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SAVITRI - Surrender and the Void

Author: Rod Hemsell

Last Updated: June 13, 2007

SAVITRI - Surrender and the Void (Commentaries based on a course given from Jan. to Mar. 2006 at Savitri Bhavan by Rod) The Theme of the Void There is a line of Savitri that occurs at the end of the first section of Book 1, Canto 5, which has extraordinary mantric value. It reads, In the Void he saw throned the Omniscience Supreme, and just opposite that line on the facing page, Sri Aurobindo says: The Immortals pride refused the doom to live/ A miser of the scanty bargain made/ Between our littleness and bounded hopes/ And the compassionate Infinitudes. Here, near the beginning of the compendium of yogic wisdom that is Savitri, we have an emphatic statement of what Sri Aurobindo has elsewhere called the refusal of the ascetic, proclaimed to be the law of spiritual life. His height repelled the lowness of earths state. But what I find most interesting to notice is that the Void, the Omniscience Supreme, and the compassionate Infinitudes, are juxtaposed in this way by Sri Aurobindo. The idea that the Void and Mind, with a capital M, and infinite Compassion, are the fundamental truths of existence, and of the experience of Aswapatis yoga, is something that Sri Aurobindo is clearly very interested in having us realize. The theme of the Void will continue to be developed throughout the first three cantos of the book that will be our focus, the Book of the Divine Mother, especially in the canto we will read tonight, The Pursuit of the Unknowable, which is fully devoted to that theme, and later just as fully developed in Savitris yoga in the Book of Yoga. In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo emphasizes the importance of this theme to the yoga of transformation in explicit terms: Behind the traditional way of knowledge, justifying its thought process of elimination and withdrawal, stands an overmastering spiritual experience, deep, intense, convincing, common to all who have overstepped a certain limit of the active mind belt, into the horizonless inner space. This is the great experience of liberation. The consciousness of something within us that is behind and outside all its forms, interests, aims, events and happenings, calm, untouched, unconcerned, illimitable, immobile, free. The uplook to something above us indecipherable and unseizable which by abolition of our personality we can enter. The presence of an omnipresent eternal witness Purusha, the sense of an infinity or a timelessness that looks down on us from an august negation of all our existence and is alone the one thing real. This experience is the highest sublimation of spiritualised mind looking resolutely beyond its own existence. No one who has not passed through this liberation can be entirely free from the mind and its meshes. But, one is not compelled to linger in this experience forever. (SY, p.278) This experience of the Void is the experience of the purusha, the psychic being they are the same. But this Void is not what we think of as, - maybe something negative, - maybe something neutral, - maybe something positive. It is not any of those. It is beyond mental conception. And Sri Aurobindo works very hard in Savitri to create a sensation, a perception, a knowledge of what exactly that is. And so, this theme recurs again and again because it is as central to Sri Aurobindos yoga as it is to Rajayoga and to many Mahayana Buddhist teachings. In the last three sections of Book 1, Canto 5, Sri Aurobindo again and again speaks of Mind with a capital M, referring to the paraprakriti or divine supermind, and its essential role in spiritual realization and evolution: Mind is a mediator divinity:/ Its powers can undo all Natures work:/ Mind can suspend or change earths concrete law./ It makes the bodys sleep a puissant arm,/ Holds still the breath, the beatings of the heart,/ While the unseen is found, the impossible done,/ In its own plane a shining emperor,/ Even in this rigid realm Mind can be king. Here he is not talking about the human mental mind, or the higher mind, or the intuitive mind. He is talking about the Supermind. And the proof comes in these last sections. It begins: A border sovereign is the occult Force. If we are going to know experientially, if we are going to perceive directly, the nature of the Void, it is going to be because the occult force of the Divine Mother presses our normal reactive apparatus into submission. The Force of yoga does what tantric Buddhism, which is an underlying thematic knowledge here, achieves through inordinate practice. So we can dispense with the inordinate practice but we must still practise. And that Force must perform in us this abolition of the personality, this absolute quietude, with the support of our call and sacrifice. In order for us to perceive this Void in which the Omniscience Supreme is throned, because they are one this understanding doesnt come about through the mind. A border sovereign is the occult force/ A threshold guardian of the earth scenes beyond./ She has canalized the outbreak of the gods/ And cut through vistas of intuitive sight/ A long road of shimmering discoveries/... Above her lightened high immensities. And then, after an amazing description of her creative journey through all the descending and ascending planes of divine Mind, that which lies beyond the endless climb and adventure of the Idea, its source and aim, is revealed: A last high world was seen where all worlds meet;/ In its summit gleam where Night is not nor Sleep,/ The light began of the Trinity Supreme. Beyond the mediatrix Supermind lies the supreme Satchidananda. For that realization, the Void of complete self-abnegation and surrender to Her are shown to be the mysterious key and passage. The Adoration of the Divine Mother One can easily imagine that this second canto of Book 3 is the expression of the central theme of the yoga of Sri Aurobindo, and therefore it is particularly important. I think this is so. It is perhaps an ultimate, or at least a penultimate, statement of the absolute necessity and profound significance of the idea of Surrender. Sri Aurobindo makes it extremely clear and explicit in this canto what the word or idea of Surrender means, and yet it is still, inherently, a very difficult movement to grasp integrally, and to practise. And yet the canto is quite short, and you can read it in the same amount of time as you take to read the newspaper, and you can read it in the same way. Its quite simply stated and easy to read. However, if you read it in that way you wont have a clue as to what he is talking about. I tried it, and it doesnt work. It is deceptively simple. But if we render the canto as a mantra, in the spirit of practice, we have to perform the Vedic sacrifice and make it the expression of our call and our complete self giving. It comes from the Void. The first movement of that self giving is a total, total and absolute, surrender. This canto really only speaks to us when we have done that. It is the expression of that. This reminds me of the Dalai Lamas comment when he was giving a yoga teaching, and he said that the teaching had previously not been given publicly. This teaching normally required three years of rigorous practice and six weeks to deliver, he said. And yet he was giving it to a lay audience in three days. He said that now, those who were ready for it could have it. This secret teaching could be offered openly, for the first time. It was the teaching known as dzogchen the spontaneous arising of the clear light mind. I happen to believe that there are many similarities between this tradition of transmission and the meaning of Savitri. And because the theme of this canto, which is recurring throughout Savitri, is the theme of the Void as an ultimate realization of the presence of the divine, through which and in which the new consciousness can emerge, I would like to mention this connection with highest yoga tantra in Buddhism. Sri Aurobindo says in an early chapter of The Life Divine, The Non-Being permits the Being, even as the Silence permits the Activity. By this simultaneous negation and affirmation, not mutually destructive but complementary to each other like all contraries, the simultaneous awareness of conscious Self-being as a reality, and the Unknowable beyond as the same Reality becomes realizable to the awakened human soul. Thus was it possible for the Buddha to attain the state of Nirvana, and yet act puissantly in the world, impersonal in his inner consciousness, in his action the most powerful personality that we know of as having lived and produced results upon earth. For we find that this Nirvana, this self-extinction, while it gives an absolute peace and freedom to the soul within , is yet consistent in practice with a desireless but effective action without. This possibility of an entire motionless impersonality and void Calm doing outwardly the works of the eternal verities, - Love, Truth, Righteousness - was perhaps the real gist of the Buddhas teaching - this superiority to ego and to the chain of personal workings, and to the identification with mutable form and idea, not the petty ideal of an escape from the trouble and suffering of the physical birthThus, after reconciling spirit and matter in the cosmic consciousness, we perceive the reconciliation in the transcendental consciousness of the final assertion of all, and its negation. (LD, p.29-30) So this transformation of consciousness is a very subtle change from perceiving everything outwardly, through the senses and mental impressions, to perceiving everything inwardly, without sensations and mental impressions, by another instrumentation, another faculty, another energetic of consciousness. It is very subtle, and this canto is telling us exactly how that subtle change happens. But its not in the lines of the canto. You dont catch it by reading and reflecting on each line on the page. It comes through the process of sacrifice. It is a realization of the mantric transmission that happens through us by the invocation of Savitri. And it takes time. The active intention must persevere for as long as it takes. In several cantos of Savitri there are expressions of how activity in the world can take place from that position of being/non-being, and absolute calm. There are many descriptions of how that can take place, especially in the Book of Yoga, which is the yoga of Savitri. In the yoga of Aswapati, this transition takes place after all of his practice, or tapasya, and is the transition into identification with the Supreme. In the next canto, The House of the Spirit, it is also a transition into the experience of the perception of the world when the psychic being is totally in front. And in the experience of Aswapati, it is revealed dramatically to be also the transformation into an ultimate compassion for humanity and the world, which is expressed absolutely in the last canto in the cycle. The final work is that work of compassion. It brings about the descent of Savitri for the salvation of the world. So what is the difference between the Buddhist teaching and this one. In the Mothers Agenda, she says somewhere that now she understands that the Buddhist teaching is something that has to be learned and realized, not as a final step but in order to take the next step. In itself it doesnt make possible the taking of that next step. It didnt bring that special connection with the divine, that new force, into the reach of mortal consciousness. We can reflect that perhaps, historically or psychologically, humanity wasnt ready, or that this teaching had to come first. However, Sri Aurobindo is conveying in Savitri the spirit and power of that realization as a passage to something very specific, which we might call the yoga of Sri Aurobindo, or the yoga of transformation. When I make such comments on Buddhism, or on the Upanishads or Gita, I try to emphasize that this is Sri Aurobindo, its not really the Upanishad or Gita per se. What Sri Aurobindo calls the synthesis of yoga is an understanding of how the movements of yoga can be utilized for this particular change of consciousness, and not for the realizations of the past. And so his works are not really translations or commentaries on ancient texts, but vehicles, like the emptiness, like the void, for a passage and the entry of a power that is different. So Nachiketas learns the teaching of yoga from Death in the Katha Upanishad. And that is a necessary realization, and much of Savitri is about that. But its not for the realization of the stillness of death or the Emptiness, but for the transformation of death, the transformation of spiritual consciousness. This idea of transformation is the unique combination of the teaching, lessons and realization of yoga in order for something else to happen. In a way, all of the teachings are still valid, and in a way they are just stepping stones for something else that is specific. We are trying to learn what that is. And we are allowing Savitri the word, Savitri the silence, Savitri the golden bridge, to bring us into the realm of that possibility. Out of whatever we are, into whatever that is. And the way? 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. Selfs vast spiritual silence occupies Space; Only the Inconceivable is left, Only the Nameless, without space and time: Abolished is the burdening need of life: Thought falls from us, we cease from joy and grief; The ego is dead; we are freed from being and care, We have done with birth and death and work and fate. O soul, it is too early to rejoice! (Savitri, Bk.3, C.2, p.310) On the cosmic murmur primal loneliness fell, Annulled was the contact formed with time-born things, Empty grew Natures wide community. All things were brought back to their formless seed, The world was silent for a cyclic hour. Then suddenly there came a downward look. As if a sea exploring its own depths, A living Oneness widened at its core And joined him to unnumbered multitudes. A Bliss, a Light, a Power, a flame-white Love Caught all into a sole immense embrace; Existence found its truth on Oneness breast And each became the self and space of all. ( Savitri, Bk.3, C.3, p.322-323) Nirvana in the Brahman The theme of the three cantos that we have heard in The Book of the Divine Mother, is the theme of Nirvana in the Brahman. And as we read in Sanskrit last week, to make the bridge, there are these slokas in the Gita. He who has the inner happiness and the inner ease and repose, and the inner light, that Yogin becomes the Brahman and reaches self-extinction in the Brahman brahmanirvanam. Sages win Nirvana in the Brahman. They in whom the stains of sin are effaced and the knot of doubt is cut asunder. Masters of their selves, who are occupied in doing good to all creatures. Yatis, those who practice self-mastery by Yoga and austerity, who are delivered from desire and wrath and have gained self-mastery, for them Nirvana in the Brahman exists all about them, encompasses them. They already live in it because they have knowledge of the Self. (The Message of the Gita, p.92-93) And Sri Aurobindo says in his commentary on these passages: By Nirvana in the Brahman must be meant a destruction or extinction of the limited separative consciousness, falsifying and dividing, which is brought into being on the surface of existence by the lower Maya of the three gunas, and entry into Nirvana is a passage into this other true unifying consciousness which is the heart of existence and its continent and its whole containing and supporting, its whole original and eternal and final truth. The power of the Karmayoga comes in again; the knowledge of the active Brahman. The cosmic supersoul, is insisted on among the conditions of the peace of Nirvana. We get back to the great idea of the Gita, the idea of the Purushottama the Transcendent, the Self, the All. He is the enjoyer of all sacrifice and of all tapasya, therefore shall the seeker of liberation do works as a sacrifice and as a tapasya; he is the lord of all the worlds, manifested in Nature and in these beings, therefore shall the liberated man still do works for the right government and leading on of the peoples in these worlds. He is the friend of all existences, therefore is the sage who has found Nirvana within him and all around, still and always, occupied with the good of all creatures even as the Nirvana of Mahayana Buddhism took for its highest sign the works of a universal compassion. (Ibid. p.93,95) And so, in the canto we are going to read tonight, called The Vision and the Boon, which is the central canto of Savitri and perhaps the most difficult to read, because the most powerful and the most perfect, Sri Aurobindo culminates his yoga tapsya of Nirvana in the Brahman, realizes the descent of the Divine Mother in him, and then invokes the force of transformation for the earth, as an ultimate act of sacrifice. In this canto is contained everything that is meant by sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. This is the summation of the movement of invocation, self-giving, and affirmation, the absolute affirmation of the divine in existence. This is also therefore the culmination of the yoga of transformation, the disappearance of the ego, dwelling in the divine emptiness, and then the descent into it of That, and then the work of That manifesting the new consciousness on earth, in the self of all. Then suddenly there rose a sacred stir. Amid the lifeless silence of the Void In a solitude and an immensity A sound came quivering like a loved footfall Heard in the listening spaces of the soul; A touch perturbed his fibres with delight. An Influence had approached the mortal range, A boundless Heart was near his longing heart, A mystic Form enveloped his earthly shape. A divinizing stream possessed his veins, His bodys cells awoke to spirit sense, Each nerve became a burning thread of joy: Tissue and flesh partook beatitude. (Savitri, Bk.3, C.4, p.334)


Savitri -Surrender and the Void.doc