The way back to God is not of man's making but of God's, and it is free from artifice and artificiality. God draws man back to Himself through His chosen elect – the Godman – to whom the secret of the Path (the Godway) is revealed directly or made manifest by some Sant Satguru for the benefit of the people.
The Masters, the Messiahs, the teachers and prophets all the world over fall into two categories with a separate mission assigned to each. There are, on the one hand, those whose sole purpose is to keep the world going harmoniously; and on the other hand there are those who are commissioned to lead back souls who are ripe for home-going, and yearn for an early return to the Source Spiritual from which they parted long ago before drifting downward to the material plane. In the first category fall all the reformers, and in the second such Sants and Sadhs as are competent to reveal the knowledge of God and to make manifest the power of God in man.
The process of ascent back to the Source is just the reverse of that of descent down to the physical plane, and one has therefore to reintegrate oneself, to gather up all of his wandering wits at the still point of the soul – in between and behind the two eyes – where time and Timelessness intersect, before the spirit comes to its own and launches upon the Sea of Life for an inner journey homewards. This, in fact, has been the sole theme of all sages and seers everywhere. None of them, however, wanted to set up any new creed or institutionalised religion. While referring to the existence of so many religions and creeds in the world, all bristling with bewildering theories and conflicting dogmas, Hazur Baba Sawan Singh Ji Maharaj used to remark, "There are already so many wells all over, why should one dig any more pitfalls and make confusion worse confounded?"
God made man in His own image; and man made religions, each in his own image, and in his zeal made fetishes of them all. True religion in its inception is fresh and simple, like a newly-born babe bubbling over with vital life, but in course of time, like any other thing, it develops into an Institution; and with that it begins to deteriorate, tends to lose its native vital elasticity born of the living touch of the Master-spirit, and gradually comes to acquire a socio-economic appearance. Instead of serving as a silken bond of love between man and man, it becomes a source of constant strife, rancour and ill will, tearing class from class and nation from nation and country from country.
When the cup of human misery is filled to the brim, then comes the Saviour with the message of hope, redemption and fulfilment for strife-torn humanity. He tries to dress the festering social wounds and preaches oneness and equality to man in order to restore the equilibrium in the scales of human values. Alongside this, his main objective is to save human souls for a higher purpose: a true life of the spirit as distinguished from that of the flesh. Such indeed has been the goal of great Masters like Zoroaster, Mahavira, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, Kabir and Nanak, each in his own time, according to the then prevailing conditions and people's aspirations; for they always try to lead them from the line of least resistance, and dole out the basic goodness in terms that may readily appeal to, and fit in with, their mental make-up for a step higher in the process of evolution or unfolding of the spirit. This is what Saints do for the general run of mankind, deriving their inspiration from the great reservoir of the spirit within, which is the same for all.
The rich heritage
In the religious thought of modern India the period from the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the fifteenth century is one of outstanding importance. It is an era in which an attempt was made to reorient religion and present it in its simplest form: the form of true faith, universal love and single-minded devotion as against the rigors of priestly ritualism and fanaticism leading to intolerance and bigotry. Among the great teachers of the period we find figures like Ramananda, with his principal disciples drawn from various walks of life (Raja Pipa, Ravidas the cobbler, Saina the barber, Kabir the weaver, Dhanna the jat, Narhari, Sukha Padmavati, Sursura and his wife, etc.); Vallabhacharya, the famous exponent of the Krishna cult; Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of Nadia in Bengal, with his characteristic stress on Hari-bhole or chanting of the Lord's name; Namdev, the calico printer in Maharashtra; and the great Kabir and Nanak in the North. None of them laid much stress on idol worship and observance of outer religious forms and symbols. Self-purity, love and inner yearning were their co nstant themes.
Love for him who filleth my heart shall never be sundered;
Nama has applied his heart to the True Name.
As the love between a child and his mother,
So is my soul imbued in God.
Kabir likewise said:
It is needless to ask of a Saint the caste to which he belongs;
The barber has sought God, the washerman and the carpenter;
Even Ravidas was a seeker after God.
The Rishi Swapacha was a tanner by caste.
Hindus and Muslims alike have achieved that End, where remains no mark of distinction.
Again he proclaimed:
It is not by fasting and repeating the prayers and the creed
That one goeth to heaven;
The inner veil of the temple of Mecca
Is in man's heart, if the Truth be known.
So spoke Nanak:
Abide in the pure amidst the impurity of the world;
Thus shalt thou find the way to religion.
This movement, however, attained its greatest heights at the hands of Kabir (1398-1518) and Nanak (1469-1539) both of whom lived almost at the same time, for the two were contemporaries for a pretty long time. Both of them rose above the fetters of the world and transcended religious barriers and so were acclaimed alike by Hindus and Muslims both. Their teachings mainly centred around God and man and the relationship between the two. Both of them were exponents of the Surat Shabd Yoga (Yoga of the Sound Current or communion with the Holy Word), and their writings extol this as the crown of life. If we study the essential core of any of the religious teachings in its pristine purity and truth as it appeared in the original sayings of the Masters – what they themselves actually practiced and what they gave to their chosen disciples, the Gurmukhs or apostles – we cannot fail to get an insight into the reality that they were, one and all, in one form or another, votaries of the transcendental seeing and hearing, no matter at what level; though to the laymen they gave their subtle thoughts in the form of parables only, as otherwise they would not hear and much less understand their teachings. Such world teachers serve as beacon lights in the stormy sea of life and try to save humanity from floundering in the quicksand of time. Children of Light as they are, they come to dispel the darkness of the soul and are naturally called Guru, the dispeller of darkness – darkness born of ignorance of the true values of life. They have unbounded love for all religions and religious heads and have equal respect for all scriptures. Theirs is a universal fold that takes in, in one long sweep, the entire humanity with all its variegated patterns and colours, and steeps them equally in the love of God.
Kabir tells us in this context:
All our sages are worthy of veneration,
But my devotion is for One who has mastered the Word.
He further tells us that He, with His divine message, incarnated from age to age for the benefit of the people. He appeared in all the four Yugas or cycles of time: first as Satsukrat, then as Karunamae, again as Munindar, and finally as Kabir in Kali Yuga, the present phase of time.
Guru Nanak also ceaselessly tells us of the great importance and supreme efficacy of the method of Surat Shabd Yoga as the means of salvation.
Like a lotus standing aloft out of the muddy pool, or
Like a royal swan that flies high and dry out of water,
So does one by communion with the Word cross unscathed
the fearsome sea of life.
This in brief is the grand message coming down to us from the dawn of creation, chanting out the path Godward. All the Indian Saints and many Christian mystics practiced the inner Science and contacted individual souls with the saving lifeline within.1 Time and again, as people forget the reality, God's grace materializes Itself in a human body, called a Saint, to guide erring humanity in the time-honoured eternal way. It is the privilege and the prerogative that the Most High confers, and this authority is passed on according to His behests. "The wind bloweth where it listeth" and no one can lay down or predict any rules of succession, place or time. This rich heritage goes from eye to eye and refuses to be bound to traditional gaddis (so-called sanctified seats and sacred places), nor does it depend on human sanctions of temporal or clerical character. Guru Nanak, with his seat at Kartarpur, passed on his spiritual heritage to Bhai Lehna, who, as Guru Angad, shifted to Khadur Sahib; while his successor Guru Amar Das was obliged to transfer his seat to Goindwal. With Guru Ram Das, Amritsar came into being, and later on became the headquarters of Guru Arjan. Thus we see that there is nothing special about places as such. They owe their sanctity to the sanctifying influence of the Saints who pass their time at one place or another. "All is holy where devotion kneels." It is not the places that grace men but men the places.
Rediscovering lost strands
The stream of life rolls on ceaselessly in the endless course of time; the power of the Timeless appears and disappears in the realm of relativity.
Before proceeding with the life sketch of Baba Jaimal Singh Ji, it would be worth our while to have a peep into the background that made him what he was. It was indeed the power of Soami Ji that flowed through him in whatever he did and wherever he worked, for he was wholly lost to himself and given over to the Divine in him.
In order to understand things in their proper perspective and link up the history of our spiritual heritage, we will have to go back to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), the last of the ten Gurus in the line of succession to Guru Nanak.
The Rani (Queen) of one Ratan Rao Peshwa, accompanied by Bhai Nand Lal, came to the feet of Guru Gobind Singh for refuge.
Guru Gobind Singh travelled widely, penetrating the Himalayas in the North and going to Deccan in the South. During his extensive travels, he met and lived with the ruling family of the Peshwas and initiated some of its members into the inner Science. It is said that one Ratnagar Rao of the Peshwa family was initiated and authorized to carry on the work by Guru Gobind Singh. Sham Rao Peshwa, the elder brother of Baji Rao Peshwa, the then ruling chief, who must have contacted Ratnagar Rao, showed a remarkable aptitude for the spiritual path and made rapid headway. In course of time, this young scion of the royal family settled in Hathras, a town thirty-three miles away from Agra in the Uttar Pradesh, and came to be known as Tulsi Sahib (1763-1843), the famous author of Ghat Ramayana, the Science of the inner life-principle pervading alike in man and nature. The vita lampada of Spirituality was passed on by Tulsi Sahib to Soami Shiv Dayal Singh Ji (1818-1878).
The link between Tulsi Sahib of Hathras and Soami Ji of Agra is likely to be overlooked, but there can be little doubt of it. From the manuscript account of Baba Surain Singh, the Jivan Charitar Swamiji Maharaj by Chacha Partap Singh, and the book entitled Correspondence with Certain Americans by Shri S. D. Maheshwari, we learn that Soami Ji's parents were the disciples of the Hathras Saint and frequently visited him at his home for darshan and attended his discourses whenever he visited Agra. It was he who named the sons of Lala Dilwali Singh Seth; that is, Shiv Dayal Singh, Brindaban and Partap Singh. Before the birth of the eldest child he prophesied that a great Saint was about to manifest himself in their home, and after his birth he told the parents that they need no longer come to Hathras for the Lord Almighty had come in their midst.
The Hathras Saint took a keen and lively interest in casting the life of Soami Ji in his own mold. He initiated the young child at a very early age and Soami Ji, on the last day of his life, told his disciples that he had been practicing the inner Science from the age of six.
Soami Ji's veneration for the Hathras Saint becomes abundantly clear from his life. He held Tulsi Sahib's disciples in great respect, honouring among them especially Sadhu Girdhari Dass, whom he supported during his last years. Once when the Sadhu fell ill at Lucknow, Soami Ji hurried there from Agra and helped him to contact the inner Sound Current, with which he had lost touch (owing presumably to some past karma), before his death5 and helped him to contact the inner Sound Current before his demise, with which he had lost touch owing presumably to some past karma.
Again, Soami Ji very often gave to his followers instances from the life of his great predecessor, to teach them the importance of virtues like patience, forbearance, forgiveness and Godliness.
Before his passing away in 1843, Tulsi Sahib bequeathed his spiritual heritage to Soami Ji. For six months Tulsi Sahib lay in a state of samadhi (spiritual trance) lost in Divine consciousness. It was only after Soami Ji had paid him a visit that Tulsi Sahib left his mortal frame. Baba Garib Das, one of the earliest disciples of Tulsi Sahib, confirmed that the spiritual mantle had been entrusted by his Master to Munshi Ji (as Soami Ji was then known on account of his great learning in Persian).7 Soami Ji was to spend fifteen years of his life in almost incessant abhyasa (spiritual practice) in a small closet.
After the passing away of Tulsi Sahib, Soami Ji continued to visit Hathras to honor the memory of his preceptor. On one such occasion, we are told, when Soami Ji went to Hathras, the heat was so great that his disciples Rai Saligram and Baba Jiwan Lal had to carry him between themselves over the last lap of the journey where no transport was available and the ground was very uneven.
The great respect that Soami Ji displayed for the Granth Sahib embodying the teachings of Guru Nanak and his successors seems ultimately to have been derived from family tradition. The recitation of the Sikh scriptures was an article of faith in the family. His father, Lala Dilwali Singh (a Sahejdhari Khatri Sikh, belonging to the order of Nanak Panthis), was devotedly attached to Jap Ji, Raho Ras and Sukhmani (Sikh scriptures), which he read from day to day with great religious fervor and deep reverence. A copy of Sukhmani in Persian script, in the hand of Soami Ji's grandfather, Seth Maluk Chand, at one time Diwan of Dholpur State, is still preserved in the archives of Soamibagh.9 The essence of Sant Mat thus came to permeate the very being of Soami Ji. In later years, at least on one occasion, while discoursing on the Jap Ji at his home in Punni Gali, Soami Ji clearly acknowledged his spiritual debt to the Punjab, referring to Nanak and his successors as the fountainhead of Spirituality and to Paltu Sahib and Tulsi Sahib as great subsequent exponents of the inner Science. We will deal with this incident while tracing the life of Baba Jaimal Singh Ji in the succeeding chapter.
His younger brother, Rai Brindaban Singh, a postmaster in Ajodhia, was a close disciple of Baba Madhodas of Mahant Dera Rano Pali in Ajodhia. He, like his elder brother Shiv Dayal Singh, had a firm faith in and a great regard for Gurbani. He was continually engaged in the sweet remembrance of the Lord (Bishambar) whose praises he chanted with a beautiful refrain, as is evident from his compositions under the caption Wah-e-Guru Nama in his Urdu book Bahar-i-Brindaban:
O Brindaban! Leave aside all else and do the
Japa of the great name Wah-e-Guru.
It shall not only purify your body, mind and soul,
But give you salvation, peace and happiness besides.
Again, we learn that when the end of Lala Dilwali Singh drew near, his son Shiv Dayal Singh (Soami Ji), sitting near his bedstead, began reciting the Gurbani, so as to keep his father's attention steadily fixed therein at that crucial time.
Giani Partap Singh, basing himself on Baba Bhola Singh's Radhasoami Mat Darpan, tells us in his study of world religions11 how Soami Ji in course of time became a frequent visitor to the holy Sikh shrine of Mai Than at Agra, commemorating the visit of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur; where Sant Mauj Parkash, originally known as Didar Singh of the Nirmala order and a great Sanskrit scholar, used to give lucid expositions of the Gurbani or Sikh scriptures. It was because of his close association with Sant Mauj Parkash that Soami Ji learned Gurbani and its significance in Surat Shabd Yoga, and he began using this very shrine for his discourses on Gurbani. Chacha Partap Singh in his life sketch has given in rapturous terms a graphic description of one such discourse:
"It was about eight in the morning that the Maharaj one day went to the Gurdwara in Mai Than. After reciting a shabd or two from the Granth Sahib, he began expounding the subject. In a rich and sonorous voice, the sublime thoughts seemed to flow from him like endless waves from an inexhaustible reservoir within. I was so overwhelmed by the sweep of his words that all at once I felt lifted above the body and bodily environments, lost to all that was of the world. From that very day I was a changed man altogether, with an intense longing for the Divine, fully convinced of the greatness of Soami Ji and of his holy mission."
After some time Soami Ji shifted the venue of his teachings to his private apartments in Punni Gali and continued his discourses from the Granth Sahib (the copy he used was brought by Hazur Sawan Singh Ji from Agra and is still treasured in the archives of Dera Baba Jaimal Singh at Beas in the Punjab). This system of addressing private gatherings at his home continued for quite a long time; but on Basant Panchmi Day in the year 1861, the floodgates of Surat Shabd Yoga as revived in this age by Kabir and his contemporary Guru Nanak, and firmly entrenched by his successors in the Gurbani, were now thrown open by Soami Ji to the general public.
Lest there still be any doubt lingering in the minds of the skeptics, Soami Ji who till the last continued initiating people into the secret of the traditional five-melodied Melody (Panch Shabd Dhunkar Dhun), significantly enough on the last day of his departure from the earth-plane, cleared his position beyond the least shadow of doubt by declaring:
My path was the path of Sat Naam and Anami Naam.
The Radhasoami faith is of Saligram's making,
but let it also continue. And let the Satsang flourish and prosper.
Among Soami Ji's trusted and devoted disciples was Rai Saligram Sahib Bahadur, popularly known in later times as Hazur Maharaj, after he came to occupy the spiritual headship. While Hazur Maharaj, after the passing away of Soami Ji, continued his discourses at Pipal Mandi in the heart of Agra city, Partap Singh, the younger brother of Soami Ji, generally called Chacha Sahib (respected uncle), carried on the work in Radhasoami Garden, three miles away from Agra city. Another disciple, Baba Jaimal Singh Ji, one of the earliest and most spiritually advanced disciples of Soami Ji, as directed by the great Master himself, settled down at Beas in the Punjab to revitalize the work of Spirituality and to repay in some measure the debt that the world owed to Guru Nanak. We will now examine in some detail the life and work of this distinguished spiritual son of Soami Ji.