Now that I'm reading Sri Aurobindo's wonderful poem Savitri, I think it's a good idea to tell the whole story very briefly. This way people can follow what is going on in the book, because they will know what part of the book it's in. And also, people can read any canto or any Book, and they'll have a context they can actually place the story. And then they can read what Sri Aurobindo has to say.
The Mother told the ashramites not to try to explain what Sri Aurobindo wrote. She said they were not developed enough to understand Savitri fully. She told them that the best thing to do, if they wanted to explain Savitri, was to use other things that Sri Aurobindo wrote on the same subject that they were reading in Savitri itself.
I'm going to tell you a little bit about what Sri Aurobindo said about his writing of Savitri. When I tell you anything about the book, I'll quote from something Sri Aurobindo wrote, and I'll also tell you what the source is. And with the story itself, I'm going to tell the story using quotations from Savitri as much as possible – just adding a sentence here and there, to keep the line of the story going or to make some kind of transition. In order to keep the flow going, I won't say it's a quote – but I think you will be able to know when it's I who am adding a sentence or two.
The Mother told people that they should read even if they felt they could not understand. In her classes to the Ashram school students, she told them that each time they read the same thing, they would understand it better. And this is the experience that I have, when I read Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and the experience that all my friends have also.
Mother also told the students that when someone wrote a book, their essence went into the book and remained there. And if we read the book, we can come into contact with the presence of the writer.
Sri Aurobindo started writing Savitri in August of 1916. The very first manuscript (dated) is on the second page: 8-9 August, 1916. This is when he started. He continued to work on it over the years until he left in 1950 – although there were long spaces of time when he did not work on it.
In one letter, Sri Aurobindo wrote about how he was writing Savitri:
“I may describe it as an infinite capacity for waiting and listening for the true inspiration and rejecting all that fell short of it, however good it might seem from a lower standard until I got that which I felt to be absolutely right.”
In 1933, someone asked him how he wrote Savitri, and he said:
- “There is no invariable how—except that I receive from above my head and receive changes and corrections from above without any initiation by myself or labour of the brain.”
In 1936, he said:
- “In fact, Savitri has not been regarded by me as a poem to be written and finished, but as a field of experimentation to see how far poetry could be written from one’s own Yogic consciousness and how that could be made creative.”
Sri Aurobindo kept rewriting and revising Savitri as his own yogic practice progressed. And he wrote about things that he himself realized along the way. In 1936 he wrote to someone:
- “I used Savitri as a means of ascension. I began with it on a certain mental level, each time I could reach a higher level I rewrote from that level.”
In 1937, he wrote that he'd reached the end of the life-worlds in Savitri, and said that until he got Mind in order, and realized – or rather embodied – the psychic, he couldn't show any more of his work.
In 1947, he said:
- “I have not anywhere in Savitri written anything for the sake of mere picturesqueness or merely to produce a rhetorical effect; what I am trying to do everywhere in the poem is to express exactly something seen, something felt or experienced”
In the preface to Savitri, Sri Aurobindo gave us these descriptions:
- “Savitri is the Divine Word, daughter of the Sun, goddess of the supreme Truth who comes down and is born to save” (p.xvii)
Savitri is represented in the poem as an incarnation of the Divine Mother. Savitri's human father, Aswapati, is “the Lord of Tapasya, the concentrated energy of spiritual endeavour that helps us to rise from the mortal to the immortal planes” (p.xvii). Satyavan, Savitri's husband, who she rescues from Death, is the soul carrying the truth within himself – but he is descended into the grip of Death and ignorance.
Sri Aurobindo says that the characters in his poem are “incarnations or emanations of living and conscious Forces”. “[T]hey take human bodies in order to help man and show him the way [...] to a divine consciousness and immortal life” (p.xvii). And we can enter into concrete touch with them.
Today I'm going to start with the first half of Savitri. It's Part One, the first three Books, and it covers just about half of the whole volume. We are stopping right after the king has obtained the Divine Mother's promise to come down to earth, and just before the birth of Savitri.
Sri Aurobindo starts his story in Book One, “The Book of Beginnings”. But in fact, he brings us right away far into the story – because the story opens on the day that Satyavan, Savitri's husband, is going to die. And that occurs in Book Eight, “The Book of Death”.
Book One: The Book of Beginnings
The Symbol Dawn
|As our story opens, princess Savitri awakens to a beautiful sunrise – a bright new day. And slowly, gradually, when she wakes, she remembers what day it is.
Her soul arose confronting Time and Fate.
Immobile in herself, she gathered force.
This was the day when Satyavan must die. (p.10)
The long-foreknown and fatal morn was here
Bringing a noon that seemed like every noon. (p.8)
No cry broke from her lips, no call for aid;
She told the secret of her woe to none (p.8)
She had been married to Satyavan for one year, living with him and his parents. And her one year in the great and lonely forest had helped to prepare her for the great task of conquering Death – which she had taken birth to do.
In the progress of her life, as Sri Aurobindo writes:
Love came to her hiding the shadow, Death. (p.14)
All in her pointed to a nobler kind. (p.14)
Her look, her smile awoke celestial sense
Even in earth-stuff, and their intense delight
Poured a supernal beauty on men’s lives. (p.15)
Love in her was wider than the universe,
The whole world could take refuge in her single heart. (p.15)
Although she leaned to bear the human load,
Her walk kept still the measures of the gods. (p.16)
To wrestle with the Shadow she had come
And must confront the riddle of man’s birth
And life’s brief struggle in dumb Matter’s night. (p.17)
The Yoga of the King:
The Yoga of the Soul's Release
|A world's desire compelled her mortal birth. (p.22)
Princess Savitri's father was King Aswapati, a great universalized being. He was also a yogi. And in the story of his yoga, he journeyed through all the planes and parts of being to reach the center and starting-point of creation, searching for the Divine Mother, to ask her to help suffering humanity. He aspired for all and he worked for all.
Although consenting to mortal ignorance,
His knowledge shared the Light ineffable. (p.22)
Entangled in the moment and its flow,
He kept the vision of the Vasts behind:
A power was in him from the Unknowable. (p.22)
His days were a long growth to the Supreme. (p.22)
He gazed across the empty stillnesses
And heard the footsteps of the undreamed Idea
In the far avenues of the Beyond. (p.28)
He plunged his roots into the Infinite,
He based his life upon eternity. (p.34)
[There] came his soul’s release from Ignorance,
His mind and body’s first spiritual change. (p.44)
Apart he lived in his mind’s solitude,
A demigod shaping the lives of men:
One soul’s ambition lifted up the race;
A Power worked, but none knew whence it came. (p.44)
His walk through Time outstripped the human stride.
Lonely his days and splendid like the sun’s. (p.45)
The Secret Knowledge
The Yoga of the King:
The Yoga of the Spirit's Freedom and Greatness
A Will, a hope immense now seized his heart,
And to discern the superhuman’s form
He raised his eyes to unseen spiritual heights,
Aspiring to bring down a greater world. (p.76)
One-pointed to the immaculate Delight,
Questing for God as for a splendid prey,
He mounted burning like a cone of fire. (p.79)
A voyager upon uncharted routes
Fronting the viewless danger of the Unknown,
Adventuring across enormous realms,
He broke into another Space and Time. (p.91)
Book Two: The Book of the Traveller of the Worlds
|And so the traveller of the worlds, King Aswapati, climbed the World-Stair in his search for truth.
Alone he moved watched by the infinity
Around him and the Unknowable above. (p.95)
A Seer within who knows the ordered plan
Concealed behind our momentary steps,
Inspires our ascent to viewless heights
As once the abysmal leap to earth and life.
His call had reached the Traveller in Time.
Apart in an unfathomed loneliness,
He travelled in his mute and single strength
Bearing the burden of the world’s desire. (p.101)
No term was fixed to the high-pitched attempt;
World after world disclosed its guarded powers,
Heaven after heaven its deep beatitudes,
But still the invisible Magnet drew his soul.
A figure sole on Nature’s giant stair,
He mounted towards an indiscernible end
On the bare summit of created things. (p.102)
The Kingdom of Subtle Matter
|As the king travelled through inner space, he came first to the kingdoms of subtle matter. The beautiful things of the gross material world come from this kingdom. And when its fine subtle substance becomes more and more gross, dense Matter arises.
Aswapati travelled through that fine material paradise, but he was looking for a greater light. So he moved on, deeper and deeper, higher and higher, seeking the truth of the Manifestation.
His destiny lay beyond in larger Space. (p.115)
The Glory and the Fall of Life
|He travelled through the regions of the glory and the fall of Life. And he found that he was incapable of entering the region of bliss and all of the goodness that Life had to give.
This world of bliss he saw and felt its call,
But found no way to enter into its joy;
Across the conscious gulf there was no bridge.
A darker air encircled still his soul (p.128)
Although he once had felt the Eternal’s clasp,
Too near to suffering worlds his nature lived,
And where he stood were entrances of Night. (p.128)
The Kingdoms of the Little Life
|To learn why he could not enter, Aswapati followed Life through its changes as it enters into Matter and assumes a mask of death and pain. Seeking great answers, the great king followed Life's pace through her slow ascension, as a blind force compels Life to seek and feel.
The Godheads of the Little Life
|He moved through the kingdoms and godheads of the little Life. And saw the first beginnings of Mind. He saw Life governed by the small ego. He saw a little life, turned in upon itself. But in some part of his being, he remained aware of the presence and working of the divine Power always. Still, he could not find the answers here,...
The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Life
|...So Aswapati moved through the kingdom and godheads of the greater Life. In this kingdom, some rays of spiritual light were beginning to bring growth towards higher ways of being. Life moved towards release into higher things. But he saw that Life was still caught by Death and darkness.
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 (p.202)
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. (p.202)
Thus King Aswapati began his descent into Night. He saw a fatal influence and a hostile and perverting mind at work, corrupting Life. He saw the soul's native will for joy and truth and light, overcast by error and grief and pain. He saw Life covered over with pain and death.
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. (p.206)
The great king travelled down through perilous spaces, ever entering into worse darkness and greater reigns of evil.
Him the heights missioned, him the Abyss desired:
None stood across his way, no voice forbade.
For swift and easy is the downward path (p.211)
A lone discoverer in these menacing realms
Guarded like termite cities from the sun,
Oppressed mid crowd and tramp and noise and flare,
Passing from dusk to deeper dangerous dusk,
He wrestled with powers that snatched from mind its light
And smote from him their clinging influences. (p.216)
The World of Falsehood, the Mother of Evil and the Sons of Darkness
|Aswapati travelled through Night, and through the world of Falsehood, where there is no Light, no Truth, no Spirit, no Divine.
In a world where neither hope nor joy could come
The ordeal he suffered of evil’s absolute reign,
Yet kept intact his spirit’s radiant truth. (p.230)
When Aswapati finally stood on the last locked floor of the Subconscient, he saw the future awaiting its hour. And:
He saw the secret key of Nature’s change. (p.231)
He saw in Night the Eternal’s shadowy veil,
Knew death for a cellar of the house of life,
In destruction felt creation’s hasty pace,
Knew loss as the price of a celestial gain
And hell as a short cut to heaven’s gates. (p.231)
Healed were all things that Time’s torn heart had made
And sorrow could live no more in Nature’s breast:
Division ceased to be, for God was there.
The soul lit the conscious body with its ray,
Matter and spirit mingled and were one. (p.232)
The Paradise of the Life-Gods
|Then the great king found himself in the paradise of the life-gods. He was healed and cleansed. And he was ready to move on in his search.
The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Little Mind
|The great king moved on to the kingdoms and godheads of the little mind. Following Mind's first forward steps, he saw her different procedures of rigid-bound thought, rash guesswork, reason. On through this he travelled...
The Kingdoms and Godheads of the Greater Mind
|...To the kingdoms and godheads of the greater mind. In these kingdoms he saw that from the higher realms in the Creation, Light comes down into the more developed mind.
A breath of unattained divinity
Visits the imperfect earth on which we toil;
Across a gleaming ether’s golden laugh
A light falls on our vexed unsatisfied lives,
A thought comes down from the ideal worlds
And moves us to new-model even here
Some image of their greatness and appeal
And wonder beyond the ken of mortal hope. (p.262)
A faith in things that are not and must be
Lives comrade of this world’s delight and pain (p.262)
Aswapati made his way through “a triple realm of ordered thought” (p.264), where immortal, mighty and divine thoughts are available to Mind. Ascending in this realm, he found:
A great all-ruling Consciousness is there
And Mind unwitting serves a higher Power;
It is a channel, not the source of all. (p.271)
Yet this world did not have the answer.
The Heavens of the Ideal
Always the Ideal beckoned from afar.
Awakened by the touch of the Unseen,
Deserting the boundary of things achieved,
Aspired the strong discoverer, tireless Thought,
Revealing at each step a luminous world. (p.277)
He through the Ideal’s kingdoms moved at will,
Accepted their beauty and their greatness bore,
Partook of the glories of their wonder fields,
But passed nor stayed beneath their splendour’s rule.
All there was an intense but partial light. (p.281)
In the Self of Mind
|Then, the great traveller moved into the Self of Mind, where he realized that nothing could be known – that he must reach the source from which all knowledge comes.
|An answer to his seeking came, and he followed the way to the center of creation, into the World-Soul.
The silent Soul of all the world was there:
A Being lived, a Presence and a Power,
A single Person who was himself and all
And cherished Nature’s sweet and dangerous throbs
Transfigured into beats divine and pure. (p.291)
His soul passed on, a single conscious power,
Towards the end which ever begins again,
Approaching through a stillness dumb and calm
To the source of all things human and divine.
There he beheld in their mighty union’s poise
The figure of the deathless Two-in-One,
A single being in two bodies clasped,
A diarchy of two united souls,
Seated absorbed in deep creative joy;
Their trance of bliss sustained the mobile world.
Behind them in a morning dusk One stood
Who brought them forth from the Unknowable. (p.295)
The great traveller of the worlds had reached his goal: standing before him was the Divine Mother.
Ever disguised she awaits the seeking spirit;
Watcher on the supreme unreachable peaks,
Guide of the traveller of the unseen paths,
She guards the austere approach to the Alone. (p.295)
The sole omnipotent Goddess ever-veiled
Of whom the world is the inscrutable mask;
The ages are the footfalls of her tread,
Their happenings the figure of her thoughts,
And all creation is her endless act.
His spirit was made a vessel of her force;
Mute in the fathomless passion of his will
He outstretched to her his folded hands of prayer. (p.295)
In response, the Divine Mother “half-parted the eternal veil” (p.295).
Drunk with a deep golden spiritual wine,
He cast from the rent stillness of his soul
A cry of adoration and desire
And the surrender of his boundless mind
And the self-giving of his silent heart.
He fell down at her feet unconscious, prone. (p.296)
The Kingdoms of the Greater Knowledge
|Now the great king was able to enter into the kingdoms of the greater knowledge.
A light was round him wide and absolute,
A diamond purity of eternal sight (p.297)
Here came the thought that passes beyond Thought,
Here the still Voice which our listening cannot hear,
The Knowledge by which the knower is the known,
The Love in which beloved and lover are one. (p.297)
He passed to its fields of puissance and of calm
And saw the Powers that stand above the world, (p.298)
There Knowledge called him to her mystic peaks (p.299)
His self’s infinities began to emerge (p.300)
The primal Energy took him in its arms;
His brain was wrapped in overwhelming light,
An all-embracing knowledge seized his heart (p.301)
He linked creation to the Eternal’s sphere.
His finite parts approached their absolutes,
His actions framed the movements of the Gods,
His will took up the reins of cosmic Force. (p.302)
Book Three: The Book of the Divine Mother
The Pursuit of the Unknowable
|After this experience, the great king longed to have more, to continue his pursuit of the Unknowable – to find the Divine Mother.
The Presence was lost by which all things have charm,
The Glory lacked of which they are dim signs.
The world lived on made empty of its Cause,
Like love when the beloved’s face is gone. (p.305)
A silence settled on his striving heart;
Absolved from the voices of the world’s desire,
He turned to the Ineffable’s timeless call. (p.305)
On a dizzy verge where all disguises fail
And human mind must abdicate in Light
Or die like a moth in the naked blaze of Truth,
He stood compelled to a tremendous choice.
All he had been and all towards which he grew
Must now be left behind or else transform
Into a self of That which has no name. (p.307)
The separate self must melt or be reborn
Into a Truth beyond the mind’s appeal. (p.307)
A stark companionless Reality
Answered at last to his soul’s passionate search: (p.308)
The One by whom all live, who lives by none,
An immeasurable luminous secrecy
Guarded by the veils of the Unmanifest,
Above the changing cosmic interlude
Abode supreme, immutably the same,
A silent Cause occult, impenetrable, —
Infinite, eternal, unthinkable, alone. (p.309)
The Adoration of the Divine Mother
Even while he stood on being’s naked edge
And all the passion and seeking of his soul
Faced their extinction in some featureless Vast,
The Presence he yearned for suddenly drew close. (p.312)
The Power, the Light, the Bliss no word can speak
Imaged itself in a surprising beam
And built a golden passage to his heart
Touching through him all longing sentient things. (p.312)
The hidden Word was found, the long-sought clue,
Revealed was the meaning of our spirit’s birth (p.314)
A burning Love from white spiritual founts
Annulled the sorrow of the ignorant depths;
Suffering was lost in her immortal smile. (p.314)
His spirit was caught in her intolerant flame.
Once seen, his heart acknowledged only her.
Only a hunger of infinite bliss was left.
All aims in her were lost, then found in her;
His base was gathered to one pointing spire. (p.315)
But now his being was too wide for self;
His heart’s demand had grown immeasurable:
His single freedom could not satisfy,
Her light, her bliss he asked for earth and men. (p.315)
Now other claims had hushed in him their cry:
Only he longed to draw her presence and power
Into his heart and mind and breathing frame;
Only he yearned to call for ever down
Her healing touch of love and truth and joy
Into the darkness of the suffering world.
His soul was freed and given to her alone. (p.316)
The House of the Spirit and the New Creation
A mightier task remained than all he had done. (p.317)
Patient he sat like an incarnate hope
Motionless on a pedestal of prayer.
A strength he sought that was not yet on earth,
Help from a Power too great for mortal will,
The light of a Truth now only seen afar,
A sanction from his high omnipotent Source. (p.317)
He felt the stark resistance huge and dumb
Of our inconscient and unseeing base,
The ignorant No in the origin of things.
A veiled collaboration with the Night
Even in himself survived and hid from his view (p.317)
The great king searched his being with fire, to find “the element in him betraying God” (p.318).
Then lest a human cry should spoil the Truth
He tore desire up from its bleeding roots
And offered to the gods the vacant place.
Thus could he bear the touch immaculate.
A last and mightiest transformation came.
His soul was all in front like a great sea
Flooding the mind and body with its waves;
His being, spread to embrace the universe,
United the within and the without
To make of life a cosmic harmony,
An empire of the immanent Divine. (p.318)
His nature grew a movement of the All,
Exploring itself to find that all was He (p.319)
He stood fulfilled on the world’s highest line
Awaiting the ascent beyond the world,
Awaiting the descent the world to save. (p.319)
Infinity swallowed him into shoreless trance. (p.320)
Transgressing the dream-shores of conscious mind
He reached at last his sempiternal base. (p.320)
Apart, at peace above creation’s stir,
Immersed in the eternal altitudes,
He abode defended in his shoreless self,
Companioned only by the all-seeing One. (p.322)
Then suddenly there came a downward look.
As if a sea exploring its own depths,
A living Oneness widened at its core
And joined him to unnumbered multitudes. (p.322)
A new and marvellous creation rose. (p.323)
There were no contraries, no sundered parts,
All by spiritual links were joined to all
And bound indissolubly to the One (p.323)
The king had reached the new world, the house of the Spirit and the new Creation. And he aspired still more to be in the presence of the Divine Mother.
Two beings he was, one wide and free above,
One struggling, bound, intense, its portion here.
A tie between them still could bridge two worlds (p.331)
His heart lay somewhere conscious and alone
Far down below him like a lamp in night (p.331)
This only knew there was a truth beyond. (p.332)
This was the fiery point that called her now. (p.332)
It sent its voiceless prayer to the Unknown;
It listened for the footsteps of its hopes
Returning through the void immensities,
It waited for the fiat of the Word
That comes through the still self from the Supreme. (p.333)
The Vision and the Boon
Then suddenly there rose a sacred stir.
Amid the lifeless silence of the Void
In a solitude and an immensity
A sound came quivering like a loved footfall
Heard in the listening spaces of the soul;
A touch perturbed his fibres with delight.
A boundless Heart was near his longing heart,
A mystic Form enveloped his earthly shape. (p.334)
Intoxicated as with nectarous rain
His nature’s passioning stretches flowed to her,
Flashing with lightnings, mad with luminous wine. (p.334)
His body’s cells awoke to spirit sense (p.334)
Even lost in slumber, mute, inanimate
His very body answered to her power.
The One he worshipped was within him now:
Flame-pure, ethereal-tressed, a mighty Face
Appeared and lips moved by immortal words (p.334)
A Shape was seen on threshold Mind, a Voice
Absolute and wise in the heart’s chambers spoke:
“O Son of Strength who climbst creation’s peaks,
No soul is thy companion in the light;
What thou hast won is thine, but ask no more. (p.335)
“Man is too weak to bear the Infinite’s weight.
Truth born too soon might break the imperfect earth. (p.335)
“Above blind fate and the antagonist powers
Moveless there stands a high unchanging Will;
To its omnipotence leave thy work’s result.
All things shall change in God’s transfiguring hour.” (p.341)
But Aswapati’s heart replied to her,
A cry amid the silence of the Vasts:
“How shall I rest content with mortal days
And the dull measure of terrestrial things,
I who have seen behind the cosmic mask
The glory and the beauty of thy face?
Hard is the doom to which thou bindst thy sons! (p.341)
“I saw the Omnipotent’s flaming pioneers
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude,
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life. (p.343)
“Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature’s face.
Although Fate lingers in the high Beyond
And the work seems vain on which our heart’s force was spent,
All shall be done for which our pain was borne.
Even as of old man came behind the beast
This high divine successor surely shall come (p.344)
“Heavy unchanged weighs still the imperfect world;
The splendid youth of Time has passed and failed (p.344)
“O Bliss who ever dwellst deep-hid within
Incarnate the white passion of thy force,
Mission to earth some living form of thee. (p.345)
“Let a great word be spoken from the heights
And one great act unlock the doors of Fate.” (p.345)
But there arose a wide consenting Voice; (p.345)
“O strong forerunner, I have heard thy cry.
One shall descend and break the iron Law,
Change Nature’s doom by the lone spirit’s power. (p.346)
“Beauty shall walk celestial on the earth,
Delight shall sleep in the cloud-net of her hair,
And in her body as on his homing tree
Immortal Love shall beat his glorious wings. (p.346)
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will.” (p.346)
As a flame disappears in endless Light
Vanished the splendour and was stilled the word. (p.346)
Her form retreated from the longing earth (p.347)
His soul drew back into the speed and noise
Of the vast business of created things. (p.347)
Once more he moved amid material scenes (p.347)
The eternal seeker in the aeonic field
Besieged by the intolerant press of hours
Again was strong for great swift-footed deeds. (p.347)
A god in the figure of the arisen beast,
He raised his brow of conquest to the heavens
Establishing the empire of the soul
On Matter and its bounded universe
As on a solid rock in infinite seas.
The Lord of Life resumed his mighty rounds
In the scant field of the ambiguous globe. (p.348)