Sunday, August 1, 2010

Images in search of the real Sri Aurobindo

from to date 1 August 2010 10:36 subject Re: Pl. post
Pl. post and thanks again, Mr. Mohapatra, for maintaining an open forum. John Stuart Mill, for one, would be very pleased with it. Dr. Raghu

A Falsehood On Heehs?

Govind writes: "1. Whatever his idea of the central features, his (Heehs') opinion as to the falsehood of the self-revealed image is already stated in the preface. However much we keep hearing him that is the central fact is not going to change. 2. An image does not have to be complete to be distorted, and I have not claimed completeness or perfection." 

1. A course in reading comprehension appears to be necessary for those who think that in the preface to his TLOSA Heehs claims that Aurobindo was misrepresenting the facts concerning himself or that the image Aurobindo presented of himself is a "falsehood". I have been reading Heehs book again very carefully this weekend and noting statements which could possibly give "offense" to any deifying self-styled disciple of Aurobindo. I will share the results of my reading in due course on this forum, but for now I will point out that Govind may have in mind the following sentence in a paragraph toward the end of Heehs' preface:
"Biographers....have to examine all sorts of materials...not giving special treatment even to the subject's own version of events." (TLOSA, p. xiv).
It is hasty and illogical to draw from this the conclusion that Heehs thinks that subject's (viz., Aurobindo's) own version of events must be rejected or marginalized. It is the dharma of a biographer to consider accounts other than the subject's own account of events in his or her life.This does not mean that the subject's own account or "self-revealed image" must be rejected as false. It only means that this image must be considered and compared with other images. As Heehs puts it in the very next sentence:
"Accounts by the subject have exceptional value, but they need to be compared against other narrative accounts and, more important, against documents that do not reflect a particular point of view." (TLOSA, p.xiv)
I am sure that Aurobindo would heartily agree with this truism of biographical research! Govind's antipathy seems to spring from drawing hasty conclusions and conclusions at variance with Heehs' own claims IN THIS CONTEXT of the preface.

2. I agree with Govind that an image need not be perfect or complete in order for there to distortions of it. However, if he admits, as he does, that the image of Aurobindo received from Aurobindo himself and the Mother is not perfect or complete, then he must, by virtue of logic, accept that comparisons of this image with other images of Aurobindo is indispensable for a growth in our understanding, not only of the received image of Aurobindo, but of the real man Aurobindo behind these images. And this is exactly what Peter Heehs has set out to do. Whether or not he has been successful in accomplishing this goal and to what degree is a different issue. 


  1. Feel free to respond to the brief comments I have made so far. However, I am not going to continue engaging in an endless and time-consuming online dispute. Don't take this personally. My three reasons for disengaging are:

    1) FOCUS: First we need to set our home in order and then go outside. Trying to bring about some sort of harmony within the Aurobindonian collective is the best use of my time. You will therefore have to wait in line to engage with me.

    2) TIME: In general this is extremely scarce and one of the most poisonous results of this book has been to take away precious time from Them. Wherever I can cut corners, therefore, I must.

    3) GOAL & PROCESS: I do not want to argue for the sake of argument. You are as set in your views of the issue as anybody else I have encountered. Net result, instead of listening to me you are talking at me. So you end up reading things that I have never said e.g. claims of completeness and perfection, and ignoring things that are there e.g. important qualifiers such as "from the point of view of Sadhana and Yoga" etc. You also dispute what is really quite obvious for eg. the author's assertion that the pre-Heehsian image of Sri Aurobindo is false. Not only that, you lace your posts with a liberal helping of ad hominems. I can keep responding to you ad infinitum and so can you. This is all too familiar territory and I know where this sort of juvenile bickering leads... nowhere.

    So please, take the floor, and keep it.

  2. Your comments divert the readers' attention away from the issue of whether Heehs has actually claimed in the preface to his book that Aurobindo's account of himself is false. It is an elementary norm to give supporting quotations when one makes such attributions to an author. You fail to do so. And, in response to my rebuttal, supported with quotations from the book, of your attribution, you simply assert that it is "obvious" that he has claimed that! Well, if this is how you want to carry on your tirade against Heehs' book, you are free to do it, but expect that I will continue to examine Heehs' book in its actuality and expose gross distortions and misinterpretations of it. This doesn't mean that I think there are no justifable criticisms of it, but what you have asserted is definitely not an example of a justifiable criticism of the book.