Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher LaneDavid 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).

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The Wrestler: Pratap Singh

David Lane

Very little is known in the West about the lineage of Radhasoami gurus at Tarn Taran, a small Sikh city about 20 miles outside Amritsar. In the Punjab, however, the satsang is well known and its following numbers in the thousands.

I had hoped for several years to meet the then current head of the sect, Sri Pratap Singh. But it was not until August 1978 that I boarded a bus for Tarn Taran (the name literally means "a raft which carries one over a large body of water"), a town most famous for its large golden gurdwara (holy Sikh temple). Once arrived there, I had to ask the local rickshaw wallas for directions to the ashram. Pictures of a saintly looking Sikh on display in many of the shops made me feel hopeful. Luckily I found an old rickshaw driver who knew the way to the spiritual center. At the front of the compound I met the ashram's gatekeeper whose knowledge of English was exceeded only by my five words of Hindi. We greeted each other with a clear and drawn out "Radhasoami." I was ushered into an open, rather empty looking courtyard. A few people, whom I took to be sadhus, were lying in some shade (the heat was 100 degrees and the humidity felt like 90 percent).

One of the first things I noticed in the ashram was a series of pictures of the different saints at Tarn Taran. Most noticeable, in the center of the back wall, was a picture of the founder Baba Bagga Singh. He had a powerful lion-like face. There were also photographs of Sant Deva Singh, the second master in the lineage, and of the late Jagat Singh of Beas.

It was around noontime when I saw Sri Pratap Singh. I liked him immediately. He has a large nose and a robust physique. While the saint of Tarn Taran and I conversed, Kishori Lal Maini, secretary of the Dera, acted as translator. We discussed the history of the group and I discovered that Bagga Singh was a disciple of Baba Jaimal Singh, one of the successors to the founder of Radhasoami. Bagga Singh founded his satsang at Tarn Taran in the early part of this century. After his death in 1944 Sawan Singh of Beas, who had been a close friend of the founder of the Tarn Taran satsang, appointed Deva Singh to carry on the spiritual work. The current head, Sri Pratap Singh, was installed by Maharaj Charan Singh after Deva Singh's death in the early 1960's. The Tarn Taran and Beas satsangs enjoy a friendly and unique association. The present leaders of the two centers are good friends, often seen together giving spiritual discourses.

Pratap Singh discussed with me the practice of shabd yoga and how one might succeed in listening to the inner sound. He stressed the need to do as much simran as possible, that is, the repetition of a holy name or names at the third eye center. His argument was that unless one concentrated one's attention during the day away from the exterior world, then when one sat for meditation the world with all its attractions would again arise within the mind. The several hours one devotes to meditation, Pratap Singh argued, were not enough precisely because those hours were spent reminiscing about the day's events and not necessarily focusing on the task of going within. I was reminded during Pratap Singh's conversation of Jagat Singh's admonition to do simran as if one were collecting or counting precious jewels. Each repetition of a word or words should be done with the mind fully attentive, much like a jeweler who inspects each diamond with meticulous care.

Pratap Singh also displayed during this time a wonderful sense of curiosity. He seemed fascinated by my wristwatch and wanted to know how much it cost me in America. When I told him the price (I think it was around $20), he seemed duly impressed and thought I got a good deal. Indeed, I felt tempted to offer it to him, but knowing that gurus like Pratap Singh did not accept gifts, I thought it might be rude so I held back. About this time, one of Pratap Singh's disciples brought us chai (tea) and apples. As we ate, Pratap Singh kept teasing his disciple in a playful way. Though I couldn't understand what exactly Pratap Singh was saying in Punjabi, it was obvious that both of them were having a good time. Pratap Singh's laughter was contagious and I found myself laughing out loud, despite the fact that I had no clue about what was so funny. Indeed, it was Pratap Singh's sense of humor that I found so appealing. It is refreshing to be able to talk with a guru who does not take himself too seriously.

From my travels and research authentic gurus are not distant and aloof; rather they are like close family and relatives. In America we have been misled by the influx of Indian pseudo-masters who seem more devoted in taking your wallet to their personal bank than in taking your soul back to God.. Thousands of Indians die every year from malnutrition but certain "God-Realized" gurus drive Rolls Royces and live extravagantly off their devotees' contributions. Genuine gurus, of course, don't charge money, nor do they claim miraculous powers. They are, contrary to our misconceptions, normal human beings who have surrendered (not inflated) their egos out of love for God. Hence, legitimate masters are givers to humanity, not beggars. Perhaps no one has presented a clearer guide to the objective indices of a real saint than Julian P. Johnson in his landmark text The Path of the Masters:

  1. "Real masters never charge for their services, nor do they accept payment or any sort of material benefits from their instructors.
  2. Masters never boast of their mastership or of their spiritual powers or attainments. If any man claims to have attained the highest in spiritual development that claim of itself may be taken as conclusive proof that he has not attained so much.
  3. Masters never go about begging their living. They are always self-supporting.
  4. A real master never performs miracles for public exhibition."

On the other hand it is a mistake to imagine that mystics are always engaged in prayer, fasting or austerities and not concerned with "worldly" activities. I quickly learned this is not the case. To be a saint does not mean that one gives up the world and its pleasures but that one understands the changing nature behind the universe and hence its unreality as a fixed and permanent structure. I must admit, however, that I was a bit shocked when Sri Pratap Singh informed me of his fondness for wrestling. The famed saint of Tarn Taran a wrestler? I could tell by the twinkle in his eye that he loved the sport. In fact, he described his recent contest with his friend the late Dr. Randolph Stone, founder of Polarity Therapy, at the house of Maharaj Charan Singh, India's most revered saint. I don't know who won the contest, but if I were a betting man I would place my money on the saint of Tarn Taran. To be sure, Pratap Singh is a kind and wise guru, but he is also quite hefty and fit. I don't think Dr. Stone had a chance.

Shaking Sri Pratap Singh's hand for the last time, feeling his grip growing tighter, I was very tempted to challenge the guru to an arm wrestle. But alas! I was too shy. Of course, Pratap Singh would have none of that, so he stood up and gave me a huge bear hug. Till this day I can still recall how strongly he squeezed me. I can also never forget the warmth and friendliness of the saint of Tarn Taran.

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