In the centuries-old Indian city of Varanasi, there is a hotel with a weird check-out policy: if you don’t die within two weeks, the manager will politely ask you to leave. The hotel caters to a clientele of faithful Hindus who travel to Varanasi specifically to die (more on that hotel later). They are solemnly adhering to the norms laid down in the hoary scriptures that state that death in Varanasi (aka Kashi, Banaras) and some other holy cities can guarantee liberation from the cycle of reincarnation. Is this fast-track to liberation a parochial and outdated belief, or does it imply that anyone living anywhere in the world can attain liberation from rebirth by dying in an Indian holy city? In this article, we examine the continuing validity of such affirmations.
Imagine for a moment that you knew the future. Doesn’t that seem a good thing? You could relax and work without getting stressed out; you could plan ahead and direct your energies only in those paths that you know would lead to success; you could avoid all those intransigent people who keep trapping you in some debilitating vortex of time. There would be no wastage of energy, no error, no agonizing in hindsight over missed opportunities. What a utopian world it would be! But counter-intuitive as it seems, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa offered some legitimate reasons as to why the future is deliberately hidden from us.
The spiritual path often seems like a walk through the arid desert. Intermittently, one may encounter an oasis of water in the form of a replenishing soul moment, but the rest of the time one has to trudge through the scorching heat of the hardships of daily life. It is in this context that the Vedic Rishis spoke of the spiritual seeker being like a Divine child who is suckled by two Mothers – Dawn and Night. In such situations, one may wonder why spiritual experiences never seem to repeat; why can’t one recapture that stirring rapture one had experienced before? The Mother Mirra Alfassa provided some striking and sagacious answers to such often perplexing questions.
Towards the end of September 1947, leading Indian newspapers carried reports that Sri Aurobindo, in seclusion since 1926 had received two visitors, the first it was said since his meeting with Rabindranath Tagore 19 years earlier. These two visitors who remained with Sri Aurobindo in his room for three-quarters of an hour were M. Maurice Schumann, leading a cultural mission despatched to newly-independent India by the Government of recently-liberated France, and M. Francois Baron, then Governor of Pondicherry. Three members of Auroville International France were privileged to meet M. Schumann in December 1988 and to interview him about his visit to Sri Aurobindo. The text that follows is an extract translated from the account of this interview published in the Summer 1989 issue of La Revue d’Auroville. It tells us something of what happened in Sri Aurobindo’s room that day. This article was written by Shraddhavan and has also appeared in the 1989 issue of the Mother India magazine and Summer 1990 of the Collaboration magazine