Sunday, February 8, 2009

Savitri

A few days before Bryon passed away, I was sworn into the California Bar.

It was the culmination of three years of classes and an intense three months of post-law school study for the bar exam. It was the start of my reentry into the working world.

For three years, I had commuted to and from school on my mountain bike, in shorts, with my ever present backpack full of books. From then on, it was suits and ties and daily shaving.

While still in law school, I had secured a clerkship at a small, high-end business litigation firm in downtown San Diego. Upon graduation from school, the firm hired me full-time. With my positive bar exam results, my cushy student life was over.

I took solace in Sri Aurobindo's final masterpiece: Savitri.

As I've written before, the most significant books I read during my three year law school career were Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga, and The Life Divine. In Savitri's 24,000 lines of blank verse, Auorbindo weaves the themes of his canon into a simple love story.

Here's the basic plot line:

Savitri is a princess. Her father -- the king -- is both regent and sage, but his inner illumination is hidden from the view of most everybody.

Savitri has some sense of providence, of being born for a high purpose. As a young woman, she rides out into the kingdom and beyond, eventually finding a beautiful deserted wood where she meets Satyavan, a young ascetic. They fall in love.

Savitri returns to her parents and tells them that she plans to go and live in the forest with Satyavan. At which point, a messenger of the gods -- Narada -- appears and warns them all that if Savitri weds Satyavan, Satyavan will die.

Undeterred, Savitri goes forward and marries Satyavan anyway. Satyavan is then stricken and the purpose of Savitri's life is revealed -- she was born to conquer death. In the end, she succeeds. The story ends with Savitri and Satyavan riding happily out of the forest and into the kingdom to begin their new life together. That's it in a nutshell -- it's a love story. (Here's Sri Aurobindo's note on the story.)

Savitri is also a symbol for the modern trend of spiritual evolution. Contrary to the commonly held view that renunciation of life -- renunciation of the world -- is the ultimate end of spiritual progress, renunciation is just a means to a more synthetic end: living life liberated from attachment. The message of Savitri isn't to renounce the world, but to embrace it.

That said, Savitri is a challenging read (to put it mildly). Two things made it easier for me though. First, I had already read most of Sri Aurobindo's canon -- particularly The Life Divine. I found the themes to be the same and easily recognizable having had already been exposed to them in Aurobindo's other writings.

Second, I read Savitri in small doses as I commuted into work each day on public transportation. Following the poetic and esoteric language alone -- not to mention trying to keep up with Aurobindo's prodigious vocabulary -- takes concentration. Reading a little at a time made it a lot easier to absorb.

With few exceptions -- politics perhaps being one -- it was difficult for me to imagine a more spiritually challenging profession than being a trial lawyer. Yet, that's the path I began to tread. Savitri made it a little easier.

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