Kids Corner

Images: Thumbnail - Dr. Nikky Guninder Kaur Singh. On this page: Giant scholars of yore.

Talking Stick

Sikh Theology:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 53




Sikh scholarship and its role in shaping a Gurmat-based Sikh theology is a worthy subject and continuing the discussion that we began in the previous colloquium would not be out of place.

The questions we posed in colloquium # 52 were: Where does Sikh scholarship stand today - in terms of refining and enhancing Sikh theology? What role does Sikh theology play in shaping a distinctive Sikh ideology and Sikh identity? What challenges does Sikh scholarship face? Does a Sikh scholar require spiritual experience?

What prompted me to ask these questions were some recent readings and discussions around the subject.

I am reading (or shall I say, trying to read) Prof. Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair’s book, Religion and the Specter of the West: Sikhism, India, Postcoloniality and The Politics of Translation.

Frankly, the book is too deep for the likes of me, and I don’t pretend to understand all the nuanced academic jargon it contains. But what caught my attention was his suggestion that contrary to popular belief, the Singh Sabha movement did not “retrieve” Gurmat as Sikh theology; rather, that the works of Singh Sabha reformists like Bhai Vir Singh were really “ideological formations,” arising as a reaction to what Mandair calls a “translation event.”

Mandair is referring to the first English translation of the Adi Granth by the German linguist and Indologist, Ernst Trumpp in 1877. This, Mandair argues, and Trumpps’ otherwise odious remarks about Guru Nanak and his derogatory categorization of Sikhi, set the stage for how Sikhi has come to be represented - all subsequent attempts (especially Singh Sabha attempts) by Sikh scholarship have really been a reaction and a corrective to Trumpp.

The implication, as I see it, is that the Singh Sabha movement, for all its success (real, in my view) could not move the debate away from the framework defined by the Europeans. Therein lies the problem. We continue to have the discussion within the categories defined for us by European thought.

An example is the pervasiveness of the use of terms like God and Lord (in a Christian sense)

Whether Mandair’s thesis is valid or not is beyond my ken to comment on. But it would be fruitful to consider the question(s) he raises.

My personal perspective is not dissimilar. It seems to me that Sikhs always been on the defensive when it comes to projecting Gurmat as theology: first, against the British who systematically defined Sikhi for us; then, against the over-zealous Arya Samajists (Swami Dayanand) and their “shuddhi” programs, and now, in post-independent India, against official versions of Sikhi that come from various vested interests. Not to mention the fact that perhaps the most influential scholar of Sikhi in the past thirty years was a New Zealander (Hew McLeod) who placed Guru Nanak squarely in the middle of the Sant tradition.

All these efforts have shortchanged Sikh theology of its true content and robbed Sikh ideology of its truly revolutionary political and social implications.

I concur with the assertion of some readers (made in the previous colloquium) that hidden agendas and biases can - and do - take us down blind alleys in our search for ideology. Theology can indeed be corrupted when its content, namely, transcendental truths, are made subservient to the ritual requirements or dogmatic assertions about the history of a religion.

But if we do not proactively seek an ideology, properly interpreted, then we run the risk of ideology hijacking theology: take, for instance, the Islamic obligation of Jihad, which has been misinterpreted and become a political and totalitarian ideology that is suicidal. The Judaic doctrine of Jews as the “Chosen People,” has found similar political expression in Israel’s brutal and oppressive treatment of the Palestinians. Closer to home, the Akalis too have for years used the slogan of panth khatrey mein (the Panth is in danger) to exploit religion for political ends.

Despite this danger, or perhaps because of it, we need to clearly articulate a theology and distinguish it from an ideology. There is a distinction between transcendent moral truths, exemplified by the Mool Mantar (the opening credal statement) and the dogmatic content and requirements of Sikhi. Ideology must serve Theology, not the other way around.

When I turn to Sikh scholars to enunciate a systematic Gurmat based theology, it is because our failure to do so proactively has allowed others to hand it to us.

As noted, Sikhs have always been reactive and defensive - to the formulations of Western scholars and others.


How do we proceed? Sikh scholarship – both in India and the West – has limitations very aptly explained by a contributor, Harpreet Singh, “In the context of academic work, the real problem that we face as a community is that we lack critical mass of Sikh scholars in Euro-American universities, and the study of religion is no longer viable in Punjabi universities, whose agendas have been shaped by Marxism, a hostile state apparatus and economic forces in the past decades. So my question to you is: where are the scholars?”

I call out Harpreet Singh because to my mind he is a model that a lot of young people can emulate in the service of this cause.

Harpreet Singh gave up a lucrative banking career to pursue a doctoral degree at Harvard University where he is currently completing his dissertation – this in the “seva” of the Panth. He is also one of the founders of The Sikh Coalition, an advocay organization devoted to the protection of Sikh rights.

I quote him further: “instead of building multi-million dollar gurdwaras with golden domes, do we have the will to build elementary and secondary schools that will make the study of Rattan Singh Bhangu and Sainapati fashionable? Do we have the will to part from some of our wealth to build seminaries in which our granthis will critique Hegel, Nietzsche and Foucault with the same ease as writing English and French commentaries on the Guru Granth Sahib? Until we take practical steps to create new institutions and curricula that are going to train a new generation of young Sikhs and prepare them to enter Euro-American universities to pursue rigorous scholarship that speaks to our current issues, the goal of finding a public intellectual will remain a fantasy.”

Would love to hear some concrete ideas from readers?


June 6, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Devinder Singh (India), June 06, 2011, 9:48 AM.

Sirdar Kapur Singh, one of the giant scholars of yore that you have flagged, says in his well remembered essay of the 1960's: "Now, what is this 'discipline of the Name', which Sikhism teaches as the essence of the religion for mankind in the present age? In the history of religion, broadly speaking, five paths have been recognized as efficacious for leading to liberation, i.e., for achievement of the summum bonum of religion: (1) disinterested action, known as the Karmayoga in Hindu religious thought; (2) devotion, known as bhakti; (3) gnosis, the jnan; (4) the ritual, known as yajna; and (5) asceticism, maceration or tapas. In the Sikh scripture, the first three are variously mentioned and subsumed under the inclusive title, 'the discipline of the Name'. No logically systematic account of the theory or practice of the Name is given in the Sikh scripture, however, for the idiom of the writings itself forbids such an approach, but throughout its voluminous pages it is stressed again and again with a wealth of metaphor and imagery, illustrative material and exposition, that, at the present stage of mankind the discipline of the Name is the only suitable and efficacious practice for leading to the vision of God and for achieving the unitive experience of the umenon. The discipline of Bhakti and discipline of Karma, the disinterested works, is also mentioned variously, commended and praised but throughout it is tacitly assumed that it is a part and parcel of the generic discipline, "the practice of the Name." (quote closed) In their search for ideology, the Sikhs have seriously compromised the practice of Name. It is now reduced to a mere chanting of 'Waheguru' which is a latter appellation, nowhere mentioned in the scripture, or the reading of the scripture itself, which by itself goes as 'practice'. Name is a composite of bhakti, karma and jnan, the ultimate aim being gnosis. The current notion of 'practice' is a caricature.

2: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), June 06, 2011, 10:44 AM.

How do we proceed? An interesting point. I feel that Sikh scholars first try to make out where our understanding of gurbani is wrong. Let us list out the areas of misunderstanding. Once this is done we should find the relevant solutions from within gurbani. Guru Arjan has given us the treasure of gurbani along with a bunch of keys to enable us to understand the true message of gurbani. The first step to move ahead is to familiarize ourselves with these 'keys'.

3: Balbir Singh (Germany), June 06, 2011, 1:28 PM.

Sikh scholars are theologists. They write or recite katha. The true seeker remains thirsty without any spiritual experience.

4: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 06, 2011, 3:10 PM.

The word 'Waheguru' appears several times in Guru Granth Sahib, from page 1402 to 1404. Chanting this repeatedly is NOT simran or naam juppna. However, this word was incorporated in our greeting by Guru Gobind Singh.

5: Bibek Singh (Jersey City, U.S.A.), June 06, 2011, 6:18 PM.

Kudos to people like Harpreet Singh ji! We need more like him. One way to take it forward could be by supporting independent organizations like the Sikh Research Institute. Probably they can consider funding such research related projects. Such institutions already conduct various Sikhi related programs. They can also introduce 'certifications' (for various levels) to evaluate and rate the Sikhi knowledge of various individuals and groups. This in turn can help them in identifying the appropriate candidates to execute the research related work. In such a manner, a framework can be developed that will ensure that the research's output can be easily consumed and understood.

6: Rajinder Brar (Palatine, Illinois, U.S.A. ), June 06, 2011, 8:48 PM.

I think this is a great article that gets at a key issue: scholars in the West are not Sikh theologians, they are scholars of Sikh Studies. While work like Mandair's helps us to uncover the biases in Sikh theology, his work is unlikely to "advance" understanding of Sikh theology for the panth. Instead, he is clearing ground for Sikh theologians to do better work. Good scholars of Sikh Studies in the West will be successful in finding funding and positions as long as the community continues to sponsor both new and established departments. What is needed is a new model to reinvigorate Sikh theologians to do their work. It would be encouraging however in the realm of Sikh Studies, if growing your hair and being a man was not a silent prerequisite for acquiring a Chair, as has been seen in the recent past.

7: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), June 07, 2011, 1:13 AM.

Devinder Singh ji: it would be incorrect to say that the word "WaheGuru" is a later appellation. This word is very much a part of Guru Granth Sahib. From Mohan Singh ji's note, it is amply clear that the word "WaheGuru" itself is not Naam.

8: Devinder Singh (India), June 07, 2011, 2:20 AM.

Sikh consciousness, like in any other religion, continues to be obsessed with 'ideology' rather than inquiry proper to the understanding of the nature of God. "A Sikh, engaged in the discipline of Name, himself must lead a life of the highest ethical purity, in word, thought and deed, every faltering from this path of rectitude constitutes a stumbling block in the path of his ultimate realization of God. A man of religion must be wholly motivated by ethical rules of conducts." [Sukhmani, V:4-24] says Kapur Singh in his essay. The last adjunct of the discipline of Name, the Sikh scripture says, is the intuitive understanding of the philosophical truths which underlines the world of phenomena. This is the true knowledge, the gnosis, and the Sikh scripture commends that a Sikh must always strive by study, by discussion, by meditation and by every mental effort, to acquire an intellectual and intuitive understanding of the scientific and philosophic truths. ["man karhala vadbhagia/ tu gian ratan samal" Gauri, Ashtpadi, I:V.]

9: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), June 07, 2011, 3:15 AM.

Devender Singh ji: in Guru Granth Sahib, there is a logical and systematic account of the theory and practice of Naamu. The actual word for Name in gurbani is NAAu.

10: Devinder Singh (India), June 07, 2011, 8:32 AM.

That was a good point at #5. Theologians are not scholars of Sikh studies. They are scholars of scripture. Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha may fall in that category, I am not familiar enough to comment; while bhai Vir Singh is referred to as an ideologue. University chairs will not host theologians. As for building beautiful gurdwaras, the pursuit of beauty is also the pursuit of godliness for God is all beauty.

11: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), June 07, 2011, 9:15 AM.

I have read these posts with great interest. Perhaps Sikhs need to understand the difference between Gurmat scholars (I do not want to use the word 'theologians' for them because they are simply not trained as 'theologians' in seminary-like institutions) and academics. Academic techniques are certainly different from those of theologians and traditional scholars. The two different pedagogical ways of studying religion are aptly described in the images of the pulpit and the podium. The pulpit represents the confessional approach followed by religious preachers who instruct and nurture the understanding and religious participation of their communities. The podium, on the other hand, represents the academic approach to understanding various religious traditions as cross-cultural phenomena of human life by following historical, psychological, sociological, anthropological, textual, philosophical, ethical, and comparative methods. The aims of these two categories are quite different. Sikh scholars holding Sikh Chairs in the West cannot function as "Sikh theologians" in the public university. All self-made Sikh scholars are busy in questioning the credentials of Sikh academics. They invoke the names of past Sikh scholars to make the point in their criticism. To a large extent this is a counterproductive activity. Sikh academics have to perform their normal professional activities of research and teaching, including university and public service. They simply do not have much time to respond to every issue being debated in the community. There was also mention of a "public intellectual" in the discussion. I have participated in community forums mostly when I am free from other engagements. But at times I am too busy with university work with deadlines that I simply cannot afford to jump on every issue being debated. I just want to ask the question from the moderators: how many Sikh scholars have responded to their discussions? Harpreet Singh is a budding scholar. When he gets an academic appointment, he will know how much time he can afford to spend on these forums. I have always admired the work being done by Sikh volunteers, but they should also understand the obligations of Sikh academics.

12: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), June 07, 2011, 3:38 PM.

There is no concept of God in Sikh philosophy. If I am not wrong, we consider the references to the Creator of the universe as 'God'. But, in gurbani, we find that NAAMu itself is the Creator of the universe.

13: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 07, 2011, 4:47 PM.

I, too, have spent a lifetime in academia, and must confess that I am somewhat stumped at the comment by Pashaura Singh. 1) No one is expected to jump at every issue that is being debated in the public, or for that matter, any academic forum. 2) Time constraints rule us all, academics and non-academics alike; they are unavoidable, even seemingly tyrannical at times. 3) I have written extensively about "Public Intellectuals" (PI) and their determinative role in progressive societies. I am sure all public intellectuals - good and bad - rue that time does not allow them greater flexibility. It is also self-evident that in every society the educated laity sometimes differ passionately with the PI's of that society - witness the position of Stephen Hawking or Noam Chomsky today, or Bertrand Russell in the U.S. of 70 years ago. Yet the PI's don't withdraw in a pout because they see the criticism as unfounded. Sometimes the PI's suffer when their position is unusually odd; nevertheless, they persevere. Is there theology in the work of Gurmat-Scholars? Of course, there is. The perspective is different from that of a similar scholar from the Christian, Jewish, Islamic or Hindu tradition, and is sometimes irreconcilable. Note that such sharp divisions existed in schools of 'science' as well, not so long ago. (Look at the early days of Science in the times of Galileo and Copernicus, or matters of Evolution, etc.) Scholars of religion explore the comparative framework of religions and their history but some of them pursue what is best termed "the nature of God" and that, I believe, is what theology is about - that's what "theos" means. Such activities are found in academia as well; look at any broad-based department of philosophy or ethics, for instance. Please note that many historical academies - whether Plato's or the great ones in China, Japan, India, Egypt, Rome or Greece, among others - were, times ago, seminaries at best; they morphed into universities with changing perceptions, times and needs. If we dismiss those seminaries, the present day giant universities would be the poorer indeed. Hence the word 'academics.' Then you state that "all self-made Sikh scholars are busy in questioning the credentials of Sikh academics. They invoke the names of past Sikh scholars to make the point in their criticism." I hope you see that this is too sweeping a statement. The sentence is pejorative and the qualifier "all" both unfortunate and inaccurate. If you believe that plain folks "do not understand the obligations of academics", well, how will they, if academicians fail to nurture communications and bridges with the community. Appreciation and admiration have to be mutual; they do not develop if academicians and those who should understand them are separated by walls between them. My comment would be similar if we examine any disconnect between an academician and his/her students. Academicians and students start with a degree of tolerance and trust. Respect is a different matter; some earn it, others never do. I don't believe people expect academicians to act as "Sikh theologians"; certainly many more understand that crucial difference than is implied in Pashaura's comment. Even the most beautiful person in the world has to step out of a self-created shell to be admired, wooed and pursued. I think Pashaura Singh's comment ends by becoming unnecessarily defensive.

14: Balbir Singh (Germany), June 07, 2011, 6:22 PM.

Prakash Singh ji: Please listen. Gurdev is singing. "Acchal acched abhed prabh aise bhagwaan" [GGS:816] - One transcends all faculties of a scholar, theologian or academician's mind with true Naam Simran.

15: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 07, 2011, 6:32 PM.

Pashaura Singh ji: I failed to add to my longish comment a last line that, despite what I said, in many ways I do admire the path that our Sikh scholars and academicians are defining and refining. And occasional disagreements don't diminish it.

16: Gurcharan Singh (Berkeley, California, U.S.A.), June 07, 2011, 7:35 PM.

I too am a little troubled by the comment by Pashaura Singh ji. The dichotomy between academic study of religion and theology is a thing of the past. The comparison of the pulpit and the podium is based on the fallacy that human beings are capable of objectivity and can divorce themselves from all subjectivity. The comparison does not admit an understanding of the theoretical developments within religious studies in the last two decades. Scholars today admit that the place of belief systems in the subjectivity of every human being is central to any rational process, however sophisticated it may be. As a result, the boundary between 'theology' and 'academic study of religion' is highly dependent on a person's definition of these terms. Would you define Paul Ricoeur as a theologian, a philosopher or a scholar of religious studies? We can easily count hundreds of well-respected scholars in religious studies department (not seminaries) occupying academic positions in universities who also are ordained ministers. A large number of them, especially Jesuits, teach on weekdays in their university religion departments and then serve as priests on Sunday. There is no reason why Sikh scholars cannot do the same without compromising either their professional life or their service to the community. Edward Said did not tell the Palestinians to excuse him from activism because he had administrative duties to discharge at his university. Then why does not a single Sikh scholar respond when Kamal Nath, who led a violent mob to the Rakabganj Gurdwara in November 1984, is invited to Northwestern Kellogg? Why are Sikh academics fast asleep when California revises its school curriculum, while academics associated with right-wing Hindu groups are meticulously sifting through every detail of what gets taught and also lobbying on behalf of the Sikhs? I would love to hear some answers from the scholars here.

17: Rajinder Brar (Palatine, Illinois, U.S.A.), June 07, 2011, 7:40 PM.

While I understand that I.J. Singh ji might not have been appreciative of the general stance that Pashaura Singh has taken in his comment, it is also important for I.J. Singh ji to recognize that while he has spent a lifetime in the academy, he has spent it in a body of knowledge that is entirely different, with a different set of experiences. Pashaura Singh does not have the luxury of a cadre of graduate students to do lab work for him. Pashaura Singh likely does not even have the ability to guarantee funding beyond the first year for his students. Similarly, I.J. Singh has unlikely been subject to the scrutiny and uninformed rage of a community that, as a whole, has not read a page of Pashaura Singh's work. On the notion of the idea of the public intellectual, I.J. Singh writes: "if academicians fail to nurture communications and bridges with the community ..." How can one create those bridges if the community has already burned them? Where to start when one is banned from their local gurdwara? Similarly, if the masses of people who have protested against Sikh academics like Pashaura Singh can be mobilized without understanding his work, how can one expect the same people to take the time to delineate between academic and theologian? I do not expect answers to these questions, but provide them as food for thought to better contextualize the situation we are in.

18: Mohan Singh (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 07, 2011, 10:26 PM.

The meaning of Ik Oankar is 'One God'; also Naam is Prabh so Prabh is God. In Japji Sahib's pauri 38, Guru Nanak has explained Naam Juppna, and that is the Sikh way of life, call it Sikhi or Disciplined Life. This pauri is further explained by Guru Amardas, Guru Ramdas and Guru Arjan in the Guru Granth. Prof. Sahib Singh has translated this pauri very well, first in Gurbani Vyakran (grammar) in 1942 and later in Darpan in the early 70s. As regards scholars, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha and Dr. Ganda Singh are trustworthy. The late Dr. Baldev Singh of U.S.A. was also in tune with gurmat.

19: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), June 08, 2011, 5:38 AM.

I feel that we are unable to accept the fact that much of Sikh scholarship to date has been sloppy. We have to identify the areas that need to be redressed or rectified. Unless we do this, we shall not be able to move ahead. For this we require to deliberate in a forum like this where we can freely exchange our views. I do want to acknowledge that our scholars have contributed a lot. But where did we get deviated, is the question.

20: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), June 08, 2011, 8:14 AM.

Rajinder Brar raises many questions; they are interesting but not quite central to my points here. My comments were specifically directed at issues raised in Pashaura Singh's note here. Whether the community has burned its bridges here as you allege or whether the attitude of many Chairs of Sikh studies contributed to it is a different issue that deserves scrutiny at another time. I believe all things are fixable if we have a clear idea of how they got broken and what remedies to evolve. How to fix the unfortunate history of Pashaura's relations with the community was not the issue here. As I said in my very brief second note, I am not dismissive of Sikh scholars. Pashaura Singh in his note briefly mentioned that he personally does go to gurdwaras and then, I understand, he would engage the community, and that I would celebrate. I am also not going to enter the polemics of how my discipline in science might or might not differ from Sikh studies. That is not the issue here. I was addressing the matter of "Public Intellectuals" and the role of Sikh scholars vis a vis the Sikh community. My focus was not particular individuals, be it Pashaura Singh, my own particular activities, or any one of the other academicians in Sikh studies. Your many points deserve an exploration but perhaps under a different rubric; I would be glad to enter such a dialogue. But let's not take away from the issues raised here.

21: Pashaura Singh (Riverside, California, U.S.A.), June 08, 2011, 10:32 AM.

I am grateful to I.J. Singh, Gurcharan Singh and Rajinder Singh Brar for their thoughtful responses to my post. There is certainly a positive development in the new generation to look at various issues more clearly than their elders. My point is simply that we should use our own categories from within the tradition more confidently than using the borrowed categories in public discourse. I am fully aware of the contribution of theological seminaries in the thought process of acknowledged western scholars. There is no disagreement here. But I want to explore the role of our own traditional schools of Gurmat training such as various Taksals, Nihang deras, Gurmat College, Sikh Missionary Colleges, Gurmat Sangeet projects, and so on. We have seen how the missionary paradigm has created an unending controversy in the Dasam Granth debate within the Sikh Panth. In fact, Sikh scholars have been pushed to the sidelines in this whole saga. They are quietly carrying on their research without making headlines. This is just one example of how we compete for public space to control our institutions. Once again, my heartfelt thanks to I.J. Singh, et al. I can assure you that I am not becoming defensive at all. At this stage of my career I write what I feel about the current issues.

22: I. Singh (Chelmsford, MA, U.S.A.), June 08, 2011, 10:45 AM.

I think Gurcharan Singh hit the nail on the head in response to Pashaura Singh's comment when he wrote: "Edward Said did not tell the Palestinians to excuse him from activism because he had administrative duties to discharge at his university.". With all due respect, it is quite disingenuous to state that one does not have "time" to comment on Panthak affairs or Sikh theological issues. It's not a matter of time, it is purely a matter of priorities. I always say in my workshops to the youth, when appropriate - it is completely acceptable that Sikhi is not your priority, everyone is at a different level. But please do not blame lack of time for your apathy to Sikhi and Sikh causes. Prof. Gurmukh Singh, Giani Ditt Singh, Bhai Vir Singh, Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Sirdar Kapur Singh, Prof. Puran Singh, Principal Teja Singh, Harinder Singh Mehboob and every Sikh who provided a positive contribution via the pen during our recent past - I wonder how they found time?

23: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 08, 2011, 12:14 PM.

Pashaura Singh ji: your second response (#21) was more in line with what I was expecting. The intent here is simply to bring forth an issue that needs attention. To my mind, turning to our academic scholars (like yourself) to help frame the issue better, offer insights and caution against pitfalls, was the logical thing to do. To your point about using our traditional categories - that is precisely what I have suggested. What practical manifestation will/should this take? How to proceed? Do we build a Sikh seminary here? Do we connect (if so, how) with traditional centers of learning on the subcontinent? I see Gurmat scholarship and academic scholarship as one continuum that has some gaps currently. We need to address those in a practical way.

24: Bal Singh (London, United Kingdom), June 09, 2011, 10:06 AM.

"The implication, as I see it, is that the Singh Sabha movement, for all its success (real, in my view) could not move the debate away from the framework defined by the Europeans. Therein lies the problem. We continue to have the discussion within the categories defined for us by European thought." This matter lies at the crux of the discussion, in my opinion. I think people are so [understandably] grateful for the contribution of the Singh Sabha lehar that it frequently leads to an abject inability to apply any critical evaluation on what took place under its auspices. The ideas of the Sabha have come to define orthodoxy to such an extent that any critical reflection is commonly seen as an attack on Sikhi itself. Conversely, there are those who, in a sort of constant state of red mist, see no positive contributions made by the lehar whatsoever and accuse it of all manner of misrepresentations. My own thoughts are that it represented a very important time where Sikhs were grappling with a political and military disfranchisement as well as the introduction of the then alien western 'post-enlightenment' thought into the newly 'annexed' Punjab. Their (the Sabha's) work was tentative as a result - to my mind at least, and whilst it does provide us with a body of literature that can be an important jumping off point to engage in a global interpretation, being frozen in this period doesn't help us. It's inevitable that our understanding will grow and that we will retain some of the conceptualizations posited by the lehar whilst we reject others. However, a lot of the lehar's literature was clearly influenced and written in response to political as much as theological concerns of the day, in other words the power politics wrought by the British. There are uncomfortable questions regarding possible sycophancy and the effects of the legendary Anglo-Saxon 'divide and conquer' policies in the midst of all this. Do we have the stomach to deal with these? To their credit though, the Sabha at least took the 'modern bull' by the horns and made attempts to engage with the powerful western paradigms, whilst others seem to have taken an ostrich stance towards the matter. The unfortunate truth is that at this moment in time, the western paradigm seems to have trumped any Sikh one and the fact is that we do frequently use western language and (more importantly) constructs to define the faith and its inherent ideas. Those sampardayas that don't do this have little or no influence outside of their immediate circle. What are the implications of this? Until Sikhs attain real power again and develop their own paradigm that successfully umbrellas or supercedes the western one (or any other competing weltanschauung for that matter) it probably will feel like we are under some form of subtle subversion. Again, underlying all this is the matter of real power and influence in everyday lives and until Sikh-centric ideas can pierce and successfully compete against other schools of thought truthfully and independently I think we will always feel like small players in a big game. The corollary of this is a MASSIVE change in our own society's attitude towards many subjects and concretely defining our own worldview and behaviour along Sikh-centric principles in a modern context. No small thing.

25: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), June 09, 2011, 10:54 AM.

Pashaura Singh ji is both an academician and a theologian, in spite of his denial. I think his denial is an example of his Sikh humility. From his academic rank and his scholarly accomplishments, he is recognized as a top class academician. On the other hand, his training at the Punjabi University's Gurmat College prepared him for a career in Sikh theology. The quality of his performance as an exegete as well as a Sikh cantor or a kirtanyia is not matched by many today. You do not hear about this aspect because he is denied opportunities to serve in that role. Only recently I had the privilege of attending his daughter's wedding in San Francisco and was deeply moved to see that the family began this wedding ceremony with a two-hour kirtan in classical raags as prescribed in the Guru Granth. Professor Pashaura Singh and his bride daughter, Dr. Manpreet Kaur, on the harmonium, Pashaura Singh's son on tabla, Pashaura Singh's wife with a stringed instrument, the bridegroom Dr. Mandeep Singh, and other family and friends, all singing kirtan at their own Anand Karaj, was a scene I never experienced before in my life. In my brief speech, I called the couple my heroes on that very account. I am encouraged to note that there are young Sikhs growing up to follow the above example and there will be more such occasions in the future.

26: Harbans Lal (Arlington, Texas, U.S.A.), June 09, 2011, 1:15 PM.

Bal Singh and Ravinder raised very important questions about the Singh Sabha. I subscribe to many contributions of the Singh Sabha with a caviat. Its many contributions to the growth of the panth cannot be denied but there was collateral damage. In their enthusiasm to enter the modern world, the Singh Sabha scholars welcomed the colonial encounter between themselves and the West, resulting in accepting euro-centric idioms in the description of Sikhi and the Sikhs. Thereafter, Sikh institutions recognized the Western manufactured term 'Sikhism' to describe them. Such a term or its equivalent was not known in Sikh scriptural literature before. It meant religion of the Sikh people of the time that may not be the same as what was ordained by their founders who called their message as Gurmat. As a result, many obvious distinctions between what was taught and what was lived began to be marginalized. An illustrative example may be when encyclopedias began to include the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib and the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the same chapter; Maharaja could be shown womanizing in a drinking party along with Sikhi teachings on the same pages. We were innocent in our intention so that we failed to comprehend the entrapment of the name game. I trust that our present day scholars will undo the harm done by the colonial period in India. Sikhi is a way of life and believing based on Gurmat, the term Guru Nanak employed to describe religion of the Guru's wisdom. The Gurmat or Sikhi concepts are those to which all civil societies could readily relate; they are cosmographic. In contrast, Sikhs came to being only to demonstrate many realistic benefits of their faith and, therefore, to invigorate and urge in others to learn their theology. But as human weakness will always exist, and as is happening with all religious communities, many who register themselves as Sikhs may not be actual demonstration of Sikhi. As a matter of fact, most Sikhs have evolved to be an ethnocentric community, something not intended by its cosmographic founders. The Sikhs in the West are supporting programs to promote academic endeavors that enhance scholarship both on Sikhi and Sikhs. That means an understanding both on Sikhi and Sikhs as separate disciplines, with some overlaps. Is it always the case? It differs from place to place; academic programs in India tend to emphasize Sikhi more and those in the West often exclude Sikhi in favor of Sikhs. A Chair recently announced for establishment at the Guru Nanak University in India will be named the Guru Granth Chair with the stated purpose of initiating programs on the study of the Sikh scripture. A research program of the Professor Sahib Singh Gurmat Research Trust in Patiala, Punjab, published the comprehensive Guru Granth Dictionary. With the Trust's help, FATEH completed the works of Bhai Nand Lal for publication. The purpose of a Sikh Chair established in the USA defined its objective as: "The interdisciplinary study of the Sikh people, an ethnic and religious community that originated in North India in the 16th century, and their dispersion throughout the world ..." Further, there have been several conferences and many symposia held at academic centers both in America and in England often to report the progress of Sikh academic programs in their respective countries. From their themes, it is clear that the emphasis of Sikh scholars in these countries encompasses the Sikh Diaspora and Sikh identity. Although Sikhi and Sikhs are intimately related, Sikhi is more than Sikhs. The British term 'Sikhism' confuses them, to the detriment of both. Sikh studies should not work towards creating a history museum that tells you all about your past but lacks the promise of excitement and vibrancy that Sikhi teaching could bring to humanity in the twenty-first century.

27: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 09, 2011, 5:10 PM.

I am delighted that we are having a vigorous and vibrant discussion but would hate to see it peter off. What actions should we be taking? For my part, I an trying to work through the World Sikh Council - a representative organization of 47 gurdwaras in the U.S. - to raise funds and sponsor educational projects, starting from Khalsa Schools to a Seminary and even a National Sikh Center (based in the U.S.). I strongly advocate collaborating with institutions like SikhRI that are already doing great work in this domain. I would welcome other suggestions.

28: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 09, 2011, 7:55 PM.

"Naanak kykha ik gal hor ha-umai jhakh-naa jhaakh" [GGS:467.15] - "O Nanak, only one thing is of any account everything else is useless babbling and idle talk in ego". The purpose of dialogue places emphasis on scholarship and there is obviously no dearth of scholars. However, there is one problem. Every other scholar is ready to pounce with a caveat in some disguised form. "Yes, I agree with so and so, BUT (that is the caveat) I don't agree with his last line.". This, of course, means that he is holier than the other until such time another comes along and pulls him down a few notches on the scholarship rung. There was one saint by the name of Gauranga in Bengal who had, at the age of 16-17, memorized the four vedas. He went about strutting and displaying his knowledge and demolishing anyone who came in his wake. One day he had to cross the river but the boat was overloaded, not unlike a Punjab Roadways bus, when he spotted an old sadhu sitting with his eyes closed. Gauranga walked up to him and said "Do you know who I am?" "No, beta, I don't know." To this, Gauranga said that he was the one who had memorized all the four vedas and therefore commanded him to give him a place to sit. The old sadhu said to him: "You appear to me a fool, just tell me one thing: "Do you remember 'Ram' at all times? By that time the boat had reached its destination and the old sadhu melted away in the crowd and was gone. This was the first time Gauranga became agitated and try as much he could, but could not remember 'Ram'. He spent the next 12 years at this practice but failed. One day he became so frustrated that he decided to commit suicide and got into the boat, planning to jump off the boat when it reached the middle of the river where it was the deepest. Just at that moment he spotted the same old tranquil sadhu. This time he approached him with abject humility and put his head at his feet and cried, "I can't remember Ram at all times." This time the sadhu put his hand on his head and said "Go, you will now never forget Ram". This was the caveat of Gurprasad. There is no wisdom without first gaining knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge getting down to business. I hope this captures the essence of the dialogue.

29: Harman Singh (California, U.S.A.), June 10, 2011, 2:09 PM.

I welcome the idea of a National Sikh Center. Let's further explore this idea in another Talking Stick Colloquium. What should be the goals, objectives of the National Sikh Center? How do we mobilize the Sikh populace to be part of it? How do we define the outcome and measures of success? Should the National Sikh Center hold yearly symposiums? Should it put out consensus statements regarding matters affecting Sikhi today? How do we keep it non-political. This is exciting! I would love to be a part of it.

30: Gurdev Singh Bir (Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 2:02 AM.

I believe the greatest damage to the dissemination of Sikhi learning has been the non-preparedness and the punditry that the parcharaks of our gurdwaras have sown. In my entire early years of attending our gurdwara in Kenya, my relationship with the the giani was that of respect and reverence, but nowhere in my experience did the giani take time to engage us with gurbani or keep us excited about learning what the message in it was. This may be due to them not being trained to teach effectively and for the most part, they are not well paid and so are engaged in activities that have to generate a living wage. Most of my time in my relationship with the gurdwaras was more in politics than in gurbani. We had to take sides in the local elections and felt very proud when "our party" won the pardhaanship. I feel very fortunate that I met like-minded seekers like Ravinder ji and it has been very exciting ever since. I feel that, despite the comment in #10, building monumental gurdwaras where all the sevadars are in the belief that serving copious amounts of langar and keeping the place looking immaculate is somehow considered as the true seva, is counterproductive where the funds could be used in charting a course that will keep the coming generations more engaged with the message of the Guru. I make these comments within the narrow confines of my own experience. I hope I have not offended any sevadars.

31: Ravinder SIngh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 2:48 PM.

Harman Singh ji: let's continue to think about this concept. On the Roundtable Open Forum on today is the question: what can Sikhs learn from the Jews in America? I am convinced that education is right up there and a Sikh National Center could be a valuable resource.

32: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), June 13, 2011, 5:04 PM.

In this important discussion on an issue vital to us, "How to proceed with a Gurmat-based theology", the objective is trumped by a larger, overlooked concern: Are we ready and willing to undertake theological diagnostics? I believe we are not and have rarely demonstrated a desire for such inquiry.

33: Devinder Singh (India), June 14, 2011, 1:20 PM.

I would distinguish between gurmat and gurbani. While gurmat is ideological in its formulation, gurbani is the true source of theology. Ideology concerns itself with 'this is our way', and further with, 'ours is the best way'. The conversation has however veered round to scholarship, that concerns itself with Sikhism or the study of Sikhs; it has little relation to theology. Past Sikh scholars, even prior to the Singh Sabha movement, have primarily contributed to the study of Gurmat. They can be called Public Intellectuals rather than theologians. Our seminaries are a far cry from that of Plato's Greece or from that of Egypt. These are aimed at inducing a spiritual experience in the student. The idea of starting a new seminary that is being floated must incorporate spiritual experience as a sine-qua-non for scholarship to have a lasting impact (like Plato).

34: Nirmal Singh Nilvi (Texas, U.S.A.), June 14, 2011, 3:25 PM.

Devinder Siingh ji: thanks for separating the wheat from the chaff. Theology further requires a vast unencumbered space, no ideological shackles, a willingness to cross intellectual limits and the environment where the mind is beyond challenges or repercussions. The aim is to dig deep, beyond the fear of a collapsing wall; plumb noble/ dark corners and develop an accurate image with its ugliest and operating details. In the development of Sikhi, we are still experimenting with the concepts. Indulgence with theology is beyond the practical realm. We have the urge, understand its need but opaque on the challenges of the undertaking. In other words, not ready. It will happen, we are heading in that direction; it is just a matter of time.

35: Bikram Singh (New Delhi, India), June 14, 2011, 8:20 PM.

To the last three comments in particular, I wish to say - with the utmost respect - Balderdash! You fellas are back to navel-gazing, the very thing which was discouraged by our Gurus. Instead of talking about real stuff, you go round and round in circles, weaving inane sentences which actually mean nothing and do not move the discussion even a millimeter. Chaturta, chaturta, chaturta! Neti, neti, neti! Sorry, but this had to be said, folks. Please don't lose focus on the fact that we are talking about Sikhi. Study the Guru Granth Sahib and keep your feet on the ground, and it will set you free ... I can't stand it when you fellas get caught in defining and re-defining things ad nauseum, oblivious of the fact that you've fallen off the bus and it has left you far behind. Do you ever get to the meat of the matter?

Comment on "Sikh Theology:
The Talking Stick Colloquium # 53"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.