Stop putting India down…..(An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen, review Despite its much-vaunted economic success, India is still held back by poverty, argues Alex von Tunzelmann)

I haven’t read the book reviewed by von Tunzelmann. My views emerge from a reading of the review itself, and my arguments are those of a person brought up, and living, in England for the past five decades. My psyche is English. But I have the advantage too of natural attunement to my ancestral genetics and to (north, rather than south) Indianism.

I articulate Englishness with an internal Indian eye.

European writers, well-intentioned and cognisant of warding off accusations of ignorance about India, sometimes have an Indian in tow. Indian writers, meanwhile, lack the English quality of giving offence, and are unable to confront the master race’s value-laden discourse – and self-congratulatory tone – about the imperative of material advancement while conveniently forgetting about the psychopathic annihilation of indigenous peoples and their cultures, and the subjugation of those who escaped genocide or who were enslaved.

This unsavoury and despotic European past continues at best to be a blind spot in European-self analysis and at worst to incite impatience and anger towards those who will not let go of the past. That whole, ‘I am not responsible for the actions of my forefathers’ thing.

Well, here’s some news for those ‘leave the past in the past’ rhetoricians. The past is very much alive and kicking here in the present. The methods and banner ads may have changed; the labels too: but the global imperative of democracy is just a newly packaged version of what came before (and don’t think that democracy as defined by the west represents the end of history; it’s a catchy word that entails a worthy ideal, but standing alone it does not, cannot, represent the apex of human social-political achievement).

Freedom is another watchword packaged up alongside democracy and farmed out as a global imperative. Arab Springs abound to demonstrate that the non-west wants freedom…oops, wait, did I hear you whisper that actually the Arab Spring isn’t quite so straightforward, and isn’t a revolution in the relationship between politics and society so much as a cyclical dynamic?

Let’s be honest. Nobody is under the illusion that the European psychopathic, bloodletting past has magically disappeared. Freedom, democracy etc – these are just European greed for power by another name. And the non-west meanwhile sits and waits, knowing that for all the democracy and freedom it’s currently being sold, the European bloodletting needs only the flimsiest of excuses to be unleashed.

Psychopathy does not beget sainthood. And when it sets out to value another culture, it doesn’t do so from an emic perspective, but from within the parameters set by its own psychopathic bio-signature. Poor India, that it must be assailed by such gross misunderstanding and incomprehension, that it’s bio-signature, its unique emotional and psychical equations should be sullied by being judged from a psychopathic-steeped perspective.

Defecation in the open? It’s rife in India and much less practiced elsewhere in the world. Thanks von Tunzelmann for this insight, which is implicated in a whole set of assumptions about the civilisational backwardness of defecating in a squatting position in the open air. Far more civilised by far to defecate, and then smudge and paste the stuff all over one’s backside, pull up one’s underpants and go away to eat with the same hand. Funny how defecating in the open comes attached with value-judgements, but we rarely hear – from the time of Naipaul down through the decades – of the hygienic action of washing one’s backside that accompanies this.

And while we’re on the subject, how super-civilisationally advanced it is to contort one’s body into an unnatural position to accomplish the act of defecation – on a  porcelain bowl, no less – whereby the majority of one’s waste remains shored up inside one’s body causing accelerating disease within. Damn those people who defecate in a position that is naturally and most efficiently conducive to eliminating the body’s waste.

I wonder which is the more intelligent culture? Which the more civilisationally advanced? And why, in a test of intelligence, advancement and refinement is the method and means of eliminating body waste a stronger indicator than, say, one’s predilection for waging war and genocide and triggering one race-hate war after another?

We all know the long-held European thing about how the brown stuff is the same colour as the fully-developed skin tone of the non-Europeans. What a bedrock of race-supremacy that in-joke has been and no doubt continues to be.

Right, so we have porcelain bowls to defecate in – let’s forget the eating with the same hand that you clean your backside with, that’s really beside the point. Now, let’s see, what other great wonders of advanced civilisation and consciousness has the rest of the world received from the Europeans? All those original inhabitants of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand who have been near annihilated….

I’m sure anybody who reads the Dreze/Sen book will learn a lot about western superiority, if van Tunzelmann’s review is anything to go by. And they will undoubtedly glory in it in a more befitting manner than the new Chinese Ambassador to the United States recently did, when in his inaugural speech he let slip (?!) that India dominated China for over a thousand years, yet not a single Indian soldier set foot on Chinese territory in all that time. Bit of a slap in the face of European civilisational supremacy…

To return to India and her unique features, it’s a pity that van Tunzelmann’s review didn’t scratch the surface of these beyond the ‘they defecate in the open’ sensationalism (the prevalence of which, by the way, I challenge a current visitor to record in a little notebook as they make their way around the country).

Last year, I revisited India for the first time in three decades. I didn’t find it polarised and mired in contradiction. In fact, I found a template, a model, for others to emulate and value. Here is a country in which sophisticated and tolerant drivers exhibit not an iota of road rage, granting and receiving passage in turn as they negotiate the road system with relish and commonsense and an innate understanding that it is everybody’s right to access and use.

The car horns may blare, the cars themselves may skim through the flimsiest gaps – but to regard these things as dangerous, as somehow uncivilised, is to assess them from a European psychopathic bio-signature perspective, and misses the maturity and negotiation and non-psychotic values that underpin the Indian bio-signature. No floppy-bellied drivers there going red in the face and starting seriously meant middle-finger debates about rights of way.

The shop assistants don’t demand your gratitude that they are on the shopfloor, and shock-horror, there to serve you. The generosity and hospitality of strangers is humbling, reconnecting me to a sense of shame about how much of a clone I am of English rudeness and self-centredness. The deprived smile openheartedly, refuse wads of rupees and accept in their integrity only the token few rupees that will see them through. Nobody seeks bribes, and railway baggage handlers return excessive tips.

So, let’s leave the romantic cynicism beguiled as discreet narrative hysteria, wrapped in selective analysis and centuries-old anecdotes to one side. And let’s focus on the madness that needs amending on this continent before we venture to lecture a mature advanced continent about her sensibilities and sensitivities – the like of which we can frankly never match.

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Social Responsibility

The Beveridge report recommended comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for the prevention and cure of disease. Additionally, consideration was to be paid to the destitute and vulnerable in society. These led to the establishment of a welfare system in the UK by 1948, which fairly copied Bismarck’s blueprint for reform in Germany.

Back in Emperor Ashoka’s time, Aryadesh (India) also laid down plans catering for the lowly and dispossessed. Its population had a moral responsibility to cook enough to share with those less fortunate themselves. To do otherwise was ethically evil, decreasing the collection of positive points that one could use to barter upon one’s death for a more financially, healthy, peaceful, meaningful and self-aware birth next time around.

If today’s western ‘modern’ mind considers such emotional bargaining for an improved future birth to be a load of claptrap, so be it. But there if we step back and examine the actual effects of the Aryadesh peoples moral and ethical responsibility towards the less advantaged, then it is clear that the whole exercise paid dividends. Scholars of Emperor Ashoka maintain that poverty and hunger did not exist in Aryadesh under his rule – a well-fed populace, they argue, suffered concomitantly fewer health concerns.

Why then, if the concept was so beneficial in practice, and the wider repercussions of a well-fed and healthy population able to work meant increased State revenues, did it cease soon after the end of Emperor Ashoka’ dynasty?

The answer lies in cycles. Life, like this planet and its creation, is cyclic. It has a heartbeat. Creation has a heartbeat. The sun has a heartbeat. Earth has a heartbeat. Everything in creation and nature has a heartbeat. That heartbeat is cyclic. But the heartbeat is not identical across all matter. Each heartbeat differs. Each beat of the drum creates a different vibration, and each vibration creates a different slipstream in its wake.

Everything modulates with the touch of each vibration, its resonance rippling out as it interacts with its surroundings. Like a domino effect, everything in creation changes. What it was, is not what it is now. And what it is now will change too under the sway of the forthcoming beat of the drum.

Vedic knowledge, or Hindu mythology, calls this drumbeat Shiva’s Dance. Many of you will have seen the bronze statue of Shiva dancing in Hindu Mandirs and the homes of devotees. Shiva’s Dance represents the heartbeat of creation. The silent aspect of the heartbeat details non-creation. Non-creation is not silent, however. The reverberation of the preceding heartbeat can still be ‘heard’.

Human affairs are cyclic in much the same way. Caring times follow uncaring times. Welfare follows warfare. Everything has its opposite. Duality. Creation and non-creation is duality at work. And in duality, bad walks hand in hand with good.

It is in forgetting this simple truth that humans foment trouble. The powerful manufacture wars in the arrogant belief that they will prevail. Of the many things that human history teaches us, one is that the powerful always instigate one war too many. That war is their downfall. They become the subjugated; while their formerly weak opponents, their formerly enslaved peoples and nations become the lord and master of global events.

The cycle never stops.

Another thing human history teaches us is that of the once-powerful, those who beguiled their citizens into caring for their fellow human and other animals while powerful are respected and looked up to for guidance and instruction after their downfall.

Aryadesh fell from power a long time ago. Its golden age is but a memory. Nevertheless the India of today is still revered globally for its dharmic, moral and ethical behaviour. This respect and reverence derives from the age of Emperor Ashoka and his law calling upon Aryadesh’s citizens to care in whatever way necessary for those less advantaged than themselves.

Again, the modern western mind from its wonderful position of privilege can assail all of this as claptrap. But without the advantage of the machines they have created to replace human work, would any other civilisation bother to consider the western lifestyle and life pattern worth as one worth emulating? No, it wouldn’t; because other than creating mechanical means to ease the human burden of labour, the western consciousness has added what to human consciousness? Precisely nothing.

Even the welfare system announced and set up in the middle of the last century, with the usual chest-puffed-out bulldog mentality of the English, is being broken apart. It was set up without the powers-that-be realising that they were extending a programme of welfare to a psychically ill people wrapped in negative consciousness, and that the system would end up eking out a miserable existence, defined by extending aid to a number of adults who’ve never worked a day in their lives in any income-generating, tax-paying activity though they are capable of doing so; or who do not consider it their duty to pay tax on their infrequent income. Not all of them, but a number of them.

The Coalition government of 2013 seems to want to cut off its nose to spite its face in dismantling the welfare system. It doesn’t realise it has a golden opportunity to sustain the welfare system, and to take care of rather than vilify the underprivileged. Its members and leaders instead believe that if they are able to create and accumulate untold wealth and riches, then every Joe Bloggs can achieve the same.

What the conservatives forget is that their wealth is founded on the cheap labour of non European peoples who don’t have a welfare system to give their workforce a dignified living standard or dignified existence.

I challenge the UK Conservative-led government to stop all welfare payments and government funding of the NHS with one stroke.

With this move, it will create an untouchable class so impoverished that its members will take any job going in order to feed itself, will work zero-hours with relish, will slave away in sweatshop environments for pittance – and it is on the hard labour of this new indigenous untouchable class, so long chided for being work-shy, that Conservative MPs’ wealth will derive.

The wholesale and immediate removal of the welfare state and of the NHS will also stop immigrants coming to these shores, as well as creating mass employment and rejuvenating the dying manufacturing industry – doing away with the need to import sweatshop-made goods from abroad, when these can so effectively be produced here at the same cost.

Somehow, I can’t see the Conservatives, however much they foam at the mouth about the degeneracy of the work-shy masses – who they conveniently forget are comprised of the indigenous and not immigrant masses – having the balls to go to such extremes

So, what’s the alternative?

Well, we in this country must encourage and bring to bear the Emperor Ashoka model of care and community – in which the well-off share their wealth openheartedly with the less well-off. Let’s position the Little Englander as a beacon of moral and ethical responsibility for other nations’ peoples to emulate.

Prestige, like honour, has to be earned. It cannot be manufactured out of fear for the repercussions of one’s actions. It has to be achieved through earnest goodness.

The question is: Is Conservative wealth ready to move on to the next level of advanced awareness, or will it perish like another bully who died unceremoniously and over whom no tears where shed?

Seva

In this post, I seek to explain how the human world divides into distinct bio-structural groups and what this means for nishkam seva (selfless activity).

One group, mature advanced consciousness (MAC), has a fully-developed and active organ-mechanism to permit inner awakening. The other, egocentric consciousness (ECC) has a hibernating organ-mechanism which acts to inhibit attunement with advanced awareness.

Mechanically, both bio-structural groups can engage in selfless activity. However, having lived in the UK for fifty years, I can attest to the fact that in the ECC group this manifests as a passing fad – albeit committedly undertaken – that doesn’t endure over the longue duree and is not saturated with selfless-consciousness.

There is, for the ECC, instead a wariness about being pushed beyond one’s limits of selflessness – a self-preservation consciousness that draws the line in order not to be taken advantage of – and it’s there to see in the eyes and body language of European converts to Sikhism and Hinduism.

Among the MAC group, selflessness is not conditional. It is intuitive, innate, natural, humble service. Whereas the ECC regards parents as birthing pods to be discarded or farmed out when they hit old age and infirmity, deference to parents and elders is part-and-parcel of the MAC bio-signature. The selflessness that European converts undertake with all manner of caveats is, for the Sikhs and Hindus a privilege.

Nishkam seva used to be relished by the Indians of Britain. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a soiling, a weakening, a creeping impurification of this purest of activities in the minds of those doing selfless service.

MACs are becoming ECCs.Why?

Well, one reason is the proliferation of a media culture, bulwarked by right-wing devotees, and entombed in right-wing discourse that fosters and projects a form of thought graffiti that creates factional high-mindedness. Hence, supreme truth is sacrificed at the altar of cultural hierarchy, incarcerated by rigidly demarcated and authorised versions of reality that invite scepticism about the apparently unattainable and outdated dreams of our elders.

So accelerated is the contamination of nishkam seva among Sikhs that they now conduct it with fear, serving gur-langar (blessed food) – in the Gurdwara kitchens, to anybody who wishes to partake of the wholesome free food – as if those they serve have a contagious disease.

Where once valiant Sikhs stood fearless in the face of physical violence or black-magic operators, such fear is unbelievable. Where once, anybody who came to the langar hall was served with openheartedness, nowadays I witness gur-langar being served with selective openness, rather than with the abiding consciousness that all are equal in the eyes of God – and it is cowardly.

Seva has historically been linked with karamjôg (jôg in Panjabi is a higher state than Sankrit’s yôgā); karamjôg denoting an interaction wherein one’s humility and selfless service provide a mental opportunity to remain actively egoless for a certain period of time, and to thereby help lose the egotistical weight gained in one’s everyday interactions with others

This type of activity was sought after and actively enjoyed, and people had to await their chance to cleanse their own negativity. The more demeaning an activity one engaged with egoless attention during seva, the greater the burden of negativity one was able to neutralise and cancel.

Unfortunately, the Europeanised Asians, now well into their retirement, are steeped in fear of the same unknown that Sikhs used to tackle with ease and fearlessness. Lacking practical guidance from seasoned ESP-able Beings has created an argument in their minds against the rightfulness and deep sincerity of seva. How sad.

Those who are ESP-able, like myself, are hounded on a daily basis and viewed with suspicion, aided and abetted by the cowardly occupiers of positions of power within the Sikh faith – who lay claim to advanced awareness (Sant), yet cannot dig deeper than the regurgitated Gur-stories in their claim to fame.

Ask them for deeper clarity about ESP and the higher layers of consciousness and they are left floundering for answers. Having said that they are doing a sterling job in containing and guiding the masses, teaching them the rituals and rites fundamental to gaining entry into the advanced realms, and which must be mastered faithfully decade after decade before one can be inducted into deeper thought and teaching.

Until that happens, deeply sincere and humble selfless seva have to be engaged in as often as possible, week in and week out. Doing seva while also passing judgement on those about whom you hear salacious stories being passed around the community is to effectively relinquish your opportunity of inner cleansing, and the egotistical weight piles back on.

And additionally, something which is not explained widely enough, is that in judging another person you secure a connection whereby you suck their negativity of their psyche into your own psyche, which as you interact with your nearest and dearest becomes shared amongst your dearly beloved.

Any place of worship is an opportunity to cleanse one’s negativity by focusing on your own faults without sitting in judgement over whoever enters your eyesight or your wandering mind.

Non-judgement. That is the first type of seva.

The second type of seva is active participation in the operation of your chosen place of worship, without seeking the limelight or applause. Simply go and help. Let others, who are stupid enough to seek adulation and status and power, hand out orders.

The opportunity for sincere humble service is theirs too, and if they choose to ignore or discard that opportunity, so be it. For your part, just be grateful that you have an opportunity to step back from day’s hard toil and to reenergize your battery of purity and positivity.

As for the ECCs – I am determined to help the race Europeans (for that is whom the ECC references primarily) seek and find the trigger point for activating their participation in inner awakening. I know that I will fail. But I shall never give up trying or hoping that I will succeed in this endeavour.

To the MACs – well, please do not give up hope. You are on the right track. The journey is very long indeed, but it has an end. And you will be surprised what awaits you at the end… and they say God does not have a sense of humour?! Just you wait and see.

 

Sikh Mystic

Sikhs are caught in a strange paradox. A paradox without parallel in their history. They are hurtling towards a pattern of behaviour inimical to their very being; where once they lived not merely in alignment with, but expansively beyond, the samurai code which Takaharo Kitamura defines thus:

“The samurai must maintain his faith in his beliefs, even as the social or political climate shifts and alters. He must be patient, must act in a manner that may at times seem irrational or illogical, must resist the temptation of instant gratification, and must work towards fulfilling what may seem to be an impossible idea. As a result, the samurai is often sometimes an outsider, a rebellious figure because he refuses to conform to the habits of the day.”

Whence the stupendous fall from grace of the Sikh mystic? Why are Sikhs going, not into the mystic, but resolutely away from it? To answer this question, we need to explore the death of Sikh humanity – that quality of being humane and benevolent, of eschewing judgement in favour of empathy. Okay, ‘death’ may be a tad overwrought – but certainly Sikh humanity defined in this way has entered a period of ruination equally ruinous to the existence of the Sikh mystic.

Now, I have absolute empathy with that age when PhDs were conferred only once a student had accomplished mastery of, and successfully defended their theses on, no fewer than eight subjects. An age when PhDs were attained well beyond the age of 40. Today of course, entry into just one PhD programme is difficult enough, and mastering just the one subject is a life-consuming venture for four years or more. – but to master eight subjects?! I’ve nothing but admiration for that kind of feat – a norm among PhD students in a long-ago age, and one in which the Indian universities excelled, welcoming students from across the world.

What the Sikh mystic did however, was to extend the scholarly curriculum, to revolutionise the armchair-debating speciality of Aryadesh’s scholars and the subject-focused study of their research students. Sikh mysticism deepened the scope of education and expertise, integrated this to extend to body as well as mind. Thus, while an erstwhile research subject included mastery of war – Sikh mysticism required that this have a physical component, a practical counterpart to learning about strategy and tactics. It was a radical departure from a theory-only curriculum, and from the kind of mystic enquiry that limited itself to fathoming the unseen – Sikh mysticism brought to the table a pragmatic imperative; knowledge for the sake of dealing with life’s everyday problems.

If pragmatics had been valued enough, it’s possible that the morning on which the Mohammedans (the original name of followers of Islam) conquered north-west Aryadesh for the umpteenth time might never have come to pass. Indeed, one young mystic – following a householder’s lifestyle rather than that of a recluse or ivory-tower theoretician – pleaded with his senior mystics that they take a physical role in defending and repulsing the invading army. The response was along the lines of “We will sit and meditate, and materialise a sheet of mirror to confront and blind the invading army as it marches across the desert along the north-western frontier.” Meditation did not transform sand into a mirror with blinding properties. North-west Aryadesh was conquered.

And the young mystic? He is now known universally as Guru Nanakdevji. The founder and first guru of the Sikhs. (I’ll write more about what a guru is in a future post).

Guru Nanakdevji was a reformer. He jettisoned reliance on subjective and ethereal knowledge alone. He believed that the human world would be governed by those who master technology – which is where this sentence ends from the European (including American) perspective – and harness it for the benefit of people, animals and the environment. This is written into the Sri Guru Granth Sahibji, along with other of his observations, such as the imperative of strenuously tackling, confronting and improving circumstances to effect a more balanced state rather than meekly accepting karma.

The ‘knowledge-and-action’ based humanity of Guru Nanakdevji thrived through the other nine progressive Sikh Gurus. Hence, pragmatics – Guru Ramdassji (the fourth Guru) encouraged horsemanship as well as the mastering and carrying of arms, in a legal environment forbidding this – shared the limelight with scholarly pursuit.

Consequently, Sikhs were not exactly flavour of the day. Challenging ages-old traditions of Vedantic and Vedic philosophy, with their mass following and off-the-mark translations of Sanskrit scriptures (before Hinduism came to encompass everything in a hazy amorphous mass), was – and this is too often understated if explored at all –unpalatable to the mystical elite.

Yet, as with all reformist movements, the earliest adherents to Sikh mysticism comprised disaffected scholars and elites from within the ruling but increasingly defunct system – the rationality of their argument in favour of Guru Nanakdevji attracting more followers in turn. Yet, Guru Nanakdevji’s wasn’t Aryadesh’s first reformist movement by any stretch of the imagination – Bhagat Kabir and several others before him had tried and failed. What marked Guru Nanakdevji out was his born-enlightenment quality – that advanced divine awareness of his that came from birth, and gave him absolute abilities in exposing weak arguments and won him acclaim within the highest echelons of the Divine community of his age.

To put this into context, Gautaum Buddha was a self-enlightened; while Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed of Makkah were taught-enlightened. At a pedestrian level, these strata of enlightenment are unseen, exchangeable with and inextricable from each other – what is necessary is to extrapolate the individuals involved; at an advanced spiritual level, the enlightenment forms are distinguishable but understood to more importantly comprise part of a cosmic continuum in which the bio-signatures of the individual are irrelevant categorizations.

So, we have a born-enlightened reformer espousing knowledge-action based humanity that integrates mental acuity, physical prowess, and pragmatic action – a figure in the form of Guru Nanakdevji who is a superior dialectician, unraveling the confusions of the Vedic norms and the ambiguities of the Mohammedan edicts, and joined by many an interlocutor won over by the rationality of his equal and balanced lifestyle argument.

And while this followership expanded to the masses, the source of Sikh mysticism’s initial attraction was the elites – the educated. (This social constructivist basis of group identity is well-documented within anthropological research – including the role of elites in setting the agenda, and articulating the symbols and ideology that attract the masses into believing, or in this instance cleaving to reform).

To a huge degree, however, Sikh mysticism was its own PR. It’s access to, and explanatory value and practical importance for Aryadesh’s lay population, came at the moment of its unveiling on the global stage – when Guru Gobind Raiji presented the Mystic-Warrior Sikhs formally at Vaisakhi at Anandpur Sahib and thence was baptised under their auspices as Guru Gobind Singhji.

But it also came in response to the Sikh mystics’ successes in battle – those demonstrations of power and prowess that speak volumes to a mass population excluded from the exercise of esoteric knowledge that is the elite’s domain. Mohammedan warriors sought out Sikh mystics in battle in order to die at their hands, such was the blessing and aura connoted with being a Sikh mystic.

Together, these attainments combined to attract many fame-seekers, excited by the prospect of the adrenalin of battleground victories and of becoming Sikhs – Singhs – in the process. At its apex Sikh mysticism was venerated as itself being at the apex of all dharmas and religions; and the achievements of the Sikh mystics, ordinary householders who mesmerised the population, were legendary. With the passing of the tenth Guruji, crucial adjustments leveled out the equally crucial distinctions between dharma and religion, and the criteria for becoming a Mystic-Warrior Sikh – the triadic cornerstone of mental acuity, physical prowess, and pragmatics in the service and advancement of humaneness and humanity – were relaxed to an unprecedented level.

Consequently, the baptism ceremony to become a Singh resembles a ‘conversion job-lot’ and I am unyielding in my opposition to this. For me, Singh and Kaur denote, for men and women respectively, “a Sikh mystic who is deeply and thoroughly educated but has chosen a hands-on, warrior-secular lifestyle, committed in their refusal to let truth be humiliated – even if they have to stand alone and must give up their own life in protecting truth” (Avtar).

But what I witness is angry people unable to command their own emotions being encouraged into baptism as Singhs, as if there is a contest to see who can secure the most conversions. And they take place several times a year, year in, year out – across the globe. It’s an absolute nonsense. I would even support the conversion of these manipulated innocents if they were, at the very least, entered into a stream of education that would result in their inner awakening. But they’re not and, so, I shan’t.

Think about it, the criteria for becoming a Singh are: a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and drugs, a promise to wake up early and do two sets of prayers, one in the morning and one in the evening, not cutting their hair and wearing the five kakkars.

You may as well put out a call inviting everybody who’s ever been told by their doctor that for the sake of their health they need to eat a vegetarian diet and give up alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs; and who, on top of that, don’t get around to trimming their hair… convert to being a Singh, you tick most of the boxes already.

If only it were that easy to become a Sikh mystic!

Vegetarianism has always been a mainstay of the Indian diet; keeping hair untrimmed has always been the choice of those seeking inner awareness…these are hardly edicts of an advanced dharma, then, but merely extrapolations of long-held local practices, and not a whole lot to crow about, after all.

Sikh mysticism is a tad more complicated, and yes, I would revert to some strictness about who may take the next step in their inner development with respect to initiating them into Sikh mysticism. Remember the prescriptions of mental acuity (to the level of scholarship), physical prowess, and pragmatic resolution of life’s everyday problems? Entwined with the qualities of humanity – truth, protection, empathy?

In all of this, there is no place for arrogance; and I would strip that out of any wannabe Singh by asking them to précis their knowledge of current scientific and philosophical research; prepare and formally defend doctoral theses on four subjects of their choice; demonstrate recall of all the world scriptures, and be able to extrapolate the theological differences between them. Fail in any, and you fail totally. Please pass “Go”, you don’t have what it takes. You cannot become the Khalsa.

What you actually see happening, however, is open baptism season, accompanied by a lot of venom and anger and utilization of media platforms to see who can shout loudest. Of the oft-quoted Kahlil Gibran phrase “Rest in reason; move with passion”, only the second half seems to resonate and even then without qualification or balance or temperance. And the newly baptised then fragment into social cult groupings, their fealty occurring at the cost almost of Sikh unity.

One inspirational Sikh took a more outlandish path to inner awakening and gained mystical status as a result, only for this acolytes to follow the method without achieving what he had; it was a case of ignoring the interplay between an individual’s bio-signature and the method of self-awareness suited thereto, and thinking that fervently rocking and atonally and loudly repeating a mantra would allow you to reach the heady heights of enlightenment though your bio-signature requires a different method altogether. Ask the acolytes, however, and they will, to a man, deny that they haven’t advanced spiritually.

The mesmerised are never taught the simplest truth of all: which is that you must find what works for you. I can’t emphasise this enough – focus on your aim not on the individual who appears to have reached it.

Few can become mystics. Weakening the pool through mass, emotionally-charged conversion doesn’t help anyone. While there is nothing to fault in the initial fervour of the newly converted, eventually the veneer peels off and they come to see the ultimate aim/objective with the naked and dispassionate eye, and in all its unattainable reality.

For example, almost everybody misses the point of being a warrior: it is to find every conceivable way to get out of a fight. A Mystic-Warrior must first try to create an environment which allows both sides to save face. Only when all attempts at this are rejected does the Mystic-Warrior move into the phase of shielding the weak, protecting the vulnerable, and disarming the aggressor. If the latter raises arms and takes aim, then it is permissible to put them to peaceful rest. A Mystic-Warrior does not sit in judgement, but accepts human frailty and ignores ambition.

Yet, to see the veins practically popping out on the foreheads of the baptised Sikhs, who huddle together on the Sikh television channels here in the West, creating a frenzy of argument and anger, clenching their fists in demand of their wants, substituting freedom of speech for the freedom of thought that is already theirs by right… well, Mystic-Warrior Sikh is not the first description that comes to mind; nor is Sikh, let alone Singh.

There is genuineness in their desire to see justice fulfilled as they regard it, but while admirable, they remain demeaning examples – all too widely emulated – of that which fully and truthfully is the Sikh Mystic-Warrior. As Rumi writes: “It is not thunder that grows flowers, but water.” 

It is nigh on impossible to be a Sikh Mystic – but for all that, it is neither unattainable nor unlivable as a lifestyle.

The Mesmeriser

Throughout human-animal history, humans being animals also, the ability of one mesmerising person, usually a male, to lead his followers into self-immolation or suicide by toxins has been baffling and deeply curious.

The last major incident was in Guyana, when Jones’ followers committed mass suicide using poison. It shocked and repulsed; and left us asking ‘why?’

Historically, of course, humans have at times chosen suicide over subjugation and slavery. However, when it has a mesmeric quality to it, as in Guyana, then suicide is not an escape from something so much as an escape to something – utopia, perhaps.

Which makes you wonder why, if there is a utopia out there, we take birth in this hellhole in the first place? If it’s out there and you can reach out and touch it, enter it, then why not do so before entering this period, this planet, this sequence of events, this life? Save the bother of having to live and then commit suicide.

This quality of utopia, this place that Jones’ followers apparently yearned for, is the same rainbow that fanatics long for, those people who cannot but challenge another’s viewpoint – political, social, religious etc – who cannot countenance anything but the mesmeric quality of their own truth.

They do so with the aim of converting their interlocutors to the fanatics’ version of utopia – meaning, surely, that if everybody across the globe attuned to, and practiced the fanatics’ lifestyle then utopia would reign on earth. Misery, desires, needs, illness and death would be things of the past. Because utopia is precisely that, isn’t it – eternal life and the fulfillment of all desires (no questions asked!)? Just ask the fanatics.

But, to throw a fly in the ointment for a moment….if Buddha and Guru Nanakdevji could not secure nirvana’s utopia here on earth, then what hope is there that the damn thing exists elsewhere?

A telling point is that these enlightened beings were savvy enough to introduce a caveat in defining the brand “utopia” – such that we oughtn’t to think of it as a thing per se, but as the fulfillment of a gradual process, subjectively reached.

And it is on this notion of a subjective utopia that the mesmeriser pegs his most fervent egotistical ambitions. And why not, when at his disposal are the infectious naïve assumptions of the vaguely disenchanted that somehow the morbid provincial dance of comatose suburbia can be transformed by gorging on the glittering stars and shapes of the kaleidoscope and lead to inner emancipation. Old clothes contriving a new look.

In all of this, the role and motive of the mesmeriser becomes the most asked-about question – as if we might uncover the communal human DNA through which humans exercise power or prostrate themselves at its feet, and thereby come to an understanding of how to control the human race.

But in order to really understand the mesmeriser – distinct from the literary obsession with mesmeric individuals and the morbid fascination they incite in their biographers and chroniclers – men have to look deep into their own selves, and there they’ll find the template of the mesmeriser.

That template is one of low self-confidence and esteem. Men of this nature defend the cultural view that woman was created from man’s rib and/or (as in cultures with highly respected religious ethics, such as Hinduism) that woman is the sole of the sandal that they (men) wear.

To be created – out a rib or other body part! – implies that woman was needed? Why was she needed? If for the propagation of the human race, then how did man know this – how did he know that he specifically needed a woman, not a toy or a blow-up doll or another man?

And if, despite knowing that man needs woman, men continue to hold women as inferior beings, let them achieve this feat of ultimate power that puts woman in her rightful place… let them self-immortalise, be cremated, have their ashes scattered into the wind, and then regoup those same ashes to create a baby, a baby who is self-nourishing and grows eventually into an adult man. I’m sorry, was that a “no can do” I heard being muttered in the back row? Oh dear, where’s a woman when you need one?!

The point is that if serious faith and religious ethos can be built on the notion that woman was created from the rib of man, then why do we castigate the mesmeriser who leads his followers into mass suicide in pursuit of this thing called utopia? The only difference between the husband who follows a religious belief system and the mesmeriser is a numbers game.

There lurking in the middle of his open spaced out mind each man will find his own god and his own mega-idiot. But what he will not find is a woman waiting to be created out of his rib who wants to be treated as the sole of his sandal.