Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sri Aurobindo’s “double meaning” theory of the Rig Veda is not without its serious problems




from drraghu@cs.com to tusarnmohapatra@gmail.com date 4 August 2010 13:53 subject Re: Pl. post
Dear Mr. Mohapatra,
This is my reply to Sandeep Joshi's "Deception By Peter Heehs (Page 266)". Pl. post. Thank you!
Dr. Raghu



Alleged Deception On (Page) 266 Or The New Number of The Beast In “Auro-Religion”???
A Response to Sandeep Joshi a.k.a "Auroman" from Dr. Raghu
Sandeep Joshi a.k.a “Auroman”: “In many places in the book, Peter Heehs, having mentioned something positive, proceeds to concoct a negative sideSome of these negatives are phony because they have been inferred by craftily using Sri Aurobindo's words against him. By that I mean he takes Sri Aurobindo’s quotes out-of-context to potentially mislead uninformed readers. There is a certain procedure which has to be followed in order to uncover such deceptions. When you find a negative remark, you should look up the citation and read the original source. Then you must search for alternative sources, at which pointyou will realize that the negative remark is not really negative at all.
What exactly is Joshi’s criticism here? What does he mean by his key term “negative side” or “negatives”? It can only mean a qualification, or another statement made by Aurobindo which is inconsistent with the statement in question, or a criticism, or an alternative view Peter has added to his exposition of Aurobindo’s views. By using words such as “concoct” and “phony”, Joshi suggests that such qualifications, criticisms, or alternative views added or adduced by Peter have no justification or support.
Is Joshi’s claim plausible? Let us consider the example he gives. He points out that Peter quotes Aurobindo’s reservations on the Secret of the Veda:
The “Secret of the Veda” is not complete and there are besides many imperfections and some errors in it which I would have preferred to amend before the book or any translation was published. “ (ibid., p. 265)
Now what is Joshi’s objection to Peter’s quotation of these words of Aurobindo himself?
Here is Joshi’s acute critical mind at work: (my emphases)
It is misleading to write in this manner without explaining the magnitude of the errors. If we read the context in which the remarks were made (text follows), we see thatSri Aurobindo is actually thinking of perfecting his work while acknowledging the imperfections in it. He does not imply that there are basic errors in his interpretation, since he does grant permission to Purani for translating it into Gujarati. Look up also reference # 9 on p 448 of the Lives (Letter of 1920, published in Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, The Secret of the Veda, 602-603) which further proves that he wanted to perfect it and not go back on his interpretation.”
But where has Peter stated or suggested that Aurobindo said or implied that “there are basic errors in his interpretation”??? If you read Aurobindo’s words quoted above, you will see that it is Aurobindo who has failed to explain the nature of the “imperfections” and “errors”, not to mention failing to explain the “magnitude of the errors” he was writing about!!!
And why does he grant permission to Purani in 1920 for translating his work on theSecret of the Veda into Gujarati? Here are Aurobindo’s own words: “Perhaps, however, it does not matter so much in a Gujerati translation which will not come under close criticism such as would meet a book on the subject in English. It would be better, however, whenever there is question of a translation of a book—as opposed to an article or chapter here and there—to let me know first so that I may see whether there is any modification needed or indispensable change.”  (CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, pp 296-297)
So, the reason, plainly given by Aurobindo himself, for indicating that he might allow a “Gujerati” translation to be published is that it “will not come under close criticism such as would meet a book on the subject in English.” and not, contrary to Joshi’s imagination, for the reason that there were no basic errors in his interpretation!!! This may not be very flattering to Gujarati Vedic scholars of his time, but there it is!
Heehs never claims that Aurobindo thought that there were “basic errors in his interpretation of the Veda”. As Heehs puts it: ““He remained convinced, however, that he had recovered the inner sense of the Vedas in his own spiritual experience.”  Although he may have had reservations on his explanations or interpretations of specific verses in the Rig Veda, I don’t think there is any question that Aurobindo thought that his theory of the “double meaning”, an outer ritualistic and an inner spiritual meaning, of the Rig Veda verses wasnot mistaken. Heehs never suggested that Aurobindo had questioned his basic theory or framework of interpretation of the Rig Veda!
Joshi unleashes “sound and fury signifying nothing” against another claim of Heehs. This is Heehs’ claim that  “He remained convinced, however, that he had recovered the inner sense of the Vedas in his own spiritual experience. For him, the seers of the Vedas were yogis who walked a path he rediscovered and traveled three thousand years ago. A literary critic might observe that in making this claim, he was – to borrow a phrase from Jorge Luis Borges – creating his precursors.”
Joshi hastens to pronounce that “Peter is dismantling Sri Aurobindo’s claim by using a quote from Jose Luis Borges.”
But there are two claims here: a) that Aurobindo was convinced that he had recovered the inner meaning of the Vedas in his own spiritual experience, and b) that Aurobindo thought that he had rediscovered and walked a path trodden by the Vedic Rishis.
Note that Peter has started his sentence with “ A literary critic might observe that…”.In other words, Peter is articulating the point of view a literary critic could take on claim (b). In essence, Peter is stating that a literary critic could use Borges’ insight and view Aurobindo’s claim (b) in terms of a conscious construction of the view that the Vedic seers were his precursors.  All that this is tantamount to is that there is an alternative view according to which Aurobindo has constructed a continuity between the Rig Veda and his own yoga.
Does this mean that Aurobindo himself has "concocted" this continuity? It is clear that the issue of whether the Vedic seer or the Rig Veda can be viewed as a precursor of Aurobindo’s integral yoga depends on the plausibility of Aurobindo’s interpretation of the Rig Veda. There are alternative interpretations of the Rig Veda and Aurobindo’s “double meaning” theory of the Rig Veda is not without its serious problems. It would have been helpful if Peter had explained, in this context,  the rationale Aurobindo had for his version of Vedic symbolism, e.g., the cow as a symbol of “divine illumination”.
So, there is nothing “concocted” or “phony” about Peter’s reference simply to the point of view of a literary critic on Aurobindo’s appropriation of the Rig Veda with a view to establishing the continuity of his yoga with it.
Joshi also takes exception to Peter’s use of Aurobindo comment in 1933 on the interpretation of the symbolism of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “We have no longer a clue to their symbolism.” Joshi correctly points out that Peter, on his own, extends the scope of this comment by Aurobindo on the symbolism of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to include the symbolism Rig Veda.
What did Aurobindo mean when he said that we do not possess a clue or key to understanding the symbolism of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad? Which symbols or symbolism was he talking about? Again, the clarification, if it can be found, must come from Aurobindo’s writings.
Given that Aurobindo subscribed to the view that there were continuities in the symbolism of the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, why should Peter not include the symbolism of the Rig Veda within the range or scope of Aurobindo’s comment on the symbolism of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad?
Joshi quotes from the Record of Yoga and gives Aurobndo’s entries from 1913 and 1914 momentarily forgetting Aurobidno’s own admission of “imperfections and errors” in his account of the Rig Veda in a letter to Purani in Feb 1920! Joshi fails to comprehend the elementary truth that if an author admits that there were “imperfections and errors” in an earlier work, then that admission or acknowledgement supersedes at least some claims of correctness in that earlier work!
However, Joshi wastes time, effort, and words attacking a straw man: Peter Heehs has claimed or suggested that Aurobindo doubted his own basic theory or interpretation of the Vedas. Heehs never claims that! What is at issue is simply the admission of some unidentified (by Aurobindo) imperfections and errors in his earlier account of the Vedas.
Joshi’s fallacy is the fallacy of false alternatives: either Aurobindo must have thought that all his explanations of the Rig Veda verses were correct or he must have thought that his basic interpretation of the Rig Veda was incorrect. Well, Aurobindo is clearly on record acknowledging “imperfections and errors” in his exegesis of the Rig Veda.  So, he clearly subscribed to thealternative view that there were some errors in his explanations of the Rig Veda. And the reason we are at a loss as to the nature of these errors and imperfections is solely Aurobindo’s failure to clarify the nature of these errors and imperfections.
Joshi makes a fuss about Peter’s claim, in the context of his invocation of Borges’ comment, that “Aurobindo would not have seen it that way, but he accepted that every reader of a text recreates its meaning in terms of his own experience.” Joshi avers that “Peter makes it seem here as if Sri Aurobindo was supportive of Borges’ theories. Not true.” Peter does nothing of that kind. All he was doing is to present the point of view of a literary critic who accepts Borges’ insight.
Peter, however, does waffle on the question of whether Aurobindo would have agreed with the point of view of a literary critic who sees, in light of Borges’ comment, Aurobindo’s construction of a continuity between his work and the Rig veda or the work of the Vedic seers. On the one hand, Peter says that “Aurobindo would not have seen it that way”, and then, on the other hand, goes on to say that Aurobindo accepted that “every reader of a text recreates its meaning in terms of his own experience”. Well, if he did, then he would accept, by way of an implication of this statement, that his exegesis of the Veda, or the Gita for that matter, was a recreation of its meaning in terms of his own experience. And this means that  he is bound to accept the point of view of the literary critic influenced by Borges’ comment.
Joshi might have an apoplexy over this, but I see nothing controversial or implausible in the claim that Aurobindo would accept that he was interpreting the Veda and the Gita in light of his own experiences, realizations, and spiritual development.
Let me close this exposure of Joshi’s “sound and fury signifying nothing” with a few remarks on Aurobindo’s view of the Veda. He clearly stated that the Divine Reality or Truth  “…cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda, or Koran, or in a single religion.”(Birth Centenary Vol. 26, p.483). This shows that he did not think that the Veda possessed or provided a complete account of Truth or Divine Reality. And this, in its turn, logically implies that no account of the Veda, including Aurobindo’s own account, can claim completeness in relation to the Truth or Divine Reality. Aurobindo certainly understood this.
Aurobindo also wrote that “It is not only I who have done what the Vedic Rishis did not attempt to do. Chaitanya and others developed an intensity of Bhakti which isabsent in the Veda and many other instances can be given. Why should the past be the limit of spiritual experience?”. (On Himself, p. 134) This clearly shows that he did not think the Veda had the last word on spiritual experience or development.
He also wrote, referring to himself in the third person, that “The idea of the Supermind, the Truth-Consciousness is there in the Rig Veda according to Sri Aurobindo’s interpretationin the Rig Veda the idea is there but in principle only, it is not developed and even the principle of it has disappeared from the Hindu tradition.” (On Himself, p. 126)
This remark shows that he did see a continuity between his project of supramental yoga and the Rig Veda “principle” of the Supermind. Aurobindo’s yoga, on his account, is a development of the “principle” of the Supermind indicated, according to his interpretation, in the Rig Veda. This is also evident from his inclusion of his translations of Vedic verses at the start of every chapter of his magnum opus The Life Divine.


http://www.thelivesofsriaurobindo.com/2010/08/deception-by-peter-heehs-page-266-by.html

2 comments:

  1. "This remark shows that he did see a continuity between his project of supramental yoga and the Rig Veda “principle” of the Supermind. Aurobindo’s yoga, on his account, is a development of the “principle” of the Supermind indicated, according to his interpretation, in the Rig Veda. This is also evident from his inclusion of his translations of Vedic verses at the start of every chapter of his magnum opus The Life Divine."

    I would like to modify the last sentence in this passage. While the timbre and spirit of the quotations he places at the start of every chapter in The Life Divine is assuredly "Vedic", they are not always from the corpus designated as "the Vedas". In several chapters, he uses quotations from the major upanishads. In many chapters, he uses quotations from the Vedas.

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  2. [T.R. Raghunath, a professor in Nevada, gave an interesting talk at the SACP conference explaining Aurobindo Ghose‘s theory of the development of consciousness.]
    http://loveofallwisdom.com/2010/06/wilber-and-aurobindo-on-intelligent-design/

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