Sock Puppet Gurus: The Dangers of Confirmation Bias and Spiritual Complacency, by James Bean
I remember laughing so hard when I heard a stand-up comic once doing a bit saying, “I play the guitar better than Jimi Hendrix cuz he’s dead.” Funny yes, but you know, they do make a good point, which I remember pondering at the time, applying that to the subject of spirituality, spiritual seeking, growth and change.
As wonderful as world scriptures and the writings of past mystics might be, they are no substitute for a living spiritual path with us now in the world today, or being mentored by living spiritual teachers in-the-here-and-now. When we read one of our favorite spiritual books, perhaps representing the writings of some author who lived decades ago, centuries ago, or scriptures composed millennia ago, those old writings are held prisoner by what we ourselves are willing or able to see. Typically, human beings have no awareness beyond their current state of consciousness. We see what we already know, and anything beyond remains invisible to us. There’s always the danger of making best-selling spiritual books, writings from saints of the past, or scriptures into sock puppet gurus telling us what we want to hear. If we just unknowingly live with our blind spots, the-sages-of-the-ages will never disagree with us, will never push our boundaries, just parrot back to us what we think we already know.
On the Outside In Search of An Inside
In many cases, spiritual movements and mystic schools of spirituality are no longer with us, are defunct. Or we may find examples of groups and orders that are still around but in-name-only, have been corrupted over time, no longer what they once were. If spiritual experience is the desired goal, going on an archaeological dig sifting through the sands of time is not going to help.
I remember so well looking at my collection of mystic books and Nag Hammadi codices realizing I had reached a kind of dead end, a sense that no further progress can be made without contact with a living version of those paths with us now in the Twenty-First Century, a living gnosis now. The actual spiritual practices, East and West, are typically never written down anyway but remain private communications only between master and disciple. With past saints we can’t sit at their feet, ask questions, take notes, or learn from them the secrets of contemplative meditation practice.
“Seek to see the Living One while you are alive, lest you die and then try to behold that one — and you will be unable to see.” (Gospel of Thomas, 52)
Rather than a vain attempt to figure out the methods of meditation by randomly perusing through old writings and scriptures of those who have left-the-body decades or centuries ago speculating on what their meditation techniques might have been, in Sant Mat (The Path of the Masters) the methods of sadhana (spiritual practice) are directly communicated from one generation to the next via the Living Masters of the time.
Swami Santsevi Ji Maharaj: “As long as we are so deluded because of our ignorance we are unable to have direct knowledge of the Divine. Through the senses we recognize the body, but we cannot recognize the soul through these same senses. We declare that our physical possessions are ours, but even as we claim this we realize they are not really part of us. The truth is we are not those possessions. We are different from these things. Similarly, when we say ‘my hand’, ‘my eyes’, ‘my nose’, and so forth, do we mean that we are those bodily parts? Of course we do not mean that. They all are ours and we are the owner. We then ask how we can recognize the divine soul. The answer lies in this illustration given by various saints: During deep sleep we are unable to have any knowledge of this physical body; however, after waking up we recall this body, our relations and possessions. In the same manner, when we are in the three states — awake, sleep, dreamless sleep — we are unable to directly perceive our inner self and the Divine [God]. The Saints tell us that there is yet a fourth state, called the Turiya, which is above the others. In this state we can directly perceive our own nature and know the Divine.
“Guru Nanak Dev affirms:
‘When there is union between the soul and God,
suffering is eliminated. This union occurs by the
grace of God. Once the mind is in God, then death
(Kal) cannot harm a person.’
“In order to have direct knowledge of the Divine, Guru Nanak teaches that it is necessary to have a path. Such a path is only found through association with a Saint or spiritual preceptor. Without this help it is not possible to have direct knowledge of the Divine.
“Concerning this knowledge Guru Nanak proclaims:
‘Dear ones, without the spiritual preceptor (guru)
knowledge and the means for attaining this knowledge
cannot be obtained.’” (The Harmony of All Religions, Maharshi Mehi Ashram)
More recently, from a satsang discourse of Baba Ram Singh:
“The musk is in the deer, but it seeks it not within itself: it wanders in quest of grass.” (Kabir)
“Kabir Sahib gives an example of how we are going about our lives. It is like the musk deer. The musk deer has musk within itself, but this fragrance of the musk, it doesn’t know that it is emanating from itself. Instead, it searches at different places to try to find out where that fragrance is coming from.
“Like that, God Almighty is residing within us, but then the people, the jivas [souls], try to search for that God Almighty outside in the mountains, in the caves, in the pilgrimages, and in other forms of worship. At the time of meditation, that is what the Masters explain as to how we go within this temple that has been created by God — this temple, our body, our human body — how we go within and then, how we manifest God Almighty within. That is what is explained at the time of initiation.
“God Almighty is within this human form and whoever has manifested God Almighty has done so by going within. Nobody has been able to manifest God Almighty on the outside. And in the future also, nobody will be able to do so.
“So, like the flower has a fragrance, or the musk deer has the fragrance of musk within itself, or like there is clarified butter in milk but, without effort, one is not able to get the benefit of that, one is not able to get it. So, the path to do that is contained within this human life-form where, with the Teachings of the Masters, we leave the nine doors [of the sense organs] and come to the Tenth Door [Third Eye]. And with the Grace of the Master, we are able to see for ourselves our soul and Jyoti [Light] within.
“So, Kabir Sahib says that, ‘Despite God Almighty being within, every human being, every human form, why is it that a human doesn’t manifest God Almighty? And why is it such a rare thing? That is because they have not met an attained Satguru. They have not met a true Satguru Who shows them the Path.’ Because, outwardly, there are many gurus who teach different things — from Ashtanga Yoga to austerities, different types of austerities, or people go to pilgrimages or undertake fasting and do such other things. But these are outward and it is only a true Satguru Who shows the real Path to go within and manifest God Almighty.” (Satsang Discourses, Volume 13, August, 2022)