The path of Devotion(bhakti) is demeaned on page 343
Aurobindo’s birthdays began to be celebrated with some pomp. “From early morning,” reads one contemporary account, the house was “humming with various activities…. All are eager to go to the Master for his Darshan [formal viewing]. As the time passes there is a tide in the sea of rising emotion. It is ‘Darshan—we see him every day, but today it is ‘Darshan’! Today each sees him individually, one after another. In the midst of these multiple activities the consciousness gets concentrated.” Climbing the staircase, they found him seated “in the royal chair in the verandah—royal and majestic. In the very posture there is divine self-confidence. In the heart of the Supreme Master, the great Yogin.”Those present were filled with emotion: “is it a flood that mounts or a flood that is coming down on humanity? Those alone who have experienced it can know something of its divinity.” As they approach, “all doubts get assurance…. Love and grace flow on undiminished. The look! enrapturing and captivating eyes! Who can ever forget?—pouring love and grace and ineffable divinity.”112
There is no way to know what Aurobindo thought about the outpouring of emotion. Basically British in his upbringing, he was always reticent and reserved, never encouraging demonstrations of feeling. He was familiar with the conventions of the Indian guru-shishya relationship, such as bowing down before the master and elaborate gestures of devotion, but he resisted attempts by his followers to practice them. He may have regarded such customs as examples of those ‘ancient ideas and forms’ that India had such difficulty getting beyond. But if Aurobindo was indifferent or opposed to ceremony, Mirra thrived in it. She was happy to see the sadhaks spending hours stringing garlands and preparing special dishes, and later, during the darshan, bowing down at Aurobindo’s feet.
(lives, p 343)
Heehs is projecting his own opinions of devotion onto Sri Aurobindo. Westerners in general are strongly individualistic and prefer to see the Guru as an equal. The act of bowing to the Guru reminds them of the Church rituals.
The fact of the matter is that Sri Aurobindo was never opposed to ceremonies and did not resist them, as we can see from these letters he wrote to disciples:
There is no restriction in this yoga to inward worship and meditation only. As it is a yoga for the whole being, not for the inner being only, no such restriction could be intended. Old forms of the different religions may fall away, but absence of all forms is not the rule of the sadhana.
These are the exaggerations made by the mind taking one side of Truth and ignoring the other sides. The inner bhakti is the main thing and without it the external becomes a form and mere ritual, but the external has its place and use when it is straightforward and sincere.
What you say is no doubt true, but it is better not to take away the support that may still be there for the faith of those who need such supports. These visions and images and ceremonies are meant for that. It is a spiritual principle not to take away any faith or support of faith, unless the persons who have it are able to replace it by something larger and more complete.
(SABCL vol. 23, Letters on Yoga, p 777)
Peter says, “There is no way to know what Sri Aurobindo thought” about devotion. The fact is that Sri Aurobindo has written eight chapters on the Bhakti Yoga in just one of his major books. He has written literally hundreds of letters on the principle of bhakti and its practice in yoga and at the Ashram. The rest about how he “resisted attempts by followers” to practice conventions is a double deception. While Sri Aurobindo opposed mechanical conventions, he did not see the “guru-shishya relationship” as merely conventional. The principle of surrender to the Divine or Guru is the essence of all yoga.
What about the long darshans that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave regularly four times a year? Did he have objections to people falling at his feet?
The last objectionable part: “Mirra thrived in it(ceremonies). She was happy to see the sadhaks spending hours stringing garlands and preparing special dishes, and later, during the darshan, bowing down at Aurobindo’s feet.”
The Mother did not thrive on ceremonies. She had to run an Ashram and build relationships between the disciples and the Guru. She acted based on her spiritual consciousness, guiding people based on their individual nature.