first westerner to live at the dera baba jaimal
dr. julian johnson (1873 - 1939)
Julian Philip Matthew Johnson (1873–1939) was an American surgeon and author of several books on Eastern spirituality. He spent much of the 1930s in India, was associated with the Radha Soami Satsang Beas movement and Surat Shabd Yoga, and wrote five books (one unpublished) as a result of his experiences.
Early Days and Education
Johnson grew up in a staunch Christian family in the southern United States, became a Baptist minister at age 17, graduated Bachelor of Divinity in Bolivar, Missouri, and received an appointment as a missionary to India at age 22. Johnson claimed that experiences during his three-year stay in India, however, rendered him surprised by the deep understanding possessed by Indians he had sought to convert, and urged him towards further study.
Back in the United States, he earned two master’s degrees (M.A. theology) at the University of Chicago, resigned his 17-year Baptist ministership, and earned an M.D. from the State University of Iowa. He served as an assistant surgeon in the United States Navyduring World War I, and later went into private practice. He also owned and flew his own airplanes.
Over the years, he took to studies of various religious and philosophical teachings, including Christian Science, Freemasonry, New Thought, Rosicrucianism, Spiritualism, Blavatskyan Theosophy, and world religions.
His spiritual explorations culminated when he visited an old friend (Julia McQuilkin in Oregon) who was a disciple of Bābā Sāwan Singh of Beās, Pañjāb, India. Convinced that he had found his path, Johnson requested initiation, which was arranged for by Dr. Harold Brock and performed on 21 March 1931. After a year, Johnson left once more for India on 24 March 1932. (At the two-week stopover in Hawaii, he had discussions on religion with the English Jōdo Shinshū priest Ernest “Shinkaku” Hunt [1876–1967] of the Hongwanji.)
Move to India
Dr. Johnson was the first American to live at Derā Bābā Jaimal Singh, in Beās, where he became busy with study, writing, medical work, meditation, and traveling with Sāwan Singh. He edited Sardār Sevā Singh’s English translation of Soāmī Shivdayāl Singh‘s Sār Bacan, and coined the term “Audible Life Stream“. He authored With a Great Master in India (1934), the first book on Surat Shabd Yoga by a Westerner, and his masterwork The Path of the Masters. In Kashmir, Johnson met Paul Petzoldt (who later became the famous mountaineer, Outward Bound instructor, and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School), and invited him to the Derā where Petzoldt served as Johnson’s assistant, even helping in surgical operations.
Johnson remains the most well-known among many Western adherents of and authors on Sant Mat / Surat Shabd Yoga (IAST: Sūrat-Śabd Yoga). Possibly, no other single author in Sant Mat has more influenced North American “Shabdism” (—David C. Lane‘s term) than Johnson.
The Path of the Masters
Johnson’s magnum opus, now published as The Path of the Masters: The Science of Surat Shabd Yoga: The Yoga of the Audible Life Stream (but originally titled The Path of the Masters: The Science of Sūrat Shabda Yoga: Santon kī Shikshā) is the most comprehensive, explicit, systematically organised, meticulous, and polished work on the Path of the Soundstream and Lightstream in any language, incomparable in its lucidity, and its near perfection marred only by racist undertones. Published in France (1939), the USA (1957) and India (slightly revised by the Radha Soami Satsang Beas Publications Committee in 1972 and 1985 to delete provocative language, and extensively revised in 1993,) it remains popular among Western adherents of Sant Mat. However, its author’s blunt style and now outmoded opinions – influenced by Northern European racist notions then in vogue but now considered politically incorrect—have turned off some modern readers. The text’s sheer eloquence, however, has made the work the object of plagiarism by other writers, especially in the United States, where it formerly was almost totally unknown to the general reading public. The work heavily influenced the American ECK religion, and its various offshoots and spin-offs, through ECK founder Paul Twitchell’s extensive copying – discussed at length and in depth in Prof. David C. Lane‘s exposé The Making of a Spiritual Movement.
Among Western adherents at least, The Path of the Masters has enjoyed long-time popularity among foreign-language works on Sant Mat. A sampling of Johnson’s polished prose (1985 pagination) shows the logic that has proven compelling to Western readers, even outside of Sant Mat circles:
“… if you live rightly among men, and then devote yourself to the practice of the Surat Shabd Yoga, you will enter the kingdom of heaven while you are still living in the body. And that constitutes a world of difference between the spiritual science of the Masters and all religions.”—page 57
“In the realm of religion, the Master is a paradox. He has no theology, teaches none, yet he is the most religious man on earth. His system is not a religion, yet it leads to the most complete religious experience, and the most happy. He is absolutely universal in all his teachings. He has no creed, yet he never antagonizes any creed, sect or institution. He never condemns any man or any system. He finds no fault with anybody or anything, yet draws the sharpest lines between the good and the bad.”—page 162
“Each and every man, when properly trained, is able to detach himself from the physical body while still living in that body in perfect health, and then travel to all parts of the outlying universe. Everyone has this ability whether he is conscious of it or not.”—page 343
“Vairagya is the next important step in mental preparation for the Path,… This means the mental detachment of oneself from the external world. This is real vairagya. It does not in any way teach or imply that one should physically detach himself from the world. He need not leave his family or society, his public or private duties. The Masters never teach that sort of vairagya…. Detachment, as taught by the Masters, does not imply austerities.”—pages 357–358
“There is but one thing known to human experience which will destroy all lower desires. That is the Audible Life Stream. It is the supreme instrument of deliverance from bondage. It is the one means of detaching us from worldly objects that perish, and of lifting us up to liberty and light…. We shall attain perfect vairagya only when we enter into that divine Stream consciously.”—page 364
“No man ever gained spiritual freedom, power and happiness by a process of logic, by a priori ratiocination, by metaphysics, by reading books or by listening to lectures. Yet these are the methods employed by the majority of mankind. The Masters solve all their problems by a scientific method as exact and exacting as mathematics. They get their information not by analysis and synthesis but by sight and hearing. Even after they have proved a proposition, they establish no authority except that of truth itself. Authority hampers truth, it throttles free investigation. Authority is an enemy to progress…. This science makes personal experience the final and only court of appeal. Its processes are simple and direct. They can be understood by the most ordinary intelligence, and for that reason the intelligentsia need not become offended at them.”—page 404
“The Masters and many of their students pass daily through “the gates of death” and hence they know all of the problems connected with the matter. They have explored worlds upon worlds beyond the gates of death. All of this they do in full consciousness as a direct result of their practice of Surat Shabd Yoga.”—page 419
Elizabeth Rose Bruce
Johnson’s wife Elizabeth Rose (died 1941) was an American socialite, traveler, adventurer, herbalist, and spiritual seeker. She was a faithful worker of the Rādhāsoāmī Satsang, Dayāl Bāgh, Āgrā, India, and the favorite Western disciple of Sir Ānand Sarūp, Kt, but eventually became disillusioned and left Ānand Sarūp. Johnson married her and they lived out life in Beās. Johnson wrote her “autobiography” The Unquenchable Flame (Beās: Five Rivers Manufacturing Company, 1935).