In religious history, the spiritual essence often gets cloaked by an impenetrable layer of superstition and mythology. Fantastic tales of miracles abound, elaborate rituals are superstitiously observed to propitiate mysterious circling spirits, and considerable regard is accorded to holy days, holy food, holy places and holy clothes. It requires inner discernment to free the mind from the cultural baggage which has been passed down through the ages. This is a compilation of answers given by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on some of the issues which tend to burden our thinking.
Question: Sweet Mother, Is there anything like good luck and bad luck, or is it something that one creates for oneself?
Mother: There is nothing that can truly be called luck. What men call luck are the effects of causes they do not know.
Nor is there anything that in itself is good or bad luck; each one characterises circumstances as good or bad depending on whether they are more or less favourable to him; and this estimation itself is very superficial and ignorant, for one must already be a great sage to know what is truly favourable or unfavourable to oneself.
Moreover, the same event may be very good for one person and at the same time very bad for another. These estimations are purely subjective and depend on each one’s reaction to contacts coming from outside.
Finally, the circumstances of our life, the surroundings in which we live and the way in which people regard us are the expression, the objective projection of what we ourselves are, within and without. So we may say with certainty that what we carry in ourselves in all our states of being, mentally, vitally and physically, is that which constitutes our life objectified in what surrounds us.
And this is easily verifiable, for in proportion as we improve ourselves and advance towards perfection, our circumstances also improve.
Likewise, in the case of those who degenerate and fall back, the circumstances of their lives also worsen.
Origin of superstitions
There was an incident at the Ashram where a teakwood bench broke, bringing down a mason who was standing on a plank resting on that bench. The mason was not injured. The incident reminded an individual that 1:30 to 3:30 P.M that day was Rahukal, an inauspicious period according to Indian astrology (follow the hyperlink for details). When asked about it, the Mother responded “It is always better not to remember such superstitions. It is the suggestion that acts in these cases most often a suggestion in the subconscient mind; but it is made stronger by becoming conscious.” .
During another Q&A, she was asked…
Question: Are superstitions mental rules?
Mother: No, not rules but mental formations. Generally a superstition originates in an experience. For instance, there is a certain superstition in Europe, and you are told: “Never walk under a ladder, it will bring you ill-luck.” It is probable that someone walked under a ladder and the ladder slipped and fell upon him, and the story starts off like that. It can happen that this is a repeated experience, for, in fact, if a ladder is badly placed and you pass underneath it could fall at that very moment, and that would bring ill-luck! There are innumerable superstitions of this kind. They depend upon the countries, besides; these things are quite local and one may even find contradictory superstitions in different countries. In certain countries if you see a black cat, it is a sign that a catastrophe will come. In others if you see a black cat, it means that something very fine will happen! If you put things together you will come to the conclusion that nothing at all will happen to you! It is like that. Almost all superstitions are the result of an experience that is quite local, occasional, exceptional, which has been raised into a mental principle. It is a mental formation, it is not a rule.
Now, there are other instances, as for example a large number of religious rules which are founded solely on hygienic principles, on medical knowledge, and have been raised into religious principles, for that was the only way to make people observe them. If you are not told that “God wants” that you should do this or that, you would not do it, the majority of men ordinarily do not do it. For instance, that very simple thing washing your hands before eating; in countries where the civilisation is not quite scientific, some people discovered that in truth it was probably more hygienic to wash the hands first! If they had not made a religious rule, if they hadn’t said that “God wanted” that a man wash his hands before eating, otherwise it would be an offence against Him, people would have said: “Oh, why? No, not today, tomorrow. I have no time, I am in a hurry!” But in this way there is that constant fear at the back of their minds that something bad will happen to them due to God’s anger. This too is a superstition, a big superstition.
They do things because they are told to do them. There is an entire class of religion – for instance the Chaldean religion – which forbids the eating of pork. They say it is altogether impure and that you will become impure if you eat it. The truth is that in these countries (for they are hot countries), pig’s flesh is full of little worms which one takes in with the meat, even if it is cooked. It has to be cooked over an extremely long time to kill the worms. And so the little worms resist ordinary cooking and settle in your stomach or intestines, and then there they flourish and at times even end up by killing you or, in any case, by making you ill. These worms breed specially in this kind of meat. Now, if all this is explained to people, they do not understand; they haven’t any medical, scientific or hygienic ideas and this does not at all interest them: “Ah, but this meat is not expensive, it is sold cheap! We’ll see what happens.” What will happen is that after a while they will have terrible pains in their intestines, and then they will grow thinner and thinner and eat more and more, quite uselessly; they will not know what has happened; they will be simply eaten up by the worms. But if they are told: “Don’t do this, God will be furious and will punish you”, that is enough. They won’t do it .
See Electricity on Shabbat in Jewish law for details on this observance.
Superstitions regarding Guru’s power
The Mother also had to counter superstitions regarding her own occult capacities ! In one instance, she told a disciple: “You see, the faith of people is a superstition — it’s not faith, it’s superstition. Now there are more and more people who think they have faith, and they ask me ridiculous things! They have superstitions like…. Someone brings me a child born with a deformed arm, and the superstition is that if I put my hand on the arm of the child, he’ll be healed…. Things like that. It’s completely stupid. That’s not Power! They need a little miracle, you know, at their level. ” 
Question: When we have a ring or some ornament with your image, does it give us protection?
Mother: It depends above all on what you think about it! Something I give you with my own hands – there I put in something; but if it is of your own choice that you have taken a ring or a portrait, something, and you wear it… if you have the trust, the faith that it protects you, it protects you. When I give it, I give it with something completely different from the thing itself. It can contain this thing if I put it in, but if I don’t, it does not contain it.
Sri Aurobindo used to say, you know, that to wear a ring with his portrait and think that it protects you, is a superstition! He would tell you it is a superstition! That is, it depends on what you think about it… It depends solely on what you think about it. If he had given you a ring, saying, “Wear this, my force will be with you”, then it would have been altogether different; there’s a world of difference.
I shall tell you another little story. Long ago some people used to believe that a perforated coin… It was in the days when coins were not perforated… now we have perforated coins, don’t we, some countries have perforated coins, but in those days they were not perforated, and yet sometimes there were holes in a coin. And there was indeed a superstition like this, that when one found a perforated coin, it brought good luck. It brought you good luck and success in what you wanted to do.
There was a man working in an office whose life was rather poor and who was not very successful, and one day he found a perforated coin. He put it in his pocket and said to himself, “Now I am going to prosper!” And he was full of hope, courage, energy, because he knew: “Now that I have the coin, I am sure to succeed!” And, in fact, he went on prospering, prospering more and more. He earned more and more money, he had a better and better position, and people said, “What a wonderful man! How well he works! How he finds all the solutions to all problems!” Indeed, he became a remarkable man, and every morning when he put on his coat, he felt it – like this – to be sure that his coin was in his pocket… He touched it, he felt that the coin was there, and he had confidence. And then, one day, he was a little curious, and said, “I am going to see my coin!” – years later. He was having his breakfast with his wife and said, “I am going to see my coin!” His wife told him, “Why do you want to see it? It’s not necessary.” “Yes, yes, let me see my coin.” He took out the little bag in which he kept the coin, and found inside a coin which was not perforated!
“Ah,” he said, “this is not my coin! What is this? Who has changed my coin?” Then his wife told him, “Look, one day there was some dust on your coat… I shook it off through the window and the coin fell out. I had forgotten that the coin was there. I ran to look for it but didn’t find it. Someone had picked it up. So I thought you would be very unhappy and I put another coin there.” (Laughter) Only, he, of course, was confident that his coin was there and that was enough.
It is the faith, the trust that does it, you see… The perforated coin gives you nothing at all. You can always try. If you have the confidence, it gives you… When one has confidence… .
Miracles of saints
Question: In the lives of many saints we read that with full trust the devotee refused to eat unless the Lord appeared and took part. And the Lord did appear and eat and work like human beings. Is there any truth in such stories?
Mother: A psychological truth because anybody can become for you the Lord if so you decide. The subjective point of view is much more widely prevailing than is generally admitted .
Question: I have read that the bodies of some saints, after their death, have disappeared and become flowers or just vanished into the sky. Can such a thing happen?
Mother: Everything is possible, it could have happened, but I do not believe it did. We cannot always believe what is said in books. Nor is there a necessary connection between such phenomena and sainthood. Some “mediums”, as they are called, have an unusual capacity. They are put in a chair, tied to it, guarded by people, and the room is locked securely from outside. Then darkness is created in the room. After some time – longer or shorter according to the medium’s power – the knots are found untied, the chair is seen empty: the occupant has disappeared. Then, in an adjoining room, the person is found lying down in a deep trance. Through closed doors and thick walls the medium has passed. It is by a power of deconcentration and reconcentration of the physical substance.
Phenomena like these have taken place under the strictest scientific control. So they do genuinely occur in rare instances, but they are no sign of sanctity. There is nothing spiritual about them. What is at work is purely a capacity of the vital being. And often the mediums are people of very low character, with not a trace of anything saintly.
But to come back to the point. In connection with great or holy men all sorts of stories get started. When Sri Aurobindo had not left his body, there was circulated a story that he used to go out of the roof of his room – yes, physically – and move about in all kinds of places. It is even written down in a book. He told me about it himself .
Just like Greek mythology, Hinduism also has scriptures containing ludicrous tales of omnipotent Gods interfering with human lives. A disciple once asked Sri Aurobindo if those stories were credible.
Disciple: There are stories in the old scriptures, Puranas, that some great yogis were tempted by the Apsaras (fairies of other worlds). Then some of them left their yogic tapasya and even married them. Are these really facts or mere religious fables?
Sri Aurobindo: These things are possible but they do not usually happen — because it is difficult for beings of the subtle worlds to materialise to such an extent or for a long time. They prefer to act by influencing human beings, using them as instruments or taking possession of a human mind and body .
In Sri Aurobindo’s diary (“The Record of Yoga“) where he kept notes of his spiritual experiences, there are a couple of remarks regarding these mysterious occult beings which might shed more light on the ancient myths.
On March 28, 1914, he wrote:
In antardarshi : The golden Kali four-armed & weaponed, destroying the Asuras; a young man rushes at & throws his arms around her in filial love not hatred; he is spared & lifted up & carried away in her arms no longer as a young man but as a boy. Symbolic of the process of conversion from the Asuro-Rakshasic mind to the divine balabhava by the embrace of Kali. The visitation of Kali seems to be intended to save him from his Asura environment now turned hostile to him as to Prahlada. Qy. [Query] Was it in this way that the legends of the Puranas were formed? Jyotirmay Images .
He was shown a vision of the struggle between the cosmic powers known as Goddess Kali and the Asuras (Titans) which seems to be symbolic of the divinizing process that the mind undergoes when it admits the cosmic power known as Kali. As the last line indicates, he wonders if this was how the ancient myths actually originated.
On July 21, 1914, he wrote in his diary:
Darshana : Self-manifestation of the Apsaras, & the Cherubim of the various spheres (Gandharvas, Venus) & the Seraphim (Angirasas & Bhrigus) .
This entry indicates that Sri Aurobindo found these mythical beings (which are in reality, cosmic energies) manifesting in his consciousness. This note is consistent with the Rig Veda which avers that the Gods are born twice : first, they manifest in the Universe during Creation and then they manifest in the human consciousness when one reaches the highest state of Self-realization .
- Collected Works of the Mother, 16:229.
- Collected Works of the Mother, 16:15.
- Collected Works of the Mother, 5:155-156.
- Mother’s Agenda, May 8, 1971.
- Collected Works of the Mother, 6:233-235.
- Collected Works of the Mother, 15:35.
- Collected Works of the Mother, 15:395.
- Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 2, 254.
- Sri Aurobindo. Record of Yoga, CWSA vol. 10-11, 420
- ibid. 567.
- Refer to SAKSI publications on “Agni” http://www.vedah.com/essays-on-veda-upanishad-etc/elementary-topics/59-godsmore-details/464-agni; and “Perfection and Education” http://www.vedah.com/essays-on-veda-upanishad-etc/elementary-topics/48-deeper-meanings-of-mantras/255-perfection-and-education
- Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on Astrology
- Ghosts explained
- Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
- The occult spirits which influence our actions
- How religions are formed
- The occult forces behind artistic movements
- Does Nature revolt against machinery?
- Mental formations: powers and perils
- On spirit possession and mental imbalances
- Why do we feel afraid and how to overcome it
- Difference between religion and spirituality
- On some customs and traditions of Hinduism
- The purpose of idolatry and its limitations
- Physical marks appearing after injuries sustained in dreams
- Somnambulists who do creative work in their sleep