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6. Opposition to open discussion
All the leaders make it clear that there is one and only one way to look at the Heehs problem, and any attempt at discussion must be forbidden. When asked by the managing trustee and others to think in terms of harmony and conflict resolution, they refused vociferously, presenting the problem as one of treason against the guru or demonic possession or both:
“It may be pointed out that his own view of objectivity, broad-mindedness, catholicity, cannot be applicable in this case. An outsider writing ill of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in newspapers, or other magazines can do so and we have the right of reply and rebuttal. But when one of our own members indulges in this sort of calumny (it is nothing short of that!!), the situation is totally different and we can certainly do something about it.” (RRRR)
“There is a general tendency in a certain kind of intelligentsia to take such reactions as ‘over-reaction’, ‘sentimentality’, etc and justify the diabolic nature of the writings by using terms such as ‘we should be broad-minded’, ‘Sri Aurobindo is not affected by these things’, ‘everyone has his freedom of expression’, ‘we should give people chance to change’ so on and so forth. The purpose of this note is to point out the fallacy of this argument in the present context” (AP1) Note also Pandey’s “us versus them” tone, use of demonisation as a rhetorical device, and denigration of anyone with a different opinion.
“Rather than diverting our energies to bring artificial unity (which will never work) our first responsibility should be to protect from the harm that he [Heehs] has already done to Sri Aurobindo” (SR2).
The most remarkable example of this attitude is provided by Poddar. He begins, with apparent rationality, “I know that for every perception there can be a different perception, for every argument a counter argument and for every justification a reason to justify the opposite. How does one judge what is in context and what is out of context? Who can really decide what is right and wrong? And, at the mental level, perhaps there is no way by which everyone can be convinced or all led to the same conclusion.” But, he insists, “there are a few truths which no one can or will deny” After expressing “amazement that how [sic] is it that some people are not responding to it or seeing it as I am”, Poddar goes on to construct an elaborate and specious non sequitur of an argument to determine whether the question should be discussed at all: “Would you be happy to offer this book to the Mother and would the Mother be happy to receive it?” He concludes, predictably, that the answer “is an emphatic No, that the Mother would not be happy with this book”, then declares that “then the issue becomes very much more serious, and our responses upto [sic] now are not at all appropriate.” There can be, Poddar insists, “NO dialogue at all, no possibility of revision, we have to block completely the printing of the Indian edition and explore what can be done to stop the distribution of the American edition.” He closes by putting himself on the side of God (see heading 10 below): “I feel strongly that by the Mother’s Grace we can do it, and we are all willing to work together for it.” He cautions however that “If anything has to be done, it has to be done immediately, without the delay of a single day” (VP). In the event, Poddar’s call for haste went unheeded. Many people have now read the book (there is, incidentally, no sign that Poddar himself read it).
Pandey and Ranade at least claim to have read Heehs’s book. They are two of only three leaders of the anti-Heehs campaign who seem to have done so. (Others, Ananda Reddy and Eggenberger, for example, have made it clear that they not only have not read it but never will do so.) The third reader of the book is Raman Reddy, who has written no widely circulated letters or emails, but who did create one of the most influential documents in the Heehs controversy. This is “Extracts subjectwise”, a collection of extracts of Heehs’s book that has been distributed widely in paper and electronic copies (in the form of email attachments and Web posts) and must by now have reached a thousand people or more.
“Extracts subjectwise” is a collection of passages from Heehs’s Lives typed out by Reddy under various subject headings. The passages are, for the most part, correctly typed, though they contain many deliberate omissions, only some of which are marked by ellipsis points. In addition, his extracts are deliberately unrepresentative, a fact freely admitted by Reddy himself in a blog post: “There was the practical question of whether the book could be put up for sale in the Ashram’s official bookshop and the more serious consideration of taking administrative action against the author. It was under these circumstances that the Extracts were compiled, so that the reader at once knew the worst that Heehs had written. The compiler never intended them to be representative extracts of the book in order to get a brief introduction to it.”
Reddy’s “Extracts” were put into circulation on September 11, 2008 by his cousin Ananda Reddy, who wrote, in a covering email: “Here are some extracts from Peter Hees’ [sic] latest book “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” that are malicious, to say the least! He has hurt deeply the Indian psyche in the name of intellectual approach!! Judge for yourself” (AR2). So primed, few readers of the extracts bothered to question whether they gave a truthful picture of Heehs’s book. That they did not is evident from even a cursory examination. The first typed extract from the book ends with the following sentences: “In trying to trace the lines of Aurobindo’s sadhana, a biographer can use the subject’s diaries, letters, and retrospective accounts. There are also, for comparison, accounts by others of similar mystical experiences. But in the end, such experiences remain subjective. Perhaps they are only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown? Even if not, do they have any value to anyone but the subject?” (RR). Reddy deliberately omitted the following paragraph, in which Heehs answered the question he posed: “Those who have had mystical experiences have always held that they are the basis of a kind of knowledge that is more fundamental, and thus more valuable, than the relative knowledge of words and things. Absorbed in inner experience, the mystic is freed from the problems that afflict men and women who are caught in the dualities of knowledge and ignorance, pleasure and pain, life and death. A mystic thus absorbed often is lost to the human effort to achieve a more perfect life. But this is not the only possible outcome of spiritual practice. Aurobindo’s first major experience was a state of mystical absorption, but he was driven to return to the active life, and spent the next forty years looking for a way to bring the knowledge and power of the spirit into the world. In this lies the value of his teaching to men and women of the twenty-first century.”
Reddy’s distortion of Heehs’s meaning continues unbroken throughout the eleven pages of his “Extracts”. This matter has been ably discussed by Larry Seidlitz in a web posting (reproduced here), to which interested readers are referred.