Shiv Dayal Singh, the Founder of Radhasoami
Lala Dilwali Singh and his family, which included his mother, mother-in-law, sister, and his wife Mahamaya, were ardent disciples of Tulsi Sahib. [*NOTE: Tulsi Sahib--Saint of Hathras , op. cit., page 5. *] Frequently they went to Hathras to attend the satsangs of the esteemed Sant. It is recorded by Partap Singh, the youngest son of Dilwali, that Tulsi Sahib would also occasionally visit their home at Panni Gali, Agra. On one such visit, [*NOTE: Ibid. According to Puri's narrative Tulsi's visit was in October of 1817. *] Tulsi Sahib announced that a saint would be born to Mahamaya. Puri recounts the incident: Seeing her devotion [Seth Dilwali's mother], Tulsi Sahib said, "I am very pleased with you. Ask for anything and I shall be happy to give it." . . . At this, Seth Dilwali Singh's mother replied, "I have everything through your grace and need nothing. But," pointing to her daughter-in-law, she submitted, "Mahamaya wants something." Mahamaya, the wife of Seth Dilwali Singh, had no son. Tulsi Sahib, in the same vein of compassion and kindness said, "Yes, she will have son. But do not look upon the child as a mere human being." [*NOTE: Ibid., pages 5-6. *]
Shiv Dayal Singh, born in August of 1818, was an unusual child. At the young of six he began to expound on the nature of true religion, as well as engage himself in deep meditation. As Shiv Dayal observed shortly before his death, "You know that ever since I was only six years old, I have been devoting Myself [sic] to Parmarth and then alone, this Abhyas (practice) has become perfect." [*NOTE: Biography of Soamiji Maharaj , op. cit., page 134. *]
There is controversy over whether or not Shiv Dayal Singh was initiated by Tulsi Sahib at a young age. As with the question over Tulsi Sahib's master, or his need for one, the arguments--pro and con--are largely based on theological (and not necessarily historical) grounds.
The Agra schools--Soami Bagh, Dayal Bagh, and Peepal Mandi--argue that Shiv Dayal Singh was not initiated by any guru. The reasoning behind this is essentially simple: Shiv Dayal Singh, otherwise known as Soamiji Maharaj, [*NOTE: The other spelling variations are Soami Ji Maharaj and Swami Ji Maharaj. Again in deference to Soami Bagh I have chosen their way of spelling Shiv Dayal Singh's honorific title. *] was the incarnation of Radhasoami--the Supreme Lord--and, as such, did not need to take any human being as his spiritual guide. In the preface to Sar Bachan Radhasoami Chand-Band , Rai Salig Ram [*NOTE: My spelling of Salig Ram as two separate words and not as one word-- Saligram--stems from two key historical sources. First, the official subscription list of the Theosophist magazine (dated December 1880) where Salig Ram's name appears as two separate words. [Sidebar: the magazine's spelling and listing of names invariably follows what the subscribers themselves submit; thus, it is apparent that Salig Ram himself spelled his name separately--at least in written English.] Second, S. D. Maheshwari, the late historian at Soami Bagh, also spells Salig Ram as two separate words. Interestingly, Agam Prasad Mathur, Rai Salig Ram's great grandson and eventual successor at Peepal Mandi, does not follow Maheshwari's lead. See Radhasoami Faith , op. cit. *] comments on this very point: "Soamiji Maharaj had no guru, nor did He receive instructions in parmarth from anyone. On the other hand, He explained parmarth to His parents and a number of of sadhus who came to Him." [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, translation by S. D. Maheshwari (Soami Bagh, Agra: Soami Bagh, 1970), page 18. *]
Salig Ram's categorical statement that Shiv Dayal Singh did not have a guru is highly unusual for both theological and historical reasons. First, the cardinal tenet of both Sant mat and Radhasoami philosophy is the absolute necessity of having a living guru. Every bona fide saint in Sant mat history, without exception, has stressed the primacy of guru bhakti. Even Kabir, the most popular and revered of the Sants, is reported to have adopted a guru. Second, Shiv Dayal Singh's immediate family (including his mother) were personal followers of Tulsi Sahib. The former mahant of Tulsi Sahib's samadh, Sant Prakash Das, claims that Shiv Dayal Singh was indeed initiated by Tulsi Sahib but later broke off and started his own path. There are even historical accounts which suggest that Shiv Dayal Singh treated Girdhari Das, a prominent successor of Tulsi Sahib, as a guru.
By claiming that Shiv Dayal Singh was a swatah (born) Sant, Rai Salig Ram elevates his guru to an almost unparalleled degree in the history of Sant mat and thus insures him a status not equaled by any previous master--not even Kabir. The implications of this one statement on future developments in Radhasoami are not to be underestimated, for Salig Ram's claim in itself contributes to an incarnationalist (and by implication unique ) interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's life and work. This becomes even more evident in passage number 7, wherein Salig Ram writes: No one had , in the past, introduced such an easy mode of spiritual practices. For this reason, the internal practices of all extant religions of the world have lost their importance, and their followers are now simply engaged in outward worships, rituals and observances. They are wholly ignorant of the true Supreme Being, the Abhyas by which He could be attained and the secrets of the path and intermediary stages. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, op. cit., page 20. *]
The preceding passage is crucial in understanding Salig Ram's perspective on Radhasoami. Not only does he unilaterally assert that no one before Shiv Dayal Singh had given out such an easy mode of spiritual practice--namely surat shabd yoga--but that the internal (read spiritual ) practices of all existing religions of the world--including, presumably, other Sant mat paths--have lost their importance. The point is fairly obvious: Shiv Dayal Singh is one of a kind and unless a spiritual seeker follows his method of abhyas he/she is lost. Salig Ram is preaching an unqualified, exclusive, incarnationalist interpretation of Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings. As Salig Ram further explains in passages 12 and 17: 12. The importance of Shabd has been stressed in every religion. But a detailed description of Shabd is nowhere found. For this reason people are ignorant of Shabd. Now Radhasoami Saheb (Soamiji Maharaj) has given out in clear terms the details and secrets of Shabds (sounds) of different heavenly spheres in this scripture. . . 17. RADHASOAMI Nam was revealed by the Supreme Being Himself. When the humble devotees of Soamiji Maharaj, as a result of their successful Abhyas (devotional practices) and Satsang, came to realize His exalted position and immense spiritual powers, and when He too, in His grace and mercy, gave them His recognition, they started addressing Him by the appellation of RADHASOAMI, the Name of the Original Abode from where He came down to this earth, for showering His grace on Jivas in this Kali Yuga. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Radhasoami , Poetry, ibid., pages 23, 26-27. *]
According to Salig Ram's view, Shiv Dayal Singh revealed the original name of the Supreme Being, Radhasoami, for the first time in the annals of religious history. Further, his select disciples were allowed to realize the secrets of this Nam and given direct access to the highest transcendental region of consciousness.
Turning to Sar Bachan Radhasoami Bartik , we find a letter written by Rai Salig Ram on behalf of his guru to Sudarshan Singh, the nephew of Shiv Dayal Singh. This letter, which has been the basis for much controversy and confusion between the Soami Bagh and Beas satsangs, reveals another crucial element in Salig Ram's interpretation of Radhasoami. 250. If a person has met with the perfect Sat Guru, performs His service, attends His Satsang and has love and faith in Him, but before he fully achieves his object, i.e., gets any inner realization, the Sat Guru departs, then he should, if he is keen to attain the goal, cultivate the same love and faith in the succeeding Sat Guru, that is, the one appointed by the departed Sat Guru and should perform His service, attend His Satsang and consider the departed Guru to be present in Him. He should know that Shabd forms of the Sant Sat Guru and the Sant are one, though outwardly in bodily forms they appear to be two. When the Sat Guru of the time departs, He appoints some one as His successor in whom He re-incarnates and thus continues the work of regeneration of Jivas as before. When, however, such is not the Mauj, He returns to His original abode. Therefore an earnest devotee should make no distinction between the previous Sat Guru and His successor. But those who are bigoted devotees will not come under the allegiance of the succeeding Sat Guru. For this reason their progress will also stop at the stage they had reached during the time of the former Sat Guru and there will be no further progress and improvement. [*NOTE: Sar Bachan Prose, Soami Bagh version, op. cit., pages 215-217. *]
The impetus here is to recognize the Sat Guru's successor and imbibe the same love and devotion for him. If this is not done, and no love is engendered for the succeeding master, the disciple's inner progress for all intents and purposes is stopped. Thus, the process of guru succession not only becomes historically important to satsangis, but spiritually vital as well. To serve a false master or the wrong successor is equivalent to falling off the path. S. D. Maheshwari, writing some seventy years later, elaborates more on this view: The true test of the identity of the Radhasoami Religion is and must be whether or not the followers follow and worship the true Sant Sat Guru, and not a pseudo-guru. The pseudo-gurus are pretenders and fallen Satsangis and as such they and their followers are treated as heretics and out-castes. As there can be one and only one Sant Sat Guru at a time, the recognition of some one else as Sant Sat Guru implies adoption of a pseudo-guru. The service and devotion to such a person are not only not conducive to spiritual advancement but are calculated to retard the attainment of salvation, because during the period a person worships a pseudo-guru, he worships Kal who is always on the look out for such persons and due to whose influence and under whose impulse the pseudo-guru acts as such. [*NOTE: The Radhasoami Faith: History & Tenets , op. cit., pages 371-372. *]
Salig Ram's theological perspective, as we have seen textually, was quite well developed by 1886. Let us recapitulate in brief the salient features of his theology, particularly as it relates to the life of Shiv Dayal Singh: 1. Shiv Dayal Singh had no guru. 2. Shiv Dayal Singh was the first incarnation of the Supreme Being, Radhasoami. 3. With the advent of Shiv Dayal Singh and his simple method of surat shabd yoga, all other internal spiritual practices (of whatever creed anywhere in the world) lost their importance and efficacy. 4. Shiv Dayal Singh revealed the name of the Supreme Being to a select following of satsangis--that name was Radhasoami. 5. Unless full spiritual realization has been attained, disciples of a Sat Guru must seek the guidance of his (one) gurumukh successor.
Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings, clear and succinct as they were, lend themselves to several different interpretations, one of which is an absolutist (or what Barthwal terms "ultraist") viewpoint about the nature of spiritual realization. As such, Shiv Dayal Singh's philosophy must be seen as the primary, independent variable influencing Salig Ram's outlook. This is not to suggest that Shiv Dayal Singh's teachings were not themselves socially influenced (they undoubtedly were to some degree), but only that his theology was well enough developed by the time he met Salig Ram to be fundamentally instrumental in Salig Ram's later views. Even though Shiv Dayal Singh connects himself with previous nirguna bhakti mystics, nowhere does he state that he was a follower of a previous Sant mat master, including Tulsi Sahib. The fact that Shiv Dayal Singh does not mention his guru by name in any of his writings naturally leads the reader to assume that his life history is not that important. For instance, if Shiv Dayal Singh was duly initiated by Tulsi Sahib--and there are suggestive accounts by other non-Agra parties that he was--then why does he not refer to his discipleship under him? This absence in Shiv Dayal Singh's writings suggests at least that Salig Ram may not be creating the story that his master had no guru. Rather, it may well be that Shiv Dayal Singh (for whatever reasons) distanced himself from any parampara connection.
Speculatively speaking, there are several reasons why Shiv Dayal Singh may have distanced himself (at least genealogically) from Tulsi Sahib if he was indeed initiated by him. First, Shiv Dayal Singh may not have been accepted as the majority successor to Tulsi Sahib (Surswami, a blind master, assumed the gaddi at Hathras after Tulsi Sahib's death) and therefore had to start his own ministry in Agra. Second, given Shiv Dayal Singh's relatively young age (twenty-five) when Tulsi Sahib died in 1843, and the fact that he did not come out publically with his teachings until 1861 (some seventeen years later--a long gap for any would-be guru successor), indicates that Shiv Dayal Singh's following was composed of mostly new followers--most of whom would not have had any connection whatsoever with Tulsi Sahib. Hence, Shiv Dayal Singh apparently founded his ministry on his own and did not attempt to connect it in any formal way with his (alleged) guru.
A more controversial speculation along these same lines, if we accept the preceding inferences (and one argued by some Tulsi Sahibis--a small religious sect which follows the precepts of Tulsi Sahib of Hathras), suggests that Shiv Dayal Singh was break-off successor from Girdhari Das (one of the chief disciples of Tulsi Sahib), who Shiv Dayal Singh at one time revered as a guru. Even Madhav Prasad Sinha, the last guru at Soami Bagh and a staunch advocate of the belief that Shiv Dayal Singh was a swatah Sant, concedes that the founder of Radhasoami did revere Girdhari Das more or less as a guru. Madhav Prasad Sinha elucidates: "Soamiji Maharaj had no guru. In conformity with the established convention, He used to treat Baba Girdhari Das Ji who was one of the chief disciples of Sahebji or Tulsi Saheb of Hathras, and who used to reside in Agra, as a guru, more or less in the same way as Kabir Saheb had treated Ramananand Ji." [*NOTE: Biography of Babuji Maharaj (Soami Bagh: S.D. Maheshwari, 1971), page 376. *]
Historically, it would be interesting to find out when Girdhari Das passed away. If his death coincides with the commencement of Shiv Dayal Singh's satsang and initiation, it would lend support to the Tulsi Sahibis' claim that Shiv Dayal Singh was a break-away successor. [*NOTE: The Girdhari Das--Shiv Dayal Singh connection, though rarely if ever mentioned by Sant mat historians, has not escaped the watchful eye of Radhasoami's two youngest scholars Daniel Gold and Aaron Talsky. As Talsky speculates "A provocative possibility is that Shiv Dayal did not begin his public ministry during this interval [1843-1861] either because he was sensitive to the status of Girdhari Das as a reputed successor to Tulsi Sahib or indeed followed the latter in some way. We can discover that the two had a close relationship: see Chachaji's brief description of this relationship [ Biography of Soamiji Maharaj ], pages 37-39. More enlightening, perhaps, is the fact that Chachaji's narration of the inauguration of public satsang in 1861 immediately follows his description of the death of Girdhari. Finally, the Tulsi (or "Sahib") panth which developed after the death of the Hathras sant asserts not only that Soamiji venerated Girdhari, but sometimes that he actually received his updesh [initiation] from this source. See Harasvarupa Mathura, Bharatiya Sadhana Aura Santa Tulsi , op. cit., pages 416-417." Aaron Talsky, The Radhasoami Tradition, op. cit., pages 138-139. Daniel Gold in Lord as Guru , op. cit. (page 229), also mentions the Girdhari Das-Shiv Dayal Singh connection. *]
Genealogical Dissociation and the Development of New Panths
Although historians are not absolutely sure if Shiv Dayal Singh was duly initiated by Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, [*NOTE: Shortly after the founder of Radhasoami died (1878), his younger brother Seth Partap Singh decided to discard much of Shiv Dayal Singh's writings, letters, and notes in the well at Soami Bagh. Despite the fact that Partap Singh felt remorse for his actions later on, he did insure that future historians of Radhasoami would be left with a major lack of original source material. As Aaron Talsky notes in his senior thesis, The Radhasoami Tradition (University of Michigan, 1986), "Indeed, it was the actions of Pratap [Partap] Singh which virtually ensured that these exegetical disputes would never be conclusively resolved through historical material." For more on Partap Singh's actions see Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith by S.D. Maheshwari (Agra: Soami Bagh, 1979), pages 25-26. *] there is something a bit curious about Partap Singh's silence on his brother's relationship with Tulsi Sahib or other Sant related gurus. Historically speaking, something looks amiss.
I have encountered a similar kind of reticence among the successors of Paul Twitchell, founder of a New Age styled religious movement called Eckankar. Despite the fact that Paul Twitchell was initiated by Kirpal Singh
in 1955 in the United States, the founder of Eckankar later denied that he was ever associated with the Indian guru--even to the point of devising an elaborate cover-up. Indeed, Twitchell went so far as to actually delete printed references to Kirpal Singh in his numerous writings and replace them with fictional gurus, such as Rebazar Tarzs, Sudar Singh, and Fubbi Quantz. What prompted this shift of allegiance? The answer is perhaps simpler than we might expect: the growing popularity of Eckankar. When Twitchell came to grasp the significance of his new religious movement--the fact that it could draw in thousands of followers--he decided to subvert anything which would hinder Eckankar's progression and potential popularity among the masses. He wanted his group to be self-determining, marking its own future course as a viable spiritual tradition. And the most serious threat to this much desired autonomy, at least to Twitchell's purview, was his past. For instance, if spiritual seekers discover that most of Eckankar's teachings were borrowed from Radhasoami and Ruhani Satsang, they may, in turn, join those movements instead of Twitchell's, especially when they consider that Eckankar charges a yearly membership fee and the Indian groups do not . Hence, Twitchell invented a new mythology, one which intertwined fact, fiction, legend and imagination into a confused complex that exhibited only one truly consistent theme: the living Eck Master as hero. [*NOTE: See the fourth edition of my book, The Making of a Spiritual Movement (Del Mar: Del Mar Press, 1988), pages 93 to 104, for more on Paul Twitchell's and Eckankar's nefarious past. *]
I have described Twitchell's actions as genealogical dissociation , a useful term in that it clearly illustrates what happened in the evolution of Eckankar in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Twitchell attempted to sever his past by not only denying his genuine religious heritage but also by implanting a new spiritual genealogy--one which allegedly traces back millions of years to the Master Gakko who brought the true teachings of Eckankar from the planet Venus. [*NOTE: See my article, "Gakko Came From Venus," in Understanding Cults and Spiritual Movements (volume two, number one). *]
Turning to Shiv Dayal Singh and his relationship with Tulsi Sahib, we can see a concerted effort on the part of several Radhasoami followers in Agra to squelch any talk of who may have been Soami Ji's guru--in a phrase, genealogical dissociation. Given Shiv Dayal Singh's repeated emphasis on following a living human master, it is particularly odd that no mention is made of who may have instructed him in meditation and other spiritual matters. And when references are made from those outside of the predominant Agra branches, they are dismissed under the pretext that Shiv Dayal Singh only "acted" deferential to the guru in question because he was following Hindu customs. This much has already been stated by Madhav Prasad Sinha, one of Shiv Dayal Singh's nephews. Yet, why do at least two branches of the Tulsi Sahibis claim that Shiv Dayal Singh was once initiated by their guru or by one of his successors? Moreover, what was it that prompted Partap Singh to dump precious documents relating to his brother's life and work into a well? The answers, as we have noted, lay buried in the recesses of oral history since we lack the primary written documents to resolve the matter. But, despite such a lack of documentary materials, one thing is certain: connecting Shiv Dayal Singh formally to a Sant somehow maligns the origins and sacred history of Radhasoami, at least to orthodox Agra members.
What is most telling about this reaction--a reaction, I should point out, that may have been evident in other disciples besides Rai Salig Ram during the latter part of Soami Ji's ministry--is that it coincides in many ways to the early controversies in Christianity surrounding Jesus Christ's relationship with John the Baptist. Orthodox Christianity admits that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but holds that Jesus was much greater than his predecessor--indeed, was the Son of God. What is not admitted, though, at least by orthodox Christian Churches, is that Jesus was perceived by a number of John the Baptist's disciples as a break-off successor, not worthy to carry on the tradition of the great Baptist. Jesus, in this interpretation, was not even the foremost disciple of John the Baptist, much less the long awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Even among those followers of the Baptist who did finally follow Christ, a number of them only accepted Jesus in a limited fashion, i.e., as John's appointed heir to continue the Baptizing ministry.
What is most telling about the orthodox version of Jesus' relationship with the Baptist is the clearly stated position that Christ, not the Baptist, was the Son of God. In other words, Jesus was unique in every way: physically, historically, and spiritually. In fact, the very basis of Christian orthodoxy rests on the assertion of Jesus' ultimate uniqueness.
Soami Ji's parallel to Jesus is not that far-fetched, at least not in terms of the theological implications. For whatever reasons, Salig Ram and others held to the unremitting belief that Shiv Dayal Singh was the greatest spiritual master in the history of mankind--in truth, the supreme incarnation of the very highest Lord, Radhasoami Anami Purush . And one of the features that made him unique was that he had no guru; he was self-made, so to say, without any exterior guidance.
It may have been precisely for this reason (Shiv Dayal Singh's unique mission) that Salig Ram and others denied that their master had a guru. How could he, since He was Himself the Supreme Incarnation. To be sure, he may have had teachers (he may have, in fact, been initiated by Tulsi Sahib), but none of these can be considered gurus in the true sense, since Shiv Dayal Singh revealed secrets hitherto unknown to the rest of humankind. Yes, Shiv Dayal Singh had no guru, just like Jesus Christ had no ordinary birth.
What we have here is the beginning of hagiography, and it began during Shiv Dayal Singh's lifetime. Now in Jesus' case we know that a number of the gospels were not historically accurate--indeed, a number of biographical episodes appear to be fictional--since their intention was to convey faith in the risen Lord, not biographical truth. For instance, the story concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ appears to be an interpolation by interested followers some years after Jesus' death to make sense of his humble origins (i.e., how it is that the Son of God was conceived outside of wedlock?) and the lack of response among his fellow neighbors. Thus the virgin birth story is designed to convey the heroic aspects surrounding Jesus Christ; a common practice, it should be noted, among religious writers attempting to divinize their particular teacher.
Yet what remains the most powerful force behind such hagiography, both in Christian and Gnostic sects, is the drive to become distinct and autonomous, to establish a new revelation. Although the early Christian Church wanted to retain much of its Jewish heritage, it also wanted to distinguish itself as a unique revelation in history. By making miraculous claims concerning Jesus' birth, early years, teaching ministry, and death, the gospel writers accomplished exactly that.
Early Radhasoami writers (especially those aligned with Salig Ram's theological outlook), though writing some eighteen centuries later than their Christian counterparts, also tried to establish the superiority of their guru by making claims about his historical uniqueness. And, in so doing, these writers were clearly distinguishing Shiv Dayal Singh's ministry from the early Sant tradition. Although Salig Ram acknowledges the Sant tradition as the camino royale of spiritual practice prior to Soami Ji, he also wants to make it clear that his guru should not be equated with other Sants. Shiv Dayal Singh is far greater.
Since Shiv Dayal Singh did not inherit the ashram of his (alleged) guru, nor controlling rights over his samadh, Tulsi Sahibis generally contend that the founder of Radhasoami was an off-shoot not by design but by circumstance. If, for instance, Shiv Dayal Singh had established his ministerial base in Hathras right after his guru's death, then there would have been a clear link between him and Tulsi Sahib. Indeed, in such a context, it may have been difficult, if nay impossible, for an incarnationalist interpretation--like Salig Ram's--to have developed since linkage, not newness, would have been a guiding imperative. Property, for better or worse, has a tendency to constrain versus unstrain theological revelations. As such, mobility or a new satsang home allows for easier disconnections, like the one apparently evident in Shiv Dayal Singh's founding of Radhasoami.
The Brother Connection: A Family of Gurus
Another interesting twist to the hagiographical origins of Radhasoami is that all three sons of Dilwali Singh and Mahamaya (Shiv Dayal, Rai Bindraban, and Partap Singh) acted as gurus. Moreover, each served as sources for new religious movements: Rai Bindraban founded the "Bindrabani Sect" in Oudh; Shiv Dayal Singh founded Radhasoami in Agra; and Seth Partap Singh's disciple, Shyam Lal, established the Dhara Sindhu Pratap branch in his guru's honor. Although all three share a common heritage in the Sant tradition, it appears that Shiv Dayal and Rai Bindraban may have had slightly different interpretations of it. What little information in English we have about Bindraban comes from S. D. Maheshwari's books, particularly Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith . The following provides us with a gist of Bindraban's life and work: It was in Faizabad that he promulgated his new faith called "Bindrabani Panth" (religion styled after his own name) and started initiating people into "Sat Guru Ram" and propagating it amongst Sadhus (ascetics, mendicants) and house-holders. People, in their thousands, became his disciples. He used to be regarded as the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the reason perhaps being that he was well-versed in English and dressed like a European and with a hat on he used to preach his religion. He used to be addressed as "Sarkar Saheb" by his disciples. . . . Rai Bindraban Saheb passed away in 1876. . . His disciples had his Samadh built in Ayodhya, which is still there. . . . [*NOTE: Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith by S. D. Maheshwari (Agra, Soami Bagh: S. D. Maheshwari, privately published, 1979), pages 4-7. *]
There are a number of intriguing parallels between Rai Bindraban and his brother, Shiv Dayal Singh, concerning the origins of their respective movements. First, Bindraban and Shiv Dayal started their public ministries within the same decade (the 1860's)--the former in Faizabad and the latter in Agra. Second, each were responsible for a religious teaching bearing either their real name or honorific title: Bindrabani sect and the Radhasoami faith (Shiv Dayal was referred to both as Soami and as Radhasoami, the ultimate Lord). Third, both emphasized the practice of surat shabd yoga. And fourth, both left wives who were regarded as enlightened beings (Bibo and Narayan Dei).
Why Bindraban would have desired to start his own religion is not clear. That it was based primarily on Sant mat is certain, though, as Bindraban's book, Bihar Bindraban , emphasizes devotion to Sat Guru and Shabd: I salute and pay obeisance to my Beloved Nanak Saheb. He pervades everywhere, all land, water and grass. Bindraban says that Sat Guru Nanak Saheb has Himself incarnated in him. Because of his being merged in Shabd, he has been able to accomplish his task easily. . . . He who performs Sat Guru Ram's Dhyan is sure to achieve four precious things. He, who has met Sat Guru Ram and cherishes no worldly desire, has attained salvation, and will find abode in the True Home. This world is transitory and one has to leave it in a few days. . . . [*NOTE: As translated and cited by S. D. Maheshwari in Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., pages 7 and 11. *]
Rai Bindraban died in 1876. A samadh (burial tomb) in Ayodhya was built by his chief disciples and successors, Guru Saran Das and Sat Guru Saran Das. According to Maheshwari's account, Bindraban also allocated money before his death to be used for advancing the cause of his religion, the Bindrabani Panth. Bindrabani's wife Bibo, affectionately termed Chhoti Mataji, survived her husband's death and was given a high place of honor in the Radhasoami faith. Elaborates Maheshwari: She [Bibo] was held in high esteem in [Radhasoami] Satsang. Along with Radhaji Maharaj, her Arti, also, used to be performed. In the course of His utterances made on the last day of His life just prior to His departure from this world, Soamiji Maharaj was pleased to observe, "You should treat Radhaji and Chhoti Mataji alike." A small shrine has been built in her memory in Radha Bagh near Radhaji's Samadh. [*NOTE: Bhaktmal of the Radhasoami Faith, op. cit., page 11. *]
Thus in the early days of Radhasoami (1861 to 1871), both Rai Bindraban and Shiv Dayal Singh were openly advocating surat shabd yoga and guru bhakti, albeit in different towns and with different focuses. Apparently, Bindraban received more publicity than his older brother and was more outgoing in spreading his message. In the Awadh Akhbar Lucknow newspaper of March 1870, Bindraban and his new religion received a glowing writeup after he made a spectacular entrance at the famous Kumbla Mela riding "on an elephant with a decorated umbrella over his head and with someone fanning him with a whisk. [And] In front of him were ten to twelve elephants carrying beautiful flags." [*NOTE: Bhaktamal , op. cit., page 8 *] Wherever one went, one heard people saying, "Bindraban Ji is a holy man, perfect in knowledge, absorbed in meditation and the very personification of internal illumination. All should respect such a great and gifted soul. . . . By Bindraban Ji's grace and mercy, many Sadhus are engaged in the contemplation of Shabd (practice of Shabd Yoga). All the time one can find in his presence men of position, kings, respected members of the public and government officers who are interested in Parmarth (spiritual welfare). [*NOTE: Ibid., page 9. *]
The number of gurus arising from Dilwali Singh's family is considerable. Each of his sons and their surviving wives acted as spiritual leaders. And, after their deaths, some satsangis followed Partap Singh's son Sudarshan Singh while a large number paid homage to one of Shiv Dayal Singh's nephews, Madhav Prasad Sinha. [*NOTE: The only exception was Partap Singh's wife Gopal Dei who died at a very young age. *]
With such a plurality of gurus arising from one household, the family connection in the early history of Radhasoami cannot be overlooked. Although one may be generalizing too much to ascribe the finding of new religions in the mid and late 19th century to the "the spirit of the age" (like the proliferation of spirit channelers in Los Angeles in the 1980's) it cannot be overlooked that when three new religious revelations originate out of the same family something more than coincidence seems to be operating. Arguably, Shiv Dayal Singh and his brothers were part of a larger movement spreading throughout India at that time: religious renaissance. As Agam Prasad Mathur argues: "It cannot be denied that during the six hundred years of Islamic suppression, Hinduism as the religion of a vanquished people suffered significant setbacks. It was during British rule that Hinduism could stand on a plane of equality with Islam. With the state policy of non-interference in socio-religious matters, an air of freedom was experienced by religious leaders. . ." [*NOTE: Radhasoami Faith , op. cit., page 12. *] It may have been precisely this new era of openness which allowed for spiritual visionaries, like Bindraban and Shiv Dayal Singh, to establish new movements which revitalized ancient truths by placing them in a more modern and accessible context.
In any case, the family connection played a decisive role in the early history of Radhasoami. And for those would-be successors of Shiv Dayal Singh who lacked blood connection, the authorization and legitimacy of their ministries depended in large part on the support of the "Holy Family." This was especially true, as we will see shortly, in the case of Jaimal Singh, who kept in close contact with his guru's family.
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