FARMINGTON FORUM FOR FAITHS SIKHISM: A PERSPECTIVE OR TWO

I am glad to be in the midst of my friends and neighbors today and have this opportunity to talk about my faith. I hope our conversation today would help promote greater understanding between us as residents of this beautiful community so that our corporate lives as Farmingtonians are built around a shared respect for one another even as adherents of different faith traditions. In these difficult, divisive and fractious times we must do what we can to protect the fabric of our society.

I better start out by telling you that I am a Sikh. People have asked me even prior to some media appearances as to how do we say it – S-E-E-K? Very close indeed not only the way it sounds but providentially in what it means also. Literally Sikh means disciple – seeker – so whichever way you say it we remain humble seekers of the path that may bring us closer to God.

In the few minutes available to me this evening I will attempt to share with you my understanding of the Sikh perspective on the two questions which define the core of our conversation this evening. The first of these is what is the most important thing about Sikhism that I would like you to know. Difficult as the choice is, I thought it might be instructive if I should try and explore the attitude of my faith about other faith traditions.

Let me start by saying that Sikhism does have a tradition of respect for other faiths. The faith recognizes that there can be and are several paths to emancipation. The Gurus prayed for God to save this burning world in His mercy and let (people) find liberation through whichever path (faith persuasion) they may be able to.[1] They also visited holy places of other faiths and had extensive dialogues with their religious leaders during their travels and missionaries.

The two dominant faiths in the social milieu of the Guru’s time were Hindu and Muslim. The Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib contains compositions of Hindu, Muslim and Shudra saints of the time. The scripture also commends acceptance of all languages (literature) and science or technology (developed) anywhere. Sikhs are told that the test of a true devotee is to be able to create harmony in the time they live in.

The Gurus and subsequently the Sikh rulers stayed steadfast for the right to free worship and helped places of worship of other faiths. Guru Tegh Bahadur accepted to be martyred to defend religious freedom of Hindus. Guru Hargobind constructed a mosque, picturesquely situated on a hill overlooking a curve on the banks of the mighty Beas River in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. Guru Arjan asked Mian Mir, a Muslim saint to lay the foundation stone of the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden temple. Till 1947 half the singers of spiritual music at the Golden Temple were Muslims when in the wake of riots on partition of the country they left for safety of Pakistan.

The Gurus repeatedly stress that one should live by one’s faith precepts to be a true devotee. What is important is the way one lives the life, what one practices, not professes. The Guru tells the Sikhs that only those who live by the principles of the persuasion are his Sikhs.[2]The message for the Hindus[3] is that one who disciplines his mind and whose soul is attuned to God is a Pandit. And one will be called a Muslim only when he is compassionate to all beings.[4]Thus the litmus test for each of us is what we do, how we live and we will be judged by our karma alone. The best faith, says the Guru, is to live a prayerful life doing good deeds.[5]

The Sikh scripture reminds us again and again that we are all children of God, our one common father.[6]The distinctions of religion, caste, color, creed, ethnicity etc. are all man made and do not exist in His court.[7] The Guru tells people that we were not created Hindu or Muslim; our body, our life is given us by the One we call Allah or Ram[8]– popular names for God in the two faiths.

In practice what does it mean? Are Sikhs any the better human beings? I would not claim that at all. We are frail. We falter. We make mistakes. We are, I hope, like every body else and not worse. Our beliefs however do seem to find articulation in an open entry to all to our houses of worship with everybody being treated alike – rich or poor; high or low; good or bad; believer or non-believer; man or woman; young or old. Sikhs treat with equal reverence the writings of Gurus and those of holy persons from Hindu, Muslim and Shudras included in the scripture. At the Golden Temple at Amritsar, more than 170,000 meals are served at the community kitchen everyday – those served coming from all strata of society including pilgrims, visitors and the needy.

The Sikh philosophy believes that death is not the end of man .The ideal of perfection which ends the cycle of transmigration has to be attained living in this worldand till that stage is reached the individual keeps progressing or regressing on the path to merging with the Lord. There is no heaven or hell, it is all here, in this world. The Guru prays that God, with His glance of Grace, can show us the way to achieve emancipation while living a lifewith our share of laughter, sport,fineries and food[9]?

A distinguishing point of Guru’s vision is that to attain emancipation one needs the company of virtuous. Thus there is a social dimension to it and in fact it is carried forward by saying that the virtuous may not only get emancipated themselves but also cause the community to be liberated.[10]Sikhs believe in Divine presence in the company of the virtuous and respectfully bow to any congregation.

Before closing I do want to briefly touch upon the second question relating to any misconception about Sikhs that I want to clear or correct. If absence of conception can be called a misconception then understandably we have a sizable project here. But I have an uncomfortable apprehension that the Sikh image in an average American’s mind is a blur associated with some negative stereotypes. If that were so the project becomes even bigger and far more difficult. I am afraid that I cannot accomplish that task alone or with the help of my fellow Sikhs. We can do something about that only by all of us working shoulder to shoulder. Come therefore and join us in this quest to know one another better. Join us in our homes, in our festivities, in our trials and tribulations, in our worship. We will welcome it for we do realize that we are in it together – hopefully for a better tomorrow for our children.

  • Formerly business executive; management & UN consultant; Professor, Chair Operations Management & Dean Administrative Staff College of India; Chief Planning & Evaluation, Department of Defense Production; Leader Technology Team (First Secretary) High Commission for India in the UK; Colonel Indian Army &c.  A past president of Connecticut Sikh Association, working for several years on sharing information about the Sikh faith, culture and values in the contemporary setting.  Active in inter faith activity. Author “Exploring Sikh Spirituality & the Paradox of their Stereotyping in contemporary American setting” published by Sanbun, New Delhi, March, 2003.

[1] Jagat jalanda rakh lai apni kirpa dhar, jit dware ubhare tite lai ubhar [Slok M III, p.853]

[2] rehni rahe soi sikh mera [       ]

[3] so pandit jo man parbodhey, ram nam atam meh sodhey [Gauri Sukhmani, 4.9]

[4] to nanak sarab jia mehramat hoey ta musalman kahavey [Slok M I, p. 141]

[5] srab dharma meh srisht dharma, har ko nam jap nirmal karam [Gauri Sukhmani 8.3]

[6] ek pita ekas ke hum balak [ M         ]

[7] jaano jot neh pooch jati aage jat neh hai [ M I p. 349]

[8] neh hum hindu neh musalman, allah ram ke pind pran  [p. 1136       ]

[9] Nanak satgur bhetiye poori hovai jugat, hasandeyan khelandian pawandeyan khawandeyan viche hovai mukt [M V p.522]

[10] aap tare sagle kul tare [ p. 877]

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