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The Politics of the Samprdayas


tSingh

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The Politics of the Samprdayas

I've always been troubled by certain questions to do with the samprdayas such as what was their political function in the Sikh kingdom? What was their understanding of the relationship between Sikh doctrine and society? What was to be their political outlook? What was their understanding of the nature of society, did it need reform and in what way would it be reformed?

Clearly Sikhi preceeding the samprdayas had established a very clear social and political context. Contrary to certain modern scholars understanding of the Sikh tradition, the early Gurus had clear political and social aims. By the time of Guru Amar Das we see the grounding of clearly socio-political authority with the Baoli Sahib, a place of pilgrimage for the increasing sangat which metaphorically establishes a break with time-honoured understanding of the atma cleansing 'ath sath tirathan' and tirath yatra, instead that abiding with the Guru achieves the same and more. Countless teachings and stories of Guru Nanak Dev Maharaj challenge exploitation and social inequities. What changes later is that the sangat is moved from social reform to radical guerrilla struggle. I was reading the words of Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatista group in Mexico and was struck by the parralells; a rejection of exploitation of the weak and challenging corrupt authority, and more importantly, a sense of poetic visionary idealism. Within the Sikh context this guerrilla uprising seems to have at least a three fold aspect to it as a dharmic-aatmic, political and identity affirming; upholding righteousness within the universe and ourselves, challenging corrupt political rule, and asserting the importance of personal and collective resposibility to social change. Yet what fascinates me is that this side of the Khalsa and Sikhi is played down these days. I'm constantly amazed to encounter sangat who read filth like the daily mail or who vote tory. To me it is just common sense that Sikhi is meant to be in your face anti-exploitation, anti-capitalist, pro social equality, anti-discriminationory, anti elitist. I still cannot understand how anyone could marry Sikh principles with for example working for multi-national corporations engaged in the pursual of economic exploitation of the weak, etc. And in this age of globalisation and internet, of international awareness, that with this wonderful doctrine all we do is gaze at our collective ass in niggly panthic quibbles while the weakest and poorest across the world continue to get shafted! For many we've still not even awoken to and broken from the enslaving brahmnical hegemony of jaat (1).

Now to the era of the samprdayas. For three of the four, their general focus became more and more metaphysical/adhyatamic as time went on. Although there is an interesting debate about the nature of the early Nirmalay, later a Nirmala for example would be (and some still are) selected and sent to Kashi for a gruelling 6 to 10 years of sanskrit education in the darshanas, the shastras and spiritual development through personal experiential guidance. Within the 19th century such Nirmalas and Udasis are writing about politics and society; Pandit Bhup Singh's Sudharam Marg Granth, Sadhu Amir Das Udasi's poetic work on Maharaj Sher Singh, Kavi Santokh Singh and Gyani Gyan Singh, etc. Such works seem to reinforce the social status quo to a degree. Although they emphasise the benevolence of Guru Maharaj in flattening caste differences, there is no instigation for further change, no hint of some social utopia of equality. Why is this? I continue to be sympathetic, that since their primary focus was on mysticism, this coloured their understanding of society and social reform. Mysticism/brahmgyan as being the way to negate society's problems, and that this was their ascribed function as nirmalas and udasis. Furtermore, it seems to me that in a sense their hands were tied. Once educated a Nirmala/Udasi/Sewapanthi either establishes or takes over a dera or akhara on the pretext that they will serve the local community in the realm of spiritual and historical knowledge and education. In return the community make donations for the upkeep of the institution. Yet in this contract any challenge to the social structure of the village, and this contract can be threatened. I know of Nirmalas who have been forced to leave a village purely for engaging in party politics or because the panchayat took a disliking to them! Thus it is perhaps not surprising that such sants and mahants have not achieved increased gender equality (2) or upliftment of the poor and discriminated against.

Having said this, there are those who didn;'t give a damn about any contract! It is vital that we recognise the internal diversity of samprdayas. Among these three some are the highly intellectual scholars, products of such intense training (something I have not undergone, making me a gnat in comparison), then those less learned but more driven by practical mysticism, and then those who work quietly as sevaks, with a myriad of combinations of the three! Examples of the latter two categories of individuals have had an equal influence as the earlier scholars, Baba Jagta Sahib of the Sewapanthis with his indifference to untouchability, Bhai Adhan Shah and his break from sadhu tradition by making his chelas earn their keep rather than rely on any donations, the Nirmalas who challenged and defeated Brahmin discrimination and elitism at Nasik and Ujjain, the numerous female Udasi and Nirmala sants and mahants. Therefore, a very complicated issue!

(1) As far as I can see the Gurus effectively flattened caste differences, as there is still recorded an awareness of biradari but without being elevated into hierarchical discriminatory structure. A great book on the abiding influence of brahminical efforts to eliminate movements prompting religious and social equality, see Yoginder Sikand's 'Shared Spaces'

(2) Gender issues and samprdayas is likewise complicated with what seems again like no discernable common perspective (apart from among the Sewapanthis who are much smaller historically - although Rabia the female sufi is lauded as a great qalandhar by Bhai Sehaj Ram).

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So in conclusion, what is to be the relationship between modern political doctrine and the Sikh doctrine? To what extent should the political integrate with our affirmed religious and spiritual beliefs? To what extent should we be critical of 'samprdaya history'? (I have read for example of one samprdays views that those with varna qualify as 'surya vans' and those without (mazbhis) are not and therefore are inferior!!!)

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Gurfateh ji!

hello, work has taken up a lot of me lately, but I have been meaning to write.

Let me tackle what I can with what little knowledge I have. Facts are rarely agreed upon, and the inferences therein are always slanted with each commentator’s bias.

Taking that into consideration, I’ll touch light on what I can. Excuse my ignorance, I’ll try not to answer that which I have little or no knowledge of. I certainly agree that topics of this nature should be addressed because if some miracle happens where all the crooks step down due to some unbeknown cause; we need to have some understanding of what guruji envisioned and implemented.

The Politics of the Samprdayas

I've always been troubled by certain questions to do with the samprdayas such as what was their political function in the Sikh kingdom?

My basic question comes down to whether they actually had a political function at all. With guru ji being the ‘sachay padshah’ and different people being commissioned to certain tasks, it would appear to me that those people had autonomy within the boundaries established by guruji. Maybe the approach was one of absolute nimrata and winning over by character until some event or incident required more…maybe I am being idealistic

What was their understanding of the relationship between Sikh doctrine and society?

This boggles my mind up until today. I do believe that guruji re-established dharam, in doing so, people were kept in check on the basic tenet of merit. Some may see the doctrine of a strong character or ethics being solely a judeo-christian paradigm, but I beg to differ. I believe there is a general sense of goodness which is beyond words that people feel, regardless of how emotionally out of tune they are with their selves and others. I think part of the spiritual journey is the understanding that others are a part and parcel of our greater experience and likewise, hence the metaphors of emotions are avidly used by guruji to illustrate the interconnection of life with us being a witness to it. That being said, experience begets experience and that is further consolidated by examples which one can relate to.

What was to be their political outlook?

I think the political outlook was guided by daya..and I believe that the institution which was given the ‘most’ reverence was that of the dharamsal (gurdwara these days); it was a place for everyone to congregrate and interact with each other through seva, etc. I believe darbar sahib exemplified this with their bungay which spanned in functions from comparative religion to musicology to development of ink.

What was their understanding of the nature of society, did it need reform and in what way would it be reformed?

I think and do believe that spirituality, and not this new age crap of hitting cyber-khand 2005 after reaching satlok avastha, determined one’s outlook. We are all pieces of broken glass that need to be polished. When united, we are one and the same, when divided we all chip off differently and express it in how light reflects from each of us. I believe this element of goodness/realization is what many mahapurakhs such as baba jagjit singh ji allude to when referring to the ‘blessing A conferred upon X mahapurash benefited blessing B conferred upon Y mahapurash. This aspect is alluded to in jap sahib ji, from my understanding, when they talk about saints and how they do sift salah, veechar of god…they do it based on experience coupled with sargun manifestations…..it is a state of vismaad and realization in an environment which permeates with that primal resonance (ik oangkar…again my limited understanding of).

Clearly Sikhi preceeding the samprdayas had established a very clear social and political context. Contrary to certain modern scholars understanding of the Sikh tradition, the early Gurus had clear political and social aims. By the time of Guru Amar Das we see the grounding of clearly socio-political authority with the Baoli Sahib, a place of pilgrimage for the increasing sangat which metaphorically establishes a break with time-honoured understanding of the atma cleansing 'ath sath tirathan' and tirath yatra, instead that abiding with the Guru achieves the same and more.

I concur and see the act of doing ishnaan as being a metaphor for us quietening our mind/subduing our ego, going down deep into ourselves, and coming out each time with more and more…each successive pauri brings us towards light…each recitation of jap sahib ji , is akin to more and more internal polishing and removal of ‘ignorance’ (providing this is a time tested tradition).

Countless teachings and stories of Guru Nanak Dev Maharaj challenge exploitation and social inequities. What changes later is that the sangat is moved from social reform to radical guerrilla struggle. I was reading the words of Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatista group in Mexico and was struck by the parralells; a rejection of exploitation of the weak and challenging corrupt authority, and more importantly, a sense of poetic visionary idealism.

I see this stance being there from day one from every action taken by guru nanak (not that I am making him an anachronical khalsa figure….but guru sahib did challenge babar, guru sahib did charcha with the sidhs, guru ji, in the form of angad dev ji and amar das ji battled out their theology in courts as they were challenged by the existing theocracies in areas where Sikhs had settled. Bhai gurdas ji says it best when talking about the ‘nisaani’ of gursikhi…when heated, water boils, otherwise it flows naturally down the terrain…this is the nature of the sikhi, ……simply not at odds with nature, unless ahankar is the guiding force of the manmukh as opposed to the imminent presence of guru in the form of light, scent, feeling, in a gurmukh.

Within the Sikh context this guerrilla uprising seems to have at least a three fold aspect to it as a dharmic-aatmic, political and identity affirming; upholding righteousness within the universe and ourselves, challenging corrupt political rule, and asserting the importance of personal and collective resposibility to social change. Yet what fascinates me is that this side of the Khalsa and Sikhi is played down these days.

I agree and it saddens me. We are all essentially right wing and capitalists in our personal ventures and we don’t see the monetary or status based benefits of work. Hence we are a far fry from understanding the non-volitioned merit of challenging evils.

I'm constantly amazed to encounter sangat who read filth like the daily mail or who vote tory. To me it is just common sense that Sikhi is meant to be in your face anti-exploitation, anti-capitalist, pro social equality, anti-discriminationory, anti elitist. I still cannot understand how anyone could marry Sikh principles with for example working for multi-national corporations engaged in the pursual of economic exploitation of the weak, etc.

Same could be argued against those Sikhs who were entrepreneurial and engaged in horse trading? could it not? Systems of bartering always entailed corruption, would a sikh not be subject to that? I believe that the issue of moh and its relation to who we are in this world does need to be understood by each of us. We are married to our ideals, but the ideals of a not supporting these multinationals goes down the drain when a ‘sikh’ pharmacist sells medicine. Many of the companies which sell medicine have divested their portfolio to support smoking and other such health damaging campaigns. I believe, and this is for N30, that this is the aspect of vedant which is evident in bhagat kabir ji’s baani and the bani of namdev where the inescapable pillar of corruption is what the world is sitting on. if Tsingh is referring to people blindly or purposely turning a blind eye to this element of sikhi is being touched upon, I fully agree with him. We are all generally very self centered and we make excuses for our shortcomings, each person will justify their stance with some skewed logic; if they even care to justify their persuasion.

And in this age of globalisation and internet, of international awareness, that with this wonderful doctrine all we do is gaze at our collective ass in niggly panthic quibbles while the weakest and poorest across the world continue to get shafted!

I agree, but this is the sad part….sikhi is about stages of spirituality and all this other stuff now, and people use this focus as a means to escape the outer world. Not everyone is blessed with kirpa and grace to actually go into the world and stand up against injustice, or do social work at a global level. We are not all meant to be examples, regardless of how we strive.

Personally, I find sikhi is very self based in its approach. John F kennedy echoed much later, what I believed the guru’s exemplified earlier, by saying “ it is not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” couple this with the beginning of “about a boy”’s opening epiphany of “every man is an island” and you have the puzzle figured out. We work on cleansing our selves, polishing our own mirrors so that we became ambassadors to the world around us and observers to our world within…we reflect that ‘essence’ (naam) in how we live…and in living and staying within that hukam we become examples for all. Guru sahib ji’s excellence lies in institutionalizing truth and establishing a court for the most cultured and down to earth enivornment of gurmat sangeet/katha veechar. Pink floyd had it right about us being “another brick in the wall”, but guru ji made us into a perfumed garden where each flower emanates its own vibrance through different attributes. This is what I believe that sikhi entails. We were and are meant to be the scene in “the last samurai” where our actions are us and that is rooted in focus. The difference is that ego and basic principle is not our dam, but rather part of the tao that is always in motion (oangkar brahma utpat).

For many we've still not even awoken to and broken from the enslaving brahmnical hegemony of jaat (1).

Jaat is an extension of how ego grounds itself in moh. take away jaat-paat and a person only has their karam and neeyat there. We need to apply the bhagats’ wisdom and realize that element is only temporary. But the truth is we can’t because at the end of the day, we’ll look better in people’s eyes if we have some inherent birthright claim to status….

Now to the era of the samprdayas. For three of the four, their general focus became more and more metaphysical/adhyatamic as time went on. Although there is an interesting debate about the nature of the early Nirmalay, later a Nirmala for example would be (and some still are) selected and sent to Kashi for a gruelling 6 to 10 years of sanskrit education in the darshanas, the shastras and spiritual development through personal experiential guidance. Within the 19th century such Nirmalas and Udasis are writing about politics and society; Pandit Bhup Singh's Sudharam Marg Granth, Sadhu Amir Das Udasi's poetic work on Maharaj Sher Singh, Kavi Santokh Singh and Gyani Gyan Singh, etc. Such works seem to reinforce the social status quo to a degree.

Ji, I do not have the knowledge or background to even comment on this.

Although they emphasise the benevolence of Guru Maharaj in flattening caste differences, there is no instigation for further change, no hint of some social utopia of equality. Why is this?

They say that if a servant spends enough time with the master, they become the master or master-like….or master like-like (like that one bahadur singh ;)). Similarly, within darbari culture which is alluded to by piara singh padam, there is an affinity to guruji’s darbar and a status given to those Sikhs who remain in guruji’s hazoori. I believe that the merit applauded by each person and their respective trade is exemplified in gurbani, it is the fact that the vehicle of enlightment via sangat/sat sang has not and did not reach its full destination. The reason I say this is that if Sikhs imbibed what guru had said then those sakhian of guru sahib saying marry a poor girl etc etc…would not have occurred. The 10 bodily forms of guru sahib took a fair bit of time to establish sustainable change…..but Sikhs are in cham dristi still and brahm dristi is a far cry from becoming reality. I also feel that our mindsets are plagued with such dubidha that we would still find flaws if utopia were to exist (I speak for my own deluded self).

I continue to be sympathetic, that since their primary focus was on mysticism, this coloured their understanding of society and social reform. Mysticism/brahmgyan as being the way to negate society's problems, and that this was their ascribed function as nirmalas and udasis. Furtermore, it seems to me that in a sense their hands were tied. Once educated a Nirmala/Udasi/Sewapanthi either establishes or takes over a dera or akhara on the pretext that they will serve the local community in the realm of spiritual and historical knowledge and education. In return the community make donations for the upkeep of the institution. Yet in this contract any challenge to the social structure of the village, and this contract can be threatened.

Ji, my sentiments echo your facts, and faintly at that as I can not do any more justice to what you have presented.

I know of Nirmalas who have been forced to leave a village purely for engaging in party politics or because the panchayat took a disliking to them! Thus it is perhaps not surprising that such sants and mahants have not achieved increased gender equality (2) or upliftment of the poor and discriminated against.

Having said this, there are those who didn;'t give a damn about any contract! It is vital that we recognise the internal diversity of samprdayas. Among these three some are the highly intellectual scholars, products of such intense training (something I have not undergone, making me a gnat in comparison), then those less learned but more driven by practical mysticism, and then those who work quietly as sevaks, with a myriad of combinations of the three! Examples of the latter two categories of individuals have had an equal influence as the earlier scholars, Baba Jagta Sahib of the Sewapanthis with his indifference to untouchability, Bhai Adhan Shah and his break from sadhu tradition by making his chelas earn their keep rather than rely on any donations, the Nirmalas who challenged and defeated Brahmin discrimination and elitism at Nasik and Ujjain, the numerous female Udasi and Nirmala sants and mahants. Therefore, a very complicated issue!

Ji, and a moorakh bevkoof like me would need to go to right sources to even be aware of this. The truth is much of it is probably around but we do not choose to critically engage in it, as we find our solace in simply going to god when we need help or want our spiritual buzz to last a little bit longer (again a reference to this nimaana…actually this idiot..being me).

(1) As far as I can see the Gurus effectively flattened caste differences, as there is still recorded an awareness of biradari but without being elevated into hierarchical discriminatory structure. A great book on the abiding influence of brahminical efforts to eliminate movements prompting religious and social equality, see Yoginder Sikand's 'Shared Spaces'

(2) Gender issues and samprdayas is likewise complicated with what seems again like no discernable common perspective (apart from among the Sewapanthis who are much smaller historically - although Rabia the female sufi is lauded as a great qalandhar by Bhai Sehaj Ram).

We must remember that some of the manji’s had women mahantni’s and they established dharam in their own right (I remember reading about this in ten masters by professor puran singh).

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So in conclusion, what is to be the relationship between modern political doctrine and the Sikh doctrine? To what extent should the political integrate with our affirmed religious and spiritual beliefs? To what extent should we be critical of 'samprdaya history'? (I have read for example of one samprdays views that those with varna qualify as 'surya vans' and those without (mazbhis) are not and therefore are inferior!!!)

We are all a byproduct of a greater environment, the greatest environment is that where we are in touch with the eternal imminence…everything else is about how the glass shatters and how the pieces reflect that light….

Again thanks for giving me the opportunity to ramble on. I do not have enough solid facts to back up my ideology as of yet, but I probably can string something together. I’d rather though that the case be a plausible reflection of reality as opposed to a contrived ideal..

Gurfateh ji!

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Commander, sorry, I've taken your advice and broken it into bits more. thanks.

Forward backward, absolutely superb reply Ji! Some of the responses taking a more 'spiritual' angle are very inspiring. You've certainly cleared some of my misgivings. I'll give you my thoughts in response to some of these answers as I read them.

1) there is an important clarfication that I failed to add originally, which is that there is clearly no point approaching Indian society with western european cultural assupmtions such as post-enlightenment ideas on the status of the political and religious. Instead there is an integration or perhaps more holistic approach. You get the same in orthodox christian countries and no doubt Islamic nations too. Although there are many benefits to such things, there are also problems such as the influence of colletive historical narratives (dare I say metanarratives!) defining modern religious, social and political identity. For example, during the Serbian-Bosnian conflict the orthodox church played a vital role since the ideal serbian nationalist was a christian crusader who killed the 'evil' muslim back in the 11th century (details are grey, don't quote me on dates). i.e. Serbs were living out the 11th century in their heads. Such things are assumed not to be as possible in western europe because of cultural history since...although looking at recent events, I'm not so sure!

2) with the political role, as soon as someone holds some form of authority over another, there are social political consequences. Recent Indian history with the attempted saffronisation by the BJP-VHP did not so much politicise swamis and sadhus as give them a bigger platform. Whatever their views such sadhus and organisations were being pushed to give opinions on issues that were clearly highly politicised and sectarian in nature, e.g. Ayudhya Ram Mandir. We see a similar thing with the Sant Samaj. The question then arises, do I want Sant Babas (by name or by nature) influencing socio-political decision making? Does Vedanti have the right to try to influence Canadian Sikh politicians on whether homosexual marriage should be allowed? On what religious grounds did he make such a proclamation?

Now to my mind, some of the members of samprdayas at the height of their influence found themselves in a similar predicament which was that they had to make decisions about social issues and society at large. This taps into the other issue you raised about Vedanta. Would you ask a gardener how to fix your car? Hopefully not (you should be walking or cycling anyway hehe). Likewise should I ask a sadhu in the truest sense of the word about sexual politics, householder issues, social roles, etc? I personally think not.

This is where Vedant comes in, with a strongly advaitist perspective such issues are illusory from the perspective of 'vidya', as are physical and psychological pain and suffering. Thats very easy to say! Sikhi is far more concerned inherently about the reality of human existence within the social context, not about the isolated introspective path of pure advait vedant. Now there are less absolutist forms of Vedant and Sikhi is clearly a distinct form of this philosophy. One thing that should however be noted about Advait Vedanta even, is that as a prerequisite the initiate has to be already upholding the practical tennets of rejecting material attachment and the rejection of the psychological weaknesses. Likewise Sikhi is the same, such principles cannot begin to root within before the outside is controlled.

This ties back into the age-old debate (at least in my head) of morality and mysticism. Swami Agehananda who I really respect states there is no link. Someone can have brahmgyan while being a pretty immoral person. e.g. Osho who people love to take inspiration from, but who clearly was an exploitative voyeuristic perverted egomaniac! hehe.

3) On the issue of occupations at the times of the Gurus; the stipulation of daswandh, the incorporation of dyaa and dharamic principles into practical living and the attention given to the detrimental effects of moh on our spiritual development all provide a means to engage in economics

without any form of exploitation.

However, things have changed. The context is now different. A corporation which is instituted inherently to make as much money, as quickly as possible, with least overheads and no accountability is quite at odds with what were traditional livelihoods.

As is pointed out in the incredible documentary 'The Corporation', and by the likes of Nobel winning economist E.F Schumacker back when in his book 'Small is Beautiful', these economic models cannot continue. They are inherently unethical and in the long term unsustainable. This prompts EF Schumacker to write a chapter entitled 'Buddhist Economics' (reference to which I found recently on one of those brilliant Bhagat Puran Singh recycled printed manifestos you get outside of Sri Darbar Sahib). This chapter provides an alternative approach to economics, clearly at odds with present capitalism.

I feel it is the duty of a Sikh to recognise the same and to implement it. In our history we have Sikhs giving their lives for the protection of the weak, for the cause of truth and honour. In this day and age, the same threats exist within our own choices as to whether we buy into or reject these faceless forms of enslavement and exploitation. A bit like the matrix, we uphold such things unknowingly in the smallest of seemingly irrelevant decisions such as getting to and from work, buying food, eating out.

I love the story about Bhagat Puran Singh being given an honour by someone important in Delhi and he was absolutely flipping furious about it, mainly because he was forced to get on a damned train! Thats such a brilliant mindset!

Perhaps we could get someone knowledgable on economics like Sardar Moderator Singh to talk on these issues?

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  • 4 years later...

excellent read. lot of the points made make sense.

do we see a form of environmentalism being promoted by Bhagat Puran Singh and such sikhs?

regarding use of economics there's other principles too. staunchly martial singhs would refuse to pay taxes to mughal regime due to oppression. in fact, even plundering their wealth (gained by bleeding the poor) was encouraged.. an early form of Robin Hood economics redistributing that income back to the poor.

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regarding use of economics there's other principles too. staunchly martial singhs would refuse to pay taxes to mughal regime due to oppression. in fact, even plundering their wealth (gained by bleeding the poor) was encouraged.. an early form of Robin Hood economics redistributing that income back to the poor.

Whilst I agree that institutes like langar did indeed provide sustenance for the poor, sadly within century of the initial formation of the Khalsa, it's vehicle like nature for uplifting those oppressed at the lowest rungs of society seems to have waned. People quickly drew back on former hierarchies as well as developing new ones. Leading to the current situation where so called Sikh 'low castes' are on the receiving end of much supercilious attitudes and behaviour - leading to all manner of reactions, from rejecting the faith to increased insularity within the panth. If I ask the question of whether we have achieved an egalitarian, flatter society based on meritocracy - the answer has to be no. Today our own society plays its part in oppressing those at the most vulnerable end of our panth.

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What is interesting to note is that, intitially, Sikhi was a dynamic faith that adopted its institutions with the changes in the sorrounding society. Here we see that, for instance, the Guru-established institution of the Masands was abolished by a later Guru since the original purpose was not fulfilled anymore. In light of this, and other such examples, we can see that the purpose of the established institutions was to fulfil a need in society, and when that need was not fulfilled, it was possible to change this institution or implement a new institution.

In current times Sikhs have changed their perspective on caste discrimination since the times of the Gurus. People no longer have any problem with eating with people from other castes, the only problem is seen in marriage etc. For this reason one can conclude that the original purpose of the langar hall is not meet anymore and this begs the question: Is the langar institution out dated? Should there be changes? I personally think that the institution of langar halls in western gurdwaras is a waste of money and has no purpose at all. In India langar is still used to feed the poor so there is a basic need that is fulfilled here. What Sikhi needs today is institutions and practices that counters our problems today.. I dont think we should hold on to things just because our Gurus created them,- this is to idolize them and look beyond their original purpose.

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In light of this, and other such examples, we can see that the purpose of the established institutions was to fulfil a need in society, and when that need was not fulfilled, it was possible to change this institution or implement a new institution.

Interesting point about dynamism in Sikh organisation during our Guru's time. You probably know however, that the mere mention of any significant change would almost certainly result in a shrill clarion call against the suggester most likely involving accusations of blasphemy and some insidious agenda involving the RSS.....

The greatest tool for control of our people is the manipulation/mobilisation of age old esteemed institutes. It's true that some people do voice this concern in private conversations, esp. that Badal controls the Akal Takhat, but actually challenging, winning and creating an alternative platform is no mean task. Sikhs will resist any dramatic change: 1) due to a feeling of loyalty and uncertainty about change- call it conservatism, 2) due to the actions of those already entrenched enjoying a privileged position in the current set up. People have to think twice about trying to realise dramatic change too, as they can lead to even more serious fissures and internal conflicts as the langar hall chairs and table issue clearly highlights.

In current times Sikhs have changed their perspective on caste discrimination since the times of the Gurus. People no longer have any problem with eating with people from other castes, the only problem is seen in marriage etc. For this reason one can conclude that the original purpose of the langar hall is not meet anymore and this begs the question: Is the langar institution out dated? Should there be changes? I personally think that the institution of langar halls in western gurdwaras is a waste of money and has no purpose at all. In India langar is still used to feed the poor so there is a basic need that is fulfilled here. What Sikhi needs today is institutions and practices that counters our problems today.. I dont think we should hold on to things just because our Gurus created them,- this is to idolize them and look beyond their original purpose.

I don't know, a Gurdwara I go to still serves langar (on a daily basis) to people who are economically challenged by virtue of being freshies struggling to find work. I notice a lot of other nonPanjabi immigrants frequent the Gurdwara and take langar these days too. Okay, so these people aren't exactly starving but still, langar does help them stay afloat so I'd say it still does serve a function of helping out those in need. But I have heard some people comment about the tendency for some Gurdwaras to host what seems to be 'lavish banquets' for langar and the suitability of this. I've never witnessed this myself mind you.

I don't see any problem with holding onto things our Gurus instigated. Actually I think it is important we do. What I do find disappointing however is how we just fail to implement the inherent principles or ideas behind these institutes into, not only wider Sikh society, but society as a whole. It's great that we've kept things going but we need more - we need to elaborate on (ਵਿਸਤਾਰ) and develop these ideas into our daily practices, culture and the very fabric of our society instead of reducing them down to symbolism.

PS - From what one hears regarding practice in villages these days, people don't even want to share crematoriums with 'lower castes' let alone a meal.. So I wouldn't get too cosy with the idea that things are now dandy regarding jaat paat amongst us.

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