Jeffrey J. Kripal's Kali's Child has tremendous value for one very good reason: it is written by one who is not a part of the tradition that has grown around the life and teachings of Ramakrishna. Such works from "outside" the tradition are valuable because they often bring new perspectives and new life to a subject. These books can also provide a splendid opportunity for fruitful dialogue between those who are "inside" the tradition and those who are "outside." Such dialogue has the potential to enliven research, broaden understanding, correct misconceptions and enrich the knowledge of people on both sides of the fence.
Moreover, Kali's Child is quite an interesting book. So interesting, in fact, that even as a dissertation at least one reader was found (we learn from the Foreword) "smiling often and laughing almost as often" when she took chapters of it to the beach. Academic dissertations, as we are painfully aware, are not generally known to produce this kind of effect! Kripal has an engaging writing style: were the book not strewn with endless reference numbers in parentheses and innumerable endnotes it could have passed for a novel.
The documentation indeed looks impressive until one actually checks the references Kripal quotes. That is what happened in my case. As I began to browse through Kali's Child, I would say to myself, "I know the Kathamrita quite well and I've never seen that before!"1 As a sample check, I compared a reference with the original in Bengali and saw that there was a problem. So I began checking more references, comparing Kripal's translations with the Bengali originals and I too found myself "smiling often and laughing almost as often"-but for reasons quite different from those that provoked a similar reaction on a beach several years ago.
The second edition of Dr. Jeffrey Kripal's Kali's Child begins by telling us that much has changed since the book's initial release. While the American Academy of Religion had bestowed upon Kali's Child the History of Religions Prize in 1996 for the best new book, Kali's Child had also provoked a flurry of criticism and, according to Kripal, the specter of "censorship" in India.
Why the strong reaction? Kripal tells us that the negative reaction was due to a "deep cultural rejection of homosexuality" (KC xxi);2 it was an angry response to exposing the "secret" of "Ramakrishna's homoerotic desires" (KC xv).
In fact the truth is much more simple: yes, the criticism the book received was due to its conclusions regarding Ramakrishna's purported homosexuality. But Kripal's conclusions came via faulty translations, a willful distortion and manipulation of sources, combined with a remarkable ignorance of Bengali culture. The derisive, nonscholarly tone with which he discussed Ramakrishna didn't help matters either.
To make the facile claim that the criticism leveled against Kali's Child was due to homophobia is to deflect from the real issue of shoddy and deceptive scholarship. Should a person with a good grasp of Bengali language and culture seriously read the Bengali source books on Ramakrishna and then come to the conclusion that Ramakrishna was a conflicted homosexual, I would respect that person's freedom to come to this conclusion. I would strongly disagree with him or her, but I-and many other devotees of Ramakrishna-would fully support that person's freedom of inquiry and thought. What I and others will never support is the freedom to distort the text and the freedom to misuse citations.
Since I am a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, some may argue that my Bengali translations and my use of citations will only serve to reflect my biased viewpoint. Let me then quote Narasingha Sil regarding Kripal's scholarship. Sil (whom Kripal particularly thanks in his preface to the first edition) has been Kripal's occasional collaborator and colleague. Moreover, no one would ever accuse Narasingha Sil and the Ramakrishna Order of mutual admiration.
Speaking of Kripal's Bengali, Sil says: "Jeffrey is very adept at using Bengali-English dictionaries and picking the most appropriate synonyms for words (disregarding the primary, secondary, tertiary meanings) he feels could make his point." Sil also notes that Kripal "is unable even to converse in Bengali (but very prompt at using dictionaries)."3 Indeed, even Kripal's associates in India acknowledge that when he arrived in Calcutta his knowledge of Bengali was fairly elementary. After eight months of study, Kripal's Bengali improved, but never beyond the intermediate stage. He still cannot speak Bengali and understands little when spoken to. Such a limited understanding of a foreign language and culture could hardly give Kripal the background necessary to understand a man whose village Bengali was worlds apart from the conventional Bengali appearing within the neat margins of the dictionaries. Further, Kripal's ignorance of Bengali culture jumps right off the page. Many of the author's misinterpretations are due to a simple lack of familiarity with Bengali attitudes and customs. The notes following this introductory essay will make this shortcoming abundantly clear.
Finally, regarding Kali's Child itself, Sil notes: " [Kripal's] method of supporting his thesis is not only wrong but reprehensible in that it involves willful distortion and manipulation of sources. . . . Kripal has faulted Swami Nikhilananda for his 'concealment' and doctoring of the crude expressions of KM [Kathamrita], but he has unhesitatingly committed similar crime[s] of omission and commission to suit his thesis." 4
In this essay, which serves as an introduction to the "Notes" which follow, I give clear examples of the mistranslations and deceptive documentation which cover nearly every page of Kali's Child. The notes detail a page-by-page overview of some of the most egregious examples of Dr. Kripal's flawed scholarship. Yet even these notes are not exhaustive. Nor do they propose to be. They are only indicators of the kinds of problems that abound in Kali's Child. The purpose of this essay and the notes is only to encourage further studies and discussion.
To return to matters about the book before I discuss what is in the book, why was there an uproar when Narasingha Sil's inflammatory review of Kali's Child appeared in the Calcutta edition of the Statesman in 1997? Because the readers found the premises of Kali's Child insulting. Literally millions of people have read the Bengali Kathamrita for the past one hundred years. What Swami Nikhilananda chose and did not choose to translate into English is not relevant in this instance. Bengalis know the language, the culture, the source materials better than any American Ph.D. student who stays in Calcutta for eight months, reads Bengali with the help of a dictionary, and then tells the Bengalis that they are reading Ramakrishna wrong. Strangely enough, they find this sort of thing patronizing and arrogant. For more information regarding the "censorship" issue, please see note #1 at the end of this essay.
Who Closed the Case?
Except for a few minor corrections in the book's second edition, Kripal's original thesis remains intact, indeed has been strengthened, in the years between the book's first and second edition. Kripal now says with a clearer authority: "The case of Ramakrishna's homosexuality seems to be closed" (KC xxi).
Who has closed the case? While Kripal informs us that Kali's Child "has been lauded by scholars for being right (KC xxii)," one wonders if any of those praising the book have ever read its citations. Have any of those scholars who have given this book so much acclaim actually read the Bengali sources that he quotes? How many of them can actually read Bengali well, if at all?
Oddly enough, Kripal attempts to invoke Christopher Isherwood as having a "homosexual reading of Ramakrishna" (KC xiii). It is odd because if one reads the book that Kripal cites, My Guru and His Disciple, Isherwood clearly declares exactly the opposite: "I couldn't honestly claim him [Ramakrishna] as a homosexual, even a sublimated one, much as I would have liked to be able to do so."5
Kripal buttresses his claim for Isherwood's "homosexual reading" of Ramakrishna by providing us with the following anecdote: In 1995 a well-known scholar, having heard Kripal's talk on Ramakrishna and his homosexual orientation, informed the author and the audience, "Chris Isherwood was a close friend of mine, and I want you to know that, if he could have been here today, Chris would have been very pleased" (KC xiii). Yet, to my surprise, this particular "well-known scholar" approached me at the November 2000 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and declared that he had been completely misquoted. In fact, the scholar said, he had never even met Christopher Isherwood, so he could hardly be considered a "close friend"! It is precisely this kind of fraudulent scholarship that forms the backbone of Kali's Child. For a fuller discussion of Isherwood along with a discussion of Kripal's claim that Isherwood was subjected to "censorship" by the Ramakrishna Order, please see note #2.
Perhaps the centerpiece of Kali's Child is the assertion that "Ramakrishna was a conflicted, unwilling, homoerotic Tantrika" (KC 3). Further, Tantra's "heterosexual assumptions seriously violated the structure of his own homosexual desires. His female Tantric guru and temple boss may have forced themselves on the saint but Ramakrishna remained a lover not of sexually aggressive women or even of older men but of young, beautiful boys" (KC 2-3, emphasis mine).
Interesting thesis; how does he document his claims?
Ramakrishna, Kripal informs us, went into samadhi "while looking at the cocked hips of a beautiful English boy" (KC 19, emphasis mine). Interesting choice of adjectives. Kripal repeats this phrase later by declaring: "stunned by the cocked hips of the boy, Ramakrishna falls into samadhi" (KC 66). But what does the original Bengali say? Kripal gives two references (KA 2.49; KA 2.110) neither of which mentions the boy as being "beautiful" and, perhaps obviously, there is no mention of "cocked" hips either. The Kathamrita simply states that Ramakrishna went into samadhi upon seeing a boy who was-as Krishna is traditionally depicted in Hindu iconography-tribhanga-bent in three places (i.e., bent at the knee, waist and elbow, with flute in hand). It is this sort of documentation that Kripal uses to build the case for Ramakrishna's purported homoerotic impulses.
Then we have the issue of the sword. Even casual readers of the Ramakrishna literature are familiar with the story of how Ramakrishna, stricken with grief and frustration at not having experienced a vision of Kali, decided to end his life. Just as he was seizing the sword to slit his throat, Ramakrishna was overwhelmed by rolling waves of bliss and entered into samadhi. How does Kripal view this incident? Kripal presumes that Ramakrishna's spiritual crisis was something much more interesting: the suicide attempt was an attempt "to end his erotic torment (vyakulata) and the shame attached to it by symbolically castrating himself" (KC 76).
How does he come to this conclusion? Although Kripal tells us that he doesn't follow Freudian methodology, this sounds pretty close to me: "Psychoanalytically trained students of Hindu culture have tended to see such symbolic self-castrations as productive of a 'negative Oedipus complex' in which the boy, instead of renouncing his desires for the mother and identifying with the father (the 'normal' outcome of Freud's Oedipus complex), ends up identifying with the mother by renouncing his masculine identity through a symbolic castration. . . . This in turn creates a marked homosexual tendency in the boy" (KC 344).
This is how we've arrived, via circular logic, at Kripal's thesis: Ramakrishna, in wishing to slit his throat, must have really wanted to castrate himself since he was presumed to be suffering "erotic torment." But there's no evidence of "erotic torment" whatsoever. Kripal tries to build it into his thesis with prejudicial translations and false documentation, but there is no textual evidence for his thesis. The clincher for the head=phallus metaphor is Kripal's assertion that "the head in the mystical physiology of yoga and Tantra [is] the ultimate goal of one's semen and so an appropriate symbol for the phallus" (KC 76). Sorry, wrong. The ultimate goal is the retention of semen which strengthens the body-mind complex. The phallus and head are not interchangeable parts.
What other evidence does Kripal marshal to promote his homoerotic thesis? There's the case of Mathur Babu, Rani Rasmani's son-in-law and the manager of the Kali temple. Curiously, Kripal revels in calling Mathur the "temple boss." What's the point? Mathur was the temple manager. It's interesting, however, to ponder the weight "boss" carries in contrast to "manager." "Boss" seems more dangerous, more authoritarian; there's a swagger in the word which Kripal attempts to build into his text.
This is typical of Kripal's use of loaded language which he employs throughout Kali's Child. The notes section of this paper will provide many more examples of Kripal's repeated use of loaded words to create an effect. Why would Kripal chose a word with a pejorative and slightly ominous subtext? Because Kripal has already decided that Mathur sexually forced himself upon Ramakrishna.
Mathur, as all the Ramakrishna literature openly states, was immediately attracted to Ramakrishna, because of his "good-looks, tender nature, piety, and youth." Then Kripal adds: "Saradananda tells us, seemingly completely unaware of the homosexual dimensions of his own description, a 'sudden loving attraction' arose in the mind and heart of the temple boss" (LP 2.5.1).6 The "homosexual dimensions" which somehow evade us in the Lilaprasanga I will quote here: "It is often seen that when a very close and lasting relationship is established with anyone in life, the loving attraction towards them is felt right away, at first sight" (LP 2.5.1). I fail to find the homosexual dimensions here. All of us have had the joy of meeting people with whom we immediately establish a warm rapport; even though we've just met them, we nevertheless feel very drawn to those people. In the Hindu worldview, this phenomenon is seen as completely natural. There is absolutely no sexual connotation in this phenomenon whatsoever.
We've Got Some Serious Translation Issues Here
Kripal's treatment of the word vyakulata, which he translates as "erotic torment," brings us to the subject of his prejudicial translations. Since we know that Kripal can only read and translate Bengali texts with the help of a dictionary, let's see how the dictionary translates vyakulata. The widely used 1968 edition of the Bengali Samsad gives us these possibilities: "eagerness, excitement; impatience, anxiety, worry, hustle, bustle, busyness, business, distraction, perplexity; scattered state; diffusion; inversion." Where in these possibilities do we find "erotic torment"? Let's take a look at the 1924 Mitra Bengali-English dictionary; perhaps Kripal might have found something in there. Vyakulata here is defined as: "perplexity, distraction, agitation, flurry, anxiety, eagerness." No erotic torment to be found here. Alas, the poor author has to install the erotic torment into the text himself, since it doesn't exist there independently.
In attempting to build a case for Ramakrishna's homosexual attraction, Kripal states: "Ramakrishna's anxious desire was often directed to his young male disciples" (KC 65). The word used here is again vyakulata; and, as we have seen, there's nothing in the word to suggest "desire," which, typically for Kripal, carries a sexual connotation.
In any language, a word carries different shades of meaning depending on the context. Take the word "eagerness" or "anxiety," for example, and we'll have the same situation. A person can be eager or anxious to see a close friend; a person can be eager or anxious to see one's child; a person can be eager or anxious to have a stiff drink; a person can be eager or anxious to see one's beloved. The weight and meaning of the word depends on the context. To load the Bengali words heavily with sexual innuendo is to completely distort the meaning of the text.
Kripal carries his argument further by declaring: "The same longing that was once directed to Kali and her sword is now directed to Narendra and his sweet singing voice" (KC 65). Vyakul is used here, but-as we have seen-the "longing" that one feels for God doesn't presume the same feeling that one has for another human being; the contexts are obviously different.
Not to unduly belabor vyakul, but one last example. (See the notes for more references on this point.) To quote Kali's Child which is purportedly quoting from KA 3.126: "Again troubled by his desire for the boys, Ramakrishna asks M, 'Why do I feel so anxious for them?' M can give no answer before an upset Ramakrishna breaks in, 'Why don't you say something?'" (KC 65, emphasis mine).
In comparing Kripal's translation against Nikhilananda's, I find Nikhilananda's translation to be perfectly accurate. Nikhilananda writes, and I would translate the text in exactly the same way: "The Master lay down on the small couch. He seemed worried about Tarak. Suddenly he said to M, 'Why do I worry so much about these young boys?' M kept still. He was thinking over a reply. The Master asked him, 'Why don't you speak?'"
Nikhilananda's translation, "worry so much," is the perfect English equivalent for this context. If we look at Kripal's translation, we find sexual innuendo that isn't in the text and, interestingly enough, we also find words that are not in the text. The adjective "upset" describing Ramakrishna is not in the original. But by giving the KA 3.126 reference, Kripal indicates that this description is in the text. This is nothing short of deceptive documentation.
Another word which Kripal warps in order to shore up his homoerotic platform is uddipana, which means "enkindling" or "lighting up." Discussing the "obvious homoerotic element" in KA 2.24, Kripal writes: "When it comes time for the disciples to leave one evening, Ramakrishna turns to the youth Bhabanath and says: 'Please don't leave today. When I look at you, I get all excited (uddipana)!'" (KC 67). Let's go back to the dictionary: the Samsad defines uddipana as: "act of enkindling; incitation; act of inspiring or encouragement; animation; manifestation; augmentation, development." The "obvious" homoerotic element is not obvious unless one would choose to mistranslate the text.
When I checked the Bengali text against Nikhilananda's Gospel, I found Nikhilananda's translation accurate with the exception of one word. Nikhilananda writes: "The devotees were ready to return home. One by one they saluted the Master. At the sight of Bhavanath Sri Ramakrishna said: 'Don't go away today. The very sight of you inspires me'" (Gospel, 194). In KA 2.24 the word "you" is plural (toder): it would therefore be more accurate to translate the last sentence as: "The very sight of you all inspires me."
"If all this seems suggestive," Kripal intones, "consider Ramakrishna's comments on the excitement he feels when looking at pictures of holy men: 'When I look at pictures of holy men I become aroused [uddipana] . . . just as when a man looks at a young woman and is reminded [uddipana] of [sexual] pleasure" (KC 67). Again we are faced with loaded English words and skewed translations. Ramakrishna becomes aroused? There's nothing in uddipana to suggest "aroused," and as we all know, the word "aroused" carries with it heavy sexual baggage.
Kripal obviously wants to emphasize "men" since he translates sadhuder chhabi as "pictures of holy men" rather than "pictures of sadhus" or "pictures of monks." Of more interest is the endnote given for this reference (KC 343, #61): "But Ramakrishna wants nothing to do with pictures of women," citing KA 4.263. If we check KA 4.263 however, we find that Ramakrishna is neither expressing any distaste nor dislike for pictures of women; he is simply stating the strict rule for sannyasins: "A sannyasin must not even look at a picture of a woman." Kripal's endnote, as usual, is meant to mislead.
But back to Kripal's sexual baggage in the body of the text: If we check KA 5.120 we find nothing to support Kripal's issue with photos of men. When a devotee describes the sadhus he had met, Ramakrishna says: "Look, one must keep the pictures of sadhus at home (dekho, sadhuder chhabi ghare rakhate hoy). One is then constantly reminded of God (ta hole sarvada isvarer uddipan hoy)." When the devotee says that he has kept such pictures in his room, Ramakrishna continues: "Yes, seeing the pictures of sadhus, one is reminded [of God]" (han, sadhuder chhabi dekhle uddipan hoy).
Nowhere in the Kathamrita do we find Kripal's: "When I look" which he has conveniently placed in Ramakrishna's mouth and, even more conveniently, has placed those words within quotation marks. And nowhere is there any "aroused." The context of the quotation makes it completely clear that uddipana refers to God: isvarer uddipana.
One last point: Kripal needlessly uses ellipses in this short reference to distort the text's meaning. Ramakrishna, when discussing the importance of being reminded of God through holy pictures, gives two examples. Kripal, however, cleverly provides only one: Ramakrishna's first example is being reminded of a real fruit when one sees an imitation one. His second example is being reminded of enjoyment (bhog) when seeing a young woman. Not surprisingly, the word bhog, which simply means either experience or enjoyment, becomes in Kripal's version: "[sexual] pleasure" and the first example of the fruit is omitted entirely.
My final discussion of uddipana (please see the notes for more examples) centers around Kripal's translation of KA 3.93. Writes Kripal: "Almost anything he saw or heard could awaken powerful forces that often overwhelmed him. When one is in love, he explained, 'even the littlest thing can ecstatically remind one [of the beloved]'" (KC 66).
I've compared Nikhilananda's text with the Kathamrita and found it quite accurate. I would translate the text in this way: "Once love for God arises in the heart, even the slightest thing kindles spiritual feeling in a person. Then, chanting the name of Rama even once can produce the fruit of ten million sandhyas."
But note what is breathtakingly dishonest about Kripal's translation: He writes, "when one is in love." The Kathamrita passage which he gives, however, is absolutely unambiguous and clear: Ramakrishna is referring to "love for God" (isvarer upar bhalobasha). Thus the obvious meaning of uddipana in this context is the "kindling of spiritual feeling."
Kripal, on the other hand, after suppressing the blatant reference to God, turns the text on its head. Suddenly Ramakrishna's words have been twisted into a poor imitation of Rumi: "ecstatically remind one [of the beloved]." There is absolutely no mention whatsoever of "the beloved" in the text. I searched in vain in the preceding page and subsequent page of KA 3.93 as well but nowhere could I find even a hint of "the beloved." Amusingly, Kripal begins this paragraph by noting: "Ramakrishna might be described as hyperassociative." I would suggest that it is Kripal who has the hyperassociative problem.
Sometimes Kripal's desire to shove inconvenient facts into the homoerotic box creates unintentionally comic results. Take for example Kripal's dissection of Ramakrishna and Kedar in KA 4.7.: "In still another passage, he looks at boy Kedar and is reminded of Krishna's sexual exploits with the milkmaids" (KC 66).
It's interesting that Kripal describes Kedar as a "boy." Considering that in 1882 Kedar was fifty years old and working as a government accountant, I think "boy" is an exaggeration. In fact, Kedar was older than Ramakrishna himself. But since Kripal is bound and determined to have Ramakrishna be with boys, Kripal will transform even a fifty-something into a boy. In nineteenth-century India, a man of fifty was considered elderly.
More importantly, KA 4.7 simply says that upon seeing Kedar (who was a devotee of Krishna), Ramakrishna was reminded of the Vrindavan-lila. I suppose one shouldn't be surprised to find that Kripal translates "the play in Vrindavan" (vrindavan-lila) as "Krishna's sexual exploits with the milkmaids." Though for someone who, when it suits him, can be persnickety about literal accuracy, why would he provide such an interpretative "translation"? Obviously because he wanted to emphasize his own subtext.
Since Kripal wants to associate Ramakrishna with boys, no matter what, we shouldn't be surprised that he first suspects, then assumes, then presents as a fact that Ramakrishna was sexually abused as a child. That there is absolutely no evidence for this makes no difference to Dr. Kripal; we have the effect-Ramakrishna's "homoerotic impulses"-so now the cause must be found. Aha! Certainly he must have been sexually abused as a child.
The spiritual ecstasies that Ramakrishna experienced as a child are thus reinterpreted as "troubling trances" (KC 57). The only one "troubled" by them, however, is Kripal who feels compelled to find sexual abuse somewhere in there. He first tries to hang the blame on the itinerant monks visiting the village; the young Ramakrishna enjoyed visiting them and we can only suspect what that means. Referring to LP 1.7.5, Kripal somehow intuits that Ramakrishna's mother, " began to worry about such visits, especially when the boy returned home with his clothes torn into a simple loin-cloth and his nearly naked body covered with ashes, but Gadadhar assured her that nothing was wrong" (KC 57).
This reference not only shows us Kripal's ability to mistranslate but also his remarkable ignorance of Indian customs. Please note that it was not the boy's "clothes" but rather his "cloth" that was torn into a loincloth. The distinction is important. Perhaps the author doesn't know what a loincloth is and how much material it requires-or he is just embellishing his account of the event. It is not the slightest bit unusual to cut a portion of the wearing cloth (dhoti) and make it into a loincloth (kaupin)-many monks do so, and I have done it myself. The dhoti is still worn as a regular dhoti.
Kripal's phrase "his near naked body" is his own invention. Nowhere in the LP is there even a mention of the boy's nakedness. In which case we can assume that Ramakrishna wore the kaupin as well as the wearing cloth. LP 1.7.5 says that the boy would "tell his mother everything" (tahake samasta katha nivedan korilo). When he returned from his visit to the monks, the boy would tell his mother, "Look mother, how the monks have adorned me" (ma, sadhura amake kemon sajaiya diyachhen, dekho). It was then obviously that he showed her the kaupin. In Kripal's skewed account, the reader is led to believe that the boy returned home with "his nearly naked body" covered with ashes.
Further, in LP 1.7.5 the events are kept quite distinct. The boy's being smeared
with sacred ash (vibhuti-bhushitanga hoiya) happened on some days (kono
din), and on some days (kono din) he returned home with a sacred
emblem on his forehead (tilak dharan koriya), and on some other days
(abar kono din) he returned home using a part of his wearing cloth as
Kripal goes out of his way to throw these distinct elements together while adding to it his own version: a tearing of "clothes" and a "nearly naked body." Yet again, we have loaded language which does not exist in the original.
Kripal goes out of his way to throw these distinct elements together while adding to it his own version: a tearing of "clothes" and a "nearly naked body." Yet again, we have loaded language which does not exist in the original.
What is especially interesting is that Kripal chooses not to mention the nature of Ramakrishna's mother's fear. In the same paragraph which Kripal quotes, it is made quite clear by Saradananda that Ramakrishna's mother was "afraid that one day the mendicants might tempt her son to go away with them" (sadhura tahar putrake kono din bhulaiya sange loiya jaibe na to). She mentioned this fear to her son who tried to pacify her. When the monks eventually came to know of this, they came to her house and "assured her that the thought of taking away Gadadhar with them had never even crossed their minds; for, to take away a boy of that tender age, without the permission of his parents, they said, would be stealing, an offence unworthy of any religious person. At this, every shadow of apprehension left Chandradevi, and she readily agreed to let the boy visit them as before."
All of this information Kripal refuses to acknowledge, leaving the readers with Chandramani's ambiguous "fear." Finally, by the time we've reached page 303 of Kali's Child, we're told in a hand-wringing, pitying tone about the "holy men stripping a trusting little boy"!
Not only were sadhus unable to keep their hands off the "trusting little boy," the village women were equally voracious according to Kripal. For a somewhat lengthy discussion of this issue, please see the notes which follow this essay. Briefly I'll note one point here: While Kripal wonders why Ramakrishna "was letting [the village women] worship him as a male lover," there is nothing in either the Life of Ramakrishna (which he references as his source) or the Kathamrita or the Lilaprasanga to indicate anything remotely resembling this. The texts all state that the village women looked upon Ramakrishna as Gopala, the child Krishna. Interestingly, Kripal quotes the Life of Ramakrishna as saying, " the boy actively sought the company of the pious women of the village because they reminded him of the milkmaids of Vrindavan, who had realized Krishna as their husband and had experienced the bliss and pleasure of his love" (KC 58, emphasis mine). When we actually check the Life we find: "The pious young women of the village, who were mostly devotees of Vishnu, reminded him of the Gopis of Vrindavan, and, therefore, he sought their company. He knew that the Gopis were able to realize Krishna as their husband and feel the bliss of his eternal reunion because they were women."7 Note the difference between the "bliss and pleasure of his love"-laden with sexual innuendo-and what is actually in the text. Yet since it is footnoted as a reference to the Life, the reader naturally expects the words, or at least an honest summary of the referenced passage, to be there. And it is not.
While Kripal tells us that his approach to Ramakrishna is not reductive, his own words betray him. He writes " we must admit that there are no clear indications of early sexual abuse in the biographies. But then why should there be? . . . Is it just a coincidence that repeated traumatic events [that] in the words of one psychiatrist, 'simultaneously conceal and reveal their origins [and] speak in [the] disguised language of secrets too terrible for words?' It is indeed remarkable that the literature on sexual trauma suggests that individuals who have experienced abuse often become adept at altering their state of consciousness lose control of their bodily, and especially gastrointestinal, functions, experience visions and states of possession, become hypersensitive to idiosyncratic stimuli (like latrines), symbolically reenact the traumatic events, live in a state of hyperarousal become hypersexual in their language or behavior, develop hostile feelings toward mother figures, fear adult sexuality, and often attempt suicide. This list reads like a summary of Ramakrishna's religious life" (KC 298-99).
Is this what Kripal takes to be a "religious life"? Only if one equates religious experience with pathology. If religious experience can be flattened into a pathological reaction to trauma, then we've lost any real meaning behind "religious" and "religion." If this isn't reductive, I don't know what is. But even that's not the entire issue, significant though it is.
None of the symptoms enumerated in the "literature on sexual trauma" is present in Ramakrishna's life. But since Kripal has approached his subject with a predetermined verdict, he resorts to specious reasoning in order to come up with the judgment he has in mind. Ramakrishna has "pronounced homosexual tendencies," ergo he must have suffered childhood sexual trauma, ergo he must reenact the traumatic events. This exercise in weak-link logic is reminiscent of the kangaroo courts where the prisoner is convicted first and then the "evidence" is manufactured at a more convenient time.
Even as an adult, Kripal informs us, Ramakrishna had to deal with sexual predators:
his Tantric guru, the Bhairavi Brahmani; his Vedanta guru, Tota Puri; and of
course the "temple boss," Mathur Babu. These issues are dealt with
at length in the notes, but it's of interest to see how Kripal presents Tota
Puri to the reader. As we have seen, Kripal has deduced that Ramakrishna was
"homosexually oriented" and so every aspect of his life must be interpreted
through that lens.
Take the case of Ramakrishna's Vedanta guru, Tota Puri, who was a member of the Naga sect of sannyasins. A highly austere and uncompromising monastic order, the Nagas normally live with only "space as clothing" (digambara), refusing to submit to any comfort the body or mind might enjoy. What does Kripal tell us about the encounter between Tota Puri and Ramakrishna? "One can only imagine," Kripal whispers, "what it must have been like for Ramakrishna, a homosexually oriented man, to be shut away for days in a small hut with another, stark-naked man. Vedanta instruction or no, it was this man's nudity, and more specifically, his penis, that naturally caught Ramakrishna's attention. How could it not?" (KC 160)
Frankly I find this kind of circular reasoning staggeringly preposterous. Because one must take for granted that Ramakrishna is homosexually oriented, then it stands to reason that the only thing that would interest Ramakrishna about his Vedanta guru is his penis. For more discussion of Ramakrishna's sexual predators, please see the notes which follow.
Were all this not enough, Kripal has taken his child-abuse thesis and stretched it to the utmost: Ramakrishna, in his view, helplessly engages in the same abusive acts with any unsuspecting male that comes near him. In what Kripal diagnoses as a "reenactment pattern," we see Ramakrishna, poor man, "uncontrollably rubbing sandal-paste on the penises of boys" (KC 301). I must admit that when I read Kripal's interpretation of "touching softly" (aste aste sparsha korchhen) as attempted sodomy (KC 301-2), I could only laugh. But then, since Dr. Kripal is able to equate "religious life" with "ritual reenactment of trauma" and becoming "hypersexual in language or behavior," I should have anticipated the gloss. A discussion of this entire issue is dealt with extensively in the notes which follow.
Suffice it to say here that, yet again, Kripal has willfully distorted the texts and willfully mistranslated the Bengali in order to present a vision of Ramakrishna which will conform to his thesis. By now we shouldn't be surprised that Kripal has omitted texts and omitted portions of the texts he quotes in order to suppress information which would run contrary to his thesis. Yet while I may not be surprised, it's nevertheless difficult not to be disappointed. I'm also saddened when I think of the unsuspecting reader who has either no knowledge of Bengali or no time to compare Kripal's so-called "translations" with the Bengali originals.
Sometimes a Lap is Just a Lap
In both the first and second edition of Kali's Child, Kripal makes much of Ramakrishna's foot and the devotee's lap. The second edition of Kali's Child informs us: "It is clear that Ramakrishna saw 'the lap' as a normally defiled sexual space" (KC 2).
Why does the author consider the lap (kol) to be "normally defiled"? In Indian culture-and Bengali culture in particular-the lap has an extremely positive and warm maternal association. For example, the national anthem of Bangladesh, written by Tagore, contains the following line: Takhon khela dhula sakal phele, O Ma, tomar kole chhute ashi: "After the day's play is over, O Mother, I run back to your lap." In describing a mother holding a child, a person would normally say, mayer kole shishu jishu. The defilement, sad to say, exists only in Dr. Kripal's mind.
While the first edition of Kali's Child clearly states that "lap" indicates "on the genitals," the second edition merely internalizes the allusion by stating that a lap is "a normally defiled sexual space." The problem is, kol carries no sexual connotation. There is no basis either within the text -nothing in KA 4. 278 indicates that the lap is anything other than a lap-nor is there any tradition or reference within the culture to validate this idea. To suggest that the lap is a "defiled space" is to place a Western construct on a culture which associates laps with maternal affection, safety and trust. Sometimes a lap is just a lap.
As for the foot itself, it's illuminating to read Kripal's sources. One of his citations is KA 4.245: "The Master placed his foot on the pundit's lap and chest, and smiled (panditer kole o bakkhe ekti charan rakhiya thakur hasitechhen). The pundit clung to his feet and said (pandit charan dharan koriya bolitechhen) ." Here we are provided the stunning illustration of a foot so awesome that it can encompass not only a person's lap and chest but can also be clung to like a pole. And somehow the unconscious person doesn't lose his balance! As should be obvious, some Bengali expressions are hyperbolic and are not meant to be taken literally. However, these less-than-subtle nuances-of which there are legion in Kali's Child-seem to be lost on the author.
Kripal again returns to the foot/lap issue later in the book (KC 238), by making it appear that Ramakrishna's "habit of touching people with his foot" was a routine occurrence. It wasn't. Interestingly, after placing his foot on Dr. Sarkar's lap, Kripal quotes Ramakrishna as saying: "You're very pure! Otherwise I wouldn't be able to place my foot there!" (KA 4.278). Kripal continues, "We see a whole range of opinions focused on Ramakrishna's foot 'there.'"
First, one doesn't find any range of opinions. Second, and much more interestingly, when we check KA 4.278, we find that-with a nod to Gertrude Stein-there's no "there" there. What does the Kathamrita actually say? Ramakrishna tells Dr. Sarkar: "You are very pure (tumi khoob shuddha), or else I couldn't have touched with my foot (ta na hole pa rakhate pari na)." There is no "there" in the text; it is the author who has added the word and placed it in quotation marks even though it's not taken from the text.
Apart from adding his own material and implying it to be Ramakrishna's (and this occurs time and time again in Kali's Child-please see the notes for more instances), the author also provides the insinuation of where the "there" is located in order to give weight to his argument that Ramakrishna was homoerotically motivated. Kripal adds that "Ramakrishna never denied that he stuck his foot in strange places." In? If we're returning to the first-edition "genitals" argument, let's remember that it would take some serious excavation work to locate the genitals of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor through the many layers of cloth that Bengalis typically wear. Especially since the foot is attached to someone who is unconscious of his external surroundings.
Why did Dr. Sarkar object to Ramakrishna's placing his foot on the devotees' bodies? For the simple reason that in India touching others with the foot is considered disrespectful. Dr. Sarkar was Westernized and proud of his rationalist views. He found this sort of behavior irrational and unscientific. Nevertheless, he was a tremendous admirer of Ramakrishna; by his own admission he let his own medical practice suffer in order to spend more time in Ramakrishna's company. When Girish explained to Dr. Sarkar that Ramakrishna put his foot on others' bodies for their spiritual benefit, Dr. Sarkar quickly withdrew his objection and said, "I confess my defeat at your hands. Give me the dust of your feet" (KA 1: 254). And with that, Dr. Sarkar took the dust of Girish's feet. Was this done sarcastically? There's nothing in any text to suggest so. Dr. Sarkar remained an ardent admirer of Ramakrishna until the latter's death.
The Kathamrita Is Structured to Conceal a Secret?
According to Kripal the five-volume structure of M's Kathamrita was designed to "conceal a secret." Since its five-volume, nonchronological structure is unusual, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Kripal attempts to create a Kathamrita-gate from it. There are many other possibilities, however, which the author hasn't considered. Further, as we can see regarding Kripal's conjecture about the book's structure, his guess is first hazarded and then is presented as a fact several pages later.
The Kathamrita was originally written in five volumes, which were published over a period of thirty years. Kripal believes that these volumes were "arranged cyclically" in order to conceal "a secret." This, he says, is a "basic thesis" of his study (KC 3). Kripal declares that M "held back" the secret in the first volume, "hinted at" it in the second, "toyed with" it in the third, "revealed it" in the fourth and, according to Kripal, M found that he had hardly any material left for the fifth (KC 4). Perhaps M was a clumsy planner.
If we examine the facts, however, we'll come to an entirely different conclusion. First, there is no evidence whatsoever that M had any predetermined plan to divide his work into five volumes. In Sunil Bihari Ghosh's extraordinary research article on the Kathamrita, we learn that portions from M's diaries were published in various Bengali journals long before the Kathamrita appeared in book form. These portions were published in the following journals: Anusandhan, Arati, Alochana, Utsah, Udbodhan, Rishi, Janmabhumi, Tattwamanjari, Navyabharat, Punya, Pradip, Pravasi, Prayas, Bamabodhini, Sahitya, Sahitya-samhita, and Hindu Patrika. Quite a formidable list, although it is not exhaustive. It was from these published extracts that the first volume of the Kathamrita was compiled, printed and published by Swami Trigunatitananda at the Udbodhan Press in the Bengali month of Falgun 1308 [corresponding to the year 1902].8 There is no textual evidence anywhere to indicate that M began transcribing his diaries with the express intention of publishing a "book."
What Kripal chooses not to mention in the main body of Kali's Child is that at the time he wrote this, the Ramakrishna Order had already published a two-volume edition of the Kathamrita, arranged chronologically. If the nonchronological device was meant to "conceal" the secret, the chronological edition should have "revealed" it! Apparently, the Ramakrishna Order did not feel any need to hide the "secret."
The Ramakrishna Order could not publish the Kathamrita earlier because the copyright rested with M's descendants. The Ramakrishna Order had no control over how the volumes were structured. When the copyright expired fifty years after M's death, the Order published the Kathamrita chronologically, making ludicrous the accusation, which Kripal was to make several years later, of "hiding" disquieting information from the public.
As is quite obvious, nothing was ever "hidden" from those who could read Bengali. At least four generations of Bengalis have read the Kathamrita and their perception of Ramakrishna is in most respects diametrically opposite to the picture presented in Kali's Child. But what about the "translations" of the Kathamrita in other languages? In Kali's Child much of the talk about "secrets" centers around Swami Nikhilananda's English translation of the book under the title The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. According to Kripal, Nikhilananda "systematically concealed" the secrets by "ingeniously mistranslating" them. "Those passages," Kripal continues, "for which he could not find a suitably safe enough 'translation,' he simply omitted" (KC 4).
Reading this serious allegation, my curiosity was fueled and I compared the Kathamrita with the Gospel page by page. In my estimate, about 25 pages of the Kathamrita (which may roughly translate into about 18 pages of the Gospel) have been omitted. This may seem to be considerable, but here is the breakdown: almost half of the omitted material (12 pages, to be exact) consists of a brief biography of Ramakrishna (in the Gospel this is replaced by a longer biography) and a very detailed description of the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar. The remaining half of the omitted material is mostly either M's "reflections" (under the title sevak hridaye, literally "In the Heart of the Servant") or his poetic portrayal of the Ganges and the ambiance of Dakshineswar. Here is a typical sample from the "omitted" material:
The "brother" in the above passage, by the way, refers to M's own mind. The Kathamrita text emerged as a result of long meditations that M did on his diary notes. That is how we find a few passages in the Kathamrita containing M's "reflections" on Ramakrishna's life and teachings.
What is most important to note is that Nikhilananda was honest when he said that he omitted "only a few pages of no particular interest to the English speaking readers" (Gospel, vii). He did not deny the omissions and it seems to me unfair to question his integrity-as Kripal does-simply because Kripal finds something of "particular interest" which Nikhilananda didn't. A few phrases, examples and incidents were indeed omitted; it was done not to "hide" secrets but only to respect the Western sense of decorum, at least as it existed in the 1940s, when the Gospel was translated.
Translating texts across cultural boundaries is not easy: if you translate the "word," you risk being misunderstood; if you translate the "idea," you are charged-as Kripal does-with "bowdlerizing" the text. His allegation that Nikhilananda omitted portions containing "some of the most revealing and significant passages of the entire text" (KC 4) is not only textually unjustified but completely untrue.
Part of Kripal's Kathamrita-gate thesis is his idea that the Ramakrishna Order and M's descendants are still zealously guarding M's original diaries from the probing eyes of researchers. Says Kripal: " no researcher has ever seen, and may never see, the original manuscripts of M's diaries. They do exist. Thanks to the foresight of Swami Prabhananda and the Ramakrishna Order, they have been carefully photographed. Unfortunately, however, they are kept under lock and key. Like the contents of Ramakrishna's thief's chamber, they contain a secret that is kept hidden from the public's eye" (KC 311).
Like all conspiracy theorists, Kripal sees intrigue lurking in every corner. The truth is much more mundane. Neither the diaries nor their copies are in the Ramakrishna Order's archives. The original diaries are with M's descendants, and scholars-including a monk of the Ramakrishna Order whom I know-have seen those diaries, even photographed them, without undue difficulty.
Kripal's desire to see "secrets" at every turn has not only distorted his interpretation of the Kathamrita and its Gospel incarnation, it has also warped his perception of Tantra. Thus we find another serious problem when we deal with Kripal's understanding (or misunderstanding) of the term.
"Tantra Was Ramakrishna's Secret"
Since this statement initially appears incomprehensible, we'll have to decipher what Kripal means. "Tantra for Ramakrishna," the author intuits, "was not some simple thing that one practiced in private and then intentionally denied in public; rather, it was a grave and ominous tradition of teachings and techniques that haunted him, that horrified him, and yet that somehow formed who he was" (KC 5).
What is "Tantra" to Jeffrey Kripal is the real problem here. Defining his "basic thesis" of Kali's Child, the author writes: "Ramakrishna's mystical experiences were constituted by mystico-erotic energies that he neither fully accepted nor understood." According to Kripal, the Hindu Tantra proclaims "the link between the mystical and the sexual." He understands the Tantras to be a tradition in which "human eroticism and religious experience are intimately related, even identical on some deep energetic level." Kripal asserts the "basic relationship between the mystical and the sexual" and proposes that "Ramakrishna was a Tantrika" (KC 4-5).
What is Kripal's understanding of the word "Tantrika"? He says that it is a term associated with "magical power, strangeness, seediness, and sex." He dismisses the "philosophical expositions" of Tantra as inauthentic because they are "designed to rid Tantra of everything that smacked of superstition, magic, or scandal" (KC 28-29). But since Kripal's thesis would have no support were these to be eliminated, he instead tries to show that these are central to the Tantric tradition. But is this really the case? Since the weight of scholarly opinion on Tantra would deflect Kripal from his predetermined course, he informs us that he is "naturally more interested in what Tantra feels like in Bengali than in what it thinks like in Sanskrit" (KC 29).
Unfortunately, Kripal is not in a position to judge what Tantra feels like in Bengali. Sadly, he has spent a mere eight months in the city of Calcutta; he understands neither the language nor the culture. He also has a very serious lack of knowledge concerning Hinduism in general. As for what "it thinks like in Sanskrit," it's good that Kripal beats a retreat. It's painfully clear that he also has little knowledge of Sanskrit. The entire package does not position him well for a sound understanding of Ramakrishna.
Were the above not enough, Kripal's apparent ignorance of the systems of Indian philosophy truly makes it hard not to smile. His identifying of three "textual traditions (the Puranas, the Tantras, and the Vedas)" with three "types of practitioners (the Vaishnavas, the Shaktas, and the Vedantins)" (KC 94) betrays a serious lack of understanding of some of Hinduism's most basic underpinnings. Kripal may be at his most laughable when he tells us that Ramakrishna's practice of Vedanta consisted of only taking the monastic vows and eating rice in the portico of the Dakshineswar temple.
So we are not surprised when Kripal seeks to "define" Tantra by quoting Ramakrishna (KC 30-33). In itself this is a good idea, but the problem is that, as elsewhere in the book, Kripal lifts sentences out of context and puts his own spin on them. The result is that we have a version of a so-called Tantra that Kripal is eager to paint as a tradition known for "its stubbornly 'impure' ways" (KC 29). No wonder, therefore, that Kripal identifies Tantra exclusively with Vamachara, "the left-handed path" (see #16 in the notes which follow). In the major Tantras such as Kularnava, Mahanirvana and Kamalakala Vilasa, Vamachara finds no place at all. But in Kripal's vision, Tantra=Vamachara.
It is clear that at least a part of Kripal's confusion is regarding the relation between the Shakta tradition and the Tantra tradition. As Teun Goudriaan says-and Douglas Renfrew Brooks reiterates-"not all Shaktas are Tantrics and Tantrism, unlike Shaktism, is not restricted to any one Hindu denomination, or even to any single Indian religious tradition."9
Thus a worshipper of the Goddess is a Shakta but that doesn't automatically make him or her a Tantric. Ramakrishna was born in a Vaishnava family and, because he worshipped Kali, he could be called a Shakta. It must be remembered also that both these traditions-along with others, such as the Shaiva-are parts of Vedanta. As N.N. Bhattacharya points out in his History of the Tantric Religion: " The traditional Indian approach finds no difficulty in equating the essentials of Tantrism with the Vedantic interpretation of the contents of the major Shaiva-Shakta schools."10
Much can be said about Kripal's attempt to pigeonhole Ramakrishna's life into what he calls the "Tantric world." But it is enough for the time being to point out Narasingha Sil's observation: "In order to fit the square peg of a Tantrika Ramakrishna into the round hole of a homosexual Paramahamsa, Kripal manufactures evidence by distorting the meaning of sources."11 This will become obvious by studying the notes to this paper.
Does this mean that Tantra played no part in Ramakrishna's life? Of course it played a part. Ramakrishna did practice Tantra under the guidance of a qualified teacher, just as he practiced the disciplines of other traditions. Through every form of discipline he discovered the raising of his consciousness from the relative to the absolute. His practice of Tantra had a direct bearing in Bengal because it was there that the Kaula division among the Shaktas attained its highest development. It was associated not only with temples and devotional worship but also with esoteric cults and circles (chakras) of Tantric adepts. It was in a few of these circles that Vamachara was practiced and for that reason forms only an insignificant strain of Shakta Tantra.
The basic idea of Shaktism and Tantra is that the world is a play of Shakti, the Divine Mother's power, and can be converted into a means of transcending the world and attaining the Supreme Reality. The idea behind Tantric practices is that the libido (kama) is the most powerful instinctual drive in human beings. Unless it is controlled and sublimated, it is impossible to transcend the world of senses. But the roots of the libido lie deep and ramified in the unknown chambers of the unconscious. Tantric practices are a way of creating certain external situations which bring out the contents of these chambers of the unconscious. Once we confront and understand the contents of the unconscious, they cease to haunt us and become integrated into the self as "knowledge" or "wisdom." Tantric disciplines are thus only a way of making conscious what normally remains unconscious.
Through his Tantra practice, Ramakrishna helped revive this healthy core of the tradition minus the accretions: "magical power, strangeness, seediness, and sex." If Kripal had focused his attention on the Tantra proper and not on these accretions, he wouldn't have felt the need to distort the Bengali text of the Kathamrita.
The Mystical and the Erotic?
I could continue to marshal unending evidence about the mistranslations, deceptive
documentations and cultural misreadings in Kali's Child, but that still
wouldn't get to the crux of the book's problem from the Hindu point of view.
The book's assumption that spiritual experience can be associated with sexual
conflict-either conscious or subconscious-simply doesn't work. While Kripal
comes to this conclusion through what I consider to be a crude understanding
of Western psychology, he utterly neglects Hinduism's yoga psychology which
would have given him a deeper understanding of not only Ramakrishna but also
Hindu philosophy in general.
Kripal appreciatively quotes John Hawley's remark that Kali's Child is a challenge "to dive into the vortex that opens up when religious creativity is aligned with our deepest bodily desires, not pitted against them" (KC xviii).
This approach, however, completely mitigates against the basic thrust of Hindu philosophy. According to every school of Hinduism including Tantra, sexual attraction and sexual expression, when directed to another individual, pull the spiritual seeker away from the ultimate reality. Hinduism clearly states that you can't have it both ways: there's only one force that permeates the universe, and that force is internal as well as external. If that force or energy is diverted to sexual expression-even if it's only mentally-the energy required for attaining higher spiritual states is lost.
According to every school of Hinduism-again including Tantra-the goal of human life is to be free. In the Hindu tradition, "freedom" (mukti or moksha) means freedom from our limited individuality, which is confined to the body-mind complex. The more our physical and mental energies are directed toward catering to biological demands, the stronger becomes the bond that ties us to our limitedness and the less energy we have to transcend it to become free.
Again it must be emphasized that this is not just a physical phenomenon but a psychological one as well. In order to channel the energy available to us, every aspect of the human personality must be completely engaged. By definition, a person who is psychologically conflicted will not be able to attain enlightenment. Especially if the nature of that conflict is sexual, since sexual desire is exceptionally powerful.
As we can see, since the issue here is the misdirection of energy, it doesn't matter whether that energy is directed in either a heterosexual or in a homosexual way. The only thing that matters is that it's being directed toward an object of sensual desire. To say, therefore, that those who reject Kripal's thesis are doing so from their own homophobia is to completely miss the point.
I find it interesting that Kripal became fascinated "with the relation between human sexuality and mystical experience partly through [his] reading of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila" (KC xxxvi). I am an admirer of these great Spanish mystics and my reading of them has only served to reinforce my own Hindu beliefs in the necessity of sexual restraint when seeking higher spiritual experiences. I am not an expert in Christian mysticism, but these noted scholars are: Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B. and Gregory Elmer, O.S.B. To first quote Sr. Funk:
Regarding "erotic mysticism" in Christianity, Gregory Elmer, O.S.B. writes:
The quotations given above mirror beautifully what Hinduism says about "erotic mysticism." Put simply, in the Hindu tradition the mystical and the sexual just don't mix. Yes, sometimes sexual imagery is used to make a point-but that point has nothing to do with sexuality per se. The intense longing of the soul to unite with God is sometimes expressed in erotic language-for example, the rasa-lila described in the Bhagavata. But those who see mere eroticism in it only see the finger instead of the moon to which the finger is pointing.
Hated and Feared Women?
Providing the names of two scholars who believe Ramakrishna to be a misogynist (McLean and Sarkar), Kripal tells us that "scholars [have] usually sided with the misogynist reading" (KC 278). If we take Kripal's word for it, we must then assume that apart from the two scholars named, the weight of scholarly opinion concludes that Ramakrishna "hated and feared women." Since I doubt a significant number of South Asian scholars have even addressed Ramakrishna's attitude toward women, let's examine the issue without having to bear the burden of scholarly consensus.
Significantly, Kripal quotes Mozoomdar's letter decrying Ramakrishna's "almost barbarous treatment of his wife" (KC 278). What was the issue that provoked Mozoomdar's censure? That Ramakrishna and Sarada did not have a sexual relationship. Considering the two individuals concerned, that hardly constitutes barbarity. Kripal notes Ramakrishna's "often cruel treatment of his own wife" (KC 8) and it's obvious that Kripal feels very badly for poor Sarada. He mentions the sweets that were "given by visitors to his wife, working in the kitchen" (KC 273). Kripal also faults Ramakrishna for thinking of his old mother rather than his wife when he decided to return to Dakshineswar (KC 168).
It's touching that Kripal can evoke such sympathy for Sarada, but why didn't he ever bother to consult her for her opinion on the matter? The literature abounds, not only the many words of Sarada Devi concerning her loving relationship with Ramakrishna, but also Ramakrishna's women disciples who repeatedly spoke of his love, care and concern for them. Unfortunately, since quoting these sources would destroy Kripal's argument for Ramakrishna being a misogynist, he simply ignores them altogether. While Kripal decries Nikhilananda for concealing "many of Ramakrishna's outrageously misogynous statements beneath polite English phrases" (KC 278), Kripal indulges in the outright suppression of information that would provide an entirely different perspective. Isn't this just a convenient form of "censorship"?
Had Kripal bothered to quote the literature concerning Sarada Devi and Ramakrishna's other women disciples, he would have had abundant information showing Ramakrishna's profound love and respect for them all.
For example, we read in The Gospel of Holy Mother (a translation of the definitive Sri Sri Mayer Katha) that once when Sarada entered Ramakrishna's room, he thought it was his niece Lakshmi who had entered and so casually asked her to shut the door, addressing her as "tui." ("Tui" is a pronoun that one uses for those younger or inferior. The pronoun "tumi" is used for one's equals and "apni" is used for superiors.) When Sarada responded to Ramakrishna's request he was embarrassed and said, "Ah! Is it you? I thought it was Lakshmi. Please pardon me." Sarada said that there was nothing wrong but Ramakrishna remained concerned. The next morning he went to Sarada's room and told her, "Well, I could not sleep all night. I was so worried that I spoke to you rudely." In later years she would often say-especially when dealing with her own ill-mannered relatives, "I was married to a husband who never addressed me as 'tui.' Ah! How he treated me! Not even once did he tell me a harsh word or wound my feelings."14
In fact, while Kripal pities the young wife in the kitchen, her own interpretation is quite different. During the time Ramakrishna was alive, she says, "I always felt as if a pitcher of bliss was kept in my heart. I cannot convey any idea of how much and in what manner my mind feasted on that steady, unchanging divine joy."15 I don't think she needs our sympathy on that account.
Further, it was Ramakrishna himself who insisted that Sarada give spiritual initiation to some of his own male disciples and it was Ramakrishna who insisted that after his death, she continue his ministry. The literature on Sarada Devi is significant and impressive; since she died in 1920 and many of her disciples were alive until relatively recently, the record of her words and her memories remains fresh. This literature is a wealth of information about not only Sarada but about Ramakrishna's other women disciples.
What about Ramakrishna's other women disciples? They are in universal agreement about the love and care that Ramakrishna gave them. In the Lilaprasanga we read what Yogin-Ma, one of Ramakrishna's women disciples, said about Ramakrishna:
While much has been made of kamini-kancana -"woman and gold"-as a misogynist mantra, what is repeatedly overlooked is that Ramakrishna, when speaking to women, warned them against purusha-kancana, "man and gold." We hear less of this because both the Kathamrita and the Lilaprasanga were written by men; had a woman been the main recorder of Ramakrishna's message we would today be hearing ad nauseum about "man and gold."
Gauri-Ma, another of Ramakrishna's prominent women disciples, had this to say about "woman and gold":
While Kripal makes much of Ramakrishna and the young males, he completely ignores Ramakrishna's relationship with his women disciples. Gauri-Ma was not only given diksha, mantra initiation, by Ramakrishna, he also initiated her into sannyasa, monastic life. Those who might be tempted to think of Ramakrishna as one who "hated and feared women" should consider the following incident from Gauri-Ma's life:
Kripal tries to demonstrate that Ramakrishna felt hostility towards the wives of his disciples, but the texts don't support him. In fact, on occasion Ramakrishna asked his disciples to bring their wives to Dakshineswar so he could meet them. M's wife is a case in point; so overwhelming was her grief at the death of her son that Ramakrishna, out of deep concern for her, asked M to bring her to Dakshineswar where she could stay for several days. Since this point is mentioned quite clearly in the Kathamrita, we can only speculate why Kripal ignores it.
Finally, regarding Ramakrishna's thinking of his mother rather than his wife
while in Vrindavan, we can quote Narasingha Sil on this subject: "Kripal
betrays his ignorance of Bengali culture and social habits when he considers
Ramakrishna's hurrying back home from Vrindavan on learning of his mother['s]
illness somewhat reprehensible because he never mentioned his wife Sarada left
behind at home and concludes: 'Once again, it is the Mother not the Lover that
occupies Ramakrishna's mind and heart' (KC 168). Anybody who is familiar with
a Bengali household will know that it is quite common and even praiseworthy
for a son to remember his mother more than his wife." 19
Our Life Affects Our Interpretations
Kripal feels that it is essential for us to "place the disciples, and especially the writing disciples, in either the inner or outer circle" (KC 11). He wonders about M's status-to which circle did he belong? And how did his status affect the nature of his writing?
Three texts are most referenced in Kali's Child: two of these-M's Kathamrita and Dutta's Jivanvrittanta-Kripal classifies as "the householder texts," and Saradananda's Lilaprasanga as a "renouncer text." He believes each of these authors was conditioned to interpret Ramakrishna's words and actions in a particular way because all these texts "were created in a particular social context and were intended for a specific audience" (KC 171).
Kripal makes what I believe is an important observation: " the social place of a particular author determines in large part the nature of the teaching he received and the manner in which he interpreted them" (KC 11, emphasis Kripal's). It is on this basis that he questions the "historical accuracy and scholarly objectivity" of the "renouncer texts" of Vivekananda and Saradananda (KC 171).
Of course, this principle doesn't seem to apply to the "text" of Kali's Child, since Kripal assures us that he is offering "a historically accurate, psychologically nuanced reading" (KC 2). I find this interesting: How easy it is to be dismissive of others' texts by invoking the "social place of a particular author" as a factor in the kind of teaching received and the manner in which it is interpreted; but when it comes to one's own, one naively believes the text to be completely accurate and objective.
It's none of my business to determine the "social place" of the author of Kali's Child, but if Kripal's observation is true, then future historians might be interested in probing the forces which made the bizarre interpretations in Kali's Child possible.
We may wonder about the author's personal or religious background; we may wonder about the author's social or academic background. We may wonder about the larger intellectual and historical context that would produce a backdrop for such interpretations. In any case, our experiences in life necessarily shape the way we interpret texts and this is as much true in the case of Kripal as it is with those whom Kripal attempts to understand.
A Word in Closing
Kripal, in discussing the angry reaction his book received in India and among Ramakrishna devotees, views their outrage as an expression of their fear of homosexuality. Entreating these people to not reject the "homosexual roots of Ramakrishna's mysticism," Kripal tells us that in doing so, they're rejecting "their own brothers and sisters, their own sons and daughters, and ironically, their own saint." Now with pious admonitions rising like the full swell of a church choir, Kripal pleads: "I can only encourage them not to walk down this path, as so much of our humanity (and divinity) lies in a decidedly different direction" (KC xiv-xv).
Indeed it does. We therefore entreat Dr. Kripal: Please, don't walk down this
path. You don't have to distort the texts or invent warped translations. The
next time you think of deconstructing someone, learn his or her language and
their culture first. It helps. And you need not look upon us-who would willingly
be your well-wishers-as people who are trying to hide something from you. We
encourage your spirit of inquiry, we appreciate your intelligence. Why not use
these qualities in an honest and responsible way? That's where our humanity
(and divinity) lies.
Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna
by Jeffrey J. Kripal (Second Edition, 1998)
The notes below either quote or refer to what is discussed in Kali's Child (KC) at the specified page number. This is followed by a "response." The titles of books are usually abbreviated: Kathamrita (KA) and Lilaprasanga (LP).
Preface to the Second Edition
(1) KC xi-xii: Kripal seems to have confused criticism with censorship, so what kind of "censorship" are we discussing? Kali's Child informs us that there were newspaper reports "on the central government's move to consider banning the book" (KC xii). We are told that this is part of a larger pattern of trying to keep the "secret" intact; "censorship" has been an integral part of the Ramakrishna Order's modus operandi, we're informed, since its inception.
The simple fact remains, however, that the government of India didn't ban the book nor was there ever a serious question of its doing so. And, to make this completely clear to all readers: The Ramakrishna Mission never suggested or requested that the book be banned. While Kripal asserts that the book has been "denied, wished away in an entire country" (KC xxiv), the more mundane truth is that the book remains largely unknown throughout India. While it has elicited praise from a number of Western academics, the vast majority of Indians know nothing about Kali's Child. It's not a question of censorship but of availability and exposure.
No doubt there was an outcry when Narasingha Sil's review appeared in the Calcutta edition of the Statesman. There were thirty-eight irate letters to the editor published, after which the newspaper decided to close the discussion. Thirty-eight letters from a population of one billion does not "an entire country" make. Surely Time and Newsweek receive that number of irate letters daily on any number of topics. While Kripal asserts that others haven't been allowed to speak in his defense in the Statesman, Kripal himself notes that the newspaper had wearied of the controversy and had closed the subject. I might add, however, that I have on my desk a not unfavorable discussion of Kali's Child which appeared in the Statesman on June 5, 2000 (Rajat Kanta Ray, "Psychohistory and Sri Ramakrishna"). Further, Kripal mentions the favorable review which T.G. Vaidyanathan published in The Hindu. (Vaidyanathan, by the way, shares with Kripal the editorship of Vishnu on Freud's Desk: A Reader on Psychoanalysis and Hinduism.) Obviously there hasn't been a news blackout regarding Kali's Child or its author.20
Moreover, Western readers should keep in mind that the Kali's Child controversy was, for the most part, restricted to Calcutta and only to English-speaking readers. This has already narrowed the field to an extremely small group of people within a vast country. The Western reader should also keep in mind that the majority of people associated with the Ramakrishna Mission are not English readers. Sil's review appeared only in the Calcutta-based, English-language daily, the Statesman. Of those readers, how many would be able to purchase a scholarly book published by the University of Chicago Press? Anyone familiar with the realities of India knows that scholarly, relatively expensive (for the Indian market) books are not readily available, especially when there is no Indian edition in print. If the book isn't publicly known and read, the explanation is to be found in the marketplace, not in the furtive machinations of the Ramakrishna Order or the Indian government.
Further, books are not so easily banned in India. State governments such as West Bengal cannot ban a book. No government official can ban a book; a motion to ban a book must be passed in Parliament. In recent memory, only Rushdie's Satanic Verses was banned and that was done only after a long debate with much agonizing.
It is quite true that some person, whoever he or she was, suggested that the book be banned. Nothing, of course, came of the request because it was absurd; it was a tiny tempest in a Calcutta teapot. I have it on record that the Union Government of India never requested a ban of the book. If this is how "censorship" is defined, we've got a problem. Outrage, yes; censorship, no.
(2) KC xiii: Kripal backs up his claim for Isherwood's "homosexual reading" of Ramakrishna by providing us with the following anecdote: A well-known scholar, having heard Kripal's talk on Ramakrishna and his homosexual orientation, informs the author and the audience, "Chris Isherwood was a close friend of mine, and I want you to know that, if he could have been here today, Chris would have been very pleased" (KC xiii).
That's easy to say since he wasn't there. Christopher Isherwood had many close friends in the Vedanta Societies-a number of whom are openly homosexual-who would say with equal assurance that such a remark would have made Isherwood roll in his grave. But rather than speculate on what would or would not have pleased Isherwood, we can simply look at what he wrote in My Guru and His Disciple and then compare it to what Kripal tells us that he wrote.
Says Kali's Child, "Chris Isherwood was openly homosexual, and he was quite frank about his homosexual reading of Ramakrishna. . . . Still, for Isherwood, there was not quite enough evidence 'to honestly claim him as a homosexual, even a sublimated one'" (KC xiii-xiv, emphasis mine).
And what does Isherwood actually write about Ramakrishna in My Guru? "I couldn't honestly claim him as a homosexual, even a sublimated one, much as I would have liked to be able to do so." 21 We are thus stretched from Isherwood's clear dismissal of Ramakrishna's homosexuality to Kripal's "not quite enough evidence." Kripal backs up his claim by suggesting that an unnamed author whom Isherwood had mentioned in My Guru may have been Isherwood himself. This anonymous person had written that Ramakrishna was "a homosexual who had had to overcome his lust for . Vivekananda."22
Those who knew Isherwood find the surreptitious identity thesis laughable; he was radically honest about himself and would have been the first person to openly declare his beliefs, no matter how uncomfortable it made others or himself. Instead, Isherwood clearly writes: "Certainly, the author's statement about Ramakrishna and Vivekananda was irresponsible and unsupported by any convincing evidence."
Kripal's final sally is to paint Isherwood as a victim of censorship. In My Guru and His Disciple, Isherwood states that he wished that he could have discussed the question of Ramakrishna's sexuality in Ramakrishna and His Disciples. "But that was out of the question," he said. "For my book had now become an official project of the Ramakrishna Order. Each chapter was sent off to India as soon as it was finished, to be submitted to the approval of Swami Madhavananda, the present head of the Order. . . . Many of Madhavananda's comments and corrections were helpful. But, every so often, I was made aware that there were limits to his permissiveness." 23
In 1962, in America as well as in India, it was not considered decorous to discuss sexuality, period. Isherwood was never forbidden to write about Ramakrishna's sexuality; he himself chose to not bring it up because he knew the matter would be considered in poor taste. He understood that if the Ramakrishna Order were to use his book as part of its literary canon (which Isherwood obviously wanted or else he would have published his biography of Ramakrishna independently), he would need to follow the rules of American and Indian decorum, circa 1962. That certainly didn't prevent Isherwood from discussing the matter very frankly elsewhere, which is what he did later in My Guru and His Disciple. Again, I fail to see how this can be construed as "censorship" or a continuing legacy of the "secret."
(3) KC 7-10: After saying that (1) the householders and renouncers "fought a great deal, disagreeing in almost everything," (2) were hostile to each other, and (3) produced a "primordial split" in the community of disciples-tracing the cause of all this to Ramakrishna's personality-the author backtracks, denying that there was any "clear-cut distinction" between the two groups. Kripal then says that the two traditions-householders and renouncers-were "constantly overlapping, responding to one another, fighting, agreeing, doubting, proclaiming, repressing." If they were "disagreeing on almost everything," how were they also simultaneously "constantly agreeing"?
(4) KC 12: M's Kathamrita, from this renouncer point of view, is little more than a collection of "Sunday notes" (endnote #16). This is a serious charge.
Response: Were it true it would indeed be a serious charge! In the endnote, Kripal gives the following reference: Dharam Pal Gupta, Life of M and Ramakrishna Kathamrita (Chandigarh: Ma Trust, 1988), 288; see also pp. 308-11 for an insightful refutation of this view.
On p. 288 of the book that Kripal references above, we find this:
There is no reference whatsoever to what Kripal calls the "renouncer point of view." Kripal doesn't tell us how "some well-meaning people" automatically means those belonging to the "renouncer tradition."
Interestingly, he asks us to see pp. 308-11 "for an insightful refutation of this view." When we look up these pages, we do indeed see an insightful refutation. But refutation of what? Paradoxically, Kripal's own view!
Whose words are quoted to dismiss the contention that the Kathamrita is nothing more than "Sunday notes"? Words of those belonging to the "renouncer tradition" beginning with Swami Vivekananda and other monks of the Ramakrishna Order down through the decades. Among the glowing tributes paid by the "renouncer tradition" to the Kathamrita are the following: "I now understand why none of us attempted his life before. It has been reserved for you, this great work" (from Vivekananda's letter to M, p. 308-9); "[M] was Ramakrishna's own. It was, as it were, Ramakrishna who had brought him along with himself for getting this work done" (Shivananda, p. 311); "[Kathamrita] has been a perennial gospel for all mankind " (Ananyananda, p. 311); "The mastery of the work [Kathamrita] is not simply due to M's massive intellect, but more so because M loved the Master-that unflinching devotion made it possible" (Tathagatananda, p. 310); "[Kathamrita] contains a vast treasure of instruction on sadhana and practical wisdom and philosophy, profitable equally to householders and to monks" (Atmarupananda, p. 309).
Thus the reference Kripal provides in the endnote, paradoxically, refutes his own contention that the "renouncer tradition" dismissed the Kathamrita as nothing but "Sunday notes." Far from dismissing the book, the first volume of the Kathamrita was in fact printed and published by Swami Trigunatitananda from the Udbodhan Press-that is, by one who, according to Kripal, is a part of the "renouncer tradition" and from a press that was started by the "renouncers."
For a fuller treatment of this subject, see the Bengali book Ramakrishna o tanr Kathamrita (Howrah: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Ashrama, 1983), which contains glowing tributes paid to the Kathamrita by, among others, five monastic disciples of Ramakrishna and ten other monks and nuns of the Order in succeeding generations.
(5) KC p. 13: Kripal compares the Kathamrita and the Lilaprasanga as if they were similar texts, but they are not. The Kathamrita is a record of Ramakrishna's conversations, not a biography. On the other hand, the Lilaprasanga is Ramakrishna's biography (studied against the backdrop of Hindu philosophy and culture), not merely a record of his conversations.
(6) KC p. 15: . the Tantric foundations of both the temple and the saint were always more basic, deeper, more secret.
Response: What was "secret" about it? Kripal delights in sprinkling
the word "secret" throughout Kali's Child, but an examination
of the cited texts shows that what Kripal refers to as "secret" wasn't
secret at all. The author tells us that the "basic thesis" of the
book revolves around the purported "secret teaching" of Ramakrishna;
to give credence to this idea he repeatedly employs the word "secret."
For a further discussion of "secret," "secret talk," and
guhya katha, please see notes #59 and #107 below.
(7) KC p. 26: Kripal faults M for including in the Kathamrita scenes from the Baranagore Monastery. He complains that the "last scenes of the Kathamrita, dated in the months of 1887 and staged as appendixes in the different volumes," were used for "the appropriation of Ramakrishna as a Vedantin and the suppression of his troubling Tantric dimensions."
Response: This is an interesting complaint since Kripal, when it suits
him, sees M's record as being honest and "revealing" as opposed to
the descriptions of the "renouncers" who, according to Kripal's thesis,
have a great deal invested in hiding the "secret." When it does not
suit Kripal, M inexplicably becomes untrustworthy, and his book serves to
suppress the truth.
(8) KC p. 26: Ramakrishna knew that Narendra did not accept Shakti (KA 4.121 plus endnote #38 which references LP 220.127.116.11). After Ramakrishna's death, this rejection of the goddess resulted in a radical transformation of the young movement.
Response: The reference Kripal gives to support his first sentence has absolutely nothing to do with the second sentence.
On August 3, 1884, Ramakrishna said that Narendra did not accept Shakti. Later Narendra did accept Shakti and this fact is amply documented in all the Ramakrishna literature. See for instance LP 18.104.22.168-23. Interestingly, in the endnote Kripal quotes LP 22.214.171.124, but he doesn't quote the very next paragraph which describes Narendra's acceptance of Shakti! It's obvious that the author has chosen to suppress it since it inconveniently conflicts with his thesis. The paragraph which Kripal chose to ignore says: "The Master's face was beaming with delight. . . . '[Narendra] never accepted the Divine Mother before; it was only last night that he did so . . . Narendra has accepted Kali; it is very good, is that not so?'" (LP 126.96.36.199)
Again, we can read Narendra's own words which appear in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda:
Moreover, the movement's "rejection of the goddess" is a complete myth. Vivekananda and Ramakrishna's other monastic disciples were the first to initiate the worship of Kali and Durga in the monastery, and it has remained a regular feature in all the Ramakrishna centers both in India and abroad. Further, the daily puja, ritualistic worship, which is performed in the Ramakrishna centers is almost wholly based on elements derived from the Tantras. If by "rejection of the goddess" is meant that the practice of the Tantra does not find prominence in the movement, it is because Ramakrishna did not guide any of his disciples on an exclusive Tantric path.
What Kripal seems to be confused about is the worship of "the goddess" and its exclusive identification with Tantra. In Hinduism, "the goddess" is worshipped by all traditions, including those who worship Vishnu/Krishna/Narayana, Shiva, Ganapati and Surya-and, of course, by the Shaktas. Directly or indirectly, all these traditions derive their sustenance from the Vedic tradition and are therefore connected with Vedanta, the philosophic portion of the Vedas. It is thus possible to be a Vedantin and simultaneously be a worshipper of Vishnu/Krishna/Narayana, Shiva, Ganapati, Surya, or the Goddess (in any of her numerous forms).
(9) KC p. 26: Knowing full well that Ramakrishna had described himself as having a woman's nature and went so far as to dress like one, Narendra now confesses that he never believed all that "Krishna-fisna nonsense" (KA 3.269).
Response: The first half of the sentence has absolutely no textual connection with the second half. The reference Kripal gives reads as follows:
Narendra's response is fully in keeping with the stage in his life when he did not accept a personal aspect of God. Narendra's reply had nothing to do with Ramakrishna's having described himself as having a "woman's nature." This is but one small instance of the kind of misleading documentation that abounds in Kali's Child.
(10) KC p. 26: Ramakrishna's usual response to Narendra's Sanskrit hymns and Vedanta talk was emphatic: "It's all so boring!" (KA 3.253)
Response: "Usual" response? Kripal provides just one instance so we can hardly call this "usual." Kripal does not tell the reader, although it's extensively documented throughout the Ramakrishna literature, that Ramakrishna himself gave Narendra an uncompromising Vedanta text, the Ashtavakra Samhita, to read. Even when Narendra refused to read it (since as a member of the Brahmo Samaj he was initially adverse to nondualistic thought), Ramakrishna would say, "Please read it to me for my sake." Kripal also neglects to inform the reader that in KA 2.235 Ramakrishna shows great appreciation for Narendra reciting some verses from this nondualistic Vedanta text. In the conversation which follows, Ramakrishna affirms one of the basic principles of Vedanta: "The attributes of matter (jader satta) are superimposed on Consciousness (chaitanya), and the attributes of Consciousness (chaitanyer satta) are superimposed on matter (jada). That is why when the body is ill, a person says, 'I am ill''' (KA 2.237).
Why does Kripal neglect to provide this information to the reader? Because, first, it would sabotage his thesis that Ramakrishna was a Tantric and, second, it would sabotage his thesis that the Vedanta leanings of the movement were initiated by the "renouncers" after Ramakrishna's death.
Further, nowhere in the reference KA 3.253 do we find Ramakrishna "emphatically" declaring the "Vedanta talk" to be "boring." Ramakrishna instead said that such ideas are "very ordinary" (ati samanya). Ramakrishna consistently taught that approaching the Reality through the attitude of negation-"neti, neti"-is not enough: a higher view (which is sometimes called "iti, iti") is also necessary.
Finally, what Kripal also neglects to mention is that after Ramakrishna expressed his displeasure of the Sanskrit hymn Narendra had begun to sing, Narendra then sang devotional songs describing the gopis' love for Krishna. Narendra had no problem singing those songs, but Kripal again fails to mention it since it would call into question his "renouncer vs. Tantra" thesis.
(11) KC p. 26: Kripal describes as "luxuries" the "slick varnished slippers" and "black-bordered" cloth that Ramakrishna wore.
Response: First, "slick" is Kripal's pejorative addition; it is not mentioned in KA 3.196-97. Second-and more interestingly-Kripal alters the words: KA 3.196-97 says "red"-bordered cloth. Now why would he do that? It's easy enough to tell the difference between red and black-lal and kalo-in Bengali. The answer is found in Kripal's reference to the English Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: "A cloth with black borders, bolster and so forth, regarded as articles of luxury, are used by householders. A paramahamsa, on the other hand, is an all-renouncing monk (p.1021, fn 3)." Ah, now we know why Kripal changed the words from red to black.
Moreover, by no stretch of the imagination could a red-bordered cloth and varnished slippers be considered "luxuries." They were quite common in Bengal and certainly no luxury in the capital of British India.
(12) KC p. 26: One can imagine how upset poor Narendra must have been with Ramakrishna's desire to call him Kamalaksha, one of those effeminate Vaishnava names meaning "Lotus Eyes."
Response: Kamalaksha means "lotus eyes," it is true, but it is by no means an "effeminate Vaishnava" name. This adjective is routinely applied to Vishnu, Rama and Krishna-all of whom are male deities in the Hindu tradition. In a general way, "lotus eyes" are considered a mark of spirituality.
There is no textual support to imagine that "poor Narendra" was "upset" by this remark.
(13) KC p. 27: The "I only eat, drink, and make merry" chant of Ramakrishna is replaced by an almost desperate "Renounce!" (KA 3.271)
Response: At KA 3.271 we see nothing "desperate" about the call for renunciation. Since the author has provided a reference from the Bengali Kathamrita, the reader assumes that there is something in the text to support the author's assertion. But there isn't.
(14) KC p. 27: The music also has changed. Narendra's songs of manly renunciation, of Shiva, and of Shankara begin to replace those of Kali and the milkmaids of Krishna, once so dear to Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna once sung of Kali triumphantly astride the pale Shiva. Now Narendra brags that, in the end, Shiva reclaimed his rightful dominance over Shakti and made her a servant, and that Krishna left the women of Vrindavana to become a mighty king in a distant city (KA 4.296).
Response: Wrong. There is no "change" in the music. Kripal presents a distorted picture of the kind of music being sung both pre- and post-Ramakrishna. Besides singing songs to Kali and Krishna, Ramakrishna also sang and made others sing songs to other deities including Shiva. And after his death, the same tradition continued. Narendra himself composed a song on the gopis of Vrindavan and was bathed in tears when he sang it. He also worshipped Kali, and Ramakrishna's disciples spent hours singing songs to Kali at the Baranagore monastery, the first monastery of the Ramakrishna Order. Vivekananda's poems on the Goddess ("Kali the Mother," "How the Mother Shyama Plays," among others), as well as his life-transforming spiritual experience at the Kshir Bhavani temple in Kashmir, demonstrate his profound devotion to the Divine Mother. For more information on this topic, see Sister Nivedita's The Master as I Saw Him.
(15) KC p. 27: And finally the texts have changed. Ramakrishna had prayed to Kali to teach him the contents of "the Vedas, the Puranas, and the Tantras." But now Narendra, as Swami Vivekananda, rejects this sacred trilogy for another: "the Vedas, the Gita, and the Upanishads."
Response: Wrong again. After Ramakrishna's death the Ramakrishna Order didn't change its focus in any way regarding the texts. The Vedas (which, by the way, include the Upanishads) and the Puranas continue to be studied. Ramakrishna often referred to the Bhagavad Gita and held it in high esteem. What Kripal refers to as "Vivekananda's trilogy" is in no way a departure from Ramakrishna's teachings. The system of worship and meditation practices have continued to be influenced by the Tantric tradition.
© 2000 by Swami Tyagananda
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