By C.V. Devan Nair
This is the first part of the address Devan Nair gave to the Sri Aurobindo 125th Anniversary Commemorative Conference (the All USA Meeting) in Phoenicia, New York, in July 1997.
hose of us who indulge in nail-biting anxiety about the way the world, or our own lives, are going, and busily contribute our own frenetic opinions as to what should or should not be done about the entire mess, might usefully recall the delicious irony of the answer Sri Aurobindo once gave to some know-all who thought the world was being grievously mismanaged: The power that governs the universe is at least as wise as you and it is not absolutely necessary that you should be consulted or indulged in its management; God is seeing to it.
In her own unique way, Mother observed:
Nobody knows the exact truth of things here. And each one speaks as if he knows, but in fact nobody knows.
As we approach the beginning, on August 15 this year, of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Sri Aurobindo, we need to remind ourselves of the eternal landmark in the Universal Becoming which that birth represented. The Mother was categorical: Sri Aurobindo does not belong to the past or to history. Sri Aurobindo is the future advancing towards its realization.
We might also recall a message Mother issued on June 20, 1972, about 17 months before she left her mortal mold: Sri Aurobindo is an emanation of the Supreme who came on earth to announce the manifestation of a new race and a new world: the supramental.
he entire universe is a Great Becoming, which began, according to our scientists with what they call the "Big Bang." They are not qualified to tell us who or what caused the Big Bang.
Billions of years later, our little earth, less than a tiny speck in the appalling immensities of the physical universe, was tossed out from a minor sun at the rim of a rather mediocre galaxy stretching hundreds of thousands of light years across space -- a fiery little ball spinning in ceaseless orbit round its sun. That tiny ball concealed in its very makeup the womb of yet another Great Becoming.
No need for an inferiority complex because of the inconsequential speck of dust our earth is in the universe. For Sri Aurobindo tell us: Earth-life is the self-chosen habitation of a Great Divinity and his aeonic will is to change it from a blind prison into his splendid mansion and high heaven-reaching temple.
The all-seeing Eye of the transcendent Divine was, and is, the only witness of ITS own becoming in time and space. But becoming is only a relative word for time-bound, earth-bound creatures like ourselves -- not for the all-seeing Eye that embraces in a single, simultaneous vision past, present and future: trikala drshti, as the rishis of old called it.
But here, all we can do is to keep our noses to the grindstone of becoming. And the sooner we can become what we are willy-nilly driven to become, the better for ourselves and for the world we inhabit.
We need note now only the following significant landmarks in that Great Becoming. There were others on which we need not dwell here. Most of them are hidden in what Shakespeare called, in an astonishing line of a sonnet: ". . . the dark backward and abysm of Time."
First to emerge from the sleep of inconscient nature was life in cell, plasm, and germ. Then with a seemingly aeonic graduality, at first barely noticeable, but later with a calculably, exponentially increasing acceleration, came plant, animal, ape, and just a few million years ago, mental man. The mental interregnum, like each one of its premental predecessors, is only a drop, a very tiny drop, in the ocean of time. There is much more to come after the human.
No doubt jellyfish, shark, lion, and ape before us regarded, each its own species, as the apex of creation. But these were merely transit stations on the evolutionary road. And so are we humans -- transitional animals, as Sri Aurobindo called us. So no need either for a superiority complex. Many of us, and in particular our presidents, prime ministers, congressmen, members of parliament, and similar know-alls of all stripes, succumb to the same egregious illusion of being at the apex of creation.
ri Aurobindo and Mother came to shatter that illusion, and several other illusions besides -- whether of grandeur or of futility. They SAW and KNEW differently. We recall certain lines in Savitri:
All life is fixed in an ascending scaleOn November 27, 1971, Mother asked a disciple (Satprem) to prepare for All-India Radio the text of a worldwide communication for Sri Aurobindo's centenary. She outlined the theme of what should be said and, of course, provided the necessary force and inspiration to do so. It occurred to me that the best I could do today is to quote that text here (translated from the French original), directly inspired as it was by the Mother herself, and still of enormous relevance for the 125th centenary of that seminal birth.
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Sri Aurobindo and the Earth's Futureby Satprem
ometimes a great wandering thought sees the ages still unaccomplished, seizes the Force in its eternal flow and precipitates upon earth the powerful vision, which is like a power of realizing what it sees. The world is a vision becoming real. Indeed its past and its present are not the result of an obscure impulse coming from the womb of time, of a slow accumulation of sediments which little by little molds us -- and stifles us and imprison us. It is the powerful golden attraction of the future which draws us in spite of ourselves, as the sun draws the lotus from the mud, and forces us to a glory greater than any our mud or efforts or present triumphs could have foreseen or created.
Sri Aurobindo is this vision and this power of precipitating the future into the present. What he saw in an instant the ages and millions of men will unwittingly accomplish. Unknowingly they will seek the new imperceptible quiver that has entered the earth's atmosphere. From age to age great beings come amongst us to hew a great opening of Truth in the sepulcher of the past. They come with the sword of Knowledge to shatter our fragile empires.
This year, we are celebrating Sri Aurobindo's birth centenary. He is known to barely a handful of men and yet his name will resound when the great men of today or yesterday are buried under their own debris. His work is discussed by philosophers, praised by poets, people acclaim his sociological vision and his yoga -- but Sri Aurobindo is a living ACTION, a Word becoming real, and every day in the thousand circumstances that seem to want to rend the earth and topple its structures we can witness the first reflux of the Force he has set in motion. At the beginning of this century, when India was still struggling against British domination, Sri Aurobindo asserted: "It is not a revolt against the British Government [that is needed] . . . It is, in fact, a revolt against the whole universal Nature." (3)
For the problem is fundamental. It is not a question of bringing a new philosophy to the world or new ideas or illuminations, as they are called. The question is not of making the prison of our lives more habitable, or of endowing man with ever more fantastic powers. Armed with his microscopes and telescopes, the human gnome remains a gnome, pain-ridden and helpless. We send rockets to the moon, but we know nothing of our own hearts.
t is a question, says Sri Aurobindo, "of creating a new physical nature which is to be the habitation of the Supramental being in a new evolution." (4) For, in actuality, he says, "the imperfection of Man is not the last word of Nature, but his perfection too is not the last peak of the Spirit." (5) Beyond the mental man we are, there exists the possibility of another being who will be the spearhead of evolution as man was once the spearhead of evolution among the great apes.
"If," says Sri Aurobindo, "the animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man, man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious cooperation she wills to work out the superman, the god." (6)
Sri Aurobindo has come to tell us how to create this other being, this supramental being, and not only to tell us but actually to create this other being and open the path of the future, to hasten upon earth the rhythm of evolution, the new vibration that will replace the mental vibration -- exactly as a thought one day disturbed the slow routine of the beasts -- and will give us the power to shatter the walls of our human prison.
Indeed, the prison is already starting to collapse. "The end of a stage of evolution," announced Sri Aurobindo, "is usually marked by a powerful recrudescence of all that has to go out of the evolution." (7) Everywhere about us we see this paroxysmal shattering of all the old forms: our borders, our churches, our laws, our morals are all collapsing on all sides. They are not collapsing because we are bad, immoral, irreligious, or because we are not sufficiently rational, scientific or human, but because we have come to the end of the human! To the end of the old mechanism -- for we are on our way to SOMETHING ELSE.
he world is not going through a moral crisis but through an "evolutionary crisis." We are not going towards a better world -- nor, for that matter, towards a worse one -- we are in the midst of a MUTATION to a radically different world, as different as the human world was from the ape world of the Tertiary Era. We are entering a new era, a supramental Quinary.
We leave our countries, wander aimlessly, we go looking for drugs, for adventure, we go on strike here, enact reforms there, foment revolutions and counterrevolutions. But all this is only an appearance; in fact, unwittingly, we are looking for the new being. We are in the midst of human evolution.
And Sri Aurobindo gives us the key. It may be that the sense of our own revolution escapes us because we try to prolong that which already exists, to refine it, improve it, sublimate it. But the ape may have made the same mistake amid its revolution that produced man; perhaps it sought to become a superape, better equipped to climb trees, hunt, and run, a more agile and clever ape. With Nietzche we too sought a "superman" who was nothing more than a colossalization of man, and with the spiritualists a supersaint more richly endowed with virtue and wisdom.
But human virtue and wisdom are useless! Even when carried to their highest heights they are nothing more than the old poverties gilded over, the obverse of our tenacious misery. "Supermanhood," says Sri Aurobindo, "is not man climbed to his own natural zenith, not a superior degree of human greatness, knowledge, power, intelligence, will . . . genius . . . saintliness, love, purity or perfection." (8) It is SOMETHING ELSE, another vibration of being, another consciousness.
ut if this new consciousness is not to be found on the peaks of the human, where then, are we to find it? Perhaps, quite simply in that which we have most neglected since we entered the mental cycle, in the body. The body is our base, our evolutionary foundation, the old stock to which we always return, and which painfully compels our attention by making us suffer, age, and die.
"In that imperfection," Sri Aurobindo assures us, "is the urge towards a higher and more many-sided perfection. It contains the last finite which yet yearns to the Supreme Infinite . . . God is pent in the mire . . . but the very fact imposes a necessity to break through that prison." (9)
That is the old, uncured Illness, the unchanged root, the dark matrix of our misery, hardly different now from what it was in the time of Lemuria. It is this physical substance which we must transform, otherwise it will topple, one after another, all the human or superhuman devices we try to graft on it. This body, this physical cellular substance contains "almighty powers," (10) a dumb consciousness that harbors all the lights and all the infinitudes, just as much as the mental and spiritual immensities do.
For in truth, all is Divine and unless the Lord of all the universe resides in a single little cell he resides nowhere. It is this original, dark cellular prison we must break open; for as long as we have not broken it, we will continue to turn vainly in the golden or iron circles of our mental prison. "These laws of Nature," says Sri Aurobindo, "that you call absolute . . . merely mean a groove in which Nature is accustomed to work in order to produce certain results. But, if you change the consciousness, then the groove is also bound to change." (11)
uch is the new adventure to which Sri Aurobindo invites us, an adventure into man's unknown. Whether we like it or not, the whole earth is moving into a new groove, but why shouldn't we like it? Why shouldn't we collaborate in this great, unprecedented adventure? Why shouldn't we collaborate in our own evolution, instead of repeating endlessly the same old story, instead of chasing hallucinatory paradises that will never quench our thirst or otherworldly paradises which leave the earth to rot along with our bodies?
"Why be born if it is to get out at the end?" exclaims the Mother who continues Sri Aurobindo's work. "What is the use of having struggled so much, suffered so much, of having created something which, in its outer appearance at least, is so tragic and dramatic, if it is only to learn how to get out of it -- it would have been better not to start at all . . . Evolution is not a tortuous course that brings us back, somewhat battered, to the starting point. Quite the contrary, it is meant," says Mother, "to teach the whole of creation the joy of being, the beauty of being, the grandeur of being, the majesty of a sublime life, and the perpetual development, perpetually progressive, of this joy, this beauty, this grandeur. Then everything has a meaning." (12)
This body, this obscure beast of burden we inhabit, is the experimental field of Sri Aurobindo's yoga -- which is a yoga of the whole earth, for one can easily understand that if a single being among our millions of sufferings succeeds in negotiating the evolutionary leap, the mutation of the next age, the face of the earth will be radically altered. Then all the so-called powers of which we boast today will seem like childish games before the radiance of this almighty embodied spirit.
Sri Aurobindo tells us that it is possible -- not only possible but that it will be done. It is being done. And perhaps everything depends not so much on a sublime effort of humanity to transcend its limitations -- for that means still using our own human strength to free ourselves from human strength -- as on a call, a conscious cry of the earth to this new being which the earth already carries within itself.
ll is already there, within our hearts, the supreme Source which is the supreme Power -- only we must call it into our forest of cement, we must understand the meaning of man, the meaning of ourselves. The amplified cry of the earth, of its millions of men and women who cannot bear it anymore, who no longer accept their prison, must open a crack to let the new vibration in. Then all the apparently ineluctable laws that bind us in their hereditary and scientific groove will crumble before the joy of the "sun-eyed children." (13)
"Expect nothing from death," says Mother, "life is your salvation. It is in life that you must transform yourself. It is on earth that you progress and on earth that you realize. It is in the body that you win the Victory." (14)
"Nor let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear," says Sri Aurobindo, "for it is the hour of the unexpected." (15)
C.V. Devan Nair is former president of the Republic of Singapore. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.