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A “shocking revelation”

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Maggi Lidchi-Grassi, the author of the following article, is a writer and homeopath, who joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1959. She is the editor of Domani, a quarterly magazine in Italian published by the Ashram since 1968. In her latest book, The Great Golden Sacrifice of The Mahabharata (Random House, 2011), she reinterprets Vyasa’s epic from Arjuna’s point of view. Her other works include the novels Earthman, The First Wife, Great Sir and Heaven Lady, and several collections of poems, fables, short stories, and plays.

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The other day there came an e-mail from a friend and devotee in Italy.

The word “shock” sprang out in the first paragraph. It was something about the Ashram that had traumatized her. She had received, and sent me, an article headed in bold black type and underlined

ASHRAM TRUSTEES TO GVNT OF INDIA “SRI AUROBINDO WAS PSYCHOTIC AND MENTALLY UNSTABLE”

It took me some to decide whether this was a very bad joke or something serious. The four following pages were signed by a Prof. Kamal Das I had never heard of.

The first paragraph claims that

in a shocking revelation, it has now come to light that the Trustees of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram led by Manoj Das Gupta have submitted to the Government of India, that original research carried on at the Ashram’s Archives proves that Sri Aurobindo was “Psychotic and mentally unstable with a pronounced affliction of lunacy”.

In the Ashram’s Annual Report of Research Activities submitted to the Government and dated 1997-1998, on p. 26 the Trustees have cited as “original historical research” an article of some 30 pages by Peter Heehs titled “Genius, Mysticism, and Madness”. This article, written by Peter Heehs as part of his work at the Ashram Archives, was also published in the Psychohistory Review in 1997. Evidently, it matters little to the Trustees that the Ashram Archives was not created for the purpose of denigrating Sri Aurobindo but for preservation of his manuscripts. Nor does it matter to the Trustees that  Peter Heehs, being a school dropout, has absolutely no formal training, degree or experience in any field whatsoever, leave alone complex subjects such as psychology and psychohistory.

I made enquiries and found at the Archives this article was published exclusively in a very specialized review for The Psychohistory Review in 1997 in the original  and never read by any Trustee of that time, never mind the managing trustee, nor anybody in the Archives for that matter. For though the willingness of the Archives to help me was patent even they had difficulty in tracking down the offending document.  SO . . .  until Prof. Das had sent this false news around the world linking Sri Aurobindo’s name to madness nobody had ever thought of doing so. What emerges quite clearly is that either he knows nothing about the workings of the Ashram and/or even that Harikant-bhai was Managing Trustee in ’97 and not Manoj Das Gupta and that the article which he somehow tracked on the net was never sent to Delhi in the report of that year or later in which case he is a rank outsider, and mischief maker meddling in Ashram Affairs who has for his own reasons written a malicious and vicious attack on Manoj Das Gupta and the Ashram and Peter Heehs. But while his aim (pun intended) seems to have been to bring down 2 mangoes  with one stone he has unwittingly involved Sri Aurobindo’s name  or was this intentional? Is he one of the “true” madmen the P.H. article speaks about?

Now I want to make quite clear that what follows is not in defense of P.H., author of the controversial book “Lives” (which I have not read) if in defense of anything it is in defense of  clarity but even then I doubt I would have delved into  the subject had it not been my responsibility, (since I am the Ashram contact for the friend who appealed to me) when sending the Prof. Das letter.

I hardly know Peter. In my half century at the Ashram the only time I remember speaking to him was when the told me that he thought one of my books didn’t work and that I should have written it as a personal story rather than as a document. (!)

I did not read his book because I gathered from snippets which were sent to me that it had been written for predominantly western uncommitted readers to which I do not belong. I was grateful for having been spared because I am a confirmed Bhakta of 82 years and have little time left to be distracted. (At the same time I have found P.H.’s physical resemblance to Sri Aurobindo interesting) So much as a disclaimer.

It was with difficulty that I traced the P.H. article for it was not in the ’97 report to the Government. It was with a heavy heart that I began reading the 30 pages. As I have said I avoid distractions but I found the article all right in the sense that it was a meticulously researched piece of writing tracing the history of various approaches to the relationship of Mysticism, genius and madness through the centuries. P.H. writes well and the first 8 pages make for interesting reading for anyone who is interested in mysticism. All my favourite characters in history have been mystics often mystic poets. The line between mystic geniuses and mental unbalance is tenuous but at no point in the psychohistory review article is there any conclusion BUT that Sri Aurobindo was eminently sane as well as being an astonishing genius and soul stirring mystic whose poems testify to his experiences. In fact. P.H.  testifies to the fact that Sri Aurobindo wrote the “most sublime poems in the English language”.

Anybody who reads anything different in the article is criminally  ill-intentioned like Prof Das or lacking in the basic intellectual baggage required for such reading. The saviours of mankind have always been mystics and saints.

The paragraph Prof. Das decided to give out as the conclusion of the P.H. article was not the conclusion, and not the final paragraph.

Here is what P.H. says at the very end:

“Aurobindo himself never showed any outward sign of mental disorder. Research has shown that normal relatives of bipolars are more creative than the average. This may describe Aurobindo’s case. Aurobindo was a mystic, and his inner life had some apparent similarities to the inner lives of some psychotics. But while the psychotic is unable to observe the distinction between the inner and outer worlds, the well-adjusted mystic lives happily and productively in both.”

The editors of “Collaboration” (a Sri Aurobindo magazine) published in Pondicherry says it succinctly:

“This article is as much about genius and mysticism as it is about mental illness, and it portrays Sri Aurobindo as a genius mystic, not as mentally ill. It reviews theory and evidence suggesting that there may be a relation between the three phenomena (and quotes Sri Aurobindo himself who wrote that there seemed to be a relation between them), but not that they are the same thing or that Sri Aurobindo was unbalanced. The article says in a longer form what Heehs wrote on this subject in his book, where the final conclusion was “Indeed, virtually everyone who met him found him unusually calm, dispassionate, and loving – and eminently sane.” Unfortunately, some critics take things out of context to suggest that the author says the very opposite.

We come to the last page of the Professor’s accusations, which is nothing but mischief mongering. I made enquiries into the matter and received the following e-mail from the Archives:

Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2011

From: archives@sriaurobindoashram.org

Subject: from Bob

Dear Maggie

As you requested, I have spoken to both Peter and Richard and asked each one whether he has, as alleged by Prof. Kamal Das, turned against the Trustees. Peter said that he fully supports the Trustees. Richard said that he has never criticized the Trustees.

I wish you all the best in your courageous rebuttal.

Sincerely

Bob

Everybody else who is at all involved in the archives knows this to be the truth.

For many reasons, it has been painful for me to write this account. Madness is a troubling subject whether it be the paranoiac accusatory insanity of Prof. Das or of those characters committed to institutions that are mentioned in P.H.’s article. May peace descend on one and all.

It is true that P.H. could have made his point with less insistence on the madness of Sri Aurobindo’s mother, Swarnalata to which all biographers have alluded, and to the depression of his brother (Manmohan) after his wife’s death, as well as Barin’s case (the other brother) all of which seemed rather irrelevant to me, but like the assiduous researcher that he is P.H. served up all the scraps to play the Devil’s Advocate.

I would like to add that any aspirant doing tapasya on any spiritual path may come to a crisis wherein the resolution provokes experiences that may contain apparently psychotic material. There is then a breakthrough (though sometimes unfortunately a temporary or even total break down). It is also the case of thousands of near death experiences though the result is almost always a  very enriching breakthrough.

It is a very complex subject and though P.H. has done his homework thoroughly the last word can never be said on the subject in general. There is always a “Sometimes it appears that . . .” and “Some  clinicians say . . .”  as P.H. points out some clinicians say that Socrates was nothing but a madman.

But for purposes of this rebuttal to Prof Das it can unequivocally be said that the article sent to The Psychohistory Review does not portray Sri Aurobindo as insane. It does the very contrary. And even if we do not feel comfortable with the way P.H. insists on omitting the Sri in Sri Aurobindo there is no need to go into convulsions over it. P.H. seems to think westerners would feel it “hagiographic” whereas it is much more likely that they have no idea of what it implies.

Appended is the xerox of what was sent to the Government in ’97.

P.S. Prof Das has obliviously not paid much attention to the fact that Mother has scant regard for degrees and diplomas. It is repeated insistence  on the fact that P.H’s one time occupation as a taxi driver reeks of vulgarity.

We have recently heard of another drop out much in the news: Steve Jobs (Apple computers).

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Auroleaks comments: Look who’s talking. P.H., who has nine books (published by, among others, Columbia University Press, New York University Press, and Oxford University Press) and many peer-reviewed academic articles to his credit, has always been upfront about his lack of formal academic training. The person calling himself Kamal Das, on the other hand,  pretends to be a professor (of what?) without having as much as a master’s degree. Not that that’s a problem, as Maggi rightly points out. The problem is his pretense and deceit (to begin with).

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