The Kripal Conundrum- A Critique
– Narasingha Sil
Narasingha P. Sil
Professor of History
Western Oregon University
“It signifies the yoga, or union, of Purusa and Prakriti. Whatever you perceive in this universe is the outcome of this union.”
Ramakrishna’s explanation of Yogamaya to Govinda Mukhopadhyay of Belgharia. KM, I, 93-94 (GR, 27). Diary of 22 July 1883.
Ramakrishna, a normal heterosexual Bengali but with the traditional misogynistic mentality and a retarded or repressed sexuality, has been depicted as a conflicted and yet a confirmed homosexual by Jeffrey Kripal who claims to have discovered the very font of the saint’s spirituality in his homosexual desires and fantasies. However, his nearly four- hundred-page book, actually a redone dissertation at the University of Chicago, is replete with mistranslations, misunderstandings, and manipulation of the meaning of the Bengali words through a frivolous use of the dictionary and selecting only the suitable synonyms regardless of their cultural context and usage. Yet, the dissertation written under the supervision of a distinguished Sanskritist (but who is not known to possess any expertise in Bengali language, history, or culture), has been acclaimed by Kripal’s colleagues and cronies, most of whom are innocent of the vernacular sources Kripal has used in his work. Part of the popularity of the KC lies undoubtedly in the chatty style the author adopts, often using present tense for past actions (resembling more like a film script than a work of scholarly gravitas) as well as the fact that its sanctifying homoeroticism (thus turning the book into a queer study) and its privileging symbols and hermeneutics over text (thus aligning the book with the currently fashionable postmodernism) has earned him accolades from some specialists and non-specialists at large. It should be mentioned en passent that there are actually four Ramakrishna scholars who have produced monographs on the saint—besides this author, Timothy Jensen, Karl Olson, and Jeff Kripal.
Kripal’s Ramakrishna is a holy homosexual, actually a gay tantrika. He is obsessed with sex but despises normal healthy heterosexual practices. On the other hand, he is a practitioner of sacred sexuality, which is energized by homoerotic impulses (uddipan, in Kripal’s understanding or mis-understanding). He is also very secretive, his secret being both his vijnan (in Kripal’s understanding gnosis) and his secret chamber or guhya (anus in Kripal’s preferred translation); hence the equation of Ramakrishna’s guhya with his guhyakatha [secret talk or anal talk]. The gay Ramakrishna is also simultaneously vyakul (“eager with desire” in Kripal’s homoerotic transcreation) for sodomizing his pure pots (that is, his shuddha-sattwa devotees) as much as he is concerned about the pain and shame of being sodomized (as Kripal suggests by his hermeneutic of the “Kali’s sword” episode which ShriM considered a fabricated event)—something Kripal finds a funadamental stage in Ramakrishna’s sexual/spiritual turn.
Basically Kripal depicts Ramkrishna first as a shakta/tantrika (Kripal lumps both together), primarily devoted to the Goddess Kali, and subsequently interprets his experiences and conversations betraying his often latent and sometimes patent homosexual imageries and impulses. In the KC, we meet a strange mystic, a simple hearted pagal thakur from rural Bengal transmogrified into a homoerotic tantrika (a perfect oxymoron) priest of Kali, cavorting around the temple complex of Dakshineshwar with his “wildly swinging” “secret chamber.” The bold brushstrokes of Kripal’s determined and purposive gnostic hermeneutic have performed this miracle. This hermeneutic is predicated neither on conventional textual translation nor on rational historical analysis but legitimized by a third kind of enlightenment, that of the Gnostic. The homoerotic paramahamsa is a product of Kripal’s literary incompetence and personal sexual preference and his desperate attempt to cover up both by his unbridled prolixity. Instead of eschewing conceit, demonstrating scholarly integrity, and giving more time and effort to master the language of his sources which blazon his footnotes and bibliographies so prominently, he is going on churning out tomes after tomes seeking to globalize homosexual spirituality, and finally by claiming for himself the status of a Gnostic mystic—a version of a shaman of academic voodoo.
Admittedly, Kripal’s hagio-homoerotic interpretation of Ramakrishna was politicized enough to persuade the American Academy of Religion to recognize it as socially and politically sensitive scholarship. The impact of the Westernized Ramakrishna on some unsuspecting and innocent readers has been so powerful that the author of the KC has achieved a cult guru status. On his own admission, as found in his several post-Ramakrishna tomes, Kripal has received numerous letters (in his wonted hyperbole hundreds) of congratulation and thanks. One such prashasti [paean] is typical: “Kripal does demonstrate clearly that there were certain aspects of the sex life [sic] of this great saint (admitted in the saint’s own words [sic]) that make Ramakrishna much more relevant to the younger spiritual seekers of tantra.”1 In fact the controversy on the RISA listserv and on the website of sulekha.com degenerated into what the Kripal bandwagon considered a battle between the paranoid and triumphant straights and the discriminated and depressed gays.
No doubt, the KC bears all the stamp of serious research and scholarship, not to mention its University of Chicago imprint, and the author is, initially, very cautious and conscious of the tentativeness of his thesis. However, as one trudges along the long winding chapters through the author’s excursus into cultural anthropology and psychoanalysis and arrives at the concluding part of this impressive (but by now quite oppressive) tome, one gets the distinct and disturbing feeling that he is no longer in the mode of scholarly or academic reservations about the provisional nature of his interpretation, but taking recourse to casuistry and cunning is quite open and unequivocal about his enterprise of making a gay saint out of this semi-literate, misogynistic but unmistakably heterosexual (and by the same token quite scared of being so) Hindu male of renascent Bengal. 2 The author is blissfully oblivious of the saint’s penchant for female lure as well as his panic about heterosexual demands and expectations, due most probably to his personal psychosomatic condition.
Kripal’s hermeneutic seems to be a product of more than a serious scholarly and linguistic shortcoming. It is, on the other hand, deeply imbricated in his personal experience and existential problems. But, first of all, the former calls for a somewhat detailed demonstration, though Swami Tyagananda’s magisterial review is the most telling indictment of Kripal’s taking delight and liberty with the Bengali language. 3 Happily for Kripal, he received a congratulatory confirmation of his “expertise” in Bengali language from an innocent (of Ramakrishna literature) admirer from London, who is an acknowledged expert in Bengali. Dr. Radice of the School of African and Oriental Studies supported “Wendy Doniger’s praise for Kripal’s thorough knowledge of the whole Kathamrita” in his review of the KC in 1998. 4 Here I would like to point to some of the most unconscionable lapses on the part of the author of the KC. His splendid misunderstanding of the meaning of Bengali words and expressions is apparent in several places. I provide a sample list from the KC in the following paragraph.
Kol, that is lap, becomes the area of the genitals (more egregiously “a normally defiled sexual space”), vyakulata or uddipan as erotic or sexual emotion, 5 sange shoya, that is, “sleeping with” as “lying with” (in the Western sense), ramamaya as “filled with Rama” and thus “filled with the pleasures of sexual delight,” Haripada, a typical name for a Bengali male, as Haripad (an attempted demonstration of his awareness of Bengali pronunciation of words usually without terminal vowel sound), but the slang word mag, standing, in patois Bengali, for spouse or wife (abbreviated form of magi which usually means a whore, though often used as a denigrating term for woman), sanskritized as the nonsensical maga, Ramakrishna’s bhakti kamana [devotional desire or inspiration] “devotional lust;” “Goloka” [abode of Narayana or Vishnu] as golaka (meaning sphere, as is provided in the dictionary). 6
Elsewhere, a most ridiculous but ingenious translation is furnished for Ramchandra Datta’s garden retreat at Kankurgachhi in the eastern suburb of Calcutta Yogodyan. Datta, not a sophisticated pandit or philosopher, must have named it to mean a retreat for the sadhaks [usually conflated with yogis in Bengali] or bhaktas. Innocent of the cultural context in which some words are used and understood by the Bengalis, Kripal translates yogodyan as the “Garden of Mystical Union” as if Datta had intended his retreat to mean thus. Similarly, Kripal translates Ram Datta’s word Ramakrishna-bhog, bhoga, that is, Ramakrishna the godman’s ritual food or bhog, as “Ramakrishna’s delight.” Bhoga, in Sanskrit, does mean “enjoyment,” or (by extension) “delight.” But Ram Datta used the Bengali word bhog to mean the typical ritual food offered to gods which becomes prasad for the devotees. Kripal needed these poetical and imaginal renderings in a section of his essay dealing with entry “inside the goddess” with a view to witnessing “the mystical emptiness of ethics” [whatever that means]—a classic case of seeing mountain in molehill. 7
Equally unconscionable and egregious is his interpretation of Ramakrishna’s habit of extending his foot on to his devotee’s lap for massage (as is the habit with Hindu gurus or elders throughout India) as touching a young man’s crotch with his “extended phallus.” 8 Then there are manipulated translations as in the following: Ramakrishna’s lament over Haramohan’s (Haramohan Mitra, b. 1862) marriage as the spoiling of his pure soul, metaphorically described as shuddha adhar or natun handi, no longer suitable for preserving milk (in Hindu metaphor milk is compared to substantial knowledge, something that nourishes the mythical swan), as Haramohan the pure pot’s milk (Haramohan’s male fluid) wasted on a woman; and “gaye hath diye dekha” [“touch me and feel with your hand”] as “look [translating “dekha”] with your hand.” Ramakrishna’s sermon against the wayward wife’s ruining her husband’s paramartha [highest ideal] and advising his devotees to “assume the stance of a hero” to admonish such a woman with the curse word “You bitch! Are you to ruin my paramartha? I’ll split your body right now” has been transmogrified into Kripal’s statement that the saint successfully cleaved the goddess Kali into two to support his supposition that “in his own soul the saint had split the goddess into a pure sexless Mother and despised Lover bitch” leading to his extravagant conclusion that this serves to demonstrate a “powerful act of violence toward the symbolic order, the social world.” 9
There are further instances of intentional or innocent misinterpretation. Bhairavi Yogeshwari’s eating a banana dipped in the blood of a freshly decapitated (i.e., ritually sacrificed as bali) goat as her eating the goat’s bloody banana, that is, its bloody penis, and coming to the conclusion that “her consumption of the goat’s penis, whether literal or symbolical, makes explicit what is hidden or ‘secret’ in Kali’s sword, namely that it is aimed at the phallus as well as the head, that the head in Tantric symbolism is the phallus;” 10 the Navarasika women who are not whores are, therefore, eunuchs (to make Pandit Vaishnavacharan Goswami, “a major player in the early years of Ramakrishna’s tantric training,” a habitual homosexual); or Ramakrishna’s story of his attempted suicide (in spite of his own admission that it was due to his temporary insanity) as an instance of his shame and guilt for his homosexual desires. 11 All these examples (there are many more, hidden in the length and breadth of the book) are not just a case of minor academic slips (as one sympathetic reader has claimed) but something much more deep and dark. Following Kripal’s anthropological concept of “symbolic universe” one could venture to speculate on the font of his amazing insight into the bhairavi Yogeshwari’s behavior, which appears to be sincere and perhaps has a basis in his actual experience with a lingam-obsessed bhairavi like the (goat’s) linga-savoring Yogeshwari. 12
To fathom the font of Kripal’s homoerotic hermeneutic, we need to transfer our attention from Dakshineshwar’s Ramakrishna to young Jeffrey, a novice at a Benedictine Seminary somewhere in the US. This apparently ad hominem excursus is necessary because Kali’s crazy child has been modeled after the life experiences of the Christ’s renegade child. We learn from Kripal’s reminiscences that at the seminary he was “forced to explore the interfaces between sexuality and spirituality” and he felt “more than tortured by [his] own psychosexual pathologies.” By “psychosexual pathology” Kripal means, as he puts it parenthetically, anorexia nervosa13—a pathological condition in which the patient cannot retain any food (or feces, if we choose to go by Kripal’s pet symbolism he foisted on Ramakrishna) in the body. He writes further that he felt his readings in Christian bridal mysticism somewhat unholy because of its apparent homoeroticism. This of course is a patently obfuscating statement for we are not sure who in fact considered Christian bridal mysticism “unholy.” It must not be Kripal who finds homosexuality holy enough to inspire mystical state or spiritual feeling and who is nothing if not a spiritual or a mystical homoerotic Adam.
However, upon further cogitations (or perhaps meditations) on the subject (and possibly following some unmentioned experience, most probably in graduate school) Kripal “came to a rather surprising conclusion in regard to [his] own mystico-erotic tradition: heterosexuality is heretical.” He then tells his readers that his “religious life was quite literally killing [him]”—his “body weight had sunk well below the normal.” 14 It was at this juncture that the Christian monk manqué turned his attention to stuff Hindu and chanced upon the Bengali priest of Dakshineshwar. As we have seen, Kripal had provided a psychological explanation of Ramakrishna’s reported diarrhea and constipation that the former condition indicated his desire for sodomy and the latter his fear of anal penetration. The readers of my review of the KC in the Calcutta Statesman will recall my reaction to this sort of gratuitous and purposive psychoanal interpretation.
I now think that Kripal’s personal experiences (somewhat “dark” and presumably “pathological” or, to quote his own expression, “psychosexual”) at that monastery may have something to do with his understanding of Ramakrishna’s ecstasy via what some psychologists would call “projective introversion.” What (or who) we have in the KC is not a tormented Ramakrishna that he has imagined (to the wonderment of his friends) 15 but the transformed figure of a “tormented Jeffrey Kripal” that he has concealed. His frequent protestations on his heterosexual orientation is actually a cover for his “forced” (most probably by the monastic brothers of his seminary) entry into the world of Christian bridal mysticism (which considers heterosexuality heretical) at the Benedictine seminary, or his somehow “forced” heterosexual seduction in his secular seminary (his graduate school)—both Kripal’s majar kuti (his preferred translation: “mansion of mirth”), his own religious and secular Dakshineshwar. 16 It is quite understandable why Kripal, while protesting his heterosexuality, is at the same time engaged in the viparita [contrary] enterprise of sacralizing homosexuality, through an “other” figure or (in the jargon of the back marketeers) a front man—the Hindu Ramakrishna.
It is becoming clearer now, as we read his seminal (I choose this term advisedly) discourse-cum-autobiographical tidbits, Serpent’s Gift, providing (rather, spraying) a gnostic interpretation of the Christian sacrament of the Mass as well as Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences. The Serpent’s Gift is actually a “hermeneutics of convenience” 17 (to borrow Somnath Bhattacharya’s elegant term), a third category between (medieval) faith and (Enlightenment or modern) reason, that dialectically combines both poles as gnosis. Gnosis comprehends Middle-Eastern and north African esoterism and esoteric (as well as exciting and exotic) Hindu religious practices and this heady concoction produced a metatheology in Kripal’s widely acclaimed archaeology of homosexual practices based on his reading and meditating on a jarful of papyrus texts buried under a pile of shit at a village in central Upper Egypt.
As Kripal would have it, gnosis is neither faith/bhakti (“feminine” in Ramakrishna’s lingo) nor rationality/jnan (deemed masculine by Ramakrishna) but a combination (dialectical in Kripal’s scholarly jargon) of both, becoming a snake (symbol for rationality in the Scriptures and linga in psychoanalysis), capable of “hissing” and yet immune from being “hissed”at. 18 Gnosis comes from imagination and symbols—something larger and more aesthetic than the constricting power-hungry world of Enlightenment rationality (pace Michel Foucoult). Just as gnosis is a liminal third enlightenment so is gnostic mystique [mystic] a liminal male: homosexual or bisexual. It is quite possible for a gay male to be both succubus and incubus. Obviously, such a homo sapiens cannot be understood by mere masculine ratiocination or heterosexual consciousness but through the neutral (or neutered) gnosis. 19 Kripal’s snaky (or sneaky) Introduction to his latest tome is too slimy and slithery to contain in my dry (and dreadfully disaffected) prose. Hence instead of representing in my paraphrasing I reproduce it in its original:
The male and the female, the heteroerotic and the homoerotic, Adam and Eve, the sexual and the spiritual, faith and reason, East and West, sameness and difference, the reader and the author, the premodern and the postmodern, “high” and “low” culture—all of these binaries collapse in the (post)modern gnosis of serpent’s gift offered here. 20
Over the years, since the early nineties of the past century, Kripal has been voraciously reading all sorts of queer and mystical literature (instead of Bengali grammar) and has now tired of his exertions. He now boldly announces his agenda “I no longer want to study mystical literature. I now want to write it,” thus inverting Ramakrishna’s spiritual desire that the saint no longer wanted to become sugar but savor it. 21 The teacher of Hindu religious studies now wants to be a mystic, a guru in his own right. So here it is—the postmodern master’s first gift, the Serpent’s Gift, which, contrary to his pious and mystical wish, appears to provide, to borrow a term from Theordore Bernstein, a variety of windyfoggery, that may mean either pomposity or “a kind of wistful desire to make learned sounds,”or “an incapacity for direct, clear thinking.” In other words, this linguistic condition “embraces gobbledygook, that wordy, involved, and often unintelligible language” usually associated with some intellectuals driven by an uncontrollable urge to say something salacious, scandalous, and scintillating. 22 It is a pity that such a crap—a piece that does not even qualify for the status of grub-street pornography—has found itself in print by a prestigious but sadly captive publishing house. 23
Kripal has pecked the Bengali sources of Ramakrishna’s life and teachings like a hungry vulture that feeds on carrion and then flies out in search of another, leaving germs and vermins behind—a reminder of its execrable presence. Writing about the Shabasana’s [the corpse-seated Kali’s] crazy child, our pagal saheb first became a shabar (somewhat like a bede in Bengali, a gypsy hunter, a man of karsaji, that is, a trickster, who allures unsuspecting people with his outward exotic charm and gains their trust, and then with a sleight of hand (or with mystical mumbo jumbo) robs them of their possessions—language and culture—which separate the respectable and the genteel folks from the human scavengers and scums. Kripal the bede or the shabar has performed his feat with panache and then chameleon-like changed from a scholar into a snake charmer. We are left with what he acquired and transformed into a gift for those whose property he purloined—his homoerotic hermeneutic of the spirituality and sexuality of Kali’s child soaked in the snake’s fluid. In fact, Kripal’s premeditated hermeneutic has scored one up over Mahendranath’s meditated text. If the latter is a clumsy craftsman of a few pages of philosophical musings out of a single word or sentence of the Master, the former is a master weaver capable of weaving a multi-colored and multi-layered philosophical-theological fabric in his gnostic thinking loom—fabrication at its funniest and wildest best.
S.N. Balagandhara, in his urbane and erudite critique of the KC tries to give Kripal the benefit of the doubt by asserting that he is not trying to produce knowledge, but something else. 24 I think I have some idea of what it is. It is blissful gnosis impervious to rational critique or discourse. It resembles Shikhandi, a character of the Mahabharata, who is a compound of male and female and who could easily be a soldier in the battlefield and kill the enemy but who could not be killed as he also represents a female whom no Kshatriya combatant is prepared to confront. Kripal is fortified with this Shikhandi-like armor against reason, caution, or circumspection.
In my review of the KC in 1997 I had mentioned Kripal’s ransacking of Ramakrishna’s secret chamber and releasing its sacred contents. A decade later I am delighted to report on another (though not the last one, given his prolixity) gift from this paragon of psychoanal hermeneutic—serpent’s gift, something that formed the ritual practice of the Bogomils of medieval Bulgaria—something as ritualistic as the karanabari, one of the tantric panchamakara—for the thirsty cohorts of Kripal’s sacred community (the Western counterpart of Pandit Vaishnavacharan’s Kartabhajas as understood in the KC) of the postmodern globalized world. 25 Whether one likes its flavor or not, everybody is condemned to swallow it wholesale as few would dare to refuse, given the current fashion of deference to difference in the academe already under threat from the dangling sword of political correctness.
I personally despise any form of hypocrisy and love plain talk even at the risk of committing the culpa of political incorrectness. On that score my simple advice to my wrongheaded colleague is to stop claiming for himself the status of a mystic who could remain glassy-eyed to powerful intellectual challenges with impunity, give up gnosis, and grab a good grammar book, go back to school, start learning Bengali language and culture in right earnest, revisit Calcutta, learn to appreciate Bangla adda, lyrics, lores, and plays, buy a few good dictionaries (including Rajshekar Basu’s Chalantika), and give himself periodic tests on his reading and comprehending Bengali (both in sadhu and chalit bhasa). He should be able to read the vernacular sources by himself, and not through their translated versions and then citing from the original by inserting a few alterations and adjustments, something that he is doing with impunity. Nor should he depend upon the services of some so-called “research bureaus” mushrooming in Calcutta since the eighties of the past century. 26 If Antony Phiringhi could succeed in mastering Bengali without a glamorous degree from a famous institution of higher learning in the eighteenth century, Jeffrey’s gnosis mania could be cured and his real knowledge of the Bengali language could flourish, provided he applied himself assiduously to the task. Ramakrishna’s admonition to a smartass named Shyam Basu has a singular salience in the present context: “Just eat the mango, you asshole [Ore Podo]. What would you gain by counting the trees, branches, and leaves in the grove?” 27
2 The epigraph above citing Ramakrishna’s conversation with Govinda Mukhopadhyay contains the kernel of Ramakrishna’s spiritual thought in the usual heterosexual terms.
3 Tyagananda, Kali’s Child Revisited.
4 Radice, Review of KC in Bulletin of SOAS, 161. Sadly, Radice had no way of reading Tyagananda’s review that appeared two years later.
5 On the third day of Durga puja, the Maha Astami, in late September 1884, Ramakrishna, then suffering from throat cancer, recited a number from Ramprasad Sen’s lyrics and then said: “I was in a state of utter madness. This is called vyakulata (translated correctly as “longing” by Swami Nakhilananda).” On the same day, the Master, who was in an exceptionally happy mood despite his excruciating pain and discomfort of the throat, sang several numbers addressed to the goddess Kali (an incarnation of the goddess Durga) and said: “Today is Mahastami. Ma has arrived. Hence my uddipan (Nikhilananda correctly translates uddipan as “spiritual awakening”). KM, II, 133 (GR, 565). Diary of 28 September 1884.
6 Ibid., 107, 141, 192, 354 n. 19.
7 Kripal, “Seeing Inside and Outside the Goddess” in G. William Barnard and Jeffrey Kripal, eds., Crossing Boundaries, 238-41.
8 KC, 238-41.
9 KC, 2, 41, 82-83, 196, 142.
10 Ibid.,78. Head as a phallic symbol is Freudian and not tantric.
11 Ibid., 224-25, 73.
12 All transliterated Bengali nouns follow a pronunciation-based orthography. However, I retain the Sanskrit lingam to designate Shiva’s iconic representation and use the Bengali linga to designate sexual organ.
13 J. Kripal, “Garland for Talking Heads for Goddess” in Hiltebeitel and Erndl, eds., Is Goddess Feminist?, 244. See also the reviews of KC by Renuka Sharma and June McDaniel.
14 Ibid., 246.
15 See Tracy Colman’s posting on RISA listserv dated 12 January 2001.
16 Kripal, while debunking Nikhilananda’s “bowdlerized” translation of KM, has uncritically accepted the swami’s translation of majar kuti as “Mansion of Fun” (kuti being mistaken for kuthi or kutir which means office, depot or home). This is because the “mansion of mirth” together with the bisexual Mathur and his gay partner Gadadhar represent some sort of a gay Valhalla. Actually the word kuti means a slice or a part or a chunk of something.
17 “Kali’s Child: Psychological and Hermeneutical Problems,” 19 (webpage). See www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/s-rv-bhatt-kali.htm
18 I borrow this cute word (which at first I took for a misprint for another quite close to it) from Kripal, Serpent’s Gift, 15.
20 Serpent’s Gift, 27.
21 Ibid., 15; KM, I, 79 (GR, 172). Diary of 14 December 1882; III, 78 (GR, 478). Diary of 30 June 1884.
22 Theodore M. Bernstein, Careful Writer, 482, 480.
23 My observation has to do with the author’s nonchalant conflation of gnosis with Ramakrishna’s spirituality. This mind-boggling hocus-pocus is as crappy as another scholar’s interpretation of Ganesha’s proboscis as a limp phallus. See Krishnan Ramaswamy et al., eds. Invading the Sacred, 287-88.
24 Balgangadhara, “India and Her Traditions.”
25 For Bogomilism see New Oxford American Dictionary.
26 Sil, “Silent Traffic in India’s Intellectual Property.”
27 KM, I, 249 (GR, 901). Diary of 27 October 1885. My translation of “Podo” is based on the following considerations. In colloquial Bengali, there are certain names (mostly male) such as Madna (Madan), Chandu (Chand), Bhombol, Bhonda (dull), Nidhiram (coward), Haridas Pal (self-proclaimed big man), Handa (dumbo), Podo and the like to designate a moron or a bunglar. Podo could be an abbreviation of Padmalichan, an imaginary bucolic bum or a plain idiot or a pedo [a gassy guy]. But Podo also has a phonetic affinity with pond [anus] or pondo, and hence, depending on the context, the object of banter is compared to anus (in colloquial English “asshole”) or “an (old) fart.” Ramakrishna used the term for a visitor named Shyam Basu, who questioned the Master’s sermon on sin. The year for this encounter as recorded in the KM was 1885 and Ramakrishna was dying of the agonizing cancer of the throat. He was upset and did not wish to (or could not) prolong the conversation. His addressing Shyam as Podo was thus an expression of his exasperation with the arrogant smart ass. I am, of course, faithfully following the Master, being an admirer, if not a devotee, of the paramahamsa.
Barnard, G. William and Jeffrey J. Kripal, eds. Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism. New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2002.
Bernstein, Theodore M. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. 1965. New York: Free Press, 1993.
Bhattacharya, Somnath. “Kali’s Child: Psychological and Hermeneutical Problems” (December 2002). Online: Sulekha.com See also Yvette C. Rosser’s brilliant commentaries on Bhattacharya in Invading the Sacred, ch. 15.
Colman, Tracy. Posting on RISA listserv (12 January 2001).
Gupta, Mahendranath (ShriM), comp. Shrishriramakrishnakathamrita. 5 bhagas. 1308-39 Bengali Era [B.E.]. Rpt. Kalikata: Kathamrita Bhavan, 1394 B.E. [KM]
Hiltebeitel, Alf and Kathleen Erndl, eds. Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South In dian Goddesses. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Kripal, Jeffrey J. “A Garland of Talking Heads for the Goddess: Some Autobiographical and Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Western Kali” in Hiltebeitel and Erndl, eds., Is Goddess Feminist?
____. Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teaching of Ramakrishna. 1995. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. [KC].
____. Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
____. “Seeing Inside and Outside the Goddess: The Mystical and the Ethical in the Teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda” in Barnard and Kripal, eds., Crossing Boundaries.
____. The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
McDaniel, June. Review of Kripal, Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom in Journal of Asian Studies, LXII, 3 (2003).
McKean, Erin, ed. The New Oxford American Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Nikhilananda, Swami. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (trans. of KM). 1942. Seventh printing. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, 1977. [GR].
Radice, William. Review of KC in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, LXI, 1 (1998).
Ramaswamy, Krishnan, Antonio de Nicolas, and Aditi Banerjee, eds. Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America. New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2007.
Saradananda, Swami. Shrishriramakrishnalilaprasanga. 5 parts in 2 vols.Kalikata: Udbodhan Karyalay, 1398 B.E. [LP].
Sharma, Renuka. “The Foot in the Lap or Kripal’s Discontent.” Review of KC in Sophia, XL, 2 (December 2001).
Sil, Narasingha P. “The Question of Ramakrishna’s Homosexuality,” review of KC in The Statesman, Calcutta (31 January 1997).
____. “Silent Traffic in India’s Intellectual Property.” Online: http://www.indianscience.org
____. “Vahbharambhe Laghukriya [“Much Ado About Nothing”]. Posting on RISA listserv (10 May 1998).