Thursday, January 24, 2013

“The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Integral Yoga: A Study in Cross-Cultural Influence” by Peter Heehs

Peter Heehs is an independent scholar based in India. He has written or edited nine books and published more than fifty articles.  2011. “The Kabbalah, the Philosophie Cosmique, and the Integral Yoga: A Study in Cross-Cultural Influence”. Aries 11:2 (September): 219-247 (Pdf file available here :
Some of these scholars have made strong claims about influence of Max Theon and his wife on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In their history of the H.B. of L., Godwin, Chanel and Deveney write that Aurobindo and the Mother ‘were very largely inspired by Theon and his wife’. In his dissertation, Chanel goes farther: Sri Aurobindo and the Mother ‘may from many points of view be looked on as disciples of the Theons or in any case as continuers of their work’. In another passage Chanel suggests that the Theons have been denied due recognition by Aurobindo’s followers: The Philosophie Cosmique, he asserts, ‘constitutes one of the essential sources of the teachings of [Aurobindo’s] ashram in Pondicherry, even though this fact is, or was, generally little known or eclipsed’.
What I have written in the preceding sections should be enough to show that these claims are exaggerated. Theon had a good deal of influence on the Mother for three or four years, but he had no direct influence on Aurobindo. Whatever indirect influence he had on him was minor, being confined for the most part to terminology. The Mother may have considered herself a ‘disciple’ of the Theons at some point, but the relationship between her and them was just one of several relationships she had with spiritual-occult figures before she met Aurobindo. She carried over many ideas from the Theons into her collaboration with Aurobindo, but their work together could hardly be called a continuation of the work of the Theons, about whom Aurobindo had no direct knowledge. All in all, the parallels between the Philosophie Cosmique and Aurobindo’s philosophy are interesting but relatively unimportant compared to the enormous influence of the Vedantic tradition of India, which Aurobindo fully acknowledged.
Chanel also notes that it is through the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo ‘that the work of the Theons, that is, the Philosophie Cosmique, is present, though unbeknownst to many, in the world today’. This is true, and it draws attention to what might be called the “multinational” side of the transmission of esoteric knowledge. The Philosophie Cosmique, based in large measure on a form of the kabbalah that took shape in what is now Israel, was developed in France and Algeria during the early twentieth century, but now is scarcely remembered in any of these places. Elements of this teaching are present in the Integral Yoga, a system of thought based largely on the Upanishads that was elaborated in India by an English-educated Bengali and a Frenchwoman of Sephardic extraction. This system of yoga is followed by tens of thousands of people in India, and many hundreds in Europe and North America. Thus elements of an esoteric teaching made a journey from mediaeval Spain to Palestine and then back to Europe, where they were repackaged for dissemination in France. From France they were taken to India, and from India they have begun to make their way back to the West.
                                                                             - Tusar N. Mohapatra

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1 comment:

pianomonika said...

Mira Alfassa; the peak of her experience with the Theons was a three month visit to Algeria in 1906.