The purpose of this article is to correct some misinterpretations in the Lives of Sri Aurobindo (referred to as LOSA hereafter) regarding the Mother Mirra Alfassa’s trip to Japan.
We find the following descriptions in LOSA:
Leaving Pondicherry was more of a shock to Mirra than to her husband. Over the last ten months, she had felt fulfilled in her inner life as never before. Now she was deeply shaken. What did the divine intend for her? After long meditation, she came to understand that “the time of repose and preparation was over”; it was time for her to “turn her regard to the earth.” She accepted this, but was still convinced that her place was in Pondicherry. And surely (she told herself) Aurobindo thought so too. If he asked her to stay, she would have done so without hesitation; but far from doing this, he “even appeared to wish that I should go away.”136 When the final order came from Paris, Mirra packed her bags along with Paul. On February 22,1915 the couple left for Madras. A day or two later, as they boarded their steamer in Colombo, Mirra declared “with great feeling and assurance ‘We shall come back.'” As far as Paul could remember, “from that point on, all our thoughts turned towards Europe in the throes of war.”137 Mirra’s diary shows that her heart was elsewhere. “Bitter solitude!” she wrote on March 3, “and always that strong impression of having been thrown headlong into a hell of darkness. At no other time, in no other circumstance, have I ever felt myself living in surroundings so totally opposed to all that I am conscious of as true, of all that is the essence of my life.”
(LOSA, p 260)
Another passage on the trip to Japan.
Mirra’s illness came toward the end of an unhappy four-year sojourn in Japan. Paul’s commercial mission had come to nothing, and he and Mirra earned their livelihoods by teaching French…. Resigned to remaining in Japan until the end of the war, Mirra spent her time painting, learning a little Japanese, and meditating with a circle of friends. She also wrote a few pieces for publication. “Woman and the War,” a mildly feminist article, appeared in a Tokyo newspaper in Japanese translation in 1916. “Impressions of Japan,” written in English, was published in India the next year. Mirra admired the Japanese for their “perfect love for nature and beauty” but regretted their lack of spirituality.29 The artist in her was in a constant state of wonder in Japan, but the seeker in her lived in a spiritual vacuum. The dominant mood of her diary was withdrawal and expectation.
(LOSA, p 319)
If you actually read Prayers and Meditations, you will realize that:
- Her trip to Japan was NOT exactly an unhappy sojourn. She did meet with Rabindranath Tagore and observed his meditation. This incident is not mentioned in LOSA for some inexplicable reason.
- She did NOT live in a spiritual vacuum. She was having spiritual experiences of high order.
- The dominant mood in her diary was NOT of withdrawal and expectation. As we see below, there was a hidden purpose behind her ordeal.
In this selection of entries from her diary Prayers and Meditations, we observe how she was first despondent, then waited patiently for further Divine guidance, and gradually regained her communion with the Divine. At the end she discovered the hidden purpose behind this unexpected six-year detour.
(March 3, 1915): Solitude, a harsh, intense solitude, and always this strong impression of having been flung headlong into a hell of darkness! Never at any moment of my life, in any circumstances, have I felt myself living in surroundings so entirely opposite to all that I am conscious of as true, so contrary to all that is the essence of my life. Sometimes when the impression and the contrast grow very intense, I cannot prevent my total submission from taking on a hue of melancholy, and the calm and mute converse with the Master within is transformed for a moment into an invocation that almost supplicates, “O Lord, what have I done that Thou hast thrown me thus into the sombre Night?” But immediately the aspiration rises, still more ardent, “Spare this being all weakness; suffer it to be the docile and clear-eyed instrument of Thy work, whatever that work may be.” For the moment the clear-sightedness is lacking; never was the future more veiled.
Despite the harsh solitude, she was still sustained by the luminous puissance of the psychic being. There was no spiritual vacuum as asserted in LOSA.
(March 4, 1915): Always the same harsh solitude… but it is not painful, on the contrary. In it more clearly than ever, is revealed the pure and infinite love in which the whole earth is immersed. By this love all lives and is animated; the darkest shadows become almost translucent to let its streams flow through, and the intensest pain is transformed into potent bliss. Each turn of the propeller upon the deep ocean seems to drag me farther away from my true destiny, the one best expressing the divine Will; each passing hour seems to plunge me again deeper into that past with which I had broken, sure of being called to new and vaster realisations; everything seems to draw me back to a state of things totally contrary to the life of my soul which reigns uncontested over outer activities; and, despite the apparent sadness of my own situation, the consciousness is so firmly established in a world which passes beyond personal limitations on every side, that the whole being rejoices in a constant perception of power and love.
(March 7 1915): I am exiled from every spiritual happiness, and of all ordeals this, O Lord, is surely the most painful that Thou canst impose: but most of all the withdrawal of Thy will which seems to be a sign of total disapprobation. Strong is the growing sense of rejection, and it needs all the ardour of an untiring faith to keep the external consciousness thus abandoned to itself from being invaded by an irremediable sorrow….But it refuses to despair, it refuses to believe that the misfortune is irreparable; it waits with humility in an obscure and hidden effort and struggle for the breath of Thy perfect joy to penetrate it again.
In the subsequent entry, we read of the state of immobility that she was in.
(March 8 1915) …For the most part the condition is one of calm and profound indifference; the being feels neither desire nor repulsion, neither enthusiasm nor depression, neither joy nor sorrow. It regards life as a spectacle in which it takes only a very small part; it perceives its actions and reactions, conflicts and forces as things that at once belong to its own existence which overflows the small personality on every side and yet to that personality are altogether foreign and remote.
Even as she was plunged in hardship, she was being bathed by the coruscating waters of a Higher consciousness.
(July 31 1915) …Thy power in me is like a living spring, strong and abundant, rumbling behind the rocks, gathering its energies to break down the obstacles and gush out freely in the open, pouring its waters over the plain to fertilise it. When will the hour of this emergence come? When the moment arrives, it will burst forth, and time is nothing in Eternity. But what words can describe the immensity of joy brought by this inner accumulation, this deep concentration, of all the forces that are submissive to the manifestation of Thy Will of tomorrow, preparing to break over the world, drowning in their sovereign flood all that still persists in wanting to be the expression of Thy will of yesterday, so as to take possession of the earth in Thy Name and offer it to Thee as a completer image of Thyself.
Here, she discusses how she adapted herself to the difficult situation she found herself in.
(June 7 1916) …This return to activity meant a completely new adaptation of the vital instrument, for its natural tendency is always to resume action with its old habits and methods. This period of adaptation was long, painful, sometimes obscure, though behind, the perception of Thy Presence and perfect surrender to Thy Law were immutable and quite strongly conscious for any disturbance to shake the being. Gradually the vital being grew accustomed to find harmony in the intensest action as it had in passive surrender. And once this harmony was sufficiently established, there was light again in all the parts of the being, and the consciousness of what had happened became complete. Now in the heart of action the vital being has discovered the perception of Infinity and Eternity. It can perceive Thy Supreme Beauty and live it in all sensations and all forms. Even in its every sensation, extended, active, fully developed to feel contrary sensations at the same time, always it perceives Thee.
(Jan 23, 1917) Thou didst fill my being with so complete, so intense a love and beauty and joy that it seemed impossible to me that this would not be communicated. It was like a glowing hearth whence the breath of thought wafted far many sparks which, entering the secrecy of men’s hearts, kindled other similar fires, fires of Thy divine Love, O Lord, that Love which impels and draws all human beings irresistibly to Thee. O my sweet Lord, grant that this may not be only a vision of my enrapt consciousness, but indeed a reality, effectively transforming all beings and things.
In the next entry, she questions the purpose behind her unexpected ordeal. In the life of saints, the Divine Grace can sometimes veil itself without revealing the deeper purpose behind apparently superficial events. This is something worth highlighting in a biography which purports to “humanize” its subject(s).
(Sept 24 1917) Thou hast subjected me to a hard discipline; rung after rung, I have climbed the ladder which leads to Thee and, at the summit of the ascent, Thou hast made me taste the perfect joy of identity with Thee. Then, obedient to Thy command, rung after rung, I have descended to outer activities and external states of consciousness, re-entering into contact with these worlds that I left to discover Thee. And now that I have come back to the bottom of the ladder, all is so dull, so mediocre, so neutral, in me and around me, that I understand no more….What is it then that Thou awaitest from me, and to what use that slow long preparation, if all is to end in a result to which the majority of human beings attain without being subjected to any discipline?
As we see from the following entry, she was subjected to such adversity because she had to overcome her dread for conflict.
(June 22, 1920) After granting me the joy which surpasses all expression, Thou hast sent me, O my beloved Lord, the struggle, the ordeal and on this too I have smiled as on one of Thy precious messengers. Before, I dreaded the conflict, for it hurt in me the love of harmony and peace. But now, O my God, I welcome it with gladness: it is one among the forms of Thy action, one of the best means for bringing back to light some elements of the work which might otherwise have been forgotten, and it carries with it a sense of amplitude, of complexity, of power. And even as I have seen Thee, resplendent, exciting the conflict, so also it is Thou whom I see unravelling the entanglement of events and jarring tendencies and winning in the end the victory over all that strives to veil Thy light and Thy power: for out of the struggle it is a more perfect realisation of Thyself that must arise.
Therefore, contrary to the conclusions in LOSA, she did not live in a spiritual vacuum, and the mood in the diary was not of withdrawal and expectation. Recall that Datta (Dorothy Hodgson) had accepted the Mother as her spiritual guide in Japan and came back with her to Pondicherry.