Foreword and some observations on oratory
In the previous two parts (1, 2) of our article series on Chinmayananda’s commentaries, we took a sardonic look at the narrative style of his commentaries. In this concluding part we will try to reassess a common impression of his commentaries on Hindu treatises, which is about his so-called oratorical skills. Unlike in the previous articles, we will quote not one paragraph but 3 paragraphs of his commentary here to examine whether his style and manner of narration really qualifies for the lofty encomium of oratory that is so easily conferred on him by the religious and intellectual gentry of India.
In most lexicons, oratory is defined as eloquence or skill in making speeches to the public, or as a manner of public speaking marked by the use of overblown or effusive rhetoric. So it can be seen that there are not one but two requirements for a speech or expressive style to be properly denoted or qualified as oratorical; firstly the eloquence of speech or expression and along with that the predominance of rhetoric.
Quoting from Wikipedia “Eloquence (from Latin eloquentia) is fluent, forcible, elegant or persuasive speaking. It is primarily the power of expressing strong emotions in striking and appropriate language, thereby producing conviction or persuasion. The term is also used for writing in a fluent style.”
While a speech or expression needs to be forcible or persuasive, we must not be unmindful of an almost equal emphasis on fluency, elegance and use of appropriate language.
While Chinmayananda’s talks may sound forceful and persuasive to many, they miserably fail the test of fluency, elegance and use of appropriate language. Using appropriate language involves adhering to the rules of a language pertaining to its grammar, idioms, semantics and context, while improvising on style and effect using the freedom that figurative expression allows us.
Chinmayananda’s style of speech and writing are in complete violation of these rules of the English language. He confuses prose and poetic style and mixes literal and figurative elements of expression without any sense of proportion, placement or agreement with context. He repeatedly uses common jargons of spiritual lingo, which is a clear sign of his lack of fluency in his subject matter and language. He is notorious for coining new words, many times by tagging Sanskrit or Indian words with English words. There is nothing wrong about coining words- neologism, as it is termed in linguistics. Many languages are enriched by the addition of new words. But new words to gain currency in a language need to satisfy certain requirements of semantics, with associative and derivative qualities of coherence, cogency and ablity to blend with other words and groups. His terms like ‘mud-tattwa’, ‘packet-yoga’ ‘rama-gold’, ‘Krsna-cure’, ‘Arjuna-disease’ etc., exhibit a tendency for playing to the gallery with weird-sounding words, which may yet signify some ethnicity. But, from the perspective of eloquence, they represent an atrocious use of language.
The purpose of rhetoric is to create an effect and persuade an audience to its point of view. But still, rhetoric needs to be phrased in meaningful and appropriate language. Looking at the style of Chinmayananda’s commentaries, one really wonders whether he knows how to construct rhetoric. It will be noticed that he poses questions with exaggerated terms and fancy phrases and then answers them himself, stumbling in the process of doing both of these. A typically well phrased and delivered rhetorical question is one that does not need an answer or has a reply in the question itself. Rhetoric also demands some grandeur and luxuriance of vocabulary and phraseology that does not seem to exist in Chinmayananda’s literary arsenal.
With that prefatory note, let us proceed to an analysis of his quotes.
The verse 4 chapter IX or 9.4 of the Bhagavad Gita
Chinmayananda’s literal translation of this verse of the BG goes like this:
“All this world (universe) is pervaded by Me in My Unmanifest form (aspect); all beings exist in Me, but I do not dwell in them”
Quote 1 from the ‘Gurudev’ and its dissection
“If thus, the Infinite pervades the finite what exactly is the relationship between them? Is it that the finite rose from the Infinite? Or is it that the Infinite produced the finite? Has the Infinite Itself become the finite, as a modification of Itself or do they both keep a father-son, or master-servant relationship? Various religions of the world abound in such questions. The dualists can afford to indulge in such a fancied picture of some relation or other between the finite and the Infinite. But the advaitin-s (Non-dualists) cannot accept this idea, since to them the Eternal Self alone is the one and only reality.”
There you go again! With the merry-go-round of the finite and the ‘Infinite’. There is no respite from the onslaught of the spiritual Siamese twins of the Infinite and the finite. One would have thought that the Gurudev was supposed to explain a verse. Instead of explaining, he is posing more questions than answering any, unless of course the arguments of the infinite and the finite chasing their own tails are supposed to be an astounding spiritual revelation. After all his grand posturing, he still cannot decide who is the father and son or who the master and the servant between the Infinite and the finite. Being celibate, the great man could not conceive of a ‘cozy’ mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship between finite and the Infinite!
According to the Gurudev, these trials and tribulations of the Infinite and the finite are the questions in which the various religions of the world abound. Really?! Either the Guru has not any done any reasonable study of comparative religion or does not understand what the word abound means; or maybe both. The major religions of the world other than Hinduism, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or even home grown religions like Buddhism and Jainism, are not concerned with all this tripe about Infinite and the finite. Even in Hinduism, this kind of nonsensical speculation about the infinite and the eternal is the obsession of that monstrosity called Vedanta. The great man then thinks that only dualists can afford to indulge in a fancied picture. One has heard of people indulging in a habit or pursuits or revelries, but how does one indulge in a picture? Maybe by staring at the blank canvas of the Infinite and filling it with whatever fanciful picture a spiritually fertile imagination can come up with. Leaving this quote and its author with our sympathies for his poverty of imagery and confusion of vocabulary, let us move on to the next great quote.
Quote 2 and our analysis of it
“The second line of this stanza is a classical description of this “relationless-relationship” between Real and unreal. To a hasty reader this would strike as an incomprehensible paradox expressed in a jumble of empty words. But to one who has understood well the theory of super-imposition, this is very simple. The ghost-vision can come only the post. And what exactly is the relationship between the ghost and the post from the standpoint of the post? The innocent post, in infinite love for the deluded fool, can only make a similar statement as the Lord has made here. “The ghost,” the post would say “is no doubt in me, but I am not in the ghost; and therefore I have never frightened any deluded traveler at any time.” In the same fashion the Lord says here, “I in my unmanifest nature, am the substratum for all the manifested” chaos of names and forms, but neither in their joys nor in their sorrows, neither in their births nor in their deaths, ” am I sharing their destinies, because I do not dwell in them.”
As if the finite and the Infinite and their cat-and-mouse games were not enough, we are now told to deal with the real and the unreal . At least the former two had some relationship where the Guru would make us ‘indulge’ in a ‘fancied picture’. The latter two have a “relationless-relationship”, that too of a ‘classical description’. The problem here is not of classical description, but of the classical confusion that our great author has between an oxymoron and a paradox. It would have helped if Chinmayananda has studied some figurative English properly, he would have realized the perfect hash he is making here of personification, oxymoron and paradox. The ‘jumble of empty words’ is not from the Gita verse, but from the nonsense of his commentary, struggling to match words with any cogence of meaning.
That apart, now we have to understand well the ‘theory of super-imposition’, which is to spirituality what the ‘theory of gravity’ and ‘theory of relativity’ are to science and physics. It is really amazing that very few of us have heard of this great ‘theory of super-imposition’.
As though the rigmaroles of the finite and the Infinite and that of the Real and unreal were not enough for our confusion, the ghost and the post have also joined the chase party. So, the finite’s ‘Chicken Little’ procession on a bewildering journey to nowhere in hot pursuit of the eternal Self has now the company of the dialogue between the ghost and the post, while saving themselves from the fall of the ‘Infinite’ sky. The protestations of innocence of the post in this ghostly (or rather ghastly) conversation in the typical Gurudev rambling runs along the lines of ‘While the ghost is in the post, but surely the post is not in the ghost’ or ‘The ghost thinks that he is not the post, while the post thinks that the ghost is in the post’ or that ‘The ghost is lost in the post, while the post is still looking for the ghost’. While the ghost and post are posting nasty looks at each other, we are left wondering what kind of post is this, a lamppost, signpost, speed post or compost? And the post is doing all this out of ‘Infinite love for the deluded fool’. It is not hard to see that the ‘deluded fool’ here is none other than Chinmayananda himself who seems to harbor foolish delusions about his literary skills, when he cannot make out the difference between a simile and a metaphor and falls flat on his pathetic attempts at personification.
Yet for all the faults, who can deny the hard work and exertion of this puffery of spiritual argument from the Gurudev. If, after all the sacrifices of the motley characters of the finite and the Infinite, the Real and unreal, the ghost and the post, their modifying and mortifying proceedings, their ‘relationless-relationships’, their father-son, master-servant, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law roles and their ‘infinite love for deluded fools’, we still do not get a ‘senseless-sensation’ of the ‘self-realizing’ Realization of the eternity of ‘Eternal Self’, shame indeed on our sacrilegious selves. With such sobering thoughts we move to his next great quote.
Quote 3 and our dissertation of it
“This line sounds like a faithful echo of the same idea, perhaps more crisply expressed earlier, where it was said “I am not in them , they are in ME.” In short it is indicated here that the Self which, through Its identification with matter-envelopments, has come to “dwell in them” is the pain-ridden mortal, while the same Self which has successfully withdrawn all its false arrogations with the matter layers and has come to realize that “I do not dwell in them” is the Self , Immortal and Unmanifest.”
Despite being so spiritual, our ‘Gurudev’ is much more concerned with matter than with spirit, whether as ‘matter-envelopement’ or ‘matter layers’. The self has possibly the same liking for envelopes that the great commentator probably has, since it acquires ‘matter-envelopments’. What if instead of ‘matter-envelopment’ there was ‘matter-elopement’, with the spiritual eloping with the material. But there are too many mattress layers, oops ‘matter layers’, to let that happen in the ‘happening’ world of spirituality. It is not clear who or what this matter layers are. People who lay the matters or mattresses? or ones like ‘Gurudev’ who place layers of nonsense on matter that can be more simply explained. One wishes that Chimayananda would have rather slept on those mattress layers and snored his way to oblivion, instead of tormenting his admirers and detractors alike with his inane and soporific commentaries.
A note of conclusion
Surely Chinmayananda’s eccentricities and antics in the process of speech, like the waving of hands, bobbing of the head, conflation and contortion of nostrils, stealthy wiping of the nose (mostly the result of his regular snuff intake), the bird-droppings of uneven and ‘un-parliamentary’ words and phrases, abrupt changes of voice tones etc., may make for entertaining and comic occasions and interludes. But to take these as marks of oratory and eloquence is to grossly misunderstand the meaning and demands of oratory. If Chinmayananda’s verbal acrobatics is to be considered as oratorical flourish, one can only say that oratory is sorely in need of a redefinition.
To conclude, we have looked at but a few specimens from the book-loads of Chinmayananda’s commentaries. But the bulk of his writings and speeches very nearly mirror these specimens in their sheer desultory nonsense and aimless exposition of theological concepts. While it may not be a wonder for his devotees to marvel at his intellectual prowess and expressiveness, to any thinking and reasonable student of a langauage and subject, Chinmayananda’s speech and writing represent the most cruel mockery of language, and constitute an insult to human intelligence and understanding.
Ranganath R writes critically of religion and spiritualism on his blog Critical Sagacity.