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”?