The author is patently ignorant of Indian History and harbours an obvious, unreformed racist bias. He calls the “revolutionaries” “terrorists.” Even the British knew the difference in those days. Heehs ought to know the distinction: terrorists kill their own people or innocent people to create terror to achieve political ends, the revolutionaries and freedom fighters are those who fight foreign invaders and occupiers. [extract]
A Short Note on TLOSA by Seshachalam Dutta
[Peter Heehs, 2008, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, New York, Columbia University Press]
From what I have gleaned from the comments on Heehs’s work is this:
- He dubbed the Bengali revolutionaries as “terrorists”.
- He clearly indicates his bias that Western culture is superior to Indian culture.
- The author himself admits his bias.
- He describes Aurobindo as given to pleasures of vacationing, dining, wining and partying, as though he was engaged merely in a hedonistic lifestyle.
- Adulation of a great leader, however great, in another culture than his own, is anathema for the author’s “Western” mind.
The author advances a thesis that Aurobindo by his own admission accepted the superiority of the West. Leaving out any far-fetched quotes from Aurobindo’s writings, it is clear that Aurobindo emphasized the superiority of Upanishadic culture. One cannot fathom what Heehs is trying to accomplish by this line of argument. Whether Aurobindo ever stated in a far-out context any such idea or not, there is not a full-blooded Indian alive today who would entertain such foolish thoughts of inferiority in comparison to Western culture. Besides, what does he mean by ‘West”? One can assume that he means Christian and European.
The author is patently ignorant of Indian History and harbours an obvious, unreformed racist bias. He calls the “revolutionaries” “terrorists.” Even the British knew the difference in those days. Heehs ought to know the distinction: terrorists kill their own people or innocent people to create terror to achieve political ends, the revolutionaries and freedom fighters are those who fight foreign invaders and occupiers.
The British had the misnomer for this too when they called it a mutiny. The Bengali revolutionaries including Aurobindo and Subhashchandra Bose, etc., fought the British colonials, just as Jewish revolutionaries killed the British in Israel and drove them out. Aurobindo was indicted as being associated with the “murder” of a British officer along with others and was eventually acquitted, but not until weeks of solitary confinement and subjection to extreme cruel treatment. Heehs is patently ignorant of Indian History. It is true that Aurobindo’s English writing style is somewhat Baconian and does not lend to easy reading and yet he broke away from orthodoxy and as a free thinker negated traditional mayavada (nihilism) of his Hindu contemporaries as well as his predecessors in Hindu philosophy.
After his release from jail, Aurobindo exhorted Indian people to take to the philosophy of self-abnegation and sacrifice for the liberation of their country. This was long before the time of Gandhi. In his speeches he quoted a verse from the Gita that a man should treat “a clod of earth, iron, and gold as same” to achieve a greater state in life. It is a travesty to accuse him of hedonism. The greatness of Indian culture, unknown to the author, is that a great man is held in greatest regard than any worldly man of power and pomp, a culture never known in the Christian world, and so it surprises Heehs as to why Aurobindo along with Gandhi and Vivekananda are held in great superhuman regard. Indians never seek to belittle their heroes by recounting silly episodes on how they reacted when they were woken up in the middle of the night! Neither do they analyze their formative years and behavior prior to attaining spiritual maturity.
Indians understand intuitively the psychological and spiritual growth that takes place in people’s lives better than Christians like Heehs who sees everyone as a born sinner and tries to find only negatives about great men (in other cultures) under the disguise of objectivity. Sadly, with all the time he wasted in India, the author never grasped the spirit of the Nation! Neither did he grasp Hinduism as propounded by Aurobindo. Koenraad Elst has grasped the importance of Aurobindo’s contributions much better than Heehs among the Westerners.