Extracts from Reviews of The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

Most books on Sri Aurobindo are hagiographical, with little or no biographical information; in keen contrast, this book covers in great detail the various stages of his life…. Many expositions and commentaries on Sri Aurobindo’s principal works have been written, especially on The Life Divine, but this reviewer believes that Heehs’s book stands out as the very best by enabling readers to understand the various circumstances that led Sri Aurobindo to his final destination. Heehs (independent scholar) richly deserves congratulations for the first-class research and scholarship evident in this rare work. — Ramakrishna Puligandla in Choice more>>

Heehs’s biography adds many fine details from Aurobindo’s own diaries and retrospective writings alongside accounts from family, friends, associates, and foes. The overall result is a masterful and inspiring biography that provides a solid foundation for further Aurobindo studies and offers plenty of cues for other kinds of historical, textual, and exegetical work that could enhance our understanding of the multiple sites in which Aurobindo lived and worked. . . . Heehs’s abilities to balance his admiration for Sri Aurobindo with a historian’s scrupulousness towards source have resulted in what may likely be the definitive biography of Aurobindo.

– Hanna H. Kim in H-Net Reviews more >>

This meticulously reported and scrupulously footnoted account of the Bengali saint Sri Aurobindo leaves no stone unturned. Most know him as the founder of Integral Yoga, a system that synthesizes karma, jnana, and bhakti yogas and focuses on the expansion of consciousness. But many don’t realize that Aurobindo was also a poet, journalist, author, philosopher, scholar, and political leader. . . . Heehs makes it clear that this brilliant, mysterious figure lived his truth. And that was, as Aurobindo wrote himself in his most famous book, The Synthesis of Yoga, “All life is Yoga.”

– Nora Isaacs in Yoga Journal more>>

Unlike other books relating the life of Sri Aurobindo, Heehs’s study follows the norms of historical writing as practiced in universities, and is based on a large number of authentic sources. Peter Heehs has done a great deal of research lasting many years, working in archives in Delhi, Calcutta, Baroda, London, and Paris…. After the reader closes the book, Sri Aurobindo seems, even more than before, to be unseizably immense, unfathomably deep.… Speaking for myself, I found the book full of new things to learn and admire.

– Christine Devin in Revue d’Auroville more>>

All book biographies of gurus and saints face a painful choice: should they paint over human blemishes and glorify them, as it helps the devotees better focus on the divine? Or should they give the entire picture of a journey from the human to the perfect? Most religious texts and scriptures have chosen the first option. But Peter Heehs went for the second one — and we are grateful for that. For his work will be regarded by future generations as the absolute biography of Sri Aurobindo, avatar extraordinary, poet, revolutionary, philosopher and yogi. Not only is the book remarkably well researched but, as the title indicates, he has really covered all aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s life.

– François Gautier in The New Indian Express  more>>

[Heehs’s] book, which is around 500 pages long, is remarkable. It is an exhaustive biography of the thinker covering all the different facets of his life . . . Peter Heehs shows himself to be a very serious historian who bases his conclusions on documents that are carefully cited in the endnotes. A bibliography completes the book, which is far indeed from being a hagiography. . . . The author has given us a model biography, which is accessible to the general public.

– David Annoussamy in Le Trait-d’union more >>

It is almost a year since the publication of Peter Heehs’s latest book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by the Columbia University Press in the United States. In the meantime, a lot has been said and written about it; it has even sparked a controversy among the admirers and followers of Sri Aurobindo. In this essay I will steer clear of the controversy as far as possible, examining the book in the wider context of Heehs’s other writings, most of which are aimed primarily at academic audiences. part 1>>  part 2>>

– Marcel Kvassay in AntiMatters

Until now, most biographical information about Aurobindo was only available in the writings of devotees, and had an understandably devotional, laudatory slant regarding the details of Aurobindo’s life. Scholarship on Aurobindo has lacked a biography of Aurobindo thoroughly grounded in primary sources and written from the perspective of an outsider, or at least by a person who appreciates the conventions of sound historical writing. Peter Heehs has filled that gap with the present volume. It will undoubtedly serve for many years to come as the standard biography of this great Indian figure.  . . . If you read only one book about Aurobindo, again, this volume would get my vote. It stands in a class all its own. There is simply no other book about Aurobindo available that does all that Heehs’s book does.

– W. Michael Ashcraft in Nova Religio more>>

Just how do you write a biography of an Aurobindo? Peter Heehs faces the challenge faced by all biographers when writing the life-stories of Indian holy men or of Indian politicians turned saints, both invariably avatars to their disciples. Can one maintain the criterion for the writing of history laid down by the Enlightenment?    . . . Peter Heehs is ideally equipped to be Aurobindo’s biographer. . . . It is not as if he has set out to demythologise Aurobindo but he does seek to write a life as firmly based on evidence as he can. . . . Heehs has endeavoured to produce an objective account of Aurobindo and it is a formidable piece of scholarship.

– Antony Copley in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society more>>

Historian Peter Heehs has done the world a great service with the publication this year of a book that may finally make Sri Aurobindo and his work accessible to a broader audience. Appropriately titled The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, this meticulously researched and beautifully written scholarly biography follows its subject through five periods and personas—Son, Scholar, Revolutionary, Yogi and Philosopher, and Guide. While biographies of Aurobindo have been published before, including a short one by Heehs himself, none has ever drawn on such a vast resource of original letters, diaries, and other primary sources.

– Ellen Daly in EnlightenNext more>>

Despite his massive political and spiritual influence, the twentieth century Indian revolutionary turned mystic Sri Aurobindo Ghose has been curiously neglected in Western scholarship. Heehs … corrects this by producing what is certain to become Aurobindo’s definitive biography….The result is a clear and detailed picture of a fascinating figure whose continuing religious relevance can be seen in the contemporary popularity of many of his pioneering East-West teachings: the evolution of consciousness, an integral approach to spiritual liberation and a socially engaged this-worldly mysticism. Particularly recommended for those interested in the religious, cultural and political landscape of twentieth-century India.

– Ann Gleig in Religious Studies Review more>>

With this book, Peter Heehs has done the job of examining Aurobindo in his entirety with remarkable success, and has aptly titled his work The Lives of Sri Aurobindo. . . . Heehs’ volume is 500 pages long but highly readable, meticulous and comprehensive. . . . I recommend it as an important reading for everyone interested in the remarkable life of Aurobindo who made a difference to humanity at large.

– Jayant Bapat in South Asia more>>

With this intense and meticulously researched work, our author [has] effected a timely intervention, asserting how objective historical assessment may be justly separated from commonly accepted perceptions…. Peter Heehs makes a commendable effort at rescuing a leading thinker of modern times from uncharitable critics…. Heehs’s detailed and fulsome treatment also allows him to unravel hitherto little-known facts about his subject…. Personally speaking, I have not found a more lucid description of complex constructs like the ‘supermind’.

– Amiya P. Sen in The Book Review  more>>

Peter Heehs’s fascinating account of Aurobindo’s life and ideas makes exhaustive uses of Aurobindo’s writings. . . . Aurobindo was a poet, journalist, political campaigner, revolutionary, seer and philosopher. He had made himself a man of inner calm and strength. Heehs brings out all these aspects and does so lucidly and in some detail.

– Rudrangshu Mukherjee in The Telegraph

Heehs reconstructs with remarkable finesse Aurobindo’s abstruse thought and philosophy, especially his understanding of the Isha Upanishad and its impact on his spiritual, political, literary and academic pursuits. He has also made an honest attempt to demystify some of Aurobindo’s complex narratives like The Life Divine, and make it intelligible to the average reader. . . . The book attempts a critical evaluation of Aurobindo. It is comprehensive, empirical, historically accurate and a formidable piece of scholarship. Though his followers may disagree, the book manages to humanise Aurobindo for the common man.

– Ajish P. Joy in The Week

This remarkable work is a detailed biography of one of the most prolific writers and multifaceted figures of modern India. Aurobindo Ghose is known for his participation in the nationalist movement, his philosophical writings and his mystical experiences. Peter Heehs tries to unravel these different ‘lives’ of his subject. The book’s strength is Heehs’ deep understanding of modern India, which gives him an edge in perceptively situating Aurobindo within the context of Indian national movement. . . . Overall, the book is very useful for those interested in understanding the many-sidedness of Aurobindo’s life and works as it strikes a fine balance between Aurobindo’s intellectual, political and spiritual life.

– Vijendra Singh in Contemporary South Asia