The Guru and His Queer Disciple

The Guru-Disciple Relationship as the Locus of Christopher Isherwood’s Advaita Vedanta

Authors

  • Pravrajika Vrajaprana Vedanta Society

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v4i3.243

Keywords:

Advaita, homosexual, gender identification, guru bhakti

Abstract

Christopher Isherwood’s engagement with Vedanta falls outside the frame of conventional readings, confronting the assumption that religion and homosexuality are mutually exclusive. Isherwood was a committed follower of Vedanta’s nondualistic philosophy (advaita), which provided a nonjudgmental basis for his spiritual aspirations. This approach was crucial for Isherwood since his acceptance of a spiritual ideal and practice was critically dependent upon how his homosexuality was accepted. Pivotal in Isherwood’s life was his relationship with Swami Prabhavananda, whose influence was as profound as that of E.M. Forster. Isherwood produced a considerable output of religious writings in his career, yet he has been neglected as a religious writer. This paper interrogates colonialist condescension towards Isherwood as a “Hindu,” typically opposing Western “reason” against Hindu “superstition.” The paper concludes by suggesting that Isherwood’s interpretation of Ramakrishna was not based upon a homosexualist hermeneutic, but rather one based on the freedom found in Guru Bhakti.

References

Bucknell, Katherine, ed. 1997. “Introduction.” In Christopher Isherwood Diaries Volume One: 1939–1960, vii–xlix. London: Methuen.

Isherwood, Christopher. 1963. An Approach to Vedanta. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.

———. 1965. Ramakrishna and His Disciples. New York: Simon and Schuster.

———. 1980. My Guru and His Disciple. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

———. 1997. Diaries: Volume One: 1939–1960, ed. Katherine Bucknell. New York: HarperCollins.

Kaplan, Carola M. 2000. “The Wandering Stopped.” In The Isherwood Century, edited by James J. Berg and Chris Freeman, 259–279. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Kermode, Frank. 1965a. “The Old Amalaki.” New York Review of Books, June 17, 18–20.

———. 1965b. Response to Gavin Lambert’s “One Man’s Vedanta.” New York Review of Books, September 16, 26–27.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. 1998. Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna. 2nd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Marsh, Victor. 2009. “Advaita Vedanta and the Repositioning of Subjectivity in the Life-Writing of Christopher Isherwood, ‘Homosexualist’.” Theology and Sexuality 15(1): 93–116. doi:10.1558/tse.v15i1.97

Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood, trans. 1967. The Song of God: Bhagavad-Gita. 3rd ed. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.

Ross, Nancy Wilson. 1965. “Madman or Saint?” (Review of Ramakrishna and his Disciples.) New York Times Book Review, November 17.

White, Edmund. 1980. Review of My Guru and His Disciple. The New York Times Book Review, June 1, BR3.

Woodcock, George. 1965. Review of Ramakrishna and His Disciples. Commonweal, September, 703.

Published

2010-12-10

How to Cite

Vrajaprana, P. (2010). The Guru and His Queer Disciple: The Guru-Disciple Relationship as the Locus of Christopher Isherwood’s Advaita Vedanta. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 4(3), 243–258. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v4i3.243

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Section

Articles