A thought provoking must read article. Issue No.24, May 2006 Need for Reforms in Sikh Practices Need for Reforms in Sikh Practices by Nanak Singh Nishter Paper presented at a seminar organised by The International Sikh Confederation on 8th April 2006 at Chandigarh. Guru Granth and Guru Panth I congratulate The International Sikh Confederation for organising a seminar on the subject “Task Before The International Sikh Confederation” and inviting speakers from all over the world to express their views on the emergent issues of the Panth which require reforms. According to me the main and foremost task before the Sikh Intelligentsia is to prevent the community from the irreligious practices contrary to Gurbani and to restore the dignity of Guru Granth and Guru Panth in accordance with The Sikh Code of Sikh and Conventions (Sikh Rehat Maryada). Fortunately, ours is the only faith, which is supposed to be governed by their present Guruship and in no way any individual, how ever high he may be, can be accorded more importance or respect. We should always remember that the purpose of organising a Diwan should be for furtherance of our faith and not of any individual. A trend is widely growing among the Prabandhak of Gurdwaras for praising and conferring a Saropa to individuals in power in the Diwan or even by going to their door steps for establishing personal contacts. This has much degraded the institution of Guruship and honour of a Saropa. We have fallen down from Gurbani practitioners to the hero worshippers. One incident comes to my mind of Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan the last ruler of Hyderabad, the biggest state of India and one of the wealthiest person in the world of his days. Once he went to pay obeisance at Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya at Delhi. There a poet started reciting a poem in his praise. He immediately stopped him saying, “This is the place to praise Allah not me”. But presently we have gone down to such a low level that we falsely praise individuals in the Diwans leaving the Guru and their teachings aside. What more could be the insult and desecration of Guru Sahib? Also, in these diwans a huge stage is erected for the V. I. Ps. to sit above the Sangat, along with Kirtanye and Shi Guru Granth Sahib. The idea behind this is inconceivable. What is the status of Guru Panth in the eyes of the elite who sit over there on the stage looking down upon the sitting “Guru Roop Sadh Sangat ”? Now a days most commercial preachers and self styled religious leaders are plundering with both hands and pushing the innocent masses towards destruction of their faith. And the greatest tragedy is that knowledgeable people have become silent spectators of this degradation. We successfully survived the toughest periods in our history but now our survival is endangered at the hands of our own people who are destroying our belief and the philosophy of our faith. Since five centuries, we have not only won the battles but also ruled for 86 years in Punjab and neighbouring states including foreign lands. But most unfortunately we are not realising that at the present time we are gradually loosing the War of Nerves. Since its inception, Sikhism was under attack by outsiders on some pretext or the other. But the present day aggressions with far reaching results are more drastic, unseen, silent, scientific and systematic, using the Sikh people against the Sikh faith. This reminds me of the time two thousand years ago when Brahmins infiltrated as monks into Buddhism and succeeded in demolishing the entire structure of the Buddhist faith from inside and paved the way to Buddhism’s eventual extinction from the land of its origin. The clever Hindu clergy has even declared Goutham Buddha, who preached against Hinduism and was a non-believer of God, as one of the 24 incarnations of God itself in the Hindu scriptures. This was done to destroy the Buddhist identity and to assimilate Buddhism into the Hindu fold. Even today, Hindus control the most sacred Buddhist temple of Boudh Gaya in Bihar. Sanctity of The Faith I will confine my paper on the subject, “ What is Sikhism and how is it to be followed?” In one sentence it can be described that, “ Sikh means disciple, who is supposed to continuously follow the teachings of the Guru ”. This is a unique and only faith, which was nurtured for 239 years by the ten Gurus. The 10th Guru Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave the finishing touches and declared the Sikhs as the “Wahguru Ji Ka Khalsa ” i.e., “ sovereign people of the wondrous God ”, and also that henceforth the Guru will be Guru Granth and Guru Panth. This clearly shows that the life of a Sikh and their places of worships should be governed by the guidelines of the present Guru Sahib only. And every organisation of the Sikhs and every individual Sikh has to keep up the sanctity of their faith by discarding other practices contrary or not in consonance to its teachings at all levels. More specifically on page No. 667 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib, the 4th Guru Shri Guru Ram Das Ji has clarified that, “ My dear Gursikh friend, follow the path shown by the Guru. Whatever Guru says obey it, that is the unique way to approach God ”. In fact Gurbani is meant as a syllabus of Sikh curriculum of life covering each and every aspect of life. Even school children protest if the teacher speaks anything out of their syllabus textbook. On the contrary we spend lakhs of rupees on these professional Parcharaks to speak to the Sangat against the Gurbani text. Instead of protesting, we reward them with extra Ardase apart from their much-bargained contract amount. This system of offering is inherited from the Sufis Mehfil-i-Samah, rewarding the singers of Qawali. This system has corrupted our Parcharaks. Instead of preaching Gurmat they prefer pleasing the Sangat to get more money. Unless this offering of Ardase in the Diwan is banned, no corrective measure will work. The beauty of Gurbani is its eclectic quality. It does not belong to any particular religion; on the contrary it condemns the barriers of religion. It teaches the way of Sehaj (simple and natural living) for approach to spiritualism and humanism. In no way it can be confined to a religious text for any rewards after the death or for asking any material benefits during the present life. In fact it teaches people to mould their life for the self, towards the society, towards the Guru (spiritual guide) and God. It repeatedly advocates that nobody can attain the desired benefits by simple reciting, listening or by any other ritual unless they follow the teachings in their personal life. We are utilizing and exploiting it today, for feeding or projecting certain selected group of people. Some of our own people are dragging the community towards the appeasement of each other, rituals, customs, blind faith, pilgrimages and contributions towards the non-productive and non-beneficiary expenditure over the structures, deficit running low profiled schools and hospitals, pomp and show of the festivals, Nam Simran Samagams, Kirtan Samagams, Centenaries, Celebrations of Christian New Year and Death Anniversaries of the so-called Sants and individuals etc. The concept of celebration does not exist at all in the philosophy of Gurmat, even then the Panth has been made to follow these rituals.[/b] If this money, time and energy is diverted towards the religious, educational and socio-economic uplift of the individual Sikh, within 20 years every Sikh could become dignified and prosperous. Keeping this in view, the wisdom and foresight of our Guru Sahiban, instructs us toward Vand Chakkna i.e., distribution of our earnings among fellow beings. Whether our actions are right or wrong we can judge our self from page 3 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib. In Jap, Guru Nanak Dev Ji has specifically declared that, “Dharam is the son of compassion and contentment is its son ”. No other community spends so lavishly and foolishly, criminally wasting the community funds and pushing the masses against the tenets of their religion, contradictory to the fundamentals of the faith. In other communities, each and every individual instigate their fellow beings to read, understand, follow and preach their own religion according to the Scripture. Whereas, our preachers are dragging the Sikhs away from the Scripture and much publicising and confining on mechanical chanting without understanding of just a single word Waheguru. The concept of Simran of Wahguru in Gurmat is to keep in simiriti i.e., always remember Wahguru with every breath. Oral repetition of word Wahguru for some time and remaining all the times doing as per your will and wish contrary to the Gurbani teachings is not at all approved. The wisdom and experience of 36 noble souls of 500 years from Hazrat Baba Sheikh Fareed Ji (1175-1265) to Shri Guru Tegh Bahadar Ji (1621-1675) is incorporated in Shri Guru Granth Sahib. The clear-cut philosophy of Gurbani repeatedly emphasizes that there is no remedy to washing our sins and granting boons that we do not deserve according to our deeds. Only God’s will prevail and the Sikhs are supposed to live gratefully happy in obedience. Guru Nanak Dev Ji on page No. 351 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib has outspokenly said that, “With what face do you ask for any boon, when your good and bad deeds are giving the evidence ”. Unless our present prevailing life style changes in accordance with the teachings of Gurbani, we cannot claim to have become a Sikh. A person has to convert himself into Sikh fold by practice and not by birth or appearance alone. Guru Ram Das Ji on page No. 304 of Shri Guru Granth Sahib stresses to mould the life according to the teachings of Gurbani saying that, “The Bani of Satguru is perfectly true, let us mould our self according to Gurbani ”. Desecration of the Diwan The reasons for flourishing these evils among the Parbandhaks and Parcharaks, making them dictators and unquestionable authorities, lie in the present practice of not allowing any body to speak on the microphone and address the sangat. The situation is that the audience receives the right or wrong directions from the microphone, and not from Gurbani. The only remedy I could realise is that, they should be made accountable for their speech and action. Let all of us resolve to raise our voice against the un-Sikh practises by them, how ever great or small they may be. I would request this august body to recommend all religious bodies to provide an opportunity of censor through open debate in the Sangat of the same Diwan, if any Parcharak or Parbandhak speaks anything, which is not in consonance with Gurbani or amounts to desecration of Guru Granth and Guru Panth. If any person from the same audience asks for time to question a wrong it, he should be welcomed and given an opportunity to explain the right interpretation and spirit. This provision of asking for explanation will provide a check for the unquestioned and unaccountable half knowledged or ill knowledged people. And more over it will save the Sikh masses from being emotionally carried away on the wrong side by these self styled leaders. Only through this provision, we can mould the Parcharaks and Parbandhaks to speak very well and restrict their activities in accordance with Gurbani before the Sangat with a sense of accountability. If they do not realise themselves, they should be made to understand what amounts to desecration of Diwan and institution of Guruship? Dr. Sir Mohd Iqbal has beautifully described their vision saying, “What do these people of religious rituals know, what is the community and how to lead them? ” You will agree with me that for the moment the blood cancer of Manmat has affected and is circulating in the Panthic Body. Healthy blood of Gurmat has to be transfused periodically for survival. Our important responsibility towards the Panth is that every effort however big or small should continue in our individual or institutional capacity. If we lack this vision, we can never dream the depth of degradation we are going to fall. The present degradations and deviations among other religions have gradually cropped up during thousands of years. But within three centuries, we are loosing our separate and independent philosophy under the influence of those who have already lost their originality. Root Cause of All Evils Almost all of us are in the habit of holding others responsible for every Panthic evil. When we are a part of this system, then we should have the courage to accept the burden of guilt of our portion also. We can never close our eyes from the problems we face saying that we were unaware of the deteriorating situation. There is an age-old proverb that “Ignorance is no excuse”. If you are a man of Gurmat consciousness, you can never exonerate yourself. You will realise that illiteracy is the root cause of all evils, and our turning back to the problem is much aggravating it. Shabad is the Guru of all Gurus and of the Sikhs. Shabad means an alphabet, word or a stanza, and also knowledge. It cannot be attained without learning and literacy. And learning is the basic concept of Sikhism, and the Shri Guru Granth Sahib is the lighthouse of learning. In Gurbani there are hundreds of couplets insisting upon this subject. Without going into this aspect, I will project the tragic state of affairs of Sikh Panth in the field of literacy and poverty in comparison with other communities. The Sikhs presume ourselves as a progressive community. But in fact, we are one of the most illiterate people in India and slightly better than the people living below poverty line without shelter and one square meals a day. The Government of India Censes 2001 reveals this fact that though Jains are a merchant community their literacy rate is highest with 84.1 %. The Sikhs rank third from the bottom at 60.55%, among them in Punjab we have the lowest percentage of 58.67. For censes purpose a person is considered literate if he is able to read and write with understanding any one language, even without formal school education. The above data indicates that 39.45% of the Sikhs are absolutely ignorant of any written language not even Gurmukhi script, without which no Sikh could perform his religious duties. Remedy The only reason behind this draw back is money. Most of our people are leading their life on or below poverty line and cannot afford to bear the high cost of education. They put their children in earning livelihood, snatching away their childhood. Even the Government has banned this evil of child labour, but we never care for this aspect of our Panthic life. It is the need of the hour that we take up the task of producing intellectuals in the community at the individual level. It is better we utilize our Daswandh with our own hands. It is better if an individual or family sponsors one child up to the completion of any professional course or at least up to high school. Their means should only be the criteria; merits will develop by your help. Spend on them as your own child, provide them used clothes, meeting all the expenses of education, uniforms, health, books and stationary, tuition, extra coaching for upgrading their level and for competitive examinations of admissions and services. Never pay them in a lump sum, there is every possibility of misusing the funds by their parents. Periodical make contact with the candidate, watch their progress and counsel them for further education or training, with a sense of service and never with pride of favour. Let us pledge that let “Each One Teach One”, so that every Sikh should at least read and understand Gurbani to follow Sikhism in its true sense thus eradicating the root cause of all evils. Jesus Christ said for the people who were instrumental to crucify him, “O God! Please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing ”. Here I would like to pose a question to the Sikh intelligentsia, Don’t you know, what are the irreligious practices adopted by the Sikhs and Gurdwaras ? If the answer is yes, then who will pray for your forgiveness? Or would you wait and watch for the time to come when a Sikh version of French Revolution gets started with the new generation playing football in the streets with the rolling heads of today’s responsible people? Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal says, “Come! I will tell you how the fortune of communities is built? First hold the sword and spear, and then wealth and musical instruments at last ”. Where as, we are not only moving in reverse gear but also just concentrating as first and the last resort of our religious activity on wealth and musical instruments alone.