Previously I've written:
"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Buddhists are fond of saying. And not just Buddha: also Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Lao Tzu, Guru Nanak, every spiritual teacher. And not just these people are to be killed: also the concepts that comprise the shell of their teachings. For only then can the kernel of truth be released.
But is this really the case? Below you can read an email message from a person in the United Kingdom who argues otherwise. He, like me, is an initiate of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, also known as "Sant Mat." The "satsangs" mentioned in his message are meetings of this group.
These are special words, unfamiliar to most people. But the questions being explored here are universal. To what extent does an evolving skeptic or agnostic need to disassociate from a religious organization to which he or she currently belongs? Can you discern grains of truth anywhere you look and find a way to separate them from ritualistic, dogmatic, fundamentalist chaff?
If you're a questioning Christian and want to relate this message to your own experience, you could substitute "church" for "satsang," "Christianity" for "Sant Mat," "Christians" for "satsangis," and so on. For the issues discussed below are common to anyone who feels an urge to move beyond the boundaries of a well-defined faith.
In Zen master Seung Sahn's book "Dropping Ashes on the Buddha" he tells a student:
Throw away teaching, throw away everything. If you say you are not attached to methods of practice, this is being attached to method. If you cut off your attachment, then your words ("the real 'I' functions without thinking or talking") are not necessary.
You say that you have no faith in your Buddha-nature. I too have no faith in my Buddha-nature. And I have no faith in Buddha or God or anything. If you have no faith, you must completely have no faith. You must not believe in anything at all...But when you see red, there is red; when you see white, there is only white. You must let go of both faith and non-faith. Things are only as they are.
Seung Sahn is fond of saying things like "If you understand yourself, I will hit you thirty times. And if you don't understand yourself, I will still hit you thirty times." When asked "Why?" he will say, "It is very cold today."
Here's a weather report from my British correspondent:
For a sceptic and relative agnostic, I find my currently developing point of view somewhat surprising in that it is along the lines of 'apologist' such as Irenaeus against the Gnostics (where previously I would have simply taken the Gnostic radical stance--period).
The reasons for this are both personal/subjective and philosophical and involve a number of questions for your perusal:
Satsang is found to be an enjoyable social experience and occasional truly insightful event. Satsangis that I am in contact with are far from being the dogma-driven faithful that some blog correspondents suggest, but are caring, compassionate, deeply thoughtful and sceptical-minded yet devoted people.
Some people's simple love for and faith in the Master I find deeply moving even if my own is coming from a somewhat different perspective. I thus feel deeply moved to protect the faith of the gentle and the simple (and I say that without any trace of superiority or sophistication whatsoever!).
Skeptics with heart (such as I would call you) are great fellow travellers in mystery and inner journeying, but with some critics I find their attitude unkind, rude, confrontational and hostile. This makes me adopt the 'apologist' guise for RSSB as I do not feel such attitudes get us anywhere.
Put it this way: with Christians who are kind and loving I am happy to discuss the love of Christ and the saints, but with Christians who tell me I will burn in hell fire then I go on the offence and question the historical validity of the gospels and Jesus.
Meditation is a deeply connective 'activity' (in the sense of greater expansiveness, release from mental overactivity, empathy, connectedness with nature, etc.) and is as profound as any other school I have sampled pre-Sant Mat (zazen, self-enquiry, visualisation).
The satsang centres being established by the Master are truly a haven for contemplation, selfless service and rest from wordly overactivity; and in this regard truly function as ashrams. I speak from personal experience of attending the UK centre regularly for satsang.
Are we necessarily any better off without a framework of faith and a community of faith within which to pitch our tent? We can still hold some of our unorthodox stances within the 'organisation' much as Valentinus and Basilides did within the developing Catholic church.
Without some basic 'working hypotheses' such as the existence of real spiritual masters for guidance, fellow travellersâ support, and mutual loveâare we not left primarily with our own minds as a somewhat dodgy pseudo-guru? It would be nice to think we could simply plug into our 'higher self' unobstructed and get all the clear guidance we need, but is this true?
Is there really any point in 'shopping around' for something or someone presumed to be better than Sant Mat? Paul Brunton (who I respect enormously) was of the opinion that we as seekers are better off finding and sticking to one 'path' or 'teaching' and engaging with all it has to offer to the max. From a Sant Mat view this means meditation, seva, satsang, guru bhakti to the best of our capacity.
No matter if our faith is rocky or we are sceptical of the perfect masterâs theology. Can we simply engage the path on its own terms without picking it apart with a postmodern critical apparatus? (that is not applicable in many ways to a pre-modern, transrational scheme like Sant Mat).
We could spend the rest of our life bed-hopping from one faith and philosophy to the next. We could try on zazen until our postmodern intellectual cleverness finds all the flaws and pitfalls and rejects it, thus plunging us back to square one. We could find (to us) a more internally consistent, theology free system such as Advaita and then find it dismaying that it does not engage our moral dimension or need for highfalutin mythology that Sant Mat provides.
Truly we can shop around in the spiritual supermarket to our hearts content. There is really a smorgasbord of sages, teachings, doctrines and meditation methods enough for a lifetime.
Do we then plump for the extreme critique of a U.G. Krishnamurti or the extreme faith of a Saint Francis?
There is really no fault-free teaching, organisation, guru or disciples on this earth.
I find sufficient philosophical, moral and mystical integrity within RSSB to continue to engage with it as a sceptical believer. It is easy to knock organisations and leaders as they cannot ever do anything right in the eyes of the scepticali. The fact is that RSSB provides structure and framework and support for many seekers who would otherwise be lost at sea.
It is for these reasons that I have adopted some apologist motivations as a counter check to my own unbridled scepticism and cynicism.
Lastly, in your email message to me you hit the nail on the head about the nature of any disagreements or agreements. They really are simply because we are who we are and 'others' are who they are.
The point I keep labouring on your Church of the Churchless blog to some of the more vociferous RSSB critics is why on earth can we not meet as students of a thousand schools, a la the Chinese saying, and share our journey with mutual respect, tolerance, even love!
Is that really asking too much in a world torn apart by sectarian strife and dogma-driven hatred? Can we not hold our point of view, but yet recognise that it is so much smoke on the wind, here today and gone tomorrow as it is replaced by experience and hence further views?
It is not good to simply try to throw out all of Sant Mat as some of the extreme critics do, as that really is the baby with the bath water scenario. Obviously individuals are at liberty to do this, but those interested in 'getting at' anything real and seeking consensus and commonality amongst the plurality of spiritual paths/gurus, would be loath to junk any whole tradition and its insights.
Why not take insights where we find them and from whom we find them: from Shamanism, Roman Catholicism, Wicca and paganism, from science, psychology, sociology and so on and on. The old lady in the queue for the supermarket or the old fella leaning on the farmerâs gate can be a treasure trove of wisdom, if we but listen!
Hope you find these musings enjoyable and interesting.
Warm regards to you and I will continue to enjoy your postings.