Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sri Aurobindo should be more known, more respected and more appreciated

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Sri Aurobindo: Man or Messiah?
May 1st, 2009 by Carter Phipps · No Comments · Culture, Evolutionaries, Evolutionary Spirituality, Hinduism, News, Spirituality
Readers of this blog may have heard of the great Indian sage
Sri Aurobindo. We have often acknowledged him in the pages of EnlightenNext magazine as one of the pioneers of evolutionary spirituality. Recently, we reviewed a fascinating new book by long-time Aurobindian scholar Peter Heehs called The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, published last year by Cambridge Press. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone who might be interested in finding out more about this incredible Indian sage.

Ellen Daly (who wrote the review) and I visited Heehs in Woodstock, NY, last year and really enjoyed speaking to him (you can hear a recording of our conversation here). He is without doubt a serious student of Aurobindo’s work and the book reflects that. But the book is no hagiography. Heehs tried to bring a historian’s objective eye to Aurobindo’s extraordinary life. That’s part of what makes the book so accessible and interesting. He doesn’t present Aurobindo as an untouchable flawless saint or Avatar. Indeed, he steered clear of the hagiographic, messianic mythology that has built up around the memory of Aurobindo and his long time collaborator, the Mother, over the last decades. Heehs presents him as a spiritually gifted genius and pioneering teacher and writer, but all in the context of Aurobindo being a human being who was shaped by the remarkable circumstances of his life.

Doesn’t exactly sound like the raw material for a scandal, does it? But that’s what is unfolding right now in the world of Aurobindo—which includes the Ashram in India, Auroville, and many supporters and students worldwide. A few individuals have started a campaign against the book calling it malicious and claiming that it maligns the legacy of this great Indian figure. Not only that, they have even convinced the Indian legal system to temporarily stay publication of the book. And they have tried to kick Peter Heehs out of the ashram in India where he has lived for many years.

Basically, it sounds like a mess, and it’s causing a split in those who are passionate about Aurobindo’s legacy and work. The good news is that Heehs’s supporters are fighting back and have stated a website called Integral Yoga Fundamentalism, in which they document the controversy and provide updates. This is an excerpt from the site:

At this writing, the movement against Heehs and his book is still in full swing. Frustrated by their failure to bring about Heehs’s expulsion, the leaders of the movement continue their work through court cases, incendiary blogs, mass emailings, gossip, and other attempts to influence the mass mind in the Ashram and outside. So far their efforts have been remarkably successful.

In the offices of EnlightenNext, we have long speculated that one of the reasons why Aurobindo’s work is not more celebrated in the West is in part due to the tendency of so many supporters to view his work and life in such mythical and messianic terms. Of course, spiritual movements that are pushing into new territory, as his was, do tend to have a little revolutionary flavor to them. And they tend to have a highly developed sense of their own relevance and importance. I think that just comes with the territory.

But students of Aurobindo and the Mother have a tendency to take this kind of inflation to extreme heights. What a shame. He truly was one of the great figures of the 20th century. He was a pioneer. He was a genius. He did have a big impact on the evolution of spirituality. Isn’t that enough?

Aurobindo should be more known, more respected and more appreciated for the tremendous influence he has had on so many of the leaders of today’s spiritual movements, human potential movements, and integral movements. Heehs book helps that recognition along. Indeed, I can only wonder why more students of Aurobindo and the Mother aren’t thanking Heehs for doing such a masterful job making this underappreciated spiritual icon — whose incredible life hardly needs extra embellishment — accessible to a broader audience. Carter Phipps, Executive Editor Profile See all posts, Andrew Cohen, Editor in Chief Profile

1 comment:

  1. from to "Tusar N. Mohapatra" date 3 May 2009 22:48 subject Reply to Carter Phipps
    Dear Tusar,

    I have tried unsuccessfully to post the following to Carter Phipps' May 2nd article, "Sri Aurobindo should be more known, more respected and more appreciated"
    Would you please post my reply to Savitri Era Open Forum.

    Carter Phipps’ warm embrace of Peter Heehs’ book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo comes as no great surprise given the intention of EnlightenNext magazine and its founder Andrew Cohen to brand THEMSELVES as the leading authority on “Evolutionary Spirituality”. It is so much easier for them to patronize Sri Aurobindo and the Mother after they have been de-contectualized and humanized under the guise of Peter Heehs’ objective scholarship. As Phipps writes, the offices of EnlightenNext believe that the reason Sri Aurobindo’s work is not more celebrated is because his followers ‘view his work in such mythic and messianic terms’ regarding him as a flawless saint or Avatar. According to Phipps, students of Aurobindo and the Mother have a tendency to take this kind of hagiographic inflation to extreme heights. Loath as I am to admit it, he has a valid point but not in the sense he believes.

    In every cult, including Andrew Cohen’s, there is a tendency toward ‘projection’ - seeing the guru in an over-idealized light. Anything that disturbs that ideal, seeks to qualify or attempts to humanize it is met with the most vitriolic response because that projection has become inextricably linked with one’s ego. Any attempt to disturb or destroy it is perceived by the devotee as a mortal threat. There can be absolutely no doubt that this is the dynamic behind much of the raging opposition to Peter Heehs’ book.

    In the months following the release of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Heehs has been branded a traitor, an enemy, a scoundrel and much worse. And while every attempt has been made by the faithful to distance and dissociate themselves from his literary heresy, it cannot be overlooked that he arose from and is a product of the Ashram and the Auroville culture where he has lived for many years. Indeed, he is not an ‘outsider’ but simply a more visible example of the pervasive lack of realization that has turned Sri Aurobindo’s work and mission into the distorted caricature of itself that is now being exploited by Cohen and his ‘evolutionary enlightenment’ minions for their own purposes. But, for those who see, it is the caricature that is flawed, not the reality itself.

    What his critics despise about Heehs is precisely what they refuse to see in themselves. What is common to both is their failure to acknowledge who Sri Aurobindo was and the evolutionary context of his appearance on the earth at this particular time and no other. It is not that they have over-idealized Sri Aurobindo in mythic or messianic terms, they simply do not understand what the Avatar is. For his part Heehs is surprisingly candid in his disinterest in Sri Aurobindo’s “Avatarhood”, an omission which he excuses as a distracting hagiographic idealization in which he had no real interest.

    '...What about the assertion that Aurobindo was an avatar? I can’t say that the question interests me very much. Aurobindo never claimed the distinction for himself, and I don’t think anyone alive is in a position to say one way or the other...' (Peter Heehs, from the Columbia website)

    For persons of knowledge, the arrogance of this statement is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately it reflects a long standing attitude of many of the so-called wise-men who claim to ‘adore Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’. It is as if the Vedic tradition of the Avatar is meaningless, even though it is sanctified by the Gita in Sri Krishna's own words, and Sri Aurobindo's and the Mother’s as well. Moreover, Heehs’ contention that no one alive today is in a position to say one way or another belies an embarrassing lack of research on his part or a calculated decision to ignore the volumes of objective proofs that have been published by “THEA” Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet and accepted and catalogued by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives; an organization which lists Heehs as one of its founding member. Given the voluminous and non-speculative proofs of Sri Aurobindo’s Avataric credentials on file in the Ashram Archives and Heehs ready access to this material, why would he make such a disingenuous statement? The answer to this question will take us deep into the core of Aurobindonian orthodoxy and the stultifying dogma that has reduced this most important spiritual work of the age to what Phipps now describes as an arrogant, fundamentalist and elitist cult. Thea confirms this conspiracy of ignorance writing : “we can gauge the full extent of the darkness when we observe that the disciples and devotees of the real Avatar of Vishnu’s line deny him his birthright! Consequently, we must view this confusion as having a specific ‘design’, or ‘agenda’.” Let us now explore that ‘agenda’.

    As Phipps claims, many of Sri Aurobindo’s followers do view his work in mythic and messianic terms. They are quick to claim him as an Avatar and some of his most highly respected proponents like R.Y. Deshpande pay great lip service to the Avataric ideal as published in his response to Heehs:

    “…The Gita reveals that the purpose of the divine Incarnation or coming as an Avatar is to do the divine work, diyam karma. This is not only to destroy evil and establish the righteous Law, but is actually to take the progressive evolutionary march to the next higher stage. Sri Aurobindo came to do that, to bring the Supermind in the terrestrial play and make the divine manifestation here upon earth a possibility. We have to see from whatever has been revealed to us if this is present in his life and in his work. Representation of that work should be the genuine concern for any study of his, including biographical. If this is missed the that study is a waste of effort and one need not really attach any importance to it.” R.Y. Deshpande, “The Avataric Work: Towards the Intermediate Race”

    But the problem with this kind of disingenuous statement is that Deshpande, like so many others, has made no effort at all to understand what the Avatar is. And why??? Because if he did, it would mean an immediate recognition of the continuation of Sri Aurobindo’s line and the end of the dogmatic tyranny over his work and mission by people like himself. If he has followed his own advice and sought out ‘whatever of this has been revealed in Sri Aurobindo’s life and work’ let him explain why he has not studied Thea’s proofs of Sri Aurobindo’s Avatarhood. And if he has, let him state in unequivocal terms what disagreements he has, if any, with the details of her proofs. Let him produce any works he has written on the “Line of Ten Avatars” and their cosmological origins in the Veda. Let him explain the progressive lineage from Sri Rama to Sri Krishna to Sri Aurobindo and the Kalkiavatar. Moreover, let him explain how the births of these divine incarnations are written into the sacred geometry of the Mother’s Inner Chamber. Perhaps he will be willing to tell us the precise duty of the Evolutionary Avatar who comes to restore the Sanatana Dharma and how the verses to Vishnu Trivikrama in the Rig Veda set forth the periodic timing of their appearances on the earth. If he cannot, let him follow Sri Aurobindo’s command “Sometimes...a force appears to which we can no longer apply the description of genius without being hopelessly inadequate in our terminology. Then those who have eyes to see, bow down and confess the Avatar.” Only then will this epochal work be seen for what it truly is and the naïve and arrogant pretentions of people like Carter Phipps, Andrew Cohen and Peter Heehs will be laid to rest.

    Robert E. Wilkinson