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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Exagerated depictions of Vivekananda's spiritual and intellectual attainments

Hyperbole in Wilber from Gaia Community: kelamuni's Blog

I have at times referred to Kenny's use of hyperbole when referring to other individuals or their teachings. I take it that Kenny has picked up this particular rhetorical modality from the materials he uses, and that these materials in turn derive their attitude from tradition itself which has set certain precedents. In other words, my sense is that this curious penchant for hyperbole derives, at least in part, from tradition itself, specifically from the attitiude toward the "great sage" or "holy sant" that we find in traditional hagiographical materials.

We find, for example, in Sankara Dig Vijaya, loosely, Shankara Conquers the World, several depictions of Shankara that approach the hyperbolic. There we find the suggestion that Shankara went about India, defeating everyone he met in debate and virtually converting the entire subcontinent to Vedanta. It is story that is repeated often. But this idea is a 14th century construct. For it is evident that Shankara was not well known in his day and even in the centuries that followed, since we find no mention of him in the works of other major scholars and philosophers. There is every indication that his teaching was meant only for the few qualified wandering samnyasins he encounted in the countryside. The Vedanta itself was an esoteric teaching, as is evident from the fact that the Brahma Sutras themselves make no sense without their commentarial tradition.

The idea, found in popular contemporary scholarly material, that Shankara was India's "greatest philosopher" is largely based upon this hagiographical tradition, and on the fact that Advaita Vedanta is the last of the classical Indian traditions to survive and that most of the writers of this material are Vedantins. Even the idea that Shankara is India's "greatest philosopher" is not entirely accurate. For one, Shankara was primarily an exegete and not a philosopher.

We find similar a exageration involved in the depictions of Nagarjuna, whom Kalupahana has argued was also primarily an exegete. According to Mahayana tradition Nagarjuna is accorded the status of almost a "second Buddha." Murti goes so far as to say that Nagarjuna's teaching offered a "corrective" to that of the Buddha. In his introduction to his translation of the Karikas, Kennneth Inada states that Nagarjuna's veneration, "at times reached such ridiculous heights that his name was sanctified and stamped everywhere with reckless abandon..."

We find hyperbolic estimations of the philosophical importance of Shankara, Nagarjuna and Plotinus throughout the works of Wilber. Not only hyperbole, but inaccuracies.

As for Plotinus, Ken does not appear to be aware of the fact that Plotinus' "great philosophical work," the Enneads, was in fact a collection of notes cobbled together and scribbled down by his closest disciple, Porphyry, to be used by his own students. In this sense, Porphyry, and not Plotinus, is the real "founder" of the school of Neo-Platonism. The irony here is that Wilber says that Plotinus was the "greatest pundit ever." Presumably, it is "book-learning" that characterizes the pundit. But Plotinus never wrote the Enneads.

And what of Shankara? At times Wilber says that Shankara was a "sage," or "India's greatest realizer." And yet, unlike Plotinus, Shankara is best known for his various written commentaries on the Upanishads, and he even referred to himself as a pandita.

What is also odd about the exaggerated claims Ken attaches to certain individuals from history is that they so often do not appear to involve any consideration of other great luminaries. Where, for example, do we find a similar consideration of Abhinavagupta in Ken's works? Or the master, Shri Harsha? Like Da's collection of "seventh stage texts" (where is the Vimalakirtinirdesha Sutra?), Ken bases his judgements upon his own limited encounter with dated translations of Asian texts -- basically those that were available to him in the 70's.

I will close with one other precedent, a modern one -- that of Swami Vivekananda. Throughout his various "biographies," which are better labeled hagiographies, we find several exagerated depictions of Vivekananda's spiritual and intellectual attainments. For example, we read in such accounts that Vivekananda was a "multi-faceted genius." According to one account, The Life of Swami Vivekananda, by his Disciples Eastern and Western, the principal of the college Vivekananda attended, William Hastie, had said that Vivekananda (then called Naren) was "a genius" and that "he never saw such a one even among philosophy students in German univeristies!" And yet, we also find out from R. Chattopadhyaya's book, Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography that the following were Vivekananda's grades during his graduating year of college: English 56% Mathematics 61% History 56% Philosophy 45%

These, it goes without saying, are hardly the grades of a "multifacted genius." Chattopadhyaya opines that this anecdote was probably concocted by Haramohan Mitra and disseminated via his many pamphlets.

My sense is that it is precisely this same sort of hyperbole that is at work in Ken's own estimation of the work and stature of certain of other personages. [> ** A legacy denied by GlobalCitizen]

1 comment:

  1. You may be interested to see 200 blog posts from my blog, which clearly show that Vivekananda's biographies present him with "larger than life size image". I have given proof from his Complete Works. Here are the labels to the 200 blog posts:

    #001 Sturdy- It is my karma? (1)
    #002 Ms. Bull- India is the dirtiest and unhealthiest hole in the world (1)
    #003 Alasinga- GET SOME BIG FOLKS (1)
    #005 Sacrifice a goat on the eighth day of the full or new moon (1)
    #006 I will try Madras and a few other friends in India (1)
    #007 Otherwise Christian missionaries will take the girls (1)
    #008 Alasinga- WHO TOLD YOU THAT I WANT SOCIAL REFORM? (1)
    #009 RAMANUJA- SHANKARA ETC. ARE MERE PUNDITS (1)
    #010 Mr. Sturdy: Boiled cabbage and potatoes and boiled rice and boiled lentils- three times a day (1)
    #011 Sacrifice goat on eighth day- a superstitious guru (1)
    #012 Holy Mother prohibited it what Vivekananda wanted (1)
    #013 Bengal is asthmatic and America is not (1)
    #014 Swaamiji does not know that Gita has madness of caste (1)
    #015 How can a yogi who preaches Patanjali Yama Niyamas be an addict of tobacco? (1)
    #016 A HUNDRED YEARS IS NOTHING TO HIM (1)
    #017 Rakhal- these are countries of gigantic scholars. Is it a joke to make disciples of such people? (1)
    #018 INDIA IS FULL OF LAZY ROGUES (1)
    #019 Get up the nearest hillock and get a bellyful of grass (1)
    #020 Alasinga: Bangalore and then to Ootacamund to pass the summer there. Alasinga My brain boils in heat (1)
    #022 Akhandananda- make separate arrangements for Muslim Boys' food (1)
    #023 What do I know about this Vedanta Society? Did I start it? (1)
    #024 Shri Mishra- Spend money and get room (1)
    #025 Bungalows are fun (1)
    #026 All are saints for nothing (1)
    #027 THEY ARE RASCALS (and I am gentleman) (1)
    #028 WRITE ABOUT MY TRAVELS- WHO WILL READ PIOUS STUFF? (1)
    #029 I SPENT JUST AS I LIKE (1)
    #030 Brothers- I am mostly the guest of big people (1)
    #031 Otherwise CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES WILL TAKE (1)
    #032 Mata-They come in crowds when there is a free lecture (1)
    #033 Fanatics must have bad livers (1)
    #034 Madras disciple- AMERICANS ARE A MILLION TIMES NOBLER THAN HINDUS (1)
    #035 How I wish you were here to taste our SHADS (1)
    #035- Alas- I am prevented from the taste of meat (1)
    #035- Christina-This is our best season for eating turtles (1)
    #035- overtaxed nerves (1)
    #036 I ate one-sixteenth of a barphi (1)
    #037 Philosophy and practices of monkhood in India (1)
    #038 It is all Karma (1)
    #039 Swamiji and rules (1)
    #040 Akhanda- Trust only wealthy householders (1)
    #041 Any other Hindu would have died if he had to work as hard as I have to (1)
    #042 Alberta- Ignorance cranks taught yoga in your country (1)
    #043 India -Awful mass of conservative jelly fish (1)
    #043 Miss Sturges- I love the Yankee land (1)
    #044 Christina- I am now in Bhakti- I am growing old (1)
    #045 Christina- Countersign it and put it (1)
    #046 It is better to get away from Calcutta now when the season of plague is on (1)
    #047 Raja- Life is Misery- nothing but misery (1)
    #049 Can anybody chose his date of death except when not committing suicide (1)
    #050 Gangadhar: you should feed yourself by spending from your own pocket (1)
    #051 Do not go about begging from the Hindu beggars (1)
    #052 Get hold of big bugs (1)
    #053 Should we lose self-consciousness often? (1)
    #054 Replies to comments--Half baked knowledge (1)
    #055 Evolution of monasteries in India (1)
    #056 India is only inhabited by women and eunuchs (1)
    #057 Ms. Halboister- Greatest misery in my life has been my own people (1)
    #057A- REPLIES TO COMMENTS- SWAMIJI AND RELATIVES (1)
    #058 Californians- Time for me to try another country (1)
    #059 SO WRETCHED AND DIFFERENT FROM WHAT YOU SEE AROUND (1)
    #060 Next step is Brahminhood (1)
    #061 WHY VIVEKANANDA COULD NOT GIVE SAMADHI TO PRIYA NATH SINHA? (1)
    #062 ASHAMED OF APPLYING FOR A JOB (1)
    #063 I would have to go from house to house to collect sufficient for one meal (1)
    #064 A NEW YORK PAPER TRIED TO SCARE ABHEDANANDA (1)
    #065 MUMBAI NEWSPAPERS SHOULD HELP (1)
    #066- People who know not what appreciation and gratefulness are (1)
    #067 Why should they take me to a low hotel? (1)
    #068 DID HIS SPIRIT APPEAR TO MRS. BULL AND AUROBINDO? (1)
    #069 Goat curry is Mother Kali's benediction at Hollywood (1)
    #070 GLOBAL DONATIONS FOR EVICTING AND REHABILITATING SLUM DWELLERS? (1)
    #071 I have found the pearl for which I dived into the ocean of life (1)
    #072 Californians: Any fool can do that (1)
    #073 Can Government of India help in tracing missing links? (1)
    #074 Ramakrishna Religion in Supreme Court (1)
    #075 Four Yogas discussion (1)
    #076 Beef-biceps (1)
    #077 Deussen: Vowed to conquer gold but not alcohol (1)
    #078 WHY DOES VIVEKANANDA USE SCURRILOUS LANGUAGE? (1)
    #079 Brahmananda: Granted that Ramakrishna was a sham (1)
    #080 REPLIES TO COMMENTS (Rajesh) (1)
    #081 Ms. Hale- I am thoroughly disgusted with this Slayton (1)
    #082 Kindness to animals and kindness to humans (1)
    #083 Bhakti Yoga: Any fool may abstain from eating this or that (1)
    #084 Ms. Hale- I hear that Barrows was mad (1)
    #085 GANDHIJI TAKEN ABACK BY NIVEDITA'S SPLENDOR (1)
    #086 Bungalows where Vivekananda stayed (1)
    #087 IT WAS VERILY RAMA NAMA (1)
    #088 Christina- There was a great flutter in our dovecote (1)
    #089 Vivekananda wanted to have BALI (sacrifice) done (1)
    #090 In America there is the best scope for caste to develop (1)
    #091 Only Rs. 400 in four years (1)
    #092 INDIA IS A ROTTEN CORPSE inside and outside (1)
    #093 Christina: A little gold will not be amiss to keep my jewel in proper surroundings (1)
    #094 Ramakrishnananda: People of our country have not yet offered me even as much as a pice for my travelling expenses (1)
    #095 When a great soul appears there will be numbers to bark after him (1)
    #096 Margot: Not every one is born to lead (1)
    #097 Important References (1)
    #098 Oh Raja: Slay the tigers- gratify the westerners (1)
    #099 Virchand Gandhi sent a shipload of wheat and Rs. 40000 whereas Vivekananda sent clippings (1)
    #100 Sanfranciscans: Jesus worked hard for ages in previous births (1)
    #101 Mrs. Ole Bull: Next phase will be the miraculous touch and not the tongue (1)
    #102 REPLIES TO COMMENTs Himalayanswastika (1)
    #103 Brahmananda: All of you are Saadhus and great saints (1)
    #104 Christina: Come to dock if that is possible and discreet (1)
    #105 Akhandananda: Leave the peasants and labourers to look to their own problem (1)
    #106 DID HE TRAVEL BARE FOOT? (1)
    #107- Remorse at not having reaped any appreciable results by serving the Sadhus (1)
    #108 Mrs. Ole Bull: There was nothing ... I am afraid (1)
    #109 Shivananda: I would pay half of the rent (1)
    #110 Abhedananda: Inform Mahendra Babu that he is my Calcutta agent (1)
    #111 India cannot yet produce great women (1)
    #112 How hard it is to turn a donkey into a horse (1)
    #113 I am busy in Himalayas directing the famine work in districts (1)
    #114 Cellular Jail of Andamans (1)
    #115 Greatest misery in my life has been my own people (1)
    #116 What asses you are (1)
    #117- 99.9 per cent have some motive (1)
    #118 NANJUNDA RAO WILL WAIT (1)
    #119 WRITING ON VIVEKANANDA AND EARNING FROM ADSENSE (1)
    #121 SUNDARA RAMA IYER (1)
    #123 We are not ordinary monks- we are Paramahamsas (Great Swans) (1)
    #124 HOW DOES A GREAT GUIDE BEHAVE? (1)
    #125 Mitra: Smritis and Puranas are productions of men of limited intelligence (1)
    #126 PARAMAHAMSA'S FOOD (1)
    #128 HOT TIME IN THIS OLD TOWN (1)
    #129 REPLIES TO COMMENTs (Somdatta Bhattacharya) (1)
    #130 MISPLACED GLORY(ies) (1)
    #131 ENTITLED TO SHARE OF FUN (1)
    #132 Replies to Comments (1)
    #133 REPLIES TO COMMENTs- How can letters be frivolous? (1)
    #134 WHEN KALI (KAAL`I) IS IN THE BODY WHY SACRIFICE GOATS? (1)
    #135 EXISTENCE SO SERVILE- LIFE SO MEAN (1)
    #136 DO VEGETARIANS THINK OF DEATH ALWAYS? (1)
    #137 Ms. Ghosal: No other alternative for meat eating (1)
    #138 Ms. Isabelle: So long as millions live in hunger (1)
    #139 Supplicant for a piece of meat (1)
    #141 SHOULD N'T A MONK BE JOYFUL? SHOULD HE BE GLOOMY? (1)
    #142 GURU VS. PANDIT DISCUSSION (1)
    #143 MONOPOLY OF SHOWING GOD (1)
    #144 BIBLES - VEDAS - KORANS - AND OTHERS ARE ONLY WORDS (1)
    #145 CAN THIS INCARNATE GURU WHO SUPPORTS SAVA SADHANA AND REBIRTHS SHOW THE GOD? (1)
    #146 HOW DOES AN ILLITERATE TEACHER KNOW THE SPIRIT OF THES SCRIPTURES WITHOUT READING THEM? (1)
    #147 WHAT IS MORE IMPORTANT? WHAT HE DOES OR WHAT HE SAYS? (1)
    #148 WHY DID PROF. MAX MULLER CONSIDER VIVEKANANDA'S NARRATION OF RAMAKRISHNA'S LIFE A FABLE? (1)
    #149 Waldo WHO IS THIS YOUNG MAN R_? (1)
    #150 Christiana: We gave them a telepathic message (1)
    #151 Pai: SANKARACHARYA WAS A MAN- YOU ARE A MAN (1)
    #152 I CAN RENOUNCE EVERYTHING EXCEPT THIS- ice cream (1)
    #153 Subba Rao: You will be burnt to ashes (1)
    #154 Wright: MRS. BAGLEY seems to be unsettled (1)
    #155 IS INTENSE MEDITATION OR EXTENSIVE MEDITATION NECESSARY? (1)
    #156 FIRST CLASS VOYAGE FROM MUMBAI TO USA WITH POCKETS FULL (1)
    #157 LAST LETTER TO MRS. BULL (1)
    #158 I HAVE MADE ACQUAINTANCES OF NEARLY ALL THE DAKSHINI RAJAs (1)
    #159 Haridasji: CAN YOU LEND ME ONE LION CUB FOR MY RAJA? (1)
    #160 Ms. Hale: YOU MUST PERSUADE HARRIET TO GIVE ME A FEW DOLLARS EVERY MONTH (1)
    #161 HALF OF THE UNITED STATES CAN BE CONQUERED IN TEN YEARS (1)
    #162 Ms. Bull: Thousand Dollars I have in New York will bring Rs. 9 a month (1)
    #163 People: Sweet vendor's shop is death's door (1)
    #164 IS THIS THE WAY TO TACKLE ALCOHOLISM? (1)
    #165 Saradananda: I hate the very name of marriage (1)
    #166 We cannot keep chickens here (1)
    #167 Ms. Bull: None of my people would be able to meddle with it (1)
    #168 Ms. Bull: name of these Math people is enough to frighten me (1)
    #169 My misery is my brothers (1)
    #170 Only I have a right to write poems- others should be packed off (1)
    #171 Ms. Hale: You ought to have sent a brainier man anyway (1)
    #172 Pai: If like me you had visited the slums of Europe and America (1)
    #173 Brahmananda: That makes me lose my temper. Send money (1)
    #174 Bengalees: Exert yourselves and earn more (1)
    #176 I am going to NWP as Bengal is malarious (1)
    #177 Alasinga: In this land of Shuka's birth renunciation is looked down upon as madness and sin (1)
    #178 Halboister: I will make a lecture tour When it is cooler (1)
    #179 Ramakrishnananda: Cook (1)
    #180 All of you come back to the Math at Calcutta or go to Ramnad (1)
    #181 Ramakrishnananda: Finger twistings and kling phat (1)
    #182 Ramakrishnanda: Do not use your wisdom too much (1)
    #183 Ramakrishnananda- Don't forget to present him (Maharaja of Khetri) an address of welcome (1)
    #184 A deafening applause would be raised for me (1)
    #185 Alasinga: Am I any Nation's slave? (1)
    #186 India is full of lazy rogues and curious- they never die of hunger (1)
    #187 Black hole of London where I had to work almost day and night (1)
    #188 Ms. Ole Bull: I LONG FOR MY RAGS- MY SHAVEN HEAD- MY SLEEP UNDER THE TREES-MY FOOD FROM BEGGING (1)
    #189 I have manfully borne the terrific heat of my country (1)
    #190 Thou alone art thy greatest friend (1)
    #191 Feeding wife and children is beastly (1)
    #192 Difference between God and Guru (1)
    #193 Christina- I want to see how much of fat you have accumulated in one year (1)
    #194 Statues are important for Indians and facts are not (1)
    #195 Reply to Intolerance of religious bloggers (1)
    #196- Columbian Fair Organisers were not fair to Vivekananda (1)
    #197- Originality of Swami Vivekananda's speeches in circulation (1)
    #198 REPLIES TO COMMENTS OF SHRI WILLIAM SCHINDLER a.k.a. Brother William at AllExperts.Com (1)
    #199 Women freedom-fighters (1)
    #200 Last Post (Concluding Remarks) (1)
    A banana is sacrificed as a symbolic bali (1)
    A cook - a servant - clean beds - and timely meals (1)
    All the papers paid high tributes to me (1)
    BARROW'S BIOGRAPHY (1)
    Barrows (1)
    Begging a foreign lady for photos (1)
    BhagavadGita (1)
    Boldness in visiting England (1)
    Burned a lot of fireworks (1)
    Can there be a thing as having a dozen husbands (1)
    Cannot trust his own people (1)
    Christina-Send me one of your latest photos (1)
    Discussion of Samadhi (1)
    Don't write pious stuff (1)
    Five hundred B.A.s and M.A.s will apply for it (1)
    FOUND GLORY IN POLISHING OFF COWS (1)
    go from house to house to collect sufficient for one meal (1)
    Good-bye I have had enough of the Hindus (1)
    Granted that Ramakrishna was a sham (1)
    Great confidence in British rule (1)
    He cannot be a good man (1)
    His most holiness (1)
    Householders of poor means take to various tricks to supply their wants (1)
    How to use disciples as butlers (1)
    I am facing deluging rains (1)
    I belong as much to India as to the world (1)
    I cannot anymore tell from the platform (1)
    I do not remember your giving me any cigar to smoke (1)
    I have written to you about the phonograph (1)
    I know my my mission in life (1)
    I made a mistake in writing Miss to your name (1)
    I shall have three meals (1)
    I want a couple of tiger skins (1)
    I would pay half of the rent (1)
    in a huge casket of solid gold beautifully worked (1)
    ined to Kshatriyahood (1)
    Inhabitants of slums of Europe and America are brutes (1)
    Inquire about Paramahamsa and they will tell you of me (1)
    Is a cow a yogi (1)
    It is not good for me to catch Malaria (1)
    it is to Amerique — there where the heart is (1)
    JAIRAM RAMESH (1)
    Jesus Christ (1)
    Ladies- Ladies- Ladies (1)
    Like a lion you will roar out (1)
    Lost $5 (1)
    Monks too need fun (1)
    Mr. Fox- My brother is a very selfish man (1)
    Mr. Sturdy is my Secretary in England (1)
    Ms. Nivedita- I am done with everyone here and in India (1)
    Mumbai Newspapers May 1899 (1)
    MY KARMA-YOUR KARMA-HIS KARMA-HER KARMA (1)
    NATION WILL WAIT (1)
    Natural food - grass is so abundant (1)
    Nityananda (1)
    NObody is there to collect a single penny (1)
    nobody to do any preaching (1)
    None has brains enough to take proper care of his own affairs (1)
    Oh Raja - Slay the tigers Gratify the Westerners (1)
    Photographs of our freedom fighters (1)
    Places where Vivekananda stayed (1)
    Port Blair (1)
    Presents to two European friends (1)
    Relatives are like deadly clogs (1)
    REPLIES TO COMMENTs (3)
    REPLIES TO COMMENTs of Mr. NVineeth (1)
    Reply to bjpfriends.blogspot.com (1)
    SAHAJANANDA SARASWATI (1)
    Sanyasis of Kali Yuga (1)
    Seek a big Guru in next birth (1)
    She has not yet made any noise (1)
    she must borrow them from other nations (1)
    Should we lose self=consciousness often? (1)
    sisters and mother (1)
    Sorry I could not attend Victoria Jubilee along with Khetri (1)
    Swami Vivekananda wanted to have bali done (1)
    Swamiji attributed jealosy to everybody (1)
    Swans eat sheep (1)
    Sympathy which our ignorant fools never dream of (1)
    The Indian people owe something (1)
    The man who mercilessly cheats widows and orphans (1)
    There is an Electric fan (1)
    There was a grat flutter in our dovecote owing to my letters (1)
    They must not be allowed to spend money to no good (1)
    This man with his handsome face-magnetic presence (1)
    time for me to try another country (1)
    timely meals (1)
    Trust only the wealthy householders (1)
    U.S.A. is a wonderful country for cheating (1)
    Unable to spare Reception Funds (1)
    Upanishads and Gita are true pictures (1)
    VIVEKANANDA AND BARROWS (1)
    VIVEKANANDA'S INFLUENCE ON FREEDOM MOVEMENT (1)
    We are all boobies (1)
    Weeping heart at the sorrow of others (1)
    West they have now attained to Kshatriyahood (1)
    What country hhas any special claim on me (1)
    What is all this Brahmana and Kshatriya business? (1)
    WHERE IS THE ADDRESS OF MERCY (1)
    Where will Bengalees go to escape from Malaria? (1)
    WHILE VIVEKANANDA BUYS BUNGALOWS (1)
    WHY SWAMIJI WANTS CHRISTINA TO SUBDUE HER EXPRESSIONS? (1)
    Why Swamiji's need airflights and air conditioners? (1)
    Why the sarcasm to Brahmananda? (1)
    Worship with water and Tulasi leaves (1)
    You must now help yourselves (1)
    you will find me going about in loin-cloth — will that shock you? (1)
    You would be astonished (1)

    200 blog posts with proof from Vivekananda's Complete Works.

    NOTE: I have no personal grudge against SV or his disciples. With no malice to anybody. Nor am I a Christian missionary. What were the facts? I am searching for these missing linkes.

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