Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!!
This year I had the opportunity to visit a few Gurmat camps and engage in a lot of interesting discussion with Sikh Youth from all over the country. It was a nostalgic experience for me to re-visit the questions and issues facing Sikh youth today as they enter their formative years and become more independent in their thinking and actions. Coincidentally, while looking through some archives, I came across an email I received many years ago. This email was special to me because it sparked a lot of questions, conversations, debates, and discussion with my Sangat, all of which helped me formulate many of the views I have today. Looking back, I’ve come to cherish those moments with my Sangat, as it forced me to introspect and challenge myself. I look forward to more opportunities as I continue on this journey.This email was a post on a listserve, responding to a specific question of “When is it okay to remove one of your Kakkars?” An answer is provided at the end, but the journey of getting to his answer is much like the journey of a Sikh…experiential. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy it.
And please note: This was written about 10 years ago by someone closer to my age, hence the reference to “Star Trek” 🙂
Rubin Paul Singh
I received Amrit, not because I understood the Sikh way, but because I wanted to understand the Sikh way. I realized that true understanding of Sikhi can come only if I submit to the way of Satguru Nanak. After having spent significant time reading and listening to what worldly gurus—scholars and academics of Sikhism—had to say about Sikhi, I realized the only way to truly sikh (learn), and change myself was to become a Sikh. This meant that I had to make a commitment to the Guru and receive Amrit. Amrit, for me, was the first step and a product only of my desire to change. I was reluctant for a long time because I knew that this commitment would require me to change how I live, and I really did not want to give up my lifestyle. Frankly, there have been days since I made this commitment when I have second guessed the choice I made. What I have also realized that following the Rehat, which on many a day has been a chore and quite ritualistic, has helped me to submit some part of my will. I don’t know why Guru Sahib asked me to follow the discipline of the Panth. I don’t know why I must wear articles that at times seem antiquated and meaningless. I don’t know why Satguru asked me to arise before dawn and repeat prayers that more often than not mean nothing to me—even though I know much of the literal meaning. I only know that I would like to grow, that I would like to love, and that I would like to live like Satguru Nanak. And if I have to follow a discipline that does not agree with my limited intelligence, I must will myself to follow it, especially if I am serious about emulating Guru Nanak. In this struggle to follow the Guru’s Rehat, I fail everyday – but I continue the struggle. Some days are more disheartening than others. Some days I can say that following the discipline has helped me change a little by helping me get a little more control over my anger, be a little more cognizant of my arrogance, and be a little more aware when I am being crude. Some days I feel that I have bridged a small part of the vast gap between me and Bhai Lehna, the ideal Sikh who grew to become the image of Satguru Nanak. There are moments when I find my Kesh not as meaningless symbol, but as the Guru’s Kesh. On occasion I find my Kirpan not as a symbol, but as the Guru’s gift of Kirpa (grace). On rare blissful days I see my Kanga as a mark of my Guru’s love. In every ten times I rattle through my Nitnem, may be once I connect with a line. My eyes well up with joy and my ego boundaries dissolve, and I get a glimpse of the unspeakable. So I tell myself when I doubt the commitment I made the day I received Amrit not to focus on the do’s and don’ts of the discipline, but on the love I seek to develop for the Guru. If my focus is love for the Guru, then the problems I have wearing my Kesh or my Kirpan, the agony I go through to get up to do my Nitnem are all well worth it. That I don’t follow the Rehat completely is a measure of my wishy-washy love for the Guru. At 10:30 pm when I have a choice to go to sleep and wake up at Amrit Vela to do simran, or watch Star Trek, and I choose to watch TV, I am effectively choosing Captain Kirk over Guru Nanak. Clearly even though I may claim to love Guru Nanak, my actions and my lack of willingness to change, show that I love Captain Kirk more (yuck! but true). The commitment that Amrit asks of me is much more that just wearing 5 K’s and doing Nitnem. It asks me to will myself to change; to lose my anger, my greed, my attachment to Maya, my arrogance; and that is far more difficult. If I cannot even follow the easy part of the discipline, which is largely related to my physical self, how can I even dream of conquering my spiritual self? If I cannot even submit when it comes to wearing my Kacchera and Kirpan, how can I possibly submit to wearing humility and compassion? The question that Guru Nanak asks me: “Are you ready to love?” My answer is Yes, but do my actions say that too? Following the Rehat is just one small measure of demonstrating a willingness to give up my way of thinking. The do’s and don’ts of the discipline are not important. The question is love. Some GurSikhs are unwilling to part with there 5 K’s even for a moment. Others make some exceptions. The Guru’s Rehat, as articulated by the Guru Panth, says nothing about this. So every Sikh has to look within and answer to their conscience through which the Guru speaks to a Sikh. For one Sikh taking off the Kirpan even for a moment is troubling, for another it is okay if under certain circumstances it is removed. As long as the Kirpan and the other K’s are worn and respected, each Sikh must choose for her/himself as to what is acceptable. While I am not an avid sports person, when I swim or play sports I do remove my Kirpan, but I put it back on (as soon as I am done). I am comfortable with this. I have been chastised by some Sikhs that I am too fanatical for wearing a Kirpan and by others for being to lax in following the Guru’s discipline. I listen to both; and try not to react to either. My conscience is clear. I respect the choice some GurSikhs make to never remove their 5 Ks, but don’t feel that the Guru demands this of me. At the same time, I am not comfortable with wearing mock versions of the 5 Ks around my neck. My Guru speaks to me through my conscience. My conscience is molded by my values. My values change as I reflect on Gurbani, Sikh History, the Rehat, and the view of my sangat and spirituality.
Hoping to be a constant “changer”…hoping to be a Sikh.