Tagged: book reviews

whats wrong mindfulness zen

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness: Zen Perspectives

Raising urgent questions, twelve essays offer critical, Zen perspective on mindfulness and meditation practices.

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (And What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives1 (2016) is a critical examination of what’s wrong, and what isn’t, with the mindfulness movement in contemporary Western society.

What’s unique about this collection of twelve essays is they are written by committed, lifelong Western Buddhist meditation practitioners and lay-teachers. The essayists are simultaneously pessimistic and cautiously optimistic about the long term impact of mindfulness in Western society.

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness?

This collection of twelve short essays was edited by Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid.

Rosenbaum is a psychologist and psychotherapist formally trained in Zen and Qigong. Magid, also a psychologist and psychoanalyst, is founder of a school in New York, the Ordinary Mind Zendo, that teaches Zen.

Along with Rosenbaum and Magid, other contributing essayists include: Janet Jiryu Abels, founder and coresident teacher at Still Mind Zendo in New York; Zoketsu Norman Fischer a poet, writer, and Zen Priest; and Gil Fronsdal, a Vipassana teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center; and seven other contributors–all contributors are Buddhist, Zen, or Vipassana meditation practitioners and ordained lay-instructors.

Below is my review of this engaging collection of essays.

Curative Fantasy

In Part One, Critical Concerns: Mischief in the Marketplace for Mindfulness, Marc Poirier, a law professor and lay Zen teacher, writes [I’m paraphrasing]:

The practice of mindfulness in popular culture is troublesome as it should not be a “goal-oriented technique”. That is, mindfulness is often promoted outside of a Buddhist context as a technique to gain [something]. For instance, Poirier criticizes corporations such as Google and law firms that train employees in techniques of mindfulness to help the company be more productive. To Poirier, and the twelve other essayists, mindfulness will not be useful, in the long term, when it is disconnected from its roots in an Asian-Buddhist  worldview.

The “curative fantasy”, writes Poirier, is symptom of a Western, Americanized, quick fix approach to solving problems. He explains that day-long or weeks-long workshops, retreats, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight week intervention format, are problematic. When mindfulness is packaged for quick results, advocates leave out crucial components: sustained engagement, community, and support of qualified Buddhist meditation teachers. All these components, Poirier believes, are crucial for healthy and long term Buddhist or Zen practice.

The removal (secularization) of mindfulness from its Asian-Buddhist context deemphasizes the need for a sustained commitment to a lifelong practice within Buddhism.

What’s Wrong (and What Isn’t) with this book?

Firstly, I’m not an advocate for Buddhism, Zen, or meditation practices. Nor am I convinced by this book that I should practice mindfulness, especially within an Asian-Buddhist tradition. I remain skeptical of claims of superiority of meditation, Zen, or Buddhist systems.

However, I understood the questions raised and the concerns identified by the essayists, including:

zen mindfulness meditation
Zen, Michael Day, Flickr, CC by 2.0

Self is a movement, not a thing

Many benefits and fruits of Zen practice are real, but they are not to be gained, nor pursued. Just sit, regularly, for a sustained period, and see what is here right now. p27

Zen differs from mindfulness practice in placing less emphasis on training in modes of awareness. p34

Self is not a thing. It is a movement in time. p34

Awareness itself doesn’t make you a better person

“[Being] ‘more attentive’ while clinging to your sense of self [mind]…will not necessarily make you a better person.” Awareness itself does not offer a path forward to self-improvement.

The authors advocate that mindfulness practice (which they say is useless as an end or means to an end itself) should be tethered to a traditional Buddhist worldview, with a lifelong commitment to practice within an Asian spiritual-lineage, teacher and religious community.

In the epilogue, Is Mindfulness Buddhist? (And Why It Matters), Robert Sharf, Chair of the Center for Buddhist Studies at University of California-Berkeley, criticizes the popular idea that mindfulness can lead to “bare attention”.

mindfulness meditation zen critique
Zen Coffee Shop, Nguyễn Thành Lam, Flickr, CC by 2.0.

Critiques of Mindfulness as Bare Attention

The “mind” is not a blank slate or tabula rasa, writes Sharf. He says there is no such thing as bare attention. “Bare” (clean slate) attention is fake. Most of what occurs in our thoughts and awareness is unconscious, influenced by our unconscious conditioning: society, tradition, and genetics.

Proponents claim, says Sharf, that mindfulness practice is not “conditioning” but deconditioning or deconstructing of the mind or awareness. Yet, everything we are aware of is filtered through our unconscious conditioning. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meditate. But it does raise the question about claims that meditation is somehow special in knowing our “true” mind or self.

You can be aware of being aware, and aware of being aware, and aware of being aware of being aware of being aware, and so on. p33

An underlying premise held by many practitioners of mindfulness or meditation techniques is that through practice one can actually “see” what’s going on in the mind or self.

But “mind” or “self” are mostly unconscious. Mostly vague, changing many “minds” or selves”. Not just one or fixed things. Since most of our mind or self is and probably always will be unconscious, we cannot really “know” mind or self. Mind or self is a movement, a relationship. Assuming that this is so, then there is no mind or self “out there” or “in here” to grasp.

Concluding thoughts

What’s most important is experience of awareness, of life as it is. Nothing is needed to be gained. p44

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (And What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives is engaging and thought provoking for students and persons interested in meditation and mindfulness practice. I recommend this book to learn more about what’s wrong and what isn’t with mindfulness or any meditation practice.

Read my other writings critiquing mindfulness and meditation:

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t) inspired the first three articles listed below.

Notes

Feature image: Zen by iggyshoot. Flickr. CC by 2.0.

1 What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (And What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives, Paperback. Edited by Robert Rosenbaum & Barry Magid. 2016.

Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts

Yes, mindfulness can change the brain. Everything we do changes the brain. Meditation included.

Relying on neuroscience to validate mindfulness implies meditation is not valuable in and of itself as a spiritual practice, says Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum, Zen Buddhist priest and coeditor of:

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives1, a collection of 12 essays written by 12 Buddhist or Zen priests and Vipassana meditation instructors and therapists. All 12 essayists are committed, lifelong practitioners of Buddhism and meditation.

Rosenbaum, author of the essay Mindfulness Myths: Facts and Fantasies, is a psychologist and psychotherapist formally trained in Zen and Qigong. He received his lay [priest] entrustment from Sojun Mel Weitsman of Berkeley Zen Center and is authorized by Master Hui Liu as a senior teacher of the Taoist practice of qigong of Yang Meijun. Rosenbaum’s books include, Walking the Way: 81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching and Zen and the Heart of Psychotherapy.

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives book as a whole is interesting and compelling read because it is written by Western Zen Buddhist priests who are thoughtful and skeptical of the mindfulness movement in America.

Below are some excerpts and summaries from Rosenbaum’s essay Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts and my commentary in brackets.

Myth and fantasy: But we know mindfulness practices changes the brain!

Fact: Yes, says Rosenbaum, but everything we do changes the brain2. Meditation included. But so does checking Facebook, listening to music, reading, closing your eyes–each activity or non-activity will register an EEG (electroencephalograph) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) change in the brain. So what?

[Closing one’s eyes, as in most meditation practices, is a non-activity. Sleep is a type of non-activity. Relaxation, as in meditation, is non-activity. Non-action is precisely the benefit–the  change in our brain. Disconnecting, disengaging from electronic devices or external stimuli is a non-activity. As beneficial as relaxation.]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is proven effective in clinical trials

Fact:

“A careful examination of the research”, writes Rosenbaum, “reveals how enthusiastic proselytizing can sometimes be less than mindful of the complexities and caveats involved.” p59

[Proselytizers of mindfulness who push the research often lack awareness, are unmindful. Or, if they are aware or mindful of the caveats in the research, are dishonest with themselves or others.]

“In fact, the benefits of quiet, relaxation, and stress management are so powerful it is often difficult to demonstrate that meditation contributes much beyond potentiating and enhancing the non-specific mechanisms at play in deep relaxation”. p60

[All mindfulness studies face the same difficulty:

What are the measures of mindfulness?

  • There’s no objective measure for a psychological state described as mindfulness.
  • To measure mindfulness, many studies use participant self-reported data.
  • Self-report studies have advantages for researchers, but disadvantages include exaggerated answers and are biased towards the participants feelings at the time of filling out the questionnaires3.
  • Most advocates of mindfulness-based therapies recommend practice more as a lifestyle or stress reduction (relaxation) technique, which begs the question:
  • What is the mechanism or active ingredient in mindfulness? There may be none.]

The thrust of Rosenbaum’s essay and throughout the book is that mindfulness ought to be practiced with lifelong commitment within its Asian Buddhist religious context:

[What’s wrong with mindfulness is that it has been] extracted from its Asian religious and spiritual contexts proponents of mindfulness are grasping to demonstrate its verifiable and useful [that there’s something to gain from mindfulness outside of its religious or spiritual context]. P55

[The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, another book that critically examines mindfulness studies: “Listen, this new wave of studies on mindfulness is full of disingenuous scientists who are up to their necks in Buddhism”, remarked Jonathan Smith4, a 1970s pioneer in scientific research into effects of meditation practice. “Look carefully. Check the control groups they’re using.”]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is superior to other techniques

Fact: Psychological studies compare one technique (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT) to another method (such as traditional psychotherapy or medication).

What sixty years of psychological research has uncovered is that client (participant or patient) factors are far more important than the techniques.

Factors such as motivation, desire, belief, psychological, relationship and socioeconomic status account for 85-98% of the outcomes of psychological treatments. That means, the techniques themselves such as mindfulness or meditation, according to Lambert and Wampold, account for at most 2-15% of outcome variance in psychological treatments. p64

In other words, that it is the client, not the therapist nor the technique, that is most important in the process of psychological change is not popular. P65

Rosenbaum warns:

“The ‘hard science’ of research swallowed uncritically makes us more credulous: it enhances the fantasy that meditation is somehow magical, that by meditating we will not have to confront the hard work of placing our difficulties within the context of how we are living our lives and the messy specifics of how to change our behaviors.” p67

Zen and Qigong lay-priest, Rosenbaum, continues:

“In the religious sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we are more than human, some kind of super-being, if only we attain anuttara samyak sambodhi, [samadhi], or supreme perfect enlightenment. In the secular sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we can control our thoughts, feelings, and achieve superproductivity and happiness just through our personal [individual] efforts.” p67

I agree with Rosenbaum. Many Westerners tend to be fantasy-prone with their expectations of mindfulness or meditation techniques. Rather than practice to gain or achieve anything, the Zen Buddhist priest says that mindfulness practices are not important. What is important is awareness of life as it is and ultimately the practice is to make us aware of what’s right in front of us.

Notes

Image credit: Public Domain. affen ajlfe, brain 18, www.modup.net/. Retrieved from Creative Commons Jun 11, 2017.

1 Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid (Eds.). (2016). What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. Somerville, MA. Wisdom Publications.

2 ibid p.55

3 Self-report study. Wikipedia. Accessed on Jun 9, 2017.

4 Jonathan Smith quoted from p132 of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm (2015) [Read my book review of The Buddha Pill]. Smith had published a landmark study in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1976, pp630-637, Psychotherapeutic effects of transcendental meditation with controls for expectation of relief and daily sitting. Smith’s study  used equivalent expectancy controls, and he clearly demonstrated that a person’s predisposition toward anxiety (trait anxiety) is not reduced by the practice of meditation (TM method), but that it can be reduced by sitting with closed eyes in conjunction with an expectation of relief. Abstract of Smith accessed from TranceNet: TM_Independent Research on Jun 10, 2017 at http://minet.org/www.trancenet.net/research/abs.shtml.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Critical Biography

buddha serpentWas Patanjali a real person or a half-human, half-snake god? Was the Yoga Sutra a “classical” text? Where have the translations come from?

These and many other questions are explored in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography by David Gordon White professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of several books, including The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions In Medieval India (read my post on it), Kiss of the Yogini, Yoga in Practice, and Sinister Yogis (read my post on it).

Modern Yoga is an amalgam of Occult, New Age, and Christian-Hindu Metaphysics packaged for consumers who may seldom, if ever, examine critically the actual origins of the philosophy and practices of Yoga. (Read my critical posts of Yoga). The Yoga Sutra, like most ancient sacred texts, has little in common with the original version.

yoga sutra of patanjali white-minBelow is my review and commentary on:
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books)
by David Gordon White, Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.

“Big Yoga–the corporate yoga subculture–has elevated the Yoga Sutra to a status it never knew, even during its seventh- to twelfth-century heyday” writes White in his Preface.

Patanjali (first century BCE or fourth century CE) is the name of the mysterious author-compiler of the Yoga Sutra, acclaimed in modern yoga circles. In twelfth century Tamil traditions, Patancali (spelled with a “c”) is the name of a half-man half-snake incarnation of the great serpent-god, Ananta. Later scholars, identified this mythic Tamil Patancali with the Sanskrit Patanjali of the Yoga Sutra. Was the author of the Sutra a human, Patanjali?

What actually is the Yoga Sutra?

Literally, they are 196 obscure stanzas written in Sanskrit. What we read are not the original.

What we actually get in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are interpretations of commentaries.

“When we speak of the philosophy of Patanjali we really mean (or should mean) is the understanding of Patanjali according to Vyasa [mythic ‘editor’ of the Vedas (1200 BCE) and Mahabharata (400 CE)]: It is Vyasa who determined what Patanjali’s abstruse sutras meant, and all the subsequent commentators elaborated on Vyasa…” says Rutgers University professor Edwin Bryant, a scholar of Hinduism.

Vyasa-min
Vyasa

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography is a chronicle of the Yoga Sutra’s principle commentators to-date: including Vyasa, eighteenth century German romantic philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Theosophical Society founder Helena Blavatsky (read my post), first Indian Guru to come to the West Swami Vivekananda (read my post), famous twentieth century yoga teacher Krishnamacharya and others.

White weaves together a narrative of biographies about the chief commentators that crafted what we call the Yoga Sutra.

White concludes his book with Yoga Sutra 2.0, that is, his final chapter on what may be next, along with some “alternative theories” about how the Sutras may have been “hijacked” or co opted by translators or commentators to promote their agendas. He also shares a provocative theory of scholars that the Sutra was originally a Buddhist work that was reinterpreted into a Hindu text.

Critical scholars, like David Gordon White, could grind the Yoga Sutra down into analytical powder for ever, and not be able to provide definitive answers (kind of like biblical scholarship).

Yoga students may find White’s critical biography contradicts Modern Yoga teachers who claim lineage with the original Sutras of Patanjali.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography is for ardent students and critical researchers of yoga. Yet, this book is easy to read for the non-technical, non-academic reader with keen interest in yoga. Readers of White’s book may never see The Yoga Sutra as “sacred” or “original” again.

Connection Between Intensive Meditation & Mental Instability

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Is there a connection between intensive meditation and mental instability? How much should people risk to pierce the veil of divinity itself?

In A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney unravels riveting accounts of Westerners obsessed with Eastern spiritual teachings. In gripping narrative, Carney delves into the characters of people obsessed with “enlightenment” to the brink that pushes them into insanity.

This post is my review of an absorbing book:

A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney, Gotham/Penguin Books: NY:NY, Hardcover, 2015

a death on diamond mountain skeptic meditations

“Ian Thorson was well known only briefly in Buddhist circles, and more so for the unusual circumstances around his death than for any of the actions in his life. Looked at from one perspective, his plunge toward enlightenment is an obvious case of madness. Yet lurking in the shadows of the cave where he died are clues about the idiosyncratic reasons Americans have adapted Eastern mysticism to their own ends. More important, Thorson’s own self-sacrifice begs the question, How much is too much to risk for a chance to pierce the veil of divinity itself?” p 13

Path to Enlightenment Fraught with Danger?

On the morning of April 22, 2012 a thirty-eight year old Stanford student, Ian Thorson, died of dysentery and dehydration on a remote Arizona mountain top during his intensive quest for enlightenment. After Thorson’s demise, Carney was struck by how Thorson’s tragic death was similar to the suicide of a young woman he traveled to India with for a silent meditation retreat.

The unorthodox Buddhist teachings of Western Lama Geshe Michael Roach, and his ex-wife Lama Christie McNally, took on a grim reality that culminated during an intensive meditation retreat when Ian Thorson died in McNally’s arms while hiding in a cave to achieve enlightenment1.

Lama Geshe Michael Roach explained that “…Doing yoga for four hours a day or five hours a day; it’s not fun. And it’s not a joke. It’s a life-or-death attempt to become a being who can serve all living creatures before you die”. p 132

Using Thorson’s tragic spiritual journey as a springboard, Carney investigates how the promise of “enlightenment” pushes some people to forsake the world around them and risk their lives and sanity.

Striking parallels with the meditation cult I followed

Reading A Death on Diamond Mountain reminded me of my own decades-long spiritual quest with an Eastern meditation guru. I had forsaken the world, family, all–to obtain the guru promised spiritual liberation. In my obsession to pursue enlightenment, I escaped to the cloistered monastic community on top of Mount Washington that overlooked the jagged skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles2.

Eyal Richter, untitled, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Eyal Richter, untitled, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There are striking parallels between the cult of yoga meditation that I followed and the tragic obsessions with enlightenment recounted in A Death on Diamond Mountain.    

In upcoming posts I will examine these parallels with dangerous spiritual obsessions, such as Thorson’s in his unorthodox Buddhist cult, with certain spiritual diseases, and with the psychic costs and madness I witnessed while I was a monk for fourteen years in the Self-Realization Fellowship yoga meditation cult.

Students of yoga meditation and Eastern spirituality, or any person concerned about the risks on the path to enlightenment, owe it to themselves to read this absorbing book, A Death on Diamond Mountain.  

The final sentence of the book is, “Only the curious will learn what happened here”. Unfortunately, many serious devotees lack interest in learning about the risks of intensive meditation. Worse, they deny risks. Many people obsessed with the quest for spiritual awakening are in danger of abuse and mental instability.

A Death on Diamond Mountain is an engrossing investigative story that reveals how an obsessive quest for enlightenment is riddled with danger.

Notes

1 Here’s an ABC News video on the tragic events that led to the death of Ian Thorson and the reactions from his stunned, angered family: Buddhist Yoga Retreat Death Raises Questions on Ariz. Monk’s ‘Enlightenment’ Preaching

2 Read my Monasticism index of posts for many of the experiences and examinations I had within the Monastic Order of Self-Realization Fellowship.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Smoking, Cussing Godman?

Ramakrishna_at_studio-min
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Bengal India, 1881

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.

Notes

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.