A few days ago I posted a message from Shiloh, "The anguish of losing a loved one to exotic religion." That was part of my communications with her.
Here's the other part: a question and answer dialogue we had about Radha Soami Satsang Beas, the India-based spiritual organization that is the exotic religion Shiloh was concerned about.
We exchanged several email messages after Shiloh wrote to me, asking if I'd help her better understand the organization that I was an active member of for many years.
Here's our Q & A exchange, starting with some introductory remarks and moving to eight questions about Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
Shiloh: I will be very grateful if you can help me with these questions, Brian, since I feel you are in a unique position to evaluate this movement with your years of involvement and the books you wrote associated with Radhasoami.
It seems to me that your seemingly ‘fruitless’ investment of thirty-eight amazingly patient years, has become an immensely valuable grounding for your post in its role of revealing to other seekers the pitfalls and time-wasting illusions of this particular path.
Especially since I dearly love and care about my sister, I personally feel deeply grateful for your openness and honesty about your experiences, which must ultimately save many souls much needless pain and confusion. So thank you for valuable work and whatever time and consideration you give to this particular letter.
Brian: No problem. Re. the paragraph above, I wouldn't say "fruitless." I gained a lot from my involvement with RSSB. For most of the three decades plus I was quite content. Sort of similar to my first marriage. Getting divorced doesn't take away all of the loving times. It just means that after the loving, a distancing occurred.
You might mean by "fruitless," though, that I didn't soar to higher regions of reality. If so, this presumes that such exist. Or that it is important to reach those realms to be "spiritual." Now, I'm not so sure. Some see this as sour grapes, a result of failed meditation. But to me it feels more like an understanding that inner and outer, spirit and matter, soul and body aren't so different. Maybe not different at all.
Shiloh: Sorry you misunderstood me. I thought if I wrote ‘seemingly’ before ‘fruitless’ and encased ‘fruitless’ itself in inverted comas I would convey that this is not my personal feeling but how it could appear to others.
Here’s my questions, your answers, and my comments on your answers:
(1) Is it true that one is required to pledge life-long loyalty to the Sant Mat master upon initiation?
Brian: Yes, this is true. It is supposed to be a life-long commitment. But of course, many initiates drop out along the way. Sort of like marriage. The vow is "till death do you part," but divorces are common anyway.
Shiloh: This ruling was surely designed to make any initiate wishing to drop out because of doubts, feel especially guilty and bad.
(2) Is an initiate encouraged to meditate on an image – whether mental or photographic – of the master?
Brian: In the Charan Singh days, no. You had to have seen the guru in person. Then you could visualize his form (face/eyes) during meditation. This is part of the reason I went to the Dera in 1977, because I'd been initiated for almost seven years and hadn't seen Charan Singh in person.
Shiloh: Whatever the template used for this visualization, I find it suspicious, since in the pliable astral sphere, long-held thoughts become things. This tells me that disciples are being encouraged to build their own thought forms of the master which they could then see and mistake for his radiant form if they are ever successful in leaving the body.
Which further tells me that the master has no confidence in his own ability to appear in his light body to any out-of-the-body satsangis. This combined with praying for the Guru’s grace puts one in mind of the Christian biblical exhortation not to worship graven images.
(3) Are satsangis encouraged to ‘pray’ to the master and to expect mental interaction with him about such petitions?
Brian: Well, not really. Surrender is encouraged more than prayer, in the sense of prayer being asking for specific things to happen. Praying for the guru's grace is encouraged, though. That's pretty much what meditation is about, in a sense. An initiate isn't told to expect a response to prayer. Certainly not "mental interaction."
Shiloh: Since one surrenders oneself to the will of the Guru and prays to him (if only for grace) the master clearly replaces God in the satsangi’s life, usurping what many would feel should be the Creator’s unique role in human lives.
(4) Does the movement’s hierarchy hint at earthly or afterlife harm for satsangis who leave, thus ensuring uneasiness about ever leaving?
Brian: Yes. The idea is that once initiated, you're stuck to the guru/God forever -- the bulldozer metaphor that you might have heard of. Meaning, if you’re chained to a bulldozer, no matter how much you try to move in a different direction, you’ll end up going where the bulldozer does.
One RSSB devotee has been threatening me with Sant Mat hellfire for having questions about the path. I don't know about earthly harm, but lack of faith in the guru incurs some training/discipline after death, I seem to recall reading in some of the books.
Shiloh: This confirms my uneasiness about this movement setting up a premeditated trap, which the novice, after initiation, cannot easily extricate himself from emotionally. It seems to me that few uncertain souls (stressed-out and sleepless - especially at first - due to the long hours of meditation) would find the courage to risk such a fate no matter how disillusioned they may feel.
(5) Are Kal and the mind used to dispel the disciple’s rational assessment of the master and his words and actions?
Brian: Absolutely. Questioning is supposed to happen before initiation. Afterwards, the initiate is warned to beware of Kal, the Universal Mind who stood on one foot for eons and earned the right from God to rule the lower regions of creation. (Shiloh: Great heavens! How spiritually athletic!) Kal's job is to keep souls here, and the mind is his means of doing so.
Shiloh: I rest my case. The above-mentioned attitude nullifies the checks and balances ingrained into our very souls to guard against deception. Willfully giving up the critical mind must indefinitely commit one to labor, with dwarfed mentality, through a spiritual never-never land where the only hope of eventual rescue is through painful disillusionment. Since my sister defensively denied that there was any such requirement, she obviously knows, deep down, how dubious this is.
(6) Do you know of anyone who has seen (first hand) the current master accompanied by machine-gun-bearing guards?
Brian: I went to India, to the Dera headquarters of RSSB, in 1998 to finish my book Life is Fair. While there, I saw Gurinder Singh walking around accompanied just as you said, by machine gun bearing guards. It was a bit surprising. But also understandable, given the tensions in the Punjab.
Shiloh: I agree. But only because I think the master is a mere man and not God. If I thought he was God, seeing him protected by guns would blow my mind: after all how could God protect anyone else if he could not protect his own incarnated form without physical guards bearing material weapons?
I cannot imagine how this behavior squares up with those believing him to be God. Further, if God is love why would he even attract enemies? After all, Jesus’ death was apparently destined to save mankind and he did not arm himself against it but offered himself up to those who wanted him killed. And if God, embodied as the present guru, wanted to remain on earth longer, why couldn’t he make his earthly instrument safe without the offensive bad-example use of weaponry? After all no one is holding a gun to his head! (Or are they?)
Thinking of the current master as a man, I’ve just experienced my first pang of empathy. I believe he was a reluctant successor – and how terrible it must be to have to spend your entire life pretending to be God. How ghastly must be the constant scrutiny and the act of putting on a holy front and the continual dread of doing or saying something ungodly?
Hold on: even if any mistakes are made, the secret of his true human identity would remain safe with so many adoring satsangis primed to put a profound spin onto any awkward accidents! There seems little room for truth in god-man movements.
(7) Is it true that satsangis are subtly pressured to donate money or property to the movement?
Brian: In my experience, subtly. Not overtly. I don't know what it is like in the Indian community.
Shiloh: I’m glad you mentioned the latter since I suspect that pushing for donations might be more easier and acceptable among faith based, notoriously blindly-believing Asian communities, and thus may be much more blatant there. This of course reveals the usual motive behind so many religious charades: money and possessions and the power that accompanies these things.
(8) Is it an observable fact that the current master lives lavishly and travels in luxury?
Brian: Don't know if you have read the post on my blog by the Caribbean guy. Here's a link. He addressed this subject.
Shiloh: Thanks. Having now read this, I must confess it confirms my early belief that the current master seems more preoccupied with physical pleasure and material possessions than with the spiritual evolution of his fellow man.