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RADHASOAMI FAITH - A HISTORICAL STUDY: The Second Guru (contd.) - Systematization of Faith

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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Religious Practices

For promoting the spiritual uplift of satsangis, Hazur Maharaj also introduced some devotional practices to be practised not as rituals but as aids to help inner contemplation - gestures significant from the spiritual point of view. These are described as follows :

Arti :

It is a common practice in Hinduism and was conducted in same way during Soamiji's time. Hazur Maharaj, however suggested an improvement. By arti, he meant inner concentration of the vision of spiritual light, with no external significance. Arti in Radhasoami faith, therefore, has the higher object of identifying one's own self with the Supreme Being. It consists in a devotee listening to the scriptures while seated in front of Satguru with his gaze fixed on guru's eyes and with his mind and spirit drawn inwards and upwards. This way, the devotee enjoys the inner bliss and attains the grace and mercy of the Supreme Being.

Bhandara :

This is normally held on the day of departure of the past santsatgurus. This day is held in great esteem as it is believed that the departing Santsatguru showers abundant grace, mercy and bliss upon the jivas. Such a day reminds devotees of the everlasting glory of the spirit and are beneficial for the general well-being of the jivas.

On the bhandara days, followers attend the holy service (satsang) specially conducted in the reverential memory of the past Santsatguru, offer their homage and take prasad distributed after the recitation of banis and discourses given by them in their life-time. Great significance is attached to this prasad as it is supposed to be sanctified by their grace.

In the afternoon all devotees take their meals together. The tradition of joint feasting removes distinction of caste, colour and creed. Mass-dinners like this, indeed, present a pleasant site. The practice of bhandara inculcates in the followers a common bond of love and brotherhood, and brings together people residing in different provinces and speaking different languages.

Touching the feet of Satguru, Offering of Garlands, Receiving of Prasad :

Touching the guru's feet indicates love and reverence a devotee has for Satguru from whom divine currents constantly emanate. If observed only as formality, the practice would be fruitless. While touching satguru's feet a devotee should draw his spirit inwards and concentrate on the teesra til and the holy form of the guru.

Likewise, offering garlands to Satguru is an expression of love and reverence. Flowers are offered to deities in every religion as they signify the softest feelings of the heart. Presenting flowers to the respected or beloved is an age-old practice which is in vogue even now. Hazur says that flowers and garlands offered to Santsatguru are sure to imbibe the piety and divine grace of his body; hence when they are returned to devotees as prasad, they would carry the same spiritual impact to them. The devotee would then derive spiritual sanctity and ecstasy.

Prasad and Charnamrit :

Prasad and Charnamrit have the same significance and serve the same purpose as flowers and garlands. Prasad may be food left over by the guru, his clothes, or the water after washing his feet or any used article of the guru. Prasad carries the sanctifying currents of the Santsatguru's divine love.

Reverence for the Holy Samadhis :

Hazur enjoins upon his followers to pay visits to holy samadhis and offer tributes there. He says that the place of the residence of the guru, the things used by him in his life-time - palang, chowki, dresses, utensils, wooden sandals and the photographs - all represent the sacred memory and the splendid glory which has become the precious possessions of the devotees. Such a practice signifies reverence and devotion and it can not be equated with idol-worship or the worship of dead and inert objects. The expression of pious love and reverence to hallowed memory is neither external ritualism nor idol-worship. Rather, devotees after paying a visit to the samadhi are sure to experience inner ecstasy and eternal bliss during their internal concentration or the practice of surat-shabd-yog.

Contribution

Hazur can be definitely and correctly styled as Messiah of Love. The emphasis upon love in his teachings signifies the realism underlying his basic thought and philosophy. In the nineteenth century, Christianity was trying to uproot indigenous religious faiths. Both educated and uneducated Indians were attracted towards it. The people of lower castes could get in its teaching a panacea for all evils and embraced it indiscriminately. It was at this critical period that Hazur Maharaj came forward with a positive assertion that the cult of love was not new to India. He revived it in the form of his simple teachings and struck hard not only at the Christian proselytizers but also such exponents of Hinduism as had forgotten the basic philosophy of spiritual love inherent in the cultural traditions of the country.

Hazur preached the universality of the cult of devotion. Among the devotees of God, there is no distinction of birth, learning, appearance, family, wealth and nationality, since they all belong to Him. The cult of bhakti is meant for all. It is catholic and universal. Not only brahmans and shudras could join the faith on equal level but Christians, Muslims or persons belonging to any nationality could become its followers. Hazur, thus challenged the rigidity of Hinduism, the orthodoxy of Islam, and the so-called simplicity of Christianity. Though many religious leaders emerged in the nineteenth century as stalwarts of reform, none could surpass Hazur Maharaj in declaring so boldly that religion is above all labels and specifications. A true seeker need not renounce his social customs and practices or change his previous creed in order to join the fold of his faith. J.N. Farquhar writes : "....the membership in the sect does not involve any breach in one's own religion.....you may be a Radhasoami and yet remain a Hindu, a Mohammedan or a Christian.....Radhasoami faith is an extra fit, to be the compliment of any religion and supreme over them all."

The spirit, later on developed into a fusion of international culture when many Christians and Muslims from India and abroad joined the faith without changing their creed and social customs. By founding such a sublime and lively faith Hazur proved the truth of the statement that India alone can lead the world from materialism to spiritualism; from darkness to the eternal light of love.

As regards his teachings, it cannot be denied that Hazur introduced a simple and scientific method to attain salvation. In an age when science and technology were developing fast and people were drifting away from religion, Hazur introduced the spiritual practice of surat-shabd-yog in perfect conformity with the true spirit of a researcher who collects data and works upon a project on given lines and then after deriving the results tallies it with that of the supervisor.

Hazur Maharaj presented a new concept of the Supreme Being and His eternal abode. His Supreme Being is free from any admixture of mind and matter and his region is far beyond the reach of Brahman and maya. Believing in the surat chaitanya shakti (pure spiritual power) of the spirit entity, Hazur envisages a Supreme Being who is the ocean of all spirituality and spirit of spirits. A follower of the faith who practices surat-shabd-yog can realize the union of his spirit (drop of the ocean) with the ocean (reservoir) by his contact with the tidal wave of the ocean known as Satguru.

To Hazur goes the credit of revealing the name Radhasoami. A recitation of this true name, according to Hazur, would dissolve the ego, generate love, facilitate yoga and purify the body, mind and soul and would prove to be a true companion and a mighty weapon in the inward journey of the spirit. It would also direct the surat chaitanya shakti (spiritual energy) to be spent in the right direction, and would remove the coverage of maya that lead this precious energy to wastage. Hazur, thus, established the superiority of the name Radhasoami over five other names given by earlier sants to purely spiritual Supreme Being. He also asserted the enormous strength of the spirit entity to traverse in the higher regions and attain salvation. The name Radhasoami finally gave a unity to the sect.

Hazur's ideal of guru-bhakti, which he himself practiced demonstrates the practicability of his theory. According to him, guru-bhakti is highly beneficial for the jivas, provided they choose a correct guru. To Hazur, a life of devotion did not mean a life of inaction, but an active life to God. He also taught the doctrine of grace. He alone can realize the Supreme Being to whom He becomes gracious.

In the light of his enormous contribution to the Radhasoami faith, Hazur can rightly be called its true founder. It was he who not only systematized the concepts and beliefs and formulated the essentials of the faith but also enunciated the code of moral conduct and practices for the followers. Hazur gave the faith its noteworthy name, its vast organization, its large following and an incarnated Supreme Being - Soamiji Maharaj.

J.N. Farquhar rightly remarks : "the Sect owes a great deal to this man's clear intellect and power of expression. The first guru may have been the source of the leading ideas and the religious practice of the Sect, but one can scarcely doubt that the order and precision which now mark its teachings where the fruit of Saligram's vigorous and orderly mind." The eminent modern historian Dr. A.L. Srivastava rightly observes : "He was the first man to name the new Sect - Radhasoami - and give it a positive philosophy. Were it not for him, the Radhasoami faith would not have come into existence and the first guru would have remained content with the status of a saint with a small number of personal followers."

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