As with any people, not all Sikhs are fully devoted to their religion.
Although Sikhism accepts no caste distinctions, there is a commonway to identify those Sikhs who are devout in the performance of theirreligion. All males who are born into a Sikh family or who convert are named Singh, butsince the time of Guru Gobind Singh, only those who are devout, thosewhoare indeed 'lions for God' typically employ this name. To qualify as aSingh one must be sincere in religion, above social reproach, andobserve five cultural practices. These practices are known as the fiveKs because Khalsa (Khalsa Sikhs are those who accept the reforms of GuruGobind Singh) Punjabi Sikh names all begin with that letter:
- kesh: uncut hair. From birth onward devout Sikhs never cut theirhair, including their beards. This is indicative of their desire totranscend material nature and attain spiritual realization. The body isnot important beyond its role as a vehicle for enlightenment.
- kangha: comb used to keep the hair clean. This comb iskept under one's turban. The practice of kesh should not be taken asneglect for the body, it is cared for as one might care for anautomobile, hence the kangha.
- kara: metal bracelet or bangle worn on the right wrist.Since the Sikhs reject all forms of asceticism, they are activelyengaged in life. Indeed, unless a man works and supports his family hecan't be considered a Singh. When one reaches out his (right) hand towork, the bracelet reminds him of God. By this he is always careful todeal honestlywith all men.
- kaccha: knee-length underwear. Sikhs are to be very modest.
- kirpan: dagger. Sikhs reject the doctrine of ahimsa(non-violence). They see it as a moral weakness and betrayal ofreligious requirements. If a Sikh sees a wrong being committed he isduty bound to stop it. Sometimes such righteous intervention requiresforce. The dagger is nottherefore merely a religious symbol, it is a tool, even a weapon, forrighteous intervention or self-defense. There is also of course thespiritual symbolism. The dagger cuts through maya or illusion. Thisapplication is secondary however. Pramjit told me that sometimes thedaggercan cause a problem. As a Singh he can never be separated from hiskirpan. When Sikhs travel this is sometimes a problem. Airlines, forinstance, will not allow them carry the kirpans on planes. Likewise theysometimes encounter difficulties in stores and other public places. Toremedythis, they have developed tiny kirpans, about the size of pocket knives.In this way they can observe their religious requirements and publiclaws as well. Once the plane lands, they take the kirpan from theluggage and strap it on their sides.
If a Singh violates any of these principles, for any reason, he mustbe baptized anew in order to reclaim the Singh title. If, for instance, a Sikh goes in for surgery and his hair is cut for that reason, he is nolonger a Singh. He must approach the Sat Sangat (the Sikh congregation)and be rebaptized. I asked Pramjit how serious it would be if he losthis status as a Singh due to such an eventuality. He replied that whatmatters is the consciousness, not physical circumstances; but it wasobvious from his demeanor that such would be viewed as most unfortunate.On the other hand, I spoke with a thirty year old Sikh who has neverbeen baptized. He wears the turban and observes the five Ks, and yet hasnever felt the need (or the inner purity) to accept baptism. Hisdevotion to the five Ks is such however that even though he is an expert tennis player, he refuses to remove his turban or kirpan to do so.
The idea of Pauhal (baptism) may seem alien to Indian philosophy at first glance. When we think of baptism, we tend to think of Christianity or the Jewish mikveh. Where did the Sikhs get the idea?
It is explained that Nam is the source, and the means to merge with the Unmanifest One. Nam is the transcendental experience of the Holy Word. The Guru is the doorway to Nam, and so by taking refuge of his Grace one achieves liberation. The way to the Guru is baptism (Pauhal or Amrit). Without baptism a Sikh techinically has no Guru, hence no Nam, and therefore, no liberation. This idea should not be taken too far however.
Guru Nanak started this ritual of initiation in typically Hindu style. From Guru Nanak until Guru Gobind Singh Sikh initiation consisted of two parts. First, the Guru's feet were washed. Due to the Guru's touch, this foot-water was considered amrit or divine nectar. It was then given to the disciple to drink (as Charanpauhal or Caritamrita). The second rite was the giving of Nam. Nam is the transcendental experience of the Holy Word.
Guru Gobind Singh instituted the baptism rite which is observed today. Although Guru Nanak rejected all visible forms of worship, temples, rituals and the like, Gobind Singh created the Khalsa or Guru Panth ("community of the pure ones") as the external form of Guru. Actually, he empowered and reorganized the existing body of the faithful. With this change, those who would be Singhs (initiated 'lions of God'), had to join the Khalsa through the rite of baptism. Baptism is conducted byfive advanced Singhs in the presence of the Khalsa, "Let it, therefore, be very clear to every Sikh that in order to get into Guru's fold and seek Guru's grace, one will have to get baptized by the Five Beloved Ones. Only then will one's efforts toward spiritualism become fruitful". The rite consists of readings from the Guru Granth [the essential Sikh scripture], sacred songs, prayers and the preparation of a special solution of water and sugar. The candidates are then sprinkled with this water on their heads and eyes. At this time they are instructed in the rules of Khalsa membership, loyalty, moral conduct and the formally receive Nam Nam (the Holy Word).
To be a Sikh is to be a member of the family. It is to follow in the bold, yet humble, devout, footsteps of Guru Nanak and his successors. Sikhism is not a religion, its a way of life. It is Sant Mat, the Path of the Masters.
* Sat Kewal Singh (John of AllFaith) © November 8, 2006 (last updated: March 29, 2017)
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