There is a golden thread which knits together the lives of all sages. Behind their unique beatific personalities and inimitable ways of expression, they are all manifesting the same Divine Consciousness. It is this underlying unity which forms the basis for the similar phenomena that are visible in their lives. This article examines their ability to utter those aphoristic Truths which continue to resonate long after they are gone.
Once the Mother Mirra Alfassa told a disciple that her words would remain imprinted in his soul:
One day Pujalal told me: “Why don’t you write down these answers from Mother, all these valuable words may benefit others when they read them.”
So I asked Mother one day: “Mother, should I write down all that you tell me?”
Mother countered: “Why do you wish to write them down?”
I said: “These are valuable words, what if I forget them later?”
Mother said: “All that I tell you, I say to your inner being. Your soul can never forget them. You’ll remember them whenever they’re needed.”
Skeptics are wont to scoff at such a fanciful claim of memory infallibility and ridicule the naive disciples who accepted it uncritically. Even if some living disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were to testify to its validity, they are likely to be ignored. But what if the evidence of this assertion surfaces in the life of some other Guru? That is precisely what I outline here.
Mahendranath Gupta authored the now well-known Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a daily journal of the events which unfolded in the life of his Guru. While writing the diary, he discovered that the utterances of Sri Ramakrishna had indeed been seared deep into his soul:
Thakur (i.e. Sri Ramakrishna) made my condition such that after hearing him for seven or eight hours and observing him closely, I could remember everything when I returned home at night. I could note down every detail. I could not finish it all in a single day. It would come to my mind gradually. Such was the deep impression he made. I was recording everything for five years and none knew of it.
I wrote everything from memory after I returned home. Sometimes I had to keep awake the whole night. What I have presented here is not collected from others…. Sometimes I would keep on writing the events of one sitting for seven days, recollect the songs that were sung, and the order in which they were sung, and the samadhi and so on….
On every scene I have meditated a thousand times throughout my life. . . . Many a time I did not feel satisfied with my description of the events; I would then immediately plunge myself in deep meditation on Thakur. Then the correct image would arise before my mind’s eye in a bright, real and living form. That is why in spite of the big gap in the physical sense, this story remains so fresh and lifelike in my mind as if it happened just now[2, 3].
Going back several centuries, we find an allusion to such a subliminal recording capacity in the teachings of the Greek sage Socrates. In a dialogue found in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates elucidates on another kind of speech – the one which is the infused with genuine wisdom and stays “written in the soul of the learner“.
Socrates: But now tell me, is there another sort of discourse that is brother to written speech, but of unquestioned legitimacy? Can we see how it originates, and how much better and more effective it is than the other?
Phaedrus: What sort of discourse have you now in mind, and what is its origin?
Socrates: The sort that goes together with knowledge, and is written in the soul of the learner, that can defend itself, and knows to whom it should speak and to whom it should say nothing.
Phaedrus: Do you mean the discourse of a man who really knows which is living and animate? Would it be fair to call the written discourse only a kind of ghost (eidolon) of it?
Socrates: Precisely . ..
The words of the Guru remain inscribed in the soul of the listener because the Guru is someone who is united with the transcendental source of speech – the eternal vibrations reverberating through the cosmos that are called Para Vak in the Vedas. Consequently, their utterances come charged with power and resonate deep within us. On the other hand, conventional human speech is corrupted because our consciousness is a mixture of light (Sattva) and dullness (Tamas), making us imperfect transmitters and receivers.
For purposes of pedagogy, these three anecdotes can serve as a gentle introduction to linguistics. Human communication occurs through the spoken word as well as the written word. The central critique of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida was that Western philosophy since the days of Plato had privileged (i.e. prioritized) the spoken word over the written word purely because the speaker and the listener are both present during speech. This immediacy of speech provides the deceptive illusion of perfect communication. He called this trend logocentrism. Derrida showed that this opposition is false because both speech and writing are equally distorted as they are characterized by a difference in time and space. To put it in layman terms, human communication is inherently marred by imperfections.
Even while arguing that writing and speech are both imperfect, Derrida refers to the anecdote of Socrates shown above to illustrate the legitimate form of “writing”. He denotes this inscription of truth in the soul as “arche-writing” or “trace”. It is this trace that is the source of both speech and external writing. Harold Coward in his book “Derrida and Indian philosophy” compares Derrida’s trace to the Sabda-Tattva (Word-Principle) concept defined by the Indian grammarian Bhartrhari (5th century CE). The Word-Principle is without beginning or end. It is through the sequencing power of Time and Space that the Word-Principle manifests itself in the form of human language. It is this differentiation that forms the basis for the four levels of sound known as Vedic Vak which were discussed in an earlier article.
You can check Coward’s book for further illumination on the points of correspondence between Derrida and Indian philosophy.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)
The tao that can be spoken is not the eternal tao (Lao Tzu)
- Pranab Bhattacharya. I Remember, Part 1, p 3.
- Swami Tyagananda. Interpreting Ramakrishna, Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass, 2010, pp 7-8
- Swami Deshikananda, ‘M, the Apostle and the Evangelist’, in Dharam Pal Gupta, The Life of Ma and the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (Chandigarh: Sri Ma Trust. 1988), p 247. In his reminiscences, Nagendra Nath Gupta, a veteran journalist, wrote: ‘He [Mahendra Nath] told me that what he had heard on one day took him three days to set down in writing’, cited in Somosamayik Drishtite Sri Sri Ramakrishna: 110. (as noted in Amiya Sen, His Words : the preachings and parables of Sri Ramkrishna Paramahansa, New Delhi, India : Pengin Books India : Viking, 2010, p 264)
- The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969, p 521.
- Harold Coward. Derrida and Indian Philosophy, New York : State University of New York Press, 1990. (amazon)
- The action of subliminal memory
- Self-control over speech
- Vedic Vak: illustration of Para Vak
- Vedic Vak: four levels of sound
- How does a Guru act?
- How does the Mind change with Yoga?
- The subtle sounds which indicate progress in Yoga
- Explaining the Ascent-Descent in Integral Yoga
- Why does Yoga give you a “high”?
- Four epistemic methods of consciousness