‘The Secret Face That Is Our Own’: Nolinida’s Body of Literature Rick Lipschutz Nolini Kanta Gupta was not only the foremost disciple of Sri Aurobindo, but a prolific writer and exponent of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga in his own right. Rick Lipschutz delves into his works...
Ablade of a question, shot back to a question, shows the esteem Sri Aurobindo held for his spirit-born son. “If Nolini does not know my yoga, who does?” “Nolini’s writing is direct and powerful,” he wrote in a letter to his brother Barin. As war rowned Europe in that sea of madness, the Master calmly observed, “I always see the Light descending into Nolini.” From Tagore, on whose travels into infinity Nolinida shed much light, we learn, “Nolini Kanta Gupta’s contribution to the literature of Bengal is unique.”
The young revolutionary who “in blood drawn from his chest” wrote out a vow to give his life in service to the Motherland, evolved into the yogin whose revolution in consciousness rendered his whole life pure Shakti-movement. He authored more than 60 books, and his Collected Works available from SABDA run to eight volumes that grace the reader with inner inspiration, Brahmic silence applied to this new human hour, even concrete help in sadhana. This essay proposes to focus on his writings as a whole—search-rays into our human condition and its successor, literary criticism, poetry, mysticism, sociopolitical essays, philosophy, science, Vedic and Upanishadic interpretation, penetrations into the essence of the Indian spirit, talks to the Mother’s children, luminous personal reminiscences. His body of literature, like his life, is, as V. Madhusudan Reddy declared, “a model of psychic individuality and unique self-expression.”
A deep sonorous voice arises from Nolinida: “Do not say the load is too heavy for me, say rather, I have not yet learnt how to bear it.” “It does not prove anything that I cannot become a Kalidasa; for that matter Kalidasa cannot become what I am.” “The greatness of a person is the greatness of the Impersonal in him.” “We need at the present hour a complete and precise science of the Divine Consciousness.” “A solitary second can be the spark potent to explode a whole past.” “The Day will come towards which the whole creation has been aspiring from the beginning of time, it will come inevitably in due course, it may be today or tomorrow, it may be a decade hence, or it may even be a century or a millennium hence; it will come all the same.”
Imprisoned in Alipore Jail long ago, he came upon a passage of Sri Aurobindo’s that he found “absolutely unadorned and still most effective! The movement is that of an arrow, strong and firm and straight.” The “grand style simple” was in fact his own. Nolinida painted in few but vivid brushstrokes, a fine verbal artist, avoiding excess, true to essentials. Language all but transparent married music to meaning and stamped it throughout with clarities of vision. “A certain kingly ease and dominion in every shade of his expression” breathes through his writings, like a spiritual breeze. A natural formality is tempered and softened with use of phrases of the day. He wears lightly the mantle of erudition. In later volumes, he becomes more and more a ray of the Mother’s consciousness.
His “Reminiscences” is shot through with humor and color, more personal touches. The style, like the man, is unobtrusive; he hides his art. In the future more will come to appreciate the incredible intricacy interwoven with that classically simple surface. We discover in K.R.S. Iyengar’s On the Mother that Mother once assigned Nolinida to the line of sadhaks in whom Light was the dominant aspect. In the early 1930s, when she asked several sadhaks to describe the goal of their sadhana, Nolini wrote two words: “Divinising life.” Mother led the Ashramites in games where they concentrated, then chose passages from books; significantly, Nolinida struck upon the Kutsa Angirasa suktas from Hymns to the Mystic Fire. Sri Aurobindo’s rendering runs: “This is the fire of our sacrifice! May we have strength to kindle it to its height, may it perfect our thoughts. In this all that we give must be thrown that it may become a food for the gods; this shall bring to us the godheads of the infinite consciousness who are our desire.” If this is true for a true sadhak, then Nolinida was truly a sadhak among sadhaks.
For he cast into purest fire everything he had and was, and so fueled his sadhana. This fire carried him to the heights of consciousness, made his mind a precious instrument, brought into him the powers and personalities of the Divine Mother. Restored to the Mother’s consciousness, his soul then served only to make her felt among the people, by all means, and with “well-connected words.” He did not learn of Sri Aurobindo or about the Mother; he knew them by becoming them. Finding his greater individuality in their light, this most reticent of sadhaks released his creativity in an unending stream. “His is the pure mind,” observed Sri Aurobindo of Nolini; and as Kapali Sastriar shows in his commentaries on the Kutsa hymns near the end of the Siddhanjana, the human being with such an inner instrument becomes “a meeting ground of the Gods.”
In “Man and the Gods,” Nolinida subtly suggests that the suppler human virtues surpass in some essential quality the powers of the universal spirits. The gods are “powers…agents of the One Divine…highbrow entities [who] carry things with a high hand…an imperial majesty…a sweeping mastery and sovereign indifference.” The human, however, has progressed slowly, developing through effort and much error. “The terrestrial creature… knows of things which the gods do not…has an experience which even they, strange to say, covet.” For a god is a “fixed and definite type”—bound by his godhood; but the human embodies all modes of consciousness, growing and changing. We, human, fail more than we succeed, gaining a fire-tested endurance. Forbearance and forgiveness are “the badge of the tribe.” And the gods? They tend toward impatience, a brittle perfectionism, brook no quarter, are in fact egoistic! Theirs is a sattvic egoism, replete with a sense of separate mission, rigid in its own orbit, lacking “the mellowness…understanding…sweet reasonableness of a human.” For our human ego is blocked at every turn, and our “mind…has something to give which even the overmind of the gods does not possess and needs.”
Our very failings “contain and yield a deeper sap of life and out of them a richer fulfillment is being elaborated.” For “the divine grace embedded in matter”—the psychic being—“is the sole privilege of the terrestrial creature.” To progress requires a psychic being; to advance, therefore, a god must take on a human body, which though rigid is more flexible than it seems and can “suffer a seachange… not within the reach of the radiant body of an immortal.” The essay ends on a grace note of synthesis, a luminous suggestion. There is an evolutionary gap but no essential gulf between the human and the divine. The human mode of being holds within it its successor, and, in the new creation, even the gods shall change.
“The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo,” Volumes Three and Four of Nolini Kanta Gupta’s Collected Works, received its name from Sri Aurobindo himself. These volumes—clear short comprehensible essays—provide this revolutionary yoga a lucid presentation creative yet faithful to the original. An exception in its relative length, “Lines of the Descent of Consciousness” is an enduring contribution to a clearer understanding of Integral Yoga. The theme could not be broader, yet closer to the heart of the curious human: “Let us see how it all came about.”
Truly, as Sri Aurobindo writes in a perhaps related context, “All the Aspects disclose themselves, separate, combine, fuse, are unified together.” Consciousness, according to Nolinida, extends five distinct lines of descent. First comes that of Sachchidananda, supreme impersonal reality—the delightful conscious existence now masked behind all this grave and sorrowful stupidity. All the lines, the author weaves and disentangles. Read “Lines of the Descent of Consciousness” and much of The Life Divine may come into clearer focus. The essay itself is a descent of masterconsciousness that “unravels the mystery.” I continue to learn much from his exposition of how the psychic being will “come into its own precisely by a descent of its own self from above, in the same manner as the other descents” and how it will unite with the Jivatman. There is much material here presented in a novel manner with many strands teased together. We see here Nolini-as-scientist of the divine consciousness, differentiating the high gods from the highest gods, the upper from the lower poles of the Overmind (where the One becomes “like a silent partner”).
One can observe how the personal works together with the impersonal and the Divine with the human in a tour through all the worlds with this most reliable and charming of guides. With an authenticity that can come only from experience he writes of the psychic being in many passages sprinkled throughout his work; how all one’s limbs can become a psychic movement. One can feel the psychic firmly in front in his writings; even as he scales the high overhead planes the soul is most prominent, that eternal sweetness of divine presence, firm and solid and profound. He shows us how, in Mother’s words, to “become concretely what we are essentially.” In “The Mounting Fire” and “The Labours of the Gods” and other essays, we meet Nolini-as-technologist of self-transcendence. He tells us much that we may wish to know about the “science of inwardness.” Nolinida’s book “The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo” received its name from Sri Aurobindo himself. One can feel the psychic firmly in front in his writings; even as he scales the high overhead planes the soul is most prominent, that eternal sweetness of divine presence, firm and solid and profound.
Nolinida was also an accomplished sportsman. He sprinted into his eighties, and his “My Athletics” veers from reminiscences on to the very essence behind exercise. If this is not to be another lopsided yoga, athletics comes to play an integral part in our spiritual training. Our frailty must become strength to embrace the divine light descending. “If the consciousness is of the right sort, the new force can descend even from supraphysical worlds and give to the movements of the body a supreme beauty and strength.” All the parts of the being then participate in a more conscious exercise and the fire, light, and force can be grounded, harmonized, wonderfully contained. Here sublimity becomes practical and the practical is made sublime. His athletics is our challenge.
Nolinida is one whose psychic opening and transformation was allowed to proceed in the psychic way, who has shown a unique ability to express the higher consciousness in writing that is, indeed, direct and powerful. In his life and his writings he represents “at every moment, in all circumstances, one [who] follows the voice of the highest in oneself…and no inferior echo.” He had a long “happy collaboration” with the Mother, the Divine Consciousness—her own son Andre and others have described how they felt her in Nolinida; their “head was ringing for hours” after merely talking with him; they found a lifelong friend who continues after his passing at age 95 in 1984 to be present to them; or they actually saw a vision of the New Creation. On our human condition, our maladies, the driving force of our times, his gaze is unflinching, his thought balanced, his point of view global yet close to the “tears of things.”
His poetry in “To the Heights” is a rhythmic record of his sadhana in the 1930s. Volumes Three and Four, “The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo,” will only gain in importance with time as an original exposition of Integral Yoga rendering its aspects more comprehensible for the human consciousness, providing a much-needed bridge to Sri Aurobindo’s own writings. Perhaps equal to his third volume is Volume One, “The Coming Race and Other Essays,” which climbs the highest ranges of spiritual literature and at times manifests an intense mantric vision. His writings on India are universal and speak from an identification with her very soul and mission. His later writings provide diamond-like windows of the Mother’s Consciousness and an opening to the Yoga-Force. “Reminiscences,” his personal memoir is of much interest, a gleaming jewel of the genre. His writing on the Vedas and Upanishads (translations, commentary, tales) contain ancient Indian spiritual knowledge essential to more fully appreciate Sri Aurobindo’s writings and work.
Sri Nolini Kanta Gupta has given us all a subtle body of literature bound to widely extend into the frontal consciousness. What he said of Vivekananda’s words (which woke his courage up in Alipore) is true of his own: “These are luminous life-giving mantras and the world and humanity…have need of them.” One-volume editions include Lights from Nolini Kanta Gupta (highlights taken from individual essays) and Evolution and the Earthly Destiny (selected essays). Education and Initiation, translated from the Bengali, more timely than ever, has now been released. His eight-volume Collected Works continue to grow in relevance and merit more detailed scholarly study. Surprisingly, the eight volumes are as affordable as they are full of delights and unexpected turns. Or one may prefer to read his translation of Savitri into Bengali. The shining Arjuna of spiritual aspirants has left us a portion of the new creation, full of the force of yoga and packed with the light of Sri Aurobindo.
— Rick Lipschutz discovered the Integral Yoga after exploring other paths and has been a devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother since 1997. A member of the Cultural Integral Fellowship who attends retreats at Sri Aurobindo Sadhana Peetham in Lodi, he lives with his wife and son in San Francisco, USA. Rick Lipschutz