Devotion, or “bhakti” in Sanskrit, is admirable. But it can be taken to extremes. It seems to me that when a human being is worshipped as God, this is taking bhakti too far.
I appreciate the thoughtful comments I’ve gotten on my previous post, “God-man or Asshole? The guru conundrum.” My wife also has thrown in her two cents on the subject via some conversations we’ve had. When Laurel was a practicing psychotherapist she had quite a bit of experience with domestic abuse.
The man often wants to be treated like a god. His woman is supposed to do whatever he desires, or reap the nasty consequences. Any resemblances to guru bhakti are not coincidental.
Now, I’m certainly not equating devotion to a supposed God-man with domestic abuse, but the psychological state of mind of a worshipful disciple and a fearful wife is pretty much the same. Each has narrowed down her focus of concern to “What does he want from me?” and “What will happen if I fail to please him?”
This doesn’t seem healthy to me, even if guru bhakti is more about love than fear. Isn’t spirituality supposed to broaden our horizon, expand our sphere of concern, widen our perspective?
And, help us to become less filled with a sense of our own self-importance. I’ve observed that when people consider that their guru is God-incarnate, not surprisingly this leads to a attitude of “I’m the chosen of God.” Which means, other unfortunates who aren’t disciples of the God-man are the non-chosen.
Humility isn’t going to thrive under these circumstances. Like a snobbish high school, humanity is going to be divided into two camps: the “cool kids” who form the in-crowd, and the “nerds” who are on the outside looking in.
This is, of course, from the perspective of a particular chosen one. The strange thing about religion is that many different groups consider that they are God’s favorite, so the same person will be a religious “cool kid” or a “nerd” depending on whether the judgment is made from within or without his own tradition.
Here’s another problem with excessive guru bhakti: it short-circuits the spiritual impulse. There seems to be something within many people that desires to know and love the ultimate reality termed “God.” I don’t know what this something is. I don’t know whether it is divine or mundane. All I know is that I feel it, and over the years I’ve met many other people with the same drive to unravel the deepest mysteries of the cosmos.
A quixotic impulse, perhaps, yet undeniably noble. It needs to be given free rein. To circumscribe the quest for God-realization is to limit a search that should have no boundaries. Yet when God is considered to be embodied within a particular person, the divine shrinks down to the confines of a single human being.
Can this be spiritual progress?
I read through the January 2006 issue of “Spiritual Link,” a publication of Radha Soami Satsang Beas that reflects the group’s core theological tenet: the guru is to be equated with God. Even more: as in other Indian traditions, the guru is to be considered greater than God.
Here are some quotes from the issue that show the guru, or master, is the goal for the disciple—not God.
Meditation then becomes yet another time when everything can be left here, and when the flight to the presence of the Master becomes swift.
If we truly had thirst for communion with our Master how much less sleep would we need?
What is the mystery of the holy bond which makes men and women even in the hour of death utterly forget all earthly ties and cling to the Master alone?
Well, each to his own. I’ve never resonated with the belief that the ineffable mystery of God can be brought down to an understandable human level. Yet I can appreciate the appeal that this has for devotees of either a dead or living God-man. Jesus or a contemporary guru can be related to as a person. You can’t do that with formless mystery.
However, as the years have passed I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with not-knowing. Not-knowing the nature of God. Not-knowing what will happen after I die. Not-knowing whether any man or woman ever has attained a state of God-realization. This not-knowing seems completely natural to me. To others, it is heresy.
Here’s one way of looking at it.
I just got back from seeing a play (“Inherit the Wind”) about creationism and evolution that is based on the Scopes trial. Some lines from the end of the first act stick in my mind. The two attorneys in the play are old friends, though one is a fervent Christian and the other is a committed agnostic. Now they have opposing theological views.
The Christian says, “How is it that you’ve moved so far away from me? We used to be so close.”
The agnostic replies, “All motion is relative. Perhaps you are the one who has moved away by standing still.”