Author Archive | Mallikarjun Rakala

Dag Hammarskjold and Chou En-lai

dag-hamm4-head

On Nov. 24, 1954, Radio Peking (in mainland China) announced that eleven US airmen, as well as two other Americans, both of whom were described as special agents of the CIA, had been convicted of espionage by a military tribunal in China and sentenced to prison terms from four years to life. The eleven US airmen, serving under the United Nation’s Unified Command in Korea, were crew members of a B-29 which had been shot down on January 12, 1953, while conducting leaflet-dropping operations over North Korea. The question before the US government was how to secure the release of the airmen imprisoned in China as Washington did not recognize ‘mainland China’ as a country and so did not have any diplomatic ties to Peking. “When in December 1954 the US – after trying many other approaches in vain – brought this question to the Ninth session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, the UN was faced with an apparently insoluble problem. It seemed unlikely, to say the least, that an organization that had excluded and rejected the government of the largest nation on earth would have much success in prevailing on that government to release hostile airmen who had landed in China and had already been convicted as spies.”(1)

On December 6 the permanent US representative to the UN, Henry Cabot Lodge, informed the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, that Washington would like him to be personally involved in negotiating the release of the US airmen “since it was believed that he was more likely to get results than anyone else”…(2)

Hammarskjold had an all-night discussion with a trusted Swedish colleague, Sture Petren, before he made up his mind to accept the assignment if he was requested by the General Assembly to undertake a mission of this kind. He also decided that he would personally travel to Peking and approach the Chinese premier Chou En-lie directly. In doing this Hammarskjold was taking a very big diplomatic risk and putting himself in a very delicate position. As Lodge put it six months later, in offering to go to Peking Hammarskjold “put his life’s reputation as a diplomat on the chopping block”.(3) But Hammarskjold had come to the conclusion that only a bold move had any chance of success. “In the days just before passage of the General Assembly resolution on December 10th, he met with senior diplomats privately and saw to it that the resolution included language that gave him considerable latitude. Those key words authorized the secretary-general to undertake the mission “by the means most appropriate in his judgment””.(4) Continue Reading →

Dag Hammarskjold – ‘Markings’

dag-hamm3-head

‘Markings’ is Dag Hammarskjold’s private journal. It was found in his New York apartment on a bedside table. This journal was written in Swedish and the title on the front page was ‘Vagmarken’, which translated into English means ‘Trail Marks’. In one of his journal entries, Hammarskjold provides an interpretation of the origin and intention of his writing. He said: ‘These notes? – They were signposts you begin to set up after you had reached a point where you needed them, a fixed point that was on no account to be lost sight of’. Dusen explains, “The figure is from Hammarskjold’s experience in climbing…They were recorded to provide guidance for the author should he pass that way again.”(1) Hammarskjold also described his journal as “a sort of white book concerning my negotiations with myself – and with God.”(2) When publishing the English translation of this journal, the title ‘Trail Marks’ was modified to ‘Markings’. Markings was published in 1963, first in Swedish and a year later in English.

Markings contain a little over six hundred individual ‘notes’, These notes are of varying length, anywhere from a single phrase to a page and a half at most. Most of these notes were written in prose and some in blank verse. Towards the end of the journal the form of the notes was similar to that of the Japanese haiku. Commenting on the nature of these notes Dusen writes,” the collection in its entirety treating of the whole gamut of themes which claimed his interest – from delight in natural beauty and excitement in hazardous sport to merciless scrutiny of interior motives, from caustic exposure of unreality and hypocrisy in others’ conduct to unflinching confession of his own inconsistency and self-concern, from direct comment upon events of world import to a charming ‘Elegy’ on the death of a pet monkey. And yet, with all the wide sweep and variety of these meditations, they are held in unity by two dominant objectives: the achievement of absolute self-honesty and of a life-commanding faith.”(3) According to Roger these notes “revealed a person whom scarcely anyone had known: a religious seeker taking his lead from Albert Schweitzer for ethics and from medieval Christian mystics for the conduct and direction of inner life. He proved to be Pascal-like in his critique of self and society, Montaigne-like in his questioning, Augustine-like in his need and willingness to chronicle his hard journey.”(4)


Continue Reading →

Dag Hammarskjold – Background

dag-hamm2-head

Dag Hammarskjold came from one of the oldest and well-known families in Sweden who for more than three centuries provided the nation with civil servants and soldiers, many of whom attained high rank. Dag’s father, Hjalmar Hammarskjold, was the Prime Minister of Sweden, through the tense war years, from 1914 to 1917.

The Hammarskjold family lived for more than a quarter of a century in a massive Castle in the city of Uppsala. Dag lived with his parents in this castle from the age of two through his student days at Uppsala University. In the fall of 1930, when his father retired, he moved with his parents to an apartment in Stockholm.

For young Dag the massive ancient castle of the Vasas was a wonderful playroom where mysterious passages ran between massive walls; in the towers were circular banquet-rooms and, at other places there were dark dungeons. Dag often led his young friends on thrilling explorations into the winding passages of the fortress. But it was the grounds and the gardens of the castle that became young Dag’s botanical-zoological workshop. “Beginning to learn the Latin names of plants by the age of six, as one of his brothers admiringly reported, he became a clear-eyed explorer of all things that grew or padded, hopped or crawled within sight of the castle.” (1). Often Dag spent his time collecting animals from ditches and making cages for larvae & feeding them greenery. Because of this habit of taking care of larvae, his mother, Agnes, fondly started calling him “my little larva”.

Of his father and mother once Dag wrote to a friend, “Where the one was light, the other was warmth.”(2). Dag’s father, Hjalmar, contributed immensely towards his development as a political leader and a social thinker. It was from his father that Dag learnt an exacting and unflinching devotion to duty, love for his country, sympathy for small nations, and dedication to the realization of an international order based on justice. His mother Agnes “surely gave Dag the internal basis for a caring emotional life, for sharing with others the good and the bad, for daring to view the human condition with the mind and heart of faith.”(3) Of his mother Dag once said, ‘…She had the qualities I admire most: she was courageous and good.’(4). Reflecting on his relation with his mother many of Dag’s friends have admiringly said, “In all her charitable interests and activities, her son Dag was a loyal, though sometimes amused, companion and lieutenant. ‘Every Sunday he accompanied her to church, and he would patiently wait while she chatted with friends or acquaintances she chanced to meet in the street, whether the Archbishop or a poor shoemaker whom she had recently rescued from bankruptcy’. And he ‘accompanied her on her visits to people in distress’. In European society of that day there was often the ‘stay-at-home daughter’ who remained to look after her parents, which prompted one of Dag Hammarskjold’s oldest and most admiring friends to suggest: ‘Dag was the Hammarskjold family’s stay-at-home daughter. The fantastic thing is that at the same time he could be a boy with the others, pass exams as brilliantly as he did and make a great career’.(5) Continue Reading →

Dag Hammarskjold – an exceptional man highly gifted

dag-hamm1-head

Dag Hammarskjold was the second Secretary-general of the United Nations. He served as Secretary-general for more than eight years (1953-61). A few months after he joined the United Nations as the Secretary-general, while speaking to an audience in New York, he said, “We cannot mold the world as masters of a material thing… But we can influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing.” All through his life even in the midst of a brilliantly illustrious career where he was engaged at the highest level of diplomacy in world affairs, in Hammarskjold there was this deep, silent inner space where dwelled the seeker of truth, the student of peace probing the fundamental questions of human identity and the ‘maturity of mind’. It is from this large inner world of his where “new thoughts and glints of possibility could knock around freely and find a pattern that led on”(7) that Hammarskjold drew inspiration and strength to not only understand but also find solutions in highly trying and difficult circumstances. Manuel Frohlich rightly pointed to the two sides of Hammarskjold’s legacy – ‘the externally focused statesmanship and the internally directed inquiry into human being.’ (1)

Dag Hammarskjold’s academic career was amazingly brilliant. At the young age of thirty he was not only the chairman of the Governors of the Bank of Sweden but also the Under-Secretary of the Swedish Ministry of Finance. His work at the Swedish Ministry of Finance was extremely demanding. He worked at the Ministry for almost ten years before he accepted his position at the UN as Secretary-General (Hammarskjold was forty-seven years old). At the Ministry he had the opportunity to develop the necessary self-discipline that helped him enormously, in undertaking the huge responsibility at the UN. Commenting on Hammarskjold’s work at the Ministry of Finance one of his friend Sture Petren wrote: “Thus, for long periods, Hammarskjold was able to manage with very little sleep, he was able to absorb at breakneck speed the content of documents and books and possessed the gift of retaining the overall view of the principle lines in a large complex of problems while seizing on isolated details of it. He was however, also able to screen off what occupied him at a given moment, so that at that time this emerged for him as of paramount importance. Taken together, these traits endowed Hammarskjold with a crushing efficiency, a concomitant of which, however, was a certain disinclination to delegate work to others. The mode of life Hammarskjold had developed also required, apart from unfailing health, the absence of family life. On the other hand, he became the natural center in the circle of his closest collaborators, whose society he sought also for his scant leisure time and to whom he became, by the radiation of his personality and the multiplicity of his interests, a superior and friend of rare inspiration and stimulus. Also in his relations to staff in general, he was an esteemed and even loved boss by virtue of his natural kindness and personal interest.” (2)

Hammarskjold wrote and spoke fluently English, French and German. He was a man whose cultural interests were wide-ranging. He was highly knowledgeable in the history, literature and culture of more than six nations. He was “an ardent and highly literate connoisseur of drama and music, painting and sculpture, both classical and contemporary, himself a poet and translator of poetry, a lover and interpreter of Nature, a mountaineer, withal ‘the best of comrades’, all his life surrounded by admiring companions of the most diverse types and outlooks and cosmopolitan interests – in sum, a Renaissance man at mid-twentieth century.”(3) Continue Reading →

By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

whitman-header

When the Civil War broke out in the April of 1861, Walt Whitman was staying in New York and Brooklyn, writing some extended newspaper pieces about the history of Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Daily Standard. He began visiting wounded soldiers, who were moved to New York hospitals. Later he went to Washington, D.C., where he spent countless long nights in the poorly ventilated wards nursing thousands of injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate, in the makeshift hospitals.

Based on his experience of a real battle that Walt Whitman wrote his powerful Civil War poems. Following is one of those Civil war poems that he wrote when he was at one of the army camps.

By The Bivouac’s Fitful Flame

By the bivouac’s fitful flame,
A Procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and
slow – but first I note,
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’ dim outline,
The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me,)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and wondrous
thoughts,
Of life and death, of home and the past and loved, and of
those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground,
By the bivouac’s fitful flame.

In this poem the poet describes how one night when sitting in front of an army camp fire his mind calms down and becomes introspective. His thinking is slow, deliberate and reflective. He describes his thoughts as “A Procession winding around me”. During these quite moments Whiteman reflects on life and death, of home and loved ones. He found this experience “solemn and sweet”. It was the surroundings, the poet found himself in, that invoked this sublime experience. Continue Reading →

Stories from the life of Turiyananda

“Spirituality tells the seeker not to live in the hoary past, not to live in the remote future, but to live in the immediacy of today, in the eternal Now. This eternal Now embodies man the aspiring seed and God the all-nourishing Fruit.”

~ Sri Chinmoy.(8)

Swami Turiyananda was one of the sixteen direct sannyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. His pre-monastic name was Harinath and people usually called him Hari. He was about eighteen years old when he came to visit Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. When Sri Ramakrishna saw him for the first time, the Great Master immediately recognized the spiritual potential of Harinath and from then on took personal interest in his spiritual development. Hari’s spiritual training under Sri Ramakrishna lasted for six years till the Master passed away. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda, Hari and a small group of young men who were also closely associated with the Master renounced the world and became monks. Hari became Swami Turiyananda. It is said, of all the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, just like St. Francis of Assisi, even from his boyhood Turiyananda treated his body with great indifference.

When he was only three years old his mother died and when he was twelve years old his father passed away. He was looked after by his elder brother and his wife. His sister-in-law in particular treated him like her own son and looked after him with great love and affection. Throughout his life Turiyananda was very grateful to her. At school Hari was a very good student but his real interest was spirituality and sports. Even from that young age, in order to practice spirituality in the real sense of the term, he was leading a life of continence in thought, word and deed. In order to keep his mind pure he reduced his sleep and spent many hours in meditation. Reflecting on this period of his life Turiyananda later said, “I do not think I ever slept longer than three or four hours at night. The first part of the night I passed in meditation. Then I decided that sleep was an obstacle. So I used to sit up and watch the train of my thoughts. As a result my mind began to discriminate continuously between the eternal and the non-eternal. Then I could sleep no more. I thought within myself, “Am I losing my mind?” I began to pray that I might sleep. But within me was a current of joy, as if someone were saying, “But don’t you want to discriminate like this?”…”(1)

After he became a monk Turiyananda wanted to spend his time living in solitude, meditating intensively, studying the scriptures and visiting holy places. Like a true monk he wanted to depend on God for food and shelter. Keeping this in mind he left the monastery in Calcutta and travelling by foot he went to the Himalayas. On the way he visited many holy places. Thus he spent many years as a wandering monk. If he liked a place and its quite surroundings he would settle there for a few months and spend his time in meditation and study of the scriptures. . ‘During that period,’ he later recalled, ‘my mind always stayed on a high level. There was a constant stream of God consciousness, unbroken like the flow of oil from one vessel to another. I used to get up at dawn, finish my ablutions, and sit for meditation. After meditating for some hours, I started reading the scriptures. Then it was time to go out to collect food, which was done very quickly. Next came some rest, after which I meditated until evening. No other thoughts were allowed to enter the mind. During that period I committed to memory eight of the principal Upanishads, all except the two longer ones. Whenever I found an Upanishadic verse which particularly appealed to me, I used to meditate on it. Oh, what a joy this produced! I cannot describe it…Whenever I concentrated on a verse, I used to get new and fresh interpretations.’(2)

Turiyananda was an ascetic to the extreme yet he was very sympathetic to others, he was an intellectual who had mastered many Indian scriptures in Sanskrit and the Bible but his heart was full of tender devotion. Even though he was brought up in an orthodox Hindu culture yet he had a very modern outlook. One winter when he was in New York, he and a student of his were walking on a street covered with snow. They came across a large pond where they saw boys and girls skating on the ice. The kids were calling and shouting and pursuing each other in great fun. Seeing this Turiyananda remarked to his student, “That’s why you people are so healthy and strong. Look at the girls skating with the boys. What freedom! Wish it were so in my country. So innocent and pure! It is a sight for the gods to behold…”(3)

At Swami Vivekananda’s request Turiyananda came to America to assist him in his work. The first western monk of the Sri Ramakrishna order, Swami Atulananda, says of Turiyananda when he saw him for the first time, “The Indian atmosphere still seemed to hover about him, as he was far from being Americanized. He represented India as the old students pictured her – the land of simplicity, meditation, and spirituality. Gentle, cheerful, meditative, little concerned about the things of this world, Swami Turiyananda made a deep impression on the minds of those who took Vedanta most seriously – not merely as a philosophy to satisfy the intellect alone, but also as a practical guidance in their spiritual life.”(4)

Stories from Turiyananda’s life

As a young boy, when Turiyananda was at school he was always reading and practicing Vedanta. He constantly tried to remember that he was the Atman (soul) and not the body. He would wake up early in the morning around 3.30 A.M. and go to take a bath in the Ganges river that flowed near his home. One day when he was taking his morning bath in the river an event occurred which strengthened him in his developing spiritual ideals. Recounting this incident Turiyananda later said, “…One day I was to bathe as usual and I was in the river. I saw an object floating in the water. It was still dark, so that I could not distinguish it. Some people on the shore, however, recognized the object as a crocodile. They shouted, “Come out quickly! That is a crocodile coming towards you!” Instinctively I rushed to the shore. But as soon as I got out, I thought to myself, “What are you doing? You are repeating day and night, Soham! Soham! I am He! I am He! And now all of a sudden you forget your ideal (you are the soul) and think you are the body! Shame on you!” I thought, Shiva, Shiva! That is true.” And immediately I went back. The crocodile never bothered to come near me. I bathed as usual. But I noticed I was hurrying to get through my bath quickly. Then I said to myself: “No I shall not hurry; I shall take my bath as usual.” And so I did.’(5)

Once while in the Himalayan region called Tihiri-Garhwal, Turiyananda was living in a thatched hut that had a broken door. One night he heard the villagers cry, “Tiger! Tigrt!” He immediately put some bricks behind the door to protect himself. Just then he remembered a passage from the Taittiriya Upanishad that declares that even at the command of Brahman the god of death does his duty like a slave. His awareness of the Atman awakened, and defeated the body idea. He kicked the piles of brick away from the entrance, and meditation. Fortunately, the tiger did not show up.(6)

Once when Turiyananda was wondering in the northern part of India he happened to enter a city called Mathura. In this city of Mathura there happened to be a noble minded rich merchant who took upon himself the task of feeding wandering monks who came to his city. Turiyananda came to know of this merchant and being hungry went to his house hoping to get some good food to eat. He was provided with a nice meal. After Turiyananda had his meal the merchant approached him and asked him, “Will you please tell me how I can develop dispassion?” At this Turiyananda smiled and said, “You are asking me this question. Do you think I would have come to eat here if I really had dispassion?”(7)

References:

1) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 5, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
2) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 47, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
3) With the Swamis in America & India, Sw. Atulananda, Pg. 51, Advaita Ashrama, 1988.
4) With the Swamis in America & India, Sw. Atulananda, Pg. 38, Advaita Ashrama, 1988.
5) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 7, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
6) God lived with them, Sw. Chetananda, Pg. 368, Vedanta Society USA, 1997.
7) Swami Turiyananda Life and Teachings, Swami Ritajananda, Pg. 39, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1963.
8) Everest Aspiration, Sri Chinmoy, Pg. 38, Aum Publication, 1987.

Nivedita – Swami Vivekananda’s most rebellious disciple

The first time Nivedita met Swami Vivekananda was in London in 1895. It was an informal gathering at a private house in a west-end drawing room on a cold Sunday afternoon in November. The Swami was seated, facing a half circle of listeners. Nivedita describes the scene thus: “we were but fifteen or sixteen guests, intimate friends, many of us, and he sat amongst us, in his crimson robe and girdle, as one bringing us news from a far land, with a curious habit of saying now and again “Shiva ! Shiva !” and wearing that look of mingled gentleness and loftiness, that one sees on the faces of those who live much in meditation, that look, perhaps, that Raphael has painted for us, on the brow of the Sistine Child.” (1)

After the meeting most of the guests including Nivedita concluded that what they heard was nothing new. All these things had been said before. Later on Nivedita could not help revising her opinion. She said, “For my own part, however, as I went about the tasks of that week, it dawned on me slowly that it was not only ungenerous, it was also unjust, to dismiss in such fashion the message of a new mind and a strange culture. It occurred to me that though each separate dictum might find its echo or its fellow amongst things already heard or already thought, yet it had never before fallen to my lot to meet with a thinker who in one short hour had been able to express all that I had hitherto regarded as highest and best.” (2) From then on she took every opportunity that came her way, to listen to Vivekananda lecture whenever he was in London.

Even after listening to whole seasons lectures, Nivedita was awed and touched by the beauty of Swami Vivekananda’s thought but “could pass no judgment upon it, much less accept it”. Often she found what Vivekananda said was beyond her comprehension. She said, “…his system (of thought) as a whole, I, for one, viewed with suspicion, as forming only another of those theologies which if a man should begin by accepting, he would surely end by transcending and rejecting. And one shrinks from the pain and humiliation of spirit that such experiences involve.”(3) Yet, by the time Swami Vivekananda left England, she addressed him as “master”. She justified this by saying, “I had recognised the heroic fibre of the man, and desired to make myself the servant of his love for his own people. But it was his character to which I had thus done obeisance. As a religious teacher, I saw that although he had a system of thought to offer, nothing in that system would claim him for a moment, if he found that truth led elsewhere. And to the extent that this recognition implies, I became his disciple. For the rest, I studied his teaching sufficiently to become convinced of its coherence, but never, till I had had experiences that authenticated them, did I inwardly cast in my lot with the final justification of the things he came to say.”(4)

Nivedita came to India in January of 1898. A few weeks later a small group of Swami Vivekananda’s disciples from America arrived. Nivedita and this group of western disciples together began “the study of India, and something also of the home aspects and relationships of the Swami’s own life”. Then in the summer of 1898 Swami Vivekananda took them, along with a few of his Indian brother disciples, on a tour of northern India.

Up until this time Nivedita was skeptical of Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy even though she had accepted him as her “master”. She said, “My relation to our Master at this time can only be described as one of clash and conflict. I can see now how much there was to learn, and how short was the time for learning to be, and the first of lessons doubtless is the destroying of self-sufficiency in the mind of the taught.” (5) So, it was on this trip that Swami Vivekananda’s training began of “his most rebellious disciple”. He constantly rebuked her and attacked her thinking and line of reasoning which were her most cherished possessions. She said, “Suffering is often illogical, and I cannot attempt to justify by reason the degree of unhappiness which I experienced at this time, as I saw the dream of a friendly and beloved leader falling away from me, and the picture of one who would be at least indifferent, and possibly, silently hostile, substituting itself instead.” (6) Even though she was not prepared for this kind of treatment yet she did not retract her own proffered service to the master.

The master’s training of the disciple continued and it seemed there was no end to Nivedita’s suffering. Finally one of the older ladies of the party, feeling that “such intensity of pain inflicted might easily go too far”, interceded with the Swami. Vivekananda silently listened and went away. He returned in the evening and told the old lady, it seems with the simplicity of a child, “You were right. There must be a change. I am going away into the forests to be alone, and when I come back I shall bring peace.” Then as he turned and saw the new moon in the sky he said, “See! the Mohammedans think much of the new moon. Let us also with the new moon begin a new life !” By this time Swami Vivekananda’s “most rebellious disciple” – Nivedita was kneeling before him. He lifted his hand and blessed her as she put it “with silent depths of blessing”. Later recollecting this incident Nivedita writes, “It was assuredly a moment of wonderful sweetness of reconciliation. But such a moment may heal a wound. It cannot restore an illusion that has been broken into fragments. And I have told its story, only that I may touch upon its sequel.. Long, long ago, Sri Ramakrishna had told his disciples that the day would come when his beloved “Noren” (Swami Vivekananda’s pre-monastic name) would manifest his own great gift of bestowing knowledge with a touch. That evening at Almora (a city in northern India where they were camping during that time), I proved the truth of his prophecy. For alone, in meditation, I found myself gazing deep into an Infinite Good, to the recognition of which no egoistic reasoning had led me. I learnt, too, on the physical plane, the simple everyday reality of the experience related in the Hindu books on religious psychology. And I understood, for the first time, that the greatest teachers may destroy in us a personal relation only in order to bestow the Impersonal Vision in its place.” (7)

References:

1) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 6, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
2) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 13, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
3) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 15, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
4) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 16, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
5) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 136, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
6) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 137, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.
7) The Master as I saw him, Pg. 139, Nivedita, Longman’s, Green and Co., London, 1910.

“Vivekananda came into the world in an age seething with rank materialism. Spiritual values were at a discount. He held the mighty torch of spirituality high. Exceptional was his clarion call to lead the life of the Spirit. The soul-stirring message of Sri Ramakrishna was embodied in him, in this lion amongst men. And as regards the message of India to the world, “Remember,” declares Vivekananda, “not the Soul for Nature, but Nature for the Soul.””~ Sri Chinmoy

Sri Aurobindo on Poetry

“Art can never really find what it seeks or succeed in liberating its soul in the highest perfection of speech unless it transfuses the rhythms of its exquisite moods into a sustained spiritual experience.” ~ Sri Aurobindo

After Sri Aurobindo moved to Pondicherry, he entered upon an intense period of practicing Yoga. He communicated only with a few of his students who looked after his physical needs and he generally did not receive any visitors except on very rare occasions. But almost every day he would sit with a few of his students, in an informal gathering, sometime late in the afternoon or evening. At these meetings the students would ask him questions and he would answer them. They asked him questions from a wide range of topics that included spirituality, politics, World War II, art, poetry, culture, history and medicine.

Once while answering a question on poetry, Sri Aurobindo said, great poetry must have power of beauty, power of vision and power of expression. He went on to say that there are different types of poetry and he mentioned psychic poetry. Then one of his students asked him to give them an instance of psychic poetry. In response, Sri Aurobindo quoted the following four beautiful lines from Shelley’s poetry:

“The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.”

According to Sri Aurobindo, in the above lines of Shelley, the feeling and the expression are both psychic. In contrast to psychic poetry, Vedic poetry, Sri Aurobindo said, ”is poetry on the plane of intuitional vision. There is rhythm, force and other elements of poetry in it, but the psychic element is not so prominent. It is from a plane much higher than the mental. It moves by vision on the plane of intuition, though there are passages in which you may find the psychic element. It is a wide and calm plane, – it also moves you but not in the same way as the poetry which contains the psychic feeling. It has got its own depth-but psychic poetry differs from it in its depth and feeling.”

At another time while discussing the poetry of Blake and Shakespeare, the question came up as to who was a greater poet. Sri Aurobindo said, ”Shakespeare is superior in one way, Blake in another. Shakespeare is greater because he has a greater poetic power and more creative force, while Blake is more expressive.” Then he was asked what is the difference between “Creative” and “Expressive” and he replied, “”Creative” may be something which gives a picture of life creatively, representing the life-situation of the Spirit. “Expressive” is that which is just the expression of feeling, vision or experience. In “The Hound of Heaven” (Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven) you get a true creative picture. There you have such a picture of the life of a man pursued by God.”

When he was asked why a devotional feeling in a devotional poem cannot be considered “creative”, he clarified, “Because you identify yourself with the feeling and not with the character or man as in the case of Hamlet (Shakespeare’s Hamlet). It must come out as a part of the poet’s personality and the reader identifies himself with the world or personality which the poet has created or the experience which he had. Of course, anything is creative in a general way.”

(Source: Evening Talks With Sri Aurobindo, A.B. Purani, Sri Aurobindo Society, 1959)

Commenting on Sri Aurobindo’s poetry, K. D. Sethna said, “When he wants to bring home to us some eternal verity from its mysterious abode of light, he speaks in a tone which has in it either a sublime simplicity which renders clear a profound truth by a few striking images, or a direct imaginative force which without needing to bring in abundant colour can create for us a self-sufficient mystical symbol or atmosphere, or else a puissant intuitive luminosity which wears form and name only as a concession to the weakness of human mentality but imparts in a subtle unanalysable manner a sense of some beatific vastitude of ultimate creative Idea.”(1)

“In poetry there is an upward evolution of its powers and at its summit the highest function of sound is to instill in the listener the poet’s experience of a Truth that is behind all things, its significances in themselves beyond word and thought finding expression through an inner silence, and to lift him rapt, spellbound, dazzled into sudden awareness of that wondrous supreme Beauty and Delight which elude normal perception, a high-uplifted Beauty and Delight sustaining magically the cosmic process…If, therefore, the possibilities of the poet of the future are to come to their utmost fruition, his art, whether it flowers forth in the lyric cry or the narrative, in the drama or the epic, should not merely be an instrument of forces which work through him by passing inspirations. It must represent the continuous rhythm of an inner life in which the meaning of the universe shall be unfolded in the individual and the Spirit manifested, with constant integrality, even through the prose of daily intercourse with the world.” ~ Sri Aurobindo(2)

References:

1) Sri Aurobindo the poet, Pg. 29 K. D. Sethna, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, 1970.
2) Sri Aurobindo the poet, Pg. 39 K. D. Sethna, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, 1970.

Related

Sri Aurobindo

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

web analytics