Tusar Nath Mohapatra

Archive for June 2008

Re: Max Théon—the Symbol of Sri Aurobindo
by RY Deshpande on Sat 14 Jun 2008 06:45 AM PDT |  Profile |  Permanent Link
The Symbol of Sri Aurobindo

The Mother explains the significance of the various parts of the symbol as follows:

The descending triangle represents Sat-Chit-Ananda.
The ascending triangle represents the aspiring answer from matter under the form of life, light and love.
The junction of both—the central square—is the perfect manifestation having at its centre the Avatar of the Supreme—the lotus.
The water—inside the square—represents the multiplicity, the creation.

About the significance of the ‘square’ Sri Aurobindo writes in one of his letters, in another context, that it is the symbol of “complete creation”.

The early history of Sri Aurobindo’s symbol is not known. In fact we do not know whether he had at all thought of a symbol of his own. There was none used for his monthly Arya published during the period 1914-21; the cover of the journal had instead the word ‘Arya’ written in large and bold Devanagari script. His very early books including The Yoga and its Objects published in 1921 do not bear any symbol anywhere. The symbol first appears in 1933 in the Arya Publishing House’s issue of his The Riddle of this World.

The earliest trace of the symbol could be the Mother’s sketch made before she met Sri Aurobindo in 1914. It seems that she had drawn what is called Solomon’s Seal—Sceau de Salomon—and given to her husband Paul Richard when he was to visit Pondicherry in 1911. He was to check the person who could reveal its significance and the Mother would accept him as her future guide. About the story of the symbol, Nolini Kanta Gupta reminisces as follows:

It was Sri Aurobindo himself who told us about a French lady from Paris who was a great initiate. She was desirous of establishing personal contact with Sri Aurobindo. That the Great Soul whom she meant was no other than Sri Aurobindo would be evidenced by a sign: she would be sending him something that he might recognize. The something was Sri Aurobindo’s own symbol—in the form of a diagram, known as Solomon’s Seal. Needless to add, after this proof of identity, steps were taken to facilitate her coming.

We could accept this account as fairly dependable as Nolini Gupta would not go out of the way to narrate it had there been any element of uncertainty about it. We must remember that he was directly associated with Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta as a revolutionary and in Pondicherry since his early days as a practitioner of his spiritual discipline, that is, the account should not be merely considered as “apocryphal”.

Sri Aurobindo’s symbol underwent several transformations before it was given the final approval by the Mother in July 1964—the final form of the symbol was prepared by Pavitra, the name given by Sri Aurobindo to his French engineer-disciple—under the direct instructions from her and approved by her. This is now taken as Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s official symbol with the copyright possessed by it.

The Mother certainly had Théon’s symbol in her view while she was working out the symbol for Sri Aurobindo, and she said so: d’après ça. She also added that Théon had told her that his symbol was the Seal of Solomon. We can get some idea about it from the cover page of The Cosmic Movement Théon was bringing out.

If the central square in Sri Aurobindo’s final symbol is of side a, then the larger triangle has the base 2.58a and height 1.63a; other details in the square are also fixed in its term.

We cannot say in this entire development that the Mother borrowed the design of Théon’s symbol while working out the symbol for Sri Aurobindo. More appropriately, more occult-yogically she imposed Sri Aurobindo’s on Théon’s.


My debut at Reinventing the Sacred

“Why don’t you write a post about your work in India?” is what Ulrike Reinhard wrote to Ulrich (Yours Truly) at Reinventing the Sacred. “I will — in about 10 days, once the more immediate deadlines have been attended to” is what Yours Truly replied. Eventually this is what I wrote:

Because of the recent death of Albert Hofmann, LSD is once again in the news, so I may as well start with that. Like many of my generation, I experimented with the drug in the late 60s, and this reduced to rubble my earlier materialist and atheist convictions. I also lost my previous interest in physics and astronomy and became interested instead in Indian philosophy and spirituality. This is how I ended up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India.

I arrived with a common misconception about Indian spirituality, fostered by Buddhist and Advaita literature (”Brahman is real, the world is a lie.” — Shankara). While reading the works of Sri Aurobindo (and having some quite extraordinary experiences, but that’s an aside) I realized the great importance Sri Aurobindo attaches to the material world, and my old interest in physics returned. Feeling the need to complement his insights into the nature of Nature with whatever additional light physics can throw on the subject, I returned to Germany, my native country, and enrolled in the University of Göttingen. During a subsequent stint at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore it became clear to me that academia couldn’t take my personal quest much farther, and so I settled in Pondicherry for good.

The freedom I enjoy since then has enabled me to pursue the questions that interested me most, beginning with the place of physics in a spiritually conceived world. From C. F. von Weizsäcker (The Unity of Nature) I learned about the importance of Kant. Kant conceived of a “pure physics,” which contained nothing but the preconditions of the possibility of science. Von Weizsäcker surmised that all fundamental physics might be of this nature. This suggested to me that all of physics might be (ontological rather than epistemological) preconditions of the possibility of a particular kind of world. Which kind?

According to Sri Aurobindo (and the Indian spiritual tradition at large), ultimate reality — I call it UR, which also suggests the sense of the German prefix “ur” — relates to the world (i) as the substance that constitutes it, (ii) as a consciousness that contains it, and (iii) as an infinite joy that expresses and experiences itself in it.

The reason this is not obvious is that, in this particular world of ours, UR is “playing Houdini.” Evolution is in a certain respect the inverse of an antecedent involution. The original creative process begins with this infinite joy, which develops expressive ideas, which command a formative force, which shapes revealing forms. The last — the formative force (prana or life) — is the first to evolve. The ideative faculty (manas or mind) is next. What is yet to evolve, according to Sri Aurobindo, is the power of infinite joy to cast itself into expressive forms and to experience itself in all forms (vijnana or supermind).

So I asked myself, what are the preconditions of an evolutionary manifestation of UR? I arrived at the answer that the well-established laws of physics — the so-called Standard Model plus General Relativity — are exactly what is needed to set the stage for the adventure of evolution. You may characterize my reasoning as anthropic, except that this word, deriving as it does from the Greek word for man, is extremely ill-chosen. According to Sri Aurobindo, “man is a transitional being; he is not final… Man’s greatness is not in what he is, but in what he makes possible.” The evolution of the supermind goes hand in hand with the emergence of a new species, which will differ more from the human species than this differs from any other organism.

Subsequently I realized that the well-established laws of physics can be deduced from a much weaker assumption — the weakest possible in fact: they are their own consistency conditions. Quantum mechanics, the fundamental theoretical framework of physics, presupposes measurements — though some people still resist the obvious — and I was able to show that the existence of measurements presupposes all of those laws, at least as effective theories (which is how physicists think of them anyway).

This is a humbling conclusion, for it means that those theories are essentially tautological — except for one thing: their validity is only guaranteed if I assume that things that have spatial extent are composed of things that lack spatial extent. This is the sole nontrivial input and the only real mystery: why are “ordinary things” — things that “occupy space” — made of things that don’t (such as quarks and leptons)?

The reason this is so is that the existence of an (apparent) multitude of formless things — which naturally lack spatial extent — is a direct consequence of the involution that has set the stage for the adventure of evolution. And why “apparent”? Because the relations between the “many” are actually self-relations — relations between UR and UR.

Now if I haven’t completely befuddled you, there’s more where this came from.

Tusar N. Mohapatra

Director, Savitri Era Learning Forum
SRA-102-C, Shipra Riviera, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad - 201014 (UP) India + 91 96500-65636
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SELF posits a model of counselling and communicative action as an instrument in order to stimulate the public sphere. The model aims at supplementing the individual’s struggle for a successful social adjustment with more aspirational inputs so as to help one take an informed and balanced attitude towards life as well as society.
Savitri Era of those who adore,
Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

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