Different Strokes|Dec 7, 2007 5:33 AM| by:

Defiling the Sublime

An article in a leading Indian daily reports that “A powerful trend in the American establishment has launched a smear-campaign on Hindu spirituality based on Freudian  psychology.”(1)  It would not be decent to describe all the unprintable Freudian porn spun-out by these American pundits in a magazine which goes to a cultured audience with a higher aspiration.  It is also not the objective of this article to counter or refute the twisted theories of the spin-doctors of Uncle Sam.  This work of refutation is being done with an admirable vigour by the Indian diaspora in America.(2)  The main purpose of this article is to examine how “powerful” this new spear-campaign against Hinduism is in inflicting any substantial damage to Hindu or Indian spirituality.

   The Freudian Howl

There have been such smear campaigns on Indian religion and spirituality before, for example, by Christian missionaries and also by some secular pundits.  One of them was described aptly by Mahatma Gandhi as a gutter inspector’s report.  The present American inspectors are from the Freudian gutters.(3) The main thrust of the campaign seems to be to show that the foundations of Indian culture are psychologically and sexually repressive and throw cynical doubts on the sanity of great spiritual personalities like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.  It is something like a creature crawling in the mud looking at the star and scoffing at it as a flickering and unstable fire-fly in the sky or like someone who lives in a dark and narrow subterranean cave, never having seen a blaze of light or open space, yet questioning the luminosity of the Sun and Moon and the vastness of interstellar space.

The Hindu religion and spirituality is based on an intuitive spiritual psychology which integrates the varied experiences of the spiritual, psychological and secular realms of life in a rainbow hued synthesis and in the light of a vast all-embracing spiritual vision.  The new American pundit on religion is trying to examine this heavenly psychology of Hinduism in the dark glare of Freudian demonology or in other words, look at the Divine with the eyes of the satyr and the ghoul.  Sri Aurobindo, in the following passage describes with poetic beauty and scientific precision, the nature and work of the denizens of the Freudian nether worlds:

“Mind changed to the image of a rampant beast.
It scrambled into the pit to dig for truth
And lighted its search with subconscient flares.
Thence bubbling rose sullying the upper air,
The filth and festering secrets of the Abyss;
This it called as positive fact and real life” (4)

    The Flawed Fundamentals

A rigorous intellectual refutation of the negative campaign may be helpful in certain cases or category of seekers.  But such a refutation may not have any positive impact when the motives are not sincere.  As Sanjeev Nayyar writing on this phenomenon of “Freudian Twist to Hindu Myths” states:

“Swami Thyagananda of Ramakrishna Mission, and independently Prof. Somnath Bhattacharya, a noted psychologist, produced detailed refutations of these claims proving them as fabrications.  But the exposed scholars were able to wriggle out of it, by claiming essentially that (a) their critics were Hindu Radicals, (b) Indians are sexually insecure and their arguments should be psycho-analysed further.”(5)

But the Freudian pundit has to psychoanalyse his own motives before preaching it to others! Is his study of Hinduism entirely disinterested? If it is an honest study it should be impartial and balanced, bringing out the positive as well as negative side of the phenomenon, and not a one-sided and convoluted twisting of facts.  For example the Freudian pundit gives a perverted interpretation of the relationship between Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.  But he dismisses all their great and transforming spiritual experiences as the result of psychological disorder.

So what are the open or hidden motives behind the campaign? There are three possible motives.  The first one is an overt or covert bias or hostility to Hinduism for whatever reason, religious or cultural.  Second, is hostility to spirituality itself.  A psychically sensitive spiritual seeker can feel this hidden subconscious hostility within him, constantly opposing his spiritual aspiration and throwing thoughts and feelings which are contrary to the aspiration.  As Sri Aurobindo describes this hidden hostility lodged in the human heart:

“A dark concealed hostility is lodged
In the human depths, in the hidden heart of Time—-
A secret enmity ambushes the world’s march
It leaves a mark on thought and speech and will—
A power opposed to the eternal will—-
This all must conquer who would bring down God’s peace.
This hidden foe lodged in the human breast.(6)

When someone is identified with or under the influence of this subconscious hostility he becomes an instrument of the “hidden foe” and turns either openly or covertly hostile to spirituality.  The third factor is a feeling of insecurity or feeling threatened by the growing influence of Indian spirituality in the West and also by the  economic, social or cultural clout of the affluent and successful Indian diaspora in America, most of whom are Hindus.  As Sanjeev Nayar points out in the article we have mentioned earlier, one of the aims of the new Hindu-baiter seems to be to show that the Indian or Hindu culture as being “oppressive, psychologically destructive.”7 So the Freudian doctor of religion has to listen to the age-old counsel: Heal Thyself.

The other important factor which has to be noted is the flawed intellectual foundation of the campaign.  Modern psychology has progressed from the dark subconscient realms of the Freudian psychology to the higher, brighter and more open vistas of the Jungian, Maslowian and Transpersonal schools of psychology.  But this new breed of Hindu-baiter is reverting to an outdated and moribund school of psychology.  The very fact that he is going back to Freudian psychology reveals his doubtful motives, because in no other school of psychology  will he find any justification to support his perverted theories.

This brings us to the question: what are the possible categories of people who can be influenced or carried away by this campaign.  The first are those who suffer from the same type of prejudices and motives as that of the one who vilifies, like bias, hostility or feeling threatened by a cultural and spiritual invasion.  The second category is the superficial and shallow scholar and thinker who is mentally and spiritually ill-equipped to understand deep, intuitive and profound spirituality.  Both these categories of people cannot be convinced by any amount of intellectual refutation.  The third category is the young student or the open-minded person who doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of Hinduism.  This third category of people can be helped by an enlightened and reasoned refutation based on deeper truths of Hinduism, which will prevent them from getting carried away by the false campaign.

    The Unassailable Spirit of Indian Spirituality

But Hindu or Indian spirituality has survived and will survive all such onslaughts against it by hostile howlers.  We are not talking about outer forms of Hindu religion which perhaps need a little reformation or renovation.  The social and cultural consequences of the false campaign in the American society may have to be tackled by a vigorous intellectual counter assault as it is done at present by the Indian diaspora in America.(8)   But the spiritual core of Hinduism cannot be tarnished or assailed by any such attacks, because it has a divine mission to fulfill for the evolutionary destiny of humanity.

I am not in favour of a too rigid distinction between Spirituality and Religion.  When an outer form of religion is a spontaneous expression of an inner spiritual aspiration, emotion, intuition or realization, then religion becomes an integral part of spirituality.  But for practical purposes we have to make a distinction between spirituality and religiosity.  Spirituality is the aspiration or effort to come into some form of direct contact, union or identity with the inner divinity.  But religiosity is satisfied with a formal outer piety and devotion.  Mere religiosity without spirituality leads to stagnation and decay of the religious organism.  On the other hand, a pure spirituality which remains self-content within is not very creative for the transformation of the outer life.  But spirituality is the life-giving core of religion.  Even a bodiless and unexpressive spirituality has its silent and invisible effect on the mind and life of humanity.

The spiritual core of Indian religion is still a living force in the hundreds of Yogis and gurus who have internalized its message in their consciousness and thousands of sincere spiritual seekers who are trying to live its values and principles.  This flaming core of Indian religion is kept alive and burning in a nucleus of individuals and institutions through the practice of yoga and inner realization.  The most important aspect of this Indian or Hindu spirituality is that it is still a living tradition which is even now, in our modern age, producing enlightened spiritual masters like Sri Aurobindo, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharishi, Ma Anandamayi and many other lesser known or unknown yogis, saints and seers.

This spiritual core of Hinduism may not be visible in the outer forms of the religion.  Take for example the phenomenon of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who is one of the foremost spiritual representatives of modern Hinduism.  To a superficial gaze, his incoherent and disordered outer behaviour may give no indication of his tremendous spiritual stature and realisations.  Similarly the outer condition and forms of ancient and modern Hinduism with its chaotic medley of rituals and temples, mythology, scriptures and philosophies, gods and goddesses, gurus and avatars, social and political structures and controversies may not give a true indication of the nature or condition of its inner spiritual core.  And in a religious organism, what keeps the soul of a religion alive is not the outer paraphernalia of church and rituals and dogmas but the inner core of sincere and practicing spiritual seekers guided by enlightened mystics who are able to rediscover, relive or extend the original spiritual intuitions, experiences and realizations which gave birth to the religion.  In the temple of Hinduism, whatever may be the conditions of its outer structure, in the sanctorum, inner worship and sacrifice is still done to the living Presence of the Deity.  As Sri Aurobindo wrote in answer to a critic of Hinduism:

“I do not take the same view of the Hindu religion as J. Religion is always imperfect because it is a mixture of man’s spirituality with his endeavor that comes in trying to sublimate ignorantly his lower nature.  Hindu religion appears to me as a cathedral-temple, half in ruins, noble in the mass, often fantastic in detail, but always fantastic with significance-crumbling in places but a cathedral temple in which service is still done to the Unseen and its real presence can be felt by those who enter with the right spirit.”(9)

    The Experimental Spirituality

Thus, the validity of Hindu spirituality or religion has to be tested by experimenting with its philosophy and practice in the laboratory of our own consciousness.  An American critic of Hinduism, one among the new horde of Hindu-baiters, condemns the Indian scripture Bhagavad Gita, as a “dishonest book” which preaches war and violence.  But a spiritual seeker, who puts into practice the path laid down in the Gita with sincerity and persistence, can feel and verify the inner results in terms of peace, equanimity, endurance, faith and many other spiritual benefits.

Similar is the case with some of the spiritual personalities or divinities of Hinduism like Sri Krishna.  Our Freudian pundit will find a treasure house to indulge in his perverted interpretations in the legends of Krishna.  But those who followed the path of Krishna and found Him know who He is and what He can give.  One of them is Krishnaprem, a former British air-force pilot who converted to Vaishnavism.  He faithfully followed the Vaishnava path and attained rapid spiritual progress.  Dilip Kumar Roy, a well-known Indian musician and a close friend of Krishnaprem relates the following interesting episode in one of his books.  Krishnaprem was traveling in a train in his Vaishnava robe and a small idol of Krishna in his hands.  A British lady, who was traveling in the same compartment, was unable to bear the sight of someone belonging to her country and race getting converted to Hinduism.  She suddenly burst out in anger “You have betrayed your country, race, religion and humanity.  What have you gained by this shameful act?”  Krishnaprem said with a calm, undisturbed smile, “I have found my Krishna”.

We must note here individuals like Krishnaprem and his guru Yashodama, who is a relatively unknown guru but with a deep inner realization, and the Vaishnavamath at Almora in which they lived, are part of the spiritual core of Hinduism.  They are the individuals and institutions which we have mentioned earlier as part of the inner nucleus of Indian religion.  There are many such less known individuals and institutions all over India, apart from the well-known and accomplished spiritual masters like Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharishi and their famous Ashrams, who keep the soul of Indian religion living and vibrant.

    The Soft Power of India

This is the essence of Indian spirituality.  As long as there are seekers  like Krishnaprem and enlightened masters like Sri Aurobindo or Ramana  Maharishi to guide them, Indian spirituality will not only survive but will one day overflow the world.

As Swami Vivekananda has pointed out, the spiritual thought of India acts in a subtle, unseen and invisible way in the consciousness of humanity.  The ideals of Indian spirituality are not the speculative constructions of the human intellect.  They are the emanations from the supraintellectual consciousness of seers and sages, established in the terrestrial mental atmosphere as living forces.  We must also keep in mind the seer and sages of India, past or present, whether they are living in their earthly bodies or “dead”, are still living spiritual powers guiding the spiritual evolution of humanity.  For someone who lives in the spiritual consciousness of his soul, his body is like a shirt, and “death” is only a shuffling of his physical robe.

This living force of Indian spirituality is the purest and highest form of soft power.  It silently infiltrates into the minds and hearts of people, slowly and subtly changing their thoughts and feelings.  We can see this happening in the history of modern civilization, especially in the west.  Transcendentalism, flower culture or the hippie movement, New Age cults and literature, philosophical speculations of New Physics, alternative therapies, deep ecology, meditation, and Yoga, seeping of Indian spiritual and Sanskrit terminology like guru, avatar, dharma, karma  into the English language and vocabulary – all these are the result of the infiltration of Indian ideas into the western culture.

This will continue, and one day it will be a flood, which will not destroy or overpower other cultures, but will transform them.  For, the urge or capacity for synthesis is an intrinsic genius of Indian spirituality.  Thus, the growth of Indian spirituality will lead to a progressive mutual enrichment of the spirit of the East and West in a new synthesis

  Reference and Notes:

1.Sanjeev Nayar, “Freudian Twist to Hindu Myths”. Hindustan Times, June 28, 2007.
2.See Invading the Sacred, Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, ed. Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicholas and Adithi Banerjee.
3.Freudian psychology explores mainly the “subconscious” which is beneath the threshold of conscious mind, into which all our repressed impulses and desires sink.  According to the Integral psychology of Sri Aurobindo subconscious is the darkest and the most unlit part of the spectrum of human consciousness.  It is full of dark instincts and perversions of various kinds.  The Freudian theory considers the subconscious sexual instinct, known as libido, as one of the major and hidden forces behind human motivation, behaviour and relationship.  Even some of the nobler instincts of humanity like the religious, moral or the maternal or paternal love is explained in terms of the libido and “infantile sexuality”.  According to Freudian psychology religious and spiritual experiences are delusions resulting from psychological disorders, repressions or sublimations.
4.Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, pp.214.
5.Same as Reference 1
6.Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, pp.447-48
7.Same as Reference 1
8.But it is heartening to note that the assault on Hinduism has not much impact on the law-makers of US.  A leading Indian daily, The Hindu, in a report dated October 31, 2007, states that the US House of Representatives, for the first time passed a resolution recognizing “religious and historical significance” of Diwali, an important religious festival of Hindus.  The resolution was passed by an overwhelming vote of 358 to O.   This shows that the impact of the campaign against Hinduism on the political leadership of America is minimal or the other possibility is that the counter assault by the Indian diaspora had a positive effect on American senators.
9.Sri Aurobindo, Collected Works, Vol.22, 139.

  • http://Website Holly Dugan

    This is a beautiful article (Defiling the Sublime) even without the volatile reaction to Freudian theory. It was only a theory. There are others that would corroborate and support Hinduism. You are no doubt aware that most unusual states of consciousness were considered pathological in the U.S. until the past 20 years or so. Now techniques to alter states of consciousness are used in treatment by psychologists.

    In your article, I particularly liked the way you interposed the verses from Savitri. But don’t forget Jung (C.G.) who theorized much more positive and negative material in layers of the unconscious, including a collective unconscious. Jung’s psychology fits well with Hinduism, I think. I would like to see a comparison of Jungian theory and Integral Psychology, using Savitri as you did.