It’s so easy to firmly embrace black or white, right or wrong, belief or unbelief, progressive or conservative. The human mind seems to be naturally attracted to dualities. In my “Reality is shades of gray” post I quoted Diane Ackerman, who is addressing the question of whether nature or nurture explains our personalities.
Even to ask that question implies a dichotomy nature doesn’t pose. Only we pose it. It’s easier for our brain to handle alternatives, to divide every issue into extremes, which requires less brainwork to fathom and less time to evaluate…life rarely offers clear alternatives. Most of life sprawls on a continuum of possibilities, compromises, extenuating circumstances…most of anything falls between opposite poles, every idea or feeling includes gradations.Consider the reaction to my previous post, “Another RSSB initiate sees the light.” I liked what Howard had to say. He commented on both negative and positive sides of his chosen “religion” (Radha Soami Satsang Beas). He’s still involved with RSSB, whereas I’m not, but we look upon this organization similarly: grayly.
Over on the Radha Soami Studies discussion group, black and white was much more in evidence. Browsing the group’s messages, as I do most days, my eye lit upon the appealing title of the first reaction to my post: “Brian Hines hits one out of the park—must read!”
However, the very next commenter to that home run message said that the post made him ill. He urged that Gurinder Singh, the current leader of RSSB, should pull the plug on his guruship and, indeed, the entire organization. I haven’t read all of the other comments but they seem to be in the same vein: strikeout.
One person even said, “nausea was rising as I began to read the post. Skimming it a little further I had to quit.” Gosh, Howard and I seem to be health risks. Maybe I need to put an upfront warning on this blog: “Caution: reading these posts may cause illness or nausea.”
Nah. I’m not going to do that. I’d rather say: “Suggestion: read these posts with an open mind.” In my experience, it’s reading with a rigid preconceived point of view that causes mental indigestion. You barf on stuff that doesn’t mesh neatly with what’s already in your cranium.
Gray!!?? Waiter, I thought you only served black or white here. Take this back to the kitchen and bring me something that’s either “this” or “that.” My stomach is churning just looking at this mish-mash.
About seventeen years ago my first wife and I got divorced. It was difficult for us. Most divorces are. For quite a while all I could focus on was the bad feelings we had toward each other at the end of our eighteen year marriage.
Those who get divorced from a church or spiritual group after a longstanding marriage understandably tend to have the same reaction: there’s nothing good about that S.O.B. But eventually, especially after I got married again, I could look back on my first marriage with a clearer perspective.
We loved each other for many years. We had a daughter together. We supported each other through good times and bad times. Each of us struggled to keep the marriage together. We couldn’t, though. So we split up. Now each of us has found another partner and is happier than when we were married to each other.
In short (and in cliché), we moved on.
When you can’t see anything positive about an ex-spouse or an ex-church, you haven’t moved on. You’re not seeing that person or that organization clearly. Your negative feelings toward any positive mention of them/it—“illness,” “nausea”—are a symptom of excessive attachment to an entity that you claim to have detached from.
Yet you haven’t. You’re still mentally joined at the hip with your ex if you can’t read something partially positive about them without being emotionally jerked around. After being churched, there’s no necessity to be totally anti-church. You can pick and choose what you still like and dislike about the faith that you no longer have total faith in.
Lastly, I continue to be surprised by how nastily negative many disillusioned RSSB initiates are toward the group’s guru, Gurinder Singh. Howard seems to view him more positively than I do, yet I still have no trouble finding quite a few good things to say about Gurinder.
Maybe this is the difference between me and the guru-bashers: I don’t expect as much from him. Some RSSB devotees view the guru as God in human form, a perfect being. I never did, not really, though I tried to for a while. I certainly don’t see Gurinder as perfection personified now.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a driving instructor has a traffic accident. Or if a dance teacher trips and breaks a leg. Stuff happens. Nobody is perfect, even those with special expertise. I can accept that a guru doesn’t act spiritual all of the time. Gurinder Singh is a human, not a god.
Now, if the ads for a driving instructor said, “He’s the absolute best in the world! Never makes a mistake!” and he turned out to be at fault for rear-ending another car, I’d think, “Well, guess he isn’t perfect after all.” I’d still feel comfortable learning from him. I just wouldn’t ascribe qualities to him that evidently he doesn’t have.
So the strange thing is, those who criticize a guru (or other religious leader) for not living up to some standard of perfection often still expect him to act almost perfectly. For example, many in the Radha Soami Studies discussion group want Gurinder Singh to eat humble pie and admit openly that he isn’t the divine being that many disciples make him out to be.
Well, it never hurts to ask. Myself, I’d like George Bush to admit that he misled us about the supposed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam’s ties to Al Qaeda. But I’m not going to hold my breath while I wait for him to do that. Bush is an imperfect president (to put it mildly).
And the way I see it, every guru, imam, pope, rabbi, priest, or whatever is similarly imperfect. To expect them to do the absolute right thing is to ascribe to them qualities that only a divine being would possess. It’s one thing to claim that the emperor has no clothes, yet quite another to demand a kingly proclamation: “I’m naked.”
I’m increasingly content with gray. Works for me. Yet if you are attracted to black or white, be my guest. I’m simply suggesting that you’re missing out on some interesting shades of reality.
Next day update: this morning I read the chapter on "Hatred" in Matthieu Ricard's Happiness, a Buddhist perspective on life. Here are some quotes that fit with the theme of this post:
Hatred exaggerates the faults of its object and ignores its good qualities...Our perception of being wronged or threatened leads us to focus exclusively on the negative aspects of a person or group. We fail to see people and events in the context of a much vaster web of interrelated causes and conditions.
...What can we do when we hate our brother, our colleague, or our ex-husband? They obsess us. We brood over their faces, their habits, and their quirks until they make us sick; our obsession relentlessly converts mundane aversion into persecution. I knew a man who turned red with anger at the slightest mention of the wife who had left him twenty years earlier.
Dear Brian, I understand what you are saying about 'shades of grey', but you were obviously lucky enough always to hold on to something of your own identity when deeply involved with RSSB. People who have actually suffered a complete loss of inner confidence, due to trying to come up to the impossible demands of Sant Mat, are not going to look on Gurinder kindly, once they have realised their mistake. I have held a seva position which meant that people confided in me, and this was a revelation. A great deal of suffering has, and is being caused by these teachings, and by the 'Leader', Gurinder.
Many satsangis are warm and wonderful people, and it is in them that I found the love, not in the path of Sant Mat.There is the 'grey' area, if you like.
Posted by: Veronica | November 27, 2006 at 01:21 AM
Veronica, I hear you. The suffering you talk about is real, for sure. And hard to forgive. Yet don't you think that it would be best it that could happen: forgiveness?
Last night I watched a "60 Minutes" segment about using a drug (whose name I forget) to treat PTSD--post traumatic stress syndrome. What the drug does, I recall, is block adrenaline, which generally "fuses" the memory with the emotional stress.
After treatment, the PTSD sufferer retains his or her memory of the event, but is able to look upon it much more dispassionately. Some bioethicists say this is terrible, that humans shouldn't have their memories tampered with.
However, a researcher made the cogent point that, following this logic, morphine wouldn't be given to someone with severe pain because they shouldn't be deprived of the valuable human experience of suffering.
A woman with PTSD was asked, "Are you happy that you were given the drug?" She said, "Oh, yes. I feel like I've been given my life back now."
So I believe that it is better to, as I said, "move on" if we can, rather than holding on to past griveances--whether against a person, organization, or set of teachings.
Like you, I have many fond memories of the people I met through RSSB. I still see them frequently. I also enjoyed most of the meetings I attended. And the basic teachings (not the ritualized, cultish teachings) still make sense to me.
Meditation: good. Seeking the source of consciousness: good. Learning from those wiser than ourself: good. Embracing a sense of community, sister- and brotherhood: good.
There's a lot to like about RSSB, as with any religion or spiritual group.
I'm about to add an update to this post--some quotes I read this morning in a Buddhist oriented book about happiness. See if those thoughts from Matthieu Ricard ring true to you.
Posted by: Brian | November 27, 2006 at 10:44 AM
Excellent post, thanks. I think some would rather have clear ideations of black and white by which to define their i-dentities. In fact, without definition, there is no i-dentity. And we all know how much we like our i-dentities. And there is nothing more vicious than an ego scorned, so don’t expect much agreement for such a ‘grey’ piece. The audience is limited (amongst those who have had a strong past relationship with RS), they’ll usually either hate or love RS…..no in between……there is too much at stake for the definition of self. I, for one, greatly appreciate your presence on the web and your writings and their honest and generally non-judgmental tone. I am also sure (and have heard from RS sources) that your genuinely open-minded thoughts are having an influence…a good one I think….
Having read several of the more recent postings here (and on another related group), I am moved to write a response especially in regards to some of the discussions regarding ‘advaitism’.
This is a complex and vast subject which could be discussed ad infinitum from a wide array of perhaps equally valid (yet maybe contradictory?) perspectives. So, though I am the anonymous bum on the internet, I would like to discuss this subject from a first hand perspective. On a subject like this, we should of course be hyper-aware of people’s motivations and honesty and intellect when they discuss this matter. The amount of nonsense that is discussed in this area of thought is immense and prolific. I can only state that I have absolutely no motivation/desire to lie, exaggerate, distort etc etc anything especially in relation to mysticism. The bond or oath that I took as a youngster to never be dishonest AT LEAST in relation to all things ‘spiritual’ has remained, if not got even stronger, to this day. I prepare the ground only because I now go on to discuss from the first person perspective that so-called neo-fad of advaitic realisation. And I don’t mean talking concepts or mental thoughts on enlightenment, but practical reality of that state of being.
I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding about ‘advaitic realisation’. People should start with what they know, and proceed from there using honesty and sincerity as a guide.
I’ll clarify some things. Firstly, there can be an ‘event’ that appears to occur in a human individuals life which relates in some way to what is labelled ‘enlightenment’, Nirvana, sahaj samadhi etc etc. Until you have attained or achieved your own personal ‘enlightenment’, you have ABSOLUTELY no idea what it entails or how it is subjectively experienced. Any idea or concept that is had about it, is wrong. There is no amount of intelligence, or logical rationalising, or intuition or feeling that will reveal to the mind what it IS.
Those who make claims of moral relativism and such like about so-called neo-advaitists are merely imposing their own human moralistic, evolutionary, cultural etc values upon something that would be by definition BEYOND such limitations. God is a monster, he is constantly sinning throughout the creation. Only man deems what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. This inability of people who are interested in mysticism to accept that both right and wrong are solely creations of the indivualistic mind is in itself a major limitation to realisation. Ultimately, you must cease to identify with such limitations, or you simply remain bound. Many aspects of tantra (of which the RS practices and theology derive) were designed specifically to address this bondage of limited ‘spirituality’
Now, I must profess I have absolutely no relationship to any neo-advaitic guru or group. Before my own ‘realisation’ I had only ever read a little Nisarga, Ramana and some Buddhist literature. I can definitively state that despite having what many considered a keen intellect and discrimination of the subject, I did not even BEGIN to understand what I was reading. Sure, I intellectually understood it, but I didn’t actually understand it. Criticisms are easy, when you’re criticising a mental conception within a mental conception of your own mind. And so I criticised these advaitic ‘I am God’ men as an RS follower, with their amoral quick-route to God before I actually directly understood their experience.
Now I don’t know hardly anything about the recent crop of neo-advaitic gurus. But I’ve got no reason to believe that genuine ‘enlightenment’ is rare….after all, it happened to me. So I like to believe some if not most are genuine and the real deal. Sometimes I find it hard to understand what their motivation in teaching, publishing books etc actually is, as one fruit of ‘enlightenment’ is the constant sense of ultimate perfection and lack of need to ‘do’ anything. After all, everyone REALLY IS already enlightened :o) I tend to assume some are outright deceivers, some have gained some kind of partial of temporal or almost realisation of the non-dual ‘state’ and are ‘deceived’ by the ego-identity to teach, and others are ‘genuine’ and are simply playing their life-lila with their disciples. To clarify how counter-intuitive and deeply complex this is, I am certain that Osho was fully enlightened (even in handcuffs he was smiling), yet am deeply sceptical of many who maintain genuinely ‘saintly’ activities.
Anyway, to an observer, it is almost impossible to identify an enlightened person. For enlightenment is not a personality or character trait (though there may well be several *resultant* traits which are common amongst those who have had the genuine body-mind rewiring of ‘enlightenment’. They need not, imo, be ‘necessary’ though.). Some intuitive people may however sense there is something fundamentally different about an enlightened person, but that is another matter. The point is, there is no morality or behaviour that all enlightened persons adhere to, as these are human concepts which are totally besides the point of actual realisation of these states.
The highest mystical experience is that of no-self. It is in a totally different league to astral, causal, energetic, ecstatic and emotion and meaning laden mystical experiences. And they DO all exist, undoubtedly. All of these types of experiences can be initiators & reinforcers for all kind of dualistic morality, ways of life, personality changes etc. But, they are not related to what is historically considered the highest realisation of no-self or advaitic Self. And this realisation cannot be ascertained by outward observation of an enlightened person. It is a radical adjustment of the human’s psyche which relates to the ‘absolute’ reality and may not impact on outward behaviour at all. The problem people have with this, is because they are so identified with the limitations of the ‘ego’, they cannot even BEGIN to conceive of another state of human being where existence is not intimately identified with the behaviour of the body-mind. So to see a ‘sin’ being committed by another human being, we automatically go on to project all the motivations of a ‘doer’ or self upon them, not understanding even the possibility of action or movement without a self directing matters. Well, I know for a fact many cannot accept this, but that is precisely what advaitic realisation is. A state of concscious being/experience with no self or doer even though it APPEARS to an outsider ‘there must be a doer’.
There is no reason for me to lie or deceive people. I can assure you that there IS a state of being where reality seems to flow through you and become you, as opposed to something that my ‘self’ should observe, conduct, order and control. And this state is permanent; there is no other way it could be. To those who claim realisation and then a slipping back to identification with a ‘self’ I would suggest have confused an intellectual realisation with the actual thing which I cannot conceive of being anything other than permanent or beyond time even.
In my opinion, I don’t believe there is any path or prescribed meditation or what not to ‘achieve’ this state. I believe it is utterly spontaneous and beyond logic. The only important thing is a burning desire for ultimate truth and truth alone (God, the Absolute etc), and a sincerity which transcends the desires of the ego. For such a person, all roads lead to home.
Also, I don’t believe there is any conceptual, personal, theological or cosmological value to realisation such as liberation from reincarnation. But for those destined to achieve it, they will still make immense efforts to do so, because it is in their nature to do so.
So what is the personal ‘experience’ of advaitic Nirvana like?
All descriptions are a mockery. And that’s the truth, though I really wish I could do better. Everything written above is totally unrelated to that reality.
Posted by: Diamond Vision | November 28, 2006 at 01:02 PM
DV - Wherefore the urge to relate this? With a realization that all is one and there is no separation, where does the impetus come from? Does it have a conceptual term?
I surmise it is from distraction; the same thing that makes me get up to refill my coffee cup in the middle of a difficult spreadsheet or summary, as if clear mindedness is grossly analogous to the kung fu of applied mathematics.
But that begs the question, is there a greater focus? Or simply more discipline?
Posted by: Edward | November 28, 2006 at 04:05 PM
Once again your writing poses questions my mind has not enunciated (but is grappling with in the back somewhere).
For me, I am not anti-church but churchless, which are two different states of being.
To use your example, I no longer have animosity towards my ex, since we have both lived apart and have created entirely new lives (in his case, he has chosen to be completely severed not only from me but from his own child).
I do not hate my ex, but the idea of another marriage to him (again) would cause me to emotionally regurgitate all of the reasons that we needed to separate. Similarly, when faced with the idea of re-connecting with the RC Church in worship also makes me regurgitate all of the reasons I needed to walk a more solitary path on my own.
I am a recovering alcoholic with over 25 years of continuous sobriety. The smell of vodka occasionally startles me, usually phantom vodka, occasionally in social settings, actual grey goose in a glass. Either way, if the smell does not register as stomach turning, icy cold fear then I invariably recall the many times that my love affair with the bottle caused me humilitation, pain, and worse. The vodka may be cheap or it may be sublime -- it may be in the hands of a teetotaller or a hard drinker, it doesn't matter. I smell it and I recoil as if from a hot flame.
The dogmas I object to, the silly zealotry that enflames me, they are like the vodka. They are dogmas that I embraced perhaps too closely, and my recoil is not in the stuff itself but in my own past intemperence.
In other words, my involvement with church is unhealthy, and not neccessarily the church itself. Some people can drink responsibly, some can worship in a chirch responsibly. I can do neither, and for me to pretend otherwise is foolish and dangerous.
Thanks again for a wonderful question.
Posted by: benandante | November 29, 2006 at 12:43 PM