Guiding Light of The Month

THERE is a great difference between being in the midst of active work, of external action, while keeping one’s thought constantly fixed on Thee, and entering into that perfect union with Thee which leads to what I have called “absolute Consciousness, true Omniscience, Knowledge”. - The Mother

Soviet Gymnasts

(On the 2nd and 3rdof April, 1956, a group of ranking Soviet gymnasts, many of whom were gold medalists and world champions, visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and observed its many departments at work. The visitors gave an exhibition of their gymnastic skill, watched the Ashram children in their sports and games, and also arranged a coaching class for some chosen Ashram gymnasts. In a message to the visitors, the Mother said:

“We salute you, brothers, already so far on the way to the physical perfection for which we all aspire here.Be welcome in the Ashram, amongst us. We feel sure that today one step more is taken towards unity of the great human family.”

The team responded in appropriate terms, and expressed their genuine appreciation of the Ashram’s physical education and sports, and the hospitality they had received. In the course of a conversation with Nolini Kanta Gupta, the gymnasts remarked that they found the love, affection and solicitude which the Ashram children received from the elders so touching. The self-restraint - especially the practice of brahmacharya - by the Ashramites also produced great interest in the visiting gymnasts.

In the course of a subsequent reference to the Soviet gymnasts, the Mother said:

“...we saw with what ease they did exercises which for an ordinary man are impossible.... Well, that mastery is already a great step towards the transformation of the body. And these people who, I could say, are materialists by profession, used no spiritual method in their education.... If they had added to this a spiritual knowledge and power, they could have achieved an almost miraculous result.”

(‘On The Mother’, Chapter 46 – “A glorified, not a crucified body”, K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry) )

(The following is an excerpt of the reminiscences of Nolini Kanta Gupta and K. Amrita from that visit.)

As you know, sometime back- quite a few years now- we had a group of Soviet Gymnasts in our midst. And what a pleasant, perfect performance they gave! Their hammer and sickle floating against the wind, the first time they stepped in unison on our sports ground, marching to the tune of the Russian national anthem, surely you must be still remembering the beautiful spectacle. Some of their tricks and techniques we have bodily taken over. A good many of you received training at the hands of these experts. They have been heavily filmed and photographed in action and these pictures you must have seen more than once.

Among the characteristics of the Soviet Gymnasts, also the major lesson that one can learn from them, are: first, difficult and complicated body movements. Such control of the body is indeed hard to acquire. It calls for physical strength and stamina, also a considerable capacity and plasticity of the limbs, the nerves and muscles.

Secondly, difficult exercises are done in an extremely easy and simple manner. In fact, these are performed so effortlessly that it might seem there is nothing much in these and that anyone could do the same- till one tries. Then one knows what stiff and rigorous discipline lies behind this apparent effortlessness.

Thirdly, these difficult exercises are done not only effortlessly but gracefully- the movements are rhythmic and harmonious, pleasing to the eye.

Team work, group-efficiency, is yet another of their characteristics. Not only solo performance, but combined movements of many persons in perfect balance, a unified cadence and orchestral pattern.

Fifthly, and the point deserves particular mention, in the sphere of physical culture (as in other spheres too) the Russians make no difference between men and women. They believe that men and women can and ought to do the same exercises together, that it is pure superstition, nothing but outmoded convention to think otherwise- that women are unfit for and unworthy of such activity. Well, we have seen how expert and capable these Soviet girls can be. Today the whole world has heard with wonder and admiration about not only astronaut Gagarin but about Valentina too.

A commonplace argument often put up against women doing physical exercise is that as a result they are likely to lose their grace and their femininity. Is that really so? To me it has always seemed that, thanks to these exercises, our body – women’s body included-acquires a new poise and proportion. Or do tenderness and charm disappear, as some fear? Of course, those who admire the beauty of a willowy, weeping kind, the fairy frailty of the sickly maid, well, they are a class apart. You have seen Valentina’s photograph. To me she did not seem to lack charm and grace. Far from it. The fact is, we very often try, in vain, to hide our bodily defects and debilities under an elaborate toilet and stylish wear. But it is only as strict physical regiment or regular exercise that can cure these defects and bring out the true grace and light of the body beautiful. In reality, charm, grace or delightfulness, name how you will, these do not depend so much on physical factors and formation. The source is elsewhere, it is really a reflection or shadow that is derived from the ease and clarity of the vital Force in us and if, somehow, we can add to that the soul’s ease and clarity, then only do we have genuine beauty, beauty from within.

It is as if the Russians have discovered a new dimension of the body. Psychologists today speak of ‘depth’ psychology. According to them, at the back of our mind, there lies another hidden and profounder mental world- the unconscious or subconscious. Spiritualists and yogis speak of still another unknown and invisible world, above and beyond the mind. Somewhat in the same way the Soviet gymnasts are telling us and, more than that, showing us, that there is no limit, or almost none, to the capacities of the body. At any rate, we can go a good deal further than the limits usually set for it. We think that just as plant life is conditioned by the earth, by its surface and atmosphere, it is the same with the life of men and animals too. We live and move within the temperature and the pressure of the air around us; when we go beyond these (either above or below), our ability to bear the altered conditions are extremely limited- or so we think.

But in one sense, even in the ordinary way of living, men can and do put up with a lot of inconvenience and suffering. Of course, it might be said that this is entirely due to compulsion, that there is nothing else one could do, except endure. Even in the midst of intense pain and torture people have been known to live. On battlefields men have survived the worst calamities, even the loss of limbs. According to popular wisdom, life is uncertain and quickly over, nalini dalagata jala vattaralam, jibana matisayacapalam, but this is not a literal truth. Just as life can end all of a sudden so also it can stay on and withstand apparently impossible conditions. But this, it may be said again, is due to compulsion; it is not a healthy or a natural condition of our being. It is indeed painful, and what men really wish for is to come out of it – into a world of natural freedom. The new physical culture that the Russians are now following is meant to open up the hidden resources of the body. This they are doing with the help of knowledge, practice and endless, eager experiment. Rooted in the earth, one with the physical universe, the capacities of our body are daily and fast increasing. Even leaving the earth surface for the wide open spaces one day men may (in a light, weightless condition) find a new normalcy. Where shall we draw the limit of achievement?

(Nolini Kanta Gupta, K. Amrita, "Reminiscences", 'Mother India', Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1969, Pondicherry)

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