A Review of The Stranger of Galilee, by Russell Perkins
by Christian Allègre
To do justice to this great book is a challenge. Not unlike the Sant Bani Sunday morning Satsangs it evolved from it is both an explanatory commentary on the teachings of the Masters and a practical book concerned with daily situations. It is filled with extensive quotes from the Masters' discourses and talks, and it offers personal accounts, stories that the author personally witnessed in the times of Guru Kirpal or from his visits to Sant Ji. It introduces very challenging notions for Christian Theology, and it is an enlightening essay in comparative religion, drawing on the writings of philosophers, poets and saints of many traditions. It is indeed the kind of book one expects from someone who has received the impact of a Saint (1). The epigraph by Henry David Thoreau at the beginning of the book and the dedicace to Kirpal sum up perfectly the spirit and intent of the book.
The Stranger of Galilee presents iself as a commentary on chapters 5 to 7 of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament -- what we call the Sermon on the Mount, from the point of view of Sant Mat, or from the point of view of what Russell Perkins calls in his introductory chapter the Universal Spiritual Tradition, which he shows to be no different from Sant Mat. The author's method is to study the Tradition through the successive themes of the Sermon on the Mount, chapter after chapter. Given the nature of the Sermon this method has a consequence : it gives a lot of importance to the moral elements, in other words those aspects of the theory of the Path which deal with personal conduct. One of the achievements of Russell Perkins' new book is to help us understand anew the true meaning of moral principles from a religious point of view, that is from the point of view of people whose aim is to know themselves and to know God. The central message in all spiritual traditions is that the commandments the Masters want us and help us to follow are not laws at all but rather "glimpses of reality" as Russell calls them, aspects or features of how things really work in this Creation which are such that if we adapt ourselves to their demands, if we understand how they work, if we "follow", as Master Kirpal would have put it, we can become truly content and truly happy. The commandments can then be viewed as criteria for those who would like truly to Go Jolly, that is who would like to live with love in their heart, mercy on everybody, and the knowledge that they are redeemed.
Of course for us satsangis, for any true Christian, moral principles apply to our mental life as well, because we know that the fight starts in fact with the enemy within, the mind. If someone in the Sangat knew the Scriptures sufficiently in depth to achieve this, it was Russell Perkins. But the beauty of this book lies in the fact that it brings the whole array of our Masters' moral teachings out of the Sermon on the Mount. It is in this that it is a true commentary and this is how Russell is able to transmit to us with such clarity what he has learnt: the life in the teachings of Jesus.
Chapter 3 Blessed Are Those Who Hunger for Righteousness illustrates what Master Kirpal meant by "ruling passion"; chapter 4 Blessed Are The Merciful contains an invaluable passage on raising children while respecting their personalities; I have found a clear and sweet explanation of what it means to have an "undivided heart" in chapter 5 Blessed Are the Pure in Heart; chapter 7 Blessed Are the Persecuted explains what karma is about, and how we can suppress it -- it could be subtitled "Long live the Critic!". Chapter 12 on marriage and divorce is the clearest and most definite exposition I have ever read of why the Masters are so strict in this regard. These are just a few examples.
Often Russell Perkins underlines the connections and the complementarity between different chapters. This helps us understand anew several connected aspects of God's love and how privileged we are to have a true Master, who is at the same time Spiritual Teacher, friend, father, protector and beloved. It is a book so rich and deep and at the same time so practical, humane and sweet that it can help us refocus our understanding not only of our life as a satsangi living in the world, but also of life in general. The central message of the book is that the best thing for us is to adopt the point of view of the Master. No imposition, no law, no punishment, no hell, just a switch of angle of vision, which if followed, will change our ways and make us much happier and relieved and filled with peace and joy than we are. He explains it through and through in the first half of the book. And he applies it to our day to day living, within our families, with our parents or our children, our spouses, friends and relations, in all the practical situations that matter to us.
The book shifts in tone after the Beatitudes and this shift perhaps culminates in chapters 21, 24, 26, 27, when, after stressing from the start and all along the importance of not judging others, root cause of so many evils, it comes to what the author calls The Golden Rule : "In everything, do to others as your would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). Usually we treat others as we have been treated, which is completely different. Throughout the book Russell Perkins insists on the importance of avoiding criticism of others, on the importance of love and forgiveness (as opposed to power and justice). He reminds us of the answer Sant Ji gave to Mr. Oberoi when the latter asked him what retards progress the most : "Criticism of others. While one has even the tiniest bit within oneself, the inner way will not open up."
All subjects are always seen from the perspective of the whole, and the same meanings are shown to be present in the Judaic tradition, in Gnosticism, in Hinduism and Buddhism (Russell Perkins often quotes the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, so close to the Masters' teachings.) but it is not a discussion in theology. It is rather a series of thirty beautiful satsangs which contain a wealth of human experience and satsangi experience, coupled with a lot of learning.
Published and presented to Sant Ji around Christmas 1994, The Stranger of Galilee is one great example of what Sawan Singh meant by "Books that matter". On returning from India, Russell Perkins explained in Satsang that Sant Ji looked carefully at the book for a while, and said that it would help many people and that Russell should write more such books. In Italy last summer Sant Ji stated again that this book, together with The Ambrosial Hour, should be read by everyone : "Those who have read that have gotten much inspiration. Even in our India, those who have read it, they have praised it a lot. So you should get that book also and read it (2) ".
1. This is the title of Russell Perkins' earlier book : The Impact of a Saint, Meetings with Kirpal Singh and Ajaib Singh 1963-1976, Sant Bani Ashram, 1980.
2. See Sant Bani Magazine, Vol.21, No. 4, October 1996, p.21.