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A Sikh perspective on Social Action

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The Sikh philosophy has a two-fold focus, Simran (self-realisation) and Seva (selfless service). The idea was clear that Sikhs were to walk in the world like saint-soldiers. The Gurus were interested in laying the foundation for a good society while teaching spirituality. It was essential to develop inner strength and the nervous system through meditation, and physical wellbeing in order to be an ambassador of peace and justice in the world.

 

Seva: the selfless service

Every dharamsala/gurdwara (or place of worship) is equipped in order that no one who enters remains hungry and people are offered shelter if they have nowhere to sleep. Food is available from the free kitchen (Guru ka langar). This is normally available throughout the day and is prepared with love and devotion by volunteers. Sikhs in the West make it a habit to serve in the kitchen before or after work or, if this is not possible, they offer money or bring supplies to the kitchen. In some gurdwaras located in inner cities, Sikhs take the langar to homeless centres or refugee councils.

 

Volunteers clean the gurdwaras, the gardens are maintained, the building inside is always well maintained. People will also come across the friendly Sikhs that do shift work at Heathrow Airport, many of them will clean and check the supplies in the toilets before making their way to work. Another service in the gurdwara that is seen as a very humbling act is that of cleaning the shoes or dirty dishes of the members of the congregation. Every individual finds their own way to serve in the world they live in; it is part of the dharma to make this a daily practice.

 

I was reminded how seriously devoted Sikhs take this once when I went to Ealing Hospital's accident and emergency unit. As I waited with the other patients I saw a young mother with a young baby in her arms who was crying, and with her was a two-year-old nagging her. Suddenly, I see this small four-foot-eleven Sikh man in a smart suit and a bright orange turban. He appeared out of nowhere clasping a jug of water and a glass. He approached the young mother who was so grateful to provide a drink for her thirsty child. It was an act of such simplicity and innocence that touched the hearts of many of us bystanders. Before leaving the hospital that night, I could not help asking the nurse about the orange-turbaned Sikh guy; she smiled, ‘Aaaah, you mean Mr Singh, he comes here four days a week to help. He smiles at people and serves them water. He said he used to be a nurse in the army and worked with the Red Cross, he is 87 now, retired, but still doing his bit in the community ... he is really cool, we love him to bits.'

 

To serve mankind is one of the greatest virtues for Sikhs. The Gurus instructed the Sikhs that God existed in mankind, therefore the Sikhs were told to serve mankind if they wished to serve God.

 

Education

Another great contribution to social action is education. All Gurus made education a prominent part of the Sikh revolution. The sacred ancient language Sanskrit was very difficult, and mostly the elite or learned were fluent in it.

 

Guru Nanak dug out Punjabi script and used it in his writings, Guru Angad reformed it and beautified it further, and it was a perfect script, simple, scientific and grammatically practical in the hands of Guru Arjun, who gave the Punjabi script to the masses. There were no rules as to who could learn - children, men and women alike.

 

‘Contemplate and reflect upon knowledge, and you will become a benefactor to others.' Guru Nanak Dev Ji

(SGGS pg 356).

 

Equality

Equality was an integral part of the social action policy that the Sikh Gurus adopted. The formation of the Khalsa was the initiation ceremony into adopting the Sikh form. The Gurus opened the doors and allowed people of different caste, who had been socially deprived, permission to join the Khalsa. They inherited and were welded into a strong brotherhood and pledged to the service of mankind, a unique society of saint-soldiers to be economically viable, dependable, physically respectable and spiritually independent.

 

The third Guru also abolished Sati[1] and Pardhah[2] giving women the freedom and equality they deserved as part of the social revolution. He also strove to build the bridge between communities and cultural groups.

 

Health was another social responsibility that the Gurus encouraged the Sikhs to respond to. For those Sikhs living in the East, gurdwaras will be linked to free eye hospitals, alternative health clinics and free homeopathy for the poor supported by the community. Here in the West, Sikhs tend to support anti-drugs and stop-smoking and alcohol campaigns. Usually gurdwaras or Sikh charities will help pay for or support these programmes. Recently there have been voluntary groups set up to support women in domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and general counselling.

 

The servant's purpose is to serve obeying the Lord's Command, the supreme status is obtained.

(SGGS pg 292)

 

 

 



[1]  Women were being burnt alive on the funeral pyre when they were widowed.

[2]  Women were forced to cover their body from head to toe and were not allowed out to walk in Indian society until they did so.

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