Alexandra David-Neel
Sri Aurobindo

Alexandra David Neel met Sri Aurobindo in 1911.
Here is some letters, translated from the French,
from his “Journal de voyage”.


27 November 1911

«First I was in Pondicherry. There also I was reminded of Versailles: a dead city that had once been something and remembered it, rigid in its dignity, irreproachably correct, concealing beneath an impeccable coat of whitewash the cracks in the old walls. […]
In the evening I had a conversation with a Hindu about whom I may never have spoken to you, since I have not been in correspondence with him, but know him only through the good opinion of friends. I spent two wonderful hours reviving the ancient philosophical ideas of India with a man of rare intelligence. He belongs to that uncommon category that I so much admire, the reasonable mystics. I am truly grateful to the friends who advised me to visit this man. He thinks with such clarity, there is such lucidness in his reasoning, such lustre in his eyes, that he leaves one with the impression of having contemplated the genius of India such as one dreams it to be after reading the noblest pages of Hindu philosophy.
I knew that this philosopher had taken a political stance that was not pleasing to the British, but naturally I was discreet enough not to speak of that. Besides, we were soaring far above politics. But while we soared, others were content to remain on the ground. I am speaking of the English police. When I arrived in Madras the head of the C.I.D. was waiting for me in person. He asked me — very civilly and politely, I must say — what I had been doing in Pondicherry in the house of this suspicious character. I was not surprised. I knew in advance that my visit would be taken not of. Moreover I made no efforts to conceal it.
Good Heavens, how petty and paltry it all seems — their agitation, their cowardliness, their distress. What a different atmosphere there was in that silent house in Pondicherry! Thought it passed the breath of the things that are eternal. In the calm evening, seated by a window that looked out over the rather funereal gardens of this dead city, it seemed as if we could see beyond life and death. […] And when I think of the proud disdain with which he seems to regard the couch of the ascetic, which beckons me even now, and of his promise of dreams other than those that haunt the feverish brains of these poor lunatics!»

19 December 1911

«One of these days I’m going to write to that Hindu of Pondicherry I mentioned earlier. He has a keen power of analysis, and a critical turn of mind. […] Calling his attention to the experiments he himself is conducting with careful and meticulous control, I will ask him: “Am I entering samadhi, am I really touching Nirvana, or is it just fatigue, or perhaps my sensations are being dulled by age? […]” I imagine that the question will make him laugh, as he laughed so sweetly the day I told him, in regard to something similar: “One reaches a point where one no longer knows whether one is becoming prodigiously wise, or taking leave of one’s senses”.»

14 February 1912

«I had been to Pondicherry and seen Aurobindo Ghose. I had no idea he was such an important man. If I had known, I would have tried to speak on politics to see what sort of political ideas would germinate in the brain of a Vedantic mystic. […]
I owe a beautiful memory […]: the vast empty room , the window open on the mauve sky of evening, and Aurobindo Ghose and I speaking of the supreme Brahman, the eternal existence, and for a moment crossing the threshold of the Beyond, where life and death cease, and living the dream of the Upanishad».