Denying or Minimizing Past Guru Affiliations, by James Bean

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Old black and white photo of Soamiji’s Well at Soami Bagh in Agra

“Although Dadu himself stressed that caste in fact was not important, later disciples in his sect tried to hide his (possible) Muslim origin and Muslim preceptor and invented an explanation for his connection with the dhuniyas (cotton carders).” (Winand Callewaert, in the chapter titled, Dadu and the Dadu Panth: The Sources, in the great textbook of Sant Mat history called, “The Sants, Studies in A Devotional Tradition of India”, published by Motilal Banarsidass)

In the cases of several major Sants of history the identity of their gurus is completely lost or got obscured by the passage of time, to the degree that several competing theories arise about who exactly someone’s guru might have been. Often, with later generations of followers, any connections to past initiating gurus recedes into the background or is denied, as they proclaim a Kabir, a Guru Nanak, Dariya Sahib of Bihar, Dadu, or Soamiji Maharaj as being born saints without any need of having a master.

Sometimes, rather than an outright denial of past associations with a Satguru, another strategy is that of minimizing the significance of past associations: the downward spinning of the details, in order distance their sangat from the sangats of others, AS IF such knowledge of the history of past associations somehow diminishes or threatens the legacy? of their founding guru, a point of view I do not share and have no respect for, as such revisionism goes against the wishes of the above-mentioned Sants. In my view, what really does diminish the legacy of some Sants is not the truth of their past history but the hard-hearted spirit of sectarianism of some later adherents not being truthful, violating the principles of truthfulness (satya) and non-violence (ahimsa).

Denying or minimizing past affiliations is an all-to-often repeated pattern in the history of spiritual movements. *At first*, Eckankar denied any connection to Sant Mat. “Kirpal who?” Also, former Eckist Michael Turner actually received initiation from a representative of Thakar Singh, the Know Thyself As Soul group. After all, the Sant Mat version of Surat Shabd Yoga and the Five Names had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere was not from the teachings of Darwin Gross. But anyone wouldn’t even be aware of the Thakar Singh/Michael Turner connection without having sifted through reams of obscure posts at the alt.meditation.shabda and alt.religion.eckankar newsgroups made many years ago when those Usenet newsgroups were an active part of the Internet. (See, “The Thakar Singh Connection”, dating back to 08/11/1998:!searchin/alt.religion.eckankar/thak\ar$20singh$20connection/alt.religion.eckankar/jFqjFuz9S8Q/GsyHUIwy8DwJ

Also see, “The Making of a Spiritual Movement, the Untold Story of Paul Twitchell and Eckankar,” by David Lane:

and, “Virtual Gurus: The Impact of Radhasoami on the Quasi-Temporary Movements of Jerry Mulvin, Gary Olsen, and Michael Turner”: )

In Christianity we have the missing years of Jesus — presumably a history of a younger, rather human Jesus sitting at the feet of various Rabbis — and his teacher John the Baptist got rebranded as a kind of “forerunner” teacher, a warm-up act preparing the way for the messiah. In the Gospel of “Luke” Jesus is made to say that the least of his disciples were all greater than John the Baptist. (Luke 7:28) And yet, many, or perhaps even a majority of the followers of John the Baptist, never did embrace Jesus as John’s spiritual successor. For them, John the Baptist was the messiah or great prophet of the age, not someone’s warm-up act. (See, “The Mandaean Book of John the Baptizer”.)

Later on, others would make use of that same John-Jesus-forerunner characterization. The Bab was portrayed as the forerunner (like John) of Ballulah of the Bahai Faith in Iran. Ramanand got revised into being a forerunner guru, or perhaps even the token guru of Kabir (because, in the view of some, the disciple is greater than his master if he becomes more famous than his master?). The John-Jesus analogy got trotted out yet again more recently, as some have described Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras as being a forerunner guru/warm-up act for Soamiji Maharaj.

Case in point: One can see a familiar pattern of denying and minimizing going on in, “The Biography of Soamiji Maharaj”, authored by Pratap Singh. Pratap, also known as Chachaji, attempted to achieve a fascinating balancing act of downwardly spinning or minimizing certain key details about Soamiji, and yet at the same time knew he could only take that so far before losing all credibility with his readers.

1) Chachaji denied that Soamiji had been initiated by Tulsi Sahib, but did acknowledge that most everyone in Soamiji’s family and the family of his wife Radhaji were followers of Tulsi Sahib, part of the Tulsi Sahib Satsang!

2) Chachaji acknowledged that Soamiji had a close association with a successor-guru of Tulsi Sahib by the name of Girdhari Sahib, and yet rebranded him as a “sadhu” and didn’t have the same respect for him as Soamiji, using unflattering descriptions of Girdhari in an attempt to diminish his stature, making him into a sub-sant or token guru, a “Ramanand” or “John the Baptist” lesser character in Soamiji’s life.

3) Chachaji was also rather quiet about Soamiji’s home satsang at Panni Gali that began during the mid 1850’s. Without being acquainted with the history of this period or having other sources to be informed by, the reader might assume that Soamiji’s satsang effort commenced in 1861. Indeed, many Radhasoamis believe this. Curious. Why did Chachaji wish to avoid devoting much time to the home satsang activities of Soamiji prior to 1861?

See my article, The Lost Letters, Papers, and Articles of Soamiji Maharaj:

From my perspective, it seems the answer to that question is likely to be identical to the answer to this question: Why would Pratap destroy hand-written papers of Soamiji by throwing them down Soamiji’s well? Girdhari denial. There was more that could have been said about the association between Soamiji and Girdhari, and goings on in the satsangs they presided over. And I strongly suspect the most likely writings of Soami Ji to be destroyed by Pratap would have been letters between Soamiji and Girdhari Sahib in Lucknow.

As I understand the history of that period, there were two sister satsangs: one home satsang at Panni Gali in Agra. This was based at Soamiji’s family home. “In those days during the mid-fifties [mid 1850's], Swami Ji did not have a large following. He had not yet begun giving public discourses, and confined his meetings to small private audiences at his home in Punni Gali [Panni Gali] after having discontinued his talks at the Mai Than Gurdwara. Seven or eight of his disciples were especially devoted to him and constantly sought his company and there was great affection and harmony.” (“A Great Saint, Baba Jaimal Singh: His Life and Teachings”, by Kirpal Singh)

Soamiji also had another house in Lucknow. It too served as the home-base for a satsang mission. It was lead by Maharaj Girdhari Sahib. Girdhari was the spiritual successor of Tulsi Sahib that Soamiji was close to, and supported for many years, right up till the time of his passing in 1860.

Pratap, and generally, immediate family members of gurus are often very uptight and have the urge to to be very controlling in order to “protect” the name and legacy of their famous family guru. Awhile back I remember reading some accounts about the family of Ram Bahadur Bomjon, the “Buddha Boy” from Nepal that got a lot of attention a few years ago, that reminded me of Pratap and other situations in the history of family gurus in Sant Mat. Fortunately, we got some statements from other, less uptight, not so controlling disciples of Soamiji, who had more normal, not-so-guarded things to say about Soamiji’s associations with both Tulsi Sahib and Girdhari Sahib. There’s more material in Hindi about Girdhari that is discussed by a few different Indian scholars, but there have been at least some things that have appeared in English, what I shared in my article on Girdhari Sahib of Lucknow, the Unknown Guru of Radhasoami History:

A few months after Girdhari died (August of 1860) is when Soamiji went public with his satsang mission. In Lucknow the successor of Girdhari was Shri Dahal Sahib. What had been two sister satsangs united by a close association between Soamiji and Girdhari — who was viewed as a main successor Satguru of Tulsi Sahib — became a situation of each satsang completely going its own way, one lead by Soamiji in Agra, and the other lead by Shri Dahal in Lucknow. At present it’s unclear what happened to Soamiji’s home in Lucknow, if it got incorporated into the ashram that was eventually built there, or if that Lucknow ashram was built at another location.

The Biography of Soamiji Maharaj, by Chachaji Saheb (Lala Pratap Singh Seth, youngest brother of Soamiji):

The Lost Letters, Papers, and Articles of Soamiji Maharaj:

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Soamiji’s Well Under Renovation

Some Thoughts About, The Lost Letters, Papers, and Articles of Soamiji Maharaj, by James Bean

CLEARLY, some of the contents of the letters, papers, and other material that Soamiji had collected seemed to greatly bother Chachaji, as if there was information contained therein that might cause some individuals to see things differently, to develop views that go against the official narrative about the life and teachings of Soamiji. Rather than treating the information “with due care”, in other words, adhering to the “correct” understanding, people might be able to draw different conclusions. He didn’t want those documents to fall into the wrong hands, or anyone’s hands, to be seen by anyone during those days or in the future, so he destroyed them all by tossing them down Soamiji’s well at Soami Bagh. This case reminds me of the history of early Christianity and the deliberate destruction of collections of the sayings of Jesus and other material by Orthodoxy to keep people from deviating from the official teachings of the church, a heresy prevention policy.

“Hearing him, Lala Tota Ram gave out a shriek and said, ‘O Chachaji Saheb, what have you done?’ Chachaji Saheb replied, ‘Brother, I know the value of these things. There is no knowing in whose hands these precious things will fall and whether they will be preserved with due care. That is why I thought that I should rather drop them in the well sanctified by Soamiji Maharaj Himself ‘.”

It’s very likely there would have been correspondence between Soamiji of Agra and Girdhari Sahib of Lucknow. Some of those letters could have dated back many years, long before 1860 or 1861, in other words. I’m sure they would have been quite informative! Any correspondence with Girdhari Sahib, or Tulsi Sahib, any satsangi anywhere, in Hathras, Lucknow, or all the correspondence with Soamiji’s own initiates — anyone and everyone anywhere — was totally erased forever.

“…He tied up into a bundle many letters of Soamiji Maharaj in His own handwriting, His other papers, as well as many articles of His use, and dropped the bundle into the well at Soami Bagh…”

Chachaji did miss one letter however: a short letter from Soamiji to his younger brother Rai Bindraban Saheb.

“Lala Tota Ram requested Chachaji Saheb to give him any letters or papers in the handwriting of Soamiji Maharaj or any articles of His use which Chachaji Saheb might still I have in his possession, so that they could be preserved in Satsang as relics. Chachaji Saheb’s reply was that he had no such thing with him anymore. But he promised to make a search, and if he could find anything he would give it to Lala Tota Ram. Four to six months thereafter, Chachaji Saheb brought a letter written by Soamiji Maharaj to Rai Bindraban Saheb and gave it over to Lala Tota Ram saying, ‘Take this. I could trace it to your luck.’

There are also five other letters from Soamiji that survive: all letters addressed to Huzur Maharaj (Rai Saligram). Those can be found in the Biography of Huzur Maharaj along with Huzur’s letters to Soamiji. ////////

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This Living School of Spirituality called Sant Mat is also known as: The Path of the Masters, Surat Shabd Yoga: Meditation on the Inner Light & Sound of God.

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