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Sri Aurobindo’s relation with the Mother
The second most serious allegation that has been made is that the book suggests Sri Aurobindo's relationship with the Mother was romantic, or at least suggests there may have been a romantic element in it. This allegation seems to be based on the inclusion of following passage:
On Sundays he and other members of his household visited the Richards for dinner and talk. At some of those meetings, people noticed a suprising development. After dinner those present tended to cluster in two groups: Aurobindo and Mirra on one side, and Paul and the others on another. Sometimes, where they were alone, Mirra took Aurobindo’s hand in hers. One evening, when Nolini found them thus together, Mirra quickly drew her hand away. On another occasion, Suresh entered Aurobindo’s room and found Mirra kneeling before him in an attitude of surrender. Sensing the visitor, she at once stood up. There was nothing furtive about these encounters, but they did strike observers as unusual. Neither Mirra nor Aurobindo were in the habit of expressing their emotions openly. (p. 326)
One wonders if this passage could really form the basis of allegations that Peter has implied that Sri Aurobindo’s relationship with the Mother was a romantic one. The reference to the Mother kneeling before him in an attitude of surrender, which occurs immediately after the first reference to her holding his hand, hardly seems characteristic of a romantic relationship; at least such demonstrations would be rather unusual. It would, however, be quite characteristic of a relationship of a disciple to her guru. Taken in this way, the recording of these events in the book might seem to many readers to be rather touching and beautiful. The juxtaposition of the description of the two encounters in the narrative would seem to imply that they were intended to be taken in this way. It should be further noted that earlier in the narrative, the author has already recounted Sri Aurobindo’s great spiritual experiences and realizations of the silent and dynamic aspects of the brahman, the Mother’s own high spiritual and occult attainments, and for both of them, a freedom from sexual desire (see pages 254 and 319).
Shortly after this point in the story, the author recounts an encounter between Mirra’s husband, Paul Richard, and Sri Aurobindo about the latter’s relationship with Mirra:
After a while he asked Aurobindo about the nature of his relationship with Mirra. Aurobindo answered that he had accepted her as a disciple. Paul inquired as to what form the relationship would take. Aurobindo said that it would take any form that Mirra wanted. Paul persisted: “Suppose she claims the relationship of marriage?” Marriage did not enter into Aurobindo’s calculations, what was important to him was Mirra’s autonomy; so he replied that if Mirra ever asked for marriage, that is what she would have. (pp. 326–327)
Peter’s interjection, “Marriage did not enter into Aurobindo’s calculations, what was important to him was Mirra’s autonomy,” seems meant to clarify that Sri Aurobindo was not interested in either marriage or a romantic relationship but rather in his disciple’s autonomy to pursue her spiritual path and her devotion and surrender to her guru. The statement seems to suggest that Sri Aurobindo told Paul this so that it might assist her in gaining autonomy from Paul. Nevertheless, given the ambiguous nature of the verbal exchange, it is perhaps possible that at this point in the text some readers may remain uncertain about the nature of Sri Aurobindo’s relation with the Mother. Their relationship is therefore clarified in a passage on the following two pages.
One thing is clear, however: the arrival of Mirra Richard had an enormous impact on his practice. With her help, he told Barin, he completed ten years of sadhana in one. Her assistance was especially important in turning his sadhana outward. If he had been concerned only with his own transformation or with transmitting his yoga to a limited number of people, he could have done it on his own. But for his work to have a lasting effect in the world, he needed a shakti, a female counterpart.
Shakti, as Aurobindo explained in The Synthesis of Yoga, is the conscious power of the divine. “By this power the spirit creates all things in itself, hides and discovers all itself in the form and behind the veil of its manifestation.” Systems of yoga that aim at liberation regard shakti as, at best, a force that can help the individual obtain release from the limitations of mind, life and body. But systems aiming for perfection, such as tantric yoga or the way of the siddhas, see shakti as the power needed to transform oneself and the world. Tantrics and siddhas worship shakti in the form of goddesses such as Kali; some also worship women as embodiments of the divine force. This is the rationale behind the esoteric sexuality of certain forms of tantrism. The consecrated union of a human male and female is seen as a reenactment of the cosmic act of creation. Some schools of tantric yoga put so much stress on this relationship that they require male practitioners to have female sexual partners. Aurobindo made it clear that this was not the case in his yoga. “How can the sexual act be made to help in spiritual life?” he asked a disciple who posed the question. It was necessary, in the work he was doing, for the masculine and feminine principles to come together, but the union had nothing to do with sex; in fact it was possible in his and Mirra’s case precisely because they had mastered the forces of desire.(pp. 328–329)
There follows an important statement bearing on their relationship a few pages later: [Referring to the period of the early 1920’s] "There was only one rule: strict observance of brahmacharya, or celibacy. Otherwise members of the household could do as they liked.” (p. 332) The nature of their relationship is clarified still further in the next chapter.
In his philosophical works, Sri Aurobindo gave special importance to the Mother-force or shakti. In The Life Divine he wrote: “If we would realise a higher formation or status of being, then it is still through her, through the Divine Shakti, the Consciousness-Force of the Spirit that it has to be done; our surrender must be to the Divine Being through the Divine Mother.” Evidently when he began to refer to Mira as the Mother, he regarded her as more than a particularly advanced disciple. He made no claims on her behalf in his published writings, not even in The Mother. But it was natural for those who practiced his yoga to take the descriptions in the book as applying to Mira. One reader asked whether “our Mother,” that is, Mira, was the individual form of the Divine Mother who, as Sri Aurobindo wrote, “embodies the power of these two vaster ways of her existence [transcendent and cosmic], makes them living and near to us and mediates between the human personality and the divine Nature.” Sri Aurobindo replied with a simple “yes.”
In letters to disciples in Pondicherry and outside, Sri Aurobindo was more explicit about the role of Mira, the Mother, in the practice of his yoga. “I no longer take direct charge of people’s sadhana,” he wrote in March 1927, “all is in the hands of Sri Mira Devi.” No exceptions to this rule were permitted.” (p. 354)
[It should be noted that in the book Peter discusses the change in how people referred to the Mother — from Mirra, to Mira or Sri Mira Devi for a brief period, and finally to the Mother. Peter follows a coterminous usage in his own references to her, and switches in the course of the chronological narrative. Similarly, he switches from Aurobindo to Sri Aurobindo at the appropriate point in the narrative.]
In light of these passages, there seems to be no basis to the assertion that Peter has characterized Sri Aurobindo's relationship with the Mother as a romantic one. Whereas the initial references to their relationship mentioned above, when taken out of context, may appear to be ambiguous, taken as a whole — in the context of the previous text, in light of the clarifications that Peter inserted in the initial references, in light of the long passage about the nature and role of the shakti on the following page, and in the context of the passages in the following chapter about the nature of the Mother, it seems either mistaken or misleading to assert that he has either cast doubt about or characterized Sri Aurobindo's relationship with the Mother as being romantic.