Some General Truths and Personal Facts
The One whom we call the Supreme is the utter Unmanifest. The creative Conscious Force of the Supreme is the Divine Mother in Her transcendent poise, Aditi, holding the Truths that have to be manifested out of the absolute Mystery. Through the transcendent Mother and by Her creativity the whole universe has taken birth. And when the Supreme manifests in the world His own personal being. He does it also through Her transcendence. In Her universal aspect She is Mahashakti. All the Gods and Goddesses are of Her making - they are but powers that express Her.
There are many powers of the universal Mother which are not yet made manifest to us, and many universes too which are still in the Unmanifest and which the Divine Mother can create. What has been created is just one system of possibilities out of the innumerable that She and the Supreme can realise.
Time and again this Divine Creatrix takes a direct hand in the workings of the world. Through individual forms She manifests some ray of Herself: being Supernature, the truth of all that Nature here strives to express, She makes one aspect or another of Her light descend in all the ages of history and, when the hour is ripe, even a full individual embodiment can come forth.
It is such an embodiment, amidst a world of human beings, that Sri Aurobindo set before us when, on November 24, 1926, he charged with the care of his Ashram the radiant personality whom he called the Mother and into whose shaping hands he asked us to put ourselves as children.
For forty-seven years and even past the age of ninety-five she played her mighty part to perfection. Born on February 21, 1878, she passed away on November 17, 1973. Her Ashram is still full of her though without her bodily presence. But no! we should only say; "without her bodily existence." For, if ever there was a bodily presence which could never be effaced, it was the Mother's. Timeless she was not only in her inmost being but also in all the expressions of it in her outermost activity. During her last few years she was not up and about in the same way as before, but we must remember what she said to some disciples gathered in her room on April 2, 1972: "The body has some difficulty, so I can't be active, alas. It is not because I am old - I am not old... I am younger than most of you. If I am here inactive, it is because the body has given itself definitively to prepare the transformation. But the consciousness is clear and we are here to work — rest and enjoyment will come afterwards. Let us do our work here." That is the typical Mother. And even in her last days, when her body had become exceedingly weak, she would say: "Make me walk." As late as November 14 she made her attendants lift her out of her bed. She tried to walk but staggered and almost collapsed. She took about 20 minutes to recover. But the moment she felt better she started saying: "Lift roe up again, I shall walk." The constant urge towards activity of such an indomitable spirit could not help rendering her bodily presence a perennial part of our awareness. Naturally, therefore, she is in our memory most as we knew her before an acute form was taken by the difficulties of the body which she attributed to the exacting incalculable experiment of what she and Sri Aurobindo called "supramentalisation" - that is, the total "divinisation" of the physical being.
Right up to her ninety-third year the Mother was visibly true to her role of Divine Shakti on earth, but her best manifestation as the Ageless One was round about her eightieth year. For, contrary to expectation, it would have been the extreme of ineptitude to say on her eightieth birthday that she was eighty years old. Few of her disciples were up in the morning as early as she, few turned to repose as late. And it was hardly four or five years before this time that she used to be on her feet, without a moment's respite, from five in the morning to nearly two in the afternoon — meeting people, ministering to their spiritual needs, considering their physical requirements, attending to the reports of numerous departments, giving flowers charged with the soul's secrets, making those secrets breathe out more sweetly with that flower of flowers, her smile. In the evening again, from four she would be active, with a little recreation by way of tennis for an hour and then with a large amount of re-creation of lost joy or clouded light in the thousand disciples who would move past her to receive from her hands a spoonful of nuts or a sweet through which their very bodies could absorb Grace. Even after eighty,her manifold activity was of one young, and at the day's end there was none who left the Ashram Playground with a fresher face and a brisker step.
Watching her, day after day, we realised that more than mere words were what she had once spoken on old age. She had said, in effect: "The coming of old age is due to two suggestions. First, the general collective suggestion — people telling you that you are getting old and can't do one thing or another. There is also the individual suggestion which keeps repeating, 'I am getting old, I mustn't attempt this or that.' The truth is quite different. Before thirty, the energy goes out in a spendthrift way because of the play of impulses. After thirty, there is a settling down and one is expected to have a plenitude of energy. At fifty, blossoming begins. At eighty, one becomes capable of full production."
Marvellously full indeed has been the Mother's productiveness, for it is rich with the power of a consciousness more than human. Even at the age of five she was aware that she did not belong to this world, that she did not have a merely human consciousness. Her Yoga may be said to have begun in that early period. Her parents had a small chair, with a little back, made for her - she would sit in it and meditate. She used to see a column of light above her head. As her brain was yet a child's and therefore insufficiently developed, she could not make out what it was, however much she tried. But the general sense of a high and vast mission accompanied always that experience.
Neither of her parents knew anything about this or who she was. And she did not tell them anything. On rare occasions, at a little later period, she tried to give some hint, but they failed to understand; nor, if they had caught its meaning, would they have believed her. Her mother was a positivist and materialist, in keeping with the tendency of those days, and wanted her and her brother to be ideal children according to her own notions. As for her father, he did not care one way or the other: he was a businessman.
All during her girlhood she was conscious of a more than human force behind her and often entering her body and working there in a supernormal way. This force she knew to be her own secret being. A few instances of its working may be given. She was about seven. There was a boy of nearly thirteen, a bully who always used to mock at girls, saying that they were good for nothing. One day she asked him, "Will you shut up?" He kept mocking. Suddenly she took hold of him, lifted him up from the ground and threw him down with a thump though she was so much smaller than he. The force that had come down into her and made her tremendously strong was recognised by her later in life as Mahakali.
Another instance. She had gone to play in a forest near Fontainebleau. She was climbing a steep hill, when her foot slipped and she began to fall down. The road below was strewn with sharp black stones. As she was falling, she felt somebody supporting her in a lap, as it were, and slowly bringing her down. When she reached the ground she was standing safely on her two feet, to the glad astonishment of all her companions.
In her sixteenth year she joined a Studio to learn painting. It was one of the biggest Studios in Paris. She happened to be the youngest there. All the other people used to talk and quarrel among themselves, but she never took part in these things — she was always grave and busy with her work. They called her the Sphinx. Whenever they had any trouble or wrangle, they would come to her to settle their affairs. She could read their thoughts and, as she replied more often to their thoughts than to their words, they felt very uncomfortable. She would also make her decisions without the least fear, even if the authorities were concerned. Once a girl who had been appointed monitrice of the Studio got into the bad books of the elderly woman who was the Head of the place. This woman wanted to send away the monitrice. So the Sphinx was sought out by the young ones for help. She felt sympathy for the girl, knowing how poor she was and that if she left the place it would be the end of her painting career. The Head of the Studio had now to confront a determined little champion. Sensible pleading was first tried, but when it fell on deaf ears the champion took another line. With a bit of anger she caught the elderly woman's hand and held it in a firm grip as if the very bones would be crushed. It was soon agreed that the monitrice would be allowed to stay on. Mahakali had been at work again.
The Sphinx of the Studio was also the same serious self at home. She rarely smiled or laughed. And for this, once when she was about twenty, she got a scolding from her mother. She simply replied that she had to bear all the sorrows of the world. Her mother thought she had gone crazy. On another occasion she was scolded by her for not listening to what she had been ordered to do. Then she answered that no earthly power could command her obedience.
We must not imagine that the Sphinx was morose or rebellious in general. She had enough of true joy and consideration. She was just weighted with the secret of the great work she had to do, and she could let nothing out of tune with it shape her actions.
Before this time, she had already arrived at a fairly precise idea of her mission. Between the ages of eleven and twelve, a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to her not only the existence of God but man's possibility of uniting with Him, of realising Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine. And during her body's sleep occult instructions were given to her by several teachers, some of whom she met afterwards on the physical plane. Later on, as the inner and outer development proceeded, a psychic and spiritual relation with one of these beings became more and more clear and frequent and, although she knew little of the Indian philosophies and religions at that time, she was led to call him Krishna and henceforth she was aware that it was with him, whom she knew she would meet some day, that the divine work was to be done. Being a painter she made a psychically impressionist sketch of him and waited for it to spring to life some day for even her physical eyes.
A number of years she spent in Algeria, learning the higher occultism from a Polish adept, Theon by name, and his still more profoundly experienced English wife: Alma. Under them she would put her physical body into a trance and awake progressively in her subtle sheaths: putting to sleep the subtle sheath next to the physical, she would grow aware in the one on a deeper level: she thus climbed the whole grade of what occultists have charted out as supraphysical planes, and became acquainted with their laws and powers and operations, so that she might place all available means at the disposal of her spiritual ideal. On more than one occasion, so complete was her withdrawal from the body that the latter lay in a condition of temporary death. But the release, which could have absorbed her into the Divine Existence for good and plunged the embodied being into its Supreme Origin, was refused by her. She saw the world in its long travail and returned to the body by sheer force, a painful process when the connecting link between the subtle and the gross has been snapped.
In 1910 she came to hear of Sri Aurobindo who had settled in Pondicherry earlier in the same year. From then onwards her one desire was to visit India, the land which she had always cherished as her true mother-country. And in 1914 the joy of seeing India was granted her— and the very heart of that joy was the meeting with Sri Aurobindo. But even before she caught sight of him she must have entered the ambience of his presence at Pondicherry. For we know how, six years later when returning by sea from Japan and drawing closer to the town, she had the occult experience as of a great light shining from some centre in it. Now, in 1914, she was soon face to face with the centre. And when she saw Sri Aurobindo she recognised the original of her visionary sketch. This was enough to convince her fully that her place and her work were near him in India.
Here we may remark that the whole truth about her choice to reside in India is not told when we have noted this meeting with Sri Aurobindo. The whole truth is compassed only when we realise why Sri Aurobindo himself, who had a wide Western education in England and wrote creatively in English and could have easily made his mark in Europe in whose culture he had been steeped, took India for his field, not only politically but also culturally and spiritually, assimilated the whole genius of this country and made it the central fount of his own future. India holds within her a supreme potentiality of spiritual response and development because of an extraordinary history of soul-culture: a vibrant psychological atmosphere is there, breathing life and vigour into all formations of the soul and rendering possible new evolutions of the Spirit's power. That is why Sri Aurobindo came an Indian and went to the West to bring the West to India for a novel world-wide synthesis of spiritual aspiration; that is also why the Mother came a Westerner but with the eternal Indian within her, the born God-seeker and God-realiser, and joined forces with Sri Aurobindo to complete by her Indianised West his Westernised India, so that all mankind might grow to supermanhood with secret sustenance drawn from the soil where the wonderful seed of Avatarhood had often been sown.
The Mother saw the all-consummating Avatar in Sri Aurobindo, and Sri Aurobindo saw in her the Shakti that would make his Yoga an organised starting-point of a new chapter of earth's history. In the meeting on March 29, 1914, the true relationship between her and him, which she later expressed in a pithy sentence, must have flashed into awareness: "Without him, I exist not; without me, he is unmanifest."
But the master-means of manifestation, no less than the One who was to be manifested, was directly approached only on that day. Before meeting Sri Aurobindo the Mother used to find for her various spiritual experiences and realisations a poise for life- work by giving them a mould with the enlightened mind. All kinds of powerful ideas she had for world-upliftment — ideas artistic, social, religious. At sight of Sri Aurobindo she aspired to a total cessation of all mental moulds. She did not speak a word to him nor he to her: she just sat at his feet and closed her eyes, keeping her mind open to him. After a while there came, from above, an infinite silence that settled in her mind. Everything was gone, all those fine and great ideas vanished and there was only a vacant imperturbable waiting for what was beyond mind. For days and days she carefully guarded her absolute silence and then slowly the Truth began to flow down from above. The Truth alone grew the substance of consciousness. No mental activity was left. And from that day in 1914 she never lived in the mind. Ideas got formed not on a mental initiative but in response to the Truth and in order to make the Truth mentally comprehensible and in order to transmit some experience of the truth to the ordinary world.
Sri Aurobindo had known in 1908 the cessation of all mental activity in an utter Nirvana which became the basis on which the dynamic and creative side of his Yoga proceeded. Although he experienced this cessation six years before the Mother, both of them soon found on comparing notes that they had worked essentially on the same lines of an integral development, seeking to gather together all the movements of the spiritual life and carry them to a new goal. Only, a question that had haunted her from humanity's past had remained unanswered till she met Sri Aurobindo: Must always the attempt to establish a Kingdom of Heaven on earth fall tragically short of fruition? When she put the question to Sri Aurobindo he looked tranquilly at her and said, "This time it will next be so."
The secret of averting failure was what he called the Supermind, the Divine's own self-dynamism that had never before been brought into action in the world - the Supermind not only as reached in its free and sovereign height but also as carried down from there into Matter's depths to re lease in them its own hidden counterpart which is the buried source of all evolutionary striving towards divinity.
In those first few months of the Mother's stay in India, the mission of which she had been aware since childhood grew increasingly clear. She had hinted at this in the entry dated June 26, 1914, of her Prayers and Meditations:
"O Lord, grant that we may rise above the ordinary forms of manifestation, so that Thou mayst find the instruments necessary for Thy new manifestation.
"Do not let us lose sight of the goal; gram that we may always be united with Thy force; the force which the earth does not yet know and which Thou hast given us the mission to reveal to it."¹
An idea of the intensity with which She Mother devoted herself, from 1914 onwards, to her work for the world can be faintly formed if we remember what Sri Aurobindo remarked later to a disciple. He said that he had never known what spiritual self-surrender could be until she h ad thrown her whole being at his feet.
It was in 1914 too that she experienced an identification of even her most outer consciousness with the Universal Mother. She has written about this in her Prayers and Meditations. She has described there two successive identifications. Of course, she had known, long before, that she was the Mother: only the complete identification took place now, after her coming to India. This was but natural, since no other country has felt and known the universal aspect so intensely.
Her diary which comprises the Prayers and Meditations had been started two years earlier. Every day at 5 a.m. she used to sit to meditate near her window with a Kashmiri shawl wrapped round her. The meditation being over, she would note down her thoughts and experiences; but they were meant only for herself and she always used to lock up her diary. In 1916 she stopped writing, but on her final arrival at Pondicherry in 1920 she took it up again. Later, it was only occasionally that she wrote. What she wrote covered five big volumes. The first to see them was Sri Aurobindo and it was he who asked her to get them published as they were sure to be of immense help to others and would at the same time show what the physical consciousness could achieve. So he made a selection and she got it printed. She had the rest burnt in a boiler which is still in use at the Ashram.
The utter absence of self-attachment which is in this act impresses us in all the acts of the Mother. She never seemed to think of her own ends or comfort or satisfaction. For many years she did not have a regular bed to rest in. There was hardly even any privacy. Then some disciples pleaded with her to let them build a room of her own. Her constant gesture was to give and give, and there was no regret if the giving bore no palpable fruit. Nor did her vision admit failure. Once she indicated how Sri Aurobindo and she worked. She said that even when they saw that a disciple was acting under wrong forces or was about to revolt and leave the Ashram they would not envisage a dark end for him but set the delicate balance so that the other side, the spiritually receptive part, might not go down. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo never saw things in small blocks of time and space: a boundless vista was ever in their eyes. And even beyond time and space their sense of being extended. Vividly does one of her disciples remember what she said apropos of her own paintings. Himself an amateur with the brush, he was acutely concerned about the almost thoughtless scatter of her best work over many countries. She mentioned a decade in which she had done her finest pieces and said that most of them had been given away to various people at different times and in different places. The disciple said: "Should we not do something to collect them again?" The Mother calmly replied: "Why? Is it so important?" "Surely, such masterpieces deserve to be found and kept safely. You took so much pains over them." "It does not matter." "But, Mother, don't you think there will be a loss if they are not preserved?" Then the Mother, with eyes far away yet full of tenderness for the agitated disciple, said in a quiet half-whisper: "You know, we live in eternity,"
Suddenly the disciple woke up to the truth of the Mother's being. "Of course, of course," he broke out, realising how often, seeing her walk our little ways, we forgot the ineffable Plenitude that was She behind and beyond her dealings with us, the Plenitude which yet took on itself the difficulties and limitations that were ours, so that passing through them she might be the exemplar of not only a divine victory but also a human fulfillment.
An open reminder of the truth of her being came most emphatically in 1926 when Sri Aurobindo put the Ashram in her charge. To be precise, there was on November 24 of that year a descent of what Sri Aurobindo terms the Overmind, the highest dynamic divine consciousness that had been realised so far in the world: he brought it down into the very material being, thus carrying one step forward the work done by the previous Avatar Sri Krishna who had brought down its influence into earth-life. With the descent of this consciousness into Sri Aurobindo the ground was prepared for the future descent of the Supermind, the integral Truth-Consciousness of the Divine in which lies the secret power of a complete transformation of earth-existence, even to the very cells of the body. When the Overmind was brought down, Sri Aurobindo summoned all those who were staying near him and told them that the time had come for him to withdraw into seclusion for concentrated work towards the Supermind's descent and that henceforth the Mother would be in the forefront, his Shakti and their Guru.
The few months immediately after the Overmind's descent were a history of spectacular spiritual events. All who were present have testified that miracles were the order of the day. What can be called miracles happen every day even now in the Ashram - wherever a great spiritual Force is at work the miraculous is inevitable - but many such events occur without any eclat and often wear even the appearance of natural phenomena. Those which were common occurences in those months were most strikingly miraculous and, if they had continued, a new religion could have been established with the whole world's eyes focussed in wonder on Pondicherry. But the spectacular period terminated with an incident of profound significance which the Mother recounted to the present writer. She received one day what she has called the Word of Creation. Just as the God Brahma is said to have brought forth the world with his Word of Creation, the fiat of a new world that could be marvellously built lay ready with the Mother. A superhuman world was on the verge of being materialised.
With this power the Mother went to Sri Aurobindo's room and told him: "I have got the Word of Creation." Sri Aurobindo sat silent for a while and then said: "This Creation is from the Overmind. And we do not want that. We have to build the Supermind's world." The Mother went back to her own room. She concentrated intensely for two hours and at the end of them she had completely dissolved the whole new Creation that had been on the brink of precipitation on earth. The greatest power in any hands during human history was set aside as if it were a trifle — and all because Sri Aurobindo had said that nothing short of the highest divine Truth was the ideal of manifestation for him and her. Miraculously grand though the manifestation would have been of the Overmind deities, it would not have been an utter transformation of life and would have stood in the way of a still greater glory. The very grandeur of it would have filled the aspiring gaze of mankind and checked it from straining for anything beyond it - at least for millennia.
With that unparalleled act of obedience and surrender by the Mother at one gesture from Sri Aurobindo the long laborious period of gradual preparation for the Supermind's world started - on the one hand the drawing down of the supreme Truth- Consciousness from above and on the other the digging into what Sri Aurobindo designates the Inconscient, the apparent origin of evolution on earth, the seeming negation of the Divine within which the integral Divinity has to be manifested, converting all the painful terms of the Ignorance into the terms of Knowledge and Bliss.
Twelve years after the descent of the Overmind into the physical being of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother the greater aim seemed on the point of achievement. The Mother remarked in 1954 that even as far back as 1938 she used to see the Supermind appearing in Sri Aurobindo's body but what could not be done at that time was to fix it in the most outer physical being. The first fixing took place in circumstances mind-bafflingly dramatic. Twelve more years elapsed, and then Sri Aurobindo gave up his body, went through what seemed to be a disease with a fatal ending but what, in consideration of the extraordinary concomitants of that illness and that death, can only be regarded as a supreme strategic sacrifice. Sri Aurobindo, in view of the lack of preparedness in the world to receive and hold the descending Supermind, gathered as it were the whole force of mortal fate into his semi-divinised body and in the act of giving up this body exhausted that force in essence and principle and drew down to earth and fixed there the supramental Light. He took a drastic short cut towards a goal which otherwise would have taken decades to approach. Soon after he withdrew from his physical envelope the Mother and a number of disciples saw the supramental Light suffusing it. And at the very time of his withdrawal the Supramental Power made its permanent base in the Mother's body, beginning with the brain-mind. This is what is known as the "Mind of Light."
From then onward a deeper and deeper digging-in by the Light continued. In reaction against the invasion by the Truth- Consciousness the powers of the Ignorance attempted a desperate obstruction again and again. But Sri Aurobindo's sacrifice had already delivered the first of the finishing strokes to them. And with the Supramental Manifestation on February 29, 1956, when the Supermind's Light, Consciousness and Force became part of the earth's atmosphere, as it were - an agency subtly yet directly at work on a universal scale in the midst of the old powers — the complete victory was assured, whose ultimate outer sign would be what the Mother called in her New Year Message of 1957 "the glorified body" which can conquer all Evil.
The process of the "glorified body" went on in the Mother - visible to a few whose sight, piercing through the outer eye's blindness, could catch the descended kārana śarīra, the causal sheath, at work within the Mother, a white glory into which the outer substance was gradually being absorbed or, rather, which slowly projected itself into that substance to transform it. The Light played about in the limbs, coming forward, drawing back, now a soft beauty enshrined in the flesh, now a great power possessing bone and tissue till one beheld no longer the familiar shape we adored but a perfect Goddess suffusing it and for a while blotting it from the gaze. But not rapidly enough could the supramental sheath exteriorise itself, for the Mother stood in no immune isolation, she took hundreds of imperfect conscious- nesses into herself, worked out their defects, repaired in her own body the constant damage which this comprehensive compassion inevitably brought: her aim was to carry the world with her and to prepare it for the full manifestation which it would scarcely have been able to bear if she had sought her own perfection to the neglect of humanity's cry for inner help and divinity's call to live for a collective triumph instead of an individual achievement.
A farther step towards the conquest of all Evil was disclosed in the Message of January 1, 1958, in which she spoke of the consent of material Nature to the demand for transformation. Nature has always been rejected by spiritual seekers and left to its own devices of slow circuitous development and aeonic travail with ill-lit forces. Nature, by being thrown back on itself, has avenged the rejection by obstructing with those forces the occasional pull on it for collaboration by seekers of the Spirit. The Mother's mission was to take Nature into herself, for indeed she was in essence all that is here in the very stone of material existence: a saviour love has been hers that shirks nothing, uplifts everything and makes even dust divine without annulling it, since even dust has its counterpart in the Supreme and a destiny of fulfilment here and now.
Over nine and a half decades was the saviour love the earth's companion. A blessed day is every February 21 in its reminder to us of the long labour and of the fateful moment which saw its beginning. May our hearts beat in tune with that moment and be re-born from the sweetness and strength of this day that is effulgent with the Spirit's own sun - the Mother's face.
¹. The Mother's Collected Works (Birth Centenary Edition), Vol. 1, p. 183.
- K. D. Sethna
All extracts and quotations from the written works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the Photographs of
the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry -605002 India.
The only way to come a little close to him is to love him sincerely and give oneself unreservedly to his work. Thus, each one does his best and contributes as much as he can to that transformation of the world which Sri Aurobindo has predicted.
(Vol. 12, pp. 398-99)