I like it when a religious organization shows some flexibility. So kudos to the group that I belonged to for some thirty-five years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, for significantly expanding its embrace of the World Wide Web.
Today I learned that the RSSB web site has a new look. Previously there was basically just a home page and a catalog of RSSB publications.
Now there's much more, including essays on the Sant Mat philosophy that forms the core of the group's teachings.
For a long time the current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh, asked that disciples refrain from discussing Sant Mat on the Internet. Many initiates have been reluctant to read or comment on this blog, or the Yahoo Radha Soami studies group, for that reason.
Now that RSSB itself is more actively disseminating information over the web, hopefully this reluctance will vanish.
I've browsed through most of the web site's pages. Here's a few observations.
The home page says:
There are no rituals, ceremonies, hierarchies or mandatory contributions, nor are there compulsory gatherings. Members need not give up their cultural identity or religious preference to follow this path.
Well, leaving aside the dubious claim of no rituals or ceremonies, dictionary definitions of "hierarchy" are a series of ordered groupings of people or things within a system and the organization of people at different ranks in an administrative body.
Having been a member of the RSSB hierarchy for several decades, I can say for a fact that it includes: (1) the guru, (2) managers of various RSSB functions, including representatives who administer goings-on in different countries and regions within large countries, and (3) secretaries who organize local meetings (satsangs).
If there isn't a RSSB hierarchy, how could I have been fired as a satsang speaker a few years ago?
The reason that was given was my blogging here on the Church of the Churchless, because it had been making a lot of people uncomfortable. Thus I found this statement on the RSSB "Philosophy" page interesting.
They [members] are free to make their own choices in life and maintain any cultural or religious affiliations they choose. RSSB does not involve itself in the personal lives of its members.
Except when the personal life includes a hobby of blogging about spiritual and philosophical subjects, including some critiques of Sant Mat.
Understand: I don't object to a religious organization choosing who it wants to speak at meetings. I'm just pointing out that several pages on the RSSB web site make the organization sound a lot less hierarchical and controlling than it really is.
Along that line, I found that the web site's introductory pages are considerably more ecumenical than the essays, which are a truer reflection of Sant Mat teachings.
The home page starts off with:
Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) is a philosophical organization based on the spiritual teachings of all religions and dedicated to a process of inner development under the guidance of a spiritual teacher.
Hmmmm. For sure, not all religions agree with the Sant Mat philosophy. Not even close.
I guess the word "spiritual" offers the required wriggle-room, since RSSB would argue that while the outward teaching of every other religion conflicts with Sant Mat, the inner mystical teaching doesn't.
I'd disagree even with that, though. Sant Mat says that the soul returns to God under the guidance of a guru who is divinity made flesh, traversing higher spiritual regions and leaving the material and mental worlds of illusion (maya) behind.
This is far removed from orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Also Buddhism and Taoism. Hinduism and Sikhism come closest to being in accord with Sant Mat, but even here there are significant differences.
So this is my biggest quibble with the revamped RSSB web site, and RSSB in general. Sant Mat has a legitimate claim to religious validity, as do all of the world's religions. (Whether a claim can be backed up – that's the big question.)
However, I don't think Sant Mat should claim that it is the common denominator of every religion and spiritual/mystical path, because it isn't.
Consider this statement in one of the essays:
It is only when we finally meet a saint or master that a soul can rise above this level of duality, of action and reaction, reward and punishment, and discover its true spiritual nature…They [masters] re-connect the soul to the holy Word, and explain the technique of discovering God within the body.
Yet the essay also says:
Sant Mat concerns itself with this common ground which is the spiritual heart, or heritage, of every great religion.
Again, this isn't true. I'm intimately familiar with the Sant Mat teachings. I'm also well acquainted with the tenets of the major world religions.
Most recently my study has focused on Taoism and Buddhism, because I resonate best with these approaches to fathoming the big questions of life.
The core of Sant Mat – initiation by a living guru who connects the disciple's soul with spirit, and thereafter guides the soul through higher realms of reality – isn't found in Taoism or Buddhism. Nor is it found in the Western monotheistic religions.
This doesn't mean that Sant Mat is wrong. Just that the RSSB teachings need to stand on their own, and not attempt to be supported by an illusory connection (or even supposed identity) with other religions.