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JD Salinger & Hinduism

The Religious Affiliation of the author of 'The Catcher in the Rye'

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Woman holds a lit butter candle held over Ganges River

Salinger had deep respect for Hinduism.

Shanna Baker/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
JD Salinger & Hinduism

Jerome David Salinger (1919-2010), American novelist and short story writer, best known as the author of The Catcher in the Rye was regarded by many as a Hindu. Although he was an experimenter in spirituality, he had deep respect for Hinduism and yoga, and also well versed in the Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

Salinger's Affinity towards Eastern Religions

JD Salinger was a Jewish Catholic by birth, but as an adult did not follow any of these family faiths. He was more interested in Scientology, Hinduism and Buddhism. Deeply touched by the religious scriptures of the East, he practiced Zen Buddhism, with its importance on removing ego to gain personal detachment and experience the oneness of creation Adherants.com lists his "Religion/Belief" as "Hinduism/Eclectic" noting that "Hinduism seems to have been especially important in his life."

Salinger & Ramakrishna Paramhamsa

Salinger became particularly attracted to Hinduism after reading Swami Nikhilananda and Joseph Campbell's translation of The Gospels of Sri Ramakrishna, a profound insight into the various facets of life as described by the Hindu mystic. He was highly influenced by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's explanation of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism advocating various Hindu beliefs with emphasis on karma, reincarnation, celibacy for the seekers truth and enlightenment, and detachment from worldliness. Salinger said, "I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect." He also wished, "when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

Influence of Vedanta and Gita in Salinger's Works

Being a life long student of Advaita Vedanta, Salinger was profoundly influenced by this monistic or non-dualistic system, and all these tenets and religious studies began showing up in his short stories in the early 1950s. For instance, the story "Teddy" has Vedantic insights expressed through a ten-year-old child. His reading of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna's disciple, is seen in the story "Hapworth 16, 1924", where the protagonist Seymour Glass describes the Hindu monk as "one of the most exciting, original and best-equipped giants of this century." Salinger scholar Sam P. Ranchan's study entitled An Adventure in Vedanta: J.D. Salinger's the Glass Family (1990) throws light on the strong Hindu undercurrents that flow through Salinger's later works. For some literary critics, Franny and Zooey was a strong, emotional, human, easily understood version of Hinduism's The Bhagavad Gita.

Influence of Hindu Teachings in Salinger's Personal Life

Salinger's daughter Margaret wrote in her memoir Dream Catcher that it is her belief that her parents were married and that she was born because her father had read Paramahansa Yogananda's guru Lahiri Mahasaya teachings that enlighten the path of the householder, a family man. In 1955, after marriage, Salinger and his wife Claire were initiated into Kriya yoga in a Hindu temple in Washington, D.C. and ever since they recited a mantra and practiced Pranayama (breathing exercises) ten minutes twice a day. While he did not stick to Kriya yoga for long, Salinger also experimented with various other spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including Ayurveda and urine therapy.

Salinger's Sense of Mortality

Salinger, who passed away on January 28, 2010 at the age of 91, perhaps wished his body cremated, almost like Hindus do in Varanasi, rather than buried under a tombstone. He said, "Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody." Sadly, Salinger's epitaph won't have any mention of this wish!
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