At the Feet of the Master: Reminiscences
T. Kodandarama Rao
|Price: Rs 35|
Dimensions (in cms): 12x18
|Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry|
About At the Feet of the Master: Reminiscences
This short book provides an intimate picture of life in the early 1920s at what became the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. It traces the spiritual journey of its author from his college days in Madras to his first meeting with Sri Aurobindo in 1920. After completing his studies he returned to live near Sri Aurobindo from 1921 until 1924, and his account, written more than forty years later, includes details of the daily life of the community, reminiscences of his fellow sadhaks, and also descriptions of some of his own inner experiences attained under the guidance of Sri Aurobindo.
Under the imprint "SMRITI", the Sri Aurobindo Ashram had commenced issuing small booklets authored by disciples who came in living contact with Sri Aurobindo. In this monograph, which is part of the series, T. Kodandarama Rao describes his meeting with the Master and his sojourn in Pondicherry in the early 1920s. He also refers to some of his spiritual experiences and describes how he was helped by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in his sadhana.
The author recounts how he first chanced upon an issue of the Arya, the monthly journal brought out by Sri Aurobindo from 1914 to 1921, in his college hostel. He decided to travel to Pondicherry with a friend during the college vacation in December 1920 in order to meet Sri Aurobindo. Unsuccessful in their initial attempts to meet him, they finally managed to have his darshan and get his guidance on some matters. Some time later, he again visited Pondicherry, taking time off from his studies and thus creating tension in his relations with his in-laws.
The author visited and lived in what later came to be known as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram at a time when the yoga was especially intense and the Mother and Sri Aurobindo were personally involved in the sadhana of all disciples. It was also around this time that the sadhana had descended into the vital plane and the disciples were having spiritual experiences of a rather brilliant and colourful nature. It is known that even casual visitors felt the intensity of the atmosphere and had significant spiritual experiences during this period.
In the The Synthesis of Yoga Sri Aurobindo describes how a realized person can transfer something of his experience to others around him. It is also mentioned in the Record of Yoga that Sri Aurobindo was experimenting with the transference of yogic achievements to some of his early companions in Pondicherry. Kodandarama Rao was lucky to be in Pondicherry at the time when Sri Aurobindo was still meeting and talking to visitors and disciples. Later, after 1926, personal interviews were no longer possible because Sri Aurobindo had withdrawn himself in order to concentrate all his energies towards the descent of the Supermind into the earth atmosphere.
On his third visit, the author was asked by the Master to stay for one year. The very open and flexible nature of the Integral Yoga is described quite well by the author. There were no pujas, no traditional functions, no collective meditations, no lectures or sermons. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were guiding the sadhaks largely by example and influence. The flexibility and freedom of the individual's choice of activities was such that there was no ban on non-vegetarian food or even smoking. The tightening of external rules of behaviour later became a necessity when the Ashram grew much larger and the need to regulate individual behaviour to the requirements of harmony and discipline in the larger collective community was felt.
By June 1924 Kodandarama Rao had run out of funds and had to leave Pondicherry because the community itself was short of money and could not afford to support more than a certain number of sadhaks. With financial help provided by his father-in-law, he then joined a law course and, after passing the examination, started his legal practice. As soon as he began practising law, he encountered an ethical problem. Some in the legal profession were of the opinion that a lawyer must defend the client, whether innocent or guilty. A lawyer must not prejudge the issue. Others held the opposite view and contended that lawyers must accept only genuine cases and the defence of criminals and cases based on falsehood were not to be undertaken. The author wrote to Sri Aurobindo on this matter and received the following reply:
It is true the lawyer's profession as practised by many in India is full of things which are not what they should be but it is not a necessary character of the legal profession. Even here many carry on the profession with a scrupulous honesty in all respects like Duraiswami and succeed. A lawyer has to do his best for his client and make every point he legitimately can in his favour—to bring out the weak note of the case is the other party's function, not his; but it is his best to which he is bound. He is not bound to do what the client demands as the best. It is a question of establishing an honourable but practical and commonsense standard for the profession.
The author also speaks of his wife who, while meditating, used to see visions depicting the descent of great Shaktis into the Mother, whose greatness at that time was not visible to all. When he casually mentioned these visions to some of his fellow-sadhaks, they were incredulous. But the Mother's great spiritual status was clearly revealed and established when Sri Aurobindo withdrew into seclusion in 1926 and placed the Mother in charge of the Ashram and the sadhana of all the disciples.
T. Kodandarama Rao ends the book with a wonderful and striking incident. He was accustomed to spending the Christmas season in the Ashram with his wife and daughter. In 1950 he intended to do the same, arriving in time to attend the November 24th Darshan. But a severe bronchial attack made him vulnerable and he could not attend the Darshan. When his condition worsened, he felt he must see Sri Aurobindo and so started for Madras on 2nd December. In Madras he consulted a physician who advised him to return home and not proceed to Pondicherry. Here's how the author described what happened next:
I hesitated and at last wended my way homewards, on the 4th [December 1950]. I prayed to the Master for my recovery. That night I had a dream about the passing away of a great and effulgent being, taking into himself the poison of the earth, and devouring my illness also and a bright goddess appeared by his side shedding peace and Light on the world. Next morning the papers announced the passing away of the Mighty Master and I was free from my ailment. How compassionate he was in protecting me from my illness! And his protection and Grace are always with his devotees!!
— Ranganath Raghavan
Ranganath came to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1945 at the age of six. After completing his studies in the Ashram School, he joined the Ashram Press, as directed by the Mother, and worked there for forty years. At present he teaches at SAICE and also works in the Archives and Research Department.