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
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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 Master: Charan Singh
The shabd yoga guru who has the largest following in both India and around the world is Maharaj Charan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas. His following is said to be well over a million, a remarkable number considering that the esteemed saint does not advertise and his disciples do not proselytize. Maharaj Charan Singh has drawn accolades from both followers and outsiders. As Professor Philip H. Ashby of Princeton University notes: "The present Master, Charan Singh, is the grandson of the Great Master who before becoming Master in 1951 was a lawyer in Sikanderpur in the Punjab. Born in 1916, a man of great physical and personal charm even to non-Satsangis and now at the height of his intellectual and spiritual powers, he is obviously a worthy successor to the Great Master. As I can testify from personal conversations with him and by observation of him in the midst of his devout adherents, the leadership of an Indian religious sect such as the Radha Soami Satsang of Beas does not fall upon men who are charlatans or insincere, as some people in the West might suspect. Penetrating through the fervent adulation and worship of the colony, the objective non-adherent must admit to being in the presence of a highly gifted and spiritually sensitive leader."
I have had the good fortune to meet Maharaj Charan Singh on nine occasions. I will never forget the first time I saw the exalted saint in India in late July of 1978 in the midst of the intense summer monsoons. It was an amazing sight to see nearly half a million people from all over India come to pay their respects on the last Sunday in July. Each year a bhandara (spiritual celebration) is held in honor of the birthday (July 27, 1858) of Huzur Sawan Singh, guru and grandfather of Maharaj Charan Singh and pilgrims from all over India come to have the darshan (sight) of their beloved living master.
Since I was staying in a hostel in Amritsar some 30 miles away I had to take a bus to reach the town of Beas. As I got off the bus at Beas in the early morning, I was astounded to find thousands of Indians converging on the Dera (as the colony is affectionately known) by every conceivable mode of transportation. The road from the little town of Beas to Dera Baba Jaimal Singh is about three miles. Along this pathway I saw Punjabis, Rajasthanis, Tibetans, Japanese, Europeans and almost every nationality on earth making their way to see Maharaj Charan Singh. There were mothers with week-old infants, grandfathers well over 90, rich men, beggars, the crippled and the blind-all of them eager to be in the company of this saint.
The heat was intense but it did not stop the determined pilgrims from filling the air with devotional hymns, laughter and a growing sense of anticipation for what was to them the greatest occasion on earth. As I approached the Dera gates, I saw in the foreground the large exquisite Satsang Ghar, a beautiful meeting hall in the center of the colony which is visible for miles, its white domes topped with shimmering gold.
I made my way to the large field just behind the Satsang Ghar where Maharaj Charan Singh was to speak. I was told later that the crowd numbered well over three lakhs (300,000). As far as my eyes could see, row upon row of men, women and children sat cross-legged waiting for their beloved saint.
When Maharaj Ji, as he is warmly called, ascended to the dais, a sigh of relief ran through the crowd. Once on the elevated platform the sage, with his beige turban, long white beard and sparkling eyes, bowed his head to the gaddi (seat) which he was about to assume. I was told earlier that this was in respect for his own guru Sawan Singh and for the audience that had congregated. For about 10 minutes Maharaj Ji sat quietly giving darshan to the multitude which had assembled to see him. It was an astonishing experience to sit with several hundred thousand persons in total silence. After this brief but intensely moving period, Maharaj Charan Singh gave a discourse in Punjabi on the teachings of mystics in the Sant Mat tradition.
Maharaj Ji's message was simple but profound. We are in essence drops oflove from the sea of God. Because of our association with the mind and body (and our exclusive attachment to them) we have lost sight of our real Self. Thus God in His infinite mercy assumes the form of a Saint in order to lead the soul back to its Original Home. Instead of limiting ourselves to sensual pleasures, which in the end leave us unhappy and discontented, Maharaj Ji stressed the need for surrendering our entire beings to the Ocean of Love of which we are intimately a part. To help us do this Maharaj Ji advised the practice of surat shabd yoga. By attuning ourselves to the Life Current which proceeds from the Heart of Anami Purush in the form of light and sound, we could finally achieve union with our true self, thus finding the joy we seek.
After the satsang, Maharaj Ji proceeded to the langar, a vast kitchen where sevadars (volunteer workers) were preparing food for the pilgrims. This meal, which is completely free, is provided daily in the Dera. On this occasion, however, there were over one million chappatis (whole wheat tortillas) served. The task is enormous but the langar runs smoothly under the tireless sevadars and Maharaj Charan Singh's expert guidance.
As I walked around the Dera, undoubtedly the cleanest, best-kept town I have seen in India, I could not help thinking of its uniqueness. Who could have imagined 90 years ago that a somewhat obscure sadhu living in the middle of a veritable wasteland would be the seed for one of the world's largest spiritual centers? The lineage of saints at Beas is impressive. Jaimal Singh, the first in line, was one of the chief disciples and successors to Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of Radhasoami. Upon his death in 1903, he was succeeded by his most devoted disciple, Sawan Singh. It was Sawan Singh, the "Great Master," who built the foundation for Dera. Under his reign, the large Satsang Ghar, which is T-shaped with several minarets, was constructed in the 1930's. He attracted a substantial following--men and women from all over the world. Jagat Singh, a distinguished chemistry professor, followed the Great Master in 1948. His leadership lasted only for three years; nevertheless, he is revered as an example of a karma yogi who discharged his duties with love and detachment. Upon his death, Maharaj Charan Singh was appointed as the living Satguru. Jagat Singh had great regard for Maharaj Ji, once calling him Shah-en-Shah, "King of Kings."
Perhaps of all the masters at Beas, Maharaj Charan Singh has brought about the most social change. He has done away with caste restrictions in the colony, a more difficult thing to do than one might expect in post-Gandhi India. Maharaj Ji also has donated all of the spiritual property in his name (legally given to him by the previous master Jagat Singh), which is worth millions of dollars, to a registered society. He himself, I learned, does not accept gifts, nor does he receive any money whatsoever for his services. Rather, Maharaj Charan Singh lives off his own earnings from a family farm in Sirsa.
Unbelievable joy radiates from the faces of Maharaj Ji's followers at the Dera. The driving force in the colony is to be in the presence of their beloved master. This sacred play, as it is called, takes two major forms: 1) Whenever Maharaj Charan Singh is in his car,by some unknown albeit accurate process, hundreds of people line the streets, anxious to get a glimpse of his face and gentle smile; and 2) whenever work needs to be done around the center volunteers eagerly sign up. Why? Because Maharaj Ji usually oversees the project.
But in the Dera there is also a deep sense of mutual love. I was pleased to learn that real saints are not measured by the amount of worship or adulation they receive but by the degree of service they themselves provide. In all of India I found this distinction most apparent when I was in the company of Maharaj Charan Singh.
As I left the beautiful spiritual colony at Beas, memories of James Hilton's Shangri-La came to mind. I remembered thinking as a child how wonderful it would be if such a place really existed. Leaving the Dera gates, I realized it was not a fantasy or an overly romantic dream; there really can be a paradise on earth, not determined by geographics but by the devoted hearts of men and women. In such a place, where there are genuine saints, where human beings are sincere in their quests, then everything becomes transformed. Then there can be truly an enchanted land.