22 Oct 2008

Manasi Pahwa's correspondence: Letter #3 from Manasi

[This is the third of three letters exchanged between Manasi Pahwa and Peter Heehs. The first is Manasi's letter to the Ashram Trustees here. The second is Peter's reply here. Please read them both in sequence before you read the following reply by Manasi.]

To The Trustees, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry.

Respected Manoj da and other trustees,

I received a mail from Peter as a reply to the 1st letter I had written to the trustees and forwarded to him when Manoj da asked me to. I am sending a reply and rejoinder to his mail to you. The portions in italics and underlined are quoted from his letter and then is my reply statement by statement to him.

Statement 1

My presentation is neutral, though most readers will see that by presenting Sri Aurobindo's experiences uncritically and at length, I consider them valid and interesting…

Answer 1. My reply to this statement: The discussion is cunningly neutral. True, he doesn't take a personal stand, yet by presenting at length, the views that negate the validity and veracity of Sri Aurobindo's experience, he has very subtly and covertly taken a stand.

Statement 2:

My discussion of the topic in the book is based on this article**. Note that both the article and the book were written as contributions to historical research, an activity supported by the ashram in its role of a scientific research institution. The article therefore contains no expression of devotion and treats Sri Aurobindo's experiences as the subject of scientific and historical research. [**the article he
mentions is: "Genius, Mysticism and Madness"]

Answer 2. My reply to this statement: I am surprised and for the first time to my knowledge hearing that the ashram is a scientific research institute which engages in researching and analyzing the Founder's life in such a way. I thought, this Ashram had been created for the purpose of research and experimentation of a "different" kind. I am aware that Sri Aurobindo had used the term 'laboratory' for the ashram, but as far as my understanding goes, it meant a research into the possibilities of a higher evolution through an Integral Yoga. Secondly, this stand of looking at "Sri Aurobindo's experiences as the subject of scientific and historical research" and elsewhere he has written that his stand is that of "studying mystical experience as a remarkably interesting human potential" seems to bring forth the stand of the asura, who brings down every thing to the aspect of 'human power and potential' with no touch or even an acknowledgement of the existence of something higher. The stand of looking at mysticism and madness in the same continuum is one that is clearly biased. I read through his few references for his quotes; Freud, (the father and creator of psychoanalysis) and Sudhir Kakkar (a very prominent Indian psychoanalyst, who has left no stone unturned in degrading mystical experiences) were the ones he has used. Incidentally, on his website one can also see that the persons encouraging and appreciating him are psychoanalytic thinkers. By basing a discussion on something that is biased negatively I don't think one can state the stand to be neutral!!

Statement 3:

(1) those steeped in the Indian tradition who find nothing remarkable about powers like trikaldrishti, since they are described in texts like the Puranas; (2) those who study mystical experience as a remarkably interesting aspect of human potentiality; (3) those who view spiritual experience as a sort of psychological aberration.

You correctly note in your third paragraph that "any kind of mystical experience was looked upon with suspicion in psychology." I would add that for the most part this is, regrettably, still the case. You correctly point out on page 4 that some modern psychologists like Maslow, Grof, Washburn, et al. have taken a positive view towards spiritual experience or "peak experience" as Maslow calls it. Unfortunately these psychologists are not very much in vogue in the moment. This is why it is necessary to engage with position (3).

While in the book I don't state my own position in the matter, I can inform you privately that it is position (2). With position (1) I am not concerned. The purpose of my treatment is to take up the objections raised by those of position (3), and by discussing them, to show that they are invalid. This strategy is clear in the book itself and in the enlarged extracts that I attach. This form of argument is, I believe, similar to the purvapaksha-uttarapaksha form of argument of Sanskrit rhetoric. (I say this in an attempt to make my intentions clear by giving an example that may be familiar to you. I have never actually studied Sanskrit rhetoric.) It is also of course a form of argument used Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine. (Please don't imagine I am comparing my book to The Life Divine.) You may remember a passage in the Mother's talks where she says that Sri Aurobindo's use of this type of argumentation left him open to charges from ignorant people that he was accepting a position that he in fact was discussing in order to refute it.

Answer 3. My reply to these statements: I wonder what books and articles he has referred to, and if I take a little dig at him, I think the influence is from his dear friend Jeffrey Kripal who is a psychoanalyst (also his first reviewer and also the author of the book that claims Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa's experiences to be based on early childhood trauma and a result of pedophilia and homosexuality). Sorry, but to say that Freud is still the whole and sole and psychoanalysis the school of thought in vogue, I am extremely sorry is not true at all. And because, his friends or a few articles (strangely he picked only the ones on psychoanalysis) are following a particular school of thought, the other doesn't become out-dated. In fact, the most in-vogue schools of thought right now are Existentialism, Cognitive-Neuropsychology, and a very large chunk of psychology is moving towards spirituality in the West, please check up the latest journals. If you wish, I can send you all my literature review that I have done for my PhD. Thesis and am still collecting material.

I have already commented about his interest in Sri Aurobindo's experiences in my answer 2.

To engage with an opposing position and then giving answers to them, he has very truly said has been used very powerfully by Sri Aurobindo in The Life Divine. But for all of us who have read it know that Sri Aurobindo would eventually emerge with the answers that left no doubt in ones mind. But Peter, unfortunately for him if he was trying to engage in that kind of discourse, instead of emerging with answers to any doubts that can be raised, plants seeds of doubts. Now, if I take the stand of a psychoanalyst and think from his perspective I don't get answers to doubts but get reinforced instead and feel vindicated after reading Peter's book.

Statement 4:

Thank you very much for the definitions you provide on pages 2-3. I wish I had had these pages when I was writing my paper. I am puzzled, however, why in the midst of your discussion you ask me "Would someone suffering from schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions be able to write 35 volumes of books," etc. as though this was the position I held. Even if you look only at the incomplete and misleading extracts from my book in the selective compilation that has been circulated, you will see that the last passages quoted are: "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… 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." If you read my enlarged extracts, or the book itself, or my 1997 paper, you will see that I use the argument you give (would someone suffering from delusions be able to write 35 volumes?) as one of my main arguments in my attempt to demonstrate, to those of position (3), that Sri Aurobindo was "anything but unbalanced."


As most of your discussion on pages 4 and 5 seem to be based on the same misunderstanding of my motives, I pass to your discussion of my reading of Sri Aurobindo's plays.

Answer 4. My reply to these statements: I wish to clarify first of all, I did not form my opinions from the extracts circulated, instead, have read the full text. So, I am not carried away by the extract quoted above, because readers don't remember what is said on each page, but what the overall effect of the book is (that too is psychology called cognitive psychology, an understanding of how the human brain works to fill in the gaps and draw conclusions). The overall effect of the book is to give a certain tilt that paints a rather ambiguous and down-beat image of Sri Aurobindo, and very very subtly plant the seed of doubt, that Sri Aurobindo may not have been a balanced person. I quoted a single paragraph as an example, but there are several more (as for example where he describes about his mother's mental illness and also where he makes allusions to his touch of lunacy) and all leave a taste of trying to plant a possibility that Sri Aurobindo's mental balance can be doubted if someone wants to. I have not read the 1997 paper, but I have read full texts of this book and no other reader will go back to the paper of 1997 to see what he means to say, the book is clearly biased.

I could quote the passage again from the book, where he says that psychiatry and clinical psychology would look at the experiences as a sign of schizophrenic hallucinations, well they wouldn't I can say that categorically, because, we have a manual called DSM-IV, which has a list of symptomatology, which a person needs to fulfill to be called schizophrenic. So the very statement to a person unaware of this little fact would take it as gospel since Peter is a scientific researcher. Even academicians outside the realm of psychiatry and psychology would do so, because they don't know the nitty-gritty of psychological diagnosis.

Also, when one takes a neutral stand, as he says he has taken as a historian, one provides both sides of the coin, where is the other side, I don't see any other psychological stand other than psychoanalysis. Where is the neutrality in this????

Pages 4-5 of my 1st letter addressed to the trustees dealt not so much with what he had written about Sri Aurobindo's experience, but the point of the invalidity of first person experience. My point which he has overlooked cleverly, (because he has obviously not done any research on validity of first person account) is that his claim that the validity of the experiences can not be established because they are subjective, loses ground in the wake of qualitative research in the field of psychology, where auto-ethnography is a valid method of study.

Statement 5:

Thank you again for your letter. I would be happy to speak to you about the topics you raise at more length if we ever meet. I am certain I will be able learn a lot from you. I don't believe we will reach complete agreement, but we will certainly have an interesting exchange of views.

Another way for you to give expression to your scholarly views about my book would be to review it in a Delhi periodical, say The Book Review or The Indian Historical Review. I am in contact with the editors of both of these journals, and would be happy to send a copy of the Indian edition to one of them with a recommendation that you review the book in his or her journal.

Answer 5. My reply to these statements: I have no wish to be in further correspondence with Peter Heehs, unless the trustees ask me to, nor have any wish to review his book.

I thought when I first read the texts of the book (I had a sliver of doubt), that he had made errors out of lack of knowledge and lack of adequate research. But his stand as made clear through his reply shows that the book was written with certain obvious intentions, which he has tried to cover up under the guise of being neutral and objective. I think he is arguing for arguing sake and his answers are only to conceal his real and diabolic motives as I have already alluded to earlier. This book will hardly appeal to any academician and will seriously jeopardize the work on Sri Aurobindo that scholars have undertaken in India and abroad. It is simply an opportunity given on a platter to the psychoanalytic school to psychoanalyze Sri Aurobindo's life. It puts the Ashram's reputation at stake and raises doubts about the very foundation on which this Ashram exists.

With deep regards and great trust that the Truth will prevail,

Manasi Pahwa

1 comment:

  1. All devotees should be grateful to Manasi Pahwa
    for the intelligent replies.