Over the long weekend, I had the good fortune to attend a Gurmat retreat out in the Midwest.
The theme for the retreat was the Rehat Maryada and I thoroughly enjoyed spending an entire weekend in workshops that delved in to the various components of the Maryada, like Gurmat Rehini (Living in Gurmat), Shaksi Rehni (Personal Living), Guru Panth, and Seva.
Few camps or retreats spend much time on the Rehat Maryada, and when discussed, it often gets criticized mostly due to its outdated language. And although I do agree the language could use an update and perhaps some of the more subtle points could be debated – honestly though, I don’t get hung up on that. I do feel the Rehat Maryada by and large accurately defines the discipline of a Sikh and Sikh practices. Furthermore, I respect the significant time and patience it took all involved in the process to dialogue, negotiate and ultimately agree on the final document. It was one of only a handful of events in the past hundred years that utilized concepts of ‘Sarbat Khalsa‘ as a means of consensus building – a process and art that has largely been lost.
During the retreat, as we dove in to the correct practices of our Gurdwaras and the panthic process of conflict resolution, I couldn’t help but think how far we’ve drifted. It’s almost as though “what Sikhs should do” and “what Sikhs actually do” were topics for two different retreats. How and when did such a gap occur? If such well-thought ideas were put in place with the Rehat Maryada, debated on, then approved by so many institutions – why aren’t we seeing it in action today? Why are we still trying to fix the problems the Rehat Maryada was supposed to solve? Others at the retreat noted this disparity too, and the answer that kept resurfacing was, “Well…the machinery is broken.”
To a large extent, I agree. I believe the Rehat Maryada is just as relevant now as it was a hundred years ago. And those who debated over the initial draft had a desire to bring consistency amongst our practices so we can be more united, advance ourselves collectively, and resist external influences that try to disrupt such unity. All of this applies today, especially the methods of conflict resolution and consensus building that was defined by Guru Sahib. It simply requires a little bit of learning, humility, reflection, and faith.
But clearly…we’re not there yet.
You don’t have to go too far to see it…babas run rampant, maryadas are plenty, we fight over which “jatha” is right, and we deal with conflict through storming in to Gurdwaras and beating people with cricket bats.
I believe in the machinery. It was inspired by the Guru Granth and built by the Guru Panth. Unfortunately though…it is temporarily broken.
Or is it? Can it really be possible? Are we as a panthic entity simply “Out Of Service?”
Maybe it’s my post-retreat “high” or the completion of another milestone birthday – I’m not sure. But for whatever reason…I refuse to see the glass half-empty.
Although I don’t believe we’re in the midst of another Singh Sabha Lehar by any means – I do, however, believe there are pockets of movement all around us. It may be scattered, but it’s happening.
I suppose there are Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions who use the Rehat Maryada as a basis for their operations.
I trust there are sangats in small corners of the world who do in fact use principles of ‘Sarbat Khalsa’ as a means to resolve conflict and build concensus.
Years ago, I heard that after several months of unrest at a Gurdwara on the West Coast, two rivaling factions within the presence of Guru Sahib bowed before the Guru, dissolved their committees, and deferred the leadership of the Gurdwara to an elderly sevadaar that the entire community respected. Since then, I’ve heard so many variations of that story, I’m not even sure it’s true anymore. Maybe it’s just “panthic” legend that people like me hold on to 🙂
So does this post have a happy ending? Maybe some hope for the future? You tell me…
I need your help…please comment and let me know what you, your family, gurbani group, Gurdwara, or organization does using the Rehat Maryada or the concepts of Sarbat Khalsa as a method for decision-making. Maybe some stories of panthic unity that don’t always make the front-page. Whatever you got…let’s hear it.