17 May 2009

Ranganath’s Reply to the Accusation of Religious Fundamentalism

Alok Pandey, Shradhalu Ranade, Anand Reddy and a few others, who had objected to Peter Heehs’ book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” are being branded as “religious fundamentalists”, because they think that criticism of the Guru is wrong, and particularly so by a sadhak-member of the Ashram Community. The “broad-minded, objective, so-called practitioners of the Integral Yoga” and supporters of Peter Heehs do not mind if the Guru is criticized, denigrated, and found fault with. They have no objection to a limited, error-prone mental judgment being passed on the Guru, who lives on the highest planes of Consciousness possible to man.

It is to be clearly noted that criticism of the Guru by one who claims to be a practitioner of the Integral Yoga, and one who is living in the Ashram as an inmate , enjoying all its facilities, its infrastructure, material and spiritual support, is not only wrong but harmful to the institution and even to himself. There is no problem when a third person who is neither a sadhak nor a follower of the Integral Path does so. The attack can be dealt with in other ways — by intellectual discussion, by persuasion, etc. This sort of thing has happened several times in the past, even during Sri Aurobindo’s life time.

Who is a religious fundamentalist? It is one who insists on the sole truth of his religion, denies the truths of other religions, and imposes his limited views, very often by physical force, on those who do not share his beliefs. First of all, there is a big difference between religion and spirituality, but let that pass. A sadhak who objects to the falsification of the teaching, or stands for the truths of his Guru within the Community to which he belongs can hardly be called a fundamentalist!!

The characteristics of religious fundamentalism are listed as eleven by the all-wise so-called rationalists of the SCIY forum. Let us examine them one by one.

1. Rejection of Complexity

Complexity is not inconsistent with a basic simplicity.

Complexity by itself need not be raised to the status of an absolute desirable principle.

Complexity can lead to many errors and misjudgments. It can obfuscate simple truths, and, by convoluted arguments, end in self-deceit. Complexity can become an easy excuse for losing the woods for the trees.

2. Demand for Doctrinal Purity

There is nothing wrong with the demand for Doctrinal Purity. In fact it could be considered essential under certain circumstances. It is an inflexible, rigid stand that denies the truths of other paths that is undesirable and dangerous, if the rejection is carried out on the physical plane with violence. But the rejection of falsehood within the community is certainly not undesirable.

Purity of any teaching must be maintained. Enlargement of the field of purity can cause dilution, leading to falsehood. On the other hand, enlargement that includes the original purity may be also quite acceptable.

3. Feeling of being threatened

When the threat does not exist, the feelings are not justified. But when a real threat of falsehood, perverse interpretation, outright lies and personally motivated comments without any basis are disseminated, widely circulated, then not only must the threat be seen clearly, but all action to counter it becomes, not only necessary, but imperative and indispensable.

4. Control of information

There is no control of information in our stand. Rather the opposite is true. “Information”, unwanted, false, downright libelous is being circulated and passed off as authentic and official. That is what the wide distribution of a printed book does. It has a tendency to “legitimise” such false information — particularly when the author has an “official position”, wrongly claimed in the book itself. The author of “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” claims to be the founder of the “Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives”, which is a blatant lie and intended to inject authenticity in the contents of the book. In such a case, the rectification, by the denial of the falsehood contained in the book, is the prime duty of those who desire to give the right information.

5. Exclusivism

Here too, as in the other cases, exclusivism is not necessarily a sin. When it is a negative rejection of fresh ideas, without sufficient rational consideration of whether these ideas are acceptable or not, then it is a narrow and blind attitude. But if after a careful consideration of the new ideas, they are found to be contradictory to the basic teaching of the Guru, then a rejection is obviously needed. Non-exclusiveness does not mean a wholesale, indiscriminate, pell-mell acceptance of all ideas.

6. Opposition to Discussion

Where is the opposition to discussion? Again this does not mean that one is obliged to accept all ideas that are being forwarded by the opponents. The right of rejection is always a prerogative in any debate.

7. Abusive Language

Abusive language is never justified, but a strong rebuttal of the false opinions expressed in the book is always justified. Also the rejector has the right of “proportional” rebuttal, commensurate to the text being rejected.

8. Rousing the masses

This has to be understood correctly. There has been NO ROUSING of the masses by the initial objectors to the book by Peter Heehs. The masses have been roused by the blatant lies and self-opiniated comments of the author that are ignorant, foolish and motivated and intended to “ingratiate him to the academics of the West”. This is exactly what happened in this case. Richard Hartz and his band of supporters are making it sound as if Hitler and Goebbels have “roused the masses” by their false propaganda. Nothing of the sort happened. The book has been forcefully rejected, and the falsehood contained in it had, by itself, the power to rally all lovers and devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

The French Revolution, the Bangladesh Uprising, Mahatma Gandhi’s rousing of the masses during the Indian independence movement, are all examples of the truth and necessity of bringing revolution to the masses. They were spontaneous uprisings against falsehood and injustice. Having said that, let it be clearly and firmly stated that the “rousing” was not “caused” by anybody (as falsely claimed), nor was there any such intention in the minds and hearts of the first objectors. The truth of their stand itself was enough to initiate and snowball into a mass movement of resentment and anger.

9. Atmosphere of Violence

No one in his senses will justify violence without sufficient reason. But when fighting blatant injustice, violence may very well be justified. The freedom movements around the world against the intransigent colonialism of the West with all its rapaciousness, greed, selfish and cruel grabbing of all that did not belong to it by military might, are certainly justified. But the mindless violence of the terrorist imposing his narrow and ignorant views on the rest of the world is certainly wrong. In the present case, violence is certainly to be condemned, if it has occurred without justification. There was no physical violence except in two cases, when an inflamed disciple had an argument with Heehs, and when the author’s cycle tube was cut by a group of kids. If this is supposed to be violence, then it is indeed laughable.

10. Demonising the enemy

Here again the enemy may or may not be the demon. But if the enemy attacks the very Avatar, – Sri Aurobindo – the very representative of the Divine on earth, are we not justified in calling the enemy an anti-divine force? This may not be acceptable to the personal friends and admirers of Heehs. But the large number of devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother HAVE felt strongly the attack to be that of a dark force. There is no need to shy away from this rather “seemingly” extreme statement. It is a truth whose vindication will come out in due time. Each sadhak and follower of the Integral Yoga must recognise this fact and stand up boldly and reject the book. It is possible that the author of the book has become an instrument of this dark force without being fully conscious of the implications of his actions. But that does not diminish the seriousness of his misbehaviour.

11. Heroic Role in a great Cosmic Drama

There is absolutely no motive of heroism or any other in the first objectors to the book. Motives are being ascribed to them — personal and selfish motives. The only motive is to stand up for the truth and honour of their Gurus. In fact, why don’t Richard Hartz and Co. come and announce their motives publicly?

Rather the motive of the author of the book was to be recognised as a “scholar” by the academia of the West!! What a motive for a “so-called sadhak” of the Integral Yoga, after having stayed for thirty years in the Ashram and enjoying all its basic infrastructure, hospitality and support!!!

The motives of Richard Hartz and Co. are clearly the return of Peter Heehs to the Archives so that he may continue his dubious activities all over again.

Ranganath Raghavan
May 2009


  1. I'm sympathetic to the idea that the Heehs biography itself does not do justice to Sri Aurobindo, but the following statement seems misleading ...

    "Purity of any teaching must be maintained. Enlargement of the field of purity can cause dilution, leading to falsehood. On the other hand, enlargement that includes the original purity may be also quite acceptable."

    Purity is an inner state. It has little or nothing to do with holding the "right beliefs". Indeed one could hold all the "orthodox" beliefs and be completely impure from an inner point of view. The creative tension between orthodoxy and heterodoxy is precisely what gives rise to new, creative spiritual visions. Fixed belief systems are dangerous and lead to dogma.

    That doesn't mean we can add or subtract beliefs at will, but that we have to engage with the teaching with inner integrity and arrive at new and creative formulations in a way that reflects that inner integrity.

    "Thus said Ramakrishna and thus said Vivekananda. Yes, but let me know also the truths which the Avatar cast not forth into speech and the prophet has omitted from his teachings. There will always be more in God than the thought of man has ever conceived or the tongue of man has ever uttered."
    -- Sri Aurobindo

  2. "Purity is an inner state. It has little or nothing to do with holding the 'right beliefs'"

    Ranganath is not speaking about beliefs at all, he is referring to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, which are luckily voluminous enough not to be replaced by interpretations and beliefs of those who come after them. He also does not mean purity of the inner state only. Integral Yoga is necessarily the outer expression of one's inner life. What you perhaps mean is hypocrisy -- professing something while doing something else in life.

    Raman Reddy