Dec. 6, 2008
To: Sri Manoj DasGupta, Managing Trustee
Sri Aurobindo Ashram
Subject: Commentary on the positive contribution of Peter Heehs' The Lives of Sri Aurobindo to India and the world.
Greetings. I fondly recall our meeting in January of 2007 at the time of Michael Murphy's revisit to the Ashram. Much has transpired since then, in America, in India and in the world at large. We are passing, as you well know, through difficult and dangerous times in our evolution as a species. Witness the recent events in Mumbai and the contagion of violent intolerance, communalism, reactionary fundamentalism and ideological extremism polarizing our planet.
25 September 2008
During a conversation the other day, you asked me whether I would write a brief note to clarify what I was trying to do when I wrote my recent biography….
Subject: an appreciation rather than condemnation
Date Sent: September 29, 2008, 10:17 PM
From: Steve Webman <steve...>
To: Manoj Das Gupta <manoj...>
I know that you are overloaded with messages and petitions about Peter and his book. I would just like to throw in my two cents for the record:
Since 1950 (even before we played on the Ashram basketball team together!), Sri Aurobindo has been the chief influence on my life and work. For that reason I've been thrilled by the new interest in him among American opinion elites that's been inspired by Peter Heehs's biography. Because of Peter's book, more and more people here are exhibiting new interest in the revolutionary leader, philosopher, and spiritual genius who inspires us. I can now reach academics and others I couldn't before with the rich portrait Peter has given us.
And among those of us acquainted with Ashram politics, admiration for you, Manoj, and for the others there who support Peter's work has grown enormously. Many of us are inspired by the courage and wisdom you have shown in the midst of the controversy surrounding the new biography. Your leadership reflects the fearlessness Sri Aurobindo valued. He, after all, went where his work and vision led in spite of the consequences.
For all of this, I salute and thank you. You are one of my new heroes.
With fond regards,
17 October 2008
In a world torn with conflict and one where every human solution is being shown to be inadequate, the message of Sri Aurobindo is needed like never before – not in a dogmatic or religious form, but as a concrete ray of hope with the power of the sun visible in it. The heavy atmosphere of mental doubt which pervades the mainstream structures of organized academic preparation, are designed to keep out the possibility of a fair hearing to the voice of divine realization which Sri Aurobindo represents. In this atmosphere, strident claims of avatarhood, absolutism, belief in mythologies and miraculous births etc. are just the kinds of things which will help most effectively to marginalize and exclude Sri Aurobindo and his message from credible consideration.
15 September 2008
The basic question raised by Peter’s biography and the reactions to it is whether different approaches to Sri Aurobindo can be tolerated. Peter has adopted a typically “Western” approach. Otherwise Columbia University Press would not have been interested in the book and Sri Aurobindo would have remained unknown to most of those who are now reading it. I imagined that its publication in America would be welcomed by Sri Aurobindo’s followers as a step in the fulfilment of his dream of the gift of India’s spiritual knowledge to the world. Instead, we are told that this book has hurt the Indian psyche. This is puzzling. Can the soul of India be hurt so easily?
24 September 2008
For the past one week or so I have been following the discussions and debates over the new biography of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs. Initially, I thought I would not voice my opinion on the SAICE [Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education] yahoo group, but I finally did so judging by some of the reactions that were posted on the group. Frankly, I cannot understand how this group of 'ex-students' could claim to be custodians of Sri Aurobindo's philosophy or for that matter, his Ashram....
Dear Rich Carlson–
Rumors that I asked Jeff Kripal to write a "Freudian" study of Sri Aurobindo are completely false, and Kripal has no intentions to do so.
But I am indeed deeply fascinated (and indebted) to Sri Aurobindo, who remains the chief inspiration for my life work. I discovered his writings in 1950, at Stanford University, as a 19-year old undergraduate and would not have started the Esalen Institute without his inspiration.
Lately, I have been newly inspired by Peter Heehs's magnifcent Aurobindo biography and by the historic scholarship conducted by Heehs and Richard Hartz at the Aurobindo Ashram Archives. Their work on Aurobindo's extraordinary Record of Yoga will one day help revolutionize psychology and transformative practice, and Heehs's book is bringing new awareness of Sri Aurobindo to countless people worldwide. I hope that the book's detractors will eventually come to appreciate the good it is doing for the very cause they celebrate.
Peter Heehs and Richard Hartz are expanding the frontiers of Aurobindo scholarship with the courage and dedication that Aurobindo embodied and recommended to us all.
November 12, 2008
My dear Karan Singh–
With the election of Obama, I and my colleagues anticipate a new era in American life that will bring the dreams for human advance that you and I share closer to reality.
And as a sign of these new times, the publication of Peter Heehs's Sri Aurobindo biography by the Columbia University Press is opening new doors to us among American opinion leaders who have not until now appreciated his importance for the world-at-large.
November 13, 2008
You have perhaps heard of some of the hubbub surrounding the publication of Peter Heeh's recent biography of Sri Aurobindo, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, published by Columbia University Press. As a professor teaching Art History at Pasadena City College and UCLA, I can see the beginning of a new opening to the message of Indian spirituality and the special contribuition of Sri Aurobindo as a result of scholarly attention to this book. All those I know who have read the book have been positively impacted by the horizons of human possibility represented in Sri Aurobindo's life through the book's unsentimental portrayal.
I trust you won’t mind if I reflect on past experiences and express some thoughts on a topic of mutual interest; spiritual life. I began the study of Sri Aurobindo’s writings in 1955, and first visited his ashram in Pondicherry in 1957, having obtained the written permission of the Mother, Mirra Alfassa, to do so. The ashram was not an open institution at that time and housed just a few hundred dedicated spiritual aspirants. Even so, those who did not have sufficient inner strength and sincerity could suddenly vacate overnight after having come face to face with the intense spiritual energy the Mother focused on every individual sadhana. Standing in the early morning under her balcony for Darshan was an inner phenomenon impossible to describe adequately — and which I am sure each one would do so differently — yet I am sure no one would deny that various levels of the consciousness were stirred up for change to occur, sometimes quite disturbingly.
Dear members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust,
I am writing to you to express my thoughts regarding the recent biography of Sri Aurobindo “The Lives of Sri Aurobindo” written by one of your ashram members, who I am told is being persecuted as a result of his authorship of this book.
Dear Manoj Das Gupta
To begin with, my apologies for writing to you without an invitation to do so.
I write in order to express a sense of solidarity for a good friend, Peter Heehs. Being a good friend of his, it is highly likely that my views are biased; being an artist and an academician, it is also likely that I speak with a certain detachment. I have known Peter for several years now — and whatever be the criticism for his new book, I am extremely pained by the manner in which several devotees of Sri Aurobindo, have reacted to it.
I am writing to you because of my concern about the personal attacks and threats towards Peter Heehs because of his book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. You probably do not know of me, but I have been involved in this Yoga since meeting the Mother in 1970, which later inspired me to join Auroville, with her blessing, and live there for 7 years in the 1970's. Afterwards I remained active in the USA as the editor of the journal Collaboration, was one of the founders of the All USA Meeting (AUM) and a member of the board of the Foundation for World Education.
July 14, 2009
Dear Mr. Dasgupta:
I am a Professor of Religion at Truman State University in the United States. I recently wrote a review of Peter Heehs’s biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, for a refereed journal. For many years I have been interested in Sri Aurobindo’s life and work.
I was very happy to learn that Heehs had written a biography of Sri Aurobindo, and read that biography with enthusiasm. Heehs’s work answered many questions that I have had for a long time about Sri Aurobindo. As a scholar, I also appreciate the care that Heehs has taken in producing a fine book. He is a first-rate historian, and has given readers a first-rate account of Sri Aurobindo’s life.
October 1, 2010
To the members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry
We, the Board members of Auroville International, are writing to you to convey our serious concerns about the impending legal action instigated by a few members of the Ashram community against the current trustees, which appears to us to be a threat to the integrity and credibility of the Ashram itself.... [PDF]
Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Arts
Saltoniskiu 58, LT-08105
October 5, 2010
Dear Mr. Das Gupta,
My acquaintance with Sri Aurobindo’s works began in 1988. Since then I have been studying his works on metaphysics as well as his psychological, social and political thought. I wrote over 20 scientific articles and gave lectures in conferences presenting Sri Aurobindo’s thought to the academic audience. On the 18th of December, 2009, I successfully defended my doctor’s thesis in philosophy at the Institute of Culture, Philosophy and Arts and Vytautas Magnus University in Vilnius, Lithuania. During my research work from 2005 to 2009 I came across Mr. Peter Heehs’s scientific papers on nationalism and Sri Aurobindo’s early stage of political life as a revolutionary, published by prestigious publishers like the Columbia University Press, Oxford University Press and others. Knowing that Mr. P. Heehs is the only and the best expert in the field, I studied his materials (Nationalism, Terrorism, Communalism, Indian Religions etc.), which were very helpful in a process of scrutinizing the problem of Indian movement of independence at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and the role Sri Aurobindo played in it.
Dear fellow devotees,
Messers Sraddhalu Ranade, Raman Reddy, S. Ramanathan and Niranjan Naik.
We, the devotees of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo are addressing this letter to four of you and not to your collaborator, Sudha Sinha since we have no knowledge of her status or credentials. In your complaint against the Ashram Trust she is identified as a 'resident inmate of the Ashram'. On enquiry we find it to be untrue. However, we have expectations that you four will reflect on our submission with understanding and good will. Suffice to say that as devotees and frequent visitors to the Ashram our only concern is the image of our sacred spiritual home as well as the well being of its inmates including you four.