by Rod Hemsell
This is the last article in a four-part series exploring the ramifications of Sri Aurobindo's epic Savitri as mantric poetry.
Everything depends on the Word. For it is the word of creation, the very sound that brings to birth the worlds, the luminous goddess-form of the Supreme:
Tat savitur varam rupam jyotih parasya dhimahi
yannah satyena dipayet.1
and it shall illumine us with the Truth. For as Sri Aurobindo affirms often enough in Savitri, "She is the golden bridge, the wonderful fire ... She is the Force, the inevitable Word."
It is arguable, perhaps--the seer having received this boon of drsti, sruti, smrti in a clairaudient trance, as the simultaneous inevitable revelation of the truth of his realization, thence to be delivered forth by him as mantric verse for the subsequent illumination of fit hearers--that this sacred word might best be read, and received, by the listening heart of a clairaudient silence. And for those gifted with clairaudience (as we know from Sri Aurobindo's diaries that he was) and disposed to receiving the supramental revelation, this might well be true. But Sri Aurobindo's theory of mantra, the text of Savitri itself, and our experience, seem to support rather emphatically the notion that it is the audible sound, with its dynamics of pitch, rhythm, image, and conceptual spiritual content that has a unique potential and power to effect in the fit outward hearer the experience of which it speaks, and of which it is the living symbol.2
It is to demonstrate the truth of this hypothesis, at least in part, that we have undertaken the Savitri/Agenda experiment--a series of immersion workshops in which we simply allow the Word to be heard and absorbed, in as clear and deep a manner as we can manage at the present time. 3 And in the context and atmosphere thus created by Savitri, we turn to the Mother's Agenda with the aspiration to hear and know as profoundly and intimately as possible her experience of transformation. The effect of this attempt thus far has been overwhelmingly gratifying. And it has made dramatically clear the fact that the experience of transformation narrated by Sri Aurobindo in Savitri and by the Mother in her Agenda are one and the same. The two together create a resonance that seems to literally dissolve the membrane that separates our worlds and unite us with them in a remarkably vivid and tangible sense.
This of course will not seem too surprising to those who are familiar with their work. But what can be surprising is the degree to which one finds oneself brought face to face with their experience and into a deeply luminous identity with Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, and the work of transformation. And that of course is the point, whatever else may be said.
It is tempting, however, to take this a step further, or in fact several steps further--to grasp the extraordinary quality of the experience in its total reality, and somehow establish its importance on solid ground for ourselves and for any who might wish to pursue such a process, enter the worlds of Savitri and Satyavan with eyes open, and as the Upanishad says, "to truly find our foundation." And yet, perhaps it is only the experience itself that can achieve these goals, which certainly exceed anything that mind as we know it can analyze. Its validity is to be found only in the revelation itself, which proceeds from the Truth. And this finding is the process that Savitri narrates and establishes in us. She is the supramental force as She issues forth in goddess-form from the Divine Mother, as She descends into the consciousness and speech of the supramental Avatar, as She enwraps the subtle body of the Earth and takes physical birth in the body of the Mother, to reveal the soul and tapasya of the transformation of Death and the evolution of immortal life, and as She enters our space in the form of mantric vibration. One must simply become a channel for the sound that is Savitri and receive Her without reservation.
There are innumerable instances in Savitri that illustrate, comment upon, and reveal this truth. Perhaps a negative argument in support of this notion can be made at this point, bearing in mind that the written page is dumb, and the only real proof is in the hearing. To attempt an example, nonetheless, let us look at the first few lines of the canto titled "The Adoration of the Divine Mother."
A stillness absolute, incommunicable,
Meets the sheer self-discovery of the soul;
A wall of stillness shuts it from the world,
A gulf of stillness swallows up the sense
And makes unreal all that mind has known,
All that the labouring senses still would weave
Prolonging an imaged unreality.
I don't know how one can have the experience of the elongation of the "All" in the next to the last line, and then of the lengthening, depending, and slowing of sound that occurs with "still would weave" culminating in the extremely elongated and heavy "Prolonging," which qualifies in an indescribably accurate way the sense of the final term "unreality," without reading these lines aloud, instrumentally. The net result of reading instrumentally is to invite that stillness absolute into the spaces we are so accustomed to being filled with sensational unrealities. And that experience of stillness is a prerequisite of all that follows. It is not difficult to understand this conceptually; it is fundamental to most spiritual discipline. But Savitri has the power to actually bring about such an emptiness and stillness, instantaneously deeper than meditation usually can achieve even with considerable effort. And then we are prepared for the uplift that follows:
But where is the Lover's everlasting Yes,
And immortality in the secret heart,
The voice that chants to the creator Fire,
The symbolled OM, the great assenting Word,
The bridge between the rapture and the calm,
The passion and the beauty of the Bride,
The chamber where the glorious enemies kiss,
The smile that saves, the golden peak of things?
I know that "the golden peak of things" has a golden ring when read aloud that heightens the vibration of the whole being; that "the rapture" and "the calm" are audibly, experientially distant from each other on the spectrum of spiritual qualities and require a special bridging influence that only the swift, delicate force of Savitri can accomplish and reveal in an instant of perception; and that "the chamber where the glorious enemies kiss" is the chamber of the body when it is filled with the absolute powers of Love and Death, because these qualities are conveyed to me directly by the sound on which they arrive into audible space. I do not get the same sense of these words when I read them silently or reservedly. And when this section ends, it conveys a power and dynamism that cannot sit silently on the page:
In absolute silence sleeps an absolute Power.
Awaking, it can wake the trance-bound soul
And in the ray reveal the parent sun:
It can make the world a vessel of Spirit's force,
It can fashion in the clay God's perfect shape.
This is not merely a prophetic statement. This is precisely where Savitri reveals Her true potential. She is the power that can suddenly awaken us and make our clay feel like a vessel of God because She pours that radiant substance into us and into the space around us that is filled with Her sound and substance. ("This known as in a thunder-flash of God, The rapture of things eternal filled his limbs; Amazement fell upon his ravished sense; His spirit was caught in her intolerant flame.") She IS the stillness and the word. She IS the sweetness and the might that characterize the supramental atmosphere and being and power in this modified mantric form.
And the extent of both Her sweetness and Her might are conveyed, mystically, powerfully, and undeniably home to the soul who hears, by Her dynamic, physical embodiment in sound. That this is the intention of Sri Aurobindo's verse is made overtly apparent when, in a closely related canto a few pages on in this same book, titled "The Vision and the Boon," after a long and grievous, heroic chant of invocation to the Divine Mother to heal all this chaos, in which the might of the great Aswapathy becomes difficult for us to contain and to bear, the Mother answers him in the most incredibly sweet and mellifluous tones, with an affirmation and description of the one whom she shall send to accomplish what he has asked:
One shall descend and break the iron Law,
Change Nature's doom by the lone Spirit's power ...
A music of griefless things shall weave her charm;
The harps of the Perfect shall attune her voice,
The streams of Heaven shall murmur in her laugh,
Her lips shall be the honeycombs of God,
Her limbs his golden jars of ecstasy ...
Let us only say here, in closing, that to hear these lines in the continuous natural succession in which they occur, in their circumambience of light and sound, is to experience those streams, that laugh, and to taste that honey with those lips. When, later on, She takes birth and becomes conscious on Earth, finds Her human counterpart and thus becomes mortal, subject to the vicissitudes of matter and life and mind, and rises to Her full stature in Him at the moment of his death, we know that She is the soul of this yoga, that She is there to do this work in us, that She was the consciousness in that body at the moment of death to accomplish the work She was sent to do, and that She will always be so, forevermore. For we have heard, and this is the divine truth-force, Savitri:
A seed shall be sown in Death's tremendous hour,
A branch of heaven transplant to human soil;
Nature shall overleap her mortal step;
Fate shall be changed by an unchanging will.
As Mother says in the Agenda in 1961,
But all of that is wonderfully, accurately expressed and explained in Savitri. Only you must know how to read it! The entire last part, from the moment she goes to seek Satyavan in the realm of Death (which affords an occasion to explain this), the whole description of what happens there, right up
to the end, where every possible offer is made to tempt
her, everything she must refuse to continue her terrestrial
labor . . . it is my experience EXACTLY.
Savitri is really a condensation, a concentration of the universal Mother--the eternal universal Mother, Mother of all universes from all eternity--in an earthly personality for the Earth's salvation. And Satyavan is the soul of the Earth, the Earth's jiva. So when the Lord says, "he whom you love and whom you have chosen", it means the earth. All the details are there! When she comes back down, when Death has yielded at last, when all has been settled and the Supreme tells her, "Go, go with him, the one you have chosen," how does Sri Aurobindo describe it? He says that she very carefully takes the SOUL of Satyavan into her arms, like a little child, to pass through all the realms and come back down to earth. Everything is there! He hasn't forgotten a single detail to make it easy to understand--for someone who knows how to understand. And it is when Savitri reaches the earth that Satyavan regains his full human stature.4
As a flame disappears in endless Light
Immortally extinguished in its source,
Vanished the splendour and was stilled the word ...
Then a line moved on the far edge of calm:
The warm-lipped sentient soft terrestrial wave,
A quick and many-murmured moan and laugh,
Came gliding in upon white feet of sound.
1. Let us meditate on the most auspicious form of Savitri, on the light of the Supreme which shall illumine us with the Truth.--Sri Aurobindo's translation, Sri Aurobindo Centenary Library, vol. 26, p. 513
2. See the last issue of NexUS for a summary of Sri Auro-
bindo's theory of mantra.
3. These one-week workshops have taken place primarily at Savitri Solar Dome in the Baca, Crestone, Colorado, in
August '94, March '95, and August '95.
4. This conversation immediately precedes the one of January 24, 1961, in which the Mother describes the descent of the supramental consciousness into her body. It is a perfect complement to "The Vision and the Boon."
Rod Hemsell lives in Colorado Springs. He is conducting a series of Savitri workshops in Crestone, Colorado. For information, call (719) 471-7860.