Taken from another internet site Parshad - The Mystical Communion? by Dr I.J.Singh Some years ago I escorted a young non-Sikh woman to a Sikh religious service. Although born a Christian, she was fond of Eastern religions, and had some knowledge of India and Hinduism. The basic Sikh service is pretty much the same the world over and for any occasion - some singing of liturgy, an optional lecture or exposition of history or scripture, congregational prayer, and to conclude, parshad and a simple community meal which are offered to everybody. The parshad is obligatory to every service, the community meal is sometimes lacking if the facilities do not permit it. The parshad as well as the community meal are usually prepared and distributed by volunteers from the congregation. That day two volunteers were distributing parshad. My friend refused to accept it from one and preferred that it be given by the other. She insisted that one of the volunteers had a more spiritual aura and parshad from his hands would be more meaningful. Some Sikhs nearby tried to assuage her feelings by suggesting that it was only a "halvah-like dessert" and she could enjoy it as such, no matter who distributed it. We escaped the confusion but the incident stayed with me. What after all is parshad? Is it only a dessert? Is it like communion in a Church? If a non-Sikh accepts it, is his belief compromised? Would it matter who handled it? I remember being invited to a church some years earlier where the minister made a point of requesting that only the believers in Christianity should partake of the communion. I recall many of the stringent requirements that apply to a Roman Catholic as he steps forward to receive communion. I realize that some of these have been relaxed somewhat in the past fifteen years. At communion a wafer of bread and a thimbleful of wine or juice is offered to the believer in memory of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. There are clearly defined criteria to determine if the individual is in good standing and qualifies to receive communion. At one time, the Roman Catholic Church used to require a believer to refrain from food or sex for at least 12 hours and confess his or her transgressions before stepping up to the altar to receive communion. Also, keep in mind that only a priest may consecrate the bread and wine, not even a nun has that privilege. much less a lay person. A nun may distribute it but a lay person may not. It is a matter of dogma to a Christian that the bread and wine are 'transubstantiated' into the flesh and blood of Christ in memory of Christ and not merely symbolic of them. This stems from the "doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist," dating between 1546 to 1563 from the Council of Trent which debated and codified many issues of Christian belief. Following this dogma, the "appearance" of bread and wine remains but the "reality" of the substance changes and becomes flesh and blood of Christ. How do Sikhs view the parshad? What is parshad and what is it not? More often than not, it is made of wheat flour, butter, sugar and water cooked to a pudding-like consistency. This is the traditional composition but parshad can be anything suitable for the congregation to share and eat. At times, it has been jaggery, sugar, grain, fruit, nuts or cookies, salt, among other things - whatever a person could afford and whatever was available in the house. It does not have to be much for it is not meant to assuage physical hunger; less than a spoonful would do. The traditional preparation has 500 years of history behind it, and at all gurudwaras and most places where it is possible, this version prevails. The parshad need not be cooked at the gurudwara. In smaller congregations where cooking facilities are lacking, it is often cooked at somebody's home and brought in for distribution. Predictably, the traditional composition draws upon ingredients which would normally be found in any Punjabi home, even the poorest one. That it tastes like a good dessert is all the better for who can resist it? History and tradition have given the Sikhs a novel timer to determine when the flour is sufficiently cooked: the time it takes to chant the Japuji (the morning prayer) at a methodical but leisurely pace. The aroma of parshad being prepared pervades the area and is sufficient to bind the Sikhs to their heritage and culture. One must never underestimate the pull and power of nostalgia. In the Sikh view, anybody may cook, serve or receive parshad. For either of the three: preparer, server or receiver, no questions are asked and no criteria or qualifications are imposed. One need not even be a nominal Sikh, much less one in good standing. One may not be asked when the last sin was committed, prayers uttered, nor his or her status, caste, or belief. What is required is that parshad be served in a dignified manner and respectfully accepted. It is important to point out that anybody can make or serve parshad - a woman, a non-Sikh, a sinner or a saint - none may be barred. This is significant when you realize that in many religions a woman may not read the scriptures or lead the prayers, particularly if she is menstruating. Since Sikhism does not advocate a life of renunciation, sexual activity in a marriage is never any bar to full religious participation. Salvation must be sought in this worldly life - a domestic life, honestly led, shared with the community and spent with an awareness of the Infinite within. The parshad from one place or gurudwara is not more sacred than from another. Often Sikhs give special reverence to parshad from a historical gurudwara such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar and are more cavalier about it from a small, new, unknown place or from somebody's home. Such distinctions are utter nonsense. What sanctifies parshad and lifts it from the level of a halvah-like dessert to a sacramental communion is not where it was made nor the person who makes or serves it but the congregation in mindful prayer and ultimately, the attitude of the receiver. The parshad is not lessened in value if a sinner makes, takes or serves it; he or she is ennobled by the aura of a congregation in mindful prayer. There are only two ways to devalue parshad: with hygienically unwashed hands of the preparer, server or receiver or by the wandering mind of the receiver. The personality and character of the individuals neither diminish nor exalt the significance of parshad; however, the experience of the blessing may inspire and elevate the individual. For a Sikh, the significance of parshad is deeply ingrained in his marrow through 500 years of history. A Sikh deems it a blessing to make it, a blessing to serve it, a blessing to receive it with all humility. Nobody turns it down for who wants to turn down a grace? Life is tough enough already. Many are the ways to reach and know God, the Infinite within us all. But all roads meander through the reality of the inner self. The congregation attuned to that common reality creates a parshad which is a product of the Sikh psyche but not limited exclusively to the Sikh spiritual needs. Others who accept it need not fear for their identity. A Christian may accept it in the name of Jesus and many Hindus and Muslims particularly in the Punjab have been addicted to it for generations but have remained Hindus or Muslims. He who feels part of the blessing will benefit; he who doesn't, won't. In the right spiritual atmosphere what is transformed or transubstantiated is not parshad but the minds of those who receive it. For them it becomes a holy communion. If communion is sacramental sharing then parshad becomes that, but it is never the communion defined in the Christian doctrine and experience. For many, parshad remains a halvah-like dessert and never becomes anything more. For them, it may be fattening but usually there is not enough of it and so are many of the other good things in life. To think that parshad is merely another dessert is like that thinking that glass and diamond are the same for they both shine.