25 Dec 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

Quick answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. Peter Heehs has written a “scholarly biography” of Sri Aurobindo intended “for the Western mind”. What is wrong with that?

2. PH has written for the Western mind and Western scholars. Sometimes it may be necessary to present things differently to make Sri Aurobindo more acceptable and accessible to the West!

3. But isn’t there a clear vertical split between the views of Eastern and Western disciples of Sri Aurobindo? Isn’t the response to the book in India more sentimental and emotional?

4. Why was there a campaign to malign PH? Should there not be a respectful intellectual debate on differences in viewpoints?

5. Why is it so important to provide academic refutations to PH’s book? Why has not such a detailed response been offered so far to other writers who also have misrepresented Sri Aurobindo?

6. What can be so harmful in the long run, after all this is merely a book. How can a book ever harm Sri Aurobindo or his work? Should we not simply ignore its distortions and let them fade away in time?

7. Isn’t the very effort to refute the book giving it more publicity? Would it not have been better to ignore it and allow it to fade away?

8. But PH’s book on Sri Aurobindo is nowhere nearly as damaging as Jeffrey Kripal’s book on Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Is the comparison justified?

9. PH has claimed that the controversy has been created by a selection of quotations taken out of context from his book. Further he says that one must read the entire book to be able to properly understand and judge these quotations.

10. When placed in the proper context, are not the critical sentences balanced out equally by praise? PH claims that he uses a style of argument “similar to the purvapaksha-uttarapaksha form of argument of Sanskrit rhetoric” which he says is “a form of argument used [by] Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine.”

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12 Dec 2008

List of Categories for Labelling Posts

This lists various categories under which a post can be tagged. The objective is to place on one location all the categories with distinguishing features to use tags in a consistent manner across all posts. This will help reduce synonymous tags which make searching more difficult for users.

The following are some categories which users can begin with. They can always create new ones if these do not serve the purpose. Keep in mind that a post can be marked with as many tags as you like -- they are not mutually exclusive. The list of tags is organised in three categories.

Tags which define the broad type of post

  • Letter: This is used to tag long letters which have been part of some correspondence originally.
  • Article: Tags long articles/discussion which cover a broad range of issues and which may or may not be tied to any particular passage of its text.
  • Refutation: This tag marks any text that refutes specific passages in the book.
  • Background: Discussion on any background material on the book, author, publishers, promoters or related issues.
  • In the News: News reports on the book and its controversy.
  • Opinions: Letters expressing opinions, feelings, reactions or feedback on the book.
  • Administrative: Tags posts which relate to this website content.

Tags which define the nature of the distortion exposed

  • Defective Scholarship: This tags examples of flawed or non-existent scholarship.
  • Speculation: This marks passages which try to pass off speculation in the guise of an informed opinion or a scholarly view.
  • Inconsistency: Tags the text exposing the numerous statements that are inconsistent or self-contradictory across the book.
  • Distortion of Context: Tags use of quotations or references out of context.
  • Distortion of Quotation: Tags distortion of quotation or quote marks used when there is no actual quotation that is referred to.
  • Suppression of Facts: Tags deliberate suppression of facts which would disprove the thesis.
  • Perverse Intent: Discussion exposing perverse intent of the author of the book.

Tags which describe the theme of the text under discussion

  • Madness: Covers all discussions on madness, insanity, mental instability of any figure. This is given a separate tag because of the numerous passages in the book that try to suggest mental imbalance.
  • Romance: This can be used to cover all associated themes including sex and romance.
  • Politics: Includes political phase, activities and ideas.
  • Record of Yoga: Any passage relating to the Record of Yoga directly or indirectly.
  • Miscellaneous: Meant for minor and rare topics that do not deserve a tag name by themselves.
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27 Nov 2008

Background facts which set a context for this book

We need to take the full facts into cognisance before passing any judgment on those who have taken cudgels against the book and its author.

1. The author is an Ashram Archives member with full access to all the documents.
2. He has used unpublished material without prior permission (though those responsible are mute on this, they have not denied it either), violating all sense of copyrights. Almost all of these quotes are to show something which may stir a controversy. One wonders why would someone with a clear conscience do that?
3. This is not his first act. Since long he has been taking some sort of a pleassure in challenging Sri Aurobindo's own statements based on some tortuous and dubious documents. One wonders why would one go to any length to prove that Sri Arobindo's Adesha of which he spoke clearly should be doubted and alternative explanations given.
4. There are several such instances that have build up over the years, which includes a bitter case of 'Savitri' which included, among other changes his attempt to replace the word Last with Lust, though the former went much accurately. Words like 'pierced' that were not only in the original version but also read by the Mother and dictated by Her to Huta has been changed to 'peered'. In all these changes there has been much more vehemence than one finds now with regard to his book. That the case was won does not assuage the heart of the devotees who felt cheated and have over the years lost their confidence in his 'good work' as the common perception (not legal) based on various issues is that there is tampering going on with Their words. All this may have nothing to do with the book but has something to do with its author for the two are inseparable.
5. It is not a question of accepting Sri Aurobindo's defects or imperfections, it is just that they have been put without referece to their inner sense. The act of Sri Aurobindo's smoking or taking an ocassional glass of wine is there in other biographies. Besides Sri Aurobindo's own statements are there relating to his not being a good husband etc. People never had any problems with that. If they were just so fundamentalist and dogmatically religious, they would have reacted long before. But these earlier biographies which also mention some of these informations have been widely read, welcomed ad appreciated. One needs to ask, - why?
6. The point is that the book often mentions one half of the truth and leaves the other to be filled in by our own minds. Naturally, some disciples fill it with the information that they have, say about Sri Aurobindo taking upon himself the burden of earth nature etc. But the book does not mention that dimension at all. It is one thing to show the human and the Divine side, the physical and the psychic facts and then putting them side by side to synthesise the two. It is quite another to overemphasise the outer and minimise the inner simply because the author does not see it. This makes the book lop-sided.
7. Is it really as objective as it purports to be? Anyone who has done some detailed reading of Sri Aurobindo knows that it is not. There is a very deliberate slant. To give just one example out of many see that part on Love where of all the available quotes he choses to quote one that may be most misundertood by someone not familiar with the totality of things or inwardly not mature enough.
8. The author himself starts the war by declaring all other biographies as exagerrations and hagiographies giving the lie to others. This and his detailed discussion of the photograph is in very bad taste and speaks of the whole approach.
9. All this is important to consider and not simply go on praising or condemning anything and everything. The whole attitude and approach of the book is more to challenge and criticise, judge and give marks to Sri Aurobindo. It is that which is the problem and not the fact of his being an Avatara or not. It is not a question whether Sri Aurobindo is perfect or not, it is also about who is judging him and believes that he is capable of judging. Is this a good approach fr a disciple and an Ashram member, whether Eastern or Western? Does the Western disciple find his path of progress opened by discussing the words of His Master with the analytical mind and the critical attitude? Is that what Sri Aurobindo has endorsed for the Western disciples? I am not talking here of discussing the principles of yoga or its experiences with the analytical mind but judging the Guru Himself? If you feel that yes that is how the Westerner should grow and it is fine for them, then there is nothing more to say. Then we have to admit that Sri Aurobindo gave two yogas, - one for the East that emphasises on aspiration for the Divine, rejection of doubts, discouragements, inertia, vital ego etc, and surrender of all one is and has, above all a wide integral opening to the Divine Mother. The other he gave to the West in which the disciple must proceed through doubt and analysis of the guru and his words, reject whatever he does not find right on the testing ground of his analytical mind, question and criticise the Master's words, regard the Mother as 'someone thriving on ceremonies' mocking things like pranam and darshan as mere adulation. The integrality of yoga is true but does it mean that there are two yogas? If so then there s nothing more to say. Each to his own and each must follow his road refers to the path and its broad outlines. Does it also mean doing whatever one wants, even disregarding what They have said or cautioned and publicly challenging at least some of them. Does it also mean, for instance one may or may not accept the Mother, one may or may not surrender, one may or may not aspire?
10. It is these issues that the book itself opens that need to be made the subject of the discussion with the will to discover the path. We need to discuss some of the hypothesis that the book advances. To name a few: - One must not accept everything that They have said and can be critical of the Master's experiences. - All talk of inner and occult dimensions and acceptance of what one cannot objectively verify by one's own mind and senses is mere hagiography and myth.- Are previous biographies mere myths.- Is faith same as dogma. There are many other such things..
11. The Mother and Sri Aurobindo themselves have turned disciples away from the Ashram and so have the trustees done that in the past because it was felt that the person's stay in the Ashram premises is detrimental to the collective atmosphere. This was not, mind you, any expulsion from Yoga, only a shift of place. So were the Mother ad Sri Aurobindo and the trustees being religious or they were simply following a simple practical truth of yoga that there are some conditions needed for the same like in any other endeavour. And if one is not ready or willing to fulfil the conditions then the world is there to try out and live your life your way. When Sri Aurobindo told someone categorically that if he is unable to accept the Mother's divinity it is better for him to leave the Ashram and go away, was He being religious? When the Mother threw away a book and exploded like a 'veritable Mahakali' when someone read out a passage that soke of Sri Aurobindo in bad taste was She being religious? When She asked Amal to ask X to discontinue contributing his articles to Mother India simply because he had a crtical attitude towards Sri Aurobindo was She being religious? To a surface view it may look like it but She was only teaching us the right attitude of spiritual life and preventing us from the much severe occult and karmic repurcussions that invariably accompany when we belittle or even question and criticise Someone who represents for 'you' the Divine and has taken upon Himself all your material and spiritual responsibilities. There is a huge difference between a disciple writing a biography with a critical attitude and smeone else who is not connected.
12. It is absolutely true that good may come out of what men call evil and evil come out of what men think is good. This applies to any book and any person. It is also true that the inner ebing may mislead while a most useless book may guide one who s destined to arrive. That is a general truth. In real life, however one has to chose and choice implies accepting one thing while rejecting another. The word Integral also did not mean accepting lower forms of knowledge such as the kind that analysis may give even as it does not mean confusiong the effervescent emotions and surface sentiments as bhakti or mere any work, even selfless work as karma. The spirit and the attitude is important, the acceptance of the higher and even an opening and receptivity, a faith in higher things is what one has to accept while one has to reject doubts on the Guru, on one's own spiritual destiny, on the truths of the yoga etc. The book gives a everse hypothesis, you must have faith in your analysis while question the higher things. Faith is dogma while doubt is the way. All talk of psychical truths is hagiography while talk about physical facts alone is true, that which is objectively verifiable with the senses is true. It will be worthwhile if the group discusses ome of these hypothesis that the book advances and finds their own answers. In this discovery, I suppose lies the path to reconciliation and understanding and not a blind sympathy or antipathy towards the author simply because he is a personal friend and known to us. That may inspire us to help him but not blindly support. And the best help one can give him at this juncture is to show him where things have gone wrong, to open him to Their Light and Love, to give him faith and ask for Grace. For whether we are out of an Ashram or not, whether people apprecaite our work or not, the real thing that matters is whether we are open and given to Them or not. The yoga is not dependent upon a geographical place but each geographical and collective unit has its own purpose and force-field. The Ashram, one supposes is a place for those who have no qualms about accepting the Mother and Sri Aurobindo as the Divine incarnate. For the rest there is the whole world to follow one's path and find one's way.
12. Yes life is long and yoga is longer and behind all experiences and appearances, however bitter, there is the luminous smile of Grace and the Light of Their Love. One wishes that the author is able to see and feel it.
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12 Nov 2008

Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Humanity—a Comment

It is possible to look at Sri Aurobindo in context of the future of humanity but that should be primarily done recognizing him as the Master-Yogi and perhaps not so much as a traditional or professional Master-Philosopher appealing to the rationalist of the western kind. It is justifiably said that Sri Aurobindo gives us a framework of thought, as well as pragmatics of psychology, that carries us forward in becoming a better acceptable individual and a better organised collectivity. Due credit is also given to him as a Master-Critic for giving us a creative expression which is futuristic uttering the Word of the Spirit. His writings do mark “a blueprint for a destiny which he announces as a life divine”.

But in order to get to this life divine, the life divine something else, something radically different from all these things has to happen.

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The Avataric Work: Towards the Intermediate Race

The Gita reveals that the purpose of the divine Incarnation or coming as an Avatar is to do the divine work, diyam karma. This is not only to destroy evil and establish the righteous Law, but is actually to take the progressive evolutionary march to the next higher stage. Sri Aurobindo came to do that, to bring the Spermind in the terrestrial play and make the divine manifestation here upon earth a possibility. We have to see from whatever has been revealed to us if this is present in his life and in his work. Representation of that work should be the genuine concern for any study of his, including biographical. If this is missed the that study is a waste of effort and one need not really attach any importance to it. Unfortunately that is precisely what is happening in the case of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. However, in this article we shall briefly try to look into some of the aspects of the yogic work carried out by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the work having progressed in formulating a link between Man the Mental Being and the Supramental Race, the Intermediate Race. We shall discuss this in the context of the visit of the heavenly sage Narad to Aswapati as we have in the Book of Fate of Savitri. It provides the necessary framework to appreciate the issues that are deeply involved in the process.

[The Gita reveals that the purpose of the divine Incarnation or coming as an Avatar is to do the divine work, diyam karma. This is not only to destroy evil and establish the righteous Law, but is actually to take the progressive evolutionary march to the next higher stage. Sri Aurobindo came to do that, to bring the Spermind in the terrestrial play and make the divine manifestation here upon earth a possibility. We have to see from whatever has been revealed to us if this is present in his life and in his work. Representation of that work should be the genuine concern for any study of his, including biographical. If this is missed the that study is a waste of effort and one need not really attach any importance to it. Unfortunately that is precisely what is happening in the case of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. However, in this article we shall briefly try to look into some of the aspects of the yogic work carried out by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the work having progressed in formulating a link between Man the Mental Being and the Supramental Race, the Intermediate Race. We shall discuss this in the context of the visit of the heavenly sage Narad to Aswapati as we have in the Book of Fate of Savitri. It provides the necessary framework to appreciate the issues that are deeply involved in the process.]

The heavenly sage Narad sets himself out from Paradise to visit Aswapati and on his way to the palace sings the song of evolution. Its theme is the unfolding reality of this creation and its mood is an offering of joy to its enjoyer, to the Bhokta himself. In the sweetness of his name the song arrives at the transfiguration and the ecstasy about to be born on earth and Narad is in raptures to see it soon happen. Indeed, the chant itself is a prophetic rush

Of life that slumbers in the stone and sun
And mind subliminal in mindless life,
And the consciousness that wakes in beasts and men…
Of Godhead throwing off at last its veil,
Of bodies made divine and life made bliss,
Immortal sweetness clasping immortal might,
Heart sensing heart, thought looking straight at thought,
And the delight when every barrier falls,
And the transfiguration and the ecstasy.

The long course of evolution might have been full of travail and uncertainties; but then it is evolution with a definite purpose also, felicitous purpose, of divine birth in the material creation. In its essentiality it is the evolution of consciousness in the ascending grades of the spirit itself and it has to move on. It has presently advanced to the mental level, but there are higher and vaster ranges of consciousness stretching beyond it and these must enter into the evolutionary scheme. Conscious participation of man in it is now possible, and indeed man does make an effort also to exceed himself. But his soul is burdened by the weight of the inconscient past and a thousand forces are there to thwart his faltering attempts. In the presence of such difficulties he might easily succumb and fail to carry the evolution forward. There is even opposition built into the character of man: he is not only suspect of spiritual possibilities; there is in him a deep-seated irreverence for it, even a fierce antagonism. Oftentimes cross is the payment for the crown offered to him.

Hard is the world-redeemer’s heavy task;
The world itself becomes his adversary,
His enemies are the beings he came to save.
Those he would save are his antagonists.

This is what Narad tells to Savitri’s mother who questions God for the kind of world he has created. In 1616 Galileo maintained that Faith and Reason, Fides et Ratio, can never contradict each other; for holding such a view he had to suffer and pay a heavy price. Marx loudly proclaimed that “religion is the sigh of the oppressed class”, and a whole section of the society fell prey to its logic. True, creedal religion is a monstrosity and “excessive legalism of the Roman Catholic Church” is anti-spiritual; same is the story with other forms of orthodoxy and fundamentalism, classical or modern, even with scientific and materialistic philosophies with all their stubbornness and arrogance, their irrational denials. With the least hesitation all such retrograde impositions must be removed, dismissed at once. Jean-Paul Sartre’s is a godless universe and he tells us that in such a universe the only meaning or purpose of life is to set the goals for oneself and achieve them. But then these existential notions or ideas make the universe a stopped-up system, closing on itself, without the occurrence of further openings or prospects. But there are also noble and elevating thoughts and feelings and deeds in various branches of human activity, with its conquests and triumphs which must be duly acknowledged. There is the religio-mystical experience of seeing God in the world and the world in God. There is the fine perception that “Logos is the blueprint and exemplar of the created universe.” Indeed, Jalalu’d-din Rumi, the thirteenth century Persian Sufi poet, has the intuition of a unique dawn breaking in our skies, of the happy naissance to new-shape our life:

… to-night this world is heavy and in travail,
Striving to give birth to an eternal world.

In the possibility of such a birth here is the wonderful perception of a genuine mystic. Yet the question is: will that eternal world’s birth occur at all? And how will it happen? Or is it just a small vulnerable imagination, feeble, flickering, a longing and an anticipation of a dreamy poet to escape sorrow and suffering that to-night characterise heaviness and anguish of this transient world? And then will this to-night’s struggling world by itself, by its own effort, its own propulsion, bring about a world of undecaying and deathless happiness? Even granting for a moment that in its deepest secrecy there is something remarkable, something truly magnificent, yet a misgiving remains whether this to-night’s world with its own endeavour, by its own labour and struggle can give rise to the eternal world. Is it in a position to assert itself against all opposition? Can man play any pivotal role in this respect and, if he can, will he? Is he capable to do this at all?

“If a spiritual unfolding on earth is the hidden truth of our birth into Matter, if it is fundamentally an evolution of consciousness that has been taking place in Nature,” writes Sri Aurobindo, “then man as he is cannot be the last term of that evolution: he is too imperfect an expression of the Spirit, Mind itself a too limited form and instrumentation; Mind is only a middle term of consciousness, the mental being can only be a transitional being. If, then, man is incapable of exceeding mentality, he must be surpassed and Supermind and superman must manifest and take the lead of the creation. But if his mind is capable of opening to what exceeds it, then there is no reason why man himself should not arrive at Supermind and supermanhood or at least lend his mentality, life and body to an evolution of that greater term of the Spirit manifesting in Nature.” Behind this luminous metaphysics is knowledge of the yogi-seer founded on his realisations. We have here the revelation of what is held for the evolution.

Sri Aurobindo in his independence-day message, of 15 August 1947, speaks of “a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society.” Undoubtedly, there are difficulties on the way but difficulties are made to be overcome and if the supreme will is there, tells Sri Aurobindo, they will be overcome.

One way out of the difficulties could be Nirvana; but its immutable peace is at the cost of making nonsense of life, this samsāra; no doubt this life is despicable, yet in its intrinsic contents it has a meaning and a purpose also. In Nirvana there is neither the growing individual perfection nor a society making more progress; they have to be here in the world-dynamism based on its truth. According to the Jewish myth Adam was created immortal but death entered the world through sin. The saviour came and bore the cross of pain, yet fundamentally no transformative change took place. But there is something positive also in man. The flame in him may be flickering. But why does a flame flicker, leap? The core of the flame, the hottest part in it, becomes lighter due to the gaseous combustion and the lighter gases at the core of the flame move upward and the denser air from beneath the flame fills the void at the core. The lamp continues to burn in leaps. Hence we have leaping tongues. There is something in the heart of man which keeps on burning and its leaping is a sign of its growth, progress. Rumi has a vision of exceeding what man presently is, exceeding even the greatness of the angels of heaven. Here is his song of evolution:

I died from minerality and became vegetable;
And from vegetablensss I died and became animal.
I died from animality and became man.
Then why fear disappearance through death?
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth the wings and feathers like angels;
After that, soaring higher than angels—
What you cannot imagine,
I shall be that.

In spite of his diffidence and refusal and opposition, in spite of his dumbness, man’s hope and longing and aspiration lead him on to nobler heights, to bluer and brighter skies, to the gold-hued empyrean. The psychic flame within him continues to burn, and leap. His spirit climbs the ascending slopes of heaven. He crosses the Upanishadic gates of the sun to live in immortality of the Self. He certainly has an inkling that this creation’s bliss is in truth, as much as its truth is in bliss. There is even the revelation that God’s glory shines throughout the universe. “Dante informs us that he has been to paradise, and has seen things so extraordinary that he cannot possibly hope to tell about them. Nevertheless, he determines to make this final song his crowning achievement as a poet, and he calls on the Muses for inspiration as he focuses on his journey heavenward. At noon on the spring equinox, Dante, still in the Earthly Paradise, sees Beatrice gazing into the sun, and he imitates her gaze. In so doing, he becomes aware of an extraordinary brightness, as though God had placed in the heavens a second sun, and feels himself being ‘transhumanised’ in preparation for his experience of Paradise. He then finds himself soaring heavenward through God’s grace, although he is uncertain whether it is his soul or his corporeal self that rises. As Dante and Beatrice pass out of the earth’s atmosphere into a sphere of fire that lies above it, Dante hears the music of the spheres. This music fills him with wonderment and perplexity, but before he can question Beatrice about it, she explains to him the teleological order of the universe, and how it is only natural that, having been purified, he should now rise heavenward.”

Yet, if at all, only awhile can stay such a state—because our restless nether members get tired of it. On the “heart’s altar the sacred fire is dim, and an old pull of subconscious cords renews, and the unwilling spirit is drawn back from the heights.” Here is in fact a fundamental issue staring at the soul of man, and it has to meet the challenge. The Mother explains: “This is the great difficulty in the physical life. It is the strength of the old habit that pulls down the body to its old way. Then comes the struggle, and if the faith is sufficient, if the ardour for progress is there, then out of this fall we can rise to a higher receptivity and a better achievement. In fact, there is nothing in this experimental life that is not meant to push the whole creation towards the luminous, marvellous Divine End that is promised to our effort and to our faith… . If we can enlarge our consciousness sufficiently, we see that even the apparent defeats are marvellous steps towards the final Victory.” The pull-and-push is real in this world, the ancient tussle between the forces of light and darkness, between evil and good, between ignorance and knowledge, between life and death, between Matter and Spirit.

But the solution lies in our enlarging the consciousness sufficiently. Man should be in a position to keep aside his mind and open to the superior states waiting to descend in him. That is the true evolutionary answer to the thousand problems that afflict him. The knowledge of intuition and the knowledge of rationality are quite different things and it may not be even possible for them to come together. From the infra-rational stage to the rational was a great leap; a greater leap from the rational to the supra-rational will make man’s manhood progressive, complete. He must understand it—because he is equipped to understand it; the evolutionary foundation has already got it established in its design. In the course of time his faculties must become sharper, keener, subtler, more intense; it is only then will he exceed the typal limits under which he presently works.

It is true that with progress in awareness the consciousness of time, for instance, marks a definite step forward, that it can differentiate time from changes and events “taking place” in it. Yet the fact that time itself is a dynamic power effecting changes and events is difficult for rational mind to recognise. We speak of zeitgeist but do not acknowledge it as an entity per se. The being of time is an occult reality and we are oblivious of it. Only when our psychic faculties open out, when the flame within us burns in a steady manner, “motionless like the light of a lamp in a windless place” as the Gita says, when the Godward will is unfaltering and intense, can we then get a glimpse of it. Will man keep aside his mentality and live in his soul? We are presently living in the hour of God and we are not aware of it. When the hour comes “even a little effort produces great results and changes destiny.” In it can be achieved all that the soul aspires for; in it can be the true fulfilment also of the human race. In it is the glad celebration of the work of time. An “aeon”, meaning not only “eternity” but also universe, is itself a power emanating from the supreme Being, playing various roles in the operation. It is personification of an age and new aeons are equinoxes of God. The two aeons of Christianity are Jesus and Sophia. When Sophia emanates without her partner aeon, the result is the Demiurge. In many gnostic systems the various emanations of God are called aeons. They constitute the pleroma, the “region of light”. The lowest regions of the pleroma are closest to the darkness; that is, the physical world. Here is time in its several manifestations.

In this physical world appearance of a being greater than man is the “divine promise” to be realised in the majesty of the steps of this dynamic and participative time. Time-Spirit as the Devourer was abroad on the battlefield of the epochal Kurukshetra; in our own fierce and forceful times it thundered through nations and trampled over them during the Second World War. Kāla-Bhairava dances wild to destroy all that stands across the path of the divine Event. He opens out a new era in evolutionary march of the soul of the earth. “Man is a transitional being” and in time there has to arrive the superman.

Speaking of the vaster light and profounder bliss Sri Aurobindo writes as follows: “Mind indeed can never be a perfect instrument of the Spirit; a supreme self-expression is not possible in its movements because to separate, divide, limit is its very character. Even if mind could be free from all positive falsehood and error, even if it could be all intuitive and infallibly intuitive, it could still present and organise only half-truths or separate truths and these too not in their own body but in luminous representative figures put together to make an accumulated total or a massed structure. Therefore the self-perfecting mental being here must either depart into pure spirit by the shedding of its lower existence or return upon the physical life to develop in it a capacity not yet found in our mental and psychic nature… . The mental being exceeding his sphere does not… bring down its greater spiritual nature into this lower triplicity; for here the mental being is the highest expression of the Self. Here the triple mental, vital and physical body provides almost the whole range of our capacity and cannot suffice for that greater consciousness; the vessel has not been built to contain a greater godhead or to house the splendours of this supramental force and knowledge.”

The problem is therefore to build a vessel to hold the greater godhead in life here. The Vedic Rishis called the human body an unbaked vessel, atapta tanu, in which practically no tapas has been done, no spiritual consciousness has been established to receive Light, Knowledge, Power, Immortality, transcendental Ananda. But there is a possibility of human mind standing perfected in the Light and a new humanity taking its place as part of the new order. There could be a liberated mind escaping from ignorance into light, aware of its affiliation to supermind. In that eventuality there would be a new mental being, an intermediate race able to climb consciously towards and into living vastness of superconscience. If this could happen then the physical body too would prepare itself for the divine transformation. “The full emergence of supermind may be accomplished by a sovereign manifestation, a descent into earth-consciousness and a rapid assumption of its powers and disclosing of its forms and the creation of a supramental race and a supramental life.” But ever the question remains: how is this going to be achieved? It might be a possibility, a possibility already built into the scheme, but its realisation is a process to be worked out.

But who is going to work out this possibility? To shape humanity as the harbinger of this new supramental life is a yogic task to be done by a Yogi only. The power or principle or agent who could organise this new humanity, the intermediate race, Sri Aurobindo called the Mind of Light, the mind of the very physical that has opened itself to the supramental. Mind of Light is the presiding deity or adhişţātā of the new race. In the dynamism of this operation the presence of the Mind of Light, the physical receiving the supramental light, is the decisive stage in the final arrival of the superman proper. From this nature of the Mind of Light as the leader and governor of the intermediate race, the race of the true Overman, we might get an idea why Sri Aurobindo took the practical step of establishing it first as an imperative towards further evolutionary growth: he saw the necessity of the intermediate race governed by this Mind. It is the precursor, even a prerequisite, for the appearance of the supramental race, collective supermanhood. Yogically, Sri Aurobindo first created it in the transcendental and then established it in himself; his body’s cells became receptive to the supramental light and force. He gave the Mind of Light to the Mother as a yogic gift when he withdrew on 5 December 1950, thus making it dynamic here; not too long after this, in fact in less than six years, occurred the great event of the supramental descent and manifestation in the earth’s subtle physical.

Apropos of the role of the Mind of Light in the evolution of the future race of superior gnostic beings, K D Sethna writes: “The Mind of Light in its plenary form, leading to the fullness of what we may call the Life-force of Light and the Body of Light, would constitute the Intermediate Race between the Human and the Supramental Races. The Supramental Race would be a directly manifested line of Divine Beings who have never gone through the process of earthly evolution: they would be the Supermind humanised, as differentiated from Humanity supramentalised. Humanity would be supramentalised by a natural means of spiritualisation; the Supermind would be humanised by an occult means of materialisation developed by Humanity when it has supramentalised itself. The two achievements would be complimentary aspects of the complete manifestation of the Divine upon earth—the crowning vision of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and the all-consummating goal of his Yoga.” It would perhaps be necessary to pause and consider whether a “natural” means of spiritualisation can really supramentalise humanity. It was indeed the yogic endeavour of the Master-Yogi that had opened out the prospects.

Sethna explains the nature of this achievement through the spiritual realisations or siddhis of Aswapati, as we have in Savitri: “... there took place in his very physical substance an extraordinary growth of consciousness, a supernormal intensification of perception and puissance, due to the unfoldment of the real being in him, the essential animating self of him, and resulting in a wide-awake sustained ascent to a visionary and intuitive plane... Aswapati caught ... a sense akin to or instinct with the drive of the Primal Truths of the Transcendent that have to become the Final Realities of the Individual in the life-terms of the physical universe.” Even in the early stages of Aswapati’s Yoga there is the aspect of the body seeking its meaning and its fulfilment in the aggregate scheme of this vast and purposeful creation. Body’s cells acquire an extra-dense luminosity to promote prospects of undimming substantiality in the Spirit’s ever-growing immensities. The archetypal Harmony becomes definite and concrete, not only in terms of ideas alone but also in terms of established possibilities, in terms of multiply-realised relationships even in the material expression. The Cosmic and the Transcendental join the rich Individual, now ready to support and to articulate them variedly. When this begins to happen, then is ushered in a new age. This can be so only because someone has made himself available for the complex play of the countless universal forces. Soul’s release from the ignorant Nature is a first step without which this radical change cannot occur. With this soul’s release Aswapati, tells Sethna, “faces the objective and subjective Nature that constitutes our common habitual experience, our life of Ignorance, the physical and psychological fields of our works.”

Such may be taken as a statement of the Yoga of Evolution, Yoga as a creative-operative process in the dimensions of the vast Reality that initiates it and supports it. Such is the work which an Avatar alone can do. Indeed, his coming here is the sine quo non for the spiritual advance to take place; it is he who carries the evolution forward. Sri Aurobindo had gathered the supramental Light and Force and fixed the Supermind in his physical body. In yogic-spiritual terms, he attempted all and achieved all. Whatever was to be done was done, not for himself, nor for the sake of humanity; all that he did, he did for the sake of the Divine. One definite result of this was that the Mind of Light got fixed in the Mother. This happened in that midnight’s “tremendous hour”, at the time of his passing away. A decisive step towards supermanhood was taken.

The Yogi Purusha did his job, of creating the body of the Vijnanmaya Purusha. Now the Bhagavati Shakti must attend to her task right away. The foundational Nature has to receive this new Light and this new Power. That is her difficult task. That was the assignment given to the Mother by Sri Aurobindo. And she did carry it out. What was promised got fulfilled: “A new Light breaks upon the earth, a new world is born,”—she declared on 24 April 1956. The event had taken place much earlier, on 29 February 1956, when during collective meditation in the evening the golden Supermind leaped down on the golden Wednesday. Since then things remained no more the same. Supramental manifestation took place in the earth’s subtle-physical. What had exactly happened on 29 February 1956? The Mother says: “This evening the Divine Presence, concrete and material, was there present amongst you. I had a form of living gold, bigger than the universe, and I was facing a huge and massive golden door which separated the world from the Divine. As I looked at the door, I knew and willed, in a single movement of consciousness, that the time has come, and lifting with both hands a mighty golden hammer I struck one blow, one single blow on the door and the door was shattered to pieces. Then the Supramental Light and Force and Consciousness rushed down upon earth in an uninterrupted flow.” She also declared: “A new world is born, born, born.” It was not the old world transformed, but it was a new world that had taken birth. Her missioned work was completed in 1956. But then in the wake of supramental descent and manifestation she got preoccupied with readying humanity’s soul to receive this exceptional Light and Power. Once the Mother asked Sri Aurobindo: “After the descent of the Supermind, how long do you think the process of transformation will take?” He looked up and told her: “Perhaps 300 years.” Later the Mother added: “He said 300 years, but you know there is something like Grace—anything can take place.”

Some of the ancient traditions speak of the glorious body, but the divine body, divya deha, housing the gnostic being as revealed by Sri Aurobindo is something radically different from all that. He writes in August 1949: “This destiny of the body has rarely in the past been envisaged or else not for the body here upon earth; such forms would rather be imagined or visioned as the privilege of celestial beings and not possible as the physical residence of a soul still bound to terrestrial nature. The Vaishnavas have spoken of a spiritualised conscious body, cinmaya deha; there has been the conception of a radiant or luminous body, which might be the Vedic jyotirmaya deha. A light has been seen by some radiating from the bodies of highly developed spiritual persons, even extending to the emission of an enveloping aura and there has been recorded an initial phenomenon of this kind in the life of so great a spiritual personality as Ramakrishna. But these things have been either conceptual only or rare and occasional and for the most part the body has not been regarded as possessed of spiritual possibility or capable of transformation. It has been spoken of as the means of effectuation of the dharma and dharma here includes all high purposes, achievements and ideals of life not excluding the spiritual change: but it is an instrument that must be dropped when its work is done and though there may be and must be spiritual realisation while yet in the body, it can only come to its full fruition after the abandonment of the physical frame. More ordinarily in the spiritual tradition the body has been regarded as an obstacle, incapable of spiritualisation or transmutation and a heavy weight holding the soul to earthly nature and preventing its ascent either to spiritual fulfilment in the Supreme or to the dissolution of its individual being in the Supreme. But this… is insufficient for a… divine life upon earth… . The body is an offspring and creation of the Inconscient, itself inconscient or only half-conscious… but the fact that it has developed a soul and is capable of serving it as a means may indicate that it is capable of further development and may become a shrine and expression of the spirit, reveal a secret spirituality of Matter, become entirely and not only half-conscious, reach a certain oneness with the spirit.”

If there is going to be a divine Destiny for earth, it must be so because of a free choice of the soul of the earth itself. Not pressure or impulsion from above, nor just solicitude, but a glad spontaneous urge from within has to be there to get ready to receive that Destiny. The fundamental issue is of manifestation in the physical. The Mother was busy with it. Her occult work got focused to make the mind of the earth’s physical ready for that. The divine will has to be awakened even in the cellular physical; the divine flame has to be kindled in that house for the divine to dwell in a divine way. It looks rather paradoxical that, as if only during the last few years of her presence here upon earth, she should have said that “the more we advance on the way, the more the need of the Divine Presence becomes imperative and indispensable.” It is not that on 21 February 1973 she realised this imperative; it is the very physical that realised it on this day. It means, the physical was making a direct response for the Divine Presence in it. How marvellous!

“The supramental change is a thing decreed and inevitable in the evolution of the earth-consciousness,” wrote Sri Aurobindo in 1928. The supramental change was decreed by him and he and the Mother had set themselves to work out its inevitability. But to realise it in us there is needed the call and we have to be ready to receive what they are constantly showering on us. Tapahprabhava and Devaprasada together can, as the ancient Upanishadic scripture says, bring fulfilment to our longings, to our soul’s aspiration. To be engaged in that spiritual growth, to live and work and enjoy divinely in the Divine is the aspiring soul’s glad path of the future.

Apropos of the gnostic being a pertinent question that could be raised here is: will he be any different than the Avatar or Incarnation of the Divine himself? are the Superman and the Avatar the same? But the function of the Avatar is to establish a new principle of consciousness and enable evolution to move closer towards the secret divinity that is pressing to manifest itself with an increasing play of higher possibilities. Establishment of the Dharma, dharmasamsthāpanam, of the Law of the manifesting Truth, has been proclaimed to be the function of Avatarhood. In the case of the supramental Avatar it will be the supramental Dharma that will be founded; he will open out the way towards supermanhood. Can such an Avatar be called a superman? No, he cannot be; he belongs to a totally different category. While the Avatar accepts the conditions of world-ignorance to work out the divine Purpose and Will in it, superman belonging to the race of the gnostic beings does not accept any basis of ignorance for its existence; it cannot, by its very quality and integrity. Which means a supramental race, though evolutionary, will always live and grow in the widening Truth-Consciousness. That should also imply no need of any further Avatar of the Supreme.

Long ago the Mother had obtained the consent for collaboration from the material Nature. That was a great advance in the evolutionary process. Nature saw the distinct possibility and gained confidence in the work, as if she knew that this time she will not be duped. She discarded her earlier frustrating reservations. The Mother experienced the Divine alone acting in the body. In fact the Divine had become the body, with the power of omniscience and omnipotence operating in it. She was busy with the formation of the new body. A golden light, transparent and benevolent, very strong, very powerful filled the body’s cells. It is said in the Veda that the body of Agni is made of gold, it is hiraņya tanu. The Mother did it as a part of the evolutionary process. She was trying to fuse this material body with that supramental body. She would then simply walk into that body— without dying. This happened on 17 November 1973. She walked into the New Body.

If we have to mark a few important stages in the process of physical transformation, these could be quickly enumerated as follows: Sri Aurobindo’s descent into death, 1950; supramental manifestation in the earth’s subtle physical, 1956; realisation of the surhomme consciousness, 1958; consent for collaboration from the material Nature, 1958; the descent of the surhomme consciousness in 1969; the psychic being itself getting materialised, 1970; supramental body, 1972. It is the psychic being which will materialise itself and become the supramental being, the Mother told on 1 July 1970. It is precisely the psychic being which survives death. So, if it itself materialises, it means the abolition of the death of, and in, the physical. That is the central importance of the psychic being. Whatever is not in accordance with the Truth thus just disappears. Materialisation of the psychic being gives continuity to evolution. In the material world immortality means the materialisation of the psychic being. The New Body makes it possible. Perhaps that is the process. Now it is the New Body which will do whatever is to be done. It is not an inert lump of matter, but is charged with the luminous dynamism of the Divine. It is going to exert pressure upon the material in the evolutionary process. The supramental Presence is a sufficient, a wonderful necessary and sufficient basis for that to happen. Such is surely the greater gain than perhaps the transformation itself.

On 14 March 1970 the Mother spoke of the work Sri Aurobindo had given to her. He himself had, after 1950, willed and worked so much for the physical life to be governed by the higher consciousness that it became now possible for it to change into an authentic life. But it had to be translated into the process of time. The Aeon has to open out to receive it. The Mother was here to accomplish it. The emphasis was on the higher Power working in the physical, of manifesting in it. In 1967 she had the early certitude of it being done. There was even a conscious prayer from the cells of the body to the Supreme: “O Supreme Lord of the universe, we implore Thee, give us the strength and the beauty, the harmonious perfection needed to be Thy divine instruments upon earth.” Now the age-old illusion that the physical is incapable of opening to the higher Consciousness was altogether removed. The body started responding to it, joyously, submitting to it with an attitude of “It is as Thou Willest, Lord, as Thou Willest.” The body was no more as it was, said the Mother. The progress was such that it started breathing divinity, started living in divinity.

When the Mother’s sadhana entered the stage of awakening consciousness of the body’s cells, she found that they started chanting constantly the name of the Lord. They were all the while imploring the Lord for the strength and the beauty, for the harmonious perfection needed to be the divine instruments upon earth. Om Namo Bhagavate, Om Namo Bhagavate became the specific Word of Realisation. The Mother even spoke of the path that was never trod by anyone. Sri Aurobindo had done it in principle, she said on 26 November 1960; but she also added that the details had to be worked out. To make the body’s cells awake to the divine reality was an unprecedented task and the Mother had to discover the means for accomplishing it. It is here that she found the power of the Mantra coming to a definite aid in fixing the higher subtle-luminous in the dark and crude gross. Only Japa or repetition of the Mantra has direct action on the body. While she was engaged in this intense Japa-Yoga, she was actually invoking the “Lord of Tomorrow”.

Indeed, a very mysterious process accepting the circumstances of life, life as is, nourishes our urge towards immortality; this urge in turn is nourished by an equally enigmatic as well as stiff ordaining agent of creation: life only would be a blind attempt to grow but life and death together are presently the promoters of evolution. But if the transcendental immortality has to be housed here in Man the Mortal, here upon mrityuloka, then he has to exceed himself. He has to become Superman. Vijnanamaya Purusha or the Being of Knowledge has to arrive here. The well fashioned and beautifully made Upanishadic Man cannot be the ultimate crown of this great endeavour. The problem is the physical and it is in the physical that the new tapas-yoga has got to be done. We have to acquire the golden body, hiraņya tanu, of the Divine Agni. This needs another kind of Yoga, the Yoga of the Future. If by Tapas Brahma creates the world, then by Yoga the world in its totality has to see and breathe and live Brahmanhood in every respect.

This well fashioned Man is presently endowed in his subtle physical only with seven Chakras or centres of occult energy. What is below him and what is above him have not yet entered into its swift functioning. The rush of the Kundalini Force, of the occult Pranic or Vital Energy in these seven Chakras is a great beginning but in the veritable Yoga of Transformation what is necessary is that the two Chakras below the body and the three above have to materialise and become operative. This is what the Mother was told long ago by her occultist teacher Théon, and it was her experience also. For these Chakras to come into operation it is necessary to do another type of occult-spiritual yoga-tapasya. It is only then that the physical can respond to the working of the higher consciousness-force. A new body is necessary for this, a body that must emerge out of the Yajna of the Shakti. In it must be kindled the golden flame invoking the rush of the divine existence-substance as the basis of life in truth-conscient delight of the manifesting Spirit. But how exactly the new body will be made, that cannot be said or disclosed in the beginning. This however became the main thrust of the Mother’s yoga-tapasya during the last fifteen years or so of her work. The Mantra-japa she discovered was one possible method to achieve this. That was an unexplored technique.

The Mother was concerned with the almighty powers that are shut in the body’s cells. She awoke them. Not only that. The cells started joyously vibrating and opening out more and more in the aspiration for the Divine. This was something new. She said: “I have been sent upon earth to do the work of supramental transformation and the bringing about of the new creation, and I have been trying to do this... .” Sri Aurobindo had indicated that the new golden body is to be first formed out of the inner mental, inner vital and inner physical renewed and reshaped. The difficulty that notably comes in the modus operandi is that of the inner physical with its stubborn mind. While this mind, mind within matter, was gainfully formed under compulsion of the difficulties present in the unevolved obscure stuff, it also inherited those very stiff and harsh difficulties. If this mind—the Mind of Night standing across the path of the divine Event as we might see in Savitri—is transformed, then the transformation of the body can follow “quite naturally”. The Mother found Mantra-japa to be a definite way towards this. She was repeating everyday 1400 times the Mantra Om Namo Bhagavate. While the Mother was doing the Japayoga of the cells with the Mantra, with absolute faith she entrusted the entire work and the result to the Will of the Lord.

In October 1959 the Mother spoke something significant about the new world: “… it is not as if this new world of Truth had to be created from nothing: it is fully ready, it is there.” It is fully ready. Yes, it was made ready in the House of the Spirit. Sri Aurobindo had brought it into existence there fully. When in one of their occult-spiritual meetings she asked Sri Aurobindo as to when this other world, the real one that is there, so near, would come to take the place of this world of falsehood, he replied: “Not ready.” The Mother was given the charge of this “not ready”-earth; she took its burden upon herself.

At this most crucial stage her method was to leave everything to the Will of the Lord; yet in that Will she had also something to will. Four great times she was given the choice,— and she made the choice in it. She had the freedom to exercise her own will. It means that the whole being lived “only to know and serve the Divine”. To know the Divine, to will and to serve the Divine that his Will be done—this is what is to be practised.

Not what we think and see for ourselves, but what is thought and seen for us is all that matters. When there is no difference between our will and the Will of the Divine Shakti, then it is she who takes full charge of our life. Then we acquire our genuine freewill. In it can then be the truest expression of Krishna-Kali in us. When this is achieved then the Being of Delight, Anandamaya Purusha, with his Consciousness-Force or Shakti working for his joy, comes down wearing a crown of peacock plumes to play on his flute the Song of New Creation. This song of new creation is born in the fierce “death” of Death, in his transformation into the being of the Truth, he becoming the unveiled Sat-Purusha. Then begins the real re-creation of the Lord and his Shakti, of Krishna and Kali. “When the Unity has been well founded,” wrote long ago Sri Aurobindo, in 1916, “the static half of our work is done, but the active half remains. It is then that in the One we must see the Master and His Power,—Krishna and Kali.”

During the period 1912-20 we see the Krishna-Kali aspect occurring repeatedly as the most decisive and fundamental experience of Sri Aurobindo in the context of the Spirit’s dynamism in life. In his noting dated 1 January 1915 he writes: “Kali is now everywhere revealed in the bhāva of the madhur dāsī dominated by Krishna and administering to his bhoga.” Then, again, in February 1920: the Krishna-Kali relation founded on madhura dāsya is the foundation of tapas siddhi; it has the power to change the world. In fact Krishna’s delight and Kali’s action in his pleasure, Divine Action and Divine Enjoyment,—these two form the entire basis of this divine dynamism in the creation. If this world also has to be creatively progressive in this sense, then Krishna and Kali must step into it; that is the Avataric yoga-tapasya which has to be carried out. Belonging to the same period 1912-20 of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, we also have an early draft of Savitri in which the coming down of Krishna and Kali figures as the finest thing that can happen to this creation. It is with this most excellent boon that Savitri returns to earth with the soul of Satyavan:

Pursuing her in her fall implacably sweet
A face was over her which seemed a youth’s
Crowned as with peacock plumes of gorgeous hue
Framing a sapphire, whose heart-disturbing smile
Insatiably attracted to delight.
Often it changed, though rapturously the same,
And seemed a woman’s dark and beautiful,
Turbulent in will and terrible in love,
A shadowy glory and a stormy depth,
Like a mooned night with drifting star-gemmed clouds.

This Tapas-siddhi of bringing down Krishna and Kali is the entire purport of the yogic Savitri. Whatever stood in its way had to be removed and the path cleared to usher in the divine Event. In it is won the higher Amrita that was postponed earlier. In it is a Siddhi that does not remain static, but which by the work of Kali in the will of Krishna keeps on adding to itself realisable possibilities of the vast yet widening Truth-conscient Delight.

While this is the grand finale of the evolutionary scheme on its way to supermanhood, the actual modus operandi to effect it as a reality on earth, to look into details in the context of the existential parameters, is the pressing imperative. Here we must go to the last set of Sri Aurobindo’s prose writings, published during February 1949 and November 1950. In them he has asserted the fundamental role of the Mind of Light and the possibility of the Intermediate Race on the verge of realisation. As an evolving principle, he says, the Mind of Light marks a stage in the human ascent; it evolves a new type of human being. In this birth of the Mind of Light there are two stages: in the first, it gathers itself out of the Ignorance, assembles its constituent elements, builds up its shapes and types; in the second stage it develops itself in greater light taking its higher shapes and forms till it joins the supermind. Thus is built up the possibility of human ascent towards a divine living; then will there be an illumined divine life. During the entire process of evolution there has been the covert operation of supermind, out of Matter the emergence of Life and out of Life that of Mind; now Mind of Light as the last word of the lower hemisphere of being and the first word of the higher hemisphere provides the operating connection to supermind.

The arrival of the earth-evolution at the Mind of Light, at the threshold of supermanhood itself thus means the birth of a new aeon, of a new being of transcendental Time. In the rush and dynamism of the golden Kali it is the naissance of the golden Spirit, of the evolutionary Kala in a body of delight. Indeed, a new aeon is formed in it, created in it, established in it. Narad’s jubilant recital of the song of the transfiguration and the ecstasy is a cursor indicating the prospects that lie in the working of this new aeon, the Aeon of Krishna-Kali. In it all the barriers of the inconscient time crumble and fall, dissolve; in it the demons weep with joy and, having completed their dreadful task, prepare themselves to return to the One from whom they had come. Narad sees these prospects being realised in the work of Savitri and therefore, in that sweetness and harmony, in that felicity, he sings glory of the manifesting name. The work itself is done by Kali and is offered by her as a yajna to Krishna, but it is the divine Aeon who actually sees the sacrifice done; he is the yajamāna whose presence is necessary to every movement of the sacrifice. He is the Purusha of the Intermediate Race.

RY Deshpande

[The present article is actually a chapter in the author’s book entitled Narad’s Arrival at Madra published by Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry]

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Instruments of Higher Knowledge

We have nothing of the following in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo which is what makes it a farce. There is a vaster action of the Sanjnana which is not limited by the action of the physical sense-organs; it was this which sensed perfectly and made its own through the ear the words of the unknown language, through the touch the movements of the unfelt surgeon's knife, through the sense-mind or sixth sense the exact location of the centres of locomotion in the victim insect. There is also associated with it a corresponding vaster action of Prajnana, Ajnana and Vijnana not limited by the smaller apprehensive and comprehensive faculties of the external mind. It is this vaster Prajnana which perceived the proper relation of the words to each other, of the movement of the knife to the unfelt suffering of the nerves and of the successive relation in space of the articulations in the insect's body. Such perception was inherent in the right reproduction of the words, the right narration of the sufferings, the right successive action of the sting. The Ajnana or Knowledge-Will originating all these actions was also vaster, not limited by the faltering force that governs the operations directed by the surface mind. And although in these examples the action of the vaster Vijnana is not so apparent, yet it was evidently there working through them and ensuring their co-ordination.
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Early Work

Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1911: "I am developing the necessary powers for bringing down the spiritual on the material plane… What I perceive most clearly, is that the principal object of my Yoga is to remove absolutely and entirely every possible source of error and ineffectiveness… It is for this reason that I have been going through so long a discipline and that the more brilliant and mighty results of Yoga have been so long withheld. I have been kept busy laying down the foundation, a work severe and painful. It is only now that the edifice is beginning to rise upon the sure and perfect foundation that has been laid."
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11 Nov 2008

A Question of Hagiography and Biography

Related to Rationalism and Devotion is the question of Biography and Hagiography, in fact here they are just two representations of the same. If hagiography is biography revering its saint, then any non-hagiographic biography of a saint will deprive him of his sainthood. This is precisely what the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo is doing in his presentation of a Saint and a Rishi and a Yogi. Posted at the Columbia University Press in CUP the author himself gives the following summary introduction to us. He poses a question to himself and sets to answer it: “How do you write about a man who is known to some as a politician, to others as a poet and critic, to still others as a philosopher, and to a not inconsiderable number as an incarnation of God? This is one of the problems a biographer of Sri Aurobindo has to face.”

Related to Rationalism and Devotion is the question of Biography and Hagiography, in fact here they are just two representations of the same. If hagiography is biography revering its saint, then any non-hagiographic biography of a saint will deprive him of his sainthood. This is precisely what the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo is doing in his presentation of a Saint and a Rishi and a Yogi. Posted at the Columbia University Press in CUP the author himself gives the following summary introduction to us. He poses a question to himself and sets to answer it: “How do you write about a man who is known to some as a politician, to others as a poet and critic, to still others as a philosopher, and to a not inconsiderable number as an incarnation of God? This is one of the problems a biographer of Sri Aurobindo has to face.”

The answer is simple: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the sainthood of Sri Aurobindo. If he is not a saint or spiritual guide then it is absurd to speak of being a practitioner of his path, the Path of Integral Yoga given by Sri Aurobindo, which is precisely what the author of the Lives mantains. But if he is a saint, then any denial of sainthood in the biography will give rise to abundant irrationality of the author as much as of the publishers also who didn’t look into these details carefully enough, it seems. Not presenting the aspect of sainthood of a saint will thus amount to falsehood.

The author is puzzled about Sri Aurobindo sitting with a guru in the last week of January 1908, “a guru who taught him a meditation technique, and that, as Aurobindo later put it, ‘In three days—really in one, my mind became full of an eternal silence’—by which he meant the mental stillness and freedom from ego known as Nirvana.” Does “mental stillness” mean “eternal silence”? But they are two different things. What this experience meant was that the mind had fallen totally silent, a state in which he could see thoughts not rising from the brain but coming from outside, from the cosmic field. He could stop them entering into him or allow them in. This is the state in which he would receive the higher knowledge directly, without mental interference, and all his Arya and later writings came in that state. It is not a state of Nirvana, nor does the ego really disappear in it. It is an experience of the Vedantic Passive Brahman. This is one of the major realizations he had just within three days. The other realization, within months of this one when he was in Alipore jail as an undertrial prisoner, was that of Active Brahman; there he witnessed the all-pervasive presence of Vasudeava. Can one ignore these master-experiences to satisfy the demands of a rational mind? These are spiritual realizations which come after lives of yogic effort and here’s Sri Aurobindo who got within months. What does that mean? But it is this Silent Mind that the Mother received as the first gift from Sri Aurobindo when they met on 29 March 1914.

But let us see further what our author has to say. “It certainly is legitimate to cite Aurobindo’s own statements about this and other inner experiences. But personal reminiscences don’t count for much in scholarly biographies unless they are backed up by objective data and analysis.” He adds: “It certainly would be uncritical to accept at face value all that Aurobindo wrote about his inner life; but it would be a different sort of negligence to refuse to consider accounts of inner experience a priori grounds, or to explain them away according to the assumptions of one or another social-scientific orthodoxy.”

As far as spiritual experiences and realizations are concerned, by saying so it is as good as trying to bring what is transcendental into the domain of the limited, mundane or rational, a thing which is simply impossible. You accept them or you just forget about them. Not seeing the difference between the two is sheer inanity of the rational mind and such inanity has no value in spiritual matters, perhaps nowhere.

And there’s yet another brave statement: “I don’t have the necessary discernment to criticize Aurobindo’s visions as visions; but I recognize—as Aurobindo himself did—that inner visions and experiences are open to different interpretations.” But “different interpretations” by whom? Of course by one who has the “necessary discernment” not to criticize, but to perceive things that are absolutely spiritual. In such a case the best thing should have been to keep quiet and not throw careless assertions around.

Even if we assume the best intentions of the author to bring the rational mind to Sri Aurobindo, he must first understand both. His method instead is by cutting up the uncleavable to one-fourth of its size. That is the absurdity of the entire approach and it’s a pity there are wise folk who applaud it—not recognizing what the Integral Yoga really is. After all, the solution to rationality is by transcending rationality and seeing it from that higher location. That is the solution for every problem and, if we are earnest, our endeavour should be to transcend all limitations to which we are tied. That needs great inner spiritual preparation and unless that is done one does not talk of biography and hagiography, least in the disparaging manner.

RY Deshpande

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10 Nov 2008

The Divisive Nature of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

While there can be an aspiration in the rational mind, to debunk the devotionalism is an extreme expression of its irrationality. The reverse is also true. Now it is here that a great injustice is done for the cause of valid Integral Yoga by the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. While presenting the Master to the rational audience no care has been taken by him to see that he is causing harm to other aspects.

I’m reproducing in the following a comment by Debashish Banerji which appears at:
The yoga today is in serious need of being made accessible to a larger sector of humanity, who shy away from either new age mish-mash or overt devotionalism. Sri Aurobindo has built a bridge between rationaity and suprarationality. There is an aspiration within rationality also towards certitude of the truth, which it lacks. If someone can speak to that, it will mean addressing the predominant faith of the modern age and showing it that a way exists. After that, it is for those who wish to, to follow. But if one is not allowed to show this way, on the grounds that a devotional approach is the only way to understand the spiritual life shown by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, humanity at large will have been rejected from the yoga and it will have to remain a practice of the self-chosen few. This is what The Lives has attempted in essence. The totality of the work and its effect must be seen and not some partial representation which alone we insist on or consider adequate.

The problem in this posting is the divisive nature of approach towards spiritual pursuit, pursuit in the light of Sri Aurobindo. The follower of the Integral Yoga understands well that every aspect of human nature and personality has a role to play in terms of his spiritual realization. He has a mind, he has a heart, he has a will and he has an opening possible through luminous strength. But each one follows his own basic swabhava or intrinsic character that makes him a true individual. If one’s swabhava is for Jnana or for Bhakti or for Skill in Work or enlightened Heroism one goes by that. What counts for him is his spiritual progress by recognizing his swabhava. But in the pseudo formulation of Integral Yoga a trenchant division is made for instance between Rationalism and Devotion, between Jnana and Bhakti. Although this is not new to spiritual history, the tendency now is to throw one or the other out of the precincts of the Aurobindonian Integralism. While there can be an aspiration in the rational mind, to debunk the devotionalism is an extreme expression of its irrationality. The reverse is also true. Now it is here that a great injustice is done for the cause of valid Integral Yoga by the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. While presenting the Master to the rational audience no care has been taken by him to see that he is causing harm to other aspects. Would that not deprive the rational mind the possibility of turning towards devotion for instance or to some other aspects? If a rational mind wants to remain rational only, then there seems to be some kind of lacuna and this the Integral Yoga cannot admit. The integration in his swabhava has of course to be on the basis of Jnana, but Jnana itself gets enriched by other aspects also. It is a reiterative process, and everywhere so. What is the scope for that in the Lives? None, and all we can say is poor rationalism! I don’t think there is anybody in the integral followers doing something for the “self-chosen few.” This will be a contradiction by itself and it is that which unfortunately is being perpetrated by the non-bhakti pro-jnana tribe. That is the disservice done by the latest biography of Sri Aurobindo.

RY Deshpande
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An Entry from Record of Yoga

In The Lives of Sri Aurobindo we are made to believe that the Yogi was “forced” to abandon his pursuit. But the quiet objective tone of the entry in Record of Yoga does not give one the feeling of he being “forced” to do things as a reaction against what was happening. In fact the “now” in his entry suggests a pragmatic line of the next action, as could be seen from the record just preceding this one, describing faith-bhukti-dehasuddhi. But more significantly this record hints at the limitations of the chatusthayas themselves as far as the higher Amrita is concerned. We should look into this separately in some detail.

We have the following entry in Record of Yoga made by Sri Aurobindo under the heading Amrita, Immortality. It is dated 13 November 1913 and pertains to vidya-avidya-siddhi, Siddhi of Knowledge-Ignorance:

Amrita—A clear distinction must now be made between the vidya-avidya siddhi which is constituted by the seven chatusthayas & the higher Amrita in which all limitation is removed & Death, etc entirely cease. Only the first will in this life be entirely accomplished.

Let us read it again in the deep calm of our mind:

Amrita—A clear distinction must now be made between the vidya-avidya siddhi which is constituted by the seven chatusthayas & the higher Amrita in which all limitation is removed & Death, etc entirely cease. Only the first will in this life be entirely accomplished.

And yet again if possible in the deep calm of the soul:

Amrita—A clear distinction must now be made between the vidya-avidya siddhi which is constituted by the seven chatusthayas & the higher Amrita in which all limitation is removed & Death, etc entirely cease. Only the first will in this life be entirely accomplished.

What one feels in it is a vastness of assured spiritual poise. If one is not perceptive to it one need not, in fact should not quote it. But The Lives of Sri Aurobindo gives this extremely significant noting as follows:

…he made a distinction between the “vidya-avidya siddhi which is constituted by seven chatusthayas & the higher Amrita [immortality] in which all limitation is removed & Death, etc. entirely cease. Only the first,” he was forced to conclude, “will in this life be entirely accomplished.”

What do we see here, in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo? All that was spiritual in the original has disappeared, just disappeared; we have here only a mental statement.

Further, we are made to believe that the Yogi was “forced” to abandon his pursuit. But the quiet objective tone of the original statement does not give one the feeling of somebody being “forced” to do things as a reaction against what was happening. In fact the “now” in his entry suggests a pragmatic line of the next action, as could be seen from the record just preceding this one, describing faith-bhukti-dehasuddhi. But more significantly this record hints at the limitations of the chatusthayas themselves as far as the higher Amrita is concerned. We should look into this separately in some detail.

RY Deshpande
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9 Nov 2008

A Key Statement about Integral Yoga

The author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has nothing to do with the central guiding principle of the Integral Yoga although he claims himself to be its follower. And there are any number of his so-called rationalist friends on the websites who vaunt and crow in disregarding it. An act of faith—but if it’s going to lead oneself safely on the sunlit path, what’s wrong in that? An act of faith is a kind of inner perception and certitude; if it comes from the deeper psychic then there cannot be more wonderful than that. It is this absence of psychic and spiritual awareness that makes the Lives obnoxious, an absence which is perhaps deliberately cultivated. If there is a call for higher life, then follow the higher precepts. Otherwise there’s no compulsion whatsoever. It is to get this help one goes to a spiritual Master and for getting that help expresses gratitude to him. Did the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo get that help from his Master?

In his little but seminal book The Mother Sri Aurobindo makes a key statement about his Integral Yoga in terms of the triple formula of aspiration-rejection-surrender:

…an aspiration vigilant, constant, unceasing—the mind's will, the hearts seeking, the assent of the vital being, the will to open and make plastic the physical consciousness and nature; rejection of the movements of lower nature—rejection of the mind's ideas, opinions, preferences, habits, constructions, so that the true knowledge may find free room in a silent mind,—rejection of the vital nature's desires, demands, cravings, sensations, passions, selfishness, pride, arrogance, lust, greed, jealousy, envy, hostility to Truth, so that the true power and joy may pour from above into a calm, large, strong and consecrated vital being,—rejection of the physical nature's stupidity, doubt, disbelief, obscurity, obstinacy, pettiness, laziness, unwillingness to change, so that the true stability of Light, Power, Ananda may establish itself in a body growing always more divine; surrender of oneself and all one is and has and every plane of the consciousness and every movement to the Divine Shakti.
And there are “the conditions of Light and Truth, the sole conditions under which the highest will descend; and it is only the very highest supramental Force descending from above and opening from below that can victoriously handle the physical Nature and annihilate its difficulties… There must be a total and sincere surrender; there must be an exclusive self opening to the divine Power; there must be a constant and integral choice of the Truth that is descending, a constant and integral rejection of the falsehood of the mental, vital and physical Powers and Appearances that still rule the earth-Nature. The surrender must be total and seize all parts of the being. It is not enough that psychic should respond and higher mental aspect or even the inner vital submit and the physical consciousness feel the influence. There must be no part in the being, even the most external, anything that makes a reserve, anything that hides behind doubts, confusions and subterfuges, anything that revolts or refuses.”

If this is not followed then it is immaterial whether we do this or we do that. We may call it Integral Yoga, we may call it Religion, we may call it Spirituality, Stupidity, and what not; but it will not satisfy the soul’s deepest urge seeking the Divine within us, and everywhere. If our concern is this single objective then all talk about rationality, faith in science, faith in logic, blind faith, seeing faith—seeing faith is an extremely rare commodity—pale into insignificance. We go to a spiritually accomplished person to seek his help in this regard and endeavour to follow it if we are centrally alert to its assuring methodology, sincere to our own deepest yearning. If I am in the Ashram, for instance, I must always remember the purpose for which I am here in the Ashram—the rest becomes inconsequential. And the beauty is, this is true in every walk of life. If I can follow my path,—and that path can be by whatever faculty in me is most open, most developed,—what else is required? That path can be the opening of the mind or the emotional being or the perfection in the physical work or the acts of nobility,—to put in the technical parlance as Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga. All are equally superior and going by any one of them will the Guide or the Divine give whatever is necessary for the fulfilment of the soul’s deepest longing. In that situation all comparisons become meaningless.

The author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has nothing to do with this central guiding principle of the Integral Yoga although he claims himself to be its follower. And there are any number of his so-called rationalist friends on the websites who vaunt and crow in disregarding it. An act of faith—but if it’s going to lead oneself safely on the sunlit path, what’s wrong in that? An act of faith is a kind of inner perception and certitude; if it comes from the deeper psychic then there cannot be more wonderful than that. It is this absence of psychic and spiritual awareness that makes the Lives obnoxious, an absence which is perhaps deliberately cultivated. If there is a call for higher life, then follow the higher precepts. Otherwise there’s no compulsion whatsoever. It is to get this help one goes to a spiritual Master and for getting that help expresses gratitude to him. Did the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo get that help from his Master?

RY Deshpande
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8 Nov 2008

Some Responses to Stock-Taking

An sciy url carries a posting by Rich, dated 20 October 2008, and is entitled Corrections to textual excerpts of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs. He introduces it as follows: “There is a movement of folks in Pondicherry who are so upset by the biography that Peter Heehs has written entitled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo that they have instigated a movement to discredit the author. Some people have even become so embolden as to try and have him ejected from the Ashram itself. The folks who have spurred this on have in the course of their attacks on Mr. Heehs openly distorted his text by decontextualizing portions of it or by a series of selective omissions to make it suit their own interpretation of events that facilitate their own story they wish to tell.” A long discussion follows and Debashish summarises it in the nature of “Stock Taking”, posted on 24 October 2008. We reproduce it here for quick and pertinent reference. Three comments in response to it are also given. ~ RYD
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7 Nov 2008

All Life is Yoga—A Brief Sketch of Sri Aurobindo’s Life

While commenting upon an early biographer’s attempt to present his life Sri Aurobindo, in the course of a conversation with his attendant-disciples, once remarked as follows: “Nobody except myself can write my life—because it has not been on the surface for man to see.” Yet we should be concerned with a few worldly facts from a certain point of view. And the strange thing is that, for a discerning eye, these facts also bring an intuitive vision which can provide a distant bio-spiritual peep into the secrecies of the person whom we so much adore. No wonder, philosophers have described him as the greatest synthesis between the East and the West; critics have acclaimed him as a poet par excellence; social scientists regard him as the builder of a new society based on enduring values of the life of the spirit; devotees throng in mute veneration offering their heart and their soul in a silent prayer that can secure for them the beatitude of the Supreme; Yogins long to live in the sunlight of his splendour to kindle in it their own suns; in the tranquil benignity of his spiritual presence is the fulfilment of all our hopes and all our keenest and noblest aspirations; gods of light and truth and joy and beauty and sweetness are busy in their tasks to carry out his will in the creation; in him the avataric incarnation becomes man to realize the divine in man. Such is the real birth of the Immortal in the Mortal. He comes here as Sri Aurobindo.
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6 Nov 2008

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs—a Controversial Biography

Peter Heehs’s Lives of Sri Aurobindo is a recent arrival in the thriving genre of biographies and professes itself to be founded on researched material. It essentially treats the subject as a human person and not really as a yogi or a spiritual stalwart, and in the least as an incarnate. The book has been recently published by the Columbia University Press and appears to be rough on the sentiments of the devotees of the Mother and the Master. The author claims himself to be a meticulous professional historian and wants to present the subject strictly as it should emerge from the documentary material.

The approach is, holds the author, strictly rational and is grounded in the principles of research, eschewing goody-goody emotionalism of the hagiographic presentations of such themes. This may have certain merit but there are things that lie far beyond the reach of such scientification of occult and spiritual matters. In fact, it should be axiomatically understood that it is not possible for reason to grasp the issues connected with them, although to some extent it could open to its intuition; this is simply true, for the obvious reason that “things occult and spiritual are never on the surface for men to see them”. On the other hand, with a degree of spiritual experience and realization, there is a chance of presenting them to the rational mind also. This spiritual experience and realization should come first before one attempts to speak about those who live in the richness of the spirit, in its multi-dimensionality. If this basic fact is not recognized, then the work will fail to carry in it the substance or essential conviction of the higher principles. Not only that; such a work should be at once dismissed as an inchoate or garbled attempt, dismissed without any further consideration—because of the wrong premises with which it begins, because it smacks more of “I’m wiser than you all, the gullible, that you utterly lack rational faculty and capacity to detach yourself from your object of adoration."

Such unfortunately seems to be the case of the much touted Lives of Sri Aurobindo brought out with great fanfare, which is of course a part of the modern publication dynamics where the author is commissioned to write what the publisher wants him to write. Truth, the spiritual truth then gets sacrificed on the altar of promotionalism. And it is a peculiar game, a very bad queer game in which the more the writer becomes diabolical the more gets promoted promotionalism. But we need not fall prey to all this full-size ballyhooing if we are established in the spiritual principles that guide and govern our aspiration and that bring fulfilment to it, the decisive factor being transparent sincerity and devotion in the sense of commitment to one’s persuasive or compelling ideals. So without getting impressed by the “gunny-sack” scouring of facts of pseudo-rationalism we could depend more upon the intuition and the inner conviction in matters of spiritual personalities. This need not carry any guilty feeling in us; rather it is that which will strengthen our refined perceptions and subtleties of understanding…
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30 Oct 2008

Commentary on the book ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’
The purpose of this commentary is to provide to the readers a possibility, that the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo written by Peter Heehs, is informed more by the author’s personal prejudices and opinions which he has disguised in the format and mask of objectivity, an objectivity, he claims, that is completely untouched by his personal views. In fact even this claim is spurious, because as most esteemed people in the academic circles know that however objective a researcher or analyzer tries to be, his life-story influences his view of any data or document.

Commentary on the book ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’
The purpose of this commentary is to provide to the readers a possibility, that the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo written by Peter Heehs, is informed more by the author’s personal prejudices and opinions which he has disguised in the format and mask of objectivity, an objectivity, he claims, that is completely untouched by his personal views. In fact even this claim is spurious, because as most esteemed people in the academic circles know that however objective a researcher or analyzer tries to be, his life-story influences his view of any data or document.
His hostility for Sri Aurobindo though disguised and couched in academic jargon does not remain concealed for long, and is visible for any unbiased reader to see for himself.
This book has already generated a great deal of bad-blood in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and outside, and many academically oriented people (which includes, well-known medical practitioners, psychologists, and educators) have raised objections with regard to this book and its portrayal of Sri Aurobindo and his literary works.
When these above mentioned well-qualified people wrote to him regarding their reservations about the book, they have been labeled as fundamentalists and irrational by him, though they are more qualified than Peter Heehs, who without any professional qualifications has analyzed Sri Aurobindo’s personality psychoanalytically and clinically and his writings as a literary critic.
“…The language of Aurobindo’s dialogue is heavy and pedantic, the characters shallow and unconvincing …” [PH’s literary analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s writing of the Upanishad].
“…In the outer world of action, Aurobindo never sought help from anyone. In the imaginative world of his dramas, his protagonist was never without a partner.” [Psychoanalytic analysis of Sri Aurobindo’s plays by PH]
The above are just two examples of the many in the book, quoted to show the unsavory bias of the book. Student; Son; Employee; Revolutionary; Husband; Writer, Philosopher; Guide and Yogi, outwardly, these are some of the roles that Sri Aurobindo played from 1872 to 1950. PH has tried to demolish bit by bit and chip by chip, the giant that Sri Aurobindo is today not only in India but world over.
This rebuttal is formulated on a few major themes, where PH has used unpublished and many times unverifiable documents to say things about Sri Aurobindo, which leave aside a devotee, no Indian would be pleased to read.
1. Conspiracy of the Western mind to denigrate and destroy Indian culture:
The manifest purpose and motives of PH for doing this heinous act towards the country and Ashram, he has been living in for the past nearly 30-40 years by denigrating a revolutionary of India and the creator and the very foundation of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, is unknown but one can draw some inferences when one starts reading the acknowledgements of the book. Two people stand out in the acknowledgements of the book (p. xv) Michael Murphy of the Esalen Institute and Jeffrey Kripal.
Jeffrey Kripal, now notorious for his ‘painstaking’ and extremely painful work on Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, has authored a book called Kali’s Child, where he has psychoanalyzed Sri Ramakrishna (mind you he is not a qualified psychoanalyst only a scholar in religious studies) and come to a conclusion at the end that Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa sexually abused Swami Vivekananda, was a pedophile and that his spiritual experiences were a result of childhood trauma. This by misquoting and mistranslating and misinterpreting historical documents. Strangely, when many scholars raised objections against this book, Jeffrey seems to have played the same cards as PH (rather vice-versa) of ‘intolerance towards a different view point, irrational emotions and of course the trump card of communal forces trying to curb his freedom of expression.’
One wonders why PH would thank such a person in his book. Another point is that this very Jeffrey Kripal is the first reviewer of PH’s book and has praised PH’s book highly, claiming it to “humanize and problematize” Sri Aurobindo. With such a person praising the book, the first step itself becomes shaky.
It is well known in academic circles, that Wendy Doniger and her many students and followers (Jeffrey Kripal being one of them) have taken up the cudgels against the “uncivilized” Hindu culture and over the years published materials with the sole purpose of poisoning the Western mind through the medium of academics against India and its culture.
One is left wondering why is PH thanking such a person in the acknowledgements of his book.
Lets come to Michael Murphy of the Esalen Institute. Quoted below are excerpts from an article on an official website of ITP:
After 50 years, Michael Murphy revisits a source of thought and action that helped inspire the birth of Esalen Institute and ITP (the author is referring to Sri Aurobindo Ashram here in an article titled A Passage to India)
…His military service done, Murphy returned to San Francisco. More than ever, he found himself drawn to the life and works of one of the most remarkable East Indian spiritual leaders in world history, Aurobindo Ghose. …
…In June of 1956, Michael Murphy, still immersed in spiritual studies, decided that nothing would do other than go to India for an extended stay of practice at the Aurobindo Ashram. He was there until October of 1957. He read, meditated, and anchored his practice in Aurobindo's belief that human nature's deepest destiny is to manifest its latent divinity…
An American Ashram
… Early in 1962, however, inspired by Aurobindo but no means based entirely on his works, what would become Esalen Institute gave its first seminar
A new discovery
In recent years, descriptions of a great many siddhis have been discovered in Aurobindo’s voluminous unpublished papers. These discoveries whetted Michael’s desire to revisit India……
…Early in February 2007, Michael and his wife Dulce traveled to India, where they visited the Aurobindo Ashram, then Auroville. Michael had adequate time to find previously ignored material in the Ashram archives. Michael's trip has reinforced his intention to advance the transformative practice revealed by a record Sri Aurobindo kept for some twenty years of his day-to-day practice of yoga. He will work to this end with Jeffrey Kripal, an American professor of religious studies who is the author of a recently published scholarly study of Esalen Institute, and with two American researchers who live and work at the Ashram, Peter Heehs, whose monumental biography of Aurobindo will be published this year by Columbia University Press, and Richard Hartz, who has compiled a definitive bibliography of Sanskrit terms used by Aurobindo to describe the supernormal powers and higher states of consciousness he was exploring.
N. E. Sarawak
[Source: http://www.itp-life.com/media/articles/michael-india.html]
Strangely, nowhere on the official site of Esalen or biography of Michael Murphy is the influence or the inspiration of Sri Aurobindo mentioned. It reads completely like Michael Murphy’s personal idea!! Thus, it looks like Michael Murphy, has started his own brand of Integral Yoga in the form of Esalen Institute, borrowing many ideas from Sri Aurobindo though “by no means entirely based on his works!” without acknowledging it. (does one raise patent and property and copyright issues here?)
Another difficult to answer question raises its head, how does Michael Murphy get hold of as yet unpublished material or have access to read the unpublished material which is the sole property of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. If he got it through Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz, was is done by the explicit permission of the Ashram, one would like to see the permission papers and MOU.
So, the point being, why is PH thanking JK and MM??? MM because he financed this denigrating book on Sri Aurobindo, and JK for praising this deficient and biased book on Sri Aurobindo!! Or are there some other intentions that PH carries in associating with such people?
2. Faith. vs. Objectivity:
The toss up between faith and objectivity is something PH has done from the start of the book i.e. from the preface onwards. The preface claims the book to be completely objective and hence a biography, where as all other books written till date on Sri Aurobindo have been hagiographies. He also puts in a word couched very subtly that his book will not be flattering towards Sri Aurobindo, because it will question many of his statements, published in many of books authored by Sri Aurobindo himself and hence as in his previous articles which questioned Sri Aurobindo on many things, this book is designed on the same pattern and may cause a similar response from the ‘group identity’ of people.
“…anything that cast doubt on what he had said was taboo, even if the statement was based on incomplete knowledge of the facts…”
p. xii.
What this statement seems to be addressing is the incompleteness of Sri Aurobindo’s knowledge about facts and hence the possibility of doubting his statement. First of all, any person (need not be qualified at all) knows, that every person lives in a particular situation, circumstances and milieu of his own other than the gross universal milieu which is private and known only to him. And any person is the his own best spokesman because he knows his internal state and response to situations best. But if the person’s statements are doubted because he didn’t know the facts well is a bit difficult to digest. Also, the analysis of these statements are being done more than half a century to nearly a century later.
Are the circumstances and world-situation the same today? Will it be possible to relive and understand the era that has passed away so completely by another man from another country who doesn’t even know what the Indian freedom struggle and the life of the people at that time was like? Is it possible for Peter Heehs to put himself in Sri Aurobindo’s shoes in the late 1890s and early 1900s and really dispute or confirm Sri Aurobindo’s life and statements??? Does he (Peter Heehs) have a better understanding of the facts of the bygone era just because he dug out some papers, but no occurrence should be viewed independent of the social, political and psychological milieu!
The whole book is bereft of any contextual placement in the then current social, political and psychological milieu. Thus, the book is not so much a biography but more of Peter Heehs interpretation of the lives of Sri Aurobindo, and since no interpretation is absent of personal motives and personal subjective agendas, this book is as much doubtable and as much questionable as he has doubted and questioned Sri Aurobindo.
“Almost as bad was anything that challenged an established interpretation, even one that was clearly inadequate….”
p. xii.
If the toss up is between Sri Aurobindo’s interpretation and Peter Heehs interpretation, how does one decide whom to believe! On the one hand is Sri Aurobindo, because he lived in those times, experienced those times of the bygone era and was part of the happenings not as an artificial outsider trying to live in a particular setting to study it (ethnographer) but a person living a particular life at a particular time, on the other hand is PH, because he claims to be objective, has dug out documents and papers and is trying to understand them by placing them chronologically; papers that were written by humans, who may be trying to be politically correct or having personal agendas (who knows). Understanding something from the outside that you can’t possibly live and living something because you are present in that place and situation are two different things. Whose interpretation do you believe???
In this preface, he compares two photographs of Sri Aurobindo, which seem to have been clicked around the same time but one is touched up by the photographer before printing and the other untouched. Using these photographs as his support, he says he is an objective man because he prefers the untouched photo of Sri Aurobindo, which he describes as:
“…dark pockmarked skin, sharp features, and undreamy eyes…”
p. xii.
The touched up photograph, he claims
“falsifies the ‘real’ Aurobindo. It is the task of the retoucher to make the photograph accord with the reality that people want to see.”
p. xiii.

First and foremost, the 2 photographs compared are not of the same year, but in fact, the so called untouched photo was clicked a year or so earlier and the Ashram is in possession of the touched up and untouched version of the said photo. Hence, the authenticity of the interpretation is itself dubious, if the two photographs under comparison are different .
Secondly, can a retouched photo “falsify the real Aurobindo?” Is Sri Aurobindo the reality that exists in the photograph, does a photograph tell us about a person more than his life, that it can ‘falsify some real person’? And this he has again taken out of context from the era, PH says, the photograph was clicked around 1915-1916. The quaint method of photography and the yet underdeveloped methods of developing photographs, can they be relied on completely, to give the real picture of Sri Aurobindo. If not, then what is “real”?
Why has Sri Aurobindo’s pictures of late 1940s not been taken into account, where eye witness accounts say, that Sri Aurobindo’s complexion had become fair, almost golden and his skin and hair would shine constantly. Isn’t that as much a real Sri Aurobindo as the one clicked in 1915-16?
3. Questioning Sri Aurobindo’s mental stability:
Through out the book there are various instances, covert and overt where PH has raised questions about Sri Aurobindo’s mental stability, starting from the preface itself.
“…what about mystical experiences? In trying to trace the lines of Aurobindo’s sadhana, a biographer can use the subject’s diaries, letters, and retrospective accounts. There are also, for comparison, accounts by others of similar mystical experiences. But in the end, such experiences remain subjective. Perhaps they are only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown. Even if not, do they have any value to anyone but the subject?”
p. xiv.
This statement in the preface shows, PH’s motives and intentions, without properly introducing Sri Aurobindo, His yoga and His works, he has raised a question about the mental stability and the “value” of the experiences Sri Aurobindo had.
In the introduction, before he properly introduces Sri Aurobindo, he describes in detail (almost 2-3 pages long, interspersed with incidents in Sri Aurobindo’s life) the insanity of his mother (Swarnalotta) quoting an incident where his mother beat his elder brother with the candlestick. Unfortunately, there are no references given for this incident and we don’t know where he got the details of this incident. After a two page description of Swarnalotta’s insanity and the children’s alienation from their father and hence their going away to a hostel in Darjeeling, he describes in a few lines an experience of Sri Aurobindo when he was between five or seven years old and Sri Aurobindo had experienced a great darkness rushing into him and enveloping him and the whole universe.
When writing a biography, the placements of the experiences and incidents are of great importance because the coherent picture is gained not in isolation but in context with what has been described before and after. By placing this experience in the middle of the description of Swarnalotta’s insanity, the children’s alienation from their father and his father’s extremely high ambitions for them, PH has created an unhealthy atmosphere for Sri Aurobindo’s growth and subtly laid the grounds for the possibility of Sri Aurobindo’s insanity or at the very least an eccentricity.
This is followed by in the later pages, outright accusations of madness by quoting Hemendra Prasad. One wonders the authority Hemendra Prasad has to be quoted as an authority over Sri Aurobindo’s mental stability:
“His ‘voluntary self-effacement’ was put to the test on December 12 when an officious secretary printed his name where Pal’s name used to be.
Peter starts this observation with a line of personal interpretation , trying to show as if Sri Aurobindo claimed to be self-effacing and that he failed to fulfill the claim because he got angry over something that reads further as:
Aurobindo was furious when he saw it. It gave him publicity he did not want , and also ran counter to an earlier decision that the editor of the paper would not be named. He spoke to the secretary “pretty harshly” about it. Hemendra Prasad, who witnessed the outburst, thought that Aurobindo was more than just harsh. “Well if you take the clothes away there remains little to distinguish one human radish from another. A day later, he was more explicit: “Babu Aurobindo Ghose is an extremely strange man. And I suspect a tinge of lunacy is not absent in him his mother is a lunatic. And it is not at all strange”
and completes this observation with a line of his own interpretation:
“(And it is not at all strange) - not strange, that is, that the madness in Aurobindo’s family might express itself in him as an intensity that exceeded the norm”
p. 112.
Firstly, it needs to be clarified, that Hemendra Prasad a contemporary revolutionary, had a love-hate relationship with Sri Aurobindo, one of admiration mixed with hostility. So anything he says needs to be understood as a personal perception and not as a statement of fact and also that a person feeling even a bit of hostility for another is likely to perceive the slightest of things in an exaggerated fashion.
Secondly, the episode ends with a line of interpretation by PH justifying Hemendra Prasad’s stand by saying that Sri Aurobindo if not mad was at the very least was extremely eccentric. If PH is convinced about this at the outset, it is natural that he will look at everything from that light and present it so. Further along in the book he becomes more explicit about his stand:
“…But those familiar with the literature of psychiatry and clinical psychology may be struck by the similarity between Aurobindo’s powers and experiences and the symptoms of schizophrenia.
The question of the relationship between mysticism and madness has been discussed since antiquity. In the folklore of many cultures, a man or woman of exceptional ability has often been thought closer to the lunatic than to the ordinary mortal. Indian tradition offers hundreds of examples of yogis, mystics, and sufis whom others regarded, at least sometimes, as out of their minds. India assigns an honored place to the divine madman and madwoman once their spiritual credentials have been accepted. In the West, someone who acts eccentrically and claims divine influence is more likely to be considered a psychotic with religious delusions. Recent psychiatry has barely amended Freud’s idea that “religious phenomena are only to be understood on the pattern of the individual neurotic systems familiar to us.”91 A defender of mysticism would argue that the truth value of mystical experience is so much greater than the truth value of psychiatry—a discipline based on dubious assumptions—that any attempt by the latter to explain the former is absurd. But unless the defender was an experienced mystic, this would just be substituting one set of unverified assumptions for another. When I speak of Aurobindo’s experiences, my aim is not to argue for their veracity or for their delusiveness; I simply present some of the documented events of his inner life and provide a framework for evaluating them.”
p. 245-246.
Following this is a paragraph of discussion of William James’ writing, then Anton Boisen and Sudhir Kakar. William James and Freud are considered to be the father of psychology and psychotherapy respectively. But this psychology, psychotherapy took birth in 1890s, and to continue to use them in the 21st century is an insult to psychology. But, this trend of calling Indian mystics mad or their experiences as schizophrenic, and of course psychoanalyzing the Indian culture and Indian mystics is in vogue in the USA, and in the fore front is Wendy Doniger and her followers and students. PH seems to be much enamored by this approach as he maintains that Freud and psychoanalysis still rule the roost in psychology even today, though most practicing psychologists would beg to differ. Sudhir Kakar is a well-known psychoanalyst, who is well-known for psychoanalyzing mystical experiences and famous people. Why are the other well-known practitioners of psychology not quoted, like many well-known transpersonal psychologists who are much more contemporary to our times, and who will validate the fact that spiritual experiences are not any more considered a sign of psychopathology.
Secondly, to call someone schizophrenic and his experiences as hallucinations, certain criteria need to be fulfilled. The way a common man uses these terms loosely, is not adequate in a book that claims to be a scholarly work. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) - IV is used by psychiatrists and psychologists world over to diagnose mental disorders, and until a person fulfills the criteria he/she cannot be called schizophrenic or his experiences as hallucinations.
It is gross untruth and mishandling to nullify the development that has occurred over the years in the field of psychiatry and psychology and say that psychiatry and psychology has not moved beyond Freud. And then, on the basis of this wrong assumption, say that Sri Aurobindo may be called as schizophrenic by practitioners of mental health medicine.
Though, PH softens the blow of these very harsh and “objective” and “scientific” statements by quoting some more, yet he does this in a very mixed fashion, first by examining the quotes of two well-known individuals who called Sri Aurobindo mad,that his contemporary revolutionaries thought him eccentric, but over all his utter calmness and lack of self-assertion after he discussed his spiritual experiences in the jail in a public meeting, convinced people the he was “anything but unbalanced”. It is a very strange way of saying somebody may not be mad:
Indeed, virtually everyone who met him found him unusually calm, dispassionate, and loving – and eminently sane. The reports to the contrary are so rare that they can be examined individually. The reports to the contrary are so rare that they can be examined individually. As noted earlier, while working as editor-in-chief of Bande Mataram, Aurobindo was sometimes severe and occasionally angry. After witnessing a tongue-lashing Aurobindo gave to another, Hemendra Prasad Ghose wrote in his diary that he thought Aurobindo might have inherited “a tinge of lunacy” from his mother. R.C. Dutt, asked by the government for information about Aurobindo, also mentioned Swarnalata’s madness and suggested that her son was “eccentric”. After Aurobindo had spoken of his vision of Krishna in the Uttarpara speech, a few of his associates murmured that he had lost his balance. These scattered reports by people out of sympathy with him are hardly significant in themselves; viewed together with every other known report of Aurobindo’s character, they stand out as exceptions. A few months after noting down the outburst that had surprised him, Hemendra Prasad wrote to Aurobindo that he would “always look with pleasure on the period of my life during which I had the privilege of working with you for a cause.”94 That someof Aurobindo’s political opponents considered him eccentric or unbalanced is not surprising. When people asked him about his claim to have seen Krishna, the calmness and lack of self-assertion of his answer convinced them that he was anything but unbalanced”
And if PH is so objective, how about having done some research to give a clear idea about what mental illness is and why Sri Aurobindo may not fulfill the criteria. If PH even though an historian (though unqualified) wanted to venture into the field of mental illness and psychiatry, should he not have invested a little time and energy into research in the above mentioned field, before trying to covertly defame Sri Aurobindo in this manner. All this PH has discussed while describing Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry when he had started on the Yoga in earnest and in almost exclusivity, as trying to remind the writer, don’t forget, he could be mad.
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