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DEFINING A SIKH
(Sikh Rehit Maryada)

Prof. Devinder Singh Chahal, PhD

INTRODUCTION

Since the beginning of modern science during the period of Renaissance (from 14th century to the end of 17th century) consistency and precision became the rule for the progress of human beings. Unfortunately in the study of Sikhism both consistency and precision are missing. Sikhism is still being presented based on unauthentic writings rather on the authenticated source, Gurbani (the bani of the Sikh Gurus incorporated in the Aad Guru Granth Sahib - AGGS). The irony is that the Sikh scholars and the Sikh theologians have failed to define a Sikh precisely even during the Science Age, the age of the precision.

DEFINING A SIKH

Recently Dr Gurbax Singh has defined a Sikh as follows (9):

A person who believes in Gurmat, takes Amrit, wears the 5-K uniform and follows the Rehit becomes a Sikh. Those who do not believe in Guru Gobind Singh and the Amrit ceremony founded by him are not Sikhs, member of his Panth.

He had also defined Sahjdhari as: a 'Sikh' moving on the path to be a Sikh (Singh).

He further explained that only a Sikh ( i.e., only Amritdhari - not a Sahjdhari) is entitled to vote and to be an office bearer of Sikh institutions and Gurdwaras.

Let us examine the definitions given by the outstanding theologian, Bhai Kahn Singh (10):

Sikh (Ref. 10, p 192):

One who is the follower of Sri Guru Nanak Dev,
one who adopts the Sikh religion of Satguru Nanak Dev,
and one who considers Sri Guru Granth Sahib as his religious granth
and ten Satgurus as same body and spirit.

Sahjdharis (Ref. 10, p 137):

A branch of the Sikhs whose members do not adopt khande da Amrit, kachh and kirpan, but do not believe in any religion except that of Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Amritdhari (Ref. 10, p 78):

That Singh who had adopted Amrit.

It is to be noted that Bhai Kahn Singh (10) used a word 'Singh' instead of a 'person' to define an Amritdhari. Then he used another word 'Kharagdhari' in the 'Amritsanskar' description (p 77). According to him a 'Kharagdhari' or a 'Kirpandhari' is the one who keeps sword (p 370).

In spite of the fact that all the definitions given by Bhai Kahn Singh (10) lack consistency and precision even then it appears that there are three types of Sikhs: a Sikh, an Amritdhari or Kharagdhari or Kirpandhari Sikh, and a Sahjdhari Sikh.

The definition given by Dr Gurbax Singh (9) also lacks consistency and precision. Because it contains words, i.e., 'believes' showing uncertainty; 'wears 5-K uniform' and 'follows the rehit' without qualifying what is the '5-K uniform' and which 'rehit' is to be followed as there are many rehits in the literature (8, 11 & Rehit Maryada of SGPC). Moreover, his definition of a 'Sikh' contradicts the definition of a Sikh given in the Rehit Maryada published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) in 1945.

A Sikh Defined by the SGPC:

Let us now consider the definition of a 'Sikh' given in the Rehit Maryada of SGPC:

JO ISTRI JAN PURAKH ...

The literal translation is as follows:

"A woman or a man, who believes in one Almighty, ten Guru Sahibans (from Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji to Sri Guru Gobind Singh Sahib), Sri Guru Granth Sahib and Bani and advice of ten Guru Sahibans and the Amrit of Dasmesh Ji and does not accept any other religion, is a Sikh."

Although the definition of a 'Sikh' given in the Rehit Maryada of SGPC is much better than all the definitions mentioned above and than those discussed in my previous writings (4, 5), it still lacks consistency and precision (4, 5). Moreover, many Amritdhari Sikhs interpret the word 'nischa' (given in the Punjabi version that means 'belief' or 'faith') as 'obligatory', i. e., to be a Sikh it is obligatory and imperative to be blessed with the holy Amrit as finally ordained by Guru Gobind Singh. I am sorry to say that 'belief' or 'faith' cannot be interpreted as 'obligatory' or 'imperative' under any circumstances. It may be necessary to add here that 'belief' and 'faith' are often used interchangeably but 'belief' may or may not imply certitude in the believer whereas 'faith'  always does even when there is no evidence or proof. Ultimately the 'faith' becomes 'blind faith'.

Nevertheless, Guru Nanak rejects 'blind faith' and advises to research, analyze, and evaluate before accepting any statement or philosophy (1, 2). It does not mean that I am against the concept of Amrit, nevertheless, I am trying to find out the real definition of a Sikh. On the other hand, academically, it is unfair to interpret a statement according to one's own whims and mislead the Sikhs at large. If it were obligatory then it must have been mentioned clearly and boldly in the definition of a Sikh by the SGPC to avoid any confusion in its interpretation and implications.

Now a question would arise: What would be the implications if to be a Sikh adoption of Amrit and wearing of 5 Ks are the musts?

IMPLICATIONS

The immediate implication would be that more than 80%, even those with beards and turbans, will be declared non-Sikhs and the population of the Sikhs will immediately drop from already a few millions to a few thousands. Then those, who would be declared as non-Sikhs, would lose their rights to vote and to become office bearer of Sikh institutions and Gurdwaras, to recite Gurbani and Kirtan, to do Katha (interpretation of bani) or lecture on Sikhism in the Gurdwaras. However, they are allowed to maintain their rights to donate as much money as they want, to dust the shoes of the sangat, to sweep the floor and vacuum the carpets, to clean the used utensils, and other similar services.

The implications of taking away the most important rights (to vote and to become office bearer of Sikh institutions and Gurdwaras, to recite Gurbani and Kirtan, to do Katha or lecture on Sikhism in the Gurdwaras) and allowing only the sewa (service) may force the already astray Sikhs to decide to renounce Sikhism and join some sects/cults like, Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Satya Sain Baba, Baba Balak Nath, Institutions of different Devtas and Davees, Namdharis, Radhaswamis, Narankaris, etc. In fact many Sikhs have already joined such sects/cults. In the Western countries they will be picked up by Christianity and other religions. Nevertheless, I would humbly suggest to them that they should explore the real religion of Guru Nanak themselves before renouncing Sikhism. There is every possibility that they may find that the Guru Nanak's religion is the most suitable religion for them (3, 6, 7).

SUGGESTIONS

The issue of defining a 'Sikh' was discussed at length in the World Sikh News, Stockton in 1992 (4) and in the Sikh Review, Calcutta in 1994 (5) where some improvements in the definitions of 'Sikh' and 'Sikhism' were suggested for further research by a committee of eminent Sikh theologians, having some knowledge of science; eminent Sikh scientists of various fields, having some knowledge of Gurbani; and eminent historians and linguists having some knowledge of both Gurbani and science, under the command of the highest authorities of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht and the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). I had put an emphasis on the knowledge of science for all the members of the committee because we are living in the Space Age and Information Age (Science Age) where consistency and precision are the rules of success. Although Gurmat Lehr is in full swing in India for the last two years, I have not yet noticed if any Sikh authority or the Sikh Institute is looking into this most serious problem, being faced by the young Sikhs, of knowing:

Who is a Sikh?

The committee to be formulated should coin a proper definition of a 'Sikh' before the 13th April 1999, the Third Centenary of the commonly called 'Birth of Khalsa', for the Sikh generations beyond 2000.

REFERENCES:

    AGGS = Aad Guru Granth Sahib. 1983 (reprint) 1430 p. Publishers: Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar. (M = Mahla, i.e., succession number of the Sikh Gurus to the House of Guru Nanak, P = Page of the AGGS).
  1. AGGS, M1, p 1410: Pehla vastu sinjhan kae ta keechae vipaar.
  2. AGGS, M1, p 1255: Khoji upjae baadi binsae hau bal bal gur kartara.
  3. Chahal, D. S. 1992. Philosophy: Scientific interpretation of the Sikh scriptures. The Sikh Review, Calcutta, Vol. 40 (July): 5-20.
  4. Chahal, D. S. 1992. Sikh and Sikhism: Definition thereof. World Sikh News, Stockton, April 24, May 1, 8, 15 & 22.
  5. Chahal, D. S. 1994. Religion: Who is a Sikh? Search for a definition. The Sikh Review, Calcutta. 42 (May): 21-33.
  6. Chahal, D. S. 1995 & 1996. Interpretation of Gurbani: A scientist's approach. World Sikh Meet 1995, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbhandak Committee, Sri Amritsar, p 36-38. The World Sikh News Stockton, March 6-12, 1996. The Sikh News & Views, Ontario, 21: March 1996.
  7. Chahal, D. S. 1996. Relevance of Gurbani in community educatiuon. Sikhism - Modus Vivendi. Proc. Third Sikh Educational Conf. Toronto, Ontario, 1995. eds. Jarnail Singh and Hardev Singh. The Sikh Social & Educational Society, Willowdale, Ontario.
  8. Padam, Pyara Singh. 1984. Rehit Namae (Punjabi). Kalam Mandir, Lower Mall, Patiala.
  9. Singh, Gurbax. 1996. Who is patit. Sikh Review, Calcutta, 44 (December): 75-78.
  10. Singh, Kahn (Bhai). 1981. Mahan Kosh (Punjabi). Bhasha Vibag, Punjab, Patiala.
  11. Singh, Satbir, (Principal). 1980. Sikh Rehit Maryada Etae Usdi Mahanta (Punjabi). Publishers: Jaswant Singh 'Ajit', Pumi Parkashan, 3658, Mori Gate, Delhi - 110 006.