In the Mahabharata, a story is related that illustrates the inability of anyone to judge an action by the outer form it takes or the result that eventuates. The birth of Bhishma is related in the Adi Parva. Prince Shantanu fell in love with a beautiful woman he met and asked her to marry him. She agreed on the condition that he never question any of her acts. She gave birth successively to a number of sons, and immediately took them to the River Ganga and drowned them, one after another. This went on for a number of times. Finally, Shantanu could no longer stand it that his presumptive heirs were being killed by his wife, and he broke the promise and asked her what she was doing! She then replied that he had broken his promise and thus, she would have to depart, but she would keep the last, and final son alive. This son became Bhishma, the renowned elder and warrior in the Mahabharata war. She indicated that she was actually an incarnation of the River Ganga and had taken birth expressly at the request of certain celestial beings, the Vasus, who had been cursed to take a human birth in their former lifetime. She had agreed to release them from the curse by giving birth and then immediately ending their lives. Thus, she was carrying out an action related to another domain, another plane, another realm of existence, played out in the material world of human life. Who among us could have understood such a line of cause and effect that departs so widely from our normal human conceptions about the significance of life on earth!

Many things which happen in the world defy direct interpretation from our mental preconceptions. Different cultures hold different values, people grow with vastly different viewpoints and expectations. Our religious beliefs, our educational background, our political and social framework, our familial circumstances all go to shape how we see and interpret things, and based on these factors, we seem to have a very narrow view and understanding which sometimes gets things right, but many time does not.

A disciple inquires: “Are there not accidents which are almost inevitable? I just read of a case cited by an American who had the gift of clairvoyance. A child was playing on a railway track, it was in danger. Suddenly the witness saw an apparition beside the child and he breathed a sigh of relief, thinking, ‘The child will be saved.’ But to his great astonishment the apparition put its hand over the eyes of the child and threw it in some way under the train. This man was much troubled, he could not understand why a being whom he had taken for a higher being would push a child to its death.”

The Mother responds: “Certainly this may be true, but without having the vision oneself, one can’t explain it.”

“it may be a question of two absolutely different things. Perhaps, indeed, it was its destiny, in the sense that it was the end of the life necessary for its psychic being, it was a death which had been predestined for some reason, because that can happen. Or perhaps it could be an adverse force which he took to be an angel of light, for generally people make this mistake — when they see an apparition they always think it is something heavenly. It is heavenly if you like, but it depends on what heaven it comes from!”

“It is a strange thing because…. Yes, the moment of unconsciousness, the slackening of consciousness may be translated by this someone putting the hand over the eyes.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 5 Occult Forces, pp. 111-112

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast located at
He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
Video presentations, interviews and podcast episodes are all available on the YouTube Channel
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at Lotus Press