By Santosh Krinsky
I am reminded of the famous story in the Mahabharata when Dronacharya tried to teach the Pandava and Kaurava princes the lesson “not to become angry.” Each of the princes was asked by Drona what today’s lesson was, and each replied “not to become angry”. And each agreed that he had LEARNED that lesson. Except Yudhisthira, the wise.
For several days, Drona repeated this question to Yudhisthira, “have you learned the lesson, not to become angry?” And Yudhisthira replied, “No.” And the other pupils snickered and joked about Yudhisthira’s obvious stupidity.
Finally, Drona could not take it any longer. His lesson plan disrupted, one of his star pupils obstinately refusing to learn the lesson and allow him to proceed to the next issue, anger issued forth from him and, forgetting himself and his station, he struck the Pandava prince with a slap across the face.
And at that moment, in the heat of passion, knowing that he could have Drona put to death for the disrespect shown to the future king in his own person, Yudhisthira calmly replied, “Now I have learned the lesson.”
I am reminded of this because our wisest teachers will counsel us on the foolishness of the emotion of grief, and tell us we should not experience grief. And I am sure we have all, at some time or another, agreed with this and given the intellectual arguments as to why grief is an unevolved emotion that yogis and sadhaks should not experience. And I know that some of us have even smiled inwardly, even while we showed compassion and goodwill, at the grief of friends or relatives or strangers that has been displayed before our eyes over the years, because we knew that this was an ignorant emotion, that it was based on the falsehood of attachment to the material life, and that from a truer perspective there is no cause for grief. And of course, it is true, and our teachers have taught us well this lesson.
But when have we ever had the occasion to test this knowledge against Reality? We are so comfortable in our philosophy, and we think we have learned. And yet….have we really “learned” the lesson of grief, as Yudhisthira learned the lesson of anger?
I am reminded too of the moving passages of Savitri, where Sri Aurobindo directly addresses this truly human problem in Book Six, Canto Two, “The Way of Fate and the Problem of Pain.” Savitri’s mother, herself a fit wife and consort to the yogi, Ashwapathi, and a fit mother to Savitri herself, certainly no “ordinary” mortal, understands the immensity of the fate before her daughter and she wails out her pain when she is forced to confront the apparent death-struggle with grief that lies before her daughter.
What is grief? Is it the tears that well up in our eyes spontaneously for no apparent reason when we wake in the middle of the night? Is it the heaviness that weighs down our hearts? Is it the tiredness of the spirit that pervades us as we spin through our daily routines? Is it that heart-wrenching pain that we feel when we dwell on an event that has left us devastated and empty emotionally?
How can we know whether we have truly learned this lesson of overcoming grief, if we do not know what grief in fact is?
It was Panditji’s great power of love which allows us now to directly face the problem of grief. It is a Grace to us. We know we are here for a purpose. We will all find ways to carry on and continue our daily routines and live out our destinies. Some of us will bury the grief deep within us and exhibit a stoic strength that refuses to give in to this corrosive force within us. Some will carry this pain openly in our hearts and in our lives for a long time. Some, I am sure, will conquer. Some will fall before its onslaught. Some will avoid the struggle. Some will accept the struggle and face this grief constantly and try to find some way to truly understand its necessity and continue to act in spite of it.
Sri Aurobindo has given us light on this struggle in the words of Narada the divine singer, again in Savitri, Book Six, Canto Two:
He who would save the race must share its pain:
This he shall know who obeys that grandiose urge.
The great who came to save this suffering world
And rescue out of Time’s shadow and the Law,
Must pass beneath the yoke of grief and pain:
They are caught by the Wheel that they had hoped to break,
On their shoulders they must bear man’s load of fate.
For we are not here simply to learn philosophy and be able to repeat the lessons as parrots. We have chosen a destiny of sadhana, the practice of yoga. No matter how humble our role or station in life, each of us has that connecting link that we understand and accept the need to work out the human condition in our own souls, to practice the sadhana of the yoga, with whatever strength has been given to each of us to do so. And it is Panditji’s example to us, over a career that spans an entire lifetime, that has won for him the devotion and love that turns to grief at the time of his passing. For above all things, Panditji represented a dedication to the sadhana of the yoga, to the inward practice and working out of each of humanity’s difficulties, and to the inward sympathy with the human condition that comes only from true shared experience.
Many will remember Panditji’s achievements: his writing, his oratory, his moving spiritual concentration that uplifted us, his calm advice in our struggles. Those closest to him will recall his deep understanding and love as they shared with him their daily tragedies and triumphs. He was so far removed from those daily cares, and yet, he had that sympathy and understanding that was based on real experience. Some will recall his idealism and work for world unity and his call to the evolution of a Universal Man. Some will reflect on the wideness that characterized his goodwill towards all paths and teachings and philosophies, that refused to be limited by the narrow walls of fanaticism, even while he himself remained dedicated to the teachings of his Masters.
For myself, these things seem somehow distant, as I have to struggle daily with the reality of the feelings that perniciously eat away at my heart and spirit, as I now begin to truly experience and understand the human emotion of grief. And somehow I know that this is a part of Panditji’s great work and perhaps, his parting gift to me and others, his transformation of our philosophy, acquired with great study over the years, into something real, into a sadhana.
How long will it take us to truly face and overcome this grief? What methods of philosophy or yoga will we remember to apply to this struggle? Which ones will truly succeed for us? I don’t know.
And yet, when we look around us at the suffering in the world at large, that world that Panditji believed could find unity and harmony, we see that the problem of grief and suffering is not one that we can legislate, not one that we can philosophize away, but truly one that needs to be experienced first-hand and responded to in a very personal, inward way. It is truly a field of sadhana, not philosophy.
Sri Aurobindo shows us the issue when he continues:
But when God’s messenger comes to help the world
And lead the soul of earth to higher things,
He too must carry the yoke he came to unloose;
He too must bear the pang that he would heal:
Exempt and unafflicted by earth’s fate,
How shall he cure the ills he never felt?
He cover’s the world’s agony with his calm;
But though to the outward eye no sign appears
And peace is given to our torn human hearts,
The struggle is there and paid the unseen price;
The fire, the strife, the wrestle are within.
Maybe this is the secret of Panditji, that while he gave us peace and understanding and love, within his heart he was grappling with these forces which cause human pain and suffering. Maybe this is what widened his understanding and gave him his boundless compassion for us and which consoled us in our need.
Here was a soul ready to sacrifice everything to the Spirit, but at the same time, always ready to carry out a life of practical value and guidance to all those who came within the scope of his influence. What deep inner struggle pitted his soul against the forces of suffering and grief that he saw everywhere in the world around him?
Life’s evil smites, he is stricken with the world’s pain:
A million wounds gape in his secret heart.
He journeys sleepless through an unending night;
Antagonist forces crowd across his path;
A siege, a combat is his inner life.
Even worse may be the cost, direr the pain:
His large identity and all-harbouring love
Shall bring the cosmic anguish into his depths,
The sorrow of all living things shall come
And knock at his doors and live within his house;
A dreadful cord of sympathy can tie
All suffering into his single grief and make
All agony in all the worlds his own.
Can we ever see behind the outward inspiration, peace and comfort he gave each of us? Can we ever realize the immensity of the sacrifice, the battle that went on within as he enfolded all our cares, all our fears, all our sorrows into his heart? Can we understand the vast amount of suffering and pain that he confronted when he embraced the suffering of humanity? Panditji was not a man solely tied down to his narrow daily round of existence. He had vision. He had universal longings. Is it possible that he had to internalize all of humanity’s suffering, secretly, silently, in his inner heart?
He is lashed with the whips that tear the world’s worn heart;
The weeping of the centuries visits his eyes:
That intensity, that spiritual depth, that peace given to our souls, could it be that these things result from the alchemy of our emotions as we truly face them and learn how to overcome them?
In his passing, Panditji has left us a gift of incredible value, and that is the gift of grief. We now can understand, at least to some degree, the true meaning of sadhana. We have an example of a life before us to give us hope and guidance along the way, as we face our own inner struggle, as we wake up each morning and have to CHOOSE, even when our hearts are heavy and our spirits are oppressed.
And it is our most fitting tribute to Sri M.P. Pandit if we can choose as he chose. If we can choose life and hope over death and despair. If we can choose wideness and understanding over fanaticism and narrow philosophical myopia. If we can choose compassion and sympathy over coldness or hardness of heart. If we can choose constant effort over lassitude or weak surrender. If we can choose honesty over self-image. In other words, if we can mold our lives by the example he gave and truly practice the sadhana that he idealized for us with his life.
For Panditji, above all things else, represented the practice of sadhana. He understood, perhaps more truly than we will ever know, the advice of Sri Aurobindo:
The human mass lingers beneath the yoke.
Escape, however high, redeems not life,
Life that is left behind on a fallen earth.
Escape cannot uplift the abandoned race
Or bring to it victory and the reign of God.
It is not wrong to recognize and admit our grief. It is a tribute to our friend and teacher if we can do so. It is our entrance into the human mystery that we must touch the root of pain and expose it in our own flesh. Our grief is a reflection of that enormous human grief that tears at the heart of humanity. Our grief is a reflex of the struggle and pain that Sri Aurobindo describes as the field of the sadhana, when he describes the soul and mission of Savitri, the Mother:
It sits apart with grief and facing death,
Affronting adverse fate armed and alone.
Alone with death and close to extinction’s edge,
Her single greatness in that last dire scene,
She must cross alone a perilous bridge in Time
And reach an apex of world-destiny
Where all is won or all is lost for man.
We should not hide our grief. We cannot pretend that it is not there, gnawing at our hearts. We can learn to understand the inner mystery and begin the process of alchemy, of transformation, and thereby provide a fitting tribute to a great soul who has touched us all deeply and inwardly.
I thank my friend Rand for helping us through this time of pain. For he has mobilized us and forced us to reflect and confront our grief directly. He has, in a word, helped to heal the pain of our souls. This Garland of Tributes he is preparing will be the fruit of many tears, and afterwards, we will all be stronger, hopefully wiser, more compassionate and understanding, and more ready to share the load of suffering of humanity so that we may ease the burden of the world.
Reprinted from M.P. Pandit, An American Offering, published by Integral Knowledge Study Center, Pensacola, Florida. All quotations from the works of Sri Aurobindo are copyrighted by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and are reproduced with the kind permission of the Ashram.