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January 12, 2012


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Technically speaking, Sikhism arose from an earlier eclectic tradition sometimes known as the Sant tradition.....

In 1978 there was a worldwide conference held at UC Berkeley to discuss the Sant tradition and how it influenced and led to such movements as Sikhism.

Radhasoami is actually just another manifestation of that earlier Sant tradition, just as Sikhism.

Though it is certainly true that the Beas tradition of R.S. has been influenced by Sikhism, since from Jaimal Singh on the gurus have all been Jat Sikhs.

I say all of this because one of (if not thee) foremost scholars of Sikhism is W.H. McLeod (not affiliated with R.S.) has written extensively on the Sant tradition and how it was the fertilizer for Sikhism...


Though there is debate in some Sikh quarters about this......

David Lane wrote:

"...the Sant tradition and how it was the fertilizer for Sikhism..."

--I think the use of the word 'fertilizer' is quite appropriate in this discussion especially in regard to Beas.

David, you're much more familiar with the history of Sikhism and Sant Mat than I am, so I stand corrected. It isn't quite accurate to say that Sant Mat grew out of Sikhism. I guess I mainly was thinking of "contemporary Sant Mat," which is a different animal from the Kabir-era version of Sant Mat. See:

That said, I could be wrong (heck, I often am), but when I read translations of Kabir by people who don't have a contemporary Sant Mat ax to grind, it's kind of hard to recognize modern Sant Mat in what supposedly is the ageless teaching of "saints" like Kabir. Or, equally, Rumi. See:

These were wild and crazy dudes. Not completely, since they do bow to tradition and teachers at times. But the original "Sant Mat" mystics weren't part of an organized theological system like contemporary Sant Mat.

So it seems to me that it is still accurate to say that modern Sant Mat (including RSSB) indeed is an outgrowth of Sikhism. Sikhism seemingly provided five hundred years or so of organization, ritual, writings, and what-not that modern Sant Mat could appropriate and turn into a 19th, 20th, and 21st century movement.

Agree with the general sentiment though, which is to what extent religions overlap, i.e. how all these traditions are culturally transmitted as opposed to directly experienced as they claim.

As far as i can tell, there's almost a direct link all the way back to the oldest, i.e. vedic religion, with each subsequent religion merely adding some bits and removing others, and doubling or tripling back on itself and influencing one another. You could probably trace it like you would linguisitics.

I;m pretty sure all of hinduism, sikhism, budhism and sufism all are influence greatly by the vedic traditions. I would hazard a wild guess for instance they all believe in reincarnation and karma. These are cultural theological doctrinal concepts pure and simple - they have absolutely nothing to do with any direct experience of an absolute reality.

However, it strikes me that there is something that all religions, mytical tradions and advaita non-duality have in common.

They are all based on idealism, that fundamentally reality is mind-dependent. That there is only mind, cosmic cosciousness, great spirit, omnipresent god, one, Self or pure Awareness pervading and is the underlying nature of all things. That this cosmic consciousness, spirit or God created matter, i.e. the universe.

Science on the other is based on realism, the notion that there is a mind-independent universe. That a rock does not have buddha nature and that the universe was not created by any cosmic consciousness or manifestation of mind. Rather, science says that consciousness or mind is an emergent property of matter, not the other way around. That we humans are no longer consciousness when our body consisting of our brain ceases to work.

These positions are fundamentally at odds. I believe in science, in realism. I want to try understand idealism, but there is a fundamental problem with idealism. If all there is is mind, why does someone who is not conscious of a mountain (for example a blind person) still bump into it even tho he was unaware of its existence?

Is there any nondualist, zennist, taoist, sant mat chappy, who can explain that?

Or put more simply, the real physical world of things is not an illusion, its not maya, it really exists, otherwise why is someone who is unaware of its existence suddenly experience it?

Culture.... the other cult Dave warned me about

George, you'd probably be interested in a book I just ordered from Amazon, on a blog comment recommendation, but haven't received yet:

Owen Flanagan analyzes Buddhism, distinguishing the religious stuff from the naturalistic stuff. This seems to relate to what you're interested in -- objective reality, as contrasted with idealistic/subjective reality.

It's a tough question to investigate. I too wonder how it was that the universe managed to chug along for some 10 billion years prior to life appearing on Earth, with humans coming along at about the 13.5 billion year mark.

How does reality function if it takes consciousness to make it real? Even if aliens exist, living beings couldn't have come into existence for a long time after the big bang. So if all is consciousness, what makes the universe exist if there isn't any consciousness in it?

Of course, idealists would say that consciousness is the essence of the universe. But if that is true, why all the worry about realizing this? If there is nothing but consciousness, then everything is consciousness. No need to find it, since we ARE it.

If that makes sense to anybody, I'll be amazed. Sometimes I wonder whether I should write blog comments without a full dose of caffeine in my body.

Exactly Brian, idealism underlies all spirituality; basically that spirit (or consciousness) creates, underlies, pervade or consitutes the universe. So consciousness is all things, and the source (nature) of all things, including unconsciousness things (rocks and the universe).

This is why imo science and spirituality are fundamentally irreconcilable, since science starts from the completely opposite premise that unconscious phenomena have lead to the emergence of consciousness, not the other way around.

Buddhism is much misunderstood. When a Buddhist says that the world around us is an illusion, the illusion is strictly that a world of permanent, independent, inherently existing things is an illusion. The essential point of Buddhism is the revelation that reality can be found to be a dependently originating shifting ground.

Buddhism does not deny the reality of the passing stream of phenomenal existence. Existence is not a dream.

Of course there are some schools of Buddhism that are cross-pollinated with vedanta; Yogacara and some schools of Zen for instance - but even in these cases scholars would deny that these are truly idealistic perspectives.

The Buddha's method in essence was to encourage an authentic relationship with this contingent ground of existence as it unfolds moment by moment. Suffering is said to arise from conceiving the world and ourselves as having permanent, independent and unchangeable natures.

The big metaphysical questions and concerns of vedanta and other systems were consciously and purposely side-stepped by the Buddha. Buddhism does not posit an absolutely existing ultimate reality - consciousness or otherwise. The Buddha and the great Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna held that ultimately ALL absolutist views can be found on analysis to be speculative, contradictory and problematic. I suppose that concerning the big questions the Buddha might even be said to be (philosophically speaking) a type of new mysterian.

Jon, nice overview of Buddhism. I too am attracted to the notion (more accurately, reality) that everything rests on an interdependent shifting ground.

Interestingly, though, all this shifting comes about through seemingly unchanging laws of nature. If this weren't the case, chaos would result, random motions of sub-atomic particles never coalescing into anything.

(Maybe not even that, if laws of quantum physics didn't exist.)

So something stable appears to underlie all of the instability. I guess that is what Buddhism is about: understanding the stable laws of human consciousness which enable us to live as pleasantly as possible in an ever-changing world.

Jon that's a very interesting post for me.

I understand there are different schools, but that 'dependent arising' basically means that our percieved reality is illusory. Or perhaps more accurately our percieved reality of the seperation or independence of things is illusory. That all things are connected and effect one another.

In the Dzogchen sense 'dependent arising' is apparently illusory in an unreal sense. So this school seems idealistic.

If 'dependent arising' means things or phenomena do not arise independently, this presumably means mind is not independent from reality? But realism asserts a mind-independent reality, so Buddhism is not realism.

You have a point that there is perhaps room for the view that the Buddha was neither an idealist or a realist, but I would need to consider this more. But ideas like 'emptiness', 'buddha nature', 'mind-stream', 'store consciousness' and 'rebirth' might shift buddhism closer to idealism.

George, there are some clearly unscientific aspects of Biuddhism. But I see "emptiness" as being one of the more scientific tenets. As you observed, this doesn't mean that physical reality is illusory, only that entities within our universe are "empty" of independent or unchanging characteristics.

Like, it's well known that Earth is almost entirely made of heavy elements which came from exploding stars. No exploding stars, no Earth, and no us. Recently I read that likely atoms in my right hand came from a different exploding star than atoms in my left hand.

So where is my independent existence? Run the film of where I came from backwards in time, and we'll come to a supernova. Before that, the big bang.

The oak tree in our yard has roots in the earth. It gets sustenance from the atmosphere, and from rain that falls from clouds. It couldn't exist without its connections with the environment. Thus "emptiness" seems to be a solid concept. Karma, reincarnation, rebirth -- no, not solid at all, as evidence is lacking for these ideas.

Yes, Buddhism does not strictly align itself with realism for reasons mentioned in my previous comments.

And yes, Dzogchen which emerged around the time of Shankara's advaita (8th c), incorporates concepts such as 'Buddha nature', which appears idealistic (although most Dzogchenists would deny this.) 'Mind stream' and 'store consciousness' are from the aforementioned Yogacara school.

Brian's comments about emptiness are spot on. There is nothing remotely idealistic about this early Buddhist concept/observation.

On your point about realism positing an observer independent of reality, surely this is to distinguish realism from idealism which posits that reality itself is consciousness. The world that we see exists independent of our perceptions of it. But of course observers are also part of this 'real' world.

In other words, there are not separate categories for observers and the world - both are manifestations of reality or the universe or whatever (and this includes consciousness.)

Very interesting that Sant Mat originates from a tradition of saint in the 13th century.

The main problem I see is that these saint are not interested in changing the world. You have to go within. Existence is mainly meaningless to them.
If for a moment we would forget about what we know from the world wouldn't it be great to realize that we can make a contribution to that something out there. That we can have a mission, that we can make a very little but significant change to what we see. Wouldn't that be a better thing than sitting in meditation accepting the meaningless suffering that all these saints do? Buddha included :)

Thats very informative on Buddhism all round, except not sure 'emptiness' is aligned with science, so much as being a purely metaphysical concept.

The standard model of particle physics relies on fundamental elements (indivisible particles or building blocks that make up all things in the universe). While most of the volume of an atom is empty, it is the building blocks of the atom that make it what it is, rather than being truly empty.

I understand the buddhist meaning of 'emptiness' is quite different. It means that no thing in the universe has intrinsic existence, that no thing is immutable, unchangeable or self-enclosed.

But science says things are made from fundamental particles. While such things might be theoretically changeable or divisible, the building blocks themselves are NOT, hence the term fundamental element.

A final point to consider is that if every thing was truly empty, then surely there would quite literally be no things, i.e. no reality to experience, idealism. In which case, this can only be mind which is falsely causing us to percieve 'things'?

Sants do affect the world, they show the way to those who seek. Most are happy with their lot here, plenty of fun and gadgets and sensual pleasures to indulge in. It needed someone like Buddha to point out that "all is suffering" but still they cling to this existence so why help those who don't want to listen.

Yes, mind and perceptions need to be observed. Experiencing fully each moment to realize what we are not. Then who is the observer?

Good points George, but let's just take a step back for a moment.

Is it your sense that everything is in flux? That change is persistent - perhaps at times imperceptibly so? Do things somehow create themselves and sustain themselves? Or is it truer to say that things arise out of conditions, are sustained by conditions, and dissolve or transform with conditions. This thorough-going conditioned arising is what was originally known in Buddhism as anicca (literal meaning, inconstant - but often translated as impermanent.) Later this concept along with 'not self' was developed into the emptiness teachings of Nagarjuna.

The point I'm making here is that with a little observation and consideration, this flux becomes self-evident. It's common sense that is usually overlooked as our narrative way of thinking freeze-frames reality into independent, permanent entities. We don't need a scientific formula to arrive at this - and yet this does not contradict science in any way. The 'things' around us i.e. trees and birds and rocks and carpets and chairs... are empty of intrinsic existence or own-being. The consensus understanding of things being static, permanent, independent entities does not hold with a little investigation.

As for fundamental elements. For years the atom was thought of as fundamental... then it was thought that the nucleus was fundamental... then protons and neutrons... for now it's looking like quarks and a few other things are fundamental... Now although these particles cannot be found (for now) to split into smaller elements, it's my understanding that they can decay/transform into other particles... and from here it all gets a bit murky.

But I don't think that analysis at this sort of level is necessary to support the observations made above.


Yep I don't know whether science or budhism is right, but I am not sure they really agree on the nature of reality so long as the standard particle model is considered the pinnacle of science.

There are many concepts of Buddhism that are very profound. Impermanence (flux) is perhaps is the one that rings most true as you point out. I also agree that conditioning appears to be an almost universal phenomena.

However, emptness in budhism has a great problem in explaining how things exist at all, or even appear to exist. Codependent arising adds little more, just saying things arise along with other things. Fine, but this must means things have always existed, which is in contradiction with impernance that says no thing is immutable.

Things may be impermanent but how does one go from no-thing to some thing, or the appearance of something?

Also what are implications of I'm

However, I don't quite know how budhism believes 'things' came into existence in the first place. If which is how to explain 'things' come into existence in the first place.

Unlike vedanta and some other metaphysical systems, Buddhism is silent on questions regarding the source of the universe and other 'ultimate' questions. Also, Buddhism is not competing with science if by science we mean evidence based enquiry. It doesn't bother with the big questions precisely because they are problematic and ultimately speculative - instead Buddhism is a 'practical philosophy'.

Questions regarding how things came to be, have they always existed etc. are problematic for ALL fields of enquiry. As Noam Chomsky points out, the cognitive capabilities of organisms are limited by biology. Certain problems may be forever beyond our understanding.

Just a quick note about the standard particle model, I'm certainly not about to discredit it in any way but as you are aware, it is far from a complete model. And again, there are biological limitations i.e. our instruments and intellect can only tell us so much at this time.

Yes, all fields do struggle with the question of how things came to be, even science. Which is perhaps why I thought other modes of insight, such as philosophy (mystical and wisdom traditions), might shed more light on these ultimate questions.

It seems buddha's original teachings did seem to avoid metaphysical issues, but then one has to ask upon what grounds do his claims rest? Is there any way for us to test the validity of impermanence, codependent arising and emptiness? How true are they? Do they contradict one another?

Also does one want a practical philosophy on how to live life, or does to know how reality is and we came to be? Are these things even seperable ultimately?

Perhaps there are levels of knowledge, just as there are levels of reality. Just as its difficult to identify the relations between subatomic and everyday phenomena, so too perhaps it is difficult to equate how science might be related to practical philosophies, if at all. Deep complexity seems to exist, layers upon layers, which we are only beggining to untangle, and yet just like a ball of string, its fundamental structure often seems to reveal simplicity itself, just a single piece of string.

Thanks for the chat.

People sometimes confuse objective knowledge with intersubjective knowledge. The larger part of our evolution took place in culture and language. We share a common cultural evolution that makes us blind to what did not survive in our culture. Even the last 100 years big ideas have been replaced. A little longer ago we started to perceive a 'self' when we looked in the mirror and started wondering where we came from. We developed logic and abstraction to deal with the very complicated neurons and there interactions. Knowledge became statistical guessing. Me, you your intentions etc. they became realities that where easier to use than exact knowledge. I guess I mean to say that even our science is a language that has developed. Ask the very smart Wittgenstein why he was a relativist. The way we together perceive our experiments is relative is not absolute is intersubjective.
Objective knowledge does not exist. But exactly what the reality could have been or shall be is for philosophers to devellop. Yes these people that seem to make no contribution to the tribe ;)

Not agree or I will say that written article is wrong as we consider Sant mat and Sikhism are same. Radha Swami's and other Sants take examples from Guru Granth Sahib Ji and teach their followers under their names. Sikhism is purely different.

This topic has got my attention, Radha Soami is basically Sikhism minus the book and with the addition of a 'living Guru and the promise of salvation in this life.

Radha Soami is not a science, science never claims to have the last word, RS does. Science is open to criticism and evolves, RS isn't.

I went to a q&a session in 2010, Gurinder was asked about why all RS Guru are Sikhs.
Gurinder gave a nebulous answer and replied 'Soami Ji wasn't a Sikh'.

I'm assuming the next Guru will be a Sikh.

Sikhs also believe in a concept of Miri Piri. Sikhs are against Radha Soamis. Have you tried studying the message of what you call the "Adi Granth Sahib" for its spiritual and social message and not view it as a religion?

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