No sooner was Anton gone than Lesley became initiated as a satsangi and began her meditative life. It is no mean feat to devote two and a half hours daily to sitting quietly with one’s thoughts, feelings, fantasies, memories, half-dreams and habits, but somehow Lesley managed it. Not only did she manage it, she appeared to like it, and, in my experience, was diligent in carrying it out, as well as all the other duties undertaken by a devotee of the Radhasoami faith.
What are these duties? During waking hours, the devotee is asked to fill her thoughts with a silent mantra, consisting of five Punjabi words, said to be the Names of God. This practice, known as simran, is intended as a reminder of the undertakings of a satsangi and to concentrate the mind in the inner Word or Logos. These words should form a continu-ous stream in the mind of the practitioner, guiding her towards compassionate action and away from the temptations and distractions of the world. In addition, the satsangi is a strict vegetarian of the Brahmin kind, abjuring meat, fish and eggs, but taking dairy products. This dietary practice includes the eschewal of intoxicants. The devotee is expected to accomplish two and a half hours of meditation daily, in the early morning or evening, or both. The meditation practice is divided up into two phases: in the first, called dhyan or contemplation, the mantra is repeated silently with the attention drawn to the centre or the forehead, the darkness within is contemplated, and the form of the guru is visualized in that void. The idea is to become absorbed into the light beyond the darkness and to imagine the guru’s inner form in that light. When focus is achieved, the Radiant Inner Master, the spiritual form of the guru, takes the place of the imagined figure and becomes an inner guide. In the second phase, called bhajan or listening, the satsangi pays attention to the inner sound, heard at first as a ringing bell and later as more complex and differentiated sounds, and becomes similarly absorbed in their resonance.
Descriptions of the experience characterize it as blissful, but for most, it is anything but. Restlessness and boredom are common among meditators. If the radiant inner Master and his Logos can blossom in the field of the self-reflective mind, then so can a host of fears, projections and unconscious images more common in dreams, in addition to the gamut of habitual mental patterns. Satsangis undertake not to disclose their meditation experiences or their inner experiences in general, but some find it possible to hint that they ‘have had’ some find it possible to drop clandestine hints about their private spiritual experiences, but withhold details. Lesley was among this latter group, and after some years I understood that she was an ‘advanced’ meditator, and that the unrevealed contents of her meditation were certainly enough of a spur to keep her coming back for more.
At some time in the later 1970s, Vere came back from Sunwich Port to what had been Luitingh’s Guest Farm to die. She moved into the spare room of Lesley’s cottage and lay there, full of cancers, getting thinner and thinner until the colony of cells that was her body lost its ladylike identity, and she died. Lesley did her best to nurse her mother and provide her with comfort and ease, but in the end she told me that she felt guilty – that she might not have done enough to feed her. The autopsy, she told me, revealed that there were no cancers or growths at all. Vere, over ninety, had simply died of old age.
The small inheritance that resulted allowed Lesley to clear her debts and to travel, although she still painted and sold paintings whenever she could. Between 1970 and 1989 she travelled to India perhaps a dozen times, as well as making several journeys to Hong Kong, Europe and the United Kingdom. Each time she went to see her Master, Charan Singh, to receive the benediction of his physical presence and gaze, and each trip was a fervid devotional experience. Seen through the eyes of devotion, the Indian landscape was transformed for her, and many trips included side excursions, to stay on a house-boat in Kashmir, to see the Taj or the Red Fort, to stay a day or a week with Indian friends. She did not, to my knowledge, go to Dalhousie, where the Grewal Singh family maintained their summer retreat. She shopped in New Delhi and Mumbai, in Rajasthan and Kashmir, and she brought back brightly coloured fabrics, shawls, small artworks, domestic utensils, clothing and embroidery which she used to decorate her home and to distribute as gifts to her friends and fellow satsangis. She never dressed faux-Indian, though she often wore a Kashmiri meditation shawl around her shoulders, and it is thus that I chiefly remember her during that time. Her presence, which was calm, intelligent, devoted, light and humorous, was an inspiration to other satsangis who saw in her life an example of what they aspired to in theirs.
Lesley in her sixties (and on the right we see her at sixty-two) bore a strong resemblance to Lesley in her twenties. She once told me that the urge that had brought her to Communism was the same one that later brought her to the Radhasoami faith: a wish for things to go right, for suffering to be ended, and for people to live in love and harmony.
It seems to me that there are a number of other parallels between the two faiths as they have manifested in South Africa. Both are total systems with a master narrative purporting to explain the world and its workings, which offer programmes of action and conduct intended to address human suffering. Each gives meaning and purpose to the lives of the followers. In being total systems, they have special terms and critiques which demonstrate how rival philosophies or groups fall short, and thus offer an exceptional sense of community to the faithful – a feeling of being among the vanguard or elect, the sole possessors of truth who, in both instances, meet in small, like-minded groups and form friendships within these groups which replace other social or familial ties. Both groupings offer, in Albie Sachs’ phrase, the energy and the excitement and the feeling that there is another world. Both are hierarchically structured while making egalitarian claims, have a sectarian literature and especially value the writings of their Victorian founders.
Where they most markedly differ is in the claims they make about the world. In the Radhasoami faith, the world is an illusion riven with misery, the cause of the misery is ignorance, and we can escape by turning inward. For the Marxist faithful, the world is real, misery is substantially caused by material relations of production, and this can be changed by altering these relations. Each system would regard the other as sadly misguided, but maybe in a general sense both are correct – happiness cannot be achieved without modestly decent material circumstances, but circumstances, no matter how constructed, are no guarantee of happiness without the inner contentment born of reflection.