Courtesy: Dhillon, S.S. "Defining a Sikh and Importance of Quarterly  Issue No. 18, November 2004  

Defining a Sikh and Importance of Amrit

Dr. Sukhraj Singh Dhillon, NC, USA

There is a dialogue among Sikhs on what it means to be a Sikh. The recent focus is the 1925 definition of a Sikh and its endorsement among various groups in the Diaspora. The discussion is about the definition of a Sikh as a "person who believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, believes in the Ten Gurus, and have no other religion."

The 1925 definition of a Sikh was an excellent effort, and I admire the endorsees of the1925 definition. However, we cannot ignore the Amrit and Khalsa aspect of Sikhism without clarification.

The greatest contribution of the last living 10th Guru Nanak-- Guru Gobind Singh-- is the creation of Khalsa, the family of pure ones, to which a Sikh may belong through receiving baptism or initiation (Amrit/khande de pahul). Therefore, every khalsa is a Sikh but every Sikh is not a Khalsa unless he/she receives baptism. (Please also see #5, 6 Dr. H.W. McLeod and Dr. J.S. Grewal). Encourage those who are ready to take Khande de pahul to join the ranks of khalsa, but respect each other as equal Sikhs.

Although Guru Gobind Singh offered the highest honor to Khalsa, he did not expect every Sikh to become Khalsa. For example, one of his most favorite poets Bhai Nand Lal and more than half of his other poets did not become Khalsa. Same was true with the family members of Guru Sahib. Therefore, Dashmesh Pita 10th Guru Nanak considered all of them sikhs, irrespective of initiated or uninitiated (Please also see #6 Dr. J.S. Grewal). This is a good lesson to avoid making it a controversial issue. (Going back to rahitnamas etc doesn't help. As many of us know that rahitnamas written by Chaupa Singh, Bhai Nand Lal, Desa Singh..... are not in agreement with each other.)

In the universal spirit of Sikhism, let us endorse the definition of a Sikh as a "person who believe in the Guru Granth Sahib, believe in the Ten Gurus, and have no other religion." Let the Sikhs all over the world (in the West and East including SGPC) consider it for universal adoption?

Moreover, I would like to share just two lines of Gurbani and the universal nature of our religion which waits acceptance by humanity as Guru Nanak Dev Ji intended. It was not a coincidence that he was accepted the guru and pir by Hindus and Muslims. At a seminar conducted in Simla, by the Panjab Historical Society Lahore in early 1900, the lieutenant governor of Panjab, who was presiding over the seminar said, "according to what had been told by the speaker, Guru Nanak was a great Christian."

When we look at Guru Nanak's philosophy--Sikhism belongs to every human being and it carries a universal message in the true sense (sarbat da bhala). However, most of the Sikh Gurdwara's are ignoring the spiritual nature of our founding Guru's message in Gurbani. Many times Sikhs spend time fighting, for example, over physical appearance--either forcing our views on others and cursing them or defending us from those who are forcing their views. I meet Amritdhari Sikhs and those who are non-Amritdhari. Most of us will agree that there will always be Amritdhari and non-Amritdhari Sikhs and both can either sit together in Gurdwaras or divide our community into separate Gurdwaras. It is only the understanding of Gurbani and its message that can practically improve our everyday living, and can keep us together within our own community and with the rest of the world.

Just two lines of Gurbani can change our attitude:

"Dhaul dharam daya (compassion) ka putu;
Santokh (being content or satisfied) thap rakhiya jin suti."
(Stanza 16, Japuji)

This universal message contains two words: compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh). The righteousness is born out of compassion and contentment upholds the order of nature (dhaul dharam daya ka poot; santokh thap rakhiya jin soot). The implication is:

"Be compassionate to others;
Be satisfied within yourself!"

The two words, compassion (daya) and contentment (santokh) combine the philosophy of the entire world: Christianity in the west, and all eastern religions. The message "Be compassionate to others!" is a basic tenet in Christianity. A Christmas Message says:

"The best part of a person's life is not fame, wealth or ability. The best part of a good person's life is the little acts of kindness and love given to others. You are remembered and respected for the good you do for others."

It is due to this philosophy that we see Christians doing great deeds of compassion-- whether it's adopting a child or feeding the hungry of the world. Mother Teresa was a good example of someone who is compassionate to others-- taking care of the poor of the poorest in Calcutta. Bhagat Puran Singh of Pingalwara in Amritsar was another example who took care of the poor and sick. That is compassion Guru Nanak is asking us to have in our lives.

The second part of the message "Be content within yourself" is the basic philosophy of eastern religions, suggesting that happiness comes from within. Buddhism believes in it, Jainism believes in it, and other eastern religions believe in it. The purpose of every person’s life is to realize triple nature of the self, called sat-chit-ananda (existence or being conscious, and blissful). It means finding happiness within you. When we are content within, we are on our way to bliss or ultimate happiness. When we blame others for our happiness, we are actually misdiagnosing the cause of it. The cause lies within. When we feel upset or unhappy because someone got a raise, made more money or got a big house, an expensive car or a private jet, we overlook the real cause of unhappiness. The cause is: not attending to our inner self, not trying to know the spiritual self that we are, and not communicating or communing with our soul.

"Be compassionate (daya) to others;
Be satisfied (santokh) within yourself!"

Just these two lines, as I stated before, combine the philosophy of whole world: Christianity in the west and all the eastern religions. That is why we can call Sikhism a universal religion. It is unfortunate that Sikhs have gone away from the teachings of Gurbani and can't even practice as a religion of one community. Our life gets wasted on dividing our community by concentrating on differences such as outward appearance and ignoring the universal nature of Nanak's message, which our founding Guru preached to every Hindu, Muslim and others.

If we could practice this universal message, imagine the satisfaction and happiness it would bring. But we should never do the opposite -- "be compassionate to yourself and expect other to be satisfied with what they have."

Some facts for us to keep in mind

1. A true Sikh believes in the spirit of Guru Nanak that traveled through all the other gurus, and now resides in the eternal Sikh Guru- Sri Guru Granth Sahib by the order of Guru Gobind Singh.

2. There is no Sikh who does not respect or believe in amrit.

3. The fact is many of Guru Gobind Singh’s beloved Sikhs were not amritdharis.

4. There have never been more than 15% of the Sikhs who were or are amritdharis. That is over twenty million are non-amritdharis and about three million are amritdharis.

5. McLeod's study and analysis ( "Sikhs of the Khalsa: A history of the Khalsa Rahit, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2003, p 282) refers to some of the controversies that are currently taking place in the panth. He makes a distinction between a Sikh and a Khalsa. All Sikhs are not Khalsa, but all Khalsa are Sikhs. Rahit covers only the Khalsa and to be a Sikh of the Khalsa one must observe it. According to McLeod, only a small portion, about 15 % of the panth strictly follow Rahit or are Amritdharis.

6. J.S. Grewal (in "The Khalsa & the Punjab: Studies in Sikh History, to the 19th Century" edited by Himadri Banerjee; Tulika Books; New Delhi, 2002; pages xxxiii+192) gives the reasons for the formation of the Khalsa. He effectively makes a distinction between the Sikh Panth and the Khalsa. He notes: "Baptism of the double-edged sword was voluntary for the Khalsa even in the lifetime of Guru Gobind Singh. He goes on to say: If the Guru had wanted all Sikhs to be part of the Khalsa he would have made initiation/baptism (khande-de-pahul) mandatory for all?
Copyright ©2004 Sukhraj Singh Dhillon. 


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