Explain whether the elements of an ideal Sikh society exist in the U.S. and/or i

Jun 8th, 2014
KateS
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Living Sikhism ( This is the article that you can use)

In 1999, Sikhs around the world jubilantly celebrated the three-hundredth

anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh’s creation of the Khalsa. In the process, many

people proclaimed the idealistic and universalist nature of the Gurus’ mission.

The Sikh Gurus’ Vision of an Ideal Society

by Dharam Singh

Dharam Singh, who teaches at Punjabi University in Patiala and specializes in Guru

Gobind Singh’s social philosophy, asserts that the Sikh Gurus’ mission included

measures designed to develop an ideal classless society.

Besides caste which is peculiar to Indian society, the economic factor is

equally responsible for stratification of society into different classes all over

the world. In such a set-up, the affluent and the haves generally adopt an

oppressive and exploitative attitude towards the poor and the have-nots: this

is equally true in the case of individuals as well as nations. This gulf between

the two classes widens further as a result of the pace of social, material

progress being different for these different classes. Since the economic factor

comes to determine human social relations, man [sic] becomes unduly

more unmindful of moral and ethical values in this struggle for economic

betterment. Sikhism, however, believes in the universal brotherhood of

mankind, and therefore holds everyone an equal claimant to the natural

resources provided them by the universal Father. Any attempt to deny one’s

share in that heritage would amount to sacrilege against God. The ethics

of the kingdom of God as taught in the Sikh scripture are the ethics of a

classless society.

An important socio-religious directive for the Sikhs is to earmark a tithe

13

of their income for philanthropic purposes. Every Sikh, when he visits a

gurdwara

14

to pay obeisance to the Guru Granth Sahib, offers some cash.

There is no lower or higher limit on this offer and, in fact, it is not even

obligatory if one is not in a position to offer any. This offer of cash, though

made with religious faithfulness, is not to please the Guru or God: it is an

individual’s modest contribution towards general, communal purposes. ...

Besides caste and class, religion is another very potent factor which

divides mankind into diverse groups of different religious denomination.

At the time Sikhism was born and during the period of its ascendancy,

persecution of man in the name of religion was quite common. The Sikh

Gurus felt it an insult to the divine essence in man, and declared that all

human beings, irrespective of their religious denominations, are one. Guru

Gobind Singh in his

Akal Ustat

refers to the diversity of religions followed

by people of the world, and declares emphatically that followers of diverse

religions are one. Religious labels are temporary and wither away with the

13

Tithe—a proportion, originally a tenth.

14

Gurdwara

—a Sikh temple.

Anthology Liv Rel 3E.indb 329

06/07/2011 22:42

330

SIKHISM

bodily vesture whereas it is the worth of deeds done by man that is the

criterion of judgment both in this world and the Divine Court. Guru Amar

Das confers equal validity on all religions in helping man realize the ultimate

end of life. The role of religion is not that of scissors that tears asunder but

that of a needle that sews together the torn fabric of human society. ...

The concept of the equality of mankind includes the womenfolk as well.

Woman occupies a subordinate position in the patriarchal society, but her

position becomes worse in the poor societies, especially in India where she

suffers oppression as a woman and as a member of the oppressed caste or

class. The Indian woman of Guru Nanak’s time was a victim of this sexist

discrimination and oppression, and was completely denied an independent

personality of her own. Infanticide, child marriage, malnutrition and

sati

15

were some of the evils resulting from this

Weltanschauung

.

16

Sikhism makes

no distinction between man and woman, and considers both as the equal

manifestation of the Divine. Man and woman are equal but distinct because

of the functional distinction they have in the historical order. Even if none of

the Gurus was a woman, there is no inferiority for woman in the orthodox

Sikh ecclesiology. Guru Nanak was perhaps the first personage in the

religious history of mankind to raise his voice against her discrimination.

The Sikh Gurus not only provided ideational basis in their hymns for the

socio-religious rehabilitation of women but also undertook and advised to

undertake some widespread and practical steps in this direction. As a result

of this, she came to occupy a place equal to man and play an active role in

the socio-religious life. That the women were quite active as missionaries of

Sikh faith during the Guru-period is confirmed by a

hukumnama

17

issued by

Guru Tegh Bahadur to the

sangat

18

of Patna wherein he refers among others

to one Bebe Peri Bai. The role played by Mai Bhago

19

during the pontificate

of Guru Gobind Singh is common knowledge. Sikh tradition, supported

by the

Rahitnama

20

literature, lays injunctions against female infanticide,

purdah

21

and

sati

. It also permits widow remarriage for her rehabilitation in

social life. The

Rahitnamas

denounce any kind of marginalization of woman.

Chastity and fidelity, two important constituents of the sanctity of the family

life as well as of social relations, are no more the virtues expected of woman

alone: they apply to women as much as they apply to men and even to the

rulers. ... The Sikhs in their daily supplication (

ardas

) seek the welfare of

all—

sarbat da bhala

. ...

There is no priestly class as such in Sikhism and anybody can lead the

congregation. ... In the appointment of leaders of congregation, caste, class

15

Sati, suttee

—the Hindu custom of a widow’s self-immolation on her husband’s funeral pyre.

16

Weltanschauung

—philosophy, literally “world view” (German).

17

Hukumnama

—spiritual instructions taken from opening the Guru Granth Sahib at random.

18

Sangat

—Sikh congregation.

19

Mai Bhago—great female warrior and martyr in Sikh history.

20

Rahitnama

—disciplines prescribed for Sikhs.

21

Purdah

—veiling and separation of women.

Anthology Liv Rel 3E.indb 330

06/07/2011 22:42

SIKHISM

331

and status are given no consideration, and the only criterion of merit is the

incumbent’s spiritual and moral state. ...

In the

gurdwara

, everybody is welcome irrespective of his social or

economic status, and none is favoured or discriminated against on any count.

Here the prince and the pauper sit together and pray.

When membership of the

sangats

and the frequency of their visits to the

dharamsalas

22

increased, it was considered imperative to arrange food for

the devotees. The institution of

langar

or

Guru-ka-Langar

(free community

kitchen) started with a view to meeting this requirement. The institution

became popular during the pontificate of Guru Angad Dev. ... Guru Amar

Das further consolidated the institution and made it mandatory for every

visitor, high or low, to partake of food in the

langar

before seeing the Guru.

Each successive Guru contributed to the consolidation of this institution, and

today we find

langar

an integral part of almost every

gurdwara

or the Sikh

place of worship the world over.

In the

langar

, the food is prepared communally, without anybody

asking for the caste or class of the volunteer lending a helping hand.

Seva

23

or service in the

langar

has been accepted as highly meritorious. All the

visitors sit in

pangat

(row) without any distinction of caste, class or creed,

and take their food. There is an injunction against providing a special seat

or special food for anyone whosoever. The Sikh history stands witness that

here princes have sat alongside peasants. This has been a very important step

in translating the principle of equality into practice—more so, in a society

where rigidity of casteism and sectarianism segregated people from one

another. It has also served as a medium of social integration between the

king and the commoner, the prince and the peasant. ...

The desire for

seva

is born of the feeling of love for others. Love is,

as we have said earlier, the natural corollary of the Sikh precept of the

universal brotherhood of mankind and universal fatherhood of God. All

men, whatever their caste, clan or creed, are the children of God and all are

spiritually united to each other and to the Creator-Lord. That is why, like

seva

, love has also been declared a very potent means of reaching God. ...

Love for all as equal members of the universal brotherhood of mankind

and social service and other altruistic deeds done with humility and

with absolutely no selfish motives naturally lead to the establishment

of a social order which is marked by justice, communal harmony and

peaceful co-existence. These social conditions are all the more needed

in the modern social phenomena which are experiencing rapid socio-

cultural transformations that do not, however, occur at a uniform pace.

Consequently, the economically poor and the socially backward are in

the world today at odds with the affluent and the socially and politically

advanced. These inequalities cause personal and social insecurity, distrust

22

Dharamsala

—holy place.

23

Seva

—voluntary service in devotion to God.

Anthology Liv Rel 3E.indb 331

06/07/2011 22:42

332

SIKHISM

and hatred in personal and social relations and gross violation of human

rights and a widespread sense of fear and frustration. ... It was to overcome

these and such other negative tendencies that the Sikh Gurus preached a

distinct metaphysical theory and then made it the

vis-a-tergo

24

of their vision

of an ideal social structure marked by humanitarian outlook.

According to the Sikh thought,

kirt karna

(to earn one’s bread with the

sweat of one’s brow),

nam japna

(remember the Divine Name; ... feeling

and realizing His presence in all beings and at all places), and

wand chhakna

(to share with others what one earns through honest means) are the three

cardinal values in the Sikh vision of an ideal society.

source

:

Dharam Singh, S

ikhism: Norm and Form

. Patiala, Punjab, and Delhi: Vision and Venture, 1997,

pp. 120–9

GLOSSARY

Guru

A teacher of religious knowledge

and spiritual insight, a channel of divine

understanding.

Guru Granth Sahib

The Sikh holy scripture,

now regarded as the Guru.

Khalsa

Sikh warrior-saints pledged to

protect people of all religions and castes from

oppression.

Langar

Free community kitchen.

HOLY DAYS

Sikh celebrations usually include continuous

reading of the entire Guru Granth Sahib over

a period of 48 hours, followed by offering of a

large communal meal. Dating of holy days has

traditionally followed the lunar calendar, but

now some organizations are attempting to fix

the dates according to the solar calendar.

January 14

Maghi, celebration of the

martyrdom of 40 Immortals at Muktsar in Guru

Gobind Singh’s last battle against the Mughal

forces.

April 13 or 14

Baisakhi, anniversary of

the creation of the Khalsa, often including

initiation of new members of the Khalsa with

amrit (holy water stirred with a double-edged

sword as the Sikh prayers are recited).

[June] 4th day of the lunar month of Jeth

Martyrdom of Guru Arjun Dev by heat torture,

commemorated by offering of a cooling drink

to all passers-by.

[October–November] Full moon of

the lunar month of Kartik

Traditional

celebration of Guru Nanak’s birthday

(although scholarship has placed the true date

at April 15).

[November] 5th light part of the lunar

month of Maghar

Martyrdom of Guru Tegh

Bahadur.

[December–January] 7th light part of

the lunar month of Poh

Birthday of Guru

Gobind Singh.

24

Vis-a-tergo

—(Latin) literally “push from behind

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