But nothing can stop Westerners like the Mother or Easterners like Sri Aurobindo as well those who wish to practice their Integral Yoga from transcending these artificial boundaries that some wish to create and maintain for their own limited ends. Sincerely, Auro Truths. [Pingback: Westerners shouldn’t take chauvinistic positions « Skylight]
Why is it necessary for him to consider other critics’ negative comments about Sri Aurobindo’s poetry? Why is it necessary to speak of the “delusiveness” of Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experiences?
Heehs has exercised “the right of reply and rebuttal” admitted by R&R themselves in item 7 above. This cannot be done if one is barred from even mentioning these criticisms. Heehs himself does not present Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual experiences as “delusive,” but argues against such a view.
If you are referring to the section that starts after Peter's summary of the Record starting on p. 245 of the biography, certain objections to the style and even some of the content in the section could be legitimately raised.
For one thing, there is quite a lot of literature in transpersonal psychology now that sees yogic states as being (unlike schizophrenia and similar mental disorders) characterized by extremely high levels of self-control and self-mastery. Readers who think that Sri Aurobindo's experiences resemble schizophrenia simply haven't been reading -- no schizophrenic can produce anything with even a fraction of the lucidity found in Sri Aurobindo's writings, poetry, and his day-to-day record of yoga.
If there are mystical states that resemble schizophrenia, they pertain much more to certain archaic techniques of shamanism than to yoga. Shamanism certainly involves things like psychic "splitting", or possession, which resemble schizophrenia. But by contrast yogic phenomenology is completely different, leading to integration, self-control and internal coherence. The transpersonal psychologist Roger Walsh published some papers doing this sort of phenomenological comparison and he argued these points quite forcefully.
It did seem strange to me to see a sadhak of the yoga not being more forceful about these points. We in the IY community should be fighting against the ignorance in mainstream psychiatry and psychology, not pandering to it. Consider the damage that mainstream psychiatry/psychology does by medicating people going through actual psychospiritual emergencies. I can testify to it -- I was put through it myself when I was having my first real spiritual awakenings.
The attitude reflected in Heehs’s remark is by no means unknown in the Indian spiritual tradition. Swami Nikhilananda writes in his biography of Vivekananda: “For five years Narendra closely watched the Master, never allowing himself to be influenced by blind faith, always testing the words and actions of Sri Ramakrishna in the crucible of reason. It cost him many sorrows and much anguish before he accepted Sri Ramakrishna as the guru and the ideal of the spiritual life. But when the acceptance came, it was wholehearted, final, and irrevocable. The Master, too, was overjoyed to find a disciple who doubted, and he knew that Naren was the one to carry his message to the world.”
Sri Aurobindo himself in the Synthesis of Yoga encourages a certain degree of skepticism, without which we could easily fall into infrarational mysticism rather than suprarational mysticism. I think all of us who are serious about yoga have dealt with doubts and fully expect to deal with doubts along the way. As far as testing the Guru goes, I personally, after my first introduction to this yoga, did not see Sri Aurobindo and the Mother as my Gurus without first rationally and experientially testing what they were saying.
The only difference is that everyone else who doubts or tests the Guru isn't publishing their ignorance for all to see. I keep my personal doubts or questions of the Masters private, sharing them only with advanced sadhaks who might be able to help me process/resolve them, offering them to the Masters as a prayer, and basically working on some sort of inner resolution of these doubts. So in my opinion, Vivekananda's testing of Sri Ramakrishna is more of a private affair between guru and disciple which is entirely kosher by orthodox Vedantic standards. That's not the same thing as publishing your doubts in a peer-reviewed academic community that is largely hostile to nonmaterialistic explanations of reality anyway.
R&R claim to speak on behalf of all members of the Archives. But their impressions about Heehs would be disputed by others in the department and elsewhere. Before the controversy started, several readers of his book wrote to him expressing reactions such as “one can feel your love for Sri Aurobindo.” In any case, sadhaks of the Integral Yoga have never been required to be devotees in the Indian bhakti tradition. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother did not use the word “devotee” for their own disciples. As Sri Aurobindo reminds us, “men differ in nature and therefore each will approach the sadhana in his own way – one through work, one through bhakti, one through meditation and knowledge – and those who are capable of it, through all together. You are perfectly justified in following your own way, whatever may be the theories of others – but let them follow theirs. In the end all can converge together towards the same goal.” (Letters on Yoga, pp. 532-33)
Maybe you can correct me here if I am wrong, but my impression was that while everyonestarts off doing this yoga with a different approach, and everyone has their own individual, quirky way of really building up the momentum, eventually, without surrender to the Divine Mother progress becomes quite difficult. My personal temperament is also intellectual, and it took a couple of experiences of being attacked by anti-divine forces before my vital arrogance was broken down and bhakti started to feel more "natural" for me. I have seen Sri Aurobindo repeatedly saying that without the Mother's Force transformation is impossible.
I am totally against thought-policing or bhakti-policing of any sort (who among us can claim to be pure enough to have the right to criticize others? if Mother and Sri Aurobindo criticized a disciple it was because they had the power to dissolve the impurity as well) -- and of course everyone is where they are, and that's not really my problem. Also, someone could be a very loud bhakta but be totally insincere. Better to be a sincere agnostic than an insincere bhakta -- I believe Haridas Chaudhri said this once in an essay on Sri Aurobindo and Mother's theory of education. But my point is, at some point, without a relationship developing with the Supreme Mahashakti, I don't see how the actual growth of consciousness is possible. It's too hard. Our egos are too finite, too miniscule, and the webs of karma, hypocrisy and forces of universal Nature far too powerful for us. Only the Mother can remake the instrument and lift the veils -- at least this is what I have experienced in this yoga so far.
Again, I think we are overall in agreement. I personally have not found the biography defamatory. At worst, it is a sympathetic but neutral biography written in a rationalist skeptical mode. For defamation, one could see Sil's biography of Vivekananda or Geoffrey Falk's "Stripping the Gurus" -- those are excellent examples of what defamation looks like. "The Lives of Sri Aurobindo" may be seen as misleading at times, and certainly there are quite a few worthy criticisms of it being made on the Mirror of Tomorrow blog which should be made public, but I think calling it defamatory is a bit farfetched.
I just wish that instead of things getting to this point there had been an open, public debate on this biography from day one, without personal prejudices coming into play, so that we could have had a healthy, rigorous and balanced exchange of views on the pros and cons of this biography. At this point things are too emotionally polarized for a balanced perspective to emerge.