Thursday, February 23, 2012

We do not need Makarand Paranjape, but need Gautam Chikermane

HT HOME / BLOGS HOME > JUST FAITH / RELIGION / Sri Aurobindo, Heehs and the fragility of faith: Just Faith By Gautam Chikermane
And now, right under our noses, even as the national discourse is moving against banning books and towards free speech, another intellectual is being hounded. This time, it’s Peter Heehs, an American historian, who has who has lived in and served the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for 41 years, set up the Ashram’s Archives department, has been the founding editor of Sri Aurobindo: Archives and Research, and was part of the team that has brought out the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. The ban in question is on his scholarly biography of Sri Aurobindo titled, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.
If Sri Aurobindo was still residing in his “cave” at Pondicherry, he would have welcomed the book, critiqued it — but most important, he would have read it. But if an April 9, 2009 notification by the Orissa government is to be taken seriously, this is what it suggests: we have not read the book but the select excerpts given to us by interested parties is enough evidence for us to ban the book. For those who enjoy legalese, you can read the notification here.
So far so good. During the course of my investigation into this affair, this notification was given to me as “evidence” by a party that’s fighting another case against the trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, holding them responsible for harbouring Heehs and seeking their removal. …
One last point on Heehs’s book. This time I invite you to a sojourn in time, all of 30 years ago. In a November 8, 1982 judgement, the Supreme Court declared that Sri Aurobindo’s teachings cannot be said to be of a religious nature. “Numerous utterings by Sri Aurobindo or the Mother unmistakably show that the Ashram or Society or Auroville is not a religious institution,” the judgement said. “There can be no better proof than what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother themselves thought of their teachings and their institutions to find out whether the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his Integral Yoga constitute a religion or a philosophy. The uttering made from time to time by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother hardly leave any doubt about the nature of the institution. It was on the basis that it was not a religious institution.” You can read another excerpt here
The point: if Sri Aurobindo is not a religious entity and his teachings not a religion, how can his biography hurt any religious person? This is a question that many devotees, in their blind faith, ignore. India is home to gurus and spiritual teachers. All of them stated clearly that they are not professing a religion but a way of life, call it spirituality if you must. To convert those words, those ideas, those books, those teachings into a religion is the biggest crime against their own gurus. If Sri Aurobindo were around, he would have shuddered to have been called an author of yet another ‘religion’ and steered clear of anything to do with it.
Those terming Sri Aurobindo’s yoga a religion need to do their homework. If they are unwilling to go through the rigour of reading, the least they should do is what Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual collaborator The Mother suggested: “When you have nothing pleasant to say about something or somebody in the Ashram, keep silent. You must know that this silence is faithfulness to the Divine’s work.”

Aurotruths commented on New content: Attempts to create an "Aurobindonian religion". in response to Tusar N. Mohapatra: [In time, a whole set of beliefs and rituals began to be built up around Sri Aurobindo and more so, around The Mother. The death of each of them caused dismay and disappointment among large sections of the faithful. Many had grown to believe that some miraculous transformation of the physical bodies of their Gurus [...]
Dear TNM, Thank you for your comment. However, we would like to take this opportunity to inform you that we do not wish to encourage re-blogging on this site as we prefer that this site should instead have original content. Regarding Makarand Paranjape's opinion that "though both Sri Aurobindo and The Mother repeatedly warned against the creation of a cult around them, they themselves encouraged it in several ways. Sri Aurobindo himself deified The Mother and vice versa..." it must be said that just because Makarannd Paranjape thinks that They encouraged a cult, it doesn't mean that it was so. Those who opine upon and judge Sri Aurobindo and The Mother superficially are likely to derive conclusions that differ from those clearly spelled out by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother Themselves. We therefore do not need a Makarand Paranjape to tell us whether Sri Aurobindo and The Mother contradicted themselves or not. For instance, The Mother in her own words said (Words of the Mother-I, 2004 ed., p. 110): "Here we do not have religion. We replace religion by the spiritual life, which is truer, deeper and higher at the same time, that is to say, closer to the Divine. For the Divine is in everything, but we are not conscious of it. This is the immense progress that man must make." But we can understand that for those who cannot distinguish the difference between Spirituality and Religion, Sri Aurobindo's and The Mother's words and actions might be confusing. But if such people are really interested in understanding Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, isn't it their responsibility to make the effort to raise their level of understanding and come closer to what They clearly stated, rather than to drag Them down to one's own level of understanding? Editors, Auro Truths.

Perhaps an autobiographical example will help. Not mine, but Sri Aurobindo's (and I raise his example not to promulgate Vedanta, but first because it comes readily to mind, second because I believe that what he describes is universal, a kind of stage we must all pass through on the journey back to God).
Whatever else he was, little Auro was clearly a brilliant lad, educated at Cambridge, fluent in several languages, recipient of various academic prizes. But when he later turned to spiritual development, he came to a point that he saw through this game -- and it is a game -- first from a lateral, and then vertical, perspective. In a letter, he wrote that 
"The capital period of my intellectual development was when I could see clearly that what the intellect said might be correct and not correct, that what the intellect justified was true and its opposite also was true. I never admitted a truth in the mind without simultaneously keeping it open to the contrary of it.... And the first result was that the prestige of the intellect was gone."
Now that I think about it, I had this experience quite vividly around the time I was working on my master's degree, during the last period of my life that I smoked marijuana. On the one hand, I was learning all this academic stuff which all the experts agreed one must know in order to call oneself a "psychologist." 

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