The Tragedy of Earth



By Sonia Dyne

This review is reprinted by permission from the newsletter of the Singapore Sri Aurobindo Society.

La Tragedie de la Terre, by Satprem.
Robert Laffont: Paris, 1996.

M any of our readers will no doubt be disappointed to learn that Satprem's latest book is not yet available in English. We have come to expect something remarkable from this most passionate advocate of Sri Aurobindo and devoted disciple of the Mother. The Tragedy of Earth lives up to our expectations.

The first surprise is a double frontispiece consisting of two full-face portraits: Sophocles and Sri Aurobindo side by side, an invitation to compare and contrast the historical significance of these two great lives.

The second surprise is to see Savitri quite extensively quoted in French -- the author's own translation. (As far as this reviewer is qualified to judge, it is very well done.) Sri Aurobindo's interpretation of the Vedas also appear in a French translation.

But most surprising of all are the graphic accounts of Satprem's personal experiences of a new way of being human in a body that, as he describes it, challenges death with every breath.

The Tragedy of Earth is such an unusual book that the reviewer can do no better than to let Satprem explain in his own words the idea behind its conception:

Sophocles, a contemporary of Socrates and Buddha, incarnates a great turning point in the history of our human consciousness and destiny at a moment when we were balanced on the brink of the modern barbarism of our post-Socratic era. "Are we then slaves?" asks Sophocles. "Are we then fated to come to nothing?" And he looks at death with another unspoken question: "O Monster yet unconquered . . . !"

At the other end of this Age of Iron, which has been the age of the great religions and of science, and some ten thousand years after the extraordinary Vedic seers who hymned the dawn of mankind, Sri Aurobindo, a revolutionary of consciousness and evolution, looks at the same questions but through Vedic eyes and will the will to DO SOMETHING this time around.

Between the post-Socratic West, believing only in a mechanical mastery of matter, and post-Vedic Asia, believing only in liberation from matter, Sri Aurobindo incarnates another great turning point of our human destiny, perhaps the final one, when we must recover our own "divine power over matter," as the Vedas affirmed it -- the reality of our immortality in matter itself -- or perish from the powerlessness of our mechanisms. The cosmogony of a world plays out its Greek tragedy, but it is Earth itself that must either escape from its imprisoning walls or, like Antigone, suffer yet another defeat.

F or Satprem, no poet in history surpassed Sophocles in his power to evoke the stark tragedy of human life on earth. No poet ever asked more searching questions, or hinted more poignantly at the profound mystery of the hope that "springs eternal" as if in defiance of human destiny haunted by defeat and death.

Until Sri Aurobindo. The birth of Sri Aurobindo signals another great turning point: this time a poet of genius will not simply express the longing in the soul of man in language of incomparable beauty and grandeur, but will incarnate the power to bring about a decisive change.

Sri Aurobindo will rediscover the secret lost to mankind for countless ages: the secret of the Vedas, as he called it, a secret that can be known only as it is lived. If the Vedas are the "old" testament then Savitri is the new; and Sri Aurobindo the last of the Angirasa rishis, the "human fathers," discovers of the "great passage" through death to immortality.

An unusual letter was published in the February 1996 issue of Mother India under the title, "A letter from a westerner who visited India for the first time." The writer describes an experience remarkably similar to the description given by Satprem, so it may interest our readers to read both accounts. The westerner writes:

After a while the meditation near Sri Aurobindo's relics began. Soon after I sat down, the great force came into me. It was absolutely new. It was rushing in alike a mighty stream through the entire front of my body from the side of the relics and filling me as if I were an empty vessel. (It was not like other times when the force was descending from above like a pressure.) My thoughts were still and I felt all the outlines of my body and only the fast beatings of my heart. The only thing I could do was to watch like an impartial person what was going on and try also not to burst out!

After the meditation I felt there was nothing separating me from the surroundings, as if some wall had fallen down. It was a real, strong, physical sense which my skeptical mind accepted with wonder. Sometime ago I had read Sri Aurobindo's words describing the Supermind: "You can say that the Supermind is harder than diamond and yet more fluid than gas." (Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo by A.B. Purani, p. 478.) I was overjoyed. I have found it is the exact characterization of the Force and the way I had felt it!

L et us turn now to what Satprem has written about his experience of the past ten years:

The remarkable thing is the continuity of the phenomenon. Once the initial shock of the chaos is admitted, accepted, and recognized by that wonderful cellular base, the chaos continues -- a perpetual chaos -- but certain lines or trackways of the implacable onslaught stand out, the body becomes aware that the dense flow is somehow linked to the movement of respiration: it is exactly as if another way of breathing were making use of the mechanical support of the old bronchial tubes -- you breath in and out but instead of stopping there and filling only the lungs, that new respiration invades the entire body all at once: in a fraction of a second it goes down as far as the feet and seems to rebound below the ground and back up in another fraction of a second (the "expiration"), and then it begins again . . . on and on like the movement of breathing: going up and down, up and down, like a power hammer that never stops. IT HAS STARTED.

The phenomenon has started and one can no more call a halt to it than one can call a halt to breathing. It keeps pouring down from above in a tremendous flood (but isn't oxygen the downpour needed by us?). This is another kind of oxygen, and that is where words fail us: it is fluid, but crushing in its density, as if the air had become solid, and it is as swift and instantaneous as a flash of lightning. Sri Aurobindo said: "The Supermind is harder than diamond and more fluid than gas."

It is a different principle of life. Perhaps -- (comparisons are misleading because they refer to different models of the same physical nature) -- perhaps it is as if a fish tried to breathe the open air. But this is a totally different "air" unknown on earth or never directly breathed by the old species. And the body learns that it is Life itself, as if Life had never been here but only Living Death. Sadly this old living corpse continues to have the same physical substance and knows neither how to assimilate "that" nor how to bear it. But it is touch and go. Every second is a death to be fought off or fought through, because his whole system is against it (except those marvelous cells).

Indeed one passes through Death: it is an air that passes through the walls that make up our death -- for how could a fish breathe the open air and still remain a fish? How could an astronaut breathe without his space suit? Our comparisons mislead us because they always refer to a physical environment that we know -- and we are speaking of another "environment," one that is supreme and divine and knows what it is doing and is free from the unconscious brutality of the mechanistic phenomena familiar to us.

Yet the difficulty remains, the old physiological diving suit has the habit of breathing its old mortal air at the accustomed pressure. But that other "air" wants to do away with every trace of death in our system.

W hat is happening here? To Satprem the answer is clear: he seems to be experiencing in his own body the possibility of an evolutionary change too astonishing to comprehend: the physical change predicted by Sri Aurobindo as a prelude to the supramental transformation itself.

We can only salute his courage, for the process sounds uncomfortable to say the least. In a letter to a disciple, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

The process is a spiritual evolutionary process, concentrated into a brief period; it could be done otherwise (by what men would regard as a miraculous intervention) only if the human mind were more flexible and less attached to its ignorance than it is. As we envisage it, it must manifest in a few first and then spread, but it is not likely to overpower the earth in a moment.

It is not advisable to discuss too much what it will do and how it will do it, because these are things the Supermind itself will fix, acting out of the Divine Truth in it, and the mind must not try to fix for it grooves into which it will run. Naturally the release from subconscient ignorance and from disease, duration of life at will, and a change in the functionings of the body must be among the ultimate elements of a supramental change; but the details of these things must be left for the supramental Energy to work out according to the Truth of its own nature.

The descent of the supramental is an inevitable necessity in the logic of things and is therefore sure. It is because people do not understand what the Supermind is or realise the significance of the emergence of consciousness in a world of inconscient matter that they are unable to realise this inevitability.

W e all have a tendency, as soon as we try to imagine a supramental change, to "fix for it grooves in which it will run," as Sri Aurobindo says. It pleases us to imagine the descent of light and joy, love, beauty, and power, a transformation without tears. Then we remember the Mother's tribute to Sri Aurobindo, who "worked, struggled, suffered, hoped, endured so much," and we pause to acknowledge our debt to those bold pioneers who try in all sincerity to follow the selfsame path.
* * *

Sonia Dyne is editor of the newsletter of the Singapore Sri Aurobindo Society.

Contents || Top ||