Category Archives: Kamalla Rose Kaur’s Writings

Says Nanak

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“Sikhs and Sikh studies professors share a common goal. Most agree that Sikhi is a major world religion and Sikhi should be part of the curriculum of comparative religion – elementary through graduate schools – in the West and worldwide.”

SAYS NANAK:
In Search of a New Understanding of Sikhs’ Responses to Academic Research

Kamalla Rose Kaur

You may read and read loads of books;
You may read and study vast multitudes of books.
You may read and read boat-loads of books;
You may read and read and fill pits with them.
You may read them year after year;
You may read them as many months are there are.
You may read them all your life;
You may read them with every breath.
O Nanak, only One thing is of any account:
Everything else is just useless babbling and idle talk in ego.
(Guru Nanak “Asa Di Vaar”, Guru Granth Sahib, 467)  1

Many Sikhs treat Sikh studies academics with open hostility, protesting with signs, writing copious articles, denouncing Sikh scholars across internet websites and forums, petitioning universities to fire Sikh studies professors, waging email attacks, calling them before high councils, and death threats have been reported. W. H. McLeod, emeritus professor at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, warns scholars, “it must not be thought that the religious wars of such periods as the Reformation are behind us” (McLeod, “Discord in the Sikh Panth” 389).

Writing for Sikh newspapers and magazines, while participating in discussions and debates on Sikh internet forums for close to a decade, I can attest to the fact that Sikhs are quick to fight when they feel called to defend their Guru/scripture. And they will also defend their Guruji’s absolute authority to define Sikhi and what it means to be a True Sikh. McLeod reports that the cry “the Granth is in danger” can ignite a “whole-heartedly” popular cause which “ordinary members of the Panth” (ordinary members of the community) can “easily approve and support” (387). Ready to manipulate simple Sikh’s devotion for their Guruji/scripture, certain Sikhs and Sikh sects are attacking specific scholars (McLeod, “Discord”). While this is true, what W. H. McLeod and other Sikh studies academics consistently overlook is that the Sikh Guru/scripture also commands Sikhs to fight Western dualistic reality.   2 Later in this discussion, the Guru Granth’s viewpoint on duality and non-duality will be further elaborated.

Non-Sikh scholars can and should simply present Sikh teachings and beliefs without believing or practicing them. But failing to mention that the Sikh Guru Granth insists that non-dualistic consciousness is the first step to solving every problem – personal, Sikh and global – misses the most basic and primal teaching of Sikhi. The first words of the Guru Granth remain Ek On Kaar – the Creator and the Creation are One.

Arguably no religion is more devoted to its scripture than Sikhi. All Sikhs revere the Guru Granth Sahib as their living and breathing guide and teacher. Many Sikhs bow and submit to no other authority. In a 1992 article, Verne Dusenbery, an anthropologist at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, notes that Sikhs take their scripture “to be their eternal Guru, the source of divine benefits and the central focus of Sikh worship” (386). Sikhs open the Guru Granth in the morning and put it to bed each night. It is kept wrapped in beautiful fabrics. Sikhs ask their Guruji questions and receive guidance from the Guru Granth Sahib each day. It is carried on the head, and placed on a throne/altar, and kept fanned. Sikhs keep feet bare and heads covered when around the Sikh Guru/scripture (N. Singh, 35).

“Sikhs seek its presence for all their rites and ceremonies” asserts Nikky Gurinder Kaur Singh (Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Colby College in Maine, USA), yet she wonders that, “for whatever reasons then, be it their personal proclivities, religious ideologies, or academic methods, non-Sikh scholars have been unable to surrender themselves completely to ‘the special call’ of the Sikh text” (35). Non-Sikh scholars, particularly historians and anthropologists, often ignore scriptural studies simply because it is not their department. Yet considering the volume of attention given to the study of other scriptures, Dusenbery remarks, “it is surprising that so little attention has yet been paid to the main Sikh scripture…especially to its use in Sikh worship in India and in the diaspora” (386).

1. The Guru Granth Sahib can only fully be experienced and appreciated in Gurmukhi, the language of the Sikh Guru. All translations of the Sikh scripture are interpretations only. The Guru Granth interpretations offered here are my own, based on the Sant Singh Khalsa English translation.

2 Western dualism and the mind/body split can be traced to the Greeks, but it was René Descartes (1596-1650), French mathematician, philosopher, and physiologist, who best formulated the theory and announced, “I think therefore I am.”

Dr. Doris Jakobsh and Authority Within Sikhi

In her 2006 article, “Authority in the Virtual Sangat: Sikhism. Ritual and Identity in the Twenty-First Century”, Doris Jakobsh (Harvard trained religious studies professor at University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Canada) wonders where students wishing to learn about Sikhi should turn. Jakobsh explores who is an ‘authority’ on Sikhi. She artfully, quickly and accurately, maps the rough terrain of modern global Sikhi, pointing out its many places of tremendous confusion. For instance, Jakobsh briefly mentions the problems with the traditional seats of Sikh authority in India: “Sikhs in the Diaspora seem to view both the SGPC and the offices of jathedars with suspicion, given the scandals that have rocked both institutions in recent years.” Jakobsh adds, “in terms of logistics, the authority of the SGPC does not legally extend beyond Punjab.”

Jakobsh describes the generation gap, particularly among Sikhs in the west. Elderly Sikh men run most Gurdwaras and lawsuits flourish (25). Jakobsh discusses the dated ineffectiveness of the current edition of the Sikh Reht Maryada (SRM, the Sikh code of conduct). Though formulated in 1951, Jakobsh insists that the SRM is “based on the concerns and worldview of the 18th and 19th centuries” and that it fails to address modern issues, “particularly those outside of the Punjab”. Jakobsh further reports that “the Maryada is intricately intertwined with the needs and concerns of the British-inspired reform movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” and thus “needs to be questioned with respect to its very presuppositions, at least in terms of today’s society.” (28).

Jakobsh particularly focuses in her article on the pros and cons of the vast global internet community known as the Sikh cyber-sangat. There are thousands of Sikh websites competing to teach True Sikhi to the English-speaking world. Obviously those with the best technicians and biggest budgets define Sikhi faster and slicker. Jakobsh observes that “it is on the WWW that questions of caste, gender, abortion, Sikh ritual identity, premarital sex, homosexuality, to name only a few, can be found almost on a daily basis. The anonymity of the Web is particularly conducive for stances taken on these often controversial issues.” (Jakobsh, 29).

As insightful and helpful as Jakobsh’s overview of these various authorities on Sikhi proves, when she considers the Guru Granth Sahib as the ultimate authority on Sikhs and Sikhi, she simply doesn’t see it: “Notwithstanding the spectacular beauty and timeless truths embodied within these hymns, it is nonetheless difficult to find specific answers to …very difficult questions.” (27).

Yet, mysteriously, many Sikhs insist that the Guru Granth is, in fact, the only authority they submit to, and no other. Sikhs seek and receive their marching orders (vak laina or hukam laina) every single day from the Guru Granth. Sikhs soldiers carry the Guru Granth into war so that they may ask questions and receive comfort and up-to-the-moment directions from their Guruji. Historically, crowds of Sikhs have presented a single question to the Sikh Guru Granth and they have, as one, agreed and acted on the Sikh Guru’s instructions regarding their query (P. Singh 271).

Jakobsh acknowledges that the writers of the Guru Granth were, “great poet-saints” who “criticized many of the evils in society” but she insists that “ they did it within the context of religious life…These poets were not attempting to reform the social order per se, but had as their focus devotional practices of the day.” (27).

Except that the Sikh Guru Granth teaches that the spiritual and the earthly are One and the same. There is no distinction between devotional practices and attempting to reform oppressive societies within Sikhi. Praying and singing and communion with the Sikh Guru/scripture, doing service, defending human rights, going to work, eating, grooming, paying your bills, fighting a battle, shopping, relaxing, are equal and harmonious daily Sikh devotional practices. Guidance from the Guru Granth is obtained by praying and opening the book at random (invoking synchronicity) to receive instructions. The Guru Granth Sahib advises some to slow down and some to speed up, some to go within and others to step out boldly this day.

Jakobsh also discusses “the great poet-saints” and the historic context of their lives and missions without acknowledging that Sikhs also experience their Guru’s Voice as timeless, and timely, profoundly relevant right now. Pashaura Singh (Chair of Sikh Studies, University of California at Riverside) notes that the Guru Granth is, “a living Guru who always speaks with truth and power on the subject at hand” (P. Singh, 275). The Sikh Guru’s concern with politics has not changed, nor have the core issues behind human politics changed. When asked about the bomb, the Guru Granth might easily speak of tyrants deploying drunk elephants as weapons of mass destruction. The political scenes the Guru Granth paints, easily and significantly remind today’s readers of modern world rulers and situations.

Jakobsh is not a Sikh nor is she required to be. Yet I suggest to all Sikh studies professors that it would prove polite, positive and politically effective to explain to each other and to  students that Sikhs claim that the dualisms between past and present, between the poet-sants who wrote the Guru Granth Sahib, and the active Voice of the living and opinionated Sikh Guruji, blur and merge for students of the Guru Granth. Dualisms between being warriors and being saints, between spiritual activities and practical ones, between mind and body, between Creator and the Creation, tend to evaporate upon engagement with the Sikh Guru – or so the Guru Granth preaches and Sikhs profess.

The Guru Granth Sahib’s Teachings on the Intellect and Intellectuals

While academics overlook the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Guru does not ignore them back. What follows is a brief summary of the Guru Granth Sahib’s teachings on the intellect and intellectuals. The Sikh Guruji speaks a great deal about the human mind and also about scholars and teachers. Using the online search engine of the Sant Singh Khalsa translation of the Guru Granth Sahib1, I discovered the word scholar is used 115 times in the text. Intellect appears 185 times. Cynics and cynicism are discussed 155 times, and words derived from the word ego appear 1078 times.

More copious yet are the Guru Granth’s references to gurmukhs and manmukhs, the two categories into which the Sikh Guru, with characteristic humor and droll irony, bifurcates humanity. Manmukhs are people who divide people, and everything else, into categories. Gurmukhs are people who don’t.

Gurmukhs maintain constant awareness that the Creator/Creation is One Being (EkOnKaar). Gurmukhs believe that the Beloved One is awake and living among us, and through us. Gurmukhs leave the planet a better place than they found it. Gurmukhs speak and act like the Sikh Guru/scripture:

Duality dwells in the consciousness of the people of the world.
Humans destroy by sexual obsessions, rage, violence and egotism.
Whom should I call the second, when there is only the One?
The One Immaculate Reality is pervading all.

(Pause and reflect on this)

Our dual-minded evil intellect speaks of a second.
Those who harbor duality come and go and die.
In the earth and in the sky, I do not see any second.
Among all the women and the men, the Light is shining.
In the lamps of the sun and the moon, I see Light.
Dwelling among all is my ever-youthful Beloved One.
Mercifully, Creator/Creation has tuned my consciousness to One.
Guruji has led me to understand the Infinity of One.
A Gurmukh experiences only the One.
Subduing duality, we come to realize the Word of the Shabad
(we experience the true teachings).
The Divine Command prevails throughout all worlds.
From the One, all have arisen.
(Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, 223)

Manmukhs, in comparison, are at best intelligent people who act out of egotism and promote dualism. Manmukhs navigate from selfish goals and self-centeredness; they leave the planet a worse place than they found it:

The manmukhs stand there and dry up;
They do not bear any fruit,
And they do not provide any shade.
Don’t even bother to sit near them-they have no home or village.
They are cut down and burnt each day;
They have neither the Shabad (the teachings)
Nor the Naam (non-dualistic consciousness)
(Guru Amar Das, Guru Granth Sahib, 66)

The Sikh Guru Granth teaches that manmukhs become gurmukhs by union, which involves experiencing the One Reality or life-itself, as the waheguru or Wondrous Teacher. While Sikhs believe that the Wondrous Teacher is a universal force within all and accessible to all, for them, the writings of the Guru Granth Sahib are considered the very voice of that Wondrous Teacher.

The Sikh Teacher also divides intellectual pursuits into these same two categories. We can use our intellect to experience and teach non-dualistic awareness, love, integrity, tolerance, and union, or we use our intellect for ego gratification, to impress, for status and career advancement, for money, glamour, for the sake of arguing and debating, or out of the very love of dualism:

The intellect is a bird;
Depending on its actions,
It is sometimes high,
And sometimes low.
Sometimes it is perched on the sandalwood tree,
And sometimes it is on the branch of the poisonous swallow-wort.
Sometimes, it soars through the heavens.
O Nanak, our Only Master leads us on,
According to the Hukam (command) of the Creator/Creation’s Way.
(Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib, 147)

The Sikh Guru Granth instructs Sikhs to shun egotism and egotists, and to denounce cynics. Sikh egotists and cynics abound, of course, but it may be easier for Sikhs to protest against the perceived greater source of cynicism, that heartless battlefield of brains, Western academia:

Turn away, O my mind, turn away.
Turn away from the cynic.
False is the love of the false.
Break the ties, O my mind, so your bondage shall be broken.
Break your ties with cynics.

(Pause and reflect)

One who enters a house filled with soot is blackened.
Run far away from such people!
When they meet the Guru
They escape the bondage of the three dispositions. 3
(Guru Arjan, Guru Granth Sahib, 535)

 3. Bondage of the three dispositions or “gunas” - tamas, rajas, sattwa.
Refers to the tendency to. 1. be lazy, 2. be constantly busy, and/or
3. the need to be high.



Making Peace

Sikhs and Sikh studies professors share a common goal. Most agree that Sikhi is a major world religion and Sikhi should be part of the curriculum of comparative religion – elementary through graduate schools – in the West and worldwide. Humans prosper and flourish through education and world citizens should understand the basic principles and teachings of Buddhism, Judaism, Humanism, Christianity, Hinduism, Secular Materialism, Shamanism, Islam, and Sikhi too.

Yet Sikhs do not want Sikh studies professors defining Sikhi and/or directly impacting Sikh politics, history and autonomy. And Sikhs studies professors do not wish to experience hate campaigns directed at them. And no one likes the Western media coverage of these unholy wars except, presumably, the Sikhs and Sikh sects who send out the press releases.

Joseph T. O’Connell (a professor of Religious studies at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto) assures Sikhs that modern university study of Sikh religion is not a Christian missionary scheme “to undermine the faith of Sikhs” nor are Western universities “in collusion” with the Government of India to suppress Sikhs.

The thrust of such a campaign of misinformation is to encourage a climate of paranoia which tends to alienate Sikhs from the academic community.”(O’Connell, 274-75)

Mistrust of Western colonial mentality and strong resistance to having Oxford Press, or other powerful outsiders, take the role of authority on Sikhi are other concerns that Sikhs express. Thus Sikhs protest Sikh studies, and Sikhs also endow Sikh studies. Sikh studies programs need to attract students and Sikh funding. How to proceed?

Again I advise Sikh studies professors to start afresh by simply reporting and exploring how Sikhs take all questions to the Guru Granth Sahib. For instance, I asked the Sikh Guruji about how peace can be established between Western academics and Sikhs, and received this gem of a message about letting the jewel of the Sikh Guru’s teachings shine:

That which was upside-down has been set upright;
The deadly enemies and adversaries have become friends.
In the darkness, the jewel shines forth,
The impure understanding has become pure.
(Guru Arjan, Guru Granth, 402)

Dusenbery also suggests that, in the pursuit of Sikh studies, “it seems clear that one must recognize some strongly nondualistic aspects of Sikh social thought and ritual practice, especially in relation to the perceived power of the Word.” (390). Dusenbery argues that dualism of language is so entrenched in the West, that it is “commonsensical for Westerners as to make a nondualistic alternative seem like hocus-pocus.” (402). He implies that Western scholars have failed to acknowledge and discuss the importance of non-dualism within Sikhi because they can’t compute it, and/or they can’t believe it, but not because they hate Sikhs and Sikhism, like many Sikhs too quickly assume. Dusenbery advises that Sikh studies academics need to expand their analytic vocabulary “to overcome our conceptual dualisms…challenge analytic approaches growing out of the dominant Western ideology of language.” (389).

Of course, many academics may not agree with the Sikh Guru’s teachings. Sikhs can and do accept, understand, and tolerate diverse viewpoints. Also, quite reasonably, Sikh studies scholars may feel it is enough to simply observe and report that Sikhs find the ultimate authority for their religious beliefs “by turning to the Guru Granth Sahib and accepting it alone as supreme and absolute authority.” (McLeod, Sikhism, 266). McLeod also notes that non-Sikhs “may question its sufficiency” but he pushes that it must be “acknowledged that Sikhs have a better record of harmony and accord than other religious systems claim.” This is correct, and also honest, sincere and high praise.

Yet by refusing to accept the Guru Granth Sahib’s authority, or consider the Sikh Guru’s perceived “aliveness” enough to discuss Sikh teachings about dualism, the mind, human intellect, pundits and scholars, Sikh studies professors – no matter how well-educated they may be by Western standards – can expect to continue to appear ignorant, cowardly, lacking in honor, or just plain wrong, to many Sikhs.

McLeod writes that “by maintaining their trust in their Guru, which is the
Granth, the Sikh people uphold a belief that stands them in abundantly good stead.” (266). Sikhs agree, of course. The Sikh Guru Granth recommends that before we study anything, and certainly before we study Sikhi, that we all,
Sikhs and non-Sikhs, fanatic Sikhs and Sikh studies professors, pause and reflect and invoke Unity. Let us take a moment to question our motivations and agendas, lest we cause a war, or other unholy result.

Give up your pride and stubborn self-conceit;
death, yes, your death,
is always near at hand.
Resonate with the One.
Says Nanak, listen you fool:
without experiencing, and meditating, and dwelling on the One,
your life is uselessly wasting away.
(Guru Arjan, Guru Granth Sahib, 1308 )

Works Cited:

Dusenbery, Verne A. “The Word as Guru: Sikh Scripture and the Translation
Controversy”, History of Religions, 31.4, (May, 1992): 385-402

Jakobsh, Doris, “Authority in the Virtual Sangat: Sikhism. Ritual and
Identity in the Twenty-First Century” Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the
Internet 2.1 (2006) 24-40

McLeod, W. H. “Discord in the Sikh Panth “ Journal of the American Oriental
Society, 119. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1999) 81-389

McLeod, W.H. Sikhism, Penguin Press, London (1997)

O’Connell, Joseph T. “The Fate of Sikh studies in North America,” The
Transmission of Sikh Heritage in the Diaspora, ed. Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald
Barrier (New Delhi: Manohar, 1996), 274-75.

Singh, Nikky-Guninder Kaur. “Translating Sikh scripture into English.” Sikh
Formations: 3.1: (June 2007) 33-49

Singh, Pashaura. The Guru Granth Sahib: Canon, Meaning and Authority Oxford
University Press, 2000.

Sri Guru, Search Engine
_http://www.srigranth.org/servlet/gurbani.gurbani?S=y_
(http://www.srigranth.org/servlet/gurbani.gurbani?S=y)

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Land of Adventure and Discovery – Postcard 5

forest

by Kamalla Rose Kaur
davidmasonportrait

More Info. About David Mason

“How are Maude and Claude faring?” David asked me recently.

“They are happy to be retired and to have finally moved to the Pacific Northwest. They purchased a gorgeous island view property and they are going to build their dream home – so they are busy with an architect and with permits, plans and potential contractors. They are renting a condo while they wait for their home to be constructed.” I reported to him and then I added, “But mostly Claude and Maude are enjoying themselves; exploring the region, seeing the sights, and taking hikes.”

*

“Whew!” Maude puffed, plopping down on a bench beside the trail.

Claude sat down beside her with a deep contented sigh. “This bench was put here just for us, Maude. Ah, this is the life. Take a look at this forest.”

“Beautiful. It is simply beautiful.” Maude marveled.

“Let’s see now if I’ve got this right – that tree right there is a Douglas Fir, with the rough bark,” Claude declared, “and that one, with the broad base and soft bark is a Cedar tree.”

“They look like they are dancing together, don’t they? See? The Douglas Fir looks like a tall strong man, and the Cedar tree is a beautiful lady, wearing a lovely swirling skirt.” Maude mused.

“Are all the trees dancing?” Claude whispered to Maude suggestively, sidling close and draping his arm around her shoulders..

“Yes, they are all dancing. Can’t you see?” Maude teased.

“Yes, I see!” said Claude, and he felt a bit bemused because he found that he DID see.

“How about those two?” Claude inquired, pointing towards a Douglas Fir and Cedar that were completely joined at their base.

“Oh my! They are dancing very close together, aren’t they?” gasped Maude in mock shock, and then she giggled girlishly and pointed, “Claude, look at those two Douglas Fir over there? And what about those three Cedar trees! How scandalous!”

“Scandalous. Shocking.” Claude murmured huskily, as he nibbled softly on Maude’s neck.

*

Elizabeth Daugert was 12 and I was 11 on the day, in 1966, that we discovered Dr. David Mason. Elizabeth and her family practically lived on Western’s campus here in Bellingham, in a big old house that got removed when they connected Garden Street to Highland Drive.

Elizabeth and I were always snooping around Western, seeking adventures and treasure – but strangely we didn’t have to roam to discover David Mason. He just suddenly appeared that day in a building that was nextdoor to the Daugert’s house. It was a little, old, wooden house, bought up by Western, which would also soon get torn down to make way for that new street. The sign on the building read: “The Fresh Water Institute.”

I have had many best women friends in my life. I seem to practice serial monogamy in my best girlfriends. Back then, in that era, Elizabeth was my best friend, which left me at a profound disadvantage. For one thing Beth had another bester friend, and Beth was a year older than I, age 12, and thus more womanly. Beth was also smarter than I, more talented, articulate and poised. Elizabeth got better grades than I got. She was tall, willowy, striking and lovely. I adored her.

I also had a vast love and devotional respect for Beth’s Mom, Barbara Daugert. Barbara was brilliant and wise and kind and, among other talents, she was gifted with children. I can see that now. But at age 11 all I remember is trying to get myself invited to dinner at the Daugert’s as much as possible, and then pushing to spend the night at Beth’s house as well.

I can’t say if Elizabeth fell in love with David Mason at first sight, but I know I did. Meanwhile David was in his early thirties, already renowned for his accomplishments, busy, and brand new to Western. When two girl children waltzed into his laboratory, David introduced himself politely, handed us test tubes, and put us to work. He talked more to Beth than to me, because she could talk. I could only stammer. I remember David made us laugh, he made us think, he let us help and he treated us like his equals.

David doesn’t remember being discovered by Elizabeth and me; though he says he vaguely recalls my red hair.

When we told Beth’s mom how we had discovered David Mason, Barbara exclaimed, “You met David Mason? What is he like?”

When we told my mother how we had discovered David Mason she also said,

“You have met David Mason? What is he like?”

Maybe we told our fathers and others as well, I don’t remember. In any case, Elizabeth did the talking.

I didn’t know then what no one could have known; that Barbara and Elizabeth would both die young of breast cancer, or how much I would mourn them.

And, Elizabeth and I had no concept, back in 1966, no inkling of what our parents, and others at Western Washington State College, all knew – that David Mason was a homosexual and “out” at a time in USA history when no one was yet fully “out”.

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Blue Baroque by David Mason

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Land Where Our Dreams Come True – Postcard 4

anacortes_refinery_31904

by Kamalla Rose Kaur

More Info. About David Mason

“May I do theater?” David asked when I inquired about what he wished to share with fellow Pacific Northwesterners today.

A swirling array of memories caught me, throwing me back into my childhood and subsequent lifelong awe of David Mason, the actor and theater director.

Playing the role of the late German director, Bertolt Brecht, embodying his spirit and teachings, David explained to a WWU theater class recently:

“…the actor (also the teacher) has to discard whatever means he has learned of persuading the audience to identify itself with the characters which he plays. Aiming not to put his audience into a trance, he must not go into a trance himself.” – Bertolt Brecht

“Practice lucidity.” David challenges us.

“David, what trance do Pacific Northwesterners need to awaken from?” I asked him one day.

There was this strange empty pause. David didn’t say anything. Then suddenly David was falling. I threw myself between David and the floor to break his fall; twisting to stare up into his face, ready to respond to whatever raw truth I might find there.

But David stopped his fall before touching me.

Crouched low, looking around frightened, he whispered to me with alarm, “Sing 3 times fast!”

And then David demonstrated:

“To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!” – 3x

(from The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan)

I fell over, onto my back, relieved that David was OK, soon clapping my hands and drumming my feet, celebrating his – now intermittent, but legendary – skills at performing tongue twisting patter raps.

The scenery lights slowly faded, and the spotlight around us brightened. I relaxed my body, intensified my awareness; reaching into the lucidity of the moment., that sweet-spot, that space of perfect timing and accord.

“It is a dangerous teaching.” I commented dryly, supine at his feet.

Rolling away and jumping up, I became Maude.

“What a glorious view. Look at the islands!” Maude exclaimed.

“I thought you would like it.” Claude replied, reaching to hold her hand, and then he added softly, “Shall we build our house here, Maude?”

“Oh Claude, yes, yes! I can’t get enough of this view! We will be so happy here!”

“We have worked our whole lives, and now we can retire with enough money to make our dreams come true.” Claude declared contentedly.

I turned back to the spectacular view and studied it again. “It is too bad about the refinery being over there.” I mused wistfully

“Now, Maude, we need factories and industry,” Claude reminded me, patiently, “You know that.”

“Yes, of course. Of course, I know that.” I repeated dutifully.

The scene faded. I shook my head and suddenly remembered to remember to ask David again:

“David, what trance do Pacific Northwesterners need to awaken from?”

David’s contented snores sputtered to a stop. He muttered and grumbled and didn’t look too happy to have his nap disturbed.

“David, what trance do Pacific Northwesterners need to awaken from?” I insisted.

“OK,” David said, “OK!”

He explained it to me slowly, “We are genetic and cultural products of a past which has made us fit to do well something we no longer can, nor wish, to do. We are prize students of a history which has taught us to make mental metaphoric models of the world, models that once worked well and were good. Our intellect, our conceptual and sensory filters, our whole mind-mechanism was evolved and coached by a past which has taught us the wrong things. So we find that what we thought was good is now, and will in the future be, bad.”

“You mean the human species has evolved so far to destroy ourselves and take everyone else with us?” I ventured, eyes widening in dawning comprehension.

“Now Maude, don’t go upsetting yourself unduly. We are building our dream house after all. We deserve that our dreams come true, we have worked so hard.”

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Blue Baroque by David Mason

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Land of Our Nature – Postcard 3

gongshow
medusa_10701_lg1

by Kamalla Rose Kaur

davidmasonportrait

More Info. About David Mason

I am jealous of Dr. David T. Mason. He has had more fun than I have. He was gifted with amazing parents, wonderful circumstances, superior intelligence and copious talents. He has never been without resources and opportunities. David has traveled everywhere, studied everything and met all the coolest people; or so it seems to me at times.

I am jealous of David, but this is a good thing. Because I have experienced oppression and poverty in my life. I am a Mom and a woman, and they don’t pay Moms and women as much as other people. I have been forced to endure many dehumanizing jobs, and challenging service roles; high and low. At times I have been depressed and stuck; a zombie, a robot.

Were it not for my hot flashes of jealousy over the years, I might not have discovered what I really want, what I truly desire. I don’t want to be David. I just want to be myself; a singer, a writer, a theater director. I am not resentful of David, or others I envy. Quite the contrary, I obviously desire something for myself that I see shining brightly in the people I admire so intensely.

Unfortunately, these pea-green awakenings of my core longings have often threatened my life-as-usual. I may again break out, drop out, or drop in unexpectedly, have a change of heart, of mind, and do something odd, shocking, scandalous and/or political!

Meanwhile, those strange people who we are madly jealous of – yet we can’t admit it, not to anyone, much less ourselves – “those people” are deeply threatening to the world as we know it, and they should be destroyed. They have too much fun while the rest of us suffer. It is rumored that artists, and all sorts of other passionate people, especially the most liberally liberal of liberals (and homosexuals, of course), have more sex too. Better sex as well. They are egotists and braggarts, clearly.

David bores easily when he becomes the subject of conversation, and also when forced to listen to my stories or opinions (or other primate’s stories or opinions) again and again. He generally wishes to distract himself, and those around him, from ourselves; throw us off of the scripts we have been enacting. He invokes deeper and wider, sillier and wiser, topics to catch our fancies – hook us, drill us and thrill us.

Suddenly David hits a symbol with a hefty fuzzy-headed mallet. He hits it hard, causing a teeth trembling, hair bristling, bone buzzing, sub-woofing, “ONNNNnnGGGGggggggnnnggg!!!” to happen.

“We were speaking of Mother Nature.” David reminds me as soon as there is silence available.

“Were we?” I reply archly, my eyebrows soaring high. My hair is suddenly horrific dreads of wiggling snakes and my eyes beam rock-hard resistance at him.

“Don’t mess with the Mother Nature metaphor, David.” I warn him icily.

“Uh…I’ve never met a metaphor, a-fore, I didn’t like.” David quips, not quite meeting my eyes. Then he asks meekly, “May I play with the Father God metaphor instead?” His beard is whitening and lengthening.

“No!” I snap, “There is no time!”

David laughs.

“Please David, just tell us what metaphor you use, if any, when you ponder Creation.”

“It will still be a mere metaphor attempting to explain a pure mystery.”

“We understand.” I assure him.

“May we also dispense with the use of snake metaphors?” David inquires, warily eying my helmet of coiling, roiling reptiles. He hands me a mirror.

“Oh sure.” I say primly, patting my, magically restored, homosapien hair-do with relief. “I have had so many snakes on my mind recently.”

“Indeed, we all have.” David sympathizes. “How about instead of Mother Nature, or Father Nature, or Sister or Brother Nature, we simply call it Our Nature?” David suggests.

“Our Nature?” I repeat.

“Yes, our most intimate and infinite, Natures.”

Postcard 1

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Postcard 5

Blue Baroque by David Mason

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Land of the River Otter – Postcard 2

otter

by Kamalla Rose Kaur

davidmasonportrait

To learn more about David Mason, visit the David Mason collection at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies , located at the Goltz Archives, on the campus of Western Washington University,  or:
More Info. About David Mason

Yesterday David and I explored the top of Sehome Hill Arboretum, deep in the icy clutch of winter. David was underdressed, forgetting that his body is dying (Parkinson’s disease) and that he chills faster now. Yet he still moves beautifully. He can balance perfectly on one foot, slide down hills on his butt…no, that was how I got down the hill. David scrambled on his feet.

Point is, David inhabits his body well.

I had decided we would keep silent on our walk. I talk too much and I was feeling burdened, and it takes energy for David to speak.

Pacific Northwesterners are comforted by nature. For me, the trees call to me, and I do so like lichen. For David, it appears that a million small things attract his attention.; a little plant, an explosion of moss, fungi, a strange bug, a slimy place on the wall, petroglyphs and graffiti, a beer can.

Breaking the silence slightly, David encouraged me to perceive the palette of colors.

I looked and saw browns and grays mostly. The forest was lit with silver light. I noted the dark winter greens – the ferns , evergreen boughs, ivy, holly, and oregon grape. I delighted in the soft silvery green lichens. I enjoyed the lacey gray twigs, with the white berries, and the occasional flash of neon colored fungi, bright moss, strange litter. I opened my eyes.

Soon I admitted that I habitually shut my ears, as well, to the sounds of Bellingham while visiting our parks. Not David. He was quietly imitating the sounds as he walked; the bass booms and strange screeches, and he hummed the note at the core of the urban roar.

I once asked David what his favorite Pacific Northwest creature was and he told me, “The river otter.”*

“They don’t have to think about getting from here to there. You don’t have to find them, they find you. They make great designers. Their costume is their body; it is river mud brown, and it slithers .”

From the internet I learned that:

Otters are expert swimmers and divers, swimming at an average speed of seven miles per hour and staying underwater for up to 2 minutes.  Unlike muskrats or beavers, the otter barely makes a ripple when swimming or splash when diving.” **

“Do they pose? You know, like cats pose. Do otters pose?” I wanted to know.

“They noses and poses.” David replied. He leaned close and peered calmly into my eyes with pure curiosity, alert for any possibility of fun in me. He wiggled his nose, sniffing happily.

Otters communicate with their noses, mainly by smelling marked territories.”**

“They have fun.” I added, stating the obvious.

“Yes.” David affirmed quietly.

Towards the end of our walk, David picked up a leaf and put it on top of an old cement post. The leaf was soft brown on one side, silver on the other. Then he placed two small specimens of lichen beside it – one was fine spun, the other leafier, both were silvery green. Completing this arrangement David added a small, neon bright, carnelian orange, mushroom.

* River otters are an endangered species.

** http://www.luddist.com/otter.htm

Postcard 1

Postcard 3

Postcard 4

Postcard 5

Blue Baroque by David Mason

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Sikh Women Gain Voting Rights at Bristol Gurdwara

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa Wahe Guru Ji Fateh
This is a great story that I really enjoyed writing up, now published in The Sikh Times.
Sikh Women Gain Voting Rights at Bristol Gurdwara

By KAMALLA ROSE KAUR

The Sikh Times, Aug. 31, 2008


Photo: Bristol Gurdwara

Come join with me, my sisters,
And sing songs of joy and delight.
My true friends have arrived in my home!
–Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh scripture), p. 764

The Sikh religion preaches and promotes equal rights for women. Female subordination, the practice of taking a father’s or a husband’s last name, practicing rituals that imply dependence are all alien to Sikh principles. Yet in the last 400 years, most Sikh institutions have been run by Sikh men. In the West, it is often elderly men whose concerns and politics are back in India.
–Walayti Singh Chauhan, current President of the Bristol Gurdwara

Background

On October 14 2007, the management committee of the Sikh gurdwara (temple) at Fishponds Road, Bristol, U.K. voted seven to one for women’s suffrage. The lone opposing vote was cast by the then General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti.

In the following weeks and months no confirmation of the historic reform was announced to the Sikh sangat (congregation). In response to this silence, several Sikh women met with the Gurdwara President Walayti Singh Chauhan. He agreed that the decision would be announced and confirmed in a letter to the Sikh community.

‘Walayti Singh took the brave step and put the committee’s agreement of October 2007 onto paper, knowing that he may face resentment.’ Gurdip Kaur, a member and women’s rights activist in her 60s, said, ‘He is responsible for ensuring that the basic tenets of Sikhi (Sikhism) were enforced; to treat all humankind as equals. He stood up for what is right.’

Sikh women from Bristol have been demanding their right to vote in gurdwara elections for decades. According to Gurdip Kaur, ‘Over seventy-five letters were sent to gurdwara committees over the last twenty-five years regarding total equality for Sikh women. These letters have all been disregarded.’

Conflict

President Walayti Singh also supported the women’s plans to celebrate their success at an upcoming event. Six female Sikh speakers were contacted and several notable non-Sikhs were asked to speak including Dave Chapple, the national chair of the U.K. National Shop Stewards Network.

However, General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti refused to allow more than two women speakers and would not approve any non-Sikh speakers.

The president and the women activists complied with the general secretary’s wishes and only two Sikh women spoke on Sunday, May 4. The outside speakers were cancelled. The activists felt that the most important part was that Sikh women had gotten the vote.

After the women spoke, General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti took to the podium and strongly urged against women’s suffrage. He did not acknowledge that the management committee had already approved the reform.

From the perspective of the congregation, the general secretary stood on the right side of the podium and the president stood on the left. While General Secretary Mohinderjit Singh was attempting to persuade the congregation to reverse the women’s victory, Gurudip Kaur approached President Walayti Singh and asked if she might speak. He agreed and she was handed the microphone when he concluded his own speech. Seeing this, the general secretary crossed the podium and took the microphone from Gurudip Kaur despite her resistance. The following uproar resulted in a ten-minute shouting match.

Javinder Singh, who would soon be elected the new general secretary of the committee, noted, ‘Seeing an insult against an elderly woman of this sort was unbelievable; this act was totally deplorable and extremely sad.’

In response to this incident, President Walayti Singh Chauhan suspended Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti from the role of general secretary, asking him to return gurdwara documents in his possession until the incident could be investigated. The gurdwara election, scheduled for May 11, 2008, was postponed so that women members had time to register to vote and to let things cool down.

But in the days after the incident Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti failed to return the gurdwara documents. After three formal requests, legal counsel was sought by President Walayti Singh and legal proceedings were launched to retrieve the documents. The documents contained minutes of committee meetings and records of decisions made.

Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti ceased attending gurdwara services and so did the vice president and vice treasurer of the committee. His backers now included three out of the eight members of the gurdwara’s management committee, although they had originally voted for women’s suffrage in October 2007.

Mediation

Seeking a quick election before the women could register, Mohinderjit Singh’s group went to the Bristol police. They explained that Walayti Singh’s term as gurdwara president was already up and they felt he had no right to postpone the election. The police agreed to mediate the dispute using five representatives from each side. Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side was composed of older men, all born in the Punjab. The women’s suffrage group included a wide range of ages, with both sexes represented, four born in the U.K. and one in India. They met with the police once.

Over two weeks, plus a few extra days’ extension, Sikh women registered. By the end of this period, 170 Sikh women were ready to vote. With suffrage established, three women, Narindar Kaur, Anita Kaur and Sheila Kaur, pursued management committee positions. They became part of the pro-suffrage team, with Walayti Singh Chauhan running for another term as gurdwara president.

On election day, Sikh voters would cast only one vote, choosing one management committee team or the other. Although Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti was not on the ballot, his brother ran for the position of general secretary. On the other side, Walayti Singh’s team offered the Sikh community a revolutionary new committee with men and women, and adults of all ages.

The pro-women’s-suffrage slate was comprised of Walayti Singh Chauhan (president), Shamsher Singh Patel (vice president), Javinder Singh (general secretary), Satchet Singh (vice general secretary), Kuldip Singh (treasurer), Narindar Kaur (vice treasurer), Anita Kaur (langar jathedar), and Sheila Kaur (vice langar jathedar).

The anti-women’s-suffrage slate was comprised of Raghir Singh Nirman (president), Baldev Singh (vice president), Mohanjit Singh Bhatti (general secretary), Jaswant Singh (vice general secretary), Mohan Singh (treasurer), Satnam Singh Amritsaria (vice treasurer), Harpal Singh (langar jathedar), and Raju Singh (vice langar jathedar).

Mohinderjit Singh hired an attorney and requested that the attorney be allowed to be present during the negotiations. When the police firmly declined this request, Mohinderjit Singh’s group decided to stop attending the meetings. Instead, they informed the police that the election would be held on July 6, 2008. They added that they were hiring a private security firm to keep the peace on election day.

However, Bhatti’s team did not inform the Sikh congregation adequately about the election. Many Sikhs worshiping that Sunday did not know that it was an election day.

Fearing an outbreak in violence the Bristol police interceded and dismissed the hired security guards. They insisted that proper voting procedures be in place prior to the election. They asked for two members from each side to meet with them immediately. Over the next few weeks the two sides successfully negotiated the details of the upcoming election and signed a contract.

Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side was asked by the police to stop sending out letters to the sangat, as this was confusing the members. It was agreed that an independent voting company should be brought in. The Association of Electoral Administrators agreed to conduct the election. Voting registration was again extended to allow the traditionally-minded Sikh women, who do not believe in their right to vote, to register to vote. The voting company insisted that the registration be complete a week before the election and that the final voting list be just that, the final voting list.

For the next two weeks Sikh women were encouraged to register to vote and on the last day they extended the registration by a few hours so that the latecomers standing in line could finish registering.

Yet on July 27, 2008, two days after registration had closed and the voting list had been finalized, Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s team insisted that they had seventy-nine more women they needed to register. The voting company refused, citing the contracts in place.

‘The anti-women’s-suffrage side were in fear that their power would be cut off forever. So they were doing everything possible to win,’ Javinder Singh, the new general secretary, commented. ‘They knew if they lost it would be the end for their sort.’

Election Day

On Sunday morning, August 3, 2008, many Sikhs from both sides arrived at the gurdwara at 8 A.M. Voting would begin at 10 A.M. Tensions were running high. The seventy-nine Sikh women who had not made the registration deadline – women who were angry that they were denied their right to vote against their right to vote – were vocal. The police blockaded the street and the media arrived. One Sikh man was arrested but later released. Some of the seventy-nine women and their supporters surrounded the voting company manager’s car in protest.

‘The Association of Electoral Administrators was very patient during the negotiation leading up to the elections,’ reported Javinder Singh. ‘They were understanding, firm and fair throughout the election process. They ensured the elections were conducted independently and professionally.’

Fifteen minutes before the election was due to start the police called a meeting of both sides, which delayed the election for two hours. The pro-women’s-suffrage side offered to let 80% of the unregistered women register and the voting company agreed. This offer was angrily dismissed and Mohinderjit Singh and his supporters boycotted the election.

The election, although delayed, went forward. 93% of the votes went to the pro-women’s-suffrage team with Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side receiving only 4% of the vote. Seemingly, even if the anti-women’s-suffrage side had voted – including all seventy-nine late registering Sikh women – Mohinderjit Singh Bhatti’s side would have lost.

‘We commend the Avon & Somerset police for their understanding of the situation that we found ourselves in,’ said newly-re-elected President Walayti Singh Chauhan. ‘It was a great job done. They were sensitive and respectful of the Sikh principles at all times.’

Javinder Singh, the new general secretary added, ‘When the women bowed to our holy Sikh scripture (Guru Granth Sahib), our Guruji, to accept their official duties, they glowed with a happiness and joy that seemed almost transcendent to me. I realized I had never seen that look on the faces of those Sikh women before and that made me determined to keep fighting for the rights of Sikh sisters and women everywhere.’

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Aborting Sikhi by Kamalla Rose Kaur

(After eight years of studying and writing about Sikhi via the internet, I have returned to university, age 53. I am finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and will soon enter the Masters program, also in Creative Writing. This article was written for a university class I just completed on Global Women.)

ABORTING SIKHI

Kamalla Rose Kaur

I am very upset this morning and need to cry.

Statistics today reveal the genocide/abortion of female feotus continues.

1500 amongst British Indian born women over last 15 years or so.

7 Million on the subcontinant. Most highest number ??

Punjab and Gujrati communities

Amongst the most prosperous!! Sikhs and Jain communities

Jaswinder Kaur, Sikh woman posting on Sikh internet forum.

Why are so many Sikhs of Northern India participating in female foeticide and why can’t Sikhs seem to stop it? Down through humanity female infanticide is usually linked with hopeless poverty. But Sikhs in India- and not low income, uneducated Sikhs either – are aborting their futures, depriving their o so precious and valued sons of wives. This is especially sad and horrifying because the Sikh religion promotes womens equal rights. Sikh dogma and doctrine specifically forbids female infanticide; also the Hindu practice of sati and the Islamic practice of veiling women. Sikhs have been trying to keep their culture against amazing odds since the very conception of their religion, 500+ years ago. Now in one generation, due to one bad sad sin, there are no longer enough Sikh women being born.

Infanticide, Abortion Responsible for 60 Million Girls Missing in Asia
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
By Sherry Karabin

…In India, where the child sex ratio is calculated as the number of girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 years age group, the problem is severe. The 2001 Census shows there are only 927 girls per 1,000 boys, representing a sharp decline from 1961 when that number was 976. In certain parts of the country there are now fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys.

“The problem is more prevalent in the northern and western states, where prosperity, rapid fertility decline and patriarchal (male heads the family) mindsets combine to put girls at risk,” said Ena Singh, the assistant representative at UNFPA.

My intention is to communicate, to the best of my abilities, why Sikhs have this horrible problem, how Sikhs are responding to it and why it is hard for Sikhs to get anything done at this point in their history.

SIKHS VS. SIKHI

Hear my prayer, my Only Master; all beings and creatures were created by You. You preserve the honor of Your Name, O Beloved One, Cause of causes.

Dear Creator/Creation, Beloved, please, make me Your own. Whether good or bad, I am Yours.

(Pause and reflect)

The Almighty heard my prayer; cutting away my bonds, my Beloved has adorned me. The Beloved One has dressed me in robes of honor, and blended this humble servant with the One True Master.

Now Nanak is revealed in glory throughout the world.

The Siri Guru Granth Sahib

Scripture and Only Guide and Guru of the Sikhs

Page 653 Guru Arjan

“Kamalla!” A Western academic confronts me, “North India is one of the most macho places on earth! Sikhi is male dominated from one end to the other.”

“Not Sikhi.” I argue. “Sikhs! Particularly those still living in India. There is hope for Sikhs in the West. The younger generation practices gender equality much better than the older folks.”

“Kamalla, they are losing their younger generation in the West and in India too.” my friend insists. “Hard as it is for you to believe, the fact that Sikhi is so progressive theologically didn’t matter. When we study Sikhs we have to study what they do, not just what they say they ought to be doing.”

“No. Wrong. What you say is true in some obvious Western sense, but I am a Sikh. Academics need to get it through your heads that what a Sikh is and what a Sikh is not is defined by our scripture and Only Guide, by the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. According to the Sikh Guru/scripture, those who practice gender inequality are not True Sikhs. They are phoney.”

“So the majority of Sikhs down through history and in present times are not really Sikhs? Is that what you are saying?”

“That is correct. They are all phoney Sikhs at the level that they do not follow Sikh teachings as set out in the Sikh scripture. But of course, only God and Guru can judge who is a good Sikh – Sikh just means ’student’ as you well know.” I retort and then add, “Sikhs don’t even believe that you have to be Sikh to be one of the Almighty’s best beloveds either. The Sikh Guru/scripture reminds readers all the time that good honest, loving and humble people everywhere, irregardless of beliefs or culture are better ‘Sikhs’ than people claiming to be Sikhs who fail to follow Sikh teachings.”

Sikhs will argue about all sorts of things but we almost unanimously, across all schisms and sects, agree that it is our scripture, our Holy Book – our Guruji – who defines what it is the be a True Sikh.

For our purposes here I will make a distinction between Sikhs and True Sikhs. True Sikhs follow the teachings of the Sikh Guru/scripture. Sikhs, on the other hand, are simply born into Sikh families.

WHO ARE THE SIKHS?

Here is a very brief history of Sikhi from the UNITED SIKHS website. UNITED SIKHS is a global Sikh charity organization.

Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji founded the Sikh way of life in the fifteenth century as an ideology to reconcile the Human Race. Guru Nanak was a revolutionary teacher- his teachings that women and men were equal, that caste was unimportant, and that there are many paths to the One God- were ahead of their time. The title “Guru,” or enlightener, was passed onwards to 9 more individuals throughout Sikh history, who shared the light of Truth of Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji. These 9 Gurus also shaped the legendary Sikh traditions. In 1708 CE, the 10th Guru, Gobind Singh, bestowed the title of Guru upon the holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, which is recognized as the eternal enlightener.

Some Sikh men and women join the Khalsa, the defense only Knighthood established by Guru Gobind Singh (the last embodied Sikh Guru/Teacher) in 1699. They are required to keep the five symbols of the five Khalsa vows on their bodies. The symbols are uncut hair (Kesh), a comb (Kanga) a dagger (Kirpan), a steel bracelet (Kara) and underwear (Kacheras). These symbols remind members of the Khalsa Khighthood of their vows, which include being clean, free of intoxicants, and vowing to fight oppression and abuse, racism, sexism, caste and classism, on behalf of the weak against corruption and tyranny. They must never attack. Again the Khalsa is a defense-only Knighthood. Khalsa men wear turbans and many Khalsa women wear turbans as well.

But only a fraction of all Sikhs join the Khalsa Knighthood.

Confusingly, quite a number of Sikhs, especially Sikh men, who do not belong to the Khalsa, also do not cut their hair and they wear turbans. This is often an indication that a Sikh is “practicing” being Khalsa and plans to take his/her vows in the future. Or often as not, Sikhs feel it is a good thing for Sikhs who have not joined the Khalsa to wear turbans and beards because it supports Sikh cultural identity, which many Sikhs feel is at risk.

The downside, of course, is that there are thousands and thousands of Sikhs who wear the “uniform” of the Khalsa Knighthood who are not keeping the Khalsa vows. For instance, it is common to witness Sikh men in turbans drinking alcohol in public or smoking cigarettes. This of course greatly errodes the effectiveness and harms the image and reputation of the Khalsa Knighthood worldwide.

There are 20 million people on earth who call themselves Sikhs. Yet like other religions, many or most Sikhs are secular. They come from Sikh families and visit Gurdwaras for weddings and funerals and as social centers, but they are not devout nor do they claim to be.

Since aborting female foetuses is strictly and heavily banned by the Sikh religion, the middle and professional class Sikhs in India who are choosing sons over daughters are secular Sikhs by definition.

SIKH SCHISMS AND SECTS

Sikhs have always considered themselves to be a separate and distinct religion from Hinduism. Yet from the point of view of most Hindus, Sikhi is just another sect of Hinduism. Hinduism is inclusive like that. Any and all beliefs and practices that have arisen in India are part of the whole brew and called Hinduism.

However, the founder of Sikhi, Guru Nanak, taught a Way that is quite distinct from both Islam and Hinduism, though he was affected deeply by both religions of course. In the West there is no dispute over whether Sikhs are distinct from Hindus. Sikhs are allowed to define themselves just like all the Western religions and sects do.

Approximately half of all Sikhs follow various “leaders” past or present – Sants, Babas, Yogis, Jathedars, Deras.

Another large percentage of Sikhs holds the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Book, as their one and only Guide and Guru. They do not believe in avatars and they wire direct, as individuals, with “Guruji”, their source of Sikh teachings. This second group, to which I belong, has at times been called “fundamentalists” by Western scholars because we take the SGGS as literal truth. But the SGGS is a very very different scripture from the Bible. There is no history or stories in the SGGS, rather it is the hymns/poetry/teachings of Nanak. Nanak’s approach to religion is distinctly not woo-woo and no faith in miracles is required in Sikhi.

The first and foremost belief of all Sikhs is that “The Creator and the Creation are One”. Sikhs seek to experience nondualistic perception, to experience and rejoice in the One Reality all around them. So called “fundamentalist” Sikhs are more like Humanists or scientically oriented agnostics than they are like Christians, Hindus, or Muslims.

A third large subset of all those who call themselves Sikhs promote the Dasam Granth – the writings of Guru Gobind Singh- as equal canon with the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.

From a Westerner’s perspective these three types of Sikhs are distinct enough in practice and theology to be considered different religions or sects.

For a detailed geneology of Sikh sects: http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/sikhism/index.html

SIKH CENTRAL

For a very short time Sikhs had their own country in Northern India, and then the Brits invaded. The British fought a war against the Sikhs and won, but they fell in love with the Sikhs. Thus the British helped the Sikhs and they also hindered the Sikhs.

Sikh Central is presently in India but Sikhs in diaspora have no representation in the present (British established) Sikh religion administration. Some/many accuse Sikh Central of being infiltrated by nonSikhs or taking bribes, or corporate lobby money. Some/many disagree!

Gyani Jarnail Singh, a Sikh scholar from Malaysia explains:

Yes the SGPC – elected by the million or so eligible “SIKHS” (according to SRM – Sikh Code of Conduct) every five years according to the British Govt sponsored Gurdwara Act 1925..is a sort of Sikh Central.

Its authority is confined to old Punjab – now divided into Punjab/Himachal/Haryana. Efforts are underway to take away Haryana out of its spehre by forming a Haryana SGPC. Delhi already has a DGPC for Delhi gurdawras and the Patna Takhat as well as Hazoor Sahib Deccan are independently controlled by their states.

So not only are the few MILLION Disapora Sikhs not reprsented in the SGPC….so are a few million Sikhs in the rest of INDIA ( those outside Punajb/Haryana/himachal).

So in a way the Sikh Central is a very MINORITY sort of “Sikh central”…similar to if the few citizens of Vatican were to be Christian Central on behalf of the 1 billion or so christians…

The point to note is that the Govt of India holds the “Elections”… so it decides when and when… For example during the tenure of Jathedar GS Tohra…he was defacto President ( together with his assembly) for a total of FIVE TERMS..25 years ++ as the Govt decided to have NO ELECTIONS. Thus it is a Sikh Central over which the SIKHS have absolutley NO CONTROL. GS Tohra was kept in power for a quarter century….for reasons known/unknown ?? and the SIKHS coundnt do a damn thing about it.

Due to the SGPC being a “Financial Powerhouse” Goluck money from all historicl shrines runs into hundreds of millions yearly…anyone in control of it is in POWER. Inspite of the Indian govt using all sorts of “proxies”….newly set up Gurdwar Boards and such…the SGPC has traditionally been won by the Akali DAL…now the personal fiefdom of the BADAL Family/Dynasty…since the 1970’s !!

Thus when “POLITICS” rules the roost..invariably shady chraacters stand and win…through money laundering/vote buying/alcohol flows freely, hoodlums roam freely and drugs etc..every weapon in the arsenal is used to retain the status quo…95% of the SGPC members are TAINTED heavily. The one or two “religious” ones get voted out subsequently or turn over a “old” leaf and join the rascals.


SIKHS IN DIASPORA

Sikhs in diaspora also have no central unified means of governance or headquarters. Every Gurdwara is independent and control of Gurdwaras by one sect or another is common. Sikhs who follow various Sants and Babas or embrace the teachings of other leaders, and “fundamentalist” Sikhs, who hold the SGGS as our only Guru, often end up worshipping in the same Gurdwaras, as do the more militant Guru Gobind Singh followers. Add to this the generation gap caused by Sikh youth embracing Western culture, and it is not so surprising that Sikh Gurdwaras can at times become political, hot and heavy.

Harmander Singh from the Sikhs in England organization explains some of the problems Sikhs in diaspora have. He believes that the main issue is:

The elders’ die-hard attitude and desire in seeking answers from their peers in the Punjab to problems they face in the West,

Also:

1. Factionalism based on ‘Jathebandis’ , the anti-Sikh practices such as ‘caste’ based groupings, gender discrimination and taking advantage of the deference to age by those who are younger than them.

2. The abject failure in accepting that age alone does not qualify one to be a ‘leader’ but it only helps if some wisdom was gained along the way in getting to their age. It is assumed that competency is automatic and only comes with age. The fact that many who hold positions of ‘power’ within the Sikh community somehow are unable to divorce their personal ego nurturing actions from the responsibility that comes with the positions they hold. As a result, when something good has happened, people who were once thought to be dead suddenly come out of nowhere for the photo opportunity but are nowhere to be seen when things are not so good or very bad – in such instances, it is always someone else’s fault and communication skills are suddenly ‘missing’ – an opportunity lost in promoting links with the media.

A PREFERENCE FOR SONS

As shocking and also self defeating as it is, the reasons Sikhs abort female foetusses is that they want to have sons. It is greed in some sense.

Despite Sikh teachings, Sikhi worldwide is tremendously male dominated. In India sons are thought to be breadwinners while daughters are expensive. Births of sons are celebrated and births of daughters are often greeted with regrets, condolences and silence. In the traditional India family, when a daughter marries she moves into her husband’s family home, under the direction of her mother-in-law. One day, if you have a son, he will marry and his new wife will be under you. This is the height of woman’s power. Being a mother and ultimately the family matriarch is what life offers to women in traditional India families.

The United Nations website on Women and Violence reports::


Son preference affects women in many countries, particularly in Asia. Its consequences can be anything from foetal or female infanticide to neglect of the girl child over her brother in terms of such essential needs as nutrition, basic health care and education.

In China and India, some women choose to terminate their pregnancies when expecting daughters but carry their pregnancies to term when expecting sons.

According to reports from India, genetic testing for sex selection has become a booming business, especially in the country’s northern regions. Indian gender-detection clinics drew protests from women’s groups after the appearance of advertisements suggesting that it was better to spend $38 now to terminate a female foetus than $3,800 later on her dowry.

A study of amniocentesis procedures conducted in a large Bombay hospital found that 95.5 per cent of foetuses identified as female were aborted, compared with a far smaller percentage of male foetuses.

The problem of son preference is present in many other countries as well. Asked how many children he had fathered, the former United States boxing champion Muhammad Ali told an interviewer: “One boy and seven mistakes.”

Though it is only Sikhs in India who are engaged in widespread abortion of female foetuses, studies in the UK also indicate that UK Sikhs prefer sons and that is that.

From: Demography of immigrants and minority groups in the United Kingdom. London, England, Academic Press, 1982. :169-92.

The data were obtained in a questionaire survey of about 3000 married Asian Sikh women, living in West London. The main reason for the study was to find out whether Asian immigrants had any difficulties in adopting modern methods of birth control. Another reason was an interest in the nature of cultural influences on fertility and birth control practice. Sikhs were chosen because they were the largest of the Indian religious groups in Britain according to a national survey in 1974. The ideal family size for most Sikhs was 2 or 3, and they resembled the general population in the practice of birth control. Most survey respondents maintained their family size by modern methods of birth control, which were adopted early in marriage. Whatever methods used, they seemed to be effective, since fertility among Sikhs and other Asians is declining. Where Sikhs do differ from the general population is in their very strong preference for sons (84%). Some of the evidence on achieved fertility, contraceptive practice, and reasons for having or not having a 3rd child suggests a stronger bias towards a family of 2 children than is revealed by the preference scores. The Sikhs emphatic preference for sons may prompt some parents to produce at least 1 more child than they would have otherwise had.

I asked Harmander Singh from Sikhs in England for his thoughts on male domination within Sikhi:

An instrumental element of succession of goods/assets in the laws of many countries, where the West has had or continues to have an influence, is along male heirs. Sikhs, as opposed to Sikhi, have fallen prey to these prevalent legal precedences.

The ‘little prince’ syndrome is also linked to the difference of treatment between the genders.

Paradoxically, younger generations are driven away from all religions by the continued outdated and inconsistent application of sexist values – sadly this also has had an influence on the Sikh community which is run by ‘politically’ motivated and backed (mis)leaders. The ultimate effect will be the devaluing of the faith by those who are meant to be preserving it.

The balance of Miri-Piri has swung too far towards Miri under the invisible hand of the anti-Panthic elements. (Sikhi teaches that the mundane or temporal plane – Miri – and the spiritual plane – Piri – are One and need to work together)

Although there is the Christian ethos of ‘blame the sin, not the sinner’ , I feel that time has come to stop the rot, and to blame the sinners too for they should know better and pay for their sins – driving these hypocrites away from positions of power should be the start of the clean up process.

SIKH WOMEN’S RESPONSE

Lacking any direct political way for Sikhs to stop the abortion of Sikh baby girls in India Sikh women activists use the internet. They attempt to use the dogma of the Sikh religion to convert fellow Sikhs away from its male dominated worldview.

“Our Gurus did their utmost to make Sikh women equal partners. Guru Amar Das Ji sent out Sikh women to spread Sikhi. Alas, we have lost trace of those women. The worst situation now is that some of the Sikh women have lost their right to accept Will of the Creator when they are forced to abort female fetuses. The Sikh women need to come forward and express themselves as they did in our Guru’s days and become mentors to the Global women.”

Satnam Kaur, politician, London UK

From Sikh Women.com website:

Sikhism is unique in recognizing unequivocal equality for all human beings and specifically for both men and women. Among equality of all human beings, fundamental aspects of Sikh theology include implicit gender equality and independence for women. The spiritual beliefs of Sikhism (revealed to Guru Nanak in 1469) propose social reform of women’s roles in society. Sikhism advocates active and equal participation in congregation, academics, healthcare, military among other aspects of society. Female subordination, the practice of taking father’s or husband’s last name, practicing rituals that imply dependence or subordination are all alien to the Sikh principles. The universal principles of Sikhism and the spiritual beliefs are to be practiced daily and incorporated in day to day living.

Ideally, if each of us truly incorporated the Guru’s teachings in our daily lives, this would be a perfect world to live in. There would be no bickering over dowry, there would be less excuses to perpetuate violence. Equality of Women in Sikh Ideology and Practice would render moot the issues such as, “What Rights do Sikh Women Have? or What is a Women’s Identity?

The Guru’s defended our freedom and taught us to live free of bondage and tyranny. If Guru Nanak or Guru Gobind Singh were living amongst us, they would be terribly disappointed. Although some outdated traditions are still practiced, they are certainly not a reflection of Sikhi in our lives.

Sikhism equal rights extend to all beings. Acceptance and incorporation of those with special Needs, the disadvantaged, the poor or those without a gender designation are no exception to the rule.

From the Sikhs.org website:

At the time of the Gurus women were considered very low in society. Both Hindus and Muslims regarded women as inferior and a man’s property. Women were treated as mere property whose only value was as a servant or for entertainment. They were considered seducers and distractions from man’s spiritual path. Men were allowed polygamy but widows were not allowed to remarry but encouraged to burn themselves on their husbands funeral pyre (sati). Child marriage and female infanticide were prevalent and purdah (veils) were popular for women. Women were also not allowed to inherit any property. Many Hindu women were captured and sold as slaves in foreign Islamic countries.

In such a climate Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism shocked the entire society by preaching that women were worthy of praise and equal to men. Five hundred years later, the rest of mankind is only now waking up to this fundamental truth. The Gurus actively encouraged the participation of women as equals in worship, in society, and on the battlefield. They encouraged freedom of speech and women were allowed to participate in any and all religious activities including reading of the Guru Granth Sahib.

WILL SIKHS CONVERT TO SIKHI?

It is both sad and fascinating to watch and hope that Sikhs will be able to convert fellow Sikhs to Sikhi. Still, Sikh men appear much more concerned about the schisms within Sikhi and the politics in India than about fighting for women’s rights. Sikh men, even the “fundamentalist” ones, have not risen up or bankrolled Sikh women’s efforts to establish Sikh gender equality in Sikh families, communities and Gurdwaras. Sikh women activists have few male allies.

On the other hand Sikh women are welcomed into the Khalsa Knighthood and more and more young Sikh women are becoming Khalsa. Khalsa women are theologically encouraged to be leaders who can initiate others into the Khalsa as well, yet no woman in truth has ever done so (except in a couple Sant/Baba groups).

Meanwhile, the Indian government has outlawed the use of technology to discern the gender of unborn children. Here is a PBS video about the gendercide problem in India.

Karabin Sherry. “Infanticide, Abortion Responsible for 60 Million Girls Missing in Asia.” Fox News.June 2007 http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,281722,00.html

“About Sikhs.” UNITED SIKHS. http://www.unitedsikhs.org/aboutsikhs.php

Singh, Jarnail “Quick Guide To Sikh Politics” Soulbride’s Kitchen https://kamallarosekaur.wordpress.com/2007/12/27/sikh-politics/

Singh, Harmander, “State of Sikh Relations” Soulbride’s Kitchen https://kamallarosekaur.wordpress.com/2008/03/08/harmander-singhs-state-of-union-address/

“Women and Violence” United Nations Department of Public Information February 1996
http://www.un.org/rights/dpi1772e.htm

Coleman, D, ed. Demography of immigrants and minority groups in the United Kingdom. London, England, Academic Press, 1982. :169-92.

Singh, Vishavjit. Sikhtoons.com http://www.sikhtoons.com

“Equality”. Sikh Women.Com
http://www.sikhwomen.com/equality/index.htm

“Women in Sikhi” The Sikhism Homepage
http://www.sikhs.org/women.htm

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