Encyclopedia of Hinduism
Constance A. Jones and James D. Ryan

Encyclopedia of Hinduism is part of a set of encyclopedias on the religions of the world that emphasizes the living faiths and their historical and social background. In about 700 A-to-Z entries, this encyclo- pedia provides easy access to the theological concepts, personalities, historical events, institutions, and movements that helped to shape Hinduism and the way it is practiced today.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism explores a religion that emerged from prehistory and lives today in astonishing variety. This encyclopedia focuses on the most significant groups within this religion, noteworthy teachers and their contributions, the religions and cultural movements that enriched its history, and the diaspora of Hindu thought and practice around the world. Two major religious traditions that sprang from Hindu influence, Jainism and Sikhism, also have many related entries.

A comprehensive introduction, further readings, cross-references, and a chronology, in addition to photographs, a general bibliography, and a thorough index, make Encyclopedia of Hinduism an easy- to-use and essential reference for high school and college students, researchers, and general readers.

Rawat, Prem 363

Rawat, Prem (Guru Maharaj Ji) (1957- ) head of Divine Light Mission and creator of Élan Vital.

Prem Rawat, or Guru Maharaj Ji, is a teacher in the Sant Mat tradition who won a large following in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Prem Rawat was born on December 10, 1957, near Dehra Dun in Uttaranchal state, India, the youngest son of Sri Hans Maharaj Ji, an established spiritual teacher. Prem received formal education at St. Josephs Academy, but his spiritual direction was from his father. At age three, he began speaking to audiences about inner peace. When his father died in 1966 he became spiritual leader of the Divine Light Mission (DLM), a foundation Sri Han had established in the 1930s.

Under his leadership the mission continued to teach his father's main techniques, derived from the SANT MAT tradition. The tradition teaches that knowledge, as the energy and source of life, is obtained through four forms of MEDITATION, each of which focuses attention on inner life. Maharaj Ji presented the teaching as a cultivation of inner peace through maintaining silence, watching the process of breathing, and focusing the senses inward. Devotees who take initiation into DLM are said to "gain knowledge" and are called "premies."

Many members of the counterculture in the United States were impressed by Maharaj Ji's message of peace during his tours in the later 1960s, when he was still a teenager. In 1971, after his visits to Los Angeles and Boulder, Colorado, the United States DLM was established in Denver, Colorado. By 1972 the movement spread across the country. Ashrams were established in major cities and the publications Divine Times and It is Divine distributed.

In 1973 the DLM rented the Houston Astrodome for a gathering of peace coinciding with the birthday of Sri Hans. The event failed to generate large attendance and became a financial loss. Programs and ASHRAMS were soon closed in order to pay off debt and many premies began to leave the movement. In 1974 Guru Maharaj Ji married a Western premie named Marolyn Johnson, a marriage that created conflict between Maharaj Ji and his mother. The fracture caused further troubles for the DLM when his mother returned to India and reestablished the DLM under her eldest son's name.

In the late 1970s the DLM reorganized and moved its headquarters to Miami, Florida. Maharaj Ji distanced himself from the religious association to make his teachings more universal.

In the 1980s he encouraged followers to leave the monastic life and to regard him simply as a humanitarian leader. By 1983, he had ordered all Western ashrams to close.

In the mid-1980s, the DLM was renamed the Élan Vital and discarded all religious affiliation. Guru Maharaj Ji changed his name to Prem Rawat, believing that the divinity ascribed to him obstructed his message. Élan Vital became a much smaller organization. He increased his speaking engagements and produced video and sound recordings to spread his ideas.

Élan Vital, now headquartered in Agoura Hills, California, retains its status as a charitable organization, organizing events for Prem Rawat, raising funds, producing and distributing tapes of his messages, and archiving the history of his work.


Supported largely by volunteer staff and sales of his products, Élan Vital is active in the United States, Britain, and Australia.

At present, Rawat continues to give talks on knowledge throughout the world. According to the Élan Vital, his teachings have spread to more than 80 countries and its publications are available in 60 languages.

Prem Rawat lives with his wife in Malibu, California.

Further reading:

Charles Cameron, Who Is Guru Maharaj Ji? (New York: Bantam Books, 1973);
Sophia Collier, Soul Rush: The Odyssey of a Young Woman of the '70s (New York: Morrow, 1978);
James V Downton, Sacred Journeys: The Conversion of Young Americans to Divine Light Mission (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979);
Guru Maharaj Ji, The Living Master: Quotes from Guru Maharaj Ji (Denver: Divine Light Mission, 1978).


The Indian belief in the "cycle of lives" has ancient origin. Souls are believed to cycle through human or animal lives until they are liberated and merge with a higher reality On rare occasions the tradition refers to reincarnation into a plant or stationary object.

The concept appears to have emerged in late Vedic times. Some argue that the idea was present in the Vedic tradition from the beginning, but little evidence can be found in any of the Vedic collec- tions of MANTRAS, and only very occasional refer- ences are found in the BRAHMANAS, the explanatory portions of the Vedic collections. By the time of the UPANISHADS the notion of reincarnation seems to have become centrally important.

Some sects in ancient times appear to have believed that every soul must travel through a fixed number of births; one text puts the number at 8,400,000. The Ajivika sect believed that these births were all inevitable and could not be escaped; one could reach liberation only after they were all completed.

Many early sects adopted extreme ascetic practices, avoiding any taint of worldly passion, in order not to add to the accumulation of KARMA that had occurred from previous lives. Later Hinduism. as well as Buddhism and JAINISM, made the notion of reincarnation central to spiritual and religious practice, enshrining the notions of karma and SAM5ARA (the round of birth and rebirth) in Indian culture and practice.

In these traditions, reincarnation results from one's actions in one's previous life, one's karma. In the process of time one might endure a huge number of highly undesirable births; samsara, or worldly existence, was thus a trap one tried to escape.

Such escape of rebirth has been the primary obsession of all practice in nearly all Indian traditions (except Islam) up to the present day MOKSHA or NIRVANA, the liberation or release from this, cycle, became the highest goal in all the major traditions. Release could occur in several ways.

One path was severe, world-denying asceticism; even today there are such practitioners hidden away in mountain caves. Meditative yoga was seen as another way, which allowed one's consciousness to remove itself from attachment to worldly life and thereby pave the way to liberation. Alternatively, a focus upon God could earn the grace of the divinity and God could help break the bonds of karma. Traditionally it has been said in Hinduism, too, that a true GURU can literally strip away one's karma, and thus devotion to gurus has become a strong feature of Hinduism.

Further reading:

C. E Keyes and E. Valentine Daniell, Karma: An Anthropological Inquiry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983);
Wendy O'Flaherty, ed Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

Sant Mat movement 383

Sant Mat

The Sant Mat (View of the Saints) was a heterogeneous group of travelling poet-saints dating from the 14th to 17th centuries who had a profound impact on the religion of northern and central India. These poets included KABIR, Surdas, TUKARAM, and Ravidas. Their most important characteristics were a desire for social reform and a criticism of ritualism and caste. They stressed that the pursuit of spirituality was not limited to religion. The search for truth could be guided by any authentic experience of the One, however defined.

These teachers often ignored religious boundaries and mingled easily with Muslim Sufis. The Sant spirit was carried forward in the Sikh tradition by GURU NANAK, who had gone on pilgrimage and on the Hajj to show that the true God belonged to no particular religion. The Kabir tradition, in particular, has survived to the present, although it does not have the creative vigor and openness it once had; it seems to have become another sect of Hinduism.

Further reading:

Daniel Gold, The Lord as Guru: Hindi Saints in North Indian Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987);
David N. Lorenzen. ed., Religious Movements in South Asia 600-1800 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004);
Karine Schomer and W. H. McCleod, eds., The Sant Tradition of India (Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series and Motilal Banarsidass, 1987).

Sant Mat movement (est. 1861)

The Sant Mat movement, also known as the RADHASOAMI MOVEMENT, emerged in the middle of the 19th century in the Punjab, as one of several movements that sought to revitalize the Sikh community after its government was defeated and replaced by the British. The new movement was introduced by Shiv Dayal Singh (1818-78), generally known as Soami Ji, and was distinctive because its leader was a living master, a person serving as an initiating GURU (a structure previously foreign to SIKHISM).

The new guru aimed to teach his followers surat shabd (sound current) yoga, as a technique to overcome kal, the negative forces that rule this world, and contact the divine. God had created the world by his word; therefore, through the repetition of MANTRAS (japa yoga), humans could establish contact with God. Soami Ji's teachings resonated with devotion to the name of God (bhakti nam), which had always been important in the Sikh tradition.

Shiv Dayal Singh introduced surat shabd yoga in 1861 at Agra, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. He initiated some 4,000 people and then passed leadership to Rai Salig Ram (1829-98). At the same time, he also sent Jaimal Singh (1838-1903) to spread the movement in the Punjab.

The relocation of Jaimal Singh to Beas in the Punjab divided the movement; the Beas center became the larger of the two. Jaimal Singh's successor, Sawan Singh (1858-1948), built the Beas branch into the largest of what by then, had become several segments of the original movement. He initiated over 125,000 people. However, his career was eclipsed by that of one of the 20th-century Beas leaders, Charan Singh (1916-90),

384 Sant Mat movement

who was said to have initiated over a million disciples.

Throughout the 20th century, the Sant Mat movement emerged into both an important minority movement in India and a global movement with centers throughout the West. At the same time, it splintered into a variety of separate groups, each of which professed to have the true lineage from Soami Ji. More often than not, when a lineage holder died, several claimants to successorship emerged and vied for the allegiance of his following. In some cases, those who did not receive the official sanction as the successor have been able to win large followings. Such was the case for Kirpal Singh (1896-1974), founder of the Ruhani Satsang.

The Indian-based Sant Mat groups all teach largely the same doctrine. In the West, some of the more prominent Sant Mat teachers have been Darshan Singh (1921-89), Rajinder Singh, and Thakur Singh (b. 1929). The American scholar David Christopher Lane has catalogued the dozens of Sant Mat gurus and the movements they led.

Some of the most interesting developments in the Sant Mat tradition have been created by non-Indian leaders who have assumed the role of living master and have built independent movements. For example, Master Ching Hai Wu Shang Shih, one of the very few women leaders in Sant Mat, learned the teachings from Thakur Singh. She has moved on to build a Chinese Sant Mat organization and changed the name of surat shabd yoga to the Quan Yin Method of Sound and Light Meditation, in order to present the teaching to a Buddhist Chinese-speaking audence; as her work has grown, it has expanded to include people from a variety of backgrounds and languages.

In the United States, a Westernized Sant Mat group called ECKANKAR (ECK) was started by Paul Twitchell (1909-70), a former student of Kirpal Singh. Twitchell ignored Kirpal Singh's lineage and proclaimed himself the 971st ECK Master, the recipient of a previously unknown tradition said to reach back into prehistory. Eckankar, Twitchell's organization, has spawned several groups.

A somewhat similar group is the Movement for Spiritual Inner Awareness, formed by John-Roger Hinkins. "JR," as he is affectionately known, mixed elements of Christianity and Western esotericism with the Sant Mat teachings, resulting in a new eclectic perspective.

Indian religions have been carried into Africa in a similar manner by immigrants throughout the 20th century. A new branch of Sant Mat emerged in Uganda in 1957. It was founded by Dr. Jozzewaffe Kaggwa Kaguwa Kaggalanda Mugonza, more popularly known as simply Bambi Baaba.

While he traveled to India and met with various Sant Mat teachers, he claims an entirely independent revelation of the teachings in a direct manner. In the 1970s, under the government of Idi Amin, he was charged with introducing a foreign religion in the country and forcing his members into a VEGETARIAN and alcohol-free diet.

Another interesting Sant Mat teacher in the West is Guru Maharaj Ji (PREM RAWAT) (b. 1957), who entered the United States in the early 1970s while still a teenager. His organization, originally called Divine Light Mission, now is identified as Élan Vital. He sees his teachings as independent of cultures, religion, beliefs, and lifestyles. Though adopting a secular overlay, he continues to present the Sant Mat teachings and to offer people initiation into the secret knowledge revealed only to initiates.

Further reading:

Marvin Henry Harper, Gurus, Swamis, and Avatars: Spiritual Masters and Their American Disciples (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972);
Mark Juergensmeyer, Radhasoami Reality (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1991);
David Christopher Lane, The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship (New York and London: Garland, 1992);
Karine Schomer and W H. McLeod, eds.. The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987).