Sadhus, or holy men, are as Indian as curry. They are part of what gives charm, or an aura mystery, to the subcontinent of India. We sometimes think of them as dirty, clothed in rags, their faces covered in paints of various colors, perhaps demon possessed, smelly, long-haired men wondering about begging for food, or sitting in lotus position in a trance for hours, days, perhaps even years. From time to time they are known to utter words of wisdom, or so they sound to those not accustomed to thinking deeply.
I suppose the Indian holy men are in some way or other unique among the genre, but India does not have a monopoly on religious mystics. They are to be found around the world, among all cultures, in every religion. Yes, they are to be found even within Christianity. The anchoritic monks who populated the Egyptian deserts during the early centuries of Christianity come quickly to mind. Like the Indian sadhus, the anchorites abstained from bathing, clothed themselves in rags, and lived as hermits, all in an effort to earn special favor with God by mortifying the flesh.
WISDOM OF THE SADHU: TEACHINGS OF SUNDAR SINGH, compiled and edited by Kim Comer (Plough Publishing House, 2000) gives us some insight into the life and teachings of Sundar Singh, and Indian sadhu who is considered to have been a Christian mystic. The book is a collection of parables, aphorisms, and other fragments from the teachings of Sundar Singh.
Sundar Singh was a mystic, perhaps even a Christian mystic. But was he a Christian? Of that I am not wholly convinced. In its review of WISDOM OF THE SADHU: TEACHINGS OF SUNDAR SINGH, the Library Journal refers to Sundar Singh as one “who found his way to a kind of Christianity based on his own mystical experience of Jesus.” I am not sure how to understand that conclusion, but I cannot agree with the comment that Sundar Singh’s mystical faith as revealed in this collection from his teachings is somehow “a deeply authentic Christianity.” I do agree with the conclusion that the book should be of interest to “spiritual seekers, Christian and non-Christian alike.”
I enjoy reading books, even novels, written by individuals who are wrestling with the question of how to find meaning and purpose in life, if there is any. That is what drew me to WISDOM OF THE SADHU. It is also what drew me to Thomas á Kempis’ THE IMITATION OF CHRIST and other similar books. Wisdom of the Sadhu is a good read. The sampling of Sundar Singh’s teaching is very interesting, and the writing style is music to the ears.
I love books. They are to be enjoyed for their own sake, not just for the pleasure they give to the reader. Plough Publishing is to be commended for publishing a book that is a pleasure to hold as well as read. The quality of the paper, the print, even the cover all communicate to the reader that Wisdom of the Sadhu is a book to be enjoyed, not just read.
Since Sikhism began as an attempt to unite Hindus and Muslims, Singh had access to the HIndu/Jainist traditions of mysticism and Sufism as well. What was specifically Christian about his ideas?
You may also enjoy reading the books of Bede Griffiths, a catholic priest who went to India and a lifelong friend of C.S. Lewis. Wonderful reads!