30 Dec 2009

A Prayer for the New Year -- by Alok Pandey

May our minds and intelligence refuse to admit the dark and tortuous thoughts that revolt against the Light and resist it by doubt, denial and scepticism.

May our hearts banish the feelings that mock at faith, dismiss love and devotion as mere concessions to the weak, and distort the straight and simple truth they refuse to see.

May our will be free of all unclean motives, hypocrisy and duplicity, cunning and falsehood and all that corrupts and perverts by vain ambition, lust for power and greed for fame.

May we reject and expunge from our entire being the whispers of the Night that cast a hostile look on all that is True and Sacred and Beautiful and Pure and inflict upon the Divine and His messengers the thorns of its fallen nature by testing, judging, condemning and crucifying Him on the world’s altar and by returning Her Love and Grace with denial and distrust, refusal and revolt instead of love, gratitude and surrender.

May ‘We’ unite as one body, one mind, one will, one heart, one soul around the central fire of aspiration that ever seeks and labours, struggles and battles for the advent of a Light greater than reason, a Love deeper than human sentiments, a Freedom born of an inner liberation, a Unity that is founded on the bedrock of the One Self behind all things, an Equality that does not blur all distinctions through a blind indifference and the complacence born of inertia but shows each thing its right place for the harmonious arrangement of all things and ideas and forces in space and time.

May we be cleansed of all blind dogmas – whether religious or scientific, of all obscurantism ─ whether born of a clouded thinking or a rigid and narrow heart and mind, of all prejudices ─ whether arising out of a misguided materialism or a traditional escapist and nihilistic philosophy.

May the diabolic force that inspires works of the likes of TLOSA be dissolved once for all, defeated of its devious designs to hold the human mind a captive to the darkness of the Night from which a New World is struggling to emerge.

May this year, 2010, the centenary of Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry be for all of us and for the earth a year for the return of light in our minds, of clarity in our perception and understanding, of devotion and gratitude in our hearts, of faith in our will, and of all that is necessary for Their Work.

Bonne Année

Happy New Year


Alok Pandey

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24 Dec 2009

Intellectual Fundamentalism -- by Raman Reddy

Of late, the view that Sri Aurobindo has to be presented either intellectually or with faith and devotion, historically or hagiographically, is fast catching up among the admirers and devotees of Sri Aurobindo. The idea behind is that faith is per se anti-intellectual and intellectuality necessarily anti-faith. The extrapolation of this stupid view into the realm of nationalities will one day land us into deep trouble, for you can politicise this view to drive a wedge into the nascent world unity that is taking shape here in the Ashram and Auroville and, hopefully, in other spiritual centres across the world. The conclusion that could be drawn is that Indians are generally good for yoga, which can be hardly be done without faith, devotion and surrender, and Westerners are only good for intellectuality and practical work, which does not make them fit for yoga. Though this might be true in certain respects – nobody would deny that Westerners have a certain advantage of coming from an organised and mentally developed society or that the age-old spiritual civilisation of India enables Indians to take up Yoga as naturally as fish takes to water – but if you overstress these racial inclinations, I wonder how further progress would be possible. We all have to rise beyond personal and national barriers, learn from each other and not insist on each other’s deficiencies and definitely not make matters worse by aggressively pitting Western intellectuality against Indian devotion. The personalities of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are the best examples of a perfect blend of these two aspects and it is precisely because of this that they have touched the hearts as well as the minds of so many people all over the world. Let me however dig deeper into this artificial rift created by these two opposing camps of intellectuals and devotees.
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14 Dec 2009

Alok Pandey’s Reply to "The Larger Issues behind the The Lives of Sri Aurobindo Controversy"

[Around March 2009, the SCIY supporters of Heehs made a solemn collective statement on the larger issues behind the “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” controversy. Laying the broad outlines of how the Integral Yoga should not be practised (as if they have been practising it for a long time), voicing grave concerns about how it was going awry at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, they formulated fourteen points with summary explanations attached it. How I wish this new charter of Yogic Rights was followed by the setting up of a new Ashram where they could have indeed shown the world how to practise the Integral Yoga in the right way. Heehs also could be anointed as its new Guru. Alok Pandey reacted to this collective lamentation by jotting down the following replies to some of their accusations – religious fundamentalism, not permitting intellectual freedom, etc.]


1. Religious Fundamentalism:

I don’t believe in any kind of fundamentalism, religious or intellectual. A narrow, one-sided, intellectual approach to truth is as harmful as religious bigotry. At the same time, every spiritual collectivity has a right to safeguard what is sacred and dear to it, its cherished values and ethos, and its unique way of life. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are the centre and the circumference of the Ashram. The members here have willingly chosen this life centered around Them. They have not been forced into conversion or coerced into submission. One is free to move in (if admitted) and one is also free to move out. But when one is part of the institution, a minimum sense of public decency is expected of him. If a member writes publicly disparaging comments that are critical of the core values and founders of the institution and, that too, for years together, and others rise up to challenge and criticize him, I do not see how they become religious fundamentalists. In this world of transparency and accountability, nobody can stay secure on his throne and demand that he will continue to be in his privileged position despite his betrayal of the very Cause, or his acting constantly against the Spirit that built the institution. To expect others to meekly submit to such unlimited privileges is not the spirit of freedom but of slavery and depravity. The Spirit that built the Ashram and sustains it is not the Spirit of Democracy or Theocracy or Autocracy or any such political ideal. It is the spirit of Yoga and acceptance of the Master. Faith in the Founder and His wisdom are part of its core values and central ethos. For the rest, there is the world outside where people are free to speak on whatever they want in appropriate forums.


2. Intellectual Freedom:

Freedom of any kind,  intellectual, vital, physical – is always relative, and comes along with its own share of responsibility. An unlimited freedom is one of those chimeras of vain intellectuals who refuse to submit themselves to a higher Law or a deeper Truth greater than their minds. They are free to say whatever they want, but they must not then complain if others exercise their freedom to contradict their publicly stated opinions and ideas. Unlimited freedom, like unlimited authority is the prerogative only of a consciousness that dwells always in Truth. Since none of us can claim that, let us not speak of it. It is true that an enforced discipline by mechanical means or regimented code leads to conservatism and stagnation, which no progressive group can afford. But equally, an unlimited, unqualified freedom leads to chaos, a mad orgy of vital instincts and mental arrogance,  a regression to barbarism of another kind, which again no progressive group can accept. A right balance is needed, a healthy combination of freedom and discipline, individual and collective. The Ashram is precisely such a place with a leaning towards freedom. Yet, sometimes a group may need to send away a member if his presence is detrimental to the whole group-life or threatening to attack and erode the very Soul of the place. Whether it is possible to destroy the Soul or not is not the issue. The issue is whether certain persisting attitudes and tendencies of an extremely undesirable type can be accepted when they damage the very fundamentals of the Ideal that a group stands and lives for. There are always other groups and places where the individual’s bent of mind and the group’s ethos will match. One is always free to move there.


3. Spokespersons of Truth:

No one except for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother can have that absolute authority. Nobody else claims it either. And precisely for this very reason it is important to see that distortions and wrong of interpretations are not made from their writings, the kind of which PH has been indulging in openly and blatantly through this book.


4. Need for Reconciliation:

Yes, of course, but around what and whom? One cannot sacrifice the central principle for the peripheral, the higher truths for the lesser lights. Unless there is a basic agreement on certain fundamental issues, how can one hope to reconcile? In that case, it is better to let different groups grow independently, each in its own way, without interfering in the other’s affairs. When we would all have grown sufficiently, then union, if necessary, will happen naturally, first inwardly, then outwardly. The fundamental issues are:

(a) Can a critical attitude towards Sri Aurobindo and the Mother be permissible in the Ashram, leave alone tacitly being encouraged as it is being done now?

(b) Does the book truly represent Sri Aurobindo’s life and does justice to His Works?


5. Tolerating Different Approaches:

Of course, there is every scope and freedom for diverse approaches. But is the scientific objectivity of the skeptic materialist or hostile criticism of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother an approach to Integral Yoga? Of course, in the widest sense, everything leads us towards God, one way or the other, but when we speak of yoga, we mean a more direct effort. Not everything can be called conscious yoga simply because everything eventually leads us towards God. Besides, there is a difference between having a personal approach and claiming it as the most authentic or best approach for everybody. There is no problem if someone writes a book about how one feels closer to God when he quarrels with Him, but there is a problem when he denounces, belittles or dismisses others while hailing his own way as the only valid one. The author of TLOSA has precisely done that and he starts it in the Preface itself. It is PH and not the devotees who have been intolerant! They have only reacted to his dismissive attitude towards devotion and faith. If you put your hand in a hornet’s nest, you should not blame someone else for your pain!


6. Hindutva Influence:

This is sheer nonsense. Hindus are perhaps the most tolerant group. If there is any Hindutva influence in the PH controversy, it is seen in the remarkable tolerance displayed by the devotees and sadhaks in the face of such audacity and arrogance displayed by PH and the blatant lies that he and some of his supporters have unabashedly resorted to. Can you imagine someone continuing to live freely and enjoying the privileges of an Ashram despite publicly denouncing its Guru and Master?


7. Anti-Western feelings:

This is again sheer nonsense, an old trick used to divide people on racial lines. Has any westerner ever been harmed before, during, or after the controversy, including those who resolutely stand on PH’s side? B. and R.H. continue to occupy their places, while Sraddhalu has been asked not to go to the Archives. The feeling of racism has not been created by people who are against PH’s book but by those who are supporting him. Somehow they are unable to see beyond the colour of their skin and country of origin. It is sad, but who is responsible for it? That is the question.


8. Western outlook:

There may be some truth in it,  maybe related to a recent past and the turn that religion has taken in the West. Maybe it is difficult for a Westerner to surrender or acknowledge a personal and embodied Divine. But I am not sure if this is still a general phenomenon or one that afflicts the Sri Aurobindo group specifically. Nevertheless, just as an Indian has to pursue yoga forgetting that he is a Hindu or Indian, so also a Westerner or others may have to follow yoga, if they wish to, forgetting that they are Westerners, Christians, agnostics, etc. Or does this simple rule of yoga apply only to one group and not to the others??


9. Moral and Religious Policing:

Nobody does moral or religious policing here. Nobody peeps into anybody’s life or passes judgments except in private. It is rather PH who has tried to peep into Sri Aurobindo’s life with a voyeuristic curiosity and passed judgments. He has made his views public and therefore people have reacted because of his misrepresentations of Sri Aurobindo, His life and His works. How is that equivalent to moral and religious policing? Nobody is bothered or cares about PH’s private and personal life. Nobody has slapped a list of do’s and don’ts on him or anyone else. All that the devotees have asked of him is not to write such derogatory stuff while he is a member of the Ashram. Is that such an unfair demand? If anything, it is his followers in America who are trying to remote control and police and pass comments and judgments on what does not really concern them! One can understand that concern for what is written or said about Sri Aurobindo when it is not confined to the Ashram. The devotees all over the world have surely the right to express what they feel. But it is not within the prerogative of everyone, including devotees outside, to comment, interfere, influence and control the decisions regarding PH’s continuation at the Archives or the Ashram. To do that would rather be moral and religious policing. A distinction must be made between the Ashram as a source of spiritual Light for all and the Ashram as an institution. Nobody here is interfering in PH’s yoga or his personal approach to the Divine, which in any case is a matter of attitude rather than outer circumstances. Nobody is ex-communicating him. All that was asked was his removal from the Archives and that too not out of any ‘righteous wrath’ but because of the gross misuse of his privileges, such as making use of unpublished things for public consumption without taking permission. Such a change of department and even taking someone out of the Ashram has been done earlier and is an acceptable norm in other institutions. It has nothing to do with this hype on ‘religious wrath’ and ‘fundamentalism’. Does it mean that every time someone was asked to leave the Ashram (and there have been quite a few cases), it was done out of ‘religious wrath’ or a ‘fundamentalist’ impulse? It simply means that the individual does not fit anymore in the organization, because he does not agree to abide by its core principles.


10. Who is the authority?

For all Ashram related matters, it is obviously the Ashram Trust that enjoys the full authority. For PED (Physical Education Dept of the Ashram) matters, it is the PED that decides, and so also for most departments. There is no doubt about this. That is why the Ashram inmates welcomed the PED decision whereas they remained silent (though somewhat sorrowfully) at the decision of the Trust. Nobody went against the Trust; they only repeatedly kept apprising them, not because they wanted to ‘arm-twist’ the Trustees but because they felt unheeded and unheard (due to their silence). If a clear decision had been taken either way and communicated to everybody, there would have been no confusion. As I have said earlier, there is a time and place for silence and a time and place for speech and communication. To delay certain decisions for long can prove to be costly.


11. Lawsuit:

Certainly not the best way to settle issues. Yet, if all options are closed, it is the only viable way of redress and there is nothing uncivilized about it.


12. A Logical Fallacy:

Finally, one may say that supporting PH while condemning the reactions to the book is a strange and fallacious logic. The same logic used to defend PH defends also the reactions against him. For instance:

(i) PH decontextualized Sri Aurobindo’s writings, quoting them in bits and parts from here and there, so did those who quoted from his book.

(ii) PH is a representative type of humanity but then so are the others.

(iii) PH has analyzed Sri Aurobindo critically (and without a heart) with the lens of a scientific objectivity. The same is being done to him by others.

(iv) PH has intolerance towards other approaches dubbing them as hagiography, dogma, etc. So also others are being dismissive about his approach.

(v) PH has intellectual freedom to write what he wants, so also others are exercising their freedom to criticize him.

(vi) PH has been critical and dismissive towards Sri Aurobindo’s works, so also have been people been towards his work.

(vii) PH has called Sri Aurobindo names (some would have thought he was a megalomaniac, coward, liar, etc); so also have others done the same to PH, called him names.

(viii) You feel love for PH and are defending him, so also we feel love for Sri Aurobindo and are defending him. Or to use your language, you believe and stand for certain mental values such as vital and intellectual freedom. We believe and stand for certain spiritual values such as devotion and surrender when you take up the yoga (not otherwise).

I am not saying that ‘tit for tat’ is a very yogic thing. All that I am doing is to point out a logical fallacy in supporting PH’s personal actions. What should have been done instead was a discussion on the book itself.


13. Circulating the Extracts:

So do you expect that the whole book should have been circulated? That would be worse! And hasn’t PH done the same, giving a one-sided picture by selective half-quotes. And have not those who have analyzed our letters done the same,  taken them out of context. PH’s background, repeated actions of a similar nature, his being part of the Ashram and that too of the Archives, his abrasive personality that hastily dismisses other approaches, his mocking at people’s faith in the Mother, all these are part of the full picture. To simply take a few extracts (that too selected for effect) and analyze them is only to create confusion, nothing else.


14. Representative Type:

Yes, everybody here is a representative type but not all need to stay in a particular department of the Ashram to do yoga and change themselves. And if he is a representative type, so are the others and he is getting it from other representative types! Such logics is obviously self-defeating in the end!


Alok Pandey

April 2009


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5 Dec 2009

A Review by Manoj Pavitran

What is Great?

The most outstanding feature of the book that beats all other biographies that have been written so far is the sheer mass of research data that has made even the bibliography a book by itself. This is where the author excels and this is where we see his labour of love for Sri Aurobindo, who is the very subject of his investigation. No one can persist with such thoroughness for nearly three decades, collecting a huge amount of empirical data from all over the world, without a deep love for the subject. Here is a true researcher excelling in his craft, a lover who persists tirelessly. Any one who wants to investigate Sri Aurobindo’s life in the future will find this an immense treasure. This is the empirical domain, the verifiable data and Peter has done a great job, hats off!


What is Poor?

Once you have the data, you have to organize it in such a way that some new perspectives emerge and then interpret what one perceives or leave the readers to draw their own conclusions. This is a slippery ground where subjective judgments step in and we see the researcher in the author stumbling and becoming somewhat like an art critic and not even a connoisseur; here is where the lover ends and the critic begins, here is where the intellect shuts out the heart. The very opening shot of the book with the two photographs illustrates the pattern, which will be followed throughout the book. One photo is the original and the other is a touched-up version of the same. This much is fact, and putting them together is great to show the difference – it is an excellent view. Now personal preferences and taste come in when one starts interpreting them in one way or the other. Here we have already left the empirical ground and entered purely subjective space where any interpretation can claim itself as truth, and behind such interpretations we can perceive certain intentions, attitudes, etc., of the interpreter. These interpretations reveal more of the author’s inner workings than the object of investigation. If some readers of the book have perceived malicious intentions in it, I wouldn’t blame them. The author is not merely collecting and organizing the data to give us some new perspective, but he is also bringing in active interpretations and myth-making based on his personal preference and taste. If the reader is not careful, he is likely to miss the point where historical data ends and story-telling begins. This is a serious flaw of the book. An amazing layer of data is presented through an equally luxurious and imaginative layer of interpretations. What makes it poor is the author’s claim that his interpretations stand for greater truth than the other biographies of Sri Aurobindo, which he dumps together as hagiographies. Writing a biography of someone like Sri Aurobindo is like blind men describing an elephant, but when one blind man claims that all the others are false, we are dealing with someone who takes his personal views far too seriously and making a religion out of it. A reader should be extremely careful to see through these two layers and take only the facts and leave aside the fiction. But it is not at all easy because the author is an excellent storyteller and weaves fact and fiction seamlessly like a magician. If you have not read Sri Aurobindo’s own writings or his biographies by other writers, you are likely to be mesmerized by Peter’s interpretations and take them to be the truth about Sri Aurobindo.


The Freudian Bug

What makes the book bit silly is when we see the author sniffing around, which looks almost desperate, to find some evidence of sexual dynamics in the life of Sri Aurobindo. His “scholarly research” to find the reason why Sri Aurobindo married is a case in point. His dive into some selected poetry of Sri Aurobindo to analyze its plot shows a little Freud in the closet. It is laughable, to say the least. I wouldn’t say that these adventures have added any depth or credibility to the book; to me it looks rather pathetic. This Freudian bug is evident in quite many places.


Active Omissions

Anyone who is familiar with Sri Aurobindo can see that the author carefully omits quite many well-known aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s life, especially what has been told by the Mother, who in my view is the foremost authority on Sri Aurobindo. The author has no difficulty in using newspaper clippings as documented evidence in his interpretations, but when it comes to documented evidence coming from the Mother, we see a great reluctance to use them and active omissions. The Mother’s words may not be palatable to an academic audience, but to omit them from Sri Aurobindo’s life is not intellectual honesty or historical integrity or academic rigor. Truth is truth, whether it is appealing to the academic world or not, and hiding it to please a particular audience may be good marketing strategy but lowers the standards of truth.

Finally, the continuation of Sri Aurobindo’s work by the Mother and the supramental descent of 1956 are strangely missing, without which Sri Aurobindo’s life is not complete.

Having said all this, I repeat, the greatest value of this biography is in bringing together a huge mass of historical data even if he omits actively quite many. Its main weakness is in too many interpretations and judgments coloured by a personal bias.


Manoj Pavitran
manoj at auroville.org.in


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24 Nov 2009

The Metamorphosis of a Sadhak-Scholar -- by Raman Reddy

We live in a strange and confused time. On the one hand, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have given us absolute certainty with regard to the general direction we should be heading in, that is, if we don’t want to get into unnecessary difficulties. On the other hand, their withdrawal from the physical world has opened up a tremendous scope for wrong interpretations of their teachings. No matter how well-read we are in this vast mental knowledge inherited by us, we flounder in uncertainty when faced with the practical problems of life. We realise that no amount of mere intellectual knowledge can replace the necessity of inner guidance, without which we are bound to lose our way in the difficult maze of life. I remember the day when a few of us were trekking through miles of cashew plantations in the countryside. It was a cloudy day, the sun was not shining, nor did I have my compass to show the direction. We started walking towards our destination which was to the west and, as we wound our way on narrow grassy paths used by the local villagers, we came back after a few exhausting hours to the point where we started from. We did not realise that we had gradually turned to the south and then slowly headed back east to make a full circle. This is exactly what has happened to our historian Peter Heehs over the last few decades of research in an Ashram dedicated to the transformation of human nature. It can happen to any of us, if we don’t take the necessary inner precautions and carry around our inner compass.   ...full text...

13 Nov 2009

The Mole and the Mountain

Researching History the Mole-way
(An Allegorical Story)

A mole was dissatisfied with its own stature. He had heard of the bear and the elephant who were apparently like him but much larger and stronger. Living in his burrow he had also heard of strange lands, of the mountains and seas, and experienced a mixed emotion of fright and wonder, doubt and faith. All this created an increasing restlessness in him, for he had to find out whether the stories were true or not. At times, he felt accursed for having read about these strange lands and their creatures that he nor anyone else in the mole-world had ever seen, because they were always so busy digging for dead earthworms and eating their remnants.

One day, however, he decided to step out of his burrow and find out for himself if the stories of the mountains and the seas, the elephants and the bears, were true. To assist him in his historical research he took with him a few useful instruments, — the best ones in the mole world, — a probe that could pierce 10” deeper than what mole feet could manage in one go, a lens that could magnify a mole tooth three times its size, and a measuring tape that was the longest available tape in the mole-world and could measure twenty times a mole-length from snout to tail. Equipped with these very best instruments ‘molely’ possible, he confidently stepped out of the mole-world and headed towards the land of the mountains of which he had heard and read. A thought crossed the mole-mind as he moved onwards, “I will measure the mountain and probe its depths and write a most authentic book on it.” He even fantasized great adulation of his unprecedented research; for in all the books he had read he had not found any clear references to the size of the mountain or its depth. Most authors seemed to have been deeply moved by the sight of the mountain; some even had climbed it but never came back to report. “Fools”, thought the mole, “if only they had measured and told us the size, it would have been so much easier and better for other moles to understand the mountain.

As he approached the great mountain, he felt the air grow cool and refreshing. But the mole did not know of anything that could exactly quantify the change, so he took it as an illusion of the senses. He moved on and unknowingly started to climb a rock at the foot of the mountain slope. But soon he realised that his feet were slipping and there was nothing he could hold or grasp. He thought, “This must be the mountain,” and rejoiced deep inside at the prospect of measuring it. But how was he to climb it? As the mole sat wondering, he saw a little monkey playing around. Understanding the mole’s difficulty, the latter offered to help him climb the rock. “No, thank you,” came the curt reply from the proud mole, who considered himself to be the best in the mole kingdom. So he tried to climb and fell back, and tried again and fell, and tried and fell again and again. Tired and exasperated, he wondered what to do next. Just then he saw a group of mountain climbers passing by. Instantly a ‘moley’ idea flashed in his mole-mind, “Maybe I could just jump on one of their bags!” The next moment he was sitting on the bag of a climber, who reached the top of the rock in a few steps. For them, this was not even the beginning. They were seekers of the snow-covered summits decked with mist and cloud and full of beauty and danger. The mole, who knew nothing about it, jumped down as soon as they had climbed the rock.

The climbers moved on. For a moment the mole wondered where were they going, but his mole vision could not see much beyond its little arc. Anyway, it did not concern him. He had now seen the top and it wasn’t really as big and huge or as magnificent as he had heard. “Well, people exaggerate”, he said to himself, and taking his probe and measuring rod went about studying in great detail the base of the mountain. He even dug a few inches in the soil around the rock and discovered a few strands of hair of some strange creature which had died there long ago. He also dug out a few worms and saw a swarm of ants around it. He carefully collected all these, photographed and preserved them, happy at each find that he felt was revealing the secret of the mountain. After all, he thought, the mountain was like any other place, full of worms and ants. And yes, the rock perhaps, was a little different, but still, it could be climbed and measured. He wondered why people had not written about the worms and ants, for these could be easily verified by any mole. They had spoken of the snow-summits, waterfalls and rare flowers, and the only common thing mentioned was the rock.

After staying a few weeks around that small rock and collecting more data from the rocky soil, the mole finally decided to return to the mole-world. He was loaded with enough material to earn him fame and rewards for a lifetime. He planned to write a remarkable book about the minutest details of the mountain, — the ants, the worms, the hair of the dead creature, — things that nobody had found or written about. Excited and a little exhausted, he slept off at the foot of the mountain and slipped into a dream world in which he saw a number of rats and bandicoots, moles and lizards, gather around him to listen to his description of the elusive mountain with rapt attention. His book was already being acclaimed as the first authentic and objective book on the subject. A dream dialogue ensued in which he was proudly displaying his book, “The Many Sides of a Mountain”.

“So what is the mountain like Mr. PH” (as he was popularly known, — a short form of “painstaking historian”, though some heretic moles had nicknamed him as “petrified historian”, since he could only dig for scraps in the buried past)? What is the mountain like, sir?”

“Well, very much like any other place,” beamed PH and, with a sly smile, asked, “Does that surprise you?”

“Well, yes, perhaps, maybe not,” someone answered, a little confused.

And another, “It makes us feel closer to the mountain, it is more manageable now, and maybe someday one of us would be able to climb it. How much was its height, sir?”

“Well about twenty feet, top to bottom, a few inches more perhaps,” declared confidently the historian.

“Oh, we can climb that with a little assistance and practice,” one observed.

“Yes, or with a little intelligence and cunning,” the historian added, remembering how he had jumped upon a passer-by’s backpack.

“So what is all this fuss about? I mean, these climbers speak of some enormous figure, a seemingly impossible task for us moles!” questioned another one.

“Oh, the climbers always exaggerate. Having been to the mountain and studied it closely, I know that much of what they say comes from their imagination. In fact, the mountain is one huge rock and nothing more. All this talk of greenery and caves and exquisite flowers and rare animals and snow tops where the sun-rays dance in golden hues, is romantic poetry,” replied the historian mole sarcastically.

“I see,” a young mole pondered, “and what about the pure and pristine streams and waterfalls?”

The mole answered with an air of solemnity and impartiality: “Well, I searched and dug deep and went around the mountain several times, but found no evidence of any streams or even of water nearby. I cannot say that what the other writers claim is delusive and unreal, but one thing is certain, it cannot be objectively verified.”

“And what about the healing herbs with strange magical powers to cure?” a curious child mole asked feeling a little dampened by the mole’s account.

The historian mole laughed hideously and, stamping out the joy and wonder from the child mole’s eyes, answered wryly: “I do not know of any such thing. All I found were some ants and worms and few strands of hair of a dead creature,” and he showed him proudly the exhibits that he had brought in his bag.

Unknown to the mole, while he slept and dreamt of his future glory and fame, a group of climbers returned from the summit. One of them took a careless step and crushed the mole under his foot, burying it in the sand. When he realised what he had done, he cast a sympathetic glance at the dead mole and cautioned himself to be more careful with his steps. And as he and his comrades proceeded on their way down, they sang of what they had seen and felt on their journey to the summit. They described “the glory of the mountain tops, snow-clad, bare, austere, free; the pristine streams and springs whose water soothed and rejuvenated; the magical herbs that healed and the rare gems that were hidden in its depths; the blinding blizzards and the snow leopards; the clear lakes and untouched forests and pine groves; and, atop all these, majestic Shiva with the moon to his left and the sun to his right, illumining the summits, which no eyes can describe and no vision behold.”

As they sang and went past, the wind ran with them and the hearts of the trees and creatures were filled with quiet wonder and joy. The mole lay dead by the wayside, the pages of his book fluttering on his side.

Alok Pandey
(November 2008)

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Posted By Raman Reddy at 11/13/2009 05:54:00 PM
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27 Oct 2009

The Book and its Background -- by Alok Pandey

Writing a Spiritual Biography: Some General Considerations

Biographies, especially of great men, are written so that men of later generation can derive inspiration from it. Though sometimes professional psychologists and sociologists discuss the various forces that may have gone in the moulding of a great man, the prime objective is not a voyeuristic curiosity into the petty personal details of his life. If this is true of a great figure of repute and honour, we need to be even more careful when we touch the life of a saint or sage, of a national hero in whom not only the present but future generations will take pride and draw inspiration from. In India, at least, we draw the necessary distinction between the sacred and the profane, the sublime and the commonplace. We do not, and for good reasons, mix up the two in an indiscriminate manner. We do not, for example, discuss the reason behind the marriage of a great spiritual Master and, after much tortuous deliberation, end up with the commonplace statement that “it must be due to the usual desire for physical gratification”. We do not, to give another example, discuss whether he was a madman or genius of the spirit, but leave that for the coming generations to decide. True disciples, those whom the biographer of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo calls hagiographers, may exaggerate sometimes the achievements and qualities of a great Master. But it is also true that critics do just the same, but with a bias and a swing on the opposite side. They minimise and belittle the actual importance, because it threatens their own smallness and invites them to undertake an adventure which attracts and frightens them at the same time. To reduce the Master to the same level as they are, to bring him down to the littleness of our mortal state gives to these critics a vicarious and perverse pleasure.
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26 Oct 2009

Alok Pandey's second letter to Peter Heehs

Dear biographer of the “Lives …”

You seem to have completely missed the point that the devotees and disciples are trying to make.

The point is not merely the “technicality” of what you have written, whether it is “factually” correct or not, the “reliability “of the sources you have quoted, the “balance” of appraisal and criticism that you have leveled! All these, though important, are not the central issue at all, even though, as pointed out by “several experts” in their own fields, there are glaring flaws in these areas as well. Yet, even if your work were flawless by some fluke, there would still remain the unanswered question, rendering the entire exercise futile.

The point is not whether the details of Sri Aurobindo’s outer life are historically correct or not. The point is whether the image and the picture of Sri Aurobindo that you portray and must bring out (as any worthwhile biographer should) is psychologically and spiritually correct or at least closely corresponds to the inner reality of Sri Aurobindo. And for this you do not have to pick up newspaper cuttings from the dustbin of office records or go through pages of written documents but learn and educate yourself to see and feel with the psychic vision, to experience and understand life and persons with the spiritual sense. What you have hastily “dismissed” as mere “faith” and “sentiments” are not what you “believe” it to be.   ...full text...

20 Oct 2009

Alok Pandey's Letter of Clarification to the Trustees

[One of the silliest rumours that went around after Alok Pandey wrote his first letter to the Trustees of the Ashram (published on this site), was that he (and later whoever took a stand against the deceptive book) wanted to “dislodge the Trustees”. Alok had to write the following letter of clarification to say that “nothing was farther from the truth” than the above allegation. I myself wondered how the administration would run if all the complaints were met with this accusation. Secondly, who would enjoy taking the brickbats the Trustees get from all sides, despite all our grouses? Alok had to therefore clearly state that he had no such ambition to replace them and he felt it was his duty to caution the Trustees against the book. His word of caution proved to be prophetic. He had written exactly a year back in this very letter that if no firm action were taken with regard to Peter Heehs, it would result in a trail “of dust and cloud and smoke”. This indeed happened in the form of numerous court cases filed by devotees in Orissa out of sheer frustration and even a signature campaign was conducted for the first time in the history of the Ashram. All this collective heartburn could have been so easily avoided by the concerned authorities making one truly public statement denouncing the book and distancing the Ashram from it! The book would have lost all public credibility and the right to freedom of speech maintained without hurting the Ashram’s interests.]   ...full text...

14 Oct 2009

Alok Pandey's first letter to Peter Heehs

[Alok Pandey was one of the first to prick the balloon of Heehs’s bogus scholarship. When most of us were reeling under the awesome pretence of objective research that the historian claimed and were wondering whether our hearts had belied us, Alok took P.H. head on, and stung him a few quick blows like a well practised boxer. His pugilism is what really made the supporters of Heehs fume with rage, for how could a devotee dare to speak back in their own language, and that too in straight and tough terms, without mincing his words? They had not expected this kind of spirited defence from the land of passive spirituality! Devotees until now were supposed to be stupid and mindless and intellectuals necessarily untouched by devotion; therefore the West and the East, representing the mind and the heart respectively, had to be at loggerheads! Alok proved the contrary. He asserted that this was a false dichotomy created by a small-minded person dominated by the physical mind, that Westerners were not bereft of the deeper feelings of the soul, and that Indians devotees could equally fight with their minds for what they felt to be right with their hearts.]


Dear Peter,

I read your biography of Sri Aurobindo, and I have come to truly appreciate your “intellect” that everyone seems to hold in such awe. Truly, one has to be only an “intellect” and nothing else, a robotic brain-machine, so to say, to write with such heartless ingratitude and subtle mischief a biography of someone who gave you spiritual and material refuge, despite all your doubts and resistance. Surely, you must be a great intellectual to so deftly weave your doubts in a story of faith and even make them look like guiding stars that the blind God-lover does not see. And yes, it does need all your ingenuity and cunning to put forth your subjective judgments in a way that they seem to stem from non-committal objectivity. And what shall one say about your claim to be able to objectively find the facts of human life, — a claim that even Heissenberger dealing with the inside of hard concrete matter would not make? Why historians, the world of psychologists should hail you as the new avatar, the prophet and the guru who can know and write about another avatar, prophet and guru! For only the “like knows like” and by that logic you yourself must be a great Master to be able to analyse, discern and know the facts of another great Master, “possibly” the greatest in recent times.

Oh no, I forgot, you do not “really” believe in Masters and yogis and their “claims”, for you do not know whether what they claim is delusive or true or whether they are schizophrenic or real and authentic. Nevertheless, you still are an equal to them though by another logic. Me human — you human — we human — we all human = you and me are basically the same; the difference is only in degree and measure and not in any essential quality. Oh yes, I am sorry, you do not say this in so many words, objectively, I mean. And, unlike your “misfortunate” self, we do not have the privilege of digging into private diaries with voyeuristic “displeasure”. But, you see, that’s where your logic leads or will lead those who would read your book. Oh yes, I am sorry again, you are not so famous that anyone will bother to find out about your sex-life or your ability to lip-sync to someone else’s song.

But that may be presumptious on my part, for with this new book you may indeed become famous! After all, it takes guts for a mole to dig a hole in the mighty mountain and bring out a few strands of hair of some buried carcass and declare proudly to the world, “Here is my find, my exhibit! Come, come, I will tell you the secret of the mountain. You deluded jnanis, the mountain’s snow-summit may be doubted, as “I do not see it”; you sentimental bhaktas, the purifying streams of the mountain heart may be delusive as “I, the mole, have never bathed in them”, and you foolish seekers, the rich bounty of flora and fauna you speak of is equally suspect as it “may be or may-be-not” to my objective eyes, for I do not believe in the books that have been written on it by others. Come, I will tell you something you do not know.” And one can fancy rats and moles gathering around you and bandicoots and lizards and serpents hailing your find as the result of wonderful and painstaking labour and thanking you for revealing to them what the great climbers and photographers have missed.

Anyway, your road to fame is open through the backdoor, nay, the sewage pipe through which some choose to enter a palace, for they are but thieves at heart and feel unfit for the front-door. Don’t worry, you too will be purged and given an equal seat by the side of the Lord. For history repeats itself as they say and who would think of Rama without thinking about Ravana and Krishna without Kansa and of Christ without Judas. But these are myths for you, “objectively” unverified. Maybe, but then, such myths as these which have helped man to grow towards Truth and Beauty and Light, are far better than your half-truths and misrepresented facts that perpetuate the reign of falsehood in the name of truth. After all, Judas was being truthful and honest when he pointed a finger at Christ and revealed his identity. Yes, but truthful and honest to whom, — to those hostile to Christ’s mission and not to his own soul!

But forget it, you won’t understand all this as it needs truly a wide mind and a generous heart, an inner psychic vision and spiritual sense. And I doubt if you have these, even though you claim to be a practitioner of Integral Yoga. This must be some new brand of your own making where you don’t require faith or a Master, but can be done by anybody and anywhere. Or is it the American edition of the IY you are busy with, where you do not need the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s divine help? I am told that new self-styled IY gurus have sprung up all over the world and your book will be the new gospel for them.

Frankly, I do not wish to concede to you the status of even Ravana or Kansa. At least they were honest about their intent and did not hide their hostility or masquerade as a disciple. But Judas may fit you well. Though historians have doubted the existence of Christ and Judas, the fact of our inner life is that they, just as Krishna and Kansa, continue to live and wrestle in the human heart. But who can show that to you, O petty-minded scholar, for you the heart is just an anatomical organ and all emotions rubbish. Well, not quite all, for you would surely validate your own self-love and love for your family and girl-friend. But if emotions surpass these limits and turn to God and by the force of His Grace enter into His secret heart and read the dream-prints of His eyes and share the vastness of His kingdom of delight, then you become scared (envious for the capacity you lack). Only in limits your reason is safe. Not for you the Illimitable and the Immeasurable. May I ask how big is your measuring rod and rope and how deep your probing lens? Can you measure the ocean of Light that shines through the milky-way? Can your rope tie the universe as a whole? Can you probe into the secret intent, the Will and Intelligence that works within the atomic void? If you can, then you may be ready, perhaps, to measure the infinite Compassion and Light that is Sri Aurobindo and probe the heart of boundless Love and Grace that is the Mother.

But it is pointless to tell you all this! Who can show the sun to the blind or show him the beauty and joy of the flowers? So let me not dare to try what even God Himself will perhaps find difficult. My only request is that a blind man should be put in his proper place so that he cannot bluff to the equally blind, “claiming” that he can see. His place is at the school of elementary education with Braille. To graduate him to read the script of the stars or to expect him to see the Light that even mortal eyes cannot bear, is surely a wrong choice. And what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have written is neither braille nor mere human words! You should not be where you are right now [the Ashram Archives], even though I am told some great man [Jayantilal Parekh] put you there. But you see, great men can blunder greatly and it is left sometimes for the lesser mortals to bear the brunt of their blunders. And have we not borne enough? – first, your previous biography, and then this one, all at the expense of the Ashram resources, to denounce its own founders, its very basis and core, its soul and substance. While the world outside waits eagerly and expectantly for the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, you are busy spinning these awful biographies! Have we not had enough of you and your tales? Perhaps, you never learnt in the kindergarten that it is wrong to lie and tell tales about other people. Oh, I forgot, you are the founder of the Ashram Archives, and this we need to remember, because you will soon turn it into a department of research in psychoanalytic history.

Lastly, and since it is not within our means to do anything else as you are held in such awe and respect, let me just give you a word of advice, an advice similar to what Angad (I am sorry I can’t furnish accurate documents for this man or monkey in the Ramayana and do not know his qualifications, but his advice was sane and is still valid) gave to Ravana – to seek refuge in the Divine Incarnate whom the highly intellectual Asura could not understand. Well, here is the same advice for you. How else could one explain that you have been tolerated if not by the Grace or the magnanimity of the indiscriminate and indifferent human beings who are otherwise so ready to excommunicate ordinary persons for much lesser personal offences and transgressions, but would bear with you, nay encourage, shield and support you! Take refuge in Her Grace. Maybe your heart would change and your eyes see, feel and know the splendours that hide beyond the reach and ken of your so-called objective sight.

Wishing you well within and without

Alok Pandey

October 2008

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10 Oct 2009

This book is the cause of all my dismay -- a sonnet by R.Y. Deshpande

The present sonnet by Deshpande was prompted by the four interviews that have appeared in the August 2009 issue of Auroville Today. These interviews, preceded with a brief introductory note by the Editor, are related with the highly controversial Lives of Sri Aurobindo published more than a year ago. The intention behind the drill was to build bridges between the opposing camps. While there is a general façade of balance and fair-play in these presentations by the authors, the essence of yogic and spiritual attainments of Sri Aurobindo never comes out with any degree of convincingness. Instead, everything is more or less reduced to human level, and one wonders whether the whole exercise was simply an aspect of self-projection and self-promotion. Nowhere any strict academic discussion about the claims and failings or inadequacies of the biography are examined. That it calls Savitri as a “fictional creation” has been strangely—or was that purposely?—overlooked by these experts. That makes the entire business somewhat one-sided, if not suspect. The sonnet has in its own way given vent to these aspects, but it is professionally necessary to go into the details.


This book is the cause of all my dismay
As though a swift hand of sleight must it write
In the dimness of the soul. “What one calls upright,
Spirit’s, is but fake, leading thought astray,
And must be shuttered; the academic way
Given to rational creature to fight,”
They hold, “is the fittest. O destroy blight
Of the credulous, fashioned from faith’s clay.”

Thus spoke the statues that were made of wax;
And one said, “This is fundamentalism,
Enemy of Enlightenment.” The next,
“We must script biographies, fill up racks
With the lives of yogis.” And so on. But Prism
Of Mind—can it break open the sealed text?

RY Deshpande
31 August 2009

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4 Oct 2009

Govind Rajesh: The “intensity” of bhakti yoga, according to Peter Heehs, is turning the spiritually symbolic into the sexually suggestive

Peter has filled his biography The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (TLOSA) with insidious suggestions about Sri Aurobindo, speculating about lurid and sensational topics such as his sexuality or apparent lack of it, his seeming inadequacy as a husband, his inaptitude as a politician, his potentially scandalous legitimization of a possible marital relationship with his spiritual collaborator, the Mother (to describe whom Peter conveniently uses the ambiguous word 'partner', which has very well-known connotations in common parlance). The list goes on and on. On page after page in the book, Peter’s convoluted mental prism distorts the life and image of Sri Aurobindo into a pock-marked caricature of itself.

Furthermore, Sri Aurobindo’s literary work is diminished into a poor and pitiful shadow of the true puissance and sublimity one experiences when it is encountered and imbibed directly in its original form. In his inadequate, uninformed and uninspired treatment of these works, Peter distorts and devalues them by inserting misleading criticism or deviant perversions, even ridicule, into otherwise harmless descriptions that serve as a shell of neutral scaffolding around the negative kernel, betraying not only his lack of understanding when it comes to Sri Aurobindo's philosophy and system of spiritual discipline, but also a kind of latent, perhaps even subconscious, hostility that manifests itself in the core of his critical pronouncements and disparaging judgments.

In fact, this is a well-known literary device called an "Oxford Sandwich", which W.W.Robson in his book "The Definition of Literature and Other Essays" describes as follows "you begin by praise, then say something quite lethal, and round it off by praise again" (page 133). This literary device could be a perfect allegory for the book as a whole, and is precisely what makes it so contentious. While seeming to present a façade of objectivity and even positivity on the surface, the book, in fact, bristles with insidious suggestions designed to worm their way into the minds and hearts of readers and fill them with perverse distortions of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works.   ...full text...

1 Sep 2009

The Hardinge Controversy - by Raman Reddy

[In this lengthy article, I have not challenged the interpretation of Peter Heehs as much as Arun Chandra Dutt’s inference of Sri Aurobindo’s usage of code words in his letters to Motilal Roy between 1912 and 1920. What surprised me is that Heehs, who always makes such a big fuss about questioning Sri Aurobindo’s credentials at every point, accepted without any reservations Arun Chandra Dutt’s deductions of certain statements made by Motilal Roy. He combined them further with some notations from the Record of Yoga and came up with a preposterous conclusion regarding Sri Aurobindo’s attitude towards revolutionary activity during this period. He found nothing wrong about Sri Aurobindo congratulating Motilal for the bomb attack on Viceroy Hardinge and at the same time using his spiritual force to cure the wounds of the very same man who was attacked. According to Heehs, political expediency dictated the first action and spiritual solicitude the second. I personally found everything wrong with this conclusion which gives Sri Aurobindo a Jekyll and Hyde personality and creates a contradiction between his inner and outer person. That is why I mustered enough courage to question Dutt’s deductions and found plenty of loose ends in his presentation.]

The Hardinge controversy is with regard to Sri Aurobindo’s attitude towards the assassination attempt on Viceroy Hardinge in 1912 at Chandni Chowk, Delhi. This is how Peter Heehs presents the event in the April 1987 issue of the Archives & Research on p 124:

On 23 December 1912, Hardinge was grievously injured by a bomb during his ceremonial entry into the new capital of Delhi. The bomb was made and thrown by revolutionaries connected with Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual and political disciple Motilal Roy. A short while later Sri Aurobindo wrote a letter to Motilal in which, according to Motilal’s disciple Arunchandra Dutt, Sri Aurobindo referred to this attempt. In this undated letter (written probably early in January 1913) Sri Aurobindo wrote: “About Tantric yoga; your experiment in the smashana was a daring one,-- but it seems to have been efficiently & skilfully carried out, & the success is highly gratifying.” Dutt writes that “smashana” (burning ground) was a code word for Delhi. It is certain that in Sri Aurobindo’s correspondence with Motilal, ‘Tantric Yoga’ stood for revolutionary activity. There is no reason to disbelieve Dutt’s claim that the experiment referred to in the letter was the Delhi bombing. A certain type of human intelligence, however, may have a hard time reconciling Sri Aurobindo’s remark with the many solicitous references he made in Record of Yoga to the injured Viceroy’s condition. Certain entries, e.g. that of 15 January, show that Sri Aurobindo used his spiritual will (Aishwarya) to promote the healing of Hardinge’s wounds. The contradiction between the two attitudes is of course only superficial. This is not a matter that the historian of external events need concern himself with, but it may be suggested that Sri Aurobindo could well have approved of the attempted assassination as a matter of political expediency, while deprecating it from an occult or spiritual point of view.[1]

Mark the taunt in the words “A certain type of human intelligence...” aimed at the reader who would baulk at the concluding suggestion – “Sri Aurobindo could well have approved of the attempted assassination as a matter of political expediency, while deprecating it from an occult or spiritual point of view.” Not many noticed this objectionable sentence in 1987; those who did, maintained a dignified silence for the sake of institutional propriety. Only Jugal Kishore Mukherji, head of the Higher Course of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (now retired), spoke out his mind in no uncertain terms. In a letter addressed to the Trustees of the Ashram, he mentioned some half a dozen serious objections to Heehs’s research articles on Sri Aurobindo’s life published in the Archives & Research magazine. With regard to this particular controversy, he wrote the following:

Well, the less said about this type of far-fetching ingenuous explanation, the better....

To my perception there are no two Sri Aurobindos, one “inner” and the other “outer”, with two different motivations for two different simultaneous actions, one on the “inner” plane and the other on the “outer” one. Sri Aurobindo, is One and Indivisible. He always acts from one consciousness – spiritual-divine, from one motivation – spiritual-divine whether for “outer” activity or for the “inner” one. His ways and actions may appear to us inscrutable; but for that we should not try to create, through our limited investigation, contradictions and inconsistencies in his conduct and action, and then seek to “explain” them away as belonging to two different planes with two different standards and motivations.[2]

Before we launch ourselves into a detailed examination of the event, let me first contextualise it for the lay reader. Sri Aurobindo was in Pondicherry at this point of time. He had been there for around two and a half years and was facing an acute financial crisis. Luckily, Motilal Roy had paid his first visit to him in November-December 1911 and had started sending him a monthly remittance of Rs 50/ for his household expenses. Now, according to Arun Chandra Dutt, Sri Aurobindo congratulated Motilal Roy for the daring assassination attempt on Lord Hardinge, planned and carried out by revolutionaries connected with the latter and operating from Chandernagore, namely Rashbehari Bose and Srish Ghose. Motilal was sufficiently involved in it to be congratulated by Sri Aurobindo. The bomb itself was prepared by Mani Naik, a close associate of him, who in 1915 became the editor of the Prabartak, the Bengali counterpart of the Arya.

But the question is whether Sri Aurobindo at all congratulated Motilal! Because if he did, Sri Aurobindo becomes a bundle of contradictions, not only between his political action and spiritual work, but also between what he declared in public and what he wrote in private. The fact that Heehs did not find anything contradictory in Sri Aurobindo’s attitude when he wrote about it in the Archives & Research of April 1987 shows that there is something wrong with him, which is exactly the reason why he bombed in his recent biography The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. How does he say that this Doctor Jekyll and Hyde portrayal of Sri Aurobindo is just a superficial contradiction in his personality? Even an ordinary man would not be happy about the attempted murder of an individual in whose safety and well-being he is interested, forget about a Yogi like Sri Aurobindo, who was acting directly on universal forces with his Yogic power. In his letter to Motilal which can be dated August 1912, only two months before the assassination attempt, Sri Aurobindo writes,

My subjective sadhana may be said to have received its final seal and something like its consummation by a prolonged realization & dwelling in Parabrahman for many hours. Since then, egoism is dead for all in me except the Annamaya Atma,— the physical self which awaits one farther realisation before it is entirely liberated from occasional visitings or external touches of the old separated existence.

My future sadhan is for life, practical knowledge & shakti, — not the essential knowledge or shakti in itself which I have got already — but knowledge & shakti established in the same physical self & directed to my work in life. I am now getting a clearer idea of that work & I may as well impart something of that idea to you; since you look to me as the centre, you should know what is likely to radiate out of that centre.[3]

Does the above quotation, and I request the reader to go through the rest of the letter, give scope to a schizophrenic personality? Definitely not! But the best proof that it does not is Heehs’s own retraction in the present biography of the earlier statement he had made in the Archives & Research issue of April 1987. In the Lives, he writes the following with regard to the same event:

It would seem from this that Aurobindo was pleased with the attempt to assassinate the viceroy. But his apparent endorsement of Motilal’s activities is hard to reconcile with his evident distress at Hardinge’s injuries, which he frequently expressed in his diary. Presumably his attitude toward Motilal’s activities was the same as his attitude toward Barin’s five years earlier: “it is not wise to check things when they have taken a strong shape” because “something good may come out of them.” He certainly never ceased to believe that Indians had the right to use violence to topple a government maintained by violence. But he did not believe in individual terrorism, and he felt more than ever that terrorist acts were against India’s long-term interests.[4]

He now finds “hard to reconcile” what he had earlier thought was a superficial contradiction in Sri Aurobindo’s personality, which means he has attributed himself with “the certain type of human intelligence” he had a dig at in his earlier interpretation. But then why flog a dead horse? Why remind him of the years when he was a novice historian? Does he not have a right to change his opinions?

First of all, Heehs would hardly appreciate the pointing out of such gross discrepancies in his work. Secondly, he has published the first version in an Ashram magazine where the record has to be set right for the sake of posterity. Thirdly, and most importantly, I would like to use this example to demonstrate to those who are mesmerised by his so-called scholarship his inbuilt bias against Sri Aurobindo. To come to the point, the evidence adduced by Arun Chandra Dutt to show that Sri Aurobindo congratulated Motilal is, to say the least, flimsy and most unconvincing. But Heehs simply assumes that Dutt is right; he does not even critically examine the evidence whereas he is so keen in putting Sri Aurobindo in the dock for every slip he might have made. Sri Aurobindo’s memory is questioned, his credibility is put to the test, his honesty discussed, but whatever Arun Chandra Dutt says is tamely accepted and a superstructure of falsehood built on it.

Let us take up Dutt’s evidence and interpretation of the sentence in which Sri Aurobindo congratulates Motilal in code words:

About Tantric yoga; your experiment in the smashana was a daring one,-- but it seems to have been efficiently & skilfully carried out, & the success is highly gratifying.[5]

“Tantric Yoga”, we are told, stands for revolutionary activity, and “smashana” is a code word for Delhi, the “cemetery ground of mighty empires in the past and destined sepulchre of the ruling British empire”.[6] Frankly, this is hard to believe. The meaning of Tantric Yoga or Tantric kriyas here as elsewhere in the other letters of Sri Aurobindo to Motilal, seems to be what it would normally mean. Sri Aurobindo does seem to be referring to Tantric Yoga per se, though we are not sure what kind of Tantric Yoga is meant. All that we can say is that the Yoga of Sapta Chathusthaya which Sri Aurobindo was practising during this period, had some Tantric elements from the point of view of the mastery of the forces of life. Let me quote from the previous paragraph of the same letter:

What I [Sri Aurobindo] am attempting is to establish the normal working of the siddhis in life ie the perception of thoughts, feelings & happenings of other beings & in other places throughout the world without any use of information by speech or any other data. 2d.., the communication of the ideas & feelings I select to others (individuals, groups, nations,) by mere transmission of will-power; 3d., the silent compulsion on them to act according to these communicated ideas & feelings; 4th, the determining of events, actions & results of action throughout the world by pure silent will power. When I wrote to you last, I had begun the general application of these powers which God has been developing in me for the last two or three years…[7]

The sense is obvious here, and for those who are familiar with the Record of Yoga, it is an unmistakable reference to the yogic powers mentioned in it. How does the sense then suddenly change to “revolutionary activity” in the very next paragraph which opens with the controversial “smashana” sentence?

Dutt also claims that Sri Aurobindo took revolutionary activity as Tantra or Shakti-sadhana, but surely Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga encompassed all the activities of life and not only revolutionary action. Even if Sri Aurobindo particularly meant it to be so, can we apply systematically the same sense to all the occurrences of the word “Tantra” in his letters to Motilal? We see that we cannot, unless we perform some extraordinary semantic feats. For example, what would the phrase, “attempting an extension of Tantric Kriya without any sufficient Vedantic basis” mean?[8] Vedanta is so often mentioned by Sri Aurobindo in relation to Tantra that one would expect it to be also connected with revolution. In the Yogic context that Sri Aurobindo seems to be writing, the term “Vedantic basis” means the psychological foundation provided by the practice of Vedantic Yoga, which is based on the Purusha principle, as opposed to Tantra, which relies on the Shakti aspect of the Divine. Another problematic interpretation is that of “old Tantra” and “new Tantra”.[9] Do these terms mean old and new revolutionary activities? If so, what is new and what is old? What are “big kriyas” and small kriyas, “right mantra & tantra, “mukti” and “bhukti”?[10] Why does Sri Aurobindo stress on avoiding “rajasic defects” in the performing of Tantrik kriyas? – I would think that rajas helps in battle and brave militant action. Then, what would Sri Aurobindo mean by the Shakti preparing to pour herself out and choose her own method with regard to Tantric work?[11] Does this mean that you leave the planning of bomb attacks on the Divine Shakti? These and so many other questions arise on a closer analysis of Dutt’s proposition, and I would rather let the reader himself complete this exercise. But one thing stands out clearly, that Sri Aurobindo wrote about Tantric Yoga in general to Motilal and not about revolutionary activity in the guise of advice on Tantric Yoga. One can always force the meaning of revolutionary activity into his words under the plea that it was taken as Tantric Yoga by Motilal and his associates, but this narrow sense somehow does not fit in with the larger compass of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga.

On the other hand, we cannot associate the terms “smashana” and “Tantric kriya” with Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga. But that is because our conception of his Yoga is generally founded on what he taught much later in his lifetime, especially in and after the 1930’s when he wrote thousands of letters to disciples and revised some of his major works. From this point of view, even the Yoga of Sapta Chatusthaya that Sri Aurobindo practised during the first decade of his stay at Pondicherry and noted down its results in the Record of Yoga, does not quite match with the Yoga of the triple transformation he prescribed to the sadhaks of the Ashram. We also do not know what exact method Sri Aurobindo advised Motilal to follow, apart from the three mantras he sent him from Pondicherry to recite in the traditional Indian way. Not many are aware that Motilal did develop certain powers mentioned in the Record of Yoga. He developed certain subtle senses and he once predicted the death of the mother of a close friend. On another occasion, he used his yogic will to prevent a miscarriage.[12] Moreover, he had already acquainted himself with certain Tantric and Hathayogic practices before he became Sri Aurobindo’s disciple. The word “smashana” would not seem so strange if the reader is informed that Motilal at some point of time volunteered to burn dead bodies in order to overcome his fear of them.[13] I do not say that this is what is meant in the sentence, but it is as legitimate a supposition as Arun Chandra Dutt’s, who wants us to believe that it refers to the Delhi assassination attempt.

Let us further examine Dutt’s evidence. One would expect him to build his reasoning on the testimony of Motilal, for after all the latter was a first-hand witness to what transpired between him and Sri Aurobindo, but, surprisingly, he does not. Dutt refers to Sri Aurobindo --Yuga Purush by Motilal Roy, who has mentioned there the fourth letter of Sri Aurobindo to him, dated February 1913, as evidence of Sri Aurobindo’s approval of the attack on Hardinge. But Dutt himself quotes the third letter of Sri Aurobindo to Motilal dated January 1913 to prove the same. This is a serious discrepancy, for where did he then source the smashana evidence from and the supposed meaning of “the graveyard of vanished empires” standing for Delhi? Moreover, Motilal himself seems to have made a mistake. I cite below the passage quoted by him:

I welcome it as a sign of some preliminary effectiveness, through you, in this direction, in which, hitherto, everything has gone against us; also, as one proof of several, that the quality of your power & your work is greatly improving in effectiveness & sureness. I need not refer to the other proofs; you will know what I mean.[14]

The above passage is taken by Motilal as Sri Aurobindo’s approval in code words of the Delhi bombing, and it is from this passage that Dutt seems to have extrapolated his interpretation of the third letter of Sri Aurobindo to Motilal dated January 1913. Nowhere does Motilal himself say that the sentence in Sri Aurobindo’s third letter to him refers to the Delhi bombing. Even this passage in the fourth letter clearly refers to the money that Motilal has sent Sri Aurobindo and not to the Delhi bombing. I incorporate the first two sentences of the quoted passage above and reproduce the full text in order to show the context:

I have received Rs 60 by wire & Rs 20 by letter. It was a great relief to us that you were able to send Rs 80 this time & Rs 85 for March; owing to the cutting off of all other means of supply, we were getting into a very difficult position. I welcome it as a sign of some preliminary effectiveness, through you, in this direction, in which, hitherto, everything has gone against us; also, as one proof of several, that the quality of your power & your work is greatly improving in effectiveness & sureness. I need not refer to the other proofs; you will know what I mean.[15]

The context, as we can see, is the “great relief” felt by Sri Aurobindo at the receipt of the money sent by Motilal and certainly not his appreciation of any successful revolutionary action. This is followed by his explanation of how Motilal had become an effective instrument in being able to reduce his financial burden. The reader should be reminded that Sri Aurobindo was in dire financial straits and he was using his yogic will-power to ease it. I quote a sentence from the Record of Yoga written on 3 February, 1913, which might be a reference to the very money mentioned in Sri Aurobindo’s fourth letter to Motilal written in February 1913:

Proofs of karmasiddhi were given, especially the arrival of money in the full sum willed & more than had been probable or expected. [16]

Next, I quote another sentence from the Record of Yoga written on 25 December, 1912, two days after the attack on the Viceroy:

The public news (eg the attack on the Viceroy, the ill-success of the Turkish naval sortie) show that the Power is still ineffective to prevent adverse occurrences.[17]

Sri Aurobindo took the attack on the Viceroy as an “adverse occurrence” which he could not prevent with his yogic Power. After this notation, we come across a dozen references to the use of his yogic power (aishwarya) to cure the Viceroy, intervene in Turkish politics and improve his own health. The fact that he brought all three under the ambit of his Yogic force rules out the possibility that he was merely experimenting with the Viceroy as he did with ants. Why would he then congratulate Motilal for what he considered to be an adverse event whose undoing took him a month of Yogic concentration?

Let me approach the problem from another point of view. Motilal says that Sri Aurobindo had instructed him to correspond with him on important political matters in a secret numeral code which was explained to him by Parthasarathy Iyengar. Sri Aurobindo’s letters were also written in the same code and these letters were destroyed by Motilal at his house in 1916 on the eve of a raid by Tegart, the police commissioner of Calcutta. If these letters were written in secret numeral code, why did Sri Aurobindo write in this verbal code of secret communication? Surely, the Hardinge incident was important enough to be written in the earlier code of secret communication, which would have been more difficult to crack by the British police than this verbal code. If it be argued that the secret code explained by Parthasarathy is this very verbal code, then how is it that these letters have survived, because they were supposed to have been destroyed? Finally, Motilal himself says that Sri Aurobindo was not informed about the planning of the assassination of Hardinge while, at the same time, claiming Sri Aurobindo’s guidance in all his revolutionary activity at Chandernagore.

These are some of the obvious questions which could have been raised before accepting Arun Chandra Dutt’s interpretation of Sri Aurobindo’s letter to Motilal Roy. But why was there not a single a murmur of protest or even a call for clarification by our so-called objective historian? Intellectual honesty requires him to question everything and everyone concerned with the issue, not only Sri Aurobindo. What kind of scholarship makes him test only Sri Aurobindo’s evidence with great severity and critical evaluation and accept the others without any hesitation? As a matter of fact, Sri Aurobindo has not been granted the credence that even an ordinary man deserves when speaking on the facts of his own life. Heehs has consistently made Sri Aurobindo bear the burden of proof instead of giving him the benefit of doubt. I enumerate below a number of such instances where secondary evidence has been portentously weighed against Sri Aurobindo’s statements regarding his own life:

(1) The acceptance of Parthasarathy’s role in making Sri Aurobindo come to Pondicherry in spite of the umpteen times Sri Aurobindo said it was because of the Adesh (divine command) that he came to Pondicherry. This was claimed by Narayana Iyengar, a relative of Parthasarathi Iyengar, and not by the latter himself. Neither was it endorsed by Srinivasachari, brother of Parthasarathi, who was close to Sri Aurobindo during the first few years of Sri Aurobindo’s stay at Pondicherry.[18]

(2) The serious consideration of Ramchandra Majumdar’s obviously motivated account of how Sri Aurobindo went to the Ramakrishna Math to have Ma Sarada-devi’s darshan and met Sister Nivedita on the day he left for Chandernagore. The last meeting has serious implications, because then one can say that it was she who advised Sri Aurobindo to go to Chandernagore, in which case the Adesh has no meaning. Secondly, the visit to Ma Sarada-devi puts Sri Aurobindo under the spiritual aura of Ramkrishna Math, which seems to have been the real motive behind the concoction of this story. This was a big controversy during Sri Aurobindo’s lifetime and he wrote in 1944 – 1946 four long notes denying both the meetings. Though Heehs himself points out the flaws in Ramchandra Majumdar’s account, he does plenty of damage to Sri Aurobindo’s credibility by weighing the possibility of serious lapses in his memory. This he does on the basis of what Nirodbaran and Purani recorded of Sri Aurobindo’s conversation of 5 February, 1939, which stands in direct opposition to what Sri Aurobindo wrote later on. In other words, the secondary evidence of Sri Aurobindo’s assistants is given more credence than Sri Aurobindo’s own written statements.[19]

(3) The acceptance of an oral account of Nolini Kanto Gupta during his last days when he was ailing and physically unfit. This again is conveyed by an assistant of Nolini to Heehs, who earnestly takes it up to oppose what Sri Aurobindo said in his famous Uttarpara speech delivered shortly after his year long detention at Alipore. The question was whether or not Sri Aurobindo left the case entirely to his lawyer Chittaranjan Das during his trial.[20]

(4) The acceptance of secondary evidence in the issue of the birthplace of Sri Aurobindo. In this particular case, there is no clinching primary evidence, but Heehs has more faith in what the daughters of Manmohan Ghose (friend of Sri Aurobindo’s father in whose house he was born) remembered than Sri Aurobindo’s own memory of it. Both the ladies, mind you, were born after Sri Aurobindo’s birth and had no documentation to present in support of what their father had told them. If it be argued how Sri Aurobindo could remember where he was born, why then have faith in the hearsay of the daughters of Manmohan Ghose? [21]

(5) Even the refutation of Jouveau Dubreuil’s conclusion that Pondicherry was called Vedapuri in ancient times, is based on a debatable interpretation of the basic facts. Dubreuil’s conclusion is after all backed up with solid archaeological facts and inscriptions.[22]

I take this occasion to mention another type of bias which Heehs has demonstrated from a long time -- that of deliberately going against the grain, of attempting to disprove what everybody thought was true. I mention a few instances without going into the details:

(1) The people of Pondicherry were proud to know from Jouveau Dubreuil’s research that their city was a centre of Vedic learning in ancient times. So Heehs had to prove that they were wrong and their belief based on wishful thinking.[23]

(2) There was a general impression in the Ashram, not without any foundation, that Cartier Bresson, the famous French photographer who took pictures of Sri Aurobindo in April 1950, had overcharged the Mother for the negatives of his shots. His company Magnum Photos in New York, after some initial hesitation to part with the negatives, charged 3000 dollars for them in 1951. So Heehs goes out of his way to say (1) that the charges may not have been as high as what the company might have got from selling the photographs to other prospective customers, (2) that the Mother could quickly recover the cost by selling the albums of the photographs, and (3) that “sales since then have made the transaction far from a losing one, even from the financial point of view.” Wonderful! As if the Mother thought in these commercial terms! But not a word on the possibility of the company, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, taking advantage of the situation to charge an unduly high sum! Why not a single supposition supporting the so-called “popular misconception” at the Ashram, even after having sufficient proof that Cartier Bresson had “a rather exaggerated notion of the Ashram’s assets”! It is not that one would like to defame Cartier Bresson, who was no doubt a wonderful photographer, but why defame the Ashramites as if they knew nothing about money? [24]

(3) In his booklet Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism, Heehs had to make the Hindu disciples of Sri Aurobindo think that their Master was against Hinduism, even though he encouraged them to regard the Mother as the incarnation of the Divine Mother and do pranam to her. Since when, I wonder, regarding the Mother as divine has become a Hindu ritual? Even Sri Aurobindo speaking about the important role that Krishna played in his life is taken by Heehs as Hindu practice, which should now be therefore exceeded in this new globalised version of Integral Yoga. From this point of view, as Prof Nadkarni said, Hindus should have grave objections to modern science and technology because these have mainly developed in the West. No Hindus object to Einstein being a Westerner or his name being associated with the theory of relativity! Why then object to that core of Hinduism which is synonymous with spirituality? Why make such a big chauvinistic fuss about the outermost forms and names of eternal truths? Krishna, for example, will always signify the overmental power, whatever name you may call him. Yes, denounce the Hindu rituals that have lost all relevance, but why deny the eternal values of the ancient Hindu scriptures on which Sri Aurobindo himself drew the basis of his Integral Yoga?

The list can go on, but what I would like to explore is the reason for this kind of deliberate exercise to undermine the faith of people in whatever they believe. I can understand the classic opposition of intellectual honesty against popular misconceptions or superstitions when there is a face-off between scientific truth and blind belief, but this is a case of plain bad will using the subterfuge of rational enquiry. It is also simply bad research, because the concerned person is bent upon disproving whatever you hold as true and sacred; good research surely requires a more dispassionate attitude to start with, for how can you build a good argument on bad premises? Moreover, the new paradigm introduced by Sri Aurobindo does not pit rationality against devotion or science against spirituality. Both are taken into account in his vast framework of the universe and each is given its proper place in his cosmic scheme. As a matter of fact, it is because the disciples in the Ashram are so catholic in their attitude that Heehs could get away for such a long time – 37 years to be precise. Not many people protested against his articles in the Archives & Research in the 1980s’, except a few elders who voiced their negative opinions. When he wrote his history of the Freedom Movement of India giving plenty of credit to Mahatma Gandhi while mentioning cursorily Sri Aurobindo’s role in it, this is what he replied when asked about the reason for doing so: “I would not have got the prize.” This speaks volumes on his so-called scholarship and intellectual honesty.

I end with a final observation with regard to the crux of the problem. Disciples of Sri Aurobindo were never against intellectuality because their Master himself had a great intellect, but intellectuals (of the wrong kind) do seem to have problems with devotion and surrender, which are so highly prioritised in this Yoga. It is perhaps because of this deep dislike of spiritual emotion that Heehs has cultivated over the years his anti-hagiographic attitude, assuming that intellectuality is necessarily pitted against devotion. I suppose he is not aware that devotion, common sense and higher sense often go together with clarity of mind while the crazy intellectual, who does not have any of these saving factors, keeps weaving his fancy theories in an abstract world. A true intellectual will therefore not use his intelligence merely to deny what he would be pleased to debunk or because of a certain sadistic pleasure he derives from it, but because there is sufficient justification in his quest and enough evidence to back it up. Heehs fails to win our confidence on both these counts.





Part 2


But the real problem still remains to be solved. Why did Sri Aurobindo perceive the attempted assassination of the Viceroy as an untoward event and why did he use his yogic force to cure his wounds? Why should a great nationalist like him be sympathetic towards the very symbol of British oppression in India? Sri Aurobindo was certainly not a pacifist to act in the Gandhian way, nor did he preach the gospel of Ahimsa. He did not denounce militant action for the sake of freeing the nation from foreign rule and had himself played a role in the formation of secret revolutionary societies which would prepare the nation for an armed revolt.

I must say at the very outset that this is a very difficult question to answer and requires much more research on the revolutionary period than what I have been able to manage. But I would still venture an answer based on what I assess as the best document on Sri Aurobindo’s political life -- A General Note on Sri Aurobindo’s Political Life -- written by himself in the third person in 1946, but revised and published in 1948. As he had revised it after the independence of India, one can assume that he came out with the full truth of the matter in a public way, which perhaps may not have been possible before India was free. There are, of course, other documents which I would like to refer to, but only to show how they match up with what he wrote in this long article. As a matter of fact, I haven’t found any contradictions between what he told his disciples in the Evening Talks, noted down in his private diary (Record of Yoga) or wrote in his public statements to newspapers.

Let us start by giving Motilal Roy the benefit of doubt despite the numerous questions I have raised with regard to the claim that Sri Aurobindo was guiding him from Pondicherry in all his revolutionary activity. Sri Aurobindo himself writes in this article that after coming to Pondicherry he kept up for some years “some private communication with the revolutionary forces he had led through one or two individuals”. Motilal was surely one of them, though he never came to the forefront of revolutionary action like the other prominent leaders of Bengal. But the question is to what extent was he guided by Sri Aurobindo? And to what extent he acted on his own?

Let us start with what Sri Aurobindo wrote on his political life at Pondicherry. I quote at length from the very paragraph that includes the above-mentioned sentence:

At Pondicherry, from this time [April 4, 1910] onwards Sri Aurobindo’s practice of Yoga became more and more absorbing. He dropped all participation in any public political activity, refused more than one request to preside at sessions of the restored Indian National Congress and made a rule of abstention from any public utterance of any kind not connected with his spiritual activities or any contribution of writings or articles except what he wrote afterwards in the Arya. For some years he kept up some private communication with the revolutionary forces he had led through one or two individuals, but this also he dropped after a time and his abstention from any kind of participation in politics became complete. As his vision of the future grew clearer, he saw that the eventual independence of India was assured by the march of Forces of which he became aware, that Britain would be compelled by the pressure of Indian resistance and by the pressure of international events to concede independence and that she was already moving towards that eventuality with whatever opposition and reluctance. He felt that there would be no need of armed insurrection and that the secret preparation for it could be dropped without injury to the nationalist cause, although the revolutionary spirit had to be maintained and would be maintained intact. His own personal intervention in politics would therefore be no longer indispensable. Apart from all this, the magnitude of the spiritual work set before him became more and more clear to him, and he saw that the concentration of all his energies on it was necessary.[25]

There is a complexity in Sri Aurobindo’s political action and spiritual attitude which could easily be misunderstood or misused. One cannot simply conclude that he left politics because he became aware of his spiritual work. For him, politics was to be an expression of spirituality – he wrote in a letter to Parthasarathi in 1911 that “spirituality is India’s only politics”. But then, why did he leave politics? He left it because he needed time to concentrate on building a spiritual basis of all the activities of life, which would include politics of the right kind. So there was no essential dichotomy between politics and spirituality. Secondly, his vision of the future assured him that Britain will be forced to concede independence to India “by the pressure of Indian resistance and by the pressure of international events”, because of which his personal participation in the national cause would be no longer necessary. There was thus a practical side to it, that of a statesman realising that his active role was over. Finally, I come to his attitude towards revolutionary activity, which is the subject in question. He felt there would be “no need of armed insurrection” although “the revolutionary spirit had to be maintained”. Assuming that he translated this attitude into practical guidance, there was every scope to be misunderstood in practice by those whom he inspired for such action. I suggest straightaway that this is what often happened with them, and especially with Motilal, who was so close to Sri Aurobindo as a disciple and yet so far away at Chandernagore to be able to communicate with him on a regular basis for guiding revolutionary activity.

I will now corroborate the fact that Sri Aurobindo was against revolutionary action after he came to Pondicherry, not in principle but against the way it was being carried out. He wrote the following in a letter to the Hindu which was published on 20 July, 1911:

An Anglo-Indian paper of some notoriety both for its language and views, has recently thought fit to publish a libellous leaderette and subsequently an article openly arraigning me as a director of Anarchist societies, a criminal and an assassin. Neither the assertions nor the opinions of the Madras Times carry much weight in themselves and I might have passed over the attack in silence. But I have had reason in my political career to suspect that there are police officials on the one side and propagandists of violent revolution on the other hand who would only be too glad to use any authority for bringing in my name as a supporter of Terrorism and assassination.[26]

Note that the British police officials as well as the “propagandists of violent revolution” would have been too glad to use Sri Aurobindo’s name in connection with terrorism, the former to get some evidence to put him behind bars, the latter to use his authority to enrol more people. Sri Aurobindo’s name carried weight and one of the best ways of making people join the revolution was to say that it had his full approval. One could object to this conclusion saying that the above statement to the Hindu was after all meant for public consumption and to inform the Govt. officials, and was written under circumstances which did not permit him to tell the whole truth of the matter. But what about his letter to Parthasarathi written around the same time, in which he is highly critical of Indian politics, be it parliamentary or revolutionary? This letter written on 13 July, 1911 (a week before the letter to the Hindu) gives us an insight of how things went wrong in the early stages of the freedom movement of India after an initial descent of the higher forces. I am tempted to quote it at full length:

Be very careful to follow my instructions in avoiding the old kind of politics. Spirituality is India’s only politics, the fulfilment of the Sanatan Dharma its only Swaraj. I have no doubt we shall have to go through our Parliamentary period in order to get rid of the notion of Western democracy by seeing in practice how helpless it is to make nations blessed. India is passing really through the first stages of a sort of national Yoga. It was mastered in the inception by the inrush of divine force which came in 1905 and aroused it from its state of complete tamasic ajnanam. But, as happens also with individuals, all that was evil, all the wrong sanskaras and wrong emotions and mental and moral habits rose with it and misused the divine force. Hence all that orgy of political oratory, democratic fervour, meetings, processions, passive resistance, all ending in bombs, revolvers and Coercion laws. It was a period of asuddha rajasic activity and had to be followed by the inevitable period of tamasic reaction from disappointed rajas. God has struck it all down,— Moderatism, the bastard child of English Liberalism; Nationalism, the mixed progeny of Europe and Asia; Terrorism, the abortive offspring of Bakunin and Mazzini. The latter still lives, but it is being slowly ground to pieces. At present, it is our only enemy, for I do not regard the British coercion as an enemy, but as a helper. If it can only rid us of this wild pamphleteering, these theatrical assassinations, these frenzied appeals to national hatred with their watchword of Feringhi-ko-maro, these childish conspiracies, these idiotic schemes for facing a modern army with half a dozen guns and some hundred lathis,—the opium visions of rajogun run mad, then I say, “More power to its elbow.” For it is only when this foolishness is done with that truth will have a chance, the sattwic mind in India emerge and a really strong spiritual movement begin as a prelude to India’s regeneration. No doubt, there will be plenty of trouble and error still to face, but we shall have a chance of putting our feet on the right path. In all I believe God to be guiding us, giving the necessary experiences, preparing the necessary conditions. [27]

Sri Aurobindo is against both democratic and revolutionary activity of the Western kind and the emphasis is on evolving India’s own politics of a spiritual type. But, towards the end of the letter, he is particularly harsh on terrorism and calls it the only enemy of India. Again, it should be understood that he was not against it in principle, but when it became in practice an “asuddha rajasic activity”. In other words, he would have no objection if it is properly executed and the kshatriya dharma fulfilled under the control of the “sattwic mind”. Sri Aurobindo spoke in similar terms to Motilal when the latter came to Pondicherry in November-December 1913. As soon as Motilal asked him if he should get revolvers from Indochina, Sri Aurobindo replied, “India will not awaken through rajasic ways”, and that its freedom could come only if a group of people became Gunateeta (free from the action of the gunas).[28] Finally, the most convincing evidence that Sri Aurobindo was against terrorism at this point of time is found in his Record of Yoga. I repeat here the notation of 25 December, 1912, which I have already quoted in Part 1 of this article:

The public news (eg the attack on the Viceroy, the ill-success of the Turkish naval sortie) show that the Power is still ineffective to prevent adverse occurrences. [29]

There is no better evidence than this notation which was written only two days after the attack on the Viceroy. The fact that he wrote it down in a private diary, meant for only himself and immediately after receiving the news, makes the evidence doubly certain. That he did not take well the attempted murder of the Viceroy is incontestable, and that he gave his attention for a whole month to cure his wounds with his spiritual power is therefore not surprising.

We see thus a clear compatibility between Sri Aurobindo’s public statement to the Hindu, his letter to Parthasarathi, his diary notation and even his conversation with Motilal, all written or said during the same period, that is, mid 1911 to end 1913. All these documents match in content with what he wrote in 1948 in his long autobiographical note on his political life. Thus Arun Chandra Dutt’s claim that Sri Aurobindo congratulated Motilal for the attack on Hardinge seems difficult to accept, not only because there is lack of sufficient evidence, but also because it is difficult to reconcile it with Sri Aurobindo’s attitude towards revolutionary action as expressed in the documents of that period. I would suggest a gap in time between the moment Sri Aurobindo gave his instructions to Motilal and the time they were fully understood and implemented. Motilal himself writes in Amar dekha Biplaba O Biplabee that Sri Aurobindo urged him to refrain from revolutionary work from the time the Mother came to Pondicherry in 1914, but that he (Motilal) actually dissociated himself from it in 1916. It is possible to conclude on the basis of the above documents that Sri Aurobindo was discouraging him from revolutionary work even earlier than that, at least a couple of years before 1914. Moreover, Sri Aurobindo was hardly the type to give orders with the expectation that they will be carried out immediately. He always gave freedom to his associates and played an advisory role than forced them to obey him unconditionally. So all the more reason why there might have been a delay between what he wanted Motilal to do and what the latter finally did.

What do we conclude from the above discussion? That Motilal seems to have been mostly responsible for whatever he did in his revolutionary work and not Sri Aurobindo, and that surely Sri Aurobindo would not have congratulated Motilal with regard to the attack on the Viceroy. That there might be some truth in the story of the revolvers that Sri Aurobindo procured for Motilal, but the supposedly code words used for arms and revolutionary action such as “Tantric kriyas” or “Yogini chakras” seem to be the deductions of Arun Chandra Dutt than Motilal’s own assertions. It is true that some of these phrases do sound strange, but the benefit of doubt should be given to what they mean at face value. For the phrase “Tantric kriyas” does make a lot of sense in the practice of Tantra and, as a matter of fact, it has been explained in the Record of Yoga:

In the same way there is a power in the consciousness of acting upon other conscious beings or even upon things without physical means or persuasion or compulsion. Great men are said to make others do their will by a sort of magnetism, that is to say there is a force in their words, in their action, or even in their silent will or mere presence which influences and compels others. To have these siddhis of power is to have the conscious and voluntary use of this force of Chit. The three powers are Aishwarya, Ishita, Vashita. These powers can only be entirely acquired or safely used when we have got rid of Egoism and identified ourselves with the infinite Will and the infinite Consciousness. They are sometimes employed by mechanical means, e.g. with the aid of Mantras, Tantric Kriyas (special processes), etc.[30]


Now Tantric processes have been there in India from time immemorial, but we generally don’t associate them with Sri Aurobindo, even though we know that he integrated some of the elements of Tantra in his integral Yoga. But the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo we are all familiar with was expounded much later in his lifetime and we don’t know exactly what and how he practised it in the earlier stages and taught it to the others. Motilal Roy was practically his first disciple and, according to him, Sri Aurobindo sent him three mantras from Pondicherry, instructing him to repeat them in the traditional way. This opens up the possibility that Sri Aurobindo may have sent him also “Tantric kriyas” and perhaps relied upon other traditional methods as well to guide his disciple. Beyond expressing this supposition, which has as much validity as Arun Chandra Dutt’s deductions, we cannot conduct our enquiry any farther due to the paucity of information available on this event. All that we can say is that we need plenty of additional evidence to believe what Arun Chandra Dutt would have us believe.

Raman Reddy
26.08.2009

Footnotes:

[1] Archives & Research, April 1987, p 124

[2] Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s Letter to the Trustees in 1987, published on livesofsriaurobindo.com

[3] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p 177

[4] Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p 237

[5] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p182

[6] Arun Chandra Dutt, Light to Superlight, pp 50-51

[7] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p181

[8] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p 193

[9] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p 211

[10] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p182

[11] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p179

[12] Motilal Roy, My Life’s Partner (Jiban Sangini translated by D.S. Mahalanobis), pp 249-252

[13] Ibid, pp 108-112

[14] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, pp 183-184

[15] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, pp 183-184

[16] CWSA, Record of Yoga (3 Feb, 1913), p 231

[17] CWSA, Record of Yoga (25 December, 1912), pp 162-163

[18] Archives & Research, December 1987, p 220

[19] Archives & Research, December 1984, p 221

[20] Archives & Research, December 1982, p 228

[21] Nirmal Singh Nahar, Birthplace of Sri Aurobindo; also published on livesofsriaurobindo.com.

[22] Archives & Research, December 1989, p 221

[23] Ibid, p 221

[24] Archives & Research, December 1990, pp 228-234

[25] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p 64

[26] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, pp 266-267

[27] CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, pp 170-171

[28] Motilal Roy, Sri Aurobindo – Yuga Purush, (1970) p 72. In the 1357 B.S. Paush (= 1951, January-February) issue of the Prabartak, Motilal writes of a similar remark made by Sri Aurobindo in November-December 1911, during his first visit to Pondicherry. This date tallies all the more with the other documents of this period, showing Sri Aurobindo’s strong disapproval of revolutionary activity by this time. Though the date given in the Prabartak should be more reliable by the very fact of being recorded twenty years earlier than Yug Purush, I still extend the benefit of doubt to the latter. In general, Motilal’s chronology is often vague and not reliable, though his closeness to Sri Aurobindo as a disciple for practically a decade cannot be doubted.

[29] CWSA, Record of Yoga, pp162-163

[30] CWSA, Record of Yoga, p 1474
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