Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds, Vol 4, No 3 (2008)

The Guru and His Queer Disciple: The Guru-Disciple Relationship as the Locus of Christopher Isherwood’s Advaita Vedanta

Pravrajika Vrajaprana

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.

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