Savitri Era Basics

Peter Heehs

The Strange Case of Dr. M and Mr. S Science, Culture and Integral Yoga 

Heehs has written several books as an independent scholar, side by side with his Ashram work, as other Ashramites such as K. D. Sethna have done. All his books carry disclaimers absolving the Ashram from responsibility for their contents. […] Heehs’s historical research is regularly cited in the Ashram’s reports on its research activities, which are submitted annually to the Government of India. […]

It is generally agreed that every historian or biographer necessarily “interprets events quite constantly.” At the same time, all strive for as much objectivity as possible – e.g., by not “suppressing details or concealing unwelcome evidence that contradicts one’s thesis,” as Mohanty himself put it elsewhere (Contemporary Reader, p. 5). The problem of objectivity vs. interpretation is an inescapable conundrum of historical writing […] It is not an accurate overall assessment of Heehs’s writing to say that he writes “against the grain.” On the contrary, he reads Sri Aurobindo “with the grain” on the whole, as in most of his discussion of the major works in The Lives

Mohanty himself appreciated Heehs’s balanced approach until he recently and unaccountably turned against him.[…] There is no hint of any such reservations in his recent book, Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, which is consistently favorable toward Heehs. […] Dr. Mohanty proposed “to offer an objective account from a sympathetic standpoint.” (pp. 3-4) As a precedent for this approach, he cited Peter Heehs’s Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989). In Mohanty’s view, Heehs’s book represented “a balanced approach – sympathetic and objective at the same time.” (p. 35, note 4) Science, Culture and Integral Yoga 

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A Cultural Misunderstanding Science, Culture and Integral Yoga by Angiras on Mon 26 Jan 2009 02:21 AM PST  |  Permanent Link

Heehs has spent much of his life studying Indian culture and has a good reputation as a scholar among Indian academics. […] Heehs has evidently proceeded on the assumption that Sri Aurobindo had nothing to hide. […] By avoiding dogmatism, Heehs has opened himself to charges of heresy. […]

Heehs is criticized for not emphasizing the devotional approach to Sri Aurobindo, but such an emphasis would have defeated the purpose of the book. […] Heehs is skilful at communicating to well-educated Westerners.


The Genesis of a Controversy Science, Culture and Integral Yoga by Angiras on Thu 15 Jan 2009 05:29 AM PST  |  Permanent Link

Upon inquiry, it is found that from the beginning of Heehs’s writing career – that is, for the past twenty years – he has voluntarily given all his earnings from books, magazine articles, speeches, etc. to the Ashram Trust, minus a small percentage to cover his expenses. In the case of books consisting primarily of extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s works, 100% of the royalties go directly to the Trust without passing through Heehs’s hands. He has always repaid the Archives for any xeroxes, printouts etc. that he has made using Archives equipment. He has sometimes asked his colleagues for help in the composition of books. The fees for this work went directly to the Ashram Trust without passing through Heehs’s hands. The persons concerned understood this very well. […]

Peter Heehs [is] an essential member with unique and irreplaceable expertise gained through thirty-five years of experience going back to the founding of the department. Heehs wrote articles and books in his spare time, but never neglected his work at the Archives. He has spent less time attending conferences, etc., than the writers of most of the letters in this section. 


I am not, and never have been a religious person. My parents were Protestant Chris-tians, though neither was religious. I was sent to Sunday school in order to satisfy mygrandmother, but took no interest at all in what was taught there, and never entered a church or any other place of worship as a worshipper. If I ever stepped into a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) it was to admire the architecture and artworks, and perhaps also to enjoy the atmosphere of peace that sometimes fills such places. But I found the beliefs and practices of every religion I encountered to be pointless and un-interesting. The search for truth was important to me; but it never crossed my mind that religion could be any help in this. Rather I turned to poetry, philosophy and psy-chological experimentation in my search for enlightenment. These interests led me to yoga and, because yoga usually is taught by people who come from the Hindu tradition, I was exposed to the literature and some of the practices of the Hindu religion. I found, and still find, the literature profound and significant. As for the practices, I found themcolourful and charming, though certainly not the sort of thing I could incorporate into my life.


Now you may well ask, why should I, a non-Hindu, choose to speak about Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism? It may be true, as Dr. Mohanty has noted in his introduction, that I am a writer, a historian, and a member of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram; but if I am not a prac-ticing Hindu, is it really possible for me to understand the complex amalgam of thought, feeling and practice that makes up the religious system that we call Hindu-ism? And if not, is it really possible for me to reach an accurate assessment of Sri Aurobindo’s relationship to this religion? I will be the first to admit that there is much about Hinduism that I do not understand.




  2008. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. New York: Columbia University Press. 

  2005. Nationalism, Religion, and Beyond: Writings on Politics, Society and Culture by Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Permanent Black.

 2002. Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience. New York: New York University Press; London: C. Hurst and Co.; Delhi: Permanent Black. Complied with an introduction and notes.

1998. Nationalism, Terrorism, Communalism: Essays in Modern Indian History . Delhi: Oxford University Press. Reprinted in paperback 2000, 2005, 2006.

1998. Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Compiled with an introduction and notes. Reprinted in paperback 1999.

1993. The Bomb in Bengal: The Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism in India 1900–1910. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

1991. Modern India and World History. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Textbook.

1989. Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Reprinted 1993, 1997, 1999. Translated into Russian (Odessa, 1993), Dutch (Deventer, 1995), French (Paris, 2003) and Japanese (forthcoming).

1988. India’s Freedom Struggle 1857–1947. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Winner of an Indian State Prize in 1987. Published in hardback 1988. Revised and reissued as a textbook in 1990. Original edition reprinted in paperback in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998.

[See Books by Peter Heehs for more information on the above books and links for ordering them online.]

Articles in Professional Journals and Books

2008. “Sri Aurobindo and Hinduism”. Published online in AntiMatters 2.2 (April).

 2007. “Nationalism”. In S. Mittal and G. Thursby, eds., Studying Hinduism: Concepts and Methods. New York: Routledge.

2006. “Introduction: Appropriation as a Marketing Strategy”, written as guest editor of Postcolonial Studies 9 (June): 113–19.

2006. “The Uses of Sri Aurobindo: Mascot, Whipping-Boy or What?”. Postcolonial Studies 9 (June): 151–64.

2006. “Yoga/Yogi”. Keywords in South Asian Studies. Published online by Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.  

  2004. “Ghose, Aurobindo.” In The New Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2003. “ ‘The Centre of the Religious Life of the World’: Spiritual Universalism and Cultural Nationalism in the Work of Sri Aurobindo.” In Antony Copley, ed., Hinduism, Public and Private: Reform, Hindutva, Gender, Sampraday. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

2003. “Shades of Orientalism: Paradoxes and Problems in Indian Historiography”. History and Theory, vol. 42, no. 2: 169–95. Reprinted in Gwilym Beckerlegge, ed., Colonialism, Modernity and Religious Identities. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 239-74.

2002. “Sri Aurobindo”. In Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, ed., An Illustrated History of Indian Literature in English. New York: Columbia University Press; London: C. Hurst & Co.; Delhi: Permanent Black.

2000. “Shaped Like Themselves.” History and Theory, vol. 39, no. 3, 417–28.

2000. “ ‘The Error of all “Churches”’: Religion and Spirituality in Communities Founded or ‘Inspired’ by Sri Aurobindo.” In Antony Copley, ed., Gurus and their Followers: New Religious Reform Movements in Colonial India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

1997. “Revolutionary Terrorism”. In History of Bangladesh 1704–1971. Second edition. Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, vol. 1, 202–27.

1997. “Genius, Mysticism and Madness.” The Psychohistory Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 45–75. Letter replying to letter of Zvi Lothane in “Another Exchange on Daniel Paul Schreber”. The Psychohistory Review, vol. 26, no. 2, 113.

1997. “Indian Communalism: A Survey of Historical and Social-Scientific Approaches.” South Asia, vol. 20, no.1, 99–113.

1997. “Bengali Religious Nationalism and Communalism.” International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 117–39.

1995. “Narrative Painting and Narratives about Paintings: Poussin among the Philosophers.” Narrative, vol. 3, no. 3, 211–31.

1994. “Foreign Influences on Bengali Revolutionary Terrorism 1902–1908.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 28, no. 3, 533–56.

1994. “Myth, History and Theory.” History and Theory, vol. 33, no. 1, 1–19.

1993. “An Old Approach to the New History” (review-article based on Aymard and Mukhia, eds., French Studies in History). Studies in History, vol. 9, no. 2, n.s., 279–88.

1993. “Terrorism in India during the Freedom Struggle.” The Historian, vol. 55, no. 3, 469–82.

1992 “Aurobindo Ghose and Revolutionary Terrorism.” South Asia, vol. 15, no. 2, n.s., 47–69.

1992 “The Maniktala Secret Society: An Early Bengali Terrorist Group.” Indian Economic & Social History Review, vol. 29, no. 3, 349–70.
Articles in Magazines and Newspapers

 2008. “Trial and Error.” The Statesman (Kolkata), May 4, p. 7. 

  2008. “Creative Anarchy” (Special Feature on Auroville). In Outlook Traveller Getaways: Wellness Holidays in India (New Delhi: Outlook Publishing), 413–424.

2003. “Small Pleasures.” Outlook Traveller. July, 68–71.

2003. “The Floating World.” Outlook Traveller. June, 52–55.

2003. “The Water’s Edge.” Outlook Traveller. February, 80–83.

2001. “Prophecies of Nostradamus: Inspiration, Interpretation and Falsification”. The Hindu (Chennai), October 7.

1997. “Historical Research in Bangladesh”. IIAS Newsletter 12.

1995 “India’s Divided Loyalties.” History Today, vol. 45, no. 7, 16–23. Reprinted in Past Masters: The Best of History Today 1951–2001 (London: Sutton Publishing, 2001).

1993 “Religion and Revolt: Bengal under the Raj.” History Today, vol. 43, no. 1, 29–35.

1993 “Indian English at Ease with Itself: The Writings of P. Raja.” Language Forum, vol. 19, nos. 1 & 2, 59–63. Reprinted in R. S. Pathak, ed., Indianisation of English Language and Literature (New Delhi, 1994).

1988 “Indian Words in English: Resident Aliens and Naturalized Citizens.” Verbatim, vol. 14, no. 4, 3–5. Awarded second prize in the journal’s annual essay contest.


2008. “Good Public-Sector Scholarship” (review of J.S. Grewal, Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India). The Book Review 32 (2) (February), 33-34.

 2008. Review of Gwilym Beckerlegge, Swami Vivekananda’s Legacy of Service . Indian Historical Review 35 (1) (January), 294-98.

  2006. “Finding the Unfamiliar in the Familiar” (review of Amiya P. Sen, The Indispensable Vivekananda). The Book Review 30 (3) (May–June).

 2001. “To Be a Mystic” (review of Sudhir Kakar’s Ecstasy). The Hindu (Chennai), July 1.

2001. “The Mother and the Biographer’s Dilemma” (review of Georges Van Vrekhem’s The Mother: The Story of Her Life). The Hindu (Chennai), March 4.

2000. “In Naipaul’s Wake” (review of Guy Sorman, Le génie de l’Inde). Outlook, August 7, p. 68.

2000. “Just So Stories” (review of Raghubir Singh, River of Colour). Art India, vol. 5, no. 2, 92–94.

2000. “Laxma Goud’s Seductive Line.” Art India, vol. 5, no. 1, 92–93.

1997. Review of William Pinch, Peasants and Monks in British India. International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 1, no. 2, 434–35.

Peter Heehs writes on modern Indian history, and Indian spirituality and religion. Much of his work focuses on the Indian political and spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo. His publications include nine books and more than forty articles in journals and magazines.

 His latest book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo was released by Columbia University Press in May 2008.

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Tusar N. Mohapatra

Director, Savitri Era Learning Forum
SRA-102-C, Shipra Riviera, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad - 201014 (UP) India + 91 96500-65636
Aadhaar No. 3628 2075 7337
SELF posits a model of counselling and communicative action as an instrument in order to stimulate the public sphere. The model aims at supplementing the individual’s struggle for a successful social adjustment with more aspirational inputs so as to help one take an informed and balanced attitude towards life as well as society.
Savitri Era of those who adore,
Om Sri Aurobindo & The Mother.

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