516.The Man in Blue – Sikhí V

Vaisakhi 1699, the Khalsa uniform : the Turban and the Five Ks. In 1699 Guru Gobind Rai, the tenth Sikh Guru, asked his Sikhs to come to Anandpur Sahib for the Vaisakhí festival. On the day he stood before the sangat, holding a sword, asking the Sikhs to offer their head.

The first five who came forward are called the Panj Piaré, the five beloved ones. They were the first members of the Khalsa, the order of initiated Sikhs who are totally committed to the Sikh way of life. They initiated Guru Gobind Rai and many more followed. Since then Khalsa men are known as Singh (=Lion) and Khalsa women as Kaur (=Princess). Guru Gobind Rai became Gobind Singh.

This took place during the reign of one of the more intolerant Mughal Emperors, who then ruled most of India. Being a Khalsa involved physical fighting against the oppressors, to achieve freedom of worship for all.

Guru stipulated that the sword was only to be used as a last resort, after all other means had failed. Guru wanted his Khalsa to be Sant-Sipahi (Saint-Soldiers), who do not fight for material gain or out of anger, but who fight against injustice.

As visible signs of their commitment the members of the Khalsa are to wear the turban and the Five Ks.

The 5 Ks are :

  • Kesh (uncut hair, no cutting, trimming or shaving)
  • Kara (a steel bracelet)
  • Kangha (a wooden comb)
  • Kacchera (cotton boxer short)
  • Kirpan (small steel sword)
    The kirpan stands for the fight against injustice referred to above

The Five Ks symbolise dedication to a life of devotion and submission to the Guru. For an initiated Sikh or Khalsa the fact that the Guru has asked the Sikhs to wear the Five Ks is sufficient reason and no more needs be said.

The Khalsa cannot be anonymous. Her/His religion is known to all. She/He stands out among people, and any unseemly behaviour on her/his part would be noted as unbecoming for a follower of the Gurus.

Anybody seeing somebody wearing the Five Ks and the Turban should know that they can go to her/him for help. If you wear the Khalsa uniform you are a visible Sikh. Unfortunately many Sikh ladies, even initiated ones, choose not to wear a turban, and are therefore not easily recognisable as Sikhs.

The Turban (Pag, Pagri, Dastár) was both in the Muslim and the Hindu community a sign of high worldly or spiritual status. Just like the names Singh and Kaur, that before were only used by those of high caste, the Sikh turban is a symbol of the elevation of the low-caste to the same status as those of high-caste.

515.The Man in Blue – Sikhi IV

Kám (lust), Krodh (anger), Lobh (greed), Moh (attachment) , Ahankár (ego). These are the five vices or the five ‘thieves’ of the South Asian spiritual traditions. These vices are all based on natural inclinations.

My understanding is that we should not suppress these, but that we should recognise them and give them a positive direction.

The vices should not rule us, we should rule the vices.

Kám (lust). Sikhs are to live a natural life and having a sexual relationship with husband/wife is part of such a life. But a relation that is only based on sexual attraction will not last. A sexual relationship should be embedded in the mutual respect and true love between wife and husband. We often use the word love when we mean sexual attraction !

Krodh (anger). Anger damages you more than it does those you are angry with. Anger turns against you. But when a Sikh sees injustice she/he should feel anger and use the energy of the anger to take action against the injustice.

Lobh (greed). Greed is like human needs that get out hand. We need food, we need clothes, we need housing and we need a life partner. But we should not eat huge rich meals all the time, we should wear practical, modest clothing, no need to pay over the top for ‘branded’ stuff or for products of the Paris fashion houses, and one life partner is more than enough for us.

Moh (attachment). I think this is a key teaching of the Dharmic religions. To fully understand this we have to start from the notion that both being too wealthy and being too poor leads to an obsession with ‘maya’, with worldly goods.

I think the right way is the middle way. Have enough for a comfortable life. Be not attached to your worldly goods or to your family and friends. You cannot take these with you to your next life or to the All-Soul when you merge with our Mother/Father.

We should also be able to live on when relatives or friends die or when we have to spend less because of the economic malaise that has been with us since the 2008 banking crisis hit us.

I live a simple life and even with that I have to be careful because I should not be attached to my simple life or to my blue chola and big kacchera.

Ahankár (ego). Ego and pride are close companions. I am Harjinder Singh, I am a product of the culture and family I come from. I have good qualities but also not such good ones. Learning to understand myself and accepting both my good and bad qualities was part of my spiritual path.

But being egoistic, only living for me, me, me is not spiritual. Feeling satisfaction when you achieve something is fine, as long as you realise that we cannot achieve anything without God’s blessings. Where there is ME, God is not !

Published in: on June 8, 2012 at 9:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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514.The Man in Blue – Sikhi III

Love God and open yourself to God’s Love. This is where it gets complicated ! Most of what I wrote in the two previous columns can be practiced by humanists. Many humanists recognise that mankind is more than the physical elements that we are made off and that this ‘more’ is what makes us human.

Opening yourself to God’s Love can only be done if you have experienced God, and many people who follow a religion or dharm believe in God without having met Her/Him. They might love God, but they have not felt God stir inside themselves.

I think that if you follow Guru’s teachings you have a good chance to reach that state of mind where you have darshan, where you realise God’s presence inside you. I cannot prove this, this is not scientific, but for me it is True.

I do not believe in God, I know that God is !

Guru writes that you have to open your ‘third eye’ or your ‘tenth body opening’ to experience God. God is always with us, inside us and around us, but many have their spiritual eye firmly closed and do not notice Her/Him.

Guru also writes that where there is ‘me’ there cannot be He/Her. The ego has to go to make place for God.

Remember that God is not an old man with a long white beard, God is a Spiritual Entity. Guru Sahib called himself Nanak Nirankarí, Nanak the follower of the Formless One.

Guru is in love with God and writes about the soul-bride who is enjoyed by the God-Groom, about how he longs for God like the chatrik longs for the raindrop.

God’s love is quite different from the love that we usually see in Bollywood or Hollywood films, where love is mostly related to good looks. In films and in daily life love is often conditional : If you are nice to me then I will be nice to you.

Between parents and children there is a better chance to see true love. However troublesome they are, many parents still love their children. Children often love parents who do not treat them well.

God’s love, and the love that a Gursikh should feel for fellow human beings, for God’s creation, is unconditional. There is no limit to God’s Love, God keeps pouring his love even if we do not notice it.

My first steps towards a changed life were when I deeply loved somebody who was not able to return that love. This was not easy to handle but in the long run it worked out well.

I was able to stimulate her into believing in herself, and she is now happily married. Because of this experience I started looking for the something that was missing from my life, which resulted in going to Amritsar and meeting with God.

Published in: on May 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

513.The Man in Blue – Sikhi II

Sikhí is a Dharmic tradition, which means that we do not follow an elaborate system of dogmas (things you have to believe in) but we are to follow guidelines that indicate the way we should live our life in order to get nearer to God.

Just believing in One God and One Humanity is not good enough, we should actively practice these beliefs. And when in doubt how to apply these teachings we can look at the clear examples set by our Gurus.

Many Sikhs will say that our dharm is superior to others because of the equality taught and practiced by Guru, and then arrange their children’s marriages according to caste ! Looking down on people with dark skin is common in India and so is treating women as second class citizens, but these are not Sikh practices.

Simran, meditation, thinking about God. Always keeping God in mind should lead to better behaviour towards fellow human beings and towards creation in general. Just sitting in certain postures and endlessly repeating a ‘mantr’ without practising ‘seeing God in all and everything’ is useless.

Repeating words that highlight aspects of God (Vahiguru, Nirankar, Mukandé) or which are generic words pointing to God (Allah, Prabhu, Har) is good practice if it leads to seeing God in all. I personally prefer reading or listening to Gurbaní as a way of thinking about God, but what works for me might not work for you.

The yogi Sikhs devised the brilliant slogan : ‘If you don’t see God in all, you won’t see God at all.‘

Seva, selfless service to all goes together with seeing God in all. Sharing food, money and time with others is good for those you help and good for you. You will only profit from seva if you do it quietly, not seeking publicity for your good deeds. It should also not be done as a way to ‘buy’ favours from God.

Standing up against injustice and oppression as taught by tenth guru is also a form of seva. When we campaign for our right to wear the turban in Belgium we should also include the rights of other communities who equally suffer from bans on the wearing of head cover or the wearing of religious symbols.

Nám, books have been written about the exact meaning of ‘Nám’ in Gurmat, but if you read God for ‘Nám’ you are not far wrong. I tend to think of ‘Nám’ as representing the Godly principle or the Godly essence, while a friend of mine sees it as God’s constitution for her/his creation.

Saint John in the New Testament of the Bible writes : In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The biblical notion of ‘Word’ is similar to Nám.

The three first descriptions of God in the Guru Granth Sahib, Ik Ongkar (One Almighty, Omnipresent), Satnám (True Nám), Karta Purkh (Creator Being) represent God who is present in all and the cause of all.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 8:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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512.The Man in Blue – Sikhi I

In the following articles I will not write anything new or amazing. I will only try to explain some basic notions of Sikhí in a more systematic manner than before.

One God. Guru Granth Sahib starts with the figure 1 followed by a word representing God. There are many words describing aspects of the One God, both in the south Asian spiritual traditions and outside it. God is the Father, the Mother and the Son, God is the Creator and the Destroyer, God is the Omnipresent and the All-Powerful. All these descriptions, all these ‘names’ are part of the One.

There is no Sikh God, no Hindu God, no Muslim God, no Jewish God and no Christian God, there is only One God.

God is All, All is God. God is present in all and everything. This is wonderfully illustrated in rág dhanásrí mahalá 1 árthí, which is on page 13 of the Guru Granth Sahib as part of Sohila, and in its rág on page 663.

Thousands are Your eyes, and yet You have no eyes. Thousands are Your forms, and yet You have not even one form.

Thousands are Your lotus feet, and yet You have no feet. Without a nose, thousands are Your noses. I am enchanted with Your play ! ||2||

God has no eyes, no form, no feet and no nose, but God is all forms and hence has all the eyes, all the forms, all the feet and all the noses.

One Humanity. One humanity regardless of gender, caste, nationality, skin colour, creed. All humanity is part of the same human family, all are the children of the One Father/Mother.

I think I would be within the spirit of the Guru Granth Sahib to go even further and say that the Universe is One, that the Universe is the physical and spiritual expression of the One God. The physical Universe comes from God, and all the souls come from God who is the ‘All-Soul’.

Even from the point of view of physics this makes sense as all beings and all matter are made of the same basic particles.

God is always near to us, God is always within us, but we are often blind and do not see Her or Him. When we follow the ethical way of life as will be explained in these articles, we will feel closer to God, and closer to Creation. When we lose the ‘I’ and become part of ‘Us’, part of Him or Her, we have achieved Liberation.

I will regularly refer to higher spiritual states, of which I have experienced the initial stages only, but I must emphasise that we all have to start from the first relatively simple steps of moving towards being a good human being. These first steps will also have the reward of increased contentment and true happiness. We will soon learn to be happy with a simple life.

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 8:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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511.The Man in Blue – I am a Sikh

The ‘I’ mentioned underneath is not Harjinder Singh – man in blue. The ‘I’ represents Guru’s teachings, which I am trying to follow in my daily life.

I am human, I make mistakes, but in spite of my foolishness I receive many blessings.

I am not a gora (white) Sikh or a kala (black) Sikh
–    I am a Sikh

I am not a mazbi Sikh, a jat Sikh or a ramgharia Sikh
–    I am a Sikh

I am not a doaba Sikh or a malwa Sikh
–    I am a Sikh

I am not an AKJ Sikh or a Taksali Sikh
–    I am a Sikh

My Guru is the Guru Granth Sahib, not the Námdhari satguru, not the yogi who called himself the leader of the Sikhs in the western hemisphere, not the Soho Road (Birmingham) spiritual leader of the Sikhs in the UK, nor any other self-appointed holy man, pardhan or jathedar
–    I am a Sikh

I try to see God in all, regardless of race, faith, nationality or caste/social class
–    I am a Sikh

I am an initiated (amritdhari) Sikh, but I do not look down on those who are not
–    I am a Sikh

I wear a turban and keep the 5 Ks, but I do not look down on those who do not
–    I am a Sikh

I do not drink alcohol, do not smoke tobacco, do not use recreational drugs
–    I am a Sikh

I do not eat meat, fish, poultry or eggs, but do not condemn those who do
–    I am a Sikh

I wear ‘bana’, traditional clothes associated with Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa, but I know that I will be judged on my behaviour, not on my clothes
–    I am a Sikh

I do not cut my hair or shave, I wear a kirpan, kachhera, kara and kangha, but do not think that those who do not are bad people
–    I am a Sikh

Published in: on April 30, 2012 at 5:56 am  Comments (1)  
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509.The Man in Blue – Big decisions !

Life ain’t easy ! Those that know me and those of you who read column 503 and 504, know that I want to go back to Southall.

Although Belgian Limburg is not a bad part of the world, and although I love the walking and cycling, I do miss the big sangat and the many Gurdwaré of London. I miss the big city atmosphere and all the buses, trams, undergrounds and trains. I miss meeting with people of many cultures and religions, I miss working together with people of all different backgrounds.

And in this first generation community you do not have the diversity of sangat that you have amongst the well-established Sikhs in the UK.

Two weeks ago in the Gurdwara, after the Sunday divan, I was called into the room where committee members and some others active in the community sat together. They promised me to support me financially if that was needed to keep me one more year in Sint-Truiden. This came not just from committee members but also from ordinary members of the sangat.

I am in a difficult position. I badly want to go back to the UK (see above), but here I helped start various projects in education that are not easy to leave.

I recently discovered that the two UK organisations that have been my main sources of income over the ten years that I lived in West London do have work for me, but no money to pay me. Although I think that in the UK I will be able to earn some money to top up my pension (I’ll be 65 on the 6th of May), there is the added problem of currency conversion.

I will receive three bits of pension, and two of these are in Euros. With Spain causing new unrest and the conversion rate between sterling and the Euro already down to about 80 pence this will add to the uncertainty.

Sorry to bore you with my personal financial affairs, but these are important issues. I am sure that there are many people who have lived both in the UK and in the Euro-zone and who face similar problems.

And trusting in God does not mean that one should not look at all sides of a question like the above. To cut a long story short, I have decided to stay here one more year till June 2013.

My Dutch pension will just about cover my expenses here, and if I can earn some more money doing tuition and by charging for some of the things that I have done  for free so far, I might be able to recoup part of the 8000 Euros that I spent here the last two year.

Please UK friends and relatives come and visit us here in Belgian Limburg. Eurostar still offers tickets to any Belgian station, and although the Brussels area is famous for its overcrowded motorways, driving from Calais to Sint-Truiden is not too bad.

And next year is going to be exiting as we might be able to lift the ban on the wearing of patka, turban and híjáb in secondary schools this country !

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.