How an Egyptian discovered Sri Aurobindo

We may call it the “come to Sri Aurobindo moment“.  It is a psychic awakening, a distinctive phase in life when the mind falls in rhythm with the elegant cadence of Sri Aurobindo’s elongated sentences, when the heart feels gladdened reading the sensitive and sublime insights of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and little by little, one begins to grasp and live their teaching.  Zackaria Moursi, Egyptian by birth, came across a book on Integral Yoga while studying in Germany in the 1960s.  In this article, he describes how that book launched him on the spiritual path.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Deir el Bahari, Luxor(Thebes), Egypt circa 1910. From the Notre Dame Architecture Library. Flickr Creative Commons. Click image for source

(In the words of Zackaria Moursi)

At the age of 23, studying on a doctoral scholarship in Germany, I had everything a young man wishes to possess: health, affluence and success. I had come two years earlier from Egypt to a different culture, but the change proved to be anything but a cultural “shock”. As a student, I had rented a room in the apartment of a highly educated woman, who, seeing how much I was taken by classical music, encouraged me to learn piano and introduced me to a German composer, living in the area, an author of some renown, who, besides piano and music, took up my education in literature and art. All this was going on parallel to my actual engineering studies. Germany was the ideal place for the intellectually insatiable person I was. Visiting the great German cathedrals and museums with my host, going to concerts, hiking in the Black Forest not far from where I lived, and making trips to adjacent European countries, I felt I was starting to live for the first time. Yet, Germany had much more in store for me….

Having been born in a well known and respected Egyptian family, I had in many ways a privileged childhood. The Islam I grew up with was tolerant, open-minded, and progressive. My grandfather and his brothers had fought against the British occupation: one was exiled to the Seychelles, another jailed in Upper Egypt, but this did not prevent a third brother from marrying an Englishwoman, nor did it prevent the family from sending some of its children to European and American schools, even if they happened to be religious.

I hardly knew my parents: my father, a successful lawyer, was constantly working, and when at home, he, like most men of his generation, was not in the habit of sharing much time with his children. My mother constantly complained from breathing difficulties and kept to bed most of the time. The care of the children was left to a nurse and other help personnel. My father had collected a marvelous library in his study: leather-bound volumes of classical Arabic literature, side by side with French and English books regularly sent to him by bookstores in downtown Cairo. I must have been seven, when I started to sneak to this otherwise rarely frequented study, shut the door behind me and lose myself in whatever, at my age, I could make out of its treasures. The study soon became my magical world, a world of adventure, heroism and beauty to which I could take refuge whenever I felt lonely.

The sunshine of my early childhood was soon to give way to mounting clouds. The 1952 revolution changed Egypt dramatically; and, in the “nationalization” wave that followed, my family lost most of its possessions. Soon after, my father died suddenly with a heart attack. With the onset of puberty, not long after that, my exile from Paradise was complete. I experienced for the first time real anguish and sorrow. A sort of chronic “bad conscience” took hold of me and made me go around with bent shoulders as if carrying a crushing load. The feeling I often had of being lifted up and soaring on wings was gone. Life became a challenge that had to be met with a great effort of will. In my college years, I studied with ferocious determination. Excellence at school was the one expectation my father had again and again stressed to his children. Unconsciously I wanted to fulfill his wish, but my more urgent need was to get a scholarship that would enable me to study abroad and to discover a wider and more stable world. At the age of twenty, my wish was granted: I completed my studies, received an engineering degree, and won scholarship to do graduate work in Germany.

So here I was in Germany avidly pursuing avenues of which I didn’t have the faintest inkling only a short time before. One day, flipping through the books of my host, I grabbed an undistinguished book with the title “Der Integrale Yoga“. Till then I had thought yoga nothing more than extreme “physical exercises” developed in India, and I looked in the book for the usual photos of yogis in impossible postures. Instead I found dense texts with long sentences and difficult Sanskrit words. The book turned out to be a compilation of texts by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, of whom I had never heard before(translated into German by Heinz Kappes).  I put the book back on the shelf; I had anyway a huge list of other things I urgently needed to do. There was no reason for me to return to this book, but I did return to it again and again in the following weeks. It was destined to trigger a turning point in my life.

The affirmations of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were a refreshing blend of an inconceivable spiritual fairytale with down-to-earth reports of lived experiences. They were about a “psychological” spirituality, which was different from the occult and ascetic spirituality I had read about so far. The texts were objective reports of experiences; there was in them no eagerness to convince, no promises of easy and fast rewards and no threats of terrible consequences if one chose to drop them and go other ways. There was no mention of sin or regret over past mistakes; they talked only of restoring harmony and balance and putting each thing in its right place. They taught that a soul could not be lost forever but only delayed in its growth and evolution; and that man’s goal was to participate consciously in his own evolution and to hasten it according to his capacities and means. But there was something else that attracted me to the book: I was much intrigued and perplexed by the authority and the sublime height from which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were writing: something in their assertions seemed “simply too much”, and yet the doubter in me could not dismiss statements that sounded so authentic and true as exaggerations and pretense. I wanted to get to the bottom of it all, and I was conceited enough to take the matter as a challenge and to tell myself: “Here is a challenge for you!”

The teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother filled an emptiness inside me that all my previous intellectual pursuits had not been able to fill. I finally understood that true growth should be the growth of the being as a whole, and that true knowledge was not just knowledge of the mind but also that of the heart and the soul. The goal was far and high, but the path was clearly shown; I just had to step on it and start walking.

Outwardly things were shaping up nicely for me. Inwardly the words of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had started to ferment. And then something strange happened.

I had just finished the first half of my doctoral program and had all reasons to celebrate. Instead, I suddenly found myself in a severe depression, the kind that makes you afraid to leave bed in the morning and that haunts you with suicidal thoughts the rest of the day. No one understood what was happening, nor did I understand what was going on inside me.

In one of my most desperate moments, I remembered the Integral Yoga book. I looked at Sri Aurobindo’s photo and felt a faint but unmistakable quiver in my heart, upon which I fell into a sound sleep, something I hadn’t been able to do for quite some time. Next day I knew I was mending, and things started to change. The change was slow and hesitant at first, but I somehow managed, in a month or so, to get over my depression and to resume normal life.

A great and long adventure had started for me; for decades demolition and construction went on simultaneously inside me, and my path meandered in totally unexpected ways. My journey made me change country and career several times and meet people whom I never imagined I would meet in real life. It was not always easy to fulfill my previous commitments while aspiring to give myself fully to a new orientation and a distant aim. The discrepancy between the Ideal and the Reality was still too great, and my inner resistance created hardships. Most difficult of all, was my inability to make myself understood by those whose lives were closely bound with mine, and who were necessarily affected by my actions.

On the whole my lot was much better than that of millions of others, and I was not asking for more. Slowly the pieces of life’s huge puzzle started to fall one after the other into place. To my amazement I discovered that, despite my many meanderings and aberrations, I have landed not too far from where I always wanted to be. I started to see how every leg of the long journey had been a necessary preparation and to perceive the incredible Grace that has guided me through many detours and much stumbling to the “niche” that was all along intended for me. Life started to become simple and serene; the need for straining and effort grew less; the conflict between “Inner work” and “outer work” lost its edge; the fears and worries that had long haunted me began to fall away; and I started to grasp faintly what Sri Aurobindo must have had in mind when he wrote his “Life Divine.

I am approaching my seventieth birthday, and my hope seems increasingly justified that the exile from Paradise I experienced almost sixty years ago was not final after all.

Zackaria Moursi

Feb., 2012

Originally posted at http://sriaurobindo-inarabic.com/

(Zackaria is currently engaged in translating the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into Arabic.  See the website given above for some samples.)

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29 thoughts on “How an Egyptian discovered Sri Aurobindo

  1. Alok

    It is always energizing and inspiring to listen to the journey of co-pilgrims.
    Can you kindly post an article on Sri chinmoy who lived in Sri Aurobindo Ashram and practiced yoga.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Yes, it is inspiring.
      There are plenty of websites dedicated to Sri Chinmoy but I will see what I can do. There are also some cautionary remarks about him by the Mother in the Agenda.

      Reply
  2. mike

    This is very similar to my own journey to SA and the Mother, only it was the ‘Letters on Yoga’ that made the change.

    l’ve never felt comfortable with sri chinmoy. Something doesn’t feel right about him. l’ve read a couple of his books, which were interesting enough, but some of his claims don’t sit right with me and his artwork was very unimpressive.
    One thing he said made me dubious. l believe he said he had an arrangement with God that prevented the hostile forces from imitating him, and l think he said he was the only guru who had that arrangement [difficult to swallow].
    l didn’t know Mother said anything about him? Udar at the ashram told me he remembered him being there, but didn’t say anymore than that.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mike: l didn’t know Mother said anything about him?

      See the Agenda, August 18, 1965 where “C” stands for Chimnoy. The two nice Americans she refers to below are Eric and Sam, who founded the Matagiri center in Woodstock, NY.

      (Two Americans have brought Mother photos of a former disciple who left for the United States:)

      Mother: Do you remember C.? He has become a great guru there, with a group, and it seems he hypnotizes people…. And two Americans have come here (very nice people, one is a painter, the other is a sculptor); one was in C.’s clutches and it’s the other who saved him by keeping him, almost brutally, materially far from C. for three days – the third day, he was free (which does seem to prove that he has a hypnotic influence) – and by telling him, “We’re leaving for Pondicherry, you don’t need an intermediary between the Mother and you.” Because C. plays the great “intermediary” between Sri Aurobindo and the poor public.

      […]

      (Mother looks at the photos. Then she reads the letter that accompanies the photos)

      “… Z and I met with him a few times. Since I saw in him a devilish evil, we have broken contact. I leave this now in your hands.”

      Z lives in the forest with his friend S., in a house built with logs. I saw the photos some time ago. The forest is a marvel.

      But as for me, of course, I knew….

      He asked for a visa as “preacher” (!) and it seems that in that case you are allowed to stay indefinitely; he no longer has to leave – that’s very good, I am very glad he is there! Because when people are caught, it was their destiny and they needed to be caught. And you can even reach the Goal through a devil as well as through an angel – better, sometimes! (Mother laughs)

      But it was visible when he was here: a fantastic pride and ambition that were to end up like this. He has a nasty face, very nasty.

      Satprem: But still, the fact that he declares himself to be the Ashram’s “envoy” is troublesome.

      Mother: Ah, but I immediately wrote to Dr. Sanyal, who passed on my answer to all the people he knew.

      But this S. [an American], C.’s friend, is quite in a beatific adoration – that’s very good, it had to happen to him.

      Satprem: The Americans have so little discernment. They rush headlong at anything.

      Mother: Absolutely no discernment.

      He [C.] must have something, but I don’t feel anything! (Mother makes a gesture as thin as cigarette paper.) It’s something without force. But K., too, when she was in America, was quite under his thumb. And she said she had marvelous meditations with him! … But I wrote to K., because he gave her advice on her life and on what she should and should not do; so she wrote to ask me, “How much am I to believe?” I answered, “Nothing! “… He had forbidden her to come to the Ashram; he had told her that it wasn’t the place for her, that she was much too grown-up to come here! The Ashram is good for those who have nothing in them, who need to be kept well in hand, while someone with a capacity must live independently.

      That’s how he catches them.

      No, it’s very good! It’s comical.

      If one has ambition, it is relatively quite easy to draw a [subtle] being to oneself, who naturally comes under very deceptive disguises, and then to believe oneself to be the incarnation of a great personality.

      But when people are sincere, it can’t last very long.

      Reply
  3. mike

    Many Thanks for revealing that sandeep. l didn’t realise he was that bad before, but l never felt any attraction there anyway, although l did sense some kind of charisma with him.

    “He has a nasty face, very nasty”

    l did notice some of that in his photo.

    Reply
  4. mike

    Also, came across this one of SA that l’ve never seen before. Found both of these without looking for them lol. ls this a genuine picture of SA. He looks very different.

    [IMG]http://img441.imageshack.us/img441/5774/aurobindo41we.jpg[/IMG]

    Reply
  5. mike

    l think it’s tagore. on the site lt said Sri Aurobindo at His desk.
    l think they might have it wrong.

    Reply
      1. Alok

        Why is it that always ambition plays a role in spoiling the sport or are we judging it narrowly when we read in savitri that “all the contraries prepare her harmony”. How is it that Divine (The Mother and Sri Aurobindo) knowing the future course still allow a particular line of development?

      2. Sandeep Post author

        All contraries do prepare her harmony but it takes time to develop. From a purely statistical perspective, it seems natural that the proportion of saints, charlatans, fanatics, atheists, etc. on Earth should remain approximately the same. It is wishful thinking to expect otherwise, given the psychological effort it takes to transcend the ego.

        Why does the Divine allow a particular line of development, even if detrimental ? Because human beings are endowed with free-will and have the right to do whatever they want. The Grace withdraws when we refuse to honestly examine our inward motivations.

      3. Alok

        How does the shift happens from the ambition to Aspiration? Ambition blinds the vision but gives lots of impetus to achieve something, also it divides, yet some people have to pass through it to reach the Aspiration.
        When Ambition divides, be it for personal name and fame through writing, in which one only highlights one aspect of the Truth then others have to stand in opposition to check it. Whole Truth is fragmented and we see two or many groups standing against each other claiming truth to be in their side.
        But this thesis and antithesis game is designed by nature to follow its slow and tardy process of growth in the normal process of evolution.
        How about synthesis? Does it depend on time to come about? Also what is the place of swadharma and swabhava of an individual and a group in such a critical situation?

      4. Sandeep Post author

        To answer such generic questions would require quoting Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine one snippet after another, and even that won’t resolve anything because their practical interpretation is subjective and imperfect.

        Life is analogous to a complicated system of differential equations. The general solution can be determined philosophically but when we try to practically determine the particular solution at a given space-time, we only obtain are unsatisfactory approximations.

  6. Diane

    I found Zackaria’s sharing both moving and amazing. Perhaps because I came to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother outside of any contact with the IY community as such. I was an astrologer and followed the teachings of Dane Rudyhar, who wrote about the Mother and her experiment with Auroville. At the time we had an esoteric bookshop here in Sydney where I live, and there I found the Letters on Yoga. Without any conscious intent, I would regularly return to the bookshop and buy another book, until after several years, I had pretty much the complete collection. It was not until 1998 or thereabouts that I found the IY on line community.
    It has been my practice to read, at least the Life Divine, Savitri and one or two others, Human Cycle at the moment, everyday for 20 years now, so I have never felt the need to be guided by anyone outside of the Masters.
    In the Human Cycle Sri Aurobindo says that Unity is achieved through diversity, and it seems to me that Zackaria’s account it a wonderful example of this. I also think that a degree of seperation can be useful, as one is not then influenced by the opinions of others, because of personal or cultural ties.
    Diane

    Reply
    1. Alok

      Thanks a lot for a lively engagement and a balanced response. It was very enriching. With gratitude and good wishes.

      Reply
  7. mike

    Sandeep, thanks for the other photo’s of chinmoy.
    On the site it says:

    “In this rare collection of photographs from the years 1944-1964, we see the young Chinmoy blossom spiritually. An extraordinary luminosity is reflected in his eyes and, as the time of his eventual departure from the Ashram draws near, he seems to brim with vast inner gifts waiting to be manifested.”

    Personally, l can see no ‘luminosty’ in his eyes or anywhere else for that matter. l’ve never liked his eyes, in fact. For me they express something not quite right. Perhaps, the Mother is referring to his eyes when she talks about him having a nasty streak?

    Like the Mother says, there doesn’t seem to be anything there. l can’t see or feel anything from chinmoy. He doesn’t exude Light, Peace, Ananda, Force etc… that you can see easily lf you compare his face to SA and Mother, or Sri Ramakrishna or Ramana etc… then the difference is plain to see. So, l don’t know how that person on the chinmoy site can say he sees these things in chinmoy. l don’t think it’s just because l follow SA and Mother, because l’ve noticed it in other Spiritual personalities as well.
    lf you look at SA and Mother in their early days, these qualities are always there.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Chinmoy seems to have been quite an impostor.

      His poem Nirvana resembles in content a poem with the same name by Sri Aurobindo.

      His remark “As we have a human world, where we get all earthly things, even so there is a world of inspiration. If we go deep within, we can enter into that world and find that the poems are already written. … There is a world of poetry, a world of prose, a world for all literature that exists. ” seen here is copied from an observation on the zones of consciousness (music, painting, literature) made by the Mother in the Agenda – October 27, 1962.

      Anyway, its a waste of time to deliberate on such people.

      Reply
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  11. mani

    Sandeep,
    The Hatsheput’s tomb picture you used in the article is for mentioning Egypt or any other reason? I mean it is said by The Mother that She was queen Hatsheput and it is known that an architect (Senenmut) who was close to the queen built that tomb. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKzVkqnbH1g)The architecture is so distinct from any tombs or pyramids known to the land. I am interested in the records of past lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the earth. I dont know if you have an article on it.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I added that picture because I wanted to display something that is representative of ancient Egypt. Any coincidence with the Mother’s remarks is purely accidental.

      Mani: I am interested in the records of past lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on the earth. I dont know if you have an article on it.

      That is one aspect I never discuss on this blog because I think it is a needless distraction. The mind always hungers for more and more trivial facts and the adventurous vital loves to indulge in speculation. How does it matter who they were before ?

      See my comment on a different blog post on this matter:

      This is Sri Aurobindo’s comment on this topic found in the Collected Works of the Mother:

      With reference to a remark by the Mother “We have all met in previous lives”, a disciple asked Sri Aurobindo: Who precisely are “we”? Do both of you remember me? Did I often serve you for this work in the past?

      Sri Aurobindo: It is a general principle announced which covers all who are called to the work. At the time the Mother was seeing the past (or part of it) of those to whom she spoke and that is why she said this. At present we are too much occupied with the crucial work in the physical consciousness to go into these things. Moreover we find that it encouraged a sort of vital romanticism in the Sadhaks which made them attach more importance to these things than to the hard work of Sadhana, so we have stopped speaking of past lives and personalities.

      (Collected Works of the Mother, vol. 3, p 302)

      Reply
  12. mike

    “That is one aspect I never discuss on this blog because I think it is a needless distraction. The mind always hungers for more and more trivial facts and the adventurous vital loves to indulge in speculation. How does it matter who they were before ?”

    Yes, this is true. l’ve seen lots of ppl in forums etc.. asking for information about their past-lives, and it’s usually out of vanity and the like.
    lt amazes me how many are going to regression therapists these days and coming away totally convinced. l believe most are being deceived and that includes the therapists, as well. The Mother has spoken about how easily ppl are are deceived by those vital beings in the astral worlds.
    l’ve heard some people claiming to know a long list of their previous lifetimes – it’s just ridiculous.

    Reply
  13. mani

    Thank you very much for correcting me Sandeep. You and Mike are so right in your observation. It truly is feeding the ego and engaging in weird way of adoration, finding that this will bring greater surrender.

    Reply
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