Friday, April 24, 2009
Sojhi's Philosophical Prejudices
Randeep Singh Hothi
Professor Sahib I.J. Singh has produced some comments on the Sikh Research Institute’s Sojhi curriculum claiming that the forceful concerns raised in the face of Sojhi beg straightforward explanation — those questioning Sojhi are simply angry and cannot channel their emotions into efficiency. However, several deep and manifest concerns become apparent upon a study of the Sojhi syllabus for which mere “anger in the streets” cannot be an explanans.
Because Prof. I.J. Singh’s article brings not to the fore those very issues at stake motivating his article, an effort will be made to present some of what’s at stake with the Sojhi syllabus. We should be concerned with the substance at hand rather than ad hominem claims about people’s psychology.
At the beginning of his article, professor sahib says, “Now, critics are surfacing who are pointing to what they see as missteps and inaccuracies in the Sojhi offerings,” suggesting that some relatively minor mistakes were committed in the process of accomplishing some monumental task — as if those designing the syllabus merely slipped in a couple of places having valiantly climbed the summit of Mount Everest. But this isn’t the case. Because professor sahib does not discuss any of the issues that are at hand, they must be introduced.
One of the many theses of the Sojhi syllabus that stray far from gurmat is Sikh Research Institute’s rejection of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop.
For instance, the second-grade syllabus includes a poem about Sri Guru Granth Sahib that says such indefensible remarks as, “The Book itself is not my king.” Another is, “Mere print removes not anger, lust, nor pride, But the ESSENCE that is found inside.” Another is, “Not a chaur waved in an arc, Has placed upon my soul mark.” Several of these lines are presented in the syllabus. For one more, Sojhi goes as far as to write in bold font, “No mere book with pagination, Inspires my soul to contemplation.”
Let us reflect here. Sikh Research Institute sells a syllabus to gurudwara sahibs that speaks of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as a “mere book with pagination.” This is no mere “misstep” or “inaccuracy” as professor sahib says. Recall that it is in the second-grade syllabus that we find this poem.
If there is doubt as to whether this vicious language is an isolated incident, then please consider Sojhi’s proposal that the Dohra sung before Ardaas is wrong. According to SRI, the Dohra we sing:
is “inaccurate” or “wrong” because, as justified in the syllabus, “It dangerously brings us closer to becoming idol worshipers rather than keeping us away from it.”
As we can see, this rejection of Dohra works in parallel with the aforementioned poem in rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
This goes to show that SRI has systematically thought out a philosophy and justification for its rejection of Sri Guru Granth Sahib’s deh saroop, in a method that pervades throughout the SRI syllabus. These aren’t just accidents, but systematic philosophic stances pervading the syllabus.
Instead of studying the Sikh vision and conception of idolatry, SRI has imposed its own philosophical prejudices that are not of the Sikh tradition, but within the tensions of the Western tradition of philosophical theology.
SRI shows itself to be working within a mode of philosophical discourse grounded in the tradition of rationalist metaphysics articulated in its premier form in Descartes’ Meditations. In this face of the Aristotelian scholastic philosophers’ failure procuring a wholly successful methodological approach to the sciences, we see Descartes embark on a new project to determine the possibility of establishing scientific knowledge on new grounds. However, instead of grounding knowledge on the basis of a teleological metaphysics grounded in the Being of God as per Scholasticism, Descartes grounded the possibility for scientific knowledge on the cogito — the thinking substance. This is, what we nowadays call, the mind. The ontological distinction between mind and body ever since has become a chasm in large part due to Cartesian metaphysics.
Sojhi’s translation of jot within the confines of Cartesian metaphysics leads to a rejection of the deh saroop of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, which is seen as merely contingent and finite — what Sojhi calls “idol worship.”
Of course, the effects of Sojhi’s approach pervade its contents. We can see the effects of SRI’s rejection of the Guru Sahib’s deh saroop in the extremely disrespectful language used for the Guru Sahiban. It would break any Sikh’s heart that such language should be used to describe Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, so it will be located in the endnotes for those who must know (ii).
The pervasiveness of the Western metaphysical edifice in nearly all facets of the West including art, philosophy, pop culture, and politics cannot be overemphasized. We ought study those philosophical assumptions manifest in methodology that have resulted in such false scholarship, instead of mechanically imposing such assumptions on Khalsa school syllabi.
But, ultimately, what’s most important here is not only that Sojhi is inherently flawed, but also that individual-centric interpretations should not determine the course of study for little children. If one has peculiar thoughts about Sri Guru Granth Sahib, one may consult panthic scholars to correct one’s views. However, for SRI to publish its peculiar thoughts in the form of a syllabus, to slip into the minds of children under the radar, is not right.
(i) SRI must have meant to write “revered” here, as “reverend” does not make much sense. Typographical errors of this kind are common throughout the SRI syllabus.
(ii) Describing Guru Arjan Sahib’s shahadat, Sojhi says, “He was, therefore, deprived of food and water and put into hot blazing sand and stoned, which caused blood to ooze out of his head.” [emphasis mine].
Note: The author, Randeep Singh, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. He will graduate with a bachelor's degree in philosophy in Spring 2009.