The Mother was born in Paris on 21 February 1878. Mirra,as the child was named, was the daughter of the banker Maurice Alfassa (born in Adrianople, Turkey, in 1843), and Mathilde Ismaloun (born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1857). Maurice, his wife, and their son Matteo (born in Alexandria in 1876) emigrated from Egypt to France a year before Mirra's birth. Her early education was given at home. In 1893 she joined an art studio in Paris where she studied for several years. Besides being an accomplished painter (some of her works were exhibited at the Paris Salon), the Mother was a talented musician and writer.
Concerning her early spiritual life, the Mother has said: "Between 11 and 13 a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God but man's possibility of uniting with Him, of realising Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine." Around 1905 the Mother journeyed to Tlemçen, Algeria, where she studied occultism for two years with a Polish or Russian adept, Max Theon, and his wife. Returning to Paris in 1906, she started her first group of spiritual seekers. Between 1911 and 1913 she gave many talks to various groups in Paris.
At the age of thirty-six the Mother came to Pondicherry. Here, on 29 March 1914, she met Sri Aurobindo. At once she recognised him as the master who for many years had inwardly been guiding her spiritual development. After staying in India for eleven months, she was obliged to return to France because of the First World War. She left France after about a year, and lived for almost four years in Japan. On 24 April 1920 the Mother returned to Pondicherry and resumed her collaboration with Sri Aurobindo. She remained in India for the rest of her life.
At the time the Mother rejoined Sri Aurobindo, a small group of disciples had gathered around him. After her coming the number of disciples increased. Eventually this informal grouping took shape as an ashram or spiritual community.
From its very beginning in November 1926, Sri Aurobindo entrusted the full material and spiritual charge of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to the Mother. Under her guidance, which extended over nearly fifty years, the Ashram has grown into a many-faceted community which at present consists of about 1500 persons. The Mother also founded the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in 1951 and the international township Auroville in 1968. On 17 November 1973, at the age of ninety-five the Mother left her body.
THE MOTHER ON HERSELF
The following quotes are from Collected Works of the Mother. Volume and page number follow each quotation.
When and how did I become conscious of a mission which I was to fulfill on earth? And when and how I met Sri Aurobindo?
These two questions you have asked me and I promised a short reply.
For the knowledge of the mission, it is difficult to say when it came to me. It is as though I were born with it, and following the growth of the mind and brain, the precision and completeness of this consciousness grew also.
Between 11 and 13 a series of psychic and spiritual experiences revealed to me not only the existence of God but man's possibility of uniting with Him, of realising Him integrally in consciousness and action, of manifesting Him upon earth in a life divine. This, along with a practical discipline for its fulfilment, was given to me during my body's sleep by several teachers, some of whom I met afterwards on the physical plane.
Later on, as the interior and exterior development proceeded, the spiritual and psychic relation with one of these beings became more and more clear and frequent; and although I knew little of the Indian philosophies and religions at that time I was led to call him Krishna, and henceforth I was aware that it was with him (whom I knew I should meet on earth one day) that the divine work was to be done.
In the year 1910 my husband came alone to Pondicherry where, under very interesting and peculiar circumstances, he made the acquaintance of Sri Aurobindo. Since then we both strongly wished to return to India – the country which I had always cherished as my true mother-country. And in 1914 this joy was granted to us.
As soon as I saw Sri Aurobindo I recognised in him the well-known being whom I used to call Krishna.... And this is enough to explain why I am fully convinced that my place and my work are near him, in India.
from Volume 13, Words of the Mother, p.38
SRI AUROBINDO ON THE MOTHER
The following quotes are from Volume 25, "The Mother", of Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library.
There is one divine Force which acts in the universe and in the individual and is also beyond the individual and the universe. The Mother stands for all these, but she is working here in the body to bring down something not yet expressed in this material world so as to transform life here – it is so that you should regard her as the Divine Shakti working here for that purpose. She is that in the body, but in her whole consciousness she is also identified with all the other aspects of the Divine.
Q: There are some Prayers of the Mother of 1914 in which she speaks of transformation and manifestation. Since at that time she was not here, does this not mean that she had these ideas long before she came here?
A: The Mother had been spiritually conscious from her youth, even from her childhood upward and she had done Sadhana and had developed this knowledge very long before she came to India.
The Mother's presence is always there; but if you decide to act on your own – your own idea, your own notion of things, your own will and demand upon things, then it is quite likely that her presence will get veiled; it is not she who withdraws from you, but you who draw back from her.
You have only to aspire, to keep yourself open to the Mother, to reject all that is contrary to her will and to let her work in you – doing also all your work for her and in the faith that it is through her force that you can do it. If you remain open in this way, the knowledge and realisation will come to you in due course.
The Mother's Force is not only above on the summit of the being. It is there with you and near you, ready to act whenever your nature will allow it. It is so with everybody here.
The lights are the Mother's Powers – many in number. The white light is her own characteristic power, that of the Divine Consciousness in its essence.
It is quite wrong to say that the Mother loves most those who are nearest to her in the physical. I have often said this but people do not wish to believe it, because they imagine that the Mother is a slave of the vital feelings like ordinary people and governed by vital likes and dislikes. "Those she likes she keeps near her, those she likes less she keeps less near, those she dislikes or does not care for she keeps at a distance," that is their childish reasoning. Many of those who feel the Mother's presence and love always with them hardly see her except once in six months or once in a year; – apart from the Pranam and meditation. On the other hand one near her physically or seeing her often may not feel such a thing at all; he may complain of the absence of the Mother's help and love altogether or as compared to what she gives to others. If the childishly simple rule of three given above were true, such outbursts would not be possible.
Whether one feels the Mother's love or not depends on whether one is open to it or not. It does not depend on physical nearness. Openness means the removal of all that makes one unconscious of the inner relation – nothing can make one more unconscious than the idea that it must be measured only by some outward manifestation instead of being felt within the being; it makes one blind or insensitive to the outer manifestations that are there. Whether one is physically far or near makes no difference. One can feel it, being physically far or seeing her little. One can fail to feel it when it is there even if one is physically near or often in her physical presence.
Medicines have quite a different action on the Mother's body than they would have on yours or X's or anybody else's and the reaction is not usually favourable. Her physical consciousness is not the same as that of ordinary people – though even in ordinary people it is not so identical in all cases as "science" would have us believe.
The Mother has had a very severe attack and she must absolutely husband her forces in view of the strain the 24th November will mean for her. It is quite out of the question for her to begin seeing everybody and receiving them meanwhile – a single morning of that kind of thing would exhaust her altogether. You must remember that for her a physical contact of this kind with others is not a mere social or domestic meeting with a few superficial movements which make no great difference one way or the other. It means for her an interchange, a pouring out of her forces and a receiving of things good, bad and mixed from them which often involves a great labour of adjustment and elimination and in many cases, though not in all, a severe strain on the body.
It is much easier for the Sadhak by faith in the Mother to get free from illness than for the Mother to keep free – because the Mother by the very nature of her work had to identify herself with the Sadhaks, to support all their difficulties, to receive into herself all the poison in their nature, to take up besides all the difficulties of the universal earth-Nature, including the possibility of death and disease in order to fight them out. If she had not done that, not a single Sadhak would have been able to practise this Yoga. The Divine has to put on humanity in order that the human being may rise to the Divine. It is a simple truth, but nobody in the Ashram seems able to understand that the Divine can do that and yet remain different from them – can still remain the Divine.
The Mother does not think that it is good to give up all work and only read and meditate. Work is part of the Yoga and it gives the best opportunity for calling down the Presence, the Light and the Power into the vital and its activities; it increases also the field and the opportunity of surrender.
It is not enough to remember that the work is the Mother's – and the results also. You must learn to feel the Mother's forces behind you and to open to the inspiration and the guidance. Always to remember by an effort of the mind is too difficult; but if you get into the consciousness in which you feel always the Mother's force in you or supporting you, that is the true thing.
I do not find that the Mother is a rigid disciplinarian. On the contrary, I have seen with what a constant leniency, tolerant patience and kindness she has met the huge mass of indiscipline, disobedience, self-assertion, revolt that has surrounded her, even revolt to her very face and violent letters overwhelming her with the worst kind of vituperation. A rigid disciplinarian would not have treated these things like that.
It was the Mother who selected the heads [of departments] for her purpose in order to organise the whole; all the lines of the work, all the details were arranged by her and the heads trained to observe her methods and it was only afterwards that she stepped back and let the whole thing go on her lines but with a watchful eye always. The heads are carrying out her policy and instructions and report everything to her and she often modifies what they do when she thinks fit.
The Sadhana is done by the Mother according to the Truth and necessity of each nature and of each plane of Nature. It is not one fixed process.
The Mother finds the pictures of X hideous and monstrous, she would not dignify them with the name of art. But it is not because they depart from tradition. The Mother does not believe in tradition – she considers that Art should always develop new forms – but still these must be according to a truth of Beauty which is universal and eternal – something of the Divine.
Mother never avoids opening letters or any other work because of absence of time: she deals with all the work that comes to her even if she is ill or if she has no time for rest.
Mother prefers that when she walks on the terrace people should not be looking at her because it is the only time when she can concentrate a little on herself – apart from the necessity of taking some fresh air and movement for the health of the body. If she has to attend to the pull of so many people, that cannot be done. The interview she gives you is a different matter; she has to arrange it herself and it is part of her work, so there is no need to change.
The Mother deals with each one in a different way, according to their need and their nature, not according to any fixed mental rule. It would be absurd for her to do the same thing with everybody as if all were machines which had to be touched and handled in the same way.
It is true that the Mother is one in many forms, but the distinction between the outer and the inner Mother must not be made too trenchant; for she is not only one, but the physical Mother contains all the others in herself and in her is established the communication between the inner and the outer existence. But to know the outer Mother truly one must know what is within her and not look at the outer appearances only. That is only possible if one meets her with the inner being and grows into her consciousness – those who seek an outer relation only cannot do that.
The Mother not only governs all from above but she descends into this lesser triple universe. Impersonally, all things here, even the movements of the Ignorance, are herself in veiled power and her creations in diminished substance, her Nature-body and Nature-force, and they exist because, moved by the mysterious fiat of the Supreme to work out something that was there in the possibilities of the Infinite, she has consented to the great sacrifice and has put on like a mask the soul and forms of the Ignorance. But personally too she has stooped to descend here into the Darkness that she may lead it to the Light, into the Falsehood and Error that she may convert it to Truth, into this Death that she may turn it to godlike Life, into this world-pain and its obstinate sorrow and suffering that she may end it in the transforming ecstasy of her sublime Ananda. In her deep and great love for her children she has consented to put on herself the cloak of this obscurity, condescended to bear the attacks and torturing influences of the powers of the Darkness and the Falsehood, borne to pass through the portals of the birth that is a death, taken upon herself the pangs and sorrows and sufferings of the creation, since it seemed that thus alone could it be lifted to the Light and Joy and Truth and eternal Life. This is the great sacrifice called sometimes the sacrifice of the Purusha, but much more deeply the holocaust of the Prakriti, the sacrifice of the Divine Mother.