By Dr. T. R. Shangari
Publisher: RSSB, 2014. Mystics of the East Series.
Sant Charandas by Dr. T. R. Shangari was first published in Hindi and Punjabi in 1992. The new edition in English brings to an English-speaking readership a selection of the hymns and couplets of the beloved eighteenth-century saint Charandas (1703-1782). Like other books in the Mystics of the East Series, Sant Charandas also presents an overview of the saint’s life and teachings. The introduction details the historical context in which Charandas lived and taught – a time of intense political turmoil and rigid religious intolerance – and reveals how, despite these challenging conditions, he fearlessly taught his path of devotion to all: Hindus and Muslims, men and women, rich and poor.
Three of Charandas’ direct disciples wrote extensively about his life, publishing their biographies shortly after his death, and a fourth disciple, Sahjobai, included biographical information about her Master in her poems. These sources provide a store of facts about his life at a level of detail unusual in the lives of saints. They document his childhood in Rajasthan, time spent with his Master, Sukdev, and his period of mastership. They describe his travels and the ashrams he established. He had about 5000 disciples at the time of his death, but did not appoint a successor during his lifetime.
In Sant Charandas, the saint’s teachings are presented in three sections: Our Predicament, Living Teacher, and Spiritual Practice. Our Predicament covers such topics as the rare opportunity of human life, the certainty of death, and the fleeting nature of everything on the ever-changing physical plane, including our friends and dearest relations. Charandas says:
O Saints, this carnival will end in a short while;
we will depart after watching this show.
Never again will you meet those
who have gathered here together.
Many travellers from different directions
cross the river in a boat – they meet
only to go their separate ways a few moments later.
In this predicament, he says, the Lord is the only support for our souls. He alone is true, everlasting and unchanging. Charandas addresses the Lord:
O immaculate invisible Lord,
you are the one who has assumed innumerable forms.
Your light illumines the whole world –
you abide in every heart.
Singing the praises of the Lord, Charandas loses himself in awe:
No one can create colours like him;
no one can create designs like him –
there is no craftsman like him in this world.
Many astonishing marvels has he created –
unparalleled, grand and infinite.
Behold them in the waters, earth, air and sky
and enjoy their beauty.
The creation is a garden in which the gardener
has created innumerable blossoms.
Lose yourself in awe, as you gaze upon such wondrous beauty.
The section titled “Living Teacher” discusses the master-disciple relationship, the central place of Shabd and Nam as the path to the Lord, and love as the essential ingredient in spirituality. As Charandas says:
Love liberates you from the world;
love unites you with the Lord.
Love turns you around, changes your course
and leads you to the Lord’s abode.
In nearly every hymn, Charandas speaks of the loving kindness of his guru, Sukdev.
A hundred times more than a father does the mother love the son.
Inwardly she takes care of him, while outwardly admonishing and
The Lord’s love is a hundred times that of a mother.
The Master’s love is a hundred times that of the Lord.
O Charandas, this is how Sukdev loves you and removes your faults.
The section titled “Spiritual Practice” discusses such topics as dying while living, the unique power of the Shabd to subdue the mind, and the entrancing melody heard by the soul in the higher regions. Charandas says:
Entranced are all the beauteous souls
while the Lord plays the sweet melody of the flute.
Listening to the lilting notes, they are captivated by love
and tormented by the pain of longing.
This section also discusses the importance of not only faith, but also courage and effort, without which one cannot persevere on the spiritual path. Charandas taught a path of action, not one of mere words:
Tasks in both this world and the next cannot be accomplished
Action alone brings results; action lies at the heart of everything.
The ‘action’ of which he speaks requires stillness and a focused mind:
Do the repetition with a still mind;
the mirror of your consciousness will become clear.
You will behold the Lord, and all darkness will vanish.
He who repeats Nam with focused attention
detaches himself from the body;
he merges in the Lord of truth, consciousness and bliss –
and becomes silent.
Charandas’ poetry, composed primarily in Hindi, was recorded and compiled during his lifetime by a few of his disciples, so that a body of work that we may assume is authentic is still preserved today. The hymns and couplets in Sant Charandas are taken from two such compilations, Charandas Ji Ki Bani and Sri Bhakti Sagar. This may be the first time poems from these collections have been translated and published in English. English-speakers, many of whom may have listened to the hymns of Charandas sung in Hindi for years, may now appreciate something of the clarity of his message and the power of his imagery:
The Satguru is a sword of Shabd;
its blow slices the devotee in two.
The coward turns his back and runs away;
only the brave one faces the onslaught.*
O devotees, realize the invisible and formless One.
More hidden than hidden, more manifest than manifest,
such is his real form …
Ever supremely conscious, wondrous and amazing –
nothing compares with him.
Nobody is like him; he is beyond comparison –
he alone is like him.
Both within and without, he is complete in himself –
he stands apart from anything
in the physical and subtle realms.
Guru Sukdev has revealed this secret,
and Charandas is a sacrifice to him.
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