LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF SRI AUROBINDO AND THE MOTHER
21. MENTAL TENSION
It was 10 o’clock in the morning. A friend of mine who was an officer in an erstwhile British-owned company walked into my house. He was in a kind of despair. He announced with suppressed fear that his boss had come and wanted to meet me. A minute later the boss came in. The boss was in a curious state of mind and his manners were odd. He was polite, deferential, interested, curious but also felt strange about something which I could not guess. My friend would not even sit down. He was virtually trembling and was taking notes of our talk. The boss asked me about the farms, about my job and then suddenly exclaimed that he had heard I was a regular visitor to the Ashram, as if it was a strange act or a mortal sin. In fact, the general population had no idea of what the Ashram was about. In the next breath he said he had been visiting the Ashram rest houses and found that there was peace in those places. He commented, as if to himself, that if there was peace in the guest houses, there should be much more in the Ashram itself. I felt he was incoherent and appeared under stress, being disturbed deep down. As if to echo my thought, he said he had some kind of lack of balance and his visits to the Ashram guest house had a soothing touch. He asked me why I was going to the Ashram, whether I had any imbalance, and what I felt about the place. He was asking the questions for the sake of asking and expected no reply. I noticed a strange pain had descended on my head and was spreading all over. Soon the pain lodged itself in my neck and became excruciating. After an initial spell of an odd exhibition of behaviour, suddenly he calmed down, found himself restored to the personality of the top business executive he was, relaxed and waited for me to say something. Surely, the man was a high-strung difficult case of deep disturbance which had lodged in him decades ago. The case was intricate, the acquaintance was fresh, the man was in no great mood to listen and understand, but something in him was attracted to the peace in the Ashram and was interested. My poor friend, who was himself a high officer, was a spectacle of sorrow at once terrified to be in the company of his chief executive and happy he was introducing his boss to me. I spoke briefly that Mother was peace, joy, love and sweetness. Her Presence was felt in every part of the Ashram and physically all over Pondicherry. Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, I said, was a place for realisation. The man listened intently. When I finished, he took leave of me. He went up to his jeep and came back inside the house again. He requested that I might call on him at his factory, if ever I visited his town. The pain in my neck intensified and rolled into a knot, shooting shock vibrations from there for almost an hour. My pain directly reflected the intensity of this man’s years of suffering, from what I had no idea.
From then on, he began to meet me off and on. Gradually he told me the background of his particular complaint. He was directly under the Chief Executive of a multi-crore factory with a history of a hundred years. The factory gave him a high salary, a spacious bungalow, unlimited authority and almost all types of perquisites. Thirty years earlier his father had held the same post and in the previous generation his grandfather had also held that post. Over the generations they had acquired a vast landed property and accumulated wealth of every desirable description prevalent in rural areas. The family was very orthodox and was scrupulously religious. In that part of the district the family was a kind of legend and known for their traditional piety, philanthropy, interest in modern civilisation and high administrative position. Early in life this man had taken with zest to all the religious rituals connected with the tradition. There were many around who spoke highly of each type of pranayanam, japa, puja, etc. He was introduced to the religious scriptures, particularly the Vedas and some powerful portions of it. Unfortunately, this poor man accepted all of this, little understanding the high significance of these scriptures and the equally high importance of taking to them through the right Guru or right traditional method. He avidly gathered all of them in a somewhat undigested fashion and began to follow them with meticulous care. He was still augmenting this ‘wealth’ of anushtanam.
When he became somewhat close to me, he disclosed that in spite of being a kind of favourite child of fortune, he had one serious problem. His mind was under a terrible tension, a devilish fury all the time. He was happily married and had a child. Materially he was affluent; socially he was in the highest bracket; officially, he was respected as an efficient, honest, dynamic executive. There was no known reason for any lack of satisfaction, much less any grievance. Still, he confided, he was under a great inner conflict. He knew no rest or respite. Though everyone knew him to be polite, he explained that he felt like throwing the chairs at others. He felt that his whole nervous system was on fire, but he managed to maintain a quiet front. This effort aggravated the situation even more. Occasionally he said he used to lose his temper powerfully with his subordinates for no fault of theirs. He would soon regret it, call and make up with them. His envy was for any man who could sleep soundly. Peace of mind was something unknown to him. He was jealous of anyone who had a quiet bearing.
It was clear he was looking for relief and was willing to receive it from any quarter. This was a fertile situation for favour-seekers as well as genuine well-wishers. He religiously followed the instructions given by orthodox priests, donated liberally to temples of family deities, celebrated festivals in famous temples. The whole district was combed out in this relief-operation and a good part of the state was covered. There was a peculiar inevitable result each time. His inner tension increased.
He disclosed that the very first time he had felt any touch of peace was at an Ashram guest house. His perception was true in his nerves and was a real experience, but his extreme orthodoxy stood in the way. He was undecided. Surely this was not an individual to whom anyone can offer advice, even if it is apparently sought for. In a vein of detachment, he said he was prepared to resign, settle down to work on a farm or offer his services to an institution, if only it would bring peace to his turbulent soul. He asked me whether he could join Sri Aurobindo Ashram and whether it would administer a permanent relief. I explained that it was uncalled for, too great a step to seek so small a relief. He was intrigued to see that I considered his suffering too small. I explained that it was too small a problem considering the great spiritual power coming from Mother in the Darshan. Anyway, he felt, his condition was less intolerable than before. With that amount of positive response, I ventured to mention he could attend one of Mother’s public Darshans. He agreed and did so. He felt a substantial relief. Now he could consider the possibility of seeking Her Darshan privately. On his suggestion I arranged for it, though it was not a pleasant idea to introduce a mentally distracted individual to Mother. I explained the great stress the man was under and that he desired some relief. Mother was amused and agreed.
A month later, we met. He was sorry he had not told me what happened with Mother. It was a meeting of a split second. As he entered Her room, She turned around and looked at him for a second. The devilish tension that had haunted him for decades dissolved and disappeared. Mother’s look was too powerful for him to bear anymore. He left the room as if new-born into peace and calm.
He was an only child who had inherited some lands and a house and had settled as a graduate teacher in his native place. He had more than one ambition, but was not a dynamic man. As he was comfortably settled, though not on a grand scale, he never ventured to try anything new. His one real hope was an acre and a half of lands suitable for conversion into plots. In the mid 50’s the craze for plots was unknown. It was a time when not even one of the present score of colonies in that town had sprung up. As this piece of land was on the fringe of a main road of the town and was facing the most important office complex there, he was pinning his hope on its conversion into plots. He aimed at a sum of Rs.17,000, which was very high at the time for that town.
One day he came with a face charged with depression and dismay. It did not take long for him to disclose the source of his depression. One of his friends employed in the office opposite to his plot had called on him and narrated an important development. The staff members of that office had been feeling the need for a housing colony. Some arrangements were made and all the members had agreed on the idea of founding a housing society. They approached the government for sanction of housing loans to the members. Many successive collectors had not evinced any enthusiasm for such a proposal. Therefore, no such proposal had taken shape till then. The Collector at that time offered all encouragement to the idea and asked the representatives of the staff society to arrange for a plot. This spurred the office staff and they again approached the Collector with the idea of acquiring the 1½ acres of land just opposite to their office. The Collector readily approved of the idea and agreed to pass orders to acquire the area. The plot had been surveyed, the value fixed, the necessary formalities were being gone through. After elaborate revenue calculations, the compensation was fixed as Rs.2,000 for the entire land according to the prevailing rules. It is at this stage that the owner of the plot got the news. His disappointment and despair were understandable, as the proposal had taken shape and the Collector was personally enthusiastic about the idea. In a matter of a month or two the plot might be taken away and the owner informed and compensated. The one hope of making some money was now slipping away. Being a young man and not placed in a position to move higher-ups to stall the move to acquire the land, he was steeped in gloom. The problem was real to him and the authority he had to face was formidable for his social position. His one lingering hope was to bring some benevolent influence on the Collector and request him to change to another plot. The advantageous position of his plot for the staff of that office was a difficult point to argue against. He mustered courage after some time and started talking to me. The very first question he asked me was whether I knew anyone whose word would weigh with the Collector. Having said this, he gave the above details.
I had a totally different view of the situation. I refrained from answering him but asked him a counter question. My question was how that property had been originally acquired by his family. He asked whether it was possible to save the situation and avert the acquisition. I knew that this man had visited the Ashram and had the Darshan of the Mother a little while earlier, not so much impelled by devotion as to oblige an elderly relative’s invitation. My view was that no wrong would come to a person who had seen Mother. As he was not a devotee in any sense of the word, if I explained my thought to him, he would only be irritated. I simply said that this property would never be lost, if only he could assure me that it was acquired originally by fair means. He took great pains to give me the details of its original purchase by his father some twenty years earlier. It was done with hard earned money. He was eager to get some right word from someone and obliged me with every possible information. I explained that if only he could give the history of the plot couched in the history of his family, certainly a way out would emerge. He started, “My father was a doctor who joined the active service.” I got my clue and asked him to stop any further narration. As an ex-service man’s family, they would normally enjoy a special treatment at the hands of the government. I suggested that he move the ex-serviceman’s organisation. He in turn entrusted me with the task of drafting an application to their head office in Delhi.
On the seventh day he came to me with a broad smile. He said that on receiving his application the Delhi office telegraphically instructed the District Ex-Serviceman’s Association to approach the Collector to drop the move of acquiring his plot. A man from that office called on him that morning and assured him that no one on earth would lay a finger on his property. The Collector (who was President of the District Ex-Serviceman’s Association) was also telegraphically requested by Delhi to drop the proposal. A few years later, the plot was sold for Rs.47,000.
He is a tall majestic figure with white hair, grey with age, and he is clad in sparkling white clothes. A man of austere habits and deeply versed in Tamil spiritual literature, he is a bachelor whose face shines with energy and purity. He speaks forcefully as per the tradition of scholars in Saivism and Tamil. He migrated from his native district into our town and settled down to a single life. At a young age, having come under the influence of a realised soul of his place, he shunned family life and the search for material rewards in life. Early in life someone explained to him, perhaps his Guru, that he had the rare endowment of water-divining.
As I was in farming in those days, he was introduced to me as a water diviner. On enquiry in my town where he had lived for 30 years, I realised he was an able water diviner. It was said that no place which he had spotted had failed to disclose a water stream underground. I myself availed of his services for about a dozen wells. Every point he chose proved to have copious water springs underneath. For one of the biggest borewells in South India for agriculture 600 feet deep, he successfully chose the spot.
One day he came to me saying that someone from Auroville had called on him in his absence. He requested me to contact that Aurovilian on his behalf. Auroville is a desert of parched red soil in South Arcot District. He wanted to offer some service to this International city. He was taken there and he located 18 spots suitable for digging wells. All the tubewells that are now working in Auroville are in the spots he had chosen. Mother was pleased by this gesture of service by someone who was not even her devotee. Being a traditional Saivite, he looked on these modern versions of religion (like the Ashram) with a scornful eye instead of veneration.
As we now were relating to each other on water divining, we had more opportunities to meet. He is an elderly, respectable man, immaculate in appearance and spotless in character. As I am far younger to him, discussions with him meant that I would listen in silence and in reverence. Difference of opinion or dissent was not part of our relationship. That being the case, the topics of Mother, Sri Aurobindo or the Ashram were respectfully kept out of our conversations.
One day he asked me somewhat curiously what secret was there in The Mother and added that each time he visited the Ashram and returned home, there was an order waiting for him in the room. I became interested, but was not bold enough to offer any explanation of the fact that Mother was the source of all prosperity and his generous service to Mother had begun to show results in his life. On his insistence I began to give information in little bits with much hesitation. After some time, he began to evince more interest in Mother and asked me whether he could have a Darshan of Mother. Mother was then over 80 and She had stopped leaving her room, receiving only very few people for blessings. In special cases of aspiration, She might agree to receive the person on his birthday. I was delighted at his proposal and I knew Mother would be glad to bless him in view of his pure life and the service he had volunteered. Mother agreed to bless him and receive him on his birthday. I had the good fortune to accompany him to Her. The day before that he came to my house and asked me if there were any formalities or procedures to be fulfilled in going to Mother. His age, his forceful personality, his strong adherence to tradition, my deferential relationship with him—all permitted me to explain nothing. I spoke to him about these matters in monosyllables. Now I quoted the tradition that in meeting great souls we should carry an offering of flowers or fruits. He wanted to know the details. I hastened to add that I had already arranged for a bouquet of flowers from the flower service for him to offer to Mother. He wanted to know if there was anything more. After hesitating, again I quoted the tradition that one may make a token cash offering, if he chose, and added that those who sought blessings for the soul carried flowers and those who sought prosperity from Mother often made a cash offering. He expressed his emphatic personality and declared, “No cash offering is necessary, blessings alone are needed for my continued service.” My mouth was shut forever on this topic with him.
We both went to Mother. She received us with her gracious Smile. He was introduced as the water diviner who had visited Auroville. She blessed us both. We made our pranams and offered the flower bouquets. She gave him a lovely bouquet of flowers and a birthday card and smiled on him. He was touched. Coming out, he exclaimed, “No doubt, Divinity. Mother is great.”
For at least six months I could not meet him. Each time I sought him, his room was locked. I didn’t know what had happened. The man was totally missing. Finally, he made his appearance, looking tired but happy. He explained how he had been travelling all over the state water divining, as he had been approved by the government as a water diviner. There was something lingering in his mind which he was holding back. Before he left me, he said that in one year he had done as much water divining work as he had done in all his long life. There was something more unexpressed. After much hesitation and beating about the bush, he explained that a great deal of work had come to him, but no money. In one case the government procedure held up payment, in another case some error in the cheque delayed payment, while in certain cases he offered to receive payment when the water was struck, but the farmers did not dig the wells, and so on and so forth. I mustered courage and recalled to him his emphatic statement that he needed only blessings for service and no cash offering was necessary.
Mother says She fulfills the highest aspiration of anyone who meets her, even though the individual never voices it as a prayer. And many devotees have vouchsafed to that fact. Here in this case, the water diviner declared emphatically that he needed only service. And he seemed to have received it in copious measure from all over the state. He sat lost in thought and asked what would happen if he now changed his mind and made a token cash offering. I said it would certainly do him good. Soon he brought me an offering to be given to Mother. I was struck by his generous gesture again. Mother received it with a lovely smile.
Again for several months he was missing. This time as I was lost in a huge pile of work I had almost forgotten him. One day in the midst of heavy work, when there were a dozen guests intending to go to the Ashram, Mr. Mudaliar made his benevolent appearance. I was anxious to know why he had been missing and how his affairs stood. I put aside all work and sat with him. He said he had left for his native place in the neighbouring district, bought a piece of land and a small house, installed a borewell for the land, and arranged for cultivation. Now he had come back to vacate his place here so that he might permanently go back to his place. With a smile he explained that all the money came to him after he had made the offering and that money helped him settle down in his old age.
When I went to the shop where I generally buy my stationery, the owner of the shop asked me if I could suggest the name of a good hostel where he could put his ten year old son. He said his son was dull and might not complete SSLC. I did not approve of a parent putting his child in a hostel, while he himself lived in the same town. He said, “I have worked hard all my life and earned enough. Of the three children, he is the only son but he is always playful. He never thinks of studying. Though I am not educated, I wish my son to complete SSLC.” I wanted to meet the child before deciding on the issue. When I saw the boy, he looked brisk, bright, fairly intelligent. Only that he paid little attention to studies. I advised the parent suitably and assured him that his son would certainly take a degree. The father was pleased. The subsequent improvement in the boy’s education made us good friends.
He lived in that part of the town which is surrounded by very fertile paddy lands. To own some lands in that stretch was a matter of prestige. When anyone here first acquired some wealth, they would buy a few acres of land in that area. Lands were irrigated from the river. Water supply was copious and unfailing during the years of good monsoon. Even during the years of monsoon failure, these lands would unfailingly receive good water supply for the samba season, as it so happened that the little water that flows in the river is stopped by a hill and all of it is available for irrigation. In such years a second crop is not possible. As every land owner there was well-to-do, people erected electric motors, so that during years of drought also they can have a second and even third crop. It is an irony of nature that at a place which abounds in surface water, ground water is scarce. Many dug bore-wells there after trial and error. Some did not succeed. It was the ambition of this man to buy some lands there, which he had done. He had a further desire to fit his lands with a borewell. Knowing my experience with borewells, he asked me for ideas and explained the problem there with the ground water. His neighbour unsuccessfully tried ten times and he was still trying for the 11th time, he said.
I spoke to him of the Mother and asked him to pray to Her. He had many relatives in Pondicherry and his business took him there quite often. So he said he would visit the Ashram to obtain Mother’s blessings before starting to dig a well. Any other type of help with respect to digging the well I offered to give. Digging started and was finished in two weeks. Water was struck! He came to me to express his thanks and surprise at striking water in the first trial. He said, “I started life at the bottom, went to Singapore, and worked hard. Now I am well off. I have earned enough for the rest of my life, though I am not one of the richest merchants. But it is my luck that any work that others can complete easily will lead me through detours, difficulties, lapses until frustration mounts beyond measure. However, finally I will succeed. This has always been the pattern of life, achieving through the hard way what is easy for everyone else. This digging of the well has been arduous, uncertain, complicated for everyone else, but it turned out to be easy for me. This is a standing wonder in my life.”
I added that once people take to Mother, such a change inevitably comes over their lives and his was another expression of Mother at work.
A few years later during one of his visits to me, he expressed his dejection over the attitude of his partner. His was the biggest shop in the town. There were three partners from its inception, all having equal shares. These were all boyhood friends who went to Singapore during their boyhood. All of them returned together with substantial savings. They desired to remain together in future, too. With that in view, they together bought the biggest shop in the locality. Soon business flourished and all the partners, being in their prime of life, started buying properties, building houses, investing the surplus funds in other trades independently of the other partners. One of them struck gold in another business he chose and began to prosper beyond measure and soon became a VIP. Then he stopped coming to the shop any more, except for periodic visits. The other two flourished in a few other lines, though not rising to greater heights. My friend and this other man together managed the shop. My friend was less dynamic and less ambitious. So he saved all his excess cash in terms of immovable properties. His was a modest outlay fitting his quiet temperament.
Now my friend had come to me to unburden his woes regarding this partner, whom he had to meet everyday and work with all the time, co-ordinating purchases, accounts, displays in the shop, floor management, cash handling and the multitude of responsibilities that go with running a business. In spite of being a boyhood friend, his partner now showed a new side of his personality. His daily increasing wealth turned his head. He was no longer level-headed. His interference was often and comments were impolite. His manner was intolerable. His language became objectionable and he became a nagging pain-in-the-neck at work. My friend, who had a quiet sweet temperament, would not retort. But his partner had become a nightmare for him. Not being able to be rude, not being able to stand the situation, he was suffering and oppressed. He told me that he would gladly give up his share and retire into his house, as he had enough money for the rest of his life. He said he could start another shop all on his own and make as much income, but he was polite enough and good enough not to express it to either of his partners. But now a point had come beyond which he could not remain quiet. He said he had decided to take some action to free himself from the trouble, but was undecided on what it should be.
I advised him not to take any outward action. His patience, politeness, self-restraint, and consideration for others were commendable and any action now might lessen the value of his great, good behaviour so far. Instead, he could pray to Mother for relief, I said. He agreed. He added that he would visit the Samadhi, as he often went to Pondicherry. Within a week, I heard he was trying to meet me and thought there should be some developments with his partner. Soon he met me. He said, “I am relieved, relieved of my nightmare under unpredictable circumstances which are almost miraculous. My nagging partner went to the house of the other partner and displayed the wares of his beautiful temperament. The other man was outraged. He offered to buy this man off on the spot and did so. The trouble was over. As to my share of the newly acquired one-third of the shop, it was also paid on my behalf. You see, now I am a 50% shareholder! To my surprise, the other partner, contrary to his wont, asked to be paid back at my own convenience!”