Saturday, June 30, 2012

I perfectly understand your wish to join a group of like-minded people

We, the devotees in Bengaluru, are really not surprised that despite mounting protests Peter Heehs continues to brazen it out in the Ashram. This only reinforces our conviction that he is one of an insidious mafia that is strongly committed to destroying the heart and soul of this country by infiltrating and undermining its spiritual institutions in every way. Peter's publications so far, including his book, are solely intended to smear and serve this dark purpose. All those gullible knights in shining armour who spring up in his defense from time to time do not evidently realize that they are being fooled by a dangerous Pied Piper who has a sinister agenda of his own.
Peter poses a far greater threat than meets the eye. Has he not already lured away the media, the political class, self-styled "intellectuals", uninformed public at large and the high and mighty not to speak of sundry busy bodies? Has he not successfully wrested his extended stay in this country for yet another year in the face of stiff opposition? Has he not polarized the entire community of the Ashram and associated bodies for the first time ever into two warring camps — the "Pro" and the "Anti"? Has he not in effect reduced all of us to a set of jackanapes eating out of his hand? Aren't these enough evidences of his evil prowess at work when it comes to the question of him having his way?
Somewhere down the road we seem to have lost our resistance to invading barbarians – resistance that would have remained impregnable if only we had been truly sincere in our allegiance to the Divine. This allegiance is now in shreds as we have succumbed to the temptation of pursuing self-centred interests no matter what the cost or consequences. This is today our greatest failing and weakness, our gaping Achilles heel, as it were, which has invited the blow in the form of Peter. […] Thanking You, Sincerely yours, For Sri Aurobindo Study Circle
Vaishali Ganapati Bhandari [The letter has been signed by 91 members of the Sri Aurobindo Study Circle of Bengaluru.]

Whether Westerners take chauvinistic positions or whether Easterners take devotionalist approaches doesn’t change anything with regards to the Myths of an Aurobindonian Religion. Attempts to create childish fault-lines between the East and the West or between Spirituality and Religion when following the principles of Integral Yoga are sure to fail and are most laughable. Spirituality is universal and transcends the so-called boundaries of the East and the West and of one religious form or another that some people may wish to create.
On the other hand Religion is parochial and therefore needs well-demarcated boundaries to exist. Those who may feel insecure in universal spaces are therefore free to mark out their territory and live within it’s confines.
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]

[I was kind of hoping it would be broad-minded, full of rational, emotionally mature people, committed to using mental and cultural tools to fight against obscurantism and hatred in this world ...]
very common mistake. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother came precisely because mental and cultural tools are insufficient to fight against obscurantism and hatred in this world. They said and wrote in so many words that what is needed is not a better humanity but a new species altogether with a new consciousness and the powers that come with it. Humans are not better than monkeys because they can climb trees better. By the same token, the next species isn't going to be better by human standards.

[We in the IY community should be fighting against the ignorance in mainstream psychiatry and psychology, not pandering to it.]
There is no justification for speaking of "pandering". But this is not what I want to address here. Elsewhere you wrote
[I'd hate to see integral yoga associated with things like that.]
I suppose by "integral yoga" you mean members of the IY community, for otherwise I don't see how there can be an association. So the question arises, at least in my mind, who or what is the "IY community"? What are the criteria for membership? I am reminded of Arjuna pestering Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita about the signs by which a yogi can be recognized. Krishna's answers are evasive in that he mentions signs of yogic conditions that cannot be recognized by the outer eye. By the same token, I believe that you cannot put down criteria for membership in that club, as you do when you tell us what the IY community should be fighting against or not be associated with. Otherwise you are making the same mistake as RR&RR, who want to impose on the members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram a code of conduct way beyond what Sri Aurobindo or the Mother demanded from them. I perfectly understand your wish to join a group of like-minded people, but I'm afraid that anything deserving to be called "IY community" has to be a group of like-souled people, which is something rather different from like-minded. As Arthur Deikman wrote in "Evaluating Spiritual and Utopian Groups" (see AntiMatters 2-4),
[we are social beings and derive benefits from joining with others. Groups can provide a gratifying sense of belonging, support and purpose.... these aims may be important and valuable but they are not spiritual, no matter how pious their outward presentation. Correspondingly, our motivations for joining a spiritual or utopian group may be other than we realize or wish to know.]

Re: The Genesis of a Controversy by ned on Fri 16 Jan 2009 02:26 PM PST |  Profile |  Permanent Link Dear Angiras, 
While I am overall agreed with you that the way the controversy has been handled does not bode well for our community's record, and am very glad that you have refuted lots of the false allegations floating around against Peter (one of the more ridiculous ones I read was that Peter is an agent of the Vatican *rolls eyes* ), I just want to (as a balancing argument) express a couple of counterpoints. 

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.

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