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All Life Is Yoga," Interview w. Georges Van Vrekhem
on Thu 15 Dec 2005 03:22 AM PST | Permanent Link
ALL LIFE IS YOGA, Interview w. Georges Van Vrekhem
Life Positive magazine
Georges Van Vrekhem is best known for his two seminal works on Sri
Aurobindo and the Mother. He spoke to Swati Chopra about life
as an Aurobindonian and the next step in man's spiritual evolution.
is quite a tongue twister, but the word 'Aurobindonian' crops up frequently
when Georges Van Vrekhem speaks. 'A true Aurobindonian', 'a real Aurobindonian',
'you don't have to be an Aurobindonian to evolve to Superman'… That's
what he sees himself as—an Aurobindonian. Not that this limits him
in any way. It seems to give him the perspective from which to view the
world, and his own self. It is also the basis of his work as a writer
and translator, his two original works being Beyond Man: The Life and
Work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and The Mother: The Story
of Her Life (both HarperCollins publications).
Vrekhem has spent the last 31 years of his life in India, the initial
eight years at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, and the rest in
Auroville, the Mother's experimental
township. He was in Delhi, India, recently to deliver lectures on 'The
Present Moment in the Global Evolution' and 'Overman: The Intermediary
between Man and Superman'.
are excerpts from an interview with Georges Van Vrekhem:
What attracted you to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
About 30 years ago, I came across a French book written by the Mother's
disciple, Satprem, called The Adventure of Consciousness. I opened
that book and read the first quotation by Sri Aurobindo: "Everything
that man wants he can become because the Divine is within him." Something
happened then. Strangely, I haven't been able to finish the book till
you came to India?
Oh no! Not then. At that time, I was a journalist, playwright, poet
and was also managing a professional theater company. But my spiritual
journey had begun.
seemed to be pushing me to go to Pondicherry. In a dream, I saw a stone
with the imprint of a salamander and I knew this to be in the Aurobindo
Ashram. The effect of this dream was so strong that even now, when I
am walking in the ashram, I inadvertently look around for this stone!
The salamander in the stone meant the transformation of matter, I suppose.
in 1964 when Eastern spirituality was not known at all in the West.
It took six years for me to finally make the decision. Being a poet,
I thought I could afford to be a little crazy. So I came to the Aurobindo
Ashram at Pondicherry.
you get to meet the Mother?
I was told that one could write to her and meet her. But I did not know
how to address her! You see, I did not want to write 'Mother' because
I felt that I already had a mother. I simply wrote: "Madam, I am
here." She wrote back inviting me to a 'silent meeting'.
The day came. I was asked to choose flowers. You see, the Mother had
given a particular meaning to every flower and I was being judged according
to the flowers I chose. And I failed in my examination! (laughs)
which flowers did you choose?
As I entered
her room, I saw the Mother sitting in a chair facing Sri Aurobindo's samadhi.
I remember seeing her thin arms resting on the armrests. I came forward…
and then I blanked out. The next thing I knew, she was smiling at me.
That incident left a strong enough impact to make me stay on at the ashram.
I was told that I had not chosen the flower symbolizing humility!
happened in the moments when you blanked out?
With hindsight, I think as I sat before her, something in me recognized
her. But my mind had blacked out.
were your subsequent meetings with the Mother like?
I saw her several times after that, and each time, I only realized afterwards
what had happened. I was never able to do so in that particular moment
time I met her was a few days before she withdrew into silence. As I
bent to touch her feet, I felt something preventing me from touching
them too roughly. Then her hand fell on my head.
all the meetings silent?
Once, she wished me on my birthday. The other time was when I had taken
a ring to her. You see, you took a ring to her and she would put it
on your finger. I, very naturally, extended the ring finger of my left
hand. She was surprised and said: "On that finger?" Afterwards,
she told her son, whom I knew rather well, that it symbolized "a
have been a poet and a playwright. What is the interface between your
creative spirit and your spiritual journey? Have the two fed each other?
Not really. If you live like a writer, you look at the world differently.
You look for the possibility of formulating things. Apart from writing,
I have been translating the works of Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Satprem
from English and French to Dutch. Basically, I didn't want to do anything
creative, because I had nothing to say! In Belgium, I belonged to the
Theater of the Absurd, of which, the known French playwrights Ionesco
and Beckett were a part. The problem there too was—what is there
actually to say?
has been the response to your books, Beyond Man and The Mother?
There have been some controversies but it's been generally positive.
I feel that if you are an Aurobindonian, you must be the most broad-minded
person possible. My books are published all around the world and have
been translated into various languages, including French, Spanish, Russian
and German. And where are they not available? In Auroville!
finds a lot of creative individuals being drawn to Sri Aurobindo. Why?
A book I would
like to write one day is The Fifth Philosopher—Darwin, Marx,
Nietzsche, Freud, and Sri Aurobindo as the fifth one. He is almost completely
unknown, which is good.
If you really study Sri Aurobindo's philosophy, you realize his profundity.
He gives you a foot to stand on and look at the world. If you have worked
out his philosophy, you can comprehend any topic under the sun.
Why is it good?
Because the time has come only now to bring his thinking into the world's
awareness. Whenever I am invited to give lectures, I say that I can either
tell you about the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo or about the practice of
it. About the philosophy, I explain the evolutionary aspect and say that
the Aurobindonian vision is the most broad-minded there is. But if I am
talking about the practice of Integral Yoga,
I say that you have to be a fanatic—totally focused—otherwise
it is pointless.
has your own spiritual journey progressed? Where are you today?
I am an absolute beginner. Some of my American friends say that Sri
Aurobindo died in 1950 and the Mother in 1973. Now we are in 2001. So
we must have progressed a lot. I tell them, you just take Sri Aurobindo's
Savitri or Life Divine and compare what you are with what
is written there. How can you talk of having progressed further than
I belong to the world. I have got what is necessary for my growth. I
find life immensely interesting, because I don't have to present myself
in a certain way. If I want to enjoy a bottle of good beer, I will do
so. I won't hide it just so you think I am a great yogi. I think my
attitude is somewhat like the Sufis,
who have a great sense of spiritual humor. And if you don't get that,
it means we are not on the same wavelength!
What is your understanding of life, and of the Self?
That's a good question! My understanding of life stems from Sri Aurobindo
and the Mother's belief that all life is yoga. Just by being alive,
you are doing yoga.
is the essence of Integral Yoga?
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have said that if you do yoga, you must
offer your whole being. Then only might something real happen. If meditation
has to happen, you will start meditating automatically. There are many
ways of becoming aware, which is meditation, and I try to do this all
the time. According to the Mother, the value of a person resides in
his capacity of being attentive.
living in interesting times. Both the West and the East have accomplished
something important. The West has recognized the importance of personal
freedom. As long as you remain an entity in a group, such as a joint
family or caste, you cannot realize your true potential. The West, because
it has overcome this to a large extent, is ripe for the journey within.
years, there has been a growing interest in the West towards Eastern spirituality.
But the Western worldview is still extremely Eurocentric. And they have
no idea of the multiple avatars, of the possibilities of life. You see
books like Karen Armstrong's A History of God. They always talk
the same language of Christianity and Judaism. Of the East, if they know
anything, it will be Buddhism.
Through my books, I want to expound the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the
Mother and arrive at a universal Sanatana Dharma.
What is the next step in human evolution?
According to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, evolution has to progress and
the new must appear. The problem is that human beings think they are the
end-station of evolution.
Aurobindo and the Mother have predicted 'Superman', a divine being.
However, the jump from our present level of being to the Superman is
so enormous that it would be rational to suppose that there will be
a transitional stage, 'Overman' according to Sri Aurobindo, in between.
The Mother said the consciousness of Overman manifested in 1969. This
is dealt with in my next book, Overman, to be published soon.
mental consciousness has helped us reach the present level of evolution,
Supramental Consciousness will help us evolve to Superman.
would distinguish Overman from us?
The Mother is clear that Overman would come from people like you and
me who have acquired a higher consciousness. And they need not be Aurobindonians,
evidence of Overman's existence?
Well, so many miracles have taken place. Sri Aurobindo had predicted
that the world will become one. He also predicted that India will be
independent, Asia will awake to her potential and Europe will unite.
All this has happened because of an accelerated pace of evolution.
general perception of the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
is that it is dense and obscure.
I would say that they are hardly understood. To understand them, you
have to be an intellectual who has read a lot, who is able to assimilate
and put everything together. Some of their books run into a thousand
it is not for the common man?
All great things are done by a handful of people at the initiation of
one. It is always the intellectuals who bring revolution. So maybe Sri
Aurobindo and the Mother's philosophy is meant to be worked out by people
has been your experience of living in Auroville?
I have been at Auroville since 1978. The Mother knew that Auroville
was a practical impossibility, a utopia when she started it. It was
a great thing to happen and it is still developing, as if aided by an
go there only if you get the call, and then you have to heed it, no
matter where you are. This yoga is a matter of destiny, unlike other
kinds of yoga, which depend on choice. The Mother has said: "If
you want an adventure, please come aboard."
was the mission of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother?
When a species
has reached its ceiling in evolutionary terms, it doesn't have the power
to move on to the next level by itself. At that point an avatar's intervention
is needed. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were a complete male-female avatar
to help in humankind's evolution to Superman.
They were avatars. If you believe in reincarnation, you know there are
human beings who are human for the first time, there are those who are
halfway on the scale of human evolution, and then there are beings who
have come to the end of the cycle. There are also those, like the Buddha,
who come back to help others.
—photographs by Martin Louis