In the formative years of our youth, some of us experience those serendipitous and decisive moments which open new vistas and reveal to us our calling in life; one individual may chance upon a stirring piece of music and be impelled to become a musician; another may be captivated by an enigmatic pattern of numbers and subsequently enroll in math studies; and yet another might discover an uncanny aptitude for mechanical tools and go on to build a business around it. These are predestined moments, moments when the soul shines forth to disclose our purpose and guide us to our vocation in this incarnation. In the lives of mystics as well, we see such transcendental moments which initiate their entry into the spiritual path. This article presents some early mystic experiences of Sri Aurobindo as noted down in his poems.
Before we discuss Sri Aurobindo, let me digress by providing an example from the early life of a noted computer scientist Michael O. Rabin. In this excerpt from the book Out of their minds: the lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists by Dennis Shasha, Michael Rabin narrates an episode in his childhood which motivated him to study math even though his father wanted him to devote himself to religious studies.
My sister, who is five years older than I, brought home The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Krif. Reading that and other books on the pioneers of microbiology sparked my imagination, so from the time I was eight until about twelve, I thought I might become a microbiologist.
Then one day serendipity played a role and I was kicked out of class. There were two ninth-grade students sitting the corridor solving Euclid style geometry problems. I looked at what they were doing. There was a problem they couldn’t solve. So they challenged me and I solved it. The beauty of that, the fact that by pure thought you can establish a truth about lines and circles by the process of proof, struck me and captivated me completely.  (link)
Such transformative experiences abound in the lives of mystics as well. Ramakrishna Paramahansa early in his childhood was said to have been entranced by the ethereal sight of dazzling white geese silhouetted against a dark monsoon sky. Rabindranath Tagore in his youth had a vision of the world bathed in light; this vision informed his soul-stirring poetry and philosophy of life.
Early experiences of Sri Aurobindo
Sri Aurobindo was born in 1872 in Calcutta, India. At the tender age of seven, he was sent to England by his father for higher studies and that is where he remained till the age of twenty-one. While in England, he once came across a brief statement on the “Six philosophies of India” and was especially struck by the concept of the Atman in Advaita. He thought it might bear a clue to the reality behind the phenomenal world but he couldn’t ascertain its deeper significance at the time. 
He returned back from England to India in February of 1893 on board a steamship as was the custom in those days. When the ship docked at Apollo Bunder (seen below) in Bombay(now Mumbai), he felt a vast calm descending upon him. This envelope of calm that ensconced him persisted for many months. 
He subsequently took up employment with the Maharaja of Baroda State. In the first year of his stay(approx 1893-1894), he was involved in a horse carriage accident during which he had the vision of a Godhead surging up from within to save his life.  He wrote the poem “The Godhead” describing this experience.
I sat behind the dance of Danger’s hooves
In the shouting street that seemed a futurist’s whim,
And suddenly felt, exceeding Nature’s grooves,
In me, enveloping me the body of Him.
Above my head a mighty head was seen,
A face with the calm of immortality
And an omnipotent gaze that held the scene
In the vast circle of its sovereignty.
His hair was mingled with the sun and breeze;
The world was in His heart and He was I:
I housed in me the Everlasting’s peace,
The strength of One whose substance cannot die.
The moment passed and all was as before;
Only that deathless memory I bore.
In 1905, during his travels around the region of Baroda, he visited a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kali in Chandod on the banks of the Narmada river, where he experienced a palpable living presence of Kali manifesting before him . This experience was noted down in his poem “The Stone Goddess” seen below.
The Stone Goddess
In a town of gods, housed in a little shrine,
From sculptured limbs the Godhead looked at me, —
A living Presence deathless and divine,
A Form that harboured all infinity.
The great World-Mother and her mighty will
Inhabited the earth’s abysmal sleep,
Voiceless, omnipotent, inscrutable,
Mute in the desert and the sky and deep.
Now veiled with mind she dwells and speaks no word,
Voiceless, inscrutable, omniscient,
Hiding until our soul has seen, has heard
The secret of her strange embodiment,
One in the worshipper and the immobile shape,
A beauty and mystery flesh or stone can drape.
Between May-August 1903, he had traveled to Srinagar in northern part of the country on official business. Here he had the opportunity to visit the centuries-old Shankaracharya temple which stands on the ridge of the Takht-i-Sulaiman (Seat of Solomon) hill. At this site, he had an experience of the vacant Infinite . Two of his poems “The hilltop temple” and “Adwaita” seem to recount the episode.
The hilltop temple
After unnumbered steps of a hill-stair
I saw upon earth’s head brilliant with sun
The immobile Goddess in her house of stone
In a loneliness of meditating air.
Wise were the human hands that set her there
Above the world and Time’s dominion;
The Soul of all that lives, calm, pure, alone,
Revealed its boundless self mystic and bare.
Our body is an epitome of some Vast
That masks its presence by our humanness.
In us the secret Spirit can indite
A page and summary of the Infinite,
A nodus of Eternity expressed
Live in an image and a sculptured face.
I walked on the high-wayed Seat of Solomon
Where Shankaracharya’s tiny temple stands
Facing Infinity from Time’s edge, alone
On the bare ridge ending earth’s vain romance.
Around me was a formless solitude:
All had become one strange Unnameable,
An unborn sole Reality world-nude,
Topless and fathomless, for ever still.
A Silence that was Being’s only word,
The unknown beginning and the voiceless end
Abolishing all things moment-seen or heard,
On an incommunicable summit reigned,
A lonely Calm and void unchanging Peace
On the dumb crest of Nature’s mysteries.
What should we make of such enigmatic incidents? The Mother Mirra Alfassa had the following to say on the mystic relevance of such early experiences.
For those who have come upon earth fully conscious of their entire being and conscious of their Origin, there is at first a period when this consciousness gets veiled by the physical life and the body-consciousness. It withdraws deep within and waits for the hour when the outer circumstances will make it necessary for that inner self to manifest and to become fully active in the body. And generally, as life is organised, it is some more or less dramatic event that makes this change not only possible but needed.
Even those who have come fully conscious, because they are compelled to take birth in the body of a child, their consciousness withdraws for many years, more or less, and has not the full activity that it had in other worlds. But some circumstance, some event tears off the veil and the inner consciousness takes back its place and its activity. It is that that is fully described in these lines of Savitri.
It is only when the outer crust of the ordinary life is violently broken by some unexpected and tragic event that the inner consciousness has the opportunity of taking the place of this outward movement and governing fully the whole being. From the point of view of growth of consciousness, that is the justification of all these dramatic events. An eventless life is not often a progressive life.
Even his godlike strength to rise must fall:
His greater consciousness withdrew behind;
Dim and eclipsed, his human outside strove
To feel again the old sublimities,
Bring the high saving touch, the ethereal flame,
Call back to its dire need the divine Force.
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto III)
- Dennis Shasha. Out of their minds: the lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists, p 69
- Sri Aurobindo. Autobiographical Notes, p 106.
- Huta. About Savitri: With some paintings
- Twin souls
- Sri Ramakrishna’s occult contact with Sri Aurobindo
- Ramana Maharshi on World War II
- Silviu Craciunas has a dream of Sri Aurobindo
- Some disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
- Raising a child prodigy
- Signs of readiness for the spiritual path
- Stages in the spiritual journey (as per Anandamayi Ma)