CIIS, Sri Aurobindo & the Ongoing Evolution of the Integral Yoga

An Open Letter to Robert McDermott, Part II

Robert McDermott is president emeritus of CIIS, author of The Essential Aurobindo (1973), & program chair of CIIS's 'Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness' department.

22 August 2011

Dear Robert,

I will of course honor your request not to publish your responses to Robert Wilkinson and Patrizia and myself this past week.

I have been doing some research of my own to try to understand the lineage and affiliations of CIIS. I learned that CIIS was originally established in 1968 as branch of the Cultural Integration Fellowship (CIF) which was established by Sri Aurobindo student Hardas Chaudhury in 1951 (the year after Sri Aurobindo’s Mahasamadhi). CIF maintains close ties with CIIS and the Sri Aurobindo Association (a.k.a. presided over by Lynda Lester. Lester, who you report that you do not know of, spoke at the 2007 AUM conference that was co-hosted and co-organized and co-promoted by CIIS, wherein she lumped Patrizia in with fundamentalists who somehow retard the ongoing evolution of the Integral Yoga. 

I see that you went to Pondicherry on a Fulbright scholarship in 1966 and in 1972 organized an ‘Auroville-inspired experimental community’ in upstate New York which was attended by, amongst others, Auroville founding member and author Robert Lawlor. Lawlor attended classes of Patrizia in Pondicherry, and yet despite his interest in sacred geometry/architecture, he did not, as far as I know, use his knowledge to speak out against the distortions of the Mother’s Temple design. Instead, he abandoned ship so to speak and went his own way. The 1972 New York group also was attended by Julian Lines, the current east-coast coordinator of AVIUSA (Auroville International USA). On the AVIUSA board I also recognize ‘Constance’ (David Walker) from his dismissals of Patrizia’s work that I encountered from the Auroconf group en mass in 2006 (including the dismissals by Lynda Lester). Not just dismissal based on disinterest as you have suggested … there was slander and contempt in the mix, including the supposition that Patrizia is delusional, schizophrenic and such. In 2007, you were a panelist for the AUM conference with AVIUSA president Mary Alexander, Sri Aurobindo Ashram ‘educator and scholar’ Sraddhalu Ranade and CIIS president Joseph L. Subbiondo. This panel discussed the topic of ‘An Educational Curriculum for a Transitional Species’.

It seems from what you have written to Patrizia, Robert Wilkinson and me over these past weeks that you also, for reasons of your own, took your leave of the Aurobindo-Mother ship, circa 1976 and gave your attention fully to Steiner and Anthroposophy. I write 1976 because you wrote Patrizia that you have given the last 35 years of your life to Steiner’s teaching and influence. I believe you gravitated more towards Steiner’s experience of ‘the centrality of Christ ‒ in cooperation with Buddha and other spiritual beings in service of humanity and the earth’ [from ‘Anthroposophical and Transpersonal Worldviews’ (2001)] rather than Sri Aurobindo’s perspective that these incarnations were indeed evolutionary forces, but represented, in a sense, errors in consciousness that plunged humanity deeper into darkness and encouraged an escape from the material woes of the world for the past 2,000 years.

You write to Patrizia that there is no rejection at CIIS regarding her work, only ‘disinterest’, and you feel that hypocrisy is too strong and harsh of a word for your and CIIS’s failure in general to investigate as scholars and remain open to Patrizia’s teachings and integrate them into the CIIS curriculum (as you have done for so many others with far less credentials in the field of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga). But I feel that you are not fully taking into account the web of interconnections that ties you and CIIS to other groups who have intentionally ignored and dismissed Patrizia’s writings because they do not want their own Aurovillian ideal and their own understanding of the Integral Yoga to be challenged. This rejection has included book burning, defamation, blatant lies, and lies by omission. You and CIIS are, involuntary as it may be, linked to these people in the web of time and space … and you are thus involved in the whole unfolding sequence and consequence. And CIIS could play a progressive and proactive role in helping students consider the issues at hand for themselves, rather than continuing to foster an un-academic stance of disinterest. That is why I sent you Patrizia’s books in the first place and why I have sent you notes and links from time to time.

You were ‘there’ (in the Integral Yoga field) in the last years of the Mother’s life and in the beginning of the choice made in Auroville to basically discard the Mother’s Supramental Gnosis and to build a community centered around a distortion of her temple vision. The Mother’s Temple was never actually built, yet to this day the community, including guiding members of CIF, AVIUSA, AUM and CIIS remain ‘disinterested’ in Patrizia’s attempts to share the Vedic measure and full meaning of the Mother’s original temple design. In 2005 CIIS offered a course abroad entitled ‘Auroville: Spirituality, Community, and Multiculturalism in South India’. The instructors – one of whom I knew via an unrelated course of study and who I had previously sent information regarding Patrizia’s Supramental Yoga – did not think it important to include any of the written works by Patrizia which expose the unpleasant truth that Aurovillians have distorted the Mother’s Temple and therefore simultaneously distorted the Integral and Supramental Gnosis. As far as the syllabus and the recommended reading is concerned, there is no indication that someone name Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet exists and presents her work as a continuation of the descent of Supramental Knowledge. Your book The Essential Aurobindo, however, did make it onto the required reading list.

What I am trying to bring into view is that whether your disinterest in investigating Patrizia’s work stems only from your devotion to Steiner, or also from some trace of bias that you carry on from your earlier associations/affiliations with people who still to this day are invested in shoving her work under the proverbial rug, the result is the same. The result is that CIIS ‒ a school that is suppose to be founded on Sri Aurobindo’s yoga ‒ has mirrored your own disinterest in actively pursuing Truth in matters of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Supramental and Integral Yoga. I’m not at all saying this is all your fault. I do know it is not. I am just saying that perhaps if you had been more interested in actively investigating the Supramental Descent, which would be fitting for anyone occupying leadership positions at CIIS, then perhaps students of CIIS would have already had access to courses on subjects such as the Supramental Cosmology and Vedic Gnosis, the Sacred Geometry of the Mother’s Temple, and the Geometry and Integral/Supramental Vision of Time.

To close I will say that I certainly wish your exchange with Patrizia had gone better and I do appreciate your offer to meet with me. But for now I will have to decline because I feel that despite your personal disinterest, and despite the disharmonious exchange that just took place, it is Patrizia who you should invite to CIIS to explain her position and to discuss her work as an advance in Supramental and Integral Gnosis. If there is disinterest and nobody shows up for her talks, then that will be that! But considering that CIIS has offered classes and hosted events of people that are unaware of, ignoring or denying her side of the story for many decades, it should ‒ in the spirit of fairness and academic interest ‒ host an event, perhaps a weekend or week of talks, wherein she is given space to share her story.


Lori Tompkins


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