DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
UNIVERSITY OF HYDERABAD
HYDERABAD 500 046, (A.P.) INDIADr. Sachidananda Mohanty
Professor and Head
17 September 2008
The Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Pondicherry 605 002
Sub: Peter Heehs’ book: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Columbia
University Press, 2008.
I do not quite know in what capacity I am writing this letter. Technically, I am an “outsider”, but ideologically and spiritually, I consider myself a member of the larger Ashram community. I had the good fortune to be admitted by the Mother into the SAICE, and my career there spanned from 1966-1975. Currently, I am the Professor and Head, at the Hyderabad Central University. As some one who sees his life deeply connected with the upbringing he received at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, allow me to share my thoughts regarding the sense of dismay many have felt following the publication of the above mentioned biography by Peter Heehs. Perhaps as an academician, my comments may be germane to the discussion at hand.
27 Jul 2009
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
9 Jul 2009
The Preface is full of personal opinions and sets the tone for the rest of the book.
I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Aurobindo in 1968 in a yoga center on 57th Street in Manhattan. The teacher was an elderly Polish Jew with a suitably Indian name. He gave instructions in postures and breathing for a fee, dietary and moral advice gratis. Between lessons, he told stories about his years of wandering in India. Among the artifacts he brought back were photographs of people he called "realized beings," which covered the walls of his studio. One of them was of Aurobindo as an old man. I did not find it particularly remarkable, as the subject wore neither loincloth nor turban, and had no simulated halo around his head.
A few months later, after a brief return to college and a stopover in a wild uptown "ashram," I found myself living in another yoga center housed, improbably, in a building on Central Park West. Here there were just three pictures on the wall, one of them the standard portrait of Aurobindo (figure i). I was struck by the peaceful expanse of his brow, his trouble-free face, and fathomless eyes. It would be years before I learned that all of these features owed their distinctiveness to the retoucher's art.
Nasty and unwarranted comment upon the photograph. It means that the distinctive features such as the peaceful expanse of Sri Aurobindo's brow, trouble free face and fathomless eyes are due to the retoucher’s art. Incidentally, this photograph is kept in many people’s rooms as a symbol of divinity and a source of strength for them.
2 Jul 2009
I would like to add a few points to Amal Kiran’s brilliant article in the Mother India issue of May 1988 on Peter Heehs’ misinterpretation of Sri Aurobindo’s Adesh, published in the Archives & Research issues of April 1985 and December 1987. The following were the main points of Heehs’ argument:
(1) Sri Aurobindo met in Calcutta on 20, July 1909, one Parthasarathy Iyengar belonging to the India group of revolutionaries in Pondicherry. Parthasarathy told Sri Aurobindo about the advantages of the French India territory, where one could be free from harassment by the British police.
(2) When Sri Aurobindo sent Moni (Suresh Chakravarty) to make arrangements for his stay in Pondicherry, he sent him with a letter addressed to Parthasarathy, which means that he remembered the Pondicherry contact when he decided to go there from Chandernagore.
(3) Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry “in obedience to a divine command” (Adesh), but “by speaking to Sri Aurobindo about Pondicherry, Parthasarathy may have played an instrumental role in his coming”.
(4) Heehs quotes from a letter of Sri Aurobindo written in 1936, “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 is plausible that an Adesh similarly operates within the same complex nexus of forces. Applying this to the particular case in point, it is plausible that “the Adesh 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”. Conclusion: “I have no difficulty accepting that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry as the result of an Adesh, and at the same time accepting that there were political factors behind his departure.”
This apparently harmless conclusion not only belittles the divine nature of the Adesh Sri Aurobindo received, but lends support to the false rumour that he escaped to Pondicherry fearing a second arrest by the British police. First of all, it is a self-contradiction to accept that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry in obedience to the Adesh and, at the same time, say that there were political factors behind his departure. Sri Aurobindo’s decision to go to Pondicherry was determined by the Adesh in the context of an adverse political situation, but the decision itself was not due to political factors. Sri Aurobindo himself said he did not question the Adesh when he received it – he simply obeyed it, which means he would have obeyed whatever the Divine commanded him to do. There were several courses open to him at that point of time. He could have bravely faced the prospect of another trial and possible conviction had the Adesh ordered him to do so, or he could have simply gone underground in Calcutta, or perhaps even made arrangements to go abroad. The fact that he suddenly went to Chandernagore at the dead of night and sought refuge from Charu Chandra Roy, who, in fact, refused to help him because of his fear of the British police, and the further event of Motilal Roy (whom Sri Aurobindo never knew) giving him shelter in his own house, shows the unplanned nature of Sri Aurobindo’s action. It hardly demonstrates a well-thought out plan to counteract adverse political factors!
1 Jul 2009
Countless and cunning Trojan horses have entered the Web-Journals and their objective is to destroy the future, what stands for Tomorrow. But here is a warning from the watchful owl deeply keeping guard on things in the preciousness of the night.
The owl hooted in the mocking night, “Beware
Of Trojan horses set in brutal woods,
’neath thick branches of thought. They’re built in moods
Born of artful ends, and in the least care
Things that are to the growing spirit fair;
Deep silence in which the magic word broods
Is unknown to them; instead they prize goods
Synthetic, hurtful, swift masters of malware.
Seems they’re here to advance deceit, on the net
Spread disinformation; they will debunk
You, working night and day in shifty times.
They’ve no flowing manes, of scruples, and you’d get
Tricked by these schemers in the wooden trunk,
Beware! They would sue even gods for fake crimes.”
15 June 2009
First introduced by Virgil with a kind of finesse that speaks very highly of the ancient warriors, there is an acceptable Trojan Horse in Drydens’ translation. Its cunning is praiseworthy and honest resourcefulness, of doing things by noble and heroic people—unlike the way things happen on the quarrelling web-pages these days, witness vis-à-vis The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, the accusations and counter-accusations hurled by the warring tribes—as if they are all an insufferable lot. This has got to be remedied.
The subterfuge to deceive the Trojans was thought out, of course, by Athena herself, but was put into operation by the conniving and clever Odysseus. The gigantic wooden horse was designed and built by the artist Epeius and, when ready, a select number of Greek warriors climbed inside it. The rest of the Greek fleet pretended to sail away, back to their shores. The horse was left behind as a parting gift for the Trojans. Sinon, one of the accomplices, stayed behind to reassure the marvelling enemy not to worry about the horse, and that they could take it inside the city. Laocoon and Cassandra warned about the danger but, as usual, they were ignored. On the other hand, even as those thousand ships started sailing away, there were wild celebrations inside the guarded city and the treacherous gift was taken inside it. The moment of destiny had arrived and soon Sinon signalled the warriors hiding in the trunk of the wooden horse to jump out and attend to the short work they had planned with great care, in the manner of the Athenian perfection. Priam was killed and the city was set on fire.