Interpretation and Scholarship

Charan ji has done a very thoughtful, involved, analysis of roh, ros, krodh etc to grasp the semantic significance of the terms as used in SGGS and by Guru Gobind Singh.

I would submit that the meaning of a word used in SGGS becomes clearer when we look at its several applications but the sense eventually is contextual to the phrase and the shabad.

In the case of use of ros in bachitar natak, I would submit a different approach to the mere semantic. This verse comes toward the end of the battle scene where the Guru has described the acts of bravery, the weapons being wielded, and death using description as if he was watching it from above. As so engaged in witnessing the divine play, he saw bravery among his soldiers and those against him – he saw all movements dispassionately as they happened. He was part of it physically but was transported in spirit above the fray.

The baan hitting was the break of that divine reverie – and then he took to the fight as a partisan but not before his horse was hit and another baan grazed his ear.

In zafarnama too there is similar wrestling interlude before he used force.

These two incidents are not really cases for semantic analysis but point to the anguish an elevated soul goes through before becoming part of a bloody struggle.

Dasam Granth makes us look at the seamier side of life in an open manner and we are expected to make our own understanding about the rights and wrongs in a violent, deceitful world. The divine force seems to be acting through weapons and death in a futile battle.

SGGS is about life – about being engaged with it actively. It does not incite about turning violent as it does about becoming involved and by so doing try and usher in peace. It is a tough call and those wanting to tread this path must be willing to make sacrifices. It also challenges us for personal transformation before we try to transform the society. Guru Nanak also saw the gory scenes as a divine play – Guru Arjan also left his own safety [sulhi case] to God. The sant sipahi needs to understand the sublime and ugly both – from bhagti ras as well as bir ras. That is bhakti and shakti, degh and tegh, miri and piri at work as we live, individually and collectively.

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Devinder ji has for years maintained that the ease of cut and paste use of internet translations of SGGS became a facilitator for spreading vedantic interpretations of Bani. In a recent message he says ‘So far only literal translations in English are found, which are found everywhere on the Internets and is extensivley being used for discussion on various forums. Such literal translations are creating disagreements between different groups of discussion.”

Even though Devinder ji’s primary concern has been the vedantic slant, the other point that he is arguing is about the extensive use of gurbani translation off the internet that is fuelling debate and discord in discussion groups.

I thought I will pick a message from the current digest by Virinder ji who possibly is the most prolific user of internet gurbani search and try and figure out in a simplistic way how the resource has been used.

In the message picked, he is responding to the debate on real and fake Sikhi. He defines Sikhi as the way of life for a disciple as per the teachings of the Sabd Guru, which — one has to live it to progress on the path of spirituality. The wishful religion has to be of proof and performance but not purely of promise by birth to Sikh parents or physical identity.

In the substantive part he cites the following quotes with the intent to support his definition:

One should always think of the Akal Purkh, who will be the Support in the end.—–Guru Amardas, Raag Majh, AGGS, Page, 117-19 & 118-1

If the ones with plucked hairs abjure bathing, then they merit throwing seven handfuls of dust on their heads.—–Guru Nanak, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 150-6

Reflecting on the teachings of the Guru is planting ambrosial nectar, and obtain the Akal Purkh as their ambrosial fruit.—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, A GGS, Page, 302 -18 & 19

They all plant for their own good, but the Akal Purkh causes to grow only that field with which It is pleased. The Gurus teachings is planting the Naam.—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 304-8

If someone separates himself from the True Guru, his face is blackened, and he is destroyed by the Messenger of Death..—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 311-19 & 312-1

The Sikhs listen to the Teachings imparted by the True Guru. Those who surrender to the True Guru’s Will are imbued with the four-fold Love of the Akal Purkh. This is the unique and distinct life-style of the Guru willed: listening to the Guru’s Teachings, their minds blossom forth.—–Guru Amardas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 314-9 & 10

The Sikhs and the entire congregation recognize You as the Supreme God, and bow down to you..- —-Satta Balwand, AGGS, Page, 968-10

The Sikhs of the Guru accept and obey the Akal Purkh’s Will; the Perfect Guru carries them across -Guru Ramdas Slokes, AGGS, Page, 1424-8

His presentation ends with this Conclusion [verbatim]

1. The present Guru of Sikhs and for ever is AGGS and no where It describes the present definitions used for being a Sikh.

2. The only things it refers to is Gurmukh (Guru willed) or Manmukh (Self willed.)

3. Any religion to a person is a personal and private thing.

4. Institutionalizing a religion loses its perspective on spirituality and promotes controlling the followers.

5. Motto should be to live and let live, The God’s light is present in all so how one can be good and the other one bad.

Let the readers judge for themselves if the presentation is cogent or gurbani supported text leads to conclusions that have been made. Next let them also ponder if gurbani texts quoted have been cited with relevance for if relevance is missing or not even linked in, then the use of gurbani is only as an embellishment to get the gullible devotee to accept the conclusions as flowing from the divine word.

The example shows that there is merit in the concern that Devinder ji has expressed about the use of internet gurbani resources to confuse the issues that in some cases may give rise to disputes.

Also we do see the possibility that by repetitive mix and [mis]match of texts from prepared banks, one can continue to make the same or similar set of coclusions inserted in all discussions with random unconnected gurbani quotes.

Here we should also note the comment made by Kulbir ji in another accompanying message, citing another of Virinder ji’s presentation. He says ‘My main refrain — has been to put in focus Bhai Virinder Singh’s selective approach to analysis that allows him to make pre-determined conclusions. He has devised a very clever strategy to accomplish this. He either uses selective and skewed data or simply jumps to conclusions of his choice even though the data doesn’t lead to them. The unfortunate part of this strategy is that the sanctity of Gurbani is misused in the process.’

The question is how do we respond to these situations. It is not an easy choice in our situation where presently most of our conventional structures, settled convictions and shared understandings are under serious and increasingly strident stress. The reasons are many and for the sake of brevity one may leave them alone on the facile assumption that these are well known.

Even a few decades back many of the expressions of break from the mainstream [or what was the mainstream] that we take into stride today would have been very seriously viewed. Not now, because the demographics indicate a landslide change at the grass root levels and this reality

has to get reflected in our stated positions. This being the case let us try and relate it to the virtual world of GLZ.

If we look at GLZ it is possibly a fairly poor reflection of real life at least in one sense. Out of over 10K members, unlike in real life, the conversations are mostly between a handful of people. None of us can ever get such pliant audience of so many. I have had the opportunity to address some large groups – the largest was 7500 in Istanbul, not dumb by any means. So we luckily are really a kind of not so exclusive club where the mass of participants stay in the shadows and don’t even nod their heads or ask any questions.

We should not however forget that they are there and in a quiet kind of way their minds are selectively taking in some of the things that are happening here.

This is the power of this medium that can be exploited by a person with a mission. The objectives may have been to provide a forum for open discussion that fosters learning and greater understanding of Sikhs and Sikhi but unless those taking part restrain their missionary zeal, the medium can be flooded with repetitive and repackaged messages intended for specific purposes.

It is difficult for moderators to filter texts or intervene. It is also distasteful to engage in a running squabble with a zealous protagonist. What then? Ignore, give up, close down the shop or quit? To me one answer suggests. Whatever our positions on praxis, or interpretive issues, let us recognize that we may in fact be just skimming the surface on such weighty subjects. Let us be more responsible, more humble and even some what sceptical and self critical. Let our attempt be to try to help develop a culture of promoting quest for learning and forming independent, informed positions by all members.

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Dave ji I might make a couple of observations and leave it to Madho ji to continue with his response.

The search through logic to relate existence of God based on evidence of creation has its limitations because if we then assume God was self-created the question is why could the creation not be self-created too.  There are those who believe it to be true.

And if [self] creation is accepted – was it one time thing – jo kichh paya sabh ekai var – or is it ongoing. Is it regulated – is natural selection or evolution or biotic/environmental interaction another name for it. There is an underlying contradiction somewhere in that all the life forms seem to be naturally inclined to survive at any cost and place their well being above the rest whereas the creation in its totality is a picture of regulation, harmony – seemingly all set to live eternally in peace, harmony and mutually accepting, supporting relationship while the living species are bleeding one another to extinction.  Is there a logical and scientific explanation or again we have to fall back on homai, santokh thaap rakhiya jin soot, line of thinking in acceptance of limits of our understanding and the truth of karte ki mit kya janai kiya – at least at this stage of our evolution.  On the last point do we seriously think that the exponential growth of knowledge witnessed in the last couple of centuries even at its present trajectory will enable us to resolve all the mysteries before the Biblical prophecy of the end comes true [I mean in relative short term].

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Apropos our conversation on the subject yesterday, the two references to term Shahid in Guru Granth Sahib are:

Sri Rag MI, Ashatpadian, p. 53 – pir paikambar saalak saadak sauday aur sahid —–
Malaar Ravidas p. 1293 – maniye seikh sahid peera

In both contexts shahid is quoted along with other revered categories of character associations in the Muslim tradition. This would suggest that understanding of the term possibly included sacrifice in a cause that would elevate the person’s memory to that accorded to Sheikhs and Paighambars, Pirs. The inference of sauday [simpletons] preceding sahid by Guru Nanak would perhaps call for some further reflection on this
aspect.
There is however no doubt about the currency of the word in common parlance in Guru Nanak’s time.

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I am reproducing the operative extracts of what you wrote under the subject Blasphemy:

1.Sikh principles clearly state as you sow, so shall you reap and each one is responsible for the consequences of their own actions —–

2.The Lord summons the slanderers to answer for their accounts, and punishes them severely —-

3. [You] make a plea to the members to look in to the subject of Blasphemy a little more deeply and leave every one alone and concern to themselves [by asking].

4.Question is who defines the blasphemous act? Is it blasphemous to be atheist or agnostic? Is it ok to instill fear of God in people?

5.Sabd Guru answers it that God is found through Its love and fear — Sabd Guru References clearly show that consequences will be suffered by the individual committing blasphemy as judged by the Highest Power.

6.Guru Nanak has used the word Kufar in Majh Ki Vaar translated as a liar or atheist describing the consequences; One who speaks lies shall fall into hell and burn.

7.The Qazi named Jeevan kicked him [Nanak] and asked who this infidel enacting blasphemy was?

Your Conclusion: In the final analysis it is difficult to say as to who committed blasphemy and who diagnosed it by being a judge and jury. IMHO it serves no purpose except for creating ill feelings between members and actually is a waste of time. We should leave it as agree to disagree with out hurting one another’s feelings and getting upset unnecessarily.

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Good to hear from you. I am still in Delhi – had to postpone my return because the Doctors advised my wife’s sister’s cancer was at a terminal stage. She passed away last week.

There are dozens of translations of Jap ji Sahib but if you are in the US it may be possible to get some prints from South Asia Books or Amazon [try both on the internet]. If you are still in India you could find some copies even at Bangla Sahib or a couple of bookshops – National in Chandni Chowk Market and Jiwan Singh Chattar Singh in Dariba area. I have possibly a dozen or more translations in PA but we are not sure yet about return date.

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Great question Gurpreet ji! May be you have some recording to prove how it should be pronounced. Incidentally how do we pronounce your name? The way you heard and learnt it growing up or the way one of us should suggest to you based on some unique personal revelation? Try and not duck the question – please do tell us if pronunciation is a product of oral tradition over hundreds of years of transmission or a construction as some may think.

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Gurpreet ji said “Please provide some other pronunciation that comes out of the spelling of “GURPREET”, if something else has to be pronounced other then what I have been using till now then send me an audio recording or attach an audio file at learning zone. I will change the pronunciation of my name.” I just about expected such a riddled response. Well we have now the chicken and egg option – did your name originate from a spelt word or from a spoken word? That might even solve the sublime mystery – for really did spellings precede pronunciation?

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Guru Fateh.

Thank you for asking me to contribute an article for the proposed Publication on the event. I would be glad to be a part of the effort.

I must have missed the list of topics posted on GLZ and would appreciate if you gave me its link or email it to me.

I have been working on a rather longish paper entitled ‘ GURU MAANYO GRANTH – BELIEVE YE IN GRANTH AS GURU – LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD THIS CENTENARY.’ This paper however could be 25 pages or more.

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The Akal cademy write up makes another claim that the students at Baru Sahib receive vidya and not education. In other words they are better prepared to live a balanced, socially responsible, ethically activist, morally exemplary and spiritually inspiring life that could make them virtually the most appropriate choices as catalysts for the good of any society that is fortunate enough to have them as members.

Would some share any examples of the efficaciousness of the vidya over the education imparted by the other more well known institutions and schools? Have such claims been verified by any independent, or even internal evaluative agency? What are the subtle differences that have made it happen? Are the results consistent? How have the kids fared in the life from the traditionally accepted mundane benchmarks? Are there any research studies to substantiate these claims?

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Akal Academy has been doing good work and their contribution to spread of education has been lauded. They also have received generous community support in their missionary.

Their statement that ‘we hold many conferences and seminars for interfaith, but nobody has tried to explain the world that Guru Granth Sahib itself is the divine scripture of the 35 God-conscious persons, who belong initially to different caste, creed, religion, region and sex.’ Now this statement shows little understanding that this theme is if at all over worked by Sikhs in conferences and other inter faith parleys. Agreed that there is lack of awareness about Sikhs and Sikhi among other faith groups, but the reasons for that are more in the realm of our self imposed reticence to talk about our beliefs, praxis and history. The total lack of simple readable tracts on various aspects of our faith only aggravate this constraint.

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Sat Sri Akal. I talked to Gunwantji the other day as I was firming up my travel. The options were rather limited since I was trying to use my frequent flier miles but I am confirmed to arrive there on the 1st August at around 3 pm and to return on the 7th, leaving Orlando at 8 am. That makes for a longish stay and hopefully it will not be too much of inconvenience. I have to now start thinking seriously about what I may have to say to all those who will be there. My hope is they will be as tolerant and patient as you and your other friends have been so far. I will be in touch. With our best wishes to you both,

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I agree that awareness about sciences, logic and many other sources [emphasised] of learning helps us to comprehend several of the intriguing and fascinating experiences in temporality but the suggestion that the first two are a pre requisite for understanding Gurbani in addition to bibek budhi sounds like an exclusivist elitist approach – this time the defining stratification being along those educated in intricacies of some chosen discipline.  If one were to say that scientific mind, or analytical abilities help such understanding one may still find it somewhat more acceptable. Mere knowledge of these disciplines however need not cultivate these qualities in an individual nor is there any conclusive evidence that these assets are absent in those not educated in science or logic.  Understanding of gurbani which in turn means understanding of Sikh thought about the spiritual and temporal as they interface human existence is a process of internalisation where our state of mind in addition to gian, aesthetic sensitivity, khoj, veechar, bibek budhi all come together [in no fixed blend] to move us along the path.  From what I have seen and gathered so far I get the impression that this quest about redefining Nanakian philosophy seems to be more a rhetorical assertion rather than a cogent concept at this stage. And I mean it in a constructive sense with no intent even remotely to belittle the effort or its proponents.

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I agree with you that basically all the translations so far seem to reflect the same meaning – literal and not even contextual within the contents of the shabad or pauri. My hope is that now that there is more widespread search for interpretive translation, such work could not be long in getting started to appear even if in small steps.

We are already witnessing effort by several to present their understanding of a shabad on the net. Such initiatives clearly indicate the felt need and the direction but what is also evident is that such efforts hardly invoke any discussion. In other words it is not easy to achieve confluence of our interest to promote any deep thinking in a more collective manner.

Most faiths have accomplished the process of interpretive rendering by generations of work in their seminaries. Such translations obviously tend to end up emphasising their version of truth that also led to the formation of sects and different schools of thought. This is a process and is a product of history as it unfolds.

In this process the effort by the conservative to control any possible centrifugal or outlandish interpretations by using the stratagem of edicts, fatwas or hukamnamas is not peculiar with Sikhs. We should however be weary to also avoid the pitfall of defining, for all time to come, the basic tenets of Sikh philosophy in the context of our understanding of the world and knowledge as we know. This may be different tomorrow or the day after than the conservative thought of today. If our Guru and God is nit navan niroa and never gets redundant due to changes that time brings about, how can their philosophy be frozen in time? It is not – the eternal truths are eternal because they can be interpreted and understood in all historical contexts.

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I commend Narinder Kaur ji for her message but my message is not a comment on her statement and is addressed generally relating to this thread.

I have avoided following this rambling discussion for several reasons primarily because I am not too familiar with DNA and secondarily because whereas as a technologist and management sciences proponent I do believe in the expanding horizons that science has opened up for us, I have not been attracted to Scientology and am not inclined to make Sikhi a laboratory for or a sub sect of the same.

Having said that I do see the relevance of the discussion and am respectful of it. So am I respectful of those who are on either side of whether Gurbani is supportive of or rejects the notion of reincarnation.  My intervention is to seek the interpretation of those who may be on either side of these various positions to explain to us their understanding of the verses I read this morning in my paath:

Vadhans M III, p. 584

eh sarir jajri hai is noo jar pauhnchai aaey,

gur rakhe se ubhre hor mar jame avai jae,

hor mar jamai aaveh javeh ant gaye pacchtaveh bin naven sukh neh hoi,

aethey kamawai so phal paawai manmukh hai pat khoi, jampur ghor andhar maha gubar neh tithai behn neh bhai, eh sarir jajri hai is noo jar paunchai aaye. What is this mar jamai, aaveh jaaveh? What is the phal, where, when, how, by whom? DNA, soul, now in this world, in hereafter? Can we find cogent explanations on all sides?

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I have read with interest the comments by Manmohan ji regarding the Hindu myth based slant in translations of SGGS and the shared sense of desperation expressed by Devinder ji. This is a sentiment that is widely shared but the larger issue of fact, fiction and myth is relating to the position of oral tradition in a faith system.

Oral tradition and passing the message using stories and even pantomime has been used universally for transmission of basic learning in all faiths and cultures. Such rendition obviously tends to take on the colors and hues that appeal to the narrator and the narrative may get laced with many constructions. The shared experience however is that the core message can still get transmitted and can be separated from the embellishments that may seem to subsume it. We need not therefore be apologetic about the Janam Sakhi literature. It has served a purpose and it seems to me that in spite of all the dismay expressed not much creative.

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I thank Virinder ji for a very thoughtful paradigm of Guru’s vision. We should all try to live by the lofty moral and ethical principles inherent in Guru’s teachings. At a practical level I am asking a question that may verge on irreverant: character is moulded under very diverse influences, religion being one, mostly rather indirect than a direct influence. Thoughts are products likewise of diverse stimuli.  When we struggle internally and wrestle with choices to be made, are we guided more by our package of total vlues, secular and religious both or are we able to compartmentalise each and then do a complex evaluation to make our decisions?

My sense is that our thoughts and most of our decision choices are guided by a process which is not reflecting back on spiritual thought but are influenced by the state of our spirituality i.e. what we have imbibed and internalised and what has become part of our package of values. So when suggesting seeking guidance from Guru Granth Sahib, is the objective seeking answer to a vexing problem as a one time exercise or to develop our conscious to the level that the sane choices will come more easily or naturally to us, though still not without deep deliberation? I would also request him to relate it to some negatives like – homai, panch doot, trishna, moorakh, mugadh, gwar, pashu, zulum, zalim, sazai, niao, laha, ghata,et al as they are continually part of our inner as well as our external world.

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I think Rabinder ji’s understanding of karma and avagavan is correct.  The totality of Sikh thought encompassing spiritual pursuit even as actively engaged in the worldly life cannot be explained absent this concept without losing its moral and ethical anchor. I have called it closing the loop in another message. I see the question of atma, parmatma a part of the same totality of thought.

At the same time issue of narak swarg raised by Gurmukh ji needs elaboration and so does the difference in Sikh thought from the traditional Indian thought on karma, be it Hindu, Budhhist or any other. The latter is driving this slant in Sikh view as an argument to buttress anekta. The rationalists and scientists are also pursuing it but their thought still seems only at a conjectural stage as I could gauge on another forum. My hope is that they will eventually find it difficult to tie loose ends and not being able to close the loop, review their positions.

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I think this episode is petering towards a close but not without taking its toll and I want to dwell on that aspect before we put it to rest.

I was deeply touched by Kulwant ji’s first message. It opened a flood of his deep, inner emotions, his vulnerabilities, and his sense of frustration at our visible lack of respect for reading in spite of being men of the Book.

I think at a personal level it is very traumatic to share all those details and to my mind it adds greatly to my respect for Kulwant ji, his integrity, his humility, his humanity and his passion to share his thoughts and know what others think about what he thinks.

With your indulgence I may therefore take two strands here – one on our vulnerabilities and the other on our emotional needs in the mundane domain of sharing of ideas.

Our vulnerabilities are many and most of the time these are lurking beneath the surface of our exterior of calm, composed selves. But it takes a small trigger to break thru or as they say – be the last straw on a camel’s back. To me Puneet ji’s well-intentioned message just did that. Same kind of thing that Dave ji sensed when somebody analyzed Dave & Gill; or Narinder Duggal about being a surrogate or something. It is the very human reflections in responses that touched me and in each case enhanced my respect for them.

Coming to books, and us I share a lot of the experiences and views of Kulwant ji and Devinder ji. It is a surprising trait with us. We somehow associate, in our mind, everything to do with Sikhi with seva – the underlying thought being that what the other is doing is because of his shardha, is seva and should come free to the devotee to do what they want to do with it. We have all have read strong messages suggesting that ragis should not take any money for kirtan is seva.

I would perhaps go along with it and distribute books and magazines with langar or parshad as we see CDs and Tapes being distributed but then I am conscious that books have to be read unless we come up with audio versions. Reading takes effort and some concentration and needs some motivation. I therefore having distributed enough books freely to Sikhs came to the unfortunate conclusion that it is futile. I use the approach of giving the books to the Gurdwaras to ‘sell’ to those who want and keep the funds for the Gurdwara. In no case I have found a copy left unsold and some people did manage to read beyond the foreword and preface.

But there is more happening in the inner recesses of our thinking that makes our responses the way these are. Let us look at some more examples.

I have distributed copies of several Sikh journals to encourage reading and possible subscriptions so that our poor struggling efforts can be sustained. Not one subscription seems to have been made to my knowledge and I am not sure how many have read anything – but not a single copy was left not taken. If we were to look at the circulation numbers for Sikh Review, Abstract of Sikh Studies, Journal of Sikh Studies & Comparative Religions or The Remainder and others, we would revisit our protestations about being interested in Sikh thought or Sikh issues.

I can almost hear the comment about quality of writing – yes I agree but unless there is reading public and constructive feedback scholarship in this field cannot grow. So the onus is on us as much.

Let me go the audiovisual media – ask Vinanti Sarkar if she made any money on her pioneering work post 9/11 on mistaken identity. Ask Valerie Kaur about her passion for a video on Sikhs and she has been at Stanford and is now at Harvard for her Graduate work. Yetzak Landeau, an Israeli Jew professor at Hartford Seminary was more motivated to help her than any Sikh I have talked to.

Come to the Sikh chairs. Fortunate are those who sit on the one’s donated by individuals – our initiatives in the hope of support from the community have been of no avail. If you don’t believe it ask Rabinder Bhamra. Somehow the San Jose is holding up thanks to a confluence of some favorable factors.

You see so many Punjabi newspapers for free distribution in the Gurdwaras. Ask how many subscribe or send an occasional donation or even give them an ad. Even most of their ad revenue is possibly from non-Sikhs. Sikhs are thinking people. They are fairly good spenders. Others think they are very good at giving too. So what is happening here? We need to ponder and understand it because this is hindering our ability to grasp the core truths of our faith [beside rhetorical repetitions], relate them to life and transmit them to the youth. It is wrong to think that these objectives can be achieved merely through the device of observance in good faith. We only have to look around and see that that strategy is not working for us as indeed for none other.

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As you refine the rest of the text my comments are limited to stating briefly some of the issues relating to depiction of Sikhs. I would suggest the following be included in the letter to be sent:

“Another glaring problem relates to the depiction of Sikhs and Sikhism in the various texts. Sikhism is a faith that originted in India and has the 5th largest following world wide. More than half a million

Sikhs live in the US and they have been victims of mistaken identity since Sep 11 due to their wearing turbans as part of their religious observance. The texts either do not mention anything about Sikhs or the references are sketchy, erroneous and misleading. An instance is the

question asked about what is it in the Sikh belief system that is common between them and Islam and Hinduism in a manner that would lead to the syncretist theory without giving the students the background to explore the question in any depth. 

Sikhs in their short history have contributed significantly to the recent history. Their resistance led to the fall of the mighty Mughal Empire and they ruled the Northwest of India for over half a century, being the last kingdom to be annexed by the British in 1849. They were the first to launch a totallly non violent movement in early 1920s that forced the ruling British to pass the Sikh Gurdwaras Management Act [1925]. They were the most severely affected by the partition of the country in 1947. They have contributed to the modern India by leading in the green revolution, public service and all areas of national endeavor. In the US the first person of Indian origin to hold an elective office was a Sikh US Congressman, Dalip Singh Saund, from CA going back to 1956. They have history of living in the country for around a century. If it helps we will be glad to submit a short suggested text on Sikhs and Sikhism that may be included in the curriculum.”

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In my response to the above I agreed that using of fear to bring people to one’s thinking must be avoided for our positions may not be above fault.

I also mentioned that the Gurus did say moorkhai naal neh lujhiae but that apart they engaged one and all so that the sangat becomes a vehicle for transformation and all, believers, non-believers, bharmi, ignorant, those subsumed in haumai are helped.

The main plea that you have made is that those who have views bordering on atheistic or blasphemous –kufar– or those who propagate against Sikh ethos should be left alone to articulate their views and not subjected to critical scrutiny or judged. They should best be left to divine discretion.

I am all for civil discussion and a learning environment but should such accommodation imply that free reign is given for people to propagate their agendas in the name of promoting civil discourse and learning. The best is that we use discretion and exercise restraint but failing that peer intervention is a valid response. To leave such postings alone hoping for divine judgment or disengagement on agree to disagree basis may only tend to encourage use of this forum to create doubts and withdraw when the level of discomfort goes up. This is an attritious game that may not over time help either understanding of Sikhi or its transmission.

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Let me say at the outset that I have not read Devinder ji’s writings on the subject of ik onkar or ik oh except cursorily looking at some of the messages on the forum. My intent therefore is not to join the debate in its narrow interpretive context that curiously seems to be centered around pronunciation rather than meaning or message. The purpose it is said repeatedly is to explore a fresh understanding using scientific method and to free our thinking of Vedantic interpretive thought.

With regard to pronunciation actually the doubt seems misplaced because onkar version has come down uniformly and I am not aware of any tradition where the open oora is pronounced as oh. If there is any evidence in the oral tradition to support this version it would certainly at least make the issue of pronunciation debatable.

The words oh and onkar both have been used and spelt in Gurbani. There has been some explanation regarding the use of onkar by Bhamra ji and others as referring to God’s immanence vis a vis ik onkar relating to His transcendence. The word oh has been used far more frequently – for God, man and even for other things as one would in conversation – witness in Japji sahib itself

oh vaykhai onaa nadar na aavai

oh jaanai jayteya muhi khaey

bhariye mat papaan ke sang, oh dhopai naavai kai rang

Also if we look at Bhai Gurdas Var 29 pauri 9, it does not seem to make a case for ik oh+ version. In any case I am not clear how the way we pronounce the word will alter the content or identity of our understanding of the precept or our liturgical practices. The chant satnam wahiguru seems by far the more preferred mode of referring to and connecting with the Divine in praxis rather than ik onkar or ik ho.

I think also that the need to clear up the monotheistic aspect of Sikh thought is not compelling the way it seems to be being pursued. Our search should be bring cogency to the concept of the One supreme Akal Purkh and many others who thru His nadar become Him – the Guru, Sant, Sadhu, Gurmukh, Brahm Giani. This will help us find practical ways to understand the import of sangat and guide us in our spiritual quest in the immediacy of the world we live in.

In fact somehow I am not too convinced about the Vedantic slant theory in interpretation of Gurbani being used as a foil for presenting one’s own predilections. I think that such reasoning for searching newer meanings into truths enshrined in Gurbani is rather self-defeating because it starts on a defensive premise that is neither warranted nor edifying to Gurbani.

Theology does change even as the believers engage with diverse thought and the Gurus have not at all suggested that gyan, so essential for spiritual elevation, is to be circumscribed or frozen in time. So one should go ahead and use scientific or any other kasoti to relate understanding of Gurbani to contemporary discourse.

We should also bear in mind that some others may well do simlar exercises at reinterpretation hundred years hence based on any new areas of knowledge that may emerge and capture their fancy. However to term such attempts as a cleansing exercise to rid our minds of impurities that may have crept in may be rather presumtuous unless there is a groung breaking change.

We should also ponder over materiality of what we are propounding – if it changes the paradigm of Sikh thought as popularly understood in a concrete manner, if it influences the way we are persuaded to live our lives, if it alters our value package for us to make a difference – by all means we should wage a struggle to rid ourselves of what is obscure. Otherwise let us have the humility to accept that we may after all know very little and even as we share our thoughts we may have more to learn than to teach.

My purpose is not to discourage scholarship or to blindly support status quo but to make a plea for self-evaluation of what we are saying. What is new? What is different? How will it change anything?  And if the inspiration comes from beyond, you may be on to something – carry on regardless. In that case pay not much heed to what I say for my case is of the oh who – boojhai naahee ek sudhakhar oh saglee jhaakh jhakhaeeai – does not understand the divine word but keeps waffling all over. [p 216]

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Amandeep ji has raised several question relating to various Sikh talk groups.

While basic information that about their membership, traffic volume and moderators et al may be easy enough to put together, the real problem would be in trying to make some kind of assessment of their impact, reach or effectiveness as envisaged in the following questions:

6.What effect have these yahoogroup been able to create? Is the effectof discussion felt outside the web communities?

7. What can be done to implement any decision if reached?

8. How can these discussions be made more tangible in our community?

Methodologies can be evolved for such analysis but they would demand some rigor. As such a few issues may have to be addressed –

  • firstly some volunteer research associate support to the person[s] who take it on;
  • secondly willingness of the sites to share information and allowits usage for the study with any reservations clearly spelt out;
  • some indication if opinions expressed by individual participants can be cited and commented upon for their likely impact without opening up issues like confidentiality or breach of any laws relating to copyright, privacy, individual’s own sense of outrage at being not represented correctly and the like.

Another important factor that should be considered relates to the profile of the participants and its change dynamics:

  • Some case studies in these would reveal how their views, styles and quality of inputs may have changed or not changed.
  • The pattern of activity – fade in and out behavior and advocacy of pet themes etc.

It can be a useful study if it is raised above the level of surface observations and should become a resource for further work as also provide leads for initiatives in several areas. Just some initial thoughts!

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My question was addressed to the forum and I am glad the Professor has chosen to give a response. I however am still somewhat struggling to understand the essence of his message. If I get it right his one comment is that it is important to read the whole shabad to understand the message of the shabad. Based on that he concludes that ‘The body can become pure like gold when the True Guru unites with you. Meaning if you follow the philosophy of the Guru one get rid of all vices.’ In his first para he says ‘And the message of the Guru to make your body pure like god that is free from vices and ego and to get rid of the vicious cycle.’

Now what is this ‘vicious cycle’? If it is here and now we are living it, enduring it, coping with it – many indeed savoring all their misdeeds. So what is it they should avoid and why? What will change in their lives and why/how/when?

What if they do not even know if they have a problem or don’t care anyway? They would have spent their life living as they liked, being their own men, and gone to the dustbin of history. Just like others who may have united with the Guru!

Pray where is Divine justice or at least some semblance of it? This is an utopia I would love to wake up to! No God, no motivation, no fear, no retribution, free for all, survival of the fittest – and hopefully no rules on this forum to bar us in exercise of our new found total freedom. I am still struggling to make sense of it!

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My sense is that much of what is being presented as an interpretation of Sikh thought on scientific basis is as yet in the realm of the speculative. There is so much work in this area going on in other faith persuasions and one following those developments may get induced to extend the same approach to understanding of gurbani. On the face of it there is room for disagreement to their approach but surely trying to stifle their quest or muffle their voices thru a stratagem of hukamnamas or the like would perhaps be regressive and may end up discouraging any fresh look at what is being passed down as gurmat by several parnalis.

I therefore do not go along with the comment that “It looks there are many who are preaching Sikh religion of their own kind and there is no guideline form the Center like SGPC or Dharam Parchar Committee. We the sangat in Diaspora should put enough pressure on them to create the standard translation of SGGS to be followed by all the Sikhs so that there is no confusion over the basic tenets and everybody talks the same thing about the Sikh religion and nobody is allowed to preach or propagate differently. The same central body should certify all parcharaks and preachers coming out. This will create uniformity in the belief system. Anybody may believe differently but should not be allowed to preach it till the Central Committee in Amritsar approves it. It will take time but there is no other solution to it.”

Such a dispensation is not possible to enforce and a standard accepted translation even if ever achieved by itself will be a poor instrument to bring the kind of uniformity Bhamra ji seems to be advocating. The model advocated has not succeeded in any tradition and we at this point in our history cannot turn the clock back with the already interpretive differences as one understands from udasis, nirmalas, Bhai Gurdas, Singh Sabha scholars et al. And how do you monitor or control what one is saying when the person has the mike in his/her hand. Try it once in your setting and you would soon realize where it leads to. Let us therefore try and not get carried away. Bhamra ji also says that “Naam Japna is the basic tenet of Gurmat and it is not a ritual. It is the only way surti can be brought inside the body where Naam is and gets cleansed by washing its sins and purifying it for receiving Naam and hence blessings of God — Prayers to Satguru is not the only solution to the problem. What is required is that all the believers in the basic tenets and practicing Sikhs should propagate the established norms before the wrong ones take over.” This raises questions about the relative status of bhakti and naam jaap in Sikhi – are these mutually exclusive and is the naam jaap as advocated by Bhamra ji any different from the Vedantic approach for personal salvation that ends up being more ritualistic. Sikh approach for spiritual progression is a paradigm that informs the way we live our individual and corporate lives and not just one mode of worship from that paradigm.

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I have had the chance to look at the India Islam part of Prentice Hall book and a couple of comments are relevant – I am limiting to what is included in the existing text as of now:

– Chapter 27, Sec 3, pages 866-67

The perspective on use of non violent protests to achieve the British Government to change its policies will be correctly depicted if the preceding Sikh Gurdwara Reform movement of early 20’s that was totally non-violent and succeeded after thousands of Sikh volunteers courted arrest, were severely beaten by Police, several killed, yet they stayed non violent and peaceful. Ultimately the British gave in and the result was the Sikh Gurdwaras Management Act of 1925. Gandhi had acknowledged the peaceful morcha and fortitude of Sikhs.

– Chapter 19, section 4, pages 326-27

The book says ‘his [Guru Nanak’s] teachings led to the formation of a new religion Sikhism in Northern India.’ Two comments are relevant. The impression that the religion Sikhism was a later creation [after Nanak] is erroneous. The faith had taken root in Nanak’s time as is evident from his own compositions in Guru Granth Sahib eg.

The Guru instructs His wandering Sikhs [p. 1032]

The Guru loves His Sikhs, day and night [p. 1170]

The faithful are saved, and carried across with the Sikhs of the Guru [p. 3]

O Nanak, that Sikh who seeks and finds the Way does not serve any other [p. 970] I hope you would do the formatting for submitting these comments.

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Mayankji,

I have quickly glanced through the images. Unfortunately the Sikh depiction is superficial, incidental or non existent. I am not sure ifany significant revisions would be possible at this stage especially since I get the impression reading some other responses that the main text revisions had been suggested earlier by ESHI and the purpose now is to see if those have been incorporated. May be you can send me the details of those submissions so that I can check against those.

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I have gone thru the McDougall Little Gr 9 book. This book does not mention Sikhs at all. In world religions they have included Confucianism with a following of 6.3 million and of course Judaism with their 14.5 million but ignored 22 million plus Sikhs with a visible presence in the US and who are under stress because of mistaken identity post Sep 11. The least they can do is to add a couple of pages on Sikhism. If they agree to do it – publishers or the State DPI, I can help with putting together the text. They can add any graphics or pictures but I would help if they need. Pages 293- 296 of the book refer.

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Thank you for your kind message. If I recall the paper in question relates to the theme surrounding Guru Manyo Granth and the developmental issues of religious authority among Sikhs.

This is a rather longish search and while I am very appreciative of your decision to serialize in 2 or 3 segments in the Abstracts, I would urge consideration of more space in the book format.

I am presently in Delhi and my contact is 2648 2106. May be we can speak at your convenience.

Thank you about your comments about my earlier book. Do share with me your thoughtful comments and suggestions. We would be visiting Chandigarh later in Feb and can hopefully connect. My sister, Prabhjit is there though her husband, Dr Harkirat Singh is no more.

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Sukhraj ji has said: ‘Pleasure – pain, praise and blame, fame and shame, loss and gain, are all the same. These don’t exist at a spiritual level. All are dualities of a confused mind.’

Sounds good and at spiritual level we are persuaded to not be subject to these entanglements but at the temporal level we are also persuaded not to cause pain, do anything that may bring shame et al. Would these exhortations not become an expression of confused thinking if the code of behavior were to be guided as you seem to be suggesting? If we were at the spiritual level you refer to, our conversations would possibly sound very different. At our levels we do need to be more empathetic to sensitivities of others. This does not mean agreement with their positions but at least trying to avoid making it worse. I am not pedantic about how to address Nanak – Guru is loving and hears our inner call but I also know when I am in pain and my anguish is deep and when tears come flowing down on their own, I am in state of total submission and not in a state of confused thinking.

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It is good to ask:

Shouldn’t we worry about our own deeds more than others???

Shouldn?t we be concerned about our own inventory rather concerned about others???

Whether it should be God or God’s appointed Judge to decide???

Whether we should appoint our selves judge of Dharma in place of metaphorical Chitragupt/Dharamraj??? To me it seems that Sikh thought is about blurring the distinction between self and others. Yes we should worry about our own deeds and even thoughts for if at all we can do something about that. But the Gurus encouraged the concept of sangat where we not just sing Akal Purkh’s praises together but also help one another in our shared search for the divine. It is a commune of inter dependancies but has place for exemplars – gurmukh – who unbeknown but are the ones who aaptarai saglaikultarai. Worrying about others inventory is not unSikh – it is part of Sikh spiritual living otherwise shubhkarmantekabhooneh taroon makes little sense. At the same Guru does not chitarau our avguns. Nor should we but Guru also aagai marag pavai.

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Jagpal ji your gurbani references with full shabad text are spot on. If you now delve into some other shabads on similar themes you will find some difference in emphasis or slightly different metaphor, or a new slant but the basic concept on the themes you have cited is quite unmistakable. This becomes even clearer when one brings all these concepts together to form a coherent view of what Guru’s way is. In the ultimate analysis all spiritual quest is a search for an ethical, moral and social paradigm that aids your spiritual advancement. This has to be holistic. This has to make one responsible for one’s actions and must close the loop if one does not live by that paradigm. This makes the concept of divine judgement in after life an essential part of all

faith traditions because without that the ethico-moral code has no meaning. Selective rejection of some parts of Sikh thought in the name of cleansing it of vedantic slant or piecemeal rationalising in the light of emerging scientific discoveries is not helpful unless the

proposed view can be offered as a part of a total paradigm in lieu of what is presently understood as Sikhi. At the same time I am not particularly distracted by several of the things said for one main reason – we are all learning and there is no harm in some loud thinking. If you notice the trend of conversation on these topics is imperceptibly and yet unmistakably improving. Several initial positions are no more defended with the same stridency and we should let that process proceed so we can learn together by sharing our understanding, however fuzzy it may be at our individual levels. We should however set our own boundaries for what we say and how we do it.

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It is indeed befitting the scholars like Jerry Barrier, Noel King, and Hew McLeod are honored as Scholars Extraordinaire. They each in their own way contributed to infusing interest in research on Sikhi and Sikh issues. We may have, for good reasons, not agreed with some of their positions but at least their interventions spawned a body of fresh knowledge that generated  interest among younger Sikh scholars who now are creating their own niches and may end up with interpretations that can be defended and yet are closer to the tradition. The impetus for this surge of interest would not have come sans the somewhat skeptical theorizing by several among the Western scholars. I named the three of them as if they fitted the generalization – they do not but they all encouraged Sikh scholarship and guided or mentored many of us.

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Thank you Gurmukh Singh ji. It is a very thoughtful and sober presentation. The hopelessness of the situation is indeed distressing and we all are aware about the limits of options in bringing succor to those affected. The question that I have been wrestling with is as to how we can get the interfaith groups, media and policy makers to realize that continuing suffering of Sikhs as collateral to this ongoing Global War on Terrorism must be taken note of with a different sort of seriousness in that the answer is not to express just helplessness but recognize as Guru Nanak so poignantly reminded us that – jae sakathaa sakathae ko maarae thaa man ros n hoee sakathaa seehu maarae pai vagai khasamai saa purasaaee – if the powerful strike out against the powerful, then it may not be a cause for grief to any one; but if a ravenous tiger attacks a flock of sheep and kills them, then its master must answer for it.

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I thought this might interest you – not that the cryptic report is informative enough but tells us of the abiding interest in youth to look at their own to explore, learn and seek reassurance about how they are anchored in life. After all association by blood and birth is not a chance, it is part of divine hukam [ordinance] and must have meaning in addition to and over and above the shared humanity, as a guiding social and ethical principle to help us steer through the vagaries of life as productive, sharing and empathetic members of society.

Do think if there is some question you would like to seek answers to and if it fits in with your overall search, ponder over it, discuss it, learn more about it.

Lots of love,

Papa

February 24th, 2010 Source: <http://www.jakara. org/>www.jakara. org

SAN JOSE, CA – Leading young scholars converged at Stanford University this past weekend for Sikholars, the first Sikh Graduate Student Conference. The interdisciplinary group of scholars came from across North America for the event, which was the first of its kind. The standing-room only event began with Harinder Singh creatively discussing the views of scholarship emanating from Gurbani.

The opening panel “Beneath the Surface” featured papers from Harvard’s Erik Resly, York

University’s Kamal Arora, and University of British Columbia’s Iqbal Kaur. Discussions ranged from the usages of the janamsakhi literature in understanding the Sikh experience, understandings of trauma by the wives of shaheeds in Punjab and widows of the Delhi Pogroms, and issues of perceptions of adolescent suicide by Punjabi Sikh families in British Columbia.

The 2nd panel, titled “Locality: Old and New” saw topics on biodiversity, the role of izzat, and

voices from North Delta. Bandana Kaur, Yale University, detailed her research the changes of

Punjab’s ecology during the pre-Green Revolution period; Mette Bach, University of British

Columbia, shared excerpts and accounts from her upcoming book about the changing people,

lifestyles, and interactions in Punjabi-populated North Delta; Preet Kaur, York University, discussed the understandings of Canadian law with Punjabi Sikh immigrants.

The afternoon session, “Beyond Borders,” saw discussions beyond any national border. Ajeet

Singh of Columbia University provided a critique of the historiography of Punjab/Sikh

studies. Arvinder Kang of the University of Mississippi discussed his role and the ongoing debates in the promotion of Gurmukhi and Punjab on the internet today. Mandeep Kaur, University of Texas Austin, gave a literature review of health literature related to Sikhs. Finally,

Harjant Gill, American University (Washington D.C.) concluded the panel with a discussion of

Punjabi masculinities as reified and displayed in Punjabi films. The event was made possible by the Sikh Spirit Foundation and the Jakara Movement. The Jakara Movement hopes to continue with such programming annually, while increasing its size and scope.

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Thank you Charanji. This is an interesting insight. What David Warren is saying and what you say sort of comes together. In Sikh thought we are conscious of sunn and shabad both though I am not quite clear if our understanding of sunn is the same as in Hinduism and shabad as in

Abrahamic faiths.

The other thing that you are saying leads to understanding how shabad and akhar may be related. For a language to be intelligible spaces are needed. Written word only transcribes the spoken word on paper so it does end up using spaces. The question possibly could be as to how the revealed bani is received by those so blessed – is it a continuum like a thought [word] or transmitted like a code in word[s]. Revelation is connected to shabad and when written by the one who received it [like our Gurus] still uses akhar – the same used by you and me but with a

difference. Their akhar flows like a thought and yours and mine like composition. So is akhar in Sikhi different from akhar in Christianity Let us think more and explore what other faiths may be saying. I doubt if we would find much written on the subject among Sikhs.

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Thank you Ajit ji. I have not read the works of the two Sants you have referred to. If the sense that I made of the verses quoted is similar to their understanding, could be coincidental or even expected. After all we are only interpreting the original text – more likely the translation of the original because zafarnama is in Persian and my ability to understand Persian is very scant. I would not like to speculate that Guru Gobind Singh used zafarnama as a weapon of conscience to break Auragzeb’s will to live. The Guru in zafarnama is not only critical of the Aurangzeb but also solicitous and kind. He elaborated on what constitutes good governance and responsibility towards the people. Besides the Gurus at all times displayed the sagacity of tera bhana mitha lagai at least in my understanding and did not put a curse on anybody – if at all they tried to reform the erring.

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Thank you Dave ji for taking so much time to engage that extensively in this discussion. We will be travelling starting tomorrow for three months or so. That may constrain my ability to occassionaly intervene as I do even further but I will keep peeping into my inbox to get a feel of what all is continuing to excite the Sikh Diaspora.  If I get the time and it fits in with the stage of discussion I may try and draw some more thinking on santokh and homai as lead instincts in sub sets of creation, their interplay and some kind of covalent connectivity in God’s play. If you ponder one cannot be more santokhia than the devanhaar – and then har ka roop, eh roop nadri aaya?

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Thank you Harkinder ji, it could not be said better. Let us all realise that our feet, all of ours, whatever may be our own sense of level of our commitment to the Sikh priciples, are caught up in the slush of the mundane. Let us therefore not be too judgmental; let us not denigrate; let us not exclude but endeavor to motivate one another to live our lives the way Gurus ordained.

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Jasdev ji said “If you tell me what you mean by God I will tell you what I understand. But I dont know what you mean by God so I dont know of what I am supposed to express an understanding. I am always tryig to understand reality, every new second is a new understanding. In this context, every new second a new name comes forth and a new set of characteristics reveal to me. If you mean what I understand by the eternal unknown, quite frankly I dont understand anything.”

Jasdev ji you are inimitable. Your last sentence says a lot. On another note would you call infinity an identifying characteristic? Possibly yes. Can we deconstruct it? Yes, into an infinite number of finites or even infinites.

Does a name really mean an exhaustive identity? How about the Loch Ness monster or evil spirits? Am I Nirmal – far from what we think the word means!

Is identity therefore not only a means to refer to some thing, experience, thought — and therefore leaves us with some way of relating to it; but by no means in a total, exhaustive manner?

If I sound more confused than I should, pray please do guide me, you, Harkinder ji and our other learned friends.

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Jasdev Singh wrote: thank you for your excelllent paper, it has smade me think more deeply. However I see that you use the word religion and dharam almost inter changeably. This is perhaps where I differ. Thank you again and sending me an illuminating paper.

Thank you for your kind comments Jasdev ji. My search was directed at trying to understand the concept of dharam as could be gleaned from gurbani; without attempting to define or delimit it. What emerged was an inclusive, empathetic, vismadic paradigm of precept and praxis that by its dynamic character could provide an abiding linkage between those who lived in a dynamic and changing world to the timeless, unchanging Divine; the cause of all causes. In that sense the concept assumed uniqueness for each of us in the context of variables influencing our being. I do not know what one word can describe it – religion, faith, persuasion, path or any other.

I do not know if my understanding is right – I am still searching fully conscious of my limitations.

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Well said Narinder ji. There is another thoughtful comment by Allsmile ji. Let us all get away from this vulture culture of waiting to pounce on anybody who seems vulnerable. Let us realize that none of us has the exclusive key to the truths enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib. Let us also be inspired by the Guru’s humble acceptance that an exhaustive understanding of the Divine Reality is beyond human comprehension. Let us be thankful for an opportunity to learn and understand remembering that gyan khand leads into saram khand where our growth opens our vision to the sublime beauty in the diverse mosaic created by the Karta.

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Thank you Kulwant ji. I agree with you that Bhai Gurdas was a Gursikh and not a Hindutva agent. Any reading of the pauri has possibly the value that it tends to depict what may be happening and in that light I see it contrarian to our present state of observance but I do not see any deep moral conflict with Guru’s thought. Tikka is decried as a substitute for spiritual quest – nanak sache nam bin kya tika kya tug – but Gurdas is talking of tika with jap, sadh sangat, gavo, sunno gurbani, gurseva, gurpurb, sodar, sohila, arti and parsad. So pursuit of sacha nam is inherent in what he is saying.

I think trying to assign a different, non-contextual meaning to tilak and arti in the composition is rather unnecessarily defensive. The practices have changed and evolved in keeping with our understanding of Gurbani, historical influences and our consciousness of our identity.  That is reason enough for change and theologians all across the spectrum accept such changes as normal almost secular. I know that I will not need a more convincing argument even in a very critical inter faith setting and I spend so much of my time talking in that mode.  I therefore am very ambivalent to blame these texts or their interpretations on Hindu leaning in the writer, or influence of pujaris, ragis and others from the back door. Why would they do it? Why do we think of them as lesser beings – misled out of sheer ignorance without any evidence of motive of any gain. After all who pays these fellows – only the sangat; not some brahman; they only sing and say what sangat has no problem to hear; not to advance any agenda. They hardly make enough to put food on the table for their simple girahasti needs. Please let us show some human understanding even as we defend what we think should be.

And Kulwant ji please forgives me if I sound strident. [sd on 1/16/6]

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Thank you Kulwant ji. None of us can and should claim to have the exclusive and incontrovertible understanding of the Guru’s message.  Grihast, karam, dharam, lekha, bohr janam, bhai, bhao, milan, vichhora, dukh, sukh, atma, parmatma are linked into a comlex of unique harmony.  I find it difficult to close the loop when I get carried away in one direction though I tend to as much as some others.  What I am trying to say is that all of us are searching from where we are placed and what seems to us to be important. As such while I am respectful of diversity of our search I hope it is not guided by an agenda – be it promotion of the rational, scientific or deHiduisation.  That may bring in distortions.

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Thank you Virnder ji for an interesting exposition on Dharam. I would appreciate a little more light on how: Dharam is considered the 4th Sikh virtue?

Is understanding of dharam in Sikhi an understanding of its underlying spiritual components unrelated to religious and temporal – some kind of all inclusive, all embracing, idealistic way of life guided by and in keeping with divine laws and injunctions?

This individual’s internal law is self given, or what? Universal, how? Divine sanction required? What kind of plurality underlies this concept that may be within the bounds of Sikhi? Should we rely on Websters and other such entries to grasp the contextual meaning of dharam in Sikhi? It is a term used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jaina, Bhakti traditions and so on. I have not come across a single entry [in my limited exploration] where any of these seems to have enquired into the use of the term in Sikhism.  We have to try and relate what the Gurus may have in mind in telling us about dharam and its place in our spiritual quest – from where it all takes off.

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The metaphor used in any presentation is rooted in the linguistic and cultural heritage of those who are its likely recipients. In that context the Gurus did resort to a lot of Hindu metaphor and Muslim metaphor as well as that relating to sidhas and other prevalent practices. The thought of the Gurus is the totality of the paradigm they preached. This paradigm is unique.

There is a lot of wisdom in Vedas and given their antiquity these texts have received a lot of respect from a string of scholars. At the same time these texts have also been critically evaluated for their position on monotheism, caste implications, ritualism, social responsibility and so on. There have been a series of reform movements among Hindus that have over time changed their theological positions and how they interpret their teachings. For Sikhs the message of Gurus seems to be to understand and live by Gurbani in harmony with others who may have belief in their preferred persuasion.

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This discussion about the term Nanakian Philosophy has been erupting every now and then. I stayed away from the discussion because I felt that use of any such term by an author or a protagonist does not by itself bring currency to the term or become a restrictive influence on understanding of Sikhism.
Devinder ji’s explanation that ‘Sikh philosophy is a composite philosophy of 10 Sikh Gurus, many Bhagats, Sants, and many Bhatts, whereas ‘Nanakian Philosophy’ is one of those philosophies on which the Sikhism has been constructed. Sikhism is a religion and Nanakian Philosophy is a philosophy’ is a serious proposition and must need an
examination.
As I understand he is envisioning Nanakian philosophy as a subset of the total composite that makes the Sikh philosophy. This seems an arbitrary division that may actually turn out to be a nightmare to define – what from the Sikh precepts and praxis belongs within the subset and what has been an accretion due to the influence of other Gurus, Bhagats, tradition and historical experience. I wonder if one needs to go that length in order to introduce a term – unless a case can be made that the definition would bring clarity and validate the overall Sikh thought and its understanding.
I therefore fail to grasp the compulsive need for such distinction either as a research analyst of the faith or as its practitioner. At the same time continued usage of such semantics in presenting one’s understanding does not really bother me unless I apprehend any intent to be disruptive, blasphemous or see sinister motives. In the instant case I do not see Devinder ji deserving of any censure or patronizing comments about hell and brimstone.
I also think we have to get used to the use of various phrases and terms used to classify and categorize Sikh thought as more research proceeds. Some of these usages will survive while most will fall into disuse over time. Whatever the outcome in relation to the life cycle of any specific term so introduced we would be well advised to accept that there is value to such usages for they also help to define the approach of a particular protagonist and thus stimulate discussion and hopefully encourage interest in quality valuations.
This discussion also prompted me to look at my recent writings over the last two years or so and I am sharing below the titles of some of some of my papers in this time:

UNIVERSAL & INCLUSIVE IN SIKH THOUGHT: SOME REFLECTIONS ON SIKH VIEW OF THE OTHER

SEVA: SERVICE OF HUMANITY – SIKH PRECEPT & PRAXIS

SOCIETAL PEACE & HARMONY – SIKH PRECEPTS & SOME REFLECTIONS ON SIKH ENGAGEMENT WITH NEIGHBORING PAKISTAN

DHARTI, DHARAM & DHUR – NANAK’s VISION OF ETERNAL HUMAN QUEST

CONTENTMENT IN SEARCH OF INNER PEACE – A LOOK AT SIKH & MUSLIM THOUGHT

The paper I am presenting this coming weekend at San Jose Conference is titled “HUN HUKAM HOA MEHRVAAN DA” – AND NOW THE BENEFICIENT LORD HAS
ORDAINED – EXPLORING GURU ARJAN’S THOUGHT ON HALEMI RAJ

I seem to have a preference for terms Sikh thought, Sikh precepts, Guru’s vision/thought and the like. I have avoided using the word philosophy because to me it is rather discipline restrictive.

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Though I could understand Devinder Chahl ji’s inquisitiveness in trying to get to understand Narinder Kaur ji’s background, the reference to Mohinder Sahni seemed to give an impression of quizzing a proxy possibility. I am glad Narinder ji has answered it with disarming grace and we should applaud her composure and maturity.

I recognize the difficulty inherent in conversing when all of us are shrouded in some kind of anonymity barring some of us who may have had the good fortune of having known some others on the forum. That by itself may not be much of an asset anyway because in some situations familiarity may only surface occasionally as a constraint, inhibition or even tendency to pre judge.

Given the nature of medium we are using we have to be ourselves and I doubt if one can stay engaged if being coached by some one else. A proxy situation cannot be ruled out; but then what would one gain by using that stratagem. One might as well use a pseudonym.

I think there was significant consistency in Narinder ji’s style though starting a bit hesitatingly when once she said ‘chhota moohn bari baat’ and on another occasion ‘Uncle ji’ slipped in, she seems to have gained confidence and has been holding her own in this none too easy subject or personalities involved. I hope and pray that as she grows up her interest in Gurbani and its understanding continues. I see a great potential here and I hope that Guru’s kirpa will continue to guide her. I would also urge all of us, including me, on the forum to be encouraging and nurturing even as the analysis of the subject is not compromised in any way.

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I am touched by Kulbir ji’s anguish at some happenings when he says – If Sikhs can’t defend their way of life and beliefs effectively and decisively on a forum run by Sikhs, how on earth are they going to defend themselves on sites that are not run by them or that are run by anti-Sikh elements? All of us will be responsible for not speaking up if scholarly moorkhata (gibbersih) spreads to other places on the net. This mailing list would end up proving that the best way to disarm and stupefy the Sikhs to submission is to throw a bunch of random Gurbani lines at them. I don’t care what others think but I don’t want to feel guilty later on for not doing my part.

If we look carefully this approach is most used in areas of observance and praxis. This is where tradition has and continues to be a dominant influence on how we internalize Sikhi. There is considerable evidence that Sikhs were not a monolithic, ritual bound devotees and the Gurus intended them not to be so. The concepts of miri piri and khalsa underpin the ultimate autonomy of the individual soul to connect with the divine – and the path of travel of each soul is not necessarily the same. That plurality is accepted.

At the same time there is overwhelming evidence that Sikhs did adopt some common features and shared ways that made them virla and nirala and it was the totality of this element of underpinning of Sikh unity with respect for individual autonomy that made them strong and able to make a difference.

I therefore do get somewhat perturbed at tuk wars but tend not to despair at the persistence of some to keep recycling their positions in different modes. Their catalytic effect is and has not been visible.

Our more real concerns should be a lot of what is happening at the ground level and that remain largely below our radars. Two trends seem visible – in Punjab increasing divisiveness along caste groups and trend for disregard of bana along with the rise of Babas. On the other hand Sikhs in Delhi and neighboring rural areas in UP [and the rest of India] etc seem more senisitive to retain the transmitted Sikhi and most rural Sikhs are amritdharis.

So there are changes taking place and these will play out in the next decade or so to give a more clear indication of the emerging direction . What may determine the course of Sikhi is not the armchair debates among the elitist but the voluntary efforts of the relatively less cynical, yet very aware Sikhs engaged in seva so plentifully now in these parts.

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Whatever he may be Khushwant Singh has been the most effective Sikh spokesperson of the 20th century. He has brought more empathetic awareness about Sikhs and Sikhism to Indians as well those in far off lands than any other Sikh irrespective of the person’s level of observance or self professed position on inherent spiritual inclination. Blackwell Press had asked me to review the second edition of his Sikh History for publication in the prestigious ‘Reviews in Religion & Theology’. In my review I had made a brief reference to this issue since it seems to keep coming up in our discussions when we talk of the man and his work and I am giving below an extract: “His repertoire is pretty diverse and even though he makes no pretensions to being a faithfully observant Sikh [he frequently asserts to being an agnostic], his writings whether fiction, humor, journalistic or in any other genre bear an unmistakable stamp of his Sikh upbringing and his sense of understanding of the Sikh scriptures; their history, their struggles, their aspirations, their strengths, their inherent weaknesses, their enigmatic responses, their sacrifices, their idealism, their incompetent leadership, their love of life and buoyancy of spirit in adversity and suffering. He is at his best, though sometimes harshly critical and occasionally wishfully speculative, when writing about or relating to Sikhs.”

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Thank you Virk ji for bringing up this existing problem at the root of several of our internal squabbles. I do think we should more closely look at the strands of theological interpretive thought in Sikhism. It may indeed be more diverse than just these two broad groups. There is another unsupported statement in this digest about Damdami Taksaal changing some words in SGGS text – a more blatant view of difference in interpretive thought if true.

Then there are those who openly challenge the inclusion of bhagat bani and some other compositions in the SGGS. There are fairly identifiable interpretive preferences associated with the so-called Singh Sabha scholars. Even the popularly understood ‘kunji‘ aspect of Bhai Gurdas has been a subject of random enquiries and opinions expressed about his unmixed clarity on Sikh thought.

The fact that we have, in spite of our relatively small numbers and short history, quite a diversity in schools of theological thought and further diversity is being added under the emerging scientific, rational and liberal trends. Even the various sects are an expression of differing theological understanding. Likewise the most oft repeated argument by any one who makes a choice that may seem to many as infringement of accepted Sikh praxis is ‘show me where it is written in the Granth.’ To me therefore it seems important that there is clearer understanding on the various schools of theological strands, their origin, following and how they are reaching out within the community and beyond. This might help us in better understanding of this diversity, how to relate to it and how to influence fringe issues.

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Even though ‘bani’ in Guru Granth Sahib has been organized by ‘raags’, the persuasion is for all Sikhs to sing ‘bani’ – aavo sikh satgur ke pearey gaavo sachi bani – is not the only example one can cite. In fact it would seem that of ‘gaavo’ and ‘sunno’, the merit is weighted towards ‘gaavo’. In ‘sodar’ Guru Nanak has given singing God’s praises an unequalled universality that should really not brook any exclusion. Nor was kirtan intended to be a ‘bandish’ controlled rigorous ritualistic performance; it was a vehicle for inspiring us to a state of ‘ras’ – ras ras gun gao gobind ke – so that Gopal should come abide in our hearts. But then who are we to say anything when S R M has spoken!

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A question does sometimes come to my mind that we argue on the one hand that our Gurus chose to deliver their bani in the local dialect so that it could reach the masses – unlike Sanskrit or even Arabic in case of the two other faiths. This certainly is a valid explanation for the purpose of oral tradition where ‘sun-na‘ and ‘gavna‘ were the facilitating modes used. The ‘katha‘ and ‘veechar‘ also proceeded in the local dialect – again using the ‘suniye‘ mode in the sangat. Any clarifications sought by a devotee also were answered in the local dialect at the dharamsals, manjis, pirhis.

There is also sufficient evidence that the Gurus themselves were sensitive to the spoken dialect and used it variously possibly to facilitate communication with their current sangat – though absence of any compositions in Arabic, South Indian tongues, Bengali etc is rather intriguing.

For the written purposes and therefore for the ‘likhiye‘ and ‘padhiye‘ functions the Gurus developed a new script instead of choosing an existing and current script. This excluded the possibility of bani being read in Baghdad, Kabul, Lanka, Bidar, Puri, Somnath, Dacca or in Lhasa in local scripts. A few questions come to mind here: – the message of Guru is ‘atal‘ and valid for all times. Would tying down the Guru’s written word to a script not be similar to all other preceding religious practices and therefore any claim of uniqueness or being sangat sensitive is rather a stretch – is there any evidence of Gurbani written in local languages in these far off places during the Guru period; any manuscripts that may have come to light – is there clear evidence that teaching of Gurmukhi script was made a part of dharamsal function in all locations to promote ‘padhiye‘ and ‘likhiye‘ or were Punjabi Sikhs, familiar with the written language, the interpreters of Guru’s writings, be it bani or hukamnamas.

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It is indeed befitting the scholars like Jerry Barrier, Noel King, and Hew McLeod are honored as Scholars Extraordinaire. They each in their own way contributed to infusing interest in research on Sikhi and Sikh issues. We may have, for good reasons, not agreed with some of their positions but at least their interventions spawned a body of fresh knowledge that generated  interest among younger Sikh scholars who now are creating their own niches and may end up with interpretations that can be defended and yet are closer to the tradition. The impetus for this surge of interest would not have come sans the somewhat skeptical theorizing by several among the Western scholars. I named the three of them as if they fitted the generalization – they do not but they all encouraged Sikh scholarship and guided or mentored many of us.

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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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Devinder ji has for years maintained that the ease of cut and paste use of internet translations of SGGS became a facilitator for spreading vedantic interpretations of Bani. In a recent message he says ‘So far only literal translations in English are found, which are found everywhere on the Internets and is extensivley being used for discussion on various forums. Such literal translations are creating disagreements between different groups of discussion.”

Even though Devinder ji’s primary concern has been the vedantic slant, the other point that he is arguing is about the extensive use of gurbani translation off the internet that is fuelling debate and discord in discussion groups.

I thought I will pick a message from the current digest by Virinder ji who possibly is the most prolific user of internet gurbani search and try and figure out in a simplistic way how the resource has been used.

In the message picked, he is responding to the debate on real and fake Sikhi. He defines Sikhi as the way of life for a disciple as per the teachings of the Sabd Guru, which — one has to live it to progress on the path of spirituality. The wishful religion has to be of proof and performance but not purely of promise by birth to Sikh parents or physical identity.

In the substantive part he cites the following quotes with the intent to support his definition:

One should always think of the Akal Purkh, who will be the Support in the end.—–Guru Amardas, Raag Majh, AGGS, Page, 117-19 & 118-1

If the ones with plucked hairs abjure bathing, then they merit throwing seven handfuls of dust on their heads.—–Guru Nanak, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 150-6

Reflecting on the teachings of the Guru is planting ambrosial nectar, and obtain the Akal Purkh as their ambrosial fruit.—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, A GGS, Page, 302 -18 & 19

They all plant for their own good, but the Akal Purkh causes to grow only that field with which It is pleased. The Gurus teachings is planting the Naam.—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 304-8

If someone separates himself from the True Guru, his face is blackened, and he is destroyed by the Messenger of Death..—–Guru Ramdas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 311-19 & 312-1

The Sikhs listen to the Teachings imparted by the True Guru. Those who surrender to the True Guru’s Will are imbued with the four-fold Love of the Akal Purkh. This is the unique and distinct life-style of the Guru willed: listening to the Guru’s Teachings, their minds blossom forth.—–Guru Amardas, Raag Gauri, AGGS, Page, 314-9 & 10

The Sikhs and the entire congregation recognize You as the Supreme God, and bow down to you..- —-Satta Balwand, AGGS, Page, 968-10

The Sikhs of the Guru accept and obey the Akal Purkh’s Will; the Perfect Guru carries them across -Guru Ramdas Slokes, AGGS, Page, 1424-8

His presentation ends with this Conclusion [verbatim]

1. The present Guru of Sikhs and for ever is AGGS and no where It describes the present definitions used for being a Sikh.

2. The only things it refers to is Gurmukh (Guru willed) or Manmukh (Self willed.)

3. Any religion to a person is a personal and private thing.

4. Institutionalizing a religion loses its perspective on spirituality and promotes controlling the followers.

5. Motto should be to live and let live, The God’s light is present in all so how one can be good and the other one bad.

Let the readers judge for themselves if the presentation is cogent or gurbani supported text leads to conclusions that have been made. Next let them also ponder if gurbani texts quoted have been cited with relevance for if relevance is missing or not even linked in, then the use of gurbani is only as an embellishment to get the gullible devotee to accept the conclusions as flowing from the divine word.

The example shows that there is merit in the concern that Devinder ji has expressed about the use of internet gurbani resources to confuse the issues that in some cases may give rise to disputes.

Also we do see the possibility that by repetitive mix and [mis]match of texts from prepared banks, one can continue to make the same or similar set of coclusions inserted in all discussions with random unconnected gurbani quotes.

Here we should also note the comment made by Kulbir ji in another accompanying message, citing another of Virinder ji’s presentation. He says ‘My main refrain — has been to put in focus Bhai Virinder Singh’s selective approach to analysis that allows him to make pre-determined conclusions. He has devised a very clever strategy to accomplish this. He either uses selective and skewed data or simply jumps to conclusions of his choice even though the data doesn’t lead to them. The unfortunate part of this strategy is that the sanctity of Gurbani is misused in the process.’

The question is how do we respond to these situations. It is not an easy choice in our situation where presently most of our conventional structures, settled convictions and shared understandings are under serious and increasingly strident stress. The reasons are many and for the sake of brevity one may leave them alone on the facile assumption that these are well known.

Even a few decades back many of the expressions of break from the mainstream [or what was the mainstream] that we take into stride today would have been very seriously viewed. Not now, because the demographics indicate a landslide change at the grass root levels and this reality

has to get reflected in our stated positions. This being the case let us try and relate it to the virtual world of GLZ.

If we look at GLZ it is possibly a fairly poor reflection of real life at least in one sense. Out of over 10K members, unlike in real life, the conversations are mostly between a handful of people. None of us can ever get such pliant audience of so many. I have had the opportunity to address some large groups – the largest was 7500 in Istanbul, not dumb by any means. So we luckily are really a kind of not so exclusive club where the mass of participants stay in the shadows and don’t even nod their heads or ask any questions.

We should not however forget that they are there and in a quiet kind of way their minds are selectively taking in some of the things that are happening here.

This is the power of this medium that can be exploited by a person with a mission. The objectives may have been to provide a forum for open discussion that fosters learning and greater understanding of Sikhs and Sikhi but unless those taking part restrain their missionary zeal, the medium can be flooded with repetitive and repackaged messages intended for specific purposes.

It is difficult for moderators to filter texts or intervene. It is also distasteful to engage in a running squabble with a zealous protagonist. What then? Ignore, give up, close down the shop or quit?

To me one answer suggests. Whatever our positions on praxis, or interpretive issues, let us recognize that we may in fact be just skimming the surface on such weighty subjects. Let us be more responsible, more humble and even some what sceptical and self critical. Let our attempt be to try to help develop a culture of promoting quest for learning and forming independent, informed positions by all members.

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I think Rabinder ji’s understanding of karma and avagavan is correct.  The totality of Sikh thought encompassing spiritual pursuit even as actively engaged in the worldly life cannot be explained absent this concept without losing its moral and ethical anchor. I have called it closing the loop in another message. I see the question of atma, parmatma a part of the same totality of thought.

At the same time issue of narak swarg raised by Gurmukh ji needs elaboration and so does the difference in Sikh thought from the traditional Indian thought on karma, be it Hindu, Budhhist or any other. The latter is driving this slant in Sikh view as an argument to buttress anekta.

The rationalists and scientists are also pursuing it but their thought still seems only at a conjectural stage as I could gauge on another forum. My hope is that they will eventually find it difficult to tie loose ends and not being able to close the loop, review their positions.

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I agree that awareness about sciences, logic and many other sources [emphasised] of learning helps us to comprehend several of the intriguing and fascinating experiences in temporality but the suggestion that the first two are a pre requisite for understanding Gurbani in addition to bibek budhi sounds like an exclusivist elitist approach – this time the defining stratification being along those educated in intricacies of some chosen discipline.  If one were to say that scientific mind, or analytical abilities help such understanding one may still find it somewhat more acceptable. Mere knowledge of these disciplines however need not cultivate these qualities in an individual nor is there any conclusive evidence that these assets are absent in those not educated in science or logic.  Understanding of gurbani which in turn means understanding of Sikh thought about the spiritual and temporal as they interface human existence is a process of internalisation where our state of mind in addition to gian, aesthetic sensitivity, khoj, veechar, bibek budhi all come together [in no fixed blend] to move us along the path.  From what I have seen and gathered so far I get the impression that this quest about redefining Nanakian philosophy seems to be more a rhetorical assertion rather than a cogent concept at this stage. And I mean it in a constructive sense with no intent even remotely to belittle the effort or its proponents.

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My question was addressed to the forum and I am glad the Professor has chosen to give a response. I however am still somewhat struggling to understand the essence of his message. If I get it right his one comment is that it is important to read the whole shabad to understand the message of the shabad. Based on that he concludes that ‘The body can become pure like gold when the True Guru unites with you. Meaning if you follow the philosophy of the Guru one get rid of all vices.’ In his first para he says ‘And the message of the Guru to make your body pure like god that is free from vices and ego and to get rid of the vicious cycle.’

Now what is this ‘vicious cycle’? If it is here and now we are living it, enduring it, coping with it – many indeed savoring all their misdeeds. So what is it they should avoid and why? What will change in their lives and why/how/when?

What if they do not even know if they have a problem or don’t care anyway? They would have spent their life living as they liked, being their own men, and gone to the dustbin of history. Just like others who may have united with the Guru!

Pray where is Divine justice or at least some semblance of it? This is an utopia I would love to wake up to! No God, no motivation, no fear, no retribution, free for all, survival of the fittest – and hopefully no rules on this forum to bar us in exercise of our new found total freedom.

I am still struggling to make sense of it!

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I commend Narinder Kaur ji for her message but my message is not a comment on her statement and is addressed generally relating to this thread.

I have avoided following this rambling discussion for several reasons primarily because I am not too familiar with DNA and secondarily because whereas as a technologist and management sciences proponent I do believe in the expanding horizons that science has opened up for us, I have not been attracted to Scientology and am not inclined to make Sikhi a laboratory for or a sub sect of the same.

Having said that I do see the relevance of the discussion and am respectful of it. So am I respectful of those who are on either side of whether Gurbani is supportive of or rejects the notion of reincarnation.  My intervention is to seek the interpretation of those who may be on either side of these various positions to explain to us their understanding of the verses I read this morning in my paath:

Vadhans M III, p. 584

eh sarir jajri hai is noo jar pauhnchai aaey,

gur rakhe se ubhre hor mar jame avai jae,

hor mar jamai aaveh javeh ant gaye pacchtaveh bin naven sukh neh hoi,

aethey kamawai so phal paawai manmukh hai pat khoi, jampur ghor andhar maha gubar neh tithai behn neh bhai, eh sarir jajri hai is noo jar paunchai aaye.

What is this mar jamai, aaveh jaaveh? What is the phal, where, when, how, by whom? DNA, soul, now in this world, in hereafter? Can we find cogent explanations on all sides?

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Thank you Harkinder ji, it could not be said better. Let us all realise that our feet, all of ours, whatever may be our own sense of level of our commitment to the Sikh priciples, are caught up in the slush of the mundane. Let us therefore not be too judgmental; let us not denigrate; let us not exclude but endeavor to motivate one another to live our lives the way Gurus ordained.

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Jasdev ji said “If you tell me what you mean by God I will tell you what I understand. But I dont know what you mean by God so I dont know of what I am supposed to express an understanding. I am always tryig to understand reality, every new second is a new understanding. In this context, every new second a new name comes forth and a new set of characteristics reveal to me. If you mean what I understand by the eternal unknown, quite frankly I dont understand anything.”

Jasdev ji you are inimitable. Your last sentence says a lot. On another note would you call infinity an identifying characteristic? Possibly yes. Can we deconstruct it? Yes, into an infinite number of finites or even infinites.

Does a name really mean an exhaustive identity? How about the Loch Ness monster or evil spirits? Am I Nirmal – far from what we think the word means!

Is identity therefore not only a means to refer to some thing, experience, thought — and therefore leaves us with some way of relating to it; but by no means in a total, exhaustive manner?

If I sound more confused than I should, pray please do guide me, you, Harkinder ji and our other learned friends.

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Jasdev Singh wrote: thank you for your excelllent paper, it has smade me think more deeply. However I see that you use the word religion and dharam almost inter changeably. This is perhaps where I differ. Thank you again and sending me an illuminating paper.

Thank you for your kind comments Jasdev ji. My search was directed at trying to understand the concept of dharam as could be gleaned from gurbani; without attempting to define or delimit it. What emerged was an inclusive, empathetic, vismadic paradigm of precept and praxis that by its dynamic character could provide an abiding linkage between those who lived in a dynamic and changing world to the timeless, unchanging Divine; the cause of all causes. In that sense the concept assumed uniqueness for each of us in the context of variables influencing our being. I do not know what one word can describe it – religion, faith, persuasion, path or any other.

I do not know if my understanding is right – I am still searching fully conscious of my limitations.

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Well said Narinder ji. There is another thoughtful comment by Allsmile ji. Let us all get away from this vulture culture of waiting to pounce on anybody who seems vulnerable. Let us realize that none of us has the exclusive key to the truths enshrined in Guru Granth Sahib. Let us also be inspired by the Guru’s humble acceptance that an exhaustive understanding of the Divine Reality is beyond human comprehension.

Let us be thankful for an opportunity to learn and understand remembering that gyan khand leads into saram khand where our growth opens our vision to the sublime beauty in the diverse mosaic created by the Karta.

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Thank you Kulwant ji. None of us can and should claim to have the exclusive and incontrovertible understanding of the Guru’s message.  Grihast, karam, dharam, lekha, bohr janam, bhai, bhao, milan, vichhora, dukh, sukh, atma, parmatma are linked into a comlex of unique harmony.  I find it difficult to close the loop when I get carried away in one direction though I tend to as much as some others.  What I am trying to say is that all of us are searching from where we are placed and what seems to us to be important. As such while I am respectful of diversity of our search I hope it is not guided by an agenda – be it promotion of the rational, scientific or deHiduisation.  That may bring in distortions.

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I agree with you that basically all the translations so far seem to reflect the same meaning – literal and not even contextual within the contents of the shabad or pauri. My hope is that now that there is more widespread search for interpretive translation, such work could not be long in getting started to appear even if in small steps.

We are already witnessing effort by several to present their understanding of a shabad on the net. Such initiatives clearly indicate the felt need and the direction but what is also evident is that such efforts hardly invoke any discussion. In other words it is not easy to achieve confluence of our interest to promote any deep thinking in a more collective manner.

Most faiths have accomplished the process of interpretive rendering by generations of work in their seminaries. Such translations obviously tend to end up emphasising their version of truth that also led to the formation of sects and different schools of thought. This is a process and is a product of history as it unfolds.

In this process the effort by the conservative to control any possible centrifugal or outlandish interpretations by using the stratagem of edicts, fatwas or hukamnamas is not peculiar with Sikhs. We should however be weary to also avoid the pitfall of defining, for all time to come, the basic tenets of Sikh philosophy in the context of our understanding of the world and knowledge as we know. This may be different tomorrow or the day after than the conservative thought of today.

If our Guru and God is nit navan niroa and never gets redundant due to changes that time brings about, how can their philosophy be frozen in time? It is not – the eternal truths are eternal because they can be interpreted and understood in all historical contexts.

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Let me say at the outset that I have not read Devinder ji’s writings on the subject of ik onkar or ik oh except cursorily looking at some of the messages on the forum. My intent therefore is not to join the debate in its narrow interpretive context that curiously seems to be centered around pronunciation rather than meaning or message. The purpose it is said repeatedly is to explore a fresh understanding using scientific method and to free our thinking of Vedantic interpretive thought.

With regard to pronunciation actually the doubt seems misplaced because onkar version has come down uniformly and I am not aware of any tradition where the open oora is pronounced as oh. If there is any evidence in the oral tradition to support this version it would certainly at least make the issue of pronunciation debatable.

The words oh and onkar both have been used and spelt in Gurbani. There has been some explanation regarding the use of onkar by Bhamra ji and others as referring to God’s immanence vis a vis ik onkar relating to His transcendence. The word oh has been used far more frequently – for God, man and even for other things as one would in conversation – witness in Japji sahib itself

oh vaykhai onaa nadar na aavai

oh jaanai jayteya muhi khaey

bhariye mat papaan ke sang, oh dhopai naavai kai rang

Also if we look at Bhai Gurdas Var 29 pauri 9, it does not seem to make a case for ik oh+ version. In any case I am not clear how the way we pronounce the word will alter the content or identity of our understanding of the precept or our liturgical practices. The chant satnam wahiguru seems by far the more preferred mode of referring to and connecting with the Divine in praxis rather than ik onkar or ik ho.

I think also that the need to clear up the monotheistic aspect of Sikh thought is not compelling the way it seems to be being pursued. Our search should be bring cogency to the concept of the One supreme Akal Purkh and many others who thru His nadar become Him – the Guru, Sant, Sadhu, Gurmukh, Brahm Giani. This will help us find practical ways to understand the import of sangat and guide us in our spiritual quest in the immediacy of the world we live in.

In fact somehow I am not too convinced about the Vedantic slant theory in interpretation of Gurbani being used as a foil for presenting one’s own predilections. I think that such reasoning for searching newer meanings into truths enshrined in Gurbani is rather self-defeating because it starts on a defensive premise that is neither warranted nor edifying to Gurbani.

Theology does change even as the believers engage with diverse thought and the Gurus have not at all suggested that gyan, so essential for spiritual elevation, is to be circumscribed or frozen in time. So one should go ahead and use scientific or any other kasoti to relate understanding of Gurbani to contemporary discourse.

We should also bear in mind that some others may well do simlar exercises at reinterpretation hundred years hence based on any new areas of knowledge that may emerge and capture their fancy. However to term such attempts as a cleansing exercise to rid our minds of impurities that may have crept in may be rather presumtuous unless there is a groung breaking change.

We should also ponder over materiality of what we are propounding – if it changes the paradigm of Sikh thought as popularly understood in a concrete manner, if it influences the way we are persuaded to live our lives, if it alters our value package for us to make a difference – by all means we should wage a struggle to rid ourselves of what is obscure. Otherwise let us have the humility to accept that we may after all know very little and even as we share our thoughts we may have more to learn than to teach.

My purpose is not to discourage scholarship or to blindly support status quo but to make a plea for self-evaluation of what we are saying. What is new? What is different? How will it change anything?  And if the inspiration comes from beyond, you may be on to something – carry on regardless.

In that case pay not much heed to what I say for my case is of the oh who – boojhai naahee ek sudhakhar oh saglee jhaakh jhakhaeeai – does not understand the divine word but keeps waffling all over. [p 216]

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Thank you Virnder ji for an interesting exposition on Dharam. I would appreciate a little more light on how: Dharam is considered the 4th Sikh virtue?

Is understanding of dharam in Sikhi an understanding of its underlying spiritual components unrelated to religious and temporal – some kind of all inclusive, all embracing, idealistic way of life guided by and in keeping with divine laws and injunctions?

This individual’s internal law is self given, or what? Universal, how? Divine sanction required? What kind of plurality underlies this concept that may be within the bounds of Sikhi?

Should we rely on Websters and other such entries to grasp the contextual meaning of dharam in Sikhi? It is a term used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jaina, Bhakti traditions and so on. I have not come across a single entry [in my limited exploration] where any of these seems to have enquired into the use of the term in Sikhism.  We have to try and relate what the Gurus may have in mind in telling us about dharam and its place in our spiritual quest – from where it all takes off.

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I thank Virinder ji for a very thoughtful paradigm of Guru’s vision. We should all try to live by the lofty moral and ethical principles inherent in Guru’s teachings. At a practical level I am asking a question that may verge on irreverant: character is moulded under very diverse influences, religion being one, mostly rather indirect than a direct influence. Thoughts are products likewise of diverse stimuli.  When we struggle internally and wrestle with choices to be made, are we guided more by our package of total vlues, secular and religious both or are we able to compartmentalise each and then do a complex evaluation to make our decisions?

My sense is that our thoughts and most of our decision choices are guided by a process which is not reflecting back on spiritual thought but are influenced by the state of our spirituality i.e. what we have imbibed and internalised and what has become part of our package of values. So when suggesting seeking guidance from Guru Granth Sahib, is the objective seeking answer to a vexing problem as a one time exercise or to develop our conscious to the level that the sane choices will come more easily or naturally to us, though still not without deep deliberation?

I would also request him to relate it to some negatives like – homai, panch doot, trishna, moorakh, mugadh, gwar, pashu, zulum, zalim, sazai, niao, laha, ghata,et al as they are continually part of our inner as well as our external world.

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Thank you Kulwant ji. I agree with you that Bhai Gurdas was a Gursikh and not a Hindutva agent. Any reading of the pauri has possibly the value that it tends to depict what may be happening and in that light I see it contrarian to our present state of observance but I do not see any deep moral conflict with Guru’s thought. Tikka is decried as a substitute for spiritual quest – nanak sache nam bin kya tika kya tug – but Gurdas is talking of tika with jap, sadh sangat, gavo, sunno gurbani, gurseva, gurpurb, sodar, sohila, arti and parsad. So pursuit of sacha nam is inherent in what he is saying.

I think trying to assign a different, non-contextual meaning to tilak and arti in the composition is rather unnecessarily defensive. The practices have changed and evolved in keeping with our understanding of Gurbani, historical influences and our consciousness of our identity.  That is reason enough for change and theologians all across the spectrum accept such changes as normal almost secular. I know that I will not need a more convincing argument even in a very critical inter faith setting and I spend so much of my time talking in that mode.  I therefore am very ambivalent to blame these texts or their interpretations on Hindu leaning in the writer, or influence of pujaris, ragis and others from the back door. Why would they do it? Why do we think of them as lesser beings – misled out of sheer ignorance without any evidence of motive of any gain. After all who pays these fellows – only the sangat; not some brahman; they only sing and say what sangat has no problem to hear; not to advance any agenda. They hardly make enough to put food on the table for their simple girahasti needs. Please let us show some human understanding even as we defend what we think should be.

And Kulwant ji please forgives me if I sound strident.

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Thank you Dave ji for taking so much time to engage that extensively in this discussion. We will be travelling starting tomorrow for three months or so. That may constrain my ability to occassionaly intervene as I do even further but I will keep peeping into my inbox to get a feel of what all is continuing to excite the Sikh Diaspora.  If I get the time and it fits in with the stage of discussion I may try and draw some more thinking on santokh and homai as lead instincts in sub sets of creation, their interplay and some kind of covalent connectivity in God’s play. If you ponder one cannot be more santokhia than the devanhaar – and then har ka roop, eh roop nadri aaya?

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We keep on getting an unending daily dose of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and how it is variously articulated in Gurbanin by Virinder ji. If it were intended to enlighten us, or even to share his own spiritual quest, one would indeed be thankful. But significantly all his exhortations end up only offering an encouragement to those who may be wavering to give up symbols because these by themselves do not enhance spirituality. The implicit message is that rid of obvious symbols one would be well on the way to spiritual growth and and FAITH WITH RIGHT ACTIONS [emphasis his]. My question is if preaching such gospel is correct. Yes action choices are important and are determinants of how our lives would be judged. Yes ritualism is no substitute for spiritualism. But then all faiths have and keep certain symbols and follow certain rituals. Where does one draw the line? Will Sikhs become all spiritual and their kukaram will disappear once they cut their hair, shun the kirpan and stop wearing kachhas. I think there is another aspect to what constitutes a good or not so good or bad action choice and that is the intent, motivation and thought. If the intent is to bring encouragement to the troubled and unweary to make the plunge to give up visible Sikh symbols he will have to make his own judgement about the righteousness of his motive. Prolific quotes from Gurbani do not necessarily make the discourse morally, ethically or theologically correct. Ultimately Gurbani should help us to discover the paradigm that helps us to swim across this difficult and challenging journey of life and such a paradigm essentially has to have some place for self restraint, personal evaluation of one’s thoughts and motivations and careful appraisal of the agenda one is pushing.

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Here we go again. Virinder ji would have us believe that Kabir was addressing the issue of pagri vs non pagri when he said: Jih Sir Rach Rach BaaDhat Paag, So Sir Chunch Savaareh Kaag⊔hat head which was once embellished with the finest turban, upon that head, the crow now cleans his beak. Iss Tan Dhan Ko Ki-aa Garab-ee-aa, Raam Naam Kaahay Na Darirh-ee- What pride should we take in this body and wealth? Why not hold tight to the Lord’s Name instead? Kahat Kabir Sunhu mMn Myray, Iee Hvaal Hhigay Tyray⠊Says Kabir, listen, O my mind this may be your fate as well! And I am not putting words in his mouth for his opening message is “Spiritualy Kabir says some thing about the head and turban in Raag Gauri” – as if the message is only about turbans.

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Surain Dhanoa says “Dr Virinder Grewal has correctly interpreted that Human body and ‘pagri’ are from the realm of Maya but perhaps to say that these are of no importance will not be correct.The spiritual attainment of Gurbani is not feasible unless one was born as a human being.It is therefore stated that ‘ghat vasai charnarbind, rasna japai gopal.Nanak so prabhu simriyai, tis dehi ko paal’.I am sorry that my transliteration of the Gurbani is not perfect. Notwithstanding pagri being in the realm of maya, I think that it has importance for the Sikhs who have to cover their ‘kesh’ in a befitting manner.When the Gurus permitted themselves to be addressed as ‘Sachcha Patshah’ they also adopted the wearing apparel of the ‘patshahs’ of the world like we see Guru Gobind Singh riding a horse, wearing a plume over his turban and on his arm supporting a hawk.A Sikh is a born sovereign imho is not a mere hyperbole.” Thank you Surain ji for your thoughtful comment. None of us disagree that material things are in the domain of maya – pagri, hat, baseball cap, or just a shaven scalp included. The problem arises when Virinder ji insists on continuously denigrating Sikhi under some pretext or the other by quoting out of context and in a deliberate fashion to present it as evidence of gurbani sanction in an ongoing discussion – in the present case to denigrate turban vs non turban. Such an approach is hypocritical – a propensity even more decried by the Gurus as immoral as against the unlettered ignoramus that he keeps painting others as or pointing to any state other than his meriting that description.

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Autar Singh ji says “are we going to be bound by the historians’ construction of sikhi? even when they may contradict each other and say things clearly contradictory to the sikh theology?” I may submit that in this entire discussion we seem to be searching for an answer based on historical evidence or theological direction. Understandably historical evidence is more likely to be indicative of the subjective interpretation of the writer and views expressed by various historians may be different. There are therefore limitations to accepting this as a criterion. Theological search also has limitations because of the way Guru Granth Sahib is written and edited. Routines, rituals, ceremonies are not spelt out or codified. Interpretive approach in this case too can be subjective and thus subject to the same kind of skepticism as historical evidence. In matters such as these the more credible guide is the tradition as it is seen to be existing and being followed. It is representive of collective understanding by the believers even if it is not codified. It also has an element of continuity – distortions and changes do take place over time and in response to local environments but these may not be catastrophic. In other words the core shared-understanding does get transmitted and that core can be easily identified within the overall transmitted package. To me the core tradition about being a Sikh seems to be: – if born in Sikh family, one is a Sikh. There is no right of passage tradition even though there is mention of ‘gurcharni lagana’ or ‘matha tikana’ ceremonies. – from sehjdhari to keshadhari again traditionally has involved no ceremony. It happened in families and there is sufficient empirical evidence to show that it was mostly an informal process. Mixed marriage situations may also reveal existence of an informal transition of the non Sikh spouse to becoming a Sikh in cases where such change may have happened – conversion by choice or missionary persuasion has been largely thru ceremony of khande ka pahul; so is the voluntary choice of a believer to partake of amrit pan This structure of surviving tradition does not indicate any legacy of charan pahul as an initiation rite though its existence as an expression of veneration is likely to be supported by the continuing respect for charan dhur and amrit from sarovars etc. There are two/three change points that could have radically impacted this transmitted tradition if the purpose at the time was clearly and categorically to formalize the process – first Vaisakhi of 1699 and then Singh Sabha/amrit parchar movement and then promulgation of SRM; in all the three the direction of change was towards khande ka pahul. Notwithstanding this the ground reality is that no one so far has been denied the right to claim to be a Sikh if the person so chooses and khande ka pahul continues to be practised as a choice and not an obligation for a Sikh. I therefore tend to see the observed continuing tradition as a legacy transmitted from the time of early Gurus. It has survived and served the purpose of providing a shared anchoring in the faith in spite of visible identity variants. In this context I am not influenced by the political compulsions to define the voting rights for purposes of SGPC, DSGMC or any other institutional positions.

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Pritam Singh ji has now amended his earlier position to the broad brush statement that “The granth guru contains numerous examples that ridicule and mock a whole range of attitudes and behaviors, including the beard and turban and hair.” I think that even if his earlier statement may have been made without much deep thought or in haste, he has had enough time to ponder over his position and would now be good enough to share the basis of his original conviction that GGS mocks at turbans and beard. Then may be he can dilate on ‘attitude and behavior’ towards turban, beard and hair being ridiculed and mocked in GGS. Incidentally attitude and behavior angle is an addendum to or a change from his original assertion but his elucidation of both may be instructive.

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Guldeep ji has very ably veered this discussion in positive direction and has concluded “Similarly taking some lines out of context and stating SGGS makes “a mockery of Turban & beard” is incorrect and self serving.” I might add that on balance SGGS seems to strongly associate hair with the Divine and godly; recognizes their role in personal adornment and need to be kept clean; cites sweeping the precincts of the holy with hair or using them as a fan reflecting a metaphor expressive of deep devotion by the devotee; every hair of those in prayer is in tune with the divine and singing His praises; when death approaches the hair will be the vulnerable part by which the sinner is grabbed etc. All these point to practice of long hair among people. Gurus also recognize ‘nais’ to be part of the society and are praises for Sain who attained merger with the Divine. Implicitly there is nothing morally, ethically or spiritually constraining in being a ‘nai’ or for that matter a chamar or julaha or chheemba; nor is their any condemnation of those who use nais and their inability to connect with the divine. The Gurus are unequivocal in decrying ritualistic jatadharis, or those who ritualistically shave their heads or pluck their hair out – the message for them is that without internal transformation all such travails are of no avail. With such contexts dominating the discourse surrounding hair in SGGS it seems rather thoughtless to say that the Granth mocks hair, turbans etc. It may be equally hasty for some to come out in support of such assertions by offering some out of context quote or for others to conclude that the Granth is prescriptive about hair and for yet others to say that Gurus did not support hair on their person.

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