Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Peter Heehs ridicules Indian customs as did his predecessor, William Archer

Re: The Lives of Sri AurobindoA Letter from a Professor
by RY Deshpande on Tue 23 Sep 2008 04:30 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link

I, on my first visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in early nineties, was impressed by a rule on the notice board which read, if you do not have anything good to say about a fellow Ashramite, the least you could do is to keep silent. That would be a service to the divine...

I felt shocked to see the excerpts from a book by an Ashramite, by implication a follower of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo... In navadhā bhakti, hatred for the divine is also a means for salvation. But the hatred of Peter Heehs for The Mother and Sri Aurobindo, Aurobindo in his language, has no such thought in it. PH seems to be a split personality who is a devotee and an enemy at the same time. He could be many more things. The carry home message from his recent book is as follows:

1. He questions the mystical experiences of Sri Aurobindo. “Perhaps they are only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown? Even if not, do they have any value to anyone except the subject?” He has quoted a few persons at several places to show that Sri Aurobindo had a tinge of lunacy. Even his spiritual vision of Krishna in jail, was rubbished by his associates in Uttarpara speech. What does PH want to communicate?

2. Sri Aurobindo, “was a coward and liar … by his own account.” How deviously PH misquotes Sri Aurobindo. The statement was obviously the mannerism of a self-effacing personality. PH further writes to prove his intent, “Aurobindo failed to pass his medical examination the first time on account of ‘something found wrong with his urinary organs’. … Aurobindo told a series of lies. … He was rejected because he did not pass the riding examination.” He questions the truthfulness of Sri Aurobindo in a letter that he wrote to a disciple. I quote PH, “Years later Aurobindo observed in a letter that his advise was in effect, “the order that led to the breaking of the congress.” This gives too much importance to a single factor in a complex chain of events. .. Even without Aurobindo’s “order”, Tilak’s stance and the attack against him would have led to a free-for-all.”

PH suggests in his book that Sri Aurobindo had not much impact on India’s freedom struggle. This is in contravention to the address of Sri Aurobindo on the Independence of India. Has he not read India Wins freedom By Maulana Azad who writes that he was inspired by leaders like Sri Aurobindo, and the famous statement of CR Das in the court? Subhas Chandra Bose too admitted that he drew inspiration from Sri Aurobindo. Tagore wrote an inspired poem on him. Many other revolutionaries in later days were influenced by him. He insinuates that Sri Aurobindo was for Hindu communalism, and that he did not do enough for Hindu Muslim unity. He says, “Still, partition and the bloodletting that accompanied it were the movement’s principal failings, and Aurobindo and his colleagues have to take their share of the blame.” I really wonder! At a place PH clubs Sri Aurobindo with Extremist.

3. Sri Aurobindo married for “The usual desire for gratification…” PH implies that Sri Aurobindo’s knowledge of ordinary maithuna ananda was experiential. Sri Aurobindo has somewhere, I do not exactly remember where, has said that he lived as a brahmachari in his wedlock. PH creates distorted scenes on the basis of his own imagination quoting Nolini Kant, AB Purani and Romain Rolland. He suggests that Sri Aurobindo was willing to marry Mirra, had she wanted that. He holds that Sri Aurobindo’s interest in Mirra was responsible for the break-up of her marriage with Paul Richard. I have mentioned above the difference between the visions of a hagiographer and a pornographer. Paul Richard’s statement to Romain could hardly be accepted as sufficient proof to justify PH’s conclusions.

  • Was Paul more truthful than the Mother and Sri Aurobindo?
  • Granted his suggestion, what evidence has he produced regarding PR’s truthfulness?
  • Are subjective and emotional statements of piddlings sufficient proof for an objective researcher?

What the men of eminence and character and the personal attendants of the Masters say, holds no water for PH. That is not objective. Gullible will be misguided by PH’s book. They may believe him to be truly objective. That is my fear.

Regarding academic vs nonacademic approach, research etc, I must say that even hard and experimental sciences are gripped with the problem of bias and confounding influences. Theories keep changing with newer paradigms. Research Methods in Psychology and Consciousness are on worse footing. Therefore till the time their Research Methodology is refined and defined and freed of individual bias, we must not attempt to demolish faith and phenomenon which surpass human comprehension, lest we destroy a great movement in our pettiness and ignorance.

At another place PH calls The Mother in a very ordinary sense a “partner” of Sri Aurobindo. PH comments on the Viziers of Bassora, “In the imaginary world of his dramas, his protagonist was never without a partner.” It is not difficult to understand his insinuation. Let us remember that Sri Aurobindo was the first to call Mirra, The Mother. She fended Him as Her own Child. Sri Aurobindo described in his letters, that sometimes his meditation was to become a baby in the lap of The Mother. PH is a good case study for a psychoanalyst.

I am reminded of a psychopath. When he was shown a square and asked what did it remind him of? He said, “sex.” He said the same for a circle, a triangle, a hexagon and the picture of a goat. When the doctor was perplexed by his single word answer, he asked the patient if the latter was a maniac. The patient was annoyed. He barked back, “What else you expect me to say when you show me such lewd images?”

4. PH ridicules Sri Aurobindo throughout. Sri Aurobindo was an ugly man (PH found that in his photographs), lusting after girls in youth (comments on Song to Myrtilla), was looking for a life partner (Sri Aurobindo was psychoanalysed on the basis of his translation of Vasavadatta) a less than mediocre poet (PH quotes one Ranjee Shahani in TLS) and a sort of philosopher whom members of philosophical profession “would loath to admit him to their club.” His description of The Defence of Indian Culture by Sri Aurobindo as “a polemic from start to finish” is hurting.

5. He calls pranams and darshans as “theatrical” and compares the commonplace godmen of India with Them in his objectivity. He ridicules Indian customs as did his predecessor, William Archer.

Anand Kumar MD, All India Institute of Medical Sciences 11:59 AM

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