Radhasoami: chapter three

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.

Chapter Three


Gaddi Nasheen Succession in the Beas Lineage


The succession of Jaimal Singh, unlike that of Shiv Dayal Singh, was relatively clear. Several months before his death, Jaimal Singh informed his followers that Sawan Singh would take his place, holding satsangs and conducting initiations. Additionally, it was generally well known in the sangat that Jaimal Singh and Sawan Singh were very close. There exists a fairly large number of letters written in Punjabi and Urdu by Jaimal Singh to Sawan Singh, which document the guru's predisposition towards his disciple as his spiritual heir. Also, there are letters from Seth Partap Singh which confirm that Jaimal Singh had intended Sawan Singh to succeed him at Beas. [*NOTE: See Spiritual Letters , op. cit. *]

Since there was tremendous agreement among Jaimal Singh's followers that Sawan Singh was the legitimate successor, the accounts about the transference are succinct and to the point. This is primarily because successorship stories are more developed when there is some significant controversy involved. Below are the major forms of verification provided for Sawan Singh's succession of Jaimal Singh at Beas: 1. Extensive verbal confirmation by the departing master, Jaimal Singh, to Sawan Singh. 2. Extensive verbal confirmation by the departing master, Jaimal Singh, to his followers. 3. Indicative written records, including letters by Jaimal Singh to Sawan Singh and Seth Partap Singh. 4. Transference of satsang properties and assorted material possessions (including personal clothing and Shiv Dayal Singh's turban) to Sawan Singh. 5. Assorted narratives by satsangis and other interested parties about the spiritual capabilities of Sawan Singh, including accounts of inner experiences and special social interactions.

Sawan Singh and the Founding of Dera Baba Jaimal Singh

As can be gleaned from a review of the suggestive historical evidence, the transference of the guruship from Jaimal Singh to Sawan Singh was perhaps the clearest and smoothest in the history of Radhasoami. [*NOTE: There are several other succession episodes which were also relatively trouble free, including: 1) Shiv Bart Lal to Faqir Chand; 2) Faqir Chand to I. C. Sharma; 3) Bagga Singh to Deva Singh; 4) Jagat Singh to Charan Singh; 5) Sadhu Singh to Teja Singh; and 6) Darshan Singh to Rajinder Singh. *] For Sawan Singh not only inherited Jaimal Singh's established gaddi at Beas, and the numerous artifacts that went along with it, but he also had the nearly unanimous support of the sangat. Moreover, Sawan Singh was appointed by Jaimal Singh several months before the guru's departure. Sawan Singh also enjoyed the backing of Seth Partap Singh of Agra, who insisted that Sawan Singh assume the role of gaddi nasheen at Beas and initiate new seekers into the path of Sant mat, and Garib (Gharib) Das of Sarai Rohilla. The Tarn Taran and Firozpur Satsangs

Due to the smoothness of transition after Jaimal Singh's death, Sawan Singh was free from the political ramifications which result from a hotly contested succession. Sawan Singh's only main rival to Jaimal Singh's spiritual ministry was Bagga Singh of Tarn Taran, and they were both on very good terms, often conducting satsangs together. The relationship between Sawan Singh and Bagga Singh was rather unique, since most rival successors do not, as a rule, develop intimate friendships.

There is some debate over the nature of Bagga Singh's commission. Tarn Taran satsangis claim that he was appointed several years before Jaimal Singh's death to work as a guru, whereas Darshan Singh and other Beas satsangis allege that Bagga Singh was not authorized to do so. Comments Darshan Singh, the late head of Sawan-Kirpal Mission, about the controversy: There was a disciple of Baba Jaimal Singh from Taran Tarn [sic] named Baba Bagga Singh. He began initiating without authorization. After some time he realized his mistake and invited Baba Sawan Singh to his place. When he met Sawan, he bowed down to Sawan's feet and repented. In his grace, the Master told him to carry on with his work and Sawan took on his burden. . . . [*NOTE: Two Fools Meet a Gurbhai by Arran Stephens and Richard Handel (privately published and circulated), page 15. *]

Close initiates of Bagga Singh, however, tell another story concerning succession and infer that it was Sawan Singh who held a junior position to their guru. [*NOTE: Personal Interview with the Chawla family, New Delhi, India (March 1987) and Orange County, California (February 1987). The oldest member of the Chawla family--the maternal grandfather--lives in New Delhi and Firozpur. He was personally initiated, as was his daughter, by the founder of the Tarn Taran lineage, Bagga Singh. *] In either scenario, however, one thing is agreed: Bagga Singh and Sawan Singh worked together . The uniqueness of their relationship in the history of Radhasoami should not be overlooked. Aaron Talsky argues that their cordiality stems from a lack of confusion after Sawan Singh's appointment at Beas. Writes Talsky: After Baba Ji's death, we see for the first time in our investigation an instance in which the transmission of guruship conformed to the ideal method of routinization outlined by Soamiji. Because Jaimal's appointment of Sawan Singh to the gaddi was precise, unambiguous and public, there was no need for any interpretation; the period of indeterminacy--the succession crisis--was precluded by this immediacy. The extent to which this method succeeded can be witnessed in the interactions of Sawan Singh with another initiate of Baba Ji, named Bagga Singh. [*NOTE: Aaron Talsky, The Radhasoami Tradition , op. cit., pages 112-113. *]

After the death of Deva Singh, who was formally installed as Bagga Singh's successor by Sawan Singh in 1944 at Tarn Taran, the lineage split into several factions. The two largest groups are Tarn Taran, now headed by the son of Pratap Singh; and the Firozpur Satsang, established by Sadhu Singh after Deva Singh's death and now headed by Teja Singh. According to the eldest Chawla, who conducted the dastarbandi ceremony for Pratap Singh, Sadhu Singh, and Teja Singh, Charan Singh of Radha Soami Satsang Beas originally ordered Sadhu Singh to carry on the ministry at Tarn Taran. However, due to political in-fighting (particularly amongst the committee members at Tarn Taran), Sadhu Singh was forced to relinquish the gaddi, eventually founding his satsang in Firozpur. Subsequently, Charan Singh installed Pratap Singh to be head of the Tarn Taran Satsang. (It is not clear whether or not Pratap Singh was authorized to initiate new seekers.)

Before Sadhu Singh died in the early 1970's, he appointed Teja Singh to succeed him. To insure that there would be no major dispute over succession, Sadhu Singh made out a will in favor of Teja Singh, outlining his responsibilities. A unique aspect about the Firozpur line is that from Jaimal Singh onwards each of the masters has been celibate. Apparently, Sadhu Singh left orders for Teja Singh to meditate for five years after his death before initiating new seekers. Teja Singh instead waited ten years. Aaron Talsky, who visited Firozpur in March of 1989, reports that Teja Singh has a substantial following, numbering in the tens of thousands. In the summer of 1986, Teja Singh visited the United States for the first time, staying for several weeks at the Chawla residence in Orange County. The overwhelming majority of Teja Singh's initiates, however, are from North India. [*NOTE: There has yet to be done any comprehensive history written in English about the Tarn Taran and Firozpur satsangs. The eldest Chawla told me in a personal interview in Orange County, California, op. cit., that he was working on a biographically oriented history of the Tarn Taran and Firzopur gurus. For already published information, see my article "The Enchanted Land: With the Saints of North India", Fate Magazine (October-November, 1984) and my M.A. Thesis, Radhasoami Mat , op. cit. *]

After Pratap Singh's death, the relationship between the Tarn Taran and Beas satsangs has undergone some tension. Allegedly, Charan Singh did not formally install anyone to succeed Pratap Singh at Tarn Taran. However, the Radha Swami Association Committee at Tarn Taran reportedly appointed Pratap Singh's son to assume the gaddi. [*NOTE: My information on the latest developments at Tarn Taran are sketchy, being based primarily on reports received by Aaron Talsky during his March 1989 visit of the Punjab. *]

Concerning Teja Singh and the Firozpur satsang, it is not clear what kind of relationship they have with Charan Singh and Beas, except one of cordiality and mutual respect. There is still some debate over whether or not Charan Singh did indeed commission the founder of the Firozpur line, Sadhu Singh, to initiate new seekers. [*NOTE: K. S. Narang, Director of Publications at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, denies that Charan Singh appointed Sadhu Singh as a Satguru. *]

It can be argued that the Beas satsang flourished during the years of Sawan Singh precisely because it did not have to spend time trying to solidify its foundation with other rival claimants (as did, for example, Dayal Bagh and Soami Bagh). The lack of animosity between Beas and Tarn Taran/Firozpur, though rare in guru politics, illustrates an important point: how a guru receives his appointment can have a direct effect on the success of his ministry. Sawan Singh attracted over one-hundred and twenty-five thousand initiates to Sant mat; the highest number in history up to that time. [Charan Singh, Sawan Singh's grandson and eventual successor at Beas, dramatically eclipsed the previous record by initiating well over one million and two hundred thousand disciples.] [*NOTE: Given the tremendous amount of interest in Radhasoami in India, Charan Singh may well initiate more seekers in 1989 alone than Sawan Singh initiated in forty-five years. A remarkable number when one considers that the Beas satsang does not advocate proselytizing or advertising. *]

Spiritual Diplomacy

Similar in many ways to his Gopiganj counterpart Shiv Brat Lal, Sawan Singh fostered a friendly and cooperative spirit with other Radhasoami gurus. Indeed, Sawan Singh was on close terms with each of the leaders of the major satsangs, developing a sense of good will and amiability with the likes of Partap Singh and his son Sudarshan Singh, Madhav Prasad Sinha and the Soami Bagh Satsang, and Anand Sarup and the Dayal Bagh Satsang. Although the Central Administrative Council did not officially sanction Sawan Singh's ministry, its first President Partap Singh nevertheless supported the Dera and Sawan Singh's assumption of the gaddi, as evidenced in a series of letters published under the title Spiritual Letters . Below are a few pertinent excerpts: [Letter Number 4] Your [Sawan Singh's] letter has been received and we are all very sad over Baba Jaimal Singh Maharaj Sahib's giving up the chola (garment, which in this case means the human body). He was responsible for the uplift of many a soul, but His Will was such and no one can interfere. . . . All those who came under the sharan (protection) of Baba Ji Maharaj will continue to be protected by Him, and one day He will certainly manifest Himself to them. . . . Tell all of them that, in accordance with His instructions, Simran, Dhyan, Bhajan. . . and daily practice should be carried out by everyone with love, devotion, and faith. He is with everyone of them at all times, and whoever has love and faith in Him will continue to be protected by Him. . . . [*NOTE: Spiritual Letters , op. cit., page 132. *] [Letter 9] I have received a letter written by Milkhi Ram and Bibi Rukko, in which they have mentioned that you are practising Bhajan and Simran continuously and do not come out of your room even after four days, until Bibi Rukko compels you to come out. I append a copy of my letter written to them: ". . . It is my great desire that after Baba Ji and myself, there should be two or three saints (Nadipurush) who should spread Radha Swami Mat and Nam Bhakti. You should not, therefore, expect any worldly activity from Babu Sawan Singh, but let Him do His Bhajan and Parmarth. You should all treat Him as a Guru and respect Him as your elder, and let Him do the work of Parmarth. [My italics.] [*NOTE: Spiritual Letters , op. cit., pages 136-137. *]

Sawan Singh strenuously avoided causing a political rift with any of the Radhasoami satsangs. This was especially evident in his dealings with Anand Sarup and Dayal Bagh in the early 1930's. To avoid feelings of animosity among the two large sangats, Sawan Singh and Anand Sarup signed a pact enjoining their membership to eschew controversy and meet on a mutual ground of respect and fellowship. The pact was announced publically at a special meeting held on December 25, 1932. The English translation of the pact reads as follows: The Satsangi brethren are aware that Baba Jaimal Singh Maharaj started his Satsang at Beas in the province (State) of the Punjab sometime after the departure of Param Purush Puran Dhani Soamiji Maharaj. The management of this Satsang has been separate from the very beginning. The Satsangis belonging to the Radhasoami Satsang Sabha, Dayalbagh, Agra, and those belonging to the Beas Satsang, have kept aloof from one another on account of differences over certain principles. Satsangi brethren will be pleased to learn that these differences have been removed by means of personal discussion during the last few days and it has been made clear that the Dayalbagh and Beas Satsangis both accept Param Purush Puran Dhani Soamiji Maharaj as the Incarnation of Radhasoami Dayal, and the Radhasoami Nam as the Nij Nam (True Name) of the Supreme Father, and the secret of this Nij Nam is explained at the time of initiation in both Satsangs. On account of agreement [on] these matters the Satsangis of Radhasoami Satsang Sabha, Dayalbagh, Agra, and of the Beas Satsang, will be able to behave towards one another in a spirit of brotherly affection. The two Satsangs will have their own separate managements as heretofore. Every Satsangi will be at liberty to join and accept the leaders of the Adhishtata (leader) of whichever Satsang he likes and no Satsangi should use unbecoming language either in speech or in writing against either Satsang. Satsangi brethren knew [sic] very well that the mission of the Satsang is to spread true Parmarth, peace and contentment in the world and draw people towards the Holy Feet of Radhasoami and this object can be best achieved by mutual love and regard amongst different centres of the Satsangs. It is, therefore, proper that all the Satsangi brethren should try to strengthen the ties of brotherly affection and abstain from forcing their ideas and feelings on others. It is hoped that this advice will be liked by the Satsangis of both Satsangs. [*NOTE: As translated in S.D. Maheshwari's Truth Unvarnished, Part 2 (Soami Bagh, Agra: S.D. Maheshwari, 1970), pages 251-252. *]

There were a number of factors which precipitated this unusual agreement between Dayal Bagh and Beas, not the least of which was that Radhasoami in general was coming under heavy attack from both fundamentalist Sikh groups in the Punjab and Arya Samajists in Uttar Pradesh. Thus it was in each satsang's mutual self interest to display a show of unity--something that was not occurring with Dayal Bagh and the Central Administrative Council because of their court dispute over property and worship rights at Soami Bagh. Anand Sarup's diary entry of June 10, 1931, records a revealing glimpse of the tension between the Sikhs and the Radhasoamis: A letter has been received from Lahore. It describes the quarrel that the Sikhs picked up in the beginning of this month with Sardar Bagga Singh and Sardar Sawan Singh at Baghvanpura and Lahore. Two posters which had been published by the Sikhs against Sardar Sawan Singh have also been received with this letter. From one poster, it appears that the Sikhs have organized a battalion known as "Radhasoami-Mat-Daman-Jatha", i.e. "Battalion to crush the Radhasoami Religion". The Sikhs are in the wrong. Just as the Mohammedans by maltreating the Sikhs in this manner made the Sikh Community grow and prosper, similarly, Sikh brothers are helping Sardar Sawan Singh's community to grow and prosper. . . . [*NOTE: Diary of Sahabji Maharaj, Part One (Dayalbagh: Radhasoami Satsang Sabha, 1973), page 311. *]

Another factor behind the pact was Beas' growing popularity in the Punjab. Before the late 1920's and early 1930's, Sawan Singh's sangat was relatively small in comparison with Dayal Bagh and the C.A.C. group. Yet by 1931 Beas began attracting thousands of seekers and satsangis to its monthly satsangs. Apparently this caused a bit of jealousy amongst the Agra satsangis, particularly Dayal Bagh's, as Anand Sarup devotes more than one page of his personal diary to Beas' growing popularity. Excerpts from the June 30, 1931 entry read: Yesterday evening, a Satsangi, who had come to Dayalbagh from Gujranwala, said with great uneasiness that the Satsang of Beas was making great progress and that many people of Gujranwal, Wazirabad etc. had begun to go to Beas and he suggested that I should immediately proceed on a tour of the Punjab. Yesterday, I did not pay much attention to his statement and avoided giving a reply. However, as the feeling of jealousy is an extremely undesirable attitude of mind, I therefore discussed the matter in detail today in order to remove that feeling. . . . [*NOTE: Diary of Sahabji Maharaj, Part One , op. cit., pages 332-333. *]

It is evident from a close reading of Anand Sarup's diaries that Sawan Singh and the Beas Satsang opened channels with Dayal Bagh by offering their leader assistance whenever he needed it. This appears to have greatly impressed Anand Sarup, as he speaks cordially of his relations with Sawan Singh and the Beas Satsang.

Sawan Singh also kept in contact with minor Radhasoami groups and their leaders. For instance, Sawan Singh developed a friendly relationship with Shiv Brat Lal, one of the minor successors to Rai Salig Ram. In fact, their relationship was so close that Shiv Brat Lal instructed his successor, Faqir Chand, to seek Sawan Singh's guidance after his death. [*NOTE: See The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand (Del Mar: Del Mar Press, 1989) for more details on this issue. *] Concerning Sawan Singh's relationship with Shiv Brat Lal, Kirpal Singh writes: The first condition I would say, of a Master, when he meets another Master, is that he will embrace him; He will rejoice. There's no question of high and low. There was one instance in my life in which my Master Baba Sawan Singh met one follower of Rai Saligram, named Shiv Brat Lal. He was a very advanced soul. At the first meeting, when they met, I was there along with them. He was bowing down to my Master, and my Master was bowing down to him. They were embracing. Why should not those who are on the way embrace? Why should they not feel joy? [*NOTE: As quoted on the back cover of Light on Ananda Yoga (Sanbornton: Sant Bani Ashram, 1982). *]

Sawan Singh's spiritual diplomacy would later be advocated by his future successors, both at the Dera and elsewhere, particularly Kirpal Singh and his son, Darshan Singh. [*NOTE: For example, several years before his untimely death in May of 1989, Darshan Singh instigated "Master Day" in honor of the world's spiritual leaders. Darshan was impressed by the American convention of honoring mothers and fathers on special days in the year and felt that it would be useful to mark a day for one's spiritual master. The idea is not new, as India already has a "Guru Purnima" day in July to honor religious teachers. *]


When Sawan Singh died on April 2, 1948, he was succeeded at his ashram, Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, by Jagat Singh, a retired Chemistry Professor. The transference of power, which included control of all the satsang properties held in trust by Sawan Singh, as well as the authority to serve as Satguru and initiate future disciples was codified by Sawan Singh to Jagat Singh in the form of several notarized wills. The first of these wills, dated September 20, 1947, and entitled "Scheme of Management and Administration," appointed Jagat Singh the ruling officer in charge of all the Radhasoami Beas assets after Sawan Singh's demise. The last line of this will reads, ". . . Jagat Singh shall be the President of all the three committees; and all the immovable property everywhere shall stand in his name as religious and spiritual property; and shall not be regarded as his private and personal property." [*NOTE: Radha Soami Satsang Beas: Origin and Growth (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, n.d.). *] The second will, "Codicil of the Great Master," dated September 24, 1947, further clarified Jagat Singh's position and role with regards to the extensive satsang properties. [*NOTE: Ibid. *] The third and last will, dated March 20th, 1948, and signed by members of Sawan Singh's family and his personal doctor, officially commissioned Jagat Singh to serve as the "Gaddi Nasheen" (Spiritual Head) of Dera Baba Jaimal Singh and carry on Sawan Singh's spiritual work. An excerpt from this will (translated into English) reads as follows: So, now, in my full senses and with my free will, I [Sawan Singh] do hereby appoint Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh, M.A., Retired Professor, Agricultural College, Lyallpur, as my successor at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh and all the Satsangs connected with it. After me he will perform all the acts and duties I have been performing so far. . . . [*NOTE: Ibid. *]

Office Entitlement and Spiritual Authority:

The Routinization of Charisma

As is clearly discernible, the transmission of initiatory power from Sawan Singh to Jagat Singh at the Dera was given legal shape and force by written and witnessed documents. Such lineage succession is characteristic of Max Weber's notion of the routinization of charisma by office. The "office" in question here is the role of the Satguru as he functions in the Radhasoami Beas movement. Given jurisdiction over worldly and spiritual matters, as well as an established residence, the Satguru at Beas (indeed, any Satguru who assumes a residentially empowered gaddi) is an official designation, replete with all the power which goes with any office entitlement.

Hence, regardless of Jagat Singh's personal spiritual attainment, Sawan Singh's successor received automatic spiritual authority and justification by the very nature of his appointment; i.e., given the significance of the office, any office holder wields tremendous influence. A limited, but perhaps apt, comparison can be made between the office of the Satguru at Beas (or any established gaddi) and the office of the President in the United States. The latter derives his authority not only from the election wherein the population at large has chosen him, but from the prestige previously given to the office of presidency. The President shares in the charismatic power of the former national leaders simply by assuming the appointed position. Likewise, the Satguru at Beas gains much of his temporal authority from the respect given by the sangat to his predecessor(s). When the departing master transfers his "mantle" or "office" (the gaddi , as it is termed in India) to his successor, the latter partakes of his guru's charismatic power just by accepting his "social" role.

Obviously, office magnetism decreases or increases with the personal influence of the seat holder. An especially charismatic and well regarded leader, for instance, will elevate the stature of the particular office, whereas an ineffective leader will generate a more critical attitude toward the established position. [*NOTE: Former President Richard Nixon, due to the infamous Watergate scandal, is perhaps a classic example of how one person can partially taint the image of a sacred office. *]

The important point, however, in office magnetism is that because of its already esteemed function, the newly chosen office holder has immediately available to him an influential organizational structure in which to solidify his position and wield his power. In light of this, it is therefore not unexpected that the process of legitimation follows a different route than one would see in a successor claimant who lacks such office entitlement.

Jagat Singh, therefore, by virtue of his "official" spiritual authority did not need to substantiate his role at Satguru to the congregation by referring to his own personal attainments. There was no need to. Rather, given the social fact of his office, he simply pointed to the written wills by Sawan Singh and to the whole organizational structure bequeathed to him as sufficient verification of his current position. Interestingly, this depersonalization of charisma, as Weber has termed lineage succession and office entitlement, allowed Jagat Singh the option to remain modest and private about his own spiritual attainment. [*NOTE: This is not to suggest, however, that office entitlement necessarily prompts a leader towards humility. My emphasis here is on the options which are available to gaddi nasheens, not on how every individual will utilize those avenues. For instance, Dr. I. C. Sharma, who was appointed by Baba Faqir Chand as his spiritual successor several months before his death and given a well established ashram, has not displayed much modesty, freely telling his followers that he is a great saint. See Dr. I. C. Sharma's monthly letters in Manavta Mandir (a monthly magazine printed in Hoshiarpur) for numerous examples of his claims for spiritual greatness. Although Sharma indeed had the option to remain quiet and humble about his attainments, he chose for reasons best known to him not to. *]

Since the transition of mastership from Sawan Singh to Jagat Singh was relatively smooth, given the abundance of documented materials, etc., the overwhelming majority of Beas satsangis accepted Jagat Singh as their master's rightful heir (and, subsequently, after his demise, Charan Singh).


Shortly before his death, just three years after his assumption of mastership, Jagat Singh (1884-1951) appointed Charan Singh (1916-1990) via a registered will to be the Spiritual Master ( Gaddi Nasheen ) at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, transferring all property rights, etc., to him, besides the right to conduct satsangs and grant initiations. The will was executed on October 22, 1951, and witnessed by several satsangis. An excerpt pertaining to succession reads as follows: After me [Jagat Singh], Sardar Charan Singh Grewal, s/o Sardar Harbans Singh Grewal, caste Jat Sikh. . . will be the Spiritual Head of Dera Baba Jaimal Singh. . . I also declare that Sardar Charan Singh will also hold Satsangs and bestow initiation as I had been doing. . . . [*NOTE: A full text of the will has been published in the book, Radha Soami Satsang Beas: Origin and Growth , op. cit. *]

By most accounts, it appears that Charan Singh did not expect to be appointed as the Spiritual Head of the Dera. Due to a number of reasons, including his young age and relatively clear transference of office entitlement, Charan Singh, like his predecessor Jagat Singh, chose to downplay his personal spiritual attainment and exhibit an exceptionally modest attitude toward his position. This is most apparent in Charan Singh's acceptance speech at dastarbandi , [*NOTE: A formal ceremony where the new guru ties the previous master's (or his master's, etc.) turban on his head signifying the transmission of spiritual power. It is usually done by a highly esteemed saint or satsangi. In Charan Singh's case it was performed by his uncle, Bachint Singh, and the Saint of Tarn Taran, Sant Deva Singh. The turban that Shiv Dayal Singh gave to Jaimal Singh was used during the ceremony. *] where he said: When I look upon myself and my shortcomings I feel very perplexed and find myself unable to decide whether I am really fit for these onerous duties. This struggle has prevented me so far from meeting the Sangat for which I ask your forgiveness. I wish to tell the Sangat quite frankly, however, that I do not make any claims whatsoever to any spiritual attainments; perhaps I lack even those excellences which a good satsangi should possess. . . . [*NOTE: Quoted in Radha Soami Satsang Bulletin No. XVI , page four (1951). *]

It is apparent from Charan Singh's previous statements and others that he has made from time to time [*NOTE: In March of 1987, during a research trip to North India, I personally heard Maharaj Charan Singh refer to his appointment as Master as the "saddest moment of my life." *] that he sees his own role as Satguru as primarily being one of designation. It is not Charan Singh, per se, but the orders of the previous guru and the continued devotion of the congregation which propelled him to work as the Satguru. Hence, Charan Singh's disavowal of personal inward attainment is consistent with established office authority: the more established the office, the less need there is to stress inward, spiritual development. The very fact that the person is appointed to the position by the previous master is sufficient to validate the new guru's role. This hesitancy to proclaim one's spiritual heights, however, should not be construed as indicating a lack of competence. As Maharaj Charan Singh told me in a question and answer session at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh in December of 1983, "humility should not be mistaken for a lack of power." [*NOTE: My quotation is a paraphrase of Charan Singh's much longer response. *]

Comparatively speaking, the more established the office, the more likely it is that the office holder moves from personal charismatic claims to impersonal , position pronouncements. This is especially the case in guru successorship, where crises in legitimacy usually stem from lack of majority consensus or residentially "empowered" seats. The Pope in the Roman Catholic Church, for example, spends relatively little, if any, time trying to legitimize his particular role after he is chosen. [Of course there may be a lot of political positioning before the election among the college of cardinals.] In the case of the Radhasoami Satsang at Beas, Jagat Singh and Charan Singh--due to their office entitlement--did not need to continually "legitimize" their positions, as their respective roles were apparently more assigned than chosen. [*NOTE: I think it is important to note that Jagat Singh and Charan Singh could have chosen to respond differently to their appointments than they did. Naturally the limited scope of my study cannot appraise their underlying spiritual authenticity, but only indicate that their office entitlement offered them options which their non-entitled counterparts often lack. *]

At this juncture a key question arises with regard to how office empowered leaders, such as Charan Singh and Jagat Singh, deal with counter-succession claimants. What direction does their critical response take? Personal/inward? Or official/outward? The answer, not surprisingly, is the latter. Office empowered gurus, as we have seen, already have at their disposal what the merely personal charismatic does not: an established network of followers and properties which buttress the very idea and position of the Satguru. Thus, Jagat Singh and Charan Singh repeatedly supported their roles by referring to the written documents surrounding their assumption of power. Politically speaking, they had (and have) no need to resort to subjective criteria, which by its very nature is unstable and liable to misinterpretation. Jagat Singh, for instance, in letters 35 and 97 of Science of the Soul does not refer at all to his spiritual capabilities, but only to the written and expressed commands of his guru, Sawan Singh: [Letter 35] . . . Our Great Master, Baba Sawan Singh Ji who Initiated you--shook off His mortal coil on April 2, 1948, as you have already been informed--and since, then according to His express command as embodied in His Last Will , I am carrying on His Work. [My italics.] [Letter 97] . . . Huzur [Sawan Singh], however, teaches us that, in Sant Mat, greatness lies in surrender to the Will of the Master. I am powerless by myself to carry out His commands, and it is His benign grace alone that enables me to do His bidding. . . . I did not grant Initiation for nine months, though Huzur Maharaj Ji Himself, while in this mortal frame, bade me to do so, and even left the command in writing. The reason for this had better be left unexplained. [*NOTE: Science of the Soul (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1972), pages 142 and 187-188. *]

The significance of Jagat Singh's omission concerning details of his inner development can only be properly appreciated when they are contrasted with the statements of other gurus who lack office entitlement. For example, the rhetorical differences--both stylistically and otherwise--between Jagat Singh's claim for mastership and Kirpal Singh's claim for mastership are drastic.

Charan Singh and the Rhetoric of Official Succession

According to Charan Singh, there was only one genuine successor of Sawan Singh and that was Jagat Singh. Having been in very close proximity to his guru/grandfather for all of his life (but particularly so during Sawan Singh's last six months on earth), Charan Singh personally witnessed the transference of the gaddi and all it entailed to Jagat Singh. Charan Singh even put his signature on the last will of his guru designating Jagat Singh to be his spiritual successor. However, Kirpal Singh, a prominent disciple of Sawan Singh, disputed the succession, claiming instead that he was the true heir of his guru's spiritual authority. In dealing with Kirpal Singh's claims, Charan Singh in a number of letters and documents simply pointed to the written evidence on behalf of Jagat Singh.

Charan Singh's official substantiation of his predecessor's legitimacy is consistent with office entitlement rhetoric in general. That is, the emphasis on external criteria is the hallmark of majority guru successors, particularly ones like Jagat Singh and Charan Singh who have established gaddis. The ideological work of office empowered gurus with regard to leadership succession tends primarily to be concordant with how they themselves were appointed: namely, through official, legal, and socially accepted channels. Perhaps the epitome of this kind of "official" rhetoric can be best seen in a series of letters Charan Singh wrote to European and American seekers and satsangis in the late 1950's and early 1960's concerning the claims of Kirpal Singh: [Letter 200] I do not like to say anything about the activities of Sardar Kirpal Singh's group, called Ruhani Satsang. . . . Since you have inquired, you are entitled to an answer, so I will simply add that the Great Master [Sawan Singh] never did appoint him as His Successor. He appointed Sardar Bahadur Maharaj Jagat Singh Ji, in a witnessed and recorded Will, to carry on all His Spiritual Work. If anybody else is bold enough to assert himself as the Great Master's Successor, then I can simply leave it to the sagacity of the seekers to judge his claim. The Great Master's Representatives in the foreign countries also have photostatic copies of the documents proving Successorship, and the one nearest you will be glad to show them to you on request. [*NOTE: Divine Light (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1974), page 240. *] [Letter 152] As regards S. Kirpal Singh, let him say or do anything he likes. Sooner or later he will have to render account for his actions. You have been given the key at the time of Initiation and can satisfy yourself as to whether or not he is a true Master. It would not be in good taste for me to go into detail, but I will say this much, that the Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji, never gave him permission to initiate anyone, and duly appointed Sardar Bahadur Maharaj Jagat Singh Ji as His Successor by a legally executed Will, in writing and duly witnessed, so as to leave no doubt about this matter. If you care to have more information, you may contact your Representative, who has a photostatic copy of the documents concerned and can explain the whole situation to you. If you like, you may also contact Dr. Pierre Schmidt in Geneva, Switzerland, as he was one of the witnesses to the Will along with me and others, and was daily with the Great Master during the last four months of His life on this earth. [*NOTE: Ibid., page 218 *]

What is most revealing about the previous excerpts is what is absent. Nowhere does Charan Singh state that Jagat Singh was the true heir to Sawan Singh because of his inward, spiritual attainment (though it is clearly implied). Rather, he only mentions evidence which is official and outwardly verifiable. And even when Charan Singh refers to an inner test ("the key"), as he [*NOTE: According to Radhasoami meditation instructions, given at the time of initiation, the disciple should test any inner vision which appears. The chief test is to repeat the mantra given by the guru over and over again in front of the vision. If the vision persists, despite concentrated repetition, it may assumed that the experience is genuine (or, if not necessarily genuine, at least karmic/destined); if the vision vanishes or disappears, then the experience should be regarded as illusory or illegitimate. Moreover, any master or personage who appears in meditation, according to Radhasoami beliefs, should be accompanied by one's guru. In Sar Bachan (Prose), Shiv Dayal Singh describes how a sincere devotee should test whatever appears within: "All people on board were drowned with the exception of the disciple, who continued to float on a plank. He too was about to sink in a short while when a hand came out of the sea and a voice was heard saying: `Give me thy hand so that I may save thee.' `Who are you?' asked the disciple and the voice replied: `I am the Prophet.' The disciple said, `I do not know the Prophet. I do not know anybody else except my Sat Guru .' And the hand disappeared. A little later, when the disciple was drifting on the plank and dousing too, another hand appeared and (a voice) said: `Grasp the hand so that I may save you.' The disciple asked, `Who are you?' and the voice replied: `I am Kuda or Ishwar (God).' The disciple said: `My Khuda (God) is my Guru . I know no other Kudha .' That hand too disappeared, but shortly a third hand came out. This was the hand of his spiritual grandfather. `I am thy Guru's Guru ' said he, `Give me thy hand that I may take thee out.' The disciple thereupon replied: `Whether I am saved or drowned, I cannot give my hand to anybody else except to my Guru . . .' That hand also disappeared. Then the Guru Sahib Himself appeared, embraced the disciple and immediately took him home." See Sar Bachan (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1978), pages 157-158. *] does in letter 152, he is writing about Kirpal Singh's claim to be a genuine master, not his claim for rightful succession.

The dispute between Kirpal Singh and the Dera successors of Sawan Singh reached a critical turning point in the early 1950's when Kirpal Singh alleged that Dera was corrupted by internal politics. In fact, Kirpal Singh went so far as to state in a private letter to an initiate of Sawan Singh that Bachint Singh, Sawan Singh's eldest son, tried to "sell" the gaddi to a family member. However, since the initiate did not believe the accusations, he forwarded the letter to Radha Soami Satsang Beas. Prompted by Radha Krishna Khanna, Charan Singh requested Kirpal Singh to apologize for the accusation or face a defamation suit. The issue was finally resolved when Kirpal Singh met with Charan Singh at R. K. Khanna's house and signed a legally certified apology, stating that he [Kirpal Singh] was in error and had based his allegations on incorrect information. He further stated that he hoped Charan Singh would forgive him on this matter. [*NOTE: For more on this controversy see Daryai Lal Kapur's Firdaus Barin Urf-Roo-i-Zamin (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1968), which is in Urdu; and Truth Triumphant by Bhagwan Singh, Guranditta Mal Ahuja and Avtar Singh Oberoi (Delhi" Privately published, 1967), which is in English. *] Concerning this episode, Charan Singh writes: Pertaining to the libellous and slanderous remarks made about my Illustrious Predecessor and me by S. Kirpal Singh and some of his associates, I am glad that you are now aware of the true state of affairs. Please do not bother about taking any action against S. Kirpal Singh and his associates, as he has himself signed a legally witnessed apology for these false statements, a photostatic copy of which is also with your Representatives. He will be glad to show it to you if you will ask to see it.

As we have seen, Charan Singh has dealt with each case pertaining to Kirpal Singh's claims and allegations in a legal and official manner, pointing either to notarized wills or documents. Since Charan Singh worked as a lawyer for a number of years, it may not be surprising that he has gravitated toward a legal posture in defending Jagat Singh's succession. However, such a legalistic stance can only work in favor of those who already have what the opposing claimants (like Kirpal Singh) do not: external evidence.


Charan Singh died on June 1, 1990, of a heart condition. Two days prior to his death, Charan Singh dictated his last will designating his nephew, Gurinder Singh Dhillon, to succeed him as both the Spiritual Master of the Dera and the Patron of its many activities. The Will, dated May 30th 1990, which was witnessed by several close associates of Charan Singh, including his personal physician, Dr. Joshi, reads as follows: I, S Charan Singh Grewal s/o S Harbans Singh Grewal, aged 74 years am making this will in regard to the spiritual affairs of the Society, Radhasoami Satsang Beas while in full possession of my wits. I am making this will in accordance with the wishes of Hazur Maharaj Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj & my predecessor. I have served the Sangat whole-heartedly to the best of my ability for nearly forty years. I have received in great measure the love, faith and esteem of the entire sangat, of sewadars and my staff members of which it would be difficult to find a parallel in this world. I am deeply grateful for their co-operation and support. I appoint Sh. Gurinder Singh Dhillon S/o Sh. Gurumukh Singh Dhillon of Moga as my spiritual Successor as ordered by Hazur Maharaj Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj. He will be the Sant Satguru as well as the Patron of Radhasoami Satsang Beas and will have the authority of giving initiation (NAM). He will also be the Patron of Maharaj Jagat Singh Medical Relief Society. I have made this will in accordance with the wishes of Hazur Maharaj Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj and I have every hope that my wishes as expressed in this will be duly honoured by the entire sangat, all my family members and members of the society. Signed: Charan Singh Witnessed by: Seva Singh, S. L. Sondhi, Dr. Joshi, and V.K. Sethi Dated: 30-5-90 (May 30, 1990)

Although Charan Singh's death was not too surprising, given his previous heart condition, his appointment of Gurinder Singh as his successor was generally unexpected. For most satsangis in India and abroad, Gurinder Singh's name was unfamiliar; moreover, he had been living in Spain for the latter part of the 1980's as a businessman, essentially removed from the Dera administrative affairs. Further, Gurinder Singh was only thirty-five years old and his wife had given birth to their second child just a few days before Charan Singh's passing. Even Gurinder Singh himself was caught off guard by his appointment, having no idea that he was to succeed his master at the Dera. However, within days, the acceptance of Gurinder Singh by satsangis around the world was overwhelming. There are a number of factors for the ease of Gurinder's Singh assumption of the mantleship, including 1) the clarity of Charan Singh's last will; 2) Gurinder's blood relations with the Beas masters (besides being the nephew of Charan Singh, Gurinder is also the great grandson of Sawan Singh); and 3) the general acceptance world-wide that Charan Singh would appoint his successor by a Will.

In the first year after Charan Singh's death, Gurinder Singh has solidified his support both within and outside the Dera with an unexpected swiftness. He plans to visit countries like the United States and England on a regular basis and wants to ensure harmony among the various sangats around the world. Since Charan Singh had initiated over one million and two hundred thousand initiates during his tenure (an extremely large figure when compared to other Radhasoami groups) Gurinder Singh's task is a formidable one: As the Beas Satsang enters into the 21st century, it must cope with increasing internationalization and its attendant consequences, which include schisms between various factions over how to rightly present the teachings of Radhasoami and the almost invariable movement among some for increased power and status both regionally and nationally. How Gurinder Singh and his increased following deal with these and other issues will determine, to a large degree, whether or not Radhasoami will emerge as a bona fide world religion, along the ranks of Jainism or Sikhism.


The Founding of Ruhani Satsang

Although Jagat Singh was appointed via a will to succeed Sawan Singh at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, Beas, in 1948, Kirpal Singh felt that he alone was duly commissioned to carry on his guru's spiritual work. In a small booklet entitled A Brief Life Sketch of Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj published in 1949, Kirpal Singh explained how he received the mantleship from his master: On the morning of 12th October, 1947, at seven o'clock he [Sawan Singh] called me. When I was in his august presence, he said: "Kirpal Singh! I have allotted all other work but have not entrusted my task of Naam-initiation and spiritual work to anyone. That I confer on you today so that this holy and sacred science may flourish. . . ." After this whenever I had the honour to be in seclusion with Hazur, He talked about the interior affairs of Dera and instructed me how to act when He departed forever. During the last days of His confinement on the bed of sickness--in last days of February 1948--one day Hazur enquired: "How many souls have been initiated by me?" Registers were consulted and after counting was finished Hazur replied: "Up-till now about one hundred and fifty thousand souls have been awakened by Hazur." Hazur said: "All right." Same day in the evening when I was with Him, Hazur said: "Kirpal Singh! I have done half of your work and have given Naam to over one and a half lakh persons and the rest you have to accomplish." [*NOTE: Kirpal Singh, A Brief Life Sketch of Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1968), page 11 and 12. *]

Kirpal Singh alleged that there were internal politics at the Dera which resulted in him leaving and founding his own satsang. In his biography of Sawan Singh, Kirpal Singh claims that Sawan Singh had instructed him on what to do after his death. Recounts Kirpal Singh: On another occasion Hazur [Sawan Singh] said: Kirpal Singh! 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. When Baba Ji came from Agra, he brought with him neither money nor followers. He fetched within him only his Guru and through his blessing the present Dera came into existence. . . Thereafter, whenever during Hazur's lifetime I had an opportunity to go to him, he talked on the subject of propagating spirituality and gave necessary instructions regarding its real shape, significance and basic fundamental problems. . . . [*NOTE: Ibid. *]

Since over ninety percent of Sawan Singh's initiates accepted Jagat Singh as the legitimate heir, [*NOTE: This figure is also accepted by supporters of Kirpal Singh, who do not deny that the vast majority of Sawan Singh's followers rallied around Jagat Singh and later Charan Singh. As Russell Perkins writes in The Impact of a Saint (op. cit., page 145): "He [Kirpal Singh] had been forcibly ejected from his Master's ashram in Beas because of the existence of a document naming someone else as successor; while he never in any way reacted or objected to this [sic], and pursued his spiritual mission from scratch (since the overwhelming majority of his Master's disciples preferred to believe the document), it was unthinkable that he should have chosen such a means to have named his successor." *] Kirpal Singh's claim as successor met with severe opposition. It is not surprising, therefore, that Kirpal Singh utilized substantiating accounts for his claim which criticized several outward conventions supporting Jagat Singh. Specifically, Kirpal Singh and his associates questioned the legitimacy of Sawan Singh's last will designating Jagat Singh as his spiritual successor. [*NOTE: See Truth Triumphant , op. cit. *] Furthermore, Kirpal Singh argued that inner experience (and not wills, documents, or committees) was the trademark of a guru's authenticity. Although this requirement has always been stressed in Sant mat/Radhasoami, Kirpal Singh elevated it to an unparalleled degree. He insisted that experiences of light and sound should be perceived during the time of initiation, and that this criterion is one of the chief ways of determining whether or not a guru is competent. [*NOTE: For more on this issue see Kirpal Singh's Godman (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1967). *]

This is not to suggest that Kirpal Singh did not employ historical accounts to back up his claims, but only that he de-emphasized them in contrast to inner experiences. Hence, in this purview, contradictory evidence--like wills which are outwardly presented--is junior to personal, revelatory encounters in the higher realms, which may or may not be in agreement with "consensus data." Generally, Kirpal Singh and his initiates have identified the following as significant factors in favor of his succession of Sawan Singh: 1. Direct personal testimony by Sawan Singh to Kirpal Singh about his role as a guru, giving initiation and satsang. 2. The transmission of initiatory power by Sawan Singh to Kirpal Singh "through the eyes." 3. Testimonies by highly regarded Sawan Singh initiates verifying Kirpal Singh's spiritual status. 4. Suggestive historical events, such as Kirpal Singh giving satsang and initiation under Sawan Singh's jurisdiction. 5. Experiential confirmation by interested persons who received inner confirmation in meditation of Sawan Singh's transference of power to Kirpal Singh.

Kirpal Singh's Relationship with Sawan Singh

Kirpal Singh was born on February 6, 1894 in Sayyad Kasran, district of Rawalpindi. He was the youngest brother of three. Brought up in a Sikh household, he was educated at the Edwards Church Mission High School in Peshawar, graduating in 1910; that same year he was married to Krishna Wanti. They had two sons: Darshan Singh, who was born in 1921; and Jaswant Singh, who was born in 1927. Kirpal Singh worked in the Military Engineering Service and Military Accounts Department in Lahore.

At the age of twenty-three he began having visions in his meditations of a figure whom he believed was Guru Nanak. Seven years later in 1924, Kirpal Singh realized that it was Sawan Singh of Beas, not Guru Nanak, whom he saw repeatedly within. Convinced of the divinity of his master, Kirpal Singh received initiation from Sawan Singh into the Radhasoami path that same year.

Both of Kirpal Singh's brothers, Jodh Singh and Prem Singh, were also disciples of the Great Master. Jodh Singh (the middle brother of the family), in particular, was held in high regard by Sawan Singh. He died on September 5; Prem Singh, who came late in life to the path (apparently he was a meat eater for a number of years), died on July 22, 1946.

During the 1930's and 1940's Kirpal Singh became a prominent sevadar at his guru's ashram, known simply as the "Dera" (lit., "tent" or "camp"), often giving satsang in the presence of Sawan Singh. He was also apparently involved in the publication of Sawan Singh's magnus opus, Gurmat Sidhant . Originally published in a much smaller version in 1919, Gurmat Sidhant was enormously expanded in the mid-1930's. It presently consists of two volumes totaling approximately 2000 pages.

There is some controversy concerning Kirpal's contribution to the work. Kirpal Singh claims outright that he was the author of the book, but out of humility asked Sawan Singh to put his name on the text, since he was the guiding hand and inspiration behind it. Elaborates Kirpal Singh: Master : I tell you these things come of themselves. I have experience of that. Look at the Gurmat Sidhant--The Philosophy of the Masters --the work I wrote in two volumes; one, nine hundred pages, the other one thousand one hundred pages. I used to write at about eight or nine at night. I sat and was writing. One day some writer was there watching me. "From where are You writing, and so fast?" At about midnight he said, "Look here, You're writing so fast, You're not copying anything. But how do You write?" I said, "Someone is dictating to me, I cannot follow Him?" Question : You were writing that in Urdu? Master : In Punjabi. I have written books in English that way, under the shelter of this tree. There were some sitting arrangements then. Question : That was dictated by Sawan Singh? Master : It was intuition, the same. Question: Of course, You have put His name on the book. Master : It's all due to Him. How can one be ungrateful? My books are dedicated, "To God and to all in Whom He manifested and Baba Sawan Singh, at Whose Feet I have imbibed the Truth." [*NOTE: Heart to Heart Talks, Volume One , pages 81-82. *]

Yet, historically it appears that Kirpal Singh was not the sole author of Gurmat Sidhant , because even his own son, Darshan Singh, claims that he collected the majority of quotations from Persian used in the book. This is significant because Gurmat Sidhant is replete with citations, especially from the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib . Approximately one-half of Gurmat Sidhant is quotations from other mystics, particularly those from the Sant tradition. There may well have been a series of satsangis, including Lekh Raj Puri and Jagat Singh among others, who helped compile the unabridged edition. Moreover, the Beas Satsang disputes Kirpal Singh's claim for sole authorship by pointing to the earlier 1919 edition as documented evidence that Sawan Singh was the real author, since Kirpal Singh did not meet his guru at Beas until 1924--some five years after the initial edition. Indeed, Kirpal Singh's claim also met with some legal resistance. As Kirpal Singh explains: Yesterday I [Kirpal Singh] replied to some letter. "They said Gurmat Sidhant was not your sayings." I replied that the book was issued in the name of Baba Sawan Singh--it was His graciousness--He did it. "Well, how is it issued in their name at Beas?" "They have got reserved rights because on paper the properties are in their name." I cannot issue it, print those things here--legally I mean. . . . legally I am not allowed to print it. [*NOTE: Heart to Heart Talks, Volume II , op. cit., pages 153-154. *]

Regardless of the controversy surrounding Gurmat Sidhant , it is clearly evident that Kirpal Singh was involved in some capacity with the literary work at Beas, as even Lekh Raj Puri acknowledges his assistance (in gathering information about Islamic spiritual practices) in the preface to his book, Mysticism: The Spiritual Path , which was published in the latter part of the 1930's.

In 1939 Kirpal Singh is reported to have conducted initiation of over two hundred people at the Dera in the presence of his guru Sawan Singh. According to Kirpal Singh's several references to this occasion, it caused a bit of a stir among satsangis at the Dera. Around this same period Kirpal Singh was the subject of some negative rumors which prevented him from enjoying the presence of his guru. Kirpal Singh only mentions this episode in passing and does not provide (at least in English) any details about the propaganda, as he termed it, that was being spread about him. What little we do know comes from Kirpal Singh and/or his associates. Once it happened in my life (generally these controversies do come up) that there was a great deal of propaganda against me. Once, Master asked me to initiate two hundred and fifty people in the monthly gathering. Competition then naturally arises, and there was a great amount of propaganda against me. I kept quiet because I was true to myself; I knew, "God is with me, Master is with me." And it was so arranged that I could not talk to the Master for eight months--such influential people were involved. [*NOTE: As cited in A. S. Oberoi's Support for the Shaken Sangat (Sanbornton: Sant Bani Ashram, 1984), page 120. See also Kirpal Singh's Morning Talks (Delhi: Sawan Kirpal Publications, 1981), page 213. *]

Also during this time, Kirpal Singh received an endearing and supportive letter, dated June 11, 1939, from Sawan Singh, encouraging him to conduct satsang and complete his spiritual progress in meditation. Further on in the letter, Sawan Singh stated that he was "greatly pleased" with Kirpal Singh, adding that "You [Kirpal Singh] are serving the Lord with all your resources--body, mind and money." [*NOTE: Portrait of Perfection , op. cit., page 37. *] By 1947, a year before his guru's death, Kirpal Singh was regarded as one of the principal disciples of the Great Master . [*NOTE: For example, Dr. Pierre Schmidt, who attended Sawan Singh personally for the last four months of his life, referred to Kirpal Singh as "one of the principal disciples." See Radha Soami Satsang, Bulletin Number IX (1948). *] Indeed, in the by-laws drawn up about the Administrative Committee in 1947 by Sawan Singh, Kirpal Singh was given the responsibility of jointly conducting satsangs with Gulab Singh and B. Rameshwar, as well as being responsible for the accomodations of satsangis at the Dera.

Kirpal Singh and the Rhetoric of Minority Succession

On April 6, 1948, just four days after his guru's death, Kirpal Singh left the Dera forever. He proceeded to Delhi for a short visit and then went on to Rishikesh. Kirpal Singh, along with his family, stayed in the venerated city for five months, giving upwards to eighteen hours daily in meditation. By December 2 of that same year, he started his ministry in Delhi, conducting regular satsangs and initiation. In 1950 Kirpal Singh formally founded Ruhani Satsang and in 1951 established Sawan Ashram in Shakti Nagar, Delhi.

Yet, from the start of his ministry, Kirpal Singh had to overcome many obstacles, not the least of which was that Jagat Singh was clearly the accepted successor of Sawan Singh by the vast majority of satsangis. To better clarify his nomination as Satguru, Kirpal Singh published a booklet on his guru's life and teachings in English in 1949 which explained in detail how he was appointed. But in so doing, Kirpal Singh was calling into serious question the succession at Dera. For instance, in A Brief Life-Sketch of Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj , Kirpal Singh clearly implies in four different places [*NOTE: See pages 11, 12, 15, and 18. *] that he alone was appointed to carry on his master's mission. On page 15 of the booklet, Kirpal Singh quotes his master as saying, "The mission of spirituality can only be carried on successfully by one [my italics] adept in spirituality." Moreover, Kirpal Singh implies that some of Sawan Singh's relatives and close disciples were spiritually blind. Indeed, Kirpal Singh cites at least five different episodes where Sawan Singh's family and/or close associates misunderstood their guru's wishes. Kirpal Singh argues throughout the text that he alone was capable of understanding the sublime and mystical ways of his master. Below are a few examples of Kirpal Singh's slightly veiled criticisms of Sawan Singh's inner circle: [Page 12] In those very days, one night Hazur mentioning His inner esoteric experiences remarked: "The sun has risen high. Can the people of Jullundur also see this sun?" The relatives and friends sitting nearby were ignorant of this secret expression . [My italics.] The opinion of [the] doctor in charge was also, like others beside Him, that Hazur's brain does not work properly on account of His illness. A little later at night when I went to Him, Hazur repeated the same question addressing me: "Kirpal Singh! The sun has risen high. Can the people of Jullundur see this sun?" I replied, "Yes Hazur, the sun has risen high--and not only the people of Jullundur but also those living in England or America who will traverse to inner planes can see this sun." Thereupon Hazur said: "Thou hast correctly answered my question." [*NOTE: Page 12. Dr. Pierre Schimdt, who attended Sawan Singh during his last four months, has a different interpretation than Kirpal Singh of this same event. In April of 1948, Schimdt wrote: "I feel I must relate two instances that revealed Him [Sawan Singh] as a Master even during this period of grave distress: 1. Some weeks before His death the Master asked to be brought some water from Jullundur, about 40 kilometers from the Dera, and when it was brought He asked why they had gone to collect it. Another evening He said to us, "Look at the light which shines in Jullundur" although there was only a slight glow over the city. I thought these were indications of delirium such as is met with in uraemia. Another day He said "Look at this house in which I now live, it is disintegrating and falling in ruins. We must leave the Dera and go to Jullundur. Quickly, buy a new house"! This seemed to be symptomatic of a state of weakness and mental obnubilation which comes paroxsmically in such conditions. But later we realized what He meant, for it was His Way of indicating His successor, who came from Jullundur: It was to tell us that henceforth the light would come from there and that He had finished His task, for Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh was born at Jullundur. [My italics.] See Radha Soami Satsang Bulletin Number X for further information. *] [Pages 12-13] Similarly Hazur made a mention of several hidden secrets but those around Him were hardly able to grasp what Hazur was hinting at--this being a subject familiar to those only who are practical in-lookers and spiritually skilled. What, therefore, could other poor fellows know about them. [Page 15] (Spirituality) cannot be entrusted to a blind person. Whoever has a desire to find me out can reach me within through one who is linked with me. You will not find me in the company of those who are after the possessions of the world. Be not deceived by such people. . . . I do not dwell in the midst of mayaic insects. Go to some selfless being who is after me and lives for me and is not after possession of Deras. . . . [Page 18] Throughout the period of His illness Hazur said many times: "If a person proficient in Bhajan and Simran sits by me, I feel comforted and relieved. Therefore those who come to me or sit near me should do Simran." Accordingly, at the time of appearance of this symptom of "fluttering of the body" Hazur again spoke several times in these words: "If the person who has to do the work of spirituality after I depart, comes and sits by me, my trouble will be gone." To comply with this--evidently the last wish of the Master--the near relatives of Hazur came and sat in Bhajan and Simran one by one, by the side of bed of Hazur, but there was no relief whatever in the fluttering symptom of Hazur's body. On the morning of 1st April, 1948, it was extremely benevolent of Hazur to afford a chance to this humble servant--of course through the assistance of a lady in nursing service of Hazur--to be by the side of the Master, in seclusion, for about ten or fifteen minutes. . . . After the prayer [Kirpal Singh prayed for his guru's health] when I opened my eyes, Hazur's body was in a state of perfect repose.

As the preceding excerpts indicate, particularly the last one, Kirpal Singh feels that he alone was helpful in understanding and soothing Sawan Singh's condition. The underside to Kirpal Singh's claims, however, is that Sawan Singh's inner circle is spiritually bankrupt. The two pronged rhetoric behind Kirpal Singh's narrative is obvious, since his booklet is not solely about Sawan Singh's life and work but rather about his own claims for mastership. Roughly one half of the 22 page booklet centers on how Sawan Singh transmitted his spiritual authority to Kirpal Singh. Even to the casual reader it is clear that the booklet is a strategic piece of writing in which to contextualize and buttress Kirpal Singh's claim for spiritual succession and authority. At one end, Kirpal Singh is either implicitly or explicitly criticizing his guru's family and close disciples (including, presumably, Jagat Singh, since he was in daily attendance of Sawan Singh during his last years) and, on the other end, eulogizing either overtly or covertly his own spiritual competence. The net result is a thinly disguised polemic against the Dera and for Ruhani Satsang. [*NOTE: For example, Kirpal Singh does not mention Jagat Singh once in the text, nor does he discuss Sawan Singh's last wills. Moreover, almost every time he refers to the Dera it is in a negative light. *]

It is little wonder, therefore, that Kirpal Singh wrote a defamatory letter about Sawan Singh's family and their attempt to "buy" the gaddi. This incident, plus the episodes outlined in A Brief Life-Sketch of Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj , demonstrate that Kirpal Singh not only questioned Jagat Singh's and Charan Singh's succession--their office entitlement--but that he also felt there was a conspiracy to undermine the sacredness of the gaddi itself. Since Kirpal Singh consented to apologize for his misinformed letter, his outright criticisms of the succession at Dera lessened.

Lacking sufficient support (legal or otherwise) to cast serious doubt among the general sangat over the succession decision at Dera, Kirpal Singh resorted to criticizing office empowerment in general. On several occasions, Kirpal Singh implied that the successors at the Dera--Jagat Singh and Charan Singh--only had the "seat," not the power. An incident retold in the book, Heart to Heart Talks, Volume II , reveals Kirpal Singh's position with regard to the Dera and its successors: It so happened here in India that a man was suffering greatly on account of cancer. He could not sleep, even for a moment. He was fortunately, or unfortunately, related to me, Gurdial Singh. So Baba Charan Singh went over there. The sick man asked, "Will you kindly help me?" Charan Singh answered, "Well, I can't do anything." As Gurdial Singh was related to me--my brother's daughter was married to his son--she dragged me there. They wanted me to put my hand on him. He said, "Will you help me?" I told him, "Baba Charan Singh has been with you. Why did you not request him?" I did request him but he said, "I can't do anything." So I was forced to put my hand on him, you see, and all trouble was relieved. [*NOTE: Heart to Heart Talks, Volume II (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1976), page 80. *]

Further on in the same book, Kirpal Singh explains the difference between his mission and the Beas successors after Sawan Singh: The other day I gave initiation to six hundred and fifty three people. All saw Light--about two hundred saw the Master's Form. The teachings at Beas are the same, but the words given at initiation are not charged [his emphasis]. That is the difference [my emphasis]. [*NOTE: Ibid., pages 157-158. *]

The previous excerpt is very telling since Kirpal Singh says that the difference between him and Charan Singh is that he has the spiritual charging and the Beas leader does not. In other words, Kirpal Singh is claiming that he alone is genuine, and that he is genuine by virtue of inner, spiritual power.

This notion of inner power became central in supporting Kirpal Singh's legitimacy as Sawan Singh's successor. Indeed, Kirpal Singh revolutionized Sant mat initiation practices by stressing that some type of inner experience should be received during the time of initiation. Anyone, Kirpal Singh argued, should have a direct contact with the inner light and sound during the meditation period of initiation. This would put to rest any questions seekers would have about the efficacy of the path and the competency of the master. Yet, such an innovation was unique in the annals of Radhasoami, since no guru prior to Kirpal Singh made such a far reaching, universal requirement. To be sure, the previous gurus had emphasized inner experiences and the like; Shiv Dayal Singh, in fact, often gave firsthand glimpses to worthy and devout seekers. [*NOTE: As Partap Singh writes in Biography of Soamiji Maharaj (Agra: Soami Bagh, 1978), page 23: "Soamiji Maharaj often used to raise a little the spirit of certain Adhikaris (fitted and deserving) at the time of initiation. Thus they had had a fore-taste of the bliss of higher regions, and developed faith instantly. . . . *] But all of them, including Kirpal's guru Sawan Singh, were selective in whom they took inside.

For a large number of seekers, Kirpal Singh's promising offer was tantalizing proof of his competency. However, for a small number of followers, it prompted some confusion, since Kirpal's master Sawan Singh did not make the same claims during his tenure. As one Ruhani Satsang initiate explained to Kirpal Singh: "I know two initiates who in the beginning read Spiritual Gems and they found contradictions in it with Your teachings--very minor ones, but it created a lot of problems in their mind." [*NOTE: Heart to Heart Talks, Volume II , op. cit., page 157. *] Later on in the conversation the (presumably) same disciple expressed his surprise when learning that Sawan Singh's followers rarely received inner experiences at the time of initiation: "I was reading With the [sic] Great Master in India by Julian Johnson. And I was amazed in one section it says that the Master [Sawan Singh] gave initiation to over seven hundred people and out of that only two saw Light--only two saw Light!" [*NOTE: Ibid. *]

The disciple's amazement was well founded, since Kirpal Singh had basically forged new ground, breaking precedent even with his own guru. Sawan Singh, for instance, actually argued against the need for giving firsthand experiences at the time of initiation. Argues Sawan Singh: The view that one must see something at the time of Initiation or he would never be able to see anything later is wrong [my emphasis]. Experience also does not support it. Everyone is running his own course of life, which is different from all others. No two persons are alike in habit, form and thought. All are at different stages of development. At Initiation, they cannot be expected to behave alike. Only few [my emphasis] see anything then. The majority [my emphasis] take time, some weeks, some months and some years. All are not equally keen. [*NOTE: Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1974), page 87. *]

Malik Radha Krishna Khanna, an initiate of Sawan Singh and a close associate of Kirpal Singh, attests to the differences between both gurus' approaches to initiation: I sat in at many initiations, and sometimes he [Sawan Singh] would ask me to drill the new initiates while they were learning the five charged Names. He would go away and leave me there. At the end, he never [my emphasis] asked who had seen this or heard that. That is something Maharaj Kirpal Singh Ji had started [my emphasis]. [*NOTE: "Reminiscences: At the Feet of the Great Hazur," Sat Sandesh (April 1978), page 30. *]

Kirpal Singh's Claims and the Problem of Proof:

Legitimacy Versus Authenticity

Ken Wilber, a transpersonal theorist, has developed two terms, legitimacy and authenticity , which may be useful in our discussion of guru politics. Legitimacy, according to Wilber, refers to the attempt of religious persons to validate their claims and beliefs in this world. As such, it is the desire to correlate or substantiate a religious viewpoint within the common sense, waking world. In Wilberian terminology, legitimacy is a translative (read: horizontal) endeavor whereby one seeks to integrate, not transcend or obliterate, the sacred with the profane. Authenticity, on the other hand, is a transformative (read: vertical) attempt to validate a claim or a belief by referring to a different level of awareness--a higher plane beyond the rational mind. Accordingly, authenticity bypasses the normal strictures of the waking world because it tries to validate a certain claim by pointing to a higher reference point--an ontologically diverse state of being. [*NOTE: Wilber has written a number of books on this subject, but his clearest presentation remains A Sociable God (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983). *]

For example, in the guru succession following Sawan Singh's death, we have already noted two different avenues for validation: outward, external and legal verification versus inward, internal, and experiential substantiation. In Wilber's schema, these two tendencies can be see as legitimacy versus authenticity . The former is concerned with this world's frame of reference (consensus reality), whereas the latter is interested in trans-personal or spiritual realities (sacred or numinous encounters). Although legitimacy and authenticity do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive (Wilber talks about the transcriptive connection between the two), [*NOTE: See my article, "The Himalayan Connection: U.F.O.'s and the Chandian Effect," Journal of Humanistic Psychology (Fall 1984), where I talk about this "transcriptive" connection as transfusion or the intersectional relationship between two modes of development: vertical and horizontal. In terms of gaddi nasheen succession, those gurus who have both legitimate and authentic evidence (or experiential corroboration) almost invariably emerge as majority succession leaders. Hence, the transcriptive correlation between outer and inner substantiation is a very powerful legitimizing force in guru politics. Sawan Singh is perhaps the best example of a Radhasoami guru who had overwhelming support in both directions. *] it is often the case, especially in gaddi nasheen succession, that they are viewed as such.

In terms of Radhasoami succession rhetoric it can be argued that Kirpal Singh's emphasis on inner verification ( authenticity ) versus outward confirmation ( legitimacy ) of a guru's status arose because he lacked what made Jagat Singh so acceptable to the larger sangat: a notarized will signed by Sawan Singh and the transference of satsang properties in his name. If Kirpal Singh had this type of documented evidence, i.e., office entitlement, then he may not have needed to stress inner validation so much. [*NOTE: Of course, Kirpal Singh may still have emphasized inner experience as the chief criterion for measuring a guru's authenticity if he was established at Beas, but, at least , such an established appointment would have given him the option not to. *] It appears to be a truism in guru politics that those who lack sufficient [*NOTE: The word "sufficient" is a volatile term. My use here, however, is in a rather straightforward, statistical way: gurus who establish themselves as the chief or majority successor in the satsang have sufficient evidence backing their appointment by the simple fact that they have the most followers. Thus sufficiency here is merely a tautology which describes the social process of majority rule. Whether or not the gurus or disciples themselves see this process as valid is another question altogether. As Neil Tessler wrote in a personal letter in the Spring of 1988, "I would be interested in knowing how the Master's [sic] judge the success of their ministries." Tessler's question is a good one, since the success of a guru's ministry (at least to the guru him/herself or his/her disciples) may have nothing at all to do with numbers. *] outward confirmation in whatever forms--wills, testimonies, or relics--move generally toward experiential, inward, and personal forms of verification. Or, in Max Weber's terms, succession claimants who do not receive official empowerment move towards personal charisma or authority to rally their supporters. As Max Weber put it: The mere fact of recognizing the personal mission of a charismatic master establishes his power. Whether it is more active or passive, this recognition derives from the surrender of the faithful to the extraordinary and unheard of, to what is alien to all regulation and tradition and therefore is viewed as divine--surrender which arises from distress or enthusiasm. Because of this mode of legitimation genuine charismatic domination knows no abstract laws and regulations and no formal adjudication. . . . [*NOTE: Gerth and Miles, op. cit., pages 249-250. *]

Utilizing Wilber's more precise terminology, this same thesis can be stated as follows: those who lack legitimacy (outward confirmation by the consensus majority) point to their authenticity (inward confirmation by individuals mystically) as the primary means for verifying their role. Unlike official empowerment, personal charismatic claims operate on the staid belief that it is the person not the position which matters in the guru-disciple relationship. We have seen this repeatedly throughout the history of Radhasoami, but nowhere has the tension between inner and outer validation become clearer and more focused than in the case of Kirpal Singh. When we turn to the death of Kirpal Singh and his would-be successors, we will want to see how this polarity in legitimation influences and constrains the ideological work among emerging guru claimants.

Ideological Work and Strategies of Legitimation

As we have previously noted, the successors after the death of Sawan Singh followed strategies of legitimation which were consistent with their social position. That is, office empowered leaders like Jagat Singh and Charan Singh employed ideological discourse that emphasized the impersonal nature of their appointment, whereas personal charismatics like Kirpal Singh utilized discourse which stressed the inward, experiential basis of their mastership. Each type of ideological work reflected the specific standing of the successor in relation to the larger membership: majority leaders at Beas tended to support their roles by referring to how the transference of the office was made, not necessarily how the "spiritual power" was passed on; minority leader Kirpal Singh, on the other hand, tended to buttress his role by claiming direct, personal transmission of spiritual power by Sawan Singh. Each successor has offered "proof," but proof on two different levels of acquisition.

It is clear, therefore, that ideological work is intimately tied in with a particular guru's social status--a status largely determined by how spiritual authority is transferred. Thus social status governs strategies of legitimation. Precisely, office empowered leaders by virtue of their established position are more likely to invoke a strategy of legitimation which highlights the traditional and sacred aspects of their respective stations. Personal charismatics, on the contrary, lacking the built-in legitimacy of a permanent residential seat, and the networking which goes with it, are inclined to use a strategy which emphasizes the subjective and experiential features of their calling.

To summarize, before we move on to the main focus of our study, the politics of guru successorship stems not only from confusion over whom the departing master appointed, but over the nature of spiritual authority itself. The conflict between Kirpal Singh and the Beas successors only epitomizes the contest over official and personal authorization and the discourse available to each. Much of the controversy surrounding successorship is due to the rhetorical agencies connected to esteemed social positions, whereby social structure governs the effective usage of communicative interaction. Thus, vying gurus, consciously or unconsciously, are influenced by the social ramifications of their particular brand of charismatic succession. It is these very social ramifications, furthermore, which outline the strategies of legitimation available to succession claimants.

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

I want to go back to the home base now.