Gurus, Women, and Yoga: The Spiritual World of Hindu Universalism

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Thank you all for coming out
on this very warm evening. I’d like to thank the Center’s
staff first and foremost for making this event,
as all events possible. And I’d also like to thank
my colleagues, Derek Pensler, whom I have not yet met–
hello, Derek, and thank you– and Mary Lewis, who I
don’t believe is here. They’re both from the Center
for European Studies, which is co-sponsoring this event. So let me begin with a
very mundane matter, which is to remind you all to
please silence your cellphones or just turn them off. I have the distinct
honor and pleasure of welcoming Professor
Ruth Harris this evening. She’s Professor
of Modern History at the University of
Oxford and Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College. She’s published widely in the
history of religion, science, women’s history, French
history, and more recently, global history. Some of her previous
research topics include the history of the
insanity defense in Paris, Catholic revivalism
and healing in Lourdes, and the Dreyfus Affair. She’s currently studying
global spiritual renewal between the years 1880
and 1950 by examining the impact of South
Asian spiritual figures on Europe and America. The discussion this evening,
entitled Gurus Women, and Yoga– The Spiritual World
of Hindu Universalism, is the 2019 annual
Hindu View of Life lecture here at the Center. So permit me just a very
brief word on this series. The Center’s Hindu View
of Life annual lecture aims to address the current
urgent issues of our time from a perspective informed
by insights and values arising from Hindu traditions, both of
India and Hinduism globally. The inaugural lecture
took place in 2016. This lecture is meant to evoke
the memory of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who spoke at
the opening of this very center in 1960. His portrait is upstairs. The lecture may also
include attention to Hindu views of pluralism
and the religious traditions of the wider world. These are not unfamiliar
issues to Professor Harris. Her lecture this evening will
be exploring the evolution of the teaching and
understanding of gurus and yoga in the West. We’ll examine how
Swami Vivekananda had to adopt much of his teaching
to encompass an entirely new world of female
devotees, many of whom had been engaging in
spiritualism, hypnotherapy, and above all,
Christian Science. Professor Harris will
argue that Vivekananda had to adapt to their
concerns while constantly differentiating Neo-Vedanta
from a host of competing Western ideas and
practices, all the while also negotiating a host of
other new and pressing concerns. Please join me in welcoming
Professor Ruth Harris. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, everyone. It’s an absolute
delight to be here. I just remembered that I
was here when I was 28, and I was here for a job talk
in the history department. I didn’t get it, but I survived. And I’ve had a little
bit of difficulty in doing this talk because I
didn’t know how many would know something about
Indian traditions, how many know about European and
ideas of the unconscious, how many would know about
American practice, and I just decided, as
they say, to go for it. And we will see in the
question and answer what you need to know and
how you need to correct me. I’ll begin by, first of
all, thanking both Charles and Derek, who organized this. It’s been a fantastic
trip for me. I’ve followed Vivekananda’s
footsteps through New England and ended today at the
Museum of Fine Arts, whereas you know,
Okakura was there to organize the Asiatic
Japanese collection, and [INAUDIBLE] were vital
in the Buddhist collection. And they, of course, were both
associates of Vivekananda. My main aim is to
bring Vivekananda into the world of
the West so that he can be seen as a global thinker,
and I will try and show you why I think that is the case. In 1893, the United States
held a World’s Fair in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of
Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World and
stake out its claim that the American
Century was coming. It was a massive display of
economic and artistic power, bigger and better
in every way that was imaginable than any
which Europe had produced. But alongside the extravaganza
of American materialism and industrial prowess, the
equally famous World Parliament of Religions was held. And here they are assembled. You’ll see throughout
on the stage there are figures from Asia. No one from Africa. There was one
African-American, who kept on making jokes
about how he was there to represent American
African-Americans and the whole
continent of Africa. [LAUGHTER] There were no Indians. There were no Mormons
because of polygamy. So there are tremendous
numbers of Jews. They are very much seen here
as important to the event, and they take a very big role. But that’s a whole other story. It was designed to show
the superiority of what was called American Protestant
modernism to representatives of other creeds gathered
to exchange views on the shores of the New World. There were many from Asia who
lectured on Eastern beliefs, but the most notable– not at this point
the most famous– was a 30-year-old Bengali monk
who had not even been invited called Swami Vivekananda. He addressed, quote,
“the sisters and brothers of America.” It was very important that
he mentioned the women first. And he received a rapturous
response from a 4,000-strong audience electrified by a
message which denounced, quote, “sectarianism, bigotry,
and its horrible descendant fanaticism,” and which staked
a claim for India to be considered, quote, “the
mother of all religions.” The reception was all
the more astonishing because, unlike Buddhism,
which was known now through Edwin Arnold’s
The Light of Asia, which was published in 1878 and was
a Tennysonian-style poem based on the Buddha’s life,
few in the audience knew anything about Hinduism
beyond popular stereotypes of swamis who were snake
charmers and did rope tricks. We have to remember that
Hindu migration really starts in the 1890s
in California, and there were very few
Indians at this juncture. The Chicago Parliament thus
launched Vivekananda’s career as the first
recognized global guru. There were people before, but
he is the first global guru, the subject of my
forthcoming work, which is called
Guru to the World. And I just want
to explain briefly in an extempore
fashion what I’m doing. What I’m trying to
understand is why there is an alienation from
conventional churches, especially Calvinism with its
emphasis on sin and redemption, and how and why Westerners turn
to new forms of spirituality invested in what was
called Eastern wisdom, why eastern wisdom, which is
a mutual creation of both the East and the West,
was so important, and to understand that much of
what we assume to be New Age spirituality was not the product
of the 1960s, but was very much a product of the fin de siecle. And also, for us to change our
vision of how we missionize the world and explain
that Vivekananda comes literally to
missionize the West, to undermine
Christian imperialism, and transform global culture. And it’s a remarkably ambitious,
almost grandiose vision, but it’s very
interesting in the way that he powerfully saw this
kind of inversion as possible. And here he is. I was told by Bengali
friends that he still makes Bengali mothers cry. They find him so beautiful. And this is a costume
that he uses for lectures. He had already developed–
the turban comes from the Maharajah of Khetri,
but the costume in general, which was a scarlet cloak
and an orange turban, this became his
trademark costume. It’s very interesting. It’s self-orientalizing,
and yet, it is not the conventional costume
of a sannyasin in any way. So it’s his creation, but it’s
also a creation of the women that he met on the way
in Massachusetts before, who suggested to him that he
use this gear for lecturing, but that he wear a more
sober clerical black coat in the street because,
of course, everyone was making fun of him
and everyone thought he was an African-American. OK? So we’ll have time to talk
about the racism and the issues of racism that he faced. Now today, I want especially to
analyze one strand of my work, Vivekananda’s recreation of
the guru-disciple relationship for the West, what in India
is called guru bhakti, and the importance of female
disciples in this elaboration. First, let me give you
a little background. Now, this has been a totally
audacious thing for me. My work has been concerned
with the relations between physicians
and female patients, between Catholic priests
and women devotees, and the complex interpersonal
dynamics and ideas that these
relationships fostered. But now I’m looking at an
international arena, how Indian religion brought a new dimension
to the discussion and analysis of what I called rapport– rapport in the French sense– in the developing
sciences of mind, what happens between
people in relationships. When Vivekananda
came West, he was plunged into a world of
mesmeric and hypnotic healers and their subjects,
Christian Science operators and their devotees,
as well as a whole array of Mind Cure specialists. And in fact, America still
is famous around the world for the diversity of
therapies, physical and mental, that people have to outside
of conventional medicine. Now all of these people
explored the nature of rapport and were fascinated
with the relationship between the rival claims
of science and religion or the possibility of a
new kind of spirituality that encompassed both. So for example,
one of the things that’s very important
to understand is somebody like
Vivekananda, he saw himself in league with science because
he saw an evolutionary dynamic in individual
reincarnation, in time, and also, he opposed
Christian obscurantism. So people like Vivekananda
and Dharmapala, a Buddhist modernist, spent
a lot of time reading people like Spencer and
Huxley because they felt that Hinduism had
discovered the scientific truth thousands of years before. Now what I’m trying
to explain is– and this is the global history
dimension of what I’m doing– is that in this
world, Vivekananda, William James, who
offered Vivekananda a position here at Harvard
and he rejected it, so he very much was
very known here– he used to be at the salon of
Sarah Bull on Brattle Street, so people in Cambridge
knew him very well– Mary Baker Eddy, and
perhaps surprisingly, Freud are all linked, as are
the worlds of religion, science, and the occult.
And part of my concern is to show the extent to
which notions of science are very capacious
in this period, hence why we have things
like Christian Science. OK. Now before leaping
into the discussion, however, I want to insist
on the human and relational in global history,
which the guru disciple connection exemplifies. And in this regard,
I’d like to say that I see myself as
slightly different from many global historians. I don’t want to caricature them. But in their preoccupation
with connectivity, whether it be oceans
or port cities or views of cosmopolitanism
or in the printing culture or the transport
revolution, it’s very interesting how often
these histories are unpeopled. And what I’m interested
in is repeopling this, and I have
extraordinary documents to show the nature
of these connections and to show not
just connectivity, but what could not be understood
because metaphysical systems were so very different,
what was disruptive, what was painful in
these interactions. And so that the whole cliche
of the global and the local and the local and
the global, this is not stuff that I’m
really that interested in. If somebody wants to
challenge me later, feel free. OK, so who did Vivekananda know? He had a very diverse audience,
high-minded reformist Indians, very important in
Bengal, but also in Madras, Harvard professors,
British aristocrats, educated Western women,
maharajs, and ultimately, Indian freedom fighters. And the Indians here
know about his importance for many sides of the
political divide in India. OK, Vivekananda now is a very,
very controversial figure. His legacy is controversial,
important and controversial. I will suggest that
there are links, which I’m keen to recover,
between the Western vogue for self-realization and
the anti-colonial struggle, which is extraordinary. We never think that when
we go to a yoga class that it might have anything
to do with anti-colonialism, but the women who
did this then did. And that is one of the links
that I’m trying to recover. These global connections,
especially linked to perceptions of
Eastern wisdom, were important in spawning
new understandings of self, spirituality, and
freedom, the cross boundaries and cultures. And we, of course, note the
most about this when we think of Gandhi and Swaraj, which
was about self-rule, India, but it was also about self-rule. It was about fasting. It was about his
experiments with truth, which had a very strong
aesthetic dimension and were very much linked
up to this whole world of vegetarianism and
progressivism in America and in England. And now I want to
say that I hope that this work on Vivekananda
will help us recast some of our views of global
intellectual history, political thought,
as well as religion in contemporary society. And I have one
final caveat, which is I’ll be concentrating
on the women today, the Western women, not
between Ramakrishna, his guru, and his guru brothers. Everyone who knows
anything about this knows that this is a whole
world of understanding about these relationships. I’m not talking about
Ramakrishna’s wife and consort Sarada Devi and all
the devotees that followed her, though I hope
to talk about her in my book, or Vivekananda’s own
altered relationship to his guru brothers
and younger disciples once he returned to India,
when he introduced things like gymnastic
training, dumbbells, and even Delsarte exercises. So he brings the
West back to India, and it’s very interesting to see
how some of them feel about it. Some of them are not so keen. OK, when Vivekananda
came West, his ideas were already highly elaborated. And so I must
begin by explaining that what later became known
as Hindu universalism, which has its roots in many,
many older traditions, asserted that the temporal
world of our senses was an illusion, maya, which
could be shattered by entering into Samadhi, or
higher consciousness, and that these practices
connected the individual to higher cosmic reality. He advocated meditation
to access Brahman, the non-dualist Advaitic
conception of the supernatural in which all souls and,
hence, all humanity were united in their divinity. Cosmic holism and
self-realization were, thus, two sides
of the same coin, which he offered as a contrast
to the Christian notion of divine judgment, to
the threat of damnation for transgressors, and the power
of a separate punishing deity. One of the most moving speeches
that he made in Chicago was that it was a sin
to call people sinners. And for many, many
Americans, this was an extraordinary thing. And we have some
personal testimony of saying that people who were
disenchanted with religion and Christianity found
a new sense of self because they no longer felt that
was the most important thing to be, which was a sinner. Rather than sin and
repentance, what also became known as Neo-Vedanta
focused on merger and bliss and proposed ancient
techniques such as yoga as the means of accessing both. To make his ideas comprehensible
to his American and ultimately international audience,
he also sought to bind together two seemingly
contradictory sources of ideas– the reformist rationalist
cosmopolitanism of his native Calcutta
and the mysticism of his own guru Ramakrishna. What’s interesting is that
when he comes to Chicago first, he then goes east to
New England and he meets all these people who
are transcendentalists, who are widely read. They’re amazed that he can talk
about Tyndall and Longfellow as much as they
can, that he speaks better English than they do. But they think
he’s remarkable, he thinks they’re narrow-minded
because all they have is Christianity, OK? And of course, he
reads the Bible. He knows it. He knows about Christianity. He knows something about Islam. He knows about science. So his reaction to the
people is very interesting because he’s an insider,
a double insider. He’s an outsider who’s becoming
an insider in a world where there’s so many insiders. And even though he’s
poverty-stricken, he’s not impressed, OK? So it’s a very
interesting dynamic. Now the former was
comprised, when I’m talking about the
reformist, the rationalist cosmopolitanism, was
there was a wide range of intellectual
fashions that he had from his youth in Calcutta– German historicism,
biological evolution, liberal political
thought, which he expanded when he met the Americans. He had an English
education which coexisted with
Sanskrit learning, though some people debate how
much Sanskrit learning he had. He had a Shaivite mother. If you go to his house, you
can see the lingam there. And he had a free-thinking
Persianate father, who his father spoke Persian
and knew Persian poetry. His father was also a lawyer,
so he was intimately related and a part of the
imperial bureaucracy. Moreover, Vivekananda
knew about homeopathy, which had already become
an Indian tradition– they call Hahnemann Mahatma
Hahnemann, I mean, even today, people call him
Mahatma Hahnemann, they see him as an Indian– and mesmerism, had
been a Freemason. I went to the Freemasonry,
the Hope and Anchor Lodge, and you can see where he was. It was the first
Freemasonry lodge in the world to
accept people of color and to be run
ultimately by Indians. And he engaged in
Victorian purity campaigns in his native Bengal against
smoking and drinking. And later, of course,
he smoked and drank, which was always a problem
for both the Americans and for the Indians. Not for me. It makes it much
easier to study. He also belonged to the Brahmo
Samaj, the reformist Hindu organization, which
is too readily caricatured as a form
of Indian Unitarianism and unambiguous Westernizers. And I won’t bore you
with the details of this, but it’s very, very complex, but
it’s a very interesting group of people who are fighting
against sati and polytheism, or seen as doing that. But despite his
Brahmo allegiances, Vivekananda apparently
still yearned for the mystical
connection, what he called a desire literally
to, quote, “see God,” and he was tempted to visit
the Saint of [INAUDIBLE],, which is where Ramakrishnan was. And I’d say that Ramakrishna
is the most important religious figure of 19th century
India and maybe of the world. I mean, he’s really important. And there he is. I mean, there’s a whole other
story about these photographs, but again, we’ll
have to leave that. At first meeting,
Ramakrishna appeared deranged to the well-heeled son
of a lawyer educated in British institutions,
smeared with ashes, occasionally naked
or in loin cloth, falling into trance-like
states of samadhi or ecstasy and begging the Divine
Mother, or Kali, the goddess of death
and destruction, birth and creativity,
to appear before him. And this is the
famous statue, which is well worth going to see
if you ever go to the temple. He was in charge. There’s a whole story of
Brahmins who work in temples, and he had to take this job. But once he did it, he
tended to the goddess’s needs in a very intimate way. And for him, she was
a living presence. So Ramakrishna’s
visions were so powerful because he seemed to
blend the most, quote, “authentic” aspects
of Indian spirituality with a universal
message that appealed to progressive Indians. Why? Well, he presented himself
as a Hindu, as a Muslim, and as a Christian to assert
that all religious paths were equal, a message of universalism
that Vivekananda developed and was completely different
from anything going on in Christianity in the
same way anywhere else. It is an extraordinary
thing he does. He transcended scriptures
and hierarchy– he made fun of
scriptures actually– to forge an unmediated
relationship with the supernatural and find
transcendence in them all. Rather than
establishing a new sect, he rejected all sects
and refused the role of the omniscient father. He didn’t want to be a
guru in the classic mold. Instead, he elaborated
a theology of childhood, of what is called “divine
play,” lila, an adoration that in its simple intimacy
and whimsicality was wholly different from
the Christian emphasis on God the Father. When Vivekananda appeared
before his audience in Chicago, he was careful not to reveal
too much of his master’s “excesses,” and I
put that, of course, in quotations because
the mystical performances were extraordinary. Later, disciples recalled
how Vivekananda had actually admitted when he came back
in 1897 that he feared being, quote,
“thrown into a ditch” had he talked about how
Ramakrishna’s chest bled with longing for the goddess,
how he dressed as Hanuman, or the monkey god, creating
a tail with his loincloth and urinating on his
disciples from a tree. I mean, for those of
us who know something about medieval mysticism,
much of this that he does is not that foreign. But he was very afraid
to try and explain this to 19th century Protestants,
as you can imagine. Above all,
Vivekananda kept quiet about his Kali worship,
his worship of Kali, lest the Americans misjudge the
nature of the goddess of death, destruction, and time with
weapon in hand and trophies on her girdle and necklace. And this is one of
the many images. There were many popular images. As you can see, Kali
is often in cemeteries, and she is part of death. She is a very remarkable goddess
because she’s also the creator. And after periods
of destruction, she always saved something
to recreate the world. She’s, in that sense, the good
mother and the bad mother, the frightening mother. Instead, Vivekananda, along with
the other delegates from South Asia at the conference–
and there were 20 of them– contrasted Eastern spirituality
with Western materialism, Hindu tolerance with
Christian intolerance, Indian transcendence with
Western instrumentalism. And this is all at
the World Parliament. Such opposition simplified
and exoticized India, but the presentation
was vital for building a spiritual ascendancy to
set against the reality of Indian subjugation. And what’s interesting is
when he goes back in 1897, he talks even more about Eastern
wisdom to his own audience, and I found that
very fascinating. For receptive Westerners, it
provided a clear framework for distancing themselves from
conventional Christianity. Besides, although not in
any way proselytizing, Vivekananda did indeed
believe that India was the mother of
spirituality, and his message was infused by cultural
nationalism that had a powerful impact
in his homeland. And when I say he
wasn’t proselytizing, I really mean it. It was all about the
difference between what Christians did in India. So what he did was
he said, I want you to be a better Methodist, I
want you to be a better Quaker, I don’t want you to convert. And this was very
interesting, and that’s one of the reasons I believe
the people in the West don’t remember him, the
name, even though he was formidably famous at his time. But what I’m going
to argue in my book is that the notion
of Eastern wisdom obscured the connections that
he was instrumental in forging and disguised the
way that he became not merely a shaper
of the Western intellectual and
spiritual tradition– I think Vivekananda was
very important to us– but also a creator
of a global amalgam that did much to undermine the
very division of East and West because of also what he
brought back to India. How else could India become
the guru to the world? It’s not just Vivekananda who
became the guru to the world, but India. And we think of that for Gandhi. My Indian friends say, this
is our blessing and our curse, we’re considered the
guru to the world. It’s a very dangerous
role to play, but it is a pervasive
spiritual inspiration for the 20th century and beyond. And I think that he
somehow broke down the categories that divided the
two, and that’s part of what I’m trying to resurrect here. Now, he transformed his
teaching as he learned more about his audience. He went to, the following summer
after the World Parliament, a place called Green Acre
Maine, the spiritual hothouse established by Sarah Farmer. Have any of you heard of her? She’s just up the road in Maine. There she is. [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know why, but
he always finds himself in the middle of everybody. So here he is with
all these respectable transcendentallists,
and he’s in the middle. And what’s so funny is she is
the one who’s using her fortune and the fortune of
her friends to bring all these people to Green Acre. And it is now the Baha’i
center in Green Acre, and her personal
spiritual search leads her to another eastern
figure, Abdul Baha, and she becomes
the 13th disciple. And she meets Abdul
Baha in Haifa. And one of the
enduring mysteries is, why didn’t her other friends
who followed Vivekananda– why does she go for Abdul Baha? I don’t have an answer to that. Her papers were burned. In Maine, she is
comparative religion, and there is the full range
of American metaphysical exploration– transcendental traditions,
healing, the occult, and popular science. On display with a range
of therapies and beliefs that were based on connections
between healers, diviners, occultists, and their subjects. This was the academic study. And as this place
matured, it became a place for Christian missionaries
to come and learn comparative religion. The idea of the
place was to extend the work of the World
Parliament and to make it a permanent feature. But the model, in
the early years, in particular, was
at Chautauqua– an adult education
spiritual community. But when he came,
there was nothing that he hadn’t seen in Calcutta. And he’d also learned about
American spiritualism, because he was engaged
with the lecture bureau and had gone with a
spiritualist, WJ Colville, on a lecture turf
course America. He was thus thoroughly au
fait with these therapies and their performances. So he found little
that was surprising when he came to Maine. Instead, he made
very gentle fun– he teased spiritualism,
tabled-turnings, palmists, astrologers, et cetera, et
cetera, et cetera, et cetera, at Green Acre. But he found practices
and ideas that he hoped to help his hearers
understand Vedanta. His audience, for example,
were almost all familiar with what Ralph Waldo Emerson
and his transcendental notion of the oversoul– the soul
that takes all our souls and is connected to each
individual soul, a derivation of eastern religion
that already had a wide purchase amongst these
people and had been further popularized along with the
image of the spiritual hermit by Henry Thoreau. And it was very
interesting, because he has the Swami’s pine, where he
teaches his first yoga lessons. And people write about it and
say, he reminds of the hermit by– no, it’s Thoreau,
who actually says people who pray and
sit under a tree are like the sannyasins of old. And so it’s Thoreau who’s
taking from these traditions. You also recognize the
power of Swedenborgianism. And as early as 1894, they saw
a link between Indian thought and the 17th century visionary. For example, one
journalist in Detroit concluded that Vivekananda was
Swedenborg before Swedenborg. And I love this
stuff, not because I’m trying to make fun of them, but
because I think that to try– what is the spiritual
lens that people see new metaphysical ideas? It’s very difficult
to refract new ideas. So you can only do it with
the references that you have. So one of them, of course,
is transcendentalism. The second is Swedenborgianism. We know how important that
was in American intellectual culture, especially through
the Jamesian dynasty. His father was a
famous Swedenborgian. His earliest and most
devoted American disciple, who had the big house
on Brattle street. Sara Bull, and who was the
collaborator with Sarah Farmer here, had herself joined
a psychic circle run by a Christian minister
influenced by Swedenborgianism. Many of them came
from utilitarianism and then went into
Swedenborgianism, and back and forth. It was very porous. This mystical strand focused
on divine influx, an indwelling cosmic force that broke down the
barriers between the individual and the divinity that
flows through all things. And this, of course,
sounds not too different from transcendental
ideas of self divination. And, of course, in
Hindu it’s the Atman. So this is the way they
began to think about it. But what was important
was these currents upheld the importance
of harmony and healing, rather than sin and
redemption, and were put to a range of
practical therapies through chiropractic,
osteopathy, and mesmerism. And chiropractic in particular
emphasized harmony, balance– what we still talk about. Also important in
preparing the ground, here’s another one– here
is some mesmeric treatment. It’s very interesting, the
mesmeric treatment here, it’s not a supine woman, but a
man whose hands he’s holding. And it’s very interesting
how in different contexts there are different ways of
doing these forms of healing. Also important in
preparing the ground was theosophy the famous
or notorious creed of Madame Blavatsky. Although Vivekananda thought
theosophy was balderdash– and he says some
fantastic things about theosophy, which have
only recently been printed– and resented what he considered
it’s cannibalism of Indian religion– and he writes
beautifully about that– he saw potential in its ideas
of universal brotherhood of humanity, and in
the way it argued that science and
religion could be united. He, like many
other South Asians, were offended by
the way theosophy use South Asian youth
disciples and exploited them– the guru-disciple
relationship in a bad way. So that is very,
very interesting. Theosophy attack
Christian obscurantism and it advocated a
cosmic evolution. It emphasized the
power of higher mind over materialist neuroscience,
hence the attraction of the east, seen
as the fountainhead of an otherworldly spirituality. And here they are– that’s Madam Blavatskym who
said she’s been to Nepal. We’ll never know if it
was in her hallucinations or in her real
travels, but she did know Buddhist tribesman
on her vacations in Russia as a
Russian aristocrat. And here is Olcott, who is
more attracted to Buddhism and becomes a healer who
heals people in Sri Lanka. He likes Buddhism, because
he sees enlightenment in the 18th century think. Buddhism is about enlightenment
in the 18th century sense. So these two are very
powerful figures, even though they only
have a few disciples. But theosophy has a big,
intellectual influence. She is a very important
influence on dharmapala, for those of you who know
about Buddhist modernism. Still more was
Christian Science, the fastest growing denomination
in the United States when he arrived. And he writes with glee about
how this is causing heartburn to the conventional. And then he also
writes, and he says, and I want to cause heartburn
to the conventional. Vivekananda was impressed
enough to call Christian Science Vedantan, even though
he meant by this that it had merely,
quote, “picked up a few doctrines of the
Advaita and grafted them upon the Bible.” What impressed him was
I think [INAUDIBLE] hypnotherapists and mesmerists
who competed in the new thought arena. Christian Scientists made a
distinction between mind– meaning neurological mind–
and mind with a capital M, meaning universal mind. This was not mere semantics. He agreed with Mary Baker
Eddy that the human mind was the source of
disease and immorality, as it was convinced of the
materiality of the world. In a manner which suggested the
maya or illusion of Vedantic thought, Christian
Scientists maintained that suffering, which
seems so overpowering, was nothing more than, quote,
“waking dream shadows.” That’s a quotation
from Mary Baker Eddy, and he liked that quotation. I cannot think of one
important female collaborator, including British acolytes,
where the Christian Science was much, much smaller, who did
not experiment with Christian Science. And many continued to
do so even after they had become Vedantans. Dentons. And he admits that he uses a lot
of Christian Science at times when he has insomnia, because
he is happy to use whatever to help him feel better. Despite the
parallels, Vivekananda to believe that Christian
Science’s popularity came from miracle
working, rather than the true self-realization that
went beyond physical cures. And that’s a popular– that’s Mary Baker Eddy. His first lessons in
the new world on yoga took place at Green Acre under
what I said was Swami’s pine. Emma Thursby, the most
famous popular singer of her generation, took
notes on the sessions. She was there. And in it– the
notes are saved– he says, meditation
is a sort of prayer, and prayer is meditation. And where he insisted
that the guru was nothing more than the higher
self, the domination having no role in spiritual guidance. He remarked also that
understanding yoga entailed realizing that, quote, “our
present consciousness is only a little bit of
an infinite sea of mind that should not constrain us.” This idea of the
oceanic was a vital, one that he had absorbed from
Ramakrishna, who famously used the example of a [INAUDIBLE]
of salt that dissolves in the ocean as an analogy
of permeability between self and the cosmic. So when you put a hard salt
into the ocean, it melts. So where is the self? It becomes part of the ocean. And this is used
again and again, and it’s very much used
by Romain Rolland who coins the oceanic
sensation after writing a biography of Ramakrishna. And yoga means to join– yoke– and joining
ourselves with God– joining me with my real self. These are all his notes. It ended with
Shivoham, I am Shiva, which he translated as,
I am existence absolute, a way of demonstrating
the connection between the cosmic
potential of the universe and that of the individual. Now, what’s interesting
about these notes is it was conveyed in the
language of Christian prayer with transcendental and
Swedenborgian accents. He also use the popular science
so pervasive at Green Acre. He explained to his pupils
that they should concentrate their nerve energies
into the spinal column until they, quote,
“touch the pineal gland in the center of the brain.” And what’s interesting is the
talk was foreign, especially the remarks about the guru,
but also really familiar. There was neuroscience, a
sense of the oceanic that encompassed
Ramakrishna’s thought, but also included
the watery metaphors of many Western mystics. And there was even a mention of
the pineal gland, a reference to Descartes’s view
that it was the seat of the soul and the place
where our thoughts are formed. When he elaborated these
ideas and Raja Yoga, which William James promised
to preface but never did, Vivekananda seemed
to refigure phrases from the Harvard philosophers
Principles of Psychology. James advocated, quote,
“looking into our minds and reporting what
we there discover,” a practice similar to
Vivekananda’s urging people to know, quote, “the
internal nature of man by observing the facts
that are going on within.” So with this mixture of
neuroscience, evolution, physics– he particularly
loves thermodynamics, because it provided a rich,
analogical language of force, and it was also because of
all the great experimentation that was going on in
thermodynamics at the time– psychology, and
Vedanta, Vivekananda switched back and forth between
materialist science and Hindu traditions of nondualism. And I think it is this potent
combination, which people have often condemned him for– which, I think, is wrong. They say he’s not
authentic Indian. What’s authentic Indian? There’s so many kinds of
ways of preaching Vedanta. Or they say he wasn’t the real
thing or he was to Western. This stuff goes back to
India, and his manual is read and adapted
very well in India. So this idea of
inauthenticity, of kind of eclecticism, that
wasn’t correct, I think, is a false accusation. You might deny that you
like Vivekananda or not, but on that basis, I don’t think
you can make a very good case. So now, let’s go on and
talk about the people. He theorized about science,
consciousness, cosmic unity, because he wanted the respect
if people like Max Müller, the German and Oxford-based
indologist who became one of his friends and people
like William James. But above all, he was a teacher. He was a guru, where the human
connection took precedence. After months of classes in a
shabby apartment in a rundown neighborhood in Manhattan, he
created his own more isolated retreat in Thousand Island,
between Ontario and upstate New York. And there it is. That’s where he lived in the
cottage with all the people. It was very, very fun story,
because he loved cooking, and he cooked for them. But all the people he
were with, none of them were used to cleaning
up after themselves. They were used to
having servants– they were supposed to
do it all together, but in the end they didn’t–
they got a servant in from town. But it’s a fascinating story. And again, I’m happy
to go back to that. I’ve just cooked
back from there. I went up there two days ago. And it’s the one place
I hadn’t been to, and I really wanted to
see what it was like. Miss Dutcher was an
extraordinary artist, and she lent him her
arts and crafts cottage. And she was a Methodist, and
it was a Methodist retreat. They still have a big
tabernacle church there. Vivekananda gathered
potential followers in the remote forested region
of the St Lawrence River stream, with 1,800 islands. And it is indeed where the
term Thousand Island dressing comes from, because the manager
of the Waldorf Astoria built– this is his powerhouse,
and the whole island is just two steps away from
the island I just showed you– a fairy tale German castle. He was a Prussian. So the island is two miles
wide and nine miles long, and they lived in a
strange Sylvan paradise among German-style castles,
lighthouses, wooden porches, and rustic rivercrafts. A lot of people there– the kids just go in the boats. They don’t have licenses,
and everyone is on a boat. It’s an extraordinary place. Actually, it’s a place like
I’ve never seen before. If you have a chance,
you should go and see it. They were a mixed bunch. There was a Russian
Jewish immigrant named Leon Landsberg who came– polyglot and intellectual– Christine Greenstidel, who
became his sister Christine, who finally runs an
important school for girls– and she is an impoverished
school teacher– her friend Mrs. Funke, a
French Canadian actress, and Sarah Waldo, a distant
relative of Emerson. There are others,
but Sarah Waldo is important, because
she really does show the transcendental connection. She’s right there, and
she’s the one who takes down what is called is
his Inspired Talks, which are some of the most
extraordinary of his teachings. They’re short–
they’re beautiful. During their stay,
he sought to explain guru bhakti, the spiritual
channel between master and disciple, which was more
important to the devotee than the relationship between
the child and parents. He was delighted and discomfited
by their desire to learn, and both sides struggled with
the powerful nature of, quote, “personal love and the
need for detachment.” And these are not
words I’m using, he uses them– personal
love, detachment. And so do the women,
because they are trying to understand what is going on. The women, for example, talked
of his enchanting qualities, the magic of his presence,
the tenor of his voice, the turn of his head, the
expression in his eyes. They focused on his
hair and his beauty. And you can find this
remarkably in the reminiscences. When he went later
to California, and ultimately they set up the
first Vedanta temple in 1902– 3? The first one was [INAUDIBLE]. Oh, that’s right! It’s in New York. Here’s the guy who runs it now. In 1894. That’s right, 1894. Yeah. But in California, the
first Vedanta temple. When he went later to California
and he roomed in Pasadena with a group of single
women who gave over a floor of their house to
him, they listened at the door as he sang his morning
prayers in Sanskrit. Alice Hansborough, one of the
most devoted disciples there was enthralled by
everything about him, his love of pancakes, the
way he wound his turban– he would unwind it and
show it to the children– the way he could curry. He’s on the floor
mixing the spices. And they find this enchanting. They’ve never met a man
who will cook for them. I mean, they find
it extraordinary. By all accounts, he
was a wonderful cook. He gets this from his father. His, quote, “baritone voice,”
and, quote, “sparkling eyes.” Even 40 years later,
she said, quote, “I can only describe myself
as enchanted by him.” And it’s a fascinating thing,
the word enchantment, because– and this is another paper– he has to spend all his
time separating himself from that he’s an
Indian magician and that he’s not
going to walk on coals. Do you see what I mean? So this is the different form
of enchantment, where you lose your a bit of yourself. Now, Indian devotees made very
similar remarks about him, but could, I think, more easily
encompassed this response in the concept of darshan,
the propitious view of a holy person or deity, of
gazing upon the adored one, a feeling such as
Ramakrishna experienced when he cast his eyes on Kali
in the temple at Dakshineswar. Guru bakhti entailed a
kind of love sickness. They understood this
emotion as religious and were perhaps
less afraid of it. However, American
women, especially of Protestant heritage, found
it much more overwhelming and confusing, as
you can imagine. Vivekananda complained
that the Protestants who came to him– this
is what he says when he’s at the first
year at Green Acre– he calls them “spiritually dry.” He makes fun of their corsets,
because it makes them rigid. And he’s actually trying– he wants to teach them yoga,
so they can be more flexible, literally. He says, even the young girls
are preoccupied with, quote, “stony metaphysics.” He’s not interested. He wanted to teach them about
this religious passion, which was equally seen by outsiders,
however, as exploitative. In France it’s associated
with the abusive practice of Catholic priests who are
accused of coercing women through the confessional, or
the way the hypnotist Svengali manipulates Trilby in George
du Maurier’s novel of 1894, exactly at this period. And Vivekananda also
has to deal with people who are saying that he is not– he is too loved by the women,
even amongst associates who he respects. And this is something
that pains him. While he avoided any hint
of romantic gestures, the women often experienced
this love in romantic terms and could not so easily
separate the personal and the impersonal. And Vivekananda was
aware of the paradox and spoke long and
often about the problems of allowing such personal
love to overwhelm the process of transformation. In one of the lessons
at Thousand Island, he explained how it
was supposed to work. “The real guru is
the one through whom we have our spiritual descent. He Is the channel through which
the spiritual current flows to us, the link which joins us
to the whole spiritual world. Too much faith in
personality has a tendency to produce weakness
and idolatry, but intense love for the guru
makes rapid growth possible. He connects us with
the internal guru,” again this thing about the group
representing what’s within. “Adore your guru if there
be real truth in him. That guru bakhti will quickly
lead you to the highest.” And, of course,
Ramakrishna talks a lot about how you
distinguish the real guru. He says to his disciples,
you are right to question me. You are right to test me. Vivekananda was guide,
teacher, friend, and bitter critic, all
parts of the guru tradition. However, he steered
clear of any hint of the self-annihilating
ecstasies of Ramakrishna. Even when he insisted on
obedience as the first step to liberation, this
surrender was accompanied by encouraging his followers
to question everything and to feel their own power. He showed love, he listened
intently, he laughed a lot– he had an extraordinary
sense of humor– cooking, and scolding. Nor was he above devising
unpleasant strategies to shift their preconceptions Christine, for
example, remembered how he blew cigarette
smoke in her face to rid her of chivalric
notions and to show her that what she saw as
reverence for women was nothing more
than a gilded cage. He said to her, when he refused
to give her his arm to climb up some rocks in Thousand Island–
as you could see from these pictures, it’s a rocky island– why should I help you? Because you are a woman? That is chivalry. And don’t you see that
chivalry is only sex. Don’t you see what is
behind all these attentions from men and women? It’s a very, very
interesting inversion. It’s not what we expect. I don’t think any of us would
have liked having the cigarette smoke in our faces, but it’s
an extraordinary way of saying, know the game of late 19th
century courtliness to women was also debasing
and that he wasn’t going to be a part of that. So it’s very interesting. At first appalled,
she soon realized that his desire that she, quote,
“stand on her own two feet,” which is again a
phrase he she uses, meant that she was meant to
acquire a form of robustness, which in India Vivekananda
would praise as virility and Margaret Noble,
his British disciple, described as
aggressive Hinduism. Strength, courage– that was
what was important to him. In Thousand Island, Christine
felt freer than ever before. Quote, “It is not difficult
if one’s devotion to the guru was great enough, for then, like
the snake, one dropped the old and put on the new.” Here, she expressed a
desire to grow afresh, but realized that the
idea of guru bakhti was paradoxical, for such love
required a kind of submission, an end to the ego that almost
destroyed her sense of self. The worst was when
he scolded, and he did frequently– a torment
that his female disciples from the West
could never accept. So I’m going to write
a bit about scolding, because in India, in contrast,
even male acolytes and his guru brothers submitted to
these chastisements as a form of love, even if
they also disliked the rebuke. They didn’t mind the scolding
as much as the women minded the scolding. And you can imagine why. This is a very complex thing. For a man to be scolding a
woman is different from men to– you know. Margaret Noble, his most
important Western devotee, especially in India,
was astonished by the intensity of this
rapport and its significance for self transformation. And I write a lot about her. Much of the book is about her
as much as it is about him. She admitted once
to her best friend, she could never really
get rid of the personal, even if it also had led to
her to what was impersonal. So she searched for the words
to describe the connection. And this is how
she explained it– “I think perhaps the
whole of one’s nature comes out in that relationship,
the bad as well as the good. And no one else
matters very much. Probably this is always
so with the guru. I am willing to admit, after
all, that one’s love for swami is sadly personal.” She often felt a failure
because she couldn’t get rid of the personal. “If you will let me claim
that it is at the same time, in some ways, the most
impersonal thing of which one is any way capable.” Once again, the opposites merged
or almost merge, as Nivedita, which was her name in religion–
it means the dedicated one– reflected so astutely on the
mysterious emotional dynamic of the relationship. Perhaps to understand
it better, we might associate such
emotional destabilization, both for guru and disciple– Vivekananda writes about how he
knows that he is asking people for all their love and how he
cannot laugh at them or turn them away, he must take
that responsibility. But I’d like to compare
it with psychoanalysis and the process of transference
and countertransference that Freud was elucidating. The similarities as
was the differences are hard to avoid,
because these, quote, “therapies” emerge
almost simultaneously. Raja Yoga appears in 1896,
though he’s written it and it’s ready for
publication in 1895. And Freud’s case studies
in hysteria in 1985. So the books come up pretty
much at the same time. Although Vivekananda,
William James, and Freud all held differing
views of religion and mystical experience– very different– they worked within a
global context that emphasized a shifting view
of the self, of subjectivity, and I would say
that it was based on their investigation of
rapport and its relationship to new sciences of mind. Freud first encountered
what he would later elaborate is transference
when he observed hypnosis in Charcot’s Parisian
clinic, and in Nancy, where Hippolyte Bernheim
treated all kinds of elements with hypnotherapy. In these encounters,
he experienced what an America would
have been called “mind cure,” without the
Christian underlay that typified the work of Phineas
Quimby, Eddy’s teacher. Charcot was virulently
anti-clerical and Bernheim of Jewish origin, and
both French physicians saw to ground hypnosis in
a secularism dissociated from religious experience–
in science completely. Ultimately, even Charcot could
not manage this dissociation. His last article in
1893, before he died, was called Faith healing, or
in French, La foi qui guérit. But it was often also published
as Le faith healing, which is very interesting,
and followed the story of those who claim
to have been treated and healed at Lourdes. He use the term from
America throughout, because he acknowledged
the importance of this religious
tradition in the new world and its international impact. For his part, Freud
was fascinated by the way subjects gave up
their will to the suggestion that the operator
imposed upon them. But Freud was a poor
hypnotist and was far from achieving
the dramatic results of his French contemporaries. He abandoned the
practice entirely when he came to create his
own therapeutic encounter. Rather, he surrounded
the client with all kinds of constraints and boundaries. The therapeutic encounter
entailed the subject, quote, “contracting the
disease of love,” as the late John Forester
once explained it. The women he treated were
bourgeois paying clients, very different from the
impoverished patients of the public hospitals
where Charcot had practiced or well-heeled spiritual
seekers of Christian origin who flocked to Vivekananda. Freud too wanted to avoid
all associations with what he called “illusion of religion.” Tellingly, he feared the
dangers of too much sight. And for this
reason, the analysts hid away so that
subjects were obliged to concentrate on their
own thoughts and fantasies, with only the voice of the
analyst in the background. And I think this is fascinating. It’s somebody behind. You’re not allowed
to see the analyst in early psychoanalysis. Darshan was dangerous. It was overwhelming. Because boredom, affection,
annoyance, and disgust could be read upon
the analyst’s face. Well, the person being analyzed
beholds in a loving way. So it is these things that I
think Freud was very aware of. And I’ve just reread
his early papers on transference and
countertransference, and it is really interesting,
the similarities, between him and Vivekananda
on these matters. Such emotions distracted
clients from their own feelings and imaginings, and
jeopardized the analyst who might reveal too much
and disturb the unconscious excavation. And there was a contract
that the analytical hour was only one client, the
transaction sealed by funds. But despite these
numerous conditions, Freud understood
and indeed hoped that the client’s sovereignty
was only partially maintained by the contract. One of the things is
is if you pay money you have still some power, right? But he also hoped that this
human element was transferred in the process of confiding,
explaining, free-associating, fantasizing, catalyzing
a closeness that allowed for regressions
that might prove therapeutic when analyzed. Freud says, in
these early papers, the minute that a
woman falls in love, don’t let it go to your head. This is the moment when you can
do the most for this person. And it’s a very moving
though slightly snide discussion, because he’s
dealing with these women and he’s talking to
other male practitioners. So in that regard, Freud also
recognized the power of love. Part of this process was
also not promising too much. Freudian psychoanalysis did
not offer miracles, but only an ordinary unhappiness. That’s what he said. Remember, that’s his statement. It’s completely–
that’s Vivekananda. In contrast, Vivekananda
refused all payment for himself, and there was nothing like
the contractual arrangement that Freud built into
his consulting room. Which is as much to protect
the professional confidence of the physician as it
is to protect the client. He resists any of these
liberal notions of the self and its transactions. Nor did he try to lessen
the impact of the process by denying the devotee access
to visual rapture or darshan. Moreover, he
encouraged an exchange that was friendly, permitting
the disciples to comfort him with their gaiety and solitude. It was still an element of
Ramakrishna’s divine play in Vivekananda, a theology
of childhood and whimsicality that was very different from the
model of what some have called the omniscient father that we
associate with Freudianism– the almost rabbinical
man who knows everything, the psychoanalytic sage. Having experienced the heady
spiritual passions of guru bakhti to himself and observed
it among his brother monks, he knew of the emotional heights
that spiritual experience might produce and how
transformative it might be. Had he thought about
it– and he didn’t– Vivekananda might have
argued that transference, like evolutionary theory
in contemporary fin de siecle society, was a pale
reflection of the inventions of Hinduism, which
had long sustained the tradition of
a protected place where the full gamut of
emotions could be displayed and where mystical, artistic,
and psychological creativity cultivated. And it’s very interesting,
he does reflect on evolution and say that it comes,
in Hinduism, earlier. But he doesn’t in this,
because they’re all coming up with it in different
ways at the same time. If, like Freud, Vivekananda had
no faith in what he considered to be a miraculous
display, he nonetheless wanted more than Freud’s
ordinary unhappiness. He sought a bliss that
came from detachment and the power of engagement
without desire for return. This remained a
metaphysical quest for union with the divine, while Freud’s
atheism erased such hopes as nothing more
than an illusion. Freud and the legacy of
Ramakrishna and Vivekananda became a subject of
renewed controversy in the interwar period,
when Romain Rolland argued that his great friend
and colleague, Freud, that the oceanic sensation was
not a regression to the womb, as Freud maintained,
but rather was the expression of
artistic creativity, and hence of the divine within. What Freud feared was that if
you lost your sense of self, you would drown– that that wouldn’t be
a blissful experience. But this is the opposite
with Ramakrishna. Rolland’s lengthy
letter on the subject was the greatest challenge Freud
experienced to his conviction that religious feeling
was merely an illusion. And Freud did not write
back for two years. And when he does
write back, he says, this has been the
biggest challenge. So it’s an extraordinary
thing, and it’s after Rolland has absorbed– he’s written a biography of
Ramakrishna, where he writes and he gets the notion
of the oceanic sensation, and a biography of Vivekananda. In the end, however, he
reiterated his belief that religion was
about regression, and the sympathy
and warm regard, which had United the two men
in friendship never recurred. So they remain friends, but
they never again correspond in the same way. This is the break. So I’m going to conclude now. Should Vivekananda, as
the first global guru, be accused of
exploiting these, quote, “vulnerable female acolytes?” At the heart of this,
what is going on? How do we characterize? What do we do with these
forms of relationships, that they are disturbing–
they’re intense? Is this stereotype nothing more
than a racist cliche, this idea the gurus are always just
trying to seduce women? The idea of the guru cult.
Certainly, it wasn’t that. How do we characterize
his relationship to women both in India and
in the New World? In the end, in the West,
Vivekananda’s relations with his Western followers
produced a problematic dynamic of mutual dependence
and freedom. He was very keen to
retain his autonomy but needed his followers
for financial help. And it’s very
interesting, when even Sarah Bull, his
mother in America, tries to make him only work
with the “right sort of people,” he refuses. And then he goes to this rundown
neighborhood in Manhattan, because he really doesn’t
care about just being with the right kind of people. He wants to universalize
his message. He felt the sting of racism,
especially in America, and bitterly resented needing
the protection of, quote, “respectable women,” when
he walked in the streets. Some of the most moving passages
are about how he’s assaulted. And it’s really rough for
him– he can’t believe it. His female devotees, in
turn, recorded the harshness of his scolding and
the terror that he might withdraw his love. What’s amazing is
that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen. There was also the
unexpected difficulty of finding Western men willing
to take direction from, quote, “brown men” of a subject race. And it’s very interesting,
one says, a very good friend of his, Frank Legett, he will
give money for me in India, but he will not give money
for my work in America, because, Leggett
writes to his wife that, there’s too much
hysteria around Vivekananda. And it’s very sad
for Vivekananda. All of these were part of the
fraught relations that typified the guru-disciple relationship. They became demonized
when, in 1911, nine years after Vivekananda’s
death, his famous follower, Sara Bull left the
Ramakrishnan mission a large part of her fortune. Her daughter, Olea,
accused the swamis is of seducing Sara Bull
into handing over her money. In the end, Olea
received the estate, only to die a day after the
judgment was pronounced. And this was a major scandal. Hinduphobia became part
of the American landscape for the first time. Even though, from
the outset, remarks have been made about the impact
of Vivekananda’s foreignness in Hindu religion on, quote,
“vulnerable Western women.” In an age of Me Too, where the
boundaries between intimacy, authority, and the therapeutic
are so difficult to identify, it’s not surprising that
these perennial concerns were constantly
being reconfigured, further complicated by the
politics of gender and race of this era, of imperialism. They may take on a
different meaning, however, if we place them in
the wider historical context of the sciences of
rapport that links spiritual reawakening
to therapeutic hope, and the mission of universal
spiritual spirituality and world peace that attracted
these women to Vivekananda, and that first spawned them. In the anti-colonial context,
these freedoms were less about personal choice that we
think about in America now– to choose– than detachment
that allowed discipline and sacrifice both
for the individual, and the courage to engage
in the freedom struggle. Alas, I cannot tell you of the
implications for the political, but many of these discussions
also had an impact on how people in India discussed
engagement in the struggle for national independence. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

 

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