LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF SRI AUROBINDO AND THE MOTHER
17. THE TOUCH OF HER FEET
Mother is an avatar. Sri Aurobindo says She is universal Mother Devi who has come down in her individual aspect. She has lived amongst us for nearly 100 years, during which She headed Sri Aurobindo Ashram for 47 full years. As Devaki saw the whole creation in the mouth of Krishna, we see every aspect of creation in Mother’s life in the Ashram. Those who have joined the Ashram have given up family, career, worldly life and all their worldly wealth, seeking only Her Grace in good measure. She had the unique capacity of being over-generous and also a strict disciplinarian. Her Love embraces all mankind and all creation. There are several legends of Her infinite compassion to the dozen cats She reared. Also She is known for very strict disciplinary measures. I would like to relate an incident in Her life that may be considered unique in spiritual history.
People who join the Ashram generally enjoy good health, rather better health than before. Their faces acquire the shine of the inner light. Even in old age most are in good health and are moving about without help or even the customary walking stick. The life span granted to one by destiny itself is given a longer lease when one takes to Mother. All this, Mother says, is because She is centrally lodged in their hearts.
Soon after World War I, an elderly sadhak who had joined Sri Aurobindo at the turn of the century fell ill. He was old by any reckoning. Though there were minor diseases, he was not disabled by any serious disease. The Ashram doctor who attended on him said he was suffering the infirmities of old age that arose out of the wearing out of the parts of the body. In such a general condition of deterioration, it is likely that minor ailments get lodged in the system. Doctors, co-sadhaks, volunteers attended on him in turn with love and devotion. His condition grew worse day by day. He lost speech. Movements were nil. The little food he was taking was replaced by a liquid diet, which was not easy to administer. It was obvious that his days were numbered. Those around him were eager to serve him and do any little thing that would please him or cheer him. He was not in a coma. He was awake and conscious. But it was hard to know his present thoughts as he did not speak. His earlier spartan habits did not leave much room to guess what things he would like. The question of calling for his relatives did not arise. Suddenly, one day there was a moment of intensity in the sadhak’s look. It was obvious he had something in mind. Communication was not easy. Sign language was used by the sadhak in a broken way. His mind seemed to be clear and his face was bright. Unfortunately his understanding could not be communicated back to those around. After some exercise in sign language, guess work, inference, etc., it was discovered that he wished to be taken to Mother. After fully ascertaining that this was his wish, Mother’s advice was sought and She readily agreed to bless the departing soul.
He was put on a stretcher and was taken to Mother’s Room upstairs. As soon as he came into the Presence of the Mother, his face brightened and his eyes became moist with gratitude. Though he could not move even a little, he appeared as if he was no longer a dying man. Mother left the chair and came near his stretcher, bending over him. His condition was becoming better with every second, but perhaps he was not thinking of death or his dying condition. It became apparent that he wanted to communicate something to Mother. The difficulty of communication that had been there between his co-sadhaks and him did not seem to be there between him and The Mother. Each seemed to understand the other very well. There was a gleam of a smile on his dry lips. Suddenly he mustered enough energy to point at his chest and then at Mother’s foot. She beamed with a smile which She alone can give. It was clear that the sadhak was asking Mother to put Her foot on his chest.
Though Mother is generous beyond measure in showering materials gifts on visitors and conferring spiritual blessings on sadhaks, for Her own reasons She had many discriminations to make. Often, She responded not to the expressed prayer but to the highest aspiration of the devotee which was unspoken and, perhaps, a wish the devotee was not even fully aware of. For instance, a visitor who was childless for ten years came to Mother and prayed for a child. He was rewarded with a rare promotion in his job, which was unusual for that job. Later the devotee explained that this promotion was closer to his heart than anything else. When devotees or sadhaks start any work and ask Mother for blessings and an emblem for their department, She gives different types of emblems. The State Bank emblem was given by Her. When sadhaks insist on something of hers, She gives her symbol modified, a message, etc. There is a drawing of Mother’s feet and a photograph of Her feet. This She rarely gives as an emblem to a department. She did give this as an emblem to a few whose aspiration She knew to be very pure. It is Grace to see Her, which is Darshan. Sadhaks know it is supreme Grace when She touches their heads for blessings. When we go to Her for pranams, the most auspicious moment is when we touch Her feet. This dying sadhak had asked Mother for something unknown in spiritual history, Mother’s foot on his chest.
She was gracious and consented to the prayer by a broad smile. The sadhak melted in emotion to know of this divine consent. Large drops of tears of gratitude collected in his eyes. She touched his chest with Her foot. The appearance of the sadhak became transformed. In a trice his eyes which had tears became flowing streams of tears. A very bright light leaped onto his face and quickly spread all over his body. He was in ecstasy. His soul was in front receiving the physical expression of Divine Grace. There was an intense descent of Peace in the room and a strong jet of joy entered the devotee. While he was being carried away from Her room, his eyes stayed on Mother meeting Her gaze, which was turned toward him. He returned to the Nursing Home. His last wish had been graciously fulfilled, but he did not die. Health began to return and he felt better day by day. Every activity, such as speech, motion, etc., which had been lost, now returned. After a week he was up and about. He lived for another 20 years to a very ripe old age.
The main gate of the Ashram is opened at 4:30 a.m. to the sadhaks and remains open until 11 p.m. Though there is a strongly felt atmosphere of peace around the Samadhi all the time, the Peace is more easily felt early in the morning and late in the night. These are hours when there are only a few sadhaks near the Samadhi. For many years I used to go to the Samadhi at 9 p.m. and remain there till the gates were closed. One night, on coming out of the Ashram at 11 p.m., I found someone waiting for me. He eagerly came towards me and introduced himself as one who had met me three years before. He was a foreigner named Tom. I mistook him to be another foreigner with the same name who had been in the World Neighbours movement and who met me three years before in connection with our development work. Very eagerly, Tom asked me for an appointment the following day. This was at a time when for four years I had stopped receiving visitors for general discussion. I was hesitant to accept the meeting, but soon I found he was hurt by the fact that I had not recognised him. With great enthusiasm he recalled his earlier meetings with me and repeated the details of our conversation. I quickly reversed my hesitation and agreed to see him the next day.
He came the following morning and was very eager to know more about Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. He addressed a great many questions to me which the initial enthusiasm releases. I was trying hard to make up for my previous night’s lack of recognition of one who was so interested. Tom is an American. He had traveled all over the world in search of spirituality. This was his second tour of the world. Before reaching Pondicherry, he had visited Mysore, Calcutta, the Himalayas, etc. and met various types of spiritual people. He was also interested in ideas that would better the lot of poor people. He said that though he had visited a great many places, the peace at Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi had made a deep impression on him. Since his last visit he had read many of Sri Aurobindo’s major books. It seems during his last meeting with me I had told him about several yogic practices and he kept most of them in mind. Though his quest for the spirit took him to several types of gurus, he was trying to practise what he had heard from me about Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. Having said that and taking for granted the earlier reference, he went on developing the discussion. As I had forgotten the earlier meeting, I felt embarrassed. I was anxious not to offend him again, especially because he was so friendly and enthusiastic. Fortunately for me he turned to the topics of his own experiences during the tour around the world, one of which I shall report in his own words.
Tom said, “After my visit to Pondy, I left India and during my travels I read a lot of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, which I like and admire. I visited Australia and later South America. While in South America the thought occurred to me that I should start practising Sri Aurobindo’s yoga. I was looking for practical clues in his book. Sri Aurobindo’s books are wonderful but more philosophical than practical. The practices he suggests are too difficult, even to begin with. But the desire to make a practical beginning of yoga began to take possession of me, even though I was not equipped enough. Later I moved to Mexico, where I hired a Volkswagon to tour the country. This was a van which I drove by myself. It had facilities for writing, cooking, bathing and sleeping, like a house on wheels. One day I had been driving since the morning and by lunch time I was tired. I did not want to cook my meal and for a change I stopped at a motel—a roadside hotel for motorists. After lunch I was reluctant to resume driving, since I had been driving the van for more than two weeks by then. I had some rest and felt somewhat refreshed. Feeling better, I started again, but after an hour of 50 or 60 miles drive I felt bored and stopped by the roadside so that I could relax sitting on the grass. After a little while I had to start again, but in another half hour boredom overtook me and again I stopped for relaxation. I was intermittently stopping every half hour or one hour like that.
When I was driving after one of these rests, casually I turned around and noticed that my shoulder bag, which I usually keep at a certain place, was not there. A chill passed through my spine, as the bag contained my passport and all the money I had. I made light of it, telling myself that I should have placed it on the table behind me and drove on. An uneasy feeling was growing in me and I stopped to make sure the bag was safe. I ransacked the whole van and it was nowhere to be found. I was a foreigner in Mexico and with my passport lost I could be in serious trouble. With all the money lost I did not know what to do. I felt dizzy. I vividly remembered that while in the motel I had the bag and took the money out of it for paying the bill. I had traveled nearly 100 miles from the motel and stopped at four or five places on the way. There was no way of knowing the places where I had stopped. I drove back to the motel and made thorough enquiries, searched at the table where I had sat in the lounge. The bag was nowhere to be found. With utter bewilderment I drove back trying to locate the points where I had taken rest. Stopping at dozens of places which resembled my places of rest, I searched in vain. I started for the car to resume my journey. What journey! In the next couple of hours the petrol would run out. Where was the next meal to come from? How to contact home? I had no dime on me. I was at the end of my wits. Just then I remembered our earlier conversation in which you quoted Mother’s words: “If at anytime you arrive at a point that there is nothing more to be done, the situation is hopeless and everything is lost, that is the best moment to call Mother. She answers the call instantaneously. Mother is Universal and She is not confined to Pondicherry.” The recollection of these words came to me like lightning and my failing strength returned. I moved to the side of the highway, sat down cross-legged, closed my eyes and began calling Mother fervently. How long I sat I do not know, but I felt a great peace in me. The fear left. Reassured, I walked back and got into the van and sat behind the wheel. Before I could start, something on the roadside, till now hidden by the parked car, caught my attention. It looked like a piece of cloth. Impelled by curiosity at the sight of a cloth near the highway, I alighted to examine it. Going near the cloth, I came upon a bush and in the middle of it lay my bag! To my utter amazement and intense surprise, when I opened it there were the passport and money intact! I could not believe myself. Ever since that time, the experience has been fresh in me. I was anxious to tell you this incident.”
His was no mere enthusiasm. It was faith. His eyes gleamed with joy.
Having had a successful experiment in raising coconut palms over 15 acres, I thought of creating a 100 acre coconut plantation. Someone responded to the idea, and I was looking for a hundred acre vacant piece of land for this venture. It was a five year quest and did not seem to lead us anywhere. Finally, it was suggested that it may be possible to buy a 100 acre cashew garden. I had no experience in rearing cashew, nor was I interested.
As there was no alternative, I began to examine the potentialities of cashew and decided upon buying a cashew garden. The garden for sale was located on a hilltop and was part of a 1,000 acre area officially described as a jungle. It was a deserted place. Agriculture itself had not taken roots there. Water was scarce. In summer there would be no drinking water in any wells in the area, except for one at a depth of 70 feet. I was warned against the folly of buying a property in such a primitive forest area, where one’s very physical safety was not assured. As my faith in Mother was great and I felt inwardly the sanction of Mother for the purchase, I went ahead buying a garden for a friend of mine and worked for the improvement of the place in several ways. Everything went according to my expectation and showed greater promise than anticipated. People who questioned the wisdom of that purchase congratulated me on the luck of the venture. More than one person from nearby towns had moved in there to buy large adjacent properties.
I was giving thought to the idea of somehow serving the adjacent village in some fashion. It was a village without electricity, drinking water, road facilities, etc. The population was very poor. The main occupation was raising dry crops in their fields for the annual food supply and walking to the town five miles away in search of daily employment. In these conditions, it is very difficult to think of any financial scheme of assistance to the village. Many of the villagers worked in our garden and I found them very good at work. I asked many of them what kind of help would be beneficial to them. The usual answer was that work in their own fields was very helpful to them as it saved them the need to walk long distances everyday in search of work. Their lands were rain-fed. Their usual crops were kambu (millet) and black gram. Some raised rain-fed peanut. For any financial scheme of assistance a surety of property was needed and an assured income from the property. This was before the nationalisation of the banks, and the idea of banks advancing money for agriculture was unknown in those days. As I was toying with the idea of assisting the villagers financially through a scheme, I received copious warnings from friends in the government, banks, the villages, etc. that money traveled only one way and never in the reverse direction.
Just about this time, news came that in a village gathering it was decided that everyone should voluntarily give up drinking. I thought it was a good sign, but when it comes to lending money and collecting it back, these ideal moments turn out to be only skin deep. I myself borrowed money from a bank for improving our lands. A year later another leading bank invited me to their bank. I asked them whether they could serve my village in any capacity. They never liked the idea of visiting a remote village as part of their work. In the meantime the Chairman of this bank was introduced to me. He also renewed the invitation to his bank. I renewed my request that they should come to that village with assistance. Both of us agreed to each other’s proposals. But there was unwillingness all around. Other officials in the bank refused cooperation. My own friends on the farm through whom I expected to organise the scheme expressed dissatisfaction at my proposal to lend bank money to the villagers and were emphatic in saying that it would not be possible for them to assist in collection of repayment. The Karnam and Village Munsif advised me against the scheme, saying it was rash. My proposal to the bank was that they should initiate a trial scheme, lend money, and I would collect the money after the harvest. The idea was to lend crop loans in the first year, and, if that succeeded, follow it up with well loans the next year.
The bank officers paid an initial visit to the village. They were full of doubts but were willing to try with a small amount. This was followed by the visit of the Chairman himself to formally inaugurate the scheme. The next groundnut season was one month away. All was agreed upon. Between the visit of the bank officials and the actual disbursement of cash, I began to receive several warnings, advice, experiences of others, all indicating that I was moving in the clouds. An elderly man who had managed our own garden for the past 40 years said, “I am from this village. I was born here and I know the conditions far better. You are inviting the bank to lend money. I do not think you will be able to collect even a part of it back. Please think it over and then act.” A batch of men who had worked in our own garden for five years said, “Money can be lent but not collected back. This applies to us also. No one thinks in terms of returning a government loan. Now things are all right with us. Let us not disturb the conditions.” The bank officials said, “We know nothing of village conditions. We are going ahead on the strength of your words.”
I was anxious to hear one good word of encouragement from someone. On any side I turned, a warning was waiting for me. The more I listened to people, the more it was discouraging. Though I was not shaken in my original decision to help the village, I wanted to examine again the wisdom of my move. From the practical social point of view, on any showing, it was a wild idea, playing ducks and drakes with money. All the advice I received was right from the other’s own point of view. But this was not a work done for charity or philanthropy or for personal satisfaction. This was the first of its kind in India. If this succeeded, there would be a good chance of the scheme being extended to other places. For the very same reason, a failure here could be fatal for any future hope for agriculture financing. The key question for everyone was, “How to collect the money back from the villagers?” In my own mind I had only one answer for this question. If any work is done in good faith, if the money goes to a good use, good yields will be the result and out of that chain, repayment should come easily. This is what I know from Mother. As far as I was concerned, there was no other motive than to help the farmers. The farmers are simple people who would use the money to raise crops, as that was their first priority. I was sure of this. If the yield was good, there would not be any difficulty in repayment. Here I differed from the general opinion that villagers would not repay, even if the harvest was good. I also believed that as long as our motives were good and we based ourselves in Mother, the villagers motives were bound to be good. My mind was clear and the entire amount of Rs.63,000 was disbursed in one week. Our village became the first village to be adopted by a bank.
The groundnut crop that year was a bumper in the village. Prices rose from Rs.90 per bag to Rs.180 per bag. Everyone had his fill and beamed with joy. There was no pest. Farmers who went to town to sell their nuts all returned home only after paying their bank dues. One man even called at the bank at 6:30 p.m. and insisted on paying his dues. All dues were collected far ahead of time and, on the stipulated last date, one remaining farmer paid. Neither the bank officials nor any of us visited the village for collection of dues. The next year this was followed by well loans. Year after year the village gradually moved into prosperity. In the next two or three years commercial banks all over India adopted 2000 villages.
Many people who run an establishment, institution or an industry generally used to discuss their work with us and often asked whether Mother gave any guidelines for such a work. As these are people in worldly life of family or business (though the money involved is sometimes lakhs or even crores) and Mother’s consciousness is of great power , a deeply felt prayer releases on their work Himalayan energies and in no time any existing problem is wiped away. Some friends desired to know more of this and in response to their request once we made a list of ideas useful to industrialists, collecting the principles from Mother’s writings. Following some of them, several people expanded their institutions, settled labour strikes, repaid accumulated loans, averted closure of their businesses and benefited in one way or another. We give below a few examples to illustrate the workings of the principles.
There is a multi-crore Public Sector project which had started accumulating several crores of loss year after year. Labour had come under political leadership and had become a thorn in the flesh for the management. The place became known for unmanageable labour situations. Any small cause would lead to a great effect. Production had come down to about 40 to 50% of the installed capacity. Officers here anxiously accepted other jobs at lower salaries and were leaving the place. For over a decade, life in the project had come to be accepted as such. The wish of everyone was that it should not further deteriorate. One unit of this project is a 100 crore section and a key part of the project. The head of the unit had earned a reputation for his excellent efficiency in production, but he too was helpless with labour. He came to a meeting at our centre, where we had gathered on a certain occasion. Incidentally he was also the President of this centre. After the meeting was over, he invited me to his house and his wife received us. She had a long story to tell. She broke out in a detailed narration of her husband’s suffering at the hands of the intransigent labour and explained how they both had no peace of mind at all. Any sound, anywhere, she explained, disturbed them as it might be the shouting of a crowd. Life had become miserable. They were allergic to any development there regarding labour. Finally, she asked if there was no way out and whether Mother could not help them. I replied that Mother’s help was always there, only that one should approach Her with faith. The problem that was knotty, thorny and appeared insurmountable would soon disappear, if Mother’s Grace were invoked, I said.
Both responded with deep interest and expressed that they had great faith in Mother and would do anything I said to get rid of the troubled situation that had become permanent.
I gave the following explanation: “Mother is great. Her Power is infinite. Her methods are complex (in one sense). That is all true for those sadhaks who do their yoga and it is for them to understand Her complex philosophy. Yours is a human difficulty and a life problem. However difficult it is and complicated it had become, for Mother’s powers it is indeed easy to wipe out. All that one should do is to firmly decide to pray to Mother to remove his difficulty. Only that this prayer should be made in good faith. If you agree to do that much, you can take it for granted that the problem will be solved.”
He readily agreed. Further, I asked him to write down the history of the installation, so that at several points I could comment from Mother’s point of view. Later he showed us around the project and expressed a desire that we should meet his five deputies. I hesitated and said that it might not work and such proposals might not meet with general approval. He insisted and I agreed. The five of them came and formally appeared willing to listen. One of them, perhaps the best and brightest among them, spoke out frankly, “There is no place in India where the discipline is worse. I have no faith in spirituality or anything else. The only thing that could set the situation right is determined enforcement of discipline. Those who disobey must be taken to task.” The head of the unit felt embarrassed for creating this situation in spite of my warning. But I explained to him that no one there believed and everyone was simply polite. He who had spoken was frank and honest, but unfortunately it was not possible for him to know what the spiritual force was. I summed up saying, “Send me your summary of the problems you face. I shall offer my comments. Please remind yourself twelve months from now of my present statement: ‘Labour unrest will be a thing of the past. You will never be able to see any trace of it.’
He sent me his summary. I marked some portions and commented from the points of view of soft speech, cleanliness, orderliness, regularity, attention, maximum utilization, etc.—all general ideas of Mother. I added, “As your project is spread over 12 acres, is kept spotlessly clean, and your efficiency in production is already famous, Mother’s Force will act more effectively there.”
Several devotees were coming from there. The head of the unit began sending word about the vast improvement in labour relationships. After twelve months the secretary of that centre came to me with a special message from the head: “Labour has become quiet and cooperative. The only strike that was in the canteen at the time of your visit moved away the next day. The last twelve months have been without an incident. Moreover, production moved up to 60 or 70% and is presently at 97%. Labour unrest has vanished, not only from this unit but from the entire project. I do remember your words and they are true. Only that I do not understand how it all happened.” He may not understand, but every devotee of Mother will. Her power and force are so great that no human problem can survive their healing touch.
About five years ago, we compiled a set of principles from Mother’s ideas which would be useful to the industrialist, management consultant, manager, etc. One of our friends spoke these ideas to a section of delegates of the All India Management Conference of that year. Several industrialists evinced interest in following them. We prepared a short summary of this and supplied it to all those who asked for it. We sent a copy of it to the President of the Management Centre Europe. In 1978 the devotee who had prepared this paper attended the World Management Conference as a delegate representing us. The President of the European Centre was also there as a main speaker. The devotee met this man and the latter readily recognised him. He started speaking about the paper we had sent him several years ago. He explained, “I appreciated all these principles and would like to know more about it. In truth, I followed the principle of ‘service before profit’ and to my surprise the practice was effective. Unexpectedly, now I am the President of the more powerful American centre.” As he was interested in this topic further, we supplied him with additional materials and he constantly asked for more. A year later our friend met him in New York and had a long discussion with him in which he offered detailed explanations to his questions. By now, he was very much satisfied and wanted to test these principles in an organisation. Some months later he informed us, “I have had occasion to use your principles in my own organisation which was losing half a crore of rupees a year. The losses stopped and we are now making substantial profits. In addition, one of my subordinates in South America is spending half his time cleaning. From the organisational profit point of view, he tops the list. It is interesting to see the relationship between cleanliness and profitability.” Again he asked our friend for some suggestions for a college in New York that had a budget deficit of half a crore. Our general ideas were made particular to suit this place and we submitted our recommendations. Eight months later, he said there was definite improvement in the college finances. We learned that the deficit was reduced to half its original size.