Critical Method: Mr. Heehs's reading of the narrative of Sri Aurobindo is in keeping with a currently accepted practice of reading against the grain. Fair enough! However, his claim of an overriding “objectivity” must also be seen carefully against the prevalent view on the subject. The very choice of a subject of research, for instance, the selection and arrangement of “facts” and “evidence”, all come invariably through the prism of the subjective self of a researcher. Words and comments themselves, including those used by Heehs in his latest book, are not value neutral. The decision to rely on one set of evidence to form one's judgement rather than on some other, is also a deeply subjective act. Rather than claiming the high-moral ground of objectivity, the current practice, especially in the post-colonial context, is to be upfront about one's approach and unpack one's ideological predilections in a self reflexive manner at the outset for the reader to see. This is absent in Peter Heehs's biography of Sri Aurobindo, although he seems to indicate some of his preferences now and then. On the whole, however, one finds that evidence is not offered in a neutral a manner for the readers to judge. Quite the contrary, Mr. Heehs interprets events quite constantly while claiming objectivity. Clearly; he cannot have it both ways. [...]
Absolute Freedom of a Writer: Clearly, this is a myth. While book banning and book burning are abhorrent acts and are counterproductive, every author/editor, it is well known, is bound by trade disciplines, contractual agreements and obligations and copyright regulations. Further, a writer writes in a cultural and political context. His/her affiliations to communities and organizations are often cited as “authoritative” or “authentic” texts by publishing houses. Peter's affiliation with the Ashram's archive, as evidenced in the jacket covers/back page blurbs of his published books, or fliers/ promotional literature, are cases in point. For the very same reason, sentiments of a given community, whether one likes them or not, are also important factors that authors and publishers must take into account. As an insider, one must write with care and sensitivity, and not in a spirit of disdain and dismissal. As a custodian of Sri Aurobindo archive, one is surely expected to uphold the trust bestowed upon one self by the institution. SM 8:05 AM
One might remind this puffed-up historian that there is no such thing as “no position” in life, or in academic terms, “pure objectivity”. You always end up taking or even begin with a position or bias in life, whether you like it or not. In historical work, selection of material, the order in which you present it and even the words you use matter immensely to show your academic position or political slant. You cannot pretend to consider negative and positive evidence without defining your position; otherwise you run the risk of either contradicting yourself or not even knowing consciously what stand have you taken. In any case, the reader will place you immediately somewhere in the spectrum of various world-views ranging from spirituality to materialism, and these two views are so different from each other, that you will be classed either as supporting or defending one of them.
Many an Aurobindonian has reacted sharply to the controversial biography of Sri Aurobindo titled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo penned by Peter Heehs where he has denounced the fact that Sri Aurobindo was an Avatar. His own beliefs has led him to this conclusion and therefore he has completely ignored what the Mother has said about Sri Aurobindo in her numerous messages. It is true that Sri Aurobindo never declared himself as an Avatar but if one goes through the features of an Avatar, he would easily recognize Sri Aurobindo as the Avatar who had come to carry forward the process of evolution. But Peter Heehs chose to follow his own instincts, convictions and intuition; he preferred to give his own explanation for, after all, he is the self-proclaimed authority on Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Integral Yoga. His own words ‘…because I…know a lot more about him [Sri Aurobindo]…’reflect his true self.
Through his book, Peter Heehs has tried to nullify the greatness of Sri Aurobindo but in vain.
However, Peter Heehs in his new book on Sri Aurobindo titled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo has dared to denounce Sri Aurobindo as an avatar despite being an inmate of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram for the past thirty-seven years. He went to the extent of saying (p. 380): “Disciples took it for granted that he was an avatar, or incarnation of God. He never made any such claim on his own behalf; on the other hand, he never dissuaded anyone from regarding him in this way.” He wrote his book on Sri Aurobindo based on new materials and records that were “stored in gunny sacks covered with bat droppings, heaped up in an unused attic.” His book, according to him, is unique because all the books written on Sri Aurobindo till date “were based his reminiscences, supplemented by an assortment of secondary sources.” [...]
Thus, in a few words, Peter Heehs has described how he has portrayed Sri Aurobindo in his The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. He has taken into consideration the views of some of the ‘students of religion’ who does not consider Sri Aurobindo to be an avatar. And what about those students and believers who consider Sri Aurobindo an avatar? Has he considered them? [...]
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother hardly declared anything about them openly. Whatever details we know about their inner lives are obtained mainly from their personal writings, correspondence and intimate talks which they had with some of their disciples. It is true that Sri Aurobindo never made any declaration of his being an avatar directly but if one reads his writings, one can easily identify him as an avatar.