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Contemporary Sant Mat movements

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Contemporary Sant Mat Movements are esoteric philosophy movements active in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and especially India. These movements assert that Sant Mat shares a lineage with Sikhism and contains elements of thought found in Hinduism, such as karma and reincarnation. They further assert that Sant Mat also contains elements found in Sufism and has inspired and influenced a number of religious groups and organizations. They refer to this spiritual path as the "Science of the Soul" or ‘Sant Mat’, meaning ‘teachings of the saints’. More recently it has been described as "The Way of Life" or "Living the Life of Soul." It incorporates a practical yoga system known as Surat Shabd Yoga.

Contemporary Sant Mat movements claim to incorporate a personal and private path of spiritual development in the common tradition of mystics past and present. They discuss the irrelevance of rituals, priestly class, mandatory contributions, or compulsory gatherings.


The basic teaching of contemporary Sant Mat, as described by its Masters, is that everything lies inside us and that God is within. The outside world is only an image or a reflection of the inner reality [1]. So self-knowledge or knowledge of the higher self and God-knowledge (taken as a practical project rather than a theoretical inquiry) are the topics of Sant Mat. [2]

Kirpal Singh describes Sant Mat as a synonym for Surat Shabd Yoga, the yoga of the Sound Current, or more simply Shabd yoga, a meditation technique he asserts was taught and practiced originally in northern India. [3]. Singh writes that practitioners of Shabd yoga position the path as not requiring the physical torture of penance and austerities that marked many of the yogas and spiritual paths throughout the ages. Thus it is sometimes called "Sehaj" (easy) yoga. [4]

Widely accepted translations of the Indian term "Sant Mat" are "Teachings of the Saints" and "Path of the Masters." These are both incidentally the titles of prominent works on the subject. [5] [6]. Another commonly accepted definition of the term is found in Man Know Thyself by Sant Kirpal Singh:

Man is constantly changing or introducing new names and terminologies to describe this Science. The Masters were called Sants, and the nature of knowledge Mat, thus giving us the term 'Sant-Mat', which is at present mostly used to name the Path of the Masters. Other terms, such as Shabd Yoga, Surat Shabd Yoga, Sehaj Yoga, are also used to describe the same Science. In the Sanskrit language, the word 'Sant' means Master of the highest Order, and 'Mat' is a confirmed opinion or statement made by an adept after personal experience. The foundation of this Science, therefore, is the result of a critical study, minute investigation, and the lifelong personal verification of facts based on practical experience of the Self in man. This experience of the Self is something that a competent Master is prepared to give to each individual who approaches him. Sant Mat, therefore, is the teaching, system and path of the Saints. [4]

However, terminology, names, and groups are not considered to be of any importance in Sant Mat:

The Masters do not attach any importance to names, designations, or the fact that many religious sects, groups and circles, have claimed this Science as their own and named it after their leaders or founders. They look upon these groups as schools where man — the noblest being in Creation — can study with other men as children of one and the same Almighty Father.[4]


Sant Mat (there is no adequate translation of the expression Sant Mat, literally the 'point of view' of the Sants) was a loosely associated group of teachers that assumed prominence in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century. Their teachings are distinguished theologically by inward loving devotion to a divine principle, and socially by an egalitarianism opposed to the qualitative distinctions of the Hindu caste hierarchy and to the religious differences between Hindu and Muslim [7]

Geographical Reach

Radha Soami Satsang Beas, the mission begun by Baba Jaimal Singh at the turn of the 19th century, has its headquarters known as Dera Baba Jaimal Singh, near the river Beas in northern India since 1891. His Master Shiv Dayal Singh had perhaps 500 initiates, and if one wanted to see the Master it was necessary to travel to his home in Agra. Baba Jaimal Singh had perhaps 2500 initiates and did not travel more than a few hundred miles from Beas while he was a Master. Baba Sawan Singh did not travel outside of India, but is believed to have had as many as one lac (100,000) initiates, some of whom were foreigners. Charan Singh (guru) did travel overseasa and the present master Gurinder Singh, travels to nearly 90 countries. Today the Radha Soami Satsang Beas, is leading the way forward and encompassing all the teachings of the saints.[6].

Contemporary Sant Mat movements exist in Europe, Latin America and the United States. Sant Kirpal Singh visited Europe and the United States in 1955 and 1963, and Europe, America, and Latin America in 1972.[8] The various spiritual leaders who claim to lead this movement now frequently travel all over the world.

General tenets

The most central tenet is the need to be initiated by a living Master or Satguru ("sat" meaning true and "guru" meaning Master or Spiritual Teacher). "Competent Master" is another common formulation: the Master must be competent in the sense of having been commissioned by God, not just a person who feels like working in the role of a guru:

It is a sad affair that there are thousands of imitators, of false copies, but it doesn't mean that the world is devoid of truth and that a Master is not available to the people...It has always been a law that at least one complete master would be on earth to bring God's truth to the people. One such Master can benefit the entire world just as one sun can glorify and light up the entire world. [16]

Technically speaking Sant Mat practice involves listening to the Inner Sound, also known in the Holy Bible as 'The Word' or 'logos' contemplating the Inner Light, and (eventually) leaving the human body at will - a practice sometimes referred to as "dying while living". The principal intent is to awaken the Soul and unite it with God.[9] Sant Mat is a practical and not a theoretical investigation.[10]

Contemporary Sant Mat movements claim to be different in a radical sense from other disciplines or kinds of knowledge which can be taught. It claims to be a meta-knowledge or method of going beyond knowledge and deprecates the mind and mental processes, at all times describing a dichotomy between the mind and the soul, in which the mind is only a negative copy or imitation of the soul.[11] The mind is to become still and quiet so that the soul can begin to experience itself.[12] The soul has its own internal sources of knowledge, and when properly connected to its inner sources, no outer education or knowledge is required or desired.

The second essential tenet is the mystical role of the Sound Current:

Prajapatir vai idam-agree asit Tasya vak dvitiya asit Vak vai Paramam Brahma
(from Vedas)

In the beginning was Prajapati (the Creator), With Him was the Vak (the Word), And the Vak (the Word) was verily the Supreme Brahma.

Proponents compare this with the verses of John 1 John to assert their special use of comparative religion (seeking the common thread in all religions and esoteric phenomena). Naam or Word [2], written by Sant Kirpal Singh, explores this theme. It asserts that the Sound Current is the esoteric form of God which is available to human beings. [13] The Guru, who is a human being, has merged with the Sound Current in such a manner that he is a living manifestation of it (the Word made flesh). [14] However, not just the Guru can achieve this, but all human beings are inherently privileged in this way [14]

Helping Factors

Beyond the two main tenets, Contemporary San Mat movements emphasize an ethical lifestyle and selfless service. They assert that these are not spirituality as such, but are necessary preparation for true spirituality to commence. [15] A self-introspective diary or daily diary tracking ethical lifestyle in five cardinal disciplines is sometimes recommended as a way to self-monitor one's own ethical condition. The five cardinal virtues tracked by the diary are Ahimsa or Nonviolence, Truthfulness, Chastity, love for all regardless of caste, creed, wealth, or intellectual attainments (i.e., Humility), and finally the maintenance of a strict Vegetarian diet. Drugs and alcohol are also to be avoided, as is the company of worldly-minded people. [16]

Selfless Service or Seva means devoting oneself to mental, physical, or financial service to the Guru. Mental service means keeping constant remembrance of God by means of repetition of the Mantra (known as Simran) or by other means keeping the Guru in mind. Physical service means doing some physical work, as in the situation where one helps dig a well at an ashram or gives a talk about the Master to the public. Financial service means giving money to the mission of the Master (to his organization) instead of spending it on oneself. The concept of Financial Seva is quite similar to tithing as known generally in Christianity. Also, just as a very general rule, at least 10% of one's time should be spent in meditation. [16]


Contemporary Sat Mat movements assert that the "Master" or Guru is provided by God as the channel through which God manifests in the world - God is believed to be unknowable and inconceivable, so he has created Gurus as a way in which to be available. Only humans are capable of interacting with a Master, as other forms of life are asserted to be incapable of doing so.

Teachers of contemporary Sant Mat movements claim to teach a spiritual path which is intentionally easier than others described in the ancient scriptures as it requires nothing more than sitting quietly and looking and listening within.

Specifics of this process include connecting one's soul or attention, called Surat (soul) with the inner Current of Light and Sound of God, the Shabd. Adherents believe this Sound Current cannot be heard by the uninitiated; it is made manifest at the time of initiation. An essential component of the practice involves sitting still with eyes closed, with one's attention focused at the "third eye center", located between and behind the two eyebrows, while (mentally) repeating one or more mantras given by the Guru to the disciple at the time of initiation. This is called simran (repetition) and its primary function is to still the mind while remembering (or being connected to) the Guru via the mantra he provided. However listening to the Sound Current by plugging the ears with the thumbs and listening at the right side or above is equally as important. Sound is considered to be the source of the Light, and to contain everything required.

The concept of Satsang is also a common thread in contemporary Sant Mat movements' practices. Satsang means literally "gathering of Truth." These gatherings serve as the formal meeting place of the Master and his devotees when he is present in physical form, but also, more often, follow the tradition of early Christianity and take place in the homes of disciples or in any convenient location as times of remembrance of the Master and the need for meditation. [17]

In contemporary Sant Mat movements, not everyone automatically qualifies for Initiation; many teachers require that prospective followers be spiritually “ready”. This was especially true in earlier times, when people made more time available. There are definite criteria for judging whether or not a person is indeed ready for initiation: they must be ready to eshew drugs and alcohol, lead a disciplined and chaste lifestyle, avoid spiritual healing and other forms of meditation, and commit to several hours of meditation per day.[2]


There are many factions and rival "perfect masters" within contemporary Sant Mat movements [18], although this has nothing in principle to do with the relative veracity of the teachings.

According to Baba Sawan Singh, lineage is not a factor in determining the authenticity of a master. [19] There have been a variety of splinter groups formed as Sant Mat has flourished, and each group usually posits its current leader as the true spiritual heir in the Sant Mat genealogy.

Groups such as Radha Soami Satsang Beas the headquarters has no associations with any other groups or with Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission, the Tarn Taran Satsang, the Manavata Mandir Satsang and the Sarai Rohilla Satsang hold that Shiv Dayal Singh was but another saint in the tradition of Nanak and Kabir. The Radhasoami group Agra (started by Rai Saligram, under the instruction of Swami Shiv Dayal was one of Shiv Dayal's three principle disciples) held that Shiv Dayal was unique in human history.

It is possible to view all of these events from the standpoint of socio-economic factors. As David Lane points out in his work on one of the offshoot Sant Mat sects, The Radhasoami Tradition,

" succession is often a struggle over controlling theological doctrines, membership ranks, and property rights. Hence, gurus do not merely represent their own inner callings, but various material interests, ranging from the 'right interpretation' of Radhasoami teachings to the governance of sadhu and household members of outlying branches to ownership rights over inherited sacred property. With such larger 'worldly' issues at stake, it is little wonder that guru politics can turn into an ugly slugfest between sister-related communities. The decades long legal battle between Dayal Bagh and Soami Bagh over worship rights at Shiv Dayal Singh's samādhi is perhaps the most graphic illustration of how social factors play a central part in succession contests."

The Masters of some Sant Mat lineages, such as Sant Thakar Singh, tell us not to be concerned with the ultimate fate of property, but only with what good can be got out of it. [20]

Other contemporary movements described as having a Sant Mat origin

The Quan Yin Method of meditation promoted though the spiritual teachings of Supreme Master Ching Hai also has notable similarities to Sant Mat. The religious movement Eckankar is considered by some to be an offshoot of the Sant Mat tradition. Paul Twitchell, who founded Eckankar, was an initiate of Sant Kirpal Singh.

The Divine Light Mission, founded by hans Ji Maharaj and succeeded by his sons Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat) and Satpal Maharaj, was characterized as part of the Sant Mat tradition.[21][22]

See also

Further reading


  1. Singh, Thakar (1989). Newspaper interview, Lagos Nigeria. Reprinted in Heart Of Compassion, Kirpal Light Satsang, 1991 ISBN 0-917019-11-3
  2. 2.0 2.1 Singh, Kirpal (1955). Night Is A Jungle, Ruhani Satsang Books. Online_version.
  3. Singh, Kirpal. (1999). Naam or Word. Blaine, WA: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Singh, Kirpal. Man Know Thyself. Ruhani Satsang Books. Online_version
  5. Singh, Kirpal (1976). The Way of the Saints: Sant Mat. Sant Bani ashram. ISBN 0-89142-026-6.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Johnson, Julian (1985). The Path of the Masters: The Science of Surat Shabd Yoga : The Yoga of the audible Life Stream. Radha Soami Satsang Beas. ISBN 1-199-61327-4 (Originally published much earlier, perhaps in the 1950's.)
  7. Woodhead, Linda & Fletcher, Paul. Religion in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (2001) pp.71-2. Routledge (UK) ISBN 0-415-21784-9"
  8. Ruhani Satsang USA website, Tour reports. [1]
  9. "My dear souls, I should call you souls because we are from God. It is told to us" 'Your soul bears the seal of God. It belongs to God, give it unto God.' These words from the Bible and other scriptures were told by God himself when he came into the human garb. He came because Man has been misled. God is the only one who has sympathy with these suffering souls. He wants to end their suffering: 'Come back to me. Enjoy perfection, as I am perfect.'" LTLOS, page 1.
  10. "The present day is an age of the practical life. People do not believe unless there is something practical. So we must have all our Truth in a practical way, and it will appeal to all. This Truth will prevail. Times are changing. This is the only thing that can appeal to everybody. This is the only ground on which all of us can sit together. So I wish each one of you to be practical. Do not try to reform others. Reform your own self." LOK The Ocean of Intoxication.
  11. "Anyone whose soul is under the mind's influence and control becomes an image of the mind, for he forgets his true self. We call this ego or I-hood for one thinks 'I am everything.' Yet, one does not know that true 'I.' If one has forgotten one's true Self, then who is it that will realize the Lord?" LOK Oh Mind, Listen For Once.
  12. "Once, I remember, a very learned pundit came to our Master. I was there. He had a talk with my Master. At the end he said, "Will you kindly initiate me?" He was initiated. Then he told the Master, "Master, I will become proficient within three months. I'll do everything You say and come back." Master said, "All right, what more is wanted?" He came back after six months, and fortunately I was there because I had the privilege to be back with the Master. He said, "Master, previously l had been putting in eight hours a day in worship, and my mind never disturbed me. Now I cannot sit for a moment." You see? It is because in the outward performances, the mind gets food. You light the candle, you offer flowers, then you do this and that. The mind gets food. But in this way, the mind meets its death. He would prefer to go into the mouth of a cannon rather than enter within." LOK Are You The Servant Of Your Mind?
  13. "When we meditate on that light of God and that music, we will find access to God himself. The music we hear in this outer world is the outer expression of that inner music. In the Jap Ji, twenty-seventh stanza, you will find Nanak marvelling at God's mansion...he says that in God's house he found all music, so many instruments, so many kinds and types of songs, and so many singers. Then Nanak further explains that all this universe, the Judge and air and fire and everything there is, is going on because of music....Everything is Music. God is also music and he controls everything with music." And You Will Fly Up To God (see [16]). p. 36.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Way of Life, 2002. "'Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us.' The Word God came into this world in human flesh and began to dwell with us. Why? So that the competency of the Word God, who has created everything, maintains everything, and is full God, will work in this world in the same capacity as it works in the highest heavens. " p. 8.
  15. An Ethical Lifestyle, Selfless Service. Video tape recording, Edition Naam USA. 2000.
  16. 16.0 16.1 And You Will Fly Up To God, p. 57-75, "The Daily Diary".
  17. "You may also gather together in one of your homes to listen to one of Master's tapes or read from the religious scriptures or talk about Master's mission or His teachings. That will also be a satsang." And You Will Fly Up to God, p. 68-69.
  18. "Things are happening according to the planning of God, and the ordinary people cannot understand it. But when we go to the higher level, everything is crystal clear. When you go to the main officer, the main controller, you can find out what his plans are. But if you go to the servants or attendants, they cannot tell you what will really happen because they do not know the real plan or basic principles. So the people of this world [cannot know who the Master is.] They are too low in their understanding. What is to happen and what is going on is only known at the higher level of the soul." Singh, Thakar (2005). Live The Life Of Soul, Edition Naam USA. page 107-108.
  19. The books and essays of Mark Juergensmeyer and David C. Lane give more information on this political aspect.
  20. "There is a purpose. It is not the purpose of the buildings, that we ask, “What will happen to the building? Where will it go?” No, you are to see what has been the output of this building, what we have got out of the building, and if we have got something out of the building and the building is no more, okay, it doesn’t matter. If the fruit has been found and that tree is gone, it doesn’t matter. We have found the fruit. So what is meant by the buildings, it is not (that) we are having a building. We have no building, no property at all. No Master had ever thought like that. But the thing is that if you are to sit even in some kind of excursion - somewhere you go, you find some place - you have to clean a little portion and spread some sheet over there and feel that there is no dirt nearby (so) that the atmosphere (and) the surrounding is also better so that we may relax a little or take some little picnic or food over there.
  21. Kranenborg, Reender (Dutch language) Neohindoeïstische bewegingen in Nederland : een encyclopedisch overzicht, published by Kampen Kok cop. (2002) ISBN 90-435-0493-9
  22. DuPertuis, Lucy (1986). "How People Recognize Charisma: The Case of Darshan in Radhasoami and Divine Light Mission". Sociological Analysis 47 (2): 111–124. doi:10.2307/3711456. ISSN 00380210. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 

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