The Mother is the name given to Mirra Alfassa by Sri Aurobindo, as he saw in her an embodiment of the evolutionary, creative Force, in India traditionally known as the ‘Supreme Mother’. It was the Mother who was the driving force behind the creation of Auroville. This article gives a short introduction to the life and work of the person MirraAlfassa, a French citizen and painter, as well as the consciousness and force beyond the human that she, according to her own statements and that of Sri Aurobindo, incarnated. In her work, she sought to accelerate the evolution of consciousness in matter. The founding and early guidance of Auroville is a part of this effort.
Guided by Inner Experiences
MirraAlfassa was born on the 21st of February 1878 in Paris, into a well-to-do family of recent immigrants from Egypt. The family had what was then considered as a ‘worldly’ outlook on life, which showed itself in the scientifically-oriented values in the family, as well as its financial and social status in Paris. Despite this outer environment, Mirra lived in her own inner world since a young age. Many years later, she reported to the disciples of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram that she had attained to essential inner realisations on the path of Integral Yoga already in those early childhood years. Of course, she couldn’t communicate these experiences to her family, because while as a child she was already practicing an inwardly-oriented yoga, she did this work in an atmosphere of intellectualism typical to Western society, which denied the existence or at least the validity of these inner experiences.
In a symbolic reversal of these early beginnings, Mirra Alfassa – by then known as the Mother – spent the last years of her life attempting to transform her material, physical body by means of the inner processes that had developed in her for almost a century. In India she did this work in a culture permeated by thousands of years of Eastern spirituality. These complementary contrasts of her inner and outer work are a golden thread that runs through her life and teachings. The constant trans formative work she undertook in her self and with others is exemplified by the following statement which can be understood to refer to everyone who embarks on the path of Integral Yoga and relates in its context to the Divine Mother, as well as the inmates and school children in the Ashram or Aurovilians:
“I have said that, more than a difficulty, each one represents an impossibility to be solved. And it is the whole set of all these impossibilities which can be transformed into the Work, the Realisation. Each case is an impossibility to be solved, and it is when all these impossibilities are resolved that the Work will be accomplished.”
Life as a Painter, Mother, and Spiritualist
As a young woman, Mirra showed interest in various subjects and activities. She later stated that she was often reprimanded for what appeared to others as a lack of focus on just one talent in order to turn it into a career. For example, she enjoyed studying mathematics and advanced physics with her brother while he was enrolled in the Parisian École Polytechnique. Young MirraAlfassa also chose to immerse herself in the world of art, specifically painting. Having received professional training at one of the prestigious art schools of Paris, Académie Julian, she became friends with artists, some of whom are still well-known today and who are considered representative of their artistic period. Later at the Ashram, she would shed light on the study and practice of visual arts such as drawing and painting as a means for yogic advancement:
“The discipline of Art has at its centre the same principle as the discipline of Yoga. In both the aim is to become more and more conscious; in both you have to learn to see and feel something that is beyond the ordinary vision and feeling, to go within and bring out from there deeper things. Painters have to follow a discipline for the growth of the consciousness of their eyes, which in itself is almost a Yoga. If they are true artists and try to see beyond and use their art for the expression of the inner world, they grow in consciousness by this concentration, which is not other than the consciousness given by Yoga.”
Outwardly, Mirra Alfassa began to live a full life, including a marriage and a child, André, with the painter Henri Morisset. The inner yogic processes which had begun in her childhood and had flourished further through her youth, blossomed into concrete outer activities. While still in Paris, Mirra Alfassa became known as a woman knowledgeable of and effective in dealing with occult and spiritual matters. She facilitated study and practice groups and was well-acquainted with other spiritual aspirants, occultists and well-known personalities of the time.
The two apparently closest people to her before she came to Pondicherry were probably her second husband Paul Richard and her most well-known teacher in occultism, Max Theon. Theon, who she visited in Algeria in 1906 and 1907, was described by the Mother to have been the incarnation of a forceful being with its own agenda. Still the Mother remembered and conveyed to her disciples many instances of her time with him and demonstrations of his occult faculties and knowledge. Paul Richard, who she married in 1911, was an ex-soldier and French diplomat, intellectually a philosopher and inwardly similar to Max Theon a being of tremendous power which the Mother later stated to have attempted to convince to use its powers to foster the evolution of consciousness in matter.
Meeting Sri Aurobindo and Establishment in the Ashram
Travelling with Paul Richard, who was running for a government post in the French colony of Pondicherry, Mirra Alfassa arrived in India on the 7th of March 1914 and met the one she had seen in visions and had called “Krishna” – Sri Aurobindo. Together they began the publication of a new periodical, the Arya, in which Sri Aurobindo published most of the chapters of his major works between 1914 and 1921. Due to the outbreak of the World War I, her and Richard spent a few years in Japan, which Mirra appreciated for the artistic beauty of Japanese culture. But she knew that she had found her spiritual destiny in Pondicherry with Sri Aurobindo, felt called to return, and formulated the impact their meeting had had on her as a prayer to the Divine in her diary:
“It matters little that there are thousands of beings plunged in the densest ignorance, He whom we saw yesterday is on earth; his presence is enough to prove that a day will come when darkness shall be transformed into light, and Thy reign shall be indeed established upon earth.”
After her final arrival in Pondicherry on April 24th 1920 and a separation from Paul Richard, Mirra Alfassa joined Sri Aurobindo in the small community of yogic aspirants that had gathered around him in Pondicherry. This point in time can also be considered the founding of the Ashram, as Mirra Alfassa became the organiser of communal activities. When Sri Aurobindo retired to his room six years later, communicating with his disciples mostly through written correspondence and being seen only on special occasion, Mirra Alfassa publicly assumed her role as “The Mother” of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Sri Aurobindo described her true nature, the energy that MirraAlfassa embodied:
“The One whom we adore as the Mother is the divine Conscious Force that dominates all existence, one and yet so many-sided that to follow her movement is impossible even for the quickest mind and for the freest and most vast intelligence. The Mother is the consciousness and force of the Supreme and far above all she creates. But something of her ways can be seen and felt through her embodiments and the more seizable because more defined and limited temperament and action of the goddess forms in whom she consents to be manifest to her creatures.”
She worked closely with Sri Aurobindo. About their spiritual collaboration she said: “Without him, I exist not; without me, he is unmanifest.” All the more difficult became Sri Aurobindo’s departure from the physical realm in 1951 for her. Although she held that their collaboration didn’t end with his departure and that his leaving was considered by both as a strategically beneficial move in regard to the long-term goals of their work, the lack of his physical presence did change life in the Ashram for everyone.
The Ashram and Auroville
Here begins the most well-documented period of her life, as many disciples wrote about their interactions with her and many of her talks were recorded, transcribed and published. At the same time it’s the most difficult phase of her work to comprehend and convey, as the yogic processes she involved herself with became more inaccessible intellectually. She embarked on processes of manifesting what she sometimes called the “new consciousness”. Outwardly, the Mother continued to organise all aspects of the Ashram, from the various departments of production and publication to education in its school and university centre. She kept guiding many disciples in their individual sadhana. Whenever she showed herself on the Ashram’s main building balcony, crowds came to see her.
The Mother’s guidance was essential for many Aurovilians, and in the beginning, she selected those who were to join Auroville by meeting them or looking at their portraits. During the time that the Mother was guiding the project between its inauguration on 28th of February 1968 and the end of her physical life on 17th November of 1973, she made a memorable impact on many Aurovilians. Some of their experiences of meeting the Mother can be found here.
The Descent of the Supramental and the Work on the Cells
The main work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is the Integral Yoga, which seeks to bring down the supramental consciousness into the earth atmosphere and into matter. The advent of this new conscious-force would start a new stage of human evolution, and can be compared in its significance to how the rational mind once became a part of humanity and eventually changed apes into homo sapiens. The Mother considered this main work to have been fulfilled on February 29th 1956, when the supramental consciousness descended and became an active force, accelerating our individual and collective evolution. At that point she took up the challenge of applying this newly accessible force and consciousness as much as possible to everything that could potentially be transformed by it. Auroville was part of this work of evolution:
“Humanity is not the last rung of the terrestrial creation. Evolution continues and man will be surpassed. It is for each individual to know whether he wants to participate in the advent of this new species.”
“For those who are satisfied with the world as it is, Auroville obviously has no reason to exist.”
Just like the mind has transformed our animal nature, our bodies, and the whole earth, the supramental is envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to eventually change us in equally radical ways, towards harmony, beauty, and divinity.
The way there is hard work, as the 17 years between what she described as the descent of the Supramental into the earth atmosphere until she left her body in 1973 give evidence for. During this time, she put the emphasis of her work on the process of the physical transformation, working to bring down the highest possible consciousness and force into the most unconscious, inert, resistant part of our being, the physical matter of our cells.
Want to know more?
If you are interested in getting a more complete picture of the life and work of MirraAlfassa, we encourage you to look into the comprehensive source material and the available secondary literature to get to know her for yourself through the ones who knew and know her, as well as the writings she left us. We have selected a few of our favourites for you:
The Collected Works of the Mother. 17 volumes of writings by and transcribed recordings of the Mother, ranging from early writings in Paris over diaries of her travels to questions and answers with students in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram as well as her later writings on integral education and other subjects. You can find them online in Pdf form here.
Mother’s Agenda (1951 – 1973). 13 volumes of transcribed recorded conversations between the Mother and one of her disciples. Their content ranges from conversations about processes of yoga to yogic perspectives on various subjects such as the politics and social developments of the time. The heart of the Agenda is Mother’s work of transforming her physical body by means of the supramental consciousness-force.
For secondary literature and compilations of the Mother’s works, see the catalogue of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publication Department