Basic Principles of Sant Mat: A Translation of Santmat Sidhant
By Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji with further additions by T.R. Shangari
Publisher: Beas, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 2020. 3 vols. ISBN 978-9389810-05-3
Basic Principles of Sant Mat brings an early work by Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji, known as the Great Master, to English-speaking readers for the first time. The Great Master selected quotes from the Adi Granth and arranged them to illustrate 84 topics. Published in 1920, the book was titled Gurmat Sidhant: 84 Vishyonwala, which can be translated roughly as “teachings (or philosophy) of the Gurus: 84 topics.” This should not be confused with a different book also titled Gurmat Sidhant, first published in 1940 and translated into English as Philosophy of the Masters. In the 1920 book, there was no commentary or explanatory notes. After an Introduction by Great Master, the quotes, grouped together under topic headings, were left to speak for themselves. Maharaj Charan Singh wrote,
Hazur Maharaj Ji had deep devotion for the Adi Granth, and it was his heartfelt desire that people have a clear understanding of its teachings so they could mould their lives accordingly.
In 1979 Maharaj Charan Singh authorized a new edition of Gurmat Sidhant: 84 Vishyonwala with brief commentary added for each topic. In the Foreword to this new edition, he wrote, “I felt that if a small explanation could be added to each topic, supported by verses from Gurbani, it could help readers better understand the various topics.” Later Dr. T.R. Shangari expanded the book further, adding verses from various saints and some new topics. The title was changed from Gurmat Sidhant to Santmat Sidhant when this expanded version of the work was published in Punjabi and Hindi in 2003.
Santmat Sidhant is now translated into English with the title Basic Principles of Sant Mat. Divided into three volumes, the topics are organized under three broad headings: “God, Creation and Guru” in Volume 1, “Meditation, the Mind, and Love” in Volume 2, and “The World, Living in the World, and External Practices” in Volume 3. An index to the topics is at the back of each volume. Throughout the three volumes, the quoted verses make up the vast majority of the text – the commentary is minimal.
One of the most precious gems in this work is Great Master’s original introduction, which is reprinted at the beginning of each volume. In his inimitable style, he takes the reader to the very essence of the teachings, and in less than three pages. He begins: “The creator Lord has designed the wonderful play of nature by creating innumerable physical and spiritual realms.” Great Master invites us to “look from the tiny atom to the immense sky” and see that the “unfathomable multicoloured creation is a beautiful example of the Lord’s impeccable workmanship.” He describes the human being as the pinnacle of creation:
Though one can see the Lord’s craftsmanship in every particle, his art reaches its zenith in the creation of humans. The human body appears to be made of just flesh and bones, but in reality, it is such an exceptional piece of art that many books and treatises have been written about the secrets it contains.
Great Master states that the essence of the teachings of the Saints is Shabd and Nam, the hidden treasure the Lord has placed within us. “Many often claim that they follow the teachings of the saints, but in truth these teachings are extremely difficult to follow. Walking the Gurus’ path amounts to dying while living.”
Volume One deals with many topics – among them God, the Lord, Soul, and Oneness – which are impossible to define with words and which people try to confine in rigid or dogmatic interpretations. The verses gathered under these topics point to a reality that can only be known through experience. The commentary is often clear and succinct, shedding light on the key message. For example, “When saints say ‘The Lord is One,’ ‘One’ does not denote a number. It expresses the Lord’s completeness and non-duality. Calling the Lord ‘One’ conveys that everything is the Lord; without the Lord there is nothing.” Saint Namdev is quoted:
Everything is the Lord; the Lord is everything.
There is nothing but God, the world sustainer. As one
thread holds hundreds and thousands of beads, so is that
Lord in warp and woof. The water’s waves, foam, and
bubbles are not distinct from water. . . .
Says Namdev: See the creation of God and
contemplate on it in your mind. In every heart
and within all is but one Lord.
Volume 2 brings together verses on the spiritual practices taught by saints, grouped under topic headings such as Meditation, Contemplation, Nam, Surat Shabd Yoga, Sahaj, Dying While Living, Longing and Love. Emphasizing the universality of these teachings, it begins with a section titled One Path. The state of one who has achieved realization is described: “One who has merged with the Lord perceives the Creator’s will in action everywhere and in everyone; he becomes the embodiment of that will.” Guru Nanak is quoted:
No one is now my enemy, and I am no one’s foe, for the
Lord pervades the inner core of my mind; this is the
wisdom I have gathered from the Guru.
I am a friend to all; I am everyone’s friend.
The sense of separation has been removed from my mind and I am
now united with my God, my king.
Volume 2 also deals with the nature of the mind as the primary obstacle on the Path, including topics such Ego, Five Vices, Desire, and Worry. The commentary warns us:
Worry causes unnecessary doubts and suspicions and thus reduces our capacity to remain strong, to face and solve problems. A person who is a victim of anxiety can neither perform worldly duties properly nor make satisfactory spiritual progress. Worry is a self-made disease. The cure for the disease of worry is to place full faith in the Lord and perform both our worldly and spiritual tasks with courage and confidence. This requires us to be ready for the unexpected and understand that the unexpected, too, is the will of God.
Volume 3 deals with many aspects of living in the world. In the topic Our Condition, the commentary paints a vivid picture of how we are entrapped in an intricate web:
The entire world is stumbling in the immense darkness of ignorance. The Lord is all-pervading; he abides in each and every particle of the creation, but few of us are able to perceive him outside or within.… When we are in darkness, we are not aware of the reality of this world – that it is impermanent. In this darkness, we do not try to understand the primary purpose of this human birth, nor do we make focused effort towards achieving the goal.
Volume 3 offers much helpful guidance from the saints on living our lives, gathered under such headings as Honest Earnings, Keeping Good Company, Humility, Seva, Non-Violence, and Desireless Action. The introduction to the section on Way of Life begins: “Saints and mystics advise those who have made God-realization their real objective to mould their way of living according to the principles of Sant Mat.” If our goal is God-realization, it says, we must drop self-deception and make this goal the primary focus of our attention and effort.
With hard work, persistence, and courage, we can make progress on the spiritual path even though we have many shortcomings, even though our mind is completely sullied, and even though we may be going through adverse circumstances. When our Master initiates us, he implicitly and explicitly assures us that we can improve our present condition. Having faith in ourselves, in our Master, and in the Lord’s grace and using all the strength we can muster, we must mould our way of life according to the principles of Sant Mat – the higher the goal, the greater the effort it requires. When we are determined to transform ourselves, sooner or later we will succeed; no worldly power can stop us from reaching our spiritual destination.