A year ago we published an interview with Peter Heehs and a book review of his newly-published biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. Since then the book has generated enormous controversy within the Aurobindonian community. Some people regard it as ground-breaking; others believe that it demeans Sri Aurobindo. The controversy has become so heated that civil and criminal cases have been lodged against the author.
One of the important issues thrown up by the controversy concerns how to introduce Sri Aurobindo to those with no background in the yoga or spirituality. Some people suggest that the attempt should not be made, arguing that if an individual is ready he or she will discover Sri Aurobindo for themselves. Others believe it is valid to create some kind of bridge to Sri Aurobindo's work for those who might otherwise not come upon it or not want to read it.
But what would that bridge look like? Would it be devotional, uncritical, allowing nothing which disturbs the impression of a smooth, inevitable, unfolding of avatarhood? Or is there a place for a biography which places Sri Aurobindo in the mundane world, which is willing to document his struggles and failures along with his enormous achievements? Which might not take for granted everything that his devotees take as articles of faith?
Where does the line run between over-simplification and providing greater accessibility to Sri Aurobindo and his work? Is it legitimate, for example, to downplay the occult dimension of his work if the biography is intended to introduce those sceptical of such matters to the richness of his thought? Can he be presented as a man rather than an Avatar? Can he be questioned?
We asked a number of people to reflect upon these questions. They come from different cultural backgrounds but all have a deep knowledge of Sri Aurobindo's works and all have been involved, at some time or another, in writing books or editing magazines which introduce him to a wider world.