Radhasoami: chapter four

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 Four


The Death of Kirpal Singh

Kirpal Singh's health took a serious turn for the worse in 1971. He had prostate troubles and underwent an operation on June 29 to remedy the difficulty. According to Russell Perkins' account, it took some time for Kirpal Singh to recover. As Perkins notes:

The Master's operation had been a serious one--on his prostate--and he was a long time recovering. His body had been exhausted for years, of course, and he kept it going by sheer will. . . . [*NOTE: The Impact of a Saint , op. cit., page 118. *]

After the operation Kirpal Singh's health improved to the point that he was able to undergo a strenuous third world tour in 1972. By this time, Kirpal Singh had attracted a substantial following, numbering in the tens of thousands, and was received by enthusiastic crowds throughout South and North America. On his return from abroad in January of 1973, Kirpal Singh continued to go on satsang tours throughout north and south India, visiting Kashmir in June, the Punjab in October, and Bombay by the year's end. Although 1974 turned out to be Kirpal Singh's final year, he completed a number of significant projects, including sponsoring and presiding over the Unity of Man Conference in Delhi, which was held in early February. Kirpal Singh also managed to visit the famous Kumbha Mela in Hardwar, as well as the Rashtriya Sant Samagam in Delhi. On July 29, 1974, he gave his last initiation sitting to well over one thousand people.

On August 1, Kirpal Singh addressed the members of the Indian Parliament, and on August 17 presented his last English satsang. Four days later, on August 21, he died at 6:55 p.m. During his entire ministry Kirpal Singh had initiated 80,446 seekers, both in India and abroad. [*NOTE: My statistics come from a personal letter dated May 7, 1988, compiled by the administration at Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission in Vijay Nagar, Delhi. It is reported in the same document that Kirpal Singh initiated 71,803 people in India, and another 8,643 seekers in various other countries. However, in most of the literature connected to Kirpal Singh, it has been claimed that Kirpal Singh initiated between 100,000 and 150,000 people. For instance, Russell Perkins, former Editor of both Sat Sandesh and Sant Bani , in a personal letter to the author (dated April 7, 1989), writes: ". . . 120,000 [disciples]. This was Sawan Singh's accomplishment, and it was exactly duplicated [Perkins' brackets] by Kirpal Singh." These exaggerated numbers, as in Russell Perkins' case, may be partly due to Kirpal Singh's claim to have been entrusted with finishing the second half of Sawan Singh's ministry; in other words, if Sawan Singh had initiated 125,000 souls in his lifetime, Kirpal Singh's total initiates should be somewhat comparable. Although 80,000 initiates is still an impressive figure, it does fall 45,000 short of Sawan Singh's final number. What we have here, of course, is rhetorical license; figures which are ballooned--consciously or otherwise--to further substantiate the legitimacy and authenticity of Kirpal Singh's mission. *]


With the death of Kirpal Singh there arose an intense controversy over who was his rightful successor. The first person mentioned by any party to be his spiritual heir was Kirpal Singh's own son, Darshan Singh. However, certain influential initiates, such as Russell Perkins and Reno H. Sirrine, could not accept him. This disunion gained further momentum when Madam Hardevi (also known as Tai Ji), who was a close associate of Kirpal Singh and a direct initiate of Sawan Singh, was chosen to be the temporal chairman of the Ruhani Satsang and Manav Kendra societies. In an abrupt turn of events (which we will examine indepth shortly), Darshan Singh, who was allegedly appointed the master through a will by Kirpal Singh and executed by Radha Krishna Khanna, was "stripped of the inherent office and duties befitting the successor of a Param Saint, as well as those as co-chairman." [*NOTE: See Malcolm Tillis' The Emergence of the New Master Darshan Singh , Part One (Delhi: Kirpal Printing Press, 1975). *] The traditional dastarbandi ceremony, which was originally set to take place at Sawan Ashram in Old Delhi, did not occur because Tai Ji and interested associates prevented any peaceful and unanimous agreement.

Darshan Singh left Sawan Ashram and started his spiritual work at Mona's Cottage in New Delhi. The break between Madam Hardevi and Darshan Singh was never mended, and several lawsuits were taken by both parties concerning property rights. Eventually, Darshan Singh and most of the Ruhani Satsang sangat, which rallied around him, established Sawan-Kirpal ashram in Vijay Nagar, Old Delhi. The activities were subsumed under the name Sawan-Kirpal Mission and a complete separation now exists between the Ruhani Satsang organization of the late Madam Hardevi and Darshan Singh's movement.

In line with Kirpal Singh's contention that the mastership is not merely passed through wills, documents or committees, Darshan Singh revealed that prior to his father's passing he had personally received the light and power through the master's eyes. The will was only an outer confirmation of an inner event.

In two letters written in September of 1974, just a month after his father's demise, Darshan Singh explained the circumstances behind his appointment. The first letter, dated September 26, 1974, was sent to Tricholan Singh Khanna, Kirpal Singh's first and foremost representative in the United States.

My nomination as My Beloved Father's Spiritual Successor derives circumstantial support from the fact that a woman could not be so nominated according to Sant Mat tradition. Such a thing never happened throughout the ages. My Beloved Father had taken care that I imbibe the qualities which would be helpful in carrying on the Satsang work. I have, under the circumstances, no hesitation in declaring myself as the Spiritual Successor of His Holiness Maharaj Kirpal Singh Ji in conformity with His wishes and shall carry on the Satsang work to the best of my ability. . . I am sorry to find that Mr. Sirrine concluded from his talk with Tai Ji (Bibi Hardevi) and her supporters that the Master had not nominated anyone as His Spiritual Successor. [*NOTE: There is an interesting sidelight here to Darshan Singh's letter. He claims that "a woman could not be so nominated according to Sant Mat tradition." The problem with this statement, though, is that it directly contradicts the historical evidence that Shiv Dayal Singh's wife, Radhaji, was appointed to serve as a guru, and did, in fact, conduct initiations. Furthermore, in the lineage of Soami Bagh gurus, Maheshwari Devi (Buaji Saheb), a female, was the fourth recognized master. It is also known that the late Baba Faqir Chand nominated several women to serve as initiating gurus. T.S. Khanna also makes the same theological and historical claims concerning women when he wrote, "In the whole history of Sant Mat (Path of the Masters) in India, no woman has ever attained the position of a spiritual leader or guide. This did not happen in the case of the ten Sikh Gurus, nor at Dyal Bagh [sic] or Swamibagh Agra [sic], not at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh at Beas." See Truth Uncovered: Re--Successor To Great Master Kirpal Singh Ji (privately circulated booklet, November 1974). Although Khanna is historically wrong in his allegations (as we already mentioned, Soami Bagh's fourth guru was a woman), it appears that his view on women is based upon Kirpal Singh's testimony. For instance, in Spiritual Elixir, Volume II (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1972), when Kirpal Singh was asked, "Why do the Great Masters on earth always take the form of man?" He responded: " The Masters claim that there is only one Male gender amongst the souls,a nd He generally manifests on the chosen human Pole of the Living Master. It is a Divine Law which cannot be questioned by mortals. " [Page 33.] Kirpal Singh, Darshan Singh, and T.S. Khanna's claim raises several interesting historical, sociological, and theological issues which are beyond the scope of our study. *]

Although Darshan Singh does not mention her by name, it is obvious from the previous excerpt that he is denouncing Madam Hardevi's claim for the gaddi at Sawan Ashram, since, as he claims, "a woman could not be so nominated according to Sant Mat tradition." Darshan Singh is also disappointed that Reno Sirrine has sided with her and concluded that Kirpal Singh did not leave a spiritual successor.

Unlike his first letter to Khanna, which was warmly received and accepted as a true recapitulation of the facts, Darshan Singh's second letter, written to Russell Perkins, dated September 30, 1974, met with stern criticism:

After the Beloved Master left for his Home Eternal on September 21, 1974 [sic: Kirpal Singh died on August 21], some vital events took place in the Ashram, which are narrated below-- On the morning of 23rd August, respected Tai Ji called me and my wife and informed us that Maharaj Ji had made a will, in which he had declared me as His Spiritual Successor. I told her that Maharaj Ji had talked to me about this personally sometime back. She expressed no surprise at this and said he did so at her insistence, and she added that she would search for the original will in the Master's papers. . . . In reply to [Mr A.R. Manocha, the Secretary of the Managing Committee] she told him that he did make a will in my favour, but the will was not traceable. Since the will was not available, Secretary, along with members of the Managing Committee approached Mr. Radha Krishan, an eminent lawyer. . . who had drafted the will, to confirm the execution of the will and to ascertain its contents. After getting the first hand information from the Lawyer, a meeting of the Managing Committee of the Kirpal Ruhani Satsang was held on 26th August, 1974, and the Committee unanimously adopted a Resolution declaring me to be the Spiritual Successor of Maharaj Kirpal Singh Ji according to his wishes. . . . It is a fact that my Respected Father did execute a will in my favour and had verbally also told me on several occasions in his talks with me about it. In his talks he had exhorted me to prepare myself for the spiritual work. According to His wishes, I shall carry on the Sat Sang work as his spiritual successor to be [sic] of my ability and shall add to it the initiation of would-be devotees when I feel the divine call to do so, which I hope and trust the Great Master shall not delay too long.

The intriguing aspect of Darshan Singh's preceding letter is his emphasis on the written will by his father, Kirpal Singh, designating him as the spiritual successor. Remember that in Kirpal Singh's own claims as his guru's heir, he denounced wills and committees as validating processes of a successor's position. Rather, Kirpal Singh emphasized the inner, experiential realm as the true test of a guru's spiritual worth. This point, however, was not missed by Russell Perkins, who took sharp exception to Darshan Singh's allegations about the will. In his response to Darshan Singh, dated October 17, 1974, Russell Perkins commented on the issue of wills:

Your description of the events of the week following Master's leaving makes for very depressing reading--almost as depressing as living through that week there, which I did. It seemed to me both terrible and unthinkable to install someone on the dais by vote of the Committees, according to the instructions of a will that no one there had seen, about whom there was no pretense of spiritual competency. How many times did our Master say, "Masters are not made by voting, etc.: they are made by God!. . . ." Master said hundreds of times that spirituality and the successorship was never transmitted through documents. If this is so, then of what importance is the will? The only thing that can be inherited or transferred by paper is property; and what does a Saint care about property? The Ashram, the dais, the official title--these are things that might be conveyed through a will, that's true. But the ability to give Naam? The competency to take seekers Home? Never. We have our Master's word for that. . . .

Perkins' letter, though it was widely distributed, did not squelch Darshan Singh's candidacy. Rather, Darshan Singh's supporters became more vocal in their defense. Although they conceded that spiritual power could not be passed on through a will, they argued that it was an outward sign of an inner event; and, as such, had merit for validating Darshan Singh's emergence. In defense of the will and the transmission of initiatory power to Darshan Singh, Tricholan Singh Khanna wrote a four page letter, dated February 17, 1975, to Reno Sirrine:

As regards the Will I may state that: 1. Spiritual Power, grace, love and Light was passed on by the Master Kirpal Singh to Darshan Singh Ji, through the eyes on the evening of August 19, 1974. Two witnesses were also present. 2. [sic] The WILL was executed, as CONFIRMATION, in consonance with Rule 4 of the Society's Constitution and cannot be disputed because Malik Radha Krishan Khanna, M.A. L.L.B an eminent lawyer of the Supreme Court of India has stated that he himself prepared the Will, which was signed by the Master Kirpal Singh and also witnessed by two persons. . . . 3. [sic] The Master told to several important people that He executed the Will in favour of His son Darshan Singh to be His successor. We have in our possession Master's own tape recording in Hindi in which He declared that He made a Will after the return from Mahajan Nursing Home, Delhi and not before. 4. [sic] There is solid proof inner and outer that Sant Darshan Singh is the true successor of the Great Master Kirpal Singh. Thousands are testifying to the appearance of the radiant forms of Masters Sawan Singh, Kirpal Singh, and Darshan Singh together. There is no mistaking of the credentials of Sant Darshan Singh. . . .

Thus it is evident that Darshan Singh's constituents not only cited written , outward evidence, but also personal testimony and inner experience as validation of his claim as Kirpal Singh's successor. Below are the four major forms of verification provided:

1. Verbal testimony about a written will by Kirpal Singh, drafted by R.K. Khanna, stating explicitly that his son, Darshan Singh, would be his spiritual successor. 2. A Resolution by the Managing Committee of the Kirpal Ruhani Satsang, unanimously adopted, which declared Darshan Singh the spiritual successor of Kirpal Singh. 3. Personal testimonies and recollections by prominent satsangis and religious personages, including Acharya Sushil Kumar, about how Kirpal Singh verbally mentioned that Darshan Singh would be his successor. 4. Reports of various meditation experiences, where satsangis saw the radiant form of Darshan Singh accompany the inner form of Kirpal Singh.

Wills, Paradoxes, and Ideological Discourse

Darshan Singh's candidacy represents a classic example of how the ideological discourse of a preceding guru campaign (in this case, the Dera successors versus Kirpal Singh) influences a succeeding guru's rhetorical strategies. For instance, it is well documented that Kirpal Singh disavowed wills or committees as an authentic process of guru succession. Furthermore, Kirpal Singh made several critical comments against blood lineages, where the family members (sons or grandsons) attempt to take over the gaddi. Yet, ironically, this was precisely how Darshan Singh was appointed; he was given the mantleship by a will written by his father . The peculiarity of this kind of transmission was immediately recognized and criticized by a large number of Kirpal Singh initiates. In fact, it may well be that those who resist Darshan Singh's candidacy have done so based primarily on Kirpal Singh's statements against wills and blood lineages. In a circular distributed by three of Kirpal Singh's main sangats (Amritsar Centre, Chandigarh Centre, and Kashipur Centre), dated November 19th, 1974, the following arguments were made against Darshan Singh:

Now the arguments against the "Will" are innumerable: (a) Master's teachings of 27 years, that are on record and where he had always laid mphasis [sic] against the passing of Guru Gaddi to any member of the family. (b) Master's emphatic assertion that after him, his children or relations or any member of the Trust should have nothing to do with the Spiritual Mission or the property of the Ashram. (c) After returning from the hospital in August 71, thereafter repeatedly in subsequent Satsangs the [sic: should be "he"] is on record as saying that the rumours spread by some people that he had written a "Will" and nominated a Successor are a piece of trash and sheer nonsense. (d) Master's argument against [a] "Will" vix-a-viz [sic] developments in Beas was that spirituality is never transferred by [sic] "Wills" and his emphasis that from Guru Nanak down to Baba Jaimal Singh, (Indian Archives being a witness) never has the aid of a "Will" been sought for the transfer of spirituality. If it is invalid in other cases of Guru Gaddi in history--how could the practice be changed in the case of Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj and consequently Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj. . . .

Darshan Singh seemingly was stuck in a "Catch-22" situation. If he emphasized the legitimacy of the will (which he did in his personal letter to Russell Perkins, shortly after his father's demise), he automatically contradicts his father's criticism of the legalistic convention and disenfranchises a significant faction of the sangat who are bound by Kirpal Singh's statements on the subject. Yet, if Darshan Singh does not mention the will he loses a very powerful and objective document supporting his nomination. As it turned out, Darshan Singh's solution was to cite the will as evidence, along with his own personal testimony that he had received the spiritual power and radiance from Kirpal Singh "through the eyes" just prior to his predecessor's departure. [*NOTE: Primarily because of Kirpal Singh's original claim back in 1947-1948 about receiving the spiritual mastership from Sawan Singh "through the eyes," most his alleged successors have also tried to substantiate their positions by referring to their own particular "through the eyes" commission. Sociologically speaking, the utility of invoking such a modus operandi is obvious: it directly connects the would-be successor with his guru in a ritually acceptable format that has a unique historical precedence, thereby establishing the validity of his claims and (hopefully) distinguishing his succession from other fledgling candidates. *] In doing this, Darshan Singh was able to substantiate his position by both outer and inner testimonies. [*NOTE: It can be argued that because Darshan Singh centered his succession campaign around outer evidence, at least initially, he was able to establish the primacy of his nomination in a way that other successors, who lacked such documentation, could not. This same point is even more evident in the case of Rajinder Singh, Darshan Singh's son and (apparently) sole successor, who had overwhelming outward evidence supporting his nomination. *]

Darshan Singh's emphasis on his father's last will seems to be due, if not wholly at least partially, to what transpired at Beas after Sawan Singh's death. Because there was outward evidence confirming Jagat Singh's (and later Charan Singh's) status as a bona fide successor to Sawan Singh, the vast majority of satsangis sided with him, not Kirpal Singh. Although Kirpal Singh did eventually gather a substantial following, it was nowhere near that of Charan Singh's, who had at least seven times the following Kirpal Singh had during the same time period. [*NOTE: Today, Charan Singh's following is about 15 times larger than either Kirpal Singh's or Darshan Singh's total following. *] The reason behind this, according to devout Kirpal Singh and Darshan Singh followers, was not because of Charan Singh's spiritual power (as mentioned previously, Kirpal Singh explicitly denies that the Beas leader was spiritually competent), but due to the fact that he had the networking support of a huge sangat. Charan Singh, in other words, had the opportunity to build upon a solid and well-planned managing structure. Apparently, Darshan Singh must have seen the efficacy of Dera's claims and, therefore, could not resist the tremendous influence that Kirpal Singh's last will would have in consolidating various parties behind him, even though it overtly went against what his father had preached for twenty-seven years.

To further buttress this point, one only need to look at Darshan Singh's own last will, nominating his son Rajinder Singh as his spiritual successor, dated November 17, 1987. Darshan's will, although longer and more emphatic than Sawan Singh's last will, bears a remarkable similarity to the form and content of the two historic Dera wills. Indeed, Darshan Singh told Jay and Ricki Linksman personally in the summer of 1984 that "It is beneficial for the Master to prepare a will to let others know who the spiritual successor is. Of course, the actual passing of the power is done through the eyes. But when there is an organization such as Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission, a will is necessary [emphasis mine] to ensure that the mission can continue in a smooth way under the successor." [ Sat Sandesh , July/August 1989: page 58.] Needless to say, Darshan Singh's argument dovetails on almost all points with how Dera and its sangat views Sawan Singh's and Jagat Singh's last wills. Since Darshan Singh's perspective on the importance of wills is almost diametrically opposite that of his father's, it seems reasonable that Darshan Singh's ideas were the direct result of what transpired at Beas in 1948 and 1951. [*NOTE: I have personally met with Darshan Singh on six occasions (Delhi 1978, 1983, 1987, and 1988; Murrietta Hot Springs 1983 and 1986). Each time I have discussed his relationship with Radha Soami Satsang Beas, and each time he has only spoken of it in positive terms. It could well be that the relationship between Beas and Sawan-Kirpal Mission will improve because of what transpired after Kirpal Singh's death. Indeed, there are some indications (including Darshan Singh's willingness before his untimely death to visit important Beas satsangis on different occasions) that there already has been some major changes in that direction. The sociological explanation behind this is fairly simple: gurus who have been legitimated/established through outward, legalistic signs are more likely not to contest other masters who have likewise been confirmed along similar channels. Thus, it was quite difficult for Kirpal Singh and Charan Singh to establish close ties, since each was appointed in divergent ways. However, such is not necessarily the case with Darshan Singh (or his son, Rajinder Singh), who emphasized outer criteria at the beginning and end of his ministry. Of course, this is not to suggest that there are still no major obstacles barring a tight relationship between Beas and Sawan-Kirpal Mission, especially given that Kirpal Singh founded his group in spite of Jagat Singh's assumption of the mantle at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh in 1948. A good illustration of how battling sangats can eventually meet peacefully and cordially can be seen in the pact signed between Dayal Bagh and Beas in the early 1930's. Anand Sarup and Sawan Singh, the respective leaders, met in Agra and agreed not to criticize one another (or their particular interpretations of Radhasoami Mat) and instructed their disciples to follow suit. The written agreement, it should be added, probably could not have been possible unless Dayal Bagh and Beas had been fairly well established and their succession disputes decades old--which they were in the 1930's. *]

From the foregoing, we can see that the routinization of spiritual authority--that is, the historical precedents of gaddi nasheen succession--can have a direct impact on the way future guru claimants orchestrate their particular claims. Darshan Singh's stress on a will arises, as we have noted, from the practical efficacy of its use at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh. R.K. Khanna, the lawyer who drafted Kirpal Singh's last will, explained the utility of such a legal device to Vinod Sena:

Vinod Sena : Many people have spoken of the a seeming contradiction between the Master's teachings about this business of spiritual Power passing from one Master to the next, and His making a Will. Do you think there is a such a contradiction?" M.R.K.K. : I think there is no contradiction between the passing of the Master's Power to another Master and His making a Will. It was done probably because He felt that there were some forces in Sawan Ashram around Him who would question successorship after His departure so He wanted to reduce it into writing. Secondly, He did so on my advice as a lawyer. . . . There is no contradiction. . . . [*NOTE: Malcolm Tillis, The Emergence of the New Master Darshan Singh , op. cit., pages 103-104. *]

The Politics of Inner Experience

Since Kirpal Singh made inner experience the chief litmus test in appraising a guru's competence, all of Kirpal Singh's successors attempted to demonstrate that they had the power to grant spiritual experiences during meditation and initiation to sincere devotees. This emphasis, however, led to some severe epistemological questions among seekers, since disciples of each successor (e.g., Darshan Singh, Thakar Singh, Ajaib Singh, and even "tape-recorded" initiates of Kirpal Singh) claimed to have transmundane experiences in the higher spiritual planes. Thus much of the debate surrounding successorship centered on who was "competent" to transmit divine encounters of light and sound, and less on who possessed the proper "outer" credentials. This development, which is consistent with Kirpal Singh's assumption of the mastership, generated an extremely esoteric debate over the authenticity of inner experiences. Instead of a unified body of reports all agreeing about the spiritual mastership of one genuine successor to Kirpal Singh, there were a plethora of differing stories, each of which appeared to back the charismatic prowess of the guru in question.

A classic illustration of this "politics of inner experience" comes from a letter exchange between Michael Grayson, a Darshan Singh supporter, and Arran Stephens, a strong critic (at that time) of Darshan Singh's role. Below are excerpts from Michael Grayson's original letter and Arran Stephens' rebuttal claiming that Grayson's "spectacular experiences" on the inner planes with Darshan Singh (thereby confirming Darshan Singh's exalted attainment) are nothing but "projections of [his] own wishes on the astral plane."

{Michael Grayson Letter}

Dear Beloved Master Darshan Singh Ji: This unworthy one is so pleased to be able to tell You that on Saturday evening, October 26th, 1974, the Radiant Form of our Beloved Kirpal appeared within to this unworthy one and, while standing the test of the 5 charged Names, spoke to me and told me that You [Darshan Singh] are the next Master and that You are truly His Beloved Son and that I should serve You to the best of my ability. Since then our Beloved Kirpal and also Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji have appeared within numerous times to confirm this. The Master within has given this unworthy one the order to write this letter since in some small way it might help to clear up some of the confusion of the dear ones who in many cases are falling prey to the feelings, emotions and inferences of others who are only going on the impressions of their outer eyes and not the inner. . . .

{Arran Stephens Letter}

Dear brother Michael:

If, on account of divulging inner spiritual experiences in this letter I am retarded on the Way, or sent to Hell, then Master's words about Ramanuja will be my comforter: "Never mind if I go to hell. You'll be saved! I'll suffer Hell for your sake. . . ." Hundreds of times since our precious Beloved left for His Heavenly Home, He has appeared to this unworthy child--in India, on the plane, wherever & whenever the chance was seized to withdraw "into the foxhole of the brain" (while chanting the charged passwords of the Five Names. . .) Never once did He indicate to me His respected physical son Darshan Singh Ji was or is to be the next Param Sant--and unless He does, I find it my duty to try to protect the spiritual interests of the Initiates and new seekers by informing them of my position. The rest, of course is in His Hands. Always was. . . . On november 9th morning [sic], while sitting in Bhajan, the Lord kindly withdrew this soul first from the body below, up to and through His (Kirpal's) Luminous Form, and thence into Trikuti, the Causal plane of transcendent Red Rising Sun and deafening soul-melting thunder and Drumbeats, still yet transcended by higher, sweeter symphonies, impossible to describe, and sacreligious [sic] to try. As this soul communed with the Intoxicating Naam, the Holy Naam Itself transformed into a Heavenly Voice, and three times, with the great Oceanic Power gave out the name of a Man, who, it is assumed, will carry out the highest spiritual responsibility of Master's divine Mission. It was not Darshan Singh Ji. [Arran Stephens later said it was Ajaib Singh of Rajasthan.] [*NOTE: Interview with Arran Stephens (telephone, June 1978). In my conversation with Stephens at the time he appeared fully convinced that Ajaib Singh was a genuine master. Although the revealing of inner experiences in Sant Mat is forbidden, except in very rare cases, Stephens told me in some detail about how he had left the body and ventured as far as Bhanwar Gupha, the fourth inner plane according to the cosmology of the saints, and was informed via the Shabd that Ajaib Singh was competent to lead souls on the spiritual journey. Stephens' later switch to Darshan Singh was, to say the least, highly unexpected. *] I can only understand your [Michael Grayson's] spectacular experiences as projections of your own wishes on the astral plane. They do not coincide with many other devotees experiences who regularly see Master or His Master inside. Some others here have had experiences, while doing simran, of another radiant one, who had appeared to some, including at least one non-initiate in vivid dreams, wherein was communicated the name, details of appearance etc,. even though these persons had never seen a photograph of him. No dear Darshan Singh. . . . I believe that you have been seeing the result of your intense wishes to have Master in the flesh, but as you were psychologically pre-conditioned due to your long and close friendship with Master's son, you have allowed and desired another form to sit on the throne of your heart, which should be exclusively reserved for Master, in spite of your doing simran. . . Look at Paul Twitchell, who was "talking [sic] with the Master on the inner planes" and several others like him who were led astray by the promptings of their own powerfully developed subtle mind. You will probably say the same of anyone who will not agree with you. . . .

What is clearly evident from Stephens' letter is that the politics of guru successorship does not radically change even if it moves to a more esoteric (astral or causal) plane. The political rhetoric and debate is essentially the same: "your perception of truth is misguided, whereas I have a genuine glimpse into the real nature of things." [*NOTE: Although the content of transpersonal debates may be different than regular political arguments, the structure behind both of them is remarkable the same: you are wrong--I am right (or, at least, variations along that dualistic spectrum). Inner experiences, as such, never truly enter into the debate, since various parties are only dealing and arguing with testimonies or reports of mystical excursions. Moreover, the cultural filter through which these experiences much pass should not be neglected. Even the so-called phenomenologically "pure" out-of-body transports are not without a cultural bias, as exemplified in Near-Death Experiences (N.D.E.'s) where the content of what one perceives is flavored by his or her religious background. Christians see Jesus, not Buddha; Hindus see Krishna, Rama, and a plethora of Gods, not Jehovah; Muslims see Allah, not Vishnu; and Sikhs see Guru Nanak or Guru Gobind Singh, not the Virgin Mary. The reason is obvious: although individuals may indeed transcend to a higher plane of consciousness and see light at the end of a long tunnel, they interpret the nature of that light according to their specific religious and social backgrounds. For more on this intriguing phenomenon, see The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand (Del Mar: Del Mar Press, 1989). *] It is a conflict over testimonies, perceptions, and personal recollections. There is no difference between "inner" experience arguments and "outer" experience arguments (since both deal with testimonies of experiences), except over the issue of "proof." What constitutes proof in the waking sense world is, at least, open to consensus agreement, whereas inner experiences lack any universal guideline. [*NOTE: This is not suggest that attempts have not been made to establish some sort of objective grid for appraising inner experiences. For more on this issue see Ken Wilber's A Sociable God (New York: McGraw Hill, 1983) and M. Whiteman's The Meaning of Life ((1986). *] Whether Kirpal Singh intended it or not, his repeated emphasis on inner experiences created a Pandora's box, which raises more questions than it answers, for almost anybody can claim to have inner confirmation about his spiritual function. (We need look no further than to television evangelists for an illustration of this problem of "personal" revelation.) The ironic twist in the Grayson-Stephens debate is that Arran Stephens switched over to Darshan Singh four years later, despite claiming to have had divine revelations about Ajaib Singh's mastership on the "fourth plane--Bhanwar Gupha." [*NOTE: P>ersonal Interview , op. cit. *]

The Vanshavali Lineage: From Father to Son to Son

Darshan Singh's biggest obstacle in establishing his ministry was, surprisingly enough, that he was Kirpal Singh's blood son. In other cases of spiritual or political succession such a fact would help buttress a vying candidate, but in the context of Ruhani Satsang it worked against Darshan Singh because his father had implicitly (and at times, we are told, explicitly ) [*NOTE: A number of Kirpal Singh initiates have informed me of a long-standing story which apparently dates back to 1963. Allegedly, Kirpal Singh had stated that he would not appoint any one from his family to succeed him. Thus, for a number of initiates attending that meeting, it was inconceivable that Kirpal Singh would appoint his eldest son, Darshan Singh. The authenticity of Kirpal Singh's statements, as far as I know, have not been questioned. However, Darshan Singh initiates do question the literal interpretation of Kirpal Singh's pronouncement. As one devout Darshan Singh follower told me, "Yes, Kirpal Singh did say that, but he was referring to his "spiritual" sons--those initiated by him personally. For you see, Darshan Singh is an initiate of Sawan Singh, and thus not technically a "son" of Kirpal's in the spiritual sense of the term." ( interview with Brian Walsh , 1983.) *] argued against vanshavali or hereditary gurus. Indeed, one of Kirpal Singh's claims against the Dera successors was that they were in cohoots with Sawan Singh's family. A number of Ruhani Satsang followers, especially those who sided with Kirpal Singh's testimony about what transpired at Beas in 1948, could not accept Charan Singh's assumption of the mantle precisely because he was a grandson of Sawan Singh. Given this historical perspective, Darshan Singh's candidacy generated severe doubts over his genuineness. But since no other candidate (Thakar Singh and Ajaib Singh not withstanding) attracted the bulk of the sangat, the contradictions in Darshan Singh's succession rhetoric were partially overlooked and put aside by the core of his eventual following.

The blood connection again arose when Darshan Singh appointed his son, Rajinder Singh, to succeed him as his sole spiritual successor and head of Sawan-Kirpal Mission. Although Darshan Singh's death in late May of 1989 came as a surprise, his nomination of Rajinder did not. In fact, a number of outside observers to the movement--including myself--had been informed implicitly by both Darshan Singh and a few of his disciples that his eldest son was a leading candidate for the position. However, to those followers of Kirpal Singh who had resisted Darshan Singh's candidacy because of his blood ties and method of acceptance, the nomination of Rajinder was difficult to accept for two major reasons: 1) because it confirmed that Sawan-Kirpal Mission reflected a vanshavali lineage; and 2) because a registered will had been employed (and, more importantly, praised ) by Darshan Singh to nominate his son and successor.

The Unexpected Death of Darshan Singh

When Darshan Singh died on May 30, 1989, it came as a shock to his thousands of followers. They simply had not expected their guru to die when he had made extensive plans for a satsang tour to commence in North America early that summer. Funds had been arranged, dates had been set, and advertisements had been prepared--all in the clear expectation that Darshan Singh would carry through on his intended agenda. Thus when the news came that Darshan Singh had died sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. in the early morning of Tuesday, May 30, his disciples were genuinely surprised. In the article, "Until We Meet Again," the Sat Sandesh Editorial Staff wrote:

Within hours, the news of his [Darshan Singh's] passing reached family, friends, and disciples all over the world. The shock was immeasurable to each. It seemed that his or her best friend and best Beloved had suddenly departed. . . Thus, it appeared that the Master did not want anyone to know beforehand, lest there be panic and chaos in his last few months. [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh (July/August 1989), page 8. If I may interject a personal note here, I was notified by Brian Walsh, an initiate of Darshan Singh, of his guru's death about 12 hours after it occurred. Immediately, I was in contact with a number of key members of Sawan-Kirpal Mission, who appeared to be genuinely shocked by the suddenness of Darshan Singh's transition. *]

Even though Darshan Singh did not overtly inform his constituency of his impending departure, he did nevertheless make it irrevocably clear that he wanted his son, Rajinder, to succeed him as Spiritual Master of Sawan-Kirpal Mission. In fact, Darshan went to great lengths in order to insure that his son--and apparently only his son--would assume his spiritual mantle. Darshan accomplished this by drafting an exceptionally cogent last will in which he named his son as his heir apparent. Below is an unedited transcription of the will:

Know all by these presents that I, Darshan Singh son of H.H. Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj of revered memory, in full possession of my senses and in perfect disposing state of mind without any sort of coercion and without any extraneous pressure of any kind whatsoever and after mature thinking, hereby nominate Shri Rajinder Singh Duggal, my elder son, as my sole spiritual successor, in view of his strong spiritual attainments and manifold qualities of head and heart, who will become the next living Master and will take over the spiritual tasks of Naam-initiation and of conducting Satsang after I leave the physical body. I also nominate the said Shir Rajinder Singh Duggal as spiritual head of Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission (Registered Society), Delhi; Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission (Science of Spirituality) in United States of America; Darshan Science of the Soul Inc. in United States of America; Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission (Science of Spirituality) in Germany and their affiliated organisations, existing at present and those which may be floated hereafter. I also nominate the said Shri Rajinder Singh Duggal as Chairman of Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission (Registered Society), Delhi, after my demise. In witness of the above, I, Darshan Singh, have set my hands to this document on this {17th} day of November, 1987. Delhi, dated the 17th November, 1987 Signed: Darshan Singh

To further ensure his nomination of Rajinder, Darshan Singh placed copies of the will in the following hands: 1) Delhi Registrar Office; 2) Riggs National Bank in Washington, D.C.; and 3) one copy with Mr. Amarnath Sharma. Moreover, Riggs National Bank was instructed to send photocopies of the will to ten Sawan-Kirpal Mission leaders around the world. In the article "The Light Continues" Ricki Linksman describes some of the major events surrounding Darshan Singh's preparation of the will and his nomination of Rajinder. Below are some of the key points from that article:

1) In February 1987 the Master [Darshan Singh] started to prepare his will. It was signed on November 17, 1987, in the presence of Raja Jaswant Singh, Mr. A.R. Manocha, Mr. S.P. Chopra, and Dr. Dave. 2) On Wednesday, November 5, 1986, unbeknownst to the sangat, Master Darshan Singh transferred the spiritual power through the eyes to Rajinder Singh. 3) The first time the Master told Rajinder Singh about carrying on the mission after him was in December 1985, in Delhi. 4) In the last two years, the Master told certain people that he had chosen Rajinder Singh as his successor. In India he told: Raja Jaswant Singh, Mr. A.R. Manocha, Mr. S.P. Chopra, Mr. R.K. Jain, Mr. I.R. Malik, Dr. R.B. Gupta, and Dr. Dave. . . . [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh , July/August 1989, pages 58-62. *]

Darshan Singh's succession will exemplifies how language and rhetoric--especially in a legal context--are directly influenced by underlying social forces or tensions. In many ways, a close textual analysis of the succession will reveals in a nutshell the kinds of political problems surrounding guru succession in general and in Radhasoami in particular. For instance, when the use of such key phrases as "sole spiritual successor" appear in the text, it is readily obvious to a student of Ruhani Satsang history that Darshan Singh is trying to avoid the confusion that transpired after his father's death in 1974 when a multiple number of would-be successors emerged. Even the beginning of the will, which contains five categorical statements about the lack of coercion involved in the will's design, indicates that there was a question [*NOTE: 1) "In full possession of my senses"; 2) "in perfect disposing state of mind"; 3) "without any sort of coercion"; 4) "without any extraneous pressure"; and 5) "after mature thinking." *] or a doubt about how previous Radhasoami wills were drawn. Although it is normal to clarify demonstrably the well being and lucidity of a will writer, it is usually done in one or two phrases. Arguably, the repeated emphasis on Darshan Singh's lucidity stems directly from Sawan Singh's last will in 1948, which was questioned by Kirpal Singh and his followers for several reasons, including the contentious issue of whether Sawan Singh was manipulated (presumably by family members) into signing over his spiritual mantleship.

Naturally, Darshan Singh would alleviate much of this kind of speculation--speculation which can hamper the integrity of a newly emerging leader--by repeatedly emphasizing his clarity of mind when drawing the will. What we see here is the politics of succession rhetoric. What may at first glance appear to be a simple way of writing, turns out to be on closer inspection a politically sensitive way of ferreting out factionalism. [*NOTE: The will also clearly indicates that Rajinder Singh is "spiritually competent," even prior to assuming the mastership. *]

It is precisely in the "abruptness" of Darshan Singh's transition where most of the "ideological work" among his disciples can be seen. For instance, I was keenly interested in seeing how "stories" would develop over time immediately following the death of a master. My hunch was that if a guru died unexpectedly (heart attack, car accident, etc.), there would develop over time new stories, new developments, and new twists about how he really did know of his impending transition. The motivation behind developing these stories was quite obvious: a genuine master in the Radhasoami tradition is supposed to have access to trans-rational domains of existence; knowledge of his physical transition is taken as a given in Sant mat theology. Thus, regardless of the apparent "unknowing" qualities surrounding a guru's death, disciples generally look for clues or hints about the "knowingness" of their master.

In Darshan Singh's case, although his last will indicates that he was well aware of his mortality, his planned trip to America in the summer of 1989 suggests that he was not sure of the exact date of his departure. Why else plan such an expensive trip? Why set up the elaborate publicity in the first place? This incongruity--theology which demands the foreknowledge of death and the practical outcome which betrays precise knowledge--is exactly where ideological work begins. Although it may not be immediate, it does occur fairly quickly. Why? To bridge the gap when theory and practice are apparently inconsistent. As Bennett Berger sharply points out, vying gurus are involved in "ideological work [which] enables those engaged in intellectual combat to attempt to persuade their critics and their constituents (more or less plausibly in different cases) that apparent discrepancies between preaching and practice are in fact illusory and can be successfully resolved." [*NOTE: For more on "ideological work," especially among rural communards, see Bennett Berger's The Survival of a Counterculture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). *]

Hence what we see in the death of Darshan Singh is a seeming paradox to his followers: he's supposed to be all knowing (Berger's preaching ) but his actions (Berger's practice ) indicate otherwise. Such a tension, which repeatedly occurs in religious movements of whatever size and shape, provides earnest disciples with a dilemma, one which both socially and theologically begs to be resolved. It is precisely in the resolving that much of the political (versus purely spiritual ) nature of guru succession and legitimation becomes evident; it is, no doubt, a grounding revelation for those who only believe in an ethereal transmission of spiritual power.

Although historical facts may in the not so distant future change into hagiographical renditions making it nearly impossible for scholars to know the difference, the distance between praxis and theology is much clearer during the lifetime of a guru and just immediately following his or her death. Thus when one purviews the available documents surrounding Darshan Singh's death, key words and phrases emerge which reveal what kinds of tensions--unconscious or otherwise--surfaced.

For example, in the first major article on Darshan Singh's transition in Sat Sandesh , one of the subheadings reads, "There Were Many Hints." In light of Berger's concept of ideological work, the operative word in the preceding title is "hints," that is, something which is not stated explicitly. In the text itself, for instance, we learn the following:

Within hours, the news of his [Darshan Singh's] passing reached family, friends, and disciples all over the world. The shock was immeasurable to each. It seemed that his or her best friend and best Beloved had suddenly departed. But even as this loss began to register, those who had been with the Master or spoken to him in the final days and weeks, began recollecting remarks and statements from the Master. Clearly, he had been giving hints of his impending departure from amongst us. But they were so subtle that those who heard him could understand the full meaning of his words only after the irrevocable parting. . . Thus, it appeared that the Master did not want anyone to know beforehand, lest there be panic and chaos in his last few months. At the same time, the Master gave enough clues that in retrospect we would realize that he did know that he was leaving--and when he was to depart. [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh , op. cit., page 8. *]

In the preceding passage alone six key words or phrases are apparent, each of which indicate that some kind of ideological work, albeit unconsciously, is going on. For instance, when the writer says "Clearly, he had been given hints of his impending departure," he/she is revealing not a unified version of Darshan Singh's death, but rather two contrasting versions. "Clearly" and "hints" are not meaning corollaries; they are terms, rather, on opposite ends of the definition spectrum. That this is so becomes evident when we read the next sentence which follows, "But they were so subtle that those who heard him could understand the full meaning of his words only after the irrevocable parting." In other words, when Darshan Singh gave hints, they were not interpreted as such until after he died. Or, to put it more succinctly, the disciples around Darshan Singh did not believe that their guru was going to die, hence they were in "shock." Thus what the sangat was faced with were two different death accounts: Darshan knowing of his death--"clearly"--(what theology demands) and Darshan not knowing of his departure--"hints"--(what practically occurred). It is this division which the Sat Sandesh article is addressing, but in ways that are perhaps not consciously intended.

When we do analyze the "clues" given by Darshan Singh prior to his death, we cannot dismiss the notion that these clues may already be a product of early ideological work. Sometimes what starts as a simple story turns out to be over time a fairly advanced yarn, replete with added nuances and twists. I am not claiming that this is what happened in Darshan Singh's case, specifically in reference to the stories mentioned in Sat Sandesh , but that we should analyze such stories with a critical eye. Moreover, it is important to distinguish the simple narrative from its appended interpretation, something which is a bit difficult to do when interested disciples are compiling the official history. Although redaction criticism is particularly troublesome with texts written some 1900 years ago, it is still problematic with new religious writings. In the following narrative, for instance, the story is embedded with interpretation:

Sant Darshan Singh repeatedly cautioned the sangat in India that his time was short, and urged them to make the best use of his physical presence. Such exhortations became particularly urgent in the final weeks. He announced to the sangat on Sunday, May 21, that if anyone wanted to see him or talk to him, they should do so at the May 28 satsang. They would not have such an opportunity at the satsang on June 4. Many assumed that after May 28, the Master would be too busy with preparations for his impending world tour. The real meaning of the Master's words never crossed their minds. [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh , op. cit., pages 8-9. *]

In skeleton form what we have in the preceding story is not much: Darshan Singh states that those people wanting to see him should do so at the May 28 satsang. Practically speaking, everything else is speculation. However, the intention of the passage is not to speculate but rather to demonstrate in some tangible fashion Darshan's foreknowledge. The succeeding story attempts to accomplish much of the same.

About ten to fifteen days before he left the body, the Master started giving some hints that he may not be going on the world tour that was scheduled to begin on June 12. He would say, "I may go; I may not go." One day, the Master called for Mr. R.K. Jain. When he finally arrived, the Master asked him why he had been delayed. Mr. Jain explained he was away getting some of his clothes prepared for the tour. The Master told him, "Can you go without me? If I am not going on tour, then why are you making arrangements?" [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh , op. cit., page 9. *]

When Darshan Singh displays some hesitancy on going on tour ("I may go; I may not go"), the article writers are using it as a partial indication of their master's knowingness. Yet, what the writers are dealing with are not univocal pronouncements; rather, they could be interpreted several different ways, depending on the audience. To one audience, prior to his departure, Darshan Singh stated, "If I go on tour, I will not be coming back this time," a comment that the article writers claim was interpreted in the following way: "At the time, they assumed he was not going to return to the ashram, but would stay in America. In the face of such remarks [by Darshan Singh], when the Master's wife asked him to decide one way or the other whether he was going on tour, Sant Darshan Singh changed the subject." [*NOTE: Sat Sandesh , op. cit., page 10. Other interesting incidents which are cited by the authors include Darshan Singh's last conversations with his youngest son, Bawa, and his wife, Harbhajan Kaur. Both recollections, though not explicit in themselves, are interpreted as meaningful premonitions. *]

If we bracket the interpretation of the writers, what we essentially have in Darshan Singh's comments are ambiguity. Nothing clearly suggests either way what Darshan Singh may have actually been thinking or not thinking. To overcome this ambiguity, interested devotees attempted to correlate or reconcile the implicit, hidden knowingness of their guru with his explicit, public unknowingness. It is the kind of paradox which is at the very heart of all ideological work. [*NOTE: Even the writers for the Special Memorial Issue on Sant Darshan Singh were aware of the abruptness of their guru's death. In the section entitled "Hints of the Master's Departure," it reads: "Although few people recognized them as such, in retrospect it is clear that in the last few days and weeks, Master gave many clues of his departure." Page 25, op. cit. *]

Despite Darshan's unexpected demise, it should be remembered that his succession was one of the smoothest in all of Radhasoami history. As we have pointed out there were a number of reasons for this, but primary among these was Darshan Singh's univocal last will which stressed the nomination of his son Rajinder. Darshan Singh's fully substantiated views on this matter have prevented any serious succession crises which may have arisen in the absence of such clarity. However, the blood connection still presents some problematic issues for long-time Kirpal Singh followers, who continue to wrestle with the seeming incongruity of a purely spiritual master/disciple transmission and a vanshavali lineage. [*NOTE: Apparently the family connection in Sawan-Kirpal Mission is not as troublesome an issue among initiates of Darhsan Singh or Rajinder Singh as it is among direct Kirpal Singh initiates. No doubt this has much to do with expectations one has while joining and later bonding with the movement. If, for example, one knows beforehand that the leader in question is related through blood ties to his guru and his guru's guru and still joins the group, the family connection may even act as a legitimizing force. Whereas, on the other hand, if one believes that their guru is not related by blood, nepotism may be seen as an disqualifying factor. *]

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

I want to go back to the home base now.