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Dec. 6, 2008
To: Sri Manoj DasGupta, Managing Trustee
Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Subject: Commentary on the positive contribution of Peter Heehs'; The Lives of Sri Aurobindo to India and the world.

Dear Manoj,

Greetings. I fondly recall our meeting in January of 2007 at the time of Michael Murphy';s revisit to the Ashram. Much has transpired since then, in America, in India and in the world at large. We are passing, as you well know, through difficult and dangerous times in our evolution as a species. Witness the recent events in Mumbai and the contagion of violent intolerance, communalism, reactionary fundamentalism and ideological extremism polarizing our planet.

In view of this resurgent atavism and the resistance that inevitably seems to precede the breakthrough of a more integral consciousness, I have been troubled and saddened to see the way certain members of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and some devotees in other parts of India and abroad have responded to the recent publication of Peter Heehs'; book. For I expect more from those of us who aspire to practice Sri Aurobindo';s Integral Yoga. After all, aren';t we meant to be nobler examples of a more enlightened humanity that models inclusiveness rather that exclusiveness, expansiveness rather than rigidity, rising above bias and pre-judgment, widening ourselves in the spirit of a truer integrality to embrace the validity and value of cultural experiences and expressions other than those in which we have been conditioned?

In this light, I wish to share with you my own experience and evaluation of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo which I believe is not only an important biographical work but an insightful documentation of India';s transition from British Colony to independent Nationhood.

Until recently, I had not actually read Peter';s book. So, despite the polarizing atmosphere and escalating polemics surrounding its publication, I refrained from taking a position or passing judgment. For how could I come to conclusions about something that I myself had not personally experienced?

As a published author myself, my own natural writing style tends more toward the creative rather than the academic or scholarly. So to be honest, I was not sure if I could wade through more than 400 pages of biographical details drawn from decades of archival research. After all, I was, I believed, sufficiently familiar with the essential outline and major events of Sri Aurobindo';s life. And as a dedicated practitioner of Sri Aurobindo';s Integral Yoga as well as a serious student of his own writings since the mid-1960s, having read all of his major works before coming to Pondicherry to meet the Mother, I wondered how I could possibly benefit from pouring through the micro-facts and minutia of such a figure whose Life was so much greater than the sum of its parts. I also had reservations about whether such an academic approach would turn out to be a boring compilation or disconnected series of meticulously-researched historical details which would simply drone on, failing both to hold my attention or hold together as a whole.

I am happy to say that none of my initial hesitations and reservations — nor any of the biases of others that flooded the air-waves and internet — proved to be true. On the contrary, once I plunged into the work, restrained and academic as it was, I not only could not put it down but I also learned other dimensions of Sri Aurobindo';s life and lives that enriched and reinspired my own.

I was particularly touched by the chapters that took me into the deeper depths of the development of Sri Aurobindo the Revolutionary and the unique catalytic role he played and endured in sustaining the fire of India';s will for Independence despite the inertia of more moderate and conservative elements of Indian Society who preferred the comfort zone of British Rule. I am not familiar with any other writing till now which has ever brought to light and life this Sri Aurobindo and all he did and suffered for the liberation of Mother India.

Speaking personally, this contribution alone justifies this work of Peter';s. For it de facto sets aright a more accurate historical perspective which till now — in India and the world — has accorded primary credit, attention and gratitude to Gandhi as the father-figure, force and aspiration behind India';s Freedom Movement and Her eventual liberation. In this sense, Peter';s scholarly research has not only filled in crucial missing pieces in the history of that period but also provided critical documentary evidence that allows historians to update and upgrade Sri Aurobindo';s actual role, acknowledging his rightful place in the struggle to liberate India';s soul and reforge Her truer cultural identity.

Following this progression of lives within a Life, I particularly appreciated the subtle way in which Peter tracked the metamorphosis from Aurobindo the Revolutionary to Sri Aurobindo the Evolutionary. For the reader could begin to feel his momentum and field-of-focus shifting from political activism to spiritual activism, taking that same Shakti energy and applying it to radicalize Spirituality from a passive static internal quest to an active evolutionary transformative practice.

By tracking Sri Aurobindo';s Life as a successive series of lives lived in a single lifetime, and by documenting those lives through an unbroken continuum of historical phases through which he passed, Peter';s research begins to resemble the investigation of a post-Darwinian detective. For I believe he fills in missing links in the evolutionary unfolding of Sri Aurobindo, allowing us to catch a glimpse of him in a larger span of time — a synoptic past-present-future view of Sri Aurobindo as an incarnate human being barrier-breaking through the successive evolutionary cocoons of his humanity, leading us through his own example to the next stage of Evolution.

In this sense, I believe Peter';s work can serve as an important bridge to a wider audience, expanding Sri Aurobindo';s appeal to a whole new set of seekers — scientists, historians, academics, secularists — whose primary portal of entry is through the intellect and critical thinking. For through The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Peter speaks to this wider audience in a language that they can understand — the "native" language of Western critical thought. In fact, through my own contact with the literary world as well as with leading-edge research institutes, universities, graduate schools and progressive media, I can already attest to the receptivity and success of this bridge-building.

In conclusion, I wish to express my gratitude for the publication of this work and the labor that went into it. And to you as well, Manoj, for doing your best to maintain the dignity and integrity of Sri Aurobindo';s Ashram through these challenging times. I look forward to a creative and constructive resolution to the cloud of circumstances presently surrounding the book and its author. Toward that end, please feel free to call upon me if I may be helpful in any way.

Sincerely,

Savitra