THEOLOGY VS. HISTORY: Or, How to Defend My Guru's Story While Misusing History, a reply to CRISIS AND RENEWAL: Successorship in Modern Sant Mat History, Part TWO

Publisher: The NEURAL SURFER 
Publication date: March 1998

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at

I want to go back to the home base now.


Part Two

    The issue of the so-called true lineage or true teaching is not an
abstraction, but has practical ramifications in a work such as Lane's.  He
tells us that his study is designed to avoid value judgements and to
include "any guru or gaddi that is linked via parampara to Shiv Dayal
Singh." "This stance," he states, "is based upon the reality that although
there are many separate and conflicting groups in Radhasoami each in their
own way share a common heritage." In this regard, Lane and Juergensmeyer
utilize views as highly diverse as Faqir Chand and Soamibagh (Agra) to
establish their image of the "Radhasoami tradition." The consequence in
Lane's work is a study of Radhasoami lineages averaged out to common
denominators, but again, it is not a study of Sant Mat.  Lane is clear
enough that he is indeed focusing on the so-called Radhasoami tradition.
However to underscore the distinction is to recall that Sant Mat is  the
"common heritage" to which Lane refers.
     If one were to study how a number of individuals in a certain field
approached their work, where it turns out that the majority had purchased
their degrees from a diploma mill, can this represent a valid study of that
field?  The problems associated with a study based on an inclusive view are
exemplified by Lane's discussion of Faqir Chand, whose heterodox Radhasoami
teaching Lane has published widely.  Faqir's credentials for inclusion in
these discussions is as a disciple of a disciple of Rai Saligram, who Baba
Jaimal Singh declared entirely forgot the method and details of initiation
as given to him by Soami Ji.10 [Rai Saligram (later known as Huzur Maharaj)
was a close disciple of Soami Ji, who was eventually regarded, by
Radhasoami Agra, as his chief successor, not by everyone.  However, in his
letters to Baba Sawan Singh, Baba Jaimal Singh clearly and emphatically
states that Saligram altogether forgot the method of practice given to him
by Soami Ji.  He writes, "The process of spiritual exercises...adopted by
Rai Saligram are entirely wrong, being different from the original."  He
also writes in the same letter, "The fact is that the form of updesh
(spiritual instructions) now adopted (by the Agra groups) is quite
different from that of Soami Ji, and so is the method of sitting in Bhajan.
The whole process as was introduced by Soami Ji has been lost sight of."
(Letter 99 April 1978 Sat Sandesh).]


Diploma mills? Who decides? If Soami Bagh is the "credentialed"
college of gurus then ALL BEAS gurus are posers and imposters,
including EVERY Ruhani offshoot. If Peepal Mandi is the
"credentialed" university of masters then Kirpal Singh and Sawan
Singh and Jaimal Singh are fakes.

What Tessler is implying here, of course, is that Kirpal Singh is an
authentic guru from an authentic lineage and that other Sant Mat
groups, like the ones in Agra, are reflections/images of the real
article, but not the real thing itself.

How does "he" know this?

Hmm, belief? faith? deep mystical insight? 

My hunch is much more straightforward: he is a follower of Kirpal
Singh and will tend both by argument and by design to substantiate
his guru's views and those who support such a paradigm.

In contrast, Tessler argues that I am doing the same for my guru and
favoring a Beas interpretation of events.

However, this is not true to the degree that he believes.

Beas disavows Faqir Chand. The group even asked me NOT to publish
his writings. I do so anyways. 

Beas didn't want me to publish the RADHASOAMI TRADITION. I did so

Beas doesn't particularly like Soami Bagh's version of succession. I
provided a detailed account of it in the RADHASOAMI TRADITION.

What we have here, of course, is guru nepotism in the form of
objective history.

The "true" history of Radhasoami or Sant Mat does not, as such,

What exists are various theories and ideologies (usually supported
by one camp versus another) which claim an a priori truth--mystical
or revelatory.      

Where Neil and I part company is that I think "humanness" is the
governing factor behind the politics of guru succession (lest
there be any confusion, this is an ANTI-BEAS stance); whereas,
Tessler believes there is a mystical truth (captured in such terms
as Sat Purush vs Kal--think of that most classic of inflationist
texts, ANURAG SAGAR) which is the guiding hand.

Thus, succession for him is really about "true" masters vs. "false"

And any study which doesn't distinguish the two (his phrase,
"diploma mills" in contradistinction to "real" colleges--the Harvard
of Swamis?) is doing a fundamental injustice to the subject.

However, who decides which guru is the true one?

Sant Mat succession disputes are not dissimilar to the age-old
clash between the Jews and Christians or the Christians and the

Who determines which is the "right" religion is often dependent upon
personal and political preferences.

Truth, as such, isn't necessarily the judge and the jury.

Rhetoric often wins the day and drives the discourse while facts
remain hidden in the trunk.



      This is not meant as a judgement of Faqir Chand, but only to say that
Sant Mat and succession as understood by him appears to be of a radically
different breed than the teaching of Baba Jaimal Singh.



This is no surprise nor an insight. Soami Bagh's version of
succession is different than Beas'. Madhav Prasad Sinha, Shiv Dayal
Singh's nephew, thought that Jaimal Singh was illegitimate and not

Each rival camp or guru has its own peculiar version of events.

That Faqir Chand's succession heritage is radically different than Jaimal Singh is to
state the obvious.



This dissimilarity
represents a twice removed development of Saligram's original and heterodox
interpretations of Soami Ji.



"Heterodox" to whom? To you, a Kirpal initiate? To Agam Prasad
Mathur's satsangis? To Soami Bagh?

Right here Tessler reveals in a nutshell what the fundamental
problem is in guru succession narratives.

Tessler a priori believes in his own guru and the argument which
supports his lineage. As such then, all other versions are suspect.

This is not history, of course, but politics.

Salig Ram, for better or worse, was generally regarded as the chief
heir of Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry (particularly in Agra), and, as
such, warranted most of the attention of Shiv Dayal Singh's

The issue of "orthodoxy" and "heterodoxy" is a political debate and
represents the battle of competing theologies in various Radhasoami

That Tessler has already decided who is orthodox and heterodox
merely underlines his pre-existing allegiance with Kirpal Singh and
his heritage via Jaimal Singh.

It does not say anything at all about how he knows this to be a
universal invariant.

Again, my bias is that we are talking about human politics; Tessler
wants us to believe that we talking about mystical and ontological
truths which are inviolate.


  In studying Radhasoami generally we find
widely diverse perspectives, sometimes taking us far from the common root,
Sant Mat.



Far from the "common" root of Sant Mat?

This is already a leap since the historical basis of Sant Mat was
itself a product of splintering. Look at the history of Sikhism,
look at the history of the Kabir-panthis, look at the history of the

Tessler has already assumed that we can somehow agree upon that
common root of Sant Mat.

That's where the rub is.

Sant Mat is a term we apply "after the fact" to a mystical doctrine
we believe is structural and universal; it does not mean that there
really is such a "pure" and "unadulterated" tradition which hasn't
been tampered by human politics.

Tessler sees a "deviation" from the pure path of Sant Mat.

I say such a "pure" path devoid of politics has NEVER existed.

It is a fiction we like to impute upon the past in order to
romanticize that which we have very little information on.



However, this root is a complete metaphysical system that has
been carefully preserved down through the long ages and whose core remains
inviolate despite the adaptability of its social casing.11 [This is not an
idle assertion as more similarity of doctrine and spiritual practices can
be found in literature spanning eighteen hundred years and thousands of
miles then between the teachings of Soami Ji and the Agra lineages that came
after him.  This may indicate a consistent tradition of great antiquity.]



I like Tessler's confession here because it shows irrevocably that
Tessler's critique is at the core a theological one and only
secondarily a historical one.

Just because similar practices and doctrines can be found throughout
history does not mean by extension that it represents a unified and
complete metaphysical system.

It can mean exactly the opposite:

the reason there is such a commonality has nothing whatsoever to do
with mysticism but everything to do with empiricism:

The common denominator is not necessarily an "astral" plane,

but a human BRAIN.

Where Tessler wants to go "meta" physical in his explanations is
PRECISELY when and where I DISAGREE with him.


Because the very moment we posit a "trans-rational" explanation is
exactly the moment the discussion turns from history to theology,
or from politics to mysticism.

And, as anyone conversant in such matters know,     

theology tends less to be a science than a personal whim or

Don't believe me:

just get a group of Thakar, Ajaib, Darshan, Charan, Gary Olsen,
Eckankar, MSIA initiates in the room and have them discuss "who is
the right guru."

Good luck.

Or, as Edward O. Wilson says in his recent book, CONSILENCE:

"But NEVER--I do not think that too strong a a word--have social
scientists been able to embed their narratives in the physical
realities of human biology and psychology, even though it is SURELY

Or, as I might paraphrase here in my discussion with Tessler,

"guru politics arises from the social realities of the here and now
and not from the astral plane."

Tessler disagrees and that is the gist of our disagreement.


TESSLER writes:

     Lane attempts to deflect criticism from followers of Kirpal Singh's
lineage who might take issue with his tone, emphasis, and interpretations,
by asserting that he is only studying the discourse guru's employ for
rationalizing and asserting their claim, not their spiritual authenticity.
We must conclude that Lane is not, in fact, studying guru succession at
all, but only the ease with which several gurus, a few of which may be
authentic and others of which are not, can be placed into categories
according to the manner of their succession claim.  However, from the
perspective of Soami Ji's teachings, the only guru in Sant Mat is the
Satguru, and all other gurus are, to one degree or another, pseudo-gurus.
>From this perspective, Lane's Radhasoami tradition is a Mat (teaching)
without a Sant.



Or, in other words, Lane is looking to THIS world to explain guru
politics (empiricism) and Tessler is looking to the OTHER world to 
explain it (mysticism/metaphysics).

Where Tessler looks for a mystical thread, I look for a physical

It's that simple.

Sant Mat, I would argue, is a human product.    

Tessler believes that Sant Mat is a divine product.

My rejoinder is again a simple one:

Boy, for a "divine" product it surely has lots of human pettiness
intertwined in it.


TESSLER writes:

     On the other hand, in attempting to discern the internal workings of
the Radhasoami tradition, Lane has rightly chosen issues of succession as
an area worthy of concentration.  The tensions unleashed during the
succession period allows a unique opportunity for seeing into politics that
are normally veiled.  However, as an esoteric spiritual tradition we should
consider that the actual succession process in Sant Mat has an internal
logic that defies the political concerns typically associated with worldly
succession.  This is not to deny that more common political processes may
be in motion simultaneously.



Tessler is very clear here and that is one of the reasons his
manuscript is important.

Where i think human realities determine the divine outcome, Tessler
believes that divine realities determine (ultimately) the human

Tessler is looking for sky-hooks, I am looking for cranes.

Where Tessler is searching for the "higher" meaning behind the
ugliness of guru succession (best captured perhaps by the
theological concept of KAL vs. SAT PURUSH), I am looking for the
"simpler" meaning behind the guru slugfest. 

Where Tessler sees Divinity, I see Humanity.


TESSLER writes:

     Taking the issue of succession down to its essentials, Hazur Baba
Sawan Singh said to Kirpal Singh in 1948, "The people will flock to the
place where they would find the riches of Naam.  What have you to gain from
Dera.  You better leave Dera." ( see Appendix B)



Nice quantum quote jump here, but Tessler leaves out the most
important caveat.  

Kirpal Singh "says" Sawan Singh stated.

There is no objective, univocal, uncontested recording of Sawan
Singh's alleged statement to Kirpal Singh.

We have, instead, Kirpal Singh's "claim" that Sawan Singh said so
and so.

This is where Tessler makes an unsubstantiated and uncontextualized

I can already see that we heading into backwaters of rumors as

Many people claim many things about what Sawan Singh allegedly said
or didn't say.

We don't have an objective record.

That's why we are running into such difficulties.

We have, rather, the "claims" and "rhetoric" in vested guru jockeys.


TESSLER writes:

David Lane theorizes that Kirpal Singh's emphasis on the spiritual authenticity of the guru was merely a product of his social position, ie:
as what Lane terms a "minority" successor, with a lack of documentation.
However, Baba Sawan Singh is clearly implying that spiritual authenticity,
"the riches of Naam,"  is the only  relevant criteria for Mastership and
that there can be no other criteria.



Again, Tessler makes an unsubstantiated leap of logic here,
forgetting in the process that we are not talking about what
Sawan Singh "really" said (as if we had an objective record--we
don't), but
rather what Kirpal Singh "claims" Sawan Singh said.

Lest we forget, it is Kirpal Singh "writing" down Sawan Singh's
alleged statements, each of which (not surprisingly) support his own

Kirpal Singh has Sawan Singh speaking on behalf of him.

We don't have Sawan Singh's "objective" testimony (taken down by a
neutral party), we have Kirpal Singh's "subjective" recounting of

Big difference, but of course Tessler isn't telling us that.


Because he is indulging in a theological argument, not a historical



Office charisma as described by Lane is, according to the Sant Mat tradition, ultimately without merit.  Either
the guru has the "riches of Naam" or he does not.12 The Satguru is
authentic only by virtue of his spiritual attainment and the command of his
guru, not by virtue of being legitimized by any group of people or
document.  Though a majority guru need not emphasize this in establishing
his own claim, he must nevertheless affirm this truth. [12 - On the other
hand, the concept of office charisma is perfectly apt when applied to
various Radhasoami lineages.  Juergensmeyer's description of the ascension
of M.B. Lal to the guruship at Dayalbagh (Radhasoami Reality pp.78-79) is
an example of how the mere fact of sitting on the Guru Gaddi is coexistent
with assumptions of great spiritual authority, no matter how vocally the
new guru may contradict such claims.  As happened with Charan Singh, the
great reluctance and firm disavowal of spiritual attainment of M.B. Lal
meant little to the throngs of DayalBagh devotees, whose simple human need
for  continuity was more important then affirming the spiritual veracity of
the guru.]



Again, Tessler has assumed the "objectivity" of Kirpal Singh's
quotes. Why? Because he is a follower and happens to have a
spiritual allegiance with Kirpal Singh.

But this isn't history (we don't know from a purely objective source
what Sawan Singh said to Kirpal Singh in private), but personal
recollections that may or may not be true.

To then raise such rumors (remember this is Kirpal Singh quoting
things to buttress his own campaign without a neutral third party)
to metaphysical truths is where Tessler's arguments break apart.

They break apart because the very glue he claims sustains them don't
in fact exist as he implies.

Sawan Singh isn't talking to us. Kirpal Singh is.

And no matter how Kirpal Singh quotes him, the fact remains they are
Kirpal's recollections--which may or may not be true (given the
evidence here we have no way of knowing for sure, except if we
happen to "believe" our guru--again, another illustration of why
this is more or less a theological argument and not a historical



     This powerful statement indicates to us how Masters in the Sant
tradition regard the social institutions that develop around them.  Sant
Kirpal Singh is quoting Baba Sawan Singh Singh as stating that the reality
of the spiritually free is wholly different than that of the world, where
ideas are ever moving into form and being captured within the structures
thus created.  On the other hand, there is no institution of the spirit,
which is like a river ever changing its course according to season and


DAVID LANE replies:

Again, Tessler is indulging in quantum quoting, forgetting that we
are not "reading" Sawan Singh objectively or factually, but rather
how Kirpal Singh "selectively" recalls it.

That's nice and all, but it is not objective. And to fudge like it
is objective is to overlook the obvious:

Kirpal Singh "quotes" Sawan Singh from his OWN memory, not from a
neutrally agreed upon repository of Sawan Singh statements made
univocally and publicly.

Furthermore, each of these quotes are used strategically (a word I
use consciously here) by Kirpal Singh to lend further support
(rhetorically or otherwise) to his OWN guru Campaign.

Again, we are not talking about objective statements here, but
Kirpal Singh's selective ussage of THAT which buttresses his vying

That Tessler doesn't tell us this is itself indicative of his whole
argument which can be summarized thusly:

"I believe what Kirpal Singh REPORTS as true; everything else is

Okay, but that is precisely my point:

Tessler's argument is a personal and a theological one, not a
historical one.



     Succession is an extremely important death/rebirth experience in the
life of a lineage of Masters, offering opportunities for redefinition and
innovation.  With every succession period, much detritus that accumulates
around the previous Master's mission is shaken off.



"Who" says this? This entire paragraph is merely Tessler's theology
disguised as a statement of facts about guru succession.

So far so good, but it is merely his hunch, not necessarily the
"way things are."

It could be, for all we know, quite the opposite:

succession is just a big pain in the ass for gurus.

My point?

Tessler is dressing up his personal hunch as a fact.


TESSLER writes:

Naturally, the
disciples, concerned for their own security,  are less willing to accept
the opportunity that succession offers to the Masters in service of their
timeless mission and rather more anxious to insure a smooth transition.



"Timeless" mission?

This is a theological claim and one that undergrids Tessler's entire

Accept the mystical claims of his guru and the history will follow.

I take an opposite tact:

Accept the historical claims and the mystical claims will breakdown
to reveal what they conceal:

human politics.


TESSLER writes:

     Could there be a reason that Sant Mat gurus are at times elusive or
cryptic concerning an issue as critical as their succession?



Yep, maybe they don't have a clue or maybe it is fraught with human

Tessler, of course, will have none of this if we are talking about
his guru or "genuine" ones (yet he will be all for the humanity
showing if we are talking about frauds or imposters--oh the joys of 
disciple-laden logic).



There have been times of unambiguous transference of authority as with Baba Sawan Singh's succession of Baba Jaimal Singh.  At other times the transference has been deliberately ambiguous as with Baba Jaimal Singh's succession of Soami Ji, or Darshan Singh's succession of Sant Kirpal Singh.  Perhaps
there are circumstances where ambiguity creates opportunities that serves a
larger purpose.



Although I agree that Sawan Singh's succession of Jaimal Singh
appears quite smooth, we should not forget that thorny issue of
the Tarn Taran Satsang, where Bagga Singh claimed to be a successor
of Jaimal Singh as well.

Lest Neil forget (he doesn't, he just does not believe the Tarn
Taran version--oh theology vs. history again), the Tarn Taran sangat
views Bagga Singh as the CHIEF successor of Jaimal singh and Sawan
Singh as the Junior successor.

But let's not muddy up the "purity" of unambiguous succession
accounts with a little rival history, huh?


TESSLER writes:

There is a dramatic and romantic appeal to the idea of the guruship as
a flowing stream ever renewing itself under fresh circumstances.  There is
also strong historical evidence to support such a view.  During  the period
of the Sikh gurus the gaddi shifted regularly with almost every succession
period.  There were also frequent controversies and a similar mixture of
clear and vague successions. In the modern line we see that Tulsi Saheb
travelled from the south to Hathras in the north.  Soami Ji shifted the
guruship from Hathras, the place of Tulsi Saheb, to his home base in Agra.
Jaimal Singh settled far from Agra, in his native Punjab.  Baba Sawan Singh
built upon a small and young constituency which gradually became a town
with many associated properties and complex administrative issues.  Kirpal
Singh left this center and went to Delhi, stating that he did so on the
orders of his Master. (Appendices A & B)



Tessler is leaping all over the place here and forgetting in the
process some very important historical points, not the least of
which is that many Tulsi Sahibis viewed Shiv Dayal Singh as a
"break-away" successor and not at all genuine.

Moreover, the idea that Shiv Dayal Singh "shifted" the gaddi implies
that there was only one successor to Tulsi Sahib. This is not true
since several gurus worked as Tulsi Sahib's successor, not
excluding his chief disciple Surswami.

Why Tessler "neglects" to tell us about these interesting and pregnant
tidbits once again illustrates why Tessler's argument is less about
history and more about "proving" his guru's genuineness.

Okay, but don't forget the important cliche:

"God resides in the details."

Or, as I would say in this context,

"Guru succession is ALWAYS about the DETAILS."

As for Jaimal Singh shifting the "gaddi" from Agra, better go
debate that issue with Soami Bagh, Dayal Bagh, and Peepal Mandi.

Or, better yet, go ponder this:

Why did Jaimal Singh pay allegiance to Partap Singh who LIVED in


TESSLER writes:

     We can also try to understand the issue of ambiguity in the succession
from an historic standpoint.  Perhaps it has served as a means of
maintaining the vitality of the guruship and the Sant Mat teachings within
the changing social and political circumstances of India over the long
centuries.  The regional nature of the guruship has meant enmeshment in the
social and religious patterns of India, a culture which quickly turns her
favored spiritual sons into full fledged religious institutions.  A
frequent change of venue has allowed the gurus of Sant Mat to avoid this
tendency.  How then does the preceding and later the successor guru regard
the institutions that may have evolved around the former, only to be
abandoned by the latter?  In our further discussion we will attempt to
address this question.



Theological speculation and nothing more.

Or, to sum up the differences so far:

Tessler forgets the nuances and the details while trying to tell
the mystical story of Sant Mat succession--one in which his guru
is telling the truth and the other rival camps are more or less
lying or being duped by the lower worlds.

I think the details are important and I think that all of Tessler's
theologizing is forgetting the most important points:

each disciple thinks his or her guru is telling the truth (more or
less) and will try to find ways to rationalize or legitimize their
respective guru's version of events.

Not surprising, but not history either.

I think the gurus are human (including my own) and that studying
the politics in this empirical arena will elicit much more
information (and much more interesting nuances) than bypassing
it and going directly to the untested mystical core.....


E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at

I want to go back to the home base now.