Radhasoami: introduction

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.



In India when a revered spiritual master dies it is invariably a time of great sadness. Disciples from near and far describe feeling a sense of profound loss, not dissimilar to losing one's own biological mother or father. In some religious traditions the shock of this loss is mitigated by the idea that the guru transmits his/her spiritual power to one or more worthy disciples. These disciples serve as spiritual successors and alleviate much of the confusion that results on the death of a guru. However, how one assumes the mantleship of a previous master is a problematic issue and one that has continually plagued fledgling religious movements in both the East and the West.

Imagine having the opportunity of going back in history some two thousand years and being able to record what occurred immediately after the death of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Such an opportunity for a sociologist or a historian would be a treasure trove of information--information so valuable that it would shed tremendous light on how (and perhaps why) early Christianity developed the way it did.

Right now as I write these sentences during the last decade of the 20th century, there will most likely be new religious movements which will evolve over time--maybe one century, maybe five--to become widespread and highly influential world religions, replete with political, economical, and cultural authority. The inherent value of studying how such religions in their infancy, especially those with charismatic leadership, transmit spiritual authority is invaluable. Rarely do we get first-hand, objective accounts of how religions originate and develop within their first century of growth. Although Radhasoami's following is at this stage comparatively small in relation with the major world's religions, it has nevertheless grown exponentially during the past one hundred years from less than one thousand followers to well over two million initiates. And although Radhasoami may not develop as a bona fide world religion with a following comparable to even Sikhism (with its ten million plus adherents), it has already had a significant national impact in India, especially in the Punjab, and a trans-national influence in Europe, Africa, and North America, where it has been a pivotal force behind several new religious movements, including Eckankar and M.S.I.A. To analyze and properly gauge Radhasoami's formative history can only help shed light on the early years of charismatic religions in general.

Religious Succession

Very few studies have ever been done on the issue of guru succession; fewer still have been done on the process of guru legitimation. Since leadership succession is an almost universal problem in world culture--from the succession of political rulers to business leaders to family heads--a better understanding of religious mastership can by its very nature help inform our studies generally about power transference.

The Radhasoami tradition is a dramatic case in point, primarily because its history has been plagued with problems of guru succession. Perhaps the chief reason for this is due to a lack of universal agreement about what constitutes "spiritual" attainment. For one person it may be a charismatic trait, the perception that his/her master has achieved an exalted state of consciousness. For another, it may be a legal function, where the respected guru has been appointed to the high office by means of a will written by the preceding master. For yet another, it may be a combination of elements: from perceived charisma to designated legal function to issues of social caste and property. Much of this confusion, naturally, can be alleviated when the founder of a respective religious movement lays down clear and univocal rules governing succession. But seldom does this happen. Rather, as in the case of Shiv Dayal Singh (the founder of Radhasoami), the spiritual leader dies before establishing guidelines by which to adjudicate succession disputes.

But how did the spiritual leader receive his exalted status in the first place, prior to any succession dispute? Or, more to the point, how do founders of new religions attract their following? How did Jesus establish his ministry? How did Mohammed gather his core devotees? How did Shiv Dayal Singh solidify his position as a guru? According to Max Weber, there are three major ways: 1) through charisma, the spiritual presence--indefinable and uncontrollable--which periodically emerges in certain gifted individuals; 2) through tradition, where historical precedents, such as family or blood ties, delegate who will carry on the teaching or political work; and 3) through legality, an essentially rational enterprise, where generally agreed upon rules have been laid out and are followed by like-minded participants.

What is central to all this, however, is the idea of acceptance and legitimation. It is one thing to call yourself a prophet, a mystic, a divine god-man; quite another to have others, in significant numbers, accept your claims. When we say it was Jesus' own charisma which attracted his devoted following or it was Siddhartha's spiritual powers which converted his first devotees, we are begging the question, for we have not come to grips with the social dynamics inherent in charisma. For Weber, "Charisma may be either of two types. Where this appellation is fully merited, charisma is a gift that inheres in an object or person simply by virtue of natural endowment. Such primary charisma cannot be acquired by any means. But charisma of the other type may be produced artificially in an object or person through some extraordinary means. Even then, it is assumed that charismatic powers can be developed only in people or objects in which the germ already existed but would have remained dormant unless evoked by some ascetic or other regimen."

Charisma is a perceived quality, both by the one who claims possession of it and by the one who claims to observe it in the esteemed figure. Yet, what is central here is not so much the prophet's or sage's or yogi's or mystic's self-perception, but the reception and acceptance of such manifested charisma by the respective constituencies at large. Anyone may claim to have charisma (indeed, mental hospitals around the world are filled with self-proclaimed gods), but that claim in itself does not necessarily ensure the general acceptance by others that the person is indeed charismatic. The dynamic here, I would argue, leans heavily on the side of the perceivers, not on the one perceived. At first this may sound a little backwards. How could charisma, if it is such a personal and indefinable trait, be mostly the product of social construction?

Let us take Jesus Christ as an illustrative example. Why do we now say Jesus was a revolutionary charismatic? Was it because he was, in fact, an extraordinary person endowed with super-human or magical traits, far beyond the ken of normal humans? Maybe, but maybe not. What makes Jesus so "charismatic," I would suggest, has more to do with the political impact of his later followers than it does with the man himself. We know that during the First Century A.D. there were literally tens of individuals claiming to be the messiah, the chosen one of Yahweh. Yet, today, some two thousand years later, we speak only of Jesus. And we use him as a prime example of a charismatic, as if his very being transformed the political world. Surely his personal prowess was influential, but what is key in all of this was the perception and acceptance of Jesus' claims centuries after his death by crucial political figures. In other words, when we speak of Jesus' charisma, we are mostly referring to the political and geographical influence that he supposedly originated. Yet, what must be made evident is that Jesus, as a subject of charisma, may or may not have had anything whatsoever to do with the acceptance and/or rejection of his charismatic gifts as an object for religious and political change. Rather, and this point needs to be underlined, it was Jesus' subsequent followers, especially political rulers representing huge bodies of people, who were instrumental in elevating Jesus' charismatic status.

Jesus emerges out of the pack of competing messiahs during his day, not so much because he was such a powerful force, but because his message, for a variety of reasons (but mostly political), was accepted over time by a consensus majority. Simply put, charisma is something we impute, oftentimes after the person is dead. It is also something which can be socially engineered. Thus we must be clear in not ascribing a quality to religious prophets after the fact . Because there are almost two billion Christians in the world today and there were none two thousand years ago does not mean that Jesus, as charismatic figure, was directly responsible. No, it was the subsequent acceptance of his ministry by followers which transformed the world. And such acceptance or rejection of a revolutionary prophet, I would add, has much to do with mitigating social forces played out through time. For instance, if Jesus was not crucified, history may have turned out to be completely different. And we may not be talking about a charismatic figure named Christ at all.

The point of this extended discussion is that the concept of charisma must be seen in a socially constructed manner. Whether or not somebody, ontologically speaking, does indeed possess a charismatic gift is not the point. It is the social acceptance or rejection of such a claim (and charisma is more often than not just that--a claim) that determines the influence that such charismatic prowess will have.

Thus, in this book, I am not concerned with whether or not a guru in question does, in fact, possess transmundane power, but rather with his or her claims for such and the ways he or she goes about legitimizing these claims. For instance, I have met tens of gurus in India, each claiming to have access to spiritual powers beyond the rational mind and each with thousands of followers, but only two or three were what I would consider charismatic. Yet, my perceptions were not the perceptions of would-be or long-time followers. If I say that Thakar Singh is boring or lackluster or ordinary in his public appearances, it is my own perception. Thousands of others are mesmerized by him. Who is right? Hence, it is not really a question of who is right or wrong, in terms of depth psychology, but rather how such perceptions get informed, developed, and become influential among various groups.

In sociology we cannot study individual charisma per se (if we did, we would be doing psychology), but only its effect on the people who claim to perceive it and thereby be changed. In guru succession this has a significant methodological imperative: 1) when we ascribe charisma to any master or mystic, we are, in essence, describing his or her claim to it and/or the alleged perceptions of the same by his/her following. We are not, I hasten to repeat, describing the actual thing, as if charisma was something quantifiable and testable. 2) This necessitates a priori that we do not confuse the claims for charisma with the actual attainment of charisma. In terms of spiritual competency (i.e., in Radhasoami, the soul's access to higher regions of awareness), we simply do not know whether a given master is enlightened or not. What we can know, however, is if he/she claims to have it. 3) Thus in the study of guru politics, we are always analyzing the claims of charisma and how such claims get legitimized in the day to day world. For example, when we say that a minority guru, such as Kirpal Singh or Ajaib Singh, is charismatic, we are making an inappropriate value judgement. As I stated before, we simply don't know if they are or not. We do know, however, that they make claims for such. Thus we should not infer that some leader is charismatic; rather, we should state that some leader alleges to be charismatic or that his/her followers claim to perceive such. 4) If we fail to make this distinction, and it happens frequently in sociological studies of religious figures, we give a false sense of empowerment to revolutionary individuals, who may or may not have been charismatics sui generis.

All of this has a direct bearing on the fledgling founders of religious movements, both ancient and new. If we look back on Radhasoami history, for instance, we may be tempted to say that Shiv Dayal Singh, the alleged founder of the movement, was a true charismatic, since he started a new religious tradition from the ground up. But this is a misleading reification, one which implies that newness and charisma are intertwined. Instead, all we can accurately say is that Shiv Dayal Singh appears to have claimed some sort of spiritual authority and several thousand disciples were moved to accept his claim. If it were not for the continued success of Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry through the proliferation of lineal gurus after his death, Radhasoami and its founder may have been lost in history. Since Radhasoami is , more or less, a successful religious enterprise in terms of numbers, we have a tendency to impute charismatic prowess on the part of its founder. Yet, much of that prowess is an after-thought, a product of historical revisionism. We simply don't know what were Shiv Dayal Singh's inherent spiritual powers. We know, rather, his claims and his disciples' claims.

Hence, revolutionary breaks with traditional ways may be due, in part, not to individuals possessing extraordinary powers, but individuals alleging to possess such. This distinction, though rudimentary and obvious, distinguishes a sociological study of guru politics from a psychological one. And it is a distinction, I must add, that will save us much confusion concerning the origins of religious movements in general.

In this study, therefore, I have tended to avoid over-using the terms charisma and charismatic, since it obfuscates several dynamics inherent in recognizing spiritual competency. I have opted, rather, for a simple two tier analysis of guru legitimation. Given that a guru in the Radhasoami tradition is, by definition, one who has access to a divine realm, I am concerned with how he or she convinces others of this claim. I have discovered that such processes of legitimation follow either of two directions: 1) inward, experiential, mystical, trans-rational, where the mystic buttresses his or her claims by pointing to a new arena of knowledge which is usually ascertained by some sort of meditational practice; or 2) outward, legalistic, traditional, critical-rational, where the master supports his or her position by pointing to the transference of power by a will, by property, by relics, by written and oral testimony; in sum, by some kind of empirically verifiable means. These two strategies are known, in Wilberian parlance, as authenticity and legitimacy . The former is a vertical apprehension of super-mundane realities; the latter is a horizontal apprehension of day to day, consensus reality.

In both cases, we are dealing with evidences designed to substantiate a guru's ministry. In terms of legitimacy, naturally, it is much easier to arrive at some common agreement, since the evidence offered is accessible to empirical or quasi-empirical verification. In terms of authenticity, however, we confront an epistemological problem, since one must have access to a higher order of awareness in order to competently verify the proffered evidence. Charismatic claims on the whole, and most especially in Sant mat and Radhasoami, are subjective in nature and usually reflect some kind of internal or mystical revelation. Thus when recourse is made to this type of proof, it must be kept in mind that such charismatic claims may be more of a reactionary strategy (usually made when the claimant lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the majority) for attaining social status or clout than a phenomenologically "pure" description of an innate or acquired spiritual gift. Keeping the preceding in mind, therefore, this study centers both on how charismatic claims get routinized and on how charisma, as such, gets defined and politicized as a rhetorical device among fledgling gurus.

Material Interests: The Economics of Succession

Guru succession, in theory, is supposed to be a spiritual process where one master transmits his/her authority to a designated heir. But in practice guru succession invariably turns out to be something more, something a bit more earthy, than what was originally intended. Guru succession turns out to have a material interest as well. Although there may be a spiritual impulse which guides the selection process of a master, there is an economic force which determines to a large degree who gets what and why. This becomes all the more evident when a spiritual master has accumulated some property and wealth. In this case, the succeeding guru must not only be adept at guiding souls back to God, but he or she must be adept at managing an administrative budget. It was one thing for a relatively unknown guru like Tulsi Sahib of Hathras in the 19th century to appoint a blind sadhu named Surswami to carry on his ministry when there was very little property or money involved; quite another for a popular guru in the 20th century (like Sawan Singh) with huge land holdings to do the same. In the former case, the successor is allowed by circumstances to focus mainly on the teachings and only secondly on the administrative infrastructure. In the latter case, however, the successor is burdened with a complex administrative empire, which covers the spectrum from preserving and acquiring properties to wisely investing collected monies. He or she must be a wise business executive, as well as a wise sage.

Thus when the guru and the group get larger, other important factors come into play when the departing master decides to appoint his/her successor. It is little wonder, therefore, that the bigger Radhasoami satsangs today are guided by men who have had some experience in the education or business world (witness: Rajinder Singh, former engineer for AT&T; Gurinder Singh, businessman from Spain; and Dr. L.B. Lal, former University Chancellor). In this study, we will especially want to note how exigencies, like the increase of property and income, impact the selection of viable guru candidates.

Articulating a Nirguna Tradition

In the study of Indic spiritual traditions the scholar faces an immediate and complex predicament. Within a culture whose existence defines religious pluralism, there is a problem in trying to distinguish one particular panth (sect or group) from its infusing environment and then singularly extrapolate its history. The first difficulty is that such an endeavor necessitates damaging the natural and "untainted" state of the sect, making it impossible to comprehend "as is." Second, the researcher's own investigation is an impregnating act which invariably plants its own foreign dimensions into the group. And thirdly, the Hindu world is not a static continuum of isolated religious orders but a type of holomovement comprised of interfacing traditions. Thus most attempts by academicians to segregate each particular religion as an isolated specimen leads to an artificial and oftentimes misleading pathway for understanding--an understanding all too prone to scholastic reductionism.

Perhaps the best and most recent illustration of this is Sikhism. Before the British rule, Sikhism as a bona fide world religion did not exist--at least not in ways common to Western perceptions. What did exist was a forceful sect containing its own parampara and satsang within the larger community of Hinduism (or, more accurately speaking, the North Indian Sant culture). If it was not for the British "discovery" of India's sacred heritage and Indian's own spiritual recollection, Sikhism may have remained much like its sister, the Kabir-panthis: an essentially nirguna bhakti sampradaya .

The vital role that historical intervention via political rule and ancestral reflection--both foreign and indigenous--plays in the development of religion cannot be underestimated. How one examines spiritual movements and how one presents the same to the scholarly world and the religious community has its own dynamic and unique effect.

Mircea Eliade, working in the field of history and phenomenology, applies this understanding to the intricate subject of religion: Modern Science has restored a principle which was seriously endangered by the confusions of the nineteenth century: "It is the scale which makes the phenomenon." Henri Poincare queried with some irony whether "a naturalist who had studied elephants only under the microscope would think he knew about those animals?" I do not mean to deny the usefulness of approaching the religious phenomenon from various angles; but it must be looked at first of all in itself, in that which belongs to it alone and can be explained in no other terms. It is no easy task. . . .

Therefore at the very outset of all scholarly intentions we give up the notion of "pure" objectivism, realizing that our study is as much an exploration into the religion itself and our effect upon it, as it is an examination of our own cultural and psychological ethnocentrism.

A wholistic, integrative approach toward the study of Indian traditions is a tremendous ideal. Sadly, though, it is one that is impossible to accomplish. Perhaps Werner Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty in subatomic physics is an instructive analogy for all sciences--hard or soft. As Gary Zukav tells it: There is no way that we can know simultaneously the position and the momentum of a moving particle. All attempts to observe the electron alter the electron. . . . Whatever it is that we are observing can have determinable momentum, and it can have determinable position, but of these two properties, we must choose , for any given moment, which one we wish to bring into focus. This means, in reference to "moving particles" anyway, that we can never see them the way they "really are," but only the way we choose to see them! As Heisenberg wrote: What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

Thus, in terms of religious scholarship, we choose some aspect over another (and thereby set apart related components), forgetting in the process that our choices are often arbitrary. What this produces in return is not so much an accurate picture of the religion in question, but our own culturally bound methods for exploring spiritual traditions. Problems in Defining Radhasoamis

The cluster of lineages with common teachings (popularly called the Radhasoami faith) connected with Shiv Dayal Singh presents some fascinating avenues for study. These range from the teachings themselves: a highly articulated interpretation of surat shabd yoga (lit., "union of the attention with the sound current"); to the socio-economic development of Dayal Bagh, the second largest of the Radhasoami groups; to the concept of satguru , the "true light giver." However, one of the most pivotal, if not central, parts within Radhasoami is its parampara , guru/gaddi lineages.

I personally became intrigued with the various branches in the Radhasoami tradition when I first read of the divisions in Marvin Henry Harper's Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and Their American Disciples . But of all the various facets for investigation in Radhasoami, parampara exhibits the most difficulties. The first and foremost of which is how to accurately define what we mean by "Radhasoami."

The name Radhasoami has been generally applied to those gurus and gaddis (the seat/residence of a saint--living or deceased) who trace their lineages back to Shiv Dayal Singh (1818-1878), the proclaimed founder of the movement. However, there are many obstacles which confront the blanket use of the term Radhasoamis to describe such persons or groups. First, not all satsangs (gatherings or fellowships devoted to the truth) teach the same exact practices, the same doctrines, or believe in the same sampradaya (religious lineages). And second, not every group holds to the name Radhasoami as a description for their beliefs.

Although there are many variables involved, the differences in interpretation amongst Radhasoamis stem mainly from the historical fact that after Shiv Dayal Singh died several disciples (and not just one) served as gurus. The result was a proliferation which spread out wider and more complex with each subsequent generation.

For reasons of uniformity, and in keeping in line with the nature of Santism and surat shabd yoga (the primary sources for Radhasoami), I will use the term Radhasoami to designate those gurus and satsangs which are linked via parampara to Shiv Dayal Singh. This categorization will include any master or group who has a direct and acknowledged connection. Thus the essential criterion employed here is one of genealogy, which is determined by the distinctive characteristic of initiation . For example, a guru such as Kirpal Singh, although he labeled his activities Ruhani Satsang (the Divine Science of the Soul) and discarded the use of the name Radhasoami as being too sectarian, would be included under the heading of Radhasoamis because he was initiated by Sawan Singh (who is himself in the lineage of Shiv Dayal Singh) and acknowledges that relationship. On the other hand, Paul Twitchell (founder of Eckankar), though he was initiated by Kirpal Singh, would not be included under the rubric of Radhasoami because he does not acknowledge his link--rather disclaims his connection to Kirpal Singh--and does not work within that line.

This type of categorization, far from being artificial, is natural and organic to the movement. But the collating title Radhasoamis , though highly useful, must be accepted only provisionally. In each instance where the name is not used by the particular guru or group--as in the case of Kirpal Singh--the variances must be explained. In this way it serves a function similar to the descriptive headings common in the world's religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc. The Academic Impediment: An Overview of English Scholarship

The second impediment that confronts our study is a surprising one: the English scholarship on Radhasoami. It is not an exaggeration to say that most studies done on the tradition suffer from two perturbing maladies: 1) biased and partial information; and 2) gaddi myopicism , a one angled perspective caused by unbending dogmatism. The former is particularly misleading because of the Christian filter and prejudice that has flavored most of the preliminary investigations performed on this curious and strange "hindoo" sect. J. N. Farquhar and James Bissett Pratt are particularly noteworthy in this regard.

Although the history of Radhasoami has been comprehensively explored in Urdu, Punjabi, and Hindi, there has also been some substantial work done in English. Apparently, the very first English text by any Radhasoami guru was Rai Salig Ram's Radhasoami Mat Prakash (1896) which was followed several years later by Brahm Shankar Misra's Discourses on Radhasoami Faith . (The book, though, is incomplete due to the author's death in 1907.)

Scholarly attention was first paid to the Radhasoami movement indirectly when Max Mueller included a small section on Rai Salig Ram in his often quoted, Ramakrishna: His Life and Work (1899). Prior to this time, however, Salig Ram and Radhasoami were mentioned in passing in several Theosophical books. Due to the diligent research of Daniel Caldwell of Tuscon, Arizona, an authority on the early days of Theosophy, a number of references to Salig Ram and his teachings have been located. First, there is a paragraph on Salig Ram on page 151 of the "Appendix to Fourth Edition" in The Occult World by A. P. Sinnett (London: Trubner & Company, 1884). Second, there is a brief mention of him in Esoteric Buddhism by A. P. Sinnett in 1885 (San Diego: Wizards Bookshelf, 1981) on pages 9 and 10. Third, there is a short description of Salig Ram and his guru in a letter allegedly received around February 1882 on page 251 of The Mahatma Letters (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1979). And fourth, Salig Ram's name appears as a subscriber in the December 1880 issue of Theosophist magazine. The first exclusive treatment given to Radhasoami itself comes from H. D. Griswold, whose pamphlet, Radha Swami Sect (1907), published by Cawnpore Mission Press, appears to be the first of its kind in English. Notable expansion on the history and tenets of the movement were added by J. N. Farquhar, who in early 1914 visited Soami Bagh in Agra. His book Modern Religious Movements in India (1915) and his revised, yet condensed, version of the same as an article in James Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1928) were perhaps the most cited scholarly sources on the historical roots of Radhasoami up until the mid-1970's--an occurrence which has created, as we will shortly see, a reservoir for misinformation and misunderstanding.

The next significant essay was James Bissett Pratt's India and Its Faiths: A Traveller's Record (1916), which, despite containing some first-hand observations, relies heavily on Farquhar's exposition. Early in the next decade, Sir Charles Eliot briefly noted the "Radhaswamis," claiming they were a combination of Kabir-panth and Christian ideas, in the second volume of his Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch (1921).

Not until the 1930's, though, did information on the Radhasoamis become extensively available. In this ten year span alone (1930-1940) more material was produced than in all the previous decades combined. With this rapid increase came the works of Nichols Macnicol, The Living Religions of the Indian People (1934), H. D. Griswold, Insights Into Modern Hinduism (1934), Paul Brunton, A Search In Secret India (1934), and L. S. S. O'Malley's Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses (1935)--all of which, with the exception of Macnicol's, contained lengthy sections on the Radhasoami faith.

Coupled with this scholarly infusion were several books published by the satsangs themselves: Maharishi Shiv Bart Lal's Light on Anand Yog (December 1931); a Beas translation of Shiv Dayal Singh's Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Prose (1933); several books by Dr. Julian P. Johnson ( With a Great Master in India ; Call of the East ; The Unquenchable Flame ; The Path of the Masters ; and an unpublished manuscript, More Light on the Path ); and a large volume (later divided into two) by Lekh Raj Puri, Mysticism: The Spiritual Path (1938).

Since the 1930's a number of works, both popular and academic, have been published. These range from Raji Maharaj's One Truth, One People (1945); S.D. Maheshwari's Radhasoami Faith: History & Tenets (1954); Anne Marshall's Hunting the Guru in India (1963); Khushwant Singh's History of the Sikhs , Volume Two (1966) and Gurus, Godmen, and Good People ; to Philip Ashby's Modern Trends in Hinduism (1974) and Agam Prasad Mathur's ground-breaking overview, Radhasoami Faith: A Historical Study (1974). All of these texts, in shorter or greater detail, describe some facet of Radhasoami.

By the 1970's scholars in North America and Europe showed tremendous interest in the Sant tradition of North India, the spiritual basis for both Sikhism and Radhasoami. In 1978 an international conference was held at the University of California, Berkeley, on the Sant tradition. This was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which was an increased interest in the Radhasoami movement. Leading this contingency was Mark Juergensmeyer, a Professor of Religious Studies at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley, who published several articles on the movement, including "Radhasoami As Trans-national Religion," in Understanding the New Religions (1978). Following in Juergensmeyer's footsteps, Lawrence Babb authored an important analysis of Radhasoami beliefs (particularly Soami Bagh's) in the first section of his book, Redemptive Encounters (1986). Daniel Gold, himself an initiate of the late Radhasoami master K.S. Man Singh, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the notion of the guru as Lord in the Sant and Radhasoami traditions for the University of Chicago. His dissertation was later published by Oxford University under the title Lord as Guru (1987). A number of other academic works were also written during this time, including Brian Walsh's The Satguru in the Sant Tradition (1980), first defended as an M.A. thesis for John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California, and later published as a monograph by Mt. San Antonio College Press (1992); this author's M.A. thesis, Radhasoami Mat (1981); and Aaron Talsky's senior thesis, The Radhasoami Tradition (1986) for the University of Michigan.

Although the works of Juergensmeyer, Walsh, Talsky, Gold, and Babb, are of exceptionally high quality, such cannot be said about most works on Radhasoami. Most of them suffer measurably from lack of accurate and untampered information concerning the early history of Radhasoami. A few examples of this are necessary: 1. Max Mueller writes that Shiv Dayal Singh died in 1897, when in fact he died in 1878. Thirty-six years later O'Malley carried the error untouched in his popular study of Hinduism. 2. Farquhar, mistaking Santism for Vaishnavism (an error which we will see continually repeated), wrote that Shiv Dayal Singh and his wife dressed up as Krishna and Radha to re-enact the divine drama for their devotees. However, as Mathur and others point out, there is no evidence that Shiv Dayal Singh and his wife related the name Radhasoami to pious Vaishnava devotion, dramatically or otherwise. In fact, Shiv Dayal Singh goes to great length to show that Krishna and other incarnations of Vishnu are kal , the negative power in the terminology of the Sants. Nevertheless, this type of misleading information has found its way through historical surveys up to as late as 1970. 3. Even the name "Shiv Dayal Singh" has been a source of confusion. J.N. Farquhar believed that Tulsi Ram was Shiv Dayal's real name-- an error he included in his 1915 study and repeated in 1928. Griswold, the authority for much of the early history of Radhasoami, prints the same mistake in 1934. And in 1971, Parrinder's A Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions retains the error in unquestioned form. Parasuram Chaturvedi, however, does not accept the name Tulsi Ram in his landmark book, Uttari Bharat Ki Sant Parampara , nor does Shiv Dayal Singh's own brother, Partap Singh, record the name anywhere in his biography, Jeevan Charita Soami Ji Maharaj .

Along with this perpetuation of unreliable information, early Western scholars, mostly Christian missionaries, have also implanted much of their own cultural conceitism. Take, for example, Pratt's following comment: Sad, is it not that in their search for an ideal who shall lift them above themselves, in their longing for an incarnation of the Divine, they [Radhasoamis] can see no further than the self-deluded clerk in the Government office at Agra.

Farquhar and Griswold have been noteworthy in this regard, exhibiting a strong Christian bias in their studies. It is only the current work of Ashby, Gold, Walsh, Talsky, Babb, and--most notably--Mark Juergensmeyer that has re-looked at the sect and called into question some of the assumed historical observations and purviews.

The last of the major obstacles in understanding gaddi nasheen lineages is one that is the most difficult to do away with: convoluted perception. Today there exist at least thirty different groups related to Shiv Dayal Singh. Most of these are small and relatively unknown. With such an expansion, there have been (and continue to be) tremendous disagreements over questions of successorship, property rights, and the doctrines themselves. The "memory" of Radhasoami history faces several formidable burdens. Many satsangis, for instance, believe that in Shiv Dayal Singh's time it was a more serene era, an age not complicated by litigation or bitter disputes. But such was not the case and, as I will show, never has such a situation existed.

In order to overcome the linear perceptions that exist both within and without many of the Radhasoami satsangs, I will employ a non-commital stance which, instead of viewing successorship in terms of "true" or "false," "right" or "wrong," claims, encompasses any guru or gaddi that is linked via parampara to Shiv Dayal Singh. This stance is based upon the reality that although there are many separate and conflicting groups in Radhasoami each in their own way share a common heritage.

Cautiously, then, our genealogical study of Radhasoami proceeds along a very fine path of assessing new material and information, careful examination of previous studies, and an introspective understanding of our own cultural limits.


1. The Sociology of Religion by Max Weber (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), page 2.

2. My discussion here owes much to the work of the late Baba Faqir Chand. See the booklet, Inner Visions and Running Trains (Walnut: Mt. SAC Philosophy Group, 1990).

3. By "untainted" I mean the condition of the sect prior to one's investigation. Although it should not be exaggerated, foreign scholarship does play a role in altering the internal and external perception of a religion. Eckankar, I feel, is a prime example of this. See J. Gordon Melton's entry on Eckankar in the Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults (New York: Garland Publishers, 1986) for more on this issue.

4. The counterargument to this position is, of course, the fact that nothing remains "as is." Perhaps to even presume such a dualistic posture in the first place is misguided. For instance, all studies of religious movements whether done from within or from without are limited to the perceptions of the would-be researcher. In any case, the problem of "other minds" and "objectivity" is always present and can never fully be circumvented. For more on this intriguing issue, see The Invented Reality (New York: Norton, 1984) by Paul Watzlawick.

5. An illustration from physics may be analogous here. Though the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm presumes that the world is "out there," distinct from our observations, quantum mechanics has shown that this an incomplete notion. Rather, as the distinguished physicist John Wheeler notes, "the observer alters the observed." Religious phenomena, likewise, do not exist as "objective" and "fixed" datum apart from ourselves, but rather in a continual interplay.

6. I am utilizing the neologism here from David Bohm, theoretical physicist at London University, whose book Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980) describes the nature of the universe as an indivisible whole. Bohm coined the word holomovement from the unusual properties of a hologram, a three-dimensional picture from a photographic film on which the interference pattern of light waves reflected from an object or scene has been recorded. Unlike a regular photograph, which if cut up into pieces destroys the picture, the "holograph" retains the complete image even if split up into smaller pieces. Therefore the hologram contains the "whole" picture in each of its distributed parts. Similarly, religious movements are in a real sense indivisible, since in each sect there are elements and influences from a variety of sources. The error that arises from our photographic (and occasionally reductionistic) minds is that we separate related components from one another, insisting on clarity, order, and neat organization, when such may not be the case. In a holographic framework (non-reductionistic/integrative) this would be literally impossible to do. See Karl Pribram's article, "The Neurophysiology of Remembering," in Scientific American (Volume 220, Number 1, 1969) for more on the unusual properties of a hologram.

7. See Mark Juergensmeyer's article, "The Forgotten Tradition: Sikhism in the Study of World Religions," in Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on a Changing Tradition, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer and N. Gerald Barrier (Berkeley: Graduate Theological Union, 1979). For a more thorough discussion of the difficulties in categorizing religions in India, see Mark Juergensmeyer's Religion as Social Vision (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), particularly his Introduction, "Religion and Social Rebellion"; and Sikh Studies , op. cit., including the articles "Sikh Studies in the Punjab" by John C. B. Webster and "A Perspective on Early Sikh History" by J.S. Grewal.

8. Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion (New York: New American Library, 1974), page xiii.

9. Ibid.

10. Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (New York: Bantam Books, 1980), pages 113-114.

11. Ibid., and Eliade, op. cit.

12. First published by Westminster Press (Philadelphia) in 1972. See chapter six, "The Sound That Liberates," pages 96-119.

13. I have spelled the word "Radhasoami" (with the "o" instead of the proper transliteration "w") in deference to the Soami Bagh Satsang in Agra who consider it an affront not to spell the words Radha and "Soami" together (thereby dropping the capital in the last word). The Beas Satsang and other branches spell it variously and do not mind how "Radhasoami" is spelled. In almost all cases, I have followed Soami Bagh's procedure for spelling, primarily because of their vocalness in the matter. For more on this small, but interesting, controversy see S.D. Maheshwari's Correspondence with Certain Americans (Agra: Soami Bagh), Volumes One through Five; and Lekh Raj Puri's Radha Swami Teachings (New Delhi: Pvt. published, n.d., 1967?).

14. See appendices for a comprehensive genealogical tree illustrating this proliferation.

15. This does not mean that the previous master must acknowledge the disciple as his successor, but only that the succeeding guru recognize his/her connection. As we will see, many initiates claim to be the "true" master; if we limited our investigation to only those gurus with "true" or "right" claims, we would defeat the purpose of our study, and would, most likely, be unable to determine just by academic scrutiny which claims, if any, amongst the emerging masters were accurate.

16. See my book, The Making of a Spiritual Movement: The Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar (Del Mar: Del Mar Press, 1983, 1989).

17. I realize the inadequacy of using such a broad term as the "Radhasoamis" to cover such a diversified clan of surat shabd yoga groups, but it serves a highly useful function in distinguishing Shiv Dayal Singh related paramparas from other similar nirguna bhakti panths (such as the Sri Paramhans Advait Mat group in Guna).

18. James Bissett Pratt, India and Its Faiths: A Traveler's Record (London: Constable & Company Limited, 1916), Chapter Eleven: "The Radhasoamis and Theosophists"; and J. N. Farquhar's Modern Religious Movements in India (New York: Macmillan Company, 1915).

19. All of my information about these early publications comes from Daniel Caldwell, who also checked the early manuscripts on microfilm. An interesting sidebar here is that in The Mahatma Letters Salig Ram's name is incorrectly spelled as "Suby Ram." Caldwell checked the manuscript on microfilm and discovered that the original version lists Salig Ram's name correctly ( Salig Ram ). Apparently whoever did the transcription messed up the spelling, thereby coming up with the confusing misprint, "Suby Ram." Interview with Daniel Caldwell, 1989.

20. In a taped discussion at the International Guest Quarters at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, Charan Singh, the late Satguru at Beas, mentioned Dr. Julian P. Johnson's unpublished manuscript, More Light on the Path , and said that his guru, Sawan Singh, did not allow its publication because it was too technical and may add more confusion to the already complex subject of inner regions. In 1990 I had a chance to go over the unpublished manuscript of Johnson's; much of it is a commentary and an elaboration of Shiv Dayal Singh's poem "Hidayatnama" in Sar Bachan .

21. L.S.S. O'Malley, Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses (London: Cambridge University Press, 1935), pages 227-230.

22. Agam Prasad Mathur, Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., pages 25-29.

23. See Soamiji Maharaj, Sar Bachan Radhasoami (Poetry), Part I, translated into English prose by S.D. Maheshwari (Agra: S.D. Maheshwari, 1970), Bachan 3: "In Praise of Param Purush Puran Dhani Radhasoami who Incarnated Himself Here as Sant Sat Guru For the Redemption of Jivas."

24. For instance, see Geoffrey Parrinder's A Dictionary of Non-Christian Religions (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), under "Radha Swamis," page 230.

25. J.N. Farquhar, op. cit.

26. H.D. Griswold, Insights Into Modern Hinduism .

27. Agam Prasad Mathur, op. cit., page 45. Mathur writes, "J.N. Farquhar wrongly calls him [Shiv Dayal Singh] Tulsiram."

28. James Bissett Pratt, op. cit., Chapter Eleven.

29. J.N. Farquhar and H.D. Griswold, op. cit.

3O. See Phillip Ashby's Modern Trends in Hinduism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), Chapter Four: "Popular Esoteric Religion: Radha Soami Satsang," pages 71-90; Daniel Gold's Lord as Guru (1987); and Juergensmeyer's Radhasoami Reality (1991).

31. For example, not all of Tulsi Sahib's disciples recognized Shiv Dayal Singh as the Satguru. A lineage of mahants started after Tulsi's death, as well as a panth known as the Tulsi Sahibis , beginning with Surswami, whose remains are alongside his guru's in Hathras. The late mahant of Tulsi Sahib's samadh was Sant Prakash Das, whom I met with Mark Juergensmeyer in India in the summer of 1978.

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