Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No freedom of speech for erudites like Prof Deshpande

Show Cause Notice to Prof. R.Y. Deshpande MAR 20, 2012 Posted by General Editor at 3/20/2012 02:08:00 PM
Prof. R.Y. Deshpande has been at the forefront of the intellectual rebuttal of Peter Heehs’s mischievous book on Sri Aurobindo. His site Mirror of Tomorrow thoroughly exposed the misrepresentations in the book and drew a number of intelligent netizens from various parts of the world into the often lengthy discussion that followed some of his postings. The site has certainly carved for itself a spiritual/cultural/scientific niche which fulfils the need of a mature readership.
Prof. Deshpande was formerly the editor of Mother India (a monthly English magazine of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram) from 1996 to 2004. He resigned from the Mother India because his freedom of expression was curtailed by Manoj Das Gupta, the same person who now so sanguinely defends Peter Heehs’ freedom of expression to denigrate Sri Aurobindo from within the Ashram. The same Managing Trustee has recently issued a show cause notice to Prof Deshpande for daring to criticise the Trustees in a public forum.
Is there not something obviously wrong about the Managing Trustee’s stand and does it not show double standards? Freedom of speech for Westerners (especially Americans with the conscience of taxi drivers like Peter Heehs) is allowed – I suppose they have to be treated like newborn babies who have to be pampered even if they bawl and spoil the floor of the house. But no freedom of speech for erudites like Prof Deshpande – they have to be suppressed, knocked down, relieved of their work and perhaps even expelled from the Ashram. In October 2010, Prof Deshpande was removed from the Ashram School where he taught physics from the last thirty years. A long list of qualifications adorns his C.V. file:
He worked in the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (1955-57); at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai (1957-80); at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California USA (1964-65); headed several Atomic Energy and Space Projects in Advance Technology, apart from being the Examiner for a number of PhD theses in the field of Solid State Physics.
He left all these to serve the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where he became a prolific writer and poet. He is well-known for his scholarship on Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri and was one of the members of the team which finalised the 1993 edition though he strongly disagreed with the editorial decisions taken by both Amal Kiran and Richard Hartz. At present he runs the site http://www.savitrithelightofthesupreme.org where he plans to present the various editions of Savitri along with articles, books and other related material useful in order to understand the epic poem. We reproduce below the show cause notice of the Trust dated 2 March, 2012 to Prof Deshpande and the correspondence that followed between them. [11:40 AM 
RY Deshpande quits SCIY blog over Heehs Re: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo—One way out by RY Deshpande on Wed 24 Sep 2008 07:56 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
One way out is, I quit sciy without a moment’s delay. I’ve no regrets about it if all my editor-colleagues wish it so. But before I do that please allow me to express my appreciation for the great opportunity the blog and the blog managers had given me to express myself freely all along. May I await an answer in a next couple of days? Thanks again and au revoir. ~ RYD
Reply Re: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo—One way out by Rich on Wed 24 Sep 2008 11:17 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Well its up to you to choose what you would like to do. My intention here is not to silence any point of view. Rather it was to stop fanning the flames of hatred which were beginning to catch fire, in the effigy of the author. Throwing such invectives around as calling him "Mr Objective" or claiming that: Because he leads a double life: one, as a sadhak of integral yoga to gain access to materials in the Archives, and the other as an ambitious worldly man to earn fame and money. is simply out of place in this forum. In fact dont the integral yoga call for equanimity? If so it should be possible to review the book one time cite the reasons you disagree with it have a discussion and then move on. The hankering after it for almost a month with each post becoming progressively more insulting to the author is hardly a way to conduct a reasonable discussion of its pluses and minuses...
Your reading of this book was obviously different from mine. But reasonable men can disagree. If anything the book increased my appreciation for Sri Aurobindo as I found it not a fawning biography of an Avatar, but an extraordinary human being who overcame the myriad of challenges thrown at him to become one History's great figures; someone who has managed to illumine a passage for humanity to follow to enable it to avoid its disappearance into technology or to be devoured by the machinery of Prakriti. Rich
Reply Re: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo—One way out by Debashish on Wed 24 Sep 2008 01:50 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
I have no wish to advise on quitting etc. but I do feel that the postings on this topic have been incendiary, lopsided and misleading. I cannot agree that the author of the book in question comes away as a "rationalist" passing judgment on spiritual matters, nor that his work is one designed to flout the validity of Sri Aurobindo's spiritual experiences or achievements. Once the intent of the work is lost sight of, misreadings are bound to occur and this is what I believe has happened in this case. However, the tenor of the postings has left little room for discussion, since the assumptions made have been pressed without any openness to the possibility of other interpretations. The book "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" by Peter Heehs is clearly intended for a particular readership with a particular mindset. The publicity machinery around the work published by a major American University Press is directed towards the mainstream western academic readership. This readership is being presently exposed to a variety of "rationalistic" and "psychoanalytic" approaches to the works of major Indian spiritual personages. Sri Aurobindo has not featured as yet in a major way in the attention of these scholars, but there is no doubt that he will be soon be targeted and is already being referred to in a variety of misleading ways.
A biography which acknowledges the relativism of reason and provides a framework for inner experience within that relativism is very necessary if spirituality is to establish a footing as an object of serious consideration by the general modern mind and can show a way to a higher knowledge to those who grapple with the problems of the reason. A "rational" mind which is not "dogmatically rational" cannot dismiss or reject the validity of inner experience. It can doubt it but cannot pass judgment on it. Once this is established, a place for inner experience can be made, co-existent with the rest and open to the formulation of a clear understanding and a subjective science. It is my reading that this is clearly the intent of this book and it is an admirable attempt in this direction. The extensive postings here completely obscure this purpose. Moreover, I agree with Rich that this obscuration has been engineered through partial and decontextualized quotations. In fact, one of the main quotes presented to make a case for the rationalist rejection of inner experience is just the opposite; it provides the grounds for a discussion on the limits of reason and psychoanalysis and the difficulties presented by mysticism, and attempts to arrive at a distinction between pathological and spiritual forms of subjectivity, particularly vindicating Sri Aurobindo's inner coherence and balance. Here I put down the complete quote. I do hope that after reading this, the intent of the author will be more clear and we can put a stop to this barrage of emotional incitement:
"Before continuing it is necessary to consider a question that may have occurred to some readers. In writing and speaking about his sadhana, Aurobindo made the following claims: that he saw visions, heard voices, and had other sources of knowledge independent of the senses and reason; that he could read people’s minds and had knowledge of the future; that by means of mental power he could change the course of events, cure diseases, and alter the form of his body; that he went into trance; that he felt physical pain as pleasure and experienced spontaneous erotic delight; that he had a sort of supernatural strength; that he was in touch with goddesses and gods; that he was one with God. Those familiar with Indian mythological literature will not be surprised by these powers and experiences, as they are commonplace in the epics and Puranas. Those familiar with the literature of mysticism will observe that Aurobindo’s powers and experiences are similar to those that other mystics from Milarepa to Rumi to Saint Teresa are said to have possessed. But those familiar with the literature of psychiatry and clinical psychology may be struck by the similarity between Aurobindo’s powers and experiences and the symptoms of schizophrenia. "The question of the relationship between mysticism and madness has been discussed since antiquity. In the folklore of many cultures, a man or woman of exceptional ability has often been thought closer to the lunatic than to the ordinary mortal. Indian tradition offers hundreds of examples of yogis, mystics, and sufis whom others regarded, at least sometimes, as out of their minds. India assigns an honored place to the divine madman and madwoman once their spiritual credentials have been accepted. In the West, someone who acts eccentrically and claims divine influence is more likely to be considered a psychotic with religious delusions. Recent psychiatry has barely amended Freud’s idea that “religious phenomena are only to be understood on the pattern of the individual neurotic systems familiar to us.” A defender of mysticism would argue that the truth value of mystical experience is so much greater than the truth value of psychiatry—a discipline based on dubious assumptions—that any attempt by the latter to explain the former is absurd. But unless the defender was an experienced mystic, this would just be substituting one set of unverified assumptions for another. When I speak of Aurobindo’s experiences, my aim is not to argue for their veracity or for their delusiveness; I simply present some of the documented events of his inner life and provide a framework for evaluating them.
"In his Varieties of Religious Experience, William James examined the experiences of “religious geniuses,” some of whom were considered unbalanced by their contemporaries. James insisted that such experiences had to be interpreted “in the immediate context of the religious consciousness.” The correct criteria for judging them were “immediate luminousness,” “philosophical reasonableness,” and “moral helpfulness.” Later writers continued on similar lines. Anton Boisen felt that there was “an important relationship between acute mental illness of the functional type and those sudden transformations of character” known as conversion experiences. “Certain types of mental disorder and certain types of religious experience” were, he wrote, “attempts at [personality] reorganisation.” When successful, such attempts can lead to a new synthesis; when unsuccessful, they lead to insanity. Neither Boisen nor James attempted to erase the line between mysticism and madness. They ac¬knowledged that many people who claimed to have mystical experiences suf¬fered from psychological anguish that made them incapable of leading productive lives. They also noted that certain well-known mystics passed through periods of apparent madness. Sudhir Kakar, who discussed this with reference to Ramakrishna, felt that the distinguishing sign of psychosis in such cases was “painful or anxious affect.” In the absence of psychological pain or anxiety, “certain types of mystical experience” could be regarded as having “their ground in creativity, akin to the heightened fantasy of an artist or a writer, rather than in pathology.”
Most of Aurobindo’s experiences are familiar to the mystic traditions of India and elsewhere. He wrote about them in language that is reasonable and luminous, though often hard to understand. Some of this writing is in the form of diary notations that were concurrent with the experiences. Around the same time he also wrote more than a dozen books on philosophy, textual interpretation, social science, and literary and cultural criticism, along with a mass of miscellaneous prose and poetry. Numerous scholars admire these works for their clarity and consistency; thousands of readers believe that they have been helped spiritually or mentally by them. No contemporary ever re¬marked that Aurobindo suffered painful or anxious feelings as a result of his experiences. In one or two letters written during the 1930s, he wrote that his life had been a struggle, and hinted at inner dangers and difficulties as great as any “which human beings have borne,” but at no time did he give evidence to others of inner or outer stress. Indeed, virtually everyone who met him found him unusually calm, dispassionate, and loving – and eminently sane. The reports to the contrary are so rare that they can be examined individually. As noted earlier, while working as editor-in-chief of Bande Mataram, Aurobindo sometimes was severe and occasionally angry. After witnessing a tongue-lashing Aurobindo gave to another, Hemendra Prasad Ghose wrote in his diary that he thought Aurobindo might have inherited “a tinge of lunacy” from his mother. R.C. Dutt, asked by the government for information about Aurobindo, also mentioned Swarnalata’s madness and suggested that her son was “eccentric”. After Aurobindo had spoken of his vision of Krishna in the Uttarpara speech, a few of his associates murmured that he had lost his balance. These scattered reports by people out of sympathy with him are hardly significant in themselves; viewed together with every other known report of Aurobindo’s character, they stand out as exceptions. Aurobindo’s anger was remarkably rare and did not leave scars. A few months after noting down the outburst that had surprised him, Hemendra Prasad wrote to Aurobindo that he would “always look back with pleasure on the period of my life dur¬ing which I had the privilege of working with you for a cause.” That some of Aurobindo’s political opponents considered him eccentric or unbalanced is not surprising. When people asked him about his claim to have seen Krishna, the calmness and lack of self-assertion of his answer convinced them that he was anything but unbalanced.
"Calm—shanti—was the first element of Aurobindo’s yoga; balance—samata—was its basis. Asked in 1926 about his ability to overcome the difficulties of yoga, he replied: “A perfect yoga requires perfect balance. That was the thing that saved me—the perfect balance. First I believed that nothing was impossible and at the same time I could question everything.” Record of Yoga is remarkable not only as a chronicle of unusual experiences, but as the self-critical journal of a practitioner who was never satisfied with anything short of perfection." (245-247)
91. Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, quoted in R. Hood, “Mysticism, Reality, Illusion, and the Freudian Critique of Religion,” 58. 92. W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 24–33; A. Boisen, The Exploration of the Inner World, ix. 93. S. Kakar, The Analyst and the Mystic, 26. 94. Diary of Hemendra Prasad Ghose, July 28, 1907, in SAAA. 95. Talk of November 11, 1926, quoted in A. Purani, Life, 205.

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