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Early Cultural Writings
“Originality in National Literatures”

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(Mona Sarkar:) “Mother, the books that we read, do they not leave an impression on our character?

The books that we read have a lot of influence on the thought and through the thought on the character. Bad books are like poison which destroys the good aspirations of the being. One must scrupulously avoid them.”[1]

(V. Chidanandam:) “In English literature [Sri Aurobindo] advised me to begin with Thackeray’s Pendennis and other novels. He remarked: “Thackeray is more subtle and psychological than any novelist of his time or before him.” Other authors recommended by him were George Eliot, the Brontë Sisters, Stevenson.”[2]

(Student, 1955:) “Sweet Mother, all that we read in literature — stories, novels, etc. — very often contains stuff which lowers our consciousness. It is not altogether possible to leave out the matter and read only from the point of view of the literary value.

(Mother:) You see, there is no excuse for reading any odd novels except when they are remarkably written and you want to learn the language — if they are written either in your own language or in another one and you want to study this language, then you may read anything at all provided that it is well written. It’s not what is said that’s interesting, it’s the way of saying it. And so the way to read it is exactly to be concerned only with the way it has been said, and not with what is said, which is uninteresting. Only, for instance, in a book, there are always descriptions; well, you see how these descriptions are made and how the author has chosen the words to express things. And for ideas it is the same thing: how he has made his characters speak; you take no interest in what they say but in how they say it. If you take certain books like study books, to learn just how to write sentences well and express things as you should, because these books are very well written, what the story is has not much importance. But if you start reading books for what they narrate, then in that case you must be much stricter and not take things which darken your consciousness, because that’s a waste of time; it’s worse than a waste of time. So, things like vulgar stories which are written in a vulgar way, about these, you see, there’s no longer any question. These things you should never touch. And yet this is the currency which circulates everywhere, above all in our times, it seems, because men have invented methods for cheap printing, for making cheap illustrations. So they flood the country and all other countries with worthless literature, which is badly written, ill-conceived, and which expresses vulgar things and coarsens you with vulgar ideas and completely spoils your taste through vulgar pictures. All this happens because from the point of view of production they succeed in making things very cheap, what are called popular editions “accessible to all”. But as the aim of these people is not at all either to educate or to help men to progress, far from that — they hope on the contrary that people don’t progress, because if they did they would no longer buy their wares — so their intention is to make money at the expense of those who read their literature, and so the more it sells, the better it is. It may be frightful, but it’s very good if it sells well.”[3]

(Nirodbaran to students, 1970:) “That reminds me of what she [Mother] once said to me. We were talking of literature. I don't know what meaning she puts to it but she said, “I can tell you that I have read more than a thousand books and I find only here and there scattered, just a little bit of intuition, the rest is all rubbish!”
         And she even told me at that time of one passage in French literature, by Zola – he has a book, I forget the name, where there is a beautiful passage describing a garden. She said, “That is something I remember”. So, some such things here and there, all the rest is a heap of nonsense! Of course you know, I suppose, that she is very fond of Jules Romain and Anatole France – Jules Romain particularly, for his occult, intuitive insight and his language. And she recommends all French students to read him in order to know the language.”[4]

(Sadhak, 1929:) “In the initial stages of Yoga, is it well for the Sadhak to read ordinary books?

(Mother:) You can read sacred books and yet be far away from the Divine; and you can read the most stupid productions and be in touch with the Divine. It is not possible to get an idea of what the transformed consciousness and its movements are until you have had a taste of the transformation. There is a way of consciousness in union with the Divine in which you can enjoy all you read, as you can all you observe, even the most indifferent books or the most uninteresting things. You can hear poor music, even music from which one would like to run away, and yet you can, not for its outward self but because of what is behind, enjoy it. You do not lose the distinction between good music and bad music, but you pass through either into that which it expresses. For there is nothing in the world which has not its ultimate truth and support in the Divine. And if you are not stopped by the appearance, physical or moral or aesthetic, but get behind and are in touch with the Spirit, the Divine Soul in things, you can reach beauty and delight even through what affects the ordinary sense only as something poor, painful or discordant.”[5]

(Mother to student:) “I want you to look attentively into yourself and try to explain to me what exactly it is that you enjoy in detective stories.

I read them as a relaxation. In detective stories (especially Perry Mason), there is always a courtroom scene in which the lawyer Perry Mason seems certain to lose his case, his client is accused of murder, all the proofs are against him, but the master stroke of the lawyer Perry Mason changes the situation. Right through the story there are mysteries and the trial is like the mental gymnastics of a master gymnast. But each time, when I have finished the book, I feel that I have gained nothing, learnt nothing new, that it was a waste of time.

It is not absolutely useless. You have doubtless a great deal of tamas in your mind and the mental acrobatics of the author shake up this tamas a little and awaken the mind. But this cannot last long and soon you must turn to higher things.”[6]

  1. Blessings of the Grace: Conversations with the Mother Recollected by Mona Sarkar and Some of Her Written Answers, p.180
  2. Breath of Grace, p.6, “Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as I saw Them” by V. Chidanandam
  3. Questions and Answers 1955, p.305
  4. Talks by Nirodbaran at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, December 1969 – July 1970, p.84
  5. Questions and Answers 1929-1931, p.27
  6. On Education, p.388

See also