This post is about the Vedic verse “Dawn and Night, two sisters of different forms but of one mind, suckle the same divine Child“.
During the spiritual journey (Sadhana), the Yogi experiences alternating periods of progress and darkness. The Vedas call these periods Dawn and Night, while the growing Divinity within Man is referred to as the Divine Child. Here is the explanation provided by Sri Aurobindo in his interpretation of the Vedas as well as letters to various disciples.
Sri Aurobindo explains the symbolism
The whole of the Veda is conceived in such images. The resultant obscurity and confusion for our intelligence is appalling and it will be at once evident how useless would be any translation of the hymns which did not strive at the same time to be an interpretation. “Dawn and Night,” runs an impressive Vedic verse, “two sisters of different forms but of one mind, suckle the same divine Child.” We understand nothing. Dawn and Night are of different forms, but why of one mind ? And who is the child ? If it is Agni, the fire, what are we to understand by Dawn and Night suckling alternately an infant fire ? But the Vedic poet is not thinking of the physical night, the physical dawn or the physical fire. He is thinking of the alternations in his own spiritual experience, its constant rhythm of periods of a sublime and golden illumination and other periods of obscuration or relapse into normal unillumined consciousness and he confesses the growth of the infant strength of the divine life within him through all these alternations and even by the very force of their regular vicissitude. For in both states there works, hidden or manifest, the same divine intention and the same high-reaching labour. Thus an image which to the Vedic mind was clear, luminous, subtle, profound, striking, comes to us void of sense or poor and incoherent in sense and therefore affects us as inflated and pretentious, the ornament of an inapt and bungling literary craftsmanship.
Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: Foreword
Night and Dawn in Savitri
At last was won a firm spiritual poise,
A constant lodging in the Eternal’s realm,
A safety in the Silence and the Ray,
A settlement in the Immutable.
His heights of being lived in the still Self;
His mind could rest on a supernal ground
And look down on the magic and the play
Where the God-child lies on the lap of Night and Dawn
And the Everlasting puts on Time’s disguise.
Another explanation by Sri Aurobindo
This great work is to be done according to the ordered gradations of the Truth, in its fixed seasons, by the twelve months of the sacrifice, by the divine years of Surya Savitri. Therefore there is a constant rhythm and alternation of night and dawn, illuminations of the Light and periods of exile from it, openings up of our darkness and its settling upon us once more, till the celestial Birth is accomplished and again till it is fulfilled in its greatness, knowledge, love and power. These later nights are other than those utter darknesses which are dreaded as the occasion of the enemy, the haunt of the demons of division who devour; these are rather the pleasant nights, the divine and blessed ones who equally labour for our growth. Night and Dawn are then of different forms but one mind and suckle alternately the same luminous Child.
Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: The Divine Dawn
Sri Aurobindo relates the verse to the difficulties encountered by various disciples
The up and down movement which you speak of is common to all ways of yoga. It is there in the path of bhakti(devotion), but there are equally alternations of states of light and states of darkness, sometimes sheer and prolonged darkness, when one follows the path of knowledge. Those who have occult experiences come to periods when all experiences cease and even seem finished for ever. Even when there have been many and permanent realisations, these seem to go behind the veil and leave nothing in front except a dull blank, filled, if at all, only with recurrent attacks and difficulties. These alternations are the result of the nature of human consciousness and are not a proof of unfitness or of predestined failure. One has to be prepared for them and pass through. They are the “day and night” of the Vedic mystics.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – V
The reason why there are these alternations of which you complain is that
- the nature of the consciousness is like that; after a little spell of wakefulness it feels the need of a little sleep. Very often in the beginning the wakings are brief, the sleeps long; afterwards it becomes more equal and later on the sleep periods are shorter and shorter.
- Another cause of these alternations, when one is receiving, is the nature’s need of closing up to assimilate. It can take perhaps a great deal, but while the experience is going on it cannot absorb properly what it brings, so it closes down for assimilation.
- A third cause comes in the period of transformation, – one part of the nature changes and one feels for a time as if there had been a complete and permanent change. But one is disappointed to find it cease and a period of barrenness or lowered consciousness follow. This is because another part of the consciousness comes up for change and a period of preparation and veiled working follows which seems to be one of unenlightenment or worse.
These things alarm, disappoint or perplex the eagerness and impatience of the sadhak; but if one takes them quietly and knows how to use them or adopt the right attitude, one can make these unenlightened periods also a part of the conscious sadhana. So the Vedic Rishis speak of the alternation of “Day and Night both suckling the divine Child.”
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – V
The length of your period of dullness is also no sufficient reason for losing belief in your capacity or your spiritual destiny. I believe that alternations of bright and dark periods are almost a universal experience of yogis, and the exceptions are very rare. If one inquires into the reasons of this phenomenon, – very unpleasant to our impatient human nature, – it will be found, I think, that they are in the main two.
- The first is that the human consciousness either cannot bear a constant descent of the Light or Power or Ananda, or cannot at once receive and absorb it; it needs periods of assimilation; but this assimilation goes on behind the veil of the surface consciousness; the experience or the realisation that has descended retires behind the veil and leaves this outer or surface consciousness to lie fallow and become ready for a new descent. In the more developed stages of the yoga these dark or dull periods become shorter, less trying as well as uplifted by the sense of the greater consciousness which, though not acting for immediate progress, yet remains and sustains the outer nature.
- The second cause is some resistance, something in the human nature that has not felt the former descent, is not ready, is perhaps unwilling to change, – often it is some strong habitual formation of the mind or the vital or some temporary inertia of the physical consciousness and not exactly a part of the nature, – and this, whether showing or concealing itself, thrusts up the obstacle. If one can detect the cause in oneself, acknowledge it, see its workings and call down the Power for its removal, then the periods of obscurity can be greatly shortened and their acuity becomes less.
But in any case the Divine Power is working always behind and one day, perhaps when one least expects it, the obstacle breaks, the clouds vanish and there is again the light and the sunshine. The best thing in these cases is, if one can manage it, not to fret, not to despond, but to insist quietly and keep oneself open, spread to the Light and waiting in faith for it to come; that I have found shortens these ordeals. Afterwards, when the obstacle disappears, one finds that a great progress has been made and that the consciousness is far more capable of receiving and retaining than before. There is a return for all the trials and ordeals of the spiritual life.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – III: Difficulties of the Path – III
When the divine consciousness dawns on us, it cannot last very long because the human vital which clamours for excitement cannot appreciate the bliss of the divine consciousness which is suffused with calm and is untinged with sorrow. The ordinary human mental personality which loves to wallow in doubts is not comfortable with the certitude offered by the divine consciousness. Thus Usha, the divine consciousness, recedes from the human and in its place, naktās, the night or the ordinary consciousness takes its place. During this period, the great God Agni keeps up the pressure on all the members of the human personality and prepares it for another onrush of the divine consciousness, Usha. Thus dawn and night alternate, as indicated below. apasvasaram sanutarthuyoti (RV 1.92.11). In secret she separates her sister (RV 1.92.11). araik krishna sadani asyah (RV 1.113.2). The dark night has vacated dwellings.
The two sisters do not clash nor do they tarry (RV 1.113.6). “There is a constant rhythm and alternation of night and dawn, illuminations of the Light and periods of exile from it, openings up of our darkness and its settling upon us once more, till the Celestial Birth is accomplished and again it is fulfilled in its greatness, knowledge, love and power. These later nights are other than these of utter darkness which are dreaded as the occasion of the enemy, the haunt of the demons of division who devour; these are rather the pleasant nights, the divine and blessed ones who equally labour for our growth. Night and Dawn are then of different forms but one mind and suckle alternately the luminous child”. They are commonly referred to as “two sisters,” beautiful of form (RV 1.13.7, 5.5.6). They are both called as “mighty mothers of the Truth” (RV 5.5.6). Usha is associated with Aditi, the mother of undivided consciousness, the mother of Gods, the supreme creatrix. nakta is associated with “Diti,” the mother of divided consciousness. Their path is said to be unending (RV 1.113.3) and they are said to increase our beings space (RV 5.5.6).