The passing of the Mother at 7.25 p.m. on November 17, 1973, from the visible scene whose luminous centre she had formed ever since November 24, 1926, when Sri Aurobindo put his Ashram in her hands and himself withdrew from common contacts in order to concentrate more intensely on the fulfilment of his work — the Mother’s physical disappearance has caused a great deal of heart-burning and mind-churning among her disciples and devotees.
One of them has confronted the present writer with the article written when Sri Aurobindo had left his body: The Passing of Sri Aurobindo — Its Inner Significance and Consequence. This article is itself considered to have crucial significance and consequence because it carried complete approval by the Mother. Three times she formulated her sanction for it. She declared it to be excellent and as having nothing in it to be changed: she called it the best thing its author had done: she affirmed her entire satisfaction with it and wanted 15,000 copies to be printed in pamphlet form after its first appearance in Mother India. Now its author has been sent the following passage from it as a challenge:
“Nothing except a colossal strategic sacrifice… in order that the physical transformation of the Mother may be immeasurably hastened and rendered absolutely secure and, through it, a divine life on earth for humanity may get rooted and be set a flower — nothing less can explain the passing of Sri Aurobindo.”
Words could not be more explicit and emphatic in asserting that the Mother would not pass away as she has done. And to ratify further the assertion — if at all there was any necessity to do so after the Mother had set her seal on the article — we had the authorised report of the talk between her and Sri Aurobindo some months before he left his body on December 5, 1950. They had envisaged the contingency of one of them having to leave the body in the interests of their work. The Mother had said she would do it. Sri Aurobindo had refused to let her undertake the sacrifice. He had said that he would go and that she must stay to fulfil their Yoga of Supramental Descent and Transformation.
Most certainly the Supramental Transformation includes as its crown and climax a supramentalised physical body. Sri Aurobindo looked upon his “Integral Yoga” as the swift-moving concentration of the Yoga which Nature has been doing over the aeons, and he clearly laid down in the very first chapter of The Life Divine that the Supermind is “involved” in Matter along with the principles of Mind and Life and must inevitably evolve just as these principles did. Sri Aurobindo regarded the supramentalisation of the physical body as the ultimate goal of the Yogic endeavour in which he and the Mother were engaged. It was understood that they had come upon earth to be the pioneers of a total supramentalisation: they would undergo the supramental transformation in its entirety so that mankind might do the same with their help. Not all the race at once would succeed, or even attempt the Yoga, but at least a few who were prepared to follow them in perfect sincerity would in not-too-distant a future make a small nucleus of divinised humanity and from them the Light would gradually fan out. This was the vision repeatedly announced without any qualification during Sri Aurobindo’s life-time and still prominently after he had given the unexpected “strategic sacrifice”, though now there was a faint hesitation at times to speak with absolute certitude. It appears that with the Mother’s penetration further and further into the unexplored depths of the body-consciousness the work of physical transformation, which meant a radical reversal of the organism’s habitual functions, took the shape of a constant play with death — a sort of spiritual “brinkmanship”, a coming to the verge of dissolution again and again for the purpose of giving new subtle dynamisms a chance to take over. Merely a stoppage of the old organic operations would not suffice: the cells would have to be illuminated, the matter of the body refined and rendered receptive to the supramental substance and form which had already been brought into action down to what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have called “the subtle-physical plane” immediately behind the gross-material on which we live. The process by which the habitually functioning organism could fuse with that substance and form was the one we could glimpse through the half-enigmatical disclosures of the Mother’s “Notes on the Way”, her talks with a disciple, in the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from 1965 onward.
The most baffling of these disclosures — a kind of paradoxical peak to the process — meets us in the issue of February 1973. It is dated December 30, 1972, and runs:
So it is going to be the new year…
Do you feel anything for the new year?
(After a silence)
Things have taken an extreme form, so there is as it were an uplift of the atmosphere towards a splendour… almost inconceivable and at the same time the feeling that at any moment one may… one may die — not “die” but the body may be dissolved. And so the two at the same time form a consciousness (Mother shakes her head) …all the old things seem puerile, childish, unconscious — within there… it is tremendous and wonderful.
So the body, the body has one prayer — and it is always the same:
Make me worthy of knowing You,
Make me worthy of serving You,
Make me worthy of being You.
I feel in myself a growing force… but it is of a new quality… in silence and in contemplation.
Nothing is impossible (Mother opens her hands upward).
There we have a picture of stark opposites — the sense of the body’s dissolution and the sense of a surpassing divine splendour — not only facing each other but also playing into each other, becoming the components of a single state. An extreme point has been reached: it is as if to die physically could be to achieve something “tremendous and wonderful” — as if the feeling of the possibility that the body might dissolve were itself the feeling of “a growing force”. It is hardly surprising that this force should be “of a new quality” or that the new quality be experienced in a condition of indrawnness with everything fallen still — an increasing inner Power that can be all-effective without needing an outer expressive body — a miracle that has become eminently accomplishable when the body has given itself up in a complete surrender to the Will of the Supreme.
The Mother, at the end of 1972, has clearly previsioned that such a miracle may happen in 1973. And nothing said later goes really against this foresight. For, she always leaves the future open: “I am repeating always: as You want it, as You want it, as You want it… let it be as You want it, may I do whatever You want, may I be conscious of whatever You want.” This prayer of March 10, 1973, puts aside all fixed anticipations and thus even the anticipation of the miracle is not positively affirmed, other possibilities are afforded their chance, but simultaneously room yet remains for the miracle to take place. And it is significant that the prevision at the close of 1972 has been preceded by the revelation on November 8 of the same year: “I have had for a moment — just a few seconds — the supramental consciousness.” Yes, the Supermind that had been pressing for years to exteriorise itself is here said to have briefly done the exteriorisation in a part of the Mother’s bodily being. The significance of this act may be seen in two ways. First, the exteriorisation would ensure success in supramentalising the body in the measurable future. Second, it would prelude sufficient development in the near future to allow a change of plan for the body’s role in the Yoga of the earth’s supramentalisation. The first alternative needs little explaining. The second calls for a commentary.
The role originally set for Sri Aurobindo’s body as well as for the Mother’s was entire divinisation so that it might not be subject in any mode to the so-called laws of Nature and would mark the beginning of a new, a supramental race. With the passing of Sri Aurobindo we saw a momentous shift in the plan: Sri Aurobindo admitted into his physical frame what we may term the basic power of darkness and, in the act of letting that frame merge with it and be destroyed, he destroyed that power’s capacity to stand in the path of the Mother’s Yoga and to retard the world’s evolution towards the Supermind. The immediate result was the establishment of the “Mind of Light” in the Mother on December 5, 1950 — the permanent reception of the Supramental Light by the physical mind. This result has been described, according to the Mother’s estimate, with revelatory accuracy in the opening lines of a poem by a disciple:
The core of a deathless Sun is now the brain
And each grey cell bursts to omniscient gold.
The next consequence of Sri Aurobindo’s sacrifice was the Supramental Manifestation which occurred on February 29, 1956: the Supermind made an initial entry into the subtle layer of the whole earth-plane and became a permanent part of the earth’s future evolution: now inevitably, in the course of time, the Supermind would take organic form in the gross layer of the terrestrial plane. We shall better appreciate the hastening of the Supermind’s Golden Day, which Sri Aurobindo brought about, if we realise from some correspondence with Sri Aurobindo in July and August of 1938 that the Truth-Consciousness’s manifestation on a world-wide scale was originally expected by the Mother as far back as that year. Owing to several factors — the chief being the push towards World War II by Hitler and the increasing power of Stalinism and the catastrophic division of India — this divine event was delayed for eighteen years! Without Sri Aurobindo’s drastic short-cut which we may call the Dying by the Deathless it would not have materialised for quite a length of time. The progression of the divine event in the terms of earthly life under the spiritual pressure of the Mother has also the touch of Sri Aurobindo: she has said that his action from beyond is greater than what it was when he was in his body and the increase has come precisely by his departure. A similar increase in her own action grows conceivable in relation to the possibility she always envisaged of leaving her body.
But, merely by a disembodiment, neither she nor he can be thought of as acquiring a greater action: they would first have to make Yogically the most of their embodied state. Fighting for transformation till the last breath, they might somehow make the body’s end itself a critical phase of the Yogic process and turn it to the purposes of their earth-transformative ideal. And it is a fact attested by Pranab and the rest of the Mother’s attendants that, though she had considered death as possible, she never accepted it as probable and she worked unremittingly for the physical divinisation with which Sri Aurobindo wanted to consummate the Integral Yoga: never did she accept any natural compulsion to leave the body.
It may be argued: “When Sri Aurobindo’s body was put in a casket and laid in a vault in the Ashram courtyard, did she not ask for a second chamber to be made and kept empty above the one where he was to be placed? Is not this provision a sure sign of accepting death as the end of her spiritual travail on earth?” The correct answer is: “If one envisages the possibility of dying, it is practical sense to make specific arrangements to meet it — especially when the person concerned is the responsible head of a great institution. But the true attitude of the Mother is clear from her words to Nolini: ‘If ever I leave my body…’ The possibility is figured, as most faint and remote, as though she said: ‘If by some rare chance I die…’ And this attitude is borne out also by the actual explanation she gave to Udar who was in charge of building Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi. Knowing the transformative aim of both the Master and the Mother, he was aghast at the proposal to have a second chamber in the vault. Then the Mother softly answered: ‘It is good tactics to put the Hostile Forces off the scent.’ She did not want these Forces to concentrate their attack on what she really sought to do. Thus the very gesture as of accepting death shows itself to be a secret move in the opposite direction, a provision made in favour of the transformative ideal.”
The Mother, like Sri Aurobindo, fulfilled the conditions under which Death the Enemy might be pressed into their service, and her talk on December 30, 1972, spotlights for an instant the capacity held by her consciousness to make the brief moment of her body’s collapse a long-term triumph. This capacity she exercised on November 17, 1973, at 7.25 p.m.
How exactly shall we picture the situation in which she made Death her servitor? On the one hand, as we know from “Notes on the Way” over several years, there was the growing infusion of her cells with the light of the Supramental Body already poised on the subtle-physical plane and then the short yet decisive experience of the exteriorised Supermind. On the other, as we learn from her attendants, there was infirm old age but also an ever-resisting youthfulness of attitude, both of which were linked with her stance as an Evolutionary Avatar representing all Nature’s upward travail. It was the Evolutionary Avatar who suffered an advancing weakness of limbs, a gradual deterioration of bodily powers — the exhaustion of a corporeal frame that had packed into itself the whole world’s problem of aging, the entire race’s difficulty of keeping life going for over nine decades. It was the Evolutionary Avatar too who had housed in that frame an indomitable spirit warring against the earth’s agelong darkness and doom and able to say like Sri Aurobindo:
I am full of wounds and the fight merciless.
The Mother seems to have found that the body, which she had allowed to go so far in its exalted agony, did not need to go any further: enough had been done to permit a victorious retreat. A retreat was desirable, since what had been done was insufficient except barely to hold on against the battering of Time. But victorious indeed could the retreat become, since sufficient interaction had pulsed between the subtle-physical glory of Grace and the gross-physical labour of Love, to enable the Mother to carry on earth-work in the future without continuing an outer existence. The gross-physical form could give up the struggle it had so long made to merge with the subtle-physical shape, because the subtle-physical shape had now won by the gross-physical form’s arduous tapasya a new earthward competence: it had attained the adequate density, the proper power, to operate directly on the earth-plane and ultimately even to condense and precipitate itself there for a still more intense activity to fulfil evolution as Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had always dreamed.
The prolonged withdrawal from outer life the Mother underwent from mid-May to mid-November and the protracted trances into which she plunged during those six months must have been oriented towards endowing the supramentalised subtle-physical with the “virtue” gathered by the gross-physical from its fight for transformation. More and more the Mother dwelt in the former and drew into it the enriched essence of the latter while preparing to discard the failing appearance. She had set out to succeed the other way round — to draw the former’s substance into the latter. But occult circumstances called for a change of strategy and she rose to the occasion.
Here a certain point must be thrown into some relief. When we speak of the Mother as preparing to discard the failing gross-physical we must not think she gave up warring against earth’s age-long darkness and doom. Sri Aurobindo has said about his work of trying to bring the Supermind into the body that even if he saw the chance that it might come to nothing he would go on unperturbed and strive to the best of his power: he would go on doing what he took to be his mission, for, “what is so done always counts in the economy of the universe”. The Mother, aware that her corporeal frame might have to be dropped in the interests of novel tactics for earth’s divinisation, kept still the warrior spirit, wanted still her infirm limbs to go on pressing for fitness. Else the essence of physicality would stop getting enriched and cease qualifying unreservedly to be assimilated into the hidden supramental Matter. The Mother, even in planning to abandon her outer sheath because of its being at a spiritual stalemate, went down fighting. Thus alone could the fate of other similar sheaths — the fate of embodied mankind in the future — become more favourable for transformation.
Yes, the Mother fought her way to victory during the retreat from her body. But there is yet another truth to be fathomed by us in visioning what happened to her. We have already seen her fundamental attitude: “Let it be as You want it, may I do whatever You want, may I be conscious of whatever You want.” The Mother, in doing everything, was still doing nothing — nothing except surrender actively to the Supreme Will. She had given her body to that Will’s demand on her for physical transformation. But her body had no preferences. When it was suggested to her in 1969 that she should have “a glorious body”, visible to everyone, so that all could come and see the Divine, she agreed but said: “I would be very glad if it were anyone, it does not matter who, I have not the least desire that it should be myself.” And she added: “The body has no ambition or desire whatsoever or even the aspiration to become the glorious body.” She repeated that not for a moment did she have the idea that it must be her own body which should become glorious. “Choosing one person or another, one place or another” — nothing of that kind existed for her, “Let there be this incarnation, this manifestation”: “the thing by itself was the wonderful solution. That’s all.” Lastly, she observed: “if there is nothing in this body which ‘aspires’ to be that, it proves that this is not its work.” Then she referred to “that wonderful Smile” — what she had earlier spoken of as not only a Smile but also “a shining Light” through which the Lord declared his omnipresence. Now the Smile said: “It is not your business”, and the Mother understood the phrase to mean: “it does not concern you: whether it is this or that or that…” But she at once followed up, referring to her body: “what has become its business — in such an intense way that it cannot be expressed — is: ‘Thou, Thou, Thou, Thou…’, no word can translate it; the Divine, to use one word. It is all, it is for all — to eat: the Divine; to sleep: the Divine; to suffer: the Divine… so on (Mother points both hands upward). With a kind of stability, immobility.”
There we have not what one may superficially understand as the Mother saying that another body than her own might, in historical fact, become “glorious”. She simply declares the sheer non-egoism of her body, even the absence of any sense of mission in her bodily being, her willingness that if the Lord so wills it anyone’s body should be divinised and not necessarily her own which has striven so much for the transformation. Stable and immobile in selfless surrender she yields herself to the Supreme for His activity — and at a different place we get a hint of what must have led her to the crisis of discarding her body. She speaks of having had for three or four hours the Divine Consciousness in the body, but it was a Consciousness that “went about from one body to another, altogether free and independent, knowing the limitations and possibilities of each body”. Then she recounts how the cells of her body spoke to the Presence, telling It of “their effort to be transformed”. “The body told of its aspiration and of its will to prepare itself”, but “always with the question…: will it continue or will it get dissolved? … Itself, it is like that (gesture of self-abandon, palms open), it says: ‘As thou wiliest, O Lord’, but then the body knows that it has been decided, and that it is not to be told to the body. It accepts, it is not impatient…”Ibid., p. 87.
Here is the key to the moment when the Mother chose the paradox of victorious retreat. She came to know the decision of “the Absolute”, as she terms the Presence. And she automatically decided the same. Since the Absolute is her own highest being, we may designate the decision either the Presence’s or hers. The decision was that her terribly strained body should get dissolved but that she must go down fighting.
As to the results of her heroic fall, what she said in 1969 is that if, with “the work becoming more and more exciting”, the body, in spite of her persistence, did not “hold on”, she would be constrained to let the transformation “be for another time”. But in March 1972, a Supramental Body waiting on the subtle-physical plane and pressing upon the gross-physical became a concrete reality in which she lived for a while, and there were also the experiences we have already sketched. Hence an alternative outcome was open and, according to us, it was this outcome that was opted for and is the significance of her death.
The Mother, by passing away as she did, accomplished the task set to her by Sri Aurobindo in 1950, and repeated in a new mode his own master-stroke of conquering all while appearing to perish utterly.
The Mother stands now on a border-line between Matter subtle and Matter gross — she has broken the barrier that had separated the two — she has brought the former so close to us that the latter is not required any longer for her dynamic influence and impact upon our lives. Nor does she only have the nearness and effectiveness to be the concrete Guru for our Yoga and the direct Guide to our evolutionary consummation: she also waits with all her energy of manifestation ready to materialise herself even to our common sight and touch. If we desire to have an idea of what she is like as she abides on that transitional verge between the outer and the inner, we may recollect the description in Lalita’s record of an experience on the Mother’s Samadhi Day: “Then slowly You appeared, as if from behind a veil. You were clad in a pale-gold robe. You looked young and beautiful and radiant with a brilliant white light. This light was strongest round the head, circling it with an indescribable halo. It extended intensely down to the waist. Still lower, it was a little less bright. From Your body it spread out to the whole world.”
But for the materialisation of this body, the new Advent of the Mother, there are conditions to be observed. Our non-observance of them was one of the major causes why the Mother had to bear those countless inner wounds and why her outer form had to suffer so grievously to reach the paradoxical point where, baulked of going further, it yet surmounted the necessity of further progress. If we wish to know what the conditions are, we may also hark back to Lalita’s record. She heard the Mother saying: “Forget ego, give up self; live and work in harmony and unity for the Divine.”
The last three words are of the essence. Not only is an ethico-social ideal to be lived and worked for. Valuable as such an ideal is, we have to surpass it and rise with its élan vibrant in us to the level of dynamic mysticism and Yoga, a collective spiritual practice lifting our humanity towards a truth-conscious supermanhood.
Understood rightly, the message heard on the Samadhi Day sums up the Mother’s demand on us. And the promise to our response is summed up in the final phrase Lalita caught from the Mother: “The Advent will not be far.”
- See “A ‘Call’ from Pondicherry” by Dr. Prabhat Sanyal, Mother India, December 5, 1953, p. 187.
- Bulletin, p. 93.
- Ibid., April 1973, p. 81.
- Ibid., February 1973, p. 85.
- Life-Literature-Yoga (Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1968), pp. 41-43.
- Bulletin, February 1973, p.
- “A Message by Nolini”, Mother India, December 5, 1973. p. i.
- Collected Poems, SABCL, Vol. 5, p. 146: “In the Battle”, line 11.
- Sri Aurobindo on Himself, SABCL, Vol. 26, p. 154.
- Bulletin, August 1969, p. 99.
- Ibid, p. 100.
- This translation from the French differs from that in the Bulletin, because the latter has been found faulty.
- Ibid., p. 93.
- Ibid., p. 100.
- Ibid., April 1969, p. 85.
- Ibid., p. 89.
- Ibid., August 1972, pp. 75, 77, 79, 81, 83.
- Mother India, December 5, 1973, p. vii.