Man is older than all the philosophies and religions of the world. Since consciousness dawned in man, the pioneers of spiritual thought – the seers, mystics, and the saints of every age and place – tried to solve the mystery of life. Many discovered the living connection to God or the all-sustaining power within themselves, and shared their experiences with others. Such was the aim of Zoroaster, Mahavira, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed, Guru Nanak and Kabir and other spiritual teachers, who passed on their knowledge according to the circumstances and needs of their time. Their intention was never to found a religion, but their followers eventually devised a network of rules and external rituals around these living sources, distancing people further from the source and from each other in the process.
In India, the period between the mid-14th and 15th centuries, was of particular importance in the reformation of religious thought. During this period, attempts were made to restore the predominant religions, frozen in external rituals and dogmas, back to their simple roots. Among the important reformers of this epoch were personalities such as Ramananda and his disciples, including Ravidas, the shoemaker, and King Pipa; Vallabhacharya, the famous representative of Krishna worship; Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from Bengal; Namdev from Maharashtra; and the great Saints Kabir and Guru Nanak in the north. Their teachings didn’t focus on outer rites and rituals, but instead emphasised the importance of inner purity, and all-embracing love and longing for God in a spiritual life.
This movement culminated with Kabir (1398-1518) and his younger contemporary, Guru Nanak (1469-1539). Their universal view transcended narrow confines of religion, and yet, they respected all Holy Scriptures, all religions and religious leaders as well. For this reason, both Kabir and Nanak were worshipped by Hindus and Muslims alike.
They were representatives of Surat Shabd Yoga, the yoga of the sound current or the connection with the Holy Word. In the Vedas it is called Sruti, in the Upanishads Naad or Udgit, in the Gospels Holy Spirit; and in the Sikh scriptures it is referred to as Shabd or Naam. The Freemasons speak of the Lost Word, the theosophists the voice of silence, the Prophet Mohammed calls it Kalma, the Sufis Saut, and Plato and Pythagoras mention the music of the spheres.
Following Guru Nanak, there were a continual line of masters, the Sants, who gave their disciples the connection with Naam, the Word, to keep this knowledge alive. In the 18th and 19th centuries Tulsi Sahib, Soamiji, Baba Jamail Singh (1838-1903) and Baba Sawan Singh (1858-1948) continued these teachings.
Sant Kirpal Singh
In the 20th century, Sant Kirpal Singh (1894-1974) was the preeminent representative of Surat Shabd Yoga. A purely spiritual path, it is not connected with any physical exercise, and so is also called Yoga of Attention or Sehaj Yoga, the most natural path.
Baba Sawan Singh had commissioned Sant Kirpal Singh to create a platform where people could come together regardless of their religion. As a result, the Sawan Ashram in Delhi was founded under the name of Ruhani Satsang (spiritual assembly), and Sant Kirpal Singh soon had disciples from all over the world. Many from the West used to stay there to listen to his lectures (Satsangs) on spirituality and meditate under his direct guidance.
In 1957, Sant Kirpal Singh was elected President of the World Fellowship of Religions. After more than 14 years advocating interreligious dialogue in this capacity, he realised that it was impossible to go beyond a certain level and decided to broaden his efforts for unity.
So in February 1974 he called the first great “World Conference on the Unity of Man”. This conference was the beginning of the Unity of Man movement. In his last circular, Sant Kirpal Singh outlined the aims of the movement and stated that his future mission would no longer be called Ruhani Satsang.
Conference on Unity of Man 2007
Following Sant Kirpal Singh, in 1974, Dr. Harbhajan Singh and his wife continued the work, under the name Unity of Man on His behalf, with the project Kirpal Sagar in the Punjab, as its centre. Here, Sant Kirpal Singh’s concept of Manav Kendras, or man centres, wherein each human being is helped spiritually, as well as physically and intellectually, was realised. Two additional world conferences took place in Kirpal Sagar in 1994 and 2007, and presently smaller annual regional conferences with different religious representatives are organised. The Kirpal Sagar project is constantly being developed and expanded and is open to all.