Radhasoami: chapter one

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: Garland 
Publication date: 1992

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.



Published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, New York, 1992.

Author: David Christopher Lane

Chapter One


Surat shabd yoga and the Sant tradition

Surat shabd yoga is designed to enable the soul or consciousness to ascend beyond the physical body to higher spiritual regions by means of an internal sound or life current, known variously in the literature as shabd, nad, logos, audible life stream, or ringing radiance . [*NOTE: For a more detailed study of the sound current and the history behind its technique see Kirpal Singh's Naam or Word (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1960). *] It is through this union of the soul with the primordial music of the universe that the practice derives its name: surat, soul/attention; shabd, sound current; yoga, union. [*NOTE: Surat shabd yoga has also been referred to as nad yoga. See The Yoga of Light (Hatha Yoga Pradipika) , edited by Hans-Ulrich Rieker (Lower Lake, California: The Dawn Horse Press, 1974), as well as "Nadabindu-Upanishad," in Thirty Minor Upanishads , chapter five, number 29, translated by K. Narayanaswami Aiyar (Madras: --1974). *]

The masters of this path (honorifically given titles such as Satguru, Param Sant, and Perfect Master ) [*NOTE: Satguru has been translated by Radhasoamis as "True Light Giver"; and "Param Sant" means a "Saint From the [Transcendental] Beyond." *] describe a number of subtle planes through which a neophyte must pass to reach the highest realm, Anami Lok, "Nameless Abode," where all sound, light, and creation have their transcendental source. [*NOTE: See my article, "The Voyage of Light And Sound" in Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements (volume two, number one), for a detailed description of what allegedly happens to meditators during surat shabd yoga practice. *]

It appears that surat shabd yoga in one form or another was prevalent in the Upanishadic period of India. [*NOTE: Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom , translated by Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), page 390. *] However, the yogic practice has become clearly articulated and well known only in the last five hundred years. This is primarily due to a distinctive medieval school of nirguna bhakti poets (mystical lyricists) who sang of One Supreme and Unfathomable God. Known today as Sants [*NOTE: In capitalizing the first letter of Sants I am following the precedent started by the contributors to the 1978 Berkeley conference on the Sant tradition. For further information see The Sants , edited by Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod (Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series, 1987). *] (saints), the chief exponents of nirguna bhakti, such as Kabir, Nanak, Dadu, and Paltu Sahib, have written in detail about the path of surat shabd yoga. [*NOTE: Refer to P.D. Barthwal's The Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry: An Exposition of Santa Mysticism (Banaras: Indian Book Shop, 1936), and The Sants , op. cit. *]

These Sants, whose eclectic tradition is now popularly called Sant mat (lit., "the doctrine or way of the saints"), can be distinguished from other followers of Indian spirituality by the importance and emphasis they give to three cardinal precepts: 1. Satguru, the Absolute Lord and his manifestation, the living human master. [The Satguru represents the human link between God and man, and is, therefore, considered to be the cornerstone of spirituality.] 2. Shabd, the inner sound current or life stream. [The shabd is made manifest by the Satguru to the devotee by a process known as nam-dan {initiation}, whereby the initiate is taught the secret of how to listen to the internal sound reverberating at the eye center.] 3. Satsang, externally the congregation of earnest devotees of the truth, and internally the communion of the soul with God. [Satsang serves as the formal meeting place of the Satguru and his followers; as such, it is usually viewed in the Sant tradition as a special holy service where the living human master imparts the teachings of surat shabd yoga.] [*NOTE: Ibid. *]

The Radhasoami Tradition

One of the most significant manifestations of the Sant tradition today is the Radhasoami movement, founded by Shiv Dayal Singh (1818-1878) in the mid-19th century in Agra, India. [*NOTE: Although there are several histories of the Radhasoami tradition, none of them are satisfactory. See Agam Prasad Mathur's The Radhasoami Faith (Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1974) and S.D. Maheshwari's Radhasoami Faith , op. cit. *] Radhasoami (defined as "Lord of the Soul") has many branches, each of [*NOTE: I have spelled the word "Radhasoami" (with the "o" instead of the usual transliterate "w") in deference to the Soami Bagh satsang in Agra who consider it an affront not to spell the words Radha and "Soami" together (thereby dropping the capital in the last word). The Beas satsang and other branches do not mind how "Radhasoami" is spelled. In almost all cases, I have followed Soami Bagh's procedure for spelling, primarily because of their vocalness in the matter. For more on this small, but interesting, controversy see S.D. Maheshwari's Correspondence With Certain Americans , volume one through six (Agra: Soami Bagh/private, 1960--1985), and Lekh Raj Puri's Radha Swami Teachings (New Delhi: Pvt. published, n.d., 1967?). *] which has a presiding guru or master who is believed to have transversed all the higher stages of consciousness and become one with the Lord. [*NOTE: Genealogically speaking, there are now some thirty branches. Refer to the genealogical trees in the appendices for an overview. *] Kirpal Singh was part of this Radhasoami movement, as he was personally initiated by Sawan Singh (1858-1948), former gaddi nasheen of Radha Soami Satsang Beas at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh in the Punjab. [*NOTE: It should be pointed out that Kirpal Singh discarded the use of the term "Radhasoami" as a description of his teachings because it was too sectarian. Kirpal Singh, The Way of the Saints (Tilton, N. H.: Sant Bani Press, 1976). *]

Central to the teachings of Radhasoami and surat shabd yoga is the necessity of a living human master who is competent in initiating disciples into the practice and technique of listening to the inner sound ( bhajan ), contemplating the inner light ( dhyan ), and leaving the human body at will ( dying while living ). [*NOTE: Charan Singh, Die To Live (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1979). *] Although there are theological differences and some minor technical variances in the different Radhasoami groups, the basic tenets of the tradition are as follows: 1. The practice of surat shabd yoga (between two and three hours of meditation daily). 2. Obedience to the living master who initiates the disciple into the path. 3. A pure moral life which includes abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, alcohol, drugs, and sex outside of marriage. 4. The firm conviction that jivan mukti (liberation or enlightenment while living) is possible under the guidance of a realized saint or mystic. [*NOTE: Stanley White, Liberation of The Soul (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang Beas 1972). *]

The Origins of Radhasoami Successorship History

The tremendous importance given to a living master in the Radhasoami tradition has led to several bitter successorship controversies. In fact, the first gaddi nasheen controversy occurred right after the death of Shiv Dayal Singh, the acknowledged founder of Radhasoami. Several followers (and not just one) acted as gurus which resulted in a proliferation of satsangs. The six main successors to Shiv Dayal Singh were Rai Salig Ram, who started his ministry in Peepal Mandi, Agra; Seth Partap Singh, who held his satsangs in Soami Bagh, about three miles from Agra city proper; Garib Das (sometimes spelled Gharib), who settled in Delhi near Sarai Rohilla; Jaimal Singh, who established his satsang at Beas in the Punjab; Narayan Dei (Radhaji), Shiv Dayal Singh's wife, who reportedly initiated women into the path in Agra; and Sanmukh Das, who initiated sadhus into the path at Soami Bagh. [*NOTE: It is not entirely certain from the available historical texts, both in Hindi and English, the exact function each of these gurus performed. For instance, we know that Rai Salig Ram did not openly work as a guru until at least eight years after the death of his master, Shiv Dayal Singh. See Holy Epistles volumes one and two (Agra: Soami Bagh). *]

Although Shiv Dayal Singh preached at length about the need for a living guru, there was disagreement among his immediate followers over whom he designated to be his spiritual successor. Even the last words of Shiv Dayal Singh before his death, reputedly taken down by his brother, Seth Partap Singh, stirred debate among his devotees over the nature of his teachings and his appointed heir: Addressing Lala Partap Singh, Soamiji Maharaj [Shiv Dayal Singh] observed, "The Faith that I had given out, [sic] was that of Sat Nam and Anami. Radhasoami Faith has been introduced by Salig Ram (Huzur Maharaj). You should let it also continue. Satsang must go on. Satsang shall spread far and wide in future. [*NOTE: Quoted from the English translation of Seth Pratap Singh's Biography of Soamiji Maharaj (Agra: Soami Bagh Satsang, 1978), pages 135-136. *]

What Shiv Dayal Singh's comment to his brother, Partap Singh, actually means is the subject of the argument amongst various Radhasoami factions. Today, those satsangs affiliated with Jaimal Singh (and Gharib Das of Sarai Rohilla) have generally taken the stand that [*NOTE: The Sarai Rohilla group was founded by Gharib Das after the departure of his guru, Shiv Dayal Singh, in Delhi. Gharib Das was succeeded by Ram Behari Lal, who was later succeeded by his son Gyan Das. There is now no living guru in the lineage, although the remains of Gharib Das' samadh is still maintained by a local mahant. Aaron Talsky and I visited Gharib Das' Sarai Rohilla samadh in Delhi in March of 1987. Although the center is still active, it appears to have a very small following, since there is no acknowledged living guru. Apparently a number of Gharib Das' initiates shifted over to Radhasoami Satsang Beas after their guru's death. See Issac A Ezekiel's Kabir: The Great Mystic (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1973), page 417; and Ram Behari Lal's The Way Out Is In (Orange: Privately Published/Tom Curtis, 1957) for more information. *] "Radhasoami Mat," as introduced by Rai Salig Ram, is a different path than what Shiv Dayal Singh himself preached (e.g., "The Faith I had given out, [sic] was that of Sat Nam and Anami"). Whereas those satsangs linked with Rai Salig Ram (except Manavta Mandir, Hoshiarpur) believe that "Radhasoami Mat" represents [*NOTE: Manavta Mandir, founded by the late Baba Faqir Chand, does not believe in the Radhasoami faith as an exclusive religion; rather, it holds that all religions, including Hinduism, are viable means back to God. For more on this satsang, see the following articles: "The Enchanted Land," Fate Magazine (October 1984); "The Reluctant Guru: The Life and Teachings of Baba Faqir Chand," The Laughing Man Magazine (Spring 1982); and "The Hierarchical Structure of Religious Visions," The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (Summer 1983). *] the highest expression of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. Rai Salig Ram, according to this perspective, did [*NOTE: I have termed Rai Salig Ram's perspective as incarnationalist in my M.A. thesis, Radhasoami Mat (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1981), since he believed that his guru, Shiv Dayal Singh, was the first absolute manifestation of the Supreme Lord on earth. *] not start the Radhasoami Faith, as such, but was rather the first disciple and the only true gurumukh [*NOTE: The term gurumukh literally means "follower of the guru." It is used by Radhasoami groups in Agra, however, to designate the chief or most devoted disciple of a particular master. *] to have the Mehr (Grace) to recognize the unique stature of his guru. Subsequently, Shiv Dayal Singh was pleased to reveal the nij mat (original doctrine/path) of Radhasoami Purush (the Absolute Supreme Lord) to his beloved disciple which he had not done previously to anyone. [*NOTE: See S.D. Maheshwari's Radhasoami Faith , op. cit. *]

Sant Das Maheshwari, personal assistant to Madhav Prasad Sinha and Soami Bagh's most vocal spokesman, explains Shiv Dayal [*NOTE: S.D. Maheshwari has written over one hundred books on various aspects of Radhasoami history and theology. However, he is most well known for his polemics against the Dayal Bagh and Beas Satsangs, whom he holds in contempt for being offshoots from the "parental" stock at Soami Bagh. His recent death has left a literary vacuum in current Soami Bagh history, since Maheshwari was perhaps the most influential Radhasoami historian to date. Unfortunately, though, he was also biased in his historical overviews. For a complete listing of S.D. Maheshwari's books see the 1986 catalog published by his wife and sons at Soami Bagh, Agra, who are continuing the distribution of all of his works. *] Singh's paradoxical last statement by alleging that the founder of Radhasoami had manifested two teachings: one lower and one higher. The lower path, argues Maheshwari, was given out by Shiv Dayal Singh for the first part of his ministry up until the arrival of his chief disciple, Rai Salig Ram. This lower teaching was the Sant mat of Kabir, Nanak, and Tulsi Sahib, and inculcated the worship of Sat Nam (lit., "True Name"). On the arrival of Rai Salig Ram, however, Shiv Dayal Singh could reveal the higher path of Radhasoami. Before that time no one was spiritually capable of understanding or accepting the divine message. Thus, this revelation (Radhasoami as the Highest Lord) is regarded by Maheshwari and others in the Soami Bagh satsang to be the greatest teaching ever expounded. All other paths (even the lower mat/doctrine which Shiv Dayal Singh first preached--worship of Sat Nam) were outdated and outmodeled when Shiv Dayal Singh manifested his real mission. Hence, the advent of Shiv Dayal Singh and Rai Salig Ram was the start of a unique and supreme incarnational religion, one which held exclusive rights to the Supreme Lord and the highest region. [*NOTE: See my M.A. thesis, Radhasoami Mat , for more on this subject of incarnationalism, as well as Lawrence Babb's Redemptive Encounters (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). *]

The satsangs which have held that Radhasoami is the supreme incarnational religion uphold two fundamental dogmas: 1) the name "Radhasoami" is the only true means for salvation; and 2) Shiv Dayal Singh was the first absolute embodiment of the highest Lord, Radhasoami. Before his descent, the path to the Absolute Abode was never fully or openly revealed.

Those satsangs and gurus connected with Jaimal Singh (also included under this heading would be the Sarai Rohilla and Dhara Sindhu Pratap satsangs), however, have usually held that Shiv Dayal Singh taught only one spiritual path during his lifetime--namely, Sant mat. When these satsangs use the name "Radhasoami" as a description of their practices, it is in contradistinction to what Rai Salig Ram and his followers believe. The term "Radhasoami" is used by Jaimal Singh and those linked with him to mean Sant mat; that is, the difference between Radhasoami and Sant mat is in name only.

Essentially, this view holds that Shiv Dayal Singh had a guru (Tulsi Sahib of Hathras) and was not unique, save the fact [*NOTE: See Lekh Raj Puri's Tulsi Sahib: Saint of Hathras (Beas: R.S. Foundation, 1979). *] that he simplified the method of surat shabd yoga and the way it was taught. These satsangs (with the exception of Dhara Sindhu Pratap) [*NOTE: Shyam Lal, founder of Dhara Sindhu Pratap, was a personal disciple of Seth Partap Singh. He discarded the use of "Radhasoami" as a mantra and coined the term "Dhara Sindhu Pratap," which he gave out as simran in honor of his guru, "Pratap." See Daniel Gold's Lord as Guru (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). *] teach the repetition of panch nam (five names) instead of the one name "Radhasoami," and do not believe in the preclusive aspect of Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry.

The debate over the real nature of Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry illustrates how easily different factions can form just months after a gaddi nasheen's death. Indeed, such factionalization may even occur during the life of a guru. Thus, it is not surprising that there was confusion in the early days of Radhasoami over to whom, if anyone, Shiv Dayal Singh bequeathed his spiritual mission.

Hence, it is clear that in the early days of Radhasoami there was no single, universally accepted account of spiritual succession. Rather, there were several competing episodes concerning the transmission of initiatory power, each of which made recourse to a specific interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's writings and teachings. All subsequent gaddi nasheen successions (no matter of what lineage), therefore, could not fall back upon the primacy of a unified, prototypical successorship account and expect sangat-wide acceptance, since none existed. What did exist inherently in the beginning of Radhasoami was a tendency towards diffusion, both in terms of guru claimants and doctrinal opinions. This tendency, though acknowledged by various Radhasoami sub-factions, has never been overcome, despite the gallant efforts of Brahm Shankar Misra and others to unify Radhasoamis under the Central Administrative Council and other organizing pacts. [*NOTE: Agam Prasad Mathur, current guru at Peepal Mandi Satsang and the great grandson of Rai Salig Ram, is highly critical of the Council. Writes Mathur: "The Central Administrative Council was not a representative body in the real sense. The system of election was technically defective. All followers of the faith were not allowed to cast their votes. Only male members were to take part in the election through postal ballots. The Central Administrative Council and its offshoots, thus, emerged as autocratic bodies consisting of the "chosen few" and it did not reflect the aspirations of the mass of followers." For more information on the Central Administrative Council see Agam Prasad Mathur's Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., page 111. *]

In light of Radhasoami's predisposition for proliferation, gaddi nasheen succession must be studied in the context of its own particular parampara lineage. Precisely, reference has to be made to the specific satsang branch, which contextualizes and frames the respective succession. This historical framing, as it were, enables us to properly understand the significance of early Radhasoami history on gaddi nasheen succession as it is reified by the particular sect. In our case, this means looking at the succession accounts within Kirpal Singh's immediate lineage: 1) Jaimal Singh's succession of Shiv Dayal Singh; Sawan Singh's succession of Jaimal Singh; and Kirpal Singh's succession of Sawan Singh. These historical precedents will help ground our examination of gaddi nasheen succession after the death of Kirpal Singh. Our purpose here is not so much to explain why certain guru claimants arise, but to better understand the discourse which is collectively available to would-be successors and their constituencies. However, before we turn our attention to Kirpal Singh's immediate predecessors, we will want to further explore the relationship between the founder of Radhasoami, Shiv Dayal Singh, and the earlier gurus in the Sant tradition. As we will see, it is an issue charged with political and theological consequences.

The Sant Mat and Radhasoami Connection

Guru succession, like all forms of authority transference, has always been a controversial problem. Rarely does a spiritual master bequeath his mantleship without there being some kind of in-fighting and squabbling among his disciples. This is even more evident in cases where a religious group elevates the guru's status to that of a living God. Thus succession disputes in the Sant and Radhasoami traditions are often viewed as cosmic battles between right and wrong, light and dark, Sat Purush (True Lord) and Kal (Negative Power). The political consequences are profound. For instance, even during the lifetime of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, there was a disagreement between him and one of his sons, Sri Chand, over how to attain salvation. Although the majority of Nanak's disciples sided with Bhai Lahina (later known as Guru Angad), a number of them left and rallied around Sri Chand, thereby establishing the Udasi-panth. As W.H. McLeod points out: It appears that even within the lifetime of Guru Nanak, divergent emphases had appeared within the emergent Panths. According to Sikh tradition, one of his sons, Sri Chand, rejected Nanak's insistence upon the futility of asceticism as a necessary means of salvation. The ascetic path of celibacy and austerities was, it seems, the mode of salvation affirmed by Sri Chand, and those of the Nanak-panth who accepted this view eventually took the form of the Udasi-panth without wholly renouncing their connection with the Nanak-panth. [*NOTE: The Sants , op. cit., pages 232-233. *]

The real crux of the problem in all guru succession disputes is that more than one disciple usually claims to be the rightful heir. Thus the remaining sangat is faced with an epistemological crisis: Whom did the guru appoint? And, more importantly, how does one know that the successor is genuine? . Turning to the connection between Shiv Dayal Singh and Tulsi Sahib, this issue of guru recognition and multiple succession becomes highlighted. Tulsi Sahib and Shiv Dayal Singh

Although the early Sants (particularly Kabir, Nanak, Jagjiwan Sahib, and the Sufi mystics, Shams of Tabriz, Rumi, and Hafiz) have had a substantial impact through their writings on the founder of Radhasoami, Shiv Dayal Singh, and on the movement in general, Tulsi Sahib of Hathras appears to have had the most direct influence.

Most of the information, however, concerning Tulsi Sahib is sketchy, scattered, and in some parts unreliable. [*NOTE: See Tulsi Sahib--Saint of Hathras (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1978). *] Indian scholars such as Kshitmohan Sen, Ram Kumar Varma, P.D. Barthwal, Parasuram Chaturvedi, and J.R. Puri have based their narratives of the sage on either the biographical outline given in the introduction to Tulsi Sahib's Ratan Ragar (1909) or the prefatory note in his Ghat Ramayana (1911). From these texts we find the following salient points about his life: 1. Tulsi Sahib had noble ancestry, and he belonged to the royal lineage of the Peshwas. 2. He was born in the latter half of the 18th century (1763 A.D., according to the introduction in Ghat Ramayana ). [*NOTE: Ibid., page 1 *] 3. He had an inclination to renounce the world for attaining spiritual realization. 4. He fled from his native place and may have kept himself in disguise to escape recognition. It is possible that he might have adopted the name "Shyam Rao" to remain incognito. [Shri Vitthal R. Thakar believes that Tulsi Sahib may have been Amrit Rao, the grandson (on the daughter's side) of Peshwa Baji Rao I]. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 2. *] 5. He traveled extensively, ultimately settling at Hathras in the Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh. 6. He came from south India and was popularly known as Dakhani Baba , "the Sage from the South." [*NOTE: Ibid., page 3. *]

There is heated discussion on who may have been Tulsi Sahib's guru. As Puri observes, "No information is available as to when Tulsi Sahib met a Master. Nor is it known whether he was initiated into the path of the Sound Current (Surat Shabd Yoga) while he was still a prince, or later, when leaving everything, he adopted an itinerant life. He does not give the name of his Master in his writings." [*NOTE: Ibid., page 4. *]

Although there is no direct indication on whom Tulsi Sahib's master may have been, there has been some pointed discussion on the question. Pandit Pandurang Sharma, a Marathi scholar, in the June 1931 issue of Vividh Gyan Vistar writes, "[Tulsi Sahib] was initiated by a guru in the town of Hathras, and under the instructions of his guru in the town of Hathras did intensive meditation." [*NOTE: Ibid., page 4. *] Kirpal Singh, in his book A Great Saint: Baba Jaimal Singh--His Life & Teachings (1960), believes that Tulsi Sahib was in direct lineage with Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Sikh guru. Writes Kirpal Singh: Guru Gobind Singh traveled widely, penetrating the Himalayas to the North and going to Deccan in the South. During his extensive travels, he met and lived with the ruling family of the Peshwas and initiated some of its members into the inner science. It is said that one Ratnagar Rao of the Peshwa family was initiated and authorized to carry on the work by Guru Gobind Singh. Sham Rao Peshwa, the elder brother of Baji Rao Peshwa, the then ruling chief, who must have contacted Ratnagar Rao, showed a remarkable aptitude for the spiritual path and made rapid headway. In course of time, this young scion of the royal family settled in Hathras, a town thirty-three miles away from Agra in Uttar Pradesh, and came to be known as Tulsi Sahib. [*NOTE: Kirpal Singh, A Great Saint--Baba Jaimal Singh: His Life & Teachings (Franklin: Sat Sandesh Books, 1973), pages 9-10. *]

Kirpal's theory rests on the debated assertion that "Guru Gobind Singh did not die at Nanded in the Decca (now in Maharashtra) in 1708, as previously thought." [*NOTE: Brian Walsh, The Concept of the Satguru in the Sant Tradition (Master's Thesis, Orinda: J.F.K. University, 1980). *] This opinion is also held by the Namdhari Sikhs, who have founded their lineage on Guru Gobind's Singh's reputed human successor. Agam Prasad Mathur and S. D. Maheshwari, however, do not accept this heterodox proposition--primarily on the grounds that it is "not historically true," [*NOTE: Agam Prasad Mathur, op. cit., page 24. *] because the 1708 date for Gobind Singh's death is accurate.

Whether or not Tulsi Sahib had a guru (if it was Ratnagar Rao, a local guru in Hathras, or somebody unnamed) or not, depends largely on one's own theological framework.

One thing that all factions agree upon, though, is that Tulsi Sahib consolidated the teachings of nirguna bhakti , expounded the path of surat shabd yoga, and was largely responsible for the popular usage of the term Sant mat . [*NOTE: Tulsi Sahib--Saint of Hathras , op. cit., page 17. *] His teachings are embodied in Ghat Ramayana , Ratan Sagar , and Shabdavali . Tulsi's writings, in the tradition of earlier Sant poets, denounce idol worship, tantric excesses, sectarianism, and ritualism prevalent in several of the popular religious movements of his time. He centered his discourses on the interior aspect of spiritual sadhana, calling for a purification of the soul ( surat ) by means of surat shabd yoga so that moksha (or liberation) could be secured. [*NOTE: Ibid., "The Life and Teachings of Tulsi Sahib." *] Describing the ultimate realization, Tulsi Sahib writes: The soul hears a wave of sound and rhythm that becomes visible from the west. It opens the door--unspeakable, indescribable. Going beyond rhythm and sight, one enters the gate of the tower of emptiness, where by means of the two doors of sight and sound one finds the level of highest reality (parbrahma). Then one sees the sound current ( sabda ) issuing forth hundreds of universes (lit., heaven eggs), and sound ( surat ) penetrates to the middle of them all, their crown jewel, which is tiny as an insect. [*NOTE: The Sants , op. cit., page 350. *]

Slowly the saint of Hathras gathered a devoted following around him. The most prominent disciples included Ramkrishna (a shepherd), Girdhari Das (or Lal), and Surswami, who became the chief successor/mahant at Tulsi Sahib's samadh after the saint's death in 1842 or 1843. [*NOTE: See Tulsi Sahib--Saint of Hathras , op. cit., and Kshitmohan Sen's Medieval Mysticism of India (New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1974), page 161. *] But the most important associate of Tulsi Sahib's, at least in terms of historical impact, was Shiv Dayal Singh, who was a mere boy when he first met the saint of Hathras. It would be Shiv Dayal Singh's life and teachings which were destined to spread rapidly throughout India and across the world.

Shiv Dayal Singh, the Founder of Radhasoami

Lala Dilwali Singh and his family, which included his mother, mother-in-law, sister, and his wife Mahamaya, were ardent disciples of Tulsi Sahib. [*NOTE: Tulsi Sahib--Saint of Hathras , op. cit., page 5. *] Frequently they went to Hathras to attend the satsangs of the esteemed Sant. It is recorded by Partap Singh, the youngest son of Dilwali, that Tulsi Sahib would also occasionally visit their home at Panni Gali, Agra. On one such visit, [*NOTE: Ibid. According to Puri's narrative Tulsi's visit was in October of 1817. *] Tulsi Sahib announced that a saint would be born to Mahamaya. Puri recounts the incident: Seeing her devotion [Seth Dilwali's mother], Tulsi Sahib said, "I am very pleased with you. Ask for anything and I shall be happy to give it." . . . At this, Seth Dilwali Singh's mother replied, "I have everything through your grace and need nothing. But," pointing to her daughter-in-law, she submitted, "Mahamaya wants something." Mahamaya, the wife of Seth Dilwali Singh, had no son. Tulsi Sahib, in the same vein of compassion and kindness said, "Yes, she will have son. But do not look upon the child as a mere human being." [*NOTE: Ibid., pages 5-6. *]

Shiv Dayal Singh, born in August of 1818, was an unusual child. At the young of six he began to expound on the nature of true religion, as well as engage himself in deep meditation. As Shiv Dayal observed shortly before his death, "You know that ever since I was only six years old, I have been devoting Myself [sic] to Parmarth and then alone, this Abhyas (practice) has become perfect." [*NOTE: Biography of Soamiji Maharaj , op. cit., page 134. *]

There is controversy over whether or not Shiv Dayal Singh was initiated by Tulsi Sahib at a young age. As with the question over Tulsi Sahib's master, or his need for one, the arguments--pro and con--are largely based on theological (and not necessarily historical) grounds.

The Agra schools--Soami Bagh, Dayal Bagh, and Peepal Mandi--argue that Shiv Dayal Singh was not initiated by any guru. The reasoning behind this is essentially simple: Shiv Dayal Singh, otherwise known as Soamiji Maharaj, [*NOTE: The other spelling variations are Soami Ji Maharaj and Swami Ji Maharaj. Again in deference to Soami Bagh I have chosen their way of spelling Shiv Dayal Singh's honorific title. *] was the incarnation of Radhasoami--the Supreme Lord--and, as such, did not need to take any human being as his spiritual guide. In the preface to Sar Bachan Radhasoami Chand-Band , Rai Salig Ram [*NOTE: My spelling of Salig Ram as two separate words and not as one word-- Saligram--stems from two key historical sources. First, the official subscription list of the Theosophist magazine (dated December 1880) where Salig Ram's name appears as two separate words. [Sidebar: the magazine's spelling and listing of names invariably follows what the subscribers themselves submit; thus, it is apparent that Salig Ram himself spelled his name separately--at least in written English.] Second, S. D. Maheshwari, the late historian at Soami Bagh, also spells Salig Ram as two separate words. Interestingly, Agam Prasad Mathur, Rai Salig Ram's great grandson and eventual successor at Peepal Mandi, does not follow Maheshwari's lead. See Radhasoami Faith , op. cit. *] comments on this very point: "Soamiji Maharaj had no guru, nor did He receive instructions in parmarth from anyone. On the other hand, He explained parmarth to His parents and a number of of sadhus who came to Him." [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, translation by S. D. Maheshwari (Soami Bagh, Agra: Soami Bagh, 1970), page 18. *]

Salig Ram's categorical statement that Shiv Dayal Singh did not have a guru is highly unusual for both theological and historical reasons. First, the cardinal tenet of both Sant mat and Radhasoami philosophy is the absolute necessity of having a living guru. Every bona fide saint in Sant mat history, without exception, has stressed the primacy of guru bhakti. Even Kabir, the most popular and revered of the Sants, is reported to have adopted a guru. Second, Shiv Dayal Singh's immediate family (including his mother) were personal followers of Tulsi Sahib. The former mahant of Tulsi Sahib's samadh, Sant Prakash Das, claims that Shiv Dayal Singh was indeed initiated by Tulsi Sahib but later broke off and started his own path. There are even historical accounts which suggest that Shiv Dayal Singh treated Girdhari Das, a prominent successor of Tulsi Sahib, as a guru.

By claiming that Shiv Dayal Singh was a swatah (born) Sant, Rai Salig Ram elevates his guru to an almost unparalleled degree in the history of Sant mat and thus insures him a status not equaled by any previous master--not even Kabir. The implications of this one statement on future developments in Radhasoami are not to be underestimated, for Salig Ram's claim in itself contributes to an incarnationalist (and by implication unique ) interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's life and work. This becomes even more evident in passage number 7, wherein Salig Ram writes: No one had , in the past, introduced such an easy mode of spiritual practices. For this reason, the internal practices of all extant religions of the world have lost their importance, and their followers are now simply engaged in outward worships, rituals and observances. They are wholly ignorant of the true Supreme Being, the Abhyas by which He could be attained and the secrets of the path and intermediary stages. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, op. cit., page 20. *]

The preceding passage is crucial in understanding Salig Ram's perspective on Radhasoami. Not only does he unilaterally assert that no one before Shiv Dayal Singh had given out such an easy mode of spiritual practice--namely surat shabd yoga--but that the internal (read spiritual ) practices of all existing religions of the world--including, presumably, other Sant mat paths--have lost their importance. The point is fairly obvious: Shiv Dayal Singh is one of a kind and unless a spiritual seeker follows his method of abhyas he/she is lost. Salig Ram is preaching an unqualified, exclusive, incarnationalist interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. As Salig Ram further explains in passages 12 and 17: 12. The importance of Shabd has been stressed in every religion. But a detailed description of Shabd is nowhere found. For this reason people are ignorant of Shabd. Now Radhasoami Saheb (Soamiji Maharaj) has given out in clear terms the details and secrets of Shabds (sounds) of different heavenly spheres in this scripture. . . 17. RADHASOAMI Nam was revealed by the Supreme Being Himself. When the humble devotees of Soamiji Maharaj, as a result of their successful Abhyas (devotional practices) and Satsang, came to realize His exalted position and immense spiritual powers, and when He too, in His grace and mercy, gave them His recognition, they started addressing Him by the appellation of RADHASOAMI, the Name of the Original Abode from where He came down to this earth, for showering His grace on Jivas in this Kali Yuga. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, ibid., pages 23, 26-27. *]

According to Salig Ram's view, Shiv Dayal Singh revealed the original name of the Supreme Being, Radhasoami, for the first time in the annals of religious history. Further, his select disciples were allowed to realize the secrets of this Nam and given direct access to the highest transcendental region of consciousness.

Turning to Sar Bachan Radhasoami Bartik , we find a letter written by Rai Salig Ram on behalf of his guru to Sudarshan Singh, the nephew of Shiv Dayal Singh. This letter, which has been the basis for much controversy and confusion between the Soami Bagh and Beas satsangs, reveals another crucial element in Salig Ram's interpretation of Radhasoami. 250. If a person has met with the perfect Sat Guru, performs His service, attends His Satsang and has love and faith in Him, but before he fully achieves his object, i.e., gets any inner realization, the Sat Guru departs, then he should, if he is keen to attain the goal, cultivate the same love and faith in the succeeding Sat Guru, that is, the one appointed by the departed Sat Guru and should perform His service, attend His Satsang and consider the departed Guru to be present in Him. He should know that Shabd forms of the Sant Sat Guru and the Sant are one, though outwardly in bodily forms they appear to be two. When the Sat Guru of the time departs, He appoints some one as His successor in whom He re-incarnates and thus continues the work of regeneration of Jivas as before. When, however, such is not the Mauj, He returns to His original abode. Therefore an earnest devotee should make no distinction between the previous Sat Guru and His successor. But those who are bigoted devotees will not come under the allegiance of the succeeding Sat Guru. For this reason their progress will also stop at the stage they had reached during the time of the former Sat Guru and there will be no further progress and improvement. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Prose, Soami Bagh version, op. cit., pages 215-217. *]

The impetus here is to recognize the Sat Guru's successor and imbibe the same love and devotion for him. If this is not done, and no love is engendered for the succeeding master, the disciple's inner progress for all intents and purposes is stopped. Thus, the process of guru succession not only becomes historically important to satsangis, but spiritually vital as well. To serve a false master or the wrong successor is equivalent to falling off the path. S. D. Maheshwari, writing some seventy years later, elaborates more on this view: The true test of the identity of the Radhasoami Religion is and must be whether or not the followers follow and worship the true Sant Sat Guru, and not a pseudo-guru. The pseudo-gurus are pretenders and fallen Satsangis and as such they and their followers are treated as heretics and out-castes. As there can be one and only one Sant Sat Guru at a time, the recognition of some one else as Sant Sat Guru implies adoption of a pseudo-guru. The service and devotion to such a person are not only not conducive to spiritual advancement but are calculated to retard the attainment of salvation, because during the period a person worships a pseudo-guru, he worships Kal who is always on the look out for such persons and due to whose influence and under whose impulse the pseudo-guru acts as such. [*NOTE: The Radhasoami Faith: History & Tenets , op. cit., pages 371-372. *]

Salig Ram's theological perspective, as we have seen textually, was quite well developed by 1886. Let us recapitulate in brief the salient features of his theology, particularly as it relates to the life of Shiv Dayal Singh: 1. Shiv Dayal Singh had no guru. 2. Shiv Dayal Singh was the first incarnation of the Supreme Being, Radhasoami. 3. With the advent of Shiv Dayal Singh and his simple method of surat shabd yoga, all other internal spiritual practices (of whatever creed anywhere in the world) lost their importance and efficacy. 4. Shiv Dayal Singh revealed the name of the Supreme Being to a select following of satsangis--that name was Radhasoami. 5. Unless full spiritual realization has been attained, disciples of a Sat Guru must seek the guidance of his (one) gurumukh successor.

Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings, clear and succinct as they were, lend themselves to several different interpretations, one of which is an absolutist (or what Barthwal terms "ultraist") viewpoint about the nature of spiritual realization. As such, Shiv Dayal Singh's philosophy must be seen as the primary, independent variable influencing Salig Ram's outlook. This is not to suggest that Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings were not themselves socially influenced (they undoubtedly were to some degree), but only that his theology was well enough developed by the time he met Salig Ram to be fundamentally instrumental in Salig Ram's later views. Even though Shiv Dayal Singh connects himself with previous nirguna bhakti mystics, nowhere does he state that he was a follower of a previous Sant mat master, including Tulsi Sahib. The fact that Shiv Dayal Singh does not mention his guru by name in any of his writings naturally leads the reader to assume that his life history is not that important. For instance, if Shiv Dayal Singh was duly initiated by Tulsi Sahib--and there are suggestive accounts by other non-Agra parties that he was--then why does he not refer to his discipleship under him? This absence in Shiv Dayal Singh's writings suggests at least that Salig Ram may not be creating the story that his master had no guru. Rather, it may well be that Shiv Dayal Singh (for whatever reasons) distanced himself from any parampara connection.

Speculatively speaking, there are several reasons why Shiv Dayal Singh may have distanced himself (at least genealogically) from Tulsi Sahib if he was indeed initiated by him. First, Shiv Dayal Singh may not have been accepted as the majority successor to Tulsi Sahib (Surswami, a blind master, assumed the gaddi at Hathras after Tulsi Sahib's death) and therefore had to start his own ministry in Agra. Second, given Shiv Dayal Singh's relatively young age (twenty-five) when Tulsi Sahib died in 1843, and the fact that he did not come out publically with his teachings until 1861 (some seventeen years later--a long gap for any would-be guru successor), indicates that Shiv Dayal Singh's following was composed of mostly new followers--most of whom would not have had any connection whatsoever with Tulsi Sahib. Hence, Shiv Dayal Singh apparently founded his ministry on his own and did not attempt to connect it in any formal way with his (alleged) guru.

A more controversial speculation along these same lines, if we accept the preceding inferences (and one argued by some Tulsi Sahibis--a small religious sect which follows the precepts of Tulsi Sahib of Hathras), suggests that Shiv Dayal Singh was break-off successor from Girdhari Das (one of the chief disciples of Tulsi Sahib), who Shiv Dayal Singh at one time revered as a guru. Even Madhav Prasad Sinha, the last guru at Soami Bagh and a staunch advocate of the belief that Shiv Dayal Singh was a swatah Sant, concedes that the founder of Radhasoami did revere Girdhari Das more or less as a guru. Madhav Prasad Sinha elucidates: "Soamiji Maharaj had no guru. In conformity with the established convention, He used to treat Baba Girdhari Das Ji who was one of the chief disciples of Sahebji or Tulsi Saheb of Hathras, and who used to reside in Agra, as a guru, more or less in the same way as Kabir Saheb had treated Ramananand Ji." [*NOTE: Biography of Babuji Maharaj (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheshwari, 1971), page 376. *]

Historically, it would be interesting to find out when Girdhari Das passed away. If his death coincides with the commencement of Shiv Dayal Singh's satsang and initiation, it would lend support to the Tulsi Sahibis' claim that Shiv Dayal Singh was a break-away successor. [*NOTE: The Girdhari Das--Shiv Dayal Singh connection, though rarely if ever mentioned by Sant mat historians, has not escaped the watchful eye of Radhasoami's two youngest scholars Daniel Gold and Aaron Talsky. As Talsky speculates "A provocative possibility is that Shiv Dayal did not begin his public ministry during this interval [1843-1861] either because he was sensitive to the status of Girdhari Das as a reputed successor to Tulsi Sahib or indeed followed the latter in some way. We can discover that the two had a close relationship: see Chachaji's brief description of this relationship [ Biography of Soamiji Maharaj ], pages 37-39. More enlightening, perhaps, is the fact that Chachaji's narration of the inauguration of public satsang in 1861 immediately follows his description of the death of Girdhari. Finally, the Tulsi (or "Sahib") panth which developed after the death of the Hathras sant asserts not only that Soamiji venerated Girdhari, but sometimes that he actually received his updesh [initiation] from this source. See Harasvarupa Mathura, Bharatiya Sadhana Aura Santa Tulsi , op. cit., pages 416-417." Aaron Talsky, The Radhasoami Tradition, op. cit., pages 138-139. Daniel Gold in Lord as Guru , op. cit. (page 229), also mentions the Girdhari Das-Shiv Dayal Singh connection. *]

Genealogical Dissociation and the Development of New Panths

Although historians are not absolutely sure if Shiv Dayal Singh was duly initiated by Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, [*NOTE: Shortly after the founder of Radhasoami died (1878), his younger brother Seth Partap Singh decided to discard much of Shiv Dayal Singh's writings, letters, and notes in the well at Soami Bagh. Despite the fact that Partap Singh felt remorse for his actions later on, he did insure that future historians of Radhasoami would be left with a major lack of original source material. As Aaron Talsky notes in his senior thesis, The Radhasoami Tradition (University of Michigan, 1986), "Indeed, it was the actions of Pratap [Partap] Singh which virtually ensured that these exegetical disputes would never be conclusively resolved through historical material." For more on Partap Singh's actions see Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith by S.D. Maheshwari (Agra: Soami Bagh, 1979), pages 25-26. *] there is something a bit curious about Partap Singh's silence on his brother's relationship with Tulsi Sahib or other Sant related gurus. Historically speaking, something looks amiss.

I have encountered a similar kind of reticence among the successors of Paul Twitchell, founder of a New Age styled religious movement called Eckankar. Despite the fact that Paul Twitchell was initiated by Kirpal Singh in 1955 in the United States, the founder of Eckankar later denied that he was ever associated with the Indian guru--even to the point of devising an elaborate cover-up. Indeed, Twitchell went so far as to actually delete printed references to Kirpal Singh in his numerous writings and replace them with fictional gurus, such as Rebazar Tarzs, Sudar Singh, and Fubbi Quantz. What prompted this shift of allegiance? The answer is perhaps simpler than we might expect: the growing popularity of Eckankar. When Twitchell came to grasp the significance of his new religious movement--the fact that it could draw in thousands of followers--he decided to subvert anything which would hinder Eckankar's progression and potential popularity among the masses. He wanted his group to be self-determining, marking its own future course as a viable spiritual tradition. And the most serious threat to this much desired autonomy, at least to Twitchell's purview, was his past. For instance, if spiritual seekers discover that most of Eckankar's teachings were borrowed from Radhasoami and Ruhani Satsang, they may, in turn, join those movements instead of Twitchell's, especially when they consider that Eckankar charges a yearly membership fee and the Indian groups do not . Hence, Twitchell invented a new mythology, one which intertwined fact, fiction, legend and imagination into a confused complex that exhibited only one truly consistent theme: the living Eck Master as hero. [*NOTE: See the fourth edition of my book, The Making of a Spiritual Movement (Del Mar: Del Mar Press, 1988), pages 93 to 104, for more on Paul Twitchell's and Eckankar's nefarious past. *]

I have described Twitchell's actions as genealogical dissociation , a useful term in that it clearly illustrates what happened in the evolution of Eckankar in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Twitchell attempted to sever his past by not only denying his genuine religious heritage but also by implanting a new spiritual genealogy--one which allegedly traces back millions of years to the Master Gakko who brought the true teachings of Eckankar from the planet Venus. [*NOTE: See my article, "Gakko Came From Venus," in Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements (volume two, number one). *]

Turning to Shiv Dayal Singh and his relationship with Tulsi Sahib, we can see a concerted effort on the part of several Radhasoami followers in Agra to squelch any talk of who may have been Soami Ji's guru--in a phrase, genealogical dissociation. Given Shiv Dayal Singh's repeated emphasis on following a living human master, it is particularly odd that no mention is made of who may have instructed him in meditation and other spiritual matters. And when references are made from those outside of the predominant Agra branches, they are dismissed under the pretext that Shiv Dayal Singh only "acted" deferential to the guru in question because he was following Hindu customs. This much has already been stated by Madhav Prasad Sinha, one of Shiv Dayal Singh's nephews. Yet, why do at least two branches of the Tulsi Sahibis claim that Shiv Dayal Singh was once initiated by their guru or by one of his successors? Moreover, what was it that prompted Partap Singh to dump precious documents relating to his brother's life and work into a well? The answers, as we have noted, lay buried in the recesses of oral history since we lack the primary written documents to resolve the matter. But, despite such a lack of documentary materials, one thing is certain: connecting Shiv Dayal Singh formally to a Sant somehow maligns the origins and sacred history of Radhasoami, at least to orthodox Agra members.

What is most telling about this reaction--a reaction, I should point out, that may have been evident in other disciples besides Rai Salig Ram during the latter part of Soami Ji's ministry--is that it coincides in many ways to the early controversies in Christianity surrounding Jesus Christ's relationship with John the Baptist. Orthodox Christianity admits that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but holds that Jesus was much greater than his predecessor--indeed, was the Son of God. What is not admitted, though, at least by orthodox Christian Churches, is that Jesus was perceived by a number of John the Baptist's disciples as a break-off successor, not worthy to carry on the tradition of the great Baptist. Jesus, in this interpretation, was not even the foremost disciple of John the Baptist, much less the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Even among those followers of the Baptist who did finally follow Christ, a number of them only accepted Jesus in a limited fashion, i.e., as John's appointed heir to continue the Baptizing ministry.

What is most telling about the orthodox version of Jesus' relationship with the Baptist is the clearly stated position that Christ, not the Baptist, was the Son of God. In other words, Jesus was unique in every way: physically, historically, and spiritually. In fact, the very basis of Christian orthodoxy rests on the assertion of Jesus' ultimate uniqueness.

Soami Ji's parallel to Jesus is not that far-fetched, at least not in terms of the theological implications. For whatever reasons, Salig Ram and others held to the unremitting belief that Shiv Dayal Singh was the greatest spiritual master in the history of mankind--in truth, the supreme incarnation of the very highest Lord, Radhasoami Anami Purush . And one of the features that made him unique was that he had no guru; he was self-made, so to say, without any exterior guidance.

It may have been precisely for this reason (Shiv Dayal Singh's unique mission) that Salig Ram and others denied that their master had a guru. How could he, since He was Himself the Supreme Incarnation. To be sure, he may have had teachers (he may have, in fact, been initiated by Tulsi Sahib), but none of these can be considered gurus in the true sense, since Shiv Dayal Singh revealed secrets hitherto unknown to the rest of humankind. Yes, Shiv Dayal Singh had no guru, just like Jesus Christ had no ordinary birth.

What we have here is the beginning of hagiography, and it began during Shiv Dayal Singh's lifetime. Now in Jesus' case we know that a number of the gospels were not historically accurate--indeed, a number of biographical episodes appear to be fictional--since their intention was to convey faith in the risen Lord, not biographical truth. For instance, the story concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ appears to be an interpolation by interested followers some years after Jesus' death to make sense of his humble origins (i.e., how it is that the Son of God was conceived outside of wedlock?) and the lack of response among his fellow neighbors. Thus the virgin birth story is designed to convey the heroic aspects surrounding Jesus Christ; a common practice, it should be noted, among religious writers attempting to divinize their particular teacher.

Yet what remains the most powerful force behind such hagiography, both in Christian and Gnostic sects, is the drive to become distinct and autonomous, to establish a new revelation. Although the early Christian Church wanted to retain much of its Jewish heritage, it also wanted to distinguish itself as a unique revelation in history. By making miraculous claims concerning Jesus' birth, early years, teaching ministry, and death, the gospel writers accomplished exactly that.

Early Radhasoami writers (especially those aligned with Salig Ram's theological outlook), though writing some eighteen centuries later than their Christian counterparts, also tried to establish the superiority of their guru by making claims about his historical uniqueness. And, in so doing, these writers were clearly distinguishing Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry from the early Sant tradition. Although Salig Ram acknowledges the Sant tradition as the camino royale of spiritual practice prior to Soami Ji, he also wants to make it clear that his guru should not be equated with other Sants. Shiv Dayal Singh is far greater.

Since Shiv Dayal Singh did not inherit the ashram of his (alleged) guru, nor controlling rights over his samadh, Tulsi Sahibis generally contend that the founder of Radhasoami was an off-shoot not by design but by circumstance. If, for instance, Shiv Dayal Singh had established his ministerial base in Hathras right after his guru's death, then there would have been a clear link between him and Tulsi Sahib. Indeed, in such a context, it may have been difficult, if nay impossible, for an incarnationalist interpretation--like Salig Ram's--to have developed since linkage, not newness, would have been a guiding imperative. Property, for better or worse, has a tendency to constrain versus unstrain theological revelations. As such, mobility or a new satsang home allows for easier disconnections, like the one apparently evident in Shiv Dayal Singh's founding of Radhasoami.

The Brother Connection: A Family of Gurus

Another interesting twist to the hagiographical origins of Radhasoami is that all three sons of Dilwali Singh and Mahamaya (Shiv Dayal, Rai Bindraban, and Partap Singh) acted as gurus. Moreover, each served as sources for new religious movements: Rai Bindraban founded the "Bindrabani Sect" in Oudh; Shiv Dayal Singh founded Radhasoami in Agra; and Seth Partap Singh's disciple, Shyam Lal, established the Dhara Sindhu Pratap branch in his guru's honor. Although all three share a common heritage in the Sant tradition, it appears that Shiv Dayal and Rai Bindraban may have had slightly different interpretations of it. What little information in English we have about Bindraban comes from S. D. Maheshwari's books, particularly Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith . The following provides us with a gist of Bindraban's life and work: It was in Faizabad that he promulgated his new faith called "Bindrabani Panth" (religion styled after his own name) and started initiating people into "Sat Guru Ram" and propagating it amongst Sadhus (ascetics, mendicants) and house-holders. People, in their thousands, became his disciples. He used to be regarded as the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the reason perhaps being that he was well-versed in English and dressed like a European and with a hat on he used to preach his religion. He used to be addressed as "Sarkar Saheb" by his disciples. . . . Rai Bindraban Saheb passed away in 1876. . . His disciples had his Samadh built in Ayodhya, which is still there. . . . [*NOTE: Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith by S. D. Maheshwari (Agra, Soami Bagh: S. D. Maheshwari, privately published, 1979), pages 4-7. *]

There are a number of intriguing parallels between Rai Bindraban and his brother, Shiv Dayal Singh, concerning the origins of their respective movements. First, Bindraban and Shiv Dayal started their public ministries within the same decade (the 1860's)--the former in Faizabad and the latter in Agra. Second, each were responsible for a religious teaching bearing either their real name or honorific title: Bindrabani sect and the Radhasoami faith (Shiv Dayal was referred to both as Soami and as Radhasoami, the ultimate Lord). Third, both emphasized the practice of surat shabd yoga. And fourth, both left wives who were regarded as enlightened beings (Bibo and Narayan Dei).

Why Bindraban would have desired to start his own religion is not clear. That it was based primarily on Sant mat is certain, though, as Bindraban's book, Bihar Bindraban , emphasizes devotion to Sat Guru and Shabd: I salute and pay obeisance to my Beloved Nanak Saheb. He pervades everywhere, all land, water and grass. Bindraban says that Sat Guru Nanak Saheb has Himself incarnated in him. Because of his being merged in Shabd, he has been able to accomplish his task easily. . . . He who performs Sat Guru Ram's Dhyan is sure to achieve four precious things. He, who has met Sat Guru Ram and cherishes no worldly desire, has attained salvation, and will find abode in the True Home. This world is transitory and one has to leave it in a few days. . . . [*NOTE: As translated and cited by S. D. Maheshwari in Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., pages 7 and 11. *]

Rai Bindraban died in 1876. A samadh (burial tomb) in Ayodhya was built by his chief disciples and successors, Guru Saran Das and Sat Guru Saran Das. According to Maheshwari's account, Bindraban also allocated money before his death to be used for advancing the cause of his religion, the Bindrabani Panth. Bindrabani's wife Bibo, affectionately termed Chhoti Mataji, survived her husband's death and was given a high place of honor in the Radhasoami faith. Elaborates Maheshwari: She [Bibo] was held in high esteem in [Radhasoami] Satsang. Along with Radhaji Maharaj, her Arti, also, used to be performed. In the course of His utterances made on the last day of His life just prior to His departure from this world, Soamiji Maharaj was pleased to observe, "You should treat Radhaji and Chhoti Mataji alike." A small shrine has been built in her memory in Radha Bagh near Radhaji's Samadh. [*NOTE: Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith, op. cit., page 11. *]

Thus in the early days of Radhasoami (1861 to 1871), both Rai Bindraban and Shiv Dayal Singh were openly advocating surat shabd yoga and guru bhakti, albeit in different towns and with different focuses. Apparently, Bindraban received more publicity than his older brother and was more outgoing in spreading his message. In the Awadh Akhbar Lucknow newspaper of March 1870, Bindraban and his new religion received a glowing writeup after he made a spectacular entrance at the famous Kumbla Mela riding "on an elephant with a decorated umbrella over his head and with someone fanning him with a whisk. [And] In front of him were ten to twelve elephants carrying beautiful flags." [*NOTE: Bhaktamal , op. cit., page 8 *] Wherever one went, one heard people saying, "Bindraban Ji is a holy man, perfect in knowledge, absorbed in meditation and the very personification of internal illumination. All should respect such a great and gifted soul. . . . By Bindraban Ji's grace and mercy, many Sadhus are engaged in the contemplation of Shabd (practice of Shabd Yoga). All the time one can find in his presence men of position, kings, respected members of the public and government officers who are interested in Parmarth (spiritual welfare). [*NOTE: Ibid., page 9. *]

The number of gurus arising from Dilwali Singh's family is considerable. Each of his sons and their surviving wives acted as spiritual leaders. And, after their deaths, some satsangis followed Partap Singh's son Sudarshan Singh while a large number paid homage to one of Shiv Dayal Singh's nephews, Madhav Prasad Sinha. [*NOTE: The only exception was Partap Singh's wife Gopal Dei who died at a very young age. *]

With such a plurality of gurus arising from one household, the family connection in the early history of Radhasoami cannot be overlooked. Although one may be generalizing too much to ascribe the finding of new religions in the mid and late 19th century to the "the spirit of the age" (like the proliferation of spirit channelers in Los Angeles in the 1980's) it cannot be overlooked that when three new religious revelations originate out of the same family something more than coincidence seems to be operating. Arguably, Shiv Dayal Singh and his brothers were part of a larger movement spreading throughout India at that time: religious renaissance. As Agam Prasad Mathur argues: "It cannot be denied that during the six hundred years of Islamic suppression, Hinduism as the religion of a vanquished people suffered significant setbacks. It was during British rule that Hinduism could stand on a plane of equality with Islam. With the state policy of non-interference in socio-religious matters, an air of freedom was experienced by religious leaders. . ." [*NOTE: Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., page 12. *] It may have been precisely this new era of openness which allowed for spiritual visionaries, like Bindraban and Shiv Dayal Singh, to establish new movements which revitalized ancient truths by placing them in a more modern and accessible context.

In any case, the family connection played a decisive role in the early history of Radhasoami. And for those would-be successors of Shiv Dayal Singh who lacked blood connection, the authorization and legitimacy of their ministries depended in large part on the support of the "Holy Family." This was especially true, as we will see shortly, in the case of Jaimal Singh, who kept in close contact with his guru's family.

E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.