30 Dec 2010

Lives of Sri Aurobindo - page 253

In this short note, we cover another distortion in this book which no one seems to have caught.

This is the passage on page 253:
During their three month stay, Mirra underwent a profound inner development, but this was due more to Theon’s wife that to Theon himself.  Madame Theon was `a marvellous woman from the point of view of experience,’ although her intellect was rather ordinary.  Theon, on the other hand, had comparatively little experience, but an encyclopedic knowledge of things occult.  A few lines from him was enough to inspire his wife to write pages and pages of what today might be called channeled writings.  But these revelations, according to one French critic, were `written in such a bizarre manner that even the most cultivated men (unless they were themselves `Cosmic’) quickly abandoned the attempt to read them.’ Mirra was aware of the deficiencies of Madame Theon’s writing, but felt that this extraordinary woman was in contact with genuine sources of knowledge.( page 253)
In this passage, Peter Heehs, via the opinions of some French critic, has effectively dismantled Madame Theon's revelations.  Did the Mother actually think Madame Theon's writing was deficient ?  Let us go back to the primary source, which in this case is the Agenda.
  ...full text...

25 Dec 2010

The Writings of Sri Aurobindo: Comments Apropos of Extracts from the Lives of Sri Aurobindo—by Krish Patwardhan

The crux of the difficulty that Heehs faces is the age old antagonism between spirituality and materialism and his wanting to please both parties in order to promote his book. On the one hand, he is supposed to expound the larger spiritual point of view of Sri Aurobindo, which does not reject Matter but explains it in spiritual terms. On the other hand, he has to reflect the ignorance of the materialistic critic, who does not understand spirituality at all, for otherwise how could he expect the latter to take him seriously? This could have been done by first presenting the materialistic point of view and countering it with the larger spiritual truth, as Sri Aurobindo has done in the Life Divine. But Heehs does the reverse; he presents the spiritual truth and counters it with the materialistic view, so that he ends up downplaying Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and criticising his works in a hostile manner for the sake of gaining sympathy from the materialist. [extract]

  ...full text...

9 Dec 2010

On the Mother's trip to Japan

The purpose of this article is to correct some misinterpretations in the Lives of Sri Aurobindo (referred to as LOSA hereafter) regarding the Mother Mirra Alfassa's trip to Japan.

  ...full text...

28 Sep 2010

Ashram Trust "does not approve" of TLOSA book!

"Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust does not approve
and has nothing to do with the book entitled
'The Lives of Sri Aurobindo' written by Peter Heehs"

[The following notice was put up on the Sri Aurobindo Ashram's notice board on 23.9.2010 afternoon and then removed the same evening. It was put up again on the 24th afternoon and again removed on the 27th afternoon. Since this notice has significant bearing on the recent controversies surrounding the book, we hope that its circulation in public will help to clarify things and lead to better understanding among all. -- Editorial Team]

Full text of the notice on the Ashram Notice Board as below:

SRI AUROBINDO ASHRAM TRUST

It is unfortunate that certain rumours are being circulated that the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is in some way endorsing, supporting or promoting the book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" by Peter Heehs. We would like to re-iterate what has been our consistent stand since October 2008 namely:

“Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust does not approve and has nothing to do with the book entitled "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" written by Peter Heehs and Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is not in any way responsible for the contents or the interpretations of the material contained therein....”

This is to re-affirm that the stand of the Ashram Trust has been consistent and has remained unchanged. The book is not sold from any department of the Ashram.

The Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust is fully aware of its responsibilities and its actions are determined keeping in view the vision and values it is meant to uphold.

For The Board of Trustees
[Signed: Manoj Das Gupta]
Seal: MANOJ DAS GUPTA
Managing Trustee
Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
Pondicherry
23.09.2010

Scanned image of the Notice on the Ashram Notice Board as below:
  ...full text...

15 Aug 2010

Change in the Editorial Board of rtlosa@gmail.com

Due to unavoidable circumstances, Sraddhalu Ranade and Raman Reddy have withdrawn from the editorial board of this website with effect from 15th August 2010.
  ...full text...

12 Aug 2010

"Sri Aurobindo on Hinduism" by Peter Heehs -- reviewed by Raman Reddy

Sri Aurobindo made a clear distinction between two types of Hinduism, the lower and the higher. By the lower Hinduism, he meant outdated Hindu customs and rituals, the Hinduism “which takes its stand on the kitchen and seeks its Paradise by cleaning the body”. By the higher Hinduism, he meant the Hinduism, “which seeks God, not through the cooking pot and the social convention, but in the soul”. He made a further division in the higher Hinduism, “the sectarian and unsectarian, disruptive and synthetic, that which binds itself up in the aspect and that which seeks the All”. It is by cleverly playing on these multiple meanings of the word that Heehs causes grave misunderstandings. He deliberately confounds these various aspects of Hinduism and uses the word consistently in the negative sense to convey that Sri Aurobindo dispensed with Hinduism altogether after coming to Pondicherry, as if it did not have anything of lasting value. In fact, he concludes by saying that the Hindu disciples of Sri Aurobindo may be doing a great disservice to their Master by still following Hindu rituals of the past such as the belief in Krishna and the Divine Shakti of the Mother. Even Sri Aurobindo himself should be then spared of Avatarhood by us, because he himself said so! I wonder what would be the practical implications of this fantastic logic which throws out the baby along with the bathwater!
  ...full text...

3 Aug 2010

Deception by Peter Heehs (page 266) – by Sandeep

Some of the errors I have found earlier in this biography have been noted at http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2008/12/14/4019788.html
http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2009/1/9/4051044.html

In many places in the book, Peter Heehs, having mentioned something positive, proceeds to concoct a negative side. Some of these negatives are phony because they have been inferred by craftily using Sri Aurobindo's words against him. By that I mean he takes Sri Aurobindo’s quotes out-of-context to potentially mislead uninformed readers. There is a certain procedure which has to be followed in order to uncover such deceptions. When you find a negative remark, you should look up the citation and read the original source. Then you must search for alternative sources, at which point you will realize that the negative remark is not really negative at all.

One instance is on Page 266.   ...full text...

24 Jul 2010

A Review by Anon E. Muse

In the economy of the universe nothing is wasted, even waste is endlessly recycled, so why not with this provocatively flawed biography?

In order to demonstrate to the reader the author’s unbiasedness, objective, intellectual independence, and lack of awe towards his subject, the author takes the surprisingly juvenile approach of deliberate disrespect, casting of innuendos, and imputing of shallow motives. Also, casting around for a desperate search for revisionisms and seeing them even where none exist, that desperation colors his alleged objectivity – the justifying foundation for the writing of this biography is his need to set the alleged ‘hagiographic’ record straight – hence he is compelled to uncover ‘falsifications’. Well, if he can’t find any he will have to in desperation just perceive some.

  ...full text...

25 Jun 2010

A Short Review by a Disciple

The biography is craftily written to fulfil an objective born out of the author’s misguided objectivism. The general reader by and large is prone to be misled by such misdemeanours in literature and becomes an easy prey unless he/she is intelligent enough to decipher and discriminate between what is real and what is not real and maintain the right balance in his/her opinion. Interestingly, PH has tried to show his intelligence by acknowledging almost the whole staff of the Archives Dept. individually by their names and show to the world that his work is an authentic document while he blatantly misused his position as a member of the Ashram and spied on the available information. There is a case in history where a woman resorted to an intimate relationship of love in order to know the secrets of the other side. The present case is akin to that and therefore is a culpable act of spying.

Hence for the sake of his own honesty, PH has to take a clear stand in this game and play the ball accordingly. He can then articulate freely on Science, Materialism, Spirituality, Religion, Politics, Literature or any other topic the way he likes and as he deems fit without mincing his words. As of now he is not a flag-bearer of the Truth the Ashram stands for after the Master and the Mother have physically left the scene. Therefore, being an insider and a follower of the ideal they showed to humanity, he must not evaluate their work as if he were an outsider. He can however proclaim to the world from his own pulpit that he has greater and higher knowledge and power than Sri Aurobindo and draw his inspiration from Freud, Nehru, etc.

PH somewhere writes regarding Sri Aurobindo that “Some of his arguments now seem rather quaint.” This means that he has the temerity to suggest that he stands on a higher platform than Sri Aurobindo. Again he highlights a situation saying that Sri Aurobindo was a “coward and a liar” and immediately brings in Barin’s statement that “fear was unknown to him” to soften the public mind or, perhaps, to tone down the gravity of his first statement. In another case, he quotes Jawaharlal Nehru saying that “most of the people of my generation who were immersed in political aspects of our struggle did not understand why he [Sri Aurobindo] did so (retired from politics)”. As if the “founder-member” of the Archives Dept. could not make out the mystery of it even after decades of association with Sri Aurobindo’s writings!!!

Beside these, there are several other equally grave and serious errors in the book and they have already been discussed threadbare by people who understand the hypocrisy and stupidity of human behaviour, and so there is no need to mention them here. All said and done, and devotee or no devotee, Sri Aurobindo now belongs to all humanity and even at the human level is worthy of the highest and deepest regard. To say, for example, that he was not a good husband is an utter falsehood. Rama was an avatar of the mental being who established the mind in the earth’s consciousness. PH may say he was a cruel husband as he caused his wife to go into exile and undergo tortures for years in her forest life. But that will be his one personal opinion like that of the washerman in the Ramayana episode.

I will give only one advice to PH, though I don’t think he will understand it. The Mother said that “to come closer to the Truth, you must often accept not to understand.”

A Disciple
  ...full text...

15 Jun 2010

Comments on Nationalism, Terrorism, Fundamentalism, Delusion -- by R.Y. Deshpande

Extract from article:

It is a pity that Sri Aurobindo’s formulations and actions are totally misunderstood by the author of the repulsive The Lives of Sri Aurobindo when he makes a preposterous attempt to discredit Sri Aurobindo by saying this: “It is impossible to say anything certain about the success or failure” of Sri Aurobindo’s endeavor. In fact he goes farther and says that Sri Aurobindo’s success always seemed to elude him, if not delude him. He disbelieves that Sri Aurobindo succeeded in bringing down a new consciousness into the earth-consciousness. But this is plain stupid when one has no understanding of the occult-yogic aspects of the entire issue, aspects which have perhaps no concern for a historian as he claims himself to be one. There has to be some insight into them, preferably some experience or realization of them, before making any comment of the kind.

  ...full text...

7 Jun 2010

Review Article of Peter Heehs’ ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ -- by Dr. J.B.P. More

[Dr. J.B.P.More is a historian, author of several books and articles on India, the most recent being the one entitled "Partition of India: Players and Partners".]

Extract:

"Though Heehs had taken the pain to consult the various archives for primary sources, incurring probably heavy expenses, there is nothing drastically new in what he puts forward. What is new is his penchant to use such sources to tarnish certain facets of Sri Aurobindo’s life, on the pretext that he is being objective, scholarly and so on. All throughout this book until the last pages, there is a barely unconcealed intention to somehow hurt Sri Aurobindo’s reputation and run down at the same time certain aspects of indigenous spiritual culture and tradition. This is not the hall mark of a great biography. Instead it is the trade mark of those who count upon controversy to sell their wares."


Review Article of Peter Heehs’ ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ -- by Dr. J.B.P.More

(Compte-rendu critique du livre de Peter Heehs)

Peter Heehs. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Columbia University Press, New York, 2008, 528 pages, Illust., Biblio., Index


In this thick book, the author has attempted to trace the life history of Sri Aurobindo. He has divided Sri Aurobindo’s life chronologically into various compartments like birth, childhood, youth, adulthood, retirement and death. He has also divided his life as life in Bengal, life in England, life in Baroda, life in Calcutta and life in Pondicherry. He again divides his life into school life, revolutionary life, conjugal or sexual life and spiritual life. That is why the author seems to have chosen the title of this book as ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’. The author uses several archival sources, interviews and secondary sources in order to describe the various or varied lives of Sri Aurobindo as he understands it.

The author was an office assistant, stock boy and even taxi driver in New York before he joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry in 1971, where he was entrusted with the job of arranging and organising the archives related to Sri Aurobindo. He seems to claim that he stayed in the Ashram because he was given the job at the Archives which he liked and not because of his devotion to Sri Aurobindo (p.x). With the new-found job in the Ashram and the prestigious title of archivist of one of the most notable figures of modern India, Peter Heehs without any known academic qualification or experience, took to writing about Indian history. His first book was a slim volume on India’s freedom struggle from 1857 to 1947. That came out in 1988 after staying in India and the Ashram for about 18 years. That was the beginning of his positioning himself as a scholar, with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram as base.

A year later, he brought out a short work titled Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography, using the archival material at his disposal. In the Preface to this book, he differentiated between two types of readers – the students of history/social sciences and spiritual aspirants. He identified only four biographers in about two dozen, who based their works, partly at least on original research: A.B.Purani, K.R.Srinivasa Iyengar, Monod-Herzen and Raychaudhuri. For him, the rest of the biographies were simply rewritings of that of Purani, with some additions. He then wrote that even among these four, the first three were biased in favour of Sri Aurobindo. According to him, none of the three sought out and analysed variant accounts, though he conceded that they enjoyed direct access to Sri Aurobindo. He wrote that his short work was just a beginning and more critical study of Sri Aurobindo’s life will follow. Nobody took care of these words then. Nobody really paid attention to the fact that the author had wilfully run down the previous biographers of Sri Aurobindo in many respects. Nobody ever questioned how such a person who had run down all previous biographers could be still in such a vantage point as the archives of Sri Aurobindo. Two years later, Heehs brought out another book Modern India and World History, which went unnoticed.

In 1993, he brought out 'The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India, 1900-1910'. Once again in this book, he took on academic historians, especially of Bengal, who have produced a lot on the subject. He accused them mainly for being uncritical and unduly commemorative about the revolutionary events related to this period. However, he made a distinction between those including Sri Aurobindo who took to violence or inspired violent acts, and the terrorist violence (mainly Islamic) of today. In this way, he endeared himself to the unsuspecting reader, while at the same time he sought to discredit the established historians in the subject, using some primary archival sources. In 1989, he wanted to teach others about how to write the biography of Sri Aurobindo by running down his previous biographers. In 1993, he sought to do the same to established academic historians.

After 1993, Heehs produced at least three anthologies of Sri Aurobindo’s writings, culled from the Ashram archives. He thus established a reputation for himself as a specialist of Sri Aurobindo, his writings and philosophy.

Another fifteen years passed since Heehs published his Bomb in Bengal. Meanwhile he seems to have fabricated his own ‘bomb’ which came out in the form of 'The Lives of Sri Aurobindo' in 2008, published by the renowned Columbia University Press. Once again, in this work, he dons the garb of a scholar and teacher, giving lessons about how to write biographies in general and the biography of Sri Aurobindo in particular. This time he ignores all of Sri Aurobindo’s previous biographers and treats them as mere hagiographers (p.xiv). The work literally caught off-guard the devotees and followers of Sri Aurobindo, who never expected anything from the pen of their fellow Ashramite Heehs, that could raise question marks on the life of their guru and avatar. It also shocked the others, both scholars and laymen for the unconventional matter it contained and the way it was used by the author.
At the very outset, his objective seems to be to magnify wherever possible, what he considered to be blemishes and pockmarks in Sri Aurobindo’s life. It starts with the wilful comparison of two photographs of Sri Aurobindo, one ‘retouched’ he says to suit the devotee’s taste for radiance and fairness and the other ‘real’, with dark, pockmarked skin and undreamy eyes (xi-xiv).He never seems to have realised that ‘retouching’ of photographs was quite common in those days. Besides he ignores the historical fact that the ‘real’ images of past gurus or saints like Jesus Christ or Buddha have never come down to us. This superfluous obsession with Sri Aurobindo’s colour and image appears off and on throughout the book. He then goes on to portray Sri Aurobindo as born to a mother suffering from bipolar disorder (p.8,33). Later he deliberately portrays him as ‘weak and inept in the playing field’. He then claims that Sri Aurobindo himself had admitted that he was ‘a coward and liar’ in his schooldays. Heehs chooses to believe this. But strangely he would not believe any other reason given later by the same Sri Aurobindo for not passing the I.C.S., just because he did not find it in the British records (p.32,17). Using such statements pronounced in different contexts, Heehs insinuates that Sri Aurobindo’s later day behaviour of dissimulating certain facts, especially when he was in the thick of politics (p.34, 126-129,133,134,162, 175, 179), was conditioned by his early school life.

Regarding Sri Aurobindo’s early life as a revolutionary in England and Baroda, there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to portray Sri Aurobindo as a man with a violent streak, with a penchant for terrorist violence. Things like his admiration of France and the French revolution and his support for the ‘racist’ Boers against the British and even his worship of the fiery Kali are used to rub in the idea that Sri Aurobindo was indeed violent-prone and radical (p.23,24, 30, 39, 40, 61, 67, 118, 156,182). At the same time in the same book, it is also shown that Sri Aurobindo believed in passive resistance and not aggressive violence and that his revolution was a long-drawn out one which would take at least thirty years to fructify (p.62, 92, 99, 117, 118, 119, 151, 182, 210). The same Sri Aurobindo is also shown at one instance as not doing anything to prevent the violent activities of his brother and friends, mainly on the basis of unreliable second-hand sources, and statements quoted out of their context (p.119, 130,134,135, 141,142, 152, 153, 156, 157, 158). It is also admitted that Sri Aurobindo’s guru, Lele had never preached violence (p.151). These contradictions become quite obvious when we read the chapters dealing with them quite closely.

Besides, the author has significantly failed to implicate Sri Aurobindo directly in any sort of terrorist violence, though he wracks his nerve to trace all terrorist violence in Bengal to Sri Aurobindo. He also demonstrates that the latter pursued simultaneously his literary activities and spiritual experiences, even after leaving Baroda and even in Alipore prison (p.62-74, 76-78, 81, 82, 84, 142-145,148,164, 165, 168, 173, 174, 177, 178,183, 187) The British too never found any incriminating evidence against Sri Aurobindo, either when he was at the service of the Gaekwad in Baroda or after when Bengal was divided and he threw in his lot with the extremist faction of the Congress, led by Bepin Chandra Pal and Tilak. At this time, Sri Aurobindo preferred political independence rather than social reforms or addressing Muslim communalism (p.93,102, 103, 116, 117) But somehow Heehs tries to put the blame for all terrorist-related violence on Sri Aurobindo by arguing and even insinuating that he inspired all of them. He even goes to the extent of asserting hastily without any solid evidence that Sri Aurobindo was responsible also for the Hindu-Muslim divide, the partition of India in 1947 and the accompanying blood-letting due to his nationalistic activities which lasted (as Heehs himself says) only for about two and half years, roughly from 1907 to 1910 (p.116, 210, 212, 315) Besides, Heehs wonders at one stage how Sri Aurobindo who participated so little in politics is hailed as one of the protagonists of the freedom movement and one of the founding fathers of the Indian nation. But in the same breath he accepts that Sri Aurobindo was the first to call for independence, which was adopted by the Congress 23 years later in 1929 and that he succeeded in infusing the will for freedom to a whole generation. He ends up affirming somehow that Sri Aurobindo was not cut out for active political leadership, without trying to know or understand whether he really wanted such leadership or not (p.211,212,314, 321-322). All this only shows that Heehs lacks historical depth and training, which is a requisite for coherence in historical or biographical writing.

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and spiritual experiences and the stupendous quantity of literature produced by him, have never been the focus of the book. Instead, Heehs devotes more attention on Sri Aurobindo’s school and revolutionary lives rather than his spiritual life. It actually occupies more than 200 pages of the text in the book. It is actually based more on his previous works like the Bomb in Bengal than any genuinely new material. Of course, Heehs gives a twist to all this by levelling harsh, doubtful, petty and trivial criticisms on certain aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s lives in England, Baroda and Bengal. To conclude, he even adopts a paternalistic benevolent attitude towards pre-1947 Indian nationalism as justified by comparing it with the havoc caused by European nationalisms, without realising that Indians had never indulged in colonialism in their long history and had never sought to ‘blotting out individual peoples and effacing outward distinctions’, to use the words of Sri Aurobindo himself (p.189, 211) Their treatment of the menial class Sudras or Untouchables had indeed degenerated to inhumanity, as Heehs notes (p.296). But Heehs might well remember that they belonged to the same mixed racial and cultural stock as the other Indians and they were never subjected to extermination or deportation in their long history. It was the same Brahma who generated the Brahmin and the Untouchable or Sudra according to Hindu belief.

The second phase of Sri Aurobindo’s life started in 1910 with his decision to quit politics and Bengal for Pondicherry and spirituality. Heehs does not commit himself on whether Sri Aurobindo went to Pondicherry due to a divine call or because he feared arrest (p.219). In Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo continued with his sadhana and wrote a lot. It is true that Sri Aurobindo preferred solitude and silence. He is also believed to possess various spiritual and ‘siddhi’ powers, similar to many other Hindu, Christian and Muslim saints who preceded him. But Heehs does not cite one instance when Sri Aurobindo performed miracles with these powers, in order to attract followers and disciples towards him like many others before him. These ‘siddhi’ powers were based on the individual experience and knowledge of Sri Aurobindo. Silence, solitude and ‘siddhi’ powers were part of Indian spiritual tradition and behaviour, largely incomprehensible and abnormal to outsiders. One either believes in it and experiments with it or does not believe in it. It is not possible to assume gratuitously like Heehs even for the sake of argument or scholarly purposes that Sri Aurobindo suffered from schizophrenia or was under spells of hallucinations due to his behaviour. This is not the first time that modern scholars have treated an Indian stalwart as schizophrenic. Gandhi himself was viewed as a schizophrenic due to his abnormal activities like fasting, etc. The miracle-working Jesus Christ himself would become a schizophrenic if we apply some of these dubious modern psychiatric yard scales! The height of Heehs’ indecency becomes obvious when he relates Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experiences to his mother’s bipolar disorder (p.247). More generally, by questioning Sri Aurobindo’s mystic powers, Heehs seems to question India’s entire yogic and Sufic traditions (p.226, 227,228, 230, 231, 238-246). Whether Heehs has the necessary qualifications, knowledge or experience to do that is highly doubtful. By wilfully doing it, he has no doubt overstretched himself.

Naturally, Sri Aurobindo’s literature, philosophy and spiritual experiences, which constitute a great part of his life is treated summarily by Heehs in the book (p.264-287). It lacks depth and range and appears rather superficial. For instance, Sri Aurobindo stood ultimately for a synthesis and union of the East and West, on a spiritual basis that preserved the diversity of its units. He did not want a union on any mechanical or material basis. But Heehs never dwells at length on this crucial topic. Instead, he asserts hastily that Sri Aurobindo neither understood the nature of the international order before and during the First World War nor did he understand the advent of modernity and the religion of humanity, which Heehs seems to hold as absolute (p.288-289, 295, 296, 306). Besides, Heehs devotes very little attention to Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus, The Life Divine, where the pathway to divine life on earth has been set out. Instead he dismisses it (as well as Sri Aurobindo’s Synthesis of Yoga) unceremoniously as abstruse (p.279). He even regrets that both have failed to give any easy technique to reach nirvana (p.279,287). This desire for a short-cut to nirvana on the part of Heehs seems to be conditioned by his pre-Ashram background. Earlier he defended Sri Aurobindo’s Uttarapara speech as non-sectarian and all comprehensive (p.187). But Heehs asserts in the same breath that Sri Aurobindo, influenced by Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Tilak and Hindu sacred literature, was convinced of the superiority of the Indian (Hindu) spiritual culture compared to that of the west (p.42, 57, 67, 189, 260, 293, 295).

More generally, Heehs finds fault with Sri Aurobindo’s style of writing English and his poetical and other ideas whenever he gets a chance. He considers them as out of step with the new modernism of the west (p.78, 299, 301-302, 306,307,328) He also seems to question Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual powers (p.374, 381, 387, 396, 406, 407). He even finds fault with Sri Aurobindo for not having read much of Western and Eastern philosophy and much of Hindu sacred literature, apart from the Gita, Upanishad and Rig Veda. He never seems to realise that Sri Aurobindo became a yogi and philosopher by discovering the ‘ultimate’ truths through his own spiritual experiences and not by reading any sacred or secular text or by logical arguments (p.276-278). Sri Aurobindo later found justification for his experiences in literature like the Vedas, Gita and Upanishads. This is also the case of many other yogis in India. Some other yogis of India have hardly read any sacred literature in their lives. Besides, Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of integral yoga or Divine Life on earth is based on his own spiritual experiences and understanding. Sankara’s philosophy of Advaita, Ramanuja’s Dvaita and Buddha’s Nirvana are based respectively on their individual experiences and understanding. But western philosophy, to use the words of Sri Aurobindo is a ‘game of words’ (p.341), not based on any individual experience. This is a fundamental difference between Indian and western philosophies, which Heehs has simply overlooked or has not understood.

In Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo enjoyed the hospitality of some Tamils (p.218,226) He came into contact with Paul Richard and his wife Mirra, interested in occultism. Together, they founded the Arya. By the 1920s Mirra becomes the Mother. She also becomes the sole intermediary for Sri Aurobindo, who himself is seen as a guru or avatar by his disciples. In fact, Heehs hardly tells us anything about Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry which we do not know already. At times he is repetitive, especially when he writes about the spiritual descent and ascent. Besides, he tells us only things which he wants to tell and which suits his temperament and predilections. For example, he seems to give special importance to Paul Richard’s sexual penchants, which do not have much to do with Sri Aurobindo (p.314, 341, 345, 353, 354, 355, 366, 375, 380) In order to offset such glaring shortcomings and attract attention to his book, Heehs has employed the unworthy tactics of maligning certain facets of Sri Aurobindo’s life by stooping low sometimes through unverifiable insinuations and ill-concealed, and largely unsubstantiated allegations (Cf. p.315, 326).

Strangely, Heehs seems to be obsessed with the sexual life of Sri Aurobindo right from his school days up to his meeting with Mirra, without giving the least thought that Indian spiritual tradition and culture in which Sri Aurobindo was immersed does not attach much importance to carnal pleasures. In fact, it demands the renunciation or transcending of sexual life. This is not fully comprehensible to Heehs, steeped in the sexual psycho-analytical theories of Freud, in the manner of a Wendy Doniger or a Dennis Hudson or a Jeffrey Kripal. Heehs has actually met and talked with Jeffrey Kripal while writing the present book. So he strives unconvincingly to pin down Sri Aurobindo by insinuating off and on that the latter did have some sexual adventures and desires and even insinuates that he was attracted to sexual tantrism, though Sri Aurobindo had outrightly denied it. Besides, he asserts casually, (as if he has some special power to gauge the minds of the immediate disciples of Sri Aurobindo) that the latter’s disciples even had sexual daydreams. He even seems to insinuate off and on that there was even a physical side to the relationship between Mirra and Sri Aurobindo, though the latter always considered the former as the indispensable divine Shakti in his quest for the higher truths (p.25, 56, 261,326, 329, 373). Heehs however gives no clear indication about the sources of his information in order to support his affirmations and claims. Besides he admits at times that in the Ashram sexual abstinence was a must. On the other hand, he condemns Sri Aurobindo for not being a good husband to his wife, knowing fully well that in the revolutionary and spiritual inclinations of the latter’s mind there was very little or no place for a sexual or a conjugal life. He does not seem to realise that in the Indian tradition distancing oneself from material and conjugal life in search of the Ultimate was not uncommon (p.55, 87, 89, 318, 319, 359).

Strangely, Heehs devotes less than hundred pages to the last 25 years of Sri Aurobindo’s life in Pondicherry. This creates a serious imbalance in his attempt to cover the various lives of Sri Aurobindo in the book. Heehs has hardly much to say about the interaction of Sri Aurobindo and the Ashram with the wider Indian society and also the local Pondicherry society, both French and Indian, as Pondicherry was still a French colony when Sri Aurobindo passed away in 1950. He has nothing much to say of Gandhi’s visit to Pondicherry in 1934. His understanding of the events that led to the partition of India is shallow, superficial and second-hand. Of course, Heehs has consulted some hitherto unused records related to the early life of Sri Aurobindo in the archives in London, Kolkata, Dacca, Baroda, and Delhi, but somehow he has missed the Pondicherry State and National Archives, though he has been a resident of Pondicherry since 1971. In France, he has just consulted one file in the National Archives of Paris. He has missed the Overseas Archives in Aix-en-Provence where all records related to the French colony of Pondicherry are stored. The consultation of the Overseas Archives and the Pondicherry Archives is a must for understanding certain facets of Sri Aurobindo’s life in Pondicherry, especially his last 25 years. This is one of the reasons why his book has become lop-sided and imbalanced. Generally Sri Aurobindo had a very good opinion of France and the French civilisation, and considered Pondicherry as a meeting place of the East and West. Heehs of course could not appreciate this predilection of Sri Aurobindo for France for reasons that we do not know.

Though Heehs had taken the pain to consult the various archives for primary sources, incurring probably heavy expenses, there is nothing drastically new in what he puts forward. What is new is his penchant to use such sources to tarnish certain facets of Sri Aurobindo’s life, on the pretext that he is being objective, scholarly and so on. All throughout this book until the last pages, there is a barely unconcealed intention to somehow hurt Sri Aurobindo’s reputation and run down at the same time certain aspects of indigenous spiritual culture and tradition. This is not the hall mark of a great biography. Instead it is the trade mark of those who count upon controversy to sell their wares.


Dr. J.B.P. More

Historian and Writer



Permanent link:

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31 May 2010

Reply to Dr. Raghu -- by Dr. Alok Pandey

The conclusions drawn by Dr Raghu [1] are not only ill-informed but also illogical and unscientific. I am not sure whether he is a medical doctor or a research doctor, but this much I can say that he does not even know the definition of delusion. A Delusion is a false belief, held by deep conviction, despite evidence to the contrary. It is unshakable by reason and most importantly not shared by other members of the culture and social milieu. Leaving aside Sri Aurobindo for a moment, if one were to follow Dr Raghu's innovative self-styled criteria, then not only yogis and mystics all over the world but even the simple peasant having faith in God are all deluded people and need to see a psychiatrist. The only sane people left in the world would then be scientists like Mr Raghu and historians like Peter Heehs. One can imagine what a pitiable world would that be!

His conclusion itself is faulty and based on mixing up two different premises. Use of yogic force to cure illness is not the same as conquest of death. Death is not necessarily the result of an illness. It may be due to other factors such as ageing, genetic programming, accidents, poisoning, and so on. While the yogic force may succeed in curing illness, it yet may not be sufficient to conquer physical death and reverse the habit of millenniums (call it genetic programming if one likes). Dr Raghu needs to be first clear about his fundamentals, not only of science but also of logical reasoning.

Secondly, as Sri Aurobindo himself has pointed out, the use of yogic force does not guarantee cure. Can any allopath guarantee that in his system? Does it mean that there is no such thing as allopathy and all medical doctors are humbug and medical practitioners a self-deluded lot because they cannot cure even a common cold? May be they are, in all likelihood they are, for they are generally unwilling to look beyond the box. If only Dr Raghu looked beyond his early 20th century beliefs of the strict reductionist paradigm of the materialistic scientist, he would see that many scientists, researchers, leave aside yogis and mystics, are now coming to believe, accept, experiment, and use yogic force to cure illness. They may not always call it a yogic force, but that is another matter. Dr Raghu needs to update his knowledge.

Thirdly, belief in and the use of yogic force to cure illness is nothing new to Indian thought and also to western yoga. Many of us have witnessed and continue to witness instances of this kind. Thankfully the world is not limited to the beliefs and non-beliefs of Heehs and Co. There is much more on heaven and earth than some would like to believe. But that is another story, for people like to draw conclusions and believe what gives them solace and justifies their self-identity. Instead of expanding their limited tunnel vision, they try to restrict everything to that, and if something does not fit in there, they simply believe that it does not exist. But the limits of our sight are not the limits of Light.

He also ought to know that as Sri Aurobindo himself has pointed out at several places, Yogic force is one force in a vast and complex play of forces. It may not always succeed and is not unconditional. Fire burns but does not do so always. In certain conditions, it does not burn. Does it mean that there is no such thing as the burning property of fire? Sri Aurobindo has stated clearly that he seldom used the Supramental Force (which alone has an absolute action) because hardly anyone can hold it, and if one does, the results may be devastating. Not all can tolerate certain remedies. They are very effective but seldom used as the body may not be able to handle it. Is the doctor ignorant of these simple facts of everyday practice of medicine?

Through the use of Yogic Force, Sri Aurobindo was not just curing a few faithful disciples, but preparing humanity to receive and contain and later use the force as we today use electricity or nuclear energy. A deluded man thinks the force to be his personal private property. Sri Aurobindo, instead, related it to the planes of consciousness, to hidden possibilities of Nature (or Supernature), even the future potential to which all human beings can have access in due course of time if they can fulfil certain conditions. Is this the sign of someone deluded or that of a most meticulous scientific researcher? Surely the doctor needs to know that all research is done in this way. And we already see the result of this research done in the little laboratory of Pondicherry. Despite the sceptics and agnostics, the world is beginning to accept in all fields, including science, the paradigm shift initiated and completed by Sri Aurobindo. This is a subject too vast to explain now, but the dogmatic and arrogant scientist who holds fast to the crumbling mechanistic view of life, needs to update himself about all that Sri Aurobindo has written and all that is happening in the world of science rather than base his conclusions on the insufficient data derived from a clearly biased work as Mr Heehs’s book. Dr Raghu’s personal liking or disliking of a book is one thing, truth is another matter. The whole world may like a book and yet it is only worth the WPB. That is our stand.

We are not against the book simply because it challenges our beliefs, as if we need the testimony of a non-entity like Mr Heehs to have faith or understand things. Our main objection is that first of all it is Untruth (falsehood as it is called) and any sensible right thinking man must have enough courage to stand by Truth. What makes it worse is that not only it is falsehood but a conscious one, for it comes through the pen of someone who has spent decades at the Ashram and cannot claim ignorance of all that has been said by Sri Aurobindo. This book besides is a retrogressive step as it tries to re-establish the old materialistic paradigm that men all over the world are fast discarding. It is necessary to challenge it and set the record straight. Dr Raghu needs to know that not only old sadhakas but also new ones, including scientists and experts in their own field, trust Sri Aurobindo's vision and have ample evidence to testify it. It is not some cult or blind irrational belief, but the call of Truth that motivates us.

There is so much more to write on the subject with proper quotes etc. but I have no time. So let Mr Raghu rest in peace in the narrow corridors of his mind if he finds consolation in that hard material cocoon spun around our souls by the most ingenious artists of all – Nature -- and let Mr Heehs remain in his self-created dungeon. Meanwhile the world advances quickly towards the great vision and the glorious path opened for earth and man by the tapasya of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Dr. Alok Pandey

30 May 2010



[1]
Dear Mr. Heehs,

I am writing to express strong and staunch support for your right to engage in the kind of work you have done in your book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. The book is interesting and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Aurobindo. The attempts of the members of the "cult of Aurobindo and the Mother" to discredit your work on the basis of inane, superstitious, and discredited beliefs about the "divinity" or "avatarhood" of Aurobindo and childish "discipleship" sentiments is deplorable. In fact, I think that the limitation of your work is that it is not sufficiently critical of the legends and myths surrounding Aurobindo, "the Mother", and the communities they helped to spawn.

One central delusion shared equally by Aurobindo and his pitiable disciples (some of whom, e.g., Champaklal, used to reverentially collect specimens of his hair and nail fragments!) is the belief that diseases can be cured by "Yogic force". As the record left by Nirodbaran of Aurobindo's last days clearly shows, Aurobindo believed that he had cured his prostatic trouble by his "yogic force" and said so to Dr. Sanyal. Well, the weeks following this delusional claim provided hard reminders from Mother Nature on the realities of his condition. It should be noted that Aurobindo suffered from partial blindness for several years before his death. This partial blindness is, no doubt, further proof of the "descent of the supermind" into his body and its capacity for producing remarkable physical transformations!!!

"One day we came to notice that Sri Aurobindo’s urination had increased in frequency…The urine was examined and found to have an excessive amount of sugar with a trace of albumin. I reported the result to the Mother in Sri Aurobindo’s presence and said, “It looks like diabetes.” The Mother sharply reacted, “It is not diabetes.”…The Mother, however, reduced considerably the amount of starchy food, particularly rice and sweets for which Sri Aurobindo seemed to have a liking…I was asked to examine the urine every week and apprise him of the result. In a few weeks’ time it became sugar-free but the frequency did not altogether disappear. Sri Aurobindo too had noticed it. It made me suspect mild prostatic enlargement…I consulted [Dr. Prabhat Sanyal] and at my request Sri Aurobindo saw him. After an enquiry he confirmed my suspicion, but added that it was just at the initial stage. He told Sri Aurobindo of the nature, course and complications of the disease, ultimately operation being the only radical cure. After a few months, on Sanyal’s second visit, Sri Aurobindo told him emphatically, “It is no more troubling me. I have cured it.”…During his last months the symptoms of prostatic enlargement reappeared and began to increase slowly…urinary symptoms were worsening and now a trace of albumin was detected…Then acetone appeared, a grave signal…[in the week following the Darshan of November 1950] The symptoms grew more serious and a partial obstruction to the flow of the urine made us think of medical intervention. When it became complete and was causing distress, Dr. [Satyabrata] Sen and we had no other alternative but to pass a catheter, much against his will. It was followed by immediate relief…" (Nirodbaran)

None of this merits any unusual consideration or critical attention were it not for the claim made by the Aurobindo and his disciples that he had used "yogic force" to cure himself. Clearly, the deterioration of his condition after making that claim to Dr. Sanyal and the fact that a catheter, a real one and not a "yogic catheter", was needed to provide some temporary relief is sure proof that he had delusions about "yogic force" and its capacity to cure his own disease, not to mention bombastic claims about "supramentalization of the body", "physical immortality", and chimera of that ilk.

Does the fact that he had deluded himself on "yogic force" and its capacity to cure his disease show that all his contributions are without value? Not at all. Isaac Newton was giant of science, but he filled some of his notebooks with the most weird and unscientific claims, beliefs, and analysis pertaining to the Bible. The latter does not detract from his status as a genius of science. In the same way, I think, Aurobindo's contributions to Indian literature, his attempt to synthesize Upanishadic metaphysics and evolutionary science, his contributions to Indian political life and thought, and his pioneering efforts in systematizing the course of higher development of human consciousness remain valuable despite some of his striking delusions about using "yogic force" to cure diseases and to alter the course of world history.

Dr. Raghu
26 May 2010

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24 May 2010

Comment by Shrikant Soman

This comment is from a Sadhak who is not so much an expert in these matters. When I went through the postings, I was actually elated in a strange and weird manner. It clearly appeared to me that the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs is a very clear attempt to 'bring down' the spiritual height of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. And to a Sadhak who has made even an elementary progress on the Path, the attempt of Peter is a miserable failure. He has not been able to throw even a 0.1 % doubt on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's spiritual heights.

Secondly, there may even be more attempts by other individuals. It is unavoidable. While it is good that we refute these attempts, we need not get 'disturbed' by them. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are BEYOND the REACH of these people. I do NOT find anything SUBSTANTIAL, in spite of the laborious efforts made by Peter in his writings. Instead of downgrading Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, it actually results in UPLIFTING their stature - because it clearly shows that after digging the mountain, Peter could not even get a mouse, not even an ant !

Pranam

Shrikant

www.shrikantsoman.com
shrikant@shrikantsoman.com
http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2008/12/14/4019788.html#1253007

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10 May 2010

The biographical in Savitri — by RY Deshpande

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published by the Columbia University Press two years ago declares Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri as a “fictional creation”, and therefore not of any use from the point of view of it being a source-book for the biographical material. Let us briefly try to examine this statement of the Lives from the known facts we have about Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual life, specifically corresponding to his Calcutta years 1905-10; some of the aspects revealed to us in Savitri can be directly correlated with the Yogi’s spiritual biography belonging to this period. We shall take a few illustrative details pertaining to this aspect, essentially belonging to the early part of his yoga-tapasya.

To begin with, here are two conventional details pertaining to the biography. The first one is related to 1879 when, as a 7-year boy, Sri Aurobindo was taken to England. There he stayed for the next fourteen years and grew entirely in the British way. He, along with his two brothers, was put by their father in charge of Reverend William Drewett who was instructed to bring them up with British habits and British manners, without any teaching of religion, without any contact with the Indian tradition. Earlier the Drewetts stayed in a two-storey house at 84 Shakespeare St in the neighbourhood of Manchester. “Mean and clumsy were the buildings, or pretentious and aimed at false elegance. Miles of bricks, with hardly a bit of green here and there”—that was the usual landscape. The typical British meat and fish made up the normal food during the entire period. When Sri Aurobindo was just around ten, he had his early education at home with the Drewetts, learning Latin, history, French, geography, arithmetic.

And here is just a touch of the active national life Sri Aurobindo was leading during his Calcutta days, 1905-10. In July 1907 there was a rigorous police hunt for documents regarding the editorship of Bande Mataram, the purpose being to indict its editor for the nationalist views he held. They were bent upon prosecuting him whom they took none else but Sri Aurobindo himself. A squad of 30 policeman invaded the Bande Mataram office and took away a heap of papers. But they were disappointed not to find any evidence to implicate Sri Aurobindo. Later, on 23 February 1940 during his talks with the disciples, Sri Aurobindo disclosed that there was evidence about his editorship of the Bande Mataram, “but it was erased by the knife.” The police had a warrant for Sri Aurobindo’s arrest but they would not use it until they had proofs with them. On 16 August 1907 a detective went to the Bande Mataram office and told the manager that he had a warrant to arrest Sri Aurobindo. That night Sri Aurobindo was dining at the home of Byomkesh Chakravarty who was his barrister friend. The strategy was for Sri Aurobindo to surrender and accordingly he went to the local police station. But he was released on payment of two sureties. On 18 August Sri Aurobindo at once became a celebrity. On 24 August Rabindranath Tagore hailed him in glowing terms, and said:

Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!
O friend, my country’s friend, O voice incarnate, free,
Of India’s soul!

Sri Aurobindo was the Principal of National College, but because of his nationalist political activities and involvements it was feared that the institution would suffer; he decided to resign from it. A send-off was given to him on 23 August 1907 when, after a wonderful feast, he addressed the students briefly:

The only piece of advice that I can give you now is—carry on the work, the mission, for which this college was created. I have no doubt that all of you have realised by this time what this mission means. When we established this college and left other occupations, other chances of life, to devote our lives to this institution, we did so because we hoped to see in it the foundation, the nucleus of a nation, of the new India which is to begin its career after this night of sorrow and trouble, on that day of glory and greatness when India will work for the world. What we want here is not merely to give you a little information, not merely to open to you careers for earning a livelihood, but to build up sons for the Motherland to work and to suffer for her. That is why we started this college and that is the work to which I want you to devote yourselves in future. What has been insufficiently and imperfectly begun by us, it is for you to complete and lead to perfection. When I come back I wish to see some of you becoming rich, rich not for yourselves but that you may enrich the Mother with your riches. I wish to see some of you becoming great, great not for your own sakes, not that you may satisfy your own vanity, but great for her, to make India great, to enable her to stand up with head erect among the nations of the earth, as she did in days of yore when the world looked up to her for light. Even those who will remain poor and obscure, I want to see their very poverty and obscurity devoted to the Motherland. There are times in a nation's history when Providence places before it one work, one aim, to which everything else, however high and noble in itself, has to be sacrificed. Such a time has now arrived for our M9therland when nothing is dearer than her service, when everything else is to be directed to that end. If you will study, study for her sake; train yourselves body and mind and soul for her service. You will earn your living that you may live for her sake. You will go abroad to foreign lands that you may bring back knowledge with which you may do service to her. Work that she may prosper. Suffer that she may rejoice. All is contained in that one single advice. My last word to you is that if you have sympathy for me, I hope to see it not merely as a personal feeling, but as a sympathy with what I am working for. I want to see this sympathy translated into work so that when in future I shall look upon your career of glorious activity, I may have the pride of remembering that I did something to prepare and begin it. What we want here is to build up sons for the Motherland to work and suffer for her. Work, that she may prosper. Suffer, that she may rejoice.

By no stretch of imagination one can imagine that such descriptions would enter into the epic mode of Savitri. Its soul is different and its utterance belongs to another world of spiritual reality. This also means that the most important and fruitful representation of Savitri as a biographical work has the aspect of occult-yogic exposé. Its swabhāva, its personality is that of poetry with its own idiom and phrase and symbolism and expressive myth and association of sense and sound and sight. It needs another eye and another ear and another gift of mind to discern what it brings to us in its abundant abundances. This also means that certain ‘factual’ details get portrayed in another subtle and sensitive-perceptive manner which demands the development of intuitive faculty in us. When that is absent the whole exercise becomes a hash, and the result is dismissing it as a “fictional creation”. Nothing can be more insensitive than considering Savitri to be so. Nothing can be more ridiculous than harbouring the expectation such as does the weird-creepy Lives of Sri Aurobindo whose author claims himself to be a historian!

In the following, we’ll just take the opening part of Aswapati’s yoga-tapasya and try to relate it with some well-known ‘facts’ of Sri Aurobindo’s life Sri Aurobindo being identified with Aswapati. It is the beginning of his Adhyatma Yoga which roughly parallels the period 1905-10 of his hectic political life, aśwa standing for the horse or the life energy in the service of the higher spiritual work, and patī its lord. The aptness of the correspondence is indeed striking. This beginning of Adhyatma Yoga of Aswapati appears in the very opening canto of Savitri presenting him as one who brought down to earth’s dumb need the radiant power of the divine Shakti or Consciousness-Force, Book I Canto III, pp. 22-45.

We’re told right in the beginning about who Aswapati is, the Incarnate himself who took the mortal birth for the divine work to be carried out in the mortal world, mŗtyuloka, “a thinker and toiler” working here as the Avatar:

His was a spirit that stooped from larger spheres
Into our province of ephemeral sight…
His birth held up a symbol and a sign;
His human self like a translucent cloak
Covered the All-Wise who leads the unseeing world.
Affiliated to cosmic Space and Time
And paying here God's debt to earth and man
A greater sonship was his divine right.
Although consenting to mortal ignorance,
His knowledge shared the Light ineffable.
A strength of the original Permanence
Entangled in the moment and its flow,
He kept the vision of the Vasts behind:
A power was in him from the Unknowable…
His days were a long growth to the Supreme…
His soul lived as eternity's delegate,
His mind was like a fire assailing heaven,
His will a hunter in the trails of light.
An ocean impulse lifted every breath;
Each action left the footprints of a god,
Each moment was a beat of puissant wings.
The little plot of our mortality
Touched by this tenant from the heights became
A playground of the living Infinite.
This bodily appearance is not all.

So Aswapati comes as the Protagonist, as the thinker and toiler, a colonist from immortality, son of divine right, archivist, treasurer of superhuman dreams; his is a skyward being rising like the divine Agni towards heaven, “a spirit that is a flame of God”, he is eternity’s delegate. There cannot be any more vivid description about Aswapati’s Avatarhood than this. It is up to intelligent people to recognize it or not, but certainly it is not intelligence to say that it is all a “fictional creation”.

His thought stretches into infinitude:
All in him turns to spirit vastnesses.
His soul breaks out to join the Oversoul…
Then is revealed in man the overt Divine.

All this had happened in great succession to Sri Aurobindo before his coming to Pondicherry in 1910. The following two statements mark the events that had taken place in 1908. Sri Aurobindo sat with Lele in Baroda for three days around 1 January after the Surat Congress. At that time he had the realisation of the Passive Brahman or, what he calls, the Silent Mind. Within months he had the second major realization of the Active Brahman, the two take years and years, if not several lives, of spiritual practices. It was on 5 May 1908 that Sri Aurobindo was arrested for the alleged act of sedition and kept as an undertrial prisoner in the Alipore Jail. Not too long after he being there, he had the realization of the divine Presence everywhere, vāsudeva idi sarvam. Savitri describes it as follows:

A static Oneness and dynamic Power
Descend in him, the integral Godhead's seals;
His soul and body take that splendid stamp…
His soul breaks out to join the Oversoul.

It was the spirit of Vivekananda that visited him in the Jail for about two weeks and pointed out at golden star far above in the sky. A search for something or someone never found, until at last is reached the giant point, he broke into the infinity of God. Aswapati escaped into supernature's arc of living light. In fact he has become the son of Force, sahas sputro agnih. When the Mother first met Sri Aurobindo, this is what she saw in him. Here was born a Seer, a shining Guest of Time. His march now soared into an eagle's flight.

An aspirant to supernal Timelessness:
Freedom and empire called to him from on high;
Above mind's twilight and life's star-led night
There gleamed the dawn of a spiritual day.

If these are realizations of the profound Adhyatma Yoga, then we should also remember that Sri Aurobindo had already received its foundational principles in the Alipore Jail, the Saptachatusthaya which later became a part of the Yoga of Self-Perfection, this Self-perfection including the awaking of the supramental senses, and the knowledge of the three divisions of times, the past, the present, and the future, trīkāladŗśti. Let us skip some parts and quickly proceed with the Savitri-text to see some of these aspects.

The gifts of the spirit crowding came to him;
They were his life's pattern and his privilege.
A pure perception lent its lucent joy…
In beings it knew what lurked to them unknown;
It seized the idea in mind, the wish in the heart…
He felt the beating life in other men…
He heard the inspired sound of his own thoughts
Re-echoed in the vault of other minds;
The world's thought-streams travelled into his ken;
His inner self grew near to others' selves
And bore a kinship's weight, a common tie,
Yet stood untouched, king of itself, alone…
A vision came of higher realms than ours,
A consciousness of brighter fields and skies,
Of beings less circumscribed than brief-lived men
And subtler bodies than these passing frames,
Objects too fine for our material grasp,
Acts vibrant with a superhuman light
And movements pushed by a superconscient force,
And joys that never flowed through mortal limbs,
And lovelier scenes than earth's and happier lives.
A consciousness of beauty and of bliss,
A knowledge which became what it perceived,
Replaced the separated sense and heart
And drew all Nature into its embrace.
The mind leaned out to meet the hidden worlds.
Air glowed and teemed with marvellous shapes and hues,
In the nostrils quivered celestial fragrances,
On the tongue lingered the honey of paradise.
A channel of universal harmony,
Hearing was a stream of magic audience,
A bed for occult sounds earth cannot hear.
Out of a covert tract of slumber self
The voice came of a truth submerged, unknown
That flows beneath the cosmic surfaces,
Only mid an omniscient silence heard,
Held by intuitive heart and secret sense.

A pure perception has brought to Aswapati the gifts of the inner senses, behind which is the primary sense, manas. The five elemental states of ether-air-fire-water-earth, Akash-Vayu-Agni-Apas-Prithvi have also brought the corresponding subtle organs of perception, ear-touch-eye-tongue-nose or shabda-sparsha-rupa-rasa-gandha. From the causal into the subtle physical have now these instruments of cognition entered into him. And all this before the pre-Pondicherry period. The realization reaches a high Upanishadic peak:

Across a void retreating sky he glimpsed
Through a last glimmer and drift of vanishing stars
The superconscient realms of motionless peace
Where judgment ceases and the word is mute
And the Unconceived lies pathless and alone.
There came not form or any mounting voice;
There only were Silence and the Absolute.
Out of that stillness mind new-born arose
And woke to truths once inexpressible,
And forms appeared, dumbly significant,
A seeing thought, a self-revealing voice.
He knew the source from which his spirit came:
Movement was married to the immobile Vast;
He plunged his roots into the Infinite,
He based his life upon Eternity.

Soon

Strong periods of illumination came:
Lightnings of glory after glory burned,
Experience was a tale of blaze and fire,
Air rippled round the argosies of the Gods,
Strange riches sailed to him from the Unseen;
Splendours of insight filled the blank of thought,
Knowledge spoke to the inconscient stillnesses,
Rivers poured down of bliss and luminous force,
Visits of beauty, storm-sweeps of delight
Rained from the all-powerful Mystery above.
Thence stooped the eagles of Omniscience…
An inspired Knowledge sat enthroned within…

In the wake of this inspired knowledge also came inspiration with her lightning feet, and the inexpressible Truth revealed the silent soul. The Nescience is rent and the closed Beyond bared. Inspiration even plundered the Unknowable's vast estate. With her came immortal words to mortal men. Oceans of being met his voyaging soul.

A glimpse was caught of things for ever unknown:
The letters stood out of the unmoving Word:
In the immutable nameless Origin
Was seen emerging as from fathomless seas
The trail of the Ideas that made the world,
And, sown in the black earth of Nature's trance,
The seed of the Spirit's blind and huge desire
From which the tree of cosmos was conceived
And spread its magic arms through a dream of space.
Immense realities took on a shape…
As if a torch held by a power of God,
The radiant world of the everlasting Truth
Glimmered like a faint star bordering the night
Above the golden Overmind's shimmering ridge…
The universe was not now this senseless whirl
Borne round inert on an immense machine…
He saw the labour of a godhead's birth.

It was during this period that Sri Aurobindo got the knowledge of the Vedic Goddesses, Ila, Mahi, and Saraswati. “The three, Ila, Mahi or Bharati and Saraswati are associated together in a constant formula in those hymns of invocation in which the gods are called by Agni to the sacrifice.” To him came the powers of Revelation, Intuition, Inspiration, and Discernment.

In this context let us recall what the Mother has said about those who come fully conscious about their Origin.

For those who have come upon earth fully conscious of their entire being and conscious of their Origin, there is at first a period when this consciousness gets veiled by the physical life and the body-consciousness. It withdraws deep within and waits for the hour when the outer circumstances will make it necessary for that inner self to manifest and to become fully active in the body. And generally, as life is organised, it is some more or less dramatic event that makes this change not only possible but needed. Even those who have come fully conscious, because they are compelled to take birth in the body of a child, their consciousness withdraws for many years, more or less, and has not the full activity that it had in other worlds. But some circumstance, some event tears off the veil and the inner consciousness takes back its place and its activity.

In the case of an Avatar, because he is compelled to take birth in a body, there is a veil drawn over his consciousness; it remains withdrawn for many years. We relate the reclaiming of this consciousness, of this awareness with the outer circumstances of his and get interested in them as his biography. Obviously this cannot be the true picture of the life of an avataric being. Modern mind of course cannot enter into its reality, and that is is limitation. Nor is any purpose served by dinning into his ear the modus operandi of the purpose and process of Avatarhood.


R.Y. Deshpande

10 May 2010

Permanent link:

http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2010/5/10/4519301.html
  ...full text...

23 Apr 2010

A Paragraph from “A Brief Biography of Sri Aurobindo” by Peter Heehs

[The earlier biography of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs published in 1989 was not free from defects as the writer below points out. For that matter, things started going wrong in the early eighties and Jugal Kishore Mukherji took Heehs to task in 1986 over his articles published in the Archives & Research. Had Heehs learnt his lesson at that time and listened to sober advice, the phenomenon of The Lives would never have happened.]

A dedicated team of physicians was in attendance but Sri Aurobindo declined to receive any major treatment, or even to use his therapeutic power on himself. Asked why, he said simply, ‘Can’t explain; you won’t understand.’* He fell into what the doctors assumed to be a terminal uraemic coma; but it was a strange sort of coma, from which the patient seemed able to emerge at will. During his periods of full outward awareness Sri Aurobindo spoke to his attendants, and even, when the end drew near, kissed these faithful companions of his last years. Some time after midnight on 5 December 1950 he plunged within for the last time, and at 1.26 a.m. his vital functions ceased.

* Nirodbaran, Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo, 1972, p. 264

(Peter Heehs, A Brief Biography of Sri Aurobindo, 1st ed., 1989, pp.146-7)

The underlined portion from Peter Heehs’s earlier biography raises some questions:

Champaklal was the only “attendant” Sri Aurobindo had until his accident in November 1938. Hence “his last years” = the next 12 years during which, in addition to six other sadhaks that Mother appointed as personal attendants, she permitted two visiting specialists and, much later, a resident specialist to “attend”, and, in the last week, she called Dr. Sanyal from Calcutta. So, did Sri Aurobindo kiss them all “when the end drew near”?

And were all of them “companions” of his last years? Intriguing why this biographer has chosen to be the first and only one to equate ‘companions’ with ‘attendants’, knowing perfectly well their differing connotations! The first has a connotation which I would not even like to state here. In the Lives of Sri Aurobindo Heehs has mentioned the Mother as Sri Aurobindo’s “partner”!

Has no source been given for “…kissed these faithful companions of his last years” so that we readers take it as part of Nirodbaran’s Twelve Years? But, p.265 of Twelve Years…, 1972, says:

By 5 p.m. [of 4th Dec.] there was a respite.… It was during this period that he often came out of the trance, and each time leaned forward, hugged and kissed Champaklal who was sitting by the side of his bed. Champaklal also hugged him in return. A wonderful sight it was, though so strangely unlike Sri Aurobindo who had rarely called us even by our names in these twelve years. We knew that Champaklal particularly longed for some tender outward expression. But Sri Aurobindo’s impersonal nature kept at bay all personal touches except during our birthday or Darshan pranams when he would pat and caress our heads. Now Champaklal had his heart’s yearning gratified to the full extent. But on what grounds? Was it the repayment of God’s debt to his “servant” for his lifelong dedicated service without the expectation of any other mead than perhaps some occasional look or touch or word?

Note that it was only Champaklal who was hugged and kissed by Sri Aurobindo as a boon for his lifelong “service”, and not “companionship”!

What then was the source of “kissed…”? Dr. P. Sanyal’s A Call from Pondicherry, published by Mother India in Dec.1953. I quote the relevant portions:

“On the evening of the 29th November 1950…a servant brought me a telegram which read: FLY—URGENT—MOTHER…. // Then it came to me—Is Sri Aurobindo ill?—Why otherwise would the Mother send such a telegram?... // On the way [in the car from Madras] Dr Nirod of the Ashram [not colleague] and my young colleague Dr Satya Sen acquainted me with the history and present condition of the Master…. // [When he met Sri Aurobindo] He placed His hand on my head and lovingly patted it a few times….It was a blessing no words could describe…an experience for the soul….

Dec 3rd…. The temperature had dropped to normal and so much was our relief that at 11 a.m. while making my Pranams to the Mother I ventured to suggest that as the Master was steadily improving I might perhaps leave that evening. The Mother remained silent…and I blurted out: “I would rather stay a few more days.” A smile lit all Her face….

“Dec.4th…. After a little while He opened his eyes and asked the time…. There was a pause; He looked at the clock and then asked how Bengal was faring, especially the refugees. I narrated to Him their pitiable plight and implored: “Surely the Divine can help?” My Lord answered, “Yes, if Bengal seeks the Divine.” He closed His eyes and went into silence (Samadhi)…. From midday the respiratory difficulty reappeared…. // The Mother came about 1 p.m. She watched for some time before entering the adjoining room with me. Then She said, “He is withdrawing.”… // By 5 o’clock again He showed signs of improvement…. We helped Him out of His bed…. After three quarters of an hour He…wanted to be back in bed…. Though He seemed to be unconscious He was not, which was evident by the fact that He drew Champaklal several times to His breast and kissed him lovingly and this Divine compassionate embrace was extended to Nirod and myself….”

Note that Sanyal was “acquainted with the history and present condition” only in the last week, not the “last years”, and he was a valued doctor disciple, not a regular “attendant” as the underlined portions show, and certainly not a ‘companion’ to whom that “compassionate embrace” (not kiss of his Lord) was “extended to”, which was an experience of the soul and not a physical fact.

And so, in December 1991, soon after A Brief Biography of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs burst on the scene in 1989-90, Mother India republished A Call from Pondicherry under this editorial note:

We are republishing this vivid and valuable article from the joint Nov-Dec 1953 issue of Mother India. It was read out to the Mother and approved. But she had not been present during some of the events recorded here. On the basis of Nirodbaran’s reports the editor has made a correction at one place.

With that “correction”, or rather deletion of Dr Sanyal’s inadvertent ambiguity, the sentence reads:

Though He seemed to be unconscious He was not, which was evident by the fact that He drew Champaklal several times to His breast and kissed him lovingly.

Amal Kiran & Nirodbaran must have surely taken their due precautions after reading Heehs’ brief biography! It was around this time that a certain editorial control was likely to be imposed on Heehs, which unfortunately never happened, resulting in the present mess.

Are there other such sleights of hand in this biography? There are in plenty but to unearth & unravel them, you need to be determined to ‘get down to it’ and scrutinise closely the documentation in order to unravel the hidden twists in this so-called scholarly biography.


An Ashramite

16 April 2010
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22 Apr 2010

An Open Dialogue on The Lives of Sri Aurobindo -- by R.Y Despande

Apropos of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo which declares that Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri is a “fictional creation”, I’d received an invitation from Rich Carlson of the SCIY for a dialogue on the book; at the SCIY we were colleagues at one time. The intention of holding a dialogue was to see if it could address the valid issues that had caused a vertical split in the international IY Community. The idea was first to understand its nature and then possibly offer proposals to remove the regretful misunderstanding. Rich’s e-mail had come to me on 19 April 2009 (in India 20 April) and I waited purposely for two days to respond—first to gauge to what extent he was serious about the matter, and then to figure out the way in which the dialogue could be held, in case it was going to be held. In the meanwhile, Rich sent me another e-mail seeking my concurrence. Rich wanted to conduct the dialogue just between me and himself, “who are now on polarized sides of the ordeal.” The hope was “to see if this matter will end in resolution or rupture.”


On 22 April 2009 Rich sent me a sharp reminder. My reply was as follows: “I did get your earlier e-mail and was in the process of responding to it. Believe me, I thought it appropriate first to formulate the terms and conditions for the intended dialogue which are ready in a draft form; I would have sent these to you in a day or two. But this e-mail settles the issue.”

But Rich regretted his haste and wished again to start the process. He wrote back: “It is a good thing to formulate the terms and conditions for an intended dialogue. I had wished to do that myself.” He also felt that there is a lot at stake here and it would be in the spirit of the yoga to continue, no matter what the differences are.

My proposal to examine The Lives of Sri Aurobindo was to go through it paragraph by paragraph, and page by page, and discuss it exhaustively, in several aspects. I also mentioned that it would be preferable if the dialogue is carried out on the Mirror of Tomorrow where we can have inputs from alert and competent readers who are serious about the matter. I wrote to this effect: I think a chapter by chapter dialog on the book would be worthwhile, something certainly better than allowing courts to decide the issue.

Rich wrote back on 24 April 2009 saying that he meant it to be a private conversation on the issue in an attempt to arrive at a resolution. He was not in favour of an open dialogue which would rather cause further rupture in the world-wide IY Community. The matter was closed at that.

Today it is exactly one year when the idea of a possible dialogue was mooted. It is unfortunate that it didn’t materialise. The positions have now got so much hardened—witness for instance AV Today August 2009, some interviews on the subject—that perhaps only a miracle might work it out.

As there is really nothing confidential in these frank exchanges made in a liberal spirit, on this anniversary of the proposal I’m putting them on the Mirror of Tomorrow. If Rich wishes, he can put his version on the SCIY or related sites.

RYD

20 April 2010

http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2010/3/20/4485311.html#1310694

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14 Apr 2010

Comments by Auroman

The quandary with the latest biography of Sri Aurobindo by his own follower Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published by the Columbia University Press, is that many times we get caught up in vitanda (which means, it is wrong because you are saying it—and using quotes to justify your side) and kutarka (wrong logic). Every argument is taken up, twisted and compared with some other argument. The rational mind keeps moving between various arguments never knowing where conclusion lies!




A Few Comments Apropos of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo — by Auroman

on Fri 09 Jan 2009 07:14 PM IST

The quandary with the latest biography of Sri Aurobindo by his own follower Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published by the Columbia University Press, is that many times we get caught up in vitanda (which means, it is wrong because you are saying it—and using quotes to justify your side) and kutarka (wrong logic). Every argument is taken up, twisted and compared with some other argument. The rational mind keeps moving between various arguments never knowing where conclusion lies!

Assuming this book was written with honest intent then, there is one fundamental question which must be answered: Is this book useful for spreading the message of Sri Aurobindo? Is it?

To me, this is a question, above all, of vibratory power. This book vacillates; it comes across as insipid and inconclusive. It doesn't drive home the argument that, yes, I can improve my life by taking up Integral Yoga. If this is supposed to be a primary biography written by an Ashram inmate and follower of the Path, then it must be held to a higher standard.

1) Except for the chapter on Major Works, Pondicherry, 1914-1920, Chapter 7, pp. 264-307, most the other chapters of the Lives come across like a soap opera, kind of "they met; he felt like this; she said that”—stuff. Even in this chapter there is no scholarly depth or insight expected with such a long association with the writings.

2) The constant use of double quotes through the text seems to indicate a lack of grasp of the subject matter. The plain question is: if you are an acclaimed expert, then why not write in your own words?

3) The work fails to present the basic theory of Integral Yoga forcefully in a concise manner. Isn't that what Sri Aurobindo is important for? It miserably fails to state that Sri Aurobindo was doing sadhana for the Earth. All we have are statements here and there like "he came down into the physical; he told someone the tail of the supermind has descended; by their own account, they never lost touch of the higher planes of consciousness." People might turn aside with a smile if they read some of this gibberish. Shouldn't the book try to explain what these statements mean in terms of the ancient Scriptures? Why is Sri Aurobindo different from other Sages and Rishis who lived in the past centuries?

4) The life of a Saint or a Yogi or a Rishi should be judged by the people he affected. Yet, there is little or no information about the major disciples like Nolini, Nirod, Amal, Pavitra, Amrita, Purani, Dilip Roy, Champaklal, Anilbaran, and many others. How did Sri Aurobindo change the lives of others? I presume, if I’ve to put it from the author’s point of view, this information cannot be included in the biography because, these people cannot be regarded as (trustworthy?) primary sources. So there is a basic conflict with the approach of the biographer and the life of the person he seeks to represent.

5) The epilogue is disappointingly incomplete. No information is given on various centers and institutions which have sprung up and the wide variety of people who embrace the philosophy and continue the work. Again, all we have are some ambiguous statements, like the following: "We are now in the second generation after Sri Aurobindo’s passing. His work continues… A superficial look at the organizations he inspired might give the impression that they constitute a movement of the sort he warned against in The Human Cycle. But a deeper look, not at organizational forms but at the practice of individuals, might give a different impression. And in the end any attempt to transform human society must begin with the individuals.” (p. 415) In support of this statement a quotation from Sri Aurobindo follows to close the book. The obvious suggestion is, the failure of the Aurobindonian attempt towards the transformation of the human society.

6) The Mother has been excluded—as if the author has a strong aversion towards her, a psychological barrier in accepting or acknowledging her contributions. Sri Aurobindo exits the stage and we are supposed to move on as if nothing happened after that.

7) The author has spent 35-40 years in the Archives. He must know for sure that Vivekananda visited Sri Aurobindo in Alipore jail. Yet here we find this strange statement, "Years later, he wondered whether its source was actually the spirit of Vivekananda." (p. 178) There is no reference for this statement as far as the primary sources are concerned. Evidently, meticulous scholarship also has its limits, but it is bad when it gets manipulated.

On this same page, we also read that Sri Aurobindo heard "all sorts of voices". The reference given to back up this claim of "all sorts of voices" seems to be some letter written to a disciple in Letters on Yoga, instead of something Sri Aurobindo said about himself. So this reference is obviously incorrect. Decontextualised quotations cannot give authenticity to the claims. These kinds of statements create doubt in the mind of the reader about Sri Aurobindo's sanity. Actually, what happened is that, after the Nirvana experience with Lele in December 1907, Sri Aurobindo only heard one voice of the Divine which spoke at various times and guided him.

8) A rumour about kidney trouble as the cause of Sri Aurobindo’s illness and ‘death’ has been included. (p. 406) Is this another example of meticulous scholarship? It creates doubt in the mind of the reader that perhaps Sri Aurobindo had kidney trouble all his life, in spite of his assertions to the contrary. It is worthwhile to go through the accounts of the doctors who actually attended on Sri Aurobindo.

9) There were all kinds of mischievous statements about Sri Aurobindo and the Mother made by strong lobbies in Pondicherry of those days. In order to dismiss such impressions, Jatindranath Sen Gupta, friend of one of the members of the Ashram, offered to write a piece for the daily Hindu of Madras, published in May 1927. (p. 358) Our author considers it more an "exercise in public relations than an example of balanced reporting." But, historically speaking, we must well understand that people in that age in India had no idea about marketing; Sri Aurobindo always made decisions based on spiritual motives. The author's mind is trying to judge these things based on his own upbringing, missing the perspective of space and time.

10) A reference is made to the Evening Talks recorded by AB Purani in the context of the passive attitude of the Hindus towards the Muslims. "Why don't the Hindus strike [on the Muslims]?”— that is what Sri Aurobindo is reported to have said. But our author adds that Sri Aurobindo asked his attendants this question “more than once when he heard of Muslim atrocities." (p. 395) We do not know wherefrom this "more than once" comes. Let me quote Nirodbaran from his Twelve Years with Sri Aurobindo:

…during the Hindu-Moslem riot in Calcutta constant frantic appeals were coming to him seeking advice, guidance, succour. When the Hindus were getting beaten in the first few days, Sri Aurobindo remarked, "Why don't the Hindus strike?" The very next day the scene changed; there was a tremendous counter-move. Lest people should be shocked to hear Sri Aurobindo advising violence, I refer them to Essays on the Gita where he discusses this question. Here I shall quote something from my correspondence. He says, "There is a truth in Ahimsa, there is a truth in Destruction also… Non-violence is better than violence as a rule, and still sometimes violence may be the right thing…"

And here is what Sri Aurobindo himself wrote in a letter dated 19 October 1946:

As regards Bengal, things are certainly very bad; the conditions of the Hindus there are terrible and they may even get worse in spite of the Interim mariage de convenance at Delhi. But we must not let our reaction to it become excessive or suggest despair. There must be at least 20 million Hindus in Bengal and they are not going to be exterminated,—even Hitler with his scientific methods of massacre could not exterminate the Jews who are still showing themselves very much alive and, as for Hindu culture, it is not such a weak and fluffy thing as to be easily stamped out; it has lasted through something like 5 millenniums at least and is going to carry on much longer and has accumulated quite enough power to survive. What is happening did not come to me as a surprise. I foresaw it when I was in Bengal and warned people that it was probable and almost inevitable and that they should be prepared for it. At that time no one attached any value to what I said, although some afterwards remembered and admitted, when the trouble first began, that I have been right; only CR Das had grave apprehensions and he even told me when he came to Pondicherry that he would not like the British to go out until this dangerous problem had been settled. But I have not been discouraged by what is happening, because I know and have experienced hundreds of times that beyond the blackest darkness there lies for one who is a divine instrument the light of God's victory. I have never had a strong and persistent will for anything to happen in the world—I am not speaking of personal things—which did not eventually happen even after delay, defeat or even disaster. There was a time when Hitler was victorious everywhere and it seemed certain that a black yoke of the Asura would be imposed on the whole world; but where is Hitler now and where is his rule? Berlin and Nuremberg have marked the end of that dreadful chapter in human history. Other blacknesses threaten to overshadow or even engulf mankind, but they too will end as that nightmare has ended. I cannot write fully in this letter of all things which justify my confidence—some day perhaps I shall be able to do it.

Both the references are given in the biography but the context is totally lost.

11) And here is the famous account about the disciples of Sri Aurobindo: “As a rule people spent most of their time in what Sri Aurobindo called the lower consciousness, caught up in the play of ordinary thought and emotion. They did their work, but sometimes argued with their colleagues. They met their neighbours, and sometimes slandered them behind their backs. At home they read Sri Aurobindo’s works, or indulged in sexual daydreams. They attended pranāms, and sometimes were consumed by jealousy because the Mother smiled more warmly at another. Then, while walking on the pier or sitting at home or dusting books in the library, they might again be lifted above the mind and perceive the one soul in all, or plunge into their heart and feel the fire of the psychic being.” (p. 373)


Courtesy mirroroftomorrow.org
Permanent link:
http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2009/1/9/4051044.html

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1 Apr 2010

Second Response to Debashish Banerji -- by Raman Reddy

Coming to the expansion of the Ashram from the 1940s, it happened spontaneously and the Mother accepted it, encouraged and took advantage of it to widen the physical base of the Ashram, so that fresh energy flowed in without losing sight of the ideal set forth by Sri Aurobindo. This is the miracle that happened in the physical presence of the Mother. Expansion necessarily leads to dilution, as you cannot mass produce yogis like Nolini, Amrita and Pavitra, but the loss in height is offset by the gain in width. If the Mother were reluctant about expanding the Ashram, why did she go out of the way to start a school and later a centre for higher education in 1951 for the children who came in the early forties? Why did she set up a wonderful sports infrastructure through the late Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya, whom she considered to be one of her best instruments of action? Why did she encourage Udar Pinto and Dayabhai Patel to start business units? Why did she start the Press and the handmade paper unit to mention only a few of the numerous departments of the Ashram? And what about the workshops and farms? What about the building construction work and finally even a Sugar Mill in the mid sixties? Does Debashish know enough of Ashram history to comment so glibly about its development?

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28 Mar 2010

Alok Pandey Responds to Debashish Banerji

DB contradicts himself by saying that most people in the Ashram are not there for sadhana and at the same time concluding that they created a homogeneous approach. This could mean either of the two:

a. The approach of this “inchoate” mass is not an approach to sadhana.

b. Or else the large majority have taken an approach to sadhana which is not the right approach to be taken in the Ashram.

In the first case, he is contradicting himself. In the second, he himself is redefining the sadhana as it should be in the Ashram. [extract]

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18 Mar 2010

On Maithunananda and the Ubhaybharati Episode -- by Alok Pandey

I am no expert either in Sanskrit or in spiritual experience and I also understand that each one is free to interpret in his own way, but my question is how can these shallow interpretations and meanings be authenticated and given as part of the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo. Once these are out, nothing can be done about it. It is crass falsehood, for by the Collected Works is meant only Sri Aurobindo's writings. If we once open the door to these subjective interpretations (or misinterpretations), then why not also supply some kind of a Savitri-dictionary as part of the Collected Works for terms such as the hippogriff and gold hawk and many such spiritual symbols that cannot be understood by the human intellect and for which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have not given any clear meanings? How can somebody claim to define the meaning of a word that relates to the realm of spiritual experience with so much certainty? Even if only ten percent of it is the author's interpretation, is it right to do so under the name of the CWSA? Why not honestly admit that Sri Aurobindo said nothing about it and leave people to find out for themselves the meaning rather than condition them in a particular direction? Whatever may maithunananda have meant, the meaning of “spontaneous erotic delight” will evoke in the mind of the general reader (and even in one who has recently acquainted himself with the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo) that sexual pleasure can be experienced without the act and that it is some great spiritual experience.

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10 Mar 2010

Response to Richard Hartz’s “Ghost of Things Dead” – by Ranganath Raghavan

In Richard’s article, there is an implied, if not overt correlation, even an equation between the secular, the progressive, the rational mind and the Future. Again there is an equivalence implied or otherwise, between the retrograde forces of the Past and the irrational and religious. But here the religious is often extended into the legitimately spiritual! Another suggested notion is that Religion and Spirituality are faith-based and irrational and that Secularism and Rationality, devoid of Religion, belong to the Future. These understated implications are certainly not true. Religion and Spirituality are not the same, but there is no clear-cut line dividing the two trenchantly. They merge into one another and often overlap. Secondly, Spirituality need not contradict Rationality although it can go beyond into the Logic of the Infinite. Neither is Science free from faith.



Response to Richard Hartz’s “Ghost of Things Dead” – by Ranganath Raghavan

A four page article which was presented by Richard Hartz at an Auroville seminar discusses the related concepts of progress and evolution. He considers the forces tending towards the Future and those forces that pull backwards towards the Past. Whatever the intellectual and philosophical principles raised by the author, it is clear that he is examining the phenomenon of Fundamentalism. This is the issue that came up in the wake of the publication of the book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” by Peter Heehs. In the book, Peter treats Sri Aurobindo as an ordinary mortal, who was as vulnerable as any normal human being. He finds that Sri Aurobindo is no philosopher; nor is he a poet — his poetry is outdated; he is a liar; he is responsible for the Hindu-Moslem divide; he married for sex; his spiritual experiences are questionable; it is doubtful whether he is an avatar, as claimed by his faithful followers; he did not know how to plan his books — some chapters are too long, some are too short; his language is too abstruse, involved, difficult to follow, and much more. There are some passages which are laudatory, but the general tone of the whole book is “I am being objective; I am not writing a hagiographic biography. I am going to judge him with my analytic and rational mind. I will judge him on merit.” This attitude of mental arrogance of a petty kind with no experience whatsoever of spiritual realities runs through every page of the book!!!

The problem, for most ashramites, is that he has been a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the last thirty years or so — not a very willing and enthusiastic member by his own confession. He feels he has the right and the freedom to find fault with Sri Aurobindo, even while being a member of the ashram, enjoying all its facilities, being supported by all its infrastructure, working in an ashram department, eating at the common mess, and using its extensive sports facilities. As a matter of fact, he was a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives where he had access to classified unpublished documents which he used in his book, without permission from the Trust. He even claimed to be the founder of the Archives Department, which is completely false, as testified and clarified by the Ashram authorities themselves.

This was the situation when some alert members of the Ashram pointed out these transgressions and demanded strict action. These ashramites, loyal and faithful to their Guru, were immediately branded as “Fundamentalists” who were narrow minded, mean, uncivilized, violent and with a mob mentality. They were accused of not understanding the very important concept of Freedom of Speech, of not being tolerant and wide-minded. In short, they were considered fossils, petrified into fixity by the past. They should have been “rational, secular”, according to the grand concepts of the Western World. This is the background of the article by Richard Hartz which is just a continuation of the same old argument under the guise of an intellectual and rational justification.

It is true that Evolution is the result of two contrary forces: the force of progress towards the Future and the force of retardation by the Past. Sri Aurobindo states in the Record of Yoga that there is the Law of Gradual Change and the Law of Resistance. The Law of Resistance to change operates most effectively in the physical world. It is this law that ensures the permanence of forms. It is the cause of fixity and apparent stability of well- defined forms. But the law of gradual change initiates a slow, often imperceptible mutation. It is this force that makes possible the evolution of consciousness. It brings in complexity, completeness and a forward movement. Progress then becomes possible. But to the Yogin, who wants a rapid change of consciousness, it appears as if the law of resistance is much more powerful than the law of gradual change. Progress seems to be interminably slow!

Now it is contended in Richard’s article that the forward movement of Progress (let us call it ‘the Future’) is challenged always by the forces of the ‘Past’. As evolution proceeds, the past is littered with the corpses of outdated forms, ideas, concepts and morals. The Future is always throwing up new and better forms in all the fields, physical, vital, mental and spiritual.

The question, then, to be considered is what does the Future reject and what does the Past try to preserve. Is the Future always a linear forward movement? Does not the Future throw up forms that may be rejected later? Is the Past invariably full of dead, meaningless outdated forms? Does not the Past retain and preserve some ancient forms and carry them well into the Future? Is there no Sanatana Dharma?

A little consideration will show that all the movements mentioned above do occur and the evolutionary progress is never a simple linear movement. Progress is the result of complex and heterogeneous forces. It can be more accurately described as a spiral motion, with swift advances and perhaps more often, discouraging recoils. It is the recognition of this truth that Indian thought expressed in the concept of the Yugas: Satya, Dwapara, Treta and the Kali. There is a slow decline of values tending downwards and ending in a complete chaos from which emerges once again the Satya Yuga when Harmony, Light and Truth are established at a higher level. Then the cycle begins all over again.

Now to come down to brass tacks.

In Richard’s article, there is an implied, if not overt correlation, even an equation between the secular, the progressive, the rational mind and the Future. Again there is an equivalence implied or otherwise, between the retrograde forces of the Past and the irrational and religious. But here the religious is often extended into the legitimately spiritual! Another suggested notion is that Religion and Spirituality are faith-based and irrational and that Secularism and Rationality, devoid of Religion, belong to the Future. These understated implications are certainly not true. Religion and Spirituality are not the same, but there is no clear-cut line dividing the two trenchantly. They merge into one another and often overlap. Secondly, Spirituality need not contradict Rationality although it can go beyond into the Logic of the Infinite. Neither is Science free from faith. In fact the march of Science starts always from assumed axioms, postulates, hypotheses, which are conveniently thrown overboard or suitably enlarged to include new data. These Scientific postulates are in the nature of faith. Thus finally we are confronted with the one question relevant to The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Are loyalty, faith, trust and devotion to the Guru elements of Fundamentalism? Are they things that the Future will throw out as inconsistent with Rationality and Progress? Or are they valuable principles to be retained eternally in spiritual life? Here again, it may be noted, that if one is not doing yoga, or one is not affiliated to any particular group or has not accepted any fixed line of sadhana, then one is perfectly at liberty to compare methods, analyse statements, and even find shortcomings in systems of yoga or philosophies. But here too a humble admission that the mind cannot understand things beyond itself should be made. The ignorant, limited, arrogant mind does not see this simple truth. A healthy attitude of “I do not know yet” is infinitely better than the insistence on false ideas or half-truths. But once someone has chosen by his own free will a particular discipline under a Guru, it must be followed with reverence, faith and implicit trust. This truth is not likely to be thrown out by the Future and trampled on the wayside. It is a well established principle in all yogas. The flouting of this very elementary rule can seriously damage the institution and also the erring individual.

Richard himself admits, or rather quotes Sri Aurobindo to say that Spirituality will ultimately triumph and even some lesser men are quoted to voice the opinion that it is most doubtful that Secularism will replace religion.

In defining Secularism, we may say that it is the attempt to keep religion out of all human activities and confine it to a small corner of life. An hour or so in the Church only on Sundays is enough of a concession to Religion, which should not meddle in other fields of life. This attitude towards religion is quite understandable in the context of European history. The testimony of history is there for all to see — the sale of indulgences, the Crusades, the burning of witches at the stake. But in India, the reigning idea has always been to see and do everything with reference to God. Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahman No festival, no social function, no important occasion is ever observed without bringing in the Divine. Thus Sri Aurobindo’s statement that Spirituality will spread and replace Secularism is most rational and inevitable. Let us remember that in the very first paragraph of the Life Divine, he asserts that the earliest concepts of God, Light, Freedom and Immortality will return after every banishment. We have seen this happen already in the past history of humanity.

Where does all this lead us to? Are we allowed to criticize the Guru of the path that we have chosen? What would be the fate of the institution if we start demolishing the very pillars and foundations of the structure? For that matter, is freedom of speech really absolute? Are there not natural barriers to it? Is malicious fault-finding tolerated in any organization?


Ranganath Raghavan

7 March 2010


Ranganath has already written on the concept of Fundamentalism on this site. Readers can go to the following web address to read his reply to "faithful" supporters of Peter Heehs:

http://www.thelivesofsriaurobindo.com/2009/05/ranganaths-reply-to-accusation-of.html

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