Title: Sri Aurobindo As We Saw Him. Author: Anurag Banerjee. Publisher: Overman Foundation, Kolkata. Number of pages: 242. Price: Rs. 325.
When Arjuna asked Sri Krishna as to the signs with which one could recognize a man in a state of Samadhi, Sri Krishna replied in no uncertain terms that the marks of such a man are within and they cannot be recognized by any mere external signs:
‘The sign of the man in Samadhi is not that he loses consciousness of objects and surroundings and of his mental and physical self and cannot be recalled to it even by burning or torture of the body,—the ordinary idea of the matter; trance is a particular intensity, not the essential sign. The test is the expulsion of all desires, their inability to get at the mind, and it is the inner state from which this freedom arises, the delight of the soul gathered within itself with the mind equal and still and high poised above the attractions and repulsions, the alternations of sunshine and storm and stress of the external life. It is drawn inward even when acting outwardly; it is concentrated in self even when gazing out upon things; it is directed wholly to the Divine even when to the outward vision of others busy and preoccupied with the affairs of the world. Arjuna, voicing the average human mind, asks for some outward, physical, practically discernible sign of this great Samadhi; how does such a man speak, how sit, how walk? No such signs can be given, nor does the Teacher attempt to supply them; for the only possible test of its possession is inward and that there are plenty of hostile psychological forces to apply. Equality is the great stamp of the liberated soul and of that equality even the most discernible signs are still subjective. “A man with mind untroubled by sorrows, who has done with desire for pleasures, from whom liking and wrath and fear have passed away, such is the sage whose understanding has become founded in stability.” He is “without the triple action of the qualities of Prakriti, without the dualities, ever based in his true being, without getting or having, possessed of his self.” For what gettings and havings has the free soul? Once we are possessed of the Self, we are in possession of all things.’ Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita. Page 102
Still, the question has its validity. First, because man’s physical mind seeks to get some glimpse of the Divine through his very outer being and senses so that these too can share something of the Bliss that has made the world and our body and senses too thrill to the Touch that redeems and saves. Secondly, and perhaps in response to this requirement, we have in the India the interesting tradition of Darshan. Of course the full value of Darshan is derived only when we are able to combine the outer seeing with the inner one, when not only our outer eyes but also our inner seeing, nay, our entire being, heart, mind, will, soul engage in the beauty and bliss of the vision Wonderful. Sri Aurobindo reveals the truth behind Darshan thus:
‘Physical means [like Darshan and touch in the Pranam] can be and are used in the approach to divine love and worship; they have not been allowed merely as a concession to human weakness, nor is it the fact that in the psychic way there is no place for such things. On the contrary, they are one means of approaching the Divine and receiving the Light and materialising the psychic contact, and so long as it is done in the right spirit and they are used for the true purpose they have their place. It is only if they are misused or the approach is not right because tainted by indifference and inertia, or revolt or hostility, or some gross desire, that they are out of place and can have a contrary effect — as the Mother has always warned people and has assigned it as the reason why she does not like lightly to open them to everyone.’
‘No one should look upon the Pranam either as a formal routine or an obligatory ceremony or think himself under any compulsion to come there. The object of the Pranam is not that Sadhaks should offer a formal or ritual daily homage to the Mother, but that the Sadhaks may receive along with the Mother’s blessings whatever spiritual help or influence they are in a condition to receive or assimilate. It is important to maintain a quiet and collected atmosphere for that purpose.’
SABCL: Letters on the Mother: Page – 286-287
Seen against this background, two things stand out. First, which is the eternal truth of the Gita, that it is not possible to know a person’s spiritual attainments and the degree of Divine disclosure in him by looking for some external signs. But on the other hand we have this equally important complimentary truth that the Divine’s physical embodiment and His earthly play is a great help to humanity, a chance for our external material existence to be touched and transformed by the Glory and Bliss that resides in the deepest depths of creation. A glimpse of the embodied Divine is enough to make us cover the journey of many births and to put His definitive seal and stamp upon our life. Whatever may happen after that we are bound to get back to Him, led by Him towards Himself through all the twists and turns of Fate. His Glance is His signature upon our souls that we belong to Him alone. Herein lies the immense value of physical contact with the embodied Divine.
But what about those who were not so fortunate? How can their thirst be satisfied, their senses and heart appeased, even if for a while. Indeed the fullest fulfillment can only come when one has the grand vision of That Glory in the inner chambers of one’s soul, Param Drastva, as the Gita puts it. But one needs some water on the way, some food for the soul, some glimpse however indirect to nourish and support the adventurer soul in its long journey full of steep ascents. Books such as these fill that gap and provide the much essential nutrition for the soul in its journey out of darkness towards the Light.
Further Indian thought recognizes two types of spiritual literature. One kind deals with the path and the processes. It is more impersonal and has a universal appeal. But in the process it becomes dry and appeals only to a certain portion of our being. Further it turns a living movement into an artificial and mechanical technique which is very far from the truth of things. Patanjali’s yoga sutras come into this category, a specialized codified process, marking each step of the journey but in the bargain losing the charm and grace of the unexpected that often walks close by with the sadhaka. The second type deals with the life and works, adventures and exploits, the joy of the Divine Being and His earthly lila. Mere reading of such a spiritual literature is uplifting. It lends wings to the soul, opens the shortest possible route to the Divine Contact through the secret heart, aligns our thoughts and will with the central aspiration, provides the much needed food for our spiritual parts. The Bhagavata, and the Ramayan belong to this class of literature. Some of course like the Gita combine the two approaches in a sublime synthesis. The book under review, Sri Aurobindo As We Saw Him, belongs primarily to this latter class of spiritual literature. However in the process it still provides us some glimpse of the path and the process. But even if it did not, its value will be immense and its gift priceless since mere reading of this book can uplift and illumine us and provide us with a glimpse of the embodied divinity, however indirect and mist-laden it may be because of a second person narrative.
Of course there is no dearth of accounts, even detailed accounts of the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and reminiscences and anecdotes of Their life. These are mostly accounts of first generation disciples who came in contact with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in the first quarter of the previous century. Anurag’s book covers mostly the second generation disciples who came with their parents or else on their own but during the second half of the previous century. Some of these disciples came as children and grew up under the luminous wings of their Light and Love. In the consciousness of these disciples the human and the divine parents fused into one making a beautiful relation that was at once intimate as it was awesome. It is hard to say who was more fortunate, – the early disciples who came seeking for Yoga and saw in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as the supreme Guide and Master, or those who came simply because some secret breath of Grace that took them as Their children.
Let us see some of these interesting narratives brought out through the process of question and answers. We have some beautiful accounts of intense and deep soul moments and soul engagements with the embodied Divine during the special Darshan days:
Kusum Nagda recounts:
“How different was Sri Aurobindo’s gaze from the Mother’s?
His gaze was as if He was looking far, far into the infinite. He would look at you and at the same time He would probably go through you. Mother’s gaze was of love and full of smile.”
Dhanavanti Nagda adds intensity and depth to this in her account:
“Can you describe Sri Aurobindo’s gaze?
You know, Sri Aurobindo has a poem, The Blue Bird, where He says: “I measure the worlds with my ruby eyes”. I think He measured us always with those “ruby eyes”, loving, compassionate eyes. His compassion was such that it transformed your little self. I told you when I stood in front of Them I felt myself transformed. He looked at you in such a way as if to tell you: “We are the same.” Something that He told us always; what they have done—we all can do—something like that, I think, He used to tell Nirod-da often, again and again. Nirod-da would argue “Oh! You are an Avatar, you can always do whatever you want to, but we can’t.” Sri Aurobindo assured, “What I can do you too can.” Invariably He gave us this certitude, a promise. How far are we going to do it is our individual reach. I can’t judge anyone and I won’t judge anybody. I can see only for myself, how far I’ve gone and how far I still have to. So that was the gaze—the gaze that told you and poured into your eyes all the strength and the perseverance you will be needing to become something more than man. But then when you stood in front of Them you did feel transformed and for those few moments you were. It is now for us to find and feel Them the way we did then and it is our sacred task to make of those moments become the whole life. May we take the resolve in all sincerity. THEY ARE THERE, seated on the sofa of our heart. Pranams.”
Such is Their Compassion and Love which extended not only to humans but also to crows and cats and the animal, vegetal and the plant world. Suprabha Nahar recalls:
“We were always on the lookout for a glimpse of the Mother. Wherever and whenever She could be seen, we would be there to fill our eyes and hearts. Our days started with the Balcony Darshan of the Mother early in the morning. During those morning Darshans there reigned a complete hush with eager expectancy for the appearance of the Mother at the Balcony. After the Darshan was over and the Mother withdrew, every one dispersed, mostly to go to the Dining Room for breakfast and then each one to his place of work.
Later in the morning the Mother would take a stroll on the terrace. But before going to the terrace She would open a window of the room through which She passed and to have a glimpse of Her we waited below. Choosing an umbrella, kept near the window, matching the colour of Her dress, She would go to the terrace over Dyuman-bhai’s room. While going to the terrace, She would open another window and take a biscuit kept beside it. A crow, called ‘Blackie’ (he was black all over) would come on the parapet, take the biscuit from the Mother’s hand and fly away. Then the Mother would go to the terrace and we children gathered below would move from place to place in the courtyard in order to be able to see Her for the maximum length of time. When the elders gathered to have ‘Window Darshan’, they would greet each other with: “Victoire à la Douce Mère” and the response was: “Au Divin Victoire.”
We also have interesting accounts and anecdotes some of which would be quite new and revelatory to many, like an unexpected encounter or visitation from some great god:
Prof. Arabinda Basu recounts such a story:
“There lived an astrologer in our neighbourhood. He worked in the Railways and was a perfect gentleman and a good human being. He used to practise astrology in a scientific way. He had a passion to prepare horoscopes of saints and study them though it was not his business. On my aunt’s request I went to him to seek his guidance. He knew me because my elder uncle and my cousins also worked in the Railways. I was carrying with myself Essays on the Gita. When he saw the book, he made his obeisance. I asked: “What happened? Why did you make obeisance?” His reply was straight: “This is the book of Bhagwan [God].” I asked: “God’s book? What was that?” Then what he said was strange. “I collect and make horoscopes of great and successful persons for my study and I have published some of them as well. I had written to Sri Aurobindo requesting Him to kindly provide me with His time of birth. Not only did He send me the time but also His horoscope drawn in His own hands.” I asked: “So what did you see?” Do you know what he said? “In 1947, His philosophy will be the basis of a new world culture.” I am quoting him verbatim.
Let me tell you another story related to Sri Aurobindo. I had one friend who was older than me. He was an astrologer-cum-tantrik. He was a very amiable person and looked upon me as his younger brother. One day I had gone to meet him. The book The Mother was with me. Seeing the book, he said: “Namaskar [Salutations].” “What happened, brother?” I asked, “What is the news?” He offered his obeisance and said: “It is the book of God.” “God’s book?” “Yes,” he replied. There was no hesitation in his voice. “Do you know,” he said to me, “I’ve His horoscope.” “God’s horoscope?” I asked. “Don’t joke. I do have it.” “What did you read in it?” “1947. Sovereign ruler of the entire world.” “Is it so?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. When Sri Aurobindo left His body, I went to meet him. I asked him: “What happened? He has left us.” He replied: “How does His arrival or departure matter? He can come and go whenever He pleases. This is child’s play to Him.”
Have you met Sri Aurobindo in the subtle physical?
I had once visited the place in the subtle physical where Sri Aurobindo now stays and works. I saw Him sitting there with the entire world in His fist. He was majestic yet delicate. It was a combination of both aspects. It appeared as if He would just melt if one touched Him but He was holding the entire world. The ground in the subtle physical had no formation. I had asked the Mother about it. She said: “What you’ve seen was true, you indeed went to the subtle physical.” I asked: “Why was the ground like that?” She said that the formation was in the making. Sri Aurobindo is now residing in the subtle physical and working from there. I had seen a crown on His head—a very strange crown—it probably implied sovereign rule. I had gone there only once.”
There are also stories of more intimate encounters, stories that not only reveal immense Love, Patience and Compassion inspiring us to follow Their divinely-human example but also show us the deep care and concern that They have for those who have the rarest of privileges to be near Them:
Jhumur Bhattacharya also shares some of her treasures:
“I have heard that young children were not allowed to enter the Ashram main building.
We could never step inside the Ashram. But the Mother would always inquire whether there were sufficient fruits for the children. She used to send milk separately. She used to send Amrita-da to inspect whether everything was in order. She was precisely like a human mother. So kind was Her behaviour! But we never went inside the Ashram. I remember when the Mother used to give Balcony Darshan, my mother would go to have Her Darshan with me on her lap—there were some more children—and she would stand at the spot where now the Jhunjhun Boarding is situated. It was quite far. My mother could never go near the Ashram with me. The Mother has said that She used to bring down a Force which was unbearable for children. Gradually we kids used to go near the Ashram. I was then aged three. We would hear that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo resided in the Ashram main building but no one allowed us to enter it. After a considerable period of time we began to enter the Ashram very silently and secretly. Then someone reported to the Mother that these children were very keen to enter the Ashram. She replied that if they wanted to come let them come. That was the beginning. On the 15th of every month we—there were five or six of us—would visit the Ashram main building. The Mother used to play with us games like “Ringa Ringa Roses” or She would teach us something. But we were allowed to go to the Darshans. Jiji [KiranKumari] was our guide, we children were taken separately for the Darshan of Sri Aurobindo. The Darshans were occasions of bliss for us.
Though we used to disturb the sadhana and meditation of the other members of the Ashram community we received infinite love from everyone of them. We would go to the residence of Kobi [Nishikanto Roychowdhury] and disturb him when he was busy writing. We would ask Kobi: “Are we disturbing you?” And he would answer: “Not at all.” Everybody was affectionate towards us. We children used to play and make noise in the Meditation Hall in the afternoon but the Mother never told us even once that we were disturbing Sri Aurobindo. When we grew up a bit and our voices rose to a considerable extent, She asked us to make less noise between 1 and 1.30 p.m. because that was the time for Pavitra’s siesta. So She told us not to disturb him. But She never said that do not disturb me or Sri Aurobindo. We used to play Kho-kho in the Ashram. The Samadhi was not there at that time; there was a tank at its place with some pots above it. We used to touch it during the course of the game. There was another game which we played all over the Ashram, it was called Thappa-thappa in Hindi. While others meditated we would play our games. Then one day the Mother called us upstairs. She created games for us. There were cards with flowers which She asked us to read and remember. She announced that those who would win the games were eligible for a prize. Gradually She started a different education with six of us. Our education was no longer restricted to the school. At 12 noon after having our lunch in our residence we would go to the Mother and play when She was free. And She was never free. Everyone awaited Her, the Heads of the Departments would wait to get Her signature on some paper or inform Her about something. So we had to wait. There was a game which She had seen at Japan and arranged it for us. At times She would come and inquire whether we were able to do it.”
Her account of the last Darshan of Sri Aurobindo is equally interesting:
“Everyone was going for the Darshan. I went to His room and saw—many must have seen as well—a profound golden-orange light. A huge body was lying on the bed. There was a strange glow around. I did not realize that the light was coming out of His body. The light had illuminated the entire room. Initially I thought that many lights had been put up in the room. Then I observed that the room had only one dim light. Then I thought that probably the curtains were golden in colour but the room had no curtain. The glass windows were all painted red. The entire room was lit up by that golden-orange light and I have not forgotten it till date. To see that light I would visit Sri Aurobindo’s room whenever I got a chance. That light remained for four days. Many had seen that light. The Mother had said that Sri Aurobindo had brought down the Supramental on earth, that is, in His body. That’s why He had to leave His body. The Mother had declared that as long as the light remained no one should touch Sri Aurobindo. There was no ice in the room. Apart from a small table-fan there were no fans in His room. Yet there was no deterioration. In the evening of 8th December a blue spot was observed on His face and the orange-golden light had faded and become yellowish. Then the Mother announced that Sri Aurobindo’s body would be put to rest in the Samadhi on the following day.”
But what comes as an icing on the cake of this most delicious dish of divine encounters is an account of Pranab-da’s interview by the author, Anurag:
Some letters of the Mother to Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya
‘My beloved child,
Your consecration to the divine work is so total that you have given your life to save mine. With all the mighty ardour that I have, I pray that this offering may not be in vain. My will to overcome all obstacles and to triumph is complete and unshakeable. You can depend on it, it will not weaken.’
‘To thee whom my love selected when the time had come to start my work on the most material level—
I did not see in thee the man, but the human being capable of supramentalisation, the aspiration for physical perfection, the effort towards total transformation, the will to divinise the body and a natural and spontaneous capacity to do so, a physical harmony already partly realised and a growing possibility of expressing materially the psychic consciousness. With the certitude of a final Victory.’
‘To my beloved child and faithful companion in the building up of the New World.
With my love, my trust and blessings for ever.’
What follows are some very beautiful revelations and helpful suggestions on the path, To quote just a couple of them:
“Some of the questions I had asked Dada about Sri Aurobindo and His yoga on various occasions:
How can we feel the Presence of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
This can be done by Their Grace only. From our side there has to be aspiration and from Their side Grace. Only with the union of these two factors can we feel Their Presence.
The Mother used to say: ‘I will do your sadhana: you live happily and confidently.’ Dada, we haven’t had the Darshan of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Will They take up our sadhana as well?
Yes. Self-surrender is the path of our yoga. If one walks on that path, They’ll definitely take up the sadhana.”
These are some of the priceless pearls of Wisdom and Sacred treasure troves of invaluable gems of Love that the book contains. Critics will say that it is difficult to remain fully objective when we recount such experiences and there is always the possibility of some mixture. Well, may be, but then where can we find an absence of mixture anywhere in the world. And yet even if there is one golden grain of Truth in such accounts it is worth it. This book surely contains many such golden moments etched in the memory of the sadhakas. What is beautiful is that while reading through the accounts one clearly gets a feel that what is being stated is not more but less. The experiences are being understated rather than overstated. Where the memory is hazy or the experience unclear, the sadhakas are unwilling to narrate it, making this work unlike many other similar accounts. It will be an interesting document for posterity, not just for God-lovers who will always be delighted hear and read the accounts of disciples and the Lord’s dealings with them but also for scholars and spiritual historians who will find in the book firsthand accounts of some truly marvelous and interesting experiences.
Indeed the book is yet another jewel from Anurag’s pen and we wish that many more jewels follow.
Dr. Alok Pandey
About the Reviewer: A practising psychiatrist in Sri Aurobindo Ashram Dispensary and an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram (Pondicherry), Dr. Alok Pandey, M.B.B.S., M.D. in Psychiatry from AFMC, Pune, is a former Associate Professor in Psychiatry at the Institute of Space and Aviation Medicine, Bangalore. He is the author of the famous book Death, Dying and Beyond and is also a member of Sri Aurobindo International Institute for Integral Health and Research and an Editor of the journal, NAMAH.