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With Medhananda on the shores of infinity

— Medhananda


cover
Price: Rs 190

Soft Cover
Pages: 144
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
   
Publisher: Sri Mira Trust, Pondicherry
ISBN: 978-81-86413-08-1





About With Medhananda on the shores of infinity

Medhananda was the name given by the Mother to a German disciple who lived at the Ashram from 1952 until his passing in 1994. This book contains a collection of reminiscences, meditations, letters, poems and transcriptions of interviews, chronologically arranged in order to recount the story of his life from his birth in Germany in 1908, his stay in Polynesia and up to his years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The book can best be described as the autobiography of an inner life because the external events play only a subordinate role, and are used here only to situate or illustrate a subjective experience.


REVIEW

THE BOOK

"With Medhananda on the shores of Infinity" is an unusual, in fact a remarkable collection of letters, poems, reminiscenses, meditations and transcriptions of interviews, chronologically arranged in order to recount the story of the author's life from its beginning in Germany right upto his last years in Pondicherry. But it does not really qualify as a biography in the habitual sense because events of external life are only incidental, play a very subordinate role, and are used exclusively to situate or illustrate a subjective experience and the essence gleaned from it. Therefore, perhaps, it can at best be described as an autobiography of inner life. For, even while speaking about his own name, the details regarding the how, why, when and in what circumstances he came to be called Medhananda are blithely ignored; instead something more interesting and meaningful is offered:
Medhananda is
not a name —
it is a verb,
an adjective, an adverb
and a proverb.

and
The program that has been set for me, as far as bliss is concerned, is ‘Medhananda'; and it is not limited to a single life. It is bliss in the mind. This does not mean that I cannot know the other forms of bliss; but to taste ananda in the mind is particularly difficult, because the analytic mind is the main root of the ego.

THE PERSONALITY

Scholarship is the ability to gather facts in a sustained manner for a specific purpose in a given field of inquiry. Knowledge comes with the development of the faculty to marshal the data collected into a body of perception forming a coherent whole. When experience, well assimilated and distilled, can create insights into realities lying hidden behind the veil of apparent phenomenon and at the same time goad you on to seek after truths yet beyond your grasp, then wisdom is born. To find all these qulaities harmoniously fused in a single human being is indeed rare. Medhananda, who possessed each of them in ample measure, was definitely such an individual. He fully vindicated his name, given to him by the Mother which in Sanskrit means "delight of the mind". For, not only was he an intellectual of a high order — I am using the word in the Platonic sense of the term denoting one who can freely move about in the lofty realm of pure thought and ideas — but he also had the exceptional gift of creative understanding; in other words he could grasp the implications which the surfaces only hinted at. Read with him a most prosaic passage and it becomes fascinating all at once because he has drawn by reading in between the lines what the author has missed out on; an utterly insignificant and colourless event of daily life suddenly turns into a thrill when seen through his eyes. For instance, a moulted feather is lying on the ground. He picks it up and tells you with a gleam of childlike delight in his eyes that in the pictorial language of Egyptian hieroglyphs this denoted "Truth" – why? Because, he continues after a pause, unlike some later civilizations which confined it to dogma and weighted it down under the heavy tablets of religious commandments, the ancient wisdom of Egypt conceived of Truth as something light, ethereal, something that helps you to fly and frees you of the downward pull of materilality - in short, something like a feather. But you can also look at it from another angle: observed carefully it turns out to be not a solid uniform mass but formed of innumerable smaller feathers stuck to a tapering central stem. So with Truth. It can be viewed as a whole, and it can be viewed as a whole with many parts. This was the Medhananda I knew, this was essentially the way he operated, this is the personality which the book acquaints the reader with, very commendably.

THE STYLE

Generally reticent by nature Medhananda used speech with great economy making every word he uttered, count. His language was always simple, the meaning precise, the expression lucid and the power of narrative quite captivating. His style of writing echoes the manner of his speech. So one runs through the pages carried on by their deceptively easy flow, often overlooking what the anecdotes mean to reveal - a method and a Tao of viewing life anew with enhanced freshness and curiosity. Whether he is talking about his goldfish:
For a long time she remained disdainful and distant. When you have a whole line of imperial ancestors behind you... But gradually we became more intimate. She had digestive difficulties, she was very constipated. Perhaps the food I gave her didn't suit her very well. Those dried foods are constipating. She should have had more fresh food. For fast moving fish it doesn't matter, but for more lymphatic fish it is a problem. I discovered a way to give her enemas of one or two drops of oil, using a small hypodermic syringe with the sharp point of the needle removed. So in the end we became very intimate.
or of his encounter with Richard Wilhelm, the famed translator of the "I Ching":
We were only three students. When the old Professor came in, he uttered the ancient university rule that three is enough for a course to take place, and he began. So we read the "I Ching". From time to time he would ask, ‘have you understood?" I would answer, ‘Yes'. Annoyed, he would say, ‘No, you have not understood: This is not for understanding, it is for silencing the understanding.'
or about his apprenticeship in a factory:
Belonging to the factory for a year enabled me above all to discover a consciousness that one might call mechanical. You arrive in the morning and get into the rhythm of manual task that requires a few repetitive movements. And suddenly it is four o'clock in the afternoon. Slowly you wake up, you become a human being again. You take a shower, change your clothes, and the day begins. Passing from the mechanical life to the human life is only the first step, the first awakening.
or describing an evening in Germany:
It is the evening hour when swallows skim the surface of the swiming pool to drink. The big rubber seal floats in quiet circles. I am seated in a canopied hammock that swings me gently. Family and friends have left me alone for a moment. And eternity, the beloved, comes secretly to visit me.

Medhanada treats each with equal care and value, deriving apparently the same level of "rasa" from every one of them. This attitude is maintained throughout.

One must thank Yvonne Artaud for her commendable work in making this publication possible. Her introduction and the few relevant notes inside help greatly in the reading. To sum up: a fascinating little book about the fascinating life of a fascinating person.

— Shaupon Boshu

August 2000


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