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Sikhism The World According To Sikhi by I. J. Singh

Discussion in 'Book Reviews & Editorials' started by Laurie Bolger, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. Laurie Bolger

    Laurie Bolger
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    Dear Aman Singh Ji,

    Sat Sri Akal.

    I.J. Singh gave me his newest book, The World According to Sikhi, to review, and recommended that I send the review to you. Please find it below.

    I would be genuinely appreciative if you would consider posting it on Sikh Philosophy. I believe your readers would find it of interest.

    As you may remember, I.J. Singh and I coauthored the joint review of Hew McLeod's Historical Dictionary of Sikhism.

    Sincere Thanks,

    Laurie Bolger

    by I. J. Singh
    Published by The Centennial Foundation, Ontario, Canada, 2006
    ISBN 1-894232-11-9
    xvi + 170 pages $15.95

    Reviewed by: Laurie Bolger*

    The World According to Sikhi, a collection of twenty-five essays, marks the latest milestone on the journey I. J. Singh began in his immensely popular three earlier works.

    Like its three predecessors, The World According to Sikhi is not a catechism about who Sikhs are, and what they believe or practice. Instead, Sikhi is revealed as a vibrant path of multifaceted meaning and universal, timeless relevance. This book covers the gamut of Sikh experience -- from our identity in the diaspora and how the foundations of the faith continue to influence its followers today, to the ethical framework Sikhi provides for a useful, productive life.

    Throughout the book runs the thread common to the personal journey of every serious spiritual seeker. The word “Sikh” implies being a continual student, and the essays mark the signposts along the way. It is a seemingly inverse path, progressing from being a Sikh simply by accident of birth, to becoming a Sikh. A committed practitioner of Sikhi strives to penetrate the meanings of the eternal teachings of the faith and formulate a personal response that incorporates them into all aspects of everyday life. These essays are a cogent roadmap of the process whereby the journey becomes the destination, that is, as in all spiritual quests, uniquely one’s own.

    The World According to Sikhi invites the reader to share in the joyous celebration of the inner life of the mind. The first essay, “Guru Granth: Major Currents in the Sikh Scripture,” explores the heightened concept of the “Word.” Guru Granth, the eternal, living Guru of the Sikhs, speaks not only of the written or spoken Word, but also of the unspoken word, anhad, to which “the inner self vibrates and resonates such that the mind becomes part of divine connectivity.” The Word becomes God only when a Sikh reads it and adopts it, such that the universal and timeless values of Guru Granth provide an ethical compass for an examined life, one of introspection and self-awareness.

    Because Guru Granth must be discussed and debated to remain vibrant and alive, Sikhs need to cultivate the habit of vicchar, or critical thinking and thoughtful analysis. Several of what are, in my admittedly-biased opinion as a librarian, Dr. Singh’s most satisfying essays, such as “The Shelf Life of a Book” and “Get Me Out of the Well,” bemoan the lack of meaningful books in Sikh homes and gurdwaras. He chides Sikhs for being resistant to “books that are the repository of the Gurus’ ideas and teachings” and for not developing a love of reading that would allow them to fully discover the Guru in the Word, or Shabd, of Guru Granth.

    A Sikh’s life, however, is certainly not only of solitary introspection. Sikhi clearly recognizes the need for a community, or sangat, of stimulating minds on the spiritual journey of self-exploration. As I.J. Singh reminds us in “The Company to Keep,” sangat can become the beginning of both “a personal transformation and a communal conversation.” In a sangat united in common purpose and prayer, a Sikh may truly commune with the Divine. It took over two hundred years for this concept of a spiritually awakened, egalitarian community to fully evolve. In “The Nature of Dialogue,” I.J. Singh discusses how the progressive teaching style of Guru Nanak -- dialogue, discussion and debate -- led to the development of sangat, which matured into the concept of self-governance when Guru Gobind Singh instituted the Khalsa in 1699. After initiating his first five followers, and himself accepting initiation from their hands, there was “no distinction left between the Master and the Sikh.”

    But while embracing the egalitarian message of Sikhi, Sikhs also “kept close to their hearts their timeless feudal roots.” How does the music of the universal message that is Sikhi play in the multi-cultural setting of the diaspora? What should Sikhs who live far from their traditional homeland make of their Punjab-based institutions? I.J. Singh explores the changing nature of these institutions, points a finger directly at the “feudal Indian society where authority flows from the top down,” along with “unfiltered transfer” of its values to the Sikh diaspora, and exposes the “virtual state of internal dissension and civil war” that exists in most gurdwaras.

    However, he optimistically dissuades us from the belief that Sikhi is becoming hopelessly mired in stagnation and decay. As he explains in “The Journey and the Destination,” Sikhi can remain vibrant and relevant if its traditions and teachings continue to provide “a framework of ethics through which we can measure and negotiate our way through life.” We need to reinterpret our faith “in the language and the context of the times in which we live,” he argues, such that the legacy of the Gurus remains eternal and timeless.

    The application of eternal Sikh values to some of today’s dilemmas are highlighted in a series of timely essays towards the end of this book. “The Many Ways of Mating” and “Same-Sex Unions” discuss how traditional Indian society comes to grips with modern love, both heterosexual and homosexual, and how Sikh humanitarian perspective can be a useful tool for exploring the controversial issue of gay and lesbian marriage.

    “Tracking Evolution and Intelligent Design,” acknowledges how vicchar, an integral component of being a Sikh, can illuminate this complex matter in the light of Sikh teachings. Guru Nanak’s views of the creation of the universe are shown to be amazingly modern and totally in consonance with present-day scientific theories.

    In “Some Wars are Just,” I.J. Singh starts with the ideas of Thomas Aquinas that have shaped western thinking on what constitutes just war, and explores the Sikh perspective on how to distinguish revenge from justice, while tempering an uncompromising sense of justice with mercy. Sikhs must remain armed, or shastardhari, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, as well as physically, if they are to fight not only when war is inevitable, but every day on “the battlefield of the mind.”

    I.J. Singh returns to this inner world in his last essay, “Festina Lente,” which discusses the idea of sehaj, a centered mind that is so fundamental to Sikh thinking. “Hasten slowly,” the title of this essay counsels us. Approaching life with equipoise and a sense of humility elevates our productivity, replacing our obsessive concerns with an awareness of the Infinite within us. This lesson is the last, but certainly not the least, of the timeless concepts of the Sikh Path that The World According to Sikhi illuminates for the spiritual seeker who journeys through its pages.

    There are, admittedly, a few bumps along the journey that prevent it from being one of unmitigated bliss. While this book is of undeniable interest and appeal to a wide audience of all religious persuasions, some topics may require more explanation for a non-Sikh.

    An innovative feature of all the essays in this book is that each ends with a powerfully impressive last sentence or two. These phrases reminded me of the rahao line that focuses on the main idea of a shabd.They might have been even more effective had each been connected to a central citation of Gurbani tied to the theme of the essay.

    Several essays refer to the growing presence of non-Punjabi Sikhs; unfortunately, these mentions are far too few and scattered, and need to be pulled together in a cohesive way. I would urge I.J. Singh, who speaks so cogently about Sikh life in the diaspora throughout the book, to produce some essays spotlighting these “forgotten” Sikhs.

    Topics such as sexism and casteism that, contrary to the teachings of the Gurus, continue to infest Sikh cultural practices, deserve more in-depth coverage. I would like to see I.J. Singh focus on these significant realities of Sikh life in essays that might spur readers to much-needed remedial action.

    These caveats aside, this book is an extraordinary collection of writings. In his Preface, I.J. Singh tells us, “Essentially, we experience the world outside in terms of the universe within ourselves ... To see and nurture this connection between the universe within and the world outside remains to me the key to understanding Sikhi. How to explore it, how best to describe the process is the very ambitious goal of these essays.” In my opinion, Dr. Singh has admirably achieved his objective.

    As in his three previous works, which have all enjoyed enormous, well-deserved success, all the essays that form this latest book are immensely insightful and engaging, done in an articulate and accessible style that is full of trenchant commentary and a genuinely delightful brand of dry, subtle wit.

    His writings strike the perfect balance between presenting material that anyone, regardless of background, can readily identify with, and making one’s mind stretch effortlessly, to accommodate new ideas and ways of thinking.

    One gentle word of warning is in order, however. These essays are easy to read, and often quite amusing. Yet they are anything but superficial, and taking them lightly will only shortchange the reader. Their multiple layers of meaning are like a Matryoshka, the Russian wooden doll with numerous nested components hidden within it.

    I.J. Singh’s latest book warmly welcomes you like a treasured friend, and also extends to you an irresistible invitation to return again and again. Indeed, The World According to Sikhi deserves prolonged and repeated reflection, real vicchar. But isn’t that exactly what Sikhi is truly all about!

    *Conservation Librarian, University Club Library, New York, NY
    E-mail: lbolger@nyc.rr.com
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  3. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jul 4, 2004
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    Although I havent read this latest book, I am well aware of IJ Singh Jis writings that appear frequently on the Internet and on various Online Forums. He is one of my favourite authors because he has the uncanny knack of calling a spade a spade in such a forceful yet soft manner. It is impossible to get offended, ruffled feathers or get ones toes stepped on by IJ Singh although thats exactly what he intends...imho toes got to be stepped on, feathers got to be ruffled in order to tell the truth as it must be told -But IJ has the perfect way to do this and he does it so well. In the World of Sikhi according to the sants and derawadees..an "academic" is almost a dirty word...an academic is considered a dry sikh at best..with no "naam kamaii..no spiritual strength..no "brahmgyaan"..no round trubans and no big cholas. So an "academic" is summarily dismissed...as "dry"..educated but with no substance..and worse may be called names like "missionary"..or even worse.."communist..atheist..etc etc. Thus we find even Great Scholars like Prof sahib Singh who wrote the SGGS darpan also being labelled as dry academic with no Brahmgyaan..no antreev Bhav sense of Gurbani (which each and every uneducated illiterate "sant baba" is deemed to have automatically as Education/literacy is not importnat at all in the brahmgyaan/antreev bhaav equation ..which means no snat baba has ever written even a four page pamphlet - let alone a book - about Sikhi..Gurbani Vichaar..Gurbani's teachings etc. Their Dera Chelas will invariably write volumes about the miraculous happenings and tall tales but Nothing anout Gurmatt/Gurbani simply becasue they have none of that. Unfortunately a vast number of Sikhs follow these Babas..the modern writings of people like IJ Singh dont appeal to them simply becasue they have been mind conditioned to ignore non-Babas.
    But to the Modern Educated Sikhs of the New Generation, IJ Singh,Late Dr Baldev Singh Late Daljeet Singh, Gajindra Singh etc etc have great appeal because they address issues that we face in real life as SIKHS.
    Issues like the widespread cancer of CASTE (Zaat Paat such bhitt etc etc) are not addressed by the Religious Sants and Babas - in fact these issues are much propagated by the derawadees throughout their deras.Thus it remains for authors like IJ Singh to address them and draw them out into the open for widepsread discussion, vichaar and hopeful elimination in the coming generations as our Gurus intended all along. IJ Singh has the guts to catch the bull by the horns - a most sikh like trait - Sach Sunaisee see Sach ki Bela.
    I hope to get my hands on this latest book asap..and I am sure i will enjoy it thoroughly before i write my further thoughts on this matter..as they say auleh da khatha swaad baad wich...so is the same with IJ Singh jis essays...:D
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  4. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    1947-2014 (Archived)
    SPNer Supporter

    Jun 17, 2004
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    Lorie Bolger ji

    Thank you once again for a very comprehensive review of a very meaningful and reflective work by IJ Singh. IJ Singh has illustrated the depth and breadth of Sikhism's import on the modern consciousness many times in so many books and articles. By doing that he and his books have become for people like me one of the "important stops on the Journey" when a deeper, modern and relevant approach to Sikhi and Sikhism is needed.

    I always look about for an equivalent to the long tradition of teachers who can clear a mystery in the sacred text with a phrase or a sentence or 10 paragraphs, or by holding up a pure red rose, or by making us laugh. Such a tradition of teachers is so honorable and honored in Buddhism. Where is it in Sikhism?

    That kind of teaching can be found in the work of IJ Singh. Your important contribution has always been to usher awareness of his work to us through your wonderful reviews of his work. I am still awestruck by your review on the "Subjective Presence of the Beautiful" which you posted on Sikh Philosophy Network a long while back. A copy of that review sits on my computer desktop as a cyber-sticky -- where it provides the ideas for spontaneous recovery when the riverbed of literary intelligence of the Divine in my world goes dry.

    Here at SPN we are celebrating 10,000 members and 5 1/2 years of life. The ending days of this month are the anniversary of great suffering by Sikhs in 1984 and then again in 1986. We have been helped to emerge from our personal prisons by Guru Hargobind ji once more on Bandi Chorr only a few days ago. In one more day it will be Guru Nanak's birthday -- a day in the history of liberation for anyone who will hear his message and take it to heart. Thank you for posting your review of a new book by IJ Singh, at such a time when our hearts are filled by the meaning of these events. At a time when we can use a homily that pulls together the threads of our memory, and makes meaning for us.

    Fateh ji!
    Narayanjot Kaur
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