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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)BOOK REVIEW: CONCEPT OF SADH SANGAT IN SIKHISM BY MAKHAN SINGH.

More than a congregation of seekers

Kuldip Singh Dhir

This treatise on the concept of sadh sangat in Sikhism elucidates how Guru Nanak used ordinary concepts and institutions of his times innovatively to bring about individual and social transformation. He loaded signifiers of these with multilayered signifieds connoting revolutionary insights that changed the course of history. With a remarkable ingenuity, he knit these up into a postmodern futuristic structural whole which ultimately came to be known as Sikhism. It is the only religion whose followers pray for the well-being of the entire humanity, be it their individual or collective prayer. The writer, Makhan Singh is thoroughly conversant with gurbani and Sikh history, and he has used these successfully to authenticate his formulations.

Sadh sangat is an institution for attuning to the divine in the company of the pious. It involves listening, accepting and living up to the utterances of the enlightened souls. Man is blessed with multiple choices. He can lead the life of a beast or rise above animal instincts. The alchemy is sadh sangat, envisaged as the body of men and women, who meet collectively especially in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib, chanting or listening to recital of holy writ with or without exposition.

Led by instincts and illusions, man fuels his ego in every deed he performs. Congregation of the pious keeps him away from self-conceit, awakens him from slumber and overwhelms him with love of the creator. Commonwealth of brotherhood attuned to the creator helps man to meditate and recognise his real self. Holy company makes man set aside his weakness for material pleasures. It is obtained through the Guru’s grace and amid it resides the Guru. Gurbani sings the praises of sadh sangat profusely but warns against pseudo-saints who exploit the naive.

One can gain nothing from sadh sangat if the mind is not receptive. We have to attend it with a mind empty of greed, lust, anger and attachment. Humility, devotion and a desire to meet the creator are helpful. Time spent in it is not important.

A single moment of sincere meditation can work miracles which cannot be wrought by lifetimes of just sitting with eyes closed. Guru, the word of the Guru and sadh sangat are not separate entities. Gurbani asserts that the creator placed his divine spark in everybody. The only difference is that some are aware of it while others are not. Everything is interconnected and interdependent.

The invisible thread of Naam binds us all. Its bliss melts all dualities. Sadh sangat cannot be conceived without selfless service. Material or manual, it has to be done with humility and devotion without any desire for gains. Obeisance before the scripture in sadh sangat is symbolic of surrender of individual ego and accepting the divine will. Sadh sangat is essential for spiritual edification and progress of the individual.

It consists of all sorts of seekers, all with a common goal. It is accessible and open to everybody. In the caste-ridden Indian society, the concept of sitting, eating and praying together, which is the cornerstone of sadh sangat, was totally alien. Brahmins had cumbersome rituals. Shudras were not allowed inside any upper-caste house or place of worship. Sadh sangat was a melting pot of the twice-born and the outcaste.

Makhan Singh points out that Guru Nanak anticipated the new ecological age community closely knit like a global village. Cultures and religions living in isolation were drawn in by him to live as neighbours. Ideas and insights from diverse faiths and cultures were welcome to him He established such sangats where ever he went. He equated these with the Guru in his hymns.

The institution was put on a sound footing by him during last phase of his life at Kartarpur. Compulsory community kitchen, prior to Sangat, ordered by Guru Amardas fostered equality and fraternity. Guru Hargobind prepared the sadh sangat to fight oppression and injustice. Guru Gobind Singh transformed Sangat into the Khalsa connecting it directly to the Guru without any intermediary. Makhan Singh underlines that the 10th Master conferred Guruship on this Khalsa along with Guru Granth Sahib, the former in form and the latter in spirit. Secular, global and far reaching implications of the institution of sadh sangat make it all the more relevant in strife-torn, communalised environment of our times making this book a must read.

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