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2. Demand for doctrinal purity
The movement against The Lives of Sri Aurobindo is in some ways a continuation of an earlier movement against the revised edition of Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri. In both cases a literary work that disturbed set notions of doctrinal and textual purity was made the excuse for an attack on the Ashram trust and the launching of civil and criminal prosecutions.
All of those involved in the anti-Heehs movement see the Lives as an attack on established notions about Sri Aurobindo and his yoga. Heehs provides references for all his statements, so his critics cannot effectively question whether his argument is based on authentic sources. Instead they question his use of sources, or else imagine some sort of scholarly trickery. Ananda Reddy complains that the Lives contains “perverted and deliberately and camouflaged comments and prejudices”, and speculates, “Has he not distorted the documents to suit his purpose?” (AR1) In a stunning example of the demand for textual purity, Reddy insists that no more “secondary writings” by Sri Aurobindo should be published: “I do not think that we need to know more than what has been given by Their major published works” (AR1).
Pandey similarly asks the trustees to make sure that the “perversion” represented by Heehs is not allowed to besmirch Sri Aurobindo’s Collected Works. He goes so far as to suggest the exclusion of certain letters written by Sri Aurobindo from an already published volume of his notes and letters (AP1).
Vijay Poddar links the question of textual purity with that of demonization (see heading 10 below): “this [the Lives] is a direct attack of a very hostile and evil force, which has been able to enter because of our lack of purity and sincerity, and which is using us as its instruments to directly malign Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and to delay their great work of transformation of humanity” (VP).
Most of the leaders are upset that Heehs does not take a stand on what they consider to be the primary doctrine of the reformed Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s avatarhood. Heehs avoids this question entirely in his biography (which, it should be remembered, is a work of scholarship intended for a broad readership). In so doing, Heehs was following Sri Aurobindo’s own wish that his disciples should avoid speaking about such matters in public. Heehs’s reticence is interpreted by Reddy as “not accepting the avatarhood of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother after living in the Ashram for more than three decades” (AR1). Pandey becomes abusive on the subject: “But please never agin [sic] try to write the biography of any great spiritual Master, leave alone the Divine Incarnate, since you understand nothing, nor are interested in understanding anything about the mystery of the Divine wearing a human guise.” (AP2)
Eggenberger voices the same desire for doctrinal purity: “Do we need to read more than that which Mother has said of Him?” (RE)
Far from being a matter of settled doctrine, the nature of the avatar in general, and how that applies to Sri Aurobindo, continues to be actively discussed in every group related to Integral Yoga. No two disciples understand or experience this in the same way. Reducing a complex and ultimately personal experience to a simple emotional (or devotional) formula is one characteristic of fundamentalism.