The History Of Radhasoami In The United States

The evolution of religion is directly connected to the evolution of communication technologies. To understand the limits of the latter is to also understand the limits of the former's potential for growth. Thus all histories of religion are to some measure histories of human development, especially as it relates to the transmission of information. That this is obvious is one thing (from speech to written words to printed books to radio to television to worldwide computer networks), but that it is rarely focused on in appraising how new religions develop is quite another thing altogether (and is something which should not be neglected in any history, religious or otherwise).

The history of Radhasoami in the United States is a case in point. Why? Because in many ways the growth of Radhasoami in countries outside of India has been hitched, for better or worse, to the advancement of technology. Even within Radhasoami circles this is well known, as evidenced in the Introduction to an in-house Beas Satsang publication entitled Dawn of Light wherein the author writes that the great advances made in communications have led to the world-wide spread of shabd yoga teachings, especially in Europe and North America. [1] At each stage where there has been a technological revolution, there has been in turn an influx of new initiates to the Radhasoami path. To be sure, Radhasoami masters have not necessarily explained away such increased numbers to better telephone networks, but they have been well aware of how the evolution of the communication industry has led to new opportunities to advance the message of Sant Mat.

Equally related to this, of course, are political regimes. For example, when the Soviet Union officially banned religion, it had an amazingly chilling effect on the growth of new religions. Therefore it is not at all surprising to learn that Radhasoami had made very little headway there until the latter part of the 1980s. Today, of course, Russian society has seen a great increase in the number of new religions and new converts. Throughout the history of the United States, on the other hand, religions (including alternative ideologies) have generally prospered, perhaps due to America's Enlightenment principles of tolerance and individualism coupled with a laissez-faire type government.

Specifically, Eastern religions have been quite successful in the United States. To fully understand the reasons for this several historical and political factors must be considered. First of all, a fertile soil for Eastern ideas was sown when Indian literary material became available to the West through the translations of nineteenth century British scholars, like Sir William Jones, Charles Wilkens and Sir Edwin Arnold. American Transcendentalists were attracted to these newly translated Indian writings and incorporated in their philosophy Eastern idealism with nature mysticism and Western individualism. A major step for Eastern religions occurred in America when Unitarians, many of whom were Transcendentalists, set up the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Several Indian teachers, particularly Vivekananda and Dharmapala, were well received. Americans seemed to like what they heard: an appealing religious universalism, a non-ascetic orientation, and the idea that they did not have to leave their religion to appreciate or to be affiliated with Eastern thought. Shortly after the World Parliament many Indian groups began to set up shop in America, including the Vedanta Society in 1894 and the Self-Realization Fellowship in the 1920s. But the doors to foreigners did not officially open until 1965, when L.B. Johnson rescinded the immigration laws set back in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Since the United States immigration policy has dictated to a large measure the numbers of foreigners who may legally enter the country, it has in turn determined how various cultures will impact on the American melting pot. With the revocation of the immigration laws immigrants began pouring in bringing with them their religious and cultural ideas. Among the immigrants were several well-known Indian teachers such as Yogi Bhajan and Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. During this time Radhasoami related groups also began to experience an exponential growth in their followings. That the immigration laws were dramatically changed in the mid-1960s to the advantage of incoming Indians has no doubt had tremendous effect on shaping Americans' views of things Indian. Today, naturally, almost every major city in the United States boasts of one or more Indian restaurants, which was surely not the case thirty years ago.

As we see, there are many worldly realities, like communication and politics, that spiritual movements must come to grips with if they are to expand. Keeping this important caveat in mind will allow us to ground the history of Radhasoami, and other new religions like it, in an empirical context, one which allows us to see how a spiritual message can intertwine, albeit distinctly, with a purely material medium.

Radhasoami Gurus in America

The first Radhasoami guru to visit the United States appears to be Shiv Brat Lal, one of several successors to Rai Salig Ram of Peepal Mandi, Agra. According to Dayal Yoga,

In the year 1911 A.D., Data Dayal [Shiv Brat Lal] went on a tour of Japan, America, and other foreign countries. There also he spread the Gospel 'in search of God and discoursed on physiology of the spirit.' He did not rest. [2]

Coincidently, it is also from Shiv Brat Lal's lineage that the first bona fide American Radhasoami guru, Dr. Ishwar Sharma, emerged. Although Sharma was born in India, he lived in the United States for over a decade (working as a philosophy professor at several colleges and universities) and succeeded his guru, Faqir Chand (Shiv Brat Lal's chief disciple and eventual successor), after he died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the Fall of 1981. Although much is known about Sharma's ministry (he's still living), there is very little information about Shiv Brat Lal's visit to America and what impact, if any, it had on the spread of Radhasoami teachings among Americans.

Shortly after Shiv Brat Lal's visit, Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind, an initiate of Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas and an offshoot guru who did not acknowledge his Beas connection, permanently settled in America and preached a mixture of Sant Mat, Radhasoami, Sikh, and Occult doctrines. He was modestly successful in his venture and gathered several hundred disciples. Bhagat Singh Thind also wrote a number of books with Radhasoami related themes, including his most famous treatise, Radiant Road to Reality.

Surprisingly, it would be another thirty-five plus years after Thind's initial visit when a Radhasoami related guru visited America. In 1955 Kirpal Singh, founder of Ruhani Satsang and long time initiate of Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas, visited several cities in the United States during his first world tour. His visit, unlike his two predecessors, has been well documented and was very instrumental in spreading shabd yoga teachings throughout the country. It was also during this trip that Kirpal Singh initiated Paul Twitchell in Washington, D.C. Ten years later Twitchell formed his own group, Eckankar, which was primarily based upon the teachings of Kirpal Singh and Radhasoami. Today Eckankar is one the most successful new religions in America founded in the 1960s.

The booklet, As They Saw the Master (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1956), partially documents Kirpal Singh's tour of the United States and elsewhere. It also provides several intimate portraits of Kirpal Singh written by new initiates. Though Kirpal Singh did not attract large numbers to his lectures (in contradistinction with Vivekananda, for example), they were nevertheless well attended and his tour was quite successful in establishing a permanent infrastructure and network of satsangis.

Kirpal Singh again visited America in 1963. This trip was even more successful than his first with hundreds of people attending his lectures. George Arnsby Jones' book, The Harvest is Rich: The Mission of Kirpal Singh, details much of Kirpal Singh's tour. The book also graphically illuminates how the Indian guru spread his message. Concerning the Washington, D.C. leg of the trip, Jones writes:

During a twenty-seven day stay in Washington, Kirpal Singh gave a total of eighteen public talks. Some were given at private residences, others at the Friends Meeting House; The Sylvan Theatre; the Theosophical Society; the Perpetual Building; The Washington Post Building; the House of Inspiration, (Vienna, Virginia); the Wesley Theological Seminary (American University); Levering Hall (John Hopkins University); Brookmont Baptist Church; the Unitarian Church; and the Y.M.C.A. Eight further talks, of a more informal nature, were given at the residence of T.S. Khanna. A press conference held at the National Press Club was attended by representatives of five leading newspapers. . . While in Washington, Kirpal Singh made five radio broadcasts, which included a recording made for the 'Voice of America' in English and Hindi for retransmission in India. He also gave a broadcast on the nationwide C.B.S. network and gave complete coverage of his spiritual mission in the world. He made two appearances on television, and his message of love and hope reached an even wider audience. . . Before the Master left Washington for Philadelphia, he was invited to the Capitol and introduced to a large number of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. Senator Kennedy, in a long talk with Kirpal Singh, welcomed the aims and ideals of the World Fellowship of Religions. [3]

Almost a decade later in 1972 Kirpal Singh made his last trip to the United States. By this time he was well known in spiritual circles and many people, especially those in their late teens and early twenties, came out to see him. This trip, which at one stop saw nearly a thousand people gather to hear Kirpal Singh, is fully documented and photographed in the publication, The Third World Tour of Kirpal Singh (Tilton: Sant Bani Press, 1974).

The first Radhasoami Satsang Beas guru to visit America was Charan Singh in 1964. Charan Singh's trip was even better received than Kirpal Singh's, with the Beas guru attracting consistently larger numbers in his audience. This was primarily because Radhasoami Satsang Beas is well established in India and has had roots in America since 1911. Unlike Kirpal Singh's trip, though, Charan Singh's tour was not advertised. The Beas guru also did not publicly present his message the way that Kirpal Singh had done in 1955 and 1963. Indeed, Charan Singh's one and only impromptu television interview on May 28, 1964 with a news reporter in Minneapolis, Minnesota, caused a bit of a stir because it was so unusual. A verbatim transcript of the brief interview and a full account of Charan Singh's travel to America are outlined in the book, The Master Answers Audiences in America (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1966).

Whereas Kirpal Singh utilized the media (he was not adverse to taking out newspaper and magazine advertisements), Charan Singh for the most part resisted it. The reasons for this are complex and stem largely from early Radhasoami history in Agra. Perhaps the chief reason is theological: there is a long standing belief in Radhasoami that there are "marked" souls and only those who are so marked will receive initiation from the guru. Thus, according to this argument destiny, not advertising, leads souls to Radhasoami. But even in groups which do not allow any formal type of advertising, like Soami Bagh in Agra, it is perfectly acceptable to publish books and circulars. Hence, it may not be advertising, as such, that is disdained (a book is in many ways a form of advertising), but rather certain kinds. And it is here where the differences between Kirpal Singh and Charan Singh can be illuminated. It is also here that we can begin to understand the various ways that shabd yoga doctrines have been transmitted. When a guru or a group is new, and does not have an established following, it may be necessary to promote his/her (or its) teachings in ways that were previously thought to be too crass. However, when the guru or group does find a niche, he/she (or it) may then outgrow the former methods of proselytization and assume a more staid or dignified approach. Clearly Charan Singh and the Beas Satsang did not need to vigorously promote themselves. Charan Singh's monthly satsangs at the Dera attracted tens of thousands of people and sometimes the numbers reached well over one hundred thousand. When he came to America for the first time, there were already several hundred initiates spread throughout the country. In contrast, Kirpal Singh essentially started his ministry on his own after he disputed the transference of his guru's mantle to Jagat Singh in 1948 at the Dera. Thus when he came to America in 1955, he could not count upon Beas affiliated satsangis to show up to his lectures. Even though T. S. Khanna, Kirpal Singh's general representative who lived in Washington, D.C., tried steadfastly to sway initiates of Sawan Singh to Kirpal Singh, only very small numbers of Beas satsangis switched over to Ruhani Satsang. Therefore, in several ways, Kirpal Singh was forging new territory when he came to America. For many Americans, he was their first introduction to shabd yoga teachings, and, as such, carried all the pros and cons that an innovative and charismatic leader brings with him.

Charan Singh made his second and last trip to the United States in 1970, six years after his first visit. Surprisingly the crowds that attended his lectures this time increased almost tenfold. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this, but one factor that seems pivotal was the baby boom generation. Large numbers of disaffected youth attended Charan Singh's satsangs, just like they had attended the talks of a host of other gurus, including the ever popular Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Charan Singh himself was well aware of this and commented that perhaps the youth were revolting against the hypocrisies of materialism and dogmatism.

The largest crowd to see Charan Singh was in Pasadena, California, where over fifteen hundred people attended his talk. This was a remarkable number at the time, especially since there was no public advertising allowed. That California should be the place to draw the largest crowds is not surprising. Since the early part of the twentieth century California has been a sprouting ground for alternative life styles. [5] Most Indian gurus have found their greatest success in California, including Paramahansa Yogananda of Self-Realization Fellowship, who permanently settled in southern California and died at the Biltmore Hotel in 1952.

Kirpal Singh's and Charan Singh's trips to America were clearly the most visible and successful of any Radhasoami related guru up until the mid-1970s. Several other Radhasoami gurus visited America before this time as well. Outstanding among these was Faqir Chand, founder of Manavta Mandir in Hoshiarpur in the Punjab. Faqir Chand made several visits to the United States, presenting informal talks, public lectures, and print/radio interviews on both the East and West Coast. Interestingly, he was also the first Radhasoami guru to die on American soil. During his fifth trip to America Faqir Chand stayed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although he planned to fly to Los Angeles, California and present a series of talks sponsored and funded, in part, by John-Roger Hinkins of M.S.I.A., he suffered a cardiac arrest and died at the age of ninety-five. His impact has been even greater after his death, primarily due to the efforts of his successor, Dr. I. C. Sharma, who has presented Faqir's teachings in a Westernized fashion tailored for a Christian educated audience.

Following Kirpal Singh's death in 1974, there was a succession dispute which led to a major schism in Ruhani Satsang. Eventually several gurus emerged as claimants to Kirpal Singh's ministry. Three of the most popular of these successors were Darshan Singh, Thakar Singh, and Ajaib Singh. All three gurus have made several trips to America and have been quite successful in garnering new initiates.

After the death of Darshan Singh in 1989 and Charan Singh in 1990, their respective successors, Rajinder Singh and Gurinder Singh (some observers are calling it the "Inder" era), have traveled extensively. Rajinder Singh, the son of Darshan and grandson and initiate of Kirpal Singh, has lived in Chicago, Illinois for many years. Thus, he divides much of his time between the United States and his main Indian center of operations in Vijay Nagar, Delhi. Rajinder Singh, who worked as an engineer for AT&T for many years, has expanded upon his father's ministry, doubling the number of initiates within just six years (reportedly he has close to one hundred thousand initiates). He has also presented the teachings of Sant Mat in a more Westernized version and has continued in the tradition of his predecessors by advertising his lectures and talks.

Gurinder Singh, a nephew of Charan Singh, has already made two trips to the United States, first in 1991 and then in 1994. During his last trip he stayed over for several days in Palm Springs in the middle of July and gave a series of very well attended talks. Indeed, on one day the reported attendance was approximately four thousand, by far the largest number ever to attend a satsang by a Radhasoami guru in America. Due to the increase of numbers, Radhasoami Satsang Beas has bought a large piece of property in North Carolina with intentions of building a center for Gurinder Singh's future visits. Unlike Rajinder Singh who started conducting initiations just weeks after his father's death, Gurinder Singh waited nearly two and a half years before he initiated anybody. However, even given his late start, he has already initiated over one hundred thousand people within less than two years--a number which is sure to grow into the millions, if his ministry is anyway comparable to his predecessors. Gurinder Singh's uncle, Charan Singh, initiated over one million, two hundred and fifty thousands followers, the largest number ever by any Radhasoami guru in history (and perhaps more than all of the other Radhasoami branches combined). Such large numbers in India strongly suggest that America is still in its infancy in terms of Radhsoami's potential for growth.

Perhaps the most obscure visit of a Radhasoami guru to America, outside of Shiv Brat Lal's in 1911, was Teja Singh's in the latter part of the 1980s where he stayed for several weeks in Orange County. Teja Singh, a successor to Sadhu Singh, represents one of the lesser known Radhasoami groups in Firozpur. Although Teja Singh speaks very little English, he has a substantial Indian following (numbering in the tens of thousands) and has several hundred devotees spread throughout North America. His visits are usually targeted to Indians living abroad and thus do not receive the attention that other more popular gurus do. Teja Singh's ministry demonstrates that there is not one audience in America, but rather numerable sub-communities. The future of Radhasoami, I suggest, lies in these micro-communities. To understand the popularity of shabd yoga related movements in America one must first come to grips with the demographics of these groups. Why? Because only when we understand the nuances of a certain community will we begin to appreciate why one guru versus another has been successful. Perhaps Ching Hai, one-time initiate of Thakar Singh and founder of her own rapidly growing meditation movement, best illustrates this. Ching Hai has thousands of followers in the Asian community, many of whom cannot speak English and have never heard of the name Radhasoami. That Ching Hai is herself Vietnamese and is fluent in several languages indigenous to South Asia speaks volumes for her quick success in an area otherwise untapped by Indian shabd yoga masters.

Given the proliferation of Radhasoami gurus in India and abroad it is difficult to keep an accurate track on all the different lines of development. However, the following list provides some idea of the more prominent, contemporary Radhasoami gurus who have either lived in or visited the United States:

Thakar Singh, Kirpal Light Mission

Ajaib Singh, Sant Bani

Rajinder Singh, Sawan-Kirpal Mission

Gurinder Singh, Radhasoami Satsang Beas

Teja Singh, Radha Swami Firozpur

Harbhajan Singh, Unity of Man

Dr. I. C. Sharma, Manavta Mandir

Although the preceding list is in no way exhaustive, it does indicate the multiplicity of Radhasoami gurus and organizations. Moreover, this list does not include those gurus and groups which have "genealogically dissociated" themselves from Radhasoami, but which have nevertheless developed their own versions of shabd yoga for an American audience.


American Initiates

When Indians began to migrate to Canada and the United States they brought with them living testimonies to their respective religious faiths. One such Indian satsangi was pivotal in the development of Radhasoami in America. In a very revealing autobiographical article, Kehr Singh Sasmas (sometimes spelled Kehar Singh Sasmus) explains how and why he migrated from India to Canada and eventually to America. He also reveals how he came into contact with Dr. Brock, the first American initiate and representative of Sawan Singh. Writes Sasmas:

From adolescence I had a strong interest in seeing foreign lands. . . In 1904 I took the opportunity to go to Hong Kong via Bengal, Assam, Malaysia, and Singapore. I stayed in the trading center of Hong Kong approximately thirty months. . . The Master made my passage exceptionally easy. I went to Shanghai by boat and then to Japan. . . From Yokohama our boat crossed the Pacific in roughly twenty days reaching Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. . . . I found Vancouver to be a very beautiful city with a fair Sikh population maintaining a large Gurdwara. Entering the United States I went to Bellingham, Washington and from there to Everett where I met the former governor, Mr. D. M. Clough. . . He was greatly impressed by the tenets of Radha Soami faith but could not give up his dietary habits. . . In the beginning of 1908 I went to North Yokima and stayed for a couple of months. Close to my residence was the meeting hall of the local Socialist Party which met every Sunday. I too was invited to attend a meeting and was questioned about Indian social conditions as well as rites and rituals of different sects. . . At the meeting was Dr. H. M. Brock who later became a satsangi. He asked many questions on Indian religions and was very pleased, as was the audience, by the explanations. . . The next morning Dr. Brock called and said that his wife was anxious to see me. He invited me to his office that afternoon. When I came Mrs. Brock jumped up and we warmly shook hands. . . I told her of Radha Soami for the first time and she had a quick grasp of the teachings. Soon we met regularly and discussed the greatness of a living Master. When the both felt convinced of the teachings they wrote Hazur for acceptance and initiation. Hazur was well pleased with their sincerity and sent them Radha Soami Mat Prakash and Discourses on Radha Soami Faith, lovingly advising them to study the books carefully. . . After some time, Hazur, in His grace, authorized the initiation of Dr. and Mrs. Brock. They came to Portland for the occasion. Everything was conveyed to them exactly as directed by Hazur. . . .The Brocks were a loving couple and the first on whom Hazur showered His grace in America. [6]

What is perhaps most interesting from a historical perspective about Kehr Singh Sasmas' account is that it directly contradicts the recollection of "official" Beas history. By Sasmas' own admission he met Dr. Brock at a local Socialist Party meeting. The very next day he met Mrs. Brock at the Doctor's office (Brock was a dentist). However, compare the preceding narrative with the following "official" account given in Dawn of Light:

One evening, while Kehar Singh was walking along a street in Port Angeles, Washington, he was approached by a couple, Dr. and Mrs. Brock. They had seen, floating above his head, a beautiful, radiant face with a white turban and white beard. Unable to restrain themselves, they stopped Kehar Singh and asked him who this saintly looking man was. Kehar Singh was puzzled at first, but thinking it must be the will of the Master to reveal himself to this American couple, he said 'It is my Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji.' Not satisfied with the brief reply, they were anxious to learn more about the extraordinary sight they had seen. [7]

In Kehr Singh Sasmus' own written account he makes no mention whatsoever to the Brocks' alleged vision of Sawan Singh floating above his head. Moreover, Sasmas clearly states that he met Dr. Brock at a Socialist Party first and on the following day met with Mrs. Brock. Why the discrepancy? There may be several answers, but the most obvious one is simple confusion, because later on in Sasmas' account he mentions meeting a Mr. C. Charles who has an experience very similar to the one recounted in the official Beas version. What has most likely occurred in the collective memory of certain Beas satsangis (and by extension the authorized history presented in several of their books) is that they have conflated the two stories (Dr. Brock's and Mr. C. Charles') into a single story. Keeping the Beas version in mind, as it relates to Dr. Brock, analyze Sasmas' remembrance of Mr. C. Charles:

Leaving the couple [the Brocks] in the hands of the Master, I returned to Seattle and from there went to Portland, Oregon. . . One day I took a boat to a small town nearby, The Dalles. The scenery was beautiful. The boat was crowded and as people were finding seats I was asked, 'Where are you from?'

'I am from India.'

'Do you have any knowledge of spirituality.'

'I have a little, but I am not an adept nor a Master,'

'You know, a spirit has just told me that I should address any questions on spirituality to you. It is on such instructions that I have come to you.'

I asked the man to proceed. . . I asked his name; he was Mr. C. Charles and was on a business trip. . . In the course of our discussion he informed me that he saw an East Indian, tall and lean, with an angelic countenance who appeared and disappeared three times as we talked. He felt that the man was my Master looking after me in an alien land. He wished that he could meet Him [my italics]. [8]

C. Charles' story is so much like the Beas story of the Brocks that it is fairly obvious that the names have been crossed. This is significant because the story of the Brocks' seeing the radiant form of Sawan Singh has become part of Radhasoami lore. That the story is completely wrong, at least as it relates to the Brocks, seems not to have concerned Dr. K. S. Narang, the present head of publications at the Dera. It may be that the story has been told and retold so often that it would be difficult, if nay impossible, to extricate it from the popular imagination of thousands of satsangis. What this episode reveals at a deeper level, however, is the unreliability of history. It also reveals that hagiography may not be so much a conscious reworking of history, but rather a confused recollection of it. It is that very confusion which has led to the juxtaposition of Dr. and Mrs. Brock with Mr. C. Charles.

Further in his narrative, Sasmas speaks about conducting initiation on behalf of Sawan Singh. This is a turning point in the history of Radhasoami in America because it allows initiation to be done by proxy. Sasmas under direct orders of Sawan Singh conveyed the initiation instructions to C. Charles' entire family as well as to the Brocks. Shortly thereafter the Brocks were appointed to be Sawan Singh's first representatives. As the Dawn of Light points out:

While in Canada and America, Kehar [Kehr] Singh also initiated a few other American seekers, as directed by the Great Master [Sawan Singh]. A few years after their initiation, the Great Master appointed Dr. and Mrs. Brock to initiate accepted applicants, and thus they were the first American representatives of the Great Master. [9]

Twenty years later Dr. Julian P. Johnson was appointed to "give instructions to persons who may find it more convenient to go to him [Johnson was living in California, a fertile state for spiritual seekers]." [10] Johnson's work as representative was short lived because he departed to India on March 24, 1932, just six months after being appointed and just over one year after receiving initiation himself. Julian Johnson, of course, became famous later on for writing the still popular text The Path of the Masters which comprehensively outlines the Radhasoami faith. Following in Johnson's footsteps, Harvey Myers, who was initiated by Dr. Brock on June 21, 1931, was appointed Sawan Singh's representative in March of 1933. Myers would serve in this capacity, witnessing the death of two gurus during his tenure, until his death in February of 1967--at which time Roland G. deVries was appointed by the then present master, Charan Singh, to serve as representative, a position which he still holds to this day (June 1995).

After the death of Sawan Singh in April 1948, his successor Jagat Singh appointed another representative to serve along with Myers in the United States. James Replogle was asked to conduct initiations in the Midwest and East, while Myers retained the West Coast. After Jagat Singh's death in 1951, Charan Singh assumed the spiritual mastership at the Dera. It was during his reign that Radhasoami membership saw exponential growth in the United States. Whereas there were only several hundred initiates total in America between both Sawan Singh and Jagat Singh, under Charan Singh's stewardship there were over ten thousand--a remarkable increase by any standard that eventually led Charan Singh to approve a formal organizational body in the United States to oversee administration of the numerous satsangs across the country. As Dawn of Light explains:

Legally, a nonprofit, California Corporation, the R.S.S.B. [Radha Soami Society Beas] is governed by a Board of Trustees composed of the Master's representatives and seven satsangis appointed by the Master for specific, stated terms. [11]

After Charan Singh's death, Gurinder Singh has firmed up the Radhasoami Beas organization world-wide. He has now centralized the appointment of Satsang leaders (Gurinder personally approves each and every choice) and has increased the number of satsangis involved in various seva (free service) projects. Undoubtedly this was necessary because of the increasing numbers and the inherent tendency for small cliques to form which threaten the parent body. This first happened in Radhasoami's history right after Shiv Dayal Singh's death which led to the formation of the Central Administrative Council. To avoid such disaffection and splintering in Radhasoami Satsang Beas, Gurinder Singh has tightened up the infrastructure underlying much of the day to day activities of the Radhasoami organization. This includes raising the age limit for seekers applying for initiation (twenty-five for males), revamping the printed initiation instructions, editing local newsletters, personally choosing Satsang leaders, building new satsang centers, and traveling extensively each year to countries outside of India. The result is that Radhasoami Satsang Beas is the most organized, yet most popular, Radhasoami group in history.

The downside, of course, is that Beas lacks intimacy. This is a charge that has been leveled against it ever since Sawan Singh began attracting large numbers in the 1930s. Although Charan Singh and Gurinder Singh have valiantly tried to overcome the depersonalization that accompanies large group settings (both gurus, for instance, personally answer each and every letter they receive and hold open question and answer meetings several times a week), the fact remains that it is impossible for a guru to spend quality time with each disciple when he has over one million of them. Ironically, these large numbers have opened the door for other gurus with smaller numbers to attract new seekers. Why? Because when confronted with the vastness of Beas and the limited time of Beas' gurus, the would-be seeker may be inclined to seek elsewhere, especially if that seeker desires close personal attention.

It can be argued that much of Kirpal Singh's success, for instance, stemmed at least in part from his accessibility. This was also true to some measure with each of his successors, Darshan Singh, Thakar Singh, and, to a lesser degree, Ajaib Singh. Whereas one would be hard pressed to recount a story of Charan Singh consistently telephoning his disciples across America at all hours of the day, Darshan Singh was in the habit of having long telephone conversations with his devotees. Even personal meetings with Darshan Singh could last more than five hours. [12]

Thus not all disciples when they learned of Radhasoami wanted to affiliate with Beas. Some consciously chose more obscure gurus with lesser followings. T. S. Khanna, for example, was initiated by Sawan Singh of Beas, but after his guru's death he served as Kirpal Singh's first representative in the United States. Khanna has been highly influential in spreading the teachings of Kirpal Singh, and, in turn, Darshan Singh and Rajinder Singh. Other representatives of Kirpal Singh that played a part were Russell Perkins, who, along with Arran Stephens, essentially legitimized Ajaib Singh's role as Kirpal Singh's successor. This is intriguing because it demonstrates how important satsangis outside of India have become. In former times, it was American satsangis who looked to their Indian counterparts for guidance. But in the case of Kirpal Singh's hotly disputed succession, which saw tremendous in-fighting over Darshan Singh's candidacy (Kirpal Singh's sangat did not expect their guru to appoint his son by a Will--the very antithesis, some believed, of Kirpal Singh's own controversial appointment), certain American and Canadian satsangis played a key role in helping sway blocks of satsangis to certain succession camps. The following are three examples: 1) Arran Stephens from Canada strongly supported Ajaib Singh (but later disavowed him as a "fraud") in an important article published in Sat Sandesh after meeting the guru at his desert retreat, a lead which Russell Perkins from New Hampshire carried through with by fully endorsing the Rajasthan guru as genuine. 2) Reno Sirrine, who was head of Ruhani Satsang in America, disavowed all the claimed successors, though he temporarily supported Madam Hardevi's handpicked appointee, Thakar Singh. Under Reno Sirrine's direction, Ruhani Satsang separated itself from all the rival camps. Today it is a nonprofit organization centered in Anaheim, California, which publishes and promotes the life and work of Kirpal Singh exclusively. And 3) Judith Lamblion, an initiate of Kirpal Singh's, declared her own candidacy, alleging to be carrying on her guru's ministry in Salt Lake City, Utah. [13]

Kirpal Singh's death led to the proliferation of a number of satsangs which now have no connection whatsoever with Ruhani Satsang or Sawan-Kirpal Mission. This, of course, is a natural evolution in Radhasoami history, since every succession dispute has been followed by more offshoots which over time develop their own guru parampara (lineage). However, what is rather new is its repeated occurrence in the United States. Below is just a partial listing of some gurus and groups which have splintered off from more mainstream Radhasoami centers and have established their own movements:



Paul Twitchell, Eckankar

Judith Lamblion, Satsang (Salt Lake)

Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind Sikh Study Groups

Walter Baptiste, Yoga Center

John-Roger Hinkins, M.S.I.A.

Jerry Mulvin, The Divine Science of Light and Sound

Sri Michael Turner, The Sonic Spectrum

Guru Maharaji, Divine Light Mission

Bruce Avenell, Elan Vital

Gary Olsen, MasterPath

Darwin Gross, A.T.O.M.


The Transmission of Words

Although we know that Radha Soami Mat Prakash by Rai Salig Ram published in 1898 was the first English book exclusively devoted to Radhasoami teachings, we are uncertain about what was the first Radhasoami publication to make its way to North America. There are, however, several candidates: Radha Swami Sect in India, a small pamphlet written by H. D. Griswold in 1908 and published in the journal The East and the West; Discourses on Radhasoami Faith written in 1907 (but not completely finished due to the author's death) by Brahm Shankar Misra, the chief successor to Rai Salig Ram; Max Muller's brief account of Rai Salig Ram in The Life and Sayings of Ramakrishna published in 1899; Phelp's Notes written by an American attorney who talked extensively with Madhav Prasad Sinha, the eventual successor to Maheshwari Devi, and the last guru at Soami Bagh, Agra; J. N. Farquhar's often cited, but historically misleading, chapter on Radhasoami in his 1914 book Modern Religious Movements in India. Each of these books, with greater or lesser detail, described Radhasoami teachings.

Yet, Salig Ram's Radha Soami Mat Prakash, a small book but quite concise in outlining the salient features of the Radhasoami faith, was perhaps the most widely read text. Julian P. Johnson, who wrote four influential books himself on Radhasoami in the 1930s, alleges that Radha Soami Mat Prakash was instrumental in developing his interest in the spiritual path. That the book was authored by a guru from a lineage long since divorced from Beas seems not to have been of great concern back in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. Why? The answer is almost too obvious to warrant discussion: there were no other books available in English which talked about the teachings in such an inviting and precise manner. Eventually, however, with the influx of Beas sponsored publications, Radha Soami Mat Prakash was taken off the list of recommended readings. Today most Beas satsangis have never even heard of the book, much less read it--even though it was one of the cardinal texts that early American satsangis used in their spiritual readings.

In the 1930s a number of new Radhasoami books were published, most of which were in English, making Radhasoami much more accessible to a non-Indian market. As noted in The Radhasoami Tradition:


Not until the 1930's, though, did information on the Radhasoamis become extensively available. In this ten year span alone (1930-1940) more material was produced than in all the previous decades combined. With this rapid increase came the works of Nichols Macnicol, The Living Religions of the Indian People (1934), H.D. Griswold, Insights Into Modern Hinduism (1934), Paul Brunton, A Search In Secret India (1934), and L. S. S. O'Malley's Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses (1935)--all of which, with the exception of Macnicol's, contained lengthy sections on the Radhasoami faith. Coupled with this scholarly infusion were several books published by the satsangs themselves: Maharishi Shiv Brat Lal's Light on Anand Yog (1933); several books by Dr. Julian P. Johnson (With a Great Master in India; Call of the East; The Unquenchable Flame; The Path of the Masters; and an unpublished manuscript, More Light on the Path); and a large volume (later divided into two) by Lekh Raj Puri, Mysticism: The Spiritual Path (1933). [14]

Since the 1930s there has been a steady increase of books on Radhasoami. Today there are well over two hundred titles in English, with most books being published by the Beas Satsang, Soami Bagh, and the Kirpal Singh related groups. Ironically, however, the most popular of all Radhasoami books in America remains Julian P. Johnson's The Path of the Masters which was written in 1939. Johnson's book has been instrumental in leading people to Radhasoami. It has also the infamous distinction of being the most appropriated of any shabd yoga text.