A Look Behind and Ahead
On one 21st of February in the last 1950’s, I repeated to the Mother the usual English formula for a birthday: “Many happy returns.” Immediately, half-jocular, half-serious, she exclaimed: “What! You want me to return again and to the earth still further? Haven’t I had enough of being born so far?”
I was taken quite unawares by such a response. I mumbled something like: “No, Mother, I don’t at all wish you a rebirth. I have only used the customary words meaning that you should enjoy numerous future birthdays in this very life.” She answered: “That’s all right.” But her response set me thinking.
My first thought was of her own statement made a little earlier in that decade: “Since the beginning of the earth, wherever and whenever there was the possibility of manifesting a ray of consciousness, I was there.”
Then it struck me that though the work done each time had been glorious, the labour must have been heavy and that the need to carry on this illuminating toil from age to age must have taxed the human embodiments for it grievously. The Mother must have passed through her frequent births with a graceful heroism but there could be no denying the fact that for the sake of the world’s uplift she repeatedly:
Assaults of Hell endured and Titan strokes
And bore the fierce inner wounds that are slow to heal.
In the wake of this second thought followed the sense that the Mother was carrying even in her present embodiment a tremendous burden whose recurrence she did not want in another incarnation – a burden she wished to dispose of by a supreme victory. The victory was, of course, for the earth’s good. Like Sri Aurobindo who once said that the mighty task he had undertaken was not for himself since he did not require either liberation or supramentalisation, the Mother as the Avatar of the Highest Divinity had nothing to accomplish for her own sake: she had shouldered the luminous load of the Integral Yoga in order to lighten humanity’s evolutionary travail. But the load was immense and such as nobody else could endure and it had become greater after the passing of Sri Aurobindo: now the concentration of the Supermind’s transformative pressure was wholly on the Mother’s body.
Sri Aurobindo has well summed up the Avatar’s situation: “It is only divine Love which can bear the burden I have to bear, that all have to bear who have sacrificed everything else to the one aim of uplifting earth out of its darkness towards the Divine. The Gallic-like ‘Je m’en fiche’-ism (‘I do not care’) would not carry me one step; it would certainly not be divine. It is quite another thing that enables me to walk unweeping and unlamenting towards the goal.” (April 1934).
Obviously, if her remark to me was to be fully understood, the Mother desired the Divine Love, which was sustaining her, to fulfil its aim of supramental descent and transformation in this very birth of hers: she had no inclination to write “To be continued” to the story of her present life.
What is more, she did not think in terms even of her disciples being reborn for success. Not only to me did she say at one time: “When I speak of total realisation for any of you, I mean in this very life.” Her vision is expressed to others also when Sri Aurobindo wrote to a sadhak on 15 January 1934: “The Mother has never spoken of anything to be done in the next birth…. Naturally the vital has to be transformed if one is to succeed.”
Yes, it was as she told me on one occasion: “Death is not in our programme.” The Mother’s birthday was meant to repeat year after year, with her work moving from strength to strength. In 1953 she expressed in general terms her vision as well as her will: “The transformation of the material body has not been done nor even attempted perhaps in the past. It can be done only if life is sufficiently prolonged; you do not leave the body unless you will it so and thus have the necessary time at your disposal to bring about this change. Sri Aurobindo once said – and he said it without the least hesitation, that it would take about three hundred years to do it; I can add, from the time when the last stage of union with the Divine is reached….
“To prepare such a body, three hundred years is nothing; even a thousand years will not be too much. Naturally, I am speaking of the same body. If you change your body in between, it will no longer be the same body. At 50, the body already begins to wear out. But, on the contrary, if you have a body that goes on perfecting itself, if each passing year represents a step in progress, then you can continue indefinitely….”
After the Supramental Manifestation on 29 February 1956 in the subtle-physical layer of the earth, her hopes took a still more concrete shape. No doubt, she did not envisage a quick change in general world-conditions and said on 5 September of the same year: “Before the effects of the supramental manifestation become visible and tangible, perceptible to the whole world, thousands of years have perhaps to pass.” However, she had a shorter view for the small world of sadhaks around her. On 10 October 1956 she declared: what Sri Aurobindo has promised and what evidently interests us who are here now is that the time has come when some chosen beings out of the present-day humanity who fulfil the conditions of the necessary spiritualisation would be capable of transforming their body with the help of the Supramental Force, the Supramental Consciousness and the Supramental Light and would no longer be animal men but become supermen. This promise he based on the knowledge he had that the Supramental Force was about to break upon earth. In point of fact, the supramental Force had come down into him long ago.”
The meaning of the last statement about Sri Aurobindo is evidently, as she explained to Monsieur Roger Anger one day and later to me on 25 November 1970, that Sri Aurobindo’s embodied being had experienced the Supermind’s descent but that the Supramental Force had not entered sufficiently and permanently his physical substance so as to start supramentalising it. She told Roger that because the physical supramentalisation had not been there Sri Aurobindo’s body could undergo death. To me she said: “Clearly, Sri Aurobindo did not have the supramental body, and neither do I have it. But that does not mean that the Supermind was not in his body. The two things are quite different. One can have the Supermind in the body without the body being supramentalised.”
What applied to Sri Aurobindo in the past applied with some difference to the Mother in 1970. The Supermind had not only been in her body for a long time: the process of preparing the physical supramentalisation had also advanced further in her instance. Still, the exteriorising phenomenon was absent. The Mother never made claims for her own person. She did not say that her Yoga had perfected her body in the external sense of the word. Her body possessed certain qualities marking it out, it could transmit the inner divinity by a subtle ambience which all sensitive disciples and sometimes even sheer outsiders felt. It had also an unusual stamina: up to her eighty-second year she could play tennis every afternoon for about an hour. But purely material shortcomings she never concealed and latterly there was an avowed drop in the health of particular organs or parts. However, on 25 November 1970, there was no impression on me that she had given up the goal of supramental transformation. After she had asked me how old I was and I had replied “Sixty-three years complete” and then added: “Mother, I want to hang on till I see your Victory”, she at first looked a bit surprised at the tall order, but in a second she laughed and said, “Bien.” This signified that the Victory – that is, total physical transformation – was accepted as possible, if not certain, for her body in the long run. Over a year and a half earlier – to be precise, on 15 February 1969 – she had expressed, for the first time as far as I know, something less than certainty about the upshot of her lengthy spiritual endeavour. She said: “…the work is becoming more and more ‘exacting’. But I feel (that is to say the body feels very well) that it is part of a training. It looks like that: it must hold on, the body: or otherwise, so much the worse. It will be for another time.” Here the closing phrase conceives the possibility of giving up the body and getting reborn: a passing through the experience of death is not ruled out. Yet the insistence is upon holding on and facing the test, the hard discipline of enduring the more and more difficult conditions under which the body lived in its attempt to assimilate the Supramental Force, Consciousness and Light directly into its cells.
The next occasion on which we hear of something less than certainty is, paradoxically, in the very talk of 24 March 1972 telling us her inner experience of “a body altogether new”, a subtle perfection of shape – “sexless … very white…very slim… pretty… truly a harmonious form”. She exclaims: “If that were to materialise…” Apparently, all was ready on the subtle-physical plane to precipitate itself in the gross; but the mode of precipitation, the technique for materialising the new body, was unknown. Feeling acutely the disparity between the waiting future perfection, so close yet so far, and the aspiring actuality, the Mother turned from the prospect of that glory, pointed to her partly handicapped frame and cried out: “Is that going to change? It must change or it has to follow the old ordinary process of undoing itself and remaking itself.”
The possibility of having to follow this process became an actuality on 17 November 1973. But this is a way of speaking from the ordinary outer point of view. The Avatar of the Supermind cannot be said to be compelled to any course by a necessity of Nature. Whatever course is adopted is freely accepted: the Supramental Consciousness belongs to the Transcendence and is above all cosmic conditions even when it elects to work under them. What determines its future is its own transcendent Knowledge and Will. A moment must have come of such Knowledge and Will in the first week of December 1950 to Sri Aurobindo; and the instrumental being, put in front for world-action, obeyed. A period of crisis must have preceded this moment. We can discern it distinctly in a letter of May 1949 in which Sri Aurobindo writes that “things are getting too serious” for him “to waste time” on “inconclusive intellectualities”: he did not care for any distraction from his Yogic work.
We see a similar crisis in the Mother’s sadhana. In 1972 she said: “It is becoming terrible. It is like a pressure, a frightful pressure to bring about the desired progress; I feel it in myself for my body. But my body is not afraid, it says: ‘Very well, if I am to end, it is the end.’ Every minute it is like that: the true thing or the end. The body knows that this is the way for the supramental body to be formed. It must be wholly under the influence of the Divine…” The formation of the supramental body: there is no mistaking the goal envisioned and sought. What was held in some doubt a few years earlier was simply whether the goal would be reached. In 1969 we get a glimpse of the sensitive situation.
She states about her body’s future: “( … as if the world put the question) – Will it continue or will it get dissolved? .. But the body knows that it has been decided, and that it is not to be told to the body. It accepts, it is not impatient, it accepts, it says, ‘It is all right, it is as Thou wilt’….” Obviously, a little before 17 November 1973, the body must have been told the final decision of the Divine, the Mother’s own highest transcendent self – a decision guided by the two factors which, according to Sri Aurobindo, alone matter in the Avatar’s life and alone mould it: the Truth above which has to be manifested and the need of the world-play below. As a result, there was on 17 November a clear phase of great distress in the body, a marked painful difficulty for quite a time in breathing, the usual accompaniment of a severe heart-attack. Every sign showed that she was letting the body suffer the final stage of the prolonged disorder she had undergone with the unobstructed entry of the immense Supermind-power into a representative body for the first time in all history. When the end came, the doctor who had been summoned gave a closed-chest heart-massage but to no avail.
Once the definite departure from the body had been ascertained, the vehicle that had striven and suffered and achieved even more than Sri Aurobindo had done twenty three years before was made ready to lie in state for the last darshan by those who had loved it. Not for long could it be kept. The Mother would seem to have got the utmost service out of it and willed that it should soon be put into the same Samadhi-vault which held the physical remains of the Master. Shortly after the body had been brought down from the Mother’s room, rapid and extensive deterioration was observed. On 1 February 1969, in a series of questions and answers on death, when she had been asked: “How can one tell for certain that the physical body is dead?” her reply was: ·”Only when it decomposes.” Now no doubt could remain as to what she had allowed to happen.
This does not mean that the goal she had originally set up was anything else than physical supramentalisation. Up to almost the end she worked for it, just as Sri Aurobindo had done up to the eve of 5 December 1950. But even as he changed his course, so too did she – both of them for their own occult purposes.
Let us repeat that the Supramental Avatar, the Incarnation from the Transcendence, is not forced by any cosmic law: an utter freedom goes hand in hand with the play of its action. The Mother has hinted at this freedom several times.
On 26 December, three weeks after Sri Aurobindo had passed away, she declared: “Our Lord has sacrificed himself totally for us. He was not compelled to leave his body, he chose to do so for reasons so sublime that they are beyond the reach of human mentality.” On 2 April 1972 she said about herself: “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.” In the same talk she added: “If you believe that I am here because I am bound – it is not true. I am not bound…” On 30 August the same year we see again the supramental instrument and the Supramental Transcendent in their free relationship. “Very often, very often,” she disclosed; “I ask the Lord: How can I help now that I can no more see clearly nor speak clearly? It is a state… the body does not feel the decline! It is convinced that if tomorrow the Lord wanted it to take up again its activities, it would be able to do so. The strength is there (the Mother touches her arms, her muscles), at times a mighty strength!… Why?.. The condition is willed so that … I might be left quiet.”
With her acceptance of an exit from the body, we hark back to the subject of 21 February, the day of the Mother’s birth. And for this day the central question is: “When will she be reborn?” She has unequivocally announced that Sri Aurobindo will not be born in the human manner again: his return will be in the first supramental body built in the supramental way – through the extraordinary power the human body’s attainment of supramentalisation will win to bring about the entry of higher beings without the ordinary process of sex. About her own future, the Mother has not denied “another time” and a self-undoing and self-remaking as in the common run of human generation.
21 February is especially an occasion of spiritual spellbinding for me. My first darshan of the Mother side by side with Sri Aurobindo was on this date in 1928 when she was exactly at her half-century. And my last well-remembered darshan of her was also on 21 February in 1973. The April darshan is vague in my mind and on 2 May I left for Bombay for a cataract operation. Owing to unavoidable circumstances the operation was long delayed. I had to miss the darshan of 15 August when the Mother was seen as an embodied divinity for the last time by the Ashramites. I returned to the Ashram on hearing in the early morning of 18 November that she had renounced her embodiment. On the preceding night she had appeared to me in a vivid dream, with a bunch of red roses which she has told me to put on my head.
Last year, on her birth-centenary, there was a very strong experience of her coming extremely close to our physical space-time, as if she were on the verge of taking up a body once more. If on every birthday of hers we could feel with increasing strength her proximity to the earth-scene, one day in the near future the thin veil will be rent and her supreme sweetness and power, instead of guiding us invisibly, will stand again intimate to our seeking gaze and eager touch.
From Amal Kiran’s Book, Our Light and Delight
With deep gratitude to Amal Kiran, aka K.D. Sethna, of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry