Books

The Jeffrey Kripal Project — Appropriate Indic Concepts, Globalise And Sell Them As Western Ideas

Jeffrey John Kripal is an American college professor. He is the former chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Snapshot
  • This book by Kripal represents a strong movement in the West. A movement that seeks to deconstruct Hindu spirituality with what academics like him regard as ‘superior tools of analysis and frameworks’.

The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge, Jeffrey J. Kripal, Bellevue Literary Press, 240 pages, $ 13.38.

Jeffrey Kripal is notorious in Hindu circles for the way in which he tried to deconstruct Sri Ramakrishna’s persona through a Freudian lens. Towards this end, he had to do quite a lot of mis-translations and torturing of texts, not to mention crying victimhood when called out through scholarly rebuttals.

Since then, he has moved on to write books on the so-called UFO abduction experiences, drawing parallels with Hindu spiritual experiences.

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He compares the large bulging eyes of the aliens in the supposed abduction experience with the eyes of the Goddess.

He even alleges that a particular kind of ‘encounter in Calcutta, which was most probably an attack of sleep paralysis, was caused due to the cultural milieu filled with the Goddess.

That the same Kripal uses not Freud but Jung to study Mark Twain is another curious fact.

Kripal represents a strong movement in the West. A movement that seeks to deconstruct Hindu spirituality with what academics like him regard as ‘superior tools of analysis and frameworks’.

Cover of the book.  Cover of the book. 

One can call this the ‘supremacist epistemology complex’.

In his latest book, Flip, Kripal tries to explain spiritual experiences, particularly the ones of the non-dual (Advaitic) kind and tries to constrict them within the Western cultural context.

The context here includes humanities, and in a very subtle but important manner, politics and theology.

The non-dual worldview as well as experience has a long Indic heritage. It is elaborated upon and described in Vedic and Buddhist traditions.

In both, it has been perfected to both science and everyday living culture.

When the West discovered the non-dual heritage, naturally, the worldview of a revelation-based organised religion clashed with the non-dual traditions.

Further, with the cosmology revealed by science and its metaphysical implications making monopolistic theology look juvenile, if not outright absurd, the acceptance of theo-diversity is increasingly becoming mainstream.

This was reflected by a cover-story in the Newsweek by Lisa Miller, the then religion editor of the magazine. She wrote:

Thirty per cent of Americans call themselves “spiritual, not religious,” according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 per cent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for “the divine-deli-cafeteria religion” as “very much in the spirit of Hinduism.”

Jeffrey Kripal turns to the same issue in his book. He zeroes in on the legacy of the past that the non-Western and mostly Hindu non-dual traditions have and says:

Modern secularisms and the various spiritualities to which they have given birth do not generally make these anachronistic mistakes. They do not worship or honor the past in the same way that traditional religions do... Liberal American Christians sometimes say that God never uses periods when he speaks; he uses only commas. This clever grammatical dictum captures something important, Many in that wide swath of American culture that identifies itself as “spiritual but not religious,” too, free themselves from such anachronisms.

So, here is a methodology tentatively mooted that can remove Advaita from its Hindu roots, and then repackage it as an idea being nourished by liberal Christian values.

Perhaps, it can even be re-marketed as ‘holistic spirituality’ in India through the colossal institutional networks of the Church and evangelical forces.

It should also be noted that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ tag, as it originally evolved in the West, could actually be a step towards ‘Hindu-ism’, the same meme when it is imported into India, can uproot Hindus from their tradition.

Kripal makes his arguments very strategically and reinforces the stereotypes on Hindu culture and society that exist in the West. He observes:

Many forms of Hinduism, including Hindu monasticism, are deeply informed by profound non-dual philosophies of mind, yet Hinduism in India also depends on the caste system for its day-to-day social and political expression.

Then he declares: ‘The flip does not equal moral and political enlightenment in our present liberal senses.’

Now, where do non-dual traditions stand here?

Usually, social emancipation in the West happened with excessive inflow of capital and vast access to almost limitless natural resources in Australia, United States and Africa. While even late pre-modern Europe had untouchability, with inflow of slave labour and then indentured labour, the Western society could shake off the traditional caste and untouchability.

In the case of the overlapping Advaitic and Bhakti traditions of India, the Advaitic experience became an important impetus for breaking free of social stagnation and hence caste as well as untouchability.

Dr. Ambedkar calls Advaita, which he terms ‘Brahmaism’ the spiritual basis of democracy. He states that the Mahavakyas of the Upanishads, which form the basis of Advaita namely Tatvam Asi and Aham Brahmasmi ‘leave room for no other theory of associated life except democracy.’

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In India, there are various literary and oral traditions which insist on this and have periodically broken the social stagnation process. Barbers, landless agricultural labourers, wandering bards, courtesans — usually those considered as those of defiled professions in the medieval ages throughout the world- were recognised as enlightened masters.

The bard, Thirupaan Azhwar, considered untouchable by moralistic religions of that time, was attacked by a ‘high-born’ priest, who later saw in the sacred idol of Vishnu in the temple, the same marks as made by the attacks on Thirupaan Azhwar.

So the priest realised the oneness of the Devotee and the Divine and he carried the Devotee on his own shoulders to the temple.

This event was recently repeated in a temple as a means to remove casteism from the minds of the people.

A Brahmin priest of the temple carried on his shoulders a devotee born in so-called ‘untouchable’ caste.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa cleaned the toilet of the so-called untouchable as part of his advaitic sadhana to remove even an iota of casteism.

Bhagwan Ramana used to take water to the so-called ‘untouchable’ women who were working in the field.

In the modern context, Swami Vivekananda further elaborated on the ethical obligation that Advaita (non-dualism) enjoins upon those who seek it and those who have experienced it.

In a lecture in 1896, he stated:

Behind everything the same divinity is existing and out of this comes the basis of morality. Do not injure another. Love everyone as your own self, because the whole universe is one. In injuring another, I am injuring myself; in loving another, I am loving myself.

He further elaborated:

There are moments when every man feels that he is one with the universe, and he rushes forth to express it, whether he knows it or not. This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, and it is the basis of all our ethics and morality. This is summed up in the Vedantic philosophy by the celebrated aphorism, Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That).

Later elsewhere, he recognised in the revolutions and other movements churning Western society, the inherent tendency to achieve Oneness:

This is the dictate of Indian philosophy. This oneness is the rationale of all ethics and all spirituality. Europe wants it today just as much as our downtrodden masses do, and this great principle is even now unconsciously forming the basis of all the latest political and social aspirations that are coming up in England, in Germany, in France, and in America.And mark it, my friends, that in and through all the literature voicing man’s struggle towards freedom, towards universal freedom, again and again you find the Indian Vedantic ideals coming out prominently.

That despite such clear empirical data showing a strong ethical dimension to non-dualism in both traditional and modern history of Indian philosophy, Kripal associating caste system and Hindu non-dualism as if they co-existed without any tension, is to say the least, less than honest.

It is true there are Gurus who have imbibed in them cult elements — particularly those who eye the Western market.

Fortunately, fairly sharp reason, good dose of healthy scepticism and more importantly traditional knowledge of the legacy of Advaitic and Bhakti traditions can clearly make a seeker reject these pitfalls associated with such cults.

For that, a Hindu does not have to jettison her entire history and tradition. On the contrary, she can use it for course correction. Nor are Advaitic schools of India closed systems. As Sri Aurobindo said, “India has not spoken Her last word yet …”

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