28 Feb 2013

Raman Reddy's Response to the Managing Trustee's Stand

[We publish here Raman Reddy’s response dated 10 August, 2010 to the Managing Trustee’s long explanation of his stand in the controversy over the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs. Manoj Das Gupta (presently Managing Trustee of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry) had written an eighteen pages long explanation justifying his stand in the controversy.]

Response to the Managing Trustee’s

“Some Reflections On 

The Agonising Issue of a Book”

This is my response to the present Managing Trustee’s (Manoj Das Gupta’s) analysis of the issue of Peter Heehs’s book Lives of Sri Aurobindo. I refer to him as the Managing Trustee and not Manoj-da because the first appellation is convenient for addressing criticism while the latter is not. I also make it clear that even as I criticise his stand on this issue, my personal respect for him remains the same. I hope thus to fulfil the onerous responsibility of criticising without venom, finding faults in his stand with dignity and without taking things personally. The quoted texts in italics are  those selections from his 18 page long analysis which I have commented upon.

“I need not justify myself to any one. My sole concern is to try to be as faithful as possible, in my present state of consciousness, to the Mother and to the Mother alone. Hasn’t the Mother said:

‘I need not appear to be good if my sincerity is perfect. It is better to be than to seem.’ ” (CWM Vol. 15, p. 203)

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 1)

Attitude towards the Mother and the Trust

If the Managing Trustee feels so confident about his attitude towards the Mother, so do we who are against him on this particular issue. Perhaps the only difference is that we feel answerable to others also in the absence of a clear indication from the Mother. If all of us were sure how the Mother would have reacted to Peter Heehs’s Lives of Sri Aurobindo, the problem would not have arisen at all. Note that the Mother’s message applies only in the condition of perfect sincerity, which is hard to fulfil and easy to pretend, for all of us. So the attitude of being true to oneself does not necessarily guarantee the truth of the stand taken.

With regard to the possible loss of easy public relations by not appearing to be good as long as one is sincere, it has already happened to us. We would have been so much better off with our social image had we behaved in the superficially obedient manner of the type of Ashramite who does not want to interfere in anything that does not directly concern his vital interests. Are we here at the Ashram to participate in the building of a new world or to simply keep quiet and nod vigorously our heads in agreement with whatever the Trustees do? It is true we should mind our own business, but what if the authorities have deeply disappointed us in a collective issue that has shaken us all? The present turmoil and consequent revolt in the Ashram is not against authority, but against authoritarianism. We are not anarchists and neither have we vested interests, for what actual power do we have? Nothing! All that we have demanded is the right to be heard and the collective voice to have some weight over the decisions of the few. Is that too much to grant in the present times when the winds of democracy are blowing everywhere? Or is that an offence against the Mother herself? Even she spent her precious time explaining to her disciples the reasons behind her actions!

Use of Quotations

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s quotations work both ways in the case of disputes, and can serve any side with the necessary justifications. So there is no use guarding ourselves with a fence of wise words, for ultimately it is the interpretation that counts. Even the interpretation depends on our understanding, which in turn depends on the hidden motives behind pushing for a certain line of action, and these are often too deep for the mind to be conscious of. I suggest therefore a sparse use of quotations with a straightforward and forthright presentation of things.

*          *          *

The main accusations against P.H may be summarized under the following headings:

1. P.H. has violated copyright rules.
2. He has deliberately tried to denigrate Sri Aurobindo and lower his image in the eyes of the public.
3. As a consequence, he should be expelled from the Ashram

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 1)

Solution to the Impasse

The above demand for Heehs’s expulsion from the Ashram was not made by all of us. The 500 signatories of the signature campaign in September/October 2008 had only demanded Heehs’s removal from the Archives, followed by a public statement from the Trust distancing itself from the book. That was the simplest of all solutions which would have prevented this unprecedented crisis at the Ashram. When the Managing Trustee himself accepts that the book denigrates Sri Aurobindo and even explains how it happened,[1] why is there so much hesitation to take these simple administrative measures? It would not only soothe the hurt psyche of 90% of the disciples of Sri Aurobindo, but also prevent the book from being accepted in the curriculum of schools and colleges. The silence of the Trustees in this matter would be tantamount to an approval of Heehs’s deliberate distortions of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works, which would soon find their way into vernacular translations. Are we all going to be happy about such developments in the near future?

The Managing Trustee seems to have said in regard to the issuing of public statements that “in the Ashram we don’t do these things”. Since when have we made this rule? Sri Aurobindo and the Mother themselves made public statements in order to clarify the Ashram’s stand. Even the present Trust, facing mounting public resentment, had made a public statement in the case of Kamal Shah’s case a few years ago. What then is the reason behind this inexplicable silence? Has Heehs somehow trapped the Trust into meek submission? The recent report of the Managing Trustee saying that his hands are tied clearly suggests this possibility. In the light of these facts, the argument that Sri Aurobindo’s prestige need not be defended by us seems more an excuse for inaction than an affirmation of faith in him. Faith we shall always have in our Masters, but don’t we need to protect his interests, especially when it is within the legitimate range of our action?

*          *          *

It is on record that P.H. had taken written permission for quoting from the writings of Sri Aurobindo. As for the bogey of using materials from Puraniji’s notebook, it is more a question of ethical propriety than a violation of copyright. I may mention here in passing that Puraniji has never ceded, in writing, his copyright to the Ashram. However, I agree that the passages thus quoted were quite unnecessary for the purport of the general theme of the book. P.H. himself has realized this at a heavy cost.

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 2)

Violation of Copyright by using A.B. Purani’s Notebooks

Does it mean that the Managing Trustee would have no objection to stealing data from the Archives when it is ethically proper? This will set a dangerous precedent and the copyright Dept. itself can be disbanded if that principle were agreed upon! In this particular case, Heehs not only did not take permission from the Trust, but also misused the notes in A.B. Purani’s diaries to portray the Mother’s relationship with Sri Aurobindo in the most obnoxious manner. It is therefore doubly reprehensible and Heehs could have easily been sued for his mischief by the Trust. The Court would have taken serious cognisance of the matter from the point of view of copyright violations, and not only the Indian edition of the book would have been nipped in the bud long before the actual ban came into force, but also the foreign edition could have been withdrawn by now from the market.

As for the copyright of Purani’s diaries, the Ashram has a strong case to claim it, because not only the manuscripts are in the physical possession of the Trust from decades, but all that belongs to the inmates is passed on to the Ashram after their demise, especially manuscripts and records pertaining to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. When Purani’s books are regularly published under the Trust’s copyright, why suddenly come up with this suicidal argument of him not having ceded his copyright in writing to the Ashram? The Managing Trustee has made another statement on the copyright of the Mother’s writings, which is also detrimental to the Ashram’s interests. Does he intend to lose control of all copyright material belonging to the Ashram in his effort to exonerate Heehs of copyright violations?

The objection to withdrawing the book’s publication, because that is generally done by fundamentalists, is not at all convincing. In September/October 2008, it was decided by the Trust in a meeting with senior Ashramites at the School Art Room that the book was derogatory of Sri Aurobindo and that they will try to stop the Indian edition from being published. The first technical difficulty that was faced was that the Indian constitution provided freedom of speech and expression, even if it was misused as in this case. So the only way to legally proceed against Heehs was on the basis of copyright violations. This exercise needed the actual contract of the agreement between Heehs, the Ashram and the Columbia University Press, to whom the biography had been sold. When a certain senior Ashramite was given charge of this task, he found himself constantly thwarted by Matriprasad, the secretary of the Trust. It then dawned upon this senior person that the Trust was actually not at all serious about stopping the Indian edition, even though it had committed itself to it in public. After about three weeks of running around fruitlessly, he distanced himself from it.

What does all this mean? Does it mean that the Trust was reluctant to stop the publication of the Indian edition? One of the Trustees has already gone on record saying he did not want to issue a fatwa on the book. But then why did the Trust commit itself to it in the first place? It could have simply clarified its position in the meeting with senior Ashramites and could have issued the all-important statement distancing itself from the book, so that it loses public credibility. The fact that the Trust did not do so upon repeated requests arouses the grave suspicion that it indeed supports the book. But this I cannot believe, for no disciple of Sri Aurobindo with some sensitivity will appreciate it. The fact that the Managing Trustee himself has no qualms in expressing his objections is now on record in this very analysis (see endnote 1), in spite of his dodging the issue for a long time with “Some portions are good” and “Some persons have found it good”.

Why the book cannot be merely corrected and republished

From the Managing Trustee’s own words, it is now clear that he expected Heehs to make the necessary changes to his text and go ahead with the publication. In other words, not to rock the boat too much, not to take stern action which would displease the Westerners supporting Heehs, and hope that some day somebody will write a better book on Sri Aurobindo. I don’t think this policy, which has been adopted in the past, would have worked for two reasons:

(1) There are too many misrepresentations of Sri Aurobindo and above all the hostile (not merely anti-hagiographic) attitude of Heehs has wreaked havoc throughout the book. The changes would have been thus necessarily cosmetic and the book would have remained essentially the same.

(2) Over the years, Heehs never stopped presenting distortions on Sri Aurobindo’s life and his works. These have mostly gone unnoticed because they are subtle, difficult to discern and clothed with research; I say “clothed with research” because it is not genuine and honest research which has brought to light the so-called “defects” of Sri Aurobindo’s personality and his world-view, but a lopsided negative interpretation of the available data, which is sometimes historically true but often based on secondary evidence, or even on sheer speculation. His “objectivity” leans heavily towards the materialistic view and refrains from accepting the spiritual view of life, which is ridiculous after his claim to have been a practitioner of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga for the last 37 years. Why should he do Yoga, which is essentially an inner adventure, if he did not have faith or the experience of supra-physical realities? His so-called balanced view operates by not mentioning all the positive data on Sri Aurobindo, but finding some obscure evidence in the annals of history to cast doubts on his sanity or character, such as when he gave a tongue-lashing to a colleague in the Bande Mataram days, or his own remark of being a liar in his school days. Heehs’s argument that he intended to show how the human turned into the superhuman or divine Sri Aurobindo is simply an eyewash. What he has actually attempted, and for which he has been collecting negative evidence from decades, is to prove how Sri Aurobindo was in fact an ordinary man, or at the most, a little better.

How can such a man change when the central motive of denigrating Sri Aurobindo is so deeply embedded in him, as if it were his life’s mission? In 1986/1987, Jugal Kishore Mukherji and Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya were the first to draw the attention of the Trust to Heehs’ distortions in the Archives and Research magazine. Some action was taken by the Trust, but nothing much happened. How I wish some editorial control had been introduced at that time to keep him under control! Heehs remained chief editor of the Archives Dept and started to write for academic publications in the same way, not changing a whit his basic motive to gain personal fame by tarnishing the image of Sri Aurobindo. He published several books and compilations and his interpretation became gradually worse with time, until tempted by the weakness of the Trust, he came out in June 2008 with a no-holds-barred criticism of Sri Aurobindo in the Lives. What do you do in such a case? If the Managing Trustee still thinks Heehs will mend his ways, then I must say he will be deeply disappointed, for that expectation goes against all common sense. Besides, those of us who have been Heehs’ colleagues know his obstinacy too well to even conceive of such a transformation.

How Heehs was converting the office to suit his purpose

There is one more aspect which only we at the Archives were aware of, that of Heehs converting the office into a research centre for the hostile interpretation of Sri Aurobindo’s life and works. Already, we had received visits from leftist scholars, television serial producers and Christian academics, for whom every effort was made to provide information. On the other hand, devotees of Sri Aurobindo and even inmates of the Ashram were discouraged with red tape and running around for official sanctions. I remember a friend of mine who was encouraged by Heehs to do research on Paul Richard, as if the latter was an ideal link between the East and the West. Not that you should eschew research on Paul Richard, but why give precedence to it after knowing the Mother’s negative views on him? Thus the environment of the Archives would soon have generated a half-a-dozen scholars like Peter Heehs, for birds of a feather will always flock together. The notion that freedom of research and expression should be granted to everybody regardless of their affiliations is rather naïve. For in practice it is always the strong and privileged who win and hijack the forum or office to suit their ideas and opinions, and it is they who expect the others to work within the limitations imposed by them. Hence a leftist will never encourage research on spirituality, except for gathering data in disproving or denouncing it. Nor a magazine affiliated to the right will talk of the benefits of communism, except as part of the divine communism. So the Ashram will have to adopt a broad framework within the wide scope of life and research that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have given us, without going against the fundamentals of their Yoga and world-view. To say that this itself is a limitation, which will one day lead to the founding of another religion, is sheer nonsense. Even the most secular institutions work within certain parameters and the Ashram will have to do likewise.

Racial Divide

Finally, by not taking action against a single erring American due to the fear of an East-West divide in the Ashram, the Trust has actually ruined the chances of a genuine East-West unity. For it would have been far better to treat it as an individual case, without taking racial factors into account, despite the way most of the Westerners (not all) have reacted to it. It is somewhat similar to the way Indian politicians have mishandled the Hindu-Muslim problem. Communal problems would have been far better avoided by ignoring religious divisions in the general administration of the country, which was Sri Aurobindo’s view. The true test of unity is in the handling of practical problems and not merely in singing and dancing together in joint celebrations. It is precisely in firmly standing together in troubled times that the unity is tested, especially when key members of either community have to face the flak and justice has to be done regardless of their credentials. Unfortunately this did not happen in the case of Heehs and the Trust seems to have buckled under the pressure of a unified Western front within the Ashram, with perhaps even a veiled threat of a collective exodus.

Had the Trust gone ahead and swiftly evicted Heehs out of the Archives, there would have been indeed a true unity among Indians and Westerners and an ideal mix and balance of both the temperaments. With the negative Western element sidelined, there would have been place for a healthy rationality without sacrificing the basic spiritual motive of the Ashram. The needle, if it can be so described, would have been at the centre, neither left nor right, avoiding both the extremes. Indians at the Archives did not have any problems working under American editors, they have been humbly working under them from decades; it is only Americans like Heehs (and now Hartz) who have problems with Indians. It is they who have shown themselves to be not worthy of our trust. I regret to bring up this racial topic because it would have been so much better had we all simply considered ourselves children of the Divine Mother than thought in terms of our respective races and nationalities. But once the issue has surfaced from the subconscious, let us face it boldly with strength and honesty than with weakness and capitulation.

*          *          *

In my long uninterrupted stay (over 65 years) in the Ashram I do not recall ever witnessing such a virulent commotion as is prevalent today, gripping our community life.

In the context of the above controversy the Ashramites may be classified into three groups:

a)  anti-PH. group – the most vociferous and militant of the three who would stop at nothing short of declaring a “Fatwa”;

b)  pro-P.H. group – more defensive and non-promotional;

c)  neutral group – this group, for various reasons, prefer to remain if not neutral at least silent….

Needless to say that according to the natural bent of my nature, my swadharma, my spontaneous sympathy is with the third group. But alas, am I permitted to enjoy the luxury of ‘neutrality’ while occupying an unenviable position in the Administration?

[The Managing Trustee quotes here Heehs’ letters regarding his intention to show how Sri Aurobindo transformed himself from the human to the divine]

From the above, my personal inclination is, if not to exonerate P.H. fully at least to give him, what in sporting parlance is known as ‘the benefit of the doubt’.

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, pp 3-5)

The Managing Trustee’s Stand

The Managing Trustee has defined his stand by the last sentence. He always was and is still ready to “exonerate P.H. fully” without changing his present status at the Archives. This policy has had disastrous dividends as now can be seen in P.H.’s biography. In the past few years, scores of people had warned the Managing Trustee regarding Heehs, but to no avail. They were sent away each time with a big smile assuring them that nothing wrong would happen. The assurance was partly due to ignorance of what actually was happening behind his back, and partly due to the lack of a wider perspective of Sri Aurobindo’s work in the world outside. Many of us at the Ashram have remained in our little cocoons believing that Sri Aurobindo’s work in the physical world has been mainly limited to Pondicherry. That Sri Aurobindo’s teachings have spread far and wide and that he is read more on the internet than all the study circles conducted by us is less known. That Sri Aurobindo today is a global phenomenon and the Managing Trustee’s decisions have a global bearing is perhaps what he himself would not like to believe. In fact, his remark to a board member of an institution, which has a network of Sri Aurobindo centres all over India, belies precisely this attitude. When approached on this issue by the latter, the Managing Trustee shot back, “How does it concern you?” As if Heehs’s issue was only an internal matter of the Ashram and that people outside could blissfully remain ignorant of it! But how can they sit idle when this perverse book gets formally accepted in university curriculums under their very nose? And what about the harm caused to school children when its distortions creep into high school textbooks? What about the confusion caused to spiritual seekers who will pick up a copy of Heehs’s book with the confidence that it has the sanction of the parent body? If it is still argued that it is better to remain quiet without making any “fuss”, I would attribute this official inaction and apathy to non-administration than to wise and prudent management.

It is true that spiritually Sri Aurobindo and the Mother will always remain unaffected though their external images might get tarnished, for the essential truth will break through the falsehood that might temporarily cover it. Genuine seekers will discern the falsehood, go back to the originals of their books and derive benefit from them. As for the spiritually advanced, they wouldn’t even have to read books, for they would have the direct experience of their power. But these contingencies cannot be taken as an excuse for spreading falsehood ourselves, or for keeping quiet when one of us is spreading it, which is tantamount to consciously siding with it. We cannot pretend to be smothering falsehood by not taking action, especially when the action is within our ambit and is practically our bounden duty. Thus, in this context, the argument about not defending Sri Aurobindo and the Mother seems to me quite absurd.

Regarding the three types of reactions to the P.H. issue, we have been branded by the Managing Trustee as fundamentalists, which is not the kind of reaction you would expect from one who claims to have taken “a witness attitude” with regard to the whole issue. Why malign only one group, whatever the merits of their view? But now that we know the Managing Trustee’s personal stand, the contradiction between the so-called “witness stand” and his constant effort to protect Heehs becomes self-evident. His recent stance seems to be to protect Heehs at all cost, even if it would cause the downfall of the Ashram, as if it were a do or die situation. Does Heehs really deserve so much of official backing, even after the Managing Trustee’s frank admission that he has produced a book hostile to Sri Aurobindo? Or is it (I express once again the doubt) that Heehs has blackmailed the Trust in some way, so that it is forced to support him? But I suppose, only Time will tell us the truth in this matter.
*          *          *

I’m sorry, I’m absolutely unable to agree with those who uphold the strong view that in order to vindicate the honour and prestige of the Ashram, P.H. should be expelled forthwith.

I strongly believe that before taking any hasty decision on the matter, we must be absolutely sure of the correctness of our judgment, weighing carefully, with an unprejudiced mind, all the pros and cons and especially examine the grave consequences that such a drastic action may entail on a spiritual community such as ours.

Another grave danger that we have to be cautious of is not to let our judgement be coloured in any way by our cultural background – what we loosely talk about as “lndian  psyche”. Sri Aurobindo clearly states:

“The Ashram has nothing to do with Hindu religion or culture or any religion or nationality. The Truth of the Divine which is the spiritual reality behind all religions and the descent of the supramental which is not known to any religion are the sole things which will be the foundation of the work of the future.” (Bulletin, April 1995, p.84)

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, pp 5-6)

Why things went out of control

Why does the Managing Trustee keep harping on this view of expelling P.H. from the Ashram? Most of us were ready for only his removal from the Archives and the Trust making a public statement dissociating the Ashram from the book. Why does he always avoid talking about the second proposal, as if he did not have an answer to it? Why does he deliberately sideline the main demand and castigate us on the false assumption that all of us support the expulsion of Heehs? As a matter of fact, the question of expulsion came when he avoided issuing the public statement dissociating the Ashram from the book. When he obstinately refused to issue it, there was no other way left but to ban the book in India through the intervention of the Court. When he did not give any assurance of removing Heehs permanently from the Archives despite repeated requests from hundreds of disciples, there was no other way than cancelling his visa and making him leave the country. It reminds me of Hanuman in the Ramayana: when he did not know which life-saving plant he should pick from the mountain to save Lakshman from dying, he brought the mountain itself to Lanka. The well-wishers who initiated the cases in Orissa and Chennai were in a similar situation, they had no other options left when the Trust did not settle the problem in-house.

How Heehs misinterprets Sri Aurobindo’s quotations

Let me discuss the above quotation from Sri Aurobindo on the Ashram having “nothing to do with Hindu religion or culture”, which has been used by the Managing Trustee to defend his inaction. Sri Aurobindo’s letter was written in the context of the “rigid orthodoxy” of past religions “whether Hindu, Mahomedan or Christian” and not in regard to the essential truth contained in any of them.[2] But how did Heehs interpret it in a in a talk on Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism delivered at Hyderabad in December 2006? These are the some of the implications of his concluding remarks:

(1) The Divine Mother is a dispensable Hindu symbol. Mind you, it is not about accepting the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, but rejecting the truth of the Divine Shakti herself. This is what the new spirituality of Heehs is going to teach us.

(2) Krishna is one more unnecessary Hindu symbol (or myth) which Sri Aurobindo admitted in his yogic development, which means that Krishna also does not represent a spiritual reality. I thought Sri Aurobindo linked Krishna with the Overmind in his cosmic gradation of the planes of consciousness. So does Heehs reject the Overmind as outdated Hinduism?

(3) All external expressions of the spirit, such as bowing down to the Mother when she was there (or to the Samadhi at present), doing pranam to her or receiving her blessings are unnecessary rituals, more so, Hindu rituals, which should be rejected outright by Westerners. So also devotion, surrender and worship need not be indulged in because they represent basically Hindu values, which are not amenable to the Western temperament. In that case, Indians might as well reject science because it proliferated in the West and many of the discoveries were named after their Western inventors. Fortunately, they don’t do so and care a whit as to who gets the credit and in which language it is expressed as long as it is useful to them.

These are some of the distortions in this small booklet unwittingly published by the Hyderabad centre. I plan to take up this issue in greater detail one day, but it is sufficient to say for the moment that the problem is not of a difference of approach to spirituality between  Eastern and Western minds, for Sri Aurobindo says “there is no essential difference between the spiritual life in the East and the spiritual life in the West”.[3] The real problem is Heehs’s own inability (or rather refusal) to pursue the sadhana, which makes him reject spirituality with the excuse of Hinduism. In other words, he not only rejects the expression of Truth (which in this case happens to be Hindu) but Truth itself (which is not only the essence of Hinduism but all religions). In short, he throws the baby with the bathwater, which has been an oft-repeated mistake of all those who don’t care to understand spirituality.

This is how Heehs misinterprets each and every quotation from Sri Aurobindo’s works and very few are aware of these distortions because they don’t examine the text closely enough. Would the Managing Trustee choose to remain part of this gullible readership even after being warned and shown these misinterpretations?

*          *          *

It all began over an interview of Auroville Today with P.H., in its August issue of 2008. Soon after, with the help of some friends R. began to circulate through the Internet and other means, a selection of extracts from P.H.’s book. This led to unprecedented furore and hue and cry among a section of devotees, culminating in a signature campaign – something that is never heard of in any Ashram – and goes obnoxiously against the exclusive character of our Ashram – for removing P.H. from the Archives. (I may say here in passing that I had already initiated a move asking P.H. to stay away from the Archives). The question that puzzles me, even to this day, is – Why did R. of all persons, who by all accounts seemed to be a quiet and unobtrusive person, suddenly take up the cudgel to bash P.H. with? How does he justify such an action in the light of the Mother’s advice to the inmates of the Ashram put up on the Notice Board?

“When you have nothing pleasant to say about something or somebody in the Ashram, keep silent.
You must know that this silence is faithfulness to the Divine’s work.”

Whatever be the reason, R. has certainly achieved the dubious success of arousing the rabble like Antony in “]ulius Caesar”:

“ ......... .mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt!”

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 7)

The Circulation of the Extracts

The R. mentioned above owes the readers a factual explanation but certainly not an apology. The Auroville Today interview had already created sufficient furore by the time R. had read the book and compiled the extracts. What happened was that a colleague of his at the Archives, who had read the book before him, was actually instructed by the Managing Trustee himself to collect a few objectionable extracts to be examined by the Trust Board, so as to enable them to arrive at a decision with regard to the book. This person took photocopies of only those portions which could be judged as objectionable and handed them over to the Managing Trustee. It was shortly after this that R. went through the whole book, marked the objectionable portions in yellow and typed and classified them by subject. He even compared his list of selections with that of his colleague and saw that the two lists more or less tallied. He then printed out his selections, made a dozen photo copies and handed one of them to the Managing Trustee himself, under the impression that he was rendering a good service. The dozen copies are all the copies that he has since distributed. If they have been reduplicated, re-xeroxed a hundred times ever since, it is not his fault; it is the highly inflammable content of the extracts themselves which has caught the minds of disciples, shocked them beyond belief and made them lose sleep, and even fall ill in certain cases. As for the Internet, R. sent a digital copy to a friend of his and this found its way into an alumni site, where it was discussed with great emotion. For those who are familiar with the Net, this is nothing abnormal given the rapidity of communication and the way people participate in group discussions nowadays. If anyone expresses anguish and concern as to how quickly all sorts of comments are made on various issues on the Net, it only shows that he should   update himself with modern technology.

Moreover, why this fear of being exposed to the outside world if you have done nothing wrong? The Mother’s rule of not speaking about the internal matters of the Ashram to visitors does not apply here, because Heehs has first broken it. He has taken the most unpleasant things on Sri Aurobindo to the outside world by the publication of his book. I wonder how that is being faithful to the Divine’s work! On what basis are the Ashram authorities so eager to pardon him, while they feel so bitter about those who have exposed his lies to the outside world? And what about our anguish at the denigration of our Gurus in the Ashram? What about our sense of helplessness when we see that Heehs has the full support of the authorities? Hence the need to go to the Net to tell the truth of this despicable book to all the disciples and admirers of Sri Aurobindo in the whole world. That is why a normally “quiet and unobtrusive person” like R.  suddenly took up the intellectual cudgel to bash up Heehs on the twin blogs livesofsriaurobindo.com and mirrorof tomorrow.com, for he indeed deserves it. He has been getting away with these distortions for years because of our apathy and lack of alertness; it was high time he was exposed and the gullible public knew what he really was and still is, a mole planted in a spiritual institution – that is the way he has consistently behaved over the last few decades.

*          *          *

Here is an interesting observation by a thoughtful Ashramite that should make us pause to think: “Peter Heehs, as we and several others who have read his book feel, was motivated by an ambition to pass off as an academic critic by Western standards and used certain materials irreverently and without creating the right context for them. When extracts from his book were circulated by his critics in thousands and through the internet, that was done even without that much context which Heehs had built up. The Press wrought further havoc by selectively quoting from the lawyer’s submissions in the court and from other circulated materials only such stuff that suited its present day competitive character. For any unbiased person these extracts read far more horrible than when read in the book Time will tell who is more responsible for the public furore: the author who lacked proper understanding of his sublime task or those who picked up and circulated the very lines and passages from his book which they would not like people to read and gave those words publicity reaching tens of thousands of people whereas the book itself might have been limited to a few hundred or just a thousand copies. How many of those who are agitated read the book or would have read the book? But everybody read the undesirable and purposeless passages so widely distributed.”

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 7)

There are certain fundamentals which are not clear in the mind of this “thoughtful Ashramite”, with which the Managing Trustee seems to fully agree. For once I am glad it has been officially accepted that the book has been a misrepresentation of Sri Aurobindo. But, having said that, the circulation of the extracts has discredited the book in the public mind; people will never naively fall for it and declare that it is a splendid book. As for the distortions on Sri Aurobindo that have spread, they have spread with the full knowledge of being distortions. How can they harm the public mind when they have been cautioned about them? Had they in fact read them without being warned, they would have quietly consumed the distortions and reaped future Heehs’s and Hartzes, which would have been a threat for generations to come.

In fact, that has already happened to a certain extent with Heehs’s earlier books where he has been more careful with his wording. Scholars all over India and the world have already been fed on these distortions which he presents with clever ploys to confuse his readers in order to come to the wrong conclusions. For some reason, in the Lives he suddenly came out with guns booming on Sri Aurobindo’s life and works. I suppose it was for him a do or die situation from the point of view of academic glory, and he had to come out in the open without mincing his words as he did in the past. That is why the extracts represent the worst passages in his book, which can never be redeemed by the good passages in it. The author once claimed that they gave a bad impression (he has at least admitted that) because they were decontextualised and so he contextualized them by adding the sentences before and after and even footnotes to them. It did not make any difference at all! Why was then such a hullabaloo created over the extracts? Because the cat was out of the bag and the real Peter Heehs was exposed even before he could display his goods. He had expected the “stupid Indian readership” (this is the way he used to talk) not to notice the blows and kicks he has delivered and lap up his biography without really understanding it, while he got a pat of appreciation from leftist academicians for the very extracts that have now damaged his reputation!

*          *          *

My Stand

From day one till this date my stand has been one of prayer and patience and wait and see. I know that it is very disconcerting for the ‘man of action’ and I have been accused of ‘escapism’ and gross dereliction of my duty. To these critics I can only say: “Sorry, I have been prompted to this by what I consider to be my faithfulness to the Mother; and I can assert in all sincerity that not even for a second have I ever had any remorse of conscience, admitting that I have one!”

 It is better to perish following one’s own dharma; disastrous it is to follow someone else’s dharma. (Bhagwad Gita, 3-35)

I especially took courage for my stand from the following advice of the Mother to me:

“After all, it is always preferable not to make any decision for or against things, but to watch events as they develop, with the impartiality of a witness, relying on the divine Wisdom which will decide for the best and do what is needful.” (CWM Vol 12, p. 323) 

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, p 8)

The Attitude of the Witness Stand

As in the case of Heehs (if one has to believe him at all), there seems to be a gulf between the intention and methodology followed in the Managing Trustee’s actions. If his intention had been to wait and see with “prayer and patience” and to watch the events unfold with the “impartiality of a witness”, why did he take such a tough stand against those who are against the book in spite of admitting the cause of their anguish? Why did he from the very beginning take an unreasonably soft and supportive stand in favour of Heehs? Does this reflect impartiality on his behalf or is it parti pris? Why is it that all his arguments, including the ten pages of quotations (!) in this analysis, are chosen in favour of pardoning Heehs and criticizing those who are protesting against the book? Above all, why so much discrimination between Indians and Westerners when it comes to delivering justice, which is the first duty of the Trust?

I remember the case of Makarand Paranjape’s offensive remarks on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Avatarhood in his introduction to a compilation on Sri Aurobindo, for which the Ashram had given him permission. The same Managing Trustee admirably rose to the occasion, intellectually took on Heehs and others who were supporting the Paranjape’s point of view and forced him to rewrite the introduction. Interestingly, the Managing Trustee’s arguments, which beat Paranjape’s supporters into submission, were more or less the same as ours now. When Heehs’s scandal broke out, I was deeply disappointed that the Managing Trustee did not repeat the act, for which he was in every way capable, both morally and intellectually. Instead, to my utter dismay, he displayed unusual weakness and literally capitulated to an American brat. This is precisely why I suspect that this time an extraneous factor has tied his hands and the dogged defence of the book is merely a smokescreen to cover up a deeper element. As I have said earlier, only Time will tell us the truth, and perhaps after much water flows under the bridge.

Finally, why this tirade against religious fundamentalism? First of all, we are not religious fundamentalists; had we been, we would not have written letters appealing to intellectual and spiritual sense, we would have done something drastic and stupid. Secondly, in the present situation, without Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s physical presence, we have become sitting ducks for these accusations from those who want to safeguard their interests in the name of freedom of speech. Mind you, Heehs and his supporters are not merely against religion but spirituality itself, as I have discussed already in my response. What they stand for is a no-holds-barred intellectual and vital freedom in an Ashram which is essentially meant for spirituality. Would you really like this to happen? Finally, when would we Indians learn not to undermine our strength and pride in our culture? When would we learn not to be fooled by a few hostile Westerners who appeal to our universality in order to impose their ideas on us? Yes, we have to rise beyond all national barriers but not at the expense of losing the good side of our culture. In other words, why kick ourselves in order to please others and give an impression of global etiquette? The above observation of course does not apply to most of the well-wishing Westerners (especially Americans) who have a great sympathy for Indian culture because of its spiritual content. It only applies to those eternal misfits such as Heehs, who I am sure, would have been equally a misfit in any other place.

Raman Reddy


Courtesy: http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2010/8/21/4609037.html

[1]  Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis (pp 9-10):


I shall now try to analyse what went wrong with P.H.

i)   The Intention: P.H. has clearly stated that in his recent biography he has ‘tried to bring out Sri Aurobindo’s effort to achieve the full supramental transformation’ – to highlight what Sri Aurobindo said: “I transformed my nature from what it was to what it was not”.

One can find nothing wrong with the intention. On the contrary; it can be, even for the non- intellectual bhakta, a very interesting and soul-inspiring topic.

ii)   The Methodology: In my humble opinion, it is here that P.H. went wrong, to have in mind only a particular readership. In his own words: “I chose to write my recent book mostly for an audience made up of Westerners or westernized Indians”. He therefore chose a style and language conducive to his goal and which would appeal to his limited audience; therefore he doggedly adopted an anti-hagiographic style.

His obsession of confining himself to the academic circle alone, has led him to try to analyze even some of Sri Aurobindo’s actions in the light of Western psychoanalysis! As an example, look at the stupid motive he tries to ascribe to Sri Aurobindo’s writing the beautiful play “Vasavadatta”!! It is this over-smartness of his which has proved to be a great irritant in his otherwise informative book. I am surprised that P.H. who is well-read in all the writings of Sri Aurobindo should have been so callous to Sri Aurobindo’s strong views on psycho-analysis prevalent in Europe.

“I find it difficult to take these psycho-analysts at all seriously when they try to scrutinise spiritual experience by the flicker of their torch-lights, - yet perhaps one ought to, for half-knowledge is a powerful thing and can be a great obstacle to the coming in front of the true Truth.”

(SABCL Vol. 24, p. 1608)

From all accounts so far received, his book has been widely acclaimed by this section of readership. But then it has also opened the Pandora’s Box.

Had he only kept in mind the following advice of the Mother he would have avoided the pitfall.

“My point of view is this, that anything written by a sadhak about Sri Aurobindo which brings him down to an ordinary level and admits the reader to a sort of gossiping familiarity with him is an unfaithfulness to Him and His work. Good intentions are not sufficient, it is necessary that this should be understood by everybody.” (CWM Vol. 13, p. 27)

How l wish that P.H would have written his book unmindful of any appreciative audience whatsoever – like the wandering minstrel of yore who sang just for the joy of singing!

To drive my point home I shall take recourse to an analogy (take it not with a pinch of salt but with a hand-full of salt!): A competent artist who is dexterous with his paint and brush decides to paint a portrait of Sri Aurobindo. This artist loves children. He therefore decides that his painting should be intended for children alone. Now, what do children like? Cartoons of course! Therefore our artist sets about to draw a cartoon of Sri Aurobindo instead!! (Q.E.D.)

(Manoj Das Gupta’s Analysis, pp 9-10)

[2] 23 February 1932 (Bulletin, Feb 2000, p 80)

[3] SABCL, Vol. 23: 556

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