The title: Vishnu on Freuds Desk, is itself a double
entendre. One, it signifies the icon of Lord Vishnu that was gifted to the Sigmund
Freud by an Indian practitioner of his technique from Calcutta. Second, it could
give the impression that Lord Vishnu was summoned, so to speak, for a psychoanalysis,
by Sigmund Freud. Thus, the title itself is insensitive to Hindu religious beliefs.
Jeffrey Kripal, a co-editor, is the infamous author of the book Kalis Child, which contains an unstated, but a very transparent allegation that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a gay and a pedophile1.
The introduction of the book is written by T. G. Vaidyanathan, who was, as Swami Tyagananda has revealed, one of the few authors that wrote a positive review2 of Jeffry Kripals Kalis Child. Vaidyanathan, along with Kripal, is obviously the editor of this collection of articles. Vaidyanathan refers to Kripal as follows:
The introduction explores Freuds encounter with India, the applicability of his ideas to the Indian context, and the pioneers on Freudian psychology in India. It gives a summary of the contents of the compilation. Vaidyanathan informs us that he could compile this book as a result of the Ford Foundation Grant that he received. This grant enabled him to visit the US libraries and study the required material. One wonders though why one needed a grant merely to make a compilation of already published articles, a compilation that hardly has any originality? The teaming up of Vaidyanathan with Jeffrey Kripal does seem to have served a strategic purpose- it gave one more publication to a Kripal - a new and a rising, although a famous academician in Indian studies. And association with Kripal, a famous name amongst South Asian professors in the United States, ensured wide publicity and good sales.
Curiously, the cover carries a picture of Lord Krishna, which
is odd because a four-armed picture of Lord Vishnu could have been incorporated
easily instead. Writing the Forward, Sudhir Kakar lets out the agenda:
Psychoanalysis, after all, is an iconoclastic discipline par excellence, especially
wary of our most cherished beliefs and unexamined convictions we carry with
us from our cultural and individual pasts. It cannot help but grate on a sensibility
excessively influenced by the Hindu idealistic tradition with its glorification
of the past. The secular credentials of the book are thereby secured.
The book is a collection of articles, of varying caliber. Some of them have highly provocative and plainly obscene titles, which should land the book in the soft porn category. The book is divided into four parts of varying length.
Part I comprises of a solitary paper on Freuds exposition on The Genesis and Adjustment of the Oedipus Wish.
Part II is titled Freud and Hinduism. In the introduction, Vaidyanathan has lamented that although Freud had a growing interest and a deep respect for Eastern ideas, this is unfortunately ignored in modern publications on him. Following are the articles in Part II:
1. William B. Parsons: Freuds Encounter with Hinduism: An Historical-Textual Overview. The title is self explanatory. It is a highly readable overview on the matter for those interested in the subject.
2. Christiane Hartnack: Vishnu on Freuds Desk- Psychoanalysis in Colonial India. The article deals with the growth of Freudian methodology in Colonial India, in particular the modification of some of its tenets by the pioneer (Girindrasekhar Bose) of this methodology in India; the relationship between colonial politics and psychoanalysis; Freuds correspondence with psychoanalysts in India and so on.
Part III is titled The Indian Oedipus.
Summary of the 3 articles might not interest the readers because of its theoretical
nature and is being left out.
Part IV is titled Early and Later Theoritical Formations. Here is some information on the articles contained therein -
1. G. M. Carstairs; Hindu Personality Traits: I will merely reproduce some quotes and let the readers decide.
In short, the article debases even human relationships in
India despite protestations to the contrary. It also demonstrates a total unfamiliarity
with the doctrine of Bhakti in Hinduism.
2. Stanley N. Kurtz: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Hindu Child Rearing: Some quotes -
Again, the article takes a white supremacist stand and debases
human relationships in the Hindu society. On the pseudo-analyses of Hindu detachment,
I need not comment.
I would like to add that many of these articles in the book are based on non-universal phenomenon in India- children being weaned at as late as 5 years of age, fathers not playing any significant role in child-rearing, children are born in Hindu joint families (and not in nuclear families), grown up children sleeping with their mothers and so on. Needless to say, these generalizations are invalid, and the hectoring tone of the analysis and the demeaning portrayal of human relationships in the Hindu society seem to stem from the authors own prejudices from living in a society where family relationships have broken down to a considerable extent.
Part V is titled Psychoanalytic Approaches to Hindu Mysticism, Myth and Ritual. Following is an account of the articles in this section -
1. J. M. Masson; Sex and Yoga- Psychoanalysis and the Indian Religious Experience: The title is quite misleading and only a small fraction of the article deals with what one expects of it. Some quotes -
This is quite a distortion of what Yoga teaches. The unhappiness with the body is meant to disassociate the Yogin from an attachment to it, yet the body and the mind are indeed the means the attain Moksha. Hence, the so-called obsession with the body is not meant for worldly/mundane matters, rather it is meant to ease the path of Moksha for the Yogin.
Indian mystics are hence in a catch-22 situation. If they
speak of sexuality, they will be accused of giving vent to their repressed sexuality.
And when they do not, they are accused of displaced sexuality.
2. Robert Goldman- Kama, Guilt and Burried Memories. The author led the English translation of the critical (Baroda) edition of the Ramayana. The article commences with an indirect attack on Wendy Doniger3. The obnoxious manner in which he has attacked the fundamental tenets of Hinduism is disturbing, not the least when such persons are involved in producing scholarly translations of the critical text of the Ramayana. Some quotes -
One just has to replace the word karma with belief in immaculate conception of Mary and rebirth with resurrection of Christ and dish it to a Christian to see how offensive the tone of the article is. The authors analysis completely ignores the historical origins or the Karma doctrine, its widespread prevalence in the past and in the present outside the Hindu society, and the immense, sophisticated philosophical and theological literature written on these matters. Moreover, in order to prove his narrow viewpoint of Karma, the author has ignored the richness and the diversity of the various strands within the doctrine of Karma. The author appears to claim that he has read all the literally thousands of cases of recalled memories of previous lives. The remarks are quite devoid of any scholarly value4.
The author has debased even normal human relationships like child-parents in the Indian society. Were the shallow ideas of the author true, one would have seen them in the characters of prominent Hindus and Buddhists like Buddha, Shankaracharya, Gandhi etc.
The above is a complete distortion of the doctrine of Karma. In fact, one of the fundamental tenets of the doctrine is that the fruit of ones Karma cannot be transferred to others, and any mention of the opposite in Hindu texts is from the viewpoint of laity, who do not comprehend the subtleties of Hindu philosophy. One however expected a better understanding from this Indologist.
If the above is correct, the Indian society must be totally
dysfunctional! Nor does Goldmans political thesis explain the prevalence of
child-parent hostility, acceptance of suppression by haves, the widespread slavery
in the past and other aforementioned evils in societies wherein belief in the
Karma and rebirth doctrines were an anathema. In short, the authors views lack
complete empathy for Hindu-Buddhist traditions.
3. Wendy Doniger; When a Lingam is just a Good Cigar: Psychoanalysis and Hindu Sexual Fantasies. Some quotes -
Much of what Wendy says cannot be reproduced here, and this
is merely a brief anthology of her mental repertoire of what is obscene and
vulgar5. Or maybe I am in a state of denial, as she might quip! The article
was originally published in 1993 and little did Wendy know that Bill Clinton
would soon prove just the reverse, i.e., sometimes a cigar is just a good lingam.
Anyways, the comments of this Czarina of Hindu studies in the USA shows the
extremely murky depths to which the field of Indology has sunk in some American
4. Sarah Caldwell- The Bloodthirsty tongue and the self fed breast, homosexual fellatio fantasy in a south Indian ritual tradition. If the name of the article sounds offensive to the reader, just consider the fact that it won the Robert Stoller award. Caldwell is a respectable member of RISA (Religion in South Asia) division of the American Academy of Religion. In fact, she heads the committee on Hindu studies in that organization. Little wonder than year after year, most of the published studies and academic conferences at Harvard and other Universities deal with the same set of topics- Bride burning, Dowry, Sati, Wife-beating, Untouchables, Tantric Sex6. Many Hindus at these conferences have walked out in disgust at the deliberate/imbalanced (mis)portrayal of and a subtle hate-mongering against Hindus and Hinduism. With people like her representing Hinduism, can we expect any balanced portrayal of our religion? Some quotes from her article would reveal the general tenor of the same:
Caldwell also quotes D. M. Wulffs perverse views on the imagery of Mother Kali:
Recently, she has published a book titled - Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence and Worship of the Mother Kali (Oxford University Press. New Delhi/New York. 1999. ISBN 019564462X). I have not read the book and hope that it is not merely an amplification of the perverse views listed above. Caldwell continues7
Needless to say, Caldwell has used her wild imagination going
haywire to turn the imagery of Siva on its head (reader should not interpret
head in my sentence in a Caldwellesque manner!). The third eye of Lord Siva
is said to be the eye of wisdom and knowlede in the Indian Tradition, and the
three-eyed deity is said to know all the 3 realms (Earth, Heaven and Mid-region)
and all the three periods of time (Past, Present and Future). Apparently, Caldwell
was able to establish trusting relationships with Indian men in Kerala and was
able to extract some confessions from them. One such 21 year old is quoted to
the effect that homosexual encounters are rampant in the society of Kerala.
Many more such confessions follow in the article, and sweeping conclusions are
5. Alfred Collins and Prakash Desai - Selfhood in the Indian context. Some quotes -
A clear case of a reductionist analysis by an outsider who is inexperienced in this highly experiential field. One would like to know how much direct experience with Yoga and other spiritual techniques these venerable authors have. When Freudian categories are now known to be inadequate to explain even our mundane existence, it is surprising that die hard proponents of this technique should apply it to spirituality.
Part VI: Deals with some case studies.
Afterword - By Jeffrey Kripal.
Not revealing his own religious affiliations, Kripal, not surprisingly, gives the following pathetic disclaimer at the end of the book in the Afterword:
The disclaimer was indeed necessary, because, as the above
quotes show, the conclusions and analysis of the authors was extremely strained.
Not only have they employed a discredited methodology, they have vented their
own prejudices against India and Hinduism. Even the most loving relationships,
such as that between a mother and her child, have been debased and trivialized
in comparison to that between a western mother and her child. That such racist
biases should continue in Indology in the West even now, really sickens one
heart. And when these mainstream scholars spew such learned insights on the
faith of us Pagans to the non-discerning reader, is it surprising that we should
see documents like the Baptist Pamphlet and hear the rants of Pat Robertson
at regular intervals? And need such Indian intellectuals like T. G. Vaidyanathan
give publicity to such reprehensible opinions?
Such shallow and dishonest texts promote the mis-portrayal of Hinduism in particular, and of India in general, in International Academia, and are only one part of a widespread malaise. Readers who are interested in knowing more about this phenomenon are suggested to read the related articles at http://www.infinityfoundation.com/ECITeducationframeset.htm and join the IndicTraditions discussion list to express their own thoughts.
1. The book is a revised version of a PhD. thesis he submitted
that he submitted to the University of Chicago. Swami Tyagananda has shown how
Kripal has deliberately mistranslated the Bengali sources, invented non-existent
quotes and indulged in other acts of academic dishonesty to prove his thesis.
It is said that Kripal is a born again Catholic, who had earlier fled from his
Benedictine monastery when some fellow monks made sexual advances at him. Swami
Tyaganandas critique is available on-line at http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/s_rv/s_rv_tyaga_kali1_frameset.htm
2. The fact that Kalis Child has been hailed by some scholars of Hinduism in the United States shows that there is a pervasive lack of understanding of the religion here, and that nepotism and connections are all that matter if a scholar wishes to be a rising star. The book has its forward written by Wendy Doniger, the sleazy Czarina of Indian studies in American academia. It has been acclaimed by Professor John Stratton Hawley of the Columbia University as a landmark book after which things will never be the same. This background is essential to understand the nature of the compilation that the book under review is.
3. This might just be to camouflage the fact that between her and him, they control the resources of the South Asian Religion section of the American Academy of Religion to a considerable extent. It is said that the two are cousins and are from the same High School in New York.
4. For an elementary Hindu perspective on the relative merits and demerits of the Hindu-Buddhist doctrine of Karma/Rebirth on one hand and the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Resurrection, see my essay Transmigration or Resurrection? A Hindu Perspective available online at http://www.hinduweb.org/home/dharma_and_philosophy/vvh/vvhtrans.html
5. Some of her other titillating titles include: Tales of Sex and Violence (reviewed by Michael Witzel at http://listserv.liv.ac.uk/cgi-shl/WA.EXE?A2=ind9511&L=indology&P=R1031);
Carnal Knowledge; The Bedtrick- Tales of Sex and Masquerade; Sexual Doubles and Sexual Masquerades. So sexplicit are some of these writings that they are classified under the subject heading of sex in the electronic catalogs of many US libraries. One can then only wonder the extent of a particular slant in her writings on Indic texts. The substandard quality of her translation of Manusmrti has been discussed by Michael Witzel at
and of her anthology from the Rigveda at
6. Her homepage at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indiv/area/idsas/CALDWELL,Sarah.htm lists some of her research interests as sexuality.child abuse charismatic Hindu and Buddhist teachers and sexual abuse of disciples.
7. The OFlaherty in one of the quotes is none other than Wendy Doniger.
8. It is said that Sarah Caldwell was involved in research on Swami Muktananda in the past, but left his Ashram alleging sexual abuse. This might not be true, but in general, there have been numerous cases of people with an axe to grind against Hinduism, trying to get a hold on the academic portrayal of the same. Rajiv Malhotra has studied this phenomenon in American Academia at
A relevant quote:
For a general discussion of the bias against Hinduism in
US Academia, the following article is also useful: