For 35 years I was a member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a religious organization with headquarters in India. Back then I believed that RSSB taught a semi-scientific approach of uniting one's personal consciousness, soul, with universal consciousness, God.
But now that I've been able to look upon RSSB more objectively, I view it as a cult. Here's how a knowledgeable person defined a cult. I've boldfaced certain parts for emphasis.
Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who once taught at Harvard Medical School, wrote a paper titled Cult Formation in the early 1980s. He delineated three primary characteristics, which are the most common features shared by destructive cults.
1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.
2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called "brainwashing"].
The culmination of this process can be seen by members of the group often doing things that are not in their own best interest, but consistently in the best interest of the group and its leader.
Lifton's seminal book Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism explains this process in considerable detail.
3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
So based on my extensive personal experience with Radha Soami Satsang Beas, which encompasses many communications with people associated with RSSB, including the current guru of the organization, here's ten reasons why RSSB is a cult.
(1) The guru is viewed by the RSSB teachings as God in Human Form. As a supposed Perfect Living Master, the guru is considered to be infallible. His commands are to be carried out without question.
(2) Volunteer service to the guru, or seva, is viewed as highly important. RSSB devotees commit vast amounts of time, energy, and money to the organization, which operates as a strict top-down hierarchy.
(3) Doubts about the RSSB teachings are strongly discouraged. Thinking for oneself is a no-no, as the human mind is considered to be the agent of a negative power, much as the Devil is viewed in Christianity.
(4) The current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, has garnered hundreds of millions of dollars for himself and his family through shady financial transactions orchestrated by his close associates, some of whom are being investigated by authorities in India.
(5) Dhillon has been accused of making death threats through RSSB devotees who do his bidding.
(6) There is no independent board or other entity that serves as a check on the RSSB guru's power. The group's finances are largely a secret, though RSSB owns expensive properties all around the world, including private residences for the guru.
(8) Most RSSB devotees consider that the guru can do no wrong, even in the face of evidence that he has indeed acted wrongly.
(9) The RSSB guru enjoys a lavish lifestyle while preaching that the central purpose of human life is to return to God, not make huge amounts of money.
(10) Well-off people, political leaders, and RSSB insiders receive favored treatment at gatherings of the organization, while ordinary Indians receive second-class treatment.
There are more reasons why RSSB is a cult, so feel free to share your own in a comment, if you're familiar with this group. For example, the current RSSB guru forbids people to photograph him without his consent, and has issued an edict against taking notes at his talks.