Most Christians would be surprised to learn that right now, in 2008, millions of people believe that a man in India not only teaches the same spirituality as Jesus, but is the same godly being.
Yes, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a branch of Sant Mat, holds that the path of the saints (a translation of "Sant Mat") is identical with the teachings of Jesus. One of the RSSB books, "Light on Saint John," says:
Since most of you have a Christian background, I shall try to explain the teachings of all the Saints in the light of the Bible, for their teachings exactly coincide with those contained in the Bible, if rightly understood.
…If you go deep into the roots of Christ's teachings, you will find that his teachings are the same as the teachings of all other Saints, and in that light I will discuss Saint John with you.
Pretty amazing. And to my currently churchless soul, extremely difficult to accept.
For even during the thirty years or so I was a largely uncritical RSSB devotee, this purported equivalence between the message of the Gospels and Sant Mat was hard to swallow.
As I noted in a recent post, RSSB uses the New Testament in contradictory ways to cozy up to Jesus. On the one hand, the Bible is decried (correctly) as an entirely human document whose language has been fiddled with for centuries, not a one-time divine revelation.
Yet certain Biblical verses are also cited unquestioningly to support the contention that Jesus' message is the same as the teachings promulgated by RSSB gurus such as Charan Singh (who wrote "Light on Saint John").
A few days ago I got an email message from someone who said:
I've been reading your blog about RSSB, the organization, and have been enjoying it a great deal. Could you tell me which books by the RS masters claim that Jesus was a "sant mat 'guru'?" I know that you say this is an RSSB contention but I'm wondering if any of the masters, in their writings or tapes, have said as much. From what I remember of the master's books, tapes, this claim is not directly made.
Well, actually it is. I dug out some RSSB books from storage boxes in our attic and browsed through them yesterday. It was interesting to re-read passages that now strike me differently.
What's most interesting is that Master Charan Singh is speaking as much about himself, as he is about Jesus, when he interprets the Bible in the light of Sant Mat teachings.
The teachings of different Saints cannot themselves be different. Because the Lord is one, the way to realize Him must also be one, for He is within every one of us. We have to search for Him within ourselves, under the guidance of one who has himself realized Him within, as Christ did in his lifetime …Masters may take birth in any nation, race, or religion, but they all preach the same Truth.
So since Jesus is a Master or Saint, and Charan Singh is a Master or Saint, and all Masters or Saints have trod the same path to God-realization, whatever Charan Singh says about Jesus applies to himself.
This helps explain why so many RSSB initiates come from a Christian background. In the person of the guru they believe they've found the 21st century Jesus (the current RSSB master is Gurinder Singh Dhillon, who succeeded Charan Singh after he died in 1990).
I used to find these Sant Mat dogmas appealing, because I liked the idea that I was "chosen" and "saved." But now they strike me as overtly religious. I can't accept Christianity in an Indian guise. (All quotes from "Light on Saint John." My comments on a quote follow in italics.)
John the Baptist's answer points out a fundamentally important law of the Creator: that each Master has been allotted a certain number of "sheep" to initiate and take home to the Father, and that only the Father determines which souls are for which Mystic.
Well, maybe. But this notion of predestination is ethically challenging. Repugnant, even. Some people are born to be saved and returned to God; others aren't. And that's it. The Creator decides who merits salvation and who doesn't.
There are two types of people in this world: those who are devoted to a perfect Master, and hence devotees of the Lord, and those who are devoted to the mind and senses. The devotees of the Lord always remain devoted to their Master and become free from sin by doing the spiritual practice as directed by him. The others are dominated by the mind and senses and have worldly values, which cause them to do worldly things, and this in turn causes an accumulation of sins and karmas – the chains that bind us to the material world – thus preventing us from going home to our Father in heaven.
There's a lot to comment on here. The duality. The "us" vs. "them" mentality. The equation of devotion to the guru with devotion to God. The warning that only the spiritual practice enjoined by the guru is sin-free. My wife, who isn't a RSSB initiate, used to do a great Saturday Night Live "church lady" imitation when she heard these sorts of sentiments expressed. "I'm doomed," she'd say, "doomed!" Somehow, I doubt it.
There is no difference between me and my Father. You are spiritually blind and deaf, you cannot see and hear Him in the Spirit. Therefore, out of His mercy and grace He has come down to your level in the physical form to instruct you and put you on the path leading back to Him. It is He that you see in the physical form and it is He who is teaching you. I do nothing. It is the Father who is doing everything.
In Sant Mat and RSSB, the guru is God. This is similar to Christian Trinitarianism, but a bit more extreme. My understanding is that Christians consider Jesus to be one in nature with God the Father, but not the same as God. Here Charan Singh seems to be saying that Jesus (and by implication, himself) is God in human form.
People believe that they are worshipping God, but they do not really know what they are worshipping. In fact, they are being deceived by the negative power, who will further ensnare and entangle them in this world again and again. The negative power tricks them into thinking that they are worshipping the Father and thus prevents them from contacting a living Master, so that they may not know and worship the one true God.
I keep hearing from RSSB devotees, "this is not a religion." But the quote above is pure fundamentalism. There is one way to God, devotion to a living Master or guru. If you're not on that path, you've been deceived by the negative power, the Devil. Again, my wife would disagree. Of course, from the RSSB perspective that's just the negative power speaking.
Until we contact a living Master who has realized God, we can never realize the Father.
Clear and simple. Only problem is, how can anyone know that someone has realized God? This is the big question. And I've never gotten a good answer to it.