546. Akal Takht & it’s Jathedar

In 1606 Guru Hargobind and Baba Buddha built a platform which was 12 feet in height in defiance of a decree Mughal Emperor Jahangir that no one but his own royal personage be allowed to sit on a dais over three feet in height.

Guru Hargobind called it the Akál Takht, the Throne of the Deathless One (God). Inside Harmandr Sahib the Ádi Granth, the first version of Guru Granth Sahib, was installed as the Shabad Guru, the Teacher of the Word (of God).

There was no building, there was no institution with its own Maryada, nor was there any suggestion that whoever was in charge of this Takht was the ruler of the Sikh panth.

When Guru Hargobind lived in Kartarpur (Jalandhar) and Kiratpur, and during the the Guruship of Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Kishan, Guru Teg Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh the Harmandr Sahib complex was in charge of non-mainstream Sikhs. These ‘sikhs’ never thought that because they were in charge of the Akál Takht they could issue Hukamnamas that had to be followed by the panth.

The Akál Takht as a concept went with the Guru Sahib to Kartarpur, Kiratpur and Anandpur.

Guru Gobind Singh ordained that after his passing away the Sikhs would be ruled by the Guru Panth (Sikh community) under the guidance of the Guru Granth. He did not say that any power was vested in Jathedars or in any building.

The missal system, established after the death of Banda Singh Bahadur consisted of 11 fighting missals (guerrilla groups) and one group of veterans, the Buddha Dal. Their Jathedar played a role in the functioning of the Sarbat Khalsa, which was the meeting of all the missals.

Decisions were made by the Sarbat Khalsa while striving for unanimity. A decision taken in this manner was called a Gurmatta. The Jathedar of the Buddha Dal would then make this Gurmatta official by announcing it from the Ákal Takht.

This is comparable with procedures that exist in many countries where decisions made by parliament are made official by the signature of a head of state.

I am not suggesting that during the missals period Sikhs were always sensible, and only fought for the values laid down by the Guru Sahib, selflessly serving the wider interest of all peoples of their areas of influence.

But If we want to practice Guru Gobind Singh’s Guru Granth/Guru Panth we should copy elements of the arrangements that existed in the missal time. Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations would be the missals, and sarbat khalsas could meet discussing Sikh issues on the level of countries, continents and world-wide.

What we don’t want is Jathedars without jatha who instead of serving the the panth serve corrupt political masters.

518.The Man in Blue – Sikhí VII

This is the last of the series of ‘Sikhi’ columns. In it I am wrapping up things and am emphasising principles already mentioned.

Nám japo, (meditate) think about God at all times, if you do this it should automatically lead to more ethical and less selfish behaviour.

Kirat karo, (honest work or honest study) Guru does not want his Sikh to be ‘holy beggars’. Sikhs should do an honest job regardless of the type of work they do. If you are a student the same principles apply.

Vand chako, share with others, share money, goods or time.

Before Guru passed away in 1708 he told the Sikhs not to look for a human successor, but to accept the Guru Granth and the Guru Panth, acting under the teachings of the Guru Granth, as their eternal Guru.

This is not practised by many Sikhs, who follow autocratic Pardhans, Jathedars without Jatha, various Babas and other so-called ‘spiritual leaders’ as ‘Guru’. Sant Babas, Jathedars etc are not the Guru Panth.

It is perfectly legitimate to read other books like Dasam Granth, Sarbloh Granth,  Al Quran or the Bible, but our benchmark should always be the Guru Granth.

Transmigration of the soul : in the Guru Granth both the Gurus and the Bhagats regularly refer to the cycle of birth and death. I do not think this is a dogma, in the sense that if you do not believe in it you are not a good Sikh.

I think that it is not the personality that migrates, but the soul. To me the journey of the soul through many existences is some kind of spiritual evolution, where the Godly spark, God’s light that is present in all, travels through different life forms, developing to higher states of awareness on the way.

Harjinder Singh will not be reborn, but Harjinder Singh’s death will lead to his soul going to another life. I think that Sikhs should not believe in avtars as in Tibetan Buddhism or Hinduism.

Shahids. A Sikh should be willing to give her/his life in the struggle against injustice. But this struggle, including giving your life if needed, should be part of your humble seva, and not to make the ‘shahid’ into a hero.

The Guru Granth Sahib tells us not to worship or follow human beings. Our Guru points to God, not to himself as many Sant Babas do. So remember the sacrifices made, but our main effort should go into living a Godly life.

And finally, fighting against people because they do not agree with you is not part of the Sikh dharm, it is not the duty of a sant-sipahi. Throwing bricks through Gurdwara windows or breaking the legs of an old man is the work of thugs !

495.The Man in Blue – Follow only our eternal Guru II

In Man in Blue column 494 I wrote about Guru Granth – Guru Panth, explaining  my view on other ‘granths’, and on for instance the Bible or Al Quran. In this column I will write about the Guru Granth as our leader.

On the 20th of November I was in London’s Shepherds Bush (Khalsa Jatha) Gurdwara where a Sikh Channel reporter was asking people’s views on the leadership of the panth.

The Tenth Guru told us that the Guru Granth is our eternal Guru and that the Guru Panth (those on Guru’s path) is to act under the Guru Granth’s guidance.

Jathedars without jathas are not the Guru Panth, 5 amritdhari Sikhs are not the Guru Panth and the general house of the SGPC is also not the Guru Panth.

The only time that Guru Granth – Guru Panth was practiced was during the misl period in the 18th century. The Sarbat Khalsa of those days was not perfect, but it was closer to Guru’s teachings than the present rule by the Badal Dal.

The meeting of the Sarbat Khalsa was mainly a meeting of the misl leaders. They were not Jathedars without jathas as we have today, and the misl members could try to influence their leaders or switch to another Misl if they were not happy with the leadership.

In the Sarbat Khalsa the decisions were not taken by a simple majority, serious efforts were made to get the misls as near as possible to consensus. When an agreement was reached it was called Gurmatta and it became a Hukamnama when it was proclaimed from the Akal Takhat by the Jathedar of the Budha Dal.

If we were to apply this to the UK we should have regional open forums where Sikh individuals and representatives of organisations and Gurdwaras come together to discuss Panthic issues. Decisions should be made through trying to find consensus. If there are serious conflicts, the opposing groups should constitute mutually agreed Panj Piaré to mediate between them.

The regional forums would send delegates to an UK forum, and the UK forum would send delegates to a global forum that could meet anywhere where it is free from political interference. This rules out India as it is now.

In countries with fewer Sikhs you could have just one national forum, or you could have for instance a Scandinavian or a Benelux forum. These forums acting under the guidance of the Guru Granth can only ‘rule’ those that accept their authority.

Guru Nanak wrote: ‘Truth is high, and higher still is truthful living’. People taking part in these forums should follow the Guru’s teachings of truthfulness, compassion and humility. Me, me, me should not be on the agenda.

494.The Man in Blue – Follow only our eternal Guru I

Both this column and the next one start from Guru Gobind Singh’s instruction that after him the Sikh Panth should be ruled by ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’.

Somebody explained to me that the 10 Guru’s were like ten classes of a school, and that entering Guru Gobind Singh’s Khalsa was like matriculation. Under Tenth Guru the people who were always ruled from above by various Maharajas and Sultans were fully emancipated and were able to rule themselves under the guidance of the Guru Granth Sahib.

But ‘Guru Granth – Guru Panth’ is not just relevant when you discuss leadership in Sikhism. If it was adhered to by the Sikhs it would end the silly discussion over the Dasam Granth. Sikhism is a liberal tradition and we are free to read any book, both from outside our own tradition, from the margins of Sikhism or from within it.

Our Guru is the Guru Granth Sahib. We do not have sufficient evidence to decide who the author is of the various elements that make up what is now known as the Dasam Granth. But we can study the Dasam Granth and see which parts are in tune with the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and which are not.

We should bear in mind that Guru might have collected or retold some of the stories, without seeing them as sources of Sikh teachings. Many scholars have collected or retold Greek, Celtic, Germanic or Nordic ancient stories without seeing them as sources of eternal truth. These stories, like the puránas, can give you important clues to the culture and the history of their times.

The writings of Bhai Gurdas and Bhai Nand Lal are not included in the Guru Granth Sahib, like the shabads of our bhagats, but they are seen as sources of Sikhism. These two authors were contemporaries of our Gurus and were close observers of Sikh history. They are important sources of information about our Gurus and their time, but they are not part of the eternal Sikh Guru, the Guru Granth Sahib.

Bhai Gurdas writes about the mul mantr and the gur mantr, terms that are not found in the Guru Granth Sahib. What Bhai Gurdas calls the mul mantr is given prominence in the Guru Granth Sahib, both in its full version (Ik Ongkar to Gurprasad) and in various shortened forms. The ‘gur mantr’ (Vahiguru) is only found four times in the Guru Granth Sahib, and is not called gur mantr’.

The conclusion from this evidence is clear. We can do simran on all ‘God Words’ that we find in the Guru Granth Sahib or in other sources, as long as their meanings are not in conflict with the teachings of our eternal Guru.

What Bhai Gurdas calls the mul mantr is a very important statement of Guru’s vision of God, and of course we should meditate on it. But meditating means ‘thinking about’ and not mechanical repetition of a word or combination of words.

407.The Man in Blue – The Sikh Dharam

Sikhí is a Dharm, a way of life, Sikhí is not a doctrinal system. Guru writes about hell and heaven and about the cycle of birth and death, Guru uses ‘Hindu’ language and ‘Muslim’ language without any compunction.

Guru does not say : There is no Hindu, no Musulman, become a Sikh. Guru says be a good Hindu, be a good Muslim. The Guru wants all to be sikhs with a small s, students of God. Guru wants all to follow the path of righteousness, the path of honesty, compassion, of seeing God in all, of serving all. Guru wants us to discover God’s never ending love for all creation, and to develop our love for Him/Her.

This makes the various debates going on at the moment so unreal. Calendars are not good or bad because they are Christian, Hindu or Sikh, a calendar should be a correct and useful tool to tell days, weeks, months, seasons and years apart.

We should serve God and God’s creation every day of every calendar. I think that the Nanakshahi calendar is a useful tool and I think that following the Vikramí calendar serves no useful purpose. But it is not a matter of life and death for the Sikh community.

You can follow Guru’s way of righteousness while using the Jewish, the Muslim, the Christian, the Nanakshahi, the Vikramí or any other calendar.

The other issue, the discussion about the Dasam Granth, makes even less sense. Guru Gobind Singh clearly told us to follow the Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Gobind Singh made no attempt either at Talwandi Sabo (Damdama Taksal) or in Hazur Sahib to put together another Granth.

All this does not mean that I pretend to know who was/were the author(s) of the Dasam Granth. Even if there was no doubt whatsoever that all of the Dasam Granth was written by Guru Gobind Singh, the above would apply, by the hukam of Guru Gobind Singh himself.

We are a liberal tradition, we can read any book, whether from the Sikh tradition or from any other faith. But the Guru Granth is our Guru and we should ‘measure’ all other books against the teachings of our Granth.

I am not against further research into the Dasam Granth and its author(s) as long as this does not stop us from reading and understanding the Guru Granth Sahib.

Finally, threatening people with violence because they disagree with you is despicable by anybody’s standard. Those that threaten violence or use violence against Sikhs because of disagreements clearly go against Gurmat. 

405.The Man in Blue – The Guru Granth is our Guru


My great-cousins Ilja & Liesbeth Veltman

~  ~  ~  ~  ~

The Guru Granth is our Guru

I am a follower of the teachings of the ten Gurus and of the Guru Granth Sahib. I took amrit on 14 July 1996 (at the Damdami Taksal) and I have never had doubts about that important step in my life. Guru Sahib taught us that after he passed away in 1708 we should follow Guru Granth/Guru Panth, and this has always guided me when writing about the Sikh Qaum. 

In the present debate over the Dasam Granth there are Sikhs who tell people like me that we do not respect Guru Gobind Singh and Guru’s Amrit or Khande di Pahul, because we do not respect the Dasam Granth.

How intelligent and good people cannot see the flaw in this reasoning is beyond me. Guru told us to follow the Guru Granth as our Guru, in Guru’s day there was no Dasam Granth, so there can be no misunderstanding.

I am an Amritdhari Sikh who seriously tries to follow Guru’s teachings in my daily life (while making mistakes). I am accused of having no respect for Guru, while it is my ‘accusers’ who ignore Guru’s teachings.

I have spent very little time on studying the ‘Dasam Granth’, the writings of Bhai Nand Lal or of Bhai Gurdas. I read every day from the Guru Granth Sahib, I go as often as possible to the Gurdwara to listen Guru’s shabads and I find that I keep discovering better, deeper insights.

I make no grand statements about who has written what or what is in tune with the Guru Granth Sahib and what not. When I write about these aspects I give the opinion of Harjinder Singh, who is a fallible human being. But what I have written above is based on Guru’s teachings, not on mine.

Whenever I read any book with spiritual teachings, whether those are related to the Sikh tradition (Dasam Granth, Sarbaloh Granth, Bhai Gurdas, Bhai Nand Lal) or from outside our tradition (the Bible, Al Qur’an, the Gita), the Guru Granth Sahib is the benchmark to measure these writings against.

The Guru Granth Sahib is our eternal Guru, there can be no debate over that. Námdharis can be excellent people with the most wonderful behaviour of whom the Guru would be proud, but they are not Sikhs as they follow a human Guru.

The same goes for those who put another ‘granth’ on the same level as the Guru Granth, or who follow babas, jathedars, taksals rather than our eternal Guru, the Guru Granth. They can be excellent people, they can have Godly behaviour, but they are not Sikhs.

Obviously those on either side of the debate who threaten the other side with violence have no Godly behaviour and are neither sikhs nor Sikhs.

Published in: on January 31, 2010 at 7:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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