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Sraddhalu Ranade is the most active campaigner against The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. He sees the book as “part of a wider strategy of certain global interests to misrepresent and discredit Sri Aurobindo along with other spiritual giants of our age.” His friends and supporters in Orissa have initiated legal action against the author and have so far succeeded in stopping the publication of the book in India. By the way, Ranade is this year's featured speaker at the 2009 AUM conference. He will be touring Sri Aurobindo Centers in Europe and the United States this year, and not many in the IY community seem to mind.
Ranade’s e-mail of 13 January 2009, reproduced below, lists thirteen “conclusions of PH” which he is afraid will be accepted by academia and taught to coming generations, with the result that “Sri Aurobindo’s teaching will be warped beyond recognition, the existence of the Ashram itself questioned and its foundations shattered.” We take a close look at these astonishing “conclusions.”
January 13, 2009
I would have preferred to reply to you in private and in confidence because many of the issues you have raised are complex and sensitive. But since you have accused me of selective silence, I am forced to state my views to all those you have cc-ed to with the request to not circulate this note to anyone else.
This note was in fact circulated widely, as was Ranade’s letter of 25 September 2008 marked “Most confidential. Strictly not for circulation.” It was even sent to many people with no interest in the controversy.
There are several different issues that you have raised here, and I will answer each separately though not in the order in which you have raised them.
A) The core problem
The possibility of the split and Govt interventions and other problems are very real. But observe carefully to see who or what created the problems in the first place. Otherwise you will find your energies distracted in trying to correct symptoms and collateral issues. Simply stated, the problem has been created by PH and his book — deliberately and maliciously. All the rest has followed.
Peter Heehs wrote his book with the intention of breaking through certain barriers that have kept the interest in Sri Aurobindo confined until now, especially in the West, to a relatively limited circle. It is too soon to say how much good the book will do, but all indications are that it is already creating a broader awareness of Sri Aurobindo’s many-sided contribution and his extraordinary relevance to our times.
For the first four months after the publication of the book in America in April 2008, it was read by the kinds of people for whom it was written and it received nothing but praise. There was no problem. That suddenly changed when the movement against the book began in the Ashram in early September. This movement created a “problem” where none was apparent before. All the rest has followed. The theory that “the problem has been created by PH and his book” is not convincing. The hysteria that swept through the Ashram was not the result of people reading the book — the few who read it did not find it offensive, for the most part — but was caused by the circulation of inflammatory letters and misleading extracts which misrepresented the author’s views and were calculated to hurt the feelings of devotees.
Nevertheless, to reduce the “core problem” to the misguided acts of a handful of individuals would be the inverse of Ranade’s superficial diagnosis. No doubt there is a deeper problem. As Sri Aurobindo said, “all problems of existence are essentially problems of harmony. They arise from the perception of an unsolved discord and the instinct of an undiscovered agreement or unity.” The Mother said: “I am always happy to receive and to help those who wish for harmony and conciliation, and are ready to correct their mistakes and to progress. But I can be of no help to those who throw all the blame on the others for they are inapt to see the truth and to act accordingly.” (CWM 13:131)
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 has already done to Sri Aurobindo.
It is division — not unity — that is artificial. Division, the result of ignorance, is ultimately the “core problem.” Unity is based on the deeper truth of things. The surest way to undermine Sri Aurobindo’s work is to divert our energies to artificial conflicts and quarrels.
The zeal of the “protectors” of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother calls to mind the Divine Mother’s words to Swami Vivekananda: “Do you protect me? Or do I protect you?”
We will see below that Ranade, in his eagerness to protect Sri Aurobindo, has invented derogatory statements about him which neither Heehs nor anyone else ever thought of. These products of Ranade’s exuberant and sometimes sordid imagination have been widely circulated. It is unlikely that Sri Aurobindo’s reputation has been enhanced by planting such ideas in people’s minds. As has often been seen in the history of religions, the defenders of the faith tend to become its subverters.
If we cannot do that much, then without Sri Aurobindo there is no Ashram, no devotees, no alumni and no possibility of unity, because it is He who has brought us all together in the first place. Without Sri Aurobindo chaos rules. With him unity emerges naturally and spontaneously.
No one involved in the present controversy has proposed to do without Sri Aurobindo. But his consciousness is so vast that he attracts many types of people — not only devotees, but intellectuals and others — and not only from India, but from all over the world. He wanted all these types to be represented in the Ashram. Unfortunately, as has happened throughout the history of religion and spirituality, each type tends to misunderstand the others. By insisting on the integrality of his Yoga, Sri Aurobindo hoped to overcome this limitation. But the narrowness of human nature seems to have defeated his purpose. At present, chaos rules in the Ashram because of this narrowness, though all are convinced that they are being faithful to Sri Aurobindo. [See also The Mother's war for the Truth against all conceptions of the truth]
B) The real danger
You are worried about Govt takeover of the Ashram and split among devotees. These are trivial issues compared to what will happen if we keep silent and ignore PH’s book. The real danger is other than these. Let me explain.
If the conclusions of PH are accepted by academia then our textbooks will teach coming generations that:
As we will see, the following thirteen “conclusions of PH” tell us much more about Ranade’s state of mind than about Heehs’s book.
a) Sri Aurobindo was a frequent liar,
At least since Purani’s Life of Sri Aurobindo was published in 1958, it has been common knowledge that Sri Aurobindo mentioned a lack of truthfulness as a trait of his own personality early in his life. Half a century after Purani’s biography, one wonders why another biographer’s passing reference to this childhood trait is considered a shocking slur on Sri Aurobindo’s character. Purani quoted Sri Aurobindo as saying: “In those days I was not particular about telling truth and I was a great coward.... In my case it was all human imperfection with which I had to start and feel all the difficulties before embodying the divine Consciousness.” (A. B. Purani, Life of Sri Aurobindo, 1st ed., p. 15) The gradual change in Sri Aurobindo’s character — beginning from the “human imperfection” which he himself said was his starting-point — is shown in Heehs’s biography, illustrating Sri Aurobindo’s own statement: “I transformed my nature from what it was to what it was not. I did it by a special manner, not by a miracle and I did it to show what could be done and how it could be done. I did not do it out of any personal necessity of my own or by a miracle without any process. I say that if it is not so, then my Yoga is useless and my life was a mistake — a mere absurd freak of Nature without meaning or consequence.”
b) that he lied about his supramental experiences,
There is no statement in the book that even remotely resembles this “conclusion.” No biographer can honestly claim first-hand knowledge of the supermind. Therefore Heehs quotes or paraphrases Sri Aurobindo’s own words when he writes of his work to bring down the supermind into the earth-consciousness, as in these typical passages:
“He was sure of the eventual descent of the supermind because he saw it as ‘an inevitable necessity in the logic of things.’ Just as life had emerged in matter and mind had emerged in life, so supermind was bound to emerge ‘in this world of human consciousness and its reasoning ignorance.’ Others could not see it because they did not ‘realise the significance of the emergence of consciousness in a world of inconscient Matter’.” (Lives, p. 375)
“The descent of the supermind would introduce a new principle in evolution, but it would not abolish all problems, just as mental ability had not eliminated the problems of life and matter. But because supermind was a dynamic creative principle, it eventually would ‘open the mental, the vital and even the physical to the intuitive and overmental planes.’ ... ‘Have you realised the Supermind?’ Manilal once asked him point-blank. Sri Aurobindo replied: ‘I know what the Supermind is. And the physical being has flashes and glimpses of it. I have been trying to supramentalise the descended Overmind. Not that the Supermind is not acting. It is doing so — through the Overmind.... I am not satisfied with only a part of the Supermind in the physical consciousness. I want to bring down the whole mass of it, pure, and that is an extremely difficult business’.” (Lives, p. 383)