Guru Granth - Guru Panth
The advantage of being a new Sikh, of non-Panjabi background, is that without being conditioned by tradition, I can look at what happens in the Panth and compare it with the teachings in Guru Granth Sahib, and the teachings that are obvious from the lives of the Gurus.
Let us start by analysing the four words that make up the theme of this seminar. The word Guru figures twice, and it means bringer of light into darkness; a Granth is a book, a substantial book, and Panth means path or way. I think that makes the position perfectly clear, the two aspects of the post 1708 Sikh Guru are: 1) the Book that is the Bringer of Light (Wahiguru’s light) into darkness, and 2) those that are on the path indicated by Wahiguru through the writings of the Gurus, the Bhagats, the Bhatts that are included in Guru Granth Sahib.
Of the Guru Granth – Guru Panth combine we do not need to discuss Guru Granth Sahib at great length. Not even McLeodians deny the existence of Guru Granth Sahib, and those that do not recognise Guru Granth Sahib as the eternal Guru of the Sikhs, and run after Sant Babas, or even Satgurus instead, might be excellent people otherwise, but they are not Sikhs.
There are groups that claim to be within mainstream Sikhi, but who seem to prefer the teaching of their founder to that of Guru Granth Sahib. Others think that the power of our Gurus comes from their descent of a legendary king. Guru’s power of course comes from the King of Kings, the One, the Formless, the Stainless, the Fearless.
For many Sikhs these days Guru Granth Sahib is more of an idol than an actual Guru. Guru will be served by trying to follow the teachings. Paying respect to Guru in the gurdwara, wrapping Guru up in a beautiful rumál, waving the chaur sahib over Guru, or putting Guru on a ‘throne’ is very nice, and I am all in favour of it. But it is the not the object in the book that a Sikh venerates, it is the teachings that are to be venerated, and this is done by practising these teachings.
This brings us back to the combination Guru Granth – Guru Panth. The Guru Panth is that body of people that follows the Guru’s teachings, which is infused with Wahiguru’s light. I think that there is a chain of events involved : Wahiguru infused his Light into the Gurus, and the Bhagats (Devotees) whose writings are in Sri Guru Granth Sahib; that Light is to be found in the Sabad-Guru, i.e. Sri Guru Granth Sahib; and from there it enters those that are on Guru’s Path, the Guru Panth.
The sabads played an important role in Sikhi from the days of Guru Nanak, and we are told that Guru Arjun started the tradition of putting the Granth above the sangat, and that included him. Guru Gobind Singh formalised this process.
We now turn to my main concern, and I am sure the main concern of most people contributing to this seminar is the present state of the Guru Panth.
On one level I do not think that much has changed. The number of people that comes forward to pledge their full commitment, as Guru Gobind Singh asks us, has always been limited. There are now fewer people that keep their hair and wear a turban out of tradition. These people claim that they have not become patit, as they never were Sikhs. Some of these people seriously try to follow Guru’s teachings, so there still is a Panth, and the potential is there to bring back a fully functioning Guru Granth – Guru Panth.
There are a number of downsides. I already referred to the existence of jathabandis, taksals and deras. One could even argue that in some respects we are more a group that follows a path, a way of life. But there are a number of essential aspects to being a Sikh, and jathabandis tend to be strong on all kind of rituals and self-made maryadas, but weak on essential Sikhi.
These days if you stand for the one Jatha, Guru’s Jatha, and try to follow the simple teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, you will often find yourself in a minority.
We, the Sikh intellectuals, are at fault, as we do not speak out, and hence are not heard. We leave the scene to the deras, jathabandis and taksals, and the people believe them rather than mainstream Sikhi. Many of the commercial travellers in keertan and katha that visit the UK have little knowledge and less gián, but are experts at making the sangat give money to them.
The message that Sikhi is something that you have to practise yourself, that no jathedar or baba can do it for you, is less lucrative. If you do not want to sing from the hymn sheet prescribed by the ‘owners’ of our ‘places of worship’ you will find yourself severely out of pocket.
And this brings us to the main problem in our present-day Panth. I have so far not come across any gurdwara, which is organised along Panthic lines. Even when there are annual, bi-annual or whatever elections, there is very little real input by the sangat. Attend an annual general meeting, and try and ask mildly critical questions, and you will find how welcome you and your questions are.
If I compare that with the UK political party of which I am an active member there cannot be a greater contrast. The local borough party has meetings 6 times a year, and the branches in which the borough party is divided, meet every month. It is not the chair or the executive that makes policy decisions, that authority is with the members. In our gurdwaras it should be the sangat that makes policy decisions, and the prabandhak committee, the management, that implements them. If we believe in Guru Panth, then we should be organised based on local sangats, which should take the place of the misls of the period between 1708 and 1800.
In those days the Sarbat Khalsa took the decisions. But the misls were run on autocratic lines, which made sense, as they were mainly bands of guerrilla warriors. This time the delegates to nationwide Sarbat Khalsa meetings, and to the worldwide Sarbat Khalsa should not be the jathedar or pardhan; they should be delegates of the sangats, who have received instructions in advance on what to say, what to do in the meetings.
I know that many of you will feel attached to the SGPC, as it was the result of the valiant struggle of the Singh Sabha movement that ended in 1925. But we should not forget that the present semi-state structure, with voters taken from the electoral rolls of those parts of India that were part of the pre-1947 Panjab, was the result of an awkward compromise between the Sikhs and the British authorities. Equally, expanding the present semi-state structure to a Sarb Hind SGPC is the last thing we want.
The Sikhs should be less afraid to lose the huge income attached to so-called Sikh shrines, less attached to marble and gold, and more striving to live by, to be attached to Guru’s teachings. The reason why organisations like the SGPC and our gurdwaras, even the relatively humble local ones, are so attractive to kursí golak types, is because gurdwaras are such great money-spinners. A real humble sevadar feels ashamed to be associated with the kursí golak brigade, and local politicians and businessmen run the roost, not hindered by any real interest in Sikhí.
Our gurdwaras make heaps of money out of weddings and funerals, and out of performing Akhand Path. The granthís and ragís, instead of concentrating on their only real role in Sikhí (remember, we are not to have priests), teaching the members of the sangat how to do path, how to do keertan, make money out of doing ardás, out of going to people’s houses where they specialise in high speed mumblings of Sukhmani Sahib, or doing keertan to Bollywood tunes.
I will keep this paper nice and clean and will not discuss the many instances of minor, or even major corruptions, that are connected to the management of the local gurdwaras.
In the UK we are trying to gradually build up open structures, where all Sikh individuals, Sikh organisations and gurdwaré are welcome. The British Sikh Consultative Forum tries to be a platform where Sikhs meet, and pass on their requests and demands to the government, and hopefully for the government to communicate with the Sikh organisations through the forum.
The Sikh Consultative Forum is dominated by Sikhs (those who have undergone the initiation with the double-edged sword). Most of us speak good English, many of us have good jobs and are well settled in the UK. We are seen as radicals, because we believe in the Sikh Panth, the Sikh Qaum, and because we want to be monitored as Sikhs in the UK’s process of Ethnic Monitoring, and not as Afghanis, Pakistanis or Indians. Most of our meetings have real debates, real differences of opinion, without shouting and screaming.
We hope that in the long run this will bring about a UK Sarbat Khalsa, and we hope that this process will inspire other Sikh communities in North America, Europe, Australia, South East Asia, East Africa, etc.
We have no problem with the institution of Akál Takht, but appointment of jathedars and panj piaré should not be made on political consideration. Many of us do not think that people from India are to be automatically in charge of Sikhi, and we most definitely do not want a future Sarb Hind SGPC with one or two token seats for Sikhs from outside ‘Hind’.
Obviously, the majority of the Sikhs in the UK still believe that anybody who has been appointed in whatever way as the jathedar of Akál Takht has the absolute authority in the Panth, although that does not stop them following sant babé who are even more anti-gurmat than those in power in Amritsar.
We must face reality. If we are going to function as Guru Panth, radical reform is needed. Meetings like this seminar, are more in line with the Guru Panth model, than the pope-like powers of the so-called jathedars. We have to accept that Sikhi is not a church, and that we have no popes, no priests, no centralised body. We will hopefully in not too distant a future come to a worldwide confederation of Sikh bodies, which practice the underlying principles of Guru Granth Sahib, and follow the Panthic reht maryada. This confederation should be led by initiated Sikhs who have learned that the last thing an initiated Sikh can be is an autocrat, or a person who looks down on others who are not initiated Sikhs, or who are not Sikhs at all.
Finally : we should not forget that the Panth, the Khalsa was created for a purpose. Tenth Guru said that he would serve the True Khalsa that serves all. We should be a catalyst in all societies that we live in, we should be the fighters for truth and justice, and our main weapon should be Wahiguru’s love. Two percent Sikhs living in present-day India, one percent Sikhs living in the UK, can make an impact on society, as long as they try to truly live like Sikhs. We have to be out there, amongst all the children of God, all creation.
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