I’m not at all musical. But I’ve got a pretty good ear for theological inconsistencies. These are statements that, when I hear them, sound like an obvious off-key note. Like a loud whaaaap! in the midst of an otherwise harmonious composition.
During my many unquestioning devotional years, I was able to sit through Radha Soami Satsang Beas “sermons” (a.k.a. satsangs) and pretty much tune out the disharmonies. I could do the same thing when my daughter briefly, blessedly, tried to learn to play the violin in elementary school.
When you’re attached to someone or something, you tend to overlook sour notes. I mean, you hear them, but your attention is focused on what you adore, not on what the object of adoration is doing.
However, if my daughter still was screeching ghastly sounds in my ear after several decades of practice, that’d get old. Glaring disharmonies can be tolerated only so long. This happened with me as I’d listen, week after week, month after month, year after year, to whaaaap!’s in satsang that I could no longer ignore.
For example, I’d be grooving along to a talk about how God, the One, transcends all distinctions, all comparisons, all attempts to shoehorn the infinite into any sort of box. Then I’d hear the speaker say, “Thus we need to devote all of our efforts to merging with the guru and obey his every command.”
Whaaaap! Wait, how did the subject change so completely? We were talking about the mystery of ultimate reality. Now God has been reduced to a human form. What gives?
I could understand that the guru, or any spiritual teacher, points in the direction of divinity. Sometimes you need a guide to show you the way to God. But the guide isn’t identical with that way. Not unless the guide is as infinite, all-encompassing, omnipotent, and so on as God is considered to be. Which the evidently bodily form of the guru clearly wasn’t.
So gradually I began to pay more attention to what grated on me in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas theology. I learned to trust my intuition about what made sense, and what was a product of confused overly-devotional thinking.
It wasn’t paradox that bothered me. I love to read Zen literature. It’s filled with paradox: “Buddha-nature pervades everywhere; Buddha-nature is a crock of shit.”
I find Zen to be so consistently inconsistent, it rings harmoniously true to me. But when a theology is unaware of its own disharmonies, believing that its discordant notes actually fit in with the rest of its religious composition, that’s a problem. Many fundamentalist Christians preach universal love, yet hate gays, feminists, unbelievers, liberals, and anyone associated with the United Nations. And as this open-minded Reverend points out, "thou shalt not kill" is ignored in favor of senseless war.
That’s a problem.
I still subscribe to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas magazine, “Spiritual Link.” I do so partly to keep my ear for disharmony in good working order. Here are a few examples from the September 2006 issue.
On p. 6 I read:
Our Master has not asked us to achieve, perform, donate, travel or follow him. He has asked us to do his work by doing nothing. Well, not nothing. There is one action we must do; we must repeat those five words [a mantra].
On p. 9 of the same article I read:
Yes, it is such a privilege to be in a Sant Sat Guru’s presence. Our limited minds and tarnished souls do not comprehend the significance, the blessing.
Did the author, or the magazine’s editors, stop to consider whether the contradictory message being conveyed here makes any sense? I doubt it. I suspect that words were repeated out of habit, not out of an understanding of what mysticism truly consists of.
Another example from p. 32:
Kal, the negative power, relies upon the mind and senses to pull us out into the physical world and involve us there. This is his job. By constantly keeping us busy with processing information by our mind and senses, Kal makes sure we are not turning inward towards the Master and following the path homeward through the spiritual regions.
Yet on p. 34 of the same article I read:
We can open our sails by looking beyond the evidence of the mind and senses and pay attention to the presence of the Master, during meditation and also throughout the day. He is always present. We have to remember him during our daily activities, with the aid of simran [repeating the mantra].Um, dear anonymous author, what do you think is repeating the mantra? The mind. What do you think is imagining that the Master is present when the senses aren’t aware of him, because he’s not there? The mind.
May I suggest that imagination isn’t reality. It’s better to sense what is actually before us than try to create a illusory shadow world of our own making. If the Master is there with you, you’ll know it. Remember: reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
Dear author, have you ever actually thought about the meaning of the Buddhist quotation you cited next—which struck me as a whaaaap! in relation to the rest of your article.
As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.
Now, that strikes me as harmoniously true. The question is: does imagination bring you closer in touch with where you are, or further away?
A quick answer:
In keeping the ego in perspective, I allow that the spiritual knowledge of my placement in the world will rely on the machinations of my brain, (spirit/matter isometry). I think that my ego has something to offer, because it will put up my hands if I pitch face forward.
So my brain cooperates with the world and with the tyranical ego by imaging the world around me. Famously, peoples' memories of events, (traffic accidents, robberies, etc.) are often faulty, and that margin of error is where imagination lives artfully, (read Dame Frances Yates for the Renaissance era judgement on memory v imagination.)
Without imagining, I am not who I am, but I see the point that falling victim to the trick could lead to mass hysteria, thank you very much Leni Riefenstahl. This entree of perceptual trickery would only work though, if I were semi-consciously deriving my identity from my surroundings and social milieu.
So the answer may be "both, perhaps not to the point of dissolution."
Harmony in music is mathematical, like proportion. It is a language of creation. We participate in the eternal immediacy of creation by hearing harmony and distinguishing it from disharmony. But of course once you see the picture, you can't un-see the picture.
Pete Townsend keeps telling me "We won't get fooled again," and I keep wondering, "Who?"
Posted by: Edward | September 10, 2006 at 05:39 PM
Are the 5 words (Mantra) used in Spiritual Mediation, another example of a Spiritual Ritual? I'm guessing, the 5 words are the same throughout the different Satsang groups. Is this true? Are they to remain confidentual? Unfortunately, due to the Internet, through some internet searches, the 5 words are now availble for all to see. Maybe, this is not that unfortunate? Again, in the final analysis, are the 5 words (mantra) a Spiritual Ritual? If my questions regarding rituals and symbols are incorrect, feel free to let me know.
Posted by: Roger | September 11, 2006 at 08:12 AM
Roger, I'd say that whenever a mental or physical practice is to be slavishly followed, that's a ritual. So sure, repetition of the five words is a ritual.
There isn't any inherent reason that this mantra is better than any other. You could say "open sesame" or "abracadabra" and get the same effect, I'm quite sure.
Like all rituals, the value lies in belief. Belief doesn't get one very far; reality does. So my experience is that satsangis get stuck in meditation because they never go beyond the boundaries of belief.
The five words are a good example of the sort of spiritual disharmony I was talking about. One of the central tenets of Sant Mat is that there is spoken and unspoken truth. The highest truth supposedly can't be expressed in words.
Yet you have this belief that the five words are the actual names of rulers of high spiritual regions. Huh? Initiates imbue the words with magical powers, yet they are nothing but concepts of a human language.
Posted by: Brian | September 11, 2006 at 11:27 AM
...Often I feel I learn more from your discussions here then that I can add something to it...Still, lets think out loud; 'Without imagining, I am not who I am, but I see the point that falling victim to the trick could lead to mass hysteria, thank you very much Leni Riefenstahl. This entree of perceptual trickery would only work though, if I were semi-consciously deriving my identity from my surroundings and social milieu.', Edward sayd. I agree.
So, imagination - and I speak also from my proffesion as an artist , which means working with imagination and recognizing it where ever it plays a part in our lifes (hopfully)- is something trickery, dangerous; it might pull us in blind believe easy and keep one from 'reality'. To me - again as an artist but I apply this knowledge to my spiritual endevours - the imagination needs to be understood. That means; knowing how it works, how the 'image' came to existance is more important then its 'being there'. Does it work for you as one of the tools to keep your mind open, or does it close youre mind? In other words, what do these 5 words bring into being and then how did 'they' do that? When treated like this only the form is ritual as many things are, or beter, the routine has meaning; its ritual aspect, well, its seen through and therefor is harmless. It cant prison you then. I am then in a position to imagine reality; in this case going through the trickery, understand it and free myself from it. 'As you walk and make art and meditate and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life.'
Posted by: spooky | September 29, 2006 at 04:20 PM