Editor’s Note: We feature a few incidents shared by Nirodbaran which describe the various ways in which the Mother prepared, taught and helped sadhaks. Some of the ways are directly visible to us, and some are subtle and non-understandable for the mind. Through one specific example Niordbaran also explains that the Mother was always in favour of freedom for the sadhaks but disapproved of indiscipline in the name of freedom.
Reasons behind her movements
The Mother gave me some apparently simple and trivial work whether as a test or with a deeper intention, I cannot say. But this we knew that she had almost always an occult or hidden purpose behind her movements. Sometimes she would disclose it. At any rate we were supposed to take it as a matter of discipline. I am afraid, my nature was not so obedient and thus I failed to cooperate with her at times.
She asked me, for example, to give instructions in anatomy and physiology to a young girl who had come from outside. I could not understand why a girl who intended probably to stay here and would never take up a medical career should learn these subjects. However, I started. The girl was quite intelligent but my interest was not equal to her intelligence. Besides, the subjects were quite new to her and could not be properly learnt unless followed by practical demonstrations. I found it therefore a tedious job.
After a couple of months, I told her that a new doctor had come to the Ashram whom she would find more competent and I left her. I came to know afterwards that she had gone away and got married. I wondered then if the Mother wanted to use our contact as a means of keeping her here. Many years later, she returned to the Ashram.
Another example was of a young boy whose parents had settled in the Ashram.
The Mother told me that the boy had an inner opening. It would do him good if I read with him Sri Aurobindo’s poems. We began. The boy was really nice and had some regard for me. Here too, I could not continue for long and broke off.
Once during the Pranam in the 1930’s, I had to face a very embarrassing situation. I was going through a period of acute inner struggle. As always, I used to write frankly about it to Sri Aurobindo. Extremely patient and affectionate, he let me fight it out, but I could not do so and groaned. Finally I became impatient and wrote a desperate letter saying that the tussle must end now.
Next day was Pranam. The Mother came down as usual. I noticed behind her seat a garland of flowers called ’Courage’ [the spiritual significance given by the Mother to the flower of Calotropis gigantea, or Mudar/Crown plant]. The hall was full of disciples. When it was half-empty, my turn came for Pranam.
As soon as I had knelt down before the Mother with folded hands, she fixed her concentrated gaze on my eyes and kept me immobile like a statue. The people around were witnessing the scene with awe and wonder. I felt all their strange vibrations. After about five minutes, she relaxed her grip and with a soft smile gave me the garland “Courage”. It did its work.
Preparing the right attitude towards work
Now for a very trivial instance, but typical of the Mother’s subtle action. It belongs to the earliest period of our twelve years with Sri Aurobindo.
The Mother brought a big calendar for Sri Aurobindo’s room and said to me that I should tear off each date-sheet day by day and hand it over to her when she would leave the room after her work. I took the gesture as a sign of Grace on her part, though I could not understand why she was so particular about my doing it or about the way it should be done. However, I obeyed cheerfully and daily I used to receive a broad smile to start with.
But gradually the response began to vary. On some days she would give a half-smile; on other days her “eyes would grow solemn and laughter fade away”; on other days, she would not look at all. A hundred variations on a single theme of apparently no significance and likely to be called pure whimsicality. Yes, but a divine whim that bore often a hidden meaning for me.
One of the funniest or most queer jobs the Mother gave me was to supply regularly a small quantity of Lithiné powder to a doctor. It turned out to be an unpleasant duty and unworthy of my position as a doctor. I expressed my reluctance to continue it. She heard in silence without any comment. It is not to be thought that she took no notice of these reactions.
Any work given by her, light or serious, pleasant or tedious, was recorded in her consciousness and the person gained or lost inwardly according to the attitude with which he had done the work.
We know that in the spiritual life, strict obedience to the Guru is enjoined upon the disciple.
I remember an instance of her clear intention in a given case. A boy running away from home had come to the Ashram and wanted to stay on. Outwardly he had nothing to recommend him except that he had relatives living here. The Mother accepted him and wanted certain relatives who were an easy-going people to take charge of him. She said that it would teach them a sense of responsibility.
In spite of knowing her intention, the members refused the offer, except for one member of the same family. She took up the responsibility and had to undergo a lot of trouble, from the boy’s waywardness and other bad habits till he himself left the Ashram, but she earned the Mother’s grace.
I have spoken of a young boy. . . who came as a patient, but whom I was given also to look after as a sort of a guardian and friend. I was supposed to help him to a disciplined life as regards food, sleep and other habits. To this end, he used to take his breakfast with me and spend his evening time playing indoor games in the Dispensary.
When he left for Calcutta, I asked the Mother if I was “one of those who had harmed him”, for that was the story going round in the Ashram in her name. Sri Aurobindo replied,
“Mother never said anything of the kind about you. On the contrary she has always approved of his going to you because you give him a physical support, encourage him to eat, etc…”
I have cited all these trivial instances in order to show how, apart from her yogic force, the Mother used also minor psycho-physical aids to prepare the sadhak in the inner discipline.
Subtle ways of teaching and helping
Of course all these ways of her action were commonplace to us, but not always to those who were not familiar with them at least at the beginning. Here are some more personal examples:
I was passing through a hard time; the Guru’s long sweet letters had only a momentary effect. At this period an intimate friend wanted to come for his second visit. As no suitable room was available, I offered to share with him my small room in the Dispensary. The Mother consented at once, though it was a dispensary.
When people raised an objection, Sri Aurobindo wrote to me:
“Mother has put him there, because his influence would be helpful to you.”
I was surprised! Yet, in the case of another friend, the answer was,
“You are not to share your room with him.”
A more subtle way: During the Pranam downstairs in the 1950’s, quite a number of people would sit in her Presence throughout the function. I used to work in my office-room upstairs, go down for Pranam and come back at once. The work was just an excuse for my reluctance to sit “unnecessarily”, for such a long duration. It would be a waste of time, I thought. One day the Mother, coming up after the Pranam, told me,
“I looked for you. A sadhika was ill. I wanted you to go and see her, but you were not there.”
“I was here all the time, Mother.”
As if she did not know it, she simply heard me without a word more and I understood what she had meant. She wanted that instead of my so-called reading, I should have been sitting like the others in her Presence.
If this is a too fanciful interpretation by a bhakta, I shall give a clearer example.
At one stage, she was seeing some people, especially the departmental heads, in her boudoir, in the afternoon. Others would sit outside watching her and enjoying her Presence, and later expecting to catch her soul-stirring glance and sweet smile when she would pass by them to her room upstairs.
This would last about an hour. I used to do my work at my desk instead of being bathed in her atmosphere. One day light dawned on me, and putting aside the books, I went to sit with the others outside. As soon as she came out, her eyes fell on me and she exclaimed with a gracious smile, “Ah, you are there!” Then she moved on, radiating joy, beauty and love on all around. I was reminded of Wordsworth’s lines:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads.
I understood her exclamation and from then onwards I came every day, but strangely enough, rather I should say naturally enough, she neither repeated that smile nor looked at me, but I was sure she noted my presence.
Nothing could elude her eyes nor her knowledge.
As to her not looking, she had done her work by dropping a hint and I had caught it. That was enough.
Vivekananda, if I remember rightly, and Nivedita too perhaps have said what a fine life it would have been to pass one’s days sitting at the feet of Sharada Devi, the Mother of the Ramakrishna Ashram, instead of spending all one’s energy in useless hectic activities! A moment’s mood, it may be, but the truth of the feeling is unmistakable.
I was trying to learn French, but was still playing with the idea, going about from one teacher to another. Then I heard that our engineer Chandulal was taking with the Mother’s permission a French class for a few sadhaks. The number was restricted and approved by her. It was hardly a class: we used to read one sentence each from the Mother’s Prayers and Meditations — that’s all.
I was not very regular. One day the Mother herself came to the class and read a whole prayer and that very day I was absent! I learnt that her visit had been pre-arranged, but it had been kept a secret. She had also the door bolted from within. Imagine my sense of shame and regret at missing this rare opportunity. But that was her way.
Read the words of Mother:
“I do not give positions… I give them work”
Guided by inner laws
Since I have touched upon the subject of medicine, let me give one more instance along this line.
One day the Mother told me that an old army doctor had come to the Ashram and was teaching physiology in the school. She would like me to go and tell the doctor that he should give the students some elementary lessons on the reproductive organs, their functions, purpose, etc.; in other words, what we call sex-education. I wondered what lay behind this move.
We knew very well that the Mother was “modern”, even “ultra-modern” in many ways, just as Sri Aurobindo was “a modern Avatar”; still this seemed to be too modern for the Ashram. There must be an inner call for it, I conjectured.
The doctor accepted the suggestion and said that he would get some slides on the subject. A few years later when the doctor had left I was asked, with the Mother’s permission, to give a number of talks to a group of young men on the same subject with a special emphasis on brahmachārya and its vital connection with the seminal fluid. When, however, years afterwards, another request was made for a talk, she said, “Why raise the issue again? Its necessity is over.”
A significant remark which implied that she was always guided by inner laws and inner movements.
The construction of our lovely swimming pool in the sports ground had been complete and was thrown open to all the Groups of Physical Education. At last, I thought, some pleasant innocent exercise when I had given up all other games. But alas, soon I began to feel uneasy after the dip, even a bit out of sorts.
One night I had the vision of Sri Aurobindo’s right arm stretched out across the entrance to the sports ground. The indication was quite clear that I should stop my innocent pastime. I asked the Mother if swimming was harmful for me. She answered, “No, you can go for swimming.” But when I told her about my dream, she said, “Then you should not go.” This is how the Guru guides us in every little detail!
On the Prosperity day, the Mother used to distribute our monthly material necessities to each of us. During the long distribution, some of us used to sit by her with her permission.
To be so close to the Divine’s physical Presence and watch at the same time the significantly changing expressions on her face was a delight to be envied even by the gods.
Dante says of Beatrice:
What she appears when she smiles a little,~ Translation by Sri Aurobindo
Cannot be spoken of, neither can the mind lay hold on it,
It is so sweet and strange and sublime a miracle.
This is true of the Mother much more.
Stern disapproval of ‘indiscipline in name of freedom’
The following incident also took place in 1961. The gymnastic Groups in the Playground were re-organised. Apropos of it a point was raised about the need of a certain degree of compulsion for those who joined them. This was especially in the case of those above the age of forty, I believe. It was decided by the captains that one day in a week, preferably Monday, there should be compulsory marching for the “Blue Group”, i.e., the senior most male members. On other days the members were left free to do exercises as they liked.
The word “compulsory” raised a small storm of indignation among us.
Why should we, responsible sadhaks, be treated like school children? This was the burden of the controversy. Some of us left the Group on this account. I was one of those who had a dislike for any sort of compulsion. All the same, I thought I would take the Mother’s views on the matter, though I suspected that she had already been consulted before the step was taken.
It was the usual morning Pranam time and people had gathered, among whom were Nolini, Amrita, Pavitra, Champaklal, Madhav and others. The Pranam being over, the Mother was on her way to her room on the top floor, when I asked her,
“Mother, what should I do? Shall I join the Group?”
The question led to a discussion lasting nearly half an hour, the entire assembly listening with rapt attention and the Mother standing all the while.
Mother: “That was what A was telling me about. He said that he had been doing regular exercise; so he need not join the Group. Besides, he said, all his friends were keeping out. Of course, he can’t carry the flag#.
Myself: People are making two objections to the scheme, one about the “Mass Drill”. It is neither interesting nor useful.
Nolini: (suddenly raising his voice) Why, I find it very interesting.
Myself: It seems more like some amusement; that was the impression given by our captain.
Mother: I don’t know why he gave that impression. The drill is meant as a preparation for the December show. If one starts learning it very early, then there is a chance of its being perfect. The previous ones had many defects. Though I am not an expert judge of these things, I have seen the photographs taken of them and there the defects can be seen. So they want to give training very early.
Myself: Next is the point of compulsion.
Mother: Compulsion is necessary. If you want to remain in the Group, you have to obey the Group discipline. That is quite reasonable. I will tell you one thing: without discipline, strict discipline, no progress can be made in life. No yoga is possible without it. You can’t take one step forward without strict discipline. You may utter a mantra for a hundred years, but without discipline you won’t be able to see beyond the tip of your nose.
Another point is about the uniform. You know it costs quite an amount of money. Those who won’t join shall not have uniforms. They don’t need them, besides. Not that a few uniforms cost much, but when it comes to a big number, the expenses become quite heavy.
No, I have read the whole programme; it is quite reasonable. You have a choice: you can go to the Non-Group. But once you have made your choice, you have to stick to it till the end of the year. If you can’t follow any discipline yourself, well, then submit to the discipline of those who have some experience of life. So make your choice. Au revoir!
With these words, the Mother went up, leaving us stunned in an atmosphere charged with force and silence. As soon as I had touched upon the last question, that of discipline, the tempo of her voice had begun to rise in a crescendo till it reached its peak at the end of her advice.
All the while, her gaze had been fixed on my eyes and the words hit like bullets my vital nature’s self-will in the name of freedom.
The entire assembly had listened, standing still like statues. Many years have passed since then, but I am continuing my compulsory Monday attendance, so much force had been generated in that dynamic utterance. Only we have named it “Black Monday”, à la Charles Lamb.
Nolini who was one of the listeners was also in our Group; he did not, of course, need any such compulsion from outside, neither was Monday black for him; it was golden. But Nolini is Nolini. He joined also the Mass Drill which, as he said, he found interesting, and attended both the items regularly till he retired due to age. There were others too who had left for other reasons, but somehow, however reluctant and antipathetic I am to this Black Monday, when the day arrives some force drags me on to the Playground.
One word about discipline.
We hear very often that the Mother has given us freedom. Freedom and discipline are therefore contradictions and people justified their free ways by quoting the Mother’s authority.
When it was referred to her, she vehemently protested and said,
“Where and when have I supported indiscipline?”
Well, this strong admonition should now dispel all such wrong ideas still going about in the Ashram.
#During the Darshan and 2nd December March Past, the Groups are led by standard bearers. P says March Past will be done without the flag. Well, what I want is that everyone should do regular exercise, not doing it one day to drop it the next. It must be done regularly to keep the body fit. There is also a provision made for those who don’t want to join the Group. All the facilities will be given to them except the March Past on special days. That also does not matter very much since it is held only four or five times a year.
– Nirodbaran (From ‘Memorable contacts with the Mother’)
The Mahakali Aspect of the Divine Mother
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