A few days ago I got an email from a long-time member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), the spiritual group that I’ve been affiliated with since 1971. This person was stimulated to write after reading a comment posted to my “Why I embrace unorganized religion” post.
You’ll see that my correspondent begins by quoting an excerpt from that comment and then heads off from there. Now, I don’t want this Church of the Churchless blog to become overly focused on criticism of a single small religious organization.
But the reality is that my current preference for churchlessness is an evolution from my previous attachment to a church—the “Church” of RSSB. So my personal experience with organized religion stems from this source, as does the experience of my correspondent and quite a few others who visit the Church of the Churchless.
If I had remained a Catholic, I’d be focusing on the rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and self-righteousness of Catholicism right now, because this would be the religion that I knew best. Instead, I’m making the same criticisms of RSSB, because that is the religion I’m most familiar with.
My point is that what’s written below speaks of the failings of RSSB and its members. Yet these failings are present in all organized religions, as is pointed out by the author.
With my correspondent’s permission I edited the original message, taking out some overly personal content and making a few grammatical changes. So much evident thoughtful passion went into the writing of the message, I felt that it deserved a wider audience than just me.
Here it is:
Netemara said: The dealings you have with the higher ups in RSSB are because you had dealings with them of a dishonest or whatever type in past life and you are here reaping it and are not being grateful. Shame on you Brian. It's all there for you to see when you are ready to see it. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
Shame on you? Good grief.
It always bothered me that satsangis [RSSB initiates] often tended to sum up morality as basically:
--don’t have sex with anybody but your spouse
--karma is simply “whatever is done to you, you did to others”
--ahimsa is just about being a vegetarian and not killing spiders
There’s no interest in studying what ahimsa truly is, or any of the other yamas or niyamas. But then satsangis don’t need to study the subtle aspects of eastern (or western) philosophy, ethics, and morality because we are above all that. Just do your meditation and all the virtues will appear.
If you are a vegetarian, you won’t incur bad karma; bad things won’t happen to you. Never mind that you destroy people mentally, emotionally, physically, or financially. Never mind that you are deeply disturbed, because if you’re a vegetarian and won’t even kill a bug, you’re swell!. The rest is just karmic adjustment ‘til you’re outtahere.
I wish I could invent a Crapometer. Or how about a Dogmameter? You know, something that goes ding, ding, ding, flashes bright lights, and has a dial that indicates how much crap or dogma is being dispensed. However, sigh, I suppose it would probably ding incessantly for everyone and we would all have to remain in silence forever.
Jungian psychology points out that institutions (religious, government, medical, you name it) eventually become obstacles to the very purposes for which they were created. They take on a life of their own and survival becomes the first priority. Anyone who questions the institution is a threat, and those who depend on the institution for their livelihood, power, or self-image are likewise threatened and take appropriate action.
In the end, perhaps the institution becomes the crucible (or part of it) in which self-realization is forged as one encounters the limitations and flaws of the institution and those in it, including oneself. The more adherents behave in deluded and unenlightened ways, the more opportunities one has for self-inquiry, self-awareness, enlightenment, developing humility, and all that.
Originally, I would not have said that Sant Mat, the institution, is a cult. But of course it is—having characteristics of both the benign and malignant type of cult. That’s what most institutions become. This is what ordinary folks do with their beliefs, create cults.
Even “Treasure Beyond Measure” describes Charan Singh’s challenges with those who thought they were running the Dera. I would nominate Charan Singh for sainthood just for being able to graciously deal with thousands of deluded satsangis behaving as they do. On the audio tapes, he certainly seemed to be trying to end the superstitions, dogmatic interpretations, rumors, and abuses of the teachings.
Over the years I have observed that there are a number of aware, insightful, broadminded, and/or independent satsangis who never attend satsang meetings at all. There are some that I have known or know of who come out of the woodwork only for bhandaras and Baba Ji’s visits or to go to the Dera – and have not attended satsang for years, even decades.
And, the deluded whisper that the reason these folks don’t attend satsang is they are “not right with the path.” Unless, of course, they have connections with the in-crowd. Then, hey, everything’s cool. Otherwise, the current dogma stands: “good devoted satsangis” attend satsang and serve and never question the Master’s organization.
Rather than becoming self-realized and God-realized, I believe I have observed what is probably called regression in some long-time satsangis. I also think aspects of the teachings support people with that tendency and/or those who haven’t adapted to life very well. They find reasons in Sant Mat to justify their negative attitudes toward others and the world, avoidance of responsibilities, antisocial behaviors, and so on. Of course this might apply to any religion. That may not be what the masters intended, but it is definitely how some folks interpret parts of the teachings.
Netemara said that spiritual growth is a myth. Well, now, isn’t that convenient? We are not going to become self-realized or God-realized. We just want to get outtahere and escape from physical existence. I am weary of satsangis saying that they don’t want to have to come back for another lifetime. It seems that they just want to leave this plane of reality because they don’t like what is manifesting in their lives and have hostility toward people and the world in general.
Now we can have a bumper sticker to rival the Christians: “We are not perfect, just saved.” I guess our exit will be a little less messy than the Christian rapture, though. One at a time instead of en masse.
How can you make spiritual progress without the foundation of ethics, morality, self-inquiry, and looking on all other beings with love and compassion? Is that not the foundation upon which meditation is based? Isn’t that Sant Mat 101? Both Master Charan Singh and Master Gurinder Singh said that what you see is what you get; if you haven’t attained any self- or God-realization, death won’t magically transform you.
Someone commented on your blog that satsangis don’t shun or ostracize others. Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break the news, but, yes, they do. Of course some people are made to feel shunned or ostracized in Sant Mat. I have experienced it; I am aware of it being done to others for different reasons.
In Netemara’s world, it appears this would be tit-for-tat. Na na na na na na. However, the way I see it, the shunning and judgment more likely is going on because someone violates the party line, group or individual delusions, control issues, personal issues, and/or shadows that others are uncomfortable with, or are trying to suppress or avoid. Folks are feeling a tad threatened. Shouldn’t we want to look at this and have clear insight into human behavior? Well, no, I’m told. Such questions shouldn’t be asked.
If I should attempt to discuss the insights of other paths, religions, philosophies, Jungian or Buddhist psychology, you name it, I am treated like a heretic and dismissed as if the true believers are already beyond all this. If I mention the wonderful loving people I have known who were of other faiths and their insights, and say that we shouldn’t condemn others, I am treated like a heretic.
Perhaps some satsangis are protecting their yet-fragile faith. Some ex-satsangis now appear to need to invalidate the path (through fact or fabrication, whatever it takes) so they don’t have to feel guilty about distancing themselves from it. But aren’t they doing this because they believed that Sant Mat is the only valid path to God? Just like the Catholic Church?
The alternative is being excommunicated from the church and barred from heaven (and doomed to hell) for eternity—or doomed to transmigrate under the domain of Kal for eternity. Or as one poor soul said: “The master will drag you and you can never get away from him, he sees everything you do.” Hmmm, which is worse? (And, even more importantly, what does all of this say about Santa Claus?) We are the victims of our own narrow thinking, and then have to dig our way out of the hell we have created for ourselves.
This brings me back to your question. Where is the awareness, insight, wisdom and radiant love after all these years of spiritual practice? My recent readings in Buddhist and Jungian psychology, other paths and religions, and Taoism have helped me progress more in recent years than twenty-five years of attending satsang. Well, I must give credit where it is due. All those years were part of the journey. They set the stage and created the fertile ground for my current studies and introspection.
As a satsangi, I found your book “Return to the One” a breath of fresh air because it didn’t insert advertisements for the “perfect living master” and sant mat dogma throughout. I am relieved to hear that Master Gurinder Singh encouraged you in that direction.
Here is my current mantra: “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have already been there.”