On the Usage of the Term "Sant Mat" and the Sant Tulsi Sahib Connection, by James Bean
Very much like “Buddhism” or “Sufism” are terms used by many to refer to any number of organizations or spiritual paths, “Sant Mat” is a fairly widely used general term for a certain kind of Eastern spirituality, gnosticism or mysticism. Even as there are hundreds of Sufi Orders and diverse forms of Hinduism, there are millions of people and satsangs, thousands of ashrams, and scores of teachers or organizations in, and outside of, India that describe themselves with the label “Sant Mat”.
“Sant Mat” can be defined as: “The Teachings (‘Mat’) of the Saints (‘Sants’) or Sages” 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.
Sants of Antiquity Long Before the Time of Kabir
It’s unknown who the first Sant was in ancient times. There are references in Krishna/Vaishnava texts to Sants. A few of the Rishi Sages who authored certain Upanishads pertaining to the Formless God, Inner Light and Sound Meditation or Nada/Shabda Yoga (some dating back many centuries B.C.E.) also seem to be at the same level as Sants. In somewhat more recent times, in some circles associated with the Tulsi Sahibis, Gorakhnath, a 11th-century Nath Yogi, is considered to be a Sant. Baba Gorakhnath did teach Surat Shabd Yoga. The Kabir Panth tradition of northern Sants includes much Nath Yogi terminology and apparently was somewhat influenced by the Nath tradition. The 15th century poet-mystic and spiritual master Kabir can be credited with helping to expand greatly the influence of the Sants in India, but Kabir was not the first Sant, and it is unknown who his guru was. (Some traditions describe Baba Ramananda as the guru of Kabir, but not everyone agrees with this view.) The first Masters formally called Sants that are usually mentioned in Sant literature are the 12th-century poet Jayadeva, author of the Gita Govinda, and, Visoba Khechar, who was Sant Namdev’s spiritual Master (Sant Satguru).
Seeing references in Krishna/Vaishnava Hindu scriptures, Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras was of the opinion that the Sant movement dates back to the time of Krishna thousands of years ago, that Krishna knew of Sants during his day.
An Example of Sants Mentioned in a Hindu Scripture Called the Bhagavad Purana
“Such individuals who have achieved the unity of atman (soul) and Param-atman (Supreme Soul, God) are known as Sants. According to the Bhagavad Purana there is no one greater than a Sant in the eyes of the Divine. Lord Krishna says to his disciple Uddhava Ji: ‘All devotees like you are very dear to me. They are dearer to me than Lord Brahma, Lord Shankara, my brother Bal Ram, Goddess Lakshmi and even my own soul. Therefore, I walk behind these Sants hoping that the dust arising from their holy feet would touch my body and purify me.’” (Hindu scripture quoted by Swami Vyasanand of the Tulsi Sahib/Maharshi Mehi Sant Mat lineage in his book, “The Inward Journey of the Soul”, new Amazon Kindle e-book)
“There is no end to the number of Sants who appeared in the Yugas [Epochs] of Sat, Treta, Dvapar, and Kali [Yuga]. I sing of the celebrated one I have heard of, and bow my head to all the others.” (Jan Gopal, disciple of Sant Dadu Dayal of Rajasthan in, The Life Story of Dadu Dayal — The Book of Janma, translated into English by the scholar Winand M. Callewaert, in, “The Hindi Biography of Dadu Dayal”, Motilal Banarsidass.)
Of course, mere references to “Sants” in antiquity doesn’t really shed light on the specifics of what their teachings and meditation practices might have been, though it can be said that all the elements of Sant Mat are to be found in various older Hindu scriptures. In the section below titled: Vedic Dharma vs. Santana Dharma, see the link to the research of Maharshi Mehi Paramhans.
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 is present in a few verses of Kabir, and is in at least one verse of a poem of Sant Goswami Tulsidas, author of the epic Ramcharitmanas: “Ihaan na pachhapaat kachhu raakhaun. Ved puran santmat bhaakhaun”. Clearly however, “Sant Mat” or “Santmat” 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 Diem-Lane, 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”, cited by Mark Juergensmeyer. (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)
“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’.” (Andrea Diem-Lane, “The Gnostic Mystery, a Connection Between Ancient and Modern Mysticism”, Mount San Antonio College Press, Walnut, CA, 1992 edition, page, 29)
Said Tulsi Sahib: “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.”
“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”. (Ghat Ramayan, “Param Sant Tulsi Sahib”, translated by Sant Das Maheshwari, Agra)
— Excerpted from my article, The Origins of Sant Mat, The Five Names, and the Identity of Tulsi Sahib’s Guru
Examples of "Sant Mat" and "Sat Mat" in the Teachings of Tulsi Sahib
Sant Tulsi Sahib refers to the term 'Santmat' in his poem: "Santmata hai sar aur sab jal pasara." ["Santmat is the essence of wisdom, all else is a snare to spread misconceptions."] (translated by Pravesh K. Singh)
"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." (Ghat Ramayan)
On following the dictates of mind or ego: "Kal has devoured all. None knows of the path prescribed in Sant Mat. All follow Kal's methods and obey him alone." (Ghat Ramayan)
"Saints know not renunciation, not acquisition..... In acquisition the entire world is enslaved. In these two the world remains entangled. Sant Mat is quite distinct from both." (Ghat Ramayan)
"Worldly people drift in the current of the ocean of existence. Sant Mat (Religion of Sants), on the other hand, is beyond the ocean of worldly existence." (Ghat Ramayan)
"In Sant Mat all Masters have decried killing and meat-eating." (Ghat Ramayan)
"Few know of the secrets of Sant Mat, and it is Sant-Surat that ascends to the sky, reaches the Inaccessible Region and attains the Original Abode. He, whose Surat [soul] has met the Supreme Being, is a Sant."
"It is only through the grace and mercy of Sants [Saints, Satgurus] that some rare Jivas [souls] will seek and find Sant Mat, the diamond. That diamond will come within the grasp of a Jiva only when th Sant enables him to recognize it." (Ghat Ramayan)
"Ghee (butter) cannot be obtained without making coagulated milk and then churning it. Likewise, if you perform the spiritual practices of Sant Mat, you can experience a bit of the intoxicating bliss of the Darshan [Vision] of the Beloved." (Ghat Ramayan)
Said Tulsi Sahib said, "Listen, I will now explain what I mean by Sant. To mention a few Sants, I pick up the names of Dadu, Mira, Nabha, Nanak, Dariya Saheb and Soor Das. Kabir's name, I mention again. And there have been many other Sants. Sants, who have reached the Eternal Region, have given to the world invaluable couplets and hymns in the form of their poetical compositions. I, Tulsi Das, who am only the dust of the holy feet of Sants, also said something about the bliss of the Inaccessible Region. Though I have had the good fortune to be associated with Sants, my understanding bears no comparison with Theirs. Let me reiterate the greatness of the holy feet of Sants. I place my head at Their holy feet. Listen, O Phool Das, I shall now tell you, as one who is the slave of the holy feet of Sants, of the Shabds (hymns) composed by Them." (Ghat Ramayan)
"I (Tulsi Saheb) have described the status of Sants and sung of hymns composed by them. Sants have traversed the path to the Inaccessible Region and their Surat has attained the Truth or Essence.
"Nanak, Dadu, Dariya Saheb, Mira Bai, Soor Das, Kabir and Nabhaji have all reached the Nabh (sky, high region) and have given out the secrets. Their Surats have got across and merged there.
"Though their teachings are one and the same, their ways of teaching are different. Indeed, all Sants have proceeded along the same path. All of them ascended along the same Current of Shabd, and got across. They saw Gagan and proceeded ahead. Tulsi Saheb says with the beat of drums that he who doubts this is a great fool." (Ghat Ramayan)
"And know ye, Phool Das, I have given out, as hints, the secrets of the beginning and the end, which is precisely the religion of Kabir Saheb and which also constitutes the essence of what other Sants have said. This, indeed, is the essence of the religion of Sants, who had Darshan [Vision] of the exalted Supreme Being within. They tasted the bliss of the purely spiritual region of Surat and also came to know of the secrets of the beginning and the end. He alone, who ponders over and realizes what I have said, and also takes his Surat across, will be able to reach the Unfathomable Region."
The Term "Sat Mat" or "Teachings of God" is About Seeking Truth Within
"What Sants have said about Sat Mat is what they saw with their own eyes. They have sung of it in the form of Sakhis (couplets) and Shabds (hymns)." (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. (Ghat Ramayan)
"I have described in detail Sat Mat with which worldly ways are incompatible. I have tasted of the bliss of the Original Abode which alone is true. The world, on the other hand, is only a fleeting show, and only if one ponders over this, one will be able to realize the essence of Sat Mat. Then alone will one's boat of life be able to cross the ocean of worldly existence. Great reverberation of Shabd is going on within. One should fix one's attention on it and dance with joy." [This is a reference to Surat Shabd Yoga, Meditation on the Audible Life Stream.] (Ghat Ramayan)
"They [the Jivas, souls] should know that Surat alone, by adopting Naam, can proceed beyond the Fourth Lok or Region. They should take a vow to hold fast to this very method which, really, is the unique religion of Sants. They should know that worldly rites and rituals are debased and worthless activities, and should keep away from them. They should worship Sat [literally "Truth", the Eternal] by means of Surat, and this will enable them to reach the regions beyond the sky. They should accept the teachings of Sants and also realize the Sant Mat is distinct and separate from all." (Ghat Ramayan)
Anami Reality -- The Nameless One -- God
"Sants frequently visit the Inaccessible Region, and after actually observing, describe the conditions. It is said that Kal and Niranjan who have both the seen and unseen forms have created the Vedas out of Nada or Shabd and that Atma is invisible. This is what Kal has made known to the world. But Sant Mat reveals something more. According to it, the Abode of Atma is Mansarovar, and Parmatma remains beyond Sunn [the Void]. This is what the Sants describe after having seen. Higher up is Sat Lok, which is the fourth Stage or Region of the creation. Its Deity is Indescribable and is called Sat Purush.... Beyond the Fourth Lok dwells the Nameless Being [Anami Purush] who has no trace of Maya." (Shabdavali)
Sant Tulsi Sahib as the Reincarnation of Sant Tulsi Das?
Goswami Tulsidas Ji has made a clear mention of the term "Santmat": "Ihaan na achchhapaat kachhu raakhaun. Ved puran santmat bhaakhaun." (passage provided by Pravesh K. Singh)
Ram Charit Manas is a spiritual classic authored by Sant Tulsi Das (1532 – 1623).
Ghat Ramayan was authored by Sant Tulsi Sahib (1763 - 1843). According to Tulsi Sahib in his Ghat Ramayan, in a past life he was Tulsi Das and the author of the Ramayana of Tulsi Das. His mission was to complete the spiritual work of Tulsi Das and share the Esoteric Teachings of the Sants with humanity, which many were not ready to receive during his previous incarnation: "Had I told them of the secret of the Supreme Being, it would not have been possible for me to survive in this world. That is why I did not give out the unique secret and kept Sant Mat back from the Jivas [souls]. I made only indirect references to the inner secrets in my book and that is why they did not attract the attention of anybody." (Ghat Ramayan)
"I wrote the book 'Ghat Ramayan' and I give here the date on which it was brought out and other details.
"Feeling an urge to write the book, I completed it in 1618 Vikram, having decided to start writing it on a Tuesday which was the eleventh day of the bright half of the lunar month of Bhadon.
"People of Kashi were surprised on reading my book and there was much tumult and agitation in the city.
"Pandits, Jains, Mohammedans and the general public of Kashi started a bitter quarrel.
"Pandits, anchorites and the world at large decried "Ghat Ramayan".
"Hence, I hid the book and stopped its circulation.
"And accordingly, worldly people who know no love, remained' ignorant of the modes and methods of Sant Mat." (Ghat Ramayan)
"In Ghat Ramayan there are references to things and events which occurred after Tulsi Das Ji's demise. From this, one should not think that Tulsi Saheb made unnecessary additions to the original "Ghat Ramayan" written by Tulsi Das Ji. The original Ghat Ramayan had undoubtedly disappeared from this world and, quite obviously, Tulsi Saheb did not just bring it out of His bag. Rather, He re-wrote the book Himself. It is common experience that a new edition of a book, in case it comes out during the life-time of the author, is made up-to-date. Tulsi Saheb did the same thing for, Tulsi Das and Tulsi Saheb were really one and the same, person. Indeed, Tulsi Saheb, and not Tulsi Das, is the author of "Ghat Ramayan" in its present form in which most of the biographical sketch given by Tulsi Saheb relates to His previous life." (S.D. Maheshwari, "Sants, Sadhas, Mahatmas, and Devotees of the Past")
"Ghat Ramayan means the Ramayan of what is happening within the Ghat, i.e., the microcosm, the human body. That which is in the Pind [body] is also present in the Brahmand or the cosmos..... The Ghat Ramayan is the Ramayan of the inner Self -- it contains all the inner secrets." ( S. D. Maheshwari, "The Esoteric Meaning of the Ramayan")
Baba Devi Sahab was in possession of a hand-written manuscript of Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras printed at Hathras itself in the year of 1896, and had it published, sharing the teachings of the great Saint of Hathras with spiritual seekers everywhere: "The book Ghat Ramayan is said to be the work of Tulsi Saheb of Hathras. The first edition of this book was published by one Munshi Devi Prasad Saheb alias Devi Sahib. Subsequently, an edition was brought out in the year 1911 from Belvedere Press....." (S.D. Maheshwari, "The Esoteric Meaning of the Ramayan", Agra, page 169)
"He [Maharshi Mehi] managed [to acquire] copies of three books [editions] of Ghat Ramayan published at different times by different sources -- one published from Belvedere Press, Allahabad, second the commentary work by Baba Devi Sahab on Ghat Ramayan -- Baba Devi Sahab selected some important hymns from then available book of Ghat Ramayan and interpreted its meaning -- and the third is the book available in the Satsang Mandir of Hathras [Sant Tulsi Sahib Ashram, Hathras, India]." (Sadgurumehi website, section on, Bhawarth Sahit Ghat Ramayan Ke Mukhya Aur Paramopayogi Vishay Ki Padaawali)