“He was conscious, every minute, of the rare fortune of living at this moment the like of which comes hardly once in a thousand years in the history of the earth.” These words of M. P. Pandit bring alive the earnest intensity with which Kapali Sastri pursued the path of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Kapali Sastri wrote extensively and penetratingly, often with intuitive originality, on the ancient Indian spiritual heritage. His expositions, surveyed in the following pages, are inspired by and resonate in the harmonies of Sri Aurobindo’s unique vision of the truth behind these spiritual systems.
“To keep the fire burning is our part. The work and process are Hers.” So lived and wrote Integral Yogi T. V. Kapali Sastri, for 24 years a Sri Aurobindo Ashramite. An “ardor of creative energy,” Tapas burned in him as visionwill and robbed him of fatigue. He lived to realize a youthful intimation that he would write a Vedic commentary beyond the ritualist lines of Sayana. Perhaps the greatest Sanskrit scholar of the twentieth century, he extended the pioneer inspiration of Sri Aurobindo in restoring the inner being of India: her ancient spiritual heritage. Sastriji fulfilled his own and our human aspiration, uncovering the naked self of the original Veda and all that flowed from it spontaneously. From distorting religious formations, dull, smoky accretions, he freed the golden fountain. He traces out broadly and details how the seeds, links, and the standing challenges of the past are grown, connected and taken up transformed in Sri Aurobindo. He came a Vibhuti, his mission nothing less than full recovery of the Indian soul.
It is a fact that when he invoked the gods they came — to this the Mother attested. With his own subtle eyes he saw her “Flame of White Light.” One has the living experience, reading Sastriji, that one is literally walking through the vivid world of Veda and Tantra and Upanishad, in his firm and tender hands no abstractions but living beings, forests of higher intelligence, mountain streams of wisdom. The foundation of ancient Indian spiritual knowledge is the Veda; the many paths to sublime Brahman-knowledge have descended as Upanishads; and perhaps parallel syntheses of Vedanta are sung in the Gita, vigorously pursued in the Tantra. On these he cast the “Lights” that comprise in particular Volume I (as well as II and III) of his twelvevolume Collected Works. Out of the light of past dawns we enter “the noons of the future.” In these radiances we will see and realize one day the saying of Prema Nandakumar: “Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is…a direct child of the Vedas.”
A Tamil native of Mylapore, Madras, in 1886, born as his name suggests to a learned family “Tantric through and through,” Sastriji imbibed knowledge laden with devotion and sacrifice from his mother’s milk. Adept in several aspects of Sanskrit, he read the Ramayana a dozen times by the time he was twelve, and was inculcated in Sri Vidya and its worship of Sri Lalita Tripurasundari, an exalted manifestation of the Supreme Shakti. Thus engaged in a temple, he met in 1907 his first guru, the many-sided seer-poet Vasishta Ganapati Muni, who would four years later take him to his second, Ramana Maharshi. Sastriji once said, “I could not have come to Sri Aurobindo if I had not got the faith awakened in me in the spiritual life which I got from seeing Sri Maharshi.” But the bridge he was looking for he found not at Mount Arunachala but Pondicherry.
For the problem of matter, recovering and reestablishing permanently its divine origin, had always occupied Sastriji, and when a grocer gave him a copy of the Arya in 1914, he pored over that and all succeeding issues, ceaselessly, every month for six and a half years. Here was his own line of thought, no longer vague, but clarified, expanded! In fact, Sri Aurobindo was reading him, and he was being revised. The secret of his sinewy, lucid and fluid, surprisingly attractive English style can be found in this happy discovery of the Arya. In 1917 he came face to face with the one whom Prema Nandakumar calls “this blazing spiritual Agni.” “Well, as soon as I saw him, even from a distance, there was set in motion, all of a sudden, a rapid vibratory movement in my body from head to foot. There was a continuous thrill and throb. I seemed to stand on the top of a dynamo working at top speed and it was as powerful as it was new. It lasted for nearly four to five minutes. It did not really stop at all.” Standing before the living body of the Fire blazing in the cave, Sastriji gave greeting in the language of the gods, expressing his good fortune. Sri Aurobindo, for his part, is reported to have turned to an attendant and to have asked, in a low voice, whether the young man spoke any language besides Sanskrit. When, in 1923 they met again and the Tantric could not help but notice Sri Aurobindo’s skin transformed to golden, “That trip decided my future.” Precious notes of the private instructions given him by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother can be found in Volume III of the Collected Works. In 1929 he gave up his job teaching Sanskrit in a high school and resided in the Ashram till his passing on Sri Aurobindo’s birthday in 1953. He wrote sparingly, only what he intuited and knew from inner inspiration and realization. According to his pupil, M. P. Pandit, who wrote with lucid force, as wise as love, world-traveler with a world-uniting light, and edited the Collected Works: “The first draft was also the last.” Any time he had he used for very intense sadhana.
“Who is the Mother?” he wrote to Sri Aurobindo not long after the founding of the Ashram. The Madras Sunday Times quoted Sastriji: “Way back in 1927, when I had known and met Sri Aurobindo but had not known much about the Mother and when I had occasion to write to him about her, he had a manuscript copy of the Four Powers of the Mother sent to me which was later on incorporated in the book, The Mother, and provided me with a glimpse into the powers and personality of the Mother. I had an instant and spontaneous faith in his words and that faith was increasingly verified by experience.” Here his sadhana found its major harmony; burning aspiration met Supreme Grace. Who the Mother is, in all her guises — this was and further became the central fact of his life. She widened, deepened, transformed his own line of development so that later he would write (in “Flame of White Light,” in volume II of the Collected Works or available as a separate book with photographs): “I was proceeding along the path of knowledge; but here I find it is a feeble light of a still higher and all-encompassing way of the Mother. Of course it is the path of Love…. It is quite the reverse of the traditional conception of Bhakti Marga…. It is an independent universal power of the Divine Mother which seeks and seeks for embodiment on Earth.”
In Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo surprised the Secret and with the luminous key of intuition he revealed the Veda. Prometheus of the spirit restored to us, even as he embodied, the Divine Flame of the Rishis. But he himself protested, “I am not a scholar.” So it fell and blazed on Sastriji, with the requisite preeminence in Sanskrit scholarship, to fulfill Sri Aurobindo’s fervent wish to see his Vedic studies presented in more complete form, worked out with necessary references and comparisons. Through him the Master’s thesis was firmly established. This is done in the Siddhanjana, interpretation and commentary of the first Ashtaka (the first of eight divisions) of the Rig Veda. It is the book he was destined to write, gold standard of Vedic truth. Throughout its composition at the end of the 1940s he received help from Sri Aurobindo, who took “keen interest in the work.” To aid the reader, Sastriji then wrote a Rig-Bhashya Bhumika (an indispensable introduction, found in English in Volume IV) to summarize and surpass pre-Aurobindonian commentators and unveil the Veda’s inner import as the Master directly experienced it. The prose is sparkling, quick; a live force of Tapas moves through it. The dark ship of the forest sails in through the storm, bringing home the ten thousand emeralds of the dawn.
A simplified English version of the Bhumika is found in Volume I in “Lights on the Veda” and partly in “Further Lights on the Veda.” In his commentary on the Apri Hymns, he describes the process by which the divine powers “come down and fill” us and equip us for “the utter self-giving,” providing clear indications of the “Vedic Yoga” marked by “ordered steps with definite purpose at each stage.” Of the gods he has this to say: “[M]ore intimately they are active in the inner Existence as psychological and spiritual powers with which the awakened soul enters into relation even as did the Vedic seers of yore.” One gains inspired understanding of the “multiple Divine Personality of Agni” and the gods; the process of inner sacrifice; the steps on the path from peak to new plateau and further summit to summit; and the goal, which is the Sun of Truth, Supermind, “quite manifest for ever.” This was rediscovered by Sri Aurobindo and brought down to earth by the Mother and himself. “And yet this Agni who is so close to us and accessible to devout hearts is not different from the Sun of Truth. For in the last resort, the Rishi realises him as the force of the Sun of Truth.”
Like Sri Aurobindo, Sastriji found the Upanishads to be “manuals of sadhana.” His exquisite “Lights on the Upanishads” with packed expressive economy unveils six Upanishadic Vidyas, paths to Brahman-knowledge. These Lights are classics of spiritual literature, destined to enlighten the future and are a personal favorite. Here we find how to know what we need to know. For instance, in the Vaisvanara Vidya all our food, which includes whatever is taken in experience, is consecrated, assimilated in that central Universal Fire which extracts the divine element. When the surface consciousness gives up, collaborates willingly ceasing its betrayal of our soul, a work of lifetimes can be compressed in a few sunlit years. Because the fire is universal, the soul-progress of all is concretely accelerated. The Sandilya, Prana and Madhu Vidyas and the well-known story of Nachiketas are similarly enlarged. Among all the ancient scriptures, it is worth noting that it was the Upanishads that first “roused in” Sri Aurobindo “a strongenthusiasm.”
Sastriji was born Tantric, and what he called his “Sidelights on the Tantra” are in fact “Searchlights,” Prabhakar Nulkar observes. Since Mantra-Sadhana is among the chief surviving contributions of Tantra (“continuous action…on all levels”), Sastriji’s elucidation of its workings is of great help to many in the Integral Yoga who increasingly use mantra in our own sadhana. We may also come away with a more lively appreciation of how Sri Aurobindo has uplifted the central core of Tantra into his own approach. For instance, when The Mother tells us, “You must keep the temple clean if you wish to instal there the living Presence,” two key Tantric principles fuse in one living action. Kapali Sastri’s illumination of Shakta Tantra is coming from its inmost insider.
Sastriji’s essays “The Initiate and the Mystic Fire” (from which the earlier quote relating Agni to the Sun of Truth is taken), “Sadhana of the Supermind,” and “The Mystic Quartette and the Human Synthesis” (Volume II), and his booklet “Sadhana” (in Volume VIII) are only a few that continue to light and give heart to my own sadhana. How do the Aurobindonian sun-tracks dovetail with, where exactly do they diverge from the earlier Rishis and realizers of the Brahman? “Spiritual Achievements: Ancients and Ourselves” and “Jivanmukta and the Superman” plant fresh gems of a clarity that does not dim. Beautifully written and not to be missed, “New Lights” is possibly the most inspired and insightful single essay on Sri Aurobindo’s teachings by a sadhak. What is new about this yoga and how does it stand in relation to all past yogas? What does the much-used phrase “from above” really mean? The Supramental Light, the Yoga-Force, the central processes of the “art of the spirit,” the careful divine separation and cosmic reconstruction of our borrowed universal parts and out-of-tune instruments, as well as the divine end to be achieved, human, social, earthly — all this you will find in Volume II near the end of “Lights on the Teachings.” Significant contributions by others include Prema Nandakumar’s T. V. Kapali Sastri; the birth centennial collection of essays on Sastriji, Versatile Genius; and the heroic work of R. L. Kashyap. Sastriji’s twelve-volume Collected Works, available from SABDA, rank with Nolini Kanta Gupta’s Collected Works among the most inspired literature yet produced by sadhaks. They are sound and light-filled expositions of the ancient Indian knowledge and the Integral Yoga.
After the mahasamadhi of Sri Aurobindo, that “universal sunset,” Sastriji spoke to the press in an interview published in the Madras Sunday Times entitled “The Mother will carry on the Master’s Work.” He told Kumar, “The Mother is a part of Sri Aurobindo’s being. She is the manifested, dynamic part of his soul…. I have known and seen and felt the many-faceted personality of the Mother in action. It is impossible to know Sri Aurobindo without knowing the Mother. It is impossible to get the grace and guidance of the Master without a fervid devotion to the Mother…. He is more intensely and concretely present in the Mother.” Read “The Divine Mother and the Human Personality” (Volume II) for a more intimate understanding of the full place of the Divine Mother in this yoga and in our own long-term development. Sastriji was among the first to realize the Master and the Mother as one. The salient secret of Integral Yoga, precisely why it is so fulfilling, so new, is the very active participation of the Divine Mother (Mother of the gods, the dolphins, humans and all the rest), as intimate as She is infinite, in all Her aspects. Sastriji once observed, “I see it every day. Unfailingly She responds, to the very detail, to what you take with you.” The Mystic Fire meets the Mother’s Force.
V. Madhusudan Reddy relates that his friend Nolini Kanta Gupta in his later years was a little sad about the lack among sadhaks of ancient Indian spiritual knowledge — the soul of the soul of the world. This is needed, Nolinida saw, to fully appreciate Sri Aurobindo. One of the most pleasant ways to obtain this background is from Sastriji. Pleasant, because as those fortunate to read him find, he inspires as much as informs and is a joy to read. What better way to recover what is in truth a portion of the soul of one’s humanity, these ancient treasures? Profundity has seldom come so clear or so succinct. To have no false idols is salutary but carried to extremes may prevent the large of soul from greatening our spirit. As we in the Integral Yoga community rediscover him, Sastriji’s works will spread throughout the world to scholars and seekers alike; it is merely a matter of time. The reclamation of our sacred core will result in a newfound sapience that will justify the name some great mysterious hope has attached to our species.
Sastriji was a unique experiment in human synthesis, in whom the Divine transformed the workings of a penetrating intellect into a more intuitive consciousness. He came and continues to work to ready the intellectual mind of earth for the power and light of the Divine Mother: She who is the human synthesizer; She who brought with her hammer that day leaping into eternity the alltransforming manifestation. And her Sastriji continues to grow; he was not what he had been, is not now what he was. He is a scholar through whom scholarship itself is being transformed. Beyond and behind the four established personalities of the Mother are others, more difficult to bring down here. A force is working through his writings and his work to suspend a bridge between us and an all-powerful love that presses to be born.
— Rick Lipschutz, a member of the Cultural Integral Fellowship, discovered the Integral Yoga