25 Oct 2015

The Bhishmacharya Complex – by A Concerned Ashramite

The situation of the old guard of the Ashram is the same as that of Bhishmacharya, who was unable to use his mighty bow in the service of dharma and was forced to fight on the side of adharma with an anguished conscience. This inability and helplessness to stand for the truth, this forced loyalty towards the powers that be, and the apparently virtuous stand which actually facilitates falsehood is what I call the Bhishmacharya complex!
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The Bhishmacharya Complex

The Bhishmacharya complex is the allegiance of the old guard to the institution they serve at the expense of dharma. Bhishma in the Mahabharata stood by Dhritarashtra, knowing full well that the king had chosen the path of adharma and injustice out of putramoha – the delusion caused by the attachment to his wicked son Duryodhan. Had the grandfather of the Kurus withdrawn his allegiance to the king and refused to fight with the Kauravas, the War would have been averted and the lives of thousands of warriors and soldiers would have been saved. But Bhishma was bound by his word of honour to protect the kingdom of Hastinapur and at the same time not to occupy the throne himself despite being the crown prince.  The circumstances in which he made this tremendous vow and sacrifice were very different from what later transpired, and in our times we would call him foolish not to have broken his oath at the time of the great war of the Mahabharata. There was no need to be so rigid about his oath because it only helped the wicked Duryodhan and selfish Dhritarashtra to prolong the rule of falsehood and injustice.

A similar situation obtains in Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the present crisis of Peter Heehs. Instead of the mighty Bhishmacharya, Dronacharya and Kripacharya, we have the current old guard of the Ashram. Of course, the validity of the comparison is only with respect to their loyalty to the throne of Hastinapur or the Ashram Trust, as the case may be. So it should not be misconstrued in any way that I am comparing the warrior grandsires of the Mahabharata to the elders of the Ashram, who are naturally of a far lesser stature than the former. But the fact remains that the old guard of the Ashram has its own merits and qualities and can easily be distinguished from the recent influx of self-seeking devotees, who are mostly looking for the prospects of a comfortable life in the Ashram. They grew up in the golden period of the Ashram, from the 1940s to the 1960s, in the outgoing period of the Mother’s life when she played tennis every day and attended to the physical education of the children of the Ashram School for her own divine reasons. The Ashram was not flush with funds as it is today, and the inmates (including the children) did not enjoy the comparative life of luxury they can afford to live now. But they all received something of that divine touch, which percolated deep into their being and is now paying rich spiritual dividends in their last years. All said and done, a respectable generation which has stood together in service of the Mother through the thick and thin of Ashram life, despite their human limitations! It is precisely because they enjoy such credibility and trust among the younger inmates of the Ashram that I find fault with them for not raising their voices, or rather, of not finding their voices at all in the present crisis!

What is ironical about this total lack of dissent is that literally all of them privately grumble about the administration of the Ashram Trust, discreetly voice their intense dissatisfaction and harshly criticise it among themselves, but when push comes to shove, there is no hesitation whatsoever, not even a squeak of protest, but only the bleating of obedient lambs. They all stand together in full support of the present Trustees, as if the Mother were still physically around, approving of every decision they take – their political maneuverings, their whims and fancies, their partiality and vindictiveness, and above all the senseless expenditure on court cases against those members of the Ashram and other disciples who have dared to voice their opinions publicly. Let me explain the genesis of this misplaced allegiance.

The main reason why the old guard stands together as one indivisible block is their unquestioning allegiance to the Ashram as an institution founded by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and hence inseparably linked to them. Excellent attitude, no doubt, when the Gurus were physically present and directly dealt with the spiritual and material problems of Ashram life! But what happens when lesser mortals occupy their place in the outer management of the Ashram and pretend to fill the spiritual vacuum left after their passing away? For a few decades, the habit of unthinking obedience seems to have worked (with hiccups) as long as the administration was run by the first generation of disciples who came to the Ashram in the 1920s and 1930s or even earlier, as opposed to the current old guard which came later, in the 1940s and 1950s. The hallowed names of the first generation that come spontaneously to our minds are Nolini, Amrita, Pavitra, Dyuman, Satyakarma, and a number of other self-effacing disciples of that period who worked silently and efficaciously, setting a living example of Yoga in daily life. They helped to establish the inner Ashram and build its outer structure brick by brick, wall by wall, building by building for more than three quarters of a century. For them, the outer Ashram was the symbolic representation of their Gurus and was therefore too important to be sacrificed at the altar of their own egos! Very much unlike the present old guard! What a marked difference between the two generations, the first that built the Ashram and the second that now claims its ownership!

But is it legitimate for the more recent inmates of the Ashram to have greater expectations from the present old guard of the Ashram, which has had the immense good fortune of being so closely associated with the Mother herself? Do they have at all the right to question the spiritual or moral capacity of the latter, when they themselves can hardly pass muster in front of others? Moreover, they have not been assigned the onerous responsibility of running the Ashram, so their first reaction to the administrative rot should be to simply shut up and mind their own business. Finally, the foremost reason that justifies a submissive attitude to the decisions of the present Ashram Trust is that “United we stand, divided we fall.” For at no cost should the Ashram break into pieces, as it belongs to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and nobody else! 

But what if the original purpose of the Ashram is forgotten for the sake of one Duryodhan in the form of Peter Heehs? What if the present day Dhritarashtra (in the form of Manoj Das Gupta) is bent upon sacrificing the spiritual character of the Ashram to protect and please his foster son? And what if Dhritarashtra insists on following the crooked ways of a modern day Shakuni (in the form of Matriprasad Satyamurthy), who will certainly lead the Ashram Trust down the path of self-destruction? And while the Ashram is falling apart, will its respectable elders continue to observe a painful and helpless silence because they don’t want to cause internal divisions? It is here that I draw the comparison between the Mahabharata and the present crisis in the Ashram. The situation of the old guard is the same as that of Bhishmacharya, who was unable to use his mighty bow in the service of dharma and was forced to fight on the side of adharma with an anguished conscience. This inability and helplessness to stand for the truth, this forced loyalty towards the powers that be, and the apparently virtuous stand which actually facilitates falsehood is what I call the Bhishmacharya complex!

I hope the old guard wakes up to the current realities of Ashram life before it is too late. They should realise that the times have unalterably changed, and that things have deteriorated to such an extent that they can no longer be ignored with the pretext of being loyal to the Mother. The naive assumption that Mother works through whoever is in power and whatever be his limitations, will only further ensure a quick downfall; for it is not the Mother who has failed her disciples, but they who have failed her! In the present circumstances, the Ashram Trustees can never hope to fill the spiritual and administrative vacuum left by the passing away of the Gurus. Nor can they pretend that the outer administration of the Ashram has no connection with its spiritual aim, because the outer life of the Ashram is inextricably linked to its inner life. To say that each inmate is left free to do his own Yoga (so that he does not poke his nose into Ashram affairs) is simply a ruse of the Trustees to avoid embarrassing questions.

The truth of the matter is that the Ashram as a whole is undergoing a rapid process of normalisation, by which I mean a sinking back to the normal level of consciousness. The divine moment when Sri Aurobindo and the Mother lifted their disciples to unthinkable skies of spirituality has definitely passed. Even the memory of it is fading away and we are once again left free to fend for ourselves “with the strength or the weakness”[1] of our own egoism and face the harsh realities of life. But the prime question now is not how to retain what we have collectively gained from that divine moment, but how to prevent a further fall into the abyss we are plummeting. Bereft of morality (because we profess to be above morality), rejecting religion (because we cannot follow the spiritual discipline), cleverly misinterpreting the integral Yoga without any qualms of conscience (on the basis that each one has a right to live his own way without any reference to the collective ideal), how are we to prevent this free fall into a moral morass, even as we become the laughing stock of the society around us?

The need of the hour is to first find a fail-safe mechanism by which to arrest this free fall and bring about the necessary collective clarity, so that we at least know our place in the wider framework of the world around us. Then perhaps with the consultation of all those who feel concerned about the spiritual work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the Ashram can hopefully stabilise around a lesser ideal and its inmates live with dignity and self-respect than deceitfully hide behind the professed ideal and make a thousand compromises with life! In this crucial change, on which will depend the future of the Ashram, I have no doubt that the old guard would have an important role to play, provided it does not show a shameful allegiance to the arrogant anachronism the Ashram Trust has now become. 

[1] The Hour of God, Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Volume 12, p 146


  1. This article needs wider publicity.Well written.Lovely sense of humour.

  2. Comment by a disciple:

    A snatch from the early history of the Integral Yoga for the Bhishmas, Dronas, and Kripas (administrators, teachers & captains) of Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The following conversation of 21 August 1926 recorded by Anilbaran Roy is with regard to Motilal Roy’s Sangha at Chandernagore inspired by Sri Aurobindo, even before the founding of the Ashram at Pondicherry:

    Sri Aurobindo: I had some constructions in mind; I gave them to Motilal to be worked out by him. Even then I had nothing definite, I knew that my construction might not succeed, yet my idea was to see the possibilities. But Motilal put forth his vital elements into the plan and the vital forces at once proceeded to frustrate it, as they always have done in the past. They also caught hold of Motilal. At first I tried to withdraw Motilal from it but did not succeed. Now, I have put the whole thing outside my atmosphere and do not think about it. It will be known as Aurobindo Ghose’s first garbhasrava. The only course now left is that those who are worth ought to come out of it. I wanted it to consist of Yogins; it might be a Sangha [or Ashram], but a Sangha of Yogins.