LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF SRI AUROBINDO AND THE MOTHER
9. COCONUT GARDEN
One day on my way to Pondicherry I reached the bus stand where I happened to see a friend standing with another man. I stopped for a moment and enquired why he was waiting near the bus stand, more to make conversation than to elicit any information. My friend introduced the other man and said they were on their way to the Ashram. I happily invited them to join me. The other man tried to be very friendly and started a conversation. He said it would be his first visit to the Ashram. In reply I said it would be good if he remembered this date one year later and took stock of his position, as anyone who came to Mother would not remain in the same position after a year.
After about a year these two people called on me at my house. I was very happy to see them. The man explained that it was the same day the previous year we had met and reminded me of my earlier statement. He said he had a shop, a good extent of lands, a business in Singapore, a coconut garden and some shares in a few other businesses. He was happy and said that my statement the previous year about Mother’s devotees not remaining in the same station of life for more than a year was true. He summarised his position saying, “Every establishment of mine is doing twice as well. Now I see the truth of what you said. Only in the coconut garden it doesn’t work.”
His coconut garden was situated at the junction of three rural roads and surrounded by paddy fields. As it was a one acre garden, it was not economical to employ a full-time watchman to live there day and night. As long as his father was alive, things were different. Coconut harvests were regular and plentiful. Since his father’s death a few years before, he had expanded his activities to more than one field, and there was no one who could fill the place left vacant by his father. Since then, he had not had a single harvest of nuts, as all the nuts were stolen. He started harvesting them as tender coconuts with a view to salvaging as much as he could. I explained to him that apart from his father’s prestige it must be true that now attention to the coconut garden must be less. He agreed. He was in a difficult situation. He could neither appoint a full-time watchman with his family living in the garden, nor was it possible to prevent pilferage in view of its location. As the pilferage now reached 100% of the harvest, apart from the loss, it was not nice to have one’s produce stolen like that month after month. There was no advice I could offer him in terms of farm management, as he seemed to be more experienced in these matters than I.
Besides all this, I said, trees love attention. Now his attention was diverted to many other establishments. The thieves were constantly thinking of the trees and nuts. Therefore the coconut plants responded to their ‘attention’ by yielding their nuts to these rogues. I asked him to pay a visit to the garden at least once a week for an hour and evince keen interest in their upkeep. Also I suggested that he should remember the garden as often as possible wherever he was. If he could do both these things and pray to Mother that the pilferage should stop, it would be good, I said. About a month later he came to me bringing some coconuts. He said that it was the very first harvest after many years. The theft had stopped suddenly and mysteriously. One day after he had started the prayer, two men came to him and requested an appointment in his fields. They were apologetic. He could not understand their behaviour until they disclosed the full story. They had been part of a gang of four that was stealing his coconuts month after month. Recently their chief had suffered an electric shock, while climbing an electric post, and his fingers were so mutilated that he could not climb coconut trees anymore. Another one of them was caught by his own villagers and beaten for being a shame to the hamlet. They threatened to hand him over to the police, if he resorted to stealing anymore. Now that the gang had broken up, the other two, being camp followers, were on the lookout for jobs.
The story made me happy. I said Mother is great and Her ways are infinite. Also, I added, his remembrance of the garden and weekly visits were a more powerful medium for Mother’s Grace as it was the attention of an owner and hence superior in quality to the ‘attention’ of vile men.
He is a scientist devoted to his subject. He used to glue himself to his microscope, often until 10 p.m. His profession was teaching in a college. He was not only respected by his students but loved for his sweet, soft manners and devotion to his pupils. No strike, however universal, would prevent him from taking his classes. He was a devoted scholar, devoted to his subject, his students and his professors. After his M.Sc. he did his Ph.D. The Principal of the College was his professor and guide. As ill luck would have it, this man who was universally loved and respected, who identified himself with his duty and fixed himself at his post of duty, who was soft spoken, had for some inexplicable reason fallen out of favour with his Principal, who was also his guide. His course in Ph.D. was a shining success. His expertise was in grapes, jasmine and tomato culture. His thesis came out very well. Even before the thesis was out, his findings were recognised outside.
His guide was more of an administrator than a scientist. When a thesis was written by a research worker, it was necessary that the guide certify it as a bonafide work done under his guidance before the thesis could be submitted to the university for evaluation. This guide, for reasons best known to him, refused to certify this thesis as bonafide. The scholar was dismayed. The entire campus felt outraged. Such a treatment to such a devoted scientist over so valuable a research work! Soon the Principal left the college for a higher job in the Central Government with his office in North India. The statutory rules allow that any thesis may be submitted within four years, though the work is only for two years. If a thesis is not submitted within that four years, the whole work gets cancelled and procedure requires that the scholar must start over again from scratch. For this scholar, the expiry date was only a few weeks away. As he had already given up all hopes, his disappointment was less keen. His friend brought this incidence to my notice at that moment and asked whether a way out was possible. A way out was possible, I said, if the scholar agreed to pray to Mother.
A few weeks later a stranger called on me. He introduced himself as one sent by a friend of mine. I recognised the circumstances. I invited him in and asked where he was coming from. Slowly he warmed up and said he was coming from the Ashram, where he had an occasion to sit in meditation in the Room in which Sri Aurobindo had been in tapas for 24 years. After a while when we felt a little more comfortable and friendly towards each other, he explained as follows.
“Your friend returned from the Ashram and spoke to me about my thesis and asked me whether I would pray to Mother. I know nothing about Mother, but I have often heard from him that She is Divine. I had no difficulty in accepting the idea of prayer, but there was a great practical difficulty. The last date for submission of the thesis was just two days away. I had no idea where my guide was. As a last resort I left for the university office the next day, having hurriedly collected all the relevant papers, certificates and documents in one day. There I met the Registrar and told him my position. It was the very last day, 10 o’clock in the morning. The Registrar took a great interest in my case, appreciated my difficulty and was willing to offer any help, but he said it was totally invalid without the signature of my guide. I told him frankly that my guide refused to sign it and I did not know where he was at that moment. The Registrar agreed to receive the thesis as submitted on that day but also offered a suggestion. He told me that my guide was in the city on that day and I could try my luck in obtaining his signature. I hesitated. He explained that my guide was leaving for America that afternoon to receive an honorary degree and, perhaps, in such a mood he might agree to sign. With a heart filled with anxiety I went to his house. To my surprise, the guide was outside and received me with a big smile. My greater surprise was when he asked me about my thesis and offered to certify it. With a relief felt all over my body I held out my thesis. He readily signed and said he was taking the 2 p.m. flight that day and it was nice I could come in time. From there I went to the Ashram with a sense of wonder still hovering around me. That was my first visit. I offered my gratitude to Mother, about whom I yet do not know much. Straight away I am coming here.”
He was really a very soft-spoken man and very cultured in his ways. Since then he has presided over international conferences and has risen to the highest position in the university in his own subject. Just now there are six professors working under him.
He was an industrialist who had made his money in foreign countries and returned to India. He decided to start the same industry here in India as he had acquired an expertise in that field. Around the time he was supposed to found the factory, he was introduced to me when he needed help in digging his first borewell. The man was grateful for the initial help he received and expressed it appropriately whenever the occasion permitted. He personally came to me to extend an invitation to the foundation stone laying ceremony for his factory. At the function, when I found out that outside his family he had invited only six people, all placed very high in the society, I was touched by the man’s attitude.
He was over sixty but was in perfect health. The money he had earned, several crores, seemed to weigh him down. Occasionally we used to meet in a friend’s house, at a function or even on the road. He evinced interest in visiting my projects and knowing the details about them. During these meetings, he told me how he became Mother’s devotee and some related incidents that reinforced his faith in The Mother.
As he had made his money outside India, all his wealth was in foreign exchange. When he started the factory here, he bought all his costly machinery outside India and imported it. On the day the machinery arrived in India, he and his son were at the port filled with enthusiasm and excitement. When the machinery was being shifted from the ship to the wharf, something went wrong with the crane. Suddenly his machines started moving down over the water, instead of up. The machines were worth several lakhs of rupees. The father and son were shocked. The dazed engineers in charge of the operation stood there helplessly. The machines were slowly slipping down towards the water and in another few moments would disappear beneath the surface. What a loss! He said, “I was in tears. My son stood there with his kerchief over his mouth unable to control his grief and fear. My head was dizzy. I could not even shout out. My world seemed to have come to an end. What a beginning for the company! With greatest difficulty I steadied myself, thought of Mother and sent Her the calls of a heart that would burst at any moment. Then a miracle happened. The ropes of the crane that were moving down suddenly stopped. Hope showed in the engineer’s face. Their alert action was able to save the situation. After the safe retrieval of the machinery, the engineers disclosed that the cranes were not meant to lift such a weight and they had taken a risk. My son and I heaved a sigh of relief when the machinery was brought onto the wharf. I have since told this story of Mother’s Grace to several people.” He had told me this already three times, so vivid was the impression on his mind.
One day he came to see me. He was friendly and nice. He did not seem to have anything particular in mind. He said he had read our Society’s monthly letter and found it interesting. Obviously he had something on his mind to consult. After a little while, he said, “I am over sixty, but doctors find all aspects of my health are all right. From any point of view of life—health, food, nourishment, rest—I have everything I need. But there is an overpowering tiredness coming on me in waves. I feel exhausted all the time. Doctors are of no help. I have been in this condition for some years now. Can you suggest anything to overcome this lack of energy?”
I asked him to meet me the next day with a good quantity of Chrysanthemum flowers. The next day he arrived with the flowers. Mother calls this flower Life Energy. Devotees have a certain receptivity and openness to Mother. Devotees are not sadhaks who relate to Mother intensely through concentration, as yoga is not their primary aim. Devotees think of Mother when they do their puja, after which they lose themselves in daily work. This man is an industrialist who is buried in his work. He would naturally think of Mother during his pujas or when something goes wrong. I could not advise him to constantly think of Mother, except during times of crisis. Flowers are a receptive medium and help the devotee to better relate to Mother. We can ask Mother for energy, peace or anything, and can receive it in the measure of our receptivity. I explained to him briefly the meaning of flowers and this flower in particular. I advised him to offer this flower to Mother’s photo at home in the morning, let it remain there for some time and be charged with Her energy. In the evening when he prays, he could hold the flowers and pray for energy from Mother. I told him he could pray like this for a week and then we would see. He came two days later and said, “Three fourths of my exhaustion has already left. I have already started my evening walk. I feel a lot better. Now I would like to consult you on another problem that has bothered me for 20 years. It is an unknown fear that powerfully churns my stomach.”
He was anxious to explain all about it, but I discouraged him from explaining the details. As Mother has given the name courage to the Calotropis flower, I said he could use it in the prayer as he had done with the Chrysanthemum flower.
The following week, he sent word that he did not want to bother me this time but wanted to meet the American sadhak who had written in our monthly letter about Mother's principles in running a business. They met and had a discussion. It seemed that this man’s factory had started only a few years before and had become a great success, but it had some serious trouble getting raw material a year before. As Mother was alive then, he sent word to Her about his raw material difficulty. The difficulty vanished, not only for him but for the entire industry. Later that raw material was produced in such abundance that a little of it was exported, too. Now his company had earned a good name all over India. His company’s name was a household word in many parts of India already. This very positive development encouraged him to expand the factory two-fold. The board approved of the expansion plan and money was there. He ordered the machinery from abroad. All the other connected plans were well drawn up. Everyone in the management was jubilant over the turn of events. But news came that serious labour trouble was brewing. He managed to secure every detail connected with the plans of the labourers. He was alarmed, but he was happy that he had got wind of this trouble before it expanded. The character of the trouble was such that he almost seriously considered dropping the expansion plan for Rs.2.5 crores. As a last resort, he said he thought of consulting the American sadhak whose article on Business Management was recently published. He invited the American to come to his place and address his officers.
My American friend went there the next day. All the officers of the company were assembled in the hall. My friend spoke to them in great detail about the principles of Mother in running a business. At the end of the meeting everyone felt somewhat encouraged. Before my friend left the factory, the industrialist asked whether he could come again on another day to speak to the officers. My friend explained to me that, although everyone listened with interest, they had no idea of how to go about warding off a labour situation which had not yet precipitated. My friend suggested that both of us could visit the factory the next time. I agreed.
This time I spoke to the same officers again, but I could see that they wanted a practical clue. Seeing this, I explained, “You are planning for the welfare of the company but find the labour attitude a hindrance and a threat. In such circumstances Mother suggests that if you work for the welfare of the labourers, this trouble you anticipate must disappear.” Having said that, I asked them to fill in a questionnaire that would give all the details of the labourers families, viz. number of members, property holding, lands owned, other income, diseases suffered, recreation practiced, etc., so that on seeing the details, the company could draw up a serious welfare plan for the labourers in their own homesteads to make their lives richer and better. Before winding up I repeated, “You must truly wish for the welfare of the workers. If that wish is true, right results will issue. The key lies in the truth of your wish. The rest is a matter of procedure.”
The industrialist disappeared and I didn’t meet him for over a year. One day I happened to meet him in an Ashram function. He came to me eagerly and inquired about my work, family, project and friends. I asked him about the expansion. He said, “Oh, you don’t know. I have finished the expansion and the new wing will be commissioned in a few weeks.” He neither explained to me about the labourers, nor did I ask him about it.
One evening when I was sitting upstairs reading, I saw a group of Ashramites coming to my house in a jeep. Soon my friend brought upstairs a letter from USA which was delivered to me from the Ashram post office. The Ashramites, who expected an important information from the USA, wanted to know whether my letter contained it. It was a personal letter written by an ex-colleague now in New York. The letter that disappointed the Ashramites contained a surprise for me. This friend and I had been colleagues at a high school for many years. Later, each of us had followed a different line in life. Now, after more than six years, he was writing from New York. Surely it was a surprise to me.
He and I were teachers in a high school. He was very popular among the students and more popular with the teachers. Everyone considered him a perfect gentleman. He was amiable, a conscientious teacher, a pleasant companion and never rubbed anyone on the wrong side. He came from an ardent Catholic family and was well versed in the Church doctrines. He was one of those who spent a good deal of time with me. He was particularly interested in knowing what attracted me to the Ashram. When he knew Mother’s original name, he was delighted, as it was a Catholic name. He would ask me about Mother, Ashram, their practices, beliefs, etc. and compare them with the practices in their church. Over the years I have communicated to him the basic tenets of Mother’s life. Each time an important issue came up in the school, he would ask me how Mother would act in such a situation. Once, when someone mooted the idea of starting a college in that town, the question of funds arose. This friend at once asked me Mother’s view on collecting money for public service. I explained that Mother had said if the service was genuine, money would gravitate to the service. For the Ashram She never collected funds but accepted only what was brought to Her unasked. This made a great impression on him and he commented, “It requires a great ideal to attract money. This view is really marvelous.”
Once he disclosed to me that he had chronic diarrhea and was able to digest nothing but milk. And he said he had had it for several years. As he was a native of Madras, he had consulted many doctors there in vain. He wanted to know whether I had any thoughts about his ailment. I gave my idea that he had a deep insecurity about his job and his future in life. The illness was only an outer symptom. He agreed that he had a deep insecurity, but did not agree that the illness was its result. After a year, an old classmate of his who had gone to London for medical studies returned and set up practice. My friend wanted to examine his illness afresh through the help of this doctor friend. As this friend was an ENT specialist, he could not do it himself, but introduced my friend to the leading doctors of the locality. The diagnosis of six of them was unanimous that the patient had T.B. and the diarrhea was the symptom. X-rays were taken and the diagnosis was confirmed.
He prepared to leave for Tambaram Sanatorium where he had relatives as doctors, so that he could get personal attention. The whole school was immersed in gloom. Personally I knew that no harm would come to him for the simple reason that he had listened to me about Mother so often. I knew Her protective power extends to all who come into contact with Her directly or indirectly. When he came to take leave of me, I said, “All the doctors have made a mistake, as they all go by the disease symptom and simply overlook the fact that your health is in fine fettle. It may be true that T.B. is indicated by diarrhea, but it is also true that diarrhea has many other causes.” He asked me how he could take my words to be true against the unanimous opinion of six doctors. Then he left for Tambaram. In three days he returned full of smiles and announced that at Tambaram they found out he did not have T.B. Everyone was happy. When he saw that the result at Tambaram confirmed my opinion, he began evincing greater interest in my way of understanding.
Personally I knew he had no real disease. Not only that, but a great opportunity was possible for him. Though he was conscientious, popular and amiable, he had neither much talent nor ideals. He was an ordinary man, but a good man, who believed in his religion. The very fact that he constantly asked about Mother and discussed Her ways of life and admired certain aspects of it brought a new force into his life. Therefore, a new high opportunity was possible. As he was not a direct devotee of Mother, this force lay there unused. When I saw that he was threatened by a chronic disease at a time when he should be rising higher, I decided to speak to him a little more freely. I knew that he could move up in life and forget once and for all disease, disappointment, etc. What was needed to accomplish this was an effort on his part in the positive direction. After some deep consideration of the matter, I recalled he had an excellent endowment for understanding human nature. If only this capacity could be utilised, his life could rise higher. This capacity is a valuable asset to students of literature. So, I suggested to him that he join M.A. English literature and that way his fears about T.B., the reality of diarrhea would vanish. The effort of the individual is necessary in such cases for Mother’s dormant force to act. He dismissed my suggestion summarily, and we continued in the school as colleagues, he with his chronic diarrhea.
That summer he visited his home. Life took a different turn. For what reasons he could not imagine, his father asked him to join M.A. Literature. He could not agree to the idea, but he had never disobeyed his father’s wishes. A Vice-Chancellor was a good friend of his sister’s husband, who was a high-ranking army officer. His father disclosed that the Vice-Chancellor had already agreed to give him a seat in M.A. Half with fright and half with hesitation, he went to the university, submitted the application and was called by the professor of English for an interview. The professor took one look at the certificate and was in a fury, as he had secured only the minimum marks for pass in English in B.A. in a second attempt. His intermediate certificate showed that he had failed in English once. The professor was red in the face. He burst out, “You can never pass M.A. English in this lifetime!” He was shivering with fear and begged the professor to return his certificates, so that he could return to school.
As the candidate was highly connected, the professor could not but admit him. He joined M.A., but was mortally afraid of his professor. But there was some deep satisfaction in joining a higher course. The day he joined M.A. his diarrhea totally disappeared, never to return.
A week later he visited our school and met his old friends. To me he confided his mortal fear of the professor’s anger. I replied that he would be liked by the professor when his buried talents came out. In six months he became very popular with all the M.A. students, as well as his teachers, and became the favourite of the professor, who started sending M.A. students to him for help in the subject and clarification of doubts. Life had turned a full round. Disease was gone. Fear was gone. He was respected for his knowledge, goodness and, above all, his latent endowment. He passed M.A. and became a teacher in a college. From there he joined the staff of his own university, where he was considered by students and teachers as an authority on the subject. Another university that was reorganising its English department sent a special invitation to him for a higher job in the teaching hierarchy.
After he left his own university, I lost contact with him, and at least six years had passed. It was at this point that I received a letter from New York. He said in the letter, “I came to New York a few years ago and am employed as an editor of an accounting journal. As a part-time student I have joined Ph.D. (English) in New York State University and have finished the course. I am awaiting the degree.”