Author: David Christopher Lane Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER Publication date: February 1997
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THE MAGIC OF AN ELEVATED PODIUM: 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. Why? 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. Why? 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) reveal 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 year. 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 appraisements. As I will argue in the second part, we are on much softer ground than we may suspect. Next part: THE MELTING SANDS OF GURU RECOGNITION: Or How Love, Chance, and Residential Boundaries Circumscribe Our Choices of "God" Women and Men. -------- end part one
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