Balance of Power


by Dharmatma Kaur Khalsa

Sat Nam.

What is balance of power? When I studied political science in college in the 70s, it referred to a bi-polar world, dominated by two superpowers: the USA and the USSR. At its essence, the matching arsenals (power) of each nation kept the world in a very limited kind of balance.

Of course, balance of power can mean many things. Whether we are talking about electrical, personal, political, economic, or other kinds of power, the key is balance.

This July we celebrated Guru Hargobind’s birthday. Hargobind became the sixth Guru when he was 11 years old, after the martyrdom of his father, fifth Guru Arjan Dev. The fifth Guru was martyred at the hands of the Mughal emperor Jahangir for refusing to submit to Jahangir’s demands.

One of Guru Arjan’s final instructions to Hargobind was to wear two swords as Guru. One represented miri, or worldly power, the other represented piri, or spiritual power.  This is how the Sikh practice of miri piri was born. Guru Hargobind wore the swords on each side, and in doing so taught us that miri and piri must be balanced.

It is reported that Guru Hargobind told Baba Buda: “It is through thy intercession I obtained birth; and it is in fulfillment of thy blessing I wear two swords as emblems of spiritual and temporal authority. In the Guru’s house religion and worldly enjoyment shall be combined – the caldron to supply the poor and needy and scimitar to smite oppressors.” So the Guru’s house welcomed the challenges and blessings of everyday life and spiritual practice. Neither miri nor piri were elevated at the expense of the other.

The sixth Guru was the first to adopt a sword at all, knowing that Sikhs would engage in Dharmic battles that play out in both spiritual and temporal realms.

So how might we, as Sikhs, practice miri piri in today’s world?  I don’t think there is only one answer; here are some considerations.

Too much worldly power breeds attachment and a desire for control. Too much spiritual power breeds arrogance and the desire to control the Unknown. Either in excess puffs up the ego. The five obstacles of lust, anger, greed, pride and attachment are enhanced by too much miri or piri.  Ever seen someone who is very spiritually devoted or a great yogi, but otherwise is ungrounded and unable to handle the ups and downs of everyday living? That’s piri without miri. We’ve all seen public figures successfully lust for money, power, and fame and think that success is all their doing. While very grounded in the world, they are or appear to be without any sense or acknowledgement of the Divine in their lives. That’s miri without piri.  And sometimes we see people who appear to have neither courage, conviction nor faith. Whether by choice, ignorance or circumstance such people appear to be without any miri or piri.

Guru Hargobind’s miri piri manifested as sant-sipahi, the saint-soldier. Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan often reminded all of us to “live like soldiers, act like saints.” Neither the saintly nor soldierly aspect is elevated over the other.  It is a form of miri piri that I think is very exacting. Our history is full of examples of sant-sipahis, yet we all know people who are Sikh but manifest miri piri in other ways.

Sikhs wear kirpans representing our duty to defend the defenseless. From my own experience, this can be either miri or piri: the defending can be for spiritual Dharma or to stand against worldly injustice.  10th Guru Gobind Singh’s paean to the sword, Jai Taygung, reflects this.

Our world today seems to be focused only on miri, worldly power. Oh sure, we all know individuals who live miri piri, but globally it seems that miri rules. Of course, piri is going to be harder to see; it represents Spirit and the Unknown. When I feel frustrated or horrified by the daily news, I have to consciously remind myself it’s all God, still, and piri is out there.

Raj Karega Khalsa: we sing this every day in Gurdwara. “Khalsa shall rule the world.” Does this mean a political state (Khalistan)? Does it mean a state of consciousness? Does it mean Sikhs will rule the world in a global government? I think the answer is the second, and will manifest only with conscious practice of miri piri. It will be a state of Khalsa consciousness—one practiced by millions, whether or not they are or look like Sikhs. It will manifest the perfect balance of Khalsa spirit and hard work, deep spiritual practice balanced by full engagement in the everyday world. It will be piri, compassion for all beings and miri, unlimited commitment to defend against any oppression.

Find your balance.

Guru ang sang.

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