Pranab-da: “HE HAS A GRAND PSYCHIC” by Ananda Reddy

 

                      Pranab-da: “HE HAS A GRAND PSYCHIC”

                                                                  Ananda Reddy

 

 “One day Mother told me: ‘I‘m not saying that I’ll leave the body. But if some day I do then I shall diffuse myself with you.’” (Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, I Remember, p. 239)

I had come to the Ashram in 1958 and in those times the only name that was predominant in the atmosphere of the Ashram, apart from that of the Mother, was that of Pranab-da or Dada! I remember seeing Dada every time with the Mother and my early childhood impressions were that he was a great man who stood for Truth and Justice—one who was fearless and very powerful, especially in the Department of Physical Education. So we, the kids, used to be a little afraid of him because whenever we did something wrong we knew that Dada would really punish us for our misbehaviour or badmashi!

We used to be not only frightened of Dada but we knew that he was our protector and defender – he was our inner conscience. So we used to love him on one side and on the other side we were scared of him. That was our beloved Dada.

And of course, I remember him playing tennis with the Mother. I watched him many times playing by Her side. He would gently assist the Mother and make Her play the game rather than himself play for his own entertainment!

He carried a nobleness around him, a confidence of inner power and outer strength for indeed he was the bodyguard of the Mother. I do remember him, very clearly, walking behind the Mother as She entered the Playground with a royal pace. This unforgettable scene is etched on my soul: we, the group members, used to stand on both sides of the Playground gate when the Mother and Dada entered it.  As the Deity paced  toward the room in the Playground, Dada would walk behind Her with long  strides, a couple of feet behind Her. Together they presented the very picture Durga with Her lion!

Dada was really a very mysterious figure for us, the children. A man with a glowing face, a personality that did not tolerate untruth or falsehood, a man much loved and honoured even by the Mother—did She not celebrate his birthday in a grand manner?

For us 18th of October was a red letter day in our calendar, apart from the main four Darshan days. We used to prepare gifts for him on his birthday… look forward to the celebrity lunch at Corner House…we breathed a very special festive air on that day. We prepared many gifts for him: but he did nothing for himself out of the way on his own birthday. Dada remained the same, unaffected or untouched by the celebrations: he had the same smile and gentleness as on any other day. On that day too, he wore his normal white shorts and shirt, of course along with a red rose given by the Mother, tucked in his shirt button. Of course he would be very thankful in his attitude to all the children but he ever remained an enigma to us: why was he so very special even in the eyes of the Mother? Why did She write to him:

               “To my beloved child and faithful companion in the building up of the New World.

               With my love, my trust and my blessings for ever.”

                                                                            (By the Way, Part-III, p.161)

 Or again:

               “From the Mother to her dearest son, with love and blessings.”

                                                                         (By the Way, Part-III, p.176 )

We could not understand.

It is only much later that, as we grew up, that I came to know why the Mother really took him as Her bodyguard in a very special sense. It was long after that a deeper understanding of him dawned in my mind, and that too thanks to him! After finishing my Higher Course in the Ashram School in 1969, I left for Auroville and then to Hyderabad to pursue higher studies. Later, on the advice of Nolini-da I returned to the Ashram in 1981 and joined the Physical Education Department and worked with Dada.

One day, when I was working with Dada, I had the greatest privilege of seeing  his personal diary, a diary which he had not shown to many people. In his personal diary I saw with my own eyes what the Mother had written about him, his role in this birth and how because of him She is still continuing to exist in her physical body even after Sri Aurobindo had left his body! He was so very generous and kind in sharing with me his very personal diary in which the Mother had written many confidential things to him. I can still feel the tremour that I had in my body when I read and touched that diary, his most sacred diary. In fact, I can give you in his own words some things about  this sacred diary:

In the gap of these long years, between the years I had left the Ashram and Auroville, my own understanding of spiritual truths had deepened and I could understand somewhat why the Mother had written to him:

                  “To thee chosen by my love when the time has come to begin my work at the most material level”.

                 “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 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 final Victory.”

                                  (Pranab Kumar Bhattacahrya, By the Way, Part III, p. 336)

Dada was a person who was really chosen by the Mother for Her own work of physical transformation. As most of us know, even when Dada had come to the Ashram in 1945 or so, the Mother has said that his body was already prepared for the physical transformation. There is an interesting conversation between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother when Dada had come to the Ashram first time:

“I have heard it from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo remarked on seeing me the first time: “Pranab has a strong vital.” Then he added: “He has a grand psychic.” In answer the Mother told him: “That’s why he can do.” But what the Mother mean when She told Sri Aurobindo “he can do” I did not understand it then.” (By the Way, Part III, p. 150)

Again, on other occasion, in 1958, the Mother wrote to him:

                  “My beloved child,

                   You are for me the living and perfectly representative symbol of the physical life ready for the transformation and wanting that transformation consciously. In all plenitude of the Supreme Presence I say to you: “I love you.” (Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, I Remember, p. 335)

Personally, I feel that his was a body that has been prepared since many births for the supramental transformation. So it seems he had surrendered his body for this exclusive work of the Mother.

In fact, very interestingly, in the year 1980 I had a dream in which I had seen Dada’s body which had many spots of golden cells – cells that were transformed, all luminous and golden in hue. They were spread all over his body. When I told Dada about my dream, he confirmed it but then he said there is a lot more work that needs to be done and, that until the whole work is done, nothing is done! So was the man who had really, quietly done his supramental integral yoga and he never bragged about his achievements. He came quietly, did his inner work quietly and passed away in silence. His external being was almost a “camouflage” of his inner work: no one could have guessed that the person who  was seen always smiling and chatting and telling stories to young and old was really engaged in the extremely serious business of physical transformation. Nor could anyone have guessed that he was well stationed in his psychic being for it  was the Mother who had given him the gift of the psychic realisation in the 1960s!

This question of Mother “choosing” him for Her work is very relevant because, as all of us know, when Sri Aurobindo left his body it was but natural that the Mother would also leave her body instantly because of Their absolute identity on the psychic level. But She had promised to Sri Aurobindo to continue His work and to complete it.

So in those days, She called Dada and told that he should not leave Her unaccompanied even for a moment, not even for a single moment! So Dada, sleeplessly and tirelessly, remained as a shadow to the Mother during those critical days and saw to it that the Mother really stayed back in Her body for sake of humanity and the earth. Here is what is written by Her to Dada and reported by Dada himself:

                 “After Sri Aurobindo left His body the Mother wrote to me on a piece of paper in French:

                 ‘I want to tell you to what point you are what Sri Aurobindo asked you to be when He left His body—the material support of my body, the energy that enables it to face all the ordeals after this sudden and irreparable collapse of that feeling of total and absolute security that gave me thirty years of unmixed happiness.’”

                                  (Pranab kumar Bhattacahrya, By the Way, Part-III, pp.150)

So you can see how Dada acted like a physical anchor for keeping the Mother tied to Her physical body! It is but for Dada we can say now, that The Mother would have left Her body along with Sri Aurobindo. We owe Dada much in what he did in this hour of crisis!

He himself wrote somewhere that he was the uttar sadhak, that is, one who continues the work of the guru after the guru has left his or her body. Indeed he continued Her work in the physical transformation and at the same time he seems to have been the last bastion or scaffolding in the Mother’s building of the Ashram.

He had come a long way before becoming the Mother’s uttar sadhak! It was in 1934 that for the first time Dada had seen the pictures of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in his house. As he later told us, he was surprised to see in the temple of Chandi-mandap  the photographs of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and in the beginning he had not liked it.

He said to himself: ‘How can there be photos of two human beings, however great they maybe, in Chandi-mandap?’ But then, slowly, after a few days, he started liking Them – or was it that he started to recognise Them from his previous births? He had even begun to offer flowers on the photos of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The flowers that he used to put were the kamini flowers. Later, after coming to the Ashram, he came to know that the Mother had named the kamini flower: “At peace in the vital, the result of abolition of desire”.

I personally feel that towards the end of his life Dada had achieved an absolute peace in his whole being, not only in the vital but the physical and the other parts of the being.

When he chose to leave his body on 8th of January this year (2010), I went to see him in the office of the P.E.D. where I had chatted with him for long hours. But somehow when I went into the office, I did not see death on his face: it was really glowing. The face was really glowing in a mellow gold colour. There was tremendous peace and there was benevolence on his face. It was as if he had really conquered death on some level of his being. I have also seen many people in the Ashram who have passed away. But Dada’s body was very different. It was as if death had not touched him. It was he himself who had chosen to leave the body in order to continue the Mother’s work on a different level.

He was indeed a great soldier of the Mother’s work. He was the very leader of all the soldiers of the Mother’s work—the Kartikeyan of the Mother’s soldiers! He was indeed one of those apostles of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who have really grasped the New Consciousness and anchored it in the earth consciousness. I feel that sadhaks like Nolini-da, Champaklal-ji, Pavitra-da have really succeeded in planting the great Supramental consciousness in the human consciousness and it is because of them that today we can all speak with such confidence about the Supramental Force working upon earth.

And I feel that these apostles’ work is very important because the Mother and Sri Aurobindo also require some human agency so that the New Consciousness and Power brought down by Them are engraved upon the human consciousness.

Pranab-da or Dada was, in my understanding, one of those intimate “agencies” of the Supramental work for the earth. We really miss him, and at same time, I do not miss him because I always feel that he is around helping all of us in our fight for Truth and Justice, Order and Discipline on the physical level. My first impression of him remains the last one in my heart: a beautiful slave of God marching alongside the Divine in Her work upon earth. May the Peace he achieved in his passing—the  peace of union with the Divine—pervade the Ashram and all other institutions and people close to his heart.

                                              ADDENDUM

                                    Dada Remembers his Birthday

It was Dada’s birthday the following day. (18.10.98)

Rajkumar came in in the morning and wished Dada ‘Bonne-fete en avance!’. Dada said ‘thank-you’. Then Rajkumar asked him: ‘Dada, when the Mother was physically there your birth­day was celebrated with great festivity. Did you ever go to the Mother on your birthday?’

Dada replied: “Nothing more than usual. I would wake up on my birthday greeted by the Mother wishing me ‘Bonne-fete’. The Mother would give me two birthday-cards, one I could show to others, and the other was strictly personal. This second card was not to be shown to anybody. Then She would give me the boxes full of all kinds of gifts, clothes, shoes, chocolate, sweets, offered to me by various people. Boxes full of things as in a marriage. All very expensive things. Foreign chocolate. A boxful just for me. And another for those who carried the boxes for me. Then there would be a tussle for who got the empty chocolate box. These chocolate boxes were truly very beautiful. Then as was the rule, I went to see Her at ten in the morning. Even after the Mother left, this arrange­ment continued for quite some time. Now naturally it has stopped. The Mother used to give me money too on my birth­day. In the beginning She gave me an equivalent that was ten times the years I was completing. Then She started giving me a hundred times my age. She always told me to spend little and save more. It would come in handy later. And it is true, even today I spend money for my personal expenses from what I had then saved. The Ashram still gives me money as the Mother had arranged. On top of this every Saturday the Mother used to give me twelve rupees in the beginning which became twenty-five later for my pocket-expenses….

While Dada was talking to us a lady came and wished him for his coming birthday. She asked: ‘Dada, how do you feel on your birthday?’

Dada answered: “I feel no difference because the vital has no age.”

                       (Courtesy: Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, By the Way, pp.44-7 )

                                                    *

 

 

                    The Mother’s pencil sketch of Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.

                                Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya with the Mother.

                               The Mother with Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.

                                                   *

About the Author: Dr. Ananda Reddy joined the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, at the age of 11 years, in 1958. Born to a family of philosophies, his father Prof. V. Madhusudan Reddy, who did his PhD on Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy of evolution, brought him out to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and left him in the care of the Mother. From 1958 to 1969, Ananda Reddy was student of the Ashram School where he studied passionately most of the works of Sri Aurobindo. Inspired by the ideals of the New Consciousness and the New World, as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Ananda joined, with the Blessings of the Mother, Auroville. He looked after the Aspiration School in its initial stages until he went away in 1976 to Hyderabad to pursue higher studies. On completing his Masters in Literature and in Philosophy in 1978, he pursued his M.Phil at Osmania University with a view to attempt PhD in Sri Aurobindo’s thought. However, his aspiration was fulfilled only in 1988. He joined the Post-Doctoral studies and taught for almost two years at Pondicherry University in the Sri Aurobindo School of Eastern and Western thought. On getting an opportunity to teach philosophy at Assumption University, Bangkok, he left India and experienced teaching in a foreign university from 1992 to 1995. On his return to India, he started his dream project at Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Centre of Advanced Research (SACAR), in 1996. On 29th February 2000, SACAR was inaugurated by Nirodbaran. In 2008, the Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU) invited SACAR to become its Recognised Research Centre for conducting different programmes in Sri Aurobindo Studies.

Apart from conducting workshops and participating in International Seminars all over Europe and the United States, Dr. Reddy took regular classes for adults at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, giving them explanations of Sri Aurobindo’s books: The Life Divine, Savitri, Synthesis of Yoga, Essays on the Gita. Along with these classes, he also gave weekly classes at Savitri Bhavan, Auroville, on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s vision. Most of his classes were audio-recorded and now a huge collection of his talks in MP3 format is available at SACAR. He is at present the Director of SACAR and he also looks after the Institute of Human Studies as its Chairman. Apart from his regular teaching at SACAR and Savitri Bhavan, he is also a teacher at “Knowledge”, the higher course division of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He is a recognised scholar in Sri Aurobindo’s thought but he cherishes to be acknowledged more as a sincere child of the Mother.

                                                          *

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Georges Van Vrekhem—A Tribute by Carel

 

 

Dear Friends,

On Friday, 31 August 2012, well-known author and Aurovilian Georges Van Vrekhem passed away in Auroville at the age of seventy-seven. With his death, the Aurobindonian community has lost another bright jewel.

As a mark of our tribute to him, we are publishing an obituary of Mr. Vrekhem penned by Carel along with some of his photographs in the forum of Overman Foundation. This tribute was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Auroville Today. We are thankful to Carel for allowing us to republish it.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

                                             *

                                   Georges Van Vrekhem

                                                                                  Carel

On the afternoon of August 31, well-known author and lecturer Georges Van Vrekhem left his body following a cardiac arrest. He was 77. Georges had been fighting coronary arterial disease for over 20 years.

Georges first came to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1970, after having been a well-known poet and having had a successful career as playwright and artistic adviser of the Dutch Theatre Company of Ghent, in Flemish-speaking Belgium. The ‘roots’ of his writing, he said, produced their first shoots at 14 when he ‘spontaneously’ started writing poetry. This led in the late 1950s and 60s to the publication of three volumes of poetry and a number of poems in various magazines. He also wrote nine original plays, translated and adapted a number of plays of other authors and wrote essays and articles. His literary talents were acknowledged when he was awarded the 1965 Prize for Literature by the City of Ghent.

In that period Georges read a staggering amount of books in Dutch, German, French and English. One of the authors was Satprem whose Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness ignited a spark. “This is what I had been looking for,” he said afterwards. But it took some time for the spark to become a flame. Georges’ reading, writing and theatre work were complemented by a regular immersion in the bustling nightlife of Ghent – he knew all the pubs, he said afterwards – to ‘interact and discuss issues with the artistic society of Ghent’. Then, in 1970, after a brief stint as tour guide, this life ended when he moved to a small room in the Rue Suffren in Pondicherry and joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. As he later wrote in a poem, “One day I broke through an inner wall and found a fire within, and the power of that fire has gradually conjured me to another continent.” The Mother gave him the name Matriprasad (meaning ‘Blessing of The Mother’ or ‘Offering to The Mother’) which he however never used. He started teaching at the Ashram school and, because of his proficient language skills, also became one of the secretaries of the Sri Aurobindo Society, in charge with international relations for their project Auroville.

Yoka and I met him in 1976, during our first visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Georges had stopped working for the Society, had started practicing astrology and was translating Satprem’s triology The Mother into Dutch. Could we find a publisher, he asked? But the publisher deemed the investment too risky. This led to the creation of Stichting Aurofonds, a Dutch Foundation that aims at supporting Auroville and at publishing books from and on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in Dutch and other languages. With the help of this foundation the trilogy was eventually published. Over the years, Stichting Aurofonds remained instrumental in helping to publish Georges’ books.

In 1978, five years after the passing of The Mother, Georges packed all his belongings on a bullock cart, left the Ashram and joined Auroville, settling in a small hut in the Aspiration community and starting teaching at Last School. The times were hard; there were the fights with the Sri Aurobindo Society and L’Agenda de Mère (Mother’s Agenda) had just started to appear. Initially enthusiastic, Georges aimed at translating all the 13 volumes of L’Agenda into Dutch. But after an extremely painful fall-out with Satprem this project was shelved, never to be taken up again. Instead, he translated Rajagopalachari’s abbreviated version of the Ramayana into Dutch, which was followed by the Mahabharata.

In 1995, Georges began writing his own books. Voorbij de Mens, Leven en Werk van Sri Aurobindo en De Moeder was published in 1995; he then transliterated it into English as Beyond Man, the Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Itwas published in India in 1997 and became a highly acclaimed seminal book. Amal Kiran (K.D. Sethna) judged it “among the best that have been written on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.” In this book Georges, for the first time, spoke about Sri Aurobindo and The Mother as the Two-in-One, the double-poled Avatar of the Supermind. That same year the publication of Georges’ compilation of Mother’s conversations translated into Dutch appeared. This compilation was later published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram under the title ‘The Vision of The Mother.’

These books came at a high personal cost. In 1997, Georges suffered a heart attack, was admitted to JIPMER hospital in Pondicherry and later subjected to a coronary angiography in Belgium, in preparation for a heart operation. But the operation was cancelled when the angiography showed that a bypass would have no effect as a part of the left heart chamber had died. Realizing that his life would henceforth move at half-speed and that he could not fully depend on allopathic medicines, Georges taught himself homeopathy. He obtained a degree from the British Institute of Homeopathy and started treating himself, with considerable success. Yet, his health would never be the same and often he would complain of an uncertain future. The Belgian experience also gave rise to a bundle of autobiographic Dutch poetry, De Reis naar België, (the voyage to Belgium) in which he described his angst at leaving India – will he ever return? But, he says in one poem, there are hands that save. “‘You are living under very high protection,’ said the seer.”

Georges had meanwhile been able to build and move into a two-room house in the Shakti community nearby Aspiration. It was a true hermitage, filled with books, with just sufficient space for a desk and a bed. Continuing his habit of reading copiously (friends and friendly foundations would donate towards his book purchases), he wrote a few more books: an extensive biography The Mother, The Story of Her Life (2000); Overman – the intermediary between the human and the supramental being (2001); and Patterns of the Present – from the perspective of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (2002).

Then, for a period of four years, Georges spent his time studying one of the most gruesome periods of human history, the Second World War. “This reading makes me sick,” he used to complain. His motive: “Sri Aurobindo and The Mother had been speaking to their disciples about this War, about its occult significance, and about the asuric entity that possessed Hitler. Is there any historic material that collaborates Their views?” There was, plenty – in German, English, French, Dutch and Spanish. His bookshelves soon flowed over. But it was with more than a sigh of relief that Georges finally disposed of this collection when his book ‘Hitler and His God, the background to the Hitler phenomenon’ was published in 2006.

Meanwhile, Georges’ fame as author was spreading. Many of his books were translated and published in The Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and Russia. In 2006, he was awarded the Sri Aurobindo Puraskar by the Government of Bengal. Increasingly, he was touring Europe and the USA giving lectures. The travel, he said later, was certainly not good for his health, even though he often experienced it as a prayer. In more recent years he only agreed to give lectures in Auroville and through Skype.

He continued writing about aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s vision, such as the book ‘Evolution, Religion and the Unknown God’, (2011) where he described the various theories of evolution and the concepts of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. That same year saw the publication of his last book, ‘Preparing for the Miraculous’, containingthe 11 lectures Georges had given in 2010-2011 at Auroville’s Savitri Bhavan and Town Hall. In the last essay in this book Georges shared his conviction that the Two-in-One Sri Aurobindo and The Mother were, in fact, the Kalki Avatar who, in the Hindu tradition, will come at the end of the present Kali Yuga.

With Georges’ passing, the Auroville community worldwide has lost a friend and one of the few exegetes of Sri Aurobindo’s and The Mother’s views. As Dakshina from the Lodi Ashram, USA, commented, “Georges was a pillar of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s work and legacy, leaving behind a wealth of books and transcribed talks that the world may better understand Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, their lives and vision and purpose, and what role we all who are called to this path of Integral Yoga share in the unfolding evolution we have taken birth to participate in.  Though an all-consuming labour of love, this life-work was not easy and often took the form of a long battle, each book a hard-won victory over a host of opposing forces.”

He will be sorely missed.

                                                  *

 

 

Alexandra David-Néel’s reminiscences of Sri Aurobindo.

 

Dear Friends,

Today we are publishing Alexandra David-Néel’s reminiscences of Sri Aurobindo.

Born as Louise Eugénie Alexandrine Marie David on 24 October 1868, Alexandra David-Néel was the only daughter of Louis David (a friend of Victor Hugo) of Huguenot ancestry and a Catholic mother of Scandinavian origin. Very early in life she displayed her most characteristic personality traits, in sharp contrast with her severe, austere, bourgeois parental environment. She was a proud, fiercely individualistic child, yearning for freedom. She ran away from home several times to flee this dour loveless home, attracted by travels to faraway initiatory lands, to satisfy the need for escape she felt to the end of her life. In 1886 when Alexandra was 18 years old, she left for Spain from her home in Brussles without informing her parents on a heavy fixed pinion bicycle with her belongings on the handlebars. On the way there, she made a detour to the French Riviera and another through Mont-Saint-Michel on the way back. To travel from one place to another, all her life she chose the longest itinerary and the slowest means of transportation. After a stay in London, Alexandra began to study Oriental philosophy along with the English language. After turning twenty-one she left her family and settled in Paris at the Theosophical Society and audited classes in Oriental Languages at the Sorbonne University and Collège de France. She spent a great deal of her time in library of Guimet Museum where she listened ‘to the silent calls of the pages’. The Guimet Museum became a sort of a temple to her as she used to prostrate herself before the statues of the Buddha. Her quest for knowledge made her devour the texts of the Bhagavad Gita, the Rig Veda, the Dhammapada and other scriptures. At the same time, she joined various secret societies—she would reach the thirtieth degree in the mixed Scottish Rite of Freemasonry—while feminist and anarchist groups greeted her with enthusiasm. In 1899, she wrote an anarchist treatise Pour la vie prefaced by the anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus which the publishers refused to print due to the fear of sedition. The book was eventually published by her companion Jean Haustont. Alexandra also studied music and voice and performed on the stage (she became the chief singer at the Hanoi Opera in 1895 where she performed under the pseudonym of Alexandra Myrial), where she achieved considerable success in certain roles, such as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust, the title roles in Massenet’s Manon and Bizet’s Carmen. But she did not quite enjoy her career as an actress since she craved to travel; she longed to visit deserts and Tibet whose captivating music (which she had heard during her visit to India in 1890-1891 where she had spent over a year) and the gong of the monasteries seemed to call her. In 1900 she met a Railway Engineer Philippe Néel in Tunis whom she married in 1904. In August 1911 Alexandra promised her ‘understanding husband’ whom she lovingly called ‘Mouchy’ to return to him within eighteen months but she returned fourteen years later in May 1925. Alexandra travelled for the second time to India, to further her study of Buddhism. She was invited to the royal monastery of Sikkim by the crown prince, Sidkeon Tulku.  She also met the 13th Dalai Lama twice in 1912, and had the opportunity to ask him many questions about Buddhism—a feat unprecedented for a European woman in that era. Through her visits to the Buddhist monasteries, she increased her knowledge of Tantric Buddhism. In 1928 Alexandra legally separated from Philippe but they remained the best of friends till the latter’s demise in 1941. In 1928 Alexandra settled in Digne where she built Samten-Dzong, her fortress of meditation. She also undertook lecture tours in France and Europe. She penned several books on her travels and successfully commented on the theories of the mystics and magicians she had approached. Her list of books include Voyage d’une Parisienne à Lhassa (My Journey to Lhasa),  Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet (Magic and Mystery in Tibet), Initiations Lamaïques (Initiations and Initiates in Tibet), La vie Surhumaine de Guésar de Ling le Héros Thibétain (The Superhuman Life of Gesar of Ling), Grand Tibet; Au pays des brigands-gentilshommes, Le lama au cinq sagesses, Magie d’amour et magic noire; Scènes du Tibet inconnu (Tibetan Tale of Love and Magic), Buddhism: Its Doctrines and Its Methods, Sous des nuées d’orage; Recit de voyage, Au coeur des Himalayas; Le Nepal, Ashtavakra Gita; Discours sur le Vedanta Advaita, Les Enseignements Secrets des Bouddhistes Tibétains (The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects), Avadhuta Gita, Immortalite et reincarnation: Doctrines et pratiques en Chine, au Tibet, dans l’Inde to name a few. She continued her study and writings till the eighteenth day before her demise on 8 September 1969 at the age of 101 (it is interesting to note that she had gone to renew her passport during her centenary year). According to her last will and testament, her ashes and those of Yongden were mixed together and dispersed in the Ganges in 1973 at Varanasi, by her friend Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet.

Alexandra David-Néel came to India in 1911 before leaving for her extensive tour of Tibet and met Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry about whom she was informed by Paul Richard. Her impressions of Sri Aurobindo have been published in her books L’Inde où j’ai vécu (The India where I lived) and Journal de voyage: lettres à son mari. The following passages of her reminiscences are quoted from the book The Mother: The Birth and Growth of a Flame published by Overman Foundation.

With warm regards,

Anurag Banerjee

Founder,

Overman Foundation.

                                                    *

             Alexandra David-Néel’s reminiscences of Sri Aurobindo.

‘The room where we met contained only a table and two chairs that faced each other, on either side of the table. Sri Aurobindo was sitting in one of the chairs, his back to a wide-open window. Nothing could be seen through the window, neither building nor tree. The vast green sky of India filled it entirely like a screen on which the outline of the guru was traced. Was it a deliberately planned effect? I cannot say for sure that it was…

‘While Sri Aurobindo spoke with me, four young men stood by a corner of the table. Their attitude of adoration and ecstasy was extraordinary. Tall, robust, immobile, their eyes fixed on their master, they resembled a group of statues.

‘At one point, wishing to ask Sri Aurobindo certain personal questions, I felt I would like to be alone with him. I don’t know whether he read my thoughts or whether he felt the same way as I, but all at once, without his having said a word or made a gesture, all four disciples trooped out in a single movement, stiff, silent, like robots drawn invisible wires.’

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                                                              Adyar-Madras, 27 November 1911

‘In the evening I had a conversation with a Hindu about whom I may have never spoken to you, since I have not been in correspondence with him, but know him only through the good opinion of friends. I spent two wonderful hours reviewing the ancient philosophical ideas of India with a man of rare intelligence. He belongs to that uncommon category that I so much admire, the reasonable mystics. I am truly grateful to the friends who advised me to visit this man. He thinks with such clarity, there is such lucidness in his reasoning, such lustre in his eyes, that he leaves one with the impression of having contemplated the genius of India such as one dreams it to be after reading the noblest pages of Hindu philosophy.’

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                                                              Adyar, Madras, 19 December 1911

‘…One of these days I’m going to write to that Hindu of Pondicherry I mentioned earlier. He has a keen power of analysis, and a critical turn of mind… Calling his attention to the experiments he himself is conducting with careful and meticulous control, I will ask him: “Am I entering samadhi, am I really touching Nirvana, or is it just fatigue, or perhaps my sensations are being dulled by age? … Are my indifference, my beatitude, of a transcendental kind, or is it only torpor, the beginning of my decline?” … I imagine that the question will make him laugh, as he laughed so sweetly the day I told him, in regard to something similar: “One reaches a point where one no longer knows whether one is becoming prodigiously wise, or taking leave of one’s senses…”’

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                                                                       [Calcutta on 14 February 1912]

 ‘ …This morning I went to Government House. I am going to be given a set of letters of introduction and recommendations which will continue to facilitate access to many things and many people. Of course it was known, here too, that I had been to Pondicherry and seen Aurobindo Ghose. I had no idea he was such an important man. If I had known, I would have tried to make him speak on politics to see what sort of political ideas would germinate in the brain of a Vedantic mystic. But though I knew he had been involved in a political trial, I did not know the precise reason. This morning the private secretary to the Viceroy told me, “I think he considers our civilisation, our education and all our modern progress to be godless, and therefore condemns them.” This may very well be. Hindus look at the world from a different angle than we do. If our interview had not been limited to a few hours at twilight. In the monastic house in Pondicherry, I might have picked his brain and discovered where the cracks in our Western materialistic civilisation lie…But it may be that I owe a beautiful memory to my being insufficiently informed about him—false and illusory, no doubt, like most beautiful memories: the vast empty room, the window open on the mauve sky of the evening, and Aurobindo Ghose and I speaking of the supreme Brahman, the eternal existence, and for a moment crossing the threshold of the Beyond, where life and death cease, and living the dream of the Upanishads…’

                                                  *

‘I knew that this philosopher had taken a political stance that was not pleasing to the British, but naturally I was discreet enough not to speak of that. Besides, we were soaring far above politics. But while we soared, others were content to remain on the ground. I am speaking of the English police. When I arrived in Madras the head of the C.I.D. was waiting for me in person. He asked me—very civilly and politely, I must say—what I had been doing in Pondicherry in the house of this suspicious character. I was not surprised. I knew in advance that my visit would be taken note of. Moreover I made no efforts to conceal it.

‘Good Heavens, how petty and paltry it all seems—their agitation, their cowardliness, their distress. What a different atmosphere there was in that silent house in Pondicherry! Through it passed the breath of the things that are eternal. In the calm evening, seated by a window that looked out over the rather funereal gardens of this defunct city, it seemed as if we could see beyond life and death… And when I think of the proud disdain with which he seems to regard the couch of the ascetic, which beckons me even now, and of his promise of dreams other than those that haunt the feverish brains of those poor lunatics!’

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