Lived Sikhi

Gurmukh ji said ‘In my youth, the steel “symbol” of the kirpan was embedded or tied with a thread to a Kangha, and/or worn/carried as a full sword in good working order. Have a couple of such items at the family home. Many also carried a “takkua” small shapely hand-axe, which came in very handy as people set off on foot from one village to another on paths or along waterways. Robbers and wolves roamed the countryside those days.

We were taught the basics of gatka (hand/foot movements) from childhood to be able to swing a sword, a stick or almost anything, which came to hand. Regular exercise was a must. The powerful symbol of “Kirpan” represents the “tiar-bar-tiar” spirit of the Khalsa ever ready to follow the righteous path fearlessly as Akal Purakh ki Fauj.’

Thank you Gurmukh ji recalling your growing up days possibly in Malayasia. Let me also add that my experience is the same – albeit with a difference. We did not even have gatka training – having been in Delhi in my growing years. Yes there were kirpans in the house – one in the Darbar Sahib kamra for ritual purposes whenever parshad was prepared and my eldest brother who had collected some rather fancy tin foota kirpans from Patiala.

During the 1947 extended riots we had to move out from Rawal Pindi to Lahore and then finally to Delhi in two stages. The kirpan provided the sort of psychological protection that we had a weapon though none of us could use it. My parents were amritdharis and carried their kirpan symbolically in the kangas. This is how all the others that we knew did too.

I also witnessed Sikhs who tried using kirpan those days in a scuffle but with no training the use was no better than a laathi. If we could save ourselves it was more out of being vigilant, coming together in groups and be resolute in defense rather than by the dint of our swordsmanship skills.

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ADSM has raised an important question that ‘Does Col.Sandhu an Amritdhari Singh and maintain the Rehat as per SRM? If he is not, he cannot be Panth Rattan as the achievements are not Panthic but social?’

The suggestion is that seva achievements by only amritdhari Singhs who observe SRM can be termed panthic and receive panthic recognition otherwise it is social service only and therefore should not be considered panthic.

While there is nothing demeaning in getting social recognition for seva achievements for Sikhs it is certainly demeaning of Sikhs to deny seva by non amritdhari Sikhs as not being panthic.

A careful reading of the SRM should also clear up confusion that prevails and keeps being passed around to a highly divisive purpose:

  • Panth is the totality of Sikh believers.
  • Participation in collective Seva is the defining character of their panthic life.
  • Guru panth is the collective of committed amritdhari singhs.

Seva is sharing in practice and in its highest form is representive of all the three attributes that are commended for Sikh religious life – prayerfulness, sharing and honest endeavor.

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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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Thank you for your kind remembrance. I also read with great appreciation your message relating to AKJ and Sikh thought. We somehow do get involved in some pretty knotty and often rather futile discussions but many thoughts that get shared are very insightful and I am thankful for being able to share them. I also am not particularly disturbed by some repetitive visiting of subjects or in parallel flighty interventions. Life is composed of both of these playing out at various layers with changing actors. Renewal both at personal and collective levels is continuity with transformation.

I am so glad you will be in our neighborhood but it so happens that we are still caught up in Delhi and have not been back for almost two years. Hope you enjoy your stay. Please share our good wishes with the sangat at Easton.

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Guru Fateh.

It was so nice to talk to you again and share your concern about getting the various issues raised in the write ups you had enclosed, looked into in some depth to decide on the course of action.

I am very appreciative of the sincerity and the anguish that has been expressed. We are possibly passing through a very difficult phase and we do need to put our heads together to find answers to so many vexing problems that have been listed. I however do feel that in order to develop some kind of action oriented plan we must select the issues that we feel need addressing or need more intensive support, the type of outcomes that we envision and the related time frame etc.

As of now my sense is that the expressed concerns, though true, are all over the place – increasing incidence of non observance of kesh, drug addiction, female-infanticide, decreasing numbers in elite services, non existence of Noble Laureates on and on. Looking for one umbrella voluntary agency to launch programs to bring about such fundamental transformation in a religious community may be impractical.

We should also recognize that even in the field of education, the solutions to problems of illiteracy, primary or secondary schooling, higher education and creative skills development all need very different approaches and set of resources. Providing financial support mechanisms is only one part of the solution – loan facilities being a possible component of that support system. Achievement of excellence is linked to several factors – education being one of them.

I would suggest that we narrow the scope to a couple of clearly defined objectives, understand the wherewithal needed to achieve those objectives and then build a plan for serving those needs.

I would be glad to help in any constructive way I can. I regret sounding rather critical but we may be better off doing that rather than take off with sufficient forethought.

I am glad you are feeling better. Our best wishes and prayers that the Guru guides in this noble venture!

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In order to maintain continuity I have used both the internet version and multiple volume versions depending upon availability at that time or place. Obviously there are differences in ritualistic observance in all these different settings. This also involves a concommitant acceptance of sehj paath as a continuous recitation of the SGGS, not essentially from the same volume, by us as individuals.

A different version was the completion of a sehj paath by some of us as a group across the continents using internet communications.

That these and other issues are being raised is evident from so many presentations that one hears on Zee Punjabi, structured possibly in response to viewer responses. The Sikhi paradigm of Guru Granth, Guru Panth, sangat, panj piarey and direct Sikh-Guru-Akal Purkh relation is unique and inherently connot be circumscribed by ritualistic prescriptions.

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Satkaryog Kirpal ingh ji,

Thank you for sharing your note re Kirpan. This question has been debated a lot and is one area of observance where significant changes in praxis have been accepted though given our dispersed demographics with a wide range of internal diversity, the issue does keep on coming up now and then as discriminatory especially in the Western societies. It is a non issue in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and possibly in some other neighboring countries.

Personal observance norms are not prescriptive in detail. The example you have cited is true and similar fetish is observed by some regarding kachhera and keski too. These mostly are the products of family transmission and influence of preachers/sants. Nonetheless there is a lot of variation noticed in practice.

To me such variants in praxis, ritualistic as well as bhakti, are natural and not either disrespectful or in contravention of gurbani. Guru’s recognised that that there are, have been and will be countless forms in which devotees will express their love divine – and jo tudh bhavai sai bhali kar.

I may submit for your consideration that the question of kakkars is intertwined very depply into our self image, identity and institutional structures. For any reform we would be well advised to take a wholistic view. I have tried to cover some aspects in a chapter on Internal Diversity and related tension in my book Searches In Sikhism, Hemkunt, 2008 and can be accessed at SIKHS & SOCIETY.

I am discussing the institutional issues in much greater depth in my next book on the Twin Doctrine of Guru Granth Guru Granth and its labored journey so far with a peep into the future and my inconsequential suggestions.

Thank you for getting in touch and thank you for your interest and spirit of seva,

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Thank you Kirpal Singh ji. I recall having read your note on GLZ where I have been rather tardy in participating in the last couple of years because of some fairly consuming involvements in India that we have to reorganize before we can return to our life pattern in the US.

We as Sikhs do have a number of pressing issues and problems. At the same time events have a habit of not waiting and we are observing the inexorable change regarding observances happening in Punjab and in parts of the Diaspora. At the same time we see signs of some accretion through sikligars etc and stable or increasing observance fidelity in some local settings. The visible sense of devotion and search for peace is on the up swing among all including Sikhs of all shades.

My sense looking at these developments, the influence of tradition, memory and heritage et al is that Sikhi will survive with all its internal diversity as a composite. The mix is important but not critical. If it seems to be 80:20 now in favor of non keshadharis, you would possibly recall in own life time, it having been the other way around. The history of 18th century shows how Sikh identity in spite of the extreme risks that it invited was prized by adherents. So was the case in Sikh minority areas in West Punjab. So is the case even today in Pakistan and Afghanistan in spite of dangers to life and property.

Whether or not the kakkars were made prescriptive, all the contemporary accounts of early 18th century show these as the visible Sikh identity. Tradition and transmission reinforce this to be the case but also admit of the existence of internal diversity in the form of so called sehj dharis. My plea therefore has been that we should recognize the way things are and be cognizant of changes. If we believe there is merit in the understanding of Sikhi as it has been practised and promoted over the last 300 years and if we can not help stem the tide, let us avoid becoming active agents to promote discarding of tradition in the name of Guru Granth. Let us be more accepting of one another and endeavor to bring the universal message of love, seva and saanjh that the Gurus gave to one and all because parthain saakhi mahapurkh boldai saanjhi sagal jahanai.

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Thank you Virinder ji. I am glad for your statement that you have great respect for Bana have appreciation for those who keep it. That is a fitting position, though one may have chosen differently in regard to their personal observance.

In that light I felt your response to the comment by Kanwar Ranvir Singh that ‘It mandates a discipline for the knight of the Khalsa which could make them a better person; I am not sure I have ever come across a case where it made someone worse’ was eminently appropriate when you said ‘You are very right that it does not make any one worse.’

But then you seem to have got carried away and continued ‘except for the fights in the Gurudwaras across this world with police entering the shrines in West with shoes and legal battles are drawn for years.’

Surely this comment was neither necessary nor called for and that is why perhaps the moderators appended a Note that ‘Fights in Gurduaras are always between groups with differing agendas. They use whatever means to divide the sangat to accept their point of view. Sometimes they divide based on caste, sometimes on geographical area, other times on turban, or an issue, or promise of power, etc etc. Fights are not limited between amritdhary and non-amritdhary. So let us not keep blaming fights on taking of amrit’.

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Rababi ji had quoted var 6 [3], which reads:

amrit velai uth kai jaey andar daryo nuwande sehaj samadh agadh vich ik man hoe gur jap karande, mathai tikka lal lae sadhsangat chal jae bahande, sabad surat liv leen hoe satgur bani gaey sunande, bhae bhagat bhai vartman gurseva gurpurb karande, sanjhe sodar gawna man meli kar mel milande, rati kirat sohela kar arti parsad vadande, gurmukh sukh phal piram chakhande.

This pauri does not leave much to imagination. Morning ablutions, jap, lal tilak, sadh sangat, gao/sunno gurbani, gurseva, gurpurb, sodar, sohila, arti and parsad – all seemed to go to make a Gurmukh’s day at least in the eyes of Bhai Gurdas or in Sikhi as then practised.  Our understanding seems to have been veering away from it in a selective manner; more likely propelled by our search for an identity distinct from Hindus. That is understandable and so can the phenomenon of changes in liturgy be explained in the context of responses to the thought propounded by commentators and other influences. 

The continued tendency however to place everything at the door of Pujaris, Brahmans and to denigrate Bhagat Bani is rather unfortunate.  Incidentally I have a vague impression [not substantiated by any quantitative analysis] that ragis seem to choose to sing Bhagat bani in a disproportionate way. Could there be some reason for it in terms of sangat preference, nature of compositions or any other.

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Puneet ji has made two conclusions in his missive:

1.    All groupings have their limitations. If, as you rightly say, Sikhs are to use their “intellects,” then there can be no monolithic Sikhism.  Ah, the joy of diversity!

2.    The so-called Mool Mantra is a most compact rendering and elaboration of the idea of an abstract God posited in the Upanishads, particularly the Svetasvatara Upanishad. My point is merely to vouch for the Upanishads as legitimate ancestors of the Mool Mantra and Japji in the Guru Granth.

On the first subject the Sikh thought is not ‘monolithic’; it is rooted in a form of monotheism. It is not only that Gurus talked of khoj, veechar, bibek budhi but they also emphasised a sort of blended, balanced spiritual growth emanating from our living lives per received values and wisdom; understanding of gian of various genres; appreciation of harmony, order and beauty inherent in phenomenon that we see and experience – all focussed on, driven by and drawing inspiration from the love for one Creator God. This entire process is dependant on existence of a state of mind that is receptive. The grace factor is critical for final self realisation and also influences creating the desire to launch on this path, develop receptivity and ability to comprehend the nuances of inter connectedness and harmony. 

To my understanding Gurus have not been prescriptive and even in modalities have not encouraged any heirarchy – padhiey, gaviey, suniey, veecharey, naam japeeay, wandeeay, seva kareeay – or even any choice of a particular shabd, let alone bani; all lead to the same door. They recognise the multiplicity in this process of bhakti or internalisation and leave it to God to accept what He approves – parvan, saphal, changa is that jo tudh bhaveeiey. Thus diversity in personl quest is accepted but if that is the joy in diversity you mean, I am not able to say. 

On the second point my understanding is that the names of God and His attributes have been identified in all traditions as in Sikh thought.  The credal statement has meaning only if what follows expounds on it and creates a wholesome structure around it to guide the spiritual search as well as mundane living of the devotees. Gurbani does that and thus there is a distinct character and totality to this revelation.  Mere existence of progressive narrowing down of attributes to a more cogent set in revisionist commentaries without the foundation of a comprehensive thought to realign the belief system and praxis may not qualify it to be precursor of the Sikh thought.

[s d on 1/11/6]

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The news item reported, “Many non-Sikh cadets who get posted to Sikh regiments are also known to have grown their beards and tuck their long hair under regimental turbans. In contrast, several Sikh officers in armored units trim their hair and beards, although they wear the turban as part of the uniform. After-hours, in military parlance they are referred to as “mechanized Sikhs”. The second Para is correct and is not limited to Armored Regiments. I am not too sure about the first part and never met any such young officer in my days with the army. May be things have changed a lot since then.

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Jodh Singh ji says “I do not understand why people get upset when the word turban is mentioned. This reflects their insecurity and to protect it they wish to apply force. There is no reason or basis for these folks to denigrate the majority of the community and thus cause disintegration of the Panth. May Waheguru bless us all with low ego and high wisdom on this auspicious day of Guru Nanak Aagman.” It is a very passionate defence with wide ranging accusations thrown in. Let us calmly look at the various points brought up by Jodh Singh ji for I would not like him to feel the way he does and would surely like to understand the view better. I think it is wrong to characterize the discussion as insecurity – insecurity from whom and why? Asking to correct deliberate distortion is not insecure behavior – if he would commend ignoring such behavior under ‘moorkhey naal neh lujhieye’ teaching one would certainly heed the advice but it may be difficult to ignore when one detects a pattern in the guise of gurbani explanation. The cry about use of force is intriguing. Where is force being used and by whom? It is a regrettable display of siege mentality. Please try and not feel oppressed. Let us turn to the attempt to identify with the majority. Unfortunately those invoking the majority are the same persons who say that 80 % of Sikhs in America are cheats and welfare dodgers? In good conscious can those who used similar expressions about the majority Sikhs talk for the majority. They may look like what they think are the majority but have not demonstrated any respect for or any feeling of fraternity with them. My sense is that the majority they are talking of is proud of being Sikhs. They are involved. They are us – good or bad, all in search of seeking Guru’s kirpa and not wearing any sense of high spiritual self on their sleeves. They have better understanding of Sikhi than many of us credit them for and are not just nursing their petty grouses arising out of their personal sense of alienation and inability to relate to the rest of the community. What Virinder ji has done is an unfortunate and deliberate attempt to denigrate wearing of turban as if not wearing it is a sign of virtue and such a head will not be visited by the crow. And if you support such hypocritical strand of thought you are welcome to it. We all have to live by our own conscience to whatever extent God has gifted it to us.

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I think what Lakhbir ji from Warrington is saying deserves serious thought. He has very graphically described the situation in a Gurdwara where the ‘modernized’ Sikhs have assumed control of the committee and there is a turning of tables in perceived prejudice by turban wearing Sikhs from those who do not. We should read what he is saying carefully “I can do nothing but empathize with veer ji, but what solutions do you come up with? There are none. In my local gurdwara, “the committee” preaches they are the majority, they have “modernized”, and they will run the gurdwaras to “bring the community” together. Fine. This is all good. Not once have I heard anyone discuss what the Guru said today, the hukumnama, the kirtan, what we should teach the youth. Plenty of Sikh History is talked about. But that’s where it will remain, only as history. The modern ones teach “keep God in the heart”, “leave the falsehood”, which is absolutely true but then I’ve often wondered where certain people put/keep God, when they drink away merrily at the next party or pub visit. Is HE not in the hearts then? Perhaps He’s only meant to be in the heart during the time spent at Gurdwara? Or maybe God wants us to drink alcohol…forgive me, but I’m still learning. Don’t get me wrong; we have lots of good Kirtan at my gurdwara. Once a kirtan “Dhadi jatha” came to the Gurdwara and with vigorous valor cited the importance of “kesh” to the sangat. After the diwan had finished, that poor gentleman was so heavily humiliated and struck down by the committee (including pardan) in front of everyone in the langar hall, that the poor chap hung his head in utter amazement (I can only presume). The general tendency is to treat the turbaned bearded “sorts” as outcasts. Fine. It’s really funny isn’t it? In the fashion and “celebrity” world of today, outward appearance is everything, but in religion it has been drummed down to “nonsense”. It’s funny that the committee preach outward appearance doesn’t mean anything, “God should be in your heart” and show off their flash suits, wear their ties with pride and make sure as many people as possible see them coming out of their Mercedes or BMW, flash the Gold Kara whilst inside the darbar hall and eloquently stride towards the treasurer to give their 5 or 10 pounds to the building fund. Where does this deep desire to preach outwardly appearance doesn’t mean anything, come from? It would seem it means everything. The women, well the less said the better. All I would say to you Jaswant Singh Ji, it’s a funny world and the more you try to make sense of it, the more you will fail and confuse yourself. Do your best son and try to live as closely as possible to the way of the Guru. Truthful Living, be true to others and most importantly to yourself. Everything else will fall into place.” For too long the trend for this wind of change getting stronger is visible. For too long we have persevered with insistence by several that those with Bana are superior to those not in Bana, whatever their demonstrated behavior. For too long we have tried to scare people with the fear of Tankhah and Patit-ta. It could not have worked and it is not working. We must recognize the ground realities and desist from continued discrimination that we practice internally. Sikhi is not and should not be an exclusive preserve of amritdharis, keshadharis, Punjabis, modernized et al.

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Karam ji is right in taking exception to the statement ” They are not alone in making a mockery of turban and beard. The granth guru whom the Sikhs revere does this par excellence.” His question that “All I am asking is an explanation of your above statement. How does SGGS make a mockery of turban and a beard” must be answered. We should resist the temptation to make thoughtless, provocative statements even if as individuals some may consider turbans, beards – in other words hair – as an imposition and not sanctioned by SGGS the way it is prescribed in the SRM. I also hope that Karam ji’s question does not receive diversionary responses or embarrassed silence but inspires a more careful look at what SGGS says – it might just be somewhat revealing as well as instructive for all shades of opinion on this subject. For those interested I would be glad to send a short synopsis I had done on the subject once we are thru our present travels by end of this week.

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Thank you Kulwant ji. I am all for reaching out to our youth but I did wonder at the outreach extended from here – clearly motivated to urge him gently to go over the edge. Now that to me raises deep moral issues.

We are persuaded to ‘shubh karman te kabhoo neh taroon’. We are also persuaded that ‘nanak sachai naam bin kya tikka kya tag.’ The first is a clear guide when one is able to evaluate the righteousness in a complex situation; the second relates to our connecting with the divine where ritualistic symbolism, as the only and preferred mode does not help. This doctrinal twain cannot be construed to imply that decision regarding observing or giving up symbols is: a simple question of right or wrong in temporal context

sanctioned by the Gurus because absent ‘sacha naam’ it may not help in union with Akal Purakh.

Even a moment of reflection will show that the comment on symbolism is in the context of absence of sacha naam and otherwise moral, ethical and spiritual living – and that is true not only in this quote but in multiple references when the Gurus have talked of ritualistic Islam, sati, sootak etal. There is no suggestion anywhere that giving up symbols by itself is a brave step launching one on to the path of spiritual ascent.

Be that as it may, the other aspects is about coming in as an elderly deeply spiritual exterior and then tell somebody who is vulnerable to do what is in keeping with belief systems you have. This could be worse than some of the much maligned evangelical practices of taking advantage of the poverty, disease and misfortune of others to pad your following.

The young man has aired his feeling of inner struggle. The advice to him is not a knee jerk – chadh ja bete sooli peh ram bhali kare ga. Let us not be tempted to jump in with our quick fixes – he has to live with it for all his life – and if our seasoned converts still can’t move beyond their own choice and continuously keep on giving vent to their inner struggle by loud proclamations of lack of connect between symbols and spirituality and their perceived discrimination for having taken the higher road of their choice, how can you in fair conscious glibly encourage another to go over the edge.

There are umpteen situations in life where things inexorably seem to be moving to some kind of inevitability – there is a fine line that separates the commitment or non commitment of the original sin or crossing the Lakshman rekha. Going over has never been viewed lightly or explained away by quoting homilies for symbolic does not signify a mere symbol – there could be a sublime thought behind the restraint that it promotes and therefore breaking past all rekhas can only lead to a rudderless life, lived in pursuit of the self and the worldly and not higher values so carelessly used as the logic for the decision to get past the dilemma of the moment.

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Thank you Devinder ji for sharing your perspective. This is a difficult question and the happenings on ground inexorably have their own momentum for all to see. That is why I am even more troubled by the use of what looks like a hypocritical ploy to push one wavering person over the edge. Without in anyway reflecting on the individual and his dilemma, the incident at least statistically is insignificant and for all we know could well have been a crank.

The other question is of selective rationalization. By all means Sikhi does not commend ritualism or symbols substituting for the spiritual.  Symbols then are no more than symbols. They become a non issue and selective rejection of some in the name of Gurbani is nothing if not a defensive distortion.

This whole spectacle playing out in our midst still leaves those in Punjab who are not taking the step under false pretences but only to get their scalps tattooed as a fashion statement as spiritually more savvy than some who are trying desperately to link the choice to an expression of their spiritual freedom.

In the process however this unsavory discussion has unraveled certain questions that we should ponder over if our agenda is not limited to taking the 80 or 90 close to 100% and then revert to our traditional warfare on another issue while the drift continues. To me that would be myopic and surely will not transform the euphemistic ‘halls of shame’ to ‘halls of fame.’

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The message posted by the young person does indicate his concern for his likely sense of remorse once he takes the step. In reality he is looking to get some support so that he can go ahead and I admire the gentle goading he is given by saying “Thanks for bringing the plight of this young Sikh to our attention and espescially in the absence of parental advice and leaving the difficult decision up to him. I wish some how I could communicate with him and assure him that spirituality does not lie in the symbols of any religion but lies in prayer, meditation on Naam, and service of the humanity.” This surely is not the advice expected of a parent who brought him up the way he is, with all his self-doubt and sense of possible guilt if he takes the step. May be we should try and think a bit deeper before proffering advice in foster capacity for who knows if ever any of our children were to be faced with some dilemma and were likewise goaded by someone to follow their pet preference in the guise of substitute parental guidance.

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I have posted the following comment on the Facebook regarding the above hate incident: Sikhs have experienced taunts and slurs like ‘Khomeini go home’ in NYC for a long time. This is the first time that a mob of teenagers has violently attacked a Sikh. Apart from whatever the law enforcement agencies are able to do to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice, further information on their identity and likely motivation should be helpful for Sikhs to understand this shift from lone wolf attacks to group violence on city street. Hope Sikh Coalition, Saldef, media and Police try to get a grasp of what is going on. It looks more like collective impulsive expression of indoctrinated hate. That can be a serious change for Sikhs to cope on their own.

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There is little denying about existence of sexual predators and child abusers in all societies. Even though I do not have any detailed awareness of the methods used by such persons, it only stands to reason that they must have learnt the skills to identify potential victims.
While it is important for us to join any efforts to protect the society from such predators, we should also pay attention to the potential victims in our families. Do we have a profile of Sikh victims, their families, friends and the surrounding circumstances? Trying to tame a section of the predators, whatever their motivations, could not even be as successful to control the problem as drug control measures have been.
We should also launch measures to motivate our children to not fall prey to the advances. I am not sure if Gurdwaras can help unless we are confident that any known reasons for underlying alienation do not arise from what transpires there. With race, ethnicity, religion and sex all playing into it, is the problem a Sikh issue that needs a Sikh solution in addition to what all must be being done is the question we should answer?

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We do not tire of telling all our audiences that Guru Nanak gave women an equal, if not a more important position in society by proclaiming ‘so kiyon mandaa aakhieye jit jammai rajaan’ – how can we call them low who gave birth to the wise and the best among us. It indeed is a powerful statement lauding the role and position of women in society.

He also unambiguously emphasized that we all must strive for liberation even as we live our lives as householders, raising families, taking responsibility for ourselves and helping others. This again reinforces the status of women as coequals in Sikh spiritual quest for this has to take place rooted in a family environment and in sangat – congregation or assembly of believers – where women have always been given unrestricted access.

Gurus have also consistently used the metaphor of a women’s loving adoration of her lover to express their own deep devotion to the Divine. While this may seem to introduce the concept of a male Supreme Lord the tenor of Guru’s teachings envisions all human beings, men and women alike, seeking spiritual union with God and Gurbani is clear that the wise and beauteous God is not a male, female or any other being like a bird – Naar neh purakh neh pankhnoo saacho chatur saroop – Maru M I, p. 1010. clearly in both spiritual quest and temporal relationship men and women are treated as equals.

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Even till early 20th century Amrtdhari Mazhabi sikhs were treated contemptuously in Gurdwaras. Sikhs did not remember that Guru Gobind Singh had honored Bhai Jeta embracing him and saying “Ranghreta Guru ka beta”.  Giani Dit Singh,who was a great exponent and preacher of Gurmat, was never allowed to sit in sangat and pangat because he was a Mazhabi sikh. Few months ago a Mazhabi sikh family wanted their daughter’s Anand karj to take place in a Gurdwara in a village in Punjab but was refused. Prampra has remained stronger than Guru to deprive the Mazhabi sikhs and women their rights.

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One may agree that performing seva should not be approached as a matter of rights. Seva, its motivation and actualization both are Guru’s gifts coming to us through his blessing. Those who serve receive merit in God’s court – jin seveya tin paeya maan [Japji]. Seva that is truly altruistic unites us with the Divine – seva karat hoe nehkami tin ko hot parapat swami [Gauri Sukhmani M V]. There is no hierarchy in type of seva – any seva performed with complete devotion is approved – satgur ki seva saphal hai je ko karey chit laey [Bihagra M III, p.552]. 

As such rights argument for any particular seva is unseemly and while one may not assert the right to do a seva, denial of the opportunity to a segment is another matter. The Sikh thought is categorical in rejecting any type of institutionalized discrimination and that ethos is running through all the Guru’s teachings. As such asking for not to be denied an opportunity for seva should not be stigmatized as low minded or labeled as feminist.

So what could be the recourse if one is denied the opportunity to do a particular seva. At personal level if I sensed that another person wanted to do the same seva that I was doing, I would step back and let him or her do it for there is so much other seva that I could do if I wanted to. I would also pray that I am given the sagacity and courage to imbibe the essence of ‘deh shiva bar mohe shubh karman te kabhoo neh taroon’. With the Granthies at Darbar Sahib opposing the move, the identity of so-called bipars gets blurred. Let us stay calm. Yes, Sikh women should organize so that they can influence the Panth for the better – not to divide it further. Things are moving and hopefully the obscurantist elements will have to accept the change. But let us not do anything that is unseemly and probably may have not been done by another group of faith adherents placed similarly – Catholics, Hindus, and Muslims, to name some.

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I think any construction that we place on a verse from Gurbani should, within limits of our understanding, be in conformity to the Guru’s thought – a criterion we believe Guru Arjan Dev ji used while selecting various compositions that were included in Guru Granth Sahib. I would therefore be weary of concluding from ‘ghar ki naar bohat hit ja sion sada reht sang lagi, jab hee hans taji eh kaeya pret pret kar bhagi [Sorath M IX]’ that love of wife is only a charade played on an unsuspecting husband as long as he is alive. Likewise I would not read – bhand muaa bhand bhaaleeai bhand hovai bandhhaan [M I, p.473]- to imply that man’s love for the wife is equally vagrant and no sooner when his woman dies, he will seek another mate. The solemnity and sanctity of husband -wife relationship is at the core of Sikh thought of ‘grihst’ and placing a construction of this kind on select verses would be incorrect.

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Some people place the onus of bringing forth righteous offspring on women based on the construction placed on verses like – jih kul pooth n giaan beechaaree bidhhavaa kas n bhee mehathaaree – That family, whose son has no spiritual wisdom or contemplation why didn’t his mother just become a widow, [Gauri Kabir] and – jin har hirdai naam na basi-o tin maat keejai har baanjhaa – The Lord’s Name does not abide within their hearts – their mothers should have been sterile. [Jaitsri M IV]

These verses lament the life of a person who has strayed from the path of virtue. Yes such living is decried and the Guru says that such persons might as well not have been born. It seems more an expression of anguish of the ever kind, forgiving Guru at the waste of the precious gift of life – manukh dehoria – the one chance to connect with the Divine.

To me any suggestion blaming the failure on the mother is a far stretch. In any case it takes a mother and a father for a child to be conceived – not forgetting the divine hukam – pahilai pahrai rain kai vanjaariaa mitraa hukam paiaa garbhaas – in the first watch of the night, O my merchant friend, you were cast into the womb, by the Lord’s Command [Sireeraag M I, p.74]

Gurbani relates to the role of mother, father and children in various inspiring metaphors. Witness a couple of verses so popular in our congregational setting – jaisaa baalak bhaae subhaaee lakh aparaadhh kamaavai kar oupadhaes jhirrakae bahu bhaathee bahurr pithaa gal laavai pishhalae aougun bakhas leae prabh aagai maarag paavai [Sorath M V, p.624] and – poota mata kee aasees, nimakh neh bhuley tum ko satgur sada bhajo jagdish [Gujri M V, p.496]. Let us imbibe this message of love and mutuality in families, do our share as fathers and not just pass the inconvenient buck to women.

This entire conversation on this subject can turn rather bizarre. There are those who tend to think that ‘[women] should come forward to produce a Sikh generation — Become role models for your children so that they may follow you to become Sikhs and come in Sikh attire. The women is only and only responsible for the present day deterioration of the budding generation and nobody else.’

This is strange but true. It is only among Sikhs that such comments can be heard and may often even go unchallenged. The question is if Sikh fathers have abdicated their role in bringing up children and influencing their value package altogether? Something serious is amiss here. Firstly bringing up children is the prime responsibility of the parents in all persuasions – if at all more so in Sikhism with its stress on not shunning responsibilities of grihast. Next if Sikh women only to be held responsible for transmission of Sikhi and Sikh values, axiomatically they would be the ones wielding authority within the family. This certainly is not the case nor can the Sikh family authority structure defy all canons of conventional wisdom where the males can delegate the responsibility to women and retain the authority unto them. The importance of women’s role in a family should if at all motivate us to enhance their involvement in community affairs rather than trying to keep them subdued in the name of maryada or for other obscure reasons.  I do wish to share a thought about attire that has nagged me for a long time. Looking at the cross section of Sikhs in the Gurdwaras, I am frankly rather struck at the way Sikh women are carrying forward the sartorial tradition compared to the men.

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Engaging Youth

The larger challenge facing us in the Diaspora is alienation of third generation Sikh youths from Sikhi. The main problem is not our youth, not the parents but almost total lack of connection between the Gurdwara as an institution and the individual. There is no respect for the granthi, who is the permanent staff at the Gurdwara or communication with him. He barely even opens his mouth in the diwan. The alienation of the young has to be seen to be believed.

Our system of committees is not delivering – even in the secular arena if you recall Yes Minister, the continuity is provided by the durable beurocracy, rather than the elected functionary. There are complementarities of roles and both are needed and must be respected. Our Gurdwara structures are very poorly thought thru and unless that awareness dawns on us we will not be able to achieve much, be it at SGPC or local Gurdwaras. Our needs in the Diaspora necessitate that Gurdwaras on which we have made our major investment of resources at this stage of our development must be able to serve community needs of a gathering place in addition to being a collective for religious service. Is it merely a reflection of obscure leadership or does it also indicate some baggage that we cannot shed and therefore most of us end up accepting it in the name of maryada? So far the Gurdwaras are not evolving to becoming a gathering place for learning – asking and answering questions. Even exchanging a greeting is hardly considered appropriate till you are out of the gathering space, both diwan hall and langar.

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I respect and share the concern expressed by you. The alienation among the young is high but to me it seems that we really are mostly engaged in hand wringing and are not paying any serious attention to finding the reasons or solutions. Diaspora experience is not new to Sikhs but the old paradigms that worked in the Far East or East Africa do not work any more and our approaches have been frozen in time. The situation in India does not seem to be any better.

I also find that other traditions are concerned about similar experiences in their congregations and are continuously evaluating their programs and projects. Multiplicity of their organizations address diverse issues, work at different levels and even if their agendas seem not to be at congruence, these are able to offer alternatives that preserve the core yet accept change at the fringes, to avoid their becoming centrifugal forces. Our institutions, in spite of the contrivance of elected bodies [or may be because of them] continue to have the same monolithic structures; the same paternalistic styles, the same archaic methodologies and the same obscure ways to articulate their agenda. To me the main reason for our helplessness is our institutions, or may be lack of institutions, that the parents need to help them. It would be a mistake to think that home and gurdwara is enough to raise children with values we cherish. As it is said it takes a village to raise a child and that truism has to be recognized and ways found to address those needs.

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Thank you Jagpal ji for posting this report. It has been written with great sensitivity and brings out the best in Sikhi as it relates to life and offers answers to people’s search for their spiritual thirst and enquiry. It is not defensive. It is not phobic. It reflects a calm, conscious, confident acceptance of the inclusive, the shared destiny of men, without giving up identity or the core beliefs. I hope it promotes deeper introspection among us.

This concert has been organized for the 26th time and the organizers deserve to be congratulated. Receipts of $ 185, 000 is very effective fundraiser for an inter faith group. Over the years they should have developed sufficient cash resources to hire some paid staff to run the office rather than by volunteers and busy faith representatives as in other States/locations. I think that is a great credit to the Interfaith Group leadership and one would hope that other similar inter faith fledgling efforts can also devise strategies for fund raising to bring some strength to their programs and projects.  My association with Connecticut Council for Interfaith Understanding, almost from its inception was very rewarding and we also had organized the first inter faith spiritual music concert in 2003. The attendance may have been well over 1000 and the presentations by the nine faith traditions were very well applauded. The 2004 festival again was a great success though the fund raising part did not yield results and the Council gave up on it.

On both the occasions I used an inter-generational group from the sangat to make the presentation. We chose the shabad per the theme or occasion. In 2003 it was ‘awal allah’, in keeping with the theme of shared human heritage and in 2004 it was ‘dhur ki bani’ to bring our own celebratory message on 400th anniversary of first installation of GGS at Darbar Sahib. The response from the audience was excellent and I even encouraged them to join in the second time.

Our presentation was not highly rehearsed by the entire group. Just a few of us, men, women and kids did a couple of rehearsals with the Ragis and the rest joined in in the ‘antra’ singing. We also did not wear a uniform but came in as we were dressed. This gave it some sense of authentic spontaneity. Related for sharing the experience,

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Gurdwara Management

We must direct thought to recognition of practical needs. Some such assets can only be acquired by training and further support the need to look at the process. I also think the package offered also must be looked at and open advertising might create a demand for persons who have gone thru some credentialing.

At the same it would be helpful if a critical reality analysis of our missionary colleges and other institutions producing parcharak, ragi and granthie material is attempted regarding some aspects like:

  • Course content and texts/literature used
  • Admission criteria and qualifications of students
  • Faculty profile, their own ability and demonstrated work
  • Oversight of institutions and their own credentialing In any case information on this nature would be good to share with participants.

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The problem to me lies elsewhere. It is the way our funds are spent rather than misappropriation. I attempted a very simplistic analysis of receipts and expenses for Gurdwara Bangla Sahib based on some figures quoted in the media and my conclusion was that with that level of salaries and maintenance expenditure the institution could have no spare resources for any worthwhile community related projects. I found the same true of our Gurdwaras in the Americas considering their expense on Granthies, Ragis, Kathakars, maintenance and mortgages.

Looking at the number of functionaries and sewadars at Darbar Sahib I marvel at the entourage of SGPC that the Gurus did not enjoy and possibly even Maharaja Ranjit Singh may have been happy to have had. If any serious budgetary and management analysis is done we will discover how grossly under managed and over staffed these organizations being funded by the community chest are. They may show our most loss making Public Sector units look like examples of efficiency.  If corruption does come out to be a problem it will only get fixed through better management and not by replacing Badal [literally cloud] with a Suraj or Chan or Dhupp or Chhaon [sun, moon, sunshine or shade]. I have also briefly looked at the way houses of worship are managed for some other faith traditions in the US and their expense priorities and find how stark the comparison is with our institutions.  Incidentally I may mention that religious institutions in the US quite commonly use management consulting help.

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