Sehajdhari is a phrase quite prevalent in Sikhism, the origin of which is obscure to the general public, as to when, how and where it sprang from and what it denotes. However, it is attracting more notice, so that, today the community is in the midst of heated debates about the status and station of the sehajdhari, and whether to allow them official position, any rights and privileges in the Guru panth. Few decades ago, this term was confined to non-baptized Sikhs who wanted to slowly converge on the path of baptism but would not rush into it, on some pretext. Now, quite a flood of such reluctant Sikhs has erupted and it seems that they are keen to take centre stage and push back the mainstream adherents to a side role. In their eagerness to defend their stance as correct and pertinent, they are coining and inventing arguments, small and trite and at the same time have shed the previous resolve to partake of baptism sooner or later.
In a hukamnama to Kabul sangat as well as his messages to Sikhs at the advent of Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, the Tenth Master expressed his desire that the Sikhs got baptised en masse, and even at the time of the initial baptismal ceremony in March, 1699, he asked the general house assembled to take to baptism. Thousands complied with this injunction on the very first day.
It should be enough for a person who wants to be categorised as a Gur-sikh to shed his small ego and unquestioningly follow the dictates of his Guru. Liberty to question the bona-fides of the Master is the height of incensing behaviour. Sikhism has been a historical process evolving through the ten Masters, till Guru Gobind Singh gave it a final shape and declared the sanctity of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. To start with, therefore, there is absolutely no scope for the disciple to stand up and question the credibility of the Guru himself, to shape the basic structure. In fact, those who stood up and tried to find fault with the ceremony of khande ki pahul in March 1699 were cast away from the main body of the Sikhs, till they humbly submitted to be taken back into the fold. The tendency to use the limited knowledge and resources to cast doubts in the minds of laity is pure mischief, casting aspersions which can not be a constructive effort to progress Guru-wards. The Guru Granth Sahib is full of instructions to the Sikhs to cut down personal ego and to accept as the truth and final, what the Guru defines and states.
The Guru has separated the gurmukhs from the manmukhs, and explained that while the former are in the mode of swans, the latter are like the lowly cranes and kites that exist only for small, mundane gains.
The egocentric remains in the vicious circle of re-births.1
A manmukh who does not surrender his ego and self-centred stance cannot be termed as a Sikh. In other traditions, there is no ambiguity about the position of one who defies the Faith and does not have full belief in the truths of the creed. Jews, Christians, Moslems have to take unflinching vows and affirm faith in the dogmas of their respective religions without raising doubts. A Sufi has to take to heart the utterances of his murshid as the final truth. Sikhs tend to follow the liberal debates and discussions, the mode popularised by the ancient seers, who were, indeed without exception, great minds and who wanted to go deep into the speculative theories of other Hindu preceptors but always within the basic dogmatic limits of the Vedas and smritis. Anybody not accepting the authority of Vedas, Upnishads and the Shastras was denounced as nastika.
Sikhism is a revealed religion, which has stuck to the basic Truths as irrefutable doctrines. Take it or leave it, but there is no scope of amending it to suit everyone’s convenience like a private vehicle. In Hinduism, Buddhism and later creeds, debates and counter views are permitted, but then the basic Vedic or Buddhist creeds have always been within the limits of the supporting texts, acknowledging them as heavenly/sacred scriptures.
It is interesting to note that Sikhism in the last five hundred years has been subjected repeatedly to compromises, and making room for the Doubting Toms by labelling them as sehajdharis. The meaning of this word is in itself a controversial matter.
Sehaj was coined in ancient texts as the path of spontaneous love, a stage where mind frees itself from duality and illusion; the mind enters vacuity and soars beyond the tri-gunas. The term sehajdhari is not, therefore, coined by the Sikhs.
There have been many splinter groups in the past, in India, which virtually revolted against the puritan religions and eventually gained ground, due to laxity of the parent movements, or in order to gain mass adherents like Buddhism, or incursion of influences of the other systems, or even due to half-hearted conversions. These trends led to dilution of catholicity enjoined by the founding Masters in their times. Jainism, due to its rigidly held doctrines, suffered the least, while Vaishnav, Yogic, Buddhist and other great religions were mauled by the sahjayas.
The trickling of Tantracism in Vedic practices led to the erosion and eclipse of almost entire original Vedic rituals and replaced by tantric modes. In its turn, the Tantric-Vedic traditions seeped into Buddhism in a big way which changed the very fabric of the puritan Buddhism. This, in its turn influenced Brahminic practices. The liberal movements of non-conformation in Vaishnav religion assumed the name of Sehaj-vaishnavism. Accordingly, Sehaj movement entered into the Buddhist vitals along with tantric practices, to the extent of an offshoot, Guhya Samaj, and its laxity struck the death knell of pure Buddhism in India. Sahjaya likewise humbled and degraded the spiritual heights of Chaitanya’s Krishna leela, so that spiritual rasa became a physical game of love, the male representing Krishna and female partners as gopis. Ramanand, the famous medieval saint and guru of Kabir and other saints of Bhakti Movement decided to replace his deity from Krishna to Rama to avoid the stigma which came to be attached to Krishna-Radha mithun rites.
The great Yogi tradition suffered due to the sahjayas who reduced the spiritual heights of Yoga to mainly a healthy body building exercise and today it is popular more for this purpose internationally, rather than the spiritual format, which is confined to classes of limited meditations for short durations rather than its original purpose of attaining moksh.
Eventually, the term Sahaj has been defined in every age as the defiance of enjoined religious practices, non-observance of abstinence or self-regulating regimes and discipline of the parent religion, in the name of freedom and a short cut by ease, to reach the crux of the central essentials. Once adopted, the historical experience has repeatedly been the shedding of puritan values. It will be clear by illustrating the havoc wrought by the Guhya Samaj, the secret society of Buddhist conclaves, which appeared within three hundred years of the passing of the Great Buddha.
They claimed that the scriptures held sacred by them were Buddha’s, but kept purposely secret from the Buddhist mainstream. It followed that the emancipation did not depend on bodily suffering and abstinence of worldly enjoyments, rather on the satisfaction of all desires. Guhya Samaj made the matters simple compared to the Mahayana and Hinayana severe routines that involv many births to attain Buddhahood.
Guhya Samaj claimed to make salvation easy and simple, attainable in one birth! They admitted Sakti as divine energy introducing tantric mode of sex into Buddhism. The preceptor takes the hand of a beautiful girl and gives it to the disciple as initiation with Sakti, citing Tathagata as witness. Buddhism is said not to be attainable except by the union with Sakti, never to be abandoned in life, ‘vidyavrata’. They abandoned the vidhi marg of injunctions and prohibitions and the study of shastras, fasting, bathing, sacrifices, and obedience to rules of the religious order. They held that instead of temples and gods, their own body was the abode of god-head and no injunctions were necessary to follow. They gave up restrictions on foods and drinks, claiming everything to be the product of God. Use of non-vegetarian items like animal flesh, (some times even human flesh and animal blood) and wines of any quality were freely allowed. It forbade erection of temples, to repeat sacred texts of Buddhism, and stopped even offering articles of worship to the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. It allowed any number of falsehoods, to take things which did not belong to one, and even to commit adultery, contrary to original Rules. The lay people obviously were drawn to this simplified sehaj methodology. People at any time and age covet easy material gains than high psychic, mystical rewards. And the latest to fall into the Sehjaya snare is Sikhism! The seed is sown and the crop will take, may be, a few centuries more to ripen, as per the experience in the past.
Efforts to splinter Sikh movement started with the separatist udasi cult of Baba Sri Chand which was a total negation of Guru Nanak’s societal path and looked backwards to ascetic foundations. Prithias and Dhirmaliyas tried their best to provide alternative sehaj theories to damage Guru Nanak’s Sikhism. One of the urgent causes to compile Adi Granth by Guru Arjun Dev was to protect the genuine Bani of Gurus and Bhagats from the mischief of those inimical elements to the House of Nanak. Baba Ram Rai displayed laxity in basic principles. It was necessary to debar such trends in future, for which Guru Gobind Singh had to take safeguard against splinter groups exploiting the lay members of the Sikh society, by offering simplistic alternatives. Right from Guru Nanak’s advent, the total emphasis has been on living strictly in the Truth in all fields of life, fearlessly and without prejudice. Guru Nanak asked for total surrender of a person wanting to be a Sikh, and to adopt truthfulness as the only mode of life. Anyone who tried to become a Sikh without the strict adherence to truthfulness was discarded and compared to a base coin, a greedy, filthy crane exploring for fish, or a kite descending from high altitudes to the stink of the dead. Guru Gobind Singh asked the people claiming to be Sikhs to take oath of purity.
Sehajdhari ‘Sikhs’ hold that spiritual emancipation does not necessarily depend on the discipline of body and mind, abstinence from the purely mundane enjoyments which may, in fact, harm the progress of the initiate, as well as his spiritual and moral upliftment, which was the basic necessity to float a new religion by Guru Nanak, when he declared that Truthful living was higher than even the concept of Truth, i.e., God. The principle at the root of Amrit proffered and enjoined by the Tenth Master was the same, i.e., to bind the Sikh into the discipline of Truthful Living. The sehajdhari, however, does not desire to fall in line or be bound by any laws, social or moral, and for this reason starts controversies, and questions the bona fides of the prophets themselves.
The edifice on which Guru Nanak built his new path to salvation was based on strict discipline and total submission of the seeker to Master’s wisdom. He illustrated it by the example of Bhai Lehna, who qualified to succeed him as Guru. Along with the total and unqualified obedience, Guru Nanak taught him the wisdom of Truth, so that Angad became equal to Guru Nanak in the proficiency of Law. It contained humility, sweetness, discarding personal gain and greed, avarice and I-ness. To acquire that position, a good and true Sikh of the calibre of Bhai Lehna was required. Unfortunately, the so-called modern system of education of Sikh youth, like all others, teaches them to be individualistic, have their own preferences and choice of convictions, without, of course, having developed maturity and acumen on moral, spiritual and social matters.
Thus, the Sehajdhari is standing on the opposite bank of the river, coveting the fields on this side, where humility; ego-shedding; total obedience and surrender; abandoning of the evils of lust, anger, greed, worldly attachment, ego, covetedness and jealousy; and the three gunas, satyo, rajo and tamo, are the foundation for attaining spiritual heights.
Guru Nanak himself defined and prescribed the doctrine of sehaj different to tantric and Vedic karm-kand, and made the spiritual and moral path very easy. Yet the basic discipline had to be inculcated in the disciples and devotees to avoid the pitfalls into which earlier attempts of Vaishnava, Buddhist, Nath and Yogi sehjayas floundered.
Sehajdhari Sikhs draw a favourite comparison of a kind man of sweet demeanour, humble, hymn-singing, devout sehajdhari against a mean, angry, greedy, totally worldly, baptised Khalsa, as if such a sehajdhari would be a better selection! Thus they evaluate the best in a so-called sehajdhari with the worst of a so-called baptised Khalsa to press home their point. But such a comparison is based on a false premise. No doubt, there are good and bad individuals in society. But they are not essentially comparable in that order. In their ignorance, they bypass the injunctions of Guru Gobind Singh that Khalsa is only defined as a selfless, humble, kind, committed, hymn-singing, sweet tempered person who has battled and won over the five evils and is ever attempting to subjugate the three gunas to achieve the turiya guna state of bliss, and is deeply in love with God and God’s creation.
The tradition of a pupil putting his total faith in the teacher is a universal principle. Any where, one has to belong to a school, be proud of the traditions of the institution, observe discipline of its rules and regulations, have total faith in the teacher and be ever willing to practically demonstrate his proficiency. A young man biologically and physically matures as a man, but his metaphysical development is not in keeping with his body frame. For igniting the brain, he has to undergo a discipline which is well defined in Indian traditions, but it may be totally averse to the modem parameters of education.
Herein lies the difficulty. There is no question of East or West. Even in India, the present educational system, senselessly aping the West, has caused havoc, as the youth are totally baffled, lost to their roots without growing any substitute for spiritual and moral upliftment.
We did that, we will do so;
(This utterly shows) How foolish we are, the brutes.2
In initiation of Khalsa ceremony, Guru Gobind Singh did what had come down as a hallowed tradition from antiquity – the Diksha rite.
Diksha has three parts of the rite. The first step is the vows of the initiate, the kriya diksha, which the disciple by strict spiritual discipline and full of devotion offers himself to the preceptor, and is invested with the physical insignia of the initiate.
Second step is the grant of Mantra, in this case the holy word, ‘Wahe Guru’ which mystifies the initiate to total acceptance of the omnipresence of Almighty.
The third stage is of Vedha diksha, the imparting of the Knowledge, which is, indeed, a continuous process, on the journey to Perfection.
This process is similar to the universal rules and organisational procedures in any institution or society; government and commercial undertaking; armed forces as well as civilian establishments. Even in cults like Free Masonry, investiture ceremonies are sacred. The novice surrenders his personal views, subordinating his scant knowledge to the universality of the Master’s comprehension.
Love of Guru is initiation in the Sikh congregation,
And hearing of truthful Name of the Lord!3
Turning devils into gods,
God, the doer, resurrects all the Sikhs,
And accords their task with perfection.4
Of course, Sehajdharis are an important segment of Sikh family and there should not be any doubt of their contributions in the past and in future also, but they have to devotedly look up to the infallibility of our Ten Great Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib, and imbibe the qualities enumerated above. In due course, with their whole-hearted love of God, they will get the divine sign to complete their cycle by taking gur-diksha of the double-edged sword and soar ever high into the realm of Truthful living.
I’m heavily indebted to the Guru
And have got my forehead branded (as Guru’s vessel).5
Kabir ji has explained this phenomenon exceedingly clearly:
Those branded fight battles with zest,
The unbranded turn away as renegades.6
1. Guru Granth Sahib, p 450: mnmuKw no iPir jnmu hY ]
2. Ibid, p 39: hm kIAw hm krhgy hm mUrK gwvwr ]
3. Ibid, p 350: isK sBw dIiKAw kw Bwau ] gurmuiK suxxw swcw nwau ]
4. Ibid, p 323: pryqhu kIqonu dyvqw iqin krxYhwry ] sBy isK aubwirAnu pRiB kwj svwry]
5. Ibid, p 171: hmrY msqik dwgu dgwnw hm krj gurU bhu swFy ]
6. Ibid, p 970: dwgy hoih su rn mih jUJih ibnu dwgy Big jweI ]
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2009, All