The KMHH Axis of Evil

A post by Richard Hartz to the Auroconf list


Dear friends,

A couple of months ago I exchanged pleasantries on this forum with someone identifying himself as the General Editor of a certain website. I withdrew from that discussion when it became clear that it was going nowhere and that some members of the forum were not at all amused. My silence was interpreted by my interlocutor as a “deafening admission of guilt” in the face of “overwhelming and irrefutable” evidence that I have sold my soul to the Devil.

You may be assuming that I have spent the last few weeks in sackcloth and ashes doing penance for my sins and contemplating the prospect of eternal damnation that looms before me. Perhaps I would have, if I had not remembered Sri Aurobindo’s words:

Remorse is a damned useless affair, very depressing, defertilising etc. Even if you murder somebody or, what is worse, write lines which amount to a murder of the Muse, remorse is out of place. In the first case, the useful thing to do is to bury the corpse and in the second to seek the capacious arms of the W.P.B. [waste paper basket — Editor] for your misdeed or try to cover it up by doing better. (Nirodbaran’s Correspondence with Sri Aurobindo, p. 399)

For me, the equivalent of burying the corpse would have been to return the money I have supposedly received from Jeffrey Kripal. As you may recall, the issue under discussion was the General Editor’s statement: “Let us also face the fact that there are influencial [sic] people who are funding the campaign to discredit Sri Aurobindo and distort his message and teaching. Heehs and Hartz are being financed by Jeffrey Kripal….” In actuality there are no such funds and no such campaign. I have received nothing from Kripal or anyone else for discrediting Sri Aurobindo or any similar purpose. Let this be a warning to anyone who would like to tap into the limitles s resources of Sri Aurobindo’s enemies and is tempted to enter into a pact with Satan for this purpose as I am alleged to have done. Make him pay before you sign away your salvation.

I may have given a wrong impression that I was upset about being included in the Kripal-Murphy-Heehs-Hartz axis of evil. Actually it is rather flattering to be demonized. Plenty of people get into the history books, but not many are immortalized in mythology. The importance of myths is now recognized. If I am needed as a devil in a myth that helps someone make sense of the universe, who am I to object? Besides, I am reminded of Sri Aurobindo’s observation: “To be a devil needs a considerable personal capacity or else a great openness to the Beyond.” (Ibid., p. 172 ) I never dreamed that I had this capacity. I can almost feel the horns growing.

But all this is by way of introduction to a more serious topic. My abortive interaction with Swami GE was a trivial episode in a larger tragicomedy. Tomorrow (August 23) is the anniversary of the filing of an affidavit against the Trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram by five persons belonging to or associated with the Ashram. On the eve of this less than happy occasion, I felt like sharing a few thoughts on the breakdown of communications between certain groups and individuals in what we sometimes call the Integral Yoga community.

The ability to communicate our thoughts to others who speak our language is something we tend to take for granted until we discover how badly our words can be misunderstood. No one has stated the problem better than the Mother:

When you are able to see in the consciousness of others the result of what you have tried to communicate, it always gives you the feeling of… you know what distorting mirrors are? Have you never seen distorting mirrors? Mirrors which make you look taller or fatter, which enlarge one part and reduce another, you are faced with a grotesque caricature of yourself – well, this is exactly what happens: in the other person’s consciousness you have an altogether grotesque caricature of what you have said. And people imagine that they have understood each other because they have heard the sound of words, but they haven’t communicated. (Questions and Answers 1957-1958 [2004], p. 288)

Miscommunication would seem to be an unavoidable part of living in what the Indian tradition calls Avidya or Ignorance. The nature of mind and ego makes it impossible for us to really enter into the consciousness of others. But this normal incapacity can become greatly exaggerated in situations of conflict. The most grotesque caricatures of others are those that are seen in the mirror of hostility.

This phenomenon is explored by Aaron Beck in Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence. The Mother’s distorting mirrors are termed “cognitive distortions” by psychologists like Beck, whose analysis offers a convenient terminology for discussing the subject. Beck explains that people who perceive themselves or their sacred values as threatened are prone to revert to a kind of “primal thinking.” This regression to thought processes that once helped our ancestors survive in the jungle creates problems under the conditions of civilized life.

The features of this mode of thinking include the following cognitive distortions among others (this short list combines some of Beck’s terms with those that have been adopted by other cognitive therapists):

(1) dichotomous thinking (placing people or situations in “either/or” categories with no shades of grey or allowance for complexity – also called “polarized” or “black-and-white thinking”)

(2) selective abstraction or mental filtering (focusing on negative aspects of a situation and filtering out positive ones)

(3) arbitrary inference (jumping to conclusions from little or no evidence, sometimes in the form of “mind-reading,” i.e., imagining oneself to have special knowledge of others’ thoughts or intentions)

(4) magnification (exaggeration or “making a mountain out of a molehill,” sometimes in the form of catastrophizing or expecting disaster to strike)

This list is likely to sound familiar to anyone who has been in contact with the imbroglio that has engulfed the Ashram. We have seen the construction by dichotomous thinking of an image of the Enemy, who has been turned into an embodiment of unmitigated evil by filtering out all redeeming qualities (selective abstraction). Malevolent motives have been imputed by mind-reading and arbitrary inference. To complete the formula for an intractable conflict, all that was needed was the magnification of the resulting storm in a teacup to apocalyptic dimensions.

In terms of Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga of self-perfection, cognitive distortions can be seen as forms of impurity (aśuddhi). The two causes of impurity according to Sri Aurobindo are, first, the egoistic form given by the “separative ignorance” to the working of each of the parts of our nature and, second, the interference in the functioning of the more evolved parts of our being by those parts that had emerged in the more primitive phases of the evolution. It is interesting to note the similarities between Sri Aurobindo’s diagnosis of psychological impurity and Beck’s analysis of cognitive distortions as features of “primal thinking” characterized by an accentuation of the “egocentric perspective.”

Let us come back to the “influencial people who are funding the campaign to discredit Sri Aurobindo,” a.k.a. the KMHH axis. Like other details of the General Editor’s edition of reality where it differs from normal versions of the same text, the wealthy and powerful enemies of Sri Aurobindo exist only in a world conjured up by an unhealthy imagination. This axis of evil is a figment of what is called, in the cognitive theory of hostility, the “paranoid perspective.” Beck distinguishes this carefully from the delusions of the psychologically disturbed, but points out similarities to paranoia proper, such as an obsessive focus on the Enemy and its “plot.”

What is ironic is that all this is happening among people who profess to be spiritual, yet it is self-evidently the antithesis of spirituality. The problem seems to have something to do with what Sri Aurobindo calls the “snag in the worship of Guru or Avatar,” a result of the human mind’s “penchant for taking Truth by the wrong end and arriving at falsehood” (Letters on Yoga, p. 429). He also spoke of “that exclusive tendency of egoistic mind which cries, ‘My God, my Incarnation, my Prophet, my Guru’ ” (The Synthesis of Yoga, 1999 ed., p. 66). Thus the unifying and harmonizing power of spirituality is subverted and replaced by the divisiveness that throughout history has been tragically associated with religion.

The situation as I see it is simple. The problem is the Aurobindonian religion, which has no right to exist since it was unequivocally repudiated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The solution is the Integral Yoga with its unparalleled resources for solving all problems. It only needs to be practised.

  1. August Timmermans
    August 23, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Maybe I am wrong, but I thought it was in the Letters on Yoga where Sri Aurobindo addresses the fury of a sadhak who got upset by another sadhak. He said, I understand your anger and that you would like to take X by both his feet and swirl him above your head and then throw him into the Bay of Bengal. But, that is not Integral Yoga. Well, in this case of the KMHH Axis of Evil it is the accusers who should be thrown into the sea 🙂 at least to cool off from their ridiculous behavior, and then come back to yoga. Integral that is 🙂

    August Timmermans

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