I thought I'd try to glean some broader meaning out of "My strange RSSB initiation story," since that tale I told a few days ago was so personal.
Maybe that isn't possible. Perhaps my thirty-eight year journey from devout true believer to skeptical churchless agnostic is so idiosyncratic, it doesn't hold any lessons for someone else.
Well, let's see.
I'll take a stab at resurrecting a few reasons (so far as I'm aware of them) that led me to join a religious group. I'll also try to briefly share how those reasons morphed as my involvement with Radha Soami Satsang Beas waxed and waned.
(1) Lure of the Way Out There. In the '60s we said "Far out!" a lot. Also, "That's trippy." Along with countless others, I enjoyed exploring some of the farther limits of altered consciousness states.
Psychedelics were one way to get there. An Eastern form of meditation where you were told you could travel to the astral plane and way beyond, seeing inner lights and hearing inner sounds along the way -- that seemed a natural other way.
I read Julian Johnson's "Path of the Masters" as a mystical travel guide, which it was intended to be. I looked forward to learning what lay beyond the tiny corner of the physical universe I knew about now.
When a whole bunch of spiritual practice didn't lead to any discernible soul uplift, despite following instructions nearly to the letter, I began to think, "Hey, what's going on here?" (Answer: not much)
Was I a thrill seeker looking for meditation fireworks? Yes. Was I disappointed when the inner sky of consciousness turned out to be almost entirely dark and silent? Yes.
Are current true believers going to read this and think, "HIs shallow ego-centered expectations did not deserve to be fulfilled by the guru (or God)"? Yes. Is that in itself a shallow ego-centered thought? Yes.
(2) Looking for a place to call home. A philosophical place. A believing place. By the not-so-ripe age of 22 I'd already run through a lot of notions about the meaning (or lack thereof) of life.
I'd gone from mild Catholicism to Bob Dylan'ish whatever to Flower Power mind-expansion to Sartre existentialism to sort-of-Zen something-or-other to Yoga self-realization.
And I still was questioning, "What the hell is life all about?"
Damn! I was about to graduate from college. With a major in psychology and a minor in humanities. I should have the answers by now!
So I leaped into the embrace of a teaching led by a guru who assured his disciples, "Don't worry. Be happy. Just do what I say and it'll all become clear before too long."
Now, admittedly before too long came with a small print footnote that read "could be three more lifetimes, if you're a dim-witted recalcitrant karma-heavy spiritual fuckhead." But naturally I didn't think I was, nor did any other of my fellow bright-eyed RSSB newbies.
As years, and then decades, passed, I grew more comfortable with not-knowing. I didn't have such a strong urge to know all the answers. I could say to myself, "I'm clueless." And sometimes even speak those words out loud (at least to our dog).
In "Evidence of my steadily declining divinity" I wrote:
When we had to drag everything out of the crawl space above our garage, I found a 1970 photo that hadn't seen the light of day for quite a while.
I was struck by how I appeared so wise at 21, and, let's admit it, Christ like (leaving aside the minor detail that no one knows how Jesus looked).
Now, at 58, I don't know nothing about God and all that. I'm on a downward trajectory that has culminated in my Wu Project. But I'm confident there's further to fall.
How right I was. I'm 60 now. I know even less than I did two years ago.
The good news is that being spiritually homeless feels more and more homelike to me. When you don't confine yourself within dogmatic walls, your habitation is always close at hand.
(3) Wanting a friend in Jesus. Or some other personalized divinity. I'd had enough with wandering alone through the stark landscape of Zen Buddhism and existentialism. I wanted a companion who'd accompany me to Ultimate Truth.
When I studied with my Yoga teacher, who blended Christianity with Eastern mysticism, I went to a Christian supply store and bought a picture of Jesus. Who, as noted above, looked a lot like me at the time (which I liked).
I'd talk to the picture before I meditated on my mantra. Sure, now I know I was talking to myself, but it didn't feel that way back then. I enjoyed having a friend who watched over me.
Then I learned about Sant Mat and the perfect living saint, Param Sant Satguru Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh Ji.
(Indians give a whole lot of appellations to revered gurus; it took me a long time before I could simply say "Charan Singh" without feeling like a lightning bolt was going to strike me).
Now I had a Jesus figure to follow with an important benefit: Charan Singh was alive.
You could listen to tapes of his talks. You could read books he'd written. You could watch videos of him. You could write a letter to him and get a reply. You could visit him in India, or wait for him to tour your country.
But otherwise Charan Singh was Jesus in a turban.
I didn't realize this for many years, until I was struck by how many once-devout Christians had joined the RSSB fold. They barely needed to change their belief system, Christianity and Sant Mat were so compatible.
At least, the way Charan Singh presented the RSSB teachings in relation to the Bible. He interpreted St. John and other gospels in a fashion that made Jesus into a guru, just like him, who had been sent by God to retrieve marked souls and take them back to heaven.
Cool! I was a marked soul! I had a friend in
Jesus Charan Singh!
It was marvelous, to feel so cared for, so looked after, so guided through life and death, so assured of a wonderful hereafter.
I still wish that all this were true. However, now truth has come to be more important to me than fiction. One of the appellations above is "satguru." Sat means truth.
In 1971 I became a satsangi, a disciple of a satguru, who went to satsang meetings. There's a whole lot of "sat" in the RSSB teachings. I liked that.
I'm still deeply attracted to "sat," to truth. So much so, I can't bring myself to believe what doesn't seem true to me, no matter how attractive those beliefs look.