You Cannot Lock the Guru of the World Away in Punjab

The availability of the Sikh Scripture

There are reports that awful restrictions are being imposed on the transportation of the printed volume of Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) to homes and the gurdwaras in the West. This seems to be counter to the Guru’s mission of spreading the sacred word among the seekers everywhere in the world. The Sikh scripture, Sikh history and Sikh traditions promote the widespread availability of the Sikh scripture. 

When we call ourselves Sikh, we claim to possess an inherent privilege of being continuously in-touch and in communication with Gurbani. That means to make all the tools of creating connection with the SABD Guru effortless and available to every Sikh. Based upon the time of the day and work environment the physical tools of connecting to the SABD or Gurbani may vary. In today’s technological environment, availability through the printed format and the electronic media are considered most suitable in the developed societies. In the developing countries, it may be just printed formats or even handwritten texts in pocketbooks while at work, and the full volume at home. At the time of Guru Nanak, far spread-out Sikhs kept the Guru-SABD in their heart, when even the printed format was often not available.

I may also say here that there is no evidence that our Gurus required any intermediary or clergy to transmit the Guru SABD. Rather our Gurus did not even permit the clergy class in the Sikh Panth or Gurmukh Panth, as our community was known in those days.  Let me illustrate through an example: Cloud Burst of Gurbani

There is a stunning story from the times of Guru Ram Das reported by the Sikh historian, Bhai Santokh Singh;  Once a delegation of Hindu religious scholars under the leadership of Pundit Mohan Lal came to visit Guru Ram Das. The members of the delegation were well known Pundits or leaders of Brahmanical tradition. Their mission was to express their concern regarding the language and mode of propagation that the Guru was employing to freely spread Gurmat messages among people.

When sitting face to face, in Guru’s congregation, they forcefully articulated their concern and attempted to persuade the Guru to use the agency and the language of the religious elite, Sanskrit, and the community of ordained Brahmans to impart Guru Nanak’s doctrines. Further, the same elite should be given charge to further propagate the sacred knowledge; the hymns of Guru should not be distributed unrestricted. They were disappointed when the Guru rejected their suggestion. 

Guru Ram Das employed the metaphor of rain to make his point forcefully to the delegation. Bhai Santokh described Guru’s response as follows:

ਬੇਦ ਪੁਰਾਨ ਕੂਪ ਜਲ ਜੈਸੇ । ਬਰੋਸਾਇ ਕੋ ਕਿਤੀ ਜੈਸੇ

ਸਤਿਗੁਰ ਬਾਣੀ ਮੇਘ ਸਮਾਨ । ਬਰਸੈ ਚਹੁੰ ਦਿਸਿ ਬਿਖੈ ਜਹਾਨ ॥

Divine message, the Guru said, was like water in a well to a thirsty person or to a germinating plant. Divine knowledge in classical languages or the languages of the elite, for example, Sanskrit or Arabic, is like the taking out the water from the deep wells with a hand-drawn bucket. It takes lot of effort to draw the water out. When drawn out this way, the water may quench the thirst but only of the persons with such resources, or the water only for their own crops, who possess the means of drawing water in this manner. No sharing was possible as the quantity thus drawn was sufficient only to satisfy the needs of the holder of the bucket.

In contrast, the Guru’s Wisdom, Gurmat, was manifested in Gurbani (repository of Guru’s wisdom) in a language and mode which served like a cloudburst. It showered everywhere without restriction. It turned the crops of everyone, in every field, green; it reached mountains and valleys alike, birds and mammals alike, animals and human alike, the educated and uneducated alike, and, poor and rich alike.  (See Santokh Singh, Sri Gur Partap Suraj Granth, Raas 1, Part 46, p. 1518. Reprinted, Khalsa Samachar, Amritsar, 1954.)

With this answer Guru Ram Das rejected the institution solely of clergies to impart Guru’s teachings. They granted everyone access to the Guru’s teachings in whichever way was convenient to the seekers. Each and everyone, irrespective of their age, gender, education, financial position, or even religion is given free access to the Guru’s teachings. 

SABD Langar

Our SABD Guru asks us to make free availability of Guru SABD as the Gur-SABD-Langar. 

The Langar of daily meals takes care of the need of the human body. But what about the need of the human mind or of the Soul which needs different type of food – the food of Guru’s teachings?

ਲੰਗਰੁ ਚਲੈ ਗੁਰ ਸਬਦਿ ਹਰਿ ਤੋਟਿ ਨ ਆਵੀ ਖਟੀਐ ॥ SGGS, p. 967

Langar chalai gur sabadi hari toti n aavee khateeai

The Langar – the Kitchen of the Guru’s Shabad (Sacramental Food of the Gur-Shabad: Naam or Giaan Langar) is opened (for ceaseless or non-stop distribution), and its supplies never run short. 

Our Gurus urged us to distribute the SABD and its teachings freely and ceaselessly to all seekers (of Truth) without any discrimination of gender, race, nationality, status (rich, poor etc.), education, or ethnicity. Our Guru also guaranteed the community that the SABD langar will never run out.

Stern Condemnation of Those Who Restrict Guru

The Guru Granth sternly condemns those who hide their Guru behind walls of any type of restriction. For example, Guru Ram Das condemned those who hide their Guru behind rituals and restrictions, as below. 

ਜੋ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਪੇ ਆਪਣਾ ਸੁ ਭਲਾ ਨਾਹੀ ਪੰਚਹੁ ਓਨਿ ਲਾਹਾ ਮੂਲੁ ਸਭੁ ਗਵਾਇਆ ॥ SGGS, p.304.

O chosen people, O self-elect, one who hides Guru from others is not a good person. Such a person will lose every benefit that he and others could take from the Guru’s teachings.

ਜਿਨ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਪਿਆ ਆਪਣਾ ਸੇ ਲੈਦੇ ਢਹਾ ਫਿਰਾਹੀ ॥SGGS, p. 308
Those who hide the Guru wander around, moaning and groaning.

ਜਿਨਿ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਪਿਆ ਆਪਣਾ ਤਿਸੁ ਠਉਰ ਨ ਠਾਉ ॥ SGGS, p. 314
Those who hide their Guru shall have no home or place of escape.

Guru Ram Das called those people evillest who hide Guru from others. 

ਜਿਨਾ ਗੁਰੁ ਗੋਪਿਆ ਆਪਣਾ ਤੇ ਨਰ ਬੁਰਿਆਰੀ ॥ SGGS, p. 651
Those who conceal and deny their Guru are the evillest people.
 

Although our Gurus condemn such behaviors, restrictions or guidelines, our youth, and other members of Sikh congregations in the western world experience untold types of difficulties in obtaining the bound volumes of Gurbani. 

Even though everyone with modern technology such as computers and cell-phones has full excess to the volumes of SGGS, many members of our congregations wish to have the Guru’s full volume at home. That promotes the young children to inculcate faith in their Guru.

Many faithful Sikhs describe awful hurdles when they go to India and go to their central shrine, Sri Darbar Sahib to seek a volume of SGGS. No one knows the reason for such imposition of restrictions on the Guru’s travel outside of the Sri Harmander Sahib precinct on its way Sikh diasporas abroad. 

Those hurdles are often described and published in the Sikh Review journal. I recall articles by Dr. Inderjit Singh, Col. Avtar Singh, and others.  Their writings often follow by letters from readers illustrating the magnitude of anguish that community is forced to exhibits. Clearly this issue is not the respect that is due the Guru Granth sahib. 

Sardar Phulel Singh, an ex-official of Takht Sri Patna Sahab used to bring truckloads of SGGS volumes to distribute in Noth America. When he passed away, his son needed the sacred volume for his new home. So, he flew to India to get one from Guru Ram Das printing Press. However, he had to return empty handed and grumbling over the reception he received. 

Not only do our institutions in India place restrictions, but those abroad who facilitate the access to the SABD Guru are harassed and threatened. 

There is no disagreement that utmost respect is appropriate during transporting the Guru Granth volumes. The issue is that the current policy diminishes the ability of the Sikhs, their families, and their friends that live worldwide to develop and strengthen a relationship with the Guru Granth Sahib.  Hence, we wish to continue to argue against the practice of restricting open access to the Jagat Guru.  

Is there Brahmanism entering our religious practices? Let me illustrate why am I asking this question?

Brahmanism Taboo at the Millennium Celebration in USA: In the year 2000, religious leaders of most religions of the world, on special invitation, graced the land of the United States to celebrate the Millennium year. I had the pleasure of being personally involved with the events held at the United Nations campus in New York and at the World Center for Thanksgiving in Dallas, Texas. Meeting and mingling with world religious leaders gave me, among other things, a real appreciation and understanding of how diverse the celebration of religiosity among world’s religions was. 

One observation is relevant to this essay: Some denominations of Hinduism sent lower-level leadership and others completely shunned travel to participate in the UNO sponsored international gatherings. We were told that their top religious leadership was forbidden to cross waters over the continents. On further exploration I found that travelling overseas was forbidden in those sects on the religious grounds.  

There is a belief in Hindu mythology that crossing over an ocean is a religious sacrilege punishable with wrath from fierce demons and monsters. Both Manu Smriti and the Baudhayana Dharma Sutra specifically advised against sea travels with severe penalties and penances. 

Some who have incurred religious wrath in recent times for crossing the seas are notables like Tagore, Gandhi, Vivekananda, and Ramanujan, though they totally disregarded any religious judgment against them. 

Further, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the English suffered in their attempts to get Hindu labor across to Africa and West Indies due to this reason. The crossing of the seas was termed a crossing over the dark waters or Kaalaa Paani. The British finally took large vessels full of the water from river Ganges on board to keep these men contended. 

A Brahmin explained the taboo to me as follows: 

This is because one cannot perform his daily ‘pujas’, the three-time ‘sandyavandans’ because the sun and moon were "in the wrong place at the wrong time". Moreover, if one goes out, he will have to compromise on those religious practices, ‘touch’ many unclean people and eat food prepared by "mlecchas (non- Aryan or non-Vedic follower)". 

Another reason given was that India was a "Punyabhoomi (Holy land)" and the rest of the world was “karmabhoomi (Land of duty)”. Furthermore, such a departure from this land entailed the end of the reincarnation cycle, as the traveler was cut off from the regenerating waters of the Ganges (thus the English solution of carrying Ganges water on ships).  

Vishnunarayanan Namboothiri, a noted poet who served as a priest at the Sreevallabha Temple, was not allowed to enter the temple after he returned from an overseas trip to London. The temple authorities, led by the chief priest, asked him to go a thorough cleansing, penance, and punaravrodha (reinstallation) before he would be allowed in the temple again. Namboothiri was asked to purify himself by reciting the Gayatri Mantra 1008 times.  

It is heartening that as Hindus became more educated, they began to reform. Now-a-days, most educated Hindus reject the above-described restrictions on overseas travel, considering it a taboo of the past and an outdated belief, although there are many sects still hanging on to this taboo. It may be that some of our Sikh clergy wants us to join those sects. 

Actually, this is what Hindus would say of their religion – that Hinduism is not monolithic, nor centralized or uniform, and that it has evolved over the centuries and still continues to change.

So, we are wondering if the above-described Hindu taboo has started seeping into our customs to freshly invent restrictions on travels of our eternal Guru? Neither Sikh Teachings nor Sikh way 

Hearing all the above description of Brahmanwad that should be foreign to us at first and then very disturbing. We are relieved to realize that our Guru’s teachings, Gurmat, liberated us from such shackles- that we would never be restricted the Hindu way. We envision our scholars, clergy, and Gurus traveling with the Guru all over the world to spread the message of universality and love. 

Further our SABD Guru had guaranteed us its presence wherever a Sikh would reside. We must trust the prediction of the scholars of Guru Arjan’s court.

Bhai Gurdas described the whole schema of Guru Arjan in creating the volume of SGGS in Vaar 1, Pauri 27, as below.

ਘਰ ਘਰ ਅੰਦਰ ਧਰਮਸਾਲ ਹੋਵੈ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸਦਾ ਵਿਸੋਆ॥

 ਬਾਬੇ ਤਾਰੇ ਚਾਰ ਚਕ ਨੌ ਖੰਡ ਪ੍ਰਿਥਮੀ ਸਚਾ ਢੋਆ॥  Bhai Gurdas Var I, Pauri 27

Inside every home is a treasury of dharma (Guru’s teachings) where kirtan continually plays.
Baba liberated the four directions and the nine realms (with the highest Truth of SABD).

Brahamanwad Not Anticipated Among Sikhs

Little did we know that our expectations of the Guru’s presence travelling all over the world would be sabotaged by our own Sikh clergy in our own lifetime, and that the Brahmanwad as described above in the case of Hinduism would seize us Sikhs, too. And, to our dismay, this is happening at a time when even the orthodox Hindu organizations are themselves seriously considering backing away from this outdated custom and thinking. 

For your reference, we are using the terms Brahmanism or Brahmanwad as a generic term, meaning the clergy-imposed religiosity, experienced virtually in every religion. So, the Brahman as a generic term includes pundits, bhaees, mullahs, rabbis, and others who claim a special authority over management of their religions. Unfortunately, Brahmanwad engulfs every religion, sometime after the Founder leaves for a heavenly abode, but it is highly disturbing to see its practice in modern times. 

Now, I want to tell you in brief what really happened to an active member of a Canadian Sikh congregation, or rather what transpired during my visit to India. You may find, though, that the story is only a repetition of the similar experiences many others have undergone in a similar quest. So, we leave out the specific details, but will gladly share them with those who may need it for illustration. 

In this case (name is held to protect the individual), our priestly heads of important religious organizations in Punjab and in Delhi took our friend seeking the volume of SGGS around the bushes for several days until the seeker lost patience and gave up. The clergy demands included hiring of five initiated Sikhs to ceremonially carrying the Guru in especially prepared automobile. During the travelling in airplane, special seats must be bought for the party carrying the Granth in the airplane involving no stay in any hotel on the way. When direct demands of clergy became awkward, the seeker was distracted with one excuse or the other to his/her utter disappointment and exhaustion. \

The seekers are told in so many ways that the SADB Guru could not fly overseas with any individual. This disappoints countless visitors from abroad who go to India with a deep desire to procure the Guru Granth volume so that they may install the Guru in their homes for daily obeisance, recitation and vichaar of Guru’s hymns.  

The current restrictions rule out completely any access to SGGS volume for Sikhs living outside India, be it Europe, UK, North America, Africa, Middle East, or Southeast Asia. Even within India, it will be very expensive to have five Singhs travel in a specially prepared van to deliver the volume of the Granth, say, in Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, or Bangalore by road.

It is not the purpose of this article to criticize any person or organization, but rather to blame the system that our clergy have instituted to invoke restrictions. They make it very difficult, if not impossible, for any wisdom seeker to take home a copy of our sacred scripture particularly when flying overseas. 

It is this very fanaticism that resulted in removing the copies of the Guru Granth from Indian Embassies and university libraries in North America.  All this has been done in the name of “Satkar (reverence) for SGGS.” 

According to reports we receive from seekers of the Guru Granth, there appears to be a well-thought-out sinister move under way. Or else, why would Sikhs living outside Punjab, particularly outside India, be denied the opportunity to have SGGS at their residence – the opportunity to be able to recite SGGS themselves (do Sehaj Path), to initiate the children to the Guru, and to take into their heart the divine wisdom contained therein (GuruMat).

Was Restricting Guru Ever a Tradition? 

To the contrary, the compiler and composer of SGGS, Guru Arjun, himself advised that the Guru’s Word or composition may abide with every soul everywhere.

ਗੁਰ ਕਾ ਬਚਨੁ ਬਸੈ ਜੀਅ ਨਾਲੇ ॥ SGGS, p. 679

The Guru's Word (verses in the Guru Granth) may abide with my heart.

Did Sikh Clergy always Restrict their Guru? 

Of course, not! The Guru Granth volume was first installed as Pothi Sahib in 1604 and it was canonized as SGGS in 1708. Since then, the sacred volumes have been transported by whatever means available to the various parts of the Indian subcontinent. 

It is not even a couple of decades ago that the restriction on the Guru’s travel was heard. The SABD Guru was transported and distributed freely among the Sikh congregations and the homes of individual wisdom seekers. 

We should refresh our memory of the days when the sacred volume of SGGS was carried in a leather holder slung from the saddle of a horse during the 18th century. Col. Avtar Singh and I are both well past our seventh decade and have seen during our lifetimes SGGS volume packed in a suitcase being transported on a Tonga (horse buggy), bus, train, or horseback, all in the lap of the faithful. 

Bhai Kahn Singh, personally, gave a copy of the Guru Granth to late Mr. Max MaCauliffe, asking him to pack it in his suitcase and take it to UK for his use. MaCauliffe’s servant, who travelled with him and packaged his luggage, was his Muslim servant well-known to Bhai Kahn Singh. He is the one carried the suitcase carrying the volume of SGGS. 

No one ever reported any sacrilege being committed anywhere in those days. One is at a loss as to why the Satkar (reverence) is being made an issue now. 

Gurmat and Sikhism Entering the World without Borders with SGGS’s Unrestricted Access

Let us illustrate with the case history of Christian minister, Rev. Dr. H. L. Bradshaw, of Oklahoma City. He developed fascination with Sikhism through some Sikh students he met at the University of Oklahoma. He began to write articles on Sikhism that were published in Sikh media including the Sikh Review. He then made a pilgrimage to Amritsar where SGPC felicitated him and gave him books on Sikhism to take back. He was also given a copy of the Guru Granth to carry in his suitcase in order to establish a Sikh congregation in Oklahoma, which he did. 

Soon after his Amritsar visit and the publicity of his starting a Sikh congregation, I heard from SGPC, asking me to visit Dr. Bradshaw to help him where needed. If my memory is correct, I visited Dr. Bradshaw in 1959 and spent a night at his home.  

I found that Dr. Bradshaw could not establish a Sikh congregation, so he asked me to take his copy of the Guru Granth back with me. He could not read Punjabi, and the students who had kindled the spark of Sikhism in him had already left the town. 

Thus, I transported the sacred volume to Chicago with me in my car. We had formed a Sikh Study Circle there to meet weekly and held sangat in the Guru’s presence. I reported this to SGPC which felt relief that the SGGS volume was taken back safely and would be available to American congregations.

How I Became Instrumental in Making the Guru Accessible in USA

In due time, Sikh students studying in universities all over the Midwest USA found out that I was honored with a copy of the Guru Granth for the benefit of various Sikh congregations. They began to ask me to lend them the SABD Guru for their Sikh functions. 

I traveled with the Guru to Madison, Milwaukee, several nearby towns in Indiana, Illinois, and a couple of times to Ohio where late Dr. Kharag Singh of Sikh Research Institute, Dr. Gurbaksh Singh of Punjab Agriculture University, and their colleagues were studying at Ohio University. They invited me with my Guru for Sikh celebrations. They were very appreciative and supportive of the Guru’s visits to various campuses. 

A few years later, around 1975, late Sardar Phulel Singh of Takht Sri Patna Sahib had moved to Toronto. One of his missions, he told me, was to provide the Guru to wherever requested. I recall taking the volumes of the Guru Granth from him to deliver to various sangats in different towns of North America. All were feeling very blessed on the availability of the Guru in the foreign lands. They were all very thankful for this service undertaken by Sirdar Phulel Singh. Sirdar Sahib told me that he imported container loads of the sacred volumes of SGGS for distribution in North America. 

Sikhism was really coming to the age of its being without borders with SGGS freely available.

Is it not a pity that now the son of the same Sardar Phule Singh was denied the Guru Granth from India? 

Conclusion

 There are reports of unprecedented restrictions imposed on the transportation of SGGS Volume from Amritsar or Delhi where alone it is available. These restrictions are going to cause damage to the practice of Sikhi in the long run. The effect is already being felt by the Sikhs living across the oceans. We call upon the Sikh Nation to find a solution. 

The priestly class dare not say yet that an average Sikh cannot read Sri Guru Granth Sahib himself/herself, but these restrictions will take us to that end when only the Brahman Sikh could read the scripture and interpret it.  The results of this will be quite unsavory to Sikhi, Sikhism, and Sikh Nation.

Guru never restricted Guru’s movements particularly cross oceans as the restriction exist only among the religions under Brahmanical management.

Surprisingly, the restrictions being imposed are under the garb of promoting reverence to the Guru. However, any search in the Guru’s hymns or writings of Bhai Gurdas will readily reveal that the reverence consists in reading and understanding the sacred hymns with devotion. Any mode of reverence that restricts access to the Guru will only be a practice of Brahmanical religiosity. It will do serious harm to the future of global Sikhi.

In conclusion, let us quote our Guru directly on the issue under discussion.

ਭਾਈ ਰੇ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਬੂਝੈ ਕੋਇ ॥ ਬਿਨੁ ਬੂਝੇ ਕਰਮ ਕਮਾਵਣੇ ਜਨਮੁ ਪਦਾਰਥੁ ਖੋਇ ॥SGGS, p.33.

O Siblings of Destiny, there are only a few wisdom-oriented ones who would cognize and comprehend the Guru Granth verse; any ritual or deed done devoid of understanding the sacred hymns will waste any precious opportunity of one’s life.

ਸੇ ਮਨਮੁਖ ਜੋ ਸਬਦ ਨ ਪਛਾਨਹਿ ॥ SGGS, p. 1054

They are turned to their own intellect away from Guru who do not comprehend the message of Guru SABD.

The real Satkar of SGGS lies in reading, reciting, and singing the sacred hymns yourself, vicharna, understanding them, contemplating on them, believing in their guidance, and then sincerely live your life as per Guru’s instructions. In our humble opinion, the most awful disrespect for SGGS is either to ignore reading it or to hire others to recite on your behalf when you are not even present there. 

More recently, some Sikh congregations in the USA established the Sikh Education Foundation to facilitate the availability of the SGGS saroop (volume) to the needy in the North America. The volunteers of this organizations make available the SGGS volumes free of charge to every qualified desiring Sikh or the Gurdwara, institution, etc. Our religious leaders were expected to be thankful to this organization. Instead, the religious leadership is looking for every means to punish them and thus stop them from making the SABD Guru available in Europe and North America.

 

Dr. Bhai Harbans Lal

Dr. (Bhai) Harbans Lal is a distinguished Pharmacologist and a recognized scholar of Sikhism. Professor Lal has been published in all the major Sikh journals. His present interests lie in promoting Sikh Studies in North America.

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