Thursday, April 20, 2017

Theology at 120 degrees.

Vishakha posted the following excerpt from Prof. Klaus Klostermaier's book Hindu and Christian in Vrindavan, from the chapter entitled “Theology at 120 degrees Fahrenheit.”

She must have been feeling the onset of the hot season herself. It is now here in full force , though there is some amelioration of conditions since those he describes -- fans and coolers, A/C and fridges, ice cream and cold drinks! -- his description does strike a bit of a chord.

Actually Klostermaier stayed only a few hundred meters from where I am now sitting in the Jiva Institute. He was at Bon Maharaj's College, the Oriental Institute of Philosophy, when it was little more than a couple of concrete huts in the middle of sand and tumbleweed.

I worked under Prof. Klostermaier at a one-year replacement stint teaching Sanskrit and Hindi at the University of Manitoba. It was in 1995-96. I had finished my PhD and spent two years on a rather unsuccessful two-year post-doc at the University of Toronto.

It is rather amazing, looking back on it, that I have never read this book of his about Vrindavan.

Klostermaier gave me a chance, almost fired me I think, and in the end, overlooked me for a full-time post that became available at UofM. I don't think he liked my lecturing style, which is a little too formless. Everyone at UofM used overhead projectors. I got so into preparing for my class, the material was disorganized. Not good for undergrads...

That really was the end of my career in academia. Not really any regrets there, but still it is unusual that I made so little effort to get to know him better. It would have been a smart career move. Perhaps he was on some kind of sabbatical leave himself. I never hear him lecture once the whole time I was there.

I had been fairly excited by the prospect of working with Klostermaier, since he was at the height of his reputation at the time. He was also well-known to most scholarly Hare Krishnas as a person who had been in Vrindavan and in touch with Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Klostermaier was an admirer of Bon Maharaj, who came to visit him in Canada more than once. Some ISKCON followers were suspicious of him because of this, since Srila Prabhupada had said unfavorable things about Bon Maharaj.

I think it would have been a very interesting matter to discuss what he had been through, but somehow or another, our Vrindavan experiences went past each other without ever being spoken, without even being acknowledged. Had I read this book, I perhaps would have had grist for a conversational mill.

Klostermaier left the priesthood, that I know. He was married to a scholarly woman who also taught at the University of Manitoba. He wrote numerous books. In a sense we were both "fallen" priests only from different faiths, both escaping into academia -- him successfully, me still a wannabe. You would think that this commonality of experience would have provided us with something to talk about in a friendly way. We don't even have a photo of us together.

It no doubt had a great deal to do with my own denial, or shyness, or perhaps we should just call it more openly, the beginnings of my return to total alienation with the life I was leading. I think I was still undergoing culture shock. It never really stopped until I finally got back to Vrindavan.

Here is my memory of the Vrindavan heat stirs up old bhajan memories. It should be written up with a little more panache. I can see Klostermaier banging away at his blister inducing manual typewriter. There is no doubt he is an exceptional man and a great scholar. I am certainly in no way his equal.

Things certainly have changed. And he is right, theology at 120 degrees is different from theology at 70. The Christianity of the Desert Fathers was no doubt quite different from that of the Gregorian University of the Pope John XXIII era. Like Bikram Yoga, we like it hot.

Anyway, here is some theology at 120 degrees.

1 comment:

Prem Prakash said...

Jagadananda das,
I enjoy your autobiographical writings. It's interesting to ponder how environment influences spiritual consciousness. Krishna plays in the forests, Shiva sits in the mountains... Who is the deity of the urban landscape?