The laissez-faire approach of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Yoga is a predominantly psychological process of conquering one’s weaknesses through the assistance of a Higher Light.  As part of the surrender (samarpan) to the Divine, one is expected to reject deviant movements within oneself and offer them to the Divine for removal.  This is a private exercise which does not require confessing in front of family, friends, priests or the public at large (…by writing a memoir or appearing on a TV talk show, as Americans tend to do these days).  The exercise is undertaken not to gain social acceptance or to unburden oneself but to eliminate the depravities which occlude the inner light – the psychic being – from shining forth.

In the Ashram, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother facilitated this process by adopting a laissez-faire approach towards their disciples. Instead of pushing the disciples towards prescribed goals, they would intervene only after the disciple became aware of a subconscious defect and presented it to them for elucidation and purging.  That is why the disciples were given notebooks in which they were asked to identify and jot down their daily upheavals and aberrant movements of consciousness.  Either Sri Aurobindo or the Mother would later read these notebooks and apply their power to assist the disciple accordingly.  The principle they worked on was that a permanent change of consciousness cannot come unless the disciple also willingly consents to it.

In the following exchanges with disciples, we see them independently giving the same explanation when asked why they did not correct mistakes immediately.

A written exchange with Sri Aurobindo

Disciple: How is it you never write to me anything unless I ask for it or make some statement about it?

Sri Aurobindo: I never do to anybody unless he gives me the occasion. A sadhak (seeker) must become  conscious and lay himself before the light, see and reject and change. It is not the right method for us to interfere and lecture and point out this and point out that. That is the school master method – it does not work in the spiritual change.

The disciples here are not pupils and the gurus here are not school teachers.

Disciple: You often use words like “please” etc. In India at least, a Guru, not to speak of an Avatar, does not speak this way to his disciples!

Sri Aurobindo: They were not in the habit of writing English.

Disciple: Since you and the Mother are supposed to know all that happens in us, then why do you want us to write to you about it?

Sri Aurobindo: It is necessary for you to be conscious and to put your self-observation before us; it is on that that we can act. A mere action on our own observation without any corresponding consciousness on the part of the sadhak would lead to nothing.

(Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, vol. 3, pp 253-254)

artist: Priti ghosh@ Sri Aurobindo Ashram.  Click image for artist homepage.

artist: Priti Ghosh@ Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Click image for artist homepage.

An oral exchange with the Mother

Disciple: Mother, when we have done something and want to hide it from you, when we come to you, you look as if you knew nothing. Why? (Laughter)

Mother: (Laughingly) I look as if… I listen, yes? I listen as though I knew nothing, don’t I? It is good like that, and sometimes I exclaim “Ah!” and “Oh!” as though I did not know, don’t I? Well, my child, all that is for another reason. I have explained that already several times.

When I see people and am busy with them, I want to—I don’t say it is always possible, but still—I want to see in them their psychic being, their ideal, what they want to do, what they want to be, in order to keep it, pull it to the surface; all my work consists of this: what I see I pull out always. And so, when I am doing that, apart from those cases in which I am aware that people are a little conscious of themselves, I am not always sure of the degree of their outer consciousness; and when I ask questions it is to know the difference between what they are conscious of and what I see; and this I am doing all the time. It looks as though I did not know, doesn’t it? I ask a question to find out: “What do you feel? What do you think? What have you experienced? What…” You know, it is to have a clear picture of the degree of your consciousness.

There is a tremendous difference between what you know about yourself and what I know about you. What I know about you is obviously what you ought to be. So, outwardly one sees clearly what people are like, but that is just an outer phenomenon, you know. Between the two, there is the vital and mental domain which is the most important from the human point of view, and it is there that in everyone the consciousness of what he ought to be should be reflected, so that he may realise it. But there is a vast distance between what each one knows about himself, what is actively conscious in him and what he is in the truth of his being. It is more difficult for me; this intermediate domain is a very cloudy one, for me it is a domain of falsehood, what I call falsehood. There are two words in English, “falsehood” and “lie”; well, it is the sense of falsehood. It is not a lie in the sense that one tells a lie, but it is a domain of what is not true, what is not at all the experience of the truth of a being, and yet it is of this that he is almost solely conscious.

Only a very few have the inner perception of what they want to be, what they want to do, of what the truth of their being is.

There are not many such. Or else it comes and then gets veiled; suddenly one has a flash and then it gets clouded over. And so the questions I put are always in order to know the state of this surface consciousness, which for me is something quite unreal, something that is not true.

There is such a contradiction between the brutal fact of your daily way of life and the picture I have before myself of what each one of you ought to be, a picture I keep there with all the power of my consciousness so that you may realise it—and that is yourself, that, yes, is yourself! It is not this ignorant being, stupid and insincere—sometimes dishonest—who is the… whom you call yourself.

(Collected Works of the Mother, vol 6, pp 164-166)

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26 thoughts on “The laissez-faire approach of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

  1. Tusar N. Mohapatra

    A nice introduction but the object of purging or removal of defects and weaknesses seems to be too reductionistic. The right word, therefore, is Transformation and if the Fifth Chapter of “The Mother” is any guide, a progressive self-offering accomplishes the job acting affirmatively within a constant ontological awareness (of Grace). [TNM55]

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      The introduction was intended to be short so I didn’t bother with the precise wording. There is lot of reference material on the topic that people can consult in the Collected Works.

      Reply
  2. Mansee

    It’s funny Sandeep, this evening while coming back from work, i started observing the people in the station thinking why do we pay so much attention to clothes, hairstyles, looking good even when we have already found our partners……;or why do we try so hard in professional meetings to appear smart, intelligent…..or infront of friends/family as someone kind, compassionate. Why does the opinion of others matters to us. And the thought came to me, that we are trying to find our identity through others, replacing them for mirrors. Because we are lost…… we do not know the real us and it ofcourse matters us to find it. Afterall, that is the one person we have to live with for entire lifetime. And then the big question……
    Who am I, why am I here, what do i have to accomplish in this life? I started dissecting myself into physical/vital/mental sheaths but no use. I said to myself that now i will ask Mother to help me find the real me and………and voila your post on same topic!

    (maybe this urgent need to confront the real oneself takes one to confession, discussion rooms……to have more detached viewpoints, but ofcourse most of the people around cannot see the psychic like realized souls did! and maybe here again the role of a guru becomes important)

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Mansee: I said to myself that now i will ask Mother to help me find the real me and………and voila your post on same topic!

      You are on the right track when you unexpectedly come across answers to these profound questions that you pose to yourself. It is an indication that the psychic being is developing and coming forward.

      Reply
      1. Mansee

        It’s encouraging 🙂 And now my mind will consciously try to fish out more answers from nowhere. What a big trap thought-world is!

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Be careful though. There are also cases where you might mistake a mere coincidence for a miracle of some kind. One can get presumptuous and start imagining one is getting answers when none exist. I have lived through such delusions 🙂

        In order to qualify as a “psychic answer”, the answer must come up unexpectedly and repeatedly.

        There are also cases where you may not get a “psychic answer” in which case you must act by your conscience. Sometimes the Divine withholds information in order to test your faith and teach you equanimity through disappointments.

  3. astrid

    Sri Aurobindo: “That is the school master method – it does not work in the spiritual change.
    The disciples here are not pupils and the gurus here are not school teachers.”

    It’s funny that he said that. He did not meet Maria Montessori, though she was in India during the WWII. But he knew about her (from what I have read in the evening talks).
    Anyway, I am in awe that he and Mother Mirra state the exact way Maria Montessori suggested to “be” with a child. Modelling is the first thing, explaining what others feel, posing questions not only to know what the child is aware of, but also to lead the child as he answers.

    And I am also in awe about Mother’s “question asking”: “What do you feel? What do you think? What have you experienced? What…” ..cause….. this is exactly I have *always* been doing, with children, with adults, too. It also opens up awareness in them.
    Also, in children the psychic being is often very visible, even though (sadly) the child may have an already thick layer of outer consciousness covering it up.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      It’s funny that he said that. He did not meet Maria Montessori, though she was in India during the WWII. But he knew about her (from what I have read in the evening talks).

      Yes, he asked about her in this 1923 conversation

      Sri Aurobindo : Does any one know anything about the Montessori method of child-education ?

      Disciple : The principle is to base education round the spontaneous activities of the child, i.e., primarily, round its sense-activities which have to be intelligently guided by the teacher. In fact, the child learns, the teacher does not teach in the old sense. Group-life furnishes occasions to inculcate social virtues in the child’s mind. Freedom of the child is the corner-stone of her system. The training centres round child-life by guided activities of the senses, i.e. the nervous system.

      Sri Aurobindo : The principle is all right. There are, I believe, three things : To bring out the real man is the first business of education. In the present system it is sorely neglected. It can be done by promoting powers of observation, memory, reasoning etc. Through these the man within must be touched and brought out.

      The second thing that acts is the personality of the teacher. Whatever Montessori may say, the teacher is there and his influence is there and it does, and must, act. The teacher may not directly guide or instruct but the influence keeps the children engaged. Children are quite open to such an influence. The third thing is to place a man in the right place in the world.

      Disciple : She has also provided for “silence” in her teaching. There is no religious teaching. There are people who object to this method saying that the child must be brought in contact with the past.

      Sri Aurobindo : When the real man – the true individual-is brought out, then you can place him in contact with the past. At present information is forced into the child’s brain. The child can very well gather it by himself if his mind is trained. Perfect liberty would be desirable for the child. I would not like any hard things to be brought into the child’s experience. In Japan, it seems, the child is free when it is young and, as it grows and reaches the college, discipline tightens.

      (A.B Purani, Evening Talks With Sri Aurobindo, Second Series, p 137)

      Reply
  4. Mansee

    [i]The purpose of education is summed up so beautifully by Sri Aurobindo here,
    – To bring out the real man
    – To work on his expression/communication (Impact of teachers’ personality here)
    – To find his right place in the world[/i]

    Reply
  5. mike

    “It’s funny that he said that. He did not meet Maria Montessori, though she was in India during the WWII. But he knew about her (from what I have read in the evening talks).”

    Not on the physical level, perhaps. But, he would have easy access on the subtle levels.

    Reply
    1. astrid

      Mike, “would have”: I think that this would not have been in his control, but still in the “control of the Divine”. I enjoy right now reading many accounts by his disciples, what Sri Aurobindo explained what he really could or could not do. I do not think that an enlightened being has access to every- and anything, but he is then an unlimited tool for the Divine.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        As for the education axioms enunciated by Sri Aurobindo, I have to point out that he was a professor in Baroda for a few years around the turn of the century (1900s). He was quite popular with the students because of his flexible method of teaching. He had already articulated his approach to education in a series of essays published around 1910 in the Karmayogin titled “A system of National Education”. This was around the time Maria Montessori was gaining recognition in Europe and America. In these essays, he wrote “The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught…The second principle is that the mind has to be consulted in its own growth…The third principle of education is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. “. Read the essays online at (http://surasa.net/aurobindo/aurowrit.htm) or see volume 1, page 400 at (http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php)

        As for his knowledge of the future, I have collected some of Sri Aurobindo’s remarks indicating that it was not necessary to know everything at “Why the future is veiled from us?”. There was also an instance where the Mother was basically was told (by the Divine) that it was none of her business to know the future regarding some issue. See the second comment on that post above.

        There is one conversation in the Evening Talks where Sri Aurobindo declines to determine who is stealing inside the Ashram:

        CHAMPAKLAL: Many thefts are committed in the Ashram. Do you know who the thief is? Or perhaps you don’t want to know and wish to play the part of Ignorance?

        SRI AUROBINDO: Why would I know? It is not my work. It is the concern of the police. You are asking like those who ask me about the share-market or horse-racing in Bombay.

        CHAMPAKLAL: The Mother said she is much bothered by these thefts. She wants to know—

        SRI AUROBINDO: Does she?

        CHAMPAKLAL: She sees and knows many things-

        SRI AUROBINDO: Yes, she sees many things that she doesn’t want to see. It doesn’t mean that she will see this too. We are not concerned with it and she does not use her inner power for these things.

        CHAMPAKLAL: Then it is not that you can’t know; only you are not concerned with it. That is what I wanted to find out.

        (Nirodbaran, Talks with Sri Aurobindo, vol. 1, 15 JANUARY 1940)

  6. nizken

    ” Read the essays online at (http://surasa.net/aurobindo/aurowrit.htm) or see volume 1, page 400 at (http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php) ”

    I tried to check and cross-reference this from your post above and could not find it on the page 400 of the pdf file at this link (http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php).
    It is actually on page 384 of that pdf file. Are you using the same pdf’s as available on that site?
    I know it is no big deal but this still worries me. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I hastily noted the wrong page number

      384 is the page number in the actual book, but next to it, you see it says (400 of 808) which is the page number of the PDF.

      When you open the PDF, it shows two page numbers in the field display. All the initial pages in the book which are numbered using Roman numerals get counted towards the total PDF pagecount.

      Reply
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  12. mwb6119

    Excerpt taken from above:

    “There is such a contradiction between the brutal fact of your daily way of life and the picture I have before myself of what each one of you ought to be, a picture I keep there with all the power of my consciousness so that you may realise it—and that is yourself, that, yes, is yourself! It is not this ignorant being, stupid and insincere—sometimes dishonest—who is the… whom you call yourself.”

    (Collected Works of the Mother, vol 6, pp 164-166)

    “…It is not this ignorant being, stupid and insincere—sometimes dishonest—who is the… whom you call yourself.” see image below…

    Reply
  13. mike

    Yes, homer IS the stereotype of all that is ignorant and stupid – LOL.. – and yet so many identify with him as some kind of drunken, moronic hero [a psychopath really].. He’s like an animated clone of Humanity at large – a very large percentage IMO..

    Reply
    1. mwb6119

      I made a comparison once between Homer Simpson and Homer the Greek epic poet in a class. Actually got the professor to laugh. 🙂 …And such a difficult state of consciousness to break out of.

      Reply
      1. mwb6119

        “And such a difficult state of consciousness to break out of.”

        for instance:

        “When we break out of the narrow limits of the external physical mind we begin to see inwardly and to feel this wideness, in the end this universality and infinity of the mental self-space. Thoughts are not the essence of mind-being, they are only an activity of mental nature; if that activity ceases, what appears then as a thought-free existence that manifests in its place is not a blank or void but some thing very real, substantial, concrete we may say — a mental being extends itself widely and can be its own field of existence silent or active as well as the Witness, Knower, Master of that field and its action. Some feel it at first as a void, but that is because their observation is untrained and insufficient and loss of activity gives them the sense of blank; an emptiness there is, but it is an emptiness of the ordinary activities, not a blank of existence.
        The recurrence of the experience of the receding away of thoughts, the cessation of the thought-generating mechanism and its replacement by the mental self-space, is normal and as it should be; for this silence or at any rate the capacity for it has to grow until one can have it at will or even establish it in an automatic permanence. For this silence of the ordinary mind-mechanism is necessary in order that the higher mentality may manifest, descend, occupy by degrees the place of the present imperfect mentality and transform the activities of the latter into its own fuller movements. The difficulty of its coming when you are at work is only at the beginning — afterwards, when it is more settled, one finds that one can carry on all the activities in the pervading silence itself or at least with that as the support and the background. The silence remains behind and there is the necessary action on the surface or the silence is our wide self and somewhere in it an active Power does the work of Nature without disturbing the silence. It is therefore quite right to suspend the work while the visitation of the experience is there — the development of inner silent consciousness is sufficiently important to justify a brief interruption or pause.” Letters on Yoga Vol II, p.1022-3

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