Savitri and Satyavan
by Rod Hemsell
1. The Goddess Savitri
There is a central section of Sri Aurobindo's mantric teaching, titled Savitri – A Legend and a Symbol, which is often mistakenly interpreted as primarily a mythological legend rather than a symbol. However, through a series of workshops presented this year at centers in Europe as well as at our center here in Crestone, Colorado, we have tried to demonstrate the truer esoteric nature of the teaching that is revealed in this important part of the book. It is the section of about 60 pages in the very middle of the 700 page tome that ostensibly deals with the meeting of Savitri and Satyavan in the forest, but which is actually an initiatory transmission of the qualities embodied by the symbolic goddess of the “New Consciousness” descending on earth, and of the truly ready human soul that is elected as a vessel of that descent.
In the cantos of Books 4 and 5, therefore, we find a description, canto by canto, of the gradual emergence of that new consciousness on earth, first in the form of an invisible universal power working through nature and art and science; then as a subtle mystical intuition experienced by many who aspire for the emergence of a more spiritual reality beyond the practical and rational mind to which we seem bound; and finally as the original Vedic luminosity and joy of revelatory inspiration named Savitri that descends into the life and mind of the ready human being, with an elaborate description of what such readiness means and requires. And it is here that we are made to hear and see the qualities of a spiritual presence that can be experienced through Yoga. For example, She is described as:
A silence in the noise of earthly things...
The very room and smile of musing space...
A godhead sculptured on a wall of thought...
This intimation of the world's delight...
A Mind of light, a life of rhythmic force...
And in these pages we also find several examples of a pattern and technique whereby Sri Aurobindo makes the poem reflect on itself in a way that expresses its deeper meaning and purpose. He writes of it:
This word was seed of all the thing to be...
There came the gift of a revealing hour...
The word was used as a hieratic means
For the release of the imprisoned spirit...
When read in the normal way, by the eyes and the brain, one can easily miss the meaning and power of lines and phrases like these. But in a dynamic mantric reading and hearing the direct revelatory effect is of a presence and quality of experience that is exactly what is being described and transmitted by the poetry. This is the mantric quality of Savitri, which is the essence of Vedic speech known as mantra. One of the primary aims of our workshops and the activities of the center is to make such experience a familiar occurrence on the path of Integral Yoga.
2. The Ready Human Being
In spiritual philosophy the Ideal is not some far off possibility, or impossibility, to be achieved but rather it is the inner reality of the world that we experience now, in its fragmented or partial expression. It is the absolute of all these relatives, the bliss and emptiness of the Buddha nature or the omnipresent stillness of the Brahman; the Good, the Beautiful, and the True that empower things to become what they are and empower the mind to know things as such, as Plato saw it.
In the central part of Savitri – a Legend and a Symbol, the mantric poem of Sri Aurobindo that we have been considering in these articles, there is a prophecy of a New Consciousness that is manifesting in humanity which enables us to know more immediately and directly the ideal reality of things, of which philosophy speaks. An image is created by Sri Aurobindo of the ready human being who has been prepared by life to be selected by that divine being named Savitri, who reveals herself to him in the forest – in a way that may become quite common. The literary technique that is used is first person dramatic narrative. On beholding the presence of something divine, the protagonist says:
I look back on the meaning of myself,
A soul made ready on earth's soil for thee.
Once were my days like days of other men:
To think and act was all, to enjoy and breathe;
This was the width and height of mortal hope:
Yet there came glimpses of a deeper self
That lives behind Life and makes her act its scene.
A truth was felt that screens its shape from mind...
I lived in the ray but faced not to the sun.
I looked upon the world and missed the Self,
And when I found the Self, I lost the world,
My other selves I lost and the body of God,
The link of the finite with the Infinite,
The bridge between the appearance and the Truth,
The mystic aim for which the world was made...
In these few lines of Savitri Sri Aurobindo sums up the central issue of life expressed in some way by every spiritual philosophy and discipline, and the person who grapples with it consciously is precisely the one who is ready to receive the solution. In this case, there have also been a series of positive and negative events that intensify the search: Satyavan was driven into the forest by an adverse fate that left his father, the King, blind and powerless (do we see the symbolism here?), and then he attuned himself to life in nature:
“Nursed by the vastness, pupil of solitude/ Great Nature came to her recovered child/Through an inner seeing and sense a wakening came.” If we really hear these words and identify with their promise and their call, ideally placed as we are in this mountain solitude, then perhaps, like Sayavan, we might respond with a welcome, as he does when the goddess appears, and not let her slip away: “But now the gold link comes to me with thy feet/Come nearer to me from thy car of light/Descend, O happiness, with thy moon-gold feet/Enrich earth's floors upon whose sleep we lie/Enter my life, thy chamber and thy shrine.”
3. Sruti and Mantra
“The Formless and the Formed were joined in Her.”
This line from Savitri seems to me to express the essence of the goal of Buddhist and Hindu Tantra, and it is not an idea or a concept; it is a spiritual experience. It is the special character and importance of Sri Aurobindo's Savitri, that it can transmit this experience: that is the Guru's gift of Mantra.
“The silent Soul of all the world was there:
It bore within itself a seed, a flame,
A seed from which the Eternal is new-born,
A flame that cancels death in mortal things.
All grew to all kindred and self and near;
The intimacy of God was everywhere...”
The goal of the Savitri Immersion Workshop is to hear and see this sruti of Sri Aurobindo, this intuitive revelation of the spiritual Self in us - fully, directly, experientially, and then to know that “This Word was seed of all the thing to be.” As we have said in previous articles on Savitri, this goddess of Vedic origin has been adopted by Sri Aurobindo as the symbol of a “new consciousness” opening in humanity, whose future possibilities, as seen in his prophetic vision, have radical implications for our species and its life experience:
“And when that greater Self comes sea-like down
To fill this image of our transience,
All shall be captured by delight, transformed:
In waves of undreamed ecstasy shall roll
Our mind and life and sense and laugh in a light
Other than this hard limited human day,
The body’s tissues thrill apotheosized,
Its cells sustain bright metamorphosis.”
But in the same breath he specifies the process of Yoga that is required in order for this to be possible:
“But first the spirit’s ascent we must achieve
Out of the chasm from which our nature rose.
The soul must soar sovereign above the form
And climb to summits beyond mind’s half-sleep;
Our hearts we must inform with heavenly
strength,Surprise the animal with the occult god.
Then kindling the gold tongue of sacrifice,
Calling the powers of a bright hemisphere, …
Acquaint our depths with the supernal Ray
And cleave the darkness with the mystic Fire.”
The process by which this is done has three stages typical of many yoga systems: sutra, mantra, tantra or, in other words, 1) the teaching and practice, 2) the Guru's transmission and inner hearing; 3) the reception of the Divine Shakti to transform our nature. Instead of treating each separately, as distinct stages in the practice of Yoga, the three movements in combination can intensify and illumine such practices in a particularly powerful way.
4. The Yoga of Transformation
In a series of teachings at our annual Savitri Immersion Workshop in August this year (2016), we were able to observe closely, over six days of readings and meditations, the important connections between yogasutra, yogamantra and yogashakti. Instead of treating each separately, as distinct stages in the practice of Yoga, we could see how the three movements in combination can intensify and illumine such practices in a particularly powerful way. For example, in a sutra teaching such as Sri Aurobindo's Sapta Chatusthaya, combined with the Savitri mantra, the presence of the Divine Shakti is invoked, and received directly, by a clarified mind and opened heart, which is truly transforming.
In the Sapta Chatusthaya (seven sets of four yoga siddhis or perfections) Sri Aurobindo explains what it means to be a yogin.
“The basis of internal peace is samata, the capacity of receiving with a calm and equal mind all the attacks and appearances of outward things, whether pleasant or unpleasant, ill-fortune and good fortune, pleasure and pain, honor and ill-repute, praise and blame, friendship and enmity, sinner and saint, or physically, heat and cold, etc. The complete Yogin receives all of this with with an equal, a sama ananda (delight in all). He comes to change all the ordinary values of experience ...”
This sutra teaching, followed by an invocation of the mantric transmission, is then seen and felt as a vivid, tangible possibility, above the mind's natural doubts or attempts to understand how such a thing could be. For example, reciting the Canto titled In the Self of Mind, we see and hear:
“He stood on a wide arc of summit Space
Alone with an enormous Self of Mind
Which held all life in a corner of its vasts.
Omnipotent, immobile and aloof,
In the world which sprang from it, it took no part:
It gave no heed to the paeans of victory,
It was indifferent to its own defeats,
It heard the cry of grief and made no sign;
Impartial fell its gaze on evil and good,
It saw destruction come and did not move.
An equal Cause of things, a lonely Seer
And Master of its multitude of forms,
It acted not but bore all thoughts and deeds,
The witness Lord of Nature's myriad acts
Consenting to the movements of her Force.”
Such descriptions of the yogic state of udasina, being seated above the ordinary reactions to things, are repeated frequently, and typically followed by an inflow of blissful force:
“It led things evil towards their secret good,
It turned racked falsehood into happy truth;
Its power was to reveal divinity.
..All grew to all kindred and self and near;
The intimacy of God was everywhere,
...A constant touch of sweetness linked all hearts.”
Into the silence that follows such an invocation there actually flows a luminosity and peace that shifts one's consciousness into a sphere of possibilities that is perhaps always there, within and above – the tantric force.