Readers of this blog may have heard of the great Indian sage Sri Aurobindo. We have often acknowledged him in the pages of EnlightenNext magazine as one of the pioneers of evolutionary spirituality. Recently, we reviewed a fascinating new book by long-time Aurobindian scholar Peter Heehs called The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, published last year by Cambridge Press. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone who might be interested in finding out more about this incredible Indian sage. Ellen Daly (who wrote the review) and I visited Heehs in Woodstock, NY, last year and really enjoyed speaking to him (you can hear a recording of our conversation here). He is without doubt a serious student of Aurobindo’s work and the book reflects that. But the book is no hagiography. Heehs tried to bring a historian’s objective eye to Aurobindo’s extraordinary life. That’s part of what makes the book so accessible and interesting. He doesn’t present Aurobindo as an untouchable flawless saint or Avatar. Indeed, he steered clear of the hagiographic, messianic mythology that has built up around the memory of Aurobindo and his long time collaborator, the Mother, over the last decades. Heehs presents him as a spiritually gifted genius and pioneering teacher and writer, but all in the context of Aurobindo being a human being who was shaped by the remarkable circumstances of his life.
Doesn’t exactly sound like the raw material for a scandal, does it? But that’s what is unfolding right now in the world of Aurobindo—which includes the Ashram in India, Auroville, and many supporters and students worldwide. A few individuals have started a campaign against the book calling it malicious and claiming that it maligns the legacy of this great Indian figure. Not only that, they have even convinced the Indian legal system to temporarily stay publication of the book. And they have tried to kick Peter Heehs out of the ashram in India where he has lived for many years. Basically, it sounds like a mess, and it’s causing a split in those who are passionate about Aurobindo’s legacy and work. The good news is that Heehs’s supporters are fighting back and have stated a website called Integral Yoga Fundamentalism, in which they document the controversy and provide updates. This is an excerpt from the site:
At this writing, the movement against Heehs and his book is still in full swing. Frustrated by their failure to bring about Heehs’s expulsion, the leaders of the movement continue their work through court cases, incendiary blogs, mass emailings, gossip, and other attempts to influence the mass mind in the Ashram and outside. So far their efforts have been remarkably successful.
In the offices of EnlightenNext, we have long speculated that one of the reasons why Aurobindo’s work is not more celebrated in the West is in part due to the tendency of so many supporters to view his work and life in such mythical and messianic terms. Of course, spiritual movements that are pushing into new territory, as his was, do tend to have a little revolutionary flavor to them. And they tend to have a highly developed sense of their own relevance and importance. I think that just comes with the territory. But students of Aurobindo and the Mother have a tendency to take this kind of inflation to extreme heights. What a shame. He truly was one of the great figures of the 20th century. He was a pioneer. He was a genius. He did have a big impact on the evolution of spirituality. Isn’t that enough?
Aurobindo should be more known, more respected and more appreciated for the tremendous influence he has had on so many of the leaders of today’s spiritual movements, human potential movements, and integral movements. Heehs book helps that recognition along. Indeed, I can only wonder why more students of Aurobindo and the Mother aren’t thanking Heehs for doing such a masterful job making this underappreciated spiritual icon — whose incredible life hardly needs extra embellishment — accessible to a broader audience.