Integrity of academia

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 28 19:48:33 EST 2000

>Is the author of this statement in deep denial, or am I misinformed? I
>always thought a Shiva-linga >was< a phallic symbol, probably the most
>famous phallic symbol in existence?

Whether or not Hindus worship Sivalinga as a phallic symbol,
there is a very important methodological question involved.

Does the specific reference in the Bengali source necessitate
the translation as Siva's penis? Can Jeffrey Kripal prove that
whenever Ramakrishna Paramahamsa performed pUjA, his thoughts
were filled with troublesome vaginas and penises in intercourse?
Kripal's own thesis is that Ramakrishna was a "failed Tantric",
whatever that means. In any case, if so, Kripal should hold that
for Ramakrishna, the Sivalinga had another meaning beyond that
of sexual intercourse. This is a serious internal contradiction
in Kripal. Doesn't it then follow that Ramakrishna's own usage
of the word Sivalinga, as recorded by his disciple, has to be
understood differently?

A cultural anthropologist once wrote to me in private that in
his field studies he is more interested in what respondents
think and say, rather than what may be the actual historical
facts. What a priest in a temple thinks and says about the
Sivalinga may be different from and more important (to the
priest and to those who study him) than the historical origin
of the Sivalinga as a phallus. Given Kripal's psychological
analysis, shouldn't concern himself with what *Ramakrishna*
thought and said, rather than with the history behind every
word he used? But then, Kripal sees sex in every incident in
Ramakrishna's life. It seems to me that the only one really
bothered by visions of vaginas and penises in l'affaire de
Kali's Child is Jeffrey Kripal. Ramakrishna's own religious
vision doesn't seem to have either celebrated lewd sexuality
a la Tantrics, or despised the sexual dimension of human life
a la some extreme ascetic groups. By and large, when Indians
see a Digambar Jain monk or a Naga monk or a naked child, our
attention is not focused on their penises. I have no doubt
where Jeffrey Kripal's attention would focus.

Swami Tyagananda's objection stands firm (yeah, one could read
sexual meaning into my use of "stand" and "firm" also). There
are serious and repeated problems in Kripal's methodology that
he has pointed out. To pick this one instance of the Sivalinga
and to say that he is in denial is classic hit-and-run tactics.
The only people in denial are those who refuse to investigate
the real issues involved. Sorry to sound so vicious, but when
shoddy yellow journalism pretends to scholarship, and obtains
rewards in the process, it is clearly not necessary for every
Western academic to run to Kripal's defence.


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