Arun Vaidya

As a teenager seeking to comprehend the meaning of life and workings of the cosmos, I was faced with a daunting challenge. More I understood, greater I realised the inadequacy of my knowledge acquired through successive steps of collection of data, data’s conversion with context to information and information’s transformation into knowledge with analysis and synthesis. I did not fathom the root-cause of my dissatisfaction but did recognise that something fundamental was missing. The natural conclusion I made was that I was inadequately informed and lacking sufficient knowledge. I was also perceiving that my intelligence was not up to par for the task of unified understanding of life and the cosmos. Therefore, I did what any logical, sensible, and rational student of human existence would do: Sought more data, obtained more information, and strived for more knowledge. To my utter frustration, I felt like a man with firmly planted feet on the sinking-sand. Deep within my being, there was an echoing cry, in the words of saint Kabir (in my mother tongue, Gujarati): “Gurubina kaun batave vat?”  — Without a guru who will show me the path? In those earlier days, I had not come across the Chinese proverbial wisdom: “When a student is ready, the teacher will come along.” However, I knew of Shree Ramkrishna in his formative years of devotional sadhana of the Mother Kali when out of no-where Bhairavi and Totapuri Aghorinath came along in his life. They steered him further in the pursuit of spiritual sadhana, which culminated into Sri Ramkrishna’s attainment of Nirvakapla-Samadhi in which the object and subject become duality of expression of the unified reality. Subsequently, Sri Ramkrishna on his own progressed spiritually and became the Paramhansa-the Supreme Soul to fulfill his destined role on earth to actualize the inherent truth of various religions through the process of knowledge by identity and synthesize them as an integral part of the Universal Truth. Yes, I had known of all such facts and used to feel, how fortunate for the God-incarnate Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa to find a guru as he needed!

It was a period in my life, when I wanted to understand the Lord Krishna’s Bhagavat Gita. I attempted to do so with the help of works of well-known personalities of India, such as Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Kakasahib Kalelkar, Lokmanya Tilak, Jnandev, and Radhakrishnan. The constancy of my experience was the lack of satisfaction to my queering mind. More I tried, higher was my frustration as the discourses of those luminaries did not complement each other, occasionally they even differ in their interpretations and more so about the emphasis they imparted about the value-system and guiding principles. I found the message of Jnandev beyond my keen and the old Marathi language posed a daunting challenge to my feeble mind to decipher, interpret, understand and assimilate. Oh, there are so many limitations to my mind—almost limitless! I felt, I was living through the experience of a blind ignorant man touching a part of an elephant and claiming that to the whole elephant. I knew at least that I had not seized the whole elephant-the whole Truth. I merely had a perception of it. In those days of my despondency and despair, I thought of Sri Aurobindo as my parents are followers of his teachings. I tried to read Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on Gita, and vole-all my confusion disappeared like a morning mist with the sunrise. All of a sudden, “everything” became so simple to understand as “it all” made sense–perfect sense! I could feel deep within me the essence of Lord Krishna’s teaching:

• Abandon all laws of conduct and with discrimination to seek refuge in Him alone.
• Become His-minded, devoted to Him and to Him make offerings with adoration.
• Renounce personal ambitions and strive towards perfection. Seek progress over success. Consider my individual work as an offering to Him. Change from a doer of a deed to a worker of Him.
• Renounce not only the desire of the fruit, but also the claim to be the doer of His works.
• Recognise the Supreme as the governing force of Prakriti, the Nature-Soul.
• Realise the Supreme through Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga and Jnanayoga– work, devotion and knowledge, which are not mutually exclusive or hierarchical in their significance.

The quest of finding the meaning in work of daily-life and discovering the purpose of life did not, after all, seem totally a hopeless endeavor! It was a sheer delight of discovering the golden key to explore and investigate the reason for my existence on this earth. Eureka–Enlightenment! Hopes, dreams, aspirations, prayers, work, and pursuit of knowledge all made sense in a harmonized interplay! Much of the “atlasic” burden of ignorance seemed to have lightened off my small shoulders! I was so relived to feel that at last there was a way to understand something of the things that I have been hankering for. And just then, the real “fun” began with the countless hurdles…:

• internalizing all that was understood,
• practicing what was mentally understood,
• learning to live with that truth within;
• facing the challenge of application of those internalized life-principles in daily life of an overachiever teenage earthling, who was preoccupied with the immediate task of studies, with a focus on career plan and life’s future milestones!

I needed something to relate with in my world and to help me navigate through the maize of life, which was not static to say the least. That is when I came across Nirod-da’s Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo. Thank god for that!

Nirod-da’s collected work, Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, Volumes I & II, was a joyous, riveting, illuminating and reassuring reading experience for me. While reading, I would wish that the book would never end. This collected work fascinated me and intrigued me. It aroused my interest and inquiry to understand Sri Aurobindo and his teaching. It brought me closer to the world where Essays on Gita was the reassuring first step of the journey, yet unknown. It brought me to the feet of the Lord. I found my guide!

It has been my hypothesis from my high-school days that every writer is living his ideals, pursuits, experience, discoveries and emotions of joy or pangs through his work. Expressing is reliving it. Writing is surfacing truth behind it. With this as my mind-set, I started to read his other books: Talks with Sri Aurobindo, Volumes I, II, III. I felt Nirod-da was a type of person, I could relate with. He represented my questions. He echoed my concerns. He argued my doubts. He sought my answers. He was unabashed, persistent, focused and above all was having so much fun with Sri Aurobindo! Gopies in Vrindavan were not the only people to enjoy Rasa-Lila. After all, who else would unabashedly convey (or command) to the Lord, “Stand up and deliver”? Who else would find the utterances of the supreme Guru on their face value ‘non-acceptable’ practice unless they passed the ‘muster’ of his personal ‘critical thinking’? Who else would insist on clarity on teachings of Integral Yoga to penetrate through the mumbo-jumbo of the intricacies of Yoga and seize the core of spirituality that is at once eternal in meaning and universal in its application and yet simple and straight forward to practice? Who else would not hesitate to tell the Avatar of the Supreme if the message received was perceived to be empyrean and required it to be brought down to the simple understanding for the ground level humans? Who else would draw out and down the reclusive and perceived Augustus Olympian Master to relate with our life in trenches? Who else would have the perseverance as boundless as the compassion and patience of the Lord to seek encouragement, enlightenment and clarity on the issues of a human mind, heart, and soul from the Guru of the Supermind? Who else could have been Nirod-da? In the ancient times, followers of Lord Vishnu were fortunate to have Narad Muni to help them relate with the Lord in a seemingly humanly approachable manner. In our time, we are fortunate that Nirod-da is among us for a similar benefit to us. Could it be a coincidence that Narad Muni was reputed to have a sense of humor and dealt with the Lord with levity?

Over the years, I came to know more of Nirod-da’s work and himself. He became my role model for practicing Bhaktiyoga along with Champaklal assigned in service of the Lord for twelve years when Sri Aurobindo fractured his thighbone. He became a shining and guiding star for me to learn to work with ceaseless dedication, utmost of care, unabated thoroughness, and singular devotion to pursue Karmayoga when he became Sri Aurobindo’s scribe for Savitri. He became a reference point for me to fathom the practice of self offering to divine’s will for transformation as he offered himself totally to Sri Aurobindo for self-transformation (could one call it metamorphism?) from a practicing physician of Ashram to an aspiring poet. He became my level-setter.

I thank Nirod-da for being himself. In fact, over a quarter of a century ago, one day I just went to him and said with my whole heart and every fiber of my being, “Thank you, Nirod-da!” He with his puzzled face and inquiring eyes looked at me for a moment and said, “What about?” I narrated to him what he meant to me in helping me to come to Sri Aurobindo. He simply smiled and softly murmured, “Oh, you crazy American friend!” Since I have been living in USA from 1969, he calls me, “My American friend”. I am of the humble opinion that I would not be alone in thanking Nirod-da for being himself and for his contribution in our enthusiasm in learning of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. I am sure; the multitude of people of all ages around the world sharing the similar feelings would join me in spirit in thanking Nirod-da. On behalf of all of them and as an unofficial representative of them may I offer our salutations, tributes and homage to You—Nirod-da-One and Only! I bow down to you Sir—Thank You forever being YOU!

It may be of some interest to some of you to know about a time-honored ancient Indian hierarchical tradition of respecting—parents, Guru, and God. If one were to be so fortunate to have all of them appear simultaneously, one would first bow down to the parents as they brought you to this world for which one must forever and foremost remain thankful. Next, one would bow down to the Guru because he led you to the God for which you can never thank him enough. The last one to receive the obeisance is the God in the trinity of body, mind and soul’s offerings. God does have a mysterious way of working –does not He?

Sri Aurobindo’s description of a truth-seeker’s pursuit puts in the perspective the daunting challenge he faces and the significance of a guidei:

Truth is an infinitely complex reality and he has the best chance of arriving nearest to it who most recognises but is not daunted by its infinite complexity. We must look at the whole thought-tangle, fact, emotion, idea, truth beyond idea, conclusion, contradiction, modification, ideal, practice, possibility, impossibility (which must be yet attempted,) and keeping the soul calm and the eye clear in this mighty flux and gurge of the world, seek everywhere for some word of harmony, not forgetting immediate in ultimate truth, nor ultimate in immediate, but giving each its due place and portion in the Infinite Purpose. Some minds, like Plato, like Vivekananda, feel more than others this mighty complexity and give voice to it. They pour out thought in torrents or in rich and majestic streams. They are not logically careful of consistency, they cannot build up any coherent, yet comprehensive systems, but they quicken men’s minds and liberate them from religious, philosophic and scientific dogma and tradition. They leave the world not surer, but freer than when they entered it.

MOTHER INDIA, JUNE 2001, PP. 464-467.