By Rhoda P. LeCocq
The following selection is taken from pp. 198-202 of The Radical Thinkers, a book published in 1969 by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press and now out of print. The account describes the ashram atmosphere during November and December 1950, immediately preceding and subsequent to Sri Aurobindo's leaving the body.
A long line led from the main building around the block: people of every color, every style of dress, government officials and high-ranking professors, young and old, from dozens of countries, wanted to see the philosopher-sage. Each of us finally climbed the stairs to the floor where, at the end of a long narrow room, Sri Aurobindo in white and the Mother in a gold sari sat side by side upon a slightly raised platform.
As a westerner, the idea of merely passing by these two with nothing being said had struck me as a bit ridiculous. I was still unfamiliar with the Hindu idea that such a silent meeting could afford an intensely spiritual impetus. I watched as I came up in line, and I noted that the procedure was to stand quietly before the two of them for a few silent moments, then to move on at a gesture from Sri Aurobindo. What happened next was completely unexpected.
As I stepped into a radius of about four feet, there was the sensation of moving into some kind of a force field. Intuitively, I knew it was the force of Love, but not what ordinary humans usually mean by the term. These two were 'geared straight up'; they were not paying attention to me as ordinary parents might have done; yet, this unattachment seemed just the thing that healed. Suddenly, I loved them both, as spiritual 'parents.'
Then all thought ceased. I was perfectly aware of where I was; it was not 'hypnotism,' as one Stanford friend later suggested. It was simply that during those few minutes, my mind became utterly still. It seemed that I stood there a very long, an uncounted time, for there was no time. Only many years later did I describe this experience as my having experienced the Timeless in Time. When there at the darshan, there was not the least doubt in my mind that I had met two people who had experienced what they claimed. They were gnostic beings. They had realized this new consciousness, which Sri Aurobindo called the supramental. Later, this same experience made me understand what Heidegger meant by 'standing presence.'
everal days later, an English doctor staying at Golconda warned me that the condition of Sri Aurobindo's health was becoming worse. At 1:30 in the morning on December 5, 1950, he passed away of a kidney infection. About 3:30 that same morning, this was announced to everyone in the ashram. With great sorrow, I realized I had been at the last darshan at which both of them would appear together!
During the day of December 5, I hovered about the ashram grounds, feeling desolate. Already it has been decided, despite the objections of the French colonial governor, that Sri Aurobindo would be buried in the courtyard of the main building beneath a huge spreading tree. The male ashramites, including the visiting doctor, began to build the tomb. I watched the doctor, who had confided to me that he expected Sri Aurobindo to 'reveal himself as an avatar,' and he beat with his sledgehammer on the concrete slab as if he would destroy death itself.
There was weeping but no hysteria. By afternoon, men and women passed baskets of earth from hand to hand, as the digging continued beneath the tree. Then there was a new announcement. For all of us there, there would now be a second darshan. In lesser numbers, we filed through to view the body of the poet-philosopher lying upon his couch in the upper chamber.
Again, the following morning on December 6, we all filed past. The 'force field' which I mentioned earlier seemed to remain about the body and throughout the room. Dressed in white, upon a white couch before the windows, Sri Aurobindo now lay in state. Bowls of flowers stood around the couch; and at the bed's head and foot, disciples of long standing sat quietly, heads bowed.
Unexpectedly, in the afternoon, there was another darshan. Sri Aurobindo's face still did not look deathlike. The skin was golden in color, the white hair blowing on the pillow in a breeze from a fan. The aquiline profile continued to have a prophetic look. There was no odor of death and little incense was burning. To my astonishment, the repeated viewings of his body had a comforting effect.
By December 7, everyone momentarily expected the funeral. This was, after all, a tropical climate. Bodies were usually burnt as quickly as possible in India. Even the planned burial in earth was a major departure from the usual Hindu custom. The grave had now been completed with large cement blocks lining the tomb. But instead of the burial, an announcement came from the Mother:
'The funeral of Sri Aurobindo did not take place today. His body is charged with such a concentration of supramental light that there is no sign of decomposition and the body will be kept lying on his bed so long as it remains intact.'
From the French colony, already exploding with disapproval and its officials much disturbed by the burial plans, came the rumor that the body must have been 'shot with formaldehyde' secretly, to preserve it. Moreover, said the officials, the ashram was not only breaking the law in burying anyone in the garden, it was worse to keep it so long unburied. (The legal regulation was that no body should be kept unburied longer than 48 hours.)
n the morning of December 7, therefore, a French doctor representing the government, a Dr. Barbet, arrived to inspect the body of Sri Aurobindo. At the end he reported it was a 'miracle'; there was no deterioration, no rigor mortis. It was an unheard of occurrence; the weather had continued to be hot during the entire time. After this official and scientific approval, nothing further could be done to prevent another darshan.
Visitors were flocking from all over India; and the Indian newspapers now proposed that Sri Aurobindo be suggested, posthumously, for the Nobel Peace Prize.
This time, I suspected it might be the last time. Everyone and anyone was allowed into the ashram to pass by Sri Aurobindo's body: beggars in rags, curiosity seekers, villagers, ashramites, and visitors.
By December 8, silence was observed throughout the ashram grounds. Only latecomers who had just arrived in Pondicherry were allowed to view the body.
Tension grew among the ashramites, and incredible speculations became the order of the day. An Indian representative of Life magazine came around, wanting to talk to those of us from America. He told us that this phenomenon of bodily preservation after death had never taken place anywhere in India. Why, even yogis who specialized in 'live' burial had never performed such a feat. No Indian 'living saint' in history had preserved his body after death in this fashion. The Indian magazine representative wondered if Sri Aurobindo was not, after all, still alive and only in some kind of trance state or coma.
On December 9, at noon, a notice was posted that there would be a final darshan for those in the ashram at one o'clock. Later the time was changed to 2:30 p.m. and visitors from outside were allowed in first. The night before, a plane chartered by 19 people from Darjeeling had flown in. By now, in Golconda, everyone was sharing his or her room; bedrolls crowded the floors and halls of the guest house.
I had, of course, postponed my planned departure date. All of this, I realized, was a situation which would remain entirely unduplicated in my own life. I intended to remain until the end.
n the afternoon of December 9, at 5:00 p.m., the burial service finally took place after another final darshan. A feeling of force and energy remained in the atmosphere around Sri Aurobindo's vicinity, but that force had now weakened. Afterwards, in absolute silence, everyone in the ashram sat in the courtyard. The gates were locked against further curiosity seekers.
There was no orthodox religious service at the burial. The coffin, of rosewood with metal gold rings, much like an old and beautiful sea chest, was borne from the ashram and lowered into the earth. French officials, all dressed in white, made a line to the left, their faces stern, a bit superior in expression and definitely disapproving of the entire affair. Over the coffin, concrete slabs were laid. Then everyone lined up and, one by one, we scattered earth from wicker baskets. It was dark under the spreading tree when each of us had made this last farewell.
On the morning of December 10, when I visited the grave, it was already covered with flowers, incense sticks burning. It was announced that the Mother would carry on at the ashram and that a new International University would be opened.
Although the Mother had announced there would be two weeks of meditation during which she would see no one, she graciously granted me a farewell interview on December 15, at 6:00 p.m.
At 5:30 I went into the meditation hall, still very much mentally and emotionally upset by everything that had occurred. She appeared at the top of the stairs, dressed in white. When I smiled, she nodded and said: 'Come on up.'
All the questions I had meant to ask seemed to vanish. I was intensely aware that the interview itself was an imposition, when she had so recently lost the companion of 30 years. 'They say you wish to see me,' she said quietly.
Before I could think I blurted out that I seemed to be full of fears, fears of new wars, fears of this or that in my personal life.
'One must not fear,' she said. 'By fear you bring about what you fear.' I nodded, then she added; and I had a feeling she spoke to the world, not just to me: 'It's ego! Ego!'
Several personal matters were discussed, and then of spiritual development she said: 'One must have a spirit of adventure all this, you know.'
When our brief talk was over, she took a double French marigold from a bronze bowl on the edge of a small dark table, against which she had leaned an elbow while we talked. With a long look, she handed the flower to me.
nly much later, many years later, did I realize how fortunate I had been. Within the space of a year, far from my own shores, I had met three of the world's greatest human beings: Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, who had said that man had outgrown his concept of God; and these two: Sri Aurobindo and Mira Alfassa, or the Mother, who together, had attempted to give the world that new needed concept of God, as those of spiritual genius always do.
Because of them, life continues to have hope and meaning.
Rhoda LeCocq received a degree in philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies.