Here's a mildly-edited email from someone who asked me some provocative questions about Charan Singh, a Radha Soami Satsang Beas guru who I was initiated by in 1971, after which I followed his teachings for about 35 years.
This person apparently sent me an email, rather than posting the message as a blog post comment, because he thought I might be offended by what he said about Charan Singh.
Since I'm not -- and in fact enjoyed the message a lot -- I'm sharing it here. Following the message, I share my response to the questions about Charan Singh.
I was just now going to put in a comment asking you something, but I thought it might be better to write an email instead. It is clear that, notwithstanding your disillusionment with RSSB, you still have a great deal of affection and respect for your Guru, Charan Singh. And what I’m asking may seem disrespectful to Charan Singh, at least apparently, although I need hardly add that disrespecting him is not my intention at all.
Anyway, whatever, I thought it better to write a private email to you, asking you about this, instead of posting on your blog a public comment that apparently calls out someone you still hold in affection and regard.
You say this in response to a reader in the Comments section : “Jen, currently I believe Charan Singh was a good person who did his job as Guru the best he could. I don’t believe he possessed any divine qualities. He was appointed to be the RSSB guru. As a faithful disciple, he carried out that role diligently.”
How do you square those two apparently contradictory views about Charan Singh? How could he have colluded in this hoodwinking of innocent followers, and still have been a “good person”?
See, a follower or a disciple can be mistaken. But surely Charan Singh himself knew that he was not the “God in Human Form” (if indeed he wasn’t)? There is no question of doubt there. I may be unsure of YOUR status as the Big Sound personified, but not about MYSELF, surely?
This recalls a piece you’d written long back, about Jesus being one of the four Ls (Legend, Lord, Lunatic, or Liar). With Charan Singh, the Legend option does not hold, right? So if he wasn’t the Lord, and if he wasn’t a Lunatic, then he surely has to be a Liar? A cheat? And a liar is not a good person, a cheat is not a good person! Unless you mean it in the sense of smuggler-or-thief-or-killer-or-swindler-with-a-heart-of-gold, something like that? (And I’m guessing you don’t really mean it in that back-handed and snide way!)
Had he been fully honest, Charan Singh would have left people in no doubt at all that he was not “God in Human Form”. An honest person in his place would have screamed from the roof-tops, a hundred times, a thousand times, again and again till people listened, that he was NOT “God in Human Form”. You know, like Jiddu Krishnamurty dismantled his Star organization, and relinquished his gilded God-throne. But no, what did Charan Singh do? He colluded with that GiHF trope, implicitly if not explicitly he left his devotees with that idea, that he was indeed GiHF, that he was indeed some kind of a superhuman.
You say he “carried out the role diligently”, “as a faithful disciple”. Why would he do that? Before he became Guru, I can understand his acquiescing to the organization’s dictates ; but what about after he became Guru? Why on earth would he agree to continue with the bullshit, after knowing fully well that it was bullshit fair and square? A full-on disciple might collude in something that seems unclear or wrong to him, because he thinks he himself is mistaken or unknowing, and he’s assuming (or hoping) that his Guru is the Big Sound, or Son of God, or whatever.
But after someone has been appointed the Big Sound (or Son of God) himself, then he can have no doubt that he is living a lie, can he? Maybe in the initial days or first few months, he may still be in doubt, maybe he’s thinking, ah, early days yet, perhaps I’ll be hit with divine light soon now. But when well into his tenure as Guru, he still does not clearly and decisively declare to one and all that he is NOT who his followers think he is, then he is either truly divine (or thinks he is, although he isn’t actually, which would point at delusions, at psychiatric illness), or else he is a dishonest dissembler.
How do you reconcile your opinion that Charan Singh was not divine, with your assessment of him as a “good person”, given your opinion that he was NOT GiHF? Your position does not seem quite logically consistent, at least not when one takes those words at face value.
P.S. Like I said earlier, I mean no disrespect at all to Charan Singh. Nor is this an idle question. (Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong as such with idle questions!) I myself currently follow (or try to) three different spiritual traditions (just their respective meditation techniques, without necessarily subscribing to all the surrounding mumbo-jumbo of theology and rituals). One of these three traditions is theistic, and makes claims for one individual as the Big Noise (much like RSSB does).
Now I try to keep a fully open mind (or so I hope), even as I seek my (experiential) answers via these three traditions, and this gentleman is, to my mind, either truly a Big Noise, or else he is not quite honest. I don’t see a third way out (other than the “lunatic” option). Hence my question to you about how you see your ex-Guru Charan Singh. I’m seeking your personal answer to a question that is very close (at least potentially) to my own personal position, so as to help me arrive at my own personal answer to my own personal question.
Well, here's my basic answer to the question posed to me: How could Charan Singh have colluded in this hoodwinking of innocent followers, and still have been a “good person”?
I've pondered this quite a bit over the years.
Charan Singh was supposed to be God in Human Form, someone who possessed divine powers, such as being able to transcend ordinary space/time and journey to higher regions of reality, along with possessing the ability to communicate with each and every disciple through his astral or causal "radiant" form.
I agree with the message above that it is virtually 100% certain that Charan Singh wasn't who the guru was claimed to be. And since Charan Singh knew himself from the inside, seemingly he would have known that he wasn't God in Human Form with divine powers.
So how could a seemingly kind, honest, and generous Indian man, Charan Singh, allow himself to essentially live a lie for the 39 years he served as the Radha Soami Satsang Beas guru?
I've come to two possible hypotheses. They're described in blog posts. One is that Charan Singh was a loyalist, as I said back in 2006 in "Who is the guru?"
So I muse over my recollections of Charan Singh and Gurinder Singh, trying to decide whether they’re best described as liars, lunatics, or the Lord.
None of the three appellations seem to fit, lunatic least of all. Each of them clearly was/is of sound mind (Charan Singh died in 1990). They could be liars, but their essential good-heartedness and decency argues against this. On the other hand, their evident imperfections prevent me from grabbing onto the “Lord” hypothesis.
Is there another L-word that better fills the bill? One springs to mind: loyalist. Perhaps when a successor is appointed to fill the shoes of a highly-regarded guru, loyalty both to his predecessor and to the surrounding organization prevents the newcomer from crying out, “Hey, I’m not God! I’m just a man filling the role of a guru.”
The other possibility involves another L-word, as I said in a 2015 post, "Let's add a new L-word to 'Who is the guru?' possibilities."
But an essay by Michael Shermer in his Scientific American "Skeptic" column suggests another possibility. In "Lies We Tell Ourselves: How Deception Leads to Self-Deception," Shermer says:
Trivers’s theory adds an evolutionary explanation to my own operant conditioning model to explain why psychics, mediums, cult leaders, and the like probably start off aware that a modicum of deception is involved in their craft (justified in the name of a higher cause). But as their followers positively reinforce their message, they come to believe their shtick (“maybe I really can read minds, tell the future, save humanity”).
Click on the link above to read the full piece by Shermer. I'll also include it as a continuation to this post.
Desperate to find an L-word to add to the liar, lunatic, Lord, or loyalist possibilities, the best I could come up with after a brief look at some online thesauruses was to substitute "legerdemain" for self-deception.
It seems to fit, as rarely used as the word is.
1. sleight of hand.
2. trickery; deception.
3. any artful trick.
So let's add a likely option that answers the question, "Who is the guru?" Legerdemainist. Which actually is a word.
The guru tricks himself into believing that he (or she) is God. Or God in human form, after being viewed as divine by fawning followers. This act of self-deception further bolsters his standing among devotees, as Shermer explains.
As Abraham Lincoln well advised, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Unless self-deception is involved. If you believe the lie, you are less likely to give off the normal cues of lying that others might perceive: deception and deception detection create self-deception.
Naturally I have no idea if Charan Singh actually tricked himself into believing that he was God in Human Form and possessed divine powers. But Michael Sherman's essay offers some good reasons why this could have been the case.
Everybody is prone to self-deception. Why not gurus also?