(Thoughts on this photo: A photo of her I could find shows an attractive but strongly masculine (as indicated by the angular features of the face) and hence authoritarian, young woman in Indian garb, with some genuine spiritual aspiration.)
(also known as Thea ("Godess") and PNB)
current suggested assesment
|"Guru" or "Pandit"?||Hard to say; heavily intellectual style implies "pandit", but belief that she is God (an avatar) indicates "guru". If "Guru" then fails the Guru Test: believes she is an avatar; rails against critics and non-believers)|
|Gurus||Sri Aurobindo and The Mother|
|Disciples/Students||Robert E. Wilkinson, Lori Tompkins, Patricia R. Heidt, others. (note that PNB's followers and students are not devotees; it is not a path of guru bhakti)||Assesment||In a number of ways admirable: intelligent and original thinker, rejects cult of personality, doesn't abuse her followers. May have made some genuine insights and discoveries. But this is countered by her inflationary claim to be the successor of, and an avatar in the line of, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and that her son is literally Sri Aurobindo come again. Ironically despite this purported sublime status she still responds with very human and fallible bitterness and anger against the rest of the Aurobindo community for quite understandably not accepting her claims ;-) Even so, for me kindness to animals is at least a point in her favour. She has a small band of loyal students who show very antagonistic behavior (although not quite actively slanderous) towards even people who help them, let alone those who don't!|
"The Goal - Our goal during this Age ... is to enlighten the masses and render them capable of seeing the Reality. We are faced with the task of eliminating the Ignorance, and this can be done only by seeing properly.
Thus, the purpose of our times, and therefor the purpose of the study of astrology, is to give man a means by which he can learn to perceive integrally -- that is, to gain a view of the total movement, but at the same time of the fragments which make up the whole. All of this can be accomplished in a very simple manner. The entire study of astrology and cosmic harmonies is founded on the understanding of the Circle, and this symbol represents the unified multiplicity ...
In the discipline of yoga, in one way or another, one school or another, this is the experience one attains, progressing gradually until one achieves the position of the Sun, so to speak."
Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet (b. 5 January, 1938), who also goes under the name Thea (Greek for "Goddess"), is an astrologer, cosmologist, author and founder of the Aeon Centre of Cosmology.
By her account she worked with The Mother in the latter's last few years. She arrived at the Ashram until 1971, and lived there until 1980, seven years after the Mother's death (1973). By this time she had broken with most of the Aurobindonian movement, and then moved to the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu, where she established and still runs the Ćon Centre of Cosmology.
It was here that Norelli-Bachelet developed her own interpretation of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's teachings in terms of astrological and numerological symbolism, elaborated in several books and a number of essays, especially The Gnostic Circle and her opus The New Way. However her interpretatian of Vedic symbolism (Norelli-Bachelet 2002) has been strongly criticised ( Rajaram 2002).
Her claims have certainly alienated her from other disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In The New Way and on her websites she argues that the original dimensions of the Matrimandir, and other details laid out by the Mother in 1970, have been altered in the constructed version (Norelli-Bachelet 1983 and link). This has been disputed by those who were involved in the construction of the Matrimandir (there were discussions on this on the Auroconf mail list).
Even more controversially, Ms Norelli-Bachelet claims to be an avatar in the line of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, calling herself "The Third". (Third in line of the Supramental Descent of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother). Not surprisingly, this inflated claim is rejected by all students of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother apart from PNB's own followers. She also states that Sri Aurobindo reincarnated as her son, Pablo Bachelet, who she refers to as "the Fourth".
I raised the issue of "the Fourth" with Lori (see "Meetings with Disciples" section, below), who forwarded my query onto PNB; here is the reply. Beyond these comments, Lori has no information on "the Fourth".
So what are we to make of such grandiose claims of Avatarhood? Speaking for myself I certainly don't sense any Presence from the PNB material such as I get from authentic Realizers. To me, all this talk of the Third and the Fourth smacks of narcissism pure and simple. The world is full of self-deluded claimants to enlightenment and avatarhood, and in this regard PNB is no better and no worse than any other.
Moreover PNB's and her followers' claims regarding her own divinity and her being a successor of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, are aboslutely refuted by the Mother's words. Similarily, her reduction of Sri Aurobindo to one of the tradtional ten avatars (Dasavatara) of Vishnu, is similarily refuted. This has all been explained in detail in an essay by my friend Barin Chaki.
One thing that is of relevance in choosing an authentic guru is that genuine Realizers, having died to their egos, do not make narcissistic claims to be God (a big reason why I no longer consider Meher Baba or Da Free John as total Realizers, but instead as intermediate zone partial realisers).
I met one of PNB students, Lori Tompkins, on Wikipedia, and corresponded with her off-list. She seemed at first like a very nice person, albeit pretty intense in her belief in PNB. But people might say the same about me reharding Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, so I won't criticise her for that. Lori signed up on Auroconf (the Sri Aurobindo mail list) in what she says (and I believe she was being truthful) was a genuine desire to understand why the list members wouldn't accept her guru as a supramental avatar (although also there was no doubt the need to proslytise). Perhaps to better reply to the objections the list members raised, Lori breached confidentiality by forwarding private list email to her guru PNB. When the forum did not accept PNB's claims, Lori did a Jekyll and Hyde (complete with projection of the shadow), posting aggressive attacks on Auroconf members, perhaps inspired by an email from PNB that had the same antagonistic tone. The sole reason for this criticism (which I later discovered was shared by two other PNB followers, see next paragraph) seemed to be because the students and followers of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother fail to acknowledge her and her son as supramental avatars. Some of this material was presented in the newsletter Day of the White Peacock which was posted on the Auroconf list (against the requests of other list members who really weren't interetsed in PNB's or in Lori's interpretations).
Later another PNB student - who I had also although much earlier communicated with off-list, and who again seemed like a very nice person - on the list followed suit, using almost identical language. I have also read another, earlier, attack by Robert Wilkinson, another PNB student/disciple.
In each case there was what I personally felt to be an excessively ad hominem, and antagonistic attitude. Of course I may be totally wrong here, since I fully admit to speaking from bias (i.,e. I cannot accept PNB's teachings and attitude no matter how hard I try!). As always, the reader is invited to review the published material (see links section below, and this email from Lori Tompkins) and make up their own mind.
All three PNB disciples were (following their respective attacks) banned from Auroconf, but only after (and here I can speak of the second only, because I hadn't signed up at the time of the first one) the list members were subject to more insults then any other mail list would tolerate. To me this speaks either of the immensely tolerant attitude on the part of Auroconf list moderators, or of an excessive unwillingness to act strongly straight away; take your choice. Alternatively, if you are a disciple of PNB or a follower of her teaching, this is simply further proof of the intransigent attitude of all non-PNB students of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and their desire to frustrate the divine work.
Update (10 Dec 06): I have since resumed correspondence with Lori over errors of fact or unfair bias on my part regarding content on this page and find her totally reasonable, and indeed, have been most happy to adjust this page accordingly (in the interests of truth and without compromising my own position. I find myself rather in the position now as I was regarding the Sai Baba controversy. Sincere enquiry, leading me to question my original assumptions, and hence to modify what was originally written, in order to arrive at a more truthful assesment. Lori as she points out is not a devotee, but a student, refecting the strongly intellectual approach of PNB's teachings. I find her approach here quite inspiring, and totally at odds with the tone of the discourse later on Auroconf and in the White Peacock newsletter. I have included Loris' email here to show that she shouldn't be judged because of having an antagonistic position towards Auroconf and other devotees of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Indeed, she would argue that they are the ones with the antagonistic approach towards PNB. As always, it is upto the reader to make up their own mind, you certainbly shouldn't beloieve something just because I say it! I may be just as biased as the next person!
The following is from an email by Lori Tomplins, arguing against my interpretation of PNB as an Intermediate Zone guru:
Regarding what you say about the 'source' of Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's 'inspiration'. I hope you can admit that you do not have the authority to distinguish between planes and influences in your assessments of others. You might be interested to know that Satprem wrote to Roger Anger regarding the source of Ms. Norelli-Bachelet's inspirations as being from the Mental Intuitive plane (‘le mental intruitif’) which is at least a tad better and higher than yours.
I find Lori's argument unconvincing for two reasons
First, the inspirations of the Intermediate Zone can certainly come from higher mental, spiritual-mental, and gnostic-mental ranges. This is one of the things that gives them their power. As Sri Aurobindo says in his letter/essay:
"Most of the movements come not from the overmind, but down from higher mind ranges. The ideas with which these experiences are penetrated and on which they seem to rest their claim to truth are not of the overmind, but of the higher Mind or sometimes of the illumined Mind; but they are mixed with suggestions from the lower mind and vital regions and badly diminished in their application or misapplied in many places."
Thus the "higher mind ranges", the higher mind sensu stricto (above the Thinking Mind) and the Illumined Mind beyond even that, can be the source of the movements (which are themselves distorted from the Overmind, as each successive level diminishes the inspiration that preceeds it). So there is absolutely no reason why PNB, or anyone else for that matter, can get inspirations from a very high and sublime level, but still be in the Intermediate zone.
Secondly, this assumes (a) that Satprem was referring to Sri Aurobindo's spiritual Intuition plane, and not another level which he called intuitive mind (and note that even the Mother sometimes uises the same word to refer to different things - e.g. her description of the Intermediate zone in The Agenda is totally different to Sri Aurobindo's), and (b) if the former, that his interpretation is correct. I mysef would not take him as an authority, which is not in any way to deny he has had soime experieces raegrding the integral yoga. And while Satprem was indeed very close to the Mother for many years, and wrote a popular basic introductory book on Sri Aurobindo (Sri Aurobindo and the Adventure oif Consciousness) that the Mother thought highly of, that doesn't mean that everything he says should be taken as authoritative. For example he has no conception of Darwinism, as indicated by his otherwise useful book Mind of the Cells. (misinterpreting Darwin seems to be a common practice among spiritual guru and teacher type figures; just look at Ken Wilber). Satprem's understand the subtle distinctions of Sri Aurobindo's transenlightened spiritual-mind planes may be better, in any case this is not a subject I am competent to comment on. In one of his letters, Sri Aurobindo associates Ramakrishna's state of Realisation with the Intuition plane. Are Norelli-Bachelet's inspirations and Ramakrishna's life and teachings at the same level? It is upto the reader to decide!
On 5th or 6th Nov 2006 a friend who is not involved with Auroconf, and indeed seemed to get a positive impression of PNB's website and claims (just as I originally did) commented (reply slightly edited):
"Having gone through her writings, she seems really agitated, paranoid and vengeful.
If I were that realized I wouldn't care who believed in me or who didn't (it would be irrelevant, really, both for myself and for others). If I were a reincarnation of any major spiritual figure and if I were aware of that, I highly doubt that I would announce it. How is it even relevant?
Where is PNB's son? Can't seem to find anything he has to say -- if he's SA reincarnated, he should've knocked out a book or two by now! One thing I picked up while reading those "Day of the Peacock" documents was this sort of manic state of PNB's followers. I think it happens a lot (with spiritual awakenings)...There is a downflow of light and it makes you get excited and manic and suddenly you feel a bit like you have the answer to the life, the universe, and everything! It's too easy to let it get to your head and think you're something special.
I measure my spiritual growth by how well I act and react. Am I mostly calm or do I get agitated easily? Am I unnecessarily anxious, avoidant, neurotic, fearful, and so on? Truth, as the Mother says, cannot be put into words, it can only be lived. If I'm the one getting agitated, then I have to work on my neuroses and get rid of them."
My comment on the above:
I have to admit that I agree with the above assessment; and in this respect there is nothing about PNB that distinguishes her from other narcissistic gurus and claimants. The reference to the downflow of light and sense of great realisation indicates the Intermediate zone, albeit only at the most basic level. For PNB and her followers there would be some of this, but mixed with egotism and paranoia. I also found Lori (from her postings on Auroconf) to be excessively intellectual and literalist in her interpretations of PNB and the Mother. But just as the requirements of the spiritual path mean not only going beyond egotism and caring if others believe or don't believe, it also means beyond a literalist reliance on words, to the Light and Truth beyond them.
It is also worth comparing one thing my friend says with what Sri Aurobindo says regarding the Intermediate Zone. My friend says (in the above-cited email):
"One thing I picked up while reading those "Day of the Peacock" documents was this sort of manic state of PNB's followers. I think it happens a lot (with spiritual awakenings)...There is a downflow of light and it makes you get excited and manic and suddenly you feel a bit like you have the answer to the life, the universe, and everything! It's too easy to let it get to your head and think you're something special. "
Compare this with what Sri Aurobindo says immediately following the earlier-cited passage:
"-All this would not matter; it is usual and normal, and one has to pass through it and come into a clearer atmosphere where things are better organised and placed on a surer basis. But the movement was made in a spirit of excessive hurry and eagerness, of exaggerated self-esteem and self-confidence, of a premature certitude, relying on no other guidance than that of one's own mind or of the ''Divine'' as conceived or experienced in a stage of very limited knowledge."
I think there's a pretty good case to be made here regarding these sorts of phenomena!
Lori Tompkins has made the criticism that "Andrew Cohen has, in some ways (however superficially), drawn off Norelli-Bachelet's work on Cosmology and Evolution in the formation of his own new teachings, without acknowledging in the least her contributions to his new direction." Her full comments (and a critique of Cohen) are here
Inasmuch as PNB and Cohen are both influenced by Sri Aurobindo, it is perhaps much more likely that they developed similar ideas on evolutionary enlightenment independently. Nevertheless, this shows that certain concepts regarding spiritual evolution, the ascent of consciousness, and so on, have become part of the established Integral worldview or movement, a movement tht includes both PNB, who is coming from the Aurobindonian tradition, and Cohen, who is coming from the Wilberian tradition.
Speaking of the latter, PNB is also strongly critical of Ken Wilber for his misinterpretations of Sri Aurobindo, this is in keeping with the general Aurobindonian critique of Wilber. As yet her own critique has not garnered any interest beyond her own small circle of followers.
On 21 November 2006, on Wikipedia, as a result of numerous "vanity spamming" and supposed non-notability by Lori (who seemed to be the only PNB student on Wikipedia), all of the biographical and associated pages and links concerning Norelli-Bachelet and her teachings have been deleted. Incidentally I don't agree with Wikipedia's policy of non-notability, which is a hang-over from the days of paper encyclopaedias. Re vanity spamming, Google cache as of 24 Nov 2006 gives 99 hits for PNB on Wikipedia, although not all of these need be vanity. For the record, I am strongly opposed to Wikipedia's current policy of deleting biographies, which only reinforces the "geek" bias crested by the majority demographic of contributors.
To get an example of the modus operandi of Thea's followers, look at how they all leap to attack Tusar N. Mohapatr on his Savitri Era blog, dated Saturday, August 08, 2009. The Mother & Sri Aurobindo have already accomplished the metaphysical victory. Two and a half weeks after the original blog post, and and a half weeks after Tusar's last comment, messages were still appearing, as PNB devotees thunder accusations at Tusar, which seem to be incraesingly unrelated to anything he actually wrote. What seems particularily strange is that Tusar is one of the few if perhaps the only person to give the PNBers blogspace. He has a number of times published articles or emails by Robert Wilkinsion and Lori Tompkins. e.g. Carter Phipps' warm embrace of Peter Heehs' book by Robert Wilkinson - (3 May 2009) - about Peter Heehs Lives of Sri Aurobindo, submitted to Tusar after Wilkinson wasn't allowed to post it on Carter Phipps' (editor - EnlightenNext) May 2nd blog article, or more recently The Deportation Case Against Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet - by Lori Tompkins, dated just four days earlier (4 August, 2009). Why are these people attacking someone who helps them; god knows they have so few frinds with their antagonistic attitude!
It may be that this sort of self-destructive biting the hand that feeds you behavior is common in this group; certainly they have always adopted a very hostile attitude to Auroconf. In any case, the degree of shadow projection and alienation of possible friends and allies indicates that the PNBers are caught in a self-destructive spiral of which can surely only harm them. It would be interesting to compare this with other similar antagonistic guru groups.
Reply, email from Lori Tompkins:
To reply and clarify my position: my concern was not with the content of the material, with what Tusar thinks or says or what the PNB people say or think. It is that in this case four people would gang up on one, especially on someone who had previously posted their material when no one else would.
The reader will see I don't have a very higher regard for PNB, mostly becauise of her narcissistic belief in her own avatarhood. I am also not at all impressed by the agressive, antagonistic, and arrogant attitude of certain of her followers.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that greatly impresses me about her. I read on her Curicculum Vitae / Biodata that she is (under other Present Occupations) "Prescribed Authority, Animal Welfare Board of the Government of India. 2002. Oversees welfare of horses in Karnataka and other States."
I cannot emphasise how important sentientism and concern for all sentient beings is to me. So I always look at a guru or spiritual teacher and see how they regard the animal kingdom. That is why even so-called gurus and spiritual teachers who show compassion and concern to those most helpless but also most trusting and loving of all beings, the animals, have something admirable about them. That's why, despite my criticism in other respects, I think highly of gurus like Da Free John and Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet.
And if this proves anything, it is that it is wrong to attack and condemn others. I am sure there are many admirable thinsg about PNB, and perhaps there are genuine reasons, througyh no fault of her own, why she came to be taken in by narcissism and believed she was Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's successor.
Finally, I couldn't resist making a comment about "the Third" which the PNBers are always going on about (as does their PNB herself). The idea stems from Thea's numerology; there have to be three Integral Avatars, which she calls the "Solar Line". Now, I always dismissed this along with the rest, but recently I discovered Ramalingam through T.R.Thulasiram's detailed study, which persuasively argues that the Tamil siddha was actually a Supramental Realizer. Might there actually be something in PNB's numerologfy after all? It is a bit freaky, I have to admit.
Still on the subject of PNB being not as crazy as her excessive claims to avatarhood would imply, a friend who has studied the topic of galactic alignment from an objective and astronomic point of view (not the New Age Arguelles Mayan Calender stuff). He mentioned something to me about PNB (he didn't mention her by name, but rather as the woman who caused all that controversy at the Aurobindo ashram) getting the galactic alignment stuff right. I don't know what book this is in (maybe The Gnostic Circle). But it fits with Norelli-Bachelet's interest in Vedic astrology and studies of cosmic cycles.
So the whole thing has been educational for me. I will no longer dismiss everything that PNB says the way I used to after seeing their actions on Auroconf. But having also seen the way they all jumped on Tusar on his blog, I really don't want anything more to do with PNB or her followers (although I may some time study her galactic alignment and numerology stuff for myself, as these two things I mentioned above has piqued my curiosity).
Norelli-Bachelet, Patrizia (1975) The Gnostic Circle
----- (1983) The New Way (Aeon Books)
----- (2002) Cosmology in the Rigveda -The Third Premise The Hindu, July 9, 2002
Rajaram, N S (2002) Indology: Skeletons in the closet The Hindu October 13, 2002
Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet - home page, blog (co-author - contents vary from polemical to interesting material on astrological/planetary alignment), books, etc; PNB Questions and Answers, Puranic Cosmology Updated
Sympathetic Biography (deleted from Wikipedia) - Wikipedia user page - Integral Wiki
Matrimandir Action Committee
Critique of Ken Wilber by Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. (This critique was written in 1985 as a letter from Norelli-Bachelet to Patricia Heidt,
The Third Principle by Robert E. Wilkinson, also by the same author, an antagonistic criticism of Auroconf; blogs by Robert Wilkinson: India and the New Cosmology and Movement for the Restoration of Vedic Wisdom
Growing into the gnostic circle by Patricia R. Heidt
Integral Yoga Studies, California, and A Forum for PNB Controveries, by Lori Tompkins, also criticises Auroconf (see comments re this above), and Circumsolatious by the same author.
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