Thanks to the Great God Amazon, who answers my prayers by delivering to my doorstep pretty much whatever I desire, I'm the possessor of two books published in 2016 by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB):
Since I no longer believe in the RSSB teachings, after being a devotee of this Indian spiritual organization for 35 years, I figured that I wouldn't agree with much in these books. Still, since I'm interested in the general subject of concepts and illusions, I also anticipated that the books would be food for thought.
I was right about that, having finished reading "A Wake Up Call" this morning. Here's some impressions of the book, focusing on what Oberoi and Chapman say about the notion of a perfect master -- which is a central concept in the RSSB philosophy.
Oops! I just used the word "concept," and the book argues that we're supposed to go beyond concepts.
But here's the thing: there are a great many concepts in the book's 152 pages. It isn't possible to write or speak without using concepts. And it also isn't possible to be a member of a spiritual organization such as RSSB without embracing concepts such as "God," "guru," "meditation," "perfect master," "enlightenment," and such.
If Oberoi and Chapman had really wanted to go beyond concepts, they wouldn't have written a word. However, then they couldn't have urged RSSB initiates to go beyond concepts.
I do agree, though, that the authors make some good points about how RSSB initiates have a lot of crazy ideas about karma, meditation, seva (volunteer service), satsang (spiritual meetings), the guru, and other subjects.
If they had simply argued that all a disciple should do is meditate assiduously and experience what happens with an open mind, then I think the content of their book would have matched up with the title.
Yet this isn't what is in the book. There are several key concepts that Oberoi and Chapman accept without giving any reasons for why they are true, or why it is necessary to accept them on faith.
Chief among these is the core concept of a "perfect master." The photo above is of Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the current RSSB guru, who is viewed by most RSSB devotees as just that -- a perfect master.
But here's what Oberoi and Chapman say at the beginning of their About the Master chapter:
It has been said that if all the seas were ink and all the land were paper and all the trees in the world were pens, you still couldn't write a description of the master. To understand who the master is and what he does for us is beyond the ability of words to describe.
Whether we call him a friend, a teacher, a saint or God himself -- these are all concepts. We can discuss them, we can heap long lists of adjectives on them, we can even argue heatedly about them -- but the fact remains they're only concepts. If we want to understand the master and his role in our lives we will have to go to a higher level of consciousness.
OK. I'm doubtful this higher level of consciousness exists.
Yet if the chapter had ended at this point, I couldn't argue much with it. Meaning, let's leave aside any and all concepts of who Gurinder Singh Dhillon is in his role of RSSB guru, and simply meditate to understand the wordless nature of the guru.
However, there's a lot more words in the About the Master chapter. And some of those words speak about a key concept, that of a "perfect master." For example...
(1) "When we assume we know how a perfect living master should dress, how he should speak, move, gesticulate and behave, we should pause and reflect for a moment -- what on earth are we doing?"
(2) "What if the master behaves differently from our expectations? Do we then get shaken? Do we find ourselves doubting whether he's a perfect master after all because he doesn't conform to our idea of the perfect master?"
(3) "Let us approach the challenge of being disciples of a perfect master with open minds -- as clean slates -- and allow the master to reveal himself to us, to show his real self, one facet at at time."
(4) "The delusion that we know what a perfect master should be like could derive from the word 'perfect'. The Indian term 'puran sant satguru' is generally translated into English as 'perfect master'. The literal meaning of 'puran' is complete, nothing lacking. He is a 'complete' master because his realization is complete instead of partial."
Well, who says? And who knows that Gurinder Singh Dhillon is perfect, or complete? Aren't "perfect" and "complete" concepts that, earlier in the chapter, Oberoi and Chapman said can't help us understand who the master is?
Yet they presume that Gurinder Singh Dhillon is a perfect master, as evidenced by the numerous times they use this concept without expressing any doubts about it.
Look: you can't have it both ways.
If the nature of the RSSB guru is beyond concepts, then the authors of "A Wake Up Call" should have simply said something like, Only meditation can lead us to a true understanding of the guru, and this can never be expressed in words, being ineffable.
But they didn't do that. They repeatedly talked about the concept of a "perfect master" as if this was an unarguable reality, which belied the key goal of their book -- to go beyond concepts and illusions.
Since I consider that the notion of a perfect master is both a concept and an illusion, I was disappointed in the book for several reasons.
First, it didn't live up to its title, since it presumed certain concepts to be true. Second, even if someone is a RSSB devotee, the book confuses the issue of a "perfect master," since it argues both that the guru is beyond concepts, while presuming that the RSSB guru is deserving of the concept, perfect master.
So as I said in the title of this post, there's no way a guru can be a perfect master. Either such doesn't exist (my view), or there is no way to tell that someone is a perfect master other than experiencing an ineffable understanding in meditation (the RSSB view).
Either way, the words "perfect master" are meaningless.