Loretta reads Savitri:Two.VII "The Descent into Night" part 1
|Loretta reads Savitri
Book Two: The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds
Canto VII: The Descent into Night
Part 1 of 3, pages 202-208
We're starting the beginning of a whole new section, and it goes on for two cantos. So this is a fairly long introduction; it gives an overview of what we're looking at. Because there are people who don't like reading this! They feel it takes them into places where they don't want to be; but it shouldn't do that. The whole point is that we are already in these places – and it's going to actually take us out of these places that we don't want to be.
Mother and Sri Aurobindo say the higher we go, the lower we have to go. So it's all consciousness, and it's all what we can achieve in the vast consciousness that eventually – in Sri Aurobindo's Yoga – we realize as the consciousness. As That; inexpressible That.
So now in “The Descent into Night”, Savitri's father, King Aswapati, traveling the worlds, turns to find the cause of Life's failure to bring her own divinity into Matter. This is what she came for; but so far, it's not working very well. The king has followed Life's rise, all the way from her first plunge into the depths of the most unconscious part of the creation (which is physical matter and our physical matter).
As Sri Aurobindo has told us, Life “stabled her dreams in Matter’s courts” (p.123), “And can no more recall her happier state” (p.130). Now she must obey the inert Inconscient's law. She had hoped to re-create her Creator here. But up to now, she's not been successful. Even in the kingdoms of the greater life, she has not succeeded.
We're going to see that – as Sri Aurobindo says:
- […] Death figuring as the dark seed of life,
- Seemed to engender and to slay the world. (p.201)
And 'engender' means to 'cause to exist' or 'cause to develop' – but then, he slays it.
So this part of Savitri speaks to the cause of the very worst of human behavior and the worst of human nature. And Sri Aurobindo describes it all very vividly. We follow the king into the lower vital planes: the domain of the negative energies which can – and do – move us all to do and be our worst.
The vital plane – which is of course Life, energy of Life – the vital plane is the subtle plane of the manifestation of all our energies: good and bad, high and low. Sri Aurobindo has been telling us about the vital beings from those planes – ones who have moved people both in the kingdoms of the little life and greater life, and also move us. And he's been telling us all along that unless and until we can develop our consciousness sufficiently, these beings and forces will go on moving us as though we are unconscious puppets in their hands.
But it's not a sad or depressing thing to learn about all this. On the contrary, it helps us to know about ourselves and others – helps us to get out of it. It makes our life easier when we know the truth of things, and we have clues as to how to deal with them.
Here, Sri Aurobindo is speaking these high and mystic truths of the creation, in the way that our inner beings are touched and affected. This way helps us to have the realizations that we need – not just gather information for the mind and the intellect.
So now, he's going to tell us in great detail about the darkness in Nature's depths, and how it affects our lives. And he's expressing things that are not for the mind to kind of chew on, and go around with, and try to explain. So he's writing mystic poetry. And in one letter, he wrote about how he did this. He said:
- “These things are not done by thinking or seeking for the right thing — the two agents are sight and call. Also feeling—the solar plexus has to be satisfied”
When Sri Aurobindo had to revise what he wrote, he said that he called for a word or phrase which flashed with the necessary sound and sense. So he's making his own realizations alive for us, to help us become conscious of who and what we are.
Then in another letter he wrote:
- “The Inconscient and the Ignorance may be mere empty abstractions and can be dismissed as irrelevant jargon if one has not come into collision with them or plunged into their dark and bottomless reality. But to me they are realities, concrete powers whose resistance is present everywhere and at all times in its tremendous and boundless mass.”
And when one is doing Sri Aurobindo's Yoga, one finds resistance present everywhere in one's being; no matter how deep we go, we find resistance.
So Sri Aurobindo imparts his own consciousness. And his experience. And he tells us the truths he realized, to the best of his really extraordinary writing skills. And he makes these things come alive for us. The real truth of the darkness of our lives lives mystically here, in this book, in these words, if we can receive it. There are incredible, incredible descriptive lines about dark and harmful influences coming from the abyss of the Inconscient.
As soon as the king sent his yogic gaze into the depths of the vast unknown infinity that is behind the face of Nature:
- He saw the fount of the world’s lasting pain
- And the mouth of the black pit of Ignorance;
- The evil guarded at the roots of life
- Raised up its head and looked into his eyes. (p.202)
And then he tells this: that behind living Ignorance – which he always calls 'Nescience': 'nescience' means 'ignorance' – behind this Nescience appeared “a grey carved mask of Night // Watching the birth of all created things” (p.202). In one of his letters, Sri Aurobindo wrote that the Mask is mentioned four times in this opening part of Canto VII. It is done to keep this idea running through it. And 'Mask' is written with a capital 'M'. That means it's a proper noun, like a title or a name; it means a thing or being in its own right, that does things. And Sri Aurobindo uses his grammar like that; it's another level of the communication that he has with us.
Back in Canto III, when he told us about Life coming, and then Life's fall, he said:
- 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)
So we have the Mask all four times in this part that we're reading. And the next one says:
- Then from the sombre mystery of the gulfs
- And from the hollow bosom of the Mask
- Something crept forth that seemed a shapeless Thought. (p.203)
And 'Thought' is with a capital 'T'. So we know it is something that will do something particular to us. And it certainly does: it puts a fatal Influence on us; and by it, death was laid on life.
The third mention of the Mask was always chilling for me. It was very strong for me; I remembered the lines from the first time I read them, probably 40 years ago:
- The grey Mask whispered and, though no sound was heard,
- Yet in the ignorant heart a seed was sown
- That bore black fruit of suffering, death and bale. (p.203)
And so we know that from the Night of the Inconscient – this Mask that's hiding the depths of the Inconscient – these thoughts are coming. And these are the things that move us. We don't really want to do any of this stuff; but, we can't help it. And that's true of everybody.
Then he goes on to the fourth mention of the Mask, and he says:
- Out of the chill steppes of a bleak Unseen
- Invisible, wearing the Night’s grey mask,
- Arrived the shadowy dreadful messengers,
- Invaders from a dangerous world of power,
- Ambassadors of evil’s absolute. (p.203)
And again we get the idea of influences that are doing all the things that he's going to describe for us.
So then, this theme of the Mask moves us on. We follow the king, and we come to the first place where Sri Aurobindo mentions beings who are completely moved by the things that he so far described for us.
Eventually, throughout this Canto VII and then Canto VIII, he's going to take us into many different levels of being, which are affected and moved by what he has now told us. We're going to end up with the king on the Inconscient's last locked floor; and there he will finally realize the truth and the reason of all this; and so will we. So don't despair! Enjoy his wonderful poetry; and take what you can out of all his realizations. It is a detailed teaching about things that we actually live in and experience, and sometimes express.
Of course everyone doesn't see themselves and others doing it in this kind of clarity; and of course everybody doesn't experience all of them. Everyone has their path in life, and their destiny. But it's heartening to see how well Sri Aurobindo also knows these things. And he expresses them very powerfully. We cannot see them in ourselves so much; but when we look back at history – when we have that distance, and things separate themselves out – we can see these patterns throughout man's history.
So he tells us these things in such wonderful ways, that I'm going to give one more part of a sentence that many people have spoken of, and people do recognize. And it goes like this:
- Faces that raised alluring lips and eyes
- Approached him armed with beauty like a snare (p.205)
And that's something that people enjoy knowing – that they see and that they can see.
Finally he says that all these things “Put a sardonic rictus on God’s face” (p.207). 'Sardonic' means 'bitter' or 'mocking'. And 'rictus' means a grimace, or a gaping grin. So we know that God in his highest isn't too happy with it either!
And he then talks of the methods used by the Fiend. It's 'Fiend' with a capital 'F' – who uses religion to preach falsehood. All this and much, much more is in our introduction to the source of the world's problems. And then the view of the world's problems; as we go on following the king in his descent into Night, to learn the reasons why mankind and his world have so much trouble evolving.
So here we are – Book Two: “The Traveller of the Worlds”, Canto VII: “The Descent into Night”.
Canto Seven The Descent into Night A mind absolved from life, made calm to know, A heart divorced from the blindness and the pang, The seal of tears, the bond of ignorance, He turned to find that wide world-failure’s cause. Away he looked from Nature’s visible face And sent his gaze into the viewless Vast, The formidable unknown Infinity, Asleep behind the endless coil of things, That carries the universe in its timeless breadths And the ripples of its being are our lives. The worlds are built by its unconscious Breath And Matter and Mind are its figures or its powers, Our waking thoughts the output of its dreams. The veil was rent that covers Nature’s depths: He saw the fount of the world’s lasting pain And the mouth of the black pit of Ignorance; The evil guarded at the roots of life Raised up its head and looked into his eyes. On a dim bank where dies subjective Space, From a stark ridge overlooking all that is, A tenebrous awakened Nescience, Her wide blank eyes wondering at Time and Form, Stared at the inventions of the living Void And the Abyss whence our beginnings rose. Behind appeared a grey carved mask of Night Watching the birth of all created things. A hidden Puissance conscious of its force, A vague and lurking Presence everywhere, A contrary Doom that threatens all things made, A Death figuring as the dark seed of life, Seemed to engender and to slay the world. Then from the sombre mystery of the gulfs p.203 And from the hollow bosom of the Mask Something crept forth that seemed a shapeless Thought. A fatal Influence upon creatures stole Whose lethal touch pursued the immortal spirit, On life was laid the haunting finger of death And overcast with error, grief and pain The soul’s native will for truth and joy and light. A deformation coiled that claimed to be The being’s very turn, Nature’s true drive. A hostile and perverting Mind at work In every corner ensconced of conscious life Corrupted Truth with her own formulas; Interceptor of the listening of the soul, Afflicting knowledge with the hue of doubt It captured the oracles of the occult gods, Effaced the signposts of Life’s pilgrimage, Cancelled the firm rock-edicts graved by Time, And on the foundations of the cosmic Law Erected its bronze pylons of misrule. Even Light and Love by that cloaked danger’s spell Turned from the brilliant nature of the gods To fallen angels and misleading suns, Became themselves a danger and a charm, A perverse sweetness, heaven-born malefice: Its power could deform divinest things. A wind of sorrow breathed upon the world; All thought with falsehood was besieged, all act Stamped with defect or with frustration’s sign, All high attempt with failure or vain success, But none could know the reason of his fall. The grey Mask whispered and, though no sound was heard, Yet in the ignorant heart a seed was sown That bore black fruit of suffering, death and bale. Out of the chill steppes of a bleak Unseen Invisible, wearing the Night’s grey mask, Arrived the shadowy dreadful messengers, p.204 Invaders from a dangerous world of power, Ambassadors of evil’s absolute. In silence the inaudible voices spoke, Hands that none saw planted the fatal grain, No form was seen, yet a dire work was done, An iron decree in crooked uncials written Imposed a law of sin and adverse fate. Life looked at him with changed and sombre eyes: Her beauty he saw and the yearning heart in things That with a little happiness is content, Answering to a small ray of truth or love; He saw her gold sunlight and her far blue sky, Her green of leaves and hue and scent of flowers And the charm of children and the love of friends And the beauty of women and kindly hearts of men, But saw too the dreadful Powers that drive her moods And the anguish she has strewn upon her ways, Fate waiting on the unseen steps of men And her evil and sorrow and last gift of death. A breath of disillusion and decadence Corrupting watched for Life’s maturity And made to rot the full grain of the soul: Progress became a purveyor of Death. A world that clung to the law of a slain Light Cherished the putrid corpses of dead truths, Hailed twisted forms as things free, new and true, Beauty from ugliness and evil drank Feeling themselves guests at a banquet of the gods And tasted corruption like a high-spiced food. A darkness settled on the heavy air; It hunted the bright smile from Nature’s lips And slew the native confidence in her heart And put fear’s crooked look into her eyes. The lust that warps the spirit’s natural good Replaced by a manufactured virtue and vice The frank spontaneous impulse of the soul: p.205 Afflicting Nature with the dual’s lie, Their twin values whetted a forbidden zest, Made evil a relief from spurious good, The ego battened on righteousness and sin And each became an instrument of Hell. In rejected heaps by a monotonous road The old simple delights were left to lie On the wasteland of life’s descent to Night. All glory of life was dimmed, tarnished with doubt; All beauty ended in an aging face; All power was dubbed a tyranny cursed by God And Truth a fiction needed by the mind: The chase of joy was now a tired hunt; All knowledge was left a questioning Ignorance. As from a womb obscure he saw emerge The body and visage of a dark Unseen Hidden behind the fair outsides of life. Its dangerous commerce is our suffering’s cause. Its breath is a subtle poison in men’s hearts; All evil starts from that ambiguous face. A peril haunted now the common air; The world grew full of menacing Energies, And wherever turned for help or hope his eyes, In field and house, in street and camp and mart He met the prowl and stealthy come and go Of armed disquieting bodied Influences. A march of goddess figures dark and nude Alarmed the air with grandiose unease; Appalling footsteps drew invisibly near, Shapes that were threats invaded the dream-light, And ominous beings passed him on the road Whose very gaze was a calamity: A charm and sweetness sudden and formidable, Faces that raised alluring lips and eyes Approached him armed with beauty like a snare, p.206 But hid a fatal meaning in each line And could in a moment dangerously change. But he alone discerned that screened attack. A veil upon the inner vision lay, A force was there that hid its dreadful steps; All was belied, yet thought itself the truth; All were beset but knew not of the siege: For none could see the authors of their fall. Aware of some dark wisdom still withheld That was the seal and warrant of this strength, He followed the track of dim tremendous steps Returning to the night from which they came. A tract he reached unbuilt and owned by none: There all could enter but none stay for long. It was a no man’s land of evil air, A crowded neighbourhood without one home, A borderland between the world and hell. There unreality was Nature’s lord: It was a space where nothing could be true, For nothing was what it had claimed to be: A high appearance wrapped a specious void. Yet nothing would confess its own pretence Even to itself in the ambiguous heart: A vast deception was the law of things; Only by that deception they could live. An unsubstantial Nihil guaranteed The falsehood of the forms this Nature took And made them seem awhile to be and live. A borrowed magic drew them from the Void; They took a shape and stuff that was not theirs And showed a colour that they could not keep, Mirrors to a phantasm of reality. Each rainbow brilliance was a splendid lie; A beauty unreal graced a glamour face. Nothing could be relied on to remain: Joy nurtured tears and good an evil proved, p.207 But never out of evil one plucked good: Love ended early in hate, delight killed with pain, Truth into falsity grew and death ruled life. A Power that laughed at the mischiefs of the world, An irony that joined the world’s contraries And flung them into each other’s arms to strive, Put a sardonic rictus on God’s face. Aloof, its influence entered everywhere And left a cloven hoof-mark on the breast; A twisted heart and a strange sombre smile Mocked at the sinister comedy of life. Announcing the advent of a perilous Form An ominous tread softened its dire footfall That none might understand or be on guard; None heard until a dreadful grasp was close. Or else all augured a divine approach, An air of prophecy felt, a heavenly hope, Listened for a gospel, watched for a new star. The Fiend was visible but cloaked in light; He seemed a helping angel from the skies: He armed untruth with Scripture and the Law; He deceived with wisdom, with virtue slew the soul And led to perdition by the heavenward path. A lavish sense he gave of power and joy, And, when arose the warning from within, He reassured the ear with dulcet tones Or took the mind captive in its own net; His rigorous logic made the false seem true. Amazing the elect with holy lore He spoke as with the very voice of God. The air was full of treachery and ruse; Truth-speaking was a stratagem in that place; Ambush lurked in a smile and peril made Safety its cover, trust its entry’s gate: Falsehood came laughing with the eyes of truth; Each friend might turn an enemy or spy, p.208 The hand one clasped ensleeved a dagger’s stab And an embrace could be Doom’s iron cage. Agony and danger stalked their trembling prey And softly spoke as to a timid friend: Attack sprang suddenly vehement and unseen; Fear leaped upon the heart at every turn And cried out with an anguished dreadful voice; It called for one to save but none came near. All warily walked, for death was ever close; Yet caution seemed a vain expense of care, For all that guarded proved a deadly net, And when after long suspense salvation came And brought a glad relief disarming strength, It served as a smiling passage to worse fate. There was no truce and no safe place to rest; One dared not slumber or put off one’s arms: It was a world of battle and surprise. All who were there lived for themselves alone; All warred against all, but with a common hate Turned on the mind that sought some higher good; Truth was exiled lest she should dare to speak And hurt the heart of darkness with her light Or bring her pride of knowledge to blaspheme The settled anarchy of established things. ...
- Letters on Poetry and Art, p.274
- Ibid., p.314
- Ibid., p.301 (“The Mask is mentioned not twice but four times in this opening passage and it is purposely done to keep up the central connection of the idea running through the whole. The ambassadors wear this grey Mask, so your criticism cannot stand since there is no separate mask coming as part of a new idea but a very pointed return to the principal note indicating the identity of the influence throughout. It is not a random recurrence but a purposeful touch carrying a psychological meaning.”)