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.

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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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.

487.The Man in Blue – My trip to Italy

I really enjoyed my recent trip to Italy. I liked the slow but expensive way I chose to travel from Sint-Truiden to Verona. I loved the warm weather, the sangat I met and the amazing number of people amongst the sangat with whom I could actually talk, mostly using English.

I visited the Gurdwaras of San Bonifacio (Verona) and Novellara (Reggio Emillia) and the two Gurdwaras of Pordenone (Venezia). In San Bonifacio the Gurdwara is in an industrial area, near the autostrada and the railway station. In Novellara the Gurdwara is on an industrial estate a good distance away from the town. The two Pordenone Gurdwaras are also not in or near a town or village centre.

In the areas that I visited the sangat does not live concentrated in urban areas as in Surrey (Vancouver), Brampton (Toronto) or Southall (London). They live spread out in villages, towns and cities and there are only regional Gurdwaras. This means that even the big San Bonifacio and Novellara Gurdwaras do not have a daily substantial attendance like in Park Avenue (Southall) or Soho Road (Birmingham).

Why there is a higher percentage of first generation educated Sikhs in the Verona area I do not know. The sangat there seems to be less Jat dominated and less influenced by Taksal, AKJ and Babas. What I said on stage in that Gurdwara would be welcome in the Hounslow Singh Sabha and in the Guru Nanak Prakash Singh Sabha in Bristol, but in very few other UK or Belgian Gurdwaras.

Both Pordenone and San Bonifacio are north of the river Po and near the foothills of the Alps. The economy in these areas seems to be in a better state than in Pegognaga (Mantova) and Novellera, which are both more to the south and across the river Po. I heard more stories there about people being unemployed, wages not being paid on time and about hard physical work for small wages.

I noticed that also in Pegognaga, where I only stayed from Wednesday night to Sunday, and with most of the Saturday spend travelling, people came to me to talk about personal problems. This happened even more in San Bonifacio, where I spent every afternoon/early evening in the Gurdwara from 19 to 28 July and again from 1 August to my departure on the 5th of August.

We badly need pastoral care linked to our Gurdwaras. The pastors need not be Granthis, but a good knowledge of gurmat and of the society the Sikhs are part of is a must.

And then there is the eternal problem of the lack of practice of the One Humanity principle which is at the very root of Guru’s teachings. I am not saying that this problem is worse in Italy than in the UK, Belgium or the Netherlands, but the problem is there. My next column is going to be titled ‘practical Sikhí’, and the one after that will be about ‘Guru’s daughters’.

Stop talking about ‘One Humanity’
Start doing ‘One Humanity’

Published in: on August 15, 2011 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sikhí in one Picture

I think I found this image on Sikhnet. It sums up most of what you will find in this Section on Sikhí, plus the 5 ‘thiefs’ the five qualities that steal your spiritual balance : Lust, Anger,  Attachment, Greed and Ego.

Inside the circle are positive qualities :  Love, Humility, Compassion, Contentment, Truth

Underneath that the ‘pillars’ of a good, positive life style :  Kirt Karo (honest work), Nám Japo (meditate, think about God), Vand Shako (share with others)

Read the articles below to get a good understanding of Sikhí

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sikhí is :

A spiritual way of life

Many Sikhs do not like to talk about the Sikh religion, because we are not like the three well known religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Sikhí has a number of core principles, but it does not have a comprehensive system of doctrines. The emphasis is much more on our way of life. In the Sikh principles article we try to explain the core principles of Sikhí, and even that goes quickly from ‘what to believe’ to ‘what to do’. Most Sikhs believe that the soul travels through various existences and when it reaches the human stage it will strive to be reunited with God. But in whatever way you look on these matters, if you do not seriously try to live a ‘Godly’ life, it is all rather irrelevant. 

A religion

Sikhí is a religion, but the emphasis is on the way of life, and not on doctrines.

An ethnic group or a nation

Sikhs, regardless whether they are of Panjabi background or not, have been recognised by the UK Law Lords as a separate ethnic group. Many Sikhs consider themselves to be a nation. But the Sikh Nation, or the Sikh Ethnic Group is part of the one Humanity, as we are all God’s children, regardless of our religion, ethnicity or nationality. And regardless of our ethnicity or nationality, according to Guru’s teachings Sikhs should make a contribution to the countries they live in. They should be loyal but critical citizens of their countries of residence.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 8:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Khalsa and the 5 Ks

Vaisakhi 1699

In 1699 Guru Gobind Rai the tenth Sikh Guru, called his Sikhs together in Anandpur Sahib in the north of Panjab. He stood before the meeting, holding a sword, and asked for people to come forward who were willing to give their head.

The first five who did so are called the Panj Piaré, the five beloved ones. They were the first members of the Khalsa, the order of initiated Sikhs, those who are totally committed to the Sikh way of life, to doing God’s work. They then in their turn initiated Guru Gobind Rai into the Khalsa, and many others followed. From then on all Khalsa men were known as Singh (=Lion) and Khalsa women as Kaur (=Prince). Thus Guru Gobind Rai became Guru Gobind Singh.

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

Guru did stipulate 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-Soldier), who would not fight for material gain or out of anger, but who would defend the defenceless and fight against injustice.

As visible signs of their commitment the members of the Khalsa were to wear five outward signs, the so called Five Ks, and this practice is followed to this day.

Do realise that initiated Sikhs or Khalsas are only a relatively small group within the wider Sikh community or Panth. Many people of Sikh background wear a Kara, and more committed ones also keep uncut hair and wear a turban. It is unlikely that Sikhs who are not initiated wear a Kachhera, while only initiated Sikhs will wear the Kirpan.

The 5 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 this 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 of a follower of the Gurus.

Anybody seeing somebody wearing the Khalsa uniform (the Five Ks) should know that they can go to her/him for help. Regardless whether they wear western or Panjabi style clothes, they are visible Sikhs. Unfortunately many Sikh ladies, even initiated ones, choose not to wear a turban, and are therefore not easily recognisable as Sikhs.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 8:12 am  Comments (1)  
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404.The Man in Blue – Sikhi and Equality

To me Sikhí is not really a religion with dogmas, but a dharm, a ‘righteous’ way of life, where you do not just stop doing the deeds that are useless or harmful, but change to doing positively good things.

If there is a Sikh ‘dogma’ then it is ‘One God’ & ‘One Humanity’. This ‘dogma’ takes us right back to ‘righteous living’. Seeing all mankind as the children of the One Mata/Pita is the basis of true Sikh behaviour.

That is why our Guru’s always spoke to all people of all backgrounds, stood up for the rights of all, felt comfortable at the court of Patna and in the hut of Lalo, and saw only the ‘high’ and ‘low’ of being near or far from God.

Understanding equality and acting on it is not easy. Mankind seems to be expert at ‘them’ and ‘us’, where ‘them’ are bad, or at least not as good as ‘us’. We love retreating into our own little box and look outside with fear or contempt to those from other boxes.

I come from the Netherlands, a country with less class and gender discrimination than the UK, a country less obsessed with sex and therefore more open to those with different sexual preferences. Amsterdam has a substantial number of refugees from homophobic Britain.

On this scale of things the UK is less equal than the Netherlands and Panjab less equal than the UK. The Netherlands has become at least as intolerant towards other cultures as the UK is, but still less so than the Panjab.

Recognising that truly seeing God’s presence in all is difficult for all of us, regardless of our background, it is more of a challenge for people from the subcontinent than for most Europeans.

Equality is the Guru’s value, it is the Buddha’s value, it is the value of Jesus and Mohammad, but the ancient values of Brahminical Hinduism are still dominant in the subcontinent. Being equal does not mean that we are all the same. We look different, have different genders, different abilities, cultures, philosophies and faiths.

Sikhs should truly treat their sisters, wives and mothers as equals, Sikhs should not have caste based Gurdwaré or caste based marriages, Sikhs should not think in terms of ‘the Muslims’, ‘the Hindus’ or ‘the Christians’. Sikhs should judge, if judge they must, on the acts of individuals. Equality means saying with Guru Nanak : be a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Christian and a good Sikh !

Let’s pray to God and ask Her to liberate us from prejudices and preconceived ideas of our cultures. Let’s all adopt Guru’s values !

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 7:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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391.Is my Sister equal to me ?

My answer to this question, whether I look at it from my Dutch or my Sikh perspective, is a resounding YES ! From a sub-continental point of view the question is more challenging. The two main religions or dharms on the sub-continent have a rich tradition of treating women as second class, as creatures to be ruled by men.

Sikhí is firmly based on the unity of mankind, but I have seen inequality being practised by Sikhs in Panjab and to a lesser degree here in the UK. I also find that English society is less equal in many respects than what I am used to in the Netherlands. This does not mean that they get everything right in my country of origin !

Guru’s teachings are wonderful. It is obvious from Gurbaní that Guru sees all creation, all creatures as coming from God, and that therefore we should respect all creation. Judging by Gurbaní Sikhs are way ahead of Panjabi, western, Hindu or Ibrahimic ‘teachings’.

The other day I went to two interfaith meetings. At the first meeting I met a female Anglican priest, who was treated by her two male colleagues as an absolute equal. That same day in another meeting I met a female vicar of the United Reformed Church. Both ladies were better educated than the majority of our granthis and were very comfortable in the company of people of other faiths.

A few years ago I attended a meeting regarding the Muslim school in Slough. The committee that was to decide on the school could not come to a decision and the case for a Muslim school was brought before an adjudicator.

The hall was full, partly with the Muslim variety of our greybeards, but there was a good presence of young Muslim women, many of them in hijáb. The men did what South Asian men are good at, they disagreed and launched personal attacks on each other.

The young Muslim women spoke good English, and formulated their contributions well. If it had not been for them the case of the Slough Islamic School might have been lost.

I am not saying that all Muslims and Christians are right and all Sikhs are wrong. In Sikhí we are on firm ground when we speak out for ‘One God, One Humanity’. But I am disappointed when I see that we are overtaken by Christians, Jews and Muslims when it comes to practising equality.

Please let us concentrate on getting our own house in order and let us practice equality between men and women, between all !

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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