One of the (few) things I like about Christianity is how open Christians are to talking about their visions of Jesus, heaven, angels, and other aspects of the divine.
If a Christian has a spiritual experience, he or she usually feels that this is something to be shared, not kept secret.
By contrast, there's a rather cult'ish tendency in Eastern religions, meditative practices, and mystical paths to -- shush! -- keep quiet about "inner" supposed supernatural experiences. I've always been suspicious of this, because it strikes me as a means of control.
For example, I'm quite familiar with the injunction of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), an India-based group I was a member of for many years, to never divulge inner spiritual experiences.
I used to give frequent talks, satsangs, at RSSB meetings. One of my favorite lines was, "The easiest vow for us initiates to keep is the one to not talk about the experiences we have in meditation." I'd almost always hear laughter after saying that.
The reason: nobody was having any mystical experiences. At least, that's what I strongly suspected. How could I know for sure? Nobody was supposed to talk about the experiences they had while meditating.
So this was akin to buying a TV set which didn't show a clear picture and being unable to know whether anyone else could get the damn thing to work. That would be great from the standpoint of whoever sold you the television.
"It's a feature, not a problem," they could say. Not knowing whether your experience was typical, you'd find it difficult to persuade the store that you'd bought a bad product.
Likewise, gurus, masters, yogis, and such often promise specific mystical/spiritual experiences. However, if their disciples are forbidden to talk with each other about what experiences they are having, or not having, this allows the teachers to get away with merely the promise, not the reality -- because each student tends to think he or she is the only one not having marvelous inner experiences.
Another wrinkle is to tell the students, "If you talk about what is experienced in your meditation, you will lose those wonderful experiences."
Of course, this isn't much to worry about, since nobody is having those experiences. But disciples worry that they might someday. And they want to obey the teacher they have such unwarranted confidence in.
I've also heard this argument put forward: "Our relationship with the divine is so intimate, it must not be divulged to other people, just as we don't share the intimate details of sexual encounters with our beloved."
OK, this makes some superficial sense. Not much, though.
For one thing, many mystics have been extremely open about their love affair with "God" (or whatever other name they give the divine). Rumi, for instance. He wrote reams of poetry about the ruby lips of the beloved, and other spiritually-sensuous descriptions of his personal experiences.
Also, I've never understood why, if someone's spiritual experience is of a personal divinity, it isn't possible to describe the nature of that person -- leaving the details of one's intimate encounter private.
After all, husbands and wives have no problem talking about how they experience their spouse's qualities, even if they usually are reluctant to divulge what happens in the marriage bed.
So my conclusion is that when people refuse to talk about their supposed mystical exeriences, the reason is that they aren't having any genuine experiences. Believe me, if I ever have a conversation with God that strikes me as really real, readers of this blog will be the second to know (after me).
`there's a rather cult'ish tendency in Eastern religions`
Rssb is a cult. Mainstream eastern religions are not cults. Sikhs aren't so secretive about their spiritual experiences between their peers (spiritual initiates), rather than with others and with general restrictions ie keeping ego in check so as not to boast. Buddhists are very open about their spiritual experiences, ever had a deep conversation with a monk? Hindus are a mixed bag, but most would confess all to a peer. In all cases saints are almost always open to everyone about their experiences. I wonder why you'd make such a factually incorrect sweeping statement? Perhaps because Rssb likes to make its followers believe that all religions are sant mat; Followers are deluded into belittling other religions as being warped over time having started off as being sant mat, So even though you've left the cult you still believe mainstream eastern religions being essentially rssb? Also perhaps due to a typical western mindset. A small eastern cult did you over so you bundle anything eastern into that bad experience?
You do have a point about the Christians especially the born again variety are open to the public, eastern religions are open to their peers and cults are closed to all.
Do the Muslims claim to have spiritual experiences?
Nevertheless I do feel your pain. If you had the opportunity to discuss your spiritual experiences or lack thereof in your congregation you wouldn`t have wasted so much of your life.
Posted by: R | January 20, 2013 at 01:19 PM
R, you make some good points. My outlook on "Eastern" religions probably is indeed colored by my experience with a particular Indian religion. I stand corrected.
Posted by: Brian Hines | January 20, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Sikhs DON'T have any spiritual experiences, how can you get spiritual experiences from reading a book all day? It's like reading cookery book and thinking that you'll get cookery experience, you'll most certainly have the knowledge but not the experience.
Anyone with half a brain knows spiritual experiences are to be experienced within not from reading books or having holy baths.
I think by calling RSSB a cult is a bit strong, even if you look at RSSB from a critical perspective its not a cult. The followers might make it look like one, but the leaders don't.
The only people I have heard say RS is a are the rigid minded Sikh adherents.
Posted by: Gaz | January 22, 2013 at 06:09 AM
If we are not supposed to divulge our spiritual experiences then why are there so many Sant Mat books describing what happens like Science of the Soul, books by the late Julian Johnson to name but a few? These are all books that went through publication via RSSB. That sounds like double standards to me. What do you think Brian? Do you think the Master is allowed to divulge his experiences...surely he can't remove his own powers from himself?
Posted by: The9thGate | January 22, 2013 at 08:52 AM
The9thGate, good point. There does seem to be a selective application of the "no talking about spiritual experiences." Some people can; some people can't.
Like I've said, the basic rule seems to be:
It is OK to talk about mystical/spiritual experiences if this is part of a "sales job" to entice prospective RSSB initiates. But after someone is initiated, he/she isn't supposed to talk about what is experienced, or not experienced, in meditation.
If the reason is that talking about those experiences causes someone to lose the benefit of the experiences, then the RSSB gurus and higher-ups who have talked about them must have lost them.
Likewise, if the reason is that talking about spiritual experiences creates increased ego, then the gurus who talked so much about these experiences must have a massive ego.
Religions don't make sense. This is another example of that adage. Also, a good example of how rules that apply to the followers of a religion often aren't applied to the leaders.
For example, being bowed down to and lavishly praised is OK for the guru, but not for the disciple. (Amazingly, I've heard RSSB leaders say "Volunteers shouldn't be thanked for the work they do, because this can increase their egos." Yet the guru is thanked continuously.)
Posted by: Brian Hines | January 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Gaz, with regards to RS being not being a cult, I find that to be quite laughable. It shows the classic signs of one, e.g. membership being limited to some few "special people" (marked souls), strict control of followers using fear tactics (you will lose your spirituality/brownie points with with the Big Man), top brass enjoying immense wealth whilst preaching otherwise, veneration for a man as God (common cult control tactic) and practices regarding by others as being strange (not just strange to Sikhs, I might add). My father is the most ardent RS follower you'll get and he admits to it being a cult. Quite honestly, repeating a mantra from a God-man, ritualistically practicing a vegetarian diet is going to get you enlightened? I can but only laugh.
Also, could you please elucidate me further on Sikhs "reading a book all day"? If you mean their essence of the Guru's teachings, even the most hardcore muslim preachers don't use such bigoted language, but I've had sufficient company of RS followers to know the contempt they have for the Sikh faith (another cult tactic- use of hatred for another group to gain camaraderie). PS. Sikhs specifically don't follow empty rituals and criticize what you refer to as 'following a cookbook recipe', i.e. a set of routines isn't going to get you anywhere. Just for the sake of having a better understanding of people in the world and being less of a bigot, I would recommend that you ask a baptised Sikh about his religion.
Posted by: R | March 01, 2013 at 09:01 AM
Brian, I know religion does not interest you, but purely for the sake of understanding the differences between how a very small cult (RS) practices their faith and other proper religions, please review Eastern reglions in more detail.
Many things that you criticise RS in the way the function, e.g. you write above about how a Guru doesn't follow what he expects of his followers. In Sikh and Hindu Guru-disciple groups, the Guru is meant to be an example of how to be a disciple so he carries himself with utter humility and bows at the feet of a holy disciple- something I'm sure they didn't tell you at RS santangs. Also Gurus are meant to do selfless service of humanity and not accept themselves as God.
Exceptions to this are of course the small cults which mostly have urban elite followers in close ranks and some small numbers of poor (all part of the public image they try and portray), e.g. Sai Baba, Ravishankar, etc. There are indeed scores of other cult faith groups which either follow sant mat or similar ideology. Very often their leaders are referred to as "Godmen" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godman_%28Hindu_ascetic%29 and are very much outside establishment.
Posted by: R | March 01, 2013 at 09:10 AM
Washing floors with milk, singing lullabies to the adi granth, singing in unison with prescribed facial expressions, dipping in holy sarovars of 'amrit' aka water to remove sins, touching head to dozens of ornaments while walking only clockwise around the granth, calling the granth a living being, chopping heads off of goats and putting their blood on weapons at hazoor sahib, creating dozens of empty rooms for hiring ragis to do akhand paath that nobody hears for a HUGE PRICE, decorating temples with lights on holidays and singing specific shabds to commemorate martyrs, celebrating only the birth of boys and parading them around as newborns, wearing a uniform, calling hair 'sacred', and on and on.
No, you guys don't have any rituals. None at all.
Posted by: jesse | December 03, 2013 at 07:20 AM