Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Path of the Masters



The Path of the Masters
Author: Julian Johnson
Publisher: Radha Soami Satsang Beas

Though I bought this book when I visited a satsang 6 or 7 years ago, I wouldn’t have read it even now had my school not been taken over by the Radha Soami Satsang Beas.  Religion and spirituality don’t appeal to me.  In fact, the word ‘religion’ conjures up in my mind images of burning heretics and witches, crusades and jihads, protests and riots.

I visited the satsang as a visitor driven by curiosity and not as a pilgrim.  The impression I gathered (from the only one visit I ever made) was that what attracted people to such gatherings was nothing different from what the author of this book discards as normal religion.

There are many places in the book where the author calls religion “the solace of the weak” (Voltaire’s phrase), an escapist measure, or a childish solution to life’s problems.  Almost half of the book tries to show that traditional religions cannot bring genuine answers to any individual’s spiritual quest.  Judaism, for example, has degenerated into a mere code of ethics imposed by priests.  “Priestcraft” in Christianity has smothered the spirit of Jesus’ teachings.  Islam has no answer to the question how one can “enter the kingdom of heaven here and now.”

The other half of the book is devoted to explaining that only a living master can lead one to the living kingdom of heaven, who is the real master, and what the master’s teachings are.

The author, Julian Johnson, was “a man of many parts, and besides being a distinguished surgeon, was also an artist, scholar, pilot, and an ordained minister of the church (the Baptist church in America), and had been in India as a missionary” before he became a disciple of Sawan Singh, a Master (guru or saint). He spent many years with the Master before becoming convinced that every religion invariably becomes obsolete and only a living master can fulfil a pilgrim’s spiritual quest. 

In the author’s view a Master is a person who has total mastery over his life, a mastery derived from a profound understanding of human life and his universe.  The Buddha, Jesus, and the Prophet Mohammed were all such Masters.  But dead Masters can no more enlighten followers than can a dead surgeon operate on a patient.  This is a recurrent assertion in the book.

The second half of the book is an explanation of the Hindu scriptures, the Hindu cosmology as well as mythology and Hindu practices such as the yoga, although the author has made it sound as the teaching of all great Masters.  He goes out of his way, for example, to show that Jesus acquired his wisdom from India.  “Probably a year following his first reported discussion with the elders of his people at Jerusalem, he (Jesus) was taken to India by one of ‘the wise men of the East’ (the magi) who had visited him at the time of his birth,” says the author.  “Those men were the magi of the Mesopotamian school.  But there is no doubt that they had communication with India, from where many spiritual teachings had emanated since the beginning of history.  It seems probable that the one who took Jesus to India was an Indian yogi who at the time of the birth of Jesus was visiting in Persia and Mesopotamia.”

Where does the author get such history from?  We don’t know.  With similar revealed wisdom he asserts that “The two doctrines of karma and reincarnation are important considerations in the science of the Masters.  They are accepted as facts of nature not only by the Masters but by  practically all schools of Oriental thought.  More than half of the human race today accepts karma and reincarnation as established facts of nature.”

The book was first published in 1939.  The copy I have is the 16th edition published in 1997.  Even in 1939, did “more than half of the human race” accept karma and reincarnation as established facts of nature?

The book is suffused with dogma although the author condemns dogmatism as the worst evil in the pursuit of spiritual truth because “Dogma is a declaration of opinion which the writer assumes to be fact, but concerning which he has no definite knowledge.”  The author calls his Master’s (as well as others’ provided they are genuine Masters) teaching “a scientific method and even asserts that it “meets every demand of science.”  The true disciple can experience what the Master has experienced; hence scientific.

If that does not satisfy you, the author has more to offer.  “True religion consists in developing that attitude of mind which ultimately results in seeing one infinite existence prevailing throughout the universe, thus finding the same divinity in both art and science.  This is the higher ideal of science.  Why limit science to the test tube and microscope?  Real science finds its ultimate domain in those broader and more beautiful worlds where only the mind and soul may enter, after being purified from the dross of materiality.”

The author redefines science altogether. Thus he creates a new religion although he is against religion and its dogmatism!

Finally, is the Master above the kind of degeneration that religions undergo after the death of their founders?  The author says that his own Master, Sawan Singh (after whom my school is named), lived a simple life with no secrecy, no mystery about him, travelling in ordinary vehicles like other people.  Are his followers, the new Masters, doing the same?  Are they really “the friends and saviors of those who struggle toward the light”?

51 comments:

  1. I hope there would be a time, where everyone would be free from the burden of GOD and religion.

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  2. Living masters are masters of con, speaking high-flying nonsense. But then people are gullible. Any guru/master worth two paisa has hundreds of followers!

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    Replies
    1. It's really hard to find genuine masters of the kind described in the book. As you say, we come across a lot of con masters.

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  3. That was an absorbing read. Every religion serves a critical purpose at the time of its origin by acting as a counterbalance to the prevalent social, political or religious tyrannies. Once the basic motive is achieved, the survival of the religion itself, rather than the religion, becomes the compulsion of its practitioners. Maybe if I quote the Taliban I won't be off the mark. You have correctly pinned down the author when he tries to sneak in his own dogma.

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    1. Yes, Uma, a new religion is born out of a specific need in a particular time or social situation. Once that function is served, the survival of the religion becomes the primary concern of its believers. Ironic, indeed: what should save man is being saved by man!

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  4. I am srprised that you choose to read this book so late. But I liked your logic and the article for its lucidity.

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    1. As I think about it now, Benny, even I feel a bit surprised that I let the book remain idle on my shelf for so long.

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  5. Religion is path to achieve God. Although the paths and names are different the goal is same.GOD. Different masters have different meanings to what is written in the text and for their own materialistic benefits try to preach something that is wrong. One has to understand by his self consciousness what is right and what is wrong?

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    1. I don't interfere with people's religious beliefs; I'm an incarnation of tolerance. When I see other people fighting or making certain irrational demands in the name of religion, I feel upset. When I see unholy people donning the mantle of holiness, I feel angry.

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  6. I am glad you read the book and told us about it... Radha Soami (!) Satsang Beas had been an omnipresence when we were at 'Sawan' and I am happy to know something about it now :-)
    As you hint at it, we are a country infested with babas and sects. In several places, it is easy to find 'post-office' baba and banyan tree baba, for example. We are too enthusiastic as a people to deify people and glorify anybody who can offer something like a 'grand' philosophy. Pity that 'education' doesn't seem to be bucking this trend in any way...

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    1. Now we at Sawan have to learn more about such things as this. We see sewadaars coming and going day in and day out doing even what teachers should do!

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  7. There is a simple round about in a city, many vehicles, passer bys get around it everyday, some grassy patch, some flower beds makes this round about a small breathing lung and an eye candy amidst all the smoke and noise created by the traffic. Many tired labourers come to the place to take a peaceful nap or eat their meagre lunch. One day a sadhu, barely covered, ash smeared, repulsive as had never bathed for months, comes and sits in meditative posture in this round about. 2nd day some people offer him food and fruit, third day a banner 'Jay baba Malang Nath' is put across the round about, 4th day a lungar (community kitchen) is organised at that place, and chokes the free flow of traffic. That day onwards the place is very conveniently snatched from MC and alloted to Baba, now his followers (equally repulsive) have erected a nondescript temple there and the place is ruined for ever. No body is allowed to enter the 'shrine' without offering 'Chadhhawa' (money). That is the reality of religion these days.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Meenakshi. Your parable or anecdote conveys much.

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  9. Hi TM,

    This was thought provoking stuff. You've piqued my interest in this book. I personally believe that spiritual leaders from various religions are just trying to spread a fixed propaganda with no obvious explanations. They prescribe rituals and offerings in order to get themselves more money in the bargain.

    "But dead masters can no more enlighten followers than can a dead surgeon operate on a patient." Brilliant line, in my opinion.
    It is true, that the teachings of the Masters were priceless and hold true but the message has somehow washed away in the process of handing it down the generations.

    I think I'll give this book a read, I like the arguments presented in this book. Maybe we can have a discussion after I read this.

    Regards

    Jay
    My Blog | My Entry to Indiblogger Get Published

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    1. Dear Jay, do read the book. I can donate my copy if you wish. I can discuss with you.

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  10. A great, wonderful, very nice, very pertinent read Matheikal! A real delight I must say! Thanks a lot!

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  11. ...btw I'm reading 'Siddhartha' by Herman Hesse these days perhaps 5th or 6th time in last 20 years...a treasure indeed...to be read by every seeker!

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    1. Yes, Siddhartha is an exquisite novel. Absolutely different from the book under discussion. Hesse was a literary seeker not a spiritual one. That makes the difference. I'd suggest his other novels too: Goldmund and Narcissus, especially. Siddhartha particularly shows how love and sensuality cannot be got rid of from human life.

      I'm grateful to you for mentioning Hesse here.

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    2. I was going to mention Siddhartha too, as I clicked through to this post from a more recent one. The greatest minds have always shunned the need for followership, preferring to live out their philosophy in the knowledge that what must must, regardless of action or inaction. Loved the analysis of the book. I cannot think of any organized philosophy that has survived the inherent corruption of ideology, or enabled its "sangha" to transcend the limitations of organization. Makes one wonder about the true role and function of mentors.

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    3. Perhaps, corruption is a natural process even in religion and spirituality! I have seen that the consumerist culture with its endless greed has seeped into so-called spiritual organisations... Worse, they do things that even an ordinary person will hesitate to do...

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  12. The dead masters are the capital from which the living masters derive interest; at times, the interest so accumulated is more than the capital and a new centre of capital is formed ...

    RE

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    1. And the interest derived by the living masters are in trillions, Raghuram.

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  13. I do not know about this Master, but I know some of his disciples, who pose as if they carry the burden of the world. And they also behave they are much above us mortals. that put me off completely.

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    1. Exactly, Pattu, some of these disciples (present Masters)have nothing in common with the Master mentioned in the book.

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    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  16. I read your blog and I must say that your views are simply unbiased, and that is what I like specifically. I would just like to say one simple thing, that everything is so commercialized now in the globe, that all saints and Masters are like that, and I opine, that you are right that do we actually follow what we read and preach. It is of utmost difficulty. The same goes with the Guru's and Masters also, in India and abroad. If we are preaching equality, ceasing the urge to grow richer and richer, greed and so many other evils, are they able to practice what they are preaching. Why do they all have accounts in Swiss banks? Here I am not trying to offend the inclination towards religion and sects, but pointing to the same question, which you have in the end questioned. I am an amateur, quite young and maybe quite away from worldly pleasures so in case I go wrong somewhere, please forgive me. Thank you Sir, I always love reading your articles.

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    1. Thanks, Geeta, for the appreciation.

      I too share your concerns about the sham and hypocrisy that today's godmen and others foist on us in the name of religion. I too wonder why people in the 21st century fail to understand such hypocrisy. It's possible that people want such hypocrisy rather than real religion!

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  17. That's is absolutely right Sir, this is what people want, and they get a platform to socialize and escape from their homes for a few hours.Hypocrisy is the best word for them. If God is their in our heart, and if we pray, it should show in our actions rather all this artifice.

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  18. When I was posted in Adampur, near Jalandhar, from where Cricketer Bhajji has come, I have visited few times to Beas Centre around 100 Kms from Jalandhar. They have huge campus and lot of devotees keep coming everyday. Even few of my Air Force officers were devotees.

    In India, number of devotees depend upon how old you are or how old your institution is. There are no relevance to present need.

    When I was checking the literature I found that latest book available in their literary was of 1960. It relates to what you have quoted this book which was first published in 1939.

    Today world has changed, technology has changed, most of us are having latest mobile with old 1960 mindset.

    It is not only pathetic but dangerous too.

    As a technologists and engineer, I feel pain on such definitions of masters when people are deprived of basic knowledge and simple facts.

    But what can we simple soul do??? Its tough.

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    1. Wow. The mistakes being passed off here as "knowledge" is astounding. You're not even close. 1960? Where did you come up with that? There are more than 75 books available and I just got 2 that were published in 2009 (more than 2,000 pages total). There have been several published since 1960. People with agendas are amazing.

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  19. Was the author Julian Johnson murdered for some reason by the Satsangis? There are many websites which suggest that. For example:
    http://www.angelfire.com/electronic/awakening101/jpjohnson.html

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  20. I've read this book 6 times over the years and discover new things every time. I've also been following this path for over 40 years. Perhaps the most important thing of many that you missed is that this path is a "science" because everything claimed can be verified in the laboratory of the body. Just "go inside" and find whether it is true or not. As a spiritual "scientist" I can vouch for the accuracy of what you term as "dogma." Unlike religions there is nothing to take on faith and you don't have to wait until you die to find out if your beliefs were facts. That is why it is termed a "science."

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    1. “True religion consists in developing that attitude of mind which ultimately results in seeing one infinite existence prevailing throughout the universe, thus finding the same divinity in both art and science. This is the higher ideal of science. Why limit science to the test tube and microscope? Real science finds its ultimate domain in those broader and more beautiful worlds where only the mind and soul may enter, after being purified from the dross of materiality.” page 16

      Tell me how you will verify that in a scientific lab?

      "Karma is bound up with all forms of sin and evil, as well as of righteousness." Page 338. Verify that please using the lab.

      "If the Master wishes to leave this earth plane, he simply concentrates, and by his own will leaves the body and goes up to whatever subtle world he may wish to visit. Arriving there, he visits with the inhabitants there, looks over the country, and then returns here when he chooses..." p.361

      Verify that please.

      Delete
    2. I already told you that YOU can verify it all, but only YOU can do it. Nobody else can verify it for you.

      You've already proven that you would never believe anyone who claims to have verified that no matter how honest or intelligent you believed them to be.

      If I told you that everything has been proven to me 100% you would accuse me of lying or being insane or anything other than believing it.

      That's why Johnson said that everything is verifiable. Because nobody has to take anything on faith. It can all be proven for yourself beyond even a shadow of a doubt.

      For you to try to claim you don't believe that and therefor it's not real is the exact same thing as religious fanatics who believe things and then claim that shows they're real.

      You are leaning on your "faith" that these things can't be proven to you. And that makes you a carbon copy of the religious fanatics who are certain they know what they are talking about.

      That's nothing but ego. Empty ego.

      Delete
    3. You have ceased to make sense to me. You're indeed a mystic!

      Delete
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