On the Usage of the Term “Sant Mat”, and the Sant Tulsi Sahib Connection
Could a Buddhist sect…. let’s say hypothetically….the New Kadampa Tradition – legally trademark the word “Buddhism” and unilaterally declare it to be the unique name of their group and attempt to prevent other Buddhist religions from using it? “Sorry Mahayana. Sorry Zen. Sorry Theravada. Sorry Buddhist library dot com. Sorry Tibetans, you can’t call yourself Buddhists anymore. Only we are the true Buddhists”?
Sectarian partisans are often known for not exactly being fond of research or being very aware of their own past history. With that in mind, to dispel some ignorance over the usage of an obscure term not as well known to some as words like ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Buddhism’, a few years ago I made sure this below would forever be circulating on the Internet and made known to guard against the term Sant Mat from being hijacked and privatized by some sect, pointing out the history — how, like Buddhism it’s a universal term used in the public domain by many over a long period of time for certain categories of spiritual paths (plural) in India.
On the Usage of the Term “Sant Mat”, and the Sant Tulsi Sahib Connection
IMAGE: Param Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, India
“Sant Mat” means: “The Teachings of the Saints” or “Path of the Masters”. In India it’s common knowledge that the term “Sant Mat” was coined or adapted by Param Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras during the 19th Century. “Sant Mat” was adopted and popularized by Tulsi Sahib as a new name for this spiritual path or genre of mysticism, but the Sant tradition, with its many guru-lineages or branches, is a spiritual movement that dates back many centuries to ancient India. Tulsi Sahib was of the opinion that the Sant movement goes back to the time of Krishna thousands of years ago, that Krishna knew of Sants or Rishis during his day, the age of the Bhagavad Gita.
Commonly used words like “Sant”, “Sat”, and “Mat”, with their roots in Sanskrit, are found in the literature of many spiritual paths originating in India. “Santmat”, as a single word referring to the efficacy of following the teachings of Sants does turn up on a couple of occasions in Sant literature during the centuries prior to the time of Tulsi Sahib. It could be present in a few verses of Kabir, and is in at least one verse of a poem of Sant Tulsi Das. Clearly however, “Sant Mat” as the universal name or label for this school of spirituality or Sant tradition begins with Tulsi Sahib during the 19th Century in Hathras, and now has been embraced by millions of souls and scores of spiritual paths based in India.
“The teachings of all Saints are essentially the same. They speak of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ which is within. They show the path and impart instructions to attain it. They do not claim to teach something new or different from what other Saints have taught. Tulsi Sahab declared that he was giving the same teachings as those of Kabir Sahab, Nanak Sahab, Dadu Sahab and other Saints. Tulsi Sahab, for the first time, used the expression ‘Sant Mat’ or ‘the teachings of Saints’ to stress the basic unity of the teachings of all Saints.” (From the entry for Sant Tulsi Sahib in, RadhaSoami White Paper on the Religion of Sants and RadhaSoami Faith, published by Dayal Bagh in Agra)
“While the title of Sant Mat (translated as ‘Teachings of the Sants’) was not coined until the late 19th century by Tulsi Sahib, the philosophical mindset was indeed prevalent for many centuries.” (Andrea Grace Diem, Ph.D., “Lions in the Punjab: An Introduction to the Sikh Religion”, from Chapter One, The Sikh — Sant Connection)
Param Tulsi Sahib of Hathras originated the term “Sant Mat” as recorded in the Ghat Ramayan also according to the scholar Parashuram Chaturvedi in his book “Sant Parampara”. (See footnote 23, in the chapter titled, “The Radhasoami Revival”, by Mark Juergensmeyer, on page 337 in, “The Sants, Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India”, Edited by Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1987, page 783)
“One thing that all factions agree upon, though, is that Tulsi Sahib consolidated the teachings of nirguna bhakti, expounded the path of surat shabd yoga, and was largely responsible for the popular usage of the term Sant mat. His teachings are embodied in Ghat Ramayana, Ratan Sagar, and Shabdavali.” (David C. Lane, “The Radhasoami Tradition, A Critical History of Guru Successorship”, Garland Publishing, 1992 edition, page 39)
“Tulsi Sahib, for the first time, used the expression ‘Sant Mat’ or ‘teachings of Saints’ to stress the basic unity of the teachings of all Saints. Swami Ji later adopted the same expression, ‘Sant Mat’, in his works.” (Janak Raj Puri and V. K. Sethi, “Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras”, 1981 edition, Mystics of the East Series, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Book Department, page 18)
“For all the religious traditions of India, the nineteenth century was an age of rationalistic reform, during which the attempt was made to systematize beliefs and make practices consistent with doctrines. Tulsi Sahib of Hathras (ca 1760–1843) was at once heir to certain esoteric tendencies in later Sant tradition and a precursor of the new spirit. Stressing the unity of the Sants as a parampara, he taught what he believed to be the common core of doctrines implicit in all the Sants (‘sant mat’), and tried to reverse the spread of saguna beliefs and practices among the followers of nirguna panths. Heavily indebted to him was Shiv Dayal Singh (1818–1878), founder of the modern Radhasoami movement.” (Karine Schomer, “The Sants”, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, page 7)
“Tulsi Sahib, a Sant of Hathras from the nineteenth century, recognized that Sants drew upon the teachings of other Sant figures as spiritual resources. Pointing out the common spiritual roots, he identified this movement as a coherent religious tradition, which he called ‘Sant Mat’, simply meaning a ‘Sant faith’.” (Dr. Andrea Diem, “The Gnostic Mystery, a Connection Between Ancient and Modern Mysticism”, Mount San Antonio College Press, Walnut, CA, 1992 edition, page, 29)
“The principles and tenets of Sant Mat are one and the same, only there is a difference in terminology. Since the same principles have been stated using different names, you become confused and do not understand them. Sat Saheb, that is, Sat Purush, has been described as Sat Nam. And Sar Shabd (True Shabd) has been called A-Nam. The name Nirgun has been given to Niranjan and it is the mind which has been called Ram. What Kabir had said, has been said by other Sants, too. Kabir explained Sant Mat in his own way, other Sants in other ways. The religion of all those who have gained access within is one and the same. Those who lack true understanding, adhere to dogmas and blind beliefs. Those who have spoken on the basis of inner experiences, have sung of the same Panth or path for reaching the Lord.”(Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, Ghat Ramayan)
“Listen, O Phool Das, I have given out the same true secrets which Sants like Kabir Saheb, Dadu Saheb, Rai Das Ji, Darya Saheb, Guru Nanak, Soor Das Ji, Nabha Ji and Mira Bai have spoken of. They, too, have composed similar hymns describing the bliss of the highest spiritual region, whose glory I also have sung, blessed by the grace and the dust of the holy feet of Sants”. (Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras, Ghat Ramayan)
There’s a somewhat more detailed version of the above at the beginning of my article on the Origins of Sant Mat: https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/the-origins-of-sant-mat-the-five-names-and-the-identity-of-tulsi-sahib-s-guru-by-james-bean-eaa516deccf9#.z3lajdf42