The Magic of an Elevated Podium, part one

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER
Publication date: February 1997

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at

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An Essay on the Illusion of a "Flawless" Lineage

Part One of a two-part essay

Thesis: It is a conceit, even if a well grounded one, to believe
that one's spiritual lineage is "flawless." Indeed, the history of 
successorship (from Kings to CEO's to Gurus) has been replete with
broken (or brokered?) nexus points.

What lineage does for us, albeit naively, is give us the illusion of
something permanent, something traditional, something legitimate.
And, no doubt, lineage can work as an important confidence booster
for the would-be neophyte to trust his or her guru more.
Yet, the real problem in all of this is that guru-recognition based
on lineage is only a temporary confidence booster. 


Because in order to know that one's guru lineage is flawless one
would have to be able to have access to a "flawless" historical
record. For instance, it may be true that the Jaimal Singh to
Sawan Singh succession is well-documented and has lots of supporting
evidence [Of course, the Bagga Singh contingency from Tarn Taran
at the time may have had a different spin on the whole affair],
but it is also equally true that the Shiv Dayal Singh to Jaimal
Singh succession is much less historically verifiable [even though
it may have just as strong a link as Jaimal to Sawan].

Some succession episodes are extraordinarily clear. Darshan Singh's
appointment of his eldest son, Rajinder, is by any measure one of
the clearest and smoothest chapters in modern shabd yoga history.
Yet, the same cannot be said of Darshan Singh's succession of his
father, Kirpal Singh, which was by any measure one of the ugliest
chapters in modern shabd yoga history [You know you have a bad 
succession episode when guns start to replace diplomacy as the
negotiating tool at the ashram. See the EMERGENCE OF THE NEW MASTER
DARSHAN SINGH edited by Malcolm Tillis for more.].

What becomes obvious by even the tiniest bit of historical
reflection is precisely how little we really do know of the politics
behind guru succession. As the cliche' rightly states, history is
written by the victors (and so too goes the booty), not the losers (even
though it may be those very "losers" who were genuinely appointed).

One may believe, for instance, that the Soami Bagh or Peepal Mandi
or Dayal Bagh lineages are flawless (yea, sure, that's why Dayal
Bagh and Soami Bagh sued each other for some 50 years) and that
Shiv Dayal Singh was the axis mundi for such perfection.

Yet, when we inspect how Shiv Dayal Singh eventually emerged as a
guru we find that we are on much less certain grounds.


Who appointed him?

Tulsi Sahib? Well, if that is the case, then why do we not have any
verifiable records? Moreover, why do the Agra lineages themselves
deny any such guru link?

Well, we don't really know the answer, but we can speculate:

1. Shiv Dayal Singh didn't succeed anybody. He started his ministry
on his own. This is, by the way, essentially the Agra position
(Dayal Bagh, Soami Bagh, and Peepal Mandi).

2. Shiv Dayal Singh didn't succeed Tulsi Sahib, but rather a
disciple of his named Girdhari Das (support for this interesting
contention comes from a most unlikely source: Madhav Prasad Sinha,
the last well recognized guru at Soami Bagh and Shiv Dayal's
nephew, who admitted that his uncle treated Girdhari more or less as
a guru).             

3. Shiv Dayal Singh did succeed Tulsi Sahib, but for whatever
reasons chose to keep relatively quiet about it.

4. Shiv Dayal Singh disputed the succession at Hathras when he was
overlooked by the major faction of Tulsi's disciples who apparently
sided with Surswami. 

[Sidebar: When I went to Hathras with Professor Juergensmeyer back
in 1978, the then living Mahant told us that Shiv Dayal Singh took
initiation from Tulsi Sahib but broke off later and started his own
new panth (or way)].


Okay, so what's your point Lane?


No matter how "flawless" one may think their present lineage is, a 
closer inspection via history will (apparently without exception)
an odd chapter, an odd nuance, an odd contradiction.

So even though we may have relatively high confidence in three or
four modern-day succession transferences, we do not (perhaps cannot)
have the same confidence in earlier mastership transmissions.
To be sure, we can have a "belief" or a "faith" that earlier episodes
were not marked by animosity, deceit, or outright fraud, but we
can (apparently) NEVER fully know this.

Hence, we have at the very best "temporary" confidence in our
respective lineages. And, I would suggest, such confidence can too
easily be undermined by a close attention to detail, even with
present-day guru transmission.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that you accept the Tarn Taran
lineage (obscure enough for most readers so nobody's feeling are
going to get too hurt) as genuine or flawless or perfect, or, quite
simply, the "right" one (whatever those adjectives may suggest).

The overarching epistemological question now is this:

How does one "know" that this is the case?

All right, the argument goes along these lines: 

Pratap Singh's son (who is now the current head--his name escapes
me for the moment) 

was appointed by

Pratap Singh......

Pratap Singh was appointed by 

Deva Singh.......
Deva Singh was appointed by

Bagga Singh (as well as Sawan Singh).......

Bagga Singh was appointed by

Jaimal Singh.......

Jaimal Singh was appointed by

Shiv Dayal Singh.....

Shiv Dayal Singh was appointed by

Tulsi Sahib......

Tulsi Sahib was appointed by

? or is Kirpal's theory correct that Tulsi Sahib's lineage traces
all the way back through Guru Gobind Singh to Guru Nanak?

Who was the guru before Nanak?

Who was his guru's guru and so on?

All the way back to Lucy?


We face an intractable problem when we confront lineage, which is
codified by the simple question, "Yea, but who appointed him/her?"--
a question which if followed to its logical conclusion will,
invariably, take us back through time to the beginnings of the
physical universe ("Okay, so you are telling me that Sri Ripptheeoff
was really appointed by Manny, Moe, and Jack on the three-headed
planet of Flat Tires, but denied the connection because he wanted to
get a better warranty on his radials. . . . That makes sense, I can
buy that....").

Thus, the recognition of one's guru by lineage (I know my guru is
genuine because so and so appointed him) is a false lead, since the
starting point (apparently) can never be traced. And even if such a
starting point could be traced, the tireless question of "yea, but
who appointed him/her" still lends itself to complex issues of
ontology and epistemology (e.g., "Well, how do I "know" that
superstring vibrating in ten dimensions is the "ultimate" substratum
to the cosmos and that Baba Wormhole emerged from this point
playing a Bamboo flute and wearing a Wang computer T-shirt?").

Ironically, therefore, guru recognition by lineage does not resolve
the issue of whether one's guru is legitimate or genuine.

That question, though perhaps temporarily postponed or historically
relegated by issues of lineage, is one that each and every disciple
of a guru confronts moment to moment, day to day, year to

For in the case of the R.S. lineage at Tarn Taran there are
even problems in its modern-day succession history,
not the least of which is that
Pratap Singh was apparently appointed AFTER Sadhu Singh--who
allegedly left Tarn Tarn after internal politics to start his own
ministry, eventually settling in Firozpur [Teja Singh is now the
head of his branch].

What all of this takes us back to, of course, is how we recognize
a guru in the first place and by what criteria we buttress our

As I will argue in the second part, we are on much softer ground
than we may suspect.

Next part:


Or How Love, Chance, and Residential Boundaries Circumscribe
Our Choices of "God" Women and Men.


end part one

E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at

I want to go back to the home base now.