Filio: In response to our exchange posted on your website I’m now sending you my answer. Once again, I frame my response in two parts. Part 1 is a preamble. Part 2 is my specific response. I hope that as our exchange gets more focused, with your cooperation, as we go ahead I will not need preambles in my subsequent messages.Part 1: PreambleIn my response to you dated 11th July I had expressed the need and importance to focus our discussion on facts. But you don’t appear to be able or too keen to stay focused on facts and I find that you are instead eager to shift the discussion to the realm of opinions. But I know that you can turn around and accuse me of having aired my opinions and say that your opinions were in response to mine. Fine, so be it for now.To avoid exchange of more personal opinions I will for the time being refrain from expressing more opinions. Instead, I propose to redirect the focus on those facts on which meaningful opinions could be based if need be, at a later stage. Because according to my observations, and I suppose that everybody would also be able to make the same observations, opinions have some, larger value if they help bring about clarity or a better understanding, which can be achieved most effectively if they are based on facts. On the other hand opinions that are based on personal preferences do not necessarily bring about clarity as their primary purpose is to express or fulfill a personal preference, which is some cases might be a preference of creating confusion and misunderstanding.
Sridharan: Your focus seems to be so much on the Preamble that you seem to be writing the Code of Blog Procedure as opposed to the Code of Civil Procedure! But let not the rules of discussion take more space than the discussion itself!
By the way, the language here is too decent for the crocodile trainer Filio (I heard he spent some time in the Crocodile Farm near Chennai). Frankly, I have nothing against training crocodiles except that it has subconsciously transmitted to Filio the bad habit of dangerously snapping the jaws at the opponent before even the conversation begins. Also the awesome references to below the belt are conspicuously missing here. He would not even have the patience to read this long preamble, leave alone writing it. The above text seems to be written by no other than our good old Mama Shakuni, Matriprasad. So be it. What does it matter if Matriprasad disguises himself as Filio or the reverse?
Filio: I am not undertaking this exercise and discussion to promote a personal preference, such as get somebody I don’t like thrown out of the Ashram or to put in place a trustee that I favour. My primary interest is to bring about clarity and a better understanding, if at all such a thing is possible(!) against forces that intentionally wish to create confusion, division and misunderstanding.
Sridharan: Let us cut out the preamble which seems to keep saying that your opinion is above personal preference while mine is not – this itself is a personal preference!
Filio: Part 2: Specific response.In my earlier message I had presented two specific facts. Once again to keep things simple, let me for now reproduce and focus on only one of those facts:Fact no. 1: In the Ashram or among the devotees and “beneficiaries”, there is not an unanimous, educated, informed, objective view, consensus, opinion or belief that Peter’s book (The Lives of Sri Aurobindo) denigrates or attacks Sri Aurobindo. What we have are a diverse range of views on Peter’s book.Is this, according to you, a fact or not?A short, simple answer will do for which you may also take the time that is needed by you.Looking forward to your specific answer.
Sridharan: This is like asking as to whether there is a “unanimous, educated, informed, objective view, consensus, opinion or belief” as to whether Ravana is guilty of kidnapping Sita after listening to the Ramayana. The specific answer is not hard to guess, though you might find even now some supporters of Ravana. I will explain my point.
There is certainly a broad consensus on the negativity of the book. Otherwise the Orissa Govt. would not have proscribed it through a gazette notification in April 2009. The Orissa Govt at the behest of the Central Govt conducted a police enquiry all over the state of Orissa and received thousands of letters from devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Letters were also written by various associations (legal, academic, medical, etc) to the Govt. All the Sri Aurobindo centres of Orissa co-ordinated in this exercise and collected lakhs of signatures condemning the book, after which the Orissa Govt decided to ban the book.
Of course, there will be always, always people who will differ from the majority view. I cannot expect Peter Heehs’s close friends to censure the book; they will naturally hold his flag high more out of racial sympathy and in consideration of the renewal of their visas in India than from a profound appreciation of its contents. I also cannot expect reprobation from people who are not at all familiar with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Yoga even though they might be experts in their own profession such as David Annoussamy, whose review the Ashram Trust keeps on quoting as if it is a judgment in the Court rather than a personal opinion of a Judge on a non-judicial matter. So also I cannot expect the noisy little fan club of Peter Heehs among the Ashram ex-students to find fault with his book. From this point of view, there will never be a unanimous view on anything in this world. What finally count are the opinions of those who are affected, concerned, those who have a stake in it, and those who are in responsible positions. The Trust is one such body which is responsible for the public image of Sri Aurobindo, and if it does not take a clear public position on the excuse that opinions are divided, it is acting in a highly irresponsible manner.
I come now to your next set of qualifiers “educated, informed, objective view”, which are like a second line of defence to my expected answer. You obviously imply that the masses in Orissa were swayed by irrational feeling, that they were unthinking uneducated uninformed masses, which, by the way, is certainly not what the Oriyas would like to hear about themselves. But I find this statement not only full of conceit but also irrational. How can it be rational to find so many people irrational? Secondly, some very well-educated scholars with presentable credentials (Dr. Alok Pandey, Dr. Ananda Reddy, Dr. Sachidananda Mohanty, Dr. J.B.P. More, Dr. R.Y. Deshpande, Ranganath Raghavan, to name only a few) have censured the book from the point of view of scholarship and documentation – the documentation is highly mischievous and unreliable; authentic documents are often omitted and totally unreliable documents are highlighted by Peter Heehs in order to convey a negative impression of Sri Aurobindo to the readers. Incidentally, this is exactly what Jeffrey Kripal (Peter’s guru) did and what Swami Tyagananda remarked about the former’s book Kali’s Child in which Ramakrishna Paramhansa was portrayed as a homosexual. Swami Tyagananda’s rebuttal of the book is entitled “Kali’s Child Revisited or Didn’t Anyone Check the Documentation?” meaning thereby that the book was based on flimsy documentation – sometimes there are even wrong translations of the original Bengali documents.
Finally, what about the Sri Aurobindo Society’s statement on the book to its centres all over India and the world? The Working Committee of the Society, which is certainly not composed of gullible fools, went through the book carefully and strongly disapproved of the book. I quote the statement below:
“After having read the book ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’, by Peter Heehs, the Executive Committee of Sri Aurobindo Society has come to the conclusion that the book, at many places, presents facts and information based on unreliable sources and contains misrepresentations and distortions of the life, work and yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The book also puts down other biographies written by scholars and devotees, which are certainly not hagiographies and have inspired a large number of devotees, seekers and scholars. All these biographies are available with SABDA, the official sellers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s books and other related books. ‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ has not been allowed by Sri Aurobindo Ashram to be sold at SABDA.
Sri Aurobindo Society strongly disapproves of the book.”
(All India magazine, May 2012)
Finally, I will now ask you one specific question which you will have to answer specifically, without which it will be difficult to carry forward this meaningful discussion. Does Manoj Das Gupta, Managing Trustee of the Ashram, approve or disapprove of the book? I know that he does not approve at all of those who disapprove of the book, like so many of us. But what about himself, does he approve or disapprove of the book? If he disapproves of it, then why does he not say so openly and publicly? What compulsion prevents him from making such a statement? Fear of publicity or some mysterious reason which he cannot divulge to others? If he approves of the book, then why does he not sell the book in the Ashram bookshops? But first give me a straight answer to my “original” question: Does MDG approve or disapprove of the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs? Please be specific. Yes or No will do, followed by a little explanation if you have any explanation at all!
(Read also the comments by Filio on "Scheme Suit Update" by Sridharan.)
(Read also the comments by Filio on "Scheme Suit Update" by Sridharan.)