Guidance by random-book opening

The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) elucidates as to why opening a holy book and reading it at random can provide spiritual guidance in times of crisis.

(This is an essay by M.P.Pandit derived from the Mother’s talk delivered on 6 June, 1956.  For the original, see Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 8, 162)

There are people who resort to a special means of getting guidance when they are faced with a problem or an alternative in choice. They do not see their way out, they cannot make up their mind. Under these circumstances they take up a book, preferably a holy book like the Bible or the Gita, open it at random and see what helpful hint they can get there to meet their difficulty. There are others who scoff at these practices as superstition. The truth of the matter, however, escapes both. Most people do not refer their difficulty under the right conditions; hence they are liable to go wrong. The principle in itself is sound and answers to a spiritual truth of life; it is not a baseless belief.

Each book, especially a book of revelation, of spiritual Wisdom or Teaching, says the Mother, is a concentration of forces, something like a battery. It is not mere words. Behind the words, there pulsates the power of the Knowledge that is clothed in the words and this power is full of the Consciousness that has manifested the Knowledge. It is the being of the author who has received, realised and given form to a truth of the Divine that breathes in each work of this kind. All that he knows and is may not be expressed in words in the pages; but it is there in potency behind every line of it. So, when anyone opens such a book, he really approaches the Consciousness that is responsible for its coming into being and continues in that chosen form unaffected by the transition of Time.

And if the approach is made in the right spirit and manner, the response is sure. It is actually an appeal from one consciousness to another and if done in a spirit of aspiration, surrender and call, the answer comes. The crux lies here: one has to prepare in oneself the correct psychological attitude and then wait upon the Inspiration. So waited upon, the guidance is unerring.  The Mother recommends to those who seek this way of help, the use a sharp paper-cutter. Whether it is a problem awaiting solution, or a need to know one’s own condition or simply an eagerness to know what the Unseen has to say, first concentrate in quiet upon the matter. Then surrender yourself with the question, call with faith and in a spirit of trustful confidence insert the cutter. The line touched by the tip holds the message. It goes without saying that the whole operation is done in a spirill of reverence, not as a play. The energy of aspiration that goes forth from the seeker and the responding energy that is accumulated in the book together unite to guide the hand aright. Perfection in this – as indeed in all practices – comes with trial and effort. Very important is the attitude with which one approaches; equally important is the nature of the book that is chosen. An ordinary book, a novel for instance, can hardly be expected to give the right response. It has to be a work infused with the breath of the Spirit.

[M.P. Pandit, Mother of Love, Vol 3, Page 151]

An experiment of random-book opening conducted in the Ashram

Unlike the Flower Game, which had superficially a crossword puzzle look, the reading of a passage from one of Sri Aurobindo’s classics, opened at random, seemed a very chancy thing. People have found clues to conduct or timely solace or guidance in a moment of crisis by a sudden sampling of the Bible, the Guru Granth Sahib, Shakespeare’s Complete Works or even Robinson Crusoe. In the Prosperity Room, the books thus sampled were the Arya volumes containing The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga and other writings of Sri Aurobindo, as also books like Essays on the Gita already reissued in book form. These adventures in random sampling went on from 18 March to 2 May 1931. The procedure was that one of those present (including the Mother) would concentrate for a few minutes and open the selected volume with a paper-cutter or a finger, and read the passage thus alighted upon. It may very well be asked whether this was anything more than playing with chance. But the Mother herself, in after-years, was to give a wholly convincing answer. Anyone is free to seek this kind of occult guidance: either because one has a baffling inner problem and wants its solution, or because one seeks an escape out of one’s imprisonment in ambiguities, or yet because, quite simply, one is anxious to get at the keys to the Book’s Vaults of Knowledge. The Book is at hand, and it is opened, preferably with a paper-knife:

..while you are concentrated you insert it in the book and with the tip indicate something. Then, if you know how to concentrate, that is to say, if you really do it with an aspiration to have an answer, it always comes.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 6 June 1956

For, in books of this kind (Mother shows The Synthesis of Yoga), books of revelation, there is always an accumulation of forces – at least of higher mental forces, and most often of spiritual forces of the highest knowledge…. Now, you, when you are sincere and have an aspiration, you emanate a certain vibration, the vibration of your aspiration which goes and meets the corresponding force in the book, and it is a higher consciousness which gives you the answer.

Everything is contained potentially. Each element of a whole potentially contains what is in the whole …. Sri Aurobindo represented a totality of comprehension and knowledge and power; and everyone of his books is at once a symbol and a representation …. Therefore, if you concentrate on the book, you can, through the book, go back to the source.[13]

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 6 June 1956

A sentence contains the potentiality of a Book, and the Book the potentiality of the Power that was its creator. Thus, the apparently fortuitous link with a chance-directed passage becomes really a linking up with the Power and the glory of the creator-spirit behind the Book itself. As the Mother viewed it, then, it was not just a game of chance, or an ingenious amusement, or a sophisticated form of distraction:

You may do it just “like that”, and then nothing at all happens to you, you have no reply and it is not interesting. But if you do it seriously, if seriously your aspiration tries to concentrate on this instrument – it is like a battery, isn’t it, which contains energies … well, naturally, the energy which is there – the union of the two forces, the force given out by you and that accumulated in the book – will guide your hand … it will guide you exactly to the thing that expresses what you ought to know” [14]

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 6 June 1956

It was thus a potent spiritual exercise in which the Mother engaged the sadhaks in those distant evenings of 1931 for a continuous period of almost six weeks. A number of passages were spotted out by sadhaks like Nolini, Amrita, Pavitra, Dyuman, Chinmayi, Rajangam, Sethna, Purushottam, Datta and by the Mother herself. Every time, whatever the volume opened, a seminal passage was located – a passage that was like the centre of the Aurobindonian universe, with widening circles fanning out towards the Infinite. In inspired writing like Sri Aurobindo’s, the centre was apparently everywhere, and the circumference was nowhere. For example, on 6 April 1931, the Mother herself lighted upon this passage from the Arya:

The knower of Brahman has not only the joy of light, but gains something immense as the result of his knowledge, brahmavid āpnoti.

What he gains is that highest, that which is supreme; he gains the highest being, the highest consciousness, the highest wideness and power of being, the highest delight; brahmavid āpnoti param. [15]

Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: The Knowledge of Brahman

This is from Sri Aurobindo’s “Readings from the Taittiriya Upanishad”, and the passage indicates what we may hope for from the knowledge of Brahman: nothing less than the highest in being, consciousness. wideness. power and delight. Four days later, the Mother chose, first a passage from Essays on the Gita (“Slay then desire; put away attachment to the possession and enjoyment of outward things … “), and next, this from The Yoga and Its Objects: “For those who can make the full surrender from the beginning, there is no question; their path is utterly swift and easy.” Slay desire, and make total surrender: doesn’t this sum up the whole secret of Yoga?

On 4 April 1931, Amrita had found a passage in Essays on the Gita describing the role of the Avatar. Wasn’t Amrita concentrating, when he was about to open the page, on what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as the twin Avatars were doing to him and to the other sadhaks and the rest of humanity? Why were they bearing the burden of earth-nature and treading its dolorous way? The answer was provided by the passage Amrita lighted upon:

The Avatar comes to reveal the divine nature in man above this lower nature and to show what are the divine works, free, unegoistic. disinterested, impersonal, universal, full of the divine light, the divine power and the divine love. He comes as the divine personality which shall fill the consciousness of the human being and replace the limited egoistic personality, so that it shall be liberated out of ego into infinity and universality, out of birth into immortality. He comes as the divine power and love which calls men to itself, so that they may take refuge in that and no longer in the insufficiency of their human wills and the strife of their human fear wrath. and passion, and liberated from all this unquiet and suffering may live in the calm and bliss of the Divine.[16]

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita: The Divine Birth and Divine Works

A laborious search may not have yielded an answer as concise, comprehensive and authoritative; it was Amrita’s strength of aspiration that had summoned so definitive an answer.

Likewise, when Amal Kiran came upon this passage in The Synthesis of Yoga on the Ego and the advantages accruing from its annulment, he was possibly concentrating on the need to come to terms with his own far from passive ego, and seeking light from the Arya:

When the ego realises that its will is a tool, its wisdom ignorance and childishness, its power an infant’s groping, its virtue a pretentious impurity and learns to trust itself to that which transcends itself, that is its salvation. The apparent freedom and self-assertion of the personal being to which it is so profoundly attached, conceals subjection to a thousand suggestions, impulsions, forces which it has made extraneous to itself. The self­abnegation of the ego is its self-fulfilment; its self-surrender to that which transcends it is its liberation and perfect freedom.[17]

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: The Four Aids

Amal had got the perfect answer to his most pertinent question! As for Nolini, what should he choose but passages from the Kutsa-Angirasa hymns to the Mystic Fire as rendered into English by Sri Aurobindo:

This is the fire of our sacrifice! May we have strength to kindle it to its height, may it perfect our thoughts. In this all that we give must be thrown that it may become a food for the gods; this shall bring to us the godheads of the infinite consciousness who are our desire.

Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire: Kutsa Angirasa

Let us gather fuel for it, let us prepare for it offerings, let us make ourselves conscious ….

God, thy faces are everywhere! thou besiegest us on every side with thy being. Burn away from us the sin! …

Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire: Kutsa Angirasa

As in a ship over the ocean, bear us over into thy felicity. Burn away from us the sin![18]

Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire: Kutsa Angirasa

Nolini must have concentrated and aspired as he opened the volume, for the progress not only of himself, but of the entire collectivity that was the Ashram. And, in response, the ancient Rishis gave the right words of aspiration and consecration, and in the charged atmosphere of the Prosperity Room, the words reverberated with a matchless potency.

[K.R.Srinivasa Iyengar, On The Mother, Chap 21: A Choice of Games]

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7 thoughts on “Guidance by random-book opening

  1. Pingback: Hermeneutics: how to read holy scriptures « Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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  4. mike

    “Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as the twin Avatars”

    l was actually thinking about asking ‘Savitri’ about my Twinsoul dilemma just before l saw the description above. Nice little sign.
    l have used books in this way in the past. l found ‘The Life Divine’ to be very accurate.
    l also just ask SA or Mother for an answer through ‘signs’ etc… l sometimes touch their photographs and usually, a short time after there will be an unmistakeable answer – we need to be fairly intuitive to read these things, but l find they can be easily spotted because they leap out at you, like being ‘in your face’.

    “Bum away from us the sin! …”

    ls ‘BUM’ the right word or is it a typo??? Or are my eyes deceiving me – l’m not quite sure of the poetic significance? Should it be ‘BURN’?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      “Bum away from us the sin! …”
      ls ‘BUM’ the right word or is it a typo???

      You are right. That should be “Burn”, otherwise it sounds like British slang. I will change that.

      These errors are introduced when books are scanned and uploaded online. For example, “Morn” was turned into into “Mom” in Savitri-related books. In one of A.B. Purani’s book “Sri Aurobindo Savitri an approach and a study“, I found some hilarious lines like

      And the moms of God have overtaken his night…
      Apparelled are the moms in gold and green, …
      But mom broke in reminding her other quest …

      Reply
  5. Pingback: Sravana Manana and Nidhidhyasana | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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