The Shabd Yoga Influence: Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind and John-Roger Hinkins

 

By Andrea Grace Diem, Ph.D.

(excerpted from ‘The Guru in America’)

One of the peculiar historical trends rampant in Radhasoami is the large number of gurus and groups in America which have attempted to genealogically dissociate themselves from their original ministries. As we previously noted with Paul Twitchell and Eckankar there are several reasons for this, but the primary one seems to be related to self-autonomy, the desire both personally and organizationally not to be bound by the restrictions of Indian cultural ideas and morality. While Eckankar is clearly modeled upon Ruhani Satsang and much of Radhasoami theology (with significant departures), there are other lesser known groups which have also borrowed from shabd yoga teachings but which have branched off in ways different than Eckankar. Two of the more popular ones are Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind’s Sikh Study Group and John-Roger Hinkins’ Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (M.S.I.A.). Interestingly, these two groups have taken opposite approaches. Bhagat Singh Thind, a one-time initiate of Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Beas, denied his association with Radhasoami and instead sought legitimacy through Sikhism. [1] Yet, as we shall see, the material that he taught still remained very close to Radhasoami. On the other hand, John-Roger Hinkins, who also distanced himself from his parent ministry, Eckankar, curiously sought legitimacy through Radhasoami. Though John-Roger (as he is popularly called) was never initiated by Sawan Singh he claimed that he was. And unlike Thind’s group, M.S.I.A.’s teachings ironically diverge significantly from Radhasoami, from its interpretation of the guru to its more relaxed moral requirements. All of this illustrates how religions branch off in their own particular ways taking on fascinating new shapes.

 

Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind

Ever since Swami Vivekananda made headlines at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, Indian gurus and swamis have found an appreciative audience in America. Although only few gurus attained the successes of Vivekananda, Yogananda, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, there were many other lesser known spiritual teachers who had a direct impact on the development of new religious movements. Perhaps one of the most neglected of all Sikh-related gurus to preach in North America by scholars was Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind, whose career evolved from being a political celebrity to a spiritual teacher. Thind’s lifework can be seen encompassing three phases: 1) an Indian rights activist, as illustrated by his contentious battle in the Courts in 1923 to win an exemption clause for East Indi-ans as being Aryan or Caucasian [2], and later demonstrated by his French born wife’s continued campaign in California and elsewhere to introduce Indian culture into American life; 2) a Sikh teacher, who tried in the 1920s and most of the 1930s to introduce the path of Guru Nanak and his nine successors to a Western audience; and 3) a Sant Mat metaphysical master, who from the late 1930s to the late 1960s tried to intermingle Radhasoami, Sikhism, Yoga, and Metaphysics, into a unique system with himself as sole mediator. Thus Thind’s career evolved from one of concerned activist, to Sikh inspired teacher (with limited personal claims), to God-realized master. This evolution is not unique, however, and seems to be similar (perhaps not in content but structure) with other would-be shabd yoga teachers in America.

As a spiritual teacher, Thind never attracted the kind of attention accorded to his Indian counterparts, like Yogananda who was his Hindu contemporary, but nevertheless he did play a significant role in introducing Radhasoami related ideas to Westerners. When Bhagat Singh Thind started his ministry in America in the 1920s he did not make it known that he was affiliated with Radhasoami. In fact, in his writings he refers to himself as a Sikh (despite the fact that most of his teachings correlate directly with Radhasoami ideas). But allegedly Thind was initiated by Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas. As Kirpal Singh notes:

When I went to America there was one gentleman, he’s passed away now, a Sikh gentleman who was giving talks on payment. His name was Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind. He married a French lady. He was initiated by Baba Sawan Singh, I know, definitely. [3]

It is unclear why Bhagat Singh Thind denied his connections with Sawan Singh. Thind’s wife and disciples claimed that Thind was initiated by a guru in the Himalayan mountains, a story that appears to be common among those who wish to deny any certifiable historical link (e.g., Twitchell claimed to be initiated by Rebazar Tarzs, a Himalayan monk, though he was actually connected to Kirpal Singh; and Ching Hai, one-time initiate of Thakar Singh, claims that she also met her satguru in the Himalayas, but neither provides a name or an address for her mysterious mentor). Perhaps Thind had to divorce his mission from Radhasoami since he charged money for his services, a requirement forbidden by Sawan Singh and other Sant Mat gurus.

Although very little is known about Thind’s life and activities (no formal organization ever developed around his ministry to advertise and spread his teachings), we do know that he self-published a number of books on Sant Mat and that these books attracted hundreds of devotees. Thind apparently derived much of his inspiration and formulated much of his ideas (and, in some cases, almost verbatim paragraphs) for his books from Radhasoami literature. As Kirpal Singh reveals in Heart to Heart Talks in a question and answer section with a disciple:

Master [Kirpal Singh]: When he wrote his first book, Radiant Road he sent a copy to Baba Sawan Singh. He gave it to me. It was a copy of what I had written. I wanted to meet him but he always evaded me. I was in America four months, I asked him for his program but he would change his program. We never met. He said he never even saw Baba Sawan Singh, and never knew that Radiant Road, his book, is the exact translation of a portion of the book I had written. Question [Disciple]: Which book, Gurmat SidhantMaster: Exactly. Question: What part? Master: Certain portions from the first and second part. I asked Mr. Khanna to approach him. He said, ‘He won’t receive You.’ I went to California. He left his home. I met his wife. When I was there he went to the East and when I went to the East, he went to the West. Only to hide. He said he was a born Master. Question: Yes, he said he had no need of a Master, that he came directly from God. Master: This is what I say. And when he came to India, he never met me. So such-like things are known. After all, the cat is out of the bag. Is it not? . . . Question: He was actually an initiate of Sawan Singh, wasn’t he? Master: Definitely, I know. Because the first book is the Radiant Road something. . . QuestionTo RealityMaster: He sent it to Baba Sawan Singh. I was there. Master gave it to me. He was in a regiment in Amritsar. Such-like things, I tell you, are not good. After all these things come out. . .[4]

While it is true that Thind copied much of his most famous book, Radiant Road to Reality [5], without attribution, Kirpal Singh is wrong in alleging that it was his writings, Gurmat Sidhant, which served as the original source. [6] Rather, Thind was influenced by Johnson’s With a Great Master in India (1934); indeed, Thind’s Radiant Road to Reality is a partial reworking of “The Path of the Saints” which forms the last part of With a Great Master in India.

Arguably, Thind’s appropriations are similar to Twitchell’s–both have an apparent fondness for early Johnson. But in many ways Thind’s adoptions are more sophisticated than Twitchell’s. Whereas Twitchell added a number of incongruent ideas to his appropriations Thind more or less stayed very close to the core of Radhasoami teachings. However, Thind did develop his own unique version of Sant Mat by implementing a few subtle changes, like not invoking any strict requirements for initiation, referring to Sikhism as the source of his inspiration, and charging money for instruction. Curiously, Thind, who follows Johnson’s text very closely, strays only when he wishes to add his own emphasis, coin a new term, or avoid a section which may contradict his own ministerial lifestyle. Perhaps the most revealing example of the latter occurs on page 18 of Radiant Road to Reality, where Thind more or less adopts page 186 of Johnson’s With a Great Master in India, but he leaves out the following admonition from Johnson, “It never begs for money for its support, and even the Master himself, giving his whole time to the work, never receives any material benefits from his disciples.” In replacement, Thind writes something a bit more nebulous, “Its votaries neither ask nor beg nor expect, but fulfill the truths in their lives, and the truths fulfilled fill them full of their substances.” Why the redaction? Well, as we pointed out previously with Twitchell, Thind charged money for his instruction and relied upon his students for donations to help support him. That this contradicted a longstanding tradition in Radhasoami may have been the driving force behind why Thind did not continue to appropriate from Johnson in that section, despite the fact that he has no qualms whatsoever from using other sentences which describe Sant Mat. What all of this indicates, of course, is how Radhasoami doctrines were used by Thind but slightly modified for his own purposes.

The following are eight examples comparing Thind’s Radiant Road to Reality (New York: Privately Published, 1939) with Johnson’s With a Great Master in India (Beas: Radha Soami Satsang, 1934; second edition, 1953). [7] Particularly note how Thind interweaves Radhasoami material with his own elaborations and alters certain words for his own uses [8]:

Example One

In comparing these two passages notice that Thind adopts Johnson’s basic message that shabd yoga is a science but he adds a bit of his own embellishments, like referring to the “Creator” as the “Universal Creator,” and suggesting the life’s “problems” will fade away while practicing shabd yoga.

Radhasoami Literature:

Julian P. Johnson’s

With a Great Master in India

(first published 1934;

second edition 1953)

p. 186

Sant Mat is the science of connecting the individual soul with its Creator.

 

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Bhagat Singh Thind’s

Radiant Road to Reality:

Tested Science of Religion

(published 1939)

p. vii

It is the Science which connects the individual soul with its Universal Creator and solves all problems of life both here and hereafter.

 

 

Example Two

There is very little difference between these two pieces of writing, except for a few subtle word changes by Thind, like referring to “great plenty” as an “abundant profusion.”

 

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 186

 

The world is not in need of cultural ideas. It has them in great plenty.

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. vii

 

The world is not in need of cultural ideas; it has them in abundant profusion.

Example Three

Thind is basically reiterating Johnson’s claim that religions of the world are ignorant about shabd yoga. The only major difference between these passages is Thind’s reference to “world teachers” as “world Saviors and Teachers of Humanity.”

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 180

They do not teach you how to go inside and find yourself that kingdom of Heaven spoken of by all the world teachers. Neither do they offer you any help in overcoming the downward sweep of the great currents of evil.

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. viii

Existing cults all over the world do not teach how to go inside and find yourself that Kingdom of Heaven so eloquently spoken of by all the world Saviors and Teachers of Humanity. Neither do they offer you any help in overcoming the downward sweep and pull of the great current of evil.

Example Four

Here both authors speak of the science of Sant Mat teachings, which they claim was founded by God. However, Thind makes a few substitutions: for instance, instead of the generic term “teachings” he clarifies it as “Sant Mat teachings,” and instead of “Creator” he adds “Sat Purush, the Perfect Creator.”

 

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 185

But the teaching itself is the oldest science on earth, antedating the Vedas by untold ages…It has never changed and can never change; because it has been a perfect science from the beginning. It is a science based upon natural law and personal experience. The Creator himself is its author, and founder.

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. 18

Sant Mat teachings are the oldest Science on this earth, antedating the vedas by untold ages. It is an exact science. It does not change with time…It is entirely based upon natural law and personal verification and experience…Sat Purush, the Perfect Creator Himself alone is its author and founder.

Example Five

In the passages below the writers frown upon blind belief but not experiential meditation. Thind’s statements deviate very little from Johnson’s.

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 185

This system calls no credulity…it asks for no blind acceptance; but proposes a method by which the student may prove every world of it for himself.

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. 18

It calls for no credulity, begs for no blind beliefs, and asks for no acceptance, but proposes and posits a method by which the seeker may prove every world of it by his own efforts.

 

 

 

Example Six

Here Johnson discusses of the soul’s mystical ascent. Thind adds a bit of his own elaboration to it by referring to the spiritual realms as “subtler and still subtler regions.” He also suggests that the journey finally ends when one has reached the “Father’s Home–the Home of Happiness.”

 

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 186

 

Sant Mat alone builds upon its foundation. It builds a superstructure reaching to the utmost skies. And its culture is that which is gained by the ascent of the soul to higher regions.

 

 

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. 19

 

Sant Mat builds on its own foundations, a supersystem erecting a superstructure reaching the topmost heights, and its culture when cultivating spurs the soul’s inward ascent in subtler and still subtler regions within oneself until it is once again in its Father’s Home–the Home of Happiness.

 

 

 

 

Example Seven

There is a subtle difference in the writings here. Johnson establishes the absolute necessity of living a moral life if one is to progress spiritually. Morality, he says, is a foundation by which one can “proceed to build upon.” Thind agrees with this for the most part, but he adds a caveat: “morality is a means in it, not an end.” The goal, he explains, is connecting the soul “with its Infinite author.” (It is interesting to note that Thind does not invoke the same strict moral requirements as the Radhasoamis do.)

 

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 187

 

They cannot make even a start on the Path until the moral foundation has been laid. But unlike other systems, they do not stop here. Having laid this foundation, they proceed to build upon it.

 

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. 19

 

None can even make a start on the Path until the moral foundation has been laid, but morality is a means in it, not an end. It stops not here, but successfully connects the soul of the individual with its Infinite author.

Example Eight

Shabd Yoga is presented here by both authors as an “exact science.” Thind makes a few changes though, such as suggesting that the results of this spiriual experiment can be made with “exact mathematical precision.”
 

Radhasoami Literature:

With a Great Master in India

p. 189

In all the ages of the world, among all races and in all countries, all who follow its formula get exactly the same results. That makes it an exact science. Therefore, the results may always be predicted in advance. The student on the Path may always know excatly wht he will be able to accomplish.

 

Sikh Study Group Literature:

Radiant Road to Reality

p. 19

 

In all times and climes amongst all classes and masses, all who have followed its working formula get exactly the same results, come to the same conclusion. The results can be predicted with exact mathematical precision in advance…In exact science there never is any exception.

 

As we see, Bhagat Singh Thind’s Radiant Road to Reality has striking similarities with Radhasoami literature. Since Thind’s text was popular in metaphysical circles for decades, it seems to have actually served as a beacon for seekers interested in shabd yoga practices. Indeed, Wave Sanderson and Roland G. deVries, two of the more influential disciples of both Kirpal Singh and Charan Singh, first came into contact with shabd yoga practices through their study with Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind. Today Roland deVries is a Western Representative for Radhasoami Satsang Beas, a post which he has held for almost thirty years. It can be argued that through his literature Thind was instrumental in serving as a bridge for a number of seekers to crossover to other more established Radhasoami branches. I would suggest that relatively unknown teachers like Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind serve a vital communicative function in religion that is oftentimes ignored by scholars. It may well be that there are thousands of “Thinds” who have very small followings but who nevertheless act as catalysts for gurus and groups which demand much more public attention.

Clearly Thind’s own legacy is obscured by the fact that he lacked the organizational resources that his Indian counterparts, like Yogananda, enjoyed. Thind was more or less a “free-lance” guru and as such did not reap the benefits that a secure organization, like Self-Realization Fellowship, would have provided for him. Since he left no organization, appointed no widely accepted successors, and provided in his books little, if no, biographical information, the new seeker or reader is simply left with a spiritual system which intertwines Sikhism with Radhasoami, while at no place distinguishing the great differences between the two. Yet, Thind’s ministry is important to study in order to understand shabdism in North America, since he is perhaps the first among many who tried to incorporate Radhasoami ideas, while not directly acknowledging them, into a more streamlined, Westernized path.

John-Roger Hinkins

It is one of the ironies in religion that when a guru branches off from a center, he/she in turn has disciples who branch off from his/her line, and so on. The outcome is a proliferation of diverging lines of teachers and groups, each of which in turn spawn new offshoots. Oftentimes groups differentiate themselves from their offshoots by claiming that their views are orthodox while the fledgling branch’s views are heterodox. The very concept of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, of course, is a social construction, largely dependent upon the politics of power and persuasion. Ironically, the very guru who may at onetime be castigated as heterodox, outside of the mainstream and derivative, may in time be regarded as orthodox, especially if someone newer breaks off and starts his/her own teaching. Thus, who’s orthodox and who’s heterodox is a labeling game which is quite dynamic and time dependent. Indeed, orthodoxy and heterodoxy are relational terms which always co-exist; in other words, you can never find the one without finding the other. Each define themselves at the very time that they define their counterparts. When one calls the other heterodox it establishes their own peculiar vision of what is orthodox.

An interesting example of this relational tension between orthodoxy and heterodoxy can be found in Radhasoami’s tainted history of guru successorship. For instance, Shiv Dayal Singh is regarded as the pivotal point of all Radhasoami groups. He stands as the axis mundi, the point at which each branch can define its purity. Hence, Shiv Dayal Singh is the foundation of orthodoxy in Radhasoami circles. However, from the perspective of the Tulsi Sahibi’s, a group founded around the life and work of Tulsi Sahib, the alleged guru of Radhasoami’s founder, Shiv Dayal Singh was a branch off successor and not to be regarded seriously. He was considered heterodox.

Today in Radhasoami there are branches which allege to be the “parental” true lineage, casting dispersion on other start-ups which claim the mantle of Radhasoami surreptitiously. Yet, as we can see, once a group establishes itself for some time, it sprouts imitations which are seen as contrary to the “original” or “true” teachings. Thus, Eckankar and groups like it are viewed with great suspicion by the more established Radhasoami branches. But while Eckankar may be regarded as heterodox to Radhasoamis, it regards itself as orthodox to its offshoots, like John-Roger Hinkins’ M.S.I.A. organization. Moreover, while the founder of Eckankar, Paul Twitchell, might be somewhat ambivalent or even insecure about his tenuous connections to Ruhani Satsang, he is downright indignant when it comes to offshoots of his own ministry, as evidenced by his long quote about the activities of John-Roger Hinkins:

Now, we had one man, maybe you knew about this up there in Chicago, when we were talking about it in the crowd there. This fellow takes every discourse we have, then he gets all the ECK books and he get himself initiated up to the second, then goes out and starts his own group, see? He had a meeting every night and he would give them what they call aura-balancing or adjusting. I thought this thing was awfully funny. I sent some people in to see him and hear him, and he was having kind of a seance every night and he was saying, “Well, Brother Paul’s here, Brother Paul’s going to talk to us now.” Then he was saying that I had lunch with him about twice a month asking him if we could join organizatio ns, see. And he was selling all of his work upon the inference in that 1968 seminar over there. There were two women who came up from Santa Barbara and she says, “Oh, we’re ECK students.” And I says, “You are?” She says, “Yeah, we’re studying under Roger Hinkins.” See, this fellow who had taken all of this and stolen it from us and this thing was building up because he was using us to build his organization. [9]

Turning now to M.S.I.A. provides us with a classic example of how new religions in America quickly evolve over time after disconnecting from their previous roots. Although John-Roger does not like to elaborate on his previous associations with spiritual groups (he was born Mormon), we do know that he was a one-time member of Eckankar in the latter part of the 1960s. In fact, his name is listed as a satsang convener in Rosemead, California, in one official Eckankar publication from that time period. While his association with the group was quite brief, Eckankar’s impact on John-Roger’s eventual ministry was dramatic–so dramatic, in fact, that Twitchell even threatened legal action against his former chela if he continued to appropriate from Eckankar publications. Twitchell recounts:

So I wrote him a letter and said, “Stop now!” And he didn’t pay much attention to that. Then I told the attorney, I says, “Stop him.” The attorney wrote him a letter. He had this organization going down there in Miami and was based in San Gabriel, California and I had the attorney fly down there, and just walk in and talk to him. [10]

It may have been Eckankar’s legal threats which prompted John-Roger to sever his ties with the organization and start his own group which he entitled M.S.I.A. (the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness).

Before founding M.S.I.A. in the late 1960s, John-Roger Hinkins, born Roger Delano Hinkins (he added the John with a hyphen later) on September 24, 1934 in Utah, held a number of jobs, ranging from a part-time switchboard operator for the Salt Lake City police department to working as an orderly for a psychiatric hospital. Eventually John-Roger secured his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Utah in 1958 and five years later he obtained a job teaching English at Rosemead High School. It was during his stint at Rosemead that John-Roger, affectionately known among his followers as J.R., experienced what he claims was a turning point in his spiritual evolution. According to John-Roger, in 1963 he underwent a gall bladder operation which apparently led to a coma (the details are sketchy). After the coma, he says he emerged a new man, claiming to have been contacted by a higher being named “the Beloved” or “John” (a Gnostic Christian figure). Coincidentally, within a few years of the operation he was introduced to Eckankar, while also exploring other metaphysical teachings. His role as a spiritual teacher began when John-Roger invited some of his high school students to his house to have spiritual seminars.

Thus John-Roger’s movement started while he was still in Eckankar. It is therefore not surprising to see the similarities between John-Roger’s group and Twitchell.’s. What is intriguing in all of this, of course, is to see how religions evolve from one group to another, that is, from Shiv Dayal Singh’s vision in Agra, to Kirpal Singh’s vision in Delhi, to Paul Twitchell’s vision in San Diego, to John-Roger’s vision in Rosemead. While M.S.I.A. is, more or less, a revised version of Eckankar, with some esoteric Christianity added on to make it more Western, John-Roger has distanced himself from Eckankar and instead purports that he is a continuation of the line of Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Beas. John-Roger’s disassociation from Eckankar seems to have begun when Twitchell’s threatened lawsuits against him. Nevertheless, John-Roger draws directly from Eckankar for his inspiration, though modifying some key concepts (like the role of the guru, the meditation procedure and the initiation structure) in order to distinguish M.S.I.A., albeit slightly, from its original source and to present the teachings as unique. The following is a comparison of several key concepts of Eckankar’s with M.S.I.A.’s.

 

Sarmad/Sugmad?

An interesting example of how John-Roger borrowed ideas from Twitchell and modified them is found in his transformation of the Eck term “Sugmad,” which refers to God. Although John-Roger at one time also used the term Sugmad to describe the Ultimate, he later altered the term after reading a Radhasoami Beas publication which described the life and work of an obscure Indian-Jewish mystic named “Sarmad.” Taking his cue from a rather out-of-the-way Beas book entitled Sarmad, John-Roger transposed “Sugmad” into “Sarmad” for his M.S.I.A. publications. For instance, when referring to the Divine in his book, Baraka, he writes:

The Silent Ones, who are spiritual forces issuing forth out of the Sarmad, the Lord of the positive realms of Spirit, work directly in line with the energy of the Traveler in the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. [my italics] [11]

Hence, what we find here is an Eckankar offshoot which tries to go farther back in history, even past its predecessor to appropriate what is seen as more original material to transform and color its doctrines. M.S.I.A. is perhaps the first popular eclectic shabd yoga based group in America in that it incorporates shabd yoga ideas not only from Eckankar doctrines but also from Radhasoami ones (such as Beas’ five name mantra) into its overall theological mix. The result is a fascinating, if confusing, potpourri of metaphysical ideas thoroughly laced with Indian terms.

More Terminology Linkage

While John-Roger replaces Eckankar’s Sugmad term with Radhasoami’s Sarmad, there are several instances when he directly incorporates Eckankar words into his theology. For example, in Baraka on page 14 he makes reference to the “Silent Ones,” which is in fact an Eck term defined in the Eckankar dictionary as “agents of the Sugmad, (who) are in command of the great Sound Current.” [12]

Another example which reveals that M.S.I.A. is largely beholden to the writings of Eckankar is the adoption of the term Baraka. John-Roger even titled one of his books after it. According to the Eckankar dictionary, it means “May the blessings be.” [13] John-Roger also uses this term throughout his writings but he defines it a bit differently than Twitchell does; Baraka, he says, is the “Holy Spirit, grace, seeing the Light and hearing the sound.” [14]

Additionally, the Eck word “Tiwaja” makes its way into John-Roger’s material. Although he keeps the same definition as Twitchell does, namely, the gaze of the Master or God, John-Roger changes the spelling of “Tiwaja” to “Twaji.” [15] Why he does this one can only speculate. Perhaps he is simply trying to further distinguish his path from Eckankar’s, which he later accomplishes to some degree as he develops his own unique blend of Eastern and Western teachings.

The God-Worlds

An inherent aspect of shabd yoga philosophy is the belief in inner spiritual planes. The order of these regions is considered very important, because the soul must know the “right road map” if it is to return to God successfully. The cosmologies of John-Roger and Twitchell are similar but the differences that John-Roger implements, however slight, are considered radical departures from Twitchell’s version. Whereas Twitchell delineates twelve realms (not including the Etheric stage), each with their own distinct sounds, John-Roger only recognizes five, with the fifth having several sub-divisions. In fact, John-Roger’s cosmology matches in terms of numbers Radhasoami Beas’ five plane schema. But the sounds described in Radhasoami (1. bell; 2. thunder; 3. violin; 4. flute; 5. vina) clearly conflict with John-Roger’s. Thus, M.S.I.A.’s picture of the spiritual realms seems to be a mix of Eckankar and Radhasoami–adopting from Eckankar a particular sequence of spiritual sounds and adopting from Radhasoami the number of spiritual dimensions. The following is a comparison of Eckankar’s and M.S.I.A.’s cosmology:

Cosmological Correlations

Eckankar Version (as given inThe Spiritual Notebook by Paul Twitchell) M.S.I.A. Version (as given inThe Sound Current by John-Roger Hinkins)
1.Physical (Thunder Sound) 1. Physical (Thunder)
2. Astral (Roar of Surf)2. Astral (Roaring of Surf)
3. Causal (Tinkle of Bells) 3. Causal (Tinkle of Bells)
4. Mental (Running Water) 4. Mental (Running Water)
*Etheric (Buzzing of Bees) 5. Soul (Sound of Flute)
5. Soul (Single Note of Flute) Sound of Wind
6. Alakh Lok (Heavy Wind) Humming Sound
7. Alaya Lok (Deep Humming) Ten Thousand Violins
8. Hukikat Lok (Thousand Violins) Sound of Woodwinds
9. Agam Lok (Music of Woodwinds)
10. Anami Lok (Sound of a Whirlpool)
11. Sugmad World (Music of Universe)
12. Sugmad (Music of God)

 

Initiation

In Radhasoami Satsang Beas initiation is usually conducted in one ceremony. Eckankar, on the other hand, has divided its initiation into twelve levels, corresponding with each inner plane. Whereas Radhasoami Satsang Beas gives five names for its meditation mantra (again, corresponding with the names of the five inner Lords of the respective inner regions), Eckankar allows its initiators to choose from a list of names, which are not similar to Radhasoami’s but more closely mimicking Transcendental Meditation’s list of mantras. John-Roger Hinkins, though he was a member of Eckankar, decided to use the five names given at the Radhasoami Satsang Beas initiation. How John-Roger learned of these names is unknown; however, according to The J.R. Controversy, that John-Roger has misplaced the order of the names is certain. [16] For instance, in Radhasoami, the first name of the five name mantra corresponds to the Lord of the first region in Sahans-dal-Kanwal. John-Roger also gives the same name for his new initiates. However, the names for the second and third region are juxtaposed by John-Roger. Interestingly, it appears for years that John-Roger was unaware of the mix-up, assuming as he did that he was giving the same five name mantra that Radhasoami gurus at Beas had been giving out.

John-Roger though does not give one initiation in M.S.I.A. like Radhasoami. Rather, like Twitchell, he gives an initiation for each of the inner planes (in M.S.I.A.’s case five initiations total). John-Roger calls his last initiation the “Soul” initiation. Clearly he was influenced in spacing out his initiations by his association with Eckankar. However, the changes John-Roger made to Twitchell’s initiation procedure, like giving a universal mantra and limiting the amount of initiations, were apparently the result of his contact with Radhasoami publications.

Mystical Traveler Consciousness

The central concept in Radhasoami is not shabd, as one may expect, but rather it is the idea of a living master, a guru who is directly connected to the Supreme Lord. This concept above all others is the one that is most pivotal to Radhasoami theology. Eckankar, as we have pointed out, utilized this same idea when Twitchell coined the term “Living Eck Master.” He also fleshed out the idea by adding the more nebulous concept of the Mahanta–the inner master who guides Eckists on their inner journey. John-Roger took over Eckankar’s concept, but, again, developed it in ways that are unique to his ministry. John-Roger coined the term “The Mystical Traveler Consciousness” (most likely a transfiguration of Twitchell’s “Spiritual Traveler” which Twitchell got from Julian P. Johnson’s With a Great Master in India.). In M.S.I.A.’s theology the MTC (for short) represents the God power on earth. Followers of John-Roger recognize him as the physical embodiment of the MTC. The previous holder of the MTC, we are told, was Sawan Singh of Radhasoami Satsang Beas. When discussing the role of an MTC, John-Roger makes reference to this Radhasoami Master:

Those who have held the keys to the Mystical Traveler Consciousness in the past have brought to mankind the message of love, harmony, balance, honesty and integrity. Sometimes these spiritual messages have been given directly and openly, in a public way. Sometimes the Mystical Travelers live very quiet, ordinary lives. Some historical figures who have held the keys to the Traveler consciousness are Rama, Eli Hu, Jesus the Christ, and Huzur Maharaj Baba Sawan Singh, who taught Sant Mat or Teachings of the Saints. [my italics] [17]

However, John Roger’s claim that Sawan Singh was the prior MTC before him was not his first claim; in the late 1960s and early 1970s, John-Roger claimed that Rebazar Tarzs, the famous mentor of Eckankar, was the previous holder of the MTC. Why the switch? It could be that once John-Roger broke with Eckankar he learned more about how Eckankar was mostly derived from Radhasoami. Thus, once he realized that Rebazar Tarzs was probably a cover name used by Twitchell to hide his real inspirations, John-Roger opted for Sawan Singh of Beas, since he was the guru of both Kirpal Singh and Charan Singh–the two most popular shabd yoga gurus living when John-Roger started his ministry. By bypassing both Charan and Kirpal and going directly to Sawan Singh, John-Roger attempted to legitimize his group in way that Eckankar could not. Twitchell’s Vairagi masters was a ploy to buttress the lineage of Twitchell; by claiming that Sawan Singh was the previous MTC was John-Roger’s way of adding luster and authenticity to his fledgling movement.

As we see, John-Roger has increasingly moved his group away from Eckankar. His eclectic approach has allowed him to make M.S.I.A. open to a wide variety of influences, including Lifespring, Est, channeling, New Age thought, crystals, massage, Theosophy, and Gnostic Christianity. Even though M.S.I.A. still retains a huge Eckankar influence, its evolving infra-structure allows it to grow in ways that one cannot predict given its origins. This may well be prototypical of almost all shabd yoga related movements in West that retain the idea that a living guru is necessary for the purity of their teachings. The living guru is in many ways a very volatile proposition for any group which does not want to change. I say this because the charismatic leader has at his/her disposal what the typical C.E.O. does not, the theological foundation to unilaterally alter teachings to suit his or her needs. Since the guru is equated with God, whatever he or she does can be condoned or justified, even actions which are contrary to previous masters. For a litany of examples just look to the life and work of Baba Faqir Chand, Thakar Singh, Paul Twitchell, Darwin Gross, Harold Klemp, or even John-Roger. Each of them in their own ways have tailored their previous mentor’s work to suit their particular needs. This can range from moral strictures to esoteric doctrines.

Meditation

Perhaps one of the most difficult requirements to fulfill in Radhasoami is the injunction to perform two and one-half hours of meditation daily. Twitchell may have realized that his Western audience would not be amiable to such long hours of meditation and so shortened the period to twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening, most likely getting his cue for such short periods from the success of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation. John-Roger Hinkins, however, trying to bridge much of Eckankar with Radhasoami (remember he uses Beas’ mantra, Beas’ book Sarmad, and Beas’ Great Master, Sawan Singh), enjoins two hours of spiritual exercises daily. Such a commitment of time to meditation, of course, demands a more serious student, one who is willing to sacrifice nearly a one tenth of the day to one’s chosen path. It may indeed be this very requirement which has kept M.S.I.A.’s numbers much lower than Eckankar, despite the fact that John-Roger has had his name as co-author on several best-selling books [18] and has had much wider exposure to the public. Furthermore, John-Roger has also reversed the meditation advice given in Radhasoami. Whereas in Radhasoami the meditator is supposed to repeat their five name mantra when they encounter any lights or beings inside, in M.S.I.A. the neophyte is required to “withhold” the names, lest the intruding spirit capture the would-be soul.

Overall, the changes from Eckankar that John-Roger implements (from Mahanta to Mystical Traveler Consciousness, from twelve initiations to five, from forty minutes of daily meditation to two hours, etc.) are significant ones. Such modifications separate his group enough from Eckankar to present a wholly new version of shabd yoga in America.

Source: http://andrea65.tripod.com/guru4.html

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