Tag Archives: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

A Fatherhood More Equal?

Outlook India
In exalting Gandhi, we’ve elbowed Sri Aurobindo into the shadows
Francois Gautier on Sri Aurobindo
In this time of elections, the Congress has again claimed ownership to the Father of the Nation. But is the Mahatma, whose tremendous personality cannot be denied, indeed the architect of Indian independence, as most history books, Indian and western, are claiming?
The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (Columbia University Press, May 2008), a recently released biography by the American Peter Heehs, sheds new light on Sri Aurobindo’s role as a leader of the Congress. Not many people know that originally, the Congress was created in December 1885 by an Englishman, A.O. Hume, with the avowed aim to “allow all those who work for the national (read British) good to meet each other personally”. Yet, between 1906 and 1910, Sri Aurobindo was not only demanding outright independence from the British, but he also re-enacted Krishna’s message in the Bhagavad Gita by allowing his brother Barin to manufacture bombs in his own house and secretly endorsing early assassinations of select Englishmen. Compare this to the Mahatma, who only asked for independence in 1940—and that because he was against cooperating with the British in their war efforts against the Nazis.
Heehs writes: “Sri Aurobindo never ceased to believe that Indians had the right to use violence to topple a government maintained by violence.” This enormously important aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s life, of protecting dharma, of standing for what is good and true and noble, by force if necessary, is today ignored and not applied to the enemies of modern India. Many of today’s disciples of Sri Aurobindo and his companion, the Mother, would rather sweep this aspect of his life under the carpet. Thus, someone has slapped a court case against Heehs in Orissa, thereby stopping the book from being published in India.
Heehs also dwells on the famous Uttarpara speech, in which Sri Aurobindo, after one year in Alipore jail, clearly defines what he calls the Sanatana dharma: “Something has been shown to you in this year of seclusion, something about which you had your doubts and it is the truth of the Hindu religion. It is this religion that I am raising up before the world, it is this that I have perfected and developed through the rishis, saints and avatars, and now it is going forth to do my work among the nations. When, therefore, it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana dharma that shall rise.”
If we, in France, had a great man such as Sri Aurobindo, who comes out in the Heehs biography not only as a revolutionary and a yogi, but also a tremendous philosopher and peerless poet, we would cherish him endlessly. His poetry would be taught to children, his philosophical works would be part of the university curriculums, books would be written about him, museums would be built…. In fact, France’s outspoken ambassador in India, Jerome Bonnafont, is an ardent admirer of Sri Aurobindo’s political works.
But today, amongst Indian politicians (apart from Dr Karan Singh, a scholar on Sri Aurobindo), everybody quotes conveniently from Gandhi, although nobody applies his ideals of charkha, non-violence, khadi and birth control by sexual abstinence. No journalist ever mentions this extraordinary yogi, whose sayings of one hundred years ago are still one hundred per cent relevant today. Not only is he absent from schools and universities, in some manuals written by the Congress, he is branded a ‘terrorist’. Shame on India!
Somnath Chatterjee, who has been made an icon by the Indian media in spite of his sitting on the cash-for-votes scam, has built an Indian history museum at the Parliament annexe. In this museum, the history of India more or less starts with Ashoka (because he was supposedly Buddhist), jumps to Akbar (who is glorified beyond measure) and finishes with Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.Not one mention of Sri Aurobindo or even Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Isn’t it time Indian history is rewritten?
Heehs’s book can be used to rectify some of the major injustice done to Sri Aurobindo, the true father of Indian independence, who prophetically said about Pakistan in 1947: “India is free, but she has not achieved unity, only a fissured and broken freedom. The whole communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent political division of the country. It is to be hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as for ever settled…. For if it lasts, India may be seriously weakened, even crippled; civil strife may remain always possible, possibly even a new invasion and foreign conquest.” How prophetic!

The lives of Sri Aurobindo

François Gautier

Source: Express buzz

First Published : 27 Feb 2009 03:52:00 AM IST

There is no greater mystery than the Divine incarnating Itself upon earth, what in India is called the Avatar or the Guru concept. It is also a story of Ultimate Sacrifice: Jesus Christ was crucified physically, but every guru is crucified by his or her disciples, even if he or she does not end on a cross. It is the mysterious alchemy of how the All-Perfect, the All-Powerful, agrees to don a human body, along with not only the suffering that goes with it, but also the imperfections a human life is endowed with, which makes it so powerful. Peter Heehs, an American historian, who lives in the Sri Aurobindo ashram, Puducherry, has attempted to recount the life of 20th century’s greatest avatar, in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo (Columbia University Press, May 2008). It created a furore even before it was released in India, as extracts were circulated on the Net. This led to a lot of unpleasantness for Heehs.

Someone slapped a case against him in Orissa, stopping the book from being published in India. He was asked to leave the archives of the Sri Aurobindo ashram, where he worked for two decades; and it is rumoured that he was even assaulted by a student of the Sri Aurobindo school. All biographies of gurus and saints face a painful choice: should they paint over human blemishes and glorify them, as it helps the devotees better focus on the divine? Or should they give the entire picture of a journey from the human to the perfect? Most religious texts and scriptures have chosen the first option. But Peter Heehs went for the second one — and we are grateful for that. For his work will be regarded by future generations as the absolute biography of Sri Aurobindo, avatar extraordinary, poet, revolutionary, philosopher and yogi. Not only is the book remarkably well researched but, as the title indicates, he has really covered all aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s life. When an Avatar or a Master comes upon earth, he or she delivers a teaching adapted to the times, the language and the mentality of the period, for they always live in the present moment. But when the Master goes — and sometimes even during his or her lifetime — the disciples start the process of making a religion out of their teaching and make him or her in their own little image. Thus many of the sadhaks of the Mother have swept under the carpet Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary years, which are very important, as he is the true father of the Indian nation, being the first to openly ask for outright independence.

Most of today’s disciples in the ashram or Auroville do not know, for instance, that Sri Aurobindo allowed his brother Barin to manufacture bombs in his own house and secretly endorsed early assassinations of select Britons, thereby re-enacting 5,000 years later Krishna’s message to Arjuna. But how does that tally with ideas about spirituality, which we basically associate with non-violence? This aspect of Sri Aurobindo’s life, protecting dharma, standing for what is good and true and noble, by force, if necessary, is today ignored and not applied to the enemies of modern India. It is difficult to write about something close to us, as one often tries to make a distance by being too critical. It is thus true that Heehs is harsh in some of his assessments — but not where he has been pilloried by disciples of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. Like most Western Indologists, for instance, he has a deep suspicion of Hinduism. He therefore glosses over the famous Uttarpara speech, where Sri Aurobindo clearly defines what he calls the Sanatana Dharma, as the spirituality which is contained in the Hindu religion: “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others”.

But Peter only mentions that “left wing critics use the Uttarpara speech as a proof that Sri Aurobindo’s nationalism was Hindu to the core; and right-wing enthusiasts regard the speech as an expression of the imperishable Indian spirit” (p.187). Heehs also passes some judgments on Sri Aurobindo, which are at best puerile: he calls him “intransigent”, which tended “to limit his effectiveness” (p.212); he also finds “his poetry and prose outdated” (p.414). But Savitri, Sri Aurobindo’s Magnum Opus, will be read hundreds of years from now, and compared to the Iliad and the Odyssey, with the prophetic and supramental element added. This stated, I have to say that reading this book has been one of the most uplifting literary experiences: it has refreshed and upgraded my relationship with Sri Aurobindo. I have understood better the extraordinary mystery of avatarhood and the terrible sacrifice made by all great gurus of all religions.

The rhythms of that book accompanied me in my sleep, primed my mornings and touched my heart to the deepest. Thank you, Peter Heehs. I hope some sensible judge will quickly lift the ban and that all your detractors will have the courage to read this remarkable biography and change their opinions.