26 May 2011

"Sexual union dignifed by marriage" - page 318

On page 318, Peter Heehs falsely alleges that Sri Aurobindo engaged in “sexual union dignified by marriage”.   

The remark is as follows:
After Aurobindo entered what he called "the sexual union dignified by the name of marriage," he seems to have found the state bothersome and uninteresting.
We are told to accept these sort of remarks because Sri Aurobindo is being "humanized".   Has anyone bothered to inquire into the source of this conclusion?  It is derived from the previous page (page 316) where Sri Aurobindo asks his disciple Nolini whether he wishes to engage in "sexual union dignified by the name of marriage".   That passage is as follows:

    Two of Aurobindo's attendants, Nolini Kanta Gupta and Saurin Bose, went to Bengal in the summer of 1919. Both ended up getting married. Before Nolini took the step, Aurobindo sent him some tongue-in-cheek advice: Do you really mean to perpetuate the sexual union dignified by the name of marriage, or don't you? Will you, won't you, will you, won't you—to quote the language of the spider to the fly?

One wonders what kind of stupid historical research this is.  If you ask someone a question, does that mean you engaged in the same activity before?   If I ask someone "Are you watching a movie because you are bored?" does that mean I also watch movies because I am bored?  Are all questions I ask derived from my self-experience?  By this criterion, every journalist would be guilty of several heinous crimes.

The other remark which bears correction is this one, again from page 318:
   According to her father, Aurobindo "lulled her with the hope that someday ... he would return to Bengal." Later he stopped writing, but "Mrinalini never ceased to hope." 

It is misleading to quote her father verbatim (“lulled her”) without offering any interlocution.  Her father was not fully aware of the changed circumstances under which Sri Aurobindo was living in Pondicherry.  The book should have explicated at this point that there is indeed evidence that Sri Aurobindo did not willfully mislead his wife.  Even after her death, he was still thinking of returning to India, although these plans never came to fruition.   As the following passage from the Agenda indicates, there are letters (see Autobiographical Notes, CWSA vol. 36, p 260) that Sri Aurobindo wrote after his wife’s death hinting at his possible plans to return to Bengal or British India. 

They have found some letters -- some old letters -- from Sri Aurobindo to Barin and the lawyer[[C.R. Das, Sri Aurobindo's lawyer in the Alipore bomb case. There are three letters; one dated November 18, 1922, to C.R. Das, and the two others to Barin, Sri Aurobindo's younger brother, dated November 18, 1922 and December 1, 1922. The letters are included at the end of this conversation. ]] -- extraordinary! They are incredible. They give the measure of Sri Aurobindo as a man of action. Even in 1920, he intended to undertake an action. To organize centers all over India, the world, oh!... a plan!... And that was before the liberation of the country!

    He says that he has completely withdrawn to find his yoga, but once he had found it, he is going to start his action[[Even in 1928, when Tagore came to Pondicherry to visit Sri Aurobindo, he repeated his intention to go out of Pondicherry and launch an external action. But probably on the way, Sri Aurobindo realized ... just what Mother was discovering. ]].... 

    ( Agenda October 20 1971)

And in 1928, about ten years after the death of Mrinalini, he still expressed the desire to return to India in a conversation with Tagore who was visiting him.  Tagore assumed it would happen soon, which led  Sri Aurobindo to issue the following clarification:

I am surprised at Tagore's remark about the two years (footnote expanded: Rabindranath Tagore remarked to someone in 1931 that Sri Aurobindo told him in 1928 that he would “expand” after two years) ; he must have misunderstood or misheard me. I did tell him that I would expand only after making a perfect (inner) foundation here, but I gave no date.  I did give that date of two years long before in my letter to X, but I had then a less ample view of the work to be done than I have now — and I am now more cautious about assigning dates than I was once. To fix a precise time is impossible except in the two regions of certitude — the pure material which is the field of mathematical certitudes and the supramental which is the field of divine certitudes. In the planes in between where life has its word to say and things have to evolve under shock and stress. Time and Energy are too much in a flux and apt to kick against the rigour of a prefixed date or programme.

(On Himself, SABCL volume 26, page 162, 16-8-1931)
The following conclusion, also from page 318, is partly incorrect.
More than once her father proposed taking her to Pondicherry. Aurobindo replied that he could not receive her until his finances were more secure. Then the war intervened, making travel impossible. ….Aurobindo had a good deal of affection for his wife, but he hardly could be called a good husband.   He failed to provide for her even when they were together, and made her suffer the indignity of being taken care of in his absence not by his relatives, as custom required, but by her father.
Firstly, Sri Aurobindo left a well-paying job in Baroda in 1904 and moved to a low-paying job in Calcutta/Kolkata, so that he could to dedicate his life to the freedom struggle, of which he was to become a popular leader.  Under the circumstances, one must ponder how a biographer can expect a man whose father was dead and mother unwell, who had little income of his own and who later was borrowing money from Motilal Roy and others, to take care of his wife? 

Secondly, the passage ought to mention that it was in fact, the British government which prevented her father from bringing her to Pondicherry, as can be seen from this document:

Her father made a serious attempt after his retirement from Government service in 1916 to take her to Pondicherry but the attitude of Government at the time prevented him from realising this wish. 

Overall, there is a certain spiritual discernment lacking in the remarks on this page. It fails to explicate that Sri Aurobindo had been guided by Divine visions to go to Pondicherry in order to perfect himself in Yoga and that he did not have the complete knowledge of what the future held for him.  Long after his wife’s death, he continued making tentative plans to return to India but these plans never came to fruition.  Sri Aurobindo’s neglect of his wife was not wanton neglect, but initially the byproduct of shouldering the greater responsibility of the freedom struggle and later on the inevitable side-effect of his spiritual transformation. As he wrote in a letter to Mrinalini in 1907, he had become a “puppet of the Divine”:

…I was to come on the eighth of January, but I could not come; this did not happen of my own accord. I had to go where the Lord led me. This time I did not go for my own work, I had gone for His work. The state of my mind has at present undergone a change; about that I would not reveal in this letter. Come here, then I will tell you what I have to say.   The only thing that can be stated for the moment is that henceforward 1 am no longer subject to my own will: I must go like a puppet wherever the Divine takes me; I must do like a puppet whatever He makes me do. At present you will find it hard to grasp the meaning of these words.  But it is necessary to tell you about it lest my activities cause you regret and sorrow. You may think that I am neglecting you and doing my work. But do not think so. … I hope the Lord will show you the light of His infinite Grace which He has shown me, but that depends on His will. If you want to be the co-partner of my dharma, then you must try most intensely so that He may point out to you the path of His Grace by the sheer force of your concentrated will. Do not allow any one to see this letter for what I have written is extremely secret. I have not spoken about it to any one but you. That is forbidden.  This much for today.

The following exchange with Nirodbaran sheds further light on the unexpected turns that can come in the lives of mystics:

Nirodbaran: Somebody writing the biography of Confucius in Bengali says: "Why do the Dharmagurus marry, we can't understand. Buddha did and his wife's tale is  heart-rending

Sri Aurobindo: Why? What is there in it?

Nirodbaran:He goes on: Sri Aurobindo, though not Dharmaguru, has done it too, and can be called  mad about religion. Well, Sir?

Sri Aurobindo:  Well, it is better to be mad about religion than to be a sententious ass and pronounce on what one does not understand.

Nirodbaran:"So we don't understand why they marry and why this change comes soon after marriage."

Sri Aurobindo: Perfectly natural — they marry before the change — then the change comes and the marriage belongs to the past self, not to the new one.

Nirodbaran: "If married life is an obstacle to spirituality, then they might as well not marry."

Sri Aurobindo: No doubt. But then when they marry, there is not an omniscient ass like this biographer to tell them that they were going to be ...  or in any way concerned with any other   ... than the biographer's.

Nirodbaran: I touch upon a delicate subject, but it is a puzzle.

Sri Aurobindo: Why delicate? and why a puzzle? Do you think that Buddha or Confucius or myself were born with a prevision that they or I would take to the spiritual life? So long as one is in the ordinary consciousness, one lives the ordinary life — when the awakening and the new consciousness come, one leaves it —nothing puzzling in that.

(Nirodbaran, Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, p 576)

As the above passage makes it transparently clear, ordinary people tend to misinterpret the lives of mystics by judging them according to their own standards.  Mystics experience a Dwijanma (second birth) or “change of Ashrama(stage of life)” after which they are begin to live by the Divine Will.  When the consciousness changes, Karma changes as well, and the obligations and duties which previously existed towards the family have to be dropped in favour of a greater life.  When Ramana Maharshi’s mother found him in his cave and began fervently beseeching him to return home, he curtly informed her that he doesn’t belong to her anymore. The following passage is from Osborne (1970)

…One of them, Pachaiyappa Pillai, said to the Swami: "Your mother is weeping and praying; why do you not at least give her an answer? Whether it is 'yes' or 'no' you can reply to her. Swami need not break his vow of silence. Here are pencil and paper; Swami can at least write what he has to say." He took the pencil and paper and, in utterly impersonal language, wrote:

“The Ordainer controls the fate of souls in accordance with their prarabdhakarma (destiny to be worked out in this life, resulting from the balance-sheet of actions in past lives). Whatever is destined not to happen will not happen, try as you may. Whatever is destined to happen will happen, do what you may to prevent it. This is certain. The best course, therefore, is to remain silent.” 

In essence, this is the same as Christ's saying to his mother: "Woman, what have I to do with you? Don't you know that I have to be about my Father's business?"


1 comment:

  1. " No one can write my biography, because it has not been on the surface for men to see"
    -- Sri Aurobindo
    Now, some Peter Heehs claims to find the *it*,
    serenely ridiculous !
    -- Nilanjan