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Apostasy And The Future Of Sikhism



"Apostasy and the Future of Sikhism" by Ms. Alice Basarke

Apostasy is a crisis looming in the Sikh faith. Apostasy is a problem affecting all religions in the modern world, yet for a multitude of reasons, Sikhs need to worry about it more than all others. A simplistic excuse is to blame western society and the modern world. Yet, there is nothing to be gained by blaming the modern world. Modernity is not the problem. Thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece Ciccro predicted that the youth of the nation would surely be its downfall because they did not conform to established norms and traditions. The Jewish Bible has many accounts of man's greed and search for wealth. Our own Janam Sakkis (oral history) has many accounts of man's greed and search for wealth. These have a story of Guru Nanak preferring the bread of a poor man to that of a rich man, becausc the bread of the rich man was made with the blood and sweat of the disadvantaged. Even a cursory look at history will reveal that man has always searched for happiness in material comforts. Yet throughout history we have seen that happiness is never achieved by wealth alone. Man continues to search for more. Man is made of body and soul. Both need to be satisfied. sikhism is in crisis, not because Sikhs are looking for material wealth, but because Sikhs are not able to find direction.

It is naive to expect our children to remain Sikhs simply by osmosis. We need to teach them who they are and where they came from. Education is sorely lacking. The teaching of religion, its ideals and ethics is absolutely essential. The teaching of Sikh history will also help to establish a feeling of identity. Who will do this? Parents are unable, because for the most part they themselves have not been taught even the basic essentials. There is a lack of qualified teachers who can take up the challenge. There is also a lack of appropriate literature. The fact that Sikhs are dispersed over the entire globe complicates matters enormously. The universality of Sikhism comes from thc fact that the basic teaching of Sikhism touches the human soul, no matter who you are or where on earth you happen to be living. Language and culture vary from one place to another, but thc belief in one God, search for knowledge and truth, equality of man, honest living and sharing with others, has universal appeal. The challenge, therefore, comes in interpreting these teachings in such a manner as to be understood by one and all. Gurmukhi is esscntial to those who want an in-depth understanding of the Sikh religion. Because Gurmukhi is the language of the Gurus and Guru Granth Sahib. Scholars must master Gurmukhi. Before one becomes a scholar, one must understand in an intellectual manner all that Sikhism stands for. Translating Guru Granth Sahib into a multitude of languages is a step in the right direction. Howevers it is only a small step. Religion and history must be taught in the language of the people. Guru Angad made that very clear, when he spent a lifetime promoting Punjabi. That was the language of the people at that time in that place. Today, for many Sikhs, living in the U.K., Canada, U.S. or Australia, English is the first language. Others living in Singapore, Africa, Germanyb Switzerland and elsewhere may have other languages as their first language. It is important to teach religion and history in the language understood by all. A thirst for knowledge may well be created, and some individuals may go on to study Punjabi and Gurmukhi. But basics must be first taught in one's mother tongue. Without understanding, there can be no thirst for more knowledge.

As stated before, man has a body and a soul. Man's need for religion demonstrates his spirituality. However, for a religion to succeed over the test of time, spirituality alone is not enough. There is the physical side. One has physical needs which affect one's moral values. One must know what the rules are. To know the rules, you have to seek direction. Modern technological sciences are evolving at a rapid rate. We cannot stop progress. But progress brings changes; in that, the questions that were not necessary before, must be answered today. These are vital questions that affect our everyday lives.

Does Sikhism teach the sanctity of marriage ?
Is divorce permitted among Sikhs ?
Remarriage of divorcees ?
Does Sikhism approve of inter-faith marriages ?
Is abortion ever alright ? Selective abortion of females ?
Contraception ?
Genetic engineering ? — Test tube babies ?, etc., etc.
Must langar be eaten sitting on the floor. What's wrong with tables?
Must langar always be vegetarian ?
Must it be day rots ?
What's wrong with ham and cheese sandwiches or pizza ? What has food preferense got to do with religion ?
Should we not be told clearly Sikhism's position on mercy killing ? assisted suicide ?
What is the position on homosexuality ? — same sex marriages ?

The inability to get consistent answers to the above and similar questions is a most serious problem. Over the years, I have written to the Akal Takht and the S.G P.C. seeking answers. Not only were my questions left unanswered, hut not once did I receive acknowledgement of them having received my letters. Locally, Sikhs have tried to rationalize that my letters were in English, and no one in Punjab could read them. Valid point ? I had my questions translated to Punjabi and again sent them to the above stated institutions Again, no answer... not even an acknowledgement of my existence. Just this week, a supposedly educated gentleman told me that if I meditate on the Name of God, there will be no need to ask such questions. I am not sure if it is because I am a woman, I should not ask questions, or because more broadly speaking, he does not acknowledge that God gave us a brain with the intent that it be used. None-the-less, these questions need to be pursued. Our Youth needs to know what the rules are before they can decide if they can live within this framework. To say that rules cannot be established because no one will follow them, is foolish. Roman Catholics are not permitted contraception or abortion. When they break the rules, they know that rules are broken. By knowing the teaching, they know who they are.

Education is important, but more specifically, who can Sikh Youth turn to for direction? There seems to be no institution in place that can provide much needed guidance. Gurdwaras today are not filling the needs of the people. Sikhs living outside India are being asked more and more often to participate in inter-faith meetings and social gatherings of all kinds. They are expected to explain the teachings and philosophy of their faith. In our increasingly multicultural society in Canada, we need this type of interaction to help promote understanding and harmony. How can we adequately meet the challenge when our own education is lacking and there scorns to be no place and no way to get quick answers. We need a governing body that will:

Respond to and answer questions regardless of where they come from or from whom.
Guide the quality of education and training of granthis.
Encourage writers to produce more quality material.
Evaluate books before they become accepted as teaching aids in our schools.
Put a healthy stress on communication.
Take care of finances, making sure that money collected in gurdwaras is used wisely for the religious and moral good of the community in general and children in particular.
Standardise and provide guidelines for the awarding of saropas. As the highest award in Sikhism, it should come from one central governing body.
This governing body must be transparent and accountable to the people it serves. There can be no lifetime appointments. Every member must be a working member. This should not be a place for self-promoting attention seekers.

Rather than blaming modernity, we should study the administrative structures of modern corporations and governments. How are they successful? How do they cope with policy setting and communications? Guru Amar Das copied the Mughal system of administration when he set up his 22 manjis for Sikhism. We too can learn from others in setting up a more efficient way of dealing with life in the modern world. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, but we must find solutions to our problems as soon as possible.

Another important factor which contributes to apostasy and must not be glossed over is the inability of most Sikhs to differentiate between religion and culture. They have allowed Hindu culture to permeate their lives even though it often overrides Sikh religious tenets. Many of the customs practised in the name of culture are completely opposed to the teachings of the Gurus: caste, rituals related to food, the adulation of sants, inequality of women, etc.,etc. How can one forget that Sikh culture can only go back to the days of Guru Nanak ? Before then, there were no Sikhs.

In 1893, in his book The Sikh Religion, Max Arthur MacAuliffe made this observation:

"Hinduism... is like the boa constrictor of the Indian forests." .... "it winds itself around its opponent, crushes it in its folds, and finally causes it to disappear." ... "In this way, it disposed off Buddhism," ... "it absorbed the religion of the Scythian invaders off Northern India," ... "it has converted uneducated Islam in India into a semi-paganism; and in this way it is disposing off the once hopeful religion of Baba Nanak. Hinduism has embraced Sikhism in its folds," ... Its ultimate destruction is, it is apprehended, inevitable without state support...

Over 100 years later, MacAuliffe's prediction still rings with truth.
May 15, 2009
This has to be one of the most realistic article on Sikhism I have ever read.
You are very right about that there isn't enough information available unlike other religions. I have sometime had hard time looking for answers, and it is very discouraging. You said you have written to Akal Takht but haven't heard back. But is that the only way ? Isn't there anything else we can do ? We must spread the message of Guru Granth Sahib.

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Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

The shabd under discussion in this article is composed by Guru Teg Bahadur ji and is contained on Page 633 of the SGGS. The complete shabd is as follows:

ਸੋਰਿਠ ਮਹਲਾ ੯॥...​

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