17 Sep 2008

Letter of Alok Pandey to the Ashram Trust

The Trustees
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry - 605002

Dear Trustees,

You may be already aware by now of the ‘backlash’ on Peter Heehs’ biography of Sri Aurobindo: ‘The Many Lives…’ When faced with such a controversy, there is a general tendency in a certain kind of intelligentsia to take such reactions as ‘over-reaction’, ‘sentimentality’, etc and justify the diabolic nature of the writings by using terms such as ‘we should be broad-minded’, ‘Sri Aurobindo is not affected by these things’, ‘everyone has his freedom of expression’, ‘we should give people chance to change’ so on and so forth. The purpose of this note is to point out the fallacy of this argument in the present context.

Hence, put forth below are some reasons as to why the book is objectionable and the intent behind it a diabolic one.

  1. The title of the book is itself a deceptively misleading one. Though to those familiar with Sri Aurobindo’s thought it may give an impression of a complex personality. But to the general reader (for whom the book is supposedly meant) this would most certainly mean a multiple personality, or worse still the hidden sides. Such a title may indicate that behind the known public life of Sri Aurobindo as a revolutionary and a yogi, there is a private side, a ‘human side,’ the side that is of ‘a commoner and as ordinary as you and me and the author is going to bring it out. Finally, the title may indicate a ‘multiple personality’, something that is generally used in a derogatory sense.
  2. The author’s claim to ‘objectivity’ is not only invalid, it again carries an under-current which means; ‘the other biographies have been more of a sentimental devotee type’. Apart from this logic denigrating some well-known biographers whose sincerity cannot be questioned, this statement implies two things: First, the devotee biographers simply exaggerate certain qualities which are not really there. Now, our Mr. Objective will show us through his objectifying lens how they are wrong, that Sri Aurobindo is really not as great (read as divine) as they make him to be. It also implies by default that his words do not necessarily carry the same absolute authority as it did, that he can be flawed, mistaken and err as most of us human beings do! Well, this strikes the very foundation of yogic life wherein a disciple is supposed to have an implicit trust in the Guru’s words. But our Mr. Objective does not feel comfortable with it. So he must measure the Master’s stature with his scale and rod with exactness and thoroughness of a tailor and restitch his attire for us to see. He must tell us his true size and stature which is less than what the devotee ignorantly believes! Second, what is meant by the word ‘objective’ here, — studying ‘dispassionately’, ‘without any preconceived ideas/beliefs etc’, ‘as someone who studies from outside as one studies an object!’ In any case, it means taking into note and highlighting the most objectively verifiable details. The rest is left to the readers to conclude, whether things like self-realisation, Supermind, etc ‘claimed’ by Sri Aurobindo are true or delusive. He almost stops short of suggesting that they could be considered ‘schizophrenic’ by some. Who are these some, one may ask? It means focusing much more on the external outer life rather than inner. It means seeing the Illimitable with the small physical mind rather than with the psychic feeling and vision. Here too, our Mr. Objective is quite selective. He seems to be much more interested in producing stray letters, diary notes, some odd comments and questionable observations or reports as ‘objective facts’ and lays much less stress on the much more obvious and glaring facts of the massive correspondence, Savitri, The Life Divine and many many other things. And how about the countless devotees and their testimonies, — blind faith, superstition, sentimentality, — or the historians willful blindness. Is it simply a case of ignorance or a deliberate mischief to underplay few things and insert certain footnote that would colour the perceptions and give a different hew and taste to the whole thing. Such a misrepresentation of truth taken out of context or half-quoted and misplaced is one of the standard strategies of the asura in man who falsifies things very subtly and craftily.
  3. Oh, yes, it is interesting to note that a book on Sri Aurobindo is funded from outside, released outside and is not yet available for the Indian public at large. Is there a fear-factor, an underlying guilt or a deliberate attempt to subvert the work outside India? As far as I know, the individual who has funded the book is one of those who has already usurped Sri Aurobindo’s works and is using His vision to further his name. Now, by trying to show that Sri Aurobindo was human he is stealthily putting him at par with an ordinary humanity. The standard plea is that it brings Sri Aurobindo ‘closer to us’. Strange, as if we need Peter Heehs’ biography and all its nonsense to feel Him closer. What it really means is that Sri Aurobindo is like one of us, very human with all the human follies. There is really no need to think of him to be Divine etc as all that is sentimental stuff. The author would concede him human greatness at best which would put him at rank with some great writers at most (though this too is left a question mark by him). In other words, he is trying to tell us, look if you wish to admire Sri Aurobindo you may do so, but there is really no need to call him divine etc. It is a very subtle and a crafty way, almost a cunning way to attack the human aspiration and faith in its own Divine possibility. Should we encourage it? For what really is left of the true significance of Sri Aurobindo’s life if it is not to show us, by an example, the human transforming itself into the Divine. But the book does not show that, it over-emphasises the human (at times even less than human aspects) raises a question mark on the divinity (almost on that count) and leaves us almost confused as to what he is trying to tell us.Incidentally, one of the persons behind the book, who is also a friend of the funding institute has already written a damaging book on Sri Ramakrishna and is now keen to write one on Sri Aurobindo’s life.
  4. The bogey of broad-mindedness is silly here. It is not being broad-minded to say that Krishna was a flirt and a playboy and then leave a question mark over the Gita. It is being ‘surface minded’ or ‘physical minded’. In fact the devotee is much more ‘broad-minded’ since he not only accepts the human side but also the Divine side of Sri Aurobindo, not only what his mind says but also his heart and sees things not only as they seem to the surface intelligence but also to the psychic vision. A historian like Peter Heehs is anything but broad-minded. His vision, understanding, and action, everything is small, narrow and diabolic. To accept and laugh it off is to accept his vision, even tacitly sanction it as it is authored by an Ashram inmate from the Archives.
  5. It is also interesting that this man had already written a brief biography of Sri Aurobindo which did raise a few eyebrows. Was it just a feeler? What impelled this second biography? And what would prevent a third one, — has he not already conceded that he has more material but did not/could not put it as it may be considered ‘objectionable’. So, should we wait for a third, even more ‘objective’ biography micro-analyzing (read psychoanalyzing) Sri Aurobindo while leaving out the very best, the very highest still more vague and dim. What good is gained by measuring the shadow of greatness or by analyzing the mud in which the lotus has cast its roots and chooses to make its home and bloom! Should he, under such circumstances continue in the Archives? Is it because one believes he will change or because he is held in great awe of his ‘mighty unquestioned intellect’ who will tell us what none could say. Is he being indulged because one is helpless or is it because we don’t care as long as our personal reputation is safe? As to the ‘Guru’s’ life, how does it concern us?? Why don’t we then adopt the same yardstick and the same broad-mindedness when our personal reputation or the Ashram’s reputation is attacked? Is the Master greater or lesser than the institution and individuals who constitute it? To remain silent would be, in my view at least, not an act of charity and benevolence, but one of cowardice and one may dare say, guru-droha.
  6. All that is required is:
    i. To remove the perverted historian (PH) out of the Archives. It may be noted that after another two years he would not even need the Ashram’s permission to publish anything from Sri Aurobindo. The Ashram Archives cannot be turned into a department of history and psychoanalytic research. Let him teach history in the School if that is his sole identity. The Archives is too important a place to be entrusted to anyone except those who have the deepest respect and love for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and whose integrity towards Their Yoga is beyond question.
    ii. To tell him, he is not to publish anything under the Ashram’s name. The books should be withdrawn and the words ‘Ashram and Archives’ removed. Let him do what he would under any other organization, for one cannot change anyone. (forty years is long time already)
    iii. Please check thoroughly anything new that comes out of Archives and is published by the Ashram or sold by SABDA. The ‘Autobiographical Notes’ is a very recent example that contains a couple of letters that not only is in poor taste but also falsifies certain positions taken so far (pages 149-151). Future editions of this book need re-editing.

I have nothing more to say after this. I leave it now to each one’s wisdom. After all, in times as these, where it has become fashionable to trivialise the sacred and the best, this too may be permissible!! But somewhere within us we must be answerable if not to ourselves then to the many many devotees whose feelings should be at least of some meaning to us and, to the sacred trust that we hold on behalf of our Master. It is one thing to have human defects. It is quite another to point fingers at the Divine incarnate and conceal it as a great quality of the mind. The first is at worst natural and at best human, the second is at worst a betrayal and at best diabolic. That is all I have to say.

With utmost goodwill and love for Them who sacrificed Their life for us,


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