n this story Sri Aurobindo, the greatest Divine Rationalist, uses two characters, Shyamsundar (means 'beautiful Sri Krishna' as the Divine) and Harimohan (a poor human being) as two opposite and contrasting metaphors, in seeking to answer the assailing questions of human mind and the inscrutable divine mystery of 'Leela or Play of God.'
A poor man sat in his dark room and thought of his miserable plight and of the wrongs and injustices in the kingdom of God. Overcome by abhiman, he spoke thus: "People give the excuse of the Law of Karma to save the good name of God. If my present miserable existence is the result of the sins of my last life, if I was really such a great sinner, then the current of evil thoughts would still flow in my mind, the mind of a great sinner cannot become pure in a day. And take the case of Tinkori Shil; if the Law of Karma was true, then, considering his wealth, treasure, gold and silver, retinue of servants, he must have been in his previous incarnation a world-famous holy saint; but one does not see the slightest indication of that now in his present life. There is no one in the world who is more cruel, wicked and evil. No, the Law of Karma is a ruse of God, a doctrine to dupe the minds of men. Shyamsundar is the cleverest of the clever, he is safe because he does not come anywhere near me, otherwise I would have taught him a good lesson and exposed all his tricks." No sooner had the poor man said these words than he saw his dark room flooded with waves of very bright light. A moment later the waves of light disappeared in the darkness and he saw a very beautiful, dark-hued boy standing in front of him with a lamp in his hand, smiling gently, but not saying anything. As he saw peacock-feathers on his head and bells on his feet, the poor man realised that Shyamsundar himself had come and given himself up to him. Embarrassed, he thought for a moment of falling at his feet, but he did not feel like doing so at all when he saw the boy's smiling face. At last he blurted out, 'Hey, Keshta why have you come?" "Why, didn't you call me?" said the boy, smiling, "just now you had such a strong desire to whip me, well, I've given myself up. Why don't you get up and lash me?" The poor man felt more embarrassed, not due to any remorse for wishing to whip the Divine, but to chastise such a handsome boy in return for his love did not seem to be in good taste. "Look, Harimohan," the boy spoke again, "those who are not afraid of me, regard me as their friend, even call me names but out of affection and wish to play with me, are very dear to me. I have created this world for the sake of play and have been always looking for play-mates but don't find any. Every one becomes cross with me, makes demands on me, asks me for gifts, positions, liberation, devotion, but alas! nobody wants me for my sake. I give what people want. What can I do but satisfy them? Or they'll tear me to pieces. I see that you also want something. Being cross you want to whip someone and have summoned me to gratify that desire. I've come to take the lashings of your whip, ye yatha mam prapadyante, 'as one approaches me.' But if you wish to hear about it before you beat me up, I will explain to you my method. Well, do you agree?" "Can you really?" asked Harimohan, "I see you've the gift of the gab, but why should I believe that a young immature boy like you can teach me anything?" "Come, see if I can," replied the boy smilingly.
Having said that, Sri Krishna touched Harimohan's head. Immediately electric currents began to spread through the whole body of the poor man; the Kundalini power, normally asleep at the base of the spine, shot up to the crown of his head in the form of a fiery serpent hissing loudly and his brain became filled with waves of vital force. The very next moment the walls of the room around Harimohan seemed to recede into the distance, the world of names and forms, abandoning him, became unmanifest as it were in the infinite. Harimohan lost his normal consciousness. When he came to, he found himself standing with the boy in a strange house and saw in front of him an old man sitting on a mattress, absorbed in deep thought. On seeing that face contorted by worries and grief-stricken, hopeless and sad, Harimohan just could not believe that it really was that of Tinkori Shil, the most powerful and leading man in the village. At last, full of fear, he asked the boy, "Oh Keshta, what have you done, sneaked like a thief into someone else's house? The police will come and thrash our lives out of us with a severe beating. Don't you know the might of Tinkori Shil?" "Very well, indeed," smiled back the boy, "but stealing is an old occupation of mine. I am on intimate terms with the police. There is nothing to fear. Now I am giving you subtle sight, look into the old man's mind. You know Tinkori's might, now see my power too." Then harimohan could see into Tinkori's mind. He saw that it was like a rich city destroyed by enemy attack, so many goblins and demons of terrifying shapes entered that keen, powerful intellect and destroyed its peace, broke up its concentration and robbed it of its happiness. The old man had quarrelled with his favourite youngest son and driven him out; losing his beloved son born in his old age, he was overcome with grief, yet anger, pride, hypocrisy were sitting as sentries barring the door of his heart and denying entry to forgiveness there. Stories about the bad moral character of his daughter had been circulated; the old man was weeping after having hounded her out of his home; he knew that she was innocent but the fear of society and public opinion, vanity and his own selfish interests were stifling his love. The memory of a thousand sins made him shudder with fear, yet he lacked the courage and the power to purify those evil tendencies. From time to time the thought of death and of the next life frightened him terribly. Harimohan saw that from behind the thoughts of death, fearsome messengers of Yama were peeping and knocking at his door. Every time there was such a knock the old man's inner being screamed, mad with fear. Witnessing this terrible scene Harimohan turned towards the boy with trepidation and said, "Goodness, what is this Keshta? I thought the old man was supremely happy." "That is my power," replied the boy, "tell me, now, whose power is the greater, Tinkori Shil's of the next district or Sri Krishna's who lives in Vaikuntha? Look, Harimohan, I too have police and sentries, government, law and judicial trials. I can also play like a king. Do you like this game?" "Good Lord, no,"said Harimohan. "This is a very bad game, do you enjoy it?" The boy replied, smiling, "1 like all kinds of play. I like to whip, also to be whipped." "Look Harimohan," he continued, "people like you see only the surface of things and have not yet developed the subtle sight to see their inner truth. That is why you say that Tinkori is happy and you are miserable. This man has no material want and yet how much more is this millionaire suffering. Can you say why? Happiness is a state of the mind so is suffering. Happiness and suffering are simply modifications of the mind. He who has got nothing and whose only asset is misfortune can be very happy even in the midst of danger. Notice also that just as you are not getting any satisfaction out of spending your days in acquiring dry merit and are always thinking of suffering, so also is this man doing the same, living out his days in dry demerit. That is why there is momentary happiness resulting from virtue and temporary unhappiness issuing from sin, and vice versa. There is no real joy in this conflict. I've got the picture of an abode of bliss; he who comes to me, falls in love with me, seeks me, puts pressure on me, even persecutes me, he gets from me by force as it were the picture of joy." Harimohan listened eagerly to Sri Krishna's words. The boy spoke again. "Understand this too, Harimohan, dry merit has become for you devoid of the sap of joy, yet you can't resist the power of its impressions, nor can you conquer that petty egoism. For the old man dry demerit has similarly become joyless, yet, being unable to renounce it because of the force of its impressions, he is suffering Hell in this life. This is called the bondage of virtue and vice. Unconscious impressions born of Ignorance are the chains of this bondage. But this terrible suffering is really very good for the old man because this will lead to his salvation and true welfare."
"Keshta, you speak very sweetly," said Harimohan, who was till now listening very quietly, "but I can't really believe you. Pleasure and pain may be only states of the mind, but surely external conditions are their causes. Look, when someone's mind is very distressed by hunger, can he be happy? Or can anyone think of you when he is suffering from disease or pain?" "Come, Harimohan," said the boy I will show you that too, saying this, the boy again touched Harimohan's head. As soon as he felt the touch Harimohan no longer saw Tinkori Shil's house but a sannyasi seated, absorbed in meditation, a large tiger lying at his feet like a guards on the solitary, beautiful peak of a mountain, with a pleasant breeze blowing there. Harimohan's legs, when he saw the tiger, refused to budge, but the boy dragged him near the sannyasi, Harimohan, unable to resist the boy's strength had willy-nilly to go. The boy said, "Harimohan, see." Harimohan looked and saw the mind of the sannyasi like an open exercise book, with the name 'Sri Krishna' written a thousand times on each of its pages. The sannyasi, having crossed the great gate of nirvikalpa samadhi, was sporting with Sri Krishna in the light of the supernal Sun. He also saw that the sannyasi had been starving for quite a few days and his body had suffered a lot during the previous couple of days from hunger and thirst. "What is this, Kesht ?" asked Harimohan "the saint loves you so much and yet he is suffering from lack of food and drink. Haven't you any sense at all? Who will give him food in this forest infested by tigers?" "1 will," replied the boy, "but see another amusing thing." Harimohan saw the tiger get up and break open a near by ant-heap with a single stroke of a paw. Hundreds of small ants came out and climbing up the sanny si's body started biting him in anger. He was still absorbed in deep meditation, unperturbed, perfectly still. Then the boy sweetly whispered into his ears just once, "My friend!" The sanny si opened his eyes. At first he did not feel the stinging bites, for the notes of Krishna's flute captivating, and cherished by the whole world were still sounding in his ears as they had done in Radha's ears in Vrindavan. After a while as a result of the constant bitings, his consciousness was drawn towards the body. He still did not move but full of surprise, thought, "How is it? this kind of thing never happens to me. No matter, Sri Krishna is sporting with me and biting me as a battalion of small ants." Harimohan saw that the pain from the ant bites was no longer affecting the saint's mind, and that, feeling intense physical ecstasy after each bite, he sang the name of Krishna and danced, clapping his hands in great joy. The ants dropped on the ground and fled. Astonished, Harimohan asked, "What kind of magic is this?" The boy also clapped his hands and turning twice on one leg laughed out loudly, "1 am the only Magician in the whole universe. You will not understand this magic, it is my supreme secret. And did you notice? He could remember me even in the midst of such physical pain. And now see again." The sannyasi sat down again, calm and serene. His body still experienced hunger and thirst but Harimohan saw that his mind only felt those physical reactions but was not disturbed by or involved in them. Just then someone called out from the hill in a voice sweet as a flute, "Friend!" Harimohan was startled; it was indeed the voice, sweet as a flute, of ShyamSundar himself. Then he saw a beautiful, dark-hued boy come from behind the big rocks with a plate of excellent food and fruits. Harimohan, utterly confused, looked at Sri Krishna. The boy still stood beside him, yet the other boy who was approaching was exactly like Sri Krishna. The boy held up the lamp before the saint and shed light on the plate and said, "See what I have brought." "So you have come," smiled the saint, "Why did you keep me starving for so long? However, now that you have come, sit down, eat with me." The saint and the boy started eating from the dish, offered food to each other and also playfully snatched it away from each other. When they finished their meal, the boy disappeared into the darkness with the plate.
Harimohan was about to ask something but he suddenly noticed that neither Sri Krishna nor the sannyasi was there, nor the tiger nor the mountain. He was living in a respectable neighborhood with his wife and family, was very rich, gave gifts to Brahmins and to the poor daily, and said his Sandhya prayers thrice a day following the code of conduct laid down in the scriptures and shown by Raghunandan. In fact, he was leading the life of an ideal husband, father and son. But at the same time he was shocked to find that there was not the slightest neighborliness or joy of living among the residents of that respectable district, that they considered the mechanical observance of the external rules of conduct as spiritual merit. He was now as miserable as he had been happy a moment ago. He seemed to feel very thirsty but could not get a drop of water; in fact he was eating dust, only dust, endless dust. Leaving that place hurriedly he went to another part of the town. There he saw in front of a huge mansion a big crowd from whom a paean of blessings arose. Harimohan went forward and found that Tinkori Shil was sitting in the verandah and distributing a large amount of money to the people assembled there, no one was going back disappointed. Harimohan laughed out loudly and thought, "Is this a dream? Tirikori Shil a great philanthropist!" Then he could see Tinkori's mind, and realised that greed, jealousy, ambition, desire, selfishness and a thousand other frustrations and evil tendencies were clamoring: "Give, give, satisfy us!" Tinkori had suppressed them for the sake of gaining moral merit, fame and pride, left them unfulfilled and had not driven them out of his mind. Just then someone took Harimohan for a hurried tour of the other worlds. He saw the hells and the heavens of the Hindus, Moslems, Greeks, Christians and so many others. Then he found himself again in his own house, sitting on the familiar torn mattress and leaning on a dirty pillow and Shyamsundar standing in front of him. The boy said, 'It's very late at night, if I don't go home now, everyone will tell me off and chastise me. So let me tell you something in brief. The hells and heavens you saw were all of the dream world, imaginary. When man dies he goes to a heaven or a hell and experiences the consequences of his past life. You had acquired some moral merit in your previous life but love had no place in your heart, you loved neither God nor man. After death you were living in that respectable neighborhood and enjoying the fruits of the tendencies and impulses of your mind as they were in your previous life. Having done that for some time you did not like it any more, your vital nature became impatient, so you went to live in a hell full of dust; in the end, when you had enjoyed the fruits of your merit, you were born again. But because in that life you did not really do much to help any one in need apart from making the obligatory charities and keeping up a code of mere external conduct, dry and joyless, there is so much want in this life. And the reason why you are living a life of conventional piety and accumulating merit is that good and evil tendencies are not entirely exhausted by experience in a dream world but only by experience of their results in this world. Tinkori was a great philanthropist in his last life and he is now in this embodiment a millionaire and without any want as a result of the blessings of thousands of people. But because his mind was not purified, he has had to satisfy unfulfilled vicious dispositions by evil acts and thoughts. Have you understood the Law of Karma? Not reward or punishment, but the creation of evil from evil, of good from good. This is a natural Law. Sin is evil, from that is suffering; virtue is good from that comes happiness. This arrangement is there for the sake of the purification of the mind and heart, for the destruction of evil. You see, Harimohan, this earth is only an insignificant fraction of my varied creation, but you are all born here to exhaust evil by works. When people are free from the clutch of good and evil and of merit and demerit and enter the Kingdom of Love, then they become free from the life of action. You too will have this freedom in your next life. I will send my favourite sister, Shakti ('Power') and her companion Vidya ('Knowledge') to you. But look, there is one condition, you will become my playmate and not ask for liberation. Do you agree?" "Kesht ," said Harimohan, you have bewitched me. I feel a great desire to take you on my lap and show my deep affection, there is no other desire left in my life."
"Harimohan, did you understand anything?" asked the boy with a smile. "Yes, of course," replied Harimohan. Then, on second thought he asked, "I say, Kesht , you have cheated me again. You have not given any reason for creating evil." Saying this he grasped the boy's hand. He, however, withdrew his hand and said rather gruffly to Harimohan: "Go away! You want to get all my secrets out in one hour!" He suddenly put out the lamp, moved away and said, smiling, "Well, Harimohan, you completely forgot to lash me. I did not sit on your lap being afraid of that there is no knowing when pressed and angered by external suffering, you may suddenly start teaching me a good lesson. I don't trust you at all!" Harimohan extended his hand in the darkness but the boy moved farther away and said, "No, I am postponing that satisfaction till your next life." Saying this he disappeared somewhere in the dark night. Harimohan woke up listening to the jingling anklets and thought, "What kind of a dream did I see! I saw hell and heaven, and in it I addressed God in the most intimate manner and told him off as if he were a small boy. What a great sin! However, I feel great peace in my heart." Harimohan then started remembering the dark-hued boy's captivating form and kept on saying from time to time: "How beautiful, how very beautiful!"
This short story, 'Swapna' was originally written in Bengali by Sri Aurobindo and published in 1910.
1. Abhiman: This Bengali word cannot be translated. It means hurt pride and grief mixed with resentment against somebody from whom one expects love and better treatment.
2. Keshta: A colloquial form of the word Krishna.
3. Yama: The God of Death.
Courtesy & Copyright: Sri Aurobindo's "The Chariot of Jagannatha," published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust.