Often, when explaining the Sikh faith, we say, “Oh yes, everyone is equal in Sikhism — men and women are completely equal.” In our gurdwaras, we make it a point to make sure everyone is sitting on the floor, staying ‘equal’, and eating the same langar, staying ‘equal’ once again. When Sikhs talk of equality like this — in terms of access to resources and facilities, it’s valuable, but we miss a larger point.
What we miss is individual empowerment. During the Guru’s time, Sikhi was all about empowerment — taking people who felt boxed in, limited, and bored, and unleashing them to do whatever they wanted. You want to be a merchant and you’re currently a janitor? Sure — go for it! You want to become spiritual and learn to read and write even though your ‘caste’ has been denied that for centuries? Here’s your first text! Essentially, the Gurus freed people by saying, “you can be all want to be,” and the people jumped at the chance. They were tired of thinking that they were destined by birth to the life of their forefathers. They embraced the Guru’s path, they took risks, and they grew and developed into the Sikh nation. They walked around with a strong sense of purpose and engagement. They were willing to give their lives for their cause.
Today, it seems we’re just here to live the status quo — get the kids to be doctors, attend parties, and just settle and live a quiet life. What happened to the raging fire that once burned bright?
The Gurus empowered us beyond just mere opportunity — they gave us the belief that we could be the best. In fact, the sparrow fought the hawk, and won. Now that’s the equality I’m talking about. Anyone can achieve anything, with effort.
So where are the sparrows fighting the hawks today? I know they are there — but we need more of them as a percentage of the Sikh populace. The little bird taking out a big raptor is the kind of mental picture that inspires passion in the Sikh nation — a passion that we must reignite together.
Ask yourself — what have you done that makes you feel empowered? What risks have you taken that step you outside of the box others would like to confine you inside? These freedoms are why people became Sikhs in the beginning — freedom from a fixed-course life. Are you taking advantage of the self-determination that made Sikhi so appealing when it began?
Hey friends! I’ve posted the presentations from the Sikh Seminar Titled “Gurudwara and Sangat, Nurturing Sikh Heritage in Our Youth,” held at the Philadelphia Gurdwara last weekend. I also just recorded my presentation and have posted it as a YouTube video for your comment and review.
Please review the YouTube video and the other presentations and add your feedback in the comments.
The presentations were largely well received. I will add one anecdote–the Gurdwara Bhai Sahib, who has just finished katha before we took the stage, listened intently and had some comments on our presentations after we finished.
Here’s my English translation of the excellent story he told:
About 30 years ago, a group of Sikhs in England raised funds to purchase a church as their first gurdwara building. They were all very excited. Just before the Sikhs moved in, they had a meeting with the church’s pastor to get the keys. The pastor was fighting back tears.
“Why are you crying?” asked the Sikhs.
“You’ve purchased my church, and here you will build and wonderful and beautiful Guru Ghar,” said the pastor. “But what I ask of you is that while you build your gurudwara, you must also build interest in your youth. That is why we are here today–we built a beautiful building, but we didn’t engage the kids, so we are selling our church to you.”
The story really struck home as I have been to a few gurdwaras that are in old churches in New York and elsewhere. It’s a good point, isn’t it? What’s to say that we are any different?
The Next Seminar is May 4, 2008 at Sikh Sabha Gurdwara in Lawrenceville, NJ. The Topic is “The Relevance of the Sikh Rehat Maryada Today.” If you would like to participate, give a talk, or do any other sewa, please contact sutinder singh [ sutinders at gmail.com ].
Recorded version of my presentation:
I’ve also included the full slides from all of the speakers below.
Sikhs around the world celebrate Vaisakhi on April 14. So what’s all the excitement about?
On Vaisakhi in 1699, the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh
The occasion was a “capstone” event that completed the Sikh Faith, which began 230 years earlier in 1469 with the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Sikhs celebrate by wearing bright saffron orange and blue (the “team colors” of the Sikh religion), and rededicating themselves to the Sikh mission of helping anyone in need. Many Sikhs also undergo the Amrit Sanchaar or initiation ceremony.
Now I’m a software guy, so I guess you could say that Sikhism was in “beta” for the years from 1469-1699, and that Vaisakhi marks the “release.” The release included an initiation program (Amrit Sanchaar), an operating system (Sikhi itself), and the source code (the poetic teachings contained in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib). The Khalsa (the community of baptized Sikhs) is the hardware upon which all this awesome software runs, but there are some minimum hardware requirements specified by the 5K’s. Anyway, I’m running off to gurdwara now, so read a more ‘down-to-earth’ interpretation of Vaisakhi after the jump.
Hi Pew Forum!
I’m very impressed by the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Interviewing 35,000+ people is quite a feat.
But I’m suprised to see not even a brief mention of Sikh Americans–the most visible religious minority in America.
Please take a look at this recently released US Department of Justice video titled “On Common Ground” for some detailed info on Sikhs:
quotes: “…world’s fifth largest religion…there are over half a million Sikhs in the United States…distinctly separate from Hinduism and Islam”
Is there anything we can do to be included–in an appendix or a revision? It seems that you’ve produced some historic research, and we would love for Sikhs to be part of it–is there anything we can do going forward? What do you recommend?
Thanks for your help!
- Savraj Singh
So a friend of mine forwarded me a link to an outstanding site, the Daily Hukamnama. The site is nothing short of excellent: a complete catalog of hukamnamas with audio and knowledgeable English translation. But what really stands out is the profile of Sukha Singh, the guy that translates and records the hukam each day. It’s great to have people like Sukha Singh, and I hope he inspires many others. The work he’s doing is super valuable. I also noticed his profile was taken down recently, so I’ve included a copy of it, found in Google’s cache.
For those of you wondering what a Hukamnama is: it’s the “order of the day.” It’s a hymn read from the Sikh sacred text, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, at random. It’s usually read at the height of a Sikh service. Yes, the Guru Granth Sahib is opened at random, and the first hymn that starts on the top left page is read. (If it’s split between pages, you can turn back a page.) The site mentioned above records the daily hukams as taken at Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar, India. The translation is absolutely amazing–this is some really great content and I look forward to following it. If possible, all North American Gurdwaras should take hukam like this–it really helps everyone get a better understanding of their Guru.
So today about 30 people from a local Jewish congregation visited the gurdwara I attend. They were one of the best groups I’ve seen in a long time–lots of detailed questions and insights. One question threw me for a bit of a loop, though.
So you just told me that Sikhism is about 100% gender equality, and I get that, but why do men and women sit separately in the Gurdwara?
So a novice and dismissive answer to this question is, “yeah, it’s separate but equal,” but this ignores the fact that the phrase separate but equal carries a lot of weight in the mind of anyone that’s read about the American Civil Rights movement. In fact, someone in the visiting crowd offered this answer with a chuckle before I even started my response, indicating to me they knew the loaded history of the term. So I didn’t go there.
Instead, I answered with a story I’ve heard that explains the historic origin of the situation: When Guru Nanak was addressing the Sikhs, men would crowd right up to the front, leaving the women to settle for the back of the congregation. Sensing the inherent inequality, Guru Ji said, “Ok, guys, you get this half of the audience, and ladies, you get this half, so everyone has equal access to me.” Now I don’t know how true this story is, but a wise Gursikh told it to me and it does make logical sense.
Another answer I’ve heard but didn’t give this time is that it’s merely a protocol issue. If you start sitting girls next to guys, their minds begin to stray from the kirtan. By keeping genders separate we mitigate the issue. This response is hokey at best, so I didn’t even give it as a secondary explanation. Also of note, Gurdwaras in India are apparently so crowded there are no “sides” to the gurdwara.
My question to you is–do you like my story? Does it have any historical backing or did someone make it up? How would you answer this question?
Here’s a “Biblical” justification for why Sikhs wear a turban. I believe this is quoted out of the book, “The Turban and the Sword.” Correct me if I’m wrong. (Someone forwarded it to me, unattributed.)
He put the turban upon his head and set the gold rosette as symbol of holy dedication on the front of the turban as the Lord had commanded him. Moses then took the anointing oil, anointed the Tabernacle, and all that was within it and consecrated it. (Leviticus 8,9)
Karta Purakh Khalsa writes down 10 reasons why he’s proud to be a Sikh. You can read the full post, but the following one really stood out:
1. - It is the first religion I have ever encountered that is named after me and not its founder.
Good point, eh? Sikhi is all about you, your spiritual path, and your constant learning and growth.
In 1999 the Sikh Calendar was standardized so that annual events and holidays occur on fixed dates. Sikh events were decoupled from the old, imperfect Bikrami Calendar, and matched to the ‘tropical year’ so holidays would occur at the right times in the right seasons.
The Sikh Calendar is called the Nanakshahi Calendar. You can subscribe to this calendar as a feed directly from Google, and then you can stay on top of all your Sikh Holidays.
The Nanakshahi Calendar [XML]
And here’s the same calendar, embedded below.
Now, the funny part is, all dates save one were moved to the more precise calendar. The one date left to conform to the old calendar is Guru Nanak’s Birthday! So if you subscribe to the Google Calendar above, you’ll get all the Gurpurab, or high holiday, dates except for the birthday of the founder of Sikhism.
You can read a bit more about this calendar at Sikhs.org and sikhlink.net, and the Sikh Coalition. The Sikhs.org page lists all the dates, and points out that only Guru Nanak’s birthday is left on the old system. I wonder why?
Earlier this year, the Sikh community in California pushed for the revision of a textbook, and the board of education listened. The textbook contained an inappropriate image of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. Stickers will be distributed to cover the image, and new prints of the textbook will be revised. Wow. All I can say is it’s a great example of Sikhs getting together, pushing for change through the right channels and the right ways, and our government reacting appropriately in response to concerns. Check out the New York Times article: Bowing to Sikhs’ Call, California Wants Textbook Change. What brought my attention to this incident was an article I read in Reform Judaism Magazine, which highlighted the incident as an example for how Jews should take action for similar errors in textbooks. Many have cited the Jewish community as a great community for all minorities to model in the United States, so it’s exciting to see that the Jewish community is giving us props. Congrats to all that made this happen.