April 29, 1961
(Some fragments of this conversation were originally published in Mother's “Commentaries on the Aphorisms” of Sri Aurobindo. Considering it too personal, Mother had not wanted the unabridged text to appear even in her Agenda. However, we felt it should be kept. This conversation's starting point was the following aphorism.)
59 – One of the greatest comforts of religion is that you can get hold of God sometimes and give him a satisfactory beating. People mock at the folly of savages who beat their gods when their prayers are not answered; but it is the mockers who are the fools and the savages.
Poor T.! She asked me, “What does it mean (laughing) to give God a ‘satisfactory beating’? How is this possible?...” I still haven't answered. And then she added another question: “Many people say that Sri Aurobindo's teachings are a new religion. Would you call it a religion?...” You understand, I began to fume!
I wrote (Mother reads her answer):
“Those who say that are simpletons and don't even know what they're talking about! It is enough to read everything Sri Aurobindo has written to know that it is IMPOSSIBLE [underlined] to found a religion upon his writings, since for each problem, for each question, he presents all aspects and, while demonstrating the truth contained in each approach, he explains that to attain the Truth a synthesis must be effected, overpassing all mental notions and emerging in a transcendence beyond thought.
“Your second question, therefore, makes no sense! Furthermore, if you had read what appeared in the last Bulletin,1 you could never have asked it.
“Let me repeat that when we speak of Sri Aurobindo, it is not a question of teaching nor even of revelation, but of an Action from the Supreme; upon this, no religion whatsoever can be founded.”
This is the first blast.
The second is:
“Men are such fools” (laughing: it doesn't get any better!) “that they can change anything at all into a religion, so great is their need for a fixed framework for their narrow thought and limited action. They don't feel secure unless they can affirm: ‘This is true and that is not’ – but such an affirmation becomes impossible for anyone who has read and understood what Sri Aurobindo has written. Religion and yoga are not situated on the same plane of the being, and the spiritual life can exist in its purity only if it is free from all mental dogma.”
People must really be made to understand this.
Yes, it is indispensable!
They are all always ready – even in the Ashram – ready to create a religion.
Yes, the people T. is talking about are Ashramites.
They are just as dogmatic as Catholics or Protestants....
Yes, it's the SAME thing. The same thing.
It means they have understood nothing.
But this: “How can one give God a beating?” (Mother laughs a lot). It's funny, isn't it!
But what exactly did he mean?
What did Sri Aurobindo mean?...
Do you have the English text? We may have somewhat... popularized it?
The English word is “beating”: a good beating.
“Beating?” Then that's just it: “une raclée”!
Religion always has a tendency to humanize, to create a God in the image of man – a magnified and glorified image, but essentially always a god with human attributes. And this (laughing) creates a sort of intimacy, a sense of kinship!
T. has taken it literally, but it's true that even the Spanish, when their god doesn't do what they want, take the statue and throw it in the river!
There are people here who do the same thing. I know some people who had a statue of Kali in their house (it was their family divinity), and all kinds of calamities befell them, so the last generation became furious and took the idol and threw it into the Ganges. They are not the only ones – there have been several cases like that. And to cap it all, one of them even asked my permission before doing it!
Creating a god in the image of man gives you the possibility of treating it as you would treat a human enemy.
There could be many things to say....
But these idols aren't merely human creations – they are self-existent, aren't they?
Oh, I've had some very interesting revelations on this point, on the way people think and feel about it. I remember someone once made a little statue of Sri Aurobindo; he gave it a potbelly and... anyway, to me it was ridiculous. So I said, “How could you make such a thing?!” He explained that even if it's a caricature for the ordinary eye, since it's an image of the one you consider God, or a god, or an Avatar, since it's the image of the one you worship, even if only a guru, it contains the spirit and the force of his presence, and this is what you worship, even in a crude form, even if the form is a caricature to the physical eye.
Someone made a large painting of Sri Aurobindo and myself, and they brought it here to show me. I said, “Oh, it's dreadful!” It was... to the physical eye it was really dreadful. “It's dreadful,” I said, “we can't keep it.” Then immediately someone asked me for it, saying, “I'm going to put it up in my house and do my puja before it.” Ah!... I couldn't help saying, “But how could you put up a thing like that!” (It wasn't so much ugly as frightfully banal.) “How can you do puja before something so commonplace and empty!” This person replied, “Oh, to me it's not empty! It contains all the presence and all the force, and I shall worship it as that: the Presence and the Force.”
All this is based on the old idea that whatever the image – which we disdainfully call an “idol” – whatever the external form of the deity may be, the presence of the thing represented is always there. And there is always someone – whether priest or initiate, sadhu or sannyasi – someone who has the power and (usually this is the priest's work) who draws the Force and the Presence down into it. And it's true, it's quite real – the Force and the Presence are THERE; and this (not the form in wood or stone or metal) is what is worshipped: this Presence.
Europeans don't have the inner sense at all. To them, everything is like this (gesture), a surface – not even that, a film on the surface. And they can't feel anything behind. But it's an absolutely real fact that the Presence is there – I guarantee it. People have given me statuettes of various gods, little things in metal, wood or ivory; and as soon as I take one in my hand, the god is there. I have a Ganesh2 (I have been given several) and if I take it in my hand and look at it for a moment, he's there. I have a little one by my bedside where I work, eat, and meditate. And then there is a Narayana3 which comes from the Himalayas, from Badrinath. I use them both as paperweights for my handkerchiefs! (My handkerchiefs are kept on a little table next to my bed, and I keep Ganapati I and Narayana on top of them.) And no one touches them but me – I pick them up, take a fresh handkerchief, and put them back again. Once I blended some nail polish myself, and before applying it, I put some on Ganapati's forehead and stomach and fingertips! We are on the best of terms, very friendly. So to me, you see, all this is very true.
Narayana came first. I put him there and told him to stay and be happy. A while later, I was given a very nice Ganapati; so I asked Narayana – I didn't ask his permission, I told him, “Don't be angry, you know, but I'm going to give you a companion; I like you both very much, there's no preference; the other is much better looking, but you, you are Narayana!” I flattered him, I told him pleasant things, and he was perfectly happy.
It has always been like that for me – always. And I have never, never had the religious sense at all – you know, what people call this kind of... what they have in religions, especially in Europe. I see only the English word for it: awe, like a kind of terror. This always made me laugh! But I have always felt what's behind, the presences behind.
I remember once going into a church (which I won't name) and I found it a very beautiful place. It wasn't a feast or ceremony day, so it was empty. There were just one or two people at prayer. I went in and sat down in a little chapel off to the side. Someone was praying there, someone who must have been in distress – she was crying and praying. And there was a statue, I no longer know of whom: Christ or the Virgin or a Saint – I have no idea. And, oh!... Suddenly, in place of the statue, I saw an enormous spider... like a tarantula, you know, but (gesture) huge! It covered the entire wall of the chapel and was just waiting there to swallow all the vital force of the people who came. It was... heart-rending. I said to myself, “Oh, these people...” There was this miserable woman who had come seeking solace, who was praying there, weeping, hoping to find solace; and instead of reaching a consciousness that was at least compassionate, her supplications were feeding this monster!
I have seen other things – but I have rarely seen anything favorable in churches. Here, I remember going to M I was taken inside and received there in quite an unusual way – a highly respected person introduced me as a “great saint”! They led me up to the main altar where people are not usually allowed to go, and what did I see there!... An asura (oh, not a very high-ranking one, more like a rakshasa4), but such a monster! Hideous.... So I went wham! (gesture of giving a blow) I thought something was going to happen.... But this being left the altar and came over to try to intimidate me; of course, he saw it was useless, so he offered to make an alliance: “If you just keep quiet and don't do anything, I will share all I get with you.” Well, I sent him packing! The head of this Math5 .... It was a Math with a monastery and temple, which means a substantial fortune; the head of the Math has it all at his disposal for as long as he holds the position – and he is appointed for life. But he has to name his successor... and as a rule, his own life is considerably shortened by the successor – this is how it works. Everyone knew that the present head had considerably shortened the life of his predecessor. And what a creature! As asuric as the god he worshipped! I saw some poor fellows throw themselves at his feet (he must have been squeezing them pitilessly), to beg forgiveness and mercy – an absolutely ruthless man. But he received me – you should have seen it!... I said nothing, not a word about their god; I gave no sign that I knew anything. But I thought to myself, “So that's how it is!...”
Another thing happened to me in a fishing village near A., on the seashore, where there is a temple dedicated to Kali – a terrible Kali. I don't know what happened to her, but she had been buried with only her head sticking out! A fantastic story – I knew nothing about it at all. I was going by car from A. to this temple and halfway there a black form, in great agitation, came rushing towards me, asking for my help: “I'll give you everything I have – all my power, all the people's worship – if you help me to become omnipotent”! Of course, I answered her as she deserved! I later asked who this was, and they told me that some sort of misfortune had befallen her and she had been buried with only her head above ground. And every year this fishing village has a festival and slaughters thousands of chickens – she likes chicken! Thousands of chickens. They pluck them on the spot (the whole place gets covered with feathers), and then, after offering the blood and making the sacrifice, the people, naturally, eat them all up. The day I came this had taken place that very morning – feathers littered everywhere! It was disgusting. And she was asking for my help!
But the curious thing is that these vital beings are aware of what is happening. I knew nothing about any of it, neither the story, nor the being, nor the head sticking out of the ground – and she wanted me to get her out of it. They “feel” the atmosphere. They are aware – they may not be conscious on higher planes, but they are conscious on vital planes, aware of vital power and the vital force it represents.... It's like this asura from M.: when I came in he suddenly seemed to tremble on his pedestal; then he left his idol and came to seek my alliance.
But it's strange....
In churches, I don't know.... I haven't been to them very often. I have been to mosques and temples – Jewish temples. The Jewish temples in Paris have such beautiful music; oh, what beautiful music! I had one of my first experiences in a temple. It was at a marriage, and the music was wonderful – Saint-Saens, I later learned; organ music, the second best organ in Paris – wonderful! I was 14 years old, sitting high up in the galleries with my mother, and this music was being played. There were some leaded-glass windows – white, with no designs. I was gazing at one of these windows, feeling uplifted by the music, when suddenly through the window came a flash like a bolt of lightning. Just like lightning. It entered – my eyes were open – it entered like this (Mother strikes her breast violently), and then I... I had the feeling of becoming vast and all-powerful.... And it lasted for days.
Of course, my mother was such an out-and-out materialist, thank God, that it was impossible to speak to her of invisible things – she took them as evidence of a deranged brain! Nothing counted for her but what could be touched and seen. But this was a divine grace – I had no opportunity to say anything. I kept my experience to myself. But it was one of my first contacts with.... I learned later that it was an entity from the past who had come back into me through the aspiration arising from the music.
But I have rarely had an experience in churches. Rather the opposite: I have very often had the painful experience of the human effort to find solace, a divine compassion... falling into very bad hands.
One of my most terrible experiences took place in Venice (the cathedrals there are so beautiful – magnificent!). I remember I was painting – they had let me settle down in a corner to paint – and nearby there was a... (what do they call it?)... a confessional. And a poor woman was kneeling there in distress – with such a dreadful sense of sin! So piteous! She wept and wept. Then I saw the priest coming, oh, like a monster, a hard-hearted monster! He went inside; he was like an iron bar. And there was this poor woman sobbing, sobbing; and the voice of the other one, hard, curt.... I could barely contain myself.
I don't know why, but I have had this kind of experience so very often: either a hostile force lurking behind and swallowing up everything, or else man – ruthless man abusing the Power.
In fact, I have seen this all over the world. I have never been on very good terms with religions, neither in Europe, nor Africa, nor Japan, nor even here.
At the age of eighteen, I remember having such an intense need in me to KNOW.... Because I was having experiences – I had all kinds of experiences – but my surroundings offered me no chance to receive an intellectual knowledge which would have given me the meaning of it all: I couldn't even speak of them. I was having experience after experience.... For years, I had experiences during the night (but I was very careful never to speak about them!) – memories from past lives, all sorts of things, but without any base of intellectual knowledge. (Of course, the advantage of this was that my experiences were not mentally contrived; they were entirely spontaneous.) But I had such a NEED in me to know!... I remember living in a house (one of these houses with a lot of apartments), and in the apartment next door were some young Catholics whose faith was very... they were very convinced. And seeing all that, I remember saying to myself one day while brushing my hair, “These people are lucky to be born into a religion and believe unquestioningly! It's so easy! You have nothing to do but believe – how simple that makes it.” I was feeling like this, and then when I realized what I was thinking (laughing), well, I gave myself a good scolding: “Lazybones!”
To know, know, KNOW!... You see, I knew nothing, really, nothing but the things of ordinary life: external knowledge. I had learned everything I had been given to learn. I not only learned what I was taught but also what my brother was taught – higher mathematics and all that! I learned and I learned and I learned – and it was NOTHING. None of it explained anything to me – nothing. I couldn't understand a thing!
It was to happen to me two years later when I met someone who told me of Théon's teaching.
When I was told that the Divine was within – the teaching of the Gita, but in words understandable to a Westerner – that there was an inner Presence, that one carried the Divine within oneself, oh!... What a revelation! In a few minutes, I suddenly understood all, all, all. Understood everything. It brought the contact instantly.
But all the same, can't it be said that whatever the appearances – these vital spiders or frightful Kalis – the Divine still acts and helps people through them? It's not all totally swallowed up and lost, is it?
No, but this is something else. Those who are capable of personal experiences pass through everything. But not the common herd.
I have had discussions – not “discussions,” exchanges of views – with prelates. There was one cardinal in particular.... I told him my experience, what I KNEW. He replied, “Whether you want to or not, you belong to the Church; because those who know belong to the Church.” And he added, “You have the knowledge we are taught when we become cardinals.” “Nobody has taught me anything,” I said, “this is my experience.” Then he repeated, “Whether you like it or not, you belong to the Church.” I felt like telling him a thing or two, but I didn't.
Otherwise, you just keep turning in circles, oh, caught by the form, locked in by the form!
I remember a good-hearted priest in Pau [Southern France] who was an artist and wanted to have his church decorated – a tiny cathedral. He consulted a local anarchist (a great artist) about it. The anarchist was acquainted with André's father and me. He told the priest, “I recommend these people to do the paintings – they are true artists.” He was doing the mural decoration – some eight panels in all, I believe. So I set to work on one of the panels. (The church was dedicated to San Juan de Compostello, a hero of Spanish history; he had appeared in a battle between the Christians and the Moors and his apparition vanquished the Moors. And he was magnificent! He appeared in golden light on a white horse, almost like Kalki.6) All the slaughtered and struggling Moors were depicted at the bottom of the painting, and it was I who painted them; it was too hard for me to climb high up on a ladder to paint, so I did the things at the bottom! But anyway, it all went quite well. Then, naturally, the priest received us and invited us to dinner with the anarchist. And he was so nice – really a kind-hearted man! I was already a vegetarian and didn't drink, so he scolded me very gently, saying, “But it's Our Lord who gives us all this, so why shouldn't you take it?”... I found him charming. And when he looked at the paintings, he tapped Morisset on the shoulder (Morisset was an unbeliever), and said, with the accent of Southern France, “Say what you like, but you know Our Lord; otherwise you could never have painted like that!”
In short, I have known people from everywhere, I have been everywhere, I have seen and heard everything.... It was very strange, very strange. And I didn't do it on purpose, but just... because the Lord willed it.
Well, mon petit, I have to go now. I've been talking in torrents!
I wanted to carry on with my morning's program, but I couldn't. There's a mound of letters, all in a muddle! Oh, these people here – letter upon letter, letter upon letter, “urgent” needs to see me.... I thought we would prepare a reply to T., but then I chatted away.
But surely much of this could be used? I'll note down what's publishable... make a selection.
Oh, yes, definitely do that. But I am not keen on keeping all that – it's much too personal. It involves a lot of people and a lot of things, and I don't want.... I've told it to you, that's all. Keep it for yourself – not even for the Agenda, it's not necessary. If you enjoy it, you can keep it – that's all. I told it to you just like that – probably because I felt like chatting!
I could say many other things which would be almost the opposite of all I've just said! It all depends on the orientation. If I really started talking, you know, I would seem like... I don't know what, something like a lunatic, because with equal sincerity and equal truth, I could say the most opposing things.
And experiences!... I have had the most contradictory experiences! Only one thing has been continuous from my childhood on (and the more I look, the more I see how continuous it has been): this divine Presence – and in someone who, in her EXTERNAL LIFE, might very well have said, “God? What is this foolishness! God doesn't exist!” So you understand, you see the picture.
You know, it's a marvelous, marvelous grace to have had this experience so CONSTANTLY, So POWERFULLY, like something holding out against everything, everything: this Presence. And in my outward consciousness, a total negation of it all. Even later on, I used to say, “Well, if God exists, he's a real scoundrel! He's a wretch and I want nothing to do with this Creator of ours....” You know, the idea of God sitting placidly in his heaven, creating the world and amusing himself by watching it, then telling you, “How well done!” “Oh!” I said, “I want nothing to do with that monster!”
(Mother gets up)
So there we are, mon petit.
I don't see you at the balcony anymore – you don't come?
I'm a little groggy.
I'm sorry, but I have a huge amount of work.
No, it's not to ask you to come – I just want to know, if by chance I don't find you in the crowd, whether you're there and I am just not seeing you.
I could come, but....
No, no! It isn't necessary.
I still have five or six days of work left on the book....
Pavitra's book. It's a huge task. But anyway I feel your Force – otherwise...
No, when I don't see you at the balcony, I send the Force to your room, I pack it off to you there!
That's exactly what I've been telling myself (laughing): he must be groggy!
1 Bulletin of April 1961: “What Sri Aurobindo represents in the world's history is not a teaching, not even a revelation; it is a decisive action direct from the Supreme.”
2 Ganesh (or Ganapati): The first son of the Supreme Mother, represented with an elephant trunk and an ample belly. Ganesh is the god who presides over material realizations (over money in particular). He is also known as the scribe of divine knowledge.
3 Narayana: another name of Vishnu, one of the gods of the Hindu trinity. He watches over the creation, whereas Brahma is the creator and Shiva the destroyer.
4 Rakshasa: demon of the vital plane, as opposed to an asura, a demon of the mental world.
5 Math: monastery.
6 Kalki: the last Avatar. He rides a white horse.