Sikhism : A Progressive Religion
– Philosophy of Life for Humanity –
M P S Kandal*
Sikhism is the most modern, progressive, tolerant, accommodating and all-embracing religion. Irrespective of religion, caste, creed or colour, all are welcome at any time into a gurdwara for God’s blessings, parshad, food and overnight stay. This is the only religion whose holy book Guru Granth Sahib, has, besides 6 Guru Sahiban, Bani of one Gursikh and 28 Bhagats/Bhatts” belonging to different religions/castes/ creeds/sects. Every verse in “Guru Granth Sahib” is loaded with deep philosophy of life for all humanity. Tenets of a Gursikh - Kirat Karni, Wand Chhakna and Naam Japna, as also, serving the sangat – and protecting the weaker against tyranny, even at the cost of one’s life, are most appealing to any good human being. But the way in which most of the present-day leaders with vested interests project and practice, handle and exploit the religion and its institutions, is rather disappointing. Their conduct, instead of making non-Sikhs like and admire Sikhism, is even taking away their own people, especially the younger lot from its fold! This, obviously, should be a matter of grave concern to all of us.
The subject, therefore, calls for an urgent attention of educated, devoted and well meaning Sikhs the world over. A few suggestions covered in the succeeding paragraphs are put forward for consideration and necessary action.
Granthis, Ragis and Sewadars
Education and Training
It is felt that generally the granthis and ragis, who form the frontline cadres for the propagation of this most admirable religion, are not adequately educated and trained for this onerous task. As a result, most people consider listening to them a waste of time. All professional granthis and ragis should be at least graduates or equivalent, given a thorough knowledge of Sikhism and also exposed to the writings and philosophies of other well-known religions, so that they are able to communicate with all members of society in a manner that inspires confidence and respect for themselves and Sikhism. Katha Vachak Sant Singh Maskeen was one such model whom everyone yearned to listen. His contribution would be remembered and admired for a long time.
The ragis should be given proper and thorough training in ragas, and made to sing each sabad in appropriate raga as per the time and occasion. There is so much to choose from. Singing sabad on the cinematic tunes invariably takes one away from meditation, besides violating the basic theme of the sabad.
Training of the sewadars is normally ignored. Proper thought must be given and each person must be trained for the job one is supposed to execute. They must be explained in detail the need for personal hygiene, general cleanliness, and humble and winsome conduct. Above all, each one of them must be made to feel and realize their own importance in the functioning of the gurdwara or the religious institution where one is working. This will motivate all sewadars to put in their best in the execution of their assigned duties.
Status & Emoluments
It is suggested that all the persons who are on the payroll of the gurdwaras and other religious institutions, must be given proper status and emoluments including perquisites like residence, transport, phone, etc., depending upon their education, professional knowledge and inherent capabilities. There should be a laid down code of conduct for them. That will ensure proper respect for them by one and all as in the case of a Bishop, Priest or a Deacon in Christianity.
Given the high percentage of unemployment in the country there is a tendency to exploit these poor people with meagre amounts or compensation. The exploitation of the persons employed in the gurdwaras and other institutions must be totally banned. Otherwise these poorly paid persons would indulge in undesirable activities of deplorable nature. It must be understood that they are not sewadars in the true sense of the word, they are there to earn livelihood for themselves and their families. Therefore, the most important motivation for them is – status and emoluments.
Beautification and Maintenance
Gurdwara is a place of worship. Its building and the premises must be beautified and maintained so well that anyone visiting would remember it as a feast for their eyes, mind and soul. In some of the gurdwaras where the building is a grandiose one, the premises unfortunately are rather dirty, and toilets filthy. Probably the idea of beautifying the area with proper landscaping and planned gardening has never occurred to some of us. It would be a good idea if every gurdwara management committee aims at beautifying the premises as one of the important objectives and resolves to maintain it as such. Towards this, seva could be asked for from renowned Sikh architects and landscape experts.
Sanctity and discipline
It is unfortunate that requisite sanctity is not maintained in the gurdwaras. Ladies are found talking about vegetable prices, saris, ornaments, servants, daughters-in-laws and what not, and the children are running around as if they were on a picnic. Visit to the gurdwaras should not be treated as a mere ritual to get parshad and socialize, but must go much beyond. This must be emphasized and ensured by the granthis, ragis, sewadars and the elders in the sangat not by bullying but repeatedly requesting and tactfully appealing to the masses to behave in a highly disciplined manner and help in maintaining an appropriate atmosphere. Even though there is currently a lot of awareness and improvement in this direction, there is still a need to perform better.
The gurdwara management must exhibit appropriate sensitivity towards those residing in close proximity to the gurdwara. Where is the need for having loudspeakers blasting the neighborhood. These should be used for the benefit of the sangat inside the gurdwara only. There have been instances where people have protested against this practice, especially during the children’s examination period.
The code of conduct for the paid personnel in the gurdwara and other institutions should be strictly observed. There must be proper and regular checks by the management committee members to ensure cleanliness, security, discipline and sanctity.
Inspite of all the funds available, some of the langars are still run in primitive style. There is little emphasis on hygiene and sanitation. There could be modern kitchen and dining halls with proper fly proofing and seating arrangements for the sangat with soft soothing music in the form of sabads. The main purpose of langars is to practise equality, and humility, love for each other, irrespective of the religion, caste or creed or social and economic status.
There must be a proper place for washing hands and feet, with rugs and towels at the entrance to the langar hall. For, otherwise on a rainy day, a lot of mud and dirt are brought in through the dirty feet and deposited on the rugs meant for seating. Further, is it proper to sit on such dirty mats to partake langar with sewadars serving with dirty feet in close proximity to the plates in which the holy parshad, cooked in the name of the Lord, is served? Sometimes, this is spilled on the floor by those serving due to lack of proper serving spoons and training. Isn’t all this disrespect to the holy parshad itself?
Why cannot there be a seating arrangement in the form of long continuously low benches with long narrow tables in front with Sunmica tops to ensure proper cleanliness. This would also provide for seating in Pangats. The washing place for the used utensils is normally not well provided for. It should be suitably designed where each individual is able to clean his utensils with devotion and pride.
In most places beggars turn up for partaking in the langar. Some of them are very stinking. They must be most welcome but not in that state. And this can be done as a social service to the society by educating and suitably appealing to them without bullying or sounding rude. They must be told Langar is Waheguru ji’s parshad which must be taken after cleaning the body and clothes. It will be an indirect way of making them take a bath and wash their clothes, which some of them do not do for days at a stretch resulting in their falling sick.
Suitable boarding and lodging for short stays at most places could be provided and maintained at nominal but varying rates for the pilgrims. Those who cannot afford to pay can be accommodated totally free. Presently, accommodation provided at some of the places is poorly managed, even misused. Common toilets are stinking due to various reasons.
Management of Funds
Collection and generation of funds in Sikhism is not a difficult proposition due to the concept of daswandh, i.e., sharing of 10 percent of one’s earnings for Dharam Arth. As is seen in most gurdwaras, funds are poured in large amounts by the sangat. There is, therefore, a need to have a committee of educated, well-meaning, genuine and experienced persons to carry out the proper planning for the utilization of funds. Funds must also be used for further generation of more funds to help the needy and for social uplift (by providing hospitals, health centers, dispensaries, educational institutions, etc.), and to promote religious and spiritual awareness through holding kathas, kavi darbars, rensabai, kirtans, playlets, TV serials and radio programmes etc). However, collecting donations in such functions and gurdwaras should be in a dignified and subtle manner. There are golaks/safes where people pour their donations according to their wish. There is no need for announcing names of those who have donated varying amounts during the ardas. At times, the reading of the list of names with amounts, takes much more time than the proper ardas itself. Sad? Yes, very sad but it is a fact! Are they trying to inform the Lord as to what amount is donated by whom? Does he not know without announcing it? Or is it to tell the sangat that if you want your name to be announced, you may also give some donations?
Having Akhand Paths costing different amounts depending upon the market value of the various gurdwaras is a shame. Further, honouring devotees by giving away different types of “Saropas” according to the amount they have donated or status is against the basic principle of equality in Sikhism. One should practise and propagate anonymity to whatever extent one can.
Use of TV and Other Media
The fact that Guru Granth Sahib preaches love for all, and that every verse therein, highlights the Philosophy of life for all humanity, is not known to most people. Even a large number of the Sikhs are not aware as to how many great holy souls are being paid homage to by them when they do Matha Tekna to Guru Granth Sahib. No doubt, whosoever becomes aware of this, would not be able to resist liking and admiring Sikhism. Unfortunately, very little is being done in this regard.
TV and other media must be used in a big way to make this known to the general public and to bring out the tenets of a Gursikh including the meaning / spirit behind the five Ks. This could be achieved through interesting and absorbing TV serials, light and sound shows and playlets on Bhai Kanhaya ji, Banda Bahadur, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Hari Singh Nalwa, Akali Phoola Singh, Nawab Kapur Singh, Jassa Singh Ahluwalia and many other Sikh personalities. These would be of tremendous value in educating the masses about the most important aspects of a Gursikh’s life.
Review of Outdated Practices
There is a need to review the old practices. Past must be remembered for it brings out invaluable lessons and is a strong motivational aid. But to keep sticking to the past and denying some of the modern scientific advances in the world and changing environments would not be wisdom. Yes, one should not lose one’s identity and the salient codes. But the ways and the means of practising the codes should be reviewed.
One should use the gurdwara for prayers, devotional discourses for the propagation of tenets of a true Sikh and practicing principles of Sikhism and not for gaining political mileage. There was a lot of hue and cry in the gurdwaras against Sikh women wearing helmets, which is only meant to protect accidental deaths. But there has been no attention given towards stopping the Sikh women and men from smoking, drug addiction, alcoholism and having too many children raised in poverty, and remaining dirty in mind, body and soul, and so on.
Is it not being narrow minded when one terms helmet as Topee ? Is it not a protective gear for a particular purpose and duration of time? A fighter aircraft pilot has to wear a helmet. Doesn’t one use raincoat with cap for protecting one’s turban and hair. Young Sikh men in the Armed Forces, during training period and later, use patkas, swimming caps and masks for sports, swimming and fencing, respectively. Should they be instructed not to do so because it is against the religion? There is another thought that merits consideration. All Sikh children should be initiated with amrit by the age of 4-6 years. All the other major religions do this, examples being “Baptism in Christianity”, “Mundan in Hinduism”, “Circumcision in Islam”. Why not in Sikhism? This will make the parents conscious of the fact and would, to a large extent, make them imbibe the right sanskars – truthfulness, goodness, compassion, brotherhood and humility, into their children. The children would, from the start, know that they belong to the Guru’s Sikhism and also what it means. As regards “Jap” it could be in the form of Satnam Sri Waheguru to start with and after a while Mool Mantra and later all the Banis. After a few years, most of them, hopefully, would choose to be Guru’s Singhs and go through Amrit Chhakna in the conventional way.
The Sikhs being followers of the most progressive religion, should ponder seriously to bring about salient meaningful changes which would not interfere with the tenets of a true Sikh and the original principles of Sikhism. It would .be a good idea to appoint an appropriate committee to review such practices within a specified time frame and have these ratified, by the Panth at Sri Akal Takht, Amritsar in the presence of “Guru Granth Sahib”.
The points mentioned above are not the only ones that need consideration as explained. There are many more beyond the scope of this article. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Please note that the observations and suggestions outlined in this article are not intended to hurt anyone’s feeling but is self-criticism. Every Sikh is a party to the wrong practices. Some are indulging in this without realizing as to what is wrong (due to ignorance); some are aware of the shortcomings, but do not wish to contribute either due to lack of will or fear of being misunderstood; and then there are a large number who feel they are too good to notice or be bothered.
It is hoped that this note of self criticism would encourage the well-meaning Sikhs to do their best towards effecting all-round improvements and making the world aware as to what a wonderful religion, a philosophy of life for all humanity, they belong to.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies,
2009, All rights reserved.