Ritam "Some autobiographical poems and statements of Sri Aurobindo (1893 – 1944)"

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November 2010

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Some autobiographical poems and statements of Sri Aurobindo (1893 – 1944)

Collected by Author::Shraddhavan

In this significant year – the Centenary of Sri Aurobindo’s arrival in Pondicherry – it is interesting to look at some of the main stages in Topic::Sri Aurobindo’s life as reflected in his poems. This sonnet dates from Sri Aurobindo’s early years in Baroda:

I have a hundred lives [1]

I have a hundred lives before me yet
To grasp thee in, O Spirit ethereal,
Be sure I will with heart insatiate
Pursue thee like a hunter through them all.
Thou yet shalt turn back on the eternal way
And with awakened vision watch me come
Smiling a little at errors past and lay
Thy eager hand in mine, its proper home.
Meanwhile made happy by thy happiness
I shall approach thee in things and people dear,
And in thy spirit’s motions half-possess,
Loving what thou hast loved, shall feel thee near,
Until I lay my hands on thee indeed
Somewhere among the stars, as ’twas decreed.

In it we see the young man who had come from England as a rationalist and agnostic already turning, under the influence of the atmosphere of his homeland, towards the sense of a divine Presence and a destined realization.

Another sonnet refers to an incident which occurred, he has said, during his first year in Baroda :

The Godhead [2]

I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
In me, enveloping me the body of Him.
Above my head a mighty head was seen,
A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
In the vast circle of its sovereignty.
His hair was mingled with the sun and breeze;
The world was in His heart and He was I:
I housed in me the Everlasting’s peace,
The strength of One whose substance cannot die.
The moment passed and all was as before;
Only that deathless memory I bore.

Three other sonnets written in the 1930s refer to experiences which came to Sri Aurobindo when he was travelling with the Gaekwar in the 1890s:

The Stone Goddess [3]

In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me, —
A living Presence deathless and divine
A Form that harboured all infinity.
The great World-Mother and her mighty will
Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,
Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,
Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.
Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,
Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,
Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard
The secret of her strange embodiment,
One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,
A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.

Adwaita [4]

I walked on the high-wayed Seat of Solomon
Where Shankaracharya’s tiny temple stands
Facing Infinity from Time’s edge, alone
On the bare ridge ending earth’s vain romance.
Around me was a formless solitude:
All had become one strange Unnamable,
An unborn sole Reality world-nude,
Topless and fathomless, for ever still.
A Silence that was Being’s only word,
The unknown beginning and the voiceless end
Abolishing all things moment-seen or heard,
Only an incommunicable summit reigned,
A lonely Calm and void unchanging Peace
On the dumb crest of Nature’s mysteries.

The Hill-top Temple [5]

After unnumbered steps of a hill-stair
I saw upon earth’s head brilliant with sun
The immobile Goddess in her house of stone
In a loneliness of meditating air.
Wise were the human hands that set her there
Above the world and Time’s dominion;
The Soul of all that lives, calm, pure, alone,
Revealed its boundless self mystic and bare.
Our body is an epitome of some Vast
That masks its presence by our humanness.
In us the secret Spirit can indite
A page and summary of the Infinite,
A nodus of Eternity expressed
Live in an image and a sculptured face.

These were first ‘pre-yogic’ glimpses; Sri Aurobindo’s first major spiritual experience happened, he has told us, in January 1908 when, after the momentous Surat Congress of December 1907, he returned to Baroda to meet Vishnu Baskar Lele. As a result of the method of concentration shown to him by Lele, Sri Aurobindo found himself in what he has referred to as his ‘Nirvana Experience’. Yet he was still in the midst of his political action, and had no intention of giving it up. He found himself in a state of silent Brahman consciousness while committed to a round of political engagements in Pune, Bombay and elsewhere. The following undated sonnet refers to that experience:

Nirvana [6]

All is abolished but the mute Alone.
The mind from thought released, the heart from grief
Grow inexistent now beyond belief;
There is no I, no Nature, known-unknown.
The city, a shadow picture without tone,
Floats, quivers unreal; forms without relief
Flow, a cinema’s vacant shapes; like a reef
Foundering in shoreless gulfs the world is done.
Only the illimitable Permanent
Is here. A Peace stupendous, featureless, still,
Replaces all, — what once was I, in It
A silent unnamed emptiness content
Either to fade in the Unknowable
Or thrill with the luminous seas of the Infinite.

In a letter, Sri Aurobindo said of this poem that it was :

“…as close a transcription of a major experience as could be given in language coined by the human mind of a realisation in which the mind was entirely silent and into which no intellectual conception could at all enter. … I felt with an overpowering vividness the illimitability or at least something which could not be described by any other term and no other description except the “Permanent” could be made of That which alone existed.”[7]

Only a few months later, in May 1908, Sri Aurobindo was arrested under suspicion in what came to be known as the Alipore Bomb Case. He spent the next year as an undertrial prisoner in Alipore jail, much of the time in solitary confinement. About this period he says:

“I have spoken of a year’s imprisonment. It would have been more appropriate to speak of a year’s living in a forest, in an ashram or hermitage. For long I had made a great effort for a direct vision (sakshat darshan) of the Lord of my Heart; had entertained the immense hope of knowing the Preserver of the World, the Supreme Person (purushottam) as friend and master. But due to the pull of a thousand worldly desires, the attachment towards numerous activities and the deep darkness of ignorance I did not succeed in that effort. At long last the most merciful all-good Lord (Shiv Hari) destroyed all these enemies at one stroke and helped me in my path, pointed to the yogaashram, Himself staying as guru and companion in my little abode of retirement and spiritual discipline. The British prison was that ashram. … The only result of the wrath of the British Government was that I found God.”[8]

The following two sonnets, written in 1939 and 1938 respectively, evoke two of the major experiences which came to him during that time of seclusion and intense sadhana :

Krishna [9]

At last I find a meaning of soul’s birth
Into this universe terrible and sweet,
I who have felt the hungry heart of earth
Aspiring beyond heaven to Krishna’s feet.
I have seen the beauty of immortal eyes,
And heard the passion of the Lover’s flute,
And known a deathless ecstasy’s surprise
And sorrow in my heart for ever mute.
Nearer and nearer now the music draws,
Life shudders with a strange felicity:
All Nature is a wide enamoured pause
Hoping her lord to touch, to clasp, to be.
For this one moment lived the ages past;
The world now throbs fulfilled in me at last.

Cosmic Consciousness [10]

I have wrapped the wide world in my wider self
And Time and Space my spirit’s seeing are.
I am the god and demon, ghost and elf,
I am the wind’s speed and the blazing star.
All Nature is the nursling of my care,
I am its struggle and the eternal rest;
The world’s joy thrilling runs through me, I hear
The sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.
I have learned a close identity with all,
Yet am by nothing bound that I become;
Carrying in me the universe’s call
I mount to my imperishable home.
I pass beyond Time and life on measureless wings,
Yet still am one with born and unborn things.

Sri Aurobindo spoke about these realisations in the first public address he gave after his release, at Uttarpara on May 30, 1909.

Less than a year later, following an Adesh from the Voice which had been guiding him since January 1908, he travelled to Pondicherry, arriving on April 4, 1910. There he immersed himself in study of the Vedas, where he found illuminating correspondences with his own inner experiences. This led him to his path-breaking interpretation of the Vedic texts, and the vision and aim which lies at the root of Indian civilization.

The series of poems entitled The Meditations of Mandavya was written in 1913. One section of this series seem to refer to an experience of that time:

I.3 [11]

While on a terrace hushed I walked at night,
He came and stung my foot. My soul surprised
Rejoiced in lover’s contact; but the mind
Thought of a scorpion and was snared by forms.
Still, still my soul remembered its delight
Denying mind, and midst the body’s pain
I laughed contented.

On March 29, 1914, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother met for the first time in the physical. About her, Sri Aurobindo has written:

“The Mother is not a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. She has had the same experience and realisation as myself.
          The Mother’s sadhana started when she was very young. When she was twelve or thirteen, every night many teachers came to her and taught her various spiritual disciplines. Among them was a dark Asiatic figure. When we first met she immediately recognised me as the dark Asiatic figure whom she used to see a long time ago. That she should come here and work with me for a common goal was, as it were, a divine dispensation.
          The Mother was an adept in the Buddhist yoga and the yoga of the Gita even before she came to India. Her yoga was moving towards a grand synthesis. After this, it was natural that she should come here. She has helped and is helping to give a concrete form to my yoga. This would not have been possible without her co-operation.
         One of the two great steps in this yoga is to take refuge in the Mother.”[12]

He has also written:

“Let me tell you in confidence that I never, never, never was a philosopher — although I have written philosophy which is another story altogether .... I was a poet and a politician, not a philosopher! How I managed to do it? First, because [Paul] Richard proposed to me to cooperate in a philosophical review — and as my theory was that a Yogi ought to be able to turn his hand to anything, I could not very well refuse: and then he had to go to the war and left me in the lurch 64 pages a month of philosophy all to write by my lonely self. Secondly, because I had only to write down in the terms of the intellect all that I had observed and come to know in practising Yoga daily and the philosophy was there, automatically.[13]

In the Arya, the philosophical review which Sri Aurobindo produced all by himself from August 1914 to January 1921, he produced, month by month in instalments, the chapters of all his major prose works: Essays on the Gita, The Future Poetry, The Human Cycle (then titled The Psychology of Social Development), The Ideal of Human Unity, The Life Divine, The Secret of the Veda, The Synthesis of Yoga, The Upanishads, War and Self-Determination and so on. His Essays on the Gita, as well as the first Part of The Synthesis of Yoga, declare the ideal of the Divine Worker, which Sri Aurobindo also expresses in a sonnet of 1939:

The Divine Worker [14]

I face earth’s happenings with an equal soul;
In all are heard Thy steps: Thy unseen feet
Tread Destiny’s pathways in my front. Life’s whole
Tremendous theorem is Thou complete.
No danger can perturb my spirit’s calm:
My acts are Thine; I do Thy works and pass;
Failure is cradled on Thy deathless arm,
Victory is Thy passage mirrored in Fortune’s glass.
In this rude combat with the fate of man
Thy smile within my heart makes all my strength;
Thy Force in me labours at its grandiose plan,
Indifferent to the Time-snake’s crawling length.
No power can slay my soul; it lives in Thee.
Thy presence is my immortality.

Sri Aurobindo himself lived as such a Divine Worker, acting from his cosmic consciousness. Towards the end of the 1930s, he found himself called upon to exercise his spiritual Force to influence political events in the world, which he saw could have terrible consequences for the progress of humanity and the Divine Work if ignored and left unchecked. A fragment from 1938 evokes for us an aspect of his awareness at that time :

The Cosmic Man [15]

I look across the world and no horizon walls my gaze;
I see Tokio and Paris and New York,
I see the bombs bursting on Barcelona and on Canton streets.
Man’s numberless misdeeds and small good deeds take place within my single self;
I am the beast he slays, the bird he feeds and saves;
The thoughts of unknown minds exalt me with their thrill;
I carry the sorrow of millions in my lonely breast.

But dealing with political movements, even very momentous ones, was not Sri Aurobindo’s main concern. His aim was a profound world-transformation. This meant grappling with the mysteries of the subconscient and the inconscient:

Pilgrim of the Night [16]

I made an assignation with the Night;
In the abyss was fixed our rendezvous:
In my breast carrying God’s deathless light
I came her dark and dangerous heart to woo.
I left the glory of the illumined Mind
And the calm rapture of the divinised soul
And travelled through a vastness dim and blind
To the grey shore where her ignorant waters roll.
I walk by the chill wave through the dull slime
And still that weary journeying knows no end;
Lost is the lustrous godhead beyond Time,
There comes no voice of the celestial Friend.
And yet I know my footprints’ track shall be
A pathway towards Immortality.

His central effort was directed at coming into touch with a higher level of consciousness than had yet been at work directly in the evolving world, and to bring it into manifestation here, so that its Power of Truth could work more sovereignly for the fulfilment of the human aspiration. That power, that state of consciousness, he called the Supermind. A sonnet first drafted in 1938 and completed in 1944 gives us a glimpse of Sri Aurobindo’s own personal experience of that state.

The Golden Light [17]

Thy golden Light came down into my brain
And the grey rooms of mind sun-touched became
A bright reply to Wisdom’s occult plane,
A calm illumination and a flame.
Thy golden Light came down into my throat,
And all my speech is now a tune divine,
A paean-song of thee my single note;
My words are drunk with the Immortal’s wine.
Thy golden Light came down into my heart
Smiting my life with thy eternity;
Now it has grown a temple where Thou art
And all its passions point towards only Thee.
Thy golden Light came down into my feet;
My earth is now thy playfield and thy seat.

It seems that when Sri Aurobindo left his body on December 5, 1950, in pursuance of the work that he and the Mother had been engaged in for so many years, he carried that Golden Light with him. Many have seen it emanating from his body for days before it was interred on December 9.

The fulfilment of their joint work came on February 29, 1956. The Mother announced the Supramental Manifestation in two messages published in the Bulletin of April 1956:

“Lord, Thou hast willed and I execute,
A new light breaks upon the earth,
A new world is born.
The things that were promised are fulfilled.”[18]
“The manifestation of the Supramental upon earth is no more a promise but a living fact, a reality. It is at work here, and one day will come when the most blind, the most unconscious, even the most unwilling shall be obliged to recognise it.[19]

Now it is one hundred years since Sri Aurobindo fulfilled the prophecy given by a South Indian mystic, arriving in Pondicherry on April 4, 1910:

“The Yogi from the North (Uttara Yogi) was my own name given to me because of a prediction made long ago by a famous Tamil Yogi, that thirty years later (agreeing with the time of my arrival) a Yogi from the North would come as a fugitive to the South and practice there an integral Yoga (Poorna Yoga), and this would be one sign of the approaching liberty of India. He gave three utterances as the mark by which this Yogi could be recognized and all these were found in the letters to my wife.”[20]

Today we can begin to see some first external effects in the world of this immense work which Sri Aurobindo, in his compassion, undertook for the benefit of the whole of humanity and the furtherance of the Divine Purpose.

Considering all that he has achieved, including the undying legacy enshrined in his mantric epic Savitri – A Legend and a Symbol, which the Mother has characterised as “The supreme revelation of Sri Aurobindo’s vision”[21], an impressive undated fragment which is clearly one of Sri Aurobindo’s metrical experiments can serve very well as our tribute to him on this significant Centenary:

Seer deep-hearted[22]

Seer deep-hearted, divine king of the secrecies,
Occult fountain of love sprung from the heart of God,
Ways thou knewest no feet ever in Time had trod.
Words leaped shining, the flame-billows of wisdom’s seas,
Vast thy soul was a tide washing the coasts of heaven.
Thoughts broke burning and bare crossing the human night,
White star-scripts of the gods born from the presses of Light
Page by page to the dim children of earth were given.

All Gratitude to Sri Aurobindo!

  1. Collected Poems, p.180
  2. Ibid., p.607
  3. Ibid., p.608
  4. Ibid., p.621
  5. Ibid., p.622
  6. Ibid., p.561
  7. Letters on Poetry and Art, p.315
  8. Tales of Prison Life, p.2
  9. Collected Poems, p.608
  10. Ibid., p.603
  11. Ibid., p.509
  12. The Mother with Letters on the Mother, p.36
  13. Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p.70
  14. Collected Poems, p.612
  15. Ibid., p.637
  16. Ibid., p.603
  17. Ibid., p.605
  18. Words of The Mother – III, p.95
  19. Ibid., p.96
  20. Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p.78
  21. Words of the Mother – I, p.24
  22. Collected Poems, p.677