I don't go to the Radha Soami Satsang Beas version of church (satsang) anymore. But in a way, I still attend a service. And it's a lot more real and satisfying than the one way "sermons" I used to listen to, and give, back in my true believing days.
Yesterday I got together, as usual, with my Sunday coffeehouse conversing bunch. Most have had, or still have, a connection with RSSB. We're not dogmatic, though, and that makes all the difference.
Most of the time it was just me, Lynette, and Hans huddled at a table, sipping expresso and munching on nachos, making tremendous progress at figuring out the mysteries of the cosmos.
Next week, we'll do it all over again.
That's the beauty of open, unstructured, respectful discussion. You feel good about where you're going, even though you know that the road has no end.
I was able to try out some arguments from a book that I've halfway through reading, which I can tell is going to become one of my all time favorites in the What's It All About? genre. It's "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality" by Andre Comte-Sponville, a French philosopher and professor at the Sorbonne.
It's wonderful. And not only because I agree with almost everything Comte-Sponville says. It's the way he says it that grabs me just as much.
He'd fit right in with our coffeehouse discussing. He's got one of those marvelous minds that cut through intellectual crap and focuses right in on the essence of a subject. In this case, the nature (or non-nature) of God, and how we relate to God's existence (or non-existence).
Later I'll share some specifics from Comte-Sponville's book. For now, I'll relate how immersing myself in some right on philosophical writing affected my talking with Lynette and Hans.
Without being obnoxious, or so I hope, I kept trying to bring us back to solid ground. Reality. Here and now, rather than there and then.
Concepts are mind frothings, like the top layer of a latte. It's enjoyable to sip, but underneath is the heart of the drink. Same with speculating about the nature of the cosmos and human existence. Sticking with what we directly experience makes for much better musings.
Like Comte-Sponville, we'd start talking about God and I'd say, "First, let's ask What is God?" If that word, "God," is just a concept with no substantive reality behind it, discussing divinity is like analyzing unicorn behavior.
It's all make believe – though taken with great seriousness by the world's religions. Leaving the purely conceptual froth aside, what we're left with is communing in a community of fellow believers or seekers.
That's what we were doing at the coffeehouse. And that's what billions of people do in their own religious gatherings: enjoy the presence of other people with whom they share a common bond.
OK, I can't resist sharing some Comte-Sponville quotes along these lines.
What binds believers together, as seen by an outside observer, is not God, whose existence is open to doubt; rather, it is their communion within the same faith. Such, according to Durkheim and most sociologists, is indeed the true content or primary function of religion – it favors social cohesion by reinforcing communion of thought and adhesion to the rules of the group.
…The question of faith should not obfuscate the more decisive question of fidelity. Do I really wish to subject my conscience to a belief (or unbelief) that cannot be verified? Do I really wish to derive my morals from my metaphysics and measure my duties against my faith? That would mean giving up a certainty for an uncertainty, an actually existing humanity for an only possibly existing God. This is why I sometimes like to describe myself as a faithful atheist.
…I had given a lecture, somewhere in the provinces, on the idea of a godless spirituality. Among the people who had come up to chat with me after the lecture was a rather elderly man who introduced himself as a Catholic priest (and I saw there was a small golden cross pinned to his lapel). "I came to thank you," he said. "I enjoyed your lecture very much." Then he added, "I agreed with everything you said."
I thanked him in turn, but could not help adding, "Still, Father, I must admit it surprises me to hear you say you agreed with everything I said. Surely you can't agree when I say I don't believe in either God or the immortality of the soul!"
"Oh," said the elderly priest with a benevolent smile, "those are such secondary matters."
Beautiful. And so true. That's why our coffeehouse conversing was so enjoyable yesterday.
We zeroed in on immediate human reality and left the secondary matters – God, guru, soul, life after death – for the conceptualizers.
Get real. Is there anything else to do?
"Oh," said the elderly priest with a benevolent smile, "those are such secondary matters."
that was excellent!! and people wonder why i laugh at there rules. there definition of God i mean come on. if there is such a being he has no concerns with us. lets say enough to condemn one forever.. so my definition differs. i do believe there is another being one from which we are all a piece of. and our reward after a mere glimpse of The Way is returning to the source. endless life concedes with endless choice.
Posted by: jake | June 30, 2008 at 10:15 PM
"Atheist spirituality"...this very morning I have been reading the Dalai Lama's understanding of religion versus spirituality. To quote his book "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" (p22-23):
*Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another...Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma...Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit-such as love and compassion...which bring happiness to self and others. Whilst ritual and prayer, along with questions of nirvana...are directly connected with religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system.*
Or to sum it up, religion is about belief, spirituality is about actions.
Long live your coffee house spirituality Brian.
Posted by: Helen | July 01, 2008 at 01:39 AM
and to LOOSELY quote another, perhaps more controversial authority given the readership of this blog,
the current RSSB master, in Spain, recently said,
"Sant Mat is not about a brand...the important question is, what is he doing, what action is he taking, to move towards his goal"
when asked by someone if a certain gentleman who had been initiated by a certain other guru could and should be reinitiated by the current RSSB master.
Posted by: Adam | July 01, 2008 at 03:18 AM
You quoted the Dalai Lama,
"Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit-such as love and compassion...which bring happiness to self and others."
---Is it possible that there is a thin line between some Religions and Spirituality? Love and Compassion are wonderful human actions. I think, I can find those actions in play at the Church down the street and two city blocks thereafter.
---Are you aware of any other Spiritual actions that are available and not so well known?
Posted by: Roger | July 01, 2008 at 08:58 AM
*Is it possible that there is a thin line between some Religions and Spirituality?*
or none at all or a vast gulf. I guess it depends on who you are talking about Roger: not being acquainted with your church I cannot comment, but I'm quite happy to accept your own assessment of it.
*Love and Compassion are wonderful human actions. I think, I can find those actions in play at the Church down the street and two city blocks thereafter.*
Good for you. They can also be found in your average drug dealers den, in wife-beaters and peodophiles, and apparently some Nazi concentration camp commandants were wonderful husbands and fathers. When in the 80's Sting wrote the song "Do Russians Love their Children Too" the answer is "yes, of course they do". Even the criminally insane can feel and act in love and compassion. Ergo, ethical action is not exclusive to the religious; the exclusion lies in religious truth claims.
*Are you aware of any other Spiritual actions that are available and not so well known?*
Are you talking in terms of a specific tradition Roger? The book by the Dalai Lama is attempting to define a universal spiritual ethic. I'm not certain that any religious tradition would have matching ethics with another tradition or they would be the same tradition.
If however you are asking about my own personal ethics then I would say that I doubt I could possibly contribute anything new or previously unthought of in certain religious traditions or in secular humanism.
Posted by: Helen | July 02, 2008 at 04:31 AM
I don't belong to any religious tradition. My questions that I posed to you are really no big deal. Hopefully, just some interesting conversation. Nothing more.
However, as far as the word, Spirituality, is concerned. Is there an action that One can absolutely classify as Spiritual? I think, a part of your reply shows that (Love and Compassion) human actions can be catalogued into many different
groups. Spirituality sounds like a really nice word. Again, No Big Deal.
Posted by: Roger | July 02, 2008 at 08:27 AM
I find your "No Big Deal" in all caps to be quite ironic Roger.
Posted by: Adam | July 03, 2008 at 03:21 AM
*My questions that I posed to you are really no big deal. Hopefully, just some interesting conversation. Nothing more.*
I never said they were a big deal Roger, I simply answered as I saw fit. As for being interesting, are you complaining that I'm boring you??? lol.
*Is there an action that One can absolutely classify as Spiritual?*
What do you think Roger?
*I think, a part of your reply shows that (Love and Compassion) human actions can be catalogued into many different
Do you mean groups of people or groups of behaviours? Which part of my reply?
Posted by: Helen | July 03, 2008 at 05:11 AM
I have read your blog and agree with you about the various disciplines in a spiritual belief system . I dont think getting up at 3 am and going to satsangg everyday are compulsary in order to follow the faith of RSSB. These things are supposed to be what the teachings say are good for you. Noones saying that you will go to hell or something if u dont do these. About the excessive stress on the guru, that is something I dont know about. I am a believer too. However, I would rather think that the guru was a medium for me to connect with god. Guru as god, is subtle. It is believed that at teh spiritual level, we are all 'atman' or in spirit we are all part of God. A droplet of the Infiniteness. Guru is somebody who has realized it. At the ground level, spirituality is all about knowing Oneself...its about 'atma-gyan' in hindi which means knowledge of self. By knowing ourselves , that is by knowing who we are truly we understand god. If peopel take the guru is god thing too dogmatically that shoudlnt reflect badly on the system. At a spiritual level, all masters are one....and not only masters, every human being is the same 'atman', so its not a surprise if master charan singh says that all masters are same. He isnt glorifying himself but everyone. However, I would also liek to congratulate you on your rational and clear outlook. You appear to me to still be a true searcher , an expplorer who liek me is also looking for answers. If you can, please email me your response. My email shoudl reach you thhrough this comment. Thanks and please do email, I hope to discuss with you about these matters more. By the way, am a 17 yrs old, student from India.
Posted by: vibhor | July 04, 2008 at 04:04 AM
Thanks for your reply. I appreciate your answers to my many questions. You seem very honest and sincere. Feel free to write additional comments on what 'Spirituality' means.
Posted by: Roger | July 05, 2008 at 07:45 AM
.....rather elderly man who introduced himself as a Catholic priest......
--The elderly Catholic priest, sounds like a wonderful person to invite to a coffeehouse conversation. Letting him discuss his many years of exposure. Listening to his views on a number of topics, such as, "those are such secondary matters." Not to ask so many questions, just to sit back and listen. WOW, what fun that would be.
Posted by: Roger | July 07, 2008 at 10:47 AM
Can someone send me the contact information of Radha Saomi Satsang Beas in Canada.
Its kinda urgent.
Posted by: Sam | July 22, 2008 at 07:37 AM