27 May 2009

R Y Deshpande's analysis: Ascent to Supermind (Pp 311-346)

The Ascent to Supermind
Apropos of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
RY Deshpande

I’ve just gone through the chapter entitled The Ascent to Supermind: Pondicherry 1915-1926, the first of Part Five: Guide, of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, and find it rather hastily written. It is also crude and easily popularistic-journalistic in its approach and attitude when seen in the context of the grand theme it purports to present, its quite a few inadequacies very glaring, its spiritual perceptions wanting in their penetration, in insight as much as in substance. The decidedly selective handling of the researched material much amounts to insensitive and blundering representation of Sri Aurobindo’s yogic siddhis, his realisations and his remarkable achievements. In fact the biography is doing enormous injustice to the spiritual things we value so deeply, so observantly and feelingly, injustice in more than one way. I may touch upon a few of them here.

Actually the title of the chapter itself is awfully misleading: the period 1915-1926 cannot be called “Ascent to Supermind”. Sri Aurobindo already had the knowledge of the Supermind, had it long ago—perhaps the first indication being when he was an undertrial prisoner in Alipore jail. At that time almost for two weeks the spirit of Vivekadanda would visit him and point it out to him, a bright golden star in the far above sky. And, remarkably enough, the Mother also spoke of the Supermind as early as on 15 December 1911, in Paris, much before she met Sri Aurobindo. Hers is a prayer soliciting the Sun of Truth, the Supreme Light to “pervade us entirely and illumine with its great brilliance our minds and hearts, all our thoughts and actions.” It is the Mantra of Transformation she received, the invocation being to the Sun of Truth, the Light of the Supreme, parasya jyotih of the Gayatri Mantra given to us later by Sri Aurobindo himself. Therefore what was happening during the period 1915-1926 was not the ascent but something radically different than that. It was the period of supramentalisation of the various grades of the lower consciousness. First it was the supramentalisation of the mental, during the Arya period, and then the supramentalisation of the vital. This finally paved the path for the overmentalisation of the physical, marking the siddhi on 24 November 1926, what he later called the descent of Krishna consciousness in the physical. Sri Aurobindo’s next concern was the supramentalisation proper of the physical itself. For that he put in a God’s labour, digging the dark grounds of inconscience. The result was, the Great Light, the Light of the Sun of Truth, started descending into his physical, the first definite experience coming on 8 August 1938. He has recorded it in his sonnet The Golden Light. We’ve nothing of this in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.

But let me promptly illustrate. The chapter runs into 36 pages and has at the end 120 references, with a very large number of them as archival documents. Unfortunately these documents are inaccessible to the researchers who might like to look into them with another viable perspective or might like to verify the contextuality of the quotations. The quotation from the Record about the anandamaya-vijnanamaya vision of universal beauty makes a very beautiful beginning of the chapter, but immediately it slips into the mundane, into life at 41 François Martin St, and the daily connected things. In fact it slips further down, down into the terrible mud. We’ve thus: “Paul [Richard] spent his time looking for a job that would take them [he and Mirra] from France. At the same time, and with Mirra’s approval, he formed a sexual liaison with another woman who bore him a child.” (p. 314) The source of information is not indicated, something unpardonable for a work that claims to be based on research. But we should be concerned with another aspect, a deeper aspect. We know very well that the Mother never wanted to make a mention of her personal or private life anywhere, never. Instead, what we have here, and in any number of places in the biography as I cursorily see it, is something obnoxious, most repugnant, despicable. Imagine such a description in a chapter dealing with the Ascent to Supermind! Where is our sense of propriety, in these matters? Has that good sagacity taken leave of us?

And the chapter goes on, Sri Aurobindo drinking wine, and smoking cigars, and holding the Mother’s hand after the dinner parties, he not disclosing the death of his wife Mrinalini while talking to Mukul Dey, the painter who did his paintings in 1919. And then we have at his instructions his younger brother Barin collecting funds in Calcutta, first in hundreds and then in thousands, all this to run the growing household at Pondicherry. Interspersed with such narratives are brief references to the Seven Chatusthayas, as if to give the flavour of spirituality to them; but they don’t.

Let us however go on with the Lives. “Aurobindo continued to write regularly for the Arya, though for the first time since the launching of the journal he sometimes found himself in arrears. Nevertheless, he began the seventh year (1920-1921) on a confident note, asking subscribers to renew without delay. By then he was writing most of the matter directly on a typewriter… When he had finished the day’s work, a dozen or more people—members of the household, the Richards, visitors from out of town—came to his study for talk and meditation…” (p. 326) This is all we have about the seventy-seven issues of the journal, with its “4600 pages of philosophy, commentary, translations, and essays”.

But these statistics also come with a slant. The biographer says that Sri Aurobindo’s major prose writings first came out in the Arya but he adds that, that mode of presentation itself imposed a constraint on his writing, that “he was unable to restructure while writing.” This resulted in some of the works becoming “unbalanced: one part of The Synthesis of Yoga is too long, another too short. Aurobindo hoped to revise the works before reissuing them as books, but he rarely found time for it.” (p. 327) And his style: it is “involved and, by modern standards, frequently obscure.” (p. 328) If it is so, one wonders and asks: where has gone that organ music of The Life Divine so highly praised by Georges van Vrekhem? the power of getting the Inexpressible in words, with their sound of music?

Not only that; nowhere we’ve the presentation of the contents and substance of the Arya writings, not even a summary introduction for a reader new to Sri Aurobindo. Nor is there any mention of his other literary compositions, his vibrant-massive Ilion in sweeping and authentic quantitative hexameter and the first existing draft of Savitri running into some 900 lines. Debashish Banerji says, we must judge Sri Aurobindo by his “visible works” and not go by what the Mother tells about him, that he was an Avatar, etc; but, bizarrely enough, here in the biography all the “visible works” have been blanked off. When the Mother came back in 1920, she said that all this while Sri Aurobindo was busy bringing down the Supramental in the successive mental domains of consciousness, and that he was soon busy to bring it into the vital consciousness. Of this our biographer has no inkling at all; indeed one wonders he’ll ever have it if he goes by pseudo-psychology and pseudo-historical formulations of matters spiritual. About the Arya and the post-Arya period up to 1926, we’ve about 200 pages of material in KR Srinivasa Iyengar’s monumental biography Sri Aurobindo published by the Ashram. Perhaps in the opinion of the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo this is Indian religiosity and sentimentalism disdainful to the modern rational mind, and that he was writing his work precisely for such a modern rational mind. But he should also understand that cutting up Sri Aurobindo in this manner is plain falsifying his vision, his mission and his occult-spiritual work. It will be a sad day for us if we should blink our eyes towards such a strange thing coming from a modern rational mind, from one who also claims to be the practitioner of the Integral Yoga of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

Instead of a comprehensive and meaningful introduction to the Arya, what do we have here, in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo? To wit, Paul Richard asking Sri Aurobindo about his relationship with Mirra! (p. 327) and his reply, effectively, whatever she wanted. That’s Ascent to Supermind! Manuscripts of Purani’s talks are given as references in the endnotes. But we’ve no idea about what is actually present in these archival documents, to what extent these have been contextualized-decontextualised in these quotations. In fact the entire hush-hush manner in which these documents are referenced makes them highly suspect. That cannot be called history, hiding the papers from the prospective researcher’s eyes. It is the fundamental principle of any archival organization that the papers be organized for use by others and made available to whosoever would like to study them. That facility does not exist presently in our Archives whose main and energetic builder is the present author himself, as if he deliberately intending to keep it away from others. When once I went to the Section for some details about Savitri, I was rudely asked if I wanted those details for making a court case! The information was not given. In any case, in the present instance,—regarding Paul Richard, Sri Aurobindo, Mirra,—there seems to be a report from Dilip Roy about his meeting Paul Richard in 1927 according to which he seems to have relented regarding his earlier encounter with Sri Aurobindo and his relation with Mirra. It is also said that he spoke of him as the one who will save the world. If this is factually correct then, it is disappointing that it is not present in the Lives’s present discussion. It could also be that the author was totally unaware of it, which I don’t believe.

And then, what else do we have in the chapter we are looking into? There are many things of a minor nature, about political matters and about fund raising for his daily household activities. But let me make a reference to the “pomp” with which Sri Aurobindo’s birthday was celebrated during those days, 1923 and around. On these occasions the disciples were “filled with emotion”. And it was as if Sri Aurobindo and the Mother patronized the whole affair. “He may have regarded such customs [bowing down and gestures of devotionalism] as examples of those ‘ancient ideas and forms’ that Indian had such difficulty getting beyond. But if Aurobindo was indifferent or opposed to ceremony, Mirra thrived in it. She was happy to see the sadhaks spending hours stringing garlands and preparing special dishes, and later, during the darshan, bowing down at Aurobindo’s feet.” (p. 343) And what did follow from this—the author might ask to himself? blind people doing things blindly.

“To the sadhaks, as perhaps to the reader [of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo], what Aurobindo was doing remained a mystery.” (p. 344) And yet the author says that by 1925 the progress made by Sri Aurobindo was “slight”. If it’s a mystery, how can one say anything about the degree of progress made? a little funny logic—but that’s not uncommon here. The book is full of such amusing, such weird gawky things. The book is also quite misleading, in several respects. I fail to understand the following, for instance.

This is after the great 24 November 1926 event. “For the members of the household, the exact nature of the experience was less important than its immediate consequences. Three days after the descent, Aurobindo asked Barin to tell the sadhaks two things. First: ‘the power has descended into the unconscious’, but it was necessary to work things out in detail ‘by the help of that power.’ Second: ‘Mirra is my Shakti. She has taken charge of the new creation. You will get everything from her. Give [your] consent to whatever she wants to do.’ What this meant in practice was that he would not see the sadhaks any longer. The door of his room remained closed, and no one but Mirra could enter. It was she who would guide the sadhaks in their spiritual and practical affairs.” (p. 345) The endnote says that it is an oral remark.

If Sri Aurobindo withdrew on 24 November 1926 from all outside contacts, then how did he give instructions to Barin after three days, on 27 November 1926? Was he still in contact with him to tell him a few things? If so, when did he cut off even that contact with him? Or did he give instructions to him in writing? If so, does that piece of paper exist with the Archives? But it seems that these were oral remarks (whose?) and they were recorded by Haradhan Bakshi whose papers are in possession of the Archives. But how did he get them?

We have not been given any background about Haradhan Bakshi nor any indication is there about the veracity of his records, particularly so if based on oral communication. Purani in his Life of Sri Aurobindo (p. 217 ed. 1978) has given a list of 24 disciples who were present on 24 November 1926. Haradhan Bakshi’s name does not figure in it. Is there any mention of this statement by Barin in his Sri Aurobindo as I Understand Him? Quoting him directly from that would have been more authentic, instead of something coming from oral communication. The whole affair in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo therefore seems to be rather perplexing. This needs further checking. Would Sri Aurobindo have given oral instructions to Barin three days after his withdrawal? Can someone throw light on this?

In my view, apart from such technicalities, the greatest defect of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo is the general absence of spiritual ambience in it. From that perspective the biography is just trash. It might be claimed that it is meant for an academic audience, but then when the yogic-spiritual Sri Aurobindo is gone what will be left will be a false image of him. In that case it will be ironic if we should fail to recognize this aspect, fail to take appropriate action to dissolve this falsification. It is necessary that steps are taken towards this and also towards correcting the system to have the Archives documents available to the researchers studying the Mother and the Master’s works. This is the expectation and due consideration should be given to it, and given to it promptly.

12 October 2008

[First posted: November 6, 2008 1:18 AM]


  1. About the Ascent to Supermind, I may add the following:

    That work of integral manifestation begins with the Mother meeting Sri Aurobindo on the epoch-making 29 March 1914. She writes in her diary that his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light. And when asked about this meeting, reciprocally, Sri Aurobindo writes that in her he saw surrender to the Divine to the last bit of the physical possible. In it the work begins.

    Later, the Mother told something significant. When she met Sri Aurobindo she was in deep prayerful concentration. In it she saw things in the supermind; she was seeing things that were to be but somehow were not manifesting. She told it to Sri Aurobindo and asked him if they would manifest. He just said, “Yes.” And immediately she saw that the supramental had touched the earth and was beginning to be realized!

    The supermind had touched the earth on 29 March 1914. The yogic effort was now directed to fix it permanently in the earth’s physical. The Mother’s total surrender to the Lord is the only means to achieve the miracle. The change has already occurred. The Mother writes:

    29 March 1914: O Thou whom we must know, understand, realise, absolute Consciousness, eternal Law, Thou who guidest and illuminest us, who movest and inspirest us, grant that these weak souls may be strengthened and those who fear be reassured. To Thee I entrust them, even as I entrust to Thee our entire destiny.

    30 March 1914: He whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light, and Thy reign shall indeed be established upon earth.

    1 April 1914: I feel we have entered the very heart of Thy sanctuary and grown aware of Thy very will. A great joy, a deep peace reign in me… now all is changed: a new stage has begun.

    2 April 1914: … the new period opening now before us… a period of expansion rather than of concentration. It is in the activity of each moment that we must serve Thee and identify ourselves with Thee rather than in deep and silent contemplation or in meditation…

    3 April 1914: It seems to me that I am being born to a new life… I know that I must now definitively give myself up and be like an absolutely blank page on which Thy thought, Thy will, O Lord, can be inscribed freely… Oh, to belong to Thee without any darkness, without any restriction!

    In the Prayers and Meditations there are a few themes which constantly recur. Her one concern is the Soul of the Earth. She invokes peace and in it entrusts herself to the Will of the Lord. She says: “May Thy peace reign over all.” Whatever has to be got done can be done only in that benign peace. Peace is the foundation for all enduring work.

    The Mother met Sri Aurobindo and a resplendent change took place in her. It was the direct contact with him that had brought it about. She says she was born to a new life.

    RY Deshpande

  2. I find it amazing that PH,a person who spent 4 decades 'studying' Sri Aurobindo has such a shallow understanding of Integral Yoga. I have read his earlier short biography of Sri Aurobindo, and was pretty impressed with it.. But reading the extracts of this longer biography on this site makes me ponder what happened to PH?