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Interfaith On Idol Worship...

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by namritanevaeh, Oct 1, 2015.

  1. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    I've seen it said many places that idol worship is discouraged or forbidden in Sikhi.

    So here is my discussion point: ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ is a holy book. I understand that to Sikhs it represents a "human being", the "living guru", but to others it is a book. People bow down to it all the time and it seems frowned upon if you dare not to bow down to it. And at the same time, Sikhs actively (on other forums, Facebook, etc) denounce people who bow down to other people, and YET there are times I've heard it said "find your own guru" (ie someone who makes you tick, makes you learn, question things, etc.). Really? Which is it? I'm supposed to bow down to ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ, even as someone who has not taken Amrit and probably never will, who identifies with more than one faith...but might be looked down upon if I bowed down to another person or idol of some sort?

    In my mind bowing down to ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ IS a form of idol worship, and not only that, if it is something people EXPECT of someone who isn't sikh, it becomes ritual (another verboten supposedly) to do so if it lacks meaning for the person doing it.

    Discuss please? :)
     
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  3. ActsOfGod

    ActsOfGod
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    If Guru Granth Sahib is not your Guru, why are you even concerned with this? Don't bow if you don't want to.

    Bowing before Guru Sahib is not an obligation, we don't bow out of fear or because it's a rule or requirement.

    Follow whoever or whatever you want to. But do refrain from criticizing the practice of a faith that you admittedly don't subscribe to.

    Best Regards,
    [AoG]
     
  4. ActsOfGod

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    For purposes of clarification, in regards to your assertion that bowing before Guru Granth Sahib constitutes idol worship. As Sikhs, we are not bowing down to the book, we are bowing to the Divine knowledge and wisdom, Guru's Mat, that is enshrined within the Guru Granth Sahib.

    In your simplistic comparison, you have equated that to bowing before a stone idol.

    If you are truly interested in your spiritual growth, I would suggest you spend some time in genuine learning. A little humility goes a long way. It's easy to pick on various practices and find fault, but that only displays your limited understanding and your ignorance.

    Wishing you all the best,
    [AoG]
     
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  5. Ishna

    Ishna
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    I agree with AoG insofar as Sikhs are not bowing to the book, but to the wisdom (Guru) contained therein.

    To me, there is no greater feeling in the world that bowing before the Guru (in darbar sahib or at home in some random direction towards nothing in particular) with love in the heart for Guru Sahib.
     
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  6. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    I understand what you are sAying about bowing to wisdom, on one level, but you know, my grandfather was a very very wise person and yet I didn't need to bow down to him in order to show respect.

    For me, debating and discussion IS a way to learn things. Guru Nanak would not have been the person he was either if he had not rejected a lot of the teachings of his ancestors and asked questions and why this, why that, etc.

    Neither of you have done anything to address my questions about how the two are similar except to point out that it has to do with respecting knowledge. Just because I am not Sikh does not mean that I take no interest in Sikhi (far from it). I don't blindly follow however. I ask questions and I make my own opinions.
     
  7. Ishna

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    Unless you have something really major to tell us, I'm going to guess that your grandfather sahib wasn't Guru.

    Correct. Did you know that Guru Arjun Sahib Ji slept on the floor, while the Adi Granth was on furniture?

    But you didn't ask how the two are similar. :/ The closest you come is with this:

    You can find some other threads where the topic of the perception of worshipping Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji as an idol has been discussed. Here's one. *smiles innocently*

    http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/threads/idolatry-of-sggs.9104/#post-27148

    Perhaps that can clarify it for you.

    But you're right, if you do not want to bow before the Guru, then don't. There is the respectful standard to keep in mind though, in the same way you wouldn't go into Darbar Sahib with your head uncovered. You know, when in Rome and all that.
     
  8. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    Actually I must say I think any well learned person is likely to be someone's guru, and moreover, each well learned person has the possibility of learning not only most of what is in say a religious book such as ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ, but also expanding their knowledge to go further than that. Whether or not you view ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ as "the living guru", the fact of the matter is, if it can not be added to or expanded upon, there is no room for evolution or change with times or anything. Many many good things are said in it, I do NOT dispute that, and I realise I am only scratching the surface of my own personal knowledge of what is in it. I fully admit that. But something that is written down, unless it is given the consideration that it can be rewritten, can be changed, will ultimately grow "old" by society's standards. We're seeing this with the bible on a regular basis where people want to say they are Christian and stay Christian...and yet basically admit in one breath that some of the main testaments to the bible CAN NOT be upheld today (you can not stone someone to death for adultery in North America...I'm not talking about certain countries where it might still happen), and yet they also pick and choose parts that work for them. The translations of today's modern bibles have been so far removed from the original Hebrew and Greek I think there isn't even much left anyhow (and I know that "lost in translation" is a true and serious problem also with ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ, however I can't understand it all in punjabi...yet!).

    I don't want people to think I disrespect that you can learn things from ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ, the bible, probably other religious texts too. You absolutely can. But any human being has the possible potential to go further than that. Not many do, in fact I doubt anyone has. But if I had learned enough punjabi to read gurbani and understand it, and basically was a total religious nerd who not only memorized a lot of gurbani but also memorized a lot of the bible, the Koran, knew where they agreed and what parts of ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ incorporated the Koran, could quote them, etc., then quite obviously I could take it to a further level.

    Maybe I didn't word it super well. Typing on a small phone screen before work maybe wasn't the best way to go. ;-) I wanted to know how they're similar. How different.

    I actually struggle with this concept and phrase a lot. I mean if I said that, indicating that people who move to another area of the world shouldn't be allowed to wear their turbans or kirpans I'd be lynched pretty much... (For example, Britain never had people wearing turbans before whatever time period in question...I don't like to bring North America into the equation since most gora Canadians weren't the first settlers here...). The fact of the matter is...nobody on this forum really KNOWS me, but to the gora community I am one of the strongest supporters of Sikh emblems of faith, of education about what they mean. At vaisakhi I appeared on tv for a brief segment, explaining a bit about it. I helped some Chinese Asians tie on rummals in the gurdwara, explained the kirpan to a white couple...I visit a gurdwara 2-3 times a week, I do sewa there, I participate in Sikh camps, my son goes to a kids' evening in the gurdwara learning about Sikhi...but something I don't do: blindly follow something just because people tell me to. I ask questions. And I make up my mind what works for me. And within Sikhi, some things do, and other things do not. That's how it is and I don't think I can force myself to change that, nor should I.
     
  9. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    This seemed partly relevant...

    Sikh Nishan Sahib demystified
    The Nishan Sahib is, for all intents and purposes, a sign board that stands tall and calls out for those who need protection, solace and a meal....But Sikhs have turned it into an article of worship.
    By Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston)

    The kesri (xanthic) colored flag that Sikhs respectfully call the Nishan Sahib and seen flying at Gurdwaras is to the Sikh place of worship as Sikh dastaar or turban is to Sikh identity.

    A few points on its origin, function and manner of respect may be as useful to the reader as much of some commentary on worship-like rituals that have sprung up in recent times in relation to the Sikh flag.

    Sikh scholar-cum-historian Kahn Singh Nabha writes that the Nishan Sahibwas originally called Jhanda (flag)Sahib and that it was founded by Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji. Folks who get offended when someone refers to the Sikh flag as “Jhanda” can take note of this fact.

    In the village of Fagwara in Punjab, there is a historic Gurdwara marking the transit of the seventh master Guru Har Rai Ji during one of his travels from Kartarpur to Kiratpur, called Gurdwara Jhanda Sahib, lending credence to the fact that the term “Jhanda Sahib” had come into existence then.

    THE SIKH REHAT MARYADA AND NISHAN SAHIB

    The Akaal Takhat sanctioned Sikh Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) or SRM has the following stipulation relating to the Nishan Sahib in Section 3, Chapter 4, Article V (r):

    “Every Gurdwara should install a Nishan Sahib at some high location. The cloth of the flag should either be Basanti(Xanthic) or Surmayee (greyish blue) in colour. At the top of the Nishan there should either be a Bhalla (spearhead) or aKhanda.“ (a double edged straight sword, with convex sides leading to slanting top edges ending in a vertex.

    One is hard pressed to find a Gurdwara flying the Nishan in the the Surmayeecolour these days, even if it was the standard colour of Nishan Sahibs flying in the Gurdwaras in townships where I grew up.

    FUNCTION OF THE NISHAN SAHIB

    It is clear from the words “at some high location” in the SRM stipulation above that the primary purpose of theNishan Sahib was to act as a sign board and a symbol of the Gurdwara.

    If one reads Kahan Singh Nabha’s writings of the original functions of the Gurdwara, one can see the logic of the Gurdwara needing a symbol that was visible from afar for Sikhs and especially for non-Sikhs.

    Beyond being a primary place for the teaching and practice of Sikh Spirituality, the Gurdwara was to have a number of other functions.

    The Gurdwara was meant to serve as a sanctuary for the protection of dignity of women. If such a function sounds odd it is because we Sikhs have terminated this function for so long, that it is no longer part of our collective memory. I doubt our modern Gurdwara parbhandaks are even aware of this primary function of the Gurdwara.

    I further doubt that a battered, displaced or otherwise needy woman seeking protection in our modern Gurdwaras would be accommodated in any meaningful way!

    The Gurdwara was also meant to serve as a resting place for the weary traveller. Again, if this function sounds strange, it is also because we have stopped accommodating travellers in our Gurdwaras from a long time.

    The Gurdwara was further to serve as a “meal-house” for the hungry. The key word is “hungry”. Serving meals to the well fed or those who have better cooked meals waiting in their houses does NOT fall in this category even if this has become the standard practice of langgar in our modern Gurdwaras.

    All the above functions were meantequally for the Sikh and non-Sikh. It is on these functional grounds that Section 3, Chapter 4, Article V (k) of the SRM reads:

    “No person, no matter which country, religion or cast he/she belongs to, is debarred from entering the Gurdwara…”

    This then is the primary function of the Nishan Sahib. It is located high as a beacon of hope for any woman seeking to protect her honour, as a light house for a weary traveller seeking a place to rest, and as a welcome sign for a hungry/displaced/homeless person seeking a meal. The Nishan Sahib is, for all intents and purposes, a sign board that stands tall and calls out for those who need protection, solace and a meal.It is inviting them, in the name of the Guru to come to the Gurdwara and be served.

    TALL SIGN BOARDS BUT NON-FUNCTIONAL GURDWARAS

    Gurdwaras have perfected the art of building taller and sophisticated Nishan Sahibs – complete with lights, pulleys, and other electronic display systems. Some are visible from tens of miles. Such would be wonderful if the Gurdwara actually provided the appropriate services to those it did attract from afar by it 100 feet tall flag pole.

    But if the Gurdwara fails to provide the basic functions as mentioned above, then its tall Nishan Sahib is akin to a defunct hospital that has a huge sign visible from ten miles, but tells patients who show up that there is no doctor, no treatment and no medicine there.

    WORSHIPPING THE SIGN BOARD

    But Sikhs have by and large, turned the Nishan Sahib into an article of worship. Sikhs are seen walking around the flag pole in parkarma(circumambulation style), folding hands to metha tek or bowing down to the concrete base of the Nishanrepeatedly, rubbing their noses on the base, tying pieces of cloth or ribbons to the flag pole and then taking them home a few days later as blessed material, and much more.

    Those who consider such practices as respect or reverence ought to think a little deeper.

    One does not respect road rules bymetha tek or bowing to road signs. One does not display any reverence to a welfare home by circumambulations of its sign board.

    One does not acquire health by trying ribbons to the hospital’s sign board and then taking the ribbons home as equivalent to medicines. One does not become educated by doing repeatedparkirma of, or by rubbing ones nose repeatedly on the school sign board.

    If only everything was this easy! What then makes us think that we can acquire the Guru’s blessings by doing all the above to the Gurdwara services sign board that is the Nishan Sahib but by doing nothing to ensure that the Gurdwara actually functions the way it was supposed to function?

    A Sikh ought to consider his or her head as priceless to only bow before the Guru Granth Sahib. Bowing before just about everything within the precincts of the Gurdwara – gate, steps, stairs, mats, photos, base structure of theNishan Sahib etc – even if they are all part of the Gurdwara’s physical structure – is to suggest that they are all equal in stature to the GSS.

    MEANINGLESS PRACTICES RELATING TO THE NISHAN SAHIB

    Sikhs are known for their penchant to slide down the slippery slope of rituals. Where we cannot steal from others, we invent our own.

    One wonders where the idea of dressing up the flag pole came from. The logic of it is dumbfounding. The Gurdwara I attended regularly did not have such dressing and one illiterateparcharak from India took it upon himself to berate the parbhandaks and the sangat openly for allowing the “Guru’s Nishan” to stand “naked.”

    He went on to call the dressing “chola sahib” (literally: holy dress) and said the covering was akin to the “kachera” and that its function was to protect the “dignity” of the Nishan Sahib.

    I asked him after his pseudo katha if the Nishan Sahib should also be adorned with the remaining threekakars – kirpan sahib , kra sahib andkanga sahib!”

    MORE RITUALS

    Gurdwaras are known to change theNishan Sahib on Gurpurabs. There is no mention in the SRM of such a requirement. Logic dictates that theNishan Sahib ought to be changed when it is torn or appears faded. No need for any fanfare.

    One would have surely witnessed theNishan Sahib change being done in worship type rituals that can take a couple of hours and is witnessed by entire sangats.

    Some Gurdwaras have constructed fulcrum type flag poles which allow the flag pole to be laid horizontal. Hours are then spent washing the pole in pails full of milk or yoghurt or lassee. The entire pole is then towel-dried and dressed up in cloth with tie backs.

    Some Gurdwaras use cranes for the same purpose. Other have ladders.

    Doing such is munmat, or deviant practise, plain and simple. It is waste of milk, lasee, cloth, time and energy. It is not supported by the maryada or Gurbani and there are no historical records of Sikhs doing this in previous eras.

    One can appreciate if the purpose of the Nishan changing ceremony is to educate or inspire love within thesangat for the Nishan Sahib. But the only “education” that takes place is one relating to self-constructed rituals.

    Kahn Singh Nabha writes that the two majestic Nishan Sahibs that stand in the doorway of the Darbaar Sahib were first put up as wooden poles in 1775 by the Udasi Babas who ran the place then. They were broken up in a storm in 1841 and one was rebuilt by Maharaja Sher Singh and the other by Desa Singh Majithia. Both the flags are made of iron but adorned with copper plates. The high base was rebuilt in 1923.

    Such facts illustrate that the Nishan Sahib can and has taken a variety of forms – wooden poles and flags of iron included. Nowhere however is the practise of covering up the pole with a “chola sahib,” or washing it in milk orkachee lassee shown as a practise except in recent times.

    THE SIGN MUST FIT THE FUNCTION

    A Nishan Sahib is just that – a Nishan, a symbolic sign board. We can make it tall, big and visible from as far as the eye can see so that it attracts those who are in need of Sikh sewa towards humanity to come to the Gurdwara. But then, it is our duty to ensure that our Gurdwaras are functional to serve such needs. What are we doing about creating truly functional Gurdwaras, is the question.

    Having sign boards that are the tallest and most unique but having nothing to offer to those who show up in response to these sign boards is deception – fraud even.

    Worshipping and undertaking ritualistic practices involving a sign board is to miss the point all together. Worse, it represents our own spiritual hollowness.

    NEXT WEEK: THE ROLE AND FUNCTIONS OF A GURDWARA.

    Karminder Singh Dhillon, PhD (Boston) writes on Gurbani and Gurmat issues in The Sikh Bulletin, USA. He also conducts Gurbani Katha in local Gurdwaras. He is currently running a class on understanding Anand Sahib at Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya on Sundays 6.30pm–8.30pm. He is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
     
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    #8 namritanevaeh, Oct 3, 2015
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  10. Ishna

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    Yeah, that's a good article on Nishan Sahib. It's sad. I've been to one such event at the Gurdwara I used to attend. Watching them was the flagpole with milk caused a heaviness to form in my chest.

    I am very much with you about religion becoming time-bound and unchanging, and you're spot on with your observation about the bible, practices no longer being adhered to, and people picking-and-choosing.

    Where I feel Sikhi differs is that Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji takes the focus away from physical practices and talks more about one's attitude and thought processes. I think these principles are eternal for humankind, even if the examples given by Guru Sahib are, or become, outdated. It is less about rules for society, and more about straightforward thinking, in my humble opinion. The messages within Gurbani can be applied to any culture at any time and in any place. Sikh religious practices, on the other hand, are far less flexible.

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'taking it to another level'. Can you please clarify? What I've learned from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji so far has been unlike that presented in most other religious texts I've encountered. I don't think one can really compare the Bible or the Quran, in particular, to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

    How is idol worship similar and dissimilar to the customs surrounding Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji? I'm not 100% sure because I'm not very familiar with idol worship (for clarity, I assume we're talking about the Hindu conduct of idol worship). These are some of the parts that stand out to me:
    • If the Guru and Ik Onkar are one and the same, and Granth Sahib contains the Gurshabad, then doesn't the Granth Sahib also contain Ik Onkar, and therefore is a bona fide idol, according to Hindu standards?
    • After all, a Hindu does not say the idol *is* the god, but that the idol *contains* the god. The stonecrafter *can* put his feet on the idol's chest as he crafts the stone, because at that time, it is just stone. The idol needs to have the god welcomed into it before it becomes an idol.
    • An idol is cared for by bathing, clothing, feeding, offered aarti and put to bed/woken up. Granth Sahib is also clothed and put to bed/woken up. I've always been perplexed by the need to put Granth Sahib on an actual bed, or making sure the room is air-conditioned for Granth Sahib's comfort. In my mind, if Sikhs want to make a better distinction between idol worship and 'honour' of Granth Sahib, they would store Granth Sahib on a nicely decorated table or in a nicely kept cupboard or other suitable safe, clean place. An actual bed is unnecessary.
    • Hindus come and bow to their idol, make offerings of money and items sacred to the god. Sikhs bow and make offerings, too, before Granth Sahib.
    The biggest difference for me, personally, is that an idol can't actually teach you anything. You learn that elsewhere, and the idol can trigger that learning and act as a focal point. Granth Sahib, on the other hand, can speak to you if you read it, and you can learn, and it directs your explicitly to connect with Ik Onkar within your heart.

    I think it is also fair to acknowledge that the customs surrounding Granth Sahib are a long way from those surrounding Hindu idol worship, and when you consider the people who joined Sikhi initially were raised with idol worship, and that was the more prevalent cultural practice, then Sikhs indeed came a long way.

    ---

    Wow, you're a lot more involved in your Gurdwara than I ever was with mine. I'm happy for you. It sounds like you actually have quite a good sangat and are able to integrate much more successfully than I could. :)

    But who is asking you to change? Who is telling you that you must matha tek towards Guru Sahib?

    If it helps, consider your thought process when you're standing before Guru Sahib with folded hands before your matha tek. Don't think that you're bowing to a book - I certainly don't. I bring to mind Naam, and Ik Onkar, and the universe, and my small place in it, and all the beautiful shabads that Gurbani shares, and I think about those I love, and their problems, and wish Naam upon them, and with this feeling of positivity, love, awe and humility, I bow to the universe. Please don't judge me, this process is personal to me.

    Anyway, I've said enough, it's up to others to share their views now!
     
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  11. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    «I am very much with you about religion becoming time-bound and unchanging, and you're spot on with your observation about the bible, practices no longer being adhered to, and people picking-and-choosing.»

    :meditatingkaur:

    About taking it to another level...I do actually agree with you that the bible doesn't really hold a candle much to ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ to be honest. I can't claim much about the Koran or other texts, but the reason I'll say that about the bible is this: I can read Gurmukhi text with some fluidity now. I have a bible written in Gurmukhi and it reads like a newspaper. I don't understand all the words but I can put together where I am in the text and what is going on for the most part. I can't do that at all with gurbani. Like...the Gurmukhi that is used in but is so archaic (and I don't mean completely useless, just very ancient) and complicated that I can only usually pick out a word or two here or there. It has to do with complicated cases that are no longer used I think.

    I agree I have a great sangat. I'm blessed to be included on lots these days. Invited to various smagams, events, etc.

    In terms of doing matha tek, which was an entirely new term for me on wednesday evening actually (!), nobody has ever "forced me to", though I do think I feel disapproving eyes often if I don't. One friend of mine, a gori Sikh amazingly, told me I should though. She wasn't with me at the time but seemed horrified that I said I didn't, at the time. I explained my thought about it being a bit of an empty rituel if it means nothing to me to do so, and she said she understood my POV but that she thought I still should, to show my respect to ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ and I said then too how I respect lots of people like my grandfather but bowing isn't the only way to respect someone! ;-)

    I'll say though...I actually do mostly bow Down now. It dates back to July. I went to Quebec City for 6 days. I had been to the gurdwara on the Wednesday, didn't go again before flying there, and it was the Thursday the following week before I got back to Montreal where there is a gurdwara. Quebec City has none. :mundafacepalm:

    When I got to Montreal, the first thing I did was go find one...and it was CLOSED. At like 11:30 am on a Thursday. I was shocked! I had promised a friend to meet up with her at 1 pm so I did that next but googled for another one, found one in Lasalle and figured out how to bus there next. And after lunch with my friend and a good LONG chat, I finally got there around 4 pm and I missed my gurdwara feel, smells, kirtan etc. SO MUCH by then that I practically threw myself down in front of ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ sobbing. ;-)

    I swear, the vibrations of kirtan and stuff have helped, at least some, at pulling me out of a REALLY bad depression. I was near suicidal a few years ago. When I feel sad or depressed I go listen to kirtan and deep breathe. :)

    When they asked me at vaisakhi on tv if I was Sikh I said "that's a complicated question with only one thing I can give as a short answer: only partly." ;-)
     
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  12. namritanevaeh

    namritanevaeh Canada
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    Oh Ishna what I meant by taking it to another level is, even though the bible and maybe other religious texts might not be as "advanced" as the ਸ੍ਰੀ ਗੁਰੂ ਗ੍ਰੰਥ ਸਾਹਿਬ ਜੀ, there are still sometimes good stories and advice to take out of them and if someone managed to basically memorize a whole lot of religious texts, he or she would be that much more intelligent than just knowing one. That's what I meant.
     

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