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RADHASOAMI FAITH - A HISTORICAL STUDY: Birth of The Faith and Its Name

Prof. A.P. Mathur
M.A., PhD, F.I.H.S., F.R.A.S. (London)
Former Vice-Chancellor, Agra University, Agra, India

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Kabir and His Teachings

The central personality in the religious history of medieval India was Kabir. It is a remarkable historical fact that he belonged to a period of political turmoil and racial conflict produced by the Turkish impact. Replacing the prosaic gyana with dynamic bhakti, he stirred the socio-religious life of the country. He struck boldly at the root of caste distinctions, idolatry pilgrimages/, vows, fasts and all the external paraphernalia of religious life. He preached the gospel of love to the people in their own language and attempted to reconcile Hinduism with Islam propounding the ideal of religious unity and universal brotherhood. His call resounded in almost all corners of the country and laid the foundations of the saint traditions in India.

A mystic as he was, he preferred love and devotion to a formless reality. His Ram and Hari signify the Supreme Being different in nature from Rama of Ramayana and Hari of Bhagwat. As these names were common among the masses, he preferred to teach his gospel of love through them.

According to him the Supreme Being can be attained through the grace and mercy of the Satguru. He exalted the Satguru to a position much higher than Govinda and said that Satguru alone can direct the devotee to a path essential for the discipline of the soul and therefore in the three worlds and nine regions none is greater than the Satguru. Kabir believed the shabd or the holy name to be the true companion of a devotee. It emanated from the Supreme Being Himself in the course of creation. Through contemplation and inner practice known as sahaj-yoga the devotee can catch hold of the shabd and traverse the higher regions of the creation. He proclaimed that the highest aspiration of the human soul is to attain ultimate union with the Supreme Being, and nothing short of it, not even paradise, would satisfy it. By practicing sahaj-yoga, a devotee would cast off the evil tendencies of the mind and acquire humility, love, patience and perseverance, with the result that the self would be completely effaced. It would not mean a life of asceticism and renunciation and that both yoga (asceticism) and bhoga (enjoyment in family life) were necessary for a devotee.

Kabir realised that to tread the path of love was to walk on the keen edge of a sword. According to him one who would sustain to the end and develop incessant love and devotion at the feet of master would attain the desired goal. His teachings, especially his emphasis upon the formless Supreme Being, the concepts of Satguru and shabd present striking similarities to the precepts propounded by the founders of the Radhasoami faith. Like Kabir, they approve of family life and assert that love and devotion at the feet of the Supreme Being would result in a feeling of complete detachment from the world and its objects, even for a man living in family. Their surat shabd yoga resembles Kabir's sahaj-yoga. In fact it appears to be exactly an improved form of sahaj-yoga. Their emphasis on guru bhakti conforms to the Kabirian tradition. Their criticism of superfluous and superstitious socio-religious practices and their anti-traditional and anti-ritualistic approach show definite Kabirian impact. The founders of the Radhasoami faith have themselves admitted that their religion is testified in the teachings of Kabir Saheb. They acknowledge the supreme position of Kabir as param sant in the hierarchy of saints, who incarnated from the highest spiritual region far above the second region known as Brahmand to make the atmosphere congenial and set the stage ready for the incarnation of the true Supreme Being whom they call Sat Purush Radhasoami.

Nanak and Sikh Teachings

By the time guru Nanak came to join the line of the bhakti tradition, Islam had been well-established in northern India and its influence was visible in social life. Mutual hatred, animosity and mistrust between the two major committees-Hindus and Muslims-had taken hold of the society. Nanak, like Kabir, asserted that God is one and indivisible, above every other being howsoever highly conceived. He is not a God belonging to any particular people - Muslims or Hindus - but is the dispenser of life universal. The universe is an illusion which is not final and abiding in itself, but real only because of God's presence in it. The ways to realize God are not many but only one. The way is neither knowledge nor formalism or meritorious action but love and faith, aiming at attaining God's grace. One should sing in His praise and mediate on His name. Those who regularly repeat the holy name and have faith and love in the grace of Satguru will attain salvation.

Nanak condemned the superstitions and formalism of both Hinduism and Islam. He condemned the caste system and social inequities. He recommended family life, but also a complete detachment from the world and thus traced a mid-path between extreme asceticism and sensuous pursuits. He believed in the transmigration of the soul and the laws of karma. The evil-doers, he asserted, would suffer the pains of birth, death and rebirth.

The Sikh religion under the succeeding gurus, made striding progress. They brought about a revolution in society by further eradicating caste distinction. According to them, the reformer saints had admitted in their fold true seekers from weavers, barbers and shoe-makers, but the privilege of equality was not extended to men in general. Kabir and Raidas were honoured by people of higher castes but the masses still remained depressed as usual. The Sikh gurus declared the whole humanity to be one, and that man was not honoured because of his caste but because he emanated from God who had given him the life and soul. This approach brought a new hope and courage to the downtrodden masses and women who stood low in society. Women as well as men could equally share the grace of God and hold equal responsibility to Him. The Sikh gurus condemned the system of sati long before any notice was taken of it by Akbar. They called woman the conscience of man.

In Sikhism, Satguru is envisaged as a true and perfect being. As is God so is the guru and as it is the guru, so must be the follower. He is the central unifying personality, in spite of the rule of succession; when human form changes, the essence of personality is held to be identical with his predecessors. After the tenth guru, no one succeeded to the gaddi and the injunction of the former was that the Granth was the guru and any selected assembly of five Sikhs devoted to religious pursuit was as holy as the guru himself.

The ideas of Nam and Satguru, the theory of the succession of the gurus and the sangat and the pangat present striking similarities to the teachings of the Radhasoami faith.

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