Back in 2006 I wrote a post called "Who is the guru?" In it I said this about the guru of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), Gurinder Singh Dhillon.
Gurinder Singh is fond of saying, “How do you know that I’m not a fraud?” and “Maybe I just have the gift of gab.” Devotees consider statements like these to be Zen-like pointers toward his divinity. But who knows? Maybe he’s pointing toward his humanity without being able to explicitly speak of who he directly knows himself to be.
I don't know if the guru has continued to say those words. But I was reminded of them yesterday when I responded to an email sent to me by a disillusioned RSSB devotee who asked me some questions about my previous involvement with the organization and Gurinder Singh.
In part I said:
This morning I did some additional reading in a book about a woman's pursuit of becoming expert at poker, "The Biggest Bluff" by Maria Konnikova. In her Reading Myself chapter, she has some interesting observations about understanding (or reading) the motivations of other people at a poker table that pertain to the question of who the RSSB guru really is.
God? Or a fraud?
Basically, it's complicated -- in poker or elsewhere in life -- because we humans are complex beings. Here's an initial step at understanding, or reading, as described by Konnikova.
Frank Lantz has developed a poker concept that he calls "donkey space" about the dynamic between two expert players who understand the game at a high level and are playing a heads up match -- that is, one on one. There's perfect theoretical play, which is unexploitable by any opponent, and then there's adjustment to that play based on your opponent's strategy.
...You watch them act and react over multiple situations and you try to adjust based on that behavior, to be maximally profitable against that particular person.
But now, if your opponent is good, they realize what you're doing -- and they adjust in turn. It may even be the case that they moved to this particular spot in strategy space on purpose, Lantz points out, so that they now exploit you better. They've given up equity for a little bit to then kick you once you've moved.
"I call this donkey space because a donkey is a fish, a player who is not playing perfectly," Lantz explains. "But these two people are like fighter pilots, maneuvering around each other, because in a dogfight, what you want is to be on your opponent's tail. That's where you can shoot them." He continues, "You're doing barrel rolls and triple flips, and you're constantly trying to outmaneuver this other person."
So that's one lesson from poker, which I suppose most of us already know, at least intuitively. There are layers upon layers of possible deception.
A guru says, "How do you know I'm not a fraud?" The person hearing this has to decide what to make of those words. Is the guru being honest? Is he admitting to being a fraud without outright saying this, making it into a question rather than a statement? Or is the guru casting the responsibility onto his devotees to find the truth about himself, which could be a positive thing?
But there are more complex possibilities. The guru knows he is a fraud, so he sounds like he is admitting this, knowing that most of his devotees will refuse to believe it and rather view his words as manifesting a divine humility that shows his godliness, not his fraudness.
Here's another factor Konnikova talks about: the importance of knowing yourself if you wish to know other people.
I've been so busy focusing on reading the motivations in play for other people that I forgot to factor in myself.
...Through careful observation, you not only have to learn how to tell the difference between your faulty intuitions and real data, but understand how to exploit what you've seen -- and how to know if you're being exploited in turn.
That last part is the one I seem to have momentarily forgotten. I've been so busy reading others that I've missed the step of stopping to read myself. Blake can only tell me what I'm giving off physically [at the poker table]. He doesn't have enough to go on to unravel my inner psychology and understand the internal tug-of-war that may be governing my actions.
...In turning my mind to tells and reads at this stage in my learning, I may have missed a crucial step: the first person you have to profile -- psychologically, not physically -- is yourself.
Great point. When it comes to gurus, why does someone want to believe in them so much? What need is being fulfilled by embracing the notion that a guru is God in human form when there is no evidence of this? Why is blind faith so attractive in the realm of religion when so much care goes into not being taken advantage of in one's worldly life?