The tables have been turned. David Lane (a.k.a. the Neural Surfer) has documented how Paul Twitchell , the founder of Eckankar, massively plagiarized from books published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (notably Julian Johnson’s “Path of the Masters”).
But I've discovered that at least one Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) author is guilty of his own plagiarizing. A few days ago I was reading along in a book that I’d gotten myself for Christmas, “Meister Eckhart: Mystic as Theologian” by Robert K.C. Forman.
On page 102 I came to a quotation from W.T. Stace. It seemed awfully familiar.
Suppose that, after having got rid of all sensations, one should go on to exclude from consciousness all sensuous images, and then all abstract thoughts, reasoning processes, volitions, and other particular mental contents, what would there then be left of consciousness?
There would be no mental content whatever but rather a complete emptiness, vacuum, void. One would suppose a priori that consciousness would then entirely lapse and one would fall asleep or become unconscious.
But the introvertive mystics—thousands of them all over the world—unanimously assert that they have attained to this complete vacuum of particular mental contents, but that what then happens is quite different from a lapse into unconsciousness.
On the contrary, what emerges is a state of pure consciousness—“pure” in the sense that it is not the consciousness of any empirical content. It has no content except itself.
It was familiar because I’d quoted almost the exact same passage in my first book, “God’s Whisper, Creation’s Thunder.” I’d found it in J.R. Puri’s “Guru Nanak: His Mystic Teachings,” published by RSSB (page 59).
Having eliminated all sensations, the mystic next excludes from consciousness all sensuous images, and then all abstract thoughts, reasoning, processes, volitions, and particular mental contents. One may ask, what then would be left of consciousness?
In the absence of any mental content whatsoever, there would be a complete emptiness, a void, a vacuum. One would suppose a priori that consciousness would then entirely lapse and one would fall asleep or become unconscious.
But the introvertive mystics unanimously assert—and there are thousands of them all over the world—that they have attained to a complete vacuum of particular mental contents, and what then emerges is a state of pure consciousness.
It is pure in the sense that it is not the consciousness of any empirical content. It has no content except itself.
So, who is the plagiarizer? Obviously, J.R. Puri. W.T. Stace’s “Mysticism and Philosophy” was published in 1960. “Guru Nanak” was published in 1982. Shame on you, Mr. Puri!
Yet you couldn't even plagiarize competently, adding an extra comma between "reasoning" and "processes" that confused me every time I read the passage.
I can’t stand plagiarism. I’ve written three books and have gone to considerable lengths to give credit where credit is due, quotation wise. I’m not the most organized author. Sometimes I’d include a quote in a draft, then fail to footnote it on the spot because I figured I’d never forget the source.
But I would. Then I’d have to spend a lot of time searching through my library, looking for the quoted passage. My commitment to crediting quotes is so deep, I almost always mention the author’s name in association with a quotation, rather than simply including a numbered footnote.
What was Puri thinking? I try to imagine him working on his book. He’s a long-time disciple of a RSSB guru who emphasized “honest living.” Yet he copies almost verbatim from Stace’s book, giving Stace absolutely no credit for ideas that Puri implied were his own.
When I used to give talks on behalf of RSSB I’d occasionally cite the passage from Puri’s book. I liked it a lot. I still do, but now I know that whoever else Puri was, he was a plagiarist. Apparently he lacked sufficient mystical understanding of his own and needed to borrow from Stace.
I found much of W.T. Stace’s book online, courtesy of Dave Woodward. The material plagiarized by Puri is in the “Introvertive Mysticism” section (Puri also shamelessly copied that title, along with some other prefatory language).
Now I can’t help but wonder how much unattributed copying is present in other RSSB books. I’ve written one myself (“Life is Fair”) and can say that my book is clean. However, who knows about the many other titles published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas?
For a long time I thought that these books had more credibility than most other mystical literature. Increasingly I’m thinking differently, especially after coming across this plagiarism. Again, I find it difficult to understand how someone with so many years of meditation and spiritual devotion under his belt could so easily steal another writer’s words.
Yet at the same time I also find it easy to understand.
Organized religions like Radha Soami Satsang Beas emphasize outward rather than inward spirituality, notwithstanding the lip service paid to direct mystical experience. Most RSSB initiates simply go through the motions, like the vast majority of other religious believers.
Such as J.R. Puri. I don’t know if he is still alive. If he is, I’d like to learn how he explains his plagiarism. Which is, whatever the reason, inexcusable.
Astoundingly, the book jacket of “Guru Nanak” says about Puri:
The author has also lucidly brought forth the close relationship that exists between the mystic experience and ethics as well as religion, drawing on his rich background in Western philosophy. The mystic experience has been shown to be the cause as also the effect of ethical living.
It seems that plagiarism also is the effect of mystical experience. Or at least the ability to write about mysticism. Also astounding is the fact that Puri spent a lot of time in academia, which puts much emphasis on crediting your sources.
Prof. J.R. Puri was head of the Department of Philosophy, Punjabi University, Patiaia from 1969 to 1976. Earlier, he was head of the post-graduate Department of Philosophy, Mahendra College, Patiaia for more than a decade. After his retirement as a teacher of philosophy for more than thirty-five years, his present interest centers mainly on the study and practice of mysticism.
Well, when that was written I think Puri needed a lot more practice. Not at plagiarizing—he was already expert at that. But at the ethics that supposedly accompanies mystic experience.
[12/30 update: Here's a scan of the pages in question. Several commenters to this post have claimed that the mention of Stace on page 58 somehow absolves the plagiarism on page 59. That's ridiculous.
Puri mentions both Walter Stace and Rudolf Otto on page 58. And he gives no indication on page 59 that the third paragraph is cribbed directly from Stace's book. Puri simply changed a few words. Yet he gives no credit to Stace. As I noted in a comment of my own, according to the Indiana University Campus Writing Program, this is a textbook case of plagiarism.
Am I making too much of this? Maybe. But what I find as interesting as the plagiarism is the reaction of some Puri defenders. In my opinion, they aren't looking at the facts clearly. Which is precisely my objection to the True Believer mind: it sees things that aren't there, and it is blind to things that are there.]