[Advaita-l] Discussion on the Guru

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Wed Aug 8 13:32:38 CDT 2007

On Wed, 8 Aug 2007, asad mustafa wrote:

> In the name of God most gracious, most merciful.
> Guy Werlings <werlings.guy at wanadoo.fr> wrote:
> "I know that quite a number of the A-L hold Sri Ramakrishna in utter 
> contempt and even despise him as being not an advaitin but only a 
> typical Bengalitantric saint."
>  I am truly surprised to hear this!
>  Wasn't this gentleman teacher of Vivekananda, who introduced advaita to
>  the outside world?

Actually the person who introduced Advaita (Vedanta, Advaita by itself is 
an adjective not a noun) to the outside world was a Muslim!  Mohammed Dara 
Shikoh. the son of the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan had a selection from the 
Upanishads with explanations translated into Persian by the court Pandits. 
Alas he fought for the succession with Aurangzeb who defeated and killed 
him.  If it had been the other way around what a different turn Indian 
history could have taken!

This Persian work named Sirre Akhbar was translated into Latin in the 
early 19th century by a Frenchman named Anquetil Du Perron under the name 
Oupenakhat (obviously a transliteration of Upanishad.)  It was this 
version which became known in the West.  In fact it is precisely because 
Vedanta was _already_ known to Westerners that the Tantric saint was 
rebranded as an Advaitin.  This has to do with the politics and culture of 
the rising Hindu middle class in Colonial era Bengal not any attempt at 
deception of Ramakrishnas part.

Which is why I find Guys outburst so mystifying.  How is it a sign of
"despising" or "utter contempt" to point out that Ramakrishna was in fact 
a practioner of the religion which is to this very day the dominant mode 
of Hinduism in Bengal?  The Bengali Vamachari Tantrism is Advaitic but it 
is not Vedantic and many of its tenets are far beyond the pale of the Vedas.
There are other forms of Tantrism which are dualistic and Vedantic and 
there are yet others which are in total harmony with Advaita Vedanta.
(i.e. Shrividya.) What is so wrong about acknowledging these differences?

One would think a translator of all people would realize that just because 
two people use similiar words it doesn't necessarily mean they are talking 
about the same thing.  I won't blame just Westerners, there is a romantic 
type of Indian who does this too. Suffice it to say there is a certain 
mindset amongst some people that treats Hinduism as one big 
undifferentiated, mass which has no history, dogma, rivalries or any of 
those icky features of other religions but the fact is there are 
differences of opinion and practice and historical and political 
influences just like anywhere else and you have to understand these 
contexts if you want to make sense.

I challenge you to look not at what Ramakrishna and his followers claim to 
believe but what they actually do and say in context and compare it the 
classical authors we describe here and I bet you will wind up coming to 
the exact same conclusion as me.  Whether your investigations will result 
in "contempt" is up to you.  They haven't for me.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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