Book on Aurobindo irks devotees TOI
11 Dec 2008, 0526 hrs IST, Bosco Dominique, PUDUCHERRY:
It’s not yet on the shelves in India but a biography of revolutionary-turned-philosopher Sri Aurobindo has stirred a hornet’s nest with a section of devotees accusing the writer of sensationalising several aspects of the spiritual leader’s life.
Peter Heehs, an American who has lived in and out of “yoga centres in New York” and at the Aurobindo ashram at Puducherry, has produced an account of the enigmatic guru, which traces his growth from a protected English upbringing to militant action in the Bengal freedom struggle and his eventual transformation into a yogic figure. The controversy is over portions that dwell on his political ideals, early sexual life and personal habits, including smoking.
‘The Lives of Sri Aurobindo’ was published by the Columbia University Press in April 2008 and the book was to be released in India in November by Penguin, but has been delayed after a petition was filed in the Orissa high court and the author decided to rework certain portions for the Indian edition.
- The parts found offensive include those which suggest that the Bengal revolutionaries, under Sri Aurobindo’s leadership, gave the freedom movement a Hindu slant, and thereby exacerbated the communal divide.
- Perhaps, the most important charge against the book is that it apparently suggests that Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual and mystical experiences were due to “an inherited streak of madness”.
Devotees in Puducherry, where Aurobindo settled in 1910 after abruptly ending his political career, said
- the book also makes unacceptable remarks about Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa, referred to as the Mother, and hints that their relationship was “romantic”.
- They accuse Heehs of depicting Aurobindo’s wife Mrinalini and senior-most disciple Nolini Kanta Gupta in a poor light.
Heehs, however, told TOI that his book was not disrespectful and that people had misunderstood “an unrepresentative set of extracts”. “To understand what is said in a book, it is necessary to read the whole book with an unbiased mind,” he said. It is “the only full-length biography of Sri Aurobindo based on primary sources,” he said.
An independent scholar, who wished to remain anonymous, endorsed Heehs’ interpretation of his subject’s life, saying it establishes that most of Aurobindo’s work and experiences were in keeping with “the mystic traditions of India.” [Cf. Re: The Evolution of Discourse and The Lives of Sri Aurobindo]