1.26 a.m., December 5, 1950. A moment like any other, in a night like many a night — except to those who watched in the room where for over two and a half decades Sri Aurobindo had lived. For them there was all human history coming to a cryptic climax: after summing up in himself the aspiration of man in entirety — man the soul, the mind, the life-force, the body — and after bringing a power of complete godhead to answer this fourfold aspiration, Sri Aurobindo was throwing away the earnest of the final and supreme triumph, a physical being in which the very cells were beginning to flower into a divine substance such as the world had scarcely dreamt of in even its most apocalyptic hours.
The doctors who were his attendants knew their patient to be no mere mortal: they treated his body for what they recognised it to be, a vehicle of supernatural light, and they had to accept the mysterious "No" he had categorically returned to their anxious question which had meant: "Are you not using on yourself the sovereign spiritual force with which you have saved hundreds?" The body that seemed able to live without end by the protection of an all-trans- formative power was being allowed by its master to suffer extreme uraemia and pass into profound unconsciousness. Indeed the doctors were permitted — as if out of compassion for them — to try their palliatives after the Mother had declared: "He has decided to withdraw." But there was no suspension of Sri Aurobindo's fiat that though he had the whole perfection of man in his own hands he should lay aside its last victory in himself and embrace death.
After the Mother's passing away on 17 November 1973, what is said at the end of this article, which was written in December 1951, on the event of 5 December 1950, does not hold in every respect, but the basic truth that is the main theme of the article remains unchanged.
No doubt, it was not death in its utter commonness. The uraemia that preceded it had been unique. Every medical sign was there of its absolute hold over the body's reactions — save one: Sri Aurobindo, as if by an independence of comatose brain and nerve, could command consciousness again and again, inquire what the time was or ask for water. Unique also was the sequel of the uraemic poisoning. Between the instant when life clinically ended and the instant when the body was laid in a casket and lowered into a special Vault in the Ashram courtyard, nearly five days passed without a trace of decomposition. And many saw with even their physical eyes the body glowing with what the Mother had called the concentration in it of the light of the Supermind, the Divine Consciousness in its integrality which Sri Aurobindo and she had been labouring with the patience of heaven-sent pioneers to bring down for the first time to suffering earth. Mortality in its normal form was not here; yet something of its age-old doom was present and that was a question-mark glaring in the face of every disciple and making most enigmatic that varied wonderful life of seventy- eight years, triumphant over all human difficulties.
The question-mark cannot be completely removed. Depths beyond depths lie in an event of this nature: the human mind is unable to compass them all. But a few significances gleam out for an initial understanding and set a general perspective in which our aching and groping gaze may rest.
There was no failure on Sri Aurobindo's part: this is certain from the psychological and physical details put together — of the preceding months as well as of the actual illness. There was only a strange sacrifice. And if Sri Aurobindo the indomitable made the sacrifice, must be one that was a sudden terrible short-cut to some secret victory for God in the world at the cost of a personal consummation. We may remember the opening of his sonnet entitled "In the Battle"- Often in the slow ages' long retreat On Life's thin ridge through Time's enormous sea, I have accepted death and borne defeat To gain some vantage by my fall for Thee.
What occasioned the present sacrifice appears to have been earth's insufficient receptivity to the Aurobindonian gift of the descending Supermind. Something in the gross constitution of terrestrial creatures would not thrill to the Grace from on high, would not appreciate with a response deep enough the colossal work that was being done at a selfless expense of energy and with a silent bearing of "the fierce inner wounds that are slow to heal". If the earth's consciousness had been more receptive, the crisis of the human body's conversion into terms of divinity would have begun in a less radical shape and without so extreme an upshot for one individual in the van of life's fight towards perfection. Hence much of the responsibility for the upshot lies with the absence of co-operation by the mind of the race .It was as if the beings Sri Aurobindo had come to save had turned his enemies — not deliberately in all cases, yet with a dullness of perception and an inertia of the will that were as crucial.
This dullness and this inertia were not only an obstacle to the descending Divine: they were also perilous for the world itself. To the obscure occult forces — powers and principalities of darkness — which always oppose the Divine's work and which were reacting against the tremendous pressure of the Aurobindonian light in a vast upsurge, to these forces bent on a final calamitous counter-attack across the battle- field that is man, man's dullness and inertia gave a ground of support and thus signed his own doom. Sri Aurobindo, born to put his mission above everything else, could not but follow the course he did: how could he betray the long- invoked Supermind whose hour on earth was preparing to strike, or let the world which he had bound to his heart pay disastrously for its unreadiness for the divine advent? He gathered, as it were, the myriad antagonist spears into his own breast, took upon himself a globe-wide catastrophe.
Most unlike him would it have been to do anything in the crisis save sanction the very worst that could happen to him because of humanity's unresponsiveness, and somehow weave it with his invincible spiritual art into the design of his own master mission.
That mission was the conquest of the very foundations of life's imperfect structure through the ages. Not only to build a golden dome but to transform what he symbolically called the dragon base in the Inconscience from which the universe has evolved: this was Sri Aurobindo's work. And it had to be done one way or another. There could have been a way of slow conquest, preserving his own body by a careful rationed spirituality which would run no deadly hazards for the sake of rapid salvation of the sorrow-burdened world. The way of revolutionary evolution, thrown open like an abyss, was to let his body admit an illness symbolic of the drive of the Inconscience from below and, after a limited though intensely significant contest, carry in an actual death its own godlike presence into the stuff of the Inconscience. Death was the glory-hole desperately blown into the massive rock of that stuff for the physical divinity of Sri Aurobindo to permeate in a direct and literal sense the darkness wrapped within darkness which the Vedic seers had long ago intuited to be Nature's cryptic womb of lightward creation. By identifying his physical divinity with that primal Negation of the Divine, he has effected an immediate entry into the heart of the enemy's camp: he has taken by surprise the central strong- hold of all that frustrates and destroys, all that renders precarious the body's beauty, frail the life-energy's strength, flickering the mind's knowledge, and swallows up in its monstrous void the marvellous legacy left to mankind by the hero and the sage.
By passing beyond the visible scene he has not passed to some transcendent Ineffable. He who had held incarnate within himself both the potence and the peace of the Transcendent — the creative Supermind, the Truth-Consciousness of the ultimate Spirit — needed no flight from the universe to reach the Highest. Nor like a background influence would he act now on earth, he whose whole aim was not only to widen and heighten the individual but make all wideness and height focus themselves and become dynamic in the individual instrument. Still in the foreground of events, in the thick of time's drama with eternity as his theme, still as a 3concentrated individualisation of the wide and the high, an organised being in whom the Supramental kārana śaīra or causal divine body has descended into the sūkṣma śaīra or subtle body built of mind-stuff, life-stuff and even what we may term subtle-physical as distinguished from gross-material stuff, he stands close to earth with his sacrificed corporeal substance as a firm irremovable base and •centre in the Inconscience for spreading there his immortal light and changing earth's fate from the sheer bottom of things no less than from the sheer top.
This is how the occult eye sees the paradoxical climax whose first anniversary falls today. And as one watches the holy spot that is Sri Aurobindo's samadhi in the midst of his Ashram and all about is the aroma of flowers and incense- sticks expressing the mute prayer of the thousands of hearts to whom he is the Avatar of a super-humanity to be, the concrete close reality of the Master of the Integral Yoga requires no proof. But the entire sacrifice, with its immense mysterious potency, was possible because, commemorating each future anniversary and conducting the Ashram, there is amongst us his co-worker, his manifesting and executive Shakti, the Mother. It is because she, in harmony with his plan to tight from two bases, remains on earth to foster the golden future, that he could draw back from the visible scene as if to pull inward the taut string of the spiritual bow and make the God-tipped arrow fly swifter and farther. She who has been one with him in the Supramental attainment, one in vast vision and integral work, joint-parent of the new age in which the outer physical as well as the inner psychological is meant to be Godlike and wonderfully immune, she is the bridge across which Sri Aurobindo's triumph of winning all while seeming to lose everything moves in ever-increasing beauty and power into Matter's ignorant world of a life that is but death in disguise. Without her embodied mediation, without her retention of the Aurobinionian consciousness in full visibility before us, the upward illumining of the Inconscience by Sri Aurobindo for Matters transformation would lack in completeness of result. Her protective hold on earth justifies the withdrawal he has accomplished: her radiant presence fulfils the miraculous power of his absence.
By the co-operation between that absence and this presence a leap in spiritual evolution has been made. A hint of it is in a new expression that comes again and again over the Mother's face. The Supermind, whose realisation and subsequent descent are the Aurobindonian Yoga, seems now not only active as before from above, unfolding its gigantic downward dynamism in its own time, but also operative as a gleaming nucleus of World-Will from even the physical brain-level of the embodied consciousness that is the guru, day after day, to the Godward movement of our souls. In other words, the Supermind possessed overhead by the Mother is now commanded more and more by her from its own growing poise below. The wish of the very earth-self in her begins to be binding, so to speak, on the creativity of her own Supreme Self in the Transcendence. This means a developing adjustment of the incalculable time-rhythm of the Supramental descent from on high to the impatient beat of the aspiring human heart. The possibility dawns of a rapturous acceleration of the Truth-Consciousness's transforming process — and a greater, more luminous mastery of material life, a deeper invasion of the body by the Immortal Existence, a swifter and more palpable progress towards the conquest of darkness and death for which the secret decisive blow was struck in that strangely fateful moment in the dead of night one year ago.
- K. D. Sethna
All extracts and quotations from the written works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the Photographs of
the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Pondicherry -605002 India.
But to have this precise perception...listen, as I had when I came from Japan: I was on the boat, at sea, not expecting anything (I was of course busy with the inner life, but I was living physically on the boat), when all of a sudden, abruptly, about two nautical miles from Pondicherry, the quality, I may even say the physical quality of the atmosphere, of the air, changed so much that I knew we were entering the aura of Sri Aurobindo. It was a physical experience and I guarantee that whoever has a sufficiently awakened consciousness can feel the same thing.
- The Mother (17 March 1951)
Volume 4, Questions and Answers 1950-51