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Who is van Vrekhem?


as seen by Georges van Vrekhem
in " Beyond the Human Species"
Chapter 23 "Two Rooms" pages 370-373

Satprem, formerly named Bernard Enginger, is a Frenchman who was born in Paris in 1923, but who has always nostalgically remembered his youth on the coast of Brittany. In the Second World War he became a member of the Resistance. He had just turned twenty when the Gestapo arrested him; he spent one and a half years in German concentration camps. After the war, and deeply branded by those experiences, he became an exponent of the problematics and the life-view of Existentialism, although not Sartre and Camus but Gide and Malraux were the main sources of his inspiration.

In 1946, he wrote in a letter to André Gide: "I loved you, and certain passages from your books have helped me to survive in the concentration camps. From you I got the force to break away from a bourgeois and material comfort. Together with you, I have been seeking "not so much for possession as for love." I have made a clean sweep to stand completely new before the new law. I have made myself free ... Finally, I have broken away from you, but I have found no new masters and life keeps suffocating me. The terrible absurdity of the likes of Sartre and Camus has solved nothing and only opens the gates to suicide.' (André Gide, Journal 1942-1949)*. Satprem worked briefly as a functionary in the colonial administration of Pondicherry, but he felt dissatisfied and unfulfilled everywhere and went in search of adventure in French Guyana, Brazil and Africa.

However, when in Pondicherry he had had the darshan of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and he carried The Life Divine with him even in the rain forests of the Amazon. In 1953, after those wanderings, he returned to Pondicherry to meet the Mother and settle in the Ashram against his individualistic and rebellions nature. "[I was] a good rebellious Westerner and all ways of changing the world looked a priori excellent" he writes. He was at times teaching in the Ashram school, and with his remarkable literary talent he looked after the French copy for the Bulletin of the Department of Physical Education which, in fact, was the Mother's publication. This periodical was (and still is) a quarterly and has all texts printed in English and in French.

Satprem's first years in the Ashram were a period of dissatisfaction, restlessness, doubts, and sometimes loudly voiced revolt. He has included part of his correspondence with the Mother in the first volume of the Agenda; these letters present us a moving picture of the patience, understanding and love with which the Mother treated her rebellious children. She has never accepted somebody for the Yoga without a reason, and when she accepted somebody, it was unconditionally and for ever. Time and again Satprem imagined he had to find his inner fulfilment in adventure. There is not an exotic place on Earth he did not feel impelled to go to; the Congo, Brazil (again), Afghanistan, the Himalayas, New Zealand, the Gobi desert, a journey around the globe in a sailing boat all that and more is dreamt of in his letters. But the Mother knew what was really prompting him and she let him become, in 1959, the disciple of a very able tantric yogi who was also the head priest of the big temple in Rameshwaram. Then, guided by another yogi, Satprem wandered during six months as a sanyasi (mendicant monk) through India and received the initiation of the sanyasis. His novel Par le corps de la terre, ou le Sanyassin (By the Body of the Earth, or The Sanyasi) is based on these experiences.

But "the bird always returned to the nest", to the Ashram in Pondicherry, to the Mother. She started inviting him from time to time to her room, at first apparently for some literary chores in connection with the Bulletin. He became more and more spellbound by her. He asked questions (or she instilled the questions into him) and she answered. "At first, she had me called, and there was that big chair in which she was sitting, and I sat down on the carpet on the floor and listened to her. Truly, she knew so much. It was wonderful to listen to her. But most important, little by little she began telling her experience."

However violently Satprem might express himself emotionally, he was a cultured man and possessed a very keen intellect, widely varied interests, and as a writer a passionate, colourful style. We have already seen that the Mother complained about the lack of intellectual eagerness and cultural as well as general interest in the people around her. She had so much to communicate, to share, her knowledge and experience were so broad in all essential domains where the human being is confronted with "the great questions", but so little was asked of her. "I am a little bell that is not sounded", she said. Here now was a man with an analytical mind, a poignant life-experience and a thirst for knowledge - the ideal instrument to communicate to others a glimpse of her unbelievable adventure. At the same time she worked on him, in him; she did his yoga as she did the yoga of all those she had accepted and taken into herself.

Satprem started realizing the importance of those conversations with the Mother and took a tape-recorder to her room. Thus the Agenda came about. One part of it concerned the literary work he was doing for the Mother; another part concerned his own yogic evolution, his yogic education; and the third part of the conversations was intended by the Mother as the registration, in broad outlines, of the process of her transformation. Everything the Mother said was interesting, everything was informative and instructive, though she herself most probably would never have allowed some confidential passages about persons in her entourage to be published.

After the passing of the Mother, a gap has come about between the Ashram and Satprem, with regrettable consequences. Under the Mother's direction he had written Sri Aurobindo, ou l'Aventure de la conscience (Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness), a book that has led so many to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He had also read out to her La Genèse du surhomme (The Genesis of Superman), an essay highly lauded by her. Then after her departure, he wrote the trilogy Mère (Mother), in which for the first time he analyses and comments upon the invaluable material of the Agenda of which he was the only possessor at that time. Le mental des cellules (The Mind of the Cells) is a kind of crystallization of the trilogy, and in Gringo and recently in Evolution II he reports about his own evolution. One gets the impression that he considers himself the only true successor of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In a letter from 1983 one reads: "I had to take the decision to withdraw because I was no longer progressing in my [inner] work, I kept turning around in a circle. There must be at least one human being to prove, to show to the world that the way of the new species is practicable for humans. Otherwise, what is the use of what Mother and Sri Aurobindo have done for humankind?"

* Note: From Gide's answering letter: "The world will only be saved, supposing it can be saved, by the unsubmitted. Without them, our civilization, our culture would be finished together with everything we love and which renders to our presence on earth a hidden justification. They are, those unsubmitted, 'the salt of the earth' and those responsible before God. For I have got the conviction that God does not yet exist and that we have to deserve him. Can one think of a more noble, admirable and worthy task for our endeavours?" (back to text)

"Beyond the Human Species" of Georges van Vrekhem
is published by Paragon House, St Paul, Minnesota, USA
also: diffusion by SABDA
see the Sabda Website (page: Works of Other Authors)

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