Sant Mat means literally "Teachings of Sants", i.e. mystic saints. By association and by seeking truth following sants and their teachings, a movement was indicated, prominent on the Indian subcontinent from about the 13th century CE. Theologically, the teachings are distinguished by inward, loving devotion by individual soul (Atma) to the Divine Principal God (Parmatma). Socially, an egalitarian understanding stands separate from qualitative distinctions of a Hindu caste system, and to those between Hindus and Muslims.
The lineage of sants can be divided into two main groups: a northern group from the provinces of Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, who expressed themselves mainly in vernacular Hindi; and a southern group, whose language is archaic Marathi, represented by Namdev and other sants of Maharashtra.
The expression "Sant Mat" literally means "Teachings of the Saints" – the "Path of Sants (Saints)", "Path of Truth", "Right or Positive Path". As "point of view of the Sants", the term Sant is pivotal. Derived from the Sanskrit sat (सत) and has overlapping usages (true, real, honest, right). Its root meaning is "one who knows(is) the truth" or "one who has experienced (merged into) Ultimate Reality." The term 'sant' has taken on the general meaning of "a good person" but is properly assigned to the poet-sants of medieval India.[page needed]
The Sant Mat movement was not homogeneous, and consisted mostly of the Sants' own socio-religious attitudes, which were based on bhakti (devotion) as described in the Bhagavad Gita. Sharing as few conventions with each other as with the followers of the traditions they challenged, the Sants appear more as a diverse collection of spiritual personalities than a specific religious tradition, although they acknowledged a common spiritual root.
The boundaries of the movement were likely not sectarian and were devoid of Brahmin concepts of caste and liturgy. The poet-sants expressed their teaching in vernacular verse, addressing themselves to the common folk in oral style in Hindi and other dialects such as Marathi. They referred to the "Divine Name" as having saving power, and dismissed the religious rituals as having no value. They presented the idea that true religion was a matter of surrendering to God "who dwells in the heart".
The first generation of north Indian sants, (which included Kabir and Ravidas), appeared in the region of Benares in the mid 15th century. Preceding them were two notable 13th and 14th century figures, Namdev and Ramananda. The latter, according to Sant Mat tradition, was a Vaishnava ascetic who initiated Kabir, Ravidas, and other sants. Ramanand's story is told differently by his lineage of "Ramanandi" monks, by other Sants preceding him, and later by the Sikhs. What is known is that Ramananda accepted students of all castes, a practice that was contested by the orthodox Hindus of that time. Sant Mat practitioners accept that Ramananda's students formed the first generation of Sants.
Sants developed a culture of being close to marginalized humans in society including women, and the untouchables (Atishudras). Some of the more notable Sants include Namdev (d. 1350), Kabir (d. 1518), Nanak (d. 1539), Mira Bai (d. 1545), Surdas (d. 1573), Tulsidas (d. 1623), and Tukaram (d. 1650).
The tradition of the Sants (sant parampara) remained non-sectarian, though a number of Sant poets have been considered as the founders of sects. Some of these may bear the Sant's name, but were developed after them by later followers such as Kabir Panth, Dadu Panth, Dariya Panth, Advait Mat, Science of Spirituality and Radhasoami.
Only a small minority of religious Hindus have formally followed Sant Mat, but the tradition has considerably influenced Hindus across sects and castes. Bhajans (devotional songs) attributed to past Sants such as Mira Bai are widely listened to in India and in Hindu communities around the world. The Sant tradition is the only one in medieval and modern India that has successfully crossed some barriers between Hindu and Muslim blocks. Julius J. Lipner asserts that the lives of many Hindus have been leavened by the religious teachings of the Sants, which he describes as liberating.
Classical Gnostics, medieval Sufi poets such as Shams Tabrizi, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi or Hafez, as well as Sindhi poets, are considered to have many similarities with the poet-sants of Sant Mat.
The Radha Soami movement in North India regards itself as the main repository of the tradition of the Sants and their teachings, as well as their approach to religious endeavours, and presents itself as the living incarnation of the Sant tradition. The most notable being Radhasoami Satsang Beas, situated on the banks of the river Beas, whose current living master is Gurinder Singh. According to Mark Juergensmeyer, that claim is also made by the Kabir-panthis, the Sikhs and other movements that continue to find the insights from the Sant tradition valid today.
Prem Rawat and the Divine Light Mission (Elan Vital) are considered to be part of the Sant Mat tradition by J. Gordon Melton, Lucy DuPertuis, and Vishal Mangalwadi, but that characterization is disputed by Ron Geaves. The 20th century religious movement Eckankar is also considered by David C. Lane to be an offshoot of the Sant Mat tradition. James R. Lewis refers to these movements as "expressions of an older faith in a new context".
- Param Sant Kirpal Singh
- Sant Darshan Singh
- Param Sant Baba Jaigurudev
- Maharshi Mehi Paramhans
- Bhakti movement
- Radha Swami Satsang, Dinod
- Shiv Dayal Singh
- Hazur Rai Saligram Bahadur
- Maharishi Shiv Brat Lal
- Param Sant Kanwar Saheb
- Sant Baljit Singh
- Rajinder Singh (Sant Mat)
- Ajaib Singh
- Sant Thakar Singh
- Sirio Carrapa
- Surat Shabd Yoga
- Akshar Purushottam
- Contemporary Sant Mat movements (overview)
- Linda Woodhead; et al., eds. (2001). Religions in the modern world: traditions and transformations (Reprint. ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 71–2. ISBN 0-415-21784-9.
- Schomer, Karine, The Sant Tradition in Perspective, in Sant Mat: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W. H. (Eds.) ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
- Lipner, Julius J. Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (1994). Routledge (United Kingdom), pp. 120-1 . ISBN 0-415-05181-9
- Gold, Daniel, Clan and Lineage amongst the Sants: Seed, Substance, Service, in Sant Mat:Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W. H. (Eds.). pp. 305, ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
- Hees, Peter, Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience, (2002) p. 359. NYU Press, ISBN 0-8147-3650-5
- Vaudeville, Charlotte. "Sant Mat: Santism as the Universal Path to Sanctity" in Sant Mat: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W.H. (Eds.) ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
- Lewis, James P. (1998). Seeking the light: uncovering the truth about the movement of spiritual inner awareness and its founder John-Roger. Hitchin: Mandeville Press. p. 62. ISBN 0-914829-42-4.
- For Sant Mat's affinities with Classic Gnosticism, see: Davidson, John, 1995, The Gospel of Jesus. Davidson, The Robe of Glory. Diem, Andrea Grace, The Gnostic Mystery. Tessler, Neil, Sophia’s Passion, on-line.
- Alsani, Ali. Sindhi Literary Culture, in Pollock, Sheldon I (Ed.) Literary Culture in History (2003), p. 637–8, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-22821-9
- Juergensmeyer, Mark. The Radhasoami Revival pp. 329–55 in Sant Mat: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India in Schomer K. and McLeod W. H. (Eds.) ISBN 0-9612208-0-5
- Melton, J. Gordon, Encyclopedia of American Religions
- DuPertuis, Lucy. "How People Recognize Charisma: The Case of Darshan in Radhasoami and Divine Light Mission" in Sociological Analysis: A Journal in the Sociology of Religion Vol. 47 No. 2 by Association for the Sociology of Religion. Chicago, summer 1986, ISSN 0038-0210, pp. 111-124.
- Mangalwadi, Vishal (1977). World of Gurus. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd. p. 218. ISBN 0-7069-0523-7.
- Geaves, Ron. "From Divine Light Mission to Elan Vital and Beyond: an Exploration of Change and Adaptation" in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions Vol. 7 No. 3. March 2004, pp. 45–62. Originally presented at 2002 International Conference on Minority Religions, Social Change and Freedom of Conscience (University of Utah at Salt Lake City). At Caliber (Journals of the University of California Press)
- Lane, David C., "The Making of a Spiritual Movement", Del Mar Press; Rev. edition (December 1, 1993), ISBN 0-9611124-6-8
- Lewis, James R. The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements p. 23, Oxford University Press (2003), ISBN 0-19-514986-6
- Barthwal, Pitambar Dutt. The Nirguna School of Hindi Poetry: an exposition of Santa mysticism, Banāras: Indian Book Shop, 1936.
- Bokser Caravella, Miriam. The Holy Name, Beās: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 2003. ISBN 978-81-8256-029-1
- Bokser Caravella, Miriam. Mystic Heart of Judaism, Beās: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 2011. ISBN 978-93-8007-716-1
- Davidson, John (1995). The Gospel of Jesus, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element, 1995. ISBN 1-904555-14-4
- Davidson, John. The Robe of Glory: An Ancient Parable of the Soul, Element, 1992. ISBN 1-85230-356-5
- Gold, Daniel (1987). The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in North Indian Tradition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0-19-504339-1
- Ināyat Khān. The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988. ISBN 81-208-0578-X
- Juergensmeyer, Mark (1991). Radhasoami Reality: The Logic of a Modern Faith, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-07378-3
- Kirpal Singh. Naam or Word. Blaine, Washington: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3
- RSSB. Surat Shabad Yog or Radhasoami.
- Maleki, Farida. Shams-e Tabrizi: Rumi's Perfect Teacher, New Delhi: Science of the Soul Research Centre, 2011. ISBN 978-93-8007-717-8
- Puri, Lekh Rāj, Mysticism: The Spiritual Path, Beās: Radha Soami Satsang Beas, 1964, 2009. ISBN 978-81-8256-840-2
- Schomer, Karine & William Hewat McLeod, eds (1987). The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987. Academic papers from a 1978 Berkeley conference on the Sants organised by the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California Center for South Asia Studies. ISBN 81-208-0277-2
- A Treasury of Mystic Terms, New Delhi: Science of the Soul Research Centre. ISBN 81-901731-0-3
- Baba Jaigurudev