As shown in my previous post, there's an intimate relationship between Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a religious/mystical organization headquartered in India, and Religare -- a large global financial services group.
The current RSSB guru is Gurinder Singh Dhillon. His sons, though only 26 and 20 years old, are among the 400 richest Indians owing to millions of Religare shares having been transferred to them at a very low cost via insider trading deals.
And the guru himself has acquired about half a million dollars worth of Religare shares in a similar fashion. (For details on all this, read "Religare's money connections with the Radha Soami guru.")
When I first received an email from somebody who was knowledgeable about the RSSB - Religare relationship, my first reaction was there's nothing wrong with making money.
I still feel that way.
However, the more I learned about the ties that bind RSSB and Religare, the more I was bothered by how the "vibe" of the spiritual organization I was an active member of for over thirty-five years has changed.
The guru who initiated me back in 1971 was Charan Singh. My recollection is that his family owned quite a bit of farm land in the Punjab, and this is how he and various relatives supported themselves.
Back then it appeared to us Western disciples that business dealings and spiritual pursuits were kept entirely separate in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas organization. If there were ties between members of the group becoming rich, and becoming godly, this wasn't obvious. The emphasis was on "selfless service," not self-aggrandizement.
Times have changed. I've been told that almost all members of the board of directors of Religare are Radha Soami Satsang Beas initiates, or "satsangis."
Also, that the RSSB guru literally runs the company -- he makes all the important decisions and spends a considerable amount of time driving the business. The children of high-ranking satsangis, along with family members and friends of the guru, work for Religare.
All Religare establishments reportedly are strictly vegetarian, in accord with one of the rules for RSSB initiates. No employee, whether a member of RSSB or not, is permitted to bring any sort of non-vegetarian food inside the gates of the buildings. So no pepperoni pizza delivery for a guy or gal working late on company business.
Charitable activities of RSSB reportedly have been cut back considerably, with the guru being quoted as saying, "We are a spiritual organization, not a charitable one." This strikes some initiates as hypocritical, given how busily the guru and those close to him are acquiring wealth through RSSB connections.
Apparently now the only organized RSSB charitable activity for the poor is the Beas hospital that was built many years ago, when Charan Singh was the guru. The annual "eye camps" that provided free medical care for cataracts and other problems have been discontinued. (Another guru's "dera" offers them, though.)
Sunil Godhwani, Religare's Chairman and Managing Director, is a Radha Soami Satsang Beas follower and the guru's closest aide. Malvinder and Shivinder Mohan Singh, the brothers (nephews of the guru) who founded Religare and transferred millions of shares in the company to the guru's sons also are RSSB initiates.
I have some personal experience with insider transactions, since my father was a co-founder of a company -- Systems and Computer Technology Corporation -- back in the 1980's or thereabouts. (My mother divorced my father when I was very young and I never had any contact with him until I was in my thirties, so I'm sort of vague on details.)
Feeling guilty over how he had ignored one of his sons, my father transferred several thousand shares in the company to me. As a founder, he'd gotten them dirt cheap. And over the years, as I followed the company's fortunes, I saw how frequently shares were traded back and forth in insider deals.
In general, this is completely legal. Also, common.
However, there's something strange about the sons of a guru, who is considered by disciples to be "God in human form" and master of their spiritual destiny, becoming some of the richest people in India after being gifted millions of shares in Religare without ever having worked for the company.
(Gurpreet, the oldest son, is a director of Religare's British affiliate; I've been told that Gurkirat, the youngest son who is still in college, has no connection with the company.)
My wife worked as a psychotherapist in private practice for quite a few years. Through her I learned about the issue of "dual relationships."
Dual relationships exist whenever a therapist interacts with a client in any capacity beyond the one role as therapist, for example, also being their client’s teacher, consultant, business partner, or sexual partner. If you perform a role other than therapist for your client, it may introduce desires and goals that are yours rather than the client’s and can risk the possibility that you will place your needs above theirs. Maintaining unselfish judgment is critical to your role as an effective, professional therapist.
If this is true of someone who merely functions as a guide to living a more satisfying worldly life, it sure seems that a guru who is viewed by his clients/initiates as being the master of their spiritual life (including an afterlife) needs to be even more careful about mixing up money with a therapeutic relationship.
Here's another view of dual relationships:
Dual relationships between psychotherapists and their clients/patients are in the most general sense considered inappropriate or unethical. In nearly all situations a dual relationship involves a risk that treatment may become biased or influenced by a non-treatment relationship between the professional and consumer.
During the more than three decades I was involved with Radha Soami Satsang Beas, I frequently observed first-hand the astounding devotion initiates, which naturally included me, had toward the guru.
I've seen destitute Indians happily placing a rupee (23 cents) or two into a "seva" (donation) container. I've seen initiates working tirelessly without pay for hours, days, and weeks in a spirit of service to the guru. I've seen disciples jump at the chance to do the most dirty or difficult volunteer work if this would further a project ordered by the guru.
It's well known that when people are in different positions of power (such as boss/employee or teacher/student), different interpersonal dynamics come into play. The lower-ranking person really isn't "free" in the usual sense of the word.
This is why psychotherapists are so concerned about the dangers of dual relationships. Power imbalances can easily result in people being taken advantage of, even when they appear -- and may even feel themselves -- to be acting voluntarily.
What I've learned about the dealings between Radha Soami Satsang Beas and Religare doesn't feel right to me.
It definitely goes against the grain of what I used to enjoy about being a member of RSSB: the focus on meditation, mysticism, charitable giving, and service to a spiritual community where everybody did their share, and nobody (seemingly) tried to get more than their share.
That said, maybe I'm old-fashioned.
Maybe I don't understand how modern-day gurus and their relatives can engage in insider trading deals with disciples while still remaining true to their philosophical principles. Maybe I'm missing the benefit to RSSB of having an inner circle derive large financial benefits that aren't available to other initiates.
All I know is that philosophically and ethically, there are reasons for concern here. This morning I dug out a couple of RSSB books that I've got stored away in our garage.
I wanted to remind myself what was said in "Honest Living," one of the core Radha Soami Satsang Beas publications, about materialism.
Since it is a natural tendency of all human beings to strive for happiness and to improve their situation in life, the success of our spiritual journey depends on what we put first, our spiritual or material goals.
...The danger lies in making material goals our priority. We are then equating riches with happiness and we immediately become vulnerable to compromising those very principles established to safeguard us.
Now, everybody has to support themselves in some way. The RSSB teachings certainly don't discourage initiates from trying to make money.
However, it strikes me as discordant when the RSSB guru, his family, and high-ranking members of the RSSB organization are so deeply involved in the business of Religare. Should a religious group whose aim is release of the soul from the bonds of worldly attachment be so heavily focused on materialistic corporate goals?
It's also important to keep in mind that relationships between people in a guru's family can be quite different from the usual sorts of familial ties.
I can understand why at first glance my arguments above about "dual relationships" would be discounted -- given that the founders of Religare who gifted shares of the company to the guru's sons (and Gurinder Singh himself) are related to the guru. What's wrong with family members giving gifts to each other, and going into business with each other?
But being related to a guru who is considered to be God in human form is a much different deal than being related to an everyday Homo sapiens. This really often is a dual relationship in the classic sense, because the guru functions both as an infallible spiritual guide and a relative: father, grandfather, uncle, son, or whatever.
In Legacy of Love, a RSSB biography of Charan Singh, Gurinder Singh's predecessor (and uncle), this special relationship of a guru with devoted family members is described:
Sardar Harbans Singh, Marharaj Ji's [Charan Singh's] father, was the third son of Great Master. More than anything else, he was remembered for his absolute obedience to Great Master. When he was told by him to send his boys -- Maharaj Ji and Shoti -- to Dera for their education, he never questioned Great Master's wish.
He handed them over so fully into Great Master's trust that for many years the boys had no idea he was their father and thought of him as an uncle. His complete faith first in Great Master, and later, in his son, needs to be seen in the context of the practical difficulties those very close to a Master face in accepting his divine power and role.
For someone to accept a close relation or friend as the Master, he or she has to be able to relinquish all self-interest in the relationship. Since, as Maharaj Ji so often pointed out, most of these relationships are based on some level of self-interest, it is a rare person who can make such a sacrifice. It is a gift of grace, Maharaj Ji would say, to recognize a saint.
First Sardar Harbans Singh gave all his obedience to his father, who also was his spiritual guru. Then, when Charan Singh became the guru, Sardar Singh transferred his "complete faith" to his own son.
This is difficult to understand for those, like me, who aren't steeped in Indian culture. I, along with my psychotherapist wife, can't believe that any human being is capable of rising above any form of self-interest -- and is worthy of unconditional obedience and trust.
Yet this is how a "perfect guru" is viewed by ardent disciples, including members of his own family. As the saying goes, if the guru says jump, the only question for them is how high?
This offers a different perspective on financial dealings among and between initiates of Radha Soami Satsang Beas. When the guru is involved in these dealings, they take on a deeply spiritual perspective since Gurinder Singh is considered to be (1) infallible and (2) utterly unself-interested.
Well, as I often say, maybe. But that's highly unlikely.
So when profound religious faith in a guru is intertwined with business transactions that involve him, there's a strong possibility of spirituality becoming strangely mixed up with material concerns and desires.