August 20, 2008

But it seems Peter Heehs has really nothing to do with Sri Aurobindo as an Avatar, the incarnate Divine

That is religion, of whatever brand it be—but there’s also a lesson for the spiritual practitioner. If there’s a call for the spiritual life, the response lies in going by the triple formula of aspiration-rejection-surrender:... If this is not followed then, it’s immaterial whether you do this or you do that. You may call it Integral Yoga, you may call it Religion, you may call it Spirituality, and what not; but it will not satisfy the soul’s deepest urge seeking the Divine within you, and everywhere. If our concern is this single objective then, all talk about rationality, blind faith—seeing faith is an extremely rare commodity—pale into insignificance. We go to a spiritually accomplished person to seek his help in this regard and endeavour to follow it if we are centrally alert to its methodology, sincere to our own deepest urge. If I’m in the Ashram, for instance, I must always remember the purpose for which I’m here—the rest becomes inconsequential. And the beauty is, this is true in every walk of life. If I can follow my path,—and that path can be by whatever faculty in me is most open, most developed,—what else is required? That path can be by the opening of the mind or the emotional being or the perfection in the physical work or the acts of nobility,—to put in the technical parlance as Jnana Yoga-Raja Yoga-Bhakti Yoga-Karma Yoga. All are equally superior and going by any one of them will the Guide or the Divine give whatever is necessary for the fulfillment of the soul’s deepest urge. In that situation all comparisons become meaningless. The supreme truth is: “There are two powers that alone can effect in their conjunction the great and difficult thing which is the aim of our endeavor,—a fixed and unfailing aspiration that calls from below and—a supreme Grace from above that answers.” That is all that matters. ~ RYD Reply
Re: Sri Aurobindo and the Future of Humanity--Adesh and History
by RY Deshpande on Tue 19 Aug 2008 10:00 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link

In my earlier comment dated 13 August 2008 in the above, I’d introduced Peter Heehs’s The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published recently by the Columbia University Press. Apropos of the author’s own introduction to the book, here is my brief response.

The first important question to be answered in this regard is: Can matters spiritual come under scrutiny of the research methodologies of history? Much of our way of looking at biographies of the spiritual persons will depend upon the answer to it. But that is precisely what a professional historian would like to maintain in order to ‘rationalise’ even the biography of a Yogi, one whose life is never “on the surface for men to see”, that the life of a spiritual person should come under the close inquiry and examination of tight historical scholarship. And then, granting that there is a possibility of Avatarhood or divine Incarnation upon earth, we have the baffling question of writing an accurate biography of such a one, a stupendous question. There is one particular kind of a mind which considers itself too righteous and all that which does not come under its zealous cutting purview is, to it, trivial, inconsequential, worthless, credulous, bagatelle, and that which must be disregarded unceremoniously. Nothing much can be done about it, as far as this “squat godhead artisan” mind is concerned, and perhaps nothing need also be done about it. Very often these prickling irksome ‘intellectuals’ who lack perception come and go, making not more than a moment’s impact,—that is, one could just ignore them. The deeper truth is the quiet work that continues to be done—in spite of them. Yet at times it might become interesting, and perhaps sufficiently rewarding also, if with it one could see the deeper truth behind things.

Let us take an example of Peter Heehs scripting an event in the early life of Sri Aurobindo in which matters spiritual have been knotted with the issues that appeal to the audacious western mind going by its quick rational faculty. Not that it is there everywhere so, even as we witness not unoften vastly observant, insightful and intuitive writers seeing things with some other vision, some other responsiveness opening in them.

Georges van Vrekhem’s Beyond Man and Satprem’s The Adventure of Consciousness are very remarkable in that respect. Thus:

“… if we start quite simply, without preconceptions… armed with an open truth and a total confidence in the integral possibilities of man, we shall perhaps have a chance to arrive at an integral knowledge and so at an integral life. Seen from the point of view of an evolution of the consciousness, reincarnation ceases to be the futile round… With a clarity typical of the West, Sri Aurobindo rids us of this spiritual romancing, as the Mother calls it, into which so many serious learnings have degenerated since the Age of the Mysteries…”

But it seems Peter Heehs has really nothing to do with Sri Aurobindo as an Avatar, the incarnate Divine. He writes:

“There is general agreement among students of religion that Aurobindo was a remarkable mystic, but few are willing to swallow the claim of some of his followers that he was an avatar, like Krishna, Chaitanya or Christ.”

This is notwithstanding the repeated statements of the Mother, that he was a direct action straight from the Supreme, that “his was a spirit that stooped from larger spheres into our province of ephemeral sight, carrying with him the strength of the original Permanence”. What else is an Avatar then? When this is forgotten and, more unpardonably, set aside, we land ourselves into clumsiness of history.

In his Aspects of Sri Aurobindo, Amal Kiran points it out with his characteristic journalistic incisiveness, clarity and forthrightness. The incidence is of Sri Aurobindo receiving a divine command, ādeśa, to go to Pondicherry. Amal writes:

“In the issue of Sri Aurobindo: Archives and Research for December 1987 the Archives Notes are partly aimed at settling certain queries raised by statements of the writer [Peter Heehs] two years earlier in the same periodical. His new statements too have come in for criticism. It may be that his true drift has failed to be caught, but the cause of the failure, if any, must lie at his own door. For, whatever his intentions, a persistent trend in his way of putting things has led to an impression of inaccuracy and of hazing the real posture of some extraordinary events. … We are now concerned only with one particular theme of his, which call for serious reconsideration: ‘What role did the man named Parthasarathy Iyengar play in Sri Aurobindo’s connection with Pondicherry?’ Parthasarathy was the secretary for the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company which the Iyengar family was financially supporting for patriotic reasons. During his tour in Northern India in that capacity he met Sri Aurobindo in Calcutta and discussed the nationalist and cultural activities in which both the parties were engaged. … Sri Aurobindo’s meeting with Pathasarathy is confirmed by his own diary note of Tuesday 20 July 1909, which was meant to remind him of the appointment.”

Some time later when Sri Aurobindo was in Chandernagore, he received an unmistakable inner order, ādeśa, instructing him to go to Pondicherry. The political situation in India was such that, the British rulers of the time were hell-bent upon arresting Sri Aurobindo and deporting him to the far away and dreaded Andamans, the Black Waters. Sri Aurobindo immediately sent a letter, through his young colleague Suresh Chakravarti, to Parthasarathy at Pondicherry, requesting him to make arrangements for his stay. This brings into focus their earlier meeting in Calcutta, on 20 July 1909.

Peter Heehs’s note in the Archives says the following:

“We have seen that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry at the suggestion of no one, but the obedience to a divine command [ādeśa]. But by speaking to Sri Aurobindo about Pondicherry, Parthasarathy may have played an instrumental role in his coming.”

He further maintains that, as a professional historian, his acceptance of the ādeśa as the cause of Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry does not oblige him “to suspend all considerations of the political and other circumstances surrounding his departure” from British India. In order to strengthen his interpretation, he bolsters his view from Sri Aurobindo’s writings that the divine Force does not act independently of cosmic forces.

“I think it at least plausible that the ādeśa that directed Sri Aurobindo to go to Pondicherry operated within a nexus of forces that included the attempts of the British to have him arrested, and the recently established contact between him and the revolutionaries of Pondicherry.”

But there are the divine pragmatics also.

The ādeśa or the divine command is always “clear and irresistible”, an imperative and not going by it could be disastrous, which perhaps had happened prior to his arrest in the famous Alipore Bomb Case, on 5 May 1908. But our historian writes:

“I have no difficulty in accepting that Sri Aurobindo came to Pondicherry as a result of an ādeśa and at the same time accepting that there were political factors behind his departure.”

But the undeniable fact is, Sri Aurobindo did come to Pondicherry under the clear and compelling injunctions of the ādeśa, and that’s all; that’s the occult aspect which one may accept or just discount depending upon one’s own predilections,—but in these matters the deeper truth is always the occult. Political or other operational factors surely get arranged in the sequel of this higher working, and it is not the other way round. In actual fact, if Sri Aurobindo was a Yogi, and a Yogi par excellence at that, then in his case such occult factors cannot be disregarded. If the minds of professional historians fail to recognize these occult imperatives, then so much the worse for the professional history.

To recapitulate: Visit of Parthasarathy Iyengar to Sri Aurobindo on 20 July 1909 in Calcutta, Sri Aurobindo’s receiving the ādeśa to go to Chandernagore in early February 1910, his receiving another ādeśa towards the end of March 1910 to go to Pondicherry, and prior to that Sri Aurobindo’s sending a letter through Suresh Chakravarti to Parthasarathy Iyengar in Pondicherry to make arrangements for his stay there are facts of history. But their relationships, correlations, interpretations can be varying. Peter Heehs has his own interpretation which is not necessarily binding on others. It is obvious that with regard to spiritual persons a faculty other than the cut-and-dry professional history must come into play, another discernment, another elevating intuition in touch with the higher truth.

The impression one gets from Peter Heehs’s interpretation is that, in the case of Sri Aurobindo’s coming to Pondicherry, political factors were so overriding, so powerful that they even caused the arrival of the ādeśa itself, that they prompted the ādeśa-giver himself to issue out those instructions. Such is then the authority of political factors! Such will be the topsy-turvy miracle wrought by the purists of history. And there are plenty of people to buy it. If this is true then, it would amount to saying that political factors were kind of solely or primarily responsible or instrumental in initiating Sri Aurobindo into his avataric work, the unfoldment of his life governed by external factors rather than by the compelling truth-force of his being itself, of his soul and his spirit in oneness with the One, his identity with the Divine. Who shapes whom?—that’s the question; the nexus of forces here forcing the divine issue or the divine issue working out the nexus of forces?

Sri Aurobindo says that he had to obey it, the command from Sri Krishna. In that case we will be told that he did not exercise his own mind but subjected himself to somebody else who was in turn driven by the political factors operating here. That’s what the historian’s interpretation would plainly amount to. But let us leave it at that and go by our own perceptions of things in the strength and purity of the cognition in contact with the higher truth and not by the mental ideas and formulations when it comes to authentic spiritual matters. Sri Aurobindo went to Pondicherry on “the afflatus of a divine injunction”—and to speak of Parthasarathy being “instrumental” is a misconception. Let’s ignore it.

Instead of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo let’s read The Adventure of Consciousness. After the ādeśa “Go to Pondicherry” Sri Aurobindo recollected his meeting with Parthsarathy and set himself to make the necessary arrangements for his stay there. Parthasarathy formed a “link between the ādeśa at Chandernagore and Sri Aurobindo’s finding a suitable residence in Pondicherry among solicitous friends.” Sri Aurobindo was now working in the data and parameters of this world and that’s the only practical aspect behind the epoch-making command, the divine ādeśa; the rest is connected with his work as the incarnate Divine.

“He heard the Voice, suddenly, which spoke directly three words: Go to Chandernagore. Ten minutes later Sri Aurobindo took the first boat down the Ganges and was gone. This was the end of his political life, the end of the integral yoga,” writes Satprem, “and the beginning of the supramental yoga… He found the Secret at Chandernagore in 1910 and worked on it for forty years; he gave up his life for this. The Mother continues. Sri Aurobindo never told us the circumstances of his discovery; he was extraordinarily silent about himself, not through reserve, but simply because the “I” did not exist. ‘One felt,’ reports his host at Chandernagore with the naïve surprise, ‘one felt when he spoke as if somebody else was speaking through him… He appeared to be absorbed even when he was eating; he used to meditate with open eyes.’ … At the moment Sri Aurobindo began his ascension towards the overmind, his consciousness descended, simultaneously, into what is conventionally called hell… This was the starting point of Sri Aurobindo’s discovery.” This was the secret found by him at Chandernagore.

Possibly such is the meaning of the divine ādeśa totally beyond our comprehension. If that is the case, trust then no historian. One has to simply go by one’s own inner perception—and there is always the bright opportunity, the full joyous scope, of this perception becoming wide and conscient and acceptable. In it is the true spiritual progress. That is what Sri Aurobindo had come to give to us, to the aspiring soul in its full divine possibilities. Let us prepare ourselves to receive it, let us grow in it, let us progress in it. ~ RYD Reply

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