. I was teaching at “Knowledge” 4 hours in the morning and most of these courses happened to be about matter! I thought I was remaining close to its core but a great surprise awaited me.
Once when I went to work at the Matrimandir in Auroville, there was a pile of small pebbles and we had to shovel it into chettis [shallow basins] and pass them from one person to another in a chain. I stood there with shovel in hand on the pile of pebbles but the consciousness would not relate to the pebbles. It could not connect with them. It hung in mid-air and I could not even, by deliberate effort, dig the shovel into the pile. The experience was unforgettable. It made me see that in my consciousness I was removed from the concreteness of matter on the ground. There was a hiatus of being and relatedness and I realized that my speaking about matter was not authentic. I was not “grounded” in matter and the words came through mid-air, suspended high. Something was not quite right, to say the least, in my understanding of what matter is. Something had to change and it did. An experience of Auroville had begun and I found myself on a path which took seven years to arrive at some kind of stability. That the consciousness could station itself at many levels in the being — from the mind as center, to the heart and further into matter itself. When based in matter, in a more or less steady manner, without too much fluctuation, then the manner of functioning of the mind underwent a big change and there was another way in which things began to be perceived directly.
During this time all reading and writing were laid aside and I took up work which was not only just physical but seemed to be a working with matter itself. From within matter, from a poise of consciousness settled in matter. The work took the form of construction, preparation of food and designing clothes!
Then another line of work came into my orbit and that was the attempt to set up a Centre for Research in Indian Culture and a Centre of Indian Studies at the Bharat Nivas [the Pavilion of India] in Auroville. This work had resonated with me in the past but this time it was with another poise and movement of consciousness. Thus began a round of exploration and discovery of what India held in her core of experience and her many-sided richness. This exploration had two very unusual aspects to it. One was that it was undertaken in the midst of the interactive dynamism of a very diverse collective drawn from many cultures of the world. The second was to see how the living realities of that experience could respond effectively to the problems and situations of our contemporary life. It was, at the same time, an attempt at discovery or recovery and an application of it to situations that were actual.
Along the way, I felt the need to discover what was the potential of the cumulative reservoirs of energy that lay hidden in the great Himalayas. In the heart of the Kumaon region is a small center which Sri Aurobindo called “our foothold in the Himalayas”. In this spot I experienced an “integrative” power of energy unlike any other that worked in matter. Awaiting me was another big surprise. This was not a remote other-worldliness of energy but where the spiritual and the material came together as one reality. This exploration continues and becomes fuller with time.
A new dynamism in an effective action on the life and being of man — uniting the spirit with its form, becoming the spirit in manifestation — seems to be almost there. Almost, but not altogether. Such a presence rides the crest of the being — more one cannot say.
The Mother’s work will be done… in the eternity of Her becoming.
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Aster’s talks at the AUM 2003, the scheduled morning sessions, afternoon workshops and informal talks elicited an overwhelming response from those attending.
On Friday, May 23, she spoke informally about her days in the Ashram and how the Mother would transmit her power of Shakti through her multiple aspects and personalities. She would be all strength, all love and absolute beauty. She would gaze deeply into the inner beings of children and adults alike, moulding them and transforming the resistances to their spiritual growth. During her workshop on “The Power of Beauty”, Aster said:
“The seeking for Beauty is a powerful force for doing yoga”. The Mother has said, “Let beauty be your constant ideal — beauty of the soul, of the sentiments, of thought, of action, of work, so that nothing comes out of your hands that is not a pure and harmonious expression of beauty. And the Divine’s help will always be there.”
Aster Patel at AUM Conference in Los Angeles, Ca. May 2003
Our seeking for the Divine — in the world of form — looks for its expression through “beauty”. It is within a growing perfection of the form that there lies the fulfilment of this seeking. But to arrive at the fullness of this perfection, the form itself needs to retrace its journey to its source in the Spirit. It needs to get absorbed in it — with its contours of separateness — and recover another dimension of form, which is expressive of the Spirit in its wholeness. Then, to re-find its place in the physical world — in this world of matter. A matter transformed by the Spirit and a form made whole.
This matter is not only what constitutes the world around us and outside of us, so to speak — but pertains as much to all that makes up our human personality, which has its base in it. Even our very body, our sensations, impulses, feelings and our ideas, to a large extent, are grounded in matter. The re-shaping of all these elements by touches of the “psychic” in us is the pathway to beauty. Beauty that expresses the Eternal… in the forms of wholeness, of beings-in-matter.