Conversations with Sri Aurobindo

— Pavitra (Philippe Barbier Saint Hilaire)


Price: Rs 95

Pages: 165
Dimensions (in cms): 14x22
ISBN: 978-81-7058-879-5
Soft Cover
Publisher: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department, Pondicherry

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About Conversations with Sri Aurobindo

From December 1925 to November 1926 Philippe Barbier Saint Hilaire, later known as Pavitra, held regular private conversations with Sri Aurobindo that centred on the practice of Yoga and Pavitra's own sadhana. This book is a record of these conversations and some he had with the Mother toward the end of that year. It also includes several of the evening talks, in which Sri Aurobindo conversed informally with a small group of disciples, on such subjects as science and occultism which especially interested Pavitra. The book's introduction is a talk given in 1964 by Pavitra in which he recounts his early life experiences and the events which led him to come to Pondicherry.


A new consciousness is seeking expression in you. In India there are people, Yogis, who can help you in this and give you a new birth. There will be difficulties in finding them, because you do not speak their language and they are often hard to approach. Still this is one of the solutions before you.
This spiritual consciousness will give you Mukti. Personally, my Yoga would be completed if my goal were liberation. Mukti is only the first part. The second is to bring down the Light into all the instruments, to make them perfect and to become an embodiment of Truth. The universal Truth and Power will act through you as an instrument. Some persons are more or less unconscious instruments of the Shakti, but it is a question of being perfectly conscious.

Sri Aurobindo told this and more to a young seeker from France, during what was probably their second meeting, on 18 December 1925. The Master said at the end of the day's not-too-long conversation, "Well, if you want to try, you may stay."

Thus does the seeker record his response: "I fell at his feet. He gave me his blessing and it was over. You see, a whole chapter of my life had come to an end. The search, the search for the source of light, the search for the one who would lead me to the Truth was over."

And extraordinary indeed had been the search of Philippe Barbier Saint Hilaire (1894–1969), later well known to us as Pavitra, the name Sri Aurobindo bestowed on him, and loved and respected by all who came in contact with him. When World War I broke out in August 1914, Pavitra was obliged to discontinue his studies at the prestigious École Polytechnique in Paris. He joined the French army and served at the front and then as an artillery intelligence officer. Surprisingly, it was during those violent and restless days that he began to be interested in para-psychical phenomena. He was no doubt a seeker whom his destiny was guiding forward along a zigzag way to his final discovery. From the para-psychical phenomena his interest moved on to occultism. That led him to theosophical literature. What was further surprising was that, despite his Western scientific training, the theories of karma and reincarnation appeared to him absolutely natural—truths that obviously lay imbedded in his evolved consciousness.

Towards the end of the war a terrible epidemic, notoriously known as the Spanish flu, broke out, killing millions. Our young seeker, aged twenty-four, had this flu at the time his battalion had "just broken through the German lines". This was how he described his feeling at that time:
That day, I can say, was the decisive day in my life. In the field-hospital at the front, under the tents where I was, the sick were dying. Each morning three or four people were dead. Well, I clearly remember the very strong idea that took away all fear of death from me: it was giving, self-giving, giving myself so that my destiny, my spiritual destiny might be fulfilled, whatever it might be, with the offering of my life, truly, sincerely, if I was supposed to die. And if I was supposed to live, well, consecration to the Divine.

After the war ended he resumed his studies at the École Polytechnique and graduated in civil engineering. He worked as a civil engineer for a short time, but the call of a radically different life, a life that would support his search for its very purpose, for Truth, was irresistible. He went to Japan – a country which, unlike today, was not so accessible in 1920 – and studied Japanese, Chinese and Indian spirituality while earning his living through sundry jobs. The Mother had left Japan for Pondicherry shortly before Pavitra's arrival. He had heard about her through mutual friends and decided to write to Pondicherry, but received no reply. The Mother might have just arrived, and the formation of the Ashram was six years away.

He met a group of lamas who happened to visit his workplace in Japan. He joined them and, travelling through northern China, reached a Mongolian hermitage of Tibetan lamas. He spent nine months there before setting out for Vietnam, thence for Sri Lanka, and at last reaching his great destination, Pondicherry, in 1925. "And finally I reached at the place I had to reach," he says.
This destined disciple had the grand opportunity to personally report to Sri Aurobindo all about his sadhana, the problems he faced and the questions that arose in his mind, and the Master solved them with deep compassion. During this initial year of his stay, Pavitra also had a number of invaluable exchanges with the Mother. After each meeting he wrote down his questions and observations and also the Master's and the Mother's responses, and this book presents the records of these conversations, extending from 18 December 1925 until 1 June 1926, though some pages are missing from the original manuscripts. These dialogues give us not only an introduction to the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo as explained by the Master himself to an early initiate, but also glimpses of the expected and the unexpected experiences a determined sadhak had to go through.

Pavitra's was a life of exemplary dedication to the Mother. Great was his contribution to the shaping of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, of which the Mother had made him the Director. He continued working with his customary ease and equanimity even when he knew that his end was near. This reviewer had the impression, on first meeting him in 1963, that he personified the dignified sanctity his name suggested—Pavitra, the Pure One.

— Manoj Das
Shri Manoj Das is a well-known writer. A Padma awardee, he is a recipient of the Saraswati Samman and Sahitya Akademi award.

May 2009