I heard from a friend that Roland DeVries died last Saturday, supposedly at 4:00 am when he got up to meditate. If so, I’m happy for Roland. Nice way to go.
Roland is the reason I’m now churchless. For he got me churched back in 1971 when he initiated me into Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a branch of Sant Mat. If I’d never been a true believer, I wouldn’t have been able to evolve into an I’ll believe when I’ve got proof’er.
Roland is a good example of how respect and affection for a person can (and should) be separate from whether you agree with them on matters philosophical, political, religious, or whatever.
Over the years I gradually drew away from sharing Roland’s fervent commitment to Sant Mat and the guru, Charan Singh, to whom we both were connected. But I always enjoyed spending time with Roland and his charming wife, Barbara.
Roland was a speaker at most of the large RSSB gatherings (a.k.a. “bhandaras”). For many years he served as the Western U.S.A. representative for Radha Soami Satsang Beas. I’m pretty sure that he used to be a Christian preacher. He had a unique speaking style that betrayed his sermonizing origins.
One of his favorite lines was, “Satsangis are just run of the mill people” (satsangis are RSSB initiates). Inwardly I’d applaud when Roland would say this. It was a welcome counterpoint to the “We’re special” attitude that pervaded the talks other people would give at bhandaras.
However, it always was difficult for me to reconcile my run-of-the-millness with another favorite theme of Roland’s: the power and glory of the guru, who in Sant Mat is considered to be virtually co-equal with God, if not God incarnate.
If the guru is God in human form, and the guru has chosen to initiate me into his flock, then doesn’t this mean that I am a special favorite of the ultimate divinity? This is the traditional Sant Mat party line, which Roland would eloquently echo whenever he spoke.
For example, in the November and December 2006 issues of “Spiritual Link,” the RSSB magazine, I read:
We are on this Path because our time has come. We have been recalled. We are on the list and nobody is going to erase our names. And remember, according to the Sant Mat books, those whom the Master is meant to initiate carry an invisible mark on the forehead—a mark that only a Master can see.
The souls for whom a Master comes are allotted by the Supreme Father. And each and every one of them will come to their Master, by one route or another. And the Master has no choice in the matter, because he comes to do God’s will, not his own will.
…Jesus explains in Saint John of the Bible: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life to his sheep.” Jesus points out that the Master is our loving shepherd who will look after us in this life and lead us to salvation in our eternal home of God’s kingdom.
Now we can understand the hidden meaning in the first line of this psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” – the Lord in his human form is our shepherd or Master.
Well, maybe. As a confirmed agnostic, I’m not going to rule out any spiritual or mystical possibility. But intuitively my heart says, “No.”
I don’t feel special any more. I don’t see myself as superior to my wife, who hasn’t become part of a guru’s flock. I don’t see evidence that RSSB initiates are any more spiritual, compassionate, or loving than non-initiates.
In short, I agree with Roland: satsangis are run of the mill people. I have to say, though, that Roland himself didn’t seem run of the mill to me. He was marvelously unique. I’m pleased that he was part of my spiritual life.
Wherever or whatever you are now, Roland, thank you. For being you.
(P.S. If the rumor of Roland's passing was wrong, I hope someone will pass this post on to him. He'd get a kick out of it, for sure.)