25 Jan 2011

Distortion of the episode involving Vivekananda's guidance to Sri Aurobindo in Alipore jail (page 178)

On page 178 of the biography, Heehs surreptitiously debunks the well-known fact that Sri Aurobindo received guidance from Swami Vivekananda in Alipore jail.  It is astonishing that so many people have read the biography but not one seems to have noticed this glaring inaccuracy.  Perhaps it is because while reading, people tend to gloss over the incidents in Sri Aurobindo’s life that they are already familiar with, or they trust that the author is telling the truth, or they have not bothered to investigate and determine what the primary sources actually contain.    

Anyway, here is the passage from the biography:
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22 Jan 2011

Preface of TLOSA -- by Alok Pandey

The fact is that PH has more often quoted the enemies and critics of Sri Aurobindo and shied away from those who have made positive statements on him. He does not give credence to even Sri Aurobindo’s statements on the events of his own life, though he is quick in highlighting Sri Aurobindo’s negative statements on himself in a highly decontextualised manner. Why this biased choice on implicitly accepting “negative statements” and rejecting outright “positive statements” of Sri Aurobindo or his admirers? His criterion of selection is not based on whether a document is authentic or not, but on whether it is critical or not of Sri Aurobindo. If it is critical, he is too eager to accept it; if it is appreciative he is too willing to reject it or doubt its authenticity! [extract]   ...full text...

15 Jan 2011

Seed-tree metaphor on page 203

In this short note, we discuss the incorrect conclusion drawn on page 203 of the biography. 
His essays on these subjects are clear and well-expressed, though not particularly original. Many of them try to harmonize the Upanishads and late Victorian science by means of evolution. Some of his arguments now seem rather quaint. A seed grows into a certain sort of tree, Aurobindo wrote, because the "tree is the idea involved in the seed". In the light of molecular biology, this is at best a vivid metaphor.
(Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p 203)
This "seed-tree" argument has nothing to do with molecular biology.  Peter inadvertently exposes his lack of  knowledge when he criticizes Sri Aurobindo's thought.  If you search the web for "seed tree vedanta" (go ahead, try it) you will discover that many other spiritual masters have used the same analogy to explain the circle of life. The Seed-tree principle is called Bija-Vriksha Nyaya  in Vedanta. (Bija=Seed, Vrisha=Tree, Nyaya=illustration or principle)
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7 Jan 2011

Peter Heehs and Jeffrey Kripal -- by Alok Pandey

The statement giving the reason for Sri Aurobindo’s marriage as the desire for sexual gratification and the mention of Sri Aurobindo’s ‘general knowledge’ about sexuality being more than academic is very interpretive. If JK does it, it is to fulfil his focus on homosexuality and homo-eroticism in spirituality. If PH did not have any such focus, then it is very strange that he should interpret it in the same manner, leading thus to the same conclusions as JK. Also, one wonders what could be the reason behind focusing so much on the Master‘s sexual life, on how much he knew about sex, that his marriage was for sex, and that he used to have spontaneous experiences relating to sexual pleasure in the body. When all this is seen side by side with the kind of remarks PH makes on Sri Aurobindo’s relationship with the Mother and his psychoanalytical interpretation of Vasavadutta and other plays, then the mischief becomes more than clear. If one still does not see it, it is either because one is simply too dumb and stupid to notice or else because one chooses to defend the author by turning a blind eye on his defects. But the nexus is there and shows his clear intent and line of thinking. [extract, read full article below]
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3 Jan 2011

Coal Mines of Research – A Preliminary Note by Alok Pandey

It is not just about the book. It is also not about East versus West, the Mind versus Heart, the Academician versus the Devotee or Intellectual freedom versus authoritarian control. The Book and the Man are merely a screen. It is about our reading of the play of forces behind the Book and the Man versus the reading of others. If it is just about the book, then it is a waste of time and energy. But if this book is the expression of a dark and diabolic force, if it is the manifestation of a hostile energy, then it must be acted upon energetically before its poison seeps into the system and corrupts the mind of the collectivity that has gathered around the Master.

Of course, the intellectual mind cannot understand it. It lives forever in its greyness and, dwelling upon the surface data, it draws its conclusions that are often cancelled in the courts of Time. The intellectual mind can only take different positions with regard to any phenomenon or event and, depending upon its angle of vision, it arrives at this or that perception, view-point, understanding, conclusion and response. Naturally, since human beings are different in their present constitution, habits and temperament, past formation and future direction towards which they are impelled, they cannot arrive at any complete agreement over anything. Even in the field of hardcore physical sciences where the data is clear and precise, there is so much room for debate that a little deeper probe into the same event and object often upsets and topples the established understanding. Here we are dealing with much subtler forces and energies than physical objects. We cannot understand this event, leave alone the book and the author, without appeal to this deeper and subtler dimension. Especially in the context of the Ashram, it becomes doubly important, and we can ill-afford to trivialise it by saying that, after all, it is just a book, and a book is minor thing. A white ant is much smaller than an elephant but its potential to damage is phenomenal; so is the virus. It is the energy behind an event, the forces that impel it, the idea that lurks in its depths that gives it importance. That is why things such as sex which are normal and natural in the average human context are considered serious issues in the spiritual field. The book has to be seen in this context and in relation to the core values of the Ashram life. Otherwise we can never arrive at any meeting ground, leave alone a deeper understanding.

The common ground between the author and those who have challenged his book is the Ashram life, its spiritual ethos and fundamental values that help facilitate the path of Integral Yoga. It has to be understood that the Ashram life is a collective life where each one is interlinked to all, and each one’s action has an uplifting or degrading effect on the others. It is not, as some free-lance aspirants would suppose, simply an individual journey where each one should focus only on oneself. Though it was so in the beginning, the Mother Herself has stated that the change occurred sometime after the supramental descent of 1956, and thence each one’s progress in the Ashram got interlinked with the others. In any other context, our approach and answer would be quite different. But here it is about life in the Ashram, whose average inmate, quite naturally, spontaneously, and almost with a psychic discrimination, repelled and rejected the book. It is only when outside influences crept in with different value systems that the whole thing got confused and has now become confused beyond measure. If the authorities had acted timely and wisely, there would have been no outside intervention. Had they listened to Pranab-da who embodied the core values of the Ashram life in his very veins, we could easily have avoided this chaos. But perhaps this too had to happen, so that all the hidden weaknesses got exposed and placed before the Supreme altar, the one true tribunal, in order to find their own truth. It is nothing but a process of purification.

What then are the core values of the Ashram life, one may ask? Is the Ashram life about intellectual freedom of the kind preached (but never really practised!) in certain countries? Is the Ashram life an opportunity to express one’s expertise in psychoanalytic research of the Master’s life because He is no more in his gross physical sheath, and so we can take liberties with what He has entrusted us? Are the documents available at the Ashram Archives meant to clarify our understanding of the path and the goal of the future? Or are they to be used for analyzing the Master’s life, concoct reasons for his marriage and judge His knowledge about sex, apportion blame on Him for the partition of India, criticize virulently His writings and pass negative judgments on His achievements, His character and His life with an air of final authority? Are the original documents meant to bring out before us the living Presence of the Master and to help us realize it in everyday life or to treat Him as a dead piece of history and showcase Him before the world as a failure and a freak with a touch of madness? These are the questions we need to raise and ask ourselves and place them before our hearts and see them in the light of the knowledge that yoga gives us. If we are sincere, then this exercise will not be a waste of time as it will help us look at our own insincerities which can be then offered to the Mother for purification.

What about the Unity that is being threatened by the responses and reactions to the book? It is a sad fact, but perhaps it is not the Unity that has been threatened as much as the deeper causes of disunity that have come to the surface. These are the feelings of East versus West, Religion versus Spirituality, Devotion versus Intellectuality, Faith versus Reason. Worst of all, it has exposed to our sight the center around which the vast and complex body of the Integral Yoga has organised itself. It has also brought to the surface the core values that we hold so close to our heart. It is not my concern to show how and what these differences are as we all turn towards the Divine as a collective unit. Besides, these differences are only natural and can easily be overcome if we are clear about one thing, and that is the center and pivot around which the seekers and sadhakas drawn to this life organize themselves. For the individual, it does not matter. It is enough if he finds his inner center and organizes his life around it. But the Collective life must also find or recognize its own center, its Soul, so to say. Obviously, for the Yoga to sustain itself and for the collectivity to grow and advance, this center cannot be merely a mental ideal, however high and sublime it may be, nor can it be any narrow conception of divinity. It must be a center capable of the highest and widest possible expansion, a universal center. It must be something that allows an utmost diversity of possible approaches. There can be no doubt that such a center around which the Ashram life (and as its natural extension, the life of the larger Integral Yoga community) revolves is the Divine Personae of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. It is neither the idea of freedom that often misleads us, nor our mental conceptions of religion and spirituality, not even our human understanding of truth and unity that can unite and bind us. Least of all, can we stay together if we try to create unity on some outer basis such as custom and language, social norms or legal documents, or worse, around some human figures, whoever they may be and however high and influential they are. The Ashram is not a collective ego whereby each person can organize himself temporarily around its shadow. The only sure way of uniting ourselves is to discover the Divine Center or rather to instal the living Presence in the Ashram above all men and things. Perhaps the event has come to make us realize this fault-line and rediscover this Soul-center, because it is this that the book has most directly challenged and attacked. It is the most definitive resistance that lurks in the human depths, the shadow termed in Savitri as Death and Falsehood that has found its way through the pages of the book. It denies the Godhead it imitates; it doubts and mocks at faith, criticizes the embodied Divine and tries to declare His Work as vain and hints at the impossibility of change of the collective life of humanity into a diviner existence. The only liberty and possibility of change it faintly admits is a doubtful individual change, but that too after much argument and doubt. In fact, those who have read Savitri can see the arguments of Death come alive again and again in the pages of this book while the response of the Divine Himself to these doubts and arguments is muted under the plea of objectivity. It is a very clever way of trying to be one-up on the Master. No wonder this Shadow comes out in the open when the author, while describing Savitri as a fictional creation, replaces the “Supreme” with “Death” in the context of the Book of Everlasting Day! This makes Savitri an instrument of Death, because the latter lays on her neck his “mighty yoke”! Mind you, this is not just a slip of the pen, for the author misquotes from the very first draft of the poem in spite of having drawn the Ashram into bitter and lengthy court battles over the last edition of Savitri.

It is with the intent to expose this deeper play of forces that certain extracts of this hostile book will be selected and explained. After that, it is left to us to choose or reject a whole set of values: whether the Ashram stands for intellectual freedom or for a deeper spiritual life that insists on faith, aspiration and surrender; whether we must obey human authorities or the Divine Master in this crucial moment of our life; whether the institution is just a name or the outer body of a living Soul; whether the central Will of the Institution is represented by a few privileged individuals or by the collectivity of inmates and devotees, each of whom is a cell of its complex Body; whether the Spirit of the Ashram, its center and core, is love for the Divine Personae of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother or listening and allowing the multitudinous voices of Ignorance that rule the earth in the present times. We believe that the book attacks these core values, and to accept it under any pretext is to admit that which is openly hostile to Sri Aurobindo and his Work. It is an anathema to the very values that the Ashram is meant to uphold as a beacon light before a humanity struggling for Light. It is this that we wish to bring out through the presentation of these extracts from the book. It is not merely an intellectual analysis but a placing of certain things before the deeper heart of the collectivity that goes by the name of the Integral Yoga community, and more specifically in the context of life in the Ashram. We do not wish to incite anyone in any way. We only wish to ask one question after stating our findings -- whether this approach is right for a disciple of Sri Aurobindo. It is a simple question and one is free to find the answer from whichever part of the being one has access to. We will then be able to answer whether all this research into Sri Aurobindo’s life and its patronising presentation has yielded diamonds or is it simply a coal-mine that can only throw smoke and dust in the already semi-blind eye of humanity!

Alok Pandey

[This will be followed by a presentation of extracts from the Lives of Sri Aurobindo with Alok Pandey’s comments on them.]

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