17 Oct 2014

Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya’s letter regarding Peter Heehs

[Many senior sadhaks of the Ashram rang early warning bells and amply cautioned the Trustees with regard to Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz, the two American editors of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives. Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s [1] two long letters (1 & 2) addressed to the Trustees in 1986-87 have already been published on this site. We now publish a letter of Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya [2] dated July 1987, written in the same context and shortly after Jugal Kishore Mukherji’s letter of June 1987. His letter raises doubts and suspicion regarding the editing of the Archives & Research journal and the revised Edition of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri. What is most interesting is that PKB foresaw twenty-one years back the insidious attack of “The Enemy Within”. He wrote the following:

“If the [my] suspicions could be proved they would not remain suspicions, they would become facts. But clever people know how to hide their true colour for a long time. That is why time is considered to be the best judge. So, until then, one should be on one’s guard, watch the suspects, and wait for the time when the truth reveals itself. If it is found that my suspicions are baseless, I shall be, too, happy to correct myself. It gives a very unpleasant feeling to be suspicious about people and things.” [emphasis added]

Well, Time has indeed proved to be the best judge when Peter Heehs revealed his true colours in 2008 with the publication of his derogatory book on Sri Aurobindo. If only the Trustees had paid heed to PKB’s early warning, how much trouble and controversy the Ashram Trustees could have averted, apart from nipping the mischief in the very bud! – Bireshwar]

Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya’s Letter of 7 July, 1987

I have read the statement of Shri Jayantilal Parekh [3] dated 4.6.87, and I write below my frank opinion regarding matters that come to my mind. Shri Jugalkishore, in a separate paper, has given his answer to this statement. 

It gives me the impression that this statement was not written by Shri Jayantilal alone. Several other brains must have worked for it.

I know Shri Jayantilal for more than forty years. He is a cultured man with a refined taste and he is a perfect gentlemen. I have a great personal love and regard for him.

He has been seen always eager to help, on many occasions, in the Mother’s work and wherever there was a true cause. He got seriously involved in all types of Ashram work, and one of them was the publication of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s writings.  

For many years, he was trying to do microfilming of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s manuscripts and thus preserve them for posterity.

I have a strong feeling that some interested people who wanted to take full advantage of this feeling of Shri Jayantilal’s to further their own motives, helped him to open and organise what is now known as Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, charmed him completely with their service, generosity and hard work, and keeping him in front, and under his protective wings, are going on doing their own activities. As yet I do not know about their nature. But one day the truth is sure to come out.

If this suspicion is true, then the group seems to be very clever. For they have got in their hands all the writings of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, our Shastras, the nerve centre of the Ashram, and they can do anything they like with the whole organisation, having the nerve centre under their full control.

During this period of national and international intrigues, we must be extremely careful about people, especially when we put them in responsible positions. For our organisation is an open one and people with questionable motives can easily infiltrate in our organisation and carry on their own activities by exploiting us under our protective cover.

The Archives seems to have become mainly a strangers’ den. Some people of extreme goodwill with intelligence and an enquiring mind have come and told me that they had gone there to work with high hopes. But they were not allowed to work there.

In the last but one paragraph of his statement, Shri Jayantilal questions the right to speak of the suspicion one may have about members of the Ashram, Indian or foreign, and considers it unjustified if one speaks about it day after day.

Well, past experience only has made me suspicious about some strangers, Indian and foreign. We have had several of them, who were found to be of questionable motives. To me, it has now become something like an instinctive or intuitive action to be suspicious of things where suspicion seems to lie. Every devotee of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother has full right to speak if it is felt that certain things are going to harm the Ashram and the work of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

It is true that nothing can finally spoil the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and Their will is sure to be done. But it is true also that certain forces are always active to destroy or delay Their work. True devotees are always careful about it, try to foresee it, and take every precaution to prevent it. This way we can save a lot of time, trouble and resources. 

Talking freely about one’s suspicion has its advantages. If it is true, the speaking will make our people, especially our decision-makers, cautious, and put them on their guard. It will also give the suspects warnings, which may prevent them from doing mischief or make them leave the place. If the suspicion is false, it will fall apart by itself after a certain time, and the suspects can prove their innocence by sincere deeds. Those who are true need not be unnecessarily concerned with what people say about them.

If the suspicions could be proved they would not remain suspicions, they would be facts. But clever people know how to hide their true colour for a long time. That is why time is considered to be the best judge. So, until then, one should be on one’s guard, watch the suspects, and wait for the time when the truth reveals itself. If it is found that my suspicions are baseless, I shall be too happy to correct myself. It gives a very unpleasant feeling to be suspicious about people and things

Perhaps it will not be out of place if I speak out my suspicions about two more of our thriving departments. They are Auroshikha and Auroform. I hope they do not harm the Ashram in any way. I shall be very happy if I am found wrong.

Of late, two things are making me seriously concerned.

Firstly, in Sri Aurobindo Archives and Research magazine, volume 10, December 1986, issue no.2, page 169, it has been announced that a new edition of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri, called the “critical edition”, with 1795 corrections on the Centenary Edition was ready for publication. That is, the editors initialled P.H. and R.H. are going to make 1795 changes on the Centenary Edition and publish a new edition of Savitri called the “critical edition’. While explaining the necessity of changes in the part of the write-up called “The New Edition of Savitri”, the editors have established their full right to make the corrections as they felt, basing upon their “technical knowledge” and “enlightened common sense”, have given reasons and technicalities of their work, which did not convince me at all.

I feel and I am sure that with me a great number of devotees of Mother and Sri Aurobindo will feel that, right or wrong, mistake or no mistake, the last edition of Savitri, i.e., the Centenary Edition, seen and touched by The Mother, should be considered as the standard text for all time to come, and no human hand should be allowed to pollute it in the name of corrections, revisions, improvements, etc. It has got a special occult and spiritual value that no human mind will ever understand, however intellectually and scientifically great one may be. So, the “critical edition” of Savitri, with 1795 corrections must not be allowed to be published.

The second thing is about Shri Peter Heehs joining a competition and writing a book on The Freedom Struggle of India.

Quite some time back, I saw an advertisement in The Illustrated Weekly of India asking for entries for a competition of writing a book on The Freedom Struggle of India. There it was declared that three prizes would be given to the best writers with handsome money awards. An outline was also given there on which the history should be written.

Naturally, these types of histories are written to suit the policies of certain groups or parties, and real truths are often pushed into the background. Lovers of truth, especially true writers of history, generally prefer not to associate with such projects. History written on order is not a history at all.

But Shri Peter had joined the competition and had won the third prize. I congratulate Shri Peter for the success of his endeavour, but at the same time I feel that he has betrayed the true cause.

Shri Debranjan had shown me a Xerox copy of the manuscript of this book. I saw in it Sri Aurobindo’s name mentioned twice only, leaving aside all that He had done for the freedom movement in India: once Shri Peter wrote that Sri Aurobindo escaped to Chandernagore, and the second time he had put His name among several other names of the Indian leaders of those days – and nothings else.

This I consider a total betrayal.

True historians, and specially the disciples of Sri Aurobindo, know very well about Sri Aurobindo’s invaluable contribution to the freedom movement in India. He and His associates had prepared the country and had built a solid base on which the next crop of leaders could continue to work. Without this preparation the next generation of leaders could do nothing.

It may be argued that Shri Peter had his personal opinion and he had expressed the same in his book. But he is an Ashramite, eating Ashram food, staying here on Ashram expenses and enjoying all its facilities. He also poses to be a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and an authority on Sri Aurobindo’s life and work. This thing was not expected from him at all.

When Shri Debaranjan asked him why he did not write much about Sri Aurobindo, he replied that he did not write about Tilak also. When he was asked again why he did not write about Tilak, he replied that in that case he would not get the prize. We can very well then conclude that he had joined the competition and had written the History of the freedom struggle in India for money, or position, or both. This can not be tolerated. Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver, and Shri Peter has betrayed Sri Aurobindo for twenty thousand rupees.

Once Mother told me that whatever she gave anything for printing, before giving it to the press, she was revising it thoroughly and seeing that it was within the reach of the comprehension of people, who would read with sincerity and aspiration. She was also be giving with it Her force so that those who wanted to realise it could do so.

Though I have not heard Sri Aurobindo saying like this to me, I can deduce that this was Sri Aurobindo’s working also. For Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s workings in the spiritual field were the same. Each of Their word is a mantra, vibrating with life and power.

As far as our spiritual discipline is concerned, we can safely say that Mother and Sri Aurobindo have given us what we needed for our sadhana. They did not give us or publish what They considered was not necessary. So I do not see any reason to fish out from the old chest all the unpublished materials and publish them in the name of research. Why publish them at all? As those writings have come out from the hands of Mother and Sri Aurobindo and have fallen in our hands, we could preserve them carefully as Their souvenir. Truly speaking, Research, as it is understood and worked out today, has no scope in our way of life, especially research with the written materials left behind by Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Research, as it is known today, is only suitable for journalism or for getting doctorate degrees. It has nothing to do with sadhana.

This is true also about the life stories of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. What They have told us about Their life is quite sufficient. This is true from the point of view of sadhana or spiritual discipline. We have no right to probe into Their private and personal lives from every corner and publish them in the name of research. This action satisfies our curiosity and suits modern journalism but is not at all necessary for our spiritual discipline.

So the so-called research work of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives must be closed down, and the publication of the Archival journal must be stopped. The department can continue with nos. 1, 2, and the Bulletin work of point 5, mentioned in page 3 of Shri Jayantilal’s statement dated 4.6.87. If authentic material on Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s life and works come to our hands, those should be preserved carefully and not published.

Though it has nothing to do with Shri Jayanthilal’s statement or with Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, I think it will not be out of place to mention a few things here. Some so-called masters of the French language have started talking about correcting Mother’s French, saying that Her French was Anglicised. Their voice is still very weak, but it is in the air. I have heard also that some people have corrected Sri Aurobindo’s Sanskrit to give it better rhythm.

A long time back, on the 16th of February, 1934, Sri Aurobindo issued a statement, which was published in a small booklet called “L’enseignment et L’Ashram de Sri Aurobindo”.  There was also an English translation of this booklet called “The Teaching of Sri Aurobindo and Sri Aurobindo Ashram”. The opening runs like this:

“In order to remove many misunderstandings which seem to have grown up about his Asram in Pondicherry Sri Aurobindo considers it necessary to issue the following explicit statement.

“An Asram means the house or houses of a Teacher or Master of spiritual philosophy in which he receives and lodges those who come to him for the teaching and practice. An Asram is not an association or a religious body or a monastery – it is only what has been indicated above and nothing more.

“Everything in the Asram belongs to the Teacher; the sadhaks (those who practise under him) have no claim, right or voice in any matter. They remain or go according to his will. Whatever money he receives is his property and not that of a public body. It is not a trust or a fund, for there is no public institution. Such Asrams have existed in India since many centuries before Christ and still exist in large numbers. All depends on the Teacher and ends with his life-time, unless there is another Teacher who can take his place…” – It thus goes on for eleven pages.

This booklet then came out in many editions, with many gradual changes and addition of several chapters, and it now called “Sri Aurobindo and His Ashram”.
But changes or no changes the Truth remains the same. Sri Aurobindo and Mother have left their bodies and that has created a vacuum in our physical life which can never be filled. It is true that they are directing us and supporting us from behind. But often their physical absence is felt very strongly.

Sometimes we are worried thinking about the future of the Ashram, especially when we see that all sorts of people are largely infiltrating in the Ashram atmosphere. The only possibility of continuing the Ashram with its full objective seems to be to live the Truth given to us by Mother and Sri Aurobindo, individually and collectively. But are we doing it to the best of our ability?

S/d. Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya
Sri Aurobindo Ashram

[1] Jugal Kishore Mukherjee was the former head of the Higher Course section of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, which is equivalent to B.A. of regular colleges. His two letters are a must read for those who are interested in intellectually exposing the deliberate distortions of Peter Heehs’s biography on Sri Aurobindo’s life.

[2] Late Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya was the head of the Physical Education Dept of Sri Aurobindo Ashram and a close attendant of the Mother.

[3] Jayantilal Parekh was the director of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives right from its inception. Readers might be already aware that Peter Heehs falsely claimed to be the founder of the Ashram Archives in his book Lives of Sri Aurobindo, because of which a criminal case of impersonation was filed against him in Odisha.

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