Friday, April 23, 2010

I happen to be in this group of those mildly dissatisfied with the book

An analysis of readers
by Kepler on Mon 11 May 2009 03:00 PM PDT |  Profile |  Permanent Link
Debashish: “Peter raises questions which others haven't, because he is aiming his biography at a certain readership. … Many of the problems of devotees' perception is arising from this - that they are shocked not by the answers Peter gives but the questions he raises (internalizing the persona of his intended audience). They are hardly looking with clarity at the answers, the questions are already suggesting answers to their minds and damming the book and its author.” 

I thought this was a very revealing analysis. Perhaps readers could be broadly categorized by their reaction to these “questions he [Peter] raises” as follows:

Group-1: these readers were not disturbed by the mere posing of critical questions about Sri Aurobindo, and found the answers given were on balance quite favorable to Sri Aurobindo. These readers tend to have a favorable opinion of the book. To them the author’s agenda seems to be presenting Sri Aurobindo positively to an audience that expects a certain critical approach (e.g. academic readers).

Group-2: these readers found the posing of critical questions about Sri Aurobindo to be off-putting and of questionable value, but found the answers given were on balance quite favorable to Sri Aurobindo. These readers tend to be mildly dissatisfied with the book. (I happen to be in this group – perhaps it’s the smallest :)

Group-3: these readers were highly offended by the posing of critical questions about Sri Aurobindo, regardless of how they were “answered”. The fact that the author gives answers on balance quite favorable to Sri Aurobindo does little to assuage these readers’ offense. In fact to them it seems to make the author appear devious – he says positive things in some places (perhaps to appear balanced), but also poses critical questions which encourage doubts or worse among his readers. These readers tend to take the critical questions themselves (not the answers) as indicative of the author’s opinions and agenda: spreading doubts, casting aspersions, or something similarly inappropriate.

Another large group exists of those who have not themselves read the book but have strong opinions based on the commentary of others; arguably they have been most influenced by group-3.

Group-1 might charge group-3 with poor reading skills; group-3 might characterize group-1 as cold intellectuals. But if this categorization of readers is approximately accurate, it offers some insight into how this single biography has led to such strongly divergent reactions, not between admirers and detractors of Sri Aurobindo (which might have been expected), but among people all of whom are admirers, followers, and devotees of Sri Aurobindo. Kepler 

Re: Larger Issues of "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" Controversy
by Debashish on Fri 20 Feb 2009 10:51 AM PST |  Profile |  Permanent Link
We evidently have a difference of perception about the "400-page written in a critical style." As Angiras has brought out elsewhere (The Strange Case of Dr. M and Mr. S) this biogrpahy is written following a method which is both "against the grain" and "with the grain" and of the two, much more "with the grain" than "against the grain." The allergic responses to the parts written "against the grain" (keeping in mind the interpellation of an audience brought up to the norms and coneventions of the western academy) have been hugely exaggerated and given pathological manifestation by people whose sense of balance and ulterior motives need serious consideration.

This is the sector of "devotees" who have a narrow understanding of the integral yoga. It is not that this sector was any less numerous during the time Sri Aurobindo and/or the Mother were in the body, but they were given their place and did not have the "voice" they now do in the absence of the gurus. This is what has created a dangerous situation with regard to the wider possibilties of the yoga.

Re: Savitra: Reflections of an Evolutionary Activist: The Shadow of Fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga
by Debashish on Fri 06 Mar 2009 02:32 PM PST |  Profile |  Permanent Link
S: For if we still fear to openly admit what we have allowed ourselves to do to ourselves, we continue to unconsciously collude with our own Shadow.
DB: A matter truly worthy of reflection. In the last 3 months, I have had occasion to meet quite a large cross-section of Sri Aurobndo followers in various parts of the world - the ashram and Auroville, members of various "centers," individual practitioners and scholars. In these encounters, i have tried to ascertain the atttitudes of people to the present controversy. If I were to enumerate these attitudes, this is how it would look:

1. those who see the book as a major contribution and are aghast at the actions of its author's antagonists (a very few, but increasing sector as more copies of the bok become available - in spite of childish efforts to "ban" it in India.)

2. those who find some faults with the book but read it positively overall, and are very unhappy with its author's antagonists (some more than 1 and also an increasing sector. These usually take issue against the antagonists based on the right of the author and the fundamentalism of the antagonists).

3. those who read the book positively and disagree with the antagonists, but continue to hold the latter in high regard as teachers of IY, supporting their other activities and attending their talks (a larger bunch than 1 or 2. This unfortunately, seemed to me to be that "silent majority" we oten count on. It is this sector that needs to take special heed of your last sentence - more on this later).

4. those who have not read the book and don't wish to read it or participate in any action either against it or against its author's antagonists. (also a large segment of those I met. To these, issues in the collectivity were best ignored in the interests of personal sadhana).

5. those who have not read the book but are willing to lend their active support to adversarial activities of its author's antagonists. (also a large section, larger than 1 or 2 and maybe 3, these are the majority of the ones who signed the signature petition, started ipetitions of their own, expressed violent sentiments in words or actions or heroically offered their identities for the perpetration of harassing lawsuits).

6. those who have read the book, find it "horrible," and are avid supporters of its author's antagonists. (a smaller bunch than 5).

Many words have been written on this forum about a number of these segments, but it is 3 and 4 who need specially to refect on the last words you say here. These are the ones who pride themselves on their "equality," while equating it with the refusal to take sides or with the payment of lip service to all sides. It is the spinelessness of these sectors which represents the greatest danger to the public conversion of the Integral Yoga into a fundamentalism. These sectors includes not just individuals, but publishers, centers and sponsoring organizations. It is of this same sector of which you write:
"I can imagine that there are still some people associated with IY or Auroville who wish that I hadn't dredged up all these old wounds and dead bodies. Why, they might ask, was it necessary to revisit all this ugliness which is so offensive? For such public exposure will only give us a "black eye"."
Unfortunately, it is this apathy and complicity with the Shadow which gradually and by default seems to have established itself in what we today call "the IY community." 

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