– It will be difficult for you to deny that religions have fermented more hatred between the world’s peoples than any other human pursuit. Yet religions yell the loudest that they are champions of peace and love.
– That’s a signal: the apocalypse is coming.
– Many have passed. Which one do you have in mind? Is it the one Christians are scared of?
– No, Christians have given up on that one.
– What do you mean?
– You have no idea what is happening in the world other than Afghanistan, Iraq and the fraudulent banks. Mahdi is coming. – Who is Mahdi? – Mahdi is believed to be the direct spiritual descendent of the Prophet, may God protect him. Under his command, armies will exterminate infidels, non-believers and bad followers and re-establish justice on Earth.
– Do you accept all this B.S.?
– Have you a choice? The worldwide campaign for the jihad has been proclaimed through action and in printed and electronic media. That is going to be the latest face of the Apocalypse.
– I am an atheist, do not drag me into it.
– Sorry, that makes you the prime infidel. Sitting on the side-lines is not accepted: follow or lose your head.
– Are you out of your mind? Governments are not stupid. They know everything. The old days are gone, my friend: information on the state of every part of the world is at hand all the time; press-button actions leave no scope for waiting.
– Thousands have taken the oath to join Mahdi’s armies. They believe that Allah who has caused droughts, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis has also prepared the ground for the glorious day. Even many American Christians believe that the earthquake and cholera in Haiti are God’s punishment.
– That is disinformation. It is not credible. Anyway, the Sikhs accept all religions and so we are not affected. In fact, ours is not even a religion. That’s what their Guru Granth, literarily Book-guru says. We belong to a religion equal to or better than Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
– We need a name. Sikhism is a good one.
– Sikhism and the Sikh way are not synonymous. The Sikh way is all-inclusive, looking over all other isms. The universal Sikh way is open to any person of any faith or of no faith to follow it. There are no pre-conditions imposed, no conversion, no baptism, no absurd rituals, symbols, ceremonies and restrictions. Sikhism as religion has become a pain in the neck, as someone has said.
– Now now!
– I do not have to repeat that the Book-guru is clear.
– We do not need a religion.
– Are you sure
– Why do you think Nanak had proclaimed: There is neither Hindu nor Muslim, only brotherhood of human beings? Surely he did not want to set up another religion, convinced that the world already had too many? They fight each other and divide humankind. All we need is to walk on the righteous path and live in peace. Sorry for being verbose, listen to Nanak himself:
If you look for meaning in life, do not look for it in religions; do not go from one cult to another or from one guru to the next. You can expend all your life or look for eternity and will find nothing but disappointment and disillusionment. Look instead in service to humanity. You will find meaning in your love for other human beings. You can experience God when you help someone who needs your help. The only truth that exists is the love that we have for each other. This is absolute and real. The rest is mirage, fancies of human imagination and fallacies of our own making. (Guru Granth)
– That’s exquisitely explicit.
– Actually, that’s the theme of the entire Book-guru. You will not find absurdities in it that one finds in other religious books. We have a treasure in our hands and we cannot see it. Could we be more stupid? Sikhs brand me an atheist for talking like this.
– You mean we have many standards.
– Of course. I may recite the five daily prayers upholding equality of men and women, equality of all people regardless of race, religion, caste, creed and status. Yet as a father, I would kill my daughter if she married outside the clan.
– Has Book-guru failed in its mission?
– We are a stuck-up people. Those who question the way priests manipulate Book-guru stay away from religious institutions. They know that there are no shortcomings in its teachings.
– The problem is with the followers.
– To show that they are modern, the misled followers want to be equal with Christianity and Islam, thus transforming the Sikh way into Sikhism, an inflexible religion.
– Are you not muddying the entire people, throwing the baby out with the bath water?
– I do not have to resort to research to see that the Sikh farmers settled in British Columbia and around Sacramento, the taxi drivers of Los Angles, the bricklayers, shopkeepers, and mechanics of Birmingham, in fact, even the rural people of the Punjab know that they have a great dharma, a remarkable practical way of life. But they do not know that Book-guru talks about a round earth, the Big Bang, many universes, evolution, and even possible life on other planets, all integrated in the form of an eternal flow or flux maintaining a perfect equilibrium. In it, human beings are insignificant.
– I did not know that Book-guru refers to such matters. I can find absurdities by the thousand in what Sikhs practice.
– Have you heard of Bertrand Russell?
– Wasn’t he the skinny British philosopher? Young people adored him.
– That’s him. Very few know how he glorified the Sikh way: it is capable of guiding humankind before the onslaught of the third world war. If some lucky men survive it, then the Sikh way will be the only means of guiding them. The Sikhs have not brought out into broad daylight the splendid doctrines of this religion. This is their greatest sin and the Sikhs cannot be freed of it.
– What a compliment. How nice of him.
– Other thinkers like Arnold Toynbee, S. Buck and Bernard Shaw were of the view that Book-guru’s universal message of human brotherhood should be conveyed to the entire world. However, the backward-thinking Sikh institutions are unable to take the message fully, even to the Sikhs.
– Is that why we make so much fuss of Book-guru?
– Yes and no. We are extraordinary Book-guru lovers, granthophiles.
– That sounds like paedophiles. Careful, the Sikhs might get you for tagging them with such names. Don’t you think it is a question of our absolute faith in it?
– We suffer from a dysfunction of inaction upon the teachings of Book-guru which we love so deeply. Having got rid of the idols and images that are pertinent in other religions, we found ourselves at a loose end with nothing tangible to hold on to. We needed a physical image. Book-guru served the purpose. Earlier, the Muslims had replaced images with a colossal cube of black granite, and aspire to go round it once in their life.
– Many Christian are still bibliophiles, who have total faith in it and believe that just reading it or any part of it randomly, without even understanding it, can solve all problems and enlighten them.
– I call our love of Book-guru, Adi Guru Granth, Granthophilia. We love it more than we love a living guru. No one can beat us. Unlike the Bible and the Koran, Book-guru is a living embodiment of the gurus. It’s a person, not an ordinary person but our Perfect Emperor, a Maharaja, holding court like a Mogul emperor. At the same time, it’s our prisoner.
– A prisoner?
– Yes. Once I entered a well-known London gurdwara to pay my respects to Book-guru. I confronted eight cells, actually cubicles each with a living Book-guru enthroned on a well-cushioned mini bed exquisitely adorned with precious silks studded with stars twinkling in brilliant lights. I was confused. I bowed down and rubbed my nose in front of each cell. Naturally, no prisoner would give up such comfort. A turbaned bearded man guards each prisoner. He has a white muslin cloth wrapped round the lower half of his face; I believe to hide his identity. He talks continuously to Book-guru. No one outside can hear what he is saying. Once I used to be a guardian as well, but not shut in a cell.
– You don’t have to twist things; they were performing eight uninterrupted readings.
– When I straightened up in front of the eighth cubicle, I noticed that it was empty.
– You mean one Baba had escaped. [Another commonly used name for Book-guru honouring its wisdom].
– I guess so. Later I heard a rumour that appeared in the local press. The guard-reader had to go to pee, and he forgot to close the door. A group called the Guardians of the Book-guru tracked him down and located his exact whereabouts through the internet and the GPS. Book-guru was riding on a man’s head in the nearby suburb. They attacked and respectfully guided Book guru back to the cell.
– You are mistaken. Devotees often take Baba (Book guru) to their houses for some ceremony or a wedding. In the villages, it is still a common practice.
– In the UK, there is a new religious edict: Book guru must not be taken to private houses because people may be drinking alcohol there. It is especially forbidden at the marriage palaces, hotels and community halls that are often used for partying and dancing. The wedding ceremony must be performed in a gurdwara.
– That does not make sense. The tradition in Punjab has been that a marriage ceremony must take place in the girl’s house. Otherwise, the village takes it as a disgrace and dishonour. Only very poor parents, with the consent of the village elders, allow for a wedding ceremony to take place in a gurdwara.
– I believe the guardians have a hidden motive. They have imprisoned Book-guru’s ideas that reject absurd rituals and blind worship because it harms their source of income.
– I believe you are correct. Book-guru is serving a life sentence with hard labour. It must do public service at all hours. The waiting list of demands for uninterrupted reading is long. Have you heard the latest rumour from the UK? All privately owned Book-gurus will be confiscated and enslaved.
– Have I not told you that I lost my three-quarter Book-guru under similar circumstances. There won’t be a shortage for funds for building new cells. The Sikhs believe that donating to Book-guru is a true service and genuine charity. In the small town of Eldoret in Kenya where I grew up, I recall Babuji who used to make us sing hymns on weekends. After prolonged bowing in front of Book-guru, he would invariably perform the ritual of a clockwise circumambulation and pause behind Book-guru. Then he would bend down to hold the right leg of the palanquin with both hands and squeeze it up and down as if massaging a living guru, and then proceed to the left leg. He would then pick up the flywhisk and swing it a few times reverently over Book-guru driving away imaginary flies and dust. He would then bow down again with utmost respect to complete the ritual. In those days, it looked quite normal to me.
– Don’t you realise how tired Book-guru gets? His arduous workload has increased geometrically.
– A good case for labour unions to protest.
– Do you recall that in October 2008 we celebrated the 300th anniversary of bestowing the guruship on the Adi Granth? I was in Tajpur in Punjab, the village of family origin. The village pledged five hundred uninterrupted readings.
– Poor Book-guru: no holiday even on his birthday. How did you fulfil the pledge?
– In my village, it’s difficult to find so many readers. Therefore, they did line reading and performed akhri darshan, script vision.
– Wait a minute, I’m lost. What are line reading and akhri darshan?
– The reader passes his eyes over each line without reading it. I heard that in the neighbouring village of Bheni, the reader viewed or scanned each page with his eyes and kept on turning the pages. We have infallible faith in the miraculous power of Book-guru: merely seeing it is enough. Boundless is our granthophilia, astounding our devotion. The leader of a group of villagers going on yatra, pilgrimage, to Hazur Sahib invited me to join them.
– Why Hazur Sahib? Isn’t it far in the south?
– Yes, a few days by train to the Deccan. That’s where Gobind Singh enthroned the Adi Granth as the final guru. Sikhs from all over the world gather there. Indian Railways has arranged special trains to take Punjab Sikhs to Nader. The Government renamed the railway station Nader Hazur Sahib. Helicopters rained flowers on Nader Gurdwara on October 28 and 30. Besides the fireworks in the evening, the Sikhs laid on three hundred varieties of food and sixty varieties of sweets as well as burgers and noodles. A machine produced fifteen tons of ice cream per hour. The communal kitchen served five thousand worshipers at a go. What a superb Khalsa Dinner’s Club. It serves well-fed pilgrims, and ignores the country’s millions of hungry and the poor, a slap on Nanak’s sacha sauda, true trade.
– These ostentatious celebrations feed the Sikh megalomania. They get bigger and better organized than the Hindu Kumbh Mela.
– That’s what I’ve been saying: by imitating Hindus we have become more Hindu than the Hindus.
– But we never admit it.
– Gurdwaras are burgeoning everywhere, perpetuating granthophilia.
– People need adulation and belief in something. That is the basis of a successful religion. Book-guru is not a terrifying book like the Bible with its legends, fables and miracles. Unlike the Koran, it does not admonish its followers and non-followers. It shows the practical way for a happy life, discarding mythological chaff except frequent poetic allegorical references to Hindu mythology. Unfortunately, the Sikh preachers have built on similar myths cleverly linking, or rather interfacing, miracles performed by the authors of Book-guru and other gurus with verses from the Book-guru. However, they are unable to beat the exhilarating Hindu mythology. People love listening to miraculous stories and our preachers continue to exploit this frailty, recounting miraculous incidents from Ramayana, Mahabharata and other similar literature. The graphic recounting of tales of gods, yamas and dharmaraj who keeps an account of each person’s karma and waits, like Saint Peter, for the arrival of souls at the gate and condemns them to paradise or hell or keeps them in suspension.
– That is true. My family has modified meal times in order to watch the television series of Hindu epics. Every Punjabi villager has been drawn to the Hindu fold.
– When the television breaks down, it’s a disaster.
– The Sikhs, like the Muslims, do not permit filming of legends and myths associated with Sikh gurus and saints. Naturally, they watch those of others. They have overcome this shortcoming partly by idolatrous and credulous worship of Book-guru. Frankly, pilgrimages do not attract me. Worshipping Book-guru like an idol is not my cup of tea. I know Nader is our fourth throne, as holy as Amritsar.
– Was it here where two agents sent by the Muslim Governor of Sirhand stabbed Gobind Singh, our tenth guru? We attribute miraculous powers to Gobind Singh. Couldn’t he foresee his assassins coming? I wish he could have lived longer, to put the Khalsa on a solid footing and save the world. Before he died, he bestowed the guruship on the Pothi [book] which became the Adi Granth, the First Book. Some fifty years later, it became the Guru Granth, Bookguru. Subsequently it received honorific titles of Sri, Sahib and ‘Ji’, I believe in recognition of its hard work.
– How did we fall into this trap? – Hindu traditions and rituals in a modified form which are intrinsically more insidious have penetrated the Sikh psyche. Book guru and its authors were elevated above God with Book-guru becoming the focus of adoration and worship. Some blame the Brahmin priests for manipulating the illiterate people. It’s our fault.
– Nevertheless, you also adore Book-guru.
– Yes, I perform the ritual in order not to be different from the others. However, I find much peace by being with like-minded assembly of devotees, the lovers of Book-guru. It reminds me of an elderly Sikh reverently carrying his old Book-guru, not yet dead, on his head. He walked many kilometres from his village to Amritsar. With utmost respect, he handed it to a well-known publisher near the Golden Temple and bought a new one. He recited his abridged prayer and respectfully placed it on his head. Behold, the shopkeeper flung his beloved old Book-guru over his shoulder on to a heap of paper and other books. Shocked and dumbfounded, he could not believe his eyes: Such an ignominious end to Book-guru happening a few yards away from the place where the first Book was first compiled.
– We bribe Book-guru with money. To ensure that he is never hungry, we place food and water under his bed. Some fastidious disciples even place a vessel as a toilet. In summer, it has its own air-conditioning unit because fanning with a flywhisk is not enough. Baba gets fine cotton underclothes to wear in summer and woollens in winter. Recently I was in Toronto, Canada where there are over one hundred and forty gurdwaras.
– So many?
– Book-guru helps the owners to obtain tax relief.
– You are joking?
– No, having a Book-guru in a room makes it a public place of worship; hence the owner is entitled to tax relief, according to some law.
– Occasionally I think of my three-quarter Book-guru. When I installed it on the top shelf of my wardrobe with its clothes, the flywhisk and a small sword, I thought of the Egyptian pharaohs buried under the Pyramids with precious objects placed next to them. I often worry about its state of residence in Langenthal Gurdwara near the Swiss capital, Bern. I believe it should be all right, secure and comfortable in heavenly Switzerland. When I got used to the Gurbani CD, happy memories have replaced my guilt feeling. Now Book-guru is ever-present and easily accessible. I can search for any song, copy, cut and paste without worrying about the spit escaping from the mouth and wetting the pages. It lodges comfortably in a USB memory key in my breast pocket next to my heart. Yesterday my cousin wanted the text of a hymn to sing in the morning. I got it from here and printed it. Do you think Baba is angry with me?
– You are blessed. – There is no need for messy garlands, burning essence, perfumes and offerings of money and food. There will be no problem of cremating it or recycling it.
– But then, why has the granthophilia strengthened?
– Book-guru’s message is clear and easy to understand. However, it is much easier to accept and follow the belief that the all-powerful Book-guru will resolve our problems and fulfil our desires. All I need to do is to place my wishes in front of Book-guru, sing its songs, or let someone read it for me.
– Do you mean to say that if I do not obey Book-guru I do not have a guru and I’m not its disciple, a Sikh?
– We often sing melodiously Book-guru’s couplet: If you seek anything other than Him, you will accumulate pain and grief.
– Punjab is one of the most literate and prosperous states of India. Do its people have any excuse for not following the Sikh path?
– Many Sikh preachers are like the Brahmin priest who could earn his living only by perpetuating rituals and false beliefs. They have overpowered even the educated who have stopped protesting. Like the Brahmin priest, they have the Sikh society in their grip. Any person can read, preach and sing verses from Book-guru and perform ceremonies, but the Brahmin way has entered the Sikh psyche more subtly. Firstly, the Book-guru has been elevated above God. It is Maharajah, Patshah and the All-knower. With the permission of Book-guru, we start every ceremony: social, religious, commercial and family. Book-guru receives all donations and offerings. Poor God has lost its throne, even though Book-guru says repeatedly that whoever would equate the gurus to God would go to hell.
– In that case, many Sikhs purchase their ticket to hell daily. Is it binding for me to go to a gurdwara? – Book-guru says that God is everywhere and one can pray anywhere at any time.
– in fact a Sikh should be at prayer all the time, even his work is prayer. Book-guru also says that associating with good people is beneficial spiritually and builds the willpower.
– For many, unquestioned faith blindly followed, keeps them going.
– It’s a good crutch. My understanding of sadh sangat, company of good people, accords less with preaching and more with conferences, exchange of experiences and debates. I do know how God comes into it.
– God has shaken off his responsibility by according human beings the freedom to do good or evil. They carry the weight of errors.
– Therefore, God is not all-powerful.
– He offers love, His force. Otherwise, He is weak and suffering with human beings.
– In that case, we must save God. But what is wrong with singing the sacred songs?
– Singing is very therapeutic and calming. The problem is that what they sing is not always a prayer or meditation. It is usually instructions, descriptions and recommendations for action. For example Nanak describes the Jain practice:
They have their head-hair plucked, drink dirty water. And eat by begging other’s leavings. They spread out their shit and inhale by mouth its stinking odour… (Guru Granth)
Do you see what I mean? Am I disparaging the Book-guru?
– I just sing as if it were a prayer and never question. The melody transports me to the realm of bliss. For me Book-guru’s each word is potent.
– Then why do you need to read one thousand four hundred and thirty pages? Book-guru was written in relatively short poems so that even the illiterate could learn and understand them. In the present times, the young go to universities and acquire academic and professional knowledge caring little about what semi-educated priests preach. They tend to follow the Sikh way not by acquiring knowledge from Book-guru.
– I see your point. If we don’t change, we will not grow. If we do not grow, we are not really living. Growing requires giving up many traditions and rituals that provide only temporary hope but do not conform to the Sikh way.
– It is extremely difficult, if not too late, for the Sikh religious institutions to change now. They will follow the way of other religions. Not long ago in Birmingham a group staged a play, Dishonour. One scene with sexual connotations was set in a gurdwara. It angered many Sikhs, both young and old. There were violent demonstrations that were an affront to the broadmindedness of the Sikh credo. – Why do we blame others and conceal our shortcomings taking refuge in Book-guru’s universality? We beat our chests for the success in save-the-turban campaigns in England and Canada as if the turban safeguards Book-guru’s teachings. We did not dare liberate our Book guru from the holy prison in case it became alive and condemned us to the painful fate of the masands, regional representatives of the gurus who did not stop stealing the tax money and misused their position. Gobind Singh had them arrested and burnt alive. Our modern slippery masands know this cannot happen to them and continue to flourish.
– Book-guru is not our prisoner. We love him. Should I say her or it?
– If a man has a beautiful wife whom he loves dearly, he wants to keep her for himself and protect her from other men. He cannot allow her to leave the house except with him. Her beauty cannot be shared.
– The prison authorities earn handsome reading fees, doubling it if the demand is urgent. A request for slower interrupted reading costs less. That’s how the law of demand-supply works.
– Where does the money go?
– Don’t be naïve. The guardian-readers deserve a good salary for conversing with Book-guru. According to the Sikh mind-set, this is the best form of charity money- the safest investment.
– Where do they find so many guardian-readers? – It is no longer a problem. The stock of jobless super-fast readers, especially from lower castes, is inexhaustible.
– This morning I was waving the flywhisk over Book-guru. The priest miraculously found a randomly chosen hymn that exactly matched the ceremony for naming a child. He had marked the page with a hair from his beard. He raised his voice to stress key words. Wonderstruck, the devotees nodded and acknowledged All-knowing Book-guru’s power by uttering soulfully: Waheguru, Waheguru, the wonderful Guru-God.
– New religious anniversaries never celebrated before have come on the annual agenda. The fourth centenary in 2004 of compiling Book-guru was celebrated with an incredible ceremony and pageantry. Did we celebrate previous centenaries?
– Without realizing, we copy the Hindus. But Hindus have numerous religious festivals spread though out the year. There are fasts, sacrifices to Kali, Holi, Diwali, Dusehra, the new moon and the full moon and numerous others. They celebrate in a variety of ways: prayers, dance, music, singing, theatre, processions, pilgrimages, bathing, burning effigies, splashing people with coloured powder and water. Bollywood and television have magnified these festivals dramatically. One benefit of these celebrations is that people can safely vent their frustrations and maintain some level of psychological balance and mental health, control their passions and live in relative peace. These festivities enhance the feeling of belonging to a social group. Sikh religious festivals are devoid of such variety. This is not a criticism.
– Do you mean Sikhs have invented rituals to replace Hindu and Muslim ones?
– They don’t have to; they never abandoned the Hindu rituals. They have simply modified and found some folklore or historical incident associated with some guru to justify celebration of a purely Hindu festival. Nothing wrong, the more we celebrate the better the social health.