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Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna

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The nineteenth-century Bengali mystic Ramakrishna played a major role in the development of Hinduism and is regarded as a modern saint. Yet he remains an enigma to followers unable to reconcile his saintly status with his eroticized language and actions.

In this work, Jeffrey J. Kripal attempts to untangle the paradox. He demonstrates that Ramakrishna's famous mystical experiences were driven by erotic energies that he neither fully accepted nor understood; the key to understanding this extraordinary figure, Kripal argues, lies in Tantra and its ritual, symbolic, and doctrinal equation of the mystical and the erotic.

Moving through Ramakrishna's world both chronologically and conceptually, Kali's Child employs two complementary interpretive strategies, a nuanced phenomenological reinterpretation of original Bengali texts and a nonreductive psychoanalytic reading of Ramakrishna's mystical eroticism. Kripal shows how the heterosexual structure of Tantric symbolism, the abusive way its rituals were often forced upon the saint, and Ramakrishna's own homosexual desires all came together to produce in him profound feelings of shame, disgust, and fear. Kripal establishes that the homosexuality of this great, if unwilling, Tantric mystic is linked inextricably to virtually every aspect of his life and teachings.

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Editorial Reviews

David Haberman
[Readers] with a tolerance for scandal will be rewarded with a disturbingly delightful celebration of a complex mystic and his particular brand of religion.
Journal of Asian Studies
An exploration of the gender reversals implicit in the writings about Ramakrishna, raising questions about the sexuality of a man many regard as a saint, the relationship between sanctity and insanity, and the status of historical data that have been filtered through a hagiographic tradition. Examines the textual evidence about Ramakrishna in Bengali and English, and looks at aspects of Hindu mysticism from a Western psychological perspective. Of interest to Indologists, historians of religions, and students of cross-cultural psychology and gender. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
John Statton Hawley
Only a few books make such a major contribution to their field that from the moment of publication things are never again quite the same. [Kali's Child] is such a book.
Hisory of Religions
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226453750
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1995
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Approaching the Secret
Defining the Study: Recovering the Text and Revealing the Secret
The Mystical and the Erotic
Ramakrishna's Tantric World
The Study's Symbolic Structure: Kali's Child
The Hindu Unconscious
Ch. 1: Kali's Sword: Anxious Desire and the First Vision
Kali's Sword
From the Village to the Temple, 1836-1856
A Textual Study of Ramakrishna's "Anxious Desire": Discerning a Vocabulary of Desire
Ramakrishna's "Anxious Desire" in the Eyes of His Contemporaries
"Her Sword as His Flute"
Ch. 2: Kali as Mother and Lover: Interpreting Ramakrishna's Tantric Practices
Kali as Mother and Lover
The Secret Years: Textual Considerations
The Secret Years: The Practices according to the Puranas, 1856-1861
The Secret Years: The Practices according to the Tantras, 1861-1865
The Hero and the Child
Cleaving the Bitch in Two
Ch. 3: Kali on Top of Siva: Tantra and Vedanta in Ramakrishna's Teachings and Mystical Experiences
Why Is Kali on Top of Siva?
The Secret Years: From the Practices according to the Vedas to the Jesus State, 1865-1868
The Mansion of Fun and Its Tantric Form
The Love-Body of the Goddess
"Ramakrishna Paramahamsa"
Ch. 4: Kali's Feet: Ramakrishna's Descent into the Forms of Man
Kali's Feet
The Coming of the Disciples, 1868-1885
The Change and the Secret of the Dislocated Hand
Phallic Love and the Incarnation's Erotic Community
Ramakrishna's Foot: The Sinful Touch of God
Ramakrishna Viparitarata
Ch. 5: Kali's Tongue: Shame, Disgust, and Fear in a Tantric World
Kali's Tongue
The Last Days, 1885-1886: The Secret Revealed and Concealed
Gauri's Question
The Secret Door
"Bite Your Tongue!"
Epilogue: The Fog of Bliss
Conclusion: Analyzing the Secret
Emerging from the Fog of Bliss: Defining the Secret
Sexuality and Mysticism: Realizing the Erotic
Appendix: Some Historical and Textual Aspects of Ramakrishna's Secret Talk
Works Cited
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2002

    Utter Nonsense

    This is a sub-standard book written by someone how really doesn't understand about india and indian culture. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2000

    A Good Book for those who see Sex in Everything

    The title of my review says it all. I am feel bad that I wasted my time to read this book. For the scholars on Sri Ramakrishna, this book should be listed as one that should not be read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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