Tagged: Hinduism

Meditation techniques offer illusion of control

Esther Simpson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Esther Simpson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Meditation techniques, like religion, offer an illusion of control, a false promise of personal mastery.

Helplessness, insecurity, and uncertainty are part of the human condition. Unable to find permanent freedom from our ailments, we willingly surrender our bodies and minds, our time and resources, to uselessly following the advice of charlatans, of spiritual teachers, gurus, or buddhas.1 Meditation techniques may act as a placebo (sham or fake) treatment to our ailments that give us an illusion of control.

To begin, let’s define “illusion” as a thing that is or that is likely to be wrongly perceived and that probably we have wrong ideas about. Now, let’s proceed with our discussion of the illusion of control offered by meditation techniques.

Helplessness and the human condition

Life largely operates beyond our control. Our birth, death, and much of life’s events unfold mostly outside our power. We crave security and certainty and want to exert our influence over other people. Many people believe that meditation techniques provide them with unlimited access to secret knowledge, to magical cures, and to personal mastery over one’s body, mind, and world.

Meditation philosophy, inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism that will be discussed below, is built upon the false premise that there is something wrong, missing, or corrupt within us, which is beyond our awareness and control. (Read my post Duped by Meditation? for further elaboration on false premises underlying many meditation practices).

Charlatans, gurus, and spiritual teachers implant in our minds the need of a cure (from our unawareness, asleepness, or out-of-controlness), and then offer us sham products that offer the illusion of control.

Mind-control disguised as self-control

Meditation teachers are seen by many of their followers as moral authorities who implant in their minds the necessity of self-control. Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, in their book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, warn, “All mind control operates under the guise of self-control”.2 Under this psychological, spiritual, and theological pretext, meditation is a fraudulent technique that is sold on the pretense of offering self-control.3 Practitioners often willingly surrender control to teachers who have already implanted in them the need for self-restraint as the right path to ultimate freedom of body, mind, and spirit.

Self-Realization Fellowship, a Hindu-inspired religion that I used to follow, promises that disciples who correctly practice the given meditation techniques every day will eventually, if not in this life then in a future incarnation, attain total self-realization, self-mastery bringing complete awareness of Self or God.

In the Samadhi Padi chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says, “Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications” (“Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ”).4 Mental control or restraint, a core component of yoga, is supposed to eventually lead the practitioner to the penultimate state of Dhyana (meditative trance and total absorption in self-awareness or Samadhi).5

For many people, meditation techniques offer a theological or moral framework that appeals to their unmet needs to control body, mind, and world.

Masters, frauds, and the uncontrollable self

The more we feel helpless, the more we want to assign control to someone or something else to cure or fix us and our world. We attribute magical agency to spiritual teachers, religions, and meditation techniques.

Kramer and Alstad, point out that in the East the prevailing idea is that the self is limited and to be transcended (Hinduism) or that the idea of the self is a false identity of the mind that is to be transcended (Buddhism). These Eastern ideas are biased towards the reduction or elimination of the self or ego to attain a permanent selflessness or egolessness.7 Any teacher or mystic who claims to be totally selfless or egoless must also claim to be totally conscious.

In Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at University of Virginia, gives reasons why our unconscious is inaccessible: “The bad news is that it is difficult to know ourselves because there is no direct access to the adaptive unconscious, no matter how hard we try…. Because our minds have evolved to operate largely outside of consciousness, it may not be possible to gain direct access to unconscious processing.”8

For gurus and spiritual teachers to admit that unconscious factors are at play within oneself would mean that no one can be certain that any person can ever be completely self-aware or can be totally selfless and egoless. It is debatable that so-called advanced masters, mystics, and saints are what they say they are: totally self-aware, in complete self-control, and perfected in selflessness or egolessness; and that the teacher knows what is best for disciples who strive to follow in her footsteps.

Kramer and Alstad write, “If there were even the remote possibility that a totally realized being had an unconscious, how could anyone (including the realized one) be certain that all motives and actions were pure and selfless?”9 Many Eastern-inspired religious teachers negate or devalue Western psychology because its concepts about the unconscious (uncontrollable self) undermines their power and authority.

Countless people look to charlatans, spiritual teachers, or gurus who they believe are completely conscious, totally selfless, and have foolproof answers and magical cures.

Results from meditation: placebo effect?

Our feelings of powerlessness feed anxieties and hunger for coping mechanisms.10 The times we feel most uncertain and helpless is when we most want answers and control. Even an illusory sense of control is enough to satisfy.

Our expectations that a technique or treatment will be helpful can sometimes give us beneficial effects. A meditation technique can enhance a practitioner’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that the practice will be helpful. Medical scientists say that the placebo effect–when a fake treatment or technique (an inactive substance like a sugar pill or meditation technique)–can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.11

In Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, R. Barker Bausell, a former Research Director of the National Institute for Health-funded Complementary Medicine Program, points out that, “If a completely inactive pill, ointment, or procedure (in other words, a placebo), accompanied by the expectation of effectiveness, can result in pain relief, then surely any therapy–no matter how bizarre–that we consider credible enough to seek out (and pay for) can also result in pain relief [or give us feelings of control and well-being], compliments of the placebo effect.”12

The effects we may feel from meditation practice then may be largely a sham, a treatment that creates temporary relief and illusion of control.

The Journal of American Medical Association published a landmark meta-study of 47 clinical trials with 3,515 participants on the effects of meditation. The researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that meditation treatments were not better than drugs or exercise. (Read my post Meditation Not Better than Drugs or Exercise, Study Finds). “The studies overall failed to show much benefit from meditation with regard to relief of suffering or improvement in overall health, with the important exception that mindfulness meditation provided a small but possibly meaningful degree of relief from psychological distress,” wrote Allan H. Goroll, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General Hospital.

A wish for you

In summary, meditation techniques may act as a sham or fake (placebo) treatment for ailments and give an illusion of control. Whether any person is ever able to be completely self-aware, self-controlled, and selfless is debatable. The false promises of personal mastery and magical cures from charlatans is something everyone needs to guard against by using critical thinking.

If you suffer, are in pain, or feel powerless; if the meditation techniques you practice help, then, I am happy for you. Or, if you discovered that meditation techniques didn’t ultimately help, like I did, then I hope you find an effective treatment or another placebo. Understanding that illusions or placebos may have benefits also means there are countless ways you could improve your situation and get a sense of control over your life.

Notes

1 The seed idea about the illusion of control was gleaned from James A. Lindsay’s, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

2 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) p. 225

3 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

4 Quoted from “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Sutras_of_Patanjali

5 See “Samadhi”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samadhi

6 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

7 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) pp. 101-102

8 This quotation of Timothy Wilson is from On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert A Burton, M.D. (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2008) p146

9 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) p. 102

10 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 80

11 See “Definition of Placebo Effect”, MedicineNet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=31481

12 R. Barker Bausell, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 256

Selfless Realization from Meditation?

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Meditation techniques are often used to negate the self.

Assuming the “self” is a product of the human mind, and with the idea of self as limited or false, Hindus and Buddhists created mental methods to transcend or reverse this faulty self-identity1.

What is meant by self-identity is who and what one thinks one is. It is the pillar of one’s personality2.

Traditional Eastern Hindus and Buddhists often used techniques to deconstruct self-identity.

Hindu-inspired meditation movements treat self as delusion.

The ultimate aim in Hindu meditation is transcending the self. The self is to be sacrificed for a so-called Higher Self.

Buddhist-inspired practitioner’s try to perceive the self as illusion.

The ultimate aim for the Buddhist is destruction of the self. That is, the ideal is annihilation of self-concept that supposedly is the cause of one’s suffering.

Read my post about the Contradictions with Samadhi 

What many Hindu- and Buddhist-inspired meditation techniques have in common is that they involve negating thought to transcend thought.

Whether one can actually transcend or negate thought may be debatable. But these mental methods, that some claim are beneficial, even miraculous, contain contradictions and warnings.

Selflessness contains contradictions, including:

  • Self-identity is deconstructed and then built up using a guru’s or a group’s beliefs and worldviews;
  • One’s feelings are given more importance than thought. Negating thoughts may prevent the use of critical thinking which could protect one from unnecessary suggestibility and gullibility.
  • Valuing selflessness and denying selfishness is itself “self-centered”. Humans all are out for self-interest.

We may never know if negation of self is possible. Heck, scientists, philosophers, poets, and mystics have been debating for millennia what “self” may be. We may have many selves. Here we defined self-identity as what makes up one’s personality and sense of who and what one is at any given moment.

My decades of practice with meditation techniques demonstrated to me that thoughts are never actually transcended nor negated. The desire to permanently attain a selfless or thoughtless state of enlightenment seems to me to be a delusion, one that many gurus and groups use to lure and keep followers.

I have had many experiences in and out of sitting meditation where I felt like I was floating above my self, was bursting with love, or was one with everything. Most of these experiences occurred randomly outside of sitting meditation without any effort on my part3. Even while writing this I find that by simply thinking or imaging something intently I can experience overwhelming emotions well up from within. So-called self-transcendent experiences may occur often and may be ordinary to many people. Perhaps they are so ordinary we frequently discount them.

“Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water” a Zen monk supposedly told his students.

Can people transcend self using mental techniques that negate one’s thoughts? Might some gurus and groups distort people’s perceptions of the themselves to take advantage of them?

Notes

The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog Books: Berkeley, CA, 1993, p. 101

2 ibid, p. 103

3 These so-called transcendent or mystical experiences that I have had I have interpreted in various ways at different times throughout my life. While I was fervent religious believer, I interpreted these experiences as supernatural, as a gift from god or guru. After I learned to think more critically, I have interpreted my past and present “mystical” experiences as natural, as part of being human. Just because there may not be a definitive explanation for self-transcending experiences does not give us license to say we know they have some extraordinary or supernatural cause.

Problems with Beliefs & Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Groups

meditation group Hindu yoga
premasagar, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

A 20 year insider investigates the worldviews and practices of Hindu-inspired meditation movements.

In Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (2010, New York University Press) Lola Williamson explores the worldviews, mystical experiences, and guru-disciple relationships of Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs) and examines three famous gurus and the organizations they founded: Self-Realization Fellowship of Paramahansa Yogananda, Transcendental Meditation of Maharishi Maheshi Yogi, and Siddha Yoga Dham Associates of Swami Muktananda.

She interviews followers of these organizations who have 20+ years of tutelage under these famous gurus. These three organizations combine Hinduism with Western values that form a hybrid, new religion that Williamson calls HIMMs[1].

Williamson, at the time she began writing this book, had participated for 21 years in Siddha Yoga and saw herself as a devout disciple of Gurumayi, the guru-successor of that movement. Before that Williamson was involved for 10 years in teacher trainings with Maharishi in Transcendental Meditation.

As Williamson investigated these movements to write this book she learned of disturbing accounts of abuses and organizational dysfunctions that were endemic to many of these groups[2].

She and many followers of HIMMs felt it was necessary to distance themselves from rumors of scandals and negativity that was reported by persons who left the ashrams and the organizations.

In 2005, Williamson abandoned this book project and quit Siddha Yoga because of the “cult-like atmosphere pervaded by many of the movements”.

In 2007, she resumed writing of this book that offers a unique perspective on HIMMs from both inside and outside.

Two perspectives, insider and outsider, reveal bits of reality in different ways, like the lame man riding on the shoulders of the blind man[3].

Williamson, as an insider understands the “heart” of the tradition and what makes the HIMM faith attractive to its followers. Outsiders, on the other hand, like Williamson [and myself included], may provide a different perspective and a willingness to examine and critique abuses.

“I also realized that some people use Hindu-style meditation and the philosophy accompanying it to escape from facing hard truths about themselves or about people and events around them”- Williamson [For example, see my post Abandoning Family for a Guru]

This post is the first in a series that will summarize Lola Williamson’s book, Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Movements as New Religion

Beliefs and Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements

Paraphrasing from Transcendent In America here are some of the beliefs and practices common to HIMMs:

1. Strong commitment to meditation as a means to attaining inner peace, and ultimately, to attaining a state of consciousness described by practitioners variously as liberation, enlightenment, or unity consciousness;

2. Belief that the guru of the movement has attained this state of liberation and serves as their guide;

3. Initiation into a deep, personal relationship with the guru, who is the center of charismatic authority;

4. Each HIMM sees itself as a sort of “family” centered on the guru;

5. Share common beliefs such as karma (natural law of retribution) and reincarnation and the ideal of “enlightenment”;

6. Share common lifestyle; purity is necessary for attaining enlightenment and adherence to dietary restrictions, most are vegetarians and try to avoid stressful situations or “negative” thinking;

7. Seek a balanced life that combines self-effort with a sense of ease, often limiting exposure to popular “worldly” culture or entertainments often viewed as not helpful to spiritual evolution;

8. Belief that self-reflection aids spiritual growth, may include introspection, psychotherapy, or participation in human potential groups;

9. Share common rituals (eg. chanting, meditation), myths (eg. ascending chakras in an astral spine service as a ladder up to samadhi, awakening of kundalini or serpent energy), and metaphors (eg. yoking the five senses to the “chariot” of yoga meditation–an allegory from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture);

10. Conceive of HIMM practices and beliefs as more than or greater than “religion”, that it’s a universal, spiritual approach to life available to anyone irrespective of faith tradition.

The are several problems, says Williamson, with this interwoven system of meaning used by people who participate HIMMs.

Problems with Beliefs & Practices of Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements

According to Williamson, there are several problems with the beliefs and practices of HIMMs, including:

HIMMs do not adhere to “universal” beliefs nor practices

A. First, the notion that the beliefs and practices of HIMMs are universal actually disregards the fact that many religious practitioners do not believe that “God” dwells within a human being or that union with God is possible or even desirable.

B. The notion that differences in religions can be transcended if everyone where to experience unity consciousness is a particular dogma or belief system of HIMMs, even if it arises out of personal experiences.

C. Essentially, followers and gurus of HIMMs are asserting that unity among religions would be possible if everyone accepted the HIMM worldview or practiced the HIMM forms of meditation.

HIMMs adhere to dogmatic beliefs and ritualized practices, like other religions

D. HIMMs compare the inner depth of their religious system to the outer expressions of others. To outsiders, though, that observe HIMMs, the particular rituals, practices, and dogma appear as forms like any other religion, for only the external can be observed.

E. Rituals most valued by HIMMs center on practices of meditation and initiation into its methods. Traditional Indian Hinduism, like traditional Asian Buddhism [See my post From Monastic to Domestic Mindfulness], reserved the initiations and practices of meditation exclusively for monks and renunciates, not for householders as is touted by HIMMs as a way to recruit people from all walks of life.

Conclusion

Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion questions and discusses, from both insider and outsider perspectives, the problems, beliefs and practices of Hindu-inspired meditation movements (HIMMs).

In the above article I summarized and paraphrased what Williamson noted is the system of meaning of people who participate in HIMMs, including: strong commitment to meditation as way to peace and liberation or enlightenment, initiation into a guru-disciple relationship with a charismatic authority, share common beliefs such as karma (retribution), reincarnation, dietary restrictions, and a set of Hindu-inspired but Westernized rituals and myths that are similar externally to any other religion.

Some problems with HIMM’s beliefs and practices, paraphrasing Williamson in Transcendent in America, include: adherence to a dogma that meditation is universal when actually only if other religions believe like HIMMs do that god is within all human beings and that god may be found in their forms of meditation practice. Traditional, Indian Hinduism reserved meditation practice for monastics. HIMMs promote meditation as a necessary and desirable practice for people from all walks of life.

Question for readers: Have you ever considered yourself a participant in a HIMM, as outlined above? Are there other key components (not included in the lists above) that more clearly represent the system of meaning, practices, and beliefs of participants in HIMMs?

Notes

1 In defining HIMMs, Williams says, “There is a qualitative difference between people who have been raised in a tradition in which the rituals, the foods, the prayers, and the ethics are second nature, and people who have incorporated only parts of a tradition into their religious style. This is why I use the term ‘Hindu-inspired’ rather than ‘Hindu’ to describe Transcendental Meditation and similar movements….Western traditions of individualism and rationalism also influence the style and ethos of these movements.” p 4 Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements (2010, New York University Press). On p 25 of The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009, Penguin Books) Wendy Doniger says, “The books that Euro-Americans privileged (such as the Bhagavad Gita) were not always so highly regarded by ‘all Hindus’, certainly not before the Euro-Americans began to praise them.”

2 In future posts I intend to explore some of the abuses and dysfunctions of HIMMs as described by Williamson in her book.

3 Adapted from p 34 of The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009, Penguin Books) Wendy Doniger

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.

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.