24 May 2009

Archetypal Images and Symbols—by Paulette

Here is a personal e-mail from Paulette which is significant in more than one respect. I therefore thought it gainful to post it for the benefit of the perceptive readers of the Mirror of Tomorrow, particularly the aspiring souls of the Aurobindonian or what is called the Integral Yoga Community. I thus approached the writer whether it would be all right if I should make the letter public. I’m glad she readily consented to it and my sincere thanks to her for the splendid gesture. There’s no doubt that it will bring a fresh look at the controversy that is raging on the latest biography of Sri Aurobindo which is rather unfortunate on several counts. Paulette adds: “I hope this will help to disentangle some of the mess, so that we can at last move forward and look where the real problems are—using this controversy to remind all of us that there is something deeply missing, to be found again! Everything, truly everything is a chance to progress.” How wonderful! But will we avail the chance? go into the depth of our soul and our heart, in the true spirit of the Aurobindoinan ethos, of progressive spirituality? The problem is, essentially, we are looking at things with our idée fixe, with our entrenched formulations and formations, the ancient samskāras,—also as much as with our idée reçue—without realizing the fundamental fact that we are approaching a Yogi par excellence, a spiritual giant, a Master, one from whom we are seeking spiritual guidance. We go to him for that spiritual guidance because there is something in us which tells us that our deepest soul’s aspirations and urges would find fulfilment in it. Should that ‘something’ be lacking, and then it would be immaterial with what else we might be occupied in our life. Those who have a call for that spiritual life, a kind of an imperative for it, they only will find it rewarding; any attempt in our zeal to take him to the spiritually raw or uneducated or illiterate, that is, those who have not received the ‘call’, whatever might otherwise be their great academic or professional standing, is likely to prove much frustrating. In fact spirituality is not a commodity which can in the manner of a Capitalist be freely promoted or exported to others. Such notions of promoting spirituality are a falsification, a gross unpleasant falsification, and therefore it becomes shocking when we see that they are held by those who claim themselves to be members of a spiritual group or an Ashram. That is unfortunately the kind of thing which one sees in the latest biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. What have academia to do with spirituality at all, if they have no compulsion of any sort, of them being drawn towards it? Nothing, really nothing. When we say that we belong to the IY Community, then let us not forget its principal element, its foundational aspect, the ‘Yoga’-aspect of it, never—the rest being of little importance or consequence. “Self-realisation is the one thing needful,” says Sri Aurobindo; “to open to the inner spirit, to live in the Infinite, to seek after and discover the Eternal, to be in union with God”—that is the essential sense of spirituality. The “dynamic following after the highest spiritual truth” has to be the only consideration if we are to hold that we belong to the IY Community. The rest is gross and unpleasant falsification which must be eschewed. I’m glad that Paulette brings out some of these aspects in her e-mail in a very forceful manner, and that is why I thought of making it public. ~ RYD

Thank you for sending me the main page of Mirror of Tomorrow, dated May 9, along with the picture of those beautiful owls. Thanks, too, for the uplifting quotes. You might, however, agree that we have to honestly face things at the level of our existential reality, as we are not living in a supramental world but in a still largely infrarational one. As it always happens with archetypal images and symbols, the owl—much like the crow—in folklore, religion and fairy tales has an enormous range of interpretations, eventually clashing with each other. The fact that you picked an ambivalent symbol like the owl, for which the symbolic significance varies according to epoch and tradition, [1] and to which someone refers on your web page [Please see the endnote] with that striking quote from the Mother on the subconscient and, lastly, that this happens in the context of the controversy regarding Peter Heehs, is an amazing synchronicity. [2]

Having been closely associated to Indians, not only here but in other ashrams too, I am aware of what a certain aspect of Indian mentality can accept and what it has difficulty accepting or it rejects, which may eventually differ greatly from what a certain category of Westerners can or cannot accept. It is one’s upbringing and inherited set of values, deeply imprinted in the subconscious, which strongly conditions one’s response. This is why humans, like those owls, may seem invariably the same, as the Mother’s comments indicate in the quote posted in your blog. This leads to what the Mother designates as atavism. Sigmund Freud uses the term ‘superego’ as a pivotal concept in his map of the human psyche. Both terms stand for an almost indelible blueprint programming people for life, based on education and systems of beliefs and values one receives from family, teachers, environment etc., which powerfully shapes the individual’s image of the world and, in the case of spiritual adepts, by reflection, of the guru and avatar.

Atavism and the subconscious aspect of the superego are extremely difficult to come to terms with, as objective understanding of such mechanisms requires great discernment and the need for detachment. Both terms reflect the established values of cultural groups and sub-groups of society, and may be completely one-sided. Conversely, in its optimal form the superego can constitute the individual’s highest and noblest part, although still limited and collective inasmuch as society is the mirror of what we are. The superego is typically a mental affair, with subconscious aspects, that has a large influence on the vital. Whether or not it is influenced by the psychic being depends on each person’s level of individualization, which is a major task of the psychic being. To illustrate this point I attach herewith some extracts from the Mother on atavism. To illustrate this point I attach herewith some extracts from the Mother on atavism. As with the clashing symbolism of the owl, I am afraid that, in the case of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo controversy, there is no dialectical third point unless both camps are willing to rise above their respective superegos and sincerely attempt to listen to views of their opponents as well. Only then a dialogue can commence.

A God’s Labor: Alchemical Uroborus
The foregoing said as a preamble, I am amused at the sometimes ‘irreverent’ tone used by Peter Heehs although, at other times, I feel irritated by his penchant for dissecting and analyzing, as if he had the key to objective understanding. Heehs digs out things that may repel a certain mentality but, to my sensibilities, he paints a picture of Sri Aurobindo which I see as unique and which makes me cling to him even more forcefully as the one sole guru, at the exclusion of anyone else. Without the avadhuta qualities of young Aurobindo Ghose, and without acknowledging, at the same time, the role he played as a revolutionary, this portrait would remain incomplete. A true avatar, Sri Aurobindo embodied both eternal wisdom in all its manifold, even extreme aspects and the dawning of a new age. The battlefield is the entangled web of society as expressed in the activities of everyday life. Heehs pays tribute to all of these aspects of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo, nonetheless, remains forever elusive and above all possible definition; there are no words to describe him, there is only consciousness. The silence of the Spirit. And Compassion.

I don’t remember if Heehs uses this term, but what I refer to as the avadhuta passages constitute to my eyes a major attraction of his book. They present Sri Aurobindo in a way that captures not only the academician, but the rebel and iconoclast and radical thinker—because of his anti-rhetoric and anti-hagiographic contents, sometimes presenting the guru as almost the anti-guru. This is as Sri Aurobindo may have been seen by his disciples in the early years, prior to the Mother’s coming; he made no mystery of it and this needs to be acknowledged. While embracing the concept of avadhuta, let’s also be aware that one of the highest texts of Advaita Vedanta, traditionally considered the summit of Hindu spirituality, is the Avadhuta-Gita. [3] As with the alchemical uroborus, the extremes meet. It is only natural that the avatar, who is the incarnated Divine, as an alchemical vessel takes upon himself the most divergent aspects of human nature for the specific purpose of the transformation of the prima materia into pure gold—the divinization of human life and matter.

Weren’t the youth who gathered around Sri Aurobindo relating to him mainly as an older brother, that is until the Mother came and showed to that odd lot how to bow to the guru’s feet, teaching by example the most integral and unconditional surrender that Sri Aurobindo said he had ever encountered? Are we going to censor what Sri Aurobindo wrote to his brother Barin, joking about himself as the anti-Christ etc., in a passage which is often edited out while reproducing this letter? What kind of guru-bhakti is this, which is unable to embrace and adore the guru in his infinite complexity, which includes the human element as well? Isn’t this the avatar’s greatest sacrifice: taking on human form by the power of oceanic love and compassion, showing us that everything, absolutely everything must turn divine—and it will, by the grace of God, and A God’s Labor? This is what Sri Aurobindo, the pūrņa-avatār, represents. Nothing less than a picture as complete as it can be presented will do, yet knowing beforehand that the true essence will keep eluding us. No one can speak about the Divine per se. We can only toil to grow, by the Mother’s grace, into a distant image of It; without expectations, content with daily-self-offering and consecration—until the illusion of separation vanishes and we merge into the One Reality.

Integral Yoga: the shadow and ‘evil persona’
My inner bond was with Nolinida and Parichand, but the one who irreversibly oriented my quest was Kishor Gandhi, whom the Mother had appointed as the only editor of Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga. It is Kishor who introduced me to the concept of the shadow in Integral Yoga and in CG Jung, and to him I have inwardly dedicated my last book, Becoming One—The Psychology of Integral Yoga. He submitted to Sri Aurobindo a passage from Jung, on which the Master commented:

What you say about the “Evil Persona” interests me greatly as it answers to my constant experience that a person greatly endowed for the work has, always or almost always,—perhaps one ought not to make a too rigid universal rule about these things—a being attached to him, sometimes appearing like a part of him, which is just the contradiction of the thing he centrally represents in the work to be done. Or, if it is not there at first, not bound to his personality, a force of this kind enters into his environment as soon as he begins his movement to realise. Its business seems to be to oppose, to create stumblings and wrong conditions, in a word, to set before him the whole problem of the work he has started to do. It would seem as if the problem could not, in the occult economy of things, be solved otherwise than by the predestined instrument making the difficulty his own. That would explain many things that seem very disconcerting on the surface. [4]

It is this—the acknowledgement of the ‘evil persona’ (in French, le double mauvais)—that allowed me to accept unexplainable patterns of behaviour I faced at the Ashram, in Auroville, and at other ashrams, as an intrinsic necessity within the yogic path. As stated in The Problem of the ‘Evil Persona’ in Sri Aurobindo and in Western Psychology, the striking article by Raymond De Becker that Gandhi published in the Sri Aurobindo Circle [5], and to which I reacted as to an illumination:

In The Riddle of This World, Sri Aurobindo observes that the fall into the darkness, the ignorance and the inconscience was the only thing unknown to the original being of light, and as one of the infinite possibilities of the Divine himself. For him, it is only by this fall that ... could a certain manifestation of the Supreme Truth be effected—by a working out with its phenomenal opposites as the starting point of the evolution, as the condition laid down for a transforming emergence. [6]

De Becker concludes his article with these words:

The problem, which one is thus forced to face may sometimes present an almost intolerable burden. However, it seems to me that I have noticed that a person who assumes such responsibilities is helped to an equal degree by some¬thing which we might be permitted to call grace. It is at the very moment at which we find the answer to the enigma of the Sphinx that it dissolves itself. The integration of the Shadow results in the disappearance of the Shadow. It is true that this integration is never complete or definite. For the Shadow which we bear is in proportion to the world as much as is our light. It is at each stage of our ascent or of our descent that we meet it. That is why the task to which we are called seems sometimes to be endless: it has continually to be begun again with each of the beings, who, in fact, belong to the same centre of energy as ourselves, whom we must carry with us into the light or follow into the darkness and whose enigmatic form is a symbol of each stage in our lives and the inverted sign of our illusions. [7]

And Nolini Kanta Gupta writes:

…man is a divided dual being; on one side he is a soul, on the other he is predominantly a body complex. By his soul he is akin to the gods, by his external being he is neighbourly to the Asuras. [8]

Two precedents: Bande Mataram, Sri Aurobindo His Life Unique

It is a fact that over the years there has been a consistent attempt by a certain category of people to bypass or altogether suppress all that does not fit into an artificially constructed image of the guru-avatar. A most disquieting example was the fight to prevent the publication of Vol.1 of the Centenary Edition, Bande Mataram. The person defeating all such attempts was Jayantilal Parekh: a sensitive artist whom the Mother had turned into the guiding force behind the publication of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. As you certainly know, Jayantilal was also the founder of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives in 1973, assisted by a team of which young Peter Heehs too was a member. One day, at the Archives, I was shown two huge files containing the full documentation of the controversy whom Jayantilal withstood and won. It was one of the darkest days in my life. I was shown that there was a movement to suppress Sri Aurobindo’s own writings, the very same writings which had made of him a national hero about whom all Indian children learn in their schoolbooks, and because of which he was considered the enemy number one of the British Empire and charged with sedition. I had already been informed about the same in Auroville when, before quitting the Laboratory of Evolution of which I was a member, I came up with a last stenciled compilation about the ‘nationalist’ Sri Aurobindo—like the previous ones, to be distributed for free to the community.

What about Rishabchand’s Sri Aurobindo His Life Unique? In a SABDA Review issue one reads, “This biography of Sri Aurobindo was serialised in the Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from 1960 to 1971, and thus carries the Mother's ‘seal and sanction’. It tells the story of Sri Aurobindo's life from his birth to the earliest days of the Ashram.” When I first came to Pondicherry in 1973, every day I used to type poignant extracts from Rishabhchand’s manuscript on his typewriter in his room. When I returned to Italy there was a demand to publish a book with all this material, along with excerpts from Sri Aurobindo’s political writings. But I did not have the courage to carry on, fearing I would run into trouble… It took eleven years for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to publish the manuscript in a book form, although since then it has been reprinted over and over again.

A critical approach to The Lives of Sri Aurobindo controversy. Sanatana dharma!
All this and more has to be taken into consideration in an attempt to understand the ‘historical’ and ‘psychological’ background behind the controversy on The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Peter Heehs’s last book. Thirty-six years in India, at the beginning bathing in the atmosphere of some of the greatest sadhaks at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram who at the time were still alive, and exploring several major yogic paths, has encouraged me to embrace a synthesis of East and West, while striving to assimilate the noblest and highest aspect from each, as Sri Aurobindo expects from his sadhaks. I got certain things from Peter’s book and discarded other aspects of it. Personally, I would have written that kind of a biography with different criteria than Peter Heehs, as I told him in November. He agreed with me in that he said that had the book been destined for a purely Indian audience, he would have written it differently; he was busy making many changes to it for that purpose. I replied that there is no need for two separate books; and that whenever the topic is controversial it is enough to quote Sri Aurobindo or the archive material directly, without any personal comment. Moreover, in my opinion, no one should ever entertain discussions about any yogi’s state of consciousness and sadhana (beginning with Ken Wilber, whom I stopped reading the very moment I perceived his pretensions).

The point now is: how can we move forward to save the book which, had it been written in a more sensitive way, would have opened to Sri Aurobindo a whole layer of people whom hagiography repels, at the same time without hurting the feelings of many Indian devotees who, because of powerfully embedded values and beliefs, have been deeply wounded? Only in the Supermind do all opposites melt into a unity in diversity; but we live far from that. Being contained in the sanatana dharma is the highest we can achieve, as long as we are not fit to receive the supramental Truth-Force, Consciousness and Gnosis. Can we accept that, instead of the clash between two opposite superegos and in fact more, all people have the freedom to apprehend the guru and the avatar according to their perceptive capacities, which is directly proportional to each person’s subjective consciousness? What appeals to one person won’t appeal to others, yet individuals can do no more than relate to the guru according to their capacity for understanding. Hinduism recognizes this truth in its definition of svabhāva (one’s true nature) and adhikāra (one’s inner predisposition). Our path is inscribed within these subjective realities and therefore nobody can chart the path and relationship to the guru for another.

God speaks all languages, even atheism can be a path!
When the soul is ripe, everything is a tool for psychic and spiritual growth. I know someone who, after many years in Auroville, claims he can relate to Sri Aurobindo for the first time because of that book! One’s perception of the guru is a matter of personal evolution. If people open up by reading The Lives of Sri Aurobindo—people who without this book would have no relationship at all with Sri Aurobindo—who are we to take away the only instrument they have found? A biography is not a treatise on yoga, but at least it is the beginning of something. Any follow-up to it depends on the emergence of the psychic being; but this is a strictly personal affair between oneself and the Divine. Didn’t Sri Aurobindo and the Mother stress that even atheism can be a path? It was in my case the study of existentialism during high school that led me, twenty years later, to Advaita Vedanta! Countless are God’s ways, and to each their own. And, let’s not forget, the more we forbid something, the more it attracts people. Even if we ban and burn books, people will make photocopies of them, or put their name on waiting lists.

God speaks all languages. Swami Vivekananda stressed the need to speak to the Muslim as a Muslim, to the Christian as a Christian, and to the Hindu as a Hindu. What’s wrong, then, in addressing an academic audience, using a format suiting that specific mentality, which is the explanation Peter has personally given me? Didn’t Swami Vivekananda say that he was ready to go to hell if only he could save one single soul? Ramana Maharshi—the purest Advaitin!—took the trouble to explain yoga in terms of Rajayoga to a man who had come with that booklet by Swami Vivekananda and could not relate to anything else! Who can define the guru or the avatar? We can only relate to him from the height of our limited being, while recognizing the same right to all others. After all, what matters is how we each relate individually to Sri Aurobindo; not how Peter Heehs or someone else does. Overall this discussion reminds me of the blind men who each, on touching one part of the elephant only, claimed that ‘this’ is the whole elephant! Everything can turn into a tool for greater consciousness when we are open to the Higher Force. The Divine takes countless forms, as many as are needed to suit the billion external personalities in existence. The Divine will use everything and everyone, even the Asura or a hostile force; just look how far the Mother went in this regard! Anything will do. But when the decisive moment comes, then the soul knows by way of feeling discernment.

I belong to neither one camp nor the other and, frankly speaking, I believe that the present war is only the tip of the iceberg. The issues at the stake are far deeper than one’s reaction to the contended book. We should seize this tragic opportunity to address them all—I have mentioned only a few—instead of feeding a fratricidal war that leaves the real issues, cumulating over the years, untouched. Let’s put an end to the horrendous fight where no one can win and everybody loses and delve instead into the real nature of what divides us.

Thank you brother for having taken the time to read what I have tried to convey, as one human being to another human being. It took me so long to write this because we have never met, while there is so much to say. And yet, even amidst all darkness, at the end of the tunnel there is again light.
[1] In the West the owls occupy a special place because the Athene noctua was sacred to Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom, whom Sri Aurobindo also celebrates; they are seen as symbols of wisdom in many fairy tales as well. The owl is an ambivalent symbol, with divergent and even clashing interpretations according to culture and epoch. This phenomenon corresponds to the ‘collective unconscious’ (the repository of legends, epics, myths, fairy tales etc. as recorded by Jung, and which the Mother and Sri Aurobindo also point out, in their own language) that, the closer it comes to the present age, the more gets diversified according to the countries and regions, although at the origin everything is clubbed together. In case you are interested, I am attaching you a few considerations and articles on the owl’s symbolism.
[2] There is a book of letters between CG Jung and the Nobel-prize winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, where they explore the nature of synchronicity, which indicate that inner and outer events coincide meaningfully, superseding the causal principle. The Mother had already pointed out this as well.
[3] This masterpiece is attributed to Dattatreya, the mythic sage born out of the Trimurti of the Hindu pantheon, the three great gods who each fell in love with the beautiful Anusuya.
[4] Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 1660
[5] Sri Aurobindo Circle, Vol. X, 1954
[6] Sri Aurobindo, The Riddle of This World, p.103. First Edition.
[7] Sri Aurobindo Circle, Vol. X, 1954
[8] Nolini Kanta Gupta, Collected Works Vol. 4, The Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, pp. 399-403
Here’s the link. Mother’s Agenda, August 2, 1961: “Every night, you know, I continue to see more and more astounding things emerging from the Subconscient to be transformed... For example, some people are intermingled there... . Already when I lived in Japan there were four people I could never distinguish during my nighttime activities—all four of them (and god knows they weren't even acquainted!) were always intermingled because their subconscious reactions were identical.”

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