Religions love stories. Take Christianity, for example. The story is pretty simple.
God so loved the world he sent his only Son, Jesus, to be born via a virgin birth and to die on the cross as redemption for the sins of humankind.
(Not being a Christian, this is my best attempt at a one-sentence story summary. Adjust as desired.)
The Indian mystical faith that I belonged to for 35 years, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, or RSSB, has a somewhat similar story.
God arranges it so there's always at least one Perfect Living Master on Earth whose job is to initiate marked souls whose destiny is to return to the equivalent of heaven via the master, or guru, taking control of their karmas and guiding them through higher regions of creation in meditation.
Yet what are devotees supposed to do when there's plenty of evidence that the current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, not only is far from perfect, but in some respects doesn't even rise to the level of an ordinary decent human being?
Scroll through the posts in this blog's Radha Soami Satsang Beas category and you'll see that evidence.
Dhillon has engaged in massive financial fraud. The guru has made death threats against his cousin. He has ignored reports of sexual abuse at the RSSB headquarters. Dhillon has made questionable remarks to a female devotee. The guru has markedly changed the RSSB teachings. He has enriched himself by wrongly mingling his family's personal funds with the finances of public companies controlled by his initiates.
(As Stephen Colbert likes to say about President Trump's illegalities... allegedly.)
In everyday life, if someone thought their car was perfectly designed, then the vehicle started developing all sorts of mechanical problems, they'd quickly alter the story they'd tell about the car. "It's a gem to own" would change to "I'm sorry I bought this piece of crap."
However, religious stories are much less amenable to change. In part this is because people have so much more invested in those stories. Not monetarily, though sometimes this is true also, but emotionally.
After all, both Christianity and Radha Soami Satsang Beas make promises about eternity, not just this life. Believers in Jesus, or the RSSB guru, supposedly can expect a wonderful afterlife. While non-believers are sent off to hellfire, or at least rebirth, the faithful get to enjoy everlasting bliss with God.
So it's tough for RSSB believers to accept that the guru they're counting on for eternal life actually isn't who he is claimed to be. Instead of adjusting their spiritual story to account for new evidence about Gurinder Singh Dhillon, they engage in various sorts of attempts to discredit disturbing facts.
-- The scandals surrounding the guru are tests of faith. True disciples will stand by him, why false disciples will doubt him.
-- The guru is spiritually perfect, while flawed in his worldly guise. Thus efforts should be made to reach the guru within instead of being preoccupied by the failings of his outward form.
-- All of the accusations against the guru being reported by the Indian press are unfounded, and his innocence will be proven one day.
I've been paying more attention to the stories we humans love to tell ourselves because I've been reading a new book by Yuval Noah Harari, "21 Lessons for the 21st Century." I liked his previous books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, so figured I'd like this book also.
Harari is a clear thinker with an appealing way of explaining important ideas. I read his final chapter first because it is called "Meditation." Harari describes why he is attracted to mindfulness meditation. Here's a few passages from that chapter.
The actual practice is to observe body sensations and mental reactions to sensations in a methodical, continuous, and objective manner, thereby uncovering the basic patterns of the mind. People sometimes turn meditation into a pursuit of special experiences of bliss and ecstasy.
Yet in truth, consciousness is the greatest mystery in the universe, and mundane feelings of heat and itching are every bit as mysterious as feelings of rapture or cosmic oneness. Vipassana meditators are cautioned never to embark on a search for special experiences; instead they are encouraged to concentrate on understanding the reality of their mind, whatever this reality might be.
But I digress from the subject of stories. Here's some of what Harari has to say about religious stories.
While a good story must give me a role and must extend beyond my horizons, it need not be true. A story can be pure fiction, yet provide me with an identity and make me feel that my life has meaning.
To the best of our scientific understanding, none of the thousands of stories that different cultures, religions, and tribes have invented throughout history is true. They are all just human inventions. If you ask for the true meaning of life and get a story in reply, know that this is the wrong answer.
The exact details don't really matter. Any story is wrong, simply for being a story. The universe just does not work like a story.
So why do people believe in these fictions? One reason is that their personal identity is built on the story. People are taught to believe in the story from early childhood. They hear it from their parents, their teachers, their neighbors, and the general culture long before they develop the intellectual and emotional independence necessary to question and verify such stories.
...For if indeed the story is false, then the entire world as we know it makes no sense.
...Most stories are held together by the weight of their roof rather than by the strength of their foundations. Consider the Christian story. It has the flimsiest of foundations.
What evidence do we have that the son of the Creator of the entire universe was born as a carbon-based life-form somewhere in the Milky Way about two thousand years ago? What evidence do we have that it happened in the Galilee area, and that His mother was a virgin?
Yet enormous global institutions have built on top of that story, and their weight presses down with such overwhelming force that they keep the story in place. Entire wars have been fought over changing a single word of the story.
...Once personal identities and entire social systems are built on top of a story, it becomes unthinkable to doubt it, not because of the evidence supporting it, but because its collapse will trigger a personal and social cataclysm. In history, the roof is sometimes more important than the foundations.
This certainly is true in regard to Gurinder Singh Dhillon and Radha Soami Satsang Beas. Several million people around the world believe that the RSSB guru is divine and can't make a serious mistake. They've entrusted their souls to his care (even though no one has ever seen a soul).
Centers have been built in many countries where the RSSB faithful gather. Large amounts of money are donated by devotees to keep the wheels of RSSB turning. The organization is a potent political force in the Punjab, and perhaps also in other parts of India.
So there's a lot of reluctance to adjust the story of the RSSB guru to match the facts of his fraudulent financial dealings and other ethical failings. Instead, those facts are denied, minimized, ignored.
Which is weird.
The Indian word "sat" means truth. Satsang is a true gathering. Satguru is a true guru. Satsangi is someone who associates with truth. Yet truth is scoffed at when it conflicts with the traditional RSSB story of who the guru is, and what he stands for.
This is why genuine truth-seekers involved with RSSB face a choice: give up their dedication to truth, or give up their faith in Gurinder Singh Dhillon. It isn't possible to claim to be devoted to sat, truth, and also ignore the truth about the RSSB guru.
Many years ago I decided that truth meant more to me than the RSSB story that I believed in for over three decades.
I've never regretted that decision. But everybody has to decide on their own where they stand: on the firm foundation of truth, or on the flimsy scaffolding that holds up religious stories.
Another RSSB defender attacks the messenger, me
This blog has been alive and well since 2004. That's 15 years of talking truth to religious power here at the Church of the Churchless.
After over 4 million page views, 2,526 posts, and 42,239 comments, I'm well aware of the games religious believers play when their cherished faith comes in for criticism. One of their favorite ploys is to attack the messenger when the message being shared is so convincing, they have no effective response to my truth-telling.
Recent case in point: commenter Chris.
He's been doing his best to defend the Radha Soami Satsang Beas guru, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, against a criminal complaint filed by his cousin, Malvinder Singh, alleging that Dhillon, his family, and close associates have fraudulently siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars from companies once managed by Malvinder and his brother Shivinder, who reportedly aided and abetted in the financial theft in exchange for a promise that Shivinder would become the next RSSB guru.
In addition, the complaint says that the guru has made death threats against Malvinder. Not exactly how one would expect that a supposedly "spiritual" guru would behave, though there are plenty of examples of other Indian gurus behaving badly.
Now, it seems to me that even if someone was a devotee of a guru who has been accused of such serious wrongdoing, especially since investigators in India have documented the money trail that leads to the guru's doorstep, they would say something like, "Wow, these are serious accusations. I sure hope they aren't true. But this purported wrongdoing needs to be closely examined."
Chris isn't that sort of person, though.
He's been doing his best to attack my credibility, even though I've simply been writing about what the Indian financial press has been reporting. Thus he's doing the attack the messenger thing, rather than responding to the details of the message regarding Gurinder Singh Dhillon's reported misdeeds.
After Chris wrongly claimed that I'm an "icon for dissatisfied meditators," I challenged him to explain why, if this was true, I've been meditating every day for 50 years. If I, and other spiritual but not religious types, are dissatisfied with our meditation, seemingly we wouldn't be so happy to meditate.
Here's the most recent comment from Chris, along with my responses in red. I enjoy puncturing religious pretense, so it was a pleasure to reply to Chris' comment. Since my name is Brian Hines, I'm the "BH" in the comment Chris shared.
As a gesture of good faith, I'll do you the courtesy of replying to your points and questions first. I have assumed you will permit me to be rigorously honest with you. . . . , . . .
Hey, I love honesty. Especially rigorous honesty. That's the best kind. I sprinkle rigorous honesty on my cereal each morning -- that's how much I adore it.
BH: “you claim to be devoted to the truth." I have not made such a "claim" here. Can you quote me? FALSE ASSUMPTION 1
Oh, I'm sorry. When I said in a comment that you (Chris) claim to be devoted to the truth, I thought you'd take that as a compliment. I stand corrected. You don't claim to be devoted to the truth. But I am. I guess I assumed that you were as devoted to the truth as me. My bad.
BH: “you speak of things that you have no knowledge of." Brian you don't know me, nor what I know. FALSE ASSUMPTION 2
Well, what I was thinking of when I said that about you was the above-referenced statement you made about me being an icon for dissatisfied meditators. Since you don't have direct knowledge of how satisfied I or others are with our meditation, I stand by my assertion. But if you do know how satisfied we are with our meditation, I look forward to seeing evidence of your mystical powers.
BH: "Such as, what I and other critics of the RSSB guru have experienced in meditation, and continue to experience." I have made no such claim to such knowledge. And I admit I don't have it. FALSE ASSUMPTION & ACCUSATION 3
Hmmmm. It sure seems like you made that claim. Below is an excerpt from one of your comments. You said that I and others have embraced "erroneous certainties." But I'm glad that you now admit that you don't know whether what we non-religious meditators experience in meditation is true. So I accept your apology. You wrote;
"Most people live their lives out of self-invented illusory certainties. In my view Brian Hines and many others here have merely swapped one set of erroneous sureties for a different set. As we ALL have the right to do. But if Mr. Hines wants to claim he is spreading 'truth' -- and doing it very publically -- then he also can be held accountable for what he spreads. Don't you think? Or has he now become an untouchable icon for dissatisfied meditators, thus someone who must be defended at all costs, even when he is clearly in error?"
BH: "As Sonya correctly said, we are not the 'dissatisfied meditators' that you say we are." I meant specifically surat-shabd-yoga meditation. And I wasn't referring to JUST you. I was colloquially referring to you and some of your defenders/supporters. In your case I was referencing how you have often expressed a dissatisfaction with the results of your decades of RS surat-shabd yoga. I admit I have made an assumption of my own, that someone who had satisfactory results in surat-shabd yoga would not be regularly engaged in the kind of comments that are commonplace here.
Ah, now we get to the crux of what is bothering Chris. He apparently believes that surat-shabd-yoga meditation is the only genuine kind. I heartily disagree. I spent 35 years diligently practicing that sort of meditation, which is that taught by Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
For about 15 years I've been meditating in a Buddhist fashion, using Vipassana (mindfulness) and Metta (loving kindness) practices. In my experience mindfulness and loving kindness are better ways of meditating. But everyone has to decide for themselves.
I'm just surprised that Chris is so judgmental about meditation practices that differ from the one he prefers.
I'm also surprised that Chris seems to be suggesting that he has achieved some sort of meditation heights that us mere mortals haven't. Do you really believe that surat shabd yoga meditation is better than other types, Chris? Regardless of the answer, I now understand why Chris is so defensive about criticisms of the RSSB guru.
If the guru really is guilty of the crimes he's been accused of, this would show that surat-shabd-yoga doesn't make one a better human being, given that Gurinder Singh Dhillon is the spiritual leader of a surat-shabd-yoga sect.
BH: "You seem to look upon meditation as some sort of a contest...” No, I have not written that, and I do not think that. FALSE ASSUMPTION 4
Again, I stand corrected. When you spoke of "dissatisfied meditators," I understandably assumed that you had a vision in mind of what a satisfied meditator would be like. It's good to know that notwithstanding your statements about surat-shabd-yoga meditation, actually you don't believe that sort of meditation is better than other kinds. On that we agree. Which is why I'm pleased to stick with mindfulness and loving kindness meditation.
BH: "If you're willing, please share what you consider should make someone dissatisfied with their meditation." I regard this as a devious attempt at entrapment used as a defensive avoidance tactic. But ...only you can know for sure. Whatever, I have no interest in pursuing such a line of enquiry and don't see how it adds to the discussion of you presenting one-sided allegations and speculations as if they are factually proven, when any honest person knows that, as yet, they aren't.
Gosh, Chris, I politely said "if you're willing..." No need to view my request as a "devious attempt at entrapment."
Didn't you just say that you don't view meditation as some sort of contest? I simply was wondering why you claimed that I and others were dissatisfied with our meditation. Seemingly that claim would be backed up by a criterion of what would make someone satisfied with their meditation.
Regarding the allegations made against Gurinder Singh Dhillon, you should complain to the Indian financial press and Malvinder Singh, since they're the ones reporting on and making those allegations. I sprinkle my blog posts on this subject with "allegedly" and similar terms. I've never said that they were factually proven. Maybe you've been reading some other blog and mixing it up with this one. Hey, we all make mistakes.
BH: "Again, along with Buddhist teachings, I consider that coming closer to the reality of the present moment, whatever that reality consists of, is what meditation is all about. If you disagree, share your own view of meditation." Again, I see this as yet another irrelevant point to my specific observations and therefore a diversionary tactic. There.
There? That's your answer to my query about whether you believe coming closer to the reality of the present moment is what meditation is all about?
I simply was trying to understand how you view meditation. Sounds like I was correct in assuming above that truth isn't your primary goal in meditation. That's fine. Everybody is entitled to their own illusions. Whatever works for you, do it.
Will you now reply to the previous observations and the related questions put to you? Here are a few more: Can you see how you have again in this reply made many false assumptions and made unfounded claims?
Can you see that you have built a picture of what is occurring between us based on those false assumptions AS IF they were 'factual' and 'true'?
Can you see how that appears to be a pattern of behaviour?
UPDATE: I just came across a comment by Sonya that is too good not to share in this post. GSD refers to Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the guru of Radha Soami Satsang Beas. Enjoy:
@Chris Why do you keep saying “dissatisfied meditators”. I was very satisfied with my meditation when I followed RSSB and am still satisfied with meditation today. That had nothing to do with GSD. It’s GSD’s stomach churning behavior and the comments I personally witnessed spew out of his mouth as well as his inappropriate behavior that were intolerable.
Maybe you haven’t spent enough time in his close presence to understand this yet. As you’ll see in one of Brian’s recent posts he threw in “allegedly” and made reference to how Stephen Colbert often throws in “allegedly” when talking about Trump.
That made me laugh... All of the other late night TV show hosts repeat the news... (and they don’t even say allegedly) that’s exactly what Brian is doing (on a more serious note). Watch Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, John Oliver... they repeat the news and add their own Op Ed to it...
I wish India had an SNL [Saturday Night Live] type show... maybe they do. If so, I’d love to see it because this whole RSSB, Dhillon, Singh scandal has rocked the Indian Media. They like to refer to it as a potboiler... they say it has all the makings of a Bollywood movie with a guru even thrown in! It’s a blockbuster Bollywood film in the making.
You should spend some time watching the News channels in India cover this... get a translator. It’s sadly very entertaining. Or are you more of a Fox News and Info Wars kind of guy/girl? (respectfully, Chris could be either) What made GSD will break GSD.
Posted at 07:31 PM in Comments, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Spiritual practice/meditation | Permalink | Comments (67)