Loretta reads Savitri:Six.II "The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain" part 1
|Loretta reads Savitri
Book Six: The Book of Fate
Canto II: The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain
Part 1 of 5, pages 437-442
Savitri has told her parents that she will marry Satyavan, even though he has only one year left to live. She has also said that she does not believe her love will live only for a limited time. It is not her fate, she said, “Only to live and love awhile and die.” (p.435) She spoke of how she knows the deep possibility of loving forever, with her eternity in the clasp of Satyavan's eternity. And she said that she had found the deep, unchanging soul of love.
Sri Aurobindo told us that when Satyavan and Savitri first saw each other:
- Love brought down power out of eternity
- To make of life his new undying base.
- His passion surged a wave from fathomless deeps;
- It leaped to earth from far forgotten heights,
- But kept its nature of infinity. (p.397)
Savitri was speaking from her soul, her immortal soul which knows love's eternal nature. She has told her parents:
- I have looked at him from my immortal Self,
- I have seen God smile at me in Satyavan;
- I have seen the Eternal in a human face. (p.436)
And we can understand that her outer consciousness has opened to the immortal, eternal nature of the Supreme Consciousness that the soul always has. Because the soul is our part of the Supreme itself.
When Savitri's father, the great king and yogi, first heard that she had chosen Satyavan, above Satyavan's name his inner vision saw a darkness – a darkness which was chased away by “a sudden and stupendous light” (p.424). So he knows more about Savitri's fate with Satyavan than her mother knows. The queen has only heard the words of Narad, speaking about outer physical things and coming doom of death.
Sri Aurobindo begins Canto II, “The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain”, by saying:
- A silence sealed the irrevocable decree,
- The word of Fate [...]
- Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse
- Unless heaven’s will itself could change its course. (p.437)
And the queen is already so upset that she has already accused the eternal Law of injustice and perversity, and she has told her beloved daughter to forget about Satyavan and go choose another husband. Now, the queen, so upset, completely falls to the level of the common human mind. Sri Aurobindo describes the level of human mind as “A field of mortal grief and Nature’s law”. The queen has descended to bear the common lot of men, and to feel what common hearts endure in Time“what common hearts endure in Time”. Because of this, Sri Aurobindo tells us that the queen becomes a “Partner in the agony of dumb driven things” (p.437). She becomes a partner in all the misery and cry and discontent in Nature's depths.
She gives voice to all this by expressing her own sorrows. And if you don't like to hear people complaining, then her complaint is a little hard to take (!). But Sri Aurobindo does make it clear to us that these things are far from the truth. He has told us that she has stayed in the ignorant surface of outer life, and abandoned her own hard-won wisdom and knowledge of inner higher truths.
And we know it is only a temporary state for the queen, because Sri Aurobindo says she ‘lends’ her speech to the surface soul on earth. So because of her own suffering and revolt against her child's fate, she utters the suffering in the world's dumb heart. And she utters man's revolt against his ignorant fate.
In very simple words, we could say that the queen complains about what men have been complaining about for ages. And today, this part of the canto is just the queen's complaint. But it does teach us; it would be interesting if we could look behind the surface of our own complaints, or even just the surface of our thinking and our feeling – things we don't say out loud. Look behind, and have the capacity to see how many other things, how many different layers of other things we are using to communicate by complaining about one particular subject.
Here, the queen's whole speech is all complaining about the miserable futility of living in a body on earth, because to her, her daughter's future seems doomed for no reason that she can understand. And she asks what has made the dire mystery of grief and pain – a mystery more dire than the unreadable mystery of Time.
Since we can understand the queen, perhaps we still can't judge her. She's crying and complaining, but maybe we would do the same thing – and maybe we wouldn't be able to control ourselves either.
In different cantos of Savitri, Sri Aurobindo gives us descriptions of different tragedies and miseries of ordinary life from time to time. When he does that, he explains why people do the things they do, and why people have to do the things they do. And we can always feel that he's speaking from a universal standpoint of evolution.
Back in Book [Two], Canto III, “The Glory and the Fall of Life”, Sri Aurobindo says that before darkness came, before pain and grief were born, life was in its own domain, in its ongoing perfection and fulfillment. All was sincerity and natural force. In her own realm:
- Life played at ease with her immense desires.
- No bound was set to her greatness and to her grace
- And to her heavenly variety. (p.127)
But in the crude beginnings of this mortal world – our mortal world – where life was not, nor mind's play, nor heart's desire, it was “a world that had no needs; / For none was there to feel or to receive.” (p.129)
The spirit involved in brute matter – the spirit that had become brute matter – in its uncaring trance groped for sight, and “Passioned for the movements of a conscious heart, / Famishing for speech and thought and joy and love” (p.129) Inconscience and Silence cried to Life to invade the senseless mould, and awake divinity in brute forms.
- Life heard the call and left her native light.
- But while the magic breath was on its way,
- The secret Will that robes itself with Night
- And offers to spirit the ordeal of the flesh,
- Imposed a mystic mask of death and pain. (p.130)
This is what supreme Consciousness has to endure when it decides to become Matter – to be physical, inconscient matter, which includes our bodies that we live in and have to deal with all the time.
In Book Two: “The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds”, the first part of the traveller's journey is following Life through the tracks of her influence, and her evolutionary change, in the climbing vital planes and in matter. She is doing just what she was called to do: bringing the Supreme Consciousness there.
On the way, from time to time, Sri Aurobindo describes man's outer life pretty much as the queen does here. She starts on the subject of life by saying:
- A fatal seed was sown in life’s false start
- When evil twinned with good on earthly soil. (p.438)
And she says that mind first appeared when evil came. And mind twisted instinct, and twisted the animal's acts, and marred the sure steps of Nature's simple walk, and marred the truth and freedom in the growing soul. But then, the queen quickly turns back from Mind to complain about Life again. One of the things she says is that “Our life was born in pain and with a cry.” (p.438) And this is how she's expressing physical birth, when the birthing mother is supposed to suffer terribly, and the newborn baby cries immediately after it comes out.
Actually, childbirth can be a wonderful experience both for the mother and the child. Just like everything else that comes into our life, it depends on our state of consciousness, on our attitude. Many women say it was not painful when they were both physically and psychologically ready. And Mother has said that the cry of the newborn child, exercising its lungs for the first time, is also Life's power itself entering into the physical body; and sometimes with that cry, the cry also calls the soul to enter the body at that time.
The queen goes on; she complains bitterly about the thousand ills that assail the mortal's hours – ills that wear away the natural joy of life. She says our physical bodies will inevitably feel pain and danger and sickness: we can't escape it. So the body suffers; then she says the mind suffers; and life itself suffers because it can't get anywhere. Her conclusion is that danger, pain, suffering and death are the sign and stamp of our humanity.
She says “Error is the comrade of our mortal thought”, and man creates his own miseries with his follies and his crimes. Man “walks by his own choice into Hell’s trap” (p.440); he destroys with war, and rage, and hate, the beauty and greatness that he has created; and on and on. The queen gives voice to so many things that in fact one can see outside – but there are other things. And here, she gives voice to so many expressions of depression, of hopelessness and frustration, and anger, and grief: things that everyone does feel from time to time, and thinks about from time to time, and says from time to time. Although not usually a whole long list like this, we all have our favorite ones. But here she goes on with all her complaints for a very long time. And Sri Aurobindo is teaching us about ourself. We do know that these attitudes do us no good at all, and we have to work to reject these moods when we're open to them; and maybe we can recognize some of our own cherished thoughts and complaints, things that we have held onto in our lives.
Sri Aurobindo has collected a whole long list here and expressed them in a poetic manner, because he's going to answer them as we go on in this canto. He will answer them with Narad's answers to the questions put by the queen, and also to some questions put by the king.
When the queen stops her long list of complaints, she asks again and again: “why is it all going on like this?” And “why are we here?” And of course, we ask this – we ask it all the time. We don't even realize that we've asked it, it just goes on as part of our thoughts. The queen goes through a long list of speculations as to what the answer is. And each time, she asks Narad if this is the reason. “Is this one the reason?” “Or that one?” “Or the next one?” Finally she says:
- Perhaps the soul we feel is only a dream,
- Eternal self a fiction sensed in trance. (p.442)
And next time we're going to see how Narad answers to the queen's mood, and to her complaints, and to her questions.
“The Book of Fate”, “The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain”...
Canto Two The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain A silence sealed the irrevocable decree, The word of Fate that fell from heavenly lips Fixing a doom no power could ever reverse Unless heaven’s will itself could change its course. Or so it seemed: yet from the silence rose One voice that questioned changeless destiny, A will that strove against the immutable Will. A mother’s heart had heard the fateful speech That rang like a sanction to the call of death And came like a chill close to life and hope. Yet hope sank down like an extinguished fire. She felt the leaden inevitable hand Invade the secrecy of her guarded soul And smite with sudden pain its still content And the empire of her hard-won quietude. Awhile she fell to the level of human mind, A field of mortal grief and Nature’s law; She shared, she bore the common lot of men And felt what common hearts endure in Time. Voicing earth’s question to the inscrutable power The queen now turned to the still immobile seer: Assailed by the discontent in Nature’s depths, Partner in the agony of dumb driven things And all the misery, all the ignorant cry, Passionate like sorrow questioning heaven she spoke. Lending her speech to the surface soul on earth She uttered the suffering in the world’s dumb heart And man’s revolt against his ignorant fate. “O seer, in the earth’s strange twi-natured life By what pitiless adverse Necessity Or what cold freak of a Creator’s will, By what random accident or governed Chance p.438 That shaped a rule out of fortuitous steps, Made destiny from an hour’s emotion, came Into the unreadable mystery of Time The direr mystery of grief and pain? Is it thy God who made this cruel law? Or some disastrous Power has marred his work And he stands helpless to defend or save? A fatal seed was sown in life’s false start When evil twinned with good on earthly soil. Then first appeared the malady of mind, Its pang of thought, its quest for the aim of life. It twisted into forms of good and ill The frank simplicity of the animal’s acts; It turned the straight path hewn by the body’s gods, Followed the zigzag of the uncertain course Of life that wanders seeking for its aim In the pale starlight falling from thought’s skies, Its guides the unsure idea, the wavering will. Lost was the instinct’s safe identity With the arrow-point of being’s inmost sight, Marred the sure steps of Nature’s simple walk And truth and freedom in the growing soul. Out of some ageless innocence and peace, Privilege of souls not yet betrayed to birth, Cast down to suffer on this hard dangerous earth Our life was born in pain and with a cry. Although earth-nature welcomes heaven’s breath Inspiring Matter with the will to live, A thousand ills assail the mortal’s hours And wear away the natural joy of life; Our bodies are an engine cunningly made, But for all its parts as cunningly are planned, Contrived ingeniously with demon skill, Its apt inevitable heritage Of mortal danger and peculiar pain, Its payment of the tax of Time and Fate, p.439 Its way to suffer and its way to die. This is the ransom of our high estate, The sign and stamp of our humanity. A grisly company of maladies Come, licensed lodgers, into man’s bodily house, Purveyors of death and torturers of life. In the malignant hollows of the world, In its subconscient cavern-passages Ambushed they lie waiting their hour to leap, Surrounding with danger the sieged city of life: Admitted into the citadel of man’s days They mine his force and maim or suddenly kill. Ourselves within us lethal forces nurse; We make of our own enemies our guests: Out of their holes like beasts they creep and gnaw The chords of the divine musician’s lyre Till frayed and thin the music dies away Or crashing snaps with a last tragic note. All that we are is like a fort beset: All that we strive to be alters like a dream In the grey sleep of Matter’s ignorance. Mind suffers lamed by the world’s disharmony And the unloveliness of human things. A treasure misspent or cheaply, fruitlessly sold In the bazaar of a blind destiny, A gift of priceless value from Time’s gods Lost or mislaid in an uncaring world, Life is a marvel missed, an art gone wry; A seeker in a dark and obscure place, An ill-armed warrior facing dreadful odds, An imperfect worker given a baffling task, An ignorant judge of problems Ignorance made, Its heavenward flights reach closed and keyless gates, Its glorious outbursts peter out in mire. On Nature’s gifts to man a curse was laid: All walks inarmed by its own opposites, p.440 Error is the comrade of our mortal thought And falsehood lurks in the deep bosom of truth, Sin poisons with its vivid flowers of joy Or leaves a red scar burnt across the soul; Virtue is a grey bondage and a gaol. At every step is laid for us a snare. Alien to reason and the spirit’s light, Our fount of action from a darkness wells; In ignorance and nescience are our roots. A growing register of calamities Is the past’s account, the future’s book of Fate: The centuries pile man’s follies and man’s crimes Upon the countless crowd of Nature’s ills; As if the world’s stone load was not enough, A crop of miseries obstinately is sown By his own hand in the furrows of the gods, The vast increasing tragic harvest reaped From old misdeeds buried by oblivious Time. He walks by his own choice into Hell’s trap; This mortal creature is his own worst foe. His science is an artificer of doom; He ransacks earth for means to harm his kind; He slays his happiness and others’ good. Nothing has he learned from Time and its history; Even as of old in the raw youth of Time, When Earth ignorant ran on the highways of Fate, Old forms of evil cling to the world’s soul: War making nought the sweet smiling calm of life, Battle and rapine, ruin and massacre Are still the fierce pastimes of man’s warring tribes; An idiot hour destroys what centuries made, His wanton rage or frenzied hate lays low The beauty and greatness by his genius wrought And the mighty output of a nation’s toil. All he has achieved he drags to the precipice. His grandeur he turns to an epic of doom and fall; p.441 His littleness crawls content through squalor and mud, He calls heaven’s retribution on his head And wallows in his self-made misery. A part author of the cosmic tragedy, His will conspires with death and time and fate. His brief appearance on the enigmaed earth Ever recurs but brings no high result To this wanderer through the aeon-rings of God That shut his life in their vast longevity. His soul’s wide search and ever returning hopes Pursue the useless orbit of their course In a vain repetition of lost toils Across a track of soon forgotten lives. All is an episode in a meaningless tale. Why is it all and wherefore are we here? If to some being of eternal bliss It is our spirit’s destiny to return Or some still impersonal height of endless calm, Since That we are and out of That we came, Whence rose the strange and sterile interlude Lasting in vain through interminable Time? Who willed to form or feign a universe In the cold and endless emptiness of Space? Or if these beings must be and their brief lives, What need had the soul of ignorance and tears? Whence rose the call for sorrow and for pain? Or all came helplessly without a cause? What power forced the immortal spirit to birth? The eternal witness once of eternity, A deathless sojourner mid transient scenes, He camps in life’s half-lit obscurity Amid the debris of his thoughts and dreams. Or who persuaded it to fall from bliss And forfeit its immortal privilege? Who laid on it the ceaseless will to live A wanderer in this beautiful, sorrowful world, And bear its load of joy and grief and love? Or if no being watches the works of Time, What hard impersonal Necessity Compels the vain toil of brief living things? A great Illusion then has built the stars. But where then is the soul’s security, Its poise in this circling of unreal suns? Or else it is a wanderer from its home Who strayed into a blind alley of Time and chance And finds no issue from a meaningless world. Or where begins and ends Illusion’s reign? Perhaps the soul we feel is only a dream, Eternal self a fiction sensed in trance.” ...