28 Dec 2012

Letter of Kittu Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan & Sumita Kandpal to Manoj Das Gupta on 28 May, 2010

[The following letter was written by three senior Ashramites – Kittu Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan & Sumita Kandpal (retired Collector) – to Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust. The letter stated the views and concern of most of the Ashramites and devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother regarding the Peter Heehs issue. The letter is still relevant to the present situation which has more or less remained unchanged as far as the intransigent attitude of the Managing Trustee is concerned.] 

We thank you for the meeting held in your office on the 9th of May 2010.

When we asked you for a second meeting to discuss further issues surrounding Peter Heehs’ book, you asked us to give you our questions in writing. Hence, we are placing before you the following which we request you to consider carefully and answer the questions that we are asking you.

All that follows below is being put forward in a benevolent and friendly spirit keeping the best interests of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, whose continued existence and welfare is more important than that of any individual or group of individuals.

Before we proceed, we wish to present these self-evident propositions:

a) As the Mother has said, Sri Aurobindo is the Supreme Himself descended into the manifestation. Therefore any attack on Him, the Incarnate Divine, whether a single derogatory word or a criticism, open or veiled, is necessarily a Hostile action, even if it masquerades under the guise of an “objective assessment”.

b) The Sri Aurobindo Ashram has been founded by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and its roots are deeply imbedded in an eternal Truth. Any administration or management, which is temporary, ever-changing, can never be its true representative. Therefore a clear distinction must be made between the two entities, between the Truth that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother stand for on one side, and the administration and trustees on the other side. They must never be confused and a false identification must not be claimed. Today, many inmates are confused between loyalty to the Mother and Sri Aurobindo on one side and the Ashram Trust on the other. This is a disturbing trend which can be disastrous for the Ashram and for the spiritual life of its inmates.

c) The SAAT is a public body, subject to the laws of the land. It is open for examination by any national official body having authority to do so. There can be no claim for privacy and secrecy of views, actions or decisions. Everything must be open, transparent and frank, and any enquiry should be respected and answered clearly with conviction.

d) The beneficiaries of the Trust have the right to information regarding all decisions made by the Trust Board.

Having these points in view, we would like to state the following:

1. The inaction by the Trust board or the reluctance to act openly and fully regarding Peter Heehs and his book on Sri Aurobindo, has shocked and angered the members of the Ashram. Your impression that only a small group is critical of the stance of the Trust is absolutely false and illusory. A very large body of Ashramites does not approve of the inaction or the half-hearted, reluctant and inadequate action against Peter Heehs, and the turbulence this has caused in the Ashram life is potentially dangerous. You have said that this feeling of deep hurt and sensitivity among the Ashramites will die down and pass away with the passage of time. We disagree with you on this. On the contrary we find that it is only getting worse with time. Just because the large majority of Ashramites does not make public demonstrations and loud noises, choosing rather to suffer in silence, it does not mean that they approve of the action of the Trust in favour of Peter Heehs. The entire community is seething from within. You must take decisive action soon, before things get out of hand, as Pranab-da had already warned.

2. You have said that you have given Peter Heehs the Financial guarantees for getting his visa twice already in the last six months, and will continue giving it to him “as long as he is an Ashramite”. A person should not get the financial guarantee automatically merely for being an Ashramite. The guarantee is sacrosanct because it represents the Ashram’s full support and guarantee of “good conduct” of the person in the eyes of devotees worldwide, the general public and the Indian Government. We have to take into consideration Peter Heehs’ behaviour in the recent past. We cannot stand guarantee for one who has abused the trust of the Ashram inmates to abuse Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. By giving a guarantee in this case, you are betraying Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s own guidelines, and are placing the entire Ashram community at great risk, and throwing away all the public goodwill that the Ashram has.

3. You have said that this issue is an “internal and private matter” of the Ashram and so a public statement need not be made. An Ashramite writes a book using internal and confidential documents without informing the authorities and publishes it in a foreign country with the falsely claimed authority of being “Founder” of the Ashram Archives creating a controversy that is causing pain and anguish to all devotees all over the world; yet you say this is an “internal matter” of the Ashram! You have said that the Ashram cannot make a public statement dissociating itself from the book written by Peter Heehs and that it is enough to quietly instruct SABDA not to sell the book. We do not agree with you in this matter also. Such a public statement will go a long way in assuaging the hurt feelings of devotees all over the world and the danger of “outside” official interference may be averted by the issuance of such a public notice.

4. We cannot agree that the Ashram has nothing to do with the Columbia University Press and that we cannot write to them directly. What harm can there be in stopping the distribution of a book (distributed all over the world) derogatory to our Guru? Even if CUP does not do our bidding, we would have acted in the right Spirit. In fact the very act of trying to stop the book will send a strong signal that we reject the false statements and factual distortions in this book, and reject its perverse conclusions.

5. We are informed that the first payment of royalty from Peter Heeh’s book totalling Rs 90,000 has come to the Ashram. Will the SAAT accept the Royalty from CUP whether directly or through Peter Heehs? Has it already received the royalty? It is evident that you were fully aware of the contract between Peter and CUP. Our question is how did you allow things to come to such a pass? Is this not a case of gross dereliction of duty?

6. You have said that hostile attacks of this kind cannot be terminated by expelling one offending member because tomorrow somebody else will do the same thing. And therefore you do not wish to act. We disagree with you on this also. Does that mean we should shelter all these elements snugly in our midst, offering them free right and play to criticise the Guru even while living in the Ashram and enjoying all its conveniences? In fact by keeping silent you are actively supporting the hostile force, encouraging others to follow Peter’s example and even inviting others like him to settle here to pursue their mischief. By taking timely and decisive action now, you will discourage the hostile force and weaken its physical and psychological base in the community.

7. You have also told us that once the controversy dies down, you may permit Peter Heehs to return to the Archives. We find it surprising that after all the damage that he has caused to Sri Aurobindo’s reputation and to the Ashram community, you are ready to gift Peter Heehs all that he needs to deliver his next blow! It can be stated confidently that if ever Peter Heehs comes back to the Archives, there will be nothing short of a revolt within the community and outside interference cannot be ruled out.

8. When a serious and non-frivolous complaint is made regarding financial irregularities in the Ashram’s working, the proper attitude of the highest officials should be to make a departmental enquiry and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Your retort saying, “Give me proof” is irresponsible, and unworthy of the head of an institution. In this case, we spoke to you of the unaccounted Rs 20 lakhs from New Guest House. Instead of asking us for proof, you have only to look in your own office for the audit report of the Ashram auditors pointing out this discrepancy in their official report! By challenging us with a cynical, “Give me proof”, you are exposing your own duplicity in the matter. The proof is sitting in your own office. Its exposure to the public could be a damaging to you personally and to the Ashram institutionally.

9. We have some information regarding the case of Raghavan House. An FIR No 2/2003 dated 13.3.2003 was filed in the Pondicherry court by Mr Selvaraj against his son Murugavel, the document writer, the Registrar and the 4th accused was Manoj Das Gupta and others. Yet some time later the 4th accused became a prosecution “witness”. How did this miracle take place? It is reported that a sum of Rs 50,000/- was paid as anticipatory bail on behalf of Manoj Das Gupta by one of the devotees. Is this true? Are you aware that you were about to be arrested and that this was stopped due to the intervention of two devotees with the then Lt Governor of Pondicherry? We would like the full details of the Raghavan House episode to be revealed.

10. How much money has the Ashram officially spent on court expenses in the last ten years? How much of this was spent to defend the Trustees personally? The community deserves to know these facts.

11. You have claimed that unpublished materials from AB Purani’s diaries are not property of the Ashram Trust. This is patently false. Peter Heehs has himself admitted to having taken unpublished materials from AB Purani’s diaries without permission. When Anuben, the daughter and legal heir of AB Purani, passed away all these materials came to the Ashram Trust for safe keeping, and are kept in the Ashram cold storage as part of the Ashram’s historical records. They are therefore the Ashram’s property without any doubt. To say that it is not our material and therefore “no theft has been committed” is a blatant lie that does not stand scrutiny by any standards.

12. Do you agree with Peter Heehs’ claim that he is one of the founders of the Ashram Archives? If not, what action have you taken to make a public declaration that he is not?

13. You have said that you informed Pranab-da that Peter Heehs has apologised for writing the book and hurting devotees. Is his apology in writing? If not, it has no value against the published book. If yes, you must make his letter public.

14. You have said that you were thinking of removing Peter Heehs from the Ashram, and that it was Pranab-da who stopped you. This is unlikely. From the beginning of the controversy, before and after you met him, Pranab-da’s position on the book and on Peter Heehs has consistently been the same. His notice demanding that the Ashram sever all contacts with Peter Heehs is still on the display board of the Ashram. He has written to you several letters subsequently asking you to take action to write to Columbia University Press. How is it that you quote one highly unlikely statement that you claim he orally made to you to justify your inaction, and yet you continue to ignore all his written requests before and after, asking you to take urgent action to remove Peter and stop the book? If you truly respect Pranab-da and wish to follow his advice, there is still time left to take action and withdraw the book from Columbia University Press.

15.  Ever since this controversy began, you have been quoting from the Mother’s comment that it is better to watch impartially than to be disturbed as your excuse to not act. That particular quotation from the Mother was given to emphasise that standing back undisturbed is better than being disturbed. It is not a blanket fiat to cease to act! It is strange that you have totally ignored the explicit guidance from the Mother rejecting any attempt to bring Sri Aurobindo down to a low gossiping level. Strange that you have ignored Sri Aurobindo’s own guidance to Sahana-di that one should fight when such falsehood is spread about Them. These quotations have been given to you through many letters ever since this controversy began. You should also know that to be in a state of equality is not to be passive. Sri Aurobindo warns against this common misunderstanding. You have surely read his entire chapter on “The Action of Equality” in The Synthesis of Yoga.

16.  Since you claim that you did not act against the book, because you did not get the guidance from Mother, are we to understand that when you decided to expel Bailochan, Shrikant, Kamal Dora, the five sisters and Ambika, you got the direct guidance from the Mother to do so? Was your legal notice threatening Abala, or your action to remove her from the Dining Room work also from the direct guidance from the Mother?

17. You have repeatedly stated that throughout this controversy you have “followed your conscience”. The impression we got from our interactions with you is that you consider yourself accountable only to the Mother. Does this same principle apply to other inmates of the Ashram or is it your sole prerogative?

18. We believe that the Trustees of the Ashram are as human and vulnerable to ignorance and error as any other Ashramite or human being. In decisions that affect the entire community, they are answerable to all the inmates. They cannot take decisions in secrecy. As Trustees, your first responsibility is to serve the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and the Ashram community as a whole.

19. Regarding Raghavan House and many other dealings, it seems that SAAT is following the “practical” line of getting things done by using any means. Is this the example that Sri Aurobindo Ashram is meant to show to the world? We remind you of what Sri Aurobindo writes in the Human Cycle. The choice is between the line of Sri Aurobindo and the “practical” line adopted by you. This is what Sri Aurobindo writes:

“But in other spheres of life, in the spheres of what by an irony of our ignorance we call especially practical life,— although, if the Divine be our true object of search and realisation, our normal conduct in them and our current idea of them is the very opposite of practical,—we are less ready to recognise the universal truth. We take a long time to admit it even partially in theory, we are seldom ready at all to follow it in practice. And we find this difficulty because there especially, in all our practical life, we are content to be the slaves of an outward Necessity and think ourselves always excused when we admit as the law of our thought, will and action the yoke of immediate and temporary utilities.”

(Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, CWSA, Vol. 25, p 148)

There are many other points to be discussed, but this should suffice for the moment. We repeat that this communication to you is in a benevolent and friendly spirit keeping the best interests of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in mind. We wish to warn you that your present attitude unmindful of the dangers of outside intervention whether through the courts or through the government, is disregarding the interests of the Ashram community. Please act with humility and maturity before it is too late.


Ranganath Raghavan
Kittu Reddy
Sumita Kandpal

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