9 Oct 2008

Background to this Book

The first impression that Peter’s book gives is one of a meticulous, scholarly and authoritative work. It deals minutely with many factual aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s life and suggests some new interpretations of Sri Aurobindo’s motives. Most statements seem to be backed with references, and for every viewpoint, an opposite view is presented giving the book an appearance of balance and objectivity.

But when we look deeper into the references we find that many quotations are used out of context. And when we look at the balance of viewpoints, we find that there is a deliberate bias to quote those who are critical of Sri Aurobindo, and to suppress the much larger body of facts and quotations that praise him. The author justifies his bias by disclaiming any praise of Sri Aurobindo as not objective or as hagiographical. Sometimes the author uses a clever mix of facts and speculation, so tightly woven that you cannot distinguish one from the other unless you personally verify the referenced sources and think for yourself. On the whole the balance is consistently tilted to harm Sri Aurobindo’s reputation, and more seriously, to misrepresent his message, his work and his teaching.

Numerous examples of analysis on this site will reveal that the bias is deliberate and defamatory. The complete List of Categories under which posts on this site are organised can be used as a starting point for study. Some of the least controversial passages of this book are found, on closer scrutiny, to be perversely deceptive.

The kinds of deceptions consistently utilised throughout the book include:

  1. deliberately concealing the much larger body of information which is contrary to the author's defamatory thesis;
  2. presenting as quotations what are Peter Heehs’ own speculations;
  3. deliberate misrepresentation and distortion of context; distortion of quotations;
  4. defamation of Sri Aurobindo’s character by use of innuendo, speculation, exaggeration and outright falsehood;
  5. bias to quote extensively from people who question Sri Aurobindo’s credibility and sanity; outright rejection of any person or quotation offering appreciation or praise of Sri Aurobindo
  6. preferring speculation against Sri Aurobindo’s own affirmations to the contrary;
  7. crude application of Freudian analysis to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

To the informed scholars of Sri Aurobindo's life and teaching, the book is found to be full of twists -- on an average of at least one per page. The entire book sustains a deliberate slant aimed at defaming Sri Aurobindo, but cunningly couched in a play of words to hide the author's bias.

The messages and conclusions that he develops across the book include the following:

  • that Sri Aurobindo does not hold integrity as a person,
  • that he was morally of loose character,
  • that his claims to spiritual powers are questionable and irrelevant,
  • that his spirituality emerges from a streak of inherited madness,
  • that there is nothing new in his writings and thoughts,
  • that his poetry is expressive of sexual frustration, and its style outdated,
  • that his relationship with the Mother was of a romantic nature.

Anybody with respect for spirituality, for Sri Aurobindo, Indian culture, or even for pure objectivity and scholarship, will be disappointed at the least, and deeply hurt for the most part.

The book has been publicised as a scholarly, authoritative and comprehensive work by its publishers who themselves have a high reputation. It will surely be quoted by mal-intentioned scholars to justify their agendas. To ignore it without refuting its falsehood would be to condone it. Its contents and conclusions will be used by interested groups to deliberately hurt and provoke devotees and genuine scholars of Sri Aurobindo for years to come. This pattern and strategy of vilification of India’s spiritual traditions is not new.

Global Pattern of Attacks

Recently there have been similar “scholarly” attacks on the integrity of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Paramahansa Yogananda, Dalai Lama, Shivaji, Sai Baba, various Hindu deities, and others.

Jeffrey Kripal is the author who published a Freudian analysis of Ramakrishna Paramahansa and declared him a homosexual with perverse relationship with Swami Vivekananda. Kripal himself is a student of Wendy Doniger who specialises in Freudian analysis of Puranic stories and is described as “rude, crude and very lewd in the hallowed portals of Sanskrit Academics. All her special works have revolved around the subject of sex in Sanskrit texts”. The same Kripal is now showering high praise for Peter’s book. Kripal is prominently listed as the first of four reviewers on the back of the book and on the publisher’s website. He has written the longest and most prolific praise for it. He is a strong supporter of Peter’s thesis and was given the manuscript of the book by Peter long before its formal publication so that his comments may be used for publicity.

The choice of Jeffrey Kripal, a known right-wing Christian and a notorious anti-Hindu and anti-Indian writer, as primary reviewer reveals the darker intentions behind Peter Heehs’ defamation of Sri Aurobindo. It puts Heeh in the lineage of Kripal and Doniger, and puts his book in the same category as their writings in the public eye. It suggests the influence of well-funded international groups that are behind increasing academic attacks on Indian culture, spirituality and Hinduism.

Kripal has now joined Michael Murphy in financing Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz to analyse Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga for the Esalen Institute. Kripal ’s intentions here can be inferred from the fact that his only fields of specialisation are “comparative erotics and ethics of mystical literature”. Kripal himself describes Esalen as a “metaphysical synthesis of sensuality and spirit”, and a review of Kripal ’s book on Esalen criticises him for being “too intent on seeing everything that happens at Esalen through the mystical lenses of tantra”. The danger emphasised here is not so much of Esalen’s intentions but of Kripal ’s perverse mind now targeting Sri Aurobindo with Heehs' help.

Kripal’s fawning review of Heehs' book declares that:

“His text humanizes and problematizes a historical figure whose complexity has been more or less lost to us via hagiography, piety, and now Hindutva apologetics.”

Note his inbuilt biases. Note also his glee at humanising and problematising Sri Aurobindo, as well as his need to complexify. The word problematising means “to propose problems”, “to pose problems”, “to make into or regard as a problem”. This is the intention of Peter in writing this book as revealed through his chosen reviewer, close personal friend, financier and partner in research on Sri Aurobindo!

Heehs' statements have larger ramifications and are part of a wider strategy of certain global interests to misrepresent and discredit Sri Aurobindo along with other spiritual giants of our age.

When Kripal's book appeared, he was an unknown small-time scholar seeking cheap publicity. In this case the Heehs emerges from the heart of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives and falsely claims authority on the grounds of being one of the "founders" of the Archives. This gives the distortions in this book an aura of authority and the implied sanction of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram itself. This is the main reason why it is so important to expose the distortions in this book.

There have been other "scholars" who also have distorted Sri Aurobindo's teaching to suit their own agendas, but they have little authority and do not claim to represent the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's views, and hence can be ignored and allowed to fade into academic irrelevance.