I was twenty-six when I first met Satprem. It was in 1969, on the seashore of the Bay of Bengal, at the playground where Mother, past eighty, sometimes came to play tennis with the Ashram children. Newly arrived from the West with a doctorate in mathematics, I stared like an infant at that wholly unknown world, struck by the air of simplicity and familiarity that seemed to pervade everything. A few days earlier, Mother had concentrated her diamond-like gaze upon me. And the first meeting with Satprem that followed seemed to confirm my inner certitude that this had been my world from the beginning, and would be forevermore — although it still felt very mysterious and completely out of line with my mathematical theorems!
It had all begun eighteen months earlier at the Place de l’Odéon in Paris. I stood there one day in February 1968, just before the May convulsions that shook the world, when the subway had deposited my destiny on the sidewalk, right under the watchful eyes of Danton, whose statue dominates the square. A friend I had not seen in a long time had just come out of the Metro. We had barely finished displaying our mutual surprise and delight at this chance encounter when he started to tell me about a place he had recently visited in India and about a book that would explain everything. He spoke with a kind of urgency in his voice, as though he were freeing his conscience of a responsibility whose meaning and origins, though vague were nonetheless insistent. The place he described was Pondicherry, and the book was Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness, by Satprem.
I last saw Satprem in 1990, at his home in the Nilgiris Mountains, where he had informed me in terms precluding any dialogue that my current problem was a clear-cut matter of exorcism. That was when my childlike trust died, shattered amid the rubble of a world of illusions and distorting mirrors which, as I discovered later, I had myself somehow created. For over twenty years I had been living in a close working relationship with Satprem. All those years which I thought I had spent in absolute, selfless dedication to the ideals of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, selflessly performing tasks defined and deemed rightful and worthy by Satprem, had now abruptly come to naught. And thus stripped of all illusions and disguise, I had to face and then come to terms with the stark reality of my loss, or else die of grief on the spot.
What follows is my account of what happened during the years between those two meetings with Satprem — and why the first contained the premonitory signs of the second.
Today, by a stroke of fortune — even an act of grace — that astounds me continually, I live a life grounded in true reality, completely freed from Satprem and all my childish illusions. Looking back with a steady perspective at the long road I have traveled, I feel I understand all its twists and turns. And most importantly, I comprehend the significance of this perilous journey and why it nearly cost me my life.
For finally, it is Mother and Sri Aurobindo alone who shine in everything. No more Satprem as “guide,” “advanced older brother on the path,” “privileged intermediary.” No more lure or diversion of any kind. Rather life itself, direct and unmediated; with no barriers left standing between oneself and ‘that.’ (Or perhaps ‘that’ and ‘That’?)
Others have not been as fortunate.