Wow. That was my thumbs-up one-word reaction to a well-written, cogent, intelligent, moving comment on a 2006 blog post, "Top ten signs you're a fundamentalist Satsangi."
The writer put so much time and thought into the comment, right away I knew it deserved to be elevated into a blog post where it would be more visible.
So, here it is, below.
Having been devoted to the Radha Soami philosophy myself for about 35 years, I resonated with much of what this person said. I didn't grow up in a Radha Soami family as the commenter did, so it was interesting to learn how they dealt with spiritual/religious practices like strict vegetarianism while growing up.
I've corrected a few spelling errors, made additional paragraph breaks for readability, and added some links and explanations of terms [in bracketed italics.] Enjoy...
First off, this was great! Could definitely relate to pretty much all of these.
Secondly, I'd just like to comment on how I got to this post. I've never really talked about my experiences with RS [Radha Soami] with anyone, not because of shame or fear of ostracization or anything similar, but more because I never really felt the need to until now.
The past couple of days I've thought more about RS than I have in about 15 years, and I don't mind if no one sees this (since this original post was more than 2.5 years ago), for me it's just about thinking things through while I'm typing, almost like free association.
I was brought up by parents who were (and still are) devoted Satsangis [initates of a Radha Soami guru]. Now straight off the bat, I want to emphasise that my parents are good people with strong morals as human beings.
My dad is a nice, sweet man while my mother is a firm, highly intelligent woman. She was introduced to the path in her late teens and was initiated at 24. She introduced my father to the path, but he didn't get initiated until a few years later. I was brought up in Australia, where in 25 years an initially humble RS following has expanded quite significantly. As my parents are devout Satsangis, me and my sister were brought up as such. We would go to Satsang every Sunday and were strict lacto-vegetarians.
Now, when you're a kid, all you want to do is impress your parents so of course; you follow what they say, maybe even try to go over and above somehow, most likely to get positive feedback. I remember over time though, even at an early age, I started to question a lot of the principles that surrounded me.
Actually, 'principles' might not be the right word; perhaps, 'circumstances' is a better option. For one thing, I resented having to go to Satsang every Sunday, and sit in a separate room with other children while we were looked after by a designated adult who told us to remain quiet so they could hear the Satsang in the main hall via a speaker set up. But this was no different to any child who had to go to Church or Sunday school.
I started to get frustrated with having to check every ingredient of every item of food we ever ate. I understood that as lacto-vegetarians we should make sure we didn't contribute to animal cruelty, yet it still irked me that we had to always check for rennet, or "may contain traces of egg" etc.
You can chalk that one up to being a shy, Indian kid in an Australian environment which wasn't as multiculturally diverse as it is today. I just wanted to fit in, and being at school, or out with friends, or in any social situation, and asking about ingredients made you stick out like a sore thumb.
This point especially rang true if I was at a friend's house. Their parents knew I was vegetarian and did their best to accommodate, but how would they know to check for rennet? It was a question of me either staying quiet and eating the food, not sure if it was completely lacto-vegetarian and feeling wracked with guilt, or incessantly questioning the gracious host. In my opinion, if they went out of their way to make something that didn't have meat or eggs or fish in it, I thought that was very nice of them.
One of the downsides of growing up with an intelligent mother is the level of arrogance, or ego, that comes with it. Being brought up as "this is the only way" or "this is right" is not a good way to teach anyone critical thinking skills, how to ascertain right from wrong, or even how to make decisions.
And like any child with strict parents who starts to form their own opinions and thoughts, I started to rebel in my teens. I just started to go completely against RS, stopped attending Satsangs [spiritual meetings] (which made my mum furious - until Babaji [the guru] quite fortuitously said not long after that parents shouldn't force their kids to attend), and just basically opposed more and more of their ideas (ie "meditating for 2.5 hours a day", "hanging around with the same group of people and talking about life after death all the time" - i found it so depressing etc.).
There was a level of hypocrisy to it as well.
While I agree that drinking alcohol in no way is good for anyone, we shouldn't admonish people for choosing to drink it. Same goes for eating meat, if people choose to eat meat, whether or not you agree with it, it's their choice. Yet I was surrounded by Satsangis who, in public situations, would make others feel so uncomfortable about their choices because they themselves disagreed with it. It's almost like spiritual hipster-ism.
Anyway, the hypocritical part of all this is that the reasoning behind these decisions (apart from the animal harm) was that "your body is a temple, so why would you let such harmful things into your temple".
This is all well and good, except for the fact that so many Satsangis are, or were, cigarette smokers (only in the last couple years have I been told that smoking has been discouraged). I'm pretty sure smoking in a temple would be frowned upon to say the least. It was these judgmental, 'holier than thou' attitudes to others that alienated me further from RS.
All in all, I just started to feel there was more to life than all this, and all followers of RS were missing out by wasting time by devoting their lives to what comes next. After a while, to their credit, my parents stopped pressuring me about RS and came to accept that "everyone has their own path".
So now I'm 29, and a few days ago I was watching some random videos on Youtube, and clicked on to an episode of Penn & Teller's Fool Us. This is a show where established magicians come up with tricks or illusions to try and fool the hosts, Penn & Teller. After watching a few of these, I started watching some of Penn & Teller's other videos, including Penn & Teller's Bullshit!, where the duo debunk commonly held myths, beliefs and ideologies.
Their first episode dealt with people claiming to be psychics or mediums who can communicate with the dead. It showed numerous ways these people would deceive and trick people into giving them money for a chance to "contact" their deceased love ones.
After watching this, I started watching videos of famed skeptic James Randi calling out other psychics and mediums in more detail. Then all of a sudden, I started thinking about RS again. My parents are still devout followers and my sister is now as well, and while they still do talk about it consistently, I don't pay much attention to it. I respect their beliefs so I never speak against it, but I have never given it much thought since I was a child.
Now when I stopped believing in RS, thinking back it was more due to disagreements with some of their philosophies and the attitudes/egos of people supposedly following a humble path. I realised that I never really questioned, or even researched, the history and the leaders behind RS or even the organisation itself..
I'm someone now that doesn't believe in astrology, psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, palm readers, prophets, or God. A good Randi quote I heard in his videos is that, "while it's true I can't prove that God doesn't exist, I can't also prove that Santa Claus doesn't exist".
Even though I don't believe in God as such, I wouldn't identify as an atheist - which is pretty much a religion itself these days - or even agnostic. It's almost like an apathy towards these topics, most likely born from a mental exhaustion or burnout as a child. So anyway, I started thinking about the gurus of RS. Since I firmly believe these gurus aren't God in human form, I began to think that there were only two other options:
1. These gurus were deluded enough to think they were God in human form, and were either:
i) using their large following for the greater good,
ii) using their large following for monetary (or egotistical) gain, or
iii) both i) and ii).
2. These gurus knew that they were not God in human form, and were either:
i) using their large following for the greater good,
ii) using their large following for monetary (or egotistical) gain, or
iii) both i) and ii).
I'd like to believe it's 2. i), but I don't think that's the case. At the same rate, it's probably not just simply 2. ii) either. Very rarely are things black and white in the world.
I began to think that each Guru would have different motivations, and it was then that I decided to do some research. After doing a google search, I came across this site and read several posts about RS, including ones from former disillusioned members and from Waking Now.
While I am inclined to think that the truth in some of these posts may have been affected by some disgruntled former devotees, I was able to relate to and agree with many of them. Reading posts about how the current Babaji has been expanding the business side of things whereas the previous Master was against such things made me think that, just like other humans, no two Gurus would be the same, or have the same motivations, ideologies or goals in life.
Therefore, in the above scenario, 2. iii) would seem the most appropriate fit. But, taking another step back, I began to question whether any of this is still actually okay? For an organisation to be all about morality (or their version of it) and humility, and letting go of worldly possessions, it seems to be quite an immoral, egotistical, and highly materialistic way of doing things. Like teacher, like student, I guess.
But is it just the human condition to be like this? Preach ideals and live differently? Judge others by what they do, judge yourself by what you think?
In a way, it was frustrating for me to be thinking about these things again, having left them behind a decade and a half ago. But it's something I needed to question, as I clearly had unresolved feelings, thoughts and frustrations about RS. One thing I found hard to accept was how so many intelligent people believe in RS.
Apart from my mother, I knew numerous people through Satsang who were incredibly successful lawyers, doctors, or other people with brilliant minds, who were devotees to a fault. Now, I consider myself fairly intelligent, thanks probably more so to genetics than anything, but these other people were definitely on a higher level. So it was puzzling to me how they believed in these things when there was such a lack of evidence in it. Cue the old adage, "you just need to have faith".
Then I stumbled upon an article by Michael Shermer which outlined why even the most intelligent brains in the world believe, and want to believe, in such things.
Shermer said that for one thing, smart people believe weird things because they are able to defend beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. He goes on to say that our beliefs are rarely formed by logic or fact, but rather by genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experiences, life impressions, along with societal and cultural influences.
When I read this, it's like something clicked in my head, like things just started to make sense. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that nearly all the people I had encountered who believed in any religion, let alone RS, fell into one of these categories:
- my grandparents raised my mother as a Hindu who participated in many rituals and cultures required of the religion. It was her brother-in-law who introduced her (and her sisters) onto the path (parental predilection, sibling influence, life impressions, educational experiences, societal and cultural influences).
- my dad didn't have as strict an upbringing in religious practices, but after my parents got married, he fell very ill and was told he would not live past 6 months. During this time, he started to read many of the Sangat's books and soon became initiated after he recovered (life impressions)
- my sister always believed in RS yet didn't seek initiation until she was 26. This was triggered by some personal issues she was having at the time (life impressions, parental predilection).
- many, many people I've met over the years, the more I thought about them and their stories leading to the path, I came to realise that many of them were "broken" or had an "emptiness" inside them. Be it from alcoholism, drug abuse, parental issues, or other life choices, personal or professional, these people needed something to believe in, to give them hope, and were able to find it in RS (life impressions).
Hope, I've found, is a major attraction for many religions or spiritual paths. The hope that there is something for us after we die. The hope that life has some meaning. The hope that we'll be okay, to dissuade our fears regarding the unknowns of death and the uncertainties in life.
It's when you see tears in the eyes of attendees at a Satsang that you realise how much these words and feelings of acceptance resonate with some people. In some cases, religious hysteria takes over; I remember when I was young we were at one of Babaji's Satsang's in Bangkok, and as he walked in, one Satsangi two rows in front of me started violently shaking. I thought he was having a seizure, but a few seconds later I realised he was violently crying and couldn't control his emotions or his body.
Should anyone be able to have this much effect on another human being? I guess you could ask the same of politicians, movie stars, singers, and sports stars, who also experience extreme devotion. Funnily enough, I'm sure we all know of many people in each of these categories who have experienced such maniacal devotion that they get engulfed by their own hubris, are involved in some scandal, and either cover it up or are sent crashing down to Earth.
Going back to the point about hope, I've come to the conclusion that if you need something to believe in, or something to help you through tough times for whatever reasons, you have to look internally and not externally for an answer.
And by externally I mean religious/spiritual/cult organisations; of course there's nothing wrong with seeking help from a professional. But even a professional would help YOU. Other organisations would get you to help THEM, and somehow get you to feel like you're the one who's improving via feelings of accomplishment and "fitting in".
By finding a way to learn to deal with, or recover from, hard times, not only will you come out the other side a better person, but you will have learned coping mechanisms for future tough times. And in the mean time you'll be able to enjoy that thing called life. In the example of my parents, more specifically my mother, who was more shaped by her upbringing rather than any personal problems, all I can say is that others can learn from this and start to develop critical thinking skills. Avoid confirmation bias by researching both sides of a topic whatever it may be, so then you can make an informed decision. This critical reasoning will help in other parts of your life.
My family wouldn't change their mind about RS even if I were to talk to them about these things. It's a tough one because I honestly feel like they're part of something which is not as pure as they think it is.
But having said that, in the grand scheme of things, they aren't being harmed, they aren't being railroaded for money, nor are they being lured into a mass suicide. Therefore, it would be hypocritical of me to admonish others for giving their opinions on their beliefs, and to then try to push my beliefs on to them.
It's ironic that in life things are rarely black and white as I mentioned before, but in terms of beliefs, many people either believe adamantly in something, or are nihilists. Maybe the grey area in between is where the "blissfully ignorant" live? Or the "happy-go-lucky"? The people who are good human beings, nice to others, and are at peace with who they are. Occam's Razor, perhaps.
Wow, I managed to ramble on a bit there. It was good for me to type it out. It's a lot to read, so again, it's not a big deal if no one reads this. It was just more about me typing it, so thanks for having a forum for me to do so :)