Guiding Light of The Month

O Lord, how ardently do I call and implore Thy love! Grant that my aspiration may be intense enough to awaken the same aspiration everywhere: oh, may good- ness, justice and peace reign as supreme masters, may ignorant egoism be overcome, darkness be suddenly illu- minated by Thy pure Light; may the blind see, the deaf hear, may Thy law be proclaimed in every place and, in a constantly progressive union, in an ever more perfect harmony, may all, like one single being, stretch out their arms towards Thee to identify themselves with Thee and manifest Thee upon earth. - The Mother

The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain

The flower of Godhead grows on the world-tree

Botanical Name: Clivia Miniate
Common Name: Kaffar lily
Spiritual Significance: Conversion of the aim of life from the ego to the Divine

Once in the immortal boundlessness of Self,
In a vast of Truth and Consciousness and Light
The soul looked out from its felicity.

-          Savitri, Sri Aurobindo

From the Editor’s Desk (Jun 2018)

The theme for the June Newsletter is derived from Book 6, Canto 2 of Savitri – The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain. In this theme is revealed in great detail the incumbent pain inflicted on mortal beings by unrelenting Providence, the manner in which the sentence of fate is received by the mortal, the plane from which an ordinary human being reacts against it, reeling in misery, and the voice of reason and more than that, the voice of the seer which rises above the din of denial and with an all-seeing vision, spells our patiently the purpose and power of pain to mortals and to a world redeemer like Savitri and the possible manner in which one could deal with it and paves the path clear for that saviour soul to do what she has to as she traverses the path chosen despite impending doom. This canto in Savitri is one of the most intimate, the most relevant to the human lot we are, and to which we can all relate well with.  It, in many ways, makes us also take a glimpse and or even a plunge into our own planes of being, especially the vital. Besides this, we are also led, by Narad the sage, to take another view of life bordering the Supramental regions and a Life Divine, that pain can facilitate eventually. In that realm, the pain of life takes another meaning, the purpose of pain serves a higher function in liberating the human soul and setting it upon the high road towards transcendence and transformation.

Let us contemplate on pain and why it is problematic to us, if at all. Usually pain comes out of desires unfulfilled and expectations unmet. These are sources of heaviness, disappointments and depression. One can have desires. It is reasonable also to expect desires to be fulfilled. It would be pertinent also to keep a ‘log’ on what kind of desires we want to be fulfilled and fulfilled badly. What could be the reason for this vehemence? Next, what kind of expectations do we hold of ourselves, of those around us, of circumstances? Why does disappointment set in when expectations are not met? Is it fair to expect something out of someone or Providence? Why should these expectations be fulfilled at all? Now, lets look at how we receive pain? Do we embrace pain and sink into some depression, quite enjoying it, without quite knowing it or refusing this knowledge? How easy is it to sink into a depressive position? On the contrary, how easy or difficult is it to resist this temptation of dipping into depression? How difficult is it to rise above and hold on to some high resolve we have of not feeling daunted by undesirable pronouncements?

With these inquiry, now let us re-visit the scenario in the palace at Madra, where King Aswapathy, his queen, and Savitri are sharing a momentous time of their lives with Sage Narad, who pronounces the word of fate and then brings all present through the meaning of pain and how the common lot brings pain unto itself and repeats the cycles aeon after aeon, given its ignorance. He also urges them that pain has a divine purpose too: 
Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break
A dead resistance in the mortal's heart,…
Pain is the hand of Nature sculpturing men
To greatness: an inspired labour chisels
With heavenly cruelty an unwilling mould.

He appeases the queen mother and paves the path for Savitri’s advance: 
Think not to intercede with the hidden Will,
Intrude not twixt her spirit and its force
But leave her to her mighty self and Fate.

And so is Savitri left to embark on her life’s great journey, her life’s Quest.

Savitri, a journey of Love and Light

A greatness in thy daughter’s soul resides
That can transform herself and all around,
But must cross on stones of suffering to its goal.
Although designed like a nectar cup of heaven,
Of heavenly ether made she sought this air,
She too must share the human need of grief
And all her cause of joy transmute to pain.


This mortal life shall house Eternity's bliss

Sage Narad has unveiled Savitri's future; a future that is death. But Savitri, undaunted, has accepted the challenge, and instead of changing her path, has decided to travel on the same road, although fraught with seeming annihilation. And she has uttered the word of fate that she believes more in her own immortal destiny than in the blind workings of a mechanical God. The king and the rishi sit quiet looking straight into the "eyes of Fate", not willing to disturb the workings of Providence. But Savitri's mother will not so easily be silenced. Although she is the queen, yet is she a human mother also who cannot bear ill luck to befall her child. Aswapati's queen decides to arraign Destiny itself.

In this turbulent condition of mind, she loses all balance; her mind that had hitherto won for itself a place on the higher planes of living now descends into the vital plane where ordinary human passions rage and rule. To her now earthly mind, the workings of destiny come as an unnatural shock. In her throat rises the desperate cry of all humanity that groans under the load of a freakish destiny.

      Mankind is essentially ignorant of the cause that produces the effect of human pain. Forced into a tragic condition man cries out why there should be all this grief and pain. Savitri's mother too questions the sage:

      By what pitiless adverse Necessity
      Or what cold freak of a Creator's will,
      By what random accident or governed Chance
      That shaped a rule out of fortuitous steps,
      Made destiny from an hour's emotion, came
       Into the unreadable mystery of Time
       The direr mystery of grief and pain?

Why should there be these perversions, these tumours and cankers in this world which should essentially be a beautiful creation of God? Did God make his handiwork successfully, and did some demon come afterwards to wreck its harmony? Something must have gone wrong with creation even from the beginning:

A fatal seed was sown in life's false start
When evil twinned with good on earthly soil.
With the sowing of this dragon seed, there,
.. .first appeared the malady of mind,
Its pang of thought, its quest for the aim of life.

Man had eaten the forbidden fruit, alas! No more for him the life in blessed ignorance and unfeeling matter; the free and simple ways, the guileless frankness, are lost forever. The birth of 'mind' has ushered in the vicious circle of evil and pain. Heaven has breathed into him reason, mind, intellect and imagination. The rose of man has bloomed in its fullness. But in this very rose of humanity the canker of tragedy finds a place and reduces the human flower to nought.

A grisly company of maladies
Come, licensed lodgers, into man's bodily house,
Purveyors of death and torturers of life.

And the result?

      Life is a marvel missed, an art gone wry;….

God's gift of this bright and pleasant world to man is itself darkened by a shadow overhanging it. All Nature is ambivalent; there is a good, bright side, and withal, a bad and cloudy side too.

Error is the comrade of our mortal thought
And falsehood lurks in the deep bosom of truth,
Sin poisons with its vivid flowers of joy
Or leaves a red scar burnt across the soul;
Virtue is a grey bondage and a gaol.
At every step is laid for us a snare.

 Torn and frustrated at the very beginning of our benevolent thoughts and honest actions, we espy in this world only a wreckage before and a desert after:

      A growing register of calamities
      Is the past's account, the future's book of Fate.

 Not satisfied with fate's wreckage, man also contrives miseries of his own doing. He commits countless blasphemies and unthinkable follies and brings retribution upon himself. And drunk with Faustus-like success he invades the secret chambers of Nature and commits again sacrilege of various kinds:

      His science is an artificer of doom;
      He ransacks earth for means to harm his kind;
      He slays his happiness and others' good.

 These researches of man will bring him no good, for he has lost the Godhead's seal that alone could make his science holy and fruitful. Instead, his science is pursued for selfish ends and brings him only doom and death. But in spite of the heavy budget of dooms, he has not grown any wiser; still he takes the same path of tragedy and falls headlong into the same pit of Hell. Centuries of bitter lessons have not made him take the path of Dharma. He has remained what he ever was; still does he fight and war for selfish ends, and bedews Mother Earth with innocent blood. Not only does he go in search of the Devil's tools, but he also destroys the good in the world. Some wise men create something beautiful, but there are others to destroy the work:

War making nought the sweet smiling calm of life,
Battle and rapine, ruin and massacre
Are still the fierce pastimes of man's warring tribes;
An idiot hour destroys what centuries made,
His wanton rage or frenzied hate lays low
The beauty and greatness by his genius wrought
And the mighty output of a nation's toil.

Thus man unmakes God's beautiful and kindly creation and "wallows in his self-made misery". What is this life on earth, made miserable by ruthless fools? Is it not merely "an episode in a meaningless tale?" It has been said that we have come here from a heavenly source, and that in us is lodged the heavenly Life-spark. It has also been said that the ultimate goal of our life is to return to our harbour-home, that golden source of the Life Divine. If that were so, if we are of Heaven and are to return there again, where is the need for this strange savage interlude of the earth? Why should we be made to pass through this aimless futile drama of pain, terror, rapine and death? The queen's mind is indeed a whirl of questions. Why, why this tragedy of a world signifying nothing? Is all the world, is all life, a mere illusion? In the end, the tragedy that threatens Savitri turns her mother almost into a nihilist.

Perhaps the soul we feel is only a dream,
Eternal self a fiction sensed in trance.

The queen is a woman, and being also a mother, she has come to a stage when the higher thinking powers have been numbed by the shadow of a doom. Now it behoves Narad to guide the sorely afflicted queen out of the labyrinth of her ignorance. So the eternal seer begins:

Was then the sun a dream because there is night?
Hidden in the mortal's heart the Eternal lives:...

It is the cloud of unknowing that prompts us to deny the light of the world and the spirit. The sun does not cease to exist during the night. Even so, the presence of tragedy does not exclude the reality of the Eternal spirit that abides in our inmost heart. Our own ignorance veils the light within us, even from ourselves. Because of this ignorance in mankind pain was born, for pain naturally follows ignorance. And it is also true that one cannot attain joy without first undergoing pain. But for the throes of labour, there would be no birth. Even in the beginning of things, "by pain Life
stirred in the subliminal deep"; so does pain through shock and difficulty push mankind to the heights:

      Pain is the hammer of the Gods to break
      A dead resistance in the mortal's heart,
      His slow inertia as of living stone.

The image of the Superman is hewn out of the earthy mortal by inflicting on him the pain of death. Unless we are tested and tempered by failures, we would rest quite Oblomov-like in a trance of success and miss the chance of self-transcendence, for it is when we are struck by tragedy that we wish to transcend to the higher states:

      If the heart were not forced to want and weep,
      His soul would have lain down content, at ease,
      And never thought to exceed the human start
      And never learned to climb towards the Sun.

Hence the Divine Mother cries out for yet bigger and acuter trials for mankind, so that out of the tremendous labour and pain a greater creation may come into being. Vain are the deluded cries of mortals like the queen against the pain inflicted by Providence:

      Pain is the hand of Nature sculpturing men
      To greatness: an inspired labour chisels
      With heavenly cruelty an unwilling mould.

In every mortal resides the divine spark; it is to be fanned into a divine flame. The greater the pain the mortal undergoes, the sooner will it assume its real glow. Of course it is all very easily said, but actually the cosmic pain and the cosmic evolution implicit in the process are indescribable. It is on those who are selected to undergo this cosmic suffering, it is on those who wish to save this world, that the mantle of thorns unerringly falls. They are the persons who have to undergo this cosmic pain. As examples Narad (or Sri Aurobindo) projects before us the vision of Christ and the vision of Shiva. There is Christ who has "drunk the bitter cup" and who "has signed salvation's testament with his blood":

       It is finished, the dread mysterious sacrifice,
      Offered by God's martyred body for the world;
      Gethsemane and Calvary are his lot,
      He carries the cross on which man's soul is nailed;
      His escort is the curses of the crowd;
      Insult and jeer are his right's acknowledgement;
      Two thieves slain with him mock his mighty death.
      He has trod with bleeding brow the Saviour's way.
      He who has found his identity with God
      Pays with the body's death his soul's vast light.
      His knowledge immortal triumphs by his death.

It is clear that Narad here wants to prepare Savitri's mind and strengthen her will by describing the tribulations of the world-redeemers. She herself is one; Narad tells her how Christ and Shiva did their tasks unflinchingly, undaunted by death or poison. Mankind has its ills and pains; no human being is exempt from them. But the tortures that a saviour of mankind has to undergo are tremendous and have epic dimensions. The pertinent question would of course be: Why should a saviour be subjected to these mortal tribulations? But even a saviour must know what afflicts mankind before he could prescribe the necessary cure:

      Exempt and unafflicted by earth's fate,
      How shall he cure the ills he never felt?

      Therefore Christ had to undergo the jeers of the lewd people and had to be nailed on the cross. It is for the same purpose Shiva had to drink the poison from the sea. To save mankind, God dons a mortal garb, undergoes human suffering and ultimately even 'dies' to give birth to a brave new world. The saviour's situation is terrible indeed. The very people whom he has sought to save turn against him, mock at him, and do their best to wreck his hard-wrought handiwork.

This is because there is a dark spot in man's own mind that continuously instigates the lower instincts in him, and drags him to Hell. Hence, however often the great saviours come to this earth, they in the end succeed in saving only a few. So, first of all, a "larger light" must come and clear man's heart of the dark spots, and hand him over as a clear plate for God to write thereon the Song Celestial of Eternal Life.

The ordinary mind of man must give way to a "supramental plane of mind" where everything is pure white, and nothing sullies its white radiance. Till that is done,

.. .till the evil is slain in its own home
And Light invades the world's inconscient base
And perished has the adversary Force,
He still must labour on, his work half done.

The world-redeemer, the divine soul, stands steadfast in this tremendous task, and is neither tired nor daunted by failures and difficulties. His will is of steel, his determination of iron. In spite of the barriers and troubles,

In the dreadful passages, the fatal paths,
Invulnerable his soul, his heart unslain,
He lives through the opposition of earth's Powers
And Nature's ambushes and the world's attacks.

This saviour who has understood the way-s of the world and the workings of fate, the gnostic being, undergoes the darkest of earth's terrors, the acutest of the world's pains and the deepest of human sufferings, so that he may bring to the dark world—even to the dark world—the Light Divine:

      He must enter the eternity of Night
      And know God's darkness as he knows his Sun.
      For this he must go down into the pit,
      For this he must invade the dolorous Vasts.

      Having passed through this dark night of the soul, the gnostic being  would emerge into the Eternal Light.

The superconscient beam shall touch men's eyes
And the truth-conscious world come down to earth
Invading Matter with the Spirit's ray,
Awaking its silence to immortal thoughts,
Awaking the dumb heart to the living Word.
This mortal life shall house Eternity's bliss,
Tie body's self taste immortality.
Then shall the world-redeemer's task be done.

After this lucid account of man's spiritual becoming, Narad turns to the immediate problem and warns the queen not to meddle with the decree of Providence. Any attempt to assume a greater cunning, and try to change the course of destiny, would bring the late that befalls the titans. The path of the titans is self-destructive. By denying God's sovereignty the titan brings retribution on his own head. The queen will be well advised not to tempt Providence. But if she will bear her yoke patiently by strengthening her will, all will yet turn out well.

Thy spirit's strength shall make thee one with God,
Thy agony shall change to ecstasy,
Indifference deepen into infinity's calm
And joy laugh nude on the peaks of the Absolute.

While trying to explain to the queen the birth of pain in this world, Narad tells her a short parable. The spirit of mankind was originally perfection itself. But the spirit was not content to rest in its perfect state. It wished to see what the world was like. In this adventure it descended into the lower levels and travelled through the vital planes. In this original descent was the fall that brought pain in its wake.

As a result the inner splendour was veiled from its casket, man. The forbidden fruit had been plucked and eaten. So the pain of knowledge came and, with it, this half-seen, little understood, undefined world:

Thus came, born from a blind tremendous choice,
This great perplexed and discontented world,
This haunt of Ignorance, this home of Pain:
There are pitched desire's tents, grief's headquarters.
A vast disguise conceals the Eternal's bliss.

Pain is now quite natural to mankind, and a world-redeemer like Savitri has to carry her own tremendous load of pain and affliction.

      The king now questions the sage whether there is any power in man to save himself, or is he merely ruled by an external spirit. He had heard, on her birth, that such an inner power had descended with Savitri. Is not this inner power equal to the task of facing the threatened fate? Can she not save herself from pain through the exercise of this power? In answer, Narad tells the king that the Superior Divine rejects the prayers of unthinking mankind for unbroken joy on the mortal plane. It is true that Savitri is born with an imprisoned splendour:

A greatness in thy daughter's soul resides
That can transform herself and all around 

 But even she, the daughter of Aswapati, "must cross on stones of suffering to its goal". Man's mental machine is limited in its scope, and cannot perceive the integral truth and the self that lurks behind the law of the universe. The limited vision of man sees only a lifeless law in the workings of the universe and thus misses the fact that the spirit of man works along with the wisdom and spirit of the Universe.

For Savitri's future, the external spirit, God, has pronounced its decree. Now it remains for the internal spark to burst into a flame. But it is not for Narad to say what exactly is going to happen:

It is decreed and Satyavan must die;
The hour is fixed, chosen the fatal stroke.
What else shall be is written in her soul

Fate's decree is not altogether final; "Man can accept his fate, he can refuse". And if man is thwarted once, he can always rise again and again to fulfil his real destiny. The true seeker after Truth will not be frightened even by the dread alarm of fate. So if Savitri's destiny is to achieve ultimate victory, she will never waver in her quest for the Life Divine. Even if trouble and pain lie before her, she will not fail to advance.

Hence the king need entertain no doubts regarding her future, and try to change the course of her destiny. And neither Aswapati nor his queen should try to separate the young lovers because of the encircling doom. The present situation is all for the best:

In vain thou mournst that Satyavan must die;
His death is a beginning of greater life,
Death is the spirit's opportunity.
A vast intention has brought two souls close
And love and death conspire towards one great end.

Narad further tells the queen to leave the course of destiny to its own fulfilment. Nor need she think that Savitri is too trail and weak to be the agent of the world's redemption:

Sometimes one life is charged with earth's destiny,
It cries not for succour from the time-bound powers.
Alone she is equal to her mighty task.

Soon will a day come when, armed by her own will, she will be facing alone a mighty power. But in her loneliness she will find her strength:

The great are strongest when they stand alone.
A God-given might of being is their force,
A ray from self's solitude of light the guide;

thus armed and strengthened, Savitri will have to face the day,

.. .when she must stand unhelped
On a dangerous brink of the world's doom and hers,
Carrying the world's future on her lonely breast,
Carrying the human hope in a heart left sole
To conquer or fail on a last desperate verge,. . .
Must cross alone a perilous bridge in Time
And reach an apex of world-destiny
Where all is won or all is lost for man.

      In that hour neither the queen nor anybody else can help her, "alone she must conquer or alone must fall". The queen would do better to stand back and leave Savitri to work out mankind's destiny:

      Think not to intercede with the hidden Will,
      Intrude not twixt her spirit and its force
      But leave her to her mighty self and Fate.

Having done his appointed task of enlightening the queen and strengthening Savitri's will, Narad now vanishes from the human scene. But even after he has gone, even after the holy seer has merged with the skies, the listening souls on earth, the king, the queen and Savitri, hear a golden song of hope from the eternal heavens:

      A high and far imperishable voice
      Chanted the anthem of eternal love.

 (An excerpt from “Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri – A study of the cosmic epic”, Dr. Premanandakumar, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, Puducherry)