Deconstructing the psychology of Wendy and her children using chakra hermeneutics-chapter 9
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This chapter describes a model that uses the Chakra System as a theoretical framework on which to deconstruct the psychological orientations of scholars of Hindu traditions. Malhotra proposed this technique as one way of making sense of contemporary scholarly descriptions of Hinduism that appear unrecognizable to Hindu practitioners:
The Hindu-Buddhist Chakra framework has seven layers and may be used as a system of hermeneutics. Imagine each chakra as a template of contexts that are usable for multiple purposes. When a phenomenological experience is interpreted or processed from a given chakra, it provides a perspective corresponding to that chakra. The physical locations of the chakras are relevant to yogic or tantric transformative practices, whereas their archetypal meanings are of interest here.
The framework of Chakra Hermeneutics is summarized below.
• Lowest: The lower three chakras correspond to basic animal instincts. The lowest or first chakra, near the anus, is about security. The second chakra, located near the genitals, is about pleasure and reproduction. The third chakra, located near the navel, is about self control and power over others.
• Middle: The fourth, fifth and sixth chakras represent positive human qualities, such as love, interconnection and bonding, creativity, altruistic vision, and so forth. These represent the higher human/divine qualities that all religions espouse, and take us beyond basic animal instincts. Behaviorism or any other strictly mechanistic worldview, being devoid of spirituality, might not recognize these, and would limit itself to the human needs and desires corresponding to the lower charkas only.
• Highest: The seventh, or crown chakra, corresponds to non-dualism and transcendence—moksha, nirvana, self-realization and samadhi. Most Indic adhyatma-vidya systems culminate in such a state. In Abrahamic religions, many of the mainstream orthodox worldviews deny this possibility, although mystics, who are often considered fringe or heretical, achieve states compatible with the seventh chakra.
This psychological model may be applied to analyze various scholars. Depending on where a given scholar’s psychological state is located in this hierarchy of archetypes, she will experience the world corresponding to the template of the corresponding set of chakras. This means that the same reality may be experienced at many levels—a point that is stressed by Hindu spiritual traditions.
For instance, one may theorize that Wendy’s Children appear to reside predominantly at the lower two chakras while conducting their scholarship. In keeping with his own concepts of homophobia and homosexuality, and perhaps a deep insecurity about his Roma heritage, Kripal sees Hinduism from the anal perspective. This is undoubtedly one valid point of view, but by no means the only truth. It is certainly not the highest vantage point, nor is it a place where one should remain stuck.
Doniger and Caldwell appear driven partly by their personal sexual histories and partly by career ambitions; they seem to oscillate between the second chakra(genitals and pleasures) and the third chakra (power). This is why their interest in, and depiction of, Hinduism is what it is—ribald and racy and focused on being ‘marketable, fast-food style’, to modern consumers, as previously noted by Bakker, Kazanas and others. A telling illustration of a lower chakra mindset that marginalizes other possibilities is provided by David White, who in dedicating Kiss of the Yogini, thanks his own parents, not for their love or moral support or sacrifice over the years, but for contributing sexual fluids to conceive him! Doniger would have approved! Larson’s call to protect RISA’s turf—echoed and amplified by many other cartel bosses—may be seen as an indicator of the Roman gladiator archetype based in the third chakra of power projection.
On the other hand, more elevated and better-integrated RISA scholars see Hinduism from the middle chakras, and are able at least to theorize about the seventh chakra in an authentic manner. They examine the practices and rituals associated with these chakras—love, bhakti, and elimination of kleshas (negative conditions)—from the perspective of spiritual advancement. They look at the same things as do Wendy’s Children, but with different pairs of eyes.
All of the chakras are interdependent and interconnected. Any experience involves a combination of multiple chakras, and this combination changes from one experience to another. Furthermore, the use of chakras in this interpretive manner—as tools of literary and cultural theory—is a novel adaptation because conventionally they are used as transformational devices for spiritual advancement.
Malhotra notes that Freud spent his entire career studying European patients with pathologies in the lower chakras, hence his obsession in analyzing them solely in terms of their sexuality. Later, Jung studied Hinduism intensely and practised yoga, based on Patanjali’s texts. He claimed to have achieved states of emotional and spiritual consciousness associated with the fourth, fifth, and sixth chakras. This enabled him to break away from Freud (a significant historical development in Western thought) and thus help spiritualize Western science. He also reinterpreted Christian myths and their archetypes using a neo-Hindu worldview.
However, even Jung did not abandon Eurocentrism. Given his enormous influence over prominent Western thinkers for several decades, he helped to radically transform Western thought by appropriating Indic concepts. Malhotra notes that Jung’s followers erased the Indian influences on his works. And Jung, too, remapped Indian categories on to Greek-Abrahamic and his own original categories. Till the end, Jung denied the existence of the crown (seventh) chakra because non-duality and transcendence would refute the biblical reinterpretations he had developed. (For more on this, please read page 98 and 99, chapter 9)
Mircea Eliade, Doniger’s predecessor at the University of Chicago, after whom the chair she holds is named, was a friend and collaborator of Jung. Eliade was intensely interested in Hinduism until his own subsequent U-Turn. Thus, according to Malhotra’s Chakra Hermeneutics, many
Western anthropological and sociological dissections of Indic traditions focus on chakra 3—dealing with power plays between castes, genders, modern political movements, and so forth. The sanskaras (archetypes) of gladiators, and hence of many RISA scholars, are also located here. These depictions, just like the views from chakras 1 and 2, are not the crux of what many spiritual texts are trying to convey, but are often a caricature made to serve an agenda.
They essentialize Hinduism by reducing it to their own self-defined condition at the lowest chakras.
In today’s media environment, Islam is often reinterpreted for Western audiences by emphasizing its higher levels of meaning. For instance, readers are often reminded that the word Jihad has a connotation of ‘inner struggle’—shifting the third chakra view of Jihad to a higher chakra spiritual view. This is being done despite obstacles from within Islam, where such interpretations are questioned by most clergy on the basis that the doctrine of Islam is closed to new interpretations. The Western academic repackaging and facelift of Islam is certainly a good project from the point of view of Islamic progress and inter-religious harmony. Unfortunately, a different standard is being applied to Hinduism, despite the fact that its history and library of texts cry out loudly and clearly in favor of multiple layers of meanings and interpretations. Hindus are also being denied their agency to interpret ‘upwards’ (in terms of higher chakras) when in fact this should be respected in the same way it is being done with Muslims and Christians.
The different levels of consciousness represented by the chakras, along with the diversity of Hindu contexts, are well suited for interpreting not only the abstract symbolism of lingam, Kali, Tantra, and various ceremonies and rituals, but stories and narratives as well. For instance, when seen from the middle chakras, the head represents the ego, and cutting the head symbolically means getting rid of the ego. But, as Malhotra notes: “Wendy’s Children are taught to see the head as the phallus, and cutting is viewed as a message of castration, hence they remain stuck in the anal-genital chakras”.
Malhotra regrets the two-pronged cultural devastation:
While the higher chakra interpretations are being plagiarized rapidly into all sorts of New Age, Judeo-Christian and ‘Western’ scientific terminology, academic Hinduism is being reduced to the views from the lowest chakras. It is especially unethical for scholars to apply the lower chakra lens to interpret the higher chakra experiences—seeing mystical experiences as madness, weirdness, or as various sexual pathologies. Therefore, in keeping with Gadamer, Hindus obviously should be allowed to use the Chakra Hermeneutics.
The Myth of Objective Scholarship
As can be seen, many Eurocentric scholars of Hinduism end up virtually reinventing the religion in line with their own agendas, psychoses and cultural conditionings.
Malhotra shows how Wendy’s Child Syndrome emerges out of the following five pathological tendencies:
1. Psychological filters develop over decades through peer consensus and these limit the choices for research topics and what data gets in or out. There is a certain arbitrariness concerning what issues are investigated and a political correctness about the questions asked and not asked. This also applies to choosing the subsets of the Hindu texts relied upon, either salacious or dogmatic. For instance, in the Manusmriti, mostly the socially regressive verses are repeatedly highlighted while over a thousand more enlightened ones are ignored.
2. Various contexts are juxtaposed in an ad hoc cut-and-paste manner, and misleading translations are utilized, which are then adamantly defended as authentic and objective scholarship. These heady extrapolations are shielded from criticism by a compromised peer review process. The conclusions are defended, ironically, not on the intellectual merits, but by invoking freedom of speech.
3. Hindu intellectuals are excluded from the discourse except those Hindus or nominal Hindus who are securely under the control of the academic establishment. Native Hindus are positioned as ‘informants’. Representatives of specific sampradayas are not invited either as equal participants in the scholarship, or as respondents when conclusions are published about their traditions. This is illustrated by the ‘secret trial’ of Sri Ramakrishna that was held in absentia, after which the case was declared ‘closed’ by Kripal acting as the accuser, jury and judge.
4. Independent challengers are subject to hyperbolic ad hominem attacks, and important scholarly issues are dismissed through repeated fear-mongering allusions to ‘saffronized’ fascists. That ends the debate and the substantive criticisms are rarely addressed.
5. A controlled dose of criticism is encouraged from RISA insiders, who have been trained to know where to draw the line. This gives the false impression of peer-review objectivity and integrity. However, those who seek to spotlight academic weaknesses with evidence-based evaluations become objects of intense anger, especially when done in front of the diaspora whose children are sitting in the scholars’ classrooms.
A publicly projected, post-modern aura of ‘objectivity’ has empowered scholars to visualize Hinduism through the lenses of their own personal experiences, cultural biases, feelings, traumas and dramas.
Educated, Westernized Hindus have recently begun to engage the distortions that they have found in writings about their culture. However, when they raise their voices and take exception, they are attacked as triumphalists. (For more on this, please read page 102, chapter 9)
Pathologies of Wendy’s Child Syndrome
McKim Marriott opined that scholars cannot avoid unintentionally superimposing their own psychological and cultural conditioning onto their works. This happens when they select topics of interest, filter the data, and then view the data through their chosen linguistic and methodological lenses or theories that privilege a given agenda or belief or identity. This conforms to and confirms various a priori conceptual formulations.
Malhotra developed his model ‘Wendy’s Child Syndrome’ (WCS) partly in jest in order to make a point in a provocative way. He was convinced that after the articulation of the WCS Theory, scholars would hardly be in a position to resist this inquiry which merely turns the tables around. In his view:
To fully appreciate the academic portrayals of Hinduism, one must study Wendy Doniger’s influence playing out through her followers’ subconscious conditioning. Because Wendy wields far greater power in Western academe than does Kali, Wendy’s Child is far more important to deconstruct than Kali’s Child.
He postulated his theory as follows.
1. Western women, such as the famous Prof. Doniger herself, who are influenced by the prudish and male chauvinistic myths of the Abrahamic religions, find in their study of Hinduism a way to release their innermost latent vasanas, but they disguise their autobiography behind a portrayal of the ‘other’—in this case superimposing their obsessions upon Hindu deities and saints.
2. American lesbian and gay vasanas, also suppressed by Abrahamic condemnation, seek private and public legitimacy, and therefore, interpret Indian texts for this autobiographical purpose.
3. Western women, seeking an alternative to the masculine God in the Abrahamic religions, started a serious study of Hindu Goddess in the 1960s, initially with great respect and devotion. Eventually, though, their lower chakras took control and they U-Turned in two ways: They mapped the Hindu Goddess on to Mother Mary which allowed their ego to preserve its cultural supremacy and continuity of identity. And they used it for Hinduphobic agendas (such as evangelism), finding in the Hindu Goddess nothing more edifying than a symbol of female violence or a symbol of male oppression.
4. Given the Abrahamic God’s obsession with his enemy, Satan, the dualism of ‘us versus them’ is unavoidable. In this zero-sum game, Western women must fight men and displace them by becoming like them, as there is no honored place for the female in Western myths. Hence, this myth also plays out as a theory of ‘tutelage’ over ethnic women of color, as a sort of White Woman’s Burden. It is very fashionable for Indian women to get inducted into this by the lure of degrees, grants, publishing projects and other rewards. (For more on this, please read page 104, chapter 9)
Implications of Wendy’s Child Syndrome
1. Many scholars lack the full knowledge of the cultural context and/or the language skills to be able to legitimately override the native interpretations of a living tradition. Yet this is what they often do.
2. Insiders to the tradition are excluded from participating as equals in their capacity to speak with adhikara on behalf of the tradition. Instead, they are reduced to being ‘native informants’ of various sorts, or else they are brought in under the tutelage, supervision, or authority of Wendy’s Children. Those who resist do not advance in their careers. Controlling the membership of the intellectual cartel is crucial to its survival.
3. Many critical terms are simply mistranslated, or else are taken out of context. Words that have a wide range of meanings are collapsed into a simplistic meaning that is usually the most sensational option and fits the thesis of the scholar.
4. There is often complete disregard for understanding the tradition based on any other perspective than the lower chakras. This is because acknowledging the higher levels of interpretations would validate and legitimize the tradition and make it an attractive alternative for some students. Hence, there is sensational use of sexuality, social abuse, irrationality, etc. to marginalize the seriousness of the deeper tradition.
5. Certain Western scholars have mastered the art of cutting-and-pasting Indian texts and contemporary narratives, superimposing exotic imagery in order to fortify their claims. Onto this lavish landscape they sprinkle content from their imagination and from unrelated areas of Indian culture. The final product is coated with hyper-jargon to make it ridiculous or incomprehensible. It is brand managed through incestuous awards and promotions to capture the dominant market share.
6. Evidences that would refute the nascent thesis are ignored and suppressed. Competing views from within the tradition are dismissively ignored, or the challengers are vehemently attacked.
7. The subject matter to be studied is mapped by the scholar as though it was his or her personal property and therefore it ceases to belong to the community for whom it is a living tradition. As his property, the scholar will defend it fiercely, but at his own will or whim. This tentative loyalty is protected in a very patronizing manner and subject to potential U-Turns in the future.
8. Doctorate degrees, academic papers, academic press books, book awards, and jobs at prestigious institutions are doled out by committees who are part of the knowledge production establishment, and who often suffer from this Syndrome. There is no independent review or audit of RISA’s policies and practices.
9. The afflicted scholars emphatically ignore criticism by any one who is not under the umbrella of their power structure. If the criticism persists, they attack the critic, as if to say, ‘How dare you talk back this way? You, a mere native informant, or worse, you are an Indian computer geek who grew up practising Hinduism but never studied it at the graduate school level. Don’t you know your place?’ Swami Tyagananda’s scholarly response to Kripal’s shoddily researched book is a case in point: it has been virtually buried because distribution is controlled by the syndicate.
The Myth of the West
Wendy’s Child Syndrome reinforces the broader Western Myth by eroticizing the ‘other’. It reifies its supremacy while weakening the other culture in the eyes of naïve students and the public. Far from being independent thinkers, scholars afflicted with Wendy’s Child Syndrome
are subconsciously performing their roles within this myth. (For more on what Dilip Chakrabarti and Narasingha Sil have to say on this issue, please read page 106 and 107, chapter 9)
Read entire chapter 9 from page 96 to 107
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