Collaboration - Journal of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
Summer 1995, Vol. 21, No. 1
CHRONICLES AND RECOLLECTIONS The story of Matagiri: Part 1
by Sam Spanier [Sam gave this talk at the July 1994 All USA Meeting (AUM) in Phoenecia, New York, a short dis tance from Matagiri. Eric Hughes graciously transcribed the tape.]
In 1960 Eric and I went to the apartment of Eleanor Montgomery [who had a Sri Aurobindo center in New York City] for the evening. Part of the evening was a tape, and it was the first time I ever heard the Mother's voice; I was taken in an incredible way. First of all, I said, "My God, I know that voice very well," and I couldn't understand how. I was determined from then on to go and see this woman. Two years later, I had the opportunity.
I went to the Ashram in 1962. By the way, the Mother at that time was well. She was in good form, she was strong. On her birthday she was out in the street. She went to the playground, there were all kinds of affairs. She was not, as she later became, fragile, and staying in her rooms.
Anyway, in those days there was a little box. If you wanted to see the Mother, you wrote a note and it was put in the box; then you would receive a response. I wrote, "Dear Mother, I would like very much to have the opportunity to see you if possible." She wrote back and said, "Yes, you may come at 10:00 in the morning."
The first person I met at the Ashram when I got there was Chinmoy--some of you may know him now as Sri Chinmoy. Well, Sri Chinmoy was at that time a disciple, he was actually working for a number of the secretaries in the Ashram. The first day I arrived, I wasn't sure how to get to the Ashram. I stopped this man who was Sri Chinmoy, this boy, and said, "Can you show me the Ashram?" He said, "Oh, yes--" . . . he decided that we should come to know each other, and we became friends. (One of the reasons we had a good meeting was because of our mutual love of Ramakrishna. I had known of Ramakrishna for many years before I became drawn to Sri Aurobindo, and Sri Chinmoy also had that.)
The reason I tell you this little part of the story is that when Mother gave me the permission to come and meet her, Sri Chinmoy heard about it. The Ashram was small then, there were only something like 12 or 13 Westerners there. Chinmoy came to me and said, "I have to bring the flowers. I want to pick them for you. They have to be fresh, just as if you had picked them at that very minute." I said, "Fine, you bring the flowers."
In the Ashram I always wore Indian clothes, a dhoti (you know the way Indian men wear their clothing there). Just as I came in to go up to Mother, Chinmoy was there. He had this bowl, a bunch of flowers; I took them and started up the steps. I was thinking, "What will I do there?" I was concerned, because I had never been in front of somebody of the stature that she was. Here was this simple Jewish Brooklyn boy who was going to this saint or this great wise woman, and I'd heard so many things about her and what she was going to be like.
I went in and Mother was seated in a chair that had two arms. She was up on a little dais, a little pedestal place, sitting like this. First of all, Champaklal took the flowers, and put them down. I came in and immediately sat at her feet. I didn't think to sit there, I just did.
I looked up and Mother looked at me--some of you have had the privilege of this, she was sitting like that--I looked up and I felt like an absolute infant in my mother's arms. It was the most incredible feeling. It was the feeling that we all wish to feel and have sometimes felt. The feeling of total completeness, nothing needed, everything given, completely, completely with love. It was an incredible . . . so there I was seated, and the first thing I did, I put my arms around her legs and took her like that. And Mother just let me be there like that. She didn't move, she didn't do anything. I don't know how long I was holding her legs. My head was right here, my arms around her legs.
At one point I relinquished the legs and came back. She looked at me and said (I'm going to speak the way I think I heard her): "Oh, I know your atmosphere for a very long time." I looked up and--you know, I heard this, and I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but I know it was something wonder ful because she said she had known me for a very long time.
Then I grabbed her finger--mothers will know this better than fathers--you know when a baby is lying in a crib and you put your finger in and the baby gets--like that. That's what I did. I grabbed her finger (she wore a ring on that finger), and I wouldn't let go. Mother was doing everything, you know, moving around. . . . [portion missing] hanging on to her. It was really very sweet and very special.
Then Mother said to me, "What do you do?" I said, "Mother, I'm a painter." She said, "Oh," and with her arms, she said, "Oh, all the more reason for us to come closer together." Because, if you don't know, Mother was a painter. So this was a great sweetness and loveliness on her part to say a thing like that.
She said, "What do you paint?" I said, "I paint heads, Mother." "Ah," she said, "I said to Champaklal, 'When I see that man every morning at the balcony, he has all these heads around him.' Now I know why I see all those heads around you." I looked at her and was amazed, because it meant in some way she had even recognized me there--there were hundreds of people that came every morning.
So that was that. Then she went a little bit back into her seat and said to me, "Do you like to travel?" I said, "Oh, yes, Mother"--those of you who know me know that I love to travel. She said, "Ah! Have you ever been to Japan?" I said, "No, Mother." Of course, two years later, I was in Japan.
Then she said to me, "Would you like to meditate with me?" Mother didn't often meditate with people. So I said--I was in delight, you know, in this remarkable place of happiness-- I said, "Any thing you wish, Mother." And I began to sit into a yogic position. She said, "No! You sit natural but remain passive." With that kind of tremendous power, you know. "Passive!" So I remained natural and became passive.
I closed my eyes and began to meditate. I felt myself moving, moving, moving, and beginning to leave this body. I felt myself going up out of this body, way, way up. And at a particular point I stopped, or it stopped, and I experienced something which cannot be put into words. How long that experience lasted I really don't know.
But at a certain point, like an elevator, I felt myself coming down, down, down, I could feel myself come back into this form and back into the body. And when I was in the body again, the thought in my mind was, "Did she come down too?" I opened my eyes to see if she'd come down too, and she was peering--she had bent over and she was going like this, and her eyes, you know (all of us know that her eyes were quite amazing)--her eyes were very wide and she had this wonderful smile, and there was something remarkable. She said to me, "You can be a link between East and West." I thought, "Oh, my God!" That was an amazing thing to hear from this very amazing person.
Champaklal had come in to usher me out; he didn't want me to be there any longer, I had been there long enough. Mother went like that [gesture], and I sat there for a long while. Later I found out it was a great privilege to have been allowed to stay longer than usual.
Anyway, when I had first come to the Ashram, I was extremely happy there. Everyone was kind and loving and generous and welcoming. I loved India. I felt as if I had known it all my life. So I thought, well, I might as well live here for the rest of my life. There's no reason to go back. I even began to look around to see if I could buy a place, and there was a place, right on the water, which I understand now is a gasoline station.
So I had come in to meet with her with a thought in my head asking, "Mother could I please remain here for the rest of my life?" And before the thought came out of my head, she said to me, again pointing, "It is not necessary for you to remain here for the rest of your life." I was absolutely startled, because it was real telepathy--of course, I shouldn't have been startled because she was an amazing being. Then she said, "But don't think of leaving at the moment"--you see, it was not to make me feel as if she didn't want me. I wasn't rejected.
There were a few other things which are very private which I will not tell you. . . . She looked at me again just before the meeting was over--she turned, and she had flowers. She handed me a giant white rose and a giant red rose. So I had the white and the red rose in my hand, and I went down in this incredible state, a state of great joy and happiness. And there, of course, was Chinmoy, waiting to hear what had happened. I really didn't want to speak at that moment, because it was so precious and so beautiful . . . I handed Chinmoy the white rose (I had a feeling to do that very much) and I took the red rose.
I went through where the samadhi is and went out. I lived at that time across the park in Castellini [an Ashram guest house]. I was walking with this red rose in this remarkable state, and suddenly I had this strange feeling: "I don't feel I'm on the ground." I looked down and my both feet went pop! like that, and I can tell you, which may sound strange, there was a sense of being above the ground. Now, you know, I couldn't prove it, and I don't have to, but I never told anybody that. I thought they would think I was mad, so I didn't say anything. I went back to my rooms and stayed there all day. Now, a part of the reason that we're here is because I'm supposed to tell you how Matagiri came into existence.
Two weeks after that, Maggi Lidchi, whom some of you may know (she lived in the Ashram for many years, and was a dear friend of mine even before I came to Pondicherry; I had met her here in America)--Maggi had invited me for dinner one night. She had a little courtyard in a little tiny house. I was seated in the courtyard waiting for the dinner to be finished, and she was in the kitchen area. I was sitting there very casually. All of a sudden, in front of me, was a slide projection going on! One slide, another slide, another slide. And all the slides had to do with what you now know as Matagiri. The pictures were there as if it had been taken--mind you, this was years before it ever came into existence--and so when this happened, there was also with the viewing a certain knowledge that seemed to be given to me to know what this was about. But it put me in a state of wonder.
When Maggi came out, she said, "What's the matter?" I said, "Maggi, you'll never believe it. I just had a slide presentation of a center that I'm supposed to bring into existence. I know everything that's going to happen." She looked at me and said, "Wait." She came out with a piece of paper. "Write it all down," she said, "because tomorrow it's going to be a fantasy. If it's true, Mother will give her blessings. I'll take it up to Mother, and she'll give her blessings." [At that time, Maggi Lidchi was one of Mother's secretaries.] So I wrote down all that I could possibly remember of everything that was seen. It was sent up to Mother. Mother gave her blessings.
Now I should tell you that I believe Mother gave her blessings to everything. I never ever heard of anything that Mother didn't give her blessings to, unless it was something that might have been unusually strange. But, "I want to open a bakery"--"I give my blessings"; "I want to go here"--"I give my blessings." Anything. But what I realized quite a number of years later, actually, was that the presentation I saw was put into me by the Mother in the personal viewing that I'd had with her when she asked me to join her in meditation. An experiential thing occurred that I can't describe but I felt, which was putting it all in there, and two weeks later it came out. That's what I truly believe occurred.
Anyway, I went home to America, and there was already a small center started by Eric and myself. I came back and told Eric this story. I said, "Now I know what I have to do. I have to start this, this is what has to be done." That's all I knew, but what I said then was, "I don't know where, I don't know how."
Some of you may know me well enough that although I've always felt I had great faith, I never did anything but argue with God. I constantly am expecting proof of the Divine. So I said, "Well, if the Divine wants me to do that, let the Divine show me how."
I waited patiently. One year went by, nothing happened. A second year went by, nothing happened. I became a little impatient, so I thought, I'll go back and see that woman. So I went back to the Ashram in '64. Unfortunately, if you know the history, you know that at the end of '62, Mother became what is known as "not well." The doctors had one opinion, and she had another; if you read the Agenda, you know what she thought. In any case, she was no longer to be seen as often. She no longer came down on the balcony. (In '62 I'd had the privilege of seeing her every morning from 6:15 to 6:30. We could all stand below her balcony and she would come out; this is where she had seen the heads around my head.)
In any case, I went back in '64, and having heard that she had not really been well, I felt I could not take her time. She had too many precious things to do, and I didn't feel it was right of me.
Some of you may know Ann Harrison--she was a dear friend, the woman who actually introduced me to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She was at the Ashram. She said, "Samie, you are a child of the Mother. The Mother is here for her children. You can go and see her, she will want to see you." So I wrote Mother a note and said, "Mother dearest, if you will allow me, I would like to be able to see you." She wrote back, "Yes, you may come, but it will be a silent meeting." I didn't object to that at all. I thought it was a great privilege to be in her presence, silent or otherwise.
I went in to see her, and Mother was very fragile from the two-year period. I mean, she was very much there, but fragile. I did not sit on the floor, I sat on a kind of low seat. I was looking at Mother, she was looking at me, and I heard her telepathically say, "Now that you are here, if you wish, you may ask me a question." I looked up at her, because I really heard it in my head, and I said, "Mother, I am so grateful to be here. I have nothing to ask of you." And when I finished my statement, which was inside, she smiled, and she gave me that incredible smile again. That was 1964.
In the middle of 1964, Mother began to speak to me inwardly. If you have that experience, you know what it is. If you don't, you'll just have to trust that it can happen. Mother said to me in '65, "You can go buy the property." I said, "But where, Mother? How, Mother?" She directed me, she told me to come up to this area. And I did. I came to this area and looked. I had no money. I had no idea how to buy any property. But since she had decided this was to be, I knew it was to be.
I went out--without sounding foolish, I said to real estate agents, "I'm looking for a very large property, but it can't be more than $10,000." Now, of course, in '65 that was not as unreasonable as it would be today. But it still was incredibly little. So they showed me $40,000 places, $50,000, and we went through the whole . . . finally after two months of looking, I said, "I'm disgusted, why don't you show me the property, Mother? You haven't shown me the property. I'm going home." I said it just like that. No answer, of course, but that's what I said.
The last day I was to remain there, I was coming home from the grocery shop. A man in a car stopped me and said, "Can I give you a lift home?" because I had heavy bags. I said, "That's very kind of you," and got in. He said, "What are you doing in Woodstock?" "Well, I've been looking for property, but it's absolutely impossible." "Oh? I'm a real estate agent. Would you like to go with me tomorrow?" I told him, "But I'm leaving." He said, "Why don't you try?" So I said OK, and he took me again to a million places. Nothing available.
As we were driving home, he said, "Oh, something came in this morning. I haven't seen it myself. It's very large and it would be interesting. Would you like to see it? It's not in town." I said, "All right, why not?" We came to the entrance to Matagiri, which in those days had many more trees. (I'm sad to say a lot of them had to go.) We drove one car length in, not more, and Mother said, "This is it. Tell him you'll take it." So I--it's absolutely true--I turned to the man and I said, "This is it. I'll take it." He turned to me and said, "But Mr. Spanier, you haven't even seen it." I realized he thought I was--you know. I said, "No, I'll take it." "Let me show you the house." "All right, I'll see the house."
So we drove up and there was the little house, which you all may know. It's a little changed now. The house was very sweet. I went in, and I must say the atmosphere inside that place was so pure, it was so lovely, it had such a purity, it was incredible. And to my great delight, I was told that the owner, who had died at the age of 96, had left it. I always like when people live very long lives, and he had lived a long life, a happy life. Everything that he owned was in the house. He had many religious and spiritual books on the shelves, and I found that very good. I found it very touching.
And so I said to the man--I'm telling you secrets about prices, but I'll tell you anyway. I said to the man, "How much do they want?" By the way, it was 50 acres. He said, "Twenty-two thousand dollars." "Ah," I said, "twenty-two thousand. I told you I can't afford more than ten. Twenty-two thousand! Well, I've been seeing a lot of houses, and I've learned a little. I can give you a bid, can't I?" He said, "Yes. Do it." So I said, "Tell him I'll give him thirteen thousand."
He called the son, who was about seventyish, of the old man, he was in his 70s. About a week later I was informed that the son said yes, I could have it for fifteen-five. So that was really quite amazing. But I always have things in my head about numbers, so the five hundred for some reason I wanted to cut off. Not because I thought it was too much, but I liked the idea of just fifteen. There was some thing sweet about it. So I said to the agent, I said, "Can I have it for fifteen?" He said, "Mr. Spanier, this is so remarkable. Take it. He's going to think you're one of these hippies. Don't do that." So I accepted. And so that's the way we then . . . [end of first side of tape]
[The first portion of the second side of the tape was not recorded. Sam was talking about another episode, before the purchase of the property, when he was with another real estate agent, a woman.]
The real estate agent and I were seated in the car. She was driving, and someone hit us from behind. When they hit us, my arm went into the front of the car. She said, "Did you hurt yourself?" "Well, a little, not too bad." "Oh, no, no. I want to take you to the doctor." "I don't need a doctor." She said, "Oh, yes"--she was afraid that I was, you know--so she took me to the doctor.
He said, "What's the matter?" I said, "Nothing, except I have a little numbness in these two fingers." He said, "It doesn't seem like anything, but I must tell you, sometimes nerves can get damaged and you might have trouble," you know, blah, blah, blah. Well, I forgot about that.
A week later I heard a knock at the door, and there was an insurance man. He said to me, "We're representing the man who hit you from behind, and if you sign this little thing for me, I'll give you $75 for your problem." I said, "Why will you do that?" Because it didn't dawn on me that I . . . he said, "Well, I don't want you to feel that we're not considering you." I said, "Did you think I was going to sue you?" Because that was the first time the idea even entered my head. He said, "Well, that happens." I said, "Well, now, let me think about it." Because I hadn't thought about it.
Then all of a sudden, Mother's voice again came. She said, "Tell him you will sign it for $400." So I turned and I said, "I'll sign it for $400." He looked at me and said, "Mr. Spanier, I've been in this business for 30 years. You didn't lose a finger, you didn't lose a toe. Never, we'll never . . ." So she said, "Tell him if he goes to the people and tries, they will give him the $400." So I turned to him--he didn't know this was going on and I didn't act foolish--and said, "I'm almost sure, positive, if you go to the people, they'll give you the $400." He said, "All right, I'll try. But it's--I'll tell you, it's not going to . . ." A week later he came back with a $400 check. He gave it to me and I signed the papers.
Now the reason for telling this little silly story is this: John Kelly, whom some of you may know (I hope some of you knew John Kelly; he died in India a few years ago, a very wonderful and dear friend)--John Kelly and I went together to do the closing of the property. And as I told you, we had so little money. In fact, the money that paid for the down payment was begged from my own mother, because I didn't have the money to put it down. She loaned me $3,000--she's still alive. Mommie, you hear me? When I said that I wanted to buy the property, she said, "Where is it?" I told her. She said, "In the wilderness you're going to live? Never will my son live in the wilderness like that." She thought anything that was out of New York City was a wilderness. Anyway, she loaned me a small sum of money.
But the point is that when we got to the closing, just at the very end, the man said, "We're very sorry, but you realize you have a $400 property tax to pay." I said, "Oh, that's the reason for the whole experience!" That $400 was all arranged so we'd have it to pay the tax. Now, one can believe that or not, but I know it absolutely was the case. It was really quite remarkable. So that's how Matagiri started.
Sam Spanier is an artist living at Matagiri near Woodstock, New York. He recently opened his own gallery.