Description on page 326 arouses suspicion of the relationship between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
Page 326: On Sundays he and other members of his household visited the Richards for dinner and talk. At some of those meetings, people noticed a surprising development. After dinner those present tended to cluster in two groups: Aurobindo and Mirra on one side, Paul and the others on another. Sometimes, when they were alone, Mirra took Aurobindo’s hand in hers. One evening, when Nolini found them thus together, Mirra quickly drew her hand away. On another occasion, Suresh entered Aurobindo’s room and found Mirra kneeling before him in an attitude of surrender. Sensing the visitor, she at once stood up. There was nothing furtive about these encounters, but they did strike observers as unusual. Neither Mirra nor Aurobindo were in the habit of expressing their emotions openly. The young men, already somewhat unhappy about the inclusion of women in their circle, and the consequent erosion of their bohemian lifestyle, were somewhat nonplussed by this turn of events.
Paul Richard took it more personally. At times he could be heard muttering a phrase of garbled Tamil, setth ay pochi, by which he meant “the calamity has happened.”49 After a while he asked Aurobindo about the nature of his relationship with Mirra. Aurobindo answered that he had accepted her as a disciple. Paul inquired as to what form the relationship would take. Aurobindo said that it would take any form that Mirra wanted. Paul persisted: “Suppose she claims the relationship of marriage?” Marriage did not enter into Aurobindo’s calculations, what was important to him was Mirra’s autonomy, so he replied that if Mirra ever asked for marriage, that is what she would have
The incident has been sensationalized by the use of terms such as “surprising development” and “quickly withdrew her hand”.
If you show two people in a compromising position, people who do not know them are going to assume the worst. Any explanation after that will be regarded as a cover-up. This is basic human psychology. Replace the names in the passage with other names and you will see what I mean. People who are familiar with Sri Aurobindo & the Mother tend to deflect the intent of the passage because they know who they actually were.
Peter has omitted the fact that the Mother had seen Sri Aurobindo in a vision ten years before. He has also omitted the discussions on Yoga they had when they met in 1914 and again in 1920. These are significant episodes which provide context to a person unfamiliar with their lives.
There are three external reviewers who were misled by the passage:
A psychiatrist from New York was confused by the above narration. See the post on a different blog: “Heehs leaves it dangling“.
“…Can one also not conclude that Aurobindo had “fallen in love” with Mira Richard? How else can the kind of union Aurobindo asserted he had established with the Mother be attained? And we know that relationship had a profundity greater than mere sexual love and affection about which Aurobindo was dismissive. Aurobindo’s response to Paul Richard which Heehs reports (for the first time, I think) that if the Mother wanted he would marry her (!!!) is indeed provocative. Strange that Heehs leaves it dangling–it is hardly consistent with the usual relationship between guru and disciple–although Heehs’ no comment seems to imply (with Aurobindo) that it is. Quite remarkable. Don’t you think?”
Jayant Bapat, an external reviewer and professor in Australia, was also confused. Note this passage from his review:
Chapters 7 and 8 discuss Aurobindo’s major writings between 1914 and 1920. He wrote profusely in the journal Arya which he started publishing in 1914. His essays include ‘The Life Divine’ and ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’. Being a prolific writer, he published over 4600 pages of philosophy, commentary, translations, essays etc. in his journal (p.328). Chapter 8 also discusses at some length the arrival of Mirra Richard in Aurobindo’s life. Mirra and her husband Paul Richard arrived in Pondicherry in 1920 and became close associates of Aurobindo. However, to Paul’s dismay, Mirra eventually became a close companion of Aurobindo and in his words ‘gave him the essential feminine power to complete his yogic sadhana’ (p.320). She became his shakti and was able to help him turn his sadhana outward (p.329). Mirra eventually left Paul and she and her companion Dorothy Hodgson went to stay at Aurobindo’s house. Her influence eventually led to Aurobindo stopping his consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Heehs comments that people in the Ashram were somewhat puzzled by the unexpected entry of a female into the otherwise male household. Aurobindo insisted that his relationship with Mirra was not sexual. What was important to him was Mirra’s complete autonomy. Therefore at one stage he is quoted as saying to Paul: ‘if Mirra ever asked for marriage (with Aurobindo), that is what she would have’ (p.327). Heehs, perhaps wisely, has not delved into Aurobindo’s relationship with Mirra.
Also check out this passage from Anthony Copley’s review. Copley is Reader in Modern History at the University of Kent.
Aurobindo emerges from this biography as a pretty strange individual. For much of his life he seemed to suffer from serious self-neglect, dressing shabbily, eating indifferently. His exercise invariably took the form of pacing endlessly around his room. Maybe he lacked a woman in his life. Marriage between the 28 year old Aurobindo and the 14 year old Mrinalini – he advertised for a wife – was not the answer, and for years they lived apart, though at the time of her death from influenza in 1919 she was planning to join Aurobindo in Pondicherry. But the partnership with the wife of French politician and spiritual seeker Paul Richard, Mira Alfassa, was the answer, she was to be his Shakti, his source of energy. They first met 29 March 1914, were then separated by the war, but in 1920 she left Paul for Aurobindo and by patiently waiting was by 1926 entirely to take over his life. Certainly Aurobindo’s appearance and health markedly improved. But it came at a price. The community of sadhaks (seekers), under the Mother’s guidance, became an ashram. Aurobindo, who had formerly believed as a good democrat in being accessible to the community, assumed the role of guru and became remote, only to be seen on the four annual darshan days, and, even more seriously, what had been a kind of experimental open-ended yogic quest subtly shifted towards becoming a cult.