Myself, I’m sort of in the middle. I used to be a true believer and so can’t say that I’m able to view Sant Mat and RSSB from as detached a position as Sam can. So I found his ideas interesting. He left them as a comment to a post, which I’ve copied (and mildly edited) below.
He makes some excellent points. Even in the days when I did little critical questioning of Sant Mat, I wondered why this spiritual-mystical path that came down so hard on the foibles of traditional religions had so many practices that seemed decidedly religious.
A “church” leader and hierarchy. Sunday “sermons.” Chanting of “hymns.” Designated “preachers.” Approved “holy books.” Articles of faith that comprised a “theology.”
If something waddles and has webbed feet, yet quacks “I’m not a duck,” I’m more inclined to trust what my senses tell me than the verbal denial. Sam points out the truth: that RSSB and Sant Mat are firmly rooted in the Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim religious traditions of northern India.
Claims of being a universal spiritual science to a large extent are belied by this firm connection to religious teachings of a particular place and time. This by itself doesn’t make Sant Mat true or false; it just is something to be considered.
Here’s Sam's message:
Hi, I am familiar with sant mat as I have a friend who is a follower of this path. I find it a bit mind boggling but am open to hear all your views, which are very interesting. My friend can’t usually answer all my questions, and usually gets in a rut and starts to get agitated and angry. I can’t see why, but it does throw most of the characteristics one is suppose to adhere to on this path out of the window.
Firstly I would like to know that in this discussion a name has been mentioned: “Faqir Chand.” Is he based in the UK and supposed to be some type of head or authority based near the southern centre Haynes? [A Radha Soami Satsang Beas center in England] If so I know of him too, or is this another based somewhere else?
[Note from Brian: Sam, Faqir Chand died in 1981. He’s been called the “unknowing sage” because even though many considered him a guru, he openly admitted that he didn’t possess divine powers. More info. about him can be found here, here, and here.]
I like to hear critics’ views of this path as it helps in understanding and analysing this path without being biased and deciding whether this spiritual way is a true light to salvation and not some farce, that is dictated with blind followers, unable to rationalize with basic logic, and leaders who may be encompassed by some deceitful gain of power or money.
I have read the posts on peeing, which I find quite absurd, as one should be freely able to attend to one’s call of nature without being labeled or drawn attention to by sevadars [volunteers]. This should be brought to the attention of, with sevadars being most helpful for such that are in need.
I've also read another post in which one cannot take photos of the master, and of the incident in which a photographer was forced to hand over his film! Why are they allowed to take his photo? For security? None of his photos or dialogues are to be recorded? Why?
This is strange when you see many satsang devotees with huge full size images in every room of their houses! Why are these photos allowed? And they are full blown clear professional works of art! Do the masters’ photos have to be certified before they get released?
Then why do devotees have these photos hung everywhere? I thought this spiritual path was devoid of any form of idolizing. Be it a picture, clay statue or in whatever image form is this not an open avenue to idolize, and to start revering? If one says we do not idolize these, the masters’ photos, then what is the purpose of these images?
This brings me to another point in that I see this path orientated towards sikhism, with a bit of hinduism / christianity and islam all in one.
I thought that this path was supposed to be void of religious symbols and outward appearance. In a few books I have read it criticizes other faiths that have outward appearances and makes the note that this is pointless and that god must be found within, and is free from all such forms of religious expressions, that we are all the same and not in the need thereof, and we should pursue internal realisation to rid ourselves of this.
I just cannot then comprehend that why does the master and previous masters adhere to external symbols of the turban, beard, which are expressions of the sikh faith. Ok, we are not asked to follow suit but then I believe a master should be a perfect example of his teachings. Is this not contrary to the teachings? Or is this to lure devotees under a banner of no religion, but really its sikhism of another form? I would like to know why is this necessary at all?
Then there is the slogan “all religions are man made”, as if to say this is not a religion, it is a spiritual path. I see this just as a meddling with words that hold no weight. I hear you can be of any faith and don't have to change to be on this path, but the underlying factor in most beliefs of faiths is that you do have to change, and you have to change some fundamental cores of one's religion to accommodate this spiritual path, which would class one as a heretic and out of bounds of one’s prior beliefs.
So what is religion?
What is the definition of religion?
Isn't religion a set of rules/laws with values that ones adheres to, maybe performing some rituals in order to achieve salvation?
If you have a set of rules/laws, say in the torah/bible/quran, that say you must do this and that, and not do this and that, with respective rituals in each of their temples of worship, is this the definition therefore of a religion?
Then what of the rules/laws that we have to abide by in the sant mat path, with rituals of meditation, doing service etc? If you look at it, it can be clearly classified as a religion or am I missing something?
Well these are a few points. I could go on and on. I don’t hope to offend anyone in the above and hope sincerely I haven’t, but would just like to be able to question and answer my natural reasoning.
Sam welcomes responses to his message. If you feel like it, comment away.