Sundar Singh was born into an important landowning Sikh family in Patiala State in northern India. Sikhs, rejecting Hindu polytheism and Muslim intolerance in the sixteenth century, had become a vigorous nation with a religion of their own. Sundar Singh's mother took him week by week to sit at the feet of a Sadhu, an ascetic holy man, who lived in the jungle some miles away, but she also sent him to a Christian mission school where he could learn English.
The death of Sundar Singh's mother, when he was fourteen, plunged him into violence and despair. He turned on the missionaries, persecuted their Christian converts, and ridiculed their faith. In final defiance of their religion, he bought a Bible and burned it page by page in his home compound while his friends watched. Three nights later he went to his room determined to commit suicide on a railway line. Sitting on the railway track, Sadhu loudly asked who is the true God. If the true God didn't show Himself that night, he would commit suicide. It is said that finally before the break of dawn and shortly before the arrival of the train, God finally came to Sadhu. http://www.uecf.net/video/sadhu_sundar.wmx
However, before dawn, he wakened his father to announce that he had seen Jesus Christ in a vision and heard his voice. Henceforth he would follow Christ forever, he declared. Still no more than fifteen, he was utterly committed to Christ and in the twenty-five years left to him would witness extensively for his Lord. The discipleship of the teenager was immediately tested as his father pleaded and demanded that he give up this absurd conversion. When he refused, Sher Singh gave a farewell feast for his son, then denounced him and expelled him from the family. Several hours later, Sundar realised that his food had been poisoned, and his life was saved only by the help of a nearby Christian community .
On his sixteenth birthday he was publicly baptised as a Christian in the parish church in Simla, a town high in the Himalayan foothills. For some time previously he had been staying at the Christian Leprosy Home at Sabathu, not far from Simla, serving the leprosy patients there. It was to remain one of his most beloved bases and he returned there after his baptism. Part of a series on Protestant
in IndiaWilliam CareyBackground Christianity Thomas the Apostle Pantaenus Protestantism Indian history Missions timeline Christianity in India
Then, in October 1906, he set out from it in quite a new way. He walked onto the road, a tall, good-looking, vigorous teenager, wearing a yellow robe and turban. Everyone stared at him as he passed. The yellow robe was the "uniform" of a Hindusadhu, traditionally an ascetic devoted to the gods, who either begged his way along the roads or sat, silent, remote, and often filthy, meditating in the jungle or some lonely place. The young Sundar Singh had also chosen the sadhu's way, but he would be a sadhu with a difference.
"I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord," he is recorded as saying, "but, like Him, I want no home, no possessions. Like Him I will belong to the road, sharing the suffering of my people, eating with those who will give me shelter, and telling all men of the love of God."
He at once put his vocation to the test by going back to his home village, Rampur, where he was shown an unexpectedly warm welcome.
This was poor preparation for the months that were to follow. Scarcely tough enough to meet physical hardship, the sixteen-year-old sadhu went northward through the Punjab, over the Bannihal Pass into Kashmir, and then back through Muslim Afghanistan and into the brigand-infested North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. His thin, yellow robe gave him little protection against the snows, and his feet became torn from the rough tracks. Not many months had passed before the little Christian communities of the north were referring to him as "the apostle with the bleeding feet." This initiation showed him what he might expect in the future. He was stoned, arrested, visited by a shepherd who talked with strange intimacy about Jesus and then was gone, and left to sleep in a way-side hut with an unexpected cobra for company. Meetings with the mystical and the sharply material, persecution and welcome, would all characterize his experience in years ahead. From the villages in the Simla hills, the long line of the snow-clad Himalayas and the rosy peak of Nanga Parbat, rose in the distance. Beyond them lay Tibet, a Buddhist land that missionaries had long failed to penetrate with the gospel. Ever since his baptism Tibet had beckoned Sundar, and in 1908, at the age of nineteen, he crossed its frontiers for the first time. Any stranger entering into this closed territory reputedly risked both terror as well as death. Singh took the risk with his eyes, and his heart, wide open. The state of the people appalled him. Their airless homes, like themselves, were filthy. He himself was stoned as he bathed in cold water because they believed that "holy men never washed." Food was mostly unobtainable and he existed on hard, parched barley. Everywhere there was hostility. And this was only "lower Tibet" just across the border. Sundar went back to Sabathu determined to return the next year.
He had a great desire: to visit Palestine and re-live some of the happenings in Jesus' life. In 1908 he went to Bombay, hoping to board a convenient ship. But, to his intense disappointment, the government refused to give him a permit, and he had to return to the north. It was on this trip that he suddenly recognised a basic dilemma of the Christian mission to India. A brahmin had collapsed in the hot, crowded carriage and, at the next station, the Anglo-Indian stationmaster came rushing with a cup of water from the refreshment room. The brahmin -- a high-caste Hindu -- thrust it away in horror. He needed water, but he could only accept it in his own drinking vessel. When that was brought, he drank and was revived. In the same way, Sundar Singh realised, India would not widely accept the gospel of Jesus offered in Western guise. That, he recognised, was why many listeners had responded to him in his Indian sadhu's robe.
There was still sharper disillusionment to come. In December 1909 he began training for the Christian ministry at the Anglican college in Lahore. Some of Singh's biographers depict his experience at college as one of an unhappy misfit. He did not form relationships with fellow students, and only met them at meal times and designated prayer sessions. From the beginning he found himself being tormented by fellow students for being "different" and no doubt too self assured. Certainly he appeared to fellow students as very conspicuous.
Although Singh had been baptized by an Anglican priest, he was ignorant of the ecclesisatical culture and conventions of Anglicanism. His inability to adapt to Anglican life hindered him from fitting in with the routines of academic study. Much in the college course seemed to Singh to be irrelevant to the gospel as India needed to hear it. After eight months in the college Singh decided to leave in July 1910.
It is sometimes asserted by his biographers that the cause of Singh's withdrawal from ministry training was due to remarks made by Bishop Lefroy about the requirements of an ordained Anglican priest. The strictures, as the biographers report it, is that Singh was told he must now discard his sadhu's robe and wear "respectable" European clerical dress; use formal Anglican worship; sing English hymns; and never preach outside his parish without special permission. Never again visit Tibet, he asked? That would be, to him, an unthinkable rejection of God's call. However, his biographers omit to state that the stipulations laid down by the Bishop were normative for all Anglican priests of that day in India.
With deep sadness he left the college, still dressed in his yellow robe, and in 1912 began his annual trek into Tibet as the winter snows began to melt on the Himalayan tracks and passes.
Stories from those years are astonishing and sometimes incredible. Indeed there were those, who insisted that they were mystical rather than real happenings. That first year, 1912, he returned with an extraordinary account of finding a three-hundred-year old Christian hermit in a mountain cave-the Maharishi of Kailas, with whom he spent some weeks in deep fellowship.
According to Singh in a town called Rasar he had been thrown in a dry well full of bones and rotting flesh and left to die. However three days later a rope was thrown to him and he was rescued. The difficulty with this account is that Singh is the sole witness to report this event. As Singh has been represented by some biographers as a suffering preacher, it is worth recalling that the three days spent down the well bears resemblances to the gospel narratives concerning the death and three days of burial for the Christ before his resurrection from the dead. 
At these and at other times Singh was said to have been rescued by members of the "Sunnyasi Mission" -- secret disciples of Jesus wearing their Hindu markings, whom he claimed to have found all over India.
One of the difficulties with the evidence to support this story of the secret Sunnyasi Mission is that this brotherhood was reputed to have numbered around 24,000 members across India. The origins of this brotherhood were reputed to be linked to one of the Magi at Christ's Nativity and then the second century AD disciples of the apostle Thomas circulating in India. Nothing was heard of this evangelistic fellowship until after William Carey began his missionary work in Serampore. The Maharishi of Kailas experienced ecstatic visions about the secret fellowship that he retold to Sundar Singh, and Singh himself built his spiritual life around visions.
Whether he won many continuing disciples on these hazardous Tibetan treks is not known. Singh did not keep written records and he was unaccompanied by any other Christian disciples who might have witnessed the events.
As Sundar Singh moved through his twenties his ministry widened greatly, and long before he was thirty years old his name and picture were familiar all over the Christian world. He described in terms of a vision a struggle with Satan to retain his humility but he was, in fact, always human, approachable and humble, with a sense of fun and a love of nature. This, with his "illustrations" from ordinary life, gave his addresses great impact. Many people said, "He not only looks like Jesus, he talks like Jesus must have talked." Yet all his talks and his personal speech sprang out of profound early morning meditation, especially on the Gospels. In 1918 he made a long tour of South India and Ceylon, and the following year he was invited to Burma, Malaya, China, and Japan.
Some of the stories from these tours were as strange as any of his Tibetan adventures. He claimed power over wild things He claimed even to have power over disease and illness, though he never allowed his presumed healing gifts to be publicised.
Sundar Singh was a Christian universalist; he believed that all people would, eventually, attain salvation. Writing in 1925 he argued:
If the Divine spark in the soul cannot be destroyed, then we need despair of no sinner... Since God created men to have fellowship with Himself, they cannot for ever be separated from Him... After long wandering, and by devious paths, sinful man will at last return to Him in whose Image he was created; for this is his final destiny.
In 1929, before his final mission, he was asked about the doctrine of eternal punishment by some theology students in Calcutta. He said that "There was punishment, but it was not eternal," and that "Everyone after this life would be given a fair chance of making good, and attaining to the measure of fullness the soul was capable of. This might sometimes take ages."
For a long time Sundar Singh had wanted to visit Britain, and the opportunity came when his father, Sher Singh, came to tell him that he too had become a Christian and wished to give him the money for his fare to Britain. He visited the West twice, travelling to Britain, the United States, and Australia in 1920, and to Europe again in 1922. He was welcomed by Christians of many traditions, and his words searched the hearts of people who now faced the aftermath of World War I and who seemed to evidence a shallow attitude to life. Sundar was appalled by what he saw as the materialism, emptiness, and irreligion he found everywhere, contrasting it with Asia's awareness of God, no matter how limited that might be. Once back in India he continued his ministry, though it was clear that he was getting more physically frail.
In 1923 Sundar Singh made the last of his regular summer visits to Tibet and came back exhausted. His preaching days were obviously over and, in the next years, in his own home or those of his friends in the Simla hills he gave himself to meditation, fellowship, and writing some of the things he had lived to preach.
In 1929, against all his friends' advice, Sundar determined to make one last journey to Tibet. In April he reached Kalka, a small town below Simla, a prematurely aged figure in his yellow robe among pilgrims and holy men who were beginning their own trek to one of Hinduism's holy places some miles away. Where he went after that is unknown to many people. Whether he fell from a precipitous path, died of exhaustion, or reached the mountains, will remain a mystery. It was also said that Sadhu was murdered and his body was thrown in the river, another account says he was caught up into Heaven with the angels.
But more than his memory remains, and he has continued to be one of the most treasured and formative figures in the development and story of Christ's church in India.
There have been several biographies written about Sundar Singh, many of which emphasize his piety, humility and Christian witness. The late Eric J. Sharpe has surveyed the various biographical studies of Sundar Singh and discerned a number of significant discrepancies in chronological details, in the accounts of his Christian conversion, and the accounts of his travels to Tibet.
Sharpe indicates that different portraits of Sundar Singh were constructed by writers in continental Europe, England and the United States of America. He argues that the different portraits disclose much about the way Westerners thought about India in the 1920s and 1930s. Sharpe remarks:
"When in the spring of 1920 an Oxford don and his young Indian tutee conceived the idea of writing a book about Sadhu Sundar Singh, it was in their minds to interpret him to the West in terms that the West could grasp and according to a scale of values that the West could affirm."
Sharpe also points to significant omissions of detail between the biographies of A.J. Appasamy, B.H. Streeter, Janet Lynch-Watson, Cyril J. Davey and Phyllis Thompson. Perhaps the most glaring differences concerns the influence of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1782) and Swedenborgian writers on Sadhu Sundar Singh. Sharpe refers to correspondence between Singh and A.E. Penn who was the secretary of the Indian Swedenborgian society where Singh stated that he had contact with Swedenborg in the spirit world:
"I saw him several times some years ago, but I did not know his earthly name. His name in the spiritual world is quite different just according to his high position or office and most beautiful character."
Sharpe also refers back to Singh's endorsement of Swedenborg as recorded by Appasamy:
"Swedenborg was a great man, philosopher, scientist and, above all seer of clear visions. I often speak with him in my visions. He occupies a high place in the spiritual world ... Having read his books and having come into contact with him in the spiritual world, I can thoroughly recommend him as a great seer."
Sundar Singh's correspondence with the Swedish Lutheran bishop Nathan Soderblom in November 1928 further confirms that he claimed visionary contact with Swedenborg.
For western evangelical Christians, Swedenborg has long been regarded as an unorthodox teacher. Some, such as the Christian apologist Walter Martin, have classified Swedenborg and his followers among the cults. In light of the evangelical rejection of Swedenborg's theology, the omission of Sundar Singh's endorsement of Swedenborg's teachings from evangelical biographies is very significant. The difficulty for evangelicals is compounded by Singh's confirmation of contact with Swedenborg in the spirit world. This visionary form of contact with an unorthodox deceased teacher clashes with the portraits of piety drawn by later evangelical biographers such as Cyril Davey and Phyllis Thompson.
The results of Sharpe's survey of the various biographies, articles published in Indian and European periodicals, and the extant correspondence of Sundar Singh's, discloses a complex web of western images that portray Singh in contradictory ways: evangelical missionary, ecstatic visionary, and ascetic pilgrim. Sharpe pleaded:
"It is time to rescue his memory from oblivion on the one hand and romantic adulation on the other, to protect him from a few of his patrons, and give him his rightful place among those of whom he himself wrote."
All this is posted by some evangelical on wikipedia ..the fact is he was a convert and worked for the christian mission..there is a lot of mystical told abt him..Akaal Purkakh Hari Parmatma alone knows the Truth but here is a remarkable case study
[FONT=times new roman, verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif]G.B. Singh[/FONT]
As I recall, it was in 1987, while standing at one of the major intersections in Augusta, Georgia, two female missionaries approached me. After a few minutes of conversation, they handed me a small paperback book with a photo of a Sikh looking person on the front cover. This was the first time I came to know of a man named Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929). As I read this book at a relatively fast pace my curiosity about the Sadhu deepened. Something attracted me about him and his devotion to Jesus. Though I liked him on a personal level, there were so many questions popping in my mind and over the years many Christians, especially from south India, have opened the subject of Sadhu Sundar Singh with me. With every conversation I had with them, I walked away with more questions. I recognize that Sadhu is well respected and highly revered among many different shades of Christians. I reproduce here his brief timeline copied from one of the web sites.
The Life of Sundar Singh
1889 - Born at Rampur, Punjab
1903 - Conversion
1904 - Cast out from home
1905 - Baptised in Simla; begins life as a sadhu
1907 - Works in leprosy hospital at Sabathu
1908 - First visit to Tibet
1909 - Enters divinity college, Lahore, to train for the ministry
1911 - Hands back his preacher's license; returns to the sadhu's life
1912 - Tours through north India and the Buddhist states of the Himalayas
1918 to 1922 - Travels worldwide
1923 - Turned back from Tibet
1925 to 1927 - Quietly spends time writing
1927 - Sets out for Tibet but returns due to illness 1929 - Attempts to reach Tibet and disappears
Soon after Sundar “met” Jesus Christ in 1904, he was baptized in 1905 and four years later in 1909-10, he spent a whole year at St. John’s Divinity College in Lahore. Thereafter he opted to lead the life of a sadhu (a wandering ascetic) rather than a licensed preacher; thus becoming Sadhu Sundar Singh. In the eyes of church leaders, Sadhu’s name and example is an avenue to promote Christianity especially among the Sikhs with a calculated hope that the Sikhs will follow through. Lately, it has come to my attention that Rampur village in Punjab where Sundar was born now “hosts several Christian cells planted by India-based missions.” Also recently opened is the “Sadhu Sundar Singh Memorial Church” in Doraha, a town near Rampur. The Church of North India has also constructed a "Sadhu Sundar Singh Memorial Church" in Faridkot, about 24 miles from the Pakistan border.
Sadhu’s literature is not extensive. His writings comprise the following: At the Master’s Feet (1922), Reality and Religion (1923), The Search After Reality (1924), The Spiritual Life (1925), The Spiritual World (1926), The Real Life (1927), and With and Without Christ (1928). The English translations appeared soon after each of the original works in Urdu. His works have been translated into forty languages. His writings are difficult to access in the secular settings of the United States. In addition there are a number of books, some of course written for the purposes of witnessing to men like me. Based upon what I have gathered and analyzed, here is my brief “account” of Sunder. Early Years
Sundar’s background is unique. According to the popular history texts, Sundar Singh was born on September 3, 1889 in the house of Sher Singh at Rampur village in Patiala State. In addition to two older brothers and an older sister, Sundar had a number of near relatives living nearby. Regarding the kind of family he was raised in Sundar himself writes, “I was born in a family that was commonly considered Sikh, but in which the teaching of Hinduism was considered most essential.” To understand how essential Hindu teachings were in Sadhu’s early development it is interesting to note that Sundar’s mother took a special charm in raising her young boy in accordance with Hinduism. Therefore by the age of mere seven, Sundar knew by heart the Bhagavad Gita. By age sixteen, he had read Granth, Koran, and at least fifty-two of the Upanishads. Additionally, his mother hired the services of a Hindu Pundit and an old “Sikh Sadhu” to instruct Sundar in their respective areas of varied scriptures. Sundar’s day started quite early and it seems the entire day was consumed with religious protocols and activities. Sundar himself acknowledges, “I often used to read the Hindu scriptures till midnight.”
In honesty I must admit that I can’t think of another example that can match Sundar. If true, Sundar in 1896 C.E. knew by heart the Bhagavad Gita, which he read in Urdu language. That is certainly incredible. But is it true? Bhagavad gita (hereafter referred as Gita) had never existed as a separate text until 1785 C.E. when it was published in London. It took another one hundred years for western introduced Gita to return to British India, and Gita’s first Urdu translation didn’t appear until 1868 C.E. published from Gujranwala in Punjab. Theoretically it is possible for Sundar to have read and regurgitate Gita but it appears quite unlikely.
At that time, Gita was not a scripture of popular and intellectual Hinduism and definitely for a Sikh family residing in a remote village of Punjab, the reading of religious literature amounted next to nil. In addition there is no evidence that both Sundar’s mother and the hired Hindu Pundit instructed Gita lessons to Sundar. Could Sunder’s mother and father or siblings read and write Urdu enough to have taught him and were they themselves knowedgable of the contents of these texts and other sciptures like the Quran. And if Sundar knew Gita, as claimed, then there should be some evidence to support it. My search has resulted in nothing that can lead one to believe that Sundar knew the Gita well. This makes sense because among Hindus of that time there existed a superstition against Mahabharata (Gita being a small part of it) that to keep this “war document” at home brought klesh (misery) to the family.
In his book The Search After Reality, Sadhu wrote roughly three pages on “Bhagvad Gita and Krishna,” and reading this account leaves an impression that Sundar’s knowledge of Gita was minimal and whatever little he knew is strictly from the Christian vocabulary and interpretation. In other words, the evidence suggests that Sundar learned portions of Gita probably at the divinity college and not during his early years at Sher Singh’s house. About the fifty two Upanishads the Sadhu is claimed to have read, there is no evidence of it either and neither is there any evidence of the names of these alleged Upanishads having been read.
With respect to Sundar reading “Hindu scriptures till midnight,” I wish he had named at least one of these Hindu scriptures and after reading the chapter on Hinduism recorded in The Search After Reality my doubts have grown. Evidence suggests that in all likelihood Sundar was instructed on Hinduism while at the seminary and not at his father’s house.
What about Islam? In another Christian-prescribed biography I read that Sundar could recite through memory not only the Quran but also the entire Hadith literature. Whether he had read “Granth” meaning Guru Granth Sahib along with one-on-one instructions by the old “Sikh sadhu” is also doubtful. If you are wondering what “Sikh sadhu” means, I will discuss it at the end of this article. According to Sundar it was his mother who had exercised such a strong religious influence on him and it was her wish that he should live the life of a Hindu sadhu. As reported she even had him instructed in yoga and after due practice, Sundar would stay in trance and perform other psychical feats. Sundar’s Conversion
A tragedy struck in 1902 when Sundar lost his beloved mother. Soon thereafter he lost one of his older brothers and understandably the pain and anguish were too deep for Sundar to bear. His years of religious yearning were also failing to give him everlasting peace and nobody could answer his questions to his satisfaction, and only recently the American Presbyterian Mission had opened a school in the village where Sundar was learning Christianity via studying New Testament in Urdu.
Things didn’t go smoothly for Sundar because we are told that he hated Christianity and exercised some concrete steps to show his anger and hate. He even went to the extent of burning the Christian Gospels in his house’s courtyard. This incident happened in the middle of December 1904. So at the age of 15, we are led to believe, Sundar was in a mess and there seemed to be none to help him. Finally, three days later, on the night of December 18, 1904, the situation had become unbearable. He got up at three in the morning, took a cold bath and prayed to “God to reveal Himself” which he hoped would end the unrest within. Sundar had made up his mind that in case God fails to listen to his prayer, he would commit suicide by placing his head on the railway line by the incoming 5 o’clock train. But, luckily for him, at 4:30 A.M., Jesus Christ appeared and that event dramatically changed the course of Sundar’s future, as described by him in detail and I post here description of the events:
1. In a book titled, The Sadhu: A Study in Mysticism and Practical Religion published in 1922, the authors Streeter and Appasamy have recorded Sadhu’s own words from his speech that he delivered in one of his “Kandy addresses” in Sri Lanka:
“At 4.30 A.M. I saw something of which I had no idea at all previously. In the room where I was praying I saw a great light. I thought the place was on fire. I looked around, but could find nothing. Then the thought came to me that this might be an answer that God had sent me. Then as I prayed and looked into the light, I saw the form of the Lord Jesus Christ. It had such an appearance of glory and love. “If it had been some Hindu incarnation I would have prostrated myself before it. But it was the Lord Jesus Christ whom I had been insulting a few days before. I felt that a vision like this could not come out of my own imagination. I heard a voice saying in Hindustani, “How long will you persecute me? I have come to save you; you were praying to know the right way. Why do you not take it? … When I got up, the vision had all disappeared; but although the vision disappeared the Peace and Joy have remained with me ever since.”
2. In a booklet titled Life in Abundance published in 1980, there appeared some sermons that Sadhu had delivered earlier while in Switzerland in March 1922. On March 5th, Sadhu said:
I want to repeat the details of my conversion; how I became Christian. Many of you don’t know that I was an enemy of Jesus Christ, I used to tear up the Gospel and burn it; I used to think “This is a false religion, our Hinduism is the only true religion;” but I was not satisfied with my religion…. One day I got up early in the morning, I took a cold water bath and began to pray …. After an hour and a half I saw something which I could not recognize. It was December 18th when I saw Him, while I was praying in my room…. I was not prepared to believe in Him because I used to hate him. He died on the Cross; how can He save me? But on the 18th, early in the morning, when he revealed Himself to me in such a glorious way, when He spoke to me: “I died for thee, and I am the Saviour of the world,” then I found my Savior, my all. I got up; He had disappeared, but there was a wonderful peace in my heart….
3. In With And Without Christ, Sadhu elaborated the incident without giving the actual date:
On the third day, when I felt I could bear it no longer, I got up at three in the morning and after bathing, I prayed that if there was a God at all He would reveal Himself to me, …. I remained till about half-past four praying and waiting and expecting to see Krishna, or Buddha, or some other Avatar of the Hindu religion: they appeared not, but a light was shining in the room. I opened the door to see where it came from, but all was dark outside. I returned inside, and the light increased in intensity and took the form of a globe of light above the ground, and in this light there appeared, not the form I expected, but the Living Christ whom I had counted as dead. To all eternity I shall never forget His glorious and loving face, nor the few words, which He spoke: “Why do you persecute me? See, I have died on the Cross for you and for the whole world.” These words were burned into my heart as by lightening, and I fell on the ground before Him….
From another reference, I copied Jesus’ words in Hindustani: “Tu mujhe kyun satata hai? Dekh main ne tere liye apni jan salib par di.”
4. In his article God's Lion: Wisdom of the Sadhu, Tim Comer brought to my attention to another of Sadhu’s direct quote with respect to what transpired on that early morning:
Though at the time I had considered myself a hero for burning the Gospel, my heart found no peace. Indeed, my unrest only increased, and I was miserable for the next two days. On the third day, when I could bear it no longer, I rose at 3:00 A.M. and prayed that if there was a God at all, he would reveal himself to me. Should I receive no answer by morning, I would place my head on the railroad tracks and seek the answer to my questions beyond the edge of this life. I prayed and prayed, waiting for the time to take my last walk. At about 4:30 I saw something strange. There was a glow in the room.
At first I thought there was a fire in the house, but looking through the door and windows, I could see no cause for the light. Then the thought came to me: perhaps this was an answer from God. So I returned to my accustomed place and prayed, looking into the strange light. Then I saw a figure in the light, strange but somehow familiar at once. It was neither Siva nor Krishna nor any of the other Hindu incarnations I had expected. Then I heard a voice speaking to me in Urdu:
"Sundar, how long will you mock me? I have come to save you because you have prayed to find the way of truth. Why then don't you accept it?" It was then I saw the marks of blood on his hands and feet and knew that it was Yesu, the one proclaimed by the Christians. In amazement I fell at his feet. I was filled with deep sorrow and remorse for my insults and my irreverence, but also with a wonderful peace. This was the joy I had been seeking. This was heaven …Then the vision was gone, though my peace and joy remained.
There might as well be more of these Jesus and other testimonies given out by Sundar just like this one: "I am Christ whom you are persecuting. There is salvation only through Me. If you believe Me now, you will be saved. If you don't believe Me you will be damned forever." What transpired on this fateful day cannot be verified since Sundar is the sole witness. With several accounts available one wonder’s if his testimony is reliable. Sadhu’s psychological make up is prone to seeing visions which is fraught with many pitfalls. In one of the above accounts Sadhu has mentioned the date as December 18th without giving the year. C.F. Andrews, who had known Sadhu personally, mentioned it as “December 1903” and Cyril J. Davey, a Christian biographer for Sadhu has given the date as “December 3, 1903.” Sadhu’s Visions
Sadhu’s life is full of seeing visions which of course has fortified his standing among many Christians and for those looking for modern day mystics. Among Christians it is miracles and visions that make a saint. As I read of these visions, so many thoughts came to my mind, which I will share at the end. In the early pages of his book At the Master’s Feet, Sadhu wrote the following “First Vision”:
Once on a dark night I went alone into the forest to pray, and seating myself upon a rock I laid before God my deep necessities, and besought His help. After a short time, seeing a poor man coming towards me I thought he had come to ask me for some relief because he was hungry and cold.
I said to him, "I am a poor man, and except this blanket I have nothing at all. You had better go to the village near by and ask for help there." And lo! even whilst I was saying this he flashed forth like lightning, and, showering drops of blessing, immediately disappeared. Alas! Alas! it was now clear to me that this was my beloved Master who came not to beg from a poor creature like me, but to bless and to enrich me (2 Cor. viii.9), and so I was left weeping and lamenting my folly and lack of insight.
And this “first vision” is immediately followed by a more complex “second vision”:
On another day, my work being finished, I again went into the forest to pray, and seated upon that same rock began to consider for what blessings I should make petition. Whilst thus engaged it seemed to me that another came and stood near me, who, judged by his bearing and dress and manner of speech, appeared to be a revered and devoted servant of God; but his eyes glittered with craft and cunning, and as he spoke he seemed to breathe an odour of hell.
He thus addressed me, "Holy and Honored Sir, pardon me for interrupting your prayers and breaking in on your privacy; but is one's duty to seek to promote the advantage of others, and therefore I have come to lay an important matter before you. Your pure and unselfish life has made a deep impression not only on me, but upon a great number of devout persons. But although in the Name of God you have sacrificed yourself body and soul for others, you have never been truly appreciated.
My meaning is that being a Christian only a few thousand Christians have come under your influence, and some even of these distrust you. How much better would it be if you became a Hindu or a Mussulman, and thus become a great leader indeed? They are in search of such a spiritual head. If you accept this suggestion of mine, then three hundred and ten millions of Hindus and Mussulmans will become your followers, and render you reverent homage."
As soon as I heard this there rushed from my lips these words, "Thou Satan! get thee hence. I knew at once that thou wert a wolf in sheep's clothing! Thy one wish is that I should give up the cross and the narrow path that leads to life, and choose the broad road of death. My Master Himself is my lot and my portion, who Himself gave His life for me, and it behooves me to offer as a sacrifice my life and all I have to Him who is all in all to me. Get you gone therefore, for with you I have nothing to do."
Hearing this he went off grumbling and growling in his rage. And I, in tears, thus poured out my soul to God in prayer, "My Lord God, my all in all, life of my life, and spirit of my spirit, look in mercy upon me and so fill me with Thy Holy Spirit that my heart shall have no room for love of aught but Thee. I seek from Thee no other gift but Thyself, who art the Giver of life and all its blessings. From Thee I ask not for the world or its treasures, nor yet for heaven even make request, but Thee alone do I desire and long for, and where Thou art there is Heaven….” When I rose up from this prayer I beheld a glowing Being, arrayed in light and beauty, standing before me. Though He spoke not a word, and because my eyes were suffused with tears I saw Him not too clearly, there poured from Him lightning-like rays of life-giving love with such power that they entered in and bathed my very soul. At once I knew that my dear Savior stood before me. I rose at once from the rock where I was seated and fell at His feet. He held in His hand the key of my heart. Opening the inner chamber of my heart with His key of love, He filled it with His presence, and wherever I looked, inside or out, I saw but Him.
Sadhu in the capacity of a missionary traveled world-wide; his travels included places beyond the length and breath of British India to include United States, Europe, Palestine, Australia, Japan, Malaya, Afghanistan, Tibet, and so forth. From 1908-1929 it is believed that Sadhu made at least twenty trips to Tibet — an extremely risky religious adventures walking on foot. Often with arduous fasting and prayers, his travels in the mountain terrains took a devastating toll on his health and further compromised his psychological wellbeing. In the course of one of his fasts, Sadhu saw Jesus “with pierced hands, bleeding feet and radiant face.” At another time he made Jesus look far better at least in my eyes: “He had a beard on His face. The long hair of His head is like gold, like glowing light.”
With unending stream of supernatural visions, Sadhu has left for us enough evidence to question his mental health. For example in a cave 13,000 feet above the sea level on the Kailash range of the Himalayan mountains, Sadhu met an ancient “Christian Rishi” named “Maharishi of Kailash.” This Rishi showed Sadhu a marvelous account of his own immense age and wonderful powers and imparted Sadhu with a series of visions of an apocalyptic character. Incidents such as these alerted men like Principal Susil Kumar Rudra of St. Stephens College who on occasions conversed with C.F. Andrews about his ever growing skepticisms of Sadhu’s visions.
During his first visit to the West, while in England along with Willie Hindle, Sadhu insisted on going to France and spent the whole day searching a poor section of Paris for someone. As it turned out, earlier the Maharishi had described to Sadhu a poor girl’s house in Paris and he went out looking for her but failed. At another occasion some woodcutters found him in the jungle half-dead and rescued him and delivered him to Indian Christians where he was nursed back to health-—only to leave again for another dangerous journey to Tibet. There are so many of these bizarre visions of Sadhu that it is not worth the extra time and effort to bring them here. The examples mentioned above should be sufficient for addressing my concerns and bringing them to the readers.
Sadhu was a unique Christian; it is hard to find another one like him. The Bible was his precious possession. However, his knowledge of the Old Testament was minimal. It was the New Testament (in Urdu) that he mastered and the four Gospel accounts of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John were his spiritual food. During one of his European tours he came to know of the “Higher Criticism” -- a growing field of scholarly critical evaluation of the Bible. There is no evidence in place if Sadhu learnt anything from this scholarship. To my surprise he held to this self-serving view, “The Holy Spirit is the true Author of the Scriptures, [Bible] but I do not therefore say that every word, as it is written in the Hebrew or the Greek, is inspired.”
Sadhu fine-tuned the details, “The language used by the authors of the Bible was the same language as that of ordinary life, and therefore was not really adequate for spiritual things.” Thus was the need for Sadhu’s visions through which Angels and Saints can communicate the true spiritual message being deciphered straight out of the Bible.
Sadhu loved Jesus with a tremendous passion and just about every facet of his life was fashioned to follow Christ to the minutest details. So much so that he went on pilgrimage to the Christian holy places in Palestine in the hope of dying at exactly the same age Jesus was crucified. Poor Sunder was greatly disappointed when he lived through the thirty-fourth year of his life without the anticipated death. Why? Because Jesus was thought to have died at the age thirty-three and Sadhu was unable to duplicate through intensive meditation the age of death of his Savior on himself.
Sadhu had worked out his interpretations of the Bible in such way as to allow no room for Jesus to be depicted as less than favorable. For a serious student of the Bible, these are fascinating stories to read. I present only one example. The case in point is one of Jesus’ ethics -- “Resist no evil” from Mathew 5:39.
Many critical scholars have not been kind to Jesus for uttering so many of his “un-ethical” points including “resist no evil.” Sadhu was not going to take it lying down and he therefore provided an alternative interpretation to cast Jesus in a better light than the critics. These are Sadhu’s words:
If we resist evil men, who would do us harm, then neither part is likely to be profited; probably both will be injured, as in the collision of two trains both are shattered. But if, by not resisting, we suffer, then, on the one hand, the cross-bearer is benefited spiritually, and on the other hand, the oppressor will be impressed by the forgiving spirit, and will be inclined towards the truth. It has been shown that by treatment of this kind the lives of many wicked men have been changed. Here is an example.
Last year, in the hills in India, while a godly Indian Christian was praying in his house alone, three thieves stealthily entered his room, and took away all they could get. When the man had finished his prayers he noticed that all his goods had gone, except the box over which he had been bowing in prayer. This box contained money and valuables. This “man of prayer” took some cash and valuables in his hands, and ran after the thieves, calling, “Wait! Wait! You have left some valuables behind. I have brought them to you. Perhaps you need these things more than I.” When the thieves, heard this, at first they thought it was a trap, but when they saw that he had no weapon and that he was alone, they came back to him. The man said to him, “Why did you not tell me at first that you needed these things? I would have gladly given you whatever I have; now you had better come home with me, and whatever you want you may take away.” The thieves, seeing the strange life of this man of prayer, were so affected that their lives were changed forever and they began to say, “We never imagined that there were such people in the world. If you are so wonderful, then how much more wonderful must be your Savior, Who has made you into such a wonderful and godlike character.” There we have the result of not resisting the evil ….
In Sadhu’s multiple calculations we see that his Jesus was perfect and sinless. For Sadhu, Jesus was also a great role model to follow. Because, Sadhu tells us, “Whatever He [Jesus] taught He Himself first acted on, and He gave no teaching of which He did not give the proof and example in His life. In other words He preached what He practiced, and practiced what He preached.”
Take the case of poverty. Whether Jesus lived in poverty or not is not the issue of debate here. The question is whether Sadhu adhered to the biblical dictates on poverty. Reverend Zekveld in his article has mentioned, “He [Sadhu] took quite literally Jesus’ command to leave all; that is, home, family, and possessions, and to follow Him.” I am not sure if Rev. Zekveld agrees with the literal meaning. Perhaps, he implies he doesn’t agree with the literal meaning and therefore doesn’t agree with Sadhu’s adopted “Christian lifestyle” of a wandering hermit. Was Sadhu wrong? You be the judge. Read the following pronouncements of Jesus:
(a) "...none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up everything he has" (Luke 14:33)
(b) "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have riches in heaven" (Matt. 19:21)
(c) "Sell your possessions and give alms" (Luke 12:33)
(d) "But give what is in your cups and plates to the poor, and everything will be clean for you" (Luke 11:41)
(e) "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt,…. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21)
(f) "How hardly shall they that have riches enter to the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:23)
(g) A certain ruler told Jesus that he had obeyed all the commandments from his youth up. But, Jesus said, "Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me" (Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21), and
(h) Paul said, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8 RSV)
I doubt not what Jesus is preaching here; if there is a hidden non-literal meaning pointing to something else then I am at loss. I believe Sadhu was correct by living in strict accordance with what Jesus said. Apparently it has been mentioned that Sadhu owned his Bible, his blanket, and nothing else much beyond that. In his case he didn’t have to give up much since he was thrown out of his father’s house without anything after his conversion.
And if Sadhu opted for voluntary poverty to follow Jesus then he is truly unique among the Christians-—in fact he should be considered a “true Christian” as opposed to the pseudo Christians we encounter on a daily basis not to mention the names of Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Rex Humbard, and Robert Schuller. The list is an excruciatingly long one. Of lately, I have received a copy of the Will of Sadhu Sundar Singh. The details of his Will have left me wondering if Sadhu was indeed a hypocrite. According to his Will drawn on November 30, 1925, Sadhu’s trust fund was worth Rupees 12,000. This is a large amount of money considering the times around 1925 A.D., and I wouldn’t shirk from calling our Sadhu a multi-millionaire by standards of today. Sadhu’s Mental Health
Thanks to C.F. Andrews for bringing to my notice that early on, Sundar’s father and his uncle regarded Sundar as mad. This was based upon the facts they possessed in their hands. His siblings kept themselves away and it seems because of Sundar’s eccentric behavior he was rendered aloof. After Sundar had adopted Christianity he was let go and his family connections were cut off.
Sadhu, being a famous evangelist, was on a ride which he would have never imagined had he not left Rampur village. If Sadhu indeed had suffered from some psychiatric disorder, I suppose it might have been pointed out in his missionary journeys worldwide at least somewhere within the Christian circles. Come to think of -- it did. Here are some of their views:
1. Father Hosten, a Jesuit at Darjeeling, writing in The Catholic Herald of India (1923-1925) elaborated his impressions that the Sadhu was a “shameless imposter, who has invented the greater part of his life-story in order to win the reputation of sanctity.”
2. German Jesuits published a series of accusations in a paper entitled Stimmen der Zeit (1924-1926) calling Sadhu an “Oriental deceiver, a childish visionary, who confounds the creations of his fantasy with reality.”
3. Father Hosten and Dr. O. Pfister wrote a book titled, The Legend of Sundar Singh (Berne, 1926). Pfister regarded Sadhu as a “neurotic person whose sense of reality has been impaired, and who therefore tends, although unconscious that he is doing so, to misrepresent historical facts.” Pfister also believed to have discovered other morbid traits, such as sadism, in the Sadhu’s psycho-physical life. From the point of view of a psychoanalyst, Pfister believed that Sadhu’s love to Christ was “rooted in repressed infantile sex-complexes.”
In recent years there have been major advances in the field of psychology and psychiatry. I believe we will all benefit from “Psychiatric Autopsy” conducted by a trained group of psychiatrists on Sadhu. This autopsy is possible given the availability of entire Sadhu’s writings as well as other documents written by the other Christians who had firsthand knowledge of him. My own impression is that Sundar suffered from a mental disorder, which was detected early on by his family members, but was left untreated, as there was no cure for mental disorder at that time.
A number of senior Church leaders also detected Sadhu’s underlying mental disease and failed to get Sadhu the appropriate treatment. It is tragic to look back and see what precipitated Sundar’s propensity to pursue dangerous journeys to Tibet all for the purposes of committing suicide. In 1929, that’s exactly what happened. Sundar took off for Tibet and never returned.
All along he was showing signs of suicidal behavior and yet no Christian leader in India took decisive step to stop him and thereby protect him. Tragedy is double fold: We lost Sundar prematurely and the Church looked the other way. Why? Because Sundar was a unique evangelist in the native hermit’s robes and doing the job of evangelizing in the remote sites in the Himalayas that nobody else in the Church would care to undertake. Was Sadhu a Sikh?
Not once Sadhu called himself a former Sikh. Not once Sadhu mentioned Sikh doctrines let alone forsaking them. In his writings only at one place he referred that he was “born in a family that was commonly considered Sikh.” But then qualified it: That for his family “the teaching of Hinduism was considered most essential.” This was written in his book With and Without Christ published in 1928, merely a year before Sadhu’s own death. Frankly I am puzzled at all of this. How could his family be Sikh but practice diehard Hinduism? Why would he wait for so long to reveal his family links as Sikh?
Was Sadhu and church cohorts putting up a smoke screen —- killing two birds with one stone so to speak? Why? Was Sadhu, as a Christian with an attached Sikh name, leading an ascetic Hindu way of life, a ticket too attractive for the evangelical church?
History texts tell us that Sadhu’s mother was really the genius behind to plant ideas in his mind of leading a life of a wandering hermit. For someone to be that important in Sundar’s upbringing without being named anywhere in the literature is mind-boggling! His mother had hired the services of a Hindu Pundit and an old “Sikh Sadhu” to teach Sundar. Sadhu Sundar Singh in his book With and Without Christ has devoted more than one page under the heading The Sadhu and I explaining his quandary over the questions with this supposedly “Sikh Sadhu.” Reading this questionable page, I realized that there is not a single word mentioned giving me any hint that Sundar was talking of the Sikh religion.
Moreover how could a “Sikh Sadhu” be a Sikh? Something is amiss here; keep in mind, Sadhu had three elder siblings born from the same un-named mother. It is apparent from the literature that this mother didn’t impart Hinduism to any of her first three children. If so why would she pick Sunder, her youngest child, for this special exotic religious training? I cannot help but reach a conclusion that Sadhu was not a Sikh and had no links with the Sikh religion in any fashion whatsoever. This only further deepens the mystery of Sundar. Who was he then? Was Sadhu a Hindu?
On a number of occasions Sadhu had described himself as a former Hindu, and more than once mentioned of his Hindu heritage by pointing out doctrines that are without question of Hindu origin. Sadhu made it clear, “Christianity was fulfillment of Hinduism. Hinduism has been digging channels. Christ is the water to flow through these channels … There are many beautiful things in Hinduism; but the fullest light is from Christ.”
In 1922 while Sadhu was journeying overseas, his expressed reservations about Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha tactics was published: “[Sadhu] made quite plain his profound disapproval of Mr. Gandhi’s method telling him in so many words that they can lead India to nothing but ruin and useless suffering.” I learnt from Gandhi’s reply that Sadhu and Gandhi had met more than once. According to Gandhi, talking of Sadhu, “We had the closet communion…. We had long discussions over all these and other matters and he certainly left on me the impression that for a religious man no course left open.” Was Sadhu involved in politics with Gandhi? Evidence suggests he was.
Something is amiss and I suspect that the Sadhu’s real history might be altogether different. With so much of effort invested by his mother why Sundar failed to mention her name is very strange? Could it be that Sundar was a Hindu boy raised by the missionaries and trained to carry out a double deception with respect to his allegedly hybrid “Hindu-Sikh model” as a conduit to proselytize the masses who had grown resistant to Christ’s message? Conclusion
Sadhu’s story reminds me of Apostle Paul. Both he and Paul shared incredible similarities. Like Paul, Sundar also says he “persecuted” the Christians. Like Paul, Sundar also experienced a vision in which Jesus said, “Why do you persecute me? ….” Like Paul’s details of the vision, Sundar’s vision is also contradictory. Like Paul, Sundar’s life is consumed to evangelize the un-reached populations with extensive travels to his credit. In short, what we have here is Sundar reliving Paul’s dramatic version of salvation history.
Based upon what has been presented, it is obvious there are too many problems associated with Sundar’s popular history. I ask for his accurate history. The Christian Church in India should be held responsible and asked to appoint a committee of concerned scholars to gather all material on Sadhu and critically evaluate them. This committee should be tasked to write an accurate history of this unique man of “questionable origin.” In the meantime I hope that the church will refrain from marketing Sundar any further to prevent any mockery of his life and his tragedy. He deserves far better treatment, at least after his death. Let him rest in peace. Note for the next issue of SikhSpectrum.com
A discussion on Sadhu Sundar Singh has paved the way to move ahead in our discussion. Despite all the problems relating to his history, I have never doubted Sadhu Sundar Singh’s sincere love and devotion to Jesus Christ. Some Christians have dubbed Sadhu as the “Second Apostle Paul.” This I believe is appropriate since both Paul and Sundar never met Jesus of the flesh and both encountered similar kinds of visions. Therefore they are linked whether one likes it or not. They both loved Jesus Christ. The big question is: Who was Jesus Christ? That shall be the issue for debate beginning the next issue of Sikhspectrum.com and this discussion might exhaust a number of issues of SikhSpectrum postings to address the topic in a meaningful manner.
This ongoing civil debate wouldn’t have been possible if not for the services of Reverend Tony Zekveld. He has provided us the narrative from a believer’s perspective fully knowing that I view the Bible from different angles. He deserves our utmost appreciation. With all due respect I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for spending his precious time in sharing his views with candor and sincerity. I am sure the readers will reciprocate my appreciation of him. As we embark on the next phase I fully understand that the topic of Jesus Christ evokes more passion among Christians. To them there is nothing in the Bible that is more precious than the figure of Jesus. Not only have I recognized this fact, but I also respect their opinions about Jesus; Him being their Savior. Having said that I must make a point, I am under no compulsion to interpret the Bible similar to theirs. All I can promise is that I will be intellectually honest in my assessment of Jesus Christ as he is depicted in the Bible.
thank you for your appreciation ..Pk70 ji...i came to know of him through a friend of mine who was formerly a hindu but later converted to Protestant faith..since he wanted to influence me ..he use to tell me of Sadhu Sundarsingh..because Sadhu was a former sikh...this friend of mine thiought i would be happy to read about sadhu and get attracted...
well i use to get rabid..and even have threatened evengelicals..but then i started playing brain games with them...
i met this evengelical in a train he got friendly and started saying 'you need an assurance to go to heaven' i told him 'Man look...a friend of mine is a lawyer. another is into betting, another owns a bar..where do thing they will go ? he answered ' in hell ..they have not done any good deeds' i told him ..'exactly ...now man..tell me ..what am i suppose to do alone in heaven.it will be as good as hell..if i dont have my folks around '