I just got a link to a Newsroom story by Cass Mason about a new Radha Soami Satsang Beas center in New Zealand. Here's a screenshot of how the story starts out, along with a PDF file of the story. Below I'll share critical mentions of RSSB in the story, along with mentions of an interview Mason did with me.
Download Sect sets up home at Ihumātao stonefields
This is the concluding part of the story. I found the final paragraph amusing, though not surprising. Baruch ter Wal won’t comment on allegations of the RSSB guru's involvement in financial fraud, but he’s fine with ascribing motivations to me that don’t fit with reality.
That’s to be expected, since RSSB faithful can’t conceive that someone could find the guru and the RSSB teachings lacking after 35 years of serious devotion to meditation and the other RSSB vows. Instead, my leaving the group must be my own failing.
However, the group is not without its controversies.
While RSSB’s previous gurus have maintained a low profile, Singh Dhillon has made the news in India for allegations about his involvement in financial scandal.
Singh Dhillon is alleged to have siphoned funds relating to the sale of multinational pharmaceutical company Ranbaxy Laboratories - owned by Singh Dhillon’s cousins, brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Singh - to Japanese global healthcare company Daiichi Sankyo in 2008.
An affidavit signed by Malvinder Singh in 2019 accused Shivinder of transferring Singh Dhillon more than NZD$100 million in fraudulent loans through shell companies controlled by Singh Dhillon, his family and close associates, money which was then used to buy real estate.
“Shivinder initiated these actions and permitted siphoning and malfeasance of funds with the ulterior motive of gaining control of the seat of the spiritual head of RSSB, which was promised to him by Dhillon in lieu of the financial gains,” the complaint says.
He alleged any attempts at recovering the money were met with death threats.
“Gurinder Singh Dhillon has threatened the complainant through his lawyer Ferida Chopra that if he did not agree to the demands of Gurinder Singh Dhillon, he would be eliminated by persons from the Radha Soami Satsang,” the complaint said.
The Economic Offenses Wing of the Delhi Police summoned Singh Dhillon to court seeking explanation around funds transferred to his and his late wife's bank accounts following the accusations from Malvinder.
Singh Dhillon and his family members were among 55 people eventually ordered by the Delhi High Court in 2019 to repay 6,000 crore rupees - or nearly NZD$1.3 billion - to the Singh brothers’ flagship holding company RHC Holding as part of a directive to third parties to compensate Daiichi, which alleged non-disclosure of crucial information during the 2008 sale.
Asked how RSSB might reconcile these allegations, which have not resulted in any charges against Singh Dhillon, with its principles, Baruch ter Wal says the group doesn’t feel it needs to respond.
US-based author Brian Hines was a member of RSSB for 35 years. Since leaving in 2002 he has become an outspoken critic, particularly about what he sees as hypocrisy within the leadership.
He describes RSSB as “stranger than your usual religion”, drawing on a study by American psychiatrist and former Harvard Medical School teacher Robert Jay Lifton to make his point. Namely, that the outfit fits the bill for the three criteria Lifton defines as making a cult: a charismatic leader followers must not question; ‘thought reform’ or indoctrination; and exploitation of members.
“Followers of RSSB believe their leader is a living god. He’s considered an infallible being and his commands are to be carried out without question.”
Doubts about teachings are heavily discouraged and followers are told the human mind is considered to be “the agent of a negative power”, he says.
Hines also says devotees are expected to commit vast amounts of time, energy and money - though this is not enforced - to the organisation, which operates strictly as a top-down hierarchy.
Ter Wal says members are not encouraged to donate, and while they are made aware of opportunities to volunteer, that too is optional. He also says the nature of RSSB’s way of life can lead to retrospective negativity.
“The lifestyle is quite rigorous, so if you become disillusioned, you could look back at 10 years and go ‘Oh shit, I wasted 10 years of my life, I could have been out there earning money and watching Andrew Tate videos’. And so you could get resentful about that, and feel like ‘I was brainwashed’ so the teachings are the teachings and if you fall out of love with them then you could say it was groupthink ... which comes with the territory.”