WE WILL MEET the living master, Sant Darshan Singh, in a moment. We can ask him any question we like. We can ask him the nature of reality. We can ask him the nature of air conditioning. We can ask him how it is that he sleeps only an hour a night. We can ask him how being a living master helps a bureaucrat get through the day, for when Darshan Singh was a deputy secretary in the Indian government he oversaw a staff of 9,000.

But we will have to wait, because the living master is running a little late. Among the 100 followers gathered on a suburban lawn in Alexandria is Doug Kruger, 21. He is a Florida-based advance man for Sen. John Glenn's presidential campaign, a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Arizona and a volunteer publicist for Darshan Singh's Science of Spirituality.

"The master accepts no money for personal use," Kruger explains. "I've been to India and I've seen him take money out of his own pocket and give it to the people. We are not a cult. The master emphasizes that you must keep your job, stay with your family, earn your own way."

Bill Scotti, a public school teacher in Howard County, has been traveling with Darshan Singh this summer on his tour through Europe, spreading the word.

"My wife and I wanted to be near him. I have had maybe 20 sessions with him, and what an opportunity it has been. Do you know that he was the first living master to address the Indian Parliament?

Outside, on the lawn of T.S. Khanna's house on Lea Lane, come lights and noises. A car has arrived: the living master. The master makes his way to the porch of the house, the doorway of which is framed in colored Christmas tree lights on this torpid but starry night. He is a man of 62, with the turban and beard of a Sikh. His teaching emphasizes synthesis of many religions and ethical systems. Initiates remain Moslem or Christian or Buddhist and keep their jobs, but must become vegetarians, meditate daily and eschew alcohol and tobacco. There are 150,000 initiates in the world, 5,000 in the United States, of his Sawan Kirpal Ruhani Mission, based in Delhi, according to Kruger and Scotti.

Meanwhile, the master speaks from a chair on the porch to the assembled 100. " . . . We can now travel in outer space. We have space ships, guidance systems, special fuel. But we must also travel in inner space. For this, our body is the launching pad . . . The ultimate goal of human life is to know ourselves . . . We must do this before this beautiful planet of ours falls into the abyss of death and destruction . . ." As the master speaks, his toe taps gently within a white sandal.

The master moves inside the house, where he will be questioned on any topic.

"The living master retired from government service at 58, which is the normal retirement age in India, because the life expectancy is less there," says Venod Sena, who assists in Darshan Singh's English translations. "I visited him when he was still in office, and it was amazing how fast he was flipping through his files and doing his work."

Arthur Stein is a professor of international relations at the University of Rhode Island, and an initiate. "I've studied most of the world's religions," he said, "and this is a way to bring them together. And his meditation techniques are very straightforward, very simple."

Now the living room of T.S. Khanna's big house--Khanna is retired from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare--is being prepared for "heart-to-heart talks" with the master. Sixty people crowd in. Darshan Singh is seated in a chair. Videotape lights make it very hot.

What is there in the faces of the 60 that is different, unlikely in Washington, exotic? Perhaps it is that the energy of the 60 seems to be decreasing, instead of increasing. The followers of Robert F. Kennedy, for example, often felt his personal electricity before he even arrived, and when he finally did arrive, completing the circuit, there was often an arc of energy between them. But the living master is not a man of action, American-style. He just sits there. His calm is oceanic. The room responds to him in kind: relaxing, opening itself, preparing to absorb rather than be absorbed.

The master shakes hands. He is a humble man, his initiates have said. If you rolled out a red carpet for him he would not walk on it. He does not demand your money. He does not demand your pledge of allegiance. The tour so far, through Germany, Switzerland, London, New York and Chicago, has resulted in 800 initiations. You may ask him any question you want.

Master, what is the nature of reality, and can we ever know it?

A moderate hush. Darshan Singh says, "Reality can be achieved like science. We can realize our soul, in this lifetime, just as we experiment in science. People cannot understand reality through dogma, or blind belief, but they can experiment, and test their belief. The reality that they will find is in the domination of our soul by God."

The master is said to have a sense of humor. The temperature continues to increase in the room.

Master, what is the nature of air conditioning?

"Air conditioning gives comfort to the body. Our being consists of three elements: body, intellect and soul. Air conditioning and other gadgets and machines can only give comfort to the body, because the body is material and so are they. But our soul can only get comfort when the gift of consciousness is given to it, and that can only be given by one who has solved the questions of life, traveled in inner space and found oneness in God."

(In his book "Spiritual Awakening," Darshan Singh includes a chapter on air conditioning. He does not like it. In India, when there is a power failure, people say to him that they could not meditate because the air conditioning didn't work. "These man-made conveniences have become like a drug addiction," he writes).

Master, how did spirituality help you as an administrator in a bureaucracy?

"It was easy for me to be an administrator, because I had developed the art of concentration. That is the key to success in business life. A person who has concentration can finish a book in a couple of days. I myself, while in government, would clear my table in three to four hours, whereas my colleagues beside me would require seven to eight hours."

Master, weren't your colleagues very jealous, and think you were trying to get ahead at their expense?

"No. This would have been true if I had developed an ego. But spirituality is humility. And love begets love."

"He was controlling a great number of personnel," interjects Vidon Sena. "And yet janitors would feel free to come in and see him."

"Well, I had reserved an hour a day for friends in low jobs," the master says. "They had small problems, perhaps. They felt someone was watching them, or they had pension problems, or hadn't gotten a promotion. I always made whoever it was sit down in a chair. I would offer them tea. And we had a heart-to-heart talk. They expressed their difficulty, and I always helped them. I spent an hour extra every day. At my level, by the grace of God, I was able to help them."

Master, how is it that you only sleep an hour or two at night?

"When you concentrate, in meditation, you slowly withdraw the feeling from feet, and knees, and waist, and so on, and the soul actually withdraws from your body. You go into inner space. When you are in inner space, your physical body is at perfect rest. The mind is not working subconsciously. In a trance, that is perfect rest. That is why masters are able to go with very little sleep. Or to use no sleep at all."

Master, how are we to stop wars? What should our foreign policy be in Central America? What is happening in Chad?

"As Martin Luther King said, our scientific power is very great, but we have guided missiles and misguided men. We are on the precipice of the abyss of death and destruction. It is only by imbibing the godly gift of love for mankind that we will avoid destruction. But I found, in my tour in 1978, that many young people had dedicated themselves to developing love for mankind. If we follow the masters, there will be a change of heart."

Master, there have been holy men for thousands of years, and yet wars go on and on, more wars than ever.

"Masters come and go. All of them have spoken of love. But the religions they found become separate from the world, and instead of love they preach hatred, after the master has gone. So masters have to come again and again. This time let us hope and pray that the message will spread. We are like the lotus blossom, which has its roots in muddy water, yet it blooms into a beautiful flower. We must live in this world, but have the ultimate aim of knowing ourselves."

In a moment Darshan Singh spoke a verse in Urdu, a language of many vowels. Then he translated: "What does it matter if I am called a man? I am in reality the soul of love."

Now, the heart-to-heart talk concluded, it is time for a vegetarian feast in T.S. Khanna's multicar garage. Tonight the living master travels to the University of Baltimore Library Auditorium at 7. On Sunday, he'll be at Thomas Jefferson Community Center on Old Glebe Road in Arlington at 11 a.m.

There is much work to do in a world where air conditioning abounds.