The World According to Sikhi

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By I. J. Singh
Published by the Centennial Foundation

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In his fourth volume of collected essays, I.J. Singh, professor of anatomy at New York University, offers the reader “a plate full of ideas and opinions about Sikhs and Sikhi.” Singh’s vision of Sikhi is of an ethical framework used to guide Sikhs’ lives and decisions as adherents of a “thinking person’s religion” as opposed to presenting a rigid and unchanging set of practices and dogma fenced in by the suffix “ism.” The author’s aim is to open up dialogue on a number of contemporary issues–within Sikh circles as well as in the larger Western world–in order to spark new thinking on issues ranging from overcoming the generation gap to the Nanavati report to same-sex unions and evolution.

Following is an excerpt of a review by Ravinder Singh Taneja:

. . . The World According to Sikhi . . . marks a milestone in Dr. Singh’s personal quest. Since the publication of his first book, Sikhs and Sikhism: A View with a Bias, in 1994, he has been sketching a map of his spiritual journey into the “mysteries and reality of Sikhism”. The visible bias of an “ordinary Sikh” in the first book gave way to a sense of pilgrimage in The Sikh Way: A Pilgrims Progress. In the subsequent Being and Becoming a Sikh, one could discern that the pilgrimage was not to a specific location but was really a spiritual quest, where the journey was the destination. With this book, Dr. Singh returns to a theme that is at once perennial and modern.

Spiritual journeys are never ending, and rarely progress in a straight line. They are more like meanderings; or rather, like a downward spiral into the core of one’s being that bring us back to the same spot again and again only to reveal a deeper shade and meaning of the Truth that is always present. At some level, the Truth is already homogenized in us, much like butter in milk and flint in wood; the implicit knowledge of our connection to the Universe around is embedded in us; it takes constant “churning” to bring it forth.

Not surprisingly, the 25 essays in The World According to Sikhi are variations on a single theme, namely, Sikhism or Sikhi (depending on your preference) and how its music plays in our lives. Following his own recommendation in the essay “The Journey and the Destination”, Dr. Singh re-examines the basic tenets of Sikhi in light of contemporary issues and how they impinge upon our lives. As he examines the Sikh landscape for answers, we find ourselves returning to the same spot, only to see things anew. . . .

The last essay is captioned “Festina Lente,” a Latin phrase that is usually translated as “make haste slowly”. Interestingly, the paradoxical quality of this term is exemplified by the word Sehaj in Gurbani. Sehaj is used to point to a desired approach or attitude of a “centered mind focused on the task at hand”; it also signifies the ultimate state of spiritual equipoise. Sehaj, is a by product of living in Hukam and Nadar, two fundamental concepts in Sikh teaching that are not easy to explain or grasp.

Hukam (loosely translated as “order” or “edict”) requires that we live and rejoice in the Will of God even if it cannot be fully comprehended. What this means is that we come to terms with our inherent limitations as humans while continuing to live boldly and purposefully, exercising whatever free will we have. Nadar (grace) is a logical concomitant to living in Hukam. Nadar is a blessing that gives us an awareness of the “universal connectivity” that binds us all together. A life lived in Hukam and filled with Nadar is a life of Sehaj.

These essays are not to be read with a view to getting final answers or prescriptions and possession of the Truth. This book–like Dr. Singh’s previous ones–is a kind of spiritual or philosophical sing-along for those who are also engaged in their own spiritual quest and are ready to ask uncomfortable questions and explore uncharted territory.

Questing is to question and questions are the measure of a man. As you ask, so you become. It is not important that we find answers to perennial questions; it is important that we keep the questions alive. The value of Dr. Singh’s writings is precisely that he keeps the questions alive.

A review of The World According to Sikhi by Laurie Bolger is available from the Sikh Times website.

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