19 May 2009

Sraddhalu's Open Letter to Auroville and Centres

Open Letter to Auroville and Centres dated 1st May 2009

Dear All,

The recent circular titled "Integral Yoga Fundamentalism" (IYF) dated 16th April 2009 signed by David Hutchinson, Debashish Banerji and Rich Carlson has come to my notice. It is unfortunate that these three have resorted to a campaign of character assassination rather than academic response and refutation of differences.

Since you have read their letter and have very likely been inflamed by their allegations, I request you in the interest of fairness to take some time to read my response in detail and go over the facts that I have to offer in place of their wild allegations. As will become clear, their allegations are false and their circular and website totally misrepresent my views and attack me on issues that I have no concern with while completely ignoring the main concerns and criticisms that I have raised.

This note is somewhat long because it must cover all the issues that the IYF circular has raised in its accusations. While reading my response, you will come across many surprising facts, some of which might even shock you. Do keep in mind throughout, that I have factual evidence for every statement that I make here, even though I cannot present it all in this note for reasons of space. In case you need substantiation or further elaboration of any of these statements, I will be happy to provide additional facts and evidence as necessary.

Cause of Differences

The cause of my differences with the IYF group is the recent biography of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs (referred to as The Lives). The book relies entirely on three decades of meticulous research conducted by dozens of researchers of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's Archives. Heehs was only one among these researchers, although in his book he takes exclusive credit for the whole research. Unlike other researchers, Heehs had full and free access to the entire body of this research as well as to all the internal and unpublished documents which most biographers of Sri Aurobindo have never seen or even known of. Hence there are several factual details in The Lives which have been published for the first time – mostly of trivial interest and of no major significance. In addition The Lives is meticulously documented, as any scholarly work should be. But this is as far as the scholarship goes.

The content of the book has been arranged and slanted to force-fit Sri Aurobindo's life and work into a Freudian framework to win accolades from Freudian scholars. For this purpose, Heehs has chosen to sacrifice fundamental norms of scholarship including a) factual accuracy, b) honesty, and c) completeness in representing facts. All three norms have been compromised not on some occasions but all through the book, consistently and deliberately. Note that I do not criticise The Lives on grounds of objectivity, even though it seriously fails this criterion also – the book is in fact biased against Sri Aurobindo. I do not criticise his objectivity because any biography is necessarily an author's perspective, and I see nothing wrong with Heehs or anyone else presenting their own viewpoint or interpretation of Sri Aurobindo. Everyone is free to hold his views and to express them in his own way. In spite of Heehs' claim to objectivity, his biography too (as all others before his) is highly subjective. And I do not criticise him for that.

My primary opposition to The Lives is on grounds of a) misrepresentation of facts out of their historical and social context, b) presentation of Heehs' speculations and imaginations as actual facts, c) deliberate distortion of actual quotations, d) factually incorrect and fallacious criticism of Sri Aurobindo, his views and his actions, e) factually wrong statements about the Mother, the Ashram, Sri Aurobindo's yoga, and life in the Ashram, f) deliberate bias towards criticising Sri Aurobindo and intentionally concealing facts or accounts to the contrary.

In essence, my criticism of his book is on account of its deliberate distortion of facts and nothing more. Where is the fundamentalism in this? Factual accuracy should be the foundation of any scholarly work; otherwise it must be withdrawn or reclassified as a work of fiction. And that is all that I and others have demanded.

More seriously, these factual distortions are intended to lead readers to conclusions which seriously damage the reputation and the integrity of Sri Aurobindo and his message. Some of the damaging conclusions promoted by The Lives include:

  • that Sri Aurobindo was a frequent liar, and, among other things, that he lied about his supramental experiences,
  • that he was sexually desperate and frustrated,
  • that his spiritual experiences are questionable and ultimately irrelevant,
  • that he had a streak of inherited madness,
  • that there is nothing new in any of his writings, and what little is new is a) unacceptable or b) outdated or c) incorrect,
  • that his poetry is expressive of sexual frustration, and its style outdated,
  • that his relationship with the Mother was of a romantic nature,
  • that he was negligent of Hindu-Muslim divisions and hence responsible for India's partition.

Deliberate Deception

Had any of these views been supported by real facts, no one would have complained. My criticism is that Heehs brings the reader to these views dishonestly by factual distortion, deception, innuendo and fallacious logic. Moreover, if these distortions were unintended, accidental or out of sheer ignorance, one might still forgive them, and possibly Heehs himself might have offered to withdraw the book. But the body of evidence consistently points to deliberate intent in promoting these distortions.

True to the style of scholarly writing, every paragraph or major statement in The Lives has an endnote with a reference. Readers naturally assume that the reference will justify the statement, although most readers do not or cannot verify each reference for accuracy. But The Lives has entire passages which are completely a product of Heehs' speculative imagination, where the references do not support the statements he has made! This is unacceptable abuse and betrayal of readers' trust, and combined with other factual distortions amounts to academic fraud. Yet, this fraud is justified by Heehs on grounds that he has to make compromises in order to reach out to "Western scholars" in "non-hagiographical", "new" and "objective" "interpretations". In my understanding, factual distortion cannot be justified under any circumstances, and it speaks poorly of Heehs' understanding of the Western mind and its needs.

Let me restate my position on the book: I have no criticism of Heehs publishing any new facts, viewpoints or interpretation of Sri Aurobindo for any particular type of audience; but I unhesitatingly criticise any kind of fraudulence published in the name of academic research, and I consider it the responsibility of all who respect Sri Aurobindo and genuine scholarship to actively expose factual distortions irrespective of whether they are used to promote Sri Aurobindo or to demote him. In cases of fraud, one cannot remain neutral as some have attempted, because silence or neutrality in the face of a crime amounts to acceptance and support of the crime. We can only differ on what actions we should take to expose and undo the fraudulence.

On the positive side, the book also has some passages which are factually accurate and well presented. Supporters of Heehs conveniently quote these portions to "prove" that Heehs has praised Sri Aurobindo and raised his stature in public eyes. But the numerous deliberate distortions on major issues are sufficient in themselves to damage the integrity of the entire book. Even if these are changed, the rest of the book is still found to be replete with innuendo and negative bias on minor issues that leave the well-informed scholar with a bitter after-taste. On the whole the entire book is suffused with a dishonest bias and is factually unreliable.

(Quick example: Manoj Das, the renown historian and scholar of Sri Aurobindo's life and thought, and winner of several of the most prestigious literary awards, had identified over 60 offensive and harmful passages from The Lives that he read out to the Ashram Trust board in October 2008.)

Perceived East-West Divide

The reason why many readers from the West (and fewer from the East) have praised the book and have been unable to see through these distortions is that they simply do not know the facts and have trusted Heehs' representations and presumed that his statements and references are factually accurate. Their blind trust in the author has misled them. It is not their fault, as it is normal for readers to trust an authoritative writer especially when he claims to be "founder" of the Ashram Archives and "editor" of Sri Aurobindo's writings.

This difference in awareness is the main reason why there are extreme and opposite views on the book. Those who already know the actual facts are appalled at the distortions; those who do not know better are carried away by the engaging style of narration and blindly accept every statement of the author. There are no in-between views. This is why there is far greater criticism of the book:

  1. from Indians (because most readers of Indian origin already know the historical details of India's freedom struggle and of Sri Aurobindo's role in it);
  2. from devotional readers than from the purely intellectual admirers of Sri Aurobindo (because devotees have already read several other biographies of Sri Aurobindo – those very books that Heehs condescendingly rejects as "hagiographies", but which most of them certainly are not!)
  3. from scholars of Sri Aurobindo's life as distinct from scholars of Sri Aurobindo's writings alone, who often have little interest or awareness of historical details of his life.

The only readers who immediately and unconditionally praise the book are those people who are coming in touch with Sri Aurobindo's life for the first time, for whom every little detail they read in The Lives is new and therefore unverifiable.

(Quick example: François Gautier's review of 13 April 2009 declares with great excitement that Heehs has shed "new light" when he finds that the Congress was originally founded by an Englishman. But this fact is known to every 8th Standard student in India for the last 50 years! When I asked Gautier how many other biographies of Sri Aurobindo he had read, Gautier frankly admitted that The Lives is his first biography of Sri Aurobindo, and he only vaguely remembers reading "something about his life long ago".)

This difference in factual awareness of readership groups and their cultural profiles has been exploited by Heehs' propagandists to invent the twin fictions of "East-West divide" and "a cultural misunderstanding" in order to obfuscate the real issues. In fact the division is only between those who already know the facts and those who do not.

Long-Term Consequences

If Heehs' deliberately distorted conclusions are accepted by academia and the general public as facts, then in the long run it would cause enormous harm to Sri Aurobindo and his work, and would eventually threaten the survival of the Ashram and Auroville. For, if Sri Aurobindo lied about the supermind and the supramental transformation, then we would all be chasing a pipe dream which is destined to fail!

Fortunately for us, Heehs' "proof" that Sri Aurobindo lied about his supramental experiences rests on factual misrepresentation and deceptive quotations. What is more serious is that Heehs uses suggestion and innuendo to lead a first-time reader to the impression that Sri Aurobindo never even reached the supermind!

(Quick example: Julian Lines narrates by letter dated 15 October 2008:

"Another scholar who had not read Sri Aurobindo in depth was eager to know after reading Lives if he had attained the Supramental Consciousness before his passing. She became engaged not in history or biography, but his spiritual life in a positive way from reading this book."

The lady Julian has written about is no ordinary reader, but an established scholar with a trained mind. Her comment illustrates the perverse impression that The Lives creates for the first-time reader – doubt about whether Sri Aurobindo ever "attained" the supermind. In fact, Sri Aurobindo had already attained the supermind when he wrote about it well before 1920. There were further degrees and finer distinctions of grades that he subsequently mapped out in detail, all of which he fully attained and wrote about from his own experience. Do you think The Lives really helped Julian's scholar-friend to better understand Sri Aurobindo? Most certainly it did her a great disservice by creating the very opposite impression of what happened to Sri Aurobindo on a matter of utmost importance.)

Heehs' claim to present Sri Aurobindo to the "Western" and "scholarly" mind is untenable on account of his many factual distortions. Rather, the practical result of The Lives is to seriously harm Sri Aurobindo's reputation and put in question the spiritual foundations of the Ashram and Auroville.

Impersonation as "Founder" of Archives

The damage is further exaggerated because Heehs promotes his book on the falsely claimed authority of being "one of the founders" of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's Archives, giving his distorted views the seal of the Ashram's authenticity.

In their promotional campaigns, Heehs and his supporters prominently claimed his authority as "founder" for nearly eight months. In January this year, soon after a case of impersonation was filed in Orissa courts, Heehs made an abrupt volte-face and publicly announced that he had never claimed to be "founder" and that the designation was affixed by "a writer at the publisher's publicity department, who based herself on a biographical sketch I [Heehs] had submitted". Heehs wants us to believe that he is not responsible for the false claim, even though the claim is taken from a bio-sketch that he has himself submitted. Even so, Heehs only reveals a half-truth. The other half of the truth is that CUP published this claim in the book's blurb and its publicity campaigns with Heehs' full knowledge and approval.

Heehs not only commits academic fraud in The Lives, but then he goes on to promote it by impersonation. His lie has been widely publicised to promote the book, to exaggerate its authority, and to seal with finality its conclusions; his lie misuses the public's goodwill and trust in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in order to harm Sri Aurobindo himself. Heehs turns around and bites the very Person and Institution from whom he draws his claim to authority! If not for the cases in court, his lie would never have been exposed.

Academic Refutation

The simplest way out would have been for the Ashram Trust to publicly dissociate itself from the book and its conclusions. All the confusions and ongoing controversies would have been avoided had this been done early enough. But for internal reasons, the Ashram Trust did not make a public statement, although it privately expressed its "displeasure" and even disgust at the contents and conclusions of The Lives. Consequently the responsibility came upon devotees and disciples of Sri Aurobindo to expose its distortions so that they would not pass unchallenged into wider academia.

Several scholars and writers felt impelled to contribute, and going beyond the basic criticism of factual misrepresentation, each one wrote also of derived and related issues, developing a richly diverse discussion and criticism of The Lives. The scholars that I am associated with (including Alok Pandey, Ananda Reddy, R Y Deshpande, Raman Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan and Sachidananda Mohanty) have limited their criticism to the book and its contents in a dignified language, writing mostly within the framework of academic refutation in all their public statements which were circulated by emails and are now placed on a dedicated website. They also wrote freely of their feelings of hurt and anguish in personal or private correspondence, some of which was subsequently made public by Heehs' group and unfairly exploited for crude personal attacks on grounds of "sentimentality", "devotionalism" and "religiosity". None of us has ever criticised Heehs or his group on a personal level in dignified recognition of our human differences, and out of respect for those that we continue to view as co-travellers on the Way.

But in return, Heehs' supporters have retaliated not by academic response but with ad hominem personal attacks of ridicule and character assassination for all these months. Their latest circular dated 16th April 2009 and their hate-filled website called "IYFundamentalism" is only their latest desperate move in a seven-month-long hate-campaign. While our writings have sought to academically expose factual distortions, their emails have been classic examples of well-orchestrated slander spanning multiple email groups and blogs, shouting down and insulting anybody who differs from them, threatening authors and deleting posts that expose Heehs' academic fraud. Their latest website claims to offer "annotated" copies of our early letters to the Ashram Trust. But their annotations are ad hominem, self-contradictory, factually incorrect, and sidetrack the discussion into irrelevant issues and personal abuse.

Instead, I invite you to visit our website www.TheLivesOfSriAurobindo.com which is dedicated to an academic critique of The Lives and is "committed to objective, academic, respectful and honest discussion". You will find that it focusses on real issues and exposes factual distortions in a clean atmosphere free of personal attacks and hate-mongering. The site is still under development as we add more critiques and expose more distortions with factual refutations every week.

Freedom of Speech

Heehs' group (and IYF in particular) have accused me of suppressing freedom of speech, censorship, etc. From all of the above, you will appreciate that I have never questioned the right to free speech, opinion or interpretation. Even as Heehs has the right to publish his views, we also have the right to expose his distortions – all in a civil, objective and academic exchange. But, freedom of speech does not mean license to commit academic fraud. Even if we stretch our standards of tolerance and offer Heehs the "right" to commit fraud, he remains publicly accountable for his fraud and his impersonation, and must face the natural consequences of his actions. In this case the demand for accountability is that much more grave because the fraud has put the entire communities of the Ashram and Auroville at risk.

Recall that when the BBC had broadcast a program alleging paedophilia by Aurovillians, we did not keep quiet in the name of "freedom of press". We went ahead and made all attempts to compel them to withdraw the program on grounds of factual inaccuracy. Consider how much more serious the situation would have been if the program was promoted as being authored by "one of the founders" of Auroville and researched by the Working Committee! Would we have tolerated such fraudulence? Would we have allowed the impersonator to continue in the Committee or even within Auroville? This hypothetical example should give you some idea of the seriousness of Heehs' fraud and the anguished reaction within the Ashram community. There was a spontaneous and widespread surge of disgust and even anger at Heehs for having betrayed the entire community's trust simply to win a few dubious personal accolades.

Track Record

The reaction was all the more firm because this is not the first time that Heehs has committed such a fraud. Heehs has a track record of academic fraud and deliberate misrepresentation of Sri Aurobindo going back at least 30 years, which is well-known to all within the Ashram community, although few people outside the community are aware of this background. Heehs himself has enjoyed his notoriety, and cultivated the image of a rebel and renegade by frequently making provocative and controversial statements both in public and in private. Twenty years ago he publicly branded Sri Aurobindo a "terrorist" in his published writings, and proudly declared to his critics that he was "here" to break the "myths", "idols" and "devotionalism" of the Ashram community.

Over three decades he has persisted in writing numerous articles doubting, questioning, and "debunking" Sri Aurobindo's written statements regarding his own life, by misrepresentation, fallacious logic, presumption, crude psychoanalysis, and presenting personal opinions and speculations as actual facts – the very same patterns of academic fraud that he now repeats and amplifies in The Lives.

(Quick example: In one such piece of "research" in 1984, Heehs lists six occasions when Sri Aurobindo consistently made the same statement in writing over a period of several years. Heehs then counters it with an opposite statement from a private diary note of a sadhak written from his memory of an oral interaction. Heehs then spends all of his "scholarly" creativity to try to "prove" how Sri Aurobindo's repeated assertions in writing must be wrong, and the single diary note of a secondary source relying on his memory of an oral interaction must be right! After a crude attempt to psycho-analyse Sri Aurobindo, Heehs offers us his "authoritative" conclusion: Sri Aurobindo either lied in order to "conceal" something or he suddenly "forgot" the facts about his own life. This piece of creative Freudian research was published by Heehs way back in 1984 in the Ashram's own Archives journal! Can you spot the many similarities between the article then and the distortions in The Lives now? Little has changed through the intervening 24 years. Incidentally when the discrepancy was shown to the sadhak, he simply stated that he had made a mistake and that "Sri Aurobindo's words were not recorded correctly"!)

Heehs also has a track record of impersonation going back at least 20 years. He has creatively impersonated himself variously as "Director" and "Curator" of the Ashram Archives, "Director of Historical Studies", etc, all of them printed and signed on the official letterhead of the Ashram. These were intended to gain personal privileges with various public and private institutions all over the world, and to misuse his fake authority to get his articles published more easily in their journals on the strength of the Ashram's reputation. Heehs' such actions have legal implications that have repeatedly put the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's public goodwill at risk.

Over three decades, there have been many controversies, debates and discussions within the Ashram community over Heehs' subversive tendencies and his abuse of the Ashram's goodwill and patience. Through all these years, Heehs was repeatedly scolded, rebuked and seriously warned by Jayantilal Parekh (the real and only founder of the Archives) as well as by the Ashram management.

You may ask why his misbehaviour was tolerated for so long. I can only offer this as proof of the patience, indulgence, compassion and forgiveness of the Ashram community which, until recently saw Heehs as merely a rebellious and ambitious personality struggling with his own inner problems, and let him be. But with The Lives, Heehs has made his most "comprehensive" and direct attack on Sri Aurobindo so far, and the 30 years' patience of the community has worn thin. It is obvious to all that Heehs has made no effort to change his ways; that he is indifferent to the sensitivities of his community; that he has little respect for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo around whom the Ashram life is organised; and that he intends to insult and harm.

For those of you unfamiliar with his 30-year track record, the sharp reaction in the Ashram community may have appeared extreme. But when you review now the situation in the light of Heehs' repeated excesses and the numerous warnings he was served over three decades, you will surely appreciate the patience and tolerance of the community; and then it will become clear that the present (re)actions towards The Lives emerge from a much wider context than just this one book.

For those of you who have called for Heehs to be forgiven and reinstated at the Archives, we can only ask, "how many more times?" Earlier in March 2009, on suggestion of the Ashram management, an informal poll was conducted within the Archives to see how many wanted Heehs back. The "overwhelming majority", comprising both Westerners and Easterners, rejected his return and deemed his presence unnecessary for the work.

Larger Conspiracy

The situation gets still more serious when we consider the interests of the main promoters of The Lives. Heehs is promoted by Jeffrey Kripal who is none other than the author of the infamous Kali's Child, in which Kripal "proves", with years of meticulous "research", that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a paedophile and homosexual having perverse relations with Swami Vivekananda and other disciples. When the book first came out, the Ramakrishna Mission treated it as an aberration and kept silent expecting it to fade away. Kripal's promoters arranged for the book to receive the "History of Religions Prize for the Best First Book of 1995" and overnight it spread into every college and university library in the USA. Subsequently right-wing religious groups backing him prevailed on these colleges to discard Ramakrishna's books to "protect" students from a "proven" "paedophile". Eventually, Kali's Child was listed as the only piece of recommended reading on Ramakrishna in Microsoft's Encarta encyclopaedia for years, and as recommended reading on Hinduism in general. The damage caused by that one book to the spiritual Master's reputation and teaching is unimaginable and will take decades more to undo. The Ramakrishna Mission has only now woken up to the seriousness of its impact and plans to issue a formal academic refutation some time during this year – fourteen years too late!

More recently Kripal has been assigned by Michael Murphy to study Sri Aurobindo's Record of Yoga under the overall umbrella of funding from Esalen. Michael Murphy's interest in Sri Aurobindo may be genuine, but he has seriously erred in choosing Kripal as his research-head for studying Sri Aurobindo, considering that Kripal is a Freudian reductionist whose only field of specialisation is "comparative erotics and ethics of mystical literature" and who proudly claims, "All of my books are about sexuality and spirituality".

There is evidence to show that Kripal is attempting to do to Sri Aurobindo what he did to Ramakrishna. To this end, Kripal has engaged Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz of the Ashram's Archives and is financing them to research specific themes centering on Sri Aurobindo's Record: Heehs has been asked to correlate experiences in the Record with those of other saints (for which he has already slanted many passages in The Lives), while Hartz has been asked to find correlations between the Record and Sri Aurobindo's other published works (in particular to show differences as this better serves Kripal's thesis). Both Heehs and Hartz have formally denied receiving finance for this work, when in fact Murphy has publicly declared it twice. You will find a brief expose of this nexus in my original note to the Ashram Trust on our website www.TheLivesOfSriAurobindo.com. That note only outlines Kripal's connection with Heehs. More detailed evidence is available and, if necessary, can be brought out in a more elaborate expose.

It is my opinion that Heehs and Hartz are being used by Kripal, and that, in his desperation for academic fame, Heehs may not fully realise his limited role as pawn in Kripal's larger game-plan. Kripal's alliance with Heehs and Hartz has already gained him access to unpublished raw materials from the Archives for his study, including certain unpublished passages from Sri Aurobindo's Record of Yoga. This alliance is presumably the most significant influence in Heehs' decision to give a Freudian twist to The Lives.

Heehs has been in touch with Kripal since Kali's Child was published 14 years ago and has been working very closely with him for the last few years. The two have been exchanging notes in close coordination both for Kripal's latest work on Esalen and for Heehs' work on The Lives. Many passages in The Lives reveal the distinctive influence of Kripal's language and his pet ideas. On Kripal's request, Heehs revised and made corrections to an entire chapter of Kripal's book on Esalen, all of which Kripal "accepted". Heehs considers that chapter to be "quite inoffensive" and a "good summary of some aspects of Sri Aurobindo's teachings". And yet, that very chapter declares that Sri Aurobindo's "doctrine" of the supermind consists of "exaggerated public 'overbeliefs'" where "mythology has overtaken phenomenology" and that "the descent of the Supermind appears to be a mythologization of the phenomenology of shakti-pata … whereby a palpable occult (and often erotic) force is felt to 'descend' into the devotee's body…". I cite this text to show you that Heehs' association with Kripal is not innocent, and that Heehs shares in many of Kripal's perverse beliefs, including his rejection of the supermind. This nexus of interests and beliefs explains why Heehs needed to "prove" that Sri Aurobindo lied about the supermind; most of his other distortions also align perfectly well with Kripal's thesis.

Kripal's thesis centres on the idea that Ramakrishna taught differently from what he himself practiced, and that his "secret" practices were all sexual and tantrik in nature. Kripal views Sri Aurobindo similarly as a "right-handed tantrik". There are numerous passages in The Lives which appear strange, unnecessary or even digressive to the informed reader as they serve no purpose in the narration of Sri Aurobindo's biography. When seen in the context of Kripal's thesis, they suddenly acquire immense value. From this point of view, The Lives appears designed to serve as a first-level database of raw material and references upon which Kripal and others will subsequently construct further layers of "studies" to justify their insidious theories. Layering of such research is a normal process in academia, and is used by groups such as Kripal's to strengthen their ground when attempting to discredit established spiritual figures.

This is a serious issue with dangerous long-term consequences for the Ashram and Auroville. Unfortunately, for lack of space, I am able to offer here only an outline of how The Lives relates to Kripal's larger designs on Sri Aurobindo. This issue is quite independent of the issues of academic fraud and impersonation, although it complements them by revealing some of Heehs' motivations to compromise facts. But all three issues are factually independent of each other.

Legal Issues

There is a fourth serious issue: that of Heehs' violation of international copyright and intellectual property laws in publishing The Lives. This also, like the earlier issues, is found to be deliberate.

Columbia University Press (CUP) has strict requirements regarding copyright permissions which Heehs has violated. Heehs has illegally published numerous passages from personal diary notes of Ashram sadhaks to which he had exclusive and free access at the Ashram Archives, and which are absolutely not intended for publication. With this single action Heehs has violated a) international copyright laws, b) CUP's copyright regulations, and c) the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust's copyright permission. By this triple breach, Heehs legally pits CUP against the Ashram without himself taking direct blame, because he has already handed over copyright ownership of The Lives to CUP which is now placed in direct violation of the Ashram's copyright permission!

Heehs is also in violation of international intellectual property rights (IPR) conventions. The entire body of the Ashram's research database developed by many researchers over decades has been utilised without permission of the Ashram which is the legal owner of this intellectual property. Worse still, Heehs has claimed personal ownership of this entire research database. Practically, this amounts to theft of the Ashram's intellectual property. As an equivalent example consider what happens if a software engineer sells the entire research database of his employer as his own work for personal profit and for personal academic accolades. That such theft has taken place from the Ashram Archives and relates to the life of Sri Aurobindo, does not in any way diminish its gravity.

In 2003, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust put out a circular refraining all those working at the Archives from publishing any internal documents without specific written permission of the Trust. With The Lives Heehs has violated this circular in letter and spirit on multiple counts. In consequence, the Ashram management issued a new circular in October 2008 with even more stringent regulations for the Archives staff and formed a special committee to review internal security issues; but the damage is already done.

IYF's Charges

With the above background covering four major issues compromising The Lives, we can quickly go through the main charges that Heehs' group and IYF authors have raised against me and my colleagues.

Court cases: Neither Alok nor I have the competence or the resources to handle court cases. Contrary to IYF's claims, neither of us is responsible for them, and neither do we have a say in their withdrawal. The IYF campaign to slander us as "initiators" of court cases is another attempt to misdirect attention from Heehs' multiple crimes of academic fraud, impersonation, copyright and IPR violations.

But if Heehs has broken international laws, should he not face the consequences of his actions? And, even if not now, the consequences will eventually catch up with him one way or another. Or are we to consider Heehs to be somehow above the law? On the other hand, if he has not committed any crimes at all (as IYF claims) then what does he have to fear, and why is IYF suddenly so desperate to have the cases withdrawn? Why not instead factually validate himself and prove that he has done no wrong – in academia as well as in court.

Having said that, I personally am open to support any effort to stop publication of The Lives in India and assist its withdrawal in the USA, primarily because of its academic fraud, and secondarily for the other three issues cited above. My main objective in such support would be to ensure that the factual misrepresentations about Sri Aurobindo should be publicly exposed, and should not pass unchallenged in academia. I am also acutely aware that with the publications of The Lives, the damage to Sri Aurobindo's reputation is already done (as with Kripal's book) and the false conclusions have already entered the public domain. Any efforts on our part can only minimise the harm but cannot undo it.

Scholarship of Heehs: Heehs exposes his intentional academic compromise in The Lives by his letter of October 2008:

"The charge that I have insulted Sri Aurobindo comes mainly from certain critical remarks I made about some of Sri Aurobindo's literary works, political life, etc. … I made these minor critical remarks to show my (academic) readers that I (as author of the book, not as a human being, a sadhak etc.) was not devoid of critical balance. This concession permitted me to praise Sri Aurobindo's later poetry and philosophy at great length."

Through a roundabout play of words, Heehs accepts that his critical remarks were not warranted, but that he needed to abuse Sri Aurobindo in order to improve his own "academic" credentials. Crudely stated, he raises his own stature in academia by abusing Sri Aurobindo! Even more shocking: Heehs wants us to believe that by abusing Sri Aurobindo extensively on all aspects of his life and work he somehow earns the right to praise him on some limited parts of his life. What a perversion of academic standards!

It is the content of one's work that makes for a scholar, and not the number of publications he can produce. In view of his track record of academic fraud, impersonation, copyright violations and intellectual property violations, Heehs has forsaken the right to claim himself either a scholar or a historian. Heehs is a fine writer with an engaging and sometimes entertaining style. He would surely have made a good writer of fiction. In my opinion, The Lives had the potential to serve as an interesting biography with a different approach, but Heehs' many distortions and compromises have wasted that opportunity and gifted us instead with a serious problem. I share with you here the most perceptive review of The Lives that I have come across, and which is highly rated on Amazon:

"Touted as an academic biography, this book fails on both expectations: academic and biographical.
It does not stand as a faithful biography because it misses the very things that made Sri Aurobindo a giant of our age. It disregards some of the most important incidents and achievements of Sri Aurobindo's life, and instead overwhelms the reader with irrelevant and peripheral historical information.
The book fares even worse on its claim to scholarship. The author's declared bias to discount anything that exceeds material and sensory data leaves us with the hollow shell of Sri Aurobindo's outermost form. The inner and real Person is forcefully and sometimes crudely discarded leaving the reader with a bitter aftertaste.
All in all, a boring read. The only purpose the book might serve is as a limited database of historical references to Sri Aurobindo's life.
[Bhaskar11] [Review logged 18/10/2008 14:50]"

Religious fundamentalism: My colleagues and I have only criticised the deliberate distortion of facts and quotations in The Lives with factual evidence to support our criticism. There is neither religion here nor fundamentalism. We have invited dialogue and debate in a spirit of academic discussion. In return we have only received ad hominem abuse and insult from Heehs' group, IYF, SCIY, and through every possible internet forums that Heehs' abusive friends have got on to.

The choice of SCIY as their main platform to promote and defend Heehs is revealing. Consider that SCIY ridicules Sri Aurobindo's vision of physical transformation as "naïve" and "post-romantic" and therefore obsolete using exactly the same misleading arguments as Heehs in The Lives in an article written by none other than Rich Carlson, signatory of the IYF circular! Not one among Heehs' group on SCIY – including Debashish Banerjee, Richard Hartz or Ulrich Mohrhoff – has refuted those charges or exposed their deception (in fact Debashish Banerjee praises it highly!), implying their full acceptance and participation in such ridicule of Sri Aurobindo through factual and logical misrepresentation. It is therefore not surprising that these very people are now desperate to defend Heehs' academic fraud and will go to any extent of indecency and more lies to
protect their own compromise.

The newly created IYF front has taken their earlier campaigns of character assassination to new lows by raising the bogey of "religious fundamentalism" – globally the popular flavour of the season. Ask yourself who is muzzling academic debate by targeting people and ignoring real issues and refusing debate. Ask yourself why at all they need to resort to personal attacks when they could easily have offered academic responses and settled the issues factually. The harsh reality is that they are unable to justify Heehs' academic fraud, and hence in desperation can only attack us personally and spread outrageous rumours to divert public attention away from their fraud.

In the early phase of the controversy, last year, Heehs informed the Ashram Trust by letter dated 13 October 2008 that he had "heard" "reports" that "Vijay Poddar all but threatened to take over the Ashram if you do not do his will, perhaps using a Bajrang Dal type of organisation and methods." He further demanded that the Ashram management should support the "rule of law prevailing in India". Although he began with such hysterical and bizarre allegations, his group's latest charge is no less fanciful: IYF's threat of "religious fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga community" is only part of their continuing strategy to promote fear and hysteria by outright fabrication in order to gather sympathy for Heehs, and to cover up his indefensible fraud through creative diversions.

IYF claims to want to save the IY community from fundamentalism. Step back for a moment and reconsider who the real fundamentalists are!

"Conflict" with Ashram Management: IYF wants you to believe that I am in some kind of conflict with the Ashram management, but that Heehs has its full support. They deceive you with more lies and get away with it by concealing the enormous amount of documented criticism against Heehs which was in circulation most of last year.

Here are the facts through selected extracts (with my highlights) of statements of the Ashram Trust board-members and other respected and senior Ashram inmates:

  • Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust (SAAT), by letter dated 5th October 2008 writes: "[Heehs] was so obsessed with the antihagiography idea that in order to prove his credentials to be an "objective" (does such a thing really exist!) biographer, he has at several places crossed all limits of simple decency!"
  • Dilip Datta, Trustee, SAAT (overseeing legal affairs), by letter dated 11th November 2008 writes: "…we had talked to the author [Heehs] and informed him about our displeasure regarding certain aspects of the book and had taken adequately the necessary disciplinary steps…"
  • Dilip Mehtani, Trustee, SAAT, in January 2009 declared: If you abuse me for one hour and then praise me for two hours, that does not change the fact of the abuse. The quotations in circulation are factually incorrect, and they are damaging to Sri Aurobindo.
  • Matriprasad, Head of SAAT's legal cell, and Trustee of Udyog Trust of SAAT, twice approached Heehs on instructions from the SAAT at first requesting him to "withdraw from the Archives" and later, on 13th October 2008, to "withdraw from the Ashram".
  • Manoj Das, former Trustee, SAAT, and Sahitya Academy Award winner, in October 2008. After reading the entire book he identified 60 of the most offensive passages which he read out to the Ashram Trust Board, recommending that the Ashram dissociate publicly from the book and take all steps to withdraw the book.
  • Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee, representing the entire SAAT Board, informs several departments of the Ashram by an internal circular dated 7th October 2008:

    "Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust does not approve and has nothing to do with the book entitled "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" written by Mr Peter Heehs, and Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is not in any way responsible for the contents or the interpretations of the material contained therein.
    "No inmate of the Ashram having access to any privileged material in relation to the work assigned to him/her by the Ashram, should make use of that material for any other work whatsoever except for the one assigned to him/her by the Ashram."

    Note that the second paragraph relates to Heehs' theft of intellectual property.

  • Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, Director of Physical Education, by public notice dated 10th October 2008: "Peter Heehs has brought Sri Aurobindo down to a very low level … The distribution and sale of this book must be stopped." Subsequently Heehs was expelled from the PED on 30th October 2008.
  • Vijay Poddar, Board Member of Sri Aurobindo Society, in a letter to the SAAT Board dated 30th September 2008:

    "I asked myself a very simple question: 'Would I be happy to offer this book to the Mother, would the Mother be happy to receive it, with all that has been written in it about Sri Aurobindo and Her?' My personal answer was a very emphatic No. In fact, after reading some of the things which are written, being only human, my personal reaction was of sadness, of great pain and hurt, even disgust and anger….
    "The only solution, I believe, is for the Ashram to openly and publicly dissociate itself from the book, to declare that it does not convey the right picture, that no permission had been sought for and given for printing many of the privileged documents, including the personal diaries of the sadhaks, that there are several errors of facts, presentations and interpretations. Once such a bold decision is taken, with full conviction, then with a combined effort we have to block completely the printing of the Indian edition and explore what can be done to stop the distribution of the American edition.…
    "Another point to be noted is that this is not something which has happened all of a sudden and for the first time. If we look at the history of the last twenty years, there have been enough indications and warnings which were given. But as no actions were taken, each time the things got worse leading to the most unhappy situation in which we find ourselves now."

  • Huta (well-known to all of you) in a letter to SAAT dated 15th September 2008: "I request you all to stop Peter's publications and ask him to leave the Ashram before he does more harm to the Ashram and its reputation."

Do you find any differences between my stand and that of the Ashram management and its senior members? Does Heehs really have their support? Ask yourself why IYF is promoting ideas of an imagined conflict between me and the Ashram management. The answer will surprise you. Some time in early December 2008, an anonymous online petition appeared on the Internet attacking the Ashram Trust. The petition was subsequently taken down by activism from the Ashram school's alumni. The IYF group ran a nefarious campaign of rumour and innuendo to convince the SAAT that I had initiated the petition in order to harm the Ashram. By the time I came to know of their campaign in late January 2009 the damage was done and they had successfully sown seeds of doubt within the Trust against me. Ultimately their attempt failed when I showed the Trust an email that I had circulated in December 2008 criticising and warning against that very same online petition within days of its appearance.

I have described this incident in detail to show you how the IYF group has made, and continues to make, deliberate attempts to engineer conflicts and divisions between me and the Ashram Trust. Their latest circular to Auroville and the USA Centres targeting Alok Pandey and I is similarly intended to create divisions and misunderstandings within the community of devotees, a) by dividing the Ashram from Auroville, b) by dividing Westerners from Indians, and c) by dividing the USA Centres from each other, all this by deliberately mis-stating our position and misrepresenting our actions.

Heehs' Shifting Grounds of Defence: Heehs' group (SCIY/IYF/others) has sought to defend him on shifting grounds. Over the last six months their defence of the book has drifted through the following paraphrased positions (with my parenthetical annotations of each):

  • Position 1: Heehs is a "nice guy"; he could not have done any wrong; so any criticism of his book must be wrong. (This position barely held for a week.)
  • Position 2: The quotations being circulated are out of context. There is nothing wrong with the book when they are read in context.
    (After reading within the context as offered by Heehs, most people remained unconvinced. R Y Deshpande, the most senior contributor of SCIY was threatened and forced out for not falling in line with the SCIY "fundamentalist" view. All his blogs were deleted. Many other contributors of SCIY left. Critical comments were deleted from all blogs and only a sanitised pro-Heehs version survives today with no significant voice of opposition.)
  • Position 3: To understand the actual context you have to read the entire book, any partial reading will still remain out of context.
    (A ridiculous claim because the context should normally be clear within a paragraph. Heehs himself did not feel the need to quote anything more than a line before or after to set the context. This strategy was adopted to promote the book's sales and to overwhelm new readers with a mass of facts in which the offensive passages were diluted and submerged. Some fell for it. But most people returned with more criticism after reading the full book.)
  • Position 4: The book represents a "viewpoint" and an "interpretation" aimed at the "Western mind" and is not meant to be read by "devotees" in general or by Indians in particular. If someone cannot understand or appreciate it, he should not read it.
    (A rather arrogant position to take. Not surprisingly it was hastily abandoned as damaging to Heehs' public relations.)
  • Position 5: The problem is that readers from India do not understand nuances of English, and literary devices such as irony.
    (A climb-down from the earlier arrogance, but still a very colonial viewpoint.)
  • Position 6: The problem is of differences between the "Western mind" and the "Indian heart", between the "intellectual" approach of the West and the "sentimentality" of the Indian people.
    (Still a colonially biased view. Many were carried away by this theory of the East-West divide. But as I have shown earlier in this note, the divide is not cultural but one of a difference in awareness of facts regarding Sri Aurobindo's life.)
  • Position 7: The book had to be critical of Sri Aurobindo in order to be acceptable to Western academia.
    (Do Western academic standards accept factual distortions? Do they need to pervert Sri Aurobindo in order to find him more easily acceptable?)
  • Position 8: Heehs needs to criticise some points in order to gain the right to praise other points. It is a technique of "strategic concession".
    (Does scholarship require bargaining as in a business deal? Cannot positive facts stand on their own without needing equal or greater negative criticism? Does the criticism have to be factually incorrect?)
  • Position 9: Heehs uses the strategy of purvapaksha and uttarapaksha (argument and counter-argument) which Sri Aurobindo himself uses in The Life Divine.
    ("Argument and counter-argument" applies to philosophical positions which are debated by logic. It does not apply when countering one opinion with another opinion as Heehs does through most of the book.)
  • Position 10: Heehs will prove that he has done no wrong and will win all the court cases.
    (This lasted barely a week. When Heehs' group studied the accusations, they found them undefendable and quickly dropped this claim. They then focussed almost entirely on ad hominem attacks and character assassination.)
  • Position 11: Courts are a bastion of falsehood. No one should go to court against another co-disciple. The cases must be withdrawn. Heehs' reputation has been tarnished.
    (Rather, should not the book be withdrawn for its falsehood? Has not Heehs tarnished Sri Aurobindo's reputation in the first place? And what about Heehs' earlier demand that the Ashram should support the "rule of law prevailing in India"?)
  • Position 12: The problem is one of a "cultural misunderstanding".
    (Vague enough to mean anything.)
  • Position 13: The problem is one of "fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga community. This can only be countered by preventing Alok Pandey and Sraddhalu Ranade from stepping onto American soil which remains the last bastion of "freedom of speech, religious tolerance, democracy and pluralism" and the "Free World". They should not be allowed to speak at the AUM Conference. Their visas should be cancelled, and all American Centre should boycott them.
    (This is where we stand now. Can you spot how they are promoting censorship and division in the name of freedom and by appealing to nationalist sentiments!)

While Heehs' defence has shifted through over a dozen different positions, all along our stand has been consistent: factual distortion to abuse Sri Aurobindo is unacceptable. I personally could go so far as to say that Heehs is free to abuse Sri Aurobindo if he does find a genuine and factually verifiable cause for such abuse. But we cannot stand by passively and watch him falsify facts and quotations in order to misrepresent and defame Sri Aurobindo.

Summary and Conclusions

The Lives misrepresents Sri Aurobindo, his life and his teaching by factual distortions amounting to academic fraud. Had it been published by some unknown writer, we might have ignored it entirely. But it has been widely promoted by impersonation as representing the authority of the "founder" of the Ashram's Archives. Heehs' alliance with Jeffrey Kripal is dangerous and has already influenced The Lives in a harmful way. The Lives has violated copyright agreements both with CUP and with the Ashram Trust, and its publication involves theft of the Ashram's intellectual property.

IYF authors and the Heehs-group in general have concocted false charges against us by deliberately misrepresenting our position and then criticising it. They have not yet offered any academic refutation of our factual criticism of Heehs' academic fraud, and have instead shifted through more than a dozen untenable excuses to cover up his fraudulence. Their campaign of character assassination is unfortunate and is intended to sideline discussion from the real issues. They have sown seeds of division in the IY community by false charges and have orchestrated hate campaigns for nearly eight months. They claim support of the Ashram management but are in fact in direct conflict with the Ashram Trust's position on The Lives.

If not for IYF/SCIY's ad hominem campaigns of character assassination, there would have been no divisions, conflicts or confusions, and right now all of us would have been discussing the factual errors in the book in a clean academic framework.

We have nothing personal against Heehs. He is free to pursue his own career interests with any kind of compromises that he chooses to make (although he can never evade public accountability for them). But in the light of his 30-year track record of consistent factual abuse of Sri Aurobindo, we would all be relieved if he turned his sights to some other area of interest. Until then, it is our responsibility to expose factual distortion in the spirit of academic refutation.

You are invited to visit our growing website www.TheLivesOfSriAurobindo.com for more information, for more examples of distortions in The Lives, and for academic discussion and debate.

Having read this note I hope you will better appreciate our perspective regarding The Lives. There is much that will be new and possibly shocking to you from the revelations here. You may wish to re-read the entire text to better assimilate the full range of facts and the complexity of the situation. May I also request you to forward this email to all those who would have earlier received the IYF mail (from you or from others) to help set the record straight in their mind also, and to help reunite the Integral Yoga community.

As mentioned earlier, I will be happy to clarify any of the statements above and offer further factual elaboration as necessary.

Thank you for your time.

Sraddhalu Ranade

(May 1st, 2009)

P.S. For your reference, I have attached below the full text of the IYF circular.

****************** Text of IYF circular – Page 1 ****************

>> Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 08:33:55 -0700
>> To: centers @aurobindo.org
>> From: dbhutchinson @ucdavis.edu
>> CC: rcarlson @olypen.com; debbanerji @yahoo.com
>> Subject: [Centers] Integral Yoga Fundamentalism - new website
>> Dear Centers --
>> Because Sraddhalu Ranade and Alok Pandey have been invited to the US for
>> the AUM conference this year, we wish to place certain facts about them
>> before those who may be considering support or sponsorship of these people
>> or their projects. These facts concern their involvement in what we regard
>> as promotion of religious fundamentalism, censorship, distortion of truth,
>> and defiance of Ashram rules and authority carried out by Ranade and Pandey
>> recently, so that you may assess any possible support for them.
>> To make people aware of the misleading activities of Ranade, Pandey, and
>> others, and to increase awareness of an unfortunate growing trend among
>> some who claim to be followers of Sri Aurobindo, we have started a
>> website, http: //iyfundamentalism.info.
>> In May 2008, Peter Heehs, a well-known historian and long-standing member
>> of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, published a detailed biography of Sri
>> Aurobindo, titled "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" (Columbia University Press).
>> Heehs has written acclaimed scholarly books and articles on Sri Aurobindo,
>> India's freedom struggle, and other subjects, and has worked in the Ashram
>> Archives since its inception in 1973. "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" has
>> been very well-received in the US both by academic readers and reviewers
>> and by followers of Sri Aurobindo. As a result, the message of Sri
>> Aurobindo, most urgently relevant to the world today is entering the
>> academic mainstream.
>> Since September 2008, however, a few persons from India have begun a
>> full-fledged campaign against the book and its author, claiming that it
>> offends religious sentiments, and calling for the book to be withdrawn from
>> publication and all future editions to be banned. In addition they have
>> pressed for the author to be removed from his post at the Archives and
>> expelled from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. They have succeeded so far in
>> dislodging Heehs from his irreplaceable work at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram
>> Archives (where he was one of the main editors of the Complete Works of Sri
>> Aurobindo); suspending publication of the Indian edition of the book; and
>> fostering widespread ill-will and hatred that has even resulted in
>> violence. The movement against the author has created an atmosphere of
>> spiritual intolerance that has cast a shadow on the Ashram, threatens to
>> polarize the Integral Yoga community, and distort the legacy of Sri
>> Aurobindo, who sought to establish harmony in the world.
>> Ranade and Pandey have been among the main architects and leaders of this
>> continuing campaign to oust Heehs. Their activities have included the
>> sending of emails and letters to a large number of people, most of whom
>> have not read Heehs's work. These emails contain demonstrable distortions
>> of the original text, false insinuations against the author, and fabricated
>> conspiracy theories. Viewed more broadly, these emails and letters
>> represent a fundamentalist approach to the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo,

****************** Text of IYF circular – Page 2 ****************

>> which includes a campaign promoting censorship of the book. In the website
>> http: //iyfundamentalism.info, we present, among other content, the widely
>> circulated original letters by the leaders of the movement against the book
>> and its author, with explanatory annotations. You may read Ranade's charges
>> and Pandey's letters at this site by going to the Annotated Documents and
>> the Further Documents sections.
>> Ranade in one of his first letters denouncing the book urged his audience
>> to work toward banning the book in India. There is good reason to believe
>> that Ranade is behind a Writ Petition submitted to the High Court of Orissa
>> in the name of Gitanjali Bhattacharya, the wife of Ranade's school
>> classmate and friend Jayant Bhattacharya. This writ is intended to block
>> the publication of Heehs's book in India. All substantive portions of this
>> Writ are taken bodily from an email written by Ranade in September 2008. It
>> is most likely that the rest of the Writ also is the work of Ranade.
>> There have also been two criminal cases initiated against Heehs in
>> district courts in Orissa related to the banning of the book, intended
>> merely to impede the publication of its Indian version, and to harass its
>> author. The first one was deliberately launched in the remote and
>> conservative Keonjhar District, best known as the site of the brutal murder
>> of the Australian Graham Staines and his two young children by members of
>> the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu fundamentalist group, in 1999.
>> Ironically, Ranade has been representing himself at large as a spokesperson
>> and champion of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, when in fact, he has long been in
>> conflict with the Ashram Trust and has challenged the Managing Trustee and
>> other administrators of the Ashram using unconscionable language. Ranade,
>> Pandey and their cohorts do not, in fact, have the support or sympathy of
>> the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust in the activities outlined above.
>> In regard to Heehs biography, we three (who have each been devoted to Sri
>> Aurobindo's teaching for several decades), have not found any reasonable
>> support for the assertions made by Ranade and Pandey that the book insults
>> Sri Aurobindo, the Mother, or their legacy in any way.
>> We sincerely feel that it is important for you to take the time to inform
>> yourself accurately regarding the activities of Ranade and Pandey. We
>> believe their actions should be a matter of grave concern to those who
>> care about the work of Sri Aurobindo, his ashram and civil and spiritual
>> society in general. We will continue to detail their activities and those
>> of their supporters at http: //iyfundamentalism.info, and in other public
>> forums, including but not limited to websites, journals, newsletters, books
>> and conferences. It is hoped that at least in the US, which stands for
>> freedom of speech and expression and for religious tolerance, democracy and
>> pluralism, such rampant obscurantism and dangerous attitudes will be met
>> with unambiguous discouragement.
>> Sincerely,
>> David Hutchinson (dbhutchinson @ucdavis.edu)
>> Debashish Banerji (debbanerji @yahoo.com)
>> Rich Carlson (rcarlson @olypen.com)ru

****************** End of IYF circular ****************

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