Recently I received some emails from a fellow initiate of Charan Singh, a Sant Mat guru who belonged to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas branch of this movement. I enjoyed what this person had to say and got permission to edit the messages into a postable form.
Like my correspondent, I too resonate with the Buddhist outlook. And I similarly try to retain from the Sant Mat teachings what works and makes sense. The rest is eminently discardable.
Here are some thoughts about balancing faith and doubt. I found them interesting. Hope you do too.
“I realized at the tender age of twenty-one that I was unlikely to be able to walk the razor's edge and if I did start traveling inside, then I might as well look for the highest guide—one fully enlightened. Frankly, I wanted protection from the unknown world. Instead of going from one guru to another, let's go to the top, get cleansed at initiation by the highest.
Charan Singh fulfilled a list of criteria; Julian Johnson's book [“The Path of the Masters”] was persuasive; the Gita said Bhakti [devotion] is the easiest and quickest route.
Now that I am much older...I have been reading up a little regarding the history of Sant Mat and Surat Shabd Yoga, and realize that a lot is based on faith that the guru is a Param Sant, God, and if Jaimal Singh was excommunicated because he was not a fully realized master, then the other masters following him weren't either.
Charan claimed not to be and he leaned heavily on the fact that Sawan Singh [his guru] was—he could always be dependent on his master's power—maybe it wasn't there. Remember, Soamiji [another Sant Mat guru] also had to fit into his criteria. He even left out the hookah smoking section of Sar Bachan [a book written by Soamiji].
Intriguingly I have learned also that Surat Shabd practice is pre-vedic; hundreds of Sant Mat groups exist; thirty Radhasoami groups exist with Soamiji as their originator; the five simran names [mantra] and related sounds are used in Kundalini yoga and are sometimes given in different order.
So, as you've mentioned we are more careful about buying a second-hand car than deciding on a guru. I think that the “When a disciple is ready, the guru appears” attitude is to blame. I have just seen a friend who said that when she saw Charan, she knew that she was in the presence of God.
Well, if I inherited big properties and hosted many people free of charge and they put me on a dais all dressed up and Indian with thousands below all sending me love and boosted me with the idea that I am God, I might also appear to be God. If a Westerner was to do this in the West he/she would end up in jail.
I could never read books like “On Wings of Love,” the written outpouring I find nauseatingly self indulgent that, yes, belongs to the twenty-somethings. I also find satsang [Sant Mat talks] to be limiting and don't go. Even though the present master would say that is arrogance, I am not fooled or afraid.
Sant Mat books lean heavily on the “Love the guru.” while the Guru says, “Get over me.” Also, each guru is inconsistent on the little things—like cut flowers, photos etc.—they all seem to have their own brand of Sant Mat. In Buddhism, as you no doubt know, there are also many approaches.
Before initiation I trained under several Buddhist masters and searched various other Eastern paths. My preference has always been the Buddhist approach which approves of doubt, and where simply being harmless (very difficult to achieve) and in the present, is considered an enlightened state.
Regarding the difference between Buddhism and Sant Mat meditation: In Buddhist group sitting meditation, instead of calling up names and a form eyes are half open and lowered. Meditators are in touch with the world, but not its effect. Meditators have to work on themselves to develop their own enlightenment.
Since Buddhism has many different meditations, I isolated two and a half hours of meditation, the necessity of a perfect guru and a vegetarian diet. Also it was necessary not to have to become a nun. So Sant Mat seemed the discipline to fit the bill.
I had also done Insight or Vipassana meditation along with Loving Kindness meditation and read in the Bhagavad Gita that the quickest and easiest route to merging with the higher consciousness was through Bhakti Yoga or Devotional Yoga.
I then proceeded to put a great deal of time and effort into meditation in the hopes of scientifically proving that what the guru said was true. By the time I woke up and really looked at Sant Mat (about 14 years later), I had invested a great deal into meditating on Charan Singh's form and was literally joined at the hip—I still can't shake loose.
Ask a Buddhist how many levels exist on the inner spiritual plane. They will say more than a hundred. Other paths will answer differently. Sant Mat says five or seven. What type of ultimate position can be reached for consciousness? We don't know, and do we really buy the route that Sant Mat uses? Are the five words effective and really what they say they are? This is just the start of the questions.
I am happy to be doubtful.
From what I see, simply put: Simran [repetition of a mantra] prevents repetitive negative worldly thinking—blocks it out for peace and clarity. Listening to the inner sound connects to what may be the source, or what is our actual nature. Darshan [visualization of the guru’s form] should focus on refinement and thereby develop it along with creating a protective memory—this is based on faith and we like it because it feels good.
Vipassana observes and lets go of arising thought until peace and clarity arise. Being present prevents extraneous unnecessary thinking. Loving Kindness means freeing oneself from attraction and repulsion and creating a position in which one can be helpful. Practicing Harmlessness creates discernment.
A common thread in the Buddhist and Sant Mat approach is that the mind should not be reasoning, deducing, thinking so much and should be left to rest while simran and bare attention are practiced. From the still mind; clarity, wisdom, etc. arise automatically without prodding: "leave it alone, don't mess with it." Obviously we have to think at times, many times—but not unnecessarily.
In Sant Mat, the guru says he's not going to leave us. Now, this is true because try meditating two or more hours a day for 10 years on anyone's face, and practicing diligently what they tell you to do (including not discussing with the curious and the opposition the pros and cons of the approach they've mapped out for you). Believe me, that person you’ve been meditating on won't leave you so easily.
Yes, one does become more realistic, less fanciful, realizing that it's not in the fireworks, but in the small simple daily efforts. If the guru does ride up on his super-white charger after we die, maybe we won't be so happy to go where he says we should go and if we are, maybe it's not so far.
So a little research, a little letting go for the heretics.
As you've mentioned, once one admits that a classical satsangi-by-the-book is not me, there are a lot of changes that occur. We keep bursting the bubble.
It's good to be disillusioned.”