Annotated documents

Documents that were circulated in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and the Integral Yoga community in India and abroad, including letters to the Ashram Trustees, in an attempt to prevent the publication of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo in India and to expel its author from the Ashram Archives and from the Ashram itself. With revealing annotations concerning the nature of these screeds and the characters and intentions of their authors.

A two-page document, "The Role of Peter Heehs in the Archives," was submitted to the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram around the beginning of September, 2008. This was perhaps the first definite act of hostility in what quickly grew into a full-blown campaign against Heehs. It was soon followed by several longer and in some cases even more virulent letters which were widely circulated to mobilize opinion and force the Trustees to take action. This letter by colleagues of Heehs in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives is of special interest, not only because it seems to have marked the beginning of what would soon become a raging controversy, but because it shows clearly the personal nature of the attacks on the biographer. The writers of the letter had admittedly not read the book. But it seems that they know the author from having tea with him in the Archives until he had to suspend his work there as a result of the movement they began. His "attitude" — or their impressions of it gathered from casual conversation — is their main focus. This letter will be commented on in detail in order to get the facts straight and put the issues in perspective.

Ananda Reddy addressed a letter to the Managing Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram on 6 September, 2008. A significant feature of this letter is the cultural issues it raises. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo was written for publication in America and has been widely appreciated there. Some reactions to it in India, such as Reddy’s, have been markedly different. An understanding of the cultural factors underlying these varying responses might contribute to healing the division that has recently arisen in the international Sri Aurobindo community.

Like the main character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Sachidananda Mohanty seems to have a split personality. There is the academic — let us call him Dr. M — who praised the work of Peter Heehs and warned of the danger of “collective bigotry” in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. And there is the writer of a letter to the Trustees — we may call him Mr. S — who has condemned The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and joined the movement calling for Heehs’s expulsion. The contrast between the two makes an interesting study.

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.”

Alok Pandey is a featured speaker at this year's AUM Conference.

Some of the letters that stirred up feelings against The Lives of Sri Aurobindo were written by cultured individuals who have revealed an unexpected side of themselves in this controversy. One of these is the psychiatrist Dr. Alok Pandey, who led the way in inventing the myth of the book’s “diabolic” intent. 

Excerpt from The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs have been circulated as part of an attempt to discredit the author for writing this biography. Decontextualized passages were chosen to misrepresent the author's intentions, by systematic distortions, deliberate misattributions, and selective omissions. These passages are here reproduced with omitted texts and notes restored. Clarifications and corrections by the author demonstrate how these passages actually read in their proper context.

The portions of the text that have been lifted to suit the purposes of those with an agenda against the author are in black. The missing portions of the text that are needed to provide the entire context of the narrative, including footnotes and clarifications, are in bold red.