The following essay is my response to a series of questions posed by a reader of Brian Hines' blog, Church of the Churchless.
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
But I think what you are saying is that you are indeed critiquing the theology not as a layman but as a scientist, as someone who’s put in the requisite work in terms of picking up the math and physics and existing theory (in short, in the capacity of the scientist). In your case, this would translate as someone who’s acquired the book-knowledge, the history of the faith, the details of the theology; and also, crucially, the meditation; and also, even more crucially, the actual inner “experiences”. Am I right?
DAVID LANE REPLIES:
I think each of us are (at some of our best moments) working scientists in the sense that we observe certain phenomena and try our best to figure out why it is so. We come up with all sorts of hypotheses and then if we are honest in our inquiry we test out our guesses against other ideas and the one that is (relatively) best at explaining the data we tend to accept, even if only tentatively. Thus when it comes to meditation and spirituality, each one of us has to engage in the experiment and then decide (avoiding as best as possible group think and theological tethering) how to interpret what arises, hopefully keeping open minded to alternative viewpoints.
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
[Quick little on-the-side comment/request while on the matter of your “experiences : Would you be comfortable sharing those experiences in your own words? Actual personal experiences only, not what’s “supposed to be”? I’d be REALLY interested, fascinated, to be able to learn about that. I understand they ask you not to talk about this sort of thing, and if you’re not comfortable breaking that particular tenet of theirs, then it’s cool. Although I’m hoping you’ll say you find that particular tenet amongst the unreasonable and pointless diktats of RSSB, and that you will be able to relate to us something of what you’ve “seen within”.]
DAVID LANE REPLIES:
I think one of the underlying reasons that Sant Mat gurus have argued against revealing one’s inner experiences is because they can be so personal and particular. As for myself (and what I suspect is common or more universal and not merely due to individual peculiarities), I have noticed the following during shabd yoga meditation:
1) prolonged simran or repetition does help one to keep at the eye focus and that once this is sufficiently accomplished the extremities of the body have a very pleasant (at times almost exhilarating) feeling of numbness. In the article The Science of Going Within we described the process and theorized that it may have a biochemical basis similar to sleep paralysis.
“According to adepts and serious students of shabd yoga, one of the first signs that the meditation technique is working is the distinct feeling of numbness in the lower extremities. This is coupled with a sense of conscious withdrawal where one oftentimes intuits that something profound is about to occur, such as entry into a new and luminous state of awareness. The intriguing question—at least from a neurobiological perspective—is to pinpoint biochemically what is happening during this first stage of meditation. It appears that the same chemicals that keep your body relatively still while asleep and dreaming (where one might be surfing, jumping, or flying…. with arms and legs moving about in all sorts of rotations) may also be activated in deeper stages of meditation. The fundamental difference being that in dreaming one is usually unconscious of such chemical interferences whereas in shabd yoga one consciously feels the onslaught of these chemicals becoming operative.In a breakthrough study, two Canadian neuroscientists, Patricia Brooks and and John Peever, located two neurotransmitters which inhibit bodily movement when dreaming. As reported in the Journal of Neuroscience's press release, “During REM sleep — the deep sleep where most recalled dreams occur — muscles that move the eyes and those involved in breathing continue to move, but the most of the body's other muscles are stopped, potentially to prevent injury. In a series of experiments, University of Toronto neuroscientists Patricia L. Brooks and John H. Peever, PhD, found that the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine caused REM sleep paralysis in rats by “switching off” the specialized cells in the brain that allow muscles to be active. This finding reversed earlier beliefs that glycine was a lone inhibitor of these motor neurons. “Interestingly, sleep paralysis, where one feels incapable of moving their body during sleep, which is on occasion accompanied by nightmares or visions, may offer a tantalizing clue to what may be transpiring during the first significant stages of shabd yoga meditation Sleep paralysis is a transcultural phenomenon and can be either a chronic condition where one's sleep patterns can be dramatically impacted or occur in only isolated and rare episodes. Sleep paralysis can range from one minute to an hour. A number of theories have been proposed to explain why it occurs, but it appears that such disruptive sleep patterns are directly correlated to a disjunction between R.E.M. and wakefulness where an erstwhile smooth transition between such states is somehow damaged or altered. Shabd yoga is a relatively simple technique, arguably dating back to the pre-Vedic period in India, which is designed to induce a conscious out-of-body experience that is facilitated by a three-fold method of constant repetition of certain words, listening to internal, subtle sounds, and focusing on inner light/lights. As Charan Singh, the late spiritual master at Radhasoami Satsang Beas, explains, “The electric current or battery charge you feel is the withdrawal of the spirit currents from the body. This will gradually change to numbness of the body and travel upward. Please do not become frightened over this withdrawal of he soul current from the body.” Shabd yogis in general, however, have not tried to correlate their inner journeys with a deeper neurobiological understanding since their practice has been intertwined for centuries with a gnostic-like theology where the body and the spirit are viewed as distinct entities. However, if shabd yoga meditation is indeed a neurobiological process then there should be telltale signs of such that can be quantified by accurately measuring the levels of neurotransmitters such as gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine in the brain while one is feeling the sensation of conscious paralysis while meditating. Indeed, one wonders if there are not chemical ways of inducing the same effect in non-meditators and seeing whether or not they report similar experiences as their shabd yoga counterparts. Our hypothesis is that shabd yoga practitioners who experience the onslaught of numbness in their extremities (which shouldn't be confused with parasthesia—the sensation that one feels when one's foot goes to “sleep”) during deep meditation are experiencing a biochemical process that is similar to what happens when we are asleep and certain neurochemicals manifest to inhibit bodily movements. In other words, shabd yoga induces a conscious sleep paralysis of sorts. If this is correct, we should be able to ascertain whether or not gamma-aminobutyric acid and glycine levels are operative.”
2). The sound current or shabd is a real phenomenon since it appears that almost anyone can hear internal sounds within him or herself during moments of concentration. It also has variations of subtleness and intensity and when the meditation is going smoothly such sounds can have a deeply pulling effect, such that one can have sensations of being pulled out of the body and a rushing feeling. The larger twin questions, however, are: What is causing this sound? And, what does it ultimately mean?
Sant Mat and Radhasoami and Nad Yoga related groups have already decided on the ontological significance of shabd and have made it the cornerstone of their respective theologies and claim it is the manifestation of the Supreme Being. God’s calling card, so to say. If we take a more agnostic position (and avoid the religious overlays that are invariably intertwined with shabd experiences), then we can keep open to a multiplicity of explanations, some of which may be purely physiological in origination.
But uncovering a physical basis to the sound current shouldn’t be surprising since there is nothing demeaning when relating consciousness and its manifestations to material substances, especially when matter itself (given its hierarchical structure) is as mysterious as saying something is purely spiritual.
Yet, when a religious path has predicated its entire superstructure on a particular interpretation (as we see in shabd yoga circles), that same religion will tend to resist explanations that differ with its core dogma. This is why calling Radhasoami a science is fraught with difficulties, given its preset ideology.
This is also why reading and understanding Faqir Chand’s life and work can be so controversial and liberating. Faqir has a more open-ended approach to the subject, despite being appointed a guru in the tradition by Shiv Brat Lal. Faqir repeatedly stated that he could be wrong about his interpretations and asked other shabd yoga masters to correct him if that were the case. Moreover, Faqir provided a much more psychological understanding of the inner regions and radically exclaimed that all inner visions (regardless of their majesty) were entirely self-generated and a product of one’s own mind.
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
What you’re saying (as I understand it—correct me if I’m wrong) is this: just as in science you have observations, basis which you build hypotheses: thus in this case you have experiences and insights, and basis those experiences and insights you’re building up a theology. So the theology is not “revealed”: what is “revealed” are the experiences and insights (the counterpart of science’s observations), while the theology is the attempted interpretation of those experiences (the hypotheses, in other words). Am I right? And basis your own experiences (as well as what you’ve read, Faqir Chand for instance), you’re questioning elements of the theology.
DAVID LANE REPLIES:
Yes, what you write here is spot-on. We seem predisposed to connect our inner experiences with a preset cartography such that we start to believe that they are one and the same. We have a projective arc, similar in import to what Freud had discovered with his patients who invariably “transferred” all sorts of motivations on his part, never recognizing them as their own. The difficulty is that when one has an extraordinary experience (as I did with speaking in tongues at the age of 15), there is often a deep desire to make sense of it. So we look around and depending on our culture we try to “fit” the numinous encounter within a given framework, such as I did when I was given the Bible as a roadmap for understanding glossolalia. Once this happens, we then entangle our inner experience with an outer theology, giving it more power than it might deserve. This became uber clear to me when I examined Kirpal Singh’s claim that he could give inner experiences to his disciples on the day of their initiation or during a special meditation sitting. As I explained in the Kirpal Statistic,
Self Projected Visions
“It turns out that almost everybody has the inherent ability to see inner light and hear inner sound. Moreover, almost everybody has the capacity to have an out-of-body experience and behold wondrous inner visions. You don't need to go to an Indian guru to have such experiences indeed, you don't need to go anywhere at all. In the early 1980s when I was teaching religious studies at a Catholic high school, I tried several meditation experiments with my students which convinced me that Kirpal Singh and other gurus like him were taking undue credit for their disciples' inner experiences. In my trial mediation sessions, I informed my students beforehand about the possibility of seeing inner lights and hearing inner sounds. Naturally, given the boring routine of secondary education, my students were intrigued. I informed them that I knew of an ancient yoga technique that would facilitate their inner voyages. I turned the lights off, instructed them briefly about closing their eyes gently and looking for sparks of light at the proverbial third eye. I told them that I would touch some students on the forehead lightly with my fingers. They meditated for some five minutes. I then proceeded to ask them about their experiences. [Kirpal Singh invariably did such a process directly after his initiation ceremonies; he also kept a running tally of how many saw stars and so on-something which I have called the 'Kirpal Statistic'.] To my amazement, since I felt that Kirpal Singh and others were actually transmitting spiritual power, the majority of my students reported seeing light. A few students even claimed to have visions of personages in the middle of the light. Others reported hearing subtle sounds and the like. I repeated the experiment on four other classes that day. I have also in the past ten years conducted the same experiment on my college students (both undergraduate and graduate). The result, though differing in terms of absolute numbers, is remarkably the same. The majority see and hear something. It doesn't take a neuropsychologist or a sociologist trained in statistics to realize that Kirpal Singh and others were simply tapping into an already built reservoir of meditational possibilities. Religious devotees seem overly eager to give up responsibility for their own neurological happenings, believing instead that it takes a 'Master' to draw their attention 'within.' This may or may not be the case (and I am not implying that gurus don't have anything good to offer), but one thing is certain: Kirpal's claims, and others like his, cannot be divorced (as they often are in Sant Mat related groups ) from an initiates own cultural and psychological field of interplay. It is that interplay, that acceptance as fact of a guru's method and the disciple's own inherent capacity neurological or mystical for inner experiences, which fuels the claims of would-be masters. It seems wise to me, in light of Near-Death Experiences and the plethora of other meditation accounts, to inspect how we see and hear during our inner voyages of light and sound. Then we may be able to understand why such experiences can occur to almost anybody, anywhere, anytime. It may also help us contextualize and appraise the claims of gurus like Kirpal Singh, who insist on taking credit for their disciples' wondrous visions. If, as I have suggested, that anybody can act as a conduit for such other-worldly experiences, then Kirpal and gurus like him should be judged on some other criteria, since their claims for uniqueness and exclusiveness are anything but unique and exclusive. The 'Kirpal Statistic' is exactly that: the probable outcome that the majority of meditators, provided the necessary instructions in Shabd or Nad yoga practice, will see and hear something.”
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
Gurinder Singh steadfastly refusing to directly engage with crucial questions, that too appears distinctly fishy! What you say about large numbers and too little time is true I suppose, but surely answering crucial questions squarely is one of the chief functions of the Guru/Sheikh? (Yes, I know about the “inner guidance” theory. I’ll take that with a pinch of salt, unless someone can say that they themselves have received such inner guidance from the Guru. Have you, David?) Although I suppose there is always the Faqir Chand interpretation of even that inner guidance (should such guidance actually have been forthcoming), so that the “inner Guru” is seen as no more than a mental projection, or something like that. (Yes, I’ve read a bit on Faqir Chand’s experiences and views, after finding out about him from Brian’s blog. Especially that part where his followers say they saw him and were guided and/or helped by him, but Faqir Chand himself did nothing nor was aware of anything of this kind.) In which case clearing people’s genuine doubts (that is to say, teaching) would become one of the prime duties of the Guru, right? Which would make Gurinder Singh’s shying away repeatedly from tough questions look even more suspicious! And why would someone keep quiet about this? The only answer that suggests itself is: to perpetuate the myth about themselves. That’s plain dishonest and underhand, isn’t it? What is your own hypothesis on all this, David? What would you say is the role of the Guru, then? You seem to agree with Faqir Chand: in which case, why do we even need a Guru? (I mean Guru as defined by RSSB; there are others that define a Guru merely as a teacher, which is a wholly separate and acceptable definition.) He isn’t GIHF; he isn’t some kind of supernatural conduit ; so all he is a teacher, right? Can’t you have four of them at the same time, then, or forty? Or none?
DAVID LANE REPLIES:
You raise some very elemental and important questions here. Let me see if I can tackle the Faqir Chand issue first. It has been my experience that Beas related gurus (and those related to Dayalbagh, Soamibagh, and Peepalmandi) have distanced themselves from Faqir’s more sweeping revelations, particularly what the outer guru knows and doesn’t know about the inner state of their disciples.
I remember the strange reaction I got from the Dera administration (specifically Professor K.S. Narang, who was Chairman of Publications and later Chairman of the Dera Board) back in the Winter of 1981 about me wanting to publish Faqir Chand’s autobiography, which Faqir had kindly dictated in Urdu and had translated at my request. Faqir had only died just three months prior (September 11, 1981) and I was keen to finalize a printed version of the book for larger distribution. Prior to visiting the Dera that session I had sent a proof copy of The Unknowing Sage (the title I gave to Faqir’s autobiography) and a copy of my M.A. thesis, Radhasoami Mat (which was a genealogical description of how Radhasoami developed since the death of its founder, Shiv Dayal Singh).
I can still vividly recall meeting with Professor Narang in his administrative office at the Dera and how he tried to convince me not to publish Faqir’s narrative or my M.A. thesis. It struck me as quite strange since just prior the same administration had asked for several copies of my work on Eckankar so that they could distribute it to their Western representatives. Something didn’t settle right for me at that time. Narang’s words (which apparently came directly from Charan Singh) were that I would be doing “no service to Sant Mat.” I protested and explained that Faqir’s experiences were unique and of great benefit to those embarked on spiritual quest since he was so frank and honest in his descriptions. Instead of engaging me with what Faqir had realized in his life, Narang tried to cast dispersions on Faqir’s character. I was taken aback by this tactic since it appeared to me (even at the time) that the Dera should be more magnanimous about a mystic who had just died even if they may have disagreed with his findings. My gut feeling was that Faqir Chand’s revelations about how little the guru knows hit a sore spot among the Dera hierarchy since it contradicted the status quo. I say this precisely because even if the Beas gurus were much more knowing than Faqir (and were the “Perfect Masters” their literature describes), they would understand that Faqir’s revelations would help explain “lesser” gurus and how their respective disciples get all sorts of miraculous visions, even if they had no power whatsoever. But Beas didn’t see it this way; instead they saw it as a challenge. This too would be fine with me if Beas would openly and clearly explain (with evidence and not merely anecdotes) how exactly Faqir Chand was mistaken. Instead, when I pushed this issue the only responses I got were elliptical and couched in mitigating language that could be taken in several different ways.
I distinctly remember being at the Beas train station as I was getting ready to depart and having a sinking feeling in my stomach that the Dera was not being as straightforward as they should be. Something felt amiss, at least to me.
I went ahead and published the Unknowing Sage and even published an edited section of it for the Laughing Man Magazine in the United States a few months later in 1982, which was widely distributed. I also resisted the Dera’s attempt to have me curtail my researches into early Radhasoami history even though I knew they were touchy (insecure?) about their early connections (and dissociations) from the Agra satsang. When it came to my Ph.D. dissertation at UCSD, I got a letter from Professor Narang requesting that I should not publish such material.
Again, I compared and contrasted this with how the Dera welcomed my Eckankar research (which was much more controversial) with how sensitive they were about delving into early Radhasoami succession history. It should be stated that the Dera has been much less forthcoming than almost any other satsang about releasing pertinent information about their development. Even though I was not initiated at the time (and working as Professor Juergensmeyer’s Research Assistant for the express purpose of developing the most comprehensive guru genealogical history to date), the Dera officials balked when I asked them pointed questions about their relationship with the Taran Tarn satsang (founded by Baba Bagga Singh) and its then present leader Sri Pratap Singh. [Sidenote: Pratap Singh was succeeded by his son, Deva Singh.] Whenever I wrote letters to Professor Narang or others at the Dera trying to unearth certain key historical facts I was only given the scantiest of facts.
It is a matter of historical record that the Dera has been somewhat duplicitous in its reconstruction of early Radhasoami history. For instance, a close comparison of the first English translation of Partap Singh’s letters to Sawan Singh and Bibi Rukko after Jaimal Singh’s death (published five decades ago) with the second and unabridged translation (printed thirty years later) shows a concerted effort early on to mislead readers on certain core issues, including the status given to Jaimal Singh and the directives concerning initiation.
Beas’ bowdlerizing of history to its own favor is unmistakable and, I am sure, is common with almost all other religious movements as well. But this doesn’t then mean that we should turn a blind eye to such manipulations. I say all this primarily because it seems to me that Beas’ reaction to Faqir Chand is one of an organizational concern since his revelations casts a pale shadow on the theological hype that is spliced throughout their most popular texts. Faqir Chand claims (and there is no reason to doubt his memory on this, given how forthcoming he has been on other matters) that he went to Sawan Singh early in his tenure to be relieved of his duty as a guru since he knew that if he told the unvarnished truth it would cause a controversy. He states that Sawan not only backed his ministry but even admitted that he couldn’t be as honest as Faqir given the constrictions of his large and growing organization.
So, yes, I do think that Gurinder Singh and Beas want to have their cake and eat it too. At one end we hear that Gurinder can respond in a very human (and unknowing) fashion and at the other continue to publish books where it is repeatedly claimed that the gurus at Beas are Perfect or are God in Human Form. Whereas Agra gurus have been “orthodox” or fundamentalist in its doctrines (“Radhasoami Mat is the highest religion of all) and Beas masters more “paradoxical” (depending on the audience), Faqir Chand (based as he was in Hoshiarpur) has been heretical and his teachings considered a radical heterodoxy. It is little wonder, therefore, that Faqir’s revelations have been met at best with unconvincing refutations and at worst with uncomfortable silence.
Faqir Chand was very upfront about the dishonesty he saw in Sant Mat gurus and he was not in the least shy in calling them out on it (even by name). As Faqir himself argued, “My physical form appears in visions to many of my satsangis and helps them to tide over some of their difficulties. I receive numerous reports of this effect from the satsangis concerned, orally and by letters. In my heart of hearts I know for certain that I do not know where and when these visions arise and help them miraculously; nor do I produce them. Then, how does it happen? What is the explanation for this? I believe that the intensified faith of these devout persons becomes creative and produces these results. Many so-called gurus mis-appropriate the credit for similar happenings, which take place in their disciples, whose own true faith should be held responsible for those results. By the lack of moral courage and honesty on the part of pseudo gurus, credulous disciples are kept in the dark and fleeced under fake pretenses. I alert the faithful, but simple-minded satsangis, to beware of such sneaks and their false claims.” (cited in the new book, The ProjectiveArc: Guru Visions and Theological Tethering).
I think the guru can be extremely helpful in the spiritual quest provided that he or she is a transparency to our own innermost yearnings and not as a “catcher’s mitt.” Undoubtedly bhakti is a powerful force and very helpful in meditation. But there is a paradoxical Catch-22 in this dyad. The more one values one’s master, the greater one’s expectations become about that person. So when a disciple thinks his guru is God it can act as a tremendous force in focusing one’s mind during meditation, not to mention outer darshan during satsang. Such bhakti does indeed work as a sort of spiritual aphrodisiac, even if the guru in question has no power whatsoever. But despite the obvious fact the disciple is doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship (since he is doing the projecting), he or she must actually believe that the guru is the one with supreme power. Thus, if the devotee finds out (like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) that the Master is merely human it is really quite difficult to get as energized as before. Ignorance of a guru’s lack of power is indeed a pathway to a certain form of bliss. This is akin to what happens when one is mesmerized by a famous person (a movie actor, a singer, a model) and then sees them in person for the first time. If they are really enamored with the star they get an indescribable rush when coming into contact with them. But if they see through the “star making machinery” (to quote Joni Mitchell) that luminous rush dissipates.
Perhaps this is why the guru game works in the beginning, provided that the disciple can overwhelmingly convince him or herself that the person initiating them is indeed God in Human Form. Otherwise, if they pull the curtain too soon like Toto and see only a balloonist from Kansas (or, in our case, an Indian man with a nicely tied turban), then all that projected energy goes away. Now, this doesn’t always have to be the case, but it does seem to be such with the majority who find out that their so-called Perfect Master doesn’t live up to the literature’s hyped billing.
Perhaps this Catch-22 is why Beas and other related gurus are reticent about following Faqir Chand’s lead because it would cause many disciples to forego the path. Simply put, if you think your Guru is God you are much more willing to put in hours of meditation and hours of seva. If, however, you think your guru is merely human (and without requisite magical abilities, since it is your own faith and devotion creating the internal fireworks) then the urge to perform extraordinary devotions may slacken, if not devolve altogether.
Of course, the guru interplay doesn’t have to be this way. If the teacher can serve as a transparency to one’s self, who consistently forces the disciple to look within and not to some external icon or to serve the needs of an organization, then perhaps having such a guide can be liberating.
To be sure, Sant Mat gurus do talk this way (the real path is within you) but far too often the student gets enveloped into the needs of the institution that entraps one into its unique theological net. All of this is quite understandable and Max Weber has written at length about the routinizing of charisma and how a small group inevitably turns bureaucratic the larger it becomes.
If you look at the vast numbers now following Gurinder Singh, it is little wonder that he must exercise tremendous restrictions in order to keep his organization under control and still thrive.
One must acknowledge that Gurinder is in a very difficult position and how he keeps the whole satsang afloat is impressive indeed. But this, in turn, doesn’t mean that one has to agree with his approach or his views on differing subjects. I, for one, can appreciate that on one end of the spectrum, he wishes to act as the Spiritual C.E.O. and expand the satsang and its centers worldwide. But what may be imperative from an organizational standpoint may not dovetail with what certain individuals seek and desire from a spiritual path.
As to your question about how many gurus one can have, I think it all depends on how we view the teacher in question. Certainly, in life we have innumerable guides but when it comes to forming tight relationships with others we tend to have very few close partners since it requires so much time and energy, not to mention that most dreaded of words . . . commitment. I think quite frankly it is an individual affair and depends almost entirely on one’s own perceived needs and desires at the time.
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
Brian’s written a blog post where he links the primacy of the Guru in RSSB to a cultural trope more than anything else. That there is such a cultural trope is very true; but do you yourself agree that the primacy of Guru is no more than just that? What does your own experience say? Do we really a need a Guru (with capital G) at all (as opposed to just a teacher)? [I’m looking for personal answers, basis personal experience, not pro forma dogma. But I don’t think you’d proffer pro forma dogma anyway, so perhaps that qualification was unnecessary.]
DAVID LANE REPLIES:
Faqir Chand had a very interesting take on this whole Guru business and the need for one. In his first few letters to me (given how young I was), he suggested that such yearnings are due to some deficiency in our early life and those who are better acclimatized to their surroundings and circumstances tend not to get obsessive about such spiritual pursuits. So to answer your question, I think no one needs a guru at all, except (and the emphasis is rich with irony) if one believes that he or she needs one. Silly analogy, but no one really needs a “living” teacher to learn how to surf unless, of course, one thinks it is necessary. It is our needs, our desires, which fuels and sustains the Master/disciple paradigm. This doesn’t mean that gurus are not helpful (just like surf instructors they can be), but they can also be detrimental as well. One doesn’t have to look any further than to John-Roger Hinkins, Sathya Sai Baba, and Thakar Singh to underline this point. In other words, I don’t buy the theological dogma that the transcendental being of the multiverse (if there is such a one) has somehow closed the pearly gates to all and sundry unless they got initiated by Babaiamtheonlyone in the hill station of Simla.
APPRECIATIVE READER WRITES:
Finally : What do you think of Gurinder Singh, then? You don’t think he’s GIHF, that much is clear from your comment. So what is he then, spiritual adept, or charlatan? Or something in between?
DAVID LANE REPLIES: I have many different thoughts about Gurinder Singh. Let me start off positively and say what has impressed me. 1. Having met Gurinder Singh in a fairly long personal interview in Austin, Texas, and seeing him upfront in Chicago, Palm Springs, and New Delhi, I have found him to be quite intelligent and very sharp. 2. I think Gurinder’s architectural tastes are quite refined and he has approved some exquisite building designs. 3. Gurinder has inspired thousands of his followers to be sevadars and perform tireless tasks in constructing large properties and organizing satsang events in countries across the globe. I have been treated with the utmost kindness by these volunteer helpers and much credit must be given to Gurinder for guiding such a large congregation. 4. Gurinder has resisted being photographed and has discouraged publicity about himself and Radhasoami Satsang Beas. He has also strengthened the requirements for initiation, insisting that neophytes make absolutely sure they are ready to follow such a path. This is altogether commendable. 5. Because Gurinder has traveled extensively he has made it easier for interested seekers to see him and ask questions. Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have had reservations about Gurinder Singh from almost day one. But as I have said on several occasions, this may be due to my own myopia. For whatever reasons (and I could spell them out in detail, but I have done that too many times already), I just don’t feel entirely comfortable with Gurinder Singh, whereas with Charan Singh I felt entirely at home. Somehow I am a square peg to Gurinder’s circle. I truly wish it were otherwise. I did deeply enjoy going to satsang in Delhi and even have fond memories of Gurinder’s “Pope mobile” darshan. I also love satsangis in general as they are an exceptionally nice and kind group of people. But maybe we all get to a stage where we need to focus more on the internal quest and less on the external machinations of one. Charan Singh captured this well when he said that he wished for us to give up this game of the form and turn our love towards the formless. I do know that I meditate more now than ever and that I appreciate the hard work that sevadars do to make one’s experience at satsang a comfortable one. Emotionally I am still very much attached, even if theologically I am an unrepentant heretic. I want to thank you Appreciative Reader for your finely tuned questions and for giving me the opportunity of thinking anew about these important issues. Having just visited India in November and going to Agra where Radhasoami was first founded has flooded me with memories of what it was like when Charan Singh was still alive. I have absolutely no regrets about getting initiated in 1978 even if I am not anyone’s ideal of a satsangi. In conclusion, let me say some words about why I admire what Brian Hines has accomplished with his blog and why I think it is vitally important that his critical voice be heard and not prematurely silenced. Brian Hines has been extremely open about his spiritual life and he has shown tremendous courage in revealing what he has accomplished (and not accomplished) doing shabd yoga meditation. Too many readers in the past (with an orthodox bent of mind, no doubt) have lambasted Brian alleging that he didn’t follow the path properly or that he should lessen his criticisms of Radhasoami. I don’t agree with this for a nano second. Brian Hines’ blog is satsang in the purest sense of that term. He is trying to tell the truth in the best way he knows how. Jagat Singh is famously quoted as saying that 90 percent of spirituality is clear thinking. The best way to develop those skills of “vichar” and “vivek” is to take one’s rusty brain and have it cleaned and sharpened by one who is willing to think differently than you. This doesn’t mean that one agrees with everything that is written (I don’t even agree with all that I write sometimes), but one honors and appreciates when one takes the time to systematically explain his or her philosophy. Brian Hines has done me (and I believe countless others) a great service and I think that needs to be acknowledged. It is truly ironic that when he was asked to discontinue giving “official” satsangs sanctioned by Beas, Brian was liberated in the process and upped his game and gave even more profound ones. Charan Singh said on many occasions that critics are our best friends. I think there is much truth in that. Charan also gave a very wise piece of advice to me and others when we were young (and it has stuck with me all these years) He wrote that even if you spend your whole life researching and questioning the path, it is not time wasted but time gained. I think Radhasoami Satsang Beas is better served by its critics than those keeping silent because of blind allegiance.