Guru Hargobind Sahib: Dawn of a New Era
We Need A Dream Team
1999 was the most important year of my life, but not for the reason that will come to mind for most Sikhs. It was the year a Xerox copy of an article from 'The Sikh Review' (May 1995 pg: 19) mysteriously appeared in my house. It was from the history section of that journal, and it was titled Guru Hargobind Sahib: Dawn of a New Era.
It was the article that I could have been waiting for a life time. It was the key to the future of the Sikh religion, a future that even back then looked so bleak that day and night, I thought about how close the Sikh religion was to dissappearance. It had stopped growing about a century ago. During the times of the Gurus, or for a hundred years after that, Sikhi still continued to attract new converts. But almost nobody was converting into it now. Worse, many were leaving it.
If you are not growing, it does not mean you are stagnant. Even that would have been not so bad. The fact that everyone else is growing, the reality is that you are actually shrinking. The others are growing on account of you! You are losing your numbers to them. They are growing because you are dying out. They are feeding off you!
While Sikhs continued to sing their 'Raj Karega Khalsa, Akee Rahe Na Koe', the writing was already on the wall. Anyone looking, or even listening to the frantic calls of the parcharaks, should have suspected trouble ahead. But we still went on singing. Stuck in our comfort zone, it was still safe to assume that divine help would come. Its not my problem. Let Guru Gobind Singh worry about how this raj is going to happen.
Sikhi is shrinking because: Sikhs have no understanding or appreciation of the fact that we HAVE TO GROW, OR DIE OUT! They continue to preach that Sikhi is not a proselytizing religion. It is just a cop-out because they know that nobody is interested to study or research or convert to a religion that is still preoccupied with bravery, courage, martyrdom, 'hand to hand combat and horses galloping the length and breath of north India saving damsels in distress! Sikhs have no idea that we have to re-engineer our religion to make it interesting for all people of all nations in the world to want to become Sikhs. This is the 21st Century. Wake up to reality. To add on, Sikhs have no idea that we must stop saying that "Sikhi is a non-missionary religion and does not need anyone to convert to it." The truth is that we are dying for converts. If we were not a missionary religion, why on earth did Guru Nanak Dev Ji walk around the world? Baba Ji should have just stayed at home in Punjab! Just like Guru Nanak Sahib was a missionary, we too have to start saying to ourselves; that SIKHI HAS TO BE MADE INTO A MISSIONARY RELIGION, ready to thrust itself on the world stage. We have a great product in the Sikhi of our Gurus. But Sikhs have No idea that unless we have the right branding and the right marketing strategies, no body will be interested in our product. While everybody else is working hard at branding and marketing, Sikhs are playing 'hard to get', trying to look as if we didn't really care if nobody wants to be a Sikh. Since I was a kid, I have been hearing this well worn statement – "We are only interested in quality, not quantity". Actually that was just to console ourselves on our diminishing numbers and our inevitable fate. We have to move beyond the Sikhi of turbans and kirpans and kacheras which even the present day Sikhs are not bothered about or interested in. the turban, kirpan and kachera must be recategorised, to bring perfect clarity to their place, instead of the confusion that we have today. Having done that, we must embark on a new journey to create a New Age Sikhi, something that has meaning and relevance for ALL THE TWENTY FIVE MILLION SIKHS in the world, and not just the three hundred thousand Amritdharis left today. Sikhs have to stop hiding behind this correct but very misleading stastic that has been circulating, that Sikhi is the world's fifth largest religion. That may be a fact, but the picture is not very bright. The truth should be told; that all the other four religions have more than one billion followers each. We only have 25 million! All the other four are at least forty times larger than us! The disparity is astronomical. No point touting this 'fifth largest' business – it is nothing but just another statement for Sikhs to 'feel good' about and have a false sense of security. So that we can all relax and as usual don't do anything about it. Instead, Sikhs should acknowledge that while we are the fifth largest, we have miles and miles to go before we even catch up with the fourth largest!
The articles I will present to the Sikhs through this site will provide insights and ideas how to move forward to regain lost ground. After 30 years as one of the leading parcharaks in Malaysia, and having worked relentlessly for the survival of the Sikh religion, I have had to finally admit that the Sikh religion worldwide must undergo a 'massive correction', or be consigned to history.
I still remember the enthusiasm with which the announcement was made in 1990 by the S,G,P.C. and the Akaal Takht – 1999, 300th Anniversary of the Khalsa, the whole panth to be Amritdhari. 1999 came and went. Nothing changed. Then it was – 2004, 400th Anniversary of the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib at the Harimander Sahib – the whole panth to be Amritdhari. That came and went. Nothing happened. Now for 2008, 300th Anniversary, I'm not surprised to note that no one has yet said anything. No more slogans. Maybe even the dreamers are starting to sober up! The futility is starting to dawn on them.
Our Gurus have taught us how to make these 'massive corrections' when times change . Our Gurus have given us the means and the tools, and I will cover that too in the articles I will present to my fellow Sikhs. It will not be easy for anyone to accept.
But whether you accept it or not is totally irrelevant to the question. Change in the world happens, without our individual consent.
We can accept change, or become extinct like the dinosaurs. The fact is that all the things I will talk or write about have already happened in the Sikh world. It is already reality. I didn't make it happen. I am not the cause of it. It is not my articles that are going to make people what they already are today. It was they themselves who chose to become what they are today. And the sooner we can accept and acknowledge that, the sooner we can start addressing their needs and concerns and the sooner we can create the supportive environment that dharma and community are supposed to provide to every individual.
All I will be saying to the Sikhs is to recognize the truth and the reality that surrounds you, instead of being in a permanent state of denial and insisting that we all go back and start living like people did in the sixteenth century.
Today, we live in a world where:
(the above two points have been intentionally taken out as they are very worrying. They are only for the Sikh leaders, visionaries and policy makers who I have personal face to face discussions with. The number of persons taking amrit year on year is steadily dropping down to zero! Even Punjab today has become devoid of young Sikhs with turbans. The majority of Sikh young men in the so called Sikh homeland are clean shaven. Almost all of the Punjabi youth who have migrated from the Punjab in search of jobs are clean shaven. They are actually creating a nightmare for some of the Sikh communities where they are landing in their quest for jobs by creating a situation where the local youths are asking their parents why they should wear their turbans when hundreds of Punjabi youths that just arrived, don't.
(Dya Singh, world famous Sikh singer, told me last year of what happened in a town in Ireland. On Sunday, about fifty Sikh youths just arrived from Punjab showed up at the local Gurdwara. The sanggat, being small in number, was over the moon as there were suddenly so many Sikhs in their town. The following Sunday, they all showed up again, all clean shaven. The sanggat was devastated. No one can imagine what trauma was suffered by those same people who had been celbrating all week on the great news that suddenly their gurdwara would have so many Sikhs. He himself had to do damage control and restore some normalcy. Some did listen to his advice for them not to destroy everything the local sanggat had built up. They promised to wear a turban. But not many.) 90% of Sikh leaders are NOT LITERATE IN ENGLISH. They are clueless to what is happening in the world today. Almost 100% of them have no professional management or administrative training. None have attended a personal development seminar or course. They have not read a single personal development or management skills book in their entire life. And these are the people we are depending on to lead our nation into the new millennium.
There is much more that I can write, but I don't want to scare the life out of my readers. What I am glad to report is that despite all of the above, the faith of the Sikhs has been growing stronger over the years.
Having said all that, compare what you just read with this: Every year, larger and larger numbers are flocking to the Gurdwaras. This is especially evident at Vesakhi, the Gurpurabs and special events like the Barsi of Sant Sohan Singh Ji in Malacca (Malaysia), New Years Eve celebrations etc. Every year, more and more Sikhs are going on yatra's to the holy Sikh shrines – Harimandir Sahib, Hemkoont Sahib, Panja Sahib, Hazoor Sahib, etc. those who have gone once love it so much they go again and again. There are many young Sikhs who go every year without fail. Gurdwaras are full of Sikhs who love kirtan, and are packed out when established raagis visit. The demand for Punjabi and kirtan teachers has completely outpaced supply.
So, what conclusions can we draw from these interesting facts?
Don't know about you but let me tell you what this means to me.
Sikhs love Sikhi, but cannot handle the requirements of the 5 K's imposed on them. In today's world, they are not agreeable to a dress code that does not 'fit in' with their lifestyle. They cannot understand why there must be a dress code in the first place. Why can't everybody be Sikhs in the way they want to be. (As far as this is concerned, I was in denial for decades. For the last fifteen years, as I saw Sikh after Sikh shed his/her 'saroop', I had already become aware of a need for a massive correction or extinction. But I was not able to come to terms with what those changes would mean. To me and probably all of my colleagues and contemporaries in Sikhi, this was a 'no go area'. It's either the 5 K's or nothing. There was no other way!) Sikhs love their Sikhi but no one is telling them HOW TO BE A Sikh, or WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SIKH. There is no worship or even any spiritual practice, not at home and not at the Gurdwara. There is only the reading of paath. Reading of paath does not really amount to worship. Nitnem is more about seeking of divine knowledge and wisdom. That is why our ancestors spent a lot of time doing mool mantra jaap. Now that, is worship or pooja of Akaal Purakh Waheguru. Remember what our parents used to say – "Pehlaa paath pooja, fher kamm dooja"! (more about all this later). Sikhs do not know what Sikh Dharma and bhagti marg, or the spiritual practice of Sikhi is. Gianis and granthis, themselves not knowing what to do, keep telling people to read more Sikh history, which is just collecting more information, and again, do more paath. There are so many shortcomings in this area that I will not continue on this point here, rather I will save it to be dealt with in specific articles relating to the points.
So let me end this 'taster' of the things to come. Rome was not built in a day. It will take me time to roll out the new ideas and approach to re-invigorate and revive the Sikh religion to a living, thriving and vibrant Dharma. Stay with me and look out for new postings.
I will just say that it may be your spirits are flagging after reading this gloom and doom intro. Let me just say that I have a plan. I have solutions, that will not only turn our fortunes, but make us so strong and vibrant that the world will wonder what happened. We will turn our stumbling blocks into our building blocks. Our enemies who are today taunting us, will be put on the defensive. We will turn every Sikh into a worker for Sikhi. We will launch a new army, but not of swords and guns. Violence is history. It shall be a 'Salvation Army'. Our new army or 'Mukti Sehna' will serve the world by running free kitchens (langgar), build schools, hospitals, homes and centres. We will rock the world. We are after all the newest and most modern religion in the world. Let us unleash our potential energy.
How long will it take? That depends on you. And on whether you will have the courage to change your mindset, change your paradigms and crawl 'out of the box'. All I can say is that with the support of the intelligent and thinking individuals in the Sikh community of today, everything is possible.
Here is another.
Lions? Gimme A Break! (This article is 'Further Down the Road Less Travelled' from my work on re-branding and re-marketing the Sikh religion before we can take it to a new world. Lets teach our kids stuff that has meaning and makes sense. Time to let go of the past, and reassess what futile messages we are giving to our future generation) The Irrelevance of it All
Get real. folks. Today, we don't live in a Punjab of 'hand to hand combat with us decked out as Nihangs, and we are no longer galloping across the plains of north India rescuing damsels in distress. Today. We live in the ultra modern megapolises of London, Vancouver, Toronto etc. It is no longer relevant to keep harping on this worn out line about Sikhs being lions. Who gives a damm about whether anybody is a lion or not. The Europeans don't care if you are lions or not. The Americans, Africans, Chinese and Japanese don't either. (Did I miss anyone?) But all of these folks need the Sikhi of our Gurus. People want to know if you can help them find peace, if you can teach them how to resolve conflict by resolving the ego, to be calm, to meditate and to heal themselves. Nobody is looking for lions!
What does it mean to 'be a lion' anyway. What lion. Where lion. Who lion. How does being a lion help anyone or anything? That was a good marketing line for the times of Guru Gobind Singh. Brought great results too. But what has this projection of being lions have to do with today's world and today's lifestyles? There are no more wars to fight. Even if there were, we learned in 1984 that no amount of 'lions' can make any difference. (The poor Arabs too like us, can't seem to understand.) How about we birth and reinforce a new message, that truly makes sense. Sikh Dharma is not about war at all. It never was. It is actually about peace, remember. Naa ko Hindu, Naa ko musallman. Out of 10 Guru Prophets. only two went to war. The first, Guru Hargobind only fought four short battles. And they were just to sort out some details with the emperor in Delhi and to tell him where he can go! Lets not lose the picture of the 247 years of our ten Gurus and their true mission and purpose here on earth! Christians don't go around calling themselves 'Richard the Lion Heart'. They don't go around dressed as the crusaders did. They have a proud martial history too, but they have left it all behind to spend all their energy renewing themselves and spreading their religion. They live in the present. They teach their kids their proud history of the crusaders, but they tell them that they are the workers of Christ. Their mission is to spread Christianity all over the world. You will never guess how many millions of young Christians are today working, mostly self funded, in the most remote parts of the world, spreading Christianity. just visit one of their websites and see for your self. Sikhs still live in history, in the glories of their past, dreaming on and on, of some recognition that the world may give us, and still hoping to return to that golden era when we were kings of our own lands and respected for our guts. Sikhs go on and on about being lions and do nothing else. The result: we have raised generations of kids who have done nothing else. No one has said anything about 'Rocking the World with Sikhi'. How about re-branding ourselves to be 'Lighted Candles'! (These were the favourite words of Sant Baba Niranjan Singh Ji of Patiala, Shiromani Kathakaar , the Sant who was dubbed 'The Englishman Saint' because of his English education.) "How can an extinguished candle light another", he would ask the sanggat, and in English too. "Darkness can only be removed with light. So, become 'Lighted Candles' he would say, again and again.
How about teaching our kids that they are the Lighted Candles of God, sent here to spread peace, Love and Light, in a world that is full of darkness and pain. Now wouldn't that be wonderful, our children growing up, knowing that they were born with a mission, and their birth is for a divine assignment. Teach them that they are 'Nirala'. They are here to help Akaal Purakh defeat 'Kalyug', and lead the world to safety. Then watch these kids, growing up with meaning to their life.
Teach them that they are lighted candles. They must shine bright for the world to see. They must imbibe all the godly qualities – being strong, truthful, mindful, dutiful, pious, humble, generous, forgiving. When we switch the teaching from being lions to being Lighted Candles, there is suddenly so much to teach and nurture in our kids. Only then will every parent suddenly have an opportunity to teach Sikhi to their kids and have meaningful participation in their growth. Today, even though universal values are taught in every home, they are never taught as Sikhi values. Problem has been that most of us, me included, never knew what there was to teach our kids about being lions besides being strong and brave. So all we did was drag them to Gurdwara and that's it. Better to be 'Light'. What do you say? Let's move from Lions to Light. Better to be enlightened beings who spread Sikh Dharma, love, healing and peace in this world. That is relevant, and everybody in the world is looking for these teachings and the messengers and teachers who can help people remove their ignorance and find God. That is why Guru Nanak came to this world.................not to raise lions. We were transformed to become Lions to defend a fledgling faith, until the Sikhi tree had grown strong branches and roots. Today, the fight to survive is still on. But it is not lions who are going to save us. The war is a war of intellect and intelligence. We must fight with our brains. We are not going to win it by walking around carrying swords and spears inside Gurdwara compounds!
We must move on from being lions to becoming 'Beings of Light' as required by our founding Fathers. In a world full of darkness and ignorance, Sikhs are required by our Gurus to become 'Beacons of Divine Light' –
Gur Sakhi, jothe pargat hoeh; God be my witness, the Perfect Light shines and radiates from within me. (Sohila)
Be proud of your past, but don't hang on to it. Redefine your future and move on. Stay relevant, and make sense.
Now please go over to my lecture notes on Intro To Sikhi, to understand 'What is the defination of 'Sikh'. You will find them in my blog titled - Finally, the Mystery is Solved.....