By Joan Price
Originally printed in the NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Price, Joan. "The Divine Mother in Sri Aurobindo's Yoga." Quest 94.5 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006):226-228.
The luminous heart of the Unknown is she,
A power of silence in the depths of God.
She is the Force, the inevitable Word,
The magnet of our difficult ascent.
Savitri, Book 3, Canto 2
The Divine is given to us in the great formula of Sachidananda, which can be translated as pure being (sat), consciousness (chit), and bliss (ananda). It has a transcendent, yet self-absorbing aspect, but also a dynamic multi-dimensional fullness. Sachidananda continuously pours forth its essence into the different worlds of existence and enters back into them as their inner substance and support.
In Sanskrit, the term for energy is shakti, the force or active power of the Divine and it signifies the feminine principle. In the Tantric tradition, and according to Sri Aurobindo, Shakti is the Divine Mother, the Consciousness-Force of God. As creator of the worlds, Shakti is manifested in all things, and is at the core of Sri Aurobindo's teaching of Integral Yoga. The following from Sri Aurobindo's, The Mother, describes three facets of the Divine Mother.
The Mother is the pine Conscious-Force that dominates all existence, one and yet so many-sided that to follow her movement is impossible even for the quickest mind and for the freest and most vast intelligence. The Mother is the consciousness and force of the Supreme . . .Transcendent, the original supreme Shakti, she stands above the worlds and links the creation to the ever unmanifest mystery of the Supreme. Universal, the cosmic Mahashakti, she creates all these beings and contains and enters, supports and conducts all these million processes and forces. Inpidual, she embodies the power of these two vaster ways of her existence, makes them living and near to us and mediates between the human personality and the pine Nature. (26-7)
What a mystery she is! Due to her transcendent quality, the Divine Mother or Mahashakti is beyond worlds and links the Supreme Being to all creation. In her consciousness, she holds all the truths that need to manifest and shapes them into form. All is her delight in the Supreme Being and her embodiment of the eternal mysteries. Everything that is in the universe and in our world is what the Divine Mother reveres and the Supreme sanctions.
Through her universal quality, Mahashakti works out the substance and soul of each universe that she has made and her very presence in them gives life, harmony, and meaning to all things. She is the cosmic soul of the transcendent Divine Mother and in the universe are many planes of her creation. At the summit are worlds of pine truth, beauty, and goodness, where all beings are souls and powers and bodies of the pine light. In these worlds the Divine Mother is a dynamic power of pine will and knowledge. On the higher universal planes, all beings live and move in truth, harmony, and perfection.
Through her inpidual quality, the Divine Mother embodies both the transcendent and universal by making their power active here on earth for the descent of the pine in each inpidual form. However, because we humans live in the physical worlds of the mind and body, we feel separated in consciousness from our source. But no matter how much we struggle with our imperfections, and continually fail to recognize the Divine Mother's grace, we too are a center of her knowledge, power, harmony, and perfection. Our world exists on a plane of ignorance that is searching for the pine light and truth that has to be brought down here so we can climb back again into the infinity of the spirit. Thus, the Divine Mother not only governs all from above but in her deep and great love, she descends into our lesser world of ignorance—ready to lead us from the darkness into the light, from falsehood into truth, from death into immortality. Her aim is nothing less than to spiritualize matter.
The Mahashakti has many aspects, which Sri Aurobindo calls "powers and personalities." Of these, he points to the four aspects that are the most active for the evolution of our world towards its "destined goal of perfection." They are Maheshwari (knowledge), Mahakali (force), Mahalakshmi (harmony and beauty), and Mahasaraswati (perfection).
Maheshwari is the power and personality that presides over the infinite expanses of knowledge.
She is the mighty and wise One who opens us to the . . .cosmic vastness, to the grandeur of the Light, to a treasure-house of miraculous knowledge, to the measureless movement of the Mother's eternal forces. Tranquil is she and wonderful, great and calm for ever. Nothing can move her because all wisdom is in her; nothing is hidden from her that she chooses to know; she comprehends all things and all beings and their nature and what moves them and the law of the world and its times and how all was and is and must be. (37—8)
Because her wisdom and compassion are endless, Maheshwari can raise the human soul and nature into the pine truth. Although she is above our thinking mind and beyond our will, she can lift them into wisdom and flood them with pine splendor. She is always tranquil, great, and calm. Nothing can affect her, because she is wisdom and nothing that she chooses to know can be hidden from her.
Maheshwari deals with us according to our nature and when we are ready, she guides us into the grandeurs of the supreme light. Though her compassion is endless, if we are hostile and turn away from her knowledge and wisdom, she too turns away leaving us to live in our chosen shadows of ignorance. How long we reject her is up to us. The truth of things is her one concern, knowledge is her power, and building our soul and our nature into the pine truth is her mission.
Mahakali embodies force and will. She is the pine warrior that smashes all obstructions and speeds our human aspiration and effort upward into the pine majesty.
There is in her an overwhelming intensity, a mighty passion of force to achieve, a pine violence rushing to shatter every limit and obstacle. All her pinity leaps out in a splendour of tempestuous action; she is there for swiftness for the immediately effective process . . .
Dangerous and ruthless is her mood against the haters of the Divine; for she is the Warrior of the Worlds who never shrinks from the battle. Intolerant of imperfection, she deals roughly with all in man that is unwilling and she is severe to all that is obstinately ignorant and obscure; her wrath is immediate and dire against treachery and falsehood and malignity, ill-will is smitten at once by her scourge . . . (40-1)
Like the eagle, Mahakali can take us to the highest reaches of truth or strike us down in anger. The timid fear her and the brave adore her strength. If we have the courage to follow her flame, we can achieve in a day what would normally take us years—even lifetimes. Our indifference to the pine work infuriates her and, if necessary, she will strike us awake with sharp and swift pain. Her pine violence rushes to shatter every limitation and obstacle we construct against living the pine life. Yet, as forceful as she can be, this aspect of the Divine Mother has a deep love and kindness as intense as her wrath. By the grace of her fire and passion and speed, we can achieve the goal now rather than later, for her goal is nothing less than having us experience the flame of pine ecstasy.
The third power and personality of the Divine Mother is Mahalakshmi, the soul of all beauty and harmony in creation. She manifests the hidden charm and attraction that draws us toward the pine bliss. This power of the Divine Mother touches the heart of each of us with joy and longing.
For she throws the spell of the intoxicating sweetness of the Divine: to be close to her is a profound happiness and to feel her within the heart is to make existence a rapture and a marvel; grace and charm and tenderness flow out from her like light from the sun and wherever she fixes her wonderful gaze or lets fall the loveliness of her smile, the soul is seized and made captive and plunged into the depths of an unfathomable bliss. (45)
Life is turned in her supreme creations into a rich work of celestial art and all existence into a poem of sacred delight; the world's riches are brought together and concerted for a supreme order and even the simplest and commonest things are made wonderful by her intuition of unity and the breath of her spirit. (47-8)
But, again, it is not easy to meet her demands of harmony and beauty of the mind and soul, because where there is ignorance—where love and beauty are lacking—she will not enter. If so-called love and beauty are mixed with baser things, such as jealousy and selfishness and hatred, she will soon depart because these qualities are not pure. She refuses to fill her lovely chalice with envy or strife, greed or ingratitude. For it is through pure love and beauty that Mahalakshmi unites us with the Divine. If we admit her into our hearts, she will reveal the mystic secrets of pine harmony that surpasses all knowledge and stays with us forever.
Mahasaraswati is the Divine Mother's power of work and her spirit of perfection and order. Of all the feminine principles, she is the nearest to physical nature. Recall that Maheshwari opens us to the cosmic vastness, Mahakali gives us the force and passion to achieve, and Mahalakshmi brings the secret of pine harmony. It is up to the fourth personality, Mahasaraswati, to organize all of the above powers and guide them to completion.
Always she holds in her nature and can give to those whom she has chosen the intimate and precise knowledge, the subtlety and patience, the accuracy of intuitive mind and conscious hand and discerning eye of the perfect worker. This power is the strong, the tireless, the careful and efficient builder, organizer, administrator, technician, artisan and classifier of the worlds. When she takes up the transformation and new-building of the nature, her action is laborious and minute and often seems to our impatience slow and interminable, but it is persistent, integral and flawless. For the will in her works is scrupulous, unsleeping, indefatigable; leaning over us she notes and touches every little detail, finds out every minute defect, gap, twist or incompleteness, considers and weighs accurately all that has been done and all that remains still to be done hereafter. (49-50)
Mahasaraswati holds in herself an inexhaustible capacity for flawless work and exact perfection. According to Sri Aurobindo, Mahasaraswai is nearest of the four to physical nature, she is most concerned with organization, execution, and construction, all of which she carries out with a dedicated thoroughness. Carelessness, negligence, and indolence she detests. And she has no sympathy for those who leave things undone or half done. Nothing short of perfection satisfies her and that is why she is ready to face an eternity of labor, if needed, to complete her creation.
Of all the Divine Mother's powers, Mahasaraswati is the most long-suffering with our human imperfections. She is kind, smiling, and helpful, and not easily turned away or discouraged, even after our many failures. As long as we are straightforward and sincere, she is our friend and mentor through all difficulties. With a smile, she chases away clouds of gloom, stress, and depression. In her quiet and persevering way, she is always there to help us turn to our higher nature. All the work of the other powers leans on her for its completeness, for she assures us of a strong material foundation in our adventure of consciousness.
We can now sum up the principles of Sri Aurobindo's vision of the Divine Mother. The Supreme Being is the one source and support of all existence. Cosmic manifestation takes place when the secret potentialities of the Supreme are brought forth by the Divine Mother. And the key to this dynamic self-disclosure of God is found in the principle of harmony among all beings. Thus, there is nothing to fear, for the Divine Mother, the Consciousness-Force of the Supreme, is on earth with us like a sunlit path, and the atmosphere around us is bathed in her luminous knowledge, force, harmony, and perfection. We have only to open ourselves with inner sincerity in order to receive them. Everything is prepared and the future is in our hands.
Ghose, Sri Aurobindo. The Mother. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1965.
———. Savitri. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2000.
Joan Price, Ph.D. is professor emeritus of philosophy at Mesa Community College and a long-time member of the Theosophical Society. She is author of several books and papers as well as a college textbook, Philosophy through the Ages . Her latest book Climbing the Spiritual Ladder was released in September 2006. Joan is an animal lover with three dogs, a cat, and several flocks of wild geese and ducks that camp on the lake by her house for daily handouts. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.