Surat Shabd Yoga
Surat Shabd Yoga or Surat Shabda Yoga is a form of spiritual practice that is followed in the Sant Mat and many other related spiritual traditions. Surat means "attention," or "face," which is the outward expression of the soul, shabd means "word, logos" and yoga means "union." The term "word" here means the "sound current," the "audible life Stream" or the "Essence of the Absolute Supreme Being," that is, the dynamic force of creative energy that was sent out, as sound vibration, from the Supreme Being into the abyss of space at the dawn of the universe's manifestation, and that is being sent forth, through the ages, framing all things that constitute and inhabit the universe.
The etymology of "Surat Shabd Yoga" presents its purpose: the "Union of the Soul with the Essence of the Absolute Supreme Being." Other expressions for Surat Shabda Yoga include Sehaj Yoga (an easy path leading to Sehaj or equipoise) The Path of Light and Sound, The Path of the Sants, The Journey of Soul, and The Yoga of the Sound Current.
The stated purpose of Surat Shabda Yoga is to realize the individual's True Self (Self-Realization), True Essence (Spirit-Realization) and True Divinity (God-Realization) while living in the human physical body. This involves reuniting in stages with what is called the Essence of the Absolute Supreme Being, the Shabd. Attaining such self-realization is believed to result in jivan moksha/mukti, liberation/release from samsara, the cycle of karma and reincarnation. Initiation by a contemporary living Satguru (Sat - true, Guru - teacher) is considered a prerequisite for successful sadhana. The spiritual exercises (sadhanas) include simran (repetition, particularly silent repetition of a mantra given at initiation), dhyan (concentration, viewing, or contemplation, particularly on the Inner Master), and bhajan (listening to the inner sounds of the Shabd).
Surat Shabd Yoga arose in India in the last several hundred years in the context of the Sikh tradition founded by Guru Nanak. The practice of meditation on the inner sounds or shabd that is the central or core practice of Surat Shabd Yoga is clearly derived from the ancient Hindu practice of Nada Yoga, as expounded in various Hindu scriptures such as the Nada-Bindu-Upanishad, an ancient text affiliated with the several thousand-year-old Rig Veda. The practice of Nada Yoga within Hinduism has been widely affiliated or included within many yoga traditions, including bhakti or devotional yogas, kundalini and tantric yogas, laya yoga, and raja yoga. Modern Hindu teachers including or emphasizing Nada Yoga include Swami Sivananda, Swami Rama, Rammurti Mishra (Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati), Paramahansa Yogananda (Kriya Yoga Lineage), and others. The practice of Nada Yoga is an integral part of various other traditions as well, such as being a form of the advanced Thogal practice in the Tibetan Dzogchen lineage, and the central practice advocated by H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, in her book "The Voice of the Silence". In the form of Surat Shabd Yoga practiced by followers of Sant Mat and the Sikh tradition, Nada Yoga most resembles, and combines elements from, the Hindu practices of raja yoga, laya yoga, and bhakti yoga.
Movements and masters
Adherents believe Surat Shabda Yoga has been expressed through the movements of many different masters. However, because a basic principle of Surat Shabd Yoga's tradition is the requirement for an outer Living Master to initiate followers onto the Path, those movements whose historical Satgurus have died and their successors do not purport themselves to be Surat Shabd Yoga Satgurus, usually are not considered currently to be Surat Shabd Yoga movements, either by their own leaders or by movements with current Living Masters.
Sadguru Maharshi Mehi Paramahansa Ji Maharaj is a great Sant of 20th century. He came to alone and isolated caves of Kuppaghat, Bhagalpur (Bihar, India). This cave was located on the bank of the holy river Ganga. He cleaned the cave that was too long inside and started His continuous hard practice of Surat-Shabda Yoga from March, 1933 to November, 1934. He achieved self-realization and attained ultimately salvation by practising Surat-Shabda Yoga in alone isolated caves of Kuppaghat, Bhagalpur (Bihar, India). This cave has been the holy evidence of His spiritual aura. He embodied His self-experienced knowledge in His book "Moksha-Darshan (Philosophy of Salvation), "Satsang-Yoga", "Shri Gita-Yoga Prakash", "Raamcharit Maanas Saar-Satik", "Maharshi-Mehi-Padaawali" and many others. "Maharshi-Mehi-Padawaali" is the prose collection penned by Himself. The time when He started constant and ceaseless meditation of Drishti-Yoga and Surat-Shabda Yoga
The Radhasoami movement of Surat Shabda Yoga was established by Shiv Dayal Singh (1818–1878) in 1861 and named "Radhasoami Satsang" circa 1866. Soamiji Maharaj, as he was known, presided over the satsang meetings for seventeen years at Panni Gali and Soami Bagh in Agra, India, until he died on June 15, 1878. Accounts of his guru and successors vary, although he did give verbal instructions on his last day as to how his followers should be cared for. According to Radha Soami Satsang Beas, his guru was Tulsi Sahib of Hathras. According to Soami Bagh and Dayal Bagh successors, Tulsi Sahib  was a contemporary guru of the same teachings, but being a natural born Satguru, Shiv Dayal Singh himself had no guru.
After his death, six immediate successors carried on Shiv Dayal Singh’s teachings, including Huzur Maharaj Rai Salig Ram of Peepal Mandi, Agra, and Babaji Maharaj Jaimal Singh of Dera Baba Jaimal Singh the present day headquarters of (RSSB), Radha Soami Satsang Beas. More information on living masters related to Shiv Dayal Singh's lineage can be found in the Contemporary Sant Mat movement article.
Sant Kirpal Singh, a contemporary Sant Mat guru, stated that "Naam" ("Word") has been described in many traditions through the use of several different terms. In his teachings, the following expressions are interpreted as being identical to "Naam":
- "Naad", "Akash Bani", and "Sruti" in the Vedas
- "Nada" and "Udgit" in the Upanishads
- "Logos" and "Word" in the New Testament
- "Tao" by Lao Zi
- "Music of the Spheres" by Pythagoras
- "Sraosha" by Zoraster
- "Kalma" and "Kalam-i-Qadim" in the Qur'an
- "Naam", "Akhand Kirtan" and "Sacha ('True') Shabd" by Guru Granth Sahib
The Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, also founded in America in 1971 by John-Roger and now with students in 32 countries, also teaches a similar form of active meditation, called spiritual exercises, using the Sound Current and ancient Sanskrit tones in order to traverse and return to the higher realms of Spirit and into God.
MasterPath is another contemporary American movement of Surat Shabda Yoga. Gary Olsen, the current Living Master (of this branch), contends that several historical figures are Sat Gurus of Surat Shabda Yoga as representatives for the eternal Inner Shabda Master. A few of these Living Masters of their times include Lao Tsu, Jesus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Kabir, the Sufi Masters and mystic poets Hafez and Rumi, the Ten Sikh Gurus beginning with Guru Nanak, Tulsi Sahib, and the Radhasoami/Radha Soami and offshoot Masters, including Shiv Dayal Singh, Baba Sawan Singh, Baba Faqir Chand and Sant Kirpal Singh.
The ten Sikh Satgurus discuss the inner sound and inner light a lot in their scriptures. The first Sikh Satguru was Guru Nanak, but his master (guru) was Waheguru. The above masters teach these 2 techniques. There is a master,  Satpal Maharaj, that teaches 4 techniques that include these 2 of inner light and inner music. He teaches inner light (sight), inner music (hearing), primordial vibration (sense of touch) and nectar (taste and smell).
These correspond to the 5 senses and this is how you turn them inward to experience what is inside of you. See Vishnu with his 4 arms and they correspond to these. One hand is holding a circle (chakra) of light. Another is holding a conch shell for the inner sound (hold it to your ear and you hear something). Another hand is holding a lotus flower to refer to nectar and the 4th hand is holding a metal club (mace) for the inner vibration. If you hit something with it, it vibrates like a tuning fork. Some people refer to this inner energy as the soul.
Variations in movements
Among the exponents of Surat Shabd Yoga and the common shared elements related to the basic principles, notable variations also exist. For example the followers of the orthodox Sikh faith no longer lay emphasis on a contemporary living guru. Different Surat Shabd Yoga panths will vary in the names used to describe the Absolute Supreme Being (God), including Anami Purush (nameless power) and Radha Soami (lord of the soul); the presiding deities and divisions of the macrocosm; the number of outer initiations; the words given as mantras; and the initiation vows or the prerequisites that must be agreed to before being accepted as an initiate.
Notes and references
- Singh, Kirpal. Morning Talks, chapter 25, page 1, ("Righteousness - Detachment - Self-restraint.") ISBN 0-942735-16-1, Ruhani Satsang, (7th ed., 2003): "The whole thing depends upon your attention, or surat as it is called, which is the outward expression of your soul."
- Singh, K., Naam or Word. Blaine, WA: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3, 1999; BOOK TWO: SHABD, The Sound Principle.
- Soamiji Maharaj
- Singh, Shiv Dayal. (1934). Sar Bachan: An abstract of the teachings of Soami Ji Maharaj, the founder of the Radha Soami system of philosophy and spiritual science: The yoga of the Sound Current. Translated from Hindi to English by Seva Singh with Julian Johnson. (9th ed.) Beas, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
- Tulsi Sahib and His Teachings
- Singh, K. (1999). Naam or Word. Blaine, WA: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3
- “Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains”, US Army, January 18 2009
- James R. Lewis, Seeking the Light: Uncovering the Truth About the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness and its Founder John-Roger (Los Angeles: Mandeville, 1998), p. 71.