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Let Us Talk About Your Book:
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West" Part XVI

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM




Continued from Last Week ...




Q   I’m intrigued by another allegation that has been thrown at you … of ’fabricating’ what is described as an erroneous notion of the Mool Mantar. What exactly is that charge … and, if you will, your response to it?

A   By all means! So this particular allegation goes something like this:


On page 369 Mandair insults the dignity of the Mool Mantar. In his explanation of Ik Oankar he calls it a ‘deceitful concept’. From Mandair’s argument it becomes clear that Sikhi is not a dharam that conforms to the belief in one God (monotheism) …

My Response

Now here’s what I actually said: On page 369 I am actually talking about the difference between two completely opposed standpoints from which the individual can interpret the One in “Ik Oankar“.

These two very different standpoints from which the figure ‘1’ or ik can be interpreted correspond to two fundamentally different subjectvities.

One standpoint is that of EGO-centered subjectivity. This EGO-centered standpoint is basically what the Gurus call manmukh. The Ego-centric interpretation of the One is the one that I term ‘deceitful’ because the Oneness it generates refers to the oneness of EGO which becomes the center of the world.

This is prevalent in the world-view generated by pure monotheism … which is why Western cultures (both religious and secular) are so addicted to maintaining ego-based psychology instead of radically questioning it as Asian traditions and even some Western mystical traditions have tended to do.

The second standpoint is that of that of a non-egocentric state (the Gurus call this gurmukh), and this is the true One, the One that is also ALL, which we can also term: the One-ALL. This true One, which is simultaneously the All of everything that exists, can only be known through paradox.

It defies conceptual formulations like the ones contrived by the Singh Sabha scholars in their commentaries. Their mistake, as I alluded to in the previous interview, was that they constructed God as a conceptual idol (monotheism), then they labeled this with the attributes of the Mool Mantar.

Rather, the Mool Mantar is not a list of mere attributes. The words of the Mool Mantar describe affective states that emanate from the experience of One-ness. These affective states are indicative of states of divine perfection, but a perfection that can be realized by humans if they surrender the ego in love towards the Beloved.

And this fusion of lover and Beloved is precisely that state of Oneness that is God.

The ik of Guru Nanak’s Ik Oankar is a One that can only be experienced or realized (and such realization only comes through an arduous journey towards perfection of one’s self) and not, as most people tend to believe, through ritualistic repetition of God’s Name, nor by empty rationalization, for both of these methods idolize a God who can be brought to mind at will.

A monotheistic God is a deity fabricated by the ego, a deity under our control, a God that satisfies the Ego, rather than a God that encourages us to imbibe love and thereby breaks the ego. The God of monotheism is simply a hugely inflated ego. As such it becomes a political football for the use of cheap and mischievous politicians.

Far from insulting the dignity of the Mool Mantar I have tried to point readers towards a more beautiful and meaningful understanding of the One (ik). I am actually asking: What exactly is ‘monotheism’ and how did Sikhi get lumbered with this concept?

The monotheistic interpretation is a modern one. It simplifies the complexity of the Guru’s own beatific vision of Oneness by firstly reducing the very notion of God to a human image – and remember that this image is invariably a male image! – which is another reason why the category of monotheism is suspect.

Secondly, because the term monotheism is ‘God’ seen through an ego-centric lens, the term monotheism also imports from the Semitic traditions, the affects of jealousy, enmity and fear towards alternative ways of experiencing God.

And these alternative ways of experiencing God are not only from other traditions, but also experiencing God in a gender-neutral or non-masculine manner. If I read the Mool Mantar correctly, then Guru Nanak’s vision is one that does not entertain either fear (nirbhau) or fear enmity (nirvair), and therefore no jealousy of different ways of experiencing the state of Onenes.

It is the only notion of Oneness (ik) that is simultaneously a statement on the unity of all existence and the plurality of all existence. A plurality and unity that is not limited to humans.

Here’s what I actually say on page 372 of the book:

Monotheism in the strict sense becomes almost redundant in the movement and crossings of love. When this love relationship is consummated (fusion), its outward manifestation is as an existence in the world that is radically interconnected to all others”.

By contrast, just look at the countries where Semitic monotheism is prevalent. The vast majority of Muslim cultures as a rule do not give other religious traditions any parity. Christians fought each other for centuries (over concepts of God) and needed to generate a secular state in order for there to be peace between its own traditions (Catholicism and Protestantism).

As for the situation of Israel, it speaks for itself.

And one doesn’t have to stop with the Semitic cultures.

Modern Hindu nationalism remodeled its conception of God, by remaking Ram in the image of Semitic monotheism. So Ram now becomes a political football for jealous Hindus seeking revenge against Muslims.

One jealous God begets another jealous God, which begets wars and endless strife.

Why should Sikhs also be trapped in this nefarious cycle?

To Be Continued Next Week …

May 6, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), May 06, 2014, 10:24 AM.

I feel compelled to add here that after I read this segment, I looked at the Mool Mantar and read and re-read it slowly, very slowly, weighing and measuring everything you have said, Arvind. And I must confess you have managed to add a completely new dimension to my understanding of these credal words, and the pleasure they give me in recitation. The Mool Mantar will never be the same again for me.

2: A J Singh (San Francisco, California, USA), May 06, 2014, 12:48 PM.

I have read this about 10 times in the last one hour and I can simply say, Wow! What a beautiful understanding of the concept of Ik. Ever since I started understanding gurbani, I have been puzzled by the use of the word "monotheism" as applied to the Sikh faith. I never could understand why, but it has been an open debate in my mind for a few years now. Reading this I realize that perhaps "monotheism" is not a part of our vocabulary in understanding gurbani and has been conveniently force-fitted (mono = One = Ik) by various scholars. Amazing thought for us to ponder on.

3: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), May 07, 2014, 2:00 PM.

This is how Bhai Vir Singh defines the 'One'. ONE is by itself an indefinite numeral. It is not a numeral adjective like 'one', 'two', 'three', etc., etc. "aikam aikankaar niralaa ..." [GGS:838] - "There is One ... and His creations are unique ..."

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Arvind Pal Singh Mandair - "Religion & The Specter of The West" Part XVI"

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