by Georges Van Vrekhem
Despite their essential contribution to the present world, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are still mostly unknown outside the circles of their disciples and devotees. It is Georges Van Vrekhem’s intention in this biography of the Mother to examine all available material about her life and to present it in an accessible and interesting way. He attempts to draw the full picture, including the often neglected but important last years of her life, and even of some reincarnations explicitly confirmed by the Mother herself.
The Mother was born as Mirra Alfassa in Paris in 1878. She became an artist, married an artist, and participated in the vibrant life of the metropolis during the fin de siècle and early twentieth century. She became the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926. This book is a rigorous description of the incredible effort of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Their vision is an important perspective allowing for the understanding of what awaits humanity in the new millennium.
When my father, K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar, wrote the first biography of the Mother half a century ago, he confessed: “What did one know about her except that she was the Mother?” During the last five decades, plentiful material on the externalities of her sojourn on earth has been made available. Yet she is the Infinite that may not be comprehended in its entirety. Father’s revised biography to mark the Mother’s birth centenary in 1978 had made a quantitative leap with regard to the size of the volume from a mere 128 demi-octavo pages to 924 quarto pages. And yet, he reminded the reader of the Mother’s warning: “Do not ask questions about the details of the material existence of this body; they are in themselves of no interest and must not attract attention.”
But children will be children and while she remained in the earthly envelope, there were constant interrogations and recordations. The abundant material we now have has itself proved to be a problem for it is easy to misunderstand the Mother’s statements drawn out of context. A corrective is needed for the common man as well as for the aspirant who gets drawn to the Aurobindonian yoga. Georges Van Vrekhem’s The Mother brings just the right lesson for the times to understand the Mother’s ways as she strove “to build a little room for timelessness” in this time-bound world. His enviable mastery of the subject on hand has already been successfully demonstrated in Beyond Man: the Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Though the present volume traverses the same time-frame and deals with the same personalities, there is no tiresome repetition. With less of philosophy and more of childlike wonderment, The Mother is a delight to handle and read and meditate upon. Written in a style that does not distract the mind with vain questionings, the book literally leads us by the hand to make a matri-pradakshina and takes us closer to the presence of our Mother.
One of the important steps in the Mother’s sadhana was her mastery of occultism. Without knowing the background of her involvement in this aspect, miracle-mongers have been having a field day while projecting Mother’s yoga. Van Vrekhem has devoted considerable space to her “exploration of the Occult” and has explained the various facets of the Cosmic Tradition propounded by Max and Alma Theon. The Theons were not engaged in mere miraculism, though towards the end, Max (who appears to have been the cosmic Asura of Death) fell a victim to self-importance. Their approach to divinise earth failed miserably. The Cosmic Tradition itself has touches of the incarnation theory and speaks of an involution into matter symbolized by the great Creatrix pouring her divine Love into the Inconscient. Anyhow, experiments with occult were given up later by the Mother on the advice of Sri Aurobindo. Van Vrekhem’s inputs in this regard will be valuable for students who explore the symbol realms in Savitri’s Books of Eternal Night and the Double Twilight.
So we also journey onwards with Van Vrekhem to note the major events in the Mother’s terrestrial life. Her marriages, the meeting with Sri Aurobindo, experiences in Japan, the united yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother descending from Mind into the Vital and then into Matter. But deep within this darkness was a divine Presence visible to the Mother, an experience noted by Sri Aurobindo in 1908: “When darkness was blind and engulfed within darkness, / He was seated within it immense and alone.”
The descent of Krishna into Sri Aurobindo on 24 November, 1926 (the `Siddhi’) marked a new matrix of time. He went into seclusion and Mirra came to be known as the Mother while the Ashram took shape. Van Vrekhem wisely avoids cluttering the narrative with too many details. But there is enough to suggest the Mother’s work as a divine housewife, managing a variety of people drawn together with the single aim of achieving the life divine under the aegis of Sri Aurobindo. She was strict, but not stiff. There were the practicalities of mundane living and spiritual games for the soul’s ascent. There are occasional references to extraordinary happenings (like the sea remaining under her control when the seaside wall of the Park Guest House was under construction) but Van Vrekhem brings us immediately back to the earth. Antonin Raymond, architect of Golconde has described best the Ashram of those days: “Here indeed was an ideal state of existence in which the purpose of all activity was clearly a spiritual one.” All life is yoga!
The Darshan days were a swirl of spiritual communion. In accordance with his yoga, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother took an abiding interest in earthly matters. The difficulties of the Ashram because of their stand in the Second World War (Mother’s War as Sri Aurobindo described it) and the interventions in political matters apart, what is of great interest to us is the way the Mother went about sculpting the members in the Ashram. She gave the right direction when India became independent by raising the spiritual flag of India that includes Pakistan, Sikkim, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka. The Mother remained as the Vedic Skambha upholding the morale of the innumerable devotees when Sri Aurobindo withdrew from the physical.
Van Vrekhem has an apt simile to indicate the fifty years when the Mother was engaged in the divine experiment in Pondicherry:
“Looking from a distance at how the Ashram developed, one might say it grew like a beautiful tree; at first planted, watered and protected with great care (the early years); then supported in its growth so that it might form a strong stem in optimal conditions (the `very strict’ period); then forming a wealth of branches and leaves (expansion and the coming of the children); then bearing fruit and seed (e.g. Auroville and other developments present and future). An evolutionary revolution is a huge undertaking; what one has seen of the material realization until the present day is only the beginning.”
As the Veda says: paado asya viswabhootaani tripaadsyaamrutham divi! Only a quarter of the Aurobindonian vision has been realised; three-fourths are yet to come. Van Vrekhem gives a clear idea of the Mother’s attempts to transform the body cells for compelling an integral evolution, “a self-revelation of the Divinity in things in that true power of itself in Nature which is to us still a Supernature” (The Life Divine).
`The Mother’s reincarnations’ is colourful but not vital to the aspirant while the latter chapters admirably sum up the world-redeemer’s task in the light of Mother’s Agenda leading to a concretization of Divinity in the physical cells: “and in that aged body there took shape, little by little, a body consisting of a new kind of substance.” The flaming pioneer had also proved the efficacy of the five-fold principles of the Integral Yoga: unity, surrender, sincerity, equanimity and aspiration.
And yet, the Mother had suffered much physical pain during the last months. Where was the supramentalized body then, asks the doubting gnome fluttering in our minds.Van Vrekhem points out that the Mother herself dismissed notions of her becoming supramentalized for “no earthly being at present could stand the unscreened presence of a supramental being, whose light, being divine, is of a brightness compared to which the light of the sun is dark.” The physical body is a transitional stage in the long journey of evolution. The author’s conclusion using the simile of the pupation of the caterpillar into a butterfly is strikingly apt. Not a death but a change, a change from the dimensions of a crawling world to the dimensions of a flying-world. The process that precedes the change must needs remain a personal experience and hence will have to be inexplicable in terms of blind science. In any case, where is the need to find an explanation?
Since the Mother’s life is also Sri Aurobindo’s life, we have some choice information gathered by Van Vrekhem like the Master being engaged in pranayama for six hours a day in Baroda. And how the Brahmin Champaklal hailing from a family of kathaks, decided to walk to Pondicherry from Gujarat. The sincerity of Champaklal and his two companions was so palpable that a friend sold his wife’s gold ornaments to buy train tickets for them. After all they were going to meet the Golden Purusha in Vedapuri!
The Mother was an incarnation of the Divine Mother as Mahapremi. This much is brought to us by the biographies written by Iyengar, Wilfried, Van Vrekhem and the reminiscences of innumerable disciples like Madhav Pandit, Sahana, Tara. From them we learn that she taught us to be cheerful, fearless, brave and remain tuned to the Infinite. That is all we know and we need to know.
— Prema Nandakumar