‘Bhakti and Shakti’ by Surjeet Singh


This month the book discussed was ‘Bhakti and Shakti’ by Surjeet Singh. The book can be found here.

Summary of discussion 

  • Initial thoughts about the book
  • Concepts of Nirvair/Nirbhaou in relation to Bhakti & Shakti
  • Bridging the gap between concepts and reality
    • Previous wars, modern day wars and daily struggles
    • The relevance of Bhakti & Shakti today
  • The reality of modern states, politics and how to integrate Bhakti & Shakti within this framework
  • The ideals of a Sikh and the example left by the Gurus
    • Do we rely upon those ideals as a historical event only? How can we recreate these ideals in the world today?
  • The importance of Amrit
  • The importance of arms/weapons in relation to Sikhism

In depth analysis

The discussion kicked off with members reflecting that the book was fairly easy to read and explored basic concepts within Sikhi but in a unique way. Members found it helpful that the author related Bhakti and Shakti to the concepts within Mool Mantar, and discussed that the current atmosphere in society of both enmity and fear are contributing to an unwelcome social climate. In contrast the principles of Nirvair and Nirbhaou underpin both Bhakti and Shakti within the Sikh tradition. Members agreed with the author that Bhakti and Shakti go hand in hand, and one aspect complements the other in the fullest way. Righteousness cannot be achieved unless principles guide change, however the change comes about.

There was much discussion about the principles of Bhakti and Shakti within traditional historical settings of war, for example the wars fought by the Sikhs against the Mughals and even the world wars fought more recently. However it was recognised that we often oversimplify the concept of war based on this historical perspective, whereas wars and other conflicts are often fought very differently now. For example, the earlier Gurus performed huge diplomatic and non-violent achievements which the author did not discuss in the book. Instead the focus was very much on the Mughal state and oppression within those times.

In the book the example of a hundred year guerrilla war was given as a manifestation of Bhakti and Shakti in historical practice. Groups of individuals within this period acted as they saw fit, more or less independently, waging a war which was not part of a formally organised military attack, highlighting that the ideals of Bhakti and Shakti were actually lived in practice by groups of individuals. These ideals are not just applicable when talking about collective armies. In contrast, the world today relies upon modern armies to maintain these ideals, but it is this enough for a Sikh? The ideals of Bhakti and Shakti are ever-present within the Sikh Dharam, but how does this translate into reality when Sikhs live integrated within the current world? Is democracy enough to render these concepts obsolete or is there still a role for them? Can Sikhs rely upon the state to fight against oppression, rather than taking up the cause themselves?

Modern day examples of discrimination and oppression were shared by members, highlighting that the world is still very much in need of the principles of righteousness in order to deal with such situations. One would hope that the principles of Bhakti and Shakti would mean that a Sikh felt able to deal with oppressive or discriminatory situations effectively, even if it meant putting themselves at risk for a greater cause. We live in a relatively free society, and yet we all know of examples where racism has prevailed or bullying has taken place. We can even see the faults within the political system, which, despite its democratic principles, may not always hold our leader to account. So democracy and the state cannot be relied upon fully to execute the principles of Bhakti and Shakti. Sikhs must still maintain these principles and use them when needed to deal with everyday situations. However the members also reflected that the concepts of Bhakti and Shakti within Sikhi are encompassing of everyone (regardless of religion). The Gurus did not come to make an organised religion, but came to propagate Dharam for the world, regardless of sect or creed.

The members discussed the examples provided within the book regarding the Mahabarata and the Ramayan. The characters within these texts were not simply good or evil, but were complex and interesting, afflicted by the same vices which afflict us today. This highlights the fact that Shakti is not simply referring to an episodic fight against evil, but is something much more dynamic and ever-present. We are now dealing with much more insidious and complicated manifestations of evil than simple war and peace. The author raised the issue of eliminating evil through Bhakti and Shakti, but the members reflected that this may not truly be possible. For example many forms of so-called evil are linked with mental health problems. Perceptions of evil are different and evil is probably a rather unhelpful world anyway. However, it is possible to lead by example and change oneself, in order to affect wider change. Not to act, is almost rendering a person culpable of the change which results from that inaction.

The true Shakti of the Khalsa does not rely upon praying for a higher being to come and save you. Praying in the face of tyrrany has a limited role, but utilising the tools set forth by the Guru is more likely to be successful. The group discussed how Guru Gobind Singh Ji had nurtured this idea by introducing terminology such as ‘Mahakal’ to describe God, and introducing combat activities as part of every day life. There was some debate about whether this aspect of Sikhi is still relevant and how it can be relevant to today’s world. For example, many Sikhs now feel that the Kirpan is a symbol but others feel strongly that it can still be a weapon, which can be used against a Sikh if the Sikh is not confident in using it themselves. In any case, before picking up a weapon have we as Sikhs ourselves got the foundation of Bhakti to even get to that point where the use of a weapon can be condoned? The concept of using physical Shakti only as a last resort was highlighted when the members asked the question whether Guru Arjan Dev Ji had an army. It has been revealed in some historical texts that Guru Arjan Dev Ji did indeed maintain an army of a certain number, but did not engage this army even when his shaheedi was impending.

The example set by Guru Gobind Singh Ji was discussed in several ways. Firstly we discussed the example whereby he was willing to sacrifice his own children, without any special treatment even for their cremations compared with the rest of his Sikhs. Secondly the embodiment of compassion which weaved through every action was evident in the book as the author described the Guru’s gold-tipped arrows which could be used for the ‘enemy’ soldier’s funeral rites or for the injured medical attention. This shows that in actual fact, the Guru had no enemies and was fearless – the principles of Bhakti and Shakti in human form.

Finally, the author highlighted the historical context and importance of Amrit in cementing these principles. Various metaphors were used to show the significant of water, pataashe, the khanda of steel and the recitation of Gurbani, without which the Amrit ceremony could not be completed. The author also highlighted the significance of the Kakkars. The members reflected that although the principles of Sikhi emphasise oneness and equality of all, the Sikhs today have created their own caste system in terms of jathebandis and Amritdharis versus non-Amritdharis which prevent us from actually realising the concepts of Bhakti and Shakti. If we truly opened our minds to the oneness of humankind, and the values of Bhakti and Shakti we may find ourselves willing to engage in social and political debates more and more, by fostering positive change and helping at grassroots level to people who are truly in need.

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