Respected members: All our efforts are devoted to defining a Sikh based on appearance. Why can’t anyone who is born in a sikh family be called a “SIKH” without any labels unless he/she abandons the religion of their parents? Leave Sahajdhari and Amritdhari/initiated as a specific category that we all know what it is.
Because of our obsession with definition and appearance, our understanding about philosophy of Gurbani and its universal message is almost ignored.
What can be done to really present Sikhism as Universal religion so that it appeals to people from all over the world. Our leaders should make it more open and universal rather than excluding people who claim themselves to be nothing but Sikhs. Rather than blaming deras we should focus on why people are attracted to deras more than established religion.
Here are some points, especially for Sikhs abroad, that will help us make sikhism a universal religion while keeping the necessary traditions. These need to be seriously discussed and considered.
1. Universal message need universal language for effective communication. We should not hesitate to use English (or other local language) along with Punjabi. Every body in the congregation should understand each and every word. Hymns after singing must be explained in simple English not the English in which the present translations are. In fact, SGGS can be made available in English and as many other languages as possible. Translations and electronic versions can be kept in libraries. So that its universal message is available on large scale. Let us not forget the reason why the authors of the Guru Granth used the language of the people rather than the language of “veneration,” i.e. Sanskrit. This was done to make the message accessible to the common people. Now, over 500 years later, the international language of the people is English. Attempts to resist this reality are only serving to hinder the universal message of the gurus.
2. Install Guru Granth Sahib at a higher level. Let there be chairs and all sit there, if that’s what sangat wants. Some people, especially the older or with physical problem, can’t even sit on the floor. Chairs for handicap only means highlighting their handicap. Why not let everyone choose whatever they feel comfortable with. When we keep lecturing, gurus have given us sardari (affluence): why not eat langar sitting on chairs (that we can afford in the west) rather than sitting on the floor. The equality justification is meaningless: everyone sitting on chairs is equal. As shared many times I, as a young student at Yale University , have attended congregation with chairs in New York . Many famous scholars had agreed with this practice for the west. Dharmik Sulaakaar Committee on 25 April 1935, comprising of: Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha, Prof. Jodh Singh, Prof. Teja Singh, Prof. Ganda Singh, Jathedar Mohan Singh passed the following resolution: “In Europe or America, where it is a standard practice to sit on chairs in religious places – there is no harm in sitting on chairs in Gurdwaras, provided that Guru Granth Sahib is placed at a higher elevation.”
3. We should recognize rahitnamas and singh sabha declaration as documents that served well in the times these were written, and not follow blindly as guru’s words and argue over their out-dated rituals. For example, our founder Guru Nanak Dev says about woman: so ki-o mandaa akhee-ai jit jameh raajaan.. AGGS, p 473; meaning: Why call woman bad? From her, kings are born; where as Bhai Chaupa Singh in rahitnama says: istri kay jamay ka viswas nahi karna; meaning: Never trust a woman.
4. Leave eating, drinking, meat consumption to health professionals and individuals. Let us not force Gurbani into these health issues. Gurbani, however, should be used for sound mental and spiritual health to live a happy-productive life.
5. Questions must be encouraged. If not in presence of Guru Granth Sahib then separately. We should not be afraid of so called modern scientific approach. Any fear of science changing/challenging gurbani is unfounded. Because gurbani can stand the risk and damage of scientific logic breaking the myths. Scientific logic certainly has a potential to improve our interpretation and understanding; and means nothing more than understanding the rational behind what Gurbani says as against any dogmatic belief. The fact is, it was scientific findings by Herbert Benson of Harvard Med School that made meditation a house-hold name in the west. I will not be surprised if philosophy of SGGS presented in a scientific way makes it the best spiritual scripture for the entire humanity.
6. Implement message of gurbani in every day living. For example, mool mantar (basic principle) should be used to describe the attributes of God that resides in each one of us and makes us spiritual, and not the God which resides outside this world. In other words use to describe spiritual state of mind that, for example, is without fear and enmity (nirbhau, nirvair).
7. All members of congregation must participate in learning gurbani and reciting kirtan. We should give women equal rights to preach and practice sikhism. We should not depend upon professional people from India to take charge of the affairs. We should preach to all the people at all the places; and should not think that sikhism can be preached in Gurdwaras only. Dya Singh of Australia is using this approach to spread message of gurbani.
8. Sikh religion is about love for humanity and world peace (sarbat da bhala). All articles of fighting and fighter characteristics must be given minimal importance except for ceremonial purposes only.
Since people abroad will be the main force in spreading universal message, the major problem is to implement these points in gurdwaras in diaspora. Many of us realize that the people who are dominating gurdwaras are orthodox. So the real challenge is to implement these guide lines. However, I believe some of the modern gurdwara are ready to practice many of these points.
Learned members of our community can further expand and refine these points, and try to support with gurbani in our current guru, SGGS. Then we should start sharing the ideas thru internet and discussion groups etc. Finally get them in published form as voice of the panth.
With regards to all,
Sukhraj Singh Dhillon, USA