Jackals & Tigers

In numerous societies, jackals have betrayed their own kith and kin, allowing outside powers to subjugate their race, culture, language, and heritage.

I am going to use Sikh examples and indicate to others how they may take steps to safeguard their cultural integrity and dignity.

Dr Rami Ranger & Dr Kapoor

Today’s essay endeavours to illustrate the mechanics invoked at a psychic level to hamper the independence of individuals, communities, and societies. I will use two from within the UK Sikh community to make my point. The first person is Dr Rami Ranger and the second Dr S. S. Kapoor.

Backgrounds of the characters

Raminder Singh Ranger, born July 1947, is Chairman and Managing Director of Sea Air and Land Forwarding Ltd, and the winner of a Queens Award for Export. He secured his PhD from the then newly established Khalsa College, Harrow, London, which was run by a Dr S. S. Kapoor, OBE, D.Litt., PhD., M.Comm (Hons), M.A. (Law), FCCA, FCMA CGMA.

I have to own up to the fact I have not read Dr Rami Ranger’s thesis, nor for that matter Dr Kapoor’s. I do, however, have a copy of the latter’s English translation Sukhmani Sahibji (2007).

Sukhmani Sahibji is an elaborate work by the fifth Sikh Guruji, Guru Arjandevji. If Dr Kapoor’s translation is indeed ‘A Dynamic Look into the Meaning and Philosophy of Sukhmani Sahib’, as boldly claimed on the front of the book, then heaven help us. One of Dr Kapoor’s PhD students presented me with the book. If I had received a pre-publication copy for review, then quite frankly I would have dismissed the author as a simpleton who lacks internal awakening, inner growth, and humility. The work reads as the articulation of ideas cobbled together from the internet, and suffers thereby from a lack of philosophical depth and insight.

Dr Kapoor claims he has published fifty books to date. If his translation of one of the cornerstones of Sikh thought, held in unqualified esteem by Sikhs, is an indicator of his philosophical depth and internal awakening, then I feel embarrassed. Based on that book, I would unflinchingly dismiss his entire published oeuvre as asinine and superficial, unequal to the philosophical heights he has set himself, and that Sukhmani Sahibji demands.

Now, if the principal of the college produces such work of staggering ignorance and a regurgitation of others’ work, then what quality and depth can be ascribed to his students’ productions?

To put this into perspective, one of Dr Kapoor’s students who interacted with me to produce their thesis, was repeatedly questioned about the source of their insights, so advanced were they in comparison with any sources Dr Kapoor used. Ofcourse, the student was under strict instructions not to divulge my input to Dr Kapoor or his cohort, and passed their PhD, but not without some interrogation.

Focus of this essay

Dr Ranger and Dr Kapoor are Chairman and General Secretary of the British Sikh Association respectively. Together, they are in the process of raising one million pounds sterling to fund the creation of a Sikh regiment in the British Army. Furthermore, Dr Ranger has stated that he is against the creation of an independent Sikh state, citing the ‘fact’ that the Sikh Gurus themselves never asked for or advanced the idea of such a state.

It is with this statement on the Sikh state, made by Dr Ranger, that I take issue in this essay titled ‘Jackals and Tigers’.

I do so by way of sharing some basic historical facts as well as the precise meanings of (many an) inaccurately translated words.

Misinformation has led ‘Singh’ to be translated as ‘lion’, when in fact it means tiger. A tiger is larger, bigger, stronger, more intelligent, and exemplifies a thoughtful predator, in comparison to a lion.

(Babbar) ‘Sher’, is the word for lion in the north Indian languages. ‘Singh’ refers to a tiger in the same languages. Thus, it is extremely embarrassing to hear ardent forthright no-nonsense Sikhs laying claim to a higher value by proclaiming themselves as ‘(Babbar) Sikhs’. In doing so, they concede to being weaker, less powerful, and less intelligent than the tigers they really are.

The Sikh confederacy following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was identical to the confused, contradictory, self-indulgent, and obstinate Sikh groups of today (including across the diaspora).

These fragmented and egotistical groups are very easy to manipulate. Praise and aloofness pay dividends in further dividing such groups and, historically, we can see this in the massive Sikh losses during the two Anglo-Sikh wars.

Tigers became jackals, readily accepting praise, gifts, and promises of glory-rule before the Anglo-Saxons first war against them. After that the second Anglo-Sikh war was a foregone conclusion. In-fighting, self-importance, finger-pointing, and a holier-than-thou attitude meant that regardless of all the prayers offered up the Sikhs got their butt smacked.

For many years now, I have been at pains to amalgamate the various Sikhs groups within the UK, and I feel honoured and privileged to see such a configuration finally taking shape. This began with the dismantlement of the Khalistan movement, and then the formation of the Sikh Consultative Forum (now the Sikh Council). The process of getting the Sikhs to operate under one umbrella is organic, but it is slowly taking shape.

I always have to remind myself that Sikhs are not born hypocrites. They are born honest, sincere, and truthful, even when being so is to their own detriment. Thus, diplomacy does not come to them naturally. However, diplomacy is what is needed immediately and urgently.

In the 1970s, when Sikhs sought their own country, I stood on the sidelines and realised that lions were once again about to be betrayed by jackals. Each group within the Khalistani movement was back-biting the other. Each uttered phrases from the Sri Guru Granthsahibji (Sikhism’s living Guru [their holy scriptures]) parrot-fashion, and tried to out-manoeuvre the others. Standing on the sidelines, I could see how easily they were going to be broken apart from within, and betray others.

Ignorance led the movement, arrogance dug the graves, and the naive became the corpses.

As a Sikh, standing on the outside looking at the massacre the Khalistani movement triggered on its own defenseless people in Panjab, there is an immovable pain seated deep in my psyche.

A self-trained army that out-manoeuvred the raider Abdali Shah after he almost decimated them is the legend heard and spoken about as far as Vietnam – whose own forces took sustenance from Sikh valour, and who deployed similar small-group attack tactics in their success against the Americans.

But what happens when Sikhs have to work together as a large unified group?

During the setup of the Sikh Consultative Forum I strenuously indicated that the formula I supported and advocated was one in which there was a formal head (at the time it was my nomination Bhai Mohinder Singhji of Soho Road Gurdwara,) and a figurehead, to whom the former would be answerable. Albeit that the figurehead of the organisation would hold no power within the constitution, the formal head would not be able to deliver the agreed consensus of the Forum without the prior approval of the figurehead.

Sadly, the position of figurehead was never established. But, just as I imagined, and as is the norm with such things, the Forum underwent – and will continue to undergo – reformation and realignment, and of course renaming, I also indicated at the time the Sikh Consultative Forum was established – and still do – that each Sikh who wishes to interact with government must lodge an agenda with the Sikh Consultative Forum and share the outcome of the meeting with it.The Forum must then distribute this information, and all such updates, to each constituent gurdwara. Did this ever happen? Like hell it did. But I live in hope.

If my indications had been followed through with, and such a structure established, then today I would not need to reprimand Dr Ranger and Dr Kapoor.

Admonishment

The United Nations’ definition of a country stipulates that it must have its own currency, language, law, and defence, amongst other things. Twice, once during the time of Guru Arjandevji (the 5th Guruji) and then again during the time of Guru Tegbahadurji (the 9th Guruji), the exact emblems of an independent country were established and flourished for the time.

So, for Dr Rami Ranger to state on his webpage that he does not support a Sikh independent state and that the Sikh Gurus never had or argued for an independent state amounts to rank ignorance masquerading as self-indulgent importance. This is the same Dr Ranger who has a doctorate from Khalsa College, Harrow, under the aegis of Dr Kapoor’s. And let’s not forget that this is the same Dr Kapoor who is the general secretary of the organisation Dr Ranger set up. One does not need an ‘ology’ to evaluate the veracity of the doctorate in question.

If either of the two gentlemen feels I am wrong, then they are welcome to take me to court, and we’ll examine their literature using current anti-plagiarizing software to determine the veracity of their work.

I humbly suggest that Dr Rami Singh Ranger remove the ignorant remarks attributed to the Sikh Gurus and Sikhism’s desire to enjoy self-determination.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Indian states are, and to date function as, independent sovereign countries within a federal framework called India.

Dr Rami Singh Ranger’s remarks on his website are more to do with selling himself as a poodle of the British government via whom he receives plaudits and accolades.

Why is it that I as a Sikh do not need a British Empire honour to make me feel a sense of self-worth?

If both gentlemen’s self-worth is only measured by how many accolades they can secure from the British then my best wishes are with them.

However, can they please be kind and considerate enough not to make factually inaccurate statements in order to curry favour with their British masters?

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.