When I was a member of an India-based spiritual group, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), the guru who led the organization frequently would say, "We need teachers in every aspect of life. Mysticism and spirituality are no different."
Here's the problem with that statement: if I can't tell whether a person is more competent at something than I am, why should I accept him/her as a guide, teacher, consultant, handyman, or whatever?
I got to thinking about this today after reading a response to a comment on a blog post about financial dealings of the current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh. Tucson, a regular Church of the Churchless visitor, quoted from a previous comment, then shared his own perspective:
Another amazing one:
"What if you were a teacher or professor before you got called to be SatGuru, and you loved it - it was your pride and joy. Wouldn't you be tempted to keep up with what was going on in the world of education? Wouldn't you jump back in there a little if you could? Or if you were a computer geek before being Guru, wouldn't you still want to keep up with the IT world and technology, if you got the chance to? But when Baba Ji [Gurinder Singh] does some business transactions, his old profession, and we are ready to burn him at the stake! We are ready to call him a fake, an infidel, and we want to shun him. This isn't very fair of us, is it? Take care."
--It is amazing how satsangis [RSSB initiates] rationalize inconsistencies in the guru's behavior and what he teaches.
Here we are talking about a Sat Guru who supposedly has access to the highest spiritual region (Sach Khand), the bliss of which makes this world (Pinda) seem like a latrine in comparison. Sawan Singh made that analogy. Also, RSSB teachings say unnecessary involvement with worldly concerns such as intense involvement with business transactions and making lots of money is detrimental to spiritual progress.
Why is a guru who has access to the sublime bliss of Sach Khand (heaven) in need of great amounts of money or the pursuit of wordly interests and hobbies associated with a world that is supposedly, from his perspective, a pit of shit in comparison to the exalted region he has access to?
The person who was quoted argued, in essence, that a spiritual guru won't do anything differently than anyone else. Likewise, it's often said that a guru won't outwardly appear to be any different than us unenlightened beings.
If there's no way to tell the difference between a guru who supposedly has realized the ultimate truths of the cosmos, and an average schmuck, why should anyone devote his or her life to following what the guru teaches?
Here's what I said back in 2006 in a post titled, "God-man or Asshole: the guru conundrum."
Ever since I met her, I’m been trying to convince my wife that I’m God. It just seems so obvious: I understand Windows XP and can fix her computer when something goes wrong; back when we used a VCR, I could program it to do whatever we wanted; I know how to hang a picture so it is centered perfectly over a piece of furniture.
Yet my husbandly divinity remains unrecognized. For some reason Laurel focuses more on such things as: my inability to put the kitchen sponge in its holder, rather than on the bottom of the sink; my incapacity to fold t-shirts properly and place them neatly in their designated drawer; my reluctance, after cutting off a slice of bread, to reintroduce the whole wheat loaf back into the bag where it is supposed to stay fresher.
Guess I should start calling myself a guru. Then my human failings could be construed as signs of my godliness.
...it turns out that there is no way to judge whether a guru is merged with God. If the guru acts perfectly divine, this is proof that he is an enlightened being. If the guru acts imperfectly human, this is proof that, in Savarese’s words, “He chooses to play the role of an ordinary man much of the time.” Why? Because, “If he didn’t he would attract all manner of miracle seekers and not the truth seekers he was meant to meet.”
Pretty good gig. Perfection means godliness. Imperfection also means godliness. It’s akin to a band being able to play as many off-key tunes as they wanted, because the audience would believe them when they said “We mean our songs to sound that way; if you are our fans, love the way we play them, not how you want to hear them.”
I'm learning Tai Chi from a guy who is obviously expert in it. My wife and I are taking ballroom dancing lessons from a woman who can clearly demonstrate her skills. Today I took our Toyota Highlander to be serviced at a dealership where the technicians are certified to know what they're doing.
But when it comes to salvation, enlightenment, or God-realization, lots of people are amazingly trusting that a supposed "guru" (the specific title differs in various religions) actually can walk the spiritual walk, and not just talk the spiritual talk.
One of my favorite sayings of the current guru, Gurinder Singh, is "How do you know that I don't just have the gift of gab?" (I'm not sure if he's still using this line in his talks, but he did fairly often in the early/mid 1990's, when I saw him numerous times).
Yes, indeed. How do we know that anyone has special expertise in some field? We can confirm that a mountain climber knows how to scale difficult peaks. We can document that a computer technician is able to get balky machines running smoothly again.
Yet where's the evidence that a guru is any different from you or me when it comes to knowing what, if anything, lies beyond the physical reality that we experience now? How could we tell that a guru is able to get one's mind/soul in good working order?
I like to visualize a "Who's the Guru?" game show, somewhat akin to the 1950s-60s "What's My Line?" The goal would be to pick the satguru ("true guru") out of a bunch of impostors.
How could this be done? What questions would be asked? Of course, the biggest question is whether the game even is possible, since the producers of the show would have to find a genuine true guru themselves.
This isn't a fantasy game. It is being played by millions of people in every corner of the world.
Heck, make that billions if we have a expansive definition of "guru," one that includes ministers, imams, rabbis, priests, yogis, and others who claim some special knowledge of a divine aspect to reality.
Skepticism is called for. The Emperor actually may have no clothes. (For those unfamiliar with this Hans Christian Andersen story, the plot is wonderfully apropos to the theme of this post.)
An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid".
The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects.
A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.
Somebody is going to quote Linji so I might as well do it first: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!"
There is a great book by psychotherapist Sheldon B. Kopp, titled "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Here the back-cover blurb:
"The most important things that each man must learn no one else can teach him. Once he accepts this disappointment, he will be able to stop depending on the therapist, the guru who turns out to be just another struggling human being."
Posted by: Oedipus | July 22, 2010 at 01:00 PM
Brian I become more and more embarrassed every time you remind me what I used to subscribe too.Keep it up !
My favorite maxim of late
"You do not know the Guru you only know his performance"
Posted by: Dogribb | July 22, 2010 at 02:11 PM
No RSSB apologists !
Maybe everyone has come to accept your divinity Brian.
Use this power wisely.
Can I be a regional representative ?
Posted by: Dogribb | July 23, 2010 at 08:17 PM
Dogribb, neither my dog nor my wife have come to accept my divinity, so I remain a prophet unrecognized in my own home. But maybe the worshipfulness will start from afar and work its way closer.
Sure, you can be a regional representative -- the first. Pick your region. Antarctica and Hawaii are both open, along with the rest of the world.
Tara, absolutely. International rep you are. Just share with Dogribb if he picks Antarctica.
Posted by: Brian Hines | July 23, 2010 at 09:26 PM
As usual, a thought-inspiring post, Brian.
It makes me think of philosophical discussions about whether we have a part of us that can "sense" something spiritual, and thus judge what is a spiritual experience (or guru) and what is not.
I'm also thinking of some religions' reference to miracles to demonstrate that the holy person really is in touch with spiritual reality.
Something that a friend reminded me recently is that extreme skepticism can be applied to anything and is probably unhelpful. Even if the guru did something impossible, I could still argue that it was a trick.
Posted by: Jonathan Elliot | July 25, 2010 at 05:55 PM
I would love to be your East Coast representative. I am waiting for your blessings. Maybe one day i might be so blessed to have your darshan.....
Posted by: David D'Souza | July 25, 2010 at 07:45 PM
Now I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been described very scientifically. It is written in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and none else was there. There issued forth a great current of spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh, and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. It brought forth the creation of seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats, among themselves, brought the creation into being.
These currents descended down further and brought the whole universe/multi verse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were born.
Posted by: Anirudh Kumar Satsangi | September 21, 2010 at 02:02 AM
Me thinks Tara is the wolf in sheep's clothing; a fraud posing as somebody for his/her own peculiar reasons.
Posted by: Dj | September 22, 2010 at 06:53 PM
DJ, I have no idea what you mean by a "wolf" or "fraud" in reference to Tara. What she speaks about is demonstrably true. At least, no one has refuted her statements. So where is the fraud?
Having corresponded with her via email, I can assure you that this is a sincere, honest person who is knowledgeable about RSSB. We all have our own "peculiar reasons" for doing what we do. How could it be otherwise?
Posted by: Brian Hines | September 22, 2010 at 07:09 PM
Sant Mat is a path of meditation, nothing more, nothing less. The outer Master puts us on the path of meditation to discover the inner Master, who is the Shabd or Tao or Nam or God. You totally missed the whole point of Sant Mat, which is meditation to discover the truth. Buddha taught the same thing, the path of meditation. David
Posted by: David Hedges | October 03, 2010 at 11:32 AM
You are ignorant and lazy for not exploring all that Brian has said on the subject of RSSB on this blog over the years. Brian was devoted to RSSB for decades, wrote a RSSB book "Life is Fair" and was an official designated satsang speaker. He has been to Dera twice and has performed many hours of seva, by his account. And you have the nerve to say that he does not understand that RSSB is a path of meditation? Ridiculous. Volumes of discussion and debate on the subject are available in the archives.
Now for another view:
I have found that following a spiritual path has no particular relevance to 'understanding' which can occur at any time under any circumstance.
A spiritual path is based on the presumption of an individual that needs to go through a variety of disciplines and correct behaviors in order to purify and get rid of the 'I' or ego, and then achieve reunion with God.
The fundamental point that is missed is that the seeker, at every stage of this quest, is already what he/she is seeking. There is no way to make the seeker any more what they already are. It is a simple tweak of perception, of looking in the right direction, which is no direction at all, to see this: to see you are just a phantom, a dreamed character in a play you are playing a role in. There is no individual. No separate soul. No ego to overcome.
There are no particular qualifications for perceiving this because Presence is perfectly present in all circumstances and has no need for special diets, disciplines or gurus.
Presence is always present HERE whether one is loading the dishwasher or experiencing a grand vison of the creation in some exotic inner region.
When this is seen, the game of the spiritual quest appears silly, like a dog chasing it's tail. There is nothing wrong with playing that game. It is your role in the play. Carry on, have fun, but none of it leads to what you already are, which you are, whether you know it or not. You are looking for your glasses all over the house when all the time they are sitting on your nose. You are searching for what you are looking through.
What you already are is the unborn and thus undying Presence that is prior to all phenomena and thought. It can't be conceived or circumscribed in any way because in doing so it would be making an object out of itself. This objectivization is how the One becomes two and creation manifests and the illusion of individuality begins.
The One is playing a game of hide and seek with itself. All paths lead to nowhere because there is nowhere to go.
As far as Sant mat is concerned I admit to a disdain even though it really doesn't matter. Being a former participant I have a certain interest born of familiarity. I see the organization as dishonest and deceptive from the very top, perpetuating the myth of a soul that needs to be saved from the jaws of "Kal" and rebirth (what is there that was born that could ever die? A concept?), that needs to get to somewhere other than where it already is, and that a master guru has the power to take charge of all this! Spiritual naivite' is taken advantage of and innocent people and their seva efforts/money are being led down the primrose path to nowhere. After a lifetime of avoiding egg whites, rennet and chardonnay they may discover they were all along right where they were trying to get to and all those vows were just an unnecessary game.
Yet, I suppose RSSB has its function. People gravitate to what they think they need at the time until they see they don't need it anymore and the organization is recognized for what it really is.
Posted by: tucson | October 03, 2010 at 03:11 PM
David, I disagree that the Sant Mat "shabd" is the same as "Tao," and that Sant Mat meditation is the same as Buddhist meditation. This is a large subject, so I'm leaning toward making it the subject of tomorrow's blog post.
Tucson, you're right: likely I know more about the Sant Mat/RSSB teachings than 99% of still-practicing initiates. In the course of writing the two books that were distributed by RSSB, I read every RSSB book cover to cover and took extensive notes on the core teachings. And like you said, I gave satsangs (talks) for many years.
It's ridiculous to say that Sant Mat is just about meditation. Why is a guru needed if meditation is the only important thing? There's a whole theology and set of dogmas that have to be accepted along with the meditation.
I meditated in the RSSB fashion for several hours a day for about thirty-five years. So, yes, I do know something about Sant Mat meditation.
Posted by: Brian Hines | October 03, 2010 at 10:26 PM