Out Of Service?

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camps or retreats spend much time on the Rehat Maryada, and when discussed, it often gets criticized mostly due to its outdated language.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.


About RP Singh

Writer. Poet. Organizer. View all posts by RP Singh

2 responses to “Out Of Service?

  • Amritpan

    Not sure what variations to the West Coast gurdwara you have heard, but the story as you prefer to believe is true, so hold onto that."It simply requires a little bit of learning, humility, reflection, and faith. But clearly…we're not there yet."I've attended a few such Reht Maryada discussions at Sikh retreats. It is my personal opinion that we spend entirely too much time worrying about the "Panth" and "saving the Panth" (the latter of which is a problematic thought in itself) and not enough saving ourselves. Many of us participating in these discussions or involved in the committee seva of a guru ghar are nitnemi sikhs, but how many of us actually listen to ourselves reading our basic banis in the morning? How many of us even have the wherewithal to understand what we are reading?… Any discussion of the existence and the possible changes necessary to a "better or more current/relevant" Reht Maryada will remain superficial, fleeting (to the 2-3 days of whatever camp/retreat it takes place at), and insufficient in its depth and dignity without this sort of personal preparation.The greatest example and force of change is to live by example not by argument.This discussion is too big to have on a blog, but to define the "Panth" as Out of Service, or to settle on the idea that the "machine is broken" is not only a miscalculation, but an insufficient idea and reduced conclusion. A closer look at 1st and 2nd generation Punjabi Sikh youth (both those who attend retreats and those who do not), the systems of government of American guru ghars, points of mobilization for North American young adults (jathas, retreats, non-profits, SSAs, etc), the relationships between Sikh academia with its lay populations, between Sikh non-profits and the lay population that they attempt to serve, the diverse or lack of role of the gurdwara in the life of an average Sikh North American, and other such factors… is necessary to truly understand the socio-cultural components of the cogs and wheels of our disaporic community. If after this sort of contemplation, we can come to reflective and introspective conclusions and goals rather than projective justifications, then we're on the right track.. with much work still to be done.Also I would like gently remind you that the demographic and thought processes you may encounter at most of the major North American retreats are not representative of the youth body as the attendees of these events are a small and elite group of people, who seem to be more entrenched in their comfortable lifestyles than any tangible activism. Take note (despite my seemingly harsh words), I am not anti-retreats, just anti-status quo. It is worth acknowledging that it is unfortunate that we have nothing better to offer and improvement on a personal and a group level should be entrenched in our subconscious.And stay glass half-full. It is the only way forward.

  • RP Singh

    Thanks for your insightful comment, Amritpan.Completely agree with your call for personal reflection, introspection, and understanding of baani. If I can steal your words, “It is the only way forward.” I would, however, argue that working on one’s personal commitment to the Guru will not in itself solve the panth’s problems. Just watching my own community over the years – there’s no shortage of Amritdhari and Nitnemi Sikhs, no shortage of those who are role models as individual Sikhs – that said, our institutions have largely failed, especially the Gurdwaras. I believe this was Guru Sahib’s challenge by vesting Guruship in the Guru Granth & Guru Panth – it is our responsibility to take inspiration/guidance from one and make decisions through the other. In my view of things, we’re lacking in the former and have no idea how to address the latter.You are right, it is probably premature to come to any real conclusion about the "state of the panth" without delving in to all the areas you’ve defined above. I wonder if such a study or discussion will take place? The challenge as I see it is not how we solve the problem – it’s realizing that we have a problem in the first place. Few understand the history of how the Rehat Maryada came about, or read the document for that matter. Few understand how decisions were made during the Guru’s time and shortly thereafter, few understand how consensus was reached and conflicts were resolved – and circumstances were pretty rough then, there were prices on our heads! Quietly, we’re falling in to the same traps we did hundreds of years ago.As for the retreats and the activists they produce – I guess we’ve had different experiences there. Granted the bulk of my experiences with retreats were 10-15 years ago, I agree it may not be representative of the panth as a whole, but in my opinion, it has turned out activists. Perhaps I am part of the "elite" you are referring to – as I do sometimes want a comfortable lifestyle and have engaged in panthic discourse over lattes at Starbucks 🙂 – but many of the Singhs and Kaurs I sat with during Gurbani Veechar and self-realization workshops over a decade ago are the same folks who are founders, board members and grassroots activists of some of or Sikh institutions today. These institutions are far from perfect (as I’ve eluded to above) and mistakes are made…but whether or not is tangible activism depends on whatever your measuring against.There it is again…my glass half-full :)Look forward to more of your comments…Fateh!

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