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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. As a Sanskrit term, surat means "soul," shabd means "word" and yoga means "union." The term "word" 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 Shabda 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 Journey of Soul involves reuniting in stages with what is called the Essence of the Absolute Supreme Being, the Shabd. Attaining self-realization and above also results in jivan moksha/mukti, liberation/release from samsara, the cycle of karma and reincarnation while in the physical body. Initiation by an Outer Living Satguru (Sat - true, Guru - teacher) is required, and involves reactivating the Shabd and stationing the Inner Shabda Master (the Radiant Form of the Master) at the third eye (tisra til) chakra. 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 Shabda or the Shabda Master).
Surat Shabd Yoga cosmology depicts the whole of creation (the macrocosm) as being emanated and arranged in a spiritually differentiated hierarchy, often referred to as eggs, regions, or planes. Typically, eight spiritual levels are described above the physical plane, although names and subdivisions within these levels will vary to some extent by movement and Master. In this arrangement, Self-Realization is attained in the third heaven level, Daswan Dwar, Spirit-Realization is attained in the fourth heaven level, Bhanwar Gupha, and God-Realization is attained in the fifth heaven level, Sach Kand (Sat Lok). (One version of the creation from a Surat Shabda Yoga perspective is depicted at the Sant Ajaib Singh Ji Memorial Site ). All planes below the purely spiritual regions are subject to cycles of creation and dissolution (pralya) or grand dissolution (maha pralya).
This cosmology presents the constitution of the initiate (the microcosm) as an exact replica of the macrocosm. Consequently, the microcosm consists of a number of bodies, each one suited to interact with its corresponding plane or region in the macrocosm. These bodies developed over the yugas through involution (emanating from higher planes to lower planes) and evolution (returning from lower planes to higher planes), including by karma and reincarnation in various states of consciousness. The Path of Light and Sound involves the initiate traveling the microcosm dharmicly in consciousness (soul) with the guidance and protection of the Outer Living Master in the physical world and the Inner Shabd Master in the higher worlds until the regions of pure spirituality are reached and God-Realization is attained.
Movements and masters
- Main article: Sant Mat
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.
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, Beas. A chart of the larger successor lineages helps show the connections among many of the contemporary Sant Mat guru lines and branches.  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 more recently promulgated Quan Yin Method of meditation espoused via the spiritual teachings of Supreme Master Ching Hai has notable similarities to Surat Shabd Yoga.
Eckankar, an American movement, has many links to Surat Shabd Yoga, including terminology, although its American founder Paul Twitchell disassociated himself from his former teacher Kirpal Singh.
MasterPath is another contemporary American movement of Surat Shabda Yoga.  The founder and current Living Master, Sri Gary Olsen, 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 and Sant Kirpal Singh. 
Variations in movements
Although all movements of Surat Shabda Yoga will have common elements related to the basic principles, notable variations also exist. For example, before he died, the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, nominated the Guru Granth Sahib as the next and perpetual Guru of the Sikhs. Other movements continue to require a Living Master to initiate students into the Shabda. Movements also 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, K., Naam or Word. Blaine, WA: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3, 1999; BOOK TWO: SHABD, The Sound Principle.
- Sant Ajaib Singh Ji Memorial Site, 1995; “The Grand Scheme of All Creation”.
- Soamiji Maharaj gallery
- Singh, S. S., & Johnson, J. P. (Translators). (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. (9th ed.) Beas, India: Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
- Tulsi Sahib and His Teachings
- Sant Mat - Surat Shabd Yoga: Contemporary Guru Lines & Branches
- Singh, K. (1999). Naam or Word. Blaine, WA: Ruhani Satsang Books. ISBN 0-942735-94-3
- Holtje, D. (1995). From Light to Sound: The Spiritual Progression. Temecula, CA: MasterPath, Inc. ISBN 1-885949-00-6
- Olsen, G. (1999). MasterPath: The Divine Science of Light and Sound, (Vol. 1). Temecula, CA: MasterPath, Inc. ISBN 1-885949-01-4
- Information about Surat Shabd Yoga
- Nada-Bindu Upanishad
- Radha Soami Satsang Beas
- The Radhasoami tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship by David C. Lane
- Ruhani Satsang USA
- Rumi on Fire
- Sant Ajaib Singh Ji Memorial Site
- Sant Mat Meditation Net
- Science of Spirituality
- Sant Mat - Sant Baljit Singh - International site
- Sant Mat Fellowship (Yahoo Groups)
- Sant Mat Radhasoami Links (Yahoo Groups)
- Radhasoami Reality (Yahoo Groups)
- Meditation Sangat (Yahoo Groups)
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