Thought is a power, a greater power is the Idea. Ideas, thoughts, feelings are soft powers. They take time but when their work is over, it is more thoroughly done. Hard power such as brute force, military strength, rules and regulations, the violent drugs used in modern medicine have an instant effect but it does not cure the roots. Therefore the things returns, often more violently so, suppressed, it only gathers force and momentum to reappear on the surface. This talk refers to Sri Aurobindo’s writing on the subject.
Words of Sri Aurobindo
The mistake which despots, benevolent or malevolent, have been making ever since organised states came into existence and which, it seems, they will go on making to the end of the chapter is that they overestimate their coercive power, which is physical and material and therefore palpable, and underestimate the power and vitality of ideas and sentiments. A feeling or a thought, Nationalism, Democracy, the aspiration towards liberty, cannot be estimated in the terms of concrete power, in so many fighting men, so many armed police, so many guns, so many prisons, such and such laws, ukases, and executive powers. But such feelings and thoughts are more powerful than fighting men and guns and prisons and laws and ukases. Their beginnings are feeble, their end is mighty. But of despotic repression the beginnings are mighty, the end is feeble. Thought is always greater than armies, more lasting than the most powerful and best-organised despotisms. It was a thought that overthrew the despotism of centuries in France and revolutionised Europe. It was a mere sentiment against which the irresistible might of the Spanish armies and the organised cruelty of Spanish repression were shattered in the Netherlands, which brought to nought the administrative genius, the military power, the stubborn will of Aurangzeb, which loosened the iron grip of Austria on Italy. In all such instances the physical power and organisation behind the insurgent idea are ridiculously small, the repressive force so overwhelmingly, impossibly strong that all reasonable, prudent, moderate minds see the utter folly of resistance and stigmatise the attempt of the idea to rise as an act of almost criminal insanity. But the man with the idea is not reasonable, not prudent, not moderate. He is an extremist, a fanatic. He knows that his idea is bound to conquer, he knows that the man possessed with it is more formidable, even with his naked hands, than the prison and the gibbet, the armed men and the murderous cannon. He knows that in the fight with brute force the spirit, the idea is bound to conquer. The Roman Empire is no more, but the Christianity which it thought to crush, possesses half the globe, covering “regions Caesar never knew”. The Jew, whom the whole world persecuted, survived by the strength of an idea and now sits in the high places of the world, playing with nations as a chess player with his pieces. He knows too that his own life and the lives of others are of no value, that they are mere dust in the balance compared with the life of his idea. The idea or sentiment is at first confined to a few men whom their neighbours and countrymen ridicule as lunatics or hare-brained enthusiasts. But it spreads and gathers adherents who catch the fire of the first missionaries and creates its own preachers and then its workers who try to carry out its teachings in circumstances of almost paralysing difficulty. The attempt to work brings them into conflict with the established power which the idea threatens and there is persecution. The idea creates its martyrs. And in martyrdom there is an incalculable spiritual magnetism which works miracles.
A whole nation, a whole world catches the fire which burned in a few hearts; the soil which has drunk the blood of the martyr imbibes with it a sort of divine madness which it breathes into the heart of all its children, until there is but one overmastering idea, one imperishable resolution in the minds of all beside which all other hopes and interests fade into insignificance and until it is fulfilled, there can be no peace or rest for the land or its rulers. It is at this moment that the idea begins to create its heroes and fighters, whose numbers and courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant has become the idea triumphant. Such is the history of the idea, so invariable in its broad lines that it is evidently the working of a natural law. But the despot will not recognise this superiority, the teachings of history have no meaning for him. He is dazzled by the pomp and splendour of his own power, infatuated with the sense of his own irresistible strength. Naturally, for the signs and proofs of his own power are visible, palpable, in his camps and armaments, in the crores and millions which his tax-gatherers wring out of the helpless masses, in the tremendous array of cannon and implements of war which fill his numerous arsenals, in the compact and swiftly-working organisation of his administration, in the prisons into which he hurls his opponents, in the fortresses and places of exile to which he can hurry the men of the idea. He is deceived also by the temporary triumph of his repressive measures. He strikes out with his mailed hand and surging multitudes are scattered like chaff with a single blow; he hurls his thunderbolts from the citadels of his strength and ease and the clamour of a continent sinks into a deathlike hush; or he swings the rebels by rows from his gibbets or mows them down by the hundred with his mitrailleuse and then stands alone erect amidst the ruin he has made and thinks, “The trouble is over, there is nothing more to fear. My rule will endure for ever; God will not remember what I have done or take account of the blood that I have spilled.” And he does not know that the fiat has gone out against him, “Thou fool! this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” For to the Power that rules the world one day is the same as fifty years. The time lies in His choice, but now or afterwards the triumph of the idea is assured, for it is He who has sent it into men’s minds that His purposes may be fulfilled. The story is so old, so often repeated that it is a wonder the delusion should still persist and repeat itself. Each despotic rule after the other hinks, “Oh, the circumstances in my case are quite different, I am a different thing from any yet recorded in history, stronger, more virtuous and moral, better organised. I am God’s favourite and can never come to harm.” And so the old drama is staged again and acted till it reaches the old catastrophe.
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Silviu Craciunas was a Romanian who was being tortured in prison by Communists around 1953. He was contemplating suicide when he began having visions of an unknown Indian sage whose name he heard as “Aurobin Dogos” [ homonym for the real name Aurobindo Ghosh 1872-1950].Those visions and the conversations he had with this unknown sage gave him strength and enabled him to survive the ordeal. After his escape from prison, he wrote a book “The Lost Footsteps” [ISBN 978-0882641768, published around 1960] where he describes these visions.
Here is the relevant excerpt from his book. (Click on the link for the PDF – craciunas_thelostfootsteps). The interaction with Sri Aurobindo begins on page 167. I have copied some passages here.
One evening, when the radiator had begun its mournful music, the wall in front of me rolled back and a chain of snowy mountains gleamed in the rising sun. In the foreground was a little Indian temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. A tall tree shaded it. At its foot an old man sat with his legs tucked under him and his hands resting on his knees in Brahmin fashion. He had a long and very thin white beard. His ascetic face had the same serenity as the blue sky stretching over the dazzling peaks. (Note: It is worth noting that Silviu Craciunas’s description of Sri Aurobindo’s visage is quite accurate although no photograph of Sri Aurobindo had been released since about 1920. ) As I gazed at him he bowed his head slightly, smiled and said: “I can see you have forgotten me. Don’t you remember Aurobin Dogos, the Brahmin?”
I heard myself replying: “You have no idea how long I have been looking for you and calling you …”
“I had to make a long journey to get here,” he said. “It took me sixty years.”
For months after this I lived in the company of the “Brahmin” whom I believed at the time to be a real person other than myself. But these visions were different in character from the nightmare hallucinations I had had before. It seemed that, somehow, I had reached a deeper level of my being and these new experiences, instead of helping my enemies, marked the beginning of a period of spiritual integration.
I held long conversations with the “hermit” and it was “he” who argued me out of committing suicide, persuading me that life was sacred and must be lived to the last breath. I complained to him that, locked inside these walls and thinking ceaselessly night and day without a moment’s respite, I had reached the limits of my endurance. “Tell me,” I begged him, “am I the victim of these men who hold me captive, or at the mercy of some harsh, blind laws of nature?” He explained to me his view of suffering. “Some people it destroys,” he said, “other are challenged by it to resist some evil or to undertake some positive, creative act; some are corrupted, lose control over themselves and become cruel and vengeful, others grow in strength and grace.”
“But what can a man do alone, armed with nothing but his free will, against an overwhelming evil?” I asked him.
In answer, he told me a story. Two swallows nested under the eaves of a fisherman’s hut near the sea-shore. Teaching their young to fly, they took them out over the sea, gradually training them to cross long distances and to face the hardships they would have to undergo during their migration. The fledgelings shot into the air, exulting in the joy of flight and freedom, but a gust of wind caught one of them and flung it down upon the surface of the waves. The small bird kept its wings outstretched so that it did not sink, but neither could it rise; floating like a leaf, it called piteously to its parents as they circled over it. The parent swallows did their best to calm and to encourage it, then they flew back to the shore and made innumerable journeys to the water’s edge, each time carrying a drop of water in theirbeaks and pouring it into the sand. Thus they hoped to empty the ocean and to save their young.
“Their heroic effort is a lesson to us,” the “Brahmin” went on. “The human will and spirit must also not be resigned at moments of crisis; it must go on looking for a solution, however overwhelming the odds. You must not accept defeat, you must not believe your efforts to be in vain. If you have the blind courage to continue to endure and to struggle, you will find a new beginning in your life.”
My conversations with the hermit living in solitude near the temple to the goddess Kali had lasted several months. Outside spring was appearing; the strength of the light and a suspicion of warmth in the air were the first signs. Who was the “Brahmin”? Why was he trying to give me precious support? Understanding my perplexity, he gently held out a pale, skeleton-like hand and stroked my forehead with his cold fingers. Somehow transfigured, he said to me with emotion: “You want to know who I am? I am your spirit; your reason! You appealed to me in a moment of abject despair. In your isolation and helplessness, only I am capable of encouraging you to bolster your morale and strengthen your will; apart from me, there is no one who is able to come to your aid. Put your trust in my strength and you will never regret it!”
This encounter was indeed a turning point in my existence. Gradually my nightmares left me and I discovered an inner calm and balance and achieved control over my mind and body.
After days and weeks of practice I found that I could sit motionless on my chair for hours, my head leaning gently against the wall and my eyes open. I breathed deeply and quietly, my will controlling my heart-beats and keeping them steady. Hunger and fatigue took less toll of my strength than when I had dissipated it in pacing up and down my cell, fighting against drowsiness. My small ration of food and the two or three hours’ sleep I was allowed out of the twenty-four were now sufficient for my bodily needs.
To detach my mind totally from my surroundings took more time and effort. At first I told myself that I was a spectator in a darkened room: my prison life was nothing but a film projected on a screen, which I trained myself to interrupt at will. At a later stage I succeeded in looking upon my body, sitting motionless in the chair, as though it were a photograph. Still later I felt my spirit able to escape the prison walls and undertake long journeys. The warders were puzzled by the transformation which had taken place before their eyes: a man who had been frantic, driven to the verge of madness by lack of sleep, now sat calm and as still as a statue. From time to time they knocked on the door and ordered me to move my head or blink my eyes, to make sure that I was still alive and lucid. Inwardly I had reached a peace and a serenity which I had never known before.
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Words of the Mother
Because do you know the story of that Romanian who was tortured by the Communists and had visions of Sri Aurobindo [[Silvius Craciunas, author of The Lost Footstep.]] (he didn’t see him as he is, in fact, he saw him according to his own conception: thin and ascetic), and finally the apparition told him, “I am your soul,” and so on? But he had never read Sri Aurobindo’s name, he only heard it, and he wrote it in a very odd way [“Aurobin Dogos”]…. It SEEMS to be something of Sri Aurobindo. Anyhow it gave him the strength to go through all those tortures – appalling tortures, unimaginable. And he was able to escape, somebody helped him escape (now he is safe in England). But before that, he suffered so much that he thought of letting himself die, and that “voice,” that apparition which came and spoke to him for hours, was what gave him courage and told him that “the soul NEVER gets discouraged, it has something to do, and you must endure.” He endured thanks to that voice.
June 15, 1963