Radhasoami: chapter five

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 Five


The Logic of Marginality


In February of 1976, Thakar Singh became the initiating guru at Sawan Ashram under the approval of Madam Hardevi, who was the administrative chairwoman. In A Brief History of Mine , Thakar describes his commission to serve as a guru:

At night my Master internally gave me some hints about my future work in some peculier [sic] way. I meditated continuously for fifteen months, i.e., up to November 20, 1975 and had so many indications for the future but I felt so ashamed that I never felt that I should dare be doing this. Lastly, in the beginning of February 1976, I was left with no alternative but to obey and am before you as your unpaid servant, only to serve the dear sons and daughters of my Master. . . . [*NOTE: Thakar Singh, A Brief History of Mine (Delhi: Sawan Ashram, n.d.), pamphlet. *]

Thakar Singh's assumption of the gaddi at Sawan Ashram was instigated by Madam Hardevi, who, in order to keep legal rights to the ashram, needed to have a viable successor to the late Kirpal Singh. Moreover, there was the controversial issue raised by Darshan Singh and others that a woman could not be appointed as a Satguru. Such mitigating circumstances prompted Madam Hardevi to "interview" potential candidates for the position; after some deliberation, and tremendous political in-fighting at the ashram, Hardevi settled on Thakar Singh. Thakar Singh's candidacy was never seriously entertained, however, by a large majority of the sangat, since he was Hardevi's, not Kirpal Singh's, own appointment (and thus not a genuine master in his own right). Furthermore, Thakar Singh lacked any substantial written or verbal evidence from his guru which would have backed his claims.

When I met Thakar Singh at Sawan Ashram in Delhi, India, for seven days in July of 1978, Madam Hardevi was still alive and still very much in control of the ashram. I was particularly struck with the deference that Thakar Singh exhibited towards Hardevi. [*NOTE: My first trip to India was as a research assistant to Professor Mark Juergensmeyer (then at the University of California, Berkeley; now at the University of Hawaii), who was studying the Radhasoami faith. During my first few days at Sawan Ashram I got the opportunity to interview Madam Hardevi. Since her English was poor, Thakar served as our translator. I immediately noticed how Madam Hardevi treated Thakar Singh as a worker or servant, not as the living God-Man on the planet. She gave him orders, and not vice versa. Moreover, her demeanor toward him was not something one might expect to be displayed to a "living God-Man." For all intents and purposes, Thakar Singh looked like another member of her entourage, a higher level servant. Now these impressions, I should add, are not mine alone; other long- standing devotees at the ashram informed me that Madam Hardevi retained complete control over the daily activities of the satsang center. Thakar Singh, though regarded to be a guru, was not given the high status usually conferred on a spiritual master's successor. *] My initial impression, and one that was confirmed by a number of long-time residents of the ashram, was that Madam Hardevi was the real power behind the gaddi. Whenever some key decision had to be made Madam Hardevi apparently had the final say. In fact, the dispute in 1974 over Kirpal Singh's rightful successor stemmed primarily from Madham Hardevi's hesitancy in fully supporting Darshan Singh. Thakar Singh as a viable alternative candidate did not arise until late in 1975, and even then he was seen as something of an ambassador of Hardevi's camp.

Although Thakar Singh, under Madam Hardevi's jurisdiction, established his residence at Kirpal Singh's main center, Sawan Ashram, he attracted a small portion of the surviving sangat. In the West, Bernadine Chard was instrumental in setting up Thakar Singh satsang meetings. Apparently she was led to Thakar Singh by a series of remarkable inner experiences, some of which were reported in an article for Sat Sandesh entitled "There Is Hope For Everyone" (1975). Later Chard served as Thakar Singh's general representative in the United States. Thakar Singh's supporters point to four major forms of verification which legitimize his position:

1. Appointment and support by Madam Hardevi, Administrative chairperson of Ruhani Satsang, and her associates. 2. Establishment of his gaddi at Sawan Ashram, Kirpal Singh's main center. 3. Verbal testimonies by Kirpal Singh initiates suggesting that Thakar Singh was duly appointed. 4. Inner experiences reported by satsangis and new initiates, who reported having extraordinary experiences with Thakar Singh.

The Administrative Imperative:

Guru as Legal Function

Since Madam Hardevi could not serve as the Satguru of Ruhani Satsang (reports differ on whether she ever wanted to or not), she needed to have someone serve as a guru to 1) continue on the spiritual practices emphasized by Kirpal Singh; and 2) retain legal control of the ashram. Initially she was supported in her efforts to remain as Chairperson and controller of Sawan Ashram by the Ruhani Satsang organization in North America. Reno Sirrine and Russell Perkins, in particular, rallied around her in opposition of Darshan Singh's candidacy. Yet during this time period (late 1974 to late 1975), Hardevi had not installed a bona fide successor. Indeed, the official word was that no genuine successor of Sant Kirpal Singh had emerged. With tensions mounting, and an intense political and legal battle being waged within the corridors of Sawan Ashram, three camps solidified: 1) Darshan Singh as successor; 2) No successor; and 3) Potential future successor. In the first camp (Darshan Singh's), which later became known as Sawan-Kirpal Mission, the succession choice was clear and thus most of the Indian sangat followed suit. In the second camp (no official successor), there were two major opinions, ranging from the idea that no new master was needed since Kirpal Singh was the Almighty Himself (and that future initiations should be conducted by listening to old tape recordings of Kirpal Singh conducting Nam Dan) to the notion that Soamiji Maharaj's line was meant to be finished with Kirpal Singh (and that seekers must look for a new master somewhere else). And in the third camp (potential future successor), there were a wide range of views, including the notion of a "hidden" successor, someone who will manifest only after all the political in-fighting ceases or calms down.

Surprisingly, Thakar Singh did not really emerge out the third camp, which would be logical, but out of the second camp which, as we've noted, was spearheaded originally by Madam Hardevi. In fact, Thakar Singh was one of the original progenitors of the infamous "tape-recorded" initiations conducted on behalf of the "Almighty Kirpal." As David Helion notes:

On June 17th [1975] I went once again to Sawan Ashram as a sister from the West wanted to see it for the first time. I could see Tai Ji [Madam Hardevi] inside talking to other people. As we were leaving some one followed us and said, "Why dont [sic] you stay for the initiation tomorrow?" I asked, "What initiation?" He replied, "Maharaj Ji is going to give initiation by tape recorder tommorow." . . . The following morning about twenty five persons came at 6 a.m. and Master Kirpal Singh Ji's oral instructions were played to them in Master's rooms. Tai Ji was present but additional instructions were given by someone called Thakar Singh from Chandigarh. . . [*NOTE: The Emergence of the New Master Darshan Singh , op. cit., page 114. *]

It is not clear, outside of purely political and economic reasons, why Thakar Singh was chosen as the best suited candidate to assume the gaddi at Sawan Ashram. One thing is certain, though: having a living human successor to Kirpal Singh alleviates the dubious theological claim that tape-recorded initiations are in line with Sant mat teachings and the legal question of whether a religious ashram can be viably run without a spiritual master. Whatever reasons Madam Hardevi may have held at one time, the fact remains that she switched from "no successor" to "one successor" of Kirpal Singh. Her choice, though temporarily heralded by Reno Sirrine and others on the Ruhani Satsang Board, resulted in a disaster, for Thakar Singh turned out to be the most scandalous guru in the history of Radhasoami. By the mid-1980's reports circulated throughout the world about how Thakar had embezzled money, indulged in sexual affairs with numerous women, and had resorted to violent interactions with disciples. Madam Hardevi was spared the brunt of the negative publicity, however, since she died from a car accident in 1979, some five years before her chosen ambassador was exposed.

Thakar Singh's appointment raises Weber's idea of the routinization of charisma. What does a spiritual organization, founded by a perceived charismatic leader, do when the succession is in dispute? Two major options confront the fledgling administration: turn backwards toward the leader, thereby freezing the founder's ideas as unique and unquestionable; or turn towards the present and future by looking toward the new successor to forge new territory. In the former case, one runs the risk of losing the vitality that personal charisma brings, while avoiding the essential unpredicatability (and occasional radicalness) that a new leader may display. In the latter case, the benefit depends largely on the success of the chosen master. No doubt his job is easier because the path has already been earmarked, but it is risky since he may not have the same attributes that drew the original members in the first place. There is always a tendency, as Weber points out, to somehow arrest or control the claims of charisma within certain confines. First to set some kind of order to the group and its teachings, but second, and more importantly, to ensure that the essence of the leader (or leaders) is not lost. Ironically, it is in this very process of arresting charismatic claims so as not to lose them that such valued charisma is squeezed out.

A crude analogy may apply here. When one falls deeply in love with another person, there is always the fear of losing that person's affection. So to ensure that affection is not lost, the lover becomes so protective that the very spirit of the love that captured the person in the first place is dampered. In the same way, when charisma is valued to an extreme degree it runs the risk of being lost by being too well guarded or protected. In this light, orthodoxy is simply a theological and social defense mechanism to ward off the loss of spiritual vitality. Or, in Weber's terms, the routinization of charisma happens not because such vitality is undervalued, but rather because it is valued too highly. In religious groups with very powerful founders, it is naturally quite difficult for the surviving generation to trust--with the same intensity--new leadership. The love and commitment have already been made, sometimes at great sacrifice, and to bond anew with a fresh and perhaps untried master is fraught with difficulties.

Although there was an initial buzz, so to say, among Ruhani Satsang initiates about Thakar Singh's initial emergence on the scene in 1976, it soon died down. First because Thakar Singh was viewed as an administrative candidate, someone brought in to fill an executive void; second, because the politics during the interim period (from late 1974 to late 1975) damaged any possible credibility that Madam Hardevi had as an advanced spiritual observer, untainted by ashram politics; and third, because Thakar Singh, for whatever personal reasons, could not fulfill the onerous task set before him. He was and continues to be an anomaly amongst Radhasoami gurus in the 20th century.

The Way of a Sexually Deviant Guru:

Legitimizing Contradiction

Perhaps the one greatest obstacle confronting Thakar Singh's claim as the true successor to Kirpal Singh was Thakar himself. Unlike other gurus in his tradition, Thakar Singh's moral life has been thoroughly scrutinized and found wanting. Indeed, it has been well documented by a variety of sources--both within and outside the movement--that Thakar Singh has embezzled money, engaged in illicit sexual relations with a number of western female disciples, and conducted violent exorcisms on several devotees. In an unprecedented move to clear the matter up, Thakar admitted to some of the charges claiming that "These devils had been working very strongly on my lower self including body and mind and also had been creating great disturbances in the Sangat in all parts of the world. The women problem is also a result of temptation of these devils on my pure Self and in this respect could succeed to some extend [sic: extent]." But it did not squelch the criticism which eventually resulted in a large exodus from his movement, including the resignation of his chief representative, Bernadine Chard, of northern California.

In wake of the scandal and the lawsuits between Darshan Singh's group and Madam Hardevi's, Thakar Singh lost the property rights to Sawan Ashram and had to give up his residence there. He is continuing to act as a guru, but his original core following has dwindled drastically. W.V. Rohr, a former devotee in Germany, sent out an international circular against Thakar Singh. His letter partially outlines the impact of the scandal:

That man [Thakar Singh], to whom I looked up during the past 7 years as spiritual Master and "Guru", has admitted that he is not above mind and matter, above "negativity" and mental temptations. I cannot keep quiet the truth, as others seem they can. . . New facts concerning unholy activities on the level of sexual contacts as well as disappearances of Manav Kendra funds and donations by satsangis have come in the meantime. My personal consequence is: 1. I withdraw totally from any and all Satsang and Sangat activities whatsoever; 2. will not visit satsangs, where his words are displayed; 3. do not look upon him as "spiritual Master" or "Sant Sat Guru" in the line of Sant Kirpal Singh; 4. have requested [of] him [Thakar Singh] full report and refund of funds cashed in under use of "catastrophe"; 5. will continue sincerely with Light and Sound meditation and also Simran, as he is a Kirpal initiate and help and guidance is prayed for from Kirpal--until a truly spiritually and morally clean Master has been found, who is truly working in Kirpals [sic] name and with His order.

Although the first expose of Thakar Singh occurred publically in 1984, it was not until 1988 that the media in the United States got wind of Thakar's sordid past. During this time several women who claimed to have been abused by the guru came out with personal statements, describing in vivid detail Thakar's predilection for sexual deviance. In light of Sant mat succession, what makes Thakar's fall from grace significant is that he did not resign, nor did the majority of his disciples quit the movement. In fact, a number of devotees justified Thakar Singh's unusual actions. It is this process of justification which we will want to examine in depth; however, before we do that we need to closely examine the ways by which Thakar Singh strayed from orthodox Sant mat principles.

Robert L. Lockwood, in a letter dated August 4, 1988, provides a gist of Thakar Singh's numerous transgressions:

1. The first incident I recall was when a German girl. . . came to me while we were with Thakar Singh in India and told me that he had kissed her in a very sexual way. 2. While at Singh's ashram in India, I witnessed firsthand a young woman named Stephanie bound (hands and feet) and gagged as a means to restrain her. I was told that she was sent by the "negative power" to ruin Thakar Singh's Godly mission and that when she "acted up", this was the only way to handle her. I also heard that it had been going on for years. 3. On June 18 and 19 of this year [1988], I accompanied two women initiates to see Singh in Rochester, N.Y. One of these women was being treated for "entities" she supposedly had and when she returned from the treatment, I observed bruises over her face and neck. 4. While in Buffalo, N.Y. during this same tour, I learned from [another woman] that she had witnessed incidents of this violence repeatedly in India to this same woman and several others too. 5. One such woman I met personally while in India and remember her when she arrived as seeming to be of sound mind and body. I learned that she was regularly held down--sometimes by several men--and given "treatments". I have heard several first-hand reports that by the time she left India, she was in a very sorry state, both physically and mentally. 6. I have been told directly by another woman recently that she was repeatedly assaulted, physically and sexually, by Singh in the name of "treatments" for dealing with her entities, while she was with him in India this year and last. 7. I spoke with Cindy Elmer, whom I met in India last year and who has always struck me as being a very sincere and devout follower of Singh. She said she was also physically abused and that Singh touched her in sexual ways. 8. I spoke directly with another woman who told me of "treatments" involving physical and sexual abuse by Singh. These treatments continued throughout India and also on Singh's U.S.A. and Canadian tour this year. 9. I recently spoke with. . . who told me that she was lied to and sexually abused. 10. I was told of an incident in India by two men who witnessed it first-hand. Singh's personal secretary threatened to throw her baby off the roof of the ashram in Delhi and Singh reacted by pounding her head on the cement. 11. I talked with Bernadine Chard, a former National Representative of Singh's organization and a constant companion on his many tours, who told me of numerous experiences and knowledge of both physical and sexual abuse by Singh before 1983. 12. I read of both sexual and financial abuse documented in what is called the "Wolfing Letters", and have heard of several additional alleged sexual and physical abuse cases which I have not yet confirmed. I find these actions in and of themselves to be repugnant and feel in my heart that none of them could be the actions of a Godman. . . [*NOTE: This statement is not an isolated one; I have received several notarized reports concerning Thakar Singh's actions, including accounts by the women directly involved. Moreover, a number of leading newspapers in Oregon have published reports concerning Thakar Singh's sexual exploits. Even the Oregon Public Broadcasting station did a fifteen minute television documentary on Thakar Singh's systematic abuse of female followers. If I may interject a personal note here, I too was a witness of some of Thakar Singh's questionable practices. I remember back in July of 1978 when Thakar Singh's wife tried to persuade two European followers to have some German currency exchanged on the black market. The money was given as a charitable donation to the Satsang center and by law must be duly reported to the Indian government. Needless to say, Thakar Singh's wife's attempted transaction was illegal. Apparently Thakar Singh himself condoned a number of such money dealings. *]

To be sure, Thakar Singh's actions are contrary to the ethical principles of Sant mat and Radhasoami. On this point there is no debate. What makes Thakar Singh's transgressions so alarming, however, is how extensive and excessive they were. Even his main Representative in the United States has implied that Thakar Singh's violent exorcisms led to the reported death of a German woman in India, an offense which has yet to be fully investigated by the Indian authorities.

Although several disciples (mostly women directly affected by the abuse) have cut off their allegiance to Thakar Singh, a surprising number--clearly a majority of the sangat--have remained within the movement. Why would this be the case, especially in a spiritual group which has a long tradition of high ethical standards? The answer to that question, and related ones, graphically reveals the dynamics of ideological work, and how earnest devotees can under severe crises attempt to reconcile even the most glaring of contradictions.

First there is the issue of commitment. Members of Radhasoami or Ruhani Satsang (and their related Indian branches) must take four lifetime vows, which include abstaining from meat, alcohol and drugs, illicit sex, and devoting two plus hours daily to meditation. Such a decision, which is sealed with the formal ceremony of initiation, by necessity involves a tremendous commitment. Likewise, it defines a person in relation to her fellow satsangis, her family, her friends, her work associates, etc. Thus when there is an expose of one's chosen path and master, it is not only the guru who gets humiliated--personally and socially--but the disciple as well. The shadow of a fallen guru projects directly on those who looked first for his light. Naturally, there is some hesitancy to believe the worst about your master when you have been believing only the best about him.

Related to commitment, but perhaps not as universally applicable to all members of the sangat, is social status. Here the satsang represents a miniature society, replete with all the pluses and minuses that such a world entails. If a satsangi has gained some rank within the organization, something along the order of a group leader or a treasurer or a representative, then there is the added incentive of hierarchical status which ties him/her within the movement. This is especially true for individuals who may not have any corollary status outside of the satsang. It is little wonder, then, that a critical blow against their master is perceived as a critical blow against their own world, especially a world in which they have some operative power.

Although commitment and social status do not explain all the reasons satsangis have for staying with Thakar Singh, they do help explain the logic of marginality , that is, the social reasons which reinforce, instead of tear apart, members' allegiance to gurus and groups which have been publically ostracized. This kind of logic pervades religious movements, old or new, which have had to deal with internal and external criticism. [*NOTE: Joseph Smith and Mormonism stand out, perhaps, as the classic cult to sect to church success story. However, in its progression from social marginality to relative mainstream acceptance, Mormons have had to continually readdress the dubious life history of their founder. Any Mormon who has seriously read Brody's No Man Knows My History , a well documented expose' of Joseph Smith's early life, must engage in some type of reassesment of their religion, if not publically at least in their private moments. Why? Because the book casts serious doubts on the veracity of Smith's revelations. Yet, we know that Brody's work has only had a minor impact on Mormonism. Criticism may indeed shake the foundations of a church, but it does not by itself alter the devotion of the membership, primarily because there are ther powerful social factors which tie one's commitment into the movement. It is these other factors which can allow one to justify, if you will, the negative or contradictory aspects embedded within the group's history. *]

One of the key ways that devoted followers who have remained with Thakar Singh have ideologically "worked out" severe criticism of their leader and/or group is to explain it away as arising from Kal , the negative force so often talked about in Sant mat literature. As Sher Kemp, an initiate of Thakar's since 1979, explains:

Yes, the negitive [sic] power strikes hard against the true master, and has been doing so since the beginning. This play of negitivity [sic] has, of course, no effect on the master, but it does affect weak souls, by keeping them from receiving that connection or by creating doubts in weak initiates.

Another disciple of Thakar Singh's, initiated in 1985, criticizes the women who brought forth the charges against their guru in the first place. She writes:

Yes, during the latter part of the 1988 Tour a small group of women gave the press sensational stories of beatings and sexual exploitation. I knew the leader of this group and knew her mental history. Trusted family members were present at each and every place incidents were alleged to have occurred--i.e. the sexual assault in a room of 40 initiates meditating (!)--a sexual fantasy. I looked into the charges and found them to be unfounded. All the women had emotional problems and were at one time or another being treated for entities by Thakar Singh--all misinterpreted his actions on their behalf--sexualizing them in the manner of the Hysterical Personality. The newspapers enjoyed the juicy story and guru-bashing opportunity but only managed to double or triple the audience at all the public talks and the result was several hundred more initiates than was originally expected. His work is constantly under attack--the surest possible sign of authenticity. His rivals live placid lives. The Negative Power only exerts itself with its true rival!

And finally Joanie Solomon, the National Representative for Thakar Singh in the United States, defends her guru of thirteen years with the following terse rebuttal: "Do you not know that all genuine Saints and Masters are always persecuted, tortured, and even put to death??? [sic]"

The argument in all three responses is relatively the same: it is not Thakar Singh who is at fault, it is, rather, the Negative Power or the misguided disciples who have been duped by the mind (another agent of the negative forces). That it may have been the opposite which was occurring--their own mind or even Thakar Singh's mind which has been led astray by Kal --does not arise here, simply because if it did then they would have to reevaluate their association with their guru. Such a reevaluation may lead, as it often has with disaffected members, to a disavowal of Thakar Singh and his satsang, thereby cutting asunder any perceived status that satsangis may have had within the movement. Furthermore, whatever power they may have wielded is functionally eliminated, except in drawing members away from the guru. [*NOTE: Interestingly, there is a complex psycho-social dynamic which takes place with a large number of ex-cult members; after having left the group, they then turn their energies toward debunking the guru and his teachings. In some cases, what was once extreme devotion turns to extreme criticism, thereby ironically salvaging some of a forlorn satsangi's self-worth. What was once a mission to turn seekers on to the highest truth, after disaffection turns into a vigilant crusade to save those same people from accepting "bogus" or "illegitimate" claims of enlightenment. In the above scenario the direction has indeed changed, but the energy and commitment prevalent in both has not. For more on this curious phenomenon, refer to the numerous works of J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion. *]

Thakar Singh's aberrations from the traditional and relatively conservative path of Sant mat have also had a far reaching effect on the direction of his organization. In 1989 Thakar Singh assigned several devotees to act as worldwide missionaries for his movement, initiating almost anybody who showed even the slightest interest in the path. This is a highly unusual move, since Sant mat and Radhasoami groups have generally disdained proselytizing. Moreover, Thakar Singh has instructed his child-bearing devotees to raise their children under exceptionally severe conditions. For example, children now born to initiates of Thakar Singh should be blindfolded up until the age of five, only being allowed to see their mother at times of feeding and satsang. Furthermore, children should listen to classical Indian music for two hours daily, as well as meditate for five hours each day. Such a regime, which to Western cultural norms would be classified as child abuse, is part of Thakar Singh's plan to alter world history. [*NOTE: In a circular sent out in 1989, Thakar Singh informed his worldwide to raise children in the following manner: "The child is only to have main contact with the mother. Even the father may only visit the child once a week, after having meditated 12 hours. This is to keep all worldly radiations away from the child, so it may remain totally pure. . . After the bird of the child, it is to have a soft, white cotton blindfold put gently over the eyes, so the the infant will remain naturally inverted inside most of the 24 hours daily, up to the age of five years. The blindfold may be taken off when the mother is breastfeeding the child. . . This is the only eye contact that is allowed to or from the child. . . The mother may also play Indian Classical music to the child and do this with either placing an earphone in the right ear of the child (from birth on) or use stereo headphones. This may be done for four hours daily. The rest of the time, the child will automatically be in holy meditation, except while being fed and cared for." Even long-time followers of Thakar Singh were initially shocked by the severity of his advice for child-rearing. It is not clear, yet, how many mothers are actually following the guru's admonitions. *]

As I have indicated, how followers support such actions is intimately connected with how they view themselves in the micro world of Sant mat and the macro world of secular society. That Thakar Singh's actions are not viewed as contrary to general Sant mat principles--which they clearly are, according to all the gurus and groups mentioned so far--graphically reflects the pliable nature of theology, and how it often bends to the whims of personal and social forces. This is not to suggest, though, that all of Thakar Singh's followers blindly accept what their guru says, but only to point out that charismatic imperatives on the one end and personal/social needs on the other end can conjoin and transfigure longstanding religious doctrines in ways much quicker and much stranger than one would suspect. It is for this very reason that charismatic leadership has often been viewed with deep suspicion, and why new spiritual movements are seen as religiously, if not socially, deviant.


Arran Stephens, Canadian representative for Kirpal Singh, did not accept Darshan Singh as his master's successor when he went to India in 1974. Due to a report by a prominent Indian satsangi at the time, Stephens went to Rajasthan to see Ajaib Singh, whom he was told was an advanced disciple of Kirpal Singh. An account of this trip, which was published in Sat Sandesh magazine in New Hampshire, prompted Russell Perkins, one of Kirpal Singh's American representatives and editor of Sat Sandesh , to see Ajaib Singh in India. It was at this juncture that several initiates in America considered the possibility that Ajaib Singh was Kirpal Singh's successor. The trip confirmed for Perkins that Ajaib Singh was a saint; and after receiving internal evidence in meditation, Perkins supported Ajaib Singh to take up the work of initiation and serve as his guru's successor. The result was that Sant Bani Ashram in New Hampshire and Kirpal Ashram in Vancouver became centers for Ajaib Singh.

Ajaib Singh's following in India, like Thakar Singh's (but even less so), is quite small in comparison to Darshan Singh's group Sawan-Kirpal Mission. However, he has gathered a substantial number of western disciples, including initiates from South and North America. Undoubtedly, Sant Bani Ashram in Sanbornton, New Hampshire, is directly responsible for much of the popularity of Ajaib Singh in the United States, since its publication Sant Bani details the activities of Ajaib Singh both in India and on his world tours.

Loyal followers of Ajaib Singh and his mission, point to the following as evidence of his mastership:

1. Inner experiences of Ajaib Singh on the inner planes which demonstrate his spiritual competency. 2. Outward hallmarks, such as humility, simple lifestyle, years of meditation, which resonate with Kirpal Singh's life and aims. 3. Verbal testimonies by Ajaib Singh stating that Kirpal Singh had appointed him to give Nam several years prior to his departure. 4. Suggestive narratives, such as Ajaib Singh conducting initiation in the presence of Kirpal Singh, which indicate that he was marked for the spiritual work. 5. Personal artifacts bequeathed to Ajaib Singh from Kirpal Singh, including a "wedding ring." [*NOTE: These "personal" artifacts allegedly given by Kirpal Singh to Ajaib Singh have been the subject of much debate. Even the number of letters Ajaib Singh claims to have received from Kirpal Singh has been questioned. Write Stephens and Handel, "Sant Ji [Ajaib Singh] told several people the Master sent him 15 letters which were written in Hindi and Punjabi in the Master's own hand. He said he had a couple of the letters with him and never replied to them. We later learned from people involved with the Master's correspondence that the Master never wrote in Hindi. This is also substantiated in a letter written by the Master to fool No. 1's wife, Ratan Stephens." A Statement by Two Fools Concerning Sant Ajaib Singh Ji , privately published and circulated. *]

Discovering the Hidden Guru

In order to understand how Ajaib Singh could be regarded as a serious succession candidate, it is necessary to see the complex events after Kirpal Singh's death which led Russell Perkins and others to dismiss Darshan Singh's candidacy. In an illuminating 18 page personal letter, Perkins recounts what happened to him in India shortly after the death of his master. He retells the process which led him away from accepting Darshan Singh and turning, eventually, to Ajaib Singh. As Perkins recalls:

Why was I unable to accept Darshan Singh? I have not commented on this publicly since writing the letter to Darshan Singh which you quote, mainly because Sant Ji has ordered me from our first meeting not to criticize anyone ( especially not Darshan Singh). I think, however, that since the letter is in the public domain and you are using it, I should make at least one or two points about my attitude at the time which I hope will not violate Sant Ji's orders to me: 1) Darshan Singh and I had been good friends. . . 2) That friendship affected my relation with Darshan after Master's [Kirpal Singh's] passing in more than one way (it was also the main reason why the Darshan supporters viewed me as some kind of Judas {or Brutus} figure, since the friendship was well known. . .) For one thing, you see, I was taken totally by surprise by his declaration of Mastership. Not once, in the five years of our friendship, had I ever received any indication in any way on any level that such a thing would happen. Master never conveyed the slightest hint of it to me, even when the opportunity would have been perfect. . . At any rate, there were several points during that time in which he [Darshan Singh] spoke and acted in a way that made it absolutely impossible for me to accept him as a Master--certainly not as my Master. I think that he trusted me as his friend, to see things from his point of view, and made little effort to hide any "unworthy" (by my standards, of course, not necessarily his) behavior from me. 3) At one point during the first week [after Kirpal Singh's death], a meeting was called to which Steve Melik and I were invited; up until then, we had been only vaguely aware, through rumors, of what was going on. Arran Stephens was also in the ashram, but was extremely ill and confined to bed; consequently, he missed this meeting and had very little contact with Darshan Singh during this period. At this meeting, which was attended by (as I remember) all the members of the Managing Committee, including Tai Ji, and Reno Sirrine as well, we were told that Darshan was Master's successor; that this was known because of the will, but they had not been able to find the will; that Tai Ji and Darshan would work together as "mother and son" and that this would enable Master's mission to flourish. It became clear to me that my reaction was being watched closely (I may not have realized this until later) but my first reaction was complete astonishment at the succession being justified by a will ( this had never occurred to me!) and that's what I said, although I spoke very deferentially and simply pointed out that it was not possible, after all the comments Master had made about a will in this context for anyone to take seriously the idea that He would use such a means to appoint His successor. 4) When I made that point, I noticed a number of nods of agreement, and it occurred to me that all this had been discussed very carefully beforehand and that the commitment of some of these people was shaky (this of course proved true). At any rate, Darshan responded to that point by saying (quoted of course from memory), "Well, you see, Master told about six (?) months ago to put in more time for meditation, as it would be important (needed?) for me later." And that was all. I asked no more questions, and the meeting broke up shortly. The most interesting thing of course is what Darshan Singh did not say: that the Power had been transferred to him through the eyes. Amazingly, I did not think it had occurred to him that such a thing was necessary. . . Later, of course, when the question was put to him a number of times, he did come up with an incident. . . But I never forgot that at the meeting called specially for the purpose of bolstering his claims, he never once thought to mention the one thing that Master had laid most stress on--the transfer of power through the eyes. 5) . . . By the following morning Tai Ji and others had withdrawn from the "coalition," and Darshan was denied the universal acclamation that he had expected. I don't know much about the behind-the-scenes activity of the next couple weeks: I spoke only when spoken to, withdrew into my room as much as possible, and counted the minutes until I could leave. I had never dreamed that such a nightmare could have happened. Tensions were very high and the Ashram, once heaven on earth to me, had become a very scary place. I did see Darshan a few more times before I left, and also talked with him on the phone, and his bitterness (there is no other word possible to describe his attitude at this time) and unhappiness at the turn of events was painful.

In his autobiographical book The Impact of a Saint , Perkins explains how two camps had solidified just prior to his leaving India in September 1974:

The mass of Kirpal Singh's disciples had divided into two factions, one centered around a candidate for Mastership, the other around the possession of Sawan Ashram. Because of my fierce opposition to the person put forth as a Master, I, to my eternal shame, identified myself with the second faction and said and published many things which I bitterly regretted afterward. Although I do not feel that all my initial perceptions were wrong, I came to see the basic truth of the idea of non-violence: that to oppose something is to give it strength. As time went on whatever moral differences had existed between the factions eroded until one of them (it was impossible to find out which, because both maintained the other had started it) brought suit against the other in a court of law--over possession of the Ashram!--and the other fought back!--the final blackening of Kirpal Singh's name. [*NOTE: Russell Perkins, The Impact of a Saint (Sanbornton: Sant Bani Press, 1980. *]

Eventually, as has already been noted, Russell Perkins aligned himself with Ajaib Singh. Perkins sent a telegram after his first meeting with Ajaib Singh to his wife, Judith, and other devotees at Sant Bani Ashram in New Hampshire. It reveals in a nutshell the significance of Perkins' views on the future candidacy of Ajaib Singh. Writes Perkins, "HAVE FOUND AJAIB SINGH AND HE IS REAL WE LOVE HIM. . . Later I [Perkins] learned that there was dancing in the Ashram when it arrived." When Perkins got back from that special trip to see Ajaib Singh, other people got interested in meeting the saint from Rajasthan. Finally in May 1976, Perkins brought his wife Judith and his son Eric, along with several other initiates and two seekers wanting initiation, with him to see Ajaib Singh in Rajasthan. It was during this trip that Perkins claims to have received "internal" verification of Ajaib Singh's spiritual authenticity as Kirpal Singh's successor. It was also during this trip that Perkins agreed to act as Ajaib Singh's representative and initiate new seekers on the path of Sant mat. As Perkins recalls:

We stayed eleven days with him [Ajaib Singh], and I agreed to serve him as his American Representative with all my heart and soul, recognizing that it was my Master Kirpal Whom I was serving in fact; and he did initiate the two candidates, authorizing me at the same time to initiate on his behalf elsewhere in the world. That initiation represented the final open door in the long passageway to my Master's Feet. . . that first westerner-initiation changed everything; I received the confirmation that everyone said I ought to have a hundred times over, stronger than I could have presumed to ask for under any circumstances. When the meditation sitting that is the central part of the initiation began and I closed my eyes, two things happened simultaneously: my Simran (that is, the mental repetition of the mantra which is given to each disciple at initiation) became almost unbearably strong; it was as though my bones and intestines were shouting the Names. I did not feel that I was doing anything; I felt like a trumpet that is being blown through. At the same time I became aware that Baba Sawan Singh, my Master's Master, was standing within in a blaze of brilliant light looking at me with infinite tenderness and compassion. After a few minutes (I have no idea how long, but it was not a very brief period), He turned into my Master, Kirpal Singh. The light was the same, the expression on the face was the same, only the facial features were different. After some time, He changed into Sant Ajaib Singh, Who continued to look at me out of the same light and with the same tenderness. After a while, Baba Sawan Singh returned, and the cycle repeated itself--again and again and again and again, one form followed by another, while Simran was continuing as strong as before--so strong I felt as though I were a bellows and the Names were being pumped out of me. This continued throughout the sitting, but I didn't stop there--for three glorious days and nights, those three beautiful Radiant Forms were with me whenever I closed my eyes, while my Simran continued to be shouted by the soul of my soul. From that time I have understood with every ounce of my being that all true Masters are one, that the Master in Ajaib is the same Master that was in Kirpal, and that the road to Rajasthan led directly to my Master's feet. [*NOTE: Impact of a Saint, op. cit., pages 169-170. *]

Exposing the Hidden Past

The certainty and euphoria surrounding Perkins' conversion in 1976 to Ajaib Singh's candidacy was met two years later with severe resistance by a most unusual source: Arran Stephens, the Canadian representative of Kirpal Singh who was the first westerner to interview Ajaib Singh in 1974. Stephens, it should be remembered, was the satsangi who "discovered" Ajaib Singh and was duly impressed by his "radiation." Noted Stephens back in 1974, ". . . he is one of the jewels of the Master. This, I know, that he's far higher than I am, and that he's the most advanced disciple that I've met of the Master, and most likely could be the one. . ." Before Stephens' visit, very few people had ever heard of Ajaib Singh, much less that he was "most likely" to be Kirpal Singh's designated heir. The intriguing aspect here is that it was Arran Stephens' perception of spiritual power and his subsequent account of it in Sat Sandesh that made Ajaib Singh a "candidate." In terms of historical sequencing, and ruling out divine intervention, it is probably accurate to state that Ajaib Singh would never have emerged as a serious succession contender, at least in the West, unless Arran Stephens visited him in 1974 and then publicized his trip to the Rajasthan saint.

Ironically, it was Arran Stephens--some four years later--who totally disavowed Ajaib Singh, calling him an outright "fraud." Stephens drastically changed his mind because he learned of Ajaib Singh's alleged hidden life, a life which contradicted his public ministry. First, Stephens learned that Ajaib Singh was previously initiated by Charan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas, but had later denied it. Concerning his relationship with the current leader of the Radhasoamis in Beas, Ajaib Singh commented, "I was never initiated by Charan Singh, but I went to see him at Beas. I asked him if he was competent to guide me further on the inner planes, to which he replied that as far as guiding me spiritually within he was not competent, but that his mission was to give the theory and the Five Names. I appreciated Charan Singh's honesty and as a result sent hundreds to him." [*NOTE: Russell Perkins, Sant Ajaib Singh Ji: A Brief Life Sketch (Sanbornton: Sant Bani Press, n.d.), page 8. Perkins also adds the following concerning Ajaib Singh's relationship with Charan Singh: "When a question was put to him [Ajaib Singh] by this writer [Russell Perkins] on the nature of his connection with Charan Singh, he replied simply, `I loved him,' but reiterated that he had not taken initiation from him or any other guru." *] However, according to both Beas and Ruhani Satsang initiates Ajaib Singh was indeed an initiate of Charan Singh. In a letter to Ms. Tony Wacorazza of Italy, dated January 11, 1984, K.S. Narang, former Vice-Chancellor of Punjab University and current Chairperson of the Radhasoami Beas Executive Committee, explains in detail Ajaib Singh's association with Charan Singh. K.S. Narang also refutes Ajaib Singh's claims as mentioned in his brief life sketch. Writes Narang:

Dear Sister, Please refer to your letter addressed to Maharaj Ji on 2nd October, 1983, enclosing therewith a photostat copy of the printed page containing some observations of Shri Ajaib Singh of Kunichuk Ashram about our Master. Normally we do not enter into any controversy but since now certain facts have been printed in a book which are not only wrong but can certainly mislead our satsangi brethren and also create some adverse impressions among the readers of the book about our Master. It is for this reason that we thought we should give the necessary clarification. According to our information and investigations we find that Shri Ajaib Singh son of Shri Lal Singh originally belonged to V.P.O. Mehna, District Bhatinda. In about 1950, he was employed as a Granthi in a Gurdwara in village Sinhpura, Tehsil Suratgarh, District Ganganagar (Rajasthan). First of all he met Bhagat Karam Chand of Ganganagar, a disciple of Hazur Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji and then started visiting Dera Beas along with him and other satsangis. He took Naamdan from Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh Ji in 1953. Thereafter he started living in the house of Shri Dalip Singh of Kunichuk, District Ganganagar. Shri Ajaib Singh somehow got allotted 25 acres of land from Rajasthan Government and purchased another 25 acres by selling his parental property in his village in Bhatinda. In those days he did not take any donations from the sangat. In 1965-66 he built his own cottage in his farm land in Kunichuk situated on the Bikaner Road and named it as "Charan Gupha" after Maharaj Charan Singh Ji's name and started doing satsang in nearby villages. He started telling the sangat that Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh Ji had authorised him to do so. He used to sing Shabads composed by himself in praise of Hazur Maharaj Ji in the sangat. He also started Langar in his farm and also started collecting donations from the sangat. He continued to visit the Dera Beas regularly up to 1966-67 and during Hazur Maharaj Ji's satsang at Ganganagar in February, 1968, he was one of the chief organisers of the satsang there. The Dera Administration, however, did not approve of his collecting funds and building property in his own name and as such took a serious note of his anti-Sant Mat activities. On several occasions he was asked to transfer the Satsang lands and buildings at Kunichuk to Radha Soami Satsang Beas or execute the Power of Attorney in favour of Secretary, Radhasoami Satsang Beas and stop doing satsang. But he somehow did not come round. Eventually the Dera authorities had to publicly announce in the open satsang that whatever Shri Ajaib Singh of Kunichuk Ashram was doing runs counter to the Sant Mat basic principles and as such the sangat should make a note of it. The local sangat thereafter refused to co-operate with him and so he ceased coming to Beas.

Prior to Narang's official letter in 1984, Arran Stephens and Richard Handel had done some investigation of their own. Their findings were printed in 1979 in a privately published circular entitled "A Statement By Two Fools Concerning Sant Ajaib Singh Ji." They also circulated photographs of Ajaib Singh in his earlier days, which document his association with Charan Singh and Radhasoami Satsang Beas. Appended to these photographs are a series of commentaries on the the pamphlet, An Introduction to Sant Ajaib Singh . Here the authors refute point by point many of Ajaib Singh's historical and spiritual claims. With regard to his Beas connection, the following information is pertinent:

Ajaib Singh began to initiate disciples on behalf of Dehra Beas on the basis of a document purported to be issued by the Dehra. According to Ranjeet Singh, who is an old worker and Secretary of Dehra Beas [sic], the document was a forged one. On checking, its validity proved to be false and was kept at the Dehra Beas. Besides this, Ajaib Singh collected contributions from the sangat of Rajasthan for constructing of Charan Puri in the name of Mahraj Charan Singh and constructed a building having mud walls for Satsang and Langar etc. [sic] This amount was donated by landowners belonging to Sri Ganga Nagar District. Out of the huge funds collected only a small proportion thereof was spent on the structure and the balance was misappropriated by Ajaib Singh. On this the sangat became suspicious about the integrity of Ajaib Singh and sent written complaints to Maharaj Charan Singh indicating the defaultation of funds by Ajaib Singh. . . [*NOTE: P>rivately Published Circular (no date), available from Arran Stephens and Richard Handel. *]

It was on the basis of defrauding the sangat that Brigadier Bal, Chairman of the Sewa Samiti of Radhasoami Beas Satsang, issued repeated warnings about Ajaib Singh's unethical collection of donations. [*NOTE: Much of my information comes from several original documents, including a personal letter by Bal to Stephens recounting Ajaib Singh's relationship with Beas. The spirit of this letter is perhaps best captured by the second to last paragraph wherein Bal writes: "Personally I feel that to call Ajaib Singh a saint is itself a grave sin. He is a worldly man with all the human short-comings." *] However, Ajaib Singh's reputed connection with Charan Singh was only one of many problems that Arran Stephens, Richard Handel, and others had with the Rajasthan guru. What was paradigmatic for them was that almost none of Ajaib Singh's recollections (including places and dates) tallied with the historical events in question. Particularly disturbing for Stephens et al., was that Ajaib Singh's personal contact with his guru Kirpal Singh was minimal. Write Stephens and Handel:

As ordinary initiates we asked ourselves if, during a period of 4-7 years our Master Kirpal had asked us to visit Him, and we could easily afford the trip and do it within a day's time, would we not, at least once, during that period have gone to see our Master? Further, most of us are aware that the Master stressed we should outwardly tell Him about our inner experiences. In this way only could they be 100% confirmed and shown to be experience of the positive and not negative power. Also the total amount of time we calculated Sant Ji was with the Master came to parts of 10 days. [*NOTE: Stephens and Handel, op. cit., page 9. *]

Along with the factual discrepancies that Stephens and Handel discovered, [*NOTE: Stephens and Handel list several incidents where Ajaib Singh's information about his own personal biography and the lives of other saints was inaccurate. For a detailed listing see A Statement By Two Fools Concerning Sant Ajaib Singh Ji . *] they also questioned the veracity of their inner experiences under the tutelage of Ajaib Singh. The net result was that they severed their connection with Ajaib Singh and his ministry. Arran Stephens also wrote a long handwritten letter to Russell Perkins explaining how he had been duped and how he hoped Perkins would see the error of his ways. Argued Stephens in his December 1978 letter: "I have more than sufficient first-hand evidence that Sant Ji is not a Perfect Master, is not the Commissioned Sant Satguru of the Age. Masters don't lie." But Stephens did this four years too late--too late to stop the growing following, which included Perkins, that had become convinced that Ajaib Singh was an enlightened master. Stephens' initial evaluation was seen by these devotees as the truth; his later revisions were interpreted as misguided delusions. As Perkins notes:

Both Arran and Richard had on many occasions spoken and written about Sant Ji using their inner experiences to justify what they said, so that when they changed their minds based on what other people told them, their credibility dropped to zero (people who were influenced by them tended not to join them in Darshan Singh's fold, but to leave the Path altogether--a very rational and predictable result); and . . . by the time this all happened a very significant number of satsangis, both old and new, had seen Sant Ji for themselves and developed a very satisfying and spiritually fulfilling relationship with Him. . . [*NOTE: Personal letter to the author, dated April 7, 1989, page 14. Steven Morrow, founder of Sant Mat Fellowship, also wrote an extensive rebuttal to Arran Stephens on February 21, 1979, claiming that Stephens was an opportunist who used facts and dates in a haphazard way to benefit his own personal biases. Writes Morrow, "It appears that regardless of the evidence for or against Darshan and/or Ajaib's claims to successorship that you, dear brother, have consciously or unconsciously published certain statements which misled the sangat into thinking that you were physically present when certain important events too place. . . I can only wonder if your motive (or partial motive) was to draw a certain amount of attention to yourself. . ." Morrow's letter, however, does not refute the major criticisms against Ajaib Singh, including the apparent fact that he was initiated by Charan Singh in 1953 but later denied it. *]

The Rhetoric of Illegitimacy

Ajaib Singh's succession problems are similar in some ways to Kirpal Singh's. In fact, it could be argued that Ajaib Singh's candidacy is the logical extension of Kirpal Singh's; that Ajaib Singh, more than any other claimant (including Darshan and Thakar), fulfills the pathway marked out by Kirpal Singh in 1948: stress authenticity over legitimacy , as the major criterion of genuineness. Hence, we can see that Ajaib Singh's emergence as a guru depended on two factors, both of which relate to authenticity: 1) he claimed to have been given spiritual power by his guru, Kirpal Singh; and 2) others alleged that they experienced his spiritual capability. The major emphasis here is not on Ajaib Singh's legitimacy (in comparison with Darshan Singh, for instance, he has little), but on his degree of authenticity. A criterion which, as we have seen, is so subjective that it both resists and betrays any comprehensive analysis, since almost anybody can claim to have "inner" confirmation. It is, therefore, consistent with my overall thesis that when Ajaib Singh got heavily criticized for his lack of legitimacy, he and his followers turned primarily to testimonies about inner experiences and the like. In turn, Ajaib Singh and his constituencies became more critical of the "outward" conventions of appraising a spiritual master's status. [*NOTE: Interviews with Christopher McMahon, Steve Morrow, and Neil Tessler (1978 to 1981), supporters of Ajaib Singh. After meeting Darshan Singh several times, Tessler became convinced that he was the true successor; Tessler has since aligned himself with Darshan Singh's camp. *]

Ajaib Singh's parallel to Kirpal Singh should be fairly evident to the perceptive reader. Ajaib Singh and his sangat have reacted almost exactly the same way Kirpal Singh and his faction reacted when he was not accepted at Beas. In fact, given Kirpal Singh's assumption of the mastership after Sawan Singh's death, it was almost predictable that someone like Ajaib Singh would emerge after Kirpal Singh's death. In other words, Kirpal Singh's lack of proper office entitlement paved the way for his future successors, like Ajaib Singh, to routinize their own charismatic claims by referring to their master's testimony on the subject (or lack thereof). [*NOTE: For a clear example of this, refer to Perkins' book The Impact of a Saint . *]

When dealing with larger theoretical issues or underlying generalities, ideological work is sometimes easier to detect, since an overall tendency or pattern is being reiterated. The difficult analysis arises when a specific issue is being addressed; here the details oftentimes gloss over the real battle, thereby leaving one with the impression that, especially in religious matters, it is really more of a theological matter than a social one. Though at times this may undoubtedly be true, it is usually not the case. Why? Because theological disputes are rarely sui generis; more often than not, spiritual arguments have their roots in materialist concerns. The list of examples is inexhaustible, ranging from Roman Catholicism's anti-semitism (which was often justified by divine doctrine) to Eckankar's anti-intellectualism (which was prompted, in part, by its originator's extensive plagiarism and fear of scholarly scrutiny).

What is of particular interest in light of succession rhetoric is how Sant Bani satsangis, particularly those with some influence in the movement, address the discrepancies in Ajaib Singh's candidacy. In this regard, the writings of Russell Perkins are especially noteworthy, since he is deeply involved in ideological work, that is, reconciling Ajaib Singh's inner attainments with his external qualifications. Since Perkins is such a pivotal figure in the development of Sant Bani, it is judicious to examine in detail how he legitimizes Ajaib Singh's ministry. What Perkins reveals quite clearly is how succession disputes are intimately connected with previous historical events and underlying social tensions. He also supports, perhaps at times unconsciously, my overall thesis: those who lack outward evidence to support their campaigns move generally to internal evidence to buttress their views.

First, it is important to remember that Perkins' rejection of Darshan Singh stemmed primarily from Kirpal Singh's numerous statements on how he succeeded Sawan Singh. Since Darshan Singh's candidacy was almost completely opposite that of his father's, it is little wonder that Perkins and others could not accept the incongruity. Ironically, Darshan Singh's candidacy was, in light of his immediate predecessor, non-traditional . It was exactly this non-traditionality which first alerted Perkins and others to be skeptical of Darshan Singh. To be sure, the tradition of Kirpal Singh was a relatively new one, but it was a precedent clearly framed all the same; and, it should be noted, it was a precedent which a number of Indians and Americans took quite seriously.

Even though Kirpal Singh's own claim of succession was unorthodox from a Beas perspective, to a new generation of Ruhani Satsang initiates it was quintessential of how an authentic guru should be appointed. In other words, Kirpal Singh's assumption is the orthodox (read correct) position. Perkins himself argues this much:

The ambiguity and uncertainty about successors which is so characteristic of Sant Mat is the norm, and built into the system, as is evidenced from the model set up by Swami Ji. It is not, in other words, an aberration. The aberration rather is (from our point of view) the orderly and clear transfer, accompanied by sufficient outer signs to convince the sangat that the Guru means it, since that kind of transfer has happened only once in modern times (Jaimal to Sawan). All of the others (Tulsi to Swami Ji; Swami Ji to Jaimal; Sawan to Kirpal; Kirpal to Ajaib) are characterized by the forcing (because of the lack of outer signs) of the seeker into confronting the integrity of his/her own search; they function as tests, we might say, of both the disciples of the previous Guru and the seekers who come up after that Guru's passing. [*NOTE: Personal letter to author, dated April 7, 1989, page 6. *]

Thus one of the ways that minority claimants, lacking "official" status, can garner legitimacy is to reframe previous succession history in a new light, much like Perkins has done in the preceding excerpt. This reframing contextualizes anew the validity of the minority candidate; it also lends logical support for an otherwise illegitimate campaign. Moreover, it centralizes spiritual authenticity versus political legitimacy, and shows how real spirituality cannot be conveyed through conventional means. That all of this arises from some type of succession tension is obvious. Otherwise, there would be no reason to write and publish circulars, articles, and books concentrating on the issue. In the Sant Bani camp the book Support for a Shaken Sangat by A. S. Oberoi, for instance, has long sections dealing specifically on succession disputes; and in the Sawan-Kirpal movement Tillis' text Emergence of a New Master--Darshan Singh focuses entirely on the politics of guru successorship.

Another good illustration of Perkins' ideological work--and by extension, Sant Bani's--comes from his response to Ajaib Singh's association with Charan Singh, a delicate matter in light of Kirpal Singh's previous history with the Dera. As already noted, there is documentary evidence which shows that Ajaib Singh was initiated by Charan Singh in 1953. However, Ajaib Singh--on numerous occasions after 1974--has categorically denied ever being initiated by the Beas guru, even though he admits "loving him" and sending hundreds of seekers to him. For the interested seeker or initiate it is crucial question, since the integrity of their master is at stake. It is also a question which on the surface has only two possible conclusions: 1) Ajaib Singh is telling the truth; or 2) Ajaib Singh is lying. Arran Stephens and Richard Handel, former Ajaib Singh devotees, fall into the second camp and are convinced that their once beloved "Sant Ji" is a fraud. Russell Perkins, on the other hand, representing the interests of Sant Bani, is in the first camp, convinced that Ajaib Singh would never lie. But how does Perkins deal with the information, mostly documentary in origin and circulated by his own gurubhais, which clearly suggests that Sant Ji is not telling the truth? By doing exactly what he has done with previous succession disputes: reframing the question from one of either/or to one of yes/but. In doing so, Perkins shows both the power and utility of ideological work. Writes Perkins:

In my experience, I have never found Sant Ji (or Kirpal) tell an untruth; this is not to say, however, that They necessarily view the facts of a case in the same way that we do. This is not always taken into account when disciples become attorneys and subject Saints to cross-examination. Our agenda is not necessarily Their agenda. . . It is possible, for instance, that the word "initiation" means different things to different people. It is possible that a genuinely advanced seeker might go through something that someone else would call "initiation" but He would not. I am not saying that happened; Sant Ji has never indicated to me that it did; I take His denial at face value. But the other is a possibility which fits very well into the Saints' difference of perspective. If Arran or Richard had been inclined and had had the opportunity to both hear Master's [Kirpal's] comment about Judith's letter and to read that letter (and confronted Him with the contradiction in a way that they did in fact confront Sant Ji) they could have very justifiably called Him a liar also. In point of fact, of course, Arran would have worked very hard to find an alternate explanation if such a thing had occurred in Kirpal's life; he did not even consider believing Sant Ji (once his point of view changed). He wrote me a very revealing thing at this time (or perhaps it was in his opus): something like, "Someone said to me, Why don't you go ask some of the senior disciples of Kirpal why they are not following Sant Ji?" I could not believe that he would write that; did it not ever occur to him that the same thing could be said about Kirpal, a generation back? [*NOTE: P>erkins, op. cit., page 11. *]

The preceding excerpt contains several pregnant clauses and sentences, each of which reveal a "working" out of an apparent contradiction or odd fact. First, Perkins raises an issue of semantics concerning the word "initiation," suggesting that its meaning may be variable, depending on whom it is being applied. In Ajaib Singh's case, for instance, Perkins argues that if he was in fact "initiated" by Charan Singh (and Beas documents indicate that he was) but denied it, then Ajaib Singh is not necessarily lying but applying a much higher meaning to the term. In other words, what Beas may consider initiation, Ajaib Singh does not. This line of reasoning, though Perkins invokes it only tangentially, allows Ajaib Singh to "get off the hook," so to say, by demonstrating the variability of language use. [*NOTE: The only glitch here, at least in terms of Perkins' own situation, is that such a line of reasoning has already been employed by Paul Twitchell, one-time member of Ruhani Satsang and founder of Eckankar, who denied ever being initiated by Kirpal Singh. Perkins, who is well aware of Eckankar's denial of its Delhi connection, has criticized Twitchell on a number of occasions for denying his spiritual roots. Yet, when the issue arises in Ajaib Singh's case (something which is much closer to Perkins' own bone), he--like his Eckankar counterparts--invokes semantics in order to clarify, if not justify, an apparent contradiction. Although Perkins finds Twitchell reprehensible for his spiritual cover-up, he does not feel the same about Ajaib Singh. The reason, notwithstanding the great differences between the two religious leaders, is simple: Perkins has a vested (read material) interest in Ajaib Singh, whereas in Twitchell he has little, if any. It is this interest, I would suggest, which empowers the rhetorical devices employed by ideological workers. The knife of reason, no doubt, has two sides, but which side is used depends almost solely on one's particular attachment. Such attachments, as in the case of Perkins, can at one time make a person harshly criticize a line of argumentation as convoluted, while in another time prompt that person to claim that the same line of argumentation is reasonable and sensible. To avoid sounding patronizing, I should add that nobody seems to be exempt from this rhetorical Catch-22--not even keenly self-conscious sociologists of knowledge. *]

"Our agenda is not necessarily Their agenda," is perhaps Perkins' key ideological phrase, for this principle allows the concerned disciple to explain away any apparent duplicity on his guru's part as stemming from a limited understanding or point of view. Furthermore a devoted disciple always seeks to understand the larger viewpoint of his/her guru, as Perkins indicated about Stephens when he wrote, "Arran would have worked [my emphasis] very hard to find an alternate explanation [if he had confronted a contradiction on the part of Kirpal Singh]." Perkins' verbal choice, of course, is revealing, especially in light of Berger's writings on ideology, since he himself uses the operative phrase "would have worked." Something which is what ideological battle is all about: working to resolve or figure out an apparent tension between theory and practice, or, in our circumstance, a breach between outer and inner criteria.

The more serious charge labelled against Ajaib Singh, at least from the standpoint of Ruhani Satsang, is that he lied about his association with Kirpal Singh, exaggerating his relationship with the Delhi master and misconstruing dates for his apparent advantage. It is a charge which has caused several staunch supporters of Ajaib Singh to withdraw their support of the Sant Bani guru. Perkins addresses the issue in the following way:

Sant Ji has often admitted that He has a poor head for dates and for specifics of that kind. Kirpal Singh, Who had been an accountant in His professional life, did not have that problem, yet I have been present when He said things that were not correct on that level [Perkins adds in the margin, "intellectual mistakes"]. If this is what we call lying, and serves as a criterion for judging a Saint, so be it. I do not know (and neither does anyone else) if Swami Ji [founder of Radhasoami] faced criticisms of this kind or not. Yet the Sar Bachan (prose) is infused (and not only sections mentioned above) with a kind of "cosmic defensiveness," which seems to assume that the Satguru is going to have problems with His credentials. It certainly seems, at the very least, that Swami Ji had problems with His credentials. And, after all, why not? I mean, My God! Where were his documents? . . . Of course, Sant Ji's statements about Kirpal coming to see Him run up against the inability of the leading disciples in Delhi to grasp that the Master could do something without consulting them. In my knowledge of Kirpal, it was totally in character for Him to do such a thing. . . [*NOTE: Perkins, op. cit., page 17. *]

Here Perkins attempts to explain several things at once about Ajaib Singh: his memory lapses, his lack of credentials, and his alleged "secret" meetings with Kirpal. In the first case, Perkins contrasts Ajaib with Kirpal (admitting that the latter was more meticulous with dates, facts, etc., due to his accountant background) by claiming that both of them had said things that were--as Perkins puts it--"intellectual mistakes." He further says that if such mistakes are regarded as lying on this mundane level then so be it, implying that everybody at one time or another (including saints) make such errors. The revealing thing here in light of our unmasking is that Perkins is usurping, albeit partially, the criterion of legitimacy. In other words, yes Ajaib Singh may have made some factual mistakes, but they are inconsequential when compared with his spiritual authenticity. A claim, I should add, that dovetails with minority succession in general.

Furthermore, Perkins places Ajaib in a larger historical context, particularly in line with Shiv Dayal Singh, in order to drive home one of his recurring points: if one is to criticize Ajaib for his lack of proper credentials, the same should also be said about Swami Ji, the founder of Radhasoami. Yet, Perkins contextualization begs the question at hand by legitimizing Ajaib Singh's credentials by authority and tradition, though in a reverse way. Yes, Ajaib Singh lacks outward credentials, but so do Shiv Dayal Singh and Jaimal Singh. The inference is clear enough: Ajaib Singh is authentic, if not legitimate, by following in the footsteps of his predecessors. Perkins is a traditionalist and as orthodox as any disciple in Darshan Singh's camp. Perkins' orthodoxy, though, arises out of his own guru's succession narrative, which has prompted him and others to reframe all of Sant mat/Radhasoami history in light of Kirpal Singh's purview. This is natural enough, but what may not be quite so obvious is how logical Sant Bani's position is when it is viewed from "inside" or "within" the group. Although majority camps may wish to project an air of irrationality about minor split-off gurus and their struggling campaigns, the fact remains that there is an intrinsic logic to marginality. It is not so much a revolt against the status quo or a verifiable candidate, but against inconsistency. Indeed, it was the inconsistency of Darshan Singh's campaign compared with his father's succession accounts which has allowed Perkins to accept Ajaib Singh's biographical inconsistencies, since his succession rhetoric, not Darshan's, was reminiscent of Kirpal Singh's. Simply put, Perkins had already accepted Kirpal Singh's apparent discrepancies as inconsequential, much as he has done with Ajaib's, but what is not inconsequential to Perkins is how well a succession candidate follows the pattern already set by Kirpal Singh. True, one may deviate in a number of ways, but those deviations must dovetail with Kirpal's. If not, then the succession is disputable.

Finally, one of the more attractive features about Ajaib Singh, and one that has not been mentioned so far about any of the gurus in this study (though it is also true of them, especially in the case of Jaimal Singh), is his dramatic and romantic life-story. Whatever one may say about him, the fact remains that Ajaib Singh fits the archetypal Indian guru, the kind romanticized in Hollywood movies like The Razor's Edge . I don't say this in a vindicative way, but only to illustrate how politically powerful simplicity can be. In North America particularly there is something quite alluring about going back to a culture and a time not spoiled by the transgressions of technology and modern living. Moreover, for many Jews and Christians the idea of a holy man or a saint brings to mind ancient figures, those men and women who literally lived thousands of years ago--a Moses, a Peter, a Mary. For some it is a bit incongruent to think of a holy man as a lawyer, a politician, a stock trader, a C.E.O., since holiness is oftentimes equated with renunciation of the world.

Romanticism plays a part in attracting would-be seekers to Indian gurus. First, there is the element of a foreign culture--exotic, unpenetrable, new--which entices one to forget about one's own mundane existence. Moreover, there is a language barrier which instead of preventing recruits invites one to a sense of mystery. Even the terminology of Sant mat/Radhasoami plays upon this; Westerners are generally fond of using terms such as "Shabd," "Satguru," "Sach Khand," and the like, if only for the mystery that they conjure up and the sense of wonder and discovery.

Not many of the Radhasoami gurus today fit that romantic motif. Sure a Shiv Dayal Singh and Jaimal Singh did, but that was only because they lived before the era of mass communications and trans-national air travel. Most Radhasoami gurus, as Mark Juergensmeyer points out in his book Radhasoami Reality , are modern and well educated. There have been lawyers, professors, chancellors, accountants, and even businessmen. Yet the idea of a forgotten sage is an attractive one. Much of Ajaib's appeal (and other gurus like him), I would argue, rests in some measure upon his romantic appeal. In Ajaib Singh one does not have to confront the ugly politics that occurred in Delhi in 1974; in Ajaib Singh one can forego the hustle and bustle of a city ashram; and in Ajaib Singh one can forget the western world and much of its technology. Ajaib Singh is, for the most part, the archetypal desert sage. It is that image--real and imagined--which has helped Ajaib Singh's ministry tremendously. And little wonder, since one of the more enticing features of Indian religion is the notion of a hidden guru, a mystic somewhere forgotten by others who contemplates in far off locales--the Himalayas, the Forest Shrines, the Rajasthan desert. As Perkins proudly writes, "A simple loving beautiful man, of total integrity and authenticity, living the timeless life of the Desert Fathers or the Biblical prophets in his mud ashram in the middle of the desert, and working in the express image and power of Kirpal Singh." [*NOTE: Russell Perkins, Sant Ajaib Singh Ji: A Brief Life Sketch (Sanbornton: Sant Bani Ashram, n.d.), pages 14-15. *]

The overall significance in romanticism, at least in sociological terms, is that it represents a rejection of conventional living and religion. In Sant Bani, in particular, there is an almost wholesale adoption of Indian culture and values. Even the singing of shabds in a language foreign to most members is encouraged for their "spiritual" effect. What we have here is a move away from modernity and its complexity and a move towards contemplative spirituality and its attendant simplicity.

Targeting an Audience: Marketing and Membership

Gurus, not unlike movie or television stars, appeal to certain kinds of audiences. Mark Juergensmeyer has noted that Radhasoami membership generally cuts across caste lines, though certain castes are better represented in some satsang groups than others. He has also observed that Radhasoami has become a transnational faith, drawing members from around the world, though most markedly from North and South America.

Kirpal Singh's initial following came from disciples of his guru, Sawan Singh, who for a variety of reasons (including disaffection with the Beas administration, travel distance, and personal inclinations) were attracted to his ministry. At first Kirpal Singh's following was quite small, since he was, relatively speaking, unknown in Delhi. However, Kirpal Singh's following grew steadily. As Juergensmeyer notes:

When Kirpal Singh came to Delhi in 1948, he was by no means alone. At that time hundreds of thousands of Punjabi refugees were streaming over the border from the newly created Pakistan. Kirpal Singh stayed in Delhi for a time with his son, Darshan Singh, and delivered his first satsang as a spiritual master in the bustling Daryaganj section of the old city. . . Soon his satsang--and Beas's--had attracted a good number of the refugees who encamped nearby. A good number of Sawan Singh's other disciples joined his satsang as well. . . . [*NOTE: Mark Juergensmeyer, Radhasoamis (Princeton University Press, 1991), page 172. *]

Yet Kirpal Singh also internationalized his movement by taking periodic trips around the world and by appointing representatives in various countries to initiate new seekers on his behalf. Additionally, he wrote a number of popular books in English about Sant mat which received a wide readership in the 1960's and 1970's. Eventually, about ten percent of Kirpal Singh's following came from the West (roughly eight thousand initiates). Although the Westerners were far outnumbered by their Indian counterparts, they did nevertheless have a significant influence in the management of the satsang. As Juergensmeyer points out:

When Kirpal Singh returned to America in 1963 [his first trip was in 1955], the size of the crowds increased several times over, and when he came once more, on his final tour in 1972, the crowds increased "by a factor of ten. . ." The percentage of revenue gained from their [Westerners'] donations was higher than that [ten percent], and Westerners were visibly present in the leadership circles of Kirpal Singh's ashram; they assisted in publication projects, building programs, and planning for master's tours. Some developed branch organizations of their own. . . . [*NOTE: Ibid., page 173. *]

Kirpal Singh's internationalization continued under his three main successors, Darshan Singh, Thakar Singh, and Ajaib Singh. Indeed, Darshan Singh's son and successor, Rajinder Singh, lives both in Chicago and Delhi, dividing his time between both centers and his busy travel schedule, where he visits various centers around the world, including South America, Australia, and Europe.

Thakar Singh, though he has his central base in India, travels constantly, visiting South and North America almost yearly. He also has commenced a policy where anyone can be initiated into the path if they promise to follow the prescribed vows in the future. This has led to a tremendous increase in his core following, though it is difficult to know how long-term their commitment will be over time. Initial reports suggest that much of Thakar Singh's following is comprised of one-time seekers, who after a year or so fall away from the movement. [*NOTE: Interviews with Bernadine Chard, former General Representative for Thakar Singh in the United States (telephone/correspondence: 1977 to 1988). *]

Ajaib Singh's following, unlike Rajinder Singh's or Thakar Singh's, is comprised largely of Westerners. This is indeed unique, given that Ajaib Singh is not fluent in English and that his ashram in Rajasthan is relatively primitive when compared with other Kirpal Singh related centers. Much of this has to do with the fact that two Westerners--Arran Stephens and Russell Perkins--made Ajaib Singh well known, even to Indian satsangis. Ajaib Singh attracts over a thousand people to his almost yearly visits to Sant Bani Ashram in New Hampshire, a figure much higher than Thakar Singh's and slightly above Rajinder Singh's.

Naturally each guru must address the needs of his or her specific audience. This becomes even more apparent, though, when gurus move out of their own jurisdiction, into countries where a Judeo-Christian ethos pervades. In the case of Ajaib Singh, Indian culture gets transplanted into a Western environment with little alteration. Indian shabds are sung, Indian food is served, Indian clothes are worn, even though the country is not India but the United States and the state is not Rajasthan but New Hampshire. In Rajinder Singh's sangat in North America, Indian culture is also retained, but not with the same blanket romanticism of Ajaib Singh's group. Rajinder is fluent in English, served as a computer engineer, and is familiar with American customs, having lived in Chicago for almost two decades. Thakar Singh also invokes much of Indian culture in his group, singing shabds, serving simple Indian food, playing Indian music extensively. But, unlike his rivals, Thakar Singh has altered some Sant mat principles in order to accommodate American tastes. For instance, Thakar Singh does not require a strict moral code (restricting sexual relations within the context of a legal marriage) from his followers.

Although the number of followers of each group is fluid and difficult to pinpoint exactly (especially in light of Thakar Singh's policy of mass initiations), Rajinder Singh's group is by far the most well organized and diversified. During Darshan Singh's tenure, Sawan-Kirpal Mission had more followers than the other two camps combined.

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

I want to go back to the home base now.