I used to enjoy reading the "Western USA Regional Newsletter," published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), because I wanted to have my spiritual beliefs confirmed. I still enjoy reading Vince Savarese's monthly message in the newsletter.
For the same reason.
Whereas before I focused on how much sense the RSSB teachings (also known as Sant Mat) made, leaving blurry all of the paradoxes, contradictions, and unanswered questions, now I zero in on the absurdities.
They've always been there, of course. I just did a good job of ignoring them for some thirty years. In this regard I was like a previously fundamentalist Muslim, Anwar Shaikh, whose story is related in Bruce Grierson's "U-Turn."
He was reading the Koran one day when a revelation hit.
I came to the conclusion, all of a sudden, that it was Muhammad himself who was telling the people how to bow before him in the name of Allah, as though it were a command from Allah. By now, I felt that this veil of ignorance had been lifted from my mind.
I was no longer willing to study the Koran through faith. I started reading it critically and rationally. And as I went through it, I realized the Koran did not appeal to me anymore the way it used to do, the way it had for the last twenty-five years…The moment I started reading the Koran critically, it looked entirely [like] another book to me.
Now, I can hear the true believers saying to themselves, "Ah, how unfortunate. Both this Muslim guy and this Church of the Churchless blogger have fallen prey to the doubting intellect, failing to trust their soul's intuition."
Speaking for the blogger, I beg to differ. I'm still all for the Aha! awareness that accompanies intuitive insight. In fact, that's what produces the skepticism that now washes over me when I read Sant Mat literature.
Before, I selectively chose which passages to embrace. That was a decidedly intellectual exercise. I'd sort the mystical wheat from the nonsensical chaff, figuring that if parts of the RSSB world view were appealing that was reason enough to remain an uncritical devotee.
I can't do that anymore. I read Sant Mat literature more holistically now. I'm looking for a Big Picture. If there are significant blank spots in the spiritual scenery, I can't ignore them.
Mystery always will be with us. I'm fine with not-knowing. But when someone claims to have knowledge of what lies beyond the physical, and asserts truths that can be put into English words, then that language can be judged with both intuition and intellection.
I open up the May 2007 newsletter and begin reading. Savarese says that "perfection seems unattainable, beyond the capacity of most of us."
Yet there are perfect beings, Perfect Masters.
I wish this was true. I really do. But there's no evidence of them. Their perfection is supposed to exist on another plane of reality, unknown to us mere mortals. Here on earth, that perfection isn't obvious.
Occasionally I hear from disciples of the Perfect Masters who have had intimate contact with them. The stories that are related to me confidentially throw cold water on the "there are perfect beings" hypothesis. My own experience, likewise.
I read on. I'm told that there is a mystic sound (shabd) that is the creator and creative power that sustains the entire creation. And so perfection exists within it."
Well, the two statements don't necessarily mesh. Since the creation seems imperfect (for example, George Bush is President and Paris Hilton is famous), why wouldn't the creator of all this be imperfect?
Leaving that aside, Savarese also says that "this sound or shabd which we hear or will hear is within ourselves." This makes a lot more sense. If there is a power that sustains everything in existence, and I'm an existent thing, that power must be part of me (or is me).
However, I turn the page and find Julian Johnson quoted. Johnson says that you can't get in touch with the omnipresent divine power of shabd without being initiated by a perfect human being, the satguru. He speaks of the guru, of shabd, and of spiritual freedom (jivan mukti).
There is not only a definite rule that one must have them all or none, but there is a very definite order in which they must come, and this fixed order cannot be changed. Their sequence is fixed by an immutable law of nature; it admits of no variation. It lies not in the power of any man to modify this law and this sequence.
The Satguru must come first. The Shabd-dhun comes second, and then comes jivan mukti. This is the order established by nature or God. No man can alter it.
But wait. How do we know that what Johnson says is true? Is it evident in the laws of nature? No, because if it was, scientists would have discovered this fact by now. Has it been revealed directly by God? No, because if it had been, there would be both evidence of God and of this supposedly "immutable law."
It turns out that, just as Anwar Shaikh intuited, a man is the source of the revelation that says "this man speaks the truth about God." This is no different from Christians believing that the Bible is the word of God because it says in the Bible, "this is the word of God."
Or from me writing "This Church of the Churchless blog invariably contains wise, brilliant, marvelously written, irrefutable observations about the nature of spirituality, religion, and philosophical thought." If you don't believe me, just read that last sentence again.
In "God is not Great," Christopher Hitchens (who I usually find irritating, but I'm enjoying his book) says:
Thus the mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made…And yet—the believers still claim to know! Not just to know, but to know everything.
Not just to know that god exists, and that he created and supervised the whole enterprise, but also to know what "he" demands of us—from our diet to our observances to our sexual morality.
…The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species.
When I read RSSB literature now, I'm aware of how humancentric and egocentric most of the Sant Mat teachings are. Their truth is to be taken on faith, since absolute devotion to a man, the satguru of our time, is considered to be a prerequisite for learning the mysteries of the cosmos.
How or why this is the case—not explained. Even when I was a RSSB true believer, I never understood why initiation by a "perfect master" was necessary for me to contact the all-pervading conscious energy of spirit or shabd.
If it's all-pervading, the essence of everything (including me), why do I need to be connected to it? This is a big unanswered question in the Sant Mat literature, one which I relegated to the back of my mind for many years.
It's good to look freshly at unexamined assumptions. If something doesn't make sense, there's several possibilities. Maybe it isn't understood well enough. Or, it isn't true.
With Sant Mat, for a long time I favored the former explanation. Now, I'm strongly leaning toward the latter.