It's fitting that yesterday I heard from someone who had skeptical questions about a book I wrote about last month, "Memoirs of a Seeker," by Sheena (a pen name, not her real name).
Fitting, because the United States, where I live, currently is embroiled in a fierce debate about a reported sexual assault by a Supreme Court nominee, whose female victim has said she is willing to testify at an open hearing next week.
Christine Blasey Ford kept silent about the attack for many years. Now she's being criticized for waiting so long to speak out. But it is widely recognized that women have excellent reasons for remaining silent, especially when there is a large power imbalance between the woman and the man involved.
In Sheena's case, the man she refers to as "Guruji" was Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the guru of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB). In her book Sheena speaks about several sexual-related encounters involving Gurinder Singh. They weren't anything close to sexual assault, but they disturbed her nonetheless.
And Sheena also describes a case of sexual molestation at the Dera, which is the RSSB headquarters in India. She told Gurinder Singh about this, but then realized he already knew about it and had ignored the molestation. She also realized that this wasn't a one-off incident.
You can read excerpt's from Sheena's book in my blog post, "Sheena's 'Memoirs of a Seeker' throws light on Gurinder Singh Dhillon." Because I applaud her courage in writing the book, I'm pleased to defend Sheena against the questions raised by Catherine Muller in an email to me.
As you can read below, Muller invited me to post her message on my blog, which I've done. Muller's message is shown in red, and my interspersed responses are in black. (Sorry for the italics; seems to be related to me copying Muller's message from her email; couldn't find a way to undo the italics in HTML, which I'm not expert in).
Brian,Having read your review on Amazon of Memoirs of a Seeker, I have three comments:1. You say in your review that you haven't read all of 'Memoirs of a Seeker.' Do you usually write reviews for books that you have not engaged with in their entirety? (If it was such a good read, as you claim it was, why did you not finish it?)
Yes, I've written Amazon reader reviews before finishing a book. Can't remember how many, but at least one other. Here's a link to that review.
Regarding Sheena's book, I was told about it in an email from someone who knows Sheena and thought I'd enjoy her book. I paid $9.95 for the Kindle edition. I looked through it fairly quickly, zeroing in on the parts of the book that describe her interactions with a guru, and the "seva" (volunteer work) she did for the guru.I'd heard that the guru was Gurinder Singh Dhillon, and the seva was done at the Dera. However, I didn't see any mentions of the guru's name in the book, so at first this perplexed me. Which gets us to Muller's next question.2. Secondly, you write in your review: "From what I have been told, the guru Sheena writes about is..." Who told you this exactly? Or are you repeating hearsay? Why don't you acknowledge who your unattributed source is? (Or sources are?) As a man who purports to love science and truth, are you aware that under many legal systems around the world hearsay is inadmissible as evidence in a court proceeding?
After I looked through all of Sheena's book, and read closely the portions that were of most interest to me, I had several email communications with the person who knew Sheena and could forward questions to her. This was my first way of confirming that the guru in her book was indeed Gurinder Singh Dhillon.After I published my blog post about the book, and defended Sheena against commenters who were challenging her truthfulness, I got a relayed message from Sheena saying, "Hi again .... just heard from her and she wants me to thank you for fiercely defending her!" That made me feel really good.
It also was another confirmation that the guru in her book is Gurinder Singh, since I had said this in the blog post, and one would expect that if I'd gotten the guru's identity wrong, Sheena would have corrected me. Finally, I've also heard from a RSSB insider who knows Sheena's real name, and is familiar with who she is, and what she did at the Dera.
So there's plenty of confirmation that the guru Sheena writes about is Gurinder Singh, and that Sheena is a real person who did seva at the Dera. This isn't at all hearsay.3. Thirdly, you praise Sheena for 'displaying that brave commitment to the truth'. Well, how brave is it to write under a book under a moniker? Need I remind you of a contemporary example - a man like Edward Snowden who was truly heroic enough to take on the NSA and flee into exile when he exposed his story? And should I remind you of the whistleblower who broke the Cambridge Analytica story, Chris Wylie? Pick any social justice hero of significance in recent times, Brian. Nobody of any real credibility and clout does anything radically brave by writing under a moniker.As noted above, there are good reasons why women are reluctant to reveal their true identity when they are speaking "truth to power," as a familiar saying goes in my country. And in general, anonymous sources often are used by journalists in the United States and elsewhere.
"Deep Throat" in the Watergate scandal is a good example. It took many years before this person's identify was exposed. So I don't agree with you that speaking anonymously under an assumed name shows that a person lacks credibility.
Over the 14 years I've been blogging on the Church of the Churchless, I've received many emails from people who wanted to share information about RSSB or some other religious entity, but didn't want their name revealed. I've always honored their request, because I know from personal experience how vicious true believers can be when their beliefs are challenged.If you doubt this, check out my recent post, "Nasty criticisms of me from some 'spiritual' RSSB defenders."Unlike those folks on 'Church of the Churchless' who seems to be 'inside experts' on RSSB and the goings on of the guru, I can't comment about the voracity of what 'Sheena-who-will-not-be-named' writes in her book. I'm no maven.Then you should pay more attention to, and trust more, people who have direct knowledge of Gurinder Singh, his business dealings, and goings-on at the Dera. I frequently hear from people who have such knowledge, and relate disturbing stories to me, but aren't willing to go public with what they know, even anonymously.There's no doubt that there is a largely unreported dark side to Radha Soami Satsang Beas, along with the public reports of this dark side. People in the know who live in India are justifiably worried about what could happen to them if RSSB zealots learn their identity and seek retribution for their truth-telling.Believe me, RSSB is no longer the warm, fuzzy, loving spiritual organization that I remember from most of my 35 years as a RSSB devotee. Of course, maybe it never was such, and RSSB officials were just more adept at covering up the bad stuff. Regardless, it's good that the truth now is coming out, thanks in part to people like Sheena.
(Also, to journalists with Indian business publications.)All I will say is that as a member of the book buying public your Amazon review read as trading in gossip. And that's really unfortunate.
Again, a book written by a real person, whose true identity is known to quite a few people, about her experience with Gurinder Singh Dhillon and the Dera is absolutely NOT "trading in gossip." Those words are insulting to Sheena and to truth-tellers everywhere.Feel free to post this to your site/blog.
Hey, I've been pleased to do this, because it gives me another opportunity to speak the truth.Regards,Catherine Muller
Now, Muller sent me some additional emails where she questioned why Sheena's book was selling for $9.95 (Kindle edition) and $17.25 (paperback edition) on the U.S. Amazon site.
Having written several books that are for sale on Amazon, all I can say is that these prices aren't unusual. And I can confidently say that almost certainly, Sheena isn't even getting paid minimum wage for all the hours she spent writing her book, and then finding a way to get it published in both paperback and Kindle formats.
For almost every author, writing and publishing a book is a labor of love, not of money.
Lastly, I'll note that I asked Catherine Muller if she had bought and read Sheena's book. This was Muller's response:
Yes, I have indeed bought the book - I got the Kindle edition for $11.49. I’ll get around to reading it one day. It’s not high priority.
To which I thought, "Wow! You're criticizing the veracity of a book you haven't read, and you're criticizing the motivation of a woman who you know nothing about."