A celebration of faith amid the darkness

A celebration of faith amid the darkness
Pages from the life of Mirra Alfassa who arrived in Pondicherry in April 1920 and became famous as the Mother of the Aurobindo Ashram

“It matters little that there are thousands of beings plunged in the densest ignorance. He whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light,” Mirra Alfassa wrote in her diary dated March 30, 1914. She was a seeker from France who, guided by some inner conviction, had arrived at Pondicherry, then a French colony, to meet Sri Aurobindo. Subsequently renowned as the Mother, she was a spiritual child prodigy who, even before she learnt the alphabet, wondered if humanity was the highest the earth could evolve or if the mystery of evolution was yet to manifest something more sensible and perfect that would justify its experiment with species over millennia.

Mystic experience

She had gone through several phases of her quest, including delving deep into occultism through the help of probably the greatest practitioners of that lore, Max and Alma Theon of Algeria. She had several mystic experiences, but they were all to prove to be preparations for her meeting with Sri Aurobindo.

Sri Aurobindo had said words that seem prescient today, “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed the choice of his destiny: for a stage has been reached in which the human mind has achieved in certain directions an enormous development while in others it stands arrested and bewildered and can no longer find its way… man has created a system of civilisation which has become too great for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites. For no greater seeing mind, no intuitive soul of knowledge has yet come to his surface of consciousness which could make this basic fullness of life a condition for the free growth of something that exceeded it.” 

Yet Sri Aurobindo did not subscribe to the widely prevalent Indian notion of the world as an illusion. The process of life on the earth was not launched for it to be branded false or its latest product, man, to be an embodied paradox, a bizarre amalgam of brutish instincts and splendid dreams, awful evils and great virtues, to be its apex.

The Mother realised that she was destined to collaborate in Sri Aurobindo’s adventure of seeking consciousness. That was, however, not to be. As World War I broke out, she had to leave for Paris, but her pursuit continued. It may be especially relevant to recount an incident in her life in the context of the current pandemic. Circumstances led her to Japan towards the end of the war. Suddenly a terrible epidemic, then infamous as Spanish Flu, broke out, wiping out some 30 million lives and Japan too was ravaged. One day a postman travelled to a small village near Tokyo and found all the villagers dead and “the snow was their common shroud.”

The Mother was in Tokyo. Exigency had obliged her to travel to the other end of the city. Looking at the masked and gloomy passengers in the tram car, she asked herself what could have caused the phenomenon. By the time she returned home, she had caught the flu. She isolated herself from everyone and even when a friendly doctor came rushing with a rare medicine, the only probable panacea then, she advised him to save someone else with it.

Sudden deaths

On the second day of her fever, the Mother saw a phantom in tattered military uniform, half his head blown off, entering her room. Pouncing upon her, the phantom tried to suck her life out. When unable to get rid of the menace with her normal strength, she took recourse to her occult power and only then could throw the being off. 

She writes, “I understood that the illness originated from beings who had been thrown violently out of their bodies.” They were normal human beings full of dreams but suddenly jolted out of their physical existence. “They didn’t know that they had no body anymore and tried to find in others the life force they could not find in themselves…”

Strangely, the epidemic stopped soon after. What emerges from the experience is that it is not crude material conditions alone but a subtle consort between all that is rotten behind the physical conditions and all that is rotten within our consciousness — violence, ill will, treachery, unabashed greed — that spawns such invisible vampires. This truth can be extended to every crisis today. In theory, we do not lack ethics or ideals in society. But it is something stubborn in our consciousness that corrupts everything. This can be transformed only by a tremendous spiritual intervention.

Birth of Auroville

The Mother returned to Pondicherry on April 24, 1920, to join Sri Aurobindo in this task of invoking that transforming power. With her arrival, ‘children’ or disciples began gathering around her — and they were from several continents, belonging to various faiths. The Mother taught them how to put into practice Sri Aurobindo’s revelation that ‘All life is yoga.’ The Ashram took formal shape in 1926 and its activities expanded, with residents looking upon their mundane activities as a powerful means of sadhana or meditation.

After Sri Aurobindo’s death on December 5, 1950, the Ashram ran under the Mother’s guidance. She founded the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1951, and in 1968 she launched the daring experiment that is Auroville, the City of Dawn, the city for a future ‘that belongs to humanity as a whole.’

This daring dreamer, a supreme optimist, left the earth on November 17, 1973, after organising a worldwide celebration of Aurobindo’s birth centenary on August 15, 1972. The best tribute that can be offered to her on the centenary of her arrival is to take note of a significant message she left behind: “The future of the earth depends on a change of consciousness… and the change is bound to come. But it is left to men to decide if they will collaborate for this change or if it will have to be enforced upon them by the power of crushing circumstances. So, wake up and collaborate.”

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