22 Apr 2012

Letter to the Trustees from Sri Aurobindo Study Circle, Bangalore

From: Sri Aurobindo Study Circle 17th April 2012
9th Cross, 30th  Main
Sri Aurobindo Marg
J P Nagar 1st Phase


Kind Attn.: Shri Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee

Sub: Peter Heehs and his book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo”

Dear Sir,

We, the Devotees in Bangalore, are deeply anguished and hurt by the odious contents of the book in question denigrating Sri Aurobindo and the sickening publicity this has received at the hands of the meddling Media in the country.

[click on title for full text]

Peter Heehs is said to have come to the Ashram virtually as a tramp and has since ‘morphed’ into a member of an elite club. He is now one among “the most acclaimed experts on Aurobindo”, author of the “most thorough biography of the spiritual philosopher”, “An internationally recognised scholar” and so on and on as it goes. All this, thanks to the mindless chant of a deshi choir in servile support of this wily Videshi!

Here is a professed Biographer of an extraordinary Subject of whom he knows next to nothing beyond the superficial. This is a classic case of a fool or fools rushing where angels fear to tread. It is ancient wisdom that one sees but oneself in others. And so the sneaky innuendos and the sly sarcasm that the book is peppered with should amply reflect his own inadequacies. His patent prejudice questions the credibility of the book even as a superficial account of Sri Aurobindo’s life. As if adding insult to injury, he has chivalrously offered to produce more than one version of his blasphemous book to pander to different sorts. This only betrays his brazen commercial interests and crude insensitivity to the feelings of the people of this country and elsewhere. 

Now coming to the vociferous champions of Peter Heehs, these misguided bleeding hearts have been oblivious of the raison d’etre of an Ashram. It is common sense that an Ashram is meant for spiritual seekers and surely not for the likes of Peter dedicated to writing skewed biographies to earn cheap public acclaim and the dollars that flow with it. Looking back, it was very short sighted to have allowed this prowling stranger (despite his candid disavowals of being a devotee) into the Ashram to carry out his dubious activities in the name of “biographical research”. There is no denying that he has most cynically abused and exploited the generous hospitality of the guileless people of India at large and the Ashram in particular.

If the spiritual path of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother was not to the taste of Peter, he had all the time and liberty in the world to pack his bags and bolt. Instead he chose to stay on and subsequent developments have only confirmed his sinister designs behind this decision. Let us face it. At best his book emerges as a mean and mischievous exercise at maligning two of the greatest Seers in living memory, and an exercise at wanton provocation of the worldwide community of devotees and admirers.

Nonetheless, all these do not seem so shocking in retrospect, considering his low beginnings and his subsequent record in India as a proclaimed offender and even a fugitive on the run to evade the closing arm of law. He was guilty of serious criminal violations, violations of intellectual property of the Ashram and violation of his Visa regulations.

Here was a Trojan Horse crouching and waiting for the big moment to strike and when he did, the whole country woke up in outrage and the Hon’ble High Court and the Govt. Of Orissa in particular swung into action and proscribed the book promptly. The Govt of India too was actively seized of the matter. 

In dismal contrast, on the other hand, there is no evidence of initiation of any proceedings against this offender by the Ashram Authorities at any stage. We understand that even as early as 1986 there were clear indications of the gathering storm. When a couple of articles appeared in the journal of the Archives denigrating Sri Aurobindo, the matter was brought to the notice of the trustees by senior Sadhaks like Sri Pranabda and yet there was neither acknowledgment nor action. Again when the storm actually broke out in 2008 or so there was only a pious whimper from the authorities leave aside the question of pursuing further with punitive measures against the perpetrator. No wonder then that he could finally cock a snook at everyone and get away. So Peter came, Peter saw, Peter conquered!

Should there be more Peters in future (which is not unlikely), should we not have a mechanism in place that can as surely put them in their place? Isn’t this a matter of utmost priority? On the contrary we are dismayed to learn that Peter’s visa was extended recently for one year by the Government of India on the recommendation of the Trustees of the Ashram. 

The apparent apathy and inaction of the Trustees in this entire infamous episode of Peter capped by the most recent faux pas of endorsing his request for visa extension are deeply disturbing and mystifying raising all kinds of suspicions. We must regretfully admit that our faith and confidence has been shattered in the incumbent establishment as the preserver and protector of the living memory of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Although we may not claim to be the anointed custodians of the well being of the Ashram, it cannot be denied that as devotees we too have a certain responsibility in respect of preserving and fostering this sacred institution and protecting its sanctity and dignity. It is in this larger indirect role that we wish to make the following suggestions for due consideration of the Trustees in earnest hope that they will not be misunderstood as an encroachment on their authority but will be welcomed instead in the right spirit as issuing from fellow Sadhaks on important matters of common concern.

Measures requested:

1. Not to permit Peter Heehs to stay in the premises of any part of Sri Aurobindo Ashram or of its connected institutions.

2. He must be disowned forthwith by the Ashram Authorities and its other institutions in writing followed by public endorsement through the media.

3. To get in touch immediately with the foreign Publishers of Peter’s Book and contain the damage even if it means initiating necessary legal action in this regard. 

4. To convey effectively to the Publisher the rage and resentment that the book has evoked among the Devotees and admirers worldwide so that they desist from 

5. reprinting the same or publishing modified or abridged versions of it in any form in the future. 

6. To take careful stock of pilferage, misuse etc. of documents in any form in the Archives and elsewhere by Peter Heehs and make efforts at retrieval 

7. The Managing Trustee to issue an unequivocal statement through the media and in writing that the contents of the book are distorted and are entirely the personal views of Peter Heehs and certainly do not reflect the views of the Ashram.

8. As a matter of official policy from now on, the Trustees may invariably consider the following people as Invitees to broaden participation in the collective decision making process:

Representatives of Sri Aurobindo Society
Heads of Departments within the Ashram

By rotation, (once in two/three years), a few senior Sadhaks within the Ashram and also a few representatives from the various Branches of Sri Aurobindo Society all over India.

Thanking You,
Sincerely yours,

Dr. G. N. Narayana Reddy

cc : For the kind information of
His Excellency The Lt. Governor of Pondicherry,
Raj Nivas, Pondicherry – 605001. 

Signatures of Members of Sri Aurobindo Study Circle

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