This morning I got angry while reading a chapter in "Buddhism," a book published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) which purports to show "the essential unity of the teachings of the Buddha and other spiritual teachings of the time."
Anger isn't very Buddhist, I suppose. But it felt justified.
I'm a big fan of Buddhism, the non-religious variety, at least. Ever since my college days I've devoured writings about Buddhism, particularly Zen.
So since I was an active member of RSSB for about thirty-five years prior to my churchless un-conversion, I was curious to learn how an author (K.N. Upadhyaya) would attempt to relate Buddhist teachings to RSSB's belief in an eternal immutable soul whose highest destiny is to merge with God.
After all, my impresssion has been that (1) Buddhists don't believe in an unchanging soul, nor (2) do Buddhist's believe in a transcendent personal divinity called "God."
The book arrived a few days ago after someone told me about it in a blog post comment. Today I decided to start reading it by jumping into what seemed to be a crucial chapter: "A Perspective on Buddhist Views on Soul and God."
In another post I'll write more about Upadhyaya's surprising take on Buddhism. (At least, it surprised, and angered, me.) Here I'll just share a few short excerpts concerning how Buddhism supposedly is right in line with traditional Hindu notions about soul and God.
This principle of microcosmic representation of the macroscopic consciousness and the concept of the presence of the Tathagata as held in Buddhism are essentially not different from what is called soul -- or atma -- in standard non-Buddhist Indian tradition.
...In the Pali Canon itself, an accomplished disciple of the Buddha named Kassapa affirms the existence of the jiva or soul, which can be understood as the immortal essence of a sentient being.
...Buddhist texts speak of the supreme state as Brahman...The Buddha himself is described as one who has obtained Brahman.
...Even though Buddhism is rigorous in not personalizing ultimate reality, it is equally pragmatic in its presentation of the Buddha, personalized and infinitely compassionate, as one with ultimate reality.
...We might also suggest here that in their earnest quest for truth, the need for seekers to find a wise and compassionate Buddha to guide them on the right path is emphasized again and again.
As I suspected when I ordered "Buddhism," Radha Soami Satsang Beas has published another deceptive pseudo-scholarly fake comparative religion book, in line with the equally deceptive "The Gospel of Jesus."
I'm fine with books which accurately describe a religion or philosophy, and then attempt to show how its tenets relate to some other belief system. But it deeply irks me when an author distorts a religion or philosophy in order to cram it into the confines of his/her favored world view, like RSSB's Sant Mat.
After reading only one chapter, I can tell that this is what K.N. Upadhyaya is up to with his "Buddhism" book. It was difficult for me to recognize the Buddhism that I've come to know (and sort of love) in his discussion of how Buddhists look upon soul and God.
Over and over, Upadhyaya cited the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, Hindu holy books, in his effort to show that the Buddha's teachings basically are the same as Hinduism's central tenets of atman (soul) and Brahman (God).
Well, if the Buddha was so up with Hinduism, why did he head off in a different spiritual direction? I'm no expert on Buddhist lore, but I've always thought that the Buddha was critical of Hindu dogmatism and urged his followers to leave all of that supernatural theorizing behind.
That's the impression I get from a Wikipedia article on Buddhism and Hinduism.
The focus of the Noble Eightfold Path is not so much about worshipping god, achieving heaven in the next life (perhaps for a number of lay devotees but not for bhikkhu / bhikkhuni), nor is it about experiencing Brahma consciousness in this life or the next.
The reason is that in all these realms, beings are subject to rebirth after some period of time. It is like going around in circles in the round of rebirth despite all the effort and striving. Therefore, the purpose of the holy life in the Buddha’s path is about liberation from the cycle of rebirth and experience awakening in this very life (some might take longer, depending on the person).
At any rate, in my next post about this book I'll try to include a PDF file of the chapter I read today. Hopefully some other people who know a lot more about Buddhism than I do can take a look at it and comment on how accurately they consider RSSB's take on Buddhism to be.
My main point, for now, is that RSSB shouldn't distort the reality of other religions and philosophical systems.
One of the most duplicitous aspects of Radha Soami Satsang Beas is how it isn't content with simply promulgating it's own teachings, but tries to demonstrate that the RSSB version of Sant Mat is the universal common ground of every religion, form of spirituality, and mystical practice.
In other words, RSSB isn't content with being one religon among many, but does its best to proclaim itself as #1 over all.
So even after reading just a single chapter in "Buddhism," I can confidently predict that K.N. Upadhyaya will argue that the current RSSB guru should be looked upon as a modern day Buddha, just as John Davidson argued in "The Gospel of Jesus" that the guru also is a modern day Jesus.
Jesus Christ! Buddha! (hard to make the latter into a swear word, but I'm trying)
Let it go, RSSB. Isn't it enough to claim that Gurinder Singh and his predecessor gurus are "God in Human Form"? Why can't you let Christianity have Jesus, and Buddhism have Buddha, as their own?
But no, you've got to try to show that Jesus and Buddha actually were gurus/masters just like the RSSB line of "saints," and that Christianity and Buddhism are the same as Sant Mat once minor details -- namely, facts -- are set aside.
Absurd. Irritating. And anger-producing.