Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo
The Complete Set
Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo is coming out in two volumes. It contains many new letters appearing for the first time with the exception of those which are strictly private. Now it may be called a complete set.
This book adds a further chapter to the voluminous correspondence which Sri Aurobindo carried on with his disciples over many years; but it is a chapter with a big difference. It is in the new tone and manner of it that its special charm lies, of which the readers of Mother India have already had a foretaste. The matter is also of no less importance, but it gains an extra interest and novelty from this quality. About Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, the Mother said, "Thanks to Nirod, we have a revelation of an altogether unknown side of what Sri Aurobindo was." Similarly we can claim about this book that another latent side of the Master's personality has been revealed to us. In fact, when the previous edition of the book was read out to the Mother, she often used to laugh for sheer delight and was impressed by it so much that she made more than one reference to it in the Agenda. She said that Sri Aurobindo was all the time laughing and she added to me, "He has given you everything." Letters on Karmayoga had a special interest for her and she wanted them by her side to show them to the sadhaks.
One is happily surprised to find here not the Sri Aurobindo of Himalayan grandeur and aloofness, but the modern Shakespeare of spiritual sublimity and jollity. Discussion, argument leavened with a sweet temper, witty passages of arms, mental duels, banter, persiflage, rollicking laughter, repartees, swear-words, then all on a sudden a switching off to solemn and serious topics, all written at lightning speed, and if any answer was not completed for short-age of time (apprehending that the Mother would be late for the morning pranam) a request for the note-book back again next day — these are the contents of this opulent offering. Turn a page and you find a gem.
All these lengthy discussions, mind you, with a disciple who had the mental development neither of an Amal (Sethna) nor of a Dilip, but was merely a young man of average intelligence having a thirst for knowledge. One who had "drunk the Infinite like a giant's wine" came down to my mental level, argued point by point, knowing very well how shallow were my thoughts and yet considering them as if I had been an equal opponent, then invalidating my logic with the sweet comment, "To be a logician, sir, is not easy." Dilip who was another recipient of Sri Aurobindo's munificence remarked, "To Nirod he would constantly assume a tone he never once assumed with me. And yet he was talking to me as to a 'friend and a son' and to Nirod like a comrade whom he al-most invited to give him as much as he got."
The modern age has produced a modern Guru who could deal with each sadhak according to his nature. When I asked from what perennial fount flowed so much laughter, his cryptic answer was the Upanishadic raso vai saḥ1 In the whole of spiritual history I know of no Guru-Shishya relationship in which the Guru of venerable age and vast learning has given such unlimited liberty to the disciple, so that I could challenge his Karmayoga doctrine, refuse to accept his own example as having any validity for common people like us, carry on a long-drawn out argument on Homeopathy vs Allopathy, etc., etc. In all the exchanges what was remarkable was his calm and cool temper, yogic samatā, inexhaustible patience and above all his sunny humour pervading the entire correspondence. At times, he asked to be excused for the bantering tone he could not resist when his own Karmayoga based on experience was tilted at. Very freely he used swear-words for the sake of fun or perhaps to shock the puritan temper. I was occasionally on the perilous brink of irreverence. When people complained of it, he replied, "I return the compliment — I mean, reply without restraint, decorum or the right grave rhythm. That is why I indulge so freely in brackets."
As regards subject matter he gave me a wide field to range over. Supermind, literature, art, religion, spirituality, Avatarhood, love, women, marriage, medical matters, sex-gland, any topical question, such as goat-sacrifice at Kalighat, Bengal political atrocities, sectarian fanaticism, hunger-strike, India's freedom, etc., etc. were my rich pabulum. I need not labour the point that in the process emeralds and lapis-lazulis of rare value were the reward extracted from his supramental quarry, though at the cost of being dubbed a "wooden head" and many other complimentary epithets. Aeschylus,Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Napoleon, Virgil, Shaw, Joyce, Hitler, Mussolini, Negus, Spanish Civil War, General Miaja, romping in, oh, the world-theatre seen at a glance exhibiting many-coloured movements for the eye's, the ear's and the soul's rejoicing.
Now, the question arises: what was the purpose of it all? Atone stage, Sri Aurobindo declared that he wanted to intellectualise and logicise my "wooden head". But that would be a very short-sighted human view of the Divine's multi-dimensional work. I am reminded, however, of a narrative poem by Tagore about Guru Govind Singh. The Sikh Guru adopted a Pathan boy whose father he had killed in a flare of temper. He brought him up well-versed in all Shastras and proficient in the art of warfare. Every morning and evening the old valorous Guru used to play with the boy as with his own son. His disciples, much alarmed, warned him not to indulge in this dangerous game, since he was a tiger-cub. However kindly and diligently trained, he would not change his nature. "When he grows up, do remember that his paws will be piercingly sharp," they added. The Guru replied, "If I fail to make the cub grow into a tiger then what have I taught him?"
I was anything but a tiger-cub. Was it the Guru's purpose to experiment with common clay and see how far it could be transformed by his Supramental Power? He has said that he turned many cowards into heroes during the Swadeshi days. Or could it be that to adapt his own words — he tried to enlighten my understanding, raise me to his level and inspire willing obedience, by convincing me with his incontrovertible logic, as, according to him, Sri Krishna seems to have done in the case of Arjuna, so that my mind purged of all wrong ideas might thereby be prepared to plunge into the sadhana?
Another story comes a propos. When we were attending on Sri Aurobindo after the accident to his leg, the Mother entered his room one day and saw a vision that Sri Aurobindo and I were playing with each other like two babies on a bed. I shall not try to analyse it for he himself replied, when asked about the reason of our exceptional relationship, "Cast your plummet into the deep and perhaps you shall find it — or perhaps you will hit something that has nothing at all to do with it." I said, "But the 'deep' is too deep for my plummet." His answer was, "For any mental plummet. It is not the mind that can discover these things."
One or two points are there in the Correspondence at which some readers may raise their eyebrows. "Why has Nirod revealed the inner story of the Ashram?" they may ask. My intention is clear. For one thing, I wanted to show what kind of stuff we were that Mother and Sri Aurobindo had to fashion into a new race. People in general have a rosy view of the Ashram. Since it is a Yogashram, they believe a priori that it must be chock-full of big yogis, but their preconceptions do not take long to break into pieces. Most of us, in truth, were common people, and knew very little of yoga. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo took us as they found us. It is precisely one of the cardinal principles of their yoga to take up fresh and simple natures "uncouth, shapeless", if you like, and try to mould them in the image of their souls. When I exclaimed, "What disciples we are of what a Master! I wish you had chosen or called better stuff", Sri Aurobindo answered, "As to the disciples I agree! Yes, but would the better stuff, supposing it to exist, be typical of humanity? To deal with a few exceptional types would hardly solve the problem."
The readers will be lost in wonder and admiration when they see how much care and attention the Master and the Mother have given to the troubles of each disciple. Can one imagine Sri Aurobindo taking interest in a sadhak-patient's small boil and asking the doctor to attend to his groundless complaints? I, as medical attendant, often inveighed against people with contagious diseases being allowed to share the common Ashram life instead of being sent away. Sri Aurobindo's answer full of compassion for one victim still rings in my memory, "he had nowhere to go." Of course they do not always concur with our medical notions and have their own ways of protection. Now, after fifty years or so, I find some of those people visiting the Ashram quite healthy and one actually greeting me with, "Do you recognise me?"
We must also remember that Sri Aurobindo's yoga accepts life and must attend to all matters big or small as parts of it with a view to transform it. He remarked to me that life was in full swing in the Ashram. We know also that the Ashram has been considered as a small-"Supramental laboratory" or an epitome of the world" where, all human problems are concentrated: if and when their solutions would be found, the world problems too would get solved. Each one of us represents a type. On the one hand, our inner and outer difficulties, struggles, resistances in the peripeties of sadhana, the ups and downs, successes and failures, complexities of nature (each one an impossibility, according to the Mother), all these com- ing to the surface as a result of the pressure of yoga. On the other hand the Mother and Sri Aurobindo treating each case with amazing love and patience in order to give each one the full chance of finding his soul; Such is the spiritual saga I have tried to unfold with innumerable illustrations. I myself was a certain type so that my conversion would facilitate the conversion of many others like me. I believe that is what Sri Aurobindo meant when he said, "You see, your difficulties are not yours alone. When they are conquered, others also will benefit by it. That is the meaning of one man doing yoga for all."
I shall point the reader's attention to a few medical cases to illustrate what the acceptance of life meant in yoga. Let us take the case of S. He suffered from a protracted illness due to his own indiscretion and was on the brink of death. My long correspondence with Sri Aurobindo on the case is an eye-opener, revealing how Sri Aurobindo kept vigil as it were night and day and went on applying his force till S was pronounced out of danger. Another case was of M. The patient, my assistant, had an accident and was hospitalised . Since it became a Police case, Sri Aurobindo ascertained from me and other sadhaks all the facts and gave me minute instructions regarding the conduct of the case with the Police. Then came the vaccination comedy à la Molière. For the first time the French Government sent an injunction that all Ashram members must be vaccinated. That created a mild commotion in the Ashram. To the Mother and Sri Aurobindo vaccination was a nasty business. Sri Aurobindo wrote to me, "The whole Pasteurian affair is to me anti- pathetic — it is a dark and dangerous principle, however effective." That is all very well, but how to avoid it ? Sri Aurobindo had to use all his divine diplomacy and initiated me in the art of dodging the Government, ending eventually with a small number of sadhaks being "induced to make themselves victims on the sacred altar of Science." I could not resist my hilarity, poring over Sri Aurobindo's reasons why such and such persons should not be touched.
Lastly, a sinking high blood-pressure patient from outside was revived by an Ashram homeopath with the effective help of Sri Aurobindo's Force. In this and S's case, I went all out and furiously attacked homeopathy and the doctor as all a big bluff while Sri Aurobindo went on defending him and his science. A tussle followed, neither side relenting till the Shishya had to bow down to the Guru's rigorous logic. I wonder now what plucky devil goaded me on, forgetting that I was engaged in a battle royal with the Divine him- self. This particular correspondence is a most valuable document showing the Guru's unbiased judgment, keen insight into the working of invisible forces in diseases, conditions for the effective application of the Force and its method of working, and above all the Master's cool temper and humour in the face of my dogged tenacity in defence of "the blazing hot allopathism."
Let it be understood however, that whenever Sri Aurobindo wrote to me about individual sadhaks or personal matters, it was done to help me see things in their proper perspective and not get disturbed by outer happenings. For instance, when any departure from the Ashram made me apprehensive of my own destiny, I had to place my misgivings before the Mother, and Sri Aurobindo enlightened me by revealing the true facts about such cases. But these disclosures were always done in a dispassionate manner with- out any bias or carping spirit. Equality is the hallmark of any yogi, not to speak of Sri Aurobindo. We were enjoined to open our- selves to the Mother and conceal nothing from her. But it was Sri Aurobindo who mostly replied to our correspondence. He never had any personal animus against anybody. His criticisms had always an impersonal love, devoid of anger, prejudice or ill-feeling.
I need not dilate upon the spiritual and psychological effect the letters have produced and even now produce upon my stumbling journey towards the Unknown. They are a golden chain by which I am bound and drawn willy-nilly towards the destiny the Guru has foreseen. Whenever I read them, the one feeling is the unrestrained freedom and the divine largesse accorded to my nature in that I could soar with wings unfurled in the bosom of the in- finite Blue. Indeed freedom, not license, is the cardinal principle of the integral yoga, and the key by which my soul was released from its prison-house. Oh, the halcyon days!
The total effect of the entire correspondence can be summed up in Sri Aurobindo's luminous sentence, "But within there is a soul and above there is Grace. 'This is all you know or need to know,' and, if you don't, well, even then you have at least somehow stumbled into the path and have got to remain there till you get haled along it far enough to wake up to the knowledge. Amen."
Besides these two volumes, there will be two other volumes of my Bengali and English poems written under the Master's inspiration and guidance and our correspondence on them. I was also made the channel of communication for Jyotirmoyee's Bengali poetry which he explained and commented upon. That will easily run into another big volume. So much he has done for one single person, which the Divine alone can do. And he had to attend to about two hundred persons, besides.
I offer my deep gratitude to Amal, Jayantilal, David and Sudha, especially the last two for their collaboration and untiring care in making the book as flawless as possible.
1 Verily He is Delight.