Sort of weirdly, in a recent post, "RSSB does teach that the guru is God in Human Form," atheist me was arguing that the teachings of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), my spiritual home for 35 years, say that the RSBB guru is God's right hand man (no female gurus yet) while some current members of RSSB were arguing the opposite -- that the guru is just a regular human like everybody else.
This perplexed me for a while.
Then I came up with a theory. Being an ancient 73 years old, I was initiated into RSSB way back in 1971 when Charan Singh was the guru. He died in 1990, appointing Gurinder Singh as his successor. So my formative years as a member of RSSB were in the days of what I've called Sant Mat 1.0.
(Sant Mat means the path of the saints; Radha Soami Satsang Beas is part of the contemporary Sant Mat movements.)
In that original Sant Mat philosophy as taught by RSSB, there's absolutely no doubt that a central tenet was that the RSSB guru was God in Human Form, just as Jesus is considered to be in Christianity. In fact, several RSSB books relate the New Testament to the RSSB teachings.
More: the RSSB teachings v. 1.0 also clearly said that it isn't possible to return all the way to God, a realm known as Sach Khand, without being initiated by a Perfect Living Master, another way of saying God in Human Form. This was noted in the quotes from RSSB gurus prior to Gurinder Singh that I included in the above-mentioned post.
But in 2006 I wrote a post called "Sant Mat, version 2.0." Here's what I said.
I’m wondering if there’s been a new release of Sant Mat, a north Indian spiritual philosophy centered around the need to follow a God-realized guru. It certainly seems that way from the remarks of several Church of the Churchless commenters.
Maybe version 2.0 has superceded the original Sant Mat that I was initiated into thirty-five years ago, and which I’ve written about in two books distributed or published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
Though now I’ve been called “Beas’ most articulate critic” (and not only by myself), I still have a genuine fondness for Sant Mat, a.k.a. Radha Soami teachings, and I want to be sure that I’m keeping up with the latest theological developments.
So if you’re a member of RSSB, help me out here. Am I wrong in assuming that the current RSSB guru, Gurinder Singh, has updated the Sant Mat philosophy? Since Gurinder Singh doesn’t write anything for publication, nor allow his talks to be recorded, nor permit attendees to take notes about what he says, it isn’t easy to make a comparison between the original Sant Mat teachings and the new guru’s version.
But here’s the impression that I get from hearing Gurinder Singh speak four times, spending two weeks at the Dera in India eight years ago, and reports I’ve gotten via this weblog and other sources about what he’s said more recently.
Sant Mat v. 1.0
--The guru is God in human form
--The guru is perfect, possessing God’s divine qualities
--God has chosen certain souls to return to Him
--God delegates the guru to initiate these “marked souls”
--Without initiation by a perfect guru, God-realization is impossible
Sant Mat v. 2.0
--The guru is a human who is seeking God, just like us
--The guru is imperfect, just like us
--Whether we want to pursue God-realization is up to us
--The guru is a spiritual guide, not a savior
--There are many paths to God, not just Sant Mat
This is just an off-the-top-of-my-head summary of several seeming differences between the old and new Sant Mat (or more accurately, RSSB) philosophies. However, if I’m even halfway right about v. 2.0, then kudos to Gurinder Singh. For this is a considerably improved Sant Mat, being closer to a science and further from a religion.
However, I’m a bit skeptical that either the RSSB organization or formal teachings really have changed to this extent. My take is that Gurinder Singh’s breath of fresh spiritual air is being diluted by those RSSB’ers who are either unwilling or unable to understand that this 2006 version isn’t your grandfather’s Sant Mat.
For example, a friend told me that when he went to India he’d hear Gurinder Singh say “We are all gods” when asked if the guru indeed was God. After the meeting ended my friend would ask other attendees what they thought of that rather heretical utterance. Most of them didn’t know what he was talking about. They only had heard what fit with their v. 1.0 conception of Sant Mat.
The winds of change may be blowing, but not in the mind of the typical RSSB initiate. Which isn’t surprising, given that Gurinder Singh has been so reticent to write or speak on the record. The current guru likes to say that he has nothing to add to the historical Sant Mat teachings, so the old books, tape recordings, and videos still serve as the official RSSB party line.
I could be wrong (naturally), but in my more optimistic moments I sense an increased openness in RSSB. This supposedly mystical organization has been heading down the road of becoming a hidebound religion, but maybe Sant Mat v. 2.0 will fix the dogmatic, fundamentalist glitches that are keeping this mystic philosophy from being a true spiritual science.
We can only hope.
After 16 years, now I'm not as positive about RSSB as I was in 2006. But I'm still interested in the apparent mismatch between what Gurinder Singh says in his talks and Q&A sessions, and the original RSSB teachings that I was exposed to for so many years.
It's as if the RSSB guru doesn't believe in some key parts of the RSSB teachings. I have no problem with that, since I'm a big believer in changing one's mind when it comes to religion and spirituality. In fact, in 2011 I suggested that Gurinder Singh has gone further and now has embraced Sant Mat v. 3.0.
The roots of RSSB are traced back to Shiv Dayal Singh ("Soamiji Maharaj"), who taught from the 1850s until 1878. After him, a lineage of RSSB gurus continues to the present day. So for over 150 years, 1850 to 2000 or so, there was a consistent RSSB teaching.
This is obvious to those of us of the Charan Singh era who repeatedly read all the RSSB books ever published, including Shiv Dayal Singh's Sar Bachan. I'm not aware of any guru who made a significant change to the RSSB teachings until Gurinder Singh in the early 2000s. And then only verbally, since the current RSSB guru hasn't written any books as the previous gurus did.
So the past 15-20 years have been an aberration. I'm not saying Gurinder Singh is a RSSB heretic, though from what I've heard, sometimes he can sound that way. Which to me is a good thing, since I like heretics.
Again, my big insight, which I guess will sound obvious, is that members of RSSB in the Gurinder Singh era have been exposed to a considerable different version of the RSSB teachings than those of us who were part of the Charan Singh era.