Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review of Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali’s Child Revisited by Prof. Jeffery D. Long

Review of Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali's Child Revisited by JEFFERY D. LONG published in Vedanta Kesari Nov 2010 issue.

Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kàlì's Child Revisited by Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana, 
published by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, 41, UA Bungalow Road,
Jawahar Nagar, Delhi - 110 007. 2010, hardback, pp. 410 + xxi, Rs. 995.

Dr. Jeffery D.Long is an Associate Professor and Chair, Religious Studies, Elizabethtown College. He is also Co-Director, Asian Studies Minor, Elizabethtown College. Elizabethtown, PA 17022, USA 

In their long-awaited, in-depth, and meticulously crafted response to Jeffrey Kripal's highly controversial work on the life and psychology of Sri Ramakrishna, Kàlì's Child, not only have Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana thoroughly demolished the earlier book's thesis—which stands revealed as a house of cards, built on a foundation of faulty translations and tendentious speculations asserted as facts—they have also made an important contribution to the future of Ramakrishna studies, and to the study of Hinduism and of Indian culture more broadly. In their hands, the story of Kàlì's Child becomes a cautionary tale—a case of what can happen when deeply held cultural biases are allowed to go unchallenged in scholarly work on materials from a context very different from that of the author—and a
chapter in the longer story of how Sri Ramakrishna has been seen by interpreters from both inside and outside the community of his devotees, as well as from the very different cultural vantage points of India and 'the West'. 

Interpreting Ramakrishna embodies many characteristics of the Vedanta tradition that its authors inhabit. Unlike another recent critique of academic scholarship on Hindu traditions with which it will inevitably be compared—the incendiary Invading the Sacred (edited by Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas, and Aditi Banerjee)–Interpreting Ramakrishna eschews ad hominem attacks, focusing solely on the work of the author at hand. There is no 'reverse psychoanalysis' of Jeffrey Kripal. Nor is there any attempt to ascribe motives either to him, his teachers, or the academy of which he is a part. Instead, one finds a very precise, careful, and detailed deconstruction of Kàlì's Child. Although no author would enjoy seeing his work put through the proverbial grinder in this way, it is clear that the authors of Interpreting Ramakrishna are not engaged in a personal attack.

Instead of engaging in acrimonious personal attacks, Tyagananda and Vrajaprana are far more interested in pursuing the important question—which could be characterized as the refrain of this book (p. xiv)— 'Why do we see what we see? Why do we interpret the way we interpret?' For the central issue of the Kàlì's Child controversy is not merely a matter of contested facts—though these also abound, as Tyagananda and Vrajaprana go out of their way to document exhaustively, particularly in their lengthy fifth chapter (pp. 269-347). The central issue is a clash of worldviews and cultural assumptions that have the effect of actually shaping the phenomena which scholars perceive.

Kripal is not the first academic scholar of Hinduism to see psychopathology in the life and experiences of Sri Ramakrishna. As Tyagananda and Vrajaprana document, his is only the most recent and famous (or infamous, depending on one's perspective) in a lineage of psychoanalytic responses to Ramakrishna, going back to Sigmund Freud himself (p. 33- 34). And many of these responses have not involved the translation errors or other issues plaguing Kàlì's Child. In other words, even when there is agreement upon the basic facts at hand, where one person sees a highly enlightened and spiritually realized being in an advanced state of samàdhi, another person sees a deeply troubled and mentally ill individual in need of extensive therapeutic treatment. Both, it seems, are highly stubborn perceptions that cannot easily be swayed by argument, any more than one can be swayed into saying that the sky is not blue. They are effects of prior metaphysical commitments that are so deeply embedded in the psyche of the perceiver as to have become part of the mental equipment— the computer software, if you will—with which the perceiver's reality is constructed.

As a consequence of this situation, Tyagananda and Vrajaprana are aware that no truly 'objective' approach to Ramakrishna— or to any topic, for that matter—is possible. In articulating and operating from this insight, the authors of Interpreting Ramakrishna are consistent with the very latest academic theories on the nature of interpretation. The idea of postmodernity is precisely that no truly disinterested foundation for knowledge exists.

But postmodern thought is a doubleedged sword. For if there is no such thing as an objective foundation for knowledge, is it not the case that one interpretation is as good as another? Who is to say if Ramakrishna experienced nirvikalpa samâdhi, or a psychotic breakdown? Indeed, a common defence of Kripal's work that I have often encountered in conversation with my academic colleagues is that Kàlì's Child is 'his interpretation.' If one interpretation is as good as another, then what is the problem? Those of us who are in the tradition of Ramakrishna can have 'our' Ramakrishna and Kripal can have his, and we can all be happy.

This relativistic approach is seductive, particularly for those of us who are in the Vedanta tradition, due to its seeming kinship to Ramakrishna's very own teaching—yato mat, tato path ['As many faiths, so many paths']. We all inhabit different conceptual frameworks, and we all perceive and approach reality accordingly. Therefore, let a thousand flowers bloom. So Christians can see the highest reality as Christ, Buddhists can see it as Buddha Nature, Muslims can see it as Allah, Vaishnavas as Vishnu, Shaivas as Shiva, and so on. The adherent of Vedanta can see Sri Ramakrishna as an avatar or enlightened sage and the psychoanalyst can see him as a deeply troubled man. 

As I have argued elsewhere, though, neither the Vedanta of Sri Ramakrishna nor postmodern thought (at least in some of its forms, postmodernity being a highly diverse intellectual movement) implies a radical relativism that would deny a substrate of shared reality at the basis of all our perceptions. As in the famous Jain parable of the blind men and the elephant, while each blind man perceives the elephant differently—as a tree trunk (if he feels a leg), or a snake (if he feels the trunk), or a rope (if he feels the tail), or a spear (if he feels a tusk)—there is, nevertheless, an elephant really there. It is not that no objective reality exists. But our ability to perceive and express it is always relative and limited. Even a fully enlightened being, whose perception would be perfect, would find him or herself limited by the power of language and linguistically limited concepts when faced with the task of expressing that perception to others.

Analogously, when approaching a text, although interpretations may vary greatly, perhaps even to the point of radical incompatibility and incommensurability, there is still an agreed upon collection of lexical items called 'the text' that enables all interpreters to know what the others are talking about. It would be quite bizarre, for example, if a reader of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathàmrta were to come away from the text concluding that it was about rocket science, or the contested results of the 2000 US Presidential election. If an interpreter were to come to such a conclusion, other readers would conclude that this person must have been reading a different text, or that there must be something seriously wrong with this person's reading ability. The burden would be on that eccentric reader to demonstrate (by some, presumably convoluted, reasoning process) the validity of his very unusual interpretation.

While Tyagananda and Vrajaprana acknowledge, and find both deeply interesting and important, the fact that interpreters from different cultural frames of reference both can and do arrive at radically different conclusions about Sri Ramakrishna, in the case of Kàlì's Child, they make a convincing case that, in terms of the plain meaning of Bengali words and phrases—as well as with regard to widely held Hindu understandings of such things as the meaning of the symbolism of the liîgam and the yoni and the relationship of Vedanta and Tantra—interpretations are offered and conclusions reached that are almost as preposterous as seeing the Kathàmíta as being about rocket science or the Florida vote recount.

Kàlì's Child, for example, portrays Ramakrishna as a misogynist, with a deeply held dislike for women due to his having been sexually abused by women in his village as a child. Tyagananda and Vrajaprana point out that there is no evidence in any of the textual sources for such abuse ever having occurred— it is a speculation that is presented as a fact. And there is abundant evidence in the accounts of Ramakrishna's female disciples for his having treated them with great warmth and kindness—accounts that are ignored in Kàlì's Child, but which Tyagananda and Vrajaprana cite extensively (pp. 258-267).

Kàlì's Child also sets up a strong opposition between Vedanta and Tantra that is puzzling to those who are familiar with these strands of Hindu tradition in practice. The goal seems to be to present a Tantric Ramakrishna who is made over in a Vedantic mould by Swami Vivekananda and others with an aversion to Tantra in the subsequent Vedanta tradition. This despite the numerous, explicitly Vedantic teachings of Ramakrishna that can be found in the original sources, and the positive references to such Tantric practices as the worship of Kàlì that can be found in the works of Swami Vivekananda. That both Vedanta and Tantra are ways of teaching and realizing non-dualism is largely ignored. What has been most shocking to insiders of the Ramakrishna tradition (and other interested Hindu participant-observers of the Kàlì's Child controversy) is that mistakes of such a magnitude could be not only forgiven, but accepted and widely acclaimed, among academic scholars of religion. It is here that the question of the relativity of the cultural lenses one wears comes to bear upon this issue. Coming from an environment in which most readers do not know Bengali, for example, it was very easy for scholars to accept the claim of Kàlì's Child to be 'recovering' a long-suppressed text. 

Similarly, given the highly organized cover-ups of scandalous behaviour by priests in Christian organizations—and the fact of the scandalous behaviour itself—a portrait of a scandalously behaving holy man whose faithful followers cover up his sins through a campaign of obfuscation was, and remains, entirely believable to the average Western reader of Kàlì's Child—a reader who is conversant neither with the original Bengali texts in question (texts that are widely read and loved in India) nor with the Master whose life and teachings these texts record. 

Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana have, therefore, performed a much needed and valuable service for the Ramakrishna tradition by pointing out, with scholarly precision, the errors of translation and interpretation on which Kàlì's Child is based, and to scholars of Hinduism and Indian culture more broadly by showing how easily cultural biases can distort the representation of traditions beyond recognition, leading to a tragic situation of misunderstanding on both sides.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Review of Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali's Child Revisited

(Published in American Vedantist Vol.16 No.3 2010)
Review Article
William Page

Interpreting Ramakrishna: Kali's Child Revisited, by Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana, with a Foreword by Huston Smith. Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 2010. Hardback, 410 pages, with appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. Rs. 995.
When Jeffrey J. Kripal published Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna in 1995, it caused a furor. This was a study of Sri Ramakrishna based on Freudian presuppositions. It maintained that Sri Ramakrishna's mystical experiences were caused by repressed homosexual tendencies that he himself did not recognize. In developing this thesis, Kripal speculated that Sri Ramakrishna was sexually abused as a child by itinerant sadhus, as a boy by the women of Kamarpukur, as a young man by Mathur Babu and the Bhairavi Brahmani (not both at the same time, presumably), and even by his Vedantic guru, Tota Puri.
No wonder the book provoked an uproar. One wonders how Hriday and Haladhari got left out of the ongoing orgy.

Not even with a pair of tongs

The fury in India was intense. Ironically, even most educated Indians never got to read the book. Published by the University of Chicago Press, it was expensive and generally unavailable in India. What Indians did read, in January 1997, was an explosive review by Narasingha Sil in The Statesman headlined "The Question of Ramakrishna's Homosexuality." It criticized Kali's Child in language that occasionally became very unscholarly indeed, and set off a firestorm of outraged letters to the editor.
"The book reviewed should not have been touched even with a pair of tongs," one reader fumed. "Deserves to be thrown in the dustbin," huffed another. "Muck dumped in putrid detail," snarled a third. Much of the wrath was directed at The Statesman for publishing the review ("filth," "trash," "garbage," "rubbish"), although Kripal of course received a fair share of vilification ("sick," "diseased," "perverted"). There were calls for the government of India to ban the book. Kripal himself received a great deal of hate mail ("Dear Mr. Perverter"), and even death threats, which shook him.
And may I digress to express a personal concern. The abuse that was hurled at Kripal from India, like the frenzy over the Babri Mosque, made me ashamed to be associated with Hinduism. Of course devotees were hurt by Kripal's claims; but devotees should be made of sterner stuff. We aspire, after all, to Vedantic equanimity.
What should we do when somebody maligns our guru—or, worse, our Chosen Ideal? The obvious answer is to strike a middle path between the responses of Yogin and Niranjan. When people criticized Sri Ramakrishna, Yogin remained silent; Niranjan threatened to swamp the boat. Sri Ramakrishna scolded Yogin for not reacting, and Niranjan for overreacting.
The message is clear: Follow a middle path between quiescence and violence. Stand up for your guru, rebut the criticisms, and defend him firmly in a dignified, dispassionate, and rational way.
That's exactly what Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana do in Interpreting Ramakrishna.

Facing the brute

When the controversy over the Sil review erupted, the Ramakrishna Mission was reluctant to get involved. They believed that doing so would simply give Kripal's book more publicity and fan the flames. And there was another reason. Spiritual aspirants have to keep their minds on a high plane. From the viewpoint of Ramakrishna devotees, the allegations in Kali's Child were on a very low plane indeed. Nobody wanted to touch them—not "even with a pair of tongs." One senior swami wrote that he was able to read only three pages of that "horrible stuff" before having to put the book down. Another said that since the book had been published in America, it was up to the Americans to respond to it.
Eventually that's what happened. While Kali's Child was excoriated in India, in the United States the reaction was exactly the opposite. Devotees were naturally appalled, but devotees are a minority in America, and the book was greeted with widespread acclaim by much of the academic community. Kripal had drawn his conclusions from studying M's Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita in the original Bengali; the academic community couldn't read Bengali; so there was no way they could check his conclusions even if they had been inclined to do so. And there's a tendency in some American academic circles to stand up and cheer whenever somebody tears down an established icon.
It was not until Swami Atmajnanananda, an American-born swami fluent in Bengali, addressed the issue in an August 1997 article in an academic journal, that a major counterattack got under way. (On a personal note, I will be forever grateful to Swami Atmajnanananda for clearing up, through personal correspondence, doubts I myself developed after reading Kali's Child.) Atmajnanananda questioned Kripal's competence in Bengali and his knowledge of Bengali culture—two key elements to an understanding of Sri Ramakrishna.
Enter Swami Tyagananda. In 1998 he was assigned to the Boston Vedanta center, with auxiliary duties at Harvard University. What was his surprise to find that the claims made in Kali's Child were defining the discourse about Sri Ramakrishna within the American academic community. He was fresh out of India and hadn't even read the book. But he quickly rectified this omission, and joined forces with Pravrajika Vrajaprana to produce a 124-page photocopied rebuttal, "Kali's Child Revisited; or, Didn't Anyone Check the Documentation?" This was distributed at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion in 2000. It fleshed out in greater detail Swami Atmajnanananda's contention that Kripal's book was based on mistranslations from the Bengali and misunderstanding of Bengali culture.

More than just a rebuttal

Interpreting Ramakrishna is an impressive new book that elaborates upon the points presented earlier and adds new ones as well. With a masterful command of detail, it provides an exhaustive and thoroughgoing rebuttal of the allegations contained in Kali's Child.
But it's far more than just a rebuttal. It casts its net wider and strikes deeper. Among other things, it contains a history of the debate that Kripal's book provoked; a wide-ranging discussion of the difficulties of translation and interpretation, especially in a cross-cultural context; and an examination of the possibilities for Ramakrishna studies in the future.
The book begins with a concise but comprehensive survey of the entire body of literature on Sri Ramakrishna, starting with the first collection of his teachings published by Keshab Chandra Sen in 1878 and continuing up to the present. In addition to the traditional interpretations, we encounter the Teutonic ponderosity of Max Muller's "dialogic process," Romain Rolland's Gallic gushings, the imaginative embellishments of Dhan Gopal Mukerji, and much more. This chapter will be of great interest to devotees who, like myself, have been unable to access many of the books and articles written about Sri Ramakrishna over the years. The authors summarize and evaluate all this material in an insightful, magisterial, and even-handed way.

Hijacked by the Freudians

Beginning with an article by Walter Neevel in 1976, Western scholarship on Sri Ramakrishna was hijacked by Tantric enthusiasts and Freudian psychoanalysts, and it's never been the same since. (This is my interpretation, not the authors'.) Western scholars love Tantra. They think it's sexy. By contrast, they're indifferent to Vedanta because they find it arid and boring. I mean, where's the fun in nirvikalpa samadhi? Much more exciting to be giggling about lingams and yonis.
Freudian psychoanalysis has been criticized even on its home ground for being subjective, unscientific, unreliable, and quirky. Tyagananda and Vrajaprana marvel at the hubris of Western scholars who assume that a North European thought-system rooted in secular materialism and sexuality can begin to comprehend the workings of a 19th-century rural Bengali mind grounded in deity-rich Hinduism and committed to celibacy. (48-49)
Such considerations did not deter writers like Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who psychoanalyzed Sri Ramakrishna in 1980 and found him to be disturbed, depressed, delusional, hallucinatory, and homosexual. It doesn't make us feel any better to know that Masson also thought the Buddha was depressed; otherwise, why so much emphasis on suffering? (50-53)

The homoerotic hypothesis

Enter Jeffrey Kripal. At the age of 27, he arrived in Kolkata in 1989 to continue his study of Bengali, having already studied Tantra, psychoanalysis, and mysticism. He spent eight months as the guest of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, with access to their library.
inudism HHHinduisKripal had studied the Kathamrita in the original Bengali and found passages that led him to suspect that Sri Ramakrishna had homosexual tendencies. Because of his own tendency to sexualize his translations and his ignorance of Bengali culture, the more he read, the more convinced he became that he had discovered something that generations of Bengali readers had missed.
He may have fallen into a trap that Tyagananda and Vrajaprana call cultural monovision. (241) This occurs when people come to a foreign country and project their own culturally conditioned preconceptions upon the local culture. I live in Thailand, and I see this a lot. Americans come here and think that Bangkok is just like Los Angeles, and the Thais are just like Mexicans. Westerners often come to Asia, see men holding hands in the street, and assume that they're homosexuals.
Tyagananda and Vrajaprana cite more than one example of cultural monovision in Kali's Child. Here's one: "One can imagine," Kripal writes, "how upset Narendra must have been with Ramakrishna's desire to call him Kamalalaksa, one of those effeminate Vaisnava names meaning 'Lotus Eyes.'" (KC 26) But it's Kripal who views the epithet as effeminate, not Narendra. Narendra was a Hindu. Hindus are accustomed to hearing male deities referred to as "lotus-eyed"—including Shiva, who can hardly be considered effeminate. (295)
At some point in his studies, Kripal formulated his thesis: that Sri Ramakrishna's mystical experiences were caused by homoerotic energies of which he was unaware. This raises an obvious question: How could you possibly prove such a thing? How can you demonstrate, in any empirically verifiable way, a causal connection between "homoerotic energies" and mystical experience?
This issue points to a glaring need in contemporary psychological studies. Instead of psychoanalytic theorizing, what we need is a rigorous, scientific study of mystical experience, and especially of samadhi: its prerequisites, its causes, any physiological factors that may facilitate it, any mental factors that may fuel it, its objective and subjective symptoms, and its measurable outcomes. This is a job for the neuroscientists.

Three M's and an S

Kripal doesn't succeed in demonstrating a causal connection between homosexuality and mystical experience, but he does try to prove that Sri Ramakrishna was a repressed homosexual. As Tyagananda and Vrajaprana show repeatedly, he does this by mistranslating Bengali expressions, usually slanting them toward a sexual interpretation; by misunderstanding aspects of Bengali culture, usually through ignorance; and by misinterpreting events by viewing them through his own cultural lens. That's a lot of misses. He also speculates, often quite imaginatively, and later treats his speculations as if they were established facts. The cumulative effect can be convincing, especially since Kripal has a seductive prose style and is skilled in dialectic.
One example illustrates all four of these shortcomings. It's not in Kali's Child, but comes from a later book, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom, published by Kripal in 2001. Referring to a passage in the Lilaprasanga, Kripal writes that the youthful Swami Abhedananda "misunderstood the doctrine of nonduality and used it in an immoral fashion (we are told no details)….These energies possess definite erotic dimensions—hence their 'immoral' use in what I suspect was a sexual practice of some sort (and that is not at all clear, but 'immoral' is often a euphemism for 'sexual' in the texts.)" (REPW 254, quoted in IR 99.)
Tyagananda and Vrajaprana note that "used it in an immoral fashion" is a mistranslation. The text actually says that Swami Abhedananda "sometimes…did actions contrary to good behavior." There's a difference between immorality and improper behavior, and in this case there was nothing immoral—or sexual—about it. The offense Swami Abhedananda committed was eating chicken.
Westerners will laugh, but the authors explain that eating chicken was considered opprobrious by Hindu Bengalis even up until recent times. (99) In this one example we see all the flaws manifested in Kali's Child: mistranslation, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and speculation.

No demonizing, please—we're Vedantists

Some devotees may be tempted to demonize Jeffrey Kripal, but that would be alien to the Vedantic tradition. Everybody who has met Kripal—and I haven't, although I once had a long and vigorous correspondence with him—says that he is a very engaging and personable fellow. I have no doubt that this is true. Nor do I doubt that he is sincere in wanting to attain a fuller understanding of Sri Ramakrishna. He may be horrendously misguided, and consequently deluded, but in one way some of us are in his debt. There's a point at which serenity segues into complacency, and sometimes we get complacent. Kripal's book challenged those of us who read it, shook us out of our complacency, forced us to think, roused us to defend our beliefs. We owe him for that.
After eight long years of being bruised and battered by the controversy over Kali's Child, Jeffrey Kripal finally closed the book on it and went on to more rewarding endeavors. Currently he is actively involved with the Esalen Institute. I wish him well.

A landmark in Ramakrishna scholarship

Interpreting Ramakrishna is bound to become a landmark in Ramakrishna scholarship, and Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana are to be congratulated for a prodigious achievement. For this they should get the Vivekananda Award. The book will undoubtedly prove to be the Ramakrishna movement's definitive response to the allegations contained in Kali's Child. Will it mark an end to the hijacking of Ramakrishna studies by the psychoanalytic school?
Probably not. But the psychoanalytic school dodges the issue. The real issue is not what psychological factors may have been involved in Sri Ramakrishna's mystical experiences. That's just a sideshow. The real issue is whether he actually experienced a transcendent reality, known in some circles as God. That's what Vedantists believe, and at our present level of scientific development it can't be proven or disproven in any empirically verifiable way.
In their final chapter, the authors express the hope that there can be a meeting of the minds between the community of devotees and the academic community of secular-minded scholars. To me this hope seems somewhat forlorn. The gulf between the secular and the Vedantic worldviews is too great to bridge. Despite attempts to "dialogue" and be civil to each other in public, I've always had the feeling that each side walks away from every encounter secretly thinking the other side is stupid.
Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana are more optimistic. They're much more familiar with the thinking of both communities than I am, so I may very well be wrong. I hope I am. I hope that there can be a meeting of the minds. But I wouldn't bet the ashram on it.
William Page is a retired teacher of English who has been associated with the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Massachusetts since 1960 and is currently a member of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Thailand.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

spiritual aspiration and sentimentality

Ordinarily speaking, spiritual aspiration ought to be balanced through the intellect; otherwise it may degenerate into mere sentimentality. . . .

The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda/Volume 7/Inspired Talks/Sunday, June 30

This World is a Circus Ring....

(New Discoveries, Vol. 6, p. 156.)

From Mrs. Alice Hansbrough's reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda's conversation with Miss Bell at Camp Taylor, California, in May 1900:

MISS BELL: This world is an old schoolhouse where we come to learn our lessons.

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: Who told you that? [Miss Bell could not remember.] Well, I don't think so. I think this world is a circus ring in which we are the clowns tumbling.

MISS BELL: Why do we tumble, Swami?

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: Because we like to tumble. When we get tired, we will quit.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Swami Vivekananda on Guru Nanak and Guru Govind Singh

Swami Vivekananda on Guru Nanak and Guru Govind Singh

 Guru Nanak

This [Punjab] is the land which, after all its sufferings, has not yet entirely lost its glory and its strength. Here it was that in later times the gentle Nanak preached his marvellous love for the world. Here it was that his broad heart was opened and his arms outstretched to embrace the whole world, not only of Hindus, but of Mohammedans too. Here it was that one of the last and one of the most glorious heroes of our race, Guru Govinda Singh, after shedding his blood and that of his dearest and nearest for the cause of religion, even when deserted by those for whom this blood was shed, retired into the South to die like a wounded lion struck to the heart, without a word against his country, without a single word of murmur. [Complete Works, 3.366]

Guru Nanak was like that, you know, looking for the one disciple to whom he would give his power. And he passed over all his own family—his children were as nothing to him—till he came upon the boy to whom he gave it; and then he could die. [Complete Works 8.264]


There was a great prophet in India, Guru Nânak, born [some] four hundred years ago. Some of you have heard of the Sikhs—the fighting people. Guru Nanak was [the founder and also] a follower of the Sikh religion. 

             One day he went to the Mohammedans' mosque. These Mohammedans are feared in their own country, just as in a Christian country no one dare say anything against their religion. . . . So Guru Nanak went in and there was a big mosque, and the Mohammedans were standing in prayer. They stand in lines: they kneel down, stand up, and repeat certain words at the same times, and one fellow leads. So Guru Nanak went there. And when the mullah was saying "In the name of the most merciful and kind God, Teacher of all teachers", Guru Nanak began to smile. He says, "Look at that hypocrite". The mullah got into a passion. "Why do you smile?"

             "Because you are not praying, my friend. That is why I am smiling."

             "Not praying?"

             "Certainly not. There is no prayer in you."

             The mullah was very angry, and he went and laid a complaint before a magistrate and said, "This heathen rascal dares to come to our mosque and smiles at us when we are praying. The only punishment is instant death. Kill him".

             Guru Nanak was brought before the magistrate and asked why he smiled.

             "Because he was not praying."

             "What was he doing?" the magistrate asked.

             "I will tell you what he was doing if you will bring him before me."

             The magistrate ordered the mullah to be brought. And when he came, the magistrate said, "Here is the mullah. [Now] explain why you laughed when he was praying".

             Guru Nanak said, "Give the mullah a piece of the Koran [to swear on]. [In the mosque] when he was saying 'Allah, Allah', he was thinking of some chicken he had left at home".

             The poor mullah was confounded. He was a little more sincere than the others, and he confessed he was thinking of the chicken, and so they let the Sikh go. "And", said the magistrate [to the mullah], "don't go to the mosque again. It is better not to go at all than to commit blasphemy there and hypocrisy. Do not go when you do not feel like praying. Do not be like a hypocrite, and do not think of the chicken and say the name of the Most Merciful and Blissful God". [Complete Works 9.233]



Guru Govind Singh

                One great prophet, however, arose in the north, Govind Singh, the last Guru of the Sikhs, with creative genius; and the result of his spiritual work was followed by the well - known political organisation of the Sikhs. We have seen throughout the history of India, a spiritual upheaval is almost always succeeded by a political unity extending over more or less area of the continent, which in its turn helps to strengthen the spiritual aspiration that brings it to being. [CW, 6.66]

            Then and then alone you are a Hindu when you will be ready to bear everything for them, like the great example I have quoted at the beginning of this lecture, of your great Guru Govind Singh. Driven out from this country, fighting against its oppressors, after having shed his own blood for the defence of the Hindu religion, after having seen his children killed on the battlefield—ay, this example of the great Guru, left even by those for whose sake he was shedding his blood and the blood of his own nearest and dearest—he, the wounded lion, retired from the field calmly to die in the South, but not a word of curse escaped his lips against those who had ungratefully forsaken him! Mark me, every one of you will have to be a Govind Singh, if you want to do good to your country. You may see thousands of defects in your countrymen, but mark their Hindu blood. They are the first Gods you will have to worship even if they do everything to hurt you, even if everyone of them send out a curse to you, you send out to them words of love. If they drive you out, retire to die in silence like that mighty lion, Govind Singh. Such a man is worthy of the name of Hindu; such an ideal ought to be before us always. All our hatchets let us bury; send out this grand current of love all round. [Complete Works, 3.379]



While walking to and fro, Swamiji took up the story of Guru Govind Singh and with his great eloquence touched upon the various points in his life—how the revival of the Sikh sect was brought about by his great renunciation, austerities, fortitude, and life - consecrating labours—how by his initiation he re-Hinduised Mohammedan converts and took them back into the Sikh community—and how on the banks of the Narmada he brought his wonderful life to a close. Speaking of the great power that used to be infused in those days into the initiates of Guru Govind, Swamiji recited a popular doha (couplet) of the Sikhs:

sava lakh ka ek chadauo

jab guru gobinda naam sunuo


             The meaning is: 'When Guru Govind gives the Name, i.e. the initiation, a single man becomes strong enough to triumph over a lakh and a quarter of his foes." Each disciple, deriving from his inspiration a real spiritual devotion, had his soul filled with such wonderful heroism! While holding forth thus on the glories of religion, Swamiji's eyes dilating with enthusiasm seemed to be emitting fire, and his hearers, dumb - stricken and looking at his face, kept watching the wonderful sight.

             After a while the disciple said: 'Sir, it was very remarkable that Guru Govind could unite both Hindus and Mussulmans within the fold of his religion and lead them both towards the same end. In Indian history, no other example of this can be found."

             Swamiji: Men can never be united unless there is a bond of common interest. You can never unite people merely by getting up meetings, societies, and lectures if their interests be not one and the same. Guru Govind made it understood everywhere that the men of his age, be they Hindus or Mussulmans, were living under a regime of profound injustice and oppression. He did not create any common interest, he only pointed it out to the masses. And so both Hindus and Mussulmans followed him. He was a great worshipper of Shakti. Yet, in Indian history, such an example is indeed very rare. [Complete Works 6.515]




Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Quote from the Bible on quiet spirit

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided
hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it
should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and
quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. -- Peter 3:3-4