Sunday, August 2, 2015

Margaret Woodrow Wilson : American President's daughter lived and died in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry











Religion: Dishta of Pondicherry
Monday, Feb. 08, 1943
On southern India's Coromandel Coast New York Times Correspondent Herbert L. Matthews last week stumbled on one of Woodrow Wilson's daughters.* The spirit and image of her father, she lives in the French town of Pondicherry (now occupied by De Gaullists). She told Mr. Matthews that she was very happy after three years as a sadhak (follower) of an Indian religious teacher, Sri Aurobindo. Said she: "In fact, I never felt more at home anywhere."
Margaret Woodrow Wilson, now 56, and a spinster, broke with her family's Scotch-Irish Presbyterian traditions years ago when she stalked from church during Communion service. Flicking through catalogue cards in the New York Public Library four years ago, she came upon Sri Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita. For no special reason she took out this 300-page commentary on India's famous religious and philosophic poem, whose origin is lost in history. She read how "the lower in us must learn to exist for the higher in order that the higher also may in us consciously exist for the lower, to draw it nearer to its own altitudes." Fascinated, she read on until the guards closed the library. Next day she was back again.
Aurobindo's ashram (a retreat for disciples of a religious leader) is only one of many in mystic-minded India. Best known is Mohandas Gandhi's. Much more worldly, and very pro-British is Aurobindo's, which he set up 33 years ago. There Margaret Wilson responds to the name Dishta, meaning in Sanskrit the discovery of the divine self.
Cambridge-educated, 70-year-old Aurobindo keeps to his own room, appears only four times a year to his followers. If they wish advice they write him a letter. He may reply, may not. Active management of the ashram falls on a 66-year-old French woman, Madame Alfassa, known to disciples as Mother of the Universe.
Since the ashram can hold only a handful of followers, many of them, including Margaret Wilson, live in up-to-date houses in the town. Her religion, not concerned with mortifying the flesh, permits her to wear American clothes, read magazines and newspapers, puff an after-dinner cigaret. When she first arrived in India she tried to be a vegetarian, but she lost so much weight that the Mother of the Universe put her back on meat. She spends most of her time trying to acquire "a state of serenity." Each evening she goes to the ashram to spend half an hour in meditation to achieve this purpose. She finds it "extremely hard."
* Woodrow Wilson's other daughters: Jessie, who died in January 1933, was the wife of Francis Bowes Sayre (U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines, 1939-42); Eleanor ("Nellie"), divorced wife of the late Senator William Gibbs McAdoo, now living in Los Angeles, is regional adviser of women's activities for the Defense Savings Staff of the Treasury Department on the West Coast.

Courtesy: “Time” Magazine, Feb. 08, 1943









Nishtha

The strange disappearance of Margaret Woodrow Wilson 

Nishtha, as the Ashramites knew herNishtha is the story of Margaret Woodrow Wilson, daughter of the 28th President of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson, (1913-1921) whose vision and commitment to world unity eventually lead to the formation of the 'League of Nations'.
The play was written by Aurovilian Seyril Schochen, American playwright and actress, and has been performed on various occasions, most recently by the Auroville Theatre Group in Auroville, directed by Jill Navarre, American Aurovilian who has worked in theatre since 1977.

Margaret Woodrow Wilson

Margaret was an intelligent, capable, fiery woman of her times, a suffragette, and a famous concert singer. During the First World War she toured around America singing to raise funds for the Red Cross, and went to sing at the frontiers of war-torn France as a way of giving her support and making a contribution to the cause.

Connection with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Scene from the performance played by the Auroville theatre group, here with Nico and SrimoyiShe was first introduced to eastern mysticism by her friend Eliot, an English army officer and follower of Sri Ramakrishna.
In 1936 she discovered Sri Aurobindo's 'Essays on the Gita' at the New York City Public Library and was so taken by it that the guards had to more or less throw her out at closing time. She returned eagerly the next day and continued to do so until she had read through the book. To her great joy, she realised that at long last she had found her path and her guru.
She took up correspondence with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and was anxious to be near them in order to receive their help and guidance for her inner progress. They advised her to "remain in America due to (her) ill health but to establish an inner contact". Sri Aurobindo also wrote to her that "The silent answer and help can always go to you immediately - for there distance doesn't count".

Arrival in Pondicherry in 1938

Two years later, aged 52, Margaret was finally granted permission by Sri Aurobindo and Mother to come to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. She arrived in Pondicherry in October 1938 against the advice of her doctors, who warned her of the ill effects of the tropical climate on her acute arthritic condition.
Aurovilian Srimoyi as NishthaSoon after her arrival, she was renamed 'Nishtha' by Sri Aurobindo, who wrote to her on 5.11.1938: "The word means one-pointed, fixed and steady concentration, devotion and faith in the single aim, the Divine and the Divine Realisation."

Refusal to return home

In 1940, after the United States joined the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent instructions to evacuate all Americans from India on reports of Japan's threatened invasion of India. But she resisted all pressure from family, friends and the United States government to return to America, and stayed on in the Ashram to fulfill her dream. (It is mainly this period which has been used for the script of the play 'Nishtha'.)
The last six years of her life Nishtha spent in Pondicherry, often ill, but content to be in such close proximity to her beloved gurus.

"Their way is my way…"

Nishtha and her sister, played by Srimoyi and Surbhi PatelOn 21.1.1943 she told The New York Times correspondent Herbert L. Matthews - "I don't want to return to the United State. I am not homesick. In fact I never felt more at home anywhere any time in my life."
To her friend Lois, she wrote in 1939: "Since seeing Sri Aurobindo and the Mother together, I have been surer than ever that their way is my way - that my soul brought me here where it belongs."

Inner experience

The Ashramites remember her as an imperious, fastidious lady of remarkable mind and character. True to her new name, she seems to have had only one intense aspiration, that of realising the Divine.
In her letter to her dear friend Lois, it appears that she was indeed progressing towards her goal, for she writes:
"I think I can say that some kind of 'experience' has begun for me, for Istrike a quiet nearly every day."

Courtesy and Link :
 http://archive.auroville.org/art&culture/theatre/nishtha.htm

Nishtha's observations (Download .zip file)


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sri Paramahansa Yogananda's Conscious Exit from the Body





Courtesy : Time, August 4, 1952






                                                                       

                                                           


Saturday, July 18, 2015

"Wh y S r i Au r o b i n d o I s Co o l ?" b y C r a i g Hami l t o n




“BUT SRI AUROBINDO is cool!” I exclaimed to Andrew Cohen, my spiritual teacher
and editor-in-chief.
“Yes, we know that, but how are you going to communicate that to our readers?” he
asked.
“Won’t it be enough for me to just tell them his incredible story? I mean, check it out:
Controversial freedom fighter attains enlightenment in jail and relinquishes leadership of
the revolution to become one of the greatest philosopher/yogis and evolutionary thinkers
to have ever lived. You’ve got to admit, that’s one hell of a headline.”
Andrew smiled. “Okay. Maybe for the Enlightenment Times. But listen, there’s one
problem. He’s a dead guru. A great dead guru, no doubt. An amazing dead guru.
Probably one of the most extraordinary dead gurus the world has ever known. But face it,
he’s old news. We’re What Is Enlightenment? We’re cutting edge. This is about living
inquiry. We don’t do dead gurus. As Adi Da said . . .”
“. . . dead gurus don’t kick ass!” My colleagues finished his sentence in chorus.
I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation. “What about Babaji?” I leapt up.
“Nobody can seem to prove that he was ever alive! And we’re doing him!”
“Immortal sages are one thing. But Sri Aurobindo has been decidedly buried for fifty
years. I know the doctors were all amazed that his body didn’t start to decay for four
days, but I’d hate to see it now,” Andrew laughed.
“Well, Swami Vivekananda’s in this issue and he’s not exactly tearing up the
conference circuit these days, is he?” I was sure I had him with this one.
“It’s okay to print an excerpt from someone’s book,” he replied, “but you’re asking us
to fly you all the way to India to do in-depth research on someone we can all read
everything we need to know about on the web.”
“But look,” I pleaded, “we’re doing an issue on evolutionary enlightenment. How
many people even know what that is? Everybody these days thinks enlightenment is the
end, the grand finale, the ultimate blast-off into nirvana never to return again. But Sri
Aurobindo GOT IT. He was the first one to get it. And he got it like few have ever gotten
it since. Sure, people can read about him on the web, but first they have to find out how
amazing he was. That’s why I want to do this piece, to tell them. And to really do it right,
I think I have to go to India, to visit his ashram and talk to the people who knew him, to
get the real inside story.”
Andrew motioned for me to sit down. “Okay, listen,” he said. “I can’t argue with
what you’re saying. And I’m not going to say there’s no way you can do it. But before I
agree to send you halfway around the world, you’ve got to come up with some kind of
angle, some way to bring Sri Aurobindo alive that is hip, modern, intriguing, and, most of
all, relevant to enlightenment in the twenty-first century. This can’t just be another rehash
of the old story. Give it some thought and we’ll talk again tomorrow.”
As we wrapped up our daily editorial meeting, it was all I could do to contain my
excitement. It had been tough going, but I had gained the foothold I’d been hoping for.
I had shown up at that afternoon’s meeting with a stack of books on the pioneering
twentieth-century sage Sri Aurobindo, knowing I probably had my work cut out for me.
Although I had no doubt that everyone on the team had tremendous respect for his work,
I knew that a feature story about a great figure from the past, particularly in an issue
about the future, would be a tough sell.
“Isn’t he extremely hard to read?” one of my colleagues had asked straightaway, “as
if somehow he accidentally got his genes crossed with a German philosopher or
something?” I couldn’t deny that he was in fact a tough read, having first learned to write
in Latin and Greek, two languages in which the construction of long sentences is actually
a sort of high art. But nonetheless, I knew that my only chance to win my case lay in
reading a few passages aloud:
The animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man.
Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose
conscious co-operation she wills to work out the superman, the god.
That got their attention. I read a little more:
. . . for the full and perfect fulfillment of the evolutionary urge, [the spiritual]
illumination and change must take up and re-create the whole being, mind, life and
body: it must be not only an inner experience of the Divinity but a remoulding of
both the inner and outer existence by its power; it must take form not only in the
life of the individual but as a collective life of gnostic beings established as a
highest power and form of the becoming of the Spirit in the earth-nature.
After reading a few more pages in the same vein, I looked around at their faces. They
were captivated. I wasn’t surprised. In the course of our research for this issue, we had
already come upon some extraordinary evolutionary thinkers, but Sri Aurobindo’s words
carried a spiritual weight like no one else we had read. A weight that, in light of our issue
topic, and our reasons for choosing this topic now, meant a lot. For the idea to do an issue
on evolution and enlightenment had been triggered by a series of unexpected
breakthroughs in the collective practice of our own spiritual community. Breakthroughs
that, unless we were all crazy, seemed to suggest a great deal about the relationship
between enlightenment and humanity’s potential for a further collective evolution. So far,
however, none of the traditional religions had been able to shed light on our experience.
But on page after page, Sri Aurobindo was coming through in spades.
Although reading aloud from Sri Aurobindo had made our entire editorial team
curious to learn more about his teachings, it had only brought me a hair’s breadth closer
to my goal. As I left the meeting that afternoon, it was clear that I still had a lot more
persuading to do before I would be on my way to India. That night, while ruminating
over how I could possibly convince the world that Sri Aurobindo was cool, I got a sudden
flash of what I hoped was inspiration. And after spending the better part of the night
trying to put it into words, I showed up at the next afternoon’s meeting ready for another
round.
“I want to read you what I’ve written,” I jumped in at the start of the meeting before
anyone could even mention the day’s news.
“Written?” Andrew looked slightly puzzled. “About what?”
“About Sri Aurobindo,” I answered confidently. “I thought about what you said about
needing to make him look cool, and I think I’ve got an angle. I’ve already written the first
four pages.”
“That’s a new one,” he laughed. “Writing the piece before you do the research. If we
could all do that, maybe we could start coming out quarterly. It would save us a lot on
airfares, too. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s hear it.”
I began:
When most of us think of Sri Aurobindo, we probably think of that famous image of
him, sitting there in that throne of a chair, long white beard and hair, looking like
something straight out of a Hollywood movie in which he was cast in the role of God.
You can almost imagine his voice, thundering with frightening authority in perfect King
James English like Robert Powell’s classic rendition of Jesus of Nazareth. But take a look
behind the scenes at the life of this revolutionary mystic, and you’ll find yourself face-toface
with a very different sort of character. You see, the real Sri Aurobindo was no
otherworldly ivory tower patriarch, calling out to the lost masses from on high. No, he
was a man of action, a fiery wit, a power yogi, a spiritual renegade if there ever was one.
In a word, this guy was cool. Really cool. As Michael Murphy, best-selling author, cofounder
of Esalen Institute, and a former resident of Sri Aurobindo’s ashram, put it:
“Aurobindo is a stupendously great guy. He opened up so much. Hardly anyone has this
vision that puts the two together—God and the evolving universe. Hardly anyone! Most
people in Eastern philosophy take the more traditional view that’s represented by Huston
Smith or Ram Dass. Which is the classical mystical view that factors in evolution little if
at all.”
Let me translate. What Mike is saying here is that Sri Aurobindo brought a radical
(not in the California sense) new vision to spiritual life that, as far as anyone can tell, no
other mystic before him had done. The fact is, with the possible exception of Judaism,
almost all religious and mystical traditions, East and West—even if they promote doing
good works in the world, chopping wood and carrying water, or being a bodhisattva
dedicated to the liberation of all beings—ultimately see the goal of spiritual practice as
some kind of vertical liftoff, out of this world into either a transcendent beyond, a heaven,
or a final cessation in nirvana. Sri Aurobindo had the audacity to say that this view was a
mistake. A big mistake. He even had the chutzpah to say it was a mistake made by the
likes of Shankara and the Buddha. To him, the goal was something much more
significant. He said that if we were only willing to consciously participate in
EVOLUTION, we could create a “divine life” right here on earth. No vertical liftoff. No
great escape, but a ceaseless, dynamic, miraculous unfolding of ever-higher expressions
of harmony and unity, here in this world.
And there’s more. A lot more. Take poetry. Poetry is cool these days, right? Well, let
me tell you, if Sri Aurobindo were alive, he’d take the “poetry slam” to a whole new
level. He’d make the beats look like deadbeats. He’d have the rappers running back to
grammar school. He published his first poem when he was twelve. His longest poem,
Savitri, which took him almost thirty-five years to write, is twenty-four thousand lines
long. It’s his highest example of what he called “future poetry” or “overhead poetry”—
poetry written from the highest planes of consciousness. And it’s high all right. Good
luck digesting more than a few stanzas without going into samadhi [ecstatic absorption].
Definitely not to be read while operating heavy machinery. And did I mention that
Aldous Huxley, Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck, and others independently nominated Sri
Aurobindo for the Nobel Prize in Literature?
Now, being a political revolutionary is seriously cool, right? Well, how about the fact
that, after reading a poem by Shelley on the French revolution at the age of eleven (that’s
right, eleven), Aurobindo decided that he, too, would like to devote his life “to a similar
world-change” and lead his then oppressed homeland to freedom. And after finishing a
star-studded academic career at Cambridge University while surviving on little more than
“toast and tea,” he became, by the age of thirty-four, the leading figure in the Indian
independence movement. The British even labeled him the “most dangerous man” in
India, and threw him in jail—solitary confinement to be precise—for the better part of a
year while he was on trial for his alleged involvement in a terrorist bombing.
But guess what he did in jail. Did he get depressed? No. He meditated. Boy, did he!
In fact, it was there, in a barren six-by-nine cell, that he underwent one of the most
extraordinary transformations of his remarkable, if not epic, spiritual journey. After a
short time, as he tells it, “I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no
longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was [God] who surrounded me. I
walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it
was [God], it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade.
I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw
[God]. . . . Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the
arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friend and Lover.” So much for solitary
confinement.
And while we’re on the subject of spiritual breakthroughs, let’s take a look at his
yoga. And, I’m not talking here about the curvaceous-blond-doing-suptavirasana-by-the-
California-seashore-at-sunset Yoga Journal calendar kind of yoga. This was yoga in the
traditional sense: Seeking union with the Divine through real, disciplined, inward
spiritual practice. Meditation and contemplation, as most of us would call it. Now, for Sri
Aurobindo, although he was never one to slouch in the face of required effort, the yoga
part seemed to come easy. In fact, the very first time he went to a teacher for guidance, he
found himself thrust into a state of consciousness many never reach in an entire lifetime
of practice. After simply following the instructions of this little-known yogi to reject any
thoughts that tried to enter his mind, he found that “In a moment my mind became silent
as a windless air on a high mountain summit and then I saw one thought and then another
coming in a concrete way from outside; I flung them away before they could enter and
take hold of the brain and in three days I was free.”
And just so we’re clear, the “freedom” that he experienced—and continued to
experience from that day on—was, in his words, none other than “Nirvana,” the
“concrete consciousness of stillness and silence” most of us think of as the ground and
goal of all true mystical pursuit:
To reach Nirvana was the first radical result of my own yoga. It threw me suddenly
into a condition [in which] there was no ego, no real world . . . no One or many
even, only just absolutely That, featureless, relationless, sheer, indescribable,
unthinkable, absolute, yet supremely real and solely real. . . . What it brought was
an inexpressible Peace, a stupendous silence, an infinity of release and freedom.
But for Sri Aurobindo, the experience did not end there. Although it was “attended at first
by an overwhelming feeling and perception of the total unreality of the world,” his
experience eventually began to give way to the recognition of a deeper truth:
The aspect of an illusionary world gave place to one in which illusion is only a
small surface phenomenon with an immense Divine Reality behind it and a supreme
Divine Reality above it and an intense Divine Reality in the heart of everything that
had seemed at first only a cinematic shape or shadow. . . . Nirvana in my liberated
consciousness turned out to be the beginning of my realization, a first step towards
the complete thing, not the sole true attainment possible or even a culminating
finale. . . . And then it slowly grew into something not less but greater than its first
self.
In these Buddhistically enlightened days in the West, Sri Aurobindo’s claim that nirvana
is not the end of the path may seem a little strange. After all, doesn’t nirvana by its very
definition mean “the end,” the final cessation toward which all of our striving is headed?
I mean, sure, if we’re really selfless bodhisattvas, we might think about postponing our
nirvana for a few eons. But we all know where we’re going in the end, right? Cessation,
release, transcendence, the Beyond.
“I’m not sure you can really assume that about our readers,” Elizabeth, one of my
colleagues, interrupted. “Granted, most spiritual people don’t tend to think of the goal in
terms of evolution, but I think people probably have lots of different ideas about where
their spiritual practice is taking them. Just look at how many people we’ve come across
doing this issue on evolution who see the goal of the spiritual path as the attainment of
physical immortality or the ‘light body.’” She turned to the rest of the team.
“She’s right,” Carter agreed. “In fact, wasn’t Sri Aurobindo one of them?”
“Well, yes,” I conceded, “I think something like that was at least a part of what he
was aiming for. But it definitely wasn’t the main event. Shall I keep reading?”
“Did you just say that Sri Aurobindo thought the goal of the spiritual path had
something to do with physical immortality and the light body?” Andrew asked.
“Well, I’m not completely clear on that one yet myself,” I admitted. “From what I’ve
read, though, it does seem that he thought that physical immortality would be one of the
results of the transformation he was pointing to. I mean, to be honest, he talks a lot about
the transformation of the physical body, and I actually don’t feel like I understand that
part very well yet. But I think the gist of it is that in the course of our further spiritual
evolution, as greater divine powers begin to work in us, all limitations, even physical
limitations, would eventually be transcended.”
“Sounds pretty far out,” Carter remarked. “But you said that definitely wasn’t the
main event. So what, in your mind, was the main event? What’s gotten you so fired up
about this?”
“Well, I think it’s really what I wrote at the beginning about his ultimate vision of the
purpose and goal of the spiritual quest. His idea that we can create a divine life on earth.
Actually, this is exactly what I wrote about in the next part of my piece. Here, I’ll keep
going. I’m skipping ahead a little.”
If one is aiming for a spiritual goal beyond or outside of this world, it’s easy to keep
the nature of that goal pretty nebulous. Words like nirvana, or enlightenment, or Godrealization,
when referring to a lofty or transcendent attainment, can mean, well, just
about anything. But when, as in Sri Aurobindo’s case, the goal of the spiritual path
becomes about something that must happen in this world, the options start to narrow, and
the target quickly starts to define itself. And for Sri Aurobindo that target was dead clear.
It was nothing less than the total transformation of the human being on every level.
Through the dedicated practice of what he called “Integral Yoga,” or yoga that addresses
every aspect of life, he felt that human beings could purify themselves of all negative,
egoic tendencies and in so doing become ultimately perfect and stainless vehicles for the
expression of the “divine consciousness” in this world. This, to him, was the evolutionary
leap toward which all of humanity’s highest aspirations are pointing.
For Sri Aurobindo, however, to consider this extraordinary transformation as simply a
further stage in human evolution was by no means enough to do justice to the level of
change he was envisioning. To him, such a radical transformation of consciousness, and
of life, could only accurately be described as the birth of an entirely new type of being—a
life-form that he referred to variously as “the Gnostic being” or “supramental being” or
sometimes simply “the superman.”
Now, if the idea of a new type of being coming into existence has you wondering
how you ended up in the sci-fi section, I can only assure you that, at least as far as I can
tell, Sri Aurobindo is not suggesting that we will learn to fly, develop an intense aversion
to kryptonite, or acquire x-ray vision anytime soon. What he is suggesting, however, is
that if the next grand step in evolution is indeed the manifestation of a divine life on
earth, and if the radical transformation of human nature itself is indeed the means toward
that end, then the goal that Nature is currently reaching toward does seem to be none
other than the emergence of what will in some fundamental sense be a completely new
type of being. A being in whom, as he puts it:
There could be . . . no place for . . . the satisfaction or frustration of the limited self
. . . no place for the relative and dependent happiness and grief that visit and afflict
our limited nature; for these are things that belong to the ego and the Ignorance,
not to the freedom and truth of the Spirit.
Having wholly transcended the narrow, self-centered motivations of the ego and having
been illumined by the light and truth of the highest levels of consciousness, this “Gnostic
being” would truly be a pure vessel through which the Divine, in all its glory, could
manifest itself freely in this world:
One in self with all, the supramental being will seek the delight of selfmanifestation
of the Spirit in himself but equally the delight of the Divine in all: he
will have the cosmic joy and will be a power for bringing the bliss of the Spirit, the
joy of being to others; for their joy will be part of his own joy of existence.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” I erupted. “This is what I’m so excited about. This is it! This is
the whole point: That we have the potential to become truly God-inspired, God-motivated
beings living a life completely beyond the ego. I mean we all see the potential for this,
right? We see it in each other when we’re at our best. And we know this is why we’re
here to make this happen. Why else would we be here? Anyway, I know I’m preaching to
the choir, but it just hit me again as I was reading that last quote how completely
extraordinary what he’s pointing to really is.
“In terms of the piece, this is as far as I’ve written, but the next point I want to make
is about the collective aspect of his vision. Because that’s really where it’s all leading, in
the end. It’s what he devotes most of the last chapter of The Life Divine to speaking
about. He basically says that for the divine life to truly manifest, it’s not enough for a few
highly evolved individuals to just kind of be around transmitting love and light to
everybody else. He’s saying that what has to happen is for a group of ‘gnostic beings’ to
come together and begin to manifest a completely different kind of collective life. He
writes about this in incredible detail, too. He describes how, when a group of egoless
beings come together in the knowledge of their absolute unity with one another and with
the whole, then completely different rules apply; all the structures and institutions and
modes of relating and responding, individually and collectively, become informed by
what he called the ‘Truth-Consciousness’ or ‘supramental consciousness’ and the result is
really nothing less than a completely ‘new world.’ See, this is what I mean. No one else
has written about all this. I mean, does anybody even know about this? Do you see why I
want to do this piece?”
Andrew threw up his hands. “Okay, okay, you’ve convinced me. You’re right, we
need to do something on Sri Aurobindo for this issue. So when do you leave for India?”
“Wait, before we finish,” Carter jumped in, “I just want to make sure I have the story
straight. Because you said he had all these big experiences while he was busy leading the
revolution. But he didn’t just keep leading the revolution in the midst of this unfolding
revelation, did he? You’d think the spiritual life would have eventually pulled him away
from all that.”
“Well, believe it or not, he did keep leading it for quite a while, even after those
experiences. Even while he was in the midst of that big, ongoing experience of nirvana I
mentioned, he visited a bomb factory and he gave something like fifteen political
speeches. People said they were the best speeches he ever gave. He did eventually pull
out of the revolution, though. In 1910, he heard the British were going to arrest him
again, so he fled Calcutta, eventually ending up in Pondicherry, a French colony that was
offering asylum to the freedom fighters. It seems like what happened there was that he
got so fired up about this revolutionary spiritual vision he was discovering that he just
lost interest in fighting the political revolution. He stayed there in Pondicherry, until the
end of his life, doing his own spiritual practice, guiding other people in theirs, and putting
his teachings of Integral Yoga into writing.”
“It’s quite a story,” Amy said. “The more you hear, the harder it is to believe this was
all one guy.”
“Yeah, and I have a feeling there’s a lot more where that came from,” I replied.
“That’s why it’ll be great to go and visit the ashram. Did you know they actually refer to
it as a ‘laboratory of evolution’? There are sixteen hundred people living there, some of
whom have been around since the early days. I’m sure they’re going to have a lot to say
about Sri Aurobindo and Integral Yoga and, with any luck, about evolution as well.”
The Mother
For most of us, the mention of an Indian ashram does not exactly bring to mind a
dynamic picture. We probably think of bearded, orange-robed swamis sitting before
statues of Hindu gods and goddesses chanting mantras; early-morning gatherings for
meditation and bhajan singing; a quiet, simple, contemplative sort of life. But step
through the gates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and you’re in for a very different kind of ride.
In fact, arriving in the ashram on a sunny November morning, I found no inward-turning
swamis, but energetic men, women, boys, and girls, young and old, dressed not in ochre
robes but in polo shirts and khaki shorts! Now, if you’ve never traveled in India, the fact
that everyone was wearing shorts at an ashram might not mean much. But to anyone who
has dragged a backpack around this socially conservative country, it is all but
incomprehensible. Any travel guide worth the price of the paper it’s printed on will tell
you flat out: Unless you’re hell-bent on offending the locals, don’t wear shorts. What
gives with the shorts? I wondered.
A visit with ashram reception, my first stop of the day, soon got me my answer. “The
idea of wearing shorts came from the Mother,” the man behind the desk informed me.
“She instituted this back in the early forties. It was a very controversial step at the time,
but now it is quite acceptable throughout the town. The Mother was a real pioneer, you
know. She has left her mark in every field of life. Do you know much about her?”
“I’ve read some of her books,” I replied. But given that her pictures seemed to take up
more ashram wall space than even Sri Aurobindo’s, I realized I was probably going to be
learning a whole lot more about her over the next couple of days.
Not to be confused with his mother, the Mother, I would learn, was a French painter
and musician named Mirra Richard, who showed up on Sri Aurobindo’s doorstep in 1914
only to recognize that he was the spiritual teacher who had been appearing to her in
visions since her early teens. Mirra was a highly accomplished occultist who had, by her
own account, been “doing yoga” since she was four and soaring out of her body by night
for most of her life. She had studied with some big occult leaders in Algeria and had led
esoteric study groups in Paris with attendees as prestigious as the illustrious Tibetologist
Alexandra David-Neel. A painter and member of Paris’s artistic elite, mixing with the
likes of Rodin and Matisse during her early years, she was an extraordinarily cultured
woman.
Now when most of us hear the word “occult,” we probably think of séances, spells,
Ouija boards, and other mysterious, slightly spooky things happening in candle-lit rooms.
And while the Mother no doubt participated in her fair share of those, her real occult
calling was of a considerably different order. Her various “missions on earth” included
such formidable tasks as vanquishing or “converting” the four great asuras, or demonic
forces, that hold the world in their grip (one of whom she conveniently managed to
marry). Moreover, she had known from an early age that she also had a task in front of
her that could only be called “spiritual” in nature. As she tells it, “Between [the ages of]
eleven and thirteen a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only
the existence of God but man’s possibility of uniting with Him, of realizing Him
integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine.”
No surprise, then, that when she finally met Sri Aurobindo in the flesh, the impact struck
deep. As she wrote the next day in her diary, “It matters little that there are thousands of
beings plunged in the densest ignorance, He whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his
presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into
light, and Thy reign shall be indeed established upon earth.”
Mirra’s first visit to the ashram, however, ended abruptly after a year, when World
War I broke out and she departed with her husband, who was called back to France to
serve. But when she returned to India for good in 1920, Sri Aurobindo apparently soon
recognized her extraordinary spiritual capacities and before long began to relate to her as
a sort of confidante and collaborator in his work. Impressed by her remarkable proclivity
for the practical, within a few years he gave her free rein to plan, build, and run his
growing ashram, ultimately even putting her in charge of providing personal spiritual
guidance to the disciples. And run it she did. As Michael Murphy, who knew her
personally, would tell me later: “She kicked ass. She really kicked ass. She was a strong
personality. She was shrewd. She was a real builder, a businessperson, extremely able.
And she was spiritually realized. She ran a tight ship.” In fact, I would learn, during the
fifty-three years she lived at the ashram, it was the Mother’s influence, much more even
than Sri Aurobindo’s, that was the guiding force in the growth and development of this
burgeoning spiritual community, and of the work of Integral Yoga as a whole.
In the course of my first day at the ashram, thanks to the help of a couple of veteran
ashramites who volunteered to show me around, I had the chance to speak with a broad
range of people about the powerful role this unlikely guru from Paris played, and
continues to play, in their lives. Later that evening, my head spinning from everything I
had heard, I joined the community meditation. I had barely begun to sink in when my cell
phone rang. “Damn. I can’t believe I forgot to turn it off!” I cursed myself while running
tiptoe through the mass of silent meditators, trying to get to the gate before the next ring.
“Guess who?” It was Andrew and my colleagues in chorus on the speakerphone.
“What’s happening in the laboratory?”
“Well,” I answered, not sure where to begin, “it’s a lot to take in. The people are all
really nice, and they have been extremely helpful. And, from what I can tell, pretty much
all of them seem deeply devoted.”
“To evolution?” Carter asked.
“Well, I think so, at least some of them,” I answered. “But what’s ten times more
apparent is their devotion to the Mother.”
“The Mother?” They sounded dumbfounded.
“Yeah. I had no idea what a huge role she played here either. I mean, from the looks
of things, they’re much more devoted to her than they are even to Sri Aurobindo.”
“Could that just be because she was there for twenty years after he died, so people
had more contact with her?” Amy suggested.
“I think that was probably part of it, but there’s more to it. You see, Sri Aurobindo
apparently told everyone that devotion and surrender to her, as the Divine Mother on
earth, was the most crucial part of the path.”
“It sounds like she was really seen as a powerful spiritual master in her own right,”
Elizabeth commented.
“There’s no question about it. In fact, Sri Aurobindo even said that he and the Mother
were ‘one consciousness.’ And everyone here is convinced that both of them are avatars
who descended from heaven to bring down the ‘supramental consciousness,’ or actually
that the two of them put together make up a single avatar, or something like that. It’s a
little confusing. But the one thing I can say is that the way people speak about what it
was like to be with her, it’s obvious that she touched them really deeply. I don’t know
where else I’ve seen such intense devotion.”
“I wonder why we didn’t know more about the Mother’s influence,” Elizabeth said.
“Could there have been some major hole in your research?”
“Well, maybe,” I responded, “but Georges Van Vrekhem, who has written
biographies of both of them, told me today that hardly anyone in America takes any
notice of the Mother. I’m not sure why.”
“Well, it sounds like an adventure in the making,” Andrew concluded. “It’ll be great
to hear where things are at in a day or two.”
Integral Yoga
Having spent nearly my whole first day getting a crash course on the Mother, by my
second afternoon I was ready to get back to Sri Aurobindo. Reading about his
extraordinary life had been one thing. But now, finally, I was going to get a chance to
meet someone who had actually known him. Well, sort of. My appointment that
afternoon was with a man Sri Aurobindo had named Amal Kiran, or “the Clear Ray,” a
widely loved and highly respected poet, author, and cultural critic more commonly
known as K. D. Sethna, who had moved to the ashram in 1927. Having arrived on the
scene when there were still only a handful of disciples, one would naturally assume that
Amal would have had a close personal relationship with the Master. So when he told me
that he had never actually heard Sri Aurobindo’s voice, I was slightly taken aback. Until I
remembered reading that Sri Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion in 1926, and after that,
no one except the Mother, the occasional visiting V.I.P., and a handful of physicians who
helped him recover after an injury had heard his voice. In those days, if you wanted to
have a relationship with Sri Aurobindo beyond the thrice-yearly darshans [audiences
with the Master], there was only one way to do it. You wrote letters to him. And, at least
most of the time, he wrote back. Amal, I would learn, had been one of the ones who
wrote the most. In fact, being a poet of high repute himself, he had the good fortune to
enter into an ongoing correspondence with Sri Aurobindo about the creation of the
Master’s epic poem, Savitri. And Amal, with Sri Aurobindo’s help, had also cultivated
the art of writing “overhead poetry,” although, as he would confess, he hadn’t quite been
able to write from the very highest planes of consciousness.
Now ninety-seven, Amal was, without a doubt, the most radiant presence I would
meet during my time there. Realizing at the outset that I was talking with someone who
had been doing Integral Yoga for seventy-five years, I didn’t waste time on history or
philosophy. What is the essence of the practice? I wanted to know. Amal didn’t hesitate
for a second.
“This path has to be approached in a spirit of complete spiritual self-surrender,” he
explained. “It is not an individual achievement, but a lending of oneself to what the
Supreme Divine wants. And in the daily functions, remember the Divine, and offer
yourself to the Divine. And along that path of self-giving, it is the Divine who will decide
how far you will go. One must approach the Divine with a spirit that says: ‘Whatever
You want, do. Make me what You want me to be, and not what I might dream of being.’
The yoga has to be in that spirit.”
Over the course of my conversation with Amal that afternoon, which ranged widely
across the territory of Integral Yoga, for the first time I began to get a sense of how much
it really takes to practice this comprehensive path that Sri Aurobindo had deemed “more
difficult than any other.”
My talk with Amal had run right through the ashram dinner hour, and desperate for
some Western food, I took my chances at one of the Italian restaurants along the
oceanfront. Halfway through one of the wateriest plates of fettuccine I’ve ever
encountered, my phone rang again. Sure enough, it was the home team.
“I’m meeting some incredible people,” I started off. “Remember K. D. Sethna, or
Amal Kiran the famous Indian writer I told you about who was a disciple of Sri
Aurobindo and who had that long-standing correspondence with Father Bede Griffiths,
the revered Christian sannyasin? We spent an hour together this afternoon, and he was
beautiful. Ninety-seven years old, more or less immobilized in a wheelchair at the ashram
nursing home, but totally present, awake, sharp as a razor, and radiating something
extraordinary. I mean, the presence in the room by the end of our talk was profound.”
“What did you talk about?” Elizabeth asked.
“Integral Yoga. I think I’m getting a better handle on it. You know how we’ve never
been able to quite get what Integral Yoga was?”
“Yeah,” they responded.
“Well, I think it’s because we were trying to find some sort of list of practices. But
there isn’t one.”
“Yoga without practice? It must be easy to get people to sign up for that!” Andrew
joked.
“No, it’s not that they don’t do practices. I think pretty much everybody does some
sort of practice, be it meditation or mantra or contemplation or what have you. But the
point is that it’s not about the practices per se. It’s about a whole orientation toward life.
Sri Aurobindo’s goal was to bring about the total transformation of the human being on
every level, and likewise the transformation of life as a whole, so he created what he
called ‘a world-changing or Nature-changing yoga,’ an approach to the spiritual path that
could be applied to every aspect of life.”
“What does that mean practically?” Amy wanted to know.
“Well, as I understand it, Integral Yoga is basically a set of principles to guide one all
the time, in every circumstance. I mean, he’s written about it in various ways, and there
are many dimensions to it, but in its essence, it’s actually simple. It comes down to three
things, which he called aspiration, rejection, and surrender. So first, you have to aspire
one-pointedly to realize the Divine with your whole being. And although this aspiration
can start as simply a mental act of will and intention, it ultimately has to come from a
much deeper place, from your own soul’s longing for that divine perfection. Then, when
he speaks of rejection, he’s saying that you have to reject anything that arises within you
or outside of you that would obstruct the fulfillment of your aspiration. Granted, at first
the subtlety of what to reject and what not to reject might not be so obvious. But if your
aspiration is genuine, you will fairly quickly come to a place where it’s easy to see
directly what is a help and what is a hindrance. And then your aspiration is tested because
you have to be willing to make the right choice.”
“So where does surrender fit into the equation?” Carter asked.
“Well, according to him, surrender is the most important of the three. Because the
whole point of Integral Yoga, in the end, is to become a pure vehicle so that a Higher
Force can take over and begin to live in you and through you. He’s very precise on this
point. He says it’s not enough to want to open yourself up to the Divine Power, to want to
experience its glory. You have to want to become its willing servant. Because, as he sees
it, the Divine Consciousness has its own will, its own law, in a sense, in accord with the
highest Truth, and in the end the only way we can create a truly divine life is to live by
that perfectly, to be wholly given over to that and not in any passive way, but actively
surrendered to it, giving our whole life to it.”
“You’re right, it is powerful,” Amy said. “Simple, but profound.”
“Yeah. And where this gets really interesting,” I continued, “is where he starts talking
about transformation. To Sri Aurobindo, there were three distinct transformations that
had to happen: the psychic, the spiritual, and the supramental. I don’t get the supramental
transformation yet, so I’m not even going to try to explain it. And the spiritual
transformation is, I think, what most of us probably have in mind when we speak about
enlightenment or Self-realization. It’s the realization of the Infinite, the Absolute Self, or
Ground of Being. But there’s something unique about what he calls the psychic
transformation, particularly in relationship to evolution. For Sri Aurobindo, this was the
key to the whole path.
“Apparently, when he first started teaching, and for several years after that, he used to
teach people in the way he had been taught, by trying to get them to have the experience
of the silent mind, presumably hoping that this would lead to the same kind of
breakthrough into nirvana and beyond that happened to him. But in the mid-1920s, based
on his findings after working with people for several years, he shifted his emphasis
radically. In that shift, he started to emphasize, as the first and foremost priority, the
discovery of what he called the ‘psychic being’ or ‘soul.’ Now the word ‘soul,’
particularly these days, is used to refer to all kinds of different things. But Sri Aurobindo
meant something very specific. He was basically saying that there is an individual spark
or seed of the Divine in each of us, what could be called our true self or, as he sometimes
said, ‘true being.’ And although this true being is usually obscured or veiled by the outer
personality and ego identity, its promptings can be felt even in that veiled state as our
own spiritual impulses or aspirations. What’s significant about this psychic being is that,
according to him, because its nature is the Divine itself, not only does it want us to evolve
toward perfection, but it knows the way to get there perfectly. This is why he put so much
emphasis on it. Because once the soul, or psychic being, comes forward or emerges in the
individual, there is a natural dynamic aspiration that overrides all of the resistances of the
ego and lower nature. It’s like the ego gets kicked out of the driver’s seat and God takes
over the wheel, as you. And once that happens, the path changes completely. Then one is
aspiring and evolving ever upward. It’s clear which choices will take one in that
direction, and all the passion and interest is there to make the right choices. So from
there, he felt the rest of the path could unfold organically and without much difficulty. In
my interview with Amal, he couldn’t stop talking about this. I could tell that for him this
had been what had changed everything. He said it’s like a shift into a completely different
dimension. And when I asked him what his ongoing experience is now, he just said there
is ‘a warmth and a glow in the heart center,’ and you could feel it coming out of him.”
After a brief silence, Carter spoke up. “It’s a serious teaching and Amal sounds like
quite a guy. It seems like Sri Aurobindo had a big effect on people.”
“It sure does,” Andrew agreed. “Well, from the sound of things, you’re already in
deep. Why don’t you see if you can get a sense of the ‘supramental,’ and let’s talk again
tomorrow night.”
The Supermind
My mission for the next day was clear. Although I had managed to get a handle on much
of Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary vision, and at least the rudiments of Integral Yoga,
somehow what the supramental was all about had continued to elude me. In the many
conversations I had had so far, I had heard numerous references to a “new consciousness”
that those who live in the ashram feel to be an animating presence in their collective
spiritual life. And while I had some sense that this was somehow related to what Sri
Aurobindo had referred to as “the supramental consciousness,” I couldn’t quite be sure.
And then there was this enigmatic event called the “supramental descent” or, at times, the
“supramental manifestation” that seemed to occupy such a central place in the
community’s history. I had to find out what it was and, more importantly, why it
mattered.
Throughout the day, in conversations first with my hosts, Richard Pearson and
Kailash Jhaveri, and then later with a rising star on the Indian lecture circuit, Sraddhalu
Ranade, I would have the chance to explore all of my questions. And by the end of the
day, I had a much clearer sense of why, in the Integral Yoga community, the supramental
is spoken of with such reverence. To Sri Aurobindo and to the Mother, I would learn, it
was this extremely high and powerful level of consciousness that held the key to
humanity’s collective evolutionary potential. By the time my evening phone call came, I
was eager to tell my colleagues what I had learned. But Carter had other plans.
Before I could get a word in edgewise, he launched straight in, “Hey, I think The XFiles
just found some serious competition. Have you read Georges Van Vrekhem’s book
Beyond the Human Species?!”
“Part of it.” I wondered where this was leading.
“Did you happen to read this part about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother fighting World
War II with their psychic powers?” he continued. “Van Vrekhem says, without the
slightest equivocation, that both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had a huge influence on
the outcome of the war by putting their spiritual force on the side of the Allies.”
“I must have missed that part. Actually, I spent more time reading Peter Heehs’s
biography. He never mentions anything like that.”
Carter was enjoying this. “For example, it says here that Sri Aurobindo used to
psychically influence Churchill’s thinking. He was actually the one behind those
inspiring speeches. And he influenced the military strategy, too.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Andrew said with a touch of exasperation. “Did Sri
Aurobindo really say that?”
“Well, not exactly. It sounds like Van Vrekhem is inferring quite a bit,” Carter
reassured us. “But you haven’t heard the half of it. According to him, Hitler’s every move
was being guided by a demon that used to appear to him in his room. Well, one night the
Mother temporarily subdued this demon on the occult planes and then appeared to Hitler
disguised as the demon and instructed him to attack Russia, a critical mistake that, as we
all know, weakened the Western front and ultimately cost him the war.”
“Hey, I once read something in a book about how that decision was made,” Amy
added. “I can’t remember the details, but it sounded like something really spooky
happened that night like Hitler was really out of his mind.”
“That’s an understatement,” Andrew remarked.
“Well, what I want to know,” Elizabeth broke in, “is how this all fits in with Sri
Aurobindo and the Mother’s extraordinary evolutionary vision, or for that matter, with
Integral Yoga. Controlling people’s thoughts and vanquishing demons? I mean, maybe
it’s just me, but I’m finding it a little hard to put this all together.”
“I actually think it’s pretty simple,” Carter announced. “Look, the Mother was
interested in the occult from day one, so it’s no big shock that she was still into these
things at the ashram. I mean a lot of spiritual people are fascinated by the paranormal.
Look how many of your spiritual friends went to see The Sixth Sense or Phenomenon.
And as for Sri Aurobindo, well, he was Indian. He was into yoga. Isn’t that just part of
the whole yoga tradition? The idea that we can develop these supernormal powers or
siddhis? I don’t know if they’re true or not, but these kinds of stories are rampant around
Indian gurus. I mean, have you ever read Autobiography of a Yogi?”
“I agree,” I jumped in. “Anyway, if you did have powers, I can’t imagine what better
cause they could be used for than saving the world from Hitler.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Carter went on. “It also says in here that the war was
actually started by evil forces attempting to block the ‘supramental manifestation’ that Sri
Aurobindo and the Mother were trying to bring about through their yoga.”
“That’s it,” said Andrew. “No more X-Files for you guys.”
“Wait a minute. Let me get this straight.” Elizabeth paused. “Do you mean to tell me
that the rise of Hitler was a sort of satanic response to what they were doing down there
in a little ashram in southern India?”
“I’m only telling you what the book says,” Carter replied.
“All I can say is I guess it’s a good thing they stopped the war then, since apparently
they were the ones responsible for it in the first place,” Andrew concluded, laughing.
Amy tried to get us back on track. “Didn’t you say something about a supramental
manifestation?”
“Yeah, Craig, did you ever manage to find out what the supramental was all about?”
Carter asked. “Van Vrekhem talks about the supramental manifestation quite a bit in his
book, and to be honest I can see why you were a little lost on that one.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” I replied. “I’ve been speaking to people about it all day,
and I think I’m finally starting to get it. It’s powerful stuff.”
“Great. Enlighten us.” Andrew sounded relieved to be changing topics.
“Okay. Well it might seem a little complex because I feel like I’m only starting to get
a handle on it, but basically the first thing you have to understand is that for Sri
Aurobindo, and for the Mother, this Supermind was really everything. I mean, the
supramental manifestation was the main event of everything they were trying to make
happen. It was this, they felt, that would really open the door for the divine life on earth
to come into being.”
“This being what exactly?” Carter asked. “What was it that they were trying to do?”
“Okay, well, first you have to understand the Supermind itself. Then we’ll get to the
‘manifestation.’ Remember Sri Aurobindo’s experience back in the jail cell? Well,
apparently what I read to you was just the beginning of a whole series of experiences that
occurred over the course of the year he spent there. During that time, he began to explore
what he called the higher realms or planes of consciousness that exist above the mind. He
said that there was a series of what he called ‘overhead planes,’ progressing from Higher
Mind to Illumined Mind to Intuitive Mind to Overmind. And at the top of all these planes
or levels of consciousness was a level he called ‘the Supermind’ or ‘the supramental
consciousness.’ Now, the thing is, and I think this is the intriguing part, this Supermind
was not the same thing as the infinite, empty, static, Absolute undifferentiated pure
consciousness that most mysticism points to as the highest level. It was one step down
from that. Or rather, it was a sort of link plane, or bridge, between that Absolute
consciousness and the whole realm of manifestation and diversification below it.”
“Did you say a ‘link plane’?” asked Elizabeth. “I mean, conceptually I can kind of get
it, but do you have any idea what that really means?”
“Well, I don’t know if I get exactly what ‘link plane’ means either, and I don’t know
whether Sri Aurobindo actually ever used that term himself,” I continued. “What was
important about this idea of a link or bridge, though, was that in some very significant
sense, this level of consciousness brought together what was above it and what was
below it. In other words, the Supermind is that which, while being fully conscious of the
undivided, unmanifest Ground of Being, also perceives the fullness and richness and
multiplicity of the manifest reality without there being any contradiction between the
two. It sees the Ultimate Unity of all in diversity itself. It has a vision of perfect
wholeness, and in that, it unifies everything.
“The reason this is so interesting, particularly in terms of evolution, is that in addition
to speaking about the Supermind as that which sees the unity within diversity, Sri
Aurobindo also spoke about it as a Conscious Power. So, you see, this was not a sort of
passive divine state of being. It was an immense, conscious, unifying power, which
contained an unimaginable transformative potential. And that, I think, was the big key
because he really felt that this power, if it could be ‘brought down’ into the physical
world, could transform life as we know it. That’s what the ‘supramental manifestation’
was all about. He and the Mother worked to bring that down.”
“And ‘bring it down’ means?” Carter asked.
“Well, that’s the question nobody seems to be able to answer. What I do know is that
in 1926, after he had a big yogic breakthrough that he called ‘the descent of the
Overmind' which apparently is one plane below the Supermind, he withdrew into
seclusion for the rest of his life, so that he could dedicate himself completely to bringing
this highest power down into ‘the earth consciousness.’ The important thing to
understand here is that he wasn’t just trying to do it for himself. He said that if he had just
been trying to bring it down into himself, it would have been easy. No, whatever he was
doing in that room of his for all those years was something he felt would have
transformative implications for the entire race, the entire world. It’s hard to know for sure
exactly how he thought it would happen, but one way or another, it was going to change
the consciousness, and even the very substance, of everyone on the planet.”
“Was this what the focus on the body was all about?” Andrew asked. “And the idea
of immortality?”
“That definitely seems to have been part of it. I mean he really thought this
supramental consciousness would change everything, right down to the cellular level,
even down to the very structure of matter itself. We’re talking no limitation on every
level imaginable.”
“Wow,” Carter said. “Talk about transformation. No wonder he was calling this the
emergence of the superman.”
“So, what happened in the end?” Elizabeth persisted. “Did he do it? Did Sri
Aurobindo bring down the supramental?”
“Nope.”
“No?” Amy sounded disappointed. “How anticlimactic can you get? Thanks for the
big buildup, Craig.”
“Wait, I wasn’t finished. He didn’t do it. But according to everyone here, the Mother
did.”
“The Mother?!” they said as one voice.
“Yes. But with his help. According to her, he could have kept living, but he died on
purpose so that he could go and work from the other side, leaving her behind to work
from here, and the two of them together, six years later, made the big event happen.”
“So, what happened?” Carter asked.
“Sorry, I don’t actually know. I wish I had pursued it a little more, but I think I was so
excited to finally be comprehending this thing that I missed a few obvious points. But I
still have one more interview. It’s with Peter Heehs, the historian who wrote that great
biography of Sri Aurobindo. I’m sure he’ll be able to give me the whole story.”
Manifesting the Supermind
The next morning, in preparation for my interview with Heehs, I ventured down to the
ashram library to see what I could find out about this portentous event in which, I was
told, the Mother had “manifested the Supermind in ‘the earth’s atmosphere.’” There,
amidst the archives, I learned that after Sri Aurobindo’s death in 1950, the Mother had
begun an intensive immersion in her own yogic efforts, an immersion so deep that at one
point she even warned people not to touch her because the force coming through her was
so powerful (a claim that was reportedly proven when one disciple accidentally touched
her finger, only to be knocked unconscious by the strength of the force). It was in the
midst of this intensive yogic effort that on February 29, 1956, the unprecedented and
long-awaited “Golden Day” finally arrived. As the story goes, it was a typical
Wednesday evening, and all of the disciples had gathered at the ashram playground for
the Mother’s weekly talk and meditation. But as she later wrote in a message to her
disciples, what happened that fateful night was much more than a meditation:
This evening the Divine Presence, concrete and material, was there present
amongst you. I had a form of living gold bigger than the universe, and I was facing
a huge and massive golden door which separated the world from the Divine. As I
looked at the door, I knew and willed, in a single movement of consciousness, that
‘the time has come,’ and lifting with both hands a mighty golden hammer I struck
one blow, one single blow on the door and the door was shattered to pieces. Then
the supramental Light and Force and Consciousness rushed down upon earth in an
uninterrupted flow.
As it’s reported, the Mother’s experience that night was overwhelming. So much so that,
as Peter Heehs would tell me, at the end of the meditation “she looked up, and she
thought everyone would be knocked flat on the sand of the playground.” But to her
amazement, Heehs explained, “They were all just sitting there like nothing had happened.
And as far as they were concerned, nothing had.” But in spite of the lack of an immediate
impact, the Mother remained rooted in her conviction that the great breakthrough had in
fact occurred. Two months later, in the ashram journal, the following message appeared:
Lord, Thou hast willed and I execute:
A new light breaks upon the earth,
A new world is born.
The things that were promised are fulfilled.
The “things that were promised” in this case meant nothing less than the introduction of a
new evolutionary dynamic into “the earth consciousness" one that, as Sri Aurobindo put
it, “could not fail to exercise an immense influence on mankind as a whole,” and which,
given enough time, would ultimately bring about a wholesale transformation of life on
earth.
Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother expected this evolutionary breakthrough to
unleash sweeping global changes. I wanted to know from Heehs, from his perspective as
a historian, how did he think it was going? Had history borne out the predictions? As he
summed it up: “I hate to say it, but it’s forty-five years later and, at least visibly, things
haven’t changed much for the better. Of course, we’re talking about a cosmic
development so you don’t necessarily expect everybody to be golden the next day, but . .
. ”
As I made the rounds of the ashram that afternoon, saying my farewells and thankyous
to the many extraordinary people I had met during my week there, I asked everyone
I encountered: What did they think about the supramental manifestation? Had it really
happened? And if so, what had been the effects? And over those last few hours in
Pondicherry, a very different picture began to emerge. A picture that, with a little
imagination, even started to look something like the faint beginnings of the new world Sri
Aurobindo and the Mother had envisioned so long ago. It was clear that almost everyone
thought the supramental manifestation had definitely happened. In fact, in their eyes, its
unifying effects could be seen everywhere. From the trend toward globalization to the
increasing interest in mysticism in the West, from the growing concern for the
environment to the fall of the Berlin Wall, from the international coalition against
terrorism to the emergence of the Internet, from the end of apartheid to the increase in
women’s rights, from the New Age to the new physics, everywhere we look, they feel,
there are unprecedented movements toward unity that would not have been possible
before. And all of it, in the minds of the most dedicated believers, can ultimately be
traced back to what happened on this one otherwise quiet night in the ashram playground.
The Call to Evolve
“So, what’s the final report from the laboratory?” Andrew asked, at the beginning of our
first editorial meeting following my arrival back in the States.
“Well, it’s a lot to take in,” I answered. “In only four days, I feel like I hardly
scratched the surface. But even after just a brief visit, I definitely feel like I’ve got a
flavor of what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were about. There’s a dynamism in the
people there, a kind of awakened interest in life, in others, that’s unusual around a
spiritual group, particularly in India. I mean, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were both so
dynamic themselves, and you really feel that same kind of evolutionary current in the air
there. It’s a powerful place.
“But, you know, in terms of my original point about Sri Aurobindo I have to tell you,
after everything I’ve learned, I am more convinced than ever that both he and the Mother
really were incredibly cool.”
Carter laughed. “Oh come on, enough of that already.”
“I’m serious. Check this out: At a certain point, Sri Aurobindo wrote something about
the importance of cultivating a strong and healthy body as part of preparing for a truly
integral transformation. Well, guess what the Mother did in response. She built a gym for
weight lifting, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, a running track and
soccer field with stadium, a basketball court, and an aerobics studio.”
“An aerobics studio?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow.
“Just testing you,” I laughed. “But the rest is all true. She had the whole ashram
school on a compulsory, seven-days-a-week athletic regimen that included martial arts
and boxing even for the girls.”
“Boxing in an ashram? Nice try.” Elizabeth wasn’t going to fall for that again.
“I’m serious about that part. And all this was back in the fifties. In India! And do you
know what else I learned? Apparently, way back at the start of World War II Sri
Aurobindo actually donated money to the British to help them fight the war. Now,
remember, he had been their number one enemy over there not so many years before, and
at that point, India’s independence was still unresolved. I mean, talk about having a
global vision he was seriously walking his talk. As to the whole question of whether he
also helped fight the war with his spiritual power, well, I mean, I did hear this one
amazing story. There was an American field sergeant in the trenches in World War II
whose platoon was about to get surrounded by the Nazis, when suddenly this sort of
ethereal figure appeared to him in the air and gave him explicit instructions as to how to
get his troops to safety, which worked. And then, after the war, the sergeant was in India
and happened to visit Pondicherry, and realized it had been Sri Aurobindo who had
appeared to him! I mean I don’t know whether I believe it or not, but . . . what’s that
Shakespeare quote: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in . .
.’”
“Well, there is no doubt that he is, as you said, completely outrageously cool,”
Andrew agreed. “He’s done so many remarkable things that I keep having to remind
myself that we’re talking about a real person. But you know, more than anything, what I
find so extraordinary about him was his willingness to stand alone in this evolutionary
vision at a time when he was really the only one who saw it this way. It’s as if once this
fire for manifesting the divine life caught hold of him, that was it, and he never backed
down. The world needs more people who are willing to fight that kind of fight for the
highest possible reasons. And look how much he opened up for all of us as a result.”
Carter nodded. “It is extraordinary. I’m amazed at how much he illuminated, and how
much it still resonates half a century later. By the way, Craig, wasn’t that one of your
missions for this trip, to show our readers why Sri Aurobindo is not only cool, but
relevant to enlightenment in the twenty-first century?”
“It definitely was. And, to be honest, at this point, I’m so fired up about his teachings
that I think I could write a book about it.”
“How about giving us the short version?” Carter smiled.
“Well, what I think Sri Aurobindo has to say to humanity today, which I think will be
relevant until the day the entire world has indeed become divine down to the quarks, is
that evolution needs our participation. In a way, this is the most inspiring and
empowering part of his vision: That through the choices we make every day, we can help
to move evolution forward toward this glorious, divine end he spoke of. It’s as if he was
saying, in some sense, that the direction is already set, but the power to bring it about lies
entirely in our hands. And that’s the good news. We can bring it about. In fact, given the
state the world is in, we have to. There’s so much that’s possible. So for any of us who
still think enlightenment is about waiting for the big blast that will get us out of here, he’s
saying, ‘Wake up and join the revolution. The revolution of consciousness. The
revolution of evolution.’ Because there’s something to bring into being here that the
world hasn’t seen yet. And that, to me, is where Sri Aurobindo is going to be relevant for
a long time to come.”
© Moksha Press, 2003. This interview first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of
What Is Enlightenment? magazine, entitled The Future of God, Evolution and
Enlightenment for the 21st Century, and appears by permission of the publisher. For more
information about What Is Enlightenment? magazine, please visit
www.whatisenlightenment.com.
Quotations from:
p. -68 “The animal . . .” Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine (LD), Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Trust, Pondicherry, 1970, pp. 3-4.
p. 68 “. . . for the full and . . .” LD, 1018.
p. 71 “to a similar . . .” Purani, A. B., ed., Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Sri
Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry, 1982.
p. -71 “most dangerous man” Statement of Lord Minto, quoted on Sri Aurobindo Society
Website, “Life of Sri Aurobindo” page,
<http://www.sriaurobindosociety.org.in/sriauro/aurolife.htm> (March 5, 2002).
p. -71 “I looked at the jail . . .” Sri Aurobindo, On Himself, (OH) Sri Aurobindo Birth
Centenary Library, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry, 1973, p. 64.
p. -71 “In a moment . . .” –——Letters on Yoga (LY), Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust,
Pondicherry, 1970, p. 1258.
p. 71 “concrete consciousness . . .” Ibid, p. 176.
p. 71 “To reach Nirvana . . .” Ibid, pp. 49-50.
p. 71 “attended at first . . .” OH, p. 64, 87.
p. 71 “The aspect of . . .” LY, p. 50.
p. 72-3 “there could be no . . .” LD, p. 976
p. 73 “One in self . . .” LD, p. 975-6
p. -74 “doing yoga” The Mother, quoted on Sri Aurobindo Society Website, “Life of the
Mother” page, <http://www. sriaurobindosociety.org.in/mother/mother.htm> (March 5,
2002).
p. -74 “Between the ages . . .” ——– Words of the Mother (WM), p. 13, 39, quoted by
Georges Van Vrekhem, Beyond Man (BM), HarperCollins, New Delhi, 1997, p. 33.
p. -74 “It matters little . . .” ——– Prieres et Meditations, p. 113-14, quoted in BM, p. 37.
p. -77 “a world-changing . . .” Sri Aurobindo, The Integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Trust, Pondicherry, 1993, p. 96.
p. 157 “the Earth consciousness . . .” LY, p. 13.
p. -158 “This evening . . .” WM, p. 15, 102, quoted in BM, p. 316.
p. -159 “Lord, Thou hast . . .” The Mother, Bulletin of Physical Education, April 24,
1956, quoted in BM, p. 318.
p. -159 “could not fail . . .” Sri Aurobindo, The Supramental Manifestation upon Earth,
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry, 1973, p. 72.
p. -160 “There are more . . .” Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, Staunton,
Howard, ed., The Plays of Shakespeare, G. Routledge, London, New York, 1858-61, p.
345.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the many, many people at Sri Aurobindo
Ashram, the Sri Aurobindo Association, and Auroville International who went far beyond
the call of duty to help us in the research and creation of this article. We would especially
like to thank Richard Pearson and Kailash Jhaveri for their tireless and selfless hospitality
and guidance; Lynda Lester for her generous outpouring of ideas and suggestions; David
Hutchinson for his lightning fast and full responses to even the most esoteric of
questions; Vishnu Eschner for his invaluable help in organizing the trip, as well as Julian
and Wendy Lines, Sam Spanier, Chandresh Patel, Anie Nunally, Bhaga, Manoj Das,
Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet, and Vijay at the Sri Aurobindo Society.

© 2004 JOY: The Journal of Yoga


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" JOY: The Journal of Yoga "

January 2004, Volume 3, Number 1

Link : http://www.journalofyoga.org/