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?