20 Mar 2014

Extracts from Swami Tyagnanda’s Rebuttal of Kali’s Child by Jeffrey Kripal

[The following are two extracts from Swami Tyagananda’s rebuttal of Kali’s Child by Jeffrey Kripal, mentor of Peter Heehs. Kripal wrote the blurb on the jacket of the Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, who gave a copy of his MS to the former before the publication of his derogatory biography of Sri Aurobindo. They make good company for each other: the first discovered that Sri Ramakrishna was a homosexual, the latter uncovered the romantic relationship between Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Most disciples of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother are totally ignorant of the filth that this so-called scholarship represents, and they would not even like to read about it. On the contrary, they would even pretend that the filth does not exist, and that it is merely the Western way of looking at things, that we Indians should respect plurality of opinions even if our culture is grossly misrepresented. Have we not listened long enough to this hypocritical nonsense? Try to criticise some of these scholars in public and you will get a taste of their forbearance, make a psychoanalytic homeo-erotic interpretation of their own personalities and you will see them rant and rage. You should then talk to them about plural opinions! The truth is that these so-called scholars hide behind “freedom of speech” when they defile all that is valuable and sacred to you, and accuse you of defamation or vilification or even racism when the tables are turned against them.
     The following are the abbreviations of books referred to by Swami Tyagananda in his commentary below: Kali’s Child = “KC”; Kathamrita = “KA”; Lilaprasanga = “LP”.Bireshwar Choudhury]

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.

(Kali's Child Revisited by Swami Tyagananda, pp 6-10)

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.

(Kali's Child Revisited by Swami Tyagananda, pp 22-24)

Read the full text at:

No comments:

Post a Comment