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 He finds that Sri Aurobindo is no philosopher; nor is he a poet — his poetry is outdated; he is a liar; he is responsible for the Hindu-Moslem divide; he married for sex; his spiritual experiences are questionable; it is doubtful whether he is an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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