430.The Man In Blue – Maryádá

Today we are not discussing the Sikh Rehit Maryádá (SRM) as published by the SGPC in 1945. The word maryádá is here used in its original meaning of practices or traditions. We talk for instance about the maryádá of Akál Takhat, where there are different traditions than in Darbar Sahib.

As long as these traditions are not against the letter or the spirit of the Guru Granth Sahib or against the SRM, it is absolutely fine that one Gurdwara has a different way of going about things than others.

Problems arise when for instance members of the sangat or granthis, giannis, ragis etc get too involved in ceremonies, which they think show respect for the Guru Granth Sahib. The essential respect due to the Guru Granth Sahib is of course reading, understanding (using all your faculties) and applying the teachings.

Saying or writing ‘Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji’ means that you add three honorifics to the two key words that mean ‘Teacher Book’. Saying or writing Jap-Ji Sahib obscures the fact that the opening shabad of the Guru Granth is simply called Jap. If that was good enough for Guru Nanak, why is that not good enough for us ?

I understand, but do not think it is essential, why people want to have a separate vacuum cleaner for the area around the Guru Granth and the palki, but to have a special washing machine for the ramál of the Guru Granth goes towards idolising the object. I think that washing the ramál separate from other cloth/clothes used in the Gurdwara is more than respectful enough.

These traditions or practices would all be fairly innocent but there are three clear drawbacks. The first one is that it diverts attention from the real purpose of the Guru Granth, as our Spiritual Teacher, our signpost to God.

These practices create a fear in the mind of our sangat. The Guru Granth sits on the palki to be read by any member of the sangat. Reading to the sangat should be done by an initiated Sikh, otherwise it is available to all. But many Sikhs are too afraid of ‘doing something disrespectful’ while reading the Guru Granth. The Guru Granth has become like the Sikh equivalent of a Hindu Idol.

The Guru Granth is our eternal teacher, our pope and our king. It is right that it sits on a throne under a canopy and that we wave the flybrush over it as was done with kings. This is good practice and it shows how important our Guru is to us.

But please read the wonderful tool that Guru gave us. The Guru Granth will send you on the path of dharam, gián, saram and karam. On this path you will experience God long before you reach sach khand. You will come to know that God is !

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429.The Man in Blue – Once upon a Time …..

Once upon a time there was a rich man who lived near Chandigarh. He owned a big mango plantation and every year when the fruit was ready for harvesting he needed a lot of people to pick the mangos.

He offered a very low rate for the work and the only people that took the job were migrants from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, living in the jhuggi colonies on the verges of Chandigarh.

By paying low wages and exploiting poor people he made big profits, and was able to buy very expensive cars and a huge house with a big garden. He was a Sikh and he knew about the teaching of Guru Nanak, but he did not realise that there was blood in his roti.

Once upon a time there was a man who ran a ‘sweatshop’ in Southall, where people stitched clothes. As he liked to maximise his profits he only employed a few people officially, paying tax and national insurance. His other workers were illegals who worked long hours for very low pay.

By paying low wages and exploiting poor people he made big profits, and was able to buy very expensive cars and a huge house with a big garden. He was a Sikh and he knew about the teaching of Guru Nanak, but he did not realise that there was blood in his roti.

I have made up these stories, but they are based on what I have seen around me, both in India and in Europe. The behaviour of the rich men in the stories is against the teachings of all ‘dharms’, all faiths.

People of all dharms, of all religions ignore these teachings, they forget that these also apply to life in 2010, that these are teachings for all times.

Whether it is Jesus’ Good Samaritan or Guru Nanak’s Bhai Lalo, they both show us the way to the sort of behaviour that will start us off on our journey to Sach Khand, the Realm of Truth, where we will find unity with God.

Respect all, pay a fair wage and if you want others to work hard for you, you should work hard too. Simple principles based on universal values. The world would become a much better place if more people would understand that these are practical teachings, not theoretical philosophy.

Some UK politicians say that we have a broken society. We can only mend that society by seeing God in all. Some people make fabulous profits on the stock and commodity exchanges, some families have been unemployed for generations, or are exploited doing degrading work for very low wages. The philosophy of ‘More, More, More’ and ‘Me, Me, Me’ breaks our link with The One All Pervading and All Powerful and breaks our link with All Creation.

428.Man in Blue – Honour Killings

jaisá bálak bhái subháí lakh aparádh kamávai |
A child, who out of a desire to please makes hundreds of thousands of mistakes,

kar upadés jhirraké bahu bhátí bahurr pithá gal lávai |
its father does teach and scold it in many ways, but will still embrace it.

pichhalé augun bakhas lé prabh ágai márag pávai |2|
Forgive my past misdeeds God, and in future keep me on Your path ||2||
Sorath, M 5, 2nd pauri, pana 624

My British readers will remember the case of Surjit Kaur, who was taken to Panjab and murdered by her in-laws. Recently here in Belgium a young woman wanted to marry somebody her parents did not like. This young man was from a ‘lower’ caste, had no job and allegedly used drugs. She was taken to Panjab and died shortly after arrival in Amritsar.

In the debate in England about Surjit Kaur some kept arguing that she was not a Gursikh and behaved badly. This I suppose made the crime understandable or excusable. In the recent Belgian case the father of the victim has been arrested, but has not yet been tried. We have no proof that he is guilty, but all known facts fit in with it being an honour killing.

Some people in the Belgian sangat argue that because the girl was disobedient to her parents they could understand why she was killed.

Obedience can never be unquestioning and respect has to be earned. If parents do not follow Guru’s teachings what should a child do ? If the parents want to marry you off according to caste, and Guru and the Rahit Maryada tell you that this is wrong, what should a child do ?

And even if your daughter has been wilful and disobedient for no good reason, even if the man she wants to marry is a lazy layabout, a drunk, a druggie or whatever, should you then kill her ?

This is where Gurmat comes in. We are taught that God is Father and Mother to us all. A Father and Mother who in spite of our mistakes or misdeeds, will hug us and receive us in Her/His house of which the doors are always open. Just read the shabad above the column.

Should we not try and follow this Godly example ? Or should we justify premeditated murder as punishment for disobedience ? The girls were taken to Panjab under some pretext and killed there. Surjit Kaur’s killers were finally convicted in the UK, due to a brave and persevering brother.

If the Belgian case is indeed an honour killing, I sincerely hope that the murderer(s) will receive their well deserved punishment. Let it be a warning to all that honour killings are not acceptable in India either !

427.Man in Blue – Japji, Rahras and Sohila

Writing last week’s article about the five ‘khands’, the five stages on the way to God, was a real challenge. The subject seems straightforward to me, but I have been on the Sikhí path since 1996 and daily think about these things. What is simple to me now might be complicated to the readers.

This week’s article is inspired by the index of the Guru Granth Sahib as found on the ‘Sikhitothemax’ download version. The first folder is called ‘Beginning’ and is followed by 31 folders, one for each rág in which most shabads are arranged.

The first shabad in the ‘Beginning’ folder is Japji Sahib. Japji Sahib is a beautiful spiritual poem, meant for reciting, not for singing. The second and third entries are Rahras and Sohila, both compilations of shabads in different rágs. These are usually recited but can also be sung.

Each shabad in Rahras and Sohila appears twice in the Guru Granth Sahib, once in these compilations and once under their respective rágs.

Why did Guru Arjan separate these out ? Japji Sahib is a very special composition by first Guru, Guru Nanak, and discusses many of the basic teachings of Sikhí. It fully deserves its position as the first spiritual poem of the Guru Granth.

I think that by publishing Japji Sahib, Rahras and Sohila on the first 13 pages, Guru Arjan, who compiled the first version of the Guru Granth (the Ádi Granth), instructed the Sikhs to recite these every day.

I have of course no authority to change the Rahit Maryada. According to the 1945 Sikh Rahit Maryada we have to read Japji Sahib, Jaap Sahib and the ten Svaye starting with ‘Srávag Sudh’ in the morning. In the evening we should read an extended Rahras and then before going to bed an unchanged Sohila.

Mostly this leads to speed reading, or listening to recorded versions while doing other things. Reading Japji Sahib with full attention should at least take half an hour. Follow that by some simran and you have a very nice opening of your day. Similarly for Rahras, a beautiful collection of shabads, very well balanced and full of important teachings.

Most Sikhs, encouraged by Taksal and AKJ, want to read more, not less. But what is often practised is either speed reading or listening to a recording via iPod or computer. Listening to recordings is not bad, but after having listened to Japji Sahib or Jaap Sahib our minds have problems concentrating on more input. Does not Guru prefer quality over quantity ?

Any suggestions from Sangat ?

426.Man in Blue – Dharm, Gian, Saram, Karam and Sach Khand

Dharm = Righteousness  Gián = Knowledge  Saram = Humility
Karam = Actions  Sach = Truth  Khand = Realm

Many people think that pauri 34, 35, 36 and 37 are the most difficult part of the Jap-Ji Sahib, the opening poem of the Guru Granth Sahib.

These pauris (= ladder) describe the five steps, the five stages on the way to unite with God in the ‘Sach Khand’, the Truth Realm. Sikhí is a mystic tradition; all Sikhs are the brides longing for unity with the God-Groom.

The five steps to this unity are described by Guru Nanak using images that were probably clear in his days, but are not so easily understood by his 21st century followers. On the other hand the idea of a ‘righteous’ life,  humility, knowledge with understanding, a record of good deeds and being the embodiment of truth as steps towards God is really quite simple.

The Dharmic way that the Guru teaches is the way of righteousness.

Through meditation, through thinking about God, bad thoughts and deeds are replaced by good ones. Meditating should not be a selfish exercise, it is useless if you ignore the needs of your fellow creatures.

This first step on the ladder to God will lead you to the other four steps. Good thoughts and actions must combine with humility (saram). Living a life of service to others will get you nearer to God, who will give you gián, knowledge with understanding, using all your faculties, not just the brain.

By doing positively good things your record (karam) will start improving. Sikhí teaches that you cannot ‘force’ your way to God by doing good deeds. You cannot force God, all happens by God’s kirpa (grace). But showing that you are changing, that you have given up on ‘me, me’ must help.

The final step is when the self gets dissolved and the atma (soul) merges with the Paramatma (All-Soul). God is Truth, when the soul enters the Sach Khand, the realm of truth, the soul becomes part of the All-True.

What you have to do to start on the path to God is change your behaviour. Become more honest, more caring, less selfish. Realise that all the ‘stuff’ (like the nice laptop I am writing this on) you own is only temporal, you cannot take it with you to the next life or to the sach khand.

As soon as you get closer to God you will become happier and more balanced. You will experience the True One, who is with us all the time.

You lose the self by realising God. By realising that all comes from God you lose your pride and you will just use your talents to help others and sing God’s qualities instead of your own. I am on that way, with still a lot to do !