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Religion: The Mother Departs

3 minute read

She was born in France 95 years ago, the daughter of a Parisian banker of Egyptian lineage. Dark-haired and beautiful, she might have grown up in that age of fin de siecle elegance to become one of those delicate butterflies that flutter through the paintings of Renoir. But even as a child Mira Alfassa had had mystical experiences, and the Paris salon she commanded was a circle of devotees of the occult. In 1914 she visited India with her second husband, French Diplomat and Writer Paul Richard. In the French colonial city of Pondichéry, Richard introduced her to the Indian visionary Sri Aurobindo, a former revolutionary turned mystic. She immediately became Aurobindo’s disciple. “His presence,” she wrote in her diary, “is enough to prove that… darkness shall be transformed into light.”

In 1920, the Richards returned to Pondichéry. Paul later went back to France, but Mira stayed. Aurobindo pronounced her “the Divine Mother,” his spiritual partner in leading mankind toward a new consciousness. When Aurobindo retired into near-hermitic seclusion in 1926, Mira took over the direction of his ashram—the community of devotees that had grown up around him in Pondichéry. Six years his junior, she continued propagating his doctrine that man was on the threshold of a new phase of evolution toward perfection.

To help men become “conscious collaborators” in their evolution, Aurobindo taught his own humanistic version of yoga. While traditional yoga disciples strive to free the spirit from the body’s domination, Aurobindo sought to transform earthly existence by bringing the divine down into it. Aurobindo’s vision of a “supramental” human consciousness has often been compared to Teilhard de Chardin’s hopes for an ever-increasing spiritualization of man and his world. “I saw them cross the twilight of an age,” Aurobindo wrote in his 24,000-line epic poem Savitri, “the sun-eyed children of a marvelous dawn.”

Aurobindo died at the age of 78 in 1950, but the Mother remained vigorous into her 90s. In recent years, she supervised the still-unfinished construction of a dream of her own: Auroville, a Utopian international community near Pondichéry that is planned for 50,000 residents. The Sri Aurobindo Society, which she founded in 1960 to coordinate the activities of the ashram and Auroville, now has centers in 23 countries, including eleven in the U.S.

Some members seemed to hope that the Mother had so infused herself with the divine that she had achieved the gift that Aurobindo predicted for the spiritualized beings of the future: bodily immortality. Even as Mira grew feeble during the past year, fervent followers argued that she was regenerating her aging cells. But Aurobindo had been prepared for her death. When his tomb was being built, he ordered an extra vault for Mira, next to his own. Last week the Mother finally joined him.

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