Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo
The Complete Set
Enclosed is a long, perhaps too long controversy.1 But the subject demands it. You may read it at one, two or three stretches. Please write an exhaustive reply, but in ink.
On the back the rational and logical result of your arguments.
I shall write certain irrational answers on your MS. – in ink.
You have won all along the line. Who could resist such a lava-torrent of logic? slightly mixed but still! You have convinced me (1st) that there never was nor could be an Avatar, (2) that all the so-called Avatars were chimerical fools and failures, (3) that there is no Divinity or divine element in man, (4) that I have never had any true difficulties or struggles, and that if I had any, it was all my fun (as K.S. said of my new metres that they were only Mr. Ghose's fun); (5) that if ever there was or will be a real Avatar, I am not he – but that I knew before, (6) that all I have done or the Mother has done is a mere sham – sufferings, struggles, conquests, defeats, the Way found, the Way followed, the call to others to follow, everything – it was all make-believe since I was the Divine and nothing could touch me and none follow me. That is truly a discovery, a downright knock-out which leaves me convinced, convicted, amazed, gasping. I won't go on, there is no space; but there are a score of other luminous convictions that your logic has forced on me. But what to do next? You have put me in a terrible fix and I see no way out of it. For if the Way, the Yoga is merely sham, fun and chimera – then?
I have read your Essays on the Gita, Synthesis of Yoga, letter on Rama and, though I am wiser, my original and fundamental difficulty remains as unsolved as ever. What is so simple to you, as everything is, appears mighty complex and abstruse to my dense intellect. So no alternative but to submit to afresh beating.2
What your view comes to, put in a syllogism, is this: Since I have done it and I am an Avatar, every other blessed creature can do it.
This is idiotic. I have said “Follow my path, the way I have discovered for you through my own efforts and example. Transform your nature from the animal to the spiritual, grow into a higher divine consciousness. All this you can do by your own aspiration aided by the force of the Divine Shakti.” That, if you please, is not the utterance of a madman or an imbecile. I have said, “I have opened the Way; now you with the Divine help can follow it.” I have not said “Find the way for yourself as I did.”
In the Essays on the Gita you say, man “is ignorant because there is upon the eyes of his soul and all its organs the seal of... Nature, Prakriti, Maya... she has minted him like a coin out of the precious metal of the divine substance, but overlaid with a strong coating of the alloy of her phenomenal qualities, stamped with her own stamp and mark of animal humanity, and although the secret sign of the Godhead is there, it is at first indistinguishable.”3
Does it follow that the coating cannot be dissolved nor the mark effaced? Then stamp the stamp of the chimera on all efforts at spirituality and catalogue as asses and fools all who have attempted to rise beyond the human animal – all who have tried to follow the path of the Christ, the Buddha; stigmatise as folly Vedanta, Tantra, Yoga, the way of the Jinas, Christ himself and Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, and any other pathfinder and seeker.
On the other hand you write that in the Avatar, “the divinely-born Man, the real substance shines through the coating; the mark of the seal is there only for form, the vision is that of the secret Godhead, the power of the life is that of the secret Godhead, and it breaks through the seals of the assumed human nature.”4
Does it follow that the breaking through had not to be done, or was a mere trifling impediment? The power of the form can be exceedingly great as every thinker and observer of life can tell you.
After this you say that the Avatar's descent is “precisely to show that the human birth with all its limitations can be made such a means and instrument of the divine birth and divine works... Even human sorrow and physical suffering he must assume and use so as to show... how that suffering may be a means of redemption.”5 Well, Sir, it will have no go with me, my heart won't leap up at such a divine possibility, such a dream of Paradise!
Your heart not leaping up does not make my statement a falsehood, a non-sequitur or a chimera.
My fellow-brothers may venture to reach there through such a thin hanging bridge but if they do, I am afraid, it will be into a fool's Paradise.
The fool being myself, eh? For it is my Paradise and it is I who call them to it.
The difficulties you face, the dangers you overcome, the struggles you embrace would seem to be mere shams.6
Truly then what a humbug and charlatan I have been, making much of sham struggles and dangers – or, in the alternative, since I took them for realities, what a self-blinded imbecile!
Mother knew she was an Avatar at a very early age.
At what age? But I shall say nothing about the Mother – I cannot bring her into such arguments, only myself.
She was thus able to follow the path of travails through volcanoes and earthquakes. But if she says to me, “You can also do it,” I will cry out, “Forbear, Mother, forbear.”
Nobody asks you to go through volcanoes and earthquakes or to proceed unhelped. You are simply asked to follow the Leader and Guide with the Divine help and with courage, in the face of whatever difficulties come.
If I knew I was an Avatar (pardon my bold hypothesis) do you think I would cry or wail for fear of any amount of crashes and collisions or would it matter if I began with a nature with not a grain of spirituality in me? I would jump from peak to peak in somersaults, go down the abysses, rise up the steeps without fear of mortal consequences since I would know that I was the Divine.
Would you? I wish you had been in my place then! You would have been a hundred times more fit than myself, if you could really have done that. And how easily things would have been done! while I did them and am still doing them with enormous difficulty because I lead and have to make the path so that others may follow with less difficulty.
There could be no death or failure for me.
The Divine in the body is not subject to death or failure? Yet all those claimed to be Avatars have died – some by violence, some by cancer, some of indigestion etc., etc. You yourself say that they were all failures. How do you reconcile these self-contradictory arguments?
You say, “A physical and mental body is prepared fit for the divine incarnation by a pure or great heredity and the descending Godhead takes possession of it.”7
Like my heredity? It was “pure”? But of course I am not a divine incarnation. Only why put all that upon me whom it does not fit?
To his beloved children created in his own image the Divine says with gusto, “I send you through this hell of a cycle of rebirths. don't lose heart, poor boys, if you groan under the weight of your sins and those of your ancestors to boot. I will come down and take hold of a pure heredity with no coating around me and say unto you – come and follow my example.”
Who gave this message? It is your own invention. The Divine does not come down in that way. It is a silly imagination of yours that you are trying to foist on the truth of things. The Divine also comes down into the cycle of rebirths, makes the great holocaust, endures shame and obloquy, torture and crucifixion, the burden of human nature, sex and passion and sorrow and suffering, manifests many births before he reveals the Avatar. And when he does reveal it? Well, read the lives of the Avatars and try to understand and see.
Nobody ever said there was no coating – that is your invention.
Not a very inspiring message, Sir!
No, of course not – but it is yours, not any Avatar's.
Jatakas tell us that in every life small or great, Buddha's frontal consciousness was always above the level of others.
Jatakas are legends.
Ramakrishna and Chaitanya began yoga in their cradle, it seems.
Did they? I know nothing about it; but if they told you that! Anyhow one died by drowning and the other of a cancer.
I don't know if Avatars ever play the part of the rogue or the eternal sinner.8
Krishna was a rogue and a sinner even in his Avatar life, if tales are true! don't you think so?
Now about your absence of urge towards spirituality. Even though that sounds like a story, pray tell us how you could free your mind from all thoughts in 7 days or be established in Brahmic consciousness in a few days.
If you please. You are terribly inaccurate in your statements. It was simply through the Divine Grace, because it had been done by thousands before me throughout the centuries and millenniums, and the Divine did not want me to waste time over that; other things in the Yoga were not so damned easy!
And even apart from spirituality, what of your waiting for the gallows for your country's sake, with perfeet equanimity?9
Who told you that? I was perfectly sure of release. But even so plenty of ordinary men did it before me.
What of your profoundly bold assertion that you would free the country by a Force which was under your feet?
Never said that, surely. Under my feet?
What of your brilliant career?
My career was much less brilliant than many others'. They ought to have progressed then farther in Yoga than myself, e.g. Mussolini, Lenin, Tilak, Brajendranath Seal, the admirable Crichton, Gandhi, Tagore, Roosevelt, Lloyd George etc., etc. All Avatars or all full of the essential principle.
If one has the essential principle, what does it matter if one has no urge towards spirituality? The inner consciousness is there.
All that does not apply to me alone. There are hundreds of others. The inner consciousness is not so rare a phenomenon as all that.
There are some people, I hear, who are to all external appearance debauchees or moral insolvents but whose psychic is much developed or “can be touched”.
That gives away the whole case. For mark that I have never asked the whole human race to follow me to the supramental – that is your invention, not mine.
Still you go on saying that what you have done is possible for me and not for Arjunas only10 to whom alone Krishna seems to have addressed the Gita.
What a waste of words and energy! Yet Krishna said “even Chandalas can follow my way.”
I prophesy that your message will reverberate in the rarefied atmosphere evoking a loud rebellious echo from human hearts.
I admit that you have successfully proved that I am an imbecile.
But if you say, “I come to raise you bodily by my divine omnipotence, not by my example,” I am all for it. If you insist that I follow your example, it would be as well to insist on my leaving you bag and baggage at once.
All this is a purely personal argument concerning yourself. Up to now you were making general assertions – so was I. I was concerned with the possibility of people following the Path I had opened, as Christ, Krishna, Buddha, Chaitanya, etc. opened theirs. You were declaring that no human being could follow and that my life was perfectly useless as an example – like the lives of the Avatars. Path, life, example all useless – even Power useless because all have been failures. These are general questions. Whether X or Y is able or willing to follow the path or depends on divine Omnipotence only is a personal question. Even if X or Y does so, he has no right to pass a general decree of impossibility against others.11
There are some who claim that they are here and remain here by their soul's call. But I am not one of those fortunate ones. Where they hear the soul's call, I hear the calls of a thousand devils and if it were not for your love – well, no, – for your Power (which I firmly believe in), I would end up myself by being one of those devils. I hope you will believe that this is not a conceited statement.
It is very conceited. To be a devil needs a considerable personal capacity or else a great openness to the Beyond. If you had said, I can only be an ordinary human being, that might be modest.
We don't mean to give you a compliment when we say these things.
Of course not. It is the reverse of complimentary, since you prove me to be an ignorant and mistaken fellow of an Avatar, who merrily wastes his time doing things which are of no earthly use to any human being – except perhaps Arjuna who is not here.
We say that the Sun is a thing apart, not to be measured by any human standards.
The Sun's rays are of use to somebody – you say all my acts and life and laborious opening of the way I thought I had made for spiritual realisation, are of no use to anybody – since nobody is strong enough to follow the path, only the Avatar can do it. Poor lonely ineffective fellow of an Avatar!
We respect him, adore him, lay ourselves bare to his light, but we do not follow him.
Who is this we? Editorial “we”?
Let me point out one or two facts in a perfectly serious spirit.
(1) It has always been supposed by spiritual people that divine perfection, similitude to the Divine, sādṛśya, sādharmya is part of the Mukti. Christ said “Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” – the very Divine himself, mind you, not a mere Avatar or luminous projection from him. His followers strive to be Christ-like. Thomas a Kempis, meditating and striving, wrote a book on the Imitation of Christ. Francis of Assisi and many others arrived at Christlikeness. [Krishna in] the Gita insists on sādharmya, gives himself as an example, and tells Arjuna that many before him from ancient times reached to it. Buddha in teaching karuṇā, the eightfold path, the rejection of sanskaras, gave it as an ideal to all true followers of his path, thus placing before them not only his own path but his own example. All this is trash and humbug? Christ and Buddha were fools? Myself even a bigger fool? It is not a question of greatness – it is a question of acquiring a certain consciousness to which the way is laid open. It is not a question of acquiring cosmic omniscience and omnipotence, but of reaching the essential divine consciousness with all its spiritual consequences, peace, light, equality, strength, Ananda etc., etc. If you say that that can not be done, you deny all possibility of spiritual perfection, transformation or any true Yoga. All that any one can do is to lie helpless and wait for the divine Omnipotence to do something or other. The whole spiritual past of man becomes a fantastic insanity, with the Avatars as the chief lunatics. That is the materialist point of view; but I am unable to envisage it as a basis for sadhana. That example is not all, is true; I have not said it is; there is Influence, there is spiritual help – but the truth of the Way and the Example cannot be belittled in this scornful fashion.
(2) You make nothing of the Divine in man. If there is no divinity in man, then there is no possibility of Avatarhood; also spirituality can just as well pass away into silence – it has no foundation here. If the divinity is there in man, it can break through its coatings. You admit that it can do it in debauchees and moral insolvents – that it can manifest in ignorant and uncultured men and women is a proved fact; the Gita itself declares that all kinds of men and women can follow its path. Whether X or Y12 does or does not [do] so does not depend then on these things and it is no use trying to bar the path to people because of either their ignorance or their immorality. To do so is to betray a bottomless ignorance of spiritual things. As to the possibility of awakening the psychic being, on what intellectual grounds or by what fixed ethical or rational rules are you going to fix that and declare “No entry here for you”? You cannot generalise in the way you try to do by an intellectual reasoning. The mystery of the Spirit is too great for such a puny endeavour.
1 I.e. a typed letter of 5 pages taking up the subject of Avatarhood. See letter of March 6, 1935.
2 Here begins my typed letter. Sri Aurobindo's answer, written in hand on the same sheets, was never sent. I first read it after it was discovered among some old papers of Sri Aurobindo in 1981.
3 Centenary Edition, Vol. 13, p. 149.
4 Ibid., pp. 149-50.
5 Ibid., pp. 155-56.
6 Sri Aurobindo underlined “mere shams”.
7 Ibid., p. 157.
8 Sri Aurobindo underlined “rogue or the eternal sinner”.
9 Sri Aurobindo underlined “perfect equanimity”
10 Sri Aurobindo underlined “Arjunas only”.
11 Note that Sri Aurobindo wrote X and Y in the MS. Here they are not editorial substitutions.
12 Here also Sri Aurobindo wrote X and Y in the MS.