The path of Devotion(bhakti) is demeaned on page 343
Aurobindo’s birthdays began to be celebrated with some pomp. “From early morning,” reads one contemporary account, the house was “humming with various activities…. All are eager to go to the Master for his Darshan [formal viewing]. As the time passes there is a tide in the sea of rising emotion. It is ‘Darshan—we see him every day, but today it is ‘Darshan’! Today each sees him individually, one after another. In the midst of these multiple activities the consciousness gets concentrated.” Climbing the staircase, they found him seated “in the royal chair in the verandah—royal and majestic. In the very posture there is divine self-confidence. In the heart of the Supreme Master, the great Yogin.”Those present were filled with emotion: “is it a flood that mounts or a flood that is coming down on humanity? Those alone who have experienced it can know something of its divinity.” As they approach, “all doubts get assurance…. Love and grace flow on undiminished. The look! enrapturing and captivating eyes! Who can ever forget?—pouring love and grace and ineffable divinity.”112
There is no way to know what Aurobindo thought about the outpouring of emotion. Basically British in his upbringing, he was always reticent and reserved, never encouraging demonstrations of feeling. He was familiar with the conventions of the Indian guru-shishya relationship, such as bowing down before the master and elaborate gestures of devotion, but he resisted attempts by his followers to practice them. He may have regarded such customs as examples of those ‘ancient ideas and forms’ that India had such difficulty getting beyond. But if Aurobindo was indifferent or opposed to ceremony, Mirra thrived in it. She was happy to see the sadhaks spending hours stringing garlands and preparing special dishes, and later, during the darshan, bowing down at Aurobindo’s feet.
(lives, p 343)
Heehs is projecting his own opinions of devotion onto Sri Aurobindo. Westerners in general are strongly individualistic and prefer to see the Guru as an equal. The act of bowing to the Guru reminds them of the Church rituals.
The fact of the matter is that Sri Aurobindo was never opposed to ceremonies and did not resist them, as we can see from these letters he wrote to disciples:
There is no restriction in this yoga to inward worship and meditation only. As it is a yoga for the whole being, not for the inner being only, no such restriction could be intended. Old forms of the different religions may fall away, but absence of all forms is not the rule of the sadhana.
These are the exaggerations made by the mind taking one side of Truth and ignoring the other sides. The inner bhakti is the main thing and without it the external becomes a form and mere ritual, but the external has its place and use when it is straightforward and sincere.
What you say is no doubt true, but it is better not to take away the support that may still be there for the faith of those who need such supports. These visions and images and ceremonies are meant for that. It is a spiritual principle not to take away any faith or support of faith, unless the persons who have it are able to replace it by something larger and more complete.
(SABCL vol. 23, Letters on Yoga, p 777)
Peter says, “There is no way to know what Sri Aurobindo thought” about devotion. The fact is that Sri Aurobindo has written eight chapters on the Bhakti Yoga in just one of his major books. He has written literally hundreds of letters on the principle of bhakti and its practice in yoga and at the Ashram. The rest about how he “resisted attempts by followers” to practice conventions is a double deception. While Sri Aurobindo opposed mechanical conventions, he did not see the “guru-shishya relationship” as merely conventional. The principle of surrender to the Divine or Guru is the essence of all yoga.
What about the long darshans that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave regularly four times a year? Did he have objections to people falling at his feet?
The last objectionable part: “Mirra thrived in it(ceremonies). She was happy to see the sadhaks spending hours stringing garlands and preparing special dishes, and later, during the darshan, bowing down at Aurobindo’s feet.”
The Mother did not thrive on ceremonies. She had to run an Ashram and build relationships between the disciples and the Guru. She acted based on her spiritual consciousness, guiding people based on their individual nature.
The fact there was ceremonial pomp during the darshans which could be described as religious, read NIrod Baran’s “Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo” Page 31, Chapter – Recovery. That the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were inconvenienced is clear in this account.
Formerly the Darshan was observed
with a great ceremonial pomp. Starting at about
7.30 a.m., it ran with one breathing interval, up to 3
p.m. The devotees offered their garlands and flowers,
did two, even three or four pranams to the Mother and
the Master who remained glued to one place throughout
the ordeal, and endured another martyrdom under
this excessive display of bhakti even as Raman Maharshi
suffered from the “plague of prasads”. Now, all that
was cut down at one stroke by the force of external
circumstances, and all expression transformed into a
quiet inner adoration which is a characteristic of this
Yoga. Sri Aurobindo’s accident made the ceremonial
Darshan a thing of past history.
The text above says “There is no way to know what Aurobindo thought about the outpouring of emotion. Basically British in his upbringing, he was always reticent and reserved, never encouraging demonstrations of feeling. He was familiar with the conventions of the Indian guru-shishya relationship, such as bowing down before the master and elaborate gestures of devotion, but he resisted attempts by his followers to practice them. He may have regarded such customs as examples of those ‘ancient ideas and forms’ that India had such difficulty getting beyond.”
These observations are incorrect. Sri Aurobindo certainly did not regard the Darshan as a “ancient form that Indians have difficulty going beyond.” What Sri Aurobindo thought about the Darshan can be read from the recently published “Letters on Himself and the Ashram”
“I do not know that I can say anything in defence of my unlovable marbleness—which is also unintentional, for I feel nothing like marble within me. But obviously I can lay no claims to the expansive charm and grace and lovability of a Gandhi or Tagore. For one thing I have never been able to establish a cheerful hail-fellow contact with the multitude, even when I was a public leader; I have been always reserved and silent except with the few with whom I was intimate or whom I could meet in private. But my reference to Nevinson and the Conference was only casual; I did not mean that I regard the Darshan as I would a political meeting or a public function. But all the same it is not in the nature of a private interview; I feel it is an occasion on which I am less a social person than a receptacle of a certain Power receiving those who come to me. I receive the sadhaks (not X or others) with a smile however unsatisfactory or invisible to you —but I suppose it becomes naturally a smile of the silence rather than a radiant substitute for cordial and bubbling laughter. Que voulez-vous? I am not Gandhi or Tagore.
All that I really wanted to say was that the inwardness and silence which you feel at the time of Darshan and dislike is not anything grim, stern, ferocious (Nrisinha) or even marble. It is absurd to describe it as such when there is nothing in me that has any correspondence with these epithets. What is there is a great quietude, wideness, light and universal or all-containing oneness. To speak of these things as if they were grim, stern, fierce and repellent or stiff and hard is to present not the fact of my nature but a caricature. I never heard before that peace was something grim, wideness repellent, light stern or fierce or oneness hard and stiff like marble. People have come from outside and felt these things, but they have felt not repelled but attracted. Even those who went out giddy with the onrush of light or fainted like Y, had no other wish but to come back and they did not fly away in terror. Even casual visitors have sometimes felt a great peace and quiet in the atmosphere and wished that they could stay here. So even if the sadhaks feel only a terrifying grimness, I am entitled to suppose that my awareness of myself is not an isolated illusion of mine and to question whether grimness is my real character and a hard and cold greatness my fundamental nature.”
(Letters on Himself and the Ashram, CWSA vol. 35, p 50)
If you read the entire section from “Letters on Himself and the Ashram” entitled “Not Grim and Stern”, you will see that his reticence, which was inborn, grew as a result of his yogic realization. The vital energy which frivolously plays on the surface of all human beings gets tranquilized in case of the sage. That is the reason he appeared grim during Darshans even though inwardly he wasn’t.
Sri Aurobindo used to prepare a special concentration of forces on the day of the Darshan, according to the Mother:
Ranjit Das is in all probability a pseudonym. He has sent an email before in favour of Heehs over here: http://seof.blogspot.com/2010/10/they-had-mastered-forces-of-desire.html
RIGHT USE OF DARSHAN AND PRANAM
Physical means [like Darshan and touch in the Pranam] can be and are used in the approach to divine love and worship; they have not been allowed merely as a concession to human weakness, nor is it the fact that in the psychic way there is no place for such things. On the contrary, they are one means of approaching the Divine and receiving the Light and materialising the psychic contact, and so long as it is done in the right spirit and they are used for the true purpose they have their place. It is only if they are misused or the approach is not right because tainted by indifference and inertia, or revolt or hostility, or some gross desire, that they are out of place and can have a contrary effect — as the Mother has always warned people and has assigned it as the reason why she does not like lightly to open them to everyone.
No one should look upon the Pranam either as a formal routine or an obligatory ceremony or think himself under any compulsion to come there. The object of the Pranam is not that Sadhaks should offer a formal or ritual daily homage to the Mother, but that the Sadhaks may receive along with the Mother’s blessings whatever spiritual help or influence they are in a condition to receive or assimilate. It is important to maintain a quiet and collected atmosphere for that purpose.
(Sri Aurobindo, The Mother , p 286)