Heehs Biography Controversy (SCIY)
Sachidananda Mohanty is a Professor of English at the University of Hyderabad, India.
Like the main character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Sachidananda Mohanty seems to have a split personality. There is the academic – let us call him Dr. M – who praised the work of Peter Heehs and warned of the danger of “collective bigotry” in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. And there is the writer of a letter to the Trustees – we may call him Mr. S – who has condemned The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and joined the movement calling for Heehs’s expulsion. The contrast between the two makes an interesting study. more »
Lynda Lester made a great presentation at AUM 2007 on fundamentalist tendencies in Integral Yoga. We are happy to post it here:
Today I’d like to focus on the difference between yoga, religion, and fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga community. And because in a discussion like this we’re all coming from different cultures and orientations, my yoga might be your religion and someone else’s fundamentalism. So I thought I’d start out with some definitions…. more »
Until recently, I had not actually read Peter’s book. So, despite the polarizing atmosphere and escalating polemics surrounding its publication, I refrained from taking a position or passing judgment. For how could I come to conclusions about something that I myself had not personally experienced?
As a published author myself, my own natural writing style tends more toward the creative rather than the academic or scholarly. So to be honest, I was not sure if I could wade through more than 400 pages of biographical details drawn from decades of archival research. After all, I was, I believed, sufficiently familiar with the essential outline and major events of Sri Aurobindo’s life. And as a dedicated practitioner of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga as well as a serious student of his own writings since the mid-1960s, having read all of his major works before coming to Pondicherry to meet the Mother, I wondered how I could possibly benefit from pouring through the micro-facts and minutia of such a figure whose Life was so much greater than the sum of its parts. I also had reservations about whether such an academic approach would turn out to be a boring compilation or disconnected series of meticulously-researched historical details which would simply drone on, failing both to hold my attention or hold together as a whole…. more »
In an act of desperation the petitioner as well as those Ashramites who are conspiring against Peter Heehs are attempting to file criminal charges in this matter. Note that these charges are being filed under the following sections: Section 501 is “printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory” – Section 500 covers punishment for defamation; Section 275 (a) does not seem to exist though 275 covers sale of adulterated drugs.
The truth however, will not be denied. Not only will this case be dismissed but the truth regards the hypocrisy and malice of those persons who have seen fit to conspire in secret to take these actions will be unveiled for all to see.
The truth of this matter will be revealed in a forthcoming text that will be announced on SCIY. The voices of the ashramite leaders of the ex-communication movement will speak for themselves. What will become obvious is their disregarded for the spirit of the yoga as well as the rules and regulations of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram itself in persecuting a fellow sadhak. more »
Controversy surrounding the representation of a “nationalized” Indian mystic comes late to Sri Aurobindo. Pre-dating the latter in personal chronology as in nationalism and the modern articulation of a global Vedantic spirituality, Vivekananda precedes also in the matter of contemporary debates on representation. In the present 2005 piece by Makarand Paranjape, some of the recent histories of representation and the all too familiar stakes are rehearsed and can be instructive to our consideration of the present controversy raging around “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.” Who gets to authorize the representation? What are the relative uses of hagiographny and biography? Are not both of these varieties of fiction? What purposes do they serve? Where does cultural tradition come in? What is the place of hermeneutics in all this? Paranjape’s reflections and call for a balanced realism is much needed for us to heed and reflect on in these times of myth-making and madness. more »
The rampant rise of religious nationalism and sectarian violence all over the world may have an intimate relation with contemporary neo-liberal globalization. Mark Juergensmeyer, director of global and international studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, presents his sociology of 21st century national and transnational religious sectarianism in a post-Enlightenment global context. more »
Because of this movement I have decided to post all the portions of the text that have been decontextualized or omitted and reprint them with corrections to demonstrate how the text from the book actually reads in its entire context. The portions of the text that have been lifted to suit the purposes of those with an agenda against the author of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo are in black, the missing portions of the text that are needed to give the entire context of the narrative are in red. As everyone will see there is a lot of red in the text.: more »
Therefore, it is ironic to watch those who claim to represent Sri Aurobindo ideals ignore the democratic character of his words and replace them with a militant interpretation of Hindu nationalism. This is evident in its failure to critically assess text that are viewed as hostile to their aspiration to seize the cultural interpretations of powerful institutions. In fact, words themselves are ignored by those claiming speaking rights for Sri Aurobindo. One leader (S) of the movement to censor the The Lives of Sri Aurobindo essentially declared that there is no need to read the book, that one can in fact can judge a book by its cover, or at least a paragraph. He says:
“Some people are insisting on the idea that unless you read the full book you cannot understand the context of a single line in it. That is ridiculous. One can easily see the context from within any complete unit of thought structure — at the very least a paragraph and at the most a section or chapter” (2008)*
When such irrationality is loosed coupled with the xenophobic nationalism of the aggrieved victim there can only be trouble ahead.
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law. Originally from Sudan, An-Na’im is a disciple of nationalist leader and Islamic reformer and Sufi, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was executed in 1985 by the regime of President Gaafar Nimeiry. Taha’s pronouncement of his first political incarceration by the British is reminiscent of Sri Aurobindo’s: “When I settled in prison I began to realize that I was brought there by my Lord and thence I started my Khalwah with Him.”
An-Na’im’s specialties include human rights in Islam and cross-cultural issues in human rights. He is the director of the Religion and Human Rights Program at Emory. He also participates in Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. An-Naim was formerly the Executive Director of the African bureau of Human Rights Watch. He argues for a synergy and interdependence between human rights, religion, critical thought and secularism, instead of a dichotomy and incompatibility between them. more »
“Consider the case of a woman with many friends, and these friends are very fond of her for her special capacities, her pleasant company, and because they feel they can always learn something from her. Then all of a sudden, through a quirk of circumstances, she finds herself socially ostracized…. In the world at large it seems quite normal, but when this happens here it always gives me a bit of a shock, in the sense that I say to myself, ‘So they’re still at that level! …’ This is a primary stage. As long as you haven’t gone beyond this condition, you are unfit for yoga. Because truly, no one in such a rudimentary state is ready for yoga.” more »
When Sri Aurobindo left his body the evolution of consciousness did not suddenly cease. Namely, there have been several significant mutations of discourse regimes, in response to the advent of the practice of Critical Theory. It is my view that one can view this succession of discourse in the same light as one would the development of a future poetry; it is a representation of the evolution of language.
While it would be understandable for a traditional religion to discard the advent and development of styles of discourse which follow on the death of its founder, in a spiritual practice whose organizing idea is of the evolution of consciousness, to discard the ideas, movements, cultural logic, etc that are part and parcel of this development, would be its undoing.
Peter Heehs book is a critical biography written in a contemporary academic style, that is -as all contemporary academic styles – informed by Critical Theory. It is not surprising therefore, that it treats its subject in a manner appropriate for this type of discourse. The fact that those in a yoga whose unique major metaphysical premise is of the evolution of consciousness would criticize its language and method of inquiry because it follows a discursive style that is indicative of how consciousness has evolved over the past 58 years is nothing short of ironic. It is almost as if these reactionary followers of Integral Yoga in looking back to the past to co-opt modes of expression that have now become fossilized discursive practices, as consciousness has evolved into a new millennium, have begun looking backward to the past instead of forward to the future to complete the project of integral yoga. Such a backward looking view of the yoga can be understood to have flipped the goals of the Integral Yoga in substituting devolution for evolution….. more »
Were Truth to manifest in such a way as to be seen and understood by all, they would be terrified by the enormity of their ignorance and false interpretation… more »
Alaska governor Sarah Palin who pressured librarians to ban books she objected to in Wasilla Ak
The recently appointed chief justice of the Orissa High Court, Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan who will decide if Sri Aurobindo’s biography should be banned in India.
Doris Lessing, 2007 Nobel awardee for Literature, gave a set of lectures in 1986, which were published under the name “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.” In this book, the author draws upon the lessons of history to show how easily the primitive instincts of human beings can and have been aroused and how manipulable we have shown ourselves to be under the pressure of rhetoric particularly by political, religious, ideological and commercial interests. But the lessons of the past seem to leave little trace on our subjective progress. Are we helplessly doomed to ever repeat the patterns of the unconscious group mind or can we emerge as a race to a level of freedom and choice? A good part of Sri Aurobindo’s work also deals with these questions – and answers them from a much deeper place of realization. But what must we do to embody this? It is hoped that this short introduction by Diane Christine will whet our appetites to read the book and ponder its problems in our own lives. more »
Juergensmeyer’s article on Religious Nationalism and Transnationalism in a Globalizing World, carried earlier in sciy, throws a clear interpretive light on our contemporary world situation, a context within which the present imbroglio in Pondicherry wrt. “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” may be framed (with whatever customized caveats). But perhaps the earliest intuitive ray on this dialectic fueling the present discourse was the publication in 1995 of Benjamin Barber’s now classic study “Jihad vs. McWorld.” The book itself was in fact preceded by a March 1992 article of the same name in The Atlantic by the author (which later became the Introduction chapter in the book). This article is worthy of our consideration (or reconsideration if already read) in the present circumstances. more »
One allegation is that Peter and an associate had taken and sold documents from the Sri Aurobindo Archives that concern the Record of Yoga. The way the story is told is that these documents were suppose to have been purchased by Jeffrey Kripal, the Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies/Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University and author of Kali’s Child, who with the support and financial backing of Michael Murphy founder of the Esalen Institute were going to publish some type of Freudian account of the Record of Yoga. This conspiracy theory goes on to allege that the Lives of Sri Aurobindo was a just prelude to the distortions of Sri Aurobindo and The Record of Yoga yet to come.
Oddly enough even though the people making these allegations have never been privy to conversations between any of these parties (aka Peter Heehs, Michael Murphy, Jeffrey Kripal) that has not discouraged them from making these charges, that in short are based on wild speculation. To set the record straight on this issue and the value of the work Peter Heehs has done in his critical biography of Sri Aurobindo and that Richard Hartz has accomplished in his painstaking work making The Record of Yoga available to us all, I would like to publish an open letter to SCIY from Michael Murphy
Dear Rich Carlson-
Rumors that I asked Jeff Kripal to write a “Freudian” study of Sri Aurobindo are completely false, and Kripal has no intentions to do so. But I am indeed deeply fascinated (and indebted) to Sri Aurobindo, who remains the chief inspiration for my life work. I discovered his writings in 1950, at Stanford University, as a 19-year old undergraduate and would not have started the Esalen Institute without his inspiration.
Lately, I have been newly inspired by Peter Heehs’s magnifcent Aurobindo biography and by the historic scholarship conducted by Heehs and Richard Hartz at the Aurobindo Ashram Archives. Their work on Aurobindo’s extraordinary Record of Yoga will one day help revolutionize psychology and transformative practice, and Heehs’s book is bringing new awareness of Sri Aurobindo to countless people worldwide. I hope that the book’s detractors will eventually come to appreciate the good it is doing for the very cause they celebrate.
Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz are expanding the frontiers of Aurobindo scholarship with the courage and dedication that Aurobindo embodied and recommended to us all.