November 24, 1926, was the day on which Sri Aurobindo went into seclusion for concentrated Yogic work towards the creation of a new humanity. In the forefront he put, as guru and guide to his disciples, one whom he regarded as the spiritual Mother of the greater world that was to be. On this day, when the Mother’s genius of spiritual organisation took up the group of souls dedicated to the Aurobindonian ideal, the Ashram was conceived and set growing to be the nucleus-light of the divine Consciousness into which mankind was intended to be reborn. In the years that followed, this day was one of those few on which Sri Aurobindo, seated side by side with the Mother, used to give darśan to the hundreds who gathered in Pondicherry to pay them homage.
But since 1950 the Mother alone has been visible on this day as on others like it. For, Sri Aurobindo who had retired for twenty-four years from common outer contact with the world chose to retire still further and, on December 5, 1950, withdrew from even his body. Then followed those five days of magnificent mystery when he lay in state, with not a sign of decomposition, and men and women in their thousands filed past that picture of imperial repose which was yet to the deep-seeing soul the dynamo of a divine energy let loose on the earth. Also, to the deep-seeing soul, on every darśan day after the great withdrawal the Mother has never sat alone: Sri Aurobindo, conscious and alive though not in the corporeal sheath, has been there, unmistakably felt in the double intensity of spiritual light that the Mother’s bodily presence has manifested in Sri Aurobindo’s physical absence. It is as if the wonderful work that was his could be, after a certain point of progress, best done by packing the whole force of it into one form instead of two. Two can indeed be glorious company for revealing what the Upanishads have called “the Light by whose shining all this shineth”, but sometimes a solitude of one can be a more potent focus for setting aflame what the Vedas have termed “the darkness which is enwrapped within darkness”.
To get a glimmering of what happened on November 24 in 1926 and what lies behind the Mother’s apparent solitariness on the same date after 1950 and what Sri Aurobindo brought about on December 5 in that year, we must understand this Vedic phrase. While the Rishis saw an absolute and perfect Spirit that is all and more than all, a transcendent and a universal Godhead, at once personal and impersonal, while they saw also within all a divine dweller ever developing forms higher and higher, they did not fail to see that this development (which we now recognize as evolution) is often a most paradoxical story because the transcendent and universal and immanent Godhead has worked out the dynamics of our cosmos from a first foundation of gigantic unconsciousness, a vast welter of blind brute energy. Hidden in the energy are all omniscience and omnipotence, but the secret divinity is formidably locked and breaks out by a most difficult process. Hence the rise of life and mind in a context of enormous randomness and devious waste, as though it were an emergence through layer on obstructive layer, through labyrinth on misleading labyrinth of gloom.
Yes, the Rishis recognized the immense obstruction at the roots of life and mind. They recognized too the necessity not only of ascending to the domains of knowledge and bliss beyond earth but also of disclosing in its full splendor the Sun, as they put it, lost in the Cave of Night. To bring about that disclosure, the cave-walls must be demolished. But how were the ancient barriers to be broken down? The question seems to have met with no positive answer. Hence the later Indian masters of Yoga read, in that irreducible opposition which introduced some ever-resistant element of the undivine into all our parts of nature, an enigmatic māyā which, being unconquerable, has to be evaded by a world-exceeding absorption of the inner being into an infinity that has no form, an eternity that has no movement. Even the less intransigent masters felt that ultimately the world was the field of a play, līlā, without a denouement, a play which could be inwardly ecstatic to a God-lover but never completely resolvable in its outward terms to God’s freedom and light and beatitude and immortality.
Sri Aurobindo harks back to the Vedic endeavour. Not only the Godhead above, around and within but also the Godhead below is the object of his Yoga. Unless the Godhead below is compassed and set free completely in the forms of evolution, there can be no overcoming of those resistant elements that have made mysticism a magnificent failure, the grandest human achievement that yet could not bring heaven to earth. Of course nothing else than mysticism can hope to build a perfect life fulfilling man to the innermost and the outermost. However, mysticism must open its eyes to the darkness enwrapped within darkness and find some means of irradiating it.
If the old spirituality fell short, it was because the means remained undiscovered. Sri Aurobindo’s teaching is that there must be in the infinite Divine the power that put forth the formula of a huge involution as the starting-point of an endless evolution and that in this power must reside the key to the irradiation of the Vedic darkness so that the Godhead may stand manifest in the very atoms of matter, secure in them as in its own home since matter would release in its own terms the Supreme Spirit crypted within it. This power he calls Supermind, Truth-Consciousness, Gnosis. To make the Supermind descend into earth-life, to carry it down into the Cave of Night and, by making the “Sun on the head of the Timeless” join the Sun immured below the feet of Time, render possible a perfect existence here and now, an existence no longer open to invasion from the nether glooms nor liable to slip down into their abyss: this is the epic of the Aurobindonian Yoga. Its uniqueness lies, on the one hand, in the full realisation of the hitherto unexplored and undynamised Supermind where the Truth is wide-awake and, on the other, in the full fathoming of the hitherto evaded and untransformed “inconscience” of matter where the Truth is deep-asleep. This uniqueness leads us to look upon Sri Aurobindo as, in the most literal sense, the Scientist of the Spirit — one who in the light of the highest spiritual Knowledge grapples with the plane of matter, the basic sphere of Science, and asserts that, until the heart of matter’s mystery is spiritually entered and possessed, the Life Divine can never become for embodied souls an assured reality, an established and consolidated evolution. For evolution means not just the emergence of the higher from the lower: it means also the transformation of the lower by the higher, the integration of it into a richer value. To evolve is to climb to the top of the scale and then turn back to the bottom in order to master it with the peak’s puissance.
But the significance of mastery must be properly grasped. There is the old word siddhi doing duty for it in spiritual parlance. It is not sufficient, as ordinarily interpreted. For, it suggests a gripping and shaping of recalcitrant substance — the substance itself regarded as alien to the force that grips and shapes. Such siddhi can never have permanence inherent in it nor can it reach down to the very essence. Whatever it does is by way of sustained miracle and constitutes a splendid superimposition: it is not something natural, intrinsic, inevitable. The latter is possible only if the gripped and the shaped is not essentially different from the gripper and the shaper, but is the same being in a phenomenal form put out of the original Perfection for a particular process of self-loss and self-finding. The utter concealment, the absolute involution, comes as the last step of a graded devolution from the Supermind and serves as the first step of a graded evolution due to an expressive push upward from below by the hidden powers and an evocative pressure downward upon them and a progressive entry into them by the same powers — life, mind, Supermind — which have their planes above. What Sri Aurobindo, therefore, means by mastery of the black nadir of existence by the golden zenith is nothing super- imposed by a miraculous seizure: it is the Supreme coming into His own and fulfilling in evolutionary Time a figure of the perfect that He is in His Truth-Consciousness, His plane of creative archetypes which joins the eternal to the temporal. That is why Sri Aurobindo has said that the supramental manifestation is in the very logic of earthly things and is the final sense of the developing terrestrial nature. As such it will be intrinsically sustained, permanent — matter itself crystallising as Spirit.
However, the luminous crystallisation cannot take place without unprecedented labour on the part of those whose mission it is to turn the potentiality of it into actuality. The promise that the potential would be the actual as a result of his Yoga is the significance of November 24, 1926, when the towering ascent that Sri Aurobindo had accomplished was matched by the crossing of a critical point of descent. This day was the culmination of year on long year of travel along uncharted ways of the inner life — travel far beyond the goals of Nirvana, Moksha, Cosmic Consciousness, Krishna-realisation, union with the World-Creatrix which were reached before he withdrew from the political field of British India to Pondicherry in 1910. It is known as the Day of Victory because it marked a decisive turn pregnant with the divinisation of material existence. But between the casting of the seed and the advent of flower and fruit there must again be a mighty passage through the unknown. And here the unknown was the penetration more and more of the Vedic darkness with the supramental Gnosis. All the old Yogas move out of the gloom of mortal ignorance into the Immortal’s light. The Aurobindonian discipline alone wants the illumined soul not to pause there but to adventure into a gloom of which mortal ignorance is only an attenuated form — the abyss from which evolving life and mind have sprung and which must be conquered if life and mind are to be completely divinised, for, unless matter is also divinised, the embodied deity will always have feet that are fragile. The promise of Victory could grow a realised Triumph only by Sri Aurobindo’s becoming at the same time a Pilgrim of Day and a Pilgrim of Night.
The pilgrimage through occult regions of consciousness totally involved within matter is the stupendous sacrifice Sri Aurobindo was giving for decade on decade from the time the Victory had been promised, bearing – as a line of Savitri phrases it — “the fierce inner wounds that are slow to heal.” Nothing save Divine Love in the supreme degree could support him in such a journey — Divine Love that throws itself out infinitely to lead the evolving world, sparing itself no struggle however dangerous, no self-immolation however exorbitant. A body that housed the illimitable power of the Supermind and could become permeated with the Light beyond this universe of death took upon itself not the mere task of an extraordinary individual transformation but the giant labour of being representative of all bodily life and hence accepting a universal responsibility so that the hope of an entire transformed mankind might result from its achievement. In a Yoga thus representative and responsible the greatest apparent advantages, the most striking personal benefits can be thrown away in a dire strategy of losing the immediate all to gain the ultimate all for the race.
Understanding this, we have to view the events that occurred in the first week of December in 1950 — the attack by a fearful malady, uraemia, symbolic of the “inconscience” of the depths surging to drown the heights, the acceptance of it in spite of the Supermind’s inherent ability to ward off all disease, the day-to-day aggravation on the one hand and on the other the response of the descending Supermind to the sacrifice being given by a leader of the evolution for the whole earth’s sake, the deadly suffusion of the leader’s body with the uprising poison and yet the lack of the least trace of discolouration and decay for over 111 hours in the tropical climate, the spectacle at once of death and of its transcendence, as though to proclaim in a convincing parable that through the aspect of defeat a triumph was being worked out in the future that lay with Sri Aurobindo behind the visible scene and, here before us, with his companion in the creation of a super-humanity: the Mother.
We await the flaming up of that future from the tenebrous fuel offered to the imperishable Splendour by the strategic sacrifice of Sri Aurobindo. What marvels the flaming will lay bare none can fully gauge. But, if the words of one who incarnated the Truth-Consciousness can be believed, the flaming is certain, arid the Mother’s eyes are a mirror of the things to be. They bear ever brighter witness to the prophetic close of that poignantly profound sonnet written by the Master of the Supermind’s everlasting Day:
I made an assignation with the Night;
In the abyss was fixed our rendezvous:
In my breast carrying God’s deathless light
I came her dark and dangerous heart to woo.
I left the glory of the illumined Mind
And the calm rapture of the divinised soul
And travelled through a vastness dim and blind
To the grey shore where her ignorant watersroll.
I walk by the chill wave through the dull slime
And still that weary journeying knows no end;
Lost is the lustrous godhead beyond Time,
There comes no voice of the celestial Friend,
And yet I know my footprints’ track shall be
A pathway towards Immortality.
With deep gratitude to Amal Kiran, aka K.D. Sethna, of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry