Peter Heehs’s Betrayal and an Ashram in Upheaval
Two Sides of the Same Mistake
by Lori Tompkins
Award-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz recently wrote an article on the factors leading to the current economic crisis for Vanity Fair entitled ‘Capitalist Fools’ which begins, 'What were the critical decisions that led to the crisis? Mistakes were made at every fork in the road – we had what engineers call a "system failure," when not a single decision but a cascade of decisions produce a tragic result.' Stiglitz proceeds to discuss five specific mistakes that led towards the current morass of the U.S. economy. Each faulty choice was based on the same central flaw – the same faulty idea, world view and philosophy that dictated U.S. financial policy since 1987, when Alan Greenspan was put in charge of the Federal Reserve. He closes the article with the following conclusion and a confession by Greenspan:
'The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal. Looking back at that belief during hearings this fall on Capitol Hill, Alan Greenspan said out loud, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Henry Waxman pushed him, responding, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working.” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan said. The embrace by America—and much of the rest of the world—of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today.'
After reading the article I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a godsend if those whose will it has been to protect the yoga and legacy of Sri Aurodindo and the Mother would make such a sincere and public inquiry into the question of what central flaw and subsequent series of mistakes have led to longtime ashramite, Peter Heehs’s betrayal of their cause and to the crisis this betrayal has created in the Integral Yoga community? Would any be willing to recognize and admit that such a flaw exists and inevitably marches them towards collapse from the inside out?’
Those who protest against Heehs and his book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo would like to think that it is only Heehs who is at fault ... only Heehs's mindset and view that has allowed the divergence from and falsification of Sri Aurobindo’s yogic path and its real effect in the world. Yet both they and Heehs form two sides of the same mistake. Both are focused on (in Heehs’s case by de-sanctifying and in the Aurobindonian fundamentalists’ case by protecting) the past accomplishments of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother while rejecting or remaining oblivious to the living present that assures the future of their divine Work. Despite evidence to the contrary presented by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (Thea), Heehs and Aurobindonian fundamentalists share the belief that the descent of transformative knowledge brought into the world by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, stopped with their departures. Certain of this belief, post-1973 they have practiced and/or taught the yoga with no living guide other than their own hearts and minds. They have trusted that the spirit of Sri Aurobindo and the will of the Mother would manifest through them sufficiently enough to sanctify their choices and their creations.
One of the first ominous by-products of this belief was the choice to diverge from the Mother’s blueprints in the building of Her own temple. The Mother’s vision was treated as if it were something that her students could improve upon and in the end the sacred (truly Vedic) measurements she gave for this ‘Symbol of the Future Realisation’ were disregarded by those in charge of the construction. A similar disregard was displayed in the choice of an Ashram press manager to destroy the first press run of Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet’s book, The New Way, Volumes 1 & 2, which detailed not only the truth, the consciousness-force and the beauty of the Mother’s original temple design, but also the necessity of Sri Aurobindo’s rebirth to fulfill the formula of a four-part descent as the sure foundation of the ‘rise and establishment of a Gnostic society’. The rejection of this book is equivalent to rejecting the vision of how the Supramental Descent continues to evolve, progress, succeed, uplift and illuminate the world.
Such mistakes can be traced back to one hard to see, hard to admit but very real central flaw. What is it? With regard to the Integral Yoga community, what is that central flaw that promises perpetual crisis, fracture and eventual collapse of all that rests on its faulty foundation? What could it be other than an inadequate grasp of the divinity and consciousness-force that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother envisioned, embodied and tried to prepare the world for? Combine a narrow grasp of the divine consciousness of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with basic egoic tendencies (to be in charge, to protect itself, to be separate, to have ‘free license’) and one has the recipe for the slow decay that has surfaced over the years in the Integral Yoga community as failed sadhana, betrayal, deception, mismanagement, fundamentalism, xenophobia, rigidity, perversion, infighting, scandals, lawsuits, and the persistent co-opting and warping of Sri Aurobindo’s integral ideal by authors all over the world.
This is all certainly understandable, even to be expected given the dark nature of the human consciousness that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother incarnated to transform; but the question that remains now is whether those who have put themselves in charge (in positions of authority) can admit to some meaningful extent, that in their own ignorance they have belittled the full scope of the yoga and blocked the true flow and essence of the Work. As a result their institution, their narrow line of thought, now suffers the fate of a stream (or a religion) that dies off, dries out before it reaches the ocean due to its insufficient (in this case non-eternal) source. Can an individual’s yoga thrive in a dying stream?
Heehs made a comment in the epilogue of his book which represents the drying up or collapse of his own yoga. He wrote, ‘It is impossible to say anything certain about the success or failure’ of Sri Aurobindo’s ‘endeavor to bring down a new consciousness into the “earth-consciousness.”’ If one is trained to see, it is actually quite possible to observe and bear witness to Sri Aurobindo’s success and to the current ramifications of that success in the world play. Heehs has simply chosen not to. His disinterest in Sri Aurobindo’s mission and force as Avatar belies the same collapse. The question of Avatarhood doesn’t interest him because he does not understand either the truth contained in the Hindu tradition which honors the ten Avatars of Vishnu who come to assist in the terrestrial and spiritual evolution of earth-consciousness, nor the truth of Sri Aurobindo’s mission and accomplishments, the most important being his return as the fourth, a continuum in the line which he initiated without a loss of time awareness. He could have thoroughly researched and studied what has been written on this crucial subject, but again, he has chosen not to.
Many followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother stand outraged at Heehs for his public display of ignorance and arrogance and for his lack of respect for and faith in his gurus. But if one looks closely one can see surprisingly similar (yet even more devastating) flaws and hubris in those who have assumed leadership positions in the Ashram and in Auroville after the Mother’s departure in 1973 and in those who have toed the line.
The mishandling of the Mother’s Temple and the subsequent failures to correct or admit the distortions of the temple is clear evidence that those in charge of the project and the majority of devotees of the Mother did not and still do not consider perfect adherence to the letter of, or in this case to the measure of, her design to be important. Hence the temple is promoted as a great work of the Mother, a great work of sacred geometry, when in reality it stands as a monument to her disciples’ ignorance of sacred geometry and ignorance of the truth-consciousness that she, Sri Aurobindo and Thea have labored to bring into the world. Aurobindonian fundamentalists do not admit that this choice represented and still represents a rejection of both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s divine will and divine seeing. They believe that they are protecting the integrity of the yoga. The image of devotion to the ‘masters’ is believed, portrayed and protected, with all the skill allotted to the ego, but the errors distorting the Matrimandir speak louder than the image portrayed. Why did the leaders and the community accept these errors, and why is the distorted temple still upheld and clung to as a jewel of the Integral Yoga community? Why have the only book and only person detailing the truth and beauty of the Mother’s original temple design been treated so appallingly?
A Past and Legacy Not Understood
It is notable on a symbolic level that Heehs’s book and the subsequent controversy emerge from the heart of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram’s archives. Heehs, who was given seemingly unlimited access to the archives, is now accused of using its riches to threaten the legacy of Sri Aurobindo. The archives clearly symbolize the past. If the past, present and future of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s yoga were understood as an integral whole and were the basis for individual and collective sadhana, Heehs’s book would not be dividing the Integral Yoga community in two halves of the same mistake. The book would be appreciated for much of its historical content and critiqued for its distortions, hubris and blind spots without creating the fear, crisis and turmoil that currently threaten the integrity of the Integral Yoga community. Both appreciations and critiques of the book would further students’ understanding and appreciation of the Work already accomplished by Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and Thea, and would further the collective will towards the important Work that remains to be done. Yet, instead of rising to the call of the beauty already revealed, many sadhaks are stuck in a muddy past, defending a legacy that they themselves have misunderstood and helped to distort, however good their intentions.
While discussing some of the difficulties of writing The Lives of Sri Aurobindo in an interview published in Auroville Today, Heehs inadvertently admitted that he had to choose between one of two sides of the same mistake:
‘When I began writing this book, I had to decide who I was addressing. Among people interested in Sri Aurobindo there are, first, the devotees. But there are also many people in the academic world who are interested in Sri Aurobindo not as a spiritual figure or object of devotion but because of his writings or because he was a revolutionary.’
On the one side, Heehs points to devotees who do not appreciate a clear connection between Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary actions to liberate Mother India and his spiritual efforts to reveal/liberate the hidden or forgotten wisdom of India’s sacred texts (the Veda). On the other side he posits academics who do not consider any real or study-able connection between Sri Aurobindo’s revolutionary work and his spiritual work. Neither party apparently has any idea, understanding or vision that Sri Aurobindo’s radical efforts to first liberate India and subsequently ‘the secret’ of the Veda were two steps of the same movement, two integral and formative stages of the same path towards the spiritual and material transformation and uplifting of world consciousness. This mind-made schism Heehs describes represents neither admirable academic research nor sincere integral yoga. In actuality it represents the mental and egoic obstacles in the way of developing a truly circumspect or integral view of events linked in time.
From Heehs’s statement that ‘It is impossible to say anything certain about the success or failure’ of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga, it is evident that he made the choice to side more with the academics than with the devotees. The devotees do not question the success of their gurus. Yet again, in this question of ‘success’ of the yogic mission, we see the commonality that binds both sides together in their crisis. Both sides share the same adversity to considering certain major successes of the yoga, such as the unique reincarnation process of Sri Aurobindo; the perfection of the Mother’s original temple design; and Thea’s revelations regarding the Mother’s Temple, the entire Supramental Descent, Vedic knowledge, and the geometry of time. Both sides of the Heehs-Ashram debacle consider Sri Aurobindo’s reincarnation via whatever manner Thea describes to be preposterous and disastrous to their own cause and belief structures. Concerning this error Thea writes:
‘[Sri Aurobindo’s] reincarnation process was precisely the successful culmination of his life-long yoga. Without this return, exactly as it transpired with the aid of time, then and only then could it be held that he had ‘failed’. Fortunately for the world this notion of failure persists only in the minds and hearts of those who chose to destroy [The New Way, Volumes 1 & 2] the only book where the knowledge of Sri Aurobindo as the Fourth in the Solar Line was given; and to distort beyond recognition the Mother’s Inner Chamber where the same knowledge was preserved. Both these repositories of his Truth were sought to be obliterated. The only ‘failure’ is that these destructive acts failed, the knowledge survived, triumphed.’
The validity of the real success that has been achieved in the process of this world-uplifting Yoga can be known through study and contemplation. One can directly see the divine logic, structure, organization and precision of the whole flow of events, from Sri Aurobindo’s birth, through to the Mother’s announcement of ‘the manifestation of the Supramental upon earth’ in 1956 and up to the current crisis the Integral Yoga community now faces. But the victory is most powerfully discovered when one sees the same divine logic, structure, organization and precision in one’s own journey in time and in the flow of world events. The success of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga in this sense is not a matter of faith, but rather a lived experience. When one directly sees the divine will in one’s life and in world affairs, one KNOWS Sri Aurobindo’s endeavor to bring down a new consciousness into the earth-consciousness was successful. A claim of success void of the knowledge of HOW it has been accomplished and WHAT this success truly means in terms of navigating the difficulties of our present-day world is proving to be shaky ground for the Integral Yoga community.
© Lori Tompkins
13 March 2009