Cardinal Slur

Mirror of Tomorrow Re: Peter Heehs’s The Lives of Sri Aurobindo—by Raman Reddy
by Sandeep on Tue 14 Sep 2010 10:14 PM IST |  Profile |  Permanent Link
What happens if the Divine holds the hand of the Divine? It is we normal people who have an active mind that misinterpret holding hands. 

I am inclined to believe that the way that whole paragraph is worded indicates mischievous intent on the part of Peter Heehs. ("surprising development!... she quickly withdrew her hand....") This incident is followed by a conversation in which Paul Richard asks Sri Aurobindo if they intend to get married. That was not the original question; it is Peter who reworded the conversation to make it seem as if they were discussing marriage. 
Peter has omitted the fact that the Mother had seen Sri Aurobindo in a vision ten years before. He has also omitted the discussions on Yoga they had when they met in 1914 and again in 1920. These are significant episodes which provide context to a person unfamiliar with their lives. 
When other authors like Nirod and Purani write about the Mother coming to comb Sri Aurobindo's hair, it conveys a sense of the pure and sublime but when Peter narrates the same incidents, it arouses suspicion. Choice of words make a big difference; they convey a good sense of the author's intent. 
The problem with the book is not humanizing which I have no objection to; the problem is lying and distortion (out-of-context remarks) at various places. 

Reply by rakesh on Wed 15 Sep 2010 12:07 AM IST |  Profile |  Permanent Link
you are right sandeep. There was not need for putting that “she quickly withdrew her hand". This quickly withdrew her hand is another interpretation of the scene. Most unnecessary comment. Reply 

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Ignore all rubbish": To Proponents and Opponents of the Book.
 As a practicing psychologist I would like to say a few words on this. First, I am writing anonymously because I do not wish to involve myself in this controversy. I have no connection with the other commenting anonymously

By stating that “There was nothing furtive about these encounters” the author is dispelling the suggestion that there was anything “furtive” between them. But why would he dispel it if he did not think or believe that his statement lent itself to interpretation, and that the thought that there was something “furtive” between them would actually arise in the mind of the reader. It is too patent. The author himself admits that the technique he has employed is, in his words, “anticipating and refuting objections”. “Aware of the sort of arguments that could be employed against their own positions” writers “deliberately engage with these objections in order to clear the way for a successful presentation of points that some readers might want to resist”.
So clearly the author is well aware of the objection of “furtiveness” between Mirra and Aurobindo being raised in the minds of the readers upon reading his description, and in anticipation of it, the author attempts to dispel it. In fact it is glaringly obvious that the insinuation is either romantic, sexual, emotional because in the subsequent paragraphs there is talk of marriage etc.
What is interesting is that the author clearly states that the “book was not intended for devotees” and that he was writing to academia. According to him “People in India and other Asian countries have traditionally believed that it is best to avoid speaking about certain aspects of life. People in America and Europe, as well as metropolitan centres in Asia, do not share this belief. In fact, they believe that to avoid speaking about these aspects of life is a sign of immaturity or self-deception. My readership, as I conceived it, fell mainly in the second category”.
If he anticipates “furtiveness” in the minds of these readers, surely he would have anticipated more than “furtiveness” or the “furtiveness” to have a more furtive connotation to the more traditionally minded reader. He has been willing to happily alienate his fellow-seekers, even jounce their sensitivities and potentially disrupt the harmony of the institution of which he is an integral part. It is naïve to not question the motives of the author in writing this biography.
Dr Ryder 
Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 12:53 PM, October 06, 2010

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Aware of the objection of “furtiveness” the author...": 

Dear Dr. Ryder. Yours is a very perceptive comment and I am in full agreement with you. Furthermore Peter's statement about the traditional "belief" of people in India and Asian countries that it is best to avoid speaking about certain aspects of life is another one of his long list falsehoods arising from what could be called a Western cultural supremacist outlook. Hindu India and Pagan Europe were for the most part both extremely liberal in their approach to all aspects of life. It was the repressive Semitic religions that sought to purify personal and social life of all sexual influences and banish all mention of this and other taboo topics.
If the modern West is today comfortable again with sexuality it is only because it has gradually returned and recovered its liberal pagan roots since the Renaissance. Even then, at least in the U.S., which Peter and his supports uphold as the model of liberality, a harsh, puritanical Semitic religious bigotry has not only been ascendant but has even come to dominate today a vast section of the socio-political landscape. More than in India it is here that not only the mention of certain aspects of life is sought to be banished from public discourse but also these aspects themselves are sought to be excised from society.
The problem with the passage in question is, as you rightly point out, that it is trying to suggest the sexual and romantic where there is none whatsoever. From the point of view of yoga this is a clear attempt at perversion. The claim that Peter's use of mere two words "nothing furtive" cancels out all the whole rest of the passage which reads like a controversial and gossiping whisper campaign in the making is sheer nonsense. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 8:28 PM, October 06, 2010 Kkk

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Aware of the objection of “furtiveness” the author...": Hello Sir, Thanks for your comment. You write
"From the point of view of yoga this is a clear attempt at perversion".

That is a strong statement. Here in NY we are rather liberal so perhaps "perversion" is a strong word to use. I do not know much of the Asram to comment on the outlook there, but psychologically speaking, for a member of a spiritual institution to write in this manner on the founders insinuating their sexuality/romanticism/marriage is unusual to say the least. This indicates that the person is some sort of renegade and feels at best a precarious bond with the founders. 
But spirituality is a rather complex matter and so is the human nature in its seeking after the spirit. I personally believe all ought to be left to (pro/re)gress on their lines. If the highest inspiration the author derives from his Gurus is to demystify, demolish and challenge the myths surrounding them then I suppose that is his calling. He is entitled to his reservations, doubts etc. It is patent that he has questions (issues?) with the founders and has no qualms to insinuate their romance/sexuality/marriage publicly in writing. 
What is of serious concern is this approach being endorsed publicly. So the real issue is not with the author but with those who are supporting the book. They are doing a big disfavor to the founders and to the institution by breeding confusion which is now evident. I think the committee who allowed this book to pass perhaps did so in oversight and did not take the trouble to read the book. Dr Ryder Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 9:00 AM, October 07, 2010

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Aware of the objection of “furtiveness” the author...": To a psychologist
"Either way it doesn’t reflect well on him, his motivations, and his readers" is amply evident.

Again, in my opinion the institution must take some accountability for this book for allowing it pass through it. There ought to have been peer reviews or some checks in place before something as important as a biography of the founder is released.
From your comment it seems there are omissions by the author and therefore he has been selective in the dishing out of facts. That is not uncommon. In this book what he has done is shared both sides of the coin so to speak and left it to the reader to decide. This is the current trend of biographers and news media here, to be credible by presenting both the sides. The bias is on the positive side in the book. I believe the "negative" facts have been shared for the same reason - to appear credible and not necessarily to condemn Aurobindo. 
The impression one gets here is that he has attempted to appear credible more than being credible. In the case of the latter there is an objective mining through the data and only credible facts on both the sides are shared. In this book, in the effort to appear credible the author could have manufactured or used hearsay to create the negative side. Its almost like there had to be the "other side" for every argument that he puts forth. The "furtive" passage is a case in point. If the preponderance of the data pointed to no relationship between Mirra and Aurobindo there was no need to indulge in the petty portrayal of the "hand holding".
There is definitely some manipulation here. Again it is very unusual for a member of an institution to write in this manner about its founder. It is fair to say that he is not particularly enamored of the founder. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 10:52 PM, October 08, 2010

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The incident itself is problematic because of its ...": 
You are standing the issue on its head. Why go to such lengths to make ambiguous what is starkly clear? Is this then a trifling matter? Would someone who claims to be a follower of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo muddy and obscure a relationship which should be absolutely clear to that sadhak?
This deliberate introduction of ambiguity, which you have yourself admitted, is the clearest indication of ill-will. An ignorant by-stander such as yourself could come up with such drivel. But someone who claims to be a follower of Sri Aurobindo cannot. It gives the lie to his claim of being a Sadhak.
Furthermore, it is nonsense to suggest that biographers can introduce ambiguity and vagueness that can lead to SERIOUS MISUNDERSTANDING AND HORRID MISINTERPRETATION. If so, it is a bad biography and, in general, a bad book since an expository work of this sort is judged on the basis of its clarity. Furthermore, you deliberately ignore the fact that the hand-holding is only ONE element of several statements which ALL hint at the scandalous without really coming out and asserting it.
Your arguments are simply rationalizations to deflect any responsibility from the author for his statements and his work. It is intellectually dishonest and logically muddled. Posted by Anonymous to Savitri Era Open Forum at 6:58 PM, October 17, 2010

This brings us to a question which has been raised again and again: how closely does Desai's character resemble the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, ... (Page 124)

However, I do admit that I am a student of modern Indian spiritual traditions and also of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. So I had a special interest in ... (Page 125)
In contrast to this fictional prudishness, there is no squeamishness in the Ashram circles about the relationship between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. ...
There is no evidence to indicate that the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were sexual partners. Therefore, there is no embarrassment in answering such questions. The case of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, they were always surrounded by disciples and attendants, so there was never any question about ... (Page 126)