May 05, 2007

The compendium of yogic wisdom that is Savitri

Savitri, Surrender and the Void by Rod Hemsell by Rich on Wed 02 May 2007 Permanent Link (Commentaries based on a course given from Jan. to Mar. 2006 at Savitri Bhavan by Rod)
The Theme of the Void There is a line of Savitri that occurs at the end of the first section of Book 1, Canto 5, which has extraordinary mantric value. It reads, “In the Void he saw throned the Omniscience Supreme,” and just opposite that line on the facing page, Sri Aurobindo says: “The Immortal’s pride refused the doom to live/ A miser of the scanty bargain made/ Between our littleness and bounded hopes/ And the compassionate Infinitudes.” Here, near the beginning of the compendium of yogic wisdom that is Savitri, we have an emphatic statement of what Sri Aurobindo has elsewhere called “the refusal of the ascetic,” proclaimed to be the law of spiritual life. “His height repelled the lowness of earth’s state.”

But what I find most interesting to notice is that the Void, the Omniscience Supreme, and the compassionate Infinitudes, are juxtaposed in this way by Sri Aurobindo. The idea that the Void and Mind, with a capital M, and infinite Compassion, are the fundamental truths of existence, and of the experience of Aswapati’s yoga, is something that Sri Aurobindo is clearly very interested in having us realize. The theme of the Void will continue to be developed throughout the first three cantos of the book that will be our focus, the Book of the Divine Mother, especially in the canto we will read tonight, The Pursuit of the Unknowable, which is fully devoted to that theme, and later just as fully developed in Savitri’s yoga in the Book of Yoga...
The Adoration of the Divine Mother One can easily imagine that this second canto of Book 3 is the expression of the central theme of the yoga of Sri Aurobindo, and therefore it is particularly important. I think this is so. It is perhaps an ultimate, or at least a penultimate, statement of the absolute necessity and profound significance of the idea of Surrender. Sri Aurobindo makes it extremely clear and explicit in this canto what the word or idea of Surrender means, and yet it is still, inherently, a very difficult movement to grasp integrally, and to practise.

And yet the canto is quite short, and you can read it in the same amount of time as you take to read the newspaper, and you can read it in the same way. It’s quite simply stated and easy to read. However, if you read it in that way you won’t have a clue as to what he is talking about. I tried it, and it doesn’t work. It is deceptively simple. But if we render the canto as a mantra, in the spirit of practice, we have to perform the Vedic sacrifice and make it the expression of our call and our complete self giving. It comes from the Void. The first movement of that self giving is a total, total and absolute, surrender. This canto really only speaks to us when we have done that. It is the expression of that...
So this transformation of consciousness is a very subtle change from perceiving everything outwardly, through the senses and mental impressions, to perceiving everything inwardly, without sensations and mental impressions, by another instrumentation, another faculty, another energetic of consciousness. It is very subtle, and this canto is telling us exactly how that subtle change happens. But it’s not in the lines of the canto. You don’t catch it by reading and reflecting on each line on the page. It comes through the process of sacrifice. It is a realization of the mantric transmission that happens through us by the invocation of Savitri. And it takes time. The active intention must persevere for as long as it takes.

In several cantos of Savitri there are expressions of how activity in the world can take place from that position of being/non-being, and absolute calm. There are many descriptions of how that can take place, especially in the Book of Yoga, which is the yoga of Savitri. In the yoga of Aswapati, this transition takes place after all of his practice, or tapasya, and is the transition into identification with the Supreme. In the next canto, The House of the Spirit…, it is also a transition into the experience of the perception of the world when the psychic being is totally in front. And in the experience of Aswapati, it is revealed dramatically to be also the transformation into an ultimate compassion for humanity and the world, which is expressed absolutely in the last canto in the cycle. The final work is that work of compassion. It brings about the descent of Savitri for the salvation of the world.

So what is the difference between the Buddhist teaching and this one. In the Mother’s Agenda, she says somewhere that now she understands that the Buddhist teaching is something that has to be learned and realized, not as a final step but in order to take the next step. In itself it doesn’t make possible the taking of that next step. It didn’t bring that special connection with the divine, that new force, into the reach of mortal consciousness. We can reflect that perhaps, historically or psychologically, humanity wasn’t ready, or that this teaching had to come first. However, Sri Aurobindo is conveying in Savitri the spirit and power of that realization as a passage to something very specific, which we might call the yoga of Sri Aurobindo, or the yoga of transformation.
When I make such comments on Buddhism, or on the Upanishads or Gita, I try to emphasize that this is Sri Aurobindo, it’s not really the Upanishad or Gita per se. What Sri Aurobindo calls the synthesis of yoga is an understanding of how the movements of yoga can be utilized for this particular change of consciousness, and not for the realizations of the past. And so his works are not really translations or commentaries on ancient texts, but vehicles, like the emptiness, like the void, for a passage and the entry of a power that is different. So Nachiketas learns the teaching of yoga from Death in the Katha Upanishad. And that is a necessary realization, and much of Savitri is about that.
But it’s not for the realization of the illusoriness of life, the stillness of death or the Emptiness, but for the transformation of death, the transformation of spiritual consciousness. This idea of transformation is the unique combination of the teaching, lessons and realization of yoga in order for something else to happen. In a way, all of the teachings are still valid, and in a way they are just stepping stones for something else that is specific. We are trying to learn what that is. And we are allowing Savitri the word, Savitri the silence, Savitri the golden bridge, to bring us into the realm of that possibility. Out of whatever we are, into whatever that is. And the way…?
And so, in the canto we are going to read tonight, called The Vision and the Boon, which is the central canto of Savitri and perhaps the most difficult to read, because the most powerful and the most perfect, Sri Aurobindo culminates his yoga tapsya of Nirvana in the Brahman, realizes the descent of the Divine Mother in him, and then invokes the force of transformation for the earth, as an ultimate act of sacrifice. In this canto is contained everything that is meant by sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. This is the summation of the movement of invocation, self-giving, and affirmation, the absolute affirmation of the divine in existence. This is also therefore the culmination of the yoga of transformation, the disappearance of the ego, dwelling in the divine emptiness, and then the descent into it of That, and then the work of That manifesting the new consciousness on earth, in the self of all.

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