A few days ago I got an email from someone who thinks that I've become a guru. That struck me as a strange thing to say.
After all, I'm not aware of anyone in the world who views me that way (certainly not my wife, and definitely not my dog -- except when she wants to go on a walk or get her favorite chew stick treat, when she'll temporarily get a look of absolute devotion to manipulate me into doing her canine bidding).
My correspondent asked for a blog response, so here it is. I've interspersed my comments in regular type in between portions of his indented and italicized email. Which I've edited slightly to remove some personal references and add some explanatory information.
Brian. I guess I have been a signed up R.S. [Radha Soami Satsang Beas] member about as long as you have, spent time recently at the Dera (free), been to look at the new land by the river, do seva [volunteer work] from time to time. All that harmless stuff that passes the time more peaceably than many other activities.
I've been to the RSSB headquarters in the Punjab, India, a.k.a. the "Dera," twice myself. Like you said, it's a nice place to relax and have some different experiences. However, I don't know if the Dera is any more peaceful than many other places, or if the activities there are especially "harmless."
Also spent much effort on tai chi and yoga of various kinds. Even read your books, which I thought were pretty good. So, we share much the same background, including some of the doubts and anxieties about the whole thing.
Hey, "pretty good" is a pleasing -- if less than wildly enthusiastic -- books review. Thanks. I'd write them differently now, of course, but what I believed then was what I wrote about then. Nice to hear that we share spiritual doubts and anxieties. Are you interested in becoming my first devotee?
BUT, Why are you, after giving the role of 'guru' a good lambasting, setting up as one yourself? I'm sure you will deny this. The leader of the new Church of the Churchless. I enjoy reading your criticisms, they are often valid and always healthy. Baba Ji [Gurinder Singh, the R.S. guru] himself said- 'read them all, make up your own minds, think for yourselves.' ( I heard him say this.)
What makes you call me a "guru" rather than simply a "blogger"? I never have had anyone else call me a guru, though it sounds like a cool title. I read quite a few blogs, which are an avenue for people to express opinions about ... whatever. I'm curious why you seem to feel that my Churchless blog is anything other than this -- a way for me to talk about subjects I'm interested in, and for people to respond to those ideas via comments.
Why feel obliged to preach, to gain converts, to be the centre of a movement? OK, so it's fun, extends the living circle of friends etc. but at the same time drags you into the very place that you criticize the guru for. Do you really, after all your well thought through and well expressed arguments, want to be a guru?
In line with the above, what "movement" do you see being promoted on my blog? I certainly don't feel that I have a well-defined cause, other than what the blog tag line says: "preaching the gospel of spiritual independence." Personally, I lean toward a scientific sort of Taoist sensibility, but I don't claim this is the only way of viewing reality. So it's hard for me to see how I could gain converts, when I've got no special dogma for people to be converted to.
Here's a challenge; not in any way because I think this might be a cunning way to stop criticism, as it absolutely isn't, but, could you say NO to gurudom? Just become a parish member of the universal church of the uncertain -- among which are many another satsangi [member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas], I assure you.
I agree that many RSSB initiates feel much as I do. Back when I gave satsangs (talks) at gatherings of satsangis, almost always some people would come up to me afterwards and say something like, "Thanks. I thought I was the only initiate who looked at things the way you talked about meditation, God, and what not. Now I know I have some company."
Why would I want to stop doing what I enjoy doing, if I enjoy it? I don't mean "gurudom," because I'm not into that; those are your words, not what I feel. But you seem to be implying that there's some reason I should stop blogging. What reason would there be for that?
I'm sure there are many sources of satisfaction in your life -- personal relationships, hobbies, professional activities, and such. How would you respond if I said, as you did to me, "Could you say NO to ... ?" I mean, could you say NO to your home, your love interest, your pets, your whatever? You'd probably reply, sure, if I had to, but I don't want to. That's my own reply, at least.
If you carry on, you could even become a Pope of this new church, and what a fate that would be! Could you face yourself? Wearing the funny hat and blessing the people. Just being a lone tai chi'er, log sawer, dog walker,-- could you do it?
I'm not going to hold my breath on this one but your blog response will be interesting.
Well, I'm pretty sure that there will come a time when I don't feel like carrying on with this blog any longer. Everything comes to an end sooner or later. For now, though, I'm enjoying what I'm doing, or I wouldn't be doing it. And I see no sign that I'm founding a "church," since the name of this blog is ironic -- as you should have noticed.
Actually, I do consider myself to be a lone person. Aren't we all? I mean, I don't feel like I am more than the individual who I seem to be. I assume that what you mean by "being a lone..." is not communicating my views about life with other people via the Internet.
However, I communicate with people in other ways all of the time. My wife and I talk about philosophical/spiritual stuff frequently. I talk about meaning of life issues with fellow students in my Tai Chi classes, with fellow members of a monthly Salon discussion group, and with friends at coffeehouse meetups regularly.
So I'm not sure what you're getting at when you speak of me, or anyone for that matter, being a lone individual. Like I said, I consider that we are all alone, existentially. Yet we're also interrelated through our human social connections.
People communicate in all sorts of different ways. Since I like to write, and have done a lot of writing since I was a pre-teen, I'm drawn to sharing my thoughts via blogging. Others prefer verbal communications.
Again, I don't see any sign that I'm on the way to becoming a Pope of some sort. That said, some friends recently went to Europe and showed us photos of their visit to Rome. St. Mark's Square (if I've got the name right) where the Pope does his appearances/ blessings is impressive. I wouldn't mind standing in front of a huge crowd and being adored.
Especially if there were collection plates being passed around. And if the Popemobile was a Mini Cooper S, which I've been praying for (fruitlessly) for quite a while.