May 27, 2009

Amal Kiran on Sri Aurobindo's Adesh

Sri Aurobindo, Parthasarathy Iyengar and Pondicherry

A Note Towards Clarifying Their Connection

[For those who have publicly displayed their spiritual insensitivity and ignorance of the facts relating to Sri Aurobindo’s life, Amal Kiran’s article should be an eye-opener. The article was first published in the Mother India issue of May 1988, pp. 305-310 and later in Aspects of Sri Aurobindo (2000), pp. 196-204. It is a rejoinder to Peter Heehs’ interpretation of the Adesh (divine command) that Sri Aurobindo received in 1910 to go from Calcutta to Chandernagore, and then from there to Pondicherry. The discussion is subtle and abstract and even Amal Kiran says that at first he “was inclined to agree broadly” with Heehs. But he changed his mind “on a closer inspection” when he realised the deeper implications of the author’s presentation of the event in the Archives & Research issue of December 1987. For the consequences of whether you agree or not with Heehs’ presentation (as also in the recent case of his book) are tremendous. Either you conclude that Sri Aurobindo ran away in fear of being arrested by the British police or that the Divine commanded him to escape in order to make him undertake in Pondicherry the much greater work of the supramental transformation, of which he was not aware at that point of time. In both cases, the outer actions remain the same, but the motivations behind are totally different. The result of our silence with regard to such mischievous interpretations is that instead of dispelling the impression that Sri Aurobindo ran away from the revolutionary scene, we have reinforced it with further evidence.]

IN the issue of Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research for December 1987 the “Archival Notes” are partly aimed at setting certain queries raised by some statements of the writer two years earlier in the same periodical. His new statements too have come in for criticism. It may be that his true drift has failed to be caught, but the cause of the failure, if any, must lie at his own door. For, whatever his intentions, a persistent trend in his way of putting things has led to an impression of inaccuracy and of hazing the real posture of some extraordinary events.

This is rather unfortunate, for in his article the dissatisfying portions are in the midst of much admirable analytic matter – acute comparative evaluation, pointedly phrased, of documents and of the various shades of historical fact. There should be no question of disqualifying all his work or doubting in general his talents. That would be sheer injustice to him as a researcher. We are now concerned only with one particular theme of his, which calls for serious reconsideration: “What role did the man named Parthasarathy Iyengar play in Sri Aurobindo’s connection with Pondicherry?”

Parthasarathy belonged to a group of patriots which includes his brother Srinivasachari and Subramania Bharati. They had established an office in the French enclave of Pondicherry for a Tamil weekly, India, in order to carry on more securely their anti-British work as well as their work of regenerating Indian Culture. Previously Parthasarathy was the Secretary of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company which the Iyengar family was financially supporting for patriotic reasons. During his tour in Northern India in that capacity he met Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta and discussed the nationalist and cultural activities in which both the parties were engaged, mentioned the group of patriots in Pondicherry conducting India and suggested that Sri Aurobindo might find Pondicherry more congenial for his mission than British India where he suffered constant harassment from the foreign government. Sri Aurobindo’s meeting with Parthasarathy is confirmed by his own diary note of Tuesday, 20 July 1909, which was meant to remind him of the appointment.

Some time after Sri Aurobindo had gone to Chandernagore in French India he sent through Suresh Chakravarti a letter to Pondicherry requesting the friends there to make arrangements for his stay in that town. The letter was received by Srinivasachari, but he has himself reported that it was addressed to “S. Parthasarathy Iyengar, ‘India’ Press”. As Parthasarathy was away at the time, Chakravarti, on learning that Srinivasachari was connected with India, gave it to him and asked him to read it and do the needful. The fact that Sri Aurobindo remembered Parthasarathy more than half a year later than the meeting in Calcutta shows the significance of that meeting for him in relation to Pondicherry.

The readers’ queries raised by the earlier Archives issue seem to centre on a passage which is reproduced now as a point de départ for, among other matters, a defence against a charge of minimising the role of the ādesh (divine command) Sri Aurobindo had received about going to Pondicherry:

“We have seen that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry at the suggestion of no one, but in obedience to a divine command. But by speaking to Sri Aurobindo about Pondicherry, Parthasarathy may have played an instrumental role in his coming.”

The opening sentence in the above makes it clear that the writer does not support what M.A. Narayana Iyengar, who had no idea of the ādesh which Sri Aurobindo had obeyed, wrote in his Foreword to Parthasarathy’s posthumously published Bhagavad Gita: A simple Paraphrase in English. After recounting, apparently from information supplied by his friend and relative Parthasarathy himself, the interview with Sri Aurobindo in which Pondicherry had been recommended to him and the story of the letter addressed to “Parthasarathy Iyengar, c/o India, Pondicherry” and opened by Srinivasachari in the addressee’s absence from the place, Narayana ends: “It may thus be seen that a suggestion from Sri S. Parthasarathy Iyengar lay behind Sri Aurobindo’s visit to Pondicherry, which led in turn to the establishment of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.” In fact, the Archives article says that Narayana “was evidently giving his relative’s meeting with Sri Aurobindo more significance than it deserves”. But the writer also tells us that, as a historian, his acceptance of the ādesh as the cause of Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry does not oblige him “to suspend all considerations of the political and other circumstances surrounding his departure” from British India. He bases himself on Sri Aurobindo’s view in a letter of 1936 that the divine Force does not act independently of cosmic forces. Sri Aurobindo has written: “The Force does not act in a void and in an absolute way… it comes as a Force intervening and acting on a complex nexus of Forces that were in action and displacing their disposition and interrelated movement and natural result by a new disposition, movement and result.” It seems to the Archives writer that an ādesh operates also within the same nexus and he concludes: “I think it at least plausible that the ādesh that directed Sri Aurobindo to go to Pondicherry operated within a nexus of forces that included the attempts of the British to have him arrested, and the recently established contact between him and the revolutionaries of Pondicherry.”

The writer’s impression is not unnatural at first sight. I was myself inclined at one time to agree broadly. But a closer look should lead us to doubt if one can equate the action of the divine Force with that of an ādesh like Sri Aurobindo’s. As far as we can gather, the latter has nothing to do, as the former has, with a nexus of other forces. It acts exclusively in the consciousness of one individual alone and it acts but once: there is no continuity of action as with the divine Force which may be concerned with several circumstances outside an individual, circumstances on which it goes on exerting itself. The ādesh such as Sri Aurobindo received is also described by him in a letter of 5 January 1936 as “imperative”: “it is clear and irresistible, the mind has to obey and there is no question possible, even if what comes is contrary to the preconceived ideas of the mental intelligence.” The divine Force of which Sri Aurobindo has written does not seem quite like this single absolute momentary stroke from the Supreme within only one person. Its comparison with the ādesh would hold simply in both having their source outside the common natural world: the modus operandi of each appears to be different. But we can grant that the situation in which the imperative ādesh occurs may include political factors. The Archives writer demonstrates easily the impossibility of overlooking these factors in the case of Sri Aurobindo, but his summing-up is challengeable: “I have no difficulty in accepting that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry as the result of an ādesh, and at the same time accepting that there were political factors behind his departure.”

What does the last phrase mean? Does it just mean that the ādesh operated in the midst of politics and with an awareness of their trends? If it does, there can be no quarrel, for here we have plain history and its call for attention. But the word “behind” gives us pause. It prompts the notion that “political factors” were pushing Sri Aurobindo towards what actually transpired. To put the matter in an extreme form: we may start thinking that even without the ādesh Sri Aurobindo would have gone to Pondicherry out of political considerations. Surely, the writer could not have meant this, though such an interpretation is possible on the ground of the unfortunate preposition “behind”. A more likely interpretation would be that the ādesh operated for political reasons. If such was the idea, the writer has failed to plumb the depths of the spiritual intervention.

Among the documents quoted before the “Archival Notes” we find Sri Aurobindo saying in a talk of 18 December 1938: “I heard the ādesh ‘Go to Pondicherry.’ …I could not question. It was Sri Krishna’s ādesh. I had to obey. Later on I found it was for my yogic work that I was asked to come here.” A variant of the closing words of this record by Nirodbaran is Purani’s version: “I found it was for the Ashram and for the work.” In either instance Sri Aurobindo takes us clean beyond any political causes for the ādesh. The divine command came in the midst of a political situation and must have had its current posture in sight but its drive was wholly spiritual. If Sri Aurobindo’s own gloss is to be credited, no political factors can be taken to lie behind his departure in answer to Sri Krishna’s ādesh.

One may protest: “You are bringing in ‘teleology’ and explaining an event by what lay ahead and came later: you should act the historian and give weight to what went before.” But should we not ascribe to the ādesh its own vision, its own aim? Although we may not know the goal it had in view, we should be certain that it did not come purposelessly. Hence its purpose was definitely in play before Sri Aurobindo went to Pondicherry. Once a historian admits the ādesh he has to judge things in terms of it. To cry “Teleology!” in such a case is a hasty move.

Besides, we are now looking backwards to 1910 and seeking explanations. We are not writing in that year itself, ignorant of the motive of Sri Krishna’s command. With our present knowledge of it we cannot write of 1910 as though we knew nothing. From our coign of vantage today, all talk of “teleology” would be inapposite.

If the ādesh brought Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry for only his Yogic work, there is little point in being told after Narayana’s exaggeration of the significance of Parthasarathy’s meeting with Sri Aurobindo has been countered: “Still, it is not at all far-fetched to suppose that when Parthasarathy spoke to Sri Aurobindo about Pondicherry… he dwelt on its political advantages. After all, the India, with which Parthasarathy was connected, was being brought out from Pondicherry for political reasons.” Whatever Parthasarathy had said was irrelevant in relation to the ādesh. We also perceive the oddity of the opinion expressed on the heels of the declaration about Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry at the suggestion of no one, but in obedience to a divine command: “But by speaking to Sri Aurobindo about Pondicherry, Parthasarathy may have played an instrumental role in his coming.”

Apart from the causative irrelevance of politics to the ādesh concerned, the opinion I am discussing is couched in a questionable turn of language. Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1979), p.680.col.2, defines “instrumental” as “acting as an instrument or means: serving to promote an object: helpful.” The word “instrument” in the context of “coming” would imply either that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry because of Parthasarathy had put the idea into his mind at an earlier time, thus serving to promote the coming, helping to bring about the transition – or else that Parthasarathy was used by some causative agency other than himself to send Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry at a later date. The first alternative is impossible to entertain when it has been unequivocally said at the very start that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry at no one’s suggestion but in answer to an ādesh. There is a patent self-contradiction here. The second alternative makes Parthasarathy a “means” in Sri Krishna’s hands, the mouthpiece of a plan by the Supreme Being to hint to Sri Aurobindo in advance at what was to happen. It is as if Sri Krishna played secretly in modern Calcutta a variant on his great declaration to Arjuna at Kurukshetra in remote antiquity: “The Kauravas have already been slain by me in my mind. Be you only my instrument to slay them now.” In our context we may imagine Arjuna’s Charioteer (called “Parthasarathy” in the Gita) to have brought Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry already in his mind and was using his namesake of the Iyengar family as his instrument to let Sri Aurobindo know the advantages of settling there. However, there are a number of snags to this highly poetic picture.

Sri Aurobindo went to Pondicherry on the afflatus of a divine injunction and not on a hint from Parthasarathy: a special message from Sri Krishna himself had to be received. And this injunction differed radically from the hint: whereas the hint was in connection with politics as the moving power, Sri Krishna’s message turned out, according to Sri Aurobindo, to have had nothing to do with them in its purpose. If we have to think of Parthasarathy as influencing Sri Aurobindo by acquainting him with the advantages of Pondicherry, we must seek a different light in which to look at him.

Before we do that, let us trace from another angle the incongruity we are trying to focus. How does Parthasarathy figure at all when the town outside British India to which Sri Aurobindo went from Calcutta, the sphere of the harassment by the British Government to which Parthasarathy had referred in his meeting with Sri Aurobindo, was Chandernagore in French India and not Pondicherry? In a letter of 15 December 1944 which the Archives quotes, Sri Aurobindo recalls the situation in the Karmayogin office in Calcutta where a search by the police was expected: “While I was listening to animated comments from those around on the approaching event, I suddenly received a command from above in a Voice well known to me, in three words: ‘Go to Chandernagore.’ In ten minutes or so I was in the boat for Chandernagore… I remained in secret entirely engaged in Sadhana… afterwards, under the same ‘sailing orders’, I left Chandernagore and reached Pondicherry on April 4th 1910.”

The original ādesh, taking Sri Aurobindo away from the obstructed political field mentioned by Parthasarathy, did not concern Pondicherry. Thus his advice to Sri Aurobindo had no direct relation to the latter’s move out of British India. Surely, we cannot plead the general fact that Chandernagore no less than Pondicherry was a non-British French enclave? Their common Frenchness does not blur their geographical difference. Nor can we say that Chandernagore was obviously a stepping-stone to Pondicherry. The divine command did not tell Sri Aurobindo: “Go to Pondicherry via Chandernagore.” Chandernagore alone held the stage at the time: Pondicherry was completely off it. Even when Sri Aurobindo reached Chandernagore we cannot claim to discern an involvement of Pondicherry in his thoughts. He continued to stay there as if there were nothing further to do or at least as if he had no notion of any future step. In the talk of December 1938, Purani adding to Nirodbaran’s transcript makes Sri Aurobindo say: “some friends were thinking of sending me to France.” In Nirodbaran’s transcript we read simply: “and there as I was thinking what to do next, I heard the ādesh ‘Go to Pondicherry.’”

It was after this second ādesh that, recollecting what he had learnt from Parthasarathy over six months earlier, Sri Aurobindo wrote the note to which we have already alluded. Apropos only of this note we have to set Parthasarathy in our picture. And he emerges in a role quite other than that which the Archives writer with unconscious self-contradiction surmises for him. The true role is to be spotlighted by the request Sri Aurobindo made to him from Chandernagore. Through Parthasarathy’s group in Pondicherry about which he had learnt in the interview at Calcutta, Sri Aurobindo wanted arrangements to be made for, as Srinivasachari has put it in his memoirs, “a quiet place of residence… where he could live incognito without being in any way disturbed”. While his coming to Pondicherry was due exclusively to the ādesh, his getting privately accommodated in that town was the result of his meeting with Parthasarathy.

Not that Parthasarathy actually arranged for Sri Aurobindo’s residence. He was not present to do so. Srinivasachari and Bharati, accompanied by Suresh Chakravarty, made the proper arrangements. Direct credit in the concrete sense goes to them. But inasmuch as Sri Aurobindo’s memory of Parthasarathy led him to write the letter given to Suresh Chakravarty to take to Pondicherry where the addressee was supposed to be, Parthasarathy formed a link between the ādesh at Chandernagore and Sri Aurobindo’s finding a suitable residence in Pondicherry among solicitous friends. And as such he has a significance in Sri Aurobindo’s life at an important turning-point.

In an earlier issue of Archives – Vol. IX, No.27 – we read: “Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in April 1910 with no intention of staying more than a few months. He remained in the French colony for the rest of his life.” This confirms that he had never thought of following Parthasarathy’s suggestion of establishing his political headquarters in Pondicherry and acting from there. The indefinite prolongation of stay was due exclusively to his discovering Sri Krishna’s far-reaching spiritual plan for him that was implicit in the ādesh to go to Pondicherry. But in the years after his arrival the patriotic group which included Parthasarathy, Srinivasachari and their associates contributed to his welfare. Srinivasachari’s family is known to have been in intimate relation with him up to 1926.

K.D.Sethna (Amal Kiran)

Aspects of Sri Aurobindo (2000), pp 196-204

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R Y Deshpande's analysis: Ascent to Supermind (Pp 311-346)

The Ascent to Supermind
Apropos of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs
RY Deshpande

I’ve just gone through the chapter entitled The Ascent to Supermind: Pondicherry 1915-1926, the first of Part Five: Guide, of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, and find it rather hastily written. It is also crude and easily popularistic-journalistic in its approach and attitude when seen in the context of the grand theme it purports to present, its quite a few inadequacies very glaring, its spiritual perceptions wanting in their penetration, in insight as much as in substance. The decidedly selective handling of the researched material much amounts to insensitive and blundering representation of Sri Aurobindo’s yogic siddhis, his realisations and his remarkable achievements. In fact the biography is doing enormous injustice to the spiritual things we value so deeply, so observantly and feelingly, injustice in more than one way. I may touch upon a few of them here.

Actually the title of the chapter itself is awfully misleading: the period 1915-1926 cannot be called “Ascent to Supermind”. Sri Aurobindo already had the knowledge of the Supermind, had it long ago—perhaps the first indication being when he was an undertrial prisoner in Alipore jail. At that time almost for two weeks the spirit of Vivekadanda would visit him and point it out to him, a bright golden star in the far above sky. And, remarkably enough, the Mother also spoke of the Supermind as early as on 15 December 1911, in Paris, much before she met Sri Aurobindo. Hers is a prayer soliciting the Sun of Truth, the Supreme Light to “pervade us entirely and illumine with its great brilliance our minds and hearts, all our thoughts and actions.” It is the Mantra of Transformation she received, the invocation being to the Sun of Truth, the Light of the Supreme, parasya jyotih of the Gayatri Mantra given to us later by Sri Aurobindo himself. Therefore what was happening during the period 1915-1926 was not the ascent but something radically different than that. It was the period of supramentalisation of the various grades of the lower consciousness. First it was the supramentalisation of the mental, during the Arya period, and then the supramentalisation of the vital. This finally paved the path for the overmentalisation of the physical, marking the siddhi on 24 November 1926, what he later called the descent of Krishna consciousness in the physical. Sri Aurobindo’s next concern was the supramentalisation proper of the physical itself. For that he put in a God’s labour, digging the dark grounds of inconscience. The result was, the Great Light, the Light of the Sun of Truth, started descending into his physical, the first definite experience coming on 8 August 1938. He has recorded it in his sonnet The Golden Light. We’ve nothing of this in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.

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May 24, 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.   ...full text...

May 19, 2009

Anonymous Posting on Savitri Era Open Forum

I am compelled to make a statement here. I have been somewhat following articles in SCIY and this blog. I am simply surprised that the supporters do not recognise the very elementary common sense fact that this is NO case of fundamentalism with the people who are against this book. It is because it is written by one IN THE ASHRAM. THIS IS THE BETRAYAL. Please realize that WORSE has been written and expressed by outsiders on Aurobindo on which NO ban or censorship had ever been sought. Mr Carlson also writes:

“Having no other knowledge of Heehs history at the Ashram how do you think that sounded? An author having property, and body attacked before throwing a court case on him for writing a book?”

“I can’t apologize for what Heehs is accused of over the past 30 years in the community, I have no idea of those events. But the fact is if this matter would have been dealt with in a civil manner in your Ashram, I would not have spent so much valuable time moderating post on this issue, Frankly the situation is disgusting and - court cases or not - I hope it is resolved soon so I never hear about it again!!!”
Clearly Carlson has a lot of sympathy for Heehs’ property and body. You would think he would have paused to consider the emotional and psychological violence that has been inflicted upon the devotees and disciples unless of course all the reactions of all of them are a concoction and a fabrication. One may compel and prevent and decry the physical act of violence but can he undo or understand the mental violence that led to the physical acts? Accepted that he had no idea of the past acts of Heehs but he is surely not oblivious of the current deep discontent and hurt that this has caused people. NOT A WORD on that at all from the supporters save Kepler (which too I am not sure. He seems to be playing both sides and trying to be ingratiate himself with both. His response to Sraddhalu betrays his lack of sympathy for the devotees that have been hurt). Those who have experienced the psychological violence are also the followers of Aurobindo many of whom have dedicated their lives or at least drawn to the Mother and Aurobindo deeply enough to take residence there and happily accept the travails and hardships of that life unlike Carlson who prefers to pass judgement - on their intellectual acumen - ensconced in the comforts of America. Shame on you, thrice shame on you.   ...full text...

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.

  ...full text...

May 17, 2009

About Gitanjali JB's Lawyer

The SCIY website (platform for Heehs and his group) has claimed that one Mr Anirban Tripathy is Gitanjali JB's lawyer representing her in the Orissa High Court.

This is factually wrong. Anirban Tripathy is not Gitanjali's lawyer. Her lawyer is one of the most reputed and senior counsels of the Orissa High Court with an impeccable reputation.

Heehs and his lawyer know this well, and the information is in the public domain. SCIY's claim is another lie intended to confuse people and misdirect attention.   ...full text...

The Appeal by Julian Lines for Harmony and Peace -- by Ranganath Raghavan

[Julian Lines, a close friend of Peter Heehs, wrote a letter to us on 22 April, 2009 appealing for peace and harmony. Here is Ranganath Raghavan's reply to it.]

The appeal seems to be a sincere and deeply felt reaction to the ongoing matter connected with the author of the book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo”. If so, it is certainly to be welcomed and appreciated. But it could also be motivated by a desire to get Peter Heehs off the hook and save him from the predicament he finds himself in.

But if a true and lasting harmony is to be established, then the real genesis of the problem must be identified with an objective, sincere attempt, free of all hang-ups, personal, preferential, racial or otherwise.

An objective view will immediately perceive the origin of the crisis to be the following:   ...full text...

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

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May 13, 2009

Two Sides of Two Different Coins

About three weeks ago my friend and ex-colleague at the sciy, Rich, approached me,—of his own, and that could surely have been a gainful step had it progressed,—for a ‘dialog’ on the issue that has been harassing everyone for months now. I took it as a definite positive move, assuming that it was not a tactical move, and made a proposal for an open discussion on the Lives of Sri Aurobindo, going through the weighty book paragraph by paragraph and page by page. But Rich stepped back—which means that the open ‘dialog’ will continue to languish and the parties will continue to operate in their own way, moral, ethical, civic, political, literary, academic, legal, spiritual, and what not. Perhaps this has got to get exhausted before something in the nobility of the IY Community appears on the horizon. It is sincerely hoped that it will be sooner than later. But beyond this terrible ‘human potential’ there is another Hand and, true to the IY Ideal, the best, and reassuring, for us to firmly hold it, rather to let it do unhindered its work in us.
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May 10, 2009

Raja Marathe’s Letter to Peter Heehs

["Raja" Shreehari Marathe is Peter's close and personal friend for the last 20 years.]

Dear Peter,

I have been reflecting on the recent events in your life and in the Ashram, and have come to certain entirely personal understandings. I am sharing them with you and several friends with whom I have discussed these matters in my recent stay in the Ashram. I was avoiding putting these thoughts on paper but considering that the controversy is still raging, I consider it my obligation to be a part of this debate.

About the preface to "Many lives of Sri Aurobindo"

  • Your attack in the preface on all earlier biographers was unwarranted; in the first place many of them are not living, and have no way of defending themselves. In addition some of them were early disciples of Sri Aurobindo, and had seen him alive and possibly had more insight into Sri Aurobindo than you.
  • As a historian your sources have been at best secondary and many of them tertiary and hearsay accounts. Instead of attacking the earlier biographers in this way, you could have easily acknowledged them with thanks and gratitude for showing you another side of Sri Aurobindo.
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May 6, 2009

Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s Second Letter to the Trustees in 1987

[The is the second of two letters. The first is here.]

[After Jugal Kishore Mukherji wrote his letter to the Trustees in June 1986, Jayantilal Parekh, former head and founder of the Archives Dept. of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, wrote a letter to the Trustees in defence of Peter Heehs’ research and the publication of his Archival Notes in the Archives and Research magazine of the Ashram. Jugal Kishore Mukherji then wrote a second and final letter to the Trustees in June 1987 on the same matter, referring frequently to portions from what he called J.P.’s Statement (Jayantilal Parekh’s letter), after which he kept silent. Heehs got away with Jayantilal solidly protecting him not because he approved the former’s opinions, but because he needed him for the material organisation of the Department. Later, Jayantilal warned Heehs to be careful in whatever he writes because he would have to face one day the results of his actions. The slow wheel of Karma caught up with Heehs twenty years later, in 2008.]   ...full text...

Jugal Kishore Mukherji's First Letter to the Trustees in 1986

[This is the first of two letters. The second is here]

[“History repeats itself if you do not learn its lessons”, is the message that clearly comes across when you read Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s letter to the Trustees written in June 1986, twenty two years before the Heehs controversy became a big public issue in August/September 2008. Jugal-da has now withdrawn himself from the administration of the Higher Course – the final three years of higher education that is given to the students of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram School, apart from himself teaching Sri Aurobindo’s major works to them. The Mother once remarked about the clarity of his mind and the way he could project his thoughts on the stage when she had directed a play in the fifties. It is the same exceptional clarity of mind that we see in this letter, exposing not only the wrong attitude of Peter Heehs vis-à-vis Sri Aurobindo, but his equally bad scholarship in his Archival Notes in the Archives and Research magazine, published by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the eighties. Incidentally, what many of us have recently written in protest against the Lives of Sri Aurobindo is all there in seed form in Jugal-da’s arguments. We have written nothing new, and even what has been of late written by Heehs’ supporters is a repetition of what was written then in his defence. The story of Heehs has simply repeated itself, like a politician’s scandal on a much larger scale, for people to be convinced more than ever that there always was something wrong about it. In short, had Heehs’ work been editorially supervised from that point of time when Jugal-da shouted himself hoarse, a lot of unpleasantness would have been avoided now.]   ...full text...

May 3, 2009

Selected Letters -- Jasmin's experience

[Extract from a letter of Jasmin on AV Compats]

"My experience of reading this book was an extremely difficult one. Page after page, I was reading the story of Sri Aurobindo, well-known in many details and less familiar in others, and yet it was as if a 'twist' had been given to everything described. Even without being able to verify every single detail, I found that in countless instances, materials had been presented selectively, and that details and quotes were skillfully arranged to paint a picture which in its overall effect differed greatly from the reality we know. ... The most painful aspect of all was for me the author’s style, his choice of one word over another, the colouring and nuances used in describing Sri Aurobindo. I felt in it a consistent undertone of biting sarcasm, sometimes subtle and sometimes blunt, which made me feel as if the author was using every opportunity to land a punch or a kick on his 'subject'. ... I felt almost physically sick while reading the book."

Dear Savitra,

Having read your postings on the compat forum, I have been wishing for some time to have a dialogue with you on some of the points you make. As you know, Aravinda and I greatly appreciate you as a friend with whom we have had many good and profound discussions. …

Like you, the first thing I came to read of the new publication were the few pages of extracts which have been widely read and referred to countless times since then. And like you, on reading the quotes, I felt utterly shocked, appalled, and refused to believe that what I had just read could have been the author's intention. I know from your own account, dear Savitra, that up to this point our stories are alike. From here onwards they differ, and have lead us to seemingly opposing stances. And on the basis of the precious friendship that has been ours, I humbly ask you to hear my own experience and view of the issue, allowing for the possibility that it may be as genuine and as authentic as yours is. I am not asking you to change your views, but in the spirit of true dialogue, to simply consider mine with an open mind and heart. …

Being a slow reader, and perhaps due to having done editing work, I am quite sensitive to nuances and shades of language - probably more so than those who know how to read rapidly while focusing mainly on the gist of a text. My experience of reading this book was an extremely difficult one. Page after page, I was reading the story of Sri Aurobindo, well-known in many details and less familiar in others, and yet it was as if a 'twist' had been given to everything described. Even without being able to verify every single detail, I found that in countless instances, materials had been presented selectively, and that details and quotes were skillfully arranged to paint a picture which in its overall effect differed greatly from the reality we know. We all have had the experience of seeing ourselves reflected in a curved deforming mirror - we recognise familiar features, yet so distorted that the result is a grotesque caricature of ourselves. This metaphor comes closest to my experience of the biography. The most painful aspect of all was for me the author’s style, his choice of one word over another, the colouring and nuances used in describing Sri Aurobindo. I felt in it a consistent undertone of biting sarcasm, sometimes subtle and sometimes blunt, which made me feel as if the author was using every opportunity to land a punch or a kick on his 'subject'. It translated itself into an inner 'picture' in which I saw the author engaged in a constant wresting match with his Master... as if to see who will be stronger... a fight fought with all the weaponry of the intellect, enlisting among other things a narrow 'academic' attitude which sits in judgement of that which exceeds it. I felt almost physically sick while reading the book. …

I would suggest that as children of the Mother who reminds us to 'cling to Truth', each of us tune in to our deepest and highest consciousness, and then whatever action we may be guided to take, to do so as an offering to the Divine, in the attitude taught to Arjuna by Sri Krishna...

I agree with you, Savitra, that in this important issue none of us who care for Sri Aurobindo and His work can escape the responsibility of informing ourselves, searching for truth, and taking whatever action we see as most appropriate. As I have said before, I believe that one way is to refine our mental faculties, discernment, reasoning, along with a widening, detachment, and introspection... More direct is another way, through the psychic perception, as you and others have been reminding us in this context. Whichever route we choose, we will be advancing on the path of yoga... And for those of us who consider ourselves children of the Mother, we may find the clearest guidance by asking ourselves a simple question: Can we imagine ourselves reading the ‘Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ to Her? What will She say about it? And similarly, in whatever we say or do to each other: Can we say or do the same things in the presence of Her who holds us all lovingly in Her arms?

With respect and friendship,

Aravinda & Jasmin Maheshwari)
  ...full text...