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

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM




Continued from last week …


  There’s one allegation, I recall, in which you are accused of giving a “ruthless interpretation of gurmat”. That’s odd -- no, actually bizarre -- terminology, given the subject matter. Could you please address that one, before we move on?

A    Well, here is the actual allegation. I‘ve translated it from the original:

Mandair believes that the Sikh quom’s political issues can be resolved using the kind of materialist approach that is common in Western universities. [For example] in his commentary on naam simran, Mandair says that the word ’simran’ has a Sanskrit derivation and then he connects its meaning to death. Basically he is trying to show that simran firstly reminds us of death and only after that connects to God …

Here’s my rebuttal:

What a load of complete nonsense!

This is quite a maliciously motivated -- and off the mark! -- construal of what I am actually saying. As far as the interpretation of ‘naam simran’ goes I am working almost entirely within the traditional meaning of naam simran (which is the repetition or remembrance of the Name) but I try to deepen the conventional meaning by alluding to point to its more spiritual meaning.

For me, the spiritual is not the metaphysical.

As I explained in several of our earlier exchanges, the metaphysical is a negation of the physical or material. It is a negation of everything that exists in time that we live in. The spiritual on the other hand (in my interpretation) is anti-metaphysical in the sense that I connect it to the ‘material’ which means the time of lived experience.

So what is my spiritual / material reading of naam simran?

It is quite simply one that connects it to the interplay of ego and ego-loss. My premise is based on gurbani where it is stated that naam and ego (haumai) are opposed to each other and cannot be in the same place at the same time (“haumai navai naal virodh hai / doi na vasai ek thaai – GGS:560).

Basically, the ego has to die if naam is to become pervasive in the mind. The human ego operates by self-naming.

The name of this self-naming is ‘I’ which becomes the index of self-appropriation.

However, naam (or God’s Name, if you want to interpret it as such) brings the death of this ego because the ego now begins to say: “I am not”.

So it is not a physical death that I refer to, but the death of ego.

As for the reference to the connection between Sanskrit, all I said was that within the word simran it is possible to trace an Indo-European root: ‘smer’ which alludes to both remembrance and to death.

Most importantly, I am trying to get the reader to understand that the resultant effect of naam simran must happen in the time of the world that we live – not in another world, or beyond time.

It is real and it has material effects on human well being. If this were not the case, why would so many Sikhs attest to the power of naam simran for curing depressive states of mind, to alleviate forms of suffering by helping the devotee to adopt a more focused attention to the contents of this world?

Unless I am mistaken, all the Sikh Gurus stress that naam simran is a way of attending to our finitude, to the fact that each moment of our lives, each breath is precious. Each moment is passing by, so repeat the Name – don’t be fixated on the egotistical practice of self-naming where one says: “I am, I am, I am ...”.

Here is what I actually said on page 377 of my book:

“Stated differently, simran is first of all remembrance of one’s own mortality, of the ego’s death, remembering which one awakens to the Name. Naam simran is therefore the experience of finitude. Alternatively, finitude is the condition for the experience of naam”.

What is so ‘ruthless’ about this?

Continued next week …

May 13, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), May 17, 2014, 1:52 AM.

You mentioned in the beginning that "In line with my critique of the dominant Christian-Secular universals, I also contest Hindutva Indian secular universals as two sides of the same coin, showing the complicity between Hindu religious fundamentalism and the Indian secularism and its detrimental effects for minorities such as the Sikhs." After the departure of the colonial powers from India, Sikhs in India found themselves governed by a new set of rulers and a new majority community as neighbors who were primarily Hindus dominating the areas West of newly-created Pakistan. Although the Indian Constitution guaranteed a secular government, it failed to free itself from a deep rooted Hindu culture guided mostly by the Brahmin clergy. There began a troubling dominance of Hindutva sentiments. This stress is expected to further increase with this week's newly elected Indian Parliament dominated by RSS activists. I would like you to analyze this situation and outline the Sikh encounter with the new wave of RSS dominance in India's cultural, political and religious spherese. What form should this post-colonial encounter take to be a positive interaction and not a negative one?

2: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), May 20, 2014, 12:31 AM.

While continuing his analyses of the outcomes of the Singh Sabha movement, Prof Arvind Pal Singh, in Part VIII of this series says, "look at the history of the Akali Dal and the SGPC. It all started out in a very heroic fashion at the time of the Gurdwara Reform Movement, but within three decades, had descended into vicious communal politics and the SGPC-Akali complex developed into the Panth's official 'religious-police'. It had clearly identifiable external enemies to attack and defend itself against." I tend to agree with him somewhat but am not sure that I can associate the so described deeds of the Akali Dal and SGPC as based on something that Singh Sabha directly promoted. I may also agree with his description of post partition Akali Dal but do not see how it resulted from the aims and activities of the Singh Sabha, or any of the Singh Sabha's numerous publications, schools or colleges. I failed to see the connection as Arvind implied. The Singh Sabha and the Akali Dal were separate entities with distinct objectives and distinct followings. Thus there seems to be no known justification of the above deeds of the Akali Dal to be associated with the Singh Sabha. The precursor of the Singh Sabha was the Nirankari movement founded and led by a Sehajdhari Sikh, Baba Dyal Das (1783- 1855), who initiated a powerful movement to re-establish the supremacy of Guru Granth Sahib and the worship/experience of only Nirankar the Formless. [This 'Nirankari' Movement should not be confused with a spurious group that came later, using the same name.] He introduced the marriage by Anand Karaj, removal of (Hindu) idols from gurdwaras, and worked against superstitions, use of intoxicants, and caste system. In 1873, the Singh Sabha Movement was established with the aim to continue Baba Dyal's momentum of achieving a moral, spiritual and educational reawakening of the Sikh people. The basic aim of the Singh Sabha Movement was to impart the knowledge of the glorious heritage of the Sikh faith and its traditions to new generations through parchaar, school-college education and printed media. The leaders alerted the Sikh people to the corruption of Sikh values and practices in vogue, as well as the ill designs of Christian and Hindu missionaries to convert Sikh youth away from Sikhi. Politically, the Singh Sabha leadership remained loyal to the colonial powers and avoided confrontations, eventually with the un-announced merger with Chief Khalsa Diwan. Political activism was left entirely to the Akali Dal. Let me give you a personal example to show the extent of this separation. At one of the conferences I introduced a resolution towards establishing a Sikh University. The Conference management accepted the resolution but refused me permission to present it to the general session. The reason being that I was the President of the All India Sikh Students Federation. AISSF was considered closely related to Shrimoni Akali Dal in an advisory role, including strategic planning for political actions. This was a no-no for the Conference organizers. I did speak to the Conference but only as a leader of the Sehajdhari arm of the Panth.

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

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