Thursday, September 6, 2007

Isolated, misunderstood, and surrounded by human resistance and ill will

SRI AUROBINDO was born on August 15,1872, in Calcutta, India. At the tender age of seven, his father, a country doctor, sent him to England for "serious studies," as was the custom of the day among certain anglicized Indian families. For 13 years Sri Aurobindo would be immersed in Western culture - which would eventually reward his academic prowess with abundant laurels. In 1893, at the age of twenty, his Cambridge degree in his pocket, he returned to India to find a profoundly revolting political and social situation in his country (under British rule). After a few years spent between a teaching post of French and English at the College of Baroda and the private secretariat of the local maharaja, Sri Aurobindo moved to Calcutta and entered the political fray. Simultaneously, he set out on his inner quest not to escape into higher worlds of consciousness, but as a means of sharpening his revolutionary action against the British occupation. As editor of the daily Bande Mataram (Hail to Mother India) and leader of the Extremist Party, he would soon be suspected of participating in a criminal attempt against a British magistrate, and he would spend a year in prison while awaiting trial. That year of forced isolation made him realize that the occupation of his country by a foreign power was but one aspect of a much vaster problem: the transformation of human nature. "It is not just a revolt against the British empire that we must wage, but a revolt against the whole universal Nature!" he exclaimed. Acquitted but still pursued and spied on by the British police, he had to take refuge in French India, in Pondicherry, where he arrived in 1910. This is where he spent the rest of his life until 1950, in the "ashram" that gradually formed around him under the supervision of Mother, who joined him in 1920. His written work, mostly composed between 1914 and 1920, comprises poetry, plays, "philosophy" and an enormous body of letters to try to explain to his disciples what he was doing in the silence of his room.
MOTHER, otherwise known as Mirra Alfassa, was born in Paris in 1878, of an Egyptian mother and a Turkish father. She was a year older than Einstein, and a contemporary of Anatole France, with whom she shared a sense of gentle irony. This was the century of "positivism"; her father and mother were "all-out materialists," he a banker and a first-rate mathematician, she a disciple of Marx until the age of eighty-eight.
Yet when she was very young, Mirra had strange experiences involving past history and perhaps the future; she met Sri Aurobindo "in a dream" ten years before going to Pondicherry and took him for "a Hindu God dressed in the garb of a vision." Equally at ease with higher mathematics, in front of an easel, or sitting at a piano, she befriended Gustave Moreau, Rodin and Monet. She married a painter, whom she later divorced to marry a philosopher who took her to Japan and China at the time Mao Tse-Tung was writing his first political essays, and to Pondicherry, where she met Sri Aurobindo, with whom she stayed thereafter. She spent thirty years beside him -- he who, at the turn of the century, was announcing "the new evolution" : "Man is a transitional being." After Sri Aurobindo's death in 1950, left in charge of a huge ashram that seemed to represent all the human resistances of the world, she plunged into the "yoga of the cells" and finally discovered "the great passage" to another species. Isolated, misunderstood, and surrounded by human resistance and ill will, she left her body in 1973 at the age of ninety-five.
"I don't think there was ever anyone more materialistic than I, with all the practical common sense and positivism," she would tell me in the midst of her dangerous experiences in the consciousness of the cells, "and now I understand why I was that way! It gave my body a wonderful sense of balance. All the explanations I sought were always of a material nature; it seemed so obvious to me: no need for mysteries or anything of that sort -- you must explain things in material terms. Therefore, I am sure there is no tendency for mystical dreaming in me! This body had nothing in the least mystical in it, thank God!"

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