Sant Mat movement

(est. 1861)
   The Sant Mat movement, also known as the RADHASOAMI MOVEMENT, emerged in the middle of the 19th century in the Punjab, as one of several movements that sought to revitalize the Sikh community after its government was defeated and replaced by the British. The new movement was introduced by Shiv Dayal Singh (1818–78), generally known as Soami Ji, and was distinctive because its leader was a living master, a person serving as an initiating GURU (a structure previ-ously foreign to SIKHISM).
   The new guru aimed to teach his followers surat shabd (sound current) yoga, as a technique to overcome kal, the negative forces that rule this world, and contact the divine. God had created the world by his word; therefore, through the repetition of MANTRAS (japa yoga), humans could establish contact with God. Soami Ji’s teachings resonated with devotion to the name of God (bhakti nam), which had always been important in the Sikh tradition.
   Shiv Dayal Singh introduced surat shabd yoga in 1861 at Agra, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. He initiated some 4,000 people and then passed leadership to Rai Salig Ram (1829–98). At the same time, he also sent Jaimal Singh (1838–1903) to spread the movement in the Punjab.
   The relocation of Jaimal Singh to Beas in the Punjab divided the movement; the Beas center became the larger of the two. Jaimal Singh’s successor, Sawan Singh (1858–1948), built the Beas branch into the largest of what by then had become several segments of the original move-ment. He initiated over 125,000 people. However, his career was eclipsed by that of one of the 20th-century Beas leaders, Charan Singh (1916–90), who was said to have initiated over a million disciples.
   Throughout the 20th century, the Sant Mat movement emerged into both an important minority movement in India and a global move-ment with centers throughout the West. At the same time, it splintered into a variety of separate groups, each of which professed to have the true lineage from Soami Ji. More often than not, when a lineage holder died, several claimants to suc-cessorship emerged and vied for the allegiance of his following. In some cases, those who did not receive the official sanction as the successor have been able to win large followings. Such was the case for Kirpal Singh (1896–1974), founder of the Ruhani Satsang.
   The Indian-based Sant Mat groups all teach largely the same doctrine. In the West, some of the more prominent Sant Mat teachers have been Darshan Singh (1921–89), Rajinder Singh, and Thakur Singh (b. 1929). The American scholar David Christopher Lane has catalogued the dozens of Sant Mat gurus and the move-ments they led.
   Some of the most interesting developments in the Sant Mat tradition have been created by non-Indian leaders who have assumed the role of living master and have built independent movements. For example, Master Ching Hai Wu Shang Shih, one of the very few women leaders in Sant Mat, learned the teachings from Thakur Singh. She has moved on to build a Chinese Sant Mat organization and changed the name of surat shabd yoga to the Quan Yin Method of Sound and Light Meditation, in order to present the teaching to a Buddhist Chinese-speaking audi-ence; as her work has grown, it has expanded to include people from a variety of backgrounds and languages.
   In the United States, a Westernized Sant Mat group called ECKANKAR (ECK) was started by Paul Twitchell (1909–70), a former student of Kirpal Singh. Twitchell ignored Kirpal Singh’s lineage and proclaimed himself the 971st ECK Master, the recipient of a previously unknown tradition said to reach back into prehistory. Eckankar, Twitch-ell’s organization, has spawned several groups. A somewhat similar group is the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness, formed by John-Roger Hinkins. “JR,” as he is affectionately known, mixed elements of Christianity and Western eso-tericism with the Sant Mat teachings, resulting in a new eclectic perspective.
   Indian religions have been carried into Africa in a similar manner by immigrants throughout the 20th century. A new branch of Sant Mat emerged in Uganda in 1957. It was founded by Dr. Jozzewaffe Kaggwa Kaguwa Kaggalanda Mugonza, more popularly known as simply Bambi Baaba. While he traveled to India and met with various Sant Mat teachers, he claims an entirely indepen-dent revelation of the teachings in a direct man-ner. In the 1970s, under the government of Idi Amin, he was charged with introducing a foreign religion in the country and forcing his members into a VEGETARIAN and alcohol-free diet.
   Another interesting Sant Mat teacher in the West is Guru Maharaj Ji (PREM RAWAT) (b. 1957), who entered the United States in the early 1970s while still a teenager. His organization, originally called Divine Light Mission, now is identified as Elan Vital. He sees his teachings as independent of cultures, religion, beliefs, and lifestyles. Though adopting a secular overlay, he continues to pres-ent the Sant Mat teachings and to offer people initiation into the secret knowledge revealed only to initiates.
   Further reading: Marvin Henry Harper, Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and Their American Dis-ciples (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972); Mark Juergensmeyer, Radhasoami Reality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991); David Christopher Lane, The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship (New York and London: Garland, 1992); Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod, eds., The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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