Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
THE ENCHANTED LAND
The Saint: Sawan Singh
“The human body is a cage. Within it is imprisoned the spirit or soul, which is like a bird in a cage. The bird is in love with the cage and is always singing songs of attachment for the earth. If, however, the covers, or bodies, are cast off from the soul, the bird begins to taste the Truth, and the cage is shattered into fragments. The bird then flies away to its home, which is in Sach Khand [the Realm of Truth]...When the veils are torn, millions of enrapturing joys which constitute the "peace that passeth understanding," are all attained. “
Whatever the earth may temporarily offer us as human beings, one thing is certain: it is not our permanent home. Regardless of scientific and technological advances, the physical universe as we know it will sometime be unable to sustain life, either reaching a point of maximum entropy (a degradation of matter and energy to an ultimate state of inert uniformity) or collapsing in upon itself, taking in its course every living creature. Despite the misplaced hopes of evolutionists, humankind has a limited future perhaps only a few millionyears. We are, in fact, only visitors to a land that is destined to die.
Where, then, is our true home? According to genuine mystics from both East and West, humanity's real abode is neither physical or mental but wholly spiritual. That is, we are denizens of an infinite realm of light and love who have lost sight of our essential nature, mistaking a drop for an ocean, a shack for a kingdom, a stone for a jewel. As Ken Wilber eloquently writes: "In the beginning there is only Consciousness as such, timeless, spaceless, infinite and eternal. For no reason that can be stated in words, a subtle ripple is generated in this infinite ocean. This ripple could not in itself detract from infinity, for the infinite can embrace any and all entities. But this subtle ripple, awakening to itself, forgets the infinite sea of which it is just a gesture. The ripple therefore feels set apart from infinity, isolated, separate." As ripples in this infinite sea of awareness, we have grasped that which is impermanent: the body and the world. An authentic master is one who has fully realized his/her prior oneness with the ocean (Transcendent Reality) and who manifests it in his/her outward life.
Huzur Sawan Singh (1858-1948), honorifically called the Great Master of Beas, was such a realized soul. From early childhood he was irresistibly drawn to seek the eternal abode. Born in a Sikh family, Sawan was brought up with the sacred scriptures of his religion, the Guru Granth Sahib (a compilation of mystical poetry written by the Sikh gurus and other Indian and Persian mystics) which spoke at length about an inner music and light that lead a soul back to God. Deeply religious, Sawan Singh associated with a number of holy men whom he questioned about the nature of man's spiritual quest. None of these mystics could satisfy his longing. Sawan was looking for a master of the highest degree. Ironically it was the Satguru (true spiritual teacher) who found him instead. Sawan Singh recalls:
"I was fond of Satsang and Parmarth [spiritual topics] from my childhood. I often associated with sadhus and religious people... Later I was transferred to Murrie Hills. One day as I was supervising my work, I saw an old Sikh going up a hill with a middle-aged lady... Little did I think that he was going to be my master. He was no other than Baba Ji himself [Baba Jaimal Singh, one of the spiritual successors to Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of Radhasoami] and the lady was Bibi Rukko. This I did not know at the time but found out later that Baba Ji said to Bibi Rukko, referring to me, 'it is for his sake that we have come here.' To which Bibi Rukko replied: 'But he has not even greeted you.' Baba Ji said to her, 'What does the poor fellow know yet? On the fourth day he will come to us...' On the fourth day I went to attend Satsang [the meeting of Baba Jaimal Singh]... After several conferences with Baba Ji I was thoroughly convinced and received Initiation [into the secrets of surat shabd yoga] from him on the 15th day of October, 1894."
The turning point in Sawan Singh's life came when he met his spiritual guru, Baba Jaimal Singh, and took initiation under him in the path of surat shabd yoga (union of the soul with the divine inner sound). Such was Sawan's readiness that in just over nine years he became an acknowledged master within the Sant Mat and Radhasoami traditions. In fact, except for Maharaj Charan Singh, the Satguru at Beas from 1951 to 1990, Sawan Singh attracted the largest following of any shabd yoga master in history, initiating more than 125,000 people into the mystic practice.
It is impossible to understand Huzur Sawan Singh's spiritual achievements without first noting that they were due to his close and devoted relationship with his guru. Baba Ji looked after Sawan's worldly and spiritual welfare, stressing the need to transcend the physical frame altogether and attach one's consciousness to the inner light and sound which reverberates at the third eye. By following this stream of celestial currents, the soul gets release from the body/mind and ascends toward its real abode. Examples of Baba Ji's teachings can be gleaned from his letters to Sawan which have been published in an exquisite book entitled Spiritual Letters. Baba Ji instructs Sawan Singh:
"You are always with me. And the real form of the Satguru [True Teacher] is the Shabd [Life-Stream-via light and sound] and that is always with you. I am very pleased with you. He is always with you. You should have no fears, because kings and emperors--all--owe their power to the Lord... Wherever you go, keep in touch with me. You are my very dear child. You will go to Sach Khand [the Realm of Truth] in my company [via the Inner Shabd]... Listen every day to the Shabd Dhun with love and devotion. Make your abode therein and let your mind be merged in the Dhun [Inner Sound]. Then you will enjoy the ras [spiritual pleasure]. But it is not a thing to be described. The surat [soul] will experience and feel it."
How did Huzur Sawan Singh succeed in reaching Sach Khand, the eternal Realm of Truth according to the Saints, which is beyond time and space? First, by coming into contact with an authentic master; second, by explicitly following the instructions of his teacher (daily meditation, pure moral life, surrender of the body/mind/soul to the living presence of Shabd, etc.); and third, by realizing experientially that his real Self is neither a body nor a mind but an effulgent wave of Consciousness.
Because of the soul's age-old attachment to the body/mind, spiritual awakening manifests in a series of stages which take the form, more or less, of an inner journey. Thus the path of light and sound entails leaving the physical body at will and entering into the subtle regions of existence hitherto unexplored by human beings. To do this, one must penetrate the veil of darkness behind the eye center (variously termed the third eye, the inner door, the single eye) while living, so that when physical death comes, the soul will not be duped into settling for one of the lesser regions of light. When Christ said 2000 years ago, "In my Father's house there are many mansions," the saints interpret this as reflecting the inherent hierarchy of after-life experiences.
The key to the practice of surat shabd yoga is not to be detained or led astray by any sights or sounds on the upward journey but to follow the celestial current to its terminal apex where all of creation has its transcendental source. As Huzur Sawan Singh tells one of his Western disciples:
"When you sit [in meditation]... see that the mind is at rest and does not go out and unnecessarily think about other things. When, by Repetition of the Names [Simran] with attention fixed in the eye focus, you have become unconscious of the body below the eyes, then your attention will catch the Sound Current. Select the Sound resembling the church bell and discard all other sounds. Then slowly your soul will leave the body and collect in the eyes and become strong. Then fix your attention in the biggest star, so much that you forget everything else except the Sound and the star. Then this star will burst and you will see what is within and beyond. After crossing the star you will have to cross the sun and the moon [inner manifestations of light]. Then you will see the Form of the Master. When that Form becomes steady it will reply. This Form will reply to all of your enquiries and guide you to higher stages... These stars are of the first sky only, and Hindu philosophers will have spoken of seven skies [in universes of elevating degrees]... After crossing the star, the sun and the moon you will see that Form which will never leave you, not even for a moment."
Finally, the soul, unencumbered by any bodies (gross, astral or causal), will merge with the Supreme, achieving a state that defies description. The drop merges in the ocean; the wave flows back to the sea; the "I" reunites with its source.
One primary obstacle, though, in the soul's journey back to God is that at each stage it must detach itself from the surrounding environment and ascend. In other words, to progress one's separate identity must "die." To go beyond this world, it is necessary to "die" to the attractions and pleasures that hold one down to the physical body. For the wave to realize its prior union with the sea, it must forego its exclusive attachment as a separate, distinct entity. Ken Wilber elaborates: "For in order to find that utter peace, the ripple would have to return to the ocean, dissolve back into radiant infinity, forget itself and remember the absolute. But to do so, the ripple would have to die--it would have to accept the death of its separate self sense. And it is terrified of this."
It is for this very reason--the fear of "dying"--that most inhabitants of the earth do not venture beyond its domain. Falsely believing that we are natives in this land, the saints argue that we have set up a substitute for our true home in Sach Khand. Hence, as Wilber argues, we go about seeking infinity in ways that actually prevent finding it: "Instead of finding actual Godhead, the ripple pretends to be god, cosmocentric, heroic, all-sufficient, immortal."
Huzur Sawan Singh saw through this drive to create substitutes for real transcendence and consciously surrendered his entire being to the inner Shabd. Because of his exceptional spiritual state, Sawan Singh was appointed by Baba Jaimal Singh to be his successor shortly before his death in 1903. Sawan Singh carried on his master's mission with remarkable aptitude, spreading the message of humankind's divine heritage throughout India.
Huzur Sawan Singh established a large spiritual colony on the banks of the Beas River in the Punjab where Baba Jaimal Singh had resided since the latter part of the 19th century. Sawan named the colony Dera Baba Jaimal Singh in honor of his master. Having been a highly placed engineer himself in the military service, Sawan built a number of large buildings at the Dera to house the increasing flux of seekers. The most impressive of these structures, the centerpiece of the Dera, is the Satsang Ghar built in the 1930s to hold satsangs (meetings) but which soon proved to be too small. (Today the Satsang Ghar is used to hold initiations.)
Sawan Singh gathered a large following of disciples from around the world. Among his devotees were Dr. Julian P. Johnson, Dr. Pierre Schmidt, Col. C.W. Sanders, Sant Kirpal Singh (founder of Ruhani Satsang), Sant Darshan Singh (founder of Sawan-Kirpal Mission), Baba Somanath, Pritam Das, and several government officials in both the British and Indian ranks.
Huzur Sawan Singh died on April 2, 1948, just days after appointing Jagat Singh as his spiritual successor. According to his devotees he was not a resident of this planet. Since childhood he had known that his real home was beyond the spatial limitations of the universe. He was a native of Sach Khand, the Eternal Realm of Truth, a saint who showed humanity that their origin was not of dust but of light--an unquenchable flame that burns in every living being for that alone which is everlasting.
1. Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh, Discourses on Sant Mat (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1970).
2. Ken Wilber, The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes (Boulder: Shambhala, 1982), page 161.
3. Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1974), pages 3 and 8.
4. Baba Jaimal Singh Ji Maharaj, Spiritual Letters (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1984), page 37.
5. Huzur Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems, op. cit.
6. Ken Wilber, op. cit., page 161.
7. See Juergensmeyer's Radhasoami Reality (Princeton University Press, 1991) and this author's The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992) for more information about the history of Radhasoami and shabd yoga.