Author: Mark Waldron Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER Publication date: February 1997
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SAT_PURUSH@SACH.KHAND: A Cyberspace Conceit on the Nature of "Perfect" Masters by Mark Waldron The second book that I read on Sant Mat (after Darshan Singh's _The Secret of Secrets_) was Julian Johnson's _The Path of the Masters_. After reading Johnson, I came away with some very definite-almost snobbish, really-ideas on how a Perfect Living Master (the capitalization is almost mandatory in Sant Mat) should deport himself. However, at the time I didn't realize that I had fallen prey to Johnson's tendency towards hyperbole. Now, Johnson is a solid writer, racism aside, but he doesn't show much restraint in his adulation of Sawan Singh. Not that I fault him for this; I should have been warier of his rhetoric after he described his vision of a Utopian state, a theocracy run by Perfect Living Masters. In any case, I came away with the conception that a Sant Mat guru must be infallible in every way....not just spiritually and morally, but physically and mentally as well. Anyone who adopts such a rigid belief in the guru's perfection soon encounters the hairline fissures that riddle it. Some months after reading Johnson, I came across a statement by Charan Singh, quoted in _Science of the Soul_ magazine, in answer to someone questioning him on the number of satsangis in the world. He frankly answered that he didn't know, but he thought the number was over a million. Charan Singh didn't _know_ how many satsangis there were? How could he not, when he was a "perfect" master? Was he feigning ignorance out of humility, or as a device to teach the chela that such numbers were unimportant? The incident troubled me, but I glossed over it and moved on, continuing my study of Sant Mat literature. I found other seeming anomalies in the writings of Sant Mat gurus as well. For instance, in _Spiritual Gems_ (a book I dearly love, I hasten to mention) Sawan Singh makes a passing reference to phrenology, apparently giving credence to that branch of pseudoscience. He must surely have been humoring the person to whom the letter was addressed, I thought (for those who have not read it, _Spiritual Gems_ is a collection of letters from Sawan Singh to chelas in Europe and America); no one who had attained his level of spirituality, and thus had access to perfect knowledge of the physical universe, would ever take _phrenology_ seriously! These apparent lapses in knowledge or reasoning may seem trivial to many; and if one assumes the basic humanity of Sant Mat gurus, they are. But in the context of the claimed perfection of gurus of this lineage, even minor mental flaws have devastating implications. After all, isn't the guru supposed to possess a direct link with Sat Purush, the Supreme Lord? How can a perfect master make mistakes, then? Remember: perfection is a package deal. If the guru makes _any_ mental slip, then the whole ideological structure based on the guru's perfection collapses. Now, the fact that gurus have normal bodily functions, as well as illnesses, has never bothered me. I have always adhered to the view, expressed in every reference I have seen to the subject in Sant Mat literature, that the physical body is simply a vehicle, a tool through which the guru accomplishes his work, nothing more. Special attention is not to be given to the physical body beyond reasonable health measures, hence the proscriptions against spiritual healing and yogic practices that emphasize breathing or the chakras below the third eye (though there are other reasons for these proscriptions as well). Physical well-being is subordinated to spiritual development. Thus it is not surprising that the bodies of Sant Mat gurus show no superhuman hardiness or longevity. (Though Sawan Singh lived to be ninety, and was apparently active and clear-headed to the end, despite a lifetime of strenuous activity....not bad for a guru who preached and practiced nonattachment to the physical body!) I have had much more trouble accepting the notion that a guru may not always get his facts straight, even on spiritual subjects, or may have apparent lapses in judgment. It's easy to dismiss a guru's physical faults, not so easy to dismiss mental faults. How do we reconcile mental fallibility with perfection? (And the idea that mental lapses are the guru expressing humility or playing some sort of Zen-like transrational mind trick on the chela is a cop-out.) Do we then toss out the whole concept of perfect masters altogether? This is obviously no easy question, and it took a great deal of soul-searching for me to arrive at a solution that satisfies me (though of course it won't necessarily satisfy you). For my own part, I tend to think of the "perfect knowledge" of gurus in terms of a technological analogy (but then, I'm a bit of a technogeek anyway). The relationship between a Shabd Yoga guru and the guru's spiritual awareness or insight may, I think, be likened to the relationship between an individual computer with Internet access and the Net itself. The Net is a repository of a staggering amount and variety of information that can be accessed at will by a computer with the proper software, modem, etc. But that doesn't mean that the computer is always plugged in to every piece of information on the Web, or is even currently accessing it. It may be employed in more mundane tasks....figuring taxes, typing recipes, whatever....and is thus, for the moment, cut off from the sea of knowledge that it theoretically has access to. Just because the computer has that potential link doesn't mean that it is always using it....nor does it mean that the hard drive never crashes, that the monitor can't go all to hell, or that a Pentium won't tell you that two plus two equals 3.99999999. Likewise, a guru may have direct access to Sach Khand, the highest spiritual region in Sant Mat cosmology, but that access may not dominate the guru's every gesture and statement twenty-four hours a day, nor does it mean that his "hardware" may not occasionally have breakdowns and eventually wear out. I may be stretching an analogy past its breaking point, and it probably still comes across as rationalizing the faults of the guru, and it still doesn't answer the problem of charlatan gurus. ("If my guru isn't _really_ perfect, how can I distinguish between him and the other gurus that I've denounced as frauds?") On the last point, Johnson's criteria for a perfect master can probably eliminate at least ninety percent of the phonies, but there's always some doubt. My position is that the human fallibility we allow the guru in the functional mental arena should never be applied to the moral or ethical spheres. Any lapse of a guru's personal ethical standards should be instantly noted and condemned. The seeker should be outright ruthless in his critique of the guru's behavior. Physical and even mental lapses of the guru may be allowed (though not rationalized!), but spiritual lapses are inexcusable. Admitting that a guru has human flaws need not diminish our devotion to or respect for that guru. In fact, we can take heart in their fallibility....and, perhaps, aspire to their degree of spiritual advancement. The mind, after all, like the body, is part of this creation, a vehicle to eventually be transcended on the path to the Supreme Lord. Ultimately, Sant Mat is not concerned with the failures of the mind, but the lifting up of the spirit.
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