We are happy to present before our readers a review of Amal Kiran alias K.D. Sethna’s book entitled The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo authored by Dr. R.Y. Deshpande. This review had originally appeared in the August-September 1993 issue of ‘Mother India’, the monthly review of culture, published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. In this review, one would come across an extensive discussion about the Mind of Light and several comments of K.D. Sethna which he had made when the typescript of the review was being prepared. Sethna’s comments (in bold) made against the views expressed by Dr. R.Y. Deshpande are invaluable in grasping the sense of the phrase “Mind of Light” and were added as clarificatory footnotes when the review-article was published in ‘Mother India’.
With warm regards,
The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo
To discover the full meaning of Christ’s question “What are you doing to excess?” in the Sermon on the Mount, the young CF Andrews wrote it out in Greek“Τικάνειςστην υπερβολή?”[Tikáneisstinypervolí?] and placed it on his study table. He would look at it every day to get a completer import of it and wonder whether “to excess” would also cover to love one’s enemy. As the good Christian in him would urge him to “fight the good fight,” he would also go to the extreme length of forbearance and love in the face of evil. For him, later on, “Gandhi, a Hindu, had pointed towards a Christian solution and made it appear practicable.”
But in the context of World War II, and many other contexts, his solution failed to seize the true Indian spirit. Not to understand that all destruction is not evil and not to recognise the hour of God when mighty changes and transforming actions are involved is a grave failure which in its wake leaves behind it a chaotic world. Not to see the War behind the War is not only to be myopic, as in the case of a Hindu `Christian’; but to seek help from one against whom the real War is being fought, as in the case of a misguided nationalist, is, to say the least, just fatal. Nazism stood for the destruction of all that is elevating and noble in us and its triumph would have been the loss for ever of the bright and desirable Lebensraum, living space, for the life of the Spirit.
But “Sri Aurobindo stood alone in his sunbright seeing of the war’s inner significance;” in it he “saw much more at stake than a political, social or cultural issue. He saw an issue beyond the human, the growth of God in man opposed from regions occult to our normal consciousness. And he saw that secret opposition as the most colossal in history and not confined to a brief outbreak.” He saw the Diabolic standing against the Divine.
It is in this context that we witness the forthright spiritual journalism of KD Sethna reporting to us the danger when “we have an incarnation of adverse forces, the dark deities, and they shape out a collectivity, a nation, a State with the purpose of goose-stepping on the world and smashing the entire fabric of civilisation.” There cannot be Christian solutions to the problem of the Divine versus the Anti-Divine; the Anti-Divine has to be broken and our recognising this is what we are “doing to excess”. Nor can there be Christian solutions to problems such as philanthropy; St Francis took Lady Poverty as his bride but “manifesting an infallible Benevolence” is another thing and, as Sethna would say, trying “to bring down some ray of truth which would really solve the terrible problem of life” is what is expected as a part of spiritual endeavour. If there is the Augustinian in Sethna lingering here and there, he soon leaves him behind to move in radiant ambience of his Master in matters mundane too.
In his The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo there are Christian or Western elements peeping out at times and there are what may look like hesitating hues in some regions; but a sharper turn and a more solid form are also acquired in the richness of the process.
The Publisher’s Note to the Second Edition tells us rightly that the book is always marked “by the clarity and penetrativeness and power of exposition set in a variety of keys and pointed in a multitude of directions.” Sethna rightly writes in his introduction that the topics covered in the book were “basically written with an eye to the wide world of inquiring minds and questing hearts,” holding the desirable ideal of “interplay of light and life” in their propositional developments.
The variety of topics in this ‘little’ book is indeed very remarkable and encompasses spiritual, yogic, philosophical, literary, social-political aspects with the stamp of an interpretative thinker, even at times of a manishi, something which comes only from concrete contact with a radiant Presence. Here we have a wide-ranging mind which traverses freely the metaphysical tracts with a luminous brevity, presents spiritual issues with a focused attentiveness shedding on them the light of an intimately grasped intuition, interprets world-events and social events on the firm basis of an occult truth seized by the alertness that springs up from the soul itself, discusses with friends and philosophers in the mode of informality matters pertaining to mysticism, dispels the doubts of a “perpetual doubter doubting for the doubt’s own sake” till the doubt itself is doubted, moves with lyrical ease and epic grandeur in poetry of the poet of integralism, with thoughts that wander through Eternity, and even makes speculations regarding each grey cell bursting to omniscient gold: the spectrum of the Vision and the Work extends far beyond the immediate visible in both the directions.
Sethna’s prose-style also assumes equally varied profundities depending upon the subject in hand; but in these profundities there is always the search for the Aurobindonian depth which is really the unifying element in the whole work. To explain Sri Aurobindo, to remove misunderstandings about him, to locate his place in the firmament of the spiritual stars, to tell that there is an integralism in his word-power, to suggest “Aurobindonian despair” as more apt-sounding, to describe the phases of the Mind of Light, to heighten the heart of matter’s mystery in the Yoga of Transformation — all varying subjects and they need corresponding keys in the development of the rich orchestrated theme. Let us see a few examples.
There is the Socratic tête-à-tête in epistolary writings while clearing misunderstandings about mysticism: “No, Prof K, mysticism does not take birth from cheap negatives and it is not a flight from life’s call. The basic call of life, of all evolutionary Nature, is the struggle for the Divine, the pursuit of a more-than-mortal Truth and Goodness and Beauty.” But he does not pause with it; he can be hard-hitting too when it comes to the question of defending Aurobindonians who are dubbed “frustrated fugitives from life’s demands”; thus he tells the Professor that the “don has left a big hole in his learning: no wonder he misunderstands so much. To talk about spirituality in general and the Aurobindonian brand in particular without getting intimate with the writings of Sri Aurobindo, our greatest modern Yogi, is rather rash.” And of course this is true also.
Similarly, he tells the Abbé Jules Monchan in about the absurdity of his remarks, following the lead of the prejudiced Indologists, that Sri Aurobindo lacked proper professional competence and had no adequate linguistic base in presenting the esoteric theory of the Veda; Sethna runs through Sri Aurobindo’s principal arguments and maintains that the “conclusions at which he has arrived about the matter and manner of the Veda are set forth after a scrupulous review of old and current theories and follow a clear chain of philosophical, historical and psychological arguments.” The Vedic Rishis themselves had recognised the difficulty in understanding the text and had posed the query: “One who knows not That, what shall he do with the Riks?”
Sethna’s hard-hitting answer is, “he will make the mess which Monchanin, following Renou’s lead, approves and encourages.”
Our author’s penchant for playing on words is well-known and in the present work we have some samples; here is one pertaining to a lion and a bull in the manner of Chesterton: “A bull is one who is never cowed, yet never bullies. In the same vein I may define a lion as one who leaps to lie on another. A lion is a beast of prey, seeking to be on the offensive. A bull is a beast of burden, brave but preferring to be on the defensive. A lion is always independent, a bull usually looks up to a master. To play Chesterton again, a lion in his might ever roars, `Let me prey!’ A bull with all his strength still bellows, `Let me pray!’ ” In that smartness of his there is the warmth also.
Coming to the significance of the English language in post-independent India, a question that continues to bother us even now, Sethna has, naturally enough, very definite views about it. It is often said that never on earth was a more momentous issue discussed than when Macaulay in 1835 fixed the English tongue as a medium of education for the Indians. Did he commit an egregious blunder in this? Even if this was a blunder then, can it be considered so today also?
The extreme nationalist spirit would surely like to drive this tongue out without offering a truly suitable alternative to replace it. But in a more statesmanlike manner Rajaji pleaded for the English language as being quite expressive of the Indian ethos; in fact he maintained it to be Goddess Saraswati’s gift to us which, being a gift, should not be squandered away. But perhaps vernaculars for the flowering of our innate genius, simplified Sanskrit as the integrating language, and English for science, technology, and international relationships should constitute the synthetic formula without introducing the pernicious high-low complex in the scheme of things.
This is necessary when we recognise the universalisation of man himself and should be viewed as more than a statesmanlike proposition. Indeed, Sethna would go one step farther and assert that in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri “we have proof as ample as we could wish that, while our vernaculars more easily provide us with footholds for climbing beyond commonplaces into the revelatory intensities of literature, English alone enables at present the soul of India to attain the absolute peak of self-expression.” But what does that imply?
This conclusion is certainly a little extreme in assertion, particularly when he says “English alone” although it is toned down to some extent by the qualifying phrase “at present”. In the light of Sri Aurobindo we cannot categorically state that the best the vernaculars will offer us are only footholds leaving the absolute peaks of self-expression to the “tongue that was Shakespeare’s and is now Sri Aurobindo’s”.
If this argument is to be extended further it would make all non-English languages, including French and Sanskrit, vernaculars; nor the uniqueness or superiority of Savitri is there for the “present” only. Unquestionably English is the “most highly developed of modern languages” and truly enough the “transcendent speech”—to use a Savitri-phrase—has found in it a receptive mould to mould itself to receive her flaming transcendences; yet we cannot bind or tie her anywhere in any specific manner. What Sri Aurobindo has most wonderfully done is to give to the Word that was more than half-blind the seeing power: English has become the instrument of PashyantiVāk, has become devabhāshā, God’s Tongue. And yet that does not, cannot,complete Sri Aurobindo’s Vision and Work: he has opened out, he has established the possibility for the Transcendent Speech, ParāVāṇī, herself to enter into the material sheath of this world in her varying moods of delight in the manifestive play of the Spirit. In that way he has gifted to each language a method and means to discover its own soul—a multiplicity of the Joy of such a divinity. Greater in this greatness shall be the seer-poets of the future, singers of the hymns of this Goddess, and in it is greater greatness of the `English’-Savitri given to us by Sri Aurobindo.
Not that all this would come as something new to Sethna; but the problem may perhaps lie with the mode of presentation and discussion he has adopted in this work under consideration. More than half of the book consists of letters, reviews, comments, reminiscences, and stray thoughts giving it more the impression of a collected rather than a gathered or organic whole. The stringing together is around Sri Aurobindo no doubt, but the pieces do not quite form a single coherent or running from one end to the other a well-worked-out thesis on any specific aspect keeping his universality as the supporting factor.
Thus, while discussing in good detail the theories of Maya and Lila, Sethna has very beautifully put Sri Aurobindo’s position, according to whom “the Supreme is totally defined by neither of these conceptions. Each has certainly a validity in experience. The sense of World-Illusion comes by experience of the utter freedom of the Divine from the universe of forms, an entire independence that can be asserted by turning away from the phenomena of body, life and mind as if they were trifles and even phantoms adding nothing to the essential self-existence of the Spirit. The sense of World-Play comes by experience of a constant sustainment of phenomena by that self-existence as if they emerged from its conscious force and expressed, overtly or covertly, its boundless delight.” If these were the only World-views, Sri Aurobindo’s theory of Supramental Evolution and Transformation would be totally out of place.
But one proof among many that can be cited to disprove this is the incarnation of the Divine Soul from age to age. If we admit this occult fact then we cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that we are living in a mode of creation in which the Divine is as if working out a manifestation of its delightful multiplicity emerging from the Divine’s secretly withdrawn state of utter Inconscience. And in the process he evolutionarily involves himself in “carrying on the evolution”.
Indeed, there is the eternal Avatar and there is a series of Avatars in the issue of the transformation of the Inconscience into the Splendours of the Infinite. Going by the connotation given by the Gita to the term Avatar, we have the Divine or the Lord himself taking a human birth, mānushimtanum, to carry on the evolution in a more definitive way in its moments of extreme crisis, the moments of intense spiritual crisis poised for an unprecedented leap of consciousness. The Avatar of the Gita hints at the process too: “I loose forth myself’, srijāmyaham, in which that `myself’ is his Supreme Spirit, his Purushottamahood, and not anything from any other place.
But Sethna views it somewhat differently. Says he: “Avatarhood, essentially manifesting the supreme Godhead, takes place from various planes of being by an incarnation of the central Divine Personality poised on a plane. It can take place from the Mind plane to establish the rule of an ideal and Spirit-touched Dharma answering to the finest mental aspiration; or from the Overmind plane to bring a many-sided direct impulsion from a spiritual state that is vaster than the mental and beyond all merely ethico-religious rule. Again, it can take place straight from the supreme Truth-Consciousness, the Supermind, where the ultimate marvel of the Transcendent is organised for time-creation and the all-transformative archetype of earth-existence is dynamic.” We have no such hint in the Gita, nor in the parable of Vishṇu’s ten Avatars, nor in any other ancient Indian scripture; Sri Aurobindo also does not give it to us anywhere.
But if this is true then Sri Aurobindo as the Supreme’s incarnation would be from his plane of Supermind or Truth-Consciousness; in other words, the Supreme stationed on the supramental plane incarnated himself as Sri Aurobindo. That would be considerably short of the Mother’s statement that he “came on earth from the Supreme to announce the manifestation of a new race and the new world, the Supramental;” she also said that what Sri Aurobindo represents “is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.” Of course it is possible that the central Divine Personality poised on the Supramental plane can incarnate here in a human form and be an instrument for direct action from the Supreme, but certainly this is not what is meant by the Mother’s statement of Sri Aurobindo incarnating straight from the Supreme.
[K.D. Sethna’s note: As far as I remember my article was shown to the Mother before the publication. In any case, I don’t think that the concepts here fall short of he Mother’s statements on Sri Aurobindo. Supermind is the all- creative and all-transformative form of the Supreme, the transcendent Divine. In connection with our created universe, all “decisive action direct from the Supreme” has taken place from the Supermind with the object of bringing about — in the Mother’s words — “a new race and the new world, the Supramental.” Therefore to say that Sri Aurobindo is the Avatar who has come from the Supermind is to say in other words what the Mother has declared abut him. It does not seem to me legitimate to disassociate in any valid sense the Supermind from the Supreme.” [Certainly it is wrong to disassociate the Supermind from the Supreme, yet there is a difference between the two, the Supreme being much more than the Supermind who is only its manifesting instrument. The difference is between the transcendental Manifestation, the Triple Glory, and the Non-Manifest, — the Absolute, the Perfect, the Alone of Savitri, — the Unknowable, or the ancient Parātpara, beyond the Beyond, — who with his Kriyā-Shakti, the Force of Action, she the supreme Executrix of his Will who becomes a Mother with the birth of Sachchidānanda, her first child. We may add that if Sachchidānanda knows himself that he is Sachchidānanda, it is with his inherent faculty of Supermind, inseparable from it. In that case this Avatar is not sent by it, it is not a direct action from the Supreme. That does not mean that the coming Avatar is not in possession of the Supermind. The Mother’s “direct from the Supreme, straight from the Supreme, he came from the Supreme” are luminously weighty revelations, with tons of gold in them, and must be seen with their fullest significance and implications.]
It is likely that Sethna did not go into these details because what he has presented here is only in the nature of a comment on the Mother’s message of 24 April 1957; maybe we could await a completer treatment from him on this subject of Avatarhood.
“The Mother saw the all-consummating Avatar in Sri Aurobindo” but that is one side of the Yoga of Supramental Realisation and Transformation. To accomplish this Yoga it is necessary that with him his dynamic Force should also incarnate simultaneously. With deep insight and a warm sense of intimacy Sethna, whom we should now endearingly call Amal, has very vividly given us his Mother whose one sun-splendid “aim was to carry the world with her and to prepare it for the full manifestation” of the Divine in the earth-consciousness. That is indeed her full Avatarhood in which Sri Aurobindo saw the “Shakti that would make his Yoga an organised starting-point of a new chapter of earth’s history.” There is Sri Aurobindo’s assurance to her that if the past attempts fell short of fruition “this time it will not be so.”
One of the greatest acts of her surrender to the Guru of the Supramental Yoga is the dissolution of an entire superhuman world she had created and which was on the verge of appearing on earth. Sri Aurobindo had indicated to her that it was a Creation from the Overmind which would delay the appearance of the Supramental by long millennia. significance
Their work continued. And to wipe off the original score and to pay the debt, to arrive at “it is finished”, a “dread mysterious sacrifice” had to be made; Sri Aurobindo put the “strategy” into action 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” — tells Amal. The grim occult battle continued and Amal recounts some of the victories won by the Mother subsequent to this, including the “consent of material Nature to the demand of transformation”. That is tremendous indeed, and now things can unroll with an assured confidence in the triumph of the ultimate objective. Having done the necessary Yoga the twin Avatars have left it to the Supermind to take charge of the terrestrial evolution, yet with their constant association and engagement in the subtle-physical intimately close to the earth. Man’s collaboration will further hasten the hour.
But apropos of the Mind of Light, there is in the Vision and Work a long article, — accompanied with a poem, — spanning 32 pages in which Amal discusses the various issues involved, he bringing insights from several skies of consideration and contemplation. The article was first published in the December 1953 issue of Mother India and bears witness to the fact that it is one of the earliest and pretty authentic and authoritative discussions on this profound subject. What we also owe to Amal — and we should be sincerely grateful to him for that — is some of the seminal statements made by the Mother to him throwing occult light on the Mind of Light. Thus we have her capital pronouncement: “As soon as Sri Aurobindo withdrew from his body, what he has called the Mind of Light got realised in me,” which reveals to us a marvellously significant event that had ever taken place in the spiritual history of the earth; later she said this on a number of occasions also. For instance: “He had gathered in his body a great amount of supramental force and as soon as he left… You see, he was lying on his bed, I stood by his side, and in a way altogether concrete — concrete with such a strong sensation as to make one think that it could be seen — all this supramental force which was in him passed from his body into mine. And I felt the friction of the passage. It was extraordinary—extraordinary. It was an extraordinary experience. For a long time, a long time like that (Mother indicates the passing of the Force into her body). I was standing beside his bed, and that continued.” [Notes on the Way, Collected Works of the Mother, Vol. 11, p. 328.] And one wonders how much he had done, and is doing, for the Divinity’s growth in us! We do not know it.
The Mother’s definition of the Mind of Light is particularly revelatory in the context of the process of physical transformation. We have the following statement apropos of it: “The question was about the direct action of the Supermind in the physical. Sri Aurobindo said it could be possible only if the physical mind received the supramental light: the physical mind was the instrument for direct action upon the most material. This physical mind receiving the supramental light Sri Aurobindo called the Mind of Light.” [Words of the Mother, Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 13, p. 62] The phrase “physical mind” is not that of mind having a physical quality or grade; it is in fact the mind of the physical itself, the physical’s mind, the body-mind.
Sri Aurobindo himself did not expatiate on it so explicitly in his writings wherein the stress is on spiritual-ontological considerations and its role in the scheme of new things, particularly the Mind of Light as the leader of the Intermediate Race from which “would be recruited the race of supramental beings”. Analogous to the Upanishadic description of the Prāṇamaya and Manomaya Purushas being the leaders, Nétās, of the respective races in the evolutionary stages of Life and Mind, we may visualise the physical’s Mind not in Ignorance but in Light as the next leader or Nétā of the new humanity or of the Intermediate Race. From Sri Aurobindo’s phrase “the pressure of supermind creating from above out of itself the mind of Light would compel this certainty of the eventual outcome,” we may say that the Mind of Light is the first entry of supermind in the earth-consciousness and that we may equate this with the Mother’s phrase “the physical mind receiving the supramental light” as her definition of the Mind of Light. It is this which she calls as the Surhomme or Overman Race,
It is in conformity with both the statements that we may read the first two lines of Amal’s poem Mind of Light:
The core of a deathless sun is now the brain
And each grey cell bursts to omniscient gold.
Based on her decisive experience the Mother told Amal, after reading the poem, that these lines were a “sheer revelation and caught exactly what had taken place” when the Mind of Light had been realised in her on 5 December 1950 at the moment of the passing away of Sri Aurobindo — his parting gift to her.
Associated with the Mind of Light there are several issues of what we may call spiritual philosophy or yogic knowledge expressed in terms cognisable to our alert mental and intuitional faculties. Is the Mind of Light a new creation, a new Star in the Aurobindonian sky? Is it a stage in the evolutionary process or is it a plane in the ladder of Consciousness connecting the Cosmic and the Transcendent? If it is a plane, where exactly is it located? If, in terms of chakras or centres of activity in the individual functioning, the Overmind is located above the head in our subtle body, where should we locate the Mind of Light working at the level of the physical mind? Can the Mind of Light be created in the body? Will the race governed by the Mind of Light remain there permanently or is it only a stop-gap arrangement to take “recruits” to the supramental race dispensing with it once the latter has firmed itself up in the evolutionary process?
Thus the Mind of Light poses innumerable questions to the questing mind as if it has created more problems than it originally came to solve. Amal in his long detailed discourse tackles them with a tremendous zest and force of intuition. He draws, naturally enough, substantially from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s writings to substantiate his understanding of them, making a lucid and coherent presentation. The account is masterly and, though one may not agree with some of the shades he provides at times in his too confident approach, the gain always remains ours. Let us briefly see a couple of them not in the spirit of cavil but because the matters are absolutely fundamental.
We may pick up first the Mother’s disclosure made to him about the realisation of the Mind of Light in her. She told him: “As soon as Sri Aurobindo withdrew from his body, what he has called the Mind of Light got realised in me.”
That is how the statement is given in the Mother’s Collected Works, with a symbol indicating that it was an oral communication which was “noted from memory” and “later approved by the Mother for publication.” But the same statement has a slightly different version in the first edition of The Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo. In it we have “got realised here” instead of the approved “got realised in me.” In her article on the subject in the December 1987 issue of Mother India, Nilima Das also quotes the phrase as “got realised here”. Added to it is the Editor’s footnote clarifying the point thus: “The word `here’ was used because the Mother never liked personal references. Its proper meaning is `in me’ .” We believe that it is not just the question of “proper meaning” but “in me” is occultly the most correct phrase, particularly if we accept that the Mind of Light was the gift made to the Mother by Sri Aurobindo at the time of his withdrawal. Amal recognises the difference and has spoken of the event in the sense of “in me” at a few other places in the present edition.
We may add that the Mother spoke about this presence of Mind of Light in her on several occasions in the Agenda.
Let us look at the issue from another angle. If we are to see that the Mind of Light was “realised here” after the passing away of Sri Aurobindo, it would leave a doubt whether Sri Aurobindo himself had realised it, at all, in his physical consciousness. Certainly in that case the question of his giving the gift to the Mother would not arise and what had happened would simply be the natural outcome of the strategic sacrifice.
That would imply something of a more serious concern: it would mean that the achievement of the sacrifice was simply in terms of fixing the Mind of Light and not Supermind proper when the supreme Yogi, Sri Aurobindo, gathered the dark Inconscience in a “holocaust to kindle heaven upon earth.” Does the Mind of Light possess the power, the needed fire, to kindle heaven upon earth? If it does, then, strictly speaking, there is no necessity of the Intermediate Race appearing in evolution, a race whose Nétā, Leader, it is. This needs to be seen in more details.
Firstly, it must be clearly understood that it is this race from which recruits will be made to the supramental race upon earth which will be the true heaven aimed at by the Avatar of the Supermind. The race under the governance of the Mind of Light is a new Humanity and not a race of the gnostic beings governed by Supermind. That would render Sri Aurobindo’s strategic sacrifice fall considerably short of his purported yogic endeavour and we will have to say that his was only a partial achievement.
Do we subscribe to this? In a personal interview of Dilip Kumar Roy in 1943 with Sri Aurobindo, which was later on corrected by Sri Aurobindo himself, we have a very categorical statement from him, one among many of this context. When asked “Is your real work this invocation of the Supramental?” his answer was “Yes, I have come for that.” He even emphatically asserted “Leave the Supramental to me as my business.”
Did he then compromise on his business as a part of pragmatism to achieve what is in the accomplishment of things and circumstances feasible? Although the Mind of Light is the first entry of Supermind here it would be at one remove from the full splendour of the task he had set for himself. But certainly we do not get such an impression from the events that have happened since 5 December 1950.
Then, what is it that was realised when Sri Aurobindo withdrew from his body? Amal has posed this question to himself and he answers it as follows: “Yes, the Mind of Light at its supreme and in its absolute orb, is what was realised in descent into earth’s being in December 1950.”
If so, the phrase “what was realised in descent into earth’s being” would go well with the Mother’s declaration having in it “realised here”. But we must stick to the approved phrasing as given in her Collected Works and examine the first query once more. However, before we proceed, we should recognise that “the Mind of Light at its supreme and in its absolute orb” cannot be equated in any way with the Supermind proper, as the one governs the Intermediate Race and the other the Gnostic or Supramental Race. The qualifying “intermediate” tells everything.
We can fairly confidently say that Sri Aurobindo had realised the Mind of Light in himself and what he was really attempting was something beyond. There is ample indication in some of his sonnets of the later period and in clear details in Savitri which is the poetic pronunciamento of his yoga-tapasyā.
Amal writes: “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… . Sri Aurobindo… 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.” This description is in accord with Amal’s own statement in The Passing of Sri Aurobindo which gives its inner significance and which was considered by the Mother, while approving it fully, to be “admirable” and later to be “excellent” and “the best thing Amal has written”.
Describing the essence of the sacrifice he writes: “Sri Aurobindo… battled for the Supermind’s descent till his last breath — calling the immortal Sun of the Spirit down, passionately packing his earthly envelope with the supramental light… .” It is to this “earthly envelope” that the Mother offered her prayer and expressed her gratitude on 9 December 1950. In it she saw the supreme “Thee” who “willed all, attempted all, prepared, achieved all for us.”
Yes, to the first query “What was realised when Sri Aurobindo withdrew from his body?” the answer is not the Mind of Light, which was already there, but the supramental Light in the depths of the inconscient matter to make it more and more awake to its reality. Making this matter awake is the real occult of the process.
Indeed, we should remember that when Sri Aurobindo wrote those articles on the Mind of Light for the Bulletin of Physical Education during 1949-50 he was already in possession of it; the stamp of authenticity is clear in them; otherwise they would have looked theoretical in nature, speculative, with no sure certainty of the realisation the Mother got at the time of his passing away.
In this connection we should also scrutinise the concept of the “phases of the Mind of Light” introduced by Amal. It is a very bold concept and may also be a good way of visualising matters too abstruse-occult for us. But that is bit puzzling also.
I shall, however, reproduce here what long ago I wrote by way of notes in pencil in my copy of The Supramental Manifestation (1952 edition) in the blank space at the end of the last chapter.
‘It looks as though the Mind of Light is Sri Aurobindo’s creation. He spoke of the vast tracks between Overmind and Supermind in the 1930s but they had remained until then unexplored. Never did he earlier mention at any time the Mind of Light, neither in letters nor in conversations. If it were a pre-established plane in the evolutionary ladder he would have certainly spoken about it. He saw the great difficulty in bringing down the Supermind directly in the earth-nature and therefore the focus of his sādhanā in the 1940s was essentially fixed in solving this problem. As a part of that modus operandi he brought down a power of Supermind close to the earth making it a station for the higher operation. The Mind of Light becomes the physical receiving the supramental. This is a new station, a stage, created by him for the higher transition or evolution. A possibility of a new humanity has been worked out. This power of the Mind of Light he made directly operative in himself. He established it in his own body-consciousness. At the time of his passing away he gave it as a parting gift to the Mother. His supreme sacrifice is to fix the unfixed supramental Light permanently on the earth. Having fixed it he shifted his own station from the earthly physical to the subtle physical invoking the further descent. The Mother speaks of the enormous power he himself gained after the withdrawal from here. The supramental Descent of 1956 was a direct consequence of this action.’
[K.D. Sethna’s Note: “If Sri Aurobindo already had the Mind of Light, it was nothing new that he achieved by passing it on to the Mother. The Mind of Light getting achieved in the Mother was precisely the result of Sri Aurobindo’s sacrifice. He sacrificed his body in order to achieve the Mind of Light in a body continuing on earth.
Besides, it is extremely unlikely that he should possess the Mind of Light during his lifetime and the Mother remaining without it until the moment he gave up his body. One would expect that whatever he possessed would automatically pass into her to put into action for conducting the Ashram’s Yoga.]
(We could say that, occult-spiritually, this was not quite necessary, particularly when there was a division of work between him and the Mother for practical reasons. It is also important to recognise the difference between the explorative and executive aspects of their complementary sādhanās.)
Sometime back Amal happened to borrow my copy of this book and, quite understandably, went through my notings. He himself made the following remark in the margin against the two sentences “As a part of that modus operandi… the physical receiving the supramental”: “This is in line with my article but hardly in line with Sri Aurobindo’s articles,” which means that the Mind of Light will always remain elusive to our minds. Perhaps mind understands it to be so!
[K.D. Sethna’s note: The view Sri Aurobindo presents in his article “Supermind and Mind of Light” (pp. 131-34 of The Supramental Manifestation, 1952, Ed.) may be summed up as follows:
Ontologically the overhead planes short of the Supermind are the “lower hemisphere”, but practically they are the “higher hemisphere”, because they carry in general the light of Truth and may be termed a subordinate power of the supramental Gnosis. In this range, from Overmind downward, the Mind of Light stands where a step further down carries us into the beginning of Ignorance. The Mind of Light is below the Higher Mind and has a position on the threshold of ignorant mentality. Like all the other overhead planes inferior to the Supermind, it comes from the Supermind but is itself is not a part of it.
Obviously, the Mind of Light discussed by Sri Aurobindo is not identical with the power which the Mother has defined and which she declared to have been revelatorily characterised by the two opening lines of my poem on it though a few passages in Sri Aurobindo’s discussion seemed assimilable into my thesis based on the Mother.
In my article I tried to assimilate Sri Aurobindo’s articles into my thesis on the strength of certain passages. But now I see that those articles are along the line different from all the declarations of the Mother to me, which form the basis of my expositions.]
Therefore the best thing for us is to move on to a few other topics in the resourceful Vision and Work.
Amal’s exposition of Sri Aurobindo as the Poet of Integralism is, as are all his writings on poetry, exquisitely insightful with an epic span jubilantly measuring earth and heaven in one masterly sweep.
Considering integral style and integral word-power as the two chief components of integralism, with matching experience and vision, he brings out most lucidly the uniqueness that is Savitri’s in world literature. Such a luminous integralism is possible only if one has unhindered access to the sources of “overhead” inspiration whose triumphant glory is in utterance of the overmind which we hear in compositions of the Vedic Rishis. But it finds its expression in very rare instances elsewhere also.
Elaborating this point Amal says: “Perhaps it is the pressure of this voice that from far behind gives, in Homer, through his nearness to something elemental, a ring of greatness and an air of divinity to everything said by him and endows his power of straightforward yet splendid speech with a rush of oceanic sound.” Masterly is the sweep and swing of this sound.
But what we always have in Sri Aurobindo is a “lift towards the mantra, culminating now and again in that sovereign speech itself.” Amal quotes a few illustrative lines and passages from Savitri pointing at the source of their inspiration. He also makes us aware of the echoes of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Vyasa, Tennyson, Shelley which we can hear in our deep chambers of silence. In the spiritual epic that is also a world-epic, in the encyclopædic range of its subject-matter, everything is lifted to the sheer soul-vision giving it back to us with soul’s truth and soul’s beauty and soul’s delight, truth-beauty-delight in the power of the spirit, the Word.
But what exactly is it that which strikes us most prominently as the features and characteristics of Sri Aurobindo’s style in Savitri? “Felicity and novelty,” — tells Amal. And yet that cannot be the true integralism of Sri Aurobindo. “Behind the poet in him is the master of integral yoga” who brings to us poetry “embodying the vision-thrill of an overhead consciousness.”
Let us now briefly see one or two essays from the remaining lot where we have not the iambic exaltation climbing to the ethereality of the sky but a dactylic quantitativeness holding in its sound-body the power of thought. And the extraordinary thing is, the massiveness of the Adwaitic philosophy turns wholly towards essentiality of the One disregarding the notion that quintessentiality can become phenomenally tangible, concrete. This would be more surprising than an Adwaitin would recognise.
Sethna the philosopher discusses the problem of essentialism versus phenomenalism from the ontological and axiological view-point and compares answers of Shankara and Sri Aurobindo in their many-one dimension. For Shankara the distancing by the one from the many is ontologically inevitable; also, axiologically, the one can be our essence only if the many is excluded from it. While the fundamental Reality of the absolute Brahman as the basis of all existence is a common factor in the spiritual philosophy of both Shankara and Sri Aurobindo, Shankara’s one without the many, — which for him is only an appearance, —immediately becomes a stumbling block for Sri Aurobindo’s conception of transformation and divine life in an evolutionary manifestation, or what Sethna would like to call many-festation. No one will accept Sri Aurobindo if a satisfactory answer is not given by him should he not point out, in addition to the reality of the one, the reality of the many.
Sethna develops his arguments quite cogently and forcefully, with tightness of the philosophical phrasing, to show that ontologically Sri Aurobindo’s Brahman is at once Essential and Self-creative. In other words, the simultaneous reality of static and dynamic Brahman is posited, each inclusive of the other, and both based on a wider spiritual experience, the real foundation. Axiologically in Sri Aurobindo’s view “we who pass from phenomenal terms to the essence can never be said to find our absolute perfection and fulfilment unless we reach what gives us the final divine truth of all these terms as well as release from them, a supreme transfiguration rather than an entire annullation of them in the midst of their transcendence.” The essay is indeed very well written and must be studied carefully, particularly by the Adwaitins adhering to Shankara; they will see that here Shankara has outdone Shankara.
In the Harmony of Virtue Sri Aurobindo, while discussing fate and free-will, asks the question: “Are we free in ourselves?” Restated, “we seem to be free, to do that which we choose and not that which is chosen for us.” In Savitri we have the line “Man can accept his fate, he can refuse.” [p. 458.] Fate is a balance drawn in Destiny’s book and there is an option for man if to accept it or reject it, rejection which is also recorded in his credit ledger. Sethna in his article “Freewill in Sri Aurobindo’s Vision” takes up this crucial issue from the point of spiritual metaphysics and discusses tersely the several implications flowing from it. The entire crux of the matter lies in the strange paradox—true or great paradoxes are always strange—that to “realise that all is Brahman we have to reject something as not Brahman!” Occult-spiritually what is, in a way of speaking, inevitably present in the scheme of things and in us is “some profound urge” to surpass all that ensues from this non-Brahman. “In man, the mental being, the conscious self-evolver, the urge is an unavoidable open ingredient of his constitution and cannot help being insistent and deeply desirable. We may tend to justify the non-following of it by arguing from one half of God’s truth: the vision of Pantheos. But when both halves are taken together and we do not overlook God from above calling to God from below to rise and evolve in the milieu of God that is all, then the urge to choose good and to reject evil is found to be a decree the soul in us has passed from the supramental identity-in-difference it enjoys within the multiple yet single Divine.”
This persevering urge also means man’s collaboration in the work of transformation and in that respect his free-will has to be recognised. Indeed, choice has to be made at every point and in it lies the growth of the will itself till that will becomes free with the Divine’s freedom from all bonds. When his free-will becomes the truth-will then it can have its own independent assertion.
Sethna narrates elsewhere his obsession with the problem of free-will ever since he was a college student. Once when he was desperate with it he asked for an interview with the Mother. The interview ran as follows:
When I went, she asked: “Now what is the trouble?” I said: “Have I got free-will or have I not?” She began to speak. I at once interrupted: “Please don’t argue with me, Mother. I have argued enough with myself. Don’t say anything because I am sure to say something to contradict you. Just tell me whether or not my will is free, to however small an extent. Don’t say anything more than `Yes’ or `No’.” She said: “Yes.” I said: “That’s enough.” And I went away.
Now, in 1947, a much maturer Sethna gives us something superb. When the article was read out to Sri Aurobindo the Master said: “It is excellent. In fact, it could not be bettered.” What a compliment! And yet Sri Aurobindo himself has bettered it!
The heavenly sage who came from Paradise to Aswapati’s palace in Savitri lays bare the whole occult mystery of why our souls came here and why they suffer the yoke of Fate and Ignorance, why Satyavan must die, and how the hour is fixed and also the fatal stroke. When our heart’s will becomes one with the spirit’s will, as it happened in the case of Savitri, then it becomes invincible and death-conquering; the “Spirit’s interminable bliss” that the soul sensed even in a “negative infinity” is won again as if as a reward “for the adventure of Ignorance”. Fate gets fulfilled in that freewill, it becomes truth-will with its flowing dynamism. There are in the cosmic working forces and force with their pulls and pushes but a strong soul can have its own say, and it that which finally prevails in the case of an individual. The soul-will is the truth-will and our endeavour has to develop it. Man’s entire manliness is in that acquisition of conquering strength.
To conclude, let us skip the usual formalities of a review in pointing out the routine lapses and instead try to do something more violent than that: cut up Amal into four parts which, we are sure, he would endorse, of course out of his “freewill”. If we do so, we will find him with a Grecian mind, a Western heart, an Indian body, and an Aurobindonian soul. These are precisely the aspects reflected in the organic integralism of his Vision and Work of Sri Aurobindo.
About the Author: Born on 17 April 1931 Dr. RY Deshpande is a professor, philosopher, author, poet and inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry. After graduating from Osmania University, Hyderabad, he joined the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai as a research physicist in 1955 and worked in this organization till 1957. In 1957 he joined the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai where he worked till 1981 and headed several Atomic Energy and Space Projects in Advance Technology with Dr. Raja Ramanna. Having received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics in 1964, he worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California USA from 1964 to 1965. He has some fifty research papers published in national and international scientific journals. He was also an examiner for a number of Ph.D. theses in the field of Solid State Physics. In 1981 Deshpande joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. For thirty years, he taught physics and a few other subjects such as Astrophysics, Savitri, The Future Poetry, Science and Society at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. For eight years he was the associate Editor of Mother India, a Monthly Review of Culture, published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. During 2007-2008 Deshpande was the editor of a web-magazine titled Science-Culture-Integral Yoga founded in Los Angeles. His published works in prose and poetry include titles like Sri Aurobindo and the New Millennium, Vyasa’s Savitri, The Ancient Tale of Savitri, “Satyavan Must Die”, All Life is Yoga, Nagin-bhai Tells Me, The Rhododendron Valley, All is Dream-Blaze, Under the Raintree, Paging the Unknown, The Wager of Ambrosia, Savitri: Notes and Comments, Elements and Evolution, Sri Aurobindo’s Narad, The Birth of the Sun-God, Hymns to Becoming, These Mountains, The Secret Knowledge, Savitri Talks: The Symbol Dawn, Islam’s Contribution to Science, Big Science and India, Running Through Savitri, A Look at the Symbol Dawn: Observations-Comments-Discussions, Savitri: The Poetry of Immortality, and Sanatana Dharma: An Aurobindonian Perspective to name a few. He has also edited the following books: Nirodbaran: Poet and Sadhak, Amal Kiran: Poet and Critic and Perspectives of Savitri.