Thursday, June 24, 2004

Reformist Sikhism

OK, Sikhism is one of the least reformable religions in the world today. This is because it's one of the more great-hearted, peaceful, and attractive religions in human history. (Yes, there are (or were?) militant Sikhs, but the Hindu nationalist Indian government had bloody hands too.) Consider this really touching anecdote about its founder, Guru Nanak, as a thirteen-year-old:

At the [Hindu religious investment] ceremony which was attended 

by family and friends and to the disappointment of his family Guru
Nanak refused to accept the sacred cotton thread from the Hindu priest.
He sang the following poem:

"Let mercy be the cotton, contentment the thread, continence the knot,
and truth the twist. O priest! If you have such a thread, do give it
to me. It'll not wear out, nor get soiled, nor burnt, nor lost. Says
Nanak, blessed are those who go about wearing such a thread."

Nanak was very intelligent -- he knew Hindi, Persian, and Arabic and had studied Muslim literature as well as Hindu. He also had a great, wry sense of humor (read his bio, it's really refreshing). My favorite example of this:
On his fourth great journey in life Guru Nanak dressed in the blue 

garb of a Muslim pilgrim traveled to the west and visited Mecca, Medina
and Baghdad. Arriving at Mecca, Guru Nanak fell asleep with his feet
pointing towards the holy Kabba. When the watchman on his night rounds
noticed this he kicked the Guru, saying, "How dare you turn your feet
towards the house of God". At this Guru Nanak woke up and said, "Good
man, I am weary after a long journey. Kindly turn my feet in the
direction where God is not."
The religion itself is strongly monotheistic (like Islam or Judaeism), but it is closer to Tolstoist ecumenism than any of the other major monotheistic religions. It's also an actively anti-superstition religion, which appeals to me strongly. You can read more about it yourself, anyway.

Why am I interested in a religion, especially a Guru-based one? Well, I'm not exactly atheistic; agnostic and universalist, maybe. I have religious feelings, though, and since there's no way I'll ever know the objective truth of the universe anyway, why shouldn't I indulge them so long as they're not contrary to common sense?

The problem, though, is that Sikhs are required not to cut their hair (hence the turbans)or shave their beards. This is rather problematic for hygeine, and I don't think I would look so good with a long beard.

So! Reform Sikhism reduces the beard-and-hair requirement to a symbolic thing, much the way Catholic practice replaced hairshirts with scapulars. I'm not sure how to implement it yet, though. Thoughts can be sent to the usual email address. Maybe I'll set up a Gmail account for this blog, though, when I get invited.


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