23 Apr 2009

Alok Pandey's Reply To Angiras

Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr Feignman!

[The following is Dr. Alok Pandey’s reply to "Angiras" (Richard Hartz's internet pseudonym), who published in the SCIY forum a lengthy and scathing criticism of the former’s letter to the Trustees regarding The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs. Dr. Alok, a practising psychiatrist in the Ashram Dispensary and a popular speaker on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Integral Yoga, was one of the first persons to expose Heehs. His replies to Angiras are formatted flush left and are in normal type. Angiras’s criticism and Dr. Alok’s letter to the Trustees are indented and in italics.]

Dear Angiras,

I am replying to your criticism of my letter to the Trustees, but it is doubtful if it will serve any purpose. It is obvious from your critical analysis of my letter that you have taken a stand, for better or for worse, to be by the side of PH and justify him somehow, even if this justification is attempted by the circuitous method of vilifying those who have written against his book. It is like those lawyers who would argue in favour of a case not by discussing the issue involved, but by discussing about the persons who raised it. The issue in question is the book and PH’s approach. It would have been better to discuss that openly and frankly, for instance, what you feel about his approach of applying scientific objectivity to analyse Sri Aurobindo’s personal life in his own Ashram and then present its critical appraisal before the public at large. Or about the use / abuse of material from a most sacred and privileged place, betraying not only the confidence of the Master but of the devotees as well. Or whether you agree to the opinions and conclusions advanced in the book on Sri Aurobindo’s writings being borrowed, or his prose being abstruse, his poetry outdated, the Foundations of Indian Culture being irrelevant, the way he deals with Savitri, with Sri Aurobindo’s occult experiences, including the Adesh, or his observations regarding the “ceremonies” of Darshan and Pranam, and yes, on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s relationship, Their role in the Second World War, etc, etc. I could go on, for the list is long. Instead you chose to sidetrack the issue by taking on us and giving it a different colouring of your own mind, the East-West divide which is the typical strategy employed by the forces that work towards division.

Normally, I don’t respond to any personal attack of this nature, but after some hesitation, I decided to do so, if for nothing else, then for the sake of posterity, which is surely going to laugh at us. They will laugh at the book and also at our responses to each other. I agree there is a way of completely dismissing the whole affair as the mere babblings of a child. There is a state in which one can simply feel amused at PH and nothing more, and say with gentle irony that this is man, not only stupid and ignorant but arrogant about his stupidity; that this is human nature, shut in its littleness and calling the tainted glass of its small and narrow mind by the name of objectivity; that this is the world, ungrateful to the Divine Advent. But then let us not feign what we are not. We are neither saints nor supermen, but ordinary human beings who have a heart that loves and feels the ordinary way. We are like little beings that have come to dwell and take refuge under the giant Himalayas. And when someone tries to hit hard at the Himalayas, he only hurts himself, for what harm can a crow do by pecking at it. But it disturbs the sleep of those small beings who reside in its vastness. So they react – whether rightly or wrongly, who can say! To Sri Aurobindo it makes no difference if a rock is thrown at him to test his strength, but the rock can hit those who have taken shelter in him and they have a right to chase the hand that threw the rock, till they too become vast and unshakable like Him. We are not so great, nor is PH, nor those who feign such wideness, so let us not use convenient terms to describe each other. Let us not play word games, saying that if you do not agree with me and try to argue in favour of faith and devotion, you become a fanatic. It is like saying my freedom to criticise you is freedom while your freedom to criticise me is reactionary fundamentalism. Also, it is never good to expect from another the quality that we ourselves do not have. Is PH wide and generous and understanding when he so summarily dismisses other biographers? Is he showing openness when he questions faith and dubs it as dogma or rubbishes the occult and the mysterious as doubtful claims even before examining it properly? If you are arrogant and are dismissive of everything else except what you can see near the tip of your nose, then you fail to see the boomerang that is coming back. The Himalayas do not react, but when you hit something hard at it, it comes back to you with equal force. Maybe this is simply the law of karma that is returning to help him grow and see the Light and recognise the Grace that he so vehemently refuses to see. As to those who have become instruments of one kind or the other, they too have to go through this law one day or the other. Depending upon whether they have done things out of personal hate or vendetta or out of love for the Master, even if it be ignorant love, they will receive its due return. For the Divine within notices everything and we can never hide our motives from Him. We can fool the whole world, but can we fool Him who is ever seated in our hearts, the silent Witness and Knower? So let us leave it at that.

In a more general way, it will be interesting to see some of the terms you have so liberally used to describe us – fanatics, fundamentalists, intolerant, religious formation etc. May I ask you what makes you draw these conclusions about us – are they based upon our reactions to PH’s book? Well, intellectually we have every right to criticise a book, its theme and its method, even the way it has dealt with its subject, and about the veracity of its claims to objectivity. If the author has a right to write a book exercising his intellectual freedom, the readers have the right to criticise and condemn it. There should be no problem with that. At the emotional level, too, people have a right to feel the way they feel. Yes, we have love for Sri Aurobindo and we don’t care if you call this love sentimental. But are you sure you or others do not love someone else in this way and will not react the way we have if your object of love were publicly ridiculed? I don’t have to wait for your answer, for is this not the reason why you support PH? You feel sympathy for him, don’t you? You want to defend him at any cost, even going to the extent of using a pseudonym and lacing your letter with lies and clearly inadequate arguments. No problem with that, it is natural. Yes, but then how does your love and defence of PH become a noble human sentiment and my love for my Master become fundamentalism and fanaticism? I am not fighting for a doctrine or proving its superiority over others, nor are we asking others to convert to our faith, or believe that those who do not follow our way are heretics and inferior to us. Nor is it, I can assure you, that our faith is shaken by PH’s book. One can only laugh at such presumptions. All that we are saying is that we love Sri Aurobindo and, when someone writes such things about Him, we feel hurt. And when this is written by one of us, by an insider, and what is worse tacitly sanctioned (through inaction) by those whom we turn to with respect for redress, we feel all the more sad. Does feeling sad and hurt make us fanatics? Now we can continue to feel hurt and sad, or else get angry and aggressive, or else remain unmoved – these are the choices with us. Some chose to remain unmoved and indifferent, others felt sad but showed nothing on the surface. But some chose to call a halt to it, since they felt that it was going too far and for too long.

As you know, this is not the first time that PH is involved; we are not the first persons who have noticed or pointed this out. But there is a limit to human patience and sometime the forces you have unleashed hit back at you. This is what has happened with PH. He tried the Master (at least this you would concede that, whether avatar or not, Sri Aurobindo at least ranks as one of the greatest Masters of our time) in a cold and heartless manner; now he too is being tried in a cold and heartless way. He passed disparaging remarks on Sri Aurobindo and his writings, now these remarks are being passed on him. He has been selective in quoting Sri Aurobindo, so he too is being selectively quoted. So why is he feeling bad about it now? Surely Sri Aurobindo would forgive him – we have not the least doubt about that. After all, He is vaster than the universe and more magnanimous than us. But we poor human beings are not so vast and magnanimous. Besides, those days are gone when one could crucify the prophets and get away with it as his disciples had no choice but to wail and pray. Now the disciples have grown in strength and devotion and do not want to take it lying down when you crucify their Master, even if this trial and crucifixion is intellectual. It is strange that to mock at Divinity is regarded as a virtue, but to mock at the sceptic is considered intolerance! It is also strange that when you vociferously, almost dogmatically, assert the superiority of your scientific method and dismiss others as mere shams and touch-up over truth, you are hailed as a great writer. But when you simply point out the imbalance in all this and point out that devotion and love, service and surrender are as much important notes in the Divine harmony, you are called an obscurantist and religious bigot!! Perhaps you are all seeing your own shadow in us! It is you and PH who are intolerant, fanatic and fundamentalist in your opinions and ideas that you hold with so much vehemence and pride, and not us who do not know these big words but know only this that we love Sri Aurobindo with a simple human heart and in a human way (of which alone we are at present capable) and feel hurt when someone tries to criticise him in such a fraudulent way. We call this cheating and ingratitude and also lack of intellectual rectitude and honesty, and of course an inability to love and perceive spiritual things. Quid pro quo!

After all, we never went to convert PH to our point of view, nor did we ever question his personal approach, or for that matter anyone’s approach. It is only when he went on imposing his views with almost an evangelistic fervour that we challenged him. And why not? Any man with some self-respect left in him will not take lying down such mud being thrown openly on what he believes to be true and beautiful! It is one thing to force others to conform to your belief – that makes you a fundamentalist. It is quite another to defend your own point of view when it is being challenged by an arrogant mind – that is called fidelity. Not only knowledge and love but strength to stand up for what you believe in and to defend it against the onslaught of falsehood is as much part of the godlike nature we must grow into. For what is wisdom if it cannot differentiate between a truth and a lie and what is love if it cannot stand by the side of the beloved when he is being tried. You have love for Peter, we have it for Sri Aurobindo. You want to defend the principles of intellectual freedom for man above all things, we wish to defend the principle of love and devotion and faith in the One who leads and guides us in His infinite compassion. And, for your information, religion is not born when people love their Master and are loyal to Him, which are indispensable requirements of inner life. It is born when the purity of a doctrine or a path is corrupted by the intervention of the human mind. Once allowed, it gives so many twists and turns to the same truth through interpretations, textual changes, new meanings etc. etc., that each approach becomes a different path. That is how sects are born and conflicts start. So long as the disciples are faithful to the central truth and submit themselves to it, even by blind obedience to the Master, there remains the purity and the path remains open. But when the mind begins to intervene and scepticism prevails over faith and intellectual interpretations over the simple and direct perception held by the inmost heart and the psychic impulse to God and Truth, then there begins to crystallise a religion in favour of the spiritual path. After that, it all depends upon who or which group predominates. If the group with the original spiritual impulse prevails, then the path remains open, but if by some misfortune, as has happened often in the past, a divergent understanding takes hold of the movement, then slowly different religions begin to spring out of the parent truth, and each vies with the other claiming a better understanding.

Having said this, let us make our position clear. We have absolutely no problem with PH or anybody doing what he likes in his private life – to believe or not to believe, to choose to walk on the path or throw away the opportunity is each one’s prerogative. But we do have a problem when he tries to shove his personal views as the gospel truth, and that too under the cover of Sri Aurobindo’s life. This actually is an attempt to make a new religion. So please, leave the teachings and writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother untouched. Their life, as we know of it, is enough to carry us through to the end. Please do not meddle with it. It is too sacred to be fiddled with the ignorant mind. That is why perhaps the Mother did not want anything to be changed in His writings. The interference of the human mind and the human consciousness spoils everything, whether it be the simplicity of the natural world or the spontaneity of the supernatural. However intelligent a man may be, he is just but one little drop before that ocean. So if you go public and try to give another version of Sri Aurobindo and His teachings, then it is no more your personal approach. It is trying to create publicly and collectively a different approach. And that – not offering flowers at the Samadhi or love for Sri Aurobindo or blind faith in Their teachings – is the beginning of a new religion.

And please do not turn it into an East-West divide! To say such things would be to whip up emotions where there are none. Has anyone gone and threatened or shown any intolerance towards anyone from the West? Has anyone spoken ill of RC [Rich Carlsson] who continues to rant in the SCIY forum without knowing what he is saying? And is DB [Debashish Bannerji] a Westerner, or Narad [Richard Eggenberger] an Easterner? So who created this divide and who is whipping up emotions? If you, PH and his supporters form a group and attack us, it is sympathy and idealism, but when we say something against PH in a collective way, it becomes a crusade and witch-hunting. This is strange logic, or is this a double standard? No one has passed any fatwa against PH! He continues to be safe and sound and in good health, as far as we know. He continues to eat, go for jogging, swim and enjoy the hospitality of the Ashram, whose very Master he decries, and you call it intolerance and fascism and Nazism and what not! But when any voice against PH is hunted down and avenged, it is justice!! The only thing that has happened is that a few persons have taken PH to the court of law. Now since when did settling disputes through officially approved courts of law is considered as Nazism and fascism? Every individual has a right to approach the court to settle his disputes, if he is not satisfied or aggrieved. Plenty of PIL’s are filed each day to improve upon the existing system. So if the stakes are not seemingly in your favour, you call it fascism. But if you can turn them in your favour by hook or crook, then it is victory of the Truth! Hallelujah, Subbhanallah indeed!!

Well, having said the above, let me now respond, more in a spirit of amusement and fun, as one playing logical games, for that’s what you seem to be interested in. Let me play it on your terms, to analyse bit by bit the form and the contents, rather than see or feel the spirit and intuition behind the letter. Please do not mind if I seem to become personal at times. Take it with a sporting spirit. I can do it, since I do not know you and you are only a pseudonym. I hope you do know who you are in real life, for supporting PH is a risky business; you may end up forgetting yourself and begin to unconsciously identify yourself too much with the Peterian Principle of this new gospel floated by him. I wish you good luck, dear Angiras. Let us shake hands and start the game. You fired the first shot, now take mine. But first let me quote Mother’s comment on an aphorism of Sri Aurobindo:

Sri Aurobindo’s aphorism: My soul knows that it is immortal. But you take a dead body to pieces and cry triumphantly, “Where is your soul and where is your immortality?”

Mother’s comment: It has often been repeated—but except in certain cases very rarely understood—that only like knows like. If this were understood, a great deal of ignorance would vanish.

Only the soul can know the soul, and on each level of being, only the equivalent level can recognise the other. Only the Divine can know the Divine, and because we carry the Divine in ourselves we are capable of seeing Him and recognising Him.But if we try to understand something of the inner life by using our senses and external methods, the result is sure to be total failure and we shall also deceive ourselves totally.

So when you imagine that you can know the secrets of Nature and still remain in a purely physical consciousness, you are entirely deceived. And this habit of demanding concrete, material proofs before accepting the reality of something, is one of the most glaring effects of ignorance. With that attitude any fool imagines that he can sit in judgment on the highest things and deny the most profound experiences.

It is certainly not by dissecting a body which is dead because the soul has departed from it that the soul can be found. Had the soul not departed, the body would not have been dead! It is to bring home to us the absurdity of this claim that Sri Aurobindo has written this aphorism.

It applies to all judgments of the critical mind and to all scientific methods when they would judge any but purely material phenomena.

The conclusion is always the same: the only true attitude is one of humility, of silent respect before what one does not know, and of inner aspiration to come out of one’s ignorance. One of the things which would make humanity progress most would be for it to respect what it does not know, to acknowledge willingly that it does not know and is therefore unable to judge. We constantly do just the opposite. We pass final judgments on things of which we have no knowledge whatsoever, and say in a peremptory manner, “This is possible. That is impossible”, when we do not even know what it is we are speaking of. And we put on superior airs because we doubt things of which we have never had any knowledge.

Men believe that doubt is a sign of superiority, whereas it is really a sign of inferiority.

Scepticism and doubt are two of the greatest obstacles to progress; they add presumptuousness to ignorance.

(MCW, Volume 10, pp 26-27) 21 November 1958

Angiras: Creative Myth-making [is the title given by Angiras to his criticism of Alok Pandey’s letter to the Trustees and published in the SCIY forum]

Surely, you must be joking, Mr Feignman! [Title given by Alok Pandey to his reply to Angiras.]

Angiras: Alok Pandey addressed an undated letter to the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram early in September 2008, around the time that Ananda Reddy wrote his letter to the Managing Trustee (see "A Cultural Misunderstanding").

He wrote an earlier letter, hand written and handed over personally to those concerned, having come to know through some very reliable sources about certain things happening in the Ashram. The recipient of the letter assured me with a grim face that it is a serious matter and would be looked into. But there was no response. He also learnt that not only he but others too, and much earlier than him (one person even two years earlier had apprised those concerned), but once again nothing really was done. My letter perhaps only started the latest round of a long drawn out battle going on between certain elements and forces. So it is not just by chance that it is undated. The force that worked through my pen or X or Y was trying to show something to us from a much longer time, if you know what I mean!

Angiras: In this widely circulated letter, Pandey tried to show…

Pandey did not try to ‘show’ anything nor was he trying to prove something by force of logic and argument as is being done now. He only apprised the Trustees what he saw and felt and deeply moved to do.

Angiras: ...the "diabolic" intent of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. This demonisation of the author…

There was no effort to demonise anybody or to win votes of acceptance. It is the action of the author himself that speaks for itself and for over two decades!! By the way, this phrase reminds me of Michael Murphy who used the same phrase in the Ashram context when the Mother was there in Her physical body. Is it by chance or a subtle but strong influence speaking through you (Angiras) now?

Angiras: …was readily accepted by devotees and quickly became a part of Aurobindonian mythology.

Interesting indeed, he has already declared it a myth even before setting out to prove it! Is it an indicator of an a priori assumption, or an already decided opinion? If so, as seems evident, then why discuss logically or take the shelter of reason to cover up one’s pretensions? Why not simply say, and more honestly, that PH is my friend and so I have certain preference towards him or even some natural affinity to his way of seeing things. The matter would rest there. It is your preference over another, your opinion against another. Why this drama of logic and analysis like advocates who already have formed sympathies with their clients and then set about arguing the case? We are no advocates and thankfully the Divine is not a judge, even when His actions seem to appear so.

Angiras: The emotionalism aroused by the efforts…

There was no effort to arouse emotionalism like some political parties but simply to state things as they were seen for the love of Truth and the Master. The emotionalism came from the same kind of forces that raised the issue and worked through the minds of others. It was and is a clash of forces, not of reason and emotion but of intellectual arrogance that would not give up its reign and the deeper psychic impulse to truth and beauty and good.

Angiras: …of Pandey and others soon stifled the possibility of intelligent discussion.

On the contrary, Pandey offered several times a free and open discussion with anyone, anywhere and in any forum. It has been well circulated in more than one of my letters. But, alas, none came forward; even now, Angiras is keen on discrediting Pandey rather than discussing the book. That offer of course had a limited validity but can be renewed if someone is really very keen about it. But, yes, it should be an intelligent discussion!!!!, not the Filio type of knee-jerk intelligence, nor the Angiras type of sheer biased logic, and certainly not the type of dignified silence that snubs everyone with an air of superiority by ‘I say so’. But would Angiras really be keen about it? The man does not even have the courage to come out openly and speak for himself, for he writes under a pseudonym. What kind of a discussion, intelligent or unintelligent, can one have with a coward? Sorry, but I am not interested in it anymore.

Angiras: In subsequent e-mails which Pandey addressed formally to Heehs (whom he does not know)…

That’s right, there is no personal element involved.

Angiras: …but sent to a large mailing-list…

To the same list that PH had sent his explanatory note to.

Angiras: …he resorted to other tactics of dehumanising the enemy. He accused Heehs of finding a road to fame through the "sewage pipe" and likened those who appreciate his work to "rats and moles" and "bandicoots and lizards and serpents."

There were no tactics to dehumanise, an intent that Angiras is trying to make us believe. All that was done was to bring to notice PH’s attempt to minimise and belittle the greatness of Sri Aurobindo and to trivialise His writings, to judge and challenge and even oppose His own statements, positing in their place his own theories. This was going on for years, nay decades, and would have gone on for a much longer time. Someone had to say at some point of time, “Enough is enough!” One cannot keep swallowing nonsense just because a few people find it admirable stuff. Let them find it admirable, but to me it was and still is the vision of a mole describing a mountain in mole-terms. Of course, this was accompanied or rather preceded with two distinct visions that I myself had, of which I do not wish to talk about here, as they may be taken either as fancies or may sound as if I am using a trump card. Nevertheless, I did what I did and wrote what I wrote neither out of any personal grudge or mere logical conclusion (although there is enough logic to support my view), but on concrete experience that showed me what exactly is the PH phenomenon and the forces behind it. By the way, the sewage refers to the psychoanalytic way of looking at things and the mole and rat represent the little mind; the serpents etc are of course the forces hostile to yoga, slimy creatures who like to hide from the sun.

Angiras: Employing such subtle methods of argument, reminiscent of the rhetoric of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda…

There was no propaganda and no ulterior motive to be served. The facts have been presented as they are and for all to see. I do not see how it is Nazism when you call a spade a spade. There was, besides, no racial issue involved, which I am afraid was deliberately brought up in a subtle and cunning way to confuse the issue. That is more reminiscent of Nazism and certainly not my straightforward letter with enough evidence from the book to support what I said.

Angiras: …Pandey used his prestige and abilities to contribute to the creation of an atmosphere of hysteria in the Ashram, destroying Heehs's reputation…

Excuse me, please, it is not Pandey but PH who destroyed his reputation with such a work.

Angiras: …and disrupting the work of the Archives…

Is the Archives synonymous with PH as if others are doing nothing there? And what work is being referred to here – collection of data on Sri Aurobindo‘s life to doubt and criticise Him, the work of “correcting” Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, doing controversial research and publishing such books?

Angiras: …Pandey prefaced his letter to the Trustees with two quotations by the Mother to give the impression that she would have sanctioned his actions. As we will see below the first quote is misleading and the second inconclusive.

Again you have already concluded the case before arguing it. Please, dear Angiras, let us observe some norms of intelligent discussion at least!

Letter to the Trustees by Alok Pandey

Alok: “I was painfully shocked when I heard the translation of the leaflet you are distributing here in the Ashram. I never imagined you could have such a complete lack of understanding, respect and devotion for our Lord who has sacrificed himself totally for us. Sri Aurobindo was not crippled; a few hours before he left his body he rose from his bed and sat for a long time in his armchair, speaking freely to all those around him. Sri Aurobindo was not compelled to leave his body, he chose to do so for reasons so sublime that they are beyond the reach of human mentality. And when one cannot understand, the only thing to do is to keep a respectful silence.”

26 December 1950 [CWM 13:7-8]

Angiras: “I was painfully shocked....” Strategically...

There was no strategy involved. The words and the letter came in one block and were weaved together expressing a response to a certain state unleashed by PH’s book. To the best of my knowledge, Pandey is not a politician who applies strategies. He sees, is inspired and lets things express themselves, trying to become as faithful an instrument as possible, that’s all.

Angiras: …placing these words of the Mother at the top of his letter, Pandey achieved most of his purpose...

What purpose is being alluded to here? As mentioned before, there has never been any personal agenda and no personal purpose to the letters.

Angiras: ...with one stroke by creating an emotional impact that numbed the thinking faculties of most of those who read it. But The Lives of Sri Aurobindo says nothing resembling what "shocked" the Mother in the leaflet in question. Most of the readers of Pandey's letter had no way of knowing this.

You mean, they are all imbeciles and cannot think on their own! Or they have no idea of what is what and about the sense and purport of the Mother’s statements? This group of people includes ex-students, intellectuals, devotees, men and women with a psychic vision, some of them not only highly respected but who have stayed here for a very long time and almost grown up here. Many are far better in their inner calibre and outer capacity and more steeped in Yoga than Pandey. Please, dear Angiras, do you realise that by this one statement you are belittling the general calibre of people in the Ashram and thinking them all idiots to be swayed into hysteria by Pandey’s letter? I don’t think so highly of myself!!

Angiras: Let us compare The Lives with the Mother's statements. First, she said: "Sri Aurobindo was not crippled; a few hours before he left his body he rose from his bed and sat for a long time in his armchair, speaking freely to all those around him." Describing the events of 4 December 1950, Heehs writes: "He rested for a few hours, got up, went to the bathroom, then sat for a while in his armchair." There is no contradiction here.

Yes, my dear, there is no contradiction here as you put it so naively. But have you really read the book? I doubt it, for how could you miss the portions where the author says, almost in a mocking tone, of Sri Aurobindo being unable to clean his teeth and needing to be fed tea through a bottle and so on and so forth. And yes, the detailed description of his urine reports and medical history as if it were not his life but his medical diagnosis that was in question and being discussed. When people write about the passing of a great personality in his biography, do they really need to discuss all the details of the person’s blood and urine report and the ultra sonogram, as has been done in this book. The only reason that can be alluded to is to subtly and craftily challenge Sri Aurobindo’s assertion of the power of the Spirit over Matter and His statements on the occult sources of illness. One finds the same crafty work when he describes the fracture, completely ignoring the occult dimension. Why, dear Angiras, your academicians will frown at it, that’s why? So then, what are you trying to tell them and whom are you trying to fool?

Angiras: Second, the Mother said: "Sri Aurobindo was not compelled to leave his body, he chose to do so for reasons so sublime that they are beyond the reach of human mentality." Heehs writes: "The doctors asked whether he was using his yogic power to cure himself. He replied with a simple no. “Why not?” they insisted. “Can't explain. You won't understand.” Here again there is no disagreement.

Yes, there is none and, by the way, this is a quote from Nirod-da’s book. But what are those sublime reasons? Nirod-da does allude to them, but PH does not, thereby hiding his intent behind someone else’s words. He does it too often, of course, for cowards do this always. They do not have the courage to admit their ideas in public, and fire the gun from others’ shoulders, as they say in English.

Angiras: The second quotation by the Mother appears at first sight to be more relevant: “It is not a question of disobedience. I know nothing about your additions to the Life Sketch or the sources from which they were taken. My point of view is this, that anything written by a sadhak about Sri Aurobindo which brings him down to an ordinary level and admits the reader to a sort of gossiping familiarity with him is an unfaithfulness to Him and His work. Good intentions are not sufficient, it is necessary that this should be understood by everybody.” 3 June 1939 [CWM 13:27]

The date of this quotation - 1939 - is significant. Over thirty years later, in the Foreword to Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, Nirodbaran mentioned that people had been "very eager to know something about the outer life" of Sri Aurobindo, but the Mother "was not so far willing to let us lift that veil." Her statement in 1939 expressed her refusal at that time to allow anything but a brief outline of Sri Aurobindo's outer life to be published; a proposal to expand it was rejected on principle, whatever the additions might have been (she admitted that she knew nothing about them)…

There you start again these dangerous interpretations. Tomorrow you will say that the Mother did not understand Savitri! Oh, excuse me, I believe that it has already been said under prestigious names. Is it true, dear Angiras, that such a statement has been made in the court of law to support the Savitri changes case, that the Mother did not understand Savitri? I am sure you must be in the know-how of it. Will you be bold enough to speak and share this truth with us? You may also say that what She said in 1970 may not apply now. Agreed, the Divine is neither tied to the spoken or the written word nor is He tied to the human understanding of these things. But can you assure us that the Mother meant this and not that? If not, then why don’t you just shut up and let people interpret the way they wish to? I saw it one way, you may see it in another way, but which of us is more nearer to truth, who can say!

Angiras: But, as Nirodbaran went on to say, "either because of Sri Aurobindo's Centenary Year or for other reasons, when I proposed to write an account of our historic personal association with the Master during the last twelve years of his life, the Mother warmly approved of it." We do not know exactly why she revised her policy (!!!!!!), but clearly she relaxed the austere rules of the 1930s with respect to writing about Sri Aurobindo. Evidently what she said decades ago regarding a specific matter (as opposed to a general statement of spiritual truth) is not automatically applicable today.

Vow! That’s the most original score and, pray, who will tell us what is a general statement of spiritual truth? Denigrating the Master, sitting in judgment over Him and His works – is that an acceptable norm, a general statement or does it apply only to some cases? Can some persons be allowed to take liberties with Sri Aurobindo’s life and others not? Is there then no difference between Nirod-da, Dilip-da and PH? Do you not see that when Nirod-da writes, it is someone who is not only close to Sri Aurobindo but also loves Him and has a first-hand account to say? Can PH claim the same and take liberties?

Angiras: No one knows what the Mother would say about The Lives of Sri Aurobindo if she was physically present now. Her reactions often surprised people. When someone objected to passages in a certain book as being "repulsive," she asked that person to write them down. As she commented in a conversation on 17 April 1971, "among them was one that was just the one I liked best!"

Why not also add the other type of reaction when She sent away people from the Ashram, and when Sri Aurobindo advised someone to leave the Ashram if he was unable to accept the Mother? Yes, none can fathom Her Will. So what are you trying to say: we must not act because we do not know the Divine Will? Or should it not be rather – we must act in the best Light that we have, offering our action to Her and praying for illumination? Besides, among those present right now, who is the closest to the Mother, – it is very clearly Dada [Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya] and what does he have to say? May I ask you, dear Angiras, have you tried once to pause and reflect what the Mother would say or how She would respond to your active support of PH?!! Are you sure She will appreciate all this nonsense and thank you for supporting PH after what he has been writing about the Lord? Please stop making a fool of yourself, if you still have a little honesty left and some capacity to self-introspect. And yes, that applies to the entire PH clan as well. Yes, I have absolutely no qualms about asking PH to shut up after what he has written and has been writing for long. And I do not hide it from Her. Are you sure you are not concealing something and can stand before Her and look into Her eyes and say, “Mother, I am supporting PH, poor PH, who is being unnecessarily hounded by Pandey and his likes, in spite of being such a nice fellow, so competent, so qualified and so good at his job?” What do you think will be Her response? I leave it to you and your friends to feel Her answer for themselves.

Angiras: Since the question of what the Mother would have said in this situation is unanswerable…

Not exactly unanswerable! If you look within yourself carefully, you can know the answer, or, at least, feel it. But yes, to your analytical mind, it is surely unanswerable. But not everyone is in your blissfully ignorant state, dear Angiras, to take shelter in one’s ignorance of the Mother’s Will. There are those who perceive it, and try to live according to it. Your personal incapacity need not be a general indicator, please.

Angiras: …we are left with conflicting human reactions to The Lives. The idea that it brings Sri Aurobindo "down to an ordinary level" in some unacceptable way has been vigorously propagated by Pandey and others and accepted by many who have not read the book and do not intend to do so. But the opposite response has also been common.

What an open lie…..come on!!!! I can only say, “Please add a handful of salt to this statement,” as they say in India.

Angiras: The contrast can be shown by translating a passage from the French review by Christine Devin.

Who is he, by the way, someone in sympathy with spiritual literature and with Sri Aurobindo, someone who understands mysticism and its subtleties?

Angiras: "After the reader closes the book, Sri Aurobindo seems, even more than before, to be unseizably immense, unfathomably deep. In the end, all the incidents that the author reports, all the detailed documents and varied testimony he cites, do indeed come together to form a silhouette - not that of a man called Sri Aurobindo, but rather the silhouette of a Sri Aurobindo that will remain forever ungraspable, and behind which can be felt the touch of the infinite. And this evokes in the reader a renewed sense of the marvellous." (La Revue d'Auroville, no. 26, janvier-mars 2009)

Oh my, my, thank you dear, for such an encouraging review. I hope you genuinely felt it coming through the pages and were not simply trying to save poor PH. No, I have no reasons to distrust you, but what to do when such fantastic conspiracy theories are propagated in this letter? One wonders what is true and what is being planted just to prove a point. Nevertheless no hard feelings and no offence meant.

Angiras: After the two quotations from the Mother, the body of Pandey's letter begins:

The Trustees
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry - 605002
Dear Trustees,

Alok: You may be already aware by now of the 'backlash' on Peter Heehs' biography of Sri Aurobindo: “The Many Lives...”

Angiras: There is no biography called “The Many Lives...”. Pandey claims to have read The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, yet he cannot remember the title.

Yes, didn’t think it worth remembering, it is too painful to remember, and would wish to forget the title and the contents as soon as I can. This letter was written only after a first hurried browsing. A detailed letter of 8 pages was written after reading the book thoroughly, the contents of which have never been made public, thankfully for PH.

Alok: 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.

Angiras: The "intelligentsia" do not "justify the diabolic nature of the writings." They simply do not accept the far-fetched claim that the biography is diabolic in its intent. Obviously, much depends on Pandey's spiritual authority to pronounce on occult matters. Diabolicism cannot be proved by "reasons" even if they were much better than those he proceeds to give.

I completely and whole-heartedly agree to this, though one with a purely logical bent of mind may say that whatever can be defined and described can be investigated and proved. Thus if a book is declaring one intent while all its tone and approach is another, if there is behind its surface theme an undercurrent of black water running as it were, then one can say with reasonable certitude that it is the devil handling the holy scriptures. We can still accept that one must not rush to make such statements about anyone, even if he has a track-record of twenty-four years of such activity. That is why I hesitated from going ahead, even after I had the vision of a rat entering the Samadhi and trying to pluck at the Lord’s flesh. I concentrated to know who this man was and the force behind him. It was only after I was shown clearly the hidden and occult truth of it that I acted. I do not claim any authority in these matters, but I do have to go by what I have seen and not by what X or Y feels or perceives. I have no problems if someone else feels or believes that PH has the genuine intent of presenting Sri Aurobindo to the academia, but for myself I do not buy this argument, and I have both outer and inner reasons to do so.

Alok: 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 was 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.

Angiras: On the first page of his Preface, Heehs explains what he means by the title. He points out that Sri Aurobindo “was, for a moment, the most important political leader in the country, the first to say clearly that the goal of the national movement was independence. But he was also a scholar, a poet, a philosopher, and above all, a yogi and spiritual leader. His diverse achievements at various times can make it seem as though he led four or five different lives in a single lifetime.” One wonders why the author's straightforward explanation of his own title should be rejected for a fanciful theory that it “would most certainly mean a multiple personality, or worse still the hidden sides.”

By the way, it is PH who has been doing this and not Pandey – doubting Sri Aurobindo‘s adesh, etc !!! Nevertheless, what PH claims is one thing and what the book leads us to, covertly and overtly, is another thing. To speak of it here would make it too lengthy, we have done it elsewhere.

Alok: 2. The author's claim to 'objectivity' is not only invalid, it again carries an under-current which means that the other biographies have been more of a sentimental, devotee type.

Angiras: The author has not made exaggerated claims to "objectivity."

What do I hear Mr Angiras! The book starts with this remark that Sri Aurobindo has been better served by his biographers and goes at length to distinguish hagiography from biography, claiming that his previous biographers were largely hagiographers. He even goes on to cite that unfair and ungainly comparison of the two photographs to prove his point. Even the cover refers to the book as the first authentic biography and so on and so forth. And you make him appear so innocent. Are you his paid lawyer or what? I seriously suspect you are!

Angiras: The word "objective" occurs only where he explains that in dealing with outward events he has tried, in the manner expected of a scholarly biographer, "to satisfy the insistence of critical readers for objective verification." (p. 145) He goes on to point out that such verification is not possible in writing about the spiritual experiences which are the most significant part of Sri Aurobindo's life. In presenting these he makes use of Sri Aurobindo's own accounts of his experiences, refraining (except in one passage meant to refute a psychoanalytic interpretation) from the psychological or sociological analysis in which some scholars would have indulged. It is hard to see any legitimate objection to this approach of letting Sri Aurobindo's statements speak for themselves.

What a bunch of lies! In fact, he hardly allows Sri Aurobindo speak for Himself, whether with regard to his experiences vis-à-vis madness or with regard to his poetry or his language. He conveniently picks up a bit from here and bit from there and tries to stitch them together with his personal opinions that are laced throughout the book, and you call it objective.

Alok: Apart from this logic denigrating some well-known biographers whose sincerity cannot be questioned, this statement implies two things:

Angiras: Heehs writes that Sri Aurobindo "has been better served by his biographers than most of his contemporaries have." (p. xii) This does not sound as if it was intended to denigrate them or question their sincerity.

Well, to me, it does. Any problems?

Alok: 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.

Angiras: To the extent that The Lives presents a more objective picture, the result is not to diminish Sri Aurobindo's greatness, but to make it more convincing so that even sceptics cannot deny it.

Convincing!!! You must be joking! Convincing by saying that His Future Poetry is outdated, that his plays are mere sublimations of His fantasies, His language abstruse, his philosophy loath to be admitted by first rank scholars? Are you serious while writing all this stuff or simply doing an unwilling job under some compulsion?

Alok: 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!

Angiras: Divinity is often confused with infallibility. Correcting this misunderstanding, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

"Men's way of doing things well is through a clear mental connection; they see things and do things with the mind and what they want is a mental and human perfection. When they think of a manifestation of Divinity, they think it must be an extraordinary perfection in doing ordinary human things - an extraordinary business faculty, political, poetic or artistic faculty, an accurate memory, not making mistakes, not undergoing any defeat or failure.... All that has nothing to do with manifesting the Divine. ... These human ideas are false.

"The Divinity acts according to another consciousness, the consciousness of the Truth above and the Lila below and It acts according to the need of the Lila, not according to man's ideas of what It should or should not do. This is the first thing one must grasp, otherwise one can understand nothing about the manifestation of the Divine." (Letters on Yoga, pp. 410-11)

Good Lord!! I can only throw up my hands in exasperation and paraphrase the famous quote: “Forgive them, for they know not what they are saying.” What is the logical connection between the two? Does it mean that one must criticise and does it follow that the more you judge the Master, the more you are obeying His true words?

Alok: Well, this strikes at 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!

Angiras: Much of this controversy could be resolved simply by remembering what kind of reader the book was written for and admitting that different types of presentation may be appropriate for different audiences. Pandey acknowledges (in paragraph 1) that The Lives was intended for the general reader, but then forgets that fact and writes as if it was written for disciples and devotees and should be judged accordingly.

So how are you going to filter out the reader to whom the book is being given or sold, dear Angiras? When a book is made public, it is available to anyone and everyone to read. It is not a question of different approaches, but of truth and basic honesty and even decency in writing about certain issues and persons, especially when it comes from the nerve centre of the Ashram. If one wants other approaches, then the whole world is there. Who is stopping PH from gong out? Tomorrow, if I say that can I do a kumbhabhisekham to the Samadhi since it is not disrespectful but just another approach, would you simply say it is okay? If another person says I want to sing devotional songs inside the Ashram or light agarbatthis in Sri Aurobindo’s room, will it be accommodated because it is just a different approach? I can do that in my private space, but not publicly, and as long as I am part of a group life with its own ethos. Of course, now there is hardly any ethos left, thanks to this book. So now everything is acceptable and admissible under the garb of a different approach.

Alok: 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.

Angiras: We should keep in mind that Sri Aurobindo himself preferred an account of his life that was "so written as to give only the grey precise surface facts, nothing more." (On Himself, p. 377)

Absolutely, but these grey precise surface facts are not heavily opinionated statements and those undermining him in so many ways. And, by the way, there is a difference between mentioning surface facts with precision and sifting those facts and interpreting them in the name of objectivity.

Alok: The rest is left to the readers to conclude, whether things like self-realisation, Supermind, etc 'claimed' by Sri Aurobindo are true or delusive.

Angiras: How can the readers be forced to accept the truth of Supermind, etc.? Without an inquisition to impose conformity of belief, an author would seem to have no choice but to leave the readers free to form their own conclusions.

Not forced but led, by the very logic of the author, one way or the other. Even neutrality of expression coming from a long standing inmate carries its suggestion. It is possible, without inquisition of course, to lead the reader to the logicality of things like the realms beyond the mind and of course the Supermind as well.

Alok: He almost stops short of suggesting that they could be considered 'schizophrenic' by some. Who are these some, one may ask?

Angiras: Pandey co-authored with Dr. Soumitra Basu an article on "Mystics and Psychotics" (NAMAH 3:2, pp. 20-21) which discussed the same questions as Heehs raises with regard to apparent similarities between psychotic and mystic states. Pandey and Basu concluded - exactly as Heehs does - that in spite of certain parallels, there are essential differences. "The mystic swims, the schizophrenic drowns," they quote Laing as saying. In another article in NAMAH, "Mysticism and Schizophrenia," Hemant Kapoor asks with specific reference to Sri Aurobindo as a mystic par excellence: "what separates the mystic from the schizophrenic and both from the natural man?" (NAMAH 14:4, p. 32) In answering this question, Kapoor draws on Ken Wilber's chapter on "Schizophrenia and Mysticism" in The Atman Project where Wilber, like Heehs, quotes Anton Boisen. Pandey is an editor of NAMAH. Until now, he does not seem to have considered the discussion of such questions to be taboo.

Are you serious, Mr Angiras? I wonder, since you don‘t seem to understand the difference between discussing an issue impersonally and the same issue personally. For example, when I discuss whether punishing children is good or bad, it is a general discussion. But when I discuss the same issue by saying that X’s father’s punishing his children is good or bad, we may end up offending his sensibilities and change the whole nature of the discussion. And even there, one can do that provided one is leading the reader to an incontrovertible conclusion, which is not the case here. The conclusion is left as vague as ever.

Alok: 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.

Angiras: Just as Pandey could not remember the title, so his complaint that Heehs has neglected Sri Aurobindo's correspondence, The Life Divine, etc., casts further doubt on how much of the book he has read.

Yes, he has neglected them in the sense that he has produced only those letters and passages that suit his own theory and hypothesis while suppressing others, just as you are doing now while accusing others to be misquoting. There are several examples, including the quotes from Savitri, where he reproduces the earliest draft, despite being involved in the serious controversy of changes; from Perseus, where he uses a rather bland passage to discredit it; or from the Aphorisms when he describes the section on Love, where one can see clearly his mischief at work, and so also from the Letters whether to sadhaks or on important issues and events. And all this from a man who is supposed to have been involved in editing His Works! I could go on and on endlessly and yet you would fail to see it or come up with another novel justification.

Alok: And how about the countless devotees and their testimonies, - blind faith, superstition, sentimentality, - or the historians wilful blindness? Is it simply a case of ignorance or a deliberate mischief to underplay few things and insert certain footnotes that would colour the perceptions and give a different hue 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.

Angiras: Neither Pandey nor others have shown that the book contains such misrepresentations.

Of course, we have shown and in abundance….please go to the websites livesofsriaurobindo.com and Mirror of Tomorrow and see for it yourself.

Angiras: However, the extracts from The Lives of Sri Aurobindo that were circulated by Pandey's collaborators...

Excuse me, I have no collaborators, we came together more by a common love for Them than by design and plan. For your kind information, my first practical encounter with Raman was after the Extracts, and I had not known him before except by face. So also with many others. Please do not insinuate or float another conspiracy theory. PH is not so important that we have to conspire against him. He is just another human being, like all of us; only he thinks too much of himself and has stretched this a little too far.

Angiras: ...soon after his letter were full of misrepresentations of the book, due to passages being taken out of context or half-quoted. In fact, the compiler of the extracts has admitted that they were never intended to be representative; yet they are all that many people have read or will ever read of the biography. The wrong...

!!! What kind of wrong??? You mean you can publish any nonsense and expect people to swallow it? When you make your personal views public, then you must be willing to suffer the consequences in the form of public reactions. You can’t cry later on and say, “Look, they are chasing me.” If you throw mud at someone’s house, then by what right do you expect decency from the others? Who started this series of throwball games and for how many years, nay decades? You think you can say anything and do anything and get away with it, just because people have remained silent so far. Arrogance has its backlash one day. There is nothing wrong in showing the mirror to a man who in his arrogance has forgotten all norms of decency and has started throwing mud at the Master Himself, and has the cheek to do it in the very place meant to be totally dedicated to Him and His service. Either he is completely an idiot or a foolish arrogant man. Most think him to be the latter. What is your opinion, sir?

Angiras: ...that has been done to the author is obvious. But such injustices are all too common in human life. There is no need to bring in the Asura and demonize the perpetrators.

Thank you sir, I did not know that you are such a forgiving man and do not call us Asuras and demonise us. It’s really so very kind of you, but really speaking we don‘t mind what you may call us. For after knowing what PH thinks and feels about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, I will only take it as a compliment if his supporters call me bad names.

Alok: 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?

Angiras: In this section, Pandey sketches the outlines of a conspiracy theory which was later developed in more detail by Sraddhalu Ranade. The theory is based mostly on misinformation. The only element of truth in it is the fact that the book was released "outside," a few months before its scheduled publication in India (now blocked by the legal manoeuvres of Pandey's friends.

Now who is involved in misinformation? For your information, Pandey did not even know about the case till the first hearing was over and the stay was granted. So please stop confusing everyone by your conspiracy theory of people ganging up to deliberately malign an innocent writer. As to my conspiracy theory, is it not strange that, even after the book was released for at least a few months, SABDA was not even approached to keep it with them? Normally, if someone has written a good book on Sri Aurobindo, one would expect at least a few copies to be made available to the Ashram connected readers and possibly gifted to some of the main libraries here.

Angiras: Interestingly, The Foundations of Indian Culture was published in America six years before it appeared in India. Was that also because of "a fear-factor, an underlying guilt or a deliberate attempt to subvert the work outside India"?

For your information, the analogy is absurd. There were few publication houses in India and mostly sympathetic to the British in the days of the Foundation. The situation today is entirely different and cannot be compared with it. Or are you trying to subtly pass a caustic remark on Sri Aurobindo Himself?

Alok: 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.

Angiras: This statement seems to refer to Michael Murphy, who supports the book but has not funded it.

I am not sure about the veracity of this statement. I have reasons to believe that this may not be true.

Angiras: Murphy has used his name to further Sri Aurobindo's vision, not the other way around. To say he has "usurped Sri Aurobindo's works" is preposterous.

That’s news to me, unless you mean that describing his place as sleazy and sexy and teaching encounter groups, showing Sri Aurobindo’s limitations – how he simply had borrowed ideas from Whitehead – and praising Nietzsche and others, is the way of furthering His vision. Have you not read the book on Esalen or are you pretending ignorance? But let me leave these things as it would unearth much that is not good to speak about here. Nevertheless, it is no favour done to Sri Aurobindo if someone does service to Him and this does not give the individual or the group any right to criticise or belittle Him.

Alok: 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.”

Angiras: Sri Aurobindo wrote: "The Avatar is not supposed to act in a non-human way - he takes up human action and uses human methods with the human consciousness in front and the Divine behind. If he did not his taking a human body would have no meaning and would be of no use to anybody. He could just as well have stayed above and done things from there." (Letters on Yoga, p. 409) Even with regard to "the Divine behind," Sri Aurobindo never announced this to the world, nor did he encourage others to do so. He wrote, "why should the Avatar proclaim himself except on rare occasions to an Arjuna or to a few bhaktas or disciples?" (Letters on Yoga, p. 418) But if an Avatar wants to be discreet about himself, why should a biographer, especially one who is writing for the general public, go against his wishes?

Oh dear, I am sorry, thank you for clarifying this. I didn’t know PH was simply being so obedient So kind of him to have followed to the letter the advice of Sri Aurobindo! By the way, has Sri Aurobindo also written somewhere that the disciples must criticise Him and also belittle His works because He can thus remain away from the eyes of the general public? Maybe that is what PH was trying to do when he was analysing His works or narrating incidents about the way Sri Aurobindo and the Mother related with each other.

Angiras: Pandey cynically paraphrases what he imagines Heehs “is trying to tell us.” But he overlooks the fact that Heehs is addressing not “us,” the bhaktas and disciples, but another audience.

So you agree at least that the paraphrases are right, only the context is wrong. In that case it may be a good idea to issue a warning on the very first page that the book is written only for the academia and the devotees read it at their own risk. I do not know, but somehow I did not find this sort of statement anywhere in the book that it has been written specifically for a certain kind of reader.

Angiras: In writing for the larger public, especially in the West, it would be inappropriate...

So you agree that considering a specific kind of readership, PH has deliberately given only that information which would be appealing to that kind of readership. Granted, then, in that case, why this claim to objectivity? How can you be objective and at the same time say that I am writing things only for a specific readership? And which readers will be interested in Sri Aurobindo’s life? Academia?? But why? How is the academic world concerned with Sri Aurobindo’s life? Its main concern would be with what He wrote or spoke and did. And about that we all know what PH has written – His writings are nothing great, His ideas mostly borrowed, some even outdated, His style obtuse, His work uncertain and a matter of dogmatic faith and so on and so forth. There is not even a glossary of His books attached and the address from where one could obtain them. Is this an attempt to engage the academia in any serious discussion on Sri Aurobindo? As to the Western readers, are you sure that the western mind lacks the psychic vision and has to move only through doubt and scepticism and intellectual argument? I would think more highly of our western brothers and sisters. And really if this is what will appeal to them, then frankly it is not worth the trouble, for the effort will hardly lead anywhere.

Angiras: ...and contrary to Sri Aurobindo's intentions to insist on his divinity.

Nobody is asking you to insist on divinity, etc. It is one thing to insist, it is quite another to suppress. Not insisting on the divinity does not necessarily mean belittling His works as if they were the works of just an ordinary man.

Alok: 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 not to show us, by example, the human transforming itself into the Divine.

Angiras: The human cannot be shown transforming itself into the Divine without depicting the human. The gradual transformation...

Where? How? Even till the end questions are raised about his experiences, that some might consider him a megalomaniac, etc. What is shown is how a Cambridge student and not the best of them, and a failed professor with profuse but not so great writings and some strange experiences, was nevertheless acclaimed by many and worshipped by his disciples. At the end, everyone is left confused as to the real nature of His work and its success.

Angiras: ...shown in the book is perfectly consistent with what Sri Aurobindo said about himself: "I don't know about Avatars. Practically what I know is that I had not all the powers necessary when I started, I had to develop them by Yoga.... My own idea of the matter is that the Avatar's life and actions are not miracles. If they were, his existence would be perfectly useless, a mere superfluous freak of Nature." (On Himself, p. 149)

I wish, Oh how I wish, that PH had used some of the quotations you mentioned including this one, and you and me could proudly mention his book as reference and not Sri Aurobindo on Himself. He has on the contrary completely rubbished the very idea of the Avatar.

Alok: 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 confused about what he is trying to tell us.

Angiras: What are these "less than human aspects"? We are left almost confused as to what the psychiatrist is talking about.

Nothing to be confused about! His detailed probing, almost with a voyeuristic pleasure into the sexual life, the perverse pleasure he has in mentioning a few incidents of Sri Aurobindo’s anger, the questions about the possibility of insanity and megalomania are the less-than-human things, if you understand, sir. Humans are arrogant not megalomaniacs, nor do they experience spontaneous erotic pleasure, which is a completely wrong understanding of maithunananda and kamananda, which is the joy the soul takes in its intercourse with the senses and not sexual intercourse. But we can leave that discussion for now.

Alok: 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.

Angiras: Jeffrey Kripal, who is obviously meant here, is not "one of the persons behind the book.” Kripal has no connection with The Lives other than that he was approached by the publisher - not the author - for an endorsement…

How do we know that and why, may I ask, unless Heehs himself suggested it? Also, if PH has nothing to do with JK, then why does he thank him and also MM in his list of acknowledgements? What for?

Angiras: Heehs has criticized Kripal...

I would like to see that for myself.

Angiras: …in a previous book for the sensationalism of his study of Ramakrishna. Kripal has no interest in writing a book on Sri Aurobindo.

He has already written a chapter on Sri Aurobindo in his book on Esalen. And for your information, he has quoted there from unpublished manuscripts quoted in The Lives even before it was published. The whole trend there is to turn and twist Sri Aurobindo’s yoga into a standard form of Tantra and show how Esalen has improved upon it and gives what Sri Aurobindo has missed out.

Alok: 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.

Angiras: Who says Krishna was a flirt and a playboy and what does it have to do with The Lives of Sri Aurobindo?

An analogy, sir!

Alok: 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.

Angiras: According to Sri Aurobindo, when the devotee "has grasped the power that shall raise him,” his devotion "in the end purifies and enlarges him as effectively as knowledge can.” Unfortunately, before that happens, "devotion without knowledge is often a thing raw, crude, blind and dangerous, as the errors, crimes, follies of the religious have too often shown." (The Synthesis of Yoga, 1999 ed., p. 548) The recent behavior of many devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seems to provide more evidence of the dangers of devotion than of its purifying and enlarging power.

That’s it, plain-speak so to say, say it loud and clear rather than hide behind a book. Say that to feel devotion and believe in all this Avatar business etc, is a dangerous myth and man must not lose his intellect and reason in his approach to the understanding of God and His play. That is precisely what the book is trying to tell us, while the recent behaviour of people is suggesting exactly the contrary – that you cannot understand the Divine by these means. You will end by messing up everything as PH has done. The conflict, in other words, is between homo psychicus and homo intellectualis. As to the narrowness, an intellectual can be as narrow as a man of the heart. When PH says that objectivity is the only tool and that other biographers are hagiographers, he is indulging in his own kind of fanaticism. He is advancing his own narrow doctrine and claiming its superiority over other approaches. The communists are anything but devotional and yet their narrow minds are as intolerant as that of a religious fundamentalist. PH is precisely such an intolerant and narrow intellectual, who is arrogant about his small mind and tries to show that his own incapacity to feel and sense deeper and higher things is actually a great capacity. By the way, Sri Aurobindo did write about this conflict between these two types and He clearly seems to have tilted in favour of the former, homo psychicus.[1]

Alok: 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.

Angiras: The demonization of Heehs is Pandey's distinctive contribution to the discussion of the biography. "Demonization of 'the other', the reduction of the world to Manichaean dimensions, is the stuff of fundamentalist discourse,"notes Malise Ruthven in A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (2004, p. 25).

Who is this man, by the way? Has he also written on the fundamentalism of a non-religious kind by the communists and the democrats of powerful countries? These may be his views, I have mine, and am not obliged to accept his hypothesis. As to demonisation, it is not for me to judge. But PH himself writes in his poem, published in the 2004 anthology, curiously named, Devotion, that he does not seek the Mother but a place for rest and relaxation, not the higher bliss but sex and sensation, etc. etc. These traits are the exact hallmark of an Asuric nature: first, that he confuses the mental, vital, physical ego for the soul, and their desires as his true needs, second, he is full of doubts and hostile to the Divine, and gives by his mind a twist to His work. I wrote this in an impersonal way concerning the kind of work that this book seems to represent. It is not a permanent judgment on him or his life but as a strong word of caution to our sleeping seniors.

Angiras: At a time when the world is plagued with proliferating fundamentalisms, surely the followers of Sri Aurobindo should be capable of better things than to imitate the worst that others are doing.

Why is this question of fundamentalism being raised? PH has a track record of writing and courting controversies concerning Sri Aurobindo – a host of them over decades. He has sat over judgment on Sri Aurobindo’s Adesh, forwarding his apparently more rational theory over Sri Aurobindo’s own statements; then in the Savitri changes, on the issue of Pondicherry being called Vedapuri, so on and so forth, and despite so many feelers and suggestions supported by sound arguments by well-known Ashram inmates whose calibre cannot be doubted – men who are deeply respected for their qualities of the head and the heart, such as Jugal-da and Amal Kiran – he yet goes on and on and none of his friends ever advise him to stop this nonsense. So he becomes more and more belligerent and arrogant – there are so many examples of it that if I quote all of them, it would become mud-slinging. So one day someone had to pull on the reins and cry halt to his mental aggression and tendency to plunder and desecrate a sacred space. Yet, even then, no one heeds it, and he continues to be unabashedly supported by some ‘broad-minded’ persons who are more concerned to look pleasant in the eyes of others than to do what is true and correct. He hides behind these ‘experts’ and yet none tell him to look into his soul and see what is going on there. Fresh chances and suggestions are given to rectify the situation amicably, but he becomes more stubborn, unyielding and manipulative. So when the world-forces strike back in just defence, his friends start immediately shouting, “Look, here are fundamentalists!! Look at these jehadis! Look at these narrow-minded persons!” It means that so long as we quietly gulp down your nonsense, you find us good chaps. But you can, over the years, taking advantage of our weakness, slowly enter our house, occupy it, and even claim to be greater than its owner – in this case, Sri Aurobindo – and sit in judgment over Him. So the moment we wake up and raise an alarm and call the guardians who are caught sleeping, you start calling us names!!! What would you do if someone entered your own house? Just because this is the house of the Lord, it does not concern you? You conveniently say that He can take care of Himself, why bother about it and spoil relations with my friends! But when your own house is being burgled, you find it perfectly justified to raise a hue and cry and to call your friends. Strange one-sided logic indeed!!! It means the only way of keeping harmony is to accept that PH has nothing to do with the disturbance created in the atmosphere!! He has only written a book, after all, with good intentions to woo the academia. We have to accept it all and live harmoniously, because you say so. But if we speak up, you will charge us with sedition and for creating disharmony. Sounds like the days of the British Raj!

Alok: 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'.

Angiras: Again Pandey lets his fantasy run wild.

What is the fantasy in it? Has he not written earlier doubting Sri Aurobindo’s own statements about his life? Jugal-da’s letters and Pranab-da’s letters of the eighties are all fantasies? What white lies are these!

Alok: 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 which is 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' which 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.

Angiras: The Mother considered it to be an act of faithfulness to the Divine's work to keep silent when one has nothing pleasant to say about something or somebody in the Ashram (CWM 17:219, reproduced in Rules of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2003). If I have ventured to present another view of some of the points raised by Pandey, it is not out of a personal lack of respect, but only to redress the one-sidedness of the debate.

My letter also, this one and the others as well, are not out of any personal grudge but my own way of expressing faithfulness in their work. This advice was, besides, with regard to speaking in the spirit of gossip and not when genuine irregularities were brought to the notice of those concerned. This advice was not particularly meant to silence all views that contradicted the established position. It is a spiritual advice, as gossiping about others brings down our consciousness and strengthens the difficulties of the other. So let us not discuss any further on this matter and let the world forces decide the outcome. The individuals who have gone to the court are not Ashramites, by the way. Above all, by writing about Sri Aurobindo in a gossiping spirit (someone even compared Heehs to Harry Potter), one is actually opening the doors for all kinds of gossip.

Angiras: Those who know the quality of Pandey's published writings or have heard him speak may find it hard to believe that his polemics against a fellow sadhak were written by the same person.

I don’t see any inconsistency in this. I love Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and seek to serve Them, and receive inspirational knowledge from Them. My love and spirit of service moves me to speak about Them and write in Their Light. The same love and service makes me sad when I see Their names being dragged down by a fellow-sadhak. The pain is greater since he is our own. If he were an outsider, one would have just passed by with at best a gentle retort.

Angiras: One might have preferred to pay no attention to these documents, but they have done too much damage to be dismissed as inconsequential.

I too would have let this pass, but I see so many misgivings being generated by those with vested interests that I have chosen to respond, perhaps for the last time.

Angiras: Moreover, they are evidently part of the history of the formation of a religion based on the worship of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother,

So worship turns things into a religion and defending a group identity against dilution and attacks, subtle or otherwise, is a religious act. Then what does distortion of things through falsehood and lies do to a spiritual movement? What happens when you accept the superiority of intellect over faith and of critical judgment over psychic vision? Does it turn it into a sectarian philosophy and many schools of thought? Is Yoga then an intellectual pastime? And where does religion begin and where does it end? Is the offering of incense at the Samadhi religion, the distribution of message cards on Darshan days a religion, the very existence of the Ashram a religion? Are you saying that all this must be stopped because it is all religion? And replace it with intellectual dogmas and doubts and philosophy or psychoanalytic research!

Angiras: ...who repeatedly warned of the danger of creating a religion in their names. This is a matter of serious concern for those who have dedicated their lives to Sri Aurobindo's work.

Let the Divine see who is dedicated and who is not. Why presume that PH is dedicated while the others are desiccated? And truly speaking, if he is dedicated to Their work, then all that I would say, dear Angiras, please do not worry. You do not have to take care of PH’s life and his reputation. The Divine is quite capable of doing it. Remember His promise in the Gita – His devotee never perishes. Those who have dedicated their lives to the Divine, if at all anyone can make that claim, are completely under His shelter. And he who is under the Divine’s eyes and has been given shelter by Him, to him what can a million Pandeys do? Why, to such a person, even the whole world can do nothing if it were to stand against him. Have faith, dear Angiras, it is the only sure guide in the darkest days.

Angiras: Pandey's letter ends with a further section stating his demands. This will not be reproduced here because it concerned only the Trustees and should never have been made public.

Why not, I insist. The demands were threefold. First, that he should be taken out of the Archives and may be sent to teach history in the Ashram School, a proposal that the teachers strongly reacted against when they came to know of it. The second proposal was to be more careful in the editing of Sri Aurobindo’s works as already certain unseemly things were published in the Autobiographical Notes. Thirdly, that caution should be exercised in future and the book, if possible, should be withdrawn as it is a work of fraud. By the way, as a sequel to this, certain other simple suggestions were given to those concerned which could have completely avoided all this drama. One of these suggestions was that he should simply mention that this is a work of creative fiction where events in Sri Aurobindo’s life have been sketched out based on certain secondary documents! This followed by a good prologue mentioning about the human transforming into the Divine, thus opening the higher possibilities for mankind, and a good epilogue that briefly speaks of the completion of the work by the Mother with the Supramental Descent. And of course a small note that all opinions expressed in the book are the author’s and drawn from a sample of his choice. And this entire ruckus would have been avoided. But Fate willed otherwise and so things got more and more complicated. Vinash kale viparita buddhi, as they say in Sanskrit, the intelligence is clouded and runs counter to truth and light when one approaches the hour of one’s nemesis. Yet let us know that Grace is there for PH and for all and it never fails if he can sincerely turn to Her.

Alok Pandey

[1] “Do not confuse the higher knowledge and the mental knowledge. The intellectual man will be able to give a wider and more orderly expression to what higher knowledge he gets than the homo psychicus; but it does not follow he will have more of it. He will have that only if he rises to an equal width and plasticity and comprehensiveness of the higher knowledge planes. In that case he will replace his mental by his above-mental capacity. But for many intellectuals, so-called, their intellectuality may be a stumbling-block as they bind themselves with mental conceptions or stifle their psychic fire under the heavy weight of rational thought. On the other hand, I have seen comparatively uneducated people expressing higher knowledge with an astonishing fullness and depth and accuracy which the stumbling movements of their brain could never have allowed one to suppose possible. Therefore, why fix beforehand by the mind what will or will not be possible when the above-mind reigns? What the mind conceives as ‘must be’ need not be the measure of the ‘will be’.” (Sri Aurobindo: SABCL, Letters on Yoga, Vol. 24, p 1250)

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