Eternal Truth and the Mutations of Time: Archival Documents and Claims of Timeless Truth
Copyright (c) 2020 Peter Heehs
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Philosophical texts regarded as «inspired» present special difficulties for textual editors and intellectual historians that can be mitigated by the study of archival documents. The works of the philosopher and yogī Aurobindo Ghose are considered important contributions to twentieth-century Indian literature and philosophy. Some of his followers regard them as inspired and therefore not subject to critical study. Aurobindo himself accepted the reality of inspiration but also thought that inspired texts, such as the Bhagavad Gītā, contain a temporal as well as an eternal element. Aurobindo’s papers are preserved in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, which took shape during the 1970s. Editions of Aurobindo’s books published between his death in 1950 and 1977 were issued without consulting his manuscripts, early editions, etc., and therefore contain transmission errors, subjective emendations, etc. The editors of texts issued after 1977 followed the established methodology of textual criticism and so eliminated many obvious errors. Some of Aurobindo’s readers refused to accept the new editions, and agitated for the restoration of the earlier texts, going so far as to file legal cases against the editors and the administrators of his ashram or spiritual community. A nuanced approach to the editing of texts regarded by some as inspired must take the sentiments of readers into consideration while insisting on scholarly rigour.