Autar ji has been asking about some discussion on the subject of training priests locally, more specifically in Malaysia. The subject is of imminent importance because of some Government directives on the subject. He has asked Jagpal ji and Jaspal ji to get the ball rolling.  I therefore do most humbly submit that my intent is not to jump in ahead of them and I would most respectfully await what they and our other friends like to say.

I do want to say that I have no experience in being involved with the training of Sikh priests – and by priests I assume we mean Granthies, Bhais, Ardassias and the like; predominantly those functioning as kathakars and ragis excluded. What I am going to say is therefore really a lay view.

I apprehend that it will be a major task and a difficult project and I would suggest more of what we might consider as we launch into serious planning:

  • The numbers required to be trained initially and continuing likely requirements
  • The totality of the likely package the trained priests will receive and its likely effect in motivating them to volunteer
  • Would the participation be limited to Malay nationals or volunteers from say India or Pakistan can join and use the opportunity. If this is possible what are the likely visa issues
  • Who will pay for the training and if it is on sponsored basis what are the likely commitments the students will have to make
  • Based on various factors what would be the minimum denominator of their basic education, language proficiency in Punjabi [English, Malay?], knowledge of Gurbani, SRM, Kirtan, Sikh ethos, history etc

The curriculum design should consider developing their skills in:

  • Reading, reciting, understanding of the structure, grammar of Guru

Granth Sahib and scriptural literature

  • Ability to interpret Gurbani passages as well as Sikh teachings thematically and facility to recall in such exposition
  • Some skills in kirtan, katha
  • Maryada including SRM, amrit sanchar, parshad, langar, marriages, festivals, seasonal
  • Sikh history, issues, concerns
  • Developing language proficiency, speaking skills
  • Ability to teach, train the sangat especially the youth
  • Understanding of Sikh religious life, seva and social engagement
  • Sensitivity to contemporary societal issues and Sikh thought on the subject
  • Gurdwara management including the committees, handling of cash and offerings, administrative responsibilities [job descriptions] of employees, rules, planning/managing diwan proceedings
  • Life style expectations, role model expectations
  • Relationship with sangat, counseling, chaplaincy, socializing
  • Relating to other faith groups, participate in inter faith events
  • Relating to mainstream

Depending on where the individual starts from the training could take a pretty long time – may be years, not months.

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Thank you Gurmukh ji. Have attempted another message on GLZ today that may draw no different response.

The fact is that not much work has been done by Sikh scholars. Mostly this work should be done by Sikhs in Business Schools, Medical profession, Law and the like. I attempted a little when at ASCI and used several quotes from the Granth in my lectures – the same way my other colleagues used from Gita and the like. I also delivered a more appreciated seminar on Spirituality and Leadership woven around quotes from our scriptural literature.

I however have not had the time to put a paradigm together but have met Hindu scholars who have tried to define a revisionist version of Hinduised Business Ethics. Their presentations were well received in conferences though I do not know how academia may have taken to them. Good that the Gur ta Gaddi publication is on the way to publication. Look forward to seeing it in print.

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Tarik Deep ji. Your suggestion is good and will help but there a lot of problems. My sense is that firstly Sikhism is not recognized as a world religion. Next there are not many faculty available who may take the trouble of learning about Sikhism and offer it. Another constraint is paucity of texts available. But we must persevere and keep trying. We can accomplish a lot if the school texts have an appropriate even if short write up on Sikhs. Even getting that is an uphill task and we really are not organized to get the process moving in a coordinated manner across all school systems during their periodic reviews.

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With the news of the Hindu parents withdrawing their wards from the school this episode is perhaps drawing to a close – not a happy one but hopefully a closure of some sort.

My earnest hope however is that the Akal Academy uses the interregnum to calmly review their policies. And I am referring to not only their policy regarding school uniforms but in an overall sense.

Let me try and slightly elaborate. The Academy is a Sikh institution well on its way to becoming a center for higher learning as a university. To be a center for excellence it will have to attract the very best among its faculty and student body. It will also need continued generous funding to build up an infrastructure that supports research and pursuit of excellence. It will also need to earn broad good will among the wider community so that its offerings are sought after and its publications read by non-Sikhs.

In this process they might to have to consider that even as their administrative policies are secular and non discriminatory they should not hurt their basic purpose of being a good, respected, competitive Sikhi inspired School. If that premise is accepted they should weigh up their uniform policies, their fund raising practices using the students kirtan performances and the image of orthodoxy that they seem to prefer to project. I am making these comments with deep humility and fully recognize the great service they have done but quantum leaps involve being able to respond to the needs of the higher calling. What worked as a good starting point to win community support as a revivalist Sikh school strategy may not fit the needs of an ambitious project that wants to reach out nationally and internationally as a Sikh institution of higher learning.

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There are a lot of things about Baru Sahib that one hears and sees. Surely the institution is doing a great service that many parents, donors and other supporters of their style of teaching and discipline chose for their kids. The score card for the institution however is rather a mixed bag.

I personally did have several occasions to meet with the kids, the Baba and the local hosts in the USA when every summer they would come on a fund raising drive. Invariably the kids had to be cramped in small rooms, following pretty stressful schedules performing kirtan and making other presentations while travelling every couple of days to different Gurdwaras as they moved from location to location for fund raising.

I appreciated the accomplishments of the kids but did wonder what is it that they learnt on these missions. Were these their chosen preferences for voluntary work and if so what was intended to be learnt by what they were doing? I could not find credible explanation about what this activity was and how it fitted in with their academic schedule even whatever the vision of the organizers in structuring their curricula. The only comparison that came to mind was the use of kids from anaatha ashrams who used come fund collecting playing bands – except that possibly these kids did a little more than raise funds. They might have been helping more parents make up their mind to send their kids to Baru Sahib.

I tried talking to several and mostly found them hesitant to say anything.

The quality issue of academic institutions is fairly determinable especially when some historical data can be accessed. It is about time we find out how the kids who have left Baru Sahib are doing in life. A comprehensive study, best carried out by the institution itself, would dispel misconceptions and help correct the curriculum designs and life skills ideology of the institution. Purely going by the pass percentages etc will not be adequate. Baru Sahib is trying to sell a paradigm of Sikh living and a Sikh in life. Their products may validate the massive effort that has gone into it and possibly suggest some pointers to improvement.

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I got the message sent by Paul. We just got to Delhi yesterday and expect to be away for some time. In the meanwhile if you let me know some more details I can endeavor to answer your queries via email or if need be try and connect you with some others who might be helpful. In any case when I am back I would be happy to assist with any residual questions or further interest that you may have.

Thank you Paul and look forward to hearing from you and Jordan.

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Mandeep ji is right about the country coming first, then the troops under your command and lastly yourself. That is the creed that good military leaders at all levels have always eschewed. It should come naturally to JJ.

The confusion in his mind that is apparent is that being a Sikh is not a set of values contesting the valiant leadership qualities Chetwood talked of. Being a Sikh is all that this dictum says and much more. There is not and must not be any conflict on that score.

Obviously JJ fell for his usual flippancy – emotional, articulate but not profound! This also reflects the generic lack of understanding of Sikhi that our very best some time display – could it also be a repressed expression of disciplined espousal of secular principles, so necessary for a minority to demonstrate to continue to grow in that society?

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I recall attending a Sikh Youth Conference at San Jose State University possibly in late 2001 or 2002 where my recollection is that some from Jakara group presented papers. The day long meet was well organized, the speakers displayed a good grasp of Sikh issues in the Diaspora and offered thoughtful comments.

I did include a short reference to the event in my book, Exploring Sikh Spirituality [2003] and wrote ‘the papers presented were sensitive to the issues confronting Sikhs in the US and several comments are worth repeating. Pavneet Singh said that Sikhs need now more than ever before to engage in a discourse at the ideological level and develop a stronger connection between the intangible aspects of the faith, its history and thought and see how can concepts like capitalism vs. kirat/vand, economic hierarchy/poverty vs. panth/langar/sangat be reconciled. Jasvir Kaur emphasized that social, political and academic engagement with the mainstream is not only necessary but should be a source of learning. In the opinion of Parambir Singh Sikhs appear to be suffering from self-hate syndrome similar to African Americans in 50/60’s living an ‘inclusive existence in concealed reclusion’. His view is that we display lack of unity & collective consciousness; divergent, disjointed interpretations with no basic cohesiveness and coherence. He would want our Gurdwaras to be pulsating meeting places; lively, supportive; with social activities and programs for all ages.’

My plea: mistrust of youth would be a mistake. They are aware in a different and more relevant kind of way. They carry less baggage than us. Misplaced sense of ideals may carry some of them away but so did we. All that we thought as young adults has neither come about nor proven to be right. In any case they are the future. We brought Sikhs and Sikhi where it is – hopefully they can reposition it in a manner that respects its heritage and is inclusive and progressive.

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Virinder ji has conceded in his conclusion that the core of the transmitted thought remains undistorted in all the mutations that it may go through. He also said that ‘Those who have educated themselves on Sikh Philosophy by reading available books wonder if these books were tainted by oral traditions and had miracles and rituals included in them. Miracles and rituals are against the Sikh Philosophy. So the present Sikh Traditions being followed may be flawed and suspect.’

Now if the core thought can be clearly identified why do we have doubts on say: how a word should be pronounced or the praxis of keeping long hair The test of our commitment to understanding of history or tradition with an open mind is in not being selective about whatever method we advocate.

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