Academic Study: The Nihang Phenomenon
Exploring the process of personal transformation in British Nihangs
This research was undertaken in 2009 as part of a MSc. thesis in "Transpersonal Psychology and Consciousness studies" postgraduate programme at Liverpool John Moore University.
The remit was to investigate the "transformational" process associated with British born Punjabis towards encounter and engagement with the authentic tradition of Nihangs.
The Nihangs are the authentic tradition of the Sikh mystic warriors. The Nihang (followers of Timeless One, means 'free from worldly cares') were also known as Akalis and carry a reputation to this day of being fearless, highly skilled and resolute warriors. The Nihangs code of conduct and dress is the most distinct and outstanding of all the Sikhs. They are all have unshorn hair, wear weapons such as swords and the steel quoits around their blue turbans. Their overall dress colour is blue, with a long blue tunic (Bana). They are totally self-sufficient in terms of food, water, security, transport etc. The Nihangs follow a detailed and strict code of conduct, (Rehit-personal practice), which includes, meditation, martial arts, animal husbandry, food cultivation, accomplished musicians, and singers.
There are a number of unique components of this study.
- This is the first known investigation in the conversion / transformational process associated with non-Judeo-Christian religions, namely Sikhi.
- The study focused on Consciousness based lifestyle as opposed to a belief based "religion"
- The study was able to identify and differentiated between the "conversion" process (verbal conversion) and an "awakening" (lasting change in consciousness)
All, apart from one (born is Estonia), participants interviewed during this academic study are British born and bred, and therefore also represent a Judeo-Christian conversion process. While the findings are supportive of previous research of a religious conversion process, there is evidence to support a transformational process that can be described as an awakening. A significant and lasting change in subjective conscious experience for all participants interviewed for this study.
Previous research have primarily focused on the process of conversion as understood within the Judeo-Christian religious worldview, however, this study differentiated between religious conversion and spiritual awakening according to Sikh thought and therefore was able to include the process associated with spiritual awakening (Jagartaa – lit. awaken).
To "Awaken" implies significant change in state of consciousness and also a sense of permanence found in this "new state" of consciousness. Awakening refers to the change in awareness; recognition of different states of consciousness and the ability to experience alter states of consciousness.
A new Sikh identity of Nihang-Sikhs has started to appear amongst the second and third generations of British born Punjabi and Sikh community over the last decade. This study focuses its attention to the mechanisms by which individuals are engaging with this martial tradition of the Sikhs and the conversion process involved.
Using Grounded theory, the study examines the conversion process of a number of committed Nihangs, exploring their encounter, engagement, transformational experiences and the impact on their personality.
The findings are supportive of previous research, producing a preliminary model of conversion, incorporating both Verbal conversion and Total Conversion. (Lofland & Stark 1965).
While current conversion theories offers adequate explanation of the conversion process for a non-Judeo-Christian religion, however, there's a need for further exploration in determining the transformational processes and the emergence of spirituality within Consciousness based "religions" such as Sikhi, Buddhism and Daoism.
The research also highlighted the need for further investigation in two specific areas:- i. Practices and their psychotherapeutic impact including mindfulness, Naam Simaran (sound mindfulness), Kundalini Yoga, martial arts and Sewa (selfless service) in successfully overcoming mental and emotional ill-health such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, pain management as well as the personal-transformation process towards self-actualisation and self-realisation.
Consequences of transformation or conversion as this phenomena has been predominantly observed in young British born men, further investigation and research is required to address the following points:
- The ecology of the “conversion” process compared to the ecology of the “transformational” process
- The level, type and relevance of on-going guidance, support and education provided to the individuals in the process
- Consequences to individual, community and society
- Possibility of religious radicalisation for British Born individuals.
For further information
Symran.com is dedicated to supporting ongoing research for understanding and recognising the transformation processes and practices associated with self-growth, well-being and self-realisation.
Areas of research
- Mindfulness based research programme
- Mindfulness based therapy for depression
- Mindfulness and Transpersonal psychology based support and therapy
- Mindfulness for children
- Transpersonal support
- Spiritual emergence and spiritual crisis
- Counter-radicalisation programmes within the religious context
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