I just got the September issue of the Western USA Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) newsletter. It made me sort of sad to see that soon I won't be getting it any more.
(Starting in 2008 it'll only be available at the RSSB equivalent of "church," satsangs, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since the inspiration and information in the newsletter can be conveyed directly at satsang, while many "churchless" RSSB initiates stay in touch with organizational goings-on only through the newsletter).
I like to read it, even though I'm no longer a RSSB true believer, because I enjoy the sensations of ah yes! and oh no! that course through my mind as I come across sentiments that either still resonate with me, or now turn me off.
In the "turn me off" category, I question whether this definition of an ideal satsangi by RSSB representative Vince Savarese really captures the essence of what spirituality is all about for satsangis (RSSB initiates).
Get up at 3:00 AM; that is, rise and shine and sit somewhere other than your bed, fully awake and alert with a straight spine, unmoving for two to three hours or more every day, including Sundays and holidays.
While sitting do not fall asleep, do not lie down, do not think of anything but the Lord and your Master and his instruction.
Next eat only enough to satisfy hunger, not to satiety. While working, whatever you do to earn your livelihood or maintain your home and family obligations, remember God and your Master throughout the entire day as your main preoccupation.
And it goes on from there, the basic message being to "spend the bulk of your life cultivating spiritual desires and meditation practice and spend some time fulfilling your worldly obligations and needs."
Now, this advice leaves a lot to comment on. For now I'll limit myself to a general question. Is spirituality really about following rigid rules such as these?
What if, God forbid, you were to meditate with an unstraight spine? Or eat until you felt your stomach would burst? Or threw yourself into an educational, professional, or child-raising pursuit that consumed most of your time every day?
Would you be a bad satsangi? Would God be displeased if you had to work twelve hours a day to make ends meet and needed to spend your remaining free hours with your family rather than meditating?
Rules. Some people need them, some don't. I've got nothing against rules. I follow many pretty rigidly myself (such as "Thou shalt browse the World Wide Web and write a blog post daily").
But rules also are made to be broken (when I'm on vacation, sometimes I don't blog). And when it comes to spiritual rules, they have to be left behind at some point – in my unhumble opinion.
I'm speaking about the mystical side of spirituality here, not the religious side. Mystics seek wide open spaces, boundless horizons, oceans without shores. For ultimate reality is viewed as Oneness. Unity isn't divided into pieces by nice neat fences, which religions love to put up.
For many years, more than thirty, I stayed within the confines of the RSSB rules. When I bumped up against a thou shalt or thou shalt not barrier I followed it, making sure that I never, or rarely, strayed from the straight and narrow path enjoined by the organization's (and guru's) dictates.
However, the goal of all this fence-respecting supposedly was freedom. Breaking out of habitual ways of perceiving, thinking, acting, believing. RSSB's Enlightenment Stockyard was billed as a holding pen that prepared you for finding the gate that led to endless green pastures where the soul roamed freely.
Not in my experience, which is the one and only experience I can rely on when it comes to the inner side of my life.
Eventually I came to recognize what probably should have been obvious much earlier: you can't leave a fence behind if you're still holding onto it.
In the passage above RSSB initiates are told to think of "the Lord and your Master and his instruction" during meditation. Well, if you keep on thinking of these things. when are you ever going to reach a realm beyond thought, beyond instructions, beyond distinctions of this person and that person?
In every deep mystic practice that I'm aware of, there's this notion that what you're looking for is right here, right now. It isn't at the end of a long white fence plastered with rules. It isn't reached by following confining chutes constructed by religious leaders.
That nameless, featureless, mysterious Whatever is realized by dissolving all the barriers that keep you from recognizing what you really are and the universe truly is.
That's the theory, at least. And I can point to countless instances of it in the world's great mystical traditions: Christian, Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Neoplatonic.
None of them say that rule-fences are to be stayed within forever. If they serve any purpose at all, they're to lead you to look over them and say, "Wow, there's so much more beyond."
Then, to hop over and not look back.