Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being a Sikh (learner) with Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak, the first Guru in Sikhism denounced wrong practices of those days, even if they were in the name of religion and found his path in discovering a supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions.

Sat sri Akal, Guruji. I have deep respect the tenets of the Sikh religion but am not clear in some areas. Could you clarify them for me?

Of course, my dear. Go ahead.

What was the original foundation of Sikhism?

I realized and traveled all over India and the world and found the basic truth that there is One God who looks after the welfare of all. There are no other division like Hindu. Muslim and so on.

I introduced the langar, a meal shared as a way of not just service but bonding and sharing.

All through, I was against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system and the sacrifice of widows. In my time, there were both priests and mullahs who exploited people’s weaknesses and I told people to be free of any such dependence.
I told people also that one not should depend on books alone for religion but practice religion in the true sense in one’s own life.

Isn’t the forbidding of gurus and using the Guru Granth Sahib alone as a guru a kind of contradiction? After all, you too were a Guru at one time. Besides, you yourself have stated that there should not be a dependence on books alone.

Let me explain. During my time, all followers still remained Hindu, Muslim, or of the religion to which they were born, but then gradually they became known as the Guru's disciples, or Sikhs, ‘people who learn’.

It was here that my followers began to refer to my as teacher, or guru.

When Guru Gobind Singh became the Guru, he felt we should maintain the principles as they were and not allow any more change and therefore, asked the Granth Sahib to be the only guru.

Now that Sikh-ism is a religion, as long as people are following the basic tenets of the religion which are really tenets of humanity, people can remain Sikhs (learners) of wisdom. If this guidance is sought from a human being and people seek a person for some guidance, there is no issue.

There are some countries and some airlines which do not allow the Sikhs to carry a kirpan (sword). How should a Sikh respond to this?

See, the five Ks each had a specific symbolism as that time.

Kesh - uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness; and a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kangha - a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Katchera - specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara - a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan - the sword, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Now, in today’s world, carrying of a kirpan is neither necessary nor really useful. If one does come across injustice or wrong ways being practised, defend it courageously with the appropriate tool.

What is important is adherence of these principles, not the external symbols.

Regarding the five Ks, I have even said in the Guru Granth Sahib,

Kabeer, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart.
You may have long hair, or you may shave your head bald. ||25|

So, kesh (hair) is an external symbol, not an intrinsic core of Sikhism. Such is the case with all other symbols.

You adhere to the nirgun (formless) God, is it not?

Yes, that is true. I have maintained that God can be neither incarnated nor represented in concrete terms. In my time and even now, sometimes this workshop does lead to mindless rituals and conflicts. Still, if there are some who wish to worship Him with a form, that’s fine as long as the principles of truth and righteous conduct are upheld. I am aware that some of my own devotees keep my photo to pray and that is all right if it helps them connect more easily to the divine.

Which are the principles which you would like to emphasize in today's world?

Courage, equality of all and integrity is something that has sadly deteriorated. If all could work to revive it, the world would be a wonderful, safe place. This is what I sincerely wish for the entire world.

As I thank and take leave of Nanak ji, i realize the power of what he espoused when he spoke of a universal, unifying approach to the divine and hope that we learn to celebrate the lives of the Gurus and the universality of the liberating faith that they helped found.

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