Kali's Child Revisited
Didn't Anyone Check the Documentation?
by Swami Tyagananda*

© 2000 by Swami Tyagananda

Part 2 of 4

(16) KC p. 27: M records Vivekananda's categorical rejection of Tantra in an appendix in volume 5: "Give up this filthy Vamachara that is killing your country…"

Response: Kripal's statement that "M records Vivekananda's categorical rejection of Tantra…" is inaccurate. M prefaces Vivekananda's statement with these words: "Swami Vivekananda gave a thoughtful (sara-garbha) lecture on Vedanta at the residence (thakur-bari) of Radhakanta Deb after he returned from abroad. There, after condemning the practice of using women for one's sadhana, he said the following:…"

What must be carefully noted is that Vivekananda condemned "the filthy Vamachara." The word Tantra appears twice in the quote recorded by M, and both the times Vivekananda qualifies the word with the adjective "Vamachara." What Vivekananda condemned was Vamachara Tantra. Kripal's prefatory statement is: "Vivekananda's categorical rejection of Tantra…"

The author has therefore either suppressed the word to support his thesis or, for Dr. Kripal, Tantra is equivalent to "Vamachara." Perhaps this is why, when the author associates Tantra with Ramakrishna, he focuses entirely on Vamachara practice.

(17) KC p. 27: Ramakrishna's world, then, was a Tantric world.

Response: Although the author frequently invokes the phrase "Tantric world," he never really proves his point. Ramakrishna did Tantric sadhana (and this is no "secret" whatsoever), but he also practiced other sadhanas, such as Vaishnava, Vedanta, and also, in his own way, the Islamic and the Christian sadhanas. To say that Ramakrishna's world is a "Tantric world" is to overlook his other worlds. Considering the enormous amount of documented evidence available on the subject, to restrict his "world" to one sadhana is to ignore the weight of evidence documenting an extremely broad range of spiritual practice.

(18) KC p. 29: So, for example, we are asked to believe that … all that is decadent in Tantra came from the Buddhists (LP 4.1.23-28).

Response: This is a misrepresentation. What the LP says is that the Buddhists were responsible for decadence because they ignored the Vedic idea of "competency" necessary for the various levels of practice. When those who were incapable of following rigorous spiritual disciplines attempted to do so, degeneration inevitably set in and eventually led to decadent practices. This is quite different from saying that decadence "came from the Buddhists."

(19) KC p. 36: Distrustful of such heroes and what they represent, Ramakrishna claimed that Kali's daunting iconographic form is only an external appearance …

Response: It's interesting that what Ramakrishna experiences as a direct perception and experience becomes, in Kripal's eyes, only a "claim." Yet the author's "claims" regarding Ramakrishna's life are presented as facts, even though he lacks documented evidence to support his thesis.

(20) KC p. 40: For others in the texts, however, it does indeed point to a sexual conflict, for it is a perfect example of Ramakrishna's "destroyed masculinity" (JV[5], 36).

Response: In JV[5] there is no reference whatsoever to "a sexual conflict." What the Bengali text says is that many (aneker) felt that Ramakrishna had become impotent (purushatva-hani, the meaning of which Kripal distorts by creating a comically literal translation, "destroyed masculinity") because of various nervous disorders (nana-prakar snayaviya roga-vashatah). Again we have another example of how the author inserts his own commentary and cloaks it with faulty documentation.

(21) KC p. 42: "There are two in here," he would say simply: "There is she [the goddess], and there is [her] devotee" (KA 3.251).

Response: The Bengali word is tini, which is not gender specific. At KA 3.251 we see that Ramakrishna refers to Isvara ("God" or, more literally, "The Supreme Ruler"-and linguistically, in masculine gender) and then to Krishna and Chaitanya.

"There is she [the goddess]…" should therefore be considered interpretative. This may seem to be a minor matter, but it needs addressing since Kripal, when it suits him, resorts to either absurdly literal translations or biased interpretation.

(22) KC p. 44: According to the Paramahamsa, mystical love awakens in the heart of the fourth, a still-speaking ecstasy is triggered in the throat of the fifth (KA 1.115), all words cease in the near-absorptive state that is the sixth, and "complete absorption" (samadhi) in the mystico-erotic union of Shiva and Shakti (KA 4.116) defines the experience of that "very secret place" (KA 2.149-50), the thousand-petaled lotus in the head.

Response: This is a typical example of how Kripal distorts the text, making the words appear authentic (with all those references in parentheses) and making them appear to be Ramakrishna's words: "According to the Paramahamsa…."

But, astonishingly, the reference KA 1.115 leads nowhere. There is nothing there about mystical love awakening in the fourth or the ecstasy in the fifth. The KA 4.116 reference is correct, but the description (such as "mystico-erotic union") is Kripal's, not Ramakrishna's. The last reference, KA 2.149-50, is actually from a traditional Bengali song which was being sung by Vaishnavacharan, not Ramakrishna.

And this long sentence, interrupted by three references, begins with the phrase "According to the Paramahamsa." As we have seen, what follows are neither fully the words nor even the ideas of Ramakrishna.

First Chapter

(23) KC p. 50: The state of the corpse becomes the state of Shiva, the erotic ascetic, and death becomes the locus of the ultimate erotic experience-union with Kali.

Response: Kripal translates shava as "corpse"-a literal translation-but in the context given it simply means "a non-moving being." We can see how little Kripal understands the simple nuances inherent in Bengali: not only is the sentence bizarre; it also makes no sense philosophically to a Hindu.

(24) KC p. 51: Accordingly, Ramakrishna compares sexual abstinence to the act of sacrificing a spotless black goat to Kali (KA 4.96), symbolically connecting the goat's decapitation with the "cutting off" of the sexual powers embodied in the penis.

Response: At KA 4.96 we see Ramakrishna singing kirtan, and he pauses to appreciate one line from the song. I will quote from Nikhilananda's translation of the Gospel, p. 442. I've compared it with the original Bengali and have found it perfectly accurate, with the exception of the first part of the sentence which says: "The musician sang rightly." A more accurate translation would be: "The song says it rightly." I now quote the passage:

The song says it rightly: "A sannyasi must not look at a woman." This is the sannyasi's dharma. What a lofty ideal!

Vijay: Yes, indeed, sir.

Master: Others learn from the sannyasi's example. That is why such strict rules are prescribed for him. A sannyasi must not look even at the portrait of a woman. What a strict rule! The slaughtering of a black goat is prescribed for the worship of the Divine Mother; but a goat with even a slight wound cannot be offered. A sannyasi must not only not have intercourse with woman; he must not even talk to her.

Now where in the above conversation is there even a hint of "symbolically connecting the goat's decapitation with the 'cutting off' of the sexual powers embodied in the penis"? Since it is obviously not there, how can Kripal declare: "Accordingly, Ramakrishna compares …"?

(25) KC p. 51: … Ramakrishna's reported technique for conquering the powers of lust: he would stand before a naked prostitute with a noose hung around his neck and tighten the rope when he became sexually excited.

Response: Kripal provides this example to establish that the head is a "symbolic phallus." Having made this point, he then admits in endnote #7 on p. 341 that he seriously doubts whether Ramakrishna ever practiced this technique.

For several reasons, this is a serious example of intellectual dishonesty. First, Kripal makes use of a source whose authenticity he himself doubts, but he nevertheless uses it to make a point to support his thesis. Second, when he finds that it also contradicts his theory (Ramakrishna's "fear of women and his pronounced homosexual tendencies"), he slyly dissociates himself from it in an obscure endnote which appears 300 pages later. Third, he defends his action by saying that it doesn't matter whether it actually happened or not because it is "recorded and preserved within the culture."

What this means is that Kripal wants to marshal his data from (1) incidents which probably never happened and were never recorded, and (2) what is recorded but which probably did not happen. The only condition for data to be "authentic" is that it conform to Kripal's thesis. Thus whatever does not conform to his thesis becomes automatically inauthentic.

Bipinchandra, whose book contains the above incident, never met Ramakrishna; he was only a popular orator. But Saradananda was Ramakrishna's own disciple; he knew him well, he lived with him, he served him. Saradananda was also closely associated with Ramakrishna's wife Sarada for over two decades. Moreover, Saradananda's book is also "recorded and preserved within the culture" (the pretext Kripal gives for using the incident from Bipinchandra's book). So why doesn't Kripal accept the Lilaprasanga and its conclusions as authentic?

(26) KC p. 55: Then one day, her [Chandramani, Ramakrishna's mother] husband still away, the nocturnal visitor abandoned her dreams and entered her waking life: "On another day while I was talking to Dhani in front of the Shiva temple of the Yogis, I saw a divine light come out of the great limb of Shiva…" (LP 1.4.8)

(In the following paragraph, Kripal continues) … Then Shiva, known for his erotic exploits, impregnates the aging woman as she walks by his "great limb," most likely a reference to the Shiva-lingam enshrined in the temple.

Response: Since Kripal makes such a fuss about the "great limb" I checked his source, LP 1.4.8, and found this: Mahadever sri-anga hoite, "from the holy image of Mahadeva (Shiva)." Thus it is the sri-anga that Kripal translates as the "great limb." Unfortunately, this is not so much a translation as a fabrication. From the context it is very clear that it is the image in the Shiva temple which is being referred to.

Later in the book (see note #144) the author inexplicably translates "Shiva-linga" as "Shiva's penis." Perhaps this is because Kripal views Shiva as one who is "known for his erotic exploits." All I can say on this point is that this is not the kind of image a practicing Hindu carries in his or her heart. I have worshipped Shiva my entire life and not once when I gazed upon the Shiva linga did "Shiva's penis" enter my mind. I can assure you that this is the same for millions of other practicing Hindus. And, by the way, in the Bengali original, it was the temple of the "Yugis" not "Yogis."

(27) KC p. 56: Kshudiram was in the habit of naming his sons after pilgrimages: earlier, he had named his second son Rameshwar, in honor of his pilgrimage to southern India (LP 1.3.13).

Response: First, one relatively small point: It's curious that Kripal can come up with only one example to show that Kshudiram was "in the habit of" naming his sons after pilgrimages. While this may seem to be a small slip, the book is awash in such "slips"-which often seem intentional and designed to create a cumulative effect of distortion.

A much more important point is Kripal's reference from the Lilaprasanga as 1.3.13. Why would he use numbers for the Lilaprasanga? There is no numbering system of the paragraphs in the Bengali book. For that reason it is extremely difficult to trace the original reference from the numbers that Kripal cites. Since the Lilaprasanga uses no numbering system, why would Kripal quote numbers? Because the English translation of the Lilaprasanga, Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master, uses the numbering system.

If Kripal was referring to the original in Bengali, he should have given the appropriate page number-not a set of numbers (book, chapter, and section) which are found only in the English translation. The truth is, the Bengali in the Lilaprasanga is not very easy to read; it's filled with tatsama, Sanskritized words. What Kripal would prefer us not to know is that he lacks the proficiency to be able to read the Lilaprasanga in Bengali. What Kripal seems to have done is read the Great Master and from that he chose a few passages to scrutinize. He then looked these passages up in the Lilaprasanga, and with a Bengali dictionary and the Great Master by his side, created his own "translation."

(28) KC p. 57-58: Another passage referring to an ecstatic state at the age of ten, again minus the egrets and the storm clouds of the more classical account, suggests that the egret and the storm cloud vision may be apocryphal.

Response: Kripal is trying to discredit Saradananda's version in the Lilaprasanga. The "another passage" he refers to above occurs at KA 5.25 in which Ramakrishna refers to the state of samadhi after "I saw something." On this occasion he doesn't describe what he saw. Unless Kripal can convincingly show that Ramakrishna saw something other than "the egrets and the storm clouds," he cannot preclude that possibility.

But something more serious is at stake here. M's and Saradananda's are both firsthand accounts of Ramakrishna's words. On what basis can Kripal give greater authenticity to M's book and dismiss Saradananda's as apocryphal? The obvious reason is that if he acknowledged the authenticity of the Lilaprasanga and its "renouncer" author, Kripal could no longer maintain his thesis.

(29) KC p. 58: Jensen and Sil have noted one possible reason for the persistency of the trances: they were consistently rewarded by the women of the village. The texts agree.

Response: At the end of the first sentence, there is a reference to an endnote (#30, p.342) giving references to Sil's and Jensen's books. This is followed by a peculiar statement: "The texts agree." Kripal then refers to the Lilaprasanga and Life accounts where the women of village looked upon Ramakrishna as a spiritually gifted child who embodied something of the divine within him. Some of the women looked upon him as Gopala. When Kripal says: "The texts agree," the obvious question is: "Agree to what? That the reason for Ramakrishna's trances was the reward he got from the women?" What "texts" agree with this? Is he referring to the source books he documents-the Lilaprasanga and the Life-or to the speculative ones written by contemporary writers such as Sil and Kakar? We do not know. However, should we take the trouble to look up the references in the Lilaprasanga and the Life, we quickly discover that the texts don't agree with Kripal's assertions.

(30) KC p. 58: … the younger women looked upon him as Krishna, their divine lover, a troubling practice indeed considering the fact that Gadadhar was only a boy (endnote #32). Gadadhar, it seems, entered his trances at least partially to escape these women and their worship. The women, in other words, not only rewarded the trances: they caused them. Certainly the neighbors were suspicious, despite the women's insistence that no harm was done (endnote #33).

Response: Kripal's endnotes reference The Life of Sri Ramakrishna, pp. 27 and 29. On p.27 of the Life we read: "Aged women like Prasannamayi regarded him as the boy Gopala, younger ones thought he was endowed with some of the characteristics of Sri Krishna." Note that there is not even a hint of "their divine lover" and the "troubling practice."

The author's penchant for scrambling his own commentary with what is supposed to be documented evidence is a troubling practice. The author's interpretation cannot be legitimized by leading the unsuspecting reader to believe that what is being said has textual support.

When we go to the second reference-p. 29 of the Life-we find absolutely nothing there to support Kripal's claim. While he provides an endnote (#33) to give us the assurance of scholarly authenticity, when we actually read the documentation we find nothing even remotely close to what Kripal asserts.

(31) KC p. 59: These paternal losses and maternal gains at some point began to manifest themselves in the boy's behavior. He began, for example, to show signs that he was not completely comfortable with his apparent gender. He would dress up like the women of the village and mimic their mannerisms, their walk, their conversational habits, their vanities. Much later in his life he would describe in great detail how women walk with their left foot first (LP 2.14.9), how they gossip at the pond and the bathing ghat, and how they weep for their dead husbands (KA 4.272). All this he learned by close observation and, sometimes, by participation.

Response: The LP reference deals with only one sentence, not everything that precedes it. And even in that one sentence, what Kripal writes is only partially true. At LP 2.14.9 we see Hriday-not Ramakrishna-describing how he saw his uncle, during the madhura bhava sadhana, putting his left foot first like women do.

What I would like to know, though, is where Kripal got: "Much later in life he would describe in great detail…" since it is not in the LP reference that Kripal provides.

(32) KC p. 61: Almost immediately, Mathur tried to convince the young priest to take a position in the temple, but Gadadhar refused, allegedly on the grounds…

Response: Allegedly? Why "allegedly"? Does the author have any textual evidence to doubt the reasons for Gadadhar's refusal? Or is Kripal's skeptical reaction simply due to the fact that Ramakrishna's actions don't fit his theory?

(33) KC p. 61: With Ramkumar gone, Gadadhar, known as "the little Chatterjee," was appointed…

Response: Ramakrishna was known as "the little Bhattacharya" (the junior priest), never as "the little Chatterjee."

(34) KC p. 64: The sound of Ramakrishna's thrashing arms and frantic bubbles can almost be heard in the onomatopoeia of the Bengali. As he is pushed to the bottom, Ramakrishna is said to "eat" the mystical waters with the sound habudubu (LP 2.6.13).

Response: This passage above makes absolutely no sense: "Ramakrishna is said to "eat" the mystical waters…" But it's only Kripal who says it. No one else. In LP 2.6.13 we read: "I saw a boundless (asim), infinite (ananta) and effulgent ocean of consciousness (chetan jyotihsamudra). However far and in whatever direction I looked, I found a succession of its effulgent waves coming forward, raging and storming from all sides with great speed. Very soon they fell upon me and pushed me at once to the very bottom. I panted (hampaiya) and struggled (habudubu khaiya) and lost all outer consciousness."

Several points need to be noted. First, it is an "ocean of consciousness"; I have no idea from where Kripal's "mystical waters" appear. Second, there is no reference anywhere to Ramakrishna's "thrashing arms."

But the greatest wonder is the "frantic bubbles" that Kripal is able to hear and, he tells us, "Ramakrishna is said to 'eat' the mystical waters with the sound habudubu." The Bengali expression is habudubu khava, which means "to struggle to keep afloat" and, figuratively, also means "to be deeply engrossed."

Translated literally (which Kripal does), it means "to eat habudubu"-which makes no sense whatsoever. A comparable example will be the expression: "to kick the bucket." If I take the Bengali words for "bucket" (balti) and for "to kick" (lathi mara), and put them together, they won't mean in Bengali what the expression means in English.

(35) KC p. 65: The aspirant must identify completely with these feminine lovers of God. He must experience a love so great that it is capable of transforming his physical gender over time. Only then will he truly be able to love Krishna.

Response: In his effort to show Ramakrishna's "psychological desire to become a woman and this theological necessity for a female body" (KC 65), Kripal mentions the incident of the thousand sages who saw Rama on his way to the forest. He quotes Ramakrishna (KA 2.213) as saying that it was these sages who became the gopis. Kripal then concludes: "Desire for God, in other words, can turn a man into a woman."

What Kripal neglects to mention is that in this mythological example, the change from men to women occurred in a different lifetime, not the same one. Hinduism presumes that everyone has had both masculine and feminine incarnations. However, since the mention of this would have hurt the author's argument for Ramakrishna's "theological necessity for a female body," it remains unsaid. To reiterate: the transforming of "physical gender over time" does not occur in the same lifetime.

(36) KC p. 65: The same longing that was once directed to Kali and her sword is now directed to Narendra and his sweet singing voice.

Response: How does the author know that it is the "same longing"? Just because the same word vyakul is used? If I say "I'm eager for God's vision" and "I'm eager for a cup of coffee"-that doesn't mean the "same longing" that I directed this morning toward God is now directed to coffee, just because the same word "eager" is used. The eagerness for God and the eagerness for coffee are different qualitatively-and often also quantitatively.

(37) KC p. 66: Kripal describes "one particularly humorous scene" when Ramakrishna is taken to a zoo. Ramakrishna is reminded of the goddess when he sees a lion which "unfortunately for those who wanted to see the rest of the zoo" is a mount of the goddess Durga. Kripal says that Ramakrishna "falls over unconscious." The party has to return home (KA 4.74).

Response: In KA 4.74 we see that, first of all, there is no mention that those who accompanied Ramakrishna "wanted to see the rest of the zoo" but "unfortunately" could not. Second, Kripal says that Ramakrishna "falls over unconscious" but in the reference he gives (KA 4.74), we find this very clear statement: "I entered into samadhi" (samadhistha hoye gelam).

(38) KC p. 66: Again, when Ramakrishna sees a prostitute dressed in blue sitting under a tree, he becomes "completely enkindled" and is "reminded of Sita" (KA 2.49).

Response: First, the translation: In the original there is no word corresponding to Kripal's "completely enkindled." He translates uddipana as "enkindled"; even if that is granted, from where does "completely" come? Nikhilananda translates this portion accurately. Thus we read in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 231: "One day I saw a woman in blue standing near the bakul-tree. She was a prostitute. But she instantly kindled in me the vision of Sita. I forgot the woman. I saw that it was Sita herself on her way to meet Rama after her rescue from Ravana in Ceylon. For a long time I remained in samadhi, unconscious of the outer world."

(39) KC pp. 66-67: All this leads M to ask himself troubling questions. In one such passage, Ramakrishna's body hairs all stand on end when he looks at little Naren. M recalls one of his Master's teachings and asks himself a question: "Where lust is not, there the Lord is present … Was the Master all excited about the Lord?" (KA 3.263)

Response: First, we see in KA 3.263 that Ramakrishna's hair stands on end not when "he looks at little Naren" but when he thinks (mane koriya) of the younger Naren's pure mind totally devoid of lust (kama).

Second, describing M's question as "troubling questions" is Kripal's pejorative characterization. There is no hint of it anywhere in the Kathamrita, not even at KA 3.263.

Third, what is the rationale for introducing ellipses in this short quote? An ellipsis is a tool employed to skip the unnecessary portions, even without which the sense of the text is complete. But here Kripal uses ellipsis to actually distort the meaning. What Kripal omits is the phrase: "remembering this" (ai katha mane koriya). This phrase is important, because M was not voicing his own doubt or raising his own "troubling question." He was only wondering whether Ramakrishna was charged by the thought of God (isvarer uddipan) after remembering the saying, "Where lust is not, there the Lord is present." From the context we can easily see that it is a rhetorical question, not a doubt, and most certainly not a "troubling question."

Here is my translation of the passage, which is faithful to the Bengali original:

Haldar: Sir, when that boy (pointing to younger Naren) came in you said he had controlled his senses (jitendriya).
Master: Yes, it is true. He is totally unaffected by worldliness. He says he doesn't know what lust is. (To M) Just feel my body. All the hair is standing on end (romanca hocche).

The Master's hair stood on end at the thought of a pure mind totally devoid of lust. Was he charged by the thought of God after remembering the saying, "Where lust is not, there the Lord is present"?

(40) KC p. 67: Again, when a boy of fifteen walks into a theatre box to see Ramakrishna, M tells us that the saint stroked the young boy with his hand and asked him to sit down: "With you here, I get all excited." When the boy left, Ramakrishna told M that the boy's physical signs were very good and that "if he would have stayed a little longer, I would have stood up" (KA 2.121).

Response: At KA 2.121 we don't see any "boy of fifteen." We see a person "born in the holy family of Nityananda" and who is "aged thirty-four or thirty-five." Whereas Kripal says Ramakrishna "stroked the young boy with his hand," at KA 2.121 we merely find: "Ramakrishna was filled with delight at the sight of him. He held his hand and talked with him affectionately. Every now and then he said: 'Please sit down here. Your very presence awakens my spiritual feeling.' He played tenderly with the young man's hands and lovingly stroked his face."

Nikhilananda's translation on p. 555 is perfect, except for one inexplicable omission. I don't know why he omitted the young man's age: the Kathamrita puts it very clearly: "He was about 34 or 35."

Note in particular where the Kathamrita says that Ramakrishna "played tenderly with the young man's hands and lovingly stroked his face." Kripal intentionally distorts it to say instead: "stroked the young boy with his hand." Stroking someone's face with one's hand is a very common way of expressing affection in Bengal.

Ramakrishna says, "The young man has good traits" (lakkhan bhalo); but Kripal changes that to: "the boy's physical signs were very good," and then translates literally "I would have stood up (ami dandiye podtum)." Ramakrishna often used this expression to refer to the fact that he stood up upon entering into ecstasy. I would say, therefore, that Nikhilananda was wise to translate it as: "At the sight of him my spiritual mood is aroused. I should have been overwhelmed with ecstasy if he had stayed here a little longer" (Gospel, p. 556).

As in many other places before, Kripal's misuses the word uddipana to strengthen his homoerotic subtext.

(41) KC p. 67: Accordingly, he spoke of a "memory nerve" (medha nadi) that grew when the semen was held for seven years (KA 4.85).

Response: Kripal's translation of medha nadi as "memory nerve" is incorrect; "wisdom nerve" would be a more accurate translation. Medha is a higher aspect of the intellect (buddhi), through which one develops the capacity to understand and experience deeper spiritual truths. The medha nadi is connected with "memory," but not in the sense which Kripal chooses to use it in KC p. 67:

Ramakrishna's uddipana was at once religious "enlightenment," mythical "remembrance," and sexual "excitement." It was erotic that "lit up" the memory and sparked Ramakrishna's mystical states. Accordingly he spoke of a "memory nerve"…

And by the way, KA 4.85 speaks of "twelve years," not seven.

(42) KC p. 67: For example, instead of lusting after a woman, one must turn this lust "around the corner" and lust after the Absolute: "Have sex with Saccidananda," Ramakrishna counseled (KA 1.215).

Response: At KA 1.215, there is no "instead of lusting after woman." These words belong entirely to Kripal. At 1.125 we merely see: "Have desire (kamana) for God. Unite (raman karo) with Satchidananda." Kripal's "Have sex with Saccidananda" is not only crude but also misleading. When a Hindu hears or reads about ramana with God, there is no idea of sex involved. And this should be all the more obvious in the case of an impersonal, non-anthropomorphic concept such as Satchidananda.

(43) KC p. 68: There are exceptions to this passivity in the language and teachings of Ramakrishna-Ramakrishna, for example, "drags" Kali to him (KA 4.62) and "pulls" Saccidananda with the cord of desire (KA 4.119).

Response: At KA 4.119 we see the word "love" (prema), which Kripal translates as "desire," a word loaded with sexual innuendo which prema conspicuously lacks. KA 4.119 says: "Love is the rope by which you can tether God, as it were. Whenever you want to see Him you have merely to pull the rope."

(44) KC p. 68: This radical passivity is evident in the way Ramakrishna is powerfully attracted to different boy disciples and the manner in which they in turn are attracted to him. "Their natures are very pure," Ramakrishna declares, "and so when they sing they attract me!"

Response: Unlike other places, this quote from the KA has the reference not in parentheses but in the endnote #65 on p. 343 which says: "Cf. KA 3.136." When I read KA 3.136 I found nothing whatsoever about the alleged words of Ramakrishna which Kripal quotes.

(45) KC p. 68: As passive experiences of forces that overcome his own powers of control and understanding, these attractions often elicited doubt and confusion from Ramakrishna: "Why am I so attracted to them?" he often asked in a troubled tone (KA 5.145).

Response: This is a quintessential example of truly shoddy scholarship. At KA 5.145 we see neither "doubt" nor "confusion" in Ramakrishna, and the question was not asked "in a troubled tone." Had there been confusion or doubt, Ramakrishna could not have answered his own question-which he does-an answer which Kripal omits.

Moreover-and this is more serious-Kripal distorts the translation to support his own thesis of Ramakrishna's "passivity." According to Kripal, Ramakrishna asked: "Why am I so attracted to them?" In the Bengali original, the words are in the active voice: "Why do I attract them so much?" (ami oder ato tani keno). Ramakrishna continues, replying to his own question: "Because they are pure (suddha adhar), untouched by worldliness. One cannot assimilate instruction if one's mind is stained with worldliness. Milk can be safely kept in a new pot; but it turns sour if kept in a pot in which curd has been made. You may wash a thousand times a cup that has held a solution of garlic, but still you cannot remove the garlic smell." These are not the words of someone who, according to Kripal, is in "doubt and confusion." That is why Kripal quotes only a section of this quote-and even that, he distorts.

(46) KC p. 68: The erotic nature of this magical attraction and its origin in the goddess are both evident in the following passage. Ramakrishna is talking to M about the coming of his disciples: "Lately I've been saying to Ma, 'I'm done talking.' And I'm saying, 'O Ma, if you touch them but once, their consciousness will be awakened.' Such is the greatness of the Magical Power (yogamaya)-she is able to cast a spell. In the play of Vrindavana the Magical Power cast a spell. By means of her, Subola united Krishna and Radha. The Magical Power-she who is the Primordial Power-she has an attracting power. I have assumed this power (KA 3.121-22).

Response: I would translate the passage in KA 3.121-22 as follows: "Just now I was saying to the Mother, 'I cannot talk much.' I also said to Her, 'May people's inner consciousness be awakened by only one touch!' Such is the power of Yogamaya that She can cast a spell. She did so at the play in Vrindavan. With her power, Subol was able to unite Krishna and Radha. Yogamaya, the Primal Power, has a power of attraction. I had applied that power."

Note the difference in the two translations. Kripal translates "Yogamaya" incorrectly as "Magical Power." The word "Yogamaya" is synonymous with Shakti or "Divine Power." Earlier in the same paragraph, Kripal has said: "Kali's Shakti attracts the boys to Ramakrishna…", and for that reason he inserts this phrase into his translation of this passage, "if you touch." But the Bengali simply says: "by only one touch" (ek bar chhunye dile). Finally, Kripal's use of present perfect tense, "I have assumed this power," is incorrect. In Bengali the verb is in the past perfect tense: "I had applied (arop korechhilam) that power."

This difference in tense is important because Kripal builds on it: "In this complicated passage," he says, "Ramakrishna claims that he has assumed the same 'attracting power' that once joined Krishna and Radha in an erotic union." But what Ramakrishna is clearly referring to here is the fact that he had once applied that power of Yogamaya to himself when he practiced the Vaishnava sadhanas. And, by the way, it's not a "complicated passage."

Finally, Kripal's introductory sentence to this passage is incorrect: "Ramakrishna is talking to M about the coming of his disciples." At KA 3.121-22 we see something entirely different: Ramakrishna is sharing with the devotees some of his spiritual experiences; there is no indication whatsoever that he is talking to M "about the coming of his disciples."

(47) KC p. 69: On a more philosophical level, Ramakrishna believed that the disciples somehow shared the same essence with him. "Attraction" (tana) and desire flowed naturally from this essential union or ontological identity (satta) (KA 2.166).

Response: I found nothing at KA 2.166 to support Kripal's claim. Nikhilananda's translation on p. 613 of the Gospel is completely accurate: "God is your own Mother. Enforce your demand. If you are a part of a thing, you feel its attraction. Because of the element of the Divine Mother in me I feel attracted to Her. A true Shaiva has some of the characteristics of Shiva; he has in him some of the elements of Shiva. He who is a true Vaishnava is endowed with some of the elements of Narayana."

From this passage, how does Kripal conclude: attraction and desire flowed naturally… ?

(48) KC p. 69: Like attracts like. Such a deep union can be detected in a dream. In one scene, for example, a young boy comes to Ramakrishna and reveals to the Paramahamsa that he has seen him in his dreams, just sitting there saying nothing. An excited Ramakrishna breaks in: "That's very good! … You're attracted to me, isn't this so?" There is silence, followed by Ramakrishna's request that the boy come again. But he will make no promises, for his family objects (KA 4.149).

Response: At 4.149 there is nothing even remotely close to what Kripal is saying and quoting.

(49) KC p. 69: Kripal shows that the same phrase "wrung like a wet towel" was used to describe Ramakrishna's state before his first vision of the Divine Mother and also to see Narendra: that is why, Kripal concludes, "psychologically speaking, the First vision and Ramakrishna's tortured 'wrung' desire to see Narendra are very close, if not identical."

Response: As we've seen before, simply because the same words were used in two different situations, this hardly indicates that the two situations were "psychologically speaking … very close." In note #36 we have already seen that the argument is untenable.

(50) KC p. 70: Indeed, Ramakrishna's habit of threatening to cut his throat with a knife was so common and so well-known that, after he was dead, at least one disciple made fun of him by imitating his vyakulata and faking dramatic gestures…

Response: First, there are barely two instances in the Kathamrita when Ramakrishna thinks of cutting his throat, so this can hardly be called his "habit." Kripal gives a reference in endnote #70 (p. 343), where he says: "Ramakrishna also threatened to drown himself (KA 1.168-69)." This is a misleading reference and not at all linked to what is being discussed. At KA 1.168-69 we see that Ramakrishna is describing how he was harassed and troubled by his nephew Hriday. When it became absolutely unbearable, Ramakrishna went to the river bank with the idea of drowning himself. He did not "threaten to drown himself," as Kripal tells his readers.

Second, the replaying of the knife-incident in KA 2.248 is a lighthearted occasion; it is stunningly apparent from the text that the disciples are not "making fun of him [Ramakrishna]." When the disciple asks for the knife, Narendra says in mock seriousness, "It is here. Stretch out your hand and take it." But in Kripal's version, this becomes: "You need to stick out your arm here more." Nikhilananda's translation of this incident is completely accurate and can be found in the Gospel, p. 988.

Kripal ends the paragraph with the discerning remark: "Ramakrishna apparently was a melodramatic figure, a show to laugh at." This is no doubt why Kripal doesn't bother to inform his readers that soon after the knife incident, all the disciples joined in worship: ringing bells and waving lights (arati), standing reverently with folded hands before the picture of one who, according to Kripal, was "a show to laugh at."

(51) KC p. 70-73: In this section Kripal discusses the "numerous textual variants of Ramakrishna's attempted suicide with Kali's sword." He begins by saying that "it is possible that they all refer to the famous First Vision, but it would be difficult if not impossible to establish this with any degree of certainty." He further says that "evidence is more suggestive than probative."

Kripal doesn't agree with Saradananda that Ramakrishna's practice of Tantra was just one of the many different traditions he practiced; rather, according to Kripal, Ramakrishna's Tantric practices were "omnipresent, defining virtually every point along Ramakrishna's spiritual development." Kripal also feels it "likely" that Ramakrishna's memory wasn't good enough to remember the exact order of events, hence "the chronological confusion" in the different accounts. The textual accounts, depending upon Ramakrishna's memory, are "usually ambiguous, sometimes contradictory, and often vague."

Response: Let us look at the four accounts that Kripal refers to: Kripal's version will be followed by what the texts actually say:

First Passage: (KA 4.65)

Kripal's version (KC p. 71)
The first passage is simple and short. It occurs in volume 4. Ramakrishna has just told the story of a son forcing his demands on his father by threatening to cut his throat with a knife. He then, almost casually, adds: "I used to do this when I called on Ma."

Like many other examples we've seen so far in Kali's Child, here we again have another case of deceptive scholarship. Nikhilananda's translation, p. 384 of the Gospel, is completely accurate and faithful to the original. We see that after recounting the story of the son demanding his share of the property, Ramakrishna continues by saying:

God will certainly listen to your prayers if you feel restless for Him. Since He has begotten us, surely we can claim our inheritance from Him. He is our own Father, our own Mother. We can force our demand on Him. We can say to Him, "Reveal Thyself to me or I shall cut my throat with a knife."

Sri Ramakrishna taught the devotees how to call on the Divine Mother.

Master: I used to pray to Her in this way: "O Mother! O Blissful One! Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must!" Again, I would say to Her: "O Lord of the lowly!…"

It is apparent from the above how Kripal has intentionally distorted the Kathamrita in order to provide fodder for his thesis. Kripal's translation, "I used to do this when I called on Ma," is radically different from what the Bengali original says, "I used to pray to Her in this way." This is the first part of a sentence in another paragraph-words that, Kripal would have us believe, were added "almost casually." These words preface how Ramakrishna prayed to the Mother; they clearly do not refer to his threat to the Mother to cut his own throat.

This incident does not refer to Ramakrishna's "attempted suicide" which Kripal would like to equate with the First Vision.

Second Passage (KA 5.23)

Kripal's version (KC pp. 71-72)
Ramakrishna is talking about how his madness reached such a state that, again, he was going to cut his throat with a knife. It was then that he realized that he could do nothing of himself, that he was the "machine" (yantra) and Kali the "operator" (yantri) (KA 5.23). Again, the emotional conflict and pain is great, great enough to end in death.

At KA 5.23 we see that Ramakrishna is discussing "the knowledge that God does everything." Whoever has that knowledge, he says, is a liberated soul (jivanmukta). Ramakrishna says that in reality there is no such thing as "free will." Even an enlightened person like Tota Puri tried to end his life in order to free himself from excruciating stomach pain. Then Ramakrishna says that in his case also when batik vriddhi hoyechilo, he was about to cut his throat with a knife. But he couldn't do it because he was only a machine and the Divine Mother was the Operator. Unless She willed something, it couldn't happen.

Nikhilananda translates batik vriddhi hoyechilo as "At one time I was very ill." The Bengali word batik has various shades of meaning. In the present context, it is very clear that some kind of illness is being referred to, the illness caused by the imbalance of bata (vata: one of the three humors in the human body according to Ayurveda, the science of Indian medicine).

This incident, quite obviously, does not deal with the First Vision, but refers to what happened during Ramakrishna's early days of sadhana.

Third Passage (KA 3.138)

Kripal's version (p. 72)
In our third passage, this time in volume 3, Ramakrishna clearly associates the act with a specifically Tantric approach to Kali: "There is such a thing as dark (tamasika) mystical practice-practice which relies on the dark aspects of human nature. 'Victory to Kali! What? You'll not show yourself to me! If you don't show yourself, I'll cut my throat with a knife.' In this type of mystical practice, as in Tantric practice, there's no concern for purity."

Kripal's translates tamasika as "dark," but while "darkness" is certainly one of the literal meanings of the word tamas, it is by no means an accurate translation when the word tamas is used in a specialized sense, such as (in this case) one of the three attributes of prakriti. As an attribute of prakriti, tamas is the principle of inertia or dullness. I think Nikhilananda did well by retaining this technical term in the translation and providing the meaning in the glossary.

But what is most significant here is that nowhere in this passage does Ramakrishna say that this is what he did before he had the First Vision. Kripal himself admits: "Although Ramakrishna does not specify that he is talking about an actual event from his past, the passage is most likely autobiographical" (emphasis mine).

This kind of conjecture-when and if it is unsupported by any evidence, textual or otherwise-is completely out of place in a scholarly work. Interestingly, after saying that this is what most likely happened, Kripal begins to draw conclusions. With weak-link logic intact, he builds upon his thesis by showing how in some secondary texts the "dark aspects of human nature" (a truly perverse way of translating a simple technical term such as tamo-guna) are connected with Tantric practices.

The passage does not deal with Ramakrishna's First Vision.

Fourth Passage (KA 3.131)

Kripal's version (p. 72)
Ramakrishna is talking to his disciples about how he conquered "lust" (kama): "Even in my case, after six months I felt a strange sensation in the breast. Then I sat down beneath the tree and began to cry. I said, 'O Ma! If this continues, I'll cut my throat with a knife!'"

I find Nikhilananda's translation (p. 739) more faithful to the original. The Bengali buk ki kore esechhilo is "felt a queer sensation in the heart." Kripal, not surprisingly, translates the Bengali buk as "breast" rather than "heart." In Bengali it is quite common to say buke hath diye bolo, "say it with your hand on your heart."

Nikhilananda's translation is appropriate: gach-talay pode kandte laglam, "I threw myself on the ground under a tree and wept bitterly." ("Bitterly" is not in the original, by the way, and could have been avoided.) But Kripal's is not accurate: "I sat down under a tree and began to cry."

There is no indication whatsoever that this incident has anything to do with the First Vision.

We see, therefore, that Kripal mentions four passages from the Kathamrita as describing Ramakrishna's "attempted suicide" which led to the First Vision. As we have seen, none of the passages he quotes can be linked to the First Vision. He nevertheless concludes:

If we read Saradananda's passage alongside these other four, we might speculate that the threat announced under the tree was carried out in the temple and that Ramakrishna's threatened suicide was understood by the saint to be "Tantric" in the sense that it involved that "darkest" of the human passions-lust (KC p. 73).

In the paragraph which follows, Kripal asks: "Can we establish such a reading with the evidence in hand?" This question is patently rhetorical since he immediately proceeds to show how we can establish such a reading with what he calls "evidence in hand." What he has in hand, however, is not "evidence" but rather four passages from the Kathamrita where there is a reference to the knife and cutting the throat. These passages (Kripal avers) "perhaps refer to the same event" or "more probable, to the same general period." What "general period" he might have in mind the author fails to specify; further, with such powerful "evidence" in hand, why are "perhaps" and "more probable" necessary? Kripal presents his own speculation as documented fact; in assuring the readers that he is "revealing" information, he is actually concealing it.

(52) KC p. 73: From the context of the fourth passage, I conclude that Ramakrishna's "strange sensation" had something to do with a form of sexual desire, with "lust," but the precise nature of the "strange sensation" that led him to threaten suicide is still not clear. The fact that the expression "a strange sensation in the breast" (buk ki kare) is used more commonly by women than by men suggests much but proves little.

Response: It's hard not to smile when we read Kripal stating, "I conclude…" since from the context (KA 3.131) the meaning is glaringly obvious. Kripal misses the point when he reduces the cause of the "strange sensation" to "a form of sexual desire, with 'lust.'" From Ramakrishna's own words (KA 3.131) we know that he is referring to kamini-kancana, "lust and greed." Not just lust.

Second, Kripal's claim that the expression buk ki kare is used more commonly by women by men is completely untrue. It is a very common expression used by men and women alike. Kripal prefers to translate this phrase as "a strange sensation in the breast"-in order to strengthen his thesis-rather than the accurate translation, "a strange sensation in the heart."

In the very next sentence Kripal gives an example when the expression is used between two males (Chaitanya and Nitai) in a song, and this time Kripal translates it as "my heart feels a strange sensation." This time Kripal says that the usage is "equally suggestive and equally inconclusive."

(53) KC p. 73-74: Now in his late forties, he [Ramakrishna] is talking to M about Purna, a boy of fourteen who figures prominently in the saint's secret talk: "If I see Purna one more time, then my anxious desire might lessen! How clever he is! He feels a very great attraction for me. He says, 'I also feel a strange sensation to see you.' (to M) They've taken him from your school. Will this cause you any trouble?" (KA 3.182)

Response: Once again, we're faced with Kripal's highly sexualized definition of vyakulata as "anxious desire" instead of the appropriate word, "longing." Kripal then makes a great fuss about the "strange sensation" (which, for some reason, he always encloses in quotation marks for heavy emphasis). But after all this, Kripal admits the nature of Ramakrishna's "anxious desire" is not fully revealed in this passage.

Kripal then adds: "We are told that it has resulted in a situation that might cause M, the schoolteacher, trouble at school, but that is all" (KC 74). What is the "it" that Kripal refers to? Ramakrishna's "anxious desire" for Purna? The truth is that Purna's visits to Dakshineswar had worried his parents (indeed, many other parents as well whose children used to visit Dakshineswar). Purna's parents were concerned that these visits might affect his studies. (Kripal himself admits this later in KC 79.) M was a teacher in the school where Purna studied. M often took his students to Dakshineswar so they could get an opportunity to see Ramakrishna and benefit from his teachings. The "trouble at school" being referred to is the possibility of a complaint against M, who was Purna's teacher.

(54) KC p. 74: Similarly other passages tease us with what they do not say and leave us reading between the lines.

Response: Kripal with his own burden of "anxious desire" gets needlessly "teased" by simple passages and innocuous words and phrases. He ends up by reading so much between the lines that what he writes in Kali's Child bears precious little connection with what the lines actually say in the text. Were the author's between-the-lines reading confined to his own personal study, there would not be a problem. But there is a problem when he references Bengali texts to which most of his readers have neither direct access nor firsthand knowledge. The reader will assume in good faith that the texts are being quoted accurately. Unfortunately, the reader will have no idea that the texts are being distorted beyond recognition.

(55) KC p. 74: In another passage, Ramakrishna explains that Purna possesses the "divine essence" of a god: "If you put a garland on his neck and sandal-paste on his body and then burn incense, he goes into samadhi!" (KA 4.212)

Response: In the endnote to this passage, Kripal refers to KA 4.232 in which Ramakrishna is seen telling M that he used to worship the dhan of boys. (A fuller discussion of this topic is given later in note #141.) He then draws the conclusion that Ramakrishna applied sandal-paste on the dhan of Purna, and not "on his body" (gaye chandan) as Ramakrishna said.

Three points:

Kripal says in the endnote (#72, p. 343) that Ramakrishna told this to M "in secret." That's untrue. If we look up the passage in the Kathamrita, we see no sign whatsoever of anything being told "in secret." The room was full of people and everyone heard what Ramakrishna said.

Second, Ramakrishna is describing at KA 4.232 his practices during the Tantric sadhana. "In that state," he says, he used to worship the dhan of boys. This was long before Purna came to Dakshineswar.

Finally, at KA 4.212 the quote in question is in a separate paragraph-and both Kripal's and Nikhilananda's translations are interpretative. The Bengali original itself is quite neutral and is not necessarily referring to Purna's case. I will present a quick look at the existing translations and then give my own:

Kripal's: Ramakrishna explains that Purna possesses the "divine essence" of a god. If you put a garland on his neck and sandal-paste on his body and then burn incense, he goes into samadhi!

Nikhilananda's: Purna is in such an exalted state that either he will very soon give up his body-the body is useless after the realization of God-or his inner nature will within a few days burst forth.

He has a divine nature-the traits of a god. It makes a person less fearful of men. If you put a garland of flowers round his neck or smear his body with sandal-paste or burn incense before him, he will go into samadhi, for then he will know beyond the shadow of doubt that Narayana Himself dwells in his body, that it is Narayana who has assumed the body. I have come to know about it (Gospel, p. 796-97).

My Translation: Purna is in such an exalted state that either he will very soon give up his body-the body is useless after attaining God-or his inner nature will within a few days burst forth.

He has divine nature-the traits of a god. It makes a person less fearful of others. If a garland of flowers is put around the neck, the body is smeared with sandal-paste, and incense is burnt, such a person will go into samadhi. In that state one gets to know clearly that God Himself dwells in the body, that it is God who has assumed the body. I have understood this.

(56) KC p. 74: In yet another passage M tells us that Ramakrishna was so "anxious" to see Purna that he showed up at M's house late one night and asked M to fetch the boy, which M did (KA 3.224).

Response: In an endnote (#73, p. 343) to this passage Kripal gives yet another reference: KA 4.217-18. I have no idea why he did this since there is nothing in KA 4.217-18 about Ramakrishna going to M's house late one night; there is only one sentence saying that Ramakrishna was vyakul for Purna.

But what is more interesting is not what Kripal is "revealing" here (since it is there for all to see in the Kathamrita anyway), but what he is "concealing." He mentions that Ramakrishna shows up at M's house late one night and wants to see the boy. Kripal tells us that M fetched the boy, but he does not tell us what happened afterward. In the very next sentence the Kathamrita says: "The Master gave the boy many instructions about prayer and afterward returned to Dakshineswar."

(57) KC p. 74: In yet another scene, M gets nervous when Purna scoots closer to Ramakrishna-will the boy's family hear about this visit too (KA 3.149)?

Response: This is completely fallacious. M is not nervous because Purna is sitting near Ramakrishna, but because Girish inquires about the boy. M is worried lest he (since he is Purna's school teacher) be blamed for bringing the boy to Dakshineswar should the word spread.

Purna's family objected to his Dakshineswar visits not because they were suspicious of Ramakrishna's character, but because such visits were considered an unnecessary distraction from his studies. Such objections from parents are quite common in India and, I suspect, wouldn't be considered unnatural by parents even in other parts of the world.

But why did Kripal use the phrase "scoot closer"? There is nothing in the Kathamrita to warrant this description. Purna is merely sitting near Ramakrishna. In the endnote (#74, p. 344) Kripal says that "scoot closer" was a common request of Ramakrishna. He gives two references: KA 3.99 and 3.209. I checked these and found nothing other than Ramakrishna inviting someone to come sit near him.

At KA 3.209 there are so many people in the room that there is simply no place to sit. It is customary in India, as a mark of respect, not to sit very close to a holy person unless he or she invites a person to do so. Seeing that there was no place for the musicians to sit, Ramakrishna invited them to sit near him so that the singing could begin.

(58) KC p. 74: Finally, Ramakrishna brags that even in his illness he is not deluded by maya. To prove his point, he notes that his mind no longer dwells on his wife or his home. Now he thinks only of Purna, the boy (KA 4.286).

Response: First, there is no mention of Ramakrishna "bragging" at KA 4.286-or anywhere else in the Kathamrita, for that matter. Second, he is discussing vidyamaya and avidyamaya. He defines avidyamaya as identification with only one's own relatives and belongings; vidyamaya, in contrast, is identification with God and his devotees. Further, when the body is ill, it is often dragged into avidyamaya. It is in this context that Ramakrishna describes his own experience: namely, that avidyamaya couldn't touch him in spite of his severe illness: there is no thought in his mind about "Ramlal (his nephew) or wife or home; but he is worrying about Purna, the kayastha boy." It is amusing-and, by this time, perfectly understandable-why Kripal ignores the adjective "kayastha" and describes Purna as simply "the boy."

The reference to Purna as "kayastha boy" is important. In the fiercely caste-conscious Hindu society of that period, a brahmin (the highest caste) caring for a kayastha (which is below the brahmin in the caste hierarchy) showed that caste distinction was no barrier because Purna was a true devotee of God-and caring for him was a sign of vidyamaya.

When Ramakrishna says that he has no thought in his mind about his wife, it doesn't mean that he didn't care for her. The fact was that he didn't care for her as his wife or "simply because" she was his wife. That his love, concern, and respect for her were supreme is borne out by any number of incidents from their life together.

(59) KC p. 74: Kripal refers to the Kathamrita as "that record of secrets."

Response: The word "secret" occurs throughout this book with such regularity that it is essential to understand what this "secret" is all about. Basically what Kripal refers to are, in his own words, "Ramakrishna's 'secret talks' (guhya katha)-eighteen passages dealing with visions and confessions…" (KC 4-5). The appendix to Kali's Child (pp. 329-36) deals with the "historical and textual aspects" of the secret talks.

Kripal believes that these talks were "secret" because their contents were "too troubling or important to reveal to any but [Ramakrishna's] most intimate disciples" (KC 4). Yet even a casual glance at these talks shows that there was nothing "troubling" about them. Moreover, most of these were given in the presence of a large number of visitors, men and women, with the doors of Ramakrishna's room wide open.

These "secret talks" are identified by the author with the help of one determinant: the use of the Bengali phrase "secret talk" (guhya katha) in the Kathamrita. This is a rather mechanical and inadequate device, because many of the things included in the "secret talk" are also repeated on other occasions without the "secret talk" tag. So what was a so-called "secret" on one day ceases to be "secret" on another day.

But the basic problem is the author's misunderstanding of the term "secret talk" (guhya katha). The word "secret" (guhya) occurs with great frequency in Hindu religious texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. The deeper meaning of a scripture is known as guhyartha. The word guhya is used mostly in the sense of "esoteric," meaning: "something likely to be understood by only those with a special knowledge or interest." In other words, "something likely to be misunderstood by the untrained." It is "secret" because of the sacredness and the sanctity attached to it and the very real danger of it being misunderstood. Kali's Child is a pertinent example of what happens when a person has no deep knowledge of the culture or language of his subject.

(60) KC p. 74: Ramakrishna is talking to M about Purna-Sri Ramakrishna- "What I'm telling you-all this is not for others to hear-I want to kiss and embrace man (God) as a woman" (KA 4.271).

Response: In the endnote (#75, p. 344) Kripal points out that the afternoon portion of this day's conversation was included by M in the first volume, but the morning portion, when (according to Kripal) "the confession" occurred, was kept for the fourth volume of the Kathamrita, producing what he has called the "cyclical effect." As M never began with a comprehensive plan of publishing the material in five volumes, Kripal's accusation and conclusion are without substance or merit.

But let us return to the main text. Kripal's translation is both interpretative and incorrect. Interpretative because the "I want to…" portion is not in the original. I checked Nikhilananda's translation (Gospel, p. 895), and found: "The devotee likes to…" In the Bengali original there is no subject mentioned, and the following is, I think, a more accurate translation:

Ramakrishna: "I am telling this to you. Ordinary people should not hear these things. Looking on oneself as Prakriti one feels like embracing and kissing Purusha or God."

Kripal's "I want to…" is therefore unjustified. But Kripal needs the first person reference for his conclusion: "Ramakrishna … is in love with Purna. He wants to kiss and embrace Purna as if he were a woman and Purna a man" (KC 75). Kripal speculates that M is "troubled by this revelation" and so M adds in parentheses after the word "man" the gloss "(God)." Kripal calls this a "flimsy set of parentheses" which is "invoked to hide a glaring secret" (KC 75).

I wonder if Kripal knows that "Prakriti" and "Purusha" are technical terms with slightly different connotations in different schools of Indian philosophy. It was precisely to prevent erroneous conclusions that M no doubt felt the need to put "Isvara" or God in parentheses after "Purusha."

Second, if M was so anxious to "hide a glaring secret" (as Kripal says) then all he had to do was omit this passage. No one would have known if he had omitted it. The fact that he included it is itself sufficient to show that he had no secrets to hide. Besides, at the time this was being said, there were several other people in the room as well. It was not a secret conversation between Ramakrishna and M.

(61) KC p. 77: Never mind Ramakrishna's comment that sexual abstinence is like the act of sacrificing (i.e., decapitating) a spotless, black goat to Kali or his reported habit of slipping his noose around his neck to control the reactions of his penis.

Response: Both these "revelations" of Kripal have been shown to be fallacious (see notes #24 and #25). Kripal himself doubts the authenticity of the second revelation, yet he goes out of his way to offer the dubious reference yet again.

(62) KC p. 80: M describes "a critic" who walks into the room only to receive the whispered giggles of some of the boy disciples (KA 4.215).

Response: This is completely untrue. At KA 4.215 we see that a person wearing gerua [an ochre colored cloth, indicating sannyasa] enters the room and salutes Ramakrishna. Balaram sees this and, knowing that the person privately criticizes Ramakrishna, smiles at the hypocritical show of salutation. There are no "giggles"; only Balaram is smiling, and he-well into his forties-does not constitute "the boy disciples."

(63) KC p. 80: Narayan was actually beaten up by his family when he returned home from visiting Ramakrishna on more than one occasion.

Response: Since Kripal says "on more than one occasion," he probably felt compelled to give "more than one" reference. Thus in the endnote (#81, p. 345) he gives two references: KA 3.98 and KA 4.143. But if we actually read KA 4.143, we find nothing at all about Narayan.

(64) KC p. 80: In yet another passage, a piqued Ramakrishna scolds little Naren for abandoning his studies to visit him: "Your father will hurt you" (KA 3.196).

Response: At KA 3.196 we don't find Ramakrishna scolding the younger Naren and we don't see him saying: "Your father will hurt you." Kripal manages to distort the situation as well as the context. It seems that his motivation is to create circumstances where he can say in the following sentence: "It was not an unreasonable fear: at one point, Naren stays three nights at Dakshineswar, apparently to escape his father's anger." Kripal provides no reference, no clue, nothing, so we have no idea where he unearthed this bit of information. He then continues:

Ramakrishna was also afraid of Naren's father. In one passage he relates how he went to see Naren but then turned back in fear of Naren's father. Everyone laughs (KA 3.182).

If we go to KA 3.182, we find something very different indeed. Ramakrishna asks the younger Naren to take him to his house. Naren responds with a cheerful: "Please do come," but becomes nervous as they start moving toward the house, lest his father should know about it. It was the younger Naren who was afraid of his father, not Ramakrishna. And it is hearing about Naren's dilemma that makes everyone laugh, not Ramakrishna's fear. Nikhilananda's translation of this passage, which is quite accurate, can be seen in the Gospel, p. 785.

(65) KC p. 80: Paltu is also in trouble for seeing Ramakrishna (KA 3.129), as are Tarak (KA 3.124-25) and Dvija.

Response: This sentence ends with an endnote reference (#82, p. 345) where we find two more references: KA 3.179 and KA 4.234. Why these two references, both dealing with Dvija, should be pushed to endnotes instead of the usual parentheses, I have no idea.

One of these references, however-the one at KA 4.234-has the incident when Dvija's father comes to meet Ramakrishna. He is very respectful and quite impressed after meeting Ramakrishna and tells him: "I tell my children that they should attend to their studies. I don't forbid them to come to you, but I don't want them to waste their time in frivolities with the youngsters." This, in fact, was the reason why most parents objected to their sons' visits to Dakshineswar. Kripal, however, prefers not to mention this fact to the reader.

(66) KC p. 80: The families object to an unspecified crime. M fears for himself (KA 3.149).

Response: Which "families"? What "unspecified crime"? We find nothing at all at KA 3.149 about this. Kripal has earlier referred to the same passage on p. 74, where I have clarified what M's "fear" was all about (see note #57). In his earlier citation Kripal did not find any hint of an "unspecified crime."

(67) KC p. 81: And again: "You should be very devoted to your father and mother, but if they block your path to God, then grit your teeth and say, 'That son-of-a-bitch of a father!'" (KA 3.152)

Response: Kripal translates the Bengali phrase shalar baap as "That son-of-a-bitch of a father!" This translation is astonishingly bad. It's little wonder that many people reading Kali's Child became incensed: those who don't understand Bengali and trust Kripal's translation are upset that Ramakrishna allegedly spoke such words, and those who do understand Bengali are furious because Ramakrishna did not say what Kripal wants his non-Bengali readers to believe.

One of the real problems with this book is the lack of consistency. When it suits the author, he translates "literally"-even at the expense of the correct meaning of the words. And when it suits him, he indulges in an interpretative translation-even if the interpretation has nothing to do with the actual words used. In the present case, however, Kripal's translation is true neither to the words nor to the meaning.

Nikhilananda's translation (Gospel, p. 755) is more accurate: "Show great devotion to your parents; but don't obey them if they stand in your way to God. You must gird your loins with great determination and say, 'This rogue of a father.'"

Yet even in this translation the second sentence does, in a way, expand upon the idea contained in the original words. I would translate the passage as follows and, I believe, it would be the closest we can get to the original text: "Show great devotion to your parents; but don't obey them if they stand in your way to God. Be very stubborn. What a lousy father!"

There is nothing in the Bengali original to justify the words "…and say…" Nikhilananda does it and Kripal also does it. I have translated the Bengali shalar baap as "What a lousy father!" and I think this is most accurate. Had Ramakrishna been speaking English instead of Bengali, he would have said something very similar. When I read the Bengali passage, I did not feel that shalar baap was something Ramakrishna was asking younger Naren to tell his father, but it was rather his own comment on the kind of parent who would put obstacles in their son's spiritual life. Had it been something he wanted the son to tell his father, he would have used a second-person pronoun ("you") and not a noun ("father"). In Bengali that would have been: tumi shala! or just shala! And, by the way, by no stretch of imagination can shala mean "son-of-a-bitch."

(68) KC p. 81: Ramakrishna asks M if he could go to M's school to look for boys. M suggests that instead Ramakrishna wait at his house and that he bring the boys to him (KA 3.101).

Response: Kripal is distorting the context here. We find at KA 3.101 that after talking about Narayan and Tejchandra, Ramakrishna expresses the wish to visit M's school. M assumes that Ramakrishna wants to meet Narayan; M therefore suggests that he can bring Narayan home himself and Ramakrishna can wait there. Ramakrishna then tells M that he wants to see if there are other boys in the school. I think Nikhilananda does well by adding the adjective "worthwhile" to "boys" (Gospel, p. 662), because that is the only way the sentence makes sense. M was teaching in a boys' school and, of course, besides Narayan and Tejchandra there were many other boys. Basically Ramakrishna wanted to know if there were other boys as spiritually inclined as were Narayan and Tejchandra. M immediately agrees and invites Ramakrishna.

Kripal's version that Ramakrishna wants to go to M's school "to look for boys" is mischievous and misleading. The use of loaded language is unmistakable.

(69) KC p. 82: Just as water is water, but only some water is appropriate for drinking and washing, so some people are more spiritually fit, more mystically "powerful" (shakti) than others-all men are not created equal (KA 3.181).

Response: At KA 3.181 there is only the example regarding water meant for drinking and washing. The rest of the material written above is entirely Kripal's personal creation and not to be found at KA 3.181.

(70) KC p. 82: Boys are particularly lucent bearers of God's light and power, for their breasts have not yet been covered over by the feces of worldly concerns and that most damaging of worldly realities-a job.

Response: After the word "concerns," Kripal provides an endnote (#86, p. 345) in which he gives a reference from KA 4.230. In the endnote Ramakrishna says that Kedar was all knotted up inside; it would have been like entering a room filled with feces. That is why, in contrast, Kripal concludes "boys are … for their breasts … "

Notice how Kripal uses the word "breasts" again; it is not the word Ramakrishna used. Notice also the general noun "boys." When Ramakrishna uses the word at KA 4.230 we can easily see that he was referring to those spiritually inclined boys who are his disciples, not just any "boy." We know Ramakrishna didn't care for the friends-who were boys-that Naren and others brought to meet him because they had no spiritual inclinations. Notice also the last phrase regarding "a job"-again, these are not Ramakrishna's words. The words belong to Kripal alone but the unsuspecting reader wouldn't be aware of this fact.

(71) KC p. 82: In another passage he explains why he is so "excited" (uddipana) in the presence of the boys: unlike the common man, they contain the sweet pudding of devotion (KA 2.50).

Response: Here we have Kripal forcing together two distant and completely unconnected passages from the Kathamrita, but the quote is deceptively referenced to make it appear as if he's quoting one or two related phrases. At KA 2.50 we see Ramakrishna saying how he would be "enkindled by the thought of God" (isvarer uddipan) when he saw Rakhal doing japa. Some more discussion followed, then Ramakrishna had lunch and rested. After his rest, he said that though outwardly there might not be much difference in people, inwardly they might be quite different. In that context, Ramakrishna gives the example of a Bengali sweet preparation which looks the same from the outside, but is basically different depending on the kind of "filling" it has. It is the same with people, he says.

(72) KC p. 83: The pot had gone bad, its pure milk wasted on a mere woman.

Response: This is the case of Haramohan who as a young man had good spiritual tendencies. But later his life underwent a change and he developed worldly tendencies. He once came to meet Ramakrishna with his wife. Seeing those worldly tendencies, Ramakrishna told him that he could not even touch him.

In Kripal's version Ramakrishna was vexed because, as he says, "the pot had gone bad, its pure milk wasted on a mere woman." But nowhere in KA 4.109 (from which Kripal is supposedly quoting) do we find Ramakrishna upset because of Haramohan's marriage per se. In fact Ramakrishna opens the subject of Haramohan with these words: "Attachment to lust and greed make a person narrow-minded (hina-buddhi)." It was this attachment that Ramakrishna saw in Haramohan and which made him tell the boy to leave. It was not because of "a mere woman."

Chapter Two

(73) KC p. 85: This is the meaning of Tantric ritual. The Mother is the Lover (KA 3.230) .

Response: The second chapter has Dr. Sarkar's quotation before the actual text begins. And it is a gross mistranslation. If we go to the Bengali original, we see Ramakrishna narrating the story of Bilvamangala who renounces the world after saluting his prostitute-lover as his mother. Hearing this story, Dr. Sarkar comments: "This is Tantrik worship (upasana): looking upon a woman as mother (janani ramani)." Kripal makes precisely the opposite equation: the mother is the lover! Sadly, the entire chapter is nothing but an attempt to prove a fallacious, mistranslated equation.

(74) KC p. 87: Ramakrishna once explained that the blackness of midnight is enjoined in the Tantras as the most appropriate time for meditation, when the Dark Mother "naked and black, shines in the lotus of the heart" (KA 5.136).

Response: At KA 5.136 we see Ramakrishna praising the song "In dense darkness, O Mother, Thy formless beauty sparkles" which Narendra had sung earlier in the day (Feb. 22, 1885). He says that the song has a deep meaning. "Meditation in darkness is prescribed in the Tantra." (Kripal changes this to "the blackness of midnight" and adds his own "most appropriate time" segment.) Kripal's quote "naked and black…" is from a song and not an "explanation" that Ramakrishna gave.

(75) KC p. 87: In another passage, the saint adds a specifically erotic dimension to this brilliant blackness by associating it with the love-play of Kali and Shiva (KA 2.25).

Response: This is completely wrong. At KA 2.25 the description of the new moon night as raman between Mahakali and Mahakala is M's, not Ramakrishna's. In fact, on the entire page (KA 2.25) Ramakrishna does not speak one word.

(76) KC p. 87: As "secret" visions, they spoke of a past that he did not, could not remember.

Response: An endnote (#5, p. 346) at the end of this sentence says: "In KA 2.141, when the subject of Tantra is raised, Ramakrishna began to 'make fun' (rahasya kare) of it. The 'secret' (rahasya) thus became a nervous 'joke' (rahasya)."

As Kripal did in the first chapter, here also he is identifying Vamachara with the whole of the tradition. At KA 2.141 Bhavanath comes in dressed as a brahmachari. That becomes an occasion for much fun-both Ramakrishna and devotees smile while looking at Bhavanath's apparel. Narendra joins in the fun, saying, "Bhavanath has dressed as a brahmachari; I shall dress as a vamachari!" That adds to the laughter. Then Hazra brings up the subject of the rituals connected with Vamachara. Not wanting to encourage a discussion on the subject, Ramakrishna made fun of it and changed the subject.

The important point here is: Vamachara does not equal Tantra. It is only one aspect of the practice.

(77) KC p 87: Invoking the narrative context of the doctor's comment and a certain poetic license, I translate them literally as "mother" and "lover" and capitalize them to make a theoretical point: in Tantric culture, the goddess is understood to be gentle, consoling Mother and a wild, uncontrollable Lover.

Response: It is in order to come to this conclusion that Kripal mistranslates Sarkar's words as: "The Mother is the Lover." Kripal's invoking of "a certain poetic license" has unfortunately resulted in a bizarre mistranslation and the conclusion which flows from it. Kripal also includes an endnote (#6, p. 346) in which he says:

It could also mean "The Lover is (actually one's own) Mother," as Ramakrishna's story, which immediately precedes the comment, seems to suggest. Is Sarkar agreeing with the saint's story? Or is he gently disagreeing with it?

In the endnote Kripal hopes to deflect the charge that he is mistranslating but-even while he offers an alternative translation-he again mistranslates. Ramakrishna's story does not suggest that "The Lover is (actually one's own) Mother."

Bilvamangala (a character in the story) learns an important lesson from his lover, hence he looks upon her as his teacher; addressing her as "mother," he then goes forth in search of God. After hearing this story, Sarkar says that this approach-of looking upon a woman as one's mother-is a Tantrik practice.

How different this is from both of Kripal's translations: (1) "The Mother is the Lover." (2) "The Lover is (actually one's own) Mother." The accurate translation of Dr. Sarkar's words, in my opinion, would be: "This is Tantrik worship: looking upon a woman as mother." Kripal's questions about whether Sarkar is agreeing with the story are disingenuous. There is nothing in the text to even suggest that Sarkar might be disagreeing.

(78) KC p. 88: I agree with the doctor. "The Mother is the Lover." This is one of the most basic meanings of Tantric ritual.

Response: After confessing in the fine print of the endnote that the translation of Dr. Sarkar's words may not be definitive, Kripal now feels free to reiterate it. "The Mother is the Lover" is, he says, "one of the most basic meanings of ritual." I don't know what " ritual" he is referring to, but this certainly is news to me.

(79) KC pp. 91-94: In this section Kripal discusses the account of the sadhana period of Ramakrishna's life from three texts: the Kathamrita, Jivanavrittanta, and the Lilaprasanga.

Response: In what he calls the "Kathamrita version," Kripal refers to only two quotes: KA 4.175 and KA 2.132-33. On the basis of these two quotes he concludes: "Such a version is defined by a set of three textual traditions (the Puranas, the Tantras, and the Vedas), which are in turn associated with three types of practitioners (the Vaishnavas, the Shaktas, and the Vedantins) and with three places (the Panchavati, the bel tree, and the portico)" (KC 94).

Identifying the Puranas with the Vaishnavas, the Tantras with the Shaktas, and the Vedas with the Vedantins is not just an oversimplification; it is incorrect. This is yet another example of Kripal's lack of understanding of both Hindu texts and Hindu traditions.

Kripal's clear intention here is to demonstrate that Ramakrishna's words do not indicate his Vedanta practice to be a kind of culmination of his earlier spiritual practices. In order to run down Vedanta, Kripal concludes on the basis of one quote (KA 4.175) that: "The Vedic/Vedantic period is associated with little, except the fact that Ramakrishna became a renouncer and ate his rice in the portico." Incomprehensibly, Kripal associates the "portico" as the place connected with Ramakrishna's Vedanta sadhana.

(80) KC p. 91: "She performed sadhanas of many types in me..." (KA 4.175)

Response: At KA 4.175, we read: tini amay nanarupe sadhan koriyechhen, "He made me do different types of sadhanas." Kripal translates tini as "she." As we have seen earlier, the Bengali word tini is not gender-specific. Thus the English equivalent could as well be "He." Ramakrishna is basically referring to the divine being through whose grace he did various spiritual practices.

(81) KC p. 91-92: "At that time, while I performed the worship, I would wear silk garments [like a woman] and would experience such bliss--the bliss of worship" (KA 4.175).

Response: In the sentence quoted from KA 4.175 we find reference to "silk cloth" (garader kapad), but Kripal adds to it his own gloss in parentheses: "[like a woman]." Earlier (KC 75) he had criticized M for adding in parentheses isvara after the word Purusha, because Kripal wanted to translate it as "man" (see note #60). Now Kripal does the same thing himself: he adds an interpretative gloss of his own: "[like a woman]." The original has no such thing.

Having inserted his own words into the translation, Kripal now feels free to make this comment: "Granted, he does refer to this period as one in which he dressed up as a woman" (KC 92). However, Ramakrishna makes no such reference in KA 4.175. It is a common practice for men to wear a silk cloth at the time of worship. Wealthy people in India wore silk clothes at other times as well. It is by no means a practice associated only with women.

(82) KC p. 96: "From a metaphysical perspective" (tattvapakse), Datta tells us, Muhammad's promise of heavenly maidens to the man who kills a heretic constitutes a promise of "intellectual sex" (vidyar sahavas) with the "energy of wisdom" (vidyasakti) to the man who can kill the emotional and mental enemies within (JV[5], 55).

Response: What Datta actually says in this passage is something entirely different. He briefly describes Ramakrishna's Islam sadhana and says that Ramakrishna discovered the essence of religious disciplines (sadhan pranalir abhipray) in Islam and Hinduism to be identical. Datta then explains the deeper meaning of the Islamic practice of killing kafirs. Datta says that Muhammad had promised that whoever killed kafirs would live happily with a beautiful celestial maiden in the hereafter. What Muhammad meant by the word "kafir" (Datta continues) was only the enemies within oneself (sharirer madhye ripugana-i); when they are destroyed, one "manifests the power of knowledge" (vidya-shaktir prakash). Without having knowledge (vidyar sahavas vyatit), what other means exist for a person to acquire joy and freedom? (sukha-svachhander dvitiya upay kothay).

The Bengali word sahavas means literally "living together" and in special contexts it can also mean "having sex." When Datta says: vidyar sahavas, it simply means "having knowledge." How Kripal can see in this context the possibility of "intellectual sex" is beyond my comprehension. This translation is unjustified both linguistically and contextually.

(83) KC p. 102: "If the rich landlords respect me," he would say to himself, "then my experiences must be true" (KA 2.47).

Response: At KA 2.47 there is absolutely nothing about this.

(84) KC p. 103: It is said that his coccyx even lengthened an inch to resemble that of a monkey!

Response: Kripal provides an endnote (#28, p. 346) in which he says that KA notes simply that Ramakrishna used a piece of cloth as a tail (KA 2.193, KA 3.111, KA 4.175). Of these three references, only the last one is genuine. The first two (KA 2.193, 3.111) are spurious.

(85) KC p. 103: Despite Ramakrishna's association of this state with madness (KA 4.175)…

Response: Kripal translates unmada as simply "madness." From the context it is clear that it is "spiritual madness" or "madness for God."


© 2000 by Swami Tyagananda

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