9 Nov 2011

Sraddhalu Ranade’s Letter to Manoj Das

[We publish here Sraddhalu’s letter to Manoj Das written on 28 July, 2010. The letter throws light on the inside events that took place within the Sri Aurobindo Ashram community at Pondicherry and gives a better perspective of the controversy over Peter Heehs’s Lives of Sri Aurobindo to the uninformed reader outside Pondicherry.]

Sraddhalu Ranade’s Letter to Manoj Das

28 July 2010

Dear Manoj-da (Das),[1]

Thank you for your letter dated 28 June 2010. I have since come to know that your letter is being widely circulated from Manoj Das Gupta’s office as representing his views. Hence I am compelled to write this response to put in context certain erroneous assumptions in your note. In what follows, your entire letter is quoted in bold followed by my remarks. My reply is long because the issues you have raised are complex and central to the Ashram’s future well-being. You have been frank and so will I be.

 Dear Sraddhalu,
At first I wondered if your letter was not meant for some other ‘Manoj’, for I expected you to address Shri Manoj Das Gupta as Dear Manoj-da; not as Dear Manoj, for that goes so well with your courteous nature. I must confess that your address unpleasantly surprised me at first, but on reading the full letter I realised that it was in keeping with the spirit and tone of your text which I found rather unfortunate.

Dear Manoj-da (Das), you have written me a 4-page essay because you are upset that I did not add two small letters (“da”) to Manoj Das Gupta’s name. Can you imagine the pain and anguish that 400 pages of Peter Heehs’ abuse of Sri Aurobindo have caused the entire Ashram community! Have you written at least a 1-page letter to him? Your words would surely have made a difference, and still might.

You may also recall that soon after your serious differences with Pranab-da in 1994, you started referring to him simply as “Pranab” choosing to drop the “da” as an expression of your loss of respect towards him.

As you can remember very well, my agony on Peter’s book was no less than yours or anybody else’s and I went through the entire book listing out more than ninety objectionable observations or factual lapses.

Yes, I remember how disturbed you were in September/October 2008. As a former Trustee you exercised your privilege with the Ashram Trust by calling for a special meeting in which Manoj Das Gupta, Dilip Dutta, Matriprasad and Vijay Poddar were present (as best as I recall), wherein you read out to them the numerous passages that you described as “highly objectionable”, “factually wrong” and “harmful to the Ashram”. You explained to them why it was necessary to urgently and publicly dissociate the Ashram from the book and take immediate steps to withdraw the book. After the meeting Dilip Dutta exclaimed to people at the Dispensary, “Every page of the book has poison in it!” Based on their reactions and promises, you came back from this meeting convinced that the Ashram Trust would take immediate action.

Subsequently a special meeting of the Trust Board was called one afternoon. MDG informed the Board that he would not be party to the decision-making process but would accept whatever the Board decided, and then left. After a brief discussion, the entire Board unanimously resolved to a) publicly dissociate from the book, b) take immediate steps to stop the book, and c) expel Peter Heehs (PH) from the Ashram. Dilip Dutta came back to the Dispensary and gave this news to all present. By evening the news had spread like wildfire and the entire Ashram community was relieved that after two months of pain and pleading, at last the Trustees had exercised their conscience. Next morning when Manoj Das Gupta (MDG) heard of the Board’s decision from an Ashramite he shouted in anger, “I will not accept this decision!” He rushed over to Dilip Dutta and prevailed upon the entire Trust Board to withdraw its unanimous decision. News of this was a most painful shock to the entire Ashram community, plunging it in despair.

I remember meeting you after this event. You were flabbergasted and flailed your hands in helplessness and incomprehension. I suggested that you should write a commentary exposing the numerous perverse passages of the book for the benefit of the Ashram community and the public at large. Coming from a scholar such as you, the write-up would have changed the course of subsequent events. But at that time you refused saying, “I cannot take a public stand on this matter anymore. I hope you understand.” I nodded, only partly understanding. I understood that you had chosen to place your loyalty to MDG above all else. But I could not understand how a scholar such as you could betray your loyalty to Sri Aurobindo. After all, is not your scholarship His gift to you, and meant to be fulfilled in His service?

I requested you to give me the notes you had prepared, so that at least I could share them with the public under your guidance. You declined to help, and would not even give me your notes because they were in your handwriting. Finally after much pleading you gave me limited time in which you hurriedly dictated references to the first 30 objectionable passages, and then abruptly closed the meeting saying you had no more time. We have since not met with regard to this matter.

Manoj-da (Das), your subsequent public silence on this issue has actually been “dignified”. Unlike MDG who chose to take sides to support and protect PH in his continuing misuse of the Ashram’s Trust and his abuse of Sri Aurobindo, you genuinely kept out of all public pronouncements and actions, with the exception of one article in Auroville Today in which you mildly expressed your discomfort with certain trends in modern writing. Your continuing silence on PH’s abuse of Sri Aurobindo is a matter between you and Sri Aurobindo, and I am not concerned with it.

What does surprise me though, is the inconsistency of your standards. Recall that in 1994 a young boy was not admitted by Pranab-da to membership of the PED (because of rules framed by the Ashram Trust in the first place). You were so upset that you resigned from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust Board. This painfully contrasts with your present stand when for the last two years Sri Aurobindo has been abused and wronged in a “highly objectionable” manner “harmful to the Ashram” by your own admission, yet you choose to maintain silence only because MDG finds it unacceptable to protect Sri Aurobindo’s reputation!

Manoj-da (Das), there need be no conflict of loyalties in this matter. If you only make public your scholarly comments on these objectionable passages from the book and do nothing else, you can serve Sri Aurobindo and still retain your personal loyalty to MDG or other Trustees. Unless of course exposing PH’s “factual lapses” involves conflict of interests with the present Trustees.

I surely wished at least the Indian edition, if at all it comes out, to be a corrected version and if the foreign publishers go for a reprint, it should be a corrected and revised edition.

Your comment surprises me. Can “more that ninety” “highly objectionable” passages be corrected with minor textual adjustments? The book presumes a divided personality in its very structure and splits Sri Aurobindo’s life into five unconnected personalities; it claims that Sri Aurobindo began his ascent to the Supermind only after 1926 (when in fact he had reached it before 1914!); its pervasive factual distortions build towards the final conclusion that Sri Aurobindo never even reached the supermind. Can you disengage these errors from the overall structure of the book without a major rewrite?

Moreover, PH himself has refused to make any meaningful changes. In his letter to the Ashram Trust dated 22 September 2008, he rebelliously declares, “it should be understood that I have no intention to revise every passage” that is found wrong. He is only prepared “to alter a half-dozen or more passages that seem to have caused unnecessary offence”, but “the changed text will have to occupy precisely the same amount of space as the original text”. He only commits to minor cosmetic changes and refuses to set right the many “factual lapses” that you have identified.

Your suggestion of a “corrected and revised” edition is meaningless in the face of PH’s non-cooperation and your own discovery of the magnitude of distortions in the book.

There were ways of achieving this without going public through large scale distribution of quotes from the book through internet and distributed printouts, or going to the court thereby inevitably attracting the press that was bound to pounce on the sensational aspect of the case. Thus, ironically, those who took such steps became (unwittingly?) the largest forum for spreading a virus against which they had launched their mission.

Your criticism of the legal intervention to stop the book is inconsistent with your criticism of the contents of book. If you criticise the contents of the book and want it revised, then you must necessarily support all efforts to stop it first. Or did you expect that revisions would take place after the Indian edition was released?

 Your blaming the Ashram community for negative publicity is in bad taste. Things went public not because of our actions, but because first of all PH abused Sri Aurobindo in public by publishing his book, and then actively instigated controversy for quick publicity. But the second important reason for publicity was the inexplicable silence of the Ashram Trust Board.

You will remember how hard the Ashram community tried to convince the Trust Board to take internal action precisely so that things do not go public! You were a part of this effort in the early stages. Please tell us what efforts we did not make to avoid public exposure. Yet, we all failed when MDG went back on his word, hijacked the Trust Board and forced it to withdraw the unanimous decision of its conscience. Worse still, he has since held the entire Ashram community to ransom, imposing his personal interests on the conscience of all of us. By these actions he compelled devotees from outside the Ashram to intervene by the only means left to them: legal action.

With the Indian edition of the book imminent, and only at the last minute when the Trust Board refused to act, did devotees take legal steps to stop PH’s book barely within two days of its public release in India. Even then these devotees took great care to keep the Ashram Trust and the Press out of the picture and out of the legal proceedings. All requests from the local and national media were politely turned down.

 Imagine what would have happened if the Ashram inmates had sold their conscience and gone along with MDG. Do you think the public at large would have remained silent? The Ashram as an institution would have faced the wrath of all devotees and admirers of Sri Aurobindo, not to mention the wrath of Kali and the Karma and shame of having betrayed one’s own Guru. Devotees and well-wishers have seen how hard the entire Ashram community tried to stop the book, and that is why their anger is limited only to the Trustees who have knowingly betrayed Sri Aurobindo.

Even in subsequent legal actions by devotees, the public exposure was carefully restricted by design. It was PH who instigated a public scandal by organising a worldwide smear campaign on the Internet against all the critics of his book, as his strategy to sell more copies and gain personal financial benefit. He gave public interviews to national newspapers and magazines and paid for articles to be planted in the local newspapers praising his “selfless service” to the Ashram!

Manoj-da (Das), do you really believe that PH wrote this book to introduce Sri Aurobindo to academia in the West? His entire promotional trip in the USA in 2008 consisted only of visits to Sri Aurobindo Centres. He did not visit a single academic forum! He intends to create controversy by deliberately hurting devotees. Even as we made all attempts to keep things in-house, PH and his colleague Richard Hartz (RH) were busy promoting conflict and controversy through their financiers and supporters in the USA. Their primary publicists were in constant touch with MDG almost daily and were regularly fed internal information of the Ashram and the Archives to help promote division between the East and the West, between Auroville and the Ashram, between mind and heart, making racist comments declaring Indians inferior for being “sentimental”, and even to teach that Sri Aurobindo was against devotion! Have you forgotten these painful events so soon? Or are you now choosing to be blind to them to gain favours with those who support this perverse publicity?

Even in the face of their ad hominem attacks, we kept our focus exclusively on the book, and that is why, in spite of PH’s best efforts, the matter has still not hit national headlines. I hope that some day you will be able to appreciate the dignity and maturity with which critics of the book in the Ashram community and devotees outside have worked to expose it and to stop it.

I deeply appreciated your advising Manoj-da against expelling Peter.

In this matter your appreciation is misplaced. In my first letter to the Ashram Trust I exposed the sinister nexus between Peter Heehs (PH), Richard Hartz (RH) and Jeffrey Kripal (JK) funded by Michael Murphy’s (MM) Esalen Institute for studying Sri Aurobindo’s Record of Yoga. I had explained how PH had structured the book’s publicity to identify it as a product of the Ashram, and why it was necessary for the Ashram Trust to urgently dissociate from the book. In September 2008, I wrote: “When those who love Sri Aurobindo rise to respond, their attack will not be able to distinguish between Peter and the Ashram [Community]. Other interested groups will also step in to add confusion and extract their advantage.” In hindsight I hope you will value these words more.

I had listed five steps that the Trust must immediately take to protect the Ashram’s interests. None of these involved PH. At the end of this I added, “To be effective, these steps would involve disowning or discrediting Peter and withdrawing his privileged access to documents at the Archives. In what form and to what degree this needs to be done is not too important as long as something concrete is done in congruence with the five steps above.” Since then I have remained consistently in this view. I have never advised MDG “against expelling PH” as you and he now claim. He misquoted my letter to claim this lie in an abuse of simple literary ethics. You have objected to my missing a “da” in his name; but will you object to his misquoting me which is surely a much more serious offence? By not saying “da” I expressed the truth of my present sentiments; by misquoting me, MDG turned a simple truth into a dangerous falsehood.

We all are creatures of ignorance and we are prone to commit blunders in different ways. The question is whether one is open to realising one’s mistake and alter one’s attitude for the better. Peter seems to have done that. No one can see the inner working of his mind.

Strange that you should say this now. After reading the book, you were convinced that PH had written it with deliberate intent to harm Sri Aurobindo’s reputation. Why the posture of doubt now? I had dealt with the question of PH’s intention in my first letter to the Trust precisely to protect against such false platitudes as you now spout here. I had analysed four passages which proved that the perversions in the book are not accidental or from ignorance. Let us not fool ourselves: PH has deliberately distorted facts throughout the book with intent to harm.

To see inside PH’s mind you need only view his track record of the last forty years during which he has openly declared his intentions. Some time in the early 1990s, soon after publishing his first book labelling Sri Aurobindo a “terrorist”, he declared proudly that he had come here “to break all the false icons of the Ashram”.

Your claim that PH has realised his mistake and has altered his attitude “for the better” is a lie. Having personally heard your decisively stated views in 2008, I wonder what has caused you to reverse them now. Do you find any hint of regret in PH’s rebellious stand in refusing any meaningful change in the book? Had PH recognised his mistake, he would surely have taken some steps to undo the damage he has caused. Instead he continues to refer to Sri Aurobindo as a “terrorist”, continues to work with Jeffrey Kripal to pervert the Record of Yoga, continues even to claim himself founder of the Ashram Archives misusing the Ashram’s credibility to continue abuse of Sri Aurobindo—but now with the blessings and support of MDG and the Ashram Trust Board.

If his regret is not genuine, the law of Karma will take care of that.

Why not then simply accept that the present mess is the Karmic result of our Trust Board supporting PH’s abuse of Sri Aurobindo! Or is that too inconvenient a truth to face?

And if you trust the law of Karma to take care of everything, then may I ask why you resigned in protest against Pranab-da? Could you “see the inner working of his mind”? Did you not trust the law of Karma then? And why has the Trust Board taken harsh action to issue a legal notice to Abala for having criticised MDG? Should not MDG say of her too that “no one can see the working of her mind, and the law of Karma will take care of things”? And why did MDG initiate subversive action against critics of PH’s book? Does he not trust the law of Karma to deal with them? Unless of course the principle of Karma works only to serve MDG’s vested interests and steps in only when he needs to justify his selective inaction with PH.

In any case he is out of the Archives.

This is another lie that MDG has used to deflect public pressure. MDG has maintained from the beginning that PH is only “temporarily” out of the Archives and that once things cool down, he will return. This is one of the few things that he has been consistent about.

 But how does removal of PH from the Archives—temporary or permanent—change the reality of the book out there and the continuing damage that it is causing in global academia and to devotees even as we speak? The real problem starts with the book, and if we are serious about solving the problem, we should withdraw the book first. When devotees outside the Ashram had brought Columbia University Press to the negotiating table and were on the verge of having the book withdrawn, it was MDG who sent the memo (on behalf of the Ashram Trust!) that gave them the legal basis to break off these negotiations. In other words MDG and the Trust Board have now joined PH in misusing Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s name to support abuse of Sri Aurobindo. What a shame!

But the chief purpose of my writing this letter to you is different. I have trusted you as a young man who has gained over the years a wide sense of perspective. I hope you will appreciate my observations even if you do not accept them.

 Do you really believe that the reputation of Sri Aurobindo or even of the Ashram depended on a book? Peter was tempted by an urge to take recourse to some uncanny novelty in his approach to the biography and probably wished to be acknowledged as a so called academic, but books have been written earlier with pure hostile motive and hardly anybody bothers to remember them today as time rolled over them.

Manoj-da (Das), I cannot believe that you are so naïve. All those earlier hostile books were written by unknown writers with no credible authority. That is why the Ashram community has never bothered itself with them. This book by PH alone in the whole world comes from the claimed “founder of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives” and “editor of Sri Aurobindo’s Collected Works” who has exclusive access to “rare primary sources” and “unpublished letters” from the Ashram’s private and unpublished collection, and he alone was assisted by the bulk of the Archives staff to write the most authoritative biography of Sri Aurobindo! These claims make the book and its conclusions as good as an official public statement from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram itself. Moreover, the author is now morally, legally and financially supported by the Ashram Trust Board which is working with him to bring out an “edited” Indian version of the book which will be “published and sold through the Ashram outlets only”. (All quote marks and claims are from the book in question and from PH’s correspondence with the Ashram Trust in 2008.)

 PH’s perverse book is therefore the only “authoritative biography” of Sri Aurobindo authorised and supported by the Ashram Trust, while all previous ones are now discarded as mere “hagiographies”. Note well that the “hagiographies” have all been published by the Ashram Trust for “sentimental”, “ritualistic” and “devotional” Indians, whereas the “authoritative biography” is published by a reputed publisher Columbia University Press for global academia. In case of disputes regarding facts of Sri Aurobindo’s life, it is the “academic” biography which will be held as final arbitrator. In this biography, the latest “research” by PH with the most extensively documented conclusions has “proved” that Sri Aurobindo never reached the Supermind and that he lied about his supramental experiences… Oh, and by the way, his spirituality was the result of an inherited schizophrenia and suppressed sexuality, etc. (For the record, the above comments are sarcastic and should not be misquoted by MDG a year hence to “prove” that I supported PH’s conclusions!)

Let us remind ourselves that it is not Peter Heehs the taxi driver and high school dropout who is declaring these great new discoveries; rather it is the single most authoritative academic expert on Sri Aurobindo, none other than the “founder” and “editor” of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives with full legal backing of the Ashram Trust! Inmates of the Ashram such as you, who know of PH’s perversions, may not give serious regard to the book. But academics in the West, and eventually in India, will lap it up as the undisputed truth certified by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. They will never know that all these conclusions emerge from misquotations, factual distortions and PH’s fanciful speculation presented as fact often with made-up quotations!

 Manoj-da (Das), nobody can stop you from choosing to turn a blind eye to the glaring distinctions that this biography has over all other scurrilous ones. But please do not expect the rest of us to be fooled by superficial comparisons. Among all hostile biographies of Sri Aurobindo, this one alone comes with the unique stamp of credibility of the Ashram itself—a feat far surpassing Jeffrey Kripal’s similar deception at Ramakrishna Mission. If not for this one fact, the Ashram community would not be concerned with it at all.

 Let us also be clear of the distinction between Sri Aurobindo and his reputation. Sri Aurobindo sits free and unassailable above all human stupidity. But his reputation is a formation of the human mind and is inherently vulnerable to human treachery and factual perversion. You will be shocked to know that on reading this biography most Westerners actually believe that Paul Richard left because of romance between the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. They have no way of knowing that the romantic episode PH narrates (with quotations!) is entirely a figment of PH’s imagination and in complete contradiction to Paul Richard’s own statements which PH deliberately does not include in the book. Are we still to believe that Sri Aurobindo’s reputation is intact in the minds of these Western readers? The same readers now believe that Sri Aurobindo began his ascent to the Supermind more than 10 years after he wrote of it, and therefore his writings on the supermind are entirely theoretical with no experiential basis or validation. Are we to believe that Sri Aurobindo’s Work has been forwarded in the world by seeding such falsehoods in readers’ minds? One Western reader summarises the book thus:

For me, it was a page-turner; it was better than Harry Potter.… Sri Aurobindo … was throwing dice in London, bored with petty administrative tasks in Baroda, arrested for sedition in Calcutta...and later, poverty-stricken in Pondy. In 1927, 1933, 1934, 1935, and 1938, he wrote that he was busy supramentalising the overmind and clearing out the inconscient; in 1947 he wrote that he was still working on it—an enormous job that was taking far longer than anticipated. … We don't have to feel bad that we struggle, that it's difficult to take the proper course of action, that we don’t know what's going to happen—Sri Aurobindo went through the kind of trials and ordeals we face every day, and he conquered.

What a Harry Potter-ly simplistic view of Sri Aurobindo’s life and yoga this Westerner now has—and how wrong! Since Sri Aurobindo’s life is meant to inspire others by example, we don’t have to feel bad about living an aimless life full of problems from boredom, gambling and poverty because one day, by magic, suddenly the supermind might dawn upon us, as it did on Sri Aurobindo! The Integral Yoga and the supramental realisation are now reduced to a magical and chance event unrelated to what we do or how we live our life. Of course, this Westerner missed the crucial piece of fiction that PH teaches us, that Sri Aurobindo married for lust yet mistakenly chose one too young and consequently had to delay consummation, leaving him frustrated for life—a viewpoint that emerges straight out of Jeffrey Kripal’s (JK) thesis that Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual realisations were the outcome of sexual frustrations and the supermind itself is only an “exaggeration” and “mythologisation” representing the “descent of an erotic force”! (All quotes from JK’s chapter on Sri Aurobindo as corrected and approved by PH.)

 PH’s book is deeply influenced by Jeffrey Kripal (JK) and is structured around his views on Sri Aurobindo because JK has been funding PH and his colleague Richard Hartz (RH) for years. The entire book was thoroughly checked and revised by JK (even as PH checked and made suggestions for JK’s chapter on Sri Aurobindo in his last book). Ask yourself why PH kept the contents of this book secret from all his colleagues in the Archives (including RH), yet had it fully checked and corrected by JK whose only field of specialisation is “comparative erotics and ethics of mystical literature” (by his own admission), and who proudly declares, “All of my books are about sexuality and spirituality.” This takes us to the heart of PH’s motives in distorting Sri Aurobindo’s life and teaching to give them a perverse sexual twist.

 Worse still, funded by JK, PH’s colleague Richard Hartz (RH) has already declared that Sri Aurobindo’s own practice of the Integral Yoga was different from what he taught. RH’s article presenting this perverse conclusion has already been published in the Ashram’s official magazine Mother India with MDG’s support. This conclusion is also the essence of JK’s first thesis regarding Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. One small step remains to prove JK’s second thesis: that the critical but secret ingredient in Sri Aurobindo’s practice was the element of tantric sexuality. This has already been written about by JK, PH and RH, and is part of the internal documentation of Esalen Institute but “not for public release as yet” as stated by Michael Murphy. The biographical source-material to “prove” this thesis is inextricably woven into PH’s perverse biography. (If you are interested, I would be happy to present the extensive evidence that we have in all its gory details.)

 The answer to your question “does the reputation of Sri Aurobindo depend on a book?” is an unequivocal “Yes”, especially when the book is written by the claimed founder and editor of the Ashram’s Archives and therefore represents the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s official views.

To your second question, the answer is obvious: if Sri Aurobindo’s reputation is tarnished, the Ashram’s too will be, for the Ashram has no separate existence from Him.

The actual damage is far worse because this biography is intended to become reference material in colleges and universities all over the world —again on the strength of the Ashram’s name and support! Jeffrey Kripal had already arranged for it to receive a literary award in the USA which would have automatically put it on the bestsellers’ lists. But the proscription of the book in India has delayed these plans.

With the help of PH and RH of the Ashram’s Archives, JK and MM have already taken up Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga for revision and “improvement” with the introduction of “tantric sexuality”. It is a matter of time before these growing perversions are presented to Western academia as the future of the Integral Yoga with PH’s book as the officially sanctioned source and reference material.

In the long run, when you and I are long dead and gone, the common mass of humanity might perhaps lose interest in Sri Aurobindo’s alleged romances. But for all you know, in our next birth, we may grow up studying Sri Aurobindo’s life with PH’s biography as our textbook! The first step towards this is already in place. PH has recently been appointed Visiting Professor for Sri Aurobindo Studies at Cambridge University with this perverse biography as textbook and source material for Cambridge students. It is only a question of time before other colleges and universities follow suit. MDG and his coterie are ensuring that you do not have to wait for too long either —the book is being openly praised by them to students of the Higher Course in the Ashram school. One more step and it will be recommended reading for our students.

Surely you realise how significant this single book is for all organised efforts to pervert Sri Aurobindo’s life and teaching. The damage is already done with the book’s release in 2008. We can only try to minimise it by a) publicly dissociating the Ashram from the book, b) publicly exposing its distortions, and c) ensuring its withdrawal. If the first of these steps had been taken by the Ashram Trust Board right at the beginning, none of the following controversy would have occurred. But when it refused to act, the Ashram community and devotees were compelled to take the other two steps, but now mired in the controversy that PH and his group instigated with the support of Trust Board.

The Divine Genius of Sri Aurobindo is going on conquering ever expanding grounds of recognition and reverence plainly because of his revolutionary and epoch-making vision of human destiny and Peter’s book, like so many other articles, essays, newspaper reports and gossips will be nothing more than dead leaves scraping by or squirrels scratching a rising Himalayan peak.

It is passages like this that PH condescendingly dismisses as hagiographical! Do you actually see this happening in some inner prophetic vision? Or are you merely spouting platitudes to soothe your own guilty conscience?

Perhaps your statement is true in some higher spiritual world. But the ground reality of the material world today is quite the opposite. I can say from experience (and will happily give you supporting evidence), that in much of the Western academic world there is little or no growth in appreciating Sri Aurobindo (a few anecdotal exceptions do not count). On the contrary, modern Western thinkers are taking his ideas, presenting them as their own with subtle twists, and then deprecating Sri Aurobindo for being too “religious”, “devotional”, “out of date”, “irrelevant”, “Hindu fundamentalist”, etc., precisely the criticisms that PH promotes with detailed documentation in his biography. I have seen and heard shocking things being said and done in the name of Sri Aurobindo or the Integral Yoga at formal Sri Aurobindo Centres, originally abroad, and now even within India. In the last few years things have only grown worse.

So far as the Ashram’s reputation is concerned, it entirely depends on the community’s spiritual poise and not on its agitated behaviour on any issue of this nature —even if it comes to protecting God against infamy.

Is the spiritual poise of the community different from its actions? If so, then surely we are not practising the Integral Yoga, which seeks precisely to express in life the truth of the Spirit. Are we once again to sit back in prayer while the Somnath temple is desecrated? Recall Sri Aurobindo’s advice to Sahana-di on this very problem. She narrates a situation exactly the same as ours today, and I quote the text in full:

[Sahana-di:] I was faced by the question: “If we find someone standing against a truth and attacking it by using falsehood as his means, what in that case should be the mental attitude of a sadhak? Should he, practicing his yogic equality, be indifferent to it or lift his sword against the falsehood?” The question came up because some person wrote a letter attacking the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. We were much excited by it and hotly discussed what our attitude should be towards such persons—should we at all keep any contact with them? I was in two minds—perhaps there should not be so strong a feeling of hostility or contempt. One of us asserted very forcefully that far from keeping any contact with such persons, if even any kind of conciliation would  ever be  possible. So I wrote to Sri Aurobindo all about it in order to know his opinion. He wrote back to me the following, fully supporting the sadhak’s view:

[Sri Aurobindo:] “No doubt, hatred and cursing are not the proper attitude. It is true also that to look upon all things and all people with a calm and clear vision, to be uninvolved and impartial in one's judgments is a quite proper yogic attitude. A condition of perfect samatā can be established in which one sees all as equal, friends and enemies included, and is not disturbed by what men do or by what happens. The question is whether this is all that is demanded from us. If so, then the general attitude will be of a neutral indifference to everything. But the Gita, which strongly insists on a perfect and absolute samatā, goes on to say, “Fight, destroy the adversary, conquer.” If there is no kind of general action wanted, no loyalty to Truth as against Falsehood except for one's personal sadhana, no will for the Truth to conquer, then the samatā of indifference will suffice. But here there is a work to be done, a Truth to be established against which immense forces are arranged, invisible forces which can use visible things and persons and actions for their instruments. If one is among the disciples, the seekers of this Truth, one has to take sides for the Truth, to stand against the forces that attack it and seek to stifle it. Arjuna wanted not to stand for either side, to refuse any action of hostility even against assailants; Sri Krishna, who insisted so much on samat ā, strongly rebuked his attitude and insisted equally on his fighting the adversary. ‘Have samatā,’ he said, ‘and seeing clearly the Truth, fight.’ Therefore to take sides with the Truth and to refuse to concede anything to the Falsehood that attacks, to be unflinchingly loyal and against the hostiles and the attackers, is not inconsistent with equality. It is personal and egoistic feeling that has to be thrown away; hatred and vital ill-will have to be rejected. But loyalty and refusal to compromise with the assailants and the hostiles or to dally with their ideas and demands and say, ‘After all, we can compromise with what they ask from us’, or to accept them as companions and our own people—these things have a great importance. If the attack were a physical menace to the work and the leaders and doers of the work, one would see this at once. But because the attack is of a subtler kind, can a passive attitude be right? It is a spiritual battle inward and outward; by neutrality and compromise or even passivity one may allow the enemy forces to pass and crush down the Truth and its children. If you look at it from this point, you will see that if the inner spiritual equality is right, the active loyalty and firm taking of sides is as right, and the two cannot be incompatible.

I have, of course, treated it as a general question apart from all particular cases or personal questions. It is a principle of action that has to be seen in its right light and proportions.” [13 September 1936; highlights added]

On reading Sri Aurobindo’s advice, one feels as if the question and His answer are describing exactly the present situation we are in. After His clarification, need we say more? (As an aside, MDG frequently quotes from dozens of letters of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother—always out of context—to justify passivity and inaction in the face of falsehood. Curiously, he never refers to this one.)

Let me add another quotation from the Mother to complete this discussion on the need for action. On 20th January 1964, She told Huta:

There are, of course, a number of people who have good will, good purpose, good aspiration and the rest; but in spite of all that they still live in falsehood because they have not the strength to fight for the Truth. And if you let yourself go without reacting with a constant vigilance you are bound to live in Falsehood because this world is a world of Falsehood.” [The Mother, from Mother You Said So…, highlight added]

In summary, the Ashram’s reputation depends not just on its spiritual poise as you claim. It depends equally on the external expression of that poise in the forms of “right” action, “taking sides with the Truth” and being “unflinchingly loyal” to Sri Aurobindo. Each one of us must introspect to see on which side of the Truth we stand —with Sri Aurobindo or with Peter Heehs. We must then ask ourselves what right action—inner and outer—we are taking in this matter.

If we make a little introspection, it will be obvious that as a community we have ceased, at least temporarily, to live any inner life. That alone explains this huge hullabaloo on a book, with hardly anyone of the agitating multitude reading it, and their taking recourse to actions that can never go with an institution that claims itself to be spiritual.

Your views are relevant only to an ascetic world-renouncing spirituality in which a silent passivity is acceptable. They are contrary to Sri Aurobindo’s world-affirming and life-transforming spirituality, as already explained by Sri Aurobindo in his reply to Sahana-di.

But you make another serious mistake: the inner life of the community is not measured by how many people read the book. That would be the criteria to apply to an intellectual community. A spiritual community should be assessed by its psychic and spiritual development. In fact, it is because the community was inwardly sensitive to the falsehood of the book that most people did not need to read it cover to cover to recognise its perversions. Most sensitive people could not even bear to read more than a few pages of the extracts in circulation. One Aurovillian found himself vomiting when he read certain extracts. By standards of psychic and spiritual sensitivity, our community seems to have done quite well. Only the hardened and insensitive need to read the whole book, and having read it all, can still not feel something wrong.

Rather than criticising the community for lacking inner life, why not first look at the present Trustees that you so revere and see how they fare. As it turns out, the majority of the present Trustees have not read Sri Aurobindo! Three out of five are known to make crude jokes ridiculing spirituality and mocking sadhaks for “trying to be too spiritual”. This in itself goes a long way in explaining the ease with which they could guiltlessly suppress their conscience.

You also refer to an “agitating multitude … taking recourse to actions that can never go with an institution that claims itself to be spiritual”. Pray tell me what action the Ashram community has taken so far that is incompatible with spirituality? Is standing up for what is true an unspiritual act? Is writing a letter to highlight a wrong and asking to set it right contrary to our ideals? You seem deeply confused between Sri Aurobindo’s yoga and other ascetic and world-renouncing teachings.

On the contrary, many senior sadhaks here have found the Ashram community far too passive and complacent to protect itself from the increasing dilutions and cleverly formulated attacks on the Ashram and on Sri Aurobindo. Our excessive sattva has tended towards weakness, cowardice and tamas from lack of sufficient dynamic and expressive strength.

I am really shocked that some senior Ashramites started showing signs that could be expected only of mobsters—promoting signature campaigns, enrolling even innocent and unsuspecting visitors into it bewildering them in the process, and sending letters of allegations—unverified and mostly consisting of hearsay and utterly venomous rumours, to different wings of the government.

By your standards our respected Pranab-da is the first of the Ashram’s “mobsters”. But since when do mobsters sign petitions? We have always been taught that petitions were the most civil way for a group to express solidarity in its views. Had the Ashramites taken to mobstering, the problem would have been solved long ago! It is truly sad that the Trust Board views the common Ashramite with such disdain. If Ashramites remain silent, they declare that “only a minority” is affected so no action need be taken; if Ashramites sign a collective petition, they are labelled “mobsters” and are not acknowledged. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t —how convenient!

When the Trustees continue to reject the anguished pleas of Ashram inmates, is it any surprise that over time the community has become more assertive? Manoj-da (Das), you have been at the grassroots of the communist movement in India and one of its prominent leaders in your youth. You know firsthand the reactions that a dictatorial oligarchy evokes from the anguished and the exploited. Surely you should have more sympathy and understanding for what the Ashram community has been quietly suffering for the last two years. Your accusation of mobstering is false and insensitive.

The pity of pity is, lately some of them inspired a certain sickly lady, I do not know whether she is a mental case or one who is possessed, but who had proved her notoriety for using vulgar language against anybody who incurred her displeasure or envy for reason that were often inexplicable, to go on heaping abuses against Manoj-da and, as if that was not enough, instigating her to report to the police that her life was in danger!

You speak with such deep contempt for this simple woman, yet you sympathise with PH and are profoundly hurt when someone does not use a two-letter suffix for MDG! I find it strange, but am not surprised. When you dare not “look into the inner working” of Peter Heehs’ mind, how have you managed to look so deep into Abala’s mind that you declare her a “mental case” or “possessed”?

You are so disturbed by her “vulgar language” towards MDG that you are willing to justify legal action against her. Yet you expect the Ashram community to remain silent while PH showers abuses on Sri Aurobindo! You are free to place your loyalty to MDG above your loyalty to Sri Aurobindo, but it is unfair to expect the entire Ashram community to follow in your footsteps.

From what little I have heard of Abala, she is only known to abuse those who criticise Sri Aurobindo or work against the interests of His Ashram. If her frustration is presently directed to MDG, it is only for this reason. Have you ever felt the pain of hearing one’s Guru abused and defiled in public and being tied down and unable to defend Him? Many in the Ashram have wept before the Lord in anguish and helplessness. Some day, if you ever know what that feels like, you may understand why this simple woman that you so disdain is closer to Sri Aurobindo than some of the proud “intellectuals” who merely pontificate their love for the Guru but abandon Him at the first call of self-interest.

I also wonder why MDG found it necessary to send Abala a legal notice and then remove her from the work appointed by the Mother as his “disciplinary action”, when a simple dialogue across the table would have resolved any misunderstanding. Unless of course the Trust finds it acceptable that PH should abuse Sri Aurobindo, but Abala should not abuse MDG.

I wish someone could make this self-righteous host of signature-campaigners, letter-writers and elements behind the aforesaid weird lady understand that they are the destroyers of the Ashram’s reputationa thing they imagined endangered and for which they profess their concern.

It seems to me that your priorities have got inverted somewhere along the way: when Sri Aurobindo is abused you pretend as if nothing significant has happened, but when people rise to stop the abuse, you blame them for soiling Sri Aurobindo’s reputation! In your worldview, Pranab-da is a mobster for signing a petition to protect Sri Aurobindo’s honour, and Abala is weird, sickly, mad and possessed for feeling pain when Sri Aurobindo is abused. In my worldview, the sick person is the one who abuses Sri Aurobindo, promotes His abuse, or withdraws into silence when his Guru is abused. Methinks it is PH who is “sickly”, a “mental case”, “possessed” and “weird” (to quote you). Methinks MDG has lost his bearings, and you have mixed up your priorities.

Where is the “self-righteousness” in our position? We have not criticised flaws in PH’s character or his right to free-speech. We have only said that abuse of Sri Aurobindo by an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram or in the Ashram’s name is not acceptable and is harmful to the Ashram community.

If you set your priorities right, back to what they were only two years ago, you will surely realise that the real “destroyers of the Ashram’s reputation” are those “self-righteous hosts” of PH who are willing to spend all of the Ashram’s financial capital and public goodwill to support and protect PH in his abuse of Sri Aurobindo.

You have asked Manoj-da to resign if he could not act according to your suggestion. I certainly did not expect this from you.

The suggestions he has been asked to follow are not mine alone – they were yours too, only two year ago! The same suggestions have been made to MDG by hundreds of people orally and in writing. That he should resign if he cannot act is also not my suggestion alone. Hundreds of people have said this to him for the last two years, although in more polite words. I have only expressed bluntly what others have said diplomatically. The community is asking MDG to act or step down not on some trivial issue, but for a matter that concerns the Ashram’s long-term future and survival. It asks him to step down only to save the Ashram from consequences that would be far worse if he continues to exercise his vested interests.

Let me assure you that I have no personal interest in whether PH stays or leaves, and whether MDG sits on his chair or resigns. In fact until a year ago I, like many other Ashramites, considered MDG to be merely a victim of his Machiavellian advisors. It was only when MDG initiated a campaign of blackmail against me that my eyes opened to the fact that the ring-leader surrounds himself with people who share his own values. Subsequently MDG himself confirmed to me that it is always he who initiates all action and his “advisors” are merely executives of his orders, and that he knows everything that they are doing.

The only reason I ask him to step down now (if he cannot act), is that his continuing protection of PH has pushed the Ashram into a crisis that is reaching dangerous proportions. The matter is more serious than you seem to realise. You too should distinguish between your loyalty to MDG and loyalty to Sri Aurobindo and his Ashram before it is too late.

The trustees are not elected by a body of voters; they are in the board following the principles and procedure laid down by the Mother, the founder of the Trust and of course they have to be from mortals like us.

The Mother did not lay down any procedures for selection of subsequent Trustees other than the first Trustee to replace her. In any case the question is not of procedures but of values and interests. I care a whit what procedure is followed as long as the selection of Trustees is by the highest standards of conduct and wisdom. But this has not been the case at all. Every Trustee selected after the Mother has been chosen purely on grounds of personal loyalty, obedience and servitude to entrenched interests. We are already in the third generation of Trustees after the Mother—the servile of the servile to vested interests. Is it any wonder that the entire Trust Board withdrew the unanimous decision of its conscience on command from MDG! If you see nothing wrong in this, then you are only pretending to be short-sighted.

Imagine a time when the trustees must resign because they cannot act according to the wish of a group or the wish of even a large body of people. Any action by the Trust can be unpleasant to a section or sections of people. This unhappy reality cannot be helped until the arrival of the golden age when we all would be victors over our ego.

Vedprakash-ji, until recently a Trustee, was bullied into resigning by MDG because he had an independent mind and refused to “act according to the wish” of MDG’s “group”. The time that you ask us to imagine is already here and has been ushered in by the very people you seek to defend!

But the question that the community is presently concerned about is not of the interests of one group over another—we are concerned with Sri Aurobindo’s interest alone. When Sri Aurobindo is at stake, we are all expendable in His service. Nobody in the Ashram has so far bothered the Trustees even when they have taken outright ridiculous or stupid decisions under the influence of personal interests. The entire Ashram community has been patient and respectful not only of the Trustees but of PH too. But the present situation is non-negotiable for the Ashram community as a whole because Sri Aurobindo is non-negotiable.

Like most inmates of the Ashram, I too hardly care who sits on the Trust chairs, and have no personal interest in the management of the Ashram or its services or departments, choosing to stay as far away as possible from administrative and political matters. Like most, I too always respect the Chair and by extension whichever “fool” sits on it. But if the Chair-man promotes abuse of Sri Aurobindo or puts the Ashram’s future in danger, then all of us in the community must raise our voices, even if that lands us in trouble with the powers that be. You should understand this purely in terms of “right action” and “unflinching loyalty” to Sri Aurobindo as demanded of us in His letter to Sahana-di.

You ask us to wait passively until suddenly “we all would be victors over our ego” by some magic. What a bizarre idea—and so contrary to Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary teaching! We need not wait for the “golden age” to be operationally free of the rule of dictators, vested interests or the merely incompetent. The Mother chose Trustees around her not for their administrative skills—that she left to the department heads; She chose them for their wideness of vision and openness of mind and heart. In the declining steps of interested appointments, each subsequent Trustee has been chosen for smallness and narrow subservience bringing us to the present sorry pass. This can still be reversed. Human problems will remain, but the vested interests and blatant favouritisms can easily be avoided even now, without needing to wait for the golden age. And I can assure you that the golden age will be greatly delayed as long as the repressive rule of vested interests continues to suffocate the life of the Ashram community.

Instead of justifying the rule of autocrats, you should more usefully direct your energies in helping our present Trustees to broaden their minds and hearts and open to a higher intuitive vision. Otherwise, it is better to limit the tenure of Trustees to a fixed number of years so that absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, and vested interests do not entrench themselves to the detriment of the Ashram.

The trustees must be guided by their own wisdom…

The question we ask today is: do you see any signs of wisdom? Is sending legal notices to inmates of the Ashram an act of wisdom? Was calling the police to the Ashram’s Dining Room to drag away the five sisters inspired from spiritual insight?

It is conventional to associate Trustees with some superior wisdom. Jugal-da’s letters exposing PH’s abuse of Sri Aurobindo in 1987 ended with “Let the elders decide. … I humbly leave it to the wise discretion of the Trustees.” If there had been wisdom or foresight among our Trustees at that time, we would not be in the mess that we are in now. In fact Pranab-da had wanted to take over the Archives by force in 1989 and throw out PH right then. Had he done it, none of this or the numerous Savitri-related court cases would have happened. In retrospect he showed more foresight than the Trustees then.

If the Trustees are ordinary “mortals like us” (as you have said) who get selected for personal loyalties, how do they mysteriously gain greater wisdom after their appointment? Did you find yourself infused with new wisdom when you were made a Trustee? Did you lose that wisdom when you resigned? In what way have MDG or other Trustees become more wise than others merely from sitting on their chairs? On the contrary, absolute power is heady, and very likely they have lost the little wisdom they might have had from the unavoidable exaggeration of their egos. A long tenure in absolute power has an intoxicating effect. I have seen one of our Trustees take technical engineering decisions when he was not capable of a simple sum. Another recently declared, “Ashramites should be grateful to us because we give them food”. A dose of normal life as an Ashramite without political privileges will surely do them good.

As a rule, the collective wisdom of a community is superior to the wisdom of an entrenched oligarchy because entrenched interests fear competence and so push out capable people from the centre of community life. The only exception is when the oligarchy is selected for wisdom and not for personal loyalty or other interests. Therefore our present Trustees must learn to be humble before the community and seek guidance constantly from its best minds and most compassionate hearts. To claim superior or sufficient wisdom amounts to hypocrisy, self-deception and betrayal of their responsibility to the Ashram community.

… though they must discuss issues with whoever is relevant for a particular issue, and pray for the Mother’s guidance.

The present Trustees have neither discussed this issue with the community, nor paid heed to the hundreds of letters offering rational justification for specific action, nor even have they been allowed by MDG to follow their own conscience as might surely have been guided by the Mother. The entire scene has been hijacked by one man’s interests. When Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram (“house of the Guru”) is being hijacked, the common Ashramite can sit quiet and suffer in silence (as you ask), or he can raise his voice and warn against imminent danger, or perhaps even take what steps he can to prevent the harm—it is for each one to choose freely according to his conscience and in tune with the Mother’s guidance to him.

Yes, our Trustees too should pray to the Mother and follow Her guidance. But how many of them do you think care to even attempt this? Their meetings start and end more casually than even a business’ Board meeting. As already stated earlier, three of them at least are known to ridicule spirituality. I have heard one coarsely declare, “I don’t understand all this spirituality thing”. When Kittu, Ranganath and Sumita met MDG, he said to them mockingly, “I don’t hear Mother’s voice as some people claim to do” and laughed crudely at his own joke. He was referring to Kumud-ben, the Mother’s personal attendant for decades, who had shared with him a specific guidance that she had received on a serious matter recently. When a person so mocks guidance from the Mother, do you think he would even bother to ask Her for guidance? Is it then any wonder that he rules by self-interest alone.

When the four Trustees withdrew the unanimous decision of their conscience, did they ask for the Mother’s guidance? Had they actually followed Her, or at the very least the guidance of rationality and logic, we would not be in the mess that we are in today.

The same applies to an Ashramite. One may convey one’s pleasure or displeasure on any matter to the Trust, but thereafter one must leave it to Providence.

You make two errors here. First error: if the Trustees are as ordinary as any other Ashramite, should we all silently suffer their foolishness or self-interest simply because they wield legal power over Ashram finances and properties?

Second error: you identify the actions of the Trustees with “Providence”. This is sheer falsehood. Providence only represents the results of our actions which are beyond our control. The Trustees’ actions are intentional, led by their emotions, thoughts and as in this case their vested interests. Their actions have no relation to Providence. And if the right thing is for Ashramites “to leave it to Providence”, should not the Trustees do the same? Why not then simply discard the institution of the Trustees playing the role of administrators —Mother never structured it this way in any case. As She formulated it in the Ashram Trust Deed, the role of the Trustees is merely to complete the statutory legal requirements for holding the properties and finances of the Ashram community. They were never meant to rule over others.

If at all there is a hierarchy of authority and responsibilities, it is thus:

1. First and foremost are Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, above all else. There is no Ashram without Them and all are individually and collectively answerable to Them alone. If someone cannot accept Their authority, he should not be in Their Ashram.

2. Second are the Ashram community members—all equally children of the Mother; none superior, none inferior; all serving and working for Them alone. (The day you can meet Abala as your sister and respect her for her commitment to Sri Aurobindo, you will be closer to the Mother and to the Truth of what the Ashram represents.)

3. Third are the coordinators of activities, the so-called “heads” of services and “departments”. They were chosen by the Mother not for their amenability to the Trust Board, but because of their competence and commitment to the work. Their working is decentralised, and attuned to the specific needs of their domain of responsibilities. Sri Aurobindo once corrected an official notice striking out the word “department” and replacing it with “service”. If we recognise the profound import of this word, we will be able to act more closely to what He intended.

4. Fourth comes the Trust Board as a legal entity. The Board does not rule over the Ashram or its inmates, and has no spiritual authority. Its only task is to hold the Trust properties in service of the objects of the Trust as decreed in the Trust Deed formed by the Mother. The Board must interface with the Government for statutory requirements and functions only. The actions of the Board should not depend on the personalities or vested interests of its Board members.

5. Last come the Trustees, “mere mortals” as any, whose only responsibility is to serve Sri Aurobindo and the Mother by serving Their children, the inmates of the Ashram community. They do not represent Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. They should not rule over the Ashram or its inmates. Ideally, sadhaks of wide minds and open hearts, they should serve the interests of the Ashram community as a whole. If they do not have the requisite wideness, humility and spirit of service, they are unfit for this function.

As long as the Trustees appointed by the Mother were alive, this was largely the working of the Ashram Trust and the Ashram community-life. Did you, for example, ever see Nolini-da or Dyuman-bhai dictating authority to the community, or interfering in the internal administration of any of the departments or services? They were like elder brothers to the community because the Mother selected them for their wideness of vision and compassion. It was only when they were replaced by nepotism that the distortions began to creep in. Out of respect for tradition, the Ashram community treated even the unworthy with the same regard with which they held the original nominees of the Mother. Over time, this generosity of the community has been misinterpreted by the undeserving as evidence of their superiority!

Notice also that the services/departments heads that She had appointed were originally managing their units with a healthy autonomy in a practical decentralisation of power. The error of subsequent Trustees lacking vision and compassion was to centralise all the Ashram’s activities and to put themselves as heads of all its affairs. As the original departmental heads that the Mother had chosen passed on, our narrow-minded rulers appointed their stooges and minions, deliberately sidelining the more competent and committed. But mediocrity breeds further mediocrity because it fears the more capable. The end result today is a widespread mediocrity in the administration of departments/services, and a complete loss of autonomy and freedom in their working. Today nothing moves without sanction from the one man who has placed himself at the centre of the entire Ashram’s working, in place of the Mother. The Mother herself, although holding absolute power, was never as autocratic: she empowered people, encouraged personal initiative, and cared for each one’s feelings. Even Sri Aurobindo went out of his way to try and keep the sadhaks happy as is evidenced from Nirodbaran’s correspondence with him.

Today favouritism and nepotism are rampant, and few appointed heads are respected for their competence. We have already crossed the threshold of the danger zone. The warning signs are most obvious when we consider that practically all the commercial units which were vibrant and creative centres barely twenty years ago are either shut down or in the doldrums. The rapidly declining condition of the Ashram school is painful to see, more so because it was once at the forefront of innovative education, and its decline was entirely preventable because it was foreseen by many who warned of it but who were sidelined and silenced.

One must not behave like a member of any commonplace institution, raising vociferous demands and taking recourse to the most deplorable tactics of pressure.

Strange that you should say this. It was MDG’s office that tried to blackmail me by asking a former student to write scurrilous accusations. It was MDG’s office that blocked Alok Pandey’s admission to the Ashram, cancelled Ananda Reddy’s classes in the school, leaked internal Cold Storage records of the Ashram Archives to try to embarrass Raman Reddy, sent a legal notice to Abala to silence her, then removed her from her work. It was MDG who personally ordered my removal from the Ashram Archives. All these “most deplorable tactics of pressure” simply to stop us from exposing PH’s lies and abuse of Sri Aurobindo! But you did not raise your voice then.

Neither did you raise your voice when “the most deplorable tactics of pressure” were adopted by PH and his supporters, including Richard Hartz (RH), who organised personal attacks and smear campaigns on the Internet through SCIY/IYF websites declaring the Ashram community to be fundamentalists, religious bigots, intellectually inferior, etc. Their entire campaign had tacit and overt support from MDG’s office which provided them with confidential documents to use against the Ashram community. Neither you nor MDG reined in RH while he publicly abused and insulted the entire Ashram community under the pseudonym of “Angiras” in public forums on the Internet. You are confusing the perpetrators of the crime with its victims.

You claim that the Ashram community made “vociferous demands” when all of the early letters to the Trust Board were only requests and pleas. The Trustees disdainfully rejected these appeals, and instead chose to harass all those who wrote to them. Is it then any surprise that over time the tone of letters has grown more firm? In fact, it is a tribute to the patience and restraint of the Ashram community that none has so far crossed the line to “mobstering”. Even if one person had crossed over, perhaps there would be no problem left for us to discuss.

The primary reason for our stay here is our relation with the Divine Mother and the Master, and our progress to the best of our receptivity by their unlimited Grace.

Manoj-da (Das), this is the first statement of yours that I find myself in agreement with! Our unflinching loyalty must be to Them alone and certainly not to the Trustees or any other personal interests. Let us then apply this point to the case at hand. If a person does not accept Sri Aurobindo or the Mother as his spiritual Gurus or expresses enmity to them, or if a person rejects Their teaching and practice of yoga, then surely he has no place here in the Ashram. Under the circumstances why is MDG so keen to keep PH in the Ashram? Twice PH gave his resignation and chose to leave the Ashram in October 2008. Each time MDG prevailed upon him to stay. And if MDG is so keen to protect PH’s right to abuse Sri Aurobindo, should he not also leave along with PH? For, by condoning the abuse he too participates in it.

Nobody can say that the Ashram management does not facilitate our aspiration in that regard.

Oops! We are back to disagreement. It is not the responsibility of the Ashram management to facilitate our aspiration or oversee our spiritual progress. Yet, they try constantly to cover their own interested actions with a spiritual veneer by convenient use of out-of-context quotations. I personally have heard a department head admonishing someone against whom disciplinary action was taken by the Trust Board saying, “the Trustees have told me that you have a big ego and they have decided to cut you down to size!” When the first of the five sisters was expelled from the Ashram for dubious reasons, one of the present Trustees declared arrogantly, “We have decided to make an example out of her!” When her sisters stood by her, they too were expelled.

Being as ordinary as any other Ashramite, the Trustees should stay out of management of the Ashram as well as out of the spiritual progress of its inmates. By pretending to “facilitate our aspiration” they seem to be trying to establish a new religious hierarchy, placing themselves between Ashramites and The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, imposing their dubious “wisdom” on all and threatening expulsion when they are not obeyed.

In spite of that if I feel dissatisfied, it is for me to quit, not for me to ask anybody else to quit his position. I should not conclude that I alone am right and the other one, unless he agrees with me, should abdicate.

Your statement is pragmatically wrong. Let us take the hypothetical extreme case when an idiot (or a criminal) gets selected for the Trust Board. By your logic the entire community would have to quit in dissatisfaction, leaving the idiot or criminal free to drag the Ashram to ruin! Should one man’s limitation be cause for the entire community to fall apart? This would be the easiest recipe for Asuric forces to disband the Ashram!

Let us note that the problem starts when our Trustees reject humility and compassion and then justify their arrogance by saying it is human and so we have to wait for the golden age to get free of it! Instead, if the Trustees act with humility and compassion, their individual and collective limitations would easily be filled in by the strengths of others in the community. This is a far better solution to the problem.

Let us also remind ourselves that everyone is here for Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and not for the Trustees. The Trustees do not own this place that they can command someone to obey them or leave. Yet, they are trying hard to enforce their personal fiefdom over the entire community. This is a dangerous trend.

It is a perversion of spirituality to declare that we must continue to suffer in silence, until the day when some miraculous intervention of God will automatically set everything right. This kind of thinking is in complete contradiction with the evolutionary logic and the affirmative spirituality of Sri Aurobindo’s teaching. I am surprised to hear such arguments from you.

When you say, “not for me to ask anybody else to quit his position”, this principle should apply equally to the Trustees, since they are ordinary mortals as any. Why then have they evicted Abala from her work? Or the five sisters, or Ambi?

When you say, “I should not conclude that I alone am right”, should this not also apply to the Trustees? But our Trustees behave as if one man’s position is alone right and all of the two thousand Ashramites together are wrong. You set different standards for Trustees in spite of claiming that they are mere mortals like all of us!

The trustees have their commitment to the Mother.

The entire community has its commitment to the Mother. Is a Trustee’s commitment more important for some reason? Should the entire community sacrifice its commitment for the dubious claim of commitment by one person in authority? Are you trying to institute a religious hierarchy in the Ashram community? Your keenness to supplicate to the Trustees is distressing!

Does the Trustees’ commitment to the Mother absolve them of commitment to the community? If so, then surely the community’s commitment to the Mother should absolve them of any respect for the Trustees. The greater truth is that the Trustees must serve the Mother in and through their service to the community also.

It will be a sad day in the calendar of courage if they bow down to populist demand.

Sir, it does not take courage to be a dictator or despot. History is replete with these types, and they are often the most cowardly. It does not take courage to be obtuse, unyielding or irrational. Rather it takes courage to recognise one’s own mistakes; it takes courage to invite those who disagree with you and to listen to them with an open mind; it takes courage to say “sorry” and change one’s decision when an error is exposed. In the present patterns of behaviour of our Trustees we find only cowardice, insensitivity, and petty self-interest. Not one of the four objected when MDG imposed his vested interests on the Board and on the community on a matter so vital and emotionally surcharged for all. None cared for Sri Aurobindo, none cared for the community – each saw only his own servile loyalty to individual interests. We are reminded of the conflict of dharmas before the great war of the Mahabharata. Even if one of the Trustees had courage, he would have demanded a satisfactory explanation and taken the community into confidence; or if dissatisfied he would have demanded right action; or failing all options, he would have resigned from the Trust Board following the example that you have set before all in 1994.

No doubt they are responsible to us, but their ultimate responsibility is to the Mother and the Mother alone.

Even more importantly, the “ultimate responsibility” of each sadhak in the Ashram “is to the Mother and the Mother alone”. Sadhaks do not and should not owe any personal responsibility to the Trustees; rather, it is the Trustees who owe responsibility of compassionate service to the members of the community in the spirit of service to the Mother in each one. In the event of conflict of interests, the interests of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother automatically override all other interests.

It is the duty of all Ashramites of goodwill to help them remain faithful to this ideal.

I’m shocked that our Trustees now need help to remain faithful to the Mother! What a travesty of spirituality—or rather, what an abuse of spiritual truths to justify petty self-interests!

As for duty to help anyone, it is rather the duty of all Trustees of goodwill to serve the Ashramites, not the other way round. You confuse the tail with the head. Coming from a communist revolutionary background, your persistent efforts to establish oligarchic or religious rule in the Ashram is baffling and alarming.

The truth of how some people are dominated by the delusion that they had the right to decide on other’s destiny became glaringly evident to me some time ago and let me share that experience with you. One day the Ashram Trust received a regular legal notice asking it to expel me from the Ashram forthwith or face the consequence. It was served through a costly lawyer by a dhoti-clad innocuous-looking gentleman who sat at the Ashram gate in the evening and I had never known him to be anything more than that in his outer life.  But, strangely indeed, he had been assured by some fellows that he was the President of some association and that position had bestowed on him the right to decide who should be retained or expelled from the Ashram he could dictate the Ashram Trust his decision. His advisers decided that the first blow of his axe of authority ought to fall on my neck.  My fault? He had heard that at the Krishnanagore court where a case had been filed against the revised version of Savitri, the Ashram lawyer said that the Mother did not read or understand the epic and even though I was present in the court I did not shout out my protest against our lawyer’s statement. The aggrieved gentleman’s mother tongue is Oriya as is mine. He could have very well asked me if what he heard was a fact. I could have informed him that whether it would have been possible for me to shout in the open court is a different matter, but such a situation never arose; the lawyer had no occasion to make any statement in regard to the Mother vis-à-vis Savitri.

I wondered, why did this elderly gentleman, on the basis of just a flying rumour, got ready to try his hand at wrecking the spiritual destiny of a gurubhai? Why did he not ask me before paying a handsome fee to a lawyer? I realised by and by that had he talked to me, he and the people behind him would have missed a great chance to proclaim themselves as hero-warriors coming to the rescue of the Mother’s prestige imperilled in a court room at Krishnanagore. (They circulated this imaginary situation and my silence through printed leaflets.)

Manoj-da (Das), I have not met the gentleman you refer to. But I too have heard that the Ashram’s lawyer declared in court that “the Mother did not understand Savitri”. I recall that this led to a bit of a scandal at that time. The question I ask you is why the Ashram Trust did not take people into confidence immediately by disclosing all relevant papers. Surely there should be nothing to hide in its position on the matter. In fact, in my view, most of the over one hundred legal cases against the Ashram Trust Board were avoidable from the start by simply meeting the aggrieved parties with compassion and with transparency. If you expected this gentleman to meet you and sort out his problems, is it not reasonable that the Ashram Trust also should meet anyone who has a problem and resolve it in-house, instead of fighting in courts at great expense of Mother’s money and public funds?

In fact almost all those who wrote to the Trust in regard to PH’s book asked to meet the Trust Board or offered to provide further inputs or clarifications. None were called. I asked to meet the Trustees to provide details of Jeffrey Kripal’s funding nexus with Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz. I was never called. When I phoned MDG to speak to him privately as a last resort before things went public, he refused to meet me. But when I wrote a note to him in the absence of any other means, he misquoted from it a year later.

When inmates express their concern, you call us mobsters. But when Trustees misuse funds to send legal notices to inmates and multiply court cases, you declare it their loyalty to the Mother! You glibly ignore the “handsome fees” the Ashram Trust Board has paid lawyers for the over one hundred entirely avoidable and needless cases. This does not include travel-related expenses and the massive pay-offs to ensure outcome in their favour.

Further I realised, how deceptive, alas, could be the Sadhu-like façade of a man! (For me personally it was an occasion to wonder if I really deserved to be in the Ashram but for Her Grace.)

By the same token, consider how deceptive the Sadhu-like façade of a man sitting on the Trustee’s chair can be, and with far greater potential for damage because he wields absolute power with zero accountability! You should beware of the Sadhu-Trustee far more than the Sadhu-Ashramite, for the Sadhu-Trustee has the power to bring the Ashram to ruin, the other can only harm himself.

But if you find yourself deceived so easily by the Sadhu appearance, beware even more of those who put on the “I-am-not-Sadhu” façade, for they can get away with much more damage in the name of not having to live up to the Sadhu’s standards of conduct!

Perhaps you do not know that the Mother once chided MDG saying, “Manoj, don’t act; be!” Another time She admonished him with, “Manoj, don’t pretend to be a yogi when you are not!” Still another time, She gave him the role of Polydaon, the high priest of evil, in Sri Aurobindo’s play Perseus the Deliverer. After he played it vividly and convincingly, She called him aside and warned him saying, “It is dangerous to identify with the Dark force.” Perhaps were these warnings prophetic. (All incidents as narrated by the Mother’s personal attendant.)

In dealing with others, it is unfair to rebuke one man’s façade while supplicating to another’s. It is more useful to remind ourselves that everyone wears a façade. What matters is that each one of us should work to unmask himself so that only the divine Presence may reveal itself from within unobstructed.

A general air of irreverence has invaded the atmosphere of the Ashram through our lack of caution in our written or spoken words. This must not be. When we circulate a letter meant for the trustees, we should see to it that the language is dignified and confined to principles. Bitter words will necessarily invite more bitter words and there will be no end to the process.

While I agree with the principle of what you say, this approach cannot be unilateral. The Trustees, even more than the common Ashramite, must speak and act by higher standards. But the standard of dignity (which you invoke) is inferior to the standard of truth. To rephrase your statement by the higher standard: Falsehood will necessarily lead to more falsehood and there will be an end to the process in a general destruction.

Have our Trustees spoken and acted by standards of truth? Hardly. Their withdrawal of the unanimous decision of their conscience was an act of falsehood. Their continued silence on the matter is most undignified and a dangerous lie. Their attempts to silence critics of the book are perverse. Even after forcefully imposing his will on the Trust Board to protect PH, MDG continues to claim that he holds the position of a witness on this matter. In the face of such hypocrisy, can you expect anything other than “irreverence” towards them?

There are also numerous petty lies that they resort to constantly. Until three days before Kittu, Ranganath and Sumita met MDG, he told everybody, “I have never signed for PH’s visa renewal. Where is the evidence? Show me!” But then three days later he admitted to these three that he had signed twice and would sign again soon. MDG has lied to many saying it was Pranab-da who stopped him from expelling PH from the Ashram. MDG lied to Pranab-da saying PH had apologised for writing the book. The list of lies goes on, often with bigger lies used to cover up smaller ones, until the Trust Board finds itself spending Mother’s money to defend utter falsehoods such as PH’s book. In such circumstances do you expect respect for Trustees to grow?

May I also ask you why only our letters to the Trustees should be “dignified and confined to principles” but their letters and actions against the Ashram inmates can carry legal threats, scurrilous rumour-mongering blackmail, or more commonly outright lies? By their most undignified recent actions and inactions they have forsaken the trust and high respect that the Ashram community always held them in. If “a general air of irreverence has invaded the atmosphere of the Ashram” it is with good reason, and the cause is the arrogant misuse by the Trustees of their absolute power, working in secrecy, refusing transparency and accountability.

I am happy that the Ashram Trust exercises the maximum restraint.

The “restraint” that you refer to is only an expediency—they wait to hit back at the first opportune moment. The stories of petty personal vengeances of MDG going back five decades are lore in the oral history of the Ashram. Our community is full of highly creative and widely experienced people who have been sidelined by petty political machinations. Their elimination from the centre of the community’s life and their replacement by mediocre stooges has been a great loss to the vibrancy of the Ashram’s community life and is a significant cause of its many declining trends.

We, the inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, enjoy a range of freedom that cannot be imagined by the members of any other Ashram or spiritual community in India or anywhere in the world.

Even as the inmates enjoy “a range of freedom”, the Trustees have been granted absolute freedom with absolute power and zero accountability, by the inmates. If the Trustees tamper too much with the limited range of the inmates’ freedom, you can be sure that eventually the inmates will withdraw the absolute freedom and power that they grant to the Trustees.

You have mentioned earlier that “the trustees are not elected by a body of voters”. This in itself is a great privilege that the Ashram community bestows upon them, and which the Trustees must strive to be worthy of, but which they have over time increasingly abused. In all other “normal” institutions that you refer to, the selection of a powerful post involves detailed background checks, years of vetting for competence and intentions, long-term training and tests, and their exercise of power includes continuing checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. Our Trustees have to suffer none of these inconveniences! As an old Ashramite quipped recently, “Any damn fool can become a Trustee if he licks the boots of existing Trustees long enough!” Most people would agree with the content of the message if not with the language.

The misuse of absolute freedom by the Trustees can harm the entire community while an individual’s misuse can only harm himself. Therefore the Trustees need far greater vigilance in the exercise of their power and freedom. As I have pointed out earlier, this Trust has initiated campaigns of blackmail, vengeance and threat in order to rule by fear. Ambika Mallick was arrested and beaten up in jail on advice of MDG’s office simply to settle old personal scores. These are real issues that the entire community is deeply concerned about but has no means to express. That is why we are witness to novel responses and expressions that you have conveniently dismissed as mobstering. If you can claim that the Trustees have “exercised maximum restraint”, be sure that the Ashram community has exercised much more restraint than them even in a matter as grave and urgent as PH’s book.

Manoj-da (Das), since you keep trying to place the Trustees on a special pedestal, let me concede this possibility to you momentarily. If at all the Trustees are to have a special position of authority in the Ashram, then surely being a spiritual institution first and foremost, their selection should be primarily by standards of spiritual development. In other words, only a more spiritually developed person should be selected to the Trust Board. Do our present Trustees even remotely fit this standard? Have any of their actions expressed a higher spiritual truth, insight or inspiration?

In the absence of a “certified” spiritual person, nobody can claim spiritual judgment, neither the Trustees nor others. But it is important that the community sets for itself some standards, whatever they be, and ensures that our Trustees and heads of services meet those criteria, along with suitable checks and balances. We have already lost too much from the entrenchment of vested interests.

We must respect this exclusive privilege and should not allow our freedom of action or word to discredit this privilege. This freedom has far nobler purpose to serve in our life.

The freedom we enjoy is not a gift of the Trustees. This framework of freedom was created by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother from the very beginning for the practice of the Integral Yoga. The Trustees have enjoyed it just as much, nay, much more than the common Ashramite. But in the last 20 years, this gift of freedom has been increasingly abused by the Trustees as regards themselves, even as it has been curtailed by them with regard to others. The freedom that the Mother established is rapidly being replaced by a growing authoritarianism and rule by fear—conditions that are the very opposite to what They wanted for the spiritual growth of sadhaks.

It is interesting to note that in proportion as the freedom of the Ashram community is being replaced by rule of fear, all over the world we find Governments curtailing civil liberties and instituting fear in the name of safety and security. In this Ashram, intended to be the laboratory of a supramental evolution, it is imperative that we reverse these negative trends and make all efforts to recover the higher and freer atmosphere that the Mother had established by the rule of her Love. It is the most direct and concrete contribution we can make to bringing about a similar change in the whole world.

In a sense it is an act of Grace that our decline has been rapid, because there are still enough people alive who have seen and experienced the best and highest of the early days of the Ashram. They could still play a significant role in the attempt to recover something of that age. But if we let things decline long enough, the situation may soon become intractable and beyond repair, and with the dissolution of the Ashram’s Spirit the world will have lost one of the greatest gifts of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo to humanity.

I have avoided being involved in any chain of correspondence and I will stick to my position. I wrote this only because I hold you in affection and I hope my words will receive whatever care they deserve. You need not take the trouble of replying.         

With best wishes,
Manoj Das

Manoj-da (Das), I and all the inmates of the Ashram hold you not only in affection but also in respect as a scholar and literary figure. While we disagree with your decision to remain silent on PH’s book, we respect your freedom and choice in the matter. But your latest letter justifying the actions of the Trustees and their right to misuse their authority is not in good taste. Although politely stated, you have asked the entire Ashram community to bow down with you in supplication to our Trustees and accept their dubious “wisdom” in place of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. This is not acceptable to anybody. It would be a gross error and betrayal of the most fundamental spiritual principles to follow your advice.

On the other hand, the tenor and content of your note goes a long way in explaining the double standards of our present Trustees and their indefensible actions in recent events.

I am deeply saddened to see that insulting Sri Aurobindo in Sri Aurobindo’s own Ashram has now become acceptable and gains praise, protection and promotion from our Trustees; but criticising MDG’s actions provokes instant rebuke and violent retaliation. As an old Ashramite recently said in deep sadness, “We came here to serve in Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram and not in Manoj Das Gupta’s Ashram.”

Manoj-da (Das), I too have no interest in being involved in any chain of correspondence, nor in facing the brunt of crude smear campaigns and petty blackmail. But the matter here is not of my convenience or yours, but that of Sri Aurobindo’s alone. Since we have no separate existence from him, we should all be prepared to sacrifice our personal convenience to His. You are prepared to write four pages in defence of MDG and his subordinate Trustees; will you write at least a few pages to share with the world the “more than ninety objectionable observations or factual lapses” that you have found in PH’s perverse book? You owe it to Them as your personal contribution to defend Sri Aurobindo’s reputation; and you owe it as your obligation to the Ashram community for being one of its prominent scholars of public repute.

With warm regards and respects,

PS: I would be happy to continue dialogue with you on any or all of these issues.

Courtesy: http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2010/8/7/4598219.html

[1]Clarification for those unfamiliar with these names: Manoj Das Gupta (MDG) is the present Managing Trustee of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, while Manoj Das is the scholar and journalist in answer to whom this letter is written. Manoj Das was a Trustee of the Ashram from the period 1992 to 1994 when he resigned from this post after differences with Pranab-da who was Director of Physical Education of the Ashram.

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