“Reality.” It’s one of my favorite words. Especially if you say it like Cartman would on South Park: Realitey. That gives it a certain Frenchy sort of snob appeal.
But reality, or realitey, really isn’t snobbish at all. It’s the most down-home thing there is. More: it’s the only thing there is. The only real thing, at least. The Greeks considered that something can exist, yet barely be. In other words, there are degrees of reality.
Generally we think, “it either is or it isn’t.” However, it could sort of be. And there could be something else with more beingness than that. Bill Clinton was ridiculed for saying “It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” But he was on to something.
Theology is real. It exists. The question is, how real? Does theology point to a deeper reality beyond words and concepts, or is it just a bunch of purely human ideas?
Nick explores the difference between theology and reality in the message that follows. He’s an initiate of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, or RSSB, an Indian-based religious organization that I’ve had connections with for over thirty-five years.
As I regularly note here at the Church of the Churchless, if I were a heretical Catholic I’d be writing about what I know about: Catholicism. Instead, I’m a heretical satsangi (RSSB initiate), so I tend toward writing about the mystical philosophy that I know best.
Or, as in this post, sharing the thoughts of someone else who is willing to critique aspects of the RSSB theology, Nick. (Note: he spells and grammars a bit funny to us Americans because he’s British. I thought of correcting his writing to red, white, and blue United States style, but decided that would be chauvinistic).
Further to the spate of recent messages from those who have experience of and scepticism towards RSSB, let me make some comments from where I stand at present.
The baggage of theology carried by RSSB seems at times a real barrier to realising anything of interior value. I am at the stage now where I simply meditate and stick to the core ethical principles (not because a guru figure has told me, but because I have worked it out for myself and it makes reasonable sense).
The main reason I stick with it? I enjoy it, I guess. The whole weird and wonderful trip of it all, with the odd history and lineage debates, the exotic mystical theology, the good friends and family who are on “the Path”. I still have to take supplements in the form of what I would call more depth theology, a la Advaita and Meister Eckhart in particular. This helps with making sense of interior states and in providing additional sustenance to the rather unsophisticated RSSB theological fare.
I have only been involved with RSSB teachings for 8 years, but have researched spiritual and psychological topics for over 25 years. I have had my flings with Krishnamurti, Advaita Vedanta, The National Secular Society of the UK, and various other 'isms' and 'ologies'. I have thus tried on all manner of belief systems from theosophy and vedanta to yogic cosmology. I have also tried on all manner of disbelief systems and was at one time a convinced secularist and Darwinian and have two degrees in the natural sciences.
What drew me to sant mat? Here was a spiritual teaching making audacious claims to be the highest possible on earth, surpassing advaita vedanta and zen. With gurus that supposedly outstripped non dual sages like Ramana Maharshi. Quite some claims! This needed checking out! So eight years on, what are my feelings?
I have come round to a state that I can only call “Radical Agnosticism”, that is uncertain as to the great metaphysical questions but veers towards a devotional and theistic slant to this unknowing. Sounds confused, but I get where I'm coming from! Like Brian, I feel an intuitive attraction to mystery and unknowing even if it is more scary and uncertain than belief. I feel this can still be applied through sant mat (even in RSSB if we are selective in our company and our researches through reading) if we cut through all the theology and practice it as a true inner science of experimentation.
So I've arranged some thoughts in a series of Theology versus Reality call and respond themes around RSSB claims. Try them on for size! I have to say the Reality is my own take. I make no claims for universal objective reality!
The RSSB guru is god incarnate and pretty much omnipotent and omniscient and can tell the disciple’s interior state with one glance etc, etc, and is at a higher state of realisation than advaita sages or zen masters (for example).
Doesn't seem that way to me. I’m uncertain and agnostic towards the status of gurus, but veer towards their humanness as “representatives” or “teachers” responsible for upholding a lineage according to the instructions of their guru in turn. Willing to admit I could be off target and that the guru is really akin to people like Julian Johnson's description. I have long had a problem with some satsangis who are a bit more educated saying that a non dual sage such as Ramana was a simple yogi, who is outreached by shabd yoga masters in their depth of realisation. This does not “ring true” at all, although once again I admit I could be off track.
Sural shabd yoga exceeds advaita and zen and other non dual paths in its reach.
I have not ever truly believed this, so I don't expect to ever find or interpret interior experience to bear it out! Most yoga pundits, non dual realisers and academics will tell you that in Hindu cosmology, advaita is definitely the crest jewel of Hindu metaphysical theology and is generally felt to be “above” any of the yogas. The same applies to Zen, which is a direct “seeing” into That or suchness, though still employing zazen to facilitate this.
That god can be realised in this lifetime and certainly in four lifetimes.
To paraphrase Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy: “Who is this God person anyway!”. This now seems an ambitious project, since there is no clear definition of what God is. Whatever it is, ultimate reality would seem an impenetrable mystery not given to us earth bound mortals to know. I feel a strong pull to the Buddha's silence on metaphysical questions. To pursue meditation as a means of deep connection to interior beingness (whatever that may be!) to nature, to others and to shed psychological baggage and stress seems a more worthwhile meditation project than to try realising ultimate reality that lies beyond all understanding.
Drinking the odd beer or glass of wine is going to heap on karmas to an already overladen burden.
I have pretty much given up alcohol anyway because it doesn't suit my particular mind body set healthwise. But over the years when I have felt annoyed with the no alcohol thing I have not felt that the odd beer is in any way a problem.
In contemplation the soul leaves the body for inner regions of consciousness, existence or being.
I now no longer care what happens ontologically in meditation. If it is felt to provide that connectedness to nature, to other people and to make “myself” less of a problem in terms of reducing neuroses and mental overactivity, then that is just good enough for me! I guess I just can no longer do the seeker thing of expecting or even wanting experience according to the glorious sant mat descriptions of inner regions. For me its all just enough to realise the former than to be fixated on the latter. If it transpires then so be it! If not, then so be it!
So these are just five of the big themes that I have struggled with. I now apply some core Buddhist type principles to the whole metaphysical claims, and prefer to focus on the simplicity of trying to live a benevolent and loving life, with meditation to calm, centre and connect.
On one level the whole RSSB ship provides some structure and a church to enjoy the social side of spiritual seeking. But really one has to face the fact that whatever reality is, it is churchless, dogma free, beyond any metaphysics and for each seeming individual to realise for themselves.
With regards to Brian and all other 'churchless' visitors.