Maryada

While there are some provisions in the SRM that may need revisiting but in some significant aspects the SRM still is more inclusive and relatively less divisive than the two acts re management of Gurdwaras.

SRM does hold amritdhari Sikhs to a higher standard and also reserves the lead roles in Sikh liturgical service and religious leadership for them. These have presented some difficulties but at the same time there is no compelling evidence that most Sikhs are against these provisions.

The real problem stems from the visible mismanagement of Sikh institutions and their ineffectiveness – it has introduced the ills of electoral politics in Gurdwaras, divided the community by restrictive identity definitions and weakened the community by replicating these models in community Gurdwaras.

Now that the talk of All India Gurdwara Act is again on the anvil, let serious thought be given to so many issues that are of real concern:

  • Religious authority and how it should relate to the act
  • Reduce disenfranchisement through identity restrictions
  • Transparency and accountability in management
  • Budgetary allocations for services, seva, education, research, common good et al

SRM related issues interestingly have a habit of getting negotiated and resolved at local levels – and the local autonomy of the sangat is well recognized both in bani and the SRM.

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A variety of opinions have been expressed on the issue of akhand paath. My purpose is not to intervene on that aspect but submit to us to think that the Gurus commend ‘suniye’ too; not all can read nor can all read all the time. Listening to a recitation of Gurbani in sangat or while driving or while engaged in mundane is to me not ritualistic if it brings some peace and harmony.

And I mean recitation of Bani not kirtan just so that we stay on the subject and hopefully not veer off in another direction. Let us recognize that there is somebody who is doing that recitation. I did not bring that person with me to sangat.

Bhais, Granthies provide that element of continuity in required liturgical service and they do it for a living too. So let us not condemn their service as entirely guided by pecuniary interest. It is a need that we ourselves are not able to fulfill. Imagine a Gurdwara running successfully without paid sevadars.

I would also urge you to look at a related issue. I agree akhand paaths help Gurdwara fund raising. If we look carefully at our motivations most of us would much rather pay into this purpose or building fund or langar as our purported seva – and not into an education or research initiative or even for donation being sent to a soup kitchen by the Gurdwara. To me it seems that our liturgical tradition as it has developed is fairly sensitive to the Sikh institutions of Guru, sangat, pangat, kirtan and seva within the Gurdwara precinct. It employs ‘suniye’ mode but leaves room for ‘padhiye‘. To an extent that makes sense because reading cannot be easily made a collective activity. I also wonder if our position on ‘gaavo‘ will be the same as ‘padhau‘ related to ‘sunno‘.

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The question of ‘parkash‘ of SGGS in different settings may need to be more closely looked at. The purpose of parkash is facilitation of ritual prayer service as needed for the occasion – be it at home or in the Gurdwara or elsewhere. In more recent times confor’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’mance to ‘maryada’ [which really is an attempt to standardize ritual practices] has been emphasized and some times enforced through coercive measures. This also has been a point of contention with Pakistan Gurdwaras, deras and some of the Sikh sects. Such problems are not confined to Sikhs. All traditions have to contend with similar type of issues – important part is how to deal with such situations and how to relate to such groups. On Sikh participation in politics my views are veering round to the recognition that Sikh involvement in and with politics is important – the brand of their politics is more likely not critical and possibly irrelevant.

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Now that we are able to see some telecasts of the service at Darbar Sahib, one becomes aware of any changes taking place in maryada. I noticed on Sep 9th that all but one of the Singh Sahibs who recite swaiyas from the ‘agaman’ of Guru Granth Sahib to ‘parkash’ were wearing blue black dastars and dressed alike. Today on Sep 10th the one Singh sahib who was donning a kesri dastar was also wearing the same color as others. Earlier the Singh sahibs did have some variety in their attire.

Those who have been watching the morning telecast for some years would also recall the spontaneous singing of a shabad by the sangat at the bhog of asa ki vaar. It is not done any longer.  I also strayed on seeing, for a few fleeting moments, kirtan seva by a jatha of possibly American Singhs [excuse my using the term], one morning when I switched the channel on. It was before the start of the choki for asa ki var. I also felt one of the Singhs looked like a woman. I could be wrong about the latter but I was happy to see them perform kirtan seva in sanctum sanctorum that early in the morning. This well could be a first. I hope changes such as these may have historical significance and our historiographers are taking care of recording them. I may mention that most bigger churches and synagogues have voluntary history writers nominated from within the congregation to document changes/events as they happen.

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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 Behn ji for a very passionate defense of the practice of Akhand Path especially the Pathis and the person who is co ordinating their rota and timely progress of recitation. They are the persons doing seva and possibly their effort may earn some merit if accepted by the Guru. The real question is about the absentee donor who is paying for the Path but may, in more cases than we know, not even be in the station or even aware that their turn for Path had come. These people expect or at least hope that their this expression of devotion would bring them the blessing of divine grace for facilitating the Path.  The question of Akhand Path therefore seems to have these important facets. Considered in the scenario depicted the contribution by the donor may be more in the nature of ‘dan’ that helps sustain a continuing activity at the Gurdwara, possibly is a source for helping the Pathis earn their living and also provide an opportunity for the itinerant visitor to the Gurdwara to listen to the ongoing recitation of Gurbani if it is not being done in an inaccesible part of the complex. Thus it may come close to popular understanding of the concept of dan.

The thrust of the argument against the choice of getting Akhand Path done is that it turns ritualistic in the context in which it is mostly performed. The preferred should be self reading/listening, gurbani veechar – ‘gaviye suniye man rakhiye bhao’.  That makes eminent sense and would not be disputed at all but at the same time we are aware that the Gurus commended for us the path of ‘nam, dan, isnan’. The three are not mutually exclusive and even though ‘nam jap’ may be universally acknowledged as the pre eminent, that some merit is associated with the other two is not ever seriously contented.

My submission therefore is that let us try not to be condemnatory of the practice of Akhand Path because the choice seems to be falling short of the ideal of ‘nam’. There are possibly other yearnings for seeking the divine grace working within all of us that seek expression in the manner we can best relate to and handle in the complex of our inner feelings.

I must add that I have also strongly sensed the negative impact of this practice which possibly found a rather impassioned expression when I witnessed two concurrent akhand paths going on 365 days of the year in two conjoined rooms at one end of the Gurdwara complex at Nankana Sahib – paid for by NRIs – relegating most Pakistani Sikhs to be pathis.  I thank Behn ji for sharing her experience of spiritual benefit listening to recitation as a chance visitor to the Gurdwara and for drawing our attention to the devotion of sevak who recited bani for 22 hours – hopefully not in a fit of ritualistic zeal or to get into the Guiness book. We must look at the positives these experiences and examples bring forth. Let us try and motivate people to experience the vismad and anand in nam but not stifle their sense of spirituality by being too judgmental if they cannot come upto it.

I would urge Behn ji to enumerate the other benefits, several like anxiety removal, restoration of health and others that she has referred to. We should document these for looking at the efficacy of inner devotion among Sikhs for healing.

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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 aspect 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 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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