The Kirpal Statistic

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: Garland Publishers
Publication date: 1994

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Appendix Two


Using Inner Visions to Your Social Advantage

Kirpal Singh (1893-1974), the founder of Ruhani Satsang and one of the most popular shabd yoga gurus of this century, claimed that he could give direct, personal experiences of inner light and sound to his followers during their very first meditation sitting. In other words, Kirpal Singh alleged that he could provide glimpses of higher states of consciousness to anyone he chose for initiation. Moreover, Kirpal Singh argued that such experiences constituted proof of his competency in guiding seekers on the shabd yoga path.

Of the some 80,000 people Kirpal Singh initiated from 1948 to 1974, a majority of them claimed to have had some type of inner experience, ranging from simple visions of blue, green, and red lights to hearing subtle sounds like a bell, conch or a flute to sophisticated encounters with radiant yogis, sages, and mystics. The variances, Kirpal Singh argues, stem from the karmic backgrounds of the individuals initiated. Since not everyone is at the same stage of spiritual development, their inner experiences, likewise, will reflect to some degree that disparity. It was not untypical for Kirpal Singh to personally initiate hundreds of seekers at one time. Usually he would have them meditate in his presence for a prescribed duration, after which he would solicit their verbal responses about what kind of inner experience they received. Sometimes he would even touch people on the forehead when they were meditating.

At first glance, Kirpal Singh's claim is really quite impressive. Here we have a guru who is willing to put his competency to the test, unlike the plethora of other wanna-be masters who hide behind the veil of secrecy ("my miracles are only meant for the select few, not the public"). However, on closer inspection, it turns out that Kirpal Singh's transmission of spiritual experiences has more to do with human psychology than with his purported mastership. After Kirpal Singh's death in August of 1974, there was an intense succession dispute among his followers over who was the rightful heir. Eventually three gurus emerged with significant followings: Darshan Singh, Kirpal's eldest son, who established his ministry in Vijay Nagar, Delhi; Ajaib Singh, a former follower of Charan Singh of Beas, who resided in Rajasthan; and Thakar Singh, who temporarily reigned at Sawan Ashram in Shakti Nagar, Delhi. In line with Kirpal Singh's contention that a genuine guru can offer direct inner experiences of light and sound at the time of initiation, each of Kirpal's successors (without exception) claimed that he too could offer glimpses of higher consciousness. What was surprising about all this, of course, was that new initiates of each master were claiming to have extraordinary inner experiences. Even "tape-recorded" initiates, those unfortunate souls who got initiated by Kirpal Singh after his death by hearing an old tape-recorded ceremony, claimed to have seen inner light and heard inner sound.

What's happening? Are we to believe that all of Kirpal Singh's successors (and even his tape-recordings) have divine power? I think not. What is, in fact, transpiring is something a bit more simple and a bit more earthy. It turns out that almost everybody has the inherent ability to see inner light and hear inner sound. Moreover, almost everybody has the capacity to have an out-of-body experience and behold wondrous inner visions. You don't need to go to an Indian guru to have such experiences; indeed, you don't need to go anywhere at all. But that's not what Kirpal Singh and his successors told their vast following. Instead, unsuspecting seekers (who number in the thousands) were taught to believe that it was the guru himself, not the disciple, who was orchestrating the elevation of the soul into higher regions. But Kirpal and crew were not being completely forthcoming about the mechanism which governs access to such amazing sights and sounds. That mechanism is the brain and that three pounds of glorious tissue is the lot of all humans.

In the early 1980s when I was teaching religious studies at a Catholic high school, I tried several meditation experiments with my students which convinced me that Kirpal Singh and other gurus like him were taking undue credit for their disciples' inner experiences. In my trial meditation sessions, I informed my students beforehand about the possibility of seeing inner lights and hearing inner sounds. Naturally, given the boring routine of secondary education, my students were intrigued. I informed them that I knew of an ancient yoga technique that would facilitate their inner voyages. I turned the lights off, instructed them briefly about closing their eyes gently and looking for sparks of light at the proverbial third eye. I told them that I would touch some students on the forehead lightly with my fingers. They meditated for some five minutes. I then proceeded to ask them about their experiences. [Kirpal Singh invariably did such a process directly after his initiation ceremonies; he also kept a running tally of how many saw stars and so on--something which I have called the "Kirpal Statistic".] To my amazement, since I felt that Kirpal Singh and others were actually transmitting spiritual power, the majority of my students reported seeing light. A few students even claimed to have visions of personages in the middle of the light. Others reported hearing subtle sounds and the like. I repeated the experiment on four other classes that day. I have also in the past ten years conducted the same experiment on my college students (both undergraduate and graduate). The result, though differing in terms of absolute numbers, is remarkably the same. The majority see and hear something.

It doesn't take a neuropsychologist or a sociologist trained in statistics to realize that Kirpal Singh and others were simply tapping into an already built reservoir of meditational possibilities. What was unique about Kirpal's approach, at least in comparison with other Radhasoami gurus, was that he claimed to be the responsible agent, the medium through which such inner experiences can be transmitted. Kirpal's disciples generally did not question his grandiose claims, since many of them did indeed see and hear something during their meditation. What they, of course, did not fully appreciate was that almost anybody could have induced them to have inner experiences. [I don't mean to suggest, though, that Kirpal Singh was not a good catalyst, but only that he was not unique and that his success at providing thousands with access to inner lights and sounds was not necessarily connected to his mastership.]

Religious devotees seem overly eager to give up responsibility for their own neurological happenings, believing instead that it takes a "Master" to draw their attention "within." This may or may not be the case (and I am not implying that gurus don't have anything good to offer), but one thing is certain: Kirpal's claims, and others like his, cannot be divorced (as they often are in Sant Mat related groups) from an initiate's own cultural and psychological field of interplay. It is that interplay, that acceptance as fact of a guru's method and the disciple's own inherent capacity--neurological or mystical--for inner experiences, which fuels the claims of would-be masters. It seems wise to me, in light of Near-Death Experiences and the plethora of other meditation accounts, to inspect how we see and hear during our inner voyages of light and sound. Then we may be able to understand why such experiences can occur to almost anybody, anywhere, anytime. It may also help us contextualize and appraise the claims of gurus like Kirpal Singh, who insist on taking credit for their disciples' wondrous visions. If, as I have suggested, that anybody can act as a conduit for such other-worldly experiences, then Kirpal and gurus like him should be judged on some other criteria, since their claims for uniqueness and exclusiveness are anything but unique and exclusive. The "Kirpal Statistic" is exactly that: the probable outcome that the majority of meditators, provided the necessary instructions in Shabd or Nad yoga practice, will see and hear something.

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