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New Correspondences of the Mother [II]
About New Correspondences of the Mother [II]
This second volume of New Correspondences of the Mother contains her correspondence with nine disciples, all of them members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Amrita, Amal Kiran, Sanjiban, Kirankumari, Jagannath, Debou, Madanlal, Gautam Chawalla, and Shyam Sunder. A brief life sketch of the disciple precedes each correspondence, and the letters are presented in chronological order. These correspondences were not published as part of the Collected Works of the Mother, but appeared later in various issues of the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education or in independent volumes. Five of the correspondences are published here for the first time. The Note on the Texts at the back of the book provides further details that should enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation of each series of letters.
This new collection of nine correspondences has the same general features as the first collection. Each correspondence is large enough to have a personality of its own. The names of the correspondents are given, along with a brief life sketch of each person. The entries in each correspondence are in chronological order and presented in a question-and-answer format, enabling the reader to sense the relationship between the Mother and the correspondent. But in one important way the new collection differs: several of its correspondences may be characterised primarily as "work correspondences"
The first correspondence, for example, is that of Amrita, who was general manager of the Ashram for forty-three years; there is almost no spiritual instruction in it. To the fore is the Mother who was the daughter of a banker and, to be sure, an astute and skilled administrator. As manager, Amrita had many duties, and the Mother helped him to fulfil them. Kind but capable, fair but firm, she excelled in purchasing property, renting houses, handling officials, dealing with demanding paid workers and satisfying disgruntled sadhaks. Poor Amrita sometimes got scolded by her, but he took it well and emerged as one of the Mother's most effective instruments.
The closest thing to spiritual instruction in Amrita's correspondence is perhaps her earliest advice to him: "Be truthful, sincere, awake", and again: "Be simple, sincere, straightforward" advice written at the front of work notebooks. When Amrita got angry at a fellow-sadhak who called him a "loving brother", he informed the Mother, "I am Your child and nobody's brother." She simply said, "If you are my child, then you are the brother of all my children." Such was her way of restoring harmony. When Amrita told her that another sadhak was much vexed with him, perhaps for good reason, she remarked, "Even if one is right, one is always wrong to be vexed." And so goes this unique correspondence with dozens of solutions to practical problems.
There are other work correspondences as well: the Mother's instruction to the aspiring young artist Sanjiban; her advice to Kirankumari who was in charge of cleaning and repairing stoves and water-filters; her guidance to Jagannath Vedalankar, the Sanskrit scholar who first worked at the Ashram Press before teaching in the Ashram school; her encouragement to Gautam Chawalla who worked for several years growing coconuts on an Ashram farm. When Gautam proudly informed her of the number of "cocos" harvested, whether 4350, 4188, 5698 or 2568, her comment was always the same: "Bravo!" Later, he developed a knack for asking interesting questions: "What are the conditions to be observed in order to earn money for you?", "What is the power of a prayer?", "Many people here have lost their sense of security. Why?" The Mother's answers are incisive. And when Gautam needed support, she was always there for him. "Guide me," he wrote, "I cannot see anything." "You can count on me," she replied. "I will open your eyes."
Then there is the correspondence with Amal Kiran, writer, poet and editor. The Mother gave him spiritual counsel, but she also told him how to manage his family affairs and run his monthly review, Mother India. For more than six decades Amal edited this journal and for twenty-five of those years the Mother kept him on track. She knew how to bridle this bold, brilliant, persistent disciple without dampening his ardour. Regularly he would ask her permission to publish articles in his magazine. Most often she approved, but not always. When he wanted to publish a report of some "Words of the Mother", she wrote, "This redaction [report] lacks in power and I can't agree to have it published." When he asked if he could publish the same report under a new title and as "Based on Some Words of the Mother", she wrote back, "I say yes but without enthusiasm." And when he asked if he could publish his article, "The Indo-Pak Conflict in the Spiritual Light", she crossed out the entire text with an X, wrote a big "NO" beneath it, and penned at the bottom of his cover letter, "NO POLITICS in any of our publications."
There is also a brief but touching correspondence with Debou, the younger brother of Pranab-da. It opens with some remarkable prayers, including the first version of the Students Prayer, which begins "O divine Mother, sweet Mother, make of me the hero warrior I aspire to become . . ." Gently she encouraged and consoled this sensitive young soul who was first a French teacher and then a homeopath. "Never be depressed," she wrote to him, "it is ingratitude, and when I scold you, take it as a sign of my love and a grace. Your mama".
The correspondence of Madanlal Himatsingka, a successful businessman who joined the Ashram at the age of forty-three, is compelling in its sincerity. His first question was, "Mother, is there any possibility for me to realise the Divine in this life?" She answered, "All depends on the sincerity of the aspiration. If the aspiration is sincere and steady, you are sure to reach the goal in this life. When one thinks like this, as you are doing, usually it is because things are ready in him for realisation." Troubled by his lack of progress, Madanlal asked what to do. "Do not bother about the progress," she counselled him, "it will come by itself with the growth of the sincerity." Never sure that he was doing enough, he prayed for her help. "Madanlal, my dear child," she wrote, "find your joy and satisfaction in being of service to the Divine's work on earth which is a realised fact and the rest will come in due course, surely sooner than you expect."
The largest correspondence, that of Shyamsundar, is 134 pages long. Not a work correspondence, it has much direct spiritual instruction. Shyamsundar's questions and comments are brief and to the point; the best of the man comes out. And the Mother's answers are sublime. "To become aware of the consciousness of the soul," she wrote, "is the surest and easiest way to unite with the Divine." When he asked how to "make up for all the lost time", she said, "Whatever the past may have been, it is not time that is needed to establish contact with the Divine, but sincerity of aspiration." "The path is long, very long," he observed, "almost interminable." "It is true that the path is very long," the Mother responded, "but for one who follows it with sincerity, it is truly very interesting, and at every step one is rewarded for one's trouble." This correspondence is filled with many helpful replies that clarify the path of the seeker.
New Correspondences II is the second of four volumes currently being published to supplement the seventeen-volume Collected Works of the Mother. The third volume, New Words of the Mother, consists of letters, private notes and public messages arranged by subject; it is almost ready for publication. The fourth volume, New Writings and Talks of the Mother, contains diverse material, such as early visions, prayers and correspondences, later minor correspondences, and a few talks. The next step will be to incorporate the material in these volumes into a revised and enlarged edition of the Mother's Collected Works. Meanwhile, the reader will benefit by perusing the four new supplementary volumes.
- Bob Zwicker
Bob is the Director of the Archives and Research Library of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Reviewed in August 2023