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

The Child and the Hearth – A Divine Dialogue

The Word, a mighty and inspiring Voice
Enters Truth’s inmost cabin of privacy
And tears away the veil from God and life. (Savitri, 10.4)

The Mother’s ‘Prayers and Meditations’ are an inexhaustible source of inspiration and delight, and none has more striking and powerfully evocative imagery than the Mother’s account of her experience on March 27th, 1917. The date itself is interesting, almost three years to the day after her first meeting with Sri Aurobindo. She had been away from India for more than a year and we can imagine that as she sat to meditate that morning, her thoughts were full of the significance of her meeting with him in Pondicherry, and perhaps an unspoken question in her heart concerned their shared mission and the nature of their future collaboration.

As her meditation begins, The Mother hears the ‘mighty and inspiring Voice’ of the indwelling Divine asking her to look at four forms appearing on the blank screen of her silent mind. One is living and clothed in purple, the colour of spiritual power. The others are ‘dust’ – lifeless, but cleansed and purified. Do these lifeless forms represent past incarnations of the Mother? Or do they represent the human elements of her being, the mind, life and body   subject to the law of death of which the Bible says ‘dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return’? We cannot know, unless the Mother has somewhere revealed it. But the Voice makes it clear to her that the living form - the soul or psychic being - must penetrate and revivify the others, uniting them into a ‘living and acting vesture’ for the Mother’s future action in the world.

The Voice bids her ‘knock at the door of consciousness and the door will be opened’. Then, in a profound mental stillness, her consciousness flows like a silver river ‘from the sky to the earth.’  The flowing river gives way to a brilliant succession of images, each one opening the door to a depth of meaning that language alone can never hope to convey. One by one they appear - a luminous screen on which words are traced; a field sown with seed, then covered in snow; a great swan, pure white, hovering above with outspread wings; and a woodcutter gathering together fuel for a fire. This blazing fire burns in a consecrated hearth while a child, who dare not touch the fire, rejoices in its warmth. Towards the end of the experience the Mother is shown the legendary salamander that alone can endure the fire, and the immortal phoenix rising from the flames.

Here is a ‘divine dialogue’ using a language older and more powerful than words, forged over millennia by the experiences of poets, visionaries and seers. These are images occurring in myths and legends all over the world, but the fact that they appear also in the Mother’s vision elevates them to the status of a universal symbolic language, one that has entered deeply into the subliminal mind of the race, even if we have lost the key to its interpretation. It may be that there is no direct way to translate these symbols into a mental language. Should we encounter them in a different dimension of consciousness – a dream perhaps - the ‘meaning’ would be conveyed without the need for words. Thus according to her own account, when the Mother encountered the archetypal ‘Man of Sorrows’ in her childhood dreams, she recognised immediately what he represented. The communication received by the Mother on 27th March speaks of a divine knowledge sown like seeds in the Mother’s consciousness, which was pure and white like snow. In that purity the knowledge could not be distorted by any covering of falsehood. It would be available to her when the need arose.

The divine Voice promises the Mother five realisations: she will smile at her destiny; she will use her returning strength;  she will be ‘the woodcutter who ties the bundle of firewood’; she will be the ‘white swan’ with outspread wings; she will lead all men to their supreme destiny. More than that, her heart will be the ‘triumphant hearth’ on which a fire burns that only she can bear, and ‘the child’ will be warmed by this fire.

Many pages could be written about the swan, the hamsa of Indian spiritual tradition. Hamsa is a mantra of manifestation, the breath of life itself. In yoga the Hamsa or swan is associated with the heart centre, anahata chakra, and the sense of hearing. The Mother who hears the Voice in Truth’s inmost cabin of privacy will be like the swan that ‘purifies the sight’ and warms all hearts. But how are we to understand the image of child and the hearth, and the fire that burns within? We meet with them again in one of the most striking passage of Savitri:

The Mighty Mother sits in lucent calm
And holds the eternal child upon her knees,
Attending the day when he shall speak to fate.
There is the image of our future’s hope;
There is the sun on which all darkness waits…..

There in a body made of spirit stuff
The hearthstone of the ever-lasting fire,
Action translates the movements of the soul,
Thought steps infallible and absolute
And life is a continual worship’s rite;
A sacrifice of rapture to the One. (Savitri, 10.4)

Here too we see the divine child linked to a future realisation and an ever-lasting fire.

Sri Aurobindo has written extensively about the symbolism of fire, but for our present purpose we can turn to his essay on the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, published in the Arya in the very year (1917) of the Mother’s visionary experience. The Mother may have seen this article before or after its publication.

In this essay Sri Aurobindo compares the ‘ever-living fire’ of Heraclitus with the Vedic idea of fire as the creative power and active energy of the Infinite. ‘ these were not merely symbols’ he writes. ‘The Vedic mystics held, it is clear, a close connection and effective parallelism to exist between psychical and physical activities, between the action of Light, for instance and the phenomena of mental illumination; fire was to them at once the luminous divine energy, the Seer-Will of the universal Godhead active and creative of the substantial forms of the universe, burning secretly in all life.’

He goes on to praise ‘the deep divining eye’ of the Greek philosopher, who saw through the veil of manifestation, the eternal truth of existence; and expressed his vision in images that paralleled the language of ancient Indian scriptures: No man or god has created the universe, but ever there was and is and will be the ever-living fire. Heraclitus also spoke of a kingdom of the child, a divine child at play in the world, and Sri Aurobindo comments: ‘Heraclitus could not see it, and yet his one saying about the child, touches, almost reaches, the heart of the secret. For this kingdom is evidently spiritual, it is the crown, the mastery to which the perfected man arrives; and the perfected man is a divine child! He is the soul which awakens to the divine play, accepts it without fear or reserve, gives itself up in a spiritual purity to the Divine, allows the careful and troubled force of man to be freed from care and grief and become the joyous play of the divine Will, his relative and stumbling reason to be replaced by that divine knowledge which to the Greek, the rational man, is foolishness, and the laborious pleasure-seeking of the bound mentality to lose itself in the spontaneity of the divine Ananda; ‘for such is the kingdom of heaven.’ The paramhansa, the liberated man, is in his soul balavat, even as if a child.’

It seems evident that the child of the Mother’s vision is the perfected man of the New Creation. He is not yet able to bear the divine fire in which his perfection will be forged, because his hour has not yet come. The Mother will lead all men towards this perfection but she is warned not to let them come too close to the fire. Again the Voice speaks, offering an explanation of the symbol-images. The ‘triumphant hearth’ is the Mother’s power of realisation; the salamander ever reborn in the fire is the Light of truth; and the phoenix ‘who comes from the sky and knows how to return to it’ is the Sovereign Consciousness.

In the ancient world the phoenix was always connected with worship of the sun. This miraculous bird had the power to renew its own life by building a nest of aromatic wood and spices, setting it on fire and allowing itself to be consumed by the flames. From this funeral pyre a new phoenix arose, and in ancient Egypt the bird was believed to sacrifice itself on the altar of the Sun God, Re. It is easy to see how the phoenix became the symbol of immortality.

It is the nature of a vision that the symbol becomes one with the reality it signifies. The phoenix of the Mother’s vision - the Sovereign Consciousness - can never be known by the reader as she must have seen it. Sometimes a poet can capture something of the wonder and awe, as George Darley did in this celebrated nineteenth century poem which rescued its author from obscurity:

O blest unfabled Incense Tree
That burns in glorious Araby,
With red scent chalicing the air,
Til earth-life grow Elysian there!

Half buried to her flaming breast,
In this bright tree she makes her nest,
Hundred-sunned phoenix! when she must
Crumble at length to hoary dust!

Her gorgeous death-bed! her rich pyre
Burnt up with aromatic fire!
Her urn, sight high from spoiler men!
Her birth place when self-born again!

The phoenix builds its sacrificial pyre of aromatic wood, and the Lord now tells the Mother: ‘Thou shalt be the woodcutter who ties the bundle of firewood.’ Her task will be to gather whatever in human nature aspires to be changed by taking it into her heart and casting it into the transforming fire. She gathers those who are ready for the sacrifice of their human personality, just as the phoenix builds its pyre of incense and aromatic boughs.

In medieval Europe the salamander was often depicted on monuments curled into a ring with its tail in its mouth, a symbol of unending time. The Alchemists, who were the scientists and spiritual seekers of their day, preserved a more ancient tradition that is truly mysterious to the modern mind. The salamander had the ability to remain in the intense heat of a fire without being burnt. ‘It lived in fire and fed on fire.’ To some Alchemists the salamander represented the catalyst for a mystical transformation. But in the Mother’s vision the salamander is the Light of Eternal Truth that lives in the fire unharmed because it is One with the Power that kindled it. She will live in the world according to this Truth, obedient to it alone.

The Mother had no doubt about the meaning of her experience for she said ‘Thou hast opened my eyes and a little of the night has been illumined. At a point in her life when the future must have seemed uncertainits significance for her was profound, for it contained the whole secret of her mission. Among the ‘Prayers and Meditations’ of the Mother the message of 27th March 1917 stands out as the one in which she received the Adesh of the Lord and the confirmation of her future destiny.
-          Sonia Dyne

(Originally published in‘ Sri Aurobindo’s Action’, February 2004)

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