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Dave Hutchinson responds to “Anonymous Devotee”

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Dear Anonymous Devotee – and others –

Thanks for your heartfelt letter. On a subject that is complex, subjective, or political – and this has become all three – it’s unlikely that many people will agree completely. A few reflections on your note…

You characterize the “Left Wing” as justifying “everything [Peter Heehs writes] in the name of academic freedom and because his target readership excludes devotees.” The disciples I know who deplore the attacks on Peter have never talked of academic freedom. The notion that this is an argument between being a devotee on the one hand and being some kind of unbridled academic on the other is a false one, put forward to confuse the situation. And to smear Peter and others as “mere” academics, as opposed to “true” devotees. Like much of the discussion, it has served to separate people into groups, to define them, keep them apart.

When there are such extreme positions – for example, the attempt to take over the Ashram because of the publication of a biography of Sri Aurobindo – I’m not sure that “reconciliation” is the goal. I wonder whether Sri Aurobindo or the Mother would have promoted reconciliation when the Ashram was under attack, during their lifetimes?

The argument that “the level of consciousness from which one writes would permeate one’s entire writing” is interesting, but it begs the question: who is judging whom in terms of level of consciousness? Who decides that a level of consciousness (mine, yours, Peter’s, Alok Pandey’s) is “shot through” with poison? The statement is wonderfully circular, and amounts to: X is full of poison, therefore anything X writes is full of poison, therefore X is full of poison.” One needn’t get into fine (and impossible) distinctions about whether a person is based on a “mental consciousness” or is “hostile.” In the end, what we have are people making religious and psychological judgments about other people – declaiming what other people are thinking, feeling, and intending. That’s how it started, and why you’re grappling with the question at all. This began as an inquisition, an attempt to tar and feather one person, and that beginning has set the tone and defined many of the arguments.

It is good to mention Larry Seidlitz’ essay again, which remains one of the best and most thorough in terms of debunking the misrepresentations and outright lies perpetrated about the biography. I think your question “Why has no one on the Right dared to challenge him head on?” answers itself: because there is no answer. Larry did his homework, spoke with sincerity, and he’s right.

And it is good to mention Manoj das Gupta’s excellent “Reflections” also. Not all the words that have passed under the bridge in this imbroglio are of the same value, and you’re quite right to call out two of the best writings, from thoughtful, well-intentioned, and deep individuals.

You are quite accurate when you say that “in the economy of things,” “it is the Right that created the Left.” Everyone should do well to remember that in the late fall of 2008, even as today, there was an active movement to take over the Ashram. If the mob atmosphere that was growing at that time had not been exposed and countered, giving time for more reasonable voices and even simple reflection, who knows what would be the situation today? The “silent majority” needs to remember that silence is usually taken as consent.

In saying that there “is a pressing need to keep the debate simple,” I would offer this summary: A small group of individuals have tried to demonize a book and a person, and use the manufactured controversy as a lever to overthrow the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. That’s the subject that I see, and what needs debating. Should a few self-proclaimed “teachers” and “authorities” be allowed to define this yoga, decide who is excommunicated, use lawsuits to legislate Integral Yoga, and even take over the Ashram? Thank goodness that the Trustees have not fallen prey to these pundits – it would change the Ashram forever, and not for the better.

The conspiracy theories are indeed amusing. That darn CIA, in league with the Pope, Wendy Doninger, and Darth Vader again… Where’s a good light saber when you need it?

You ponder “being foolish” versus other possibilities, in discussing the biography. I would look in another direction. Maybe the question isn’t who is being “foolish,” but who is being actively dangerous – for the Ashram, for other devotees, for the community of devotees. Many disciples and devotees I have known in the past few decades have said or written foolish things about this yoga – myself included. But I know of only one small group that has put themselves up as Gurus, turned the entire conversation vitriolic, created armed camps, turned brother against brother, friend against friend. If one is going to use the word “hostile,” one should look in a different direction than the biography of Sri Aurobindo.

It would be good for those who are not fixated on a particular outcome to get together and discuss this matter among themselves, calmly. Perhaps what we need, as a community, are the voices of youth, openness, and spiritual common sense to be heard. That would sound like “psychic openness” to me, rather than religiously intoning quotations from the Mother or Sri Aurobindo in order to create division. And maybe it would bring a breath of fresh air into the ongoing hothouse atmosphere –


Dave Hutchinson

  1. January 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    The argument that “the level of consciousness from which one writes would permeate one’s entire writing” is interesting, but it begs the question: who is judging whom in terms of level of consciousness? Who decides that a level of consciousness (mine, yours, Peter’s, Alok Pandey’s) is “shot through” with poison? The statement is wonderfully circular…

    In her Questions and Answers of June 26, 1957, the Mother remarks at length on the presumptuousness of judging another’s consciousness:

    “…so long as it is not the divine Presence you address when you speak to someone, it means you are not conscious of it in yourself. And then it’s terribly presumptuous to judge what state the other person is in. What do you know about it? If you yourself are not conscious of the Divine in the other being, what right have you to say whether he is conscious of it or not? On what basis? Your small outer intelligence? But it knows nothing! It is quite incapable of perceiving anything whatever.

    “Unless your vision is constantly the vision of the Divine in all things, you have not only no right but no capacity to judge the state which others are in. And to pronounce a judgment on someone without having this vision spontaneously, effortlessly, is precisely an example of the mental presumptuousness of which Sri Aurobindo always spoke. … And it so happens that one who has the vision, the consciousness, who is capable of seeing the truth in all things, never feels the need to judge anything whatever. For he understands everything and knows everything. Therefore, once and for all, you must tell yourselves that the moment you begin to judge things, people, circumstances, you are in the most total human ignorance.

    “In short, one could put it like this: when one understands, one no longer judges and when one judges, it means that one doesn’t know.”

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