By Swati Chopra
Georges Van Vrekhem is best known for his two seminal works on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He spoke to Swati Chopra about life as an Aurobindonian and the next step in man’s spiritual evolution.
It is quite a tongue twister, but the word ‘Aurobindonian’ crops up frequently when Georges Van Vrekhem speaks. ‘A true Aurobindonian’, ‘a real Aurobindonian’, ‘you don’t have to be an Aurobindonian to evolve to Superman’… That’s what he sees himself as—an Aurobindonian. Not that this limits him in any way. It seems to give him the perspective from which to view the world, and his own self. It is also the basis of his work as a writer and translator, his two original works being Beyond Man: The Life and Work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and The Mother: The Story of Her Life (both HarperCollins publications).
A Belgian, Vrekhem has spent the last 31 years of his life in India, the initial eight years at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, and the rest in Auroville, the Mother’s experimental township. He was in Delhi, India, recently to deliver lectures on ‘The Present Moment in the Global Evolution’ and ‘Overman: The Intermediary between Man and Superman’.
Following are excerpts from an interview with Georges Van Vrekhem:
What attracted you to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
About 30 years ago, I came across a French book written by the Mother’s disciple, Satprem, called The Adventure of Consciousness. I opened that book and read the first quotation by Sri Aurobindo: ‘Everything that man wants he can become because the Divine is within him.’ Something happened then. Strangely, I haven’t been able to finish the book till today.
Then you came to India?
Oh no! Not then. At that time, I was a journalist, playwright, poet and was also managing a professional theater company. But my spiritual journey had begun.
Something seemed to be pushing me to go to Pondicherry. In a dream, I saw a stone with the imprint of a salamander and I knew this to be in the Aurobindo Ashram. The effect of this dream was so strong that even now, when I am walking in the ashram, I inadvertently look around for this stone! The salamander in the stone meant the transformation of matter, I suppose.
This was in 1964 when Eastern spirituality was not known at all in the West. It took six years for me to finally make the decision. Being a poet, I thought I could afford to be a little crazy. So I came to the Aurobindo Ashram at Pondicherry.
Did you get to meet the Mother?
I was told that one could write to her and meet her. But I did not know how to address her! You see, I did not want to write ‘Mother’ because I felt that I already had a mother. I simply wrote: ‘Madam, I am here.’ She wrote back inviting me to a ‘silent meeting’.
The day came. I was asked to choose flowers. You see, the Mother had given a particular meaning to every flower and I was being judged according to the flowers I chose. And I failed in my examination! (laughs)
Why, which flowers did you choose?
I was told that I had not chosen the flower symbolizing humility!
As I entered her room, I saw the Mother sitting in a chair facing Sri Aurobindo’s samadhi. I remember seeing her thin arms resting on the armrests. I came forward… and then I blanked out. The next thing I knew, she was smiling at me. That incident left a strong enough impact to make me stay on at the ashram.
What happened in the moments when you blanked out?
With hindsight, I think as I sat before her, something in me recognized her. But my mind had blacked out.
What were your subsequent meetings with the Mother like?
I saw her several times after that, and each time, I only realized afterwards what had happened. I was never able to do so in that particular moment in time.
The last time I met her was a few days before she withdrew into silence. As I bent to touch her feet, I felt something preventing me from touching them too roughly. Then her hand fell on my head.
Were all the meetings silent?
Once, she wished me on my birthday. The other time was when I had taken a ring to her. You see, you took a ring to her and she would put it on your finger. I, very naturally, extended the ring finger of my left hand. She was surprised and said: ‘On that finger?’ Afterwards, she told her son, whom I knew rather well, that it symbolized ‘a mystical marriage’.
You have been a poet and a playwright. What is the interface between your creative spirit and your spiritual journey? Have the two fed each other?
Not really. If you live like a writer, you look at the world differently. You look for the possibility of formulating things. Apart from writing, I have been translating the works of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Satprem from English and French to Dutch. Basically, I didn’t want to do anything creative, because I had nothing to say! In Belgium, I belonged to the Theater of the Absurd, of which, the known French playwrights Ionesco and Beckett were a part. The problem there too was—what is there actually to say?
What has been the response to your books, Beyond Man and The Mother?
There have been some controversies but it’s been generally positive. I feel that if you are an Aurobindonian, you must be the most broad-minded person possible. My books are published all around the world and have been translated into various languages, including French, Spanish, Russian and German. And where are they not available? In Auroville!
One finds a lot of creative individuals being drawn to Sri Aurobindo. Why?
If you really study Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, you realize his profundity. He gives you a foot to stand on and look at the world. If you have worked out his philosophy, you can comprehend any topic under the sun.
A book I would like to write one day is The Fifth Philosopher—Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Sri Aurobindo as the fifth one. He is almost completely unknown, which is good.
Why is it good?
Because the time has come only now to bring his thinking into the world’s awareness. Whenever I am invited to give lectures, I say that I can either tell you about the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo or about the practice of it. About the philosophy, I explain the evolutionary aspect and say that the Aurobindonian vision is the most broad-minded there is. But if I am talking about the practice of Integral Yoga, I say that you have to be a fanatic—totally focused—otherwise it is pointless.
How has your own spiritual journey progressed? Where are you today?
I am an absolute beginner. Some of my American friends say that Sri Aurobindo died in 1950 and the Mother in 1973. Now we are in 2001. So we must have progressed a lot. I tell them, you just take Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri or Life Divine and compare what you are with what is written there. How can you talk of having progressed further than this yoga?
I belong to the world. I have got what is necessary for my growth. I find life immensely interesting, because I don’t have to present myself in a certain way. If I want to enjoy a bottle of good beer, I will do so. I won’t hide it just so you think I am a great yogi. I think my attitude is somewhat like the Sufis, who have a great sense of spiritual humor. And if you don’t get that, it means we are not on the same wavelength!
What is your understanding of life, and of the Self?
That’s a good question! My understanding of life stems from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s belief that all life is yoga. Just by being alive, you are doing yoga.
What is the essence of Integral Yoga?
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have said that if you do yoga, you must offer your whole being. Then only might something real happen. If meditation has to happen, you will start meditating automatically. There are many ways of becoming aware, which is meditation, and I try to do this all the time. According to the Mother, the value of a person resides in his capacity of being attentive.
We are living in interesting times. Both the West and the East have accomplished something important. The West has recognized the importance of personal freedom. As long as you remain an entity in a group, such as a joint family or caste, you cannot realize your true potential. The West, because it has overcome this to a large extent, is ripe for the journey within.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the West towards Eastern spirituality.
But the Western worldview is still extremely Eurocentric. And they have no idea of the multiple avatars, of the possibilities of life. You see books like Karen Armstrong’s A History of God. They always talk the same language of Christianity and Judaism. Of the East, if they know anything, it will be Buddhism . Through my books, I want to expound the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and arrive at a universal Sanatana Dharma.
What is the next step in human evolution ?
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, evolution has to progress and the new must appear. The problem is that human beings think they are the end-station of evolution.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have predicted ‘Superman’, a divine being. However, the jump from our present level of being to the Superman is so enormous that it would be rational to suppose that there will be a transitional stage, ‘Overman’ according to Sri Aurobindo, in between. The Mother said the consciousness of Overman manifested in 1969. This is dealt with in my next book, Overman, to be published soon.
Just as mental consciousness has helped us reach the present level of evolution, Supramental Consciousness will help us evolve to Superman.
What would distinguish Overman from us?
The Mother is clear that Overman would come from people like you and me who have acquired a higher consciousness. And they need not be Aurobindonians, of course!
Any evidence of Overman’s existence?
Well, so many miracles have taken place. Sri Aurobindo had predicted that the world will become one. He also predicted that India will be independent, Asia will awake to her potential and Europe will unite. All this has happened because of an accelerated pace of evolution.
The general perception of the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is that it is dense and obscure.
I would say that they are hardly understood. To understand them, you have to be an intellectual who has read a lot, who is able to assimilate and put everything together. Some of their books run into a thousand pages!
So, it is not for the common man?
All great things are done by a handful of people at the initiation of one. It is always the intellectuals who bring revolution. So maybe Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s philosophy is meant to be worked out by people like me!
What has been your experience of living in Auroville?
I have been at Auroville since 1978. The Mother knew that Auroville was a practical impossibility, a utopia when she started it. It was a great thing to happen and it is still developing, as if aided by an invisible force.
You should go there only if you get the call, and then you have to heed it, no matter where you are. This yoga is a matter of destiny, unlike other kinds of yoga, which depend on choice. The Mother has said: ‘If you want an adventure, please come aboard.’
What was the mission of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
They were avatars. If you believe in reincarnation, you know there are human beings who are human for the first time, there are those who are halfway on the scale of human evolution, and then there are beings who have come to the end of the cycle. There are also those, like the Buddha, who come back to help others.
When a species has reached its ceiling in evolutionary terms, it doesn’t have the power to move on to the next level by itself. At that point an avatar’s intervention is needed. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were a complete male-female avatar to help in humankind’s evolution to Superman.
—photographs by Martin Louis
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