Rijuta (Patricia Noonan)
Rijuta—by Anurag Banerjee
While reading the Mother’s Agenda, at several places we find the reference of Rijuta, an American disciple of the Mother. It is a normal trend to ignore the reference of the disciples or followers as the reader is much more interested to know about the Mother only so often Rijuta has been sidelined. But what we cannot ignore are the realizations that the Mother had had in her presence as Rijuta was one of the few persons whose psychic being seems to have been fully developed. This was indeed a rare and great achievement in yoga. So, let’s know and learn more about Rijuta and her life.
Rijuta was born as Patricia Noonan. She hailed from the United States of America where she was quite well-known. She came to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1956 with her husband Michael and when she met the Mother, she caught ‘something’ and she declared to her husband that she would not return. Eventually she became the Mother’s secretary and also received the name of ‘Rijuta’ (meaning ‘straightforward’) from her on 21 May 1960. Rijuta acted as a liaison between the Mother and her American followers and disciples. They used to write letters to the Mother through Rijuta who would reply to them after getting the answers orally from the Mother. She was quite good at writing. The Ashramites remember her as a “very fine”, “wonderful”, “friendly”, “cultured”, “soft-spoken”, “kind and delightful” and “very sweet person”. She was quite pretty, slim and was of short height but whoever met her could never forget the solid tranquility that radiated from her personality and her lovely smile with which she used to greet others. She was quite close to Udar and Mona Pinto, Vishwanath Lahiri, Vasudha and Sujata Nahar. Apart from being the Mother’s secretary, Rijuta also did her manicure. In fact, it was the Mother who had chosen her for the said job.
We find the reference of Rijuta in the book Abismaraniyo Muhurto (Unforgettable Moments) by Priti Das Gupta where the author writes about an incident. Every day in the evening in the Playground in front of the map of India, the Mother used to distribute toffees prepared by Ganapatram to the inmates. Rijuta used to go to the Mother and take the toffees with her left hand. Priti considered Rijuta’s way of taking toffees from the Mother improper and unfair (since normally gifts are received either with the right hand or with both the hands). One day, she asked the Mother: “Why does Rijuta take toffees from you with her left hand? It doesn’t look good.” The Mother looked at her with astonishment. She placed both of her hands in front of Priti and asked her: “What’s the difference between these two hands?” Through this act, the Mother explained that it was necessary to be free from unnecessary customs.
Initially Rijuta stayed in Golconde, the oldest guest house of the Ashram. Later, her husband Michael who was an air-conditioning expert (he was the President of Carrier Air Conditioning Company in Midwest, probably Ohio) built a beautiful house for her just in front of Golconde and Rijuta shifted there. Her house was inaugurated by the Mother. Presently, Manoj Das, the famous litterateur resides there.
Anie Nunnally recalls her contacts with Rijuta to the author: “We would always see each other on the street and she would stop and smile and say a few words but that was the extent of my outer connection with her…She always wore white shorts and a white shirt and walked with a brisk, lively walk… She stayed very much to herself. For a time, early on, Rijuta opened her beautiful home (one of the few that were air-conditioned at that time) for talks given by ashram lecturers on Sri Aurobindo but that ended soon after my arrival and I attended only about two or three of those sessions during the late sixties.”
Michael was extremely fond of Rijuta and loved her dearly. When he understood that Rijuta had no plans of returning to the United States, he built her that house. He was deeply devoted to her and wanted to have children from her. But Rijuta, who had by the time immersed herself completely in the practice of the Integral Yoga, had no such intention. She had consecrated all that she had to the Mother only. She would meet Michael every day at 5 o’clock in the evening for only half an hour though they stayed in the same building; Michael stayed in the ground-floor while Rijuta lived in the first floor. Apart from this brief meeting, she had no other contacts with her husband as his worldly cravings didn’t quite mix with her spiritual ones. (This reminds us of an advice which the Mother had given to Kailas Jhaveri: “There is a stage for human beings when they need to love the Divine through a human being because they are not ready for a direct relation with the Divine. But when the body consciousness progresses and it becomes possible for the cells to enter in constant relation with the Divine without needing the visible presence of another person, the love for another person becomes superfluous and may stop.”) Michael was unhappy with Rijuta’s decision and eventually they parted. He also worked for the Ashram. He constructed the Fruit Room (where Anu Purani worked) and Ravindra Khanna’s Cold Room. He was quite affluent but he speculated with his money in the stock market and lost a great deal of it. He later died in Vellore when Rijuta was still an inmate of the Ashram. When the dead body of Michael came to the Ashram, Rijuta had sent for Udar Pinto who took charge of his burial. Kittu Reddy recalls to the author that Michael used to give away his things outright to others as gifts and the former remembers having received some jeans which were almost brand-new from him.
Meanwhile Rijuta remained intensely engrossed in yoga and books. She hardly came out of her house. The Mother had instructed the staffs of Golconde to take her laundry and food to her in case she didn’t come to collect them. “She was full of enthusiasm and idealism,” recalls Gauri Pinto to the author and adds that her eyes were “full of sparkle.” Bani Mutsuddi corroborates it and informs the author that there was “a wonderful expression of joy” in her eyes. Anie Nunnally informs the author in a personal communication: “Rijuta had the most extraordinary ‘other worldly’ and very intense blue eyes. She definitely had the look of one who was doing a deep and intense sadhana.” She didn’t speak much but her eyes conveyed how deep her inner contact with the Mother was.
Though she was friendly by nature but towards the end of her life in the Ashram Rijuta became isolated. The more her inner contact with the Mother grew the less social she became. This was quite normal because when one accepts the Divine as his/her constant companion, he/she interacts more with the Divine directly than with others. She never had the sense of being lonely because she was always immersed in the Mother. She also faced certain problems with her health, especially her legs as she contracted and suffered from severe arthritis. In the Ashram she was given medical assistance by Dr. Jagannath. Gauri Pinto remembers seeing Rijuta once running round and round in the Sportsground and that had appeared to be quite strange to the former. But in fact she was trying to fight against her illness. Then a time came when Rijuta could hardly move. She was compelled to leave the Ashram and go back to the United States in February 1986 after spending thirty years in the Ashram. Suprabha Nahar remembers Rijuta going out of the ‘Rosary Gate’ of the Ashram main building on the day she was supposed to leave the Ashram; she had gone to offer her pranāms at the Samadhi by taking the short-cut route through the ‘Rosary Gate.’ Eventually she suffered a lot due to the arthritis of the hip and knees as a result of which she remained confined to her apartment at Eau Claire (the address was 1025 MacArthur Avenue, # 116 Eau Claire, WI 54701) where she breathed her last probably in 1987. She was in her sixties when she left her body. She was helped a little by her brother about whom nothing much is known.
In a personal communication to the author, Eric Hughes of Matagiri Sri Aurobindo Centre who corresponded with Rijuta right from the time when she was the Mother’s secretary till November 1986 writes about her:
“She spoke of nothing about her life, [she wrote] only of her sadhana. She wrote very encouraging letters about Matagiri and our work here and spoke about things that Mother told her—about Matagiri, about yoga and other things…Her letters were full of her devotion to Mother and to her discipline as well as great affection and encouragement to us at Matagiri. She was very optimistic and a true sadhak [sadhika].”
Apparently Rijuta’s life seemed very ordinary. But she was one of those advanced yogis of the Ashram who never let others have a glimpse at their inner lives. She had a unique relationship with the Mother; in the Mother’s Agenda, the reference of Rijuta would come up at several places. Let’s quote some of them:
22 May 1968
I said this to Rijuta the other day: there are immense periods during which things are prepared—the past wears out and the future is prepared—and those are immense periods… neutral, drab, during which things keep repeating themselves over and over, and look as if they will always remain that way. Then, all of a sudden, between two such periods, the change takes place. Like the moment when man appeared on earth—now it’s something else, another being.
In any case, it is certain that we shall see the signs, or rather that we are now seeing the precursory signs… I said to Rijuta while announcing to her (she didn’t know it) that the U.S. president would go to Moscow to sign a peace treaty with Vietnam. There were three wars, one of which had stopped but wasn’t resolved: that was the war between Egypt and Israel, over which they have reached an agreement. I forget the third. And all the three wars at the same time. But the most serious of the three was the war between America and Vietnam. So I said to her, I told her, “This is a sign.”
And it isn’t a mental conception, it’s not ideas: at the time of saying it I SAW it, I saw.
Yes, something is really changing.
Those are still the precursory signs, the forerunner movements, so it’s scattered, not combined, but for one who can see, it’s obvious.’
11 September 1968
For me, only one thing has happened… A very interesting fact that I noted. I forget the occasion and how it took place, but it was the day before yesterday, and the fact I noted was the presence of the psychic being—that the psychic being hasn’t gone at all. I said [on August 28], “The vital and the mind have gone,” but the psychic being hasn’t.
I think it was in relation to someone I saw (I don’t remember), and I noticed that a very great power was there, and the PHYSICAL being, the body, was conscious of the presence of the psychic being, which was constantly there, behind. It hasn’t gone. Conscious.
It was a day when someone had come (I forget who), and the whole Force which was there before concentrated on that person—it was the same thing: the Force, the Presence, with the same Presence on the person. And then, it was the psychic being which said, “But I haven’t gone, I’ve remained here!” With its full consciousness, you understand. It’s the intermediaries [i.e. the mind and the vital] that have gone.”
The person whom the Mother was unable to recall was Rijuta.
6 April 1969
One day, I received someone here (it was Rijuta, in fact), and the body asked this Consciousness, like that, it asked, “How, how to make sure there is no mixture of all the lower movements with this light?” Then (I was sitting here), there came down a sort of column wide like this (gesture of about five feet), here, (gesture in front of Mother), like a column of light. But it came down IN THE ROOM… It wasn’t “elsewhere”—it was here. To such a point that I saw it with my own eyes…A light…indefinable, dazzling… so tranquil…so steady…And without any vibrations! And its colour… indefinable, in the sense that it was neither white nor golden…It was as if EVERYTHING was there. It can’t be described. Wonderful.’
Then the Mother explained how this consciousness took her consciousness and circled around her starting from her left and after going through the column of light, it returned to her on her right. And then it took Rijuta’s consciousness in the same circular manner through the column of light and came back to her.
‘It went through’, continues the Mother, ‘and there was an outline [while crossing through the column of light], an outline, and in the place of the head, it was blue, it had become blue [i.e. a shadow in the light]. That was Rijuta’s effect: an outline. Then it said something to me (wordlessly…in English):
“When you stand in the light of the Supreme Consciousness you must not make a shadow.”
It’s the first time the physical body has had an experience of that sort, with the eyes wide open. I saw it come down…settle down and stay there. And all the cells seemed to be thirsting and thirsting for that—it was wonderful! Inexpressible!’
The Mother spoke about the same experience on 3 May 1969. And finally on 1 July 1970, in the presence of Rijuta, the answer of how the supramental being would arise from an animal humanity was revealed to her. The Mother, seeing the psychic being of Rijuta, realized that the psychic being will ‘materialize itself and become the supramental being.’ And the Mother informs Satprem: ‘One understands: the psychic being materializes itself…and that gives continuity to the evolution…I was really interested. It [the psychic being of Rijuta] was there, calm and quiet, and it said to me: “You were trying to find out? Well, there it is. Yes, it is that!”…But I had never sought to know what its appearance was like. And when I saw Rijuta, I understood. And I see it, I’m seeing it still, I’ve kept the memory. It was as if the hair on the head was red (but it was not like that). And its expression! An expression so fine, and sweetly ironical…And it is precisely the psychic that survives. So, if it materializes itself, it means the abolition of death…”
The Mother also noticed that the psychic being of Rijuta which was bigger than her physical being was “unsexed”, that is, “neither man nor woman.” Moreover it had the colour of the orange hibiscus that the Mother had chosen as the symbol of Auroville. Let’s not forget the vision of the Mother of the supramental ship [3 February 1958] where she had seen the founders of the New World having the same colour, that is, orange. A few lines of the said vision are quoted:
“I was on a huge ship, which is a symbolical representation of the place where the work is being done. This ship, as large as a city, is fully organized and surely must already have been functioning for some time, for its organization was completely established. It is the place where the people are being trained who are destined for the supramental life. These people (or at least a part of their being) had already undergone a supramental transformation, for the substance of the ship itself and of everything on board was neither material nor subtle-physical, vital or mental: it was the supramental substance.
This substance consisted of the most material supramental, the supramental substance nearest to the physical world and the first that will manifest. The light was a mixture of gold and red, resulting in a uniform substance of a luminous orange. Everything was like that—the light was like that, the people were like that—everything had that colour, although in various tones so that things could be distinguished. The general impression was that of a world without shadows; there were colour variations but no shadows.”
In the same conversation of 1 July 1970, the Mother said: “It was also when Rijuta was here that I had the experience of the supramental light going through within [Mother] without causing any shadow. Rijuta has something like that…”
Like Rijuta, there were many sadhaks and sadhikas in the Ashram who were misjudged by their outer appearances. Mridubhashini, better known as Mridu-di, was Sri Aurobindo’s cook. Known for her short temper and fat body, she was teased by the Ashram boys who played pranks on her for sheer fun. But on the night of 20 September 1962 when she breathed her last while sleeping, around 12 o’clock Sri Aurobindo came to the Mother and said, “I am taking Mridu.” When Gangadhar (a sadhak who worked in the Ashram Sanitary Service) died on 16 August 1992, his mortal body was kept for his village people to pay homage. For three days the body was kept and there was no smell and deterioration in it. When Prithwi Singh Nahar left his body on 13 April 1976, the next day when everyone went to his room, they saw that his mortal body was emanating light and the entire room was illumined. The light subsided a few hours before the mortal body was taken to the crematorium. Suzzane Karpelés (better known as Bharati-di in the Ashram) was a specialist of Pali and Sanskrit and was well-known in the Ashram community for her ‘sparkling wit’ and ‘liveliness’. She was a practitioner of Buddhism and had once told the Mother: “You who know what death is, you don’t know what my death is!” After she left her body on 7 November 1968 in Vellore (she did not want anyone from the Ashram to be present at the time of her death or funeral), the Mother looked for her soul but could not trace it; she kept looking for hours in the occult planes but in vain. And therefore the Mother had remarked to Satprem: “I thought it was her old Buddhism and she had gone into some Nirvana…” and “I may say that I’ve never been so occupied with someone’s departure as I have been with hers.”
Such sadhaks and sadhikas were just like an oyster which showed its priceless pearls to none.
[Written with inputs about Rijuta’s life from Chitra Sen, Vasanti Rao, Suprabha Nahar, Robi Ganguli, Bani Mutsuddi, Gauri Pinto, Kittu Reddy, Eric Hughes, and Anie Nunnally. Photograph: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives.]
Born on 13 October 1984, Anurag Banerjee
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- Aspects of Amal Kiran
- Attaining immortality
- Datta (Dorothy Mary Hodgson)
- Dilip Kumar Roy
- Dr. Govindo Gopal Mukhopadhyay
- Krishna Chakravarti
- Prithwi Singh Nahar
- Sri Aurobindo’s Birth Place
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