Documentation and Translation of the Texts
Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects.
—Blaise Pascal, Pensées
There is something special about a published book. It somehow seems more authentic than an unpublished manuscript or a newspaper or magazine. But simply because a statement can be traced to a published book does not necessarily make the book's information reliable. Errors often slip in through oversight when facts or references are not checked in a systematic way. The onus is generally on the author; publishers typically limit their responsibility to checking spelling and dates of key events. No publisher has the time to duplicate years of research in crosschecking every fact or claim, nor is it practical.
Notwithstanding the enormous burden of delivering an error-free manuscript, no author can guarantee a perfect book. While errors are inevitable and understandable, they pose a question if their number is unusually high and, more importantly, if they are pivotal to the central theses of the book. The textual problems in Kālī's Child present just such a scenario. Some of the documentation and translation issues in the book are serious; many others may seem insignificant. But it is the collective force generated by stringing together questionable translations in a seemingly logical way that has made Kālī's Child's theses appear sustainable.
This chapter provides a textual analysis of Kālī's Child through a few representative examples of problematic passages in the book. It would have hardly mattered if the book possessed only a few minor errors in translation and documentation. Such errors are understandable in any human undertaking and, by themselves, would not have hurt Kālī's Child's theses or have made its conclusions untenable. In fact, that is exactly what Kripal claimed after errors in his book were pointed out in several of Kālī's Child's reviews. After conceding that "a few translation errors" (Kripal 2002, 192) had indeed been present and thanking the reviewers for pointing them out, he went on to say that none of those errors would warrant "altering the substance or conclusions of the book" as the "big picture" would remain unaffected (193).
Unfortunately that is not true. Kālī's Child's "big picture"—the book's central theses—would be seriously affected if all the errors were acknowledged and corrected. These errors are neither "few" nor insignificant. Many of them are extremely serious. Others, although seemingly minor, are sprinkled throughout the book, on nearly every page. The result is a steady drip of misinformation that succeeds remarkably in its goal of navigating the discussion toward the author's predetermined conclusions. The strategy can be detected only by careful readers well versed in the source texts. Addressing these problems brings to light considerable issues that need to be confronted in studies that span cultural, linguistic and religious boundaries.
How did Kālī's Child maintain a steady drip of misinformation? Primarily through inaccurate translations of the Bengali texts. But there are other factors as well which helped to maintain the flow of misinformation: speculations are presented as facts, information not supportive of the author's thesis is suppressed, contexts in which Bengali quotes appear are altered, and the author's own comments are slipped in within the purported paraphrases of documented Bengali texts. All of this raises questions related to methodology.
Languages differ radically from one another. Some insist that we can never communicate adequately in one language what has been expressed in another. Sandra Bermann has written that "language can never be viewed as a simple mental tool, or as a transparent medium of representation. . . . language remains radically impure, haunted by endless semantic contexts and ... insuperable undecidability" (Bermann, 4).1 Nevertheless, adequate or not, translations are indispensable because that is the only way through which communication across linguistic borders becomes possible. Bermann writes that if we must translate, "we must do so while attempting to respond ethically to each language's contexts, intertexts, and intrinsic alterity" (7).
Given this, it is obvious that the translator faces a number of challenges and is called to make choices between conflicting options: Should the "word" be translated or the "idea" that it is meant to convey? What is primary—being faithful to the letter or to what the translator believes to be the spirit of the text? The decisions of the translator are often dictated by the purpose for which the translation is undertaken. Another challenge is posed by the dynamic nature of language. Languages evolve and translating a text that is a century or more old involves knowing the subtle connotations of a particular word or phrase as understood by the people of that period.
Moreover, every translation—particularly between languages that originate in radically different cultures—is an act of interpretation. Should the text be viewed from the translator's perspective, which is shaped by a different time and culture, or should an attempt be made to view it from the perspective of the time and culture in which the text originated? The second option involves a double interpretation: interpreting another's perspective from the translator's perspective. This raises, in a roundabout way, the issue of potentially conflicting perspectives of insiders and outsiders, and privileging of one over the other.
It is difficult to discern in Kālī's Child any consistency in the policy used in translating from Bengali sources. Sometimes the translation is literal, sometimes it is interpretative, and sometimes it is just wrong. Sometimes a Bengali passage is translated and at other times it is conveniently paraphrased. The choice in every instance seems to be dictated by the sole concern that the source texts appear to support the author's theses. Since the portions that are not amenable to such a strategy have been suppressed in Kālī's Child, the conclusions reached in the book have the aura of being evident and unarguable.
No matter how extensively documented the subject of one's research is, some degree of speculation is unavoidable in order to fill in the blanks that almost always exist in any research work. Such speculation may even be necessary to make sense of what the texts say. If the book is not meant to be categorized as fiction, then the speculations in it need to meet certain criteria, at least two of which seem basic. First, the speculation must fit the blank it is meant to fill; in other words, it needs to be in harmony with the information already available from the source texts. Second, the speculation must be clearly acknowledged to be a speculation.
In Kālī's Child both of these requirements have been flouted. Although faulty translations abound in the book and may seem to be the central problem, those translations were done to support speculations that support fragile theses. The "translations" were designed to give legitimacy to speculations and, in many instances, even to mask them.
The speculations presented in Kālī's Child contradict the evidence in the source texts; this difficulty is overcome for the most part by ignoring and occasionally dismissing any contradictory evidence. The speculations do not support what is already known about Ramakrishna. Kripal overcomes this difficulty through contrived translations, selective quotations, and studious omissions. Moreover, the speculations in the book are only occasionally acknowledged to be speculations. In many instances, the speculative portions of Kālī's Child are inserted into the body of a supposed paraphrase or "translation," giving the impression that it has textual support. Even in those places where the speculation is initially acknowledged as such, it is thereafter treated in the rest of the book as if it were an established fact—and these "facts" are used to draw the book's central conclusions.
Misdocumentation and Context-Tampering
Identifying the sources of direct quotations and of any facts or opinions "not generally known or easily checked" is what documentation is all about, and it is required as a matter of "ethics, copyright laws, and courtesy to readers."2 Just as important is the placement of the source-reference, which should leave no ambiguity or create the wrong impression in the reader's mind about what exactly is being cited from a source. When the line separating a quotation (or paraphrase) from another book and the author's own comments becomes blurred, we have a serious problem. It is unfair to the source being cited, because it is not being cited honestly and clearly. It is also unfair to the readers because, if they are unfamiliar with the source being cited, they cannot distinguish between the quoted text and the author's gloss, or between the citation and the commentary.
In the section which follows, several examples are given of the ambiguities created by misdocumentation in Kālī's Child. Whether the misdocumentation that occurred was by design or not is not for us to answer. We can only point out instances where Kripal's own interpretations and speculations were presented as though they had textual support when, in fact, they had none. There are also many instances in Kālī's Child, only a few of which have been presented in this book, where the reference cited leads nowhere; there is nothing in the referred text to justify that reference. Of course, typos are always possible, if not inevitable, in a research work that has to handle hundreds of references. Mistakes of some variety are nearly impossible to avoid. But there is no way to distinguish in Kālī's Child between sloppy documentation and conscious presentation of dead-end references.
Words and sentences lifted out of context can deliver a different meaning, sometimes a meaning that is even opposed to what the word or sentence meant in the original context. An accurate translation and proper documentation are no guarantee that the original text is properly represented if the quotes are divorced from the specific context. The following section also presents examples that illustrate how Kālī's Child used Bengali sources out of context and sometimes fused together quotes from different contexts to create a new context to bolster its theses.
It is our hope that this analysis will highlight not merely the problems in Kālī's Child, but also the dangers that lurk in studies which cross cultural, religious, and linguistic boundaries—and the precautions which need to be taken to preserve intellectual honesty and integrity without sacrificing academic freedom.
A Brief Analysis
In order to sustain Kālī's Child's theses, it was first necessary to question the validity of existing translations; accuse the Ramakrishna Order of censorship and harboring "secrets"; diminish Ramakrishna by creating a pattern of derision and trivialization; accentuate the distinctions between Vedānta and Tantra in order to define Ramakrishna as a Tāntrik and claim that his followers had recreated his image as a Vedāntin; manufacture an issue of Ramakrishna's "confused sexuality," and focus on Ramakrishna's love for "boys" in order to strengthen the allegedly homoerotic dimension of his life.
The following brief analysis presents a glimpse of how the steady drip of misinformation was manipulated in order to fulfill the objectives necessary to sustain the book's theses.
The "Secret" and Its Censorship
Kripal claims to be a "digger" (KC, 303), the uncoverer of "a secret that is kept hidden from the public's eye" (311). To substantiate this assertion, Kripal claims that the original diaries of M, the source of his Kathāmṛta, have been hidden in order to protect scandalous "secrets." He further claims that Nikhilananda's English translation of the Kathāmṛta is "bowdlerized."
We believe that it is both inaccurate and unfair to characterize Nikhilananda's 1942 Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as "bowdlerized," as can be seen by examining the portions which Nikhilananda either excised or did not fully translate. These selections are available online at: http://www.interpretingramakrishna.com. Readers can decide for themselves whether what was omitted constitutes "bowdlerization" and what kind of "secrets" were kept hidden. We have also seen that the Ramakrishna Order does not possess the diaries, and M's descendants, who possess those diaries, have affirmed that scholars have access to them.
Given the above, it seems incredible that Kripal could refer to the "reluctance" of the Ramakrishna Order to help Western researchers (KC, 311) when it was, in fact, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Prabhananda, who shared with Kripal the photocopies of the pages of M's diary. Kripal was also welcomed by another monk of the Order, Swami Lokeswarananda, who extended his hospitality to Kripal and allowed him not only to stay in a Kolkata branch of the Order but even to use its extensive library. "Reluctance" of the Ramakrishna Order, indeed!
What are these "secrets" that the Ramakrishna Order is accused of hiding? According to Kālī's Child, the "secrets" are both textual and psychological. The textual secrets are the passages that were specifically introduced with the phrase "secret talk" (guhya Kathā) either by M or by Ramakrishna himself. It was apparently to hide these secrets that M ordered "his [Kathāmṛta] volumes in a cyclical pattern"—so that he could "tuck the more explicit 'secret talk' passages away in the later volumes" (KC, 310). The logic behind this reasoning is unfathomable, considering that the "later volumes" are as easily available as the earlier volumes. Furthermore, as we have already seen, there is no basis for Kālī's Child's purported cyclical pattern theory of the Kathāmṛta. Another dimension of the textual secrets is the "bowdlerization" of texts: according to Kripal, Nikhilananda mistranslated or simply omitted those passages "that he found personally troubling or that he considered unfit for a Western audience" (310).
As we have already discussed, Kālī's Child asserts that Ramakrishna's "secret" can be unearthed by analyzing the guhya Kathā—the so-called "secret talk" of Ramakrishna, which consists of "eighteen passages dealing with visions and confessions Ramakrishna thought too troubling or important to reveal to any but his most intimate disciples" (KC, 3-4). The passages which form the "secret talk" are identified by Kripal with the help of one sole determinant: the use of the Bengali phrase guhya Kathā in the Kathāmṛta. This is both a mechanical and inadequate device since many of the topics included in the guhya Kathā are also repeated on other occasions without the "secret talk" tag.
One impenetrable obstacle to Kālī's Child's interpretive process is Kripal's reductive understanding of the term guhya, which Kripal generally takes to mean either a secret of a sexual nature or a reference to the anus (while guhya can mean anus, it is not the most generally understood meaning or use of the word). It is important to keep in mind that the word guhya occurs with great frequency in nearly all Hindu religious texts, including the Bhagavad Gītā, the Upaniṣads and a great many others. For example, in the first verse of the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā, Arjuna says to Kṛṣṇa: "Your instructions on the highest mystery (para-maṁ guhyam), given to me out of your infinite grace, have dispelled my delusion." In the Kaṭha Upaniṣad 1.3.17, we read about knowledge that is both great (paramam) and secret (guhyam). The Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (6.22) employs the same adjectives—great (paramam) and secret (guhyam)—while referring to the knowledge of the supreme.3
The deeper meaning of a scriptural passage is known as guhyārtha. The word guhya means mysterious, hidden, mystical, but is most frequently used in the sense of "esoteric." That is, "something likely to be understood by only those with a special knowledge or interest." Or taken another way, that which is guhya is the knowledge which only the spiritually adept (adhikārī) can apprehend. In other words, unless one is religiously trained and prepared, guhya is something quite likely to be misunderstood by the untrained. It is "secret" because of the sacredness and the sanctity attached to it and the very real danger of it being misunderstood. One could well argue that Kālī's Child is a case in point.
In returning to Ramakrishna's "secret talks," Kripal asserts, in his response to criticism regarding Kālī's Child, that those passages "symbolically witness to the homoerotic dimensions of Ramakrishna's mystical life and teachings." Kripal goes on to declare that this is "definitely still 'secret' within the tradition." That is, while "the texts themselves are not secret, but their interpreted meanings certainly are" (Kripal 2002, 196). Implied in this charge is the idea that the "secret" of Ramakrishna cannot be understood—or accepted even after understanding—by those within the tradition. Kripal cites several reasons why his critics would find his homoerotic thesis unacceptable: one, the long-held religious worldview of "the normal believers"; two, cultural differences "about what can and cannot be said in public"; and three, homophobia and the consequent "projection" upon the author's intentions (194-97). Yet Kripal fails to recognize, or refuses to acknowledge, the possibility that those who critique his work may have reasons other than merely competing worldviews, cultural differences, or their own personal neuroses, what to speak of the possibility (using Kripal's own reasoning) of his own "projection" upon the intentions of his critics.
There is irony in Kripal's accusation that the Ramakrishna Order is hiding "secrets." For even while he was enjoying the hospitality of the Order and using its library in Kolkata, he was at the same time accusing the Order in his writings of hiding Ramakrishna's "secret." Yet it was in fact Kripal who was hiding a "secret": he admits to consciously not divulging to his hosts the nature of his research. Of course, he did not have to and no one in the Ramakrishna Order expected him to divulge the particular nature of his research. Scholars staying at the Order's guesthouses have complete freedom to pursue their research in their own way. Kripal's reason for keeping his research secret was, according to him, a virtual necessity:
My work on the historical textual tradition proceeds only through a hermeneutical recovering of that which has been suppressed, censored, and denied by the tradition. There is thus no way in which work like mine could not be controversial; to the extent that it reveals esoteric truths that have been concealed by the tradition, it must be contested and ultimately rejected by that same tradition. (Kripal 1998b, 630)
In other words, even if his work is contested, that only goes to prove that it is accurate. Like Ramakrishna, the Ramakrishna Order can't win for losing.
The "Troubling" Atmospherics
Nearly as important as the specific instances of the book's mistranslations, misdocumentation and unjustified innuendo is the general tenor of the book itself. From the book's beginning to its conclusion, the careful reader will notice how Kālī's Child manipulates language in order to create a sex-soaked atmosphere for the sake of lending subliminal credence to the book's theses. Even in describing the temple compound in Dakshineswar, we can see a carefully calibrated word choice: Kālī is described as "seductive in her black immanence" while adding that in other images of Śiva (i.e., those that are not in Dakshineswar), "Śiva's penis stands erect, aroused out of its quiescence by the goddess's erotic presence" (15).
In the Dakshineswar temple—where Ramakrishna lived and worshiped nearly his entire life—Kālī stands on a non-ithyphallic Śiva. Kripal does not tell us this directly. Instead, he notes that in other images, Śiva is ithyphallic. Since this was not the case in the Dakshineswar temple, and since, as the author informs us, the Dakshineswar temple "defined the contours of Ramakrishna's religiosity," one wonders why Kālī's Child contains so many references to ithyphallic Śivas. In the book's Introduction, for example, we are told of "Śiva's erect penis, aroused by the goddess's frenzied dance on his breast" (22). In the book's first chapter, Kripal writes that at the touch of Kālī's feet, "Śiva's pale penis stands erect." The "ithyphallic corpse [is] ... aroused by the goddess" and Śiva is now, predictably, "Śiva, the erotic ascetic" (50).
If one were to read only Kālī's Child, one would never know that Śiva is not always ithyphallic. Indeed, Kālī's Child's Śiva is so priapic that if anyone were to read the Kathāmṛta or any other source text on Ramakrishna in the hopes of finding an erotic Śiva, she or he would be sorely disappointed.4 Yet throughout Kālī's Child the reader will encounter every variety of ithyphallic male, mortal and immortal. Ramakrishna is "no ordinary mortal," Kripal writes. "His mystical, essentially divine nature is as obvious as Śiva's erect liṅgam." Should that be not obvious enough, Kripal continues: "For Ramakrishna ... his was a homoerotic community, united through an erect passion" (231). So central is the image of the ithyphallic male to Kālī's Child that even the last paragraph of the book will carry a reference to "ithyphallic boys," without any discernible reason for its being there (336).
Apart from Śiva, Kālī is described in Kālī's Child as having a "sexy waist," with a citation given purportedly quoting the poems of Ramprasad (50). Yet if one checks Ramprasad's poem, one finds Kālī described as having a "slender waist, covered by a girdle of human hands with tinkling bells" (kṣīna kaṭipar, nṛkar nikar, ābṛta kato kiṅkini), rather than Kālī's Child's "tinkling ornaments dangling around her sexy waist." The "round sexy thighs" are similarly not to be found in Ramprasad's poetry either.5 Kālī's Child also notes that Kālī's skirt is "strategically, almost seductively, placed over the goddess's buttocks and sexual organs, creating a 'bikini' of human hands that reveal as much as they conceal and conceal only to seduce" (51). This version of Kālī speaks more to contemporary sexual preoccupations than it does to those characters we find on the pages of the Kathāmṛta and other source texts. On the same page where we find Kālī's "round sexy thighs," we are told of the "voluptuous milkmaids of Vrindavana" (51) whereas the referenced text merely refers to them as "the women of Vrindavana." There was no reason for such gratuitous sexualization of these descriptions—none of them are central to Kālī's Child's theses—except to heighten the sexual atmosphere surrounding Ramakrishna and his environment.
If there is one operative word that is used throughout Kālī's Child, and one used to great effect, it is "troubling." This is second only to its alternate form, "troubled." The reader is endlessly clubbed with these modifiers, yet nowhere in the source documents can we find any material which would justify the usage. A number of Kālī's Child's academic reviewers have referred to Ramakrishna as "troubled" as well, yet nowhere in the source documents do we find anything to support this assessment. Indeed, every source document—and there are hundreds of them—states precisely the opposite. Sarada said on a number of occasions that Ramakrishna was a joyful person. She states: "I never saw Thakur unhappy (nirānanda). He was joyous in the company of everyone, whether he was a five-year-old boy or an old man. I never saw him unhappy" (MK, 192). Vivekananda told Sara Bull that "he had expected the 'holy' to be so different" before he knew Ramakrishna. Since Ramakrishna was known as a holy man, Vivekananda assumed that he would be serious and sober. To his surprise, Vivekananda told Sara Bull that Ramakrishna "was full of gaiety and merriment." Ramakrishna, Vivekananda explained, "had become identified with holiness" (Prabuddhaprana 2002, 346-47). Ramakrishna was joyful because he lived in joy. Every single one of Ramakrishna's disciples, to a person, both male and female, describes being with Ramakrishna as a joyful experience.
Further, the firsthand documents not written by Ramakrishna's disciples—by members of the Brahmo Samaj, for example—describe Ramakrishna as "wreathed in smiles." Pratap Mazumdar, whom we have already encountered, describes Ramakrishna as possessing a "childlike tenderness ... an unspeakable sweetness of expression and smile that I have seen in no other face that I can remember" (Mookerjee, 3-4). Nationalist leader Aswini Kumar Dutta wrote that his "whole life has been sweetened by what I got from [Ramakrishna] . . . . The memory of that elysian smile is still with me, shedding unending bliss" (Mookerjee, 32). Ramchandra Datta, author of the Jībanabṛttānta, recalled: "Although the Master was in terrible pain [because of throat cancer] he was always joyful. We never saw him sad or worried" (Chetanananda 1990, 277). A Brahmo writing in The Indian Mirror describes Ramakrishna's nature as being "marked by ... humor and humility" and further described him as "profound, respectable, sincere and affectionate" (Mookerjee, 124-25). There are no firsthand sources which suggest anything "troubled" or "troubling" about Ramakrishna. Yet these records which attest to his sunny disposition are either disregarded or denigrated.
While there were those—particularly earlier in Ramakrishna's life—who believed Ramakrishna to be mad, there was never any question of Ramakrishna behaving in a "troubling" way toward other people. Moreover, by the time Ramakrishna's disciples arrived, he was by and large accepted as the famed and respected "paramahaṁsa of Dakshineswar"—which is why his room was crowded with people much of the time. There is no evidence of anyone being "troubled" by Ramakrishna's own behavior or by his behavior toward his young male disciples. Nor should we see this lack of evidence as indicative of nineteenth-century Indian psychological cluelessness or cultural naiveté: there was no lack of people who would have merrily pounced upon any perceived character flaw on Ramakrishna's part, particularly given the intense nature of religious rivalry in Kolkata during those years.
Nevertheless, despite a wealth of evidence which argues entirely to the contrary, Kālī's Child endlessly repeats that Ramakrishna's behavior was "troubling," people were "troubled" by Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna himself was a "troubled mystic." Thus without any evidence provided, the characterization of Ramakrishna as "troubled" with "troubling" behavior patterns is repeated over and over until the steady drip of misinformation creates a cumulative effect of disquiet.6
In keeping with this manufactured unease, Kālī's Child repeatedly invokes the specter of "scandal." We read, for example, that Ramakrishna's "sexual behavior mounted to a scandal," a charge which is completely unjustified. To this we are presented another "when did you stop beating your wife" scenario when Kripal adds: "But even given the scandal of Ramakrishna's homosexual behavior..." (79). What scandal? What homosexual behavior? As with the "troubled" tag, "scandal" is similarly drummed into the reader throughout the pages of Kālī's Child, without any basis in fact, without any textual support. It is simply reiterated again and again, and, by dint of repetition, begins to present itself as fact.7 "Scandal" is occasionally upgraded to more serious charges: "The families [of Ramakrishna's male disciples] object to an unspecified crime" (80). What unspecified crime? There is no crime, no charges, just unsubstantiated accusations in Kālī's Child.
Kripal similarly writes that parents were "shocked by [Ramakrishna's] eroticized language" (79), which again is untrue and without justification. There was one person—and he was not a "parent" whose son visited Ramakrishna—the anglicized Brahmo Pratap Mazumdar, who criticized Ramakrishna's occasional use of "abominably filthy language," but this was by no means "eroticized language." It means the language that any unschooled nineteenth-century Bengali villager would use. Sumit Sarkar and Partha Chatterjee characterize this language as "rustic" and "colloquial," in contrast to the chaste formality of the language of the Westernized middle-class elite. There is no record of anyone objecting to Ramakrishna's "eroticized language," because his language was not "eroticized." Earthy, yes; eroticized, no.
Again, Kālī's Child declares that many people criticized Ramakrishna for his "mistreatment of women" (244). Who constitutes this "many people"? There is only one known instance of criticism regarding Ramakrishna's "mistreatment of women," and this again is from our friend Pratap Mazumdar, who criticized Ramakrishna for "the almost barbarous treatment of his wife"—that is, Mazumdar criticized Ramakrishna for not having sexual relations with Sarada. Does Mazumdar constitute "many people"? And does Mazumdar's criticism of Ramakrishna's and Sarada's lack of sexual relations translate into a generalized Ramakrishna's "mistreatment of women"?
It is important to note that what we see here is the universalizing of one element—for example, a solitary example of Mazumdar—and creating from it a general statement about Ramakrishna's behavior and the reaction it received. This pattern is a common thread which can be found throughout the course of Kālī's Child. We have already seen how Dr. Sarkar's sole negative reaction to Ramakrishna's foot was multiplied into "visitor," "visiting male," and "troubled observer," and this one negative reaction was universalized into "the controversial actions of Ramakrishna's foot."
This pattern of both repeating unfounded accusations as well as universalizing (and misinterpreting) sole incidents into nonexistent behavior patterns is one of the most serious problems found in Kālī's Child. Thus we read of Ramakrishna's "originally suspect sexual desires" (85). What "suspect" sexual desires? Suspected by whom, apart from the author of Kālī's Child? Time and again the reader is presented with what is initially offered as the author's hunch, only to have the hunch quickly transformed into a purported biographical "fact" of Ramakrishna's life. The only problem is that these "facts" do not exist except as the author's own suspicions, with no authentic evidence provided to back up his allegations. When the citations provided as evidence are checked, they are shown to be mistranslated, misdocumented, distorted, or even nonexistent. While Kripal prides himself on being "a digger," when one digs into the allegations and the citations which supposedly provide support for his theses, they evaporate into the mist of smoke and mirrors. In a page taken from Goebbels, we see how the endless repetition of disinformation sets up its own alternate reality system: an untruth repeated enough times becomes not only believable, but appears to be truth itself.
The Trivialization of Ramakrishna
In order to present an alternative view of Ramakrishna which seems plausible, it is necessary to show that earlier views are either in need of revision or are dispensable. Estimates of Ramakrishna cover a wide spectrum: from an avatar to a saint to a good man to a madman. Kālī's Child adds a new view to this mix and broadens the spectrum, projecting Ramakrishna to be a homoerotically driven, troubled man. As a first step toward making this view appear credible, the author takes considerable pains to trivialize the events and spiritual experiences in Ramakrishna's life. A few examples:
KC, 55: "On another day while I was talking to Dhani in front of the Śiva temple of the Yogis, I saw a divine light come out of the great limb of Śiva. . . . " (LP 1.4.8)
... Then Śiva, known for his erotic exploits, impregnates the aging woman as she walks by his "great limb," most likely a reference to the Śiva-liṅgam enshrined in the temple.
A look at the referenced text reveals something very different:
LP 1.4.8: Ār ek din Jugīder Śiva-mandirer sammukhe dām̐ḍāiyā Dhanir sohit kothā kohitechi, emon somay dekhite pāilām, Mahādeber Śrī-aṅga hoite dibya-jyoti nirgata hoiyā mandir pūrna koriyāche...
Translation: "On another day while I was talking to Dhani in front of the Śiva temple of the Yugīs, I saw a divine light emanating from the holy image of Mahādeva and filling the temple..."
This passage describes, in the words of Ramakrishna's mother, a vision she had before Ramakrishna's birth. Kālī's Child's translation of Śrī-aṅga as "the great limb" is neither literal nor contextual. The word Śrī means "holy" or "auspicious," not "great." While the literal translation of aṅga can be either "limb" or "part," in combination with Śrī, the accurate translation is "holy form" or "holy image." By characterizing Śiva as someone "known for his erotic exploits," it is easy to see why Śrī-aṅga was mistranslated as "the great limb." Kripal's ignorance of the language and Bengali culture are apparent from his translation: "of the Yogis" (Jugīder). Yugī (pronounced in Bengali as "Jugī") is, in fact, the name of a caste of weavers.
Another example of the author's ignorance can be found in this endnote, following the name of Ramakrishna's father, Kshudiram Chatterjee: "Chatterjee becomes 'Bhattacarrya' [sic] in some contexts" (KC, 342). The answer should have been obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of Bengali language and culture: while "Chatterjee" is the last name, "Bhattacharya" simply means a "priest" when applied to Ramakrishna. It is not the name "Chatterjee" that becomes "Bhattacharya." Many such examples can easily be cited from Kālī's Child.
The author's disdain for Ramakrishna's parents' religious experiences is again revealed when he conflates Ramakrishna's father Kshudiram's "auspicious dreams and visions" with his sister's possession by a ghost and his aunt's purported "cataleptic fits," pointedly noting how most of his family seemed open to "such experiences" (KC, 54). Kripal refers to Ramakrishna's mother Chandramani's religious dreams as "nocturnal encounters" and "erotic encounters," and the luminous deity (jyotirmay devatā) she saw in her dream as a "nocturnal visitor." The vision Chandramani had in front of the Śiva temple, when she saw a flood of divine light (dibya jyoti) entering into her, was in fact, a "diurnal rape" by, who else, "Śiva, known for his erotic exploits" (55). In order to set the stage to describe a sexually abused, troubled and confused Ramakrishna, the author subverts the notion that there was anything even potentially "religious" in the experiences of Ramakrishna's parents that preceded his birth. Not surprisingly, Kripal questions whether some of these experiences even occurred or whether they were "simply the products of Saradananda's pen and stylized rhetoric" (63).
Trivializing the experiences of Ramakrishna's parents is merely a precursor to trivializing Ramakrishna's own experiences. Ramakrishna reports in the Kathāmṛta that he "entered into samādhi" (samādhistha hoye gelām) (KA 4.74); Kripal paraphrases the passage, telling his readers that "Ramakrishna falls over unconscious" (KC, 66). Kripal subjects the crowning spiritual experience that Ramakrishna is reported to have had in the Kālī temple to a seemingly thorough analysis in the book in order to arrive at the conclusion that, far from being a religious experience, it was, in fact, "some sort of erotic crisis" (73). Ramakrishna's longing for God was nothing more than "anxious desire and pain" produced by "the dark forces of sexual desire" (73).
How does the author arrive at this interpretation? The modus operandi is a familiar one. First, he mistranslates the Bengali vyakulatā, deep longing, as "anxious desire," and then discards Saradananda's account, which goes counter to the author's thesis. Kālī's Child then isolates four accounts in the Kathāmṛta in which there is either a mention of a knife or putting an end to one's life. Kripal speculates that those accounts "seem to be" based on actual events (KC, 70) and "might in fact" be referring to the same event (71). The author feels that it is "perfectly possible, indeed likely" that Ramakrishna was working from a fallible memory and did not remember the exact order of his sādhanas (71). That, according to him, has resulted in the "chronological confusion" in the different accounts. The trouble with this reasoning is that the Kathāmṛta, from where these accounts are extracted, does not make any attempt to offer a chronological account of the events in Ramakrishna's life. Thus the "chronological confusion" is more contrived than real.
As for the ordering of Ramakrishna's sādhanas, Kālī's Child states that Saradananda contradicts himself since, in the fourth volume of the Līlāprasaṅga, he "states in passing, perhaps not noticing it himself, that Ramakrishna's Vaiṣṇava practices preceded his Tantric practices, which in turn preceded his Vedantic practices (LP 4.2.24)" (KC, 98). Yet even a casual look at the text by anyone who understands Bengali will make it clear that there is no contradiction. The paraphrase that Kripal provides and attributes to LP 4.2.24 either shows ignorance of the Bengali language or reveals yet another example of faulty documentation.8 At LP 4.2.24, Saradananda points out an interesting coincidence: whenever Ramakrishna engaged himself in a specific meditation and practice (upāsanā o sādhanā), followers and devotees of that specific tradition (sampradāy) would arrive in Dakshineswar, and he was able to spend time with them in discussions (ālocanā). There is no attempt at all in this section to provide any chronological order. The chronological order that Saradananda does offer in the Līlāprasaṅga (LP 2.1-384) is rejected in Kālī's Child for no convincing reason, leaving the discerning reader to wonder whether it was done out of necessity to clear the way for an account that conflicts with the source texts.
A similarly flawed strategy is adopted in Kālī's Child to present what Kripal calls the "Kathāmṛta version" of the chronology (KC, 91-94). What is his source for this version? Incredibly, merely two quotes of Ramakrishna (KA 4.175 and 2.132-33), in which there is no attempt to describe the order in which the sādhanas were practiced. Ramakrishna's words are misconstrued in Kālī's Child to neatly categorize "mystical practices" into three kinds, which are centered around three textual sources (the Purāṇas, the Tantras, and the Vedas) and associated with three places (the Panchavati, the bel tree, and the portico). The problems inherent in this formulaic exercise become evident when Vedānta—which is consistently disparaged in Kālī's Child—is reduced to Ramakrishna's sitting in the portico and eating rice. Instead of a serious spiritual endeavor, Kripal writes, Ramakrishna's Vedānta practice was "more of a game" and the "only significant thing" about his practice of Vedānta "is the fact that it is not significant" (93). It is "not significant" only if one chooses to ignore and suppress—as Kālī's Child does—the enormous information available in the source texts about Ramakrishna's Vedānta practice and teachings.9
Kripal discards Saradananda's Līlāprasaṅga account by privileging the Kathāmṛta, when it suits him, as a "legitimate and relatively accurate source" (KC, 14). But after using the Kathāmṛta to discount Līlāprasaṅga, he then discounts the authenticity of both books, which, he writes, "ultimately depend on Ramakrishna's memories, which he related to his followers in a most haphazard fashion at a distance of twenty to thirty years" (71). Moreover, Ramakrishna's memories were "usually ambiguous, sometimes contradictory, and often vague" (71). Finally Kripal ends up privileging his own speculations over the material found in the source texts. We are, in effect, asked to believe that Kālī's Child got the ordering of Ramakrishna's sādhanas right; while neither the source books nor Ramakrishna himself knew the correct order.10
Let us now take a brief look at the four passages that, Kālī's Child claims, refer to the same event.
KC, 71: The first passage is simple and short. It occurs in volume 4. Ramakrishna has just told the story of a son forcing his demands on his father by threatening to cut his throat with a knife. He then, almost casually, adds: "I used to do this when I called on Ma" (KA 4.65).
Now let us look at the referenced Bengali text:
KA 4.65: [After the story of the son demanding his share of the property, Ramakrishna continues] Byākul hole tini śunben hi śunben. Tini je kāle janma diyechen, śe kāle tām̐r ghare āmāder hissā āche. Tini āpnār bāp, āpnār mā—tām̐r upor jor khāṭe. "Dao poricay. Noy golāy chūm̐ri dibo."
Kirūpe māke ḍākite hoy, ṭhākur śikhāitechen—"Āmi mā bole eirūpe ḍāktām—'Mā ānandamoyī!—dekhā dite je hobe!' Ābār kakhono boltām,—Ohe dīnanāth—jagannāth—āmi to jagat chāḍā noi nāth! Āmi gyānhīn—sādhanhīn,—bhaktihīn—āmi kichui jāni nā—doyā kore dekhā dite hobe."
Translation: "God will certainly listen if you feel restless for him. Since he has given us birth, we have a share in the inheritance from him. He is our own father, our own mother. We can force our demand on him. We can say, 'Reveal yourself to me or I shall cut my throat with a knife.'"
Thakur is teaching the devotees how to call on the Mother: "I used to pray to her in this way: 'O Mother! O Blissful One! Reveal yourself to me. You must!' Again, sometimes I would say: 'O Lord of the lowly! O Lord of the universe! I am not removed from the world, O Lord. I am without knowledge, without spiritual practice, without devotion. I know nothing. Be compassionate and reveal yourself.'"
Kālī's Child's translation, "I used to do this when I called on Ma," is radically different from what the Bengali says: "I used to pray to her in this way." This is the first part of a sentence in another paragraph— words that, Kripal would have us believe, were added "almost casually." These words preface how Ramakrishna prayed to the Mother; they clearly do not refer to his threat to the Mother to cut his own throat. After juxtaposing sentences from two different paragraphs, with a misleading gloss ("almost casually"), Kripal makes the amazing claim that "it is likely" that these words refer to the First Vision, which occurred at a period when Ramakrishna was passing through "troubled states" (KC, 71). There is no textual evidence to support either of these claims. The context is clearly different.
In the second passage which Kālī's Child presents as referring to the same event, Ramakrishna is talking about how his longing for God— his "divine madness"—increased to such an extent that, unable to bear the separation, he was going to cut his throat with a knife when it was revealed to him that he was only a machine and Kālī was the operator (KA 5.23). To this, Kālī's Child provides the following gloss:
KC, 72: But here Ramakrishna adds that this crisis led to the realization that he was controlled by external forces, that he was not in control, an ambiguous sign warning of madness but also promising divine possession.
What does the Bengali text say?
KA 5.23: "Tāi boli Mā āmi jontra, tumi jontrī; āmi roth, tumi rothī; jemon cālāo temoni coli—jemon korāo temoni kori."
Translation: "That is why I say, Mother, I am a machine and you are the operator. I am a chariot and you are the charioteer. I act as you make me act—I do as you make me do."
Ramakrishna's words testifying that the Divine Mother controls every aspect of a person's life is an ancient formulation in the Hindu tradition that sees the Divine as the "inner controller" (antaryāmī) and are taken from one of Ramakrishna's favorite Ramprasad songs. But those words are made to sound ominous when Kālī's Child claims that "Ramakrishna adds ... that he was not in control"—a statement which is not in the text—and interprets awareness of the divine presence as "the promise of divine possession"—also a statement not in the text. The negative connotation implied in this allows the book to claim that Ramakrishna realized that "he was being controlled by external forces." There is also no indication in the source text that this passage refers to the First Vision, as Kālī's Child claims. But, more importantly, a spiritual experience of Ramakrishna has been trivialized and reduced to "an ambiguous sign warning of madness" (KC, 72).
KC, 72: In our third passage, this time in volume 3, Ramakrishna clearly associates the act with a specifically Tantric approach to Kālī: "There is such a thing as dark (tāmasika) mystical practice—practice which relies on the dark aspects of human nature. 'Victory to Kālī! What? You'll not show yourself to me! If you don't show yourself, I'll cut my throat with a knife.' In this type of mystical practice, as in Tantric practice, there's no concern for purity" (KA 3.138).
This is what we find in the Kathāmṛta:
KA 3.138: Tāmasik sādhan—tamoguṅ āśray kore sādhan. Joy Kālī! Ki, tui dekhā dibini! Ei galāy churi debo jodi dekha nā dis. E sādhanāy śuddhācār nāi—jemon tantrer sādhan.
Translation: The tāmasika spiritual practice is the practice done with the help of tamas. [The attitude of a tāmasika devotee is:] "Hail Kālī! Won't you reveal yourself to me? If you don't reveal yourself, I'll cut my throat with a knife." In this practice, there is no observance of conventional purity, as in the practice of Tantra.
Kālī's Child's translation of tāmasika as "dark" is certainly one of the literal meanings of the word tamas. It is, however, by no means an accurate translation when the word tamas is used in a specialized sense, such as in this case, where it clearly refers to one of the three attributes of prakṛti.
But what is more significant here is that nowhere in this passage does Ramakrishna say that this is what he did before he had the First Vision. Thus, in short order we are served yet another speculation: "The passage is most likely autobiographical" (KC, 72). Yet there are no reasons given to support this speculation. Typical of the methodology used in the book, the author then begins to draw conclusions based on this speculation. With weak-link logic intact, he builds upon his thesis by showing how in some secondary texts the "dark aspects of human nature" are connected with Tantric practices. The suggestion is far from subtle: Ramakrishna's experience was an erotic crisis and, in a similar sounding phrase, caused by the "dark forces of sexual desire" (73). Never mind that the text itself does not refer to any incident or experience of Ramakrishna's life, but merely the attitude of a tāmasika devotee.
The fourth passage to which Kālī's Child draws our attention addresses Ramakrishna's reminiscence about the upsurge of lust (kāma) in his heart and how he cried to the Divine Mother for it to be removed (KC, 72; KA 3.131). This was so anguishing to Ramakrishna that, were it to continue, he said he would cut his throat with a knife. Again, other than the mention of a knife and threatened self-destruction, there is nothing here to suggest that this incident is identical with the First Vision experience that Ramakrishna had. But this does not prevent the author from advancing the theory that this passage "may" hint at a "secret dimension to Ramakrishna's anxious longing" (KC, 72-73).
As we can see, not one of those passages discussed above refers to the experience that Ramakrishna had in the Kālī Temple. Nevertheless, Kālī's Child repeatedly ties these passages together and claims that they refer to the same event, with a subtle disclaimer that "perhaps they all refer to separate events." Despite the disclaimer, the book insists that the passages are "psychologically speaking, indistinct, virtually identical" (KC, 73). Thus the reader is to understand that Ramakrishna's First Vision was not a religious experience but a suicide threat triggered by psychosexual angst.
In keeping with the objective of trivializing Ramakrishna, a lighthearted incident described in the Kathāmṛta is reinterpreted to show that Ramakrishna was "a show to laugh at" even for his own disciples:
KC, 70: Indeed, Ramakrishna's habit of threatening to cut his throat with a knife was so common and so well-known that, after he was dead, at least one disciple made fun of him by imitating his vyākulatā and faking his dramatic gestures. . . . Ramakrishna apparently was a melodramatic figure, a show to laugh at.
There are only two instances in the Kathāmṛta when Ramakrishna uses the expression "I will cut my throat with a knife" with regard to himself. Therefore this can hardly be called Ramakrishna's "habit." The expression is a common form of threat used in Bengali to express one's intense opposition to or desire for something, and it is rarely taken literally. Despite this, Kālī's Child suggests that the colloquialism is "a rather immature way of forcing one's demands" (KC, 70). There are two speculations at work in this incident: first, Ramakrishna's disciples— "at least one disciple," at any rate—made fun of him and, second, Ramakrishna was "a show to laugh at." Both of these contradict the source (KA 2.248) from which Kripal quotes.
The replaying of the knife incident is a lighthearted occasion; it is unambiguously clear from the text that the disciples are not "making fun" of Ramakrishna. Regarding the second speculation, Kripal censors what happened soon after the knife incident by neglecting to inform the reader that after purportedly "making fun" of Ramakrishna, his disciples joined in worshiping him: ringing bells and waving lights (ārati), standing reverently with folded hands before the picture of one who was "a show to laugh at." Elsewhere in the book, Kripal refers to Ramakrishna as "a fink" (KC, 107) and further intuits that Ramakrishna, after going to Benares, was not recognized as the "the paramahaṁsa he thought he was" (166). While it is entirely within an author's purview to disparage the subject of her or his book, one nevertheless should not be surprised that devotees of Ramakrishna were offended by what appeared to be the book's gratuitous slights.
Other questionable techniques which Kālī's Child employs are the promotion of invalid material from a secondary text and dismissal of valid material from a source text. As an example of the former, Kripal uses Bipinchandra Pal as a source on Ramakrishna, yet Bipinchandra never met Ramakrishna. It is from Bipinchandra's book Saint Bijayakrishna Goswami (Bipinchandra Pal Institute, 1964) that Kripal unearths a bizarre report about Ramakrishna, which serves to confirm Kālī's Child's thesis about the mystical and sexual in Ramakrishna (KC, 51). Kālī's Child thus discusses "Ramakrishna's reported technique for conquering the powers of lust: he would stand before a naked prostitute with a noose hung around his neck and tighten the rope when he became sexually excited, a curious practice indeed if the head is not recognized as a symbolic phallus" (51). Yet in the endnote detailing the information about this incident, Kripal admits: "I doubt seriously that Ramakrishna ever practiced this technique" (341). Inexplicably, twenty pages later in the body of the text (77), the incident is referred to again to strengthen the mystical/sexual hypothesis, despite his own admission that the information was probably dubious. Thus, while Kripal admits using an unreliable source, he only admits it buried in an endnote, while allowing the reader to assume its veracity by using it twice in the body of the text.
Kālī's Child's dismissal of valid material from the source texts occurs when it interferes with portraying Ramakrishna as a troubled man, one who is conflicted and unaware of his deeper motivations. For example, the source texts mention that at the age of ten, Ramakrishna experienced his first samādhi. As he walked through an open field while eating puffed rice, he saw a line of white egrets flying against the sky, which had been darkened by storm clouds. His mind soared beyond normal consciousness at the beautiful sight, and he entered into samādhi. Yet this experience, discussed in all the source texts, is deemed inauthentic by Kālī's Child. This vision, Kripal writes, "may be apocryphal" (57-58). Why? Because the account given in the Kathāmṛta (5.25) does not mention "the egrets and the storm clouds."
KC, 57-58: Another passage referring to an ecstatic state at the age of ten, again minus the egrets and storm clouds of the more classical account, suggests that the egret and storm cloud vision may be apocryphal.
The "another passage" in the quote above occurs at KA 5.25, in which Ramakrishna refers to the state of samādhi after "I saw something." On this occasion he does not describe what he saw. But on other occasions he did describe what he saw and this has been extensively documented in the Līlāprasaṅga (2.43-44) and the Pum̐thi (Akshaykumar Sen 2000, 9). Kripal ignores or dismisses the evidence in these books. While he does not indicate that Ramakrishna saw something other than "the egrets and the storm clouds," he nevertheless precludes the possibility for no explicable reason while speculating that the vision is "apocryphal." It seems fairly obvious that the reason for dismissing the vision is simply to deny and trivialize Ramakrishna's mystical experiences. One can hardly make a case for Ramakrishna going into samādhi because of his suppressed sexual desire for egrets. The examples given here are only a small sampling to show how the source texts are carelessly dismissed in Kālī's Child while the author's own speculations are promoted as "recovering the text."
Vedānta versus Tantra
A basic thesis of Kālī's Child is that Ramakrishna was a Tāntrik and, because of Tantra's "troubling" aspects, his disciples—notably Vivekananda and Saradananda—staged a makeover and made Ramakrishna a teacher of "boring Vedānta." Vedānta is not merely "boring." According to Kālī's Child, Ramakrishna has "disgust for Vedānta" (183), an amazing thesis for anyone who has seriously read the Kathāmṛta. M himself writes that Ramakrishna was a worshiper not only of God with form (sākārbādi) but also of the Impersonal (nirākār-bādi) (KA 1.37), a fact which flies in the face of one of Kālī's Child's signal theses: the "ontological dominance of Tantra over Vedānta in Ramakrishna's world" (33). Kālī's Child establishes this dominance by setting up an opposition between "boring" Vedānta—which is inexplicably referred to more than once as "the foreign path" (146, 152)—versus "Tantric truths."
The other nonexistent dichotomy which is set up in Kālī's Child is between Ramakrishna the "Tantric" Kālī worshiper and Vivekananda the Vedānta "renouncer." Ramakrishna often spoke on Vedānta, as even a cursory reading of the Kathāmṛta makes obvious. Ramakrishna's teaching that God alone is real and all else is unreal, is repeated in various forms and in various ways throughout the Kathāmṛta. Ramakrishna continually admonishes the devotees to always discriminate between the real and the unreal. If this does not qualify as "Vedānta," then what does? One small example: Ramakrishna says in the Kathāmṛta, "When one begins to reason, one sees that all this is like a dream. Brahman alone is real; everything else is unreal. Even Śakti is like a dream, unreal" (KA 1.41). Is this not Vedānta?
In an attempt to minimize the influence Vedānta had in Ramakrishna's life, Kripal writes that Ramakrishna's tutelage under Tota Puri is dealt with in only one paragraph in the Jībanabṛttānta (KC, 98). But what does that paragraph in the Jībanabṛttānta say? It says that Vedānta practice is the "highest practice in Yoga" (joger uccatama sādhan) (JB, 21) and nirvikalpa samādhi is the "ultimate state in Yoga" (joger caramāvasthā) (22).
Manomohan Mitra, one of Ramakrishna's close householder devotees, recalled that once he went to visit Ramakrishna with Keshab Sen. The devotees asked Ramakrishna to give a spiritual talk but Ramakrishna replied: "What can I tell you? However, I can tell you one thing that I say to everybody, but very few people appreciate it. I don't know whether you will like it or not." When repeatedly requested to speak, Ramakrishna said, "Brahman alone is real, and whatever you see around you is māyā." With this, Ramakrishna went into samādhi (Chetanananda 1990, 286). Again, if this is not Vedānta, then what is?
According to Ramakrishna's disciples, Ramakrishna wanted his disciples to study Vedānta texts as well. Baburam (later Swami Premananda) said that Ramakrishna "encouraged us to read the scriptures and holy books and kept some books such as Mukti o Tām̐hār Sādhan ["Liberation and Its Sādhana," a Vedānta text] in his room and sometimes asked us to read them to him" (Chetanananda 1990, 113). Ramakrishna made the same suggestion to Abhedananda and to other disciples as well. One of Ramakrishna's favorite books, and one he often quoted, was the Adhyātma Rāmāyaṇa, a nondualistic interpretation of the Rāmāyaṇa. If Ramakrishna thought so little of Vedānta, why did he keep such Vedānta books in his room—especially since so few books were kept there? We can also recall that Ramakrishna persistently requested an unenthused Narendra to read aloud the Aṣṭāvakra Saṁhitā, a classic Advaita text, which Ramakrishna kept in his room.
Despite this infusion of "boring Vedānta" and despite what one reads in Kālī's Child, Vivekananda became an ardent devotee of Kālī. One would never know this by reading Kālī's Child, however, since the book presents the proto-"renouncer" Narendra as rejecting Kālī and bhakti in favor of "Sanskrit hymns and Vedānta talk" (KC, 26):
Ramakrishna knew that Narendra did not accept Śakti (KA 4.121 [plus endnote 38 (KC, 339) which references LP 126.96.36.199]). After Ramakrishna's death, this rejection of the goddess resulted in a radical transformation of the young movement. (26)
Yet the reference that is given to support his first sentence has nothing to do with the second sentence. On August 3, 1884, Ramakrishna said that Narendra did not accept Śakti. Later Narendra did accept Śakti and this fact is amply documented in all Ramakrishna literature (See, for example, LP 5.222-26). Interestingly, in his endnote Kripal cites Līlāprasaṅga 188.8.131.52, but he does not quote the very next paragraph which describes Narendra's acceptance of Śakti. This information is suppressed since the text conflicts with one of Kālī's Child's core theses, which renders Kripal's accusation of the Ramakrishna Order's "censorship" more than a little ironic. The paragraph which Kālī's Child avoids mentioning says: "The Master's face was beaming with delight. . . . [and he said, 'Narendra] never accepted the Divine Mother before; it was only yesterday that he did so . . . Narendra has accepted the Mother; it is very good, isn't it?'" (LP 5.225-26).
Nor was this acceptance of Kālī just a fluke. Vivekananda's Irish disciple Nivedita writes that Vivekananda was always singing Ramprasad's Kālī bhajans. Nivedita reminisced:
[Vivekananda] told some of us once, that wherever he turned he was conscious of the presence of the Mother, as if She were a person in the room. It was always his habit to speak simply and naturally of "Mother." (1983, 106)
Alice Hansbrough, one of Vivekananda's American disciples, similarly recalled that Vivekananda often sang Kālī bhajans. In San Francisco, she said, Vivekananda "talked a great deal of Divine Mother." According to Hansbrough, Vivekananda told his disciples that the Divine Mother "was here as a form, but was not tied to that form. . . . She would reach for people, though they did not know it, and gradually she would draw them to her" (Hansbrough 2007b, 385). Numerous examples could be provided to flesh out both Ramakrishna's Vedānta as well as Vivekananda's devotion to Kālī.11 Neither of them saw devotion to Kālī as incompatible with Vedānta; they understood these attitudes to be complementary, not antagonistic.
Kripal makes the boundaries which demarcate Vedānta and Tantra so rigid in Kālī's Child that he creates a hard-and-fast separation between them—one that has never existed. For example, Kālī's Child presents the Ramakrishna Order as "renouncers" who eschew Ramakrishna's Tantric background. Yet the forms of meditation and daily pūjā—performed in nearly every Ramakrishna/Vedanta center throughout the world—are heavily influenced by Tantra. This fact is indisputable. Even if we look to Śaṅkara, the arch-Vedāntin himself, we find him writing: "Only when joined with Śakti is Śiva able to exercise his power; otherwise he cannot so much as move."12 Tantra itself is thoroughly suffused with Vedic mantras and practices. Thus the boundary between Vedānta and Tantra has always been more porous than is often portrayed.
According to Amiya Sen: "Whether or not Ramakrishna was a Vedantist or Tantrik, is at one level, a redundant question and follows from a somewhat unproblematized view of the saint's teachings and the religious traditions they reflected." Sen continues:
Neither Vedanta nor Tantra are homogenized, well-defined schools of thought or practice although much effort has been made in the past to give them this character. Being fairly open-ended categories, both these allow for subtle differences as well as overlaps and this is evident not only within each of these traditions but across them. . . . Given such complexities, it is rather difficult and even misleading to suggest that in the religious philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna one of these traditions was necessarily more important than the other. Ramakrishna as we know, borrowed from both and did not worry over the possible logical and semantic problems following from this act. (2001, 113-14)
This integrated vision is not what we find in Kālī's Child, however. We find neither a faithful depiction of Ramakrishna's or Vivekananda's words nor the attitudes they represented. We read instead:
KC, 26: Ramakrishna's usual response to Narendra's Sanskrit hymns and Vedānta talk was emphatic: "It's all so boring!" (KA 3.253).
Only one instance is provided in the book, so we can hardly call this "Ramakrishna's usual response." Nowhere in this solitary citation do we find Ramakrishna "emphatically" declaring the "Vedānta talk" to be "boring." Ramakrishna instead said that such ideas are "very ordinary" (ati sāmānya). This, if anything, is only a mild expression of displeasure. The incident occurs on March 15, 1885. Requested by Ramakrishna, Narendra sings the Sanskrit hymn "Unsteady is water on the lotus leaf / Likewise is the transience of life" (KA 3.253). Ramakrishna's response to Narendra is, "Ah, what is that? This idea is very ordinary."
We can recall that Ramakrishna consistently taught that approaching the ultimate Reality merely through the attitude of negation—"neti, neti"—is not enough: the attitude of vījñāna (accomplished through "iti, iti" [this, this] after having practiced "neti, neti") is a higher state.
Kālī's Child neglects to mention that after Ramakrishna expressed his displeasure of the Sanskrit hymn Narendra had begun to sing, Narendra then sang devotional songs describing the love of Kṛṣṇa, through the eyes of a gopī (sakhī bhāber) (KA 3.253). The Kathāmṛta tells us that Ramakrishna and the devotees are very moved by the song (gān śūniyā ṭhākur o bhakterā mugdha hoiyāchen).
Even more to the point, the Kathāmṛta states that Narendra is intoxicated with the love of the gopīs of Vraja (brajagopīr bhābe mātoārā hoiyā) as he sings, "O [Kṛṣṇa]! You are mine, my friend, what can I say" (KA 3.254).13 Narendra had no problem singing those songs—he sang devotional songs quite often—but Kālī's Child neglects to mention it since it would not help sustain its characterization of Narendra and the "renouncers" as followers of "boring" Vedānta.
We should also keep in mind that Narendra did not generally sing Sanskrit hymns in the first place. The Kathāmṛta records Narendra singing songs 86 times—second only to Ramakrishna in the amount of times he burst into song. Of those songs, only three are Sanskrit hymns, and of those three, only two songs refer to Brahman. In the Kathāmṛta Ramakrishna shows no sign of displeasure on hearing them. In fact, when Ramakrishna hears the line, "Day and night who dwell in the joy of Brahman," Ramakrishna says in a very low voice, "Aha," then shows by a sign: "This is the characteristic of the yogi" (eiṭi jogīr lakkhon) (KA 2.235). This hardly constitutes: "It's so boring!" No sign of displeasure here.
Yet by the time the reader finishes Kālī's Child, the oft-repeated refrain of "boring" Vedānta, with its life-denying "renouncers" has had its effect. The consistent belittling of Vedānta and its aloof "renouncers" fits well with Kālī's Child's other premise, that of "renouncers" versus householders—Narendra being the chief architect of the "renouncers" who rode roughshod over both Ramakrishna's Tantric world and householders as well. While Kālī's Child posits a "primordial split" between householders and renouncers (8), with the "renouncers" gaining the upper hand after Ramakrishna's death, such a bifurcation is not borne out by the source documents. Apart from M's Kathāmṛta, there are also voluminous records of M's talks which were transcribed after M died. This multi-volume edition, recorded by his attendant Swami Nityatmananda, show an enormous amount of back-and-forth between the two communities as well as a great amount of mutual appreciation and true reverence.14
Just as there was much more commonality between Ramakrishna's householder devotees and monastic disciples than Kālī's Child recognizes, so also there is much more commonality between Vedānta and Tantra than is recognized—unless one reduces Tantra to a caricature of "magical power, strangeness, seediness, and sex" (28). Kālī's Child's either/or dyads may work well on paper but they do not exist in the lived tradition; they are simplistic and basically misleading. But such characterization becomes necessary in Kālī's Child to support its claim that the "renouncers" were followers of dry, boring Vedānta. Associated with Kālī's Child's Vedānta contra Tantra motif is a related theme which courses throughout the text: the effeminate/masculine dyad, which focuses on the "manly" nature of Narendra in order to contrast it with Ramakrishna's "womanly" nature, pitting one against the other:
KA 3.269: Ekdin bolechilen, tui jodi mone koris Kṛṣnake hṛday madhye dekhte pās. Āmi bollām, āmi Kiṣṭa-phiṣṭa māni nā.
Translation: One day he [Ramakrishna] said to me, "If you want, you can see Kṛṣṇa in your heart." I said, "I don't believe in 'Kṛṣṇa-fiṣṇa.'"
KC, 26: Knowing full well that Ramakrishna had described himself as having a woman's nature and went so far as to dress like one, Narendra now confesses that he never believed all that "Kṛṣṇa-fiṣṇa nonsense" (KA 3.269).
As the reader can see, the first half of the sentence in Kālī's Child has absolutely no textual connection with the second half. Kālī's Child makes it appear as if Narendra declared his disbelief in the Kṛṣṇa "nonsense" after Ramakrishna's death ("now confesses"), whereas—as is clear from the source text—that is what Narendra told Ramakrishna himself. Narendra's response was fully in keeping with the particular stage in his life when he did not accept a personal aspect of God. But, more importantly, his reply had nothing to do with Ramakrishna's having described himself as having a "woman's nature." Juxtaposing two contextually separate events is a typical strategy employed throughout Kālī's Child to promote its theses.
We are further told that Ramakrishna referred to Narendra as Kamalākṣa, meaning "one with lotus eyes." About this Kripal speculates: "One can imagine how upset poor Narendra must have been with Ramakrishna's desire to call him Kamalākṣa, one of those effeminate Vaiṣṇava names" (KC, 26). Narendra must have been? There is no indication anywhere in the source texts that Narendra disliked this description. Nor is there any reason why he would have been upset with it. There is nothing particularly effeminate about the term since the epithet is routinely applied to most Hindu male deities as well, including Śiva.
As we have seen earlier, Kālī's Child often goes out of its way to suppress material which would counter its theses. One prime example of this is the following passage from the Kathāmṛta, in which Ramakrishna affirms one of Vedānta's most basic principles:
KA 2.237: "Joḍer sottā caitanya loy, ār caitanyer sottā joḍ loy. Śarīrer rog hole bodh hoy āmār rog hoyeche."
Translation: "The attributes of matter (joḍer sottā) are superimposed on consciousness (caitanya), and the attributes of consciousness (cait-anyer sottā) are superimposed on matter (joḍ). That is why when the body is ill, a person says, 'I am ill.'''
Why is this significant passage never mentioned? Because it would sabotage the thesis that Ramakrishna had no use for Vedānta and that the Vedānta leanings of the movement were initiated by the "renouncers" after Ramakrishna's death. To strengthen both his "boring Vedānta" and householder/renouncer divide theses, Kripal attempts to formulate a rupture which occurred during and after Ramakrishna's life:
KC, 27: The "I only eat, drink, and make merry" chant of Ramakrishna is replaced by an almost desperate "Renounce!" (KA 3.271).
In the Kathāmṛta reference cited above (KA 3.271), we see nothing "desperate" about the call for renunciation. Since the author has provided a reference from the Bengali Kathāmṛta, the reader assumes that there is something in the text to support the author's assertion. But there is not. Ramakrishna's statement "I only eat, drink, and make merry" became possible only because of his total renunciation of the ego at the feet of Kālī. Those familiar with the Kathāmṛta know how often Ramakrishna remarked, "First God, then the world" (āge īśvar, tārpor jagat) (KA 4.55). On the same note he often exhorted his devotees to spend time in solitude and, renouncing all else, to weep for God with a longing heart (śob tyāg kore nirjone gopone byākul hoye kem̐de kem̐de īśvarke ḍākte hoy) (KA 4.55).
Thus the effort to pit Ramakrishna's "mansion of fun" against Vivekananda's call for renunciation—which is attempted through sarcasm and, ironically, bowdlerization—is completely misplaced. More serious is the problem that, on occasion, changes are also made to what is found in the citation. For instance, Ramakrishna's "red-bordered cloth" (KA 3.196-97) is transformed into "black-bordered clothes" in Kālī's Child in order to claim that Ramakrishna indulged in "luxuries" (KC, 26). Kālī's Child effectively suppresses information about Vivekananda's devotional songs to Kṛṣṇa and the Divine Mother in order to claim that songs dear to Ramakrishna are replaced by "songs of manly renunciation" (27). Further, Vivekananda is seriously misrepresented by describing him with words that are Kripal's own creation and are not translations from the sources he cites—such as Narendra "growled" (26) and "brags" (27)—verbs not found in any of the source texts. But readers would never know this unless they pored over the Bengali texts and compared them with Kālī's Child.
Let us now turn to a few examples of the distorted version of Tantra that is presented as "the Tantra" throughout the book:
KC, 27: M records Vivekananda's categorical rejection of Tantra in an appendix in volume 5: "Give up this filthy Vamachara that is killing your country."
The word Tantra appears twice in the quote recorded by M, and both times Vivekananda qualifies the word with the adjective "Vāmācāra." What Vivekananda condemned was Vāmācāra Tantra. Thus, the prefatory statement in the above quote, "Vivekananda's categorical rejection of Tantra," is inaccurate. Or perhaps it is not, at least from Kripal's perspective, for it does reflect Kripal's own view of Tantra. As we have seen in Kālī's Child, Tantra almost always means Vāmācāra Tantra, and even Vāmācāra Tantra is not accurately represented.
To further shore up his theses regarding Ramakrishna and Tantra, statements are frequently lifted out of context and given a startlingly new interpretation. For example:
KA 3.230: E tāntrik upāsanā. Jananī ramanī.
Translation: This is Tantric worship: looking upon a woman as mother.
KC, 85, 142: This is the meaning of Tantric ritual. The Mother is the Lover.
The context here is important. This statement by Dr. Sarkar comes at the end of a story narrated by Ramakrishna. Bilvamaṅgala (a character in the story) learns an important lesson from his prostitute-lover, hence he looks upon her as his teacher. Addressing her as "mother," he goes forth in search of God. After hearing this story, Ramakrishna's physician Dr. Sarkar says that this approach—of looking upon a woman as one's mother—is a Tantric practice. Kālī's Child makes precisely the opposite equation and, sadly, the entire second chapter of the book is nothing but an attempt to prove a fallacious, mistranslated equation in order to reach the predetermined conclusion that "in Tantric culture, the goddess is understood to be a gentle, consoling Mother and a wild, uncontrollable Lover" (KC, 87).
Interestingly, having mistranslated this phrase in the body of the text after invoking "a certain poetic license" (KC, 87), Kripal tries to deflect the charge of mistranslation by including in an endnote an alternative translation: "The Lover is (actually one's own) Mother" (346). Unfortunately, even this alternative bypasses the context.
To lend credibility to Kālī's Child's Ramakrishna-as-Tāntrik thesis, words which were not Ramakrishna's are presented as his, and the context in which the words were spoken is changed. For example:
KC, 87: In another passage, the saint adds a specifically erotic dimension to this brilliant blackness by associating it with the love-play of Kālī and Śiva (KA 2.25).
This is erroneous. In this passage from the Kathāmṛta, it is not Ramakrishna's but M's words which describe the new moon night as ramaṇ between Mahākālī and Mahākāla. In fact, on the entire page from which the citation was taken, Ramakrishna does not speak one word (KA 2.25).
One of Kālī's Child's recurring problems is its tendency to lift words and phrases out of context, then quote them in order to substantiate a preordained thesis—a thesis which would not stand up were the given examples properly contextualized. For example:
KC, 252: The shy housewife, biting her tongue in a public act of restraint, controls by that act an immense reservoir of power capable, at any moment, of dissolving what Ramakrishna called the "bonds of shame, disgust, and fear" and returning the culture to that Tantric midnight "where all jackals howl in the same way" (LP 4.4.30).
In the Līlāprasaṅga citation given above, the phrase which mentions all jackals howling alike refers to the shared highest experience of all enlightened beings. Since their "experience" of the truth is identical, their essential teaching is also identical. Kālī's Child's segue from a "Tantric midnight" to jackals howling alike is perfectly breathtaking.
Another problematic aspect of Kālī's Child's use of "Tantra" is that nearly anything qualifies as "Tantric" if sufficient ambiguity can be created around an incident to make it appear "immoral." See, for example, the citation below:
KC, 112: Hriday, Ramakrishna's nephew, paid an especially heavy price for his Tantric practices. He was expelled from the temple for worshiping the feet of Mathur's young granddaughter in some unspecified immoral way (LP 2.APP.26).
The Līlāprasaṅga merely says: "Hriday foolishly (buddhi-hīna-vaśataḥ) worshiped the feet of Mathur Babu's granddaughter of tender age." There is nothing "unspecified" here and there is nothing "immoral" either. Yet whatever the original text lacks in sexual interest, Kālī's Child more than makes up for with imagination and innuendo. Worshiping young girls as embodiments of the Divine (kumārī pūjā) is not an exclusively Tantric practice; it is part of the Śākta tradition as well. Nor is it something connected only with the worship of Kālī. As a part of the autumnal Durgā Pūjā in Bengal, the kumarī pūjā draws thousands of devotees even today.
Moreover, from the way the incident is discussed in Kālī's Child, it appears as if Hriday was expelled because of "the unspecified immoral" nature of his act. The Līlāprasaṅga, however, is quite clear about why Hriday was expelled. In the very next sentence which follows the above citation, we read: "Her father, apprehending that evil might befall the child, became much annoyed and dismissed Hriday from the service in the Kālī temple" (LP 2. 409). Trailokyanath, the child's father, was apprehensive because Hriday was a brahmin whereas Trailokyanath belonged to a lower caste, and the custom in kumārī pūjā is to worship a young girl born in a brahmin family. A brahmin worshiping one belonging to a lower caste was believed to bring calamity.
Another perplexing feature of Kālī's Child is the erratic placement of references, which makes the author's own comments appear to be translations and/or a paraphrase from the source text—and in the process, bestows upon them an undeserved legitimacy. For example:
KC, 191: The milkmaids' love was free from lust, he says repeatedly, as if to reassure himself. [KA 2.110; 5.52]
In the above example, "as if to reassure himself" is Kripal's comment and is not found in the Kathāmṛta.
KC, 132: "Have you attained [a] Kṛṣṇa?" their guru would ask them. "Yes, I have attained," they would answer, uniting religious achievement and sexual pleasure in a single ambivalent phrase (KA 4.164).
The final phrase: "uniting religious achievement ..." belongs to Kripal, not to Ramakrishna, and it is not found in KA 4.164.
KA 2.142: Kāśite jakhon āmi gelum, takhon ekdin bhairabīcakre āmāy niye gelo. Ekjon kore bhairab, ekjon kore bhairabī. Āmāy kāran pān korte bolle. Āmi bollam, "Mā, āmi kāran chum̐te pāri nā." Takhon tārā khete lāglo. Āmi mone kollām, eibār bujhi jop dhyān korbe. Tā noy, nṛtya korte ārambha korle. Āmar bhoy hote lāglo, pāche Gaṅgāy poḍe jāy. Cakraṭi Gaṅgār dhāre hoyechilo.
Translation: When I went to Kashi, I was one day taken to a bhairavī circle. There were both bhairavas and bhairavīs. They asked me to drink alcohol. I said, "Mother, I can't touch alcohol." Then they started drinking. I thought, maybe now they would practice japa and meditation. But no, they started dancing. I was worried that they may fall into the Ganges. Their meeting was held on the bank of the Ganges.
KC, 167: It was in this holy city that Ramakrishna ran into his old Tantric guru, the Bhairavī. She somehow managed to take him to another of her Tantric circles, this one held under the cover of darkness on the bank of the Ganges (KA 2.142).
Note that there is no mention of the Bhairavi escorting Ramakrishna to the circle and, again, the circle being held "under the cover of darkness" is speculation. It may well have been held in the dark; we do not know. But the text to which Kālī's Child refers says nothing about the time. To support his claim, Kripal directs his readers to an endnote (KC, 352) which references Līlāprasaṅga 4.4.39, but we find there no mention of the Bhairavi and no mention of the time and the day when the circle was held. On the contrary, the text he cites states that "they had invited Ramakrishna." Again, there is no mention anywhere of the Bhairavi escorting Ramakrishna there.
KA 4.60: Ei pañcabaṭite bostām. Kāle unmād holām!—tāo gelo! Kāla-i brahma. Jini kāler sohit raman koren, tini-i Kālī—ādyāśakti! Aṭalke ṭaliye den.... Cidātmā ār cit-śakti. Cidātmā puruṣ, citśakti prakṛti. Cidātma Śrīkṛṣṇa, citśakti Śrīrādhā. Bhakta ei citśaktir ek ekṭi rūp.
Translation: I used to sit in this Panchavati. In time I became mad!—even that stage passed! Time (kāla) itself is Brahman. One who sports with Time is Kālī, the Primal Power! She moves the Unmovable. . . . There is Consciousness-self and Consciousness-power. Consciousness-self is the puruṣa and consciousness-power is prakṛti. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the consciousness-self and Śrī Rādhā is consciousnesspower. The devotee is one form of this consciousness-power.
KC, 181: I used to sit in this Panchavati. In time I became mad! O what happened! Kālī is brahman. She who has sex with Śiva is Kālī, the Primordial Power! She arouses the Unmoving .... There is the Self of Consciousness and the Power of Consciousness. The Self of Consciousness is a man, the Power of Consciousness is a woman. The Self of Consciousness is Kṛṣṇa, the Power of Consciousness is Rādhā. The devotee is a particular form of this Power of Consciousness (KA 4.60).
Note especially how Kāla is Brahman has been changed to "Kālī" is Brahman. It is puzzling how "Śiva" enters into Kālī's Child's translation. There is no mention of Śiva in the Bengali. Puruṣa and prakṛti are ontological principles derived from Saṁkhya philosophy and have no sexual identity. Kālī's Child, however, finds it expedient to translate these terms as "man" and "woman."
KC, 142: Ramakrishna the Child remained a child. As he had counselled his tempted disciples to do, the saint had successfully "cleaved" the goddess in two: "You bitch! You're going to ruin my ideals! I'll cleave your body in two!" (KA 3.86).
This passage seems designed to mislead. The quoted words are not addressed to the goddess. When we check the Kathāmṛta reference we find that Ramakrishna tells Mani Mallick and others that a person should not remain quiet in the face of untruth and injustice. He gives the example of an immoral woman (naṣṭa strī) who tries to drag a man away from his highest goal. At such times, a person should be strong (bīrer bhāb) and say, "You wretch (śāli)! You are going to ruin my ideals. I'll cut your body in two!" (KA 3.86). Kālī's Child's quote from the Kathāmṛta misleads the reader into believing that the "you" in the quote is addressed to the goddess.
Another persistent translation issue appearing in Kālī's Child is the appropriate translation for prosrāb and biṣṭhā—as well as other words for urine and excrement—which are consistently translated as "piss" and "shit." While this is not literally incorrect, the mood it conveys into English is incorrect. For example, when Ramakrishna speaks of worshiping a little girl as the divine Mother in the kumarī pūjā, he uses the expression: hāgā mota meye (KA 2.97), which Kālī's Child translates as a "shitting, pissing girl" (KC, 136). This translation conveys an element of disdain, even repugnance, which is not there at all in the Bengali. The Bengali words are meant to convey the fact that the girl is so small and so young that she has not yet been toilet-trained. It is a statement of the girl's age, not a disgust for her gender. If anything, the expression hāgā mota meye would, for a Bengali villager, be endearing.15 Kripal rightly notes that Nikhilananda does not translate those words. Again, this is understandable considering how difficult it is to translate these ideas from culture to culture. As Kālī's Child has demonstrated all too well, the translated words can be literally correct but the ideas they convey can be grossly inaccurate.
Ramakrishna's Sexual Confusion
The source texts are unanimous in their view that Ramakrishna was so filled with love for God that he achieved remarkable self-transcendence, which is characterized by the absence of lust and greed, or—in the words of Ramakrishna, who often used tangible symbols in his teaching—the conquest of desire for "woman and gold" (kāminī kāñcana). By contrast, Kālī's Child asserts that Ramakrishna's lack of sexual engagement reflects a "sexual conflict" (40). In an attempt to find confirmation in a source text, Kripal writes:
KC, 40: For others in the texts, however, it does indeed point to a sexual conflict, for it is a perfect example of Ramakrishna's "destroyed masculinity" (JV, 36).
Pointing to others in "the texts," only one passage in one text is cited— and in it there is nothing to suggest "a sexual conflict." Again, the author's speculation is masked to appear as documented information from a source text. Note also the comically literal but distorted translation of puruṣatva-hānī as "destroyed masculinity" in preference to the simple and accurate translation, "impotence." Seeing Ramakrishna's unusual response to sexually stimulating situations, it was natural for some people to wonder if he was impotent.
Who are these "others in the texts"? The referenced text, the Jībanabṛttānta, describes in no uncertain terms how Rani Rasmani, Mathur and others at the Kālī temple saw Ramakrishna as a spiritually enlightened person (siddhapuruṣ) and had high regard (ati ucca bhāb) for him (JB, 34). Ramchandra Datta, the author of the Jibanabṛttānta, then observes that such is the weakness of the human mind (manuṣyer durbol mon) and the skepticism in the heart (abiśvāsī hṛdoy) that even a childlike, divinely mad (bālakavat, unmādavat) Ramakrishna was subjected to a test. Mathur arranged to bring a prostitute to seduce Ramakrishna, who was then about twenty-five years old. Seeing a beautiful young woman left alone in the room with him, Ramakrishna bowed down to her saying, "Blissful mother! Blissful mother!" (Mā Anandamoyī, Mā Anandamoyī). When the news about this "test" was heard by others, some were wonderstruck (keho āścharja hoilo) and some began to criticize in various ways (keho bā nānāprakār doṣārop korite lāgilo) (34-35). It is this second group that Kripal refers to as "others in the texts." Interestingly, however, Kālī's Child carefully omits the referenced section in the Jībanabṛttānta, which concludes by pointing out that after more such tests, everyone's misconception was removed (sokaler-i bhrom bidurita hoilo) (37).
KC, 59: Observing the boy's friendship with Ram Mallik, a seventeen-year-old teenager, the villagers used to say that, if Gadadhar were a woman, the two of them would be married (KA 3.184).
Two points: first, both Ramakrishna and Ram were of the same age. So referring to Ramakrishna as "boy" and Ram as "a seventeen-year-old teenager" skews the context. Second, the text says: eder bhitor ekjon meyemānuṣ hole, "if one of them were a woman" (KA 3.184), Kālī's Child changes this to "if Gadadhar were a woman," to fit it into the build-up of Ramakrishna not being comfortable with his gender and wishing he were a woman.
KC, 91-92: "At that time, while I performed the worship, I would wear silk garments [like a woman] and would experience such bliss— the bliss of worship!" [KA 4.175]
To the reference to "silk cloth" (garader kāpad) is added the author's own gloss in parentheses: "[like a woman]." Earlier (KC, 75) Kripal criticizes M for adding in parentheses īśvara after the word puruṣa, because Kripal would prefer to translate it as "man." He speculates that M was perhaps "troubled by this revelation" and dismisses it as a "flimsy set of parentheses." In this example, Kripal adds his own "flimsy set of parentheses"—perhaps anxious for references to prove Ramakrishna's "womanly nature." The gloss is clearly distorting, because it is a common practice for men in India to wear a silk cloth at the time of worship.16 Wealthy people in India wore silk clothes at other times as well. It is by no means a practice associated only with women.
Having inserted his own words into the translation, Kripal now feels free to make this comment: "Granted, he does refer to this period as one in which he dressed up as a woman" (KC, 92). However, Ramakrishna makes no such reference in the Kathāmṛta (4.175).
The author, however, has not yet finished with "silken clothes." He brings them up yet again, and this time he connects Ramakrishna's sādhana with the speculation that it was done in order to conquer his sexual desire for his wife. For a moment Ramakrishna's alleged hatred of women as "lovers" and his love for "boys" is forgotten:
KC, 104: Here we see the same worship context and the same silken clothes, but here Ramakrishna becomes a "Handmaid of the Mother," not to live with Mathur and his household but to conquer his sexual desires for his wife back at the temple (KA 5.140).
In the Kathāmṛta 5.140 we merely see this:
"Āmi dāsī bhābe ek botsor chilām—brahmamoyīr dāsī. Meyeder kāpoḍ oḍnā ei sob portām. Ābār noth portām. Meyer bhābe thākle kām joy hoy."
Translation: "I spent one year as handmaid—the handmaid of the Divine Mother (brahmamoyī). I used to wear women's clothes. I used to put on a nose-ring. One can conquer lust by assuming the attitude of a woman."
These words of Ramakrishna are preceded by his teaching that, as long as one has the ego, one must establish a definite relationship with God. Then he describes his own practice and the benefit such practice can bring. There is no mention here of "silken clothes" or his practicing this discipline "to conquer his sexual desires for his wife back at the temple." Placing the citation at the end of the phrase masks the author's speculation as a paraphrase from the Kathāmṛta.
KA 4.201: Āmi meye baḍo bhoy kori. Dekhi jeno bāghinī khete āsche. Ār aṅga, pratyaṅga, chidra sob baḍo baḍo dekhi. Sob rakkhasīr mato dekhi.
Translation: I am very afraid of women. I feel as if a tigress is coming to eat me. And I find that their bodies, their limbs, and their pores are very large, like those of an ogress.
KC, 138: And he frankly confesses that he is terrified of women, that they remind him of female demons with their appendages and huge "holes" (chidra) (KA 4.201).
Interestingly, the first edition of Kālī's Child translated the last phrase as "they remind him of female demons with their huge vaginal and mammary 'holes'" (KC 1995, 138). While the second edition of Kālī's Child eliminated this egregious translation error, it nevertheless retained its subtext of Ramakrishna's hatred and fear of women as "Lovers."
The words of Ramakrishna quoted above may indeed seem to support the allegation that he hated and feared women, but this idea is soon dispelled when we continue to read the text of the conversation and realize that Ramakrishna was, in fact, pointing out how lustful desires can divert a person's mind away from God (cf. KA 4.202). Furthermore, the statement in the present tense ("I am very afraid of women") is immediately superseded by Ramakrishna himself, saying "Earlier I had great fear (āge bhārī bhoy chilo) and would not allow anyone to come near me." But now, he says, he sees women as "different forms of the blissful, divine mother" (mā ānandamoyīr ek ekṭi rūp bole dekhi). This is not to deny that Ramakrishna suggested that women disciples go see the temples in the Dakshineswar compound if they had remained in his room too long. Here, however, Ramakrishna—as a spiritual teacher—was setting an example for other, less advanced sādhakas, male and female. He often gave the example of a physician who was unable to recommend not eating molasses until his own molasses was removed from his room.
When occasional visitors who were not spiritually inclined visited Dakshineswar, often dragged there by devotees, Ramakrishna would notice their restlessness and ask them to "go look at the temples." Kālī's Child claims that "this was an especially popular move when the guests happened to be women" (KC, 11), and cites three references from the Kathāmṛta as evidence: KA 3.125, 4.164, and 4.202. When these references are checked, one discovers that KA 3.125 points to Tarak's male friend, not a woman, who is asked to "go look at the temples." The remaining two references—KA 4.164 and 4.202—point not to any incident, but to Ramakrishna teaching about the importance for monastics about keeping their distance from members of the opposite sex to protect their spiritual practice. To set an example, he says, he too asks women visitors, after they have met him for a while, to go have darśan in the temples; "others will learn after seeing me" (āmār dekhe ābār sobāi śikhbe) (4.164).
Gender is associated with the body and conquest of the senses (jiten-driya), a prime requirement for a God-centered life, involves transcending gender identities. It was in this context that Ramakrishna said the following:
KA 2.155: Āmi āpnāke pu (puruṣ) bolte pāri nā.
Translation: I cannot speak of myself as a man.
KC, 234: True, he became a woman when he lived with his wife, Sharada, in order to conquer his desire for her. And he succeeded: "I'm not able to call you a he," she confessed (KA 2.154-55).
Note that in Kālī's Child, Ramakrishna's words about himself have been changed and made to appear as if they were Sarada's words about him. This is done so that Kripal can now, having set the stage, claim: "But he also took on the nature of a woman to live with and lie down with Mathur" (KC, 234).
In the following citation we can see how a misleading translation has been used in an attempt to support Kālī's Child's Ramakrishna-ashomoerotic-Tāntrik thesis, which includes none-too-subtle pederastic undertones:
KA 5.31: ṭhākurer rākhāler sambandhe gopāl bhāb. Jemon mā'r koler kāche choto chele giyā bośe, rākhāl o ṭhākurer koler upar bhor diyā bośiten. Jeno māi khācchen.
Translation: The Master looked upon Rakhal as his child. Rakhal would sit leaning on the Master's lap as a young child leans on its mother while sucking her breast.
KC, 141: Again, the motherly Paramahaṁsa puts the boy in his lap and tries to nurse him with his strangely full breasts (KA 5.31).
As we can see, a simple comparison of Kālī's Child with its Kathāmṛta citation reveals how flawed and prejudicial Kālī's Child's translation is. It is repeated several times in the book, phrased differently to suit different contexts, until the twenty-year-old Rakhal, "the boy," is miraculously transformed into "a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in the lap and nursing at the breasts of" Ramakrishna (KC, 301).
We can see further misrepresentation of the source texts when different, unassociated sentences from the Kathāmṛta are pieced together to create a hybridized, unintended version of the text.
KC, 235: Narendra in particular has a man's nature and so naturally tends to a "very high state," to a formless state (KA 4.228).
In the Kathāmṛta citation (4.228) we find that these are two entirely different sentences. To connect disparate sentences with "and so" is to intentionally distort the text. This is done to contrive a connection between having "a man's nature" and being in "a very high state."
In the example given below, we find not only two disparate passages wantonly forged together, but also Ramakrishna creating metaphors that were never made, implying words that were never spoken:
KC, 138: In a similar vein, Ramakrishna's metaphors equate "analytic reason" (vicāra) with the Child's cry. When the Mother comes and offers her breasts, that too will stop (KA 2.35). Unlike the Mother's breast, reason is "dry" (śuṣka) (KA 5.131).
Again the author has connected two separate passages from different contexts after inserting his own comment. In the Kathāmṛta (5.131), we merely see Ramakrishna telling Hazra that he [Hazra] is "dry" because he only resorts to reason. But Kālī's Child presents us with an invented metaphor supposedly given by Ramakrishna: "Unlike the Mother's breast, reason is dry." But when we check the citation, there is no reference whatsoever to a breast.
We will see more textual additions in the following example, which the author implies, via the citation, are in the source text. They are not.
KC, 237: But Narendra, Ramakrishna reports with an excited exclamation point, was in the middle of the thousand-petaled lotus in the head, where Śiva sits waiting for his lover, the goddess Śakti (KA 4.228).
In the Kathāmṛta (4.228) we merely find this: anya padda kāru daśa-dal, kāru ṣodaśa-dal, kāru śata-dal kintu padda-madhye Narendra sahasra-dal!—"some are ten-petaled lotuses, some are sixteen-petaled, some hundred-petaled, but Narendra is a thousand-petaled lotus!" Everything other than this is Kripal's commentary alone and is not found in the Kathāmṛta.
Kālī's Child spends a good deal of time addressing the issue of Ramakrishna and bhāva as well as Ramakrishna and the Divine Mother's command for him to remain in bhāvamukha. How Kālī's Child analyzes bhāva is worth noting in the example given below:
KA 4.2-3: "Haladhārī bolto tini bhāb-abhāber atīt. Āmi māke giye bollām—mā, Haladhāri e-Kathā bolche, tā hole rūp-ṭup ki sob mithyā? Mā ratir mā beśe āmār kāche ese bolle, 'Tui bhābei thāk.' Āmi-o Haladhārike tāi bollām.
"Ek ekbār o-Kathā bhule jāi bole kaṣṭa hoy. Bhābe nā theke dāt bheṅge gelo. Tāi doibabānī nā hole bhābei thākbo—bhakti niye thākbo. Ki bolo?"
Translation: "Haladhari used to say that God is beyond both being and nonbeing. I told the Mother, 'Mother, this is what Haladhari says. Then is the divine form an illusion?' Mother appeared to me in the form of Rati's mother and said, 'You just remain in bhāva.' I repeated this to Haladhari.
"Now and then I forget her command and suffer. Once I broke my tooth because I did not remain in bhāva. So I shall remain in bhāva unless I get a divine command to the contrary. I shall hold on to devotion. What do you say?"
KC, 155: "Haladhari used to say that God is beyond existence and non-existence. I went to Ma and said—'Ma, Haladhari is saying these things. So are all forms and things false?' Ma came to me dressed as Rati's mother and said, 'Remain in existence, my child.' I also told Haladhari this. Occasionally I forgot these words and suffered for it. Not remaining in existence, I broke a tooth. And so, when I don't hear divine words or see things, I'll remain in existence—with devotion I'll remain!" (KA 4.2-3)
Kālī's Child's translation of tui bhābei thāk as "remain in existence" is ridiculous—as if one could live in nonexistence! This incomprehensible translation provides Kālī's Child the opportunity of decoding the meaning for the baffled readers: "Remain as you are, on this side of the dialectic. Go on worshiping forms. You are fine" (KC, 156).
In this passage the word bhāb (Sanskrit, bhāva) is used in two senses: the first occurrence—used in conjunction with abhāva—means "being" (abhāva is its opposite, "nonbeing"), but later in the passage the word is used in a different sense, as a word that signifies a specific mode, approach or relationship. It is not easy to find an accurate English word to translate this sense of bhāva. David Haberman's definition of bhāva as "an emotional state ... that allows a higher perception of reality" is helpful for readers unfamiliar with the concept (1994, 228). The concept of bhāva has been extensively developed in the Vaiṣṇava tradition, especially in the Gauḍīya school of Bengal. Without this background, it is easy to mistranslate that word as "existence."
Given the context, especially given the reference to Ramakrishna's broken tooth when he fell down while in samādhi, it seems reasonable to conclude that the command to "remain in bhāva" may have implied: "Do not merge your identity with the Absolute, but continue to remain in a devotional relationship with God."
Kālī's Child's gloss of the following passage from the Kathāmṛta shows just how treacherous cross-cultural translations and interpretations can be.
KA 4.231: "Ekjon nyangṭā soṅge soṅge thākto—tār dhone hāt diye phackimi kortum. Takhon khūb hāstum. E nyangṭā murti āmār-i bhitar theke beruto. Paramahaṅsa mūrti—bālaker nyāy."
Translation: "A naked person used to be with me—I would touch his penis and make fun. I would then laugh a lot. This naked form used to come out of me. It was the form of a paramahaṁsa, like a boy."
KC, 160: Ramakrishna is describing a vision he used to have of another naked paramahaṁsa: "A naked person used to stay around—I would play with his little penis with my hand. Then I would laugh a lot. This naked form used to come out of me. It was in the form of a paramahaṁsa—like a boy" (KA 4.231).
To many, the vision points to the innocence and purity of the paramahaṁsa state which transcends the socially and culturally constructed notions of what is appropriate and what is not. It is obvious that Ramakrishna himself had no embarrassment about it and did not invest it with any particular sexual meaning. Moreover, despite this being labeled a "secret talk," the talk was not all that secret: Ramakrishna describes his vision to a roomful of people: Mahendra Mukherjee, Balaram, Haripada, Girish, M and other devotees are present (KA 4.231).
As one might suspect, the vision appears differently in Kālī's Child. It is not the paramahaṁsa's childlike state that is the focal point of this passage: it is the paramahaṁsa's penis. Little wonder, then, that Kripal translates the Bengali word dhan (literally, "treasure," a euphemistic and endearing term for penis, with no coarse connotation) as "little cock" in Kālī's Child's first edition (KC 1995, 160) and, later in the second edition, as "little penis" (KC, 160). In the endnote of the second edition, the author preempts the charge of mistranslation by admitting: "But it is also meant to be affectionate and funny, something a mother might jokingly say when talking to or about her little boy" (351).
Tellingly, in the book's first edition, the translated sentence is: "I would teasingly fondle his little cock with my hand" (KC 1995, 160). Fondle? The Bengali verb phackimi can in no way be translated as "fondle"; there is no sexual connotation in the word, it is associated with childish pranks, with young children playing mischievously with one another. We must keep in mind the Bengali culture from which Ramakrishna came. In this environment it is quite common, as common then as it is still today, to see young children running around naked. The children play with one another by grabbing each other's ears, noses, fingers, toes, genitals—anything that can be grabbed. A young boy will mischievously touch or grab another boy's penis in impish, mischievous play. There is no sexual connotation. There is, however, a strong association with the innocence and joy of childhood, which is completely absent in Kālī's Child. In its stead the reader is told that "powerfully suggestive texts" point toward a homoerotic relationship which "no doubt existed between Tota and the young Ramakrishna" (KC, 160). No doubt? Thus we go in circles: the vision explains the homoerotic relationship, and the relationship explains the vision.
As we have seen on earlier occasions, Kālī's Child inserts verbs not found in the source texts in order to lend support to the book's theses— in this case, to convince the readers of the "troubling possibility" that Ramakrishna had unresolved sexual conflicts. Just as Narendra was shown growling and bragging—with nothing in the source text to give support to such usage—so Ramakrishna is similarly provided verbs that are unsupported by the citations given. For example, Ramakrishna is shown "shouting" about the "Gopāla state." This, Kālī's Child informs us, "clearly hints at another unresolved conflict in Ramakrishna's child state, namely, the possibility that even the relationship between the Mother and the Child might become sexualized" (KC, 140).
KC, 140: "Beware of the Gopāla state!" he would shout (KA 2.154).
At this point, we are not even surprised when we do not find Ramakrishna "shouting" and, what is more, we do not even see him saying, "Beware of the Gopāla state!" Unfortunately, the disconnect between what the Kathāmṛta says and how the text is translated in Kālī's Child has almost become anticipated. Yes, there is a discussion in KA 2.154 about the danger of sexual desire masquerading as love of mother for her child, but neither the words quoted nor the description ("he would shout") are found there.17
Another aspect of Ramakrishna to which Kālī's Child pays especial note is Ramakrishna's anus as well as his defecation habits. Ramakrishna, Kripal writes, "experienced trance at the exact moment the 'secret door' of his anus opened to defecate" (KC, 19). Indeed, Ramakrishna's "wildly swinging 'back door'" is part of Ramakrishna's secret (297). "Homoerotic feelings," Kripal declares, "both excited the saint (he entered samādhi) and blocked the secret door of the anus" (296). In sum,
given the text's [Kathāmṛta's] play on the "secret" nature of the anus, the consistently contorted nature of Nikhilananda's handling of the passages, and the hinted realities of Ramakrishna's troubled past, I cannot help but believe that this latrine and this wildly swinging "back door" are part of what I have called Ramakrishna's secret. (KC, 297)
As we have mentioned earlier, guhya can mean "anus," though it is not generally used in that sense. We can also note in passing the prejudicial use of language here: "the hinted realities of Ramakrishna's troubled past." There are no "realities" provided anywhere in Kālī's Child, only speculations. Kripal himself refers to these very notions as "speculations" which are "a pattern, but only a pattern" (KC, 296). Yet, on the very next page of the book, these speculations have become the "hinted realities" of Ramakrishna's past, which Kripal insists on characterizing as "troubled."
Ironically, as we can see below, the "secret" is dependent upon an erroneous translation.
KA 1.178: Āmi ek din or bāḍite paikhānāy bem̐huś hoye gechi. O to ato ācārī, paikhānār bhitar āmār kache giye pā pham̐k kore bosiye dey. Ato ācārī, ghṛnā korle nā.
Translation: One day at his house I became unconscious in the latrine. He [Viswanath Upadhaya—generally referred to as "Captain" in the Kathāmṛta] is so particular about his orthodox habits, but he helped me sit in the latrine with my legs apart. In spite of his orthodox habits he did not show any disgust.
KC, 291: One day I became unconscious in the latrine of his house. He's so concerned about purity, and yet he sat down with his foot in the hole [of the latrine] and pulled me out (KA 1.178).
Kālī's Child builds its interpretation upon the faulty translation given above. It suggests that Ramakrishna became unconscious while defecating and Captain had to help him get up. However, in studying the Bengali text we see that Ramakrishna became unconscious inside the room where the latrine was located and Captain had to help him sit so he could defecate—which makes it clear that he became unconscious in the room before defecating. When we see how diametrically opposed to the original text the "translation" is, the commentary that follows is hilarious: "The fact that the Captain had to put his foot in the hole of the latrine to lift the saint out suggests that Ramakrishna was frozen in a defecating posture, squatting over the hole. He 'became unconscious,' in other words, in the very act of defecation" (KC, 291). This distortion was necessary for the author to focus on Ramakrishna's "fecal ecstasies" and to make the remarkable claim that "Ramakrishna not only experiences ecstasy while he defecates, he defecates ecstasy" (292; italics in text).
Many of the mistranslations found in Kālī's Child can be attributed to the book's basic thesis that Ramakrishna, having been the victim of sexual abuse, engaged in reenactment patterns with his own young male disciples. To this end, the prose throughout Kālī's Child is consistently manipulated in order to portray Ramakrishna in vaguely pedophilic terms. Ramakrishna, we read, was not a lover of women "or even of older men but of young, beautiful boys" (3). In order to strengthen this thesis, "boys," "young boys," "young male disciples" and variations on that theme are endlessly repeated throughout the text.
Kripal speculates about the nature of Ramakrishna's relationships not only with his teacher Tota Puri and the temple manager Mathur Babu, but also with Purna, Narendra, and other "boys." The ingenuity required to transform every available male associated with Ramakrishna into a "boy" is stunning. Among those who are called "boys" in Kālī's Child are the fifty-one-year old "boy Kedar" (KC, 66), the twenty-threeyear-old "little Nityagopal" (274), the twenty-year-old "boy Rakhal" (66), and a thirty-five-year-old man from the Goswami family who in Kālī's Child becomes "a boy of fifteen" (67). In addition, all the young men who visited Ramakrishna, most of whom were studying in local colleges, are all "boys." Even when the source text refers to "devotees," Kripal changes the reference to "boy disciples" (70). With endless and needless repetition of the phrase "boy disciples" to sustain Kālī's Child's muted pederastic pulse, the reader is lulled into thinking that somehow the "boy" in the phrase is very young indeed and somehow different and more significant than simply "disciple."
We have provided below several examples of how Ramakrishna's relationships have been described in ways that alter the context and depart from the tenor of the original source texts in Bengali:
KC, 67: Again, when a boy of fifteen walks into a theater box to see Ramakrishna, M tells us that the saint stroked the young boy with his hand and asked him to sit down: "With you here, I get all excited."
This is what the Kathāmṛta says:
KA 2.121: Itimadhye Khordār Nityānanda Gosvāmi baṅśer ekṭi bābu āśiyāchen o ṭhākurer ceyārer paścāte dam̐ḍāiyā āchen. Boyas 34/35 hoibe. ṭhākur tām̐hār dekhiyā ānande bhāsite lāglen. Tām̐hār hāt dhoriyā kato Kathā koitechen. Mājhe mājhe tām̐hāke bolitechen, "Ekhāne bośo nā. Tumi ekhāne thākle khūb uddīpan hoy." Sosnehe tām̐hār hāt dhoriya jeno khelā koritechen. Sosnehe mukhe hāt diyā ādar koritechen.
Gosvāmī coliyā gele Māṣṭārke bolitechen, "O boḍo ponḍit, bāp boḍo bhakto. Āmi Khordār Śyāmsundar dekhte gele, je bhog ekśo ṭākā dile pāvā jāy nā śei bhog ene āmāy khāvāy.
"Er lakkhan boḍo bhālo; ekṭu neḍe ceḍe dile caitanya hoy. Oke dekhte dekhte boḍo uddīpan hoy. Ār ekṭu ho'le āmi dām̐ḍiye poḍtum."
Translation: Meanwhile a person born in Nityānanda Gosvāmī's family from Khardah came and stood behind Thakur's chair. His age was 34 or 35. Thakur was filled with delight at the sight of him. He held his hand and talked with him. Every now and then he said, "Please sit down here. Your presence strongly enkindles in me [the thought of God]." He played tenderly with the young man's hands and lovingly stroked his face.
When Goswami left, Thakur said to M, "He is a great scholar. His father is a great devotee. When I go to Khardah for darśan at the Śyāmsundar temple, he feeds me with the prasād that cannot be got even after paying a hundred rupees.
"His traits are good. A little shaking will awaken his spiritual consciousness. Seeing him, there is great spiritual enkindling [in me]. If it had increased a little more, I would have stood up [in ecstasy]."
Besides shaving twenty years off the man's age in order to make him a "boy," Kālī's Child suppresses the fact—and eliminates the context— that the person belonged to the family of Nityānanda Gosvāmī. That leads to distorting the word uddīpan to mean "all excited" in order to strengthen the homoerotic subtext. The fact that the person belonged to a family closely associated with Caitanya, the fifteenth/sixteenth-century saint worshiped by many as an avatar, was the reason why Ramakrishna said that his presence enkindled (uddīpan) in him the thought of God.18 Stroking a person's face with one's hand is a common way of expressing affection in Bengal. But the book distorts the text to: "stroked the young boy with his hand."
The next "boy" we meet is Purnachandra Ghosh (1871-1913), who was greatly respected by Ramakrishna's devotees for his spiritual attainments. In Kālī's Child's Introduction we are introduced to "little boy Purna," who was one of Ramakrishna's "beloved boy disciples" (11). Beloved he certainly was, and young as well—but as a thirteen year old (the age when he first met Ramakrishna), Purna would not qualify as a "little boy." Purna would be married and working in a firm within three years. Kālī's Child nevertheless goes out of its way to belabor Ramakrishna's purported "homoerotic infatuation" with Purna (75). Should that charge not be sufficiently clear, Kripal continues: "Ramakrishna ... is in love with Purna. He wants to kiss and embrace Purna as if he were a woman and Purna a man." Purna, Kripal further asserts, was the "object of Ramakrishna's erotic desire," and this had been a "glaring scandal" (75). The reader is also informed that Ramakrishna "wanted to sexually engage Purna" (162).
Purna was a student in M's school when M brought him to meet Ramakrishna. M believed Purna to be spiritually gifted and had already begun to give Purna religious instructions. Ramakrishna agreed with M's assessment, declaring Purna to be an īśvarakoṭi, an ever-free soul. Ramakrishna often speaks of Purna in the Kathāmṛta, telling M, for example, that Purna has "great potential" (khub ādhār). "How else could he make me do japa for him? But he doesn't know any of this" (Tā nā ho'le or jonyo jop koriye nile! O to e śob kothā jāne nā) (KA 3.130). We are told that even at a young age Purna "commanded much respect from [Ramakrishna's] devotees for his spirituality" (Chetanananda 1989, 387). This respect was universal, both from Ramakrishna's lay devotees and monastic disciples.19 Much against his will, Purna was forced to marry at a young age—a practice that was not uncommon for both young men and women at that time.
Giving Purna as an example, Kālī's Child bizarrely declares that "beloved boy disciples married and left the inner circle" of Ramakrishna's disciples (11). Yet Purna's marriage had nothing to do with his status as an īśvarakoṭi (Rakhal, another īśvarakoṭi, had married as well). Kālī's Child also asserts that Purna—because he married—"is never mentioned in the later accounts" (KC, 11). One wonders which "later accounts" Kripal is referring to, since Purna was deeply involved in the Ramakrishna Order until his death. Although this was a path he would not have voluntarily chosen, he married, had children, and held a job, yet remained close to Ramakrishna's disciples. In a rather touching turnabout, M sent his students to Purna for inspiration (Chetanananda 1989, 394).
While Vivekananda was in America, Purna saved all the newspaper clippings about him and read them aloud to gatherings at Balaram's house, where Ramakrishna's disciples often met. When Vivekananda returned to India from America, he visited Purna's home even before he reached the monastery. Purna was the first secretary of the Vivekananda Society, founded after Vivekananda's death, and when he had to move to Delhi and Simla because of his work, Ramakrishna's disciples would stay at Purna's home when they were in the area. When Ramakrishna's disciple, Swami Trigunatitananda, founded the first Hindu temple in America in San Francisco, it was Purna who sent him the pūjā vessels and other accoutrements necessary for Hindu ritualistic worship. Further, because Purna wrote well in English, he wrote many articles for Brahmavadin, the journal of the Ramakrishna Order, which later became the Vedanta Kesari.
As we can see, Kālī's Child's charge that Purna is not "mentioned in the later accounts" is baseless. Neither do we have any indication anywhere that Purna was the recipient of Ramakrishna's sexual advances, nor is there any indication that there was any suspicion about Ramakrishna's behavior toward young men. Indeed, when Purna became quite ill in 1913, Purna's mother approached Sarada Devi, asking her to intervene to save his life—despite the fact that Purna's parents had strongly opposed his visiting Ramakrishna, fearing that Purna would lose interest in school and become a monk. Sarada replied, "What can I do, my dear? Ask the Master. He will make him well.'" Purna's mother said, "You can do it if you like, Mother." To this, Sarada replied, "No, I can only let him know." When Purna's mother left, Sarada remarked, "The Master told them [Purna's parents] that Purna would not live long if he were married, but she did not listen to him. She hurriedly arranged his marriage so that he could not be a monk" (Chetanananda 1989, 398). Purna died not long after this incident but remains to this day revered within the Ramakrishna tradition, as Chetanananda writes, "an ideal yogi and an ideal householder" (399).
Let us now examine how Kālī's Child presents Purna:
KC, 73-74: Now in his late forties, he [Ramakrishna] is talking to M about Purna, a boy of fifteen (KA 3.224) who figures prominently in the saint's secret talk: "If I see Purna one more time, then my anxious desire might lessen! How clever he is! He feels a very great attraction for me. He says, 'I also feel a strange sensation to see you.' (to M) They've taken him from your school. Will this cause you any trouble?" (KA 3.182).
Not surprisingly, a sexualized definition of vyākulatā as "anxious desire" is now offered instead of the more sedate but more accurate word, "longing." Later in the text, the phrase "strange sensation" is enclosed in quotation marks, again to raise doubt regarding the actual nature of that sensation. In spite of such manipulation, the book is unable to unravel the nature of Ramakrishna's "anxious desire" (KC, 74). A strategy, therefore, is invented to reveal the true nature of that desire. This is done by adding: "We are told that it has resulted in a situation that might cause M, the schoolteacher, trouble at school, but that is all" (74).
To what does this "it" in the previous sentence refer? Ramakrishna's "anxious desire" for Purna? The Bengali texts are clear: the "it" refers to Purna's visits to Dakshineswar, which had worried his parents (and indeed, many other parents as well, whose children used to visit Dakshineswar). Purna's parents were concerned that these visits would adversely affect his studies. But this fact is suppressed in Kālī's Child (KC, 73-74) and mentioned only in passing several pages later (79). M often took his students to Dakshineswar so they could get an opportunity to see Ramakrishna. We must remember that in India at this time, providing spiritual guidance to students was deemed praiseworthy. The "trouble at school" was the possibility of a complaint against M, who was Purna's teacher, for taking Purna to Dakshineswar against his parents' wishes.
The book then presents several events and excerpts from conversations in order to highlight Ramakrishna's alleged "anxious infatuation" (74) for the "boy" Purna.
KA 4.212: Pūrner je abasthā, ete hoy śīghra dehanāś hobe—iśvarlābh holo, ār keno;—bā kichudiner madhye teḍe phum̐ḍe berube.
Daibaśvabhāb—debatār prakṛti. Ete lokabhoy kom thāke. Jadi galāy mālā, gāye candan, dhūp dhunār gandha deoā hoy; tā ho'le samādhi hoye jāy!—ṭhīk bodh hoy je, antare Nārāyan āchen—Nārāyan deha dhāran kore esechen. Āmi ṭer peyechi.
Translation: Purna is in such an exalted state that either he will very soon give up his body—the body is useless after attaining God—or his inner nature will burst forth within a few days.
He has a divine nature—the traits of a god. It makes a person less fearful of others. If a garland of flowers is put around the neck, the body is smeared with sandal-paste, and incense is burnt, the result will be samādhi. In that state one knows clearly that God (Nārāyaṇa) dwells in the body, that it is God who has assumed the body. I have understood this.
KC, 74: In another passage, Ramakrishna explains that Purna possesses the "divine essence" of a god: "If you put a garland on his neck and sandalpaste on his body and then burn incense, he goes into samādhi!" (KA 4.212).
A few pages later in Kālī's Child, we see that Ramakrishna's words ("if a garland of flowers is put") have mysteriously evolved into his "habit" of garlanding Purna and "rubbing" sandal paste on his "'body'":
KC, 162: In another passage, yet again in volume 4, we learn that Ramakrishna's habit of garlanding Purna with flowers and rubbing sandal-paste on his "body" would send the boy into samādhi (KA 4.212).
Why is the "body" placed in scare quotes? Because, the book suggests, the "body" really means the genitals. Let us look at three of the following passages from Kālī's Child:
KC, 160: Just a few lines down, Ramakrishna reveals another secret. After telling his audience how he used to perform Tantric rituals with the Bhairavī, Ramakrishna becomes excited and turns to a disciple: "In that state I couldn't help but worship the little penises of boys with sandal-paste and flowers" (KA 4.232).
KC, 352: [Endnote] In one Tantric ritual, after the male partner has rubbed the yoni or "vagina" of his Śakti with sandal-paste, the Śakti then rubs her partner's liṅgam or "penis" with sandal-paste (YT 2.9). Ramakrishna may have been enacting the female role of this Tantric ritual.
KC, 160-61: The vision has entered waking life: the boyish penis he played with in the dream-like vision of the other passage he now rubs with sandal-paste in the light of the day; and the laughter of the dream has been replaced by the seriousness and compulsion of the ritual act.
Approximately twenty years separate Ramakrishna's "dreamlike vision" of the naked paramahaṁsa from his meeting with Purna. Connecting these two events, Kālī's Child claims that the "boyish penis" of the visionary paramahaṁsa that Ramakrishna "would fondle" (KC 1995, 160)—or according to the second edition, "would play with" (KC, 160)—now becomes Purna's penis that Ramakrishna "rubs" with sandalpaste. Kālī's Child provides an endnote (KC, 352) which offers the speculation that Ramakrishna "may have been" enacting a Tantric ritual. This speculation is deemed strong enough to transform it into an established fact. Although the Kathāmṛta clearly states: "if the body is smeared with sandalpaste" (KA 4.212), Kālī's Child renders this into "if you put ... sandalpaste on his body." Less than a hundred pages later, this phrase has evolved into "rubbing sandal-paste on his 'body'" (KC, 162; emphasis added), identifying the body as the penis. Kripal feels that it is now "reasonable to ask" if that is how Ramakrishna worshiped Purna (KC, 162).
Three more points: Ramakrishna describes in the Kathāmṛta his practices during his Tantric sadhana (KA 4.232). This was, as we have seen, long before Purna came to Dakshineswar. Secondly, in 4.212 the quote in question is in a separate paragraph. The Bengali original is quite neutral, and there is no indication that it is referring to Purna's case. Finally, Kālī's Child tells us that Ramakrishna told this to M "in secret" (KC, 344). This is not true. If we look up the passage in the Kathāmṛta, we find the room full of people and everyone heard what Ramakrishna said.
To add to this troubling atmosphere, thick with pederastic insinuations, we are told of "the seriousness and compulsion of the ritual act" (KC, 161). One certainly cannot accuse Kripal of subtlety here. But to any reader with knowledge of Bengali it is clear that texts have been distorted to create a scene fetid with sexual abuse, a scene which does not exist in any of the source texts on Ramakrishna, let alone the Kathāmṛta citation which is given in Kālī's Child.
Kālī's Child works hard to create the impression that Purna was the "object of Ramakrishna's erotic desire" (75). To that end, the book uses prejudicial language to strengthen that perception and conceals textual material which would work against this conjecture, as we can see below:
KC, 74: In yet another passage, M tells us that Ramakrishna was so "anxious" to see Purna that he showed up at M's house late one night and asked M to fetch the boy, which M did (KA 3.224).
The reader is told that Ramakrishna "showed up" at M's house late one night and wanted to see Purna. We can note in passing the pejorative tone of that sentence: the reader is alerted that this is suspect behavior. Kripal tells us that M fetched Purna, but he does not tell us what happened afterward. Under this pederastic cloud of suspicion, Kripal leaves to the reader's imagination the queasy possibilities of what happened with Ramakrishna and "the boy" Purna. Interestingly, the very next sentence of this passage tells us: "The Master gave the boy many instructions about prayer and afterward returned to Dakshineswar." Such behavior does not lend itself to Kālī's Child's portrait of Ramakrishna, so it is concealed.
Below we can see another example of how Kālī's Child takes any mention of Purna and turns it into a homoerotic selling point. Notice that there is no mention here of Ramlal, even though he is a central part of the sentence. We can also note the defining characteristic of Purna, yet again, as "the boy."
KA 4.286: "Śarīrer ei rog—kintu abidyā māyā rākhe nā. Ei dyākho, Rāmlāl, ki bāḍī, ki paribār, āmār mone nāī!—ke nā Pūrna kāyet tār janya bhābchi. Oder janya to bhābanā hoy nā."
Translation: "The body has this illness but avidyā-māyā cannot touch it. See this—there is no thought in the mind about Ramlal [Ramakrishna's nephew] or home or wife, but I am worrying about Purna, who is a kāyastha. I am not worrying about them!"
KC, 74: Finally, Ramakrishna brags that even in his illness he is not deluded by māyā. To prove his point, he notes that his mind no longer dwells on his wife or his home. Now he thinks only of Purna, the boy (KA 4.286).
Apart from the blatantly prejudicial translation, it is clear that Ramakrishna is discussing vidyāmāyā and avidyāmāyā. He defines avidyāmāyā as identification with only one's own relatives and belongings; vidyāmāyā, in contrast, is identification with God and his devotees. Further, when the body is ill, it is often dragged into avidyāmāyā. It is in this context that Ramakrishna describes his own experience. His reference to Purna as a "kāyastha" is changed in Kālī's Child to "the boy" for obvious reasons—and that completely changes the context. Ramakrishna's reference to Purna as one who belongs to the kāyastha caste is important. In the fiercely caste-conscious Hindu society of that period, a brahmin showing concern for a kāyastha (which is below the brahmin in the caste hierarchy) showed that caste distinction was no barrier because Purna was a true devotee of God and caring for him was a sign of vidyāmāyā.
When Ramakrishna says that he has no thought in his mind about his wife (paribār can also refer to one's family), it does not mean that he did not care for her. The fact was that he cared for her not simply because she was his wife. That his love, concern, and respect for her were profound is amply documented by any number of incidents from their life together, material that is suppressed in Kālī's Child.
Below we can see an example of how even ontological principles are relentlessly sexualized to create a homoerotic scenario:
KA 4.271: ṭhakur manir sohit pūrna sombandhe kothā koitechen. Śrīrāmakṛṣṇa—"Tomāy bolchi—e sob jīber śunte nāi—prakṛti bhābe puruṣke (īśvarke) āliṅgan korte icchā hoy.
Translation: Thakur is talking to M about Purna. SrI ramakrIShna: "Let me tell you—this should not be heard by all people—looking upon oneself as prakṛti one feels like embracing puruṣa (īśvara)."
KC, 74: The Master is talking to M about Purna— Sri Ramakrishna—"What I'm telling you—this is not for every soul to hear—I want to kiss and embrace man (God) as a woman (KA 4.271)."
Here we can see that Kripal has inserted his own phrase "I want to" and has ascribed it to Ramakrishna in order to draw the conclusion that "he is in love with Purna. He wants to kiss and embrace Purna as if he were a woman and Purna a man" (KC, 75). The Bengali āliṅgan, which means hug or embrace, has evolved into "kiss and embrace."20 Again, let us recall that puruṣa and prakṛti are ontological categories with no sexual identity. In the text they are used in their philosophical sense, as is obvious from M's parenthetical reference to Îśvara, but in Kālī's Child these terms are translated as "man" and "woman."
KA 4.193: Tām̐r upar bhālobāsa jadi āse tār nām rāgabhakti. Baidhībhakti āsteo jato kkhan, jeteo tato kkhan. Rāgabhakti svayam-bhu liṅger mato. Tār joḍ khum̐je pāvā jāy nā. Svayambhu liṅger joḍ kāśī parjanta. Rāgabhakti, abatār ār tām̐r sāṅgopaṅger hoy.
Translation: If there is love for Him [God], then it is called rāgabhakti. Vaidhī-bhakti can go away as fast as it comes. Rāga-bhakti is like a svayambhu liṅga: its roots cannot be traced. A svayambhu liṅga's roots reach up to Kashi. The incarnation and his apostles have rāga-bhakti.
KC, 230: In a strikingly translucent passage, Ramakrishna explains that it is this love, likened to a mystical phallus, that the incarnation shares with his disciples (KA 4.193).
The text is clear: rāga-bhakti means love for God and the incarnation and his disciples have this love. Rāga-bhakti is a form of devotion higher than vaidhī-bhakti (rāga, "love"; vaidhī, "ritualistic"). In Kālī's Child the love for God is changed to the love "that the incarnation shares with his disciples." In keeping with the general tenor of the book, it is not surprising that liṅga is translated as "phallus" but how svayambhu (svayam + bhu, "self-become," i.e., the liṅga that is found in a natural state and not sculpted by hand) is rendered "mystical" is unclear.
For a slight change of pace, we can now take a look at how Kālī's Child depicts a section of the Kathāmṛta in which Ramakrishna describes the nature of a paramahaṁsa who can be like a child or a person overcome with divine madness:
KA 4.106: Paramahaṁser ābār unmāder avasthā hoy. Jakhon unmād holo, śibaliṅga bodhe nijer liṅga pūjā kortām. Jībanta-liṅgapuja. Ekṭā ābār muktā parāno hoto! Ekhon ār pāri nā.
Translation: "The Paramahaṁsa also gets into a state of madness. When I had the state of madness, I would worship my penis (liṅga) with the awareness that it was a Śivaliṅga. [It was the] worship of the living liṅga. A pearl used to be put on it! I cannot do that now.
KC, 161: "The paramahaṁsa's state of madness also used to come [upon me]. I would become mad and worship my own penis with the awareness that it was Śiva's penis. This is called the worship of the living liṅgam [jīvantaliṅgapūjā]. And it became adorned with a pearl! Now I'm not able to do that (KA 4.106)."
In the first edition of Kālī's Child, the penultimate phrase was translated as: "And a little pearl would come out! Now I'm not able to do that (KA 4.106)" (KC 1995, 161). Regarding the "pearl," Kālī's Child is completely off the mark. It is remarkable that someone who is ostensibly a stickler for literal accuracy should write something so breathtakingly inaccurate. An endnote suggests that the "pearl" is "a ball of seminal fluid" (KC, 352).21 The explanation is much simpler. It is customary in India to decorate the Śivaliṅga with garlands and ornaments such as jewels or necklaces. In order to make sense of the kind of "pearl" Kripal has in mind, he not only distorts the translation of the Bengali phrase, ekṭā ābār muktā parāno hoto ("A pearl used to be put on it") but also changes the active voice ("used to be put") to a passive voice ("became adorned").
It is important to keep in mind that in Bengali and other Indian languages, liṅga does not carry the weight which "penis" does in English. The Śivaliṅga as a religious icon represents Śiva, not "Śiva's penis." When Hindus worship a Śivaliṅga, they have in mind neither a "penis" nor "Śiva's penis," but the presence of the divine in the form of Śiva. Thus the translation "Śiva's penis" is not only inaccurate but also culturally insensitive.
Purna is not the only recipient of Kālī's Child's special attention. As we can see below, Kālī's Child distorts the text when it comes to Ramakrishna's relationships with Narendra and Nityagopal as well.
KA 1.204: "Îśvarke joto lābh hobe, totoi bicār kombe. Tām̐ke lābh hole ār śabda bicār thāke nā. Takhon nidrā—samādhi."
Ei boliyā Narendrer gāy hāt bulāiyā mukhe hāt diyā ādar koritechen o bolitechen, "Hari Om, Hari Om, Hari Om."
Keno eirup koritechen o bolitechen? Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa ki Narendrer madhye sākkhāt Nārāyan darśan koritechen? Er-i nām ki mānuṣe īśvar darśan? Ki āścarjja! Dekhite dekhite ṭhakurer saṁjñā jāiteche. Oi dekho bahirjagater hum̐sh coliyā jāiteche. Er-i nām bujhi ardha bāhjja-daśā—jāhā Śrī Gaurā~ṅger hoiyāchilo. Ekhon-o Narendrer pāyer upar hāt—jeno chal koriyā Nārāyaner pā ṭipitechen—ābār gāye hāt bulāitechen. Eto gā-ṭepā, pā-ṭepā keno? E ki Nārāyaner śebā korchen, nā śakti soñcār korchen?
Translation: "The nearer you approach God, the less you will reason and argue. Once he is attained, then all sounds—reasoning and arguing—come to an end. Then it is time for sleep—samādhi."
Saying this, he [Ramakrishna] affectionately stroked Narendra's body and touched his face, uttering "Hari Om, Hari Om, Hari Om."
Why is he doing and saying this? Is Sri Ramakrishna seeing Nārāyaṇa himself in Narendra? Is this what is meant by seeing God in human beings? What a wonder! Thakur is fast becoming unconscious. Look, he has lost consciousness of the outer world. This, I understand, is the state of semi-consciousness that Śrī Caitanya experienced. He still has his hand on Narendra's foot, as if he is massaging the feet of Nārāyaṇa. Again he strokes Narendra's body. Why so much of pressing of the body and feet? Is he serving Nārāyaṇa or perhaps he is infusing spiritual power?
KC, 228: In one such passage, Ramakrishna is caressing the body and mouth of Narendra. "Why?" M asks himself and his readers. "Is it because he sees Nārāyaṇa himself in Narendra? Is he having a vision of God in a man?" M's question is not answered as Ramakrishna rubs and presses Narendra's body and feet in an ecstatic state. M asks again, not at all sure of himself: "Is he transmitting his śakti?" (KA 1.204). M still receives no answer.
This is a fine example of both a stunning mistranslation as well as a misleading interpretation. Kripal renders the same Bengali phrase gāye hāt bulāitechhen [literally, "stroke the body"] in two different ways: "caressing the body" and "rubs and presses Narendra's body." In actuality what this phrase implies, given the context, is simply patting his back.
Second, Kripal writes: "M's question is not answered" and "M still receives no answer." The problem with this paraphrase is that M is not asking the question of anyone. These thoughts arise in his mind: the questions are purely rhetorical and their answer is obvious in the Kathāmṛta. Moreover, the statement that M was "not at all sure of himself"—although it is followed by a reference from the Kathāmṛta— is entirely Kripal's conjecture. It is neither a translation nor a paraphrase from the Bengali. Both M's uncertainty and the lack of "answer" are invented in Kālī's Child to plant doubt in the reader's mind regarding the reason for Ramakrishna's affectionate behavior toward Narendra.
Kālī's Child, continuing its pederastic subtext, introduces Nityagopal to its readers as "the little Nityagopal." At the age of twenty-three, the young man was hardly "little":
KA 5.129: Nityagopālke bhābābiṣṭa dekhiyā ṭhākur tāhāke du'ek grās khāoāiyā dilen.
Translation: Seeing Nityagopal in an ecstatic state, Ramakrishna put a morsel or two into his mouth.
KC, 274: But those who remained celibate won both Ramakrishna's favor and his food. Hence an ecstatic Ramakrishna feeds the little Nityagopal by grabbing both of his hands and intimately putting them to his mouth (KA 5.129).
Kālī's Child's distortions are clear: The reader is presented with an "ecstatic" Ramakrishna (which is incorrect—it was not Ramakrishna but Nityagopal who was in an ecstatic state), who feeds the "little Nityagopal" (who was little neither in age nor in stature) by "grabbing both of his hands" (the Kathāmṛta citation has neither a verb for "grabbing" nor a noun for "hand" and note the subtext inherent in "grabbing") and "intimately" (again the word is not in the citation, and again note the subtext) putting "little" Nityagopal's hands to his mouth. As appalling as this textual rendering is, what is omitted from the text is as significant as what is inserted: the book neglects to inform the reader that Ramakrishna fed only "a morsel or two" of food to Nityagopal. It is such manipulative insertions in the text, and careful omissions from it, followed by references to Bengali source books, which change the texts' context and meaning.
At this point we can examine a few examples of other "boys" who appear in Kālī's Child.
KC, 80: Narayan was actually beat up by his family when he returned home from visiting Ramakrishna on more than one occasion.
Since the book claims that the beating took place "on more than one occasion," the author probably felt compelled to give "more than one" reference. Thus in an endnote (KC, 345) Kripal provides two references from the Kathāmṛta : KA 3.98 and 4.143. At KA 3.98 we see Narayan arrive at Dakshineswar and Ramakrishna referring to Narayan's having received a beating at home. But when we go to the second reference, KA 4.143, we find nothing at all about Narayan.
KC, 80: In yet another passage, a piqued Ramakrishna scolds little Naren for abandoning his studies to visit him: "Your father will hurt you" (KA 3.196).
We can note in passing the use of "little Naren" for Narendra Nath Mitra, who as M's student was young, but certainly not "little." In the Kathāmṛta he is referred to as younger Naren (Choṭo Naren) to distinguish him from Narendra Nath Dutta, who was older than he. Kālī's Child's "little Naren" seems less like a translation of Choṭo Naren than a strategy to create "little" boys around Ramakrishna. We are once again reminded of conjuring "little" Nityagopal (KC, 274), "little Naran" (318), and Sarat's "little brother" (80). More to the point, however, in the Kathāmṛta section quoted above (KA 3.196), we do not find Ramakrishna scolding the younger Naren and we do not see him saying: "Your father will hurt you." Both the situation as well as the context have been distorted here.
The context is this: Some days earlier, the younger Naren had said: "I cannot come often because of work, studying for the exams, etc." (āmār kāj āche boliyā āsite pāri nā, parīkkhār jonnya poḍā—ityādi). So when the younger Naren arrives after a few days, Ramakrishna reminds him that he had not sent for him. Naren smiles and says, "So what can be done?" Ramakrishna tells him, "[If you come] your work will suffer. Come when you have leisure" (tā bāpu tomār aniṣṭa hobe, abasar hole āśbe) (KA 3.196). Note particularly that nowhere is it said, as Kālī's Child would have us believe, "Your father will hurt you."
The author's motivation seems to be to invent a circumstance that would enable him to claim: "It was not an unreasonable fear: at one point, Naren stays three nights at Dakshineswar, apparently to escape his father's anger." No reference is provided, so it is unclear where this bit of information was unearthed. The author then continues:
KC, 80: Ramakrishna was also afraid of Naren's father. In one passage he relates how he went to see Naren but then turned back in fear of Naren's father. Everyone laughs (KA 3.182).
In the Kathāmṛta reference cited above, we find something very different: Ramakrishna asks the younger Naren to take him to his house. Naren responds with a cheerful: "Please do come," but becomes nervous as they start moving toward the house, lest his father should know about it. It was the younger Naren who was afraid of his father, not Ramakrishna. And it is hearing about Naren's dilemma that makes everyone laugh, not any alleged fear on Ramakrishna's part.
KC, 80: Paltu is also in trouble for seeing Ramakrishna (KA 3.129), as are Tarak (KA 3.124-25) and Dvija.
This sentence ends with an endnote reference (KC, 345), where we find two more references: KA 3.179 and KA 4.234. The reason why these two references, both dealing with Dvija, were pushed to endnotes instead of the usual parentheses is unclear until we check them and find that KA 4.234 mentions an incident when Dvija's father comes to meet Ramakrishna. Dvija's father is very respectful and quite impressed after meeting Ramakrishna and tells him: "I tell my children that studies are necessary. I don't forbid them to come to you, but I don't want them to waste their time fooling around with their friends."
The issue of neglected studies, in fact, was the reason why most parents objected to their sons' visits to Dakshineswar, but this information is carefully sidestepped in Kālī's Child. Amiya Sen notes in this connection that one of Ramakrishna's young disciples, Naran, visited Ramakrishna against his parents' wishes. Fearful that Naran's future success would be imperiled, "[Naran's] mother personally called on Ramakrishna so that she might persuade the saint to impress upon her son the importance of doing well in his course of study and getting settled early in life" (Amiya Sen 2001, 45; KA 2.109-110). Of course this is not mentioned in Kālī's Child. Instead, the reader is told that "Ramakrishna loves Naran, a boy of seventeen with beautiful fair skin" (KC, 65). In Kālī's Child's two other references to Naran, he is predictably referred to as "little Naran" (KC, 235, 318).
KC, 80: The families object to an unspecified crime. M fears for himself (KA 3.149).
In the Kathāmṛta reference above (KA 3.149) there is nothing at all about "families" or "unspecified crimes." Interestingly, this is the second time this particular passage is quoted in Kālī's Child. The first citation, which occurs six pages earlier (KC, 74), fails to report any hint of an "unspecified crime."
KC, 81: Ramakrishna asks M if he could go to M's school to look for boys. M suggests that instead Ramakrishna wait at his house and that he bring the boys to him (KA 3.101).
In KA 3.101 we read that after talking about Narayan and Tejchandra, Ramakrishna expresses the wish to visit M's school. M assumes that Ramakrishna wants to meet Narayan; M therefore suggests that he can bring Narayan home himself and Ramakrishna can wait there. Ramakrishna then tells M that he wants to see if there are other boys in the school. M was teaching in a boys' school and, of course, besides Narayan and Tejchandra there were many other boys. Ramakrishna wanted to know whether there were other boys as spiritually inclined as Narayan and Tejchandra. M immediately agrees and invites Ramakrishna. The purpose of Ramakrishna's visits and his faith in M are apparent also from the instruction he gave M regarding another young devotee: "Bring Bankim here, otherwise you instruct him; your words will bring him illumination" (Prabhananda 1993, 220).
Kālī's Child's suggestion that Ramakrishna wanted to go to M's school "to look for boys" is both mischievous and misleading. Alleging that Ramakrishna's contemporaries were critical and suspicious of his relationship with his male disciples, Kālī's Child tells us that Ramakrishna developed his own philosophy to counter criticism regarding his love for "boys":
KC, 82: Just as water is water, but only some water is appropriate for drinking and washing, so some people are more spiritually fit, more mystically "powerful" (śakti) than others—all men are not created equal (KA 3.181).
How did Thomas Jefferson get in here? If we look at the Kathāmṛta reference (KA 3.181), we find only the example regarding water meant for drinking and washing. Ramakrishna gives the example to show that although all are in essence divine, the manifestation of their divinity varies, just as all water, although essentially the same, can be differentiated on the basis of its fitness for drinking or washing. As one might suspect, the cited text does not say anything at all about all men being created equal or unequal.
Again belaboring the "boys" theme, Kālī's Child continues:
KC, 82: Boys are particularly lucent bearers of God's light and power, for their breasts have not yet been covered over by the feces of worldly concerns and that most damaging of worldly realities—a job.
Breasts? The reader should be intrigued. The passage points to an endnote which provides the following (mistranslated) quote from the Kathāmṛta:
"I said to Kedar, 'Nothing will happen if your mind dwells on loverand-gold.' I wanted to pass my hand over his breast, but I could not. It was all knotted up inside. I couldn't enter a room that smelled of feces" (KA 4.230). (KC, 345)
But what does the careful reader find in the Kathāmṛta? Ramakrishna says that Kedar (who in 1885, the date of the citation, was fifty-three years old and yet, in the eyes of Kālī's Child, still a "boy" [KC, 66]) was all knotted up inside. Kedar's heart was like a room filled with feces, since his mind was preoccupied with materialistic pursuits powered by lust and greed. The Bengali word buk can mean chest, heart, breast, depending on the context. In the passage about Kedar, "chest" would have been the appropriate translation. But in a section that is subtitled "Pure Pots for the Milk of Love" (KC, 82), it helps to translate buk as "breast," just as it helps to transform an illustrative example into a distorted metaphor. In order to emphasize the primacy of purity in spiritual life, Ramakrishna gave the example of an unclean pot in which milk becomes quickly spoiled, whereas in a new pot, the milk remains fresh. Even so, one who is uncontaminated is able to retain the purity of the teaching and become enlightened faster than one who is not. This example becomes transformed in Kālī's Child into a metaphor where the "boys" become "pure pots" for "the milk of love." Interestingly, "of love" is Kālī's Child's own contribution; the phrase is not in the Kathāmṛta. Nor, in fact, is the last phrase from the Kālī's Child citation above: "for their breasts have not yet been covered over by the feces of worldly concerns and that most damaging of worldly realities—a job." The words are Kripal's creation but the unsuspecting reader would not be aware of this fact.
Finally, in the Kālī's Child passage above: "Boys are particularly lucent bearers of God's light and power" (KC, 82), we find additional problems. When we read the referenced text (KA 4.230), it is unmistakable that Ramakrishna was referring to his own young disciples, not just generic "boys." We know, for example, that Ramakrishna did not care for some of the young friends that Naren and others brought along with them, because they were not spiritually inclined. But, as we have seen, Kālī's Child takes every opportunity to create the impression that Ramakrishna had a homoerotic attraction for "boys," whether the texts support such an allegation or not. For example:
KC, 82: In another passage he [Ramakrishna] explains why he is so "excited" (uddīpana) in the presence of the boys: unlike the common man, they contain the sweet pudding of devotion (KA 2.50).
Here the author forces together two distant and completely unconnected passages from the Kathāmṛta, but the quote is deceptively referenced to make it appear as if he were citing one or two related phrases. In the Kathāmṛta citation given above (KA 2.50), we find Ramakrishna saying that he would be "enkindled by the thought of God" (īśvarer uddīpan) when he saw Rakhal doing japa. By omitting the word "God" from his translation, Kripal changes the context and the meaning of the quotation, his phrase insinuating that Ramakrishna became "excited in the presence of boys"—God somehow having gotten lost in translation.
Following Ramakrishna's statement regarding his being enkindled by the thought of God when he saw Rakhal doing japa, there is more discussion, after which Ramakrishna ate lunch and rested. After his rest, Ramakrishna said that though outwardly there may not be much difference in people, inwardly they might be quite different. In this context, Ramakrishna gives the example of a Bengali sweet preparation which looks the same from the outside, but is basically different depending on the kind of filling—whether custard or lentil—it has. It is the same with people, he said. Note again Kālī's Child's use of "sweet pudding" with "boys," which brings us back to the book's basic thesis: that Ramakrishna was "a lover ... of young, beautiful boys, those 'pure pots' ... that could hold the 'milk' of his divine love" (KC, 3). There is nothing in the Kathāmṛta citation to warrant this "sweet pudding" and "boys" association, but Kālī's Child binds them together to maintain its sotto voce pederastic drumbeat.
KC, 68: This radical passivity is evident in the way Ramakrishna is powerfully attracted to different boy disciples and the manner in which they in turn are attracted to him. "Their natures are very pure," Ramakrishna declares, "and so when they sing they attract me!"
Should the perspicacious reader hope to track down the origin of this supposed quotation from Ramakrishna, she or he will be disappointed. Unlike other citations which appear in Kālī's Child, this quote from the Kathāmṛta has the reference not in parentheses, but in an endnote (KC, 343). Yet when one turns to the endnote, all it says is: "Cf. KA 3.136." Should one persevere and read the Kathāmṛta 3.136, one will find absolutely nothing about these alleged words of Ramakrishna which Kripal "quotes." However, by the time Ramakrishna's "radical passivity" and "powerfully attracted" are combined with "boy disciples," the damage has been done—valid citation or not, valid translation or not.
We have below yet another example of Kripal's fixation on "boys," which is combined with inaccurate documentation. Kālī's Child uses Haramohan as an example of what happened when "one of those pure pots went bad." We read:
Ramakrishna once "anxiously desired" to see Haramohan, but when the boy married, he quit coming as often, and when he did come, he brought his wife along, the two of them sitting together apart from Ramakrishna. Peeved at this new development, Ramakrishna told Haramohan to leave, explaining, "How can my body touch yours?" (KA. 4.109). (KC, 82-83)
Kālī's Child concludes with this final shot:
The pot had gone bad, its pure milk wasted on a mere woman. (KC, 83)
What is the problem with Haramohan? When Ramakrishna first saw the young Haramohan, Ramakrishna said, he had many good tendencies. But later his life underwent a change and the young man developed worldly tendencies. Haramohan once came to meet Ramakrishna with his wife. Seeing those worldly tendencies, Ramakrishna told him to go away; he could not even touch him.
Was this change in Ramakrishna's attitude toward Haramohan due to his marriage, as Kālī's Child would have us believe? No. What, then, was the issue? Ramakrishna opens the subject of Haramohan with these words: "Attachment to lust and greed make a person smallminded (hīnabuddhi)." It was this attachment which Ramakrishna saw in Haramohan, and apparently it was this canker that Ramakrishna was aiming to cauterize by telling Haramohan to leave the room. Ramakrishna remarks in the Kathāmṛta that Haramohan did his wife's grocery shopping—the implication being that Haramohan was no longer a free man but followed the dictates of his wife. Furthermore, Ramakrishna mentions that Haramohan and his wife lived separately—i.e., they were no longer living with Haramohan's parents (as was the norm for Indian families of that time). This would be considered not only extremely selfish but also irreligious—neglecting one's duty to one's parents, who were to be served as embodiments of the divine, was against the dictates of dharma. We can remember that M also lived separately from his father and stepmother, which had distressed Ramakrishna.22 Thus from Ramakrishna's perspective, and as we can see from the source texts, Haramohan's attachment to his wife (which is why he no longer lived with his parents) had put his life into a downward spiral and for this reason, Ramakrishna, disgusted, asked him to leave the room.
Nowhere in the cited Kathāmṛta text (4.109)—from which Kripal supposedly quotes—do we find Ramakrishna upset because of Haramohan's marriage per se. In fact, a year and a half later, on January 1, 1886, Ramakrishna did approach Haramohan and at that time he touched his chest (Chetanananda 1989, 331). Perhaps the cauterization technique worked, for later in life the source texts indicate that Haramohan had many spiritual experiences and was extremely close to Ramakrishna's disciples, monastic and lay. Haramohan became a staunch devotee—printing Suresh Dutta's Śrī Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa Deber Upadeś ["Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna Deva"] as well as printing the pamphlets of Vivekananda—all at his own expense (332).
Thus, we can see that, contrary to the claim in Kālī's Child, Ramakrishna's reaction to Haramohan was not because the pot's "pure milk" had been wasted on "a mere woman." Nor was Ramakrishna's earlier response to Haramohan that of "anxiously desiring." An entirely different problem can be seen in the example below:
KC, 69: In one scene, for example, a young boy comes to Ramakrishna and reveals to the Paramahaṁsa that he has seen him in his dreams, just sitting there saying nothing. An excited Ramakrishna breaks in: "That's very good! . . . You're attracted to me, isn't this so?" There is silence, followed by Ramakrishna's request that the boy come again. But he will make no promises, for his family objects (KA 4.149).
What is truly peculiar here is that Kripal does not mention in the reference above that the young boy referred to is Purna—even though the Kathāmṛta mentions it quite explicitly. By now the reader is well aware that Purna's parents objected to him visiting Ramakrishna because they feared his studies would suffer. Yet Kripal does not name "the young boy"—perhaps to give the reader the impression that this was yet another "young boy" whose parents objected to their son visiting Ramakrishna. The only reason this is advantageous to Kālī's Child is to again hammer upon the allegation that parents were worried about their sons being with Ramakrishna. To quote Kālī's Child: "He [Ramakrishna] 'ruins so many school boys.' The phrase carries both a sexual scandal and a social problem. . . . But even given the scandal of Ramakrishna's homosexual behavior, it was the social problem that was more basic, more troubling" (KC, 79).23 Worse, Kālī's Child asserts:
Ramakrishna's power over the boys and the disciples is mysterious, inexplicable, controversial. . . . It unites the human and the divine in the persons of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, it unites Ramakrishna and the disciples, it is discerned in a dream, and it is rejected by the social world as dangerous. (KC, 69)
To address the most obvious issues first: As we have repeatedly shown, there was nothing "controversial" about Ramakrishna's relationship with his young disciples. Every allegation which has been made in Kālī's Child has been investigated and found spurious. Throughout the course of this book, we have repeatedly shown that the only objection made concerning Ramakrishna and his young disciples was their parents' fear that by going off to Dakshineswar and spending time with Ramakrishna—a paramahaṁsa who most unhelpfully preached renunciation—the boys' studies would suffer. In an India where the middle-class job market was—and still is—intensely competitive and formidable effort was required to scale the heights of the increasingly rarified social strata of the middle class, this is not difficult to understand. Opportunities for educated Bengali males in colonial India were not easy to come by. For parents, an educated son with a good job was a mandatory investment in their old age. Similar objections are raised even today. A young son or daughter taking more than casual interest in religion raises the fear that their studies (and consequently, their futures) will suffer.
Given that, the only "mysterious" power which Kripal needs to address is how Purna's parents' objections to Purna visiting Ramakrishna became transubstantiated in Kālī's Child into "Ramakrishna's power over the boys ... is rejected by the social world as dangerous." Dangerous? Ramakrishna's influence over his disciples may well have been annoying to the boys' parents—who wants to hear about renunciation from one's teenage son?—but hardly dangerous. Further, and not surprisingly, there is no mention of Rādhā or Kṛṣṇa anywhere near this citation, though the Kathāmṛta reference would have the reader believe that at least some mention is there. What seems likely is that Kālī's Child pulled up their names in order to bring to mind its earlier comment on Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa's "erotic union" (KC, 68). If Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa have an "erotic union" then Ramakrishna and his (boy) disciples... One only need fill in the blanks. When "controversial" and "dangerous" are added to the mix, the reader can hardly be blamed for having an impression of a "troubled" Ramakrishna in the Kathāmṛta that is entirely unwarranted.
What is peculiar about this entire discussion of the "young boy" who visits Ramakrishna, is that the boy is Purna. Yet within a few pages, Kripal will again return to the same reference in the Kathāmṛta and this time Purna's name will be invoked.
KC, 74: In yet another scene, M gets nervous when Purna scoots closer to Ramakrishna—will the boy's family hear about this visit too (KA 3.149)?
Yet this is exactly the same scene, the same date, time, page in the Kathāmṛta as the "young boy" above, who tells Ramakrishna that he dreamt of him. In fact, before he can tell Ramakrishna this, Ramakrishna asks him to come closer, since there is a roomful of people. As Kālī's Child makes much of this scene, let us look at it carefully:
First, the scene is in Balaram's drawing room in Calcutta and the room is filled with people. According to the Kathāmṛta, Ramakrishna is sitting with the devotees: M, Girish, Balaram, the younger Naren, Paltu, Dvija, Purna, Mahendra Mukherji, and "many devotees" (anek bhakta) are there. Many female devotees are also there, including M's wife, seated behind a screen. Trailokyanath Sannyal, Jaygopal Sen, and other members of the Brahmo Samaj arrive a little later. Those who have been in Balaram Bose's drawing room can attest that it is not spacious, so the room is fairly well crammed. Ramakrishna is talking with the devotees about his various sādhanas and his various spiritual realizations.
After a while Ramakrishna tells Purna: "Come here" (ekhāne eśo) so he can ask Purna questions about his spiritual life. Kālī's Child takes this exceedingly common phrase and refashions it into "scoot closer." What would be the point of such an idiosyncratic translation? Perhaps to bring to mind that portion of Purna's anatomy which is used to "scoot"? As the reader can see, there is nothing in ekhāne eśo (ekhāne means "here" and eśo means "[you] come") to warrant this description. Purna is merely sitting near Ramakrishna.
In an endnote the reader is informed that "'scoot closer' was a common request of Ramakrishna's" (KC, 344). To support this, two references from the Kathāmṛta are given: KA 3.99 and 3.209. In those citations we find nothing other than Ramakrishna saying, "Come and sit here." In the latter reference, there are so many people in the room that there is simply no place to sit. It is customary in India, as a mark of respect, not to sit close to a holy person unless one is invited to do so. Seeing that there was no place else for the musicians to sit, Ramakrishna invited them to sit near him so that the singing could begin.
Kālī's Child brings up yet again its spurious claim regarding Ramakrishna's "habit of garlanding Purna" and "rubbing sandal-paste on his 'body'" and proclaims that Purna's parents were "worried about such practices and suspected more than religion in this worship" (KC, 162) and cites KA 3.149 as a reference. Interestingly, Kripal has already mentioned this reference twice before (KC, 74 and 80). In the first reference, no mention is made of anything scandalous, just that M is "nervous." Six pages later, the same reference from the Kathāmṛta is given, and this time the reader is told: "The families object to an unspecified crime" (KC, 80). Now by page 162, when the same citation from the Kathāmṛta is brought up yet again, the reader is told that Purna's parents "suspected more than religion in this worship" (162). Yet there is nothing whatsoever in this increasingly familiar passage from Kathāmṛta 3.149 to warrant this claim, as we see in our discussion in this chapter.
In returning to the passage on KC, 74, we see a similar situation. Ramakrishna wants to ask Purna whether he has followed the instructions Ramakrishna has given him. Purna replies in the affirmative and then Ramakrishna asks him about his dreams, asking him in particular about dreams which are considered spiritually auspicious: "Do you dream of a flame? A lighted torch? A married woman? A cremation ground? It is good to dream of these things" (KA 3.149). Purna replies that he had dreamt of Ramakrishna sitting and instructing him (bośe āchen—ki bolchen). Ramakrishna then asks Purna to narrate an instruction (upadeś) he had received from him in the dream. Purna says that he cannot remember (mone nāi). Yet according to Kālī's Child's rendition above, in Purna's dreams Ramakrishna is "just sitting there saying nothing" (KC, 69)—which is entirely different from what we have just read in the Kathāmṛta (KA 3.149). There is a profound difference between Ramakrishna "just sitting there saying nothing" and Purna being unable to recollect the instructions he had received in his dream.
Ramakrishna continues by telling Purna that it does not matter; it—the dream—is very good (khūb bhālo). He tells Purna that he will make spiritual progress and asks, "You feel drawn to me, don't you?" (āmār upar to ṭan āche?). After a few minutes, Ramakrishna asks Purna whether he will be able to visit Dakshineswar; Purna says he cannot promise because it is not convenient. Both he and Ramakrishna—as well as some of the devotees in the room—are aware of Purna's parents' objections.
A couple of issues which Kālī's Child brings up require discussion here. First, let us look again at Kripal's translation: "M gets nervous when Purna scoots closer to Ramakrishna—will the boy's family hear about this visit too (KA 3.149)?" (KC, 74). This is misleading. It is quite clear from the text that M is not nervous because Purna is sitting near Ramakrishna, but because Girish inquires about the boy. The Kathāmṛta could not make it more evident if it tried:
KA 3.149: GIRISH (Māṣtārer prati): Ke e cheleṭi?
MĀṢTĀR (birakta hoiyā): Chele ār ke?
GIRISH (sahāsye): It needs no ghost to tell me that.
Māṣtārer bhoy hoiyāche pāche pām̐c jone jānite pārile cheler bāḍite goljog hoy ār tām̐hār nāme doṣ hoy. Cheleṭir soṅge ṭhākur-o seijonya āste āste kothā koitechen.
Translation: GIRISH (To M): "Who is the boy?"
M (Annoyed, to Girish): "Can't you see it's a boy?"
GIRISH (Smilingly to M, in English): "It needs no ghost to tell me that."
M is afraid that others will know who he is, which might create difficulties for Purna, and M himself might be blamed. This is also the reason that Thakur is speaking to the boy in a low voice.
As we can see, M is not nervous because Purna is sitting near Ramakrishna, but because Girish inquires about the boy. M is also irritated lest Girish's question about the boy bring attention to his presence. Since M was Purna's teacher, M knew he would be blamed for bringing the boy to Dakshineswar, should the word get out. Purna's family objected to his visits not because they were suspicious of Ramakrishna's character, but because such visits were considered a distraction from his studies. For this reason, Ramakrishna speaks to Purna in a low voice.
The last point which requires elaboration here is the Bengali word ṭān, which, according to Kripal, describes Ramakrishna's "dual desire for God and male disciples" (KC, 67). This is problematic, however, because of the associations with the English word "desire," which has sexual implications. ṭan means a pull or tug, an attraction, or affection. While the English expression "he is attracted to" often carries sexual implications, the Bengali ṭan carries no such undercurrent. While perhaps it could be used as a word denoting sexual attraction, it would be a very odd usage. In general usage, ṭan has nothing to do with sex. One can have ṭan for, say, Hawaii. Or for Bach's cantatas. Or for lattes. Or for one's mother or dog or friends or garden. In colloquial Bengali, ṭan simply means "a pull."
What does Ramakrishna mean, then, when he asks Purna if he has ṭan—feels drawn—to Ramakrishna? Ramakrishna was Purna's spiritual teacher, and one expects that a disciple will feel drawn—and we are not talking about sexual attraction here—to one's guru. If one feels no such pull, it does not bode well for the student. As importantly, Ramakrishna believed Purna to be an īśvarakoṭi, a person born with exceptional spiritual qualities. There was a special "recognition" between Ramakrishna and Purna—Ramakrishna considered Purna an ever-free soul and Purna considered Ramakrishna to be an avatar. Like Narendra, Rakhal, M, and others belonging to Ramakrishna's "inner circle," there was a special concern on Ramakrishna's part not only about these disciples' individual spiritual lives but also about their particular roles in Ramakrishna's— for lack of a better word—līlā, his play on earth. The avatar and those belonging to his "inner circle" are considered deeply connected, the īśvarakoti also being a manifestation of the avatar. As Ramakrishna said to M (and it would equally apply to all in his inner circle):
You are my own. The same substance (sattā), like father and son. Everyone coming here is like the kalmi creeper: when you pull one part of it, all the branches come toward you. You are all relatives— like brothers. . . . Until you came here, you didn't know who you were. Now you will know. God comes in the form of guru and teaches everyone. (KA 4.45)
If one feels queasy when reading Kālī's Child's version of Ramakrishna and Purna—in which an "excited Ramakrishna" says to Purna, "You're attracted to me, isn't this so?" (KC, 69), we should remember the considerable background behind the comment. We should also keep in mind that Ramakrishna spoke of ṭan often (using the word sometimes as a noun, other times as a verb), to both male and female disciples, young and old, in various contexts. He says, for example, that his mind was still being pulled (ṭene rekheche) to a song (KA 5.136); that the young disciples had a pull toward God (īśvarer dike ṭan) from their very birth (4.230); that when God himself pulls (ṭene lon) a person, then the ego vanishes on its own (4.229)—the list goes on and on. Yes, Ramakrishna does have ṭan for his devotees—particularly those young male disciples who would for the most part renounce the world and become the first monastic members of the Ramakrishna Order—and they had ṭan for him. However we should also keep in mind that all of Ramakrishna's disciples—male and female, young and old—had ṭan for Ramakrishna, and from what we can gather from these male and female disciples, they felt this was reciprocated.
We can, for example, remember the famous incident concerning Gauri-Ma, a woman who would become Ramakrishna's disciple and to whom he gave the ochre cloth of sannyāsa. When Gauri-Ma was told by Ramakrishna's disciple Balaram that she should meet Ramakrishna, she replied, "I have seen many monks in my life, and I have no desire to see another. If your holy man has real power, then let him pull me" (Durga Puri, 69). The next day while doing pūjā, she had an overwhelming spiritual experience. That changed her mind, and she wanted to meet Ramakrishna. When Gauri-Ma arrived, she found Ramakrishna winding thread around a stick—indicating to her that she had indeed been "pulled" by him (70-73). Ṭān works for women as well.
Another documentation and translation issue found in Kālī's Child has its basis in the book's preoccupation with male nudity. We have already seen how Kālī's Child endlessly belabors Tota's nudity. Ramakrishna's occasional nudity gets the same response: "Often, Ramakrishna would dance naked, surrounded by his male disciples, or pace, or sit naked among them" (231-32). Sometimes, Kripal continues, "the boys would danced naked," to which he adds:
Such practices did not always sit well with the locals. One scholar, after visiting the saint and witnessing such a show of dancing and singing, was supposed to have commented curtly: "Yes, a paramahaṁsa indeed."
Kripal's endnote (356) directs us to Sil's Rāmakṛṣṇa Paramahaṁsa, yet when we check the quoted text, we find Sil writing about Ramakrishna's increasing celebrity, not dancing naked with naked boys. Sil's text notes that the "distinguished intellectual and patriot from Bengal, Aśvinī Kumār Datta (1856-1923), who watched the devotees dance around Rāmakṛṣṇa in a circle with the master standing motionless and transfixed in samādhi for a long time, said to himself: 'Yes a paramahaṁsa indeed'" (Sil 1991, 108). We should note that the famed patriot-intellectual is referred to in Kālī's Child as "a scholar," and remains unnamed. Dutta was a life-long admirer of Ramakrishna, and his name appears often in Ramakrishna literature. In fact, Aswini Kumar Dutta appears prominently in the Appendix to the first volume of the Kathāmṛta. When we look at the text it becomes obvious that Dutta's words did not constitute what Kripal construes as a "curt comment." Dutta's comment was, in fact, highly appreciative since he says, regarding the dancing and singing that he witnessed: "What I saw then, I think I shall not forget in this or in the next life. Hearing and seeing that, I realized he was indeed a paramahaṁsa" (KA 1.262). Thus not only were there no problems "with the locals," there were no problems with Aswini Kumar Dutta either.
Kālī's Child informs the reader that Ramakrishna's visions were filled with naked boys: "It should also be noted that many of the personages that appeared in Ramakrishna's secret visions were naked. Many of them were boys" (KC, 232). Of all Ramakrishna's mystic visions which are found throughout five volumes of Bengali text, there are two visions which mention naked boys. The first vision is that of the naked paramahaṁsa boy who emerged from Ramakrishna's body; the second vision is with a boy thirteen or fourteen years old who looked like Purna. Scenes of boys or naked boys hardly constitute the majority of Ramakrishna's visions.
Those Pesky Five M's
We have already noted Kālī's Child's preoccupation with the "Five M's" (pañca makāra) in earlier pages, and the text informs us that the only "M" that Ramakrishna "seems to have truly conquered was matysa or fish." But Kālī's Child also informs the reader that since fish was accepted as a legitimate food, "this victory ... was not much of a victory" (KC, 129). Victory over fish was not something which concerned Ramakrishna, it is true, nor did he feel compelled to complete all the Five M's. As is well known, Ramakrishna did not engage in maithuna, sexual intercourse, because he went into samādhi simply upon seeing it. The Bhairavi said that the goal of Tantra sādhana was to attain this state of divine union; therefore, it was unnecessary for Ramakrishna to physically undergo that M, or makāra. Ramakrishna relates this about his Tantra sādhana:
I remember the day when, after observing the sexual bliss experienced by a pair of lovers in the act of intercourse, and knowing it to be the blissful sport (līlābilās) of Śiva and Śakti, I became transfixed (mugdha) and entered into samādhi. That day, after I regained external consciousness, the Brahmani said, "My child, you have attained the 'seat of bliss' (ānandāsan) and become established in the divine state (dibyabhāb). This is the last sādhana of the heroic state (bīr-bhāb) of worship." (LP 2.206)
Since Ramakrishna was already sitting on the roof, metaphysically speaking, there was no reason for him to climb up the stairs. We should keep in mind that Ramakrishna was a practical man. Whatever sādhana he engaged in, he wanted direct results. Therefore, the real question we have to ask about Ramakrishna and the Five M's is, how were they reli-giously significant to Ramakrishna? Their significance to Ramakrishna can be found in their practical result. For Ramakrishna, the purpose of the makāras was to attain God; the process was secondary.
Kālī's Child, on the other hand, views Ramakrishna as a "failed Tāntrika" because he did not engage in maithuna, sexual intercourse. "Ramakrishna," Kripal writes,
could not consciously make it though the Five M's. . . . He simply could not bring himself to drink wine and could only fall into trances when presented with the challenge of the fifth and most important M, sexual intercourse. (KC, 129)
In other words, Ramakrishna "could only" fall into trances—i.e., escape from the "challenge" of sexual intercourse. Thus samādhi, considered the apex of spiritual achievement in the Hindu tradition, is something that one can simply "fall into" when trying to weasel out of a sexual encounter. It seems that here the cart has dragged away the horse. The point of all the makāras is to attain a higher state of spirituality, not just to have meat, fish, wine, parched grain, and sex. Many enjoy these pleasures—except for the parched grain—every day and, from all evidence so far, this has not led them to samādhi.
The purpose of maithuna is not sexual intercourse per se—anyone can have sex and most people do, but that does not constitute a part of one's sādhana unless it is practiced with rigorous discipline and selfcontrol. We should recall that those who are too animalistic, that is, filled with tamas, are not allowed to practice vīrabhāva, the path of the hero. Those endowed with sattva—those who have a godlike temperament—also do not follow the vīrabhāva. It is not necessary. They are to follow the daivībhāva. For Kripal however, Tantra equals not only Vāmācāra but Vāmācāra with special emphasis on maithuna, "the most important M." Such a definitive stance is problematic because, as Amiya Sen points out, there are "no less than six different interpretations of Vamachar Tantra, each of these originating in the work of acknowledged authorities on the subject." Sen continues:
Thus Vamachar is taken to be the collective name for those rites which predominantly use the left hand, that in which woman [vama] is included, that in which the position of the woman is to the left [vama] of the male practitioner, that which is characterized by nivritti, "return current," representing passivity and disengagement, that which is antinomian in character [viruddha/viparita] and that in which the male worships the Female Principle [Parama Prakriti] by ascribing femininity to oneself. This is baffling to say the least. (Amiya Sen 2001, 113)
Because Kālī's Child has such a narrow vision of Tantra, much mistranslation and misinterpretation follow in its wake. For example, we read:
KC, 127: Granted, the fact that Ramakrishna was horrified at the thought of actual intercourse, indeed, that he seemed incapable of it (his penis was said to pull back up into its sheath, like the limbs of a tortoise, at the touch of a sexy woman [LP 4.APP])...
Why is it "granted" that Ramakrishna was "horrified at the thought of actual intercourse"? The source texts make it clear that Ramakrishna went into samādhi at the sight of a couple having intercourse. He also went into samādhi when he saw two dogs mating. He had no problem when he encountered Mathur Babu and his wife having sexual relations. Ramakrishna often joked with his disciples about sex and he was certainly no prude. What or whose horror are we discussing here?
Ramakrishna, Kripal writes, "cannot relate to woman as Lover," . . .
all poor Ramakrishna can do is cry to his Mother and retreat into a state that looks as much like a defensive trance as a mystical state. For Ramakrishna, the goddess is a consoling Mother who protects her child from the adult dangers of sexuality and not ... a Lover who grants the striving aspirant the bliss of union. (KC, 121)
Apart from the appalling tone of condescension ("all poor Ramakrishna can do is cry to his Mother"), this assumes that the only viable relationship in Tantra sādhana is vīrabhāva, the heroic state, and that mātṛbhāva, regarding God as one's Mother, is intrinsically immature. This assessment may have more to do with Western cultural norms than it does with Hindu religious practice. As we know, the Hindu tradition offers the sādhaka a variety of bhāvas from which to choose, depending on one's attitude and aptitude. Nor was Ramakrishna's religious preference unique: Ramprasad, Bengal's renowned poet-saint, was a Tāntrik who practiced mātṛbhāva, worshiping God as Mother, not vīrabhāva.
Strangely, Kripal writes that the "Bhairavī clearly tried to employ sexual intercourse as one of her means to teach Ramakrishna Tantric truths" and gives the example of the occasion when the Bhairavi brought a beautiful young woman to Ramakrishna (KC, 120). However, this example is bogus since the source texts which discuss the incident make it clear that the Bhairavi never expected nor wanted Ramakrishna to engage in maithuna with this young woman. The texts clearly state that the Bhairavi instructed Ramakrishna to worship this young naked woman as the Devī. When the worship was completed, the Bhairavi then instructed Ramakrishna to sit in the young woman's lap and do japa. Ramakrishna, seized with fear, fervently prayed to the Divine Mother to protect him during this sādhana: "O Mother, what is this command that you have given me who has taken complete refuge in you?" With that, Ramakrishna reports that his heart was filled with a divine power (dibyabale hṛdoy pūrna hoilo) and, uttering the appropriate mantras, he sat on the woman's lap and became absorbed in samādhi. Ramakrishna relates that when he returned to normal consciousness, the Bhairavi told him that he had successfully completed the most difficult aspect of the sādhana, in which most seekers stumble. Ramakrishna reported that the Bhairavi said:
The rite is completed, my child; others restrain themselves with very great difficulty under such circumstances and then finish the rite with nominal japa only for a short time, but you lost body consciousness and became immersed in samādhi. (LP 2.205)
Ramakrishna concludes this incident by stating: "When I heard this, I became reassured and began to praṇām the Mother of the Universe (jagadambā) again and again with a grateful heart for enabling me to pass the examination successfully" (LP 2.205).
Kālī's Child conjectures that "the Bhairavī attempted to engage her disciple in the fifth M through a ritualized form of cunnilingus or through the oral consumption of sexual fluids." While Kripal admits that this is speculation, he nevertheless perseveres: "I think that there is good reason to take such a possibility seriously" (KC, 128). The reader may well wonder whether there is good reason to take this seriously, particularly when we examine the cited texts. Regarding what Kālī's Child refers to as Ramakrishna's "not ... particularly positive assessment of oral contact with the vagina," Kripal writes:
KC, 127: Ramakrishna once compared men attached to lover-and-gold to the jackals and dogs who "wet their faces" in their mates' behinds. (KA 5.215)
Kripal's "translation" here is remarkable. Let us compare it with the Kathāmṛta:
KA 5.215: Sobbāi tyāg korbe keno? Ār tām̐r ki icchā je sakalei śiyāl kukurer mato kāminī-kāñcane mukh jubre thāke? Ār ki kichu icchā tām̐r noy? Konṭā tām̐r icchā, konṭā anicchā ki śob jenecho?
Translation: Why should everybody renounce? On the other hand, is it his [God's] wish that everyone should be immersed in kāminī kañcaṇa like jackals and dogs? Has he no other wish? Do you know what is his wish and what is not his wish?
Kripal has accused Nikhilananda of toning down his translation: "Can it be the will of God that all should revel in 'woman and gold' like dogs and jackals?" (GSR, 1013). Yet Kripal himself has clearly toned up his own translation/paraphrase ("wet their faces in their mates' behinds"). In fact, within one page, Kālī's Child has upped the ante to: "Ramakrishna's jackals wetting their faces in their mates' disgusting behinds" (KC, 128). While Nikhilananda's "revel in" is not literal, it nevertheless catches the spirit of the original fairly well. Having pondered the various possibilities, we feel that mukh jubre thāke (mukh, "face"; jubre thāke, "remain immersed/dipped") is actually best translated as "remain immersed in." If a person is "immersed" in something, that person's face is likely to be touched with whatever she or he may be immersed. Interestingly, the phrase kāminī-kāñcan, which Kālī's Child routinely translates as "lover and gold" is paraphrased here as "their mates' behinds," (cf. kāminī-kāñcane mukh jubre thāke) with the author's comment that this was "not a particularly positive assessment of oral contact with the vagina" (127). In the referenced Bengali text, there is no reference to anyone's behinds nor, as one might suspect, is there any assessment of oral sex.
We are not through with the topic yet, for Kālī's Child suggests that the evidence for the Bhairavi's attempt to engage her disciple in the fifth M through a ritualized form of cunnilingus or oral consumption of sexual fluids can be found in the texts. Let us examine this evidence:
KC, 128: The type and number of adjectives used in the texts to describe (or refuse to describe) Ramakrishna's Tantric practices suggest as much [i.e., cunnilingus or oral consumption of sexual fluids]: "horrific" (JV, 31), "filled with obscenities" (JV, 31), and "bizarre" (KA 3.24) all resonate quite well with Ramakrishna's jackals wetting their faces in their mates' disgusting behinds.
What do we find, however, in the cited portion of the Jībanabṛttānta? First and most importantly, Datta does not refer to "Ramakrishna's Tantric practices" here. What Ramchandra Datta is discussing, very briefly, is Tantra in general. In one particular sentence, Datta refers to Tantric practices as bhayānak, which can best be translated as "frightful" or "terrible"—bhaya meaning "fear": Tantrer sādhan svabhāvataḥ ati bhayānak, "Tantrik practices are by nature quite terrible" (JB, 31). This is only in one sentence, however; the following two sentences go on to say: "These practices test the strength of mind. In completing these practices, Paramahaṁsadeb benefited from the assistance of the Brahmani" (32).
In the Kathāmṛta citation which Kripal provides above (KA 3.24), Ramakrishna is discussing Śakti worship with a group of devotees. Ramakrishna says that the purpose of Śakti worship is to placate avidyā. In order to please the Divine Mother, one assumes a bhāva in which to worship her—that of a handmaid, the heroic attitude, or the attitude of a child. Ramakrishna goes on to say that with the heroic attitude (vīra-bhāva), one has intercourse (ramaṇ) with her to please her. Ramakrishna concludes by saying that Śakti sādhana is very difficult to practice (sab bhārī utkaṭ), that the Divine Mother cannot be cheated (cālāki noy). Kripal translates the word utkaṭ as "bizarre," but given the context, utkaṭ here simply means extreme or terrible. In the contemporary American idiom, perhaps the best way to translate the phrase is "it's no joke"—that is, Śakti sādhana is extremely difficult, not something to fool around with. Thus as we can see, there is nothing in any of the citations provided in Kālī's Child—and certainly none in the source texts—to indicate that Ramakrishna and the Bhairavi either engaged in oral sex or engaged in a ritualized consumption of sexual fluids.
Along the same lines as such presumed "oral sex," we move ahead to other problematic assertions: transcending purity with "disgusting substances":
KC, 165: In one of the visions (KA 3.46), Ramakrishna takes this lesson of the bearded Muslim to his usual Tantric extremes and tastes the disgusting substances of feces and pee with a flaming visionary tongue. Purity is transcended in a typically Tantric fashion. In the end, whether Ramakrishna saw Vedānta or Tantra in the "Muslim" teachings of Gobinda is difficult to say. The textual record is ambiguous at best.
The reader would find nothing "ambiguous" in the "textual record" if only the author had quoted the passage or at least paraphrased it without significant omissions. The vision Kripal quotes ends with these words of Ramakrishna: dekhāle je sab ek, "I was shown that everything is one." This vision was not about "transcending purity in a typical Tantric fashion" but rather the realization of the unity and oneness of existence. The vision of the bearded Muslim begins in the Kathāmṛta (KA 3.46) with these words of Ramakrishna: āmi ek din dekhlām, ek caitanya—abhed, "One day I saw that consciousness is one—undivided." There is no ambiguity about the nature of Ramakrishna's vision.
Tantra, Kālī's Child repeatedly drills the reader, was Ramakrishna's secret. Ramakrishna was also allegedly homoerotically inclined, and that too, is a secret. The Ramakrishna Order is hiding all this secret information, and that is yet another secret. There are a wearying number of secrets in Kālī's Child, none of which actually turn out to be secret when examined. Not only is nothing secret, the "secrets" which are purportedly hidden never existed in the first place—the Emperor's New Clothes in Bengali-to-English translations. But unlocking hidden secrets makes for good copy, so the reader is offered up more secrets as Kālī's Child progresses. We read for example:
KC, 220: "Now I'm telling you something very secret—why I love Purna, Narendra, and all the others so much. I broke my arm while embracing Lord Jagannath in the erotic state. Then it was made known to me: 'You have taken a body. Now remain in the different states—the Friend, the Mother, and the rest—in relation to other forms of man'" (4.227-228). There is something secret, even scandalous, about this incident.
What does the Kathāmṛta actually say?
KA 4.227-28: Tomāder ati guhya Kathā bolchi. Keno Pūrna, Narendra, eder sob eto bhālobāsi. Jagannāther soṅge madhur bhābe āliṅgan korte giye hāt bheṅge gelo. Jāniye dile, "Tumi śarīr dhāran korecho—ekhon nararūper soṅge sakkha, bātsalya eisob bhāb loye thāko."
Translation: I'm telling you a very secret thing—why I love Purna, Narendra and all the others so much. While going to embrace Jagannāth ["Lord of the Universe"] in a state of madhura-bhāva, my arm was broken. It was made known to me: "You have taken a body. Now live with the bhāva of sakhya, vātsalya etc. with human forms."
As one might expect by now, the Bengali text shows us nothing even remotely secretive and scandalous. Ramakrishna narrates an incident that had taught him that now, instead of approaching divine forms through madhura bhāva (the bhāva in which one regards one's iṣṭa as one's beloved), the time had come for him to live with human forms through other bhāvas.
According to Kālī's Child, the "erotic" is "a dimension of human experience that is simultaneously related both to the physical and emotional experience of sexuality and to the deepest ontological levels of religious experience" (KC, 23). Kripal translates madhura bhāva as "the erotic state" but that translation is misleading. In Hindu devotional tradition, madhura bhāva is characterized by the profound intimacy, trust and total selflessness that is present in the relationship with one's beloved. Further, madhura bhāva is seen as the apex of all bhāvas since it includes within it all the other bhāvas.
Having thus translated the text as "embracing Lord Jagannāth in the erotic state," Kripal raises a doubt: "What precisely was Ramakrishna doing in the vision?" Three pages later (KC, 223), "embracing" has mysteriously evolved into an "erotic encounter." Some sixty pages later (291), the "embracing" reference returns with: "he tried to embrace a male god in an erotic state" [emphasis added].
If only the author had known the tradition connected with Jagannāth, he would not have had to struggle so much to interpret the vision. "Embracing Jagannāth" is in practice nothing more than touching his image. Every year there is a Chariot Festival (ratha-yātrā) in Puri, where Jagannāth's ancient temple stands. During this festival, it is customary for devotees to "embrace" the deity. What this means in practice is an opportunity to touch the image that is taken out of the temple in a chariot, which is pulled by thousands of devotees. This act of "embracing" is a sacred ritual in which every devotee is free to participate. No practicing Hindu considers this as an act "to engage Lord Jagannāth in an erotic encounter" or to embrace "a male god in an erotic state." We know Hindus who have performed this rite over a hundred times. They would find the term "erotic encounter" either mystifying or hilarious.
More imagined erotic encounters will surely be found as the reader forges ahead. True to form, we find some lurking homoerotic dimensions where one would least expect them—looking at pictures, for example:
KC, 224: For Vaishnavacharan, such a faith [in naralīlā, "God's play as man"] certainly carried homoerotic dimensions. Ramakrishna, for example, points out that Vaishnavacharan liked to look at a picture of a man (mānuṣa), for it aroused in him feelings of "tenderness" (komala) and "love" (prema) (KA 4.75).
Interestingly, Kālī's Child's first edition declares that "Vaishnavacharan liked to look at pictures of men, for they aroused in him feelings of "tenderness" (komala) and "love" (prema)" (KC 1995, 224; emphasis added). We can note that the "homoerotic dimensions" of Vaishnavacharan's "faith" were planted through mistranslation. What does one actually find in the Kathāmṛta?
KA 4.75: Baiṣnavacaran mānuṣer chabi dekhe komal bhāb—premer bhāb—pachanda karto.
Translation: Vaishnavacharan liked pictures of people expressing tenderness and love.
The reader should note that mānuṣer chabi, "pictures of people," has been mistranslated as either "a picture of a man" or "pictures of men" to enhance the passage's homoerotic subtext. It is clear from the context that mānuṣ does not specifically refer to "men" but to people in general. Secondly, Vaishnavacharan was a follower of the Kartābhajā sect, which was overtly heterosexual. Finally, Vaishnavacharan's preference was for pictures expressing tenderness and love, but in Kālī's Child, this is twisted into Vaishnavacharan being "aroused" by tenderness and love. The reason for this mistranslation is to set the stage—in the very next sentence—for a "very similar practice" by Ramakrishna. Let us look at the following example:
KC, 224: Ramakrishna, we might recall, sexually aroused himself with a very similar practice (KA 5.108).
What does the reader find in the Kathāmṛta? Again, nothing that she or he would be led to anticipate:
KA 5.108: "Āmār icchā je du'khāni chobi pāi. Ekṭi chobi, jogī dhuni jvele bośe ache; ār ekṭi chobi, jogi gāṅjār kolke mukh diye ṭānche ār śeṭā dop kore jvole uṭche.
"E śob chobite beś uddīpan hoy. Jemon solār ātā dekhle śottakār ātār uddīpan hoy."
Translation: "My wish is to get two pictures. One picture, of a yogi sitting before a burning log; and another picture, of a yogi who is smoking hemp and the charcoal blazing up as he pulls.
"Such pictures are good for enkindling spiritual consciousness. Just as an imitation fruit kindles the idea of a real one."
When the Kathāmṛta is examined to see whether Ramakrishna indeed "sexually aroused himself" by looking at "pictures of men," the flummoxed reader will wonder what could possibly be so arousing about a yogi sitting in front of a burning log or a yogi smoking hemp. What is the "very similar practice" to which Kālī's Child refers? It was simply Ramakrishna's wish to have two pictures. Moreover, it was only a wish—not "a practice"—and, even more importantly, it was obviously not meant for arousing himself sexually. As we have seen, the Bengali word uddīpan, "enkindling," is nearly always misused in Kālī's Child, which defines it in terms of sexual arousal. For example, "When I look at pictures of holy men I become aroused [uddīpana]" (KC, 67).
We have seen that Kripal goes out of his way to translate in such a way that "boys," "men," "man," etc. are employed in order give weight to his homoerotic thesis. We find the same thing again in the following example:
KC, 226: "Now I only like God's play as man," the Paramahaṁsa noted calmly, as if it were now a self-evident truth instead of a detested Tantric practice (KA 4.75).
The Kathāmṛta reference, KA 4.75, refers only to the words within quotation marks, and the reference in parentheses should have been put immediately after "God's play as man," (naralīlā, "play as a human" would be an accurate translation, because the Bengali nara in this context does not refer specifically to "man"). The words appearing after the quote belong entirely to Kripal and have nothing to do with what can be located in the Kathāmṛta.
There is, of course, a particular reason why Kālī's Child persistently employs the word "man." In the following paragraph, the reader is informed how, when Ramakrishna's disciples began to arrive, he "finally had a man, indeed, young attractive boys, to desire" (KC, 226). Second, seeing God's play in human forms is neither a "detested practice" nor specifically a "Tantric practice." For instance, the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (4.3) proclaims the presence of the Supreme Being in a woman, a man, a youth, a maiden, and an old person. Similar teachings can be found in virtually all sects of Hinduism. Finally, note the tone in "as if it were a self-evident truth" and the usage of "detested" with "Tantric practice"— this, again, to emphasize that Ramakrishna allegedly was a conflicted and unwilling homoerotic Tāntrik.
If Tantra was "Ramakrishna's secret," Kālī's Child can create another secret lurking around the corner in the form of Sarada, who— Kripal states—had a "Tantric past." We read:
KC, 225: Sharada would later recall how she feared Ramakrishna's reaction but was relieved to discover that he did not become angry upon learning of her hidden Tantric past (LP 5.11.9).
Should diligent readers check Līlāprasaṅga 5.11.9, they will find no mention of Sarada's fearing Ramakrishna's reaction. What about her being a "Tāntrik" in the first place?
KC, 113: Regardless of their traditional allegiances during the day, almost everyone, including Ramakrishna's own wife (LP 5.11.9), seems to have led secret midnight lives. Dakshineswar was a very secret place.
In LP 5.11.9 there is an incident where a woman who had received a mantra from the Kartābhajā tradition visits Ramakrishna. He knew about her initiation even though he had not been told about it. Later when the woman mentioned it to Sarada Devi, Sarada told her that she, too, had received that mantra before coming to Dakshineswar. Sarada had told Ramakrishna about it and he had advised her to offer the mantra at the feet of her iṣṭa, chosen ideal.
Some points need to be mentioned here: (1) Receiving a mantra from the Kartābhajā tradition does not necessarily imply actively participating in their way of life; (2) Sarada had received the mantra before she came to Dakshineswar and, having reached there, had offered it at the feet of her iṣṭa; (3) there is no textual evidence indicating any kind of "midnight lives" led by Sarada and others in Dakshineswar; (4) there was no "secret" about Sarada receiving the mantra: were it so, Saradananda would not have known about it and, if he wanted to keep it a secret, he would not have mentioned it in the Līlāprasaṅga.
In order to muddy the waters regarding the kind of relationship that existed between Ramakrishna and Sarada and the Bhairavi, Kālī's Child resorts to a by now familiar pattern of altering the context of the cited text:
KC, 166: When challenged by the women of the village with the simple fact that Ramakrishna wished to be with his wife, the Bhairavī would snap back with the retort: "What can he say? It was I who opened his eyes!" (LP 2.17.10).
Yet when we turn to this Līlāprasaṅga citation (LP 2.17.10) we find that the Bhairavi's words were spoken in an entirely different context: "If anyone raised a question before her [Bhairavi] on any spiritual matter and said that he would ask Ramakrishna and have his opinion on it, she would flare up and say, 'What can he say? It is I who opened his eyes.'"
It would be easy for us to go on a great deal farther along this particular avenue, but we have given enough examples of stunning mistranslations, problematic documentation as well as speculations masked as "facts." As we have already stated, perhaps the most significant thing about these examples is that each of them, taken in isolation, may not seem serious enough to warrant questioning Kālī's Child's theses. But taken together—not just the examples given in this chapter, for these are only a few samples of many more similar instances in the book—they do pose a problem, since many of them have been repeatedly invoked throughout the book, in nearly every chapter. Such has been the cumulative effect of this strategy that, by the end of Kālī's Child, the unwitting reader who is unfamiliar with the source texts is lulled into believing in every speculation as a well-reasoned argument based on textual evidence.
In the course of this book, we have reviewed a brief history of Ramakrishna scholarship over the last hundred years and examined the problematics of cross-cultural interpretation, especially as they manifested in Kālī's Child. Now it is time to step back and take a longer view of Ramakrishna studies in general. If Kālī's Child is an example of how Ramakrishna scholarship can go wrong, in what way can Ramakrishna studies go right? What do Kālī's Child and the ensuing controversy teach us about Ramakrishna and cross-cultural interpretation, and how do we, as Ramakrishna scholars, see the future of Ramakrishna scholarship? This will be the focus of the concluding chapter.