I used to think that the Sant Mat spirituality I followed for many years (in the guise of Radha Soami Satsang Beas) was truly a "science of the soul." Sure, I knew that Sant Mat and Sikhism were similar, but I attributed that more to culture than to religion.
For example, the Sant Mat gurus let their hair grow and wear turbans, just as Sikhs do. However, the party line of Sant Mat was that it's a universal spiritual practice, a way back to God which transcends geography, nationality, historical religiosity, and such.
Not really. In fact, not at all. As this analysis of Sikh/Sant Mat groups points out:
In the 19th century, a new spiritual current emerged in the Punjab, that part of India in which Sikhism enjoyed its greatest strength. Param Guru Shri Shiv Dayal Singh Sahib began to gather followers, and in 1861 formed the Radhasoami Satsang. It drew upon the Sikh tradition of repeating the name of God, and practiced a spiritual discipline called surat shabd yoga. It differed most radically from Sikhism in that it was led by a "living" guru.
Two important Sant Mat groups were transplanted to America, the Radhasoami Satsang early in the twentieth century and the Ruhani Satsang after 1965. Both have found a following, but the Sant Mat tradition has found its greatest success in several Westernized versions, ECKANKAR and the Church for the Movement of Spiritual Awareness.
So Sant Mat basically is Sikhism with a living guru taking the place of the Sikh holy book, the Adi Granth Sahib. Except, not really. Because chanting from the Adi Granth was a big part of Sant Mat gatherings when I was a member of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
A guy in my Tai Chi class loaned me a copy of "The Pocket Guide to the Afterlife."
It's cleverly and interestingly written, complete with handy two page illustrated flow charts that show what 40 belief systems consider will happen after death. (It's also currently on sale for a good price at Amazon; I just bought my own copy for $6.24, including shipping, since I have Amazon Prime.)
Yesterday I reached Sikhism in the Asatru to Zoroastrianism alphabetical order of the book. What I learned in the two pages was how similar in many ways Sikh teachings are to Sant Mat.
Sikhism is focused on freeing you from the cycle of reincarnation and getting you to commune directly with God.
...There are four stages of a Sikh's spiritual evolution, starting on the ground floor and ending with Gurmukh, as close to heaven as the Sikhs get, embodying what others might call "total enlightenment."
...If you can get over your addiction to the five cardinal vices -- lust, anger, greed, attachment, and pride -- you can start moving down that pathway toward salvation.
...Sure, you can't drink anymore, and you'll need to toss those Marlboros in the trash, but doing seva (community service) and honest labor isn't the worst way to spend your time. [Note: Sant Mat doesn't prohibit cigarette smoking; at least the RSSB version didn't.]
...You're on your way to communing with Godhead, and, much like a good Buddhist, a Khalsa (which means "pure") has shed his or her ego and individual personality and is totally committed to righteous deeds.
...You have achieved total salvation, or mukhti. Eschewing all those base material objects -- your iPhone, Prada jacket, your Reidel stemware -- you are totally God-focused now. Merging with God is the sole goal of human life, and can be achieved by following the teachings of the Sikh holy text, performing acts of service and charity, and meditation.
A big reason why I've come to doubt the reality of religion is this amazing coincidence: virtually without fail, when some mystic, guru, prophet or other sort of sage delves deeply into the mysteries of the cosmos, what he or she discovers is...
Almost precisely what the dominant religion/spirituality in his or her corner of the globe considers to be divine truth.
For example, Param Guru Shri Shiv Dayal Singh Sahib (supposedly humble gurus in India usually don't have humble names) meditates away intensively, seeking the essence of God, and concludes that, wonder of wonders, the very religion practiced in his part of the world, Sikhism, just happens to be the absolute truth he was looking for.
It just needed a few tweakings to become Sant Mat.
Which, conveniently, included the revelation that a perfect living guru was needed for God-realization, the first one of which would be -- no big surprise -- himself! And thus Sant Mat was born out of Sikhism.
Two peas, in the same religious pod.