Today I got an email about the recent visit of an Indian guru, Gurinder Singh, to Petaluma, California. The guru's organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), has built a large center there. It's mainly used for gatherings of devotees during Gurinder Singh's periodic, and often unscheduled, visits.
I found the following tale interesting, not least because I was an active member of RSSB for many years. Since most people who read this post won't be familiar with the group, or with a few Indian words, here's some background.
"Seva" means service, volunteering.
It takes on a special cast when done for the guru, as opposed, say, to helping out at a senior center. Seva is supposed to make you humble. But as you'll read below, there's some question about how well it serves that purpose.
"Sevadars" are people who do seva.
As is the case in most organizations, there's a sevadar hierarchy. Since access to the guru is prized highly (he is viewed as God in human form), the ability to see him close-up and personal sends RSSB initiates into devotional heaven. So "face time" with the guru is the compensation most desired by sevadars.
I used to do a lot of seva, of various kinds. During several organized tours by the guru I was a security sevadar, which is pretty high on the seva pecking order.
Once, in Palm Springs, I stood next to the auditorium stage while Gurinder Singh was giving his talk. That meant I couldn't see him, since I was supposed to watch the audience for attackers, or whatever. But I was close to him! So that was great seva.
That experience made me less humble, in retrospect. By contrast, another time I did child care seva during the guru's talk – missing it completely. Yet I didn't mind, because parents of the children were benefitting.
After all, if "selfless service" isn't making people less self-centered, what's the point of it? Read the following and see if you think RSSB seva is doing the job.
I've left off some personal identifiers, since those who provided this information might prefer to remain anonymous.
Hi Brian, I am not sure if you heard about this but I got it from 2 of my friends in Petaluma.
When the "Core Sevadars", I think that means those who did seva twice a month on a regular basis, showed up to help with the logistics of Baba Ji's [the guru's] visit, they were broken into 4 categories. The yellow badges (the executive class), the green badges (the managerial class), the red badges (the secretarial class), and the no color badges (those who were looked upon as having no class).
At around 11:30 on Tuesday the no class sevadars were told to go to Building 7 to eat lunch, which is what they did. After this guards were posted at all the exits and told not to let anyone out. When management was asked why they were being held they were told that they did not want the sevadars to be given priority seating just because they were there before the general public and because they were supposed to do seva out of love, not so that they could get a better seat. They were told that 15 minutes after the general population began showing up at 2 they would be released. The general population starting showing up at 1 and they were still kept caged up till 2:15.
One guy even broke out and while the guard was frantically calling for help on his walkie talkie others reasoned with him and asked if he wanted to start a fist fight with the guy.
In the end, all the yellow, red, and green badge people sat up front, the white badges sat behind them, and R.S. began to look more and more like the weird cult it has become.
The following day all the sevadars who had been coming every Wednesday (one of my friends had been coming for 10 years every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays) were told by phone that Petaluma would be closed on Wednesday and not to come. One of the Wednesday sevadar group was told this and also assigned the task of calling the other Wednesday sevadars to keep out.
On Wednesday there was an invitation-only party with Baba Ji. It had a list of about 100 people. This included the sevadar elites and their family members and friends. If someone tried to get in their name was compared to the guest list and they were not allowed to come in if their name was not on the list.
I live in ______ now and I can't imagine the people here behaving this way, but then again, once upon a time I could not imagine this happening anywhere.
Hope you are well and that you are continuing to seek the truth (whatever the hell that is) as Maharaj Ji [Gurinder Singh's predecessor] taught us to. Maybe this atrocity against truth will make for a good blog subject.
Well, yes, it did.
What strikes me the most about this story (my wife too, when I read it to her) is the part about keeping people locked up in a building to enforce their humility.
Why not have someone stand up during lunch and say, "Here's something to consider, everyone. We're able to be here early as volunteer sevadars. It might be nice to give other people a chance to enter the meeting hall first, especially since some of them will have travelled quite a ways to hear Baba Ji."
And leave it at that.
This was one of the things I didn't like about RSSB: the artificial efforts to lessen egos, which seemed to be carried out by those who had the biggest egos of all.
Once I was at a meeting where people were advised never to thank speakers who gave talks locally, because this would enlarge the speakers' egos. I disagreed, saying that normal human courtesies are just that, normal.
Keeping volunteers locked up in a building for two and a half hours so they won't rush into an auditorium before others coming to hear a talk, is that normal?