We, the creators of this site, are concerned about recent actions by a vocal minority among the followers or devotees of Sri Aurobindo, and reactions by impressionable masses inside and outside the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. There are signs of attempts to turn the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother into a religion with some of the characteristics of fundamentalism.

We begin by clarifying what we mean by “fundamentalism”.

→ Religious Fundamentalism (opens in new tab/window)

Sri Aurobindo never wrote about fundamentalism per se (the term was coined after he had completed his major writings, and during his lifetime was confined to its original context: Protestant Christianity), but when he wrote of religious fanaticism he characterized it in ways that modern writers on fundamentalism would have no difficulty recognizing. He put his finger on the nature of fanaticism and much of what is now called fundamentalism in the epigraph to this page. Though the two words are not synonymous, both fanaticism and fundamentalism tend to be seen as characterized by “lowborn and ignorant” habits of thought and can lead to “fierce, cruel and base” modes of action.

Words with negative connotations often degenerate into vague terms of abuse. Words commonly employed in this way include “fascism” and “fundamentalism”. We wish to avoid any loose and imprecise use of the latter term. We undertake our analysis of the writings of the leaders of a loud and potentially disastrous movement among followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and practitioners or would-be practitioners of their Integral Yoga in a spirit of seriousness, marked not by enmity but by sadness. We find many troubling characteristics in the rhetoric and activities of the leaders of this movement, and believe that there are grounds for regarding their actions, prima facie, as signs of fundamentalism.

We will see how closely the claims made and the language used by these individuals approach the characteristics of fundamentalism that are acknowledged by authorities on the subject.

→ An Outbreak of Fundamentalism in the Integral Yoga community? (opens in new tab/window)

We use for illustration the following letters, emails and compilations by the principal leaders of the movement (the abbreviations in parentheses are used for references in the discussion below):

These materials have been widely circulated by the leaders of the movement. Hundreds of copies have been mass emailed to people in various parts of the world, and hard copies freely distributed in Pondicherry.

Passages from these texts will be discussed under several heads, each of which represents a psychological posture or habit of action characteristic of fundamentalists, as described by Richard T. Antoun, Martin E. Marty, Judith Nagata and other authorities. (See this page.)

Characteristics of the Fundamentalist

  1. Rejection of complexity

  2. Demand for doctrinal purity

  3. Feelings of being threatened

  4. Control of information

  5. Exclusivism

  6. Opposition to discussion

  7. Abusive language

  8. Rousing the masses

  9. Atmosphere of violence

  10. Demonizing the enemy

  11. Heroic role in a great cosmic drama

The passages quoted in these sections make it clear that Raman Reddy, Ranganath Raghavan, Alok Pandey, Ananda Reddy, Sachidananda Mohanty, Sraddhalu Ranade, Vijay Poddar, Richard Eggenberger, and Kittu Reddy often exhibit the habits of thought and modes of action characteristic of religious fundamentalists. Whether it would be fair to apply the label of “fundamentalist” to all of them, all the time, is another question. Some of these leaders appear in fact to be followers of the others. A case could be made that Mohanty and Eggenberger are simply influenced by men with more far-reaching agendas. Both give little evidence of the ambition that evidently motivates the others.

Sri Aurobindo made it clear on many occasions that it was not his intention to found a new religion or to revive an old one. The most famous statement to this effect, which comes at the end of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, written in the third-person in February 1934, is worth recalling:

It is not his [Sri Aurobindo’s] object to develop any one religion or to amalgamate the older religions or to found any new religion, for any of these things would lead away from his central purpose. The one aim of his Yoga is an inner self-development by which each one who follows it can in time discover the one Self in all and evolve a higher consciousness than the mental, a spiritual and supramental consciousness which will transform and divinise human nature.

As the Ashram took form during the 1930s, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother encouraged their disciples to leave aside conventional religious practices or to fill them with a larger yogic significance. Practices which could become vehicles of bhakti or devotion were permitted, even promoted, for bhakti is a primary component of the Integral Yoga. Sri Aurobindo distinguished practices like pranam, which had “living value”, from “old forms” like sraddha for the dead or namaz, which he believed might eventually fall away (Letters on Yoga, p. 850). At the same time he and the Mother did not rule out all external forms of worship: “There is no restriction in this Yoga to inward worship and meditation only," he wrote in a letter. "As it is a Yoga for the whole being, not for the inner being only, no such restriction could be intended” (Letters on Yoga, p. 777).

As the years passed, various forms of outward worship developed in the Ashram, and it became generally understood that an overt devotional attitude differing little from conventional religion was the one right way of approaching Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. For a while, this attitude remained a matter of personal choice; but in recent years it has become more and more obligatory. Anyone who did not follow the dictates of the crowd in what they said and did risked general condemnation.

There is nothing in Sri Aurobindo’s writings to justify such an attitude. He always insisted that yoga had to be based on individual effort, not surrender to the dictates of the crowd. He even wrote, in The Synthesis of Yoga, that

the perfection of the integral Yoga will come when each man is able to follow his own path of Yoga, pursuing the development of his own nature in its upsurging towards that which transcends the nature. For freedom is the final law and the last consummation.

Recently the conflict between individual freedom and the resistance of the mass mind has risen to an unprecedented level in connection with the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, by Peter Heehs, an American member of the ashram. The issues are outlined here.

From the beginning, the movement against Heehs and his biography of Sri Aurobindo expressed itself in forms that differed considerably from those generally used in the discussion of historical literature. Heehs’s opponents have not checked his references, questioned his arguments, or suggested alternative interpretations. Instead, they have launched a mass movement demanding his immediate expulsion from the Ashram or at least from the department (the Ashram Archives) in which he worked, banning the publication of his book in India and calling for the destruction of all previously sold copies. When their demands were not met in full by the Ashram Trustees, they launched civil and criminal cases against Heehs, and otherwise attempted to intimidate him.

At this writing, the movement against Heehs and his book is still in full swing. Frustrated by their failure to bring about Heehs’s expulsion, the leaders of the movement continue their work through court cases, incendiary blogs, mass emailings, gossip, and other attempts to influence the mass mind in the Ashram and outside. So far their efforts have been remarkably successful.

We intend this site to serve as a platform or network for those who are opposed to these attempts to turn the Integral Yoga into a fundamentalist religion. We fear that if this movement is allowed to continue, it might corrupt and delay the fulfilment of Sri Aurobindo’s work. At worst it might — to quote from a letter that Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1934 — reduce his work “to a pompous farce from which the Truth that was coming down recedes into secrecy and silence.”

Most fundamentalist movements began as small sects within organized religions and only slowly grew to power and influence. Time will tell whether Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga has the strength to reject the fundamentalist turn that has infected it. In the meantime, those of us who love him and his works must remain vigilant.