Most disciples of a guru believe that if they could have more intimate face-time with him, their faith would be strengthened. Plus, their spiritual progress would soar.
But belief isn't reality.
Here's the story of Phil, a Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) initiate who got to hang out with Gurinder Singh, current RSSB guru, when Phil lived in the Caribbean.
Phil said it'd be fine to share his thoughts via a blog post. I've mildly edited a couple of his email messages, fixing some typos and adding a few explanations in bracketed italics.
It's interesting reading, providing a rare behind-the-scenes perspective on time spent with a guru who is considered by the faithful to be GIHF, God in Human Form.
You can either download the PDF file, or click on the continuation to this post.
Download Phil message 2
Messages from Phil, February 2009
I do not have a problem with sharing my experiences with you, you may use any of the material on your blog, My experiences are genuine and honest, albeit only my personal experiences, recounted within the limitations of my memory.
I was initiated in 1989 in Florida. I never met Charan Singh [RSSB guru at that time], but of course heard his satsang tapes and read the books. It all made sense to me, and given that the principles are presented as scientific, able to be verified through experiment, there was most definitely an appeal.
It was with great enthusiasm that I set about meditation, devoting 3 hours of early mornings every day for several years. I was willing to take on any seva [volunteer work] I was offered, and never expected or asked for seva. I became secretary for Puerto Rico, and devoted more and more time to traveling with the Caribbean representative.
As I 'progressed' in the physical organization, (but remained at the bottom of the spiritual ladder) I became more and more aware of the details of the organization. I very much recall the day that I discovered that all the travel of the Rep was paid for out of central funds, whereas I paid for all my many trips made at request of the Rep.
(I was asked to give regular satsangs on many of the islands in Caribbean, so traveling from Jamaica, St Martin, Grenada, St Lucia, Aruba, even Surinam was part of my normal seva as 'international speaker', and trips away from home would last up to 2 weeks).
I remember asking the representative on one of the trips when staying in a hotel in Surinam, why I was personally paying for all expenses, and he was not. His reply was quick: he could not afford all his travel so seva funds paid for it. (Of note, I had my own business, and my expenses represented a significant hardship to my family).
One day, the representative informed me that it was time for my wife to be initiated. He made her application for her, and although she went along with it, she was initiated because I was married to her, not because she requested initiation. This also sowed a seed of concern, but remember, I was still very indoctrinated with RSSB.
I met with Gurinder [Singh, current RSSB guru] first time in St Martin during his visit. The satsang ghar [meeting hall] had not even been talked about, and I was a sevadar [volunteer]. At the end of one of the satsangs many satsangis had collected in the hallway to get a glimpse of him. I was upstairs with his group when he commented so all could hear that he did not want to pass by the rabble, but slip quietly out the back to his waiting car.
While my memory may not serve me absolutely correctly, and it may not have been “rabble” that he used, it was not loving and certainly surprised me!
I think it was about 2005 that I made my first and only trip to Dera [RSSB headquarters in India]. I was able to meet with Gurinder a couple of times, but the one event that really surprised me was the treatment of a swarm of bees that had settled in a tree near the computer block (I was doing some seva in the computer building).
Under instructions from Gurinder, these bees were sprayed with DDT (still used in India) and the swarm was killed. I could not relate this to the story of the saint who even took a straying ant back to its tree! Certainly there seemed no need to kill the swarm, which could have been safely moved elsewhere. A minor incident, but major in my mind.
I asked several people about this, and was given the standard reply: masters move in mysterious ways which we may not be able to understand. Convenient.
Back in the Caribbean, I put aside my concerns and settled back into the task in hand, continue with the experiment. I really want to know if there is a realm of consciousness, without or apart from the physical realm. (I am still researching this, but not under the guidance of Sant Mat. This may be a topic of another e-mail; I suspect you might be interested in the work of our very small group of scientists and engineers, mostly atheists.)
My seva duties continued and I was asked to oversee work on Curacao Satsangar, and then later with St Martin satsang ghar construction. I met with Gurinder on several occasions, and spent many hours with him.
Any semblance to the image created by the story of Charan Singh traveling in the train with his disciples was very very difficult to discern. The use of expensive fast cars, private planes and the most luxurious of homes for his entire stay was the norm.
I flew with him and Rep in private plane (belonging to a satsangi on Florida) and stayed as part of his group (this time at sangat’s expense) in exclusive hotels in St Martin. (a sort of whirlwind trip of private planes and expensive hotels) and although I ate breakfast and dinner with him I do not recall even one moment of spiritual insight.
I do remember jokes at the expense of women, talk of relieving back pain, construction discussions, stories of humorous nature, and generally quite light talks, with the perfume of awe still present in my senses (illusions I suspect).
Close to the point where I started to move away from the cult, I was asked to visit a number of satsangis to get them to do seva. The satsang ghar was built in St Martin, but sevadars were needed to maintain, run it, stay on premises for security on 24 hour basis, etc. I was asked to 'recruit' sevadars, there were not enough. Visiting people who were clearly not wanting to do seva, but, due to their belief and love of Master, they made sacrifices to their family and businesses because they felt they could not say no. I was truly very uncomfortable with this visit task. It was my last seva.
I am now living back in England, and not one of the satsangis with whom I spent so much time had made any communication with me. I suspect I have been excommunicated, possibly because when the representative came to see me shortly after I moved back to England, he came to stay with me and my wife, spending a week here, eating our food, staying self-invited in our home.
At the end of a week, not knowing how long he intended to stay, I asked if he would be willing to contribute, at least a little, to the fuel costs of driving him around, and ideally towards the food expenses. He left the next day.
It is said that one cannot judge a religion by the actions of its members, and I accept this is probably true. Members may include the group’s appointed representatives, so I can exclude the actions of the Caribbean representative also.
But, in my experience, and after 16 years of devoted effort, I have no result from the experiment that indicates the foundations of RSSB are true or false, and my respect for Gurinder has diminished, not increased as I would also have expected.
The above is a hasty jumble of words in an attempt to outline many years of RSSB indoctrination, is inevitably incomplete, and badly written, so if you have any questions, would like me to expand on any topic, just let me know.
[I took Phil up on his offer and asked him how he felt now, after leaving the Radha Soami Satsang Beas fold.]
How I feel now, well that is a tough one to answer in any meaningful way. There are so many factors that contribute to the way I feel from day to day, moment to moment.
Uppermost, I feel a little sad in that I had hoped that the search for the path was over, and I could just get on with traveling the path. More than anything else, I want to really know if consciousness existed before creation or as the result of creation. If before, then the case for God is proven, if the result of, then consciousness would be little more than an highly evolved state of matter.
So, firstly, I feel as if I am a little bit back at square one. I want to believe in the teachings found in Sant Mat. I would love to find that the Master was perfect, although even if I did find such a master, I suspect I would still remain somewhat unconvinced that the only way to know God is through another human being.
I do not view my time being part of the Sant Mat group as a waste of time, or regret expending so much time, effort and resources. I have learnt that my mind is easily pulled towards and convinced of things I want to believe. My mind was convinced that RSSB was THE path, but this was in part because it had all the hall marks of what I was seeking.
I think we all see the world at least partly coloured by desires; to what extent is difficult to determine. I feel all the more committed to searching for whatever Ultimate Truth there may be.
It is as difficult for me to comprehend consciousness just ending when we die as the concept of God. An all-powerful omnipresent, omnipotent being is not easy to conceive, but neither is non-existence, for death would be the ultimate nothing, or void. Its not easy to imagine pure nothing, time not existing, except for one brief flash of consciousness for some 70 to 80 years preceded and followed by infinite timelessness.
Do I still meditate? No, not really. Well, not in the same way. I do not sit and repeat the five names [a mantra]. But I find that there is an inner space, reached by some calming of the mind, when thoughts slow and drift into nothingness.
I don’t know what is this state, but am happy not knowing. Not knowing seems to be almost a pleasure. I used to give satsang, often. I would talk about things I had not experienced, but only dreamt of experiencing. It felt hypocritical. I am happy not knowing, because I suspect that I really do not know anything.
Everything is built on faith, taking the reductionist view, what truth can I say I really know? Mathematics is founded on axioms, self evident truths, but consider Godel's incompleteness theorem, there will always be something that cannot be proven.
Sant Mat brought me close to thinking I knew something about God, and now, in hindsight, I think I have come to terms with the ridiculousness of wanting to know about something that perhaps cannot be known.
If on a train to some destination, does it matter if we know in advance about that destination? We will arrive, but what of the other travelers, some worried, some happy, some sad? What we can do is be a good traveler, a good companion. Its in our power. But to know the destination, that’s possibly not in our power.
Looking back on my experience, and seeing how easy it is to become swayed by a way of thinking, by a philosophy, by a science, or by a group of others, I am perhaps more understanding of others, more tolerant, and more accepting. These are positive outcomes of my RSSB time. No, I do not feel negative, perhaps a little stronger, less susceptible.
I do not see any value in exposing a falsity, for to expose something false is to inadvertently claim something else is not false, or else we are left with the statement that everything is false, its all illusion.
Unless we can point to something and say, this is truth, this is Truth, Ultimate truth, then we are in no position to expose false paths. I may be missing some point here, but for me, your blog has had huge value by inspiring me to think, not to accept anything, but to question, and to find that one starting point, where I can say, this, this is something I know to be True.