15 Dec 2014

Quo Vadis? by Sampdas – Response to Ritwik Banerjee

Apropos “An Earnest Appeal” by Shri Ritwik Banerjee, let it be noted that there are disciples and devotees of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother – both within the Pondicherry outfit and outside – who are very much perturbed by the manner in which the Masters are denigrated by a handful of influential persons, possibly encouraged and egged on to such vicious efforts by those who are close to the Trustees of the Ashram. On the other hand, the silent majority are perhaps hapless witnesses to it – counting their day to day rations – since they have no other go if they are thrown out of the Ashram. The junta that rules now has the leverage to muzzle dissent into submission by denying food and medical facilities to those who owe allegiance to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and who dare to protest against atrocities not only against human beings but against the Divine as well. The protestors on the other hand appear to have been carrying on their crusade as a sacred duty to ensure that the Masters are not denigrated in the very Ashram which bears the name of the Pioneers of the New Age.

There are many like me who share the concern for the need to cure this festering wound in time so that it does not become a gangrene threatening the very fundamentals of the spiritual endeavour of sincere disciples and devotees. I have been following the write-ups on this site (which I would more appropriately call the well-wishers (children) of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo); I have also been perusing the contents and postings on another site titled  Well-Wishers of Sri Aurobindo Ashram (which appears to be in truth the well-wishers of the present Ashram Trust). After a careful study it appeared that as children of The Mother, one should be on the side of the Masters rather than justify the deeds or misdeeds of the ruling autocratic junta. I have therefore contributed my thoughts to this site.

Shri Ritwik Banerjee need not be concerned about the number of responses to the effort of calling a spade a spade through this site, but can safely note that there are not a few but a sufficiently large number of those who owe allegiance to The Mother and Sri Aurobindo and who share his concern for upholding the names and teachings of the Masters.

A series of queries have been raised by Shri Ritwik Banerjee. Answers to some of them, according to my perception, are given below:

Queries 1 &2
1) Are The Golden Chain Fraternity & its work maintained by Ashram in any manner?
2) What are its goal & agenda?

Regarding the Golden Chain Fraternity and its link with the Ashram: their own website makes it out to be of alumni of Sri Aurobindo international Centre of Education (SAICE) and the connection with the Ashram Trust is too apparent to be missed out. It is strange that almost as a confessional they have the following under “OUR SAICE”:

“Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) is a unique educational institution. An integral part of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, it was blessed to have, in its formative stages, the Mother's active presence and guidance. Over the years SAICE has continued to serve as a field of experiment and research in education. Currently the Centre of Education provides education from Kindergarten to college levels of study.
      For us, SAICE is our Alma Mater. All of us have fond memories of the growing-up years we spent there. We appreciate the immense privilege of having studied in that very special place.”

Rightly they have mentioned that the “SAICE WAS BLESSED TO HAVE IN ITS FORMATIVE STAGES THE MOTHER’S ACTIVE PRESENCE AND GUIDANCE”, and that “OVER THE YEARS it has become a FIELD OF EXPERIMENT AND RESEARCH IN EDUCATION”. What is to be inferred is that since the formative years are over, the active presence and guidance of THE MOTHER is a matter of the past. The defence of the Ashram Trust at present by the alumni of SAICE is perhaps a thin fig leaf covering the nexus of dispensers of benefits and the recipients of favours.

Queries 3 and 4
3) Do you agree with a biography of the Master published in 2008 by the Columbia University Press? Was it warranted?
4) Don't you think its author has spent four decades in the Ashram with you in some way betraying the Ashram?

Regarding the book published by Columbia University Press in 2008, the reference is to Peter Heehs’s work. While Peter is dismissive of the biographical write-ups of erstwhile senior sadhaks of the Ashram as “hagiography”, his own work can qualify as a classic example of cynical calumny and trash. Staying at Pondicherry for over 40 years in the Ashram atmosphere has not added anything at all to his own spiritual progress or to his understanding of the real message of Sri Aurobindo. Without intending to call Peter names, I can only recall what Napoleon seems to have remarked about the Bourbon kings, who ran away, came back and again ran away in abdication on Napoleon’s return: “the Bourbon asses have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.” In the instant case, the self styled historian presents his own story, demonstrating that he has not learnt anything of the inner purport of the Teachings of the Masters, nor forgotten the old tradition of the Occident deriding everything of the Orient!

To the query  whether Peter has betrayed the Ashram, the answer should be that he has betrayed himself as one with a hidden agenda to belittle a great son of Mother India, and also exhibited the penchant for earning “a few dollars more” by a scurrilous writing which would stand neither  the test of time nor of objectivity or truth. If betrayal is the issue, those who stand by Peter – in the Ashram and outside – appear to be the real betrayers!

Queries 5 and 6
5) Have you seen a book An Atrocious Biography by RY Deshpande in this connection?
6) Have you seen a review of this book on the Internet by Aron Aronite who is a medical practitioner by profession and a spiritualist by tradition?

These concern the recent book published by Shri R.Y. Deshpande bringing out the nature of Peter Heehs’s work as an atrocious biography. While I have not perused the book of Shri R.Y. Deshpande, the masterly review of the same by Shri Aron Aronite published on this site, brings to focus the monumental mischief of Peter Heehs claiming to unravel the human side of Sri Aurobindo. I thought that only rolling stones do not gather moss, but there seem to be exceptions for even after a solid stay of 40 odd years in the Ashram, nothing of substance of the work of Sri Aurobindo has been gathered or understood by this pseudo historian.

But then, what can you expect of a person with no academic erudition or qualification or even an intimate personal interface with Sri Aurobindo to write on him! Peter Heehs appears to be concerned about marketing his book by sensationalism based on half-truths, lies, and a jaundiced outlook.

Query 7
7) Do you agree with this review and do you want to put that up in your journals, newsletters or websites?

The book of Shri R.Y. Deshpande certainly deserves wide readership, as it would disabuse the prejudiced version presented in the ‘Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ by Peter Heehs. I would go a step further to suggest that copies of Deshpande’s work should be read by the Ashram Trustees and their supporters; copies should also be in the Ashram Library and be available for sale at VAK, SABDA and other outlets. Without intending to hurt, may I also recommend the book to Shri Manoj Das, the in-house litterateur of the Ashram, and which might help him to recall all the reservations he himself had initially about Peter’s work, before he changed his stance for securing whatever benefits he aspired for in mundane matters (possibly the package of travel and medical treatment?) from the powers that be who run the Ashram Trust.

Queries 8 and 9
8) Do you know that one Manoj Das in the Ashram has donated Rs. 14 lakhs to the Odisha Chief Minister's Relief Fund?
9) Don't you think the 14 lakhs belong to the Mother because Mr. Das is a long-time inmate of the Ashram provided with food, shelter, clothing and other expenses by the Mother?

These have reference to the Seashore Chit Fund Group paying  hefty amounts to Shri Manoj Das (MD in short) for his services and goodwill and his donation of the amounts to the Odisha Chief Minister’s Relief Fund after a delay of more than a year. In the typical Biblical fashion, he has used the expression “O Lord I know not what they do or did”, stating that he did not know what a chit fund was all about. Should the wide world and his admirers now say: “O Lord, Shri Manoj Das did not know what he did!”

Regarding such business dealings for earning private riches, legitimate questions need to be raised as to whether the Ashram junta was privy to MD’s private fishing expeditions for monetary resources; if so, whether it is permitted. I had earlier in a write-up raised the issue on this very site (“Strange are the Ways of the Divine” posted on November 2, 2014). Excerpts from this posting would still seem relevant (as may be seen below):

“Shri MD’s literary genius flowered to heights under the benign grace of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. But then has the wealth and honorarium collected by him  for his literary work  over the years (even by frequently missing out on his duties at the Centre of Education where he was a teacher) have all been  accounted for and made over to the Ashram or laid at the Feet of the Mother? Something hurts us somewhere, but the concerned should be made aware of it.

“Though the information that Shri MD has reportedly donated the bounties he received (in the past) from the chit fund organisation to flood victims in Orissa (now) is very touching, it appears that he has donated from his private purse. It is not clear whether the privately earned sums were reported to the Ashram authorities or handed over to them on accrual – as it would be expected of a sadhak. There is a sneaking suspicion that some of the older inmates of the Ashram, maintaining their private interests in money and property, are exempt from surrendering everything “one has, or one is, and one gets”. At the same time, the very same elder statesmen have been alleged to draw on the bounty of the Ashram resources for meeting their personal needs of frequent travel, medicare and other expenses. It would be a travesty of financial propriety if their incomes are classified as personal to them when requirements of monies for their travel on personal missions, hotel stay, hospital charges and hospitality in activities not connected with Ashram are clubbed with the resource outgo for meeting court cases of the Ashram, and charged to the common pool of the Ashram’s resource, which is built up from the offerings of devotees the world over. Let it be understood that “what is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable” does not gel in financial matters related to a public charitable trust. Can such conduct bordering on financial impropriety be acceptable by independent and professional auditors? But then the easy way out is not to report such income under the general sweep that “the Ashram runs with the minimum of rules”! No auditor can clarify such matters, unless the incomes are reported in the first instance. (Auditors always mention that their audit report is based on the records and documents made available for the purpose). To quote Shri MD again to himself, “Can he also swear by the Mother that he had at least asked the Ashram authorities or sought a clarification from them as to whether they had something to say on this matter?”

The  fact  is that when governmental authorities started looking into the dealings of the Seashore Chit Fund company, Shri MD has belatedly opened his private purse (received  from the chit fund company in question) for a magnanimous contribution to the Orissa Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to help the victims of the coastal cyclone. This, to say the least, is a scurry for cover. In reality, the monies earned by the genius of Shri MD should have in the first instance been remitted to the Ashram corpus; should a relief contribution was to be made to Orissa flood victims, it should have been attended to by the Ashram Trust or given through the Sri Aurobindo Society branch outfit in Orissa, just in the manner in which Sri Ramakrishna Mission provides relief to the needy in such times.

The acceptance of monies privately and donating the same subsequently in the wake of emerging heat in the matter, does not add to the probity or stature of the person concerned. It reminds one of the saying that after killing a sacred cow, if one subsequently makes leather shoes from the skin of the dead cow for distribution to the needy, it does not wash.

Queries 10, 11, and 12
10) Do you know that the Ashram always goes to High Courts/Supreme Court in appeal against any case when the judgment is not in its favour in the lower courts of law?   
11) Do you think that all light of truth and judgment lies in the hands of judges and courts and not in the minds and hearts of disciples of the Master?
12) Do you think that the devotees & disciples of the Master offer their money & properties to the Mother for the Ashram Trust to indulge in litigation and unethical ways under the cover of sadhana, especially when there is said to be a "dire need" of money for the basic necessities of Ashramites?

These pertain to litigation by the Ashram Trust incurring huge costs. It is generally believed that monies received from devotees as offerings may not be fully used for the work of The Mother.

In the matter of court cases, the Ashram Trustees spend money of the devotees to defend themselves on being challenged for the stoppage of food and medical facilities to the inmates who have dared to raise their voices against their mismanagement. If I recollect, around 30 years back, when a corporate entity’s Managing Director and Chairman were trying to stave off  challenges to their posts from the  shareholders in court litigation,  the Supreme Court of India came down heavily on them as the corporate’s  resources were being squandered to safeguard their personal positions. The Court further ordered that the litigational expenses should be borne by the Chairman and Managing Director from their personal funds and not from the company’s resources. Perhaps if such a ruling comes into force at the Ashram as well, the Ashram Trust would not be able to spend fortunes in defending their alleged works of omission and commission.

It is also an irony that the Ashram Trust does not defend the name or ideals of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo against slanderers, but goes on the overdrive to safeguard their own positions of power and patronage by stone-walling any effort to probe their actions. The recent past is witness to the fact that on complaints of inmates of the Ashram, the local government of Pondicherry initiated a move for an enquiry into the affairs of the Ashram. (The charges levelled were serious in nature, including inter alia financial irregularities, alienation of properties, harassment to inmates and sexual harassment of women sadhikas. As the Ashram Trust’s functioning is   opaque and not transparent, it is likely that the Trust felt there was too much to be covered up, as otherwise it may not come out unscathed. This looks plausible since Trust has thought it to be prudent to rush to the judicial fora to get a stay on the proposed enquiry by the Government. When the Hon’ble Court also felt that there was need for an enquiry, the Trust through its legal team agreed hesitantly and unwillingly for such an enquiry. That the enquiry has not proceeded far due to the demise of the retired Judge, who was to probe the matter, is another matter. If there is nothing to hide or stonewall, why should the Trust make an issue of it and spend the resources gathered from the offerings of devotees in various court cases? A local social activist had sometimes back enumerated the various cases of the Ashram Trust, and the number was very very large. He has not updated it, possibly because it was difficult to keep track of the growing number of court cases. The bottom- line herein is that, if Ashramites have to go to various courts for restoration of food or medical facilities or of teaching assignments (withdrawn from them out of personal vendetta), it reflects poorly on the functioning of the Trust. It is time that saner sense, consistent with the humility emphasised by The Mother, prevails on the junta. One wonders whether this was also foreseen by the Mother, as she had asked the sadhaks to be vigilant and fight the hostiles. It is the sincere sadhaks who are now carrying on the fight against the wrong doings by the hostiles within the Ashram setup.

Further, a simple case in point is regarding improper use of offerings. The offerings from devotees are eligible for claiming tax concessions by the donors since the Ashram is recognized as a research institution by the Government.  What is the nature of research? People like Peter Heehs are supported with access to the Archives and scholars like Deshpande are prohibited, thereby facilitating the production of denigrating versions of Sri Aurobindo’s life and the tampering of his writings, including changes to titles of Sri Aurobindo’s works as well as their content – all in the name of research!  Is it for such type of manufactured outputs masquerading as research that the Ashram should be proud of, and claim the status of a research organisation from Governmental agencies?

Also, judging by some of the write-ups on this site, it appears that there is no monetary constraint for the supporters of the junta and their animal pets. But for the regular inmates, there are severe monetary constraints!

Honestly, in an Ashram founded by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, should such things happen at all? Whither are we heading? QUO VADIS?

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