This month’s book was ‘Bandginama’ by Bhai Raghbir Singh Bir. The book can be found here.
Summary of analysis
- Background of the author
- Purpose of the book
- Style of the book
- Key messages
- Spiritual aspects
- Sangat, simran, prayer and faith
- How to change oneself as a result of this book
The book club meeting began with a discussion on the author Bhai Raghbir Singh Bir. He had a noble objective in primarily aiming to help younger people and the western generation gain some wisdom in terms of spirituality. He felt that the focus was all too often placed on external regalia and history rather than true spiritual practice. Bhai Raghbir Singh also took the unusual step of sharing his spiritual experiences rather than keeping them anonymous or ‘gupt’ and there was a brief discussion on the pros and cons of this attitude. Certainly Bhai Raghbir Singh appeared to have achieved a great deal in his lifespan, including the creation of a magazine, newspaper, trust and school. He was also heavily involved in the Akali movement which is not well known. He tried to retain his sense of national identity by rejecting the ideas of the colonial rulers and in turn the British then banned publication of some of his books.
Interestingly, Bhai Sahib also kept his spiritual practices secret from his family. He would wake up in the middle of the night and so simran, then going back to sleep before his family would notice. He shared his real experiences in the book, but also was honest about his own failings. The editor of the book mentions that one of the main purposes was to remove honest doubts from within the minds of ordinary people. However the book was also described as a book for every faith, highlighting the universality of the message of the Sikh faith. On member reflected that Bhai Raghbir Singh seemed like a scientist of the spirit – he would ask for advice, then put this into practice and monitor the results. He had an incredible amount of discipline and diligence over many years. Despite this he was honest with the reader about getting stuck at certain points in his spiritual journey, sometimes for many years at a time. But he persevered and wanted to better himself continually. The members discussed the comments that Bhai Raghbir Singh made regarding the lack of spiritual education we have access to today. We reflected that there are not many face-to-face avenues to go to thesedays to obtain spiritual knowledge unless one has a good understanding of Gurbani already. The members discussed the models of education in the UK where spiritual knowledge is taught to very young children e.g. learning how to share, but is very quickly lost as a child grows and is educated in higher classes. The focus moves away from spirituality very quickly onto materialistic things.
The book used Shakespearean English to translate the meanings of Gurbani which some members found difficult to read. It was recognised by almost all members that this book requires reading several times to digest the full amount of information. Certain themes from the book jumped out at different members of the book club e.g. when Bhai Raghbir Singh says that the onus is on the individual as to how the world appears to them. One of the main key themes was the importance of spiritual experience (rather than jus reading). The author recommended that the way to build experience is to start walking on the journey of Sikhi. The author appeared very genuine in the way that different concepts were described. In one section on the contradictions within Gurbani, he describes very gently why this is the case, providing clear explanations to the readers. He recognised that individuals can only interpret experiences and Gurbani as per their own experiences and knowledge level. Overall the members found the book very accessible in terms of the reader building a relationship with the author and then continuing on a journey together. Bhai Raghbir Singh integrated stories e.g. meeting Fakirs and other spiritual souls, which made for very interesting reading. At the same time he was not prescriptive in his views and at no point did he make the reader feel that only his way was the correct way. He was honest about his limitations and readily admitted that he had not reached the level of Samadhi as yet.
There were several themes which centred the book including simran, knowledge, prayer and faith. Bhai Raghbir Singh stated that one of the ways in which to gain true Sangat is by reading books as one can access ancient wisdom otherwise inaccessible. He quoted many different authors from eastern and western traditions which provided valuable insights into the universality of a spiritual journey. The members reflected that the way we interact with our Sangat has changed with the advent of technology, but there is a still a need for physical Sangat. Bhai Raghbir Singh also placed a lot of emphasis on both simran and Ardas, regardless of which stage one is at. He discussed the importance of doing Ardas with full faith, and needing to the open-minded enough to receive the answer to one’s Ardas. He described in detail the difference between Ardas in Sangat and an inward ardas. The members reflected that very few of us do Ardas with 100% faith, as a child would ask something of its mother. Bhai Raghbir Singh described six stages of simran and described it as the ladder leading to God. He gave practical tips to help the reader persevere with their journey even when it gets tough. One member reflected that if the book was named ‘A guide to Self-Realisation’ it would be a best seller.
Throughout the book was the recognition that experience is more valuable than anything else. It was clear during our discussion that many of us had not attained anywhere near the spiritual depths of the author and so were very much limited by our own experiences when interpreting what he said. The book was an inspiration – it makes people want to act rather than just read or listen. Bhai Raghbir Singh’s level of faith was also highly inspirational – and he differentiates between blind faith, true faith and unshakeable faith. He similarly gave advice regarding renunciating worldly addictions, but again was not rigid in his line of thinking. Overall the book focused on the internal rather than the external. He recognised the limitations of the word God and used alternative words such as Force or Oneness to describe a more broad concept of God.
Towards the end of the discussion we briefly touched upon Bhai Raghbir Singh’s faith in terms of medical healing. There was some debate as to the validity of these views. One member reflected that there is a need for critical thinking as well as faith in order to live in this world. The members discussed the last chapter in the book which was added by the editor, but few thought it was necessary. Finally we discussed some action points in terms of using the book to improve our own spiritual lives – after all, Bhai Raghbir Singh states very clearly that it is only by walking on the path that we can experience the Divine.