507.Guru’s concept of marriage

In this column I am going to disagree with many of my fellow Sikhs, because their conservative Panjabi instincts prevent them understanding Guru’s enlightened vision.

Somebody wrote some time ago that God is male, as Purkh (as in Akál Purkh) comes from Purusha, which means man. Going by the dictionary this correct, but following this logic would mean that God is a male human being.

Guru teaches that God is my Mother and Father, but that also does not mean that God is a male or female human. Creator Being is a sensible interpretation of Akál Purkh. This ‘Purkh’ is many facetted and has both female and male aspects.

Somebody wrote that marriage is the most important Sikh institution. This article is not concerned with the Rehat Maryada, but with God’s word as found in the Guru Granth, the Guru that brings light in our spiritual darkness. Marriage in the Guru Granth is not an institution.

In our eternal Guru God is the Groom of all human beings. Marriage to this Groom is a spiritual bond, and playing on the couch with God is a metaphor for having spiritual intercourse with God. All humans, male and female, are God’s brides.

The beautiful Shabads that we call the Lavans and that are sung and recited during the Anand Karaj ceremony are NOT about the marriage of two humans, but about the spiritual union with God as described above.

The essence of this marriage is neither sexuality nor procreation, but getting closer and closer to the God-Groom. Each verse represents a step in this process. This nearness to the God-Groom results in anand, bliss.

This is what we share with a Sufi like Farid, a Bhagat like Ravidas and with medieval European mystics like Julian of Norwich, Hadewijch or Meister Eckhart.

Even where Guru writes about the human marriage he writes about being two bodies and one soul. Otherwise we are warned not to get attached to wife and children, as you cannot take them with you to the next life.

I see no reason to narrow down the spiritual idea of marriage to something that can only happen between a male and a female, as this is not based on Gurmat.

On the practical side I think that the state should not get involved in marrying people. There should be a model or models for long term relationships between people, regulating things like joint ownership, inheritance etc. The spiritual side cannot be institutionalised; it is not the state’s business.

What God thinks of homosexuality ? I do not think that God thinks or has opinions, ‘God is’, She/He is not human. But I would expect that Dharm Raj will look at the whole picture without being obsessed with sexuality as social conservatives are. Some Sikhs who are against homosexuality would condone honour-killings…

506.The Man in Blue – Sants, Deras, Sant Samaj

I am against institutionalised Sants, Deras and abhor the dominant position of the Sant Samaj on the decision making process of those in Amritsar who claim to be our leaders.

Institutionalised Sant Babas : Of course there are sants, people who are more holy than most, who have come very close to God. These sants might be free of maya and might have overcome the cycle of birth and death in this life.

As the Guru writes in Sukhmani Sahib, these sants are characterised by utter humility. They do not have to wear white clothes, they should not own big buildings adorned with marble and gold and have no need to travel in chauffeur-driven luxury motorcars.

I met wonderful humble people in Panjab, whom the scholars in Chandigarh would call ignorant villagers, in whom the light of God was clearly visible. I have not met too many Sants, but the ones I have met have a tendency to be rude, to have no loving bond with the Shabad, the word of God, and who direct you to themselves instead of to God.

Apart from the fact that these self appointed holy men have souls that are often not as white as their spotlessly clean white garments suggest, they are also in direct contradiction to Guru’s ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’.

Both the world wide Panth and local Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations should be run by ‘sarbat khalsa’ style open forums, not by Jathedars, authoritarian Pardhans or ‘men in white’. Sants, real ones, would be part of the Sarbat Khalsa and would have a natural authority, but not an institutional one.

Deras : There should be no deras owned by individuals, only Gurdwaras run by the sangat under the guidance of the Guru Granth Sahib. See above.

Sant Samaj: In a democracy people are free to set up their own organisations and as such I have nothing to say against this trade-union of self appointed holy men. But even the Badal controlled SGPC should know better than to give this organisation a voice in the running of the Panth.

Our leaders in Amritsar : According to the Sikh Rehat Maryada a Sikh is she/he who believes in One God and who follows the teachings of our Gurus. Guru Gobind Singh ordained us to follow Guru Granth and Guru Panth acting under its guidance.

Neither the SGPC nor the DSGMC are even near to being Guru Granth – Guru Panth.

Panj Piaré made up of SGPC employees are very far removed from Guru’s Panj Piaré. Jathedars making decisions without any say of the Guru Panth, political style elections where votes are bought by drink and drugs and where voters are judged by who their parents were or the length of their hair, it is all a mockery in the light of the teaching of the Guru Granth. Sádh Sangat, take your direction only from our eternal Guru, which shines God’s Light in our spiritual darkness.

505.The Man in Blue – Sant-Sipahis ?

During the morchas to liberate the historical Gurdwaras from the mahants, the old Khalsa spirit was still alive. Whether the demonstrators were beaten up or arrested, or even if some of them were killed, the Sikhs remained in chardikala. They controlled their anger and continued with their campaign.

During the late seventies and the eighties there were organisations that claimed to be Guru’s Sant-Sipahis. They were soldiers all right, but many were not motivated to achieve justice for all and they were often ruled by anger.

Of course the period from the Nirankari killings (1978) to the murder of Beant Singh (1995) was very tough and challenging and there was much to be angry about. But the Khalsa principles are not just there to be followed during good times, 10th Guru devised the Khalsa just to face such challenges.

We all know that during the period from1978 to 1995 some of the abuses were committed by RAW controlled ex Naxalites and other agent provocateurs. But if we compare this period with the morchas of the early 20th century there is a huge difference. In the eighties and nineties many so-called Khalsa answered indiscriminate violence with indiscriminate violence of their own.

Indira Gandhi was looking for an excuse to attack the Sikhs, and the Sikhs provided that excuse. Akali Phula Singh, Baba Deep Singh and other true Sant-Sipahis got their strength from God, the strength that enabled them to fight against injustice without anger taking over. The true Sant-Sipahi controls the ‘five thieves’ and stands up for justice for people of all background. The true Sant-Sipahi has the God-given strength to be a winner even if she/he loses her/his life.

We can use our kirpans in self-defence but the aim of the Sant-Sipahi is to serve all. Also during peaceful campaigns, like our struggle against the ban on wearing turbans in schools in Belgium, we must have the wider view.

During the debate in the Flemish parliament about religious head-cover in schools a Belgian Singhani spoke on behalf of the Sikhs. She was asked what her reaction would be if Sikhs were allowed to wear turbans in schools while the híjáb would remain banned. She answered that she would feel very uncomfortable with such an arrangement, and showed that she was a Sikh of the Guru.

When I was part of the UK Sikh community from 2000 to 2010 what struck me was that many Sikhs were angry. They were angry with other Sikhs, angry with Hindus, angry with Muslims, angry with Christians and angry with the Indian government.

Sikhs are strong when they stick to our principles of seeing God in all, of coming up for the rights of all. Group egoism is as bad as individual egoism. Guru Sahib said : I will serve that Khalsa that serves all.

I am also an ordinary human being who struggles to control the ‘five thieves’. But we must all recognise that in order to be Guru’s Khalsa we must seriously try to win this struggle.

504.The Man in Blue – Cycling in Belgian Limburg

The area of Belgian Limburg south of Hasselt – Genk is in many ways a cyclist paradise. On the down side is the lack of decent cycle paths along the main roads. The N80 from Sint-Truiden to Hannuit, which brings you to Gingelom, has no cycle path of any kind once you leave Bevingen just south of Sint-Truiden.

There is an alternative route but that crosses the N80 at a very dangerous point where foolish cyclists like me risk their lives. This alternative cycle route is also not signposted. For these luxuries you must go to the Netherlands.

If you have to cycle along the main roads you have to share the roads with cars, tractors and lorries. Where there are cycle paths they tend to be narrow and right next to the main road. Because of that you will road debris like sharp bits of stone, glass and metal on the path, waiting to puncture your tyres.

Limburg has a network of narrow country roads, which are there to serve the farmers going to their land, but these roads are also wonderful for cyclists. The area is not as flat as Panjab or the west of the Netherlands and not as hilly as the south of Netherlands Limburg or the Belgian Ardennes.

Limburg has some 2000 km of sign-posted routes for touristic purposes. Throughout the province are numbered nodes or junctions which are connected by country roads, reserved cycle routes and even cobblestone and dirt roads. You can buy a booklet and map from the local tourist services. With these you can put together your trip, making your tour as easy or as challenging as you like.

The map shows distances in km between the ‘junctions’ and also the gradients of the hills. The routes do cross main roads and go through villages and towns, but they are safe enough, unless you are an idiot like your ‘man-in-blue’ who believes that walkers and cyclists have the right of way over cars and lorries.

I can easily manage 30 – 40 km for a morning or an afternoon cycle, but I also have been out on longer trips to the east of Sint-Truiden where there are more castles and fortified farms, more hills and more bits of woodland.

I have been cycling regularly throughout this winter. It was mild for most of the last months, but it did rain regularly. In spite of that I got soaked only once. In the short period of cold and snow I found myself in a minor blizzard and I took a tumble when I hit an obstacle hidden by the snow.

It is of course wonderful to go out on a warm sunny day, but I equally like to cycle when it is rainy and windy, or when the roads are covered in snow and ice. Me against the elements, go slow against the wind uphill and fly with wind downhill.

The dark clouds, the sun peeping through between them, the rainbow (no pots of gold, sorry birds using their skills not to be blown off course and you there on your bike feeling part of God’s play. The bad weather, the wind, the rain, snow, hail stones remind you that you are just a tiny speck of dust in the universe. Why do not more people understand that going by tin can is an inferior way to travel ?