Why I embraced Sikhism
Jivanjot Kaur, whose birth name was Georgia Rangel, was born into a Christian family. At onetime, in her quest for a fully satisfying religion she had embraced Judaism, but many years later she came into contact with some Sikhs that gave her an opportunity to get acquainted with Sikhism. After she had studied and explored Sikhism she was convinced that her quest for a fully satisfying religion had come to a close. But she did not adopt Sikhism on the spur of the moment. Rather it was after spending 7-8 years that she decided to be baptised in 1994. A letter by her had appeared in the October issue of the Spokesman. A few days later she herself called our office. We present some excerpts from our talk with her.
Ms Jivanjot Kaur Khalsa talks to The Spokesman
Q: Ms. Jivanjot Kaur how were you aquainted with Sikhism?
A: I was born in a Christian family. I left home at the age of seventeen and visited various churches associated with every sect of Christianity. I saw that even in some of the liberal sects of Christianity there were some questions that they did not allow to be questioned. I was not satisfied. Then I came into contact with Judaism. I became a Jew at the age of twenty two and continued to remain the follower of this religion for thirty years. During the last twenty five years of these thirty years I also remained a member of one Jewish temple. The Sikhs started coming to the United States in large numbers only after 1965. That is why I was aquainted with Sikhism very late.
Q: How (were you aquainted)?
A: The Sikhs used to attract attention because of their distinct appearance. I also saw such Sikhs who reached the US in the Sikh form and would soon be bereft of their long hair. But then there were others who would maintain their identity. Three such Sikhs lived in my neighbourhood. The mother of one of these Sikhs became unconscious and went into a coma. That Sikh requested all of his friends to reach the Gurdwara and participate in the prayer service. All prayed together and the mother of that Sikh friend regained her consciousness and recovered. He had this firm belief that the collective prayer by all of us had been heard by the Almighty. Then he got the Kirtan performed at his residence. This is how I was introduced to Sikhism.
Q: Did you make some more efforts to know more about Sikhism?
A youthful interest in Religion
A: Yes, I used to take interest in religion since my younger days, but there arose some questions in my mind which could neither be answered by the Christian nor by the Jewish religion and philosophy. However, when I started reading about Sikhism it seemed that Sikhism had answers to those questions. Sikhism is an all embracing religion in which there is no place for misconceptions, fallacies and rituals. Only one God is the Father of all human beings who are like a single family. I started deriving a sense of peace and equipoise from Gurbani.
Q: Did your relatives, friends etc. dissuade you from embracing Sikhism?
A: My daughter was annoyed the most of all. She would ask me how could I change my religion. I said, "I have not changed my religion. Even earlier I believed in things which were neither Christian nor of the Jewish religion and philosophy. When I went through the Sikh philosophy, I was greatly pleased to find my thoughts and feelings matching with it. This was exactly what I used to think about. The fact is that right from the begining I believed in the tenets of Sikhism without having been introduced to it. After embracing Sikhism I felt that I had ultimately reached my home." At first my daughter would not understand me but after meeting many of my Sikh friends she was convinced that Sikhs were good people.
Q: Now you tie your hair and also wear a small turban. Are you a follower of Yogi Bhajan?
A: No, I'm a follower of the Guru alone. I do not believe in anybody except Guru and God. Yogi Bhajan has done a good thing that he has introduced Sikhism to the Americans but like many sants in Punjab he is also a sant with a separate following. Some of his followers have left him (and not Sikhism) while many remain with him. I never knew Yogi Bhajan. I worship the one God. In Christianity only Christ is worshipped and many Christians regard him as God. That is why Sikhism appeals to me very much. I do not give importance to sants. My tying of hair and wearing a turban has nothing to do with Yogi Bhajan.
Q: Do you live in the United States?
A: For six months I live in the US and for six months in Punjab. In a way Punjab has become a second home to me. I am suffering from a certain disease and my body cannot bear too much of cold. That is why I come to Patiala in winters. Here the climate is conducive to my health and I also get treatment for my ailments.
Q: How do you feel by remaining amongst the Punjabi Sikhs?
Hindu customs, rituals and beliefs?
A: The Sikhs of Patiala are very good and love me a lot. Earlier I had also lived in Amritsar. I got an opportunity to live in the homes of some Sikhs. I noticed that despite being Sikhs, they believed in Hindu customs, rituals and beliefs. While living with one such family I was asked not to wash my hair on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays because by doing so their only son was likely to meet with some calamity. This superstition went against the tenets of Sikhism. Now that I live in Patiala, I am free to wash my hair on any day of the week. I also know a Sikh in the United States who has done the 'prakash' of Guru Granth Sahib at his home and has also made an alcohol bar there. I have noticed that many Sikhs do not have adequate knowledge of Sikhism. They are more under the influence of brahminical customs and fallacies. There is a need to tell them about the principles of Sikhism.
Q: You must have realized by this time that Sikhs are not so enthusiastic about the necessity of propagating their religion. What is your opinion?
A: The task of preaching is lax because you have not appointed good granthis in the Gurdwaras. They are often uneducated or semi-educated. Their salaries are meagre. They do not study books on their religion. If you appoint properly educated and devoted granthis (who have genuine love for Sikhism) in the Gurdwaras then the task of preaching will automatically be accelerated. I have noticed in the US too that if a granthi does not know English, he cannot reach the new generation.
The granthi of the Maryland Gurdwara that I attend was a 23 year old youngman when he went there. He did not know English and requested me to teach him how to read and write that language. I agreed to teach him provide he taught me the Punjabi language. He has now become well versed in English but I have lagged behind in learning Punjabi. Well, after learning English the granthi of the Maryland Gurdwara can now impart good information about Sikhism to the youth and several Sikhs have been baptised. You should also appoint educated and well paid granthis in the Gurdwaras here (India). The propagation of Sikhism will automatically be speeded up..
Q: What more have you felt after becoming a part of the Sikh society?
A: The Sikhs quarrel amongst themselves unnecessarily and over trifles and thus waste their energy. They present their respective cases to me and ask me if I agree with them. I simply smile at them. I find their squabbles quite meaningless. The Jews also quarrel among themselves but in the event of some common calamity they are all united. The Sikhs, on the other hand, continue with their mutual strifes even in times of adversity. They should evolve some methodology by following which they can settle their disputes once for all by sitting together and abide by the decision. This would naturally augment the Panthic power. For the last few years I've been hearing the Sikhs say that the Panth is passing through a grave crisis. But during these very years I have also been watching them indulge in serious disputes over the commonplace matters and frittering away their energy. Some way has to be found out for unanimous solution to the disputes regarding matters concerning the entire Panth.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the future of Sikhism?
A: The future of Sikhism is very bright. It is a wholesome and animate philosophy. You only need to take it to the people. It can attract everybody. But you should not give preference to conversion. Your primary concern should be to educate them about Sikhism. I, myself, spent 7-8 years in the study of the Sikh religion before I became Amritdhari. Send good missionaries, good granthis and good Sikh literature abroad. But don't send the "bata" (vessel) containing "amrit" (nectar) till the people themselves ask for it. Good Sikh magazines, newpapers and books can influence the minds of people. Of course the oral preaching can help where the people are unlettered.
All the methods of preaching should be employed. But the real propagation of Sikhism depends upon the way the Sikhs spend their lives as per the tenets of their creed. Only those Sikhs can prove to be real missionaries who lead the pure Sikh way of life.
Q: Do you know something about apostasy which is on the increase amongst the Sikh youth?
A: Yes, I do. But it is not limited to the Sikh youth alone. The condition of the youth in other religions is the same.
Q: You mean there is not much to worry about?
A: Did I say that? If we're not concerned about the youth how shall we bring them back to the Sikh fold. But one thing must be borne in mind that by laying too much emphasis on the outer form will be just like making an ordinary man wear the army uniform without giving him the training. Will he become a good soldier simply by wearing the uniform? No. First of all the army spirit has to be infused in him. Exactly like that Sikhi shall have to be instilled in the minds of the Sikh youth. They will then automatically start loving the Sikh appearance. In order to arouse the love for Sikhi we shall have to adopt, as I have already mentioned, different and appropriate methods for different kinds of situations. I believe that since the Sikh philosophy is a very strong and robust philosophy, it is bound to leave its impact if it is presented in the right manner.
The status of Sikh women
Q: Would you like to comment on the status of Sikh women in the present society?
A: I would rather like to ask something. Have you ever seen a Sikh lady included among the panj piaras? Surely not. Yes, you can find them in the jathas in the US. Why not in Punjab? The Gurus had given the status of equality to men and women; why don't the Guru's Sikhs accord them equality? A mother bearing daughters is considered inferior to one bearing sons. Dowry is demanded from the parents of the girls. Ultrasound tests are conducted to determine the foetal gender and abortions are performed for gender selection. The woman is burnt for bringing inadequate dowry. the Sikh society has adopted all the ills of the Hindu society. How shall woman be seen as equal to a man? So long as men do not understand true Sikhism they will not allow women to attain an equal status. Sikh women are not permitted to the Darbar Sahib sewa because they are considered impure during part of their monthly cycle.
How can a Sikh woman expect justice from others if the things contrary to the Sikh tenets are said in the greatest and loftiest of the Sikh holy places?
Q: Would you like to serve as a granthi in a Gurdwara?
A: Rather I am keen to see other women performing services as granthis.
Q: Did you participate in the World Sikh Sammelan?
A: Yes, I did.
Q: What were your impressions?
A: As a show of unity, by getting many factions of the Panth together, it was a positive step. In fact, the Sammelan did not seem to me to result in very serious thinking. In the seminars people would express their views and go on their ways. Sometimes several people would start speaking simultaneously. Nobody seemed to be interested in reaching some consensus. No profound deliberations seemed to have been undertaken to pull the Panth out of a critical situation. You cannot achieve anything by simply gathering crowds. The Panth should be clear about its targets and also about the time and the manner in which some achievements for the Panth can be made. If the Panth is really passing through a critical phase, only very serious deliberations should be made. There is a different time and occassion for spending money on mammoth conferences and processions.
Santdom and Sikhi
Q: There is a plethora of sants in Punjab and their number is believed to be 357. Would you like to say something about their role in the context of the present situation?
A: The sants might have played a major role in the spread of Sikhism in the past but what I'm seeing today is that Sikhi is being harmed more by santdom. Today many sants have also become partners in frittering away the wealth and energy of the Sikhs. They have their own maryada which is different from that of the Panth and every dera has got its own rahet-maryada. This tendency could prove fatal to Sikhism. These sants have also invented different methods of administering amrit and it is not the Gurus' Sikhi but their own Sikhi which is being preached in their deras. The innocent Sikhs become their devotees and gradually move away from Sikhi. Some of them even start equating these sants with the Guru. A great effort is required in order to convert 'sant-sewa' into Panth-sewa'.
Q: You were saying a while ago that the Sikhs should find a way out to settle their disputes. How do the Jews resolve their disputes?
A: The Jews ask for summoning the 'bait din' i.e. 'the house of justice' or a meeting where the learned rabbis hear both the parties and give their judgement. These rabbis are known for their impartiality and profound knowledge of the Jewish laws and are totally disinterested in the dispute of the parties. They pronounce judgement only on the basis of the Jewish law and traditions. Both the parties give a pledge in advance that they would abide by the decision given by the bait-din. The Christians also have some such arrangements for the settlement of disputes. The Sikh have yet to evolve an arrangement and have to accord recognition to it. The arrangements made so far have not helped much in resolving disputes.
Acquainting Sikhs with Sikhism
Q: At present Christianity and Islam have spread far and wide and a race (seems) to be going between them to surpass each other. What type of missionaries do these religions have?
A: Don't try to prepare the missionaries of Sikhism by looking at them. Both these religions preach that only they possess the truth and those not reposing faith in their creed shall suffer eternal damnation. Nothing of this sort has been claimed in Sikhism. We have to think differently in order to prepare the missionaries. The Sikh missionaries are needed not for others but for acquainting Sikhs with Sikhism. The suggestion given in the October issue of the Spokesman that the Singh Sahibaan should divide the 12,000 villages among themselves and should reach the people by taking groups of wise men and women with them, seems to me to be more appropriate.
You first make the Sikhs firm in their faith. Increase their knowledge about Sikhism. By giving up the idea of converting others to Sikhism, simply let the message of Sikhi reach them. Those who are not satisfied with their religious beliefs, like me, shall come running to Sikhism because it has something which can give satisfaction to all those who cannot find it elsewhere. If more Sikhs understand the objectives of Sikhism, many evils including the santdom shall be removed. Only the Sikhs who understand Sikhism can attract the non-Sikhs. I have seen that you have often written in the Spokesman that many Sikhs in the villages of Punjab don't know anything about Sikhism and they do not even know the names of the ten Gurus. It is they who need awareness about Sikhi. As I have already said, the best missionary of Sikhism is the Sikh who leads a Sikh way of life. I was also attracted towards Sikhism by observing some such Sikhs.
Q: Any method to preach Sikhism?
A: Let the Dalits be shown affection as was done by the Guru. They will embrace Sikhism. The Sikhi can offer them a better life but your behaviour towards them should be like a good friend. Having been born and raised in a non-Sikh and non-Indian milieu, I may not understand the entire thing completely. You can think better according to your circumstances.
Q: Would you like to say something about the Spokesman?
A: It is a very good magazine. I faced difficulty in getting its English edition. I went through some of the issues while in Patiala during my stay last year. They had appealed to me. It was difficult to get them in the States. I did not know where to send the subscription therefore I have come here. I derive pleasure from every issue of the Spokesman. Of course I would like to suggest that you must have a regular page for the children but don't publish fairy tales there. Such stories are being published elsewhere. You should publish tales from the Sikh history. You have not provide the children's page in the last few issues. Probably you have changed your policy.
Q: Can you read and write punjabi?
A: Yes, I can write but the free flow is yet to be attained. So far as reading Punjabi is concerned, I can read it but full understanding is yet to be acquired.
Q: How do your perform the nitnem?
A: Like all the amritdhari Sikhs I perform the daily nitnem, but in English. I do not think it proper to perform the practice of nitnem in a language which is not fully understood by you. I fully understand Gurbani in English and also perform the nitnem in that very language.