A critical analysis of a popular Hindu guru-messiah who smoked, cussed, and enjoyed company of young boys
Modern yoga is a curious and fascinating phenomena. Millions of Westerners are awed and have flocked to Eastern mystical teachers and to exotic spiritual teachings from Asia.
In awe of Eastern mystical teachers and teachings, I dedicated 14 years of my life as an ordained monk within an East-meets-West ashram-monastery on a hill that overlooked Dodger Stadium, the graffitied barrios below in Highland Park, and on the horizon the skyscrapered silhouette of downtown Los Angeles. This was a modern yoga-meditation retreat that blended “ancient” Eastern mysticism with a Western metropolis.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952), author of Autobiography of a Yogi, founder of Self-Realization Fellowship and the Monastic Order on the hill in which I was cloistered, was heavily influenced by Hindu-Bengali godmen Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886), Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), and the Ramakrisha’s devotees.
Below is my review and excerpts of a book that is critical of a smoking, cussing godman in Ramakrishna Revisited: A New Biography.
Ramakrishna Revisited: A New Biography
by Narasingha P. Sil
University Press of America. 1998. Hardcover
In Ramakrishna Revisited: A New Biography critical scholar, Narasingha P. Sil argues that most biographies of Ramakrishna are lopsided idealizations, even distortions, of the actual character and actions of the revered saint. Using primary Bengali sources, and himself a Bengali, Sil analyzes and pathologizes the intimate details of Ramakrishna’s speeches, actions, and relations with family and disciples.
Sil’s, Ramakrishna Revisited is not an adoring disciple’s recollection of a guru-godman, but is a critical psychological analysis of the complex man. The buck-toothed Parmahamsa is often portrayed as vulgar, profane, and psycho-sexually creepy.
Here are excerpts from Ramakrishna Revisited:
Ramakrishna’s reputation as a delirious child of Kali the Divine Mother not only endeared this mad mystic of Dakshineshwar to many of his near contemporaries but even [to] modern scholars of the Western world and [to] millions of Indians who respectfully regard him as God–bhagavan. p2
“The lesson of Ramakrishna is that man must approach the divine without guile–openly, in wonder, with the simple faith of a child…and finally…that God is like a child who needs to be amused ‘in superfluous sport and aimless dalliance’”. p4
He [Ramakrishna] enjoyed smoking tobacco (hookah) and above all, the company of young men. p7
Charles White has warned against apologetic writings “available in the occult market” in respect to Indian saints, living or dead….This work [Ramakrishna Revisited] seeks to respond to White’s suggestions for an understanding of saints “in language other than that of the adoring devotee or the hostile skeptic”. p10
“Ejaculation is extremely harmful for ascetics…[and therefore] it is not good even to look at a woman…[as] there will be ejaculation in dream, if not in the waking state” Ramakrishna said, as recorded in the diary of Mahendranath Gupta or “M”, disciple and author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. [1, 2] p70
Hindus generally believe that “a man who possesses a store of good semen becomes a super-man”. p71 [See my post Preserving Sex Fluids for Yogic Transformation & Immortality]
[The paramahamsa] told his devotees: “The moment I utter the word ‘cunt’ I behold the cosmic vagina, which is Ma Brahmamayi, and I sink into it.” p73
Narendra [Swami Vivekananda] was under intense mental strain, highly vulnerable and suggestible when he met the paramahamsa at the young age of twenty-one and Ramakrishna, the “mighty mentor”, stepped into the void of his would be disciple’s life rendered chaotic after his father’s death.” p91 [See my post Swami Vivekananda: Master Marketer of Yoga]
[Ramakrishna] confessed: “I used to say ‘Ma, I shall take [myself] seriously only when the zemindars of this country appreciate me.” In an incisive study of gurus from all cultures, Anthony Storr reports that “some historians have proposed that all messianic characters have secret doubts about their missions, and that is why they strive to gain disciples.” p153
[Ramakrishna] exclaimed on one occasion: “Mere knowledge of Advaita! Hyak thoo–I spit on it.” He also spat on the floor denouncing rationality. “A mere scholar without discrimination and renunciation has his attention fixed on woman and gold.” Even bhakti or devotion is not efficacious if it is “tinged with knowledge”. p163
When a visitor named Shyam Basu asked Ramakrishna: “How can you say that sin is punishable when you say that He is doing everything?”. The later was cheesed off and quipped: “What calculating cunning [sonar bener buddhi]! You asshole [Ore podo], just eat the mango. What will you gain by counting the trees, branches, and leaves in the grove?” p163
When the inquirer insisted on direct evidence for instruction before accepting it, Ramakrishna exploded: “I don’t know! I can’t cure my own disease and you want to know what happens after death! You talk like a nitwit. Try to find ways of putting faith in God. You’re born as a human only to learn devotion”. Indeed, any kind of reasoning made the Master very uneasy and upset. p163
Ramakrishna preached: Too much knowledge is called ajnana, ignorance. To know only one thing is jnana, knowledge–that is, God alone is real and exists in all beings. To converse with Him is vijnana. To love Him in different ways after realizing Him is vijnana. p164
Our East-West idols and myths are fascinating, even captivating. We thirst for and seek after heros, heroines, gods, godmen and godwomen. Some Westerners may abandon traditional temples and flee to exotic, mystic East-West hybrid shrines. There is poetry and beauty in human folklore and mythology: whether of gods, men, cultures, or societies. But intellectual freedom is realizing that ignorance is not bliss, that wishful-thinking does not make reality, and that truth is stranger and more wonderful than fiction.
Read my review of Ramakrishna Revisited on Amazon.
1 Total surrender to guru or gods is encouraged for devotees of the bhakti (devotional) tradition of yoga. Intellectual development or reasoning is de-emphasized and often belittled.
2 Srisriramakrsnakathamrta, IV, 89 (GR, p. 414), Diary of March 23, 1884.