Saturday, November 12, 2011

‘Order of the Khalsa’

In a recent article, I had referred to the Khalsa form being the ‘finished product’ of the Sikh movement and to the ‘Order of the Khalsa.’ This article was published in the online publication The Sikh Bulletin, edited by Hardev Singh from California. Sardar Jarnail Singh, one of his readers presumably from Australia, asked the editor to get me to explain the terms. I was not able to respond with the efficiency demanded by the ‘cannot wait Sardar’ and was reluctant to get into arguments with him or anybody else as a lot of time is wasted in the exercise which eventually gets nowhere. So on account of my personal prejudices, the editor had to face a measure of embarrassment. I have thought over the matter and would like to state my point of view with apologies to both Jarnail Singh ji and Hardev Singh ji. Before doing that, however, I want to make it clear that I am a leader of no group of people and I do not have the ambition to influence people’s thought processes. I study to lessen my own ignorance and write to educate myself. I publish sometimes to share my thought with others in the hope that someone will suggest a better point of view. I have never even dreamt of imposing my point of view on anybody. The above is my ‘complete’ rationale for not wanting to get into an argument. The only fact that I am hiding in the above explanation is that I am also lazy and would love a situation in which I can avoid working by simply ignoring the compulsion to work.
I do not subscribe to the view that the idea of Sikhi evolved from one Guru to another. I do not also believe that one Guru was different from the other except in mundane human form and the time span of their existence in the world. The Sikhi they preached is the product of Gurbani which is a word of Akalpurakh. It did not evolve but came as a whole, self contained and complete in everyway, right in the beginning – regardless of what the theory of evolution may have to say on the subject. The proof that it is ‘aad pooran, madh pooran, ant pooran’ like the Akalpurakh it emanates from, is present in the bani of Nanak which has come down to us to this day without a comma or a full-stop being changed in the last five centuries. Anyone who knows elementary Punjabi can read the entire programme of the Sikh movement in the revelation made by Guru Nanak. He will certainly notice that the successor Gurus merely elaborated, propounded and put into practise what had been written by him. That is my observation.
Nevertheless, Guru Nanak did not announce the conclusion of his preaching with the closing of his personal ministry. He called himself ‘guru’ that is a teacher, a person who destroys ignorance, and knew full well the obligations that go with the title. He had firstly to educate those who accepted his guidance so that they could understand the ideal he was preaching. Then he had to carefully monitor their initial steps in the journey towards the ideal. He had to hold their hands until they were brought nearest to the final goal. The last lap, of course is, individual effort. Then he had to be there all the time for the guidance of the people. He also had to leave behind a society firmly believing itself to be the custodian of the truth he was preaching. He knew that all that was not possible in one lifetime. Knowing that one lifetime was not sufficient for the purpose, and knowing that moulding the psyche and thought processes of an entirely new nation is a long drawn-out process, he provided most successfully in all human history, for the extension of his natural lifespan by decreeing not merely a successor but a whole line of successors. The most remarkable aspect of which was that his nominee and his nominees succeeded him not only simply as successors, but as Nanak’s very own self – ‘the limb of my limb, the flesh of my flesh and the spirit of my spirit’ as he called Lehna on appointing him as second Nanak.
From the very beginning, Guru’s ideal was the Khalsa. But just as a pupil passes through stages of learning and slowly crosses over from one class to another, from one stage of knowledge to a higher one, so his Sikhs were to graduate to the Khalsa status. The mission that Nanak (in his ten forms) had undertaken required him to slowly lead humans to perfection – a stupendous task by any reckoning.
We need to realise that the journey of transformation did not start with the finished product but with the raw human material. It was very crudely raw material at that. In a land and a mentality enslaved for a millennium nothing better could have been expected. His material consisted of a people who had accepted their fate of being no more than the despicable doormats for the conquerors. This is brought out in the by the symbolism of Kauda, of Kaaroon, of Malik Bhago, Sajjan the thug, the magicians of Kaamroop and so on. The reality was far more miserable. The Guru did not finish the job with a magic wand. He imparted to humans an idea of liberated person – a jiwan mukta and provided many steps to the ladder, as for instance in his rightly celebrated Japuji, so to ensure that humans could steadily ascend to proximate the ideal. The journey was understandably torturous as the change was phenomenal. To accomplish the change required a superhuman effort. To understand the process, the discipline (naam) truly required the faith that could move mountains and the proverbial patience of trees (rukhan di jeerand). The Guru himself likened it to transforming ‘ghosts and demons into gods’ (pasu prethu dev karai). The stages through which the ascent took place are known to us in history. They were – sahlang, satsangi, naamdharik sikh, giani (for instance Partapmal), gursikh, brahamgyiani and so on, until the Baisakhi day of 1699, when the same Nanak literally unveiled (drew out from a tented enclosure) the human of his dreams. A common surname, Singh, was prescribed for the first five and all those who came after them. It was the festival of harvesting the ripened conscience of humankind. It was the celestial celebration of the human spirit that had lifted itself to rival the loftiness of mountains. It was the tempering of the steel that was ever to protect the humblest of His creation, the most defenceless and the weakest of all beings.
It is in this context that I call the Khalsa the ‘finished product of the Sikh movement.’ Since the Khalsa was also to be the Guru (under the strict guidance of the Guru Granth), the most compassionate Nanak wove him into an institutional framework – the Order of the Khalsa. It was to constitute the panth by organising the right minded, the most enlightened men and women in seeking implementation of the Will of Akalpurakh for the betterment of His creation. It was an institution that was to function for ever and ever. It is to provide an alternate model to the concept of State and a new basis for social organisation.
I adopted the phrases because these succinctly sum up the concepts that arise in my mind on reading details of the processes adopted by the Guru and the end result sought by him. Terms ‘Order of the Khalsa’ and ‘the finished product’ have been used by the most knowledgeable Sirdar Kapur Singh, who was also a distinguished member of the Order. A reader wanting to familiarise himself with his perception of it may go to his erudite exposition in his Prasharprashna. Some western scholars, for instance, Noel Q. King, have also used either one or both of these terms. As far as I am concerned, I have tried to make myself as plain as is possible for me in the present stage of self-understanding.