Medhananda’s research into the symbols of Ancient Egypt presents the thesis that the Egyptian images contain the teachings of a rich psychology of self-knowledge, a teaching through symbols.
Behind the strange gods and figures he perceives a multiplicity of archetypes, inner movements, aspects of ourselves, as well as universal principles.
RE the sun, KHEPER the dung beetle or MEHEN the snake reveal themselves as psychological teaching paradigms, as soul- powers we have to discover and perfect on our way to total self-awareness…
Medhananda, 1908 – 1994, was born as Fritz Winkelstroeter in Pforzheim, Germany. He learnt Latin and Greek and became fluent in English and French. Despite his early interest in ancient cultures and their symbols and spirituality he followed the wishes of his father and studied law at Munich, Heidelberg, and Paris. During this time he was privileged to study Chinese under the distinguished scholar Richard Wilhelm, translator of the Chinese I Ching, Tao Te Ching and many other ancient texts.
In 1934, although already launched on a promising legal career, he left Germany with his French wife to escape the rise of Nazism. They went to Tahiti in French Polynesia, settled on its sister island Moorea where they could buy 200 hectares of virgin forest, build a small house and establish themselves as farmers, cultivating vanilla and coffee. Their three children grew up in that paradise. In the radiant silence of that forest, Medhananda started to explore the levels of consciousness accessible to his self-awareness. He also had plenty of opportunity to explore the pre-Christian culture, the age-old gnosis of Polynesia. During the second world war he was interned near Tahiti as an enemy alien.
After his release in 1946 he came across the writings of the Indian philosopher and sage Sri Aurobindo, and in 1952 joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry (India) where he was put in charge of the Sri Aurobindo Library. For many years he taught History of Religions at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, a position he was well-qualified for by his life-long interest in and study of the spiritual cultures of different ages and parts of the world. The teachings of Sri Aurobindo led him readily to take a psychological approach to the symbolic myths and images of ancient cultures. In his conversations and note books we find unusual insights into the deeper psychological significances of e. g. the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, classical myths of Greece and Rome, Germanic sagas and legends and fairy tales, the pre-Christian culture of Polynesia, as well as tales from Buddhist, Sufi, Hindu traditions and the early Christian Gnostics. Some of these perceptions appeared in the various issues of Equals One – the journal of which Medhananda was editor and main author (under a series of playful yet significant pseudonyms) from 1964-1975.
In 1978 he founded together with Yvonne Artaud the Identity Research Institute, a non-profit foundation for psychological research. It was from about 1970 onwards, that he started an in-depth exploration of the symbology of the hieroglyphs and pictorial imagery of ancient Egypt, using the psychological approach that his teacher Sri Aurobindo had initiated for the interpretation of the Indian Vedas (the ancient spiritual texts of India).
What is the meaning of the name “Medhananda”?
Medhananda is composed of Medha and Ananda (two Sanskrit-words):
Medha signifies mind, mental faculties.
Ananda means beatitude, bliss.
To unite Medha and Ananda was the task and inner programme of Medhananda.
We tend to use our mind almost exclusively as an instrument of division and separation.
But on a higher level of the ‘stairs’ of consciousness
there is a mental capacity that is able to connect everything with everything else,
that can perceive all things as interwoven, as a whole and oneness.
To separate, to detach oneself from the oneness of being means pain.
To unite oneself with the whole brings beatitude, Ananda.
To let beatitude (Ananda) flow into the mind (Medha) is Medha-Ananda –
a programme not only for one person, but for all of us.
Medhananda, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo
Excerpts from an article of the Magazine Mother India, October 1994, written by Yvonne Artaud:
“[…] It was after the end of the Second World War, when the Messageries Maritimes resumed their shipping service to French Polynesia, that the only bookseller in Tahiti started receiving, along with the latest novels, works by or about Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Brahmananda, Shankaracharya […] and a list of books by Sri Aurobindo which could be ordered from the publisher Adrien Maisonneuve in Paris. So eventually, whatever books of Sri Aurobindo were available at that time started to arrive. Medhananda plunged into them, saturated himself with them.
Then he wrote to Sri Aurobindo. No copy of this letter seems to have survived, but we have the reply he received from Pavitra (a French disciple and secretary of Sri Aurobindo). This reply, dated 30th September 1949, starts with: ‘Sri Aurobindo me charge de répondre à votre lettre.’ […] Here is an English translation of part of it: ‘Sri Aurobindo has asked me to reply to your letter. He agrees to help you and guide you on the path to divine realisation and supramental transformation […] For you, such a long journey [from Tahiti to Pondicherry] cannot be undertaken lightly. So Sri Aurobindo advises you to wait. If you know how to use profitably the time that is given to you, it will in no way be wasted. Do write from time to time to say how you are getting on…’
[Medhananda was writing to Sri Aurobindo several letters (which show that he intensely felt his spiritual force and support), and Sri Aurobindo in turn sent his answers to him through Pavitra. We are told:]
His [Medhanda’s] penetration into the Divine became integral. At the beginning of 1951, the ‘divine realisation’, promised to him by Sri Aurobindo (expressed in his poem Jivanmukta), reached its consummation.
For several months after his realisation the Ashram heard nothing from him, except orders for new books of Sri Aurobindo as they were published.
Then, on 31 August 1951, after receiving a brochure from Pavitra, Medhananda wrote:
‘I am enthusiastic after reading the prospectus of the School- and University-Centre in Pondicherry, I send you my best wishes for an early start. At the same time, I renew my offer of unconditional service, from cleaning the rooms to collaboration in higher studies of comparative mysticism. Meanwhile I could help you to lay bricks. All my aspiration lies behind these wishes. Please receive the expression of my total devotion.’
After that the Mother gave him permission to come to the Ashram.
Medhananda answered to Pavitra’s announcement of this news:
‘Soma [bliss] arrived at last with your letter. I am getting ready to leave.’ […]
In French Polynesia it was impossible for him to obtain a German passport, and therefore a visa. He left without either, carrying only a letter of recommendation from the Governor of Tahiti to the Governor of Pondicherry. Each time he was asked for his passport and had to explain his situation, the officer in charge exclaimed with a smile: ‘Oh! it is much simpler like that!’
After travelling for two months, he reached the Ashram, on the 15th February 1952. On the 26th of the same month ‘The Mother’ [Mira Alfassa] gave him his name Medhananda, signifying Bliss in the Mind, and with it a new life, a new programme, a new yoga: the integral yoga of Sri Aurobindo.”
Yvonne Artaud, partner of Medhanada
Yvonne Artaud was Medhananda’s partner, co-editor of the Equals One magazines and collaborator in all his research work into ancient Egypt.
Born 1924 in Lyon, France, she was a dental surgeon for young children in Paris before she joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1952. There she became an educator and an artist. She painted and wrote poetry and plays. From 1963 onwards she has been involved in research on the psychology of self-awareness, especially in pre-school children and South Indian primates. Author of numerous studies on animal psychology, as well as early childhood education, she is the creator of several innovative teaching-learning materials including the ‘Aurograms’, a symbol-language to be used as a means of self-expression and communication with very young children from different linguistic backgrounds. Her symbol games ‘The Tasks of Heracles’ and ‘The Great House’ have proved to be of great psychological help in the development of children.