Tag Archives: Peter Heehs

A letter to Sraddhalu Ranade

Two years ago, an Anonymous Devotee penned the following letter to Sraddhalu Ranade. Till date we haven’t seen any response from Sraddhalu Ranade on this subject. We invite Sraddhalu Ranade to post his response on this blog.


Dear Sraddhalu,

Happy Darshan.

I am writing to you because I had a little Eureka moment. I saw your photo on the Prerna Centre of Learning website. Nothing special about it. Just that it was so typically you, it provoked that delicious sense of very mild irritation that comes with perfect familiarity – no personal offence intended whatsoever. So when I read your 24-page letter to Manoj Das, it was entirely to the sound of your voice accompanied by your gestures. That brought it alive so concretely that I felt compelled to say something. As to why this letter is anonymous, you will find the answer towards the end.

This is not about Manoj Das, Manoj Das Gupta, Peter Heehs, or the Ashram Trust Board. It’s about you. Or rather your methods and intentions, as I’ve no interest in a personal criticism of your character. But by no means is it a comprehensive treatise on your letter, as that would take more than even 24 pages and would bore everyone to death.

On the Yahoo SAICE group Aurofilio has asked someone to provide a list of bare facts in your letter. I sympathize with anyone who takes up this arduous task. Or perhaps I should be envious, as compiling such a list would take much less time than I’m spending on this letter. Either way, it got me thinking.

First of all, crucial to your arguments is your methodology. Most commentators who want to put their point across usually start with a hypothesis, know what they want to conclude, and then try their best to establish a chain of reasoning leading from one to the other. But not for you this tortuous process. Instead, most of the time you appear to start with your conclusion, work backwards with a flawless piece of reasoning, and voila, you arrive at your hypothesis! And when anyone reads your backward process backwards, i.e. forwards, it looks marvellous. I have always admired your intellect, and this is a good example of it. Your arguments are for the most part so logical and your language so lucid, it would never even occur to a reader to question the facts you start with – the subconscious assumption is that surely anyone appearing so sincere and transparent in his persuasiveness could not so blatantly cite non-facts in a manner that could easily be questioned or exposed. And so you build your entire edifice, the smoke and mirrors of your brilliant reasoning obscuring the shakiness of the foundation.

For example, you say you have “proved” that Peter had “deliberately distorted facts with intent to harm”. A couple of years ago you had said you could “prove” that on every page of the book Peter has tried to denigrate Sri Aurobindo. I wish this were mathematics, that things could be proved so indisputably. And even in this field, a professional mathematician was quoted in a very recent newspaper article as saying that a proof becomes a proof after the social act of accepting it as a proof. If even mathematicians say proof is such a subjective concept, you can imagine what it means in a literary context. And what about Larry Seidlitz, who finds fault with Peter in parts but has ‘proved’ (or opined, which is the same thing for you anyway) that Peter’s aim is not actually to cause deliberate harm? But that’s the whole point. One simply can’t question your ‘proofs’ or your ‘facts’. That is not even negotiable, because then the entire edifice would come crumbling down. What you are ready to endlessly discuss are the lengthy and elaborate consequences of your ‘proofs’ and ‘facts’, because in that domain you sit comfortably immune from anyone calling your bluff. Or might you answer in the manner a certain senior teacher of SAICE is supposed to have when confronted – that if what you are saying is false, others should go find out what the truth is!?

Yet another striking example of the use of this technique lies in one particular desperate attempt to deny a contradiction in your views. It’s worthy of closer scrutiny here. The Ashram Trust pointed out inconsistencies in “tone and conclusions drawn” between your note of 14.10.2008 to Manoj Das Gupta and your later pronouncements on the subject. In that note, in which you brought up the question of whether Peter should be expelled from the Ashram, you wrote: “Ideally he should be able to continue in the Ashram”, etc. However in your letter of 25.06.2010 to “Dear Manoj”, you vehemently deny any contradiction, defending yourself by saying that in the beginning of your note, that part where you apparently advised against expelling Peter, you were only “paraphrasing” Manoj Das Gupta’s “dilemma”, and that these were not your views. You say your views only began after that part of your letter (“my message to you…begins only after this”), and state “you now quote me out of context to try to fool people, presenting my summary of your dilemma as if it is my position!” Then, in your letter to Manoj Das, you say, “I have never advised MDG ‘against expelling PH’ as you and he now claim. He misquoted my letter to claim this lie in an abuse of simple literary ethics…. by misquoting me, MDG turned a simple truth into a dangerous falsehood.” To the unacquainted reader, it all sounds very convincing: “Poor Sraddhalu, yet another victim of the eternal game of being quoted out of context. The readers of his note don’t have the subtlety of intellect to appreciate the use of a literary device. Or have they have cleverly contrived to use it to their advantage?”

Till one actually reads your note, that is. And the revelation dawns that there is absolutely nothing in it to support your contention, even after going through it over and over again. You start your note saying you wish to “share some thoughts” (obviously your thoughts) to be pondered over when alone. Then, “Some action is necessary to defend the Ashram and Sri Aurobindo’s reputation.” “Peter’s continuance will be most damaging…but removal of Peter from the Ashram would be a most unfortunate extreme, and might even lead to more harm than his continuance. Ideally he should be able to continue in the Ashram, and perhaps even keep contact with Archives and related work, but with his access curtailed to the extent of his demonstrated trustworthiness.” “This is a difficult situation. There are no set standards for action or inaction. All rests on the consciousness in which we choose to act or not act.” “Hasty action could have serious repercussions.” The “hasty action” you speculate on here obviously refers to expulsion from the Archives or the Ashram, or denial of access, not retaining him in the Ashram which would be a do-nothing status quo thing that by definition would not be “hasty action”. Surely there is nothing so far to indicate you are paraphrasing Manoj Das Gupta’s dilemma as expressed in his letter to Dada the previous week. If that were the case, the burden was on you to explicitly assert the use of that literary device, and not on the reader to infer it out of nowhere. Besides you do not refer to the letter to Dada even once. In the two sentences that follow, in the same paragraph, you address Manoj Das Gupta as ‘you’, in your voice, speaking directly to him, and not some rhetorical musing of a debate raging in his mind. Next you ask, “What are the criteria to apply for what should be done?” and pontificate thus in reply, “all depends on the attitude and commitment that Peter himself chooses to have towards Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.” In other words, to test the “demonstrated trustworthiness” mentioned earlier in the context of extent of curtailment of access. You then proceed to suggest a private conversation with Peter to gauge this trustworthiness.

One could summarize your entire letter thus: Peter’s continuance will be damaging, but his removal might lead to even more harm. Ideally, he should continue, perhaps with restricted access to archival material depending on his trustworthiness which is to be judged by Manoj Das Gupta in a one-on-one meeting. There is perfect internal consistency in the so-called two portions of your letter, it is homogeneous in tone, and the transition between them is seamless. Your letter is a singular entity in which you debate the possibilities, clearly lean towards retention of Peter as a kind of lesser of two evils, and seriously suggest probing into Peter’s psyche with the ultimate aim of determining the “extent” of denial to him of access to archival records.

Sraddhalu, you with your command over the English language, ever cautious in your use of every single word, would surely have put in elaborate qualifying clauses had you been adopting the unusual and dangerous device of not speaking in your own voice and deliberately stating something you don’t agree with in the process of summarizing another’s dilemma, as you claim. For instance, “Let me put myself in your shoes for a moment…”, “I can imagine your dilemma…”, interspersed with “You must be thinking…”, etc. I have too much faith in your intelligence to contemplate otherwise. But no, there’s nothing of the sort to be found at all . Yet when your letter’s recipients simply quote you, you blame them for taking your words at face value, the natural and straightforward approach that anyone would take, and instead insist they should have read into your brief and plain note a fanciful, dramatic dialogue in which the actors take hypothetical contrarian positions, without your giving even the slightest hint of your grand literary design.

At the very least, your forceful denial of a variance in “the tone and the conclusions drawn” between this note and other proclamations such as your email of 13.01.2009, is disingenuous. And then your final hypothesis…oops, sorry…conclusion: Manoj Das Gupta (who for the record has personally not even commented on these letters) is a liar.

Sraddhalu, had I been appointed your “Machiavellian advisor” (though I agree you don’t need any, as he/she wouldn’t be able to add anything substantial to your vast storehouse of ideas), I’d whisper in your ear, “Ranadeji, please don’t take this line of defence. You will be exposed. Instead just take a deep breath and say that your views have evolved with time. I’m sure you’ll find a clever way of justifying and wording that sir.”

I need not provide here an extensive list of the numerous other examples of these ways. Someone has already dealt with your farcical error concerning the Mother’s statements and Manoj Das Gupta’s playing the role of Polydaon in Perseus the Deliverer in 1993. Suffice it to say that you take things as given with such brazen confidence and disarming sense of finality that either total misrepresentation of fact on one hand or personal opinion on the other pass off as established truth. Your skill lies in making things appear wonderfully convincing on the face of it. But scratch the surface, penetrate behind the web of words, and an ugly underbelly of dissimulation emerges.

I’m no fan of Peter’s, nor by any means one of those who agrees with everything he writes. His attempts to read personal factors and motives in the literary inspiration behind Sri Aurobindo’s plays is particularly shallow and despicable. He does not at all, as you allege, conclude that Sri Aurobindo’s spirituality was a result of his “inherited schizophrenia”. But he does speculate about it for argument’s sake before rebutting that possibility. For a psychoanalyst, these ideas are dated, for a scholar, irrelevant, and for a devotee, appalling. As in the end he rejects this line of thinking anyway, I don’t see what purpose he served by this needless and tasteless speculation other than to show off and look good in the eyes of his academic constituency. But remember, this letter is not about the merits or otherwise of Peter’s book. It’s about you and your methods, which is quite a different matter.

You accuse Richard Hartz of declaring that Sri Aurobindo practised yoga different from what he taught. It is common knowledge that Sri Aurobindo’s system of yoga itself evolved over time. In the early stages of his personal sadhana, could he anticipate the exact shape his prescribed method of practice would take decades later? It is precisely to prepare the ground for us mortals that the Divine incarnated in a human body, to show us what is possible and ultimately inevitable. Even more than a teacher, Sri Aurobindo is for us a living example of what man can achieve. To expect him at the outset to practise a system that is itself an end-product of the culmination of his practice is a contradiction in terms. Or perhaps you expected Aurobindo Ghose in 1908 to subscribe to the Arya, or to order a copy of The Synthesis of Yoga by Sri Aurobindo. Then just after that you say, “One small step remains to prove that the critical but secret ingredient in Sri Aurobindo’s practice was the element of tantric sexuality.” Really, a small step? Perhaps to you. I dare not speculate about whether that conclusion is based on your scholarship or your personal spiritual experience.

You say Ashram members don’t need to really read the book to know what it contains. They are inwardly sensitive to it. Unfortunately I don’t have the occult power of knowing what’s in a book by placing it in front of me and meditating on it, or even by reading a few select extracts. I’m grateful for your informing us that Ashramites do possess this power, and have thus passed your test of “psychic and spiritual development”.

When Manoj Das says “Nobody can say that the Ashram management does not facilitate our aspiration [for progress]”, you disagree stating that it’s not their responsibility to facilitate our aspiration or to oversee spiritual progress. But is that the point? It may or may not be their active responsibility to ‘facilitate aspiration’, but the question is, are they doing anything contrary to it that anyone can assert they are hindering it? In other words, they might be neutral and passive, not active facilitators, but they are certainly not obstructing anyone in their quest for individual progress. We are talking here not of Auroville, a township where the collective ideal takes predominance, but the Ashram, a community primarily conceived as a place providing the most conducive environment possible for individual sadhana. I’m sure you’ll catch this subtle but crucial point.

As to why this is anonymous, it’s for fun. I thought I’d invite you to a little game of cat and mouse. Please ‘prove’ that what you say about Manoj Das Gupta having left a meeting midway declaring he would accept the decision of the other trustees but later shouting “I will not accept this decision!” and prevailing upon the others to backtrack, is true. This includes but is not limited to naming your sources. And please apply normal standards of proof, not yours based on hypotheses as dubious as your allegation itself. And then I will come out in the open. Till then, don’t say I don’t have the guts to identify myself.

Please respond in public – this email address will not exist for long.

Anonymous Devotee