Author’s note: Based on some suggestions received, I have given names to all the 8 learner-participants and their mentor Di. Changes have also been made in the earlier posts of the series.
Y 1: Avi, Y 2: Binoy, Y 3: Colin, Y 4: Dia, Y 5: Eesh, Y 6: Falguni, Y 7: Gul, Y 8: Hari, Mentor Di: Mridula Di (M)
The group assembles again in the same garden, some sprawl down on the grass while a few others are walking around taking in the sights and smells of their surroundings.
Slowly they all begin to settle in when one of the members points them to a little table on the veranda holding up a jar full of assorted biscuits and a pitcher full of nimbu-pani. They all gather around the table, helping themselves to biscuits and beverage, chatting and laughing the way youngsters their age do.
Soon Mridula Di also joins them around the snack table, and the jovial atmosphere continues. After a few minutes, Di indicates that it is time to start with the session. The learners finish their snacks and begin to settle down on the mats and cushions spread in the garden.
As the activity of the last few minutes slowly dies down, the mentor Di invites everyone to join her in a small music-meditation. She walks over to the veranda, turns on the music player and returns to her seat.
The soothing meditative music creates a calm and peaceful vibration, the only sounds are the birds chirping or a slight coughing sound from one of the group members or the occasional car honking on the road beyond the garden wall. A palpable quietness pervades, and everything feels just right.
As the music slowly fades out, most of the participants linger in that quietness with their eyes closed for a few more minutes while some open their eyes to quietly look around. The feeling of a calm readiness continues. After a few moments Mridula Di opens her eyes and looks around, greeting everyone quietly with a gentle smile.
As the group slowly readies itself for the study session, Mridula Di notices that one student seemed to have a questioning look on her face.
M: Good evening, once again!
(A few collective voices return the greeting).
M: Before we begin, I think Dia may have something to ask, isn’t that so?
Dia: Well, I was just curious about the meditation today. I mean, what is the real reason we have this brief meditation or concentration at the beginning of our sessions? Is it just to calm us down or is there something else too?
Hari: Yeah, I would like to know more about this too.
Colin: Me too.
M: Well, then we should definitely talk about it. But perhaps not right away. Do you remember that last time we left the session at a point where I said I wanted to take a slight digression?
(A few voices and nods in agreement.)
M: I think it is best that we pick up from there. This question, which is a very important one, about why we have this opening concentration or meditation is something I would like to take up in our next session after you all have given some thought to this first. In the next day or so I would like you all to spend a few minutes thinking about this question and see what you come up with, and when we meet next time we will begin from there. Does that sound reasonable?
(A few voices in agreement).
M: Dia, does it sound okay to you?
M: Good, so it is settled then! We’ll take up this question next time. So let’s now go to the digression I mentioned last time.
(After a brief pause, she again begins.)
M: We were talking about the Indian view of man, as explained by Sri Aurobindo. And I read the sentence where he says: What is true of the man, is true also of the nation.” Remember?
(A few nods in agreement, some others look through their notebooks and study materials to find the reference.)
M: And that’s when I spoke of the digression.
You see, many times when modern readers, those schooled and educated in what is considered a modern system of education, minds which have been exposed to mostly the more contemporary or presently-popular usage of language and vocabulary, when such readers read works of great thinkers from the past, such as Sri Aurobindo, they are stuck at the usage of the word ‘man’.
Some are even offended and think that it is quite gender-insensitive – all this usage of ‘he’, ‘man’, ‘him’ etc – both to represent human individual or the Divine Being. But it is really important to understand that such objections are merely superficial, often happening because some minds refuse to move beyond the outer surface of things. So they get stuck at words only.
(She pauses briefly and looks around, it appears she needed to clarify a bit more. So she continues.)
Perhaps it is the result of some false or misguided influence of the present-day usage of gender-sensitive language, the politically correct usage of words etc. We must remember that the word man is actually derived from the Sanskrit word manu, which means the mental being. Manu in itself is derived from manas, the mind. So the one with a mind or one who is a mental being is a human individual, the man.
(She pauses and looks around.)
Colin: Oh wow! That was interesting.
Falguni: Yeah! I’d say so too! Funny though, whenever you have in the past shared some passages from Sri Aurobindo or other thinkers from the past I have never thought that any reference to ‘man’ or ‘he’ etc. was only about males and didn’t include female human being. I mean, it didn’t occur to me at all!
Colin: Yes, me too. I guess I just assumed that these writers were talking about all people, men and women, basically humanity as such.
Eesh: It didn’t occur to me either, I mean, to think of it as any gender-insensitive language. But I wonder if it is because we have been so used to seeing the word He used for God, etc.
Gul: Interesting! I guess we never assumed otherwise because we have been conditioned in a certain way!
Hari: You mean to say conditioned to use language in a politically incorrect or gender-insensitive way?
Gul: No, I didn’t mean that…..what I meant was that we might be conditioned by this idea of using masculine terminology to represent all, and not even question that.
Falguni: But that is such a feminist type of argument!
Gul: Yeah, so what’s wrong with that?
Falguni: Nothing. I just said it as an observation, that’s all.
Dia: But you see, this is what Di has been warning us about, don’t you see?
Colin: Yeah, I was going to say the same thing! We are getting caught up in the outer words only. Di, what do you say?
M: (Smiles, but stays silent and looks around).
Avi: I think it is becoming a very ‘this or that’, a kind of like ‘black or white’ type of thinking, I feel. Very dualistic, if I understand the word correctly, men vs. women.
M: Well, well…I was actually enjoying this back and forth! But as I said earlier this point was a digression. But it has now become a topic in itself, I can see! But no, we will not, rather we should not, go any further into this line of discussion, because if we go there we’ll be doing exactly what I said we shouldn’t do when trying to understand something. For example, the idea of nation in our present case. We shouldn’t only look at things from the outside. We should go deeper, try to see things from inside out.
Binoy: What do you mean? I am not sure I follow.
M: What I am trying to say is this: Words are important means to express an idea or a thought, that’s true. But at the same time words also carry an inner vibration, a deeper meaning, just as we saw what the word man may really mean, a being with the mental faculty. Also, it is important to realise that words by themselves aren’t politically correct or incorrect. It is the intent behind the usage of a certain word that needs to be understood, the consciousness behind the usage of language, behind every action actually.
(She pauses for a few seconds and looks around, and then continues.)
M: Some words are acceptable or unacceptable to a certain type of sensitivity or a certain conventional and moral-ethical attitude. But then sensitivities, conventions, morality etc. – these things change – over time, place, context. What is more important here is to get to the intention behind the use of a certain outer expression. What is the deeper idea or truth that the writer is trying to express through a certain set of words?
I guess that’s all I will say on this topic, for now. Okay? Surely, when Sri Aurobindo is using the word man, he is speaking of the human individual. Unless of course, he is speaking of the gendered man, the male human being or individual. So the context too has to be understood. Makes sense, no?
(Some nods in affirmative, some gentle yes-es).
M: So shall we move on to what we were discussing before all this detour we took, thanks to me!
Gul: Yes. But I have to say, it was a nice detour!
Falguni: Yeah it was.
(Some soft laughter).
M: Ok then, let’s continue with the main topic….let’ see here. If you remember, we were talking about the different sheaths – the outer gross body, a subtle body behind this gross body, a more hidden and even subtler inner body, and an inmost eternal presence that is the source of everything, hidden in this third sheath.
Colin: That’s confusing!
Eesh: Yeah, can you please go over this again.
M: Don’t worry, you will soon follow it. Let me read some more from Sri Aurobindo’s passage. You will see how he explains further.