The current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh, is notoriously adverse to having his talks recorded or transcribed. Plus, he rarely writes anything for public consumption. So the only way of learning about his pronouncements, aside from seeing him in person, is second hand.
In the September 2007 newsletter, Vince Savarese offers up an interesting snippet:
We turn now to the words of the Masters on how to become an ideal satsangi [RSSB initiate]. Baba Ji [Gurinder Singh] last month in Fayetteville told the sangat [congregation] that ceaseless prayer, a Christian practice, is the same as our simran practice. We are to keep the remembrance of the Lord always with us.
This caught my eye because I'm a big fan of both "The Cloud of Unknowing," the classic medieval guide to Christian mysticism by an unknown author (likely an English country parson), and "Open Mind, Open Heart" by Thomas Keating, a modern take on The Cloud of Unknowing's meditative practice.
Which actually is quite different from that of RSSB and Sant Mat. So Gurinder Singh's equation of the two isn't accurate, in my considered judgment.
Naturally I'm intimately familiar with the RSSB "simran," or repetition of five holy names given to the disciple at the time of initiation. These serve as a mantra that is supposed to be repeated not only during the time of mediation, but also throughout one's waking hours when the mind isn't otherwise occupied.
Christian "ceaseless prayer" encourages the use of a short word, preferably one syllable. The Cloud of Unknowing recommends "God." It doesn't matter much what word is used, whereas RSSB simran is supposed to be solely of the five holy names – which supposedly are the names of rulers of higher realms of reality beyond the physical.
This points to a significant difference between Christian and Sant Mat meditation, one that makes me tilt toward the Christian approach to mysticism. The Cloud of Unknowing, as befits its title, preaches the value of honestly saying "I don't know."
But now you will ask me, "How am I to think of God himself, and what is he?" and I cannot answer you except to say "I do not know!" For with this question you have brought me into the same darkness, the same cloud of unknowing where I want you to be!
For though we through the grace of God can know fully about all other matters, and think about them – yes, even the very works of God himself – yet of God himself can no man think.
Contrast this with the Sant Mat notion that the guru, a person like you and me, is to be viewed as God in human form. In the RSSB meditation practice, visualization of the guru's physical form is to be done along with the mantra meditation, or simran.
This would be anathema to Christian mystics, who warn of the danger of thinking about anything other than the one syllable word, since God won't be found in anything other than an open consciousness that has no expectations concerning the nature of divinity. The Cloud of Unknowing says:
Should he (the thought) ask, "What is this God?" answer that it is the God who made you and redeemed you, and who has, through his grace, called you to his love. "And," tell him, "you do not even know the first thing about him."
And then go on to say, "Get down," and proceed to trample on him out of love for God; yes, even when such thoughts seem to be holy, and calculated to help you find God. Quite possibly he will bring to your mind many lovely and wonderful thoughts of his kindness, and remind you of God's sweetness and love, his grace and mercy.
If you will but listen to him, he asks no more. He will go on chattering increasingly, and bring you steadily down to think of Christ's Passion…Before you know where you are you are disintegrated beyond belief! And the reason? Simply that you freely consented to listen to that thought, and responded to it, accepted it, and gave it its head.
RSSB initiates, on the other hand, are supposed to imagine that the guru is with them always, like an invisible friend that no one else can see but they can talk to (usually mentally, but some speak aloud to the guru as if he was actually physically present).
I've done this on occasion, but it always seemed more than a little strange. I much prefer the approach of Christian mysticism, which eliminates the middleman between the meditator and the mystery of God. This Cloud of Unknowing passage is wonderfully Zen like.
Therefore strain every nerve in every possible way to know and experience yourself as you really are. It will not be long, I suspect, before you have a real knowledge and experience of God as he is.
Even when I was strictly following the RSSB meditation practice, I looked upon it much more as a scientific consciousness experiment rather than an exercise in religious devotion – as most initiates do, and as the above-quoted newsletter enjoins.
The way I see it, astrophysicists studying how gravity affects light from far-off galaxies don't look through their telescopes and think of Einstein while they're conducting their observations. Yes, Einstein is the "guru" of gravity, but he was an individual person and gravity is a universal power.
Einstein pointed others toward understanding the nature of gravity. However, gravity exists independent of Einstein. Similarly, Christian mysticism recognizes that whatever comprises the root of ultimate reality – call this "God," or call it anything else – isn't going to be known by looking through a consciousness that contains familiar objects, mental or physical.
The lens of a telescope has to be clean and clear before it reveals light from across the universe. Likewise, Christian mystics seek to still their minds and strip away obscuring thoughts, perceptions, and imaginings.
Sant Mat and RSSB meditation, on the other hand, places before the mind words that conjure up impressions of higher spiritual realms, along with a memory of the guru's physical form.
That's a lot of clutter. I prefer the sweep-it-clean approach of the Cloud of Unknowing.
Let go this "everywhere" and this "everything" in exchange for this "nowhere" and this "nothing." Never mind if you cannot fathom this nothing, for I love it surely so much the better. It is so worthwhile in itself that no thinking about it will do it justice.
…In this exercise every speculation of the natural mind is to be utterly and completely rejected and forgotten. Then there will be no fear of fantasy or falsehood to foul the naked feeling of your blind being, or to draw you away from the real value of this exercise.
For if you think about anything in particular except your own bare, blind existence – and this, remember, is God's purpose and your own – then you are on the wrong track; you are back again at your speculating and guessing; and this distracts and separates you not only from God but from yourself as well.