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Hukumnama: Handle With Care!

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by IJSingh, Dec 11, 2011.

  1. IJSingh

    IJSingh United States
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    Sep 24, 2004
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    HUKUMNAMA: Handle With Care
    by I.J. Singh

    For the uninitiated, I start with a few words of explanation.

    Long-standing tradition and custom mandate that whenever the Guru Granth is opened or closed for the day; also at every Sikh religious service, at its conclusion at least, there be a randomly selected reading from the Guru Granth.

    Consequently, a single hymn is read and then designated as the guiding lamp of the Guru’s message to his Sikhs for the day or, if the Sikhs so desire, the Guru’s response to a particular query they (or an individual) might have in mind. Mind you there is routinely no one single reading for all the Sikhs scattered worldwide, although, theoretically, there could be one under very special circumstances.

    Thus in this traditional reading of a single hymn, the Guru speaks to his people. Such a reading is termed Hukumnama, meaning the Command or Order of the Guru. It is also colloquially termed Vaaq meaning words or message of the Guru.

    Many Sikhs listen with unmatched devotion and purpose, with rapt attention, to a broadcast of the daily Hukumnama from the Harmander Sahib in Amritsar or some other historical gurduara; others depend on the local gurduara. Many start their morning at home by randomly opening the Guru Granth and ceremoniously reading a Hukumnama or Vaaq for the day from it.

    If a Sikh is to derive guidance for the day from such a reading it becomes imperative that the Hukumnama be randomly chosen. But the human mind is extraordinarily inventive and creative; even in a tome of 1430 pages, it can find a way to lock on to a particular reading, like a homing pigeon, to suit its own needs, compulsions and obsessions at any given time.

    I am sure most of us have encountered occasions when it seemed that the reading from the Guru Granth was just what the doctor ordered. At other times the citation didn’t seem quite apt for the time, the need, the mood, or the question in our mind to which we were groping for an answer.

    I have heard Sikhs grumpily complain to the granthi (reader of the Guru Granth) that for a particularly festive occasion the Hukumnama seemed unconnected to the purpose and was too somber and serious, as if they expected the granthi to somehow arrange for a more fitting response from the Guru Granth to their specific desires.

    And then inevitably, the imperatives of commerce come to our aid.

    Most granthis are so intimately familiar with the Guru Granth and their fingers so adept and nimble that they are just as pleased to pick the right page and the exact hymn to oblige us, thus earning a larger financial bonus in return.

    Let me be quick to add that I have never met a Sikh who didn’t rue such shenanigans, yet there are just as many of us who expect, demand and insist that the granthi oblige us with a satisfying Hukumnama. And the granthi often does.

    Surely, you would counter, the Sikh Code of Conduct (Sikh Rehat Maryada) that has codified Sikh rituals, practices and conventions would have something to say on such an important rite of Sikh worship service. And it does.

    The Code recognizes that requirements of the faith have both individual and societal ramifications. Hence, the need for uniform and universal policies and procedures that all Sikhs can own.

    Ergo, the Code stipulates that the page for reading be chosen at random and the shabd (hymn) be the one on the top of the left hand page. If the shabd begins earlier than the top of the page then one needs to flip to the prior page and pick up the shabd at its beginning. It also directs that the Hukum be read only once at the beginning of the day and that it remain unchanged for the rest if the day; yet, I also know of respectable gurduaras and individuals who look for several separate Hukumnamas during the same day.

    So far so good and simply stated, but it set me thinking of further ramifications of such a directive. Let’s see where our rudimentary skills in simple arithmetic lead us.

    In the real world, the granthi never trolls the whole Guru Granth for the Hukumnama but limits his search usually to only the middle 300 to 400 pages. (I am being charitable here.) Elementary arithmetic tells me that the Guru Granth is thus reduced roughly to less than 30 percent of its original heft of 1430 pages.

    Now let’s add a couple of additional complications.

    In order to keep matters simple the Code of Conduct asks us to ignore every right hand page in our search – a further 50% reduction leaving us about 150 to 200 pages for the Hukumnama. Now we are down to perhaps 12 to 14 percent of the Guru Granth. Further keep in mind that only the one shabd on the top of the left hand folio is counted; this leaves us to find a Hukumnama out of only 150 to 200 hymns out of a possibility of thousands – perhaps a mere six percent of the entire Guru Granth.

    Does that seem like a reasonable way to visualize and situate our dedication to our way of life and to the Guru Granth that we have dubbed the “Living Word – The Word/Guru Eternal”?

    And no wonder that any half-way decent granthi can instantly put his finger on the right shabd to please a generous patron with a specific question or plea; the granthi needs to keep track of less than 200 shabds. Is it any wonder then that in searching for a Hukumnama the same few shabds keep popping up so often?

    Believe me this is true. Almost sixteen years ago, in 1995, Daljit Singh Jawa, from Kansas put together a highly successful booklet that provided a simple exegesis of all 400 shabds that are found at the top of each left-hand page of the Guru Granth from pages 500 to 900. He provided, not a literal translation, but the central idea of the shabd followed by a brief commentary on its theme and essential meaning. I know because the book carries an appreciative note from me on the back cover. Undoubtedly useful but, just as surely, limited.

    The question is what should one do?

    Keep in mind the purpose of the specific procedure laid out by the Sikh Rehat Maryada. Its rationale aims to provide a system that can be uniformly followed – an institutional step by step program. This is to make sure that one doesn’t go hunting for a specific Hukumnama to suit a particular purpose.

    But we also know that life is full of rude awakenings.

    Mind you there is absolutely no superstition or particular magic in a specific shabd or its page number in the Guru Granth.

    The Hukumnama is not like the Chinese practice of I Ching aimed at finding a propitious number for a day or a particular activity. It is surely not a holy number that a numerologist might recommend to change your life, nor is it a “mantra” that a self-acclaimed spiritual master whispers in your ear to tame the unknowns of life or resist the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

    The Vaaq from a more famous or historical gurdwara is no better or holier than that from a neighborhood store-front gurdwara or from your own Guru Granth at home. Nor is a Vaaq more sacred if read and intoned by a famous or beloved granthi.

    The greater goal of the Hukumnama, and this is important, is to provide the Sikh with a shabd for the day. A lesson for life – this is exactly how we teach and learn as children or as adults -- from the easiest elementary facts to the most complex ideas. And, no matter what the topic, as a rule if we keep exploring a lesson every day, the easier it becomes to master even the most esoteric and complex detail.

    Keep in mind that the ultimate idea is for the reader to form an enduring relationship with the Guru.

    This is what the Hukumnama is all about. Forget not the purpose and intent of the guidelines in the Sikh Rehat Maryada.

    I offer a way to incorporate these goals of looking for Hukumnama in our lives. I would urge readers to resist the temptation to dismiss or castigate me for deliberately undermining the Rehat Maryada; that is absolutely not my aim.

    So, to Sikhs who live by the Hukumnama of the day I would recommend that they randomly look for a Vaaq just as the Rehat Maryada recommends but, say, from pages 1 to 100 for a month, and pages 101 to 200 for the next month, and so on. In about a year’s time one could shift focus to the right hand pages or to the bottom of a page, and so on for the continuing series of 100 pages each that form the subset for the month.

    One can simplify matters further.

    It doesn’t have to be a 100 or 150 page subset that one works through for a given time, whether a week, a month or a year. It could be a fourth, third or half of Guru Granth that one explores for a given duration.

    And, while doing so, hang on to the idea of random selection from within that selected subset of the Guru Granth.

    Over the year and certainly over a lifetime it would help us navigate through an increasingly larger portion, and eventually the entirety, of the Guru Granth instead of reading the same approximately six to eight percent of the Guru Granth that we now explore from year to year without much change or progress.

    My suggestion, I believe, would only deepen and strengthen the bond between the Sikh and the Word, and do so in a systematic ongoing manner.

    And isn’t that what we all want? My recommendations here, I submit, are very much in keeping with the intent and spirit of Sikh Rehat Maryada, as well as our personal goals in this matter.

    My take might upset some because they think that I am undermining the Rehat Maryada. That would be as far from the truth as it can be. The idea is not to play games with it but to seriously delve into it and try to live it.

    My aims are simple: 1. to connect the reader to the message of the Guru Granth over time, and 2. to wean the reader away from the habit of seeking a mantra for his ills or a formula for the day.

    I am not asking that you endorse and follow the model that I suggest here. Not at all! Instead I am recommending that you devise your own way to engage over time with the entire Guru Granth, rather than the less than 10 percent of it as we do now and thus remain true both to the intent of the Rehat Maryada and also to the universal principles of teaching and learning.

    Read the Hukumnama and let it form and guide your life – and also keep a translation handy alongside the original.

    IJ Singh

    December 9, 2011

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  3. Ambarsaria

    Ambarsaria Canada
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    ੴ / Ik▫oaʼnkār
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    Dec 21, 2010
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    IJSingh ji thanks for your post.

    If I were to submit a suggestion to Akal Takhat Sahib for consideration it will be along the lines as follows,

    • Start from the beginning of SGGS and read equivalent material size of a sabad or a sabad if it is so next. Continue from the beginning to the end of SGGS and then restart. This way people will have a chance over their life times to understand SGGS or the opportunity to do so.
    • Each word is a teacher and there is no bad messages or sabads or words or tuks in SGGS
    Sat Sri Akal.
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  4. OneD10s

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    Nov 28, 2011
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    I defiantly think that we should be reading more of the Guru Granth Sahib Ji and understanding its messages. And using this method will help to achieve this.
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  5. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jul 4, 2004
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    i take a CYBER Hukmanmah daily...let the Computer randomise for me..i found a lot more shabads get to me than by the traditional way....after almost a lifetime of reading the SGGS..i can usually read along any hukmnamah the granthi picks in Gurdwara...becasue i already memorised the estimated 200 shabads or so that get picked most often..lol...THAT is not GOOD because even before the Guru can speak..i am ready to tell HIM..i know !! what YOU are going to say...loljapposatnamwaheguru:
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  6. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    Oct 6, 2006
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    I also take the cyber hukamnama daily. For me, it does not have the same emotional impact as physically opening SGGS ji and reading, and then I have to ask myself, am I looking for emotional impact or guidance?

    I think that in time, almost all hukamnamas taken by Sikhs will be the cyber variety. It's easy, efficient, comfortable and private.

    The SRM is very much in need of revision, but it seems the Panth has more pressing needs at this moment. I would suggest that gurudwaras follow exactly the SRM (no cheating by the granthi!) and at home we do what wrks for us.

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  7. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Jun 30, 2004
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    My wife takes the Hukumnaama at home during Prakash and I take the cyber one at my office. We email our Hukumnaamas meant for each of us and also to our kids while they are at school.She prints them out daily and puts them on the fridge.

    After dinner we talk about how we applied it in our daily lives. The kids have the choice to choose either or both. We Skype Jaskeerat who studies in Los Angeles while discussing this.

    In my opinion this is what is the true meaning of,"Family that prays together stays together". In other words, the family that tries to practice Guru's message becomes a Super Glue.

    Tejwant Singh
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  8. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller United Kingdom
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    Jan 31, 2011
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    Amazing, this is what Sikhi is all about to me, encapsulated in the above post
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